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Anjelica Huston (#110 of 8)

Tribeca Film Festival Thirst Street

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Tribeca Film Festival: Thirst Street

Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival: Thirst Street

Nathan Silver tackles melodrama in Thirst Street, fusing its emotional bigness with his unique form of quotidian portraiture without one cancelling the other out. Silver takes one of the most politically disreputable of subgenres—the film in which a female stalks a male, embodying each person’s respective, stereotypical fears of rejection and obsession—and turns it upside down, stretching it so that we understand the stakes driving all parties. Paradoxically, the film is so empathetic that one doesn’t know where to place their empathy, and Silver’s mastery of tone recalls other filmmakers who’ve mixed tragedy and comedy to unmooring, exhilaratingly ambiguous ends, such as Alan Rudolph, Pedro Almodóvar, and Claude Chabrol.

Summer of ’90: The Witches

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Summer of ’90: The Witches

Warner Bros.

Summer of ’90: The Witches

Children’s movies are traditionally designed to comfort. There’s an unspoken contract between parent and filmmaker: “For the next 90 minutes, your child will be entertained, but not threatened. No need to worry about your little darlings waking up at three in the morning, bawling in terror. This movie is guaranteed not to trouble anyone’s mind. Most people are inherently good. The bad guys don’t win.”

Children’s movies, for the most part, have abided by this contract, but for a brief period during the 1980s those rules went out the window. Children’s cinema was in transition¬. The old standbys, musicals and animation, were out, and sci-fi and fantasy were in. Disney and Jim Henson, in particular, were looking to forge new identities, away from their trademark brands. The result was Something Wicked This Way Comes, Watcher in the Woods, The Black Cauldron, Return to Oz, and The Dark Crystal. These films were guaranteed to give children nightmares, populated as they were by creepy carnivals, screeching lizard-like Skeksis, and rooms full of shrieking severed heads. Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches, released just as Disney’s renaissance restored the old rules, was the last and darkest of this bunch—the best and perhaps the only horror movie made for children.

15 Famous Beautiful Creatures

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15 Famous Beautiful Creatures
15 Famous Beautiful Creatures

This weekend, the young-adult freight train that kicked off with Twilight and kept a-rollin’ with The Hunger Games makes some room for Beautiful Creatures, a supernatural romance (natch) based on the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese, who has some fine scripts under his belt, but is also responsible for the Hilary Swank stankers Freedom Writers and P.S. I Love You, the new film is indeed packed with handsome specimens, like Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Irons, and newcomer Alice Englert. The whole thing got us thinking about beautiful creatures of movies past—characters not quite human, but quite easy on the eyes.

15 Famous Women in Black

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15 Famous Women in Black
15 Famous Women in Black

This weekend, Daniel Radcliffe celebrates his first post-Potter effort with the release of The Woman in Black, a horror thriller about an axe-grinding female ghost who need only be seen to claim a child’s life. The veiled phantom surely has the edge when it comes to offing the little ones, but she hails from a long line of ladies who’ve gone all Hot Topic for the camera. Witches, wives, and even Whoopi made this list of women who sport only the darkest uniforms, making them scary, sexy, cool, sophisticated, and in some cases, all of the above.

Summer of ‘85 Prizzi’s Honor

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Summer of ’85: Prizzi’s Honor

20th Century Fox

Summer of ’85: Prizzi’s Honor

Back in 1985, before GoodFellas and The Sopranos really mixed mob stories with jet black comedy, the great director John Huston, in his second-to-last film, brought to the screen an adaptation of Richard Condon’s Mafia satire Prizzi’s Honor, complete with great performances and some of the most memorable lines ever collected in a single film. Huston may have been in the twilight of his days, but his filmmaking prowess was as strong as ever.

Huston still had one more great one in him too (The Dead, which he always intended to be his swan song, came out in 1987). Still, of his late work, Prizzi’s Honor is the one nearest to my heart. There was such synchronicity in Huston directing his father to a supporting actor Oscar back in 1948 for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and then doing the same for his daughter Anjelica in 1985 for Prizzi’s Honor. The downside: Huston didn’t get a directing Oscar for Prizzi’s Honor and you could read the disappointment on his face when he lost. What a clusterfuck the 1985 directing Oscar race was. First, as Steven Spielberg tried to make his first “grownup” movie with The Color Purple, they gave that film 11 nominations but none for Spielberg. Then on top of Huston’s much-deserved nomination, they also named the master Akira Kurosawa for Ran, but the Academy gave the directing prize to Sydney Pollack’s uninspired work in the equally uninspired Out of Africa.

What Would a Real Director Do?: Choke

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What Would a Real Director Do?: <em>Choke</em>
What Would a Real Director Do?: <em>Choke</em>

Choke—Clark Gregg’s film adaptation of the book by literary darling Chuck Palahniuk—is, according to the press notes, “the subversively comedic tale of Victor Mancini, con artist, sex addict, Colonial village re-enactor, angst-filled son, serial restaurant choker ... and unsuspecting romantic antihero for our unsettling times.” This jam-packed one-liner should give some indication as to what Gregg was up against in attempting to translate Palahniuk’s prose to the screen. David Fincher had an equally difficult challenge with the author’s Fight Club, but unlike Fincher, Gregg is an actor and first-time filmmaker hailing from the theater world (a founding member and former artistic director of the Atlantic Theater Company) whose only qualifications to script-write and direct the cult novel seem to be friends with money, a love of the book, and Palahniuk’s blessing. Well, sometimes love and money and a pat on the head just ain’t enough.

Evil Under the Sun: John Huston in Chinatown

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Evil Under the Sun: John Huston in Chinatown
Evil Under the Sun: John Huston in Chinatown

Though he appears in just three scenes in Roman Polanski’s 1974 masterpiece Chinatown, John Huston creates one of movie history’s most formidable villains: Noah Cross, the wealthy and ruthless land baron who masterminds an elaborate plot to buy up cheap desert property in the San Fernando Valley, irrigate it after bribing the water department, and sell the land for millions.

If people have trouble remembering the exact details of Cross’ plot, it may be because Robert Towne’s screenplay isn’t really about water corruption anyhow. It’s about evil lurking right under the sun—a film noir told not in high contrast shadows, but in the brightness of day. The film’s hero, detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), is sharply decked out in light colored white or tan suits, and for at least half the movie he has a bandage covering his nose, which is sliced up by one of the villain’s henchmen. Throughout Chinatown, the perverse exists side-by-side with the pristine, and Cross exemplifies both extremes. The father of Gittes’s client Evelyn (Faye Dunaway) is an amoral monster who recklessly destroys the lives of those around him. But as played by Huston, he’s not your typical heavy. This is due not just to Huston’s cheerful demeanor, but the personal and professional associations he brings to to Cross. The role taps the power and charisma associated with John Huston, filmmaker, performer and Hollywood legend.

Huston’s long directorial career began in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon—whose hardcase hero, Sam Spade, was an antecedent of Jake Gittes—and produced, among other classics, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and The African Queen (1952). His private life was ripe with hush-hush affairs, drunknness and elephant hunts; yet he leavened his machismo with an affinity for poetry and art. Huston had a house in Ireland and a fondness for literary classics, adapting the richly poetic stories of Flannery O’Connor and James Joyce for the screen. The man was a sea of contradictions, and one of the most domineering spirits in Hollywood. He only needs to walk onto the screen to command it, even opposite Nicholson. And yet for all his force of personality, Huston plays Cross as a charmer—a prosperous gentleman who invites his detective nemesis in for lunch. Throughout, he is jocular and folksy, uttering such quips as, “Of course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, public buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

Deadweek: Janie’s Got a Gun, But Will She Use It?

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Deadweek: Janie’s Got a Gun, But Will She Use It?
Deadweek: Janie’s Got a Gun, But Will She Use It?

Calamity Jane had only five seconds of screen time in last season’s Deadwood premiere, but that was all she needed to make her presence felt. As the stagecoach carrying Martha and William Bullock and several new whores barreled its way toward town, we saw it pass a horse with its rider passed out in the saddle. Sure enough, it was our resident cross-dressing lush, who emerged from her stupor just long enough to scream out “Cocksuckers!” before returning to the sleep of the righteously blitzed.

With Keith Carradine’s Wild Bill Hickok long gone, Robin Weigert has the unenviable task of playing the most famous character on Deadwood, a figure of fascination through the history of Western literature. In movies, she’s typically been portrayed as a sassy tomboy (Doris Day in Calamity Jane) or a sharp-shooting sexpot (Jane Russell in The Paleface). In one of the more awkward page-to-screen adaptations, Larry McMurtry’s Buffalo Girls, which depicted Jane as a lonely hermaphrodite forever writing letters to an imaginary daughter, was turned into a miniseries with Anjelica Huston playing her as a regal plainswoman whose daughter was quite real.