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Archive for the ‘Jennifer Lawrence’ Category

The Burning Plain

18 Jan

The Burning Plain – written and directed by Guillermo Arriaga. Drama. 107 minutes Color 2008.

★★

The Story: A young woman sets fire to the trailer her mother and her boyfriend are making love in and burns them to death.

~

It’s a failure on the grounds that the screenwriter who, usually works in a dovetailing mode, takes on a story which needs a classic three act construction. It is also a story whose contents he does not understand. The story he thinks he has written overlooks the story in front of his nose. Again a writer directs: again an error.

The real story is of a girl who deliberately murders her mother. In the movie this is denied by the girl, but since she is played by Jennifer Lawrence, an actress devoid of innocence, who is to believe her? No, no, instead it is an Electra story. What we need to see is her direct intention to murder her mother and her life’s response to that deed. And Jennifer Lawrence is the ideal Electra.

What obscures the mistake, but does not eliminate it, is the presence in it of two film stars, Kim Basinger and Charlize Theron. For when such women present themselves before us, we are faced with an enormous displacement of truth. For such ladies occupy a vast amount of film room. Castles topple around them. Redwoods bow down. Their mere arrival does this. This is always the case with certain film stars. With the greater truth of their very selves, they kidnap us, steal our fascination, credulity, shyness, and reason They are whales in teacups. They can’t help it. We want something good to happen to Theron. It is our nature to. And it is her nature that we should. We feel for Kim Basinger. It is our nature to. It is her nature that we should. The distraction is nobody’s fault. But their presence alone is enough to disguise that they are both performing in the wrong tale.

Basinger certainly is touching as the housewife/mother of four children, stuck nowhere, and losing her looks, maybe (which she has not) and losing her appeal, maybe (which she has not), and taking a rash bite of the apple before all apples are taken away. Her vulnerability steals our hearts.

Theron rides high as the grown-up version of Lawrence. We admire Theron’s mastery as a restaurateur. We go along with her flutters and affairs and how astonishing she looks in clothes. We wish the script afforded her an opportunity to meet the story head-on, but the real story is not there for her engagement with it.

Interesting to see Lawrence as a teenager playing one. Soon she too will grow large on the silver screen. She almost does it here. Won’t be all her doing either, but also ours.

Anyhow, it’s good for us to see how big big stars are, the space they displace, and that we just naturally accord to them. It’s just what they do. It’s just what we do.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: HOLLYWOOD CRISP, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Basinger

 

Serena

31 May

Serena – directed by Susanne Bier. Period Melodrama. 109 minutes Color 2015.

The Story: a young married couple in the early 1930’s Tennessee Smokeys strive to make their lumber business thrive against inexplicable odds.

~

A film virtually without merit, save for costumes, sets, locations.

The movie is a melodrama (which means a drama with music), because the music barges in wherever it must to supply the deficiency the actors are not providing. The direction is so stagnant one handily drives a 40-mule-team through the pauses. The director and writer fall into the fad that moving pictures demand mostly motion and little dialogue, and if movie reviews required the same I should leave off here. But humans talk. And they also respond. But here we have the two principal actors dead in one another’s water.

Bradley Cooper does not have enough personal interest to hold one’s attention on the screen as a leading man, along the lines of, say, Joel McCrea or John Wayne. As a leading man, he is empty. This might serve him well as an actor in another sort of role, but as a leading man he can do nothing more than look the part. He is the sort of hunk, such as Rory Calhoun, perfectly suited for the minor banalities of B-Westerns.

However, as a character actor, he might be something else besides, for his work in American Hustle is fun, original, quirky, and startlingly exact. As it is in Silver Linings Playbook. But not here. Not in American Sniper, either, where, maintaining groaning platitudes, he plays, as here, a vacuous man. His failure in Sniper’s failure as a film is partly due to a script which leaves unquestioned the lie of the brainwashing his character let himself in for. In and of himself, Cooper is a lead pencil. As an actor, it’s a good thing to be, but not in part such as this in Serena that needed Robert Preston. As a big lug, what he might thrive in is comedy of character. And I’d like to see him do it.

Jennifer Lawrence on her part falls into the same category of being miscast in a role that requires an actress of open sympathy, which Lawrence is not. She is entirely composed of mineral. This works well in Winter’s Bone and in American Hustle, and suggests she too is not the leading lady type. I don’t care how much “acting” she does, if you can’t care about her, she’s not right for the part. Here she plays the part of a young woman on the verge of being unhinged. Not our Jennifer. She’s not made of shale; she’s made of marble. Winter’s Bone is entirely about situation. Any actor, even one you don’t like, you’re going to root for in that situation.  But Serena is not situation tragedy, and Lawrence is ill-served by it.

Certainly as an actress she is treated badly by the director. She has two crying scenes; they are technically proficient, but she evokes no sympathy. She is obliged to play the big vacuities and improbabilities of the part which is without an arc, episode by episode, each with no relation to the next. In between them, the director has her staring blankly and asking us to fill in where the music does not. It’s hard to dwell upon her. She has a mean face. How much better it would be were she slotted into the Lizabeth Scott parts of noir villainesses. Or Mockingjay! Hey! She’d be real good there! Has anyone thought of her that way!

All of this might somehow have been pumped up into life had we understood why on earth all the villains in this melodrama were out to get these two. Don’t both leads have blue eyes?

As to the audience, you could have shot moose in there. You could also have shot Cooper and Lawrence and gotten away with it nicely.

 

 
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Posted in 1930s, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, MELODRAMA

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1

23 Nov

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1 – directed by Francis Lawrence. SciFi. 123 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: A young woman is unwillingly enlisted as the symbol of an underground movement to overthrow a tyrant.

~      

I have never seen such a film before. I have never been to one of these series films, partly because I am not interested in SciFi as a subject of any depth of drama or intelligence of scope and also because I am not interested in violent and mechanical action as a film style. I went to this one because it would be one of the last times to be seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman on the big screen. His appearance is rationed, he looks bad, and he does everything beautifully.

As do Joanna Moore as the president of the insurgents, Stanley Tucci as the evil interviewer, Woody Harrelson as the clever reprobate, and the always praiseworthy Jeffrey Wright. They cannot make a mistake, and they never appear to be slumming. Far from it: they seize every scene they are in with just the right grip. As does Donald Sutherland with his refulgent white hair belying his swinish interior. Only Elizabeth Banks seems out of place here: she seems to be playing a transvestite fashionista or something. Her character seems out of place, which is fine, but her performance also seems out of place, which is not fine. She doesn’t appear to be someone who should be doing this.

The main burden of the story lies with Jennifer Lawrence, who evidently has been in earlier versions of this series. She is not pleasant to look at and she is not pleasant. Moreover, her choice as an actor seems to be to play shellshock. I question it. She seems continually benumbed by something. In the past, she has had great success in playing marginal characters, but for her to play a heroine, a focal character is perhaps not her métier. But the story is hers.

And, for me, the interesting thing about it is how slowly, how leisurely it moves, how scenes are developed, how matters are discussed, how interior toward the characters the pressures of the story are aimed. I sit back in my multiplex armchair and stretch my legs into the aisle and watch in great comfort as this long, slow, story engrosses me – not just because of the satisfactions of its occasional and quite sensational blaps and gallooms but because Story in itself should sometimes invite repose, acceptance, trust, and the ease of the treat of a very expensive entertainment before one.

I took my pleasure, I may tell you. I did not feel cheated because I knew nothing and expected nothing. However, I realized as I left that what I had been watching was one of those Flash Gordon episodes I used to see back in the ‘40s, at the Saturday matinee – a cliff-hanger a week – and that I had started myself on the Perils Of Jennifer. And that I was bound to see the next one, and the one after that, praying only that Donald Sutherland will reach the end of the series before the end of his life. And mine.

 

American Hustle

04 Jan

American Hustle – directed by David O. Russell. GrifterFlic. 138 minutes Color 2013. ★★★★★

The Story: Complications pile on complications as the characters of the characters execute and sabotage and execute and sabotage themselves and each other in a super-sting operation.

~

Everyone has phony hair. And yet the motto of these dodgers is, “From the feet up!” meaning everyone has to be authentically committed to the ruse at hand.

False hair’s a wonderful image, redounding on each character’s flaws as the story unfolds. Bradley Cooper has tiny pin-curls to make his black straight hair curly and cute. Jennifer Lawrence has a baroquely streaked blond coif, always in flirtatious display. Amy Adams has ringlets manufactured down to and included in her décolletage, which is always arrayed for us, and, in its bra-less excellence would, we fear, be on array upon her presentation to The Queen. Jeremy Renner’s pompadour has a pompadour. And Christian Bale has a comb-over so complex it requires a combination. “From the feet up” – means until-but-not-including the crown of the head, which, of course, leaves everybody uncommitted.

The story is told in big long fully developed scenes that you can glom onto and relish, and the writer/director lodges the story not in plot but in the plot’s being directed by the divergences of each main character’s character. Jennifer Lawrence, in a particularly well-written role, makes her contribution by always being right by making everyone else wrong, doing one thing and saying another. Amy Adams levels her battleship intelligence on the false target of swindling her way into love. Bradley Cooper is shredded by his own intensity, which is blind. Jeremy Renner, the only sympathetic character among the bunch, loses his way in the byways of honest ambition. And Christian Bale, who is not quite on target with his character, is shot in the foot with his own rifle – which is firing blanks. As an actor he alone misses the innocence of his character, and innocence is important for all these fools, because, as Oscar Wilde said (and Oscar Wilde  was never wrong), “It is always wrong to be innocent.”

Is the story too complicated to follow? No. Is it engrossing? Yes. Does it have its legitimate surprises? Yes. Does it betray its audience’s credulity? No. Is the story well and unusually and strongly told? Yes. Are the scenes daringly played? Yep. Do you experience being entertained? Yes. Are you seeing some of the best acting in your life? Absolutely. Does it stick to your ribs into the lobby? No. Have you wasted your time? No.

2013 is strong year for male performances, and Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper look good here. And so do Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. The cast is great, but as ensemble, since there are few ensemble scenes to speak of, that is not the draw, but, performance by performance, you can’t do better. And the whole shebang is wonderfully and humorously told. It is one of several important GrifterFlics this year: The Wolf Of Wall Street runs side by slippery side with it in local theatres. See ‘em both. Tell ‘em Bruce sent ya.

 

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.

 
 
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