Friday, March 31, 2017

Robert De Niro is Getting a Face Lift for "I Heard You Paint Houses"

Once upon a time when a story traveled forward over the years, filmmakers relied on prosthetic makeup to make actors look older. Aging an actor, thanks to legions of Hollywood make-artists, wasn’t a problem—think of Mandy Moore morphing seamlessly between her youthful face and the sixty-something grandma in this season’s hit TV drama, This Is Us

For a film that calls for a larger age difference, when we see a character at twenty and then again at 70 or 80, it’s often standard procedure to hire two different actors. Think Ryan Gosling and James Garner as the young and old Noah in the Notebook. (Or as I’d rather, think Ryan Gosling)


Aging backwards, making an older actor look younger than he or she is has never been quite so easy. Ask any actor (usually a woman) who has been shot through a lens smeared with vaseline to smooth over lines and wrinkles to make them look younger, and how obvious that little trick was when the camera moved, crisp and clean to another actor sharing the scene. 


Times, they are a-changing. Remember how Brad Pitt aged in Benjamin ButtonsThe cutting edge technology utilized by David Fincher to take Brad Pitt’s face to a whole array of ages is being used by Martin Scorsese to de-age De Niro in The Irishman. In the movie, based on  Charles Brandt’s true-crime book I Heard You Paint Houses we’ll see De Niro as Frank Sheerhan, a mob hit man, go back in time from his deathbed to his twenties, as he recalls his possible involvement with the killing of Jimmy Hoffa.


According to IndieWire, producer Gaston Pavlovich says they’ve done some tests on the technology and ‘‘it looks extraordinary.’’
“Well, it’s an extraordinary technology that we’ve been looking at. You don’t use prosthetics, make-up, they have acting and the technology is able to have them go through different time ages without the prosthetics. So we’ve seen some tests and it looks extraordinary,” Pavlovich explained. “We were able to film Bob and just do a scene, and we saw it come down to when he was like 20, 40, 60, so we’re looking forward to that, from that point of view, for ‘The Irishman’ … Imagine seeing what De Niro looked like in ‘The Godfather 2‘ days, that’s pretty much how you’re going to see him again.”
I gotta get me some of that! 



The Irishman will also star Al Pacino and Joe Pesci from a screenplay by Oscar-winning Steve Zaillian (Schindlers List, Gangs of New York, Money Ball).  The film is slated for a 2018 release, from what I can tell, production has not yet begun. 


Personal connection 

Robert De Niro is one of a handful of actors I’ve met over the years. I actually never quite met De Niro—who I confess to having a bit of a crush on—but I did buy him lunch. 

Read all about it at SimCarter.com

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beauty & the Beast: Production Design—The Making of a Fairy Tale as Old as Time

In my ‘review’ of Beauty and the Beast I shared that I wanted to take a little closer look at the stunning sets. I appreciate that 'stunning' is one of those words very much in overuse right now. [You won't believe just how stunning ‘celebrity de jour’ looks today.] But in this case, it’s not hyperbole. I would be shocked (really, you won’t believe how jaw-droppingly shocked I would be) if production designer Sarah Greenwood and her art director partner in crime, Katie Spencer didn’t receive a nom, and quite possibly a win. Here, with a nod to Architectural Digest, who had a chat with Sarah Greenwood, that closer look at those phenomenal Beauty & the Beasts dead-drop gorgeous sets. I’ve added photos of the real world inspiration when possible.


A crew of over 1,000 artisans, workers, and builders, wanted to keep the sets as realistic and highly detailed as possible. “The goal isn’t to have the audience think, ‘That looks just like the castle in the animated film,’” Greenwood says in the production notes. “Instead, you want the audience to feel that this is, in fact, the Beast’s castle, because every detail faithfully supports the story they know and love.


The opulent ballroom was designed with the famous waltz scene in mind. The floor’s artwork is based on a ceiling motif at a Benedictine abbey in the Czech Republic.’’

Palace of Versailles
The room’s ten glass chandeliers were based on versions found at Versailles.’’ 

Greenwood and her team built the fictional provincial town of Villeneuve (named after the author of the original fairy tale, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve) on a backlot at Shepperton Studios outside of London.’’
Conques, France
 “The massive set was inspired by the town of Conques, roughly 2/3 of the way between Paris and Marseille in southern France. The reconstruction measured 28,787 square feet.’’ 
Greenwood based the castle’s library on the Biblioteca Joanina in Coimbra, Portugal. The room is filled with thousands of books that were custom-made for the film. 

 Biblioteca Joanina, Coimbra, Portugal


The workshop of Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) was a small but painstakingly detailed set.

The designs of his clocks were inspired by the work of 18th-century German goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger.’’ (above)
There is a lovely scene where Belle speaks with her father while he sits at his workshop table, tinkering with one of his creations. Whenever he needs anything, she is there. Just the right tool, just the right gear, she has it ready almost before he knows he needs it. It’s a wordless expression of Belle’s devotion to her father at the same time providing an interesting look at his creations, intricate pieces that fit together like magic. For anyone who has ever idolized their father, sitting at his feet, happy to hand over a screwdriver or hammer so he could fix this or that, it’s a memorable moment.

Have you seen Beauty and the Beast yet? In just 12 days the movie has made over $700 million worldwide. The year is young but it’s the number one grossing film of 2017 so far.

Moneymaker or not, I thought it was 100% swoonworthy. If I had a teeny complaint it would be I’d like to see more Dan Stevens out of his Beast costume. But then, wouldn’t we all?


The official Beauty and the Beast trailer.



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

IT looks scary as you know what!


I remember my brother chasing my sister through the World’s Fair in Montreal* teasing her that there was a clown he wanted her to meet. Ten years old, she ran like hell. It wasn’t a game, she was terrified. She’s one of the thousands of people who see nothing funny about clowns. Some say about 10 to 12% of the population suffers from this particular phobia, an irrational fear of clowns. They call it coulrophobia.



The upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s It will have to do without them in the seats when the movie comes out in September. Watching this trailer, feeling my own heart race, IT will probably have to do without me too. 




About the movie

In a small town of Derry, Maine, seven children come face to face with life problems, bullies and a monster that takes the shape of a clown called Pennywise.

Bill Skarsgård (brother of Big Little Lies’s Alexander Skarsgård) plays Pennywise, an assortment of young actors play the gaggle of kids including the requisite nerd in glasses, smart girl, fat boy, black boy et al. Three cheers for that. If our own neighborhoods were as diverse as this cast, we’d all have a much better understanding that people are people, no matter what shape, size, sex or color, under the skin. There really is nothing to fear. Except of course, clowns.

*corrected. See the comment section. :)


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Kristen Wiig Cast as Audrey in "Where'd You Go, Bernadette"

A little more action on the Where’d You Go, Bernadette front.
It looks as though Kristen Wiig is going to play Audrey, Bernadette’s annoying, uptight neighbor. Audrey, another of the mothers from the despised Gannett School is so busy judging and minding everybody else’s business she doesn’t see her own son’s problems—drugs, ditching school, the usual—right in front of her face. 



It makes me smile just thinking of Cate Blanchett (Bernadette) and Kristin Wiig (Audrey) fighting over those blueberry trees in the back yard! I'm looking forward to seeing that hillside. I have a fondness for places, houses, old buildings, etc so I’m also looking forward to seeing the ramshackle old boarding school that Bernadette has converted into her home. Because I’m interested in architecture, one of the aspects of the book I enjoyed most was the discussion of Bernadette—a former architect—projects. I’m hoping director Richard Linklater brings some of that into the film as well. 


I wonder who will play the 15 year old Bee? I’d say that’s fairly critical and I’m not up on the young actress scene. Any ideas? 

Shooting Where’d You Go, Bernadette begins this summer in Seattle.




Monday, March 27, 2017

Big Little Lies: Beneath the surface style & shimmer, a dark ugly streak

Nicole Kidman & Alexander Skarsgård as Celeste & Perry
“What started out as a sudsy, delicious series about affluent women Mean Girls–ing around the bluffs and into the public schools of Monterey, California, has slowly unspooled into a weighty, aching, drama.’’                 Alex Abad-Santos/Vox

Just like the book. 

When I read Liane Moriarty’s best seller, that’s how I felt too. Initially seduced by the story’s outer trappings—the wickedly, deliciously gossipy women & the fabulous setting—an affluent fictional beachside community near Sydney, I found myself sucked in more and more deeply, until I deep in the middle of a dark, disturbing turn of events.


Just like Celeste and Perry.

Their romance probably started like that. Frothy, alive, tingly with sex appeal. And then things, slowly, quite without either of them realizing it, things turned very dark and ugly. That’s how abusive relationships are, they don’t start with the man in a rage, grabbing his woman by the hair and throwing her around like he’s some sort of caveman. That happens ever so slowly with both sides of the couple playing their roles in the power struggle. Celeste described it perfectly in last night’s episode, telling the marriage counselor that she has the power in the relationship after he’s hurt her. When he feels like a bad person, when he feels guilty, then she’s on top. She has the power. And in this relationship, when Celeste fights back it doesn’t just enflame Perry’s anger, it fires up his passion too, and Celeste’s. Violence turns to sex. It’s a sick and dangerous cycle.


While I love Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and her take charge style, working through her feelings about her ex and his 2nd wife, and Jane (Shailene Woodley) as the outsider with a child produced from a violent rape, it’s the perfect on the outside pair of Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) that are the most provocative characters in the show, at the crux of the drama. All the beauty, all the money, all the perfection Madeline sees is surface style. What lies beneath the surface is dark, and ugly, their own big little lie. [Do you see facets of your own relationship in Celeste and Perry’s? If so, scroll down for info from the Domestic Abuse Hotline.]

Only one more episode to go and everyone will know what I know, what the millions of Liane Moriarty fans and readers of of Big Little Lies already know—who done it...and to whom!

Do you know—or have a guess—about how Big Little Lies ends?



Do you see elements of your own relationship in the way Celeste and Perry interact? Are you in an abusive relationship yourself? Things don’t just get better. People don’t change without work. 

Check out this info from the National Domestic Abuse Hotline website & seek help while you can.


It’s not always easy to tell at the beginning of a relationship if it will become abusive.

In fact, many abusive partners may seem absolutely perfect in the early stages of a relationship. Possessive and controlling behaviors don’t always appear overnight, but rather emerge and intensify as the relationship grows.

Domestic violence doesn’t look the same in every relationship because every relationship is different. But one thing most abusive relationships have in common is that the abusive partner does many different kinds of things to have more power and control over their partners.

If you’re beginning to feel as if your partner or a loved one’s partner is becoming abusive, there are a few behaviors that you can look out for. Watch out for these red flags and if you’re experiencing one or more of them in your relationship, call or chat online with an advocate to talk about what’s going on.

• Telling you that you can never do anything right
• Showing jealousy of your friends and time spent away
• Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing friends or family members
• Insulting, demeaning or shaming you with put-downs
• Controlling every penny spent in the household
• Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
• Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
• Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
• Preventing you from making your own decisions
• Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children
• Preventing you from working or attending school
• Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets
• Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons
• Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
• Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol

Get more information at the National Domestic Abuse Hotline website or call 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Lost City of Z: Check out Charlie Hunnam 'speaking French' in the dubbed trailer:


From what I gather, Charlie Hunnam has a growing female fan base. I’ve got a hunch that hearing Hunnam dubbed into French for the bande annonce will only make their numbers multiply. The trailer comes without subtitles but from what we know about the movie, Hunnam as real world Col. Percival Fawcett is exhorting the government to fund his mission to find The Lost City of Z.  The trailer also previews some of the adventures he shared with Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson—another big fan base) before he ultimately disappears into the Amazon.


The Lost City of Z was released in France on March 10th, in the UK on March 24th. We get it here in the U.S. on April 14th. 

What's the buzz, is it “an immediate classic” “transformative and profound’’? 

Is it a “lush jungle adventure’’ per the Guardian or a “snoozesome journey into the jungle’’ as the Evening Standard says. 

And did anyone read the book by David Grann? 



Directed by James Gray who gave us the gorgeous The Immigrant, I had high hopes especially with a strong cast which, in addition to two popular young male leads, includes Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Daniel Huttlestone (the little charmer from Les Miz) and Franco Nero.

Regardez le bande annonce!



What do you think of the trailer, my friends Dreaming of France today?

Slacker Sunday Trailer: Queen of the Desert starring Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson & James Franco


The Queen of the Desert starring Nicole Kidman was slammed when it made its debut at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015. I mean savaged. While the movie was released in a dozen or so countries around the world, The Queen of the Desert was mostly shelved. Now it’s set for a limited release on April 14th, with Video on Demand release shortly thereafter. 

Has it had an edit? Have there been reshoots? Because the critics unanimously loathed it then and are pronouncing it just as bad now.

Gertrude Bell c 1900 
(Born July 4 1868–July 12,1926)

How unfortunate! Kidman plays Gertrude Bell, an early 20th century British explorer, writer & archeologist, an important woman who went and saw places few females did, writing about her travels, working to affect change in the middle east. Bell, instrumental in the creation of the country of Iraq, is the kind of woman that other women and girls would love to know more about. Would be empowered to know more about. I’m intrigued enough Bell to suggest the bio by Georgina Howell.



What a shame that even with Nicole Kidman in the lead and a cast that includes James Franco, Damian Lewis and Robert Pattinson as T.E. Lawrence —the Lawrence of Arabia Lawrence—the film has basically been pronounced a failure.


One of its failings seems to be acclaimed director Warner Herzog’s decision to focus on her more amorous adventures rather than her accomplishments. I don’t know. Sometimes I think that women, rather than ignoring their emotional life as they move forward in the world, find they welcome love as an important part of their lives. That we do seek relationship, not in place of achievements, but in concert with them. 

One negative review calls out either the wardrobe or Robert Pattinson as T.E. Lawrence, saying the clothes “sit awkwardly on him.’’ Looking at this production photo of Kidman and Pattinson, I have to agree. Kidman, in form flattering clothing seen in the poster doesn’t fare much better.

Another complaint is that Herzog didn’t push Kidman to throw vanity to the wind, to really embrace living in the desert, as Gertrude did, presenting a more authentic face, without the benefit of Hollywood glamour hair and makeup. 


The real Gertrude Bell in something more practical than the figure-flattering costume shown in the poster.

Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell & Lawrence of Arabia (1921)

In any case, sounds like one to wait for on video on demand. Here’s the Slacker Sunday trailer.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Atonement starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan: #SaturdayMatinee

I’m currently reading Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth about a young woman recruited for Britain’s MI5 in the early 1970’s. As a woman who turned 20 in 1973, I find aspects of Serena Frome especially relatable—not that anybody ever recruited me for any kind of secret intelligence organization! Thanks to my brother for the book recommendation.


Anyway, since I’m reading McEwan and waiting for the adaptations of McEwan’s On Chesil Beach starring Saoirse Ronan and The Children Act starring Emma Thompson—both of which are expected out sometime this year—I thought the McEwan classic Atonement would make for good Saturday Matinee viewing. In my opinion it’s always a good time for James McAvoy, especially in a lush, sweeping romantic tragedy opposite Keira Knightley. 





McAvoy didn’t win any awards for his performance as Robbie Turner, the lower class boy who falls in love with the girl above his station—talk about a tale as old as time—but he was nominated for both a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. 



While both Saoirse Ronan and Keira Knightley received acclaim, it’s generally acknowledged Atonement was Ronan’s break-out role. As the thirteen year old Briony who misunderstands an incident between Robbie and her sister, it’s Briony that sets the whole tragic story in motion.

Atonement won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for Best Picture while the score by Dario Marianelli earned the film’s only Oscar.



Of special note, the production design team of Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, the creative geniuses behind this year’s Beauty & the Beast, did the art direction and set decoration work on this ten year old period film. The pair have been nominated for four Oscars—including Atonement—and while it’s really early in the year, I fully expect them to receive their fifth nom, and quite possibly first win, for Beauty and the Beast.

Atonement is available to stream any old time you want for just shy of three dollars on iTunes, YouTube, Amazon, Vudu and GooglePlay. And it’s currently free on Netflix.



Friday, March 24, 2017

Beauty & the Beast starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens & Luke Evans: What I loved about the movie


There is so much to enjoy about Beauty and the Beast. Of course the songs. Even the new songs—I'm thinking of you Forevermore, sung by Dan Stevens. Dan Stevens as the Beast. Surprising, sexy and sweet with an entirely swoonworthy reveal. 



Emma Watson, while not the  “gorgeous’’ Belle that Gaston proclaims her to be—but that’s the kind of overstatement  you’d expect from a Trumplike Gaston—is more than just a lovely young woman, she’s as smart, as she is pretty. Resourceful—she invents a contraption to wash clothes while she sits and reads—loving, brave, independent and like you and I, immersed in a world of books. 


Luke Evans is perfection as the narcissistic Gaston, Josh Gad comical and endearing as Le Fou, his adoring fan/friend/would be lover—unbeknownst to Gaston who only has eyes for himself. 


Kevin Kline, the rare straight actor in the film—straight in the theater sense of the word, his part is not a singing role—sets up the tale as old as time beautifully. A loving father, he’d do anything for his daughter. Even stop to pluck a rose for Belle when he’s fleeing an enchanted castle, scared out of his wits by a talking teacup. That scene is one of my quibbles with the story, by the way. It’s hard to believe that Papa, as frightened as he is, would stop to pick a flower, but brush that aside, suspend your disbelief, remember Beauty & the Beast is a fantasy and move on.



The cast of characters trapped as objects in the castle, from Emma Thompson a standout as Mrs. Potts to Ewan McGregor as Lumiere were their wonderful best selves, their voices in concert with mind-blowing special effects as dazzling as their surroundings. 


And, oh those surroundings! Production design Sarah Greenwood has to be a shoe in for an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, an Anything and Everything for her creation of the world in Beauty and the Beast.


Not a fairy tale world, the designs are routed in real world 18th century villages and castles. Steeped in authentic details, I could almost feel the sun’s warmth on the stone steps leading to Belle’s cottage and was surprised to learn the village, modeled after French towns like Conque in the south of France, was built on the backlot at Shepperton Studios in England. The castle was inspired by the Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley with interiors straight out of the Palace of Versailles.

The film has a strong message for young girls that women do not have to travel in a prescribed path—Belle was not at all interested in marriage and babies, she was looking for adventure in the big beautiful world out there—that a woman can and should travel her own path. And of course that keeping your eyes open to real beauty, the beauty that lives inside a kind heart and soul, is where true love lives.

The production design by Sarah Greenwood with accompanying set decoration by Katie Spencer are so central to the movie’s success in transporting the audience, I’ll be focusing on those elements in another post.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The trailer for Captain Underpants: Take your reluctant reader to see it


My son went through a Captain Underpants phase back in grade school. He absolutely loved the books, gobbled them up. For parents, especially of young reluctant, mostly male readers, that’s the good news about “The First Epic Movie’’ as goofy and gross as it may be. If your child likes the movie, there are plenty of other Captain Underpants books by Dav Pikey for him to gobble up. From there who knows what he might choose to read as well? Harry Potter, of course, but also The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Louis Sachar’s Holes, The Chronicles of Narnia, Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, Jack London’s classic The Call of the Wild, The Outsiders, The Golden Compass Series by Philip Pullman, Lemony Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events, A Wrinkle in Time, hundreds, thousands, a lifetime of books to love and learn from.

Here's the trailer, the film comes out June 2. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Bell Jar: An interview with Sylvia Plath pre-publication

Sylvia Plath from her Mademoiselle Photo Shoot

I finished Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar the other day and find I’m newly fascinated by everything about the short life of the acclaimed poet and writer. The novel, famously inspired by Plath’s summer as an intern at Mademoiselle magazine in NYC and her own institutionalization is getting it’s second adaptation at the hands of Kirsten Dunst in the director’s chair with Dakota Fanning as Esther Greenwood. The material was first adapted in 1979 with a very 70’s cast that included Marilyn Hassett as Esther, Jameson Parker as Buddy with Julie Harris as her mother.

Plath, with husband Ted Hughes

Poor Sylvia Plath. She was just 31 when she committed suicide at the London home she shared with Ted Hughes and their two children. Putting those two babies in their bedroom with the windows wide open, Plath taped up the gaps around their bedroom door before turning the gas on, putting her head in the oven and taking her own life. It’s hard to reconcile those deliberate actions with what feels like such an act of desperation. But as we know, she had been hearing the call to kill herself from her teen years. 



As I said, I’m newly obsessed with Plath which led me to this 1962 radio interview with Plath and an unidentified British interviewer. While she talks about wanting to write a novel—and was likely working on the novel at the time—she was there to talk about her poetry, the work for which she’d been getting prizes all her life. Her novel would be published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in January, 1963 to lackluster reviews. Plath, her marriage to Ted Hughes in tatters, killed herself a month later.






Mad Girls Love Song was included at the back of my copy of The Bell Jar.

Mad Girl's Love Song
"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)"

Book: The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath

What did you think of the interview? I was struck by the tone of her voice, the deepness and maturity of a woman who sounds much older than thirty, that accent from another time that almost reads as British. And of course, the clear point of view of an accomplished and recognized poet with no signs of what was to come, except perhaps, for her own interest in the subject of mental illness.


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