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Fonda Rules

Frank J. Avella's May 2007 Film
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 euthanized.


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!

Coming Home

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.

China Syndrome

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 work.

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 Lead Actress.

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 nomination.

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 Rule.

Felicity Huffman, Jane Fonda and Lindsay Lohan
Georgia Rule

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
Georgia Rule

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 Zazzi
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 sexual intrigue.

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, yes!

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 praise indeed.

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.



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