Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Insert joke about suckage here

Thirty years after its initial theatrical take-off, Airplane! remains the untarnished gold standard for free-form movie parodies. In sharp contrast, Vampires Suck -- the latest from the folks who gave us, whether we wanted them or not, Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie -- is unremittingly leaden. You can read my Variety review here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A simple guide -- very simple, actually -- to The Green Hornet

When I interviewed Seth Rogen last year for Observe and Report, our conversation turned to his upcoming involvement as star and co-writer of The Green Hornet, an upcoming movie (due in theaters -- in 3-D! -- Jan. 14, 2011) about the masked hero (supposedly a direct descendant of The Lone Ranger) who’s appeared in pulp novels, radio dramas, movie serials, comic books and a ’60s TV series. Trouble is, the guy hasn't appeared in much of anything lately. So I had to ask: Really, aren’t you worried that this character might be a little too obscure to attract moviegoers your age and younger?

"We’re very aware of that," Rogen replied. "And obviously, we’re not doing The Green Hornet because we’re big fans of it. We’re doing The Green Hornet because no one knows shit about him. So we can completely re-imagine him how we want. But because there’s enough built-in familiarity, the studio will give us enough money to make the kind of movie we want to make.

"Me and Evan Goldberg, my writing partner, we’re lifelong comic-book fans, lifelong superhero fans. And we think we can have an original take on this from a writing perspective. That’s really why we pursued it. Because we thought, “OK, if we do The Green Hornet, then we’ll get the kind of big movie we want to make. We can re-invent it to the point so that it can be exactly what we want to do – but no one will get pissed off, because no one really knows that much about it.”

Judging from the above trailer, I have to say: Maybe, just maybe, they really did strike the perfect balance of tongue-in-cheek humor and wall-to-wall action. Still, I'm a little worried that Columbia Pictures feared some people might have a hard time fully grasping the complex narrative stratagems suggested in that trailer, and felt the need Monday to post on-line a plot synopsis in comic-strip form. No, I'm not making that up. Alas.

Edgar Wright isn't looking to bang extras in his trailer

At least, that's what the director of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would have us believe. He more or less says as much here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Robert Duvall talks about (among other things) Get Low

Robert Duvall and I are tucked away in a quiet corner of the spacious lobby of a luxurious Los Angeles hotel, largely hidden from the view of passers-by, and our freewheeling conversation often has an almost conspiratorial tone. We’re supposed to be talking about Get Low – the exceptionally fine comedy-drama opening Friday in Houston – for a cover-story profile I’m preparing for Cowboys & Indians magazine. But, hey, I did say this was a freewheeling conversation, right? And besides: While he would prefer not to name names – well, not for the record, anyway – really, some anecdotes are too juicy, and some episodes are too flat-out bizarre, not to share.

“I guess it’s like they say,” Duvall begins. “You have to be careful what you wish for.”

In this particular case, Duvall had been greatly impressed by the bravura performance of a flamboyant European actor in an Oscar-nominated film, and remarked to many interviewers at the time that he’d appreciate the opportunity to work with this fellow. So, of course, he jumped at the chance to appear opposite the guy in an independent film directed by an idiosyncratic, cult-fave filmmaker.

Early in the production, however, Duvall discovered that the director, for all his visual flair, left a lot to be desired when it came to communicating with actors. (And not just because English was his third or fourth language.) Worse, the actor Duvall had admired on the screen turned out to be an overbearing, camera-hogging prima donna on the set.

“Totally unprofessional,” Duvall says, practically spitting out the words in the manner of someone snapping an obscenity. “He would come into scenes, into the frame, and try to intimidate you – try to push you off your mark. Or lean into the shot, like he wanted to upstage you. Finally, I had enough of this. So the next time he did something like this, bent over this close to me in a shot – I started singing.”

Say what?

“I started singing,” Duvall says, his chuckle slowly escalating into full-throated laughter. “Just bent right back into his direction, got my face up close to his, and then” – try to imagine the sound of Rudy Vallée warbling through a megaphone here -- “What a difference a day makes, twenty-four little hours…”

Not surprisingly, “The guy backed off after that. I think he thought I was nuts.”

Don’t misunderstand: Duvall, still impressively robust at age 79, normally isn’t the temperamental type. He’s not known for diva-style self-indulgence, and his collaborators – co-stars, directors, screenwriters, whatever – often go out of their way to sing his praises and salute his professionalism. “He’s such an amazing actor,” says Get Low co-star Sissy Spacek, “that he simply is the character. He doesn’t act the character, he becomes the character. And so, really, when you’re working with Bobby, you just have to react.”

On the other hand: Duvall isn’t shy about standing his ground while arguing over which way is the right way to play or shoot a scene. During the mid-1980s Texas location filming of Tender Mercies, the movie that enabled him to claim his first Oscar as Best Actor, he and director Bruce Beresford (whose filmed-in-Houston Mao’s Last Dancer opens next week in theaters nationwide) sporadically clashed while seeking common ground. For that, he makes no apologies.

“Sometimes,” Duvall says, “when you have a little turmoil, things can turn out better than if you had total harmony.”

To be specific, he points to what arguably is the most affecting scene in Tender Mercies, when washed-up country music singer Mac Sledge (Duvall) mourns the tragic death of his daughter while tilling the garden of the woman (Tess Harper) who has given him his last best shot at redemption. (“I don’t trust happiness,” he says, barely tamping down his rage and anguish. “Never did, never will.”) After a long and, ahem, animated discussion, Beresford and Duvall agreed: Keep it simple, straight from the heart.

“That was a nice scene,” Duvall recalls. “And I remember saying to [Beresford], ‘Look, I don’t want to do a lot of coverage. I don’t want to loop dialogue afterwards.’ And I’m glad they didn’t use close-ups while I’m working in the garden there. The scene was nice. And the cinematographer had some great ideas: Low angles, wide shot. Simple.”

To hear Duvall tell it, the collaborations were smoother and tempers were cooler during the filming of Get Low, a small-budget, beautifully crafted labor of love that casts a well-nigh irresistible spell while spinning a Depression Era folk tale from the Tennessee backwoods. Duvall compellingly underplays the larger-than-life lead role of Felix Bush, a notorious hermit who rejoins society only to plan his own funeral party, and he’s backed by smartly cast supporting players – including, in addition to Spacek, Bill Murray and Lucas Black -- who clearly savor the twofer of portraying vividly drawn characters opposite a much-respected living legend.

“Robert is a unique cat,” Murray said during the launch of Get Low at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. “There’s only one drum that’s marching in that head, so when you watch him work, he’s just a magnet. It was a lot of fun to watch him carry this relentless confessional story all the way to its conclusion.”

It’s a story loosely based on a real-life incident, written by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell as a seriocomic fable of forgiveness and redemption, with Felix gradually revealed as man who’s genuinely curious to hear what others have to say about him at his premature funeral, but absolutely certain that anything anyone has to say can’t be worse than his own testimony about himself.

Duvall intends it as the highest of compliments when he says that the Get Low script reminded him of stage plays and screenplays by the late, great Horton Foote, a longtime friend and collaborator who earned Academy Awards for writing the 1962 film version Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (in which Duvall made his movie debut as the eccentric Boo Radley) and the aforementioned Tender Mercies.

“In fact,” Duvall says, “I’ll tell you a very interesting story. The day when we filmed the funeral service, when they brought the casket onto the set, and I was getting ready to give this speech to the people – my wife got a phone call about Horton Foote’s death at that very moment. Very spooky. It felt like things were moving full circle. Because, you know, my first part in a movie was in To Kill a Mockingbird. So it was almost like Horton was there – spiritually -- witnessing this film, too.”

And speaking of first-timers: Although Aaron Schneider won an Academy Award for Best Dramatic Short -- the William Faulkner-inspired Two Solders – he had never directed a dramatic feature before Get Low. Did Duvall have any qualms about playing such a complex role under the guidance of a relative neophyte? Not really.

“I’ve worked with a lot of first-time directors,” he says. “I met George Lucas while I was making [Francis Coppola’s] The Rain People. He was Francis’ production assistant. I mean, here was this guy, about 108 pounds, running around with the Nagra camera, doing his thing. And then we go on to do this feature, THX-1138, and he’s using two cameras, shooting in 16 mm – and it was like he’d been doing it for 25 years. Twenty-five years the right way. And yet it was his first film.

“So after that, I’ve always felt, hey, you meet somebody, you get a sense of somebody -- and if it’s a good project, why not?”

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guilty pleasure alert: Half Past Dead

During the opening minutes of Half Past Dead, we're introduced to Steven Seagal as a character who claims to be a Russian mobster. (Mercifully, we're spared any attempt at an appropriate accent.) Then we're told the other people on screen actually believe he's a Russian mobster.

And then the movie gets really preposterous.

It’s practically impossible to get through this frankly fantastical 2002 by-the-numbers B-flick with just a suspension of disbelief. Rather, you have to wrestle disbelief to the ground, and then apply a chloroform-soaked handkerchief. And yet, if you do somehow manage to restrain your skepticism – or, perhaps better, you just throw up your hands and go with the flow – you can have a down-and-dirty, rock-the-house good time with it. Seriously. Well, OK, not so seriously. But really and truly.

Indeed, it’s particularly pertinent this weekend, as Sylvester Stallone unleashes The Expendables, an ‘80s-style high-testosterone action-adventure that some critics and movie buffs believe would have been even better had Sly somehow managed to fit Seagal (and, for that matter, Jean-Claude Van Damme) into the mix alongside Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren and the rest of the Over the Hill Gang. Fortuitously, H-Town’s KTBU/Channel 55 has scheduled not just one but two weekend airings of Half Past Dead – 10 pm Saturday and 5 pm Sunday – to illustrate just how much Seagal could have contributed to the carnage in Sly’s extravaganza. Take my advice: Pop some popcorn, crack open a beer – and savor the cheese.

Seagal plays Sasha Petrosevitch, a burly hardass who worms his way into an international carjacking ring by earning the trust of bantamweight Nick Frazier (rapper-actor Ja Rule), a pistol-packing thief with an itchy trigger finger. Unfortunately, Nick decides to draw his guns when the FBI raids the crime ring's chop shop. Even more unfortunately, Sasha takes a few bullets during the melee, and very nearly gets embraced by the light – hence, the title – before recovering sufficiently to finish his undercover work.

That's right: Sasha's really a deep-cover agent, assigned to use Nick as his stepping stone to the heavyweights who run the carjacking operation. (Naturally, it's not just a mater of law-and-order business; it's a personal crusade of vengeance for our hero.) Sasha is so determined to stick close to Nick that, when the latter is shipped off to a newly refurbished Alcatraz prison – played, in a bold stroke of casting, by a soundstage in Germany – Sasha gets himself sentenced to the same institution, for a reunion with his new best friend.

Which, of course, means that – in the grand tradition of Under Siege, Seagal's very best movie, and Die Hard, the masterwork that spawned Under Siege and dozens of other imitators – our hero is the right man in the wrong place at the right time when all hell breaks loose.

Sasha arrives at Alcatraz just in time for the execution of Lester (Bruce Weitz), a criminal mastermind who's determined to go to his grave without revealing where he hid $200 million in stolen gold bullion. But before Lester can meet his maker – which he's serenely prepared to do, having experienced a religious conversion that, surprisingly, the movie doesn't exploit for cheap laughs – Alcatraz is assaulted by a commando team led by Donny (Morris Chestnut), a disgruntled State Prison Bureau employee who wants a crack at “convincing” Lester to spill the beans about the bullion. (Damn those pesky bureaucrats.) And just when you think things can't get any more contrived, a Supreme Court justice (Linda Thorson) shows up. She's on hand to witness the execution, which means she's conveniently available for use as a hostage when…

Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You're going to need some more chloroform!

No doubt about it: Half Past Dead is three-quarters past absurd. But the fight scenes (choreographed by Hong Kong master Xin Xin Xiong) are more than passably impressive, and the cat-and-rat games played by Sasha and the prison invaders make for totally predictable but reasonably exciting mayhem. Don Michael Paul, working from his own screenplay, directs like someone who has studied the entire oeuvre of John Woo, and actually leaned a few things about pacing and editing. In fact, the movie bogs down only during a few painfully sincere scenes that are meant to provide, ahem, character development.

With the help of some quick cutting and crafty camera angles, the middle-aging Seagal appears here to be just as fleet-footed and two-fisted as ever. (But perhaps this explains why, eight years later, Sly didn’t draft him for The Expendables – maybe it requires too much post-production effort to disguise any decrepitude these says?) His acting is, as usual, best described as minimalist, though he does have an undeniable screen presence. Throughout long stretches of the movie, though, he's content to recede into the background while more animated co-stars take over.

Much of the movie is pilfered by Ja Rule, who obviously was hired to enhance Seagal's appeal to younger, more racially diverse audiences. Claudia Christian has a few choice moments as a hard-bitten FBI agent who looks great in a bulletproof vest. And Nia Peeples struts through the movie like she's in love with her own bad self as Donny's second-in-command, a leather-clad vixen who obviously took lessons in slo-mo hair tossing and coat swinging from the character Lucy Liu essayed in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.

Which reminds me: Hey, Sly, couldn’t you have hired some badass female action stars for The Expendables? What’s the matter? Were Cynthia Rothrock and Shannon Tweed asking for too much money? Huh?

Sweethearts on a 'Western Swing' tour

Coming soon to a theater, university, video store or correctional facility near you: Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, documentary filmmaker Brad Beesley's fascinating group portrait of feisty female convicts who are relative newcomers -- but determined competitors -- in a decades-old statewide event previously restricted to male inmates in the Oklahoma prison system. After earning rave reviews and audience acclaim at various international festivals, the film will kick off what its distributor bills as "a Western Swing tour" Sept. 17 in Manhattan and Austin, and screen in various other venues (including the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility) prior to its Oct. 25 DVD release. Beesley chatted with me for a Cowboys & Indians Q&A I did last year -- you can read all about it here. You can check out the screening schedule here, and view my brief video interview with Beesley and producer James Payne here. And you can read my original Variety review of the documentary here.

Everything I know about manliness, I learned from Tarzan

You, too, can be as manly as Tarzan -- and, better still, actually sound like The Lord of the Jungle -- by following these simple directions. (Hat tip to John Guidry, the very model of manly manliness.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's Elvis Week at H-Town's Miller Outdoor Theatre!

What’s this? Three Elvis Presley movies and a live performance by an acclaimed Presley impersonator? Well, why not? Because, hey, if you’re a true-blue fan of the gone-but-not-forgotten King of Rock and Roll, you can’t ever really have too much Elvis. Right?

It’s way past late to observe the 75th anniversary of his birth (Jan. 8) and a tad early to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of his (alleged) demise (Aug. 13), but the folks at Miller Outdoor Theatre are going ahead anyway and celebrating Elvis Week by hosting what’s billed as “an incredibly authentic tribute” to The King by premier impersonator Donny Edwards (8 pm Friday) and screening three of his most popular star vehicles:

Jailhouse Rock – In sharp if not shocking contrast to most of The King’s later flicks, this 1957 musical melodrama actually attempts to package Presley as a semi-sensitive anti-hero with pronounced tendencies toward badassedness. After beating a man to death with his bare hands in a barroom brawl (which, to be fair, he didn’t start), construction worker Vincent Everett (Presley) spends a year behind bars as the cellmate of a washed-up country singer (Mickey Shaughnessy) who teaches him how to strum a guitar and carry a tune. Once released, Vincent romances a record company talent scout (Judy Tyler), becomes a chart-topping recording star, signs a contract to make Hollywood movies, and devolves into an unpleasantly selfish lout until his former cellmate shows up to give him a shot at redemption by punching him in the larynx. (Don’t worry: There’s no permanent damage.) Presley occasionally strains while doing some of the heavy dramatic lifting, but he makes all the right moves while tearing through the title song – in a classically campy, irresistibly exuberant production number that’s arguably his greatest ever on-screen moment – and confidently crooning such signature tunes as “Treat Me Nice” and “(You’re So Square) I Don’t Care.” (8:15 pm Tuesday)

Blue Hawaii – Between 1956 and 1972, Presley made a total of 33 films, almost all them scrupulously formulaic, thinly plotted confections produced with assembly-line efficiency and regularity – sometimes, as many as three per year – and designed primarily to delight diehard fans and sell zillions of soundtrack albums. (Only the final two, 1970’s Elvis: That’s The Way It Is and 1972’s Elvis on Tour were concert documentaries.) He already had seven features to his credit by the time he made Blue Hawaii, but this 1961 musical comedy more or less set the mold for what most folks now think of as “an Elvis movie” – lightweight fun and frolic, often in an exotic locale, involving a lovable hunk who sings and sways his way through minimally daunting challenges while encountering only temporary impediments to happily-ever-aftering with a young lovely. Here, Presley plays Chad Gates, an ex-G.I. who, upon returning home to Hawaii, rejects a job with his father’s fruit company in order to hang with his beach buddies, surf and swim, and work as a tour guide in partnership with his curvy sweetie (Joan Blackman). It’s one of The King’s most ingratiating performances, in one of his most undemandingly pleasant movies, with (except for the title song and “Can’t Help Falling in Love”) some of his most forgettable songs. As his shrill, Southern-accented mother, Angela Lansbury – who, at the time, was scarcely ten years older than Presley – is almost as scary as she would be the following year as Laurence Harvey’s manipulative mom in The Manchurian Candidate. (8:15 pm Wednesday)

Viva Las Vegas -- Elvis Presley’s best movie? Maybe. His sexiest leading lady? Definitely. One year gobsmacking hormonally inflamed adolescent boys (and their fathers and grandfathers) with her slinky-sexy breakout performance in Bye Bye Birdie (1963), Ann-Margret reunited with director George Sidney to co-star with The King as Rusty Martin, a Las Vegas hotel swimming instructor who falls for Lucky Jackson (Presley), a race-car driver who unluckily loses the money he needs for a new engine, and seeks employment as a hotel waiter while hoping to romance Rusty as a fringe benefit. Given the potent chemistry generated by the two stars, it’s very, very easy to believe all the rumors about an off-screen romance during the movie’s production. Presley is at the top of his game here, striking the perfect balance of smirk and sincerity while placating drunken Texas tourists with a medley of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “The Eyes of Texas,” and rambunctiously blowtorching his way through the title song in a low-concept, high-impact production number filmed in one continuous, swaggering take. Ann-Margret sings and dances with appropriate sizzle, and somehow manages to maintain a scintilla of wholesomeness even while the camera ogles her gams and backside. Sidney – who also directed Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh (1945), Judy Garland in The Harvey Girls (1946) and Frank Sinatra in Pal Joey (1957) – gives Viva Las Vegas much flashier visual pizzazz than most other directors ever attempted in Presley vehicles, and brings out the moody-bluesy best in his star during the latter’s soulful rendition of “I Need Somebody to Lean On.” It’s worth noting, however, that the veteran filmmaker remained unimpressed by The King. Indeed, when I interviewed him in 2000, Sidney dismissed Presley as “a very well-schooled puppet. He was well-trained. And he sold what he had.” And, mind you, he meant that as a criticism. (8:15 pm Thursday)

By the way: Admission is free to each of these Elvis Week attractions at Miller Outdoor Theatre. For that, all we can say is: Thank you very much, thank you very much.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Who dat at the White House?

R.I.P.: Patricia Neal (1926-2010)

As a long-time admirer of Patricia Neal’s accomplishments as an actor and courage as a survivor – and, yes, as someone whose early adolescent lust was inflamed by the cynically bemused sensuality she casually conveyed in Hud – I’m more than a little melancholy today as I contemplate the news of her death.

Our paths crossed only twice, most recently at the 2008 Nashville Film Festival, where Neal – who grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee – was given the festival’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award. It was my privilege and honor to conduct an on-stage Q&A with her after she received the award from no less a notable than Lyle Lovett, her co-star in Robert Altman’s Cookie’s Fortune (1999), and I found myself just as starstruck as her many fans in the sold-out theater as she addressed, with equal measures of wit, grace and frankness, questions about her favorite movies and movie roles, her tumultuous (and adulterous) affair with Gary Cooper, her 30-year marriage to author Roald Dahl and, of course, her arduous and near-miraculous recovery from the three massive strokes she suffered in 1965.

Neal was every bit as candid 25 years earlier when, while in H-Town to address The Women’s Institute, she agreed to a tête-à-tête in the Memorial City area home of her hosts.

At the time, she was still processing the bad news of her then-impending divorce from Dahl, who had taken charge of her physical and emotional rehabilitation following her strokes, helped her relearn how to walk and talk – and then drifted into an affair with one of her friends, Felicity Crosland, whom he eventually married shortly after the divorce.

Although she wore a bright smile for me while we were introduced – which, naturally, immediately made me think about her performance in Hud, though I managed to behave myself during our conversation – her laughter sounded more rueful than merry. She was too polite to refuse an interview, but too honest to disguise her feelings while we spoke.

If memory serves me correctly, it was she, not me, who brought up Gary Cooper, and the affair that began while they were making The Fountainhead (1949). “I loved Gary Cooper, for years and years and years,” Neal said, her lips curving into a wistful smile. “And I still love him. Of course, Becky (Cooper’s wife, Veronica Balfe) was not very happy with me. And I don’t blame her. Nor was her little daughter, Maria, who I guess was about 11 when we started.

“They were very angry with me. And Maria, I remember – when she was very young, she spat on the ground when she saw me. And I was very sorry. But Gary… I just loved Gary very much.”

So much, in fact, that she suffered a nervous collapse when the affair ended. To recover, she moved from Hollywood back to New York, where playwright Lillian Hellman introduced her to British author Roald Dahl. Within a year, they were married.

Alas, they did not live happily ever after.

Throughout the 1950s and early ‘60s, Neal appeared prominently in such popular pictures as Operation Pacific (opposite John Wayne), The Day the Earth Stood Still (where she got to say the immortal words, “Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!”), A Face in the Crowd (in which she manipulated Andy Griffith as a homespun rabble-rouser some folks now view as a precursor of Glenn Beck) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And yet, as she admitted when we spoke in 1983, it often seemed like, for every triumph she had on stage or screen, she had a counterbalancing pain in her private life.

Eight years after she married Dahl, Theo, their son, suffered severe brain damage after his buggy was crushed between a taxi and a bus when he was four months old. He lived, but only after several operations. Another child, a daughter named Olivia, died when she was seven, the victim of measles encephalitis. Her husband, Neal said, nearly went mad with sorrow. She supported him. Then, in February 1965, he had to repay her in kind.

Neal suffered three massive strokes during the filming of John Ford’s Seven Women. She was in her rented home, bathing her daughter Tessa, when, without warning, she was racked with a blinding pain. Somehow, she managed to stagger to the bedroom where her husband was resting.

“Suddenly, somehow, in that instant, I knew for certain, beyond any shadow of doubt, that somewhere inside her skull, Pat was hemorrhaging,” Dahl later wrote in a magazine article. “I felt deathly afraid.”

Neal could not even feel fear. The stroke left her confused, paralyzed, partially blind, unable to read, speak or walk. Fortuitously, even though Neal was three months pregnant when stricken, the baby she was carrying was not harmed. Lucy, another daughter, was born a normal child. By that time, Neal herself was on the road to recovery.

Dahl took it upon himself to more or less bully his wife out of a death-wishing funk and back to normalcy, improvising a form of physical therapy to keep her constantly occupied. Their ordeal and ultimate victory was the sort of real-life drama that, during the 1980s, was well-nigh irresistible to the makers of TV-movies. And so, inevitably, there was a well-received 1981 production titled The Patricia Neal Story, with Glenda Jackson in the title role and Dirk Bogarde as Dahl.

While recuperating, Neal had to pass on an offer to play Mrs. Robinson  in The Graduate -- a part that went to Anne Bancroft, who, ironically, had replaced her in Seven Women.) By 1969, however, she had sufficiently recovered to star in the film version of The Subject Was Roses, Frank D. Gilroy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. But she needed a great deal of preparation, and quite a lot of intense encouragement from Dahl, before she was ready to face the demands of her comeback role as a ‘40s housewife who serves as peacemaker between her insensitive husband (Jack Albertson) and their returning G.I. son (Martin Sheen).

“I really worked on that for months and months and months,” Neal recalled. “That big speech, on the roof – the director kept saying he wasn’t going to do it. But finally, of course, he did. He was kind enough to put it on a teleprompter so I could look at it if I needed to. And that was good.”

Neal picked up an Oscar nomination for her performance in The Subject Was Roses, and continued to work sporadically in films and TV unless last year, when she appeared in the made-for-cable movie Flying By as, no kidding, Billy Ray Cyrus’ mom. (At the Nashville Festival, I told her that kinda-sorta made her Hannah Montana’s grandmother – and she laughed out loud.) She wanted to work more often – “I’ve lost a lot of other things,” she said in 1983, “but not my talent!” – but didn’t waste much time feeling sorry for herself during extended periods between job offers. She wrote a best-selling autobiography, served as a spokesperson and fundraiser for several causes (including the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville), did voiceovers and on-screen sales pitches in TV commercials. In short, she remained as active as she could, until she couldn’t.

Now she is at peace. And thanks to Hud, A Face in the Crowd, The Day The Earth Stood Still and handful of other classics, she will remain immortal.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Assiduous censorship?

Note the strategic placement of a sticker on the DVD packaging in this grocery store display.