Friday, February 3, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Fight, flee or laugh

Liz with fellow Texan Shirley MacLaine, who on March 9th will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Texas Film Awards.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Before "La La Land" and "Deadpool" there was "The Croods" ... Honoring Shirley MacLaine ... Admiring Rufus Sewell ... Archaeology in space and online.

“IN PREHISTORIC times, mankind often had only two choices in crisis situations: fight or flee. In moderns times we are offered a third alternative; fight, flee — or laugh,” said Robert Orben.
ONCE UPON a time — like, 2013 — Emma Stone was not a shoo-in for an Academy Award for a film called “La La Land.”  And Ryan Reynolds had not become a big deal again with his profanely funny “Deadpool” movie.  They were doing fine, but not quite at the Everest peaks upon which they currently perch.
Still and all, Miss Stone, Mr. Reynolds, Nicolas Cage, Catherine Keener and Cloris Leachman did do something wonderful that year, which I am just getting around to.  It is an animated film from Dreamworks called “The Croods.”

I’m not going to apologize for praising something that perhaps a lot of you have already seen.  I’d never heard of it.  Or if I did, maybe the odd title — “The Croods” — turned me off.

Listen, here we often carry on about the works of the long dead or about TV series we are only now discovering on Netflix or Amazon, but everybody else has been wise to for ages.  So for us, this is practically breaking news!
“THE Croods” concerns a Neanderthal family dealing with tumultuous changes — an earthquake disrupts the simple if somewhat boring life they’ve always known.

Nicolas Cage voices the father ... Catherine Keener, the mother.  Emma Stone is their rebellious teenage daughter and Ryan Reynolds is a guy named Guy, who wants to show the family — especially Emma — that there’s more than one way to be a cave dweller. In fact, why dwell in a dark cave at all? The divine veteran Cloris Leachman voices a mother-in-law that makes Doris Roberts’ Marie on “Everybody Loves Raymond” look like a really good deal. Clark Davis and Chris Sanders are also in on the fun.
Ryan Reynolds as Guy and Emma Stone as Eep.
I was completely swept up in the adventures of this crew as they encounter various surprises – the sun, the moon, the stars, fire, things to eat, things that want to eat them, other caves, crevices, the sea, weapons, etc. They explore the land and face their own fears in order to survive.

The young among them are appealing in their curiosity about what constitutes the world around them. And the old are constantly shunted aside, or they are tolerated. The odious mother-in-law (Miss Leachman) survives in spite of hilarious neglect. She just won’t die!  Everything is frightening and exciting.
"Gran" (voiced by Cloris Leachman), mother of Ugga, and grandmother of Eep, Thunk, and Sandy.
Although of course “The Croods” doesn’t really show us the way it was for prehistoric man (and various creatures) it is so imaginatively animated, written and acted (Nic Cage is simply wonderful as the father) that you are convinced, at least for the length of the movie, that maybe it could have been something like this.  Listen, the Croods invent cave painting!
Nic Cage as Grug Crood, patriarch of the family.
This is the kind of animated movie that you can take a kid to but won’t go out of your mind with boredom; family-issue oriented without being preachy or heavy-handed.  It is really a movie about cooperation, adapting and learning new things. (Early on in the movie, one of the characters says, “We aren’t living, we’re just NOT dying!”)  As with a lot of truly fine animated films, along with the humor there’s that little moment when you think, “Now stop this, I am not going to cry over a cartoon!”  And then you remember that full-grown adults still get emotional over the death of Bambi’s mother, so go ahead and have a bit of a sniffle as the Croods make their way in a brave new world. 

I loved this movie, and it was a much-needed respite from watching the news, and crying over cartoons of a far different sort, every day.

Renee and Liz at the 2011 Texas Film Awards.
... ON March 9th, at what was once an abandoned aircraft hangar (now Austin Studios, Stage 7) the Texas Film Awards happen.  I have attended this wonderfully entertaining event several times.  I’ve even been honored there. (On that occasion, after the ceremony, I enjoyed one of the greatest meals/conversations I’ve had with any actor — the adorable Renee Zelwegger.) 

The Austin Film Society really puts on the dog and it all benefits the Society’s artistic and educational programs.  This year the honorees include directors Hector Galan and Jeff Nichols ... producer Sarah Green ... Tye Sheridan (Rising Star and always-appreciated eye-candy). 

And — ta-da! — Shirley MacLaine receives the Lifetime Achievement Award.  One must ponder which life and for what achievements is the mystical MacLaine being honored? Oh, what does it matter?  I’m sure she was fabulous in all her lives!   If you want to get in on this great, fun night — and you should — visit
... I AM  never going to give up my subscription to Archaeology magazine, and my interest in antiquity remains fresh.  But we live in new times and in that spirit of technology on the march, I was interested to read about an internet site called  This was created by “space archeologist” Sarah Parcak. 

She produces high-resolution images captured by satellites.  Her high-in-the-sky efforts have led to the discovery of thousands of potential lost settlements in Egypt alone — including pyramids. Ms. Parcak’s new online venture begins with the mysteries of Peru.  While it is unlikely I will be clicking on this site, others with an interest in the rich past of civilization, and perhaps not much patience for turning the pages of a magazine, should.  Knowledge is power and finding a new pyramid can’t be a bad thing.
... NOW THAT I have gotten used to the “downstairs” adventures of the cast of characters in PBS’s lavish “Victoria” series, I am nicely invested in all the “upstairs” people — Queen Victoria, Lord Melbourne, Prince Albert, etc. 

Jenna Coleman as Victoria is lovely and appealing, and last week’s episode, with flighty Vicky both attracted to and irritated by serious, civic-minded Albert (Tom Hughes) was rich with erotic tension (the waltz, the proposal, those long lingering glances.)  But it is Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne who is dominating the series, so far. 
Jenna Coleman as Victoria and Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne.
Victoria developed a great crush on her minister and aide, prior to her marriage to Albert — or so the gossip sheets of the era proclaimed.  And if in real life Lord Melbourne had been only half as attractive and charming as Mr. Sewell, perhaps Albert might have been shown the palace door.  As it is, the audience is rather rooting for Rufus, even though we know that’s not going to happen.
Mr. Sewell has been acknowledged as an excellent actor and object of desire since his stint on the “Middlemarch” miniseries back in 1994.  He’s played everything from Ali Baba, to Agamemnon, King Charles II,  Shakespeare’s Petruchio, America’s Alexander Hamilton and a very unpleasant fellow in Amazon’s current scary series, “The Man in The High Castle.” (This show imagines a world in which Germany and Japan won World War II.)
I don’t know how much more we’ll see of Mr. Sewell on next season’s “Victoria.”  The Queen relied on Lord Melbourne less as her affections for her husband increased.  So, let’s enjoy him while we can.
Contact Liz here.