Record-breaking Tony Award winner Audra Mcdonald has confessed to attempting suicide when the stress of attending top drama school Julliard became too much for her to handle. The actress and singer, who became the first star to pick up six Tonys last month (Jun14), has opened up about the depression she battled as a young hopeful at the New York school.
In a candid new ABC interview with top film critic Peter Travers, Audra says, "When I was at Julliard, I had a suicide attempt. I tried to slit my wrist."
She obviously survived the attempt and now credits Julliard's caring teachers for helping her get past the darkest days of her life.
She adds, "When someone is suicidal, one of the first things you have to do is to protect them from themselves. They had a mental health facilitator there, a therapist there and they checked me into a mental health hospital, where I was for a month and got me the help I needed.
"Julliard was like, 'We think that that musical theatre thing is more for you anyway. That seems to be where you're the happiest'. I went out and did (show) Secret Garden and then I came back and finished Julliard."
McDonald is now among the most beloved stars on Broadway.
Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
For years, filmmakers who wanted to be recognized by the Academy on Oscar night would rely on one, foolproof method: gather together a large group of talented actors, most of whom have already won or been nominated for Oscars, put them in a film that is either based on a true story and/or the right combination of intensely dramatic and overly sentimental, and just wait for the nominations to roll in. Unfortunately for them, this year, the Academy proved that the nature of Oscar bait has changed, completely snubbing Lee Daniels' The Butler, Saving Mr. Banks, and — to a lesser extent — August: Osage County, three films that could not have tried harder to appeal to Oscar voters.
At the very start of the season, it seemed like Lee Daniels' The Butler was the film to beat. After all, it was a biopic about a black White House butler attempting to balance his job and the tumult of the civil rights movement. It starred Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and nominee Oprah Winfrey, with a cast that included Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Robin Williams, Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. It had every single element that a standard "Oscar bait" film requires, got solid reviews, and it even did well at the box office. However, as the season progressed and other films started getting awards buzz, The Butler faded into the background. It managed to garner three SAG nominations, including Best Actor for Whitaker, Best Supporting Actress for Winfrey, and Best Ensemble, but a day later, it was completely shut out of the Golden Globes. Still, many believed that the Academy would send a few courtesy nominations its way, and it seemed highly likely that Winfrey would manage to sneak into the Best Supporting Actress category.
But when the Oscar nominations arrived, The Butler was nowhere to be found. Despite being tailor-made for the Oscar race, the Academy didn't by into the hype surrounding the film, and it didn't recieve a single nod. Although it was a perfectly good film, it wasn't necessarily better than the other films that got nominated over it, but considering the Academy usually recognizes Oscar bit films in some way, a total snub was unexpected. After all, it checked off every single box required for the stereotypical Oscar nominated film, and the sheer amount of stars should have tipped the odds in its favor.
Similarly, Saving Mr. Banks seemed to be a lock for an Oscar nomination for some time now. Again, it was a sentimental biopic, this time starring Tom Hanks, who everyone loves to nominate, as the first person to ever play Walt Disney onscreen, opposite two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson, playing author P.L. Travers. Critically, it was one of the more divisive films in the running, as many people praised the individual performances of Thompson or Hanks, but disliked the film as a whole. Still, it appeared to be destined to receive something at the Oscars this year, and with a Golden Globe and a SAG nomination under her belt, Thompson seemed set to push Meryl Streep out of the Best Supporting Actress category. Yet, when the nominations were announced, the film only came away with one, for Best Original Score.
Then there was August: Osage County, a film based on a Tony Award-winning play and filled to the brim with family dysfunction and A-List actors, which are two things that the Oscars usually love in a film. To stack the deck even further, it featured Streep, the most Oscar-nominated actress of all time, playing against type as a pill-popping nightmare of a matriarch. Again, the film received lackluster reviews, although Streep and Julia Roberts were singled out as the high points, but it sill seemed destined to be nominated for Best Picture or Best Adapted Screenplay, especially since it received a SAG nomination for Best Ensemble. And while both Streep and Roberts were nominated this morning, for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, the film was ignored in every other category, and Streep's nomination feels more like a courtesy than an accolade she actually deserved.
Even though all three films were clearly Oscar bait, designed less to make a statement than to simply sweep nominations, all three failed to gain recognition from the Academy, which proves not that they are less-susceptible to Oscar bait, or even that they are moving towards rewarding only the most deserving films — if that were the case Inside Llewyn Davis would have received a lot more nominations, and smaller films like Short Term 12 or Fruitvale Station would have finally gotten some recognition — but simply that the nature of Oscar bait has changed. Instead of the sappy, melodramatic films we have come to expect, the Academy is now more interested in flashy, attention-grabbing films. Films like American Hustle, which tied with Gravity for the most Oscar nominations this year.
In many ways, American Hustle is similar to the traditional Oscar bait films that failed to gain traction this year. It has a star-studded cast, including two previous Oscar winners, and three previous nominees, it was directed by a big name, who is known for both his avant-garde, artistic work and his more mainstream, awards-baiting films, it's (loosely) based on a true story, and it's a period piece, which always grabs the Academy's attention. However, it's much flashier than films like The Butler or August: Osage County, filled with fast-talking, Long Island-accented excitement and over-the-top performances. That's not to say that American Hustle isn't a good film, but simply that, like the other ones, it caters perfectly to the Academy.
It's not just American Hustle that has benefited from the Academy's shift in favor of flash over sentiment. Just look at Jonah Hill's Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Wolf of Wall Street. Hill was shut out of the Best Supporting Actor category at both the SAG and Golden Globes in favor of Daniel Bruhl, who played Formula One racer Niki Lauda in Rush. And while the idea of Rush getting an Oscar nomination might seem a bit ridiculous, Bruhl got rave reviews for his work as Lauda, and it seemed likely that he would once again be recognized by the Academy. However, they instead went with Hill, who received more attention for his prosthetic genitals than for his acting, a decision which was likely influenced by the over-the-top excess that characterized The Wolf of Wall Street as a whole.
If anything, this year's nominations prove that even the Oscars have gotten bored of films that seem deliberately designed to appeal to them. Instead of heavy-handed sentiment, they're much more interested in cocaine binges and elaborate cons. It's not just the Oscars that have turned away from the expected films, as both the SAGs and the Golden Globes favored American Hustle over just about every other film that came out this year. So, directors, instead of casting every big name you can think of and finding a film that deals with a pivotal and emotional period in America, just give someone a perm. It's a lot easier, and it seems to be a lot more effective.
You expect a bit of schmaltz from a movie about the making of Mary Poppins. But schmaltz doesn't entail a sentiment lathered so thickly that it's feels like an anti-depressant commercial, or material so broad that it's insulting to believe that audiences above the age of five can relate to the emotionality onscreen. Saving Mr. Banks takes for granted that its viewers are fans of traditional Disney, seeming to confuse Disney fans for Disney characters, and insinuating that we bear the intellectual sophistication thereof.
The real victim, of course, is the character of P.L. Travers (Emma Roberts, charming as she can be with this material), who incurs a fraction of a storyline about overcoming (or learning to live with?) her latent childhood traumas. As a young girl in Australia (as we learn in intermittent flashbacks — by and large the dullest part of the movie, but such a hefty piece of it), young Travers adored her merry, whimsical alcoholic father (Colin Farrell, playing a character that feels as grounded in reality as Dick Van Dyke's penguin-trotting screever Bert), enchanting in his Neverland mannerisms while her chronically depressed mother watched the family crumble into squalor.
Forty-odd years later, the themes of Travers' childhood inform (sometimes directly, right down to presciently repeated phrases) her resistence to allow her novel Mary Poppins to take form as a Disney movie. In the absence of a reason for why she might have a sudden change of heart about a feeling to which she has apparently held so strongly for two decades, Travers opts to fly out to California to meet Walt Disney (Tom Hanks, wading through the script without any of the energy we know he has in his back pocket) and discuss the adaptation process.
When it's not insisting upon clunky "melting the ice queen" devices — like nuzzling Travers up to an oversized stuffed Mickey Mouse to show that, hey, she's starting to like this place! — the stubborn author's time in the Disney writer's room is the best part of the movie. Working with (or against) an increasingly agitated creative team made up of Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, and B.J. Novak, Travers protests minor details about setting and character, driving her colleagues mad in the process. It is to the credit of the comic talents of Whitford and Schwartzman (who play reserved agitation well beside Novak's outright hostility — he's doing mid-series Ryan in this movie, FYI) that these scenes offer a scoop of charm. But Travers' gradual defrosting poses a consistent problem, as it is experienced over the slow reveal of her disjointed backstories in a fashion that suggests the two are connected... but we have no reason to believe that they are.
The implications of the characters' stories — depression, child abuse, alcoholism, handicaps, and PTSD — are big, and worthy of monumental material. But the characters are so thin that the assignment of such issues to them does a disservice to the emotionality and pain inherent therein. A good story might have been found in the making of Mary Poppins, and in the life and work of P.L. Travers. Unfortunately, Saving Mr. Banks is too compelled to turn that arc into a Disney cartoon. And much like Travers herself, we simply cannot abide that.
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.