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Archive for the ‘Jessica Lange’ Category

The Gambler

03 Jan

The Gambler – directed by Rupert Wyatt. Suspense Drama. 111 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: A man gets in over his head and owes a fortune to three men who mean mortal business.

~

Mark Wahlberg is a wonderful actor.

What does that mean? It means that I look upon him and wonder. I contemplate his visage, his emotion or his emotion held in check or his delivery or what his mouth is or what his eyes are, and I wonder.

What does this mean to me? It means that both of us are in exactly the right places, I in the audience doing what I am supposed to be doing and he is up on the screen doing likewise.

Various things fall in his favor as an actor. First, he seems to have learned on the job, a good way to come into the craft. Second, his essence is working-class, which in this role would seem out of place, for he plays a college English professor and the son of a millionairess bank owner – yet his presence as such is without contradiction because he has conceived the role as beyond circumstance. Irony is the razor edge of death. Third, his male energy does not prevaricate. It stands there giving him, along with his medium-height and tone, the common touch. And finally he knows how to be before a camera such that both the camera and the audience can participate being there with him.

I felt he should have had the Oscar for The Departed. I felt he should have had the Oscar for The Fighter, but the withdrawn character he played was neoned-out by the electricity of Leo and Bale. He’s a first class screen actor. Will someone please hand one to him?

The picture is beautifully directed in terms of narrative intrigue. The director allows every actor forward into their talent. Jessica Lange, always a touchy actor, holds herself in strict check to play Wahlberg’s mother. John Goodman is filmed half naked, which grants us the power of his mass and the mass of his intelligence. Brie Larson holds us as the student taken with Wahlberg. Michael Kenneth Williams makes great book as the black money-lender. Alvin Ing is the still point of a knife in the role of a Korean gambling king. Richard Schiff plays a tip-top scene as a porn broker.

Every scene counts. Every scene is delicious to look at and never distracts with that fact. The music is mad and neat. It is perfectly cast. It is elegantly written. Grieg Fraser has filmed every scene color-right, and the unusual frequent use of closeups brings us into the situation every time. Production design, art direction, costumes, editing – all are unexceptionable.

The Gambler is the best movie I have seen all year.

Oh, this is the second of January, isn’t it! Well, you know what I mean. Take a gamble. See it.

 

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.

 
 
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