Tulsa-native Jeanne Tripplehorn may have garnered her first cinematic notices in the 1992, Paul Verhoeven, psycho-sexual thriller Basic Instinct and achieved mainstream recognition in the underappreciated action blockbuster, Waterworld (not a joke) -- but it will be for her performance in the upcoming film (and directorial debut by her husband, Leland Orser) Morning, for which she should be most remembered. In fact, along with Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, I haven't seen such an instantly recognizable Oscar-worthy performance this year.
And due to her love for her hometown, Tripplehorn and Orser played host last weekend to Morning's special premiere at the Circle Cinema. Her stellar performance is just one amazing aspect of Orser's haunting, delicate and wonderful directorial inauguration.
Taking place over the course of five days, Morning slowly reveals the story of Alice and Mark Munroe (Tripplehorn and Orser), a middle-aged, married couple who are being torn apart. We don't know why, at first. From the shattered look on Alice's face after a morning sexual tryst with Mark, it could be any number of marital devastations at play. It's only clear that something has gone horribly wrong.
So the initial scenes and days play out like the repeating verses of a poem. Mark leaves, saying he can't stay with her anymore. Alice leaves as well, nearly hitting a street-crossing dog with her car. Sitting in the middle of the street, she slowly realizes that Mark almost hit the same dog and is parked right next to her, frozen behind the wheel.
A mysterious old woman makes the trip from the city to the Munroe's suburban house every day to add little pieces to a shrine she's built on their front porch, collecting the mail and organizing the piled up, unread newspapers neatly by the door. A fishbowl's prominence by the front door bodes ill for the lone black guppy laconically swimming around in its ova-like orb, piling clue upon subtle clue.
Taking a Page From Breaking Bad. When you're filming a scene with a teenage boy, have him eating at the dining table. Jeanne Tripplehorn stars next to the hungry kid in Morning.
As Alice decides to get a hotel room and Mark returns home instead, we see them retreating into themselves in different ways, battling the acceptance of whatever has happened. Mark begins playing with Legos and eating Spaghetti-Os like a he's in a food fight with himself -- tearing ass around the house in his boxers like a little kid. Alice goes to school only to realize that she's missed the first day and later, when she only sees her friend, Mary (Julie White, Transformers), a look of grave concern and anecdotes about loss fill in more of the blanks behind Alice's frozen stare. She eventually seeks solace in booze as she holes up at the hotel, desperately trying to remember where she lost her wedding ring.
As the curtain pulls back -- and the drips of realization deliberately fall on the audience -- the depths of their pain, anger and resentment find shape in a terrible tragedy that threatens to destroy their love for one another.
Written and directed by Leland Orser, Morning is a finely crafted, beautifully executed, dream-like elegy. Audiences will most likely recognize him in from his myriad "hey, it's that guy" roles in some great films, from David Fincher's twisted thriller, Se7en -- a small, but truly unforgettable turn -- to supporting appearances in Saving Private Ryan and starring roles in Very Bad Things and the recent Taken franchise. He's always been consistently memorable for his often neurotic and slightly askew characters.
In the director's chair, though, Orser has found a new calling, not unlike other actors turned director crossovers like Ben Affleck and George Clooney (both Orser and Clooney served time on the long-running NBC medical drama ER, back in the day). By channeling the Euro-arthouse sensibilities of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy and the influence of the Dardenne Brothers, Orser masterfully builds Morning's world, almost wordlessly at first, peeling back the onion-like layers of his characters and effortlessly sketching their emotional topography, leaving little clues that deftly build upon themselves, trusting the audience and the strength of his material to open up together.
And while Orser proves to be a formidable director not only of his tantalizing narrative, exhibiting a watchmaker's sense for emotional details, he also turns in a deeply effecting performance as Mark. It's raw and completely unreserved, a volatile mix of confusion, sadness and anger that is next to impossible to take your eyes off of. The way he balances his auteur vision and the execution of it is something to behold, while the cinematography by Paula Huidobro (who joyously captures the proceedings on 35m film) adds the final layer of textured delicacy.
But it's the performance by Tripplehorn, whose striking eyes and bruised beauty say more than words ever could, that closes the circle. As they both drift apart to confront their devastated souls, her mounting realization of what has come to pass and what has ended is given counterpoint by her stunning level of emotional control and exquisite attention to detail. It's a high watermark performance not just in her career, but of 2013, as well. If that sounds hyperbolic, watch her scenes between Alice and Dr. Goodman (Laura Linney -- though there are actually two Dr. Goodmans in yet another poetic repetition, the other played by Elliott Gould, and both bring calming solace). They excellently play off each other in an emotional climax that should lay any doubt to rest.
And if this account sounds vague, then it's appropriately so, since the relative joys of Morning come in not knowing where it will take you. There's a certain triumph in deliberately discovering one of the best films of 2013, and having it discover us.
Morning opens at the Circle Cinema on September 27. For ticketing information, visit www.circlecinema.com.
It's been 25 years since the "Weird Al" Yankovic-starring, cult-comedy UHF was shot in Tulsa. And while director Jay Levey is no Francis Ford Coppola, we still love UHF for its hometown connection.
Telling the story of daydreaming nerd George Newman (Weird Al), who is given the responsibility of running a bankrupt local television station by his sketchy uncle, UHF was a modest theatrical success, eventually coming into its own on home video, earning its cult status in not too dissimilar a fashion as Office Space would years later. Boasting a cast of young stars who would go on to become television staples themselves, from Seinfeld's Michael Richards to The Nanny's Fran Drescher among other notable names as Victoria Jackson and Weird Al himself, UHF is as fun and scrappy a little film as the characters at the heart of the story, itself.
Genius In France. Weird Al Yankovic, music's smartest, oddest, accordion-playing-est man comes to town to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Tulsa-filmed UHF at the Circle.
So on the occasion of UHF's 25th birthday, Rogers State College Public Television and the Circle Cinema are putting together a series of events over the coming days to celebrate the film that made Stanley Spadowski and Conan the Librarian a thing, and so near and dear to Tulsa's heart.
After a special screening of the film and book signing (on Sept. 24), a state-wide UHF-themed art exhibition will be on display at the Circle until October 20th, along with an ongoing poster contest. Entries will be auctioned on October 18, the proceeds of which will go to funding RSU TV and the Circle. Meanwhile, the Tulsa City-County Library will be running a READ poster campaign featuring Weird Al and his iconic, and fitting, Conan the Librarian character from the film.
The weekend of October 5 kicks off a (very meta, if you consider the film's plot) pledge drive on RSU TV, with a special screening of the film as well as cast members and local VIPs taking phone pledges live in the studio, giving interviews and reminiscing on Tulsa and their time making the film here. The 6th will feature an airing of The Apocalypse Tour, Weird Al's live concert that premiered on Comedy Central in 2011. Gifts for donating will include a tour of the filming locations for UHF.
And finally, that tour is coming to T-Town, as Weird Al takes the stage at the Brady Theater on Oct. 19.
For more information on the art exhibit visit circlecinema.com or rsu.tv, and for tickets to The Apocalypse Tour visit bradytheater.com. And don't forget to mark your calendars for the special screening and pledge drive on RSU TV on Oct. 5 and 6. Perhaps you'll learn how to make plutonium from common household items. That's educational television at its finest.
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