Network (1976) starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, & Robert Duvall

Last week, Future Tense (a program of the New America foundation) had a free screening of this classic film. Julia Turner, editor-in-chief of Slate magazine, introduced the film, then did a brief discussion/Q&A afterwards. I regularly listen to her on the Slate Culture Gabfest. Director Sidney Lumet and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky claimed that the film was NOT meant to be a satire, BUT a reflection of what was really happening. 

This is not a psychotic episode. This is a cleansing moment of clarity. I’m imbued, Max. I’m imbued with some special spirit. It’s not a religious feeling at all. It’s a shocking eruption of great electrical energy. I feel vivid and flashing, as if suddenly I’d been plugged into some great electromagnetic field. I feel connected to all living things. To flowers, birds, all the animals of the world. And even to some great, unseen, living force. -Howard explains to Max (after his on-air breakdown) 

This film follows TV execs (at UBS, a fictional network) ready to do anything to boost ratings—incl. sacrificing journalistic values and cashing in on veteran news anchor, Howard Beale (Australian actor Peter Finch) who goes off-script during one night’s live broadcast. A young/ruthless Director of Programming, Diana Christensen (played w/ scenery-chewing gusto by Faye Dunaway), wants to exploit this for the good of UBS (and her career). After all, Howard’s rantings garnered high ratings (esp. for a news show). Howard is NOT fired, but given a new show; he quickly becomes a media icon, drawing millions of viewers to UBS and influencing their everyday behaviors. 

Diana starts up a relationship w/ an older news producer, Max Schumacher (iconic leading man William Holden). Max is concerned about his old friend Howard’s mental health, yet also attracted to Diana’s energy and beauty.  Diana also seems to have some sort of alliance w/ a higher-level exec, Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall). There is coldness, yet also sly humor, in Duvall’s performance. Lumet told Dunaway that he would edit out any attempts on her part to make her character sympathetic and insisted on playing her w/o vulnerability. This portrayal of a female on the up-and-up is problematic, esp. in out modern society, which Julia noted. Dunaway also has a GREAT wardrobe in this film; I esp. liked the books and coat (which we see in the reunion scene w/ Max on the street). 

The movie won four Academy Awards and became a fixture of pop culture. Beatrice Straight (who plays Louise, the long-suffering wife of Max) has the briefest performance ever to win an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress). The well-known character actor- Ned Beatty (who plays Mr. Jensen)- remarked that actors should never turn down work b/c: “I worked a day on ‘Network’ and got an Oscar nomination for it.” Aaron Sorkin has claimed that Chayefsky, particularly his script for Network, were inspiration for his own writing. Roger Ebert added the film to his Great Movies list and said it was “like prophecy. When Chayefsky created Howard Beale, could he have imagined Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, and the WWF?” The audience I saw it w/ would ALSO add Donald Trump to that list; there were MANY (knowing) laughs!

[1] The scenes between old chums Finch and William Holden are some of the best written scenes in any American movie until the Coen brothers emerged. Finch is superb, superb! And Holden, at the end of a legendary career, gives a performance of such ferocious sincerity…

[2] The performances are just as brilliant as the social commentary. Each actor becomes so absorbed into their characters that you can’t even tell they’re acting. It feels like you’re watching these people in their daily lives, interacting and becoming more and more corrupt. 

[3] This is certainly a film for the history books. Every connoisseur of film should be exposed to this movie at some point in their life. If you happen to be cynical, then you will love every minute of this movie as its stark view of life in the 1970’s (and onward) touches the hard of even the hardest of cynics. For those educators out there, GREAT film for classes on Media and Politics.

-IMDB comments

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SPOILER-FREE Review: Killing Eve – Season 1 (BBC America)

Based on the novellas by Luke Jennings [published in 2017] and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), Killing Eve centers on two women; Eve (Sandra Oh) is a bored, whip-smart, pay-grade MI-5 security officer whose desk-bound job doesn’t fulfill her fantasies of being a spy; Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is a mercurial, talented killer who clings to the luxuries her violent job affords her. -Summary from BBC America

Remember Det. Bobby Goren’s pursuit of the literate/world-traveling serial killer- Nicole Wallace- on several eps/seasons of Law and Order: Criminal Intent? Bobby and Nicole shared a strong connection (chemistry), though they were on different sides of the law. Now you’ve got a hint of this (unique) thriller, which is mostly a character-based drama centered on a  married/middle-aged MI-5 security officer, Eve Polastri (Canadian actress of Korean heritage- Sandra Oh- best known for Sideways and Gray’s Anatomy) and multi-lingual/sociopath killer, Villanelle (Jodie Comer, a Brit from Liverpool). Oh’s character is a Brit, though raised in the US (so has an American accent).  

Though this is a drama, there is (dark) humor laced throughout each of the 8 eps, thanks to Waller-Bridge, a multi-talented Brit in her early 30s. Yes, women are at the forefront (and behind-the-scenes) of Killing Eve! I was esp. pleased to see veteran actress Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens, Eve’s superior officer. The man who acts as a sort of handler/manager for Villanelle is called Konstantin (Kim Bodnia, a Danish actor). Both he and Shaw have strong onscreen presences, toughness, and some (unexpected) moments of lightness/fun. Eve’s easygoing husband (a teacher) is Niko (Owen McDonnell, an Irish actor who works mainly in theater); he and Oh have the type of natural chemistry you’d see in a long-married couple. Their marriage is put under strain as Eve goes into fieldwork, dangers escalate, keeps secrets, and becomes obsessed w/ Villanelle.  

As some critics have noted, the breakout star of Killing Eve is Jodie Comer. She’s young, tall, blue-eyed, (conventionally) pretty, yet NOT skinny (athletic figure). What sets her apart are her big/bright blue eyes and luminous face (which she twists into many expressions). I see a LOT of potential in this actress. Vilanelle, like MANY real women, likes real food (ice cream, fresh bruschetta, champagne, etc.) And she has a keen eye for fashion, too. How good is this show? Well, it was picked up for a second season (even before the pilot aired), then Oh was nominated for a Best Actress Emmy (the first for an Asian-American woman). Check it out ASAP (I saw it last week at the BBC America web site)!

 

Love & Friendship (2016) starring Kate Beckinsale & Chloe Sevigny

My friend and I recently saw this at the Jane Austen film festival held annually on the grounds of Dumberton House (Washington, DC). You can watch it w/ Amazon Prime. This is the first movie based on Austen’s epistolary (letter format) novel Lady Susan (1871), which uses a name from another of her novels- Love and Friendship. It’s well-made (though w/ low budget of $3M), funny (w/ both subtle and obvious humor), and a fresh take on the beloved author’s work.

It’s with ticklish glee, then, that you watch Love & Friendship live up to every possible expectation you could set for it, opening out the adulterous games of Austen’s surprisingly risqué text and elaborating on them with impish, often breathlessly funny verve. It’s flat-out hilarious… Gliding through its compact 92 minutes with alert photography and not a single scene wasted…

Excerpt from The Telegraph 

The daughter of an earl w/ little money, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale- check her out in Emma), visits her brother- and sister-in-law, Charles (Justin Edwards) and Catherine Vernon (Emma Greenwell), w/ little advance notice at Churchill, their country estate. Catherine is quite anxious/unhappy; years ago Lady Susan (the widow of her older/deceased brother-in-law) tried to prevent her marriage to Charles. Also, Lady Susan (though considered old-  mid-30s) has the reputation of being one of the biggest flirts in England (more likely, just their social circle). She owes debts to many merchants in London. Among Lady Susan’s conquests in London is the married Lord Mainwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin).

Catherine’s genuine/handsome younger brother Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) arrives a week later, and despite Catherine’s  warnings, soon falls under Lady Susan’s spell. She messes w/ his affections for her own amusement, as well as upsetting Catherine. Her closest friend, an American woman, Mrs. Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny),  recommends she marry the eligible Reginald ASAP. Lady Susan considers him to be greatly inferior to Mainwaring. 

Too old to be governable, and too young to die. -Lady Susan comments re: Alicia’s older/respectable husband, Mr. Johnson

Frederica, Lady Susan’s 16-year-old daughter, tries to run away from school when she learns of her mother’s plan to marry her off to a wealthy/stupid young man, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). She stays at Churchill where her aunt and uncle come to like her (her character is totally unlike her mother’s). Sir James shows up uninvited, much to Frederica’s distress; she still doesn’t want to marry him (though she doesn’t hate him as a person). Lady Susan isn’t having it, telling Frederica that she doesn’t know how much worse their lives could be. After all, they need a permanent home and security, so she should obey her mother. 

…Tom Bennett, whose scene-stealing efforts should make him every bit as much of a star, grins and grins and understands nothing as the biggest stooge of the lot…

Excerpt from The Telegraph 

Frederica even goes to the local church alone, asking the kind young parson re: the commandment to “honor thy mother and father.” One day, Frederica is crying in the parlor, and Reginald asks her to tell him what’s wrong. She begs Reginald for support, feeling she has nowhere to turn, as her mother has forbidden her from telling her aunt and uncle. Reginald is shocked to learn that Lady Susan would want her daughter to marry such a dolt as Sir James! 

Facts are horrid things! -Lady Susan declares to Alicia

Lady Susan returns to London; Reginald follows her, still in love. One day, he goes to see Mrs. Johnson and deliver a letter from Lady Susan. He finds the inconsolable young Lady Mainwaring (Sophie Radermacher) meeting w/ her former guardian, Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry, in a rare serious role). After reading the letter, Reginald finally learns Lady Susan’s true character (she came to London to be alone w/ Mainwaring)!

Lady Susan ends up marrying Sir James herself, and allows Frederica to live at Churchill. As Catherine always wanted, Reginald and Frederica grow closer, fall in love, and marry. At their wedding reception, we see a very pregnant Lady Susan, Sir James (still clueless), and Lord Mainwaring (her lover) all looking quite satisfied. Of course, Sir James is NOT the father! 

Lady Susan has few parallels in 19th-century literature, according to scholars. She is a selfish, clever, VERY attractive to men, and unashamed of her relationship w/ a married man. She has an active role in the her life story; she is NOT just beautiful, BUT intelligent and witty. Her suitors (incl. Reginald and Sir James) are much younger than herself. The ending includes a reward for morality; Frederica is praised for her “virtue” in a poem written by Reginald. While Alicia has to sail back to Connecticut (a punishment) w/ Mr. Johnson, Lady Susan is settled into a comfortable life w/ a husband she can control.

Blindspotting (2018) starring Daveed Diggs

Daveed Diggs was one of the actors in the ensemble of Hamilton; he played BOTH the Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette and founding father Thomas Jefferson. He also recently played Jonah Johnson, the younger brother of Rainbow on the ABC family comedy Black-ish. With this funny, smart, and VERY thoughtful indie film, he carves out a new space for himself-  leading man (as well as writer, poet and shrewd social commentator). Diggs (who is biracial and raised Jewish) is tall, muscular, w/ large expressive eyes- assets to ANY male actor. However, unlike the men of typical Summer action films, he’s NOT afraid to show (messy) emotions. 

Blindspotting, co-written by Diggs and his long-time friend, Rafael Casal (a white Hispanic poet), is about working-class best friends in Oakland, CA. Urban life has rarely been shown like this; it has layers and depth that reflect reality. Diggs is Collin, a young-ish black man working as a mover, living in a halfway house, and waiting for his probation period to end. He has ONLY three days to go when the film starts; he is cautiously hopeful, BUT also somewhat anxious/nervous about what lies ahead. Casal is Miles, Collin’s mouthy/hot-headed white best friend/co-worker who is known for getting into trouble. Collin and Miles have always had each other’s backs, or so it seems; we learn more as the story goes on. Miles (who can be charming) lives w/ his long-time girlfriend- Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones)- and their biracial/pre-school age son, Sean. Ashley desperately wants to send Sean to a better school, BUT she needs a BIT more money each month. Miles, w/ Collin in town, sets out to work his hustle (being quite good w/ words). 

Police (and the quickly gentrifying community) do NOT see Miles and Collin in the same way. Though Miles is deeply loyal to his Oakland roots (w/ MANY tattoos as proof), he’s still a white man. In one of the early scenes, Miles finds a gun in a friend’s car and plays w/ it, laughing and joking. Collin (who is more of a thinker/quieter than Miles) can’t believe Miles’ nonchalant attitude. While driving the moving van home late one night, Collin witnesses a shooting. This event alters his life in ways that he never expected, BUT he has to stay out of trouble, and NOT give into anger. Miles doesn’t make things easy, though. Collin’s wise mother and his concerned ex-girlfriend/psychology student Val (Janine Gavankar- hailing from a prominent Indian film family) tell him to distance himself from his friend. Tensions brim w/in the community and between the two men, who come to realize that there are limits to even the tightest bonds.  Watch the trailer below! 

Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal’s 10-Year Journey to Get Sundance Opener ‘Blindspotting’ to Big Screen

SATC: 20 Years Later

Who hasn’t wondered if they’re a Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, or Samantha!? The iconic HBO show (which was later shown on TBS- where I saw MOST of it) has MANY fans (incl. Beyonce- listen to lyrics in Me and My Boyfriend) and haters. Though it deals w/ modern-day dating (casual/serious), careers (high-powdered/stressful), and (eventually) LTRs and marriage, it’s anchored in something MORE solid than any of these topics- female friendship. No matter what, these four women had each other’s backs (unlike the younger/less mature ones we later saw on Girls). Michael Patrick King admitted that he intentionally limited the family members, since the four gal pals and how they relate to each other was the main focus.

From a distance, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) had a glam life- working as a freelance writer, living in a (rent-controlled) Manhattan apt, w/ a closet filled w/ designer shoes (as well as quirky clothes). The fictional stand-in for author Candace Bushnell, Carrie (32 y.o. in the first season), was focused on her writing and finding love. She was petite, curly-haired, a bit clumsy, BUT also funny/charming. UES art curator Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) always had the dream of a traditional family. In a revealing character moment (early in S1), she incredulously asks: “How do you forget a guy you’ve slept with!?” Charlotte was V conventionally pretty/WASP and more conservative when it came to clothing, demeanor, and men. Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon- now running for governor of NY) was the litigator looking to make partner at her law firm. She was V independent, funny (in a sarcastic way), and NOT focused much on romance (some viewers call her jaded). In one ep, a senior partner assumed she was gay, so set her up w/ another woman (who turned out to be a pal). Samantha (Kim Cattral) was the publicist who boldly stated that she’d try anything once. Though the oldest of this group, she was (arguably) the MOST beautiful, confident, and adventurous (incl. w/ men). Creator Darren Star solely wanted Cattral (an icon from ’80s B-movies) for this role, though she was V reluctant. Some haters feel that Samantha “acted like a man” (whatever that means) and wasn’t “realistic.” Hmmm… that doesn’t mean real “Samanthas” don’t exist.

Though the men take a back seat on SATC, many fine (and fine looking- just being real) actors (from world of movies, TV, & theater) have been involved w/ the women. Carrie’s Achilles heel was Mr. Big (Law & Order alum Chris Noth), the emotionally distant, successful businessman she couldn’t forget… and finally married (in a movie). Frustration was the most common feeling when Carrie broke up w/ furniture-builder Aiden (John Corbett), who MANY thought was her “perfect guy.” Unlike Big, Aiden was expressive, warm, and V willing to share his life. And who can forget Jack Berger (Ron Livingston from Office Space)!? Berger (as she called him) was Carrie’s intellectual equal- a humor writer she met at their publisher’s office. They share witty banter, common thoughts, and honesty. Berger’s advice to Miranda when she questions the lack of a phone call after a first date, “He’s just not that into you,” became a part of pop culture. Berger’s and Carrie’s relationship is strained by career problems; a book deal of his falls through just as she gets a book deal to publish her columns. He breaks up with her on a Post-It (yikes).

It wasn’t a smooth road for the other gals either. Charlotte’s “knight in shining armor” Dr. Trey MacDougal (Kyle MacLachlan of Twin Peaks fame) turned out to be NOT what she expected. They met when Trey’s cab nearly missed hitting Charlotte on the street. She did what MANY women (raised w/ conservative values) have done- married in short time b/c the man was handsome, of similar heritage, w/ a successful career. After her divorce from (still a “mama’s boy”) Trey, Charlotte (unexpectedly) grew close to her attorney, Harry Goldenblatt (Evan Handler). Harry was the antithesis of what Charlotte looked for in a man: bald, pudgy, messy, sweaty, w/ blunt manners and TOO much body hair. But Charlotte fell in love w/ him, and decided to convert to Judaism, b/c it meant that she’d get to be the wife of such a good man. Miranda (perhaps an aspirational figure to young women) turned out to have a great life; she became partner, had a baby boy, bought a brownstone in Brooklyn (before it was cool) and (eventually) married Queens-raised bartender- Steve (David Eigenberg). It came as NO shock to viewers when Samantha ended up single, though she did have two LTRs w/ wealthy industrialist, Richard (James Remar), and much younger actor/waiter Smith (Jason Lewis). She also managed Smith’s acting career for a time.

Looking back, fans and critics alike MAY cringe at the lack of diversity (esp. in a show set in NYC and filmed partly at Silvercup Studios in Astoria, Queens). In S1, Samantha had an elegant/older girlfriend, Maria (played by iconic Brazilian actress Sonia Braga). Later, she dated a young hip hop mogul, Marcus, whose older sister strongly disapproved of interracial relationships. Miranda briefly dated her sports doc neighbor (played by Blair Underwood, an alum of L.A. Law). The two (recurring) gay men on the show, Carrie’s literary agent/friend Stanford (Willie Garson) and Charlotte’s event planner/friend Anthony (Mario Cantone) were drawn w/ a broad brush. At one point, the ladies set them up on a date, though they didn’t have much in common (yeah, that happens to other minorities, too).