The Spotlight

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EXCITING NEWS!!! Milwaukee Film Fest to take over Milwaukee’s iconic Oriental Theatre. Just a quick note, the reporter, Dan Shafer, is a former editor of mine.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller fired from Han Solo Star War’s spin-off.

Here is a list of the Hollywood Reporter’s 100 most powerful people in entertainment.
rvel when it comes to making money-over $600 million worldwide.

Hopefully this will garner Gal Gardot bigger paychecks in the sequels.

Daniel Day-Lewis is retiring from acting.

Is Tom Cruise a bit of a control freak?

 

Sophia Coppola on why she decided to remake The Beguiled.

Study proves movies with diverse casts make more money.

Collider’s list of the best box office hits of the 21st century (so far).

This is a must-read essay on the bleakness of mental illness and how mental illness affected the late Carrie Fisher.

 

 

Stephanie Daley (2006)

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We see a trail of blood on the snow. A teenage girl staggers up a hill in some type of struggle. Next she is being carted away in an ambulance. We later find out this girl gave birth in a bathroom stall when a baby’s corpse is found in a toilet by the local authorities.

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Amber Tamblyn plays Stephanie Daley, the title character of this intense drama. Stephanie has been charged with killing her newborn. She claims she had no idea she was pregnant, and that the baby was stillborn. It is up to Lydie Crane (Tilda Swinton), a forensic psychologist, to evaluate Stephanie before she goes to trial.

Lydie herself experienced a stillbirth, and is now pregnant with another child. Her marriage to an architect, played by Timothy Hutton, is on shaky ground. Also, instead of being overjoyed about being pregnant after losing a baby so tragically, Lydie is apprehensive, worried if everything will be okay this time around.

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Stephanie, now known by the media as “ski mom,” is viewed as a horrible murderess of an innocent life. Lydie knows there is much more to the case than tabloid headlines, and she is both empathetic and bewildered by the young woman. Stephanie has a flat affect in these sessions, showing almost no emotion as Lydie questions her about what led up to that fateful day.

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We see Stephanie’s story unfold in flashbacks. She gets pregnant the first time she has sex. The guy tells her he withdrew in time. With her lack of sex education, Stephanie has herself convinced that she can’t be pregnant despite the physical changes. She begins to wear very loose clothing. No one suspects she is pregnant. But how could Stephanie not know she’s pregnant? Is she in denial? This is left ambiguous.

Stephanie’s loneliness in her situation is palpable. Her parents, played by Jim Gaffigan and Melissa Leo, are loving, yet oblivious to what Stephanie is going through. Her high school friends are caught up in new boyfriends and extracurricular activities. And the boy who impregnated her is long gone.

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While on a class ski trip Stephanie goes into labor. She struggles to make it to the ski lodge where she gives birth in a bathroom stall. People go in and out of the ladies’ room completely unaware of what is going on. Stephanie gives birth with no assistance, no hygiene and no drugs. We never see the baby come out of Stephanie, but do see her face in utter agony. This scene is gut-wrenching, and very difficult to watch. In the commentary, director and screenwriter Hilary Brougher claimed some people actually fainted while watching this scene at various film festivals.

Lydie is fully committed in getting the truth out of Stephanie, yet she can’t help but see parallels to her own experiences. She wonders if she truly accepted her stillbirth in the proper manner. And she also questions the choice of getting pregnant so soon after her stillbirth. Plus, Lydie knows her marriage is on the rocks. Can she and her husband make it?

This movie, just like life, is filled with questions. Nothing is ever easily solvable. We live in a world where teen moms are condemned as nasty sluts, and at the same time MTV has made teen moms into media sensations.

Stephanie Daley isn’t so much a “who-dun-it” as it is a “why-dun-it.” It examines the human psyche with both complexity and compassion. The performances are outstanding. And if this movie would have gotten more media attention when it was first released, Amber Tamblyn could have been nominated for an Oscar. Stephanie Daley is not an easy film to watch, but it is an important one. And it is one that stirs both discussion and debate.

Guilty Pleasure Movies: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

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In 1979’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Vince Lombardi High students love rock ‘n’ roll, but they don’t seem too interested in getting an education. The leader of these wayward students is Riff Randall played by PJ Soles (whatever happened to her?). Riff is a huge Ramones fan and would love for them to play at her school. Unfortunately, she has Principal Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov) to deal with. Principal Togar hates rock music and vows to keep it out of the hallowed halls of Vince Lombardi High. After all, how can students concentrate on studying for finals when they’re too busy cranking up the Ramones to ear shattering decibels? Principal Togar recruits horrified parents to burn the offending records, which inspires Riff and the rest of the students take over the school. They are joined by the Ramones who are made honorary Vince Lombardi High students. Finally, the police are summoned and they demand the students evacuate the school, which leads to one hell of a finale. Hmm, my high school years certainly weren’t this explosive.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is loads of fun and boasts a kick ass soundtrack. It’s the perfect guilty pleasure flick for anyone who has wanted to stick it to the man, or in this case, the principal. When you wanna rock, reading, writing and ‘rithmetic can wait.

Saving Face (2004)

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In writer/director Alice Wu’s inter-generational family comedy Saving Face, Michelle Krusiec plays Wil (short for Wilhelmina), a medical resident without much time for a life let alone romance. The only social life Wil seems to have is at Chinese-American gatherings in Queens where people try to set her up available young Chinese-American men.

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However, Wil has a secret. She’s a lesbian. And at one of these gatherings she meets Vivian (Lynn Chen), another lesbian who is also a dancer. Sparks fly between the two women, and slowly their flirtation turns into a romance. However, Wil isn’t quite ready to come out to her family so the romance has to remain a secret much to Vivian’s chagrin (and it doesn’t help that Vivian’s father is also Wil’s boss at the hospital).

In Saving Face, Wil’s mother (Joan Chen) also has a secret, but it won’t stay a secret for long. She’s in her forties, widowed, living with her parents…and pregnant. And she’s not exactly too forthcoming on the man who fathered her child.

Bringing shame onto the family name, Wil’s mother (known as Ma) is kicked out of her parent’s home. Knowing nowhere to turn, she ends up on Wil’s doorstep, and Wil takes her mother in, wondering how she’s going to keep her romance with Vivian a secret and deal with Ma’s impending late in life motherhood.

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As Ma’s belly grows, Wil learns more about her mother, seeing her more as a flesh and blood woman with her own desires and needs. However, this doesn’t exactly inspire Wil to come clean to her mother, and she tries furtively to keep her relationship with Vivian a secret. To be knocked up out of wedlock is one thing; to be a lesbian is quite another. What will the neighbors think? Actually, it’s one of Wil’s neighbors who tries to get her to face herself and Ma.

But will this happen soon enough? When Vivian announces she’s been offered a chance to dance in Paris, Wil realizes she needs to make a decision. Come clean, and admit her romance with Vivian, or remain closeted and let Vivian go. In other words, save face (yet lose someone she truly cares about).

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And Ma must also make some major decisions. One is opening up about who’s the father of her child, a man that superficially, might not seem suitable. And this decision must be made soon before Ma makes the disastrous mistake of marrying someone she doesn’t love just to give her unborn child a name.

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Saving Face examines how we balance the old world (when Wil is with her grandparents she speaks in Mandarin) with a “modern society” (unplanned pregnancy, homosexuality and careerism). And in like any other family, the families in Saving Face are flawed, yet loving. Saving Face may remind viewers of the sleeper hit My Big, Fat Greek Wedding. And though Saving Face is a bit predictable, its good performances and sweet charm make it worthwhile viewing.

The Spotlight

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Actress Lisa Spoonhauer who had a role in the Gen X classic Clerks has died.

We also lost Sir Roger “James Bond” Moore.

London premier of Wonder Woman cancelled due to Manchester attack.

The best films from the Cannes Film Fest…so far.

Intriguing details on Star Wars: The Last Jedi coming out later this year.

Speaking of Sci-Fi, here is Indie Wires’ list of the best Sci-Fi movies of the 21st century so far.

How this deleted scene from Get Out would have changed the film’s outcome.

Yep, there’s going to be a Top Gun sequel. Tom Cruise confirms it.

Nicole Kidman vows to work with more female film directors.

Netflix giving directors a chance to direct original content that don’t focus solely on super heroes.

 

Retro Reels: The Heiress (1949)

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Directed by William Wyler and based on the Henry James novel, Washington Square, The Heiress is a drama that examines the issues of love, revenge, heartbreak, mental cruelty, wealth and class. And it does in a way that makes you think how people’s lives could be different if they were born in another time or place.

Olivia de Havilland plays Catherine Sloper, the daughter of a wealthy doctor, played by Sir Ralph Richardson. Catherine’s mother died giving birth to her, and Dr. Sloper seemingly blames Catherine for his beautiful wife’s death. Catherine, on the other hand, is plain and awkward, and her father never fails to let her know what a disappointment she is to him.

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Catherine seems to be destined to live her gilded cage as a lonely spinster when Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) comes along. Morris is handsome and dashing. He charms Catherine and lavishes loving attention on her that she never received from her father. Catherine gains confidence and begins to bloom as Morris courts her. However, Morris is penniless, and Dr. Sloper believes he’s only with Catherine to gain access to her inheritance. He can’t imagine anyone being interested in his daughter beyond her money.

Morris asks for Catherine’s hand in marriage, telling her they can elope. But Dr. Sloper tells Catherine if she marries Morris he will disinherit her and there is no way Morris can support her. Catherine doesn’t care. She’s convinced Morris truly loves her, not her potential inheritance. Morris finds out but claims it doesn’t matter whether Catherine gets her father’s money or not. They will marry.

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Catherine awaits for Morris to whisk her away and marry her. But he disappears, breaking her heart. Catherine hopes her father will show her some kind of compassion. Instead, he cuts her down with vicious remarks. Catherine tells her father she would have married Morris even if all he cared about was her inheritance. After all, being loved for one’s money is better than being not loved at all.

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Time passes, and Catherine’s heart hardens Her father dies, and leaves her his entire estate. Years later, Morris returns. He went to California intent on making his fortune but comes back to New York making nothing of his life. Still, he professes his love for Catherine. He tells her he only left because he knew losing her inheritance would leave her destitute. Catherine says she forgives him. She also claims she wants to marry him. But is she telling the truth?

Morris comes back that night and that’s when Catherine gets her revenge. She was not sincere in her forgiveness. Coldly, she tells her maid to bolt the door as Morris knocks and knocks, shouting her name. Catherine’s aunt is appalled by Catherine’s behavior, bemoaning her cruelty towards Morris. Catherine turns to her and says, “I have been taught by masters.” Is she wiser or is she bitter? Perhaps she is both. The film fades with Morris still shouting Catherine’s name as she walks up a staircase.

Olivia de Havilland (who won an Oscar for this role) is brilliant as Catherine naturally conveying Catherine’s transformation from victim to victimizer. Montgomery Clift is so beautiful he takes your breath away. He’s also very adept at being a charming manipulator. You’re not surprised Catherine is drawn to him even though you want her to keep him at arm’s length. Sir Ralph Richardson is chilling as Dr. Sloper, yet you also understand he wants to protect his daughter of Morris’ less than sincere intentions.

While watching The Heiress I kept wondering how Catherine’s life could have been different if she had been born in another time. She could have earned a college education, struck out on her own and had some semblance of independence. She could gain confidence and learn to love herself, and maybe, just maybe, attract the right kind of man. Money is wonderful, but it’s not everything, and Catherine proves one can be surrounded by luxury yet be emotionally and mentally impoverished.

The September Issue (2009)

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To a lot of us, fashion seems like a fluffy and superficial profession. But to countless fashion insiders everywhere it is a deadly serious business. This is a business where people know the difference between puce and plum, and where hemlines and necklines are of utmost importance. And that cute handbag you just bought from Target? Quite likely it’s a knock-off of a pricier designer handbag a fashion editor claimed was the “must have” of the season.

And there is probably no more important fashion magazine than American Vogue. At the helm is the British ex-pat Anna Wintour and Vogue is the bible to fashionistas everywhere. And no issue of Vogue is more important than the mammoth September issue, chock full of fashion and beauty layouts, articles, celebrity profiles and yes, lots and lots of advertisements.

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Documentarian RJ Cutler (The War Room, which focused on the 1992 Clinton presidential campain) turns his unblinking camera lens to the creation of the 2007 September issue of Vogue in the documentary The September Issue. The September Issue follows Wintour and crew as the September Issue begins with some nuggets of ideas to a fully-formed magazine on the newsstand.

The September Issue begins with Wintour reflecting on the power of fashion and how it can make some people nervous. Known mostly for her whippet-thin figure, swingy bob and dark sunglasses, it was a bit jarring to hear Wintour speak. Sure, she’s not warm and fuzzy, but there is a reflective side to her that makes her quite human.

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During the film we see Wintour meeting with staff to discuss the issue. We see her jetting off to London, Paris and Rome to attend fashion shows and meet with designers. Wintour can make or break a designer with one raised eyebrow so I wouldn’t be surprised if even established designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld felt a bit nervous about meeting her. But when Wintour likes a designer she is behind that person 110%. Wintour was an early supporter of Thakoon (one of Michelle Obama’s fave designers). Her support of him, dare I say it, is almost sweet.

Wintour is also the editor that put celebrities on the covers of Vogue over models, and the chosen celebrity for this September issue is British actress Sienna Miller. Sienna comes to the Vogue offices and is outfitted in beautiful couture gowns, many which will end up in the magazine. However, the staff is flummoxed by Miller’s hair, which is growing out awkwardly, and not quite up to the magazine’s standards. Later, Wintour is not happy with Sienna’s photo layout shot by legendary photographer, Mario Testino, and the design staff scrambles to make a viable cover.

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Though Wintour is at the top of the Vogue heap, she is not alone in making Vogue what it is. In September Issue, we get to meet editor-at-large (literally) Andre Leon Talley, the cape wearing and Vuitton-loving male Auntie Mame who seems to be employed to kiss Wintour’s skinny ass. I can’t imagine what Talley actually does for the magazine, but he definitely added a fun element to the movie. If he didn’t exist, a Hollywood  would have to create him.

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And then there is the brilliant creative director Grace Coddington. Coddington started out as a fashion model in the swinging sixties. But after suffering a horrific car crash, Coddington turned her talents to fashioned a role behind the camera. Coddington is the yang to Wintour’s yin. If Wintour is all about commerce and wondering if it will sell, Coddington is all about art and creating beautiful and over-the-top fashion layouts that are all fantasy.

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Not surprisingly, Wintour and Coddington don’t always see eye to eye. As the issue is being put together, Coddington is creating a 1920s Parisian cafe society fashion layout inspired by the designer Galianos. Coddington’s vision is pure magic, yet Wintour is not pleased with one of the photos, and wants it deleted. Coddington is not happy. This layout is her baby. Yet, I could see both their points. The shot is gorgeous, yet it doesn’t quite work with the rest of the photographs. The offending photo is cut.

However, Coddington does get to make one final decision. During a last minute photo shoot for another layout, Coddington taps the documentary’s cinematographer, Bob Richman, to join the model in a photo. He happily obliges. Wintour takes a look at the resulting photo and wants to airbrush Richman’s slight pot belly. Coddington nixes the idea, saying, “Everybody isn’t perfect in this world.” Richman’s belly stays in the picture. Finally, after months of preparation, the September 2007 issue of Vogue is released. It weighs over four pounds and is over 800 pages, the largest issue in Vogue history.

RJ Cutler’s “fly on the wall” film making style is what helps make this movie so interesting. You get to see everyone in their element without film maker commentary. I was stunned to see the staff look at the mock ups on a huge wall where pictures and layout can be moved by hand rather than doing it on a computer. I was also pleasantly surprised to see how un-Botoxed and unmade-up the staff was even though most of them, like their leader, is very, very thin. Also, I was surprised how plain the Vogue offices are. I was expecting something ostentatious and grand, but the offices are quite non-descript.

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But most of all, I was surprised how much I didn’t despise Anna Wintour. Sure, she isn’t at Vogue to make friends, but she isn’t the vicious harpy the media makes her out to be. Yes, she’s reserved and exacting but so are a lot of people in any cut throat business. And I doubt any negativity thrown Wintour’s way would be applied to a successful man. But still, Wintour does show some vulnerability as when she talks about her siblings, all of them in more serious professions, who are quite “amused” by her career.

September Issue is a fascinating look at both a legendary magazine and the talented people who make it happen. It is the “must have” for both fashion and film lovers.

Tribute: Audrey Hepburn

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“I never think of myself as an icon. What is in other people’s minds is not in my mind. I just do my thing.” – Audrey Hepburn 

If she had lived, Audrey Hepburn would have turned 88 years old today. Sadly, we lost her over twenty years ago. She never had the chance to reach this milestone. Being a huge fan of Audrey Hepburn, I could continue to mourn her death but I’d rather reflect on why she and her amazing life mean so much to me.

I first became interested in Audrey when I first saw the movie Funny Face as a teenager. In this movie, Audrey plays Jo Stockton, a mousy bookstore clerk turned haute couture fashion model. I figured I’d love this cinematic fairy tale for the Parisian sights, Fred Astaire dance scenes, smart and subversive humor and Givenchy fashions. But I had no idea I would become besotted with a wide-eyed gamine named Audrey Hepburn.

It was a mystery why Audrey grabbed me so much. Sure, she was beautiful, talented and charming, but so are plenty of movie stars. Audrey just had that “it factor” I couldn’t explain but I knew I wanted to see more of her movies and learn more about her as a human being. Who was the Audrey Hepburn beyond the flickering celluloid?

I began renting Audrey’s movies and watching them over and over again. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, My Fair Lady and Charade were just a few of Audrey’s movies I couldn’t get enough of. In these movies, she was both lady-like and spunky, at turns heartbreaking and strong, and so very Audrey. Sure, she made characters like Holly Golightly and Sabrina Fairchild household names, but she wasn’t afraid to court controversial topics like the possibility of lesbianism in The Children’s Hour or a nun questioning her faith in The Nun’s Story. And in her last movie, Always, she played an angel. Now she really is one.

And we can’t mention Audrey without discussing her impeccable sense of style with her friend and confidant, fashion designer, Hubert de Givenchy. Audrey helped introduce women to fashionable basics we now take for granted-big sunglasses, the little black dress, ballet flats to name a few. How empty our closets would be without Audrey’s influence. And she was always willing to give Givenchy the important credit for creating the “Audrey Look.” Audrey wore his clothing in her movies and her in personal life. She often claimed knowing what she’d be wearing in a movie helped her develop a character, and complimented Givenchy’s outfits for making her feel protected.

Like any other woman, Audrey had her share of joy and heartbreak in her life. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and she rarely saw her father afterwards. She nearly starved to death during World War II after the Nazis took over her homeland, Holland. As an adult, she was married and divorced twice, finally finding lasting love with the love of her life, Robert Wolders. Desperate to be a mother, Audrey suffered several miscarriages, finally giving birth to her first son, Sean, in 1960 with Luca following in 1970. Being a mother was Audrey’s greatest joy, and just like so many other mothers out there, she tried to achieve work/life balance and slowed down her career to devote time to her boys.

But Audrey’s care and concern went beyond her own children. In 1988, she got involved in UNICEF. UNRRA, UNICEF’s forerunner, helped Audrey at the end of World War II, and she wanted to pay them back. She became a Goodwill Ambassador and traveled around the world witnessing the atrocities of famine, drought, war, lack of education and how these issues damaged young lives. She took this new found knowledge and informed others, inspiring them to help.

It was during this time, I got to see Audrey in person. Before her untimely death, my friend Nora and I saw Audrey read from the Diary of Anne Frank, accompanied by the New World Symphony and conducted by the legendary Michael Tilson Thomas. Audrey was one of those people who spurned us to action, and to this day, Nora and I are involved in causes within our communities and abroad.

On a final trip to Somalia, Audrey fell ill. At first she thought it was a simple virus, but it was soon found out that she had colon cancer. And sadly, she lost her battle to cancer on January 20th, 1993. Nearly everyone mourned her death. Tiffany & Co. took out an entire page of the New York Times to memorialize her, and People magazine devoted a special issue in her honor. To this day, I can remember hot, sticky tears pouring down my face when Entertainment Tonight played “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s as it showed scenes from her movie and her life.

After Audrey’s death, her sons founded the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund to commemorate her work on behalf of children everywhere. As for me personally, Audrey Hepburn has influenced me in countless ways. Probably the most important way is by improving my community and the world around us through self-education, volunteering, charitable giving, and donating my skills to causes I care about.

Audrey was like a lot of us, yet she compels us to aspire to things greater than ourselves. My life is richer because of her, and I know she will continue to inspire many others. You are missed my Huckleberry friend.

“The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.” – Audrey Hepburn

A  Night in With Audrey Hepburn by Lucy Holliday

Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother’s Kitchen by Luca Dotti with Luigi Spinola