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Archive for the ‘Nicole Kidman: SCREEN GODDESS’ Category

Lion or Far Away From Home

02 Jan

Lion or A Long Way Home –  directed by Garth Davis. Picaresque Drama. 119 minutes Color 2016.

★★★

The Story: A five-year-old Indian urchin, lost in Calcutta, is adopted by a middle-class family in Australia, and, aged 25, seeks to find his original family in India.

~

The first dumb thing is its title, Lion, for the main character is no such thing. The secondary title is more to the point and requirements of our understanding.

We enter the boy’s life with his mother, and with his older brother scavenging the streets of Delhi to supplement their mother’s income as a laborer moving rocks. They are impoverished but close and loving.

Due to a mischance, the little boy is separated from his brother and soon finds himself a thousand miles away, homeless, starving, and not speaking the language.

So far, all is well with the film. We are thrilled and held. We have a Dickensian tale of dire orphanage, a situation which appeals to the orphan in each of us.

But as soon as the movie lands in Australia it becomes dumb. It fast-forwards twenty years and kersplatts into an unnecessary side trip into a romance with a young American girl. And it kersplatts into an unnecessary detour into his relation with his older, also adopted, Indian brother. And it kersplatts into pantomimic melodrama, wrist to temple, as he wrestles the matter of tracking down his family of origin.

The worst dumb thing it does is make us watch him find his house of origin – by satellite – which means that the search is undergone not by him but by a robot.

By this point the film has lost its focus, story, and passion. And two sensational actors are left at sea on a foundering script. Nicole Kidman as the boy’s adoptive Australian mother must dig deep to bring the proper soundings to the part of the mother in the screen time allotted her. This she manages to do, but the script fumbling around her does not support her work.

And it undercuts our understanding of the main character played by the wonderful and wonderful again Dev Patel. You just sit there and welcome him on the screen. What a delight! What an actor! See it, as I saw it, for him. Don’t miss him.

Never miss him.

 
 

Nine

22 Oct

Nine – Directed by Rob Marshall. Soundstage Musical. 2009 COlor 118 minutes.

★★★★

The Story: A film director puts off everyone as his film goes into production, but he can’t admit he has no script.

~

Daniel Day-Lewis stars in this musical in which one cannot say he dances any more than a monkey might, for his strong body is put to musical acrobatic uses, and perhaps he has two left feet. The dancing and the singing are left up to the cherishable skills of Marion Cotillard, Penèlope Cruz, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, and Sophia Loren. Who could ask for anything more?

Not I. The dances are super-duper and the songs are fun. Judi Dench is a musical comedy singer from way back, and does a wicked Follies Bergère number with a mile long boa. Fergie in a wilderness of hair that somewhat unnecessarily masks her interesting face reviews her philosophy of Italian love in a wild song and dance. Kate Hudson plays an American reporter who does a big witty number about Italian Cinema.

For the musical is about the block Day-Lewis has in writing his next musical. All the women pose delays, distractions, denials. And in the end Nicole Kidman writes his new film off because he cannot show anyone a script. He is impotent. She sings goodbye to him.

What starts with Penèlope Cruz performing a hot comic turn as his mistress winds up with Sophia Loren singing him a lullaby to reform – no two actresses have resembled one another in film history more than these.

One would not question the execution of this material. One might question the strength of the source of this material. For it devolves from Fellini’s 8 1/2, which is about a similar predicament for a director. It starred Marcello Mastroianni. Mastroianni is an interior sort of actor, the kind that doesn’t move much, and the story of impotence is too navel-gazing to move me much either. Both seem weak. And Day-Lewis is cast in and plays the part along the lines of Mastroianni also. His opening scene where he lies to the press is his funniest, and it also displays his Italian accent and manner ruthlessly.

No, it is neither he nor the story that carry the film, but the women, their exuberance, their talent, and the dances in which the choreographer has put them to use.

I liked it. I didn’t think I would. But I like it. Because I liked these women, their sauciness, their independence, their smart take, their beauty, their agility, their out-front-ness, and the talent in each of them whose bigness warrants their being up there before me. They gave me their all and I took it for the plenty it was worth.

 

The Railway Man

30 Apr

The Railway Man – directed by Jonathan Teplisky. BioPic. 116 minutes Color 2013.

★★★

The Story: A middle-aged couple’s new marriage is about to be sabotaged by the history of the husband’s prisoner-of-war experience under the Japanese.~

It is excruciating.

In two senses. One is that the film shows the screaming brutality of the Japanese, their demented rage, their maniacal beatings, their sadistic torture. I lived through that era and remember well “those dirty Japs,” and I wonder now how it was possible for a whole people to behave this way. Now that I say this, I must also say that I got this information from what I have seen in war movies at the time – and this one. But still, inside the Japanese then was the capacity of wolverines. A viciousness so extreme it may be, as suggested by one of its perpetrators here, that it came from their being told that the Japanese could not lose – a lie that triggered the chaos that comes from a sense of unbridled power.

It is excruciating also in that all this is prolonged by a narrative style that asks us to fill in blanks, which we do not have sufficient identification with the characters as given to do. But the real excruciation is the way it is filmed, which is in a sort of perfumed haze, so that nothing is quite immediate. It is as though the whole thing had been slipcovered in makeup like Joan Crawford. It is very pretty and you can never quite get to it.

The story tells of Eric Lomax, a young British radio operator taken when the English army surrendered Singapore. He becomes a car mechanic but conspires with his fellow prisoners to assemble a radio to listen to broadcasts. When the Japanese discover it, he takes responsibility. They torture him to tell what he was broadcasting. He is caged, water boarded, beaten. Over and over. That he survives is astonishing.

A back and forth narrative works well. The corny staging of the resolution does not work well, but is still affecting, and a great moral lesson inheres in it. But it does not inhere in the movie, because the movie lacks internal life. The structure does not correspond to the outer story. The marriage is set aside as a narrative force, for one thing, and for another Nicole Kidman as the wife is miscast. The wife needs to be more ordinary. Kidman, of course, is good, but the part needs to be played by an actress with a broader foundation.

The young Eric Lomax is well cast and played by Jeremy Irvine; he has something of the mouth and the speech pattern of the older Lomax. But, as the older Lomax, Colin Firth is a dead hand. I do not see anything in Colin Firth. He is an actor who just stands there and expects you to do something about it. I do not find him permeable. I do not find his face interesting or sensitive. I do not understand what others see in him or why he should be up there before me. I cannot be for him; I cannot be against him; I find him inert.

And I do not gladly fill in his blanks, nor the enormous spaces between speeches, nor the narrative lacunae in this remarkable story of a moral, brave, and resilient human being.

 

Malice

09 May

Malice –– directed by Harold Becker. Drama. A young woman sues a successful doctor for a botched operation –– with dire consequences. 106 minutes Color 1993.

★★★★

Misnamed, Malice is a confidence-game story of the sort I love, like The Grifters. And if you like that sort of thing, this is a good one. True, we are not properly prepared for the finale, and the house on the cliff with the seas raging below is a miscalculation, but never mind; our delight in this mischief has been satisfied long before that.

Particularly as Ann Bancroft has a star turn as an old drunkard in a single scene well worth replaying. She is manipulating to get and manipulated by a bottle of single malt scotch, and her character is tougher than all the Bronx.

Each in single scenes, we also have George C. Scott as a Harvard medical dean and Gwyneth Paltrow brilliant as an insolent high school sophomore.

Indeed, the film is perfectly cast, for who can ever trust Alec Baldwin’s smile? And who can ever mistrust Bill Pullman’s earnestness?

Nicole Kidman is the female star, and I read how David Thomson in his book about her wonders how she could take on this role.

The reason lies in several factors. And it might be fun and perhaps profitable to consider what an actor goes through to accept a role.

First, consider how much Nicole Kidman is like another major film star, Bette Davis, differing from her in her instrument, of course, and being far more of a glamour-puss than Davis. But like Davis in two regards: that she is willing to take on unglamorous parts to play women older than herself, people mean, vicious, hapless, lost, which Davis did all the time. And also that Nicole Kidman possesses an acting talent on the same level as Davis, which is very high indeed, both in innate and developed talent and in ambition for it. Such are her tendencies and position.

Second, terribly, an actor must continue acting, but can accept only what is available at the time. So the question as to why Nicole Kidman did not make a movie of Hedda Gabler, a role she is perfectly suited for, is because no one was making a movie of Hedda Gable at that moment.

Thomson is prejudiced against the material and denounces ii, but he blindsides himself.  He claims Kidman is skewing her character towards ordinariness, which she does not. She is feisty and quick and realistic in relation to her husband and her situation. She never plays innocent. She right-sizes both the devoted social worker and the mistress of the dodge.

But never mind the choices she makes in playing the part. Let’s consider instead the choice she exercised to accept the part at all.

The poet John Hollander once said to me that actors were stupid. I don’t agree. Indeed, certainly less stupid about poetry than poets are about acting, and certainly intelligent in the sort of roles they believe they can play well. That is to say, they have the sort of intelligence which can weigh the specific weight of a role in terms of their own gifts and their own instrument, just as a poet has an intelligence about the sort of poem he will or will not write. It’s a sort of inherent cunning in an artist. And it is a cunning that may see that a part is playable, and yet fail to see that the material is slack. Or it may not see, as how could anyone see, how a piece of material as complicated and communal as a film will pan out in ultimate execution and public appeal. So, very good actors appear sometimes in very stupid movies. That the movies are bad may give the impression that their acting also is bad, but that is usually not the case. Even as young as 25, Malice is a good choice for Nicole Kidman to have made. And it is her informed choice.

Think of it this way. Sviatoslav Richter played only two of the Beethoven concertos and only two of the Rachmaninoff concertos and only two of the Saint-Saens concertos and only two of the Prokofiev concertos, though each composer wrote five. Why? Because Richter knew he had nothing to bring to the missing twelve. They were not right for his particular talent, or, in his case, his genius. Nicole Kidman, an actor of genius, is not a genius at everything either, and her intelligence will tell her what her particular genius can make of a part. Like Richter she is not meant to play everything. She choses what she can bring or not bring her gifts to. It’s a calculation about craft.

How can I make this clearer?

All right.

I have played many leading roles in plays. I could play King Lear. I could play Big Daddy. But I know darn well I could not play Willie Loman. My instrument is not made for it.

This film was highly successful, and she is flawless in it. She achieves complete bafflement over everyone, including the audience, which is the confident woman’s job, isn’t it? And when you look back on the performance you can see that there is no dissociation between what Kidman presents of the character as wife and what the character hides from view.

But, more particularly, it is a role exactly right for her in the writing, atmosphere, and treatment. It is something she could do that we did not know she could do until we saw her do it here. But she knew she could do it.

 

 

Rabbit Hole

25 Feb

Rabbit Hole — directed by John Cameron Mitchell – melodrama: a couple’s career through grief for a dead child.  91 minutes color 2010.

★★★

Rabbit Hole plays like A Guidebook For Grief Therapy, and as such, as a series of “customary” moves, the screenplay is paltry. It plays like a statistic. No actor, no matter how demonically inspired, can lift the lid off of such routine writing. In the big confrontation scene: neither actor can break free of the banality of the lines; they both hit a very low concrete ceiling, and are fantastically monotonous. Naturally, there are side compensations when you have actors of this genius and experience before your eyes. Nicole Kidman plays the whole first part of the story with something going on with her lower lip. What she is holding in is a mortal bitterness. She is always watchable; one is always drawn to her. But Aaron Eckhart, bears o relation to her, for once again he is miscast in a leading man role. Like Leonardo de Caprio he is not a leading man. He is a character lead, which is quite different. He is brilliant in such roles, but a leading man requires a different inner life and a different inborn gift. Richard Widmark began in films the same way Eckhart has – playing maniacs, one after another, brilliantly, and then insisting on being cast as a leading man, or, at least, let us say, a man faithful to his suburban wife. Eckhart should probably do Shakespeare for the next ten years, for, as a leading man, he does not stick to the ribs. Dianne Wiest is riveting as the lower class mother of Kidman; she can give weight to the most prosaic script and does so here. And then we have the great Sandra Oh! Aha! She plays a woman in a Grief Workshop, and her scenes with Eckhart are simply killing. I have never seen an actress of such registration. Her long oval Japanese face is like an ancient and immovable drawing which come to life in the subtlest of ripples. Her scene with Eckhart smoking dope in a parked car is smashing. Give this woman an Oscar for goodness sake. Talent of this order belongs on a postage stamp. And in front of you in a movie theatre. The film is drab, and does not accord with its director’s imaginative temperament.  So go, for the female performances. If I have splattered the screen for its cheap and easy script, and for the routinization of the loss of a child, well, that is a well-deserved public dishonor. It has not shed its disgrace on those performing it.

 

Batman Forever

07 Nov

Batman Forever –– directed by Joel Schumacher –– the caped superhero is beset on all sides, of course. ––122 minutes color 1995.

* * * * *

“Was that over-the-top? I can’t tell,” utters Jim Carrey, and one wonders at the question. Has Jim Carrey ever been under over-the-top? Certainly not in this film. He is clearly a great film creature, and give him a gilded cane and stand back. The picture itself is overloaded with focal possibilities. First we have Tommy Lee Jones miscast as someone who is not a genius and therefore cannot be played by him. All Jones can do is howl with gruesome laughter. He plays a petty thief running a covey of red capped robbers, but he is at once supplanted by Nicole Kidman, whose blond hair brings the only daylight into the night-owl doings of the Batman milieu. God helps anyone who commits a 9-5 crime in Gotham; Batman only saves the night, never the day. Kidman, no matter how ever-glorious, is soon supplanted by Jim Carrey as a sedulous inventor employee of Bruce Wayne. Carrey consumes every scene he is in, with his brilliant physical comedy and hyperbolic acting style and range of invention. He’s wonderful of course. But his Niagara turns everyone around him into a trickle. He is followed but not supplanted by Chris O’Donnell who enters as a fledging Robin. The whole film is all quite lovely, and gives full satisfaction to one’s longing for midnight draughts. Val Kilmer is Bruce Wayne, and why not? The part is cast for the mouth showing under the mask. He is a very good actor and perfectly at ease in the role of the adult orphan. Complaints are irrelevant. So is praise. Who could critique a mud bath at a spa or champagne fountain at a wedding? Not I. Over-indulgence is at times the only proper rule of law. All I can say is that Jim Carrey fifteen years ago was at the perfect age to have played Hamlet, and should have done so. He had the antic temperament, the innocence of eye, and the pain.

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