A stunning leading lady of the late 1930s, actress Frances Farmer's promising career was curtailed by her alcoholism and mental illness. But her greatest claim to fame was not her films, but her decad...
Wuthering Heights is an incredible experience director Andrea Arnold having taken the Emily Brontë novel and turned it on its head in her typically nervy bold style. There's little dialogue it's shot using available natural light and like her previous film Fish Tank stars an unknown actor whose presence commands every scene.
There is moping on the moors in Wuthering Heights but the muddy meditative experience that has almost nothing in common with its predecessors. There's no romantically brooding Olivier or pillow-lipped Tom Hardy here; this is not an experience for teen girls to swoon over. As children Catherine and Heathcliff are odd playmates. Once Mr. Earnshaw dies and Catherine's older brother Hindley takes over the household Heathcliff's life changes drastically for the worse. He's physically and verbally abused and banished to the barn to sleep with the "other animals." It's clear that this is a brand-new nearly incomprehensible world for Healthcliff and it's impossible to not feel empathy for him especially during an aborted attempted at baptizing him. As a teen his relationship with Catherine is magical despite (or because?) how much he risks to just play in the mud with her. An ominous indicator of their lifelong relationship is that she doesn't grasp why her playmate isn't as free as she is to do what she wants. She's sorry that Heathcliff gets beaten for ditching work to play with her but that doesn't stop her from encouraging him. As children they romp like puppies with just a hint of their budding sexuality; they're pure selfish id.
In many ways neither of them outgrow this selfishness. Even when she's married and pregnant Catherine feels Heathcliff betrayed her by leaving. Heathcliff's ruthlessness in his pursuit of revenge is equally childish; we see him torturing dogs that mirrors the actions of Hindley's grubby-faced neglected child. Is it nature or nurture? Is Hindley's child learning by watching the adults around him or should we believe the natural tendency of children is this utterly careless cruelty? Whichever it is there's no doubt that Heathcliff's disavowal of the past and insistence of living in the present — "There's only now " he tells her — has nothing to do with Buddhist mindfulness but a total disregard for how his actions affect others. His initial plan included suicide but this seems much more interesting.
Howson's performance as an adult Heathcliff is remarkable. He's not a sympathetic character — no one is in this film. Although it's not clear whether or not Arnold was specifically looking to cast a person of color for the role of Heathcliff the fact that Howson is black adds an extra layer of complexity to the drama. In the book he's described in such a way that indicates at the very least his ethnic background isn't white but Arnold ups the ante by putting a racial epithet in Hindley's mouth. This drives home the idea of Heathcliff's outsider status; it makes his "otherness" visible.
There's something gentle in Heathcliff's face that belies the nearly sociopathic anger within. When he first seduces Catherine's sister-in-law Isabella as part of his revenge on Catherine it's erotic in a way that makes the viewer complicit in Isabella's eventual destruction. (This serves as an interesting foil to Fish Tank and its ethically troubling but arousing sex scenes with Michael Fassbender and Katie Jarvis.) As the adult Catherine Kaya Scodelario puts in a good performance. Her Catherine looks angelic but is all hard angles underneath those lacy flounces. She is the wild shrieking woman to Heathcliff's cold silence and when she is finally quiet it's only because she's succumbed to the furor of their lifelong struggle.
Throughout Wuthering Heights we are put in Heathcliff's shoes. We see Catherine through his eyes and we understand what it feels like to ride on a horse behind her with her hair whipping in our face and the warm flank under our fingers. We are immersed in this sensual experience of being Heathcliff thanks to the magic of Robbie Ryan's cinematography. (Ryan has worked as a cinematographer on all of Arnold's films including her Oscar-winning short Wasp.) The handheld camera work is intense and occasionally nauseating but its immediacy is crucial to the film. Using available light occasionally works against it as some scenes are so dark it's hard to tell what's actually happening.
Wuthering Heights gives rise to an internal debate. If it was edited down more with less lingering shots of bugs crawling across leaves or birds twinned in the sky as obvious metaphors for Heathcliff and Catherine it would be an entirely different experience. Would it be better maybe more enjoyable easier to sit through? Or is that beside the point? Andrea Arnold's talent lies in pushing the viewer past their normal boundaries of what's romantic or beautiful. In Arnold's world a mother and daughter dancing in a kitchen to "Life's a Bitch" by Nas is as loving and joyful as Heathcliff's frenzied attempts to unearth Catherine's coffin. You either decide you're all in or you're not.
On Thursday, it was announced that Matt Damon was reteaming with childhood friend and Good Will Hunting co-writer and costar Ben Affleck for a project called Race to the South Pole. The 1997 drama that launched both young actors' careers also kicked up the reputation of director Gus Van Sant, who has since helmed great films like Finding Forrester, Elephant, and Milk. The past 15 years have been kind to all parties involved with Good Will Hunting, and Damon, Affleck, and Van Sant alike should face no limitation in terms of seeking out desired projects and collaborators. But it seems that they just all like each other.
Damon and Van Sant are working together again on Van Sant's forthcoming environmentalist-themed movie Promised Land. Damon takes a somewhat unexpected role as the representative of an oil drilling company who seeks out land in rural America to mine for resources. Opposite Damon is John Krasinski, who is jam packed with all the stuff he learned on the set of Big Miracle — how to love the Earth and stick it to the man. Krasinski plays a farmer who sees the inevitable repercussions of Damon's drilling and attempts to rally his town against the interloping conglomerate. And along the way, it does seem as though Damon will recognize that there are better things to do than destroy fields for profit.
Damon and Krasinski cowrote the script, and enlist the likes of Frances McDormand and Hal Holbrook to tell this very Gus Van Santy story. Check out the trailer below.
[Photo Credit: Wenn]
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The age-old debate over fate vs. free will has been and always will be a tough theme to crack in any medium but with the benefits of modern filmmaking technology the theory can be explored in ways that Philip K. Dick never imagined. However when one relies too heavily on spectacle to tell a story a piece of cerebral science fiction can quickly become just another action extravaganza. In this day and age there’s a fine line between the two; The Matrix walked that tightrope with style and grace while Next never found its footing in the first place. Fortunately the precious work of novelist Dick has for the most part been treated with respect by Hollywood (the aforementioned Nic Cage dud notwithstanding) but that doesn’t necessarily mean movies based on his stories are completely faithful to his vision.
Case in point: George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau an adaptation of Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris a successful businessman and rising political candidate who after a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt) loses a crucial election. He happens to run into her on a Manhattan bus the following week before finding his office swarming with masked men who are “adjusting” everyone inside. Richardson (John Slattery) the man in charge captures Norris who unsuccessfully flees the scene after seeing behind “a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed” as the enigmatic figure puts it. From that point on Norris must live with the knowledge that he (and we for that matter) is not in control of his own life. Rather the choices he makes fit perfectly into “The Plan” that’s been written by “the Chairman”.
In relation to my earlier statement I have to say that Nolfi’s picture looks stunning but his natural urban aesthetic doesn’t overpower the story. Sleek contemporary production design and elegant costumes characterize the high-concept story and the wraithlike agents who shape our destinies. Topically we’re dealing with some heavy material but Nolfi and editor Jay Rabinowitz move the action along at a brisk pace that keeps you engaged and entertained without having to try. The film is properly proportioned as a chase thriller romantic adventure and sci-fi fantasy and thankfully no component overshadows another.
Setting the film in the world of politics and big business helps make its larger-than-life revelations a bit more accessible (as do appearances from Michael Bloomberg Jon Stewart and Chuck Scarborough) while providing sub-text about the corruption involved in elections and campaigns (there are conspicuous shades of The Manchurian Candidate in the movie) but the writer-director often tries too hard for broad appeal. For a film with existential implications as severe as they are here the dialogue is at times hokey and superficial. Dick’s source material is far more abstract and Nolfi for the sake of commercial success panders to the palette of soccer moms and mallrats.
What’s worse is his unwarranted exposition of the Bureau a shadowy organization whose major allure is anonymity. Some secrets are best kept and less can be so much more when crafting a mysterious atmosphere; Nolfi reaches that level of magnetic curiosity but squanders it as he reveals the truth about the Bureau and its grand scheme. On the other hand he brushes over the technical lingo between agents Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar) and others without explanation perhaps hoping that the ambiguous terminology will fool you into thinking that his script is smarter than it really is.
Even though Nolfi’s allegorical conclusions are uncomfortably ham-fisted the chemistry between Damon and Blunt alone is enough to enchant you; this is one highly watchable cinematic pairing that should be revisited as soon as possible. Their innocent relationship blossoms organically and together they make it seem as natural on screen as it is for their star-crossed characters. Even if you have a hard time believing in higher powers or manipulative Orwellian forces you’ll have faith in David and Elise’s fated relationship one of the most captivating couplings I’ve seen on the big-screen in some time.
Life history revisited on an episode of "This Is Your Life"; was the one episode of the long-running series in which the guest was not surprised; Farmer agreed to do the show to help set the record straight regarding many misunderstandings about her probl
First stage role with the Group Theater, playing Lorna Moon in Clifford Odets' "Golden Boy"
Purported autobiography posthumously published, "Will There Really Be a Morning?"
Film acting debut in "Too Many Parents"
Hosted a local Indianapolis TV program in the late 1950s
A stunning leading lady of the late 1930s, actress Frances Farmer's promising career was curtailed by her alcoholism and mental illness. But her greatest claim to fame was not her films, but her decade-long psychological collapse that led to her institutionalization in 1944, where she later claimed that she was systematically raped and abused at the hands of hospital staff. Prior to her tragic fall, Farmer made great strides in Hollywood in a short time, starring in the musical "Rhythm on the Range" (1936) and the melodrama "Come and Get It" (1936), both of which helped tag her as a rising star. Dissatisfied with being controlled by the studio, she departed for the summer stock stages of upstate New York before returning to the Hollywood fold for "The Toast of New York" (1937) and "Flowing Gold" (1940). By this time, Farmer had developed a reputation for being difficult and ultimately made her final major film opposite Tyrone Power in "Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake" (1942). Her arrest for driving drunk in 1942 precipitated a mighty fall that saw Farmer wind up in mental institutions in California and her native Washington, where she was subjected to controversial therapies and routinely abused. She eventually reclaimed her life and freedom, going on to enjoy somewhat of a comeback as the host of "Frances Farmer Presents" (WFBM-TV, 1958-64), but continued to suffer from personal demons near the end of her life, leaving a long trail of shattered emotions and unfulfilled promise.
Born on Sept. 19, 1913 in Seattle, WA, Farmer was raised by her father, Ernest, a lawyer, and her mother, Cora, a homemaker. Farmer demonstrated her independence early in life and worked a series of odd jobs in order to pay for her schooling at the University of Washington. While there, she won an essay contest conducted by a leftist magazine that earned her a first prize trip to the Soviet Union, where she experienced the pioneering Moscow Art Theatre. Returning the United States in 1935, Farmer continued to study acting and performed in a number of plays at her university. She later moved to New York City in hopes of starting a theater career, but found herself instead recruited by a Paramount Pictures scout, who arranged a screen test that led to a seven-year contract with the studio. Farmer made her film debut in the teen-centered drama, "Too Many Parents" (1936), and later that year starred opposite Bing Crosby in Norman Taurog's Western musical "Rhythm on the Range" (1936). Meanwhile, she married her first husband, actor Leif Erickson, and was sent to Samuel Goldwyn on loan for the melodrama "Come and Get It" (1936), for which her performance as a mother and a daughter was widely praised and the role for which she would be best remembered.
By the end of 1936, although Farmer had barely begun her film career, she was nonetheless being hailed as a bright new star. But Farmer bristled at the studio's unrelenting control of her career and image, which led to her developing a reputation as being difficult. So in 1937, she left Hollywood to take up the summer stock in upstate New York in an effort to burnish her bona fides as a serious actress, landing her first stage role with the Group Theater and playing Lorna Moon in Clifford Odets' "Golden Boy." Despite reviews that she had been miscast, the play became the biggest hit in the Group Theater's history, thanks to Farmer's already established box office appeal. She made arrangements with Paramount that allowed her to perform theater for most of the year while living temporarily in Hollywood to make movies. She was typically loaned out to other studios, like RKO Pictures for "The Toast of New York" (1937), and was normally consigned to rather thankless supporting roles at Paramount. Meanwhile, her reputation for being difficult grew, thanks to her worsening alcoholism, which led to her abruptly leaving a Broadway play written by Ernest Hemingway.
Despite her mounting troubles, Farmer continued to appear onscreen in movies like "Flowing Gold" (1940), starring John Garfield, and the suspense thriller "Among the Living" (1941). She made what became her last major feature appearance in the period swashbuckler "Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake" (1942), starring Tyrone Power. But by this point, Farmer's personal travails with alcoholism took a drastic turn toward long-running legal and psychological problems that eventually destroyed her. Her very public issues began with an arrest on Oct. 19, 1942, when she was pulled over in Santa Monica for driving with her headlights on during a wartime blackout. Farmer was allegedly verbally abusive, leading to her arrest under suspicion of being drunk. She paid half of her fine and was given a suspended sentence, but failed to pay the rest of her fine and a warrant was issued for her arrest. Police found Farmer at a hotel and placed her under arrest, but she became physically abusive, even knocking down one of the officers as she was hauled kicking and screaming out of the hotel. While the newspapers gave their typically sordid accounts of what happened, Farmer was transferred to the psychiatric ward of L.A. General Hospital, where she was diagnosed as a manic depressive.
Farmer was soon transferred to another facility, the Kimball Sanitarium, a minimum security hospital where she was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic and given insulin shock therapy without her consent. She finally decided to just leave and walked out of the hospital. Farmer wound up at her half-sister's house nearby. Following a legal fight over her guardianship, Farmer was granted permission to live with her mother in Seattle. After six months of vicious fighting, Farmer attacked her mother and was committed to Western State Hospital, where she received electroshock treatment and was deemed cured after three months. Upon her release in 1944, she was traveling to Nevada with her father when she suddenly ran away and was arrested in California for vagrancy. Once again, the newspapers had a field day with the arrest, which forced her into seclusion with her aunt in Reno. Eventually, the troubled actress moved back with her parents and found herself recommitted to Western State Hospital by her mother. This time, however, her stay lasted five years and was filled with horrific stories of rape and abuse, and even wild speculation.
According to her posthumously released, ghostwritten autobiography, Will There Really Be a Morning?, Farmer recounted being raped by hospital staff, chained inside her cell, and routinely splashed with ice water. Later allegations were made by others than she received a lobotomy at the hospital, but both Western State - which openly performed the procedure on hundreds of patients - and her family vehemently denied the claim. Meanwhile, in 1950, Farmer was finally released and given over to her mother once again. Fearing being sent back to her, Farmer managed to secure her full civil rights. She briefly married for a third time and quietly worked as a bookkeeper at a photo studio. In 1957, Farmer found renewed interest in her career when an interview was printed in Modern Screen magazine, which led to appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (CBS, 1948-1971) and "This Is Your Life" (NBC, 1952-1961). She even returned to the stage, performing summer stock in a production of "The Chalk Garden," which led to her being the host of "Frances Farmer Presents" (WFBM-TV, 1958-64), an anthology series that showcased vintage movies.
Even during this resurgence, Farmer continued her erratic behavior and was fired, then rehired from her show. In 1965, she performed in a production of "The Visit" at Purdue University and was arrested once more for driving drunk. But when her life began spiraling toward darkness, she found redemption through her association with a friend and her children that eventually led to her conversion to Roman Catholicism. Having finally lost the urge to drink, Farmer lived the remainder of her life in relative peace, though she ran into financial trouble when an investment manager embezzled funds from her and her business partner while trying to start a cosmetics company. She eventually passed away on Aug. 1, 1970 from esophageal cancer at 56 years old. A fascinating story if there ever was one, Farmer's life was retold in the feature film "Frances" (1982), which starred Jessica Lange in an Oscar-nominated performance, and the made for television movie "Will There Really Be a Morning?" (CBS, 1983), starring Susan Blakely. Years later, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana wrote the song "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle," which appeared on their In Utero (1993) album. The Washington native later said he felt a kinship with the troubled actress and was appalled at the treatment given her by the state and her own parents.