Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tom Cruise is Young and Green in The Color of Money: Movie for a #TBT

We threw it back to The Hustler for #TBT a couple of months back. Today, since Tom Cruise is in the  news with Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation breaking Friday, I thought I'd take a look at The Color of Money starring Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio and Paul Newman reprising as Fast Eddie Felson.

While both The Hustler and The Color of Money are both inspired by Walter Tevis books featuring Fast Eddie as the protagonist, the inspiration for the second film is loose at best. 

Here's what the book is about:
After 20 years of hibernation, former pool champion "Fast" Eddie Felson is playing exhibition matches with former rival Minnesota Fats in shopping malls for prizes like cable television. With one failed marriage and years of running a pool hall, Eddie is now ready to regain the skills needed to compete in a world of pool that has changed dramatically since he left it behind. The real challenge comes when Eddie realizes that in order to compete successfully, he must hone his skills in the game of nine-ball as opposed to the straight pool that had once won him fame. With a new generation of competitors, fear and doubt and the daily possibility of failure arise, giving Fast Eddie a new challenge to overcome.
Which has almost nothing to do with the movie: 
Fast Eddie Felson teaches a cocky but immensely talented protégé the ropes of pool hustling, which in turn inspires him to make an unlikely comeback.

Cruise, at just 24, is that cocky but talented protege. As Roger Ebert pointed out in his 1986 review of the film, Eddie uses Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio) Vincent's somewhat older girlfriend, to make Vincent (Cruise) jealous. His goal is to subtly undermine the kid's confidence, making him more pliable and susceptible to Eddie's own plans to make some green off the newbie.

While Paul Newman won a Best Actor Oscar and Mary Elizabeth Mastroani received a lot of positive reviews including both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, Tom Cruise was the odd man out. But that makes sense, he was the young guy, playing the trope of trying to knock the big man down a notch. 

In the end, both Fast Eddie and Paul Newman, were far too big to fail. Instead it's the young man, full of swagger and ambition, who sees maybe he's got some living to do, some lessons to learn, before he finds his place in the world too. 

Directed by Martin Scorsese from an Academy Award winning screenplay by Richard Price, The Color of Money has been on my 'to see' list for a long time. Oh, I watched it a long time ago—that would be when it came out in 1986—but mostly I remember being unimpressed. The seediness of the pool hall, the crassness of the culture, the character manipulations turned me off. I was looking for confirmation that the world was a better, brighter place than it was, than it is, the harsh ugly truth was an unwelcome turnoff. At the tail end of a long, ill-fated relationship, it's possible that I saw everything through, not rose-tinted, but dark glasses, the kind blind people used to wear, not to help them see, just to shield the public from staring at their unseeing eyes. 

It's time to revisit this particular movie from the past if only to check in with that very enthusiastic boyish Tom Cruise. How could we be surprised at his couch-jumping antics when it's clear early on that boundless enthusiasm is in his DNA? At 53, Tom Cruise may have mellowed and grown in real self-assurance and confidence. His Mission Impossible' Ethan Hunt may be the guy that can do it all, but it's Tom Cruise, and his youthful boundless enthusiasm, that drives the car, and climbs aboard moving planes. Let's take a look at the boy before he became the man. The Color of Money is available to stream on youtube, GooglePlay, Amazon and Vudu.

Check out the trailer for The Color of Money
Movie for a #ThrowbackThursday

Read Roger Ebert's original 1986 review:

"If this movie had been directed by someone else, I might have thought differently about it because I might not have expected so much. But "The Color of Money" is directed by Martin Scorsese, the most exciting American director now working, and it is not an exciting film. It doesn't have the electricity, the wound-up tension, of his best work, and as a result I was too aware of the story marching by.
Scorsese may have thought of this film as a deliberately mainstream work, a conventional film with big names and a popular subject matter; perhaps he did it for that reason. But I believe he has the stubborn soul of an artist, and cannot put his heart where his heart will not go. And his heart, I believe, inclines toward creating new and completely personal stories about characters who have come to life in his imagination - not in finishing someone else's story, begun 25 years ago.
"The Color of Money" is not a sequel, exactly, but it didn't start with someone's fresh inspiration. It continues the story of "Fast Eddie" Felson, the character played by Paul Newman in Robert Rossen's "The Hustler" (1961). Now 25 years have passed. Eddie still plays pool, but not for money and not with the high-stakes, dangerous kinds of players who drove him from the game. He is a liquor salesman, a successful one, judging by the long, white Cadillac he takes so much pride in. One night, he sees a kid playing pool, and the kid is so good that Eddie's memories are stirred.
This kid is not simply good, however. He is also, Eddie observes, a "flake," and that gives him an idea: With Eddie as his coach, this kid could be steered into the world of big-money pool, where his flakiness would throw off the other players. They wouldn't be inclined to think he was for real. The challenge, obviously, is to train the kid so he can turn his flakiness on and off at will - so he can put the making of money above every other consideration, every other lure and temptation, in the pool hall.
The kid is named Vincent (Tom Cruise), and Eddie approaches him through Vincent's girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). She is a few years older than Vince and a lot tougher. She likes the excitement of being around Vince and around pool hustling, but Eddie sees she's getting bored. He figures he can make a deal with the girl; together, they'll control Vince and steer him in the direction of money.
A lot of the early scenes setting up this situation are very well handled, especially the moments when Eddie uses Carmen to make Vince jealous and undermine his self-confidence. But of course these scenes work well, because they are the part of the story that is closest to Scorsese's own sensibility. In all of his best movies, we can see this same ambiguity about the role of women, who are viewed as objects of comfort and fear, creatures that his heroes desire and despise themselves for desiring. Think of the heroes of "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" and their relationships with women, and you sense where the energy is coming from that makes Vincent love Carmen, and distrust her.
The movie seems less at home with the Newman character, perhaps because this character is largely complete when the movie begins. "Fast Eddie" Felson knows who he is, what he thinks, what his values are.
There will be some moments of crisis in the story, as when he allows himself, to his shame, to be hustled at pool. But he is not going to change much during the story, and maybe he's not even free to change much, since his experiences are largely dictated by the requirements of the plot.
Here we come to the big weakness of "The Color of Money": It exists in a couple of timeworn genres, and its story is generated out of standard Hollywood situations. First we have the basic story of the old pro and the talented youngster. Then we have the story of the kid who wants to knock the master off the throne. Many of the scenes in this movie are almost formula, despite the energy of Scorsese's direction and the good performances. They come in the same places we would expect them to come in a movie by anybody else, and they contain the same events.
Eventually, everything points to the ending of the film, which we know will have to be a showdown between Eddie and Vince, between Newman and Cruise. The fact that the movie does not provide that payoff scene is a disappointment. Perhaps Scorsese thought the movie was "really" about the personalities of his two heroes, and that it was unnecessary to show who would win in a showdown. Perhaps, but then why plot the whole story with genre formulas, and only bail out at the end? If you bring a gun onstage in the first act, somebody will have been shot by the third.
The side stories are where the movie really lives. There is a warm, bittersweet relationship between Newman and his long-time girlfriend, a bartender wonderfully played by Helen Shaver. And the greatest energy in the story is generated between Cruise and Mastrantonio - who, with her hard edge and her inbred cynicism, keeps the kid from ever feeling really sure of her. (Mastrantonio, an Oak Park River Forest High graduate, will be in town this weekend for a reunion.) It's a shame that even the tension of their relationship is allowed to evaporate in the closing scenes, where Cruise and the girl stand side by side and seem to speak from the same mind, as if she were a standard movie girlfriend and not a real original.
Watching Newman is always interesting in this movie. He has been a true star for many years, but sometimes that star quality has been thrown away. Scorsese has always been the kind of director who lets his camera stay on an actor's face, who looks deeply into them and tries to find the shadings that reveal their originality. In many of Newman's closeups in this movie, he shows an enormous power, a concentration and focus of his essence as an actor.
Newman, of course, had veto power over who would make this movie (because how could they make it without him?), and his instincts were sound in choosing Scorsese. Maybe the problems started with the story, when Newman or somebody decided that there had to be a young man in the picture; the introduction of the Cruise character opens the door for all of the preordained teacher-pupil cliches, when perhaps they should have just stayed with Newman and let him be at the center of the story.
Then Newman's character would have been free (as the Robert De Niro characters have been free in other Scorsese films) to follow his passions, hungers, fears and desires wherever they led him - instead of simply following the story down a well-traveled path.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Nicole Kidman & Jason Bateman taking The Family Fang to Toronto

I shared the news that Nicole Kidman had acquired The Family Fang four years ago, in the fall of 2011. It was one of my first posts here on Chapter1-Take1. Then there was nothing, not a speck of news, until last July when I shared an image of Kidman, with newly darkened hair, getting out of a van, to start shooting. The news then was that Kidman was so impressed by Jason Bateman's directorial 'Bad Words' debut, she'd hired him to co-star and direct. The adaptation of Kevin Wilson's 2011 novel was written by David Lindsay-Abaire, the playwright behind both the play and the film, Rabbit Hole

Now, the film's been wrapped up and it's ready to present to the public so we're getting our first official look with the image above, of Kidman and Bateman, the Fang siblings, walking hand in hand across a grassy field. I can't imagine what would compel my brother and I to hold hands but like the True Detective song says, never mindThe Family Fang will make its debut at Toronto's International Film Festival this fall:
After an unlikely accident, a pair of grown siblings (Nicole Kidman and director-star Jason Bateman) are compelled to move back in with their eccentric parents (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett), professional practical jokers whose lifetime of public interventions have alienated their children.

Watch for the official trailer which should be coming soon. If you've been putting it off like I have, it's time to read the book.

Same goes for The Martian which will make its' debut at TIFF too. That's the adaptation of the Andy Weir sci-fi best seller about an astronaut left for dead on Mars who, as star Matt Damon says in the film, is going to have to 'science the shit' out of this and find a way back to earth.

Carter Burwell, a fave of the Coen Brothers and whose music can be heard in Mr. Holmes currently in theaters, wrote the score. Here's his composition, Bella's Lullaby from Twilight.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Things are Looking Rosy for The Rosie Project: Jennifer Lawrence set to star

I'm having a full on love affair with Australian writer Liane Moriarty right now; I've read and loved Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot and The Husband's Secret — the latter two still on my to-do list in terms of writing up my thoughts. I was just about to start Three Wishes but maybe I'll give The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion a go instead. Another international best-seller by an Aussie, it seems like a fun, summery kind of read and it wouldn't hurt to read a romance from a man's point of view. Especially as it's headed for the screen with a script by the same rom-com writing duo of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber who gave us (500)Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars. The pair also scripted an adaptation of Maria Semple's fabulously funny Where'd You Go, Bernadette with Linklater in talks to direct that one as well, so we'll see.

Jennifer Lawrence is set to play 'the whirlwind' that is Rosie, with news that Richard Linklater is in talks to direct. It seems an altogether un-indie choice for the award winning director of Boyhood and the Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight film trilogy but perhaps he'd take some of the sugary-sweet predictable sound of it out? I've got an anti-Jennifer Lawrence bias that I'll have to get over but for those of you who've read it already, how does J-Law stack up as Rosie? And who would you cast as Don the scientist? For God's sakes, please don't say Bradley Cooper!

The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.  
Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you. 
Arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, Graeme Simsion’s distinctive debut “navigates the choppy waters of adult relationships, both romantic and platonic, with a fresh take (USA TODAY). “Filled with humor and plenty of heart, The Rosie Project is a delightful reminder that all of us, no matter how we’re wired, just want to fit in” (Chicago Tribune). 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Poldark: Characters Without Character [Episode 6]

Remember James and Jinny on their wedding day?

Time is speeding along on Poldark. Maybe a little too fast. Demelza and Ross's baby is getting bigger and so is Jim and Jinny's. The 'previously on Poldark' clued us in that the storyline of the latter—Jim in prison for poaching while Jinny waits at home with their child—would figure in Episode 6. I wish we'd spent a bit more time building to the conclusion of Jim's story. The decision to show all the days of his imprisonment marked off in chalk on Jinny's wall seemed contrived; you could almost hear the director and writer conferring on how to shorthand what was happening with Jim so they could get on to Ross and his reaction. 

Don't just stand there! Say something!

Poldark, hearing the prisoners are dropping like flies rushes to the jail with his friend Dr. Enys (Luke Norris) and bluffs his way in to rescue Jim. It's too late of course. They can't save him. Next thing we see is Ross burning his shirt in a bonfire on the cliffs which looks great but is hardly practical as it's quite far from home. Is he going to burn his breeches too? Walk home in the buff? And Enys? Ugh. His geniality is getting to me. He needs to grow a pair and a conscience. He lets Ross take the lead, he lets Kerin (Sabrina Bartlett) take the lead. He knows what she's up to but never has the chutzpah to say, hold on here, you're married, let's stop this before we start. Just like the unbelievably humungous number of Ashley Madison clients, it's clear where these two are headed, with Keren and the doc in bed, and poor Mark probably angry enough to kill him.  

My stomach did a couple of flips last night to see both Verity and Demelza all giddy about the Warleggan's having a ball. Hearing Demelza echo the same refrain as she did over the Christmas Eve invite— what shall I do? how shall I act? — felt tiresome and old hat to me. Her excitement over the ball gown, delivered in a box to the farm, was disappointing, especially in light of Jim's death but also because I expect more of Demelza at this point, expect her to eschew the conventions of the higher classes she's come to mix with, expect her to value what is of real substance not to be distracted by shiny objects but I'm probably holding the poor servant girl to impossibly high standards.

Could this Demelza really have been able to read and write?

Speaking of high standards, at that Christmas Eve party Ruth Teague asks if she can play, and we know she can't because of her 'low birth' but she can sing. Suddenly in last night's episode she can play; when did she learn to play? where did the piano come from? we've never seen her practice. But then since she's an uneducated girl who can aparenty both read and write (would a young woman of her station be able to?) I guess there's nothing Demelza can't do? 

And speaking of shiny objects, why on earth would Ross have a necklace for Demelza delivered to the ball? That was an unaccountable absurdity; its only purpose to provide Demelza with a jewel he could then gamble away. But even so, why deliver it there? 

And oh, Mr. Poldark. You were really pissing me off, what with the drinking and the gambling and ignoring Demelza at the ball. But then you weren't so drunk not to realize you were playing with a cheat and you truly had the upper hand. All fine and dandy if I hadn't been so distracted by your hair. Not just its extra wildness—because of the drinking and the grief—but you and Francis and Doc Enys were the only men there not wearing wigs. I'm not up on all the social conventions but wigs do seem de rigeur. I wonder if like those restaurants that keep a few jackets on hand for patrons who wander in, in nothing but their shirtsleeves, it might have been a good idea for the Warleggan's to keep a few wigs, powdered or plain, in the cupboard!

Verity's behavior was disappointing too. Just like the mealy-mouthed go-along Dr. Enys, she needs to grow a pair and claim the captain as her love. Psssst. Note to Verity: If you're really trying to keep your love a secret, don't go walking out in town together. And especially don't even look at each other in spaces as crowded as the Warleggan's at the ball. Even if Francis hadn't seen you because he was so busy watching Ross almost lose the farm, the rest of the world would. Oh well, at least Verity had the good sense to realize how foolishly she behaved.

Nope. Not a satisfying Poldark at all. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Happy Birthday Sandra Bullock: America's Sweetheart as the 'Infamous' Harper Lee

America's Sweetheart as the 'Infamous' Harper Lee 

The world's most beautiful woman AKA Sandra Bullock turns 51 today. Never one to covet the spotlight the actor smartly broadened her scope, taking on roles well outside the rom-com genre that turned her into America's sweetheart years ago. That includes the role of Nelle Harper Lee in 2007's Infamous about Truman Capote's intimate relationship with the murderers he profiled in In Cold Blood

Infamous starring Toby Jones as Capote is far less famous than Capote starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman which came out a couple of years earlier. It's a lighter look that skims the surface of Truman Capote's dazzling life in the society and gliterati world of 1950's and 1960's New York. In light of the release of Go Set a Watchman, thinking about Bullock playing the reportedly reserved Harper Lee piqued my curiosity. I hope you'll find today's Slacker Sunday video, an interview with the actor and this excerpt from an About Entertainment interview as equally fascinating as I did.

Sandra Bullock on Playing a Very Reserved Character

It’s just what’'s written. I feel like everything I do is a character. Miss Congeniality is not me. I think playing myself would be incredibly boring. It wouldn't bring in an audience. It’'s how it was written, by the research that I did. What I was told, what I uncovered piece by piece, and it molded that person. Again, it’'s just the essence of a human being. We don’'t really know a lot about her and I think she’'d like to keep it that way. But, I was able to get bits and pieces from a lot of great sources that are close to her. A family [friend] of mine lives in Alabama that lives very close to Monroeville and is from roughly that time. That has that cadence, that accent. Monroeville is a totally different accent compared to Birmingham or anywhere else. It has, interesting enough, New Orleans influences. It’'s just little pieces together, but that is how it was written.
Crash was one kind of woman, Miss Congeniality is another kind of person. When I did Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, one of my first films, also a very reserved person.

It just depends on what is written.”

The Research Process

The real Nelle Harper Lee is a very private woman, but Bullock was able to find out a lot about the author of To Kill a Mockingbird through extensive research.
 “Given the material that does exist, taking that, taking photographs… How does she hold her body? How does she hold a cigarette? What do people who worked with her and knew her at the time say about her? What were her quirks? Everyone said she had an incredible sense of humor which made total sense to me. …My dad’'s part of the family is from Alabama and they are natural born storytellers of that time. They are all in that same age, that part of my family, and they can all tell a story because they survived the wars. They survived the Depression. They made something out of nothing.
The accent, we heard a little piece of her voice in the background of an interview with another woman and her laugh. There it is. She’'s a great golfer. People from the outskirts knew her and how she would approach things, her relationship with Truman. And then it all had to come down to what Doug [McGrath] wrote because we don’'t really know a lot about her. I used what I knew about her. There was a sea of stuff we found out from her notes, from what she went through with Truman. We think we found her notes, because they were vastly different from Truman’'s notes at that time. And each one of the pages, ‘T.C. and I went to the Clutters.’ Copious notes. She was a schoolteacher, and the notes were so meticulous. And then you saw the handwriting next to it that was very different from Truman’s, like a teacher. Teachers always have that superb handwriting. If that'’s what we found, I used a lot of what that was. She stuck to the facts. She was there to take notes for him and she didn't like that fact that he was flowering up information.” 
Bullock says they discovered the notes at the New York Public Library on microfiche. “All of the notes from his time are at the New York Public Library,” explained Bullock. “ 
You can go there. It’s pretty fascinating. A lot of notes, but after you’'ve been there a couple of hours you really get to know someone’s handwriting and personality of how they write something down, and scribble vs. these typed notes that were incredibly organized. We could be wrong, but it’s too close.”

On Truman Capote’s Work 

Bullock admits to having an average interest in Capote’s writing. “ 
I’'d read some of his works,” said Bullock. “You read it at an age where you go, ’Oh, that’s pretty cool.’ But, I don’t think you can fully appreciate his writing at 12. I think you can appreciate it as an adult when you have an understanding of the political climate and who he was and the tone of the time. Same thing with To Kill A Mockingbird, as a young child you read it and identify with the children, Scout and Dill, and what these incredible kids did at the time. Then as an adult you read it and you go, ‘What a statement! What a movement she created, for lack of a better word, when it wasn't cool to step out and say these things.’ How many people can say they have created a piece of art way beyond their lifetime here? It still applies. You read To Kill A Mockingbird and it resonates now just as much as it did back then.”

Infamous costume designer Ruth Meyers clearly went over the top with the Capote's clothing. I might have to dig into that one of these days; I think the famous writer would have been more conventionally dressed considering the times. I'm sure there's a ton of material available to dig into on that score so fellow costume design junkies, watch for an upcoming post.

Infamous also featured Daniel Craig as In Cold Blood murderer Perry Smith. Craig was just about to become the new James Bond which absolutely blows my mind. I was resistant at first, but now he's embedded himself into my heart and mind as one of my favorite Bonds. 

I wonder what Sandra Bullock makes of Go Set a Watchman? I wonder what you make of it, if you've read it yet. I've decided not to but at some point, I may just have to renege on my own decision.  Thoughts?


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Matinee: Antonioni's 1st English-Language Film

Today's Saturday Matinee is a repeat. Did you know the first English language film the great Italian director Antonioni's made was based on a short story written in Spanish by an Argentinian author?

Blow Up starring David Hemmings as a groovy London photog. Go back to the 1960's, watch the vintage trailer and read the rest of the story at my original post.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard being made into a movie

I can't vouch for the innards but this book title is just glorious, isn't it: The Scent of Rain and Lightning. Can't you just smell it? The book by Nancy Pickard is on its way to film land and since I've been having a tough time with James Joyce's Ulysses, maybe something like this, a simple narrative, is just what the doctor ordered.
One beautiful summer afternoon, Jody Linder receives shocking news: The man convicted of murdering her father is being released from prison and returning to the small town of Rose, Kansas. It has been twenty-three years since that stormy night when her father was shot and killed and her mother disappeared, presumed dead. Neither the protective embrace of Jody’s three uncles nor the safe haven of her grandparents’ ranch could erase the pain caused by Billy Crosby on that catastrophic night. 
Now Billy Crosby is free, thanks to the efforts of his son, Collin, a lawyer who has spent most of his life trying to prove his father’s innocence. Despite their long history of carefully avoiding each other in such an insular community, Jody and Collin find that they share an exclusive sense of loss.  
As Jody revisits old wounds, startling truths emerge about her family’s tragic past. But even through struggle and hardship, she still dares to hope for a better future—and maybe even love.
The leads have just been cast with Maggie Grace (Lost) likely cast as Jody, Brad Carter (True Detective) as Collin. That's my hunch anyway. Maika Monroe, a young actress I actually do remember from Labor Day has also been cast but not at all sure in what part. The daughter of Jody or Collin? Jody in a flashback? The film is being directed by Blake Robbins, and starts filming in Oklahoma this fall. This is definitely an indie film with no major stars behind it. Whatcha think? Should I read the book?