Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The People have spoken!

This years Toronto Film Festival has come to the end (September 10-19) and director Lee Daniels’ Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire has taken top honors, becoming the first film in history to win audience awards at both Toronto and Sundance. However, even before winning these prestigious awards, this film had a leg up as Oprah Winfrey is one of its Executive Producers. When Oprah speaks, people listen!
Precious is an overweight, illiterate teen, living in Harlem and is pregnant with her second child. Feeling invisible and rejected, she is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction. Precious is set to be released in November of this year.

The runner-up for the audience award went to Australian director Bruce Beresford’s Mao’s Last Dancer. This film is based on the autobiography by Li Cunxin. At the age of 11, Li was taken from a poor to Beijing to study ballet. In 1979, during a cultural exchange to Texas, he fell in love with an American woman. Two years later, he managed to defect and went on to perform as a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet and as a principal artist with the Australian Ballet. Although I assume this film will get North American distribution, so far distribution has not been announced.

Other winners at TIFF this year included:

Leanne Pooley’s The Topp Twins - which follows New Zealand’s lesbian twin sister country and western singers, won in the documentary category, taking honors over a much more high-profile runner-up, Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story. The Topp Twins does not currently have North American distribution.

Sean Byrne’s prom-set horror film The Loved Ones won the people’s choice award for Midnight Madness, the midnight screening series at the festival. A gore-filled shocker that goes for laughs by paying homage to the outlandish low-budget films of the '70s and '80s, blending together Misery, Saw, Prom Night, The Evil Dead and Carrie.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Meryl Mia!

A few weeks ago, I went to see the film Julie and Julia. I am sure many of you have seen it by now so you know that it is funny and delightful. I must admit that I wanted more Julia than Julie; Amy Adams did a fine acting job as Julie but oh that Meryl Streep! This film reminded me what a national treasure she truly is! Meryl is known for embodying her characters and she seemed to be channeling the late, great Julia Child for this one.
If you haven’t seen Julie and Julia, do! If you need more Meryl, here are some titles that are available in the HBPL Media Center:

Sophie’s Choice (DVD)
Meryl Streep received a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Sophie Zawistowska in this heartbreaking film. Set in 1947, post World War II, Holocaust survivor Sophie is living with Nathan (Kevin Kline) in Brooklyn. Stingo (Peter MacNicol), a young writer from the American South, becomes their neighbor and friend. Hidden truths eventually come out and the nature of Sophie’s choice is revealed. This is proof positive that Meryl Streep is one of the finest actors of our age.

Out of Africa (DVD)
In Sophie’s Choice, Meryl’s Polish accent was very convincing. She continues as the “queen of accents” in her portrayal of the Danish writer, Karen Blixen (pen name Isak Dinesen). Based on Blixen’s memoir, this film is set in Kenya and follows the time she spent there on a coffee plantation. For many women, the most remembered scene is when Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford) washes Blixen’s hair. For others, the incredible scenery steals the show.

Kramer vs. Kramer (VHS)
Meryl has been nominated for Oscars fifteen times, twelve times for Best Actress and three times for Best Supporting Actress. She has won twice; first for Sophie’s Choice (Best Actress) and secondly for Kramer vs. Kramer (Supporting Actress). Joanna Kramer (Streep) walks out on her workaholic husband Ted (Dustin Hoffman), leaving both husband and young son, Billy. Later, Joanna returns and wants Billy back. Ted however refuses to give him up, so they go to court to fight for the custody of their son.

Silkwood (VHS)
This film is based on the true story of Karen Silkwood (Streep), the Oklahoma nuclear-plant worker who blew the whistle on dangerous practices at the Kerr-McGee plant and who died under circumstances which are still under debate. She was on her way to deliver some documents to a New York Times reporter when her car left the road. The documents were never found. Meryl Streep is very convincing as a blue collar, working class woman. We would expect no less!

The Devil Wears Prada (DVD)
From working class to upper-class! Meryl can play it all! She convincingly terrorizes her assistants as powerful and demanding fashion magazine editor, Miranda Priestly of Runway Magazine. (The character was inspired by the editor of U.S. Vogue, Anna Wintour.) The film follows Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), a recent college graduate who goes to New York City and gets a job as a co-assistant to Miranda. She learns to do the impossible and although succeeds in the high energy fashion world, she finds the moral dilemmas attached not quite what she had expected.

Mamma Mia! (DVD)
20-year-old Sophie lives with her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) on the small Greek island, Kalokairi, where Donna runs a hotel. Sophie is planning to marry and wants her father to be present to "give her away," but doesn’t know who he is. After reading Donna's diary from 20 years ago, she concludes he is one of three men. Fun, dancing and music pursue! Many don’t know that before Meryl Streep decided on the acting profession, she was studying to be an opera singer. She shows her singing “chops” in this film and had me smiling and humming all the way home from the theater.