Frank J. Avella's May
Column And Some Other Stuff
Jane Fonda, the actress, is back
again. And we have sorely missed her. This month,
she stars in her 41st feature film, Georgia
Rule. This highly anticipated work already
comes with it’s own controversial baggage,
but, alas, it has nothing to do with Fonda. Her
co-star, Lindsay Lohan, received a highly publicized
warning letter from Morgan Creek CEO James G. Robinson
about her lateness and lack of professionalism,
calling her a “spoiled child.” Fonda
herself has been cautiously supportive of Lohan.
The trailer smartly showcases
Fonda, who has recently spoken out against the war
in Iraq, causing detractors to bitch & moan
and once again doll out the ‘Hanoi Jane’
placards. Let them scream their bloody redneck heads
off. This can only be good for Jane.
See, I believe that
we owe most of Jane Fonda’s best screen work
to her activism.
Allow me to back this up with
some hard evidence. Prior to her political awakening
in the late 60’s her movie roles mainly consisted
of: ingenues (Tall Story, Period of
Adjustment, Any Wednesday, Barefoot
in the Park); sex kittens (Barbarella,
Joy House) and ingenues-turned-sex kittens
(Walk on the Wild Side, Cat Ballou).
Then, while making Sydney Pollack’s
seminal They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
something happened to Ms. Fonda. She returned to
the United States from her home in France and became
aware of the War in Vietnam (as well as other social
issues and injustices). While onset, Fonda began
speaking out against the war.
The result was one
of the finest screen portrayals of the decade. Her
Gloria in Horses, is filled with contempt
and anger at an unjust society. She is tired of
the merry-go-round known as life and longs to be
Over the next two years, Fonda
became more radically involved with the anti-war
movement. I will not bother rehashing the North
Vietnam incident (for fear of hearing from idiot
right-wingers who cluelessly condemn her actions
without really knowing or understanding them). Suffice
it to say she became notorious. She also entered
the pantheon of great artists and was crowned the
best American actress of her generation with her
performance as Bree Daniels, a high-class call girl
in Alan J. Pakula’s masterpiece, Klute
(1971). The film was one of the first psychological
studies of one of the first prostitutes on film
that was not a cliche’. Her searing work won
her the Oscar for Best Actress of 1971. A victory
that AMPAS denied her two years earlier with Horses,
a move that many believe was politically motivated.
After a strict five-year concentration
on activism, she would return to the screen, heralding
the Golden period for Jane Fonda, the screen
actress (and arguably for modern day cinema as well).
From 1977 to 1981, Fonda would
make ten feature films and receive four more Academy
Award nominations as well as her second Best Actress
Oscar. Each and every film was socially relevant
and most of them were critically and commercially
successful. Not even Meryl Streep could boast of
such a high work output and such a success rate!
Beginning with 1977’s
satiric Fun with Dick and Jane and the
poignant and profound Julia, Fonda’s complete
immersion into her roles had taken on legendary
status. In 1978 she made Comes a Horseman,
California Suite and Coming Home,
which earned her a second Oscar and validated her
anti-war sentiments. Coming Home was her
most personal film to date and treated Vietnam Veterans
with the respect they deserved while condemning
the unjust war.
Politics would play a terrifyingly
timely role in her next film, James Bridges taut,
anti-nuke thriller, The China Syndrome.
Upon it’s release, it received stellar reviews
and was quite a potent box office figure, but it
was also labeled fiction. Two weeks after the opening,
the accident at the the Three Mile Island nuclear
power plant occurred and changed that forever. Fonda’s
understated performance as TV journalist Kimberly
Wells was rich and one of her best and most underrated
(although it did garner her a fifth nomination).
1979 also saw Fonda as another
reporter in Sydney Pollack’s sublime The
Electric Horseman, co-starring Robert Redford.
The pair (working together for the third time onscreen)
were nothing short of electric! By decades end it
was easy to take her talents for granted.
The mistreatment of secretaries was the next ‘issue’
Fonda tackled with the hilarious comedy 9 to
5. By this time (beginning with Coming
Home), Fonda, along with partner Bruce Gilbert,
was producing most of her own films. They were message
pictures that dealt with issues that were important
to her. And through the tears of sheer hilarity
watching Jane, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin, one
could feel the lesson we were being taught about
the injustice and misogyny not just in the office,
but all over the country. The flick was a blockbuster.
Jane took on the world of high
finance in an extraordinary film that was way ahead
of it’s time. Alan J. Pakula’s Roll-Over
marked Fonda’s only commercial and critical
flop of the period (although a few crix like Archer
Winston in the New York Post got it).
Her biggest hit at the box office
(and this is a shocker considering it’s about
two old folks and a kid) was a film she produced
specifically for her father. On Golden Pond
won Henry Fonda his very first Best Actor Oscar
and garnered Katharine Hepburn her fourth. Jane
received her sixth nod and the knowledge that she
was responsible for her dad’s win just month’s
before his death.
As golden as this span was, her
career did not end with On Golden Pond,
although on reputable shows like ‘Inside the
Actor’s Studio’ and ‘Conversations
with Jane Fonda’ on TCM, they jump directly
to the comeback in 2005 skipping completely over
a handful of worthy turns. Even in Fonda’s
painfully honest autobiography, My Life So Far,
she devotes little remembrance to her post-Pond
ouevre. This is sad because she did some very admirable
Although it was made for television,
The Dollmaker provided Jane with one of
the greatest acting challenges of career, playing
a Kentucky mountain hillbilly who whittles dolls
to feed her five children. This was a far from the
real Jane Fonda as anyone she had ever played. And
the result was a triumph, winning her an Emmy for
In Agnes of God in 1985,
Fonda was a court-appointed therapist and rabid
anti-Catholic, hired to dissect the mind of an innocent.
Acting opposite the scenery chewing Anne Bancroft
and the enigmatic Meg Tilly, it was easy to overlook
Fonda’s powerful work. The Academy did. But
they came through a year later when Jane starred
as an alcoholic, B-movie actress on the skids who
is accused of murder in Sidney Lumet’s riveting
thriller The Morning After. Fonda was nothing
short of astonishing and received her sixth Oscar
And while Old
Gringo and Stanley and Iris were flawed,
one can’t help but wonder what happened in
the cutting room since there were incredible moments
in each film. The latter had terrific potential.
It was the great Martin Ritt’s final film
and co-starred Robert DeNiro. One gets the feeling
that there was a great film in there somewhere.
As it stands now, it’s certainly worthwhile.
At this point in her career, much
of the joy of acting had vanished and Fonda simply
felt uncomfortable in front of the camera. Enter
Ted Turner. And for fifteen long years, Fonda was
Mrs. Turner and the film world was denied her talent’s.
But Jane wised up, dumped his ass and boomeranged
back in one of the most sensational and diva-licious
comebacks in recent cine-memory with her kick-ass
performance as Viola in Monster-in-Law.
She practically acts J-Lo right off the screen!
Oh, and the film opened at number one!
Which brings us to Georgia
Felicity Huffman, Jane Fonda
and Lindsay Lohan
Fonda portrays a
demanding and hardworking matriarch who must now
care for her rebellious teen granddaughter (Lohan)
and provide moral and ethical lessons for her as
well as teach her compassion. The film also stars
Desperate Housewives’ Felicity Huffman,
Dermot Mulroney, Cary Elwes and Garrett Hedlund
and is directed by Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman,
Frankie & Johnny).
Jane Fond and Lindsay Lohan
If Lohan was smart she would have
behaved as a sponge around Fonda, soaking in everything
she could from this talented titan. Maybe she was
and maybe she did.
Word of mouth on Georgia Rule
is that Fonda gives a surprisingly different performance
than we’re used to seeing. But these words
do not surprise me at all since Fonda’s entire
life has been one surprise after another. She has
never shied away from reinventing herself over and
over again. And allowing herself to be publicly
chastised for making mistakes and being human. And
for taking responsibility for her choices.
And onscreen she is going through
her own personal renaissance. At age sixty-nine,
Jane Fonda has decided to challenge herself anew
with the choices she is making. Cinephiles rejoice!
I cannot wait to see what she does next.
Random Rants: Cool, New
York and Otherwise
Out in Jersey:
Guenia Lemos (top) and Liz
Love and Murder
Love and Murder, playing
at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch,
New Jersey, is a confused potpourri of themes that
doesn’t really gel as a play but does feature
a quartet of delectably despicable characters played
by a quartet of fine and mesmerizing actors.
The convoluted plot involves four
misfits who are locked in a battle of greed and
The author, Arthur Giron, seems
to touch on fascinating issues but then stops short
of really probing the underbelly of American avarice,
boredom and racism. He toys with sexual themes as
well but seems afraid to delve deep enough. So instead
of fixing on one or two of his very interesting
ideas, he spreads too many too thinly and the director
(Peter Bennett) and cast are left to do all the
work. Lucky for us they’re up for the challenge.
Bennett is to be commended for
keeping a swift pace and making things far more
riveting than they should be. Liz Zazzi and John
FitzGibbon give solid performances as two very vile
townies who deserve one another. Dan Domingues plays
an Indian law enforcement officer with manic glee
and happens to look damn good naked, too. But it’s
Guenia Lemos who truly manages to deliver the most
transcendent turn as a Guatemalan maid who has a
lot more going on in her pretty head than she lets
on. Her dead-on comic timing alone is worth a visit
to Love and Murder.
NJ Rep prides itself
on showcasing new authors and plays and should be
applauded for doing what few NJ theatres are willing
to do, take chances on new writers. Please get yourself
down to Long Branch (the beach is VERY close to
the theatre!!!) and support this fantastic group!
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s
28 Weeks Later
Opens May 11, 2007
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Danny Boyle’s 28 Days
Later was a startling, refreshing and innovative
assault on the senses. It was also a surprise hit
here in the U.S. Could a sequel possibly match it’s
power? The answer is, a surprising and breathless,
Although the shock value has understandably
decreased, 28 Weeks Later is a visually-stunning,
pulse-pounding, politically-vital stomach churner
that is just as good as the original--which is high
The gripping thriller takes place
in Britain, six months post-Rage-virus-annihilation.
U.S. forces are now in control of the mainland (the
Iraq parallels are glaring). The infection is over.
The reconstruction is under way. As the refugees
reunite, one particular family’s actions prove
catastrophic for...well EVERYONE. As the apocalyptic
insanity begins anew, the troops are ordered to
kill the infected as well as...the civilians!
This flick is filled with kick-ass,
eye-throbbing moments from the tense opening to
the extraordinary firebomb sequence. Be warned though:
if you easily quease, you may want to bring a large
hefty bag because the bloody yuck moments are aplenty.
Tech credits are excellent. Enrique
Chediak’s shit-get-me-outta-here shaky cam
work rocks and John Murphy’s awesome score
chills and thrills.
All the actors are effective as
well but it’s the films intense visual dazzle
that is it’s ultimate triumph. The brilliant
final shot evokes the original Planet of the
Apes and is an instant classic.
Along with 28 Days Later
and Children of Men, 28 Weeks Later
presents a bleak, arresting and creepy portrait
of a future we should all be rattled by.