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Archive for the ‘Laura Dern: ACTING GODDESS’ Category

Wild

24 Dec

Wild – directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. BioDrama. 113 minutes Color 2014.
★★★★
The Story: A young woman treks 1000 miles on the Pacific Coast Trail on a quest for peace from a disarrayed life.
~
What did I believe?

I believed in the presence of the actor in the wilderness, the woodland, deserts, rocks, stones.

I believed in the chronology of the weeks it took.

I believed in the eventual diffident acceptance of rain, storm, snow.

I believed in the voice-overs from her diary.

I believe in the fundamental journey.

I believed in the wilds she went through.

I did not believe Reese Witherspoon’s playing of the character as a whispering, sensitive, shy, vulnerable creature.

Playing it this way damages the character. First, It leaves the actor with no place to go, save where the voice-overs inform us she goes. In the actor/character we see nothing happen. She starts withdrawn. She ends up withdrawn.

Moreover, Reese Witherspoon is not a leading lady. She is not an actor of heroic mold. She is a character lead, and a good one. So if you ask her to play the heroine, you bark up the wrong tree. It’s not within her instrument to play a part perfectly suited to Ingrid Bergman or Sophia Loren.

To cast the part of Cheryl Strayed you must cast her with whom? Charlize Theron? – who exudes strength, who is physically formidable, someone who can cause trouble. Cast someone like Theron and you have an Amazon becoming a real human as the arc of the character. For the story cannot be about a city mouse becoming a country mouse. It’s not about a mouse. The woman who embarks on this trek is already brash. She is out there. She is not withdrawn. She is brave and foolish. But this is not within Reese Witherspoon’s range. And to choose to play her introverted is a miscalculation, although it may have been the only avenue open to her.

This being said, the movie is a good one. Taking a long walk to clear up a mess is good medicine, and every human knows it. This is the story of that. It does not even have to count as a story of some poor weak female doing it. For the same vexations, perils, boredom, exhaustions, and self-discoveries, both pleasant and unpleasant, prevail not as matter of gender but as human matters and with whomever takes such a journey. And in this sense it is good, beginning to end, to take the journey too.

The film is well filmed but not well acted, and the reason for that is that it is underwritten.We need language, language language, for in a wilderness language is what we are left with. Language in the mind. That and the landscape which language tries to defy.

 

The Master

25 Sep

The Master – produced and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Drama. 137 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
Mihai Malaimare Jr. films it as to bring a heavenly unity to a story in a realm not on earth but in the psyche itself, earthy as the mise-en-scene nonetheless is. For it is the story – and it is a great one – how the psyche embraces and then runs from what will better it, as though it will not be meddled with, even by God. In human form God is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, a coming guru out to create a miracle proof of his powers, who choses as the best bet for human reclamation a mentally borderline vagrant drunk. The director, Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Hard Eight, There Will Be Blood, Punch Drunk Love) has chosen well these two to demonstrate his thesis. For what could be more stunning as a feat for a guru than to bring into health and sanity a creature who is subnormal. This subnormality needs must have as its basis a soul about which the viewer cannot care, just as in the guru we must see, not a soul at work either, but an ambition. The two men therefore absolutely adore one another. They find one another to be great fun, they sacrifice themselves for one another, they tempt one another to the greatest feat of their lives, and they speak truth to one another so ruthlessly it is almost unbearable to watch were it not for the fact that truth brings life itself to the brink of surrender. After the film is over and one writes about it, the idea of the guru being played by a man the same age as the mad derelict is discounted by the certainty that that would raise issues of homosexuality that would be irrelevant to the conflict at hand, and the idea certainly never occurs to one while watching these gladiators play it out, one of them being Philip Seymour Hoffman who brings the guru to life as a being of such humor and ease that one cannot entertain a single contradictory casting idea while watching him. It is, of course, not essentially his story. It is the story of Freddie Quell brought into being by Joaquin Phoenix. Hoffman calls Freddie a naughty boy, and, true, Freddie is a child’s name and Quell is the name, if I recall, of Kwell, a nostrum to kill nits, crabs, and body lice. Phoenix brings this low human tantrum to life by giving him a physical being that operates inside out. Like the cheesiest thug, his chest is concave, his shoulders rounded and sloping, his walk rabbit-brisk, bowed, scared. He has a nutso laugh which arises warily on the left side of his face and takes over like a death spasm. Hoffmann gets to him by seeing in him what no one else can see, including us as an audience, and tolerates him because of it, which is to say he sees the grandest opportunity in his professional life and someone in his way as wild as himself. His much younger wife, which Amy Adams plays with marvelous rigor, suspects Phoenix – but for the wrong reason. She is the holy mother of the cult and she suspects Phoenix of being flimsy in his devotion to it and uncurable by either its ministrations or any other. But Hoffman sees Phoenix as something other than a devotee. He sees him as an object of play, infantile, dangerously violent, half-mad, and therefore ideal for restoration. It would be the greatest because most obvious triumph of his mastery. It would invent his mastery. Trouble is he suffers from violent temper too, verbal in his case, and the scenes of its emergence are stunning to behold, particularly the one in which a Philadelphia society lady, in a scene played consummately by Laura Dern, asks him about a change in his methods. For Hoffman too will not be meddled with. And his wife’s opinion of Phoenix will not hold. In the end, in one of the great scenes in cinema, he sings the perfect love song to him, “I’d Like To Get You On A Slow Boat To China,” for if he could, he could bring Phoenix to a state of unenvisionable grace. But like many thugs, Phoenix is sexually hot. He can get laid or drunk on the spot. He carries the secret elixir of sex, just as he carries the secret elixir of the almost poisonous alcoholic concoctions he pours out as libational benefits everywhere. They are his sanctuaries. It is a remarkable characterization, a remarkable performance, a remarkable study in human nature. People want to improve others, but can offer it only so far as their own frailty of temperament can take them, and people want to be improved by others, but are touchy at the sticking point, after all. They will not be saved by the fallible. Their perfection is killed by perfectionism. Chilling. Great. See it.

 

The Little Fockers

11 Jan

The Little Fockers – directed by Paul Weitz – low comedy in which an Irish don hands over his mission in life to his Jewish son-in-law.   120 minutes color 2010.

* * * *

This is Abey’s Irish Rose as a movie. That most long running and now long forgotten of all plays and radio shows was about the Jewish boy who married a Colleen. Same here. In those days, back in the 30s and 40s, the conflict was based on immigrant wars, the Kikes against the Micks, the stubbornness of the territorial and cultural and religious protectorates of the tribes who had just or almost just come here – and intermarried. West Side Story is musical version of it. But here we have as befits the theme a series. This is the third, and there is nothing wrong with it at all. You have a fine cast. Barbra Streisand plays her usual self-pushing self. Laura Dern does the chilling principal of a fancy modern school. Owen Wilson is the clueless sybarite best friend. Dustin Hoffman is the fool Jewish father. Harvey Keitel is a the bellicose earth-mover. Blythe Danner is the elegant mother of the Irish don. What brings the movie down is that Robert de Niro is no more an Irish don than a plate of spaghetti is. He takes off the shelf his generic technique and mugs and moues throughout the piece. And there is some cause, it is true, for we are looking at low comedy here. But it is Ben Stiller who carries the piece. What a marvelous player of comedy he is. Has anyone noticed that yet? How subtle he is? How intricate in his response? How real? Check out the moment when he accepts the honor from de Niro; he has taken on the hero’s fullness; he simply asks his son to eat his food; the child vomits on him. But the vomit is not what’s funny. What’s funny is Stiller’s barely discernible inflation. The piece ends in a branagan at a child’s birthday party, a fight which is unconvincing, since no one seems to notice it, but that is the fault of the crudeness of the script, a script which is sometimes quite witty. I enjoyed myself. But then, in asking for so much, I accept so little.

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