Movie Mondays: Chewing the scenery

“Chewing the scenery,” an American phrase coined in the late 19th century, refers to dramatic, theatrical overacting. Watching performers chew the scenery can be excruciating, except when it’s an excellent actor or actress working with top-notch material – then it’s fun. Here are four films – two with dysfunctional workplaces, two with disintegrating marriages – that feature actors at the top of their game chewing the scenery.

Click here to view Notes on a Scandal in the SPL catalogNotes on a Scandal (2006) is a wicked film based on the novel What Was She Thinking by Zoë Heller. Sheba (Cate Blanchett) is an art teacher who winds up in a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student; meanwhile, her colleague Barbara (Judi Dench) is at first her confidante but has alterior motives that could destroy Sheba, her career and her family. Melodrama like this is rarely seen in contemporary cinema, and with lesser actors, scenes like the showdown between the two leads would have devolved into camp. But Blanchett and Dench (both nominated for Best Actress Oscars for their performances) are perfect in their portrayls of two women whose lives are devoured by secrets, bitterness and cynicism. Continue reading “Movie Mondays: Chewing the scenery”

Movie Mondays: Looking for a new TV series?

Today’s Movie Monday column is focusing on television. Why? Because many people regard the past ten years as a new Golden Age of television. From Six Feet Under and The Sopranos, through The Wire and to Breaking Bad and Mad Men, both critics and the public see the writing contemporary on cable TV programs as good, if not better, than contemporary cinema. Below are three new TV shows that I haven’t seen, but have been highly regarded in their first seasons and look forward to checking out. Continue reading “Movie Mondays: Looking for a new TV series?”

Movie Mondays: Cinema with Style

There are some movies that stay with me because of the way they look. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the performers, directors or screenwriters in the following films, it’s the details — cinematography, color, costume design — that contribute to the unforgettable style of each of the these three films.

Click here to view Drive in the SPL catalogThe opening credits for Drive (2011) are written in a pink 1980s font and accompanied by the equally ’80s-ish song “Nightcall” by Kavinsky (available on the Drive soundtrack). It initially seemed incompatible with the plot – The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a Hollywood stuntman by day, and a getaway car driver by night whose life gets very complicated when he starts to help his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) in modern day Los Angeles. But visionary director Nicolas Winding Refn manages to make it all work with highly stylized action and violence that doesn’t feel gratuitous, but essential to the film. Continue reading “Movie Mondays: Cinema with Style”

Movie Mondays: Coming-of-age films with an edge

Click here to view Mud in the SPL catalogI recently saw Mud (2013) – easily one of the best movies of the year, so far – and was struck by its multiple layers. It’s a thriller that stars Matthew McConaughey in the title role as a fugitive living on a remote island, hiding from bounty hunters and pining for the love of his life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Its languid, atmospheric setting, along the Mississippi River in the Ozarks, is a character unto itself that is refreshingly free of stereotypes. But at its core is Ellis (Tye Sheridan), a young boy who decides to help Mud reunite with Juniper, despite problems at home. While I enjoy cheerful, predictable coming-of-age films as much as the next person, this movie made me think of some others with life-changing journeys for the young protagonists. Continue reading “Movie Mondays: Coming-of-age films with an edge”

Movie Mondays: Films about the Fourth Estate

This month, two highly anticipated TV series – Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom and  House of Cards, the critically acclaimed Netflix original series – are available on DVD. Both shows deal with journalists and the power of the news media, a topic that was the subject of three smart, classic award-winning films.
Click here to view His Girl Friday in the SPL catalog

His Girl Friday (1940), based on the Broadway play The Front Page, stars Cary Grant as Walter Burns, a newspaper editor who tries to get his ex-wife, reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) to write her last big news story, and maybe just prevent her from marrying insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) at the same time. Howard Hawks directed this screwball comedy to perfection, and the chemistry between Grant and Russell is on full display with witty, overlapping rapid-fire dialogue that you’ll want to watch over and over to make sure you don’t miss a single line. Continue reading “Movie Mondays: Films about the Fourth Estate”