Two Films Starring Timothy Hutton

Did you know that Timothy Hutton’s father was also an actor?  Jim Hutton was a contract player in Hollywood for many years; he got into acting while serving in the army.  He was said to have been similar to Jimmy Stewart- very tall, lanky, and a bit absent-minded in his delivery.  Unfortunately, Jim Hutton died young, before his son (at 18 y.o.) won Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Ordinary People, a touching domestic drama directed by Robert Redford.  In that film, Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland played Tim’s parents- WOW!

Despite his “boy next door” type of looks, there is something mysterious about Timothy Hutton.  He’s the type of actor you see pausing and thinking about a scene.  But, that’s not a problem, b/c he’s VERY good at becoming a character.  I like the fact that Hutton gets intelligent, sometimes very understated, roles.

Beautiful Girls (1996)

The main character, a piano player living in NYC, Willie (Hutton), goes to his working-class hometown (Knight’s Ridge) to visit his dad, little brother (David Arquette), and friends.  Their high school reunion is coming up, too.

One friend, Mo (Noah Emmerich), is a factory manager who’s settled w/ a wife and 2 rambunctious young kids.  He admires Willie for following his dreams.  Tommy (Matt Dillon), a star athlete in his high school days,  has a snow plowing business and a girlfriend named Sharon (Mira Sorvino).  But he has an on-again, off-again relationship w/ his high school sweetheart, Darian (Lauren Holly), who’s married to a wealthy man and mother to a toddler.  Paul (Michael Rapaport) is another snow plower who recently broke up w/ his long-term girlfriend, Jan (Martha Plimpton), a waitress who wants to settle down.  Paul is immature; he’s still crazy about supermodels (posters are all over his bedroom).

Willie, who’s deciding whether he should take his own relationship to the next level, meets his father’s neighbor, Marty (Natalie Portman), a 13 y.o. “old soul.”  They have some interesting conversations; she reminds him of less complicated times (childhood, innocence).

Willie, and all his pals, are intrigued by a glamorous visitor to town, Andera (Uma Thurman), the cousin of local bartender, Stinky. She’s the personification of their dream girl, so they all try to impress her how they can.  Andera is spoken for back in Chicago and Willie has a girlfriend, a lawyer named Tracy (Annabeth Gish).

This film is quite good (have seen it 3x over the years); the dialogue is (mostly) true to life.  It’s VERY well cast, too.  You get to know something about each of these young people who are in transition.  (If you enjoyeded Diner, Barry Levinson’s 1982 film, you’ll like Beautiful Girls.)  Though the title refers to women, it’s mainly a story of male frienship and romantic issues (self-doubt, fear of commitment, etc.)  Rosie O’Donnell has a REALLY clever/humorous scene inside a drugstore.

The Substance of Fire (1996)

As a young boy living in Europe, Isaac Geldhart (Ron Rifkin), hides in an attic filled w/ books to evade the Nazis.  From his window, he sees crowds burning books written by Jews.  As an adult, Isaac is a respected publisher of finely-made/serious books in NYC, though the business (Kepler Geldhart) is losing money.  His wife died a few years ago, and he’s still taking it VERY hard, though he hides it (w/ his charm, intelligence, etc.)  His eldest son, Aaron (Tony Goldwyn, giving an understated performance), handles the financial affairs of the family business.  Another son, Martin (Hutton), is a landscape designer/college lecturer living in the Hudson Valley.  The youngest child, Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), is an actress on a local children’s TV show.

Aaron, who’s out as a gay man, wants to publish a novel written by his boyfriend, Val (Gil Bellows).  Isaac insists that his company will NEVER publish trash like that.  Aaron decides to take control (w/ the help of his siblings, who are also shareholders).  It’s a tough decision for the kids.  Isaac, whose behavior becomes domineering and irrational, is enraged; he even asks for his surname to be removed from Aaron’s company!  Isaac opens his own firm and cuts himself off from his children for many months.  With the help of his long-time secretary, the kids get into the house (a historic townhouse), which has become a total mess.  They realize that something could be seriously wrong w/ their father.

I saw this film last week on Netflix; it caught my eye b/c of its cast.  It has some strong acting, esp. from Rifkin and Hutton, BUT just tried to do a BIT too much (w/ not enough time).  I wanted to know some more backstory and character motivation (esp. when it came to the BIG sacrifice Martin made).   The premise is quite unusual/interesting; the (realistic) issues addressed are VERY emotionally-charged.

Views for Your New Year

Bramwell (Series 2)

There are MANY surprises and fresh guest stars in the 2nd series of this smart, gritty show starring Jemma Redgrave as Dr. Eleanor Bramwell.  Well-born lady doc Eleanor, while struggling to keep her “baby”–The Thrift (a charity hospital in London) going–is still at odds w/ her protective dad and fellow doc, Robert (David Calder).  Romance comes into Eleanor’s life (FINALLY!!!) in the form of handsome, charming Dr. Finn O’Neill.  The Irish researcher may be her equal in brains and talent.  But love is NOT easy for this pair, thanks to their conflicting natures and ambitions.  And, of course, Robert is NOT happy of his “little girl’s” choice.

 

The House of Mirth (2000)

No, this film isn’t about Brits; the characters are American (as seen through the eyes of novelist Edith Wharton and screenwriter/director Terence Davies) from the turn of the 20th century.  If you liked The Age of Innocence, you’ll definitely find this film (w/ a much lower budget) quite absorbing!  Canadian Gillian Anderson (Bleak House) lifts this movie onto her narrow shoulders and carries you away into the life of beautiful, charming, yet cash-poor, Lily Bart.  Like many singletons before and after her, New York debutante Lily likes nice clothes, having fun (vacations, theater, fine food, etc.) and hopes to marry someday.  But she MUST marry a rich man to maintain her lifestyle!

At the start of the film, Lily has an ambiguous relationship w/ a bachelor of her circle, lawyer Lawrence Seldon (Eric Stoltz).  They speak their minds to each other, but never directly confess their feelings.  One day, a maid sees her coming out of Seldon’s apartment- a VERY scandalous thing at that time.  A married friend, Gus Trenor (Dan Ackroyd), says he’ll help Lily invest her small income in the stock market, but he has more than that in his (creepy) mind.  Then one of Lily’s close friends, the worldly Bertha Dorset (Laura Linney in a wickedly fine role), turns against her.

Lily tries to stay true to herself and her personal morals.  She can’t force herself to marry for money alone.  Lily is not “world smart,” as my mom says; she thinks that people are pretty much what they portray themselves to be.  The director uses a lot of mirrors, keeping w/ the theme of appearance.  It was interesting to see Oz star Terry Kinney portray a cuckolded hubby.  Also, pay attention to the performance of Australian Anthony LaPaglia; it’s low-key, yet very effective.  The soundtrack, compiled by Adrian Johnston (Becoming Jane) sets just the right mood.

 

Miss Julie (1999)

   

Statuesque Brit Saffron Burrows (a former model; Nan in Circle of Friends) and her (shorter) co-star, Scotsman Peter Mullan (The Claim) are captivating in Mike Figgis’ film version of August Strindberg’s play.  Irish actress Maria Doyle Kennedy (one of he main reasons to see the first season of The Tudors) makes a fine contribution as well.  On Midsummer’s Eve in the late 1800s, the servants at a Swedish country estate are cutting loose w/ drinking, joking, and dancing.  The mistress of the manor, Miss Julie (Burrows), joins them in their revelry rather than going w/ her father, The Duke, to visit relatives.  This doesn’t sit well with the footman, Jean (Mullan) and his intended, the head cook Christine (Doyle Kennedy).

Miss Julie gets tipsy and keeps asking to dance w/ Jean, to his embarrassment and annoyance.  She comes into the kitchen and angrily asks why he’s still wearing his “livery” (uniform) when it’s time to cut loose.  Appearance is VERY important to Jean; he takes GREAT pride in his work for The Duke.  He’s well-spoken, has seen some of the world, and doesn’t take stuff from just anyone. 

Eventually, Christine goes upstairs to sleep, leaving the main players together.  Jean and Miss Julie basically go at it- a power struggle between genders and classes ensues.  There is also the latent physical attraction between them.  Clearly, Miss Julie is an angry, depressed young woman.  We learn that her fiance recently broke up w/ her.  She longs for change- to be free from her “cage;” a little bird sits in an actual cage in a corner of the sparse kitchen set.  In one crucial scene, Jean exclaims that HE could take her away!  Though he is of a low class, he could (in time) make her a duchess; she could never make him a duke (being a powerless woman w/o her father’s status/protection).        

More about the play:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Julie

Passion Fish (1992)

John Sayles’ movies are just a treat for an intelligent viewer- thoughtful, multi-dimensional, and well-developed (you go through a journey with the characters).  The respected (yet not widely-known) writer/director doesn’t do any tricks with the camera, choosing instead to let the focus be on his characters.  In Passion Fish, Sayles (a masculine feminist, in my opinion) unfolds the story of two very complicated, stubborn women.  You need to be patient when you watch this type of picture, as things unfold in at a slower pace than in typical modern Hollywood movies.

Mary-Alice Culhane (Mary McDonnell) is a soap opera actress living in NYC when a freak accident results in her paralysis from the waist down.  She decides to move back to her old childhood home in the Louisiana bayou, drink heavily (wine is her favorite), watch TV, and torment several female caregivers who come to work for her.  They quickly leave the job, of course.   Mostly, Mary-Alice wallows in self-pity, feeling that her life is over.

Finally, a determined young African-American nurse from Chicago, Chantelle (Alfre Woodard), comes to work for the diva.  We learn eventually that she desperately needs this job, as well as a place to live.

Don’t worry, this film has a few men, too.  When Mary-Alice’s old car breaks down, Chantelle meets (and gets hit on) by a charming, fun-loving cowboy nicknamed Sugar (Vondie Curtis- Hall).  At the gas station, she meets another local, quiet and handy Rennie (David Strathairn).  It turns out that he and Mary-Alice knew each other since childhood.  Rennie offers to come work on the old Culhane house, so she can get around with the wheelchair.

Watch for a few other characters (and surprises they bring).  Angela Bassett has a few nice scenes as Mary-Alice’s best friend and former co-star.

Two Reviews: Blue & Intimacy

Blue (1993)

This is the 1st film in dir. Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy.  The blue represents depression, sadness, and freedom here.   Julie (Juliette Binoche) is a young French wife who loses her husband (a famous composer) and 5 y.o. daughter in a terrible car crash at the opening of the film.  She decides to leave her large country estate, taking nothing except a gorgeous blue mobile ornament, and move to Paris to live a solitary life.  She’s determined that she won’t work, seek out company, or reconnect w/ the family friend who may have deep feelings for her.  But life has a way of just happening, even as Julie is in deep mourning.

In her apt, Julie is deeply perturbed by a mouse and her babies in one of the closets.  Even a mouse can have babies, while she has lost everything!  Then a young single woman from downstairs barges in on Julie.  She looks like she can use some comfort, and Julie is around (w/ a non-judgmental attitude).  Eventually, Julie starts to finish the song that her hubby left behind.

This is a non-narrative, artisitic film, so it won’t appeal to some viewers.  It’s slow and contemplative.  The music is simply beautiful.  There are many close-ups of Binoche’s (I think perfect) face as she goes through a myriad of emotions.  Binoche is simply great (and I wouldn’t expect anything less).  You can’t see her acting; everything just rises from within.  Vive La Binoche!

Intimacy (2001)

NOTE: There are 2 versions of this film, one of which is R-rated, and was shown in indie theaters upon release.  The version on Netflix is the original Unrated film(equivalent to MPAA’s NC-17 rating). 

This is another film that’s not for everyone, BUT it certainly is unusual and out-of-the-box.  (NOTE: There is an R-rated version and an Unrated version.)  Raw emotions are depicted, as two strangers connect to and disconnect from each other in London.  It was directed by Frenchman Chereau and stars British character actors from the theater.  The film is based on a short story by famed British-Pakistani writer, Hanif Kureishi.  This is the kind of stuff Hollywood is afraid to show!

Jay (Mark Rylance) is a failed musician who manages a trendy bar and lives in a dump of a rowhouse in a working-class area.  In his past life, he was married and father to two adorable young sons.  For a personal life, he has a (junkie) best friend and Claire (Kerry Fox).  But Claire is NOT his gf or a “friend w/ benefits”- she’s a stranger who comes by once a week for hooking up.

Jay and Claire barely speak, but one day, Jay follows Claire out into the streets, curious about her “real” life.  That’s when the story gets GOOD, and even a BIT suspenseful!

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Jay is shocked to discover that Claire has a full life; she’s an amateur actress, drama teacher, wife, and mother to a preteen son.  He even talks w/ her husband, Andy (Timothy Spall), a talkative/humble cabbie who doesn’t know much about the theater, but supports his wife (in the background).

You can see the shock/pain/jealousy on Rylance’s face as his character wonders why Claire gets to have a life while he’s in a fog of depression, missing his ex and (especially) sons.  When Jay confronts her about it, Claire feels VERY violated.  She lashes out at him- he wasn’t supposed to enter her life like THAT!

But Jay CHOSE to leave his family, and now he can’t handle it.  The new bartender working below Jay, a cute young Frenchman, wonders if Jay can even feel love.  Ouch!

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The streets are gritty and unwelcoming.  There are people everywhere, but the main characters are drifting, lost in their own world of disappointments, compromises, etc.  Jay and Claire are BOTH artistic souls, BUT they have failed (or not made much of a mark) in that regard.  Andy seems like a decent guy; Claire is a mystery- I found her to be TOO abrasive.  I’m pretty sure that was intentional.  Jay is the more sympathetic individual (though very flawed); more is seen from his view.  In one quiet scene, he watches for Claire from his window; Rylance’s face becomes that of a hopeful little boy.  His performance is fearless; I don’t think I’ve seen a lead man portrayed in this manner EVER in Hollywood!

Our Mutual Friend (BBC, 1998)

I saw this miniseries (based on Dickens’ final novel) a while ago, and was VERY impressed by it!  There is glam, grit, unconventional romances, and many quirky characters.  There are several plots intertwined.

The stand-in for the viewer (or perhaps the author) is level-headed gentleman, Mortimer Lightwood (Dominic Mafham, pictured right).  Though the entire cast is strong, the standout actor is Paul McGann (pictured left w/ mustache).  This is b/c his interpretation of aimless gent Eugene Wrayburn, who falls deeply (and unexpectedly), in love is SO natural.  The voice, snobbery, and swagger show that he has BECOME the character.  Eugene and Mortimer are both barristers and best pals, though Eugene is not interested in furthering his career.  He’s dissatisfied w/ life- searching for some purpose.

Lizzie Hexam (gorgeous Keeley Hawes) is a shy beauty who works w/ her father on the Thames River.  They search the water for dead bodies- YIKES!  She saves up to send her younger brother Charley to a decent school, realizing that the slum is no place for a bright boy like him.  Hawes can convey LOT w/o speaking, as this role demands.

While Eugene starts out carefree, quiet and serious John Harmon (Stephen Mackintosh) has a definite plan when he comes to London from the West Indies.  His dead father left him a fortune; he also had plans for his personal life- an (arranged) marriage.  John says his last name is Rokesmith, takes a job as a humble secretary to Mr. Boffin, who made his fortune from dust heaps.  (Yup, that’s historically true!)  John finds a room to rent from the humble Wilfer family.

Though Bella Wilfer (petite/fiesty Anna Friel) was born poor, she yearns for more.  She doesn’t like the idea of the arranged marriage to a stranger, BUT likes the idea of being rich.  Like Eugene, Bella (a “Daddy’s girl” w/ a sense of entitlement) changes her character over the course of the story.  Friel fits her role VERY well, showing different shades of a young woman in (and out of) high society.

Fans of tall/handsome David Morrissey (recently seen on South Riding) may be surprised to see him cast as a VERY jealous/repressed baddie here.  He plays Bradley Headstone, a teacher at a boys’ boarding school who develops a dangerous obsession.