Here we are, once again, back in the British miners' strike of 1984. This time, though, there is a different point of departure. A ragtag group of gay activists in London note that the police and government agents are beating and arresting the striking miners in the very same way they themselves are usually treated. By helping the blue-collar members of the National Union of Mineworkers — who, obviously enough, are likely to be antagonistic about receiving help from this quarter — aren't the activists simply asking for trouble? But unions are an extended brotherhood, and brotherhood — and acceptance — is what this alliance is about.
That's the background of "Pride" [Sony], the exhilarating new film from actor/playwright Stephen Beresford and director Matthew Warchus (of Matilda the Musical, Art and Boeing-Boeing). This theatrical pedigree, perhaps, accounts for the quality job by everyone involved; not only from author and director but from the acting, design and cinematography departments as well. (While Thatcher-era London is gray and drab, the wide vistas of Wales are often stunning.) This is a grand story, based on a true events and real people.
The cast is led by Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Dominic West. Nighy — memorable in the 2006 Broadway production of David Hare's The Vertical Hour, and returning in April in Hare's Skylight — gives a wonderful performance as the middle-aged miner who relates to the Londoners. So does Staunton, who won an Olivier in 2012 for her Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd and is about to open at the Savoy as Rose in Gypsy. West's performance might surprise those who know him from the acclaimed London premiere of Jez Butterworth's The River or the Showtime series "The Affair." Here he is a flamboyant performer, dancing through the proceedings with orange hair. Paddy Considine is a villager who tries to bridge the two groups, Ben Schnetzer is the activist who hatches the plan, Andrew Scott (who was also in The Vertical Hour) is a Londoner estranged from his Welsh family, and George MacKay is a not-yet-legal onlooker with a camera.
"Pride" is a feel-good story, all right, and a rousing one at that. But it's also a good film. What might otherwise have turned out preachy, sappy or stacked-deck phony is here warmhearted and rewarding. Given the presence of Warchus and the musical theatre-friendly subject, one wonders whether a stage version might be forthcoming. In any case, the film is grandly enjoyable. The bonus features include six deleted and extended scenes, as well as the 15-minute featurette "Pride: The True Story." *
Woody Allen started the decade on a career rebound, with his high-grossing, Oscar-winning "Midnight in Paris" (in 2011) followed by the Cate Blanchett-headed "Blue Jasmine" (in 2013). Things then got exceedingly rocky, between a spate of bad personal publicity, the disappointing failure of his first stage musical Bullets Over Broadway and the lackluster performance of his latest film "Magic in the Moonlight" [Sony]. The latter, now released for home video, is nevertheless worthy of attention. The story, about a jazz-age star magician (Colin Firth) on the Côte d'Azur trying to unmask a phony medium (Emma Stone), is a bit forced, and several grades below "Midnight in Paris" and "Blue Jasmine."
If the dialogue is too precious — much of it not quite as sophisticatedly witty as it is obviously supposed to be — the characters are charming, and the cast is playing it to the hilt. Firth (an Oscar winner for "The King's Speech") and Stone (presently on Broadway in Cabaret) make a fine, squabbling couple. Hamish Linklater, who is becoming one of our favorite comic actors — most recently in the Shakespeare-in-the Park Much Ado about Nothing — gives another canny performance. Tony and Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden, of God of Carnage, is droll as Stone's mother and partner-in-con, while Dame Eileen Atkins spreads her usual moondust over the proceedings as the only wise character in view.
Dustin Hoffman's "Tootsie" [Criterion] regularly turns up on lists of Hollywood's funniest movies ever, and with good reason. This 1982 comedy featuring the star as an out-of-work actor (Michael Dorsey) who dons a dress to become an unlikely and outspoken soap opera star (who goes by the name Dorothy Michaels) delightfully skewers numerous targets, starting with the typically chauvinistic male behavior of the time. "Tootsie," the boorish director calls Dorothy, until she/he knees him in the groin.
The film holds up exceptionally well. Let other period comedies feel dated; this one still hits every mark. What makes "Tootsie" so good, though, is not that it is rapid-fire funny; it's the truth behind the humor. Hoffman's character discovers — once he puts on a dress, to get a job — that the experience of "being" a woman makes him a different, and significantly better, man. The pure joy of the film is enhanced by the web of overlapping complications. As Michael becomes more and more trapped by Dorothy's meteoric rise to stardom, he finds himself in increasingly difficult situations from which he cannot extricate himself. Finally, he is forced to unmask himself in a blissfully funny monologue on a grand staircase.
"Tootsie" came midway through Hoffman's career, after "Midnight Cowboy," "All the President's Men" and "Kramer vs. Kramer" but before "Rain Man"; for me, this is Hoffman at his best. He is surrounded by a cast of fine comic actors. The exception is co-star Lange, a decidedly non-comic actress specializing in drama — she had just completed "Frances" — who not only holds her own but won herself the only "Tootsie" Academy Award. Lange's fellow nominees included the third-billed star of the film, Terri Garr (of "Young Frankenstein"), who is also at her best as Michael's devoted friend and acting student. Dabney Coleman creates one of his slimiest chauvinists as the unspeakably rude director; Charles Durning plays Julie's father Les, who takes Dorothy dancing and proposes marriage; Sydney Pollack — the director of the film — is wonderfully funny as Michael's unbelieving agent; and Bill Murray gives a delightfully offbeat performance as Michael's roommate. (Murray seems to be making up some of his lines as he goes along, which was apparently the case.) Increasing the fun are George Gaynes — the leading man of the 1950s musicals Out of This World and Wonderful Town — as an over-the-hill actor; the late character actress Doris Belack, as the wizened producer of the soap opera; and newcomer Geena Davis, a model whom Pollack picked for a shot in which Hoffman (as Dorothy) is confronted by a near-naked woman. Pollack and Hoffman immediately discovered that Davis lit up the screen and began expanding her role.
The 4K digital restoration from Criterion upgrades the film and includes the usual variety of bonus features. It also includes nine deleted scenes. Watching them is slightly unsettling to the "Tootsie" enthusiast; you would expect them to be as sterling as the film itself, but each of them falls so flat that you are glad they were cut. There is also a far more amusing "interview" between Dorothy and Gene Shalit, which was also cut. All that remains in the film is a TV-guide cover shot of the pair.
The complex and somewhat tortured history of the project is covered in detail in three separate pieces: a 1982 "making of" documentary which includes interviews during the preproduction and filming period; the enlightening 2007 "A Better Man: The Making of Tootsie," a more candid discussion which celebrates the 25th anniversary with new interviews from Hoffman, Pollack, opposing screenwriters Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal along with Lange, Garr and Coleman; and an equally enlightening 2014 interview with Hoffman. Pieced together, we see how Hoffman and his pal Schisgal conceived the idea; bought a related screenplay by another writer (Don McGuire), who was quickly gone from the project; and developed the thing at length. When they reached an impasse, Hoffman — whose Punch Productions controlled the thing — brought in Gelbart, who wrote a new script to be directed by Hal Ashby ("Shampoo"). Ashby left the project, replaced by Pollack ("The Way We Were"). Sensing that the female characters were underdeveloped, they brought in an uncredited Elaine May to write for the women. In the recent interview, Hoffman recalls May's funniest dialogue exchange — which the more conservative Pollack refused to use due to matters of taste.
During filming, Hoffman would huddle with Schisgal after the day's shoot and come up with new lines and ideas. Both Hoffman and Pollack describe how they would start each morning with raging arguments in one or the other's trailers, finally coming to a compromise and starting the day's work. They seem highly complimentary about each other, and they certainly came up with a wonderful film; but they also suggest that the bristlingly antagonistic friction in the scenes between Michael and his agent — a role which Hoffman insisted Pollack play, despite repeated refusals — reflects their working relationship.
Also from Criterion: John Ford's 1946 "My Darling Clementine." The Hollywood Western is a genre I'm not much interested in, but Ford was a masterful director who made excellent films. If he is best known for Westerns, which include the stunningly enjoyable "Stagecoach," it should be noted that his four Oscars — he's the only director thus far to win four — all came for non-Westerns, including "The Informer" and "The Grapes of Wrath." Henry Fonda — shortly before he turned to his iconic stage and screen role of Mister Roberts — is lawman Wyatt Earp, who comes to Tombstone to clean the place up. (Actually, he is only passing through when the local villain slaughters Earp's kid brother.) Earp enters into an uncomfortable alliance with gambler Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), and together they rid the west of the blacker-than-black Clanton gang (headed by Walter Brennan in a masterful performance) in the climactic gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
The new restoration is accompanied by a second version, Ford's six-minute-longer pre-release cut; new commentary, new interviews and new essays; a 1916 silent western short costarring Ford; documentary views of Arizona's Tombstone and Monument Valley; a 1947 radio adaptation, starring Fonda; and more. (Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations"; "Second Act Trouble," the "Opening Night on Broadway" books, and "The Book of Mormon: The Testament of a Broadway Musical." He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)