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Archive for the ‘ACTING STYLE: INTERNATIONAL REALISTIC’ Category

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

10 Jan

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom – directed by Justin Chadwick. BioFlic. 141 minutes Color 2013. ★★★★

The Story: A black country boy in South Africa becomes a lawyer and strives for the political equality of all his nation.

~

My cavil with it is that the leading role is miscast, and I keep seeing it in every frame. Idris Elba is the actor playing Nelson Mandela, and Elba is a wonderful actor in this, but he is built like mack truck and Mandela was built like a skiff. Idris Elba has the neck of a line-backer. That Mandela was slender in neck and frame was part of his appeal and power: to think that so frail a man in appearance could withstand so much physical torture. Elba has immense dark gravitas; Mandela was a light. The part needed Bill Bojangles Robinson not Jackie Robinson It doesn’t work.

But what a story! The material is fully dramatized including Mandela’s relations with his wives, particularly with Winnie Mandela who remained bellicose when Mandela became the peace-maker. We are taken into Robben Island Prison and the 26 years of hard labor there, and we are taken into the years as Mandela became the center-pin of the anti-apartheid scandal burning South Africa.

We see the villages and the townships of the cities, what they were like, how folks lived, how Mandela moved through them to prominence and natural moral leadership and eventual capture as a terrorist. We live through the days of the infamy of the forces linked against him.

But the fact was, he was too famous to kill.

Or was he?

No matter. I lived in the time of Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR and Churchill and Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer and Sister Kenny and Helen Keller. Shaw, O’Neill, Thomas Mann were my contemporaries. There were many Great Humans alive in those days. People on the order of Nelson Mandela. But in our time,  he was almost alone. Now he is gone. The Dali Lama is left. No one else that I know of.

Therefore it benefitted me to visit his biography once again. It’s a Great Man’s Tale. Don’t deprive yourself of it, even if you imagine you already know it. Great Men’s Tales are never heard  if only heard but once.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: INTERNATIONAL REALISTIC, BIOPIC, Edris Elba, Filmed in Africa

 

Saving Mr. Banks

07 Jan

Saving Mr. Banks – directed by John Lee Hancock. BioFlic. 125 minutes Color 2013. ★★★★★

The Story: Walt Disney attempts to induce stubborn P. L. Travers to sign over the rights to her book Mary Poppins, and both turn out to be different than you thought.

~

Terrific. Made with the immaculate production values we are long accustomed to with Walt Disney movies, and, once we blind ourselves the poise of them, the trip is certainly worth our while. For the making of Mary Poppins was certainly worth while. For it tugs at the heart with unlooked-for happiness, in the same good old Disney way.

Inside each of these famous people who wrangle over the production of the film a Bambi lies covert. A father ruined, and almost ruinously wonderful, preys on each of them.

This is somewhat less interesting than the performing of the principals. Kathy Baker is the wise secretary of the great man, Bradley Whitford is the script writer much abused, Jason Schwartzman is the song writer, and Rachel Grifiths sails in with her life-saving umbrella and basket of nostrums. She is the prototype of Mary Poppins, and an actor who looks unsettlingly but not quite exactly like Colin Farrell plays the prototype for Mr. Banks, the actor turning out to actually be Colin Farrell. A lovely little actress, Annie Rose Buckley, plays his six year-old daughter, enchanted by him. Paul Giamatti, in an infallible role, plays Mrs. Travers’ California chauffeur.

This high-end casting is a doily around the principles. Disney is played by Tom Hanks who is an actor who can play ordinary people unactorishly. He never pushes for effects. He never shows you he can act. He brings honor to the every-day and the expected to the expected. No more trustworthy actor exists. He is a pleasure as ever.

As the redoubtable P.L. Travers we have (and no one else would do) your favorite of all, Emma Thompson. Travers is at the end of her creative road and she knows it. So the part is set up to present you with the most difficult and rude British dame you ever met, protecting her last and dearest child from Hollywood molestation. She has that common British attitude that all things American are inferior and, even worst, vulgar. She mistakes condescension for breeding and contempt for superiority. She is crushingly dismissive of everything and everyone. And Emma Thompson means it, so you wonder, will this never end?

It does end exactly as it should, with her at the premier of Mary Poppins, and we are all in tears, because Mary Poppins is one of the most worthwhile films Disney ever made. If Julie Andrews lacks the rigor which Mrs Travers put in her, never mind, the idea gets across, and the songs crack the nut of any hard-heart within city limits. We shed tears not because we are in pain, but because we are given release of pain. And I say, Good! Shed some. Go.

 

Rush

01 Oct

Rush – directed by Rob Howard. Sports Auto Racing Action. Niki Lauder and James Hunt duke it out in Formula 1 races in the 1970s. 122 minutes Color 2013.

★★★

As anyone may do what I have done and look up these two once renowned drivers, they may easily find that the story Rush tells of them is bunk.

First of all they knew one another, liked one another, even bunked together. Second of all, Lauder did not quit racing because he preferred marriage to winning. He quit the Japanese race in the driving rain that day because, after a near fatal accident six weeks before, his tear ducts ran because his eyelids had been burned off and he could not blink. Lauder went on to race well into the 80s.

This put-up-job is a dumbing down into palatability of the fact that in this story of the tortoise and the hare, the hare wins. The reckless yet skilled, madcap yet smart, dissolute yet devoted driver James Hunt is the one most of our attention is on. But that is because the actor who plays him is so good looking. And we want this bad boy character to prevail, of course, for Niki Lauder seems to be rather a grunt.

However, one cares about neither of them. Never mind their roles, neither actor is likable. And that’s where the win lies for actors. You may wonder which wins the World Championship, Lauder or Hunt, but you do not care which actor wins, and mere curiosity is not a strong engagement factor for an audience. When you think of actors who have played big-time drivers – Clark Gable, Steve McQueen, Tom Cruise, Mickey Rooney, James Garner – you have a list of actors an audience can get behind. With Chris Helmsworth as Hunt you have a super-hero. He’s a very good actor. But you don’t need a very good actor in the role. You need someone you care whether they live or die.

The film itself is beautifully made. One gets a sense of what it is like to be on course during these races. The editing is kaleidoscopic, of course, and hyped up, because actually racing 74 laps is essentially an endurance contest over tedium marbled with occasional mortality.

At the matinée I attended the theatre was virtually empty.

 

 

 

 

Matador

21 Sep

Matador – written and directed by Pedro Almovódar. Murder Melodrama. A guilt stricken young man tracks down the real murderers. 110 minutes, Color 1986.

★★★★★

The insane religiously obsessed mother we are to see in The Law Of Desire impels the same actor, Antonio Banderas, to different sexual insanities. His only problem is that he is not guilty of anything, but wishes he were, because it would mean he was a sexual being, which is the one thing his mother decries anthem-like in her every day sermons to him. So he confesses to crimes he has not committed.

The interesting thing is that he is also clairvoyant, so he actually knows where the real bodies are buried. Trouble is he faints at the sight of blood, so he couldn’t have killed a soul.

All this is a comic substrata like something out of a Preston Sturges comedy, while the main and particular story deals with the addiction to slaughter – or slaughter as sex – a compulsion shared with Banderas’ lawyer and with the retired Matador played with utter conviction by Nacho Martinez. They love killing people, and they mate over it. So one is not quite sure whether one is watching grand opera or grand guignol.

Everyone is wonderful – as is usually the case in Almodóvar films. Banderas plays the youth quite simply, so one does not really have to worry about his Mother-Church mother and whether he will recover from her. We are glad to know the mother will never recover, that is all.

There is a crazy Duel In The Sun death at the end which is quite enjoyable, and as is sometimes the case with Almovódar, one feels King Vidor is more in charge than Almodóvar is, but that does not matter.

What matters is all those poster paint colors which countermand everything we see, thank goodness, and give the uplift which turns melodrama into satire in a wink. We are so grateful for Almodóvar for this. He is a tonic for our times.

 

The Law Of Desire

17 Sep

The Law Of Desire – written and directed by Pablo Almodóvar. Melodrama. 102 minutes Color 1987.

★★★★★ 

The Story: A beautiful young man becomes disastrously obsessed with a film director.

The link between satire and melodrama has not been this close since the heyday of Dickens. They are really two sides of the same coin. And one of the links here is the notorious color scheme that Almodóvar employs to nest this tale and that brings to one’s eye a humor of disposition which is very hard not to be influenced by. You want to giggle.

If any problem exists in this film, or any other film of Almovódar that wishes us to take it seriously, it is that he has such a big heart that everybody is forgiven for everything in advance. This film comes before the discovery of Penélope Cruz, who embodies all these traits in her nature: big heartedness, drama, and the color scheme. So, while his films are wonderful to watch and be entertained by, we are foolish to ask ourselves to be deeply moved by them. This does not mean they are trivial or to be scanted; not at all; they must be seen, like the mobiles of Alexander Calder, lest we deprive ourselves of an important delight. You wouldn’t spurn Mozart because he is light-minded, would you? Or the films of Lubitsch because he is fun?

This story deals mainly with homosexuality and transsexuality, and is Almovódar’s first film so to do. The parallel plot involves Carmen Maura who was once the director’s brother and is now his sister. And the transsexual Bibí Andersen (not to be confused with Ingmar Bergman’s Bibi Andersson) plays the aunt. All this is very nice and disturbs, just as it is meant to do, our customarily acceptance of things.

The director is played with admirable restraint by Eusebio Poncela, and it is a pleasure to see him engage in passionate kissing scenes with men, for that is just the way men kiss one another when they are at it. His is essentially the Almovódar stand-in role, as you find in Broken Embraces, the man whose calling is more important than his love relations.

Antonio Banderas plays the mad youth. It is very nice to see him with his clothes off, for he is a fine figure of a male, and it makes his insane lust for the director real. And he also kisses back real good. But what’s interesting about Banderas’ performance is that he is playing someone insane as though they were not insane. What the actor does is to excuse nothing. He has that ghastly, religiously-crazed, prude mother to motivate him, and Almovódar needs give us no more than that. The story does the job for him.

What Almovódar does give us is a mountain slide of a finale, with plot heaped upon exposition scene as Pelion on Ossa. It is more rich desserts than we can digest at a sitting. But he does meet all the responsibilities of the genres of melodrama and satire, which he clearly loves, just as he loves nutso love-lust s in Duel In The Sun with its wedding of sex and slaughter as praise for life lived fully in a way that no one really cares to do outside of a movie, including Almovódar. What’s the moral of the opera?

There is no sacrifice one does not make for love – children, gender, life, sex itself. If it aint necessarily so, well then, that’s one reason we go to a movie to begin with, isn’t it?

 

The Grandmaster

11 Sep

The Grandmaster – written and directed by Wong Kar-wai. Drama. Two master martial artists are drawn to one another, though they are both sworn to duel. 130 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

See it by all means in a theatre now. For is a film of such resplendent beauty, subtlety, and distinction that you must sit back in the dark of a vast hall and let it play itself out hugely before your amazed eyes. You mustn’t wait until it comes into your mere parlor.

It is not a story about athleticism or about martial art, but about character and martial artists. Their dances are performed to music, and are shown in flashes, not of bodies bashing one another, but of slices of hands, scraps of wrists, flourishes of robes and fur. You would not want to see the actual moves. What you do want to see is the result of them. A body crashing through a window. You do not want to see technique. What you do want to see is the half smile of the executant.

What you want to see is beauty, and this you see in every frame, every face, every costume, every setting, and in every delivery of them to your astonished and gratified eyes. Beauty stirs in the puddles and the reflections of the gates in the puddles, in the waiting snow on the bough in the battle in the blizzard. And why should you see this? Why is this being offered? Because inherent in it is the dignity and discipline inherent in life lived – not necessarily this Chinese way – but inherent in life lived in many ways.

To establish that dignity and that openness, we are given as The Grand Master the face of Tony Leung, one of the most beautiful faces ever to bless the screen. And the face of Zhang Ziyi, whose mouth enchants as once enchanted the mouth of Janice Rule. You cannot but be lost in the beauty of these two faces, for their beauty expands and vibrates into a latitude which only movie faces of this beauty can do, and we are given plenty of opportunity to dwell upon them, for they are filmed close-up, still, often, and well.

Beauty has no moral. It is an arena to itself. Go. Bathe in it. You owe it to yourself. I say you do. I say you deserve it and you have always deserved it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Embraces

04 Sep

Broken Embraces – written and directed by Pedro Alomodóvar. Drama. A film director changes his profession after becoming blinded and losing the love of his life. 128 minutes Color 2009.

★★★★★

This is badly titled, isn’t it? Coitus Interruptus would be closer, but the Spanish language has a striking coloration than English cannot translate.

Anyhow the embraces are plural, which coitus interruptus is not. For there are two embraces cracked by the blinding of the director, both of them the loves of his life, one being with the flabbergastering Penélope Cruz and the other with his calling as a director.

The effect of all of this on himself and those around him – his Gal Friday and her son – is momentous. And I’m not going to talk about any of that, for I never tell the story of a film to you, for I will not betray you. I trust your susceptibility to what I have to say to make clear those values I can speak of without undermining your surprise and the human need in you for participation in the deep deed of narration. The story is not mine to tell. It is the director’s to tell it, and yours to open yourself to it, which in this case I urge thoroughly to do. You need, as I do, to be told a story. But you need, as I do, to be told it by the right person. Not I, but Almodóvar is that person.

I can point out the coloration spread before us by the director, particularly marked, wouldn’t you say, in the story of a man who is blind.

I can also mention how the loss of the sight – no, I won’t point that out at all. You will know it for yourself when you see it before you.

Do so. For who is it that does not make a point of seeing any new movie of Pedro Almodóvar? Is there such a ninny breathing God’s air? Don’t you want to be in kindergarten again, playing with poster paints on those big sheets of paper? Don’t you want to hear tales of love and loyalty and princesses lodged in ogre’s castles? Have you no passion? Have you no waking dreams? Have you never seen Penélope Cruz in her home territory even once and not yearned to revisit her there once again?

Almodóvar treats Cruz’s first appearance before the director, Lluis Homar, as Charles Vidor treats Rita Hayworth’s before Glenn Ford in Gilda – as a never-to-be-banished bedazzlement, a sudden looking up at him from amidst the double bed of her fabulous hair – certainly a resource of her talent and beauty and interest – like Anna Magnani’s hair or Clark Gable’s – one of things that hold us to the screen.

The film is beautifully acted and cast, with one exception, which is that of the leading role of the gal Friday. The part is not a tragic role, but a romantic role, that of a woman holding patience in place for many years. We need to see much less of her feeling than of her precious hoarding of it.

Here we are in the house of full scale melodrama, with all of Almodóvar’s variety of humor, to appreciate which, make sure to watch the extra features for one of the funniest actor monologues you will ever have the privileged of witnessing. Go to, my friends, go to. See it and be seen by it.

 

I’m So Excited

09 Aug

I’m So Excited –– directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Disaster Farce. A big airplane full of passengers loses its landing gear. 90 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

The trouble with it is that you never believe for a moment that plane is in any danger of crashing. Without this, there is no tension to be played, played against, and relieved. Perhaps because the director supposes we all know such films end with all on board safe and sound. Which makes the whole enterprise feel a little used, and I, as an audience, a little used too.

The other trouble is that the entire film is taken up with the homosexual shenanigans of five of the male crew members, and the film, crowds itself out of attention because the three flight attendants are your usual pouffes, which means that they are able to evince nothing else and nothing deeper and nothing funnier than bitchy dissatisfaction. So our attention is exhausted by their monotony, our capacity for character investment and surprise is wrecked by their type casting in the writing.

The captain and the co-pilot embark upon homosexual relations with two of these attendants, which would be hunky-dory save that, although both are married with families, they embrace the sexual pleasures of cock-sucking without a pang. Without a sideward glance. Although the sidewards glances of Hugo Silva as Benito the co-pilot are so full of fun , it is what we might like to believe should happen, but do not believe does happen, and without a foundation in credibility the outrages of farce do not tell.

What’s great about the film is the ability of the director to surprise with his gaudy color scheme and narrative manner. One deft move after another provides delight. The actual crash of the plane is a masterstroke of editing. And his introduction of Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas as ground crew in the opening scene gives us a favorable expectation as to the level of acting we shall be treated to, which is of a high order indeed.

For the final greatness of Almodóvar’s film is that each character is fully realized. Each is given in the round. If you don’t care whether they live or die, that is the writer/director’s fault, not theirs.

I look forward to his next play session with us. I shall not look back on this one. Forward only!

 

 

 

The Last Metro

29 Jul

The Last Metro –­– directed by Francois Truffaut. Backstage WW II Drama. A Paris theatre company holds together during the German occupation. 131 minutes Color 1980.

★★★★

The presence of Catherine Deneuve in any film whatever guarantees attention to it, just as her presence in it guarantees attention to herself. She is a woman with no sex appeal save that she seems to have none; males are captivated by the challenge of their own bafflement, apparently.  And, even with persons she is making out with, she evinces no sexual interest or energy towards anyone else. She is neither attractive nor attracted. So it is no wonder that Gérard Depardieu has no eyes for her.

She is thought of as beautiful, a claim discounted by that chin. And perhaps it is her consistently soigné manner and her consistently marvelous yellow hair and that she is consistently photographed as though she were beautiful that leads to the general belief that she is so.

But, of course, I do not find her so, and that is because, as a dramatic actress she lacks fire, she lacks temperament; she gives so little to her craft it creates a detriment, a hollow, which also adds to her so-called attraction, I suppose, but it doesn’t interest me, and I have no respect for it. She seems inert, a sphinx without a secret.

That is, until I saw her in Hôtel des Amériques, which she made with the great actor Patrick Dewaere, and in which she plays broad comedy and is screamingly funny. She is, in fact, a brilliant light comedienne miscast in a career of dramatic roles, such as this one. Sad.

The movie itself is quite entertaining, because of its photography, general production, crispness in the telling, and Truffaut’s eye for subordinate characters, which, given that this is a theatre company, means we are confronted with some unusual types.

But, while the story is well told, it is not well written, for such reasons as that a romance between Depardieu and Deneuve is tagged on at the end and arises out of nothing we have witnessed. And also because neither she nor Depardieu have real passion either for the theatre as a calling or as a business. As with her relations to her Jewish husband, she is doing her duty.

The film also is in lush color, which certainly suits Deneuve’s makeup and complexion, just as it suited Betty Grable’s, but it defies the gritty black-and-white truth of World War II in starving, domineered, occupied Paris. Both she and Depardieu play characters that seem to have no personal necessity save to play the parts in the movie in which we are seeing them. The film holds one almost to the end, which is a tribute to its power to entertain, if not to explore. In France it received all the major awards. Which is natural, since it congratulates the faith, fidelity, and fortitude of the French during trying times. And who can gainsay it. Will they survive? That is the tension. The answer? They will.

 

My Mother’s Smile

25 Jun

My Mother’s Smile –– directed by Marco Bellocchio. Drama A renown painter faces the prospect of his dead mother being made a saint by the Vatican. 105 minutes Color 2002.

★★★★★

This remarkable drama perhaps depends upon its performance by any one of the principal actors, but the entire film really seems to gather its value together under the dark black hair of the beautiful child who is the six year old son of the main character. He is the one worth saving from the grotesque farrago of sanctification. But each character is played without remorse.

The aunt of the father desires the sanctification to gain social status, and her arguments are convincing. So are those of the pious cardinal in charge of the process and two of the painter’s three brothers. So really are the plans of the reprobate miraculously cured by her.

The question raised is how are we to be loved for what we are. And how are we to know that unless we stand our ground, right or wrong. So the artist is challenged and humiliated by a haughty nobleman who at the point of death reduces him in his manhood and humanity. And he is also offered the fair distraction of a beautiful young woman of mysterious provenance. Whose side, if any side, is she on?

But it is the third brother whose seal of approval is besought with insane resolve by all but the artist. For this third brother is insane and has also killed the mother.

This is a fascinating and usual picture, highly watchable and highly engrossing. And a great demonstration of the power of film to deal with immense moral issues without ever having to preach to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

Lust, Caution

28 May

Lust, Caution – directed by Ang Lee. Spy Drama. In the Japanese occupation of Japan a group of students become resistance workers determined to assassinate a high ranking collaborator. 157 minutes Color 2007.
★★★★★
After making Brokeback Mountain, the angel director Ang Lee returned to China to film this account of the late 30s occupation of Hong Kong and Shanghai. He avows it was to honor the history of the period, which was his parents’ time, and which would he feared be lost if some record of it was not made. But the movie is far more than ancestor worship.

As with all his films (The Life of Pi, et al.), it is an exposure of human nature under huge pressure, danger, and duress. I am loath to recount even the beginning of this story, because each episode is precious and unusual.

Rather let me speak for a minute about the cast, which, along with Joan Chen, boasts the highest ranking Chinese actors of our day.

Wang Leehom, the international Asian singer superstar, plays the young leader of the troupe. A beautiful young man, he captures the intensity of the boy, including his fatal lack of humor linked to a sexual restraint such as to make of them a plot device in and of themselves.

The great Chinese superstar Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays the collaborationist magistrate who is the target of the troupe. You would suppose you would respond to him as a villain. But the intensity, pain, love, perspicacity, fear, cruelty, and desire he evinces forbids any such condemnation as the full human being arises before our eyes.

The power and delicacy and sensuality of his playing take the story to excruciations of lust and fear – to a point almost inhuman where neither of them obtain. And with him rides Wei Tang as the femme fatale of the troupe, out to seduce and betray him. She is an entrancing female, subtle, lovely to behold, true, believable, and interesting in and of herself.

I say no more. I have said too much.

It is beautifully filmed by Rodrigo Prieto and has an infallible sense of period.

I saw it on DVD, which offers an uncensored version, It seems to me that the film would make no sense without the full bore sex scenes. Or at least insufficient sense. After all, the film is not a candy apple.

Highly recommended for grown-up viewing.

 

Where The Truth Lies

25 Apr

Where the Truth Lies – directed by Atom Egoyan. Who-Done-It. A pretty biographer falls into the hotel beds of famous comedian-partners. 107 minutes Color 2005.
★★★
I am going to discipline myself. I am no longer going to idly grab a movie at the library for any other reason but that I believe I will enjoy it – grab it out of curiosity or to fill a gap in my education or after saying, “Oh, here’s a minor Bop Hope comedy I never heard of.”

Not that I dislike Bob Hope; I don’t; but I am not interested in being an omnivore of movies; I reviewed over 600 movies in the past two years; I am stuffed.

Or rather, what I am interested in is the truth of acting. The craft of acting, which I myself have practiced a good many years – although mainly on the stage – is what I wish to offer here, insofar as I can perceive it. For I am not An Acting Mogul. I was only my own sort of actor. There are many other sorts. Almost as many as there are actors. I am humble before the craft, its difficulties, its delights. And I watch films because certain actors are in them. I love actors and acting.

Beyond that, I am interested in the work of certain directors: Raoul Walsh whom I am fond of; Elia Kazan whom I surrendered to when young; George Stevens, in the beauty of whose work I still become lost. There are many others, modern directors whose work brings a slant on and a veracity of life to my life. It is foolish of me to think that I should watch films to keep abreast with the past or the present. I don’t care about that. I watch films as I have always done, to save my life: as scripture. And to have a good laugh, which is sometimes the same thing.

This picture is beautifully executed. It is good to see Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon in roles so far outside their usual realm, and their imagination and vitality count a lot in the carrying power of surprising us here. Bacon is particularly effective in certain scenes, evincing a virility in seduction one has never seen before. He’s a hard actor to watch, however, because what lies behind his face is always so volatile, and because his eyes don’t match. I have always liked to see him, though. But one cares not a rat’s buns about the fate of him or of Firth or of any of the people in this picture.

The two comedians performing fund raising marathons on TV are dead-hearted pros. And the writing of the young college girl who is murdered betrays her character by having her ask for money for having witnessed a compromising scene between Bacon and Firth. It would be better had she been murdered simply for seeing it.

I suppose the film might have engaged one, if it had adhered to the regulation set down for us by Howard Hawks in The Big Sleep and had the female lead investigating the crime been played with the insolence required to shoulder her way into the lives of the comedians, and the wit to figure out who-dun-it at the end. But the actress cast is of a vacuous temperament. I suppose someone thought that her innocence and her naiveté would draw us in. But, you know, innocence is not very interesting. It is interesting in a child, but only because in a child it is inextricably and intimately aligned with a child’s imagination to improvise. Innocence lends infant improvisation its gas. Innocence is catatonically boring without its moment-by-moment inventive power. As Oscar Wilde said, “It is always wrong to be innocent,” and as Borges said of Oscar Wilde, “He is never wrong.”

I picked up the film because of its wonderful title. Somehow I’d heard of it, hadn’t I? The director had such an unusual name. Hadn’t I heard of him? Yes, but none of that is enough to spend time on a dime. I must watch myself. Loving watching movies as much as I do is a vacuous reason to watch anything that comes to hand. Forgive me.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: INTERNATIONAL REALISTIC, Colin Firth, Kevin Bacon, WHO-DUN-IT

 

Blackthorn

20 Apr

Blackthorn – directed by Mateo Gil. Butch Cassidy has survived and twenty years later wants to leave Bolivia to visit Etta Place’s son, but is waylaid by a suspect Spaniard. 102 minutes Color 2011.
★★★★
As an actor Sam Shepard can carry a film, but in this case he cannot carry it far enough.

And that is because of the construction of the narrative. If we learn only at the end that the Spaniard is a nefarious character, we feel cheated as an audience of the loyalty we have bestowed on the destiny of these two characters. And there is no reason for it.

We should know the Spaniard is a nefarious character from the start. Sam Shepard as Butch Cassidy, disguised as Blackthorn, should not know it. His tragedy should be that his long, deliberate, and pseudonymous isolation has caused him to become ignorant of the truth of the world. And our participation as an audience should be our suspense waiting for the truth to be disclosed to him and how he behaves at that moment. And it should also result in some change in his romantic attitude regarding his twenty-years after planned visit to his “son.”

But there are other faults with the script. First: is Etta’s child fathered by Sundance or by Butch; were they both involved with her, and how come?

Second: how was Sundance mortally wounded?

But, third and most important: we are given no clue whatsoever, either in the playing of Shepard or in the script, that Butch has a moral bone in his body. We hear that in the old days he and Sundance only stole from the rich, but that may be a legend. Butch’s final action must come out of a code which is never offered to us, so once again we feel cheated. Will Butch be pulled toward the money or toward his code when he learns the truth about that Spaniard? That should be lodged in our suspense early. As it is, Butch’s code springs upon us at the last minute like a rattler.

The Spaniard is beautifully played by the beautiful Eduardo Noriega. Stephen Rea is quite wonderful as a degenerate Pinkerton laying in wait for Butch all these years. His character and his scenes and his playing of them are all extra to the story, but they shed a light, they bring a life, they supply a dance, essential to our beguilement. As does the flabbergastering scenery of Bolivia where principal photography took place.

 

Victory

12 Feb

Victory – directed by John Huston. Action/Adventure. The Germans want to beat the British at soccer, so they enable the WW II POWs to practice for a big public game. 118 minutes Color 1981.
★★★★
What an interesting actor Sylvester Stallone is! In many ways he is marvelously equipped for his profession: he has a fine figure which he keeps in condition, he has a well-placed speaking voice, and he brings to every role a natural determination, a quality which is rarer in actors than one might suppose. In fact, this determination is the basis of his being cast in every role he plays.

He also has a visage freakishly difficult to look at, and the camera does not dwell upon it at any length, although the camera does have to dwell upon it often because he is the star. He has eyes which seem to float around in his face meaninglessly like frogs in a pond, and he has a thick-lipped mouth weak with aggression.

Surely he knows this. But he presents himself as a gutter Italian as an over-riding principle to everything else. This is not pleasing, although his purpose as an actor is not to please, but to impress. Many of his facial and emotional moves are over-the-top, but the top they are over is so low it is one’s natural request that he be dismissed as an actor. That would be a mistake.

For he presents his being and body, to the mentality of his fans, as a male not to be caged, and therefore a challenge – a challenge which can be met only in a fantasy of caging him. This makes him ideal as an action-adventure hero, unlike say, Harrison Ford, who is domestic in every way. Sylvester Stallone will not be brought low, and certainly not by the chains of good manners. He is a wild animal. He is not a very bright one, but that is scarcely the point when his wildness is so dominant, overreaching, and sure. When it is such a commodity. And certainly when he is in a prison-break movie, which this is.

I have seen him only once or twice in films and if I found him repellent that was because he reminded me of Italian boys whose bullying of me when I was a boy was so expert in its cruelty and crudeness there was no answer to it but murder. But not assassination. Stallone does not appear in serious films, but he does take his craft seriously: he took 30 pounds off his fighting weight to become limber enough to do the soccer moves the role requires.

He makes a very good stand-in for the ego of the director, John Huston, whose bushwah of personality well-accords with the arrogance of the Stallone character, an arrogance derived from no talent for soccer whatsoever. It’s the job of Michael Caine to keep Stallone off the team at the same time as he trains the team. So Stallone provides a certain comic quirk to the material just as Max Von Sydow provides a wit. The soccer games are staged by (and Stallone was trained by) the wonderful Pelé, whose unearthly skills and modest personality grace the picture at every turn.

I enjoyed the film a lot. It’s one of those action/adventure escape-from-prison movies we’ve all seen before and like to see again. This is our fifteenth chance.

 

The Impossible

01 Feb

The Impossible – directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Manhunt Survival Drama. A family vacationing in Thailand is washed away by the 2004 tidal wave that devastates the country and separates them cruelly. 117 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★
Melodrama means a form of drama with a strong musical accompaniment. We think of the form nowadays as a parody of drama, old fashioned, and ridiculous. We also think of it as a form of drama designed so that music could be written to it. The closest link in literary forms to melodrama is the form called satire. This linkage is what makes Dickens so rich a concoction.

Here, however, the music supplants the drama. We are awash in the drama. But then the drama is washed away by the music. The musical score demolishes all dramatic involvement in the proceedings whenever it is heard.

And it is not necessary.

The story before us here is simple in its construction and execution and strong. The largest water tank in the world was build in India to film the scenes of flood. And we certainly believe the catastrophic situation that befalls Naomi Watts and her eldest son young Tom Holland as they are carried miles into the hinterland, helplessly tossed against the debris which surrounds and endangers them. Watts is badly damaged, her son less so, but he is only a boy.

Her other two sons are rescued by their father, played by Ewan McGregor. He then combs the chaos of the country for his wife and son, after the flood recedes.

This is the story. It is the story of a manhunt. We know they will be reunited, because publicity for the film and its coming attractions have spoiled that part of the story for us, or, lured us to the promise of sentimental reunities.

But the directorial execution of the details of their finding one another is so exquisite, so correct, so thorough, so illuminating, so real, so encompassing, and so interesting that the entire story could be told without a single violin.

I can only recommend the film if you wear earplugs. The score is asking you to empathize with the music rather than the situation. This is why melodrama is ridiculous and outmoded. Its tendency is to turn catastrophe into corn.

Aside from that, the film is honorable on all counts and worth your attendance, indeed.

 

Amour

27 Jan

Amour – directed by Michael Haneke. Drama. A married couple in their 80s end their time together when the wife suffers a stroke and slowly declines as the husband devotedly cares for her. 127 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
If you sit back, if you’re capable of sitting back, you will find yourself in the privileged position of watching a life-and-death process you never imagined you would witness. The direction and filming of this story is so close to its home that one does not seem to be intruding at all, much less watching a film.

The story is very simple. They are retired musicians. They have made their contribution, and when illness overtakes the wife, one of her pupils, a successful concert pianist comes to pay his grateful respects. That tells you everything you need to know about their lives before their present trial. Their daughter comes; she also is a musician; she is on tour; her views of how to handle matters are desperate and understandable – but there is nothing to be done that is not being done well.

All this sounds uneventful, and so it is in a way, because while the death sentence of life hangs in the wings, ordinary life goes on as well. The newspaper is read, the tea is made. But also the patient must be bathed. The diaper must be changed. The straw must be applied to the lips. The husband takes on these tasks. He performs them simply and well.

Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trantignant. I am almost loathe to mention the names of the two actors who plays these two old persons, because they seem to not be acting but simply enacting. The film seems not to be staged, but to unfold in large chapters before my eyes and mine alone. The two characters are often shown, not dead on but at an angle as though I were eavesdropping right there over their shoulder. It doesn’t seem like a film, so much as a record. It left me speechless.

The film is in line for a 2013 Oscar as The Best Foreign film and The Best Film. Emmanuelle Riva is nominated for Best Actress. Michael Haneke for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It won the Palm D’Or at Cannes. You owe it to yourself.

 

Elegy

16 Jan

Elegy – directed by Isabel Coixet. Romantic Drama. A celebrity professor of 60 and a student fall in love, and try for some history together. 112 minutes Color 2008.
★★★★★
Five stars, because of Penélope Cruz’ performance, with its fluidity, freedom, and accessibility. What a wonderful talent she has, what a beauty of spirit and form. But there is something wrong with the script or the story or with Ben Kingsley as the professor. Let’s start with him, because the film’s subject is so gripping and so beautifully told by the director, that I want to end with that, and get the questionable part out of the way first.

“I am here,” the last line of the script does not work nor does cancer as a dramatic tool. For the professor is a man who won’t commit. So, if the woman is dying of cancer the question of quitting her is no longer moot. Of course he can commit to her: she’s not going to live long. So if the cancer scene at the end is meant for us to believe that he finally does commit, it fails. It is not even strong enough to be ambiguous.

As to Kingsley’s performance, good as he is, he is not a film actor of the order of freedom of brilliance of Cruz, and what that means is that we never see in him the possibility that he might commit. So, for us he is without inner conflict. He is only one thing, non-commital. The character, however, has an open heart. He loves her. To be willing to feel such a love is already to commit, for it is to be taking an enormous risk. Kingsley is able to “act” love, but never to be in love. We never see the other side of his refusal.

However, setting all this aside, as I hope you do, the film is a thoroughly adult treatment of the subject of love. It is not about love’s approaches or love’s departures, but about love itself, what it looks like, how it goes. Abetted so ably by the brilliant supporting playing of Dennis Hopper, Peter Sarsgaard, and Patrician Clarkson, the film took my respect and interest and care all along.

The film is very badly titled, irrelevantly titled. It is set in New York City but filmed in Vancouver, so its atmosphere is more drenched than New York’s is, but that hardly matters as the picture unfolds behind its drawn shades and we are let into love’s unlikely clearing in the woods once more. It is not an elegy. It enlarges its subject with the life Cruz brings to it and my hope things will work out and the energy of my attention to those workings. I hope you will agree.

See it.

 

Zero Dark Thirty

13 Jan

Zero Dark Thirty – directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Docudrama. The story of a young woman’s ten year manhunt for Osama bin Laden and his assassination by her. 157 minutes Color 2013.
★★★★
I felt unsatisfied.

Oh, I felt a good deal of tension in the execution of certain passages, such as the actual flight that night into Pakistan by the Navy Seals. And I was held by the authentic look of the ruckus of the operation in action. I felt that must have been much like what is was like.

But I didn’t see Osama bin Laden shot. It was reported as having taken place “upstairs”. Odd camera angles hedge the moment when Jessica Chastain, the CIA agent working to bring him to ground, unzips the body bag, as though the mortality of that well known face were for the satisfaction of her eyes alone. But our satisfaction is left out of the picture.

Other odd things stumped me. I did not understand the story purpose of the extensive torture scenes, beautifully played though they are by Reda Kateb and Jason Clarke, since, unless I am mistaken, torture yielded nothing in the way of leads. I can understand those scenes as giving us a picture of Jessica Chastain hardening to her task. However, since as a character, she comes out of nowhere, has no family no friends, no past, and in the end no future, her development as a human is irrelevant. All we need is an actress who can go from compliant to implacable, and this Chastain brings to the role as part of her nature; we do not need a story to reveal it; the actress herself is the story.

The film is confetti-edited, and hard to look at. As humans, we do not live out the stories of our lives in nanosecond splices. To walk to end of the block takes three minutes. That’s how our stories are told, not in tiny inscrutable bits of flash. Confetti editing is a resort to blanket a feeble tale. And the film’s first part’s partly inaudible. My bias is that if actors say something, you should, unless the film is Altmanized, be able understand exactly what those words are. I also felt the escape from bin Laden’s compound was cut short; there was a whole bunch of soldiers I saw left behind, as the damaged helicopter was demolished.

As filmed it is never less than spectacular. Pakistan looks chaotically beautiful and therefore hopeless. I loved seeing it, and all the settings. It’s beautifully cast and well-acted by everyone, and Chastain holds our interest by not attempting to. She’s someone one can play respectful attention to. I watch her, I wonder about her, I care for her, and I don’t want her to be hurt. I felt a sense of her accomplishment in the assassination. He needed to be put out of our misery.

But, as this is the one picture that will go down as a record of the mission, I feel cheated of a sense of its authenticity. My curiosity was not satisfied. No one applauded.

 

Laurel Canyon

10 Jan

Laurel Canyon – directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Sex Drama. Conflict arises when an uptight young doctor and his fiancé move into the house of his libertine mother. 104 minutes Color 2002.
★★★★
“Do I have to review this film?” I whine. “I only watched it because of Frances McDormand. If I write it, I’ll have to pigeon all over Christian Bale, and I don’t want to pigeon all over anybody. What’s wrong in this actor?”

It has been pointed out that he has no sense of humor of any kind, and that certainly seems to be the case. But perhaps it is also true that, an Englishman, he should not be playing Americans. Or at least it seems so, since this particular character looks like he learned his personality from watching TV acting. Did the character do that or did the actor do that?

The problem, for me, is that there seems to be that within Christian Bale that cannot play a character who can be trusted.

He is brilliant, powerful, and adept, but this so dominates his energy that it supervenes all other character needs, such as being affectionate, loving one’s mother, or one’s brother – which is why he was so perfectly cast in The Fighter for which he rightly won a supporting Oscar. He cannot be trusted. All the more so, since Bale’s humorless solemnity and self-seriousness seems not that of the character he is playing, but a form of artistic arrogance. Watching him, we feel always up against the ingrown vanity of his craft. He seems always self-tragic. I find it sickening. I also question it as true. True as an introvert.

For is this character an uptight introvert? Or is not his fiancée the uptight introvert? Yes, she is. And what seems obvious in his playing his character as an introvert is that he actually is not one at all when, at a certain point, he flies into full blown rage against his mother, played by Frances McDormand. This outburst looks far more natural. Otherwise he sits there responding by twitching his mouth and making-the-masculine. For Bale is brilliant in extrovert scenes – although the power of their acting this one with McDormand is lost by being shot with them moving down hotel stairs, and by a failure of the writing to let them really face off.

McDormand is an astonishing actress and more than holds her own against Bale’s real power. She brings fully integrated character forth for us, an L.A. record producer, doing dope and screwing and running a band’s recording sessions as an accomplished executive, biting and hospitable, smiling and baffled. She is completely convincing and funny as can be. The film succeeds largely because of her.

But the film fails in terms of the sexual values the script exposes. For it assumes these values are up for whim or will. But they are not; sexual values are not learned; they are inherent. Men don’t learn their sexual code from Cosmo or from other males. They are born with it, like any other genetic code, so the idea that Bale could have a flutter with the Israeli doctor, played beautifully by Natascha McElhone, who rolls her gorgeous eyes at him, is nonsense. It is a non-starter as a dramatic premise. Other different codes display themselves, McDormand’s and that of her singer boyfriend, beautifully played by Alessandro Nivola. And they too are inherent.

But the real problem with the script is that the conflict between the mother and the son is never run to a thorough battle and thus to a convincing truce. Indeed we are falsely forced in another direction entirely. Because of the overture of his eating out his girlfriend which, for some reasons, precedes the credits, we are forced to know that Bale is sexually competent, which makes no sense, since he finds his mother’s nature and her way of life intrusive. She does not intrude but to him her very existence intrudes. This matter is not settled by her shy admission at the end that she loves him. It works no better than his intern scenes in the hospital, for one would no more trust Christian Bale as one’s therapist than one could trust his Bruce Wayne to lurch toward honor and social restitution as a character the only properly cast quality of the actor being those fang-pointed wings.

 

Lilies Of The Field

24 Dec

Lilies Of The Field – written and directed by Ralph Nelson. Drama Lite. An itinerant handyman finds himself inveigled to build a chapel in the desert by a sharp-tongued German nun. 94 minutes Black and White. 1963.

★★★★★

Sidney Poitier created in the middle of The United States a lake larger than Superior. It was and is a lake that has its shores in every state in the Union.
What was he?

The first black movie star. It wasn’t like Ella Fitzgerald coming in over the airwaves; you actually had to go see Sidney Poitier. The public was part of it, and was ready for it. We all went to see a black man. It was easy.

But Sidney Poitier was, after all, only an actor.

As such, what did he bring?

Always the same: dignity, innocence, wariness. Also reserve. And, as an actor, he was always game. Also, he was a good-looking man of good figure with a marvelous smile and a distinctive speaking voice.

Whom would I be describing here, if I were not describing Sydney Poitier, but Barrack Obama?

Poitier paved the way and continues to pave the way for Obama, and there is no distinction between them in that way. Obama exists because the Poitier Lake exists. Obama swims in and exists in that Lake.

They have another point in common which accounts for their preeminence, their success, their possibility – and that is that both were born on far offshore islands, and neither of them were of American origin. Poitier is from Jamaica and returned to it as his home base. Obama’s father was from Kenya; neither was reared in the black male diminution of the mainland: Obama lived a significant portion of his childhood in Southeast Asia. Both men appeared to be U.S. citizens, not from charlatanism but by common public error, but they were not. Poitier is a naturalized citizen; Obama is first-generation. They are Americans once remove. Their appearance is African-American, but the truth is they are African-sports, Maverick-Americans. They are travellers. Their true home is not America but in themselves alone. America is a congeries of fifty-two nation-states. To have a home in the joy and jingoism of none of them is for both of them, naturally, to make a home of all of them. Distance is their intimacy.

Poitier made the Lake, Obama deepens its color.

And what is that color?

That color is the undeniable truth that this country is unthinkable without African American people.

Poitier gave gills to every black actor after him. Few resembled him, for Poitier was a leading actor always of limited but commanding presence. But his existence permitted the actors who followed him to play characters who were not innocent, reserved, dignified, wary, game, or even leading-man-good-looking. Wesley Snipes, Danny Glover, Matthew Perry got their license to act because the Poitier Lake already existed for them.

~ ~ ~

Lilies Of The Field is essentially a TV play of the kind that was done in the ‘60s live, and as such it has its satisfactions. To describe its predicament of a roving handyman asked to stand still and build a church is to say enough about it. It’s filmed by the great Ernest Haller. Poitier is good in it, although he overplays the first scene in the greasy-spoon. However, Poitier never does blackface, as Sammy Davis Junior sometimes lost himself in doing. Poitier’s another thing entirely, a black actor who never heard of blackface. He won the Oscar for it. It’s a good family film, worth a visit, if only to witness how astutely it ends.

 
 

A Good Woman

08 Dec

A Good Woman – directed by Mike Barker. High Comedy. A woman of mystery turns up in Amalfi and immediately arouses gossip since it appears she is being kept by the recently married husband of a highly proper young woman. 83 minutes Color 2005.
★★★
Lady Windermere’s Fan was made famously by two famous directors, one with Ronald Coleman by Ernst Lubitsch in 1925, a silent film renowned for its mute success despite Wilde being the most verbally distinctive of writers; again in 1945 by Otto Preminger with Madeleine Carroll, George Sanders, and Jeanne Crain. The play was clearly ripe for a redo.

No, it wasn’t.

Although the play itself would be unworkable as a movie, the writers have kept Wilde’s structure, but lifted Wilde’s japes and jokes from other sources and flattened them to fit the lips of 1930’s socialites wintering on the Mediterranean, and the only actors who can get their mouths around them properly are the two old troupers who form a chorus of snipers and scandalmongers and tipplers, Roger Hammond and John Standing, and aren’t they fun!

The beautiful English actor Mark Umbers plays the now Americanized (the once Arthur and now Robert) Windermere (no longer a lord) and his wife (no longer Lady Windermere) is played by the seventeen year-old Scarlett Johansson. Johansson is a baffling presence in film, and although she comes to this one with a good deal of experience behind her, it does not show. Her voice is flat and badly placed and seems uninvested in meaning. Her heifer eyes register a wounded stupidity. She moves clumsily. She does not wear clothes well. Of course, her skin takes the camera so well, you think she must be God’s gift to the movies; I give her back unopened.

She is matched by Helen Hunt, who plays the intriguing adventuress, Mrs. Erlynne. Hunt is also American, and she too has the wrong voice for the part, oddly pitched, high, flat, and eggy. I like her face a lot, but, with its thin lips and sunken cheeks and hawk-like nose, it is likely to be miscast as that of a femme fatale. She has too much plea in her timbre. She does not have the inner puma, she’s not a wild animal in lamé, she does not have the sexual certainty to promise. She looks well in her clothes, with her beautifully proportioned, slender figure. And she is a good actress, so she makes the most of everything opposite Tom Wilkinson as Lord Augustus.

Wilkinson is the only real character we care about here. The part, a much-married playboy now in high middle age, is made much larger than in the play, in which he is presented as one of Wilde’s dear old fools. Wilkinson has several good scenes with Hunt, and with the two geezers, as they and the old trouts of leisure snipe at the scandal and inflate it by examining with vitriol eye that corpse, the institution of marriage.

But to really enjoy Lady Windermere’s Fan, one must read it. I do so in a first edition of it, old now, with its odd intestinal cover with three gold leaves, Elkin Matthew 1893: Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Play About A Good Woman. Indeed: a play about goodness of many and various stripes and kinds.

 

The Life Of Pi

25 Nov

The Life Of Pi – directed by Ang Lee. Survival Drama, Family Film. An adolescent boy is cast adrift in a lifeboat with a fully-grown Bengal Tiger. 127 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★
The film begins in enchantment, from the credits and forward to the translucency and wonder of the images that follow. The story is framed by the telling of the grown man to whom it happened. There he sits recounting it to a writer, and there they are at the end, when the picture as a whole ends with a bourgeois maxim.

The events of the family zoo in Pondicherry in India, the man’s boyhood introduction to the tiger, and the family’s setting sail for Canada on a Japanese freighter which sinks in a typhoon, are well told, thrilling, and novel. The filmmaker’s attack on these episodes suffuses us with awe. We are ensorcelled. Never have we seen such things. We sit back agog, and we believe.

But the boy is adrift with a ravenous tiger, so some sort of truce must be struck before the boy himself is eaten. And also we await their rescue, which never seems to come. What does come is a slackening of tension which is more fatal than the tiger is. For we lose contact with the inner life of this starving castaway, and the grim process that finally seizes one’s mind after one is adrift for months on the open ocean. We have too many accounts of this stage of death at sea not to know what it is like.

One is covered with salt, one’s eyes are practically blind, one’s lips are bubbling with sores, one’s skin is dripping off one’s body, one is malnourished and athirst and burned alive. And just before surrender to death comes the phantasmagoria of magical rescue, with dancing girls and feasts and rest and reunion. At this point, any delirium is tempting, the temptation being to succumb to the delirium as real, and thus surrender to death, for The Gate Of Death is Pleasure. The alternative to it is to surrender to the delirium as delirium, yet not submit but stand away from it and exit it. Attention to that process provides a rest and recuperation from the bodily and mental torment, and the outcome of that rest is the energy to go on.

What needs to happen is that the boy is dying and the tiger is dying, and the delirium moment arrives, but, instead of that, instead of a working into and out of the perilous malaise of the dream of rescue, the author and the filmmaker give us a pretty, little cop-out, a phony island out of an old Maria Montez movie, where the boy and the tiger can feast and rest. The Special Effects execution of the island is a gross violation of style. And there is no drama. Without it, the movie sinks.

We immediately lose any interest in the tiger and the boy and their survival, not because we know they did survive, for the boy now grown is telling the tale to the writer, but because the director and the author have not done their job which is to take us into the worst crisis of all, A Vision Of False Paradise, and record his escape from it.

This film is still worth seeing. It is beautifully filmed in 3-D by Claudio Myranda and perfectly cast, right down to the four tigers that play the tiger here — one Richard Parker by name an unpredictable cat if there ever was one.

 

The Wind Will Carry Us

02 Nov

The Wind Will Carry Us –– directed by Abbass Kiarostami. Comedy. A documentarian from Tehran finds himself in a rural Iranian village to film its post mortem death rituals, but the old woman simply will not die. 119 minutes Color 1999.
★★★★★
I discover that I watch foreign films largely to see how people in those places live, and in that, with this movie, I am as far from disappointment as ravishment can take me. The hillside village is old and every wall shares a wall, and every roof is a street, and every stair on that street is carved by a hand so ancient, you might as well say that the wind molded it thus. Across the subtle beige of an outside wall, plays a decoration subtler still. Doors are low and wooden and painted turquoise or orange or grass green. All the men are missing. The children go to school and old women in long black robes carry immense burdens of green vegetation on their backs through the slatterly gates of a barn door painted a blue so fresh it must be ancient, it must be made of local dye. Into this environment comes an urban type telling lies about his presence there, so as not to arouse suspicion as to his intent. He is taken as an engineer, and he is proffered free hospitality for weeks. He is aided by a schoolboy who becomes a major figure in the comedy. All the boy wants is to get good grades. While his film crew never step out of doors, since his cellphone does not work in the village itself, he has to jump into his SUV and drive to the hilltop cemetery to receive calls from his badgering boss. And there he comes upon the third character of his adventure, a gravedigger digging a hole so deep we never see him. The film is a comedy of offstage voices. The actors are marvelous, the story is droll and endearing, its execution is masterful and resourceful. And the Iranian countryside around and about is beautiful –– fields of strawberries and grain, earthquakes of sheep herds, killer mountains. It’s helpful for me to see other folks in other clothes in other lands. It is helpful to see the behavior of that boy and that village, and the behavior of the man sent to betray them. It is helpful for me to see the people when they are leading their ordinary lives, uninvolved in the headlines which confront me daily and which prejudice me against such people and give such a desert idea of what such lands are like. Such comedies as this dispel my provincialism and narrow-minded intent to look nowhere but at the landscape of my fattening navel.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: INTERNATIONAL REALISTIC, HUMAN COMEDY

 

The Color Of Paradise

30 Oct

The Color Of Paradise – written and directed by Majid Majidi. Drama. A blind boy is abused by his father who is ashamed of him. 90 minutes Color 1999.
★★★★★
This is a wonderful picture, difficult for me at first, which is the customary strategy of this director, and then eventually and wholly to be surrendered to. Both the freakishness of the boy’s blindness and the dire hatred of him by the father are so off-putting that I knew I must stick with it for the good that might be arrived at — and it sure did come. I cannot imagine where the green countryside exists once this film leaves Tehran. I cannot imagine how they found that boy. I cannot imagine how they found an actor great enough to play that father so thoroughgoingingly. It is beyond my comprehension that this film, in its extraordinary extremes, came to exist at all. The whole thing is a mystery to me, and one that I am grateful for. Of course, watching it, don’t expect a walk in the park. But do expect that your capacity for compassion will be engaged to a fullness wider than wide. Expect a spaciousness in yourself to appear to hold this remarkable simple tale in your being.

 

The Guy Pearce Papers 5 — Prometheus

26 Oct

The Guy Pearce Papers 5: Prometheus – directed by Ridley Scott. SciFi. Explorers on a spaceship search for the answers to The Big Questions on a planet out there. 124 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★
It cost 130 million and it earned 420 million, and I had never heard of it until I tracked it down at the library to see what Guy Pearce was up to in it. I don’t go to SciFi films, Action/Adventure films, Animation films, Gangster films, unless there is someone in it to draw me to watch it. So I am not fit to review this picture except to say that its remarkable spectacle should be even more remarkable on the big screen instead of my TV. The color scheme of the picture is earthy and slimy, for in the huge dome of the tomb-like structure on the planet are found no pastels. Only worms. Octopi. Sarcophagi the color of Brittaniawear. The spaceship exploration has been financed by an ancient and perhaps dead or perhaps virtual plutocrat so old he looks like a mummy – but he may be a zombie – but he also may be both. He’s English anyhow, and with a UC accent I cannot ascribe to any actor I know. I wait for Guy Pearce to appear. Well, all right, he must have some sort significant role later. The ship is in the command of Charlize Theron who moves her impressive beauty rather uncertainly through the early scenes – unusual for this actor, yes? The problem with SciFi is to find an acting style suited to the taciturnity of SciFi scripts, and, with two exceptions, this style is no more stumbled on than the answers to The Big Questions. That is partly because the male and female playing the leads opt for sloppy realism, which does not jibe with the intent of the exploration, with their jobs as scientists, and with the setting, which, as with all SciFi I have ever seen, is Big Machine. SciFi has not progressed beyond Modern Times with Chaplin caught in the machinations of an assembly line. SciFi is all Big Fancy Machines. And it’s fun, of course, to see these monstrous machines come to life and collide. It is also true that neither actor has the substance necessary to carry such an immense film. At each exploration of the slime-dome, I expect Pearce to appear and I wonder what day they are saving him for to save. But no. No, the ancient plutocrat comes alive, and Theron proves to be his daughter, and she’s awfully mean, and she wields a wicked flame-thrower. As an actor she never really finds her voice for the role. But Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba do. Fassbender plays a Peter O’Toole knock-off robot, and what he does to find the style is nothing at all, except to stay infinitely still internally, and say his lines in the ordinary way. Idris Elba is the best thing in the show. He plays the captain, and I believe his every move, each one of which is casual, grounded, and masterly. He brings every scene he is in to complete life! But where is Pearce? Then I take a second look at that parchment faced trillionaire. Oh my word: there he is: playing a man of a hundred and four who is already dead, and he has been in front of me all this time! The great disguise here is not the make-up but the accent – and where he got that from, I could not say – but he is completely someone else, someone else in posture, gait, voice, and energy. Yes, energy. That old bastard tycoon was never in his life Guy Pearce. But still Guy Pearce is that old bastard tycoon.

A Supporting Lead. Sized just right.

 
Comments Off on The Guy Pearce Papers 5 — Prometheus

Posted in ACTING STYLE: INTERNATIONAL REALISTIC, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce: ACTING GOD, Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender, Sci-Fi

 

Mildred Pierce — 2012 version — The Guy Pearce Papers — 3

13 Oct

Mildred Peirce – directed by Todd Haynes. Drama. A single mother in the Depression struggles to support herself, and turns to baking, which leads to great success with the business and great failure with her daughter and her lover. 5 part mini series. Color 2012.
★★★★★
He enters our field of vision with exactly the right hair, as a sort of male Veronica Lake. Peering from beneath the springy, pendulant twin locks his center-dividing part grants it, his hair is so much of the period of the ‘30s, that one is stunned to remember that that is so. Stunned also by this choice of hair, which is always a leading choice for an actor, and which supports what he makes of the character of this louche playboy: Dan Duryea and George Plimpton rolled up into one, with a dash of impatience and a soupcon of charm. He is fully embodied. Guy Pierce is so at ease inside this smarmy prince that one cannot but admire his style at the same time that one deplores its effects. He is an actor of great phsyical dispatch, with a neck feathered for mating dance at all times. The accent is perfect, as usual with this actor. It never gets misplaced; it never is exaggerated; he is never lost behind it. This is true of the accents of all the players in this perfectly cast piece. Morgan Turner as a young miss putting on airs makes her character so infuriating, one can only send her flowers of congratulations, since that is exactly what the character, and with no holds barred, should be. The range of casting is a cake rich throughout. Evan Rachel Wood is exactly right as the musician the young Veda Pierce grows into. Yes, one thinks, that unusual little girl could have become this raving beauty, and Wood must have copied the younger actor’s performance to get the character so right. Bryan F. O’Byme has this great moving mug; another face of the period; he keeps the story of Mildred’s husband covert and easy, until the very end. A wonderful actor, as, of course, is Melissa Leo as Mildred’s crony and another one, James Le Gros as Mildred’s aid and abettor. Mare Winningham, a waitress, is a creature entirely out of the ‘30s. She existed never after. Remarkable in this picture, in fact, are all the ‘30s production values – music by Carter Burwell, set and art decoration by Peter Rogness and Ellen Christiansen, and all the cars correct. I lived through that time, so I know. But what is most remarkable of all are the costumes by Ann Roth. They are exactly right at every turn. And they are particularly suited to our belovèd Kate Winslet who is not an elegant woman or a fashion plate like Evan Rachel Wood, and who is dressed perfectly for her type, in every scene, as is everyone else, male and female. Winslet brings to the character a determined mother-love, a love which hangs onto her daughter and blinds her to what she is. Winslet is earthy. You believe she can make pies and quarter fowl. Joan Crawford in the part you never believe could do either, but Crawford brought a trait inherent in her, the desire to pull herself up by her bootstraps (or ankle straps) and better herself. Crawford was like that in person, and you believed her drive towards that end. It worked for the role. What Winslet brings to the role is the temperament of a woman who is uneducated and ignorant, a woman who never had a single ambition; had many feelings but no thoughts; lived from day to day, pie to pie. Winslet is always lovable; Crawford never is. Crawford was always special; Winslet never is, and it serves her well. When you see her at the concert leaning forward to understand an aria, you see that, try as she might, she is aesthetically cut off from understanding or appreciation or even enjoyment. She tries too hard for her ever to get it – a human being like that. The director and his cronies give a silly, because unprepared commentary, unworthy of the film they have made. But one thing they do say is that, unlike the Crawford version, they have stayed close to James M. Caine’s novel. Of it they have made an interesting and commanding rendition. A remarkable achievement by all.

 

Autumn Reunion

30 Jun

Autumn Reunion – directed by Paolo Barzman. Drama. 40 years after The War, three survivors meet again and face facing the past. 1 hour 39 minutes Color 2007.

★★★★★

What a beautiful film for us! Told to us at once carefully and imaginatively by editor Arthur Tarnowski, photographer Luc Montpellier, and director Paolo Barzman, it is the story of the price of survival on those who survive and on all who surround those who survive. When they were children Gabriel Byrne and Susan Sarandon were interned in an extermination camp way-station outside Paris, and taken under the wing of a teenage man, now grown old into the person of Max Von Sydow. All three of them by ironic chance have survived, and now they meet again on the farm of survivor Susan Sarandon in Quebec. The farm and the lake beside it hold them in a subtle vast embrace. Sarandon is a grandmother now, and the little grandson and his father, her son, stay with her there with her husband, Christopher Plummer, the college professor she married when she was his student, years before. This gathering brings into the surface the dire effects their internment had and the cruel damage it also discovers fresh means to cause. Plummer is the pivotal character of this group, Sarandon is the focal character, for she has kept alive the damage of the camps and made her life’s work the message of that damage to the world at large, sacrificing her marriage to that task, for both her son and husband suffer from her mad devotion. Each person in turn rises like a great wave out of the calm refuge of the farm and clashes with each of the others. I like everything about this movie; I like the production design by Jean-Francois Campeau; the house is just right; I like the music by Normand Corbeil; always apt – but what I admire most is the acting of these four. When I see Bette Davis’s films after All About Eve I see that she has nothing new to show me, I see the life of her skill decline by insisting on staying the same. But here I see four actors long familiar to me who still surprise me, and in the case of Plummer, an actor I ordinarily do not like, achieve not just wit but humor. They have grown. No. They grow before our very eyes; there’s no past tense to it. It is happening right before us. In acting, mastery knows no end. These four are at ease with its great difficulties. Refresh yourself with the spectacle of their accomplishment.

 

The Formula

25 Jun

The Formula – directed by John G. Avildsen. International Espionage. An L.A. cop sets out to find who murdered his friend and his search leads him to higher echelons of European big money.117 minutes Color 1980.

★★★★

James Crabe was nominated for an Oscar for his beautiful filming of it, a skill which bring coherence and life and meaning to the entire piece. The director and particularly Steve Shagan, who also wrote it and produced it, talk well about it as it goes along, praising the minor actors handsomely and Crabe particularly, but also leaving us enlightened as to the behavior of George C. Scott while it was in production. I leave it to you to dive into the special features for those tasty anecdotes. They hired Marlon Brando because he was perhaps the only actor who could stand up to Scott, and so he does by making his character a sort of lolling baby – this, mind you playing a man who is one of the most merciless oilmen alive. It’s a daring and imaginative choice and Brando is choice in the role. He does something with his lower lip that is so odd and right. He is in his late fifties here and willing to take on character leads. The story involves a mysterious murder which Scott sets himself to solve. The murder seems to revolve around a secret formula for turning coal into fuel oil, which the Germans managed to do for the duration of World War II. It is a telling account of the international oil trade, as apposite today as when it was shot. My daughter went to the same school as Nancy Marchand’s children, many years before The Sopranos. She was an actor I liked a lot. One day, walking down the inside stairs I passed her and asked if she had seen George C. Scott’s TV performance the night before. “No, “ she said, “I don’t think he’s going to show me anything new.” Nor is what he does here new. I first saw him on the Broadway stage in The Andersonville Trial, playing a lawyer. He was very exciting in the emphaticness of his growl, and he was the best Shylock I have ever seen. He was brand new in those days. Later I saw him on stage in Uncle Vanya. He was no longer new. In him what we are faced with, unlike Edward G. Robinson, is a perpetual ire. He is always a sten gun about to go off. And so, seen-one-seen-them-all. The public tired of him. It’s a shame, for here he is quite good, and looking at his work now, piecemeal and years later, it does not weary one as, in its repetition, it did at the time. Indeed it impresses one with its force and intensity. He has tremendous reserves of insult and intention, great timing, the ability to focus and be still, the ability to not show his hand, and the ability to deliver his stuff full force and absolutely mean what he says. He can charm and be dangerous on a dime. You might say he plays everything the same way, but it does not matter so much here, since the story convolutions are what gather our attention in. Marthe Keller is just grand as the partisan love interest he falls in with, and John Gielgud gives great value as a dying chemistry professor, and Richard Lynch deserved an Oscar for his German general. There are three racetrack scenes, one with female jockeys and one racing on ice, and the final one played out between Brando and Scott in Brando’s office in front of Degas’ jockey scene, all of them captivatingly captured by Crabe, whose filming is a lesson in point on the art of lighting, color agreement, exposure, and how to shoot people walking while talking, of which this film has many examples. The film is a classic instance of how a cameraman alone can make a story cohere. In this case there are other coherences to count on. And of course, the presence of the greatest acting genius of the 20th Century.

 

 

 

Snow White And The Huntsman

17 Jun

Snow White And The Huntsman – directed by Rupert Sanders. Fairy Tale Escape Action Adventure. A ghoulish queen strives to eat her fleeing stepdaughter alive. 127 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

The problem with live-action fairy tales is that they sink under the specious particularity of the naturalistic, to which by temperament they are alien. A fairy tale is like a very important dream. It is an external narration of an internal contraption. It is parsed out into characters, such as the queen, the witch, the dumb third son, the cunning daughter, the dragon in the gold, the prince, and so forth. Reading them or listening to them we know we ourselves are these things. Even though not externally, our identification is absolute and therefore hypnotic. These are the inner paths, the inner adventures and floorplan of the psyche. They are wise and cautionary stories, and they are absolutely true in the largest sense of the word, since they must be embarked upon and lived out, but they have nothing to do with realism as a style – and realism is a style which live-action cannot avoid. That is why the true film medium for all fairy tales is animated cartoon. In this picture, for instance, which is very well done, beautifully cast, expensively made, very well played, directed, edited, filmed, and scored, we at one point witness Snow White with dirty fingernails, a completely unnecessary and, in fact, counter-productive detail for the meaning and carriage of the fairy tale of Snow White, but inevitable since she has been slogging through the wilds and falling down in mud before our eyes. So there is a sense when watching such films of a remoteness forced upon us by an incorrect medium. When there camera rises high above her collapse in The Dark Woods, we see her lying screened behind the tall branches of the trees far below, and we see that, despite their cruelty, her vicissitudes protect her. That is because we are at that moment witnessing the scheme of cartoon. With fairy tales, live-action rules out identification. There’s too much unelectable detail. Disney’s version was correct. The theater would also be correct. Opera would be correct. Aside from this failure which is nobody’s fault and everybody’s fault, the pictures is beautiful in every scene and sense, rare in its display of nature and anti-nature, by which I mean the queen’s costumes. Charlize Theron plays her, and her character is given many scenes. Set before the days of face-lifts, her step-queen’s political and magical powers depend upon the retention of her looks. With her oceanic beauty, Charlize Theron really is the fairest of them all. But she is also the older sister of a brother who is clearly in his fifties, while she herself is Charlize Theron. She’s wonderful in the part, and her playing of her death scene is imaginative and unusual. The film never fails to interest and never succeeds to fully interest. It is extremely intelligent and completely obtuse. But it is not a waste of time. And as set forth it certainly supports the activism and the vitality and the cunning and the stamina of the female of the species, right along with the males who help her escape and eventually come to follow her.

 

Hysteria

10 Jun

Hysteria – directed by Tanya Wexler. Women Lib Drama. Two daughters become the objects of the attention of a doctor with an unusual therapeutic practice for women in the 1890s.100 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

Oh, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Repeat that word over and over for as long as this page is long and for as long as you like, and consider it an hosanna. The picture is a women’s lib version of a subject, 19th Century medical masturbation as a placebo for female ailments, also dealt with concurrently by the play In The Next Room: The Vibrator Play, which I have seen and which, like this, is unworthy to witness as a subject for a cause so great as equality of gender. The orgasms we see on screen are cartooned by the actresses and by the director; they are never taken as real, deep,and important. They are executed by actresses chosen because they are funny looking: either fat or thin or blousy, and when we see ordinary women being treated, they and their orgasms are mocked by the actresses themselves. The male doctors engage in this treatment with reverence. They take it they are engaging in a medical breakthrough. Jonathan Pryce is the senior physician in a part written only one way, so we know how he and the movie will end. As we know how it will end with his two daughters, the one proper, the other a Shavian modern woman running a settlement house, played by the great Maggie G. Watch how she stands at the trial scene. She never stands foursquare, but, like Garbo, always at an angle. Her whole performance is like that, except once. See if you notice it and how telling that is! Anyhow, the script is routine, and the performance by the leading actor is  – well, let’s say he is not such as to carry a film. But with a film this flimsy, that would take Atlas. The spectacular, even scandalous subject is not sufficient to make a good story of it. It simply plays like an oddity out of an old Sears Roebuck catalogue. It presumes to find itself important. One thing it seems to be blaring out is, “Tut tut, Men don’t understand female sexuality or even consider it to exist!” So you see, it’s really mean-spirited and as dated as a zombie.  It presumes to look down on male ignorance. Everything about it presumes, except for M.G, who simply vibrates with life. She, and she alone is the vibrator.

 

Goodbye, Lenin!

05 May

Goodbye, Lenin! — directed by Wolfgang Becker. Comedy/Drama. Children protect their mother coming out of a long coma that the world she knew is no longer. 121 minutes Color 2003.

★★★★★

Winner of innumerable awards, this movie goes on for a good while, and a good job too! Because it needs to evolve through its complications at its own pace, and to force us to wait respectfully for the working out of its theme — which is the use of lying. Here we have a mother lying to her children in a far more profound way than they lie to her, and yet, without their knowing her truth, they lie to save her from her own. The film is neither moral nor political in any way. Its playing is made superb by the actors, particularly Katrin Sass as the mother, an actress who puts me much in mind of Joan Allen. She has the same inner eye. So here is story-telling well-paced and a story quite unusual. We lie to protect those we love. Nothing new in that, save that I do not know of so interesting and just an examination of the matter. Acting is the art of living-it-out — whatever the “it” is. But film is a two dimensional medium, so it is very hard to find characters in a movie one can actually walk around completely to see all sides of. Of course the great master of this is the director Jean Renoir. (The Rules of the Game, French CanCan, et al.) I won’t say the director achieves that here, but I smile with wonder that actors can do as much as they do to make the story move — that they walk in and out of buildings and fry eggs — as though only I were watching them, and no camera at all, and no crew around. What a remarkable feat! Just watch, if you will, the recognition scene between the father and son, how right the older actor is in that passage! How right the girlfriend is in every scene! How right the neighbor with the pile of blond hair downstairs is! Praise be to all actors of all nations. That the piece is in German is no barrier to the craft they execute so daringly and so simply before us and for us.

 

A Separation

04 May

A Separation — written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. Drama. Life as it is, consequent on a couple’s wanting to separate, who can’t. 123 minutes Color 2011.

★★★★★

The Oscar for the Best Foreign film, thank goodness, and one wonders, first at its astonishing freedom of expression, and then, how come we would have to go to a foreign film to find out exactly how we ourselves behave. I see no English speaking film with this degree of grit, truth of performance, revelation of the human condition of people of any nation, anywhere. The only difference between the people of Iran and us is that some of the females wear a chador; the men dress like me or the guy down the street. The story is an everyday one. The wife of a couple wants to leave the country in order to make a better life for her eleven year old daughter, but the husband refuses to leave with her because he is responsible to care for his senile father who lives with them. I never tell the stories of  movies, and I won’t tell any more of this one, because the value of it registers only through the human colors revealed by its progress; our relation to those colors is what the story actually is. Like the great opening scene of Marlon Brando in Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind, it opens with its characters pleading their cases directly to the camera which acts as the magistrate and therefore us, the audience, and we are thus invited right into the squabble of the story with all its disarrangements, revelations, shifts of truth and human bearing. In terms of acting, what we see here makes Method and Meisner acting look like vanity. It is futile to speculate how such actors are trained in Tehran. Evidently they are not victims of a repressive theocracy. And it is futile, because the result of their work has nothing to do with our yearning for the ideal which the good looking or sexy looking actors Western acting offers us. No. Not here. Here we are unsullied by idealism. This acting affords us a different value entirely: pure participation. Seeing this picture, I realized I was seeing something I had longed to see all my life in film – something that film could provide better than any other medium: the seething truth of the ordinary. I do not go a work of art to be entertained, but to entertain something. And this director/storyteller seems to have set aside his desire to entertain, if he ever had it, but to give us people we can read, and the result is that I dive in and entertain myself vastly. I rejoice in this pleasure. Unlike the couple in the film, we are a perfect match.

 

The Color Of Paradise

01 May

The Color Of Paradise — directed by  Majid Majidi. Drama. A father despises his son for being blind. 90 minutes Color 2000.

★★★★★

This is a wonderful picture, difficult for me at first, which is the customary strategy of this director, and then wholly to be surrendered to. Both the freakishness of the boy’s blindness and the dire hatred of him by the father are so off-putting that I knew I must stick with it for the good that might be arrived at — and it sure did come. I cannot imagine where this film was shot once it leaves Tehran. I cannot imagine how they found that boy. I cannot imagine how they found an actor great enough to play that father so thoroughgoingly. It is beyond my comprehension that this film, in its extremes, came to exist at all. The whole thing is a mystery to me, and one that I am grateful for. Of course, watching it, don’t expect a walk in the park. But do expect that your capacity for compassion will be engaged wider even than the director’s, a spaciousness in your being you’ll welcome. Miss it and you miss something of yourself.

 

Broken Embraces

28 Feb

Broken Embraces — directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Romantic Melodrama. A famed film director falls for the mistress of a vengeful and jealous tycoon. 127 minutes Color 2009.

★★★★★

Who is it that does not make a point of seeing any new movie of Pedro Almodóvar? Is there such a ninny breathing God’s air? Don’t you want to be in kindergarten again, playing with poster paints on those big sheets of paper? Don’t you want to hear tales of love and loyalty and princesses lodged in ogres’ castles? Have you no passion? Have you no waking dreams? Have you never seen Penélope Cruz in her home territory even once and not yearned to revisit her there once again? Almodóvar treats Cruz’s first appearance before the director, Lluis Homar, as Charles Vidor treats Rita Hayworth’s before Glenn Ford in Gilda – as a never-to-be-banished bedazzlement, a sudden looking up at him from amidst the seductive double bed of her fabulous hair. Hayworth’s hair was so thick and rich, she was never able to wear a wig in costume drama, and I don’t know whether the same can be said of Penélope Cruz’s, but it is certainly a resource of her talent and beauty and interest – like Anna Magnani’s hair or Clark Gable’s, one of things that hold us to the screen. The film is beautifully acted and cast, with one sad exception, which is that of the leading role of the gal Friday of the director, which is probably misdirected and certainly misplayed as tragical. The part is not a tragic role, but a romantic role of the late 18th Century variety, a Jane Austen sort of part, that of a woman holding patience in place for many years. We need to see much less of her feeling than of her precious hoarding of it. Here we are in the house of full scale melodrama, with all of Almodóvar’s Shakespearean variety of humor, to appreciate which, make sure to watch the extra features for one of the funniest actor monologues you will ever have the hysterical privilege of witnessing.

 

The World’s Fastest Indian

21 Feb

The World’s Fastest Indian — directed by Roger Donaldson. Sportsflick. A 68-year-old man shoots for the world speed record on a 40-year-old bike. 127 minutes Color 2005.

★★★★

This is a children’s film. It is about a man who gets by on magical mechanics. On the surface of it, it is about a feat, and as such, like National Velvet, it is the story of a single person’s faith and pertinacity – and. after encountering many obstacles, in the end the individual shines through. But here the obstacles are all mechanical failures of one sort or another and they are solved by the mechanical genius of Burt Munro, our hero, with the help of persons he meets on the roadside. But that is not what really fuels the adventure and the story of this movie. That is not the real story. What it is really about is how all those folks on the roadside are actually charmed. By what? By the soul and spirit of Munro. And the movie is actually the story of that. It is not a story about an underdog or people’s rooting for an underdog. Rather, it is a story about people responding to the delighted life force, the élan vitale of a single person and joining up to help him because of it. To make this person we have Anthony Hopkins. He makes Munro deaf, odd, abstracted, full of jokes, and a certain shine. It is a perfect example of a star commandeering a story and making it understandable and more true, since, from all we are told, the actual New Zealander, Burt Munro, had this shine too, and in this film he shines through, not because of his mechanical magic but because of this very shine. It is one of Hopkins’ master-creations. He gives him joie de vivre, a happy heart. Everyone somehow is beguiled by this broken-down, keys-missing, upright player-piano. They drop the prison they are in to free him from his, because he is already free.

 

 

Rashomon

03 Feb

Rashomon – Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Drama. Four participants in a violent criminal deed, each tell it from their particular point of view. 88 minutes Black and White 1950.

* * * * *

You will never forget it. And you will wonder what you really saw once you leave the theatre. I remember when it first appeared. It was, with the early films of Vittorio De Sica and S. Ray, the opening stroke of the introduction of international film to American audiences. They all were startling, indifferent to Hollywood style, profound, gutsy, and beautiful, none more so than Kurosawa. The acting style was Japanese in that it was intense, raw, highly emotional, contained, melodramatic, stylized, and firmly and deeply lodged in voice production; one had never seen humans like this before in a picture and never had one seen anyone oriental as the focus of a serious film. Mifune was first seen by U.S. audiences in this picture, playing with bold, sudden, unaccountable strokes. How he got the part is extraordinary: a friend of Kurosawa told him to come to the stodgy institute’s auditions because someone was tearing the place apart; Kurosawa came and saw that one of the greatest actors in he world, although completely unknown, was before him. He inveigled the institute to accept Mifune. Watch him: he’s the fastest actor in human response ever to appear in film. He can turn on a yen.  There is no one like him for contained anger but Brando. The woodland scenes are completely free, the scenes on the sets completely imprisoned. Does it hold up? Masterpieces do. This time round all these years later, I watch the commentary, and I recommend it highly; the critic is a master of his craft; he knows the picture in its 450 scenes, by heart. See it with your friends. If ever a film was a community experience, it is this one.

 

 

 

Albert Nobbs

31 Jan

Albert Nobbs — directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Drama. A waiter in a second tier Irish hotel is actually a female in mufti, which leads to difficulties and revelations for all. 113 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Master actor Glenn Close has co-written a screenplay of a short story of the Victorian writer George Moore, so it is curious that she makes the error she does in creating her own part. She is remarkable in it, mind you, and the film is worth seeing for two other extraordinary performances in it as well, the celebrated Pauline Collins playing, with Dickensian relish, the old trout of a hotel owner who rules her roost with the high hand of hypocrisy. And Janet McTeer. It’s wonderful to see for the first time an actress of genius whom one has never come upon before or even heard of. Once Janet McTeer enters the screen you do not want to forsake her company no matter what. You want the camera to be on her perpetually. She is not a scene-stealer or a virtuoso actress. She is simply present wholly as the character in the moment before her. To reveal more would be to betray her part in the story and the brilliant and heartful way it is played out by her. But back to Glenn Close, who is a virtuoso actress and whom we want to steal all scenes within reach. Will she get it right this time?  Or will she fall into her usual trap? But – wait, what is clear almost from the start is that the part as written by herself is virtually unplayable, by which I mean that it can’t go anywhere. First, she has chosen the name of Albert, which no other name can exceed in tedious respectability.  She does not try to make the character masculine. She does not imitate a male. She simply presents Albert as a person without gender of any kind. Also she makes him hysterical, but with an hysteria completely lidded down by fear of exposure. That is to say, Albert is forbidden all emotional life. Also she makes Albert withdrawn, an introvert’s introvert. He is shier than shy, a person without repartee. At the staff meals in the hotel kitchen we see how he is accepted by everyone as Mr. Nobbs and taken an interest in by no one. Which is as it should be, for he is so without affect that he is entirely without mystery, even the mystery of how come he is without mystery. An automaton of self-effacing efficiency, he offends no one. The creation of this human being right before our eyes is a major treat. Here is the great Glenn Close doing the impossible, and the first half of the film gives us really one of the great performances of modern times. But the thought crosses one’s mind: where can she go, having set it up as a person so frozen there is no melting possible, no calving of a glacier? Albert has one ambition, which is to open a tobacconist shop. And that is probably the direction the story should go, but it doesn’t. Instead it goes in the direction of her trying to marry a cute housemaid at the hotel. If this worked in the original story, I don’t know, but it does not work here. First, because Albert is a watcher and a listener, and it is obvious that the housemaid is involved with the sexy cad handyman. This is known; everyone says so. So Albert loses our sympathy because she is rank stupid. Secondly, the cause given for her lesbianism is the routine TV reason that she was gang-raped when young, as though every lesbian had to be likewise to become one, whereas the fact is she has no notion about sex or love whatsoever; she is a sexual anorectic; she has no drive, not even a lesbian one. She is clueless. Her desire to set up housekeeping with a woman is not sexually based; it is commercially based: she would have a shopgirl in the tobacco store. So the character loses more and more identification as the film goes on. And Close falls into her old trap of making the character she plays holy with happiness in a beach scene in a dress. Setting all this aside, the film itself is a deep and vital investigation of hypocrisy in action in us all. And worth seeing for the three great actresses at the top of their bent in it. Don’t miss it.

 

Snatch

21 Jan

Snatch — Directed by Guy Ritchie. Action Adventure, Thriller. A diamond heist and a fixed boxing match mix it up in an Irish stew. 103 minutes Color 2000.

* * * * *

Brad Pitt plays a bad brit in this low-life gangster caper-comedy. Brad Pitt is an actor who can do no wrong except to wear a shirt and tie, a suit and vest, into the trap of which here he does not fall. Heaven spares us that, for in playing the members of the lower orders no one can touch him; in such parts he is an actor of genius. He has the capacity to play the fool, as did Gable, indeed to play a virtual idiot, but here he is playing an ace-up-his-sleeve English gypsy in an accent rendered as back-county double-talk. You know those English or Irish or Scottish films where you can’t understand a word said for the thickness of the accent? Well, Pitt takes this and runs with it, so that not a single word is comprehensible. It’s very funny. The two other Americans in the cast stand out as well as even funnier than the English actors themselves, all of whom are very good. Dennis Farina as a New York fence is astounding and Benicio De Toro as the beautiful heist-meister given to fine cigars, exquisite shirts, and craps is delicious. But this is a director-editor-writers’ film as much as anything, and boy do they have their comic chops down. As an example of visual narration it is up there with Lubitsch. Watch it and learn. Or learn, if you can, while laughing so hard.

 

 

 

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

20 Jan

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels — Directed by Guy Ritchie. Action Adventure Comedy. 108 minutes Color 1998.

* * * * *

Bob Hope isn’t in it, but this is a Bop Hope film with his character divvied up into twenty parts. Bob Hope Meets Scarface it would be called if he were in it. Instead it’s a mixed salad full of various greens and surprising veggies and terrific vinaigrette holding the whole collation together. The quality of the humor lies in the plot and the plot lies in the hands of the camera work. It is a story that cannot be told without a camera because the camera is the secret screwball agent of the plot. It is a hugely mixed up mélange of betrayals and deceptions and deals and masterful meanness and young dumb luck. It never drops its comic spectacles from its nose. Even with the corpses decorating every divan, you will see that they do so with a vaudeville gesture of stage exit. Even the Cockney accents are fun, the more so when you can’t tell what they are saying — fun because the posture they assume to say it is so absurdly readable. When perversion takes its final twist it straightens up and flies right. Watch and see if aint so, corblimey.

 

Sherlock Holmes: The Game Of Shadows

18 Dec

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows — Directed by Guy Ritchie. Boulevard Thriller. 129 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Better than the first one by a long shot. Firstly because it is more witty, and secondly and thirdly because it is more witty. By that I mean that while it is also more spectacular, the spectacle is witty. I am not going to spoil the jests by describing them; let them come upon you unawares. Then too, the story swans around Europe with uncommon velocity and the picture simply expects you to go along for the ride, which is essentially Dr. Watson’s ride, since that is who we have to be, since none of us can ever be Holmes, can we. When a director or storyteller takes wit for granted in his audience he has done the wittiest thing he could do. And always the director lets us in on the joke, by which is meant that he expects us to finish the punch line for him, Alà Lubitsch. And it also means that the dialogue is witty, and dialogue can only be witty in a film if there is really a lot of it, so that we can sink our ears into it and live with the flavor of it as things unfold. There are mistakes, or rather one mistake, which is that, again, the fight scenes fall prey to scrambled editing so that there is no knowing what is going on or what is doing by whom to whom. But these are over early, and the story opens out into its drolleries and detours amply. The décor, the costumes, the carriages, and the protocols are all Teutonic, the jammed living rooms, the opulent restaurants, the creamy excesses of dress and manner, the expression, the repression – all are Germanic. It is 1891 and Victoria is on the throne and she was a German. Victorianism everywhere always has a German accent. And the designers have made the most of this and played off against it in the person and personality of Robert Downey Junior, who is the most romantic in appearance and affect of any Sherlock Holmes before. He never wears a high collar or a tie. His shirts are always Byronically open at the neck. He never does the prim Basil Rathbone/Jeremy Brett thing of the pinched genius with the long condescending nose. Instead he is all close-up and personal and tousled and Peck’s Bad Boy. Of course, like those others, he is dreadfully neurotic. He also speaks a lot more clearly here than in the first installment. In all this he is ably mated by Jude Law, again as Watson, who almost equals Holmes in magical prestidigitations. Stephen Fry makes an astounding appearance as Mycroft Holmes, Sherry’s brother, and a welcome presence he is indeed. Can we follow all this? We are not meant to. All we are meant is to feel privileged to tag along. I liked doing that. It is a sumptuous ride.

 

 

 

Hugo

11 Dec

Hugo — Directed by Martin Scorsese. Drama. An orphaned boy winds the clocks of a huge Paris railway station as he seeks his true parentage. 127 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

Asa Butterworth plays the 12 year-old and hits a homer. His performance is simple and ingratiating, for he lets his impression of his situation carry him, and Martin Scorsese lets Asa’s fine blue eyes carry him the rest. He is mated with another 12-year-old well played by Chloë Grace Moretz. The two of them take us along on their adventures in early 1930s Paris, adventures which are imperiled by the train station guard, a victim de la guerre, played with a crazy Martin Short accent which is supposed to be comic but is not, by Sacha Baron Cohen. The problem with the material lies not with them but with the special effects which clog and over-lengthen their tale. These effects which are 3-D and which at first impress and amaze, fade in power as they supplant the story and the human interest of it. For instance, two of the greatest actors alive, Richard Griffiths and Frances de La Tour (remember them in The History Boys), are sidelined, while the sequences in the towering stacks of a bookshop owned by Christopher Lee displace the narrative with a plot device that could have been handled more briskly another way. Virtuosoism will attack narration every time. For the entire film is manufactured by computer. All we see, save the actors themselves, is fabricated with the doomed magic of an application. It even opens the picture carrying a character moving through a maze, duplicating a famous opening sequence in another Scorsese film of years ago. But these elaborate and highly detailed fabrications steal breath. What first impressed now fails to. The forgotten passages of the huge old station bring us into the power of the secret mischief of the Hunchback Of Notre Dame and The Phantom Of The Opera, but with them the special effects of the station itself eventually cannot compete. The film almost loses heart – but not quite, for the heart is that of Martin Scorsese, and the story is that of the Ben Kingsley character, an old great silent film fantancist/magician/inventor, Georges Méliès, now superannuated and inutile and running a toy store in the train station. We hope our Master Scorsese does not fear to become like this director, outdated, his work lost and forgotten. The old director is restored to praise, and, when I saw it, the audience applauded Hugo, as I did myself. A good whole-family picture.

 

 

99 Women

08 Dec

99 Women — Directed by Jesus Franco. Drama. Women lodged in a Devils’ Island-type prison are visited by a kindly woman. 99 minutes Color 1969.

*

Awful. The special features are more interesting by far than the film, and we learn it was made in ten minutes for ten cents, using footage left over from a Brazilian film with the same stars. The shrinking Mercedes McCambridge concedes to the director that she is a much greater actor than Maria Schell. With her voice like an exploding tank, McCambridge reduces every scene to shreds. Herbert Lom plays the heavy heavily. The women are the usual super-foils of the genre, but apparently they have been incarcerated in this ghastly prison with their hairdressers, for never is a lock out of place in this lock-up. And as for Maria Schell she holds the screen with her steady gaze and resolute heart and is the only one in the piece capable of acting at all – God love her. But how come this great international star was reduced to this!  If you know, don’t answer.

 

My Week With Marilyn

27 Nov

My Week With Marilyn – Directed by Simon Curtis. Romantic Drama. A young gofer on his first job in film is taken by, in more ways than one, the movie star. 99 minutes Color

* * * * *

The elevator was being held. I waited. There was no one in it but me. I waited. Then they came in. The door closed. I wanted to and did not want to stare. She had the complexion of a marshmallow. She looked tall. She wore ski pants and a patterned, heavy, Nordic wool sweater up to her neck. She was gorgeous. She said to Arthur Miller, “In my pictures I don’t chase men; I get chased,” to seal his backing for script changes she was wearing these clothes and these heels and this make-up and bringing this husband along to insist on. They got off on the floor of Kaye Brown their agent at MCA, where I was a mailroom clerk. I rode up to my own floor, realizing that this woman had the mind of a cash register. She was no fool; she knew her business; she knew exactly what she was doing. She did not even sound like the powder-puff she played to such renown. The film she was talking about was Let’s Make Love, her penultimate effort. This side of MM is not particularly on display in My Week With Marilyn, but Kenneth Branagh, in a brilliant turn as Laurence Olivier, says the same thing – that she knows exactly what she is doing – so don’t be taken in by her help-me act, and don’t excuse the infuriatingly non professional behavior she evinces, and always evinced, as a film actor. Not long after the elevator, I was writing a column for Look Magazine and had to take pictures to Celeste Holm’s apartment for approval. She had acted with Monroe and had just seen The Misfits at The Roxy, a huge picture palace in New York. “You could shoot moose in there,” she said, meaning no one was going to it. “And she can’t act.” But Olivier also says she’s a greater film actor than he is, that next to her in the screen he looks dead. And Judi Dench, marvelous in the marvelous part of Dame Sybil Thorndike, says that Monroe can act in films better than anyone else in the movie, including herself. It’s instinctual. Celeste Holm didn’t know it, but she meant the same thing. For Marilyn Monroe could be on the screen in such a way that you could look at no one else while she was there. And it wasn’t an acting trick. Or rather it was an acting trick, but one from real life, as she generated that molested 12 year-old wanting more and not wanting more, and thus surviving. When I was in Korea she came, and the men who saw her returned to base surprised to be not in lust with her but respectful and fond of her. “You never heard such applause in your life!” she said to her husband. “Oh yes I have,” said Joe DiMaggio. All of this is present in this delightful film about her relations with a 23-year-old 3rd assistant director beautifully played here by Eddie Redmayne. But none of it would work were not MM played by Michele Williams, who captures Monroe’s glee, her wit, her kindness, her cruelty, her sense of fun, her fear and nervousness, her sexual game, her physical appearance, and her inner emanation – that almost childlike glow she imparted which so allured and charmed and melted us all, and still does. Monroe, like Angelina Jolie, was a power beauty. You watch her in order to be petrified into a statue of Venus with no arms to protect yourself. Williams conveys this perfectly and perfectly embodies the sadness that lies on the other side of such a deification. In all other respects the film is first class, and so are the actors, charming in their roles: Zoë Wannamaker, Derek Jacobi, Michael Kitchen, Dougray Scott. You come out of it knowing Monroe as you never knew her before, and she’s well worth knowing, as a young man in his first job understood, either making The Prince And The Showgirl with her for just one week or going up an elevator with her for just one minute.

 

Cry, The Beloved Country – Sidney Poitier version

27 Oct

Cry, The Beloved Country – Sidney Poitier version – Directed by Zoltan Korda. Tragedy. An old reverend from the South Africa back country journeys to Johannesburg for the first time to find his son and sister and there he meets his destiny. 107 minutes Black and White 1951.

* * * * *

Sydney Poitier got this part quite by accident through the casual recommendation of Joe Mankiewicz and, without a reading, was whisked off to Africa with Canada Lee to make a movie of the great and world famous novel by Alan Paton. The only way they could be admitted to South Africa was not as actors, which was unthinkable then, but as indentured servants. When he was done he went to The Bahamas where he was from, saw his parents whom he had not written to in eight years, gave them the $3,000 he had earned, and went back to Harlem washing dishes, which is what he had been doing before he was cast. He was 23. He soon had a child and then another. But he turned down acting jobs. He turned them down if they did not fadge with the standards of dignity his parents had raised him with. And this accounts for Sidney Poitier’s career and art. For here he stands before us in a major role, exactly as he would for the rest of his life. His back his straight. His voice always has that slight strain of a diction not native to him. And his eye is always at once angry and searching. It’s a very limited technique, and it is one devoid of any sense of humor. But he has a good carriage, he is handsome, he is reserved. He is not as good in the role as the actor, Vusi Kunene, who played it years later in the 1995 Color version with Richard Harris and James Earle Jones, for there is a righteous confinement in Poitier that wants breadth. What he unwittingly did was make of himself a public statue, but one that moved, and one that showed, unmistakably, the life-honor of a man to his countrymen and to his race. He happened to be Black. You Must Not Mistreat This Person was the consequent message. It was not what he set out to do, but rather it was the result of a distant ethical decision of being about his life. Playing characters that were mistreated, therefore, became Poitier’s dramatic specialty. Here he is outspoken and wrong-headed as the psychopomp guiding through the hell of Johannesburg Canada Lee as the Umfundisi, the reverend, who comes there to find his family and finds disaster. The story is the most moving I have ever read.  And for me, it is less the priest that is moving than the white planter, here very well played by Charles Carson, for this is the pivotal role, the role whose turning turns the entire story and turns us as it does so. It is Jarvis’s ignorance that is dispelled by the murder. His is the education, and the actions arising from his education educate us all. Cry, The Beloved Country is the great story of the recognition of our common humanity. This version is certainly not as fine as the 1995 version. Its story is more ritualized than realized. The acting is fine. Canada Lee died shortly after making it, and he does not have the breadth of James Earle Jones, to be sure; his brow is furrowed in a constriction of formal fear; but he is excellent in bringing us the old man’s ignorance and its comeuppance.  If you want to see an impeccable performance by a character lead, Joyce Carey as Jarvis’ wife gives one. The film is beyond recommendation because the material is. It is not simply a story; it is a scripture. Which means that contact with it affords one an experience of the divine.

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Margin Call

23 Oct

Margin Call — Directed and Written by J.C. Chandor. Suspense. A huge Wall Street company teeters on the brink of collapse and a crisis of conscience. 105 minutes Color 2011

* * * * *

The infuriatingly dull title for this very exciting film detours one away, only to be pulled back toward it by the presence of a superb cast. What great actors we have in this world, and all of them are at the peak of their game here. If there were Oscars for casting, this movie should win one. The focal character is played by Kevin Spacey, in the part of a management director of a trading company. He learns that the company is in dire jeopardy, and his moral dilemma is to find a way out that is on the up and up. The film begins with the ritual execution of half the staff of the company including its risk director, played with uncanny reserve by Stanley Tucci. His novice assistants follow through on his work and discover the fatal state of the company. Simon Baker-Denney plays the cold head of operations and his cold partner by Demi Moore. The announcement of Moore’s firing is a beautiful piece of acting by her, an infinitesimal response. Fabulous. The boys who uncover the disease are well played by Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley, each of them given key scenes of resolution which they meet perfectly. Paul Bettany plays the sardonic observer-of-it-all and brings to the inner circle the necessary presence of a lack of naiveté. Everyone knows what it’s really about. The suspense builds like black cream being whipped – until the arrival of Jeremy Irons, the pivotal character of the piece, at which point suspense stops. Irons is beyond excellent in the role of the owner of the company. He’s an actor who pulls focus with every inhalation and who can carry a film easily. The problem is in the writing of his part, although he is so good at delivering it as is, that you cannot tell. The fact is that the role of a pivotal character depends on whether he will turn to the right or to the left, and our not knowing which until at last. To create this second level of suspense the picture must refocus this character’s decision on his relations with the characters we have already met and thus postpone it, and the script does not do that. We are faced instead with the question of will people be fired or not, which is jumping the gun which the Irons character holds in his hand. Instead the focus turns to the Spacey character and makes him the focal character, which he is not. But even then the story is quite fascinating and the writing even in its miscalculation is quite fascinating and the playing of the scenes is quite fascinating. Somehow each of these actors has the ability and the material to create characters, no matter how cold, no matter how little we know about them, with whom we can identify. One of the reasons for that is that none of them have private lives. It’s touching. They are all and only worker bees. None more so than the Irons character who can do nothing whatsoever in life but go out and gather more honey and never question it at all.

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M

12 Oct

M – Directed by Fritz Lang. Satirical Drama. A child murderer is hunted by the police and also by the criminal populace itself. 117 minutes Black and White 1931.

* * * * *

Peter Lorre was a great actor and that is plain in this picture. Being Jewish he had to flee immediately to America, where he was cast in sillier and sillier roles, so much so that he was thought to be a silly actor, but it was not so. There is never a time now or later when you cannot identify with the terror of the worms he played as they were about to be stepped on by sadists.  Think of how, in his paranoia and degradation, he is always terrifying to behold. Think of him as an astounding piece of humanity revealed raw. His acting was so good we kept thinking it wasn’t acting. It is a mark of his genius and of acting genius itself that he was able to engage our participation so openly. Think of him in Casablanca in his frenzy as the Gestapo come for him. And see him here. Fritz Lang was half Jewish and had to flee to America soon after, where of course he had a big career also. Their instruments are well matched here in one of the most famous movies ever made – a completely contemporary and extremely humorous satire of the officiousness of Germans tracking down a serial killer. It’s so funny you won’t even laugh. It could have been made yesterday – except it wouldn’t have been this good. A masterpiece. Don’t miss it.

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Cry, The Beloved Country, James Earle Jones version

02 Oct

Cry, The Beloved Country – Directed by Darrell Roodt. High Tragedy. A country priest travels to Johannesburg to find his lost son. 106 minutes Color 1995.

* * * * *

On a list of the most influential books of the 20th Century, Cry, The Beloved Country might come first. Because, for non-South Africans, it spread out, over the landscape of a prose that in its power and beauty stood in for the land itself, a threefold world pain. And that pain is, one, the pain of a father whose son has been shot to death in a robbery, two, the pain of the father whose son has shot him, and three, our pain which we recognize is the same pain as theirs just as they come to recognize it. The fortunate importance of this concurrence made the book a worldwide best seller, and brought into operation the necessity of amnesty in South Africa when apartheid eventually ended many years later. For, of course, apartheid is the desolating cause. As he makes his way through the slums of Johannesburg, the poor Black minister, whose son has shot the son of the White landholder, becomes educated about the latitude of the harm of apartheid when he sees the poverty and degradation that the suppression of the Black population has brought about. And the father of the murdered boy learns the same. Here, in Johannesburg, there is no beautiful country. For one of the great values of this movie is our vision of the ravishing landscape of South Africa filmed by Paul Gilpin. It is like a prayer. A 1951 Black and White version of this story had Sidney Poitier as the priest-guide, Charles Carson as the White man, and Canada Lee as the Black minister. At that time apartheid was in force, and in order for Poitier and Lee to be allowed to enter South Africa and to be permitted to associate with the White film director, the authorities had to be told that Lee and Poitier were his indentured servants. The present film has Vusi Kunene, wonderful as the priest psychopomp, James Earle Jones as the poor country priest, and Richard Harris as the landowner. Charles S. Dutton plays the political radical brother of Jones. James Earle Jones plays the priest as a good man wounded by greater and greater difficulty as he stumbles into each of them. Richard Harris, as the White landowner father of the murdered boy, is shot through and shot through again, and then again. After the murder, his life changes when he sees the noble work his dead son did for the Blacks, and he wakes up. “What if when the White man turns to love, the Black man turns to hate?” his son has written. But it is not the Black’s forgiveness of the wrong done to him, but the White man’s forgiveness that speeds the truth home that, just as pain is, forgiveness is panhuman and is the beloved ground on which everything may be rebuilt. In that fact lies the power and influence of this book, from which both our awareness of apartheid everywhere and the amnesty at the end of apartheid came to be. Apartheid has not ended in America. This film may still help end it. See it. You may think this film will make you sad. I know it will. But see it. It will also make you alive.

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Never On Sunday

23 Sep

Never On Sunday – Directed by Jules Dassin. Comedy. A stupid American intellectual aims to elevate a willful prostitute to intellectual lofts. 91 minutes Black and White 1960.

* * * * *

A perfect movie, except, of course, that Jules Dassin who wrote and directed it also plays the lead, and is not an actor and cannot act. He probably had hired someone who dropped out and had to take the part himself – that’s my hunch – but one does not care very much even when Dassin is placed opposite actors who inherently are actors, because the film has Dassin’s directorial urge, energy and heart. And because he, as the American, is clearly headed for a fall. But so what! Melina Mercouri won The Cannes Prize for Best Actress for this role, and you can see why it is inevitable, for she is a force, indeed a freak of nature. Like so many actors, the only places you could put them would be in a theatre or a madhouse or a zoo. Mercouri, with her leopard’s eyes, would be in zoo. (Indeed, she eventually entered Greek politics quite successfully.) She is one of those females who is so female she is male. Like Katina Paxinou or Anna Magnani, she has the ability and the appetite to eat men alive. And they love it, at least, here they do. They throng around her and worship her for her independence, wit, beauty, sexuality, reality, basso profundo voice, and sense of fun. She’s a whore who chooses her clients; not they her. With a toss of her mane of hair, she is off with a sailor while spurning a millionaire. Dassin was exiled in Europe by blacklist, and made this and Rififi and Topkapi and other films with greater success and éclat than he had ever had in the US. He’s a delightful director and a quite lovable man. This is one of his Greek gems. You must have already seen it, but see it again, and see it often. [ad#300×250]

 

Intervista

25 Aug

Intervista – Directed by Federico Fellini. Back Soundstage Movie Comedy. The comic story of shooting a film by Felinni about the first time Felinni came to a movie set when he was young. 102 minutes Color 1987.

* * * * *

Fellini is the Alexander Calder of film. Enchanting. Surprising. Fun. Here he gives us a film about how humans delight in what is made-up, artificial, fabricated. Not just but also in being those things. In being what is created, devised, imagined. In making themselves into those things. Not made up just by themselves but by someone else as well. Not just alone but as a group. And how they will endure folly, delay, uncertainty, rejection, and having their whole parade rained on in order that they have this privilege of concoction. Sacred and Exalted. Thrilling. Unifying. Hilarious. Natural. And forgiving.

And so we have one of the greatest and most unusual statements of human soul-reality ever made. And made how? Without ever coming out and saying so. It’s all done with a lot of people talking, shouting, carrying on, in the midst of every distraction and vituperation. And in all of this a story emerges which is coherent and which is told solely in film terms, in the rubric of film. Not just in narrative and entrancement but in felt content.

Emerging into this as though from the sky we have Marcello Mastroianni as a seedy magician. The crew all traipse in little cars to the villa of whom? She won’t let them in. She doesn’t believe it’s Felinni. When she does she sets her dogs on them. Anita Ekberg in orange towels. And this glorious Vercingetorix continues to appear in towels as though she had never quite dried off from that fountain all those years ago. Her reunion here takes my breath away, not because I am sentimental about the famous scene but because she and Mastroianni are 25 years older and look it and are beautiful and it’s just wonderful.

It’s a beautifully shaped picture. Like Singing In The Rain, it is a picture about pictures about pictures. Our happiness with fraud. Our envy of the freedom it confers. About the human energy it releases and the curious democracy which is its milieu and profound and delightful artifact.

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La Notte

13 Aug

La Notte – Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Drama. A couple married for some years accompany one another in three places during one 12-hour period in Rome. 115 minutes Black and White. 1961.

* * * *

Movies that start with two people getting out of a car and walking up to a door make my heart sink. It means the director is desperately in want of imagination for the merest resources in establishing a locale. What if the movie had opened on the face of the dying hospital patient? What if one of them had be in the room already? Anything but a car stopping, parking, people getting out, going up to a door. And the film suffers from just such a want of imagination. The couple wander through the boredom of their marriage and their company with one another, rich, heedless, unfeeling. Marcello Mastroianni and Jean Moreau – two more watery, affectless actors could not have been cast in these roles. They are not “bad” actors, but they are actors devoid of temperament, and so are the characters they play, and I would have found it tiresome to accompany them, but that things unfold: from the hospital, they separate, and the wife wanders through the slums of her newly-wed days (although somehow she has got a lot of money), and he is drawn in to have sex with a certifiable nut. She seems to be a mere adjunct of her marriage, which is all the more apparent when they go together to a publication party for him, and then to the shindig of a billionaire, with a lot of folks drifting through the luxe. The billionaire wanted what he’s got, but he wanted it when he was twenty. He forgot he would be old by the time he got it. His 18 year-old daughter is played by Monica Viti, a wonderful actress, whose bones Mastroianni tries to jump, but you sense he doesn’t have the juice, nor does his wife for a bloke who drives off with her for a hot screw. The party scenes are marvelous, as is the depiction of the inert ennui at the heart of every marriage. And the film ends with a scene on the billionaire’s golf course, with Marcello lying on top of Jean and trying to make it with her, while she keeps saying to tell her that he no longer loves her. It’s a great scene; it must be a famous one.  But don’t tell me all the world is like this.  No, only that small slice of caviar pizza that Antonioni knows only, though sometimes he sure does know how to serve it well.

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