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Archive for the ‘Rachel McAdams’ Category

Southpaw

28 Jul

Southpaw ­– directed by Antoine Fuqua. Sportsdrama. 123 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★

The Story: The Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion falls on evil days and rises once again.

~

All boxers are born punchdrunk. They would have to be thickheaded to stand the blows to their heads and thickheaded to imagine a fight could ever solve whatever drove them to want to fight to begin with.

Jake Gyllenhaal certainly grasps this as his basis for the character’s energy. It’s been used before in Kid Galahad, Rocky, The Fighter, and Wallace Berry’s 1931 The Champ of which this film is a dead ringer – the story of a fighter who puts his life together for his young son, the appealing Jackie Cooper, in this case for a daughter, the appealing Oona Lawrence. Southpaw is as dated as the antimacassar.

It is essentially an old-fashioned Victorian melodrama – at least it becomes that once Rachel McAdams is out the picture. While she is in it, the writing is superb. Once she is out of it, the writing degenerates, as it has to, to feed the dastardly plot. Cary Grant received his only Oscar nomination for playing the same ne’er-do-well parent in George Stevens’ Penny Serenade. But the present film gives Gyllenhaal no such Oscar scene as the famous one Grant played with Beulah Bondi.

But it does provide the four principal players with acting roles each of them makes wonderful.

As the twelve year old daughter, Oona Lawrence strengthens every scene she plays. Rachel McAdams, holding the reins on her out-of-control angry husband, has just the right touch. After all, her husband is puerile; he can’t help it. Forrest Whitaker’s acting improves with every film I see him in: he has lost the bid for pity which once marred his work.

However, these characterizations exist apart from the melodrama they are forced to pass through. 1-2-3 Melodrama declines subtlety of characterization; it requires types. So, although the work the actors do is worth the film-time, it is impossible to root for the outcome, because we already know what it is. If the lady is tied onto the railroad tracks she will be snatched from under the wheels of the train in the nick.

Gyllenhaal’s work is somewhat sideswiped by having to bear this melodrama-load.

He claims to have accepted the role because it was about a man learning to be a father. Of course, it is no such thing, though that is a value we are asked to accept. Nor is it about a man learning anger-control, although that is a value we are asked to accept. Anger-control takes a life-time to ingrain. It isn’t even a story about a man rising from the dregs of defeat, although this is also such a value, because we never believe in that defeat’s convenient, clumsy arrival as a plot convention. The material is mangled by the dead sentimentality of its form which is claptrap and a  sham.

What makes it work is watching Gyllenhaal and the other actors work.

Gyllenhaal gives his character a voice as though scabs lined his vocal chords. Not every actor can generate a character-voice; Bette Davis never could. This voice allows you to wander into his character and find inside his Billy Hope a mother-wit and a grasp of values, alongside of a gruesome swagger and a plodding gullibility, the bravado of a big-horned ram and the docility of a lamb.

Gyllenhaal is truly ugly in the ring. So we are not asked to pity a pretty face. He wears an undergrowth of short red beard, his teeth are blackened, his hair is shorn on the sides like a con’s. Billy Hope is a character so well made you wish it could have been supported by a story that did not sabotage it. Melodrama forces care. So, alas, we cannot care.

I don’t know why we are not told that a left-handed boxer is at a great disadvantage in the ring and in what way; that could have been a drama element for us. But, at least, we are taken through Gyllenhaal’s training by Whitaker; so we learn something of ring tactics, footwork, and the fact that good fighters don’t destroy opponents with haymakers. All it takes is the force of a five pound jab to knock the brains of an opponent into a coma.

All the information Gyllenhaal has given on Terry Gross ‘s Fresh Air, The New Yorker, and elsewhere, has enlarged one’s respect for this actor’s clarity of wit and the inevitability of his calling.

Fights in fight movies are stories within stories. In this film, they are superb. But the larger story that houses them in Southpaw is prefabricated.

I recommend the movie, but not over Mark Wahlberg’s The Fighter. Wahlberg makes his character modest and withdrawn. Gyllenhaal’s character is volatile and brazen, inside of which is an intelligence just daring to peek out. They are both wonderful actor performances. Southpaw is well worth seeing therefore, even though one wishes its larger story was as true as its fights, or as the acting of its actors is true.

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Midnight In Paris

04 Jun

Midnight In Paris – Written and directed by Woody Allen – Light Comedy. A screenwriter and his fiancée fall out over Paris, as she shops forward, and he time travels back. 100 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

We expect another dose of Allen’s tired concerns, but we find instead a spoonful of sugar and no medicine at all. Adrien Brody’s excruciatingly funny rendition of Salvador Dali is worth the ticket of admission. Alas, it stands virtually alone as a form of comic comment as Bunuel, Picasso, Matisse, Lautrec, Degas, Gauguin, cameo in and out with no savor comique at all. The joke of celebrity artists’ sudden appearances plays out long before they turn up, and Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein is once again out of her element in Paris. But, more than the actors, in all these cases, it is the fault of the writer Allen, whose script is flaccid and who tends to sacrifice humor to comedy and comedy to jokes – although some of the jokes admittedly are marvelous. Allen also writes the lines of his male lead for one actor and one actor only, himself, but he is not playing the part just at present, so Owen Wilson who happens to be playing it here, is at times trapped by the Allen rhythms and, through no fault of his own, cannot always adhere to a character whose rug is being pulled out from under him by the failure of the screenwriter who thinks that someone else should be as funny as Woody Allen is when, all the time, Owen Wilson is just as funny on his own and as himself as any normal light comedy film requires. Wilson is right for the part, of course, a gormeless, lecherous, shy, literarily ambition bloke, and his stentorian style of reading his lines is droll beyond measure. He carries the film, for sure, right where it belongs into our own willingly gullible hearts. He is helped in this particularly by Rachel McAdams who gets plenty of and deserved attention from the camera as the fiancée from hell, an extremely well-written part and one which she does full justice to – she’s so funny in everything she does, you’re too horrified to laugh. The other dead spot is Marion Cotillard, leaden as the leading lady in a part that requires mischief and sexual animation such as Carole Lombard had or Goldie Hawn or some Unknown Delight. But, nonetheless, the film carries itself through for us in a good old-fashioned way; it offers us a fairy tale we all have had of hobnobbing with the accomplished. It carries the dream fun through, the feckless younger son meeting all the sacred monsters in the woods of fame, while all the imps are Allen.

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