Modern but Relevant to Fans of Classics

My Week With Marilyn (2011)

Anyone will tell you that the hardest part of the movie industry is getting your foot in the door.  Things are no different for 23 year old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne).  He desperately wants to work in the film industry and eagerly waits around the offices of Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) production company, ready to take any job at all that comes along.  Eventually, he ends up getting a job as the third assistant director on Olivier’s new film, The Prince and the Showgirl.  The production of The Prince and the Showgirl was anything but smooth sailing, with Olivier and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) constantly at odds with each other.  When Marilyn’s new husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) leaves England to visit his children in America, Marilyn becomes desperately lonely but begins to find a true friend in Colin.  The two of them become very close, and although their friendship is brief, it leaves a lasting impression on Colin.

Although the movie was good, I don’t expect it to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination come award season.  Maybe at the Golden Globes, but not at the Oscars.  However, I do see it doing well in the acting categories.  Michelle Williams totally nailed it as Marilyn.  When I first heard about her being cast in this film, even though she isn’t a dead ringer for Marilyn, I was happy since I knew she would give a very thoughtful performance and I was not disappointed.  She really did her homework and it paid off big time.  Michelle has talked a great deal lately about how she got into character and I’ve been enjoying hearing what she had to say about that process.  Not only did she read biographies and watch her films, but she also studied the things that Marilyn studied as well.  She read the same books on body language and how to present yourself that Marilyn studied and used to shape her image.  Michelle has also discussed how it was a challenge for her to find Marilyn’s natural voice.  You can listen to plenty of recordings of Marilyn’s voice, but just because she spoke that way in films doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the same way she would speak to a friend while having lunch.  And there aren’t any recordings of Marilyn just having a casual conversation with a friend, so Michelle had to imagine what that voice sounded like and I think she did a good job of figuring that out.

The rest of the cast is also very strong, particularly Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike.  Between Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, it’s easy to forget that they’re not playing the main roles, Eddie Redmayne is.  He was good, too, but is totally eclipsed by Branagh and Williams.  The only casting choice I didn’t care for was Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh.  Julia looked older than Vivien Leigh did at that time.  When it comes to portraying real people in films, I think you can get away with not casting a dead ringer if they compensate by giving an amazing performance.  But if it’s a small part, then you’re better off going for a lookalike since there isn’t much time to make up for it performance-wise.  Since the part of Vivien Leigh isn’t terribly big, I think they could have tried a little harder with that casting.

The important thing to remember about My Week With Marilyn is that it is not a Marilyn Monroe biopic.  If you go into this expecting that, you will be disappointed.  However, if you saw 2008’s Me and Orson Welles and liked that, you’ll probably enjoy My Week With Marilyn as well.

Disclosure:  I saw this at a free advance screening, the passes were given away by a local television station.

Mildred, Mildred, Mildred

Anytime there’s talk of remaking a classic movie, it always generates a lot of excitement in the classic film fan community.  Everyone starts talking about the original movie, a lot of people declare that it can never compare to the original, and then there are some who are willing to give it a chance.  When HBO announced they were working on an adaptation of Mildred Pierce, it was no exception to the rule.  But no matter what someone’s initial reaction is, if you mention that you’ve seen the remake, the first thing they’ll say is, “Well, how was it?”  So, here it is: everything you could want to know about HBO’s Mildred Pierce mini-series, how it compares to the Joan Crawford movie, and even how it compares to the original James M. Cain novel.

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The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

It’s no secret that movies were a favorite form of escapism during the Great Depression.  But for Cecilia (Mia Farrow), that idea is about to take on a whole new meaning.  Cecilia lives in New Jersey with Monk (Danny Aiello), her abusive, gambler, womanizer husband.  He’s out of work, but she and her sister work as waitresses — although Cecilia has a tendency to get more plates on the floor than on the tables.  The only thing that brings her real happiness is going to the movies.  When the local theater starts playing a movie called The Purple Rose of Cairo, she becomes obsessed with the movie.  The Purple Rose of Cairo is about an archaeologist named Tom Baxter, played by Gil Shepard (Jeff Daniels) who meets some socialites while they’re vacationing in Egypt and ends up joining them for a crazy weekend in Manhattan where he falls in love with a singer at the Copacabana.

Anytime something goes wrong in Cecilia’s life, she goes to see the movie again.  The fifth time she goes to see the movie, she’s surprised to notice something a little different about it: Tom begins to talk to her.  Not only does he start talking to her, but he walks right out of the screen and the two of them walk out of the theater together, leaving the audience and the other characters in the movie totally confused.  The two of them go off together and Tom reveals that he’s tired of living the same old story over and over again and wants to be out in the real world with her.  Of course, the real world is quite different from the movie world Tom knows, but that doesn’t matter since he loves Cecilia and Cecilia loves him.  Meanwhile, word of Tom walking out of the movie has gotten back to Hollywood and the film’s producer and Gil Shepard are in a panic about what to do.  They fly out to New Jersey to try to get Tom back into the movie, but while they’re there, Gil ends up running into Cecilia and also falls in love with her.  Eventually, Tom decides to go back into the movie, but he insists on taking Cecilia with him.  The two of them go on a wonderful date in the movie, but when it’s over, Cecilia has to decide between being with Tom or being with Gil.

I absolutely adored The Purple Rose of Cairo, it’s by far my favorite Woody Allen movie.  It’s funny, poignant, and wonderfully acted.  The scenes of the actors stuck in the movie after Tom left were absolutely hilarious.  Mia Farrow played meek, awkward, vulnerable very well and I loved Jeff Daniels in both his roles.  It was really a delight to watch him as the naive, happy-go-lucky Tom Baxter. If you’re a fan of classic films (which I’m assuming you are), you’re bound to love The Purple Rose of Cairo.

I hate to give away the ending of the movie, but I kind of like movies with endings that are a little open to interpretation.  Personally, just because I don’t want to imagine the worst possible scenario for Cecilia, I like to think it’s like that Rolling Stones song: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”  She might not get what she wanted, but hopefully she took a step toward a better life since she finally found the strength to do something she didn’t have the nerve to do before.

Me and Orson Welles (2008)

Note:  I don’t usually turn the spotlight on modern movies, but I was willing to make an exception for one that I think might be of particular interest to fans of classic films.  I promise to resume reviewing the classics in the near future.

In 1937, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) was just like so many teenagers longing to make a name for himself in the world.  He wants to be an actor, but he suddenly finds himself in a position that most aspiring actors can only dream of.  One afternoon, he runs into Orson Welles (Christian McKay) in front of the Mercury Theater and manages to land the part of Lucius in a production of Julius Caesar.  So all of a sudden, Richard has gone from being a high school student to being part of the theater scene and spending all his free time with the likes of Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton.  He also spends quite a bit of time with Sonja (Claire Danes), the theater’s secretary.  A lot of the men in the show have been trying to win her over, but Richard seems to be succeeding where the others have failed.

But Richard quickly realizes that working with Orson Welles can be a very trying process.  Orson may be a brilliant man, but boy, is he arrogant.  Orson was also great at making you feel like you’re part of his inner circle and your presence is valued, but it’s all just for the sake of getting what he wants from you.  Richard learns that last lesson the hard way when he finds out that Sonja had an affair with Orson in hopes of furthering her career.  Not realizing who he was dealing with, Richard confronts Orson just before the show is set to open and Richard is fired.  But not wanting to replace an actor so shortly before the show, Orson apologizes to Richard and hires him back.  Richard believes him and when the show finally does open, it’s a smashing success.  However, Richard doesn’t get to savor the success for long because he is fired immediately after the show, this time for good.  Thrown back to reality, Richard resumes his life as a typical high school student, but with a new direction in life and a new girl.

I’d heard a few good things about Me and Orson Welles here and there since it first came out, but all of a sudden, it seemed like I was hearing a lot of good talk about it so I decided to check it out.  I’m so glad I did because I was really quite impressed by it.  Even though Zac Efron and Claire Danes are the more recognizable names in the movie, there’s no doubt that the real star is Christian McKay as Orson Welles.  Seriously, he was Orson Welles.  He looked like him, he had that voice down, all the mannerisms were completely spot on.  How he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for this movie is a mystery me.  James Tupper as Joseph Cotton was also fantastic.  Zac Efron isn’t somebody I ever really paid much attention to, the only thing I’d actually seen him in was the remake of Hairspray, but I was pleased to see that there might actually be some substance beneath the teen heartthrob exterior.  Overall, it was well written and very well produced.  It absolutely deserves more recognition than it gets.  Especially for someone who spends so much time watching older movies, it was really refreshing to watch something like this and be reminded that there are, indeed, movies still being made that value substance over style.  (But that isn’t to say that Me and Orson Welles lacks style.  The 1930s sets and costumes are fab!)
You’ve just got to look beyond the mainstream to find the real gems like this one.