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Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Juliet Stevenson

Posted on December 4, 2015 at 3:52 pm

Juliet Stevenson gives a performance of haunting beauty as Mother Teresa in this week’s film, “The Letters.” She is one of my favorite actors, and if you have not seen her in these films, now is a good time to check them out.

Truly Madly Deeply is one of the finest films ever made about grief and loss. Stevenson is radiant as a young widow who is at first thrilled when the ghost of her husband (Alan Rickman in a rare romantic lead role) returns, and then has to learn that life is for the living.

Bend it Like Beckham Stevenson plays an ultra-feminine mother of a soccer-loving daughter (Keira Knightley).

The Politician’s Wife Long before “The Good Wife,” Stevenson played the wife standing with the frozen smile behind a politician at a press conference, apologizing for a dalliance with another woman. This British miniseries has a very satisfying twist.

Emma Four of the best dimples in the movies are on display as Stevenson and Alan Cumming play husband and wife in this version of Jane Austen’s novel.

She is also a superb narrator of Audible books.

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Actors Where You’ve Seen Them Before
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Celebrate the World Cup with Soccer Movies

Posted on June 18, 2010 at 8:00 am

Is this the year the US finally gets it about soccer, I mean football? The biggest sporting event on the planet is the World Cup, taking place this year in South Africa. Now is a great time to recognize the beauty and skill of the world’s most popular game with soccer movies.

1. Bend it Like Beckham A young woman from a traditional Indian family living in London joins a soccer team in this delightful comedy about fitting in and standing out. Parminder Nagra stars along with Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“The Tudors”), and Archie Panjabi (“The Good Wife”)

2. The Cup is a gentle and utterly beguiling story of a group of Tibetan monks who go to great lengths to watch the World Cup.

3. Gracie Gracie Bowen (“Mean Creek’s” Carly Schroeder) is the only girl in a soccer-mad blue-collar family in New Jersey, based on the true story of actress Elisabeth Shue, who plays Gracie’s mother. Her younger brothers tease her without mercy, but her older brother Johnny, a star athlete, always encourages her. When he is killed in an accident, she decides to make his dream of beating the rival team come true by taking his place on the team. The boys’ team.

4. The Damned United The star and screenwriter of “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon” explore some of the same themes of ambition and celebrity in this fact-based story of the soccer coach who took one team to the top and then nearly took a top team to the bottom. Michael Sheen plays Brian Clough, a man whose talents were almost as great as his ego.

5. “The Other Final” When the Netherlands did not qualify for the 2002 World Cup Finals, a Dutch fan came up with the idea of an “alternative” final between the two lowest ranking countries in the world. That would be Bhutan (202nd) and Montserrat (203rd). Neither side had a coach and three days before the match they still didn’t have a referee.

6. A Shot at Glory My friend Desson Thomson, former movie critic for the Washington Post, knows as much about movies as anyone and more about soccer than everyone. He says this movie is worth seeing but not for its story and warns that you should probably turn the volume down when Robert Duvall attempts a Scottish accent. But he assures me that the soccer scenes, featuring real professional players are very well done.

7. Air Bud: World Pup The sports-playing dog joins the soccer team in this family-friendly series entry featuring real-life U.S. Women’s Soccer Team champions Brandi Chastain, Brianna Scurry, and Tisha Venturini.

8. Shaolin Soccer This king fu fantasy movie about an underdog soccer team from writer/director/star Stephen Chow is a genre-bending delight with out-of-this-world special effects.

9. Fever Pitch (1997) Forget the pallid US remake about the Red Sox with Drew Barrymore. And ignore the inflammatory DVD cover art and poster. This version, stars Colin Firth, based on the Nick Hornby book about a teacher whose love for his underdog team begins to interfere with the rest of his life, and it is a sharp, funny, and affectionate portrait of the tribal world of the passionate fan.

10. The Miracle Match (originally called “The Game of Their Lives”) In one of the great upsets in sports history, the US beat England for the World Cup championship in 1950. Gerard Butler and Wes Bentley star in this movie from the people behind “Rudy” and “Hoosiers.”

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List: Movie Weddings

Posted on February 9, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Ann Hornaday has a marvelous article in the Washington Post about one of the most popular themes in movies: weddings.

And why shouldn’t Hollywood love a good wedding? With its swirl of heightened emotions, its simmering leitmotifs of love and loss, fear and hope, all swathed in a frothy confection of pink roses, white butter cream and queen-for-a-day tulle, the wedding provides an irresistible trope, from the ditziest rom-com to the bloodiest gangster epic. It’s a tiny three-act drama in microcosm (the incident-filledrun-up to the ceremony, the ceremony itself, the aftermath) that can give audiences insta-catharsis. And whether a marriage is meant to be or doomed to fail, there’s something viscerally satisfying about a wedding, in all its reassuring ritual….We cherish them not just as classic examples of courtship at its most idealized but also as trenchant social commentaries. If they initially charmed audiences with gorgeous movie stars, dreamy romance and zany comedy, they endure because they’re such revealing reflections of their times.

Hornaday points out that if you search for “wedding” on the Internet Movie Database, you will find “more than 2,157 hits — happily, 500 more than the number for ‘funeral.'”

There are weddings in romance movies, of course, and in comedies and dramas, but you can find them even in gangster movies, war movies, movies for children and movies for adults. Sometimes the main character is the bride or groom but very often the wedding couple are secondary characters and the wedding is just a place for all the drama or comedy or even action to play out. Sometimes a movie wedding is the culmination of the plot because the couple gets married and sometimes it is the culmination of the plot because the ceremony is interrupted. The Baxter makes the guy whose job in the story is to get left at the alter the center of the movie. (One of the highlights is the wonderful Peter Dinklage as a wedding planner.)

Before there were movies, there were fairy tales that often ended with a wedding. Weddings are in the same category as the lost ark or the secret formula or the capturing of the bridge or winning the big game. Love is life’s big adventure and a wedding is the symbol of its ultimate expression. And it is also a lot of fun to see other cultures and traditions. Here are some of my favorite movie wedding scenes. I’d love to hear yours, too.

1. The Godfather One of the greatest American films begins with a wedding reception that gives us unforgettable introductions to the entire cast, their values, and their relationships.

2. The Deer Hunter A agonizing film about the impact of the Vietnam war on three friends begins with an extended wedding scene that establishes the foundation for what is to come by making us not just care about the characters; after that wedding reception, filmed with such intimacy, we almost feel like part of the family.

3. The Philadelphia Story My all-time favorite movie is this sophisticated and witty story about the forthcoming wedding of a wealthy woman to an executive with political ambitions. Complications ensue when a reporter, a photographer, and her ex-husband show up for the festivities.

4. The Graduate A very few movies seem to express and even shape the themes of their time. And a small fraction of those hold up over time as works of art. “The Graduate” leads that category with brilliant direction from Mike Nichols, a haunting soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, and superb performances by Dustin Hoffman as Ben, the title character, who symbolizes the disaffection of his generation and Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson, the friend of his parents who symbolizes the emptiness of hers. When Ben finds something meaningful in a relationship with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, he ends up disrupting her wedding in a scene that has become iconic.

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5. Four Weddings and a Funeral Screenwriter Richard Curtis based this on his own experience of finding himself at a seemingly endless stream of weddings. Charlie (Hugh Grant, in a star-making role) meets Carrie (Andie MacDowell) at the first of the weddings and their relationship evolves over the rest of the title ceremonies. But this is really the story of Charlie and his friends, all of whom find love by (but sometimes not until) the closing credits.

6. Bend it Like Beckham Parminder Nagra plays Jesminder, the daughter of a traditional Punjabi Sikh family in London who wants to play soccer. Her sister’s wedding plans provide a context for her struggles against her family’s reluctance to let her play, especially when it turns out that the soccer finals are at the same time.

7. Lovers and Other Strangers The wedding at the center of this film is the setting for a wide variety of happy and sad, healthy and dysfunctional love relationships among the extended family, played by a stand-out cast including Gig Young, Cloris Leachman, Anne Meara, Bea Arthur, and Anne Jackson. The Carpenters’ standard, “For All We Know” was written for this film.

8. Father of the Bride There has never been a more beautiful bride than Elizabeth Taylor in this affectionate comedy about the impact of a wedding on the family. Spencer Tracy plays the beleaguered father who is expected to pay endless bills and endure endless relatives on both sides. The scene where he comforts her after she (briefly) breaks off the engagement is one of my very favorites.

9. Fiddler on the Roof This classic musical based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem about a small Jewish village in late 19th century Russia. The main character is a poor milkman who has a lot of challenges in marrying off three of his daughters. The themes of tradition and change in the romances of the three daughters and in the community at large come together in the warm and loving wedding celebration (with the lovely song “Sunrise, Sunset”).

10. My Big Fat Greek Wedding Inspired by the real-life experience of Nia Vardalos, the daughter of Greek immigrants, this touching and hilarious story of a shy young woman in a big, noisy family who finds love with a kind-hearted teacher, leading to some confusion and misunderstandings but also a lot of laughter and new connections.

And don’t forget: The Wedding Crashers, The Runaway Bride, Rachel Getting Married, It Happened One Night, Goodbye, Columbus, Confetti, Cousins, and the French movie it was based on, “Cousin, Cousine.”

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