Behind the Scenes: Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland
Posted on September 7, 2019 at 12:20 pm
Renee Zellweger stars in “Judy,” the story of Judy Garland’s triumphant return to live concert performance in 1969 London, at the Talk of the Town nightclub. Here we get a peek behind the scenes with Zellweger, her director and co-stars, and a producer of the Garland show.
Fans can hear the real Talk of the Town performance here:
Sheila O’Malley on “Bacting” — Acting from the Back
Posted on August 24, 2019 at 8:00 am
Actors often refer to their “instrument,” as though their faces, voices, and bodies are for them what a clarinet or piano or violin is for a musician. The movies invented a new kind of acting, and in its earliest days performers who were expert at projecting to the back row of the theater had to adapt to silent films and close-ups, where the slightest flicker of a facial expression had more of an impact than an entire play’s declaiming.
Today we hear their voices, but often in a whisper, and the close-up of a face is still more eloquent than the most compelling line of dialogue. But what if we do not show their face at all? Actress-turned critic/screenwriter/director Sheila O’Malley writes in a fascinating essay for Film Comment about “back-ting,” which she calls what we see, feel, and learn when an actor turns his or her back to the camera.
Movies from the classic Hollywood period are filled with great back-ting, perhaps because so many of the actors came from theater, where the body has to do much of the heavy lifting. If your character is grieving, the people in the cheap seats have to feel it. Watch Joan Crawford walk across a room. She is the container for the film, not the other way around. Crawford, whose closeups remain high watermarks of the art form, understood how her body was responsible for moving the story forward. Maybe the most famous back-ting moment is John Wayne’s in the final shot of The Searchers. Seen through the dark doorway, he turns and walks into the desert. At one point, his left knee buckles underneath him. It’s a subtle stumble. In his lonely back, we can see his terrible awareness of the brutal life he has lived and what it has cost him.
The gold standard of back-ting is Bette Davis. She has yet to be topped. You want to know how a character has transformed? Watch Davis walk across a room. You want to understand a character’s objective? Look at Davis’ posture, or how she lights a cigarette, or where she places her hands. Davis wrote in her first memoir about studying with Martha Graham as a young woman, and how influential dance training was on her approach to performance: “ body via the dance could send a message… would with a single thrust of her weight convey anguish. Then in an anchored lift that made her ten feet tall, she became all joy. One after the other. Hatred, ecstasy, age, compassion! There was no end, once the body was disciplined.” Davis continued: “Every time I climbed a flight of stairs in films—and I spent half my life on them—it was Graham step by step.”
Ric Roman Waugh: Gerard Butler and I have known each other for a number of years and been wanting to work together, and we talked about a number of things. And then I got a call out of the blue about doing the third installment of his Fallen franchise. What Gerard wanted to do was to take the action and the spectacle of the first two movies and send it to new directions and basically make more of an origin story. I love that idea.
So the idea was to not do an event-style plot of the White House being taken in Olympus Has Fallen, or the world leaders being assassinated in London Has Fallen. This movie is about Mike and it shows a day in the life of service. And also the complications that come with that and the heroism and the addictions to the job. You know it’s very much like what our military community or the first responders and law enforcement go through, or even if you think about it, professional athletes.
Mickey Nelson: Most of the Secret Service men and woman that retire go on to do something else–like now I try to do projects like this, so that is a challenge. Luckily you train all along the way, not just initially when you go into the Secret Service. So I think that really helps you adjust. You realize that you can’t stay on all of the time so you inject, as Ric always talks about, a lot of levity. You will see some levity, in the movie. I use that still to this day quite a bit as you probably have noticed. So that’s kind of what helps me deescalate.
We mourn the loss of Peter Fonda, a fine actor whose work was overshadowed by his Oscar-winning father, Henry Fonda, and sister, Jane Fonda. He will be best remembered for “Easy Rider,” a film that turned Hollywood upside down in the late 60’s with its fiercely independent spirit on and off-screen.
From the start of his stardom, the actor, director, filmmaker, producer, activist, and father of actress Bridget Fonda (“Jackie Brown,” “Point of No Return”) had a complicated vision of his time and country. It endured as he aged and started playing roles that commented on his youthful stardom. His signature works are “The Wild Angels,” “Easy Rider,”, “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry,” “The Hired Hand,” “Ulee’s Gold,” “The Limey,” “Escape from L.A.,” and “Ghost Rider.” All were animated by words and phrases that might pop into the heads of Peter Fonda fans when they thought about his career: motorcycles, counterculture, hippies, drugs, alienation, chaos, romanticism, regret, philosophical reflection, world-weariness, hope, and fathers and sons.
It was just six years earlier that he played bland Sandra Dee’s bland love interest in the ultra-bland “Tammy and the Doctor.”
But then, the same year that the film of the Woodstock festival came to theaters, he co-wrote, produced, and starred in the film that was so transformative it led the title of one of the best books ever written about Hollywood history. As Variety wrote, the film “shook up Hollywood and revolutionized the country’s sense of itself….He was the youth-culture version of an icon, rebel son of the archetypal patriarch, and it meant something seismic to see a figure like this — the descendant of American royalty, who could have gone the Ivy League route, or else enlisted in Vietnam — reject his father’s relatively conservative values.” The film cost just $400,000 but made $60 million. Hollywood might not have understood the counterculture, but it understood box office economics.
In 1997, he played the title role in “Ulee’s Gold.” Director Victor Nunez remembered, “When we started shooting, he was an inspiration on the set. He did a lot of scenes with real, swarming bees. But Peter never got stung. Which says something about him as an actor — he could even charm the bees.”
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, language throughout, some violence and smoking
Some peril and violence, character injured
A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters:
August 9, 2019
The story behind the making of “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is as sweet and inspiring as the one on the screen. Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz met ZacK Gottsagen when they were working at an arts program for people with disabilities. Gottsagen, who has has Down syndrome, told them he wanted to be an actor, and asked them to write a movie for him. So they checked some books about screenwriting out of the library and came up with this script, which is not just about a character based on Gottsagen, but about their community of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The sense of place (though it was filmed in Georgia) is as important to the film as the characters on an unexpected journey.
It is remarkably assured for a first film, with an excellent supporting cast of talented pros and superb cinematography and music choices. The genuine affection and — especially — the respect Nilson and Schwartz have for the real-life Zack and the character he plays keep this story from being condescending or sugary.
Gottsagen plays a character also named Zack, a young man with no family and no resources who has been placed by Virginia authorities in the only facility they could find for him, a nursing home for the elderly. His roommate there is a retired engineer named Carl (Bruce Dern), who helps him escape, after watching Zack’s VHS tape of his favorite wrestler, the Salt Water Redneck for the zillionth time. Zack wants to be a wrestler, and his dream is to get to the Salt Water Redneck’s training facility in Florida. This is not one of those “there is none so cognitively impaired as those who will not think” movies.
Importantly, Zack is not a narrative convenience for the other characters to learn lessons and feel better about themselves. Zack (the character) is a real person with some limitations but a cheerful disposition and a true heart. His view of the world is as constrained by the restricted environment he was put in as by his cognitive ability. “The state has to put you somewhere and this happens to be that place,” he is told. You do not have to have a PhD to know that does not make much sense. And you don’t have to do higher math or be able to explain the metaphors in Moby Dick to know that people want to be with friends and follow their dreams. This movie is very much his story and he is very much at the heart of it.
The nursing home administrator does not want to report Zack’s escape to the police, so he sends a sympathetic aide (Dakota Johnson as Eleanor) to find him. Zack’s lack of planning (he escapes wearing nothing but underpants and has no money) helps in a way because he is seen as vulnerable and non-threatening. Tyler (Shia LeBoeuf) is a tidewater fisherman who has fallen on hard times, in part due to his bitterness and grief and guilt over the death of his brother (Jon Bernthal, glimpsed in wordless flashbacks). His own poor judgment escalates a fight with another fisherman (John Hawkes), who comes after him. Tyler does his best to avoid taking responsibility for Zack, but gives in when he sees how much Zack needs help. On the road, they have adventures, encounter interesting people, and begin to first trust and then like one another.
One of the highlights of the film is when they meet a blind man who insists on baptizing Zach. Tyler refuses, saying he prefers baptism by fire. It is presented with sincerity and a delicate lyricism that helps elevate the folkloric tone, as does the exceptional soundtrack and the exquisite cinematography, all of which set the tone for the satisfying conclusion.
Parents should know that this movie has some peril and violence, including arson, shooting, and an attack with a tire iron and an off-screen fatal car accident. There is some strong language, a character runs around in underwear, drinking and drunkenness, and a kiss.
Family discussion: What made Tyler change his mind about helping Zack? Why did the Saltwater Redneck encourage Zack to fight? What will happen next?
If you like this, try: “Little Miss Sunshine” (rated R) from the same producers, “Where Hope Grows,” and “Up Syndrome”