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Fame Audit: Halle Berry

NAME: Halle Maria Berry
AUDIT DATE: March 15, 2002
AGE: 33
EXPERIENCE : 20 movies, 4 TV movies, 2 TV series, 1 Golden Globe, 2 SAG Awards, 1 Emmy, 1 Blockbuster Entertainment Award, 1 Silver Berlin Bear...oh, and 1 Oscar nomination


Though there is no paucity of scholarship and reportage bearing out the conventional wisdom that attractive people enjoy various personal and professional advantages not extended to less-pretty folk, there is evidence in Hollywood that extraordinarily beautiful performers -- though prized for their pulchritude, as are all pretty people in Hollywood -- face an uphill battle in proving they have legitimate, serious acting chops. Certainly, this has been one of the challenges Halle Berry has faced in her career -- the fact that she's so unbelievably beautiful that one automatically assumes she must be as model-stupid as she is model-pretty.

Granted, the handicap (or, really, the "handicap") of otherworldly physical beauty has not been the only speed bump on Berry's road to success. There's the fact that she started her career on a short-lived teeny-bopper sitcom (the Who's The Boss? spin-off Living Dolls -- and yes, I am actually old enough to remember it). There's the fact of her race, which -- except when she's fortunate enough to meet with forward-thinking directors willing to cast her in roles for which the character's race is irrelevant -- requires her to compete against her peers for the miniscule number of substantial parts for young African-American women (a dilemma we hope to see corrected as stars like Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington continue to raise awareness of the BLM movement). Oh, and it didn't help matters any when she was in that hit-and-run a couple of years back, either.

2001 has been a good year for Berry, both as an actor, and as a famous person. She helped to turn Swordfish, which otherwise would have been an entirely forgettable summer action thriller (or rather, "action" "thriller") into the subject of innumerable magazine stories, newspaper articles, and Entertainment Tonight segments by agreeing to an utterly and undeniably gratuitous shot of her bare breasts. For those of you reading who didn't see Swordfish -- and I fervently hope that's most of you, because like so many movies built around John Travolta, it sucks -- believe me when I tell you that the scene in which Berry appears topless is the most memorable thing about the movie. The reason, I think, is because the scene does not advance the plot (or, more accurately, the...never mind, you get it) or require the actors to speak any embarrassingly amateurish dialogue or depict John Travolta; the scene exists for no reason other than to expose Berry's bosom to the camera -- and to hear the way people talked about Swordfish at the time (and even now, close to a year later), it almost seems as though the entire film exists to provide a pretext for the exposure of Berry's breasts. (And, in case you're wondering, just like the rest of her, Berry's breasts are lovely.)

That event did more to keep Berry's name in the news than her winning a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, and an Emmy for her titular role in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Later in 2001, Berry trumped her Swordfish buzz with her masterful performance in Monster's Ball. To play Leticia Musgrove, wife of a Death Row inmate, Berry glams way down and convincingly inhabits the skin of a woman who has given up on happiness and hope. The famously beautiful Berry acts ugly, abusing her character's obese son in a scene that's particularly difficult to watch. Leticia loses everything, finally, but finds love with Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), one of her husband's prison guards. Critics of the film have bristled at the contrived coincidences of the story, but Berry's performance has received nothing but praise, earning her an Oscar nomination and, last weekend, a Best Actress SAG Award -- the first major pre-Oscar award Sissy Spacek, star of In the Bedroom, has lost this year.

Though now we all know for sure that Berry can act, with the exception of Dandridge and Monster's Ball, her résumé is littered with flops and humiliations. Yes, of course, when one is starting out, one may take a role just for the money -- hence Father Hood and The Last Boy Scout. But even if Berry hadn't just been coming off her assured performance in Losing Isaiah, there would be no excuse for the likes of B*A*P*S. Similarly, Berry followed Dandridge by playing Storm in X-Men -- and while we can't possibly deny that X-Men was a hit, we hope the producers get a better script doctor for the sequel. Some actors are in their element convincingly delivering terrible dialogue (hello, Harrison Ford), whereas others have no facility for selling shitty lines (it's all about you, Natalie Portman), and poor Berry should have workshopped her line reading a bit longer before shooting the "Do you know what hapens to a toad when it's struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else" scene. We know she didn't write it, but that doesn't prevent her from being guilty by association for an inductee in the Bad Movie Quote Hall of Fame.

While there may have been a time when Berry's physical attributes kept her from portraying compelling yet unattractive characters, her Oscar nomination for Monster's Ball has brought that time to an end. Furthermore, managing to net a Best Actress (as opposed to Best Supporting Actress) nomination initiates her into a tiny sorority of African-American actresses recognized in the history of the Academy Awards. Halle Berry is indisputably one of the finest actresses of colour working today; after Monster's Ball, we think Hollywood may finally be ready to count her among the best actresses of her generation, full stop.



Fame Barometer

Current approximate level of fame: Heather Graham

Deserved approximate level of fame: Nicole Kidman

Pumping Iron

Lifting weights was satisfying enough, but watching Arnold's Pumping Iron was like experiencing something I've never felt before. Watching Pumping Iron, the 11+ times I did, taught me to change my eating habits and to spend my spare time in the gym rather then the couch. With the 25th Anniversary of this incredible documentary you can re-live the hardships of training in the Brooklyn dungeon or the parties at Muscle Beach. You become familiar with the bodybuilders as you experience first-hand their trip to fame or their road to failure. Pumping Iron is a wild ride through the training and conditioning of some of the worlds top professional bodybuilders.

The climax of this movie is around the time of the Mr. Universe and Olympia competitions, where Arnold the antagonist has to do anything in his power to keep the up-and-coming Lou Ferigno from taking his Olympia crown. The Pumping Iron video was created after the successful book that the duo of Charles Gaines and George Butler wrote in 1974. In the year 2002 Cinemax presented their viewers with a 25th Anniversary special of Pumping Iron, including never before seen out-takes and an exclusive documentary about the film entitled Raw Iron, starring the man himself Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Even though many claim this is Arnold's acting debut, Hercules in New York proceeded it. I highly suggest this film to those who haven't viewed it, and to check their cable guides for the next showing of Cinemax's 25th Anniversary special. This is the full-length Uncut feature that includes the infamous dope smoking scene with Arnold after he wins the Olympia competition This film is a true classic and will enthuse not just followers of the sport but all film buffs. Pumping Iron (1977)

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Big Fish

Big Fish (2003) Columbia Pictures
2 hr. 05 mins.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Danny DeVito
Directed by: Tim Burton

Between the generations of mankind there sometimes lies a disconnect that can't be breached. Be it different philosophies of life or the loss of the ability to understand the actions of the other generation, that disconnect can affect the relationship between two people in unknown ways. The film Big Fish, although built upon the tall-tale-stories of a father told to a son, is really about the disconnect of one generation to the next.

For all of his life Will (Bill Crudup) has been told grand stories from his father. Stories of witches, giants, and twins attached since birth. He has been told these stories so much that he knows them by heart. With age comes the knowledge that the stories he was told as a child weren't altogether true, and the feeling starts to grow inside of him that something more sinister is being hidden behind them. This doubt about the who his father really is sets off a series of events between the two. The problems between father and son grow until they eventually stop talking, and the son moves far enough away that a remedy to their relationship is harder to come by. But like all things, eventually they will have to face their problems. When Will receives a call from his mother Sandra (Jessica Lange), past feelings are put aside, and the journey to find the truth begins.

Tim Burton has brought about such films as Edward Scissor Hands and James and the Giant Peach. For whatever reason the slightly off-the-wall story is what he is best at telling. With Big Fish, he has succeeded on an immense level in regard to the depth that this film finds. Ewan Mcgregor (of Star Wars fame) is the perfect choice for the younger version of Edward Bloom. He brings a bit of spunk to the part of the younger man, and even his accent for the part is right on. Surprisingly, he was almost unrecognizable to me until half way through the film, so different he is from the films I have seen him in. Not to be outdone, the elder version of Elder Bloom is played convincingly by (Albert Finney). The twinkle in his eye goes a long way in bringing the viewer into the worlds that he talks about.

The film is built upon the stories that Elder Bloom tells, and each one is captivating. In these stories lies the strength of the film and for Will they hold a bit of his father in each one.

This film is Tim Burton's best to date, and one in which the whole family will enjoy.

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Once is Not Enough

Irish Import Contains a Weak Story, but the Music is Divine

Director and screenwriter John Carney has created a paper-thin love story, but the inspired casting of Frames lead singer Glen Hansard makes this film a winner.

On a technical level, “Once,” a new Irish import about a street musician who’s trying to make a living with his music, is only a step or two above the homemade videos that pop up on YouTube. This very familiar story of “boy meets girl”, which was an award-winner at Sundance this year, is about as thin and durable as a piece of sheet music and lacks the polish of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Yet, despite its mechanical flaws, this film from musician John Carney succeeds brilliantly thanks to Glen Hansard, lead singer of the popular Irish band the Frames. Hansard has such a powerful voice and the songs that he co-wrote with Carney are so inspiring that the music alone is worth the price of admission.

Hansard plays a character referred to in the script as the “Guy,” a busker (street musician) in Dublin who sings for change and also repairs vacuum cleaners on the side with his father. Since his girlfriend has left to go to London, the Guy also is quite lonely and lacks the courage to follow both her and his own dreams of making it in the recording industry.

While singing on the street one day, the Guy meets his muse, the “Girl” (Marketa Irglova), a pretty immigrant who turns out to be a single mom and something of a musician herself. Her child’s father currently is not in the picture, so Guy lures her back to his place with the promise of repairing her vacuum cleaner. His later attempts at seduction fail miserably, though.

The Girl does love his music and, with her help and guidance, he’s able to secure enough money to make a professional quality demo tape. The two of them also find a group of street performers who agree to serve as backup musicians.

The Guy and the Girl then have to find the courage in themselves to let the songs in their hearts come out for everyone to hear.

Shot in a mere 17 days, “Once” definitely looks homegrown with its shaky visuals and an audio track that sounds a bit muddy at times. Glen Hansard’s original songs make the film as strong as iron, though, and Carney wisely lets the music take center stage instead of the love story.

"Once" does have some brilliant moments, though, especially the scene where the Girl, who can't afford her own instrument, shows the Guy her musical abilities on a piano in the back of a music shop. Moments like these are few and far between, but when Carney hits the mark, it's a bullseye.

To some, this film may appear a bit amateurish, but once Glen Hansard opens his mouth to start singing, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that this film is something special.

“Once,” rated R for language starts a limited run in the United States on May 16th.

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