More Holiday Movies

Holiday Engagement (2011)

Hillary (Bonnie Somerville- a former model and singer) is a 30-ish journo in LA w/ a V busy/successful lawyer fiance, Jason.  One day, Jason says that he MAY have to move to Pittsburgh for a promotion; Hillary is surprised/disappointed (b/c everyone she knows is in California). Jason decides to break up w/ her, saying she’s NOT supportive of his career; Hillary is shocked/saddened. She told her fam, incl. her mom (played by veteran comedian Shelley Long) that she was bringing her fiance over during Thanksgiving weekend. Hillary’s bold/opinionated BFF decides to put up an ad on an online dating site (though Hillary is hesitant). There are MANY replies to Hillary’s video ad the next morning, incl. one from an actor, David (Jordan Bridges, son of Beau and grandson of Lloyd). David is NOT a total stranger; Hillary and Sophie had interviewed him for their magazine before. David really needs some work, so he can pretend to be Jason (after all, he’s an actor)! 

This is the (rare) holiday movie, while NOT quite believable, has two good actors (in the leads) w/ plenty of chemistry! Too bad they didn’t give Long any comedic stuff to do; she’s known for that. There are points where the film drags a bit, BUT it’s got some good/touching scenes also. In one of the best scenes, Somerville (who has a beautiful voice) and Bridges (who plays the piano) sing a duet of a X-mas song. It turns out that Hillary’s fam, incl. her 2 younger sisters, don’t have the picture-perfect lives they pretend to lead. While David is NOT rich/successful, he cleans up V nice, loves Hillary’s writing, and is a caring man. What will happen after the real Jason has a change of heart and shows up at Hillary’s parents’ house? This one is worth a watch IMO (check it out on Netflix); it has some quirky dialogue and cute moments.

The Spirit of Christmas (2015)

Kate (Jen Lilley) is a lawyer from Boston who recently broke up w/ a bf (who she wasn’t ever in love w/ anyway). Her boss has ONLY 3 wks get a haunted inn appraised and sold. The kind BUT uncooperative manager claims a spirit living there will NOT approve. With Kate’s possible promotion resting on her success, she checks in (over the holidays) and attempts to deal w/ the ghost, Daniel (Thomas Beaudoin), who was murdered 95 yrs ago. 

This is a well-made (scenery, costumes, sound effects, and acting) holiday film shot in Massachusetts at a historical inn. It has a mystery element, along w/ the romance, which sets it apart from many other films. I thought the flashback scenes were done V well. The actors are pretty good; they portray their characters quite naturally IMO. I’d recommend it to those who liked The Christmas Carol. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and or the famous ’80s film- Ghost. It’s now on Netflix, along w/ MANY other titles. 

Santa’s Boots (2018)

Holly (Megan Hilty), an independent-minded executive living in Seattle, returns home for Thanksgiving and Christmas to Noblesville (a real small town V close to where my lil bro grew up for MANY yrs in central IN). When a young employee gets sick, Holly goes to work as Santa’s elf at her family’s store, Montell’s, where she meets a young Santa, Nick, w/ whom she has great chemistry. The store, which is in trouble, sees a sharp rise in profits over Black Friday (thanks to the teamwork of Holly and Nick, who kids and parents enjoy visiting). Holly doesn’t reveal that she’s the boss’ daughter and Nick doesn’t reveal his last name. When Nick (whose regular job is working on his family’s tree farm) disappears, in a Cinderella story reversal, Holly searches for him w/ the ONLY clue he left behind- his black work boots.

I thought this movie (which premiered last night on Lifetime) has some real-world elements; my friends (who I watched it w/) also agreed. Both Holly and Nick are wondering what to do w/ their futures as they near their 35th birthdays. Holly’s BFF Elle is played by a South Asian actress; it’s NOT unusual to see a few desis as supporting characters or background actors in (Canadian) movies. Days of Our Lives viewers will be happy to see Roark Critchlow (Dr. Mike), who plays Holly’s kind/supportive dad. Holly’s grandmother, a woman who keeps it real, provides some humor. R

NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour (podcast): ‘Tis the Season We Talk Hallmark Movies

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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

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)!

 

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).

Fleabag (2016)

I watched this Brit show (on Amazon Prime) last weekend; there are 6 eps (about 30 mins long). It’s NOT for everyone (TV-MA), BUT does have some interesting/unique components. We’ve ALL seen angry/unlikable/complicated men as protagonists (incl. in comedies) over the past 10 yrs or so. However, there aren’t many female characters like Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a 20ish working woman living in London and dealing w/ grief (incl. that of her BFF/business partner). “Fleabag” is the real-life nickname of Waller-Bridge. She also created a play on which this show is based. Fleabag breaks the fourth wall (as seen prominently on House of Cards); this brings the viewer in closer to the story.
Fleabag struggles to keep her small cafe open, breaks up w/ her sensitive/songwriter BF- Harry (Hugh Skinner), then hooks up w/ different men (one of her coping mechanisms, she admits). Waller-Bridge can be BOTH beautiful and awkward at the same time; she has a flawless face and is tall and slim. Yet she also has a somewhat long/big nose (which gives her an unique look). One of her men is played by an unusually handsome actor (Ben Aldridge). Sidenote: The way others reacted to their pairing reminded me of when Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) dated character played by a soap actor on SATC.
Fleabag has an awkward relationship w/ her father (Scottish actor Bill Paterson) and hates her godmother turned step-mom (Waller-Bridge’s close friend-actress Olivia Colman). Talk about step-mom from Hell- Colman portrays a self-absorbed artist and villain V well here (a departure from her usual roles)! The MOST interesting/complicated relationship is between Fleabag and her seemingly “perfect” older sister, Claire (Sian Clifford). Unlike Fleabag’s aimless approach to life, Claire (Sian Clifford) has to control everything (incl. her own “surprise” b-day party). There is deep love between these women, though they have such different personalities. Both women wonder if they sre “bad feminists”- something V rare for a TV show! Claire is married to an American art dealer, Martin (comedian Brett Gelman), who comes off as creepy and pathetic. I think Martin provides some of the more (obvious) humor.