SPARE PARTS

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon…

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2015: Oscar So Blue

“Women Hold Up Half the Sky,” but as Female Impact on Oscar Nominations falls ever lower, AMPAS–the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences–continues to mock us.

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Only one year in the 21st Century has had less Female Impact (2.5% in 2005), but even that all-time low was offset by the fact that Julie Delpy was one of the Best Adapted Screenplay nominees (for her work on Before Sunset.)

This year, for the first time in the 21st Century, no female directors were nominated (not a single one), and no female writers were nominated (not a single one).

The 4.65% Female Impact for 2015 is based on the fact that Rosamund Pike was nominated for her role in Gone Girl (but screenwriter Gillian Flynn was not nominated) and Selma was nominated for Best Picture (but director Ava DuVernay was not nominated). That is it…

We stubbornly hold onto our belief in meritocracy–surely Oscar is Gold–but every year it become more and more obvious that Oscar is Blue. I will have more to say on all this later, but right now, this fight has exhausted me.

READ THE DETAILED NUMBERS ON MY CHART & WEEP :-(

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LIFE INSIDE OUT

LauraAndShane2Review of Life Inside Out by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Co-writer Maggie Baird stars as a tired mom who rediscovers her songwriting passion while helping her sulky, teenage son find a voice of his own.

Like so many mothers, 46-year-old “Laura” (Maggie Baird) selflessly takes care of everyone else and their needs before her own. She is bogged down with mundane tasks of everyday life – from hosting her wacky sister’s scrapbooking parties and packing up her mother’s business to making dinner for her husband and (ungrateful) teenage sons. When she contemplates donating her old guitar, Laura’s long-forgotten love of music instantly rushes back to her. She heads to a local guitar shop to buy the essentials – new strings, a pick, sheet music – and immediately begins creating imperfect, inspired songs of her own.

Thinking she can write songs for a living, Laura signs up for available spots at Open-Mic Nights in downtown Los Angeles (far enough away to not be recognized) and brings her youngest, moody son Shane (Finneas O’Connell) to tag along. Unlike his gruff father and brothers, gangly 14-year-old Shane feels bullied at home and invisible at school. And like his mother, his only outlet is creative expression. The two bond over nights at the half-empty clubs and slowly, subtly gain newfound confidence.

The Jill D’Agnenica-directed film is sleepy with a clunky plot, but ultimately very sweet. Although portions of dialogue could have been eliminated (the same messages can come across without the characters having to blatantly say them) the screenplay was supremely realistic. Laura’s realism is found in the details: giving her sister “Lydia” (co-writer Lori Nasso) business without being thanked, taking her aging father to appointments, picking up her sons from school, and still managing to put dinner on the table (albeit burnt garlic bread) at the end of the day. Some of the supporting characters were a bit stereotypical, but Baird and O’Connell gave strong, central performances as mother and son.

The way Baird and Nasso write Shane’s character is not over-the-top, like so many films about angsty teenagers. Although he has typical drawings of scary figures in his notebook, (Hollywood’s requirement if there is a teenage outcast in a movie) there is just enough practicality to bring everything down to earth. Not only the writing, but also the set design of middle-class, suburban Los Angeles house makes everything seem more authentic. Although cramped and dim, the cluttered home seems warm and comfortably familiar to so many.

With pleasant folk music as an overarching theme (warning: it may lull you to sleep) the film is sincere and heartwarming. A quote from an early episode of The Wonder Years came to mind where Daniel Stern narrates, “When you’re a little kid, you’re a little bit of everything: Artist, Scientist, Athlete, Scholar. Sometimes it seems like growing up is a process of giving those things up, one by one. I guess we all have one thing we regret giving up; one thing we really miss – that we gave up because we were too lazy, or because we couldn’t stick it out, or because we were afraid.” Life Inside Out makes you care about a middle-aged mom who is bold enough to pull out her dusty, old guitar and give her forgotten passion one more try.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (1/14/15)

Top & Bottom Photo: Maggie Baird and Finneas O’Connell as mother/son duo “Laura” and “Shane”

Q: Does Life Inside Out pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes.

Co-writers Maggie Baird and Lori Nasso play sisters with a love-hate relationship. They discuss dreams, the decision to have kids, and what supporting someone is all about.

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FAREWELL HERR SCHWARZ

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon…

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IT’S ALL SO QUIET

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon…

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VESSEL

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon…

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WINTER SLEEP

Now playing in NYC Art Houses

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2014: Penny’s Top Picks

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Best Feature Film of 2014: Selma

Runner Up: Birdman

Best Director of 2014: Ava DuVernay (Selma)

Runner Up: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman)

Best Documentary of 2014: Gringo Trails

Runner Up: Life Itself

Best Foreign Language Film of 2014: Aftermath

Runner Up: Winter Sleep

Best Actress of 2014: Amy Adams (Big Eyes)

Runner up: Angelina Jolie (Maleficent)

Best Actor: Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Runner Up: David Oyelowo (Selma)

Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern (Wild)

Runner Up: Rene Russo (Nightcrawler)

Best Supporting Actor: Ed Norton (Birdman)

Runner Up: Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler)

TOP WOMEN DIRECTORS:FEATURES

Ana Lily Amirpour-Iran (A Girl Walks Home…)

Ava DuVernay-USA (Selma)

Eliza Hittman-USA (It Felt Like Love)

Jennifer Kent-Australia (The Babadook)

Talia Lavie-Israel (Zero Motivation)

TOP WOMEN DIRECTORS: DOCS

Rachel Boynton-USA (Big Men)

Rory Kennedy-USA (Last Days in Vietnam)

Freida Lee Mock-USA (Anita: Speaking Truth to Power)

Laura Poitras-USA (CitizenFour)

Pegi Vail-USA (Gringo Trails)

 

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BIG EYES

BIG EYES1958. You are living in a tract house in a northern California suburb. Your husband is at work. With a sudden burst of energy, you pack a few bags, hustle your daughter into the car, and drive as far and as fast as you can.

You are a painter with decades of training in your craft, but 1950s America has no interest in “lady artists.” So you supplement your meager factory income by doing portraits for pennies in the park every weekend.

And then a miracle occurs…

Another artist–hawking streets scenes of Paris nearby–comes over, takes a look, and likes what he sees. “You’re better than spare change,” he says. “You shouldn’t sell yourself so cheap. Lemme show you how it’s done.”

And thus begins the “sometimes truth is stranger than fiction” tale of Margaret and Walter Keane who, in less than five years, become two of the world’s most prominent—and highly paid—living painters.

At this point I will do my best not to discuss the plot because I want you to discover Big Eyes for yourself, the way I did the first time I saw it at a critics screening on November 25th. But you can trust me because I have now seen Big Eyes twice, plus I have read a mountain of relevant background materials since that first screening including Big Eyes and All: The Unofficial Biography of Margaret Keane by Jennifer Warren, Citizen Keane: The Big Lies behind the Big Eyes by Adam Parfrey & Cletus Nelson, and Keane: The Wonderful World of the Walter Keanes by Dick Nolan. I now have a copy of the Big Eyes screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (published with a “Making of” afterward and an interview called “Margaret Keane Looks Back” by Tyler Stallings), and Amazon even managed to deliver a rare copy of Tomorrow’s Masters (the two volume boxed set of full color prints Walter prepared for the 1964 World’s Fair).

There were a million ways to tell the story of Margaret and Walter Keane, so trust me when I tell you that the screenplay is restrained. Everything that Alexander and Karaszewski show happening really did happen, but they actually left out some of the over-the-top parts like comedian Jerry Lewis and his entire family (including pets!) posing for one of Margaret’s group portraits, Margaret and Walter presenting a portrait to Adlai Stevenson when he was the USA’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Joan Crawford personally presiding over the opening of a new Keane Gallery in Manhattan, and students from Stanford University’s art department releasing white lab rats in the middle of Margaret’s keynote speech. (“Citing the importance of painting as a medium for expression, artist Margaret Keane addressed the Associated Women Students yesterday…”)

What is actually on screen is a high wire act—strung between the twin poles of Comedy and Tragedy—performed by two incredible actors who are each at the top of their game.

As Margaret, Amy Adams transforms herself into a Silent Movie Queen. (“We didn’t need dialogue,” says Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. “We had faces!”) The real Margaret is a painter, and words are not her medium of expression. So Amy Adams must tell us everything Margaret is thinking and feeling while she continues to work feverishly on her canvases… and she does! This is far and away the greatest female performance to be seen anywhere this year—from art house to multiplex and everywhere in between—and I will be heartsick if Amy Adams is not a candidate for Best Actress when the Oscar nominations are announced on January 15th.

Christoph Waltz does an equally brilliant job as Walter—Walter who is always, always talking with a manic intensity that gradually morphs from genuine charm into alcoholic rage. But Waltz is so endearing—even in his blackest moments—that we can see into the heart of this complex character. We live through his experiences as they are happening and therefore we come to understand that Walter is not a monster but a man of taste and spirit who keeps swimming further and further away from the shore until suddenly the waves of his own success have grown so huge that he is ultimately overwhelmed.

Director Tim Burton has also kept tight focus on the Keane’s home base in San Francisco, minimizing time spent in all the other locales we know they traveled to (including multiple trips to Japan as well as all around Europe). Although a couple of necessary scenes are set in Hawaii, even the famous trip to New York for the opening of the 1964 World’s Fair is reduced to a fancy reception room that could be anywhere.

This allows Burton and his expert team of designers (especially production designer Rick Heinrichs who won an Oscar for Burton’s Sleepy Hollow in 1999, and costume designer Colleen Atwood who won an Oscar for Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 2010) to recreate The Beat of San Francisco’s magnetic North Beach. Superlative work is also done by multiple Oscar-nominees Bruno Delbonnel (the cinematographer who worked with Burton on Dark Shadows in 2012), and Danny Elfman (the composer who has written wonderful scores for many Burton films beginning with Bettlejuice in 1988).

The plot is filled in through five perfectly cast supporting performances by Delaney Raye and Madeleine Arthur (playing Margaret’s daughter Jane first as a child and then as a teen), as well as Krysten Ritter (as Margaret’s North Beach buddy DeeAnn), Jon Polito (as hungry I owner Enrico Banducci) and Danny Huston (as San Francisco Examiner columnist Dick Nolan). Two wonderful cameos by Jason Schwartzman as the owner of a high end North Beach gallery and Terence Stamp as New York Times art critic John Canaday reveal the gatekeepers to be exactly who they were—and primarily still are—self-important men who delight in throwing their weight around.

I am sure that Margaret Keane never thought of herself as a “Feminist,” and even today, at the age of 87, she still might reject that label. But the more you know about the early 1960s—about Betty Friedan and “The Problem That Has No Name,” Audrey Hepburn as the gamine Holly Golightly, etc, etc, etc—the more you will see in Big Eyes, and the more you will understand about how the choices some women made in the 1960s provided the foundation for who we are today.

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Top Photo: Amy Adams glows as painter Margaret Keane.

Bottom Photo: Christoph Waltz as Walter wants Margaret’s friend DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter) to believe that he is the creator of the Big Eyes “waifs.”

Photo Credits: Leah Gallo/The Weinstein Company

Question: Does Big Eyes pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes!!!

Margaret’s interactions with her daughter Jane and her BFF DeeAnn are critical to the success of Big Eyes!

 

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BIG EYES: The Pushback

RealArtistFBIt started in the NYWIFT Q&A I attended on December 14th…

One of the members of the audience stood up and told screenwriters Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski that they had been unfair to Walter: “You did hours of interviews with Margaret, but you didn’t have an opportunity to interview Walter. Don’t you think you have been unfair to him by not including his point of view?”

I should have expected it, but I was dumbfounded. Alexander & Karaszewski clearly show in Big Eyes that Walter’s POV was heavily documented–in the press, in books, on television, and in the courtroom. There was never any doubt–nor could there we any doubt–about what Walter thought. Walter said his say to anyone who would listen!

Big Eyes is Margaret Keane’s story-a story far less-documented and much less known. Take me for example. I am someone who has made a career of my commitment to women artists for well over a decade now, and I knew nothing about Margaret Keane before I saw Big Eyes. Why are so few people in our culture interested in women’s stories? Why do we typically demand a “He Said/She Said” face-off whenever a woman tries to tell her story?

Yes, of course, the person who asked this question in the NYWIFT Q&A was a man. And now I am prepared, so now I expect the hear even more demands for “Walter’s POV”as Big Eyes begins its nationwide roll-out :-(

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