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Archive for the ‘JUDY DAVIS: SCREEN GODDESS; ACTING GODDESS’ Category

A Passage To India

08 Feb

A Passage To India – written and directed and edited by David Lean. Colonial Drama. 244 minutes Color 1985.

★★★★

The Story: A young woman and her Aunt travel to India to visit, and India takes hold of them with a mortal attraction.

~

David Lean’s last film, now a DVD whose extras are as interesting as the film itself. For you would never imagine how it was made in India back in the day. So take a look at the second DVD.

A couple of problems with the picture sully the experience, and some have to do with Lean’s mishandling of the material, for the ending is badly edited and does not fadge with the bones of the story. I can’t remember how E.M. Forster actually ends the book, but it can’t be like this.

Other difficulties have to do with his handling of what happened in the cave. E.M. Forster never told what happened there. And the reason he didn’t is because he did not know. In any case, it is clear that Miss Quested has a brain wave of some kind, becomes unhinged, and proclaims that Doctor Aziz has molested her.

In fact we are shown Miss Quested with lust in her eyes wanting Dr. Aziz in the cave. He does not see her and looks into other caves for her. He never goes into her cave at all. But Lean does not have the psychological imagination to cinematically envision what goes on inside Miss Quested that produces the catastrophic result. Lust for Dr. Aziz? Shame when he doesn’t come in? Remorse? Flight? Embarrassment? Revenge? We get none of this. All we get is some cactus scratches on her from running away downhill. So what is supposed to hang over the story as a mystery, becomes a mere opacity.

Part of the trouble is that the preparation for the cave scene is inadequate. For the excursion Miss Quested makes beforehand, coming upon pornographic statues on a bike ride, does not show the male side of sex, and because we hardly see anything risqué, we are not shocked, so how can she be shocked, and how can we gauge the statues’ effect on her? Lean has no sense of such things.

Another trouble is that we have in Judy Davis an actor who may be miscast. For Judy Davis is a young female none of this would shock. She is not the swooning sort. She is not a foolish virgin. She is Australian-earthy, not a female given to fantasies, derangements, traumatic shames, or unhingings. Of course, it would be interesting were all this to happen to as strong a personality as Judy Davis’s – but Lean’s treatment as scenarist and director go nowhere near this. He doesn’t seem to know what he has in her. It is as though the film – which is a female story – does not understand the language when entering female territory.

In a way, Lean’s film, and all his films, are about the male characters. The character of Mrs Moore, for instance, is never fully realized. Peggy Ashcroft, in a yeowoman effort, drags Mrs Moore not into clarity but into light. Clarity is not to be had. She and Lean argued badly as to how to perform her. Ashcroft was right. Ashcroft won because she had the part and went ahead and did what was right, else nothing at all would have been there, and Ashcroft won the Oscar. Judy Davis also locked horns with Lean, and lost. Lean did not have a clue about women. He would not have been married six times if he had.

The picture is ravishing in its scape. We see an India whose immensity of effect is always present, always beguiling, always seething We see wild crowds, marshalled armies in parade array, markets, mountains, rivers, structures, distraught railway trains, and placid colonial dwellings. It almost gives us a balanced canvas of Indian and English characters and points of view.

And all the male characters are superbly realized and performed, save, of course for Alec Guinness. He’s as ridiculous here as he was in Lawrence Of Arabia. Why he hypnotized David Lean to cast him to pad around as a Hindu sage only a real Hindu sage would know. Crazy. It’s counter-productive to the balance the film strives to achieve.

The three other male actors do fine work. First, Nigel Havers as the potential fiancé of Judy Davis. He plays a young magistrate in the British Colonial judicial system, and he is the perfect young man, is he not? Havers gives a lovely, easy performance as Ronny, making us thankful for the thankless role. Ronny knows not what he does as a character, but Havers as an actor does.

James Fox as the local schoolmaster, friend to both sides of the ship, rules half the film largely because his acting of Fielding is so thorough that it engages our interest and bias from start to finish. Grand work.

The co-star of the picture is Victor Banerjee, making his character full of life and optimism and love and curiosity and good will. Again, terrible reports have come down about Lean’s treatment of him. Banerjee’s performance grounds the film in the fluidity of a wonderful madness when he takes Mrs Moore and Miss Quested on the trip to the Marabar caves.

The temperament of the movie is spectacle-as-narration. It contains no scene which is not visually telling, rewarding, or essential. Every detail frees the camera to our eye. Its direction retains great respect for our ability to tell a story through what we see, through the placement of character, and particularly to the painted elephant called India in whose howdah all visitors cannot help but be shaken back and forth. One of Lean’s wives was Indian, and he had lived there a good while. He had a strong sense of its place, style, and potential as a vivid film subject.

Hidden within this vast national impression is actually a closet drama, involving only five characters, Mrs Moore, Miss Quested, Doctor Aziz, Fielding, and Ronny. The opera Aida comes to mind, a closet drama surrounded by a huge military display and a vast dynasty. Many curious and unusual relationships venture into its spectacle. But the material of  A Passage To India is one thing and the direction is quite another. Even unrealized, the material is more interesting than the director’s execution of it. To witness them, A Passage To India is still worth seeing, or, in my case and maybe in yours, worth seeing again.

 

 

 

 

A Passage To India

10 Dec

A Passage To India – written and directed and edited by David Lean. Colonial Drama. 244 minutes Color 1985.

★★★★

The Story: A young woman and her Aunt travel to India to visit, and India takes hold of them with a mortal attraction.

~

David Lean’s last film, now a DVD whose extras are as interesting as the film itself. For you would never imagine how it was made in India back in the day. So take a look at the second DVD.

A couple of problems with the picture sully the experience, and some have to do with Lean’s mishandling of the material, for the ending does not match with the bones of the story. I can’t remember how E.M. Forster actually ends the book, but it can’t be like this.

Other difficulties have to do with his handling of what happened in the cave. E.M. Forster never told what happened there. And the reason he didn’t is because he did not know. In any case, in the film at least, it is clear that Miss Quested has a brain wave of some kind, becomes unhinged, and proclaims that Doctor Aziz has molested her.

In the film, we are shown Miss Quested with lust in her eyes wanting Dr. Aziz in the cave. He, looking for her, of course, looks into her cave, does not see her, and looks into other caves for her. But Lean does not have the psychological imagination to cinematically envision what goes on inside her that produces the catastrophic result. What would the ingredients be? Lust? Shame when he doesn’t come in? Remorse? Flight? Embarrassment? Revenge? We get none of this. All we get is some cactus scratches. So what is supposed to hang over the story as a mystery, becomes a mere opacity.

Part of the trouble is that the preparation for the cave scene is inadequate. For the excursion Miss Quested makes beforehand, accidentally coming upon pornographic statues in the wild, does not expose enough of the male side of sex to count with the audience. Because we hardly see anything risqué, we are not shocked; so how can we gauge the statues’ shock on her? Lean has no sense of such things.

Another trouble is that we have in Judy Davis a young female none of this would shock. She is not the swooning sort. She is Australian-earthy, not a female given to fantasies, derangements, traumatic shames, or unhingings. She is not a foolish virgin. She is a powerful and fascinating actress. Either she is simply miscast. Or it would be interesting were all this to happen to a strong personality, such as Judy Davis’s –  but Lean’s treatment as scenarist and director go nowhere near this. It is as though the film’s story – which is a female story – is speaking a foreign language when entering female territory.

In a way, Lean’s film, and all his films, are about the male characters. The female character of Mrs Moore, for instance, is never fully realized. Peggy Ashcroft, in a yeowoman effort, drags Mrs Moore not into clarity but into light. Clarity is not to be had. She and Lean argued badly as to how to do her. Ashcroft won, else nothing at all would have been there, and Ashcroft won the Oscar. And Judy Davis also locked horns with him. Lean did not have a clue about women. He would not have been married six times if he had.

The picture is ravishing in its scape. We see an India whose immensity of effect is always present, always beguiling, always seething We see wild crowds, marshalled armies in parade array, markets, mountains, rivers, structures, distraught railway trains, and placid colonial dwellings. It almost gives us a balanced canvas of Indian and English characters and points of view.

And all the male characters are superbly realized and performed, save, of course for Alec Guinness who pads about playing an Indian Fakir. Why he hypnotized himself to cast himself as a Hindu sage only a real Hindu sage would know. Crazy. It’s counter-productive to the balance the film strives to achieve.

The three other male actors do fine work. First, Nigel Havers as the potential fiancé of Judy Davis. He plays a young magistrate in the British Colonial judicial system, and he is the perfect young man, is he not? Havers gives a lovely, easy performance as Ronny, making us thankful for the thankless role. He knows not what he does as a character, but as an actor he does.

James Fox as the local schoolmaster, friend to both sides of the ship, rules half the film largely because his acting of Fielding is so thorough it engages our interest and bias. Grand work.

The co-star of the picture is Victor Banerjee, making his character full of life and optimism and love and curiosity and good will. His performance grounds the film in the open fluidity of a wonderful madness when he takes Mrs Moore and Miss Quested on a side trip to the Marabar caves.

The temperament of the movie is spectacle-as-narration. It contains no scene which is not visually telling and rewarding, or essential. Every detail frees the camera to our eye. Its direction retains great respect for our ability to tell a story through what we see, through the placement of character, and particularly to the painted elephant called India in whose howdah all visitors cannot help but be shaken back and forth. One of Lean’s wives was Indian, and he had lived there a good while. He had a strong sense of its place, style, and potential as a vivid film subject.

Within this vast national impression, the drama is actually a closet drama, involving only five characters, Mrs Moore, Miss Quested, Doctor Aziz, Fielding, and Ronny. The opera Aida comes to mind, a closet drama surrounded by a vast dynasty and huge military display. Many curious and unusual relationships venture into being before us. To witness them A Passage To India is worth seeing, or, in my case and maybe in yours, worth seeing again.

 

 

The Dressmaker

01 Oct

The Dressmaker – directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse. Dramedy. 1 hour 59 minutes Color 2016.

★★★★

The Story: A woman returns to her hometown to wreak revenge, and finds revenge in more ways than hers.

~

Shakespeare wrote several comedies which are called problem comedies or romances or failures, depending on who’s trying how to legitimize them. But they are interesting because they’re not legit; defy expectations; renounce definition.

In one the prince is small-minded dolt, but the heroine achieves him. In another jealousy is paid back by a termagant’s plot which improbably restores virtue to its reward with the marriage bed of a vicious ruler. We are met in Shakespeare, as seldom elsewhere in drama, with sudden events which no audience is prepared for or desires. In fact, like life, they dissatisfy. They do not regroup the order of nature and the world at the final curtain. They leave their audiences with the stark tang of reality. They’re Shakespeare’s mean streak. In them, the wickedest characters defiantly proclaim – and we never forget them them for it – “What I am shall make me live!”

This kind of piece is The Dressmaker. It reminds you of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit, in which The Lunts had one of their late successes and in which in the film Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn did not. A woman comes back to the town which disgraced her, but now, she has enormous power to unleash.

If you cast Kate Winslet as the woman you are home free, for two reasons, aside from her delicious physical appearance. First, she can act the role, which is to say that it is, unlike The Reader, within the range of her instrument and she has the ability. Second, behind that which lurks in the corners of her mouth as an action determined to take place, she has also a natural sympathy for us to participate in. Kate Winslet? Who cannot like her?

Which means that, whatever she does on screen, something in us roots for her. So on the one hand we believe her vengeance is inevitable, and on the other, where we might want forgiveness to reign, virtuous or not, we actually want her to succeed even at the worst she can do. We never want Winslet to fail.

She’s not like Katharine Hepburn or the heroic actresses of that era. Her characters’ success is not mapped out beforehand. No. You don’t know what will happen. She might be stupid or shot or detoured. Will this revenge take place and what form will it take? Especially when it begins with what appears to be also an act of kindness and even forgiveness. But no more of that. It is for you to watch, wonder, and admire.

Opposite her and lodged heels-in against her is her derelict mother played by Judy Davis. Davis, as we all know, is one of the great humorists of modern art. It’s her mouth. Anyhow she is bewitching in the role, and you want to visit the film again and again to see what she does with this woman.

Flying into their midst is Liam Hemsworth, a young man of such resplendent beauty you can hardly imagine he is as good an actor as he actually is. Twenty-six when he makes this film, he is just entering the peak of his masculinity. It’s always satisfying to see a male like this about to burst into ripeness. They come along from time to time, Hugh Jackman, Tyrone Power, and Hemsworth’s appearance brings a stunning reversal of energy to the film, which shifts its story, and shifts it again. Can there be an alternative to revenge? Mmm.

Films like this are hard to end, and a director really has to wrap things up faster than The Dressmaker manages to. But I didn’t mind. I’ll see it again. I know the good of it. The good of it is better than the good of most.

 

Marie Antoinette

31 Jul

Marie Antoinette – directed by Sophie Coppola. Historical Drama. 123 minutes Color 2006.

★★★

The Story: A teenage Austrian Duchess becomes the Dauphine, then Queen Of France.

~

The richest color registration is offered for our pleasure here, and never fails to beguile and astonish. The costumes fly beyond dazzling, and won an Oscar. The props on all levels, particularly the food, crush us with delight and gluttony. The settings, which include Versailles itself and palaces and parks and pleasances restore us to the worlds of dreams. All of this is fabulous. All of it realizes a peak of excess in Western civilization never surpassed.

Which means vulgar excess. Powdered wigs tower, voluptuous silks drown, ormolu everything blinds.

This vulgarity is toppled by another sort of vulgarity, one which had more energy, the unwashed citizenry of France.

This we know from history books.

What we don’t know is what it was like to live within this excess, but this the film gives us in plenty. We really get a sense of living inside the costume of that court culture.

What we don’t get is inside the people before us. For the actors generally have no sense of period or required style.

With exceptions: one is, of course, the great Judy Davis, who brings the comedy of hysterical rigueur into her Countess de Noialles, the Emily Post of court protocol, Danny Huston as Marie Antoinette’s brother, and Rose Byrne as a lively rascal-friend of Marie Antoinette. But Jason Schwartzman as the King of France has no business being within a thousand kilometers of this material.

And Kirsten Dunst as the Duchess falls into the shallow grave of a script which does not support either the essential comedy of the sexual naiveté of a teenage-inexperienced and sexually-ignorant husband or the dramatic historical consequences when that inexperience ends. She is relegated to her constant smile.

We are also talking about a part here perfect for a young Garbo. Dunst is not a thousand kilometers of that either. She’s just a nice American high-school girl. Essentially there is no part written for her.

For the director has not grasped the necessary relationship between actor and material. We have only the relationship between the actor and the surface filmable splendor through which she moves. The picture is worth seeing because of it. But Monotony is the inevitable experience of it also.

 
 

To Rome, With Love

04 Jul

To Rome, With Love –– written and directed by Woody Allen. Farce. Four groups of people find themselves out of their depths in the Eternal City. 102 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

As the fingers of two hands folded together mesh but do not meld together, these four adventures interlace in the narrative of this film, but never coincide, except in the satisfaction their juxtaposition affords, which is the same natural satisfaction that folded hands afford. It’s farce: speed is everything, and so are doors. As each door slams on one group it breezes open unapologetically on another. The young American girl and the young Roman lawyer, engaged to be married, meet her parents, Woody Allen and Judy Davis, and their parents meet his parents, and before you know it, bingo, the father of the one is rushing the father of the other, a mortician, into a major operatic career, although the poor man is only able to sing in the shower. Jesse Eisenberg and his live-in host her trivial titillating best friend, Ellen Page, and he tumbles for the minx, although she is clearly out his class.  A young married couple arrive from the country for his interview for a big-city job, and fall foul of a lady of the afternoon, Penélope Cruz, who through force of circumstance must double as his wife at an interview with his future bosses, every one of whom is her client. All this while the young man’s wife falls into the toils of a plump movie star who offers her once-in-a-lifetime sexual possibilities. She succumbs, I am glad to say, and husband and wife come out of their escapades with useful sexual educations. A nonentity clerk, Roberto Benigni is extracted from his little family into inexplicable notoriety, which he at first resists, then embraces wildly. These four cards are played for our amusement by Allen who plays them as playful playthings. Cruz is, of course, once again hilarious in the Sophia Loren role. The movie star, played by Antonio Albanese is superbly funny as the stout sex symbol matinee idol. Ellen Page is Jim Dandy as the girl who comes to dinner and eats the host. But the entire film is stolen by Her Greatness Judy Davis from whom one cannot wrench one’s eyes. She is the actress of actresses, and Allen wisely keeps her on camera in every scene with him that he can. Her role is purely responsive to him, but you never watch him for a minute while she is there, because in never attempting to steal a scene she steals all of them, and because she is the real thing and, of course, Allen isn’t. What he is is a cartoon. Sadsack is the name of the cartoon. As an actor Allen does what he has always done, be hapless and paranoid, and he is very funny, but he is also annoying and never appealing ever, and she is. He is always appealing and so he is never appealing. His comedy as a director is not visual, but verbal and histrionic. Which means he cannot tell a story with a camera. But when a camera is on, the sound track records some very good jokes and some very telling human behavior. And that is enough for us and all we need to deserve as an audience very used to this national monument with its pigeon droppings, Woody Allen. Alec Baldwin appears as the useless sexual wisdom of the future and the past, playing Jiminy Cricket to Eisenberg’s sexual Pinocchio. He and Judy Davis define the difference between humor and Woody Allen who defines comedy. A movie can satisfy without a belly laugh because it has humor. But a comedy, with all its belly laughs, cannot satisfy if it does not have humor. To Rome, With Love has both. When it was over, we all applauded. I would send Woody Allen one perfect rose, except I think it more proper to send him a huge cellophane-wrapped basket of fresh fruit as a bon voyage gratitude to his continued voyage before us.

 

 

High Rolling In A Hot Corvette

02 Apr

High Rolling In A Hot Corvette – directed by Igor Auzins. Road comedy. Two hitchhikers make off with a fancy car, only to discover it contains a fortune. 89 minutes color 1977.

* * * * *

Joseph Bottoms is one really great actor! I have never seen him before, so I shouldn’t be so brash, but in this he has everything — verve, imagination, physical and emotional daring, looks, and just the shot of nastiness the part requires. It is a lesson in the finest acting to see him sink his great big white teeth into this role and shake it from side to side with a just delight. It’s a kind of threesome road picture of the kind we have seen before and always find hospitable. He is the rake. Grigor Taylor, the other boy is the quieter one. And Judy Davis in her first picture, and unrecognizably young, is the girl who tags along. She’s darling. So is the film.

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The Merry Wives Of Windsor

01 Mar

The Merry Wives Of Windsor – Directed by David Hugh Jones – Low Oomedy. A fat old reprobate tries to seduce two wealthy wives. 120 minutes Color 1982

* * * * *

Here we have one of the greatest recordings of a Shakespeare play ever set down. And yet it is of one of WS’s thorniest scripts. Like Henry V it is tortured with a melange of voices in Latin, French, Welsh, and German, making the script monstrously hard to parse! But it wasn’t written to be read, but to be acted, and WS understood the rubric of acting like no one else, so that in the bodies of the actors it comes alive here, understandable here, priceless here. The sixteen shifts of mood in one character’s speech on the page are gibberish, but in the craft of the great Elizabeth Spriggs as Mistress Quickly, we have a masterpiece of human truth and humor, a performance of genius. Each minor character here is enacted, embodied, played to full measure. They are characters with no history, for their history lives in the exact present entirely. The piece is a proving ground for its players, led by Judy Davis’ Mistress Ford and Ben Kingsley as her frenetically jealous hubby Frank Ford. Prunella Scales’ performance as Mistress Page gets lost and monotonized behind its regionalism, but its energy is right on the money. Richard Griffiths we have recently seen in The History Boys plays Falstaff. Now this was made 25 years ago, so our actors are in their twenties (i.e. Alan Bennett) , and perhaps Griffiths is too young for the part in the sense that he wants merriment. TMMOW is a play, unlike Henry IV 1 & 2. In those plays Falstaff is driven by a lust for zest; here he is driven by a lust for money through lust, and it’s not that he is just too old and too fat, which he is, he is also just too ridiculous to score. This complicates the part, and Griffiths makes him a little more downbeat than one wants him to be. A little less of an unmoored balloon. A little less of a roguish liar. Still, when he thinks he has finally achieved the bosom of Mistress Ford, and utters the jubilant line, “Let the sky rain potatoes!” we are in a world of comedy unparalleled. The odd attic setting and the inn and the house of Ford and Caius and all the costumes and wigs and make-up are fabulous. If you love Shakespeare or want to learn to love Shakespeare, dive in.

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The Starter Wife

01 Mar

The Starter Wife — TV Series Comedy. A discarded wife decides to make her mark in Hollywood. 2 discs Color 2007

**

The great Judy Davis supplies that soft quick downplaying humor to all her scenes and it is a treat to see her bring them off. What a tonic she is!  Debra Messing is also expert at what she is doing here which is to play a person who is up to her nostrils in a swamp. This tends to monotonize the role, but it’s not her fault. Here, she either has a pretty man and feels secure or does not and does not. So this is not a particularly telling script, this being the story of a woman who is trying to rise above the males that surround her to make a career as a writer in Hollywood. But in fact, what she is actually striving for is the freedom to write a piece of her very own schlock, very much like the series we are watching. To have an ambition to be free is one thing, but to be free to produce a crumby woman’s movie is scarcely a charming goal. David Alan Basche gives a lovely Jack-Lemony performance as her husband; Hart Bochner, to play the handsome lug, takes care not to separate his lips very far when speaking; Joe Mantegna alone brings a touch of aristocracy to the proceedings. Yet, who cares about these spoiled Hollywood phonies? The difficulty with the material is that it is about Hollywood, a crass place as we all knew before we started, Also, its relatability is limited to jilted females of forty all of whom are worth more than Debra Messing’s character as they sit before their screens watching her. And so all they get to sort through is very expensive rubbish. The trouble is, you can’t write a satire of Hollywood, for Hollywood is in itself a satire. As for the humor, some snappy repartee, yup, but not a single character with any strength of character.

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The Man Who Sued God

01 Mar

The Man Who Sued God — Directed by Mark Joffe — Comedy. A fed up lawyer quits and buys a boat which is demolished by lightning. Because the insurance company won’t pay for an Act Of God, he sues God.  97 minutes Color 2001

* * *

I rented this to see the inestimable Judy Davis. For she’s a always tonic. Billy Connolly is not a tonic. I have seen him elsewhere only in Mrs Brown. I do not find him inviting. I liked the theological arguments of this piece and I wish they had been set forth with the space of greater confidence and less speed to get them over with. The piece is a mildly amusing Thirties type comedy set in a fishing village near Perth Australia, which is pleasant to eye-visit. I always have low expectations so I am seldom disappointed. Judy Davis has comic gifts which here go unexploited, however. I guess she is going to stay in Australia now, playing sexy mothers with the wrong lipstick and a poor dye job. Pay no attention to me. I do not recommend or dis-commend pictures. I simply rattle on  a bit about what I see. Or do not see. As in this case.

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