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Archive for the ‘Big Business Comedy’ Category

The Hundred Foot Journey

18 Nov

The Hundred-Foot Journey – directed by Lasse Halleström. Gastronomical Romance. 122 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: The melding of classic French and classic East Indian cultures and cuisines unites four lovers of food and one another.

~

Do not waste the 35 seconds it takes to read the following.

The personalities of a French country restaurant serving classic cuisine do battle with the spices and innovation that waft over from across the street.

Helen Mirren has created one of her not infrequent masterpieces of human character in Madam Mallory, the restauranteuse. She can’t stand that her Michelin star is 100 feet across the road where an Indian family has moved to a village in France to open their Indian restaurant there. The young master-chef is played by handsome dish Manish Dayal. The luminous light of India shines from beneath his rich, honest brows. Om Puri is the paterfamilias of the six young Indians who build the restaurant from scratch. He is an actor of triple subtexts, delicious to watch and enjoy. And the sou-chef from Mirren’s kitchen who helps and falls in love with Manish Dayal is played by the angel-food actress Charlotte Le Bon.

Do not read farther. You have been forbidden. Your job is mouth watering. Your job is appreciation of your own good taste. Your job is to draw up your chair and feast on this movie.

If Helen Mirren at her best were not enough, the heart-warming story would be. And if that were not enough, the Steven Spielberg production would be.

And if you know how it will end from the very beginning, so what? The virtue of a ritual lies not in the novelty of its form but in the freshness of the truth it contains.

What are you sitting there for? Get to your Netflix, nip down to your library and take out the DVD. It’s less than a 100-foot journey to your own delight.

 

 

 

 

Thank You For Smoking

07 Nov

Thank You For Smoking –– directed by Jason Reitman. Satire. A ruthless lobbyist for the tobacco industry is taken to task by all who surround him, but wins through to give everyone cancer. 92 minutes Color 2006.
★★★★★
A gem of a comedy made possible only by the perfect casting of its leading roles of the Senator who opposes him being played by William H. Macy, and by Aaron Eckhart as the lobbyist. Macy is one of those actors who is always inherently funny because he is always on the verge of being exposed as humanly fallible. There is that in his broad flexible features which no passing shrapnel can miss. To illustrate it, watch the marvelous little scene in the Extra Features in which he offers his assistant a bottle of maple syrup. Catch the expression with which he ends the scene, his mouth opening slightly, with a tiny shaking of his head. As for Aaron Eckhart, once again he has a role proper to his instrument. Often cast as a leading man, which he is not, here he is ripe in his true vocation as a character lead. For there is in him such a balance between a person who cannot be any better than he is and another perhaps better person he does not know anything about, even by suspicion. This gives him a corner on the market of lovable rotters, such as no actor has had since Lee Marvin expired, although I do not really know how lovable Lee Marvin actually was. Eckhart has more than a scoundrel or scamp in his nature. He is able to play the modern machine-brained swine like no one else, and this is one of those roles. He plays the man who has chosen to be a foxy Yuppie monster –– Eckhart’s every assay into these characters plays like a hostile takeover of all human decency. And we love him for it. Robert Duval brings additional comic weight to the show as does J.K. Simmons, both of whom play Eckhart’s bosses. The piece is brilliantly written and directed. It is filmed like a puppet show, perfectly. Satire is a form of comedy we do not fall off our chairs laughing over. Satire is a form of comedy we remain in our chairs to gleefully relish.

 

Desk Set

28 Aug

Desk Set – directed by Walter Lang. Romantic Comedy. The research department of a broadcasting company feels threatened by the introduction of a computer and its inventor. 103 minutes. Color 1957.

★★★★★

Katharine Hepburn was not a great actress, but she was such a great high-comedy actress you might think she was. She is usually better in the first half of a film than in the last, and she is usually better with Spencer Tracy in comedy than in drama. They made nine films together, and if you omit the dramas you will find the cream on the top to be whipped. So, see Woman Of The Year, Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, and Desk Set. Hepburn is 50 when she does this, so there are no close-ups, and there do not have to be. Her fearless full-body physical confidence in movement has tremendous carrying power, and few actors could handle props with her ease and dispatch. Chewing on a paper cup while asking a leading question, watch her. Watch her open that financial report and start to work; you absolutely believe she understands its contents and knows what to look for. Hepburn was an actress who chose only noble roles, roles which called upon her strengths: fairness, poise, and willingness to level with you. With Tracy, her certainty in all matters is balanced out at the end to make a compatibility. This is not true with Cary Grant; with Grant you are left with the dizzy challenge of their incompatibility. In some things Hepburn is no good. In love she plays the giddy schoolgirl or the lorn one, which is undignified and false (in real life, Hepburn was never alone and not interested in romance). In serious scenes she tends to emotionalize and tear-up, which is cheap and easy. But catch her in the free-wheeling exposition of the opening scenes of a comedy, and there is no one better in the world for beguiling you – with her accuracy of attack, democracy of eye, physical fluidity, and absolute generosity before the camera. We love Hepburn for her spirit, yes, and for her nobleness, for that is what she intended to leave us as a vision, and it’s not a bad one. Her wonderful smile and vulnerability to what is happening in a given scene make us take her at her word. She wanted to be fascinating, and she did it by being fascinating to herself – by enjoying herself in a part, by surprising herself in a part. Desk Set was done on Broadway with Shirley Booth, and the Mexington Avenue scene was the most delicious comedy scene I have ever seen on the stage. The two women find it irresistibly funny and cannot stop laughing and the audience cannot stop laughing with them. Hepburn does not play it this way and is not quite convincing as inebriated. Instead, she snorts and throws her head back; Hepburn was not a laugher; she was a smiler. Never mind: Desk Set is particularly fortunate for her because you see her in her preferred milieu which is among women, so her ease of command and kind smartness and high morale are never shown better. And her early scenes with Tracy are light comedy at its best, particularly the tip-top trio scene with Gig Young as the smarmy exec BF on his way up. Three masters. Watch how Hepburn eats a sandwich and freezes from the winter cold on a roof patio while answering hard questions from Tracy. She’s brilliant at it and she keeps the character modest. Perfectly cast as a know-it-all, as she was in Woman Of The Year, we love her for it. The camera is on her and she rejoices you with her mastery before it. What is special in the spirit in each human individual? With her peculiar vocal timbre, particular pronunciation, automatic-rifle attack, slim, athletic figure, unusual and beautiful mouth and always engaged eyes she is a reminder of what the unique spirit in each of us actually looks like in free play. Being like no one else, she is emblem of all. Yes, she is not a great actress, but she is a Great Actress.

 

 

Tempest

10 Mar

Tempest – directed by Paul Mazursky – Drama. Modernization of Shakespeare’s play but without his dialogue. 2 hours 24 minutes Color 1882

* * *

For our sins, we sit through the inept longeurs of this piece, and wonder how temperaments so disaffiliated with the underlying dramaturgy and voice of the original could have ventured into this teapot. It now has to do with a famous architect, whose wife finds him, in middle age, inadequate. So he takes his teen-aged daughter off to an isolated Greek island. There he twiddles his thumbs while his new girlfriend lusts for his now chaste form. I say no more. No one in the piece seems to know exactly what to do next, and John Cassavetes as the lead flounders in the part, to which he brings neither the magic nor the authority necessary to it. His mind seems elsewhere. Mazursky has a gift for lower class comedy, which category this material cannot be dragged down to. Scenes are allowed to be improvised, one senses, as actors loose grip on their characters and fall back on their generic brand. Chaos is not the same thing as a tempest. The exception to this might be Gena Rowlands, but with no script, even she cannot get out alive. Susan Sarandon, as the Ariel character, now a nightclub chanteuse, plays her character as awkward, which is perhaps meant to etherealize her titties and big hot brown eyes. The performance looks uncertain. Raul Julia is the only fully experienced Shakespearean in the bunch, but even he, as Caliban, is only improvising  in a mop closet. Vittorio Gassman is, of course, famous for his Hamlet, but he is not welcome as a hyped-up, hypchondriacal magnate. Indeed, the whole venture is artistically undignified for the actors, with one exception.  It does bring to the screen for the first time Sam Robards, in a hair-do fatal for a debut, but Mollie Ringwold alone holds her own in this sea of tripe. I don’t know whether she is in character, but she sure has character. She was to have a huge film career, and judging by this performance, she well deserved it, by way of retaliation.

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Love And Other Drugs…

05 Jan

Love And Other Drugs… –– directed by Edward Zwick –– romantic drama in which a supersalesman roué falls in bed with a lady with a dubious future. 2010 color.

* * * * *

Jill Clayburgh’s last film, and the sort of picture that she and Burt Reynolds would have made forty years ago beautifully. That is to say a rather modern-mouthed and good looking young woman meets a handsome swordsman, and they bed down and they clash over some issue or other and then they make up. You know what I mean: the sort of film in which everything depends on the wit and the skill of the script and the wit and skill and personalities of the two actors, and the ground of the quarrel somehow dissolves by the last dissolve, doesn’t it? Here, however, the obstacle for both is that one of them has Parkinson’s, which will not dissolve. This seems like a put-up job in a way, but everyone does take it as seriously as they can, given a script which, while most times smart and fun and surprising, nonetheless becomes sometimes routine. In romantic drama the director must never run the risk of the grounds for a redundant emotional effect. Jake Gyllenhaal is inventive, lively, and various as the male, and Anne Hathaway is fascinating as the female. Won’t they get Golden Globes or Oscars or both? Probably. Oliver Platt is wonderful as Gyllanhaal’s boss, and Hank Azaria is remarkable as his hapless brother. One doubt one must set aside is the certainty that a sexual relation of such ferocity would not end up in a relationship. And another trouble is that the love affair lacks the relief and slant of any spirit of community, of friends, of town-folk, and there is but one short scene of Gyllenhaal’s family with George Segal as his father and as his mother the great, the elegant Jill Clayburgh, who has but one small moment on screen, her last, her final word being: “cake”!

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