Please Give (2010)

The film opens with a mammogram technician at work--breasts flopping about on glass plates as Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) conducts business--then goes home to her mundane life. She lives with Mary (Amanda Peet), her esthetician sister, and Grandma Andra (Ann Guilbert). They live on the upper west side of Manhattan next door to Kate (Catherine Keener), Alex (Oliver Platt) and their daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele). Director Nicole Holfleurer previously made Friends With Money and Lovely and Amazing, both featuring Catherine Keener, who happens to be one of my favorite actors.

Kate and Alex operate a mid-20th Century furniture store. "We buy furniture from dead people's children," says Kate, a bleeding-heart liberal who feels slightly guilty about her business and is constantly handing money out to homeless people. They have purchased the apartment of their elderly neighbor in advance of her passing. They wait for the moment when their dream to renovate and enlarge their modest New York apartment is realized. Meanwhile, they befriend Andra, a tough and feisty New Yorker, and the granddaughters who live with and care for her.

Their daughter, Abby is full of wise-cracks and plagued with a skin condition. Alex has an affair with Mary. Abby bonds with Mary. Kate bonds with Rebecca. A patient at the clinic fixes up Rebecca with her cute, short son. The unfolding of all these dynamics is fun and real in a very down-to-earth way. Catherine Keener chooses small stories with lots of heart and realism. I loved this movie!


James Dean (2001)

I have been eager to see some of James Franco's early movies since I saw him in 127 Hours at Telluride and look forward to Howl arriving in Buffalo. This made-for-television film by Mark Rydell tells the story actor, James Dean (James Franco). The movie opens with a song written in 1954 by beat poet, Allen Ginsberg...
Yes yes
that's what
I wanted.
I always wanted.
I always wanted.
to return
to the body
where I was born.

Dean lived a fairly normal early childhood in Santa Monica until his mother, Mildred, died in 1939 when he was 8 and his father put him on a train to live with his aunt on a farm in Indiana and Winton (Michael Moriarty) ignored him. He suffered quite a bit during these years and spent his teen years alone brooding and riding a motorcycle through the cornfields. He returned to California after high school to attend business college and live with Winton and his new wife. When Dean begins talking about dropping school to get into acting, Winton lets him know he is on his own if he chooses that path. Dean is soon out the door with a ratty old suitcase tied with string heading for New York to follow in the footsteps of Marlon Brando and Montgomery Cliff.

Dean finds other actors auditions and method acting classes. He soon lands a paid job in a made-for-tv play, The Immoralist. The directors and casting agents recognize something special in him and put up with his quirky ways. He continually tries to get the attention of his father with his accomplishments, but Winton just pushes him away. His restlessness takes him out to Hollywood where a big shot tells him" You're never gonna get rich until you look rich." Warner Brothers Studio also tells him to get rid of the motorcycle that they view as a liability. He trades the bike for a flashy red sports car and falls in love with Italian actress, Pier Angeli. They have a brief time of happiness until she left him broken-hearted.

We see Dean on the sets of East of Eden and Giant as his ego grew and personal difficulties spilled out all over. After years of trying to reach his father, he finally does have a moment to better understand the problem. Winton tells him that he learned from Mildred on her deathbed that James was not his biological son. They make peace and there is some settling of Dean's angst.

On the set of his last film, Rebel Without a Cause, with Natalie Wood, he trades in the red hotrod for an even sexier silver Porsch Spyder with "Little Bastard" painted on the back. We all know how it ends...a careless moment on a dirt road. Just one other car turning in front of him, but he would not slow down. Dean was killed...not even 25 yet. Rebel was released in 1955.

Franco does an amazing job of capturing the special qualities of the actor who was not around long enough to lose favor in the public eye. He'll always be a big star. Franco seems to be modeling himself along the same lines. He has a couple other interesting projects. A book of his short stories will be soon available and he talks about the writing with one of his teachers, Michael Cunningham...


Franco also took a role on daytime soap, General Hospital as an artist/serial killer named Franco...



Grizzly Man (2005)

Werner Herzog's documentary weaves interviews with family and friends and film footage taken by Timothy Treadwell during his summers observing and befriending the grizzly bears of Alaska. Herzog narrates a fascinating look at a young man's evolution from a typical American youth during the 1960s Long Island through his bright start in college on a swimming scholarship. When he loses the scholarship after a back injury, Treadwell flees to California for surfing and acting. He developed a drug and alcohol problem along the way, but struggles to straighten himself out in rehab. Afterwards, he carries on a new life by reinventing his identity and dedicating himself to environmentalism. He began traveling to Alaska each summer to spend time with grizzly bears as he filmed hours of footage of himself and the bears. A self-proclaimed protector of the grizzlies, Treadwell returned to visit for thirteen summers.

Each summer a pilot delivered Treadwell and his supplies for the solitary months with the bears and returned a few months later to retrieve him. The pilot arrived in late summer of 2003 to discover the remains of Treadwell's campsite. His critics predicted such an end and Treadwell himself frequently commented on his challenge in such a dangerous place. He seemed to know that sooner or later the bears would seize him, but he seemed at peace with that. As we watch the film footage, we see the zany and unstoppable qualities that drove him to push the limits of safety. He characterized the creatures with human qualities, naming them Freckles, Quincy, Tabatha, Melissa, Rowdy--his pets--children. He showed a great deal of emotion for them and his ongoing saga seemed to be one long therapy session.

As winter snows melt, the Grizzlies populate the "Grizzly Maze" in the national forest area where Treadwell visits. The silvertip brown grizzly is 300 to 1200 pounds. They are solitary creatures who prefer coastal regions with streams, lakes, rivers where salmon flourish. They are omnivores who consume 80% of their diet from live vegetation, but also prey on deer, moose, sheep, elk and bison. Grizzly bears consume dead animals that they find along the way and are known to kill humans. Treadwell thrived on the notion that he had special abilities to tame the wild beast. Herzog, the realist, continues to point out the harsh indifference of nature, as Treadwell carries on his often misguided mission. As the summer wears on and the food supplies diminish, the Grizzly will often eat her own cubs to survive. The bear seeks food, not companionship.

Treadwell brought along a girlfriend for the last two summers of this journey. Amy is rarely seen in the film footage and diary entries reveal her deep fear of the bears. We learn that she had grown frustrated with Treadwell's thrill-seeking and she planned to leave him after that last summer to begin a new job in another town. We see them happily goofing around as they wrap up before heading back home.

Sadly, Amy died along with Timothy Treadwell. I was thoroughly engaged watching this compelling true tale unfold. Herzog is a masterful storyteller and observer of the natural world. This tribute to Timothy Treadwell is full of the drama of human ambition, passion and survival.