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Archive for the ‘Marisa Tomei’ Category

The Big Short

01 Jan

The Big Short – directed by Adam McKay. Docudrama. 130 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★

The Story: A group of Wall Street investors, foreseeing the housing market will fail, bet against the market, but when housing fails, they can’t collect because the banks deny the failure.

~

Two things I don’t understand about this film: one is the sense that this is called an ensemble piece when in fact the four main actors are never or seldom together. And two is that the separation of these separate stories is achieved with over-edited snippets and over-montaged sequences such that none of it can be made out by a normal eye.

Why is this done?

Perhaps to bewilder the audience into believing the reason they can’t understand the complexities of what is at stake is not because they are too stupid but because the flashy montages are causing it. And, by gum, if we are not comfortable with this style of montage anyhow, we must be not hip.

A lot of the film is made with a hand-held camera, which is supposed to grant reality. It doesn’t; it just grants the shaking of a hand-held camera. And, of course, color film almost always denies reality; it is too heightened; it demands too little of the imagination; it is too expected. This would have been a perfect subject for black and white.

So, being an English major, how can I respond to this confetti?

It is beautifully acted. Ryan Gosling is perfect as the snappy, rude investor. Brad Pitt is swell as the retired broker who breaks the bank with the help of John Magaro and Finn Whitrock as tyro investors. Christian Bale, in a great wig, is perfectly cast as the know-it-all pioneer of the trading system. But it is Steve Carell as a disgruntled investor who stands out just a little from the others. He is nominated for several supporting actor awards, which seems quite unjust to me, since he is the moral center of, since he stars, and since he carries the film. All the supporting people are first class, including, Marisa Tomei and, I imagine, Melissa Leo whom I never saw in it at all, so flashed-by were her scenes.

The film is also up for Comedy Awards. It is not a comedy in any sense of the word or life-experience of the audience. The film is about fraud. The award categories claimed for the film are also fraud. Too bad.

Everything the film-maker could do to make the complexities readable was done and then undone. I leave it to you to tell me more about the real estate collapse and if I am missing something or everything. Or perhaps confusion is the only knowledge to be had of the matter.

 

Love Is Strange

31 Aug

Love Is Strange – directed by Ira Sachs. Drama. 2014 Color 94 minutes.

★★★

The story: Two men married to one another fall on hard times.

~

The problem is the writing and the problem is that the director also co-wrote it and like most directors has no gift as screenwriter.

Every scene is a genre scene. The scene at the dinner table with the abusive indifferent father. The advice scene between the teenage boy and the uncle. The street kiss at the end. Everything is picturesque, like a greeting card. Every scene is television bread pudding. I sit there longing for the scenes to be about something. Instead we get so called conversation, into the lengthy interstices of which the actors have to force emotion. This they do by grimacing, by pausing even more, and hoping, I suppose, someone will call cut. But nothing is going on. Nothing is at stake. We have lots of story, with no drama.

Inside this painfully inadequate mise en scene of chat, we have, on the other hand, the relationship of two gentlemen in high middle age during and after their nuptials. These two are all there is to see. This is the only matter of value before us. Everyone else is either indifferent to them, rude to them, or annoyed by them. But we are given nothing large enough to seize our interest, save our watching these two play together, sleep together, kiss, hug, snuggle, and laugh together. And that is just great because they are played by two experienced and well-loved hands indeed: Alfred Molina and John Lithgow. Boy, do they smooch good. It’s a relief to see this up on the screen.

To aid them is the impeccable Marisa Tomei, who never makes a false move. She must be a very well prepared actor, for one has the sense that everything she does is right, natural, and on target. There is never a sense of the random in her work. Though highly responsive, she comes on knowing what she must do, and she does it. Her face is in her favor, a great gift for an actor. Her scene trying to write is thrilling.

At the end is a scene in profile of a child crying. The scene is shot in a stairwell and goes on and on and on. And it’s wonderful that it does. And it’s also wonderful that it is taken in profile and that we do not see the young actor’s face. We just let him cry. It is wordless. This is followed by a skateboard scene that also goes on and on and on. It, like the crying scene, is wordless, and gives a suggestion that the director is not quite without talent for motion pictures. But he must stick to his last. He must do, but never speak.

For there is a difference between high drama and slice-of-life, which this mistitled movie purports to be. See Chekov: in slice-of-life the characters’ very souls are at stake. It is not just some conversations. The dripping preludes of Chopin dominate the sound track. But Chopin’s preludes are salon music; they contain, with the ferocity of a bottle of wine, tremendous sensation. Salon music, but whole lives are at stake. A salon film must do likewise.

 
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Posted in Alfred Molina, FAMILY DRAMA, Gay, Includes Some Gay Characters, John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei

 

My Cousin Vinnie

13 May

My Cousin Vinny – directed by Jonathan Lynn. Screwball Courtroom Comedy. 120 minutes Color 1992

★★★★★

The Story: Two 18 year-old college boys are falsely arrested for murder in an Alabama town, and their cousin Vinny and his girl friend from Brooklyn act as an inexperienced legal defense.

~

We are in the land of grown-up comedy of character here, that now rare American concoction.

What comedy of character means is that the actors do not have to have huge funny mouths  and they do not have to make jokes. What is funny is the characters’ response to the situation at hand. Comedy of character depends upon scenes that do not promote the line of the story. Decoration is where God tells the truth in comedy of character.

We have such scenes here, and they are all famous – in which Marisa Tomei takes the part of a hunted deer, in which Mitchell Whitfield imagines he is about to be buggered, in which Tomei and Pesci get turned on over automotive statistics, in which Fred Gwynne checks on Joe Pesci’s pronunciation – and so forth. The story is How Can These Innocent Boys Escape Death When Their Lawyer Is Such A Dope? The suspense lies in that, but the comedy does not. The comedy lies in the periphery of glances, gestures, stances, and spontaneous responses. The comedy lies in the unnecessary, the parenthetical, the lace.

What actors do have to have is what Fred Gwynne has as the judge, which is a grasp of how droll being dead serious can be, and how to lavish a really-O-truly-O Georgia accent upon it. His orotundity is a dish of caramel pudding. You may not laugh out loud at what he does, but you sure appreciate the humor of it.

I was interested to watch Ralph Macchio as the captured cousin and the cuter of the two boys. His is almost a thankless role, and he does not try to blow it up, but plays it for real, always internally, always responsively. It is an affecting because right-sized performance.

Pesci and Tomei are masters of the beings they play, and they bring to us their natural irresistability. Pesci is appealing in spite of himself. Tomei is downright lovable. He jumps around the court, and she outlines her female righteousness with her red-nailed hands. You want to kiss them both.

Joe Pesci won the supporting actor Oscar for Goodfellows while My Cousin Vinny was shot, and Marisa Tomei won the supporting Oscar for My Cousin Vinny after it was shot.

The story shudders, shakes, and trembles with improbabilities, but never mind, the playing keeps it erect. Have fun. See it.

 

Parental Guidance

29 Jan

Parental Guidance – directed by Andy Fickman. Family Comedy. The grandparents babysit the weekend while the children’s parents travel to Miami, and things become raucous. 104 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
Bette Midler is a national treasure.

Is she Yellowstone? Or, I know, she’s Mount Rushmore! (She certainly isn’t Grant’s Tomb.) Would it be too much to say that she is The Smithsonian? Yes, it would.

And Billy Crystal is up there with her. For never have two such big-hearted comedians been so paired so rightly. I hope they make many more films together, for neither one has made many movies, and Our National Health does require that we see them more often. I believe we have constitutional amendment going forward on the matter.

In any case, here they are abetted by the entrancing Marisa Tomei. She’s so good. She’s so appealing. She is never wrong. So you see, we have three reasons to go to this picture.

As a comedy it is made up of the usual clumsy Hollywood plastic. Which means that audience participation in the proceedings is cut off by the failure to admit by the writers that what we are witnessing is not real. The seduction of the unreal is everything. Extreme situations and the implausible are all right, but they don’t, in and of themselves, seduce. Cling-wrap is not a crystal mirror.

Where do we fit in?

I’ll tell you where we fit in: on the only island there is: the persons and playing of Tomei, Crystal, and Midler with all this, their response to it, and their talent with dialogue.

Crystal plays a baseball announcer from a provincial California city who wants to announce for The San Francisco Giants, and his riffs are really wonderful as he does his announcer’s shtick. Tomei is the rather uptight modern mother raising her kids on the strict leash of leashlessness. When the grandparents show up, a conflict of parenting styles arises, and Midler particularly shows a robust leashlessness of a quite different order.

I had a great time with the three of them. I hope you will too. I wish they never part. They could be the Rogers and Astaire of Twenty First Century comedy.

 

The Ides Of March

13 Oct

The Ides Of March – directed and written (with others) by George Clooney. Political Thriller. 101 Minutes Color 2011.

★★★★

The Story: The office manager of a Presidential campaign learns about life from the great ones above and below him.

* * * *

I wonder if the failure of his performance will put a period to the rise of the career of a truly gifted actor. He is in the role that must carry the film. But the actor’s conception of or preparation for the role, or perhaps his being cast in it in the first place, or perhaps the director’s failure to establish the necessary grounds in the opening scenes, fails the film.

Instead the story and the dialogue have to carry this film. But they are not quite sufficient because they are just the outer story; the inner story is a change, a learning in the main character. None of the other actors can carry the film it; they are all supporting players.

The problem arises with the opening scene and continues with the scene soon after with a reporter. In the first scene he does a lighting stand-in for the presidential contestant, and recites lines of his oncoming speech. He does them listlessly, almost snidely. Then when he speaks to the reporter he avers his great and thorough belief in the candidate. She laughs at him. But he won’t have it. He elaborates his belief.

Okay, so why doesn’t it work? Because the character he plays must believe in what he says, with all his heart. However, the actor presents this character as a man whose heart is not in it. Yet the entire film depends upon his heart becoming re-educated, but since he heart is veiled to begin with, the story is devoid of human interest.

Everything else is quite interesting. All the other actors are in top form: Philip Seymour Hoffman as the campaign manager, Paul Giamatti as the opposition campaign manager, Evan Rachel Wood as a pretty intern, Maria Tomei, particularly as the reporter, Jeffrey Wright as an opportunistic senator, and George Clooney as the candidate.

Marvelously filmed by Phedon Papamichael and scored by Alexandre Desplat, one is held in bafflement as the subtleties of the main actor pass before one’s appreciative eyes. He is beautiful. He is unusual. It is a great leading role in a huge Hollywood picture. Because of him it doesn’t happen. It is a pity.

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