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Archive for the ‘Allison Janney: ACTING GODDESS’ Category

I, Tonya

31 Dec

I, Tonya – directed by Craig Gillespie. Sports Drama. 119 minutes Color 2017.
★★★★
The Story: Tonya Harding, with a calling for figure skating, is driven to prominence by a ruthless mom and toppled from prominence by low-life associates.
~
I don’t understand it. Maybe it’s the casting. Or maybe it’s the treatment by the director. Or maybe the writing.

To start with the casting. The crippling of Nancy Kerrigan is instigated by a man so stupid he presents himself as an international spy when he is not out of diapers and is so dumb as to have not a spark of what would draw him to become Tonya Harding’s husband’s best friend. And the actor playing the husband is not dumb enough to have him as a friend. A link between them is missing, the plot depends on it, and without it a vacancy occurs?

The direction of the material is unexceptionable so is the editing. But the material is monotonous. The mother is violent and in the same way violent. The husband beats Tonya and she beats him back just as before. And nothing changes. The judges repeatedly downgrade her because she lacks finesse, and it’s obvious and she knows this. The vulgarity of her costumes remains uncorrected all her professional life. There is no development. Monotony as another vacancy?

We never plumb the life of Tonya Harding beyond the area of abuse. On the one hand the perseverance, physical strength, and ardor of figure skating on this high level are mentioned but not explored. That’s only fair. A film cannot do everything. But in this case, Tonya Harding also had a calling to skate, had it as a four-year-old, and knew it. This aspect of her nature might have led us to a dramatic conflict between the sanctity of her calling and the coarseness of breeding. But we never get inside her. Instead we get the unrelieved sensationalism of abuse. Is there a vacancy here?

For I want to know what was at stake in this individual to begin with. And I don’t mean an Olympic medal. I mean, what was at her essence? What was humanly important?

Three vacancies leave the film uninhabited by I, Tonya. Except, of course, for the notorious Kerrigan incident, but we knew all about that to begin with. Although the story ends with her conviction for crimes the movie clears her of, it’s the surprise of a dull thud.

The performance of Margot Robbie, who plays Tonya, is television-acting, with much play of the mouth. Calisthenics of jaw, of lips, of chin, work on the small screen because external, and the small screen is tolerant of it. But on the movie screen is inescapably big. It requires an internal delectation; in movie houses,lower-face-emotions telegraph a message with no content.

Allison Janney plays Harding’s mother with a mouthful of ice, ruthlessly intent on a human experiment to see how it will turn out, never giving an inch, for the reason that she does not have an inch to give and nothing else to live for. She’s an actress for all time.

The sad thing about Tonya Harding, so far as I can see, is that she had a sacred calling, figure skating, which with nun-like devotion she embraced. The hours, effort, falls of that calling are excruciating and interminable. But her skating’s eventual execution was corrupted by the personal style of bullying which was thrust upon her and which she never knew how to liberate herself from. She was bullied by her mother, by her husband, and she bullied skating. You can see it in her presentation. Except you can’t, because none of Harding’s actual skating is shown so you never see what the judges object to. Tonya Harding was not an exquisite skater. Here an amalgam of doubles skates for her exquisitely. Just as with “Black Swan” and the “Battle Of The Sexes” you never see the real thing.

What is the alternative to abuse?

Sensitivity. In real life Tonya Harding had a sensitive face. Margot Robbie does not. Another vacancy. Her skating lacked sensitivity. That she was a bulldog on ice is left out. Another vacancy. In this sense the film is a masterpiece of editing. Of leaping over abysses. Omissions. Vacancies. You never see on any level what the trouble really was.

 

The Duff

13 Mar

The Duff – directed by Ari Sandel. Comedy. 101 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: The cutest boy in high school tutors the most unlikely girl to stop being a Designated Ugly Fat Friend.

~

Wow! It’s good to see people new to me up there, so skilled and entertaining and likable.

Mae Whiteman is the Designated Ugly Fat Friend of two dream-chicks in high school. Robbie Amell plays her dream-boat boy-next-door pal who tutors her to be a glamorpuss, Ken Jeong is uproarious as the faculty adviser on the school paper. And we have the incomparable Allison Janney as the jilted mother who finds Her True Calling.

I sat back and loved this comedy. Yes, it has to do with teenagers. But, oh yes, it is brilliantly played by these actors. So funny. So quick. So smart in their craft. So willing to entertain.

You know by now that I love the comedies of The Golden Age. They still entertain 60 years later – some of them – and, while it is as true that The Duff is played with the humor of the age we live in just as the comedies of The Golden Age Of Film were played in the humor of that time and world-set, so The Duff too will amuse our human understanding and settle our desire for entertainment 60 years hence too, I do suspect.

I went to see it for Allison Janney, of course. I cannot do without her. She is necessary to me as fresh water. And no more than fresh water does she disappoint.

For Allison Janney is the champagne of fresh water!

 

 

The Way, Way Back

31 Jul

The Way, Way Back –– written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Comedy/Drama. A fourteen year old boy on a ghastly/wonderful seaside vacation. 143 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

The perfect summer movie, because it encompasses like an ocean roller all the sun, salty air, sand, sadness, and silliness of the July days of youth. Sadness because one is no longer eleven but fourteen, and defiance is in order.

We have the cast of casts to bring it to us, at least as far as the adult actors go. First there is Steve Carell as the wicked stepfather-to-be, and he daringly offers the character not one redeeming feature. I do not own a television, I had never seen him before, and I understand he is a television entertainer. Well, he certainly entertains us here with this setting-your-teeth-on edge prick.

The can-do-no-wrong Toni Colette plays the lady considering marrying him, and she has wonderful moments in a part which is underwritten and under-examined by the writers, who take the part for granted.

However, present as the blabbermouth neighbor is The Great Allison Janney, one of the finest actors working today. She is a treat and a tonic necessary for one’s health and for one’s belief in the future of the race. There is a public edict out that any film she is opens in must be rushed to. Everything comes alive when she is on. And boy is she on! She is devastatingly funny and extravagantly generous with her gifts, as usual.

Finally, we are offered the madcap amusement park proprietor of Sam Rockwell, an actor who seems to have no limitations, or, at any rate, whose gifts are so pronounced that, watching him display them, one cannot imagine what they might be. He plays the zany owner of the vast Water Wizz aqua- park, where a good deal of the action transpires. The man is witty, quick, and desperate. Rockwell gets all of this: a man who exists for the thrill of summer has cheapened himself and knows it.

The focus of the story is on Toni Colette’s son, played by Lliam James. The writers write less well for him and directs him less well. In fact, an actor of his age needs to be directed exactly like an adult. The difficult is that he plays a mome. And the writers have left it at that and asked the actor to carry more than there exists for him to lift. One has to take the performance on faith, which is fine, since the story has its valleys and joys, as expected of a summer movie, and since its tropes are so familiar one sings right along with the little bouncing ball of it, the audience carrying the load for him, and happy, very happy indeed to do so.

 

 

 

The Oranges

11 Oct

The Oranges – directed by Julian Farino. TV Drama. Two close families fall apart when the daughter of one seduces the father of the other. 90 minutes Color 2012.
★★
Yes, but where is the fun in it? It’s a sex farce played serious, “for real,” at the pitch of a dirge, Bugs Bunny in a hearse. The great ones, Allison Janney and Oliver Platt, look as if they are about to jump out of their britches at any moment with the humor of the situation, but they are never allowed to reveal that humor in any way, since the rest are playing it on the level of TV soap, that is to say, for a small screen whose emotional responses, on the huge Big Screen, are facial and patented. Moues to mark an emotion, but which look gauche, mechanical, copied, and huge. The two principles need to be played by Steve Martin and any one of Goldie Hawn’s daughters. By which I mean actors with a point of view. Catherine Keener is woefully miscast, and, in any case is not an actor with the sort of comic mania for retribution that would permit her to drive her car killing dead all the Christmas lawn decorations of her husband’s home. Oh, to have seen Bette Midler play that scene: the relish in her wicked eye! There is moreover no connection between any of the members of the two households, either in writing or acting. You never believe they are related or married to one another, and I sat through the whole film not being able to sort out or remember who was the child of whom and the husband and wife of whom, and there are only seven principles in the cast. The premise is that the families have become constricted, lifeless, and routine. But routine marriages do not stay together with flimsy glue. They may not be lively, they may not be sexual, but they are held together by important natural habits of financial custodianship, regulation of meals, and tact. But not here. Platt is a collector of idiotic gadgets; Janney never listens to him and pesters her daughter. Only their negative routines are shown, never the routines that ground their lives as two families bound together and as individuals bound to one another. So in condemning the routine, the film becomes routine. But the problem with the film is not just this, or that its actors do TV acting (I exclude Janney and Platt from this denomination), but that the director and writers seem not to have seen the material for the sex farce it is. A wonderful title for a farce: The Oranges. And, instead, alas, all one can do is throw a little fruit at it.

 

Life In The Time Of War

19 Sep

Life During War – directed by Todd Solondz. Satirical Drama. The effect of child molesters on their families. 97 minutes Color 2009.

* * * *

The title is not only counter-invitational but inaccurate, and if it is not inaccurate it is pretentious, and if it is not pretentious it is SYMBOLIC, like someone’s dirty underwear turned inside out and hung up on the clothesline as though it were washed. The picture is also oddly photographed with color filters which make it all seem to be taking place inside a jukebox. This distances it from us. This is odd because the content of the scenes would be intimate if the written responses were plausible which they often aren’t: A mother telling her ten-year-old boy about her love life, a couple being spit at in a restaurant, a ten-year-old boy taking on because he believes he is being molested. To make any of this work, requires acting skill of a genius which some of the actors do not possess. The final scene of the picture is so badly written it is unactable, and is acted badly, and the scene leading up to it likewise. This leaves us with Allison Janney, the great, playing an inane housewife whose husband is jailed for molestation, and everything she does is on the money, both in terms of physical movement and in terms of tone. Shirley Henderson, the English Jennifer Jason Leigh, plays a forty year old woman dressed like a child, except without a child’s gumption. The character is hard to take but not impossible to take, because her lines ring true. And then there is Charlotte Rampling terrifying as a monster picked up in a bar by Ciarán Hinds and perfectly illustrative of the toilsome nature of sex. Renée Taylor is a welcome sight as the Jewish mother of three daughters, the last of whon is played by Ally Sheedy in a brilliantly set and played scene of consummate Hollywood self-involvement. Ciarán Hinds looms gravely, tragically, throughout the film, finally turning up in the background of the last scene as though he could actually resume relations with the Janney wife whose banality would have helped drive him off to start with. She’s not a woman with ideals but only idealizations. There is no conversation possible with her. She can only lie and not know it. The picture is a sequel, with different actors, to the director’s Happiness. It is well worth watching, but not because of its theme of forgiveness, for people never seem to say, “I’m sorry,” but only “Forgive me,” which is not the same thing at all. But still the hand of the director is unusual in its lifelines and worth regarding in its truths and untruths.

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The Help

16 Aug

The Help – Directed by Tate Taylor. Magnificent Feat Drama. An ambitious Mississippi Junior Leaguer decides to make a secret collection of the  recollections of the other Junior Leaguers’ colored maids. 137 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

Have you ever heard of invisible ink? Well, The Help is the story of an invisible revolution. It all goes on completely underground, until one day the lemon juice of publication brings the revolution into the embarrassing light of day.

The book is devoid of description, but told solely in monologue of what the characters are thinking and dialogue between them. This gives an inside picture, naturally somewhat lost to the film, but the film gives an outside picture of the world of the Mississippi town, standing-in for Jackson, where it was originally set, and a view of the characters in the round.

As a film it is amateurly directed and edited. Someone says something to the camera; the camera shifts to someone saying something back; the camera shift back to what the first person says.  This bashes any sense of what really lies between people, and leaves us only with character reactions. And the result is that the actors’ work tends to be emotionalized: that is the actor will produce the emotion concurrent with registering righteous satisfaction in having the emotion. It is TV acting at its basest, self-congratulatory to the max.

The beautiful Cicely Tyson, the great Allison Janney, Oscar winners Mary Steenburgen and Sissy Spacek all bring their chops to provide a strata of foundation stone to the story. Bryce Dallas Howard gives a ruthlessly honest performance as the control freak Hilly. Jessica Chastain (the mother in The Tree Of Life) startles as the Dolly Parton white trash millionairess.

Octavia Spenser and Viola Davis play the leading roles of the maids who are the first to sign on to speak their secret memoirs, records of the pain and beauty of their servitude. There is a moment when Davis pulls her arm away from the consolation of Spenser that will make you weep to behold. The director is clumsy with these actors, but their skill and dignity win through.

The character of the young woman inspired to gather these recollections would appear to be a hard role to play, but it is done beyond the call of duty by Emma Stone.

The entire endeavor is too self-satisfied to get away with itself, but the fundamental story is a good one and is honored. I don’t know if you will love it if you haven’t read the book, but I say it’s, like the creation of the memoirs themselves, worth a try.

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Love & Distrust

29 Apr

Love & Distrust – Directed by Eric Kimetz. Anthology. Variations on misbegotten relationships with the world and the self. 93 minutes Color 2010.

*

Scuzzy stories all. With one exception, the acting is Improvisation At Its Worst. The problem with Improvisation is that it does not fall into the category of Acting but that of Performance Art. Performance art includes Preaching and Public Speaking and Stand Up Comedy. Stand Up Comics cannot really act. Bob Hope, Robin WIlliams, Jim Carrey, Martha Rae, Carole Burnett  all  possess and are posssessed by the Entertainers Virus, which pushes them over-the-top or to one side of acting a part. Improvisation means that the actor takes a situation and on the spot makes up a script around it. This turns the actors into fast-food playwrights, and it reduces their acting skills to everyday schtick. None of the actors here are Performance Artists, but straight actors, and, being asked to be what they are not, we don’t really see good acting either, and none of them are good playwrights. The one exception is Allison Janney, who, in a huge limo, white as a baby coffin, bemoans the loss of her lover and then picks up a teen age hustler on the corner. She is excruciatingly funny. She gets the star here. The rest of them should hang their heads in shame and stick to their craft.

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The Chumscrubber

21 Apr

The Chumscrubber — Directed by Arie Posin. Community Satire. Teenagers create their own adventures among oblivious parents. 108 minutes Color 2005.

* * * * *

It unreels like a perfect film and maybe it is. 19 year old Jamie Belle, who beguiled us dancing through Billy Elliot, is the driving force of this picture, no particular of whose story shall I reveal to you. The perfection of the film can be accounted for by excellent direction, a marvelous screenplay, and by the playing of its senior actors, each one of whom seizes on the tone of the screenplay and plays each part brilliantly. I’ll simply name them: the great-hearted Allison Janney, the virtuoso actress Glenn Close, William Fitcher, Ralph Fiennes, John Heard, Carrie-Anne Moss, Rita Wilson — all of them, some of them acting scenes with one another without even seeing one another, carry the satire all the way to the store and back — each one playing a present but distant parent, in this film in which everyone, parents and children alike, are all slightly mad. The director/writer Arie Posin and Zack Stanford had beginner‘s mind and luck. And with James Horner, they even had a great musical score On the small screen, the Chumscrubber leitmotif is lost, as are other details, but it does not matter because the script is so strong. Here the utopian suburbia becomes a dystopia in which justice cannot be done and whose poison pellet is a certain boy madder than the others, but the dystopia of the post apocalyptic world of The Chumscrubber TV cartoon, which everyone watches to the exclusion of everything else, actually presents a utopian dystopia, where justice is done instinctually. Never mind that. Just see it. You’ll rejoice.

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Winter Solstice

18 Apr

Winter Solstice — Directed and Written by Josh Sternfeld. Domestic Drama. A father and his two teenage sons struggle to hold things together. 89 minutes Color 2004

**

Why do screenwriters steal from screenwriters? The tradition goes so far back it should by now agree to fall into the dark of prehistory. For the result is that screen scripts play like screen scripts and not like any recognizable form of real speech and action, and worse: play without any responsibility to entertain. In real life, humans have more zest, more character, more wit, than what is borrowed from screen scripts. No one in this movie talks like any human really talks, or responds as people really respond. In fact, they don’t even breathe like anyone really breathes. If the pauses had been deleted the picture would have been quicker than a cartoon. Films, drama depend upon having interesting people in them to say interesting things; it’s a must, and no actor in this picture, in and of himself (unless you’re someone on the order of Spenser Tracy, Edward G. Robinson) has sufficient natural interest with which to fill those Mojave pauses. Competent acting is not enough. Allison Janney alone brings her richness of humor before us for our blessed relief. If you watch her negotiate this paltry script, you can see how her natural gift supplants every platitude  and every longueur with life. As to the rest, it is tv acting at its most deplorable. The screenwriter’s choices are viciously dull. When the boys are not insolent they are sappy. When the father is not dreary, he is weak. If people were really like this, one would certainly not want to make a film about them, would one; indeed, were life like this, one would not even wish to be alive.

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10 Things I Hate About You!

03 Apr

10 Things I Hate About You — directed by Gil Junger – Teen Comedy. “The Taming Of The Shrew” transposed to a Seattle High School.  97 minutes color 1999

* * * *

Some wild scenes with the great Allison Janney as the dirty-minded Guidance Counselor open this show, and I wish they had continued. What we do see and hear is a spritely-written piece played at a clip. What it is, of course, is an update of Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew. And the characters pleasantly keep the old names: Petruchio becomes Patrick, Kate and Bianca have the last name of Stratford, and Kate even has a recantation speech at the end, in the form of a parody Shakespearean sonnet. It’s quite sweet. We also have Heath Ledger as the lead, and one wonders why. He is an odd actor. Here as Petruchio he seems to have too much weight upon him, and I don’t mean physical weight. But he seems much older than the others. His face and his way are those of a mature male not of a high-school senior. And there is something heavy within him. I think it’s just a question of miscasting here, perhaps because he was an actor without wit. One thing that makes him sound older is that he had the most beautiful deep speaking voice one has ever heard, not always properly projected. He’s sexy and good looking in an unusual way. I know he was miscast in the Casanova picture, where wit and intelligence and flair are absolutely required, as are a very raffish and pro-active sexuality, which Ledger has not. Maybe he was just an interesting actor of limited means who was hard to cast. I don’t know. I wonder what he would have become had he lived. I wish he had. We see him no more, and in this film, just as in the original play, after the pre-scene, we see the naughty Allison Janney no more also. Alas!

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Our Very Own

03 Feb

Our Very Own — directed by Cameron Watson. Comedy. Five Teenagers await the return of a movie star to their small town, while their parents’ marriages go off a cliff. 106 minutes Color 2005.

* * * *

I watched this to see the redoubtable Allison Janney, and I was not disappointed. She plays her scenes full-out and yet somehow manages to stay within the confines of the role in the situation perfectly. I don’t understand how she does it. I guess every young actor should steal from this masterful actor, but I suppose such things cannot be learned but only given as gifts from God. She certain was given the ability to memorize lines on sight, and this frees her to her depths to apply herself to the scene. She is an actor with a happy heart. I hope Oscars come teeming towards her in the days to come. Otherwise, I thought the piece beautifully acted by everyone else as well, except for Keith Carradine who really cannot hold the screen and never has been able to. But I don’t mind him; he has not much to do here, except be not present when he is needed. He is Janney’s drunkard husband, in full denial of the disaster he has brought upon his wife, his home, his children, and his community. The subplot involving their kids is sappy, but the sense of a real place in the real South rings true, and the five youngsters who are chums are very good each in their own way. Jason Ritter is simple and appealing and good looking and not too interested, thank goodness, in projecting a charm which the director might mistake for anything more than the calculation of youth. And Autumn Reeser opposite him is lovely and convincing in everything she does. The picture is home-made blueberry pie, unlike How To Deal, another teen-flick in which Janney plays a housewife with a husband in dereliction of duty. That one is gummy. This one is yummy.

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