RIP Phillip Seymour Hoffman

I wrote this in 2008, but it remains as true as ever. RIP to one of Hollywood’s finest actors.

One of Hollywood's finest [photo courtesy of google image search]

One of Hollywood’s finest [photo courtesy of google image search]

–from July 9, 2008

I love you, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I love your three names, said in sequential order:  Philip. Seymour. Hoffman.
I love how your middle name (or second name?) is the name of Steve Buscemi’s character in Ghost World.  I also love Steve Buscemi, but that is another post for another time.

I loved you the moment I saw you, as “Lester Bangs” in 2000′s Almost Famous.  I used to be the type of girl that fell for Billy Crudup’s sexy rock-stud character “Russell Hammond.”  But Philip, that was the year 2000.  We thought the world was going to end.  I was young, naive, infatuated by girlie neo-rockstars.  You know, girlie-men.  But it is now 2008.  8 whole years have passed.  I am more mature and more aware that there are more lonely, grouchy has-been Lester Bangs in the world than there are handsome yet unattainable Russell Hammonds.

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool." [Philiip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in "Almost Famous"]

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” [Philiip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous”]

I think that is your appeal.  You are the Everyman, if such a phrase were accurate.  You are no Jude Law, no Clive Owen, and least of all, Bradley Pitt-Jolie.  You’re chubby, grubby, tubby, and have no problem inhabiting roles that are perverse, sleazy if you will (one thinks of your role as the obsessed pervert in 1998′s Happiness or 2004′s Along Came Polly–there is not a soul who could forget that shirtless and oh so sweaty basketball scene where Ben Stiller gets a face-full of your manly perspiration).  You have a low, gruff voice that somehow miraculously changed to the high-pitched Southern trill of Truman Capote.  You were the absolute best part of an otherwise dull Charlie Wilson’s War.  You are–dare I say it–a surprisingly sexy Hollywood star (and not in the otherworldly Johnny Depp sense but in the so-talented-you-can’t-help-but-notice-it Philip Seymour Hoffman sense.  You are your own category, Philip).

In Saturday’s A & E section of The Hamilton Spectator, there was a feature on unattractive male actors with enormous appeal.  You were there, Philip, among the likes of Ron Perlman and Benicio del Toro (who I think is quite handsome in a conventional sense despite those dark circles under his eyes).  I was pleased to see you there, despite the feminist in me being a tad annoyed at the double standard there is for unattractive stars.  There is practically no such thing as an unattractive female star; even the ones with good acting “chops” (Kidman, Blanchett, Hayek, Witherspoon, Cruz) are noticeably more attractive than the ordinary earthling.

But you, Philip . . . you could be the over-sized and unemployed slouch at the drive-thru of Tim Hortons.  You could be the high school math teacher with an embarrassing and epic perspiration problem.  You could be Uncle Phil, smelling of tobacco and good spirits, taking nephew Jimmy out back to practice shooting the BB gun.  I pass hundreds of Philip Seymour Hoffmans every day, driving their work pick-up trucks, loitering on the bench in front of the post office flicking cigarette butts at the street, giving the old “well well well” to anything in a skirt.  You’re so human and transparent, it’s delicious.

You know what else?  I just finished reading Elizabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air which is a really good read about a small Yellowknife radio station in the 1970s.  The lead character of Harry Boyd?  As soon as the character was described, I cast you in his role in the movie version.  Even though it’s a Canadian book, and, should it be turned into a movie, should cast Canadian actors, I cannot see anyone else but you as Harry Boyd–a character so real and flawed and . . . you.

I will let you play a Canadian.  That’s how much I love you.


I Want My Life to be Like an 80s movie

"in your eyes ..."

Whatever happened to chivalry? Does it only exist in 80s movies? I want John Cusack holding a boombox outside my window. I wanna ride off on a lawnmower with Patrick Dempsey. I want Jake from Sixteen Candles waiting outside the church for me. I want Judd Nelson thrusting his fist into the air because he knows he got me. Just once I want my life to be like an 80s movie, preferably one with a really awesome musical number for no apparent reason. But no, no … John Hughes did not direct my life

–from Easy A (2010)


Wives and Daughters and Being a Lady

Elizabeth Gaskell, 1832: portrait by William John Thomson

I spent last night in bed recovering from a hectic week watching a gorgeous BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. I was trying to find BBC’s Sense and Sensibility on YouTube but for some reason couldn’t; I ended up stumbling upon Wives and Daughters instead. Having already watched North and South, I am now interested in all things Gaskell and am anxious to read her novels.

As you probably already know, I’m a sucker for period romances and all things Austen and Brontë. I’m very fond of 18th and 19th century literature and have seen nearly every BBC adaptation of  Austen and the Brontë sisters’ novels. (As a general rule, the BBC adaptations tend to do a better job and remain truer to the texts than Hollywood). So it was no surprise that I fell madly in love with Wives and Daughters and wish to watch the 301 minute TV mini-series again and again and again.

clockwise from left: Anthony Howell, Bill Paterson, Francesca Annis, Keeley Hawes and Justine Waddell in "Wives and Daughters" (1999)

But something in me last night was especially receptive to what God was speaking to me through this movie, especially in the areas of being a woman of worth, and true romance. Yes, God can speak through movies. He can speak through anything really, but tends to use the Arts to speak to me. Years ago, a friend of mine mentioned that she likes to watch movies by herself, with God. For some beautiful, unknown reason, the viewing of Wives and Daughters corresponded perfectly with what He has already been teaching me about myself and developing good character.

Molly Gibson (Justine Waddell) is the perfect example of a True Lady: she’s steadfast, intelligent, kind, quietly confident, fiercely loyal, selfless, modest, and speaks her mind when it is right to do so (I’ve noticed this is a common trait among Gaskell’s heroines). The only time she is gossiped about and has scandal associated with her name (this is Victorian England, remember, and these things were detrimental to someone’s reputation) is on behalf of her stepsister.

Although not as pretty and flirtatious as her stepsister Cynthia (Keeley Hawes, who reminded me of a more finely featured Keira Knightley), a fact even her dear father will admit, it is her good character and pure heart which attract the love of the admirable Roger Hamley (Anthony Howell), someone she quietly loves without silliness and strain. While Cynthia gets more than her fair share of attention from men and more marriage proposals than she can deal with, Molly is wise enough to know that a good man’s heart should not be trifled with. She is constant and unwavering in her love for Roger, and when he becomes engaged to Cynthia, her inner torment is heart-breaking to watch.

"I wish I was pretty," Molly says to Cynthia

But good girls finish first in Gaskell’s story, and everyone gets what they deserve. The whole time I was watching, God was speaking to me about my character and how He is developing it for the better despite all the trials and slip-ups. He was showing me how often I can be like a Cynthia (to whom Gaskell is still very sympathetic, by the way, which is something I love about her. No one’s black-and-white). Silly, fickle, viewing attention from men like a game, a way of measuring worth. In a rare candid moment, Cynthia confides in Molly: “I just like to be liked!”

Oh, how familiar those words are.

But being like that, placing flirting and attention above true love and romance, is not without its consequences. It is far more rewarding to be like Molly, who waits patiently for her good man to realize he’s loved her all along. The scenes in which he realizes this are easily some of the most romantic I’ve ever witnessed. The way he looks at her is so pure, so loving, without selfish desires or expectations … it’s something worth waiting for I think, and much more valuable than tallying up the empty, shallow glances of men who simply want something other than one’s heart.

I love scenes in many period romances where there’s a ball, and two characters realize they have feelings for each other while they’re dancing. The band plays on, other couples continue gaily dancing, the candles flicker to a soft background glow, and yet it’s as if time stands still. All that matters is the other person and your heart pounding in your chest as you slowly and delicately, as well-composed and graceful as your dance steps, fall in love. I saw this in Wives and Daughters as well as The Young Victoria (2009).

Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend in "The Young Victoria" (2009)

When I watch Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fall in love as they engage in a dance, and Roger Hamley’s eyes burn with the realization of his love for Molly Gilbert as he gazes at her across a crowded dining table, God reminds me:

This is the love I have for you. This is the love, and more. My love for you is without agenda, without expectation, without limit. When I gaze upon you all I can see is your enduring beauty and loveliness and grace. I desire you. When I see you dancing with others who are not good for you, or when you’re sitting it out, pouting that you don’t have a partner, I’m dying for you to see me waiting patiently, hand outstretched. When we dance, I want nothing more than to have the world stop and nothing else matter but looking into your eyes and you looking into mine.

no hero in her sky

Call me a feminist (go ahead; call me one. I wouldn’t hold it against you), but there don’t seem to be as many outstanding female heroines in movies as there are male heroes. Kick-ass heroines in action films are more celebrated for their ability to look hot in a catsuit whilst firing bullets (ahem–Angelina Jolie–ahem) than they are their courage and strength, and most female leads in romantic comedies are shallow and weak-willed caricatures of what movie producers imagine real women to be like (retail therapy and men bashing sessions over cocktails, anyone?).

And then there are those fabulously magical free-spirited “indie chicks” emulated by every Urban Outfitters-clad hipster (Natalie Portman in Garden State, Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, etc.). They’re fun and light-hearted and gorgeous and quirky, they steal the hearts of the pathetic male anti-hero, and I’m pretty sure they don’t exist in real life. Maybe in the Annex or Trinity Bellwoods … or the entirely fashionable city of Montreal. But since the aforementioned films are from a male’s perspective, they’re glistening beacons of tiny-waisted perfection, quirks and all. And thus, I hate them.

So when I was wracking my brain trying to think of movie heroines that didn’t annoy me in some capacity, I came up with a pretty short–yet specific–list. My choices may surprise you …

Without further ado, my top five favourite female heroines in film:

5. Kate Winslet as Iris in “The Holiday” (2006)

Kate Winslet pretty much rocks in everything she does, but for some reason, in the Christmas romcom “The Holiday,” she’s particularly charming. I don’t know if it’s her adorable English cottage with the cozy fireplace and books, her acknowledgment of being pathetic over that schmuck who uses her, or her unlikely friendship with Amanda’s elderly neighbour, Arthur Abbott, but she’s so darn likable, especially in comparison to the irritating Cameron “I’m-a-gorgeous-goofball” Diaz.

Kate has class, and although Iris is wasting her time being in love with an unavailable schmuck … well, who hasn’t? At least she realizes that “you’re supposed to be the leading lady in your own life, for God’s sake!” and she handles her feelings for Miles (Jack Black) with grace and restraint. She recovers her self-esteem and even displays healthy doses of gumption. I watch this movie every Christmas and always find myself loving Kate Winslet a little more each time.

4. Emma Thompson in anything, but particularly “Love Actually” (2003)

I want to be Emma Thompson when I grow up. Truly; she’s a marvel. She’s intelligent, funny, thoroughly British, and I’ve loved her in every film she’s ever been in. Even “Nanny McPhee.” Like Kate, she’s a class act and has such an un-Hollywood vibe about her that is so refreshing (Sidebar: Emma and Kate do a bang-up job as sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood in the 1995 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility.” But I digress …) Emma seems like someone you’d be able to sit by the fireplace with under heaps of thick knit blankets during a snowstorm, having a nice tea and a long chat punctuated by moments of comfortable silence.

… But enough of my Emma Thompson idolatry. There’s a moment in the film “Love Actually” that my friend and I absolutely adore and pretty much sums up why her character Karen is so wonderful. After attending a work Christmas party where she observes her husband (Alan Rickman) flirting with his pretty young secretary, she doesn’t fly into a jealous rage and throw teacups at his head or demand an explanation or cry irrationally which is probably what most of us would have done. Instead, she remarks how pretty the secretary is, and when her husband makes a glib response, she says simply, “Be careful there.”

As my friend says, such grace. It takes a very confident, self-composed woman to be able to deal with that situation the way Karen does. I recommend watching “Love Actually” just for how Emma Thompson’s character handles her husband’s suggested infidelity. It’s quite inspiring.

3. Audrey Tautou as Amelie Poulain in “Amelie” (2001)

To whomever says that shyness and introversion are negative characteristics, I say phooey. Amelie is a shy, introverted loner living in Paris who enjoys the small pleasures in life, like skipping stones, and engaging in random, anonymous acts of kindness. If she wasn’t that way, could her sweet “stratagems” have that much of an impact? I love this line about her: Amelie still seeks solitude. She amuses herself with silly questions about the world below …

Even though her neighbour Dufayel tries to convince her to stand up and do something (“So my little Amelie, you don’t have bones of glass. You can take life’s knocks. If you let this chance pass, eventually, your heart will become as dry and brittle as my skeleton. So, go get him, for Pete’s sake!”), she pursues Nino on her own terms and in her own way.

I love the part where Amelie goes home with Nino’s photo album and is lying in bed with it (as shown in the picture above), and the narrator says: “Any normal girl would call the number, meet him, return the album and see if her dream is viable. It’s called a reality check. The last thing Amelie wants.” So she’s a little reserved, a little scared of putting herself out there and possibly getting hurt or torn from her dream world. I can identify with that, and that’s why I love Amelie so much. She reminds me of one of my favourite quotes by Virginia Woolf: “No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”

2. Olivia Williams as Miss Stubbs in “An Education” (2009)

I’ve already blogged about why I love Miss Stubbs at the end of this blog entry about “An Education,” so you can just read it there …

1. Juliette Binoche as Vianne in “Chocolat” (2000)

In a town of closed minds and cold hearts, Vianne is a breath of fresh air in “Chocolat.” She’s upbeat and positive, she sees the best in others (even the town’s stodgy mayor), she’s able to melt and win over her toughest critics, she wears bright coral heels everywhere she goes, and she fills her life with goodwill, joy, and fun. She follows her heart. Oh, and she owns a chocolate shop! What’s not to love?

Honourable Mentions: Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), Sophie Quinton as Avril in “April in Love” (2006), Rebecca Hall as Vicky in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008), Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo in “Frida” (2002), and Drew Barrymore as Josie in “Never Been Kissed” (1999).

It just occurred to me that among my top five favourite females in film, three are British and two are French. Interesting, n’est-ce pas?

… So, back to you, blogosphere. Who are your favourite film heroines and why?

Nobody sings it like Janis

It’s the 40th anniversary of Janis Joplin’s untimely death today, so here’s a little YouTube vid to commemorate:

Has there ever been another singer after her who had that much passion, that much soul, that much raw emotion?

I can’t really think of anything off-hand.

Here’s something pretty interesting. I found out today that my mom was a huge fan back in the day and used to play Janis’ records all the time with her roommate. I always thought my mom and I had very different tastes in music but I suppose that somehow I inherited my love of Janis from her. If she had held on to that record and passed it down to me, I would be on cloud 9, let me tell you.

They still haven’t made a Janis Joplin biopic yet which I’m kind of glad about because some of the actresses rumoured to be cast in the title role are outrageous (Renee Zellweger, Pink, Joss Stone, Amy Adams, and–ugh–Katy Perry). Not that I have anything against any of the aforementioned (with the exception of Katy Perry), but Renee Zellweger is too annoying, Amy Adams is too pretty (and if they “uglied” her up for the challenging role, I’d be pissed off), and Pink and Joss Stone are just too unexceptional and lack the edgy, charismatic, unusual qualities that made Janis Janis.

If I was the casting director, I might pick Bjork. Sure, she doesn’t speak English all that well and is as un-American as they come, but she definitely has the unique facial features and a wicked set of pipes.

is she too foreign to play Janis?

I was also impressed with Dana Fuchs’ portrayal of a “Janis Joplin-esque” character in Across the Universe. She was by far the best part of that movie and nearly stole the show from the sappy leads. I mean, girlfriend can sing:

What it all comes down to, really, is that when it comes to people I like, I am very picky about casting. So, who would you cast as Janis Joplin if you were the casting director?

Don’t worry so much about “supposed to”

Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp in Chocolat (2000)

We can’t go ’round measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.

Mmmmm … Chocolat. One of my favourite things in life and one of my favourite movies of all time.

I spent this rainy autumn Saturday in an indecisive grump, torn between doing what I was “supposed to” do (finesse CV, make important appointments, work out, research different career paths, work on novel, &c.) and doing what really needed to be done on my first real weekend off in … ever (recuperate from migraine, relax sore muscles from work, rest, rejuvenate, relax, refresh, &c.)

So much cognitive dissonance. So little giving my mind a break from the constant drill-sergeant orders to do, do, do.

Sounds like a song.

And so I said to hell with it and got some dark chocolate, rented Chocolat, and spent the evening curled up on the comfy couch in my PJs with the dog and got completely lost in the charming movie which stars Juliette Binoche as Vianne, one of my female cinematic heroines (which is another blog for another time).

The end result? I am happier, inspired to write, and the headache is almost gone, which could have been healed by the chocolate or the much-needed rest, or perhaps a combination of both.

My appetite for France and all things French has also intensified to the point of yearning. Thanks a lot, Chocolat and Beauty and the Beast and The Elegance of the Hedgehog and A Novel Bookstore! Someday I will visit you, France.

That’s a promise.

An Inspiration

from An Education (2009)

You know that you can do anything you want to. You’re clever and you’re pretty, but is your boyfriend interested in the real you? — Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams) in An Education

I finally got around to watching An Education and it quickly became a favourite. First of all, the cast is classy and well-selected, including: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike, the always delightful Emma Thompson (whom I’d like to be when I grow up), Sally Hawkins (from the 2007 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion) in a small yet powerful role, and my latest actress fascination, Olivia Williams, whose intelligent beauty, grace, and distinct eyebrows first caught my attention in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore.

Actually, now that I think about it, over half of the main cast have been in Jane Austen movie adaptations. Damn those talented Brits! But I digress …

I’d heard amazing things about the “up-and-coming” new “It Girl,” Carey Mulligan, who is–prematurely, I think–being labelled the “new Audrey Hepburn” (and is set to star in a remake of My Fair Lady). I’ve always been of the opinion that French actress Audrey Tautou (from Amelie and Coco Avant Chanel) is more of a modern-day Audrey Hepburn and Mulligan, if she wasn’t getting so much hype, is more of a Michelle Williams. I’d only seen her in Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, but in An Education, she really shines and definitely out-acts Hepburn. I love you, Audrey, but I think you were celebrated more for your style than your acting chops.

Mulligan’s portrayal of Jenny, a bright young British schoolgirl in the 1960s who gets caught up in the romance and glamour of a relationship with a much older man, is sensitive and rich.

And the best part about Jenny? She rallies.

She may have gotten her heart broken, her dreams dashed and her chance at a future temporarily delayed, but she rallies. She’s doesn’t remain a victim; she moves on. She goes to Oxford to “read English books” and makes something more of herself than a pretty young thing.

All with the help of her elegant English teacher, Miss Stubbs, who is teaching Jane Eyre to her class of impressionable young women. What’s not to love?

the lovely Olivia Williams as Miss Stubbs in An Education

When Jenny seemingly throws away all her dreams and aspirations for a whirlwind romance with a slick, morally reprehensible man, it is Miss Stubbs who encourages her to get an education, and it is Miss Stubbs who helps her when everyone else has let her down.

In light of the swanky dance parties and weekend trips to Paris, Jenny doesn’t see the point in going to university and getting a degree (which she equates with being “boring”). But once her boyfriend/fiance reveals his true colours, the alternative doesn’t seem quite so bad.

I believe this revelation comes to her in my favourite scene of the movie, when she visits Miss Stubbs’ apartment and it becomes clear that Miss Stubbs is far from being a boring spinster. In fact, Miss Stubbs exemplifies the kind of contented, bookish, independent woman I aspire to be. With her funky glasses and a cozy cardigan, making Jenny a spot of tea whilst a cat jumps up on the tasteful furniture (I could be just imagining she had a cat, but all bookish, writerly types seem to have feline companions) … Miss Stubbs shows Jenny–without saying a word–that there is a possibility of having a rich and cultured life without the help of a man. That you can carve out the kind of life you want, and getting an education would help shape that life.

That you’re pretty and clever, and you can do anything you want to …