Showing posts with label Paul Newman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul Newman. Show all posts

Friday, July 29, 2022

"Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris" as well as the Paul Newman-Joanne Woodward documentary "The Last Movie Stars" and the Netflix movie "The Weekend Away."  The Book of the Week is "Apparently There Were Complaints: A Memoir" by Sharon Gless ] 

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022)

A cleaning lady in 1950's London decides she must go to Paris to buy a couture dress.

Sometimes I just need something light and fluffy.  With all of the bad news in the world - mass shootings, wild fires, inflation, political unrest - I want to sit in the dark and go somewhere else. The movies helped people get through the Great Depression and they will help get us through these tough times too. Movies transport us and give us a break from what's ailing us and that's why movies matter.  And this fit the bill.  So my friend and I left our cares behind and went off to Paris with Mrs. Harris!

It's 1957.  England is still recovering from WW II.  Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) is a cleaning lady whose husband has been missing in action since The War.  She cleans for an aspiring actress (Rose Williams), a bowler-wearing gentleman with a series of "nieces (Christian McKay)," and Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor), an aristocrat who is far too busy planning a wedding to pay Mrs. Harris.  Despite hanging out with her friend, Vi (Ellen Thomas) at the Legion Hall during her down time, Mrs. Harris, as a woman of a certain age, feels lonely and invisible.  

But then Mrs. Harris lays eyes on a beautiful Christian Dior gown from Paris at Lady Dant's, and she imagines what it might be like to have such a dress for herself. She would no longer be invisible! 

So that's the plan.  Go to Paris and buy a couture gown at the House of Dior. 

However, one small problem. Well, it's a big problem, actually. The dress cost Lady Dant five hundred pounds. To give you some perspective, that would be over 10,000 pounds in today's currency.  But Mrs. Harris is determined.  And through a series of ups and downs, she is able to save the money and get herself to the House of Dior on the Avenue Montaigne in Paris. But who knew you couldn't just walk into the House of Dior, plunk down your money and get a gown?  She is snubbed at first, especially by Claudine (Isabelle Huppert), the snobbish manager of the salon, but our Mrs. Harris has spunk.  She is determined to get that dress and her spunk endears her to, not only the models and seamstresses at Dior, but the Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson) who invites her to sit with him during the fashion show.

Just to give you a little history on why a Dior gown was so important to Mrs. Harris.  In 1947, Christian Dior launched a fashion collection that was deemed "The New Look."  It was a youthful, glamorous look which was a far cry from the austere clothes women had been wearing since The War. "The New Look" was so revolutionary that it was credited with reviving the fashion industry in France. By 1957, when Mrs. Harris saw Lady Dant's dress, France was once again the preeminent capitol of the fashion world and the "New Look" was influencing fashion designers around the world. Having a Dior gown from Paris would have been the top of the top for a working class woman in post-war London.  So there you have your mini-history of fashion circa 1957.

Getting back to Mrs. Harris...that dress represented much more than fashion for Mrs. Harris.  Going to Paris and getting that dress also represented a new life and, maybe, even romance.  Mrs. Harris had just found out that the Army had declared her husband dead, so after ten years of waiting she was ready for love.  When she meets the Marquis, she is hopeful but there are some bumps on the runway to love for Mrs. Harris as well as getting that dress.

There is a lovely little side romance between Natasha (Alba Baptista), a beautiful model who takes a liking to Mrs. Harris and Andre (Lucas Bravo), the handsome accountant for the salon, who discover they both love Sartre! Other characters come and go in Mrs. Harris's life, but to everyone she meets she is concerned, kind, open, and genuine and they love her.  And thanks to the beautiful performance by Leslie Manville, you will love her too.

Based on the 1958 book by Paul Gallico, "Flowers for Mrs. Harris," which was published in the U.S. under the title "Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris" (I actually read that book back when I was - mumble- er, younger), this is a feature film version of a TV movie that starred Angela Lansbury in 1992 and there was an even earlier version of this story on an installment of the Studio One TV anthology series back in 1958. But because those were not feature films, I am not going to put this film in the remake category (you know I hate remakes of perfectly good films). Besides, I didn't see those two earlier versions, so they don't count.  And though I can certainly see Angela Lansbury playing Mrs. Harris, I can't believe she would be any better than Leslie Manville, because Leslie Manville was perfection.

With a screenplay by Anthony Fabian, Carroll Cartwright, Olivia Hetreed, and Keith Thompson and directed by Fabian, this film has wonderful acting (many familiar British faces) and production values -- and FASHION!  That's about as good as it gets for me. But just because the film is all about a dress and seems to be light and fluffy, it is much more than that. 

The film addresses the age old struggle between the classes. Mrs. Harris is a woman from the working class, almost invisible to the hoity-toity upper class as she goes about her work. How dare she presume to buy a couture gown. And to add another layer of invisibility to Mrs. Harris is her age. Just like Mrs. Harris, we women of a certain age often DO feel invisible.  How many times have we been ignored at a counter or in a restaurant while the young thing next to us gets all of the attention?  But though we women may be older, we still have our dreams and deserve to be seen.  And that's what this movie validates. 

But you don't need to be a woman of a certain age to enjoy this film.  

Who wouldn't enjoy a film that is reminiscent of the movies of the Golden Age of Hollywood, where a loveable character, who despite setbacks, finds happiness? In this day and age, where so much bad stuff is happening, it makes me happy when good things happen to good people. I sat chuckling with tears of enjoyment in my eyes the whole time. I think you will too. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...a feel good film that was utterly delightful. (in theatres)


The Last Movie Stars (2022)

This six-part docuseries follows the lives and careers of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Ethan Hawke directed this wonderful documentary about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward that details their long careers and marriage.  Claire Newman, their daughter, contacted Hawke asking him to do a documentary on her parents.  According to him, he knew how much work that would be and wanted to say no, but couldn't.

Paul had planned to write a memoir and asked one of his friends to conduct taped interviews with friends, family and associates, but for a reason known only to him, he burned the tapes. Thankfully for us, the tapes had been transcribed and the transcripts survived.  This docuseries is based on those transcripts and Newman's journals made available by his children and are brought to life by famous actors, many who knew Paul and Joanne (George Clooney voices Paul and Laura Linney voices Joanne). Paul's and Joanne's children also weigh in.

I was a huge fan of both actors, particularly Paul, and I think I saw almost all of their movies and read about them in movie magazines (yes, people, I read movie magazines...but I was much younger then).  I thought I knew a lot about them.  Yes, I knew Paul was a race car driver in his later years and liked his beer and that they were married for a long time (50 years).  However, this documentary revealed much about them that I did not know. For example, who knew that Paul had a wife and three kids when he met Joanne?  Who knew Paul played second fiddle to James Dean? Who knew that Joanne died of Alzheimer's? And who knew that Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams played such major roles in their lives?  Those are just some of the revelations in this series.

Paul and Joanne met while acting in New York City (they were both understudies) and fell in love.  But they were both married to other people. They carried on their affair for five years before getting married, which shows the power of the movie studios in those days to protect their stars from scandal.

Also early in their relationship, Joanne was the bigger star and accorded recognition as a great actress. Paul, not so much.  He was handsome, of course (those blue, blue eyes), and he could ac,t but he wasn't really thought of as a great actor until much later. Every part he got was one that someone else had passed on.  His biggest competition was James Dean.  Dean was getting all of the parts that Paul wanted. Seeing the two together in this docuseries was a particular treat.  Paul auditioned for "East of Eden," and, of course, didn't get it.  He also tried for Curly in "Oklahoma." That's something interesting to ponder.  Likewise, after Dean's untimely death, Paul starred in "Somebody Up There Likes Me," a film meant for Dean.  Who knows what would have happened with Paul's career had Dean not died? Something else to ponder. After that film, Paul's star rose, but then he had to contend with Brando, who was already considered one of the greats. But, like Dean and Brando, Paul was a product of the Actor's Studio, an angry young man type.  He was a pretty boy but rarely had to play a silly male ingenue role.  His characters were almost always complex and intense.

But later, of course, Paul became a superstar, finally winning an Oscar for "The Color of Money (he had been nominated nine times before that)," and Joanne's star faded, despite having won an Oscar and numerous Emmys.  She complained later that is what happens when you have kids. She admitted she wasn't "a natural mother" and that actors don't make good parents. I should add a female's star also wanes when she hits a certain age. 

But this film is not just about Paul's and Joanne's careers.  It's also about their long marriage, and though there were some hints that some cheating went on at one point, somehow the two survived together, despite both working in an industry that is not very conducive to long term marriage, despite Paul's alcoholism and Joanne's sometime bitterness about taking a back seat to Paul. There were times when she didn't like being married to THE Paul Newman, because he wasn't that guy when she married him. During one interview, they said the secret of their long marriage was that they did not have the same interests! 

Hawke does a good job of capturing the time, that time when movie stars were MOVIE STARS, hence the title.  However, I could have done without so much Ethan Hawke and his kids weighing in. I mean this was supposed to be about Paul and Joanne. But I get it.  He's an actor.  He can't help himself, but not keen on the lines blurred between actor and director.  He also used footage from their films to illustrate different times and events in their lives, and though I enjoyed all of the footage, there were times when I scratched my head.  There would be a voice over from Paul and some footage that to me had nothing to do with what he was talking about. For example, what did scenes from "Torn Curtain" have to do with Paul's regrets as a father and his only son, Scott's, problems? The movie scenes often distracted from the important narrative.  I would have preferred stills during those moments or family videos. And did this need to be over six hours long?  Probably not, but I couldn't stop watching.

There will be those who might not like knowing this much about their icons - the warts and all stuff - and I can understand that.  But I liked the reminder that even superstars are human and vulnerable to all the same human conditions as the rest of us.  And that made me like them all the more. They talk about their lives, acting, their marriage, politics, their activism and their charity, and we get to witness the wonderful film legacy they left behind. It made me want to go back and see all of their films again.  After seeing this remarkable series, I think I would now appreciate them more.

Rosy the Reviewer says...despite some of my complaints, this was a really wonderful documentary that shed light on two wonderful actors and real MOVIE STARS. (HBO Max)

The Weekend Away (2022)

A girl's weekend in Croatia goes very wrong.

New mother Beth (Leighton Meester), whose marriage is floundering a bit, flies to Croatia to hang out with her best friend Kate (Christina Wolfe). They go clubbing and meet two men who flirt with them. Little does Beth realize that the men were escorts and Kate had hired them. However, these weren't nice escorts. The next morning when Beth wakes up she realizes she had been drugged and her friend, Kate, is missing.

Beth contacts the police who start an investigation and when Kate's body is found, Beth becomes the primary suspect thanks to the overzealous detective Pavic (Amar Bukvic). He's not very nice either.  Beth's husband, Rob (Luke Norris), arrives and Beth discovers a secret he has been keeping.  Then she discovers that Kate had gone to the police station to report the escorts and detective Pavic was the last one to see her alive.  Zain (Ziad Bakri), the taxi driver who drove Beth to Kate's house from the airport and befriended her, is also under suspicion.  Who killed Kate?

Written by Sarah Alderson (based on her novel) and directed by Kim Farrrant, this is a fun little thriller that is a notch or two above a Lifetime Movie and won't take too much out of you. Leighton Meester, ex-Gossip Girl, is believable and likable. She looks and acts like a regular girl caught in a web of lies and intrigue and you root for her to get out of the mess she is in.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Lifetime movies have their purpose and the production values on this one are first rate.  If nothing else, the beautiful Croatian landscapes, are worth the ride. (Netflix)

***The Book of the Week***

Apparently There Were Complaints: A Memoir by Sharon Gless (2021)

Remember "Cagney & Lacey?" Actress Sharon Gless (she was Cagney) shares her story.

Fans of the 1980’s TV show “Cagney and Lacey (six seasons),” may have wondered what happened to Sharon Gless.  Sharon Gless was Cagney to Tyne Daly’s Lacey, and she often had to play straight woman to Daly who was A LOT of actress. I never quite got her.  But here, Gless gets to take center stage sharing her childhood growing up as a fifth generation Angelino in the shadow of celebrity (her grandfather was an attorney for the rich and famous).  She always wanted to be an actress, but, suprisingly, despite her grandfather's connections, she did not have an automatic entrée to show business. She had a rocky teenage life, her parents divorced and Gless toiled at many unrelated jobs until taking acting lessons, getting a contract at Universal, and making her way to various TV roles until finally finding her place on “Cagney and Lacey,” a ground-breaking show starring two strong females. Several unsatisfactory romantic entanglements later, she found happiness when she married Barney Rosenzweig, who just happened to be the producer of "Cagney and Lacey."  But Gless struggled with alcoholism and, though continuing to act ("Queer as Folk," "Burn Notice"), she never had the same success as she found in “Cagney and Lacey.”  

But this is not a sad story.  In fact, it's laugh out loud funny and full of juicy tidbits about the rich and famous who have crossed Gless's path.  Now in her late 70's, Gless is grateful for her life and hangs tough…just like Cagney.

Rosy the Reviewer says...“Cagney and Lacey” fans and celebrity memoir mavens alike will enjoy this candid and heartfelt memoir with all kinds of insider tidbits about the famous. (check it out at your local library)

Thanks for reading!

See you again soon!

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