Walt Disney Co. via Everett Collection
When it comes to Old Hollywood, there is one name that has come to represent all of the glamour, intrigue and scandals of yesteryear: Marilyn Monroe. Therefore, it's no surprise that yet another Marilyn-centered project is in the works, this time with Jessica Chastain shimmying her way into the role. The Oscar nominee is set to star in the big screen adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates' fictionalized biography, Blonde, which will be helmed by The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford writer/director Andrew Dominik. The project has been in the works for some time now, with Naomi Watts attached at one point to star, but it seems that Chastain's involvement may be exactly what Blonde needs to get off the ground.
The film, which Dominik has previously described as a "really sprawling, emotional nightmare fairy-tale type movie," follows a reincarnated Marilyn Monroe as she tells her own account of her tragic life, and how she transformed herself from Norma Jean Baker into the biggest movie star on the planet. While it seems as if Blonde will tackle Monroe's legend from a slightly different perspective, it's still difficult to muster up a great deal of excitement for the film. After all, there have been so many films, television series and novels recently revolving around the icon and her tragic life, from traditional biopics like My Week with Marilyn to the star-studded documentary Love, Marilyn to making her the subject matter of the fictional musical in Smash. We've heard Monroe's story told a million different ways, and, frankly, it's starting to lose its charm.
It's officially time for Hollywood to stop producing Monroe-related projects, at least for a while. It's understandable that Monroe, possibly the most famous movie star of all time, would be the inspiration for countless creative endeavors, but all of these films just seem to present the same information and act out the same events, with only the subtlest of details to differentiate them. It's always about the separation between who Monroe was to the world — the most glamourous, beautiful, mesmerizing woman to hit the silver screen — and who she was behind the scenes, and the internal conflicts she dealt with on a daily basis. And while that makes for an incredibly compelling story, the kind both writers and actors dream of sinking their teeth into, it's exhausting for audiences to see the same thing over and over again.
Monroe's story might incorporate everything that filmmakers find enticing, but there are only so many ways to tell it before it starts to become repetitive, which is going to make it harder to attract audiences to come see it. Sure, the glitz and glamour of Old Hollywood tends to go a long way in getting moviegoers into seats, but if they feel they've already seen a film or if it doesn't seem to offer anything new to keep them excited and engaged, they're going to feel it's a waste of time. Blonde is not just going to be competing against the other films being released at the same time, but also against all of the Monroe-related films that came before it.
Her legend is well-worn territory at this point, and so filmmakers who are interested in it need to find a way to make their project stand out. As a prominent historical figure, especially one who is portrayed so often onscreen and in pop culture, every detail of her story has been put onscreen at least once, which means that no matter how a project attempts to differentiate itself, it always ends up recycling the same information over and over again. It also means that there are numerous stories about Old Hollywood that are left untold, stories that are just as compelling, enticing and heartbreaking as Monroe's.
And there are countless Golden Age movie stars who are overlooked or forgotten, despite living the kind of lives that are ideal cinematic inspiration. Despite starring in one of the most scandalous films of the time at age 18, escaping and unhappy marriage and Nazi-occupied Austria while disguised as her own maid and inventing the technology used in modern wireless communications, Hedy Lamarr has surprisingly never been the focus of a Hollywood film. Rita Hayworth's difficult journey to Hollywood stardom — which included getting electrolysis to change her hairline in order to hide the fact that she was Spanish — and tumultuous relationships with many big names would make an incredibly juicy biopic. There's never been a film about Clara Bow, the It Girl of the Roaring '20s, or Josephine Baker, the first black woman to star in a major movie, or Marlene Deitrich, who defied conventional gender roles and had a string of affairs with both men and women.
All of these stories would offer the same combination of glamour, intrigue, and emotion (some would even be perfect for Chastian, if she's looking for a follow-up project) without retreading the same ground that yet another Monroe film does. We're just as interested in getting a behind-the-scenes look at the Golden Age of Hollywood as the filmmakers who churn out movie after movie about Monroe are, but there are plenty of other places to look for inspiration. Sticking with the same old story is fine, but after a while, the sparkle starts to dull, and audiences become bored. At this point, another Monroe film just seems lazy, like the endless stream of sequels and reboots of lackluster action films. It may have been a big box office draw at one point, but now, it's just tired.
Chastian is an incredibly talented actress, and she'll likely give an incredible performance, one that incorporates all of the vulnerability and glamour that Monroe's story requires. But it's time for that story to be laid to rest for a while, and it's time for Hollywood to let some other stars shine.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Actress/journalist Irene Kane has lost her battle with pancreatic cancer. Kane passed away on Thursday (31Oct13) at her home in New York City, her family confirms to The Hollywood Reporter.
She landed a handful of roles onscreen and on the Broadway stage in the 1950s and '60s, but was perhaps best known for her role in Stanley Kubrick's 1955 film, Killer Kiss, in which she played the lead female character, Gloria Price.
Kane, whose date of birth has not been published, later decided to pursue a career as a writer and journalist under her real name, Chris Chase. She went on to work for TV networks CBS and CNN, and the New York Times, and co-authored autobiographies with Rosalind Russell, Betty Ford and Josephine Baker. She also wrote her own memoir, titled How Be a Movie Star, or A Terrible Beauty Is Born.
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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