Tag Archives: film

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dead at 46

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One of the finest actors and directors this world has ever known was found dead in his Manhattan apartment this morning, of a suspected heroin overdose.  What a waste of life and talent.    He and one of my film industry friends were close friends.  She is in deep mourning today.  I saw him live in “Death of a Salesman” and John and I saw him when we were coincidentally stuck in a Hollywood traffic jam together a few years ago.  He was right beside us.  I looked over and waved at one point, and he gave a smile and a little wave back.  I’m sure he forgot that instantly, but I never will.    Each time I saw him act in a film, I marveled at the fact that he was even better than he had been in the last one.

This is a sad day for the world.

The Piano

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When I was a little girl, I sat down at my cousin’s piano for the first time and simply played it.

I played actual music, before I had ever taken a lesson….before I had ever seen music written on a page.

I knew which keys to play, because the music was already in my head.  Music was my escape.  I used it to transport myself to wherever I needed to be when the burdens of childhood were too much to bear.  To this day, it plays an enormously important role in my life.

I would often ride my horse along the Canadian River in the hot Oklahoma sun, from early in the morning until just before sunset.   Horseback riding and thinking about music were two of the things that made me happiest.    As I rode along the river,   I remember wishing that I had a piano right there on the sandy river bed.    After visiting the Pacific Ocean, the fantasy grew to be one about playing the piano beside the ocean.  This is a fantasy that I would daydream about endlessly before going to sleep, or during those pleasant, quiet moments that one has when alone.

In  1993, I saw the magnificent film, The Piano, and in my dreams, I virtually became Holly Hunter in this scene.  I would think about playing piano by the ocean endlessly after that.  At the time this film was released, I owned a beautiful Yamaha concert grand piano that I had gotten from Sam Taylor, who was ZZ Top’s video producer.   I went home after seeing this film for the first time, and played this song from beginning to end.  I have always been able to play by ear, and was so moved by this scene that I instantly memorized Michael Nyland’s beautiful song.  Although I sold my piano when we moved to Massachusetts about 15 years ago,  I’m willing to bet I could still play this.

Please watch this little video clip:

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All this, is leading to what happened to me a few days ago near Half Moon Bay in California.  The sun was bright and I was walking along a ledge above the Pacific, shooting some pictures.  A crazy skywriter was buzzing above in the azure sky, writing words of love for all to see.  He was a real daredevil, flying faster than the wind, going straight up, straight down and looping to make the letters of the words he was writing.

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I doubted the  day could be more perfect….but that was before  I came upon a stand of reeds that were swaying in the breeze.  When I looked beyond the reeds, my heart almost stood still, and I was unable to suppress the joy I felt from head to toe.   This is what I saw:

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There, contrasted against the majesty of the Pacific Ocean, was this old piano….waiting for me.  As it turned out, artist, Mauro Ffortissimo and a team of supporters had installed 12 pianos in idyllic oceanside perches on the San Mateo County coast from Waddell Creek on the Santa Cruz County border up to Gray Whale Cove near Devil’s Slide.  At the time, I was not aware of this.  All I knew was that my dream of playing the piano by the oceanside was about to come true.

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This piano had many broken keys and rusty strings, but at that moment, it was the most beautiful instrument in the world.   When I played, the music sounded like nothing, really, because it was so old and broken.   However, this piano became my best friend.  The music came from my heart, and as I played each key, I felt so honored to have been granted that moment in time.  As I played,  I thought of my beloved cousin, Stevie, and how he would have loved his whole scenario, had he lived to witness it.  I thought of my cousin, Daina, who also plays piano, and knew that she would have felt the same kind of joy that I had felt that day.                        stacy piano beachI thought of my old love, and wished we could take time out just to share this moment.  I thought of another musician friend who struggles through life today, but who always manages to find something to smile about.    I thought of Holly Hunter, and felt thankful for the art that is, “The Piano”.

I would just like to say, “Thank you!” to that old piano.  You gave me one of the best days I have ever had.

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The Piano

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After that scary film we saw last night, I insisted that we watch another one, just to decompress.  While this one also has some tense moments in it, it was more cerebral and was artful enough to have a calming affect.  The tense parts were not as bad, simply because we had seen it before.

“The Piano” is among my top favorite films of all times. One of my fondest memories is of taking my daughter, Stacy, Jr. to see it at the old Riveroaks Theater in Houston when it first came out. I believe it was 1992 or 3. At that time, I had a beautiful Yamaha concert grand piano, and after the film, I played the Michael Nyman theme song by ear, because it was so hauntingly beautiful and, for me, easy to play. If I really love a song, I can play it by ear instantly. If I dislike a song, I can’t. Isn’t that strange?

This film is emotionally complex, as all Jane Campion films tend to be. It’s thematic urgency and stylistic idiosyncrasies are typical of her brilliant directive techniques. I think it was filmed in Australia or New Zealand, and the beautiful, dramatic backdrop just shows what a true artist’s eye that Campion has. I adore her work. She is a genius.

This is a scene that expresses the main character’s love for her piano, a love that I related to and shared. I sold my own beloved piano when we moved to Massachusetts and I have missed it every day since. I purchased an electric piano when we lived in the SF Bay Area, but when we moved to Portland, my daughter, Sarah, asked if I would give it to my granddaughter, Ingrid, and I did. It is fun to watch her develop into a little musician in her own right. She plays drums, can play simple songs on the piano, and loves to sing….but I miss my keyboard. I don’t have room for another piano, though, and am happy that Ingrid is enjoying it.

Another List of Films We Recently Enjoyed

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Another holiday break….another film-a-thon at our house. What follows is a list of some of the better films that we watched over the holidays.  Each was seen at home, most over HBO or on Netflix, although some may be been via Hulu +.

Crossfire Hurricane

The first recommendation is the highly-lauded historical film about the Rolling Stones.  Currently being shown on HBO, it is a must-see for the music enthusiast and history buff alike.   John and I both loved it.   Mind you, I spent a great deal of time snapping still shots of Mick Jagger with my iPhone and then running them through various filters to be used in later art pieces 🙂 . ….because I’m an artist, and that’s what I do.

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…but my own fun aside, this is a must-see film, if not for the excellent direction by Brett Morgen, for the intimate inside peek at the band with commentary from Jagger, Richards, Watts, Wood, Wyman, Taylor and others.  The rare interviews with Brian Jones were quite enthralling, since there is so little documentation out there that even begins to give us a glimpse into his personality as much as this film does.

The Hells Angels killing incident at Altamont was tantamount to watching the rocumentary version of the Zapruder film.  It is still chilling, even after all these years, and Jagger still seems deeply shaken about it all.

I recommend this documentary highly!

Bright Star

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Ah, what a beautiful, glorious film!

Jane Campion is one of my favorite directors. Her skill with detail and visual imagery is unsurpassed, in general, but especially  in this touching and beautiful film about the 3 year romance between Fanny Brawne and 19th century poet, John Keats. I dislike a great deal of the writing from the Romanic period, but Keats work is the primary exception. Campion’s masterful visual curation of his words, coupled with absolutely breathtaking imagery and an outstanding soundtrack,  shot this beautiful film to the top of my current favorites list very quickly. I plan to give it a second watch soon.

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: 
Its lovliness increases; it will never 
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep 
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep 
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

Seven

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This is, as many of you will recognize, an older film .   It was released in 1995, but is every bit as disturbing today.

John and I  have seen this one several times, and always manage to find something new in it.  My friend, Dave, hates it…but I don’t.   John and I both enjoy it for its cinematic technique, its quirkiness, its curious  combinations of actors and chilling visuals.   Seven, surfaced on Netflix when we were browsing the other night, so we decided to give it another watch. It is a fascinating neo-noir thriller made particularly poignant in light of the religious fanaticism and misinformation that is currently sweeping the American political arena.  Just goes to show you how absurd some of these miscreants can be.   The story is based upon the Seven Deadly sins, and how one crazed religious fanatic murdered one person per sin to send a message to the world. Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman were in this one, set in some identified city. It was actually filmed in L.A. But has more of a  darkish, NYC feel  (and no, I do not think that NYC is necessarily  dark…I love it there!)  .  

David Fincher directed this unusually shot film, and managed to deliver a constant dose of discomfort and suspense, laced with the occasional giggle.  

I recommend this film….but don’t see it when you’re alone at night..

Craigslist Joe

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This is a sweet documentary presented by Zach Galifianakis, about a young man who set out across America with no money and only the clothes on his back and his laptop,  to see if he could survive on the mercy of strangers who he met on Craigslist.  He would do work for food and shelter along the way, and, at times, found himself out on the cold streets at night.  The thing both of us loved most about this film was how it illustrated the young man’s transformation into a more enlightened, appreciative spirit as he shared his life with those of others along the way.  It also illustrated  the inherent goodness in humankind.  Really a nice story

Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)

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Both of us loved this 2010 documentary about one of my favorite enigmatic musicians, Harry Nilsson.  Directed by John Scheinfeld, the story gives an inside look at the life and times of this musical genius who was decades ahead of this time.  As all good musicians do, Nilsson elevated himself from one level of musicianship to the next, always in motion, never stuck in one genre.   The film  contains some fantastic music videos and home movies, as well as interviews with all kinds of people who were close to Harry during his brief life. This is another one that I recommend highly.

The Deep Blue Sea

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“Beware of passion, Hester.  It always leads to something ugly.”

This is not a film for the person suffering from depression.   It begins with an attempted suicide and doesn’t get much cheerier after that. An excellent remake of the original 1955 version, this film is an adaptation from a Terence Rattigan play.  Cinematically, it is perfect.  Every line….every scene….every costume….is carefully planned and perfectly executed.   The story centers around Rachel Weisz’s character, a married woman, who falls in love with a younger man. Set in 1950’s England, her emotional obsession lead her into quite tragic conflict with the day’s morals. This movie is a true work of art, one that I recommend….but it is SUCH a downer!!

The Queen of Versailles

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I have always felt disdain for the nouveau riche who derive the lion’s share of their self esteem from their personal possessions, rather than from the core of their being.  This film illustrates perfectly how money really CAN’T buy class.   …..Neither can iPhones, BMW’s nor any other material object.  It’s nice to be personally successful, but life is not about the stuff!

My final recommendation is the bizarre story of the Siegel family of Florida, who made a fortune in the time share business only to watch their empire crumble before their eyes in the 2008 financial collapse. This billionaire-character-driven documentary represents everything that is wrong about the quest for greedy goods in America, and focuses on the construction of their gaudy replica of the Palace of Versailles. You really must see this funny, tragic, white trash bizarre story!  It will keep you up at night wondering how people like this exist on the same planet as you!

Please feel free to comment with your own recommendations, if you saw anything worth seeing over the holidays….old films, new ones…unheard of films.  I’m interested in your opinions and recommendations.   Please leave a comment here or shoot me an email.

Happy New Year of Film Watching!

Film Queue

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Do you ever open your Netflix account with the intention of watching one of their streaming videos, yet don’t know what to choose because you are so overwhelmed by the number of films that are listed?  This morning, I thought I would make a few recommendations of good films that we have seen lately.

In anticipation of his going back to work in the SF Bay Area, my  husband and I have been curling up together on our office sofa bed at night and watching a film after dinner.   We have seen some good ones over the last week or so….as well as some not-so-good ones.    (He is a self-described film critique who occasionally writes reviews for, “Film in Review” and also teaches the occasional film at school.  I simply love film.  Period. ….so we’re a good match.)   Here are a few of the ones that we particularly enjoyed:

A movie that we saw and both liked was, “Today’s Special. ”   This is an excellent watch for foodies.  It is a sweet film  about a haute cuisine sous chef played by Assif Mandvi,  who  gets passed over for promotion at a fancy restaurant, so quits to pursue his dream of cooking in Paris… but then, an emergency forces him to take over his family’s shabby Indian restaurant in Queens.  This film was intelligently written and directed and had a nice sense of humor and style.  We both enjoyed it very much.

“Janie Jones,” was another one that we liked.  Mind you, this isn’t a great film.  It was weak in some areas, but admittedly, I will watch anything that has sexy Alessandro Nivola in it.   He was brilliant  in, “Laurel Canyon,” which is one of my top ten favorite films of all times, and also in, “Junebug,” which I also loved.  In “Janie Jones,”  he played a rock star who , late in his career, was attempting a comeback .  One day after a gig, a former groupie shows up back stage to tell him he has a 13-year-old daughter, Janie, and leaves her in his care.  The ensuing drama was fairly predictable, but both of us still enjoyed watching the (weak, at times) plot unfold.  The daughter was played by the same actress who played that darling child in, ” Little Miss Sunshine,” Abigail Breslin.  This piece also has some nice music in it.

Both of us were crazy about, “Black Butterflies,” and I highly recommend this film.  It is fabulous!  It is a  passion-filled  biopic that profiles South African poet,  Ingrid Jonker, whose exuberant nature is destroyed by her repeated betrayals of her supportive lover and her complex relationship with her disapproving father, the minister of censorship.  It is well-acted.  Beautifully shot in Africa and tugs at the heart relentlessly!  Great film!

“Burning Plain,” was another brilliant film,  much of which was filmed here in Portland…..in which Charlize Theron played a depressed, sex-obsessed restaurant manager .  The story weaves together four seemingly unrelated tales that are  separated by time and space. A New Mexico housewife (Kim Basinger) begins a torrid affair, two teens mourn the death of their parents, and a young girl tries to mend her life in a Mexican border town.  It all comes together beautifully in the end.  We loved this one!

My final recommendation is, “Winter’s Bone.”  This is a  noir drama  that is set deep in the Ozarks, where that culture was represented so realistically!   A resilient teen girl, played by the fantastic, Jennifer Lawrence,  goes on the trail of her missing, drug-dealing father whose absence jeopardizes the family’s safety. Her deadbeat dad has a key court date pending, and Ree is determined that he show up — despite the objections of the insular Dolly clan. The film earned Oscar and Independent Spirit Award nods for Best Picture and for Lawrence, and fully deserved those awards.  This one can be tough to watch in parts, especially one scene, but it is still an excellent picture.

So these are my recommendations for now.  I hope you will watch a couple of them, at least, and let me know what you think.

xoxo

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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I went to see the aforementioned film this afternoon.  First time I’ve been inside a movie theater in ages, and I enjoyed going there by myself and luxuriating in the excellent story that unfolded before me.  I will see any movie that has Dame Judi Dench in it. (Shown below with my daughter, Sarah-Lynda in her broadway dressing room.)  “Notes on a Scandal” is one of my favorites, but I love them all, and I think her acting just keeps getting better and better.

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I love Tom Wilkinson, too.  The film I enjoyed most with him in it was, “In The Bedroom” with Sissy Spacek.  Very intense film about when good people do bad things.

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” was a light film with a few different sub-plots that included an unhappily married couple, a racist woman, a recently widowed woman (played by delightful Judi Dench) and a couple of different love stories, including that of a gay man played by Wilkinson.  It was good to see another film set in India, and delightful to see these dynamic actors all acting together.  Maggie Smith was in it, and I adore her, too.  Oh, and Bill Knightly, who is always fun.  The plot concerned itself with a small number of aging Brits who moved into a shabby hotel in India for various reasons.  It was very well written and directed, and the cinematography was excellent.

This was not a mind blowing film in its greatness, but I was entertained for an afternoon and found it both hopeful and inspiring.   It was one of those sweet, quiet films that was well worth the price of admission.