David Gately

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Ahoy Jane: Fonda’s Filmography Revisited

In David Gately on August 28, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Fonda in Cannes, May 2011

Two new books drop this month about Jane Fonda. One is Fonda’s umpteenth fitness-wellness book (Prime Time). The other is a biography by Patricia Bosworth (Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Figure). Janet Maslin reviews both books in the August 18 New York Times.

Fonda in print begets revisiting the illustrious film career of Actor Jane.

Fonda, who will be 74 in December, straddles the international mega movie-star stratosphere. But you may be hard pressed to séance her filmography. Quick: bet you can’t name three decent movies she headlined. Barbarella doesn’t count.

That’s because a Fonda retrospect today can easily become mired in the non-celluloid incarnations. There’s Workout Video Jane (gazillions sold). Dutiful Wife Jane (thrice divorced). And Hanoi Jane, who in July 1972, in the waning days for the Vietnam War, incurred the enmity of untold thousands of Vietnam vets – seemingly from there to eternity – when she was photographed, among other heavily criticized Kodak moments, applauding North Vietnamese anti-aircraft runners.

How have the many-sided Citizen Janes affected Fonda’s career?

The 24 exercise videos (yes, that’s 24: from 1982 – 2010) earn Fonda, for lack of a better term, Barbarillions. Angst from the marriages surely inform her cinematic roles (maybe) – with the obvious exception for Monster-In-Law (2005) with J. Lo. And the anti-war PR fiasco? Just ask Sen. John Kerry how similar exploits worked out for him. Vietnam was certainly an unfortunate moment for Future Jane.

Snides aside, Actor Jane has few septuagenarian movie-industry equals. During her silver-screen zenith (1962 to 1986), Fonda garnered dozens of acting nominations, winning Oscars for my two favorite Fonda movies: Klute (1971) and Coming Home (1978).

If you’re searching for a third respectable Fonda film you can pick from Cat Ballou (1965), Barefoot in the Park (1967), They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), The China Syndrome (1979), and Agnes of God (1985).

You get extra credit for Any Wednesday (1966), A Doll’s House (1973), Julia (1977) and The Electric Horseman (1979) – even Nine to Five (1980). But you lose a pont if you choose Ahoy Jane in On Golden Pond (1981). That one was painful.

Watching Daughter Jane in a boat in the middle of Squam Lake in New Hampshire “improvise” her true-world strained relationship with that cold, cranky and crinkled Father Fonda, nee Henry, was downright uncomfortable, like watching Monster-In-Law. With J. Lo.

The late, great Walter Matthau presents Jane Fonda with the 1972 Oscar for Klute.

The Mad, Mad World of an Iraqi Prince

In Movies, The Devil's Double on August 9, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Ludivine Sagnier and Dominic Cooper in The Devil's Double

The Devil’s Double is a film about the unrepentant gonzo world of Uday Hussein, son of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Somewhere in the middle of the movie, Uday storms onto the screen, once again, in an incoherent rant. Drug-addled, once again, he’s wearing aviator glasses beneath a pith helmet, a Hawaiian shirt atop short-shorts and white tennis sneaks and socks pulled halfway up his calves, à la Hunter S. Thompson. A surer exposé of Fear and Loathing in Baghdad could not have been better rendered.

Like Thompson, Uday Hussein worshiped alcohol, cocaine and firearms. Unlike Thompson, Uday bowed to God. But what he coveted way more than God was the four-letter derogatory term for vagina, which, if we weren’t already convinced, he reassures us when he screams the word five times, a celluloid first, I believe. For Uday, ___ is a power great than Allah and, ultimately – aside from Courvoisier, blow and gold-laminated pistols – his undoing.

The Devil’s Double is a cautious tale of the ruinous virtues of power, greed and crazy in the Iraqi desert. With sly tribute, but much respect, to my film-critic idol, the venerable Mr. Roger Ebert, the film packs a powerful, one-two movie-clichéd punch: it’s my 2011 must-see film recommendation. Be forewarned, however, The Devil’s Double is no Midnight in Paris. It’s “relentlessly violent and lurid,” said the Los Angeles Times. But it’s a deliciously sinful visage, nonetheless.

Thirty-three year old British actor Dominic Cooper plays Uday. Seen before in An Education (2009), Mama Mia (2008) and The History Boys (2006), Cooper gives an extraordinary, award-winning dual performance portraying Uday and Latif Yahia, Uday’s body double cum political decoy. His big brown, sleepy doe eyes convincingly channel Uday’s inebriated world. He lassoes everyone in sight, including a copious chattel of young and not-so-young, willing and not-so-willing concubines, into his toxic, psychotic web.

Cooper’s chilled, self-assured interpretation, tweaked by a languid body lingo, commands every millisecond he’s on screen; which, ends up, the entire movie. His Uday is a male Sharon Stone, a touch screen siren, super sexy, con cigarettes, sans panty-less short skirts and FM pumps.

Devil’s Double is a loosely based, no apologies fabulist’s revision of Latif’s story of his years of servitude – forced, among other mind-boggling cruel demands, to have plastic surgery and wear a malocclusion dental plate – to look and act as Saddam’s wicked son Uday. (In 2003, at the age of 39, Uday was assassinated when the U.S.military bombed his Baghdad residence.)

The movie’s direction and cinematography are equally stellar. New Zealand director, Lee Tamahori, who directed the 2002 Bond movie Die Another Day, (remember that bad Madonna theme song?), infuses tight, zippy control over the early 1990s disco-ball heady, bloody-thirsty storyline. It’s a slight bang-up ode to pulp auteur Quentin Tarratino. Filmed in Malta, with lush, sensual sepia photography, production designer Phil Kirby’s set renders people and places in a soft dream-like haze.

The supporting cast is strong, primarily the performances of Australian Phillip Quest as Saddam Hussein and French actress Ludivine Sagnier as Uday’s main whore de juer Sarrab. Quest, frighteningly, is a spitting image of Hussein. And the very attractive Sagnier, who was enthralling as a young summer ingenue in François Ozon’s 2003 thriller Swimming Pool, is now solid supporting-actress material.

Some film society needs to nominate Cooper for his turn in The Devil’s Double. The Huffington Post’s Jonathan Kim called Cooper’s work “an astonishing performance.” (Sadly, by time nominations roll around in January, his performance will be all but overlooked.)

Rockstar Weekly awarded the film a positive review, saying “Hats off to director Lee Tamahori for taking a controversial topic and turning it into a masterful film.”

Work of Art: Tony Bennett at 85

In Anthony Benedetto, David Gately, Tony Bennett on August 3, 2011 at 7:05 am
Bennedetto still life

Tony Bennett once said, “To work is to feel alive.” He should know. He turns 85 today and is working harder than ever.

A few years back, the octogenarian told CNN.com that he performs up to 200 shows a year. And that’s just Tony Bennett: singer extraordinaire of American popular music, show tunes and jazz. There’s also Anthony Benedetto: artist.

Most famous for standards like “Because of You,” “Fly Me to the Moon” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco, Bennett uses his given name for his moonlighting career as a painter. He says he began drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk outside his home in Queens, New York, at the tender age of five.

Over the past 60 years, as his singing career pitched high and low, Bennett’s oil paintings, watercolors and lithographs of skyscapes, portraits and still lifes have blossomed. Today, while defying physical odds and outrunning his contemporaries by becoming king of the crooning game, he’s stealthfully composed a respectable painting attaché and patronage, exhibited in galleries around the world and published several books of his art work.

For the fifteen-time Grammy winner, two-time Emmy winner and Kennedy Center Honoree, the legacy has not been sketched with perfect altos and frescos, however, more like one of his other early hits “Rags to Riches.”

A first-generation Italian-American, Bennett grew up poor. His mother was a seamstress, his father, a grocer, became ill and stop working and his brother died, all before he was 10. Drafted by the Army in 1944 he saw battle in WWII Europe. His vocal acuity was discovered when he returned stateside and joined the American Theatre Wing on the G.I. Bill.

Signing with Columbia Records in 1950, he cranked out other hits like “Cold, Cold Heart” and “Blue Velvet,” then, by the early 1960s, turned successfully to up-tempo jazz ditties with bold brassy undertones. When the Beatles invaded and young audiences tune on and out, Bennett, like Sinatra and so many other signature post-WWII big-band voices, became a has-been.

In 1972 he departed Columbia for MGM, but with little success. By the late 1970s he was professionally and personally bankrupt. Addiction, including a never-fatal cocaine overdose in 1979, brought him to his knees. When he sought help, his oldest son, Danny, was among the many who shrewdly advised him to bring back the standards for the Pepsi generation.

By the mid-1980s Bennett was crooning “Fly Me to the Moon” again to newly devoted twenty-year-olds on The Simpons, The Muppets and MTV. In the 1990s he released commercially and critically successful twists of his and other standards and duet albums with the hip and alternative Elvis Costello and k.d. Lang.

[On Aug 3, Bennett’s 85th birthday, he confirmed that on September 20, he will release “Body and Soul,” a duet he recorded with the late Amy Winehouse. The song appears on his forthcoming album Tony Bennett: Duets II. Bennett says it’s a charity single, with proceeds going to the foundation Winehouse’s father recently established to combat drug use among teens. Click here to hear Tony Bennett talk about recording with Amy Winehouse.]

All the while Bennett said he “continued painting everyday.” Today he has three originals in The Smithsonian Institute, including his portrait of Duke Ellington, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has exhibited his paintings and many, which sell as high as $800,000, hang in the homes of celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Whoopi Goldberg.

Bennett says he has no intention of retiring. “If you study the masters — Picasso, Jack Benny, Fred Astaire — right up to the day they died, they were performing. If you are creative,” he said, “you get busier as you get older.”

So Happy 85th Mr. Benedetto. And many more.