Tag Archives: Jonathan Demme

Tom Petty and the Movies

The clip above shows Tom Petty’s very last performance of “Free Fallin'”, at Hollywood Bowl on September 25th. On October 2nd, he died at the age of 66 after a massive heart attack. Bizarrely enough, it was first reported that he had died, then that the initial reports were wrong, that he was still fighting for his life. When I went to bed that night in a hotel room in Palma, Mallorca, I had a bad feeling that he would be dead again when I woke up. 

The death of Tom Petty came the same day as a hateful man called Stephen Paddock murdered 59 people attending a country music concert in Las Vegas. Along with Petty’s death, October 2nd truly became a date of infamy in the history of American showbiz.

My first memory of Tom Petty came courtesy of MTV in 1991. I was 15 and I remember the man with blond hair who wore a high hat and sunglasses. “Into the Great Wide Open” stuck with me a bit as a gateway to other Petty songs that I came to like even better. That’s how I learned about Jeff Lynne… and of course, that music video is packed with Hollywood celebrities, including Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, Matt LeBlanc and Gabrielle Anwar. 

This video is even more of a classic though. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” is my absolute favorite of Tom Petty’s songs, the lead single from his 1985 album “Southern Accents”. Written as a portrait of a weird romantic encounter between Dave Stewart and Stevie Nicks, this brilliant song was accompanied by a video echoing “Alice in Wonderland”, with Petty as the Mad Hatter. Stewart himself appears in the video as the caterpillar. 

As this is primarily a movie and TV blog, let’s remember Tom Petty’s contributions in that field. Mashable posted a (largely) unimpressive list of Petty songs that are used in movies, but I do like how Jonathan Demme put “American Girl”, Petty’s breakthrough song, in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) as an introduction of the senator’s daughter (Brooke Smith) who gets kidnapped by Buffalo Bill. Symbolic value, indeed.

Petty appeared as an actor in a few movies and TV shows. He played himself on several occasions on The Garry Shandling Show as a neighbor. He was a mayor in The Postman (1997), as seen in a few scenes in the clip above, but the lasting impression he made may have been on King of the Hill where he was the voice of “Lucky”. Perhaps the most rewarding cinematic experience you’ll have of Petty right now could be a film by Peter Bogdanovich. Runnin’ Down a Dream (2007) is a four-hour documentary and concert movie chronicling the rise of Tom Petty and his collaborations with The Heartbreakers and The Traveling Wilburys. The movie also features interviews with many performers who’ve been connected to Petty in one way or another.

Still, I think Tom Petty’s greatest work as a performer onscreen is in his music videos. I think I’ll enjoy his turn as the Mad Hatter once again tonight. 

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Springsteen’s Career in 11 Rock Clips

During my vacation, I read Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, the best-selling biography he released last year. At about the same time, there was also an accompanying documentary, Bruce Springsteen: In His Own Words, and an album, “Chapter and Verse”. The Boss may have grown up in New Jersey more or less poor, but he sure knows how to make money now. And he deserves it – this is still one hell of a performer. The book is a must for fans, chronicling Springsteen’s early days in New Jersey, how he became an artist and how he handled the subsequent fame. We learn about his bouts with depression, how he figured out the best way to manage his bands (there’s a reason why he’s called The Boss) and how he learned to be a better husband and father. Whole chapters are devoted to some albums where he writes about the process behind them; at other times, some of his albums are barely mentioned, a clear sign of dissatisfaction. One thing I really enjoyed was his command of the language; this is a person who gives a lot of thought to how he should express himself and it really serves the book well, especially in the beginning when he writes about his recollections of being a kid.

As I was reading the book, I started listening through Springsteen’s albums in the order of their release. So now I thought, why not share a few clips of how I experienced this great artist’s journey through his career?

Bruce Springsteen’s first album was “Greetings from Asbury Park” (1973) and in this early clip from a live performance, he and his band perform “Spirit in the Night”, the second single from the album and still a staple of The Boss’s live concerts. That’s Clarence Clemons on saxophone, the beginning of a long, beautiful friendship. 

“Born to Run” (1975) became Springsteen’s great breakthrough. This clip is a powerful performance from a concert in Pennsylvania in 1976. Ironically, Springsteen had severe doubts about the album and was practically pushed into releasing what is now considered a masterpiece. But it made him famous and put him on the cover of prominent magazines, no small feat for a rock artist in those days.

In 1978, Springsteen released “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. In the book, he points out how many of the songs on the album are still featured in his live concerts. Indeed, this is one hit-packed album; “The Promised Land” is one of the best. And just look at Clemons and how he dominates the scene with his sax; this is a wonderful example of how dynamic The Boss was together with his E Street Band at this time. 

Then came the 1980s, the decade when Springsteen started making serious money and became an increasingly international phenomenon. In 1980, “The River” was released, a mighty double album. “Hungry Heart” became a huge hit, but I selected a quieter number, “Drive All Night”. When I heard this song live, it was a revelation.

After a more low-key album, “Nebraska”, Springsteen delivered “Born in the USA” in 1984. This performance in Paris the following year shows two things. First of all, it’s a sign of how popular The Boss was becoming. Worldwide tours were now a familiar thing for Springsteen and his band. Secondly, Springsteen was learning how to master huge arenas as he moved away from smaller venues and clubs. Another thing of course is how dated parts of this performance has become; the style was firmly grounded in the 1980s and Springsteen wondered if some of the PR photos made him look gay.

“Tunnel of Love” (1987) had several great songs; “Human Touch” and “Lucky Town” (1992) were more forgettable. Springsteen stopped working with the E Street Band; after marrying Patti Scialfa, a singer who had become a part of the band, he became a dad. In 1994, he won an Oscar for “Streets of Philadelphia”, the song he wrote for Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia (1993). I love this song, one of my favorites, and there’s an amusing moment in the book when Springsteen shows his father the Oscar and the old man (who didn’t like his son’s career choice) decides that this is the moment when he’s finally learned not to give anyone advice what to do with their lives. 

In 1999, Springsteen ran into trouble with the police because of his song “American Skin”. Written after the shooting of an immigrant in New York City, the song is actually fair to both the victim and cops, but this nuance was lost on some people on the right, including cops who simply refused to understand the lyrics. This performance is from 2000; boos frequently met The Boss when he was doing this song at that time. 

“The Rising” (2002) was sort of a comeback for Springsteen. Reunited with the E Street Band on an album for the first time in 18 years, “The Rising” was written in the shadow of the September 11th attacks. A moving and powerful experience, with “My City of Ruins” as the climax. This clip shows The Boss and his band performing at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York in 2002. 

In 2006, Springsteen released “We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions”, an album packed with folk music made popular by Seeger. Together with a phenomenal band, this is an incredibly engaging example of how The Boss has the capacity to blow life into any kind of  material that’s more or less forgotten. Audiences and critics ate it up; the clip is from a 2007 concert in Indianapolis where “Old Dan Tucker” is performed.

In 2009, Springsteen and the E Street Band entertained America with a halftime show during Super Bowl; here’s the whole thing in one clip (the sound isn’t great though). In the book, Springsteen devotes a chapter to the experience and how complicated it was technically, with a very slippery stage. That moment when he hits the camera wasn’t exactly planned… All in all though, a knock-out concert. 

In 2008, the E Street Band lost Danny Federici and in 2011 Clarence Clemons; especially the latter’s death was painful for Springsteen. In 2012, he released “Wrecking Ball”, another successful album. One of my favorites is the song that opens it, “We Take Care of Our Own”, which became a signature theme of Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. I have to say I like Springsteen’s cocky feelings about the album in the book; he recognizes the fact that it was a hit, but still complains that it should have garnered better reviews and become the kind of phenomenon that “Born in the USA” was. He considers this to be one of his very best albums. 

Obviously, there are many other great moments and interesting details from the book, but I’ll leave that up to you, readers, to discover. 

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Jonathan Demme 1944-2017

Director Jonathan Demme died today, 73 years old. In the clip above, he and Paul Thomas Anderson (who’s a big fan) talk about the creative process behind Demme’s films at the 2015 Austin Film Festival. If you want to learn more about The Silence of the Lambs (1991), go ahead and listen.

Born in Baldwin, New York, Demme started out in showbiz as a writer and producer, working on Roger Corman’s movies in the 1970s. That’s also where he got his chance at directing, making low-budget exploitation and action/comedy films for Corman’s studio. He broke into the mainstream with comedies in the 1980s, such as Melvin and Howard (1980), Swing Shift (1984), Something Wild (1986) and Married to the Mob (1988), none of them outstanding but effective genre pieces.

This was also the decade when Demme made his mark as a documentary filmmaker. In 1984, he released Stop Making Sense, his first concert film, an incredibly dynamic experience starring Talking Heads; in the clip above, the band performs “Once in a Lifetime”. Demme also made music videos for several artists and other documentaries, such as Man from Plains (2007), about President Jimmy Carter. He cared about humanistic causes, which he frequently returned to in his documentaries.

In the 1990s, Demme abandoned comedies in favor of darker subject matters. The Silence of the Lambs became his greatest success, earning him an Oscar. A marvelously taut and scary thriller, it featured amazing performances and Demme’s deliberately subjective camera helped create a hypnotic atmosphere, as in the clip above, Clarice’s (Jodie Foster) first meeting with serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).

Philadelphia (1993) became known as Hollywood’s first real attempt at depicting the AIDS crisis. Even though Demme’s career went into decline after that, he still made Rachel Getting Married in 2008, a realistic, hand-held drama with lots of good live music throughout. In many ways, that film combined some of the director’s best traits. 

Demme’s last movie was Ricki and the Flash (2015), starring Meryl Streep as an aging rocker. Seems like a somewhat appropriate way to end an admirable career.

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Bill Paxton 1955-2017

It was quite a shock today for Hollywood and the rest of us to wake up and know that Bill Paxton has died due to complications following surgery. Judging from all the love for Paxton on Twitter, he was really popular in Hollywood. In the clip above from last summer’s Comic Con, he and Sigourney Weaver talk about the impact that one of their movies, Aliens (1986), had.

Born in Texas, Paxton’s first notable “appearance” may be in a now classic photograph from November 22nd, 1963 where the eight-year-old Bill can be seen in the crowds awaiting President John F. Kennedy shortly before the assassination. The photo is now on display in a museum in Dallas. Paxton’s film debut was Jonathan Demme’s Crazy Mama (1975), but his career got a real boost first when he was hired by James Cameron to play a punk who gets taught a lesson by Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984).

Cameron kept coming back to Paxton, casting him as a whiny Marine in Aliens, a sleazy womanizer in True Lies (1994) and a deep-sea explorer in Titanic (1997). In between, Paxton had good roles in the vampire movie Near Dark (1987), noir thriller One False Move (1992), Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (1995), the hugely entertaining Twister (1996) and Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan (1998), which was one of his best performances.

In later years, Paxton turned to TV and it’s possible that we’ll remember him chiefly as the Mormon businessman with three wives on Big Love (2006-2011), which earned him a Golden Globe nomination. A great role for him. Paxton fared less well with the current Training Day, which wasn’t liked by critics or audiences and is likely to be canceled now.

He played guys who were bad or pathetic, but we still remember Bill Paxton simply as a good guy. It was touching and heart-warming to read tributes today from virtually every star who had worked with him, from Tom Hanks and Cameron, to Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. I’m sure his name will come up tonight at the Academy Awards. May he rest in peace.

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The Greatest Hits of 2015

It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2015 for ya.

JANUARY:

* Blackhat – Michael Mann’s first directorial outing since Public Enemies (2009) is a cyber thriller starring Chris Hemsworth. Its January release makes it hard to really get excited about it. 

* Escobar: Paradise Lost – Notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar reaches the big screen in the shape of Benicio Del Toro. Josh Hutcherson plays the innocent young man who becomes a witness to Escobar’s life of crime. 

* Still Alice – There have been several Alzheimer dramas before (most notably Away From Her (2007)), but this one boasts an already heavily lauded performance by Julianne Moore.

* Mortdecai – David Koepp is an unreliable director, but this art-heist comedy might be worth a look. A true star vehicle for Johnny Depp, who needs a hit.

FEBRUARY:

* Jupiter Ascending – The Wachowski siblings deliver another sci-fi movie, this time starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis. The stars will help, but it’s doubtful that audiences will be much attracted to the film.

* Kingsman: The Secret Service – An action thriller from Matthew Vaughn that follows a veteran secret agent taking on a protégé. Starring Colin Firth and Michael Caine. 

* Fifty Shades of Grey – No one expects this adaptation of the hugely successful novel to be any good; the only question is how naughty will it be? And will audiences line up to find out? Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are in the leads.

MARCH:

* Cinderella – Kenneth Branagh directs this movie that seems to follow in the footsteps of Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Huntsman and Maleficent. Lily James plays Cinderella in the live-action version. 

* Insurgent – The sequel to Divergent (2014). It’s hard to separate this series from the Hunger Games movies and all the other dystopian youth thrillers. But the first film was a huge hit. 

* Serena – Susanne Bier’s first American film since Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) is a Depression-era drama about a love affair between a girl and a millionaire. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are likely to bring star power.

APRIL:

* Furious 7 – There’s an anxiety to make this movie worth the effort, considering it’s Paul Walker’s last. It will no doubt be interesting to see how well the filmmakers have worked around his absence. It certainly looks wild.

* Child 44 – Daniel Espinosa directs this adaptation of an excellent hard-boiled bestseller, a serial-killer thriller set in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman are headlining.

MAY:

* Avengers: Age of Ultron – Summer puts in a higher gear with this sequel that reunites some of our favorite superheroes.  I hope Joss Whedon lives up to the original, and I look forward to watching James Spader as the villain.

* Mad Max: Fury Road – Perhaps few expected George Miller’s belated sequel to the 1980s franchise to be noteworthy, but the trailers that have been released so far indicate a furious thrill ride. Tom Hardy is in the lead. 

* Tomorrowland – A new Brad Bird movie is always worth a look. This sci-fi adventure, that was co-authored by Damon Lindelof and stars George Clooney, looks very intriguing.

JUNE:

* Jurassic World – It’s been 14 years since the last Jurassic Park movie and that time difference is illustrated in the story of this sequel. Now it’s a fully operational theme park, and very busy. I’m sure everything will go wrong. 

* Inside Out – The new Pixar movie is a weird concept. We follow the emotions inside a little girl, all represented by quirky characters. Co-directed by Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter.

* Ricki and the Flash – Meryl Streep plays an aging rock star who’s trying to reconnect with her kids. May sound unremarkable, but Jonathan Demme is directing and Streep is probably a hoot to watch. And there’s Kevin Kline.

JULY:

* Terminator Genisys – Terminator Salvation (2007) failed to jump-start this franchise, but here comes a movie that seems to be everything – a sequel, a remake and a prequel all at once. And Arnold Schwarzenegger returns. Has to be seen. 

* Ant-Man – Can’t say I’m excited about this latest superhero project, but perhaps a sense of humor will boost it, as in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy. The cast has Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly.

AUGUST:

* The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Guy Ritchie directs this adaptation of the 1960s spy series. I guess Warner is hoping for their own Mission: Impossible franchise. Stars Henry Cavill and Hugh Grant.

* Straight Outta Compton – The story of the legendary hiphop group N.W.A. reaches the big screen. Director F. Gary Gray’s first film in six years. Paul Giamatti is in the cast.

SEPTEMBER:

* Everest – A star-studded thriller about a Mount Everest expedition that is hit by a snowstorm. Starring Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robin Wright and Josh Brolin.

* Black Mass – Infamous Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger is the subject of this film that focuses on his rise. Johnny Depp plays Bulger and the cast also has Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller and Joel Edgerton.

OCTOBER:

* The Walk – Did you see the documentary Man on Wire (2008)? Well, here comes Robert Zemeckis’s fictionalized version, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The teaser is eye-popping, and I believe this is an occasion where the 3D will truly serve a purpose.

* The Jungle Book – Hard to tell what Jon Favreau might make of this adaptation, but it seems inspired by the Disney version as much as Rudyard Kipling. Bill Murray and Christopher Walken will provide the voices of Baloo and King Louie.

* Crimson Peak – Guillermo del Toro directs this ghost movie starring Charlie Hunnam and Jessica Chastain. Early footage was a hit at Comic-Con last summer.

NOVEMBER: 

* Spectre – The 24th James Bond movie promises to reintroduce both SPECTRE and Blofeld. Daniel Craig returns and Christoph Waltz plays the villain. Sam Mendes is back in the directing chair after the success of Skyfall (2012). 

* The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 – The book certainly did not need to be divided into two separate movies, but here’s the final film in this franchise.

* Midnight Special – Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols returns with a film about a man who goes on the lam with his son after discovering that the boy has special powers. Stars Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Michael Shannon.

DECEMBER:

* Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The most heavily anticipated movie of the year. The teaser trailer got everybody curious and J.J. Abrams’s take on this franchise certainly looks exciting. Now we’re waiting for a first look of the old stars…

* Mission: Impossible 5 – Both the plot and, likely, the title are unknown at this time. But Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner and the other familiar faces from this franchise are returning. Christopher McQuarrie, who made Jack Reacher, is helming.

* Joy – David O. Russell is back with another vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence, who plays a Long Island single mom who becomes a wildly successful entrepreneur. Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro are also in the cast.

* The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu directs this drama about a frontiersman who sets out for revenge in the 1820s. Stars Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio.

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Philadelphia

NO ONE WOULD TAKE HIS CASE… UNTIL ONE MAN WAS WILLING TO TAKE ON THE SYSTEM.

 

philadelphiaWhen Philadelphia attorney Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is suddenly fired from his law firm after the senior partners realize that he has AIDS, he enlists the support of a homophobic colleague (Denzel Washington). After the success of The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Jonathan Demme found a story that in a way is just as terrifying. The naked fear of AIDS (and of homosexuality) is tangible in a film that focuses perhaps too much on the ensuing trial, but finds its heart in the awkward relationship between Hanks and Washington’s characters. Both are brilliant, and the director creates greater relevance by tying the story into a loving, melancholy portrait of the city as a whole.

1993-U.S. 119 min. Color. Produced by Jonathan Demme, Edward Saxon. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Screenplay: Ron Nyswaner. Songs: “Streets of Philadelphia” (Bruce Springsteen), “Philadelphia” (Neil Young). Cast: Tom Hanks (Andrew Beckett), Denzel Washington (Joe Miller), Jason Robards (Charles Wheeler), Mary Steenburgen, Antonio Banderas, Ron Vawter… Joanne Woodward, Roger Corman, Bradley Whitford.

Trivia: Bill Murray, Daniel Day-Lewis and Robin Williams were allegedly considered for the part of Beckett. Robert Castle, who plays Hanks’s father, is a priest and the subject of Demme’s documentary Cousin Bobby (1992); he would go on to appear in numerous films (especially Demme’s) after this one.

Oscars: Best Actor (Hanks), Original Song. Golden Globes: Best Actor (Hanks), Original Song. Berlin: Best Actor (Hanks).

Last word: “The film doesn’t shake a stick at people who are afraid of AIDS. I think it’s completely understandable for people to recoil at the idea of AIDS if they haven’t known someone, or if they don’t have a loved one who is already fighting AIDS. I was terrified of AIDS and people with AIDS until my friends and loved ones started getting it. Then I had to come to terms with my own fears and fight against my own personal ignorance, created by the lack of information out there.” (Demme, EmanuelLevy.com)

4 kopia

 

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Stephen King and the Future of 11/22/63

Recently, I finished reading Stephen King’s time-traveling nostalgia piece “11/22/63”, only a few days after the 49th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The 849-page paperback edition left me in awe of King’s storytelling gifts, in spite of the fact that his melodramatic tricks felt more than obvious, as the leading character (a visitor to the 1960s from 2011) finds himself racing to the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963 even though he’s had years to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting the President. After all, I did find myself a little bit touched by Jake Epping’s destiny and what he found out about the future as it might have appeared if Kennedy had survived the assassination attempt, theories that originated from conversations with Doris Kearns Goodwin, among others.

According to an Entertainment Weekly article from last year, Jonathan Demme has picked up the film rights but there hasn’t been much talk about a potential adaptation for the big or small screen. We’ll just have to wait and see. And this is an opportunity as good as any to list my five favorite Stephen King adaptations:

 

The Shining – Ironically, the greatest film based on a King novel changes a lot from the original and was rejected by the writer himself (who subsequently approved of a more faithful miniseries adaptation in 1997). Still, King’s material is thankful fodder for filmmakers of Stanley Kubrick’s stature.

 

Dolores Claiborne – Part of it is a murder mystery. But this is above all a drama exploring the psyche of a stubborn Maine woman (Kathy Bates) who may have killed her elderly employer. Powerful direction by Taylor Hackford.

 

The Shawshank Redemption – A remarkable example of a film that wasn’t particularly praised when it premiered in 1994, but since has become an inexplicably beloved classic. Based on King’s short story “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”, the movie has powerful moments and great acting… but its “masterpiece” status on IMDb is still hard to fathom.

 

Stand by Me – Rob Reiner’s adaptation of King’s novella “The Body” has become a minor classic, a nostalgic portrayal of childhood in the 1950s with the author’s expected darkness. The cast made it particularly memorable, with Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O’Connell, Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Feldman in early roles.

 

Misery – There was no way that I wouldn’t include this movie in the list. Far from a masterpiece, it is nevertheless a juicy adaptation (again by Rob Reiner) of what has to be described as an irresistible nightmare for a writer – what if you’re trapped by your number-one fan and forced to write an entire novel that you don’t really want to write?

Close to making the list: Carrie (1976), Cujo (1983), It (1990) and The Green Mile (1999).

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Melvin and Howard

A TRUE STORY?

On a late night, Melvin Dummar (Paul LeMat) finds an old man (Jason Robards) lying next to his motorcycle off a road and gives him a lift; the man tells him that he’s Howard Hughes. The story of how the reclusive multimillionaire might have let a nobody inherit $156 million out of his fortune (the famed will was eventually deemed false) inspired Jonathan Demme’s breakthrough, a celebrated, charming film that focuses on a regular Joe and his life, which is complicated enough without the Hughes money. Demme chooses to believe in the story and LeMat is perfect as the lovable ne’er-do-well; Mary Steenburgen is also excellent as his partner in a marriage that is truly on-off.

1980-U.S. 95 min. Color. Produced by Art Linson, Don Phillips. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Screenplay: Bo Goldman. Cast: Paul LeMat (Melvin Dummar), Jason Robards (Howard Hughes), Mary Steenburgen (Lynda Dummar), Jack Kehoe, Pamela Reed, Dabney Coleman… Gloria Grahame, John Glover.

Oscars: Best Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Steenburgen). Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actress (Steenburgen).

Last word: “When Bo became involved, he met Melvin, traveled with him all over the locations where the events happened, talked to his co-workers at the magnesium plant and at the dairy, spent time with Melvin’s ex-wife and his second wife and his parents. Bo did an tremendous amount of research on that level, which to me helps account for the fact that the characters in his script are so rich.” (Demme, “Jonathan Demme: Interviews”)

 

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Rachel Getting Married

Fresh out of rehab, Kym (Anne Hathaway) goes to her family’s house where everybody’s preparing for her sister’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding… but Kym’s arrival stirs up emotions. Jonathan Demme’s first picture in four years is a welcome comeback, a compelling drama that shows how hard it is to break the bond between family members, in spite of all the grief, self-contempt, jealousy and anger that mar their life together. The hand-held camera and utter realism of the story brings us close to these people and their baggage; very strong performances by Hathaway and Bill Irwin as her father. Demme also uses live music in an effective way throughout the film.

2008-U.S. 113 min. Color. Produced by Jonathan Demme, Neda Armian, Marc Platt. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Screenplay: Jenny Lumet. Cast: Anne Hathaway (Kym), Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel), Bill Irwin (Paul), Debra Winger, Tunde Adebimpe, Mather Zickel… Cameo: Roger Corman.

Trivia: Lumet is the daughter of Sidney and this script is her first to be produced.

Last word: “[Lumet] didn’t try to make the characters likeable. She was trying to make them real, unique and that poses the immediate question: how are you going to shoot it? The ‘style’ that I’ve been trying to ‘develop’ over decades of filmmaking was, for a film buff, extremely enjoyable, but extremely manipulative, meticulously designing shots to manipulate the viewers’ emotions. But this time, the sense was: ‘Let’s do it like a home movie. Let’s not manipulate. Let’s not even rehearse. Let’s gather great actors and put them in a room and pretend we’re making a documentary.'” (Demme, indieLondon)

 

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Silence of the Lambs: Quid Pro Quo

DR. HANNIBAL LECTER. BRILLIANT. CUNNING. PSYCHOTIC. IN HIS MIND LIES THE CLUE TO A RUTHLESS KILLER. CLARICE STARLING, F.B.I.. BRILLIANT. VULNERABLE. ALONE. SHE MUST TRUST HIM TO STOP THE KILLER.

silenceofthelambsIt is rumored that writer Thomas Harris has never seen the film adaptation of his novel “The Silence of the Lambs”. I don’t really believe that, but if it’s true, then perhaps Harris should see it considering how his subsequent novels featuring Hannibal Lecter have been unable to reach the height of Jonathan Demme’s version. This serial killer thriller stands as one of the best ever, so intense and chilling that one can’t help but being drawn into its seedy world.

Hannibal Lecter was first introduced to moviegoers in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986), but it was in this film that he became a worldwide phenomenon. Director Demme made a fair share of documentaries before this movie and has done an excellent job of making it as frighteningly realistic as possible. Autumnal shots of a fairly cold and damp Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania dominate this tale of a serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) who kills women, skins them and dumps their bodies in watery areas. The FBI has reached a dead end and needs the help of a professional, another serial killer called Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) who’s been interned in a maximum security prison for eight years. He isn’t talking, but special agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) sends an inexperienced cadet, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), there to see if her presence makes a difference. It does. Lecter gives her a clue, and soon the investigation is progressing. Lecter is a former psychiatrist who was exposed as a deranged murderer who ate his victims (he tells Clarice that he once enjoyed a census taker’s liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti) and it turns out that Buffalo Bill was probably a former patient of his. But in order to divulge information about this man to Clarice he demands quid pro quo. He wants a better cell and he wants Clarice to open up and tell him a few things about herself. It’s a dangerous game, but as Clarice and the FBI come closer to finding Buffalo Bill, she learns more about herself during the sessions with Dr. Lecter. He, on the other hand, has specific plans for the future that the FBI might not like.

Final showdown a masterstroke
What a Hollywood breakthrough this is for British actor Anthony Hopkins. He had enjoyed decades of prosperity on stage, film and television, but I guess nothing could prepare him for the kind of superstar status he would enjoy after playing a person who, while staring at you intensely, describes how he likes eating human livers. Hopkins plays Lecter as a flamboyant yet somehow discreet, intelligent, playful and very, very dangerous human being. He gets to fully put those qualities on display in a tense and brilliantly directed sequence in Memphis. Foster is equally good as the rookie who isn’t even yet an agent; she has a past that torments her and it’s a daring choice to embark on a therapeutic, cleansing path to mental health. Anthony Heald is very amusing as the arrogant and sadistic shrink in charge of Lecter and his fellow prisoners. Demme uses close-ups a lot and that becomes a mesmerizing part of the film; it’s easy to be fascinated by the characters’ faces. The final showdown between Clarice and Buffalo Bill is such a masterstroke, a wonderful example of how suspense is constructed in the editing room. Howard Shore helps immensely with his eerie music; this is the score that became his true breakthrough.

The film deals with ugly, dark subject matters, but director Demme never loses his wits and neither does the story. We are manipulated into seeing an evil man as kind of a hero in the film – and amazingly enough we’re pleased to see him triumph in the last scene.

The Silence of the Lambs 1991-U.S. 118 min. Color. Produced by Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt, Ron Bozman. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Screenplay: Ted Tally. Novel: Thomas Harris. Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto. Music: Howard Shore. Editing: Craig McKay. Cast: Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling), Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter), Scott Glenn (Jack Crawford), Ted Levine, Anthony Heald, Brooke Smith… Roger Corman, Chris Isaak. Cameo: George A. Romero.

Trivia: Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall were allegedly offered the part of Lecter. Serial killer Buffalo Bill is a composite of three actual murderers; Ed Gein, Ted Bundy and Gary Heidnick. The character of Lecter next appeared in Hannibal (2001); also followed by a TV series, Hannibal (2013-2015).

Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Foster), Adapted Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Foster). Golden Globe: Best Actress (Foster). Berlin: Best Director.

Quote: “I do wish we could chat longer, but I’m having an old friend for dinner.” (Hopkins to Foster)

Last word: “There’s something very cool about taking from Hitchcock and Fuller. So [Tak Fujimoto and I] started playing around with subjective cameras with ‘Melvin and Howard’, and a little bit here and a little bit there. Then along came ‘Silence of the Lambs’, and that seemed like, ‘This is why we’ve been playing with subjective camera. Let’s go for it.’ Because they go inside each other’s heads. So we went for it. That, in a certain way, was a fulfilling experience. We had been pursuing a certain kind of style, a classic style: Roger Corman meets classic Hollywood shooting with a strong dose of subjective camera and a little seasoning of Martin Scorsese hand-held.” (Demme, A.V. Club)

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The Manchurian Candidate

THIS SUMMER EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL.

 

manchuriancandidateWe had a right to expect something good when a director of Jonathan Demme’s caliber decided to remake John Frankenheimer’s great political thriller from 1962. The war in Korea has been cleverly updated to the Gulf War, but the main story of the original is intact and still relevant today, as a veteran (Denzel Washington) discovers that he keeps having the same weird dreams as other members of his unit. The political backdrop is very interesting and so are the similarities with contemporary events. Liev Schreiber delivers a strong performance as the war hero turned politician and Meryl Streep is wonderful as the senator who may look like Hillary Clinton but acts like a fascist.

2004-U.S. 130 min. Color. Produced by Scott Rudin, Tina Sinatra, Ilona Herzberg. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Screenplay: Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris. Cast: Denzel Washington (Ben Marco), Meryl Streep (Eleanor Shaw), Liev Schreiber (Raymond Shaw), Jon Voight, Kimberly Elise, Jeffrey Wright… Bruno Ganz, Dean Stockwell, Vera Farmiga, Roger Corman, Anthony Mackie. Cameos: Al Franken, Sidney Lumet.

Trivia: Jessica Lange, Glenn Close and Emma Thompson were allegedly considered for the part of Eleanor Shaw.

Last word: “We, obviously, showed at script level and, hopefully at every level, tremendous respect for the earlier picture. That was just organic to all of us involved in the process, certainly Dan Pyne and myself. But we were determined to not try to repeat any of the specific strengths of the original movie. So some of the definitive, great set-pieces of the first film, we don’t have in our film. Dan Pyne replaced the notion that Communism was the great global threat with the notion that perhaps multinational corporations that profit from war pose the greatest threat of all to mankind today.” (Demme, ABC)

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