October 26, 2007

October 26, 2006

Movie of the Week
Rails & Ties directed by Alison Eastwood

In a fall obsessed with political dramas Rails & Ties is a welcome respite. I'm not saying that this is a light and easy film to watch because it's not -- it is a character driven intense drama about love and loss which marks Alison Eastwood's directing debut from a script by Micky Levy.

Kevin Bacon plays Tom a man who lives in the world of trains. He is an engineer driving his train up and down the pacific coast, and then spends his free time building his model train in his garage. He is a closed off man. His wife Megan, is played by Marcia Gay Harden, a nurse who has recently been told that her cancer has returned again, and metastasized in her bones. They have a long-time indifferent marriage -- they love each other both pass each other by without really connecting. Megan's death sentence unleashes a torrent of emotions that Tom is incapable of handling. His pain stays deep down and hers just pours out.

Like many people in this situation Megan gets angry, because she thought she had so much time to do everything. Yet she wound up not doing anything. She says "I'm not afraid to die but to know I haven't lived terrifies me."

A terrible train accident changes their lives and a young boy named Davey winds up living with them and instantly changes both of them. Davey's arrival renews Megan and gives her a sense of purpose in her last days, and he also connects with Tom through their mutual love of trains. They become an instant, loving family something that has alluded Megan and Tom throughout their marriage.

The performances are quiet and wonderful. You see and feel their pain. Marcia Gay Harden is one of the best actresses of her generation, getting better and better with each role. In an early scene she is in the bathroom looking at the scar that was her breast and you can't but help hold your breath because these types of scenes are so rare, yet the rawness of that moment helps define the tome of the film. Eastwood doesn't rush any of the scenes, she lingers and let's you think before moving on. Newcomer Miles Heizer (Davey) is able to hold his own and more playing scenes with much more seasoned performers. This film is all about the characters and Eastwood skillfully is able to get nuanced performances from her actors that bode well for a long directing career.

Cate Blanchett goes from Elizabeth to Bob Dylan
The Power and the Glory (The Guardian)

Brooke Smith joins Grey's Anatomy as Dr. Eric Hahn.
Anatomy of a Career Move (LA Times)

Natalie Portman is confused. She runs around naked in the Darjeeling prequel then edits a Scholastic math magazine. We know you're a smart girl Natalie.
Natalie Portman Edits Scholastic Math Magazine (Newsday)

Tube This Weekend
Mrs Miniver (Saturday, 6am, TCM)

October 25, 2007

October 25, 2007

What Women Can Learn from Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry is a huge success, even a phenomenon. His new film Why Did I get Married? opened to over $21 million beating both George Clooney's and Mark Whalberg's new films. He plays by his own rules. He didn't screen the film in advance for the critics because he knows that the film critics (especially the newspaper critics) won't help sell tickets to his targeted audience which is Christian, middle-class, African American women. Not your typical Hollywood audience.

Tyler Perry gives me hope. Hope that thinking outside the system works.

Here are some other things I've learned from Tyler Perry.

1- Niche films can be successful. Lately, every article about women in Hollywood calls us a niche market. So if they want to categorize us that way, let's embrace it and use it. Perry built a brand first on a successful stage show, then with films, then with TV, then with books. He has upwards of 600,000 people on his email list. The TV business is more comfortable with niche shows and the successes of Seventh Heaven, Girlfriends, and Army Wives shows how far ahead TV is in its thinking. The concept of kitchen sink entertainment no longer works. With so many choices, you need to give people what they want when they want it.

2- Hollywood conventional wisdom is flawed. Even though there are several movies that are about and directed by women they will never really appeal to women because they have been developed in the Hollywood pipeline. We need to escape from Hollywood conventions and be adventerous.

3- Find independent financing outside the studio system. Venture capital has been streaming into the movie business and women need to get some of that money. When Perry first tried to get money for his films "hollywood executives told him that African Americans who went to church did not go to the movies. None of the majors would take a chance on Perry on his terms so he cut a nonexclusive deal with Lions Gate, the independent studio known for its horror films "Saw" and "Hostel." Lions Gate gave Perry total autonomy and released the $5-million movie, which was co-financed by the star. It grossed more than $50 million." (LA Times)

4- After you are a success, don't go Hollywood. This is the most important piece. Everybody wants to get a Hollywood deal and the studios bank on that. People try to parlay their small successes into bigger deals that at most times don't lead to movies being made. Perry has made a ton of money but has stuck with Lion's Gate and has just built a 75,000 foot production studio in Atlanta to make his films and TV. Keeping control of his vision and his brand is key to his success.

So, in following Perry's model, women we need our own money, our own studio and people who are willing to think outside the box. The issue I don't have any answer to is the distribution problem. There are a finite amount of screens and too much product. Perry could only get his film in 2,000 theatres.

What do you think?

Tamara Jenkins' tribute to Sundance Institute's Michelle Satter in presenting her the Women in Film Leadership award via Ann Thompson.
Satter has helped nurture female writers and directors including:
Michelle Satter (Variety)

More on Hollywood writer it girl Diablo Cody
Diablo Cody

New Trend: Movie theatres specifically for adults
(USA Today)

It's a sad time to be a indie producer. They are making great films that no one is seeing.
Indie Films Could Use a Little Sunshine (LA Times)

Alison Eastwood's film Rails & Ties opens tomorrow.
Alison Eastwood is Feelin' Lucky (LA Times)
See Women & Hollywood's interview with Eastwood
Women & Hollywood Interviews Alison Eastwood

Do We Keep Seeing Elizabeth Reinvented Because of the Lack of Strong Roles for Women?
Elizabeth Fatigue (BBC)

I gave up on Prison Break two years ago. Fox is looking to expand on the brand by spinning off a women's prison drama.
Fox Eyes Break for Women's Prison (Hollywood Reporter)

The Judith Miller movie is shooting now with Kate Beckinsale playing a much younger Miller type character.
Hollywood Plugs Its Tale of a Leak (Washington Post)

Penelope Wilton is a fantastic actress appearing now in the HBO drama Five Days about the search for a missing woman and the devastating effects on her family.
Unspoken Worlds (The Guardian)

Dakota and Elle Fanning have been cast to co-star with Cameron Diaz in New Line's adaptation of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper. (Variety)

Mercedes Reuhl will star next spring in Edward Albee's The Occupant about the sculptor Louise Nevelson at New York's Signature Theatre Company. (Variety)

Tube Tonight
Carrie Fisher guest stars on 30 Rock (8:30pm, NBC)
Elizabeth Reaser returns to Grey's Anatomy a former amnesiac Rebecca (9pm, ABC) Also check out Reaser in Sweet Land now out on DVD about a mail order bride from Germany who comes to the mid-west after World War One and is not welcome to the town with open arms. Very nice, quiet movie. (Add it to your netflix cue)
Terms of Endearment (12pm Lifetime)

October 24, 2007

October 24, 2007

Women & Hollywood interviews Alison Eastwood, director of Rails & Ties (opening Friday)

Alison Eastwood's makes her directing debut with the small budget ($7m) drama Rails & Ties. The film is a powerful story of love and loss. Both Marcia Gay Harden and Kevin Bacon give Oscar caliber performances.

I was able to ask the director a couple of questions about this film and how it feels to be a woman director in Hollywood.

W&H: What was it about this script that made you want to direct?

AE: Originally, I had attached myself as a producer and after a couple of years living with the script and working with the writer (Micky Levy- a woman) I just grew to love these characters. I found them very real and touching and even though Kevin Bacon's character Tom is a very shut down person, I know people like that. I liked the ideas, the subject matter. Everyone deals with tragedy and loss but the idea is that through unsavory circumstances you can still find a way to have connections.
W&H: This is an intimate almost theatrical film not usually released by the major studios nowadays. How did you get this made?
AE: It was initially financed through Warner Independent. The situation with WB distributing came about because Warner Independent is a much smaller division and they had a few films coming out this year and they really weren't capable of distributing and marketing the film. I really lobbied for it to come out this year, films that are more character driven and deep usually come out in the fall, and I just didn't want to wait until next year. I'm lucky because a big studio is willing to get behind a small film with great actors.
W&H: This summer both of Lawrence Kasdan's sons had films come out and I asked myself where are the daughters? (Sophia Coppola is the most prominent and only director daughter I can think of) As the daughter of a director (father is Clint Eastwood) what was it like becoming a director?
AE: It felt natural. Subconsciously, I didn't want to get into directing because I've lived in the shadow and was trying to be an actress. Somewhere I thought I just don't want to go there. But I felt inspired by the story and it felt natural. He (Clint) always made it look easy, enjoyable and collaborative. I know it's not easy.
W&H: Why aren't there more women directing films?
AE: I think the biggest problem is that Hollywood is a boy's club and has been for a long time. It's shifting but we need to keep pushing ahead and developing projects and sticking together. I don't want to sound like a feminist, but we have to band together.
W&H: You don't want to sound like a feminist?
AE: Well I don't really like that term. it's always sounded a little radical to me. I certainly believe in equal rights for women but I also believe there is a way of doing things more subtly. The media makes it a negative term and I feel things can be done without being in your face or angry but showing by example.
In Hollywood, there are more women producers & actresses commanding bigger roles and bigger salaries and have production deals and production companies. It's just a matter of continuing to move forward and it will take a long time but since the 30s and 40s we've come a long way.
It's just a matter of doing good work. It doesn't matter if you are a man or woman, if your work is shabby you're not going to get any respect.
W&H: Did you bring different things to this script because you are a woman?
AE: I don't think a man would have picked this script. I found it to be emotional and touching. It meant a lot to me.
Thoughts: I was a bit disturbed by the feminist comment, but more about her conception that women are commanding higher salaries and better roles. Am I crazy or is this not true? Also, she says we've come a long way since the 30s and 40s- well come on of course we have. The movie business was so young then and the funny thing is that women had more power in the early days of Hollywood. If you are interested in learning more about those days check out Cari Beauchamp's fantastic book Without Lying Down about Frances Marion.

"Winners of the Lifetime Movie Network's Student Filmmaker Competition have been selected by judges Jennifer Lopez, Lauren Shuler Donner and Gale Ann Hurd. First-place winner is Liliana Greenfield-Sanders for Anna; second prize went to Jessica Marie Sutherland for Seven Turn. The pics will premiere on LMN and LMN.tv. (Variety)

The British Independent Film Awards nominees were announced. Women nominees include:
BEST DIRECTOR: Sarah Gavron - Brick Lane
BEST ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway - Becoming Jane; Tannishtha Chatterjee - Brick Lane; Sophia Myles - Hallam Foe; Kierston Wareing - It's A Free World...; Judi Dench - Notes on a Scandal
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR/ACTRESS (combined category) Samantha Morton - Control; Cate Blanchett - Notes on a Scandal

Hampton's Film Festival's winners include Birgit Moller's drama about a fading German model, Valerie which won the Golden Starfish best feature award. Other winners include:
Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue's Iraq War soldier portrait Body of War the audience award for best documentary, Chris Kraus' German female prisoner tale Four Minutes won the audience award for best narrative feature. Matthew Galkin's documentary I Am An Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA won the Golden Starfish Documentary Feature Film Award. Marisa Zanotti's At The End of the Sentence took home the Golden Starfish Short Film Award. (Hollywood Reporter)

Alexandra Pelosi is developing a fictionalized version of her HBO documentary Journeys with George about being on the campaign trail with George Bush. She was hired by uber-screenwriter Steve Zaillian for the project. (Reuters via Hollywood Reporter)
Bush Documentary Inspires Political Romance
King's Men Failure Spurs Project (LA Times)

Jessica Biel has been cast as the lead in Die a Little based on the novel by Megan Abbott. (Variety)

Ashley Judd stars in Helen the English language film debut of Mostly Martha director Sandra Nettelbeck. "Judd plays a woman who gives the illusion of leading a perfect life but actually harbors a dark secret." (Variety)

Shirley MacLaine will star in Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning, for Canadian TV. Pictures also stars Hannah Endicott-Douglas stars as the young Anne Shirley, Barbara Hershey as the grown-up Anne Shirley. (Variety)

Tube Tonight
John Cusack still has a strong place in my heart. See him in the the classic Say Anything (8pm, FMC)
Guilty pleasure show Work Out serves up a special on how they spend their down time. (11pm, Bravo)

October 23, 2007

October 23, 2007

Gotham Awards Nominations Announced
Kicking off the awards season which seems to gets longer and longer each year even though they moved up the Oscars, are the Gotham awards from IFP.
Women nominees include:
Best Feature: The Namesake directed by Mira Nair
Best Documentary: The Devil Came on Horseback directed by Annie Sundberg & Ricki Stern
Best Ensemble Cast: Talk to Me directed by Kasi Lemmons; The Savages directed by Tamra Jenkins
Breakthrough Director: Julia Loktev for Day Night Day Night
Full list of nominees: Gotham Awards (Indiewire)

Megan Fox from this summer's smash the Transformers (which had possibly the worst dialogue I have ever seen in a movie) has been cast in Diablo Cody's Jennifer's Body. Fox plays a cheerleader who gets possessed and starts killing boys and has to be stopped by her best friend. Yuck. (Hollywood Reporter)

Julia Stiles will play a stalking victim who falls for her stalker (come on!) in the adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's Cry of the Owl. I'm disgusted. (Hollywood Reporter)

Tony Kaye talks about his abortion documentary Lake of Fire.
See my review here: Lake of Fire Review
Right to Choose (The Guardian)

DVDs Out This Week
My So-Called Life, which introduced us to Claire Danes and Jared Leto as her object of affection, Jordan Catalano, complete series is out now. (I loved this show)
Mr. Brooks- most people missed this thriller when it was in the theatres. It's worth a look. Stars Kevin Costner, William Hurt and Demi Moore

Tube Tonight
Season finale of Damages on FX (10pm). This show has not yet been renewed. LA Times makes a plea for its renewal.
Making a Plea for Damages (LA Times)

October 22, 2007

October 22, 2007

Review- Matters of Life and Dating
If you're noticing a lot of pink around the reason might be that it is October, breast cancer awareness month. Tonight on Lifetime is the premiere of their annual breast cancer movie Matters of Life and Dating starring Ricki Lake and Holly Robinson Peete. Lake plays Linda Dackman a 30-something woman single woman who is concerned about returning to the dating scene after a cancer diagnosis and mastectomy. Film is based on the book Upfront by Dackman.

Sometimes Lifetime movies are annoying because they try too hard not to be serious. Having had my best friend just go through breast cancer, I got pissed that Lake looked so good after surgery, and that the amount of time from diagnosis to the operating room was like a nanosecond. But the film did calm down after Linda joins a support group and meets Nicole (Robinson Peete) a former camp friend whose circumstances are quite different from hers -- she has no health insurance and is $100,000 in debt from the cancer.

This is not the best movie about breast cancer -- Lake overacts throughout -- but I always give Lifetime credit for tackling subjects other networks won't touch. I just wish they would trust themselves by now to know that we will watch and that the scripts don't need to be so cheesey anymore. My advice to Lifetime is to trust your audience, we are smarter than you think.

Film Comedies No Laughing Matter for Actresses
LA Times writer Carina Chocano takes on the new and disturbing trend -- the lack of roles for women in comedies.

Here are some interesting quotes.

When actress Isla Fisher (girlfriend to Sascha Baron Cohen of Borat fame and new mom) remarked on the dearth of decent comedy roles for women earlier this month ("I realized after 'Wedding Crashers' there aren't that many comic opportunities for women in Hollywood," she told Details magazine. "All the scripts are for men and you play 'the girl' "), the comment was widely picked up, with most of the headlines making some allusion to feminism.
So now in order to justify the truth, you can take comment and label it as "feminist" as a sure way to make sure it doesn't get treated seriously.
The idea that a girl might play anything other than "the girl" in a studio comedy is so far out of the mainstream that it's considered an experimental concept, not to mention a major financial risk. It seems that not a week goes by without a dust-up about the alleged misogyny of studio executives, or a lament about the state of women's careers in Hollywood, or an explosion of frustration on feminist blogs. (Hope she's referring to me)
Smart girl brings up the new Susan Faludi book and our culture's obsession with gender roles. She also refers to David Denby's summer piece in the New Yorker about romantic comedies. Here is my take on the Denby piece. A Fine Romance
"The (hot) girl" so thoroughly displaced the loopy broad -- that venerable type -- from American comedy, that it's hard to imagine where comedians such as Madeline Kahn, Bernadette Peters, Lily Tomlin, Diane Keaton or even Julia Roberts would fit in today.
The "likability" of the male hero has become such an imperative in American comedies -- even in small, woman-written ones such as "Lars" -- that a movie will sooner make a nice guy out of a dude in love with an anatomically correct Barbie than give us a girl's point of view.
When you think about the comedies with female protagonists, you have to go way back to movies like "My Best Friend's Wedding" and "Clueless" or to a bad movie such as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which inverted the fantasy and grossed $354 million worldwide. Maybe there's a lesson in Tyler Perry's ability to tap what is clearly some major pent-up demand from an underserved audience. Half the population is a pretty big niche audience.
Great piece, but as women are 52% of the population the whole niche thing is getting old. Read the piece: Film Comedies No Laughing Matter for Actresses

The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard
Since I got my Tivo a couple of years ago I hardly watch anything in its proper time slot. Last night I turned on The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard to get me to Brother & Sisters. Suffice it to say I haven't watched Brother & Sisters yet. I loooved this movie. I am a political junkie, especially for women in politics, and this film was my ultimate fantasy movie. The mini-series was written by Sally Wainwright and the premise is that Ros Pritchard (played so well by Jane Harrocks who is more known for her comedy), a manager of a Costco type superstore decides to get in the race to be a member of Parliament because she believes she can do as good a job if not better, than the current candidates who wound up in a fist fight outside her store.

Her candidacy sparks other women to get into the race gets people talking about politics and throws the British political system into a tizzy. Her party is called the Purple Alliance and she not only wins her seat, but becomes Prime Minister as a woman with no political experience whatsoever (she still seems more competent than our current president). Reality sets in immediately and she is confronted with international crises making her question her ability to handle the job.

There are several more parts on consecutive Sunday evenings on PBS. if you missed the first segment it will re-air on October 25 at 1am on PBS. Don't miss this.

Weekend Box Office: Women's movies shut down. Neither Rendition nor Things We Lost in the Fire did much business this weekend despite the relatively good reviews for Things. According to a spokesperson for Paramount, Things fared well with adult women. (LA Times)

The Jeff Robinov/Warner Brothers no more women in leads comment seems to have made its way to the heartland and people are pissed. Check out this story from the Kansas City Star.
Movie Studio Exec's Statement About no Women Leads Sparks Protests (Kansas City Star)

Stephanie Allain, one of the most successful African American female producers spoke this weekend at the Filmmakers Forum in LA.
Stephanie Allain (IndieWire)

Vanessa Redgrave was her usual outspoken self when receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Hampton's Film Festival.
Redgrave Bathes in Controversy (Hollywood Reporter)

Halle Berry talks about her career and her new film Things We Lost in the Fire
A Career So Strong it Survived Catwoman

Rod Lurie who is very good with women in politics and power has started shooting a new thriller Nothing but the Truth starring Kate Beckinsale and Matt Dillon. Other cast members include: Angela Bassett, Noah Wyle, Alan Alda, Vera Farmiga, Harry Lennix and David Schwimmer . Beckinsale stars as a reporter who reveals the identity of a CIA agent and is sent to jail for refusing to reveal her source. Bassett plays her editor in chief. (Hollywood Reporter)

Zooey Deschanel has been cast as the female lead in the new Jim Carrey comedy Yes Man. (Hollywood Reporter)

Tube Today
Diane English just wrapped the remake of The Women (scheduled now to be released in fall 2008) but the classic is on TV today. (2:30pm, TCM)