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Archive for the ‘Helen Mirren: acting goddess’ Category

The Hundred Foot Journey

18 Nov

The Hundred-Foot Journey – directed by Lasse Halleström. Gastronomical Romance. 122 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: The melding of classic French and classic East Indian cultures and cuisines unites four lovers of food and one another.

~

Do not waste the 35 seconds it takes to read the following.

The personalities of a French country restaurant serving classic cuisine do battle with the spices and innovation that waft over from across the street.

Helen Mirren has created one of her not infrequent masterpieces of human character in Madam Mallory, the restauranteuse. She can’t stand that her Michelin star is 100 feet across the road where an Indian family has moved to a village in France to open their Indian restaurant there. The young master-chef is played by handsome dish Manish Dayal. The luminous light of India shines from beneath his rich, honest brows. Om Puri is the paterfamilias of the six young Indians who build the restaurant from scratch. He is an actor of triple subtexts, delicious to watch and enjoy. And the sou-chef from Mirren’s kitchen who helps and falls in love with Manish Dayal is played by the angel-food actress Charlotte Le Bon.

Do not read farther. You have been forbidden. Your job is mouth watering. Your job is appreciation of your own good taste. Your job is to draw up your chair and feast on this movie.

If Helen Mirren at her best were not enough, the heart-warming story would be. And if that were not enough, the Steven Spielberg production would be.

And if you know how it will end from the very beginning, so what? The virtue of a ritual lies not in the novelty of its form but in the freshness of the truth it contains.

What are you sitting there for? Get to your Netflix, nip down to your library and take out the DVD. It’s less than a 100-foot journey to your own delight.

 

 

 

 

The 100-Foot Journey

24 Oct

The Hundred-Foot Journey – directed by Lasse Halleström. Gastronomical Romance. 122 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: The melding of classic French and classic East Indian cultures and cuisines unites four lovers of food and one another.

~

Do not waste the 35 seconds it takes to read the following.

The personalities of a French country restaurant serving classic cuisine do battle with the spices and innovation that waft over from across the street.

Helen Mirren has created one of her not infrequent masterpieces of human character in Madam Mallory, the restauranteuse. Her Michelin star is 100 feet across the road from the Indian family who move to a village in France to open their restaurant there. The young master-chef is played by handsome dish Manish Dayal. The luminous light of India shines from beneath his rich, honest brows. Om Puri is the paterfamilias of the six young Indians who build the restaurant from scratch. He is an actor of triple subtexts, delicious to watch and enjoy. And the sou-chef from Mirren’s kitchen who helps and falls in love with Manish Dayal is played by the angel-food actress Charlotte Le Bon.

Do not read farther. You have been forbidden. Your job is mouth watering. Your job is appreciation of your own good taste. Your job is to draw up your chair and feast on this movie.

If Helen Mirren at her best were not enough, the heart-warming story would be. And if that were not enough, the Steven Spielberg production would be.

And if you know how it will end from the very beginning, so what? The virtue of a ritual lies in the truth it contains.

What are you sitting there for? Get to your Netflix, nip down to your library and take out the DVD. It’s less than a 100-foot journey to your own delight.

 

 

 

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: INTERNATIONAL REALISTIC, Helen Mirren: acting goddess

 

Eye In The Sky

01 May

Eye In The Sky – directed by Gavin Hood. Thriller. 102 minutes Color 2016

★★★★

The Story: A little girl selling bread near an important drone target is the focus of the tension between the commander of the drone operation and the young man trained to pull the trigger on the target.

~

The story approaches absurdity as one higher-up after another is called upon to okay the pulling of the trigger. It skips over The Queen and would have landed on the crowded desk of God if things had gone on any further.

Why the heck are the Brits in command of a target upon which an American soldier must open fire? This curious distortion of the film holds one subconsciously in check as one watches. Its unposed question seals us in suspense as the surface difficulties regarding the little girl weave the protagonists in a cats cradle of difficulties.

Around the conference table pace and halt Alan Rickman, Jeremy Northam, and ranks of cellphones pulled tight as red-tape strangles everyone.

What makes the film work is the charm of the child on the one hand, which we get in following her day, her family, her tasks. And set against these, two people who never get to know her as we get to know her.

These two are Helen Mirren who, in a parallel line to her Detective-inspector Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect, runs the operation from a War Room and urges the immolation of the child at every turn – every turn turned-down.

The effectiveness of the entire film, however, depends upon the casting of the actor whose job it is to aim the drone and fire it. The film would not work at all without the presence of the particular actor the producers have hired.

Aaron Paul eyes possess the rare capacity to register an internal moral certainty being deeply questioned by the authority of external information coming at him. This was the quality that sustained Breaking Bad throughout its six seasons.

Paul’s ability to do this as an actor places the entire story in our shoes. His presence, the presence of those eyes, is a narrative necessity. And his strength, which the story requires, to sustain this balance, this question, this quandary, and to act upon it is the real story that supplants all the rest.

 

Trumbo

05 Dec

Trumbo – directed by Jay Roach. Biopic. 123 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: US Congress & Hollywood-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo undergoes hard adventures surviving it.

~

Bryan Cranston, an actor I have never heard of before, seizes the role of the principled black-listed screen writer in his teeth and never lets go – which fits the part down to the ground. For Trumbo, whatever his gifts may have been, must be considered as more than a perdurable survivalist and more than just someone who couldn’t stop writing screenplays. He stood by his guns, even when they seem to have been pointing at himself.

It’s Oscar time, and so we get various heroic biopics, from which we are to choose a best actor. Mind you, we are not picking someone from a best drama. For, really, you know, civics lessons may be dramas of a sort but they are not dramas of the most victorious sort.

But they sure can be informative and a lot of fun. Such as when John Goodman, a producer, hires Trumbo to churn out scripts for his B-minus movies, and Trumbo ropes in his other out-of-work screenwriters to supply the deficiency. Or such as when Kirk Douglas, an opportunist of the first water, outstrips Otto Preminger in being first in giving Trumbo screen credit after Trumbo’s years of being blacklisted. And, yes, Preminger actually did say that: when Trumbo retorted, to Preminger’s complaint that every scene of Trumbo’s screenplay for Exodus must be brilliant, that, if every scene were brilliant, the story would be monotonous, Preminger actually did say: “Make them all brilliant, and I will direct unevenly.”

Trumbo’s writing by his own admission tended to the verbose and sentimental, and Cranston by his very being perhaps captures this. His is an extravagant face. It is a true actor’s face, full of moment and potential humor. It is not given to small expression but expression writ large. And this counts for everything, because it is not the face of a Hollywood hero, not the face of someone who is immune from slings and arrows.

Of course, in Hollywood all writer are outsiders, so it is as well that he does not look like Gregory Peck, but like someone who would definitely not be in a movie. Moreover, he is the only actor I have ever seen playing one whom I believed actually was a writer. The scrip enforces this by making him churn out his stuff by the truckload.

The story is well told, and Trumbo certainly had formidable opposition: The FBI, The Hollywood Producers, and most powerful of all, Hedda Hopper, whom Helen Mirren brings to millinery life for us.

The issue of naming names before a Congressional hearing is still moot. The real issue is, not whether the witnesses were or were not un-American, but whether Congress was. By which I mean un-Constitutional. Trumbo puts us in thought about it all.

 
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Posted in BioDrama, Diane Ladd, Helen Mirren: acting goddess, John Goodman

 

Woman In Gold

16 Apr

Woman In Gold – directed by Alexei Kaye Campbell. Docudrama. 109 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: A Los Angles shopkeeper explores her right to reclaim a painting stolen from the walls her the family’s apartment by the Nazis 70 years before.

~

Whether or not you consider Gustav Klimt’s work to be Liberace on canvas or not or have no view of or knowledge of it one way or another, this docudrama is simple, straightforward, and arresting. There is nothing special about its acting or its direction, and there doesn’t have to be.

Rather there is the sense of a thread unfolding into an enormous carpet stretching from California, right through The United States Supreme Court, to the grandeurs of Vienna where it encounters a bureaucracy of Olympic rigidity.

The painting in question is not simply worth over $130,000,000. Its real worth is that it is the portrait of the belovèd aunt of Maria Altmann and hung over the fireplace of the luxurious home she lived in until she was married and the Nazis came to steal everything , kill its occupants, and deposit the painting in the Belvedere Art Museum of Vienna, where it became the iconic painting for the city itself. It was called The Woman In Gold rather than the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, for, of course, she was Jewish.

The movie covers all the unlikely sides of this attempt at restitution. The case is handled by an inexperienced lawyer, well and honestly played by Ryan Reynolds. Frau Altmann is played by Helen Mirren, as the upper class woman she was, well bred, and resigned to forget the past, until she wasn’t. They are ably supported by Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth McGovern, Charles Dance, Frances Fisher, Jonathan Pryce, and others.

The story, rather than the picture, carries the picture. It is a plain basket and does its job stoutly. It never betrays its material. And my suspense in its outcome, even though I knew it beforehand, since its headlines involved the most expensive painting in the world, continued until I was gratified and enlarged to learn how it ultimately came to survive.

 

The Last Station

05 Feb

The Last Station – directed by Michael Hoffman. Biodrama. 82 year-old Leo Tolstoi, both novelist and utopian guru battles both sides of his work, and flees the fray to fall ill in a railway station, while the world watches. 112 minutes Color 2010.
★★★★★
Five stars for Helen Mirren who plays every scene all out, God bless her, and who makes Sophia Tolstoi the heroine of the piece without contest from the start.

Several factors mitigate toward this mistake, and they all lie in the blame of the director/writer. He does not have a clear intention as to the story he is telling. If it is about love, well then, we know what everyone else loves, but what does Tolstoi love? Does he love the idea that his noble work will go on after he dies, and so takes his royalties of his life and work from his wife and children and hands them over to the chief administrator of the Tolstoi legend – with its hortatory texts, its communes all over the place, its passionate socialistic practices and platforms, and its vast and statuesque reputation and influence – Gandhi learned passive resistance at Tolstoi’s feet.

If so, we are never given a single instance upon what that influence was based that so many should abject themselves before it and follow him and it with unswerving and self-sacrificing devotion. In an attempt to avoid the trap of portraying a genius, the director/writer has portrayed him as a plate of potatoes. But what are people, what is the whole world responding to? Never does Christopher Plummer, who is wonderful in the part, ever have a single line that would suggest this was a man of revolutionary ideals.

The second error the director makes was either to cast Paul Giamatti as the administrator or to allow him to play him as a heavy from the start – forever twirling his mustaches like the villain from the old play. No, we must believe in the administrator’s innocence, his noble motives, and the purity of his ideals. If we don’t trust and back him, then Helen Mirren is without competition and the story is a foregone conclusion.

The third error is to have cast James McEvoy as Tolstoi’s tyro secretary. He is never believable. To the same degree as he was believable in The Last King Of Scotland is he unconvincing here. He is hammy from start to finish, making big scowling eyes like Barrymore. He plays too knowingly a character who knows nothing.

This leaves us with Christopher Plummer as Tolstoi. Sixty years ago I saw him in Stratford Ontario In Henry IV with Jason Robards as Hotspur and the two of them again in A Winter’s Tale, and I saw him on the Broadway stage in Arturo Ui, The Lark, J.B.; he was nothing more than a conventional actor with a good voice, cold. But he has grown with time. The older he gets the better he gets; he is almost a different actor entirely. May he live long and often.

Leo Tolstoi was the greatest writer of death scenes who ever lived, and his own surpassed any he ever wrote. The movie misfires by not knowing what it is about, and scanting the farcical elements of its finale which Tolstoi, great humorist that he was, would never have missed for a minute. Too bad. The movie is well filmed, beautifully costumed and set, and completely convincing as having been shot in Russia, which, of course, it was not.

 

Public Enemies

14 Dec

Public Enemies – directed by Michael Mann – action adventure drama . Bank robber John Dillinger is hunted down by idealist G-man Melvin Purvis. 2 hours and 20 minutes color 2009.

**

Shot with an impenetrable suavity that dooms it, we are kept from this picture even as we try to penetrate its tricks, its angles, its lighting, its attitude of Aren’t We Making A Movie Though! For it is a movie, not about its characters or story, but about Movie Making. Yet, for all its technical virtuosity, it is badly recorded, so one cannot hear what people say. Christian Bale, he of the face of shattered glass, plays Melvin Purvis the man who tracks down John Dillinger in 1934 , but although false calling seems to be the key to his character, we have no sense that Purvis is in the wrong profession, beyond a certain natural distaste for the distasteful aspects of it. This is partly because Depp’s line to Bale about it is inaudible, and partly because Bale is an English actor playing a Southern aristocrat, and Southern aristocrats have hotter blood, hot blood being a gift beyond Bale’s capacity. Cold blood, yes, hot blood no. Johnny Depp is playing a part ideally suited to Brad Pitt, that is to say the part of a man whose sexual appeal seduces everyone in sight, male or female and who is a lot of fun. And Marion Cottillard is appealing but she too is not American. She brings a great deal to the part, and is probably the best actor up there, but she has everything but Van Camp’s Pork And Beans, which is the one thing you need in that role. The shame and the blame lies with the director, though. The nine-lives story of Dillinger’s elusive, cat-like, getaways and the drying up of his career are clear and interesting and cautionary for us all. On his deathbed, Dillinger, wearing a Clark Gable mustache, watched Gable in Manhattan Murder. Public Enemies needed to be shot with the simple plainness of the gangster movies of its era, the 30s, instead of as this affected and fancy farrago.

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RED

23 Oct

RED –– directed by Robert Schwentke–– an action spy comedy adventure in which a bouquet of experienced old-time CIA assassins come out of retirement when a past score starts to be settled against them. Color 2010

* * * * *

Ernest Borgnine at 94 is in fine form here as the keeper of the very most secret of all the files in the world. And our acting staff is all over 50, or is it 60? ––  and, like him, at the top of their game. Bruce Willis, always an excellent actor in the right roll, is particularly droll in registering the humor of the situation. Morgan Freeman plays the old reliable, and Helen Mirren and Brian Cox play former lovers rekindling their oomph amid the flames and firestorms of the genre. What makes the piece worth seeing is its unfolding until those firestorms start, at which time the wit stops, for it is impossible to be quite jolly and lighthearted while the Uzis fire. Or whatever that weaponry is. And besides the story then departs the arena of the possible and dashes into the arena of the improbable, and from that quickly seethes into the arena of the impossible, when Richard Dryfuss enters the picture and introduces the Vice-President of the United States as the man behind the man behind the man behind the woman, whom Rebecca Pidgeon plays with her usually chilling affect. It’s more than the comedy will bear. For the film is one step away in its fine early stages from an Abbott and Costello film, with Freeman, Willis, and Mirren all playing Costello and John Malkovich playing Abbott, the only serious lunatic in the bunch. Mary-Louse Parker is particular responsive and funny in the Dorothy Lamour role –– or is that from another series entirely? Oh, yes. But what then? She could have been in an Abbott and Costello film, couldn’t she? The piece is well written in its early stages of the preposterous, by which I mean in terms of narrative and dialogue and editing, and very well told by the director. It is when it devolves into the preposterously preposterous that expectations drop. But, never mind. Just expect them to.

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