Archive for October, 2008


Jane Fonda to Appear at Virginia Film Festival!

Jane Fonda will be attending the opening film, “Lake City,” along with the opening night gala, tomorrow night at this weekend’s Virginia Film Festival. The opening film, which is sold out, will begin at 7:00 p.m. at the University of Virginia’s Culbreth Theatre. Although not serving as a panelist, Fonda will be in attendance with her son, Troy Garity, who stars in the film alongside Sissy Spacek and Dave Matthews. “Lake City” was filmed in the Richmond area.

If you’re more into avoiding crowds (but still possibly see some notable guests) at this weekend’s festival, you might want to check out these hidden treasures (click on movie links for dates, times, and locations):

·         Prince of Broadway (with select member of the cast and crew)

·         The Burning Plain (with writer/director Guillermo Arriaga)

·         Local Hero (with actor/director Peter Riegert)

·         Passengers (with newly added special guest, actor David Morse!)

·         Sleep Dealer (with director Alex Rivera)

Finally, if I could pick one film to recommend that I’ve already seen, it would be the original “Cat People.”

This year’s Virginia Film Festival’s theme is “Aliens!” and runs from October 30 to November 2. Check their web site for more info on schedules, venues, box office policies, and volunteering next year.

And say hello if you find yourself at Vinegar Hill Theatre this weekend

Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda



Bette Sans Cigarette

Check out Roger Ebert’s blog entry about the new stamp honoring Bette Davis. He has very interesting things to say about what comprises star persona and how “political correctness” plays into that.


Review: “You Must Remember This”


Bette Davis

Bette Davis

PBS’s American Masters series recently showed a three-part documentary about the Warner Bros. studio, “You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story.” At over five hours, the documentary (written, directed, and produced by film critic Richard Schickel) covers the studio’s founding and the emergence of sound film up to its present-day products (and “products” is the correct term). Current commentary is provided by scholars and critics, such as Andrew Sarris and David Thomson; Warner stars, such as Warren Beatty and Clint Eastwood; and my favorite celebrity commentator director Martin Scorsese. Also included are archived interviews with Howard Hawks, Michael Curtiz, Edward G. Robinson, and James Cagney, among others.



Overall, “You Must Remember This” is quite comprehensive and certainly interesting, whether you call a movie a “picture,” a “film,” or a “movie.” It hits the appropriate highlights in Warners history and film history in general, and spotlights important Warners contract stars, such as Cagney, Bette Davis, and Eastwood, even though it probably downplays certain stars’ dissatisfaction with studio restrictions and their subsequent rebellions and suspensions. Listing off the greatest hits of film genres, stars, and eras, as well as their up’s and down’s, can sometimes feel pretty formulaic and slapdash though, like you’re watching an episode of VH-1’s “Behind the Music.”

Still, it’s interesting to watch the connections made through the Warners brand, especially with relation to the gangster genre (even though George Raft was sadly neglected). We can see the changing American culture through the progression of the gangster genre over time in films such as “The Public Enemy,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” and certain films of Scorsese. These films are both reflections and catalysts of their times, filled with threads of unrecognized similarity between each other.

Executive Producer Clint Eastwood provides informative but unobtrusive narration. However, an irritation I had with the documentary was that he seemed to get too much play. About ten of his films were covered over multiple parts. Were the producers doing him a favor for narrating and probably funding some of the project? They made up for this though with a worthy look at Stanley Kubrick, although giving short shrift to how groundbreaking it was that he had so much creative control over all aspects of his Warners films.

I also wasn’t too thrilled with the last hour, which seemed more like an advertisement, devoted to the studio’s recent efforts, such as the Harry Potter and Batman series. The documentary was in fact made in partnership with Warner Bros. Entertainment, which explains this. A studio once renowned for socially conscious genre pictures now takes pride in CGI-laden blockbuster franchises appealing to the widest possible audience. I realize this is indicative of the entire movie “business” now, and I am a fan of the latest Batman movies, so I can only complain but so much.


Laurence Harvey

As many readers have probably already guessed, the image in the first blog entry is from “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962). Angela Lansbury memorably played Mrs. Iselin, a mother so desperate for power within the Communist party that she brainwashes her own son, Sgt. Raymond Shaw, to do her bidding. Raymond Shaw is played by Laurence Harvey. Brainwashed soldiers who served under Shaw in the Korean War recite the movie’s most ironic line: “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” Ironic because Shaw is hardly those qualities.

Like his character in “The Manchurian Candidate,” Laurence Harvey has been characterized and consequently dismissed by critics as cold and mechanical. He is usually not included on many greatest or most popular stars/actors lists. However, because of Hollywood’s tendency to pigeon-hole, some bad script choices, and the overshadowing of personality conflicts with other actors and crew, I think Harvey’s talent has gotten a raw deal. He was probably better utilized in his earlier, British films, such as his Oscar-nominated performance in “Room at the Top” (1959), but I don’t think his Hollywood efforts should be brushed aside either. He helped three of his female co-stars go on to win Academy Awards for Best Actress: Simone Signoret in “Room at the Top,” Elizabeth Taylor in “BUtterfield 8” (1960), and Julie Christie in “Darling” (1965).

Harvey is an actor as well as a personality of many contradictions and surprises. Born in Lithuania to a Jewish family in 1928 (his birth name is disputed but is generally thought to be Laruschka Mischa Skikne), he lived in South Africa before moving to England to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. There, he perfected an upper-crust style, manner, and accent that would become his trademarks. Unfortunately, in the mid to late 1960’s, his career started to decline when such qualities more associated with studio stars, such as Cary Grant, started being replaced by another type of actor, one more Method-trained, “natural,” and unconventionally handsome (Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, etc.). Harvey died of stomach cancer in 1973; he was 43. In an episode of the anthology series Night Gallery on which he guest-starred (“The Caterpillar”), Harvey’s character is the victim of a worm eating its way to his brain. Legend has it that, already ill, Harvey refused to take any medication in order to keep his character’s reaction to the pain more natural. He’s not acting – the pain is real. His daughter’s life is Hollywood-ized in the movie “Domino” (2005).

The Essential Laurence Harvey

  1. Room at the Top (1959)
  2. Expresso Bongo (1959)
  3. The Alamo (1960)
  4. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  5. Darling (1965)

Your Cinematic Survival Kit

In an emergency, you may need to call upon these items in moments of duress, stress, confusion, and/or bliss – in short, for your very own survival:

  •      1. Films, complete with classical Hollywood, foreign, independent, and contemporary options to suit every possible situation; not necessary to keep said films clean, dry, or free of impurities

   2. Screen icons, known and unknown, acclaimed and underappreciated alike; possibly flammable, but never able to be fully contained



    3. These and other guilty pleasures – because your batteries will undoubtedly need to be recharged every once in awhile