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  • February 15, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Weaver’s Winners

    by John Farr

    A look at three of Sigourney Weaver’s winning performances.


    Alien (1979)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    First of a long series, Scott’s film succeeds best at mixing genuine chills with a semblance of character development and solid ensemble playing. We first get acquainted with the diverse team manning spaceship “Nostromo”, before all hell breaks loose. It seems a nasty alien creature has been ingested inside one of the crew, and when it gets out, the group is trapped in their vessel like the proverbial sardines in a can.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Trim little classic has a skin-crawling immediacy, as director Scott builds a sense of impending danger, followed by moments of heightened suspense and terror once this nightmarish genie escapes from its bottle. Weaver makes a perfect feminist hero, ably supported by Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, and Ian Holm. Sci-fi that favors mood and substance over dazzle.


    The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In 1965, Australian reporter Guy Hamilton arrives in Indonesia to track the turbulent Sukarno regime. There he meets half-Chinese news photographer Billy Kwan (Hunt), who quickly gets him acclimated to the people, place and politics. Billy then introduces Guy to Jill (Weaver), a British embassy attaché, and romantic sparks fly. But Guy is there to uncover the next big story, and a country on the brink of revolution is no place to fall in love.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Weir’s romantic thriller is a tense, colorful ride. The director heightens our awareness of impending societal disruption, keeping us continually on edge. Gibson has never been more magnetic as Guy, and the captivating Weaver exudes sensuality and mystery. Yet actress Hunt is the revelation in the gender-bending role of Billy — it won her an Oscar.


    The Ice Storm (1997)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Set in 1973, this pungent, disturbing tale of suburban malaise concerns the emotionally frigid relations between two families in the affluent town of New Canaan, Connecticut. Returning from his Manhattan prep school for Thanksgiving, 16-year-old Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire) is greeted at the train station by his remote father, Ben (Kevin Kline), and unsmiling mother, Elena (Joan Allen), as well as his Watergate-obsessed younger sister, Wendy (Christina Ricci). Unbeknownst to Elena, Ben is carrying on a torrid affair with neighbor Janey Carver (Weaver), while Janey’s spacey son Mikey (Elijah Wood) has been targeted for sexual experimentation by Wendy. Paul’s got issues of his own, too, including a crush on a priggish socialite (Katie Holmes). Unhappiness and alienation seems to be everyone’s lot, at least until the weather breaks…

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Based on Rick Moody’s novel, this perceptive adaptation by Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”) and screenwriter James Schamus effectively recaptures the bad hangover of the sixties drug-and-sex revolution, most emblematically at a discomfiting spouse-swapping “key party” that ends rather bitterly. Veterans Kline, Allen and Weaver are all first rate, but the young Maguire, Ricci, and Wood also hold their own, touching your heart with a coming-of-age awkwardness that sadly reflects their parents’ own disillusionment and inner gloom.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • February 15, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Difficult Women

    by John Farr

    Bette Davis. Ann Blyth. Mary Tyler Moore. Three masterful portrayals of nasty women.


    The Little Foxes (1941)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Married to husband Horace (Herbert Marshall) for his money, Regina Giddens (Bette Davis) and her leech-like brothers steal from him to invest in a cotton mill while the poor man recuperates from heart problems. When Horace returns and discovers the theft, Regina must cover her tracks, and inevitably becomes the victim of her own consuming greed.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Adapted from Lillian Hellman’s Broadway smash, the third and final collaboration between William Wyler and leading lady Bette Davis, again playing a viper in petticoats, is a poisonous, effective drama set in the turn-of-the-century South. Davis was never so wicked, playing Regina to the icy hilt. A fabulous cast and authentic 1900s detail bring Hellman’s loathsome characters to vivid life. Is this what they mean by Southern hospitality?


    Mildred Pierce (1945)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    This timeless, tawdry Joan Crawford melodrama is based on the James Cain story of a ruthless career woman (Joan Crawford), who will do anything to ensure her daughter Veda (Ann Blyth) gets all the advantages she never enjoyed. Veda grows into a spoiled monster, but the other characters surrounding the hard-working Mildred aren’t too sympathetic either, whether it’s the oily Monty Berrigan (Zachary Scott) whom Mildred thinks she loves, or lascivious realtor Wally Fay (Jack Carson), who just might help Mildred if she becomes friendlier. There’s a foul odor in this town, and it may be the scent of murder.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Here Curtiz the master creates a diabolical murder yarn. Crawford resuscitated her fading career with the driven Mildred, a part she was born to play. The Oscar- nominated Blyth grates as the hateful Veda (hard for her not to), and Scott and Carson each ooze their particular brand of acid as the calculating men in Mildred’s life. For a vicarious glimpse into seamy small town intrigue, you can’t beat this one. Joan won an Oscar.


    Ordinary People (1980)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Adolescent-aged son Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton) must painfully rebuild his life and relationships, particularly that with his parents (Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore), after his beloved older brother dies in a boating accident.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    “People” is one of the more harrowing films out there (without blood or violence) thanks to Redford’s inspired direction and flawless turns by Sutherland, Moore and especially Hutton. Penetrating and painful to watch, the film delivers ample emotional rewards. Redford’s first foray behind the camera, the film won the Oscars for Best Picture and Director, as did young Hutton for Supporting Actor. A must.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • February 11, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Suffering a Fool

    by Sam Hutchins

    As we put Albequerque behind us we found ourselves stopping frequently to take pictures.  Nothing that was particularly relevant to the film, but great subject material still.  Strange stuff, too.  What possesses someone to live in a trailer next to the railroad tracks in the middle of nowhere?  Perhaps the trailers inhabitants would ask the same about my life in New York City, but I know that answer.  For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how someone would end up out here unless they were running from something.  Metaphorically we are all putting something behind us I suppose.  Be it a bad relationship, lost potential, or what have you, we all have a past.  This was a literal manifestation of it though, and the wind carried it like a warning.

    Eventually we made our way to the edge of Vaughn.  The Ranch View was just as great looking as we remembered it.  We shot it extensively now that it was open.  Odd that it looked borderline derelict last time we were here but was now open and serving breakfast.  Function of its surroundings I guess, and it’s precisely that environment I hoped to catch on film.  The whole scene had a palpable “In Cold Blood” vibe to it.

    The owner, Pete, seemed a little shady, making him consistent with his surroundings.  He spent most of the time we were there shooting the location trying to big time us.  The impulse is understandable.  It’s only natural to want to impress the people you meet, particularly when being visited in a small town.  Still, did he think the director who has a Palme D’or cared that he is able to close up his diner and go skiing whenever he pleases?  He went on the point where it was tiresome.  In these situations it is incumbent on me to steer the person away from the director.  That’s one aspect of my job that I dislike intensely.  I’m not one to suffer fools gladly in my own life and it pains me to be professionally obligated to do so.

    As we prepared to leave I asked him about the adjacent motel, also called the Ranch View.

    “Oh no, you don’t want to go there.”

    “Actually, yes, I do.”

    “No, it’s closed.  No one there.”

    “Then whose car is parked by the office?”

    He was at a loss for words, and looked to be a bit anguished.  I took him by the arm and sat him in a booth.

    “Look man, we’re going over there.  I have to.  It’s my job.  So unless you give me a real good reason to tell my boss,” I nodded towards Kar Wai, “Then I’m going to check it out.”

    “No, no, it’s cool.  But whatever you work out with them, my deal is separate.  And you can’t tell them that you’re paying me.”

    Heh, looks like Mr. Big Time here doesn’t even own the damn diner.  What a putz.  No matter, even with our smallish budget I knew we could take care of this guy as well as the actual owners.

    “Don’t sweat it, bro, I’ll take good care of you.”

    After all the agita it turned out to be a waste of time anyway.  The hotel, which looked wonderfully dilapidated from a distance, was unfortunately tidy inside.  After bidding good day to the 300 lb woman who was pretty obviously Pete’s mother we pressed on.  Everyone has his or her little dramas in life.  I’m not there to get involved; I just want to do my job.

    Vaughn proper was full of false promise.  There was lots of great old signage in front of weathered facades, but nothing had been maintained.  What appeared to be promising inevitably wound up being completely derelict.  Overall it was a bit of a letdown.  Should we decide to shoot at the Ranch View we would be a little short on other pieces to put with it locally.  I did still like the look of the Ranch View but the dearth of additional locations combined with the vague menace it carried were probably reason enough to blow it off.  That was kind of a drag as we had gone well out of our way to scout the place.  C’est la vie.  I unfolded the map to figure out our next move while we all had a smoke.  There was only one road west, and nothing remotely interesting was in that direction.  Scanning to the south a name on the map caught my eye. Turning to my companions with a big grin I asked them:

    “Hey.  You guys ever hear of a town called Roswell?”


    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

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  • February 9, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Go West, Young Man

    by Sam Hutchins

    It was time to head out west. So far our film had some good elements lining up. We knew Norah’s character would start in New York, work west to either Cleveland or Detroit, then down to Memphis. These were all good, distinct locations. Each offered a very different look and feel. Each had enough resonance to provide ample opportunity for stories to grow out of them. From Memphis (and northern Mississippi, possibly) the next logical step was west. This is true not only geographically, but in terms of plot development as well. As the story progressed the character’s world needs to open up. It felt right.

    On our earlier trip we had discovered a great diner in New Mexico, the Ranch View. It was deserted, and we had not been able to gain access. The place wasn’t totally derelict, though, so we were hoping to get in. Some telephone sleuthery had turned up an owner who sounded a little flaky, but then so does everyone in New Mexico. I can’t be sure, but I think the words “antisocial loner” can be found in the state motto.

    Aside from having a great, desert bleached look to the diner itself, it sat in a very favorable layout for photography. The building was on the very edge of Vaughn, New Mexico, separating the town from the high desert. If you photographed it looking away from town it appeared to be completely isolated, but we still had some close by infrastructure to rely on that would be hidden from camera. Even on a smaller film like this you need to house, feed and entertain the crew. There was also a small motel behind the diner that could make a good filming location or work as crew lodging in a pinch.

    Vaughn was a decent sized town, at least by “town in the middle of the desert” standards. In places like that a population of 600 is considered the big city. Vaughn was initially created as a settlement to support a Southern Pacific railroad depot. When the Eastern Railroad of New Mexico expanded and crossed the Southern Pacific in Vaughn the city topped out its population at just under 1,000 people. That was in the early 1920’s, but it had steadily held its current size for a few decades. It sits a bit southeast of Albuquerque.

    Throughout our scouting trips our M.O. had been to drive everywhere. We didn’t always know exactly what we were looking for, and time on the open road provides opportunity for unexpected discoveries. Faced with the prospect of crossing Texas again, however, we chose to change our methods. To a man we hated that fucking state, and decided to break form and hop a flight to bypass it. Life is too short to spend any more of it in that hellhole.

    I hate that a hotel in Albuquerque can be familiar, but it was the third time I’d stayed in this one on this film alone. We had a pretty awful, overpriced meal in the old part of town. Awful as the meal was, it did take place in one of the old mission buildings from the original settlement that grew into Albuquerque. What balls it must have taken to push that far into the unknown. I don’t think anything in modern life can really compare to the experience. The frontier is long gone. The adventurous ones amongst us still find ways to test themselves but nothing comes close to the leap of faith the pioneers made.

    We spent an hour in the morning exploring the city but there was not much to recommend it. After a second hour (much to my annoyance) searching for a Starbucks we hit the open road. I’ve seen it before, but it’s still revelatory every time I leave a city out west. Civilization vanishes so abruptly that you are in the wilderness before you know it. I wonder what it’s like to be that guy living in the last house on the edge of town. Do you prefer the more comforting view, looking back in at the lights of downtown, or do you look out the other window at the wide-open spaces? What happens when someone builds a house on the open side of your lot? Are you sad that you lose the view, or relieved that the Coyotes have someplace else to scavenge before getting to your place? Of course one’s mind only works like this under a big open sky. As the land opened up around us, we would soon start having deep conversations and revealing our souls to one another.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

    • comments (0)
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