Movie Hero of the Week – Myrna Loy*


(Haven’t done a Movie Hero of the Week in over a year.  But I love doing them.  Decided to jump back in.  Although “of the week” is decidedly a misnomer.)

I love Myrna Loy.  I love all the actors I put in my Movie Hero of the Week posts in one way or another, of course (a dash of tongue in cheek notwithstanding).

But Myrna.  Myrna Have I Loved.

She was the ultimate co-star. ” Never a stand alone pillar of female power onscreen, she excelled at sharing the frame and reacting, what Cary grant called tossing back the ball.  Here she differed from her dynamo friend Joan Crawford and from such dominating female screen icons of her generation…most at home in comedy, she achieved her best effects by underplaying, by suggesting meaning rather than hammering it home….Extremely modern in her minimalist technique, she remains our contemporary in her ability to grow, to stay in the game and continue evolving.”  (Quoted from Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood)

She had a grasp of comedy and rhythm that was so subtle and filmic, and yet she could her hold her own with even the slap stickiest of Cary Grants.  She was smart and ferociously opinionated, often challenging the studio system, which was a dangerous thing to do.

What I admire about her most is her on screen partnership with William Powell, but I will get to that in a bit.

IMDB credits her with 138 movie and television titles.  She was around during the silent era and successfully transitioned to sound.  Not bad for a girl straight out of Montana.  It’s funny.  Her life had a span similar to my grandfather’s.  She was born in 1905 and died in 1993.  He was born in 1906 and died in 1995.  To look at her movies is to see the twentieth century, nearly in it’s entirety.  I feel like through her I am able to see the world he saw, in a way.

For a Chicago connection, she “was supposedly the favorite star of famed outlaw John Dillinger. He came out of hiding to see Manhattan Melodrama (1934), in which she starred, and was gunned down by police upon leaving the theater.” (source: IMDB)

In the summer of 2008 (I think) I trudged through the few remaining titles I had left to see on the AFI 100 list.  (I know there is a separate dimension in which I am still watching Shane.)  One of the joys of that project (the most dubious of New Year’s Resolutions) was The Best Years of Our Lives.  It is simply stunning.  Her performance of the supportive, understanding and solid-rock-strong Milly Stephenson left her with the nickname “The Perfect Wife.”  Veterans pined for Loy’s presence in their post-traumatic lives.  She said, “Some perfect wife I am. I’ve been married four times, divorced four times, have no children, and can’t boil an egg.”

She was principled and fought for what she believed in.  She was even blacklisted by Hitler himself.  She fought against discrimination in public housing and Hollywood alike, pressing studio execs to portray African American actors as briefcase holding executives not servants. According to the book Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, “Along the way, in her eighty-eight years, she found the time to…fight the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, become a UNESCO delegate, campaign for various Democratic Party Candidates, serve John F. Kennedy on the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, help found the American Place Theatre, and rack up credits in radio, television, and stage.”

Myrna and I share a belief about film and acting in general.  “I admire some of the people on the screen today, but most of them look like everybody else. In our day we had individuality…Most of the sex I’ve seen on the screen looks like an expression of hostility towards sex.”

One of my all time favorite movies is Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House starring one of Loy’s frequent co stars, Cary Grant.  It’s a hilarious comedy about how absolutely insane and yet alluring building your own home can be.

In this clip, Mrs. Blandings chooses her paint colors.  I don’t know that I’ve ever had a conversation with my Mom that didn’t allude to this clip:

But hold on, because I saved the best for last.

The Thin Man

One of the great joys of my movie loving life has been The Thin Man movies (I own the whole set), which Loy is most famous for. The plots are kind of hard to follow but it simply doesn’t matter.  The point is Nick and Nora.  William Powell is Nick.  Myrna Loy is Nora.  They are one of the grandest  pairs that ever was.  Rhett and Scarlet, MacB and Lady MacB, George and Martha, Beatrice and Benedict,  and Nick and Nora.  I would…hell, I don’t know what I WOULDN’T do to be able to take on any of those pairs.

This clip is Nick and Nora at their best.  Seriously.  Seriously.  Somebody let me take a crack a this.:

Including the Thin Man movies, Loy and Powell made 14 films together.  They were artistic partners and friends.  Powell was a practical joker and sent Loy a funeral wreath for her 35th birthday with a note that said, “Be brave, dear.”  Of Powell, Loy said, “I never enjoyed my work more than when I worked with William Powell. He was a brilliant actor, a delightful companion, a great friend and, above all, a true gentleman.”

If you’ve never come across a Myrna Loy film, give one a try.  She had many nicknames, but the most famous was The Queen of Hollywood.  Her star may have faded a bit since the golden age of movies, but her performances never will.

And also, I’m serious about doing a stage version of The Thin Man.

*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.

Top Ten Greatest Living Film Actors. According to: Me.


In honor of this week’s Oscar nominations, I thought I would make a Top Ten (plus more).  I used to ravenously try to keep up with the year’s critical darlings, but I don’t have the time and I’d rather watch movies out of desire rather than obligation.  That said, YAY Melissa McCarthy!!!!  I’m also thrilled with the long overdue nod for Gary Oldman.  With Mr. Oldman in mind, I’d like to offer my

Top Ten Greatest Living Film Actors

These are actors who are able to totally transform themselves.  Some actors do what they do, and do it well, but these guys do basically everything. Note:  this is not my list of favorite actors, nor is it my list of Greatest of All Time. But I do believe that these are the greatest living film actors today.  Some are completely ignored by the Academy, others have rightly brought home an Oscar.  Rather than overload this post with video, I only include selections for my #1 and #2 choices (plus a select few).  However, I’ve included an “Essential Performance” that, for me, defines why I find these people to be so utterly brilliant, and whom I can learn from just by watching their work. Note: the “essential performance” is NOT necessarily their academy award winning film.

One final thing: I’ve never really understood why performance awards are set up along gender lines, so I said f*ck that and threw them all together.

10.  Kenneth Branagh.  Branagh gets it.  He’s a haughty classically trained Brit who can perform Shakespeare with the best of them.  He often does.  But his performance in Harry Potter tells us he’s also in on the joke.  That said, watching him do Shakespeare, nay…he nearly dances it, is a joy to behold.  Certainly, his Hamlet was a career topping acheivement.  I thought he was a little old for the role, myself, but still well done.  What really trips my Shakespearean trigger is his performance as Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing.  Very few comedies leave me laughing repeatedly like this film, and while all evidence is to the contrary, I am no film snob.  I love this movie very much BECAUSE it has a wonderful fart joke.  But Branaugh, alongside his then wife Emma Thompson, shines.  Yet there is something unsettling about Branaugh, and that undercurrent of darkness despite his shiny blonde hair, finds him cast as a high ranking member of the Gestapo more than once.  Branagh has a certain air of classic actor, but he is able to transcend that and ultimately comes off as not modern, but rather essential.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: Much Ado About Nothing

9.  Johnny Depp.  Remember that internet meme “Steal like an artist?” Depp does this.  He’ll tell you who inspired a certain performance.  But what he is becomes so much more than an imitation.  Depp gets tossed aside critically for relying on “weirdness” or for his longtime partnership with Tim Burton.  What is missed is his ability to take a risk and commit. His apparent need to hide behind these characters works for our benefit.  I believe very much that the idea of vulnerability in performance is abused and misused.  Using your life story isn’t vulnerable, working out personal issues onstage or onscreen isn’t vulnerable. Opening yourself up, being available and responding honestly to your fellow actors IS vulnerable.  Depp gets this.  Something he inherently understands is what he looks like on camera.  I don’t mean what he looks like esthetically.  He knows what angle will help him achieve a mood, an emotion, or even that characteristic weirdness.  Unlike a stage actor, Depp was built for film.  He knows that even the correctly timed milimeter of eye movement says something.  The small smile says something different than the big toothy one.  Depp is always working as hard as the camera.  And yet it looks effortless.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: Pirates of the Caribbean- The Curse of the Black Pearl OR Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

8.  Christopher Guest.  We all know his work in his own films, as Corky St. Clair, Nigel Tufnel, Alan Barrows and Harlan Pepper, but he’s also the Six-Fingered Man in The Princess Bride, a role where he nearly (and slyly) blends into the background.  That subtlety is exactly what gives you chills about his character.  He rightly let’s Chris Sarandon get the showy stuff.  It’s an unsung and wonderful performance.  It’s also an example of his ability to see his roles beyond the scope of himself.  Anne Bogart, one of my fave directors and theatrical thinkers, often asks “What is the most interesting/important thing happening right now and what can I do to add to it?”  Sometimes the answer is “Nothing…yet.”  And that seems to be where Christopher Guest works.  He creates characters who can stand alone with a film behind them.  There’s a reason we still occasionally catch Nigel Tufnel on a talk show, even though Spinal Tap was made in 1981.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance – Waiting for Guffman

7. Frances McDormand. Occasionally, an Oscar goes to the right person.  Like most people, my first time noticing Frances McDormand was in Fargo.  Marge Gunderson is one of the greatest film characters ever created (another list I’d like to make). I love her performances in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Almost Famous, Raising Arizona, and Wonder Boys.  A lot of people talk about how “natural” or “believable” an actor is.  I don’t care.  Some of the most unnatural and bizzare performances are my favorites.  See Hank Azaria in The Birdcage.  What McDormand does is make the ridiculous honest.  When I watch her onscreen I think “THAT’S what I want to do when I grow up.”

Academy Awards: 1
Essential Performance: Fargo

6. Catherine O’Hara.  She’s brilliant, and it ain’t just her acting skills.  Thanks to her collaborations with Christopher Guest, she’s actually creating these roles from the ground up.  As a kid, she was of course, the Mom in Home Alone to me…but you know what?  She’s really good as the Mom in the Home Alone.  Her scene with John Candy is precious.  But it’s Christopher Guest’s films where she really got to show her stuff.  Each and every character is completely different and three dimensional.  She’s a slapstick as she is smart. She is also the hands down best stage drunk I’ve ever seen.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance – Any Christopher Guest film in which she appears.

5. Gary Oldman.  I’ve posted about Oldman before.  He has been many things, and boring has never been one of them.  His intensity is often spoken about, but his tenderness is as profound.  I simply can’t think of anyone else who could play Sirius Black.  Or Sid Vicious.  Roles that may have been up for interpretation, once played by Oldman, are no longer anything but what he makes them.  His role in The Professional could have been easily botched by or more likely, rotely played by another actor.  It is, on the page, just a better-than-average action movie bad guy.  In Oldman’s hands, it’s evil incarnate.  Volatile, funny, and all the more terrifying because of it.  His Dracula is not a monster, but a wounded man.  A man corrupted by his own pain.

Academy Awards: 0 (Hopefully soon to change)
Essential Performance: Sid and Nancy OR The Professional

4. Ian McKellan. McKellan is a lesson for an actor to learn.  The lesson is this:  A strong sense of self is the key to survival in such a vicious business.  The man owns a tshirt that says, “I’m Gandalf AND Magneto, bitch.”  Oh, and also maybe the greatest King Lear.  His performance as James Whale in Gods and Monsters is smart and heartwrenching.  (As a side note, I think the Bride of Frankenstein is overshadowed by Frankenstein.  The Bride of Frankenstein is better, funnier, campier, and more self aware.  Check it out. Both pieces are James Whale, but The Bride has a sense of self it seems like he was almost afraid to let loose in the first film.) But back to Gandalf, he’s like a master class in acting in one character.  There are the most subtle and also the most huge theatrical moments and yet it all belongs, and never feels out of place in his portrayal of Gandalf.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy OR Gods and Monsters (Also google his King Lear…It’s phenomenal)

3.  Robert Downey, Jr. There are two categories of Robert Downey Jr films.  His entire career, and then Tropic Thunder.  Both are full to the brim with brilliance. In the first category we have Chaplin, Wonder Boys, Home for the Holidays, Iron Man…. and then there is Tropic Thunder.  One false move, and it could have been a disaster.  Certainly Stiller and the other creative minds behind the concept of Downey, Jr.’s character walked that line very effectively, but they needed someone to make it physical in form.  And they found the right guy for the job.  Robert Downey, Jr. has soulful eyes, but they absolutely radiate ego and mischeviousness in Tropic Thunder.  Certainly it’s well known that the guy has had some inner demons to fight, but it’s almost like Tropic Thunder gave him the venue he really needed.  People have misconstrued some of the charicatures in Tropic Thunder and read them as making fun of a particular race or a physical or mental disability.  What Tropic Thunder is really doing is ripping the ridiculousness of Hollywood and awards shows and the general self-congratulating that entertainment types like to do.  (I am not unaware I am an actor making a list of awesome actors, btw.)  Tropic Thunder succeeds because overwhelmingly, they trusted their audience to “get it” and we did.  Robert Downey, Jr is as comfortable in a drama as in a comedy, but one thing he always bring is a sense of fun and of the ridiculous.  He almost seems to step out of the screen and make us laugh at ourselves, including him.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: Tropic Thunder OR Chaplin

2. Emma Thompson.  She’s a phenomenon.  I’m sort of speechless about her talent and abilities.  She kind of sneaks into some movies and just tears into the role, no matter how small.  There is a moment in Love Actually when she finally realizes her husband is at the very least, contemplating an affair, and she’s just trying to get it together so her kids don’t see her lose it at Christmas.  We’ve all had this moment.  That “please stop crying” moment.  That in-your-bedroo0m-trying-to-get-your-shit-together moment.  I couldn’t find a good clip of it, but go to 1:26 of this video to at least see a hint. My favorite Emma Thompson performance is in Stranger Than Fiction.  Lest you think I only enjoy her when she’s being a bit bleak, check her out in the aforementioned Much Ado About Nothing throwing around some banter with her then husband Branagh

Academy Awards: 1
Essential Performance: Stranger Than Fiction

1.  Peter O’Toole.  I arrived late to the Peter O’Toole game.  Partially, that’s because I was born in 1981 and those missed years of film making couldn’t be helped.  Partially I was too busy watching his partners in crime like Richard Burton.  But better late than never.  He made a really bad movie in the 80’s that I adore called High Spirits.  Truly, it’s dreck.  But I love it, and not ironically.  And here’s the thing.  He knows it’s dreck, but he still performs as if it’s Shakespeare coming out of his mouth and better yet, he almost makes it sound like it is.  If Robert Downey Jr.’s performances are equivalent to a great backyard BBQ with your best friends and family, Peter O’Toole’s are the grandest most fun three day bender you’ve ever had.   I mean, of course, Beckett is great.  Lawrence of Arabia, a triumph.  Lion in Winter, astounding.  But I offer you my favorite O’Toole performance:  Man of La Mancha.  It’s flat out fantastic.  Unlike most movie musicals, La Mancha doesn’t give you much to look at (other than Sophia Loren, and I do, as wannabe bombshell, adore Sophia Loren).  The roads are dusty.  The costumes dirty.  The setting bleak.  It’s an actor’s musical.  That’s almost literally all there is.  O’Toole is perfection.  You want his Don Quixote to march his chivalrous way into your life and tell you to dream the Impossible Dream.  I daresay I wept in joy at this movie.  And it was all because of Peter O’Toole.  He is, in my mind, the greatest living actor.

Academy Awards: 1 (Honorary)
Essential Performance: Every single one.  He NEVER turns in a bad performance.  However, Lawrence of Arabia can’t be denied.

Runners Up:

Stephen Root – 0 Academy Awards.  He is the definition of a working actor.

Hank Azaria – 0 Academy Awards.  His vocal work alone speaks for itself.

Paul Gross – 0 Academy Awards.  This might be my favorite scene ever.  Watch him direct a bad actress on her performance as Ophelia:

Allison Janney – 0 Academy Awards. She pops up in weird places like Primary Colors, but she makes her mark.  Plus she’s from Ohio… She is big part of why I love Drop Dead Gorgeous so much. But truly where she gets to shine is on The West Wing.

Diane Weist – 2 Academy Awards.  Woody Allen gets a lot of shit sometimes, but his eye for Diane Weist is right on target.  I watch her performance in Bullets Over Broadway the night before I start rehearsal for a show.

Jeffery Wright – 0 Academy Awards. Basquiat.  Angels in America.  And then he plays Colin Powell.  An argument for the subtle.

Dustin Hoffman – 2 Academy Awards.  He should have won for Tootsie, but I won’t pick the fly shit out of the pepper.  Sure he was wound a little tight early in his career, but he relaxes as he ages, making his body of work always interesting to watch.

Hope Davis – 0 Academy Awards.  American Splendor.  About Schmidt.  And if you’re interested in the early careers of your acting heroes as I am, that’s her in Home Alone as the French airline associate.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman – 1 Academy Awards.  This guy has presence.  And a very unique one too.  Often the word “masculine” gets associated with Cary Grant types, but for me, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the picture of a masculine presence on screen.  One of my favorite performances of his is actually in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War.  I could take or leave the flick, but this movie is actually the first time I really paid attention to him.

Angela Lansbury – 0 Academy Awards.  She can do anything.  She still fucking does.  I can’t handle it.  Oh, and she originated my absolute dream role: Mrs. Lovett.

Benicio Del Toro – 1 Academy Award.  I like weird with a purpose, and Benicio Del Toro is just that.  When you watch him, you are watching a story develop through someone’s eyes you don’t recognize and that is so very interesting.

David Morse – 0 Academy Awards.  I just know, I just know that George Washington must have sounded like that.

Cloris Leachman – 1 Academy Award.  She’s in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  She’s Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein.  She’s still swingin’ and she doesn’t give a shit.  I love this woman.

Anyhoo, I know there’s no Streep or Dench on my list (no reflection on them.  I love them both.) Nor is there Anthony Hopkins or any other typical list toppers.  Tell where I’m wrong!  I love a good debate on a top ten list.  Still, I stand by this.  These are the folks whose brains I want to pick.  Who’s talent I want to learn from, and whose work I ALWAYS want to watch.

Movie Hero of the Week – Ray Liotta*


My friend Jay sent me THIS GQ article on the making of my favorite movie, Goodfellas.  (My second favorite movie is What a Way To Go which, I feel, in combination with Goodfellas reveals nothing about my personality whatsoever.  Except maybe a love for a dance number, the color pink, with an undercurrent of gritty violence.  And Italian men.)  Anyway, Jay and I have been roundly obsessing over this article and our love for Goodfellas over the past few days.

Meanwhile, for just absolutely no reason at all in the world whatsoever, I have become recently interested in actors who hit their stride post-30.

Meet Ray Liotta.

Ray Liotta

He lobbied hard and got the role of Henry Hill in 1990’s Goodfellas at the age of 30.  There is nobody else like him in the pictures.  Imagine playing a role like Henry Hill, for all accounts a not good guy.  Not the WORST guy, of course.  That’s Tommy.  But a bad guy nonetheless, and you root for the dude.  Of course, this isn’t unprecendented.  Movies can make you do that. But with the wrong actor in that role, it would be pretty difficult.

There is a 95% chance that any interview or article you read with Ray Liotta as the subject is going to use the word “intense.”  Not inaccurate, but I think over-simplified.  He’s not just punching walls and looking sulky. He is intense without angst. I think that might be passion, but you really don’t see truly passionate work very often and think we find it disconcerting, particularly as an American movie goer. What is presented to us as passion is often just masturbatory emoting.  Not this guy. This guy is focused.  He listens. He’s confident without being cocky.

I’ll tell you something else I like about the guy.  Honesty.  He says he did Operation Dumbo Drop for the money.  Damn right he did, and you would too. It takes a hell of lot to stay afloat in show biz.  I would be lying my face right off if I said I wouldn’t do something like Operation Dumbo Drop.  The only thing I won’t do is kid shows and working at amusement parks.  God bless the people who do, but I prefer my desk job to that.  I wish I didn’t.  I wish I was a purer soul.  I also wish I had a hundred million dollars and a bucket of rubies and garnets.  And a chauffeur.  I’ve always wanted a chauffer.

I digress.

In the following scene, you see something that I think defines Ray Liotta.  Focus.  I mentioned how he listens.  Check out how…ugh…I hate to say it, but I can’t think of another phrase- how “in the moment” he is.  Look at his focus and his eye contact and his power in the scene with Morrie.  He is so specific.  (This clip also shows one of my fave De Niro/Scorcese moments of all time, but that’s just a bonus.)  Also, the video is called “My Favourite Scene From Goodfellas,” noting the British spelling,  obviously, I didn’t title the video.  And it’s not my favorite scene (although it’s a good one.)  It’s just very illustrative of my point.

Just for the record, THIS is my favorite scene from Goodfellas.  Of course, the best scene is THE shot.  You know…the steady cam…the Copa.  You know, I always admired that shot purely for the timing, not just by Scorcese by the umpteen gazillion actors and extras that breeze their way through it.  Recently, however, I just made the connection (because I’m a fool) that it’s about Karen. We feel like we are on Henry’s arm in Henry’s world.  It does something incredibly important.  It answers the question “Why would you stay with this man?” before you even think to ask it.

God, I love movies.

Anyway.

Have you seen Narc?  Interesting flick.  Liotta produced it alongside his then wife, if I remember correctly.  He stars alongside Jason Patric (an upcoming MHOTW).  It’s brutal.  It’s violent.  It’s harsh.  It’s good.  Really good.  Whereas you might root for Henry Hill, you don’t for Henry Oak.

Have you ever seen Corrina, Corrina?  It’s good.  And Liotta is really good in it.  I’m not sure how he does that wounded soldier thing without doing what all the other guys do.  He’s tortured by not tormented.  He’s hurt but he’ll survive.  He loves but he doesn’t gush.  This clip is long, but worth it.

Have you seen The Rat Pack?  Do.  If I’m nerdily blabbing about the difference between imitation and portrayal of real-life characters, I often bring up Liotta as Frank Sinatra.  He doesn’t look like the dude (minus those baby blues) and he doesn’t sound all that much like him, yet he nails it.  Ditto for all the performances in that movie (minus the woman who plays Marilyn).  I get why it wasn’t a big-screen movie, but I wish more people have seen it.  If I were to teach an acting class, I might use it.  It establishes fine lines and never dances over them, and Liotta is the leader of the group.  Not just because he plays Frank.  He establishes a presence that guides the movie.  Now.   That said.  When you do watch it, expect the Kennedy campaign song to the tune of “High Hopes” to run through your head for weeks….”K-E-DOUBLE N-E-D-Y…he’s our favorite kind of a guy…Everyone wants to BACK. JACK. JACK is on the right track…cuz he’s got HIGH HOPES…he’s got HIGH HOPES…”  See.  There I go.  Anyway, here is a clip:

I’m not a big Blow fan.  heh.  But they cast Liotta as Depp’s dad.  The dude is all of like, ten years older than my boy Johnny.  I guess it works because of the flashbacks.  But Liotta is really great.  Sweet, even.  I’ve never read if Depp and Liotta got along particularly well on set or not but there is a genuine fatherly affection there.   While playing age happens all the time on stage, it’s actually fairly rare in movies, at least to this extent.  I often wonder why casting worked out this way.  Still, a weird production decision works in Ray Liotta’s favor because he gets to show a really awesome side of his talent, he probably wouldn’t have otherwise.  Graceful age.  Not rickety wheezing and overuse of the word “whippersnapper.”  On a dorky movie nerd note, allegedly Johnny Depp’s character in BLOW was responsible for 85% of the coke trafficked in the US between the 70’s and 80’s.  Therefore, there is an 85% chance that that character provided Henry Hill, Ray Liotta’s character in Goodfellas, with his coke.  Small world, man. I guess that’s more of a dorky stoner note, now that I think about it.

Hey look!  Ray Liotta on Martha Stewart:

That’s funny to me.  It amuses me.  I also love a man in an apron.

I’m not a huge Field of Dreams fan, either.  I’ve been told that’s because I’m a girl.  I think it’s because the movie is cheesy and Amy Madigan (love her in Uncle Buck) is irritating and an odd pairing for Costner.  (Also, I would never tell someone they don’t get a movie because they are a man.  Sure, that seems like something I would say, but I wouldn’t.  Because movies are universal experiences.  I played catch with my Dad, too.   We have tickets for Wrigley in May.  They are in my desk right now.)  But that’s not the point.  An article I read recently in so many words says Liotta is more intense, and better than he has to be as Shoeless Joe Jackson.  The phrase “better than it has to be” is very depressing, but often apt.  The world of the American movie is world that embraces, if not encourages mediocrity.  In fact, that’s sort of what my Movie Heroes are about.  They COULD have just phoned it in.  They didn’t.  And I look to them for inspiration and encouragement through their work which is conveniently available via DVD.

In all his films, something simmers beneath Liotta’s exterior.  In Henry Hill, it finds its way out.  In many other characters he plays, like Shoeless Joe, it never does.  It’s a deep sense of humanity.  Even loss.  It’s profound.  And it’s beautiful.  I’m also a Pisces and am incredibly susceptible to this state of being.  I married an intense simmerer.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Aloofness is my kryptonite.  I want to hand it my phone number written on my panties.  I can’t help it.   Complicated emotion bubbling underneath a brooding exterior is the bucket of water to my Wicked Witch of the West.

What a worlllld.....what a worlllld...

Have you seen Observe and Report?  It’s, hmmm, I’ll say it’s disjointed.  But I love when dudes in movies wear those over the shoulder cop holster things.

I’ve always sort of thought of Cop Land as a nod toward the wish that you could see Goodfellas again for the first time.  You can’t.  Still, it’s decent cop movie.  Gritty.  Liotta and De Niro.  You could easily do worse on a Tuesday night.  Alright look, I’ll be honest.  I really don’t remember much about it.  I saw Copland when I was 16 and it was on the new release shelf and I was going through my De Niro phase.   Other than the fact that I am a straight woman, my movie-related coming of age was decidedly male adolescent.  If I had found a Scarface poster, it would have been on my wall.  Unfortunately (fortunately?) I lived on a farm in Northwestern Ohio and those posters weren’t easy to find.  I did manage to snag a Brad Pitt one from Legends of the Fall at the Kmart in Defiance, Ohio.  That and the Dirty Words one I got at the George Carlin concert I saw.  And the Wayne’s World one I got in my “Wayne’s World Extreme Closeup” book (I still own it.)  Jesus, I was weird.  This doesn’t include the glut of Eddie Vedder (see “intense simmering”)  pics I had collected, all pre-Internet mind you.  That took dedication.

Again, I digress.

Looking at his filmography, one thing is clear:  Liotta is a working actor and his work is refreshingly absent of ego.  Certainly I’ve never met the guy, but you get the distinct impression people like him.  They like to work with him.  Repeatedly.  That is something that benefits an acting career.  He also seems to have followed his nose and done what was right for him.  That is really really hard to do as an actor.  You often find yourself following other people’s paths, other people’s ambition.  There is so little guidance for artists (which is both a good and a bad thing) that you feel completely blind sometimes making the decision whether to do a project or not.  Which city should I move to?  Film or theatre?  Agent or no?  Union or no?  I’m too old.  I’m not old enough.  There is something confident, decisive and steady about Liotta’s resume and I admire that.  And what do you  know, he got to be in one of the greatest movies ever made along the way.  Plus, he’s really fun to watch.

*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.

Movie Hero of the Week* and Style Icon: Katharine Ross



Fashion Post

Movie Post

Katharine Ross

Katherine Ross costars in two of the greatest movies of my parent’s generation:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Graduate. She just seems to embody something about the late 60’s and early 70’s as I understand them.  I love looking at my parents’ yearbooks and checking out what they wore.  I love the long hair, and the bell bottoms, and the quirky ringer tees, and wooden platforms, and floaty tops.  Katherine Ross sort of represents that to me.  Her style is outdoorsy, natural, and sexy.  She was born in California and just seems to exude a sense of the American West both in style and presence. Even her husband, Sam Elliot (another future Movie Hero of the Week), fits into this idiom.

Katherine Ross belongs to a group of actresses I like to call The Grand Brunettes because I believe they exude what is an inherent brunette-ness.  Katherine Ross, Barbara Hershey, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Vergara (actually a natural blonde, but she has taken brunette as her own), Anne Bancroft, Vivien Leigh, Sophia Loren, Lena Olin, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Jane Russell seem to say “brunette” the way Marilyn  says “blonde.”

Perhaps someday I will post about The Great Blondes…but I doubt it.  That’s played, y’all.

Hair

There isn’t one hairstyle that says “Katharine Ross” in particular.  She wears it up, down, half up, in braids.  The key is a loose and slightly messy take with face framing layers. The key would be shine serum and a teasing comb.

Makeup

Her makeup rarely changes.  She always has a softly smudged lined eye in a deep brown or black with thick lashes.  Everything else is light and neutral.  Nude lips, with maybe a dusting of color on the cheeks or a bit of bronzer for that tawny look.

When I’m going for a Katharine Ross look, I use the following:

  • MAC lip pencil in “Spice” applied over a little chapstickOr, for a slightly more 60’s nude lip, try a Clinique nude lipstick.  I think Clinique nails nude and beige shades really well.  For a truly 60’s look, try to keep the shade a true beige with little to no pink.
  • I like MAC eye pencil in “Buried Treasure” for eyes.  It’s a very dark brown with little gold flecks.  It’s pretty soft in texture so it blends well.  L’oreal’s Le Kohl eye pencil in Onyx is a highly pigmented and blendable black.  I like true pencils and not automatic liners for this look.  To intensify and add a 60’s vibe, use liquid eyeliner on top of the pencil and wing at the ends.
  • I go with a matte face, with a very slight dusting of a tawny blush or bronzer where the sun would naturally hit.  Cheekbones, bridge of nose, a little on the forehead.

Movies

Katherine Ross as Edda Place in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

One of my favorite movies of all time is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.   In fact, that very film was the first time I saw Katharine Ross.  I loved her style and I liked how she held her own with Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  Having had many odd bondings with friend-boys over the years, I particularly loved her scenes with Butch.

Other films that should be included in a Katharine Ross movie marathon:

The Stepford Wives

The Graduate

Style

Of all my favorite style icons, Ms. Ross is probably the most casual.  Fabrics and textures included in a Katharine-themed wardrobe are cognac and lighter brown leathers, cotton eyelet, gingham, wood, denim, all-season tropical wool, prints – liberty and mod florals.

She often wears simple countrified styles, equestrian wear with a slight Victorian feel.  California cool bell bottoms and shirts tied at the waist with clunky platforms or riding boots would be an easy-breezy way to invoke some comfy late sixties style.

Check out this Polyvore set I created using Katharine Ross as inspiration:

embellished border maxi dress
14 GBP – janenorman.co.uk
Maxi dresses »

Winter Jumper
$270 – allsaints.com
Long sleeves sweater »

Classical Dressage Coat
$162 – modcloth.com
Tweed coats »

Etro Skinny Jodhpur
160 GBP – brownsfashion.com
Pleated pants »

Vince Camuto Fays Boots
$100 – piperlime.gap.com
Over the knee boots »

Open Heel Strappy Clog
$52 – needsupply.com
High heel shoes »

Hats in the Belfry Fascinator
$35 – modcloth.com
Party hats »

Brooks Brothers | Straw Boater Hat
$198 – brooksbrothers.com
Straw hats »

Anna Lou of London | Umbrella
20 GBP – annalouoflondon.com
Anna Lou »

D&G Tie-front gingham cotton shirt
135 GBP – net-a-porter.com


I hope you enjoyed this trip through the work and style of Katharine Ross.  If nothing else,  watch Butch Cassidy.  It’s divine.

*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.

I’m Going to Need a Bigger Closet


Fashion Post

I am on a bit of a fashion kick.  These January clearance sales have me doing a two-step.  I’ve also recently happened upon some very cool DIY fashion blogs that are charming and packed full of ideas.  A few I recommend checking out:

  • What I Wore
  • I Want To Be Her (Not exactly homegrown.  It’s run and designed by Andrea Linnet, formerly the Creative Director of Lucky Magazine and co-author of two of my favorite fashion books AND Anne Johnston Albert, fashion designer of the Martin clothing line and artist for the blog)  My entire life, I have been comforted and inspired by fashion renderings.  My Mom was a fashion design major at the school of the Art Institute in Pittsburgh.  She had this huge portfolio of drawings with exaggerated lines, big lashy eyes, and beautiful colors.  This site evokes that for me.  Meanwhile Lucky Magazine (which used to be my fave) had a big staff shimmy shake and booted their Editor-in-Chief, Kim France (another co-author of the Lucky Guides.)  Andrea Linnet followed.  I picked up my first non-France/Linnet Lucky and I did not like what I saw.  Very few mid-priced pieces.  Almost no low.  No delightful Anne Johnston Albert sketches.  No more Lucky for me.  However, my heart skipped a beat when I discovered I Want to Be Her.

The thing I love about these blogs is that they transcend any current trends.  They are creative, bold, and unabashedly wearing what they like.


MY CURRENT INSPIRATION

As I said, I’ve been doing a bit of shopping…ahem.  A bit.

I have very lately been inspired by

um

Jaws.

It’s true.

They’re going to need a bigger boat.

I mean look at Roy Scheider!  He’s chic!  That watch!  The nicely fitted sweater.  The chambray!  The sweatshirts!  You can’t see it in the pic, but I happen to know they are wearing white sneaks.  (You could say I’ve seen the film a few times.)  I love the idea of menswear, not so much in the wingtips and fedora vein, but in the sweatshirts and sneaks vein.

What is more all-American than a white tshirt, floppy hair, and a day at the beach?

It seems dorky at first, but check out the watch and the ring.  It’s kinda sexy.  Plus I love a raglan sleeve gray sweatshirt.

Sure, she’s fleeing certain death, but look at her hair!

I had a hard time finding pics that really showed off the character of Ellen Brody and her smooth style.  She’s got great hair tied up with scarves and bandannas, cool gold hoops, and long swingy sweaters.  For a weeknight at home, this is chic little impromptu dinner party.

Sure, Chief Brody looks a little stressed here but look at Ellen’s beach getup! And look at how nat a navy t can be.

Another comfy but sexy Ellen B. getup.  And my favorite line of the movie, “Wanna get drunk and fool around?”

So, in honor of one of my favorite movies of all time, and in the spirit of the eventual summer that will find us again, my Polyvore creation, Jaws:

Hot Toggle Cardigan
$75 – modcloth.com
Floral print tops »

Old Navy Women’s Perfect Tees
$7.50 – oldnavy.gap.com
Short sleeve tops »

Distressed denim jacket
$117 – theoutnet.com
Long sleeve jackets »

BDG Wool Captain’s Hat
$9.99 – urbanoutfitters.com
Urban hats »

Gap Ribbed Knit Beanie
$17 – gap.com
Beanie hats »

Fun Plastic Glasses
$45 – jessicasimpsoncollection.com
Plastic shades »

It’s a Doris Kind of Day!*


Doris Day - Bless her heart

Movie Post

In a revolutionary move…for me…I have decided to test out a combination of Fashion Inspiration and Movie Hero of the Week.

So, first and foremost, let me bring your attention to Doris Day. She’s very famous, don’t get me wrong. Yet, I find her reputation is over-simplified. She’s sort of known for being the virginal, freshly scrubbed 60’s icon with a penchant for birthday cake-like hats. While not unfounded, I’d like to introduce you to a spikier side of Miss Day.

“I look upon Brad Allen as any other disease. I’ve had him. I’m over him.” Pillow Talk

While she was married briefly several times, she has been known to say that if she ever had one true love, it was with Rock Hudson. That, my friends, had to have been a complex relationship, no?  She did profess never to have known he was gay.  I reserve a hearty “Oh come on,” for that.  Still, she did say she knows Rock is in heaven because he was such a kind person.

He was also incredibly good looking.  Have you seen him in the tub in Pillow Talk?

Here:

You are welcome.  Reow.

In this first clip I’d like to share (of Doris), we see a surprisingly dare I say feminist Doris Day?  She’s a succesful advertising executive who is desperately trying to land a choice account over the notorious Mr. Webster, a competing advertising executive played by Rock Hudson.  (Her hat in this one is more Jiffy Pop than birthday cake.)  The clip ends with one of my favorite all time Doris lines.

In a similar role in Pillow Talk, she declares in perhaps her most famous line, “Mr. Allen, it may interest you to know that there are some men who don’t end every sentence in a proposition.”

In a bit of a departure for both Doris Day and Alfred Hitchcock, she stars in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 version – costumes, it should be noted, by Edith Head.)  Here she sings her signature song…loaded with signature Hitchcock tension:

She nows lives fabulously as a hermity cat lady.  That’s true.  And pretty awesome.  She’s an animal rights advocate and she is done with Hollywood.  In fact, it was during filming for The Man Who Knew Too Much that she began her animal rights work.  She was upset by the treatment of the livestock “extras” used in the film.  I love this woman.  Did I mention she’s from Ohio?

She is a staunch Republican, but she’s a blonde from Cincinnati, so that’s to be expected.  Le sigh.  Speaking of blondes from Cincinnati, she went to the same ballroom dance studio as Vera Ellen and their parents used to carpool.  Rosemary Clooney didn’t live all that far away.   I wonder if she was there too.  In my fantasy, she is.  It’s not like Vera’s taking up that much room in the back seat.

It’s easy to forget how sexy some of Doris Day’s movies are, but they are, in their way.  Sure, she had a swear jar on the set (that’s also true), but she was a grown up lady living in a crazy world.  It’s no bad thing to throw around a little Midwestern no-nonsense sometimes.

Fashion Post

“I like joy; I want to be joyous; I want to have fun on the set; I want to wear beautiful clothes and look pretty. I want to smile and I want to make people laugh. And that’s all I want. I like it. I like being happy. I want to make others happy.”  Doris Day

If you changed “set” to “stage”, you pretty much have my career mantra.  Not a higher calling, but a calling nonetheless.

Doris Day was a fashion icon of her time.  She represented color, good girls, and excellent tailoring.  She even had a paper doll set created in her image!

So, to add a little sunshine to your wintery day, I’d like to share one of my favorite Polyvore creations inspired by none other than Doris Day – Ohio girl, chanteuse, and a personal fashion icon of mine.  She also reminds me of my Aunt Becky, whom I love.

While my tiny neurotic brain has a hard time allowing for “whatever will be,” I certainly aspire to see life that way.  I also aspire to wear this outfit:

Kate Spade Cammie
$240 – piperlime.gap.com
Mary jane pump »

NANA’ – FEATHER HAT
265 EUR – luisaviaroma.com
Feather hats »

Doris Day
leofuchs.com
*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.

Movie Hero of the Week – Colleen Atwood*


Colleen Atwood Practicin' Her Art

When I grow up, I want to look like Colleen Atwood.  She has a striking and beautiful sense of personal style.

But that’s merely a sidebar.  What we are really discussing here today is her work.

I’ll tell you why I’m a Tim Burton fan aside from his aesthetic, he collaborates with lush, talented people who have this striking aforementioned sense of personal style.  A true genius knows who to hire.  And Tim Burton hires Colleen Atwood.

But he’s not the only person who hires Colleen Atwood.  Rather than list these collaborators, feast on this:

The Silence of the Lambs

That Thing You Do!

Little Women

Beloved

Chicago

Big Fish

Memoirs of a Geisha

And friends, that’s just a few.

The work of Edith Head, another Movie Hero of the Week, comes down to tailoring, line,  and structure.  A character costumed by Edith Head immediately gives a sense of grace, being “put together”, rich.  Colleen Atwood’s work has a larger sense of movement.  She’s quoted as saying, “As a designer, you have to solve a lot of problems. Even though people are wearing clothes that are supposed to look beautiful, they’ll have to do all kinds of things.”  She’s influenced a bit more by current fashion.  You can see that she wants to push boundaries and really inform the audience of who this character is.

My favorite thing about Atwood’s work is her use of color, which runs into the deep jewel tones (my personal fave) and her use of sparkle and glitter.  Rather than head in the drag queen direction, she moves in the fantastical, elegant, and lush direction.

Check out this episode of Threadbanger wherein we get an interview with Colleen Atwood, plus two AWESOME Victorian-Punk-Trash sewing recipes.  Bon Apetit!

Says Ms. Atwood, “I’ve always loved movies, art and clothes.”  Me too, Colleen.  Me too.

*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.