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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.

Kenneth Branagh

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Actually, this post began it's life as something else entirely--- it was going to be an accidential film festival, linking several actors across a variety of movies. But when I got going on Kenneth Branagh I realized he needed an entire post to himself. I have always been a big fan---after all, what's not to like? The man is versatile in the extreme, managing everything from Shakespeare to Harry Potter, hero to villian---convincing as any nationality, dashing in period pieces and showing a deft hand at light comedy. He can also swashbuckle with the best of them! Let's take a look at what CPL can offer established or soon-to-be Branagh fans.

In the made for television movie Conspiracy from 2001, I simply could not tear my eyes away from his performance -- he commands attention every moment he is on screen. He is terrifyingly evil, not because he is frenzied but because he is controlling and relentless. Here is an actor at the top of his craft. The movie is the historic retelling of the infamous 1942 Wannsee Conference, where in just under three hours the Nazi's worked out the 'legal' justification for the annihilation of Europe's Jews.

Equally comfortable behind the camera, he has donned the director's cap many times---as in the first film I ever saw him in. It is 1991's Dead Again with then wife Emma Thompson and Sir Derek Jacobi. Actually all three actors rank high on the versatility meter. Branagh credits Jacobi as the reason he wanted to get into acting in the first place and the two have appeared several times together (see Mel's earlier post "Are you a Derek Jacob-ian"). This is a very smart 'whodunit' with a lot of Hitchcock overtones.

Valkyrie--- from 2008, Branagh is one of many highly recognizable stars in this true story of the attempt by several high ranking Nazi's to assasinate Hitler. Tom Cruise is actually the headliner in this and while he can often be over the top in some of his roles, he gives a very tightly controlled performance here. Branagh is as always, excellent. Rounding out the cast is Bill Nighy (even if you don't recognize the name, you will know him when you see him---lately he seems to be in everything); and Tom Wilkinson---another face you will easily recognize.

Shackleton- 2002 A&E mini-series. The true story of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his 1914 expedition to the South Pole. Their aptly named ship,The Endurance, became stuck in pack ice and after 8 months was finally crushed. Shackleton took to the ice and led the 28 men crew across the Antarctic in what is one of the most amazing true tales of survival ever. This production is excellent, and the mini series was nominated for many awards and won a BAFTA for Best Drama Serial.

He is wonderful as the vacuous and vain Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Based on the very popular mysteries by best selling Swedish author Henning Mankell, we have a 3 episode set featuring Branagh as Detective Kurt Wallander.

Try any of the Shakespeare productions he adapts, directs and appears in, including: Loves Labours Lost; Othello; As You like It; Hamlet; Much Ado About Nothing;Twelfth Night. Half the fun of these offerings is seeing Branagh direct what would be considered unusual choices for Shakesperean roles- Keeanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Denzel Washington anyone? This is very accessible Shakespeare.

He has a small role in Rabbit Proof Fence, a movie I previously recommended under Guaranteed Embarrassement Free 5. Find it by going to tags on the left side of the page and looking up 'family oriented'.

Are you a Derek Jacobi-an?

by Melanie Kolbeins - 0 Comment(s)

British actor Derek Jacobi is best known for his Shakespearean stage work, but he's been in many other movies, series, and tv programs. CPL has many of his best roles on dvd.

Take a look at I, Claudius Never mind the newer Rome tv series (okay, watch it--it's good)... Go back to this classic "classic" set in Rome of 37-68 AD (based on Robert Graves' novel). The production values of this BBC series are very low. Remember the '80s, when we decided to tape in glorious video? Don't let that deter you, Jacobi is wonderful as the "idiot" Claudius and John Hurt as Caligula is truly creepy. Star Trek fans look out for Patrick Stewart. It's a good winter viewing, 13 50-minute episodes, but well worth the time spent.

The Cadfael series

  1. Beloved mystery writer Ellis Peters' (Edith Pargeter's) medieval monk Cadfael plays a forensic investigor looking into murders from within and without monastery walls. Best in the series are The Pilgrim of Hate, the final episode. Try to watch them in sequence because there is a continuous narrative thread in the tv series. Look them up by episode. title lists the order of the series as follows: One Corpse Too Many, The Sanctuary Sparrow, The Leper of St Giles, Monk's Hood, The Virgin in the Ice, The Devil's Novice, A Morbid Taste for Bones, The Rose Rent, St. Peter's Fair, The Raven in the Foregate, The Holy Thief, The Potter's Field, and The Pilgrim of Hate.

    The Riddle

    Jacobi is unexpected as what seems at first the bit part of a homeless man in this mystery set Thames-side. A pub owner finds a Charles Dickens manuscript of a short story entitled The Riddle, which is played out as the story within the story. It's a great premise for a show and Jacobi is the strongest actor.

    Jacobi also appears in Dickens' Old Curiosity Shoppe.

    Love Victoriana? Try the series based on Anthony Trollope's The Pallisers or The Wyvern mysteries, in which Jacobi plays an odious lord whose intentions for his adopted neice turn out to be less than philanthropic. The story has romance and the obligatory "don't go into that room even if you hear weird noises coming from it."

    Even if you're not in high school English anymore, you can still check out our stage productions of Shakespeare on dvd. Try Derek Jacobi in Richard II or Hamlet. You can't go wrong with Shakespeare. This is a good resource for students who have difficulty reading the plays. Shakespeare wrote in Modern English not "Old English" as many assume. It's just Elizabethan, not contemporary modern English, and stage productions really bring the characters to life.

Marvelous Meryl

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Speaking Polish and German, mastering a dozen different accents, learning to play the violin by practicing 6 hours a day, rowing through white water, gaining and loosing weight seemingly at will---there seems to be very little that Streep can't do. At age 12 she studied to become an opera singer and she can be heard singing in several of her performances---Postcards from the Edge, Mamma Mia, A Prairie Home Companion. She became interested in acting while a student at Vassar and upon graduation she enrolled in the Yale School of Drama. She gave a breakout performance in her first outing in 1977's Julia and the next year was nominated for her first Oscar in The Deer Hunter (1978). She went on to win the Academy Award for her performances in Kramer vs Kramer (1979) and Sophies Choice (1982). She is one of only 6 women to ever receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the AFI. She has been nominated for Academy Awards more than anyone else in the history of the Oscars---15 times; 12 for best actress and 3 times for best supporting. She is the actor with the most Golden Globe nominations of all time with a total of 23 nominations. She has only been turned down for four roles: in American Gigolo (1980), Sweet Dreams (1985), The Remains of the day (1993), and Elizabeth I (1998). There are far too many other awards, nominations and honours to mention here and her list of film credits would take pages. If you wish to find out everything Meryl follow this link to the highly informative IMDB site.

Meryl is very well represented at CPL. To see everything we have of her's do a keyword search of Meryl Streep Dvd from our homepage, which will bring up an impressive 33 titles (incidentially this search technique will work for any other actor). To help you narrow Meryl down, the following are my own personal favorites, although in my opinion she doesn't get many wrong.

Postcards From the Edge; Silkwood; Sophie's Choice; Cry in the Dark; Deer Hunter; Out of Africa; River Wild; Doubt; Defending your Life; Manchurian Candidate; We are also in the process of acquiring her latest, Julie and Julia.

Spotlight on Toni Collette

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Japanese Story finds Toni Collette playing an Australian mining company employee. When asked to give a Japanese investor a tour of the mines, she grudgingly drives Gutaro Tsunashima to the blistering outback where the two are forced to confront each other as human beings. Just when the film appears to be taking a conventional turn, there's a twist. If you are looking for moving and insightful, this is it.

It seems that Collette chooses or is chosen for roles that explore human motivations and values. Other great Toni Collette movies at CPL:

The Night Listener: A blind caregiver played by Collette protects a young abuse survivor who has contacted a radio personality (Robin Williams). Spooky...

Little Miss Sunshine: Fun look at a wacky intergenerational family dragged on a road trip by their young would-be beauty pageant contestant.

Muriel's Wedding: Woman obsessed with being a bride--Humorous and disturbing.

The Hours: With Nicole Kidman. Based on Virginia Woolf's novel, The Hours follows different women's life struggles during different time periods.

We also have: In her Shoes and Towelhead

Michael Caine-Jude Law Triple Bill

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It wasn't really my intention to turn this blog into the Michael Caine show--we've reviewed many of his films--- but his cinematic entanglements with Jude Law really are worth viewing.

Try 1966 classic Alfie in which Michael Caine plays what used to be referred to as a playboy who breaks hearts right and left around swinging London. His inability to commit to anything catches up to him, with heartbreaking results. Caine's monologues and asides make the movie.

It turns out that Jude Law is a dead ringer for a young Michael Caine, see the 2004 remake of Alfie if you don't believe me.

Second, watch the chilling yet humorously absurd adaptation of Anthony Shaffer's play, Sleuth, with Jude Law as the young lover confronting the wealthy husband played by Caine, at his country estate. Cat and mouse game ensues. This dvd is a great choice for theatre lovers. Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay, and Kenneth Branagh directed. In the original 1972 film (not yet at CPL) Caine plays the young lover with Laurence Olivier in the cuckold's role.

If you can't forgive real life Jude Law for alleged Alfie-like behaviour, check out Factory Girl with Sienna Miller playing Warhol circle socialite Edie Sedgewick.

A look at Paul Haggis

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Paul Haggis is a filmmaker/screen writer who burst into the public eye in 2005 when he won back-to-back Oscars for two movies he scripted. Although he seemed an overnight success with these two wins, in fact Haggis has been writing successfully for years, although just not on this grand a scale.

Million Dollar Baby(2004) directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank, was the first win and deservedly so. It follows three down-on-their-luck individuals who risk everything for a chance to change their lives. Freeman and Swank both picked up Oscars for their performances.

He followed this up in 2005 with Crash which he directed himself. Crash won an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. The film also received an additional four nominations including one for Haggis' direction. This has a huge ensemble cast and follows the interconnectivity of seemingly random events in a 24 hour period in Los Angeles. Gritty and dark but very compelling.

In 2006, Haggis' screenplay collaborations included two Clint Eastwood productions-Flags of our Fathers(which tells the story of the 6 men who raised the flag in the iconic picture) and Letters from Iwo Jima (which is told from the perspective of the Japanese). The latter earned him his third screenplay Oscar nomination. He also helped pen Casino Royale, which garnered considerable acclaim for reinvigorating the James Bond franchise and then went on to co-write the screenplay for Bond's next outing in Quantum of Solace.

Haggis' directorial follow-up to Crash wasIn the Valley of Elahwhich he wrote, directed, and produced. The film, which stars Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon, tells the story of a father's search to uncover the truth behind his son's disappearance following his return from a tour of duty in Iraq. Jones earned a Best Actor nod for his performance in the film.

He currently has four more fims in development and given his track record they should be good---the man knows how to tell a story.

Conrad Veidt

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Who in the world you ask, is Conrad Veidt? As I was watching Casablancaon TCM for maybe the 40th time, I was reminded of the interesting story of Veidt, who plays the ruthless Major Strasser in the movie. If you don't already know his story this makes a fun bit of trivia to add to your repertoire. Incidentially, although not the star, he was the highest paid cast member, beating out Bogey, Bergman and Claude Rains, to take home the not inconsiderable salary of $5000 per week.

From 1916 until his death, he appeared in well over 100 movies. He starred in two of the most well-known films of the silent era: as a murderous somnambulist in director Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and as a disfigured circus performer in The Man Who Laughs (1928). Very versatile in the silent movies, when talkies came out he became limited in his roles because of his German accent. Well known and popular at home, he was also known in German theatrical circles as a staunch anti-Nazi. So much so that as his activities came under the scrutiny of the Gestapo, a decision was made by Hitler to assassinate him (1933). Veidt found out about the plot and managed to escape Germany just ahead of the Nazi death squad sent to kill him. When Britain went to war, Veidt by then a British citizen, gave most of his estate to the war effort. He also donated a large portion of the salary from each of his new movies to the British war relief. Money he made portraying Nazi's !

He is wonderful as Strasser and Casablanca should be seen by everyone, if not 40 times, at least once.

Nicolas Cage Reconsidered

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Nicolas Cage has figured in my movie viewing life now and again, as I'm sure he has in yours. Some believe he has "gone Hollywood." I prefer his earlier, mostly comic roles, but some of his more recent films are also appealing. Check out these:

Next (2007)

Based on a Philip K. D*ck story, Cage is a Vegas magician whose act conceals his real psychic ability. I enjoyed watching Julianne Moore play a hard-nosed government agent who is determined to tap his powers to save California from a nuclear explosion. This is a fun action movie in spite of the improbable love story with Jessica Alba.

Adaptation (2002) Best Nicolas Cage Movie Ever!

This is Spike Jonze's interpretation of 's book The Orchid Thief, which was a bestseller a few years before the movie. Cage plays real-life director Charlie Kauffman (thanks Mat for pointing this out!--see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Best Jim Carrey movie ever...Watch it, even if you are not a Carrey fan). Cage also plays Kauffman's twin brother whose spontaneous success torments Charlie as he struggles to write a script. Meryl Streep plays a fictional book researcher who becomes entangled with her subject and provides Kauffman with the answer to his writer's block. Zany, action packed and cerebral: who could ask for more?

Matchstick Men (2003)

Cage plays a con artist suddenly saddled with a teenager interfering with his work. Surprisingly good.

Raising Arizona (1987)

This is one of the best of Cage's earlier movies. Cage's hapless character agrees to steal a baby from a wealthy couple for his unsatisfied wife played by Holly Hunt. Hilarious dialogue and characters make this a standout comedy.


Beloved of the people, this romantic comedy features Cage alongside Cher.

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Cage plays a small role as Kathleen Turner's less-than-ideal husband. Peggy Sue goes back in time to her 1950s teen years to correct her life circumstances with the benefit of her adult experience. Will she spurn (Cage) in favor of a seemingly better man? This might be a family favorite.

I can leave Cage's other films, but that doesn't mean you have to...We have many of his others such as Disney's National Treasure and National Treasure 2: book of Secrets, critically acclaimed Leaving Las Vegas, Guarding Tess, and Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

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