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Gregory Peck

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My previous Guaranteed Embarrassment Free post (The Yearling) got me thinking about Gregory Peck---not a bad way to while away a few hours! He started making movies in the 40's, remained very popular for the 50's and 60's and then hit a dry spell after his oscar win. He saw a resurgence of his career with the unexpected 1977 hit, The Omen. More roles appeared after this and he did several turns on television. He was the recipient of many awards, including an Oscar for Best Actor, the Academy's Jean Hershold Humanitarian Award and the Medal of Freedom. On June 12, 2003 just days after the AFI named him as the screen's greatest hero for his role as Atticus Finch, Peck died at the age of 87. Tall, rugged, handsome and by all accounts a very decent human being, he played many a heroic character over the years.

To Kill a Mockingbird---Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice. Depending on the age of your own children, say about 12 and up, it's one for the whole family to watch and discuss. This won Peck the best actor Oscar and was his own personal favourite from his many roles.

Captain Horatio Hornblower---if you've been reading our blog over the past months you know that we have recommended the Hornblower series from A&E. This film predates it by several years-decades actually, and Peck does an excellent job playing the swashbuckling hero.

Roman Holiday---with Peck and Audrey Hepburn in her Oscar winning role. A lovely, charming movie. Interesting bit of trivia here. The on-screen credit and Academy award for best Screen Writing were originally credited and given to Ian McLellan Hunter. Hunter was the 'beard' for Dalton Trumbo, who was one of several Hollywood writers blacklisted during the infamous McCarthy era. In December 1992 the Academy decided to change the records and to credit Trumbo for his achievment. Ian Hunter was removed from the Motion Picture Story category and the Oscar was posthumously present to Trumbo's widow on May 10 1993.

Boys From Brazil---one of his very few outings as a villian---and what a villian! He plays an aged Doctor Josef Mengele to Lawrence Olivier's equally aged Nazi hunter. I particularly like the scene with the telephone encounter between the two. This is based on the book of the same name by Ira Levin---who wrote many good stories adapted for theatrical release, including Rosemary's Baby.

Cape Fear--- the styish film noir original from 1962 (not the abysmal Robert De Niro remake). He plays another small town lawyer---this time one being stalked by a truly terrifying Robert Mitchum. (This makes the second time we have recommended a movie in which Mitchum is the heavy---the other being Night of the Hunter. One of our regular followers suggested a 'who's afraid of Robert Mitchum' post. After seeing this movie I'm sure you'll agree we ALL are).

Moby Dick---he is riveting as the maniacal, obsessed Captain Ahab. I once heard the book described as 600 pages of how to boil whale blubber, and after two failed attempts at reading it I just gave up. This movie will fair you much better.

On the Beach-based on Aussie writer Nevile Shute's story of the same name. In 1964 after atomic war has wiped out the northerrn hemisphere, all that remains of civilization is to be found in Australia. With the growing realization that their days are numbered as well, people struggle to carry on with a normal life. This is not your typical post apocalpytic movie.

Guns of Navarone--- the plot is so convincing that for years many believed that this movie was a retelling of an actual war time event. It is entirely fictitious and is an above average war/adventure movie.

The Big Country---Peck was no stranger to westerns, and this is a solid offering even though having a fairly well-worn 'fighting over water rights' plot. With Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, and Burl Ives.

Christopher Nolan

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With all the buzz around the new Leo DiCaprio movie, Inception, it got me thinking I must do a post on Christopher Nolan, who wrote and directed it. Catch it at the theatres or save yourself some money and wait for CPL to bring it in in a few months time. This is a really interesting movie which also features Marion Cotillard, whom Mel recently blogged about. Nolan already has a good track record and this latest effort will only enhance it, and deservedly so.

Along with his brother Jonathan, he co wrote the screenplay for The Dark Knight (the last Batman to be released). Now Batman has never been a superhero I like much- too full of angst for me. And I didn't really care for Dark Knight, although it was hugely popular and did garner Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor. But I did enjoy the earlier effort which was responsible for revitalizing the franchise- Batman Begins. Nolan is currently directing another as yet unnamed Batman project. Dark Knight is currently on order in Blue Ray.

Memento-from 2000 with Guy Pearce, Carrie Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano. This one is harder to pigeon hole into a genre, but if you like surreal, highly imaginative, non linear thrillers (and who doesn't), you'll really like this. Less abstruce and for me more watchable than The Matrix (another highly imaginative, surreal thriller with Moss and Pantoliano, although not a Chris Nolan project). Memento is intelligent and asks the viewer to pay very close attention---you might end up rewinding occassionaly through the viewing but stick with it---you'll enjoy the ride.

Another worth a look is Insomnia. Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, and starring 3 Oscar winners---Robin Williams, Hillary Swank, and Al Pacino. A little slow in spots, but overall a solid murder mystery/pyschological thriller. This is one of the few Pacino movies I actually don't find his acting completely over the top. Apparently he did suffer from insomnia during the filming in Alaska and it lends a real authenticity to his performance.

There is another movie of Nolan's that I absolutley love, but I am not going to give you that title just yet. I am working on another post which will feature it and I don't want to give it away. All you Chris Nolan fans out there will know to what I am referring. And for those of you who don't, it's something to look forward to! It is one of my all-time favourtie movies.

Spotlight on Marion Cotillard

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Open any celebrity gossip or fashion magazine, and you will see glamorous Marion Cotillard featured. Don't miss her in CPL's dvds.

She looked familiar to me and sure enough, I had seen her spectacular performance as Edith Piaf in Academy award winning movie La Vie en Rose (whose alternate title is La Mome or The Passionate life of Edith Piaf). Cotillard is perfect as France's best-loved chanteuse from her rise from the street as a child singer to her last days. She is so much like Piaf, you won't recognize her.

Equally comfortable in English-language films, she has starred more recently in Public Enemies which depicts bank robber Dillinger's last days and the rise of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. Johnny Depp stars, but the show stealer is Cotillard. She plays Dillinger's soulful girlfriend who, as in the song "Leader of the Pack" believes Dillinger (who never robs or shoots civilians in the film) is not bad; "he's just sad."

Cotillard also plays romantic co-star in A Good Year (2006). In a nutshell: Boy (Russell Crowe) is a stockbroker run amok. Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy tries to sell family vineyard. Provence + fine wine + misunderstandings + romance = a pretty good movie formula.

Most of Cotillard's earlier performances were in French film and tv, but she had a cameo role as Josephine, in Big Fish (2003), Tim Burton's somewhat surreal movie starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, and Helena Bonham Carter. A dying man recounts his life and his wooing of his wife through the proverbial "big fish tale" including giants, circus acts, witches, and incredible luck.

So far, so good. I think she's in for the long haul...

Christopher Guest

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Actor, director, writer, musician and composer, Guest is the full-meal deal. Best known for his "mocumentaries" which poke fun at everything from heavy metal music, to small town theater, to dog shows. In my opinion he has two of the funniest characters ever created to his credit---Corky St Clair and Nigel Tufnel---all the more hilarious because they take themselves so seriously. He draws from a regular cadre of gifted comedic performers including among others Eugene Levy, Catherine O' Hara, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Michael McKean and Jennifer Coolidge. He turns up in the most unexpected places and is remarkably chameleon-like in his own performances/appearances. For some seriously great laughs try any of the following:

This is Spinal Tap from 1984---the cult classic that introduces us to Nigel Tufnel.

A Mighty Wind---send up of the folk music of the 60's

Best In Show---this time he lampoons the pompous and bizarre world of dog shows

Waiting for Guffman---small town community theatre in his crosshairs. This features Corky St. Clair and the funniest 45 second dance you will ever see.

For Your Consideration---in this movie three actors learn their performances are generating award season 'buzz'. In a case of life imitating art, this movie generated a lot of buzz for Catherine O'Hara's performances as the actress generating buzz--- you get the picture.

He plays the evil and cunning Count Rugen in the perennial favourite The Princess Bride.

Who's Afraid of Gene Hackman?

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Gene Hackman's entire career is made of tough-as-nails types, but he does it so well, I can't stop watching. According to Internet Movie Database imdb.com, Hackman was a marine, which explains why he's convincing as the military figure or patriarch.

Hackman's also one of those actors who has been "in every movie ever made," I commented to blogger Moe recently, who found that he has been in over 99 productions... To see the starring roles he's allegedly turned down (the lead in Indiana Jones (!), for one), see imdb.com. Because he's "been in every movie ever made," I can't review them all here. Lean way back in your seat, grit your teeth and be prepared to watch these features from CPL's collection of Gene Hackman movies:

Hackman plays Little Bill in Unforgiven (see the Best Westerns post on this blog for a review). According to IMDB, he scared himself into avoiding violent films after this edgy role.

In another pairing with Clint Eastwood, Absolute Power, Hackman plays the president of the U.S., who is connected to a woman's murder. This movie is based on David Baldacci's novel, also in the collection.

In John Grisham's Runaway Jury, the tension is in the courtroom battle between a manufacturer and litigant. Hackman is the scary expert who attempts to discredit witnesses.

I haven't yet watched Twilight starring Hackman and Susan Sarandon as husband and wife, but I just get the feeling Hackman will be scary. The plot has Paul Newman's character investigating the mysterious disappearance of a woman's first husband. Guess who plays the sinister second husband? Don't confuse this with the teen vampire movie blockbuster of the same name.

Hackman is less scary as a conservative father meeting his future son-in-law's same-sex parents in the charming comedy The Birdcage (a remake of La Cage aux folles) starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Don't miss him in The Royal Tenenbaums as the misguided patriarch of a kooky family. A kinder, gentler Hackman in the end but he's still pretty grumpy...

To find many more Gene Hackman roles on dvd at CPL enter "Gene Hackman" in the search field. You will notice that he is now a novelist.

Dennis LeHane

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This is an author who really knows how to write a great story. Three of his books have been turned into excellent films and the first two have been nominated for a total of 9 Oscars. Watch for Shutter Island to get a lot of Oscar nods for next years event, including I hope, a nomination for Leo for best actor.And Lehane stories attract the big guns- Scorcese and Eastwood as directors and A list for actors.

You can also check out his books---they are great reads. Do an author search under Lehane Dennis to see everything else by him.

For another one of my favorite writers check out the earlier post on Paul Haggis.

Mystic River---2003---this was Sean Penn's first win for Best actor (his 2nd being Milk in 2008). Who would have thought the misfit character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High would become one of the best dramatic actors of the decade? The movie also scored a well-deserved best supporting statuette for Tim Robbins. Also features Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden.

Gone Baby Gone--- Ben Affleck directs younger brother Casey in this tale of two Boston area detectives investigating a little girl's kidnapping. Like Mystic River this one also deals with very dark subject matter and can be almost painfully real at times. Strong supporting performances are turned in from Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris (when do they not?). The decisions made at the end of the movie should provide lots of foder for discussion. What would you have done?

Start lining up now folks---we are getting Shutter Island and you do not want to miss this one! This features another excellent performance from Leo DiCaprio, who is fast turning into one of my 'never miss' performers (I think I will have to devote an entire post to him shortly). Martin Scorcese directs this and it is quite an achievment. Along with Leo it also includes Sir Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow (still able to command the screen at 81 years old), and Patricia Clarkson. If anybody tries to tell you anything about it before you watch it, beg them to keep quiet, or if they won't, walk away! You deserve to be astonished by the ending.

Before He was House

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Familiarize yourself with Hugh Laurie! You may know him from his role on tv as House, the cantankerous, misfit doctor who diagnoses rare disorders. This series is now available at CPL. Click here to place a hold on season one. Before he was House...

He was a comedian:

My personal favorite is the adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster series. Hugh plays the fool (Wooster) to his wise "gentleman's gentleman" (aka butler) Jeeves who gets his master out of all kinds of self-inflicted scrapes brought on by an excess of leisure-class free time. Jeeves is played by another great British Comedian,Stephen Fry. You will also enjoy Laurie's singing and piano in this series. He's and old fashioned, multi-talented actor and, if he dances (does anyone know?), a "triple threat."

Can't get enough of the Wodehouse duo? Check out A Bit of Fry and Laurie. If you reeally like him as a misfit, watch made for tv movie All or Nothing at all where he plays a con-man.

Fans of Blackadder will remember him in this popular historical comedy series starring Mr. Bean's Rowan Atkinson.

Before he was House, he was for kids!:

If you think Hugh's just for older folks, check out Stuart Little, where he plays the charming adopted father of a white mouse, along with Geena Davis. How about Discovering the Real world of Harry Potter with Hugh in the documentary of the same name?

He was in Costume Drama:

See him as Mr Palmer in Ang Lee's (1995) adaptation of Austen's Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant.

He was in Adventure: Flight of the Pheonix

Now that he's House, He's a writer, too!:

Check out his novel, The Gunseller

and, sadly, for some of you, he is also married.

Jeff "The Dude" Bridges

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Nothing like a nod from Oscar to catapult someone back into the public eye. After 40 some years in the biz, Bridges picked up a well deserved Best Actor Award for his performance in Crazy Heart. Big in the 80's and mid 90's, he has made a lot of movies over the years. Now he isn't the headlinder in all of these but you can depend on Bridges' performances to be consistently good. Here are some of my favorites.

The Big Lebowski---from the weird and wonderful Coen brothers, this movie is good on so many levels. A cult classic, it is also just plain fun, and is the role that garnered him his nickname "the dude".

Arlington Place---from 1998 with Tim Robbins and Joan Cuscak, a solid pyschological thriller, with conspiracy overtones.

Seabiscuit---based during the depression, this tells the story of the real life racing horse of the same name. Also features Tobey Maguire and Chris Cooper.

The Last Picture Show from 1971. If you have never seen this you owe it to yourself to have a look. Set in a small Texas town in the 50's it is a gritty coming of age story---at times almost unbearably real. Lots of familiar faces in this one, including a very young Cybil Shepherd.

Iron Man--- in a supporting role to the headliner Robert Downey Jr. This movie is a real departure from the usual super hero genre and very watchable.

Men Who Stare At Goats. This movie is currently on order, so get your holds on now. With Ewan McGregor and George Clooney, it is quite hard to pigeon hole this one into a genre---but I do know that I found it quirky and entertaining.

We have others---follow this link to more Bridges

Spotlight on Madeleine Sherwood

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I was lucky enough to go to the launch of the Victoria international film festival last weekend and attended a talk by actor Madeleine Sherwood. Born in Montreal, Sherwood escaped from a mental institution and moved to New York and studied under Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio with many Hollywood greats such as Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, and playwright Tennessee Williams. The studio encouraged actors to dig deep into their personal pasts to make their characters come to life. Sherwood was black-listed during the McCarthy era for her friendships with other actors and playwrights suspected of Communist leanings. She worked mainly on Broadway and is famous for her role in The Crucible. At CPL, you can see her as sister woman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and a smaller role in The Changeling. She appears also in Alfred Hitchcock presents in Season 6 Episode 37 "Make my Death Bed" (1961). Sherwood is the subject of a new documentary by Miriam Lawrence. It is an inspiring short film for actors and fans, so catch it if you can at a film festival.

Performance of the Year

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As I watched the Golden Globes last Sunday, I couldn't help but feel a little saddened when the nominations and winners for the best performance by an actress were read out. Sandra Bullock won the "Best Dramatic Performance" for her work in "The Blind Side" and Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child in "Julie & Julia" won her the "Best Comedic Performance" prize. Both performances were very strong, especially Streep giving yet another master class in mimicry. What saddened me was the fact that Tilda Swinton was not recognized for her work in "Julia".

I saw many movies last year, but I saw no performance from any actor that matched what Swinton did in "Julia". In this film Tilda shreds her image of an icy, confident, classy British dame. This is a fearless performance.

"Julia" is the story of an out-of-control alcoholic (Swinton) who is caught in a spiral of ever increasing bad decisions. Drunken decisions that lead from losing her job, to theft, to kidnapping, to extortion, to murder, to... well, you get the idea. At times this can be a difficult movie to watch, but Tilda Swinton makes for a fascinating study as she abandons herself to the wanton destruction of her character. Oscar nominations come out on Feb 2nd. I only hope that enough Academy voters get to see this film before that time and let Tilda Swinton have the nomination she deserves.

You can place a hold on "Julia" by following the link here.

Some of Tilda Swinton's other fine performances available at the CPL include:

1993 - Orlando {Based on the novel by Virginia Woolf}

2005 - The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

2007 - Michael Clayton {For which she won an Oscar for Best Support Actress}

2008 - Burn After Reading

2008 - The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Meryl Streep's Golden Globe winning performance in "Julie & Julia" can be found here.

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