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Archive for the ‘BACK SOUNDSTAGE COMEDY’ Category

The Big Picture

03 Aug

The Big Picture ­­­­–– directed by Christopher Guest. Satire. A film student gets discovered by Hollywood and barters away his soul, almost. 100 minutes Color 1988.

★★★

I am actually zero degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. For back in the palmy days of the 70s, my lady friend drew me from Greenwich Village to a big Thanksgiving party in the Philadelphia house of Kevin Bacon’s parents, whose father was city planner. Kevin was a kid running around the yard playing touch.

Because of this gratifyingly high position I hold in his life, I have always wanted him to be a favorite actor of mine, but there are too many degrees of separation for that.

There is a human model called Fusion, which divides folks into two outer types, either the controlling or the withdrawn, and each of these combines with an inner type, either the steady or the volatile. Katharine Hepburn would be Volatile/Controlling, and Spencer Tracy would be Steady/Withdrawn. Kevin Bacon would be Volatile/Controlling also, and his best friend in the movie and his girlfriend would both be Steady/Withdrawn.

The problem with Kevin Bacon as an actor is that his Controlling energy is used, probably unconsciously, not to control his surroundings and make them better, but to control himself. The result is a tension ever present and useful only in dramatic roles. In a comedy, which this film is, it is useless and indeed detrimental. In dramatic roles it gives him a certain deadness; this makes him an ideal villain. But it prevents him from being a natural comic actor, someone who is inherently funny. And without this quality the present film falls flat.

And it falls even flatter by contrast when there appear in it actors who are inherently funny, or who can do funny things, or both. Such ones are Fran Dresher, who is marvelous as the Hollywood wife who is forever redecorating her home. Or Martin Short, whose exquisitely and imaginatively rash take has an uncanny viability as a gonzo Hollywood agent,. Or Teri Hatcher as the sex-bomb starlet. Or Jennifer Jason Leigh, my least favorite actor, who, in a very well-written part, is brilliant in making the manically volatile film student into someone one’s heart bleeds for. These four have talents that can rise to meet the challenge satire demands.

As has the great J.T.Walsh as the sinister, controlling studio head. But Bacon is so tense, even his teeth are tense. It throws his timing a half-beat short. It makes everything he does preplanned, so even his improvisations seem like nothing is actually happening to him. Nothing looks fresh. Everything looks thought-out even when nothing is. He is a very good actor, but his presence in this material is the ruination of it. It’s a Tom Hanks part; it needs someone you can get behind, someone inherently a fool. The best Bacon can come up with is routine naiveté. It wants not just an actor you like but one you can admire for making a jackass of himself, someone so vulnerable they are lucky.

 

The Artist

22 Feb

The Artist — written and directed by Michael Hazanavicius. Romantic Comedy. A silent film star falls on evil days when sound comes in, but can a rising female star rescue him? 100 minutes Black And White Silent 2011.

★★★★★

Look around you. Why are there no birds in the trees? Why, it’s because The Artist has charmed all of them off, hasn’t it. And you won’t even notice this as you watch this film because you have been charmed and can do nothing else but continue to watch it. As everyone has already whispered to you, the film is both black and white and silent, and partly because of this it takes us on a ride we were skeptical of enjoying when we started and are thus all the more susceptible to when we find ourselves helplessly in midstream of it. George Valentin is a silent film star along the lines, not of John Gilbert, but of Douglas Fairbanks, whom you would never dream of casting opposite Garbo either. That is to say, George is not a romantic matinee actor but a restless, dancing, chandelier-swinging one, capable of stunning athletic and gymnastic feats, and can toss his head back in laughter of fiery derision at every turn and even oftener. Like Fairbanks, when talkies came in George lost his calling. Fairbanks made a few desultory films, and our George makes a silent jungle epic and it sinks. Fairbanks never drank, but our George does and he goes downhill fast. He ends up with a face like a defeated amusement park. Partnered by his loyal dog, played impeccably by Uggie, and by his loyal chauffeur played by James Cromwell who drives a Packard that will make you swoon with desire, and by the young rising star, Bérénice Béjo, who wants to help him, but a man has his pride. Well, a man does. But is that why won’t he make talking films? Ah, that is the conundrum the film reveals but I won’t. Béjo has wonderful eyes, full of the reality of the power of youth and the reality of the power of flirtation. But it is Jean Dujardin who is our focus, and he has all the ingredients of the matinée idol. Lacquered hair, a handsome head, a long powerful nose, a chin noble in profile, flexible eyebrows, the mustache of a merry cad, flashing eyes, a smile that could convince a cobra to simper, the most beautiful mouth you have ever seen, and a personality so full of itself you have to stand back six rows and let it. Both he and Béjo play in the style of the era, parodying it without mocking it. And because they do the film takes fire as film because film is huge, it is already exaggerated, it is up there on the screen, after all. And we do honor to its capacities by enjoying ourselves no end with them, so generously revealed to us here. When it’s over, sigh with satisfaction, then look about and ask yourself if you can remember to: Are the birds back on the trees yet?

 

 

These Old Broads

21 Sep

These Old Broads – Directed by Matthew Diamond. Show Biz Comedy. A singing trio of the 60s is urged to make a comeback. 89 minutes Color 2001.

* * * *

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you The Sunshine Girls! They fight, they throw hissy fits at one another, they stalk out, they tear off one another’s wigs, and they make some very witty wisecracks. It holds one’s attention because it moves along licketty-split and because no pretense is made to turn it into The Bandwagon, and because the three stars are accomplished entertainers and know what they are about. Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins, and Debbie Reynolds are the ladies in question. They are well supported by Hinton Battle as the choreographer, Jonathan Silverman as the 40-year-old orphan, and by Nestor Carbonell as the slay-tongued producer. The performances of the last two with one another are worth the price of admission, just to see two actors play it for all its worth, even if the three stars weren’t doing the same, and even if Elizabeth Taylor were not really quite out front as a bullying Jewish agent. She describes herself as “big as a bungalow”. (The Jewels she wears, which are also big as bungalows, are being auctioned off at Christie’s now.) You will enjoy some very funny lines and the same pained nostalgia for those ladies in the days of their youth and glory as I felt too. Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor even have a scene about a husband the Elizabeth Taylor character stole from the Debbie Reynolds character all those years ago. Boy! You will do no harm to life and limb to sit back and enjoy it.

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