Panel on “Worth” with Ken Feinberg, Michael Keaton, Laura Benanti, Max Max Borenstein, Camille Biros, and Caroline Kennedy
Posted on September 2, 2021 at 9:30 pm
It was an honor to serve as moderator for a panel discussion of the Netflix film “Worth,” with Michael Keaton as Ken Feinberg, whose pioneering work on allocating compensation following major national tragedies led to his appointment as Special Master for the fund set up for the victims of 9/11 and their families. The film is a powerful story of the importance and the limitations of justice as Feinberg learns that it is as important for the people he is trying to help to be able to tell their stories as it is to pay their bills. He also learns about the limitations of the law as he has to find a way to compensate undocumented workers and then-not-legally-recognized same sex partners. Our discussion was sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library, where Feinberg served as board chairman, and we were introduced by Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. The discussion included ethics, empathy, acting, and opera.
Movies for the Homebound X: Love Stories You Probably Missed
Posted on May 26, 2020 at 8:00 am
We all love romance. And we’ve all seen the recent classics: “Notting Hill,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Notebook,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and all-time classics like “The Philadelphia Story” and “My Favorite Wife.” (If you haven’t, hey, watch them!) But you probably missed these, and they are all delights and blissfully romantic.
“I Love You Again” The all-time record-holders for romantic movie couples are William Powell and Myrna Loy, who not only created the greatest married couple in the history of movies with the Thin Man series but made other great films as well. “Libeled Lady” is one of the best, but my favorite is this one, about a stiff, stingy man who is hit on the head and discovers he is in fact a con man who has had amnesia for years, during which he got married and worked at a pot factory in a small town. So he decides to set up a swindle until he starts to fall for the woman he married but cannot quite remember. It is clever, sweet, and very funny. And romantic.
“Next Stop Wonderland” This is one of two movies on the list where we fall in love with the lovers before they fall in love with each other. Hope Davis is radiant as a just-dumped (by Philip Seymour Hoffman) woman whose mother takes out a personal ad for her.
“And Now My Love” In this French film, everything that has happened in the lives of two people (and in pretty much everything that has ever happened) seems to be for the purpose of getting two people together. By the time they are about to meet at the very end, we have been on the journey will them and know happy ever after is what comes next.
“Happy Accidents” The writer/director of “Next Stop Wonderland,” Brad Anderson, also wrote and directed this sweet story with Marisa Tomei as a young woman with a history of bad relationships who meets a man who seems great except that he insists he is a time traveler from the future.
“Ira and Abby” Jennifer Westfelft wrote and stars in the story of a man who has just gotten out of a relationship because he could not commit (a terrific Chris Messina) and impulsively marries the slightly nutty but very charming and warm-hearted young woman he meets at a gym (Westfeldt).
“The Baxter” If you’ve seen a romantic comedy, you’ve seen a wedding that was interrupted at the last minute when the bride’s true love burst in to carry her off. Well, according to his film, the poor loser left at the alter is called “the Baxter.” And this movie is the story of the Baxter, played by Michael Showalter, with an outstanding cast that includes Michelle Williams, Elizabeth Banks, and Justin Theroux, with a sensational performance by Peter Dinklage as a wedding planner.
Charlize Theron, Jay Roach, Charles Randolph on Bombshell, and Speaking Up About Sexual Harassment at FOX News
Posted on November 14, 2019 at 12:11 pm
Last night, a powerhouse Washington D.C. audience got an early look at one of this winter’s biggest and best movies, “Bombshell,” based on the true story of the sexual harassment complaints that caused a seismic shake-up at the most powerful media company in the world. The title is clever, referring to the “bombshell” anchors of Fox News, selected for their beauty as well as their credentials as journalists, and the “bombshell” disclosures of abuse that led to the departure of the company’s top talent, including the founder of FOX News, the late Roger Ailes and their top-rated broadcaster, Bill O’Reilly.
Following the screening at the spectacular new Washington DC office of the MPAA, CNN’s Dana Bash interviewed producer and star Charlize Theron, who plays Megyn Kelly in the film, director Jay Roach, and screenwriter Charles Randolph. Some highlights:
Randolph described himself as “the least woke man in the room,” subject to “the masculine instinct to minimize” the experiences of women, which itself causes great harm — the “refusal to acknowledge the importance of these events in women’s lives is devastating.” But “how is that helping the world? And so, he told us the the reason he wanted to tell this story: “Sexual harassment has to stop. And this has such interesting characters. They are not earnestly passive, as we see too often in “good” characters. They are filled with quirks, contradictions, internal conflicts. My parents are FOX News people. These are characters they can relate to, laugh at, laugh with, fully identify with and respect.”
Roach also comes from a “Fox News family,” he said. “This could cross over. Even my mom and my aunts could connect to this because they know them. When this story happened, we were all talking about it but I did not hear my family talking about it. The women in this film did not call themselves feminists; it is a great predicament for a story.”
Theron on taking on the role: “This film began before the Harvey Weinstein/#meetoo/Time’s Up movement. In a way, it is the origin story. But this was already a part of my life as it has been for every woman. Producing the film was easier than playing Megyn. And in some ways, playing Aileen Wuornos in ‘Monster’ was easier, because everyone knows Megyn’s face, voice, gestures so well. It took a little time for me to put my personal feelings aside. Megyn says some things I don’t agree with and some that rub me the wrong way. We have different views on a lot of stuff, but the only way to do this job is to remove yourself from those judgments and come from an empathetic place, to find the emotional arc of the story and not hide yourself away from the thorns. It’s easy to do a heroic person who does everything right and the audience immediately likes them. But it is more interesting to take a conflicted person who has a moment to do something right, not fluffy nice and cozy. We are complicated as people and the characters should be, too.” The same goes for those in the story who are not the heroes. “The harasser you most have to worry about is not the guy twirling his mustache.”
“It’s the belittling factor,” Theron said. “We’ve always been able to wrap our heads around the violent injuries. But this is also incredibly damaging. You carry this stuff, adding more weight to the luggage you never get rid of.”
Throughout cinema history, films by and about women have enthralled audiences, accrued awards and honors worldwide and scored at the box office while influencing out social social mores and enriching our cultural conversation. Although some Hollywood honchos and haters assert that female-centric movies are less likely to be commercial successes, our list proves them wrong. Movies that tell women’s stories have legs.
Released to celebrate Women’s History Month, AWFJ’s REAL REEL WOMEN List is an annotated roster of 50 fascinating real women whose remarkable true stories have been told in narrative features since the earliest days of moviemaking. The REAL REEL WOMEN List is a companion to AWFJ’s WONDER WOMEN List of iconic fictional females, published as a five-part countdown series in 2016.
AWFJ members selected our 50 iconic REAL REEL WOMEN from more than 150 nominees, all of whom have had their stories told in watch-worthy films. Short essays about our REAL REEL WOMEN’s lives, accomplishments and the films made about them have been written by AWFJ members Betsy Bozdech, Liz Braun, Sandie Angulo Chen, Carol Cling, Leslie Combemale, Linda Cook, Laura Emerick, Marilyn Ferdinand, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Kimberley Jones, Loren King, Sarah Knight Adamson, Cate Marquis, Brandy McDonnell, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Lynn Venhaus, and Susan Wloszczyna.
We hope that reading about these REAL REEL princesses and pilots, artists and actors, poets, political activists and other women from all walks of life will prompt you to add all the films about them to your watch list, and that you’ll then be motivated to seek out and enjoy additional current and classic movies about other real women whose stories are memorialized in cinema.
One of my contributions to the list was Fanny Brice, unforgettably portrayed by Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.”
Fanny Brice, born Fania Borach, was the daughter of Jewish immigrants who dropped out of school as a teenager to work in burlesque and began her association with vaudeville impresario Flo Ziegfeld two years later. She headlined the Ziegfeld Follies from 1910 through part of the 1930s. Best known in sketch comedy as bratty little girl “Baby Snooks” and performing songs like the comically self-deprecatory “Second Hand Rose,” her signature was the heartbreaking torch song, “My Man,” which inspired her first film, My Man (1928). She played herself in the Oscar-winning The Great Ziegfeld (1936), acted in several other films, and had a hit on radio with the “The Baby Snooks Show,” but there is no question that her own fame has been eclipsed by the performer who starred as Brice on Broadway and in her first film—Oscar-winner Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1968). It was a perfect match—one brash, prodigiously talented, unconventionally pretty, New York Jewish singer equally adept at comedy and drama portraying another. Streisand sings “Second Hand Rose,” “My Man,” and original songs created for the Broadway show, including the now-standard “People.” The story of Brice’s determination and resilience despite the heartbreak of her marriage to a handsome scoundrel is now a classic and prompted a sequel, also starring Streisand, that told more of Brice’s story, 1975’s Funny Lady. Brice helped pave the way for unconventional-looking lead performers, and her few films are well worth watching.