It’s 1937. Mrs. Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) a 69 year-old wealthy widow staves off boredom by buying an old theater in London’s Soho which she turns into the Windmill Theatre. She also hires Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) as her creative director. Their love-hate relationship certainly isn’t a partnership made in heaven but they have acute collaborative minds. Their revolutionary ideas of non-stop musical entertainment combined with nude women on stage innovate British theater while rocking the establishment as does Mrs. Henderson’s unwavering devotion to keep the theater open during the London bombings in WWII. Mrs. Henderson Presents stands as a testament to this real life woman--and the talented people surrounding her--who brought hope and merriment during troubled times. Isn’t it fortunate the British keep writing the most marvelous roles for their aging actresses? Dench bullies her way through as the highly irascible but entirely lovable Mrs. Henderson as well as etching the deep sorrow from Mrs. Henderson’s life on her face. The always excellent Hoskins is perfectly suited as her counterpart Mr. Van Damm. They do make a fine pair as his no-nonsense approach clashes with Mrs. Henderson’s eccentricities providing the film’s more deliciously witty moments. As for the supporting players on stage pop singer Will Young (who won the British equivalent of American Idol) stands out in his acting debut as Bertie the star of the musical revues. British stage actress Kelly Reilly also turns in a solid performance as the tragic Maureen the most exquisite of the nude Windmill girls. Director Stephen Frears has eclectic tastes. He’s done gritty realism (The Grifters) relationship comedy (High Fidelity) period piece (Dangerous Liaisons). But apparently Mrs. Henderson Presents proved to be the director’s biggest challenge to date because of the amount of musical performance involved. He explains “Songs and music are tyrannical: once you start a phrase of music you have to complete it. So I found all that very very tricky.” Thorny as it may sound Frears still does an admirable job juxtaposing the musical numbers on stage with the dramedy. The film however loses some steam once the bombs start dropping and turns too serious. We know war is hell. That’s why--like those brave soldiers who flocked to the Windmill for a much needed break from reality--we want to watch high-spirited comedy with a little nudity sprinkled in.
We meet the two very unlikely sisters while each are having sex. Rose Feller (Toni Collette) is a successful lawyer who is sleeping with her boss and thinking of ways it can improve her career. Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz) is a party girl and at her 10-year high school reunion--after trying to have a fling in a bathroom stall--she ends up puking instead. Inevitably Maggie gets kicked out of her dad and stepmother's house and winds up on the doorstep of her sister. The Feller girls were close once when they were young girls especially after their mentally unstable mother died. But now their grown-up personalities clash rather dramatically. And when Maggie seriously crosses the line by seducing Rose's new boyfriend the straw is broken. Forced out Maggie stumbles upon some birthday cards from a long-lost grandmother and decides to go hit her up for cash. Turns out Grandma Ella (Shirley MacLaine) lives in a senior citizen's community in Florida that gets its humor from Golden Girls re-runs. Maggie may ingratiate herself within this new environment but isn't any more redeemed by reconnecting with Ella. She still acts like a petulant child. But rather than throwing her out Ella along with the gang of old folk forces Maggie to take some responsibility.
Collette (The Sixth Sense) is fantastic as the frumpy pudgy Philadelphia lawyer who gives up everything so she can walk dogs and lead a simpler life. But she's done this many times before--and honestly is so much better than Muriel's Wedding. Diaz (my personal favorite Charlie's Angel) doesn't need to stretch too far to play a conniving ditz with a heart. This is her There's Something About Mary role albeit a tad more screwed-up with a sister and lost grandma. So that leaves MacLaine as the saving grace for any worthwhile acting in this movie. Despite the obvious shuffleboard clichés--and the occasional leers at Diaz by the old guys around the pool--when the old folk are around the film gets lively and tolerable believe it or not. MacLaine leads the way with the quips and barbs but in a more subtle way than we are used to from this usually eccentric actress. The supporting cast of cranky cronies have some great moments especially veteran actor Norman Lloyd as the blind professor who teaches Maggie a thing or two about manners trust and family.
If this were Nora Ephron directing that would have been one thing but coming from Curtis Hanson the Oscar-winner who gave us L.A. Confidential it just doesn't mesh. Hanson can do quirky (Wonder Boys) he can do adventure (The River Wild) he can do hard-hittin' rap stories (8 Mile) and he can even do scary (Hand That Rocks the Cradle) but why in the world would he attempt a saccharine-soaked female family story that threatens to be a Crimes of the Heart tear-jerker? Screenwriter Susannah Grant who adapted In Her Shoes from Jennifer Weiner's popular bestseller of the same name also wrote Erin Brockovich and 28 Days. She understands strong female characters but there's still a major layer of sugar coating that Hanson can't scrape off. He doesn't tone anything down from Grant's script--not the overly cute dogs nor the embarrassing bridal shower nor the expected moments of guilt-tripping between the ladies. Instead he plods through the paint-by-number script and wraps it all up nicely into a crowd-pleasing film that is ultimately forgettable.
A promising young playwright Sidda Lee Walker (Sandra Bullock) lives in New York far enough away from her Louisiana hometown. After she gives a damaging interview to Time magazine--damaging mainly to her mother Vivianne Abbott Walker (Ellen Burstyn) who doesn't take lightly to her daughter's intonations that she was not a good mother--the two women begin a feud. It threatens to destroy not only their relationship but Sidda's own plans to marry her longtime boyfriend Connor (Angus MacFadyen). Enter the Ya-Ya Sisterhood--Caro (Maggie Smith) Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan) and Necie (Shirley Knight) Vivi's lifelong best friends. To bring mother and daughter back together the women decide it's time for Sidda to learn about the Divine Secrets of their little clique--and about her mother's painful past. They tell Sidda stories about the young Vivi (Ashley Judd) who was full of promise and hope but how certain tragic events damaged her. The bond between these four older women is unshakable and the most honest element to the film. The sad news for the novel's fans however is that while the script manages to convey the true spirit of friendship it can't quite capture the magic of the book.
In a cast of many the film is chock-full of wonderful performances but it's the matured Ya-Yas who steal the show. Smith plays the tough Caro a lifelong smoker now saddled with emphysema with all the biting wit the actress is best known for while Knight plays the sweet no-nonsense Necie with just a hint of sarcasm. Flanagan the best of the three shines as the wealthy Teensy a recovering alcoholic who has faced demons herself. Her exchanges are some of the more memorable especially when after being told by an angry Vivi that she could knock Teensy into next week Teensy tells her friend "And I'll kick your ass on Thursday." Yet the film truly belongs to Burstyn and Judd as the different faces of Vivi. Burstyn is all at once the highly dramatic Southern beauty who has come to terms with (or remained steeped in denial about however you look at it) her painful past while Judd gets to show us the nitty-gritty of what actually happened to Vivi to harden her. Unfortunately the weakest member of this ensemble cast is Bullock as Sidda. She never quite convinces us she grew up in such an eccentric and terribly Southern environment. And not to leave out the men completely--James Garner plays Sidda's father Shep with quiet patience having survived life with his lady love who never loved him quite the same in return. The devoted Connor mirrors Shep but MacFadyen plays him with a lot more backbone.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) couldn't have chosen a better film to make as her directorial debut. Sure she might be pigeonholed forever as the "chick flick" girl but she probably doesn't care much. Khouri had been approached to adapt Wells' novel a few times over the last couple of years but never had the time to do it. When the right time came along Khouri wisely decided it was also time to take on the directing chores. Even as a novice the writer/director shows us she knows her way around a camera. The film captures that Southern feel lush and languid as the moss drips down from the trees. She also knows how to handle her actors too and is able to elicit great performances (although with the likes of Burstyn and Smith this isn't hard to do). The soundtrack also is an added bonus with a variation of music from jazz to Louisiana Cajun. Yet even with all this going for it Divine Secrets misses a beat. In a novel it's great to read stories about an eccentric Southern family but to have vignettes told to you as a framework for a movie it can slow a film down. You probably won't be able to drag your husband to go see this one.
Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) has it made. His screenwriting career is on the rise his first movie's just been made and he's got a cute girl. Life is good--until the House Un-American Activities Committee mistakenly fingers him as a Communist and he quickly falls from the A-list to the blacklist. Getting dumped by both his studio and his girl is nothing a little drinking can't remedy but after drowning his sorrows he nearly drowns himself when he decides to drive drunk and his car veers into the river knocking him unconscious. When Peter comes to he can't remember who he is or where he came from so he's taken in by the kindly people of Lawson a burg stuck in time and still mourning the loss of many of its sons in World War II. They mistake him for Luke Trimble one of their long-lost boys who went MIA in World War II and are overjoyed at his return. Luke's father Harry (Martin Landau) whose zest for life had dwindled so much that he let his beloved movie house The Majestic fall to ruin but with "Luke's" return he plans to reopen it. Celebrations abound. Peter-as-Luke even returns to his relationship with fiancée Adele (Laurie Holden). Meanwhile Peter may have forgotten who he was but the Feds haven't and they're on his tail.
When Carrey's given the right material like he was with The Truman Show he can exhibit moments of greatness. The Majestic doesn't give Carrey the leeway to show his quirky sensibilities demanding that he play it straight throughout the movie (there are a few--too few--glances at humor that Carrey doesn't play up). To bring off the kind of schmaltz this movie oozes Carrey had to bring something of an edge to his character. Instead Peter is neither likable nor unlikable coming off as a bland confused schmo until the climactic end which after two hours of his weak personality is wholly unbelievable. Landau is unexciting as a caricature of the sad sentimental old man without hope--you want to sympathize but there's something faintly chilly about him. Holden's liberated-woman lawyer might have played better in a contemporary movie; she looks and acts too much like a modern-day actress trying to portray a woman of the '50s.
Was this some kind of vanity project dreamed up by a director too taken with his own greatness and past success? Was Frank Darabont envisioning an It's a Wonderful Life for the next generation? (Psst…it's likely the majority of the modern moviegoing public doesn't know who Frank Capra is and could care less especially when the movie is as slow and as completely unbelievable as this one.) Apparently Darabont's in love with his own direction because hardly a moment goes by without some lingering reaction shot. Darabont took an intriguing story about amnesia and mistaken identity and slathered it with sap. Old-fashioned period stories can be lots of fun but it's imperative they be able to keep a present-day audience's interest by including a bit of modern wit and pace. Unfortunately this sticks to the straight-and-narrow. Nobody's going to buy the two-dimensional main characters the shiny happy townspeople or especially the schlocky my-country-'tis-of-thee finale. In its favor The Majestic's ultimate message is a nice one. The movie does have its heartfelt moments and its '50s feel is authentic if a little polished.
A former shoeshine boy, he went on to a prodigious movie career and a prodigious life, starring in more than 100 feature films and siring 13 children. On Saturday, Anthony Quinn passed away from respiratory failure, robbing Hollywood of a true legend. Quinn was 86.
The tempestuous screen image of two-time Academy Award winner and Renaissance man Anthony Quinn matched his much-publicized, unquenchable thirst for life.
Quinn's exotic background enabled him to play a potpourri of ethnicity, ranging from an Eskimo in Savage Innocents (1960) to a Russian pope in Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), to his most famous role, Zorba the Greek (1964).
Quinn also played a plethora of historical roles like Crazy Horse in They Died with Their Boots On (1942), Attila the Hun in Attila (1955), Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956) and Kubla Khan in Marco the Magnificent (1966).
The death of his Irish-Mexican father, who had ridden with Pancho Villa before settling in Los Angeles to work as a cameraman and prop man, forced the younger Quinn to help support his grandmother, mother and sister. In addition to working such positions as shoeshine boy, cement mixer and foreman in a mattress factory, Quinn also played saxophone in evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson's orchestra.
During junior high school Quinn won a chance to study and work with celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose insistence that Quinn attend acting school to improve his speech ultimately led to his career in film.
Though Quinn acted on stage with Mae West in Clean Beds and spoke his first lines on film in Parole (both 1936), he made a lasting impression by standing up to Cecil B DeMille, who cast him as a Cheyenne Indian in 1937's The Plainsman.
As cast and crew looked on, Quinn responded to the most recent of a series of abusive outbursts from the director by telling DeMille how he should shoot the scene and where DeMille could put his $75 a day salary. After staring at the young actor for some time, DeMille announced, "The boy's right. We'll change the set-up," and later said admiringly, "It was one of the most auspicious beginnings for an actor I've ever seen."
Quinn would act in two more movies, The Buccaneer (1938) and Union Pacific (1939), for the directing legend. He would also woo and marry his adopted daughter Katherine and helm the 1958 remake of The Buccaneer, executive produced by DeMille and the director's last project before he died.
By then, Quinn had shaken free of the son-in-law tag to become a star in his own right, exhibiting tremendous staying power over the course of a career spanning seven decades, mixing inspired performances with good cured ham.
Quinn played his fair share of Indians amidst assorted heavies, even ending up with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour in two of the "Road" movies: Road to Singapore (1940) and Road to Morocco (1944). But despite many good notices for supporting roles in pictures like Blood and Sand (1941), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) and Back to Bataan (1945), it would take a return to the stage to raise his stock higher.
He made his Broadway debut in The Gentleman from Athens (1947) before director Elia Kazan tapped him as Stanley Kowalski for a U.S. tour of A Streetcar Named Desire. Kazan then cast him as Marlon Brando's brother in Viva Zapata (1952), for which he earned the first of two Oscars as Best Supporting Actor.
Quinn played an aging bullfighter opposite Maureen O'Hara in Budd Boetticher's The Magnificent Matador (1955) and then won his second Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of larger-than-life artist Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956), the title an apt description of his own zestfulness.
Finally, after 20 years in the business, he had become a full-fledged box office star, and the next year would see him garner a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his turn opposite Anna Magnani in 1957's Wild Is the Wind. Quinn followed in the prestigious footsteps of Lon Chaney and Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame; the actor was also outstanding as the opportunistic Bedouin Auda Abu Tayi in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
Although Quinn had portrayed with distinction Greek patriot Colonel Andrea Stavros in 1961's The Guns of Navarone, that character paled before what would become his signature role. The very embodiment of the actor's passion for living, Zorba the Greek (1964) was a wise and aging peasant, totally committed to life, no matter the outcome. From his slapstick pursuit of aging French courtesan (Oscar-winner Lila Kedrova) to the pathos of cradling her as she died in his arms, Quinn pulled out all the emotional stops on his way to another Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Nearly 20 years later, Quinn reprised Zorba!, this time in a 1983 revival of the Broadway musical which reunited him with both Kedrovaand the film's writer-director Michael Cacoyannis. Quinn earned a Tony nomination for his efforts before touring the U.S. from 1983-86, forever stamping the part as his in the minds of the theater-going public.
Wife Kathy Benvin, who is the mother of his two youngest children, survives Quinn, along with eight sons and four daughters.