Emma Thompson wins

As an English major who ended up reading Jane Austen in about five different courses, I’d known of this speech for years. More than one of my professors referenced it in teaching Sense and Sensibility (and other Austen novels). Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson (Howards End and The Remains of the Day for the win), who is one of my favorite performers on the planet, wrote and starred in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, directed by Ang Lee. The film ended up being an enormous success with critics and audiences alike. It is an impeccable adaptation of Austen’s novel and it features a who’s who of British actors: Kate Winslet, in a breakthrough role, Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie, Alan Rickman (as a nice guy!), Imelda Staunton and Harriet Walter, among others.

The film received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress and Screenplay. It would win one: for Thompson’s screenplay, making her the only person to win Oscars for both writing and acting. Thompson would later win a BAFTA as Best Actress. But it was this Golden Globe speech that year that folks really seem to remember, my professors especially. Dedicating the win to Austen, Thompson proceeds to offer a speech in the style of Austen’s writing, surmising how the author might have perceived the Hollywood Foreign Press event. Enjoy.


DVR Reminder: “The Sound of Music” cast on Oprah

For the first time in my life, my father and I will be tuning into Oprah tomorrow afternoon. Why? To check out her hour-long reunion special for The Sound of Music. In honor of the show’s 45th anniversary there has been the theatrical reissue of the film and other events like this TV appearance which will culminate in the November 2 Blu-ray release of the film. A special 45th anniversary edition of the soundtrack will also be released.

There have been various reunions and retrospectives every five years or so, with requisite talk show appearances. Stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer will be joined by Charmian Carr (“Liesl”), Nicholas Hammond (“Friedrich”), Heather Menzies-Urich (“Louisa”), Duane Chase (“Kurt”), Angela Cartwright (“Brigitta”), Debbie Turner (“Marta”) and Kym Karath (“Gretl”). It marks the first time that all nine actors have been reunited since the film’s release in 1965. They will be talking about memories of the film and its impact on the world and their lives, among other anecdotes. (I have to admit, I’m  quite curious how Eleanor Parker is doing and what she thinks about the film’s iconic status).

The episode was originally scheduled for Friday, October 29, but that has since been changed to Thursday, October 28 (tomorrow). Be sure to check your local listings to find out when the episode will be airing.

“The Third Man”

British director Carol Reed won an Oscar for the 1968 film adaptation of Oliver! But for my money, I think if there’s a film for which he deserved to win it was The Third Man. (Reed did win the 1949 Palm D’Or for this noir classic). Written by Graham Greene, it’s an astounding cold war suspense thriller starring Joseph Cotten as hack American writer Holly Martins who arrives in Vienna to work for his childhood friend Harry Lime. Upon his arrival, he learns that Lime is dead. There’s something suspicious about the whole affair and Martins sets about getting to the bottom of the truth.

To say I love this movie would be an understatement. If I had to pick a favorite, this would probably be it. Reed’s direction is superlative; Robert Krasker won an Oscar for his master class in cinematography. Then there’s the musical score, which is one of the most unusual and most effective scores ever written for a film. Anton Karas (with whom I share a birthday) composed the theme using only the zither. The theme actually became a pop hit and was given a fair amount of radio play in the early 1950s.

This is one of those films that if I stumble upon it on TV, I watch it through to the end. It’s also the only film to make the AFI and BFI 100 movies of all time. If I was forced to pick a favorite film of all time, this would probably be it.


Movie Trailer: “Rabbit Hole”

Oh, I wish I had seen this play during its Broadway run. Starring Cynthia Nixon and Tyne Daly, Rabbit Hole is a unique portrait of a family in grief. Nixon and John Slattery play a suburban couple whose young son was killed in an accident, and both react in different ways in the aftermath. John Gallagher Jr and Mary Catherine Garrison rounded out the five-hander at the Biltmore (now Friedman). Since it was an MTC production, it was a limited engagement but that didn’t keep David Lindsay-Abaire‘s play from walking away with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as the Best Actress Tony for Nixon.

Now it’s been made into a film directed by John Cameron Mitchell with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as the grieving couple. (Lindsay-Abaire adapted his own play for the screen). The movie had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month to generally strong reviews, and all-out raves for Kidman’s performance (who’s already garnering early Oscar buzz). Dianne Wiest, Sandra Oh and Tammy Blanchard are also part of the cast. Its success at TIFF led to a deal with Lionsgate for theatrical release this fall. There were some clips released around its premiere, but here is a new trailer.


Win a pair of tickets to see “The Sound of Music” on the big screen

I’m excited to announce my blog’s first ever giveaway! The Sound of Music has turned 45 with a new high definition print and the Blu-ray release on November 2. The perennial classic will return to movie theatres across the country in the first national reissue since 1973. I’ll be heading to one of the 500 theatres for the screening, which includes a sing-along version of the film as well as a pre-film featurette And I’ll Sing Once More, narrated by Rebecca Luker (who played Maria in the 1998 Broadway revival) and features new interviews with Ted Chapin and Mary Rodgers.

There will be two separate screenings: Tuesday, October 19 & Tuesday, October 26. I am pleased to announce that I have a pair of tickets to the Oct. 26 screening to give away. (This is all very new to me and quite exciting!)

Two ways in which to enter:

1. Comment on the post below or,

2. Follow me on Twitter (@kevinddaly) and retweet anything I post related to the The Sound of Music contest.

One winner be selected at random when the contest ends (Sunday night at midnight). Two entries allowed per person; one via each method. Any additional entries will lead to disqualification. If you choose to enter via twitter, I need you to follow so I can direct message you. I will notify the winner Monday morning; tickets will be mailed directly to the individual.

For more information, you can visit The Sound of Music 45th Anniversary website. For a list of participating theatres and tickets, check out the Fathom Events website.

Film: “The Sound of Music” turns 45

Remember 2005? There was a lot of hullabaloo over the 75th birthday of Stephen Sondheim, Spamalot somehow bested three superior shows for Best Musical at the Tonys. Meanwhile, the film versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair, Oklahoma! and the iconic The Sound of Music were celebrating their 60th, 50th and 40th anniversaries, respectively. Special 2 disc editions of the films with never-before-seen features and footage were released and there requisite press appearances by the various cast members who are still with us. It’s hard to believe five years have passed and like any good American institution, it’s time to celebrate another landmark anniversary with style.

Now as The Sound of Music hits its 45th year, 20th Century Fox and the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization have taken it up themselves to celebrate with the latest in digital video technology: Blu-ray. A brand-spanking new edition of the film, newly restored and remastered for high definition is being rolled out in early November. There have been some glimpses into the process and the film looks better than ever. The film is more than just a blockbuster; it is a cultural phenomenon. While it was a big hit in its 1959 stage incarnation, the movie took off into the stratosphere upon the release in 1965. The Sound of Music won five Oscars including Best Picture and made a mountain of money – in terms of grosses adjusted for inflation, it ranks third behind Gone with the Wind and Star Wars on the all-time list. The movie ran for several years in its first release and continues to grow in popularity. And like many others around the world, I hold a special place for the film.

Ever since I can remember, there was an annual airing of the film around Easter. The first time I was introduced to it, I was genuinely surprised to see Mary Poppins dressed down as a blonde tomboy twirling in the Austrian alps. (I was about four years old).  As a very young child, I wasn’t allowed to stay up for the whole thing (it was a Sunday airing and there was school the next day). In fact, it wasn’t until I was almost ten I even knew the Captain and Maria even got married! But every year, I got to see a little more and a little more of the film until I eventually saw it all. I was even given a souvenir program from the initial engagement. When I was in 8th grade, there was a big to-do over a new VHS edition remastered by George Lucas’ THX which placed the 175 minute musical epic on one video cassette for the first time. I still have that copy. The first DVD I ever bought was – surprise, surprise – The Sound of Music. I have the soundtrack on LP as well as three CD editions. I even upgraded to that 40th anniversary DVD edition. I’ve kept them all.

Part of the reason is my father. He’s not someone that’s really into the movies or theatre, but he loves The Sound of Music. He saw it when it first came out and for some reason it just clicked with him. In fact, his first date with my mother was to the 1973 theatrical reissue, the last time the film was given a nationwide release. Twenty-three years later, we went to Salzburg, Austria to look at real locations from the Trapp family’s life, as well as those locations used in the film. We were inside the Nonnberg Abbey, visited the Mirabell Gardens (where the “Do-Re-Mi” finale was shot), plus two of the three houses used as exteriors as well as the actual Trapp villa (which is lovely). But I was also struck with the extraordinary beauty of the city; it is a place I really want to revisit again sooner rather than later.

To coincide with this celebratory DVD/Blu-Ray release, R&H and Fox have planned a series of events, including an entire episode of Oprah dedicated to the film, which will air on October 29 (check local listings!) My father asked when that was happening; I’m not even sure he knows who Oprah is. And I’m not being facetious but that’s the sort of pull this film has with him. However, the event that has me most excited is the upcoming theatrical re-release of the film. On October 19 & 26 (which are both Tuesdays) the film will be shown at 6:30PM. Click here to purchase tickets and to find the location nearest you.  It’s not very often that a classic film buff like myself gets the opportunity to see one of his favorites on the big screen. Just that itself is enough reason to rejoice. Ultimately the restored and remastered film will be released in both a Blu-Ray/DVD combo and a limited collector’s edition box set, as well a new reissue of the soundtrack on November 2.

“The Social Network”

Member since: November 30, 2004.

It’s not really a momentous occasion in my life, but it’s something I remember. The only reason I do remember the exact date I joined Facebook is because sign-up dates were part of the member profile for its first couple of years. When I joined, it was still a site specifically for college students and it seemed I got there just before most of my friends. From my small window at New Paltz, I was able to observe much of Facebook’s evolution and expansion into the world’s predominant social networking site. The terms “Facebook me” or “I’ll find you on Facebook” became part of the lexicon. Hell, I can still remember when the big thing to do on the site was to poke someone.

Now there’s The Social Network, a film depicting the creation of the website, from its inception at Harvard by founder Mark Zuckerberg to its rise to global phenomenon. Directed by David Fincher with a crackerjack script by Aaron Sorkin, it’s adapted from The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. Turns out that the greatest social media site in the world was the indirect result of a break-up. The film starts with this scene, introducing us immediately to Jesse Eisenberg‘s Zuckerberg and tells us everything we need to know about this wunderkind genius. Eisenberg has been known for playing quirky, awkward nerds in a wide variety of films from The Squid and the Whale to Zombieland. In The Social Network he reaches a career pinnacle, with a sobering, captivating performance that is guaranteed to bring him an Oscar nomination.

The film has Oscar written all over it: Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing. Using Zuckerberg’s various law suit depositions as a framing device (which works brilliantly), the film is able to simultaneously depict the cause and effect of the website and its impact on the world with great clarity. Sorkin’s brittle, rapid-fire dialogue sparkles from beginning to end; he had me from that brilliant break-up to the final image. Fincher’s direction is spare and the pacing is expressively fast. The film rarely gives the viewer a chance to breathe and that only adds to the overall experience, laughing at a smart-ass line one second, feeling rage the next. The Social Network is brittle, brutal and unflinching.

There’s a great chance for Justin Timberlake, playing Napster founder Sean Parker as my buddy Matt put it, “our generation’s Gordon Gekko,” to receive a supporting actor nomination. Even better and more deserving of a nomination and a win is Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s best friend, business partner and subject of the greatest betrayal. Later, I was rather surprised to realize I was feeling sorry for someone (Saverin) whose net worth is now $1.1 billion.

Interestingly enough, while I was expecting myself to hate Zuckerberg (I’m no fan of his misguided theories regarding privacy), but I found myself surprisingly empathetic. Whether or not the depiction in the film is 100% accurate or not, he is portrayed as a near tragic anti-hero rather than a villain (the real villain of Sorkin’s script is Parker). He’s a genius, someone with an arrogant need to prove his intelligence and lacking in all social graces, which seemed to speak more to Asperger’s or crippling social awkwardness than anything else. I was floored by the character’s dialogue, and Eisenberg’s seemingly effortless domination of the film, particularly those scenes in deposition. And for the record: I don’t think Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from the Winklevoss twins or anyone else.

Even if Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t invented Facebook, he’d still be the youngest billionaire in history and the subject to our interest and scorn. Like artists, inventors and other men of genius, Zuckerberg seems to be that sort of man understands the world better than most, but has great difficulty participating in it. He’d still have found a way to change the way the world interacts with one another. Rashida Jones plays the assistant to Zuckerberg’s lawyer and she is not only a rare sympathetic presence but is there to ask the questions I think most people would like to ask Zuckerberg (well, at least those I had while watching). As the credits rolled, I turned to my friend and said, “It’s lonely at the top.”

After the film I spent an hour talking, seemingly nonstop, about the film, its reflection on our society and how much our daily lives are impacted by social media. I don’t think it’s an entirely negative thing, myself, but I understand more fully why some people are loath to join these various sites and the overwhelming need people have to maintain some semblance of privacy in an world that becomes more and more transparent every day. As the story progressed during the film, I thought to myself “I remember when that happened” and it unexpectedly became a reflection of my own college experience and post-graduate life. (On a tangent there is no love lost in the film for Harvard life, depicted as one of great privilege and arrogance).

I’m a blogger because I’m a writer and will never profess to be anything but a Luddite when it comes to computer science, but it’s interesting to see the ways Zuckerberg has impacted my own life. Many of my friends are people I know through my blog and our distance makes Facebook and Twitter the ideal platforms for keeping in touch. I still prefer long-form writing but with computers, e-mail, blogging, and now micro-blogging, using a pen seems to be as passe as the 8-track. That’s what has changed – these sites make the world smaller and our connections more immediate than ever. However, I do remain very conscious of what I write and make it a point to maintain some privacy in my life. No one needs to know every single thing about me, which is something that many tend to forget when dealing with the online world. As Zuckerberg’s ex girlfriend in the film says “It’s not written in pencil, it’s written in ink.” Whether or not this is a good thing has yet to be determined, but regardless we can’t unring that bell.

Catching up with “Life After Tomorrow”

Annie doesn’t quite rank as one of my favorite musicals, as my first experience with the show was decidedly less than stellar. So I admit I was somewhat reluctant to watch the 2006 documentary Life After Tomorrow, a chronicle of the actresses who played the title role and other orphans in various professional productions. The film was conceived and co-directed by Julie Stevens (Gil Cates, Jr. was the other director), who was an orphan in the original production and pulls together 40 or so alumni of the production together to talk about what it was like to be a part of the musical. In some respects the documentary is a sobering look into the world of professional theatre in the United States, in others it’s like watching a train derail. Annie is a significant part of these ladies’ lives, for better and for worse.

Interestingly enough, Andrea McArdle and Aileen Quinn – arguably the two most prolific actresses to have played America’s favorite redheaded orphan – were not involved with this documentary. However, other actresses were more than willing to talk about the experiences of performing the show, the burden of being prepubescent breadwinners and the reality check when they were abruptly no longer part of Annie. The girls were told they were too tall, too developed, too…whatever to continue in the show and were replaced. One of the women who plays Annie on tour talks about her last night, coming offstage and her replacement being whisked into her costume for photo call in the lobby as fans cheered the replacement and not her.

It’s rare that a musical becomes a cultural phenomenon. I’d say the biggest in recent memory would be Wicked, which has has found a solid fanbase in the same demographic that devoured Annie over thirty years ago. There have been countless television appearances, personal appearances, various professional productions all over the world, two film adaptations, a best selling original cast album and a woefully misguided sequel. The show of “Tomorrow” will long continue to linger on in public consciousness, quite possibly more than the comic strip upon which it was based.

The negative experiences had by cast members are particularly compelling, as they provide a sobering view at how show business isn’t necessarily all that appealing. Kristen Vigard, who was replaced by Andrea McArdle when the show was trying out in Goodspeed, has clearly not gotten over that career blow (and coming at such an impressionable age, it’s no surprise). History was repeated in 1997 when the 20th anniversary production replaced its leading actress with another orphan two stops pre-Broadway. However, it’s not all negative: one of the great success stories of an Annie alum is Sarah Jessica Parker, who’s gone to what is arguably the most successful career of any of the girls talks at lenght and at ease about being in the show. (Alyssa Milano and Molly Ringwald were also in productions, but they weren’t interviewed).

The experiences discussed run the gamut from fun (Henry Winkler visiting at the height of Happy Days) to the nasty (original cast member Robyn Finn was the recipient of an offensively anti-Semitic hate letter – from a fellow orphan!) There were tales of heckling hookers down the street, going to Studio 54 multiple nights a week (including seven year old Danielle Brisebois – where the hell were the parents?!). The parents could be problematic – going on the road and living it up, with affairs, partying and clashing. These same parents are discussed from varying degree from supporting and loving to cum laude graduates from Madame Rose’s school. There were no child handlers as there are these days, so the education was practically nonexistent. Chorus members and principles were resentful that these children were paid more than they, and took it out on them – one unnamed Hannigan actually hit the girls onstage.

Then there are the men. A replacement in the original production and a star of Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, Harve Presnell offers his insight from a professional’s perspective. Musical director Peter Howard, composer Charles Strouse and lyricist & director Martin Charnin talk about the musical with great fondness, but seemingly unaware the impact the show had on the girls after the fact. There is a brief look into the casting process, but not nearly enough for my liking. For many of these girls, Annie was the experience of a lifetime; something that was never repeated. Whereas for these men, it was another chapter in their long and varied careers of bringing shows to Broadway.

One of the more unexpected aspects of the entire film was Jon Merrill, who is considered the show’s number one fan. Mr. Merrill, who insisted he was neither gay nor a pedophile, talked about the impact of the show on him from “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and how it inspired him to start “Annie People,” a newsletter for fans of the show. He says he no longer wears costumes to the show, or stands with a clipboard at the stage door waiting for interviews, but still enjoys the show. It’s not odd to love a show, but he paints an unusual portrait of himself wearing Annie sweatshirts and surrounded by Annie memorabilia. I have to admit, it was odd watching him pull little girls’ costumes from the 1982 film out of his closet.

The documentary ends with the interviewees recreating “Tomorrow,” some quite exceptional, some clearly showing that longevity in show business was not guaranteed. They get together for reunions and reminisce, talk about their experiences – and they’re right: this is an incredibly unique bond that they share. The choreography and lyrics are muscle memory and they can step right back into “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” without thinking twice.

It’s a fascinating but all-too-brief 73 minutes. There is a lot here, but it seems as though there could have been a lot more. Personally, I’d be fascinated to hear more about McArdle’s experiences with the show, and also why she chose not to participated in this film. I was also curious to know about the actresses playing Miss Hannigan, specifically the one and only Dorothy Loudon, who bested McArdle for the Tony that year. Loudon isn’t even mentioned here and that, to me, is a crime. Other Hannigans of note include Alice Ghostley, Kathleen Freeman and June Havoc, who is seen briefly consoling one of the girls on closing night.

Annie turns 35 in 2012. A second Broadway revival is planned and I’m certain interest in the original production will once again surface. The cast will be coming out of the woodwork once again to discuss their experiences. Bet your bottom dollar – did I really just say that? – there will be some sort of national casting contest/campaign to drum up press. I do hope that those kids involved will be handled with greater care, and those in charge can learn from the past.

Oh – and one of the great things about this documentary is that it’s available to watch online for free: