A Star is Born (1937) starring Janet Gaynor & Fredric March

In rural North Dakota, a petite redheaded young woman, Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor), goes often to the movies; she also wants to be in them. When she admits this to her family, her little brother laughs, her father is confused, and her aunt considers it foolish (saying Esther needs a husband). Her 70-something grandmother, Lettie (May Robson), is the only one supports her, even giving Esther her own life savings. 
Esther, everyone in this world who has ever dreamed about better things has been laughed at, don’t you know that? But there’s a difference between dreaming and doing. The dreamers just sit around and moon about how wonderful it would be if only things were different. And the years roll on and by and by they grow and they forget everything, even about their dreams. -Grandmother (Lettie) explains to Esther
After a month, Esther still has no job, but makes a new pal who also lives in her hotel- Danny (Andy Devine)- an aspiring director. In a few more months, Danny gets an assistant director job. One night, he recommends Esther for a waitress gig at the home of a studio head, Oliver Niles (Adolphe Menjou). Norman Maine (Fredric March), a handsome/successful/middle-aged actor, can’t take his eyes off her; this is the same man she watched growing up! 
Do you mind if I take just one more look? -Norman asks Esther (after dropping her off after the studio party)
With some prodding from Norman, Oliver prepares a contract for Esther (AKA Vicki Lester). It turns out that her artless personality and girl-next-door looks appeal to audiences. After they marry, the couple go on a honeymoon out West, and Norman even gives up alcohol. And the rest is what dreams are made of, right? Well, it’s not that easy… and Esther discovers the reality behind the glamour quick enough.
His work is beginning to interfere with his drinking. -A reporter comments re: Norman
Norman’s previous heavy drinking, as well as late-night practical jokes, have put off many directors. Though he brought the studio success for many years, Oliver explains that it’s no longer profitable to keep on Norman. The actor says he understands, yet finds it increasingly difficult (on his ego) to be a house husband. Alas, Esther’s love is not enough for Norman! 
[1] March displays just the right degree of brashness, of knowingness, and a combination of ego and a real actor’s almost complete lack of ego. It’s a miraculous piece of work. The script for this version was partly written by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell and it shows. It’s an acerbic and, at times, savage movie about the movies, quite cynical for a major studio picture of it’s day.
[2] March… strikes just the right balance between Norman’s vulnerability and his pomposity. You never doubt that he loves Esther.  
[3] I guess Hollywood knows itself better than anyone else and films about the industry can be scathing. The star is a creature with a fragile ego, one moment a whim can move mountains, a slip in public affections and no one wants to know you. March as Maine has been slipping for some time and he catches on, way too late. But as March is going down, Gaynor is on the up escalator and they meet mid point and fall in love. How they deal with their joint careers or lack thereof in one case is what A Star is Born is all about. 
[4] This movie has been done three times: this one in 1937, then in 1954 and finally 1976. Of course, this story – rags to riches in the acting business – was done first by others – principally Katharine Hepburn in Morning Glory (1933) and, oddly enough, again in Stage Door (1937), and again with Hepburn ably assisted by a host of well-known Hollywood actors… The difference with Star, of course, is it’s maybe the first movie to dig into Hollywood screen acting and make an attempt to lay it bare.
-Excerpts from IMDB reviews
Some Trivia Behind the Film
  • The first all-color film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
  • The movie got its story-line from What Price Hollywood? (1932).
  • It has been speculated that the story was inspired by the real-life marriage of Barbara Stanwyck and her first husband, Frank Fay.
  • The character of Norman Maine was based on several real actors, including John Barrymore, who was considered for the role.
  • During Esther’s screen test, she is dressed in an antebellum costume and surrounded by other actors in Civil War uniforms. This is an in-joke reference to the fact that the producer of A Star is Born, David O. Selznick, had recently bought the rights to adapt Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With the Wind and was undergoing a highly publicized national search for an actress to play the lead role, Scarlett O’Hara. 
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What To Watch Next (OCT 2018)?

Colette (now playing in limited release) starring Keira Knightley, Dominic West, & Eleanor Tomlinson

After marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as “Willy” (West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette’s fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression. -Summary from Bleecker Street 

First Man (opening OCT 12th) starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke, Pablo Schreiber & Ciaran Hinds

This is a biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Gosling), a Midwestern family man and former pilot, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the moon. Though it’s directed by La La Land’s Damien Chazelle, there are NO songs or dances (no worries- LOL)! Critics are suggesting that you watch this in IMAX (if possible). 

Museo (now playing) starring Gael Garcia Bernal

Two 30-something slacker pals (living w/ parents in Mexico City) decide to pull an art heist. This is based on a true story- WOW! This film has been getting good buzz, and I’m a big fan of GGB.

The Hate U Give (opening OCT 19th) starring Amandla Stenberg, Common, Regina Hall, Issa Rae & Russell Hornsby

This looks to be an unique twist on the coming-of-age story (already being praised highly by critics). It was based on best-selling novel by a young black woman, Angie Thomas. A working-class black teen girl from the inner-city, Starr (attending a mostly white private school), experiences the awakening of her racial consciousness after witnessing the killing of her childhood best friend, a black boy, by a police officer.

Venom (opening OCT 5th) starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Woody Harrelson, & Jenny Slate

I learned that Venom was in Spider-Man 3, though this movie is considered to be outside the Marvel universe. Mild-mannered investigative reporter, Eddie Brock (Hardy), uncovers a secret government experiment and eventually merges w/ a symbiote called Venom. I’m curious to see it mainly for Riz Ahmed (who plays villainous scientist Carlton Drake).

RBG (2018)

People ask me “Don’t you feel uncomfortable being compared to a rapper?” Why would I? We have a lot in common like being born and raised in Brooklyn. -Ruth Bader Ginsburg

If you’re not watching #RBGMovie you are missing one of the great multi layered love stories. Love of the law, love of knowledge, love of equality and above all, love of marriage as a true partnership, bursting with mutual respect. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an American original. -Tom Harrington (CBC Radio)

The love story between Ruth and Martin Ginsburg is nothing less than awe-inspiring. I love how she tells about her undergraduate years at Cornell where there was a four to one ratio of boys to girls. “Every mother wanted to send their daughter there because, if you couldn’t find a husband there, you were hopeless.” She reveals that during her freshman year, she never dated the same boy twice. That is, until she met Marty, who was the first guy that recognized she had a brain. -Excerpt from IMDB review

He was okay playing second fiddle. In fact, he joked about it… -Nina Totenberg (NPR legal correspondent) on Marty, a very successful tax attorney in NYC, who moved to DC when his wife’s career took off. 

The film traces RBG’s life from her childhood in Brooklyn through her years struggling to be taken seriously as a young female law student  and practicing attorney, and through her tenure on the SCOTUS and emergence as a pop culture icon. The storyline is mostly linear, but includes frequent jumps backward, forward, and even sideways as it examines different aspects of her life, personality, and public image. There’s a mix of historical photos, videos, but the main draw are the interviews. We hear from Ginsburg’s children, childhood friends, colleagues, admirers and a few detractors, as well as fellow feminist icon Gloria Steinem, former Pres. Bill Clinton, and Ginsburg herself.

Some of the cases RBG argued before the SCOTUS:

  • Frontiero vs. Richardson (1973): A young newly-married woman from Alabama, Sharron Frontiero, working in the U.S. Air Force, sues for gender discrimination when the housing stipend is denied her (unlike male co-workers).
  • Weinberger vs. Wiesenfeld (1975): A widower and father to baby boy, Simon Wiesenfeld, sues the Social Security Administration for sole-survivor benefits (then called “a mother’s benefit” and only avaiable to women). When the case reached SCOTUS, RBG had Simon come sit w/ the lawyers (putting a masculine face in front of the all-male justices).
  • Califano vs. Goldfarb: Leon Goldfarb, a widower, who applied for survivor’s benefits under the Social Security Act had his application denied (even though his wife Hannah had paid Social Security taxes for 25 years).
  • Edwards vs. Healy: Challenging the Louisiana law that allowed women to opt-out of jury service.

You may remember these (high-profile) cases that RBG presided over:

  • U.S. vs. Virginia Military Institute (1996): VMI boasted a long and proud tradition as Virginia’s only exclusively male public undergraduate higher learning institution. The U.S. brought suit against Virginia and VMI alleging that the school’s male-only admissions policy was unconstitutional insofar as it violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
  • Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007): Over her 19 yr. career at Goodyear, Lilly Ledbetter was consistently given low rankings in annual performance-and-salary reviews and low raises relative to other employees. Ledbetter sued for gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that the company had given her a low salary because of her gender.

A granddaughter, Clara Spera, who recently graduated from Harvard Law School, explains that this was the first year that the graduating class was 50% male and 50% female (WOW). Jane and James (her adult children) recall how their mother rarely laughed, stressed education and personal responsibility, and was a horrible cook (LOL). Her husband, Marty, worked hard by contacting people from the business and legal communities to get RBG (then aged 61) to the top of the list for Supreme Court justice in 1993. Pres. Clinton was very impressed by her interview. RBG, who even won the admiration of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), was confirmed 96-3 in a quite partisan time. This is a MUST-SEE documentary (for people of ALL ages)!

A Perfect Man (2013) starring Liev Schreiber & Jeanne Tripplehorn

The summary of this small, indie film is wrong. The man- James (Liev Schreiber) doesn’t fall in love w/ his wife- Nina (Jeanne Tripplehorn)- all over again when she pretends to be someone else over the phone. He has always loved her; BUT there was something lacking w/in himself. At the start of the story, the attractive/middle-aged/American expat couple have a VERY comfortable life in Amsterdam, Holland. James is the lead architect on an unique high-rise building; Nina is an editor working on the autobiography of a glamorous/world-traveling fellow American woman. They live in a spacious apartment, have many friends, and a big/friendly dog- Larry. 

She’s his “context,” but their relationship is NOT enough for him (as he has cheated several times in their 9 yrs of marriage). James’ definition of what it is to be a man is based on how many women desire him. Nina let him “have his space” and he found other women (incl. the wife of his older business partner). Nina finally reaches her limit and leaves their home. This makes him reevaluate what matters most to him in life. 

As Nina’s friend/writer- Lynn (Joelle Carter)- says: “Men are dogs. But I like dogs.” Nina and Lynn (who took her in) drink, dance, and discuss their lives one night. Lynn explains that she’s been thinking re: the differences between men and women TOO long. Yet Nina still wonders what she did, or didn’t do, that caused their relationship to break down. This movie (in my mind) raises more questions that it answers! Are people TOO blase re: cheating? Is marriage (in the traditional sense) dead? Why can’t we communicate better w/ the opposite gender?

This film (made w/ only $5M) could’ve been SO much better! Scenes abruptly end sometimes, as if they ran out of editing dollars. The leads are quite good; they have that unspoken chemistry (which is needed to portray a long-term couple). I always like seeing Schreiber; he immerses himself into every role (though he still has that recognizable NYC accent). It’s TOO bad that Tripplehorn (who has a VERY expressive face and looks amazing) didn’t get more meaty roles in her 30s and 40s. I wanted to know more re: the supporting characters, incl. James’ outgoing mother- Abbie (theater vet Louise Fletcher)- who had several marriages. I did like how the movie ended- full of hope and possibility. When people share so much history, it’s hard for them to walk away from each other. 

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)!