RSS
 

Archive for the ‘HUMAN COMEDY’ Category

Tangerine

13 May

Tangerine – directed by Sean Baker – comedy – 28 minutes Color 2015.
★★★★★
The Story: A hooker, fresh from the pokey, learns from her best friend that her pimp has two-timed her, so the two of them set forth into mayhem.
~

Tangerine is The Importance Of Being Earnest set in the land of trans-gender prostitution the the streets of L.A. That is to say, it is as witty as Oscar Wilde’s play and has the same subject – which ought to be enough for anyone to leap toward and watch it.

The subject is: Which of us do you love more, her or me?

This mortal matter is pursued by the Cicely and Gwendolyn characters, Sin-Dee and Alexandra, beautifully played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor.

To cut through other praises to the one that interests me most, let’s turn to the double-pluses of the camera-acting combo, the one dependent upon the other, so I believe.

The camera is an IPhone. This palm-held camera rids us of the patient awkwardness of a 35mm camera. Less waiting when shooting. Grab performance when it’s hot. The result is brilliant acting, some of which is improvised.

I, who deplore improvisation as a rule, stand corrected before the ability of the director, Sean Baker, to inspire and to capture performance – performance-capture – the denominator common to all great directors, which you find scattered through their films but seldom see pervasive throughout one. But it’s pervasive here.

The IPhone is held by Baker and Radium Cheung. I know nothing of the other work of these two, but I bow before them, palms-down. Scene after scene comes alive, fresh, real, and funny.

The cast is of varying degrees of experience, but it doesn’t matter: the value that holds is authenticity, and it is met by all. For instance, when the Lady Bracknell character – out To Save Society – appears on the screen in the form of the great Armenian actress Alla Tumanian, you immediately sense you are in the presence of someone experienced beyond the ordinary, but you also observe that she is playing in the style common to all the others. She does not stand apart; she simply adds to the brilliance before us. Sean Baker directed the acting, and, as editor, chose it. Good for him.

What lasts?

Story lasts. Yes, even more than performance. Two things matter, but story makes a film lasting, which Tangerine has become. Lasts because a human truth is unfolded along its path. That means that the theme is not merely present but honored through its quirks and faults and splendors. Such is the case here.

The theme is friendship, a great one. Don’t miss Tangerine. It’s funny and true and dear.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

The Duff

13 Mar

The Duff – directed by Ari Sandel. Comedy. 101 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: The cutest boy in high school tutors the most unlikely girl to stop being a Designated Ugly Fat Friend.

~

Wow! It’s good to see people new to me up there, so skilled and entertaining and likable.

Mae Whiteman is the Designated Ugly Fat Friend of two dream-chicks in high school. Robbie Amell plays her dream-boat boy-next-door pal who tutors her to be a glamorpuss, Ken Jeong is uproarious as the faculty adviser on the school paper. And we have the incomparable Allison Janney as the jilted mother who finds Her True Calling.

I sat back and loved this comedy. Yes, it has to do with teenagers. But, oh yes, it is brilliantly played by these actors. So funny. So quick. So smart in their craft. So willing to entertain.

You know by now that I love the comedies of The Golden Age. They still entertain 60 years later – some of them – and, while it is as true that The Duff is played with the humor of the age we live in just as the comedies of The Golden Age Of Film were played in the humor of that time and world-set, so The Duff too will amuse our human understanding and settle our desire for entertainment 60 years hence too, I do suspect.

I went to see it for Allison Janney, of course. I cannot do without her. She is necessary to me as fresh water. And no more than fresh water does she disappoint.

For Allison Janney is the champagne of fresh water!

 

 

Top Five

01 Jan

Top Five – written and directed by Chris Rock. Comedy/Drama. 112 minutes Color 2104

★★★★★

The Story: As he walks around the city a top comedian with a serious movie coming out is interviewed by a woman from The Times.

~

I had never seen Chris Rock before, save MCing the Oscars. He was fine, but I saw that he was a cute, black guy who told jokes, and none of those things interested me enough to see him again. Then I read a review of Top Five, saying the movie was really funny. So I went.

The movie is not really funny, and once I got over my expectation that it was supposed to be, I found it really entertaining and humorous. I loved it.

He walks around town on his professional errands being queried by Rosario Dawson, and they bring out the best in each other, by which I mean they bring out what is human and real. I was delighted to watch them.

Their adventures take them into a scene with his family members in the Projects, and it all looks wild and improvised and a whole lot of fun. However, it must also have been carefully written and well rehearsed and skillfully shot for it to work as well it does. I don’t get inside black folks homes when in family; I surprised myself being invited there.

Rock also has big scenes with Cedric The Entertainer who takes over Rock and the screen and the whole state of Texas and two ladies of the night all in one day or night. I could scarcely understand a word he said, but I didn’t mind one bit, his attitude told all. He also has a bodyguard mentor beautifully played by  J.V. Smoove.

With Dawson he has a quickie in a low down T-room that’s rich and witty. She accompanies him on interviews and at last to a bachelor party, for the film hangs between two clothes hooks. The line on which it is all hung is that both of them are former addicts.

One hook is his approaching, arranged marriage to a Reality TV actress with nothing to her name but her celebrity. The other hook is the opening of his film on the Haitian slave revolution – which no one wants to see. Action/adventure is not his speed.

What is his speed is that he is a wonderful, natural screen actor. One wants to watch him. One wants to see his response to life and to Dawson, and the same is true of Dawson. He is open and easy and apt. He is also smart, which makes me smart too.

And what’s even better he is shown in long, extended scenes that develop and expand and require human speech. One is allowed in. The film is a grown-up movie. One is permitted to have an experience, not one shoved down one’s throat. The lovely thing about it for me is how old fashioned and friendly to its audience it is, and how much it asks from us. I dove right in and did my part and enjoyed myself no end.

 

 

The Two Of Us

18 Jun

The Two Of Us – directed by Claude Berri. Family Film. 87 minutes Black And White 1967.

★★★★★

The Story: In occupied Paris, a little Jewish boy endangers his family’s safety by his antics and must be farmed out to a rural family whose grandfather is virulently anti-semetic.

~

It’s hard to say anything more about this enchanting film. One doesn’t want to give away any of the events, for to preview any one of them would be to spoil the surprise of it.

One can say that the great Michel Simon, that beautiful actor and beautiful human and beautiful man won well deserved awards for this performance. It’s a flower in his buttonhole.

And the youngster is a grand master of impishness and cleverness. If you don’t love him, you don’t love anything, and you must stand in the corner until you do.

I would love to tell you how he was discovered, but that is the right of the director, who narrates it in the Extra Features. It is Berri’s first feature, and a little masterpiece.

I call it a family film, because it is about a family. Indeed it is about the real meaning of the word “family,” and let me know if you don’t think so.

It illustrates the truth of art that the cutting of a gem is entirely dependent on what is left out.

Enjoy yourself. See it in company. It’ll make a family of the whole bunch of you.

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Quartet

08 Feb

Quartet –directed by Dustin Hoffman. Musical Drama. Into a retirement home for English musicians comes the greatest diva of her day, who refuses to sing along with the others. 98 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
Well, go and see it at once. You may expect, as I did, for it to be a sentimental bouquet to the old, but it is not. It is ripe and searching. It is funny. It is beautifully directed and filmed. You couldn’t really ask for a smarter and more gratifying entertainment.

That is to say, until the end. For it is important for me to spoil it for you before it spoils itself for you. There is no ending.

That said, there is a great leading up to it. The foibles and vanities of old age are released to our eyes without embarrassment – and why not? The locale is a beautiful old English mansion, and the musicians –Tom Courtney, Pauline Collins, and Billy Connolly – who support the diva are supported in turn by senior musicians who play their instruments and sing their songs with gusto and skill.

The diva is Maggie Smith, and once again she is really something. She is moving and funny, endearing and true. She is asked to join the other three to sing at a gala in the quartet from Rigoletto, but she won’t. Moreover, it turns out she has once been married to one of the members of the quartet. Oh dear.

I think no more needs be said. Safe to say, these wonderful actors have great big dolloping parts, assisted by Michael Gambon as the in-house director of the gala.

This is the sort of movie that gives us a reason to go to the movies at all.

 

The Wind Will Carry Us

02 Nov

The Wind Will Carry Us –– directed by Abbass Kiarostami. Comedy. A documentarian from Tehran finds himself in a rural Iranian village to film its post mortem death rituals, but the old woman simply will not die. 119 minutes Color 1999.
★★★★★
I discover that I watch foreign films largely to see how people in those places live, and in that, with this movie, I am as far from disappointment as ravishment can take me. The hillside village is old and every wall shares a wall, and every roof is a street, and every stair on that street is carved by a hand so ancient, you might as well say that the wind molded it thus. Across the subtle beige of an outside wall, plays a decoration subtler still. Doors are low and wooden and painted turquoise or orange or grass green. All the men are missing. The children go to school and old women in long black robes carry immense burdens of green vegetation on their backs through the slatterly gates of a barn door painted a blue so fresh it must be ancient, it must be made of local dye. Into this environment comes an urban type telling lies about his presence there, so as not to arouse suspicion as to his intent. He is taken as an engineer, and he is proffered free hospitality for weeks. He is aided by a schoolboy who becomes a major figure in the comedy. All the boy wants is to get good grades. While his film crew never step out of doors, since his cellphone does not work in the village itself, he has to jump into his SUV and drive to the hilltop cemetery to receive calls from his badgering boss. And there he comes upon the third character of his adventure, a gravedigger digging a hole so deep we never see him. The film is a comedy of offstage voices. The actors are marvelous, the story is droll and endearing, its execution is masterful and resourceful. And the Iranian countryside around and about is beautiful –– fields of strawberries and grain, earthquakes of sheep herds, killer mountains. It’s helpful for me to see other folks in other clothes in other lands. It is helpful to see the behavior of that boy and that village, and the behavior of the man sent to betray them. It is helpful for me to see the people when they are leading their ordinary lives, uninvolved in the headlines which confront me daily and which prejudice me against such people and give such a desert idea of what such lands are like. Such comedies as this dispel my provincialism and narrow-minded intent to look nowhere but at the landscape of my fattening navel.

 
Comments Off on The Wind Will Carry Us

Posted in ACTING STYLE: INTERNATIONAL REALISTIC, HUMAN COMEDY

 

The More The Merrier

01 Sep

The More The Merrier – produced and directed by George Stevens. Farce. To ease the housing shortage in wartime Washington, a young lady rents out her spare room – but finds herself with an unexpected roommate. 104 minutes Black and White 1943.

★★★★★

That  Peony Of An Actor, Charles Coburn is granted a full George Stevens’ close-up on his fabulous face right early in the picture, so that we may know how close to our hearts are meant to be to him. Later Stevens grants Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea similar close-ups. Stevens was sparing of and famous for these full-face close-ups. He granted Joan Fontaine and Douglas Fairbanks Jr them in Gunga Din and the most famous close-ups ever shot, those of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in A Place In The Sun. On the opposite side, Sevens is also fond of shooting from outside through windows, which, though distant, has the effect of making us eavesdroppers and therefore also intimate. Coburn, an infallible actor, plays Dan Cupid to Arthur and McCrea, which is all we need to know to allow ourselves sit back and enjoy one of the most delightful comedies ever made. But what sort of comedy is it? Yes, it’s verbally witty and it certainly has broad situations, but it’s not low comedy and it’s not high comedy. Actors never invest their lines with anything but normal human readings. No one wrings a line for all it’s worth. The actors don’t seem to realize that they are doing anything funny. I’ll clue you in if I may. George Stevens filmed and directed the first movies of Laurel and Hardy. Now the comedy of these two did not fall into any previous movie category. They were not fast-moving like Chaplin and The Keystone Cops; they did not fall into the category of circus clowns. They were new and they were  inventing a different comedy. Stevens discovered a camera lens that could film Laurel’s pale eyes, and Stevens further opened up his lens to let these two work things out before the camera, as though the camera were not there. And that is the remarkable impression The More The Merrier provides, although, of course, for that very reason, you don’t realize it – unless like me you saw it when it first came out and several subsequent times since. It’s a Laurel and Hardy comedy. McCrea is one of the glories of 40s films: this and Sullivan’s Travels and The Palm Beach Story and other pictures of that era, ensure our continued enjoyment of him. He is tall, good looking, modest in his craft, but absolutely true in it, But, most important, his sexual energy is available to him, as is Jean Arthur’s to her. This means we have two of the sexiest comedy seduction scenes ever filmed – the scene on the stoup and the scene with the suitcase. The attraction simply works itself out before our eyes easily, naturally, as though we were not watching all the while. The two of them are so infatuated with one another they appear to be drunk. The sexual tension between them is as dear as it is exquisite. And it is hilarious. Treat yourself to it. And anyone you know. It’s a family film about setting out for war. Garson Kanin wrote it. Stevens and the film were nominated for Oscars. Coburn won it for best supporting player. Stevens won the 1943 New York Film Critics Award for Best Director. Immediately upon editing it, he left for the North Africa Campaign – just as McCrea does in the film. Those were the times. And The More The Merrier provided the tincture of human joy that made them bearable.

 

 

The Countess From Hong Kong

29 Dec

The Countess From Hong Kong. Written and Directed by Charles Chaplin. High Comedy. A Prostitute stows away in the stateroom of high-ranking diplomatist who tries valiantly to avoid detection. 120 minutes Color 1967.

* * *

We all know about how Chaplin caused this film to fail through acting all the parts for the actors, through the unimaginative casting of the supporting players, through surrounding Brando with too many male business associates, and through the mistaken introduction of the fact the Brando character was married, a development which should neither have come late nor at all. The first part is a farce built upon five doors to an ocean liner stateroom, and works pretty well, and the whole thing would work well, were its moves executed in other modes of the silent screen, but it isn’t.  So let us set the film aside as the failure it famously is and cast our eyes on the pleasant prospect of Sophia Loren in the title role as we contemplate such splendours of person as she possesses: a small head set upon a sumptuous body upon the lavish invitation of whose bosom one longs to either lay one’s head or an array of emeralds, awesome auburn hair, a deft cleft chin, that peaked upper lip, that droll rolled lower lip, her clownish smile, her perfect peasant nose, her wide and tilted eyes, the scimitar of her jaw. She’s not the usual beauty, but a new type, a type which made Paz Vega and Penelope Cruze eventually possible. Leaving out her slender legs and sashay hips, and setting aside her slim feet for other volumes, it is obvious that she might easily have been discarded as just another tomato on the vine, except for two things she possesses which placed her right where she belonged: prominently. First, she is a really good actress. For watch her play her scenes here, see how responsive she is, first of all, and how in tune with the sort of comedy this is, which is not really Chaplin comedy but Lubitsch comedy, that is to say, high sex comedy, a fact she understands even better than Brando, who usually had a good instinct for such things. The part provides her with a lot more opportunities than the director does, and she feasts on them. She is playful, witty, quick, and game. Like the good Virgo that she is, she has the hauteur of an Empress and the capacity to be perfectly ridiculous.  All of this is executed with one of her principal assets, that she has a most melodious speaking voice. It’s in inherent in her, so it is never forced or put on. It’s not a Hollywood voice, like Joan Crawford’s. It’s so right you scarcely notice it. A good speaking voice is one of the great tools an actor can have, and she had it. But the second thing she has, and it is one of the qualities even of stars who are, like Humphrey Bogart not particularly good actors, and that is an inner presence which is always unaffraidly available to us. Watch her as you watch this film. You will never see it in Olivier. But you will see it in Rosalind Russell and in Walter Huston and in Audrey Hepburn, in Ann Sheridan and James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson and Clark Gable.  It is probably the quality that makes us really identify with a star, deficiencies of craft be damned. Because it is there that we feel we know them and like them. The gift of presence is probably God-given. Sophia Loren had it and still has it. Two things: she’s a darn good actress and she is a person we can actually see. And, oh that look of fun in her eyes. Oh, that Neapolitan cheek. She was and she remains an acknowledged International Treasure.

 

 

Never On Sunday

23 Sep

Never On Sunday – Directed by Jules Dassin. Comedy. A stupid American intellectual aims to elevate a willful prostitute to intellectual lofts. 91 minutes Black and White 1960.

* * * * *

A perfect movie, except, of course, that Jules Dassin who wrote and directed it also plays the lead, and is not an actor and cannot act. He probably had hired someone who dropped out and had to take the part himself – that’s my hunch – but one does not care very much even when Dassin is placed opposite actors who inherently are actors, because the film has Dassin’s directorial urge, energy and heart. And because he, as the American, is clearly headed for a fall. But so what! Melina Mercouri won The Cannes Prize for Best Actress for this role, and you can see why it is inevitable, for she is a force, indeed a freak of nature. Like so many actors, the only places you could put them would be in a theatre or a madhouse or a zoo. Mercouri, with her leopard’s eyes, would be in zoo. (Indeed, she eventually entered Greek politics quite successfully.) She is one of those females who is so female she is male. Like Katina Paxinou or Anna Magnani, she has the ability and the appetite to eat men alive. And they love it, at least, here they do. They throng around her and worship her for her independence, wit, beauty, sexuality, reality, basso profundo voice, and sense of fun. She’s a whore who chooses her clients; not they her. With a toss of her mane of hair, she is off with a sailor while spurning a millionaire. Dassin was exiled in Europe by blacklist, and made this and Rififi and Topkapi and other films with greater success and éclat than he had ever had in the US. He’s a delightful director and a quite lovable man. This is one of his Greek gems. You must have already seen it, but see it again, and see it often. [ad#300×250]

 

Intervista

25 Aug

Intervista – Directed by Federico Fellini. Back Soundstage Movie Comedy. The comic story of shooting a film by Felinni about the first time Felinni came to a movie set when he was young. 102 minutes Color 1987.

* * * * *

Fellini is the Alexander Calder of film. Enchanting. Surprising. Fun. Here he gives us a film about how humans delight in what is made-up, artificial, fabricated. Not just but also in being those things. In being what is created, devised, imagined. In making themselves into those things. Not made up just by themselves but by someone else as well. Not just alone but as a group. And how they will endure folly, delay, uncertainty, rejection, and having their whole parade rained on in order that they have this privilege of concoction. Sacred and Exalted. Thrilling. Unifying. Hilarious. Natural. And forgiving.

And so we have one of the greatest and most unusual statements of human soul-reality ever made. And made how? Without ever coming out and saying so. It’s all done with a lot of people talking, shouting, carrying on, in the midst of every distraction and vituperation. And in all of this a story emerges which is coherent and which is told solely in film terms, in the rubric of film. Not just in narrative and entrancement but in felt content.

Emerging into this as though from the sky we have Marcello Mastroianni as a seedy magician. The crew all traipse in little cars to the villa of whom? She won’t let them in. She doesn’t believe it’s Felinni. When she does she sets her dogs on them. Anita Ekberg in orange towels. And this glorious Vercingetorix continues to appear in towels as though she had never quite dried off from that fountain all those years ago. Her reunion here takes my breath away, not because I am sentimental about the famous scene but because she and Mastroianni are 25 years older and look it and are beautiful and it’s just wonderful.

It’s a beautifully shaped picture. Like Singing In The Rain, it is a picture about pictures about pictures. Our happiness with fraud. Our envy of the freedom it confers. About the human energy it releases and the curious democracy which is its milieu and profound and delightful artifact.

[ad#300×250]

 

 

 

 

Slave Of Love

09 Aug

Slave Of Love – Written and Directed by Nikita Mikhailkov. High Farce. A silent film company in the 20s goes on location with a nitwit star and learns something from her. Color 1976.

* * * * *

Singing in Rain set in the Russian Revolution. A marvelous piece, acted and directed to perfection. It is not a propaganda, but quite the contrary, I wonder how they got it produced at all, it is so daring. It’s a sound picture in color set during the making of a schlock silent picture with an airhead superstar actress. If you are interested in acting styles, here is a perfect example of Russian character work for comedy, wrought to extremes of amusement for us — the sort of acting Chekov wrote for: the man who always has a crick in his neck, the actor who always giggles when he exits, the tubby who secretly tries pull-ups between desserts. You’ll see. The amazing finale is treated like an action sequence from a silent film, and it works like gangbusters. Real life is not so far from a picture show after all. Enjoy it.

[ad#300×250]

 

 

 

God’s Little Acre

01 Jul

God’s Little Acre – Directed by Anthony Mann. Tragicomic rural drama. A farmer spends fifteen years digging for gold on his farm instead of farming while all his children go to pot and pieces around him. 118 minutes Black And White 1958.

* * * * *

Celeste Holm had seen The Misfits the day before at the Roxy. “You coulda shot moose in there,” she said to me. (Gable and Monroe were dead before it opened; no one wanted to face the ghosts of gods.) “She can’t act,” said Celeste Holm. If you wonder what she meant (she had been in All About Eve with her) take a look at Monroe in the clip in Roy London’s film where it is obvious that what she brings to a simple scene of buying a train ticket has nothing to do with acting but everything to with being. Listen to what London says. She brings something enormous onto the screen, but, no, she cannot act. Robert Ryan really falls into the same category, and one can see why he was cast, in place of Walter Brennan, a much greater actor. Aside from Ryan’s good looks and his ability to foist a certain eccentricity off on us, one sees an actor always pushing his effects, sometimes slightly, sometimes hugely – but one also sees something awkward and helpless in him. Something touching, just as there was in Monroe, and such a quality can carry an entire film, and this Ryan does, whereas Walter Brennan (three-time Oscar winner) might not have been able to. As to the material, Erskine Caldwell is the greatest short story writer this country has ever produced, and Faulkner and Hemingway and Dos Passos, all name him the great novelist. Commercially more successful than all of them combined, his work, scandalous in his day, is not much read nowadays, but modern Southern literature is unthinkable without it. It ought to be read: it’s very very funny. It’s the ashcan school of writing, the Southern poor – and, boy, are they comical sticking their tousled heads out of those ashcans and pursuing their comic obsessions to and beyond the limit! I would never have dreamed of casting Buddy Hackett as Plato, the man-who-would-be sheriff, but he is superb. Aldo Ray, going to fat and perfectly cast as the going-to-fat lecher for Ryan’s tasty daughter, brings lust to the point of tragedy. The scenes between him and Tina Louise are inconsolably sexual and steamy. But Aldo Ray is really lower class; Ryan isn’t. He’s best as a criminal in a business suit. So the whole enterprise would be just slightly off if it were not directed by Anthony Mann (director of Jimmy Stewart’s fine Pie Westerns) and beautifully filmed by Ernest Haller (Mildred Pierce, Gone With The Wind, Rebel Without A Cause), and scored by Elmer Bernstein. And so instead, we have a masterpiece of cotton gin art, one to be seen and, surely Ty Ty, heard!

[ad#300×250]

 

 

 

 

 

La Ronde – Vadim

12 May

La Ronde – Directed by Roger Vadim. Sex Drama. From one on to the next to the next and the next. 110 minutes Color 1964.

* * * * *

A version of the Arthur Schnitzler play once filmed by Max Ophuls who brings into the material a satirical voice personified by Anton Walbook’s intercessions. Here there is no satire and no interruptions; Vadim’s approach is straight on. What’s similar is that in both films the females are sympathetic humans and the males are the idiots, just wanting to get their jollies. Once sex is over, the men want no further history; once sex is over the women want history to begin. As in Ophuls’ the men rush to the women’s slaughter; the women submit winsomely, as though regretting the loss of the fairy tale they believed love to be. One great difference is that Vadim’s script omits the use of the word l’amour to the degree Ophuls employed it, so we have the grace to know the story is about flat out sexual seduction, and we have the joy to see that the seducers are all mostly female, no matter how the males may posture. Two beautiful males, Jean-Claude Brialy and Jean Sorel open and close the picture, neither one having to play any his aces to take the queens. But the females still are more wonderful than the males, just as they are in Ophuls’. On the other hand, Vadim’s also omits Ophuls’ great interest in camera style. Ophuls’ film is about the beauty of film; Vadim’s is about the beauty of women. An interesting advantage Vadim’s has is that the omission of Walbrook’s recesses gives the screenwriter a chance to expand on certain characters and certain scenes, and, since the screenwriter is no less than Jean Anouilh the most fully developed character is the playwright. Jane Fonda plays the part Danielle Darrieux took, and our Jane does very well in the part. Vadim was a handsome and sexy man, and Fonda married him. His interview in the Extras is fascinating. And her interview about him might be said to contain more wisdom than the film itself.

[ad#300×250]

 

Heaven Can Wait

15 Apr

Heaven Can Wait – Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Sophisticated Comedy. Standing before Satan to see if he qualified for the flames, an old roué reviews his long love-life. 112 minutes Color 1943.

* * * * *

Watch and learn. How does a director get a laugh from an audience by a scene in which nothing is seen but a closed door? All who direct comedy, all who like to watch it and care to wonder how it is done, sit, please, at the feet of the master. This is the Lubitsch Touch at its peak of charm and engagement. The story is a continental pastry of the kind that Lubitsch specialized in, but the war was on, so it’s all transported to New York City. It doesn’t work nearly so well as Budapest would have, but never mind. It extends one man’s entire love-life-time, in periods ranging from the romantic past, whenever that was supposed to be, to more-or-less the present, whenever that was supposed to be. Here as elsewhere, Lubitsch’s collaborator, the invaluable screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, brings us into the ruthless realistic room of sophisticated comedy once again and sets the tone. (Be sure to play his priceless comments on Special Features.) We have of course Charles Coburn to begin with who is a master of the style, indeed a master of all styles, and can do no wrong. Louis Calhern brings his magnificent carriage and his magnificent everything into the role of the roue’s father, towering over Spring Byington’s superb carriage. Dickie Moore plays Ameche as a teen hottie and I’m so glad for him. Gene Tierney is, for once, really good, because she is not forced to force. She plays a character written to triumph by throwing all her lines away. Don Ameche, whose masculinity no one could question, plays it for the fool lying behind his masher, a choice which carries the film perfectly. Laird Cregar is tops as the devil sinking that splendid galleon of an actress Florence Bates. Marjorie Main and Eugene Pallette are unthinkably cast as Tierney’s parents, which is a comic spectacle in and of itself. The difficulty with the material is that the persons of the script are essentially dealing with the  jilts and joys of infidelity, a habit of Ameche’s which, this being America and not Hungary, cannot go uncondemned. However, take a deep breath and dismiss all your moral and immoral scruples and sit back and imagine it is once upon a time, and enjoy once again another of Lubitsch’s tribute to life itself.

[ad#300×250]

 

Mango Yellow

12 Feb

Mango Yellow – directed by Claudio Assis – Human Comedy. Lives intertwine among the working poor in the city of Recife in Brazil. 103 minutes Color 2003

* * * * *

What makes a great film? Variety, veracity, vitality. Is that enough? It’s enough for this film. And it makes clear why films of the working classes and the local classes give satisfaction like no other. The reason is that these are stories about people inside of whom something can happen. And this is everything. Upper class stories — Antonioni is a great example — give us stories in whose characters nothing can occur. But the poor people in Mango Yellow are in a daily duel for survival, and their aliveness is vivid and present and in peril. Even the waitress who owns the Avenida Bar and who is sick to death of its routine of insults, whose song is the song of the sameness of day-after-day, is afire with her protest. Dunga, the There’s-No-Stopping-A-Determined Queen, commands our respect and care as he flares and flounces and yet makes everything work, but his love life. Strange Isaac driving his yellow Mercedes and passed out in a decrepit boardinghouse, The Texas Hotel, still goes roaring after the debauchery he seeks. The butcher, Wellington, hacking with an ax at cadavers in the slaughterhouse weeps with contrition and confusion at his infidelity toward his evangelical and chilly wife. And so it goes. Mango Yellow is one of the great Lower Depths movies.  Brilliantly filmed by Walter Carvalho, scored by Jorge Du Peixe and Lucio Maia, designed and costumed by Renata Penheiro, written by Hilton Lacerda, the director Claudio Assis has brought together a remarkable community of talent to give life to this remarkable community.

[ad#300×250]

 

The FIghter

06 Feb

The Fighter – Directed by David O. Russell – Boxing Picture. Drawn between the force-fields of his family and his future, a failed fighter chooses. 115 minutes Color 2010.

* * * * *

It’s a fight picture. Which means that it is like all fight pictures in the same way that all Tango pictures are about a certain form, each with its ritual moves, its setbacks, and its dazzling triumphs. However, it is unlike other fight pictures in that this picture is not about someone fighting against the odds in the ring, where one other person doesn’t want the hero to win, but against a crowd — a whole family and town of persons whose desire to have the hero win bids fair to having him fail. Those who love him love him too much to permit him to breathe. They all want the victory – for themselves – and every one of them is ignorant of that fact. They are led by the hero’s immediate family which is led by his volatile controlling mother who is also his manager. She is played to perfection by Melissa Leo, and it is a performance that never betrays the character by letting up on her strategies and her sentimentality and her willful ignorance. Leo never injects the character with a depth that is not inherent in her. She is the mother of seven daughters and two sons, and only one of those sons does she really love, and it’s not the fighter. It’s the older one, a balding palooka played by Christian Bale, in a showy role, an opportunity which he makes full and imaginative use of. The story is based on two real fighters, brothers, Micky and Dicky Ward — and Dicky, Bale’s character, is exactly like the mother, domineering and massively self-ignorant. The picture cleverly opens with him walking in glory with his brother past the local classes of Lowell Mass as though he were the fighter of the title. Even the fighter’s girlfriend eventually wants to control the fighter, played, in a perfectly cast picture, by Amy Adams, as a tough-minded barkeep. The problem is that the fighter himself will fight in the ring, but not outside the ring. He is not volatile; he is steady and withdrawn. It’s the hardest role in the movie to play, for, while Bale’s character tries the patience of everyone in the movie, Mark Wahlberg’s character tries the patience of everyone in the movie house. Eventually he has to get into the boxing ring with his own mother before he can stand up for himself. Mark Wahlberg gives a beautifully judged performance, but one so surrounded by the color and fireworks of the group that it may go unregarded, unrecognized, unrewarded. Yet Wahlberg is able to summon a resident dumbness in perfect response to the drubbing his family gives him. The film is beautifully directed, filmed, costumed, and set, but, of course, fight films depend upon editing. The fight sequences go well; there are three of them; but scene speed steals meaning from drama, and modern editing does our job for us such that we in the audience, being told what to do with every quick cut, are never allowed, any more than Micky Ward is allowed, to let things sink in long enough to register.  When Wahlberg finally seizes the stage the editing needs to become steady to match his energy, but it doesn’t; it remains volatile, and so the denouement is absolutely lost. Anna Magnani on camera must be edited one way; Henry Fonda another. But not here. Which means, we see the picture, we admire the picture, but in the end we do not care anything at all about the picture or about anyone in it at all.

[ad#300×250]

 

The King Of Masks

04 Feb

The King Of Masks – Directed by Tian-Ming=Wu– Comedy Drama. An old street performer and master of quick-change masks, wants to pass on his skill, but can only do so with a male heir. 101 minutes Color 1999.

* * * * *

Many many folks praise this piece, and it is understandable. It has everything except an unhappy ending. It has an interesting master actor Zhu Xuas who plays the old man and a charming child actor who plays a hand opposite him. It gives us a simple and important tale about calling. It hands us brilliant renditions of China of the 30s with  buildings and people wonderful to look at. It imparts a story that grips one through every turn; a piece indeed of Dickensan richness and complexity and coincidence. And it reveals the ancient and inexplicable art of  quick change masks. Amazing. One wants these characters to win through and who knows whether they will? An Idyll. A tale for all time. And also a serious movie that can be watched by all, including children, with great attention and recognition, six and over, I would say. Don’t miss it.

[ad#300×250]

 

O’Henry’s Full House

03 Feb

O’Henry’s Full House – directed by Henry Hathaway, Henry King, Henry Koster, Howark Hawkes, Jean Negulesco  — Comedy. Five of the master’s tales. 117 minutes, black and white 1952.

* * * * *

Marilyn Monroe — there she for a full two minutes, yet for all time — with that figure and the air of a dream-mistress and the hurt of a molested 12 year old asking for more and asking for no more at the same time. She is child-like appealing in the moment when she says, “He called me a lady,” after she listens to Charles Laughton. He is tip top as the grandiose bum who seeks to spend the winter in a cosy jail rather than on a desolate park bench. David Wayne does a terrific crazy derelict with just the right hat. Richard Widmark  reprises his Johnny Udo from Kiss of Death, which is super to see again. He was never a subtle actor, so this is perfect for him, and I place you in his competent evil hands. I saw this picture when it came out, and was bored, but that was the era when Marlon Brando was emerging, so I found it old fashioned. But now I enjoy that it is old fashioned, for that was its intention, and I ask: would these costume stories work in modern dress? I think not. For their entertainment value is high, but their value is the entertainment of antiques. Put this in your Antiques Film Road Show and enjoy — O’Henry really knew how to tell a story: The Gift of the Magi, The Ransom of Red Chief, The Clarion Call, The Cop and the Anthem, The Last Leaf.

[ad#300×250]

 

The Two Of Us

25 Jan

The Two Of Us (or The Old Man And The Boy) — directed by Claude Berri – Human Comedy. For everyone’s safety, a ten year old mischief-maker is fostered out by his parents. He finds himself in a farmhouse with a most peculiar old man, a mischief-maker himself. 87 minutes, black and white, 1967.

* * * * *

One of the greatest films ever made, Grandpa And The Boy, or The Two Of Us or Le viel homme et l’enfant, derives its greatness from one element only: its balance. You find this same quality in Jean Renoir’s great films, particularly The Rules Of The Game, and in perhaps every great film ever made. All sides are presented as fully as they can be under the circumstances of the material, and then acted to the full by both the old man and the youngster, and, although the director is fully and passionately engaged, no bias is suggested. The material in this case is one of the key relationships of life, which is the relation of a boy to a grandparent, in this case, a foster-grandfather. The story of how it came to be made, how the director found the little boy, Alain Cohen,  mischievously hiding behind the school curtains in the hall where he had been sent for misbehaving, and the relationship of him with Michel Simon, the old man is recounted in the Extras, which are a must, also. But what the director, Berri, caught, in this his first full length picture, is the priceless love and appreciation between a human being who is just entering life and a human being soon to leave it. The body of the film takes place in the French Countryside during WWII where the little boy has been sent for his safety. The peril of discovery fuels the tension, but the physical beauty of the ten year-old boy and the quite different physical beauty of the old man meld perfectly, and so do their personalities and vitality and hearts, and this is where our pleasure in the story really lies. Michel Simon, the old man, was one of the great actors ever to appear in film. If you have never seen him before, see him here. And let the whole family join in, too, for a real movie-going treat.

[ad#300×250]

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button