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Archive for the ‘SURVIVAL DRAMA’ Category

Sing & Moana

29 Jan

 

Sing – directed by Garth Jennings. Animated feature. 110 minutes Color 2016.

★★★★★

Moanadirected by Ron Clements and John Musker. Animated Feature. 110 minutes Color 2016.

★★★★★

Stories: Both stories deal with ambitions thwarted and then triumphed.

~

Both films are perfectly suited to adults. And where I sat, the children were as quietly attentive as the adults that accompanied them. Why is that?

A maximum of surprises, movement, angles, colors.

An amplitude of wit.

And they supply – worse than any live action film can – horrendous catastrophe. In Sing it’s a catastrophic flood. In Moana it’s deified lava.

But the young hero and heroine surmount all difficulties. Not without unlikely escapes and rescues and a sentimentality that would crush a nun dressed as a dragon. (Neither of these feature such a creature.)

In Sing, to save his theatre, the young Koala Bear owner must put on a talent show. In Moana, a young woman must bring back a talisman to save her island people.

I enjoyed myself no end. I simply wandering in to sample them while waiting for the feature I’d paid for to start. Remained riveted to my seat.

In the watching, these films dwell on nothing. Remarkable individual beauties and Voltaire-like coups of imagination flit by in sumptuous plentitude. I wish they’d wait for me – I was reared on Pinocchio.

 My favorite character of all was played, in Sing, by the director Garth Jennings as Mrs Crawly, a superannuated loyal iguana secretary with a wandering glass eye. Every time the old woman meandered on in her well-meaning way, I rejoiced.

Such films are rightly called “animated.” For they animate the variety and particularity of the truth and comedy of human gesture in a way that no straight film actor can achieve – because animators are more daring than actors. Because more shameless.

In animation, we expect over-acting. Which means more acting than is necessary. Animation cannot achieve depth of performance, which is what human screen acting can, but it can achieve breadth of performance, which is what human screen acting avoids like Swiss cheese.

In Sing the characters are animals; in Moana, humans. I notice the animals in Sing are more human than the humans in Moana. But I quibble not.

I loved them, and you won’t waste your time, nor is time wasted on you, should you drag your inner or outer child to either or both.

 

Into The Wild

12 Aug

Into The Wild – written and directed by Sean Penn. Outdoor Docudrama. 148 minutes Color 2007.

★★★

The Story: Christophe McCandless bums around America with an obsession to live in the Alaska wilderness, then does it, and immediately dies.

~

Here’s a film one wonders why it was ever made. It is the story of a young man who goes off into the wilderness, with no experience of wilderness survival and starves to death after 100 days. Supposedly he is in search of freedom. But the film gives one no sense of his freedom.

The only thing that has freedom is the camera filming him, which is free all over the place, free to intrude, free to do slow motion, free to show pretty flowers and spectacular scenery, free to indulge in fancy shots from angles defying probable documentation, a camera so free it keeps everything it dances around at a distance, as though the camera itself were the subject not the young man. It is a matter of directorial freedom demoting to mere license.

The one characteristic we are told McCandless possesses is immoderation. That is a quality certainly at variance with the horse-sense needed to survive in the wild. Nor is the idea of going off into the woods to live free an immoderate notion; it is a conventional notion, since it is the only notion possible to a conventional mind, which he had. Our suspicions are not disappointed when he modestly changes his name to Alexander, short, no doubt, for the The Great – King Of Macedonia And Ruler Of The Known World.

For a year or so, what he does to prepare himself for this adventure is to hitchhike round North America, ride box cars, take up with passersby on the road, and grab jobs when he can, all to earn the money that he requires and despises to make his Alaska trip possible. The Alaska trip is his idée fixe. But he remains no further than 20 miles at any time from the nearest gas station, always camping with people, never alone. In short, what he does to prepare himself for this survival adventure in the wilds is absolutely nothing.

Nothing but indulged his puerile prejudices. Nothing but act on absolutist opinions of negation, abstention, deprivation. Nothing but read Tolstoi whose only step towards living a simple life on his estate was to wear a peasant blouse. If anyone thinks Walden Pond was living in the wild, they better have another think coming.

The earmark of such a person is usually a want of a sense of humor – and we certainly find none here. It’s disastrous, because it indicates a want of flexibility and self-awareness. Without it, all sympathy for this rash sap is lost.

The self-indulgent elaborations of the camera lose it for us first. They keep us at bay. And the actor Emile Hirsch, who plays McCandless, is a young man of unoriginal temperament, so, as a dedicated extremist, he can’t take us anywhere, unlike Catherine Keener, an actress of cool temperament but with a big heart, who takes us, or at least allows us to follow her wherever she might wish us to go. She’s also a lot of fun, which he isn’t.

The directorial fallacy in the film is the highly commercial one that avers that films with little dialogue will, as Silent Films used to do, command great box office from international audiences who do not speak English. The camera is also now intended to do the job that dramatic dialogue is unnecessary for. Of course, this wipes out human depth. For film is celluloid, a two-dimensional medium. Only the participation of an audience’s imagination, not supplied by camera imagination, gives film depth. Cameras do not tell stories. They record stories; they themselves create contexts for narratives of human life created by other means.

 

 

 
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Posted in Catherine Keener, SURVIVAL DRAMA

 

Safe

29 Mar

Safe [1995] – directed by Todd Haynes. Drama. 119 minutes Color. 1995.

★★★

The Story: A young woman falls under attack of environmental pollutants.

~

What I saw was a film most beautifully made. It is realized with dirty Marin pastels, which perfectly suit the personnel of the affluent Southern California world in which it begins and which its people inhabit.

It is also a film constructed with a series of calm and beautiful master-shots, which show broad interiors and broad exteriors, characters moving in them, characters placed in them, just so, and just right.

As the piece progresses one sees the characters to be perfectly cast – in this case with excellent actors whom I have never heard of or seen before, so their presence gladdens me as I go.

The film is made with a certain stillness, which, along with the big master-shots, presents a distance for observation of what is going on, a distance almost documentary, but a distance also as refined as the subject environmental allergy requires.

These pleasures give me confidence. As does the fact that I had no idea what this film was about before I saw it. So I had no expectations to defy or meet.

And so I was betrayed. On a fundamental level. The primitive level of: do you believe?

I was betrayed by that intelligent, accomplished, and sometimes daring actress, Julianne Moore who plays the woman.

Her first and perhaps her last error is to place her voice just inside her jaw, dismissing all chord vibration from it. This is an attempt to show the woman has no voice of her own. The result is she emerges as a stupid child.

She retains this method throughout, so the result is monotony of execution.

I expect Moore sees the woman as vacuous. And that is what she manages to give us. It holds our attention only to extent that we watch the film to the end to see if she will ever come alive. But, since she is in no conflict about coming alive or staying a zombie, drama is drained from the character thus from the film.

For she does something which Bette Davis in her days after Eve did which was to mum or play-act the part. Moore does not act it. If she had we would not wonder how her husband could ever in a million years have married such a vacancy. An actress needs always to determine not what is missing in a character but what the character wants. Moore in playing her as having no voice and no want emasculates her.

Those I have known who suffer from environmental abuse have a need for isolation and servants. Their disease must be served. For they cannot shop, clean house, walk abroad, hold a job. You must do for them. The reward is nil. The promise of recovery nil.

The affect they give off is one of collapsed water. They seem to have no affect at all. But inside them is an emotional violence that rules everyone around them in their search for survival, a violence so potent no one can gainsay it, help it, or stay in its presence with sustained affection. This gives one the suspicion that everything they have made themselves into is phony, a trick, a manipulation.

Julianne Moore fasted to emaciate the character she plays. She is blotched with rashes and a boil. Her strong hair is caged. All this works, and all this is an earmark of the dedication to acting of this actor.

But nothing she does survives what she misconceived the role to be. The result on the screen is not mystery but bafflement. We have nothing to identify with because she has, in choosing no-voice, chosen nothing.

 

 

 

 

Wild

24 Dec

Wild – directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. BioDrama. 113 minutes Color 2014.
★★★★
The Story: A young woman treks 1000 miles on the Pacific Coast Trail on a quest for peace from a disarrayed life.
~
What did I believe?

I believed in the presence of the actor in the wilderness, the woodland, deserts, rocks, stones.

I believed in the chronology of the weeks it took.

I believed in the eventual diffident acceptance of rain, storm, snow.

I believed in the voice-overs from her diary.

I believe in the fundamental journey.

I believed in the wilds she went through.

I did not believe Reese Witherspoon’s playing of the character as a whispering, sensitive, shy, vulnerable creature.

Playing it this way damages the character. First, It leaves the actor with no place to go, save where the voice-overs inform us she goes. In the actor/character we see nothing happen. She starts withdrawn. She ends up withdrawn.

Moreover, Reese Witherspoon is not a leading lady. She is not an actor of heroic mold. She is a character lead, and a good one. So if you ask her to play the heroine, you bark up the wrong tree. It’s not within her instrument to play a part perfectly suited to Ingrid Bergman or Sophia Loren.

To cast the part of Cheryl Strayed you must cast her with whom? Charlize Theron? – who exudes strength, who is physically formidable, someone who can cause trouble. Cast someone like Theron and you have an Amazon becoming a real human as the arc of the character. For the story cannot be about a city mouse becoming a country mouse. It’s not about a mouse. The woman who embarks on this trek is already brash. She is out there. She is not withdrawn. She is brave and foolish. But this is not within Reese Witherspoon’s range. And to choose to play her introverted is a miscalculation, although it may have been the only avenue open to her.

This being said, the movie is a good one. Taking a long walk to clear up a mess is good medicine, and every human knows it. This is the story of that. It does not even have to count as a story of some poor weak female doing it. For the same vexations, perils, boredom, exhaustions, and self-discoveries, both pleasant and unpleasant, prevail not as matter of gender but as human matters and with whomever takes such a journey. And in this sense it is good, beginning to end, to take the journey too.

The film is well filmed but not well acted, and the reason for that is that it is underwritten.We need language, language language, for in a wilderness language is what we are left with. Language in the mind. That and the landscape which language tries to defy.

 

As Above, So Below

11 Sep

As Above, So Below – directed by John Erick Dowdle. Horror/adventure/thriller. 97 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: A young female archeologist inveigles a bunch of daredevil explorers into seeking out a stone lodged in a wall of the Paris catacombs.

~

What a brilliant thriller! My Goodness. I believed every moment of it. I don’t know how they did it. It looked like the Paris catacombs to me – although I have never actually been in them.

Evidently the catacombs are the ancient boneyards of Paris, and there are miles of them, threading through old collapsed streets. In this spelunker, we are led by our young heroine who is guided through the narrow walls by an alchemy text which must be decoded by her associate, a young man who is deathly afraid of caves.

As the journey beneath the earth continues, each of the members of the crew comes up against his own past horrors. And I wish I could tell you more of the story, because it was exciting and unusual to me. But telling plots for me is a forbiddance. As are entrances to certain subterranean chambers these young folks come across but which much be entered anyhow, of course, so they do.

The piece is beautifully acted by what appears to be an English cast, and I have never seen one of them before, but they are all admirable. The film is remarkably directed and cut. It is shot with a hand-held camera, so those who get mal de mer from such a gadget better stay home. The camera work brings great veracity to the adventure. I felt I was there. And I’m glad I didn’t have to be. But just watching.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: INTERNATIONAL REALISTIC, SURVIVAL DRAMA

 

The Giver

08 Sep

The Giver — directed by Phillip Noyce. Sci-fi. 97 minutes Color 2014

★★★★

The Story: A young man entrusted with the memory of the race decides to flout convention and save all humanity.

~

Everything depends upon the casting of the young man, and in this case he is perfect – Brenton Thwaites, a teenager by the look of him, with a big open expression and beautiful eyes like Dana Andrews’. So we can well believe in his ability to absorb the information he is called upon to receive and go on to care about his survival with it.

This information is imparted by a senior member of the community, and is played by Jeff Bridges. It is the part of a man who knows everything, and the peril in such parts is that one can sound mantic. Or make noises like a stone dog. That is to say, be Alec Guinness. Bridges skirts this canyon and tousles the young man as he transmits the info, so we see he is rather more warm-minded than the rest of the community, from which all feeling has been drained by daily injections and by a sternly regulated diction. Katie Holmes plays the young man’s mother, and she is a vision that would have won Charles Addams’ heart. His father is the local executioner, which would have won his other heart.

For what we have here is a dystopia. A dystopia is a utopia, a utopia is always a dystopia, all utopias being dystopias because all utopias, having been formed for the most noble and humane purposes, insist on certain humorless excisions, and so all go to the bad.

The monitor of this nation is Meryl Streep, who plays her role of the bad lady with a technical purity that is a source of wonder and surprise with every breath she draws and every word she utters. She regulates a nation from which all color and all love have been banished.

In the story, the young man wakens to the deprivations this nation lives under as he learns of them through the transmissions of The Giver, Bridges, a physical encyclopedia of all past human and natural history. And somehow the young man must escape and save humanity from the wreckage of the future.

I enjoyed the adventure and all the sci-fi effects. Indeed, the effects are the chief value of sci-fi. They guarantee and deliver magic. The Giver story is told in a series of beautiful montages that sweep us forward and keep us abreast of The Lost Horizon we are learning about and from. Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a sci-fi play. Meryl Streep transports herself with no more difficulty than Ariel. For special effects have an honored and ancient place in commanding our sense of wonder, fortunate deliverance, and heavenly visitation every time. If you don’t think those are real in real life, your sense of reality may be stunted. Effects are the wand to remind us of the power and influence of the impalpable.

 
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Posted in Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep: ACTING GODDESS, Sci-Fi, SURVIVAL DRAMA

 

The Monuments Men

09 Feb

The Monuments Men – directed by George Clooney. War Drama. 118 minutes Color 2014.

★★★

The Story: A WW II mission to save works of art destined for destruction should the Nazis loose.

~ ~ ~

If ever a movie sank more solemnly under the freight of its miscasting, I have yet to see it. Art museum directors, curators, scholars, educators, archivists — George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Bill Murray, thou never wert.

If John Goodman was not obviously such a good actor, he might be convincing as a sculptor.  And if Jean Dujardin were not so helplessly charming one might root for his loss from a profession we never grasp. This leaves Bob Balaban, who might pass for an academic in the world of world art, Hugh Bonneville as a former drunk, Dimitri Leonidas as the German-speaking Brooklyn Jew, and Cate Blanchett who is thoroughly convincing as the Jeu de Paume curator who kept a record of the stolen pieces.

All the others, wonderful actors though they are, exercise their noble craft as best they may, imagining that the good will which backs our affection and admiration for each and every one of them will supply the deficiency of their being in the wrong parts entirely.

George Clooney is the main culprit. For he is producer, writer, actor, and director. It is as a writer he is first to be stripped of his medal. For he has given the men the most routine of male chat to move things forward. Silent strength – you know the sort of thing – stalwartness in red, white and blue. I once worked in the high-testosterone History Of Art Department of Yale in the early ‘50s, and the chat was not that.

As director he lets his actors go where they will, as they will, each of them basically falling back on their star masculinity to perform their roles for them. As an actor, Clooney reverts to his casual, laid back, insouciant manner, and lets tacit charm muscle a job which has no place in it. Damon falls back on his Everyman quality, Murray on his piquant personality; both are irrelevant.

As producer, the picture cost 70 million – although how so blandly round a figure is come at one wonders – and it made what is essentially a small movie about a large subject, into a large movie about a subject which is invisible.

For Clooney sermonizes that these works of art must be saved from destruction and returned to their owners because they are the golden fruit of Western civilization. Everything we are fighting for! A great “accomplishment” which must not be lost. What vulgarity! What nonsense!

The only reason these works of art should be saved from theft and destruction, much less returned to their owners, is their priceless and inherent beauty. All these rescuers were chosen for their dedication to beauty. But “beauty” is a word never uttered by Clooney nor by anyone else. It is as though the word “beauty” were unmanly. The entire adventure operates under the cow pad of this omission.

 

 

 

Baby Face

05 Feb

Baby Face – directed by Alfred E. Green. Drama. 71 minutes Black and White 1933.

★★★★★

The Story: A speakeasy owner’s daughter and her negro pal take off to make their fortunes with two dollars between them and a plan for one of them to sleep to the top.

When Zanuck headed up Warner’s before he moved to Fox, he seldom allowed a female to carry a film. Instead, they were used as leading ladies opposite strong male stars. Baby Face is one of his few exceptions.

Zanuck thought up the story and worked on it with Barbara Stanwyck. We have full records of their sessions. They needed to get it into a form which would work with the censors, which in fact eventually it did not. Stanwyck is 25 at this time, and, since the Silent Era, she is making about four pictures a year. In some of them she plays the calico virgin, in others the hard-bitten dame. Or it might be better to say, she plays, as she did in The Lady Eve and Double Indemnity, a duplicitous woman. Here, she seduces and abandons one man after another on her way to the penthouse, which she actually arrives at. Over the bodies of John Wayne, Douglass Dumbrille, Henry Kolker, and Donald Woods she stalks, leaving them all pleading for more.

This is a wonderful ploy on the part of a script to make a star desirable in the eyes of both male and female audience. And Stanwyck is perfectly convincing at it up to a point. She’s great at flirting. But her technique is inconsistent and her choices sometimes unwise. For instance, the way to play telling lies is to be forthright, but Stanwyck plays innocent, she plays poor-me, she plays The Victim. But nobody would ever be convinced by it. At other times her line readings are flat. Both these things remained true for her all her long life as an actor.

But what is truer is her conviction. She is an actress of only surface emotional depth, but she is completely honest on that level, and that level is all that it takes to tell the story of a film, which is really what the audience has come to be satisfied by. Which is why so many B films were well attended: their stories were always more arresting than the performances of them.

Stanwyck had a good voice for film. Sound editors for early Talking Pictures had trouble with its range, but once they got used to that, it worked well, and we are speaking here of an actress who was only in movies at all because of that voice. There was a directness to Stanwyck’s delivery that her crews applauded and were moved by. She was a one-shot actress, so you didn’t get to rehearse with her, but she was an actress of immediate dispatch. She was on the mark, ready, go. In fact, she was go. It’s great to see it.

Stanwyck, like Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford, was a redhead covered with freckles, and was, like them, plastered under a mask of makeup to hide them. Here they wanted to dye her hair, but Stanwyck never let her hair be dyed. Instead Perc Westmore, head of makeup at Warners and scion of a family of expert wigmakers, produced (they’re something to behold!) seven wigs each one richer in effect than the one before. And Orry-Kelly puts her in one overdressed outfit after another until at last, when married to banker George Brent, she seems entirely clothed in gold.

Time lists Baby Face as one of 100 greatest films.

 

Captain Phillips

29 Nov

Captain Phillips  directed by Paul Greenglass. BioPic. Pirates take over a container ship in the Indian Ocean and kidnap its captain, engaging a U.S. Naval mission for his rescue. 123 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

The style is documentarian and it works like gangbusters. One feels one is in Somalia with the Somalis in their desperate situation as it resolves into theft, kidnapping, bribery, and frequently ingested drugs, and one is aboard as well with the crew, in its fear, resourcefulness and valor.

So the great virtue of the treatment of this material is its evenhandedness between the invaders and the sailors. There are no villains; there are simply certain people doing certain things. Members of the crew somewhat emerge, while Tom Hanks carries the sailor side of the story, but the Four Somalis emerge clearly as persons. Surrounding them is the document of the vast sea, and one has the sense that the entire film was shot actually at sea, not in a studio water-tank. The ocean is the document. She is both the tool of the piracy and the tool of its comeuppance. She permits the pirate to board the ship, and she slows down their escape.

I don’t have TV and I don’t watch the news any more, nor do I read movie reviews, and so I was unfamiliar with the misadventure of the Maersk Alabama. Consequently everything commanded my intelligence, everything surprised me, everything interested me, particularly the reality of the insides of the Alabama, its corridors, appointments, engine room, and fo’cstle, and the curious interior of a modern life-boat, whose aspect I shall not betray here, lest surprise fail you when you actually see it for yourself.

Apart from all this, I was fascinated, tense, thrilled. I had no idea what was going to happen. The capture of Captain Phillips and the intermittent threats to his life were exasperating, even exhausting, but one is meant to sit through them for the uncertain outcome, just as he had to.

The trial by water is made worthwhile by the playing of the leader of the pirates, a wonderful Somali actor, Barkhad Abdi, who is just right in his relations to the other three henchmen, one of whom. insane on drugs and religion, wants to kill Phillips, and one of whom, a tyro to all this, is taken over from time to time by his own naive kindness.

Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips as a dull bourgeois, which is exactly right. He is a competent sailor, he knows how to lead a crew and preserve their lives, and he is almost always devoid of snappy Hollywood cunning. This makes his Captain Phillips a triumph, for it means an ordinary person in extraordinary peril, may have just enough wit to bring rescue about. Clearly his Captain Phillips is a bad actor when trying to convince his captors to a certain course, to search certain sections of the ship, to think a certain way, but his very ineptitude at being convincing is enough to confound the search of the ship and ensure his crew’s safety. It is a stunning anti-heroic choice for the actor to have made.

The screenwriter and actors have also fashioned a relationship between him and the pirate chief which emerges as the focal point of interest, for these two are men of practical intelligence who are interested in one another’s being, nature, and position. Both are fighting for their lives, both in different ways, and it is our fascination to see which shall prevail before the sun sets upon them.

 

All Is Lost

11 Nov

All Is Lost – directed by J.C. Chandor. Survival Drama. A lone yachtsman finds himself in the middle of the Indian Ocean with a broken hull. 106 minutes Color 2013

★★★

Robert Redford is an actor to whom nothing can happen. For he has spent his life fortificationed by his appearance. So as one watches this picture, one knows he must escape. From the start, this demolishes the story for us. For as the damaged vessel goes from bad to worse, Redford remains resolute, calm, unmoved. He is never awkward; he is never funny; he never falls apart; he is without quirk. He goes through the motions of restoring the vessel to seaworthiness, that is all. He might as well be in a marina for all the worry he feels.

So one does not feel anything for him. But that does not mean that one does not feel anything about the situations in which we find him. With those as they mount, we feel more about them than he does, for our tension is consistent from the start – although we are baffled why it is not present in Redford at all. Yet, while he is never afraid, one does take an interest in the measures he employs to save the boat. One wonders what he is up to, but, as he is not an actor to reveal himself, he does not talk to himself, and we are not vouchsafed the information. Besides, those measures are never taken for him to save himself, only the boat, for he knows that he is a movie hero, and movie heroes do not die in the last reel. They never make mortal fools of themselves. They are really actors in serials, and they have to survive for the next episode, except the serials are full length movies. Gary Cooper laid down the law about that years ago, and Redford has honored it here. Though wounded, uncomfortable, soaking wet, imperiled, and drowning, Redford is not afraid for himself. He works hard to save the vessel, but he is diffident – so it is not surprising to find him frequently falling asleep. He is stalwart; he is practical; he is perfectly carved; he is iconic. He is a totem pole. He could float to safety.

Obviously, I would have enjoyed the film more if a more human actor had played it. As to Redford? – what does he risk? Anything? Why is this damn fool all alone by himself out of the shipping lanes in the middle of the Indian Ocean, without a working radio? That would be an interesting situation to explore. Except Redford could never play a damn fool. It wouldn’t occur to him. Yet there the character is, a jerk foundering without a working radio.

 

The Impossible

01 Feb

The Impossible – directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Manhunt Survival Drama. A family vacationing in Thailand is washed away by the 2004 tidal wave that devastates the country and separates them cruelly. 117 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★
Melodrama means a form of drama with a strong musical accompaniment. We think of the form nowadays as a parody of drama, old fashioned, and ridiculous. We also think of it as a form of drama designed so that music could be written to it. The closest link in literary forms to melodrama is the form called satire. This linkage is what makes Dickens so rich a concoction.

Here, however, the music supplants the drama. We are awash in the drama. But then the drama is washed away by the music. The musical score demolishes all dramatic involvement in the proceedings whenever it is heard.

And it is not necessary.

The story before us here is simple in its construction and execution and strong. The largest water tank in the world was build in India to film the scenes of flood. And we certainly believe the catastrophic situation that befalls Naomi Watts and her eldest son young Tom Holland as they are carried miles into the hinterland, helplessly tossed against the debris which surrounds and endangers them. Watts is badly damaged, her son less so, but he is only a boy.

Her other two sons are rescued by their father, played by Ewan McGregor. He then combs the chaos of the country for his wife and son, after the flood recedes.

This is the story. It is the story of a manhunt. We know they will be reunited, because publicity for the film and its coming attractions have spoiled that part of the story for us, or, lured us to the promise of sentimental reunities.

But the directorial execution of the details of their finding one another is so exquisite, so correct, so thorough, so illuminating, so real, so encompassing, and so interesting that the entire story could be told without a single violin.

I can only recommend the film if you wear earplugs. The score is asking you to empathize with the music rather than the situation. This is why melodrama is ridiculous and outmoded. Its tendency is to turn catastrophe into corn.

Aside from that, the film is honorable on all counts and worth your attendance, indeed.

 

The Life Of Pi

25 Nov

The Life Of Pi – directed by Ang Lee. Survival Drama, Family Film. An adolescent boy is cast adrift in a lifeboat with a fully-grown Bengal Tiger. 127 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★
The film begins in enchantment, from the credits and forward to the translucency and wonder of the images that follow. The story is framed by the telling of the grown man to whom it happened. There he sits recounting it to a writer, and there they are at the end, when the picture as a whole ends with a bourgeois maxim.

The events of the family zoo in Pondicherry in India, the man’s boyhood introduction to the tiger, and the family’s setting sail for Canada on a Japanese freighter which sinks in a typhoon, are well told, thrilling, and novel. The filmmaker’s attack on these episodes suffuses us with awe. We are ensorcelled. Never have we seen such things. We sit back agog, and we believe.

But the boy is adrift with a ravenous tiger, so some sort of truce must be struck before the boy himself is eaten. And also we await their rescue, which never seems to come. What does come is a slackening of tension which is more fatal than the tiger is. For we lose contact with the inner life of this starving castaway, and the grim process that finally seizes one’s mind after one is adrift for months on the open ocean. We have too many accounts of this stage of death at sea not to know what it is like.

One is covered with salt, one’s eyes are practically blind, one’s lips are bubbling with sores, one’s skin is dripping off one’s body, one is malnourished and athirst and burned alive. And just before surrender to death comes the phantasmagoria of magical rescue, with dancing girls and feasts and rest and reunion. At this point, any delirium is tempting, the temptation being to succumb to the delirium as real, and thus surrender to death, for The Gate Of Death is Pleasure. The alternative to it is to surrender to the delirium as delirium, yet not submit but stand away from it and exit it. Attention to that process provides a rest and recuperation from the bodily and mental torment, and the outcome of that rest is the energy to go on.

What needs to happen is that the boy is dying and the tiger is dying, and the delirium moment arrives, but, instead of that, instead of a working into and out of the perilous malaise of the dream of rescue, the author and the filmmaker give us a pretty, little cop-out, a phony island out of an old Maria Montez movie, where the boy and the tiger can feast and rest. The Special Effects execution of the island is a gross violation of style. And there is no drama. Without it, the movie sinks.

We immediately lose any interest in the tiger and the boy and their survival, not because we know they did survive, for the boy now grown is telling the tale to the writer, but because the director and the author have not done their job which is to take us into the worst crisis of all, A Vision Of False Paradise, and record his escape from it.

This film is still worth seeing. It is beautifully filmed in 3-D by Claudio Myranda and perfectly cast, right down to the four tigers that play the tiger here — one Richard Parker by name an unpredictable cat if there ever was one.

 

Autumn Reunion

30 Jun

Autumn Reunion – directed by Paolo Barzman. Drama. 40 years after The War, three survivors meet again and face facing the past. 1 hour 39 minutes Color 2007.

★★★★★

What a beautiful film for us! Told to us at once carefully and imaginatively by editor Arthur Tarnowski, photographer Luc Montpellier, and director Paolo Barzman, it is the story of the price of survival on those who survive and on all who surround those who survive. When they were children Gabriel Byrne and Susan Sarandon were interned in an extermination camp way-station outside Paris, and taken under the wing of a teenage man, now grown old into the person of Max Von Sydow. All three of them by ironic chance have survived, and now they meet again on the farm of survivor Susan Sarandon in Quebec. The farm and the lake beside it hold them in a subtle vast embrace. Sarandon is a grandmother now, and the little grandson and his father, her son, stay with her there with her husband, Christopher Plummer, the college professor she married when she was his student, years before. This gathering brings into the surface the dire effects their internment had and the cruel damage it also discovers fresh means to cause. Plummer is the pivotal character of this group, Sarandon is the focal character, for she has kept alive the damage of the camps and made her life’s work the message of that damage to the world at large, sacrificing her marriage to that task, for both her son and husband suffer from her mad devotion. Each person in turn rises like a great wave out of the calm refuge of the farm and clashes with each of the others. I like everything about this movie; I like the production design by Jean-Francois Campeau; the house is just right; I like the music by Normand Corbeil; always apt – but what I admire most is the acting of these four. When I see Bette Davis’s films after All About Eve I see that she has nothing new to show me, I see the life of her skill decline by insisting on staying the same. But here I see four actors long familiar to me who still surprise me, and in the case of Plummer, an actor I ordinarily do not like, achieve not just wit but humor. They have grown. No. They grow before our very eyes; there’s no past tense to it. It is happening right before us. In acting, mastery knows no end. These four are at ease with its great difficulties. Refresh yourself with the spectacle of their accomplishment.

 

The Collector

28 Jun

The Collector – directed by William Wyler . Suspense. A nouveau rich young man traps the girl of his dreams in the cellar of his country house. 1hours 29 minutes Color 1965.

★★★

I want to praise it highly, for it is the film of a director – The Best Years Of Our Lives, The Little Foxes, The Letter, Roman Holliday – whose work I respect and enjoy, but the film is not as good as it would have been had the script been better than it is. Aside from two minor characters, the wonderful Mona Washbourne being one of them, it is a two-character piece. But the problem lies not with their casting or playing, but with the limited range they are forced to perform in by the script, or rather, the single story element in it they are allowed to respond to. For their choices for capture and escape are merely sexual, merely romantic. This means that the playing field between the two never has a chance to open up into any other dramatic possibility; they never find a common ground other than sex; they never come together as ordinary human beings, discussing Butterflies, say, or one’s preference for scrambled eggs as opposed to eggs over easy or whether they like to sleep on their right or their left side or what they dream of when they do. What we are given instead as the entire thing that divides them is the difference in their social classes, and this is presented as an absolute which neither can breach. And with this polemic the author, John Fowles, strangles the story, which becomes a repetition of identical roadblocks, whereas when people find themselves trapped in the Army or on a life raft or in a 12 Step meeting, no matter what social class they come from, they do find common ground, and in doing so an arena of accessibility, friendship, and accord, in which the need in the girl to escape can tempt her with the opposite, as can the need for the young man to keep her. So the film becomes a set up, a scold rather than a true story, and thus fails. Cast as the two are Samantha Eggar who is super as the red-haired young beauty who is kidnapped. Her casting is obvious: she is lovely, young, and a good actor. The casting of the young man is strange however, but for that very reason it works. No one is creepier than a creepy Englishman, and the person they have cast in this role was the sexiest young man in England at that time, a young man so beautiful and inviting, a sort of James Dean of The British Isles, that he could have any lady he desired. He would be the abducted, rather than the abducted. Terrence Stamp plays the part completely against his natural endowment, without ever making it grotesque to do so. All he does is hold his head to one side, do something odd with his hands, pitch his voice into a Roddy MacDowell alto, and button one too many buttons of his suit. Somewhere he finds his inner prude in order to always find reasons to both keep and repel her. If only she had really fallen for him, ah, what a strange and devastating story that would have made. Would he then be the one trapped? We’ll never know. The music is by Maurice Jarre, and is the best. It was shot in Hollywood by Robert Surtees, a great photographer shooting sets that don’t quite work as real, and by Robert Krasker in England which does quite work as real, because it is.

 

Distant Drums

23 Jun

Distant Drums – directed by Raoul Walsh. Historical Adventure. A lone settler heads a raid on a Florida fort, then leads his men back to safety. 101 minutes Color 1951.

★★★★

How did Max Steiner get a symphony orchestra into the Everglades! Oh, those Seminoles, they sure take a beating from him, as do we watching this very watchable, if over-scored, Raoul Walsh action/adventure story. Actually it’s incorrect to call Walsh’s films action/adventure, when many of them are, and when he is at his best, are tales of a journey. Up into the high Sierras in High Sierra. Through the Burmese jungle in Objective Burma. Across the Oregon wilderness in what to my mind is the greatest Western ever made, The Big Trail. For some years his films were being scored by Max Steiner and filmed by Sid Hickox, and, I always feel that both of them diminish them through overloading the color. But it is also true that Walsh by now took less trouble with the scripts; the stories and dialogue tend to the banal, and Hickox and Steiner may have just been trying to jack them up. Walsh always tells a story superbly; that’s not the question; the question is how good is the story? And then thee is Gary Cooper. I don’t like Gary Cooper. There is something phony about him. He is an actor incapable of an emphasis. I almost asked Patrician Neal once, “How could you fall in love with such a bad actor?” but at the time the lady was smitten, and that counts for a lot that doesn’t count. I watch Cooper to see if I believe him. And in this film I pretty much do. I believe he has an ear cocked for those sly Seminoles, although the costumer has them tricked up in such gaudy war paint and deer skin, you could hardly miss them. I believe his thought processes. I believe there is an inherent morality playing in him. I believe in his stalwartness, his pertinacity. I don’t believe the faces he makes, that curling down of his lower lip and that balance of his voice with his lines, which I also believe coming from him, which, considering their utilitarian nature, do demand no more than the slightest life lest they be betrayed as having so little. And this he has to give: he is an actor without temperament, of course. I believe in his masculinity. I believe in his slightly bow-legged stride. I believe in his command – which the other characters have to believe in too in order to follow him with the gaitors and cotton-mouths slithering after them. I believe in the role he plays, but not the character. He is the sort of actor males in the audience would like to be one day, and wake up when old to realize they have failed to become. Perhaps. What we know of Cooper is that he was a consummate lothario, was vain, and never would play a character who died at the end. I do not believe what others believe about him, but I can understand why others do. In real life a voluble talker, in film, though,laconic and quiet, to me he is so soft spoken he is odd. Here he is not young but he still has his fine slim figure, and he is photographed so the bags under his eyes don’t show. He is a great star because males and females equally want to carry his arms or be in his arms. He looks good, but he is good looking in a way that does not interest me. And he is American in a way that does not interest me. That is to say aloof. Even disdainful. A loner it is called. Someone who never asks for directions. He never played a part opposite a character more noble than himself. And he very often wastes the other actors’ time and cues by hemming and hawing and making cute. However, in this film, despite that you know he going to survive (for he always does), you do believe in his sense of peril, the fear and necessity that motivate him, his urgency of the story – which Walsh tells with unerring economy as usual – and right in the Everglades itself, at Silver Springs, and into the astonishing ruins of Castillo San Marcos. The qualities that define a star shine on a list that is never complete, but one thing all of them have, which is that they all belong up there in those huge moving photographs of them. Like him or not, Cooper belonged there.

 

Snow White And The Huntsman

17 Jun

Snow White And The Huntsman – directed by Rupert Sanders. Fairy Tale Escape Action Adventure. A ghoulish queen strives to eat her fleeing stepdaughter alive. 127 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

The problem with live-action fairy tales is that they sink under the specious particularity of the naturalistic, to which by temperament they are alien. A fairy tale is like a very important dream. It is an external narration of an internal contraption. It is parsed out into characters, such as the queen, the witch, the dumb third son, the cunning daughter, the dragon in the gold, the prince, and so forth. Reading them or listening to them we know we ourselves are these things. Even though not externally, our identification is absolute and therefore hypnotic. These are the inner paths, the inner adventures and floorplan of the psyche. They are wise and cautionary stories, and they are absolutely true in the largest sense of the word, since they must be embarked upon and lived out, but they have nothing to do with realism as a style – and realism is a style which live-action cannot avoid. That is why the true film medium for all fairy tales is animated cartoon. In this picture, for instance, which is very well done, beautifully cast, expensively made, very well played, directed, edited, filmed, and scored, we at one point witness Snow White with dirty fingernails, a completely unnecessary and, in fact, counter-productive detail for the meaning and carriage of the fairy tale of Snow White, but inevitable since she has been slogging through the wilds and falling down in mud before our eyes. So there is a sense when watching such films of a remoteness forced upon us by an incorrect medium. When there camera rises high above her collapse in The Dark Woods, we see her lying screened behind the tall branches of the trees far below, and we see that, despite their cruelty, her vicissitudes protect her. That is because we are at that moment witnessing the scheme of cartoon. With fairy tales, live-action rules out identification. There’s too much unelectable detail. Disney’s version was correct. The theater would also be correct. Opera would be correct. Aside from this failure which is nobody’s fault and everybody’s fault, the pictures is beautiful in every scene and sense, rare in its display of nature and anti-nature, by which I mean the queen’s costumes. Charlize Theron plays her, and her character is given many scenes. Set before the days of face-lifts, her step-queen’s political and magical powers depend upon the retention of her looks. With her oceanic beauty, Charlize Theron really is the fairest of them all. But she is also the older sister of a brother who is clearly in his fifties, while she herself is Charlize Theron. She’s wonderful in the part, and her playing of her death scene is imaginative and unusual. The film never fails to interest and never succeeds to fully interest. It is extremely intelligent and completely obtuse. But it is not a waste of time. And as set forth it certainly supports the activism and the vitality and the cunning and the stamina of the female of the species, right along with the males who help her escape and eventually come to follow her.

 

Swimming To Cambodia

17 May

Swimming To Cambodia — directed by Jonathan Demme.  Docudrama. Spalding Grey performs his monologue about his experiences in Bangkok as a movie actor filming The Killing Fields. 82 minutes. Color. 1987.

★★★★★

There sits Spalding Grey in his usual plaid workshirt and jeans with a glass of water and a 5 & 10 spiral notebook and delivers his remarkable take on his life and mind. He is quite beautiful, and the director keeps close up on him, even though he is delivering it, supposedly, in the small space of New York’s Performing Garage. Actually the film is more than a record of a well-rehearsed performance piece, for it includes lighting effects and process shots not offered when one saw it in person. But that’s all right. Also all right are The Killing Fields clips themselves. It’s not a gag-driven monologue, although it is always humorous and sometimes even funny. It is, rather, a crazy education imparted professorially, for he maintains himself seated, dignified in all his indignity and indignation, behind the lecture barrier of the little table. We are being taught something. We all need this restraint placed upon someone who is after all tearing out his hair. For what is interesting is Grey’s fine madness. Which consists of what drives him nuts about himself and the world he inhabits, in this case the international political zoo of the 70s, when Nixon personally put America to a secret war against the Khmer Rouge in Northern Cambodia. Grey is involved in the massacre, and he is also involved in living, concurrent with it, the voluptuous life of a Hollywood production expense account, which also takes him to the wild and pristine beaches of the Indian Ocean, where he swims unto death. Why should we be interested in this? Because Grey is not a moron and is not pretending to a popular simplicity. He is a middle class, middle aged guy whose neuroses are such that they lead him, as neuroses often do, to the truth. He is a responsive actor and he is a telling mimic. And he is willing, for some reason, to experience, before our eyes, excruciation. One is aware, as he does this, that he does this every night, night after night, for an audience to which he would suggest his own resemblance. This is also part of his madness. For it includes our madness in going to see him, night after night, and as we watch we are aware of our own intrusive continued presence at this witty crucifixion. A college graduate. Yes. Literate. Yes. With good diction. Yes. And sane with insanity. If that troubles you, stay away. If it does not trouble you, then you can stand being troubled by his trouble. Just as you can stand being troubled by that of Garrison Keillor, who has the power to entertain you in just the same vein, you see.

 

Objective, Burma!

06 May

Objective, Burma! – directed by Raoul Walsh. Action/Adventure World War II Drama. A company of soldiers after completing its demolition mission must walk two hundred miles through the Burmese jungle while tracked by Japanese intent on killing them. 142 minutes Black and White 1945.

★★★★★

Nominated for three Oscars, George Amy for editing, Alvah Bessie for writing, and Franz Waxman for the score, any one of them deserved it, but, apart from Raoul Walsh, the key genius in all this is James Wong Howe who filmed it. One of the great film artists, he brings a raw look to every shot, and every shot tells. Particularly in light of the fact that we always believe we are in a jungle in Burma, when, in fact, it was shot at the arboretum in Los Angeles and at a California ranch. The uniforms and equipment are authentic, not props and costumes, and the combat footage is actual footage from the China-Burma-India Theatre. So we get real parachute jumps and actual glider landing operations of that period, with tanks and trucks and troops pouring out of them in Burma, and takeoffs, too, which Howe’s footage and Amy’s editing match perfectly. Again Errol Flynn is Walsh’s star, and, with all the guns going off, and the peril of the jungle, the sweat, the hunger, the polluted water, he plays the leader of the slogging men quietly, modestly. The subtle shift in his eyes as he sees the dismembered bodies of his men is so great a film moment that we never have to see the bodies at all. Of course, while the other men grow beards during the long arduous trek, Flynn’s jaw remains shaved – but at least it is dirty, sweaty, and drawn. Walsh made many war films, and this is one of the most commanding World War II films by anyone. His supporting cast is admirable, with George Tobias as the company clown, Mark Stevens as the rescue pilot who cannot rescue them, Richard Erdman aged 19 playing a 19 year old, Warner Anderson as the young Colonel who must abandon them to their fate, James Brown as a doughty sergeant, William Prince in his first film, Frank Tang marvelous as the translator, and Henry Hull who speechifies his lines grandiosely, alas. (“All right, boys, no Hamlets in the jungle,” Walsh told them, but Hull didn’t listen. He was always that way, though; after all, he’d acted with Barrymore.) If you like action/adventure films, Walsh was the top director in his day of them. This is one of his best.

 

 

Margin Call

23 Oct

Margin Call — Directed and Written by J.C. Chandor. Suspense. A huge Wall Street company teeters on the brink of collapse and a crisis of conscience. 105 minutes Color 2011

* * * * *

The infuriatingly dull title for this very exciting film detours one away, only to be pulled back toward it by the presence of a superb cast. What great actors we have in this world, and all of them are at the peak of their game here. If there were Oscars for casting, this movie should win one. The focal character is played by Kevin Spacey, in the part of a management director of a trading company. He learns that the company is in dire jeopardy, and his moral dilemma is to find a way out that is on the up and up. The film begins with the ritual execution of half the staff of the company including its risk director, played with uncanny reserve by Stanley Tucci. His novice assistants follow through on his work and discover the fatal state of the company. Simon Baker-Denney plays the cold head of operations and his cold partner by Demi Moore. The announcement of Moore’s firing is a beautiful piece of acting by her, an infinitesimal response. Fabulous. The boys who uncover the disease are well played by Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley, each of them given key scenes of resolution which they meet perfectly. Paul Bettany plays the sardonic observer-of-it-all and brings to the inner circle the necessary presence of a lack of naiveté. Everyone knows what it’s really about. The suspense builds like black cream being whipped – until the arrival of Jeremy Irons, the pivotal character of the piece, at which point suspense stops. Irons is beyond excellent in the role of the owner of the company. He’s an actor who pulls focus with every inhalation and who can carry a film easily. The problem is in the writing of his part, although he is so good at delivering it as is, that you cannot tell. The fact is that the role of a pivotal character depends on whether he will turn to the right or to the left, and our not knowing which until at last. To create this second level of suspense the picture must refocus this character’s decision on his relations with the characters we have already met and thus postpone it, and the script does not do that. We are faced instead with the question of will people be fired or not, which is jumping the gun which the Irons character holds in his hand. Instead the focus turns to the Spacey character and makes him the focal character, which he is not. But even then the story is quite fascinating and the writing even in its miscalculation is quite fascinating and the playing of the scenes is quite fascinating. Somehow each of these actors has the ability and the material to create characters, no matter how cold, no matter how little we know about them, with whom we can identify. One of the reasons for that is that none of them have private lives. It’s touching. They are all and only worker bees. None more so than the Irons character who can do nothing whatsoever in life but go out and gather more honey and never question it at all.

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Gone With The Wind

08 Sep

Gone With The Wind – Directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, Sam Wood, Alfred Hitchcock. Drama. A selfish misguided flirt becomes a misguided survivalist. 220 minutes Color 1939.

* * * * *

It is the greatest movie ever made– because of its generosity of spirit. Everyone who made it hated everyone else who made it, and everyone hated David O. Selznick who produced it, produced it in the sense that he himself made it, and remade it, to his exact and exacting specifications. He was a terrible intruder, interloper, interferer, and one longs to know which particular details he interfered with. Perhaps and probably all details. I saw it when it came out. White dishes with red borders were the door prizes, given out in intermission at the Roosevelt Theatre in Flushing, now no longer existent. My mother took us, and I was restless; I was six. On its re-release I saw it, and was mightily moved. I thought it was the story of Melanie Wilkes. I took myself to be that devoted soul, though I lacked the deep kindness. I was more like Oona Munson as Belle Watling. Later on when I saw it, I realized it was the story of Scarlett O’Hara. The part is perfectly cast, because Vivien Leigh had a divinity’s charm, the inner hellcat, the greed for life’s rewards, and the daring to go for them, and it is her greatest screen work. Scarlett seizes other people’s property to gain her ends, and she is perfectly matched in this by Selznick himself. We hand it to Scarlett on the grounds of her sheer vivacity. And we never blame her. Why? Because she represents the triumph of what, despite our failings and meanness, we all deserve and what we will sacrifice for it. Scarlett is an accomplishment, Vivien Leigh’s performance is an accomplishment, and the film is an accomplishment, and it is all the same accomplishment, and that remains stirring to this day. The production is splendid. William Cameron Menzies sets, Jack Cosgrove’s backgrounds, Max Steiner’s moving score – all are exemplary, as are the pens of those responsible for its screenplay, Sydney Howard, Ben Hecht, Oliver Garrett and others. Olivia de Haviland wept selfishly at the Oscars when her Melanie lost to the first black actor ever to win an acting award, Miss Hattie McDaniel, who is tops. Everyone is at their best except Leslie Howard who, as an actor, in fact actually appears to be the milksop someone accuses Ashley Wilkes as being. And, above all, if he is forgotten for every other picture he ever made, he will be known and remembered perfectly for the part which captures his humor, his great charm, his mountainous masculinity, his physical beauty, his irresistible sexiness, and his great skill as an actor – in the part of Rhett Butler — Clark Gable.

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Two Women

01 Aug

Two Women – Directed by Vittorio De Sica. Low Tragedy. As World War II ends, a mother and her daughter seek shelter from destruction. 100 minutes Black and White 1960.

* * * * *

One of the great humorists of film and a master of many styles, De Sica was the most gifted, varied, and accessible of all the neo-realist film-makers of the New Wave. He made more films than any of the others, many of them before the War, and they ranged from White Telephone movies through neo-realistic movies like Bicycle Thief, to The Garden of The Finzi-Continis. Why the neo in neo-realism? I dunno. It was the first and only realism since silent pictures. Anyhow, this is a remarkable picture. Sophia Loren was slated to play the daughter, but when Anna Magnani was asked to play the mother she said, “Let Loren play her own mother!” and slammed the door on the role that won Loren The Cannes, The BAFTA, The Donatello, The Italian National, The San Jordi, The New York Film Critics, and The Oscar for the Best Performance By An Actress for 1960. She well deserved it. She plays a cunning, susceptible shopkeeper intent on preserving her 12 year old daughter from destruction from the bombing of Rome. They strike out for her native village in the mountains. There they live and survive. There she meets a student revolutionist, an intellectual wearing glasses, cast, in a stroke of genius, with the most sensual actor in films, Jean-Paul Belmondo. Loren is 25 when she does this, and is completely convincing as the widowed mother protecting her daughter like a tigress. Both Neapolitan, she and De Sica make wonderful film together. She has the energy and internal power of the lower classes from which she came, their knowledge, passion, strength, humor, and forgiveness. Moravia wrote the novel, Zavattini the screenplay. In all of this De Sica is never without humor, most of which is gestural and therefore all the more telling. See it.

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The Road

23 Jun

The Road – Directed by John Hillcoat. Escape Drama. A father and his 11 year-old son head for the salvation of the ocean after an apocalyptic scourge. 111 minutes Color 2009,

* * * *

Scriptwriter’s failure. The father is sentimentalized with hugs and kisses and fond looks at his son, and the language which, as him, the remarkable Viggo Mortensen is obliged to speak makes one turn away in shame. The emotion of apocalypse never needs to be spelled out verbally. We do not need to know verbally what survivors’ feelings are. We can see it for ourselves and we can imagine it for ourselves. For the task, the pleasure, and the raison d’etre of an audience is to supply 50% of what is going on. And a picture of this kind, in its desolate tracts, needs to be mute. At other times, the script is darn good. As witness by what power Charlize Theron invests with it in her key scenes, and what Robert Duval brings to it as a decrepit vagrant. The two actors are remarkable in their daring and their clarity of statement. Guy Pearce fares far less well as the deus ex macchina at the end. He appears out of nowhere, as all good D.E.M.s should, and he is abetted in his role by his adoption of yard-long locks and bad teeth, which make him look like no expected savior – a very clever strategy because of its ambiguity. But then Pearce’s family is unnecessarily dragged in, his kindly wife, his same-age children, and a fumbled finale which we, having gone along through this film’s difficulties, must stumble off with. The director should have left Pearce alone on the screen with the boy, for the boy is the thing. Pearce’s scenes lie on the cutting room floor and we can see them, and they are no better than what is included. The cast is international: Mortensen is from South America and Denmark, Theron from South Africa, Duvall from USA, Pearce and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays the boy, from Australia. Master Smit-McPhee is simply amazing throughout the film. Not only does he physically resemble Theron, who plays his mother, but he is entirely open and responsive and full – qualities any fine actor might envy. The film as a whole is beautifully produced, scored, edited, and directed. It’s a film about a very hard journey. I would embark upon it if I were you.

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127 Hours

22 Feb

127 Hours — directed by Danny Boyle — Sports drama. A young deserteer/mountaineer finds himself trapped in a canyon. 94 minutes Color 2010.

* * * *

I found myself detached watching this. Let’s assume it’s not because of a piece of undigested cheese, for the film is filled with a thousand felicities. But I have three questions. The film turned out to be exactly what I expected it to be: the story of a man escaping, played by a good-looking actor of some talent. James Franco plays him as a Merry Andrew isolate. I question the choice, not of an isolate, but of a man who is essentially volatile. The volatility may be inherent with Franco, but I wonder if the actual man, Aron Ralston was so. For Franco the desert is a lark. But if Ralston were actually a fellow of serious humor and of steady temperament, what would have happened to him in that canyon? As it is, on the soul-level, nothing happens to him. All he learns is: Always tell someone where you are going. Then, there is a problem with narration, by which I mean editing. In such a story it seems necessary to put the audience, not in the shoes of the main character, but in their own shoes in that perilous place. But that’s not what we get. What we get is the editing machine in that perilous place. So the editing takes over our job for us, without our saying we need it to. There are five million cuts, none of them necessary for our entry into the tale. So we end up with a virtuoso camera and editing, of which we never cease to be aware, and which, in my case, keeps me aloof from the events and from the actor playing him. For the actor is left with no single scene that is his own. Every scene is the camera’s, the editor’s. Franco is always on camera, but we are never allowed just to be with him. This is sad, because the story is remarkable, and because the list of things done well in this film would have no end: the desert shown, the meeting with the two girls hiking and their adventure, the kissing of the staple, the trailing of the rope, the handling of the rock-fall, the great last ten minutes of the picture. Another problem with the picture, just at present, is that too much is known about it beforehand; its publicity has killed it. But it is well worth seeing; it is not depressing; it is harrowing only when it needs to be and less harrowing than a thousand horror films. Expect the expected, and you won’t be disappointed.

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