RSS
 

Archive for the ‘ACTING STYLE: Method’ Category

First Reformed

18 Jun

First Reformed –– written and directed by Paul Schrader. Drama. 114 minutes. Color 2018.
★★★★★
The Story: The pastor of a famed New England Church struggles with crises of faith, ethics, mission, courage, and his own past.
~
How does an actor convey all these at once?

He never conveys them. He holds still, opens his pores, and lets the audience convey them for him.

Of course, that’s the way it’s written and directed and filmed, but Ethan Hawke is an actor in the past covered with a sheen and endowed with an unfortunate smirk at the corners of his mouth, so he has never been an actor of much penetration, but rather an actor of unearned smugness.

But, recognizing himself to be not an A-list actor, the movies he has chosen to be in have been more interesting than his work in them. This has served him well and kept him before us. This has been true of him since he was young, which he no longer is. Here he plays a pastor of 47 which is also the age he is. He looks every day of it.

And he has largely mislaid his basket of acting tricks, we get only one empty side-long glance. His pushy charm and the coin of youth are gone.

He is not an actor who inhabits a character or whom a character inhabits. In his watchfulness as an actor there is the sense that he is not an actor at all, but a writer. So his instrument is limited and squeezed.

But what has always been so is that he is an actor who is present for the character to be present. And, oftentimes in screen acting, more than this is unwanted.

We are told about his minister; he tells us things; others tell us things; things are shown about him; the camera watches what he does, and all these things inform us with what we must learn in order for us to participate in creating this character.

So Ethan Hawke has begun to grow up in his craft. Hawke does not distract us or force a point of view of the character on us, so he is never remote. If, for narrative purposes, the character feels despair, we see despair in Hawke’s eyes and face. Otherwise not. If the character drinks, and it is narratively unnecessary for us not to know why, Hawke never betrays the story by detouring it into making whisky understandable. If the character is meant to internalize the ravage of the environment, the domination of the plutocracy, the fatness of the megachurch, his thoughtless fatherhood, he holds true to an ancient family and social code of consideration for others which would compress these influences and never show them. And we believe it. He does not indicate they are in him, and because he does not, we intuit that they must be in him.

Hawke keeps the physical circumstances of his body small. It’s a part which the slightest gesture would betray the role into overacting.

So we are not interested in Ethan Hawke here because he is, like Bette Davis, an actor of passionate histrionic drive whose physical show stuns us. No. Hawke simply leaves that out and lets the audience do the job of bringing the character alive in Hawke’s flesh. Hawke’s presence and the character become concurrent.

This is important because of the style of the film which is ruled by the decorum of church settings, music, and deportment. The film does not rush. It is as ritualized as a processional. Words are allowed to be heard. Scenes are allowed to develop. Arguments are allowed to ripen. We are in a film of grown up matters. There are social and spiritual and religious dialogues. We have to hear them out, for we too, as audience, have our pastoral duty. We see that characters do not realize that some of this formality is so beside the point that it is dangerous.

The film lets music play its role but never to enforce mood, but to counterpoint it. The camera is as steady as the style of the tale it tells. The acting of the others confirms the director’s style, which is to reveal the story straightforwardly and no more fully than our digestion permits.

With First Reformed we are constantly in the experience of story. Paul Schrader is like Satyajit Ray and Ingmar Bergman in this.

Hawke’s character has lost his ability to pray. Every human on earth loses their ability to pray every day. Each of us struggles towards an ethos vivid to us. Hawke’s character has lost this struggle. What is he to do?

I honor this film, everything about it, and everything in it.

 
Comments Off on First Reformed

Posted in ACTING STYLE: Method, Ethan Hawke, PERSONAL DRAMA

 

Cymbeline

15 Sep

Cymbeline directed by Michael Almereyda. Shakespearean Fantasy. 97 minutes Color 2017.
★★★★
The Story: A princess, against her father’s wishes, marries her love who is forced to flee, and, after extreme complications, he is restored to her.
~
The director has cut the play, quite rightly and expertly, to its stony bones. It’s set in modern times, but it was written in the time of Game Of Thrones, which is to say in a Dark Ages that never existed save in fantasy drama – a genre which remains enormously popular to this day.

It would be silly to track the story here, as it would that of Game Of Thrones, for our interest lies in who shall be king. Everything in the story subserves that end.

Except, in this case, Shakespeare has created marvelous humans to enact the exploits and coincidents and passions so multitudinously arrayed before us. Cymbeline, being a pre-medieval computer game, is the most modern of Shakespeare’s plays, and the director gives it to us in modern dress. What does not work is that he gives it to us in modern acting style.

The recreation of the Globe Theater in London is large and holds 1400. The original Glob Theater held 3,000. (Radio City Music Hall holds 6,000.) So you see, the original Globe was enormous. So Shakespeare’s words were written for a certain vocal production audible in a vast theater, open air, out of doors, in full daylight, in a busy noisy city.

None of the actors here have the training in this particular voice production.

It is not simply a matter of speaking loud. It is a way of speaking, of surrounding words chosen for that way of speaking, surrendering to them, getting not just behind but way behind them. None of the actors, save one, has the inner placement from which to deliver the language.

Actors required for Shakespeare also, have to have enormous stage personality. And as good as Ed Harris’s Meisner training might be as the basis for the main body of his fine work as an actor, Meisner despised and denounced Shakespeare, and so Harris does not fare any better than the others do in opting to make the lines colloquial, gutsy, and intuitive. The voice is placed just at the back of his throat, so everything comes out without weight, without emphasis. He can act the part, but he cannot speak the part. The investment is missing. The investment is not Method investment, but an investment in a place in the human body from which these truths must be uttered.

This is true of all the actors, and because they have wonderful parts one watches them through. John Leguizamo, as the obedient/disobedient retainer, gathers himself into and out of the situations convincingly. His physical weight has carrying power and as a middle-aged actor we care for his destiny. Leguizamo knows something that enables him to play this part.

Anton Yelchin plays the brat/villain with every convention sticking out of his performance like a porcupine. We need to identify with this character’s compromised position in the drama, not dismiss him out of hand as a stereotype.

Dakota Johnson as Imogen gives us this great role with vapid tone, her voice wrinkling like a Valley chick. But Imogen is not a Valley chick. She, like Desdemona, is a young woman of parts, a role for a young Katharine Hepburn, a woman who dares defy her father to marry the man of her choice, and who will not back down. You need a big personality to play this young woman. It was a role for which Ellen Terry was renowned. But Johnson’s Imogen does not know what she is saying nor how to say it.

Ethan Hawke takes the choice role of Iachamo. Certain things he does well: the closet scene with the chest, for one. I believed it. But it is a pantomime scene. When he opens his mouth, the words that come out do not belong to Iachamo, nor to Hawke either. Nor does he seem to understand the character.

Iachamo is a Texas A & M fraternity boy of devastating looks and charm – and a nasty streak a mile wide. His ego sets the play in motion, but Hawke plays him mildly, as an After Sunset chap with a sly eye. No. Iachamo is the brat of brats. He’s a horror, but you’ve got to hand it to him. Finally, Hawke is simply too old for the part.

The one actor who does not suffer from inadequacy here is the great Delroy Lindo as Belarius, the stepfather of the princes. He simply has by nature the voice the role requires. When will someone give Delroy Lindo Lear?

I loved watching the movie; I liked the cuts; one gets to see Cymbeline too seldom. I was grateful for a lot of it. And – oh, that late Shakespeare – best in my appreciation books.

 

12 Angry Men [Jack Lemon Version 1997]

26 Aug

12 Angry Men [Jack Lemon Version] –– directed by William Friedkin. Courtroom Drama. A jury reconsiders a foregone verdict. 1 hour 57 minutes Color 1997.

★★★★★

Each of the three versions of this screenplay is longer than the one before it, and each is perfectly adequate to the task. None of them is a moment too long or too short. This one is interracial, the most bigoted member of it being Black Muslim. It is beautifully cast, directed, and acted, as are the other two. And in each case the principal actor gets older. Robert Cummings is 44. Henry Fonda is 55. Jack Lemon is 72.

I imagine it is impossible to badly direct this piece. It is not impossible to overact it, for it is occasionally and in certain small ways, in all its versions, over-written, but that is a cavil. It is not overwritten in its addition of material and episodes. None of the actors dally or milk their parts for attention. This version holds us, even though, after three versions, we know its episodes, its moves, and its outcome. In this version color adds a good deal to the drabness of the jury room itself, and in this version the rain convinces. Nothing is more insufferably sweltering than a July downpour in New York City. A minor matter is that Bayside High is said to have a football team. It does not even have an athletic field. I went there and I know.

Jack Lemon, a wonderfully jittery actor and comic master, evinces none of his trademark volatility and plays the part steady-on, as it should be played. He is exemplary, and his evident age adds a bent of physical vulnerability subtly advantageous to our tension.

One of the expanded parts of the play is the final scene which George C. Scott plays coming to terms with the scar of hatred for his own son. I saw George C. Scott starting out on the New York stage in The Andersonville Trial. He was mightily impressive, and has remained so ever since. However, he has not shown us anything new for years. Until now. This is the finest and most extreme demonstration of his gift I have ever seen – an extraordinary performance, which opens him up to a region I never associated him with. Don’t miss it. He won Golden Globe and Emmy for it that year.

I admire great actor-technicians such as Scott and Armin Mueller-Stahl. All the actors are excellent, and James Gandolfini, a different sort of actor entirely, is particularly lovely.

This version was made for television, and I saw it on VHS. All versions are riveting. All versions are worth seeing.

Jack Lemon, Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis, George C. Scott, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Dorian Harewood, James Gandolfini, Mykelti Williamson, Edward James Olmos, William Petersen, Tony Danza, Hume Cronyn, and Mary McDonnell as the judge.

Henry Fonda, Lee. J. Cobb, Robert Webber, George Voskovec, Ed Begley, Jack Warden. Joseph Sweeny, Edward Binns, E.G. Marshall, John Fiedler, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman.

Robert Cummings, George Voskovec, John Beal, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold, Joseph Sweeny, Paul Hartman, Bart Burns, Lee Philips, Norman Fell, Larkin Ford. 

 

12 Angry Men [Henry Fonda Version]

26 Aug

12 Angry Men [Henry Fonda Version] – directed by Sidney Lumet. Courtroom Drama. A hung jury unhangs themselves. 96 minutes Black and White 1957.

★★★★

Three years after the Robert Cummings original TV version, Fonda produced this film, and it didn’t do well – except in Europe where it took off. One wonders why it did not do well here. It was a small film put into huge release, and well publicized with a big star. Perhaps the American public had seen it done quite well on TV already in the Robert Cummings version, and, without subtitles, the Europeans hadn’t. It caught on later.

One trouble, might be Henry Fonda in the Robert Cummings role. Fonda is not an ambiguous actor. He is a good guy actor, so the audience would expect him to win out over this bunch of sweaty bigots, and this would undercut the suspense., Or perhaps Lumet’s treatment of the jurors as individuals, rather than as a mass grouped against Fonda worked less well.

At any rate, we do have Jack Warden stealing every scene by his clever and apt use of props. As to the other actors, Lee J. Cobb, as usual, eventually overplays his hand, which Edward Arnold in the same role, for once, did not.  Jack Klugman is a study in actor-attention, Joseph Sweeny is even better than he was in the first TV version, Walter Abel was more rich and active in reserve than E.G. Marshall who sulks.

The sopping heat of New York City in a summer downpour is not followed through, and is, in any case, a superficial outside pressure. None of them play a frantic desire to get out of that sweltering, un-air-conditoined room.

I did see it in 1957, and I was mightily impressed and moved, partly because of its grimy, paint-peeling setting and un-Hollywoody, Method-type actors,  and the theme of common justice. When critics say a picture has not weathered well or stood the test of time, that probably means that the critic has not. Have I lost my ideals? If so, blame it on me that I now see the fault lines in the piece. How did Fonda buy that knife? How could they calculate that elevated train ride? Why would they notice the glasses line on that woman’s nose?

Well, the charm of the piece is that it is actually a detective story, with Robert Cummings and Henry Fonda and Jack Lemon (in a later TV version) all playing Sherlock Holmes to eleven prejudging Dr. Watsons – while never leaving the room. As a detective story it’s a pretty good one. As a young idealist of 24 I rejoiced to see justice done. Now I am more interested in the truth of the casting, so while there is something to be said for each cast, I prefer Cummings in the leading role over Fonda. Fonda has a beautiful face, but the emotional affect of a small town druggist. I find him flat, dull, and slightly self-satisfied. So his is a prescription rather than a performance. We shall see what Jack Lemon brings to the role. Then we shall know all there is to know, shall we not?

Henry Fonda, Lee. J. Cobb, Robert Webber, George Voskovec, Ed Begley, Joseph Sweeny, Edward Binns, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, John Fiedler, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman.

Robert Cummings, George Voskovec, John Beal, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold, Joseph Sweeny, Paul Hartman, Bart Burns, Lee Philips, Norman Fell, Larkin Ford. 

 

 

Ginger And Rosa

18 Apr

Ginger and Rosa –– directed by Sally Potter. Drama. Two young best friends enter the arena of adolescent betrayal. 90 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

I went to it because Sally Potter directed Yes, one of my great movies.

But this one – oh, dear.

The problem is that it is based on an unrecovered resentment, a form of autobiography which always lacks penetration and balance. The author/director has not gotten over it, whatever it was. She’s still getting back at the one that done her wrong. The consequence is that a load of approval falls on the shoulders of one girl, Ginger, and scants the other, Rosa. Emptiness results.

It all ends with a confrontation scene, identical to the one at the end of another current film, The Company You Keep, in which the love-object justifies her miscreance by spouting liberal political boilerplate. Neither scene is well directed. And in this film the actor with the liberal agenda, simply does not go for it enough to make us realize what a hollow old lie he is telling.

I also went because Annette Bening and Christina Hendricks are in it, and, yet the picture is not about them. Christina Hendricks proves once again what a magnificent actress she is. Annette Bening, of course, by now doesn’t have to prove it at all. Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt circle around the proceedings and are in fine fettle, but their parts are shelved largely because of the imbalance of attention give to Ginger (ably played by Elle Fanning).

I can only say that I await Sally Potter’s next film with abated interest.

 

Don’t Come Knocking

16 Apr

Don’t Come Knocking directed by Wim Wenders. Drama. A has-been Western film star flees the set and finds his way back to the families he disregarded 20 years before. 122 minutes Color 2006.
★★★
The poster shows Sam Shepherd perched on the hood of a 50s sedan, his chin in his hand, his hat on, his head down, his face invisible, contemplating his boots. This invisibility of the main actor is typical of the picture, the actor, and so is the way it is shot, largely on bare empty streets of Butte, Montana. No cars, no people, no content. Content Invisible.

Wenders has striven for an Edward Hopper look. But that is a look of blank tedium. And it is also a look which works in paintings because paintings do not move and the look of blank tedium is found only on the faces of humans who do not move. Movies move. So here the trick falls out of the rubric of film-making and into one of the pretenses which govern this picture.

One of the pretenses is that this hollowness holds Some Meaning. But the piece is written by Sam Shepard and as such falls apart before our hopeful eyes, just as all his other pieces do. For there is something empty in Sam Shepard and it is not the emptiness of The Divine. It is the emptiness of a criminal. The crime of art from the non-artist.

In this case, for instance, the confrontation scenes between Jessica Lange and the actor who plays her son, and between the son and Shepard,are not just overwritten but lies. For Shepard does his usual trick of busting up the joint as a display of anger. Smashing a ton of beer bottles at the end of a porch, wrecking your mother’s kitchen – here throwing all the furnishings out of a second story window is simply conventional Shepard shtick. And the convention does not hold because the issues is not rage, but fear.

Anger is easy to act and dramatize. But fear? This we never get to here. We never get to it in the character Shepard has written for himself, or in himself as an actor. I used to think that Shepard was a better actor than a playwright, and that he could carry a film, but I believe I am wrong.

His concerns are ones he wishes to nurse, not to solve. Certainly Butte is interesting to see. George Kennedy is brief fun as a floored director. Tim Roth is effective as the Javert character. And Sarah Polley is right on the money as a newly minted orphan. However, Jessica Lange mugs through her role, as usual, making much of her mouth, perhaps to draw fire from her eyes, which are not good actor’s eyes.

Besides all this bushwah, all the women in this piece are angels, and all the men are devils, and that does not add up to a drama. The rest of it does not add up to one either, and one is left at the finale duped once again by the sexiness, routine taciturnity, good looks, and self-involvement with which the public has masterminded Sam Shepard’s reputation into being. The films leaves you flat.

Flat.

 

Silver Linings Playbook

01 Feb

Silver Linings Playbook – directed by David O. Russell. Family Drama. A Bipolar nut strives to reunite with his two-timing wife, and on the way meets up with a young promiscuous widow. 122 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
The preposterous notion that Love Conquers All is the Hollywood byword that rules this story, and we root for it as soon as ever we can, don’t we, well-trained poodles that we are!

The trouble is that the hero is an insane person, and it is never possible to link oneself to such a character, for two reasons: they are hopeless and they are annoying.

However, sanity sets in when another insane person crosses his path and they join forces on a project of physical dance, which grounds them and frees them.

Behind all this lurks the equally crazy figure of his father played in his usual way by Robert De Niro who is a bookie and a Philadelphia Eagles nut, glued to the superstition that his coo-coo son is his rabbit’s foot. De Niro provides a much needed comic leavening, and his wife, played superbly by Jacki Weaver provides the foundation in real emotion and common sense to the proceedings.

The two crazies are played superbly by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, but, of course, we cannot really take them seriously as humans until the dance practice begins and their self-centered ranting ceases.

However, while the film is beautifully directed and written up to that point, it collapses in both departments from that point on, and we are asked to appoint our credulity to the task of swallowing all sorts of unnecessary improbabilities in their romantic squabbles. It can’t be done. We choke.

What does work is the lengthly scene in which De Niro and his gambling partner work up a parley on the outcome of the Eagle’s game and the dance competition. This is highly suspenseful, beautifully performed, and fun. And besides we want Love To Conquer All, so we set aside our disbelief and our sense of the certainty that when love fades in color, madness will return fuelled further by the red truth that Love Betrays All.

But at least it’s given the opportunity to conquer. In Hollywood, Love is Rocky Balboa racing up a monumental flight of Philadelphia stairs. What is found at the top is The Hall Of Justice. Which we have no idea is standing there in wait for us.

 

End Of Watch

04 Oct

End of Watch – produced, written, and directed by David Ayer. Drama. Two L.A. cops, in their many perilous adventures patrolling crime-hoods, annoy the drug cartel folks and get in over their heads. 109 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhaal should win Oscars in tandem for their astonishing work as these two policeman badinaging in a car. I just rejoice to see them: two American actors at the peak of their powers and masculinity being marvelous over and over in scene after scene in parts better than which will probably come their way again never. For which credit one’s hat is off to the writer who gives them marvelous palaver and marvelous silences. The piece begins with the drug folk opposition, and since their entire dialogue consists of one word repeated like a doxology, and you know what that word is, their story needs to be told with camera alone, and it is. It is told with as much brilliancy as are the big scenes of dialogue. The film is a series of episodes, each one thrilling and unusual, beginning with a car chase which precedes the credits. These episodes do not constitute a story, but they are exciting in themselves, and they build one upon the next, so one is content to witness the two cops’ work, which, after all, also is one thing after another, and to endure the suspense of one’s ignorance of, care for, and interest in their fates. Gyllenhaal’s film persona in the past has been the knight of doleful countenance; here he displays an inherent fluidity and comic power one had not seen before. (If anyone is ever to play the part of Louie Zamperini, it is he.) Michael Peña sets down firmly in the seat of wisdom and constancy as his co-cop. But it is idle to comment on them separately because they are twinned by their playing, they are talking heads who talk one another’s heads off, jocular, acute, loyal. They come alive as a pair, as Laurel and Hardy did. They impregnate one another as actors and as characters. Gyllenhaal’s habit of hanging his arm out the window for a respite, Peña’s habit of a little Bronx cheer when pressed, toss sprinkles on one thing, a banana split, a single treat shared. I love acting and when it is wonderful I know what a miracle I am faced with. What joy to see them! Feebly titled, the film, nonetheless, deals with crime, and while its episodes are extreme, they are presented by the filmer, Roman Vasyanov and the editor, Dody Dom, in sufficient intimacy and speed to give us a sense of the blindness of the peril the two of them undergo together. The entire cast plays brilliantly; the set designs are right on the money; the music, by David Sardy, does no more and no less than the demands of the scenes require and is as welcome when played as when still. The piece is beautifully executed by the director. And the streets of L.A. have never been more vivid in their meanness and meaning.

 
 

To Rome, With Love

04 Jul

To Rome, With Love –– written and directed by Woody Allen. Farce. Four groups of people find themselves out of their depths in the Eternal City. 102 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

As the fingers of two hands folded together mesh but do not meld together, these four adventures interlace in the narrative of this film, but never coincide, except in the satisfaction their juxtaposition affords, which is the same natural satisfaction that folded hands afford. It’s farce: speed is everything, and so are doors. As each door slams on one group it breezes open unapologetically on another. The young American girl and the young Roman lawyer, engaged to be married, meet her parents, Woody Allen and Judy Davis, and their parents meet his parents, and before you know it, bingo, the father of the one is rushing the father of the other, a mortician, into a major operatic career, although the poor man is only able to sing in the shower. Jesse Eisenberg and his live-in host her trivial titillating best friend, Ellen Page, and he tumbles for the minx, although she is clearly out his class.  A young married couple arrive from the country for his interview for a big-city job, and fall foul of a lady of the afternoon, Penélope Cruz, who through force of circumstance must double as his wife at an interview with his future bosses, every one of whom is her client. All this while the young man’s wife falls into the toils of a plump movie star who offers her once-in-a-lifetime sexual possibilities. She succumbs, I am glad to say, and husband and wife come out of their escapades with useful sexual educations. A nonentity clerk, Roberto Benigni is extracted from his little family into inexplicable notoriety, which he at first resists, then embraces wildly. These four cards are played for our amusement by Allen who plays them as playful playthings. Cruz is, of course, once again hilarious in the Sophia Loren role. The movie star, played by Antonio Albanese is superbly funny as the stout sex symbol matinee idol. Ellen Page is Jim Dandy as the girl who comes to dinner and eats the host. But the entire film is stolen by Her Greatness Judy Davis from whom one cannot wrench one’s eyes. She is the actress of actresses, and Allen wisely keeps her on camera in every scene with him that he can. Her role is purely responsive to him, but you never watch him for a minute while she is there, because in never attempting to steal a scene she steals all of them, and because she is the real thing and, of course, Allen isn’t. What he is is a cartoon. Sadsack is the name of the cartoon. As an actor Allen does what he has always done, be hapless and paranoid, and he is very funny, but he is also annoying and never appealing ever, and she is. He is always appealing and so he is never appealing. His comedy as a director is not visual, but verbal and histrionic. Which means he cannot tell a story with a camera. But when a camera is on, the sound track records some very good jokes and some very telling human behavior. And that is enough for us and all we need to deserve as an audience very used to this national monument with its pigeon droppings, Woody Allen. Alec Baldwin appears as the useless sexual wisdom of the future and the past, playing Jiminy Cricket to Eisenberg’s sexual Pinocchio. He and Judy Davis define the difference between humor and Woody Allen who defines comedy. A movie can satisfy without a belly laugh because it has humor. But a comedy, with all its belly laughs, cannot satisfy if it does not have humor. To Rome, With Love has both. When it was over, we all applauded. I would send Woody Allen one perfect rose, except I think it more proper to send him a huge cellophane-wrapped basket of fresh fruit as a bon voyage gratitude to his continued voyage before us.

 

 

Reflections In A Golden Eye

14 Jun

When it first came out I hastened to it and saw it shown with Huston’s famous color correction for it meant for us to see the film as through a golden eye. This version was immediately withdrawn and regular Technicolor imposed. It still failed. Why is the eye gold to begin with? Because Anacleto, the fairy houseboy of Julie Harris, theatricalizes a peacock’s eye through a drawing made to correct everything grotesque – meaning we, the audience, are meant to be witnessing the story as grotesque and, through a golden eye, forgive it…I guess. Because that is not what happened to me. What happened to me was that I saw Brian Keith be the only sympathetic character in the piece, and Marlon Brando deliver one of the greatest acting scenes in all motion pictures. This is still true of that scene. At the time I also felt Huston was more interested in the equestrian scenes than in the story itself. I feel this is less true now, because what I did not consider at the time was that this material is not suited to Huston’s temperament and so the film lacks body. Everyone in the film is unfaithful. A highly puritanical, non, drinking, non smoking virgin enlisted man/stable boy, played in his screen debut by that wonderful actor Robert Forster, exercises the horses bareback and bare-ass in the woods where he also sunbathes nude. But he also creeps into the house of the Major played by Brando to ogle his wife as she sleeps, hardly an act of fidelity to the pure. Julie Harris is unfaithful to her husband by favoring her houseboy. Marlon Brando is unfaithful to his wife by lusting for Forster. His wife is unfaithful to him. Brian Keith is unfaithful to Julie Harris. But what the film may really be about is the human lens through which people see and do not see one another. I don’t know. I would say the film is thrown by the playing of Elizabeth Taylor, an untrained actress but one of great experience and one who is sensational in roles suitable to her natural instinct. Here she serves up Martha’s leftovers. She is shrill and technically broad, and a woman that beautiful does not have to be either of those things to get her way. The result is that it is a performance without repose. She throws the fact that her horse is a stallion in Brando’s face to cut him, just as she takes a riding crop to his face in a party after he has abused that horse. It does not convince. Gathering that her part is that of a bitch, Taylor lays it on thick. The result is over-painted. Elizabeth Taylor got what she wanted in life without gesticulating for it, and with her, lifting a finger would have constituted a gesticulation. Of course, the difficulty for Elizabeth Taylor would have been that in real life she didn’t know anybody. Unlike Patricia Neal, who would have been perfect in this part, who had a big Southern family, Elizabeth Taylor was jailed by her fame and so never met the sort of woman she had to play here. Her performance is not based on anything. Neither is her accent. Her performance is thus amateur. It would have been more interesting if she had played it against type, recognizing she did hot understand her husband, Brando, but still tried to. Julie Harris, on the other hand, is a treat. Watch her focus. Her ability to sustain attention is infallible, and Huston has the goodness to show it to us. The same is true of Brando, whose performance is somewhat garbled by his Southern accent, but even that seems justified by the primness that he cannot help but seek refuge in. It is a remarkable characterization. And he has this scene. Don’t expect a great movie, but expect great moments. It’s worth watching for them.

 

Find Me Guilty

13 Sep

Find Me Guilty – Directed by Sidney Lumet. Courtoom Drama. The longest criminal trial in U.S. history is derailed by one of the 20 gangster defendants.125 minutes Color 2006.

* * * * *

I sought out this picture because the director has entertained me for years: The Fugitive Kind, Long Days Journey Into Night, Network, Running On Empty, The Verdict, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, 12 Angry Men. What I love about Lumet is his respect for the spectacle inherent in the human comedy being photographed at all – and so offering it up in a style which is not two dimensional, not cinematic, but three dimensional, that is to say, theatrical. Time and again the human activity taking place here is given point and honor by an angle the camera takes to report it. Nothing is sensationalized or emotionalized; rather we see the man with the chair on his head bump comedically more than once trying to enter a space not tall enough for it, but we see it at the far end of a very long corridor and at deep focus – so the joke on him is not diverted into Laurel and Hardy but simply noticed. We appreciate the director for the taste he ascribes to us and for the aesthetic common sense we have to distinguish truth in its proper treatment. This gift of his extends to the actors as well, and they are often superb. Brando’s opening scene is Fugitive Kind is the greatest piece of film acting I have ever seen, and, here, Linus Roache is given full latitude to go nuts over this unimaginably huge two year court case. We also see the beautiful Peter Dinklage take just the right size and attack in his role as the principal defense lawyer (his speaking voice alone!). Lumet is a master of courtroom drama (12 Angry Men, he Verdict), and this his penultimate picture is a masterpiece of the genre, an impression that might be overlooked because of the peculiar story it tells and the character responsible for the story’s outcome. Vin Diesel is an actor I had never seen before because he appears in the sort of film I never see –violent action films – but he is a wonderful actor entirely. He plays the a gangster who takes on his own self defense, and proves himself to be a disruptive Merry Andrew before a judge excellently played by Ron Silver. He is entirely appealing as a man whose love of his gang family retains its hold in him against the truth of its not being returned. Vin Diesel, Annabella Sciorra as his wife, Linus Roache, and Peter Dinklage give Oscar-level performances. The movie is mistitled, but marvelous! Don’t miss it.

[ad#300×250]

 

 

.

 

 

Higher Ground

04 Sep

Higher Ground – Directed by Vera Farmiga. Drama of the Spirit. A thirty year old woman in a religious community comes to grip with her beliefs. 109 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Vera Farmiga  puts one in mind of our beloved Jill Clayburg. She has the same beauty, openness as an actor, humor, feminine grace, spontaneity and daring. It is a pleasure to be in her company, and one feels secure in that company. Her performance here is lovely. And, while the film is about her character, every actor around her is lovely too. It is a pity that the bigoted Berkeley audience I saw it with laughed at some of the characters of the religious community, because the director, also Farmiga, does not ridicule or demean them. They are treated honestly as folks who are truly engaged with the beauty, especially the musical beauty, and community of their faith. It is a faith, however, which pastes communal belief on every soul, but Corinne, the character Farmiga plays, awakens more and more to the fact that her own soul is not being seen, particularly by herself. She is lost in the charade of avowing a God who never visits her, and it troubles her. Her family and friends are all immersed in this one-size-fits all religion whose orthodoxy is not a resurrection but a recipe. And yet that community is as deeply engaged in that faith as they can be, and they are to be respected for it. In this world it seems it is the men who suffer most, because they adore their wives and yet have nothing to say to them. Corinne’s father, her husband, and her best friend’s husband, are clearly in agony and are helpless. I recommend the picture highly. Farmiga knows how to open up the camera to the actor and the actor to the camera. I have never seen a story of this type told before. Fred Zinnemann’s The Nun’s Story did not have the depth and common interest of Higher Ground, for it was about medical versus religious work; its conflict was not about her profession of faith but whether she should become a professional in it; its main character was remote, in an order, whereas Farmiga is just a mom sitting in a station wagon going nuts because of a God who does not come the way they say He should. One feels for her. It is everything.

[ad#300×250]

 

 

 

 

Border Incident

23 Aug

Border Incident – Directed by Anthony Mann. Government Agency Enforcement Drama. Immigration Authorities track down trafficking of Mexican Braceros illegally imported into the US as slaves. 94 minutes Black and White 1949.

* * * * *

A strong supporting cast of Bad Guys keep putting things in their mouths and doing the cock-eyed and donning stark getups. The magisterial Howard Da Silva as the heavy is great with cigars, of course, but take a look at what the others are chewing. Ugh! Anyhow they’re all very Stanislavsky, very Russian, in their playing, and thank God for that. We have Arnold Moss, mad-hatted, with eyes like black sunflowers, wearing a checkerboard shirt as the actors engage in cards, chess, and other games of chance while the big game of chance unfolds. The great Alfonso Bedoya steals every scene he appears in simply by dint of his appearing in it. He is fascinating to watch and, as an actor, never wrong. Charles McGraw, a Mann staple, looks like he should be thrown in jail and hung.

This leaves us with the stiffs who play the Immigration Good Guys and stand up for the Mexicans who are being treated barbarously. Their on-camera representatives are George Murphy as the set-up and Ricardo Montalban, a big star in Mexico, playing the plant among the smuggled peons. But it is his bonding with the peon James Mitchell plays that holds the screen and validates the action, which consists of an insurrection of the peons. James Mitchell is very beautiful and very Mexican in his affect and his upper eyelids. He and Montalban are exactly the same age, 28; Mann has them play their scenes in great physical intimacy. They wrap themselves around one another without touching. It is interesting to see this happen in a picture of this era. In the end you believe James Mitchell would die to save Montalban’s life, for he nearly does so.

Montalban refers to it as a B movie, which at the time it was, but it’s an A movie now. He also ascribes it to John Sturges, and says nothing more except that it got fine reviews and received some awards but did not receive much attention. Though he could neither sing nor dance, he had made four musicals at MGM, playing exotics, and went back to make another. “I never did get the big dramatic role that is so important for an actor’s career. I never had gotten it in Hollywood.” He must have been dreaming. He had a strong accent and was Mexican. Anyhow, this is that role.

John Alton who shot it paints the film with light; sometimes it is dramatic; sometimes it is theatrical, but it is always gripping, as is Mann’s staging of an all-male cast, and his willingness to go to extremes.  He also ends it, as he ends He Walked By Night and Side Street, with men pursued and trapped in a narrow space, here a canyon, a death canal.

[ad#300×250]

 

 

 

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button