One of the loveliest actresses of the silent screen, Billie Dove never became a superstar like Greta Garbo or Clara Bow, but her 12-year career, consisting of 36 silent films and 12 talkies, gained he...
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Here's a feat: taking what is likely the oldest, most well-known story in the world, and making a retelling feel inventive. Over the course of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Darren Aronofsky's Noah takes many forms — Tolkien-esque fantasy, trippy psychological thriller, merciless dissection of the dark points of abject faith — never feeling too rigidly confined to the parameters of the familiar tale that we've all experienced in the form of bedtime stories, religious education lessons, and vegetable-laden cartoons. As many forms as the parable has taken over the past few thousand years, Aronofsky manages to find a few new takes.
The director's thumbprint is branded boldly on Russell Crowe's Noah, a man who begins his journey as a simple pawn of God and evolves into a dimensional human as tortured as Natalie Portman's ballerina or Jared Leto's smack head. Noah's obsession and crisis: his faith. The peak of the righteous descendant of Seth (that's Adam and Eve's third son — the one who didn't die or bash his brother's head in with a rock), Noah is determined to carry out the heavenly mission imparted upon him via ambiguous, psychedelic visions. God wants him to do something — spoilers: build an ark — and he will do it. No matter what.
No matter what it means to his family, to his lineage, to his fellow man, to the world. He's going to do it. No matter what. The depths to which Aronofsky explores this simple concept — the nature of unmitigated devotion — makes what we all knew as a simplistic A-to-B children's story so gripping. While the throughline is not a far cry from the themes explored in his previous works, the application of his Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan ideas in this movie does not feel like a rehashing. Experiencing such modern, humane ideas in biblical epic is, in fact, a thrill-ride.
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Although Aronofsky accesses some highly guttural stuff inside of his title character, he lets whimsy and imagination take hold of the world outside of him. Jumping headfirst into the fantastical, the director lines his magical realm with rock monsters — "Watcher" angels encased in Earth-anchored prisons as punishment for their betrayal of God — and a variety of fauna that range in innovation from your traditional white dove to some kind of horned, scaled dog bastardization.
But the most winning elements of Noah, and easily the most surprising, come when Aronofsky goes cosmic. He jumps beyond the literal to send us coursing through eons to watch the creation of God's universe, matter exploding from oblivion, a line of creatures evolving (in earnest) into one another as the planet progresses to the point at which we meet our tortured seafarer. Aronofsky's imagination, his aptitude as a cinematic magician, peak (not just in terms of the film, but in terms of his career) in these scenes.
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With all this propped against the stark humanity of his story — not just in terms of Crowe's existential spiral, but in character beats like grandfather Methuselah's relationship with the youngsters, in little Ham's playful teasing of his new rock monster pet — Aronofsky manages something we never could have anticipated from Noah. It's scientific, cathartic, humane. Impressively, this age-old tale, here, is new. And beyond that feat, it's a pretty winning spin.
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The coming-of-age movie is nothing new of course; it's just that so often their subjects are sulky teen boys or man-children. Movies like Thirteen Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains The Legend of Billie Jean and even Mean Girls are few and far between and even when they do appear like blips on a radar the casts are usually entirely white upper middle class teens. Girl in Progress is a lighter take on the adolescent turmoil and it's often heavy-handed and its characters seem flat but one thing it does with ease is put Latinas front and center without any sort of back-patting or race-related teachable moments. That's not to say Girl in Progress doesn't occasionally dip into Lifetime movie territory though.
Girl in Progress stars Cierra Ramirez as Ansiedad a budding teen who wants to be absolutely nothing like her irresponsible party girl mom Grace played by Eva Mendes. When Ansiedad's teacher Ms. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette) tells her class about coming-of-age rituals and how they're used to navigate between the world of childhood and adulthood she takes it as a literal guide to leaving her childhood — and her mother — behind.
Ansiedad is clever and a bit of a goody-two-shoes; she outlines a plan to go from being a regular girl to a woman as if it were a multimedia project for history. She explains in detail the different stages — acting out losing her virginity to a bad boy etc. — to her best friend Tavita (Raini Rodriguez) who looks on skeptically but agrees to help her friend even when part of the plan includes dumping her dorky BFF. Naturally the best-laid plans of teen girls often go awry and Ansiedad learns the hard way that these things are actually all pretty crappy ways to try become an adult. Unfortunately her dialogue is often reduced to exposition; she literally explains to the adults around her the steps she's at in her transformation. It undercuts Ramirez's performance and distances us from engaging with her emotionally.
Grace is Ansiedad's foil; she never finishes anything she moves them from town to town and she makes poor choices in men. Although this character could have really gone off the rails Mendes isn't vying for a dramatic Oscar bid; yes Grace likes to dance and drink and she's not a present mom but she's an overgrown teenager not a cruel parent. Unfortunately this is overemphasized with scenes of Grace getting ready to go out eating cereal sitting on the counter (and drinking the milk from the bowl of course) or falling asleep with her shoes on which Ansiedad carefully removes.
There's a subplot with Grace and two men but it doesn't do much to forward the story. One is her boyfriend a married gynecologist played by Matthew Modine and the other is a guy she works with at the crab shack whose nickname is Mission Impossible played by Eugenio Derbez.
This is actually one of the more confusing ways Girl in Progress deals with race. Grace needs money for the balance of Ansiedad's scholarship so while it makes sense that she'd take an extra job or two to make ends meet she's actually the housekeeper for Dr. Harford (Modine)'s family. Although Mission Impossible seems like he could be a good candidate for Grace there are some implausible plot developments that make him a rather unsuitable character.
Is the point here that it's more important for Grace to figure things out on her own? But then why when race isn't even spoken of in the movie would these odd details crop up? Girls can sniff out the most tender spot to attack in a weaker girl but the mean girls make fun of Ansiedad's clothes or Tavita's weight never their race. It doesn't quite add up and while I'd like to not make this a bigger deal than it is it seems odd that Girl in Progress would make race a non-issue in Ansiedad's world and then rely on tired clichés for Grace.
As for Mendes herself it's impossible to totally tone down her bombshell good looks but that also acts as a foil for Anseidad. The way Mendes is portrayed isn't particularly salacious or even shaming; she's just a damn good-looking woman with a young daughter who would prefer to be nothing like her. She's given more to do than in her usual roles but even when she's telling Ms. Armstrong all the reasons why she shouldn't judge her for her life choices it doesn't come across as particularly hard-hitting. The rote dialogue doesn't do anyone any favors.
Girl in Progress doesn't transgress or shock like Thirteen or other movies about the traumas of being a teen but that could be a good thing. Although it's not the hippest movie around town it is something that moms and daughters to watch together and talk about. It's also worth boosting a movie that doesn't rely on the same Hannah Montana clones to cast; the more that young girls can see themselves onscreen the better.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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First starring film role, in "Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford"
Made talkie debut in "Careers"
Sued by actress Ruth Roland, who was bitten by Dove's dog (Roland won $25,000)
Worked as model and film extra (dates approximate)
Won jingle contest for film "Gidget Goes Hawaiian" and made cameo appearance in "Diamond Head"
Debuted in "Ziegfeld Follies" and "Midnight Frolics"
Turned down role of Belle Watling in "Gone With the Wind"
Had huge success as Douglas Fairbanks' leading lady in color film "The Black Pirate"
Last starring film, "Blondie of the Follies"
One of the loveliest actresses of the silent screen, Billie Dove never became a superstar like Greta Garbo or Clara Bow, but her 12-year career, consisting of 36 silent films and 12 talkies, gained her many devoted fans and a place in history as a reliable, charming leading lady. With her ivory skin and dark hair and eyes, the native New Yorker took the name Billie Dove in her early teens and began working as an artist's model and film extra. Florenz Ziegfeld snapped her up for his "Follies" in 1917, where she remained through 1919 (also appearing in Ziegfeld's rooftop "Midnight Frolics").
Dove's extra work in features paid off, when she was finally cast in a major role in "Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford" in 1921. Abandoning the stage for films, she and her mother moved west to Hollywood in 1922. She married director Irving Willat the following year, and appeared in a handful of films before hitting the big-time as Douglas Fairbanks' leading lady in the Technicolor "The Black Pirate" (1926). This firmly established her as a major player, and Dove went on to star in such films as "The Marriage Clause" (1926), with her favorite director Lois Weber, "Kid Boots" (1926), with Eddie Cantor and Clara Bow, "An American Beauty" (1927), her signature film, and "Heart of a Follies Girl" (1928).
In 1930, Dove was involved in a scandal when millionaire film producer Howard Hughes (then in the process of his own divorce) reportedly paid Irving Willat $300,000 to divorce her. She signed with Hughes' Caddo Company and made two unremarkable films: "The Age for Love" (1931) and "Cock of the Air" (1932). None of her other talkies, all with First National, amounted to much, either. She retired in 1933 after her role in MGM's "Blondie of the Follies" was re-written to show off co-star Marion Davies.
Billie Dove never looked back. She re-married twice, and became an amateur painter and published poet. In 1962, she was back in the headlines after winning a jingle contest for the film "Gidget Goes Hawaiian". As part of the prize, she was convinced to play a cameo role in "Diamond Head" (1962), after which she returned to a life of anonymity, turning down most interview requests and pointedly refusing to discuss Howard Hughes.
adopted in 1937; formerly married to actor Paul Bertoya and executive Merv Adelson; survived Dove; died on February 15, 1999
born in 1934; deceased
Briefly married in 1973; Divorced
Eastman-Gaines Business School
"I was so glad for the name because one counters the other. Dove takes the boyishness out of Billie, and Billie takes the sweetness from Dove. It was a short name, and when you put it on the marquee you had Billie Dove there and still had room for the title of the picture. It wasn't like Helen Twelvetrees." --Billie Dove quoted Classic Images, June 1994.
On her marriage to Irving Willat, director of her film "All the Brothers Were Valiant": "All the way out there [to location] and all the way back and between scenes, all he would say was, marry me, marry me, marry me, marry me. That's all I heard, and we were gone for an entire month. Finally, I said yes just to get him to shut up." --From Classic Images, June 1994.
"Lois Weber was so wonderful, that if I had my say in those days the way they do today, I would have had it in my contract that she would direct all my pictures. I thought that much of her. There was an understanding there, and she was so simple to work with." --Dove quoted in Classic Images, June 1994
On her retirement: "I was still in my twenties. I thought I had attained everything I wanted to attain, and I wanted to do like other people. I wanted a family. I had seen some of the other girls try to hang onto their careers after they had started to slide. I vowed that would never happen to me."