To Die For (1995)

215px-to_die_for_imp

Based on a novel by Joyce Maynard, with a script by Buck Henry, and directed by Gus Van Zant, To Die For combines dark comedy, traditional drama and “mockumentary” interviews to very entertaining results.

00595110_

Nicole Kidman plays Suzanne Stone, a local cable weather girl with huge dreams of finding fame and fortune as the next Barbara Walters. What Suzanne lacks in talent and intelligence, she makes up for in manipulation and ruthlessness, and nothing, including her marriage, will get in her way.

The movie commences with Suzanne marrying Larry Moretto (Matt Dillon), the biggest catch in Little Hope, New Hampshire. It’s not certain why Suzanne falls for Larry other than she thinks his close Italian-American family has mob connections, which can help her achieve her goals. Larry is lovable, albeit a bit dim, and completely clueless to Suzanne’s calculating ways. All Larry wants to do is settle down in Little Hope, run the family restaurant and makes lots of babies with Suzanne.

maxresdefault1

Of course, Suzanne has different plans. Despite her lack of journalistic and television experience she’s able to charm a local cable TV manager in giving her a gofer job. She parlays this lowly position into a regular stint as a weather girl. It’s not long before she recruits some local teens in producing a subpar TV special called “Teens Speak Out.” Jimmy (Joaquin Phoenix), Russell (Casey Affleck) and Lydia (Alison Folland) are the hardly the type-A achievers you’d expect on a teen-oriented TV show. They’re inarticulate and not good students, but apparently being in awe of Suzanne is the only job requirement necessary.

todiefor

Larry gets a bit fed up with Suzanne’s ambitions and tells her it’s time to get busy with making babies. But Suzanne will have none of this. She tells her mother-in-law that being pregnant on TV is a career killer. Oh, if only Suzanne had waited a decade or so. Today, baby bumps and stupidly named off-spring are the “must have” for any celebrity. You can even become famous for simply having kids.

Suzanne realizes Larry, and his meddling family, is getting in her way of achieving TV success. There is only one thing she can do, recruit Jimmy, Russell and Lydia in bumping off her husband. Now having an affair with the devious, yet seductive Suzanne, Jimmy does the deadly deed. This local murder becomes national news making Suzanne the “star” she always desired and she revels in her tabloid notoriety. Not surprisingly, the hapless Jimmy is not so lucky.

hqdefault1

However, Larry’s family is very wise to Suzanne’s scheming ways and they make sure Suzanne gets her comeuppance. The mousy Lydia, who Suzanne disdained as “white trash,” tells her story in a television interview and becomes famous in her own right.

Every performance in To Die For is near perfection. Matt Dillon is very good as a man who’s happy to have the prettiest girl in town but really wants the homebound hausfrau. Illeana Douglas as Larry’s sister Janice is dryly sarcastic and figures out Suzanne’s BS early on in the game. Both Phoenix and Affleck show a great deal of promise early in their careers in their respective roles.

995tdf_illeana_douglas_001

But To Die For is truly Nicole Kidman’s film. With Kidman’s acting chops, Suzanne Stone is hugely self-absorbed but not very self-aware. Her calculation and cunning is as transparent as a plate of glass, but her telegenic beauty and media-savvy charm succeeds in drawing you closer. Despite ourselves, we want Suzanne Stone to be in front of the camera. Kidman won a very deserved Golden Globe for her portrayal of Suzanne Stone. She is simply a bewitching mix of evil and charisma, and Suzanne Stone is a person we recognize in everything from reality TV to national politics (ahem, or both).

980x

Both the film and the novel were inspired by Pamela Smart, a teacher and wannabe TV personality who convinced a young man to kill her husband. But instead of telling this story straight, the film takes a very satirical look at our obsession with celebrity, fame and notoriety. Merely entertaining when it was released over ten years ago, in our celebrity-entrenched culture, To Die For is a pointed take on a very interesting phenomenon, the desperate need for fame at any cost.

Advertisements

The Spotlight

spotlight-2

***There is a good chance there will be a writers’ strike via the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) according to Variety Magazine.*** (H/T Tari Jordan)

Move ticket prices are getting higher, and Hollywood Reporter tells us why.

Summer of 2017 movie preview courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

Women directed films that are must-sees in 2017!

Geena Davis celebrates the 25th anniversary of A League of Their Own’s release.

Salma Hayek’s Beatriz at Dinner sounds like my kind of film, one that connects with my “Power to the People” mindset.

Talent agent Sandy Gallin dead at 76.

New documentary Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent celebrates the eminent chef and his connection to California cuisine and the renowned restaurant Chez Panisse.

Will Netflix end its mail order DVD service in the age of streaming?

Director John Waters new summer camp for adults, Camp John Waters.

 

 

 

 

The Book Was Better: Every French Man Has One by Olivia de Havilland

every-french-man-has-one

“In France it’s assumed that if you’re a woman you are sexy, and you don’t have to put a dress on to prove it, too.” – Film great, Olivia de Havilland

And it was that sentence from the chapter “The Look I Left Behind” from Olivia de Havilland’s collection of essays Every French Man Has One that utterly enchanted me and reminded me why I’m such a Francophile and a lover of classic Hollywood.

Most of you best remember the iconic Miss de Havilland for her role as Melanie Wilkes in the film classic Gone With the Wind. But she also starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Snake Pit, and one of my favorites, The Heiress, for which she won a very much deserved Oscar for Best Actress.

Miss de Havilland is still with us at 100-years-old and makes her home in Paris, France. So I felt it was only befitting to read her memoir Every French Man Has One (published in 1962), which chronicles her early days in Paris with her French husband Pierre and her children Benjamin and Gisèle.

Like a lot of Americans de Havilland was both charmed and confused by the French culture, language, traffic, food, people and customs. But being a plucky sort, she chose to rise to each befuddling occasion with humor and an open mind.

Throughout Every French Man Has One de Havilland delights the reader with her elegant yet down to earth writing style. Yes, she is a movie star and quite privileged; most of us don’t associate with the high society and famous people, and most of us don’t have maids. But de Havilland’s musings on tackling learning a new language or learn a foreign custom (and often failing at the attempt) is quite amusing and easy to commiserate with. I remember my high school French lessons didn’t quite help when I got to go to Paris many moons ago. Needless to say, I ordered a lot of café au laits during my brief time in the City of Light.

There were other segments of Every French Man Has One that completely enchanted me like how American women and French women approach everything from fashion to cooking to rearing children.

Every French man fully exposes de Havilland’s honest self-awareness without slipping into narcissistic self-absorption that seems to have a grip on today’s celebrities (Kardashians, I’m looking in your direction).

Now for those of you who are looking for some sordid Hollywood gossip, well, you won’t find it in Every French Man Has One. de Havilland is a class act and a keeper of secrets, which is quite refreshing as her is her breezy and witty writing style.

Another thing I liked about Every French Man Has One was how each chapter can be read piecemeal; yes this book is a memoir but it is done in an essay style format. And every reader will find a chapter that is a true standout.

Now as for that elusive title, Every French man Has One. Is Olivia de Havilland referring to what your think she is referring to? You’ll just have to read the book to find out…

Originally published at the Book Self:
https://thebookselfblog.wordpress.com/category/every-french-man-has-one/

Highway 61 (1991)

highway-61-movie-poster-1998-1010234267

In the dark comedy/road movie Highway 61, small-town barber (and sometime musician) Pokey Jones (Don McKellar) seems to be content with his life. Then he finds a dead body in his backyard. Jackie Bangs (Valerie Buhagiar), a rock band roadie, sees a picture of the dead body in the newspaper and decides to pay Pokey a visit. While Pokey dyes her blonde hair red, Jackie tells him that the dead body is her brother Jeffrey, and she has to get him back to the States, New Orleans to be exact, to bury him.

highway61-600x336highway-61-2

Pokey then realizes he’s up for some adventure, and he decides to drive Jackie and her dead brother to New Orleans. However, unbeknownst to Pokey, Jeffrey is not Jackie’s brother. She’s using the corpse to transport drugs back to the States. Still, the naïve Pokey is drawn to the seen-it-all Jackie, and he puts the corpse into a makeshift coffin and straps it to the top of his car. It’s New Orleans or bust!!!

During their journey, most people are vaguely intrigued by the coffin on Pokey’s car. You can always seen odd things while traveling in America. One of the people along the way, is a father trying to make stars out of his weirdly-talking daughters who dance like in a stilted, robotic style. A dead man on the roof of somebody’s car? Who cares? Stardom awaits for this man’s brood.

i307946

But what else awaits? Could it be Satan? Among the group of ragtag characters is Mr. Skin (Earl Patsko) who is basically the devil in the disguise of a sleazy, polyester-wearing huckster. Mr. Skin is buying souls on his journey through America. And just how much is a soul? At times, a bottle of whiskey will suffice. People are cheap. While tempting them to sell their souls, Mr. Skin takes cheap Polaroids of them, and then uses these shots to do not so nice acts on the victims.

image-w448

Pokey may be naïve, but he isn’t dumb. And he begins to figure out that something is up with Jackie and her dead non-brother. But due to his growing attraction to Jackie, and his new found love of America, Pokey sets his reservations aside. He’s finally connecting with places he could only read about in a small-town Canada. It’s time to break the shackles and get wild!! And Pokey and Jackie act on their attraction while enjoying their travels.

In this immensely likable and entertaining film, the American south is used to show the type of oddball characters you probably won’t find in a travel brochure. Don McKellar (who also wrote the screenplay) is sweetly dorkish as Pokey Jones, and Jackie Buhagiar is spot-on as a cynical  roadie. And Earl Patsko nearly steals the show as the devilish Mr. Skin. The movie also uses both irreverent conversations and peculiar observations that will ring true to anyone who has taken a road trip. Highway 61 is wacky, funny and real, and just might inspire you to fill up the car and hit the road…minus a dead body and the Devil, of course.

highway61_1200x600