Christopher Plummer’s Legacy

As is the case for many people, my introduction to Christopher Plummer was his role as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. I’m not sure at what age I first saw the film, probably around eight or so, but it began a lifelong love affair with the devastatingly handsome Plummer.

I mean, God DAMN…

Plummer was so gorgeous, the actress who played eldest Von Trapp daughter Liesl, Charmian Carr, couldn’t hide her crush, even for the camera. One can hardly blame her.

Seriously, though…

Of course, Plummer was much more than a handsome face. He was a highly skilled actor who starred in one of the most iconic films of all time and still somehow flew under the radar for decades, achieving some of his greatest successes in his final years.

Plummer received his first Oscar nomination at the age of 80, an age when many have already retired, reaping the benefits of their earlier achievements. Plummer said “fuck that” and would go on to earn two more nominations in his final decade, winning for his delightful turn in Beginners, as an elderly man with terminal cancer who decides that life is too short to live in the closet anymore. He remains the oldest actor to win a competitive Oscar. (He also holds the record for oldest nominee as well, for his final Oscar-nominated turn in 2017’s All the Money in the World.)

Beginners

All the Money in the World, and Plummer’s performance in particular, has an interesting backstory. With days to go before the film’s planned October 2017 release, Hollywood was rocked by accusations of sexual misconduct against the movie’s star, Kevin Spacey. The film’s release was postponed and Spacey’s scenes as J. Paul Getty were reshot with Plummer in eight days, a mere month before the film’s eventual Christmas release. Imagine being nominated for your industry’s highest award for eight days of work at the eleventh hour. Plummer made it look oh so easy.

All the Money in the World

Plummer saved one of his best roles for last, as wealthy patriarch Harlan Thrombey in Rian Johnson’s twisty mystery Knives Out. It was a small but pivotal role, and he was funny and deliriously entertaining. The film turned out to be Plummer’s swan song, and what a way to go out.

Christopher Plummer died at home in Weston, Connecticut on February 5th, at the age of 91. Had he lived, he no doubt would have continued to act, but at least he leaves behind a filmography we can all enjoy for decades to come.

Winter Not-So-Wonderland

It is very very wintery in Michigan (and from what I gather, many other places also). We’ve had several inches of snow over the past few days, and the temperatures have been frigid – highs only in the teens, with sub-zero wind chills. Currently, the real feel is -2 degrees. The point is, it is really fucking winter here.

I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. My husband’s job keeps us in our city, and my guess is it will keep us here until he retires. I actually don’t mind winter that much, mostly because it’s not summer. As far as seasons go, though, it’s my third-favorite. Days like today are why. I don’t mind hanging out at home, but force me to stay inside and the stir-crazy sets in quickly; I can go from zero to Jack Torrance in a couple of days. (An aside – now that recreational weed is legal in Michigan, these housebound days are infinitely more bearable)

What really gets me through days like today is pop culture. Streaming, reading, listening to music or a podcast – consuming pop culture is a must for me. So the weather got me thinking – what winter-set movies or series seem especially appropriate for a day like today?

  1. The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is the quintessential “winter isolation will make you insane” story. Jack Torrance has gotten a job as the off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. Six months of winter isolation, with no contact from the outside world, is enough to drive a person mad. Add in the Overlook’s ghosts and Jack’s personal demons (alcohol and a serious anger management problem), and Jack seems doomed to insanity from the start. So is the hotel actually haunted, or does Jack just have a terrible case of cabin fever? Whether Jack’s demons are literal or metaphorical is kind of beside the point; the surreal terror and unrelenting suspense are exquisitely real. The Shining just dropped on HBO Max, so now is the perfect time for another watch.

2. The Ice Storm

A lesser known gem in Ang Lee’s filmography, The Ice Storm centers on two families in suburban Connecticut circa 1973. The ice is metaphorical initially, signifying the chilly distance between the two married couples at the heart of the story. Later, though, the ice is literal as well; the actual ice storm “Felix” features in the film’s climax (this is according to the film’s IMDb page) with tragic consequences. Your enjoyment of The Ice Storm will likely depend on your tolerance for tragic middle-class white people, but it is a lovely film with fantastic performances, most notably Sigourney Weaver, who earned the film’s sole Golden Globe nomination. (She was shut out at the Oscars)

3. Fargo (1996) and Fargo (2014)

The Fargo movie is a stone-cold classic, a neo-noir with a twist – instead of a steamy city, the setting is desolate, wintry Brainerd, Minnesota. The film features many Coen brothers staples – Frances McDormand, pitch-black humor, a bumbling cast of supporting characters, and breathtaking cinematography by Roger Deakins. The movie earned seven Oscar nominations, winning the awards for original screenplay and best actress for McDormand’s perfect performance as the brilliant, kind – and very pregnant – police chief, Marge Gunderson. Original and savagely funny, Fargo is one for the ages, and my favorite film of 1996.

I started watching the Fargo series only recently, so I can only speak to the action through episode six of season one, but I am enjoying it immensely. The Coen brothers were so impressed with Noah Hawley’s pitch, they signed on as executive producers, and it’s easy to see why. The show’s characters and tone fit perfectly within the film’s universe, even tying directly into the plot in the brilliant opening sequence of episode four. The cast is incredible; Billy Bob Thornton as the casually menacing Lorne Malvo is particularly great.

4. The Thing (1982)

Now considered a horror-sci fi classic, The Thing was a critical and commercial flop at the time of its release. Critics were turned off by the film’s nihilistic tone and grotesque creature effects, and audiences went to see E.T. instead. Like many cult films of the later 20th century, the film found its audience on home video.

A full ten percent of the film’s budget went to Rob Bottin’s creature effects, and it was money well spent. Bottin was only in his early 20’s at the time, but had worked with the legendary Rick Baker since he was fourteen (according to Bottin’s Wikipedia page, he had submitted a series of illustrations to Baker, who promptly hired him).

Of course, the special effects were only part of the equation; the film is almost unbearably suspenseful, as one by one the team falls prey to the monster and their own paranoia. As the research station burns, MacReady and Childs are left to wonder which of them has been assimilated. Either way, their fates have been sealed, and the two share a bottle of Scotch (or is it?) and await their doom.

5. Three Days of Snow, How I Met Your Mother (2009)

This season four episode highlights everything that makes HIMYM so inventive. From the beginning, the show played around with non-linear timelines and Three Days of Snow utilized this technique perfectly. As Lily and Marshall’s plotlines effortlessly converge on the third day – and Lily is serenaded by the Arizona Tech marching band (“Go Hens!”) – we realize how good Craig Thomas and Carter Bays are at bending both time and traditional sitcom rules. Season four was arguably the series’ best, featuring such standout episodes as Intervention, The Naked Man, Benefits and The Leap. Three Days of Snow doesn’t advance the overall plot of the series as much as those episodes, but it sure is a blast to watch. Bonus points for the Hoth reference and the way the creators hid Alyson Hannigan’s real-life pregnancy with an oversized cardigan.

It’s Groundhog Day. Again.

It’s February 2nd, which means it’s time for the annual rewatch of my all-time favorite existentialist Bill Murray comedy. Come for the Nietzscheanism, stay for the eminently quotable one-liners (and Michael Shannon’s film debut!).

It’s 6 degrees Fahrenheit in Michigan this morning. This isn’t an “it’s cold out there every morning” type of morning. It’s cooooooold out there, even by Midwest standards. On frigid mornings like this, winter feels it’s most wintery. It’s easy to feel like winter is never going to end, a sentiment Phil Connors can relate to: “You want a prediction about the weather? You’re asking the wrong Phil…it’s going to be cold, it’s going to be dark and it’s going to last you for the rest of your lives.”

I saw Groundhog Day on its release in 1993, and loved it immediately. It was Murray at his Murrayest: sarcastic and wry, with a not-so-thinly veiled contempt for, well, pretty much everyone else. It was, of course, laugh-out-loud funny, but it also had a lot to say about fate and mortality and immortality, themes missing from most Hollywood comedies. What would you do if you could live forever with no consequences? Would it be a blessing or a curse? Would you use that power for personal gain, or to make the world a better place? Can we alter the course of our fate or is everything pre-determined? In the end, Phil realizes that he just needs to be a better person, and he is freed to live his life happily, but not ever after.

Groundhog Day is not a perfect movie (Andie MacDowell is lovely, but one wonders what the role of Rita could have been in the hands of a better actress) but it’s awfully close. It’s ranked 34th on AFI’s list of the best American comedies, and deservedly so. At almost thirty years old, and almost thirty watches, it is at least as funny and meaningful as it ever was.

Now, about that Michael Shannon debut….