A PERFECT FIT
Illeana Douglas remembers her grandfather Melvyn Douglas as "very funny, kind of wickedly funny, and very into politics," and someone who "took his politics very seriously."
When she was young, the two-time Oscar winner would take his granddaughter to plays, but when she wanted to see "Evita," he told her that he couldn't possibly go because he was against the Peron regime.
Interestingly, Douglas played in a number of films involving politics in later life — "The Candidate," "The Education of Joe Tynan" and the wonderful 1979 Hal Ashby satire "Being There," for which he won a best supporting actor Oscar.
"Being There" — out in a special-edition two-disc set — starred Peter Sellers as Chance, a slow-witted innocent who has spent all his life in seclusion, working as a gardener and watching television. When his benefactor dies, he's mistaken for him and exposed to the world, which mistakes his simpleton statements as wisdom.
Melvyn Douglas, who died in 1981, plays an ailing tycoon who finds comfort in what he sees as Chance's groundedness. Illeana Douglas notes that her grandfather, who was a leading man in the 1930s and '40s ("Ninotchka"), met Sellers in World War II in Burma when he was entertaining the troops, and the British actor-comedian was asked to show him around. They met again in the 1960s, and when Douglas' name came up for "Being There," Sellers wanted him for the role.
The two are perfect together. And while Douglas — who went on to a stage and TV career (winning a Tony and an Emmy) and a character actor in movies — got his Academy Award (he already had one for "Hud"), Sellers — who was known for his comic brilliance — didn't.
"I think the gag reel (stuck on) at the end cost him the Oscar," says Illeana Douglas, who as a kid was a huge Sellers and "Pink Panther" fan and was thrilled to meet him on the first movie set she ever visited.
The trip inspired her to become an actress and eventually a director and a writer. Besides acting, Douglas has created the Web show "Easy to Assemble" (www.easytoassemble.tv) for IKEA, and as an adult she now appreciates how the late Ashby ("Harold and Maude," "Shampoo," "Bound for Glory") "cut together images with music."
She sees "Being There" as a touchstone film. The whimsical nature of the film puzzled some critics at the time, but its commentary on politics looks prescient today.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
"Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" is a sweetly romantic picture about the iPod generation. Nick (Michael Cera) and Norah (Kat Dennings) are New Jersey high-school students drawn together by their musical passions. Both have others in mind, but a night in Manhattan, during which they search out where their current fave band might be playing, brings adventure and attraction. Directed by Peter Shollett ("Raising Victor Vargas"), the film is an amiable series of small incidents — a bit more drama would have helped — but still better than most rom-coms.
Kevin Smith's "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" has an actual porn star in it — Katie Morgan, who stars in late-night documentaries about the sex business. Otherwise, this rom-com, starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as two best friends who discover that they have always been in love with each other, is just jabber — sometimes very lewd and occasionally funny jabber. Smith tries to balance his lewdness with syrup, but the concoction is more odd than interesting.
Dakota Fanning proves again that she's an amazing young actress, in two differently toned films set in the South. In "Hounddog," she's a 1950s preteen who is raped and finds comfort in the songs of Elvis. In "The Secret Life of Bees," she plays a 14-year-old in the 1960s who is haunted by the death of her mother and takes refuge with the African-American Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo). While "Hounddog" can be discomforting yet compelling, "Bees" is a nicely told tale of love and hope. The films each have parts to recommend them, but it's Fanning who is the shining light in both.
"Bottle Shock" is a lightly charming fictionalized version of when California winemakers shocked their French counterparts in a blind wine tasting contest in 1976. Though we know the outcome, there's still some fun in the story, which stars Alan Rickman as a Brit wine merchant who lures the French into a mistake they probably wish they hadn't made.
There are three notable "TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection" sets for collectors. "Splendor in the Grass" and "Gypsy" highlight the "Natalie Wood Signature Collection," and there is a special edition of "Yentl," Barbra Streisand's 1983 adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's story of a young Jewish girl who poses as a boy in order to study Scripture.