Oh Hell Yeah! It’s The Trailer for The Irishman!


Oh hell yeah!

The trailer for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman has been released!

In The Irishman, Robert De Niro plays Frank Shearan, a hitman who was active in the mob for decades.  Before his death, he claimed that he was not only responsible for the death of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, Sr. but also that he played a role in the assassination of John F. Kennedy!

Robert De Niro plays the Irishman.  Al Pacino plays Hoffa.  Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ann Paquin, and Ray Romano all have supporting roles!  (Don’t roll your eyes at that last one.  Romano has actually developed into a fairly interesting character actor.)  Apparently, a huge amount of money was spent on de-aging CGI so that the elderly De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel could all play men in their 30s and 40s.  It’s either going to be brilliant or it’s going to be like Captain Marvel, where you were happy to see Samuel L. Jackson looking so young but you couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t seem to be quite as expressive as usual.

Listen, I love conspiracy movies.  I love gangster movies.  I love historical movies.  And I love Scorsese movies!

Bring it on, Netflix!

What If Lisa Had All The Power: 2019 Emmy Nominations Edition


In a few hours, the 2019 Emmy nominations will be announced!

Since I love awards and I love making lists, it’s an annual tradition that I list who and what would be nominated if I had all the power.  Keep in mind that what you’re seeing below are not necessarily my predictions of what or who will actually be nominated.  Many of the shows listed below will probably be ignored tomorrow morning.  Instead, this is a list of the nominees and winners if I was the one who was solely responsible for picking them.

Because I got off to a late start this year, I’m only listing the major categories below.  I may go back and do a full, 100-category list sometime tomorrow.  Who knows?  I do love making lists.

Anyway, here’s what would be nominated and what would win if I had all the power!  (Winners are listed in bold.)

(Want to see who and what was nominated for Emmy consideration this year?  Click here!)

(Want to see my picks for last year?  Click here!)

(Want to see my picks for 2012?  I know, that’s kinda random.  Anyway, click here!)

Programming

Outstanding Comedy Series

Barry

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

GLOW

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

One Day At A Time

Veep

Vida

Outstanding Drama Series

Better Call Saul

Dynasty

Flack

Game of Thrones

The Magicians

My Brilliant Friend

Ozark

You

Outstanding Limited Series

Chernobyl

Fosse/Verdon

The Haunting of Hill House

I Am The Night

Maniac

Sharp Objects

True Detective

A Very English Scandal

Outstanding Television Movie

The Bad Seed

Bandersnatch (Black Mirror)

Brexit

Deadwood

King Lear

Native Son

No One Would Tell

O.G.

Performer

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Iain Armitage in Young Sheldon

Ted Danson in The Good Place

Bill Hader in Barry

Pete Holmes in Crashing

Glenn Howerton in A.P. Bio

Andy Samberg in Brooklyn Nine Nine

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Penn Badgley in You

Jason Bateman in Ozark

James Franco in The Deuce

John Krasinski in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul

Dominic West in The Affair

Outstanding Lead Actor In a Limited Series

Hugh Grant in A Very English Scandal

Jared Harris in Chernobyl

Jonah Hill in Maniac

Chris Pine in I Am The Night

Sam Rockwell in Fosse/Verdon

Henry Thomas in The Haunting of Hill House

Outstanding Lead Actor In An Original Movie

Benedict Cumberbatch in Brexit

Anthony Hopkins in King Lear

Rob Lowe in The Bad Seed

Ian McShane in Deadwood

Timothy Olyphant in Deadwood

Jeffrey Wright in O.G.

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series

Melissa Barrera in Vida

Kristen Bell in The Good Place

Alison Brie in GLOW

Rachel Brosnahan in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep

Zoe Perry in Young Sheldon

Outstanding Lead Actress in A Drama Series

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones

Gaia Girace in My Brilliant Friend

Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Deuce

Laura Linney in Ozark

Margherita Mazzucco in My Brilliant Friend

Anna Paquin in Flack

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series

Amy Adams in Sharp Objects

India Eisley in I Am The Night

Carla Gugino in The Haunting of Hill House

Charlotte Hope in The Spanish Princess

Emma Stone in Maniac

Michelle Williams in Fosse/Verdon

Outstanding Lead Actress in an Original Movie

Shannen Doherty in No One Would Tell

Chelsea Frei in Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter

McKenna Grace in The Bad Seed

Paula Malcolmson in Deadwood

Molly Parker in Deadwood

Christina Ricci in Escaping The Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series

Fred Armisen in Documentary Now!

Andre Braugher in Brooklyn Nine Nine

Anthony Carrigan in Barry

Tony Hale in Veep

Sam Richardson in Veep

Stephen Root in Barry

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series

Jonathan Banks in Better Call Saul

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Game of Thrones

Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones

Giancarlo Esposito in Better Call Saul

Peter Mullan in Ozark

Luca Padovan in You

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Limited Series

Stephen Dorff in True Detective

Timothy Hutton in The Haunting of Hill House

Chris Messina in Sharp Objects

Stellan Skarsgard in Chernobyl

Justin Thereoux in Maniac

Ben Whishaw in A Very English Scandal

Outstanding Supporting Actor In An Original Movie

Jim Broadbent in King Lear

Bill Camp in Native Son

Theothus Carter in O.G.

Rory Kinnear in Brexit

Gerald McRaney in Deadwood

Will Poulter in Bandersnatch (Black Mirror)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in A Comedy Series

Caroline Aaron in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Alex Borstein in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Anna Chlumsky in Veep

Sarah Goldberg in Barry

Rita Moreno in One Day At A Time

Sarah Sutherland in Veep

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series

Summer Bishil in The Magicians

Elisa Del Genio in My Brilliant Friend

Julia Garner in Ozark

Lena Headey in Game of Thrones

Elizabeth Lail in You

Shay Mitchell in You

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Limited Series

Jessie Buckley in Chernobyl

Patricia Clarkson in Sharp Objects

Sally Field in Maniac

Patricia Hodge in A Very English Scandal

Connie Nielsen in I Am The Night

Emily Watson in Chernobyl

Outstanding Supporting Actress In An Original Movie

Kim Dickens in Deadwood

Florence Pugh in King Lear

Margaret Qualley in Favorite Son

Emma Thompson in King Lear

Emily Watson in King Lear

Robin Weigert in Deadwood

 

Lisa’s way, way, way, way, way too early Oscar predictions for January


Attempting, in January, to predict what will be nominated for an Oscar next year is a largely pointless exercise but it’s one that I do every year.  What can I say?  I like the Oscars.  I like rituals.  And I like making lists.

But seriously, don’t take these predictions too seriously.  For the most part, they’re based on wild guesses and familiar names.  For instance, The Irishman is listed because it’s a Scorsese film but that didn’t really help out Silence.  Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is listed because it’s a Tarantino film.  Tom Hanks is listed because …. well, he’s Tom Hanks.  Late Night and The Report are listed because of the excitement they generated at Sundance but Sundance hype doesn’t always last for a full 12 months.  I’d love to see Amy Adams finally win an Oscar for The Woman In The Window but, to be honest, I couldn’t visualize anyone other than Naomi Watts in the lead role when I read the novel.

At this time last year, no one had heard of Green Book.  Bohemian Rhapsody looked like it might just end up going straight to HBO.  No one suspected Black Panther would be the first comic book movie to be nominated for best picture.  Richard E. Grant was on no one’s radar and anyone who says they thought Roma and The Favourite would be the most nominated films of the year is a damn liar.  It’s too early to make any sort of real guess about what will be nominated next year.

However, it’s never too early to make some cray, wild guesses!

Here are my way, way, way, way, way too early Oscar predictions for January.  Some day, perhaps tomorrow, we’ll look back at these predictions and laugh.  And then I’ll cry because it’s never fun when people laugh at you….


Best Picture

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Call of the Wild

The Irishman

Late Night

Little Women

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

The Report

Toy Story 4

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

The Woman in the Window

Best Director

Nisha Ganatra for Late Night

Greta Gerwig for Little Women

Martin Scorsese for The Irishman

Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Joe Wright for The Woman In The Window

Best Actor

Robert De Niro in The Irishman

Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

Brad Pitt in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Actress

Amy Adams in The Woman In The Window

Annette Bening in The Report

Cate Blanchett in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Saoirse Ronan in Little Women

Emma Thompson in Late Night

Best Supporting Actor

Harrison Ford in Call of the Wild

Damon Herriman in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Sir Ian McKellen in Cats

Al Pacino in The Irishman

Wyatt Russell in The Woman In The Window

Best Supporting Actress

Dame Judi Dench in Cats

Laura Dern in Little Women

Nicole Kidman in The Goldfinch

Anna Paquin in The Irishman

Margot Robbie in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Film Review: 25th Hour (dir by Spike Lee)


(SPOILERS)

First released in 2003, 25th Hour is one of those films that gets better and better with each subsequent viewing.

Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) may have done some very bad things in the past but nearly everyone has benefited.  His childhood friends, a trader named Frank (Barry Pepper) and a teacher named Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman), both get to live vicariously through their friend, even if neither one of them is quite willing to admit it.  Monty’s father (Brian Cox) is a retired fireman who now owns a bar that was largely purchased with the money that Monty made from dealing drugs.  Monty’s girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), is “living high” off of the profits of Monty’s drug deals.  For that matter, so is Monty.  Monty has a nice apartment, a loyal dog, and a supportive boss named Uncle Nikolai (Levan Uchaneishvili).

Of course, Monty understands that he’s in the business of destroying lives.  When Monty first met Naturelle, he had just completed a transaction with a well-dressed businessman.  Years later, when Monty is sitting on a bench with his dog, that same man approaches him and begs for more drugs.  The man’s no longer wearing a suit.  Now, he’s apparently homeless and so addicted that he takes it personally when Monty informs him that he’s no longer in the drug-selling business.

Why is Monty no longer selling?  Someone told on Monty.  When the DEA showed up at his apartment, it didn’t take long for them to find the packages that he had hidden in the cushions of the couch.  For all of his swagger and confidence, it would appear that Monty wasn’t quite as clever as he thought he was.  Monty was arrested and subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison.

The majority of 25th Hour takes place during Monty’s final night of freedom, a night that he’s planning on spending it with Frank and Jacob, both of whom could have made the same mistakes that he did but, for whatever reason, they didn’t.  Needless to say, Monty’s got a lot on his mind.  For all of his attempts to hide it, Monty isn’t as tough as he pretends to be.  He knows that it’s not going to be easy for him to do seven years in confinement.  He’s terrified of getting raped in prison and he worries that he’s going to be locked in a holding cell with 200 other criminals.  Both he and his friends know that, even if he does survive, he’ll be a different man when he gets out.  Frank suggests that he and Monty could open a bar when Monty is released but they both know this is an empty promise.  Not only is Monty is scared of the future but he’s haunted by the past.  Is he getting what he deserves?  What if he had made different choices?  Will Nautrelle wait for him or, as some of his associates suggest, is she the one who betrayed him in the first place?

Over the course of the night, both Frank and Jacob are also forced to deal with their feelings towards Monty.  Frank is a Type A personality, the one who spends his day screaming into telephones and who eagerly looks forward to exploiting bad economic news for his own financial gain.  Frank says that Monty is getting what he deserves but, as the film progresses, it becomes obvious that Frank knows that he has more in common with Monty than he wants to admit.  Jacob, on the other hand, is a socially awkward teacher who is struggling to deal with a crush that he’s developed on one of his students (Anna Paquin).  If Frank fears that he’s more like Monty than he wants to admit, Jacob wishes he could be more like him.  At first, it’s hard to imagine that these three men could ever have been close friends but, as soon as you see them together, it all makes sense.

As directed by Spike Lee, one of American cinema’s greatest provocateurs, 25th Hour is more than just the story of one man’s last night of freedom.  Over the course of the film, Monty becomes a symbol of not just New York City but of America itself.  Driven by self-interest, Monty has spent his life ignoring the consequences of his actions and, now that he has no choice but to confront them, it’s too late.  During the film’s most famous scene, Monty stares in a mirror while his reflection rants against every single neighborhood and ethnic group in New York City.  The rant is such a powerful scene that it’s easy to miss the most important point.  Only at the end of the rant does Monty’s reflection admit that he’s as much to blame for his life as any of them.

Oh yes, the Rant.  The Rant is so famous that I was almost tempted to not mention it in this review, just because it doesn’t seem as if there’s much left to be said about it.  Even people who dislike the film seem to be in agreement that the Rant is one of the most powerful and incendiary moments in early 21st century cinema.  The Rant gives us a portrait of a divided and angry society in collapse and it’s a portrait that is probably even more relevant today than it was when the film was first released.  The Rant feels like such a classic Spike Lee moment that it’s surprising to discover that the Rant was included in the script even before Lee was attached to the film.

A few things about the Rant:

  1. The film deliberately leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not Monty is actually speaking.  We see the back of his head and his reflection but the movement of his head rarely seems to match the movement of his reflection.  Regardless of whether Monty is actually speaking or just imagining the rant, the scene does make clear that, even on his way to prison, Monty can only truly express himself while alone.  Of course, once he’s locked up, Monty’s not going to be alone for at least seven years.
  2. “Enron!”  I have to admit that, when I recently rewatched film, I laughed when Monty started ranting about Enron.  I can vaguely remember a time when everyone was obsessed with Enron and Halliburton and all that other stuff so I found it funny that I briefly had to struggle to recall just what exactly Enron was.  16 years from now, I wonder if people will watch old movies and TV shows and say, “Why are they all so obsessed with Russia?”

As well-done and brilliantly acted as it may be, the Rant has tended overshadow an even better moment.  It has been said that the key to a successful work of art is a good ending.  As a writer, I can tell you that endings are a hundred times more difficult than beginnings.  Fortunately, 25th Hour has an absolutely brilliant ending.

After having finally convincing Frank to beat him up (in an effort to make himself look tougher once he arrives in prison), Monty is being driven to the prison by his father.  As they leave New York City, Monty takes one final look at the city and it’s citizens enjoying freedom that he’ll never again have.  (This is such a New York City that you can’t help but feel that it’s adding insult to injury that Monty’s going to have to serve his time upstate.)  As he drives, Monty’s father begins to talk…

It’s all about decisions and consequences.  Monty made his decisions years ago.  Over the course of Monty’s last night of freedom, Frank, Jacob, Naturelle, and even Uncle Nikolai made their decisions.  And now, as he drives his son to prison, Monty’s father is forced to make a decision of his own.  There’s so much great acting to be found in 25th Hour but, during that final soliloquy, Brian Cox upstages all of them.  Brian Cox is one of those character actors who seems as if he’s been around forever.  He’s the type of dependable actor who, much like Monty’s father, is often taken for granted.  If nothing else, you have to be thankful for a film like 25th Hour because it gives everyone a chance to be reminded of just how brilliant an actor Brian Cox truly is.

(Here’s a random bit of a Brian Cox trivia.  While everyone knows that, in Manhunter, Brian Cox was the first actor to play Hannibal Lecter, he also played Winton Churchill the same year that Gary Oldman won an Oscar for playing the same role in Darkest Hour.)

25th Hour is not an easy film to watch.  At times, it’s one of the most depressing films ever made.  It’s tempting to say that, as bad as things ultimately turn out for him, you’re glad that Monty has his father and his friends but that’s really not true.  No matter how much his friends care about him or how much Naturelle and his father love him, Monty’s going to prison and his story is simply not going to have a happy ending.

And yet, 25th Hour is one of those films that you can’t look away from and, after you watch it, you simply can’t forget.  Every time I watch 25th Hour, I find new details to appreciate.  With each subsequent viewing, the pungent dialogue becomes even more multi-layered.  With each subsequent viewing, Monty becomes even more of an intriguing and tragic figure.  This is a film that makes you appreciate the brilliance of Edward Norton and mourn the fact that Barry Pepper rarely gets roles as good as his role here.  With each viewing, 25th Hour reminds you of what a great talent we lost when we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman.  It’s film that gets better with each viewing.

Assuming that Monty survived and managed to stay out of trouble, he should be out of prison by now.  Hopefully, wherever he is, he’s doing okay.

Playing Catch Up: The Good Dinosaur and The Peanuts Movie


The Good Dinosaur (dir by Peter Sohn)

It may be hard to remember this now but, at the beginning of 2015, a lot of film bloggers were very excited about an upcoming film from Pixar Studios.  “This,” they said, “is the film that will remind people why they love Pixar in the first place!  In fact, this might be the first animated film to get a best picture nomination since Toy Story 3!”  Of course, there was another movie from Pixar that was due to come out in 2015 but everyone agreed that movie sounded too weird and silly to be a legitimate contender.  One of the movies would be a huge success and the other would probably be forgotten in a year or two.

And, at the time, everyone was sure that The Good Dinosaur would be the triumph while Inside Out would be the also-ran.

Instead, the exact opposite happened.  Inside Out turned out to be one of the most innovative and charming animated films ever.  Meanwhile, The Good Dinosaur — despite being a financial and critical success — has struggled to escape from Inside Out‘s shadow.

But you know what?  Taken on its own terms, The Good Dinosaur is a likable and entertaining movie.  No, it’s not as good as Inside Out but then again, the same can be said for a lot of good movie that were released in 2015.  Inside Out, of course, is a movie for adults that can still be enjoyed by kids.  The Good Dinosaur is definitely a movie for kids but it’s still visually striking enough that adults can get something out of it as well.

Plotwise, The Good Dinosaur imagines a world in which that meteorite did not strike the Earth and dinosaurs and humans developed next to each other.  A teenage dinosaur — eager to prove that he’s worthy despite being clumsy and easily scared — gets separated from his family and tries to get back to them.  Along the way, he deals with villainous pterodactyls and befriends a human child that he names Spot.  Sadly, the film brings about as much depth to the idea of talking dinosaurs as Pixar previously brought to the idea of talking cars but still, it’s an enjoyable and undeniably effective film.  Unlike Inside Out, it may not be great but it’s definitely good enough.

The Peanuts Movie (dir by Steve Martino)

My sister Erin and I saw The Peanuts Movie when it first opened last November.  As we left the theater, we both agreed that the movie was genuinely sweet and cute but that the ending just didn’t feel right.  Ultimately, we agreed that the ending was just too happy.

I don’t claim to be the world’s biggest expert on the life of Charlie Brown but I do know that he’s been around for nearly 70 years and, in that time, I don’t think he’s ever really had a traditionally happy ending.  From what I’ve seen of his holiday specials, it seems that Charlie is usually fated to end up sitting by himself while snow falls all around him.  And really, that always seemed to be the main appeal of Charlie Brown as a character.  Even though nothing ever goes his way, he never stops trying.  Even though he may sometimes get discouraged, he never gives up.  The Peanuts Movie actually rewards Charlie Brown for his patience and that didn’t quite feel right.

But you know what?  Maybe, after 70 years, Charlie Brown has finally earned the right to have at least one unambiguously positive ending.  The Peanuts Movie was a financial success so I imagine there will be a sequel.  If, during that sequel, Charlie wins a game or kicks that football or gets a kite to fly or actually wears a flattering outfit, it’ll be a problem.  But for now, it’s acceptable and perhaps even appropriate that he finally got to feel good about something at the end of The Peanuts Movie.

As for the rest of the film, it’s a cute homage to the original Peanuts specials.  Despite that happy ending, it remains true to the spirit of its source material and it’s obvious that the filmmakers had a lot of affection for Charlie, Linus, Snoopy, and all the rest.

And yes, Snoopy does steal the entire film.

Was there ever any doubt?

Back to School #58: She’s All That (dir by Robert Iscove)


Shes_All_That

She’s All That, a 1999 high school-set adaptation of My Fair Lady, has a lot to answer for.

When I, as an impressionable 13 year-old first saw this film, I left the theater believing that high school would be full of random, fully choreographed dance-offs.  That, after all, is what happened towards the end of She’s All That.  After watching as handsome jock Zack (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) spent almost the entire movie changing Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) from an artist into a Prom Queen, the great prom dance-off made for the perfect climax.

I mean, just check it out:

Imagine how disappointed I was, once I finally did reach high school, to discover that it was actually nothing like She’s All That.  There were no big dance numbers for no particular reason.  I went to five different proms and none of them were ever as much fun as the prom at the end of She’s All That.

So thank you, She’s All That, for getting my hopes up.

As for the rest of the film, it’s a guilty pleasure in much the same way as Never Been Kissed.  I was recently doing some research over at the imdb and I was surprised to discover just how many films Freddie Prinze,Jr. made between 1999 and 2002.  For the most part, they’ve all got rather generic names.  What’s funny is that I probably saw most of them because, back then, I would get excited over almost any PG-rated movie that featured a cute guy and had a hint of romance about it.  But, with the exception of She’s All That, I can’t really remember a single one of them.  But you know what?  Freddie Prinze, Jr. may not be a great actor and his films may have basically all been the same but he had a certain something that, when you were 13 or 14, made him the perfect crush.  There was a hot blandness to Freddie Prinze, Jr. that prevented him from being compelling but did make him the perfect star for a film like She’s All That.

Along with featuring that prom dance-off and being the epitome of a Fredde Prinze, Jr. movie, She’s All That is also remembered for featuring Rachael Leigh Cook as one of the most unlikely ugly ducklings in the history of the movies.  Rachael plays Laney and the entire film’s starting off point is that Zack has made a bet with Dean (Paul Walker, as handsome here as he was in Varsity Blues) that he can turn Laney into a prom queen.  However, it should be a pretty easy bet to win because all Laney has to do is let her hair down, start wearing makeup, and stop wearing her glasses.

Myself, I’m severely myopic.  Usually, I wear contact lenses but occasionally, I may be running late or may not feel like putting my contacts in or maybe I just want to try a different look.  So, occasionally, I’ll wear my glasses and I have to say that, other than a few guys who always make “hot librarian” jokes, everyone pretty much treats me the same regardless of whether I’m wearing my glasses or not.  I do have to admit though that, when I take off my glasses and dramatically let my hair down, I always say that I’m having a She’s All That moment.

Anyway, She’s All That is okay.  I like it but I don’t love it and, to be honest, the film’s main appeal is a nostalgic one.  Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Paul Walker both look good, Rachael Leigh Cook and Jodi Lynn O’Keefe will keep the boys happy, and Matthew Lillard has a few good scenes where he plays an obnoxious reality tv celeb.

And there’s always that dance number!

shes-all-that-dork-outreach-program-rachael-leigh-cook-freddie-prinze-jr

Embracing the Melodrama #43: The Piano (dir by Jane Campion)


I recently watched the 1993 best picture nominee The Piano and all I can say is that it is going to be a struggle to put into words just how much I loved this film.

Taking place in the 19th century, The Piano tells the story of Ada (Holly Hunter), a Scottish woman who hasn’t spoken since she was 6 years old.  Like many things in this enigmatic film, the reason why Ada stopped speaking is never clearly stated.  What is known is that she communicates through sign language and by playing her piano.  While Ada is usually a black-clad and somber figure, she comes to life when she plays the piano.  Ada also has a daughter named Flora, the result of a brief affair that Ada had with one of her teachers.  Unlike her mother, Flora (played by 10 year-old Anna Paquin, long before True Blood) is rarely silent and delights in telling elaborate lies about how her father died.

the-piano-01

Ada’s father sells her into marriage to a New Zealand frontiersman named Alisdair (Sam Neill), a man who Ada has never even met.   When Ada and Flora first arrive in New Zealand, they are dropped off on the beach and forced to wait a night until Alsdair can meet them.  In the film’s most hauntingly beautiful scenes, Ada plays her piano on that beach while Ada dances in the surf.  It’s during those scenes that The Piano reveals three of its greatest strengths: the lush cinematography of Stuart Dryburgh, the haunting score composed from Michael Nyman, and the fact that Hunter and Paquin are totally believable as mother and daughter.  Not only is it easy to imagine Paquin growing up to look like Holly Hunter, but the two actresses even manage to perfectly imitate each other’s gestures and facial expressions.  Most of the reviews that I’ve read of  The Piano tend to emphasize the film’s focus on the conflict between the sensual and repressed but to me, the film works just as well as an exploration of the strong bonds that naturally exist between mothers and daughters.  I’m not ashamed to admit that when I look at the picture above, I reminded of how, when I was Flora’s age, I also used to hide behind my mom whenever I saw anyone that I didn’t know coming our way.

When Alisdair does finally show up to take them to their new home, he proves to be a rather cold and distant figure.  It would have been very easy for the film to portray Alisdair as being a completely heartless villain but, as played by Sam Neill, Alisdair is potrtayed as being less a traditional villain and more as just being a painfully unimaginative man who is incapable of understanding why Ada’s piano is so important to her.  To Ada, the piano and its music equals the life and freedom that she’s not allowed to experience.  To Alisdair, the piano is simply a bulky object that will not fit into his small house.  Over Ada’s objections (luckily, Flora is on hand to translate her sign language), Alisdair first leaves the piano on the beach and then agrees to sell it to Baines (Harvey Keitel), another white settler who — unlike Alisdair — is comfortable with the natives and their customs.

Baines, however, allows Ada to come over to his hut and play the piano.  He offers to give the piano back to her — key by key — if she agrees to continue to come to his hut and play while he watches and “pleasures” himself.  Reluctantly, Ada agrees but soon, she and Baines are falling in love.

Needless to say, when Alisdair finds out what has been going on at Baines’s hut, he is not happy.  As he largely considers to be his property, bought and paid for, he also feels that he has the right to decide whether or not she’s capable of playing her piano…

The Piano: Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin

The Piano is a simply an amazing and visually sensual film that is blessed with excellent lead performances from Hunter, Keitel, Neill, and Paquin.  As directed by Jane Campion, The Piano plays out as both a delirious homage to gothic romanticism and a feminist parable about the way that even women who aren’t mute are still punished for expressing their honest desires.

And, of course, there’s that amazing score: