Now I hate to admit this, but there are definitely times when I’ve regretted past decisions when it comes to films. In fact, thinking back on how I felt, let’s say, 12 years ago, not only have my tastes evolved, but I’ve seen countless more films than I had at the time. So in order to put things right and give myself a little update, it’s time to talk about 1998 – and the changes that reflect the years that have passed since…
Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love)
Best Lead Actress
The Original Line-Up
Drew Barrymore (Ever After), Sandra Bullock (Hope Floats)
Natasha Richardson (The Parent Trap)
Meg Ryan (You’ve Got Mail) [**WINNER**]
Reese Witherspoon (Pleasantville)
The New Top 5
Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth), Sandra Bullock (Hope Floats)
Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station) [**WINNER**]
Meg Ryan (You’ve Got Mail), Meryl Streep (One True Thing)
Emily Watson (Hilary and Jackie), Christina Ricci (The Opposite of Sex)
Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love), Drew Barrymore (Ever After)
Reese Witherspoon (Pleasantville), Susan Sarandon (Stepmom)
Lindsay Lohan (The Parent Trap)
Another entry in which I find myself in the early-90s stage of Meryl’s career in which she plays her less-honored but no-less-talent-filled comic self. Possibly one of the most well-regarded choices she made during this phase was as the drug-addicted diva actress Suzanne Vale, who, when forced to move back in with her aging actress superstar mother (played brilliantly with Debbie Reynolds-esque chutzpah by Shirley MacLaine), finds herself struggling to make her long-awaited big-screen comeback. Based on the semi-autobiographical book by the hilarious Carrie Fisher, Postcards from the Edge follows Suzanne through her unsuccessful attempts at regaining her screen presence, along with the occasional bouts in rehab. (Wow, this movie perhaps hasn’t entirely lost its touch with true Hollywood norms, eh?) And though Meryl’s character could easily have faltered into the entirely unlikable – she’s somewhat of a spoiled brat rich girl with reckless abandon when it comes to her health and well-being – her troubled actress is strangely down to earth. She has just enough girl-next-door regularity to pass as someone relatable.
The true greatness at play here, though, is Streep’s interactions with her on-screen mom, MacLaine. Shirley’s Doris Mann is a larger than life personality (most reminiscent, perhaps, of Debbie Reynolds’ stint on Will and Grace in the late-90s) who has a major following in the diva-loving, showbiz-addicted community. She’s a former big-screen beauty queen with a big voice and a sassy attitude to match. And Suzanne is completely the opposite – Meryl’s character is a subdued sort with a snarky attitude and a hesitancy when it comes to utilizing her actually rather good singing voice. But thank goodness she does – without it we wouldn’t have gotten the best scene in the movie (and probably one of Meryl’s superior singing scenes from her films, if not the best), “I’m Checkin’ Out,” a gutsy country number that Suzanne belts out like only a washed-up former drug addict could.
So likely thanks in most part to Fisher’s original and unique source material (have we ever really seen this side to show business and mother/daughter relationships before this film?), the films rests gently on the shoulders of these two talented ladies. Though Streep’s comic side is far less evident here than in movies such as Death Becomes Her or The Devil Wears Prada, she nevertheless elicits a few chuckles through her deadpan delivery of banter with her boozy, overbearing stage mom. This is a side we rarely see. It’s Meryl as a youthful, rebellious teenager sort – Suzanne never grew out of her dependency stage or her backtalking adolescence – and it’s a refreshing, if atypical, side to see.
Meryl’s Performance: B+
The Film: B+
Ah, the after-school programming. While my early years were spent plopping in front of the TV after a day of school to watch the likes of Darkwing Duck and DuckTales, after a year or two of school, I graduated to a higher level of braininess in my TV choices. Well, okay, maybe not. But I did get hooked on back-to-back reruns of Designing Women.
So how does one know if they’ve encountered a television obsession? Well, after a daily reran show cycles through an entire seven seasons-worth of episodes and then starts back at the beginning, and you’re still keen on tuning in every day, you just might be obsessed. That was the way of it with this highly humorous, Atlanta-set sitcom. And for all the flack it gets for its uber-80s big hair and shoulder pads and synthesizer “moral moments,” the show packed a comedic punch. From Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) the pushover single mom with spunky self-deprecating sense of humor, to the former beauty queen Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) the blunt debutante with a brash mouth to match, to Charlene Frazier (Jean Smart) the slow-talking blonde with a heart of gold, to the center of the group Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) an uber-feminist with a no-nonsense attitude and a series of political tirades to entertain each and every potential viewer. Admittedly so, though the show may’ve been poked fun at a time or two, it’s impossible to deny that this wasn’t a talented cast. The ladies of Sugarbaker Designs were never devoid of zingers, and even though it suffered a few slight plotlines in some episodes, this 80s series is worth revisiting or seeing for the first time, if only to acquaint yourself with one of those famous Julia Sugarbaker speeches.
It was a toughie to choose just one particular pilot episode out of many great ones among my favorites on the tube, but the one that stuck out in particular was that of NBC’s The Office, a great comedic start to what would become the envy of comedies on network and cable television alike.
Though somewhat panned by critics (strange turn-around as it’s now such a massive success in retrospect), I found the pilot episode terribly fun. Perhaps it’s because I’d never seen an episode of the original British incarnation of the series. From establishing the rivalry between prankster Jim and straight-laced (to a degree) Dwight with the classic “stuff in Jell-O” battle, to cementing Michael Scott as the epitome of both well-meaning and funny but ultimately useless boss extraordinaire (along with cementing Steve Carell’s future career as go-to funnyman), the pilot of this future comedy classic may not be as outwardly zany or manic as some other more well-liked episodes became, but it certainly altered American television for good. It’s subdued form of hilarious awkwardness has now become the norm, nearly doing away with laugh tracks and predictable 20-minute storylines in network programming. Watching it now, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when the supporting players (now a television treasure – yes, that means you, Angela, Phyllis, Creed, Kevin, etc.) were never in the foreground. And a time when Jim’s mop-top was quite so moppy or Pam’s pallid demeanor was quite so homely. All in all, though it’s undergone some major changes since its humble beginnings, but this pilot predicted great things for the future of this show, and it’s more than met my expectations in the six seasons since.
Ah, madcap. The source of so much enjoyment in films, in my humble opinion. And like Arsenic and Old Lace and Some Like it Hot before it, Harvey is a total gem of a film, jam-packed with pleasing comical performances, hilarious zingers, and a silly-but-meaningful moral – imaginary friends, or giant white rabbits as it were, may be invisible to the naked eye, but can be a person’s very dearest friend when the rest of the world takes your aww-shucks, contented nature as reason to be committed to the loony bin. James Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, the grinning, gawky younger brother to Vita Louise Simmons (played with impeccable comic gusto by the incomparable Josephine Hull), the twitchy, bumbling socialite who, along with her Olive-Oyl-esque daughter Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne), plot to throw their embarrassingly cheery and imaginative relation into an institution. And in the style of the screwball comedies that came before it, identity confusion, misunderstandings, and zany physical mayhem ensues. And all this for Harvey – the six-foot, three-inch “pooka” who by film’s end, you just maybe believe truly exists. The performances all around in this movie, loaded with generous laughter-inducing moments, are those of true comedians. Though Stewart became most known for his dramatic roles (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life), or even his roles in many Hitchcock pictures (Vertigo, Rear Window, etc.), for me, he’ll always be most beloved for this and his other humorous performances. As a long-limbed gangly chap, he seems well suited for physical comedy. And then there’s Hull who, though many believe she snatched away the Oscar from more deserving ladies and that she lacks a great deal of acting diversity, is in top form for this picture. Vita Louise is a bombastic dame in the vein of Lina Lamont and the work of Marie Dressler.
It’s quite clear that no one knows how to end a season, or even an episode for that matter, like Showtime. From the famed Dexter season-enders to the recent Nurse Jackie second-season closer, their original programming always goes out with a bang. The show that’s perfected the ultimate cliffhanger, though, is Weeds. [WARNING: Major Weeds spoilage to follow.]
The best of the finales of Weeds has got to be the season two finale, in which Nancy’s life has gone completely insane. She’s begun her own grow house to supply her web of drug dealing marijuana, she’s gotten involved with a DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agent who’s started to blackmail her, she’s stepped on the toes of two competing gangs, and her delinquent son has taken off with a stash of weed that the two competing gangs feel belong to them. And as the episode closes, Nancy is left facing down the barrels of many guns, all of them demanding more money and more product than she could possibly give them. Talk about an “oh s***” moment! After season one, in which Nancy is just getting into the business, buying from a more experienced dealer, this escalation of peril in Nancy’s life is what makes Weeds so entertaining. This poor lonely widowed housewife’s ascent to drug king-pin (or queen-pin, as it were) is an amazing journey to be taken on.