Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Holdovers

To attract a movie audience writers and producers are looking for a set of circumstances that can lead to an interesting plot.  For "The Holdovers" one detail is it is set in a boys' boarding school.  Most of the boys are from rich families and a few have divorced parents.  The teacher at the center has an unknown background and is found boring by most of his students.  The Christmas holidays leave some youngsters stuck away from their families.  That is the setting and the viewers are left to find all the hidden history and agenda behind.

Skillful writers can weave in some details in a timely fashion.  Relationships that are somewhat platonic with elders being patronizing between teacher and student break down under stress.  The acting is really well done and what you might not see, the directing and editing is above average.    

The timing is set for the Vietnam War  with issues of the draft especially of concern to students with rich parents.   One character, the cook is grieving over her son who after being a top student at the school wasn't rich enough to avoid the draft and died in battle.

I was struck by a quote paraphrased as   "To understand the present you need to go back to the past" that gave the Paul Giamatti character a chance to demonstrate how important history really is no matter how stuffy he is.  He backs up the sentiment wth many historical examples.

With all the ingredients for a meaningful and enjoyable story, someone still had to put it together.  Below are some of the key people and some of the mechanisms that brought it together.

Alexander Payne was the director.  He has 18 credits as producer and 13 as a writer, allowing him to have control over films.  His  credits include "Election" (1999), "Sideways" (2004), "The Descendants" ((2011) and "Nebraska" (2013).   One interesting quote regarding casting:  "They (the studio) go through that process when they think you have to find the most famous people possible and they go down the line."

David Hemingson wrote the script and was also a producer.  He had gone to a boarding school in Hartford, Connecticut which provided some of the background for "The Holdovers."  He went onto and graduated from Yale and then the Columbia Law School.  He worked for Loeb and Loeb Law with their entertainment section.  From there he started writing.  One project for a tv series was to be based on his boarding school experience, but when Alexander Payne contacted him wanting to do a movie with a boarding school setup he switched his efforts to the movie.  He has 23 credits as a writer and 21 as a producer. 

Mark Orton wrote the music.  He has 76 credits for composing and 17 music department including "Nebraska" (2013) and "People Places Things" (2015).

Eigid Bryld handled the cinematography.  He started in Denmark.  He has 39 credits including "Becoming Jane" (2007), "House of Cards" (2013), "The Loudest Voice" (2015), "Ocean's 8" (2018), "The Report" (2018), and "No Hard Feelings"(2019).  Check

Kevin Tent was editor.  He started editing educational films.   He had edited every film directed by Alexander Payne.  He has been the president of American Cinema Editors.  He has 42 editing credits and 9 in the editorial department including "Election" (1999), "Shanghai" (2010), "Disconnect" (2012), "Nebraska" (2013), "Parched" (2015) and "The Intern" (2015).

Paul Giamatti plays Paul Hunhan.  His father had been president of Yale University and Commissioner of Major League Baseball.  He has 114 acting credits, 7 credits as producer and 1 credit as director including  "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), "Sideways" (2004),"John Adams" (2008),  "The Last Station" (2009), "Barney's Version" 2010), "Win-Win" (2011), "The Ides of March" (2011), "Too Big to Fail" (2011), "Saving Mr. Bank" (2013), "12 Years a Slave" (2013), "Parkland" (2013),  "The Little Prince" (2015), "The Catcher was a Spy" (2018),  "Private Life" (2018), "Benjamin Franklin" (2022) and "The American Buffalo" (2023).

 Da'Vine Joy Randolph played Mary Lamb.  She earned a classical vocal degree at Temple University and then studied drama at Yale School of Drama.  She has doen well on Broadway.  She has 43 film credits including "The Good Wife" (2013), "The Lost City" (2022) and " Only Murders in the Building" (2023).

Dominic Sessa played Angus Tully.  Originally he was most interested to play hockey, but a broken leg forced him to consider alternatives.   At Deerfield Academy he decided to get involved with drama and performed in some plays.  As it happens the school had been chosen to be a location for filming "The Holdovers" and the casting director, Susan Shopmaker held auditions which Dominic won.  This is his first major role, but already he has won awards.

Carrie Preston played  Lydia Crane.  She met her future husband, Michael Emerson while both were playing in a Shakespearian Festival in Alabama.   She has 77 acting credits as well as 8 directing credits and 7 producer credits.  Some of us most remember her from "The Good Wife"(2010-2016) and "The Good Fight" (2017-2022).  Her character is scheduled to revived for her own series.  Carrie also had a supporting role in "Doubt" (2008).

I watched it on a DVD that had some interesting bonus clips that helped give a deeper appreciation of some points.  Nominated for a few Oscar awards it is difficult to predict the outcome.  There is always a marketing and political battle, but as far as using the Oscar as guideline to decide whether to watch, the nominations and the cast and crew themselves should be more than sufficient.

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