Archive for the 'Actors' Category


Into the Woods’s Biggest Surprise

Chris Pine singing “Agony” in Into the Woods.

Chris Pine singing “Agony” in Into the Woods.

When I walked out of the new film version of Into the Woods on Christmas Day, I couldn’t believe what I was thinking: “Chris Pine, of all people, just outshone Johnny Depp.” While I was most looking forward to seeing Depp skulk around the woods in his Big Bad Wolf zoot suit and lasciviously sing “Hello Little Girl” to Little Red Riding Hood, he came and went so quickly (and sounded so much like a serpent-breathed Rex Harrison) that I thought he was… just…OK.

On the other hand, the audience seemed to want to break out into applause after Chris Pine’s big musical number, “Agony,” as he preened, strutted, and basked in his own glory as Prince Charming. Pine seems to be in on the joke that transcends this specific character and bleeds into his overall onscreen persona: at best, he’s handsome and likable (the Star Trek movies, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and at worse, he’s vapid and all-surface (as apparently are some of his choices of movie roles). However, maybe like with Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Channing Tatum in Magic Mike, I’ve come to the party late.

Pine has the acting pedigree, experience, and recognition that belies my initial oversimplified view of him. His parents and maternal grandmother were actors, and he studied English at Berkeley and acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. In addition to his extensive film and television work, his stage credentials includes Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig and Beau Willimon’s Farragut North, for which he won a Los Angeles acting award in 2009.

So, I’m not sure I would qualify as a “Pine Nut” (what his fans call themselves) yet, but I stand somewhat corrected.


How I Met Frank Langella

Frank Langella at the Virginia Film Festival

Frank Langella (right) at the Virginia Film Festival

This November marked my eleventh year serving as a volunteer usher at the Virginia Film Festival. Although I’ve enjoyed my time working for the festival, meeting other volunteers, and seeing some extraordinary films that I wouldn’t had otherwise seen, I had never met one of the festival’s special celebrity guests. This year was different.

My volunteer shift included a screening of Frost/Nixon, which explores the making of the 1977 television interviews between British television host David Frost and President Richard Nixon. In the film, Nixon is played by actor Frank Langella in an Oscar-nominated performance. I had seen Frost/Nixon when it was first released in 2008 and really enjoyed it.

The festival screening of Frost/Nixon would be followed by a question-and-answer session with Frank Langella. My venue manager asked if I would welcome Langella when he arrived and make sure he was comfortable until the Q&A started.

You never know what a famous person will be like when you meet him or her in real life. I had seen many Frank Langella films, for which he’s primarily known for playing villains, and had even read his memoir, Dropped Names, which is fun and kind of catty. So, I didn’t know what to expect from Langella in person.

When he entered the lobby with his friend and a festival driver, he was a tall, imposing figure in very elegant, casual clothes and what I call a “newsy” cap. He immediately approached me and shook my hand. He face took on a concerned look, as he looked me in the eyes, and he began to apologize. He thought he was running late, but that actually wasn’t the case at all.

As he settled in to await the film’s conclusion, he revealed himself to be a kind and gracious person, asking about the audience, the moderator, and the organization sponsoring the film (where I work).

During the Q&A itself, Langella was passionate, funny, and gracious toward the audience’s questions, especially the those of students.

Frank Langella in the 1979 film, Dracula

Frank Langella in the 1979 film, Dracula

About a week later, I caught Dracula, the 1979 film in which Langella plays the title character. Amidst the dated presentation (but cool production design), he brought a certain elegance and humanness to the character and to the movie as a whole.


Why I’m Excited About The Judge Even If It Ends Up Being a Mediocre Movie

The-Judge-2014-Movie-Poster-WallpaperSlate staff writer Aisha Harris has written a very perceptive article about Denzel Washington’s career trajectory, which for the last few years, has mostly consisted of bad action flicks. His latest is The Equalizer; not only did Entertainment Weekly give it a “D” grade in its review, but it was the number-one movie at the box office this weekend. In her Slate article, Harris wonders where is the Denzel of Malcolm X, Glory, Training Day, and Flight, all for which he either won or was nominated for an Oscar.

Lately, I’ve been asking the same sorts of questions about one of my favorite actors, Robert Downey Jr. His latest film, The Judge, opens next month. In it, Downey plays a variation of his real-life, Tony Stark persona: cocky but through circumstances, gets knocked down a few notches and needs to build himself up again. In The Judge, Downey might be playing another version of Tony Stark yet again, but at least he’s not actually playing Iron Man this time. Granted, he does a wonderful job as Iron Man, breaking the mold of how a superhero should be and who should play him. That role and Sherlock Holmes has led him to a surprising career resurgence, culminating in being named the world’s highest-paying actor. Who could have guessed 10 or 15 years ago that was what his future would be? Who could have guessed that, even when he was at his critical career peak in the 80s and 90s (think Less Than Zero and Chaplin)? Although the early buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival about The Judge is less than great, the film will hopefully resurrect a Downey that isn’t afraid to try different roles. After all, coloring outside the lines is what he does best.

Here’s a recent profile about Robert Downey Jr. in the October 2014 issue of Vanity Fair.


Brief Encounter Part 2

This is the second part of a five-part series on Brief Encounter.

Brief Encounter on set

Celia Johnson, David Lean, and Trevor Howard on the set of Brief Encounter

I’m always been fascinated by the different personalities involved in film projects, and Brief Encounter is no exception.

David Lean, the director of Brief Encounter, started his career as an editor in the first sound films. Brief Encounter, an early work, is where he first uses elements (some of which will be explored in future posts) that would show up in his later, more mature works. As previously mentioned in my most recent post, while Lean’s career was on the way up toward the Hollywood epics for which he would become famous, Brief Encounter playwright and screenwriter Noel Coward’s career was on the way down toward a nightly Vegas act. A 2002 British Film Institute Sight and Sound poll, which asked film directors to rank other directors, named him the ninth greatest film director of all time. Lean was nominated for the Best Director Oscar seven times, including for Brief Encounter, and won for Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia.

Coward created the part of Laura specifically for British film and stage actress Celia Johnson. She had performed in previous Lean films (as well as in other roles on the stage and screen), but “Laura” would become her most famous role. In addition to being nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for Brief Encounter, she won BAFTAs (the British Oscar) for her work in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and a TV production of Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. She would reunite with her Brief Encounter co-star Trevor Howard for a 1979 television movie.

The unknown Trevor Howard (Alec) was cast in Brief Encounter after Lean saw him in a small role in another film. Howard had a long career, which included The Third Man, co-starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles and directed by Carol Reed. He won a BAFTA for his performance in The Key and was nominated for an Oscar before becoming more well-known as a character actor (Superman, Ghandi).

Brief Encounter marked Stanley Holloway’s first major screen role, although he had smaller roles in previous Lean pictures and was a popular comic stage performer. Portraying the working-class train conductor in this film, Holloway was mostly known for Cockney roles, even though he was born into a middle class family. Movie buffs best know him as Eliza Doolittle’s father (a Tony- and Oscar-nominated role) in the Broadway, West End, and film versions of My Fair Lady.

My next blog post in this series will concentrate on Lean’s use of flashbacks in Brief Encounter.


When My John Cusack Bubble Burst

John Cusack in Say Anything

John Cusack in Say Anything

Can I just say that John Cusack is wonderful? He’s handsome, intelligent, and witty. He may be older and more worn, but I don’t care. His Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything is the watermark for many a girl’s future boyfriends and husbands. Say Anything director Cameron Crowe has said that Lloyd is such a memorable character because he approaches “optimism as a revolutionary act.” In addition to the obvious examples of this statement (Say Anything, High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank), this defining aspect of Cusack’s characters is primarily what makes (for me) otherwise implausible movie plots work, from the sublime (Serendipity, Hot Tub Time Machine) to the ridiculous (Con Air, 2012, Identity, 1408).

Cusack also makes bold choices when playing characters who have a harder time finding hope and optimism in life (The Raven, Being John Malkovich, Grace is Gone). However, I watched a film this past weekend, which challenged what I expect a) from Cusack as an actor and b) from his mere presence positively impacting my perspective on an otherwise mediocre film.

That film was The Paperboy. Let’s say it wasn’t boring. It was difficult to watch in the worse sense. The Paperboy was like bad Tennessee Williams that doesn’t even have the decency to be entertaining or good-bad. The actors, who were A-list (Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron in over this head), tried their best, even though their various takes on Southern accents were laughable. It was all just so over-the-top, and John Cusack couldn’t save this one for me.

John Cusack in The Paperboy

John Cusack in The Paperboy

Cusack plays a man in prison named Hillary van Wetter, convicted for a murder he might not have committed. SPOILER ALERT: By the end of the film, Cusack’s character, a rough redneck in bad clothes with bad hair and a bad accent, has been exonerated and released from prison; he quickly sets about committing rape and murder. Maybe I’m being naïve and experiencing some cognitive dissonance with Cusack the person (persona?) versus Hillary the character, which has negatively influenced my thoughts on the movie as a whole. Or maybe it was just bad.

One of Cusack’s next projects is playing Richard Nixon in The Butler. I hope I’m ready for that!


Rhapsody in Blue in Baz Luhrman’s Great Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio's star appearance in The Great Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio’s star entrance in The Great Gatsby

Although a good deal of the most recent Great Gatsby’s soundtrack is comprised of contemporary hip hop and pop, there is a breathtaking moment in the film in which director Baz Luhrman uses George Gershwin’s 1924 jazz-classical music composition, Rhapsody in Blue, almost as memorably as Woody Allen did in his film, Manhattan. Allen opens Manhattan with black-and-white shots of the city accompanied by Rhapsody in Blue, making the city itself as vital a character in the film as Allen and Mariel Hemingway.

About 30 minutes into The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway, the novel’s and film’s narrator, played by Tobey Maguire, attends one of Jay Gatsby’s infamous parties at his palatial estate on Long Island. Anyone who is anyone is not only there but, with the exception of Nick, uninvited. And who would know they are party crashers anyway since the enigmatic host himself never appears at his own parties?

As the soundtrack’s hip hop keeps pounding, Nick strikes up a conversation with a man whose face avoids the camera. We know who it is, but we go with it because the pay-off will probably be worth it. Nick starts naming all the crazy rumors circulating about Gatsby to this hidden man. And then, as the familiar strains of Rhapsody in Blue take over, Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, surrounded by fireworks and holding a glass of champagne, turns to face Nick (and since we are privy to Nick’s point of view, he is also facing us, breaking the fourth wall) and nods in acknowledgment of his now-revealed identity. In concert with Luhrman’s use of lighting, camera placement, and narrative POV, this deliberate use of the Jazz Age anthem says as much about Leo’s big first entrance and star power as it does about the impact of Gatsby’s surprise appearance.

Rhapsody in Blue, a piece often associated with New York City, had its premiere at New York’s Aeolian Hall two years after the novel, The Great Gatsby, takes place. In 1931, George Gershwin described composing the piece on a train ride to Boston as “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness.” Luhrman successfully incorporates Rhapsody in Blue to explore the themes, moods, and characters of The Great Gatsby, although Gershwin’s purposes were apparently more universal, moving beyond the confines of New York and its upper crust.


Whatever Happened to… Nuwanda and Spot?


Gale Hansen in Dead Poets Society

After watching Dead Poets Society this past weekend (as an English-literature nerd in school, I can’t get enough of it!), I got to thinking about two of my favorite “whatever happened to” actors.

So, whatever happened to…Gale Hansen, who played Charlie Dalton (AKA “Nuwanda”) in Dead Poets Society? Charlie was the smug rebel in his group of friends at Hilton, the private school at which Robin Williams’ Mr. Keating challenges his students with his non-traditional take on poetry (“Carpe diem, boys,” “Yawp!”). Some of DPS’ other more well-known alums, including Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Josh Charles were teenagers at the time, but Hansen was already in his late twenties. According to Wikipedia, after DPS, Hansen did some television work, including Murder She Wrote; he also had a bit part in Woody Allen’s Zelig. states that Hansen serves as a creative executive at Film Finance Company in Beverly Hills. However, after further googling, I found that Hansen, who is actually a vice president of creative affairs at Relativity Media in L.A., is alive and well, tweeting with fans about Dead Poets Society at

Gabriel Damon in Newsies

Gabriel Damon in Newsies

Which got me thinking…whatever happened to Gabriel Damon, Newsies’ very own Brooklyn representative, Spot Conlon? I remember seeing him on an episode of ER from the 90s, but that was it. On the Newsies’ DVD commentary, director Kenny Ortega says that he is out of touch with Damon and would love to hear from him again. In addition to a film role in RoboCop 2, his other television credits include Star Trek: The Next Generation and Baywatch. According to Wikipedia, Damon currently works as a producer, while says he works in post-production and would like to pursue acting again. In my dream world, Kenny Ortega would direct a film version of Gilmore Girls (he directed some of the show’s episodes after all), and Gabriel Damon would show up as a possible love interest for Rory. And Gale Hansen could be Lauren Graham’s leading man (not sure what happened to Luke).