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Meryl Streep: Oscar’s Leading Lady

19 Jan

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What can be said about the mighty Meryl that hasn’t already been covered hundreds of times in her storied career? She’s simply the most acclaimed actress of her, or any, time in history. And she seems to be getting better with every passing year. Ah, here’s something — her roles get more limited as she (and we) get inevitably older in a youth-obsessed media universe. But first, I’d like to remind everyone just how beautiful Ms. Streep is with a few photographs of the screen goddess taken through the celluloid ages:

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This was Meryl in the first movie I ever saw her in: Sophie’s Choice. The film is dated now, but she isn’t. She’s so beautiful in this portrayal of a woman haunted by the Nazis in World War II. Worth another viewing if you haven’t seen it in awhile.

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This photo is circa Kramer Vs. Kramer. Meryl is an absolute knockout in the role and her beauty is so radiant it puts all future supermodels to shame. To be that talented and that beautiful was and is truly something to behold and celebrate. Oscar here we come…

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Around the same era but in color. One of my favorite Meryl Streep movies is SILKWOOD. Meryl is so vulnerable in this role and absolutely riveting as a young, free-spirited woman who takes on a nuclear energy plant and pays the price. The b-story of her home life with Cher and Kurt Russell is equally compelling and easily their best work opposite arguably the best American actress ever. Just goes to show that Meryl on a movie will invariably up everyone else’s acting chops to a new level while they’re in her orbit.

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Two more of my favorites. Between the smoldering sensuality and those eyes piercing through to your soul…

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But I have to say I love Meryl in black & white. There’s something so timeless about her beauty that she lends herself to the glamor shot in such an open, unassuming and understated way that all you see is beauty and brains unlike any other actress of her time. This is another one of my favorites of the multi-Oscar winning actress. And no matter how old she gets and how insipid the movie roles become – I’m just happy to see Meryl up on the screen where she belongs – in front of the camera that loves her along with the audience.

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Just beautiful.

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Capitol Spies: Agent Cynthia

12 Jan

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Every Memorial Day is meant to honor the men and women who fought on behalf of our country, many of which paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. But what about the men and women who are part of our intelligence community who are never publicly honored or even known about? Lost to history are the exploits of individuals whose participation was so top-secret that their assignments are classified to this day. The following story is about Agent Cynthia, who was recruited by the pre-CIA, or Office of Strategic Services, the first American Intelligence Agency  FDR created during World War II. Smart, sexy and in a position to save hundreds of thousands of lives through her espionage work, Amy Thorpe Pack was the most successful female spy of her time, arguably any time – yet her story has rarely if ever been told. In fact, the following account is still officially classified until 2041 by the United States and Britain Secret Services for reasons unknown.

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June 21, 1942: The exact same moment Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were on Warner Bros. Burbank, California studio lot shooting Casablanca, a tiny band of spies entered sovereign Vichy-French territory on a secret mission to liberate the real Casablanca. Far from North Africa, the black ops team comprised of a former D.C. debutante-turned-spy, her Vichy-French lover, a safe-cracker and their OSS (pre-CIA) handler, broke the FBI’s strict law forbidding espionage within city limits and infiltrated the Vichy French Embassy in wartime Washington D.C.

Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Obtain the Vichy Naval Codes”

After Hitler invaded France in May, 1940, President Roosevelt shrewdly maintained diplomatic relations with Vichy, allowing France to retain an embassy in D.C.  This embassy received daily encrypted cables from Nazi Germany about Hitler’s plans for the French Fleet and his forces in North Africa. America and Britain already possessed the technology to intercept these communiqués, but without the embassy codebooks needed to decode them the communiqués were useless.

Breaking into a foreign embassy to steal codebooks constituted an act of war. J. Edgar Hoover’s bureau boys were ordered to protect all embassies and officers of a foreign power from espionage, even America’s own. Ironically, all Federal Agents were forbidden to enter Capitol Hill unless expressly invited. However, Foreign Agents (i.e. spies) could enter at will. So Roosevelt recruited his friend General William “Wild Bill” Donovan to form the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA. Donovan assembled a special team to infiltrate the target embassy.

Agent Cynthia

Amy Elizabeth “Betty” Thorpe (aka Agent Cynthia) was born to an affluent family.  Her father, George Cyrus Thorpe, a U.S. Marine Corps major and prominent maritime lawyer, moved the family from Minnesota to D.C. when Betty was six.  Her mother, Cora Wells Thorpe, daughter to H.H. Wells, a U.S Senator from Morris, Minnesota, became a prominent and influential Washington socialite. Once one of the capital’s most glamorous debutantes, young Betty is remembered by Shirlee C. Thorpe, her former sister-in-law and a D.C. resident, as “gorgeous” and “mischievous.”

In the cloak and dagger world of espionage, Agent Cynthia was recruited first by the British and then the American’s as a swallow – an agent who used sex as a tool to obtain the enemy’s military secrets.

Agent Cynthia moved her swallow’s nest to Wardman Park, the posh residential hotel located at 2660 Woodley Rd NW.  The Wardman, large and with multiple entrances,  would frustrate the FBI’s surveillance efforts of the OSS Agent. The hotel was also the home of Cynthia’s target – the Vichy Press Attache, Charles Brousse.

Posing as a sympathetic American journalist, Cynthia made quick work of the older married man: “He planted a long, passionate kiss on my lips and pressed my back against the door until I was limp.  Then he swung me easily off the floor and started to carry me up the stairs.  He looked at me hungrily.  “Just point out your bedroom,” he said.  “You have nothing to fear, chérie.”  As a lover, Charles Brousse was the most ardent of all those I met in my career as a spy…”

Charles, having fallen madly in love, provided Cynthia with daily copies of decrypted embassy cables, which were sent immediately to the White House. President Roosevelt, fluent in French, often didn’t wait for the cables to be translated before reading them.  Cynthia and Charles even collaborated on reports, which the president read “as a bedtime story” and called, “the most fascinating reading I have had for a long time…the best piece of comprehensive intelligence I have come across since the last war.”

When Cynthia asked Charles for the codes for decrypting themselves, her French lover balked – remarking that what she wanted was impossible. Undeterred, Agent Cynthia solicited the Chief Cipher Officer of the Embassy, Count Jean de La Grandville.  Young, ambitious and arrogant, the Count received Cynthia alone in his suite at the Shoreham Hotel while his wife was in the Virginia countryside giving birth to their second child.  Cynthia offered the Count money in return for the code books.  But De La Grandville had other ideas in mind and remarked on how a pretty woman should not concern herself with such things. Cynthia was not amused. She left him with her hotel phone number and the caveat that, if he was going to be serious, he could ring her the following night.

Cynthia was taken aback to find Count de La Grandville in the Wardman Park lobby upon her arrival home the next night.  Unsure what to do, Cynthia brought de La Grandville up to her suite.  Her control of the situation deteriorated when the Count informed her he had uncovered her true identity – that of Betty Thorpe Pack, estranged wife of a British diplomat.

Cynthia had kept her marriage a secret from everyone.  Her cover blown, the compromised secret agent then made the only major tactical mistake of her illustrious career. As she recounted in her memoirs: “He wanted to be “sure” of me.  I replied that I did not know what he meant, that I was a trustworthy American agent, and that I had made him a straightforward proposition.  He said that he appreciated all that but ‘love-making forms a bond’ and that he wanted this bond…so I closed my eyes and hoped that this, like so much else that I wanted to do, would be for (the Allies).”

Afterward, Cynthia surmised she was duped. De La Grandville had no intention of producing the codebooks.  What’s more, the duplicitous Frenchman planned to turn her in to the French Ambassador come first light.  The seductress had allowed herself to be sexually blackmailed by a novice.

As if matters couldn’t get worse, Charles Brousse rang her from his suite inside the hotel to say he would be over momentarily.  Agent Cynthia could not get de La Grandville out of the hotel fast enough, and the Vichy officials passed one another in the hallway outside her suite.  In an instant, Charles knew Cynthia had been unfaithful.  He exploded in a jealous rage and became physically abusive. “It was a very thorough thrashing, and from his point of view, one that I richly deserved.”

Badly bruised and bleeding, Cynthia fled the hotel and stumbled across the famous William Taft Bridge, more commonly known as Connecticut Ave. Bridge.  It was only by sheer luck that an FBI surveillance team was not in the area to witness the distraught agent enter her mother’s deserted apartment at 2139 Wyoming Ave. – three doors down from the Vichy Embassy itself. Cynthia fell into a fitful sleep: “I drifted off into a half-sleep and a dream of “penetrating” the French Embassy again through a window, obtaining the ciphers and dispatching them to my Chiefs with the improbable aid of a well-trained B.S.C. flock of carrier-pigeons!”

The next morning, an apologetic Charles arrived at Cynthia’s mother’s doorstep.  He was surprised to find the female spy more emboldened than ever.  She told Charles, “While I was dozing at Mother’s I had a dream and am going to work out something around it.  I am far from lost as far as the project is concerned, but it would be catastrophic if I were “burnt”.  Everything depends on you to get me out of the mess that I really feel I am going to be in.” 

Sure enough, at that very moment across town, Count de La Grandville arrived at the home of Gaston Henry-Haye, the Vichy Ambassador, to tell him about the beautiful agent and her botched spy mission.  What the young Count didn’t know, however, was that Charles possessed incriminating evidence on the Ambassador himself, thanks to surveillance the OSS provided Cynthia.  Charles used this information to paint the Count as the real security risk and told Henri-Haye of rumors de La Grandville had been spreading about the Vichy Ambassador’s own illicit affairs.

Charles played his hand well, so well that de La Grandville was removed from the code room. Cynthia’s cover and the mission were spared.  However, they were still no closer to acquiring the codes, and time was running short.  Hitler’s grip on North Africa and the remaining French Fleet was tightening. The Vichy codes were now needed more than ever.

A Dangerous Solution

Cynthia appealed to her OSS handler, Agent Hunter, that there was only one remaining alternative – a black bag job; espionage parlance for an illegal break-in.  But a black bag job of a foreign Embassy was fraught with risk and very real danger. If they were caught, it would constitute a state of war between Vichy-France and the US.   Besides the FBI, who suspected Cynthia of being a spy and surveilled her night and day, there was also the notorious Vichy Secret Police to consider. Operating within the US and Canada, their duty was to report on anyone of French descent aiding the Allied cause.  Should Charles be caught, torture and death would surely follow and even his relatives in France would not be spared.

But Cynthia needed his help if she was to have any chance of gaining entrance to the heavily-guarded code room.  Charles agreed to help, risking his own life. And to pull off the risky heist, they would need a professional safecracker who could gain access to the Embassy’s safe where the Nazi codebooks were kept.

Enter the Georgia Cracker

One of the greatest secrets still surrounding World War II was the number of criminals who were recruited into secret service directly out of jail, for the same skills that put them there. One such colorful con was a safecracker known only as the “Georgia Cracker.”  He was released from prison in return for work on dangerous missions.

The Georgia Cracker joined Cynthia, Charles and Hunter, and the black-bag plan was finalized. By early June the date was set for the break-in. But first each had to swear an oath that if caught none would implicate the OSS or its British equivalent, the BSC.  To be safe, both General Donovan and Intrepid (William Stephenson, head of the British Security Coordination operating in the US) left the country.

On the night of June 19, 1942, the same night British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s flying boat put down on the Anacostia River to attend the Second Washington Conference at the White House – Agent Cynthia crossed Connecticut Ave. Bridge with Charles. The two continued up Connecticut Ave. and made the familiar right turn onto Wyoming Ave. The reconciled lovers walked up the steps of the Embassy like they had done for several nights prior and greeted Andre Chevalier, the night guard.  Cynthia tried not to show it, but she was wary of his dog – a large Alsatian that had been written up in a local newspaper for excessive barking at night.

The couple brought with them several bottles of champagne, on the pretense that tonight was the anniversary of their first meeting.  Cynthia playfully coaxed the guard into joining them for a toast. When he wasn’t looking, she introduced a generous dose of Nembutal (a sleeping agent) into his glass.   Twenty minutes later the guard was sound asleep, and Cynthia then dosed the dog as well.  Given the all clear, the Georgia Cracker entered through the front door, stepped over the sleeping dog, and headed down the hallway to pick the lock to the code room.  Within moments, the three of them stood in front of the safe containing the codebooks.  Cynthia checked her watch; it wasn’t yet midnight.

Cynthia and Charles sat down on the divan in the private hallway outside his office and smoked, waiting nervously for the Georgia Cracker.  Minutes turned into hours. The Mosler-brand safe was old, its four tumblers rusty.  By the time the Georgia Cracker cracked the combination and turned the handle to open the safe door, it was perilously close to dawn, too late to copy the ciphers and have them back before the Embassy staff began their workday.

Cynthia watched helplessly as the convict closed and relocked the safe, careful to remove his fingerprints with a cloth.  Within the hour, she and Charles were back in her nest. She telephoned her handler to give him the bad news. Charles showered and returned to the Embassy to begin his day.  Fortunately, aside from a brutal hangover, the guard and his dog were unharmed and none the wiser.

Running Out of Time

Agent Cynthia was given the go ahead to make another attempt the following night, but now there were two serious complications.  The first was that they couldn’t attempt to drug the guard again, for fear they would arouse his suspicion.  The second was that, incredibly, the Georgia Cracker was sent off on another mission and temporarily unavailable.   Cynthia would have to open the safe by herself, using the combination the Georgia Cracker had written down for her.   Another agent would be outside the code room window, ready to receive the codebooks and take them to be copied.

Night came slowly on June 21st. Charles and his spy mistress once again set out for the Embassy.  Once again, the guard was waiting for them and let them in.  Once again, the handsome couple smoked and made friendly conversation with him before retiring to the divan.  They waited for over half an hour for the guard to finish his rounds. As Cynthia began to pick the code room lock, a nervous Charles asked her what to say should the guard appear and inquire about her whereabouts. “Tell him I’ve gone to the toilet,” she said.

Cynthia picked the lock and entered the code room with remarkable ease.  She took out the piece of paper on which the Georgia Cracker had written the safe combination and set about turning the dial: 4 left 5; 3 right 20; 2 left 95; 1 right 2; stop.  She then tried the handle on the safe, but it wouldn’t budge. Cynthia began to sweat: “The damned thing won’t open.”  She tried the combination again and again, but the safe refused to open.  She joined an exasperated Charles back at the divan. They left the Embassy empty-handed, forced to abort the mission.

Nerves were wearing thin for everyone.  Cynthia was ordered by her handlers to travel to New York: “I arrived at my Chief’s flat at about eight o’clock and from there set out in a cab for the long ride downtown.  I had no idea where we were going nor was I much enlightened when we drew up at an intersection of Broadway and he said: “Hop into that black car standing by the curb, and come back to the flat before returning to Washington.” 

Cynthia did as she was told and was greatly relieved to find the Georgia Cracker waiting for her in the next car. “I have never, repeat never, been so glad to see anyone in my life, I told him.”

            The two set out for a remote stretch of Jones Beach and stopped the car. The Georgia Cracker ordered Cynthia into the back seat.  There, under the seat, was an exact replica of the Vichy safe.  Teacher and student spent the next several hours ‘cracking’ it.  Once the Georgia Cracker was satisfied Cynthia could open the safe, they returned to the city.  But once back, Cynthia was adamant that the Georgia Cracker accompany her on the next attempt on the Embassy.  True to form, Cynthia was impossible to resist. Both she and the Georgia Cracker returned to Washington.

One Final Attempt

A first-quarter moon hung over the Capitol the night of June 23rd as Cynthia and Charles made their last trek across the familiar bridge. “But as we turned the corner from the main avenue to the smaller one leading to the Chancery, I noticed two FBI cars parked at a discreet distance from our destination.  They were half-hidden in the shadows of the trees, and their lights were dimmed.”

Cynthia grabbed Charles by the arm and led him away from the streetlamps.  They made their way to the Embassy doors and scurried up the stairs, only to find the Embassy guard missing from his post.  Charles used his own key to enter the Embassy.  They waited anxiously on the divan, wondering whether the night guard might be an informant for the FBI.  Was this a trap?

To Charles’s astonishment, Cynthia made a sudden radical decision. “I left the divan and took off my dress, tossing it onto the floor in the middle of the hall.  Then I took off my slip and threw it in the same direction.  It was followed by my brassiere, my panties, along with my garter belt and stockings; I was now quite naked except for a string of pearls and my high-heeled shoes.” 

Her timing was perfect. Just then the door behind her opened and her body was bathed in the beam from the night guard’s flashlight.   Embarrassed, the guard muttered a quick apology and withdrew, leaving Charles and his Lady Godiva to resume their work.

Cynthia remained au naturel as she signaled to the Georgia Cracker to enter through the window of Charles’s office.  The second-story man got an eyeful as the naked agent led him to the code room where he quickly picked the lock.  She held his flashlight on the dial of the safe as he worked the combination.  Within moments the safe was open, the codebooks theirs for the taking.  Cynthia pressed them to her naked bosom and walked over to the window, where an OSS agent was waiting to spirit them away.

Cynthia turned back to the Georgia Cracker, and with sincere gratitude, embraced him.  She bid the lovable con man goodbye, then returned to Charles at the divan.  Cynthia dressed, and the two settled in for a long night of waiting.

Cynthia chain-smoked Capstan cigarettes, her favorite brand, as her imagination considered every contingency.  What if the guard became suspicious and forced them to leave?  Who would put the codebooks back in the safe?  They could knock the guard out and kidnap him.  But then the Embassy personnel would know the codes were compromised.  What of the G-men outside?  At any moment, they could storm in and take her away for interrogation.  After all, the Embassy was in their jurisdiction. They already suspected her of being a spy.

She tiptoed to the window and peeked out from behind the shade.  Sure enough, there they were, hidden in the shadows across the street. “I went back to the divan and sat down in an attempt to persuade myself that “sweating it out” wasn’t so bad really, and that surely the boys at the front were having a worse time than I. Anyhow, there was now only another half hour until I would take up my post at the door.”

            At five minutes to four, while the night guard was off making his last rounds, Cynthia was at the door and saw the OSS agent approach the Embassy.  She reached out and grabbed the books from him, then turned and cautiously ran for the code room.  She purposely did not wear lipstick, in order to kiss each codebook for luck before she returned it to the safe. Then she was careful to wipe away all trace of her presence as the Georgia Cracker had taught her.  Moments later, she and Charles walked hand in hand down the Embassy steps.  Even if the Bureau boys saw them now, they could prove nothing.

Back at her swallow’s nest later that morning, Cynthia heard a knock at her door.  She opened it to find Agent Hunter, smiling and smartly dressed in a U.S. Army summer uniform. Cynthia followed Hunter to the other end of the hotel.  He led her into a room full of military personnel, surrounded by photographic equipment and hundreds of papers covering the furniture. They were photostats of the Vichy codebooks.  This was where they had brought the books to be copied – down the hall from her very own nest. Cynthia looked at the crystal clear prints of the secret ciphers and smiled to herself.

            “Altogether, it was the proudest moment of my life.”

November 8, 1942, Washington, D.C.: Agent Cynthia was boarding a train bound for New York when she saw the morning paper carrying the headline “Allies Storm North Africa!”  She then looked up to see a handsome, uniformed man admiring her.  She smiled instantly, having recognized her old spy handler. Agent Hunter stood at attention and saluted her.  Then he approached and whispered in her ear:

“We have reached a turning point in the war.  The allied troops have landed in North Africa, with practically no enemy resistance.  The reason that there was no resistance is a military secret, but I think you should know that it is due to your ciphers.  They have changed the whole course of the war.”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Operation Torch, and 107,000 Anglo-American troops landed on the shores of North Africa in a surprise attack.  The battle that had begun on a tiny piece of sovereign Vichy soil located in Washington D.C. less than five months prior, concluded in the liberation of Casablanca, Oran and Algiers in less than three days.  The decisive victory put an end to Hitler’s dominance on the continent, deprived Germany of the French fleet and shortened the war itself.

Back in Los Angeles, Jack Warner and producer Hal Wallis rushed the opening of Casablanca to capitalize on the headlines. The movie premiered November 26, 1942 and went into full-release the following year. Bogart and Bergman are immortalized as Rick and Ilsa. Meanwhile, Agent Cynthia has been all but forgotten. But the World War II Mata Hari didn’t seduce the enemy for fame or fortune.  Hers was a much higher calling:

“I did my duty as I saw it.  It involved me in situations in which respectable women draw back.  But wars are not won by ‘respectable’ methods…I hope and believe I was a patriot.”

Donna Reed: It’s A Wonderful Actress

3 Dec

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This is the time of year I’m reminded of how wonderful Donna Reed is. You know, the romantic lead opposite Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra’s seminal IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The black & white film is always playing on some channel virtually night and day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It’s a classic to be sure, but that’s not the real reason it oversaturates the airwaves during the holiday season – or at least used to. That’s because the movie fell into the public domain for several decades when some studio nincompoop didn’t renew the copyright. Networks and cable stations could therefore play the film without having to pay residuals and royalties – and the movie and it’s classic characters became as commonplace if not more nourishing than fruit cake. However, the real feast for the eyes will forever be Donna…Donna Reed.

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Donna Reed had that all-American sweetheart look that everyone but George Bailey seemed to see, until it was too late for him to escape Bedford Falls. But really, how could anyone NOT fall in love with Donna – especially when she had been on the hunt for good ole’ George since High School (remember the famous dance scene where the floor divides and people start falling into the gymnasium pool?! Donna was George’s destiny and she would stick with him for better or worse, through thick and thin until the very end when Zuzu’s petals would magically reappear in his vest pocket. Talk about bygone days. If Frank Capra were alive today – the movie might not have ended so happily. But what makes the film so timeless is the love story itself. Because if Donna weren’t the amazing actress she was – it would not nearly be so believable that Jimmy Stewart would feel like he lost everything worth living and dying for when she doesn’t recognize after Clarence the Angel is so good to show George what it would be like if he’d never been born. Then again, Donna Reed as an old maid is a stretch. Probably the hottest old maid ever portrayed on film IMHO.

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Donna Reed went on to have a respectable career on film and her very own TV show, THE DONNA REED SHOW, on on of television’s very first episodic shows. But that’s not why she will forever be remembered. In my house, I’ll always sit down and take time out to watch Donna say, “He’s making violent love to me, Mother!” from her living room when George inevitably visits one night to find that he has been hopelessly in love with her every since he first laid eyes on her, naked in a bush in front of her house. Me too!

Happy Holidays!

Lina Leandersson: Let Her In

29 Oct

Lina Leandersson is an old soul walking around in a young body. She is the Swedish breakout star of 2008’s super-creepy LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. This vampire story is by far (and I mean, by far) the best vampire story of all of them. Twilight can’t hold a candle to LTROI. This is because the story is, in essence, a darkly-affecting romance in the order of cinematic magnitude of Casablanca – if Casablanca had vampires, of course. There is a love triangle: Two men love one very young/very old vampire. She appears helpless but isn’t. She is tortured. A sacrifice is made by her lover at the end. See the resemblance? The structure exists in both movies but the difference is that while Bogart and Bergman will always have Paris, Lina and her lover will always (and I mean always) have each other.

Of course, the romance is a tragedy. But aren’t all good love stories in their heart – ghost stories? Doesn’t love at first site require us to recognize in another what is missing in our deepest selves, and therefore so heartwrenching both when we possess it and lose it? This is what Let The Right One In is all about. We can’t control who we love and the act of letting them in can often destroy us, but we do it anyway. Confused? Well, watch this movie and you’ll either agree with me or think I’m insane. But people who do get it (especially the ending) REALLY get it and love this movie like one of their own children. And the biggest reason people who GET IT love this movie is Lina Leandersson. Simply because her performance is transformative.

This is Lina’s first film. She was hand-picked by the director and producer from over 8,000 auditions. What’s even more amazing is the on-screen chemistry that she creates within everyone she comes in contact with. It’s even more amazing when you consider that she was 12 years old when they shot the movie playing a 400-year old vampire and she pulls it off handily. So well in fact, that the American remake LET ME IN with Chloe Mertz comes off as a cheap remake of a classic and will be forgotten immediately. I was so inspired by the Swedish import (dubbed in english) that I went out and bought the translated book. Mind you, the book has moments of brilliance and the movie could not have been made without it – but the adaptation to the screen (the screenplay was by the same author) is a textbook case in how to adapt a classic story from book to screen and in the process make it better. Only THE SHINING comes close to the same successfully-adapted story.

Still not convinced? Here’s two examples of this movie’s brilliance: 1) You’ll notice in the movie that adults (except with one very big exception) are not paying any attention to the children in this movie. Adults are oblivious to what is going on right in front of their eyes and therefore, by definition, missing out on what is important in life. 2) The movie expresses the love theme on the basis that you fall in love with people who possess the ability to communicate that love – or mirror if you will – how you yourself wish to be loved. At least in the beginning. This is seduction. This is what a vampire does to prey on its victims. But when the vampire in question is in fact your true love – then boy are you one lucky/unlucky guy. And that gets to the heart of the ending of this transformative movie. We are all alone. We all need to be loved. The sacrifice we make to open ourselves up to that love risk letting the wrong one in. All love therefore is a risk. The risk of love and loss. And that’s why I LOVE the ending of this movie. Let me know if you agree with me.

Oh, and Let the Right One In is also a kick-ass scary movie. Happy Halloween!

Who is this Famous Movie/TV Star?

10 Sep

Any ideas? Why, of course it’s the one and only Donna Reed! Many of you probably didn’t recognize her by this early glamor shot. Still more because, well, you don’t remember this beauty like I do. Her best remembered role is as Jimmy Stewart’s sweetheart-cum-wife from It’s A Wonderful Life. This holiday classic is one of my favorite films and has one of the best all-time movie lines in it – uttered by Miss Reed herself:

“He’s making violent love to me, Mother!”

Awesome. It doesn’t get better than that. You bet it does with Donna Reed scamping around in the bushes of Bedford Falls naked and Jimmy S. lassoing the moon for her. I hope you know what I’m talking about because this is really a phenomenal movie that no one should miss. Donna was a big star after this and several other movie roles that I can’t remember. She even got her own TV show – The Donna Reed Show.

Donna is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen on the silver screen. Wholesome, bright and not above being a serious flirt – she was an amazing talent who never really got a chance to shine the way I think she could of. Maybe the movie roles just never came. Maybe her friendly, approachable good looks were more conducive to the silver screen (ironically, how most everyone of later generations would come to know her – from a gazillion It’s A Wonderful Life reruns – I wonder, is that movie public domain?).

Check out Donna’s work on Netflix when you get a chance. She’ll make you smile and remind you of that girl next door that you had a crush on, then moved away. Or, the cheerleader in High School that was always so popular yet still deigned to talk to you. Most of all, she was the older sister of your best friend that you could rip your eyes off of every time you went over to his house on Mac and Cheese night.

I wish.

Is it too soon to watch It’s A Wonderful Life again?

Julianne Moore: Lady in Red

27 Aug

Redheads share a special place in my heart as well as the movies. They’re rare beauties who photograph well and burn hot in either color or black & white. Fiery is a word that comes to mind. Passionate and brilliant are a few others. And as much of an anglophile, I never understood the British attitude toward gingers. As a certified cinemaniac – I can say without a doubt that the world would not nearly be the beautiful place it is without the beautiful actress known as Julianne Moore.

Red, Blonde, Brown or Raven-haired, Julianne is one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the silver screen. She is sexy, smart and magnetic. Her reputation is secure as one of the most amazing actors working in the medium today and her confident, self-assured nature has brought this beauty to prominence in a fashion few others can touch. Julianne is gutsy and belies her easy-going nature, emblematic of many of her more famous roles. She can play comedy, drama, surrealism and horror with aplomb.

I wasn’t always such a big fan. I didn’t know the talented-actress had such chops when she won the role of Clarice Starling (so massively personified by Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster) in Hannibal, the sequel to the astonishingly-successful Silence of the Lambs. And while that movie as a whole was a hot, gut-wrenching celluloid mess, Julianne was pure-perfection. She equitted herself so well that I became a life long fan of her extremely sexy-brainy Clarice holding her own against the scenery-eating and somewhat tongue-in-cheek mugging of Sir Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Lecter. She had taken a potentially career-suicide of a role and turned it to her star-turning advantage. That not only takes guts and talent, it takes a belief in yourself that you can bring something to any role and make it credible. And she did.

But let’s be honest. I fell in love with Julianne in The Big Lebowski. Her role in this seminal Coen Brother’s masterpiece is something to marvel at. Again, she holds her own against the insanely-perfect Jeff Bridges’s The Dude – and she abides right along with him. In a pitch-perfect role, Julianne plays an eccentric artist with a sexual twist to the hilt and the dream sequence with her dressed as a Norse Goddess complete with horn helmet and bowling-ball motif bra is the stuff comedic dreams are really made of. It doesn’t get any better than this – especially Julianne naked in a harness flying through the air painting a la Jackson Pollack. If you haven’t seen this movie, I’d stop reading this stupid blog and Netflix it immediately!

Julianne’s body of work is much broader and much more influential than the two films I’ve mentioned above. From Roger Altman’s Short Cuts to last year’s The Kids Are Alright (not to mention Crazy, Stupid, Love) Julianne delivers no matter what the subject matter or Hollywood budget. This screen-goddess is sexy as all get out and funny to boot. And for that, Ms. Moore gets my vote as one of the greatest Leading Ladies of all time – in black, white or red.

Grace Kelly: Grace in 3 Dimensions

29 Jul

Beautiful. Graceful. Classy. Elegant. Brilliant. Grace was a glamour girl of the highest order. Her style was evergreen, never fading into trends of the past but excelling into tomorrow’s classic looks. She was a dream come true for haute couture and Hollywood. Leading men swooned when they first met her. Director fell in love. Even good old Alfred Hitchcock who couldn’t get enough of watching the star on the set of Rear Window, a movie about voyeurism.

Grace’s timing was impeccable. She came onto the silver screen scene when there was a changing of the guard. When cinematic lions such as Gary Cooper and Clark Gable were in the twilight of their careers. Both easily twice Grace’s age, they nevertheless rallied for her affections both on-screen and off. Cooper was the sheriff in High Noon who young wife (Grace) doesn’t want to see him die. Clark Gable, however, was Grace’s true-life crush on the set of Mogambo set in the jungle. Gable was a gentleman, however, and let the rising star down as easy as he could. Grace would have to console herself with future leading men – such as Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window and Cary Grant in How to Catch a Thief.

On screen, my favorite pairing was Grant and Grace. They were magical to watch, both gorgeous and on top of their game. The rapport between these two goddess made you feel like you were a voyeur. The two of them together were so much chemistry-fueled lust created when two massive stars collide. I still get shivers when I watch Grace on film. She is as glamorous in color that most stars were in black & white. I can’t imagine what she must have been like to meet in person. Maybe that’s what Hitchcock was thinking when he released Dial M for Murder in 3D when it was first released. The prospect of seeing Grace in 3 Dimensions must have driven every man, woman and child to the theaters. Hitchcock always knew how to market a movie and with Grace as his star – his job got exponentially easier.

When Grace exited the silver screen to become a true life princess, many were devastated. The world lost her to Monaco and the feeling was that Grace left in her prime. I always wonder about the movies she would have made if she’d stayed. So many more chances to bask in the glow of the most beautiful blonde the silver screen had ever seen in color. Grace was an amazing actress, even more than a fashion icon. She straddled both worlds so well and would utilize both her talents when transitioning to the private, luxurious world of royalty. But I fear she did it too soon. Realizing too late there was more that she could have accomplished had she not stepped into a guilded cage.  At least that’s my take on her, especially in light of her later years and the horrible car crash that would take her life.

But that’s much too much reality for this blog. Here I like to dream and remember my leading ladies as I first found them. The goddesses of light that illuminated my early life and defined for me what beauty, intelligence and passion all wrapped up in the visage of a gorgeous woman could do to a mortal man. Especially upon repeat viewings. And for me, Grace was the accessible goddess – the one who would listen to you, make you smile and laugh – and if you were very, very lucky give you a memory that would last you forever. In 3D!

Anne Hathaway: Good Girl Gone Bad?

16 Jul

When I first heard that dear Anne Hathaway was chosen to portray the latest incarnation of the evil, maniacal femme fatale known as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, I was skeptical. No doubt the young actress has the acting chops, but the edge? I mean, dark, jagged cat-claw edges. To look at her in most of her movies, I could pop her onto my shoulder with one hand. Not that the latex body suit doesn’t hug her slender curves just like a feline – but holding her own in a roustabout?

Then I remembered. Anne is a consummate professional who wouldn’t take on the iconic role opposite Christian Bale’s Batman in his big-screen swan song from the role that made him insanely rich and famous – unless she and director Christopher Nolan thought she could pull it off. Just how she’s going to pull it off is exactly why I’m going to be lining up with the rest of the country on Friday, June 20th to find out. But the larger question is whether she will be able to hold her own against Catwomen of the past. Will time be kind to dear Anne, who most of us can still remember first meeting in The Princess Diaries, I and II?

For me, I’m going to reserve judgment until after I see what Anne’s slinking, kicking and clawing do for me at the multiplex. I must admit, however, that Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Batman Returns (1992) is going to be a really tough act to follow. Michelle’s slinking, kicking and clawing was the best I’d ever seen. 100% pure hellcat encased in a shiny black, figure-snugging catsuit no less. And Michelle had the sexy pedigree of a superstar to play against type, too. Anne on the other hand has a squeaky-clean persona to play off of. Again, not to say she can’t do it – but put the two catwomen in a room together for half an hour and I’m pretty sure who’s going to be the only one walking out.

And I don’t mean Halle Berry.

 

 

Michelle Pfeiffer: Sexiest Catwoman Ever?

8 Jul

Michelle Pfeiffer is one of the most beautiful women who ever lived, hands down. The soulful eyes, luscious downturn lips and megawatt smile are enough to make this weaponized beauty a worthy adversary against every other knockout who’s ever graced the silver screen. Michelle’s held her own against some pretty hard-hitters, too. From Scarface (1983) with Al “say hello to my little friend” Pacino, to The Witches of Eastwick (1987) with Jack Nicholson playing, ahem, a horny devil – Michelle has survived some pretty scary characters. That is, until it came time for her to cross over to the dark side and play the dangerously seductive Catwoman to Michael Keaton’s Batman in Batman Returns (1992).

Michelle is my favorite Catwoman because she is easily the sexiest, slinkiest A-List actress to don the feline form-fitting suit and not look slightly ridiculous. As a matter of fact, she actually looks sexy and dangerous at the same time – two of my favorite qualities in a girlfriend. Miss Pfeiffer has the purrrfect figure (sorry, groan) for the portrayal and comes off as a cross between a dominatrix with a leather fetish and a sympathetic victim of circumstance. Plus, the heat she managed to generate on-screen with Keaton was the major highpoint in the legendary first-Batman franchise. I mean, look at the photo (above) and tell me that she’s not exuding a “come hither, go wither” glare.

Of course, Michelle is an amazing actress whether in or out of the catsuit. One of my very favorite movies is What Lies Beneath (2000) where Michelle is haunted by ghosts and ultimately stalked by her husband, a menacing Harrison Ford. This movie scared the bejeezus out of me while also reminding me of why I’ve had a crush on Michelle my entire adult life. She is really a wonderfully-talented thespian who just happens to be an absolute, drop-dead gorgeous blonde. But it would have to be Dangerous Liaisons (1987) that sealed my affections for Ms. Pfeiffer. Her deeply affecting portrayal of a woman in love who is mortally-wounded by the object of her desire, embodied by John Malkovich, is one of her greatest achievements. Even in her death scene, Michelle is so, so beautiful. Those lips, those eyes once again classify her as a goddess of the silver screen.

So, is Michelle the best and sexiest Catwoman ever? In a little less than a couple weeks we’ll find out what Ms. Anne Hathaway has to say about it. But I have a sneaking feeling that Michelle will always hold a special place in the pantheon of feline femme fatales. And she will always be Hollywood royalty for daring to be so beautiful, vulnerable and formidable all at the same time – whether she’s in spandex, leather, gossamer or nothing at all.

Holly Hunter: Miss Firecracker

4 Jul

Holly exploded on movie screens across America in the 80’s in such classics as Raising Arizona (1987), Broadcast News (1987) and Miss Firecracker (1989). Her comedic timing, diminutive yet power-packed stature made beautiful Holly ever inch the movie star.  But it was her tour de force in Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993) that would send Ms. Hunter into the stratosphere, not to mention win her an Oscar for her performance. Holly’s intense and poignant performance showed a side of her we had never seen before. One that would cement her standing as a serious A-List actress.

Whenever I want to get a Holly-fix, however, I go back to Raising Arizona and her amazing performance as a policewoman opposite Nick Cage’s dense yet earnest criminal seeking to start a new life for the sake of his family. Holly was tailor-made for the Coen’s Brothers farce-fueled parable. And isn’t it true we remember our favorite actors how we first met them?  Equally amusing is Broadcast News, with Holly surrounded by an amazing degree of talented actors in their own right. She held her own opposite William Hurt and the hilariously profusely-sweating Albert Brooks. It’s astonishing to think both these films came out in the same year: 1987 – the year of Holly Hunter’s ascension.

Miss Firecracker was another role seemingly tailor made for Holly. This time she played opposite Tim Robbins and Scott Glen to each parts charm and comedy. And aside from Jodie Foster’s Home for the Holidays (1995) it would be one of the last movies in recent memory that would tap Ms. Hunter’s amazing comedic talents. She was in the Coen’s O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000) but the cameo was fleeting and not enough to get a full Holly-fix. To have a star of her stature, I really think directors need to make the most of it. I’m hoping the upcoming Won’t Back Down (2013) and an as yet untitled next Diablo Cody movie will use Holly to great advantage and put her back in the spotlight.

As an extra-July 4th surprise factoid about Holly Hunter: I knew a woman in LA who went to college with Holly at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both aspiring actresses were pursuing a degree in drama and in 1978 were extras for an upcoming director shooting a film in a Pittsburgh mall named George A. Romero. Of course, the movie was Dawn of the Dead and Holly was an uncredited zombie. I would have given anything to have gone to college with a Holly-Zombie. Hmmm, sounds like an idea for a movie, doesn’t it?