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Archive for the ‘Michelle Williams’ Category

Manchester By The Sea

28 Nov

Manchester By The Sea – directed by Kenneth Lonergan. 137 minutes Color 2016.

★★★★★

The Story: Trapped, can this man get out of the trap, is there any thing, condition, person, breakthrough that can liberate him?

~

Well, a Hollywood movie this good, to my knowledge, never before came before my eyes. It is a Hollywood movie minus Hollywood. Unique. A top-notch cast leads it and balances it, and, for once, the person, who superbly wrote it, superbly directs it.

Its first distinguishing feature is that its characters are undistinguished. They are ordinary, their lives are ordinary, the circumstances that beset them and their responses to them are ordinary. This is what is extraordinary about them, and why I feel privileged to be with them. For I wouldn’t be allowed to ordinarily.

Casey Affleck plays a live-in handyman of Boston apartment houses, and one wonders how come. Not that he is special in any way, but that his current life and his testy personality seem a hermitage from something. The story is his, and our focus is on the mystery his difficulty with life seems bent to retain. He has a former wife, three young children, a brother and nephew, and a town, where he once lived, Manchester By the Sea, where he was reared and where everyone still knows him. His story outwardly concerns the death of this brother and the benefactions bestowed.

Casey Affleck is an actor I have in the past avoided like a left hand turn into moving traffic. When I first saw him ten years ago as Robert Ford in the Jesse James movie, the placement of his voice, a high, pleading whine, grated so I could not imagine he would ever have an acting career. He was thirty-one then; because of his voice, I took his character to not have gone through adolescence. Why didn’t this actor go to a speech therapist? Spare me his presence again.

Anthony Lane in The New Yorker said what I have never known him to say of a film, that he loved it, and a good friend suggested it, and I went. There I discovered that Affleck, now forty-one, has matured as a male, such that his voice, still oddly placed, has a weight no longer adolescent. His is a great performance because it is a great role, and a great role, because it is a greatly written role.

No nonsense. You will be taken through the wringer and grateful every moment that finally here is a film good enough to inspire that capacity in you. The film plays with the spaciousness and weight and variety of developed characters of a very good novel.

It is set in a Massachusetts town among lower working-class folks, every one of whom voted for Trump. So you’ll see how it is they did so. For these folks live only on a certain kind of emotional level, and emotion is their fight, their gauge and their ruin.

Of the major performances, Michele Williams, as Affleck’s wife, makes a lower-class woman completely alive and particular. The great scene with her nursing a cold in their bedroom is one of the best-written and directed scenes I have ever seen. It is exactly how things are, nothing forced, nothing manufactured, nothing left out. And the second scene, when she encounters him on the street, is excruciating in the attempt she makes to reach him and the just imperative in him that forbids it.

The second great piece of supporting work is Lucas Hodges as his nephew, the character whose resilience  drives the  story. Again brilliantly written from the credits on, when he is shown as a quick-witted nine-year old, as a sixteen-year old his character still does not miss a trick. There is nothing you can put over on him. And this skill in the character and the actor playing him provide the wall against which all the other characters are forced to play.

The film is a triumph of editing, costuming, filming. Its structure keeps one engaged in suspense from start to finish. You keep expecting something cheap to happen, and it doesn’t. Which means that, since you have read this review this far, you owe yourself the riches you deserve and will go to Manchester By The Sea.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, PERSONAL DRAMA

 

Synechdoche, New York

21 Nov

Synecdoche, New York — directed by Charlie Kaufman. Drama. 3 hours and 23 minutes Color 2008.

★★★★★

The Story: A theatre director’s wife leaves him, and the rest of his life is lived out unmoored.

~

The director has begun his career by presenting to the world his King Lear, And why not? The boulders of that play are about us and upon us since the day Shakespeare wrote it, and any playwright must operate with it in the shadows like a gift one day to be honored. Kaufman has honored it early with a masterwork. It has been taken to be such by others, and you might number yourself among them if you take the journey into Synecdoche.

The work “New York” localizes it in a way I do not understand, except as a synonym for a terminus or graveyard. But I don’t dally with such terms, so forget I ever said it.

Other minor matters bothered me, but not at the time. I learn that the main character has married again, but I had no sense of that from the film, and when I learned it from the extra features, I thought it must be with the Samantha Morton character. I was wrong.

The other thing I did not grasp was that there was an Armory within an Armory, and that some scenes were played in the one and some in the other.

But none of this mattered to me at the time. None of it impeded my pleasure and interest.

The word “dream” is used, incorrectly it seems to me, in relation to this piece, for what I see is always grounded in realistic psychological everyday experience. The film’s story is the working out of the life of an individual who comes undone when his wife leaves him inexplicably. From then on everything you see is everything he does internally until the day he dies, which he also does, many years later. It is just like you and me.

Not to speak anything more about this momentous story, lest I defuse its excitements and turns, the wife is played beautifully by Catharine Keener who is always riveting, always fun, and we wait for her return all the way through the film.

I cannot stifle my cries of appreciation for the work of Emily Watson, who is just marvelous as an imported actress, as are Michelle Williams as a greedy, starstruck actor, Hope Davis as a bigtime human-potentialist, and Tommy Noonan as the director’s double. Samantha Morton plays her early scenes externally, but once she ages, she is great.

The leading role, and he is on camera always, is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He plays the role scene-to-scene. For there is no other way to play it. It is a story in which the arc of the character cannot be given by the actor, but only by the treatment of the material by the director — and Kaufman does not supply an arc. Unlike in King Lear, madness does not wake the Hoffman character up.  So, no arc; unless you can say Hoffman goes deeper to sleep.

Instead, the arc lies with the audience’s eventual acceptance that the external emotion and the internal emotion are all on the same visual level. Which is right: we experience, or at least I experience that they are all one thing, one collection, one synecdoche, life as a defeated bouquet.

The moral of the story? The human spirit is insufficient air for an artist’s ambition that work can be his salvation and reality.

Do see it. Hoffman is just gorgeous in it. It is his most personal performance of all.

 

My Week With Marilyn

27 Nov

My Week With Marilyn – Directed by Simon Curtis. Romantic Drama. A young gofer on his first job in film is taken by, in more ways than one, the movie star. 99 minutes Color

* * * * *

The elevator was being held. I waited. There was no one in it but me. I waited. Then they came in. The door closed. I wanted to and did not want to stare. She had the complexion of a marshmallow. She looked tall. She wore ski pants and a patterned, heavy, Nordic wool sweater up to her neck. She was gorgeous. She said to Arthur Miller, “In my pictures I don’t chase men; I get chased,” to seal his backing for script changes she was wearing these clothes and these heels and this make-up and bringing this husband along to insist on. They got off on the floor of Kaye Brown their agent at MCA, where I was a mailroom clerk. I rode up to my own floor, realizing that this woman had the mind of a cash register. She was no fool; she knew her business; she knew exactly what she was doing. She did not even sound like the powder-puff she played to such renown. The film she was talking about was Let’s Make Love, her penultimate effort. This side of MM is not particularly on display in My Week With Marilyn, but Kenneth Branagh, in a brilliant turn as Laurence Olivier, says the same thing – that she knows exactly what she is doing – so don’t be taken in by her help-me act, and don’t excuse the infuriatingly non professional behavior she evinces, and always evinced, as a film actor. Not long after the elevator, I was writing a column for Look Magazine and had to take pictures to Celeste Holm’s apartment for approval. She had acted with Monroe and had just seen The Misfits at The Roxy, a huge picture palace in New York. “You could shoot moose in there,” she said, meaning no one was going to it. “And she can’t act.” But Olivier also says she’s a greater film actor than he is, that next to her in the screen he looks dead. And Judi Dench, marvelous in the marvelous part of Dame Sybil Thorndike, says that Monroe can act in films better than anyone else in the movie, including herself. It’s instinctual. Celeste Holm didn’t know it, but she meant the same thing. For Marilyn Monroe could be on the screen in such a way that you could look at no one else while she was there. And it wasn’t an acting trick. Or rather it was an acting trick, but one from real life, as she generated that molested 12 year-old wanting more and not wanting more, and thus surviving. When I was in Korea she came, and the men who saw her returned to base surprised to be not in lust with her but respectful and fond of her. “You never heard such applause in your life!” she said to her husband. “Oh yes I have,” said Joe DiMaggio. All of this is present in this delightful film about her relations with a 23-year-old 3rd assistant director beautifully played here by Eddie Redmayne. But none of it would work were not MM played by Michele Williams, who captures Monroe’s glee, her wit, her kindness, her cruelty, her sense of fun, her fear and nervousness, her sexual game, her physical appearance, and her inner emanation – that almost childlike glow she imparted which so allured and charmed and melted us all, and still does. Monroe, like Angelina Jolie, was a power beauty. You watch her in order to be petrified into a statue of Venus with no arms to protect yourself. Williams conveys this perfectly and perfectly embodies the sadness that lies on the other side of such a deification. In all other respects the film is first class, and so are the actors, charming in their roles: Zoë Wannamaker, Derek Jacobi, Michael Kitchen, Dougray Scott. You come out of it knowing Monroe as you never knew her before, and she’s well worth knowing, as a young man in his first job understood, either making The Prince And The Showgirl with her for just one week or going up an elevator with her for just one minute.

 

Meek’s Cutoff

11 May

Meek’s Cutoff – Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Western. An 1857 wagon train crossing the barrens of Oregon runs out of water. 194 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Lead by a bunkum guide, this wagon train toils across the badlands of Oregon, a land without respite and without charm, and they are running out of water. The question is not whether they will reach water. The question is by what sort of inner human procedures will they do so, a truth born home as we reach the surprising and requisite ending to the tale. The difference between this and many another Will They Ever Reach Water Movie is that here the means that offer themselves are not Hollywood procedures. This picture is not about the romance of hardship or thirst or endurance. The picture is simply about whose values will you look within yourself to adopt as you undergo a daunting trial. So the characters do not stand out as vivid creations but rather as human instruments forced to choose ways of being. It is not a feminist tract. It is not about heroines. It is not about how women are noble and men are weak, or how women are Democrats and men are Republican.  Pictorially the picture is like none other ever seen. Its tent interiors are particularly well set and designed. It places a high premium on the virtue of tedium to make a setting work. The lack of camber in the film is remarkable. It gives you the flatness of canvas from which nothing deviates to distract. I did not know what was going to happen and I did not know what was going on, and this is what I wanted. The only technical flaw is in the sound recording, which makes Bruce Greenwood and other actors inaudible from time to time. Michele Williams has the principal role, and she certainly has an eye for an interesting vehicle (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine). So do not come expecting to see a grand old Western about wagon trains. If you want that, there’s a great movie for that subject, Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail, of 1930, the first wide-screen movie ever made. There you get the full sense of the activity and technology of a wagon train, the life, the business, the promise, made within living memory of those whose relatives had actually done it. Meek’s Crossing is something quite different and quite stunning.

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Blue Valentine

16 Jan

Blue Valentine – directed by Derek Cianfrance – low tragedy: the courtship and collapse of a marriage – 2 hours color 2010,

* * * * *

Is this The Picture Of The Year for me? Probably. The characters created by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams emerge from a matrix in each of them which leads to their mutual defeat. She plays a girl hiding out in full view at the dinner table from the irrational rage of her father. And she marries a man very much like that father, and to protect herself from him she hides in full view. Gosling plays a one-woman man who is unaware that his quick wit hides his pain so successfully that he turns every fault he is accused of against his accuser, and in this no one can outdraw him. Certainly not someone whose default defense is concealment in place. The picture begins with the charming sense of fun he brings to his courtship of her. Their marriage takes place because she is pregnant, but not by him. Yet he goes for it fully. Five or so years later we see he is loving but undisciplined as a father, and as such is unworkable as one. And she is at the end of her tether. Drinking and screwing are his strategies to feed the romantic view he has of his life, his wife, and their child. And she can’t join the game any more but can’t muster the valor to say she won’t. The two characters these two actors unleash on the screen merit the highest praise and attention. For me, this was The Hurt Locker film of the year, not a pretty picture but a great one.

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