Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Norma Rae (1979)

Starring: Sally Field, Ron Leibman, Beau Bridges
Directed by: Martin Ritt

This is the film that saw Sally Field shake off her 'Gidget' and 'Flying Nun' reputation and show that she really could act, not just act cute.

She plays widow and struggling single mother Norma Rae who works at an Alabama textile factory, like most of the people in the town, including her mother and father. The conditions in the mill are intolerable and a visiting labour organiser (Ron Liebman) encourages Norma Rae to unionise the factory.

The movie is based on a true life union organising campaign at J.P. Stevens Mill. The real life Norma Rae is named Crystal Lee Sutton. It took 10 years to get a union contract at J.P. Stevens after the workers won the election.

Sally Field won the Best Actress Oscar in 1979 for her gutsy portrayl of Norma Rae - and deserevedly so. The role of Norma Rae is one of the great roles for women in Hollywood. Field's performance in this is up there with the calibre of actresses like Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange and Meryl Streep.

The setting of this film is so believable - a downbeat Southern milltown where people are leading a day-to-day existence of mundaneness and it is portrayed without any 'Hollywood' glamour. Norma Rae's meeting with Liebman's Reuben Warshawsky unlocks her intelligence, potential and beliefs. You really feel Norma Rae's pain when Reuben leaves town: she realises that he is the type of man she should be with but must make-do with the reality of her existence with simple but good Sonny (Beau Bridges), so different from the men that she has been with (basically he doesn't drink much or beat her up).

A great film to watch from what I consider to be a great era for women's roles in Hollywood.

Interesting fact: in the scene where Norma Rae is fighting against being put into the police car, Sally Field struggled so hard that she actually broke the rib of an actor playing one of the policemen.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

All About Eve (1950)

It's all about women...and their men!

Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Thelma Ritter
Directed By: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

This is a classic: Bette Davis at her acerbic best as ageing (at 40!) actress Margo Channing. The plot is engrossing as we watch Anne Baxter as Eve worm her way into the Margo's theatrical circle.

Interestingly, the film is a parallel of what was happening for Davis - trying to stem the passage of time; her career faded from this point. The film is not really about the blind ambition of Eve, rather Margo's fear of ageing.

George Sanders as Addison De Witt, the theatre critic who helped make Margo's career and eventually Eve's, is the highlight of the film. My favourite character is Birdie, played by Thelma Ritter, Margo's dresser. She is onto the game that Eve is playing from the start. All About Eve also marks an early appearance by Marilyn Monroe, playing an actress from the "Copacabana" Academy of Dramatic Arts.

The script and performances in this film, even 55 years on, are hard to beat. This is close to cinema perfection.

Interesting fact: Claudette Colbert was originally cast as Margo Channing, but suffered a ruptured disc during filming on Three Came Home (1950) and had to withdraw.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Cocktail (1988)

'When he pours, he reigns'

Starring: Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown, Elisabeth Shue
Directed by: Roger Donaldson

A 'guilty pleasure' to start with (one of many in my collection) but this was the first 15 or 'M'-rated film that I saw at the cinema back in Melbourne, Australia, when I was 13 years old. It sounds silly, but it was a major deal for me and introduced me to the joys of going to the cinema alone (I went through a phase in my late teens and early twenties where I would look with pity on people who did this. Now I realise it is the only way to see the movies you really want to see).
At the time, I was totally in love with Tom Cruise (imagine the pain when he did marry an Aussie girl and it wasn't me!); now, I enjoy it for the nostalgia trip it is and also because it stars an Aussie (Bryan Brown) and is directed by one - Roger Donaldson - as well. (My husband, a big-time movie buff, said that he thinks Cocktail is an 'awful' film and that it caused him to lose all respect for Donaldson as a director.)

Flanagan is a lovable but self-centered chancer who, after leaving the army, finds himself working in Douglas Coughlin's (Bryan Brown) bar on the Upper East Side (to support himself through a college degree) where he becomes somewhat of a bartending celebrity. Flanagan moves to the tropical paradise of Jamaica, where the living is good and the money even better, so that he can get the funds together to set up his own bar. He falls in love with Jordan (Elisabeth Shue) but will his cocktail dreams come true?

Cruise's character Brian Flanagan is a precursor to his hit role as Jerry Maguire and this is a great glimpse of Cruise before he hit mega-stardom doing what he does best - Tom Cruise playing Tom Cruise' - and Tom flashes plenty of those trademark grins for the ladies. (A memorable line is when Shue's character Jordan tells Cruise, "Your sexy little smile isn't going to work this time". I wonder if Nicole Kidman said that to him during their marriage?)
Elisabeth Shue is a pleasure to watch and is an underated talent. I still think she should have won 'Best Actress' Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas in 1995 (Susan Sarandon picked it up for Dead Man Walking). The soundtrack to this film suits its frothy appeal: 'Hippy, Hippy Shake' by the Georgia Satellites, "Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer and the mega-hit 'Kokomo' by the Beach Boys.

Cocktail is a prime example of why Tom Cruise is so popular: fresh-faced, lovable and sexy. I think Tom is quite a lightweight, for the exception of Magnolia, and this film is proof of that: he will never win an Oscar, unless it is for lifetime achievement when he's 70.

Interesting fact: The Jamaica bar scenes were filmed at Dragon Bay, Port Antonio, Jamaica.