Golden Age Of Hollywood Oscar-Bound With “Mank”

There is no way to watch Mank and not be lulled back in time with deep fondness and a true thrill to the era when Hollywood sizzled and stars dazzled. This year the clear favorite for Oscar’s Best Film is the one centered on Herman Mankiewicz as he works on the screenplay for what would become Orson Welles’ 1941 cinema classic “Citizen Kane.” And who does not adore that old movie?

Hollywood is, by its very nature, attuned to a grand film about itself–and make no mistake this one directed by David Fincher–is perfectly packaged for the voters of the Academy. But far more than a movie that brings to life the tone and temper of a by-gone era it is also a masterfully presented story of the creative juices of a writer pitted against the crafty needs and motives of a movie mogul. The story has tentacles throughout the industry.

What captured me from the outset with Mank was its similarity to Citizen Kane through the use of flashbacks to advance the compelling story. Then place the film into the context–with historical accuracy–of the conservatism of 1930s Hollywood. Add in black-and-white cinematography. Include musical scores that reverberated with cinematic memories of yesterdays. Simply put the film was made with such technological precision one would think it was a film from that era.

So with all that being said, what do we have?

First, we have a movie to love.

And secondly, a movie that will take home the Oscars.

The nominations for the Academy Awards were released Monday morning and I was most pleased to see Mank had 10 of them ranging from Best Film, Director, Cinematography, along with Gary Oldman for actor and Amanda Seyfried for supporting actress. Oldman is a for-sure winner…he was superb as Mankiewicz.

The golden age of Hollywood was often shown on television when I was a teenager. Weekend afternoons and Saturday nights I would be captivated by the action, the lively nature of the music, the daring stuntmen, and the ability of dancers to land perfectly as they commanded attention. So it is not hard to fathom why anyone who has such respect and fondness for such moments would not delight in Mank, a film that revisits Hollywood when it was King.

Ethnicity In Movie Roles Misses Definition Of Acting

If you have not heard of the international dust-up over a movie about Cleopatra means you are watching too much presidential election coverage in the nation. But given how absurd the news about this movie is means perhaps the campaign news is a better one to follow, after all.

It was announced last week that Gal Gadot will star in the new film about Cleopatra. But as soon as that news was released there came a downpouring of criticism that the Egyptian queen would be played by an Israeli. Oh, gasp!

As I read the news my dismay grew and grew over a bizarre argument in Hollywood over casting and identity, and whether actors should play characters of different ethnicities to themselves. There appears to be a very concerted movement among some in the industry to make sure dramatic roles go only to actors who check the same demographic box as the people they portray.

As a decades-long lover of film (especially the classic black and white films) it seems that debate flies directly into the fact of how acting is defined. How did it occur that an actress or actor could only be considered great at the craft of movie-making if the race or ethnicity of an actress matches that of the character?

So from this blogger’s desk here is my hope. I want Gadot to act with such power, punch, and artistic verve that no one sees her as anything other than Cleopatra. I want her skills on film too so marginalize this type of debate that we can put such conversations aside in Hollywood.

And scene!

Gal Gadot arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)


Olivia de Havilland, Actress Of The Ages, Dies At 104

Sadness today for the classic movies and the stars who made them shine and sparkle. I love Gone With The Wind, with its epic scope and tone to the film.  One can appreciate how it must have felt to enter a theatre where it originally was screened and what the reaction would have been for a story so powerfully portrayed.

In a 2004 interview for the New York Times, Olivia de Havilland remarked that she never was bored discussing the movie again and again, and that she herself has enjoyed watching it 26 times in total.

It is a loss to the Golden Era of moviemaking to read of her death today.

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Olivia de Havilland, an actress who gained movie immortality in “Gone With the Wind,” then built an illustrious film career, punctuated by a successful fight to loosen the studios’ grip on contract actors, died on Sunday at her home in Paris. She was 104 and one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s fabled Golden Age.

Ms. de Havilland was both a classic Hollywood beauty and an honored screen actress whose very name and bearing suggested membership in a kind of aristocracy of moviedom. Though she was typecast early in her career as the demure ingénue, she went on to earn meatier roles that led to five Academy Award nominations, two of which brought her the Oscar.  

We Need James Bond, A Respite For America

There are many times each week when it seems there is no end to the onslaught of irresponsible actions from the White House, sports personalities proving they have too much money and not enough character, and science deniers wishing we all would drink their Kool-Aid.   There comes a time when we all need to be reminded that in spite of all the up-side-down world which seems to be our new norm, there are some things which have remained true to what we always knew.

Such as James Bond.

It is important, at this time in America, that we have places where we can escape, such as a dark movie theatre, if for no more than a couple hours, so to be enveloped in a storyline where we know good folks prevail, and certain traditions and customs remain.  Shaken not stirred.

Since 2015 I have discussed this larger issue many times with various people, and always it is told to me how inundated people feel about the amount of news and chaos which gets reported each day and how it makes them feel.  There is a tipping balance for many people, and at some point, there needs to be a place where respite and a retreat from the bombast and craziness can be found.  In such times people like to head to a comfort zone.

A James Bond movie is such a place where there is no need to question the basic assumptions that we need to confront outside the theatre.  Of course, Bond is a fact-driven man who knows justice is paramount.  There is up and down, heroes and villains.  He also knows that the cultures of others are important, and knowing more than one language is a sign of intellect.  He is well-bred and confident in his own skin.

One of the reasons Bond is the perfect antidote to the times we live in this nation is that he has the cool ability of self-control.  While Trump is not able to control any of his base instincts Bond masters his life based on manners, being a gentleman, and when required deadly effectiveness for the job at hand.

No Time to Die with Bond will hit theaters April 10, 2020.  It may seem like a long time away, but it might be just the type of promise we need to keep in mind to make it through this week where many more insane tweets are sure to come from this White House.  The movie trailer was released this week.

 

Big Film, Good Feel, Downton Abbey Movie A Winner

Tonight James and I sat in a Madison movie theater to see an early viewing of a film that is slated to open nationwide in just 24 hours.  Being huge fans of PBS’ Downton Abbey meant we were so looking forward to the movie version of this family, the servants, and the large magnificent home.

The first thing I noticed, and much appreciated, was the crisp writing from Julian Fellowes.  As with the television series, there is no wasted dialogue in the movie.  Each line and every word has meaning and purpose.  That type of writing is hard to do, and harder yet to achieve in a major motion picture.

The epic feel from the director, along with the first lines of the classic musical opening to the summation of the storyline, made me feel good.

Good about the film itself.  And good about the movie-making industry.  Too often movies get a bad wrap for being too youth-centered in simply throw-away work.  Or too violent.  Or too lewd and vulgar.

But with brilliant writing and top-notch acting along with Michael Engler using his skill as a director, the final result is what every person who sat year after year on Sunday nights caught up in the drama of the Crawley family, and those around them were needing.

The downside would be if one had not been captured by the magic of the series on PBS there is little to grasp as the storyline picks up from where it ended, without allowing for newcomers to catch up. But really, where were they when the series was rolling along, anyway, on PBS?

I loved this film very much!

Worker Rights In Hollywood–Olivia de Havilland And Labor Day

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As we celebrate Labor Day I felt the story of Olivia de Havilland’s Hollywood studio system fight was an interesting way to underscore what the day is about.  Many recall the film legend as Melanie Wilkes from the classic Gone With The Wind.  But her legal challenge to the studio system is even more remarkable.

Back at Warner Bros., though, De Havilland found herself consigned to the same old arm-candy roles. She began taking suspensions without pay to avoid the parts she regarded as unacceptable. When a loan to Paramount for “Hold Back the Dawn” brought her another Oscar nomination, she began counting the months until her contract with Warner Bros. would be up.

Under California’s studio-friendly labor statute, employers were entitled to hold individuals to personal services contracts for up to seven years; De Havilland’s contract was set to end in mid-1943. But when the time came, she was shocked to discover that she still wasn’t free. All of the months of suspension without pay that she had accumulated would be tacked on to the end of her original contract period. In other words, De Havilland owed the studio a full seven years of active labor, however long that might take.

The enforceability of such “tack on” terms had never been addressed by the courts and no actor had risked making a legal challenge, although powerful stars like Cagney and Davis were able to negotiate modifications in their contracts. Now, 27-year-old De Havilland decided to fight back. She hired attorney Martin Gang to seek a judicial declaration that the “tack on” provision of the suspension clause was invalid under California law. Despite the very real possibility of wrecking her acting future by taking on the system, she persevered. In late 1944, an appellate court victory freed her — and the rest of the studios’ contract actors — from Hollywood’s version of indentured servitude.

De Havilland immediately proved the value of her freedom by taking roles in three great films: “To Each His Own,” “The Snake Pit” and “The Heiress.” The result was three Oscar nominations, two Academy Awards and a New York Film Critics Circle Award.

Another “Roma” May Not Be Possible At Oscars

As much as I liked the movie Roma, and thought it filmed brilliantly, I firmly agree with Steven Spielberg and others who wish to not allow the way this film was elevated for the Oscars to happen again.  Roma a Netflix film backed by massive sums did not play by the same rules as its analog-studio competitors.  And that fact matters.

Spielberg will present his case and propose rule changes that would prevent streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu from competing in the Oscars without their projects getting a full theatrical run first.  The argument is easy.  And just.  Films that debut on streaming services or get a short theatrical run should qualify for the Emmys instead of the Oscars. To allow otherwise does not make for an even playing field.  There is a vast difference between streaming and theatrical situations.

There is no doubt legs exist for this move as the debate for weeks prior to the Oscars proved how many were concerned about the way the film gained traction.

Was Wrong, But Still Pleased

Film Reels, Clapper board and movie projector

Though I was confident that Roma and Best Actor nominee Rami Malek, for his role in Bohemian Rhapsody, would do well at the Oscars I also wrote that the ratings for the show would tank without a host.  I was correct about the movie and actor, but very off the mark concerning the ratings.   But I am always pleased to be wrong about matters that turn out to be better than expected.   Especially when it comes to the beloved Oscar Awards show.

The first host-less Academy Awards since 1989—which ABC had initially worried would cause Oscars ratings to plummet even further—instead resulted in a year-over-year ratings jump for the telecast, its first audience increase in five years.  That is remarkable and shows the strength of movie lovers in the nation to watch a show which had a number of awards for very important movies this year.

Putting the numbers to the ABC’s broadcast proves the show averaged 29.6 million viewers, a 11.5 percent gain over a year ago. The hostless show also scored a 7.7 rating among adults 18-49, a 13 percent gain over last year.   But the downside is that while the figure is up from last year’s historic low, this year was the second smallest audience ever for an Academy Awards telecast.

In total viewers, recent predecessors went as follows: 26.5 million in 2018 (Best Picture: The Shape of Water), 32.9 million in 2017 (Moonlight), 34.4 million in 2016 (Spotlight) and 37.3 million in 2015 (Birdman).

Green Book winning the Best Picture award Sunday was the most-talked-about moment on both Twitter and in the dentist office I visited for teeth cleaning Monday afternoon.

Movies are the way we connect and grow while showing our humanity on the big screen.  In so doing we all are winners when it comes to film.