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Archive for the ‘Sally Hawkins’ Category

The Shape Of Water

14 Jan

The Shape Of Water – written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. Thriller Fairy Tale. 123 minutes Color 2017.
★★★★★
The Story: An Amazon river god is imprisoned in a U.S. research installation, where he is tortured and threatened with dismemberment until a cleaning woman nurses and rescues him.
~
Of course, fairy stories are true. Myths are true. Allegory is true. That’s how come they last and carry weight in the spirits of children and indigenes. What “true” means is that fairy tales and myths and allegory mimic the inner procedures of the human psyche. The reason fairy tale and myth and allegory endure is that their method of communicating the most important human truths has never been supplanted.

So we see the kindness of the cleaning woman to be the real food she offers the creature, along with hard-boiled eggs.

But what use has this scary creature? The use is, as with all gods, that they never die. What goes with that territory is that they can heal death in others. Mercury, the god of thieves, medicine, tricks, and messages, is the winged avatar of this still, but Hindu religion is crammed with others. In all cases, they heal.

Not always in the way you might want, and in this case the healing teeters perilously before it is revealed. For the god has taken the shape of a merman, and his aspect is daunting. He is played by 57-year-old Doug Jones, lithe, sensual, sudden.

I can’t think of an actor who might have better played the cleaning woman who becomes his mate. Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito (which in English means “exposed” or “transparent”) opens her character up not just to him but to her colleague played by Octavia Spencer whose every word one always believes and so it is here. Over a movie house which seems to be playing forever the same B-Toga epic, Hawkins lives in generous neighborly conjunction with with a commercial illustrator whose style has dated him.

Richard Jenkins does him perfectly. He is the artist who cannot make a difference, the old fool, The Failed Father Figure Of Fairy Tale. Rather like the sad king with the unmarriageable daughter whom you find all the time in those stories. Either she herself or someone beyond unusual must rescue her from the doldrums of the kingdom. And in this case, the doldrums are enforced by a vicious tyrant played with his usual perfection by the handsome, hard Michael Shannon.

Mortal stupidity swirls them around – by the American military bureaucracy typified by Nick Searcy as the general in charge of everything – and by the Russians who want to steal the merman, and whose plans are foxed by Michael Stuhlbarg, who who plays a scientist/spy bent on saving the merman.

So you see, you have a full complement of forces, modern and fantastical, to urge our attention and our loyalties on.

The film is beautifully filmed and imagined. Just what you want for such a tale.

And what is it that you want?

What you don’t want is to be told. So both the merman and the cleaning woman are mute and must, nonetheless, make themselves perfectly understandable to themselves and to us. We see that it is not hard to do.

What you really want is resurrection.

And that’s what the picture provides.

Enjoy yourself. See it.

 

Great Expectations [2013 version]

11 Nov

Great Expectations – directed by Mike Newell. A young man is snatched out of the lower classes and thrust into the role of a gentleman. 128 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

Dickens is an author of immense imagination, and while it is perfectly easy and obviously attractive to track his characters and situations down to his biography – ingénues with names beginning with E, for instance – the greatness of him lies in a world which his words create and that has nothing to do with current events or his own life at all.

Pip is one of those characters who is a white paper outline, a figure meant for us to fill with our own selves as we pass through his crises. And actors can be quite bland in such roles. It is rare to find Alec Guinness in such a part, but there he once was. And now it is nice to find both the romantic leads of Estella and Pip played by actors with some character to them and some real responsiveness, not settling to just stand there and let us do the work.

A lot of Dickens depends upon his treatment of characters in what they say, and this is garnered to this film, thank goodness, for they do not do the melodrama-speak the plots and the times adored, no; they speak quirkily, unexpectedly, endearingly.

A lot of Dickens depends upon the supporting players; Great Expectations is rich with them.

The trouble now is that all subsequent versions must compete with the David Lean version of 1946. In making his nasty-eyes, Ralph Fiennes does not bring anything special to Magwich, and is certainly less horrifying than Finlay Currie was in the sudden terror of his first appearance. Fiennes is probably miscast. As Jaggers, Francis L. Sullivan is almost equaled by the work of the current and wonderful actor, Robbie Coltrane, a man of similar mien and girth. Sally Hawkins is all wrong as Pip’s mean sister. She is played as though a crazy woman, whereas Pip’s sister is really just an ordinary example of British child-rearing. Olly Alexander is better than John Mills as the jolly, generous, eager Pocket. But Helena Bonham Carter is over-costumed perhaps to compensate for her inappropriateness in a role forever haunted by the calamitous Martita Hunt as Miss Haversham. What Bonham Carter is doing in this part is baffling. She lacks power and therefore credibility.

But the story is so wonderful to visit and revisit. It is one of the great novels of literature because of the great vibration of its inherent ambitions, which we all have: to get back at those who have wronged us; to become sudden princes; to be allowed the love we love. These and their frustrations and barriers and disappointment are rich in Dickens. So we watch the TV version, in which we receive such satisfaction to actually see Bentley Drummle kicked to death by the horse he is beating. And we see, in the modern version with Ann Bancroft disgracefully out of place as Miss Haversham, but the enchanting Gwyneth Paltrow as an Estella we can actually believe in.

There is always something wonderful, and there is always the wonderful story.

 

Blue Jasmine

15 Aug

Blue Jasmine – written and directed by Woody Allen. Satirical Tragedy. A wealthy woman falls on hard times, moves in with her sister, and things get harder still. 98 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

The movie is fun to watch because everyone in it is fun to watch, from Glen Caspillo who plays a cabdriver in one scene to Cate Blanchett who is virtually in every scene.

Are Woody Allen movies ever miscast? We have sub-stars, such as Alex Baldwin who spreads his face with the merciless fixed smile of the opportunist and we have Sally Hawkins touching as Blanchett’s ordinary sister whom she moves in with and Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight, ideal as the millionaire in shining armor. But we also have every single minor character perfectly acted and played. As the maraschino cherry on top: Bobby Canavale playing to perfection the baby-bully of Hawkins’ boyfriend.

And we have Allen’s cunning script, which keeps us moving from the beach house on The Vineyard to the walkup on Van Nuys in San Francisco, set decoration by Kis Boxell and Regina Graves, and Production design by the ever faithful Santo Loquasto. Javier Aquirresarobe excellently shot it. What a team!

I don’t know if Cate Blanchett was Allen’s first choice to play this woman, but she is my first choice to play it right now. She is never without resources. She is always in the situation which she is, which she has created, and which she dearly wishes to escape. Vocally she has a rich, melodious alto, which one never tires of hearing. She wears that last desperate little Chanel jacket with a difference positively valiant. She looks smashing in the clothes and in the milieu of the millionaire she has married. She is riveting. She is imaginative, varied, and true.

And you do not give a rap about her or about anyone or anything else in the story, so no one is applauding. You sympathize with her at times, but the character is a character of satire, not of tragedy. She is one of Truman Capote’s swans. She is a woman with no inner resources whatsoever, and so there is no alternative for her. She pygmalioned herself out of a dull upbringing and changed her name of Jeanette into that of A Trophy: Jasmine – a  fragrance without a past, an invisible surface. This means that there is no inner drama, no other possibility, no might-have-been. The drama is between going mad and living out the madness of the life she still wishes for herself.

Jasmine has been compared inaptly to Blanche Dubois, but Blanche Dubois was a schoolteacher, and she had an inner life. Jasmine was never anything except the interior decoration of a tycoon. When that falls apart, she has nothing inside herself to fall back on. She has no money, no calling, no children. What happens to King Lear when his job falls away? He too goes mad. But with a mounting difference. There was that in him – authority – which invites obedience to it. Being every inch a king is different from being every inch a society bitch. And the difference is that Lear learns something from the denuding and self-denuding of his authority; Jasmine learns nought, for there is nothing learnable in her. She is a just a story about a past told by a verbose half-crazed lush who once had one.

 

Jane Eyre

01 May

Jane Eyre – Directed by Cary Fukunaga. Gothic Melodrama. A governess is duped by the lord of the manor. 120 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

All the nighttime interiors are filmed like de la Tour: candles both glamorize and mortify the faces. Outdoors the sun never seems to shine. And this captures the lugubrious inner climate of Victorian fiction, with the doom of death, which we find in Dickens, in Tennyson, and here, where a wedding is the next best thing to a funeral, the first being the white prelude to the black childbirth demise of the second. All this the director has realized. And so has the costumer Michael O’Connor, and so has everyone on the technical side, with one exception, the casting director. For it is perfectly clear in the novel and it is perfectly clear in the screenplay that Jane and Rochester are homely people, yet they have been cast with handsome people. ‘Do you find me handsome?” asks Rochester at one point, and when Jane says “No,” we must suppose that she is, for the first time, lying, or that she is as blind as Rochester will one day become. The novel has the great advantage over films of this story in that we never see these two. But films of this story lie to us over and over, in version after version. Joan Fontaine, even in her wan drab stage was pretty, and Orson Welles was infernally magnificent. Without their being homely, the entire story is baffling nonsense, for the entire story is that of honesty cutting through all levels of fine and proper appearance: of wealth, of religion, of position, of gender, of face, of figure, of sexuality and even of physical deformity, since Rochester ends up blind. As it is, all you’re left with in this version is that you have got to be blind to get married. I prefer Rebecca, which is its most famous duplicate. Or I prefer the 1998 Masterpiece Theatre television version. This one is a movie; it’s too short. This one leaves out how much Jane enjoyed running the school she founded; it even leaves out that Rochester’s ward is infuriating and is actually his illegitimate child. It leaves out how come Jane starts out as a girl of high temperament and becomes a teenager of no temperament whatsoever. The 1998 TV version also has at least an unusual looking Jane. This one, however, has Judi Dench, quite fine as Mrs Fairfax the housekeeper, and it has the great Sally Hawkins as the wicked witch Mrs Reed, and it has our own Billy Elliot, Jamie Bell, as St. John. In the TV version the characters are more fully rounded, St. John, for instance, because the material is a big Victorian novel, and two hours cannot compass the long vital surgery it performs, the first layer of which is the meaning and meaninglessness of the want of beauty in its principals.

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All Or Nothing

28 Feb

All Or Nothing – directed by Mike Leigh – Drama. Neighbors in a London project come to grips with their futures. 2 hours 8 minutes Color 2002.

* * * *

Don’t you love Mike Leigh’s films? Such a storyteller, isn’t he? In this one we have Timothy Spall and Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville and a bunch of other fine actors giving us full value in a beautifully directed story. It’s the story of a group of people stupefied by their circumstances. It’s one of those pictures you cannot put down – until … Until the crucial event which takes it into the realm of the lachrymose. Of course, Leigh has great tolerance for sobbing women. Brenda Blethyn was the champ sobber. And in this film he lets Lesley Manville start to cry in the last reel and never stop.  There’s two things wrong with that decision. The first is that weeping is quite out of character for the woman we have watched for an hour and half, a woman absolutely dumbstruck by the barriers of her life, a woman staring into desolation; she’s in a state too deep for tears. Her instinct might be to grow ruthless; her instinct would not be to drench everyone in sight.  To dissolve into the piteous, is not the way she would go. The second thing wrong with it is that Timothy Spall has a crying scene at the same time, and you can’t have two people crying at once; they cancel one another out. But there’s a missing washer in Manville’s tap; she never stops dripping, and it fouls Spall’s scene. She can be a great actress and is so in the early part of the film, but it’s an example of an actress turning on her technique and losing her character. It’s really the director’s fault for allowing it. The scene also is badly edited. It should not be edited at all; the camera should remain entirely on Spall, and then let’s take a look at the wife’s response. I think Leigh loses his way with this material; he wanders into a sentimental rapprochement, and somehow I don’t think that’s the road to trudge here. But until then it is a heavenly picture, a cast beautifully rehearsed and free. Spall is Humpty-Dumpty after the fall, a wonderful performance of a brained man. The extraordinary Sally Hawkins is also fully present as the locale slattern, and what could be better than what Ruth Sheen has to offer? Nothing that I can think of. See it. Make it part of your Mike Leigh collection.

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