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Archive for the ‘Diane Keaton: acting goddess’ Category

The Book Club

03 Jun

The Book Club – directed by Bill Holderman. Romantic Comedy. 144 minutes Color 2018.
★★★★★
The Story: Four older ladies decide to reinvent their sex lives.
~
I loved fucking in the days when I did it, and it loved me. But this movie is not about men fucking, but about women not fucking and wishing they were and doing something about it. The jokes are vaginal and good and ready. The four actresses who deliver them are good at that and very funny – or they would not be good at at that. All of them miss the hardon no longer inside them. None of them miss love.

The women seek fucking. They find men. But the men seek love. And each lady makes her way by meeting up with what she did not dare to expect or risk if she came upon it: The Palace Of Perils Of Love.

With The Amusement Park Of Fornication thrown in.

They all start on their adventure by reading a book called Fifty Shades Of Grey. I have not read it, but evidently it bestirs these ladies to revisit their sex lives.

They are played by actresses whose ages vary from Jane Fonda aged 80, Candice Bergen and Diane Keaton aged 72, and Mary Steenburgen aged 65. But they are all presented as ageless beauties of that uncertain age called “contemporaries.”

Although we are not told that, the men they meet are younger — and, unlike the actresses, are unrecognizable, for, while all of the actresses have been before us on the silver screen in leading roles in recent movies, none of the men have – so I see the men as strangers – as does each woman as she meets him.

Andy Garcia plays a multimillionaire pilot whom recent widow Diane Keaton must fly from in order not to offend her grown children. Don Johnson, who has no known income (as befits his established screen persona), woes ice-queen Jane Fonda. And Federal Court Judge Candice Bergen assumes nothing good will come of her dinner date with the accountant played by the diminutive Richard Dreyfus.

The recipe is for a Hollywood Romantic Comedy. It is the sort of film that, pre-Doris Day, did not exist, nor did it exist in the ‘30s and would never have been made with older actresses. Nor did it exist when these four actresses themselves were young. But these four have aged before us through middle age and now into antiquity in major roles such as none of the male stars opposite them have been able to do. With the pleasing result that Jane Fonda aged 80 mates with Don Johnson aged 68, a fox devouring a wolf.

Such a film must stick to the Hollywood Romantic Comedy recipe laid down for our guidance. Which means, for the story to end happily, which it must do, its incidents must surprise our expectation into suspense.

It also must have witty dialogue.

And it must have comic genius in the playing.

It does not have to be true to life in any of this. Verisimilitude is not an ingredient in the recipe for Hollywood Romantic Comedy, ever. And crassness and coarseness are incensorable.

How does The Book Club rank as Hollywood Romantic Comedy?

Its plot twists are often fun enough to be adorable.

The wit of its dialogue is particularly fetching when the four ladies gather together to express it.

And the comic genius of the four actresses is at a peak.

Mary Steenburgen is endearing. Her genius is simplest: her comedy depends upon her being always The Foolish Virgin.

Jane Fonda’s comedy depends not upon her sense of humor (she perhaps has none) but upon the ability of her acerbic tongue to wring the most bite from her lines. Her persona on screen is, as usual, She Who Stands Alone.

The only actress of the four who actually has a sense of humor is Candice Bergen. Which means her sense of humor comes from including herself in every joke she makes. She’s the funniest of all of them. And she is given the right lines to say and the right things to do. (Check her out with the ice cream.) She is marvelous. Her underlying screen persona is her tried-and-true I Cannot Believe I Ended Up Here.

Diane Keaton’s comedy does not depend on a sense of humor, does not depend on what she is as a human in a chair, as does Candice Bergen’s, but on what she in motion does. She is a sort of Garbo of physical comedy, and, like Garbo’s, her acting depends upon a display of inner volatility refreshing muscular and emotional movement. As an actress, she is highly technical, perfectly planned, a through-instrument. Her comedy-central mind probably lies somewhere near her sacroiliac. Her persona is, as before, Paranoid. Her paranoia makes her readable. Without it, as an actress, she is opaque.

But she is not so here. And one of the great acting passages in film history is achieved in The Book Club by Diane Keaton in a scene I shall not destroy by preparing you for it.

Safeway sheet-cakes have certain virtues, one of which is that they sometimes taste better than they look. The Hollywood Romantic Comedy invariably calls for too much icing – you just have to swallow that. But the costumes of The Book Club by Shay Cunliffe are rare in their discretion and aptness. The director, Bill Holderman, co-wrote and co-produced The Book Club, and I can see no fault in his execution of the form.

Hollywood Romantic Comedy I generally spurn. But I love these four ladies. I’ve loved them for years. I’m glad they’re working. And comedy is where all four of them belong! I’m glad to be in front of them, still watching, still receiving such pleasure watching.

 

And So It Goes …

04 Apr

And So It Goes… directed by Lasse Halström. Comedy. 94 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story: a sardonic widower lives next to a lugubrious widow, and they become entangled in one another’s doings.

~

I rented it to see Diane Keaton’s smile – always a tonic to me, and to enjoy her ruthless spontaneity. What surprised me was Michael Douglas as the guy next door. So what appears to be and is a conventional happy-ending-modern-comedy whose outcome one inhales as it first draws breath, turns out to be a top notch comedy of character. 

Comedy of character. A rare thing. And both these entertainers are pushing 70! So they don’t have a moment to lose. 

Diane Keaton sings a number of songs as a lounge singer starting out. I wish she had been allowed to do one all the way through. But she’s a great singer, is our Diane. And Douglas is a real estate salesman who keep his foot in his mouth throughout. 

The surprise in this picture is Douglas’s performance as an idiot coot. He actually is able to create a character!!!! This is wonderful to see. His character is cranky and foolish and completely lacking in polish. But all this is a the gift of a script which is unexpectedly rich and which he rewards with a character study of the sort you never for a moment thought he was capable of. 

The story is ordinary, but the dialogue and acting isn’t. 

We have the admixture of Keaton’s storied technique, which is entirely welcome always, in an admixed with Douglas’s extreme acting, and it works just dandy. You’ll be surprised. 

It’s a popcorn movie. But still an unusual treat.

 

 

 

 
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Posted in Diane Keaton: acting goddess, Melvyn Douglas, ROMANTIC COMEDY

 

Surrender, Dorothy

01 Nov

Surrender, Dorothy – Directed by Charles McDougall. Drama.  The mother of a deceased girl moves in with her daughter’s roommates. 87 minutes Color 2006.

* * * * *

Well, an actress has to work, and when a highly professional big star like Diane Keaton is given full rein in a 20-day, low budget TV drama, watch out. This part should have been played by a Jewish actress whose grieving style might make this story swallowable. But Keaton, an actress of genius, has, without rehearsal, the liberty to quirk things up, and it is her only recourse, since she is miscast. Or that she refuses to play anything except for comedy. The direction, since there was no time for rehearsal, makes one suppose the director is a dullard, which apparently he is as he is involved in, count them, two commentaries, one side by side with Keaton, who has the decency to say little, although she does give some interesting cues as to her method – and the other with one of the greatest cinema-photographers in the world, Vlamos Zsigmund, who shot this picture. Anyone interested in how films are shot must dwell upon this interview. Because of the strength of his Hungarian accent he is often difficult to understand, but don’t let that stand in your way. Don’t let Keaton’s costuming stand in your way either. She descends on the summer cottage which her just-dead daughter has rented with friends, and, to the horror of those friends, she moves in and proceeds to put on her daughter’s clothes. But are they her daughter’s clothes? The wee bowler hat lets me know they are rather the costumer’s foolish submission to the Keaton sartorial style — the clothes the movie star Keaton would look, at the age of 60, cute in., and so the force and grotesqueness of the impersonation is lost. All the scenes are beautifully shot and badly directed. The other actors are reduced to their default routines, and Keaton overacts. And what we are left with is a new mode of drama invented here for the first time: Cute Tragedy. But, if you can’t stomach the picture, check out the commentaries.

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Running Mates

18 Oct

Running Mates – Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Political Comedy 92 minutes Color 1992

* * * * *

Yes, of course you know it’s going to turn out well. All you’re supposed to care about is the cleverness of the array of obstacles to it. Diane Keaton is perfectly cast as the dame off whose tongue gaffes fall trippingly. No one has achieved flusterdom on the screen with such brilliance since Jean Arthur. With Keaton, of course, you cannot do anything but veer toward comedy. She’s never going to play Clytemnestra. Her touch is too light. But she is an actor of genius. She looks like she is making everything up, stumbling along, not knowing which way to turn, and blurting out her lines this way and that. But the fact is every word she utters is scripted, and every move musically right. The same was true of Bing Crosby whom she resembles in nonchalance and aplomb. He never ad-libbed anything. Keaton is 46 here and looks 36, which is the age she is playing, opposite Ed Harris who is butch but with dimples. He is miscast, since he has no sense of humor, but they are very good in their scenes together, and of course it is her you watch. She draws focus even when she doesn’t, because you expect her to. The picture is a good Hollywood political comedy along the lines of State Of The Union with Hepburn and Tracy, good middle-class comedy, well-mounted in all departments. Keaton won her Oscar for Annie Hall which she made when she was 31. The shelf life of pretty actresses is usually not of the duration hers has proven to be. Thank goodness she has never abandoned ship. Comedy is her preservative. Twenty years later she is still before us, and we are blessed to be able to watch her ply her craft, one of the great techniques ever to appear before us on screen. A full body craft. Watch how she makes her exits, if you want to know how an actor of genius gets it done.

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Crossed Over

03 Dec

Crossed Over – directed by Bobby Roth — a novelist who has lost her son in a hit-and-run becomes friends with a notorious murderess in prison. 89 minutes color 2002.

* * * *

It but touches on things. How could it have done otherwise? I don’t know. The hell-realm of Karla Faye Tucker would be something worth looking at, but instead of going inside, we skip along on the stones of her personal history, but we never fall in, for the script misses itself. Very sad about her, good that she had a spiritual emergence. And then was executed. That was enough. The Diane Keaton character who persistently visits Tucker after her own son is killed by a hit-and-run driver is also given the once-over. Diane Keaton is an actor of genius; her recognition scene early in the picture is stunning. Maury Chaykin is an actor of the very first rank, and he offers a lot to Keaton here; he brings a sense of her reality in him, and so we do believe they are well married. But what we are given, instead of the collusion of Keaton and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Tucker, in a mysterious joining, is pat. The tears are pat. The sorrows are pat. The rapprochements are pat. Everything is routine. It is as though history must be honored over truth; as though this were not a drama but a documentary. Jennifer Jason Leigh is well cast as the murderess. She is an actor of great brilliance, whose career has collapsed because of a failure of voice production and trained actor’s proper articulation. One never understand the words she is saying. Nonetheless she is perfectly cast here, for the part needs an actress of no personal appeal whatsoever, and such she is. The film is well-directed and very well filmed. The prison mis-en-scene is uncannily right. But where is the power of a real story?

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Running Mates

02 Dec

Running Mates – directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg – political comedy in which his outspoken fiancée almost saws down a presidential timber – 88 minutes color 1992.

* * * * *

Yes, of course you know it’s going to turn out well. All you’re supposed to care about is the cleverness of the array of obstacles to that. Diane Keaton is perfectly cast as the dame from whose tongue gaffes fall trippingly. No one has achieved flusterdom on the screen with such brilliance and daring since Jean Arthur. With Keaton, of course, you cannot do anything but veer toward comedy. She’s never going to play Euripides’ Clytemnestra. Her touch is too light. But she’s an actor of genius. She looks like she is making everything up, stumbling along, not knowing which way to turn, and blurting out her lines this way and that. But the fact is every word she utters is strictly scripted. And every move musically right. The same was true of Bing Crosby whom she resembles in nonchalance and aplomb. He never adlibbed anything. Keaton is 46 here and looks 36, which is the age she is playing, opposite Ed Harris who is butch but with dimples. They are very good in their scenes together, but of course it is her you watch. She draws focus even when she doesn’t, because you expect her to, so you look to her for it. The picture is a good Hollywood political comedy along the lines of State Of The Union with Hepburn and Tracy, middle-class comedy, well-mounted in all departments. Keaton won her Oscar for Annie Hall which she made when she was 31. The shelf life of actresses is usually not of the duration hers has proven to be. Thank goodness she has never abandoned ship. Thirty-five years later she is still before us, and we are blessed to be able to watch her ply her craft, one of the great skills ever to appear before us on screen. A full body craft. Watch how she makes her exits, if you want to know how an actor of genius gets it done.

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Town And Country

02 Dec

Town And Country — directed by Peter Chelsom — upper class comedy in which two couples couple with others and with one another — 104 minutes color 2001.

* * * *

Warren Beatty is superb at playing men who are so dumb they can’t help but get seduced. From McCabe And Mrs Miller and the desert-duo-with-Dustin he has created this marvelous dolt — feckless, almost virginal, and rather endearing. Here he has hardly anywhere to go with it, except back into the sack with any lady bold enough to jump his bones. Andie MacDowell plays a mad girl, no matter, suddenly he is in bed playing dolls with her; the local hardware store clerk immediately rolls in the snow with him; his best friend’s wife rolls on the couch with him; Nastassja Kinsky replaces her cello with him — and all as though he had no say in the matter whatsoever. The movie is supplemented with two genius comediennes, Goldie Hawn of National Treasure Status, and Diane Keaton, perfectly cast here as Warren Beatty’s ritzy wife. Both she and Hawn are wonderful in scenes telling off their husbands. Hawn’s is played by the dubious Gary Shandling, who discovers he is gay. Well, well, but the film loses its comic force when the director thinks that embarrassing a banquet with a brannagan is in any way in and of itself funny. The running joke of dusty furniture in a high-end antique store is not funny either, and for the same reason, that it beggars credulity. People aren’t like that. High-end antique stores are not like that. However, the suavity of the film lies, of course, not in its comedy, but in its humor, and when this is achieved, we are amused — which is all we ever asked to be.

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Surrender, Dorothy

02 Dec

Surrender, Dorothy – directed by Charles McDougall – a middle class drama about a middle-aged mother hounding the ghost of her daughter – 86 minutes color 2006.

* * * * *

Well, an actress has to work, and when a highly professional big star like Diane Keaton is given full rein in a 20-day, low budget TV drama, watch out. This part should have been played by a Jewish or Mediterranean actress whose grieving style might make this story swallowable. But Keaton, an actress of genius, has, without rehearsal, only the liberty to quirk things up; forgive her, it is her only recourse, since she is miscast. The direction makes one suppose the director is a dullard, which he proves himself to be as he is involved in, count them, two commentaries, one side by side with Keaton, who has the decency to say little, although she does give some interesting clues as to her method, and the other with one of the greatest cinema-photographers in the world, Vilmos Zsigmond, who shot this picture. Anyone interested in how films are shot must dwell upon this interview. Because of the strength of his Hungarian accent, he is often difficult to understand, but don’t let that stand in your way. Do let Keaton’s costuming stand in your way, though. She descends on the summer cottage which her daughter has rented with friends, and, to the horror of those friends, she moves in and proceeds to put on her daughter’s clothes. But are they her daughter’s clothes? The wee bowler hat lets me know they are rather the costumer’s foolish submission to the Keaton sartorial style — the clothes the movie star Keaton would look, at the age of 60, cute in., and so the grotesqueness of the character’s impersonation is lost. All the scenes are beautifully shot and badly directed. The other actors are reduced to their default routines, and Keaton sometimes overacts, or turns things comic that are not. And what we are left with is a new mode of drama invented here for the first time: Cute Tragedy. But, if you can’t stomach the picture, check out the five-star commentaries.

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Plan B

22 Nov

Plan B –– directed by Greg Vaitanes –– broad gangster-comedy in which an ordinary woman is forced to be a mob assassin –– 96 minutes color 2002.

* * * * *

A good example of an actress destroying a film. First, Diane Keaton should never be allowed to choose her own wardrobe for a movie. In this one she starts as awoman roped into being a hit-lady, and her clothes are fairly nondescript. But Keaton refuses to play a drab woman –– ever –– and it’s a mistake, for she is essentially a master of her craft and a great comedienne. So presently she tosses on an Annie Hall rig that Chaplinifies the part on the one hand, that has nothing to do with the character on the other hand, and, on the third hand, disguises a third of her face and often her eyes with the brim of a bowler and various glasses. The wreckage of her attempt to make her quirky and endearing might be corrected had her performance been gauged to fit the story, but she allows her character to become broader, less confident, and more physically improbable as she gains experience with her new job, instead of less foolish, less frantic, and more contained as she gained experience with her various hand guns. Thus the comedy of character, which this performance needed to be, might have emerged from her nervous realization that she was becoming more like the mobster she was being asked to be. Very well written by Lisa Lutz, beautifully filmed by John Peters, with a superb sound track by Brian Tyler, and great set decoration by Debbie de Villa, and, for the most part, directed with such perfect visual pitch by Greg Vaitanes that at times we seem to be looking at Danny Kaye comedy directed by Kurosawa. A magnificent supporting cast carries the comic load of this film —  whose first third is top drawer until Keaton dresses up in male clothing –– Paul Sorvino, Bob Balaban, Maury Chaykin, Burt Young, John Ventimiglia, Nick Sandow, Natasha Lyonne, and an Oscar to Anthony de Sando, as the Jerry Lewis-moronic thug, who supplies invention upon invention always in character and always funny — a great actor and a jewel of a performance.

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Hanging Up

05 Nov

Hanging Up –– directed by Diane Keaton –– light comedy in which three sisters swirl around the decline of their unpredictable father –– 95 minutes color 2000

* * * * *

Diane Keaton is 54 when she acts in and directs this piece. By this time she is certainly the world’s greatest master of comic finesse. The peril for her is that this can decline into the candy of mere charm. For she has a smile the devil himself could not resist. Here, however she plays in support of Meg Ryan, whose movie this is, and which Ryan carries with a stride of certainty. A comic master herself, Ryan is 39 when she does this, and while she has mistakenly had something done to her lips that disconcerts somewhat, she still is an extraordinary artist: the most naturally appealing actress of her era. Lisa Kudrow rounds out the trio, and three more expert artists of light comedy can scarcely be imagined. The Ephron sisters wrote it, evidently on some autobiographical inspiration generated by their father, an Uproar Man, here played with daring and startling twists by Walter Matthau, probably at the very end of his career but not of his experience. Wow! The story wanders and wobbles indecisively at the end searching for a wrap-up, so don’t plan for it not to. The direction is sound, if the writing always isn’t. Asking Ryan to fall off the bed answering the phone is not what any human being would do, and therefore past the point of funny, and there are other excesses pressing for a laugh which fail, but never mind: be grateful for these three ladies, a quite interesting and eccentric comedy, and another useful challenge to our expectation of perfection.

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Lovers And Other Strangers

05 Nov

Lovers And Other Strangers –– directed by Cy Howard –– broad comedy in which marriage itself is put on the barbeque as a young couple prepares their wedding. 104 minutes Color 1970.

* * * * *

Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna wrote the play and with David Zelag Goodman adapted it very successfully for the screen. It holds up real well because the script’s gags are inherent to the material and reveal its subject, which is the unromantic structure of mating itself, lustfully sexual on one side and tedious beyond belief on the other. And everyone is superb in playing it. No one steps out of the script to roll their eyes and comment, but goes for it as is. So its lines and situations, which are sketch-like, are very funny and surprising as they arise and mature and vanish. Harry Guardino and Anne Meara are horrifyingly daring as the married couple gone dead in the bed. Gig Young is wonderful as the man who must have it every uncommitted way there is. Bea Arthur and Richard S. Castellano are super as the parents of the groom, doomed to one another and adapting to it. Bob Dishy as the masher who no one wants is marvelous, blowing ridiculously on girls’ hair, arms, ears in an attempt to arouse them. The truth of love and marriage and courting and divorce is struck over and over, winningly, movingly, if with all the subtlety of a cartoon mallet. We even have a young Diane Keaton as the to-be-ex. She is pre-emergent as an actor. But she fiddles with Arthur’s dress while Arthur lectures her; she learns her craft. Almost unrecognizable without her dazzling smile, we wait 40 years for her to come forth, as she still does. Keaton has never played a dowdy woman. Jill Clayburg has. Sartorial finesse is a dark cloak which reveals Keaton. Without it she would be framed and bound. With it, she explores freedom. Curious, no?

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The Other Sister

29 Oct

The Other Sister –– directed by Gary Marshall –– drama about the coming –of-age of a retarded young woman –– 129 minutes color 1999

* * * * *

Diane Keaton plays the rueful, rule-full mother underestimating her daughter’s capacity to live a normal life. Watch her play this person. Set aside the notion that Keaton plays everything the same, always with the same wide belt. (The belt is not in view, although the orphan-hat is.) Keaton does play everything the same way, and she doesn’t play characters either. Not a character actress, but one who can find the strain in herself that matches the inner key for the story to be told by that character, here she finds the nastiness of the authoritarian to make us shudder at the situation which she alone brings into being by it and which, in fact, is the story. Keaton is not pretty in this part; she is excellent. She moves the story deeper by strata out of the feel-good chic flick this movie actually is. The same is true of Tom Skerritt, as the father more willing to give his daughter her head. He does not do The Nice Guy Father. His scenes with Keaton are tough and rude. His love of his daughter has breadth beyond sentiment. And then, of course, we come to the remarkable Juliette Lewis. She performs a scene of public shaming in this picture that is one of the most remarkable scenes of acting ever filmed. You must see it for this reason. Lewis is not actually a sympathetic actress by temperament, because the temperament inherent in her is never one that places a value on, or even knows about, social balance. Patience, consideration, contemplation –– the want of these qualities are very useful to her in playing characters of extreme passion, and they hold her in good stead here. Has she ever played a character that didn’t say the first thing that came into her head? It’s a quality necessary for such a role as this and for all the roles she has ever played. Her roles are those of a social unconsciousness so blind it is dim-witted. She can be very funny playing them, as she moves from one spontaneous self-indulgent enthusiasm to the next. She’s a remarkable actress, never likable, often lovable, and never less than daring. An ancient rule of acting is demonstrated here for all to see: if it isn’t fearsome, it isn’t funny. Honor her. See her .

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