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Archive for the ‘COMEDY/DRAMA’ Category

Departures

02 Nov

Departures – directed by Tojiro Takita. Dramedy. 130 minutes Color 2006.

★★★★★

The Story: A young married man answers an employment ad and finds himself involved in a career of which no one in his family or nation approves.

~

I start this review by telling you that this film won the 2006 Oscar for The Best Foreign Film to captivate you into leaping into ordering it from your library or Netflix or Amazon or Santa Claus.

I have this terrible habit of criticizing films. Of course, one does this because one is addicted to the word “Halleluiah!” One wants to tell the glad tidings and bear the good news. It’s a foolish habit. But such a film as this makes it imperative to my soul, and I forgive myself for it – and for everything else besides.

This film was originally designed by the actor who plays the leading role, and he certainly is a great star. He has all the eccentricity and immediacy of a great star. And the looks. No film company wanted to make it. He held out. When it was made, everyone on Earth went to it.

Masahiro Matoki plays opposite the most charming actress in the world, Ryoko Hirosue, she who adores him, fosters him, and puts her foot down hard on his when she finds out what he does for a living.

Kimiko Yo plays the Gal Friday of the firm, and she has been around several blocks, you can tell. The formidable Tsutomu Yamazaki is the boss of both of them, never predicable, always rigorous. A great actor at work.

The film is shot in a plain manner that makes things surprising when they appear before one.

The direction devotes itself to a simplicity which encourages the comedy into our eyes without blistering them.

I don’t want to talk much about this film, except to say it is engrossing, expressive, different, and dear. I don’t describe it because to do so would be to betray its surprises and preempt its beauty and its fun. Let’s just say it’s just what film is for! I know you will enjoy it as much as I did. That’s my rash hope. But then hope is always rash, is it not?

I say no more. Except watch it. Watch it. Watch it.

 

 

Mortdecai

04 Feb

Mortdecai – directed by David Keopp. Action/Farce. 107 minutes Color 2015

★★★★★

The Story: A highborn British scoundrel and his delicious wife deploy their expertise in pirating a stolen Goya.

~

Oh, oh, oh. Go, go, go!

For I shall go three times myself. For – oh, my dears – it is the funniest film you have ever seen or listened to. At least this year. At least don’t bother hoping for anything better. At least this year. Unless they make a sequel. At least this year.

The screenplay is witty beyond measure. The language positively rejoices one! If you want dandy lines, don’t despair, come here! If you want your attention alerted, don’t weep for sorrow, let your brains be restored! Here lies succor. If you want to experience the full range of comedy, high, medium, and low in one costly banquet, pray step this way.

If you enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel, and thought you would never meet its match again, well you were wrong! For this director knows, as Anderson knows, and I have no telling how they both doth know, how to fashion fine film farce. The speed of it! The connivance with the audience of it! The exploding of disbelief of it! The snippety snap of the editing of it! Where are you going to go for such fine fare save to this Dorchester of comedies, Mortdecai!

Now you may have lost faith in Johnny Depp by now. I know I had. I had never thought to see him do a piece of good work again. But – a-ha! – not so. For here he is in full actor fig! From the moment he wiggles that calamitous moustache I am rising from the floor from laughter to witness the next twitch.

This nasal vestment is the principal plot factor between himself and his much smarter wife, played by – oh, pray before you say those words – that church of charm, Gwyneth Paltrow. She is gorgeous, self-possessed, full of heart, and she loves our Johnny madly but not too well – for she cannot endure or overlook the moustache.

Which sits on his chops like a venomous beast from the bottom of the sea. Their escapades together and separate have to do with some masterpiece or other, for they are in the stolen-art-game. Gwyneth is there to outflank him and save the whole day, while Johnny is there to get into trouble with Those Of Overweening Greed, such as Jeff Goldblum and his nymphomaniacal daughter who want the Goya for themselves and who are willing to do mortal harm to our Johnny.

Fortunately our Johnny is a pusillanimous ninny (pusillanimous is a word which is applied never to low-born, only to high-born cowards), soooo, he is likely to oft come near mortal harm, but bound to be saved from it by his body-guard played by Paul Bettany. They are the Jeeves and Bertie of action/adventure comedy. Paul has so many notches on his belt, women tear off his britches on sight.

We have before us Depp’s best work since Jack Sparrow, and just as funny, original, and rash. Depp dares the camera to miss a single detail. The lowering of an eyelid. The raising of an eyelid. The lowering of an eyelid.

He has made a rare caricature of this plummy Englishman, a first drawing of a type now given the breath of its first public spanking, yet recognizable to us from all we dared not say or think.

The trick in it is to arrange a parity between this cartoon and Paltrow, who is not a cartoon. How do Depp and Paltrow go about – from such disparate technical poles – making the love story hold? It’s mainly Paltrow’s job, and while I don’t know how she does it, the movie does depend on her in the matter.

Oh, my dears, my darlings, my beloveds, do go and delight yourselves. What more can I tell you? What more pipe you to it? Don’t wait for Johnny and Gwyneth. Lace up your boots! Be quick! Be nimble! Be beguiled!

 

Good Bye, Lenin!

08 Feb

Good Bye, Lenin! – directed by Wolfgang Becker. Comedy/Drama. 123 minutes Color 2003

★★★★★

THE STORY: Just before and after the end of the Berlin Wall, a young couple conspire to prevent their PTSD mother from learning the perhaps fatal truth.

~ ~ ~

This movie goes on for a good while, and a good job too! Because it needs to evolve through its complications at its own pace, and to force us to wait respectfully for the working out of its theme — which is the uses of lying.

Here we have a mother lying to her children in a far more profound way than they lie to her, and yet, without their knowing her truth, they lie to save her from her own mortality.

The film is neither moral nor political in any way. Its playing is made superb by the actors, particularly Katrin Sass as the mother, an actress who puts me much in mind of Joan Allen. She has the same inner eye.

So here is story-telling well-paced and a story quite unusual. We lie to protect those we love. Nothing new in that, save that I do not know of so interesting and just an examination of the matter. Acting is the art of living-it-out.  But film is a two dimensional medium, so it is very hard to find characters in a movie one can actually walk around completely to see all sides of.

Of course the great master of this is the director Jean Renoir. (The Rules of the Game, French CanCan, et al.) I won’t say the director achieves that here, but I sink with wonder that actors can do as much as they do to make the story “move” — that they walk in and out of buildings and fry eggs — as though only I were watching them, and no camera at all, and no crew around. What a remarkable feat!

Just watch, if you will, the recognition scene between the father and son, how right the older actor is in that passage! How right the girlfriend is in every scene! How right the neighbor with the pile of blond hair downstairs is! Praise be to all actors of all nations. That the piece is in German is no barrier to the craft they execute so daringly and so simply before us.

 

Nebraska

01 Feb

Nebraska – directed by Alexander Payne. Classic Comedy. 110 minutes Black and White 2013.

★★★★★

The Story: an old man sets out to walk from Montana to Nebraska to collect a million dollars, while his son and whole family do all they can to thwart him.

Isn’t it terrific!

What?

You mean you haven’t seen it!

Well hie yourself down to the picture show and do so.

And when you do, be prepared to sink into this picture as into a somewhat worn, even threadbare easy chair which you’ve known all your life and has become your favorite.

It is very very funny — a classic comedy in the same way that one by Moliere is — The Miser, say — or Jonson’s Volpone — or better yet, Frank Capra’s comedy It Happened One Night. It has the same story. That is, one person wants to run away; another person wants to bring the first person home. Both of them are very stubborn. No one really wants to dance with the runaway, although some want to dance with his money. 

The pace of the picture looks anti-comedic, but is as it should be and should be no other way. The casting of the picture is as it should be, and everyone is just lovely. The music, editing, direction are ideal. It’s good to see it in a big old movie house because of the spaciousness of the land of Nebraska, which beckons and forbids by dint of its immeasurable latitudes. Cinemascope was invented for this.

Some of the folks you will encounter are June Squibb as his naggy bag of a wife – who grows on you. Stacy Keach as the old man’s mendacious former business partner. And Will Forte who has the essential and pivotal role of the old man’s son, in a lovely performance entirely.

And the geezer, played by Bruce Dern, always an actor of great resources, in the central role. Hobbling along in a profound stoop abetted by unlaced clodhoppers, padded torso, white hair learing about his head, the blowing desert of an unshorn beard on his face, and wearing specs – the actor has done everything to create and enhance the impenetrability of the character, the characteristic upon which the entire story depends. Dern makes him very taciturn, very slow to speak and very slow of speech. And gathering all this to him, Dern gives the wittiest performance in the world. It is the canniest piece of acting I’ve seen this year. You will so appreciate him, and the passage you will move through in yourself as you become acquainted with him you shall indeed be grateful for.

It’s a lovely suspense adventure. You don’t know how it will end. You know it has to. But you don’t want it to. It is the best written screenplay I have seen this year.

Make sure to go with your friends. They’ll hug you for it. After they stop applauding, as everyone in the audience I saw it with did.

Because – isn’t it terrific!

 

 

The Wolf Of Wall Street

03 Jan

The Wolf Of Wall Street – directed by Martin Scorsese. BioPic Black Comedy. 189 minutes, Color 2013.

The Story: The rise and rise and rise of a sharpie-broker to the heights of wealth and disorder, and the outcome in ultimate wealth and disorder and gullibility for all.

★★★★★

I was disappointed to read in the credits that The Wolf Of Wall Street was based on someone’s life, for it is such an imaginative movie, I expected it to be as made up on the spot as the many dodges it chronicles. It is the wittiest movie I have seen in ten years.

It starts with a 26 year old Leonardo DiCaprio being put in a trance by Matthew McConaughey, a trance in which he remains for the duration, and in that trance enacts the dance of greed and more greed (in the word “greed” the “more” is silent), until at the end we are shown the whole world to be in an obsessive trance, too.

McConaughey’s fugazi-cadenza of the fairy dust of Wall Street opens the piece with a The Gambler’s Creed. It shows that capitalism, meaning brokerage investment (meaning stock and bonds), is silly. For it is based on a cheap thrill. To which one and all must be addicted. Meaning entranced. Get Rich Quick is the silly thrill.

The film is a must. For the writing. For the mastery of execution of the director. For the performances of the McConaughey, along with Rob Reiner as Belfort’s irascible father, Margot Robbie as Belfort’s second wife, the beauteous Joanna Lumley as her aunt, and everyone involved, small part to major. Jonah Hill is the co-star, and his scenes put one in mind of the early work of Scorsese in Raging Bull, as does the acting work throughout, with its ruthless improvisations and trash talk at will.

Leonardo DiCaprio, an actor of deep shallowness as a leading man, brings his thin-sliced white bread and slather of profound character-acting talent to bear on the part of the cavalier investment broker on the make, and gets up on his hind legs, and his abilities shimmer throughout the picture and hold our interest at a fascinated distance, as he continues his compulsion to trick the customers into speculations from over-the-counter penny stocks, which no one may profit by but him. He gives us a deal of rash playing. The entire performance is flavored into reality by the fragrance of a Bronx accent.

The law bears down. This does not dissuade him from drugs, sex, and high-rolling.

But why go on? Why spill the beans, when it is such a pleasure for you to see them topple out on your own? It is because of Scorsese’s dab hand with this material that you must  attend, and for DiCaprio’s in playing it out with him.

Is it the best film Scorsese has ever made? Could be.

You tell me.

 

The Way, Way Back

31 Jul

The Way, Way Back –– written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Comedy/Drama. A fourteen year old boy on a ghastly/wonderful seaside vacation. 143 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

The perfect summer movie, because it encompasses like an ocean roller all the sun, salty air, sand, sadness, and silliness of the July days of youth. Sadness because one is no longer eleven but fourteen, and defiance is in order.

We have the cast of casts to bring it to us, at least as far as the adult actors go. First there is Steve Carell as the wicked stepfather-to-be, and he daringly offers the character not one redeeming feature. I do not own a television, I had never seen him before, and I understand he is a television entertainer. Well, he certainly entertains us here with this setting-your-teeth-on edge prick.

The can-do-no-wrong Toni Colette plays the lady considering marrying him, and she has wonderful moments in a part which is underwritten and under-examined by the writers, who take the part for granted.

However, present as the blabbermouth neighbor is The Great Allison Janney, one of the finest actors working today. She is a treat and a tonic necessary for one’s health and for one’s belief in the future of the race. There is a public edict out that any film she is opens in must be rushed to. Everything comes alive when she is on. And boy is she on! She is devastatingly funny and extravagantly generous with her gifts, as usual.

Finally, we are offered the madcap amusement park proprietor of Sam Rockwell, an actor who seems to have no limitations, or, at any rate, whose gifts are so pronounced that, watching him display them, one cannot imagine what they might be. He plays the zany owner of the vast Water Wizz aqua- park, where a good deal of the action transpires. The man is witty, quick, and desperate. Rockwell gets all of this: a man who exists for the thrill of summer has cheapened himself and knows it.

The focus of the story is on Toni Colette’s son, played by Lliam James. The writers write less well for him and directs him less well. In fact, an actor of his age needs to be directed exactly like an adult. The difficult is that he plays a mome. And the writers have left it at that and asked the actor to carry more than there exists for him to lift. One has to take the performance on faith, which is fine, since the story has its valleys and joys, as expected of a summer movie, and since its tropes are so familiar one sings right along with the little bouncing ball of it, the audience carrying the load for him, and happy, very happy indeed to do so.

 

 

 

Song Of The Thin Man

15 Jun

Song Of The Thin Man – directed by Edward Buzzell. Comedy WhoDunIt. A nightclub owner elopes with an heiress, and someone is killed on a gambling boat who shouldn’t be, and a clarinetist goes nuts, and the Charles’ little boy is kidnaped, and …oh, to heck with it. Asta solves the crime as usual. 86 minutes Black and White 1947.
★★★★★
A jolly picture, indeed.

There’s a lot of forced jive talk, much of it executed by Keenan Wynn. And Gloria Graham sings a number in a gold gown that you must not deny yourself a gander at. Patricia Morrison is the lady of Leon Ames (never without a smoke in his chops), Don Taylor as the demented dypso, Ralph Morgan as a tycoon, Jayne Meadows as the society bitch, Marie Windsor as a gangster’s tomato. Connie Gilchrist is the maid once more. Esther Howard has a neat moment as a counter woman. That best of all child actors, Dean Stockwell is Nick Junior, and Asta Junior plays Asta, since this of 1947 was the last of the Thin Man Movies and the first was in 1934.

Myrna Loy said she felt the movie did not work, because their favorite director had died, but in fact it works as well as any of them, and in exactly the same way as they all do. For as Loy also said, what she felt the public liked was that they seem to be included in an amusing conversation between two smart and affectionate married people.

William Powell is all that deftness might define. And Loy assumes her position of proud and knowing spouse, never to appear in less than radiant costume, by Irene, her gorgeous hair-dos by Sydney Guilaroff. We just want to love her.

The badinage and banter is from a previous era, true but we do not mind now, and they did not mind then, because nobody ever really talked like that, but everybody wished they did.  The picture was a big hit.

And the plot when it unravels is completely incomprehensible, as usual. This was the era of Raymond Chandler and The Big Sleep where no one ever could figure out what had really happened, and, it all went by so fast, no one had the chance to. Same thing here with Dashiell Hammett. But that it is a price we rejoice to pay since that is not why we watched the movie to begin with. We watched it to partake of the highball of all highballs, as though we were sophisticates too.

We’re still that way.

 

Marley And Me

20 Jun

Marley And Me – directed by David Frankel. Low Comedy. A journalist finds his true calling when he starts writing about his rambunctious dog. 114 minutes Color 2008. ★★★★

I don’t know why light comedians are not regarded as serious practitioners of their craft, but it is so. They give pleasure and entertainment for years and to multitudes, but Cary Grant is nominated only twice for an Oscar and never won. Solemnity magnetizes Oscars. Here we have before us two treasures of comic skill: Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. I look at them and am filled with wonder and admiration for their craft, which in Aniston’s case is practiced with delicacy and truth. There is no one now acting who can do light drama and light comedy with the finesse of this actor. To me the skill of such an actor is unfathomable, almost unreadable. Owen Wilson is a different sort of actor, but one who operates perfectly on the same plane as Aniston and makes a good partner with her. He is much more preset in his choices and possibilities. He pitches his voice in a juvenile whine and plays a strong suit in innocence, which may annoy, but what cannot annoy is the bigness of heart that is evident in everything he does. There’s a sort of idiotic juiciness to him, too, which amounts to the sex appeal of a male whose sexuality is still to be awoken. Of course, what you can say against them both is what you can say against almost all young actors of their time, which is that they are not grown-up. He is not a man and she is not a woman. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne were always grownup, and so were the rest of the actors of their time, from 1930 to 1950. Even when young, the actress was a woman and the actor was a man. Here, Aniston is what she has always been, a gal, a million dollar baby in a five and ten cent store. And Wilson is not a man but a boy, Peck’s bad boy. They have formulated themselves this way. They have lived out their youths doing this. It’s a killer course for them when they get to be over forty. And a terrible one, for actors love to act – and so they should – it’s a wonderful calling – but how will they ever play anyone who is mature? The actors of the ‘30s and ‘40s didn’t retire when they hit age 40 or 50; they didn’t have to, because they were already adults. But Aniston and Wilson, so gifted and so formulaic in their decision as to how to use their gifts and in what – they are doomed to their job. Families and marriages would be in defiance of the immaturity upon which their income depends. I wonder about them. I worry about them. And what I have to say about this picture, finally, is that Alan Arkin is very funny in it and the dog isn’t funny at all.

 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

12 Jun

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – directed by John Madden. Comedy/Drama. A group of retirees seek economic comfort at a Jaipur hotel, which they find also to be a retiree. 124 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

If by some merry chance you should be gulled into seeing this piece, relax then and wander for a time with this bunch of expatriates and be one of them, for in each of us at some time and place is each of the characters we find before us here, and are just as we would be should we find ourselves here. We first of all are the impecuniously retired. We are also the one so fearful of going out of doors in Jaipur India that we miss the fun of the color and assault of the stench and the poverty and the endless wealth and variety of life. Then we are also the one who betrayed a love long ago. We are no less the one who must cling to her safety blanket of familiar foods, never daring to nibble a dainty. We are the racially prejudiced. We are the brash strider venturing forth into the escape of a world both opposite to his own and also unavoidable. The mad and kindly proprietor of this old hotel is a young man who has just inherited it, and his enthusiasm is as boundless as his promises and equally unfulfillable. Never was a film so perfectly, so justly filmed and edited. Never was one so fortunately cast. The balance of the scenes is exquisite as played off against one another for length, tone, plot, and color. Tom Wilkinson plays the lover in search of his once lost love. My favorite, Maggie Smith, who is the most physical actor of her generation, plays the lower-class foodie, and gives to us, once again, that rare gift of an actor, embodiment. Richard Nighy is the fellow who ventures out into the wilds of the city. Which brings us to Judi Dench. I have always thought that to act opposite Judi Dench would be to act opposite a rock. I don’t like her. There is no give in her. Instead an adamantine quality in her chooses the moment for “sympathy,” as by a schoolmarm’s ferule.  She is an actress of advanced calculations, always an instant ahead of the moment. She’s mean. She irritates me. Usually. For this is not one of those times. Here she is given to play the part of a woman entirely opposite to all that, one naive to the world, a woman whose dead husband took care of everything, with the exception of providing for her in the event of his death. She plays it freshly. She appeals. All of them do, but the one who really appeals most is the young actor playing the delirious proprietor of the hotel. What a wonderful voice and face and energy. What a sense of humor. What a darling guy. He is Dev Patel of fond memory of Slumdog Millionaire. And the movie is directed by John Madden of fond memory of Shakespeare In Love. So you see. Whatever age you are, you cannot go wrong with this movie, for whatever age you are you too are a retiree from something, waking up in a new place and, just like our friends here, just like a newborn baby, comically disoriented. Catch it at once.

 

 
 
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