Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Thursday, May 25th is National Wine Day! Celebrated every year it’s an excuse (like you really needed one), to have a glass or two of your favorite vintage. It also seems like an appropriate time to consider wine on cinema.
An Autumn Tale(1998) This French film is directed by Erich Rohmer (My Night at Maud’s, Triple Agent) and is the fourth of Tales of Four Seasons cinema quartet. Magali (Beatrice Romand) is a forty-something widowed winemaker. Magali loves her work but has been lonely since her husband’s death and so her two best friends secretly scheme to find a husband for her. It won the Golden Osella Prize for Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival as was selected as the Best Foreign Language Film by the National Society of Film Critics.
Mondovino(2004) Written and directed by Jonathon Nossiter (a former sommelier from New York’s Balthazar), this documentary examines the impact of globalization on the world’s different wine regions. In competition are the ambitions of giant multinational wine producers like Robert Mondavi with the interests of single estate wineries who pride themselves on wines with individual character. Nossiter also explores the impact of critics like Robert Parker on determining an international ‘style’ of wine. Along the way Nossiter visits wineries in France, Italy, California, and Brazil. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival as well as a Cesar Award and holds a 70% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Sideways(2004) Alexander Payne (Election, Nebraska,) directed and co-wrote this adaption of the Rex Pickett’s novel by the same name. Depressed teacher and would be writer Miles Raymond (the one and only Paul Giamatti) and his best friend, Hollywood Has Been Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church in the role that launched his career comeback) take a week-long trip to Santa Barbara’s wine country to celebrate Jack’s upcoming wedding. Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy) and Virginia Madsen (Ghosts of Mississippi, The Prairie Home Companion) make memorable appearances as well. It was a runaway critical and commercial success, grossing over a $100 million on a $16 million dollar budget. Sideways won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for four other awards including Best Picture.
Bottle Shock (2008) This comedic drama directed by Randall Miller is based on the notorious 1976 wine competition termed the Judgment of Paris when California wine defeated French wine in a blind taste test. These results sent shock waves through the industry, putting Californian wine on the map and signaling the downfall of French domination of the wine industry with new contenders coming from all corners of the world. Bill Pullman and Chris Pine play a father-son team of winemakers but the MVP of the team is the late great Alan Rickman as British wine snob Steven Spurrier.
Red Obsession (2013) This Australian documentary was narrated by Russell Crowe and co-directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross. It takes viewers on a journey from China to Bordeaux as it examines the trends of the global wine industry interviewing winemakers, wine critics, and wine lovers. It won the AACTA awards for Best Documentary and Best Direction in a Documentary and currently holds a 100% fresh rating on the Tomatometer.
It certainly feels like 2016 has been a never ending parade of losses from Alan Rickman, David Bowie, George Michael, Florence Henderson and so many more. Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, now join that list as well. We were all reeling from Carrie’s death at age 60 on December 27, a day after she suffered a heart attack, when we learned that her mother died after suffering a stroke. It was a stunning turn of events, taking two stars, two Hollywood icons, a mother and a daughter, a day apart.
Debbie, 84, was known for her breakout performance as an ingenue in Singin’ in the Rain, going toe-to-toe with Gene Kelly. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Her marriage to singing star Eddie Fisher, Carrie’s dad, came to an end after his affair with Elizabeth Taylor. He would marry Taylor who would then leave him for Richard Burton.
While Carrie will forever be celebrated for her iconic role as Princess Leia, Fisher’s career was longer and far more diverse than Star Wars. She made her film debut in Shampoo, starring opposite Warren Beatty. She went on to make many more films, including The Man With One Red Shoe, When Harry Met Sally, and the far underrated Soapdish alongside Sally Fields, Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin Kline, Elizabeth Shue, and Robert Downey, Jr. Her greatest talents, though, were put to good use as a writer. Fisher was known as being one of Hollywood’s best “script doctors,” sought after to fix troubled screenplays. She used to say her job was to make the girls smarter, but that the male lead actors were always asking her not to make the women funnier. She didn’t always comply. Fisher’s doctored screenplays included such successful films as Sister Act, The Last Action Hero, Outbreak, and The Wedding Singer. She also worked on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles with her old colleague George Lucas.
Carrie Fisher at the Book Signing for “The Princess Diarist” at Barnes and Noble on November 28, 2016 in Los Angeles.
Her debut novel was the semi-autobiographical Postcards From the Edge,which she later wrote the screenplay for as well. (The movie version stars Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, and Dennis Quaid. Don’t miss it!) She would write four additional novels, and they were all to some extent based on her own life. Wishful Drinking was published as a memoir following her one-woman play which she performed on Broadway.It in that work that she would pre-write her famous obituary: “No matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by own bra.” Her last book, The Princess Diarist, was published on November 22, and she was busy promoting it, often with her loyal dog, Gary, at her side.
Fisher suffered from bipolar disorder and in the past had been addicted to cocaine and prescription drugs. She spoke honestly and bravely about all these issues, becoming an advocate for de-stigmatizing mental illness and the dangers of self-medication. Because of this Harvard University awarded Fisher its Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism.
Go in peace Carrie and Debbie. Go in moonlight, dancing.
Photos from Bigstock. Top photo: Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds at at the “Debbie Reynolds: The Auction Finale” VIP Reception at Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio on May 14, 2014 in North Hollywood, CA.
The original Royal Shakespeare/Broadway production of this piece with Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan was electric. From the moment Le Vicomte de Valmont (Liev Schreiber here) slithered into proximity of La Marquise de Merteuil (Janet McTeer in this production) the stage crackled with wit, innuendo, and sexual anticipation. While outwardly meticulously proper, the Machiavellian power game played with others’ lives (and their own) is not just selfish and cruel, it’s rooted as firmly below the waist as it is in intellectual satisfaction.
There’s no denying both leads are excellent actors. The mercurial McTeer was far and away the best thing about this summer’s Taming of the Shrew in Central Park and Schreiber’s cable show Donovan has been well received, but the pair seems miscast, she uncomfortable and he lost in translation. Had this Marquise been coupled with as strong a force of nature as herself, things might’ve gone very differently. (London reviews with another Valmont were raves.)
Schreiber is stiff and brutish in a role that requires lascivious finesse. When calculation is apparent it’s rarely magnetic. A sword fight, however, is terrific, and its consequences well played. While McTeer has glorious moments of self-satisfaction and fury, she’s also forced to roll her eyes as her co-conspiritor peeps from behind a screen. Subtlety exhibited elsewhere is all but eliminated. We barely observe femininity or desire.
The fault lies partly in lack of balance and chemistry and partly in Director Josie Rourke’s rethinking the piece as a melodrama of mores and manners, not the vibrant life or death battle of the sexes its author intended.
We should have suspected how radically this production had changed things in the face of Tom Scutt’s beautifully dilapidated set: faded paint and peeling plaster, minimal furniture under diaphanous drop cloths, candelabras, floral arrangements, period art, and empty picture frames. We’re reminded of the wages of sin by omnipresent decay. As if this weren’t sufficient, contemporary lighting flickers out and rises up as chandeliers descend, so we’re made to distinguish then from now. Ghostly women sing oooo through set adjustments. The original production opened and remained in sensual opulence.
Conveniently a widow, La Marquise de Merteuil has the cleverness, position, resources, and backbone to organize her life and lovers as she chooses. Valmont is her amoral match. The pair, circling one another like feral, though eloquent beasts, had been, and might again be lovers. La Marquise, unaccountably thrown over before she’d been ‘finished,’ wishes revenge on an ex swain about to marry the very young Cecile Valances. (Elena Kampouris making an auspicious debut.) The man’s prize, she tells Valmont, is not Cecile’s inheritance, but her virginity. If he would kindly relieve the girl of her bud before marriage, The Marquise would be obliged.
Elena Kampouris and Liev Schreiber
Valmont at first refuses. He feels Cecile is “…bound to be curious and on her back before the first bouquet of flowers…” i.e. the task is an unworthy challenge. He also has his own current agenda to seduce the unimpeachable Madame de Tourvel without, he adds, disabusing her faith. This would be an accomplishment that could only enhance his considerable reputation. (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen is a graceful, dignified, and then wretched Madame; brava.) When La Marquise offers herself, in exchange for written proof of the deflowering, Valmont agrees. They contrive to place both “victims” at the home of Valmont’s Aunt, Madame de Rosemonde (a superb Mary Beth Peil) whom he will shortly visit. Two birds, as it were, enticed onto one extended perch.
Birgitte Hjort Sorensen and Liev Schreiber
Cecile’s gullible mother (the face-making Ora Jones), Emilie, one of Valmont’s courtesans (a credibly saucy Katrina Cunningham), and Le Chevalier Danceny – a young man besotted with Cecile who, alas, is beneath her while never actually getting beneath her (Raffi Barsoumian, who lacks naiveté ) – become mere pawns. With the help of a spying servant, a duplicitous maid, and the calculating false friendship of La Marquise, Valmont beds the teenager and baits the righteous, married Madame de Tourvel. (This is, alas, poorly depicted as a cold-blooded act, rather than exciting, if initially ambivalent discovery.)
We watch Cecile develop a taste for what’s been forbidden, potentially learning the ways of the world from a master (The Marquise), while Valmont unexpectedly gets enmeshed in a relationship with his prey (Madame de Tourval). The latter, a compelling surprise, revises all plans. La Marquise and Valmont reach a crossroads.
Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber
This is a splendidly written piece of theater, full of smart double entendre, abject decadence and ultimate risk. Unfortunately, pace that should be scintillating too often lags. Our protagonists think (and act) on their feet, forcing reaction to be as swift or at least revealing wrenching effort. Because Josie Rourke’s vision lacks the guilty pleasure of enjoying the art of consummate manipulation, the horror of its outcome also diminishes.
Costume Design (also by Tom Scutt) is handsome but restrained. We never really get a sense of the luxury and excess that act as a Petrie dish for observed games. Mark Henderson’s Lighting cooperates beautifully with actual candles to great effect. Movement Director Lorin Latarro offers stylized motion without appearing awkward. Extremely believable swordplay is attributable to Fight Director Richard Ryan.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Janet McTeer, Liev Schreiber
The Donmar Warehouse Production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Christopher Hampton From the 1782 novel by Choderlos de Laclos Directed by Josie Rourke Booth Theater 22 West 45th Street
With Dr. Strange coming out Friday, (the buzz says that it’s the trippiest Marvel movie yet), inevitably the mind turns to other magicians, wizards, witches, and sorcerers supreme who’ve dazzled us on screen. As the following examples show mastering the Dark Arts is a veritable cinematic tradition.
The Wizard of Oz(1939) This technicolor, musical-comedy-drama-fantasy, based on the beloved Frank L. Baum masterpiece, represents the best of Golden Age Hollywood with Judy Garland in the performance that made her an icon. While (spoiler alert) the titular wizard is a fraud, the powers of Elphalba the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda the Good Witch are very real and propel much of the events of the plot. It was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture but lost to Gone With the Wind. Initially something of a box office disappointment, it would later go on to become one of the best known films in American history and a cultural landmark.
Excalibur(1981) Directed, produced, and co-written by John Boorman (Deliverance and The Tailor of Panama) Excalibur retells the classic legend of King Arthur primarily from the viewpoint of Merlin played with grandeur by Nicol Williamson (Hamlet, Inadmissible Evidence). From the days of Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne in the role that launched his career) to Arthur’s final showdown with Mordred, Merlin steals the show. And this is among a truly great cast including Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Helen Mirren as Morgana Le Fay, Nicholas Clay as Sir Lancelot, Cherie Lunghi as Gwenevere, a young Patrick Stewart as King Leondegrance, Liam Neeson as Sir Gawain, and Corin Redgrave as the Duke of Cornwall. It was all filmed in Ireland, and holds up as one of the best Arthurian adaptions of all time.
The Witches of Eastwick (1987) Directed by George Miller of Mad Max fame and based on the John Updike novel of the same name. Alexandra (Cher), Jane (Susan Sarandon), and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer), are three women all living in Eastwick, Rhode Island who share two things in common. One, they’re all single having lost their husbands. Secondly, unbeknownst to them, they are all witches, and wittingly they start a coven and start practicing spells. Soon the mysterious Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) comes to town and that’s when things start to get freaky. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and holds an over 70% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) Directed by Chris Columbus. No such list would be complete without including the movie based on the best-selling book series that kicked off one of THE most successful film franchises in history. It helped that to do justice to Rowling’s vision they put together an all-star cast as well including Maggie Smith, John Hurt, Robbie Coltrane, and the dearly departed Alan Rickman. Billions of dollars later, Hogwarts has become a cultural landscape that all children secretly dream of being invited to attend, Dumbledore and Snape are now household names, and it launched Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe’s careers into the stratosphere.
The Witch (2015) Newcomer Robert Eggers wrote and directed this historical period supernatural horror tale that came seemingly out of nowhere to become an indie hit that grossed $40 million on a $3 million dollar budget. A puritan family is banished from their old settlement and builds a new farm by the woods. But beginning with the disappearance of their youngest child infant Samuel it soon becomes clear they are being terrorized by a powerful witch. It has an over 90% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and Stephen King said the movie “scared the hell out of me.”
Never tell a soldier he doesn’t know the cost of war.
Eye in the Sky directed by Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, who also appears on screen in a minor role) opens on an idyllic scene of an adorable little girl, Alia (newcomer Aisha Takow), spinning a hula hoop in her backyard. Since her family lives in a militia-controlled part of Kenya, her parents worry about her playing or reading schoolbooks in front of fanatics. They have no way of knowing their sweet child is about to become the center of a debate about the risks of international warfare.
While Alia is going about her daily routine, British military officials – Lt. General Frank Benson (the late, great Alan Rickman) and Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren, who can convey more steely authority with just the set of her shoulders than most performers could with pages of dialogue) – have set up a joint mission with the Americans to capture some of the worst terrorists in East Africa. Powell briefs the drone’s operators, Carrie (played by Phoebe Fox from The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death) and Steve (Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame) that the drone is merely to be the “eye in the sky” on what is set to be a capture mission. Inevitably though, things don’t go as expected and when the terrorists turn up in a hostile neighborhood and are seen preparing suicide vests, Powell decides the best thing is to rain down a Hellfire missile instead. Neither Carrie nor Steve has ever actually executed a missile strike before, so they’re both nervous. Then Alia shows up in the Kill Zone to set up a stall selling bread.
What follows is not only a fast-paced and intense thriller in its own right (Hood’s direction is masterful and he’s aided by a brilliant script from Guy Hibbert), but a rigorous debate about the ethics and fallout of warfare in an age where the instigators are generally making decisions from thousands of miles away. The British are in charge of this mission; Powell and Benson are in England, along with Cabinet members Brian Woodale (Jeremy Northam)and James Willett (Iain Glenn). But the Hellfire missiles will be launched by U.S. military personnel located in Las Vegas. Everyone involved tries to shuffle responsibility and potential blame. Only one Angela Northman (Monica Dolan) seems ready to make a firm decision either way; she’s opposed to the strike but it’s not clear whether she fears more for Alia or for the potential propaganda blowback.
Powell might seem the ostensible hero of the piece, but in her determination to get the job done she’s willing to cross more than one boundary. It’s not coincidental, that the most noble figure of all, local Kenyan agent Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi following up his Academy nominated turn in Captain Phillips) is the only one who’s actually on the ground of the attack site and the only one at personal risk. As the characters weigh the potential costs and damage of this one missile, we in the audience have to ask ourselves about the costs of waging war from afar without consequence.