RSS
 

Archive for the ‘FOREIGN LANDS’ Category

Ida

14 Dec

Ida – directed Pawel Pawlikowski. Drama. 82 minutes Black And White 2013.
★★★★★
The Story: Her niece pays a visit to an aunt she never knew she had, and the niece, a novitiate, and the aunt, a hedonist, embark on a search into the dynamic past of both of them.
~
Boy, here’s a film you won’t want to see: Black And White, Polish and in Polish, about a nun, and the grim aftermath of WWII. Yet it seems to have five stars tattooed above and to have won the Oscar For The Best Foreign Film Of 2013.

Why would I pluck this off the library shelf if I had never even heard of it? Don’t answer. Because the answer is: because you and I are both in luck.

People die when no one’s looking. And they live when no one’s looking. We all know that. This seems to be the square in which Pawlikowski frames his actors – lives seen beneath monstrous skies they do not notice.

It is perfectly acted by Agata Trzebuchowska as Ida, the novitiate. Hundreds of actresses were auditioned. She was discovered at a café table, a rank amateur, and thus began a film star career.

The aunt is played by Agata Kulesza, an actress of deep experience and every wile.

These two explore the places and persons of the past, as they travel through Poland in search of the core of the mystery encompassing both of them.

You will regret not a minute seeing this film. And having said that: you might regret every minute not yet seeing it.

 

A Passage To India

08 Feb

A Passage To India – written and directed and edited by David Lean. Colonial Drama. 244 minutes Color 1985.

★★★★

The Story: A young woman and her Aunt travel to India to visit, and India takes hold of them with a mortal attraction.

~

David Lean’s last film, now a DVD whose extras are as interesting as the film itself. For you would never imagine how it was made in India back in the day. So take a look at the second DVD.

A couple of problems with the picture sully the experience, and some have to do with Lean’s mishandling of the material, for the ending is badly edited and does not fadge with the bones of the story. I can’t remember how E.M. Forster actually ends the book, but it can’t be like this.

Other difficulties have to do with his handling of what happened in the cave. E.M. Forster never told what happened there. And the reason he didn’t is because he did not know. In any case, it is clear that Miss Quested has a brain wave of some kind, becomes unhinged, and proclaims that Doctor Aziz has molested her.

In fact we are shown Miss Quested with lust in her eyes wanting Dr. Aziz in the cave. He does not see her and looks into other caves for her. He never goes into her cave at all. But Lean does not have the psychological imagination to cinematically envision what goes on inside Miss Quested that produces the catastrophic result. Lust for Dr. Aziz? Shame when he doesn’t come in? Remorse? Flight? Embarrassment? Revenge? We get none of this. All we get is some cactus scratches on her from running away downhill. So what is supposed to hang over the story as a mystery, becomes a mere opacity.

Part of the trouble is that the preparation for the cave scene is inadequate. For the excursion Miss Quested makes beforehand, coming upon pornographic statues on a bike ride, does not show the male side of sex, and because we hardly see anything risqué, we are not shocked, so how can she be shocked, and how can we gauge the statues’ effect on her? Lean has no sense of such things.

Another trouble is that we have in Judy Davis an actor who may be miscast. For Judy Davis is a young female none of this would shock. She is not the swooning sort. She is not a foolish virgin. She is Australian-earthy, not a female given to fantasies, derangements, traumatic shames, or unhingings. Of course, it would be interesting were all this to happen to as strong a personality as Judy Davis’s – but Lean’s treatment as scenarist and director go nowhere near this. He doesn’t seem to know what he has in her. It is as though the film – which is a female story – does not understand the language when entering female territory.

In a way, Lean’s film, and all his films, are about the male characters. The character of Mrs Moore, for instance, is never fully realized. Peggy Ashcroft, in a yeowoman effort, drags Mrs Moore not into clarity but into light. Clarity is not to be had. She and Lean argued badly as to how to perform her. Ashcroft was right. Ashcroft won because she had the part and went ahead and did what was right, else nothing at all would have been there, and Ashcroft won the Oscar. Judy Davis also locked horns with Lean, and lost. Lean did not have a clue about women. He would not have been married six times if he had.

The picture is ravishing in its scape. We see an India whose immensity of effect is always present, always beguiling, always seething We see wild crowds, marshalled armies in parade array, markets, mountains, rivers, structures, distraught railway trains, and placid colonial dwellings. It almost gives us a balanced canvas of Indian and English characters and points of view.

And all the male characters are superbly realized and performed, save, of course for Alec Guinness. He’s as ridiculous here as he was in Lawrence Of Arabia. Why he hypnotized David Lean to cast him to pad around as a Hindu sage only a real Hindu sage would know. Crazy. It’s counter-productive to the balance the film strives to achieve.

The three other male actors do fine work. First, Nigel Havers as the potential fiancé of Judy Davis. He plays a young magistrate in the British Colonial judicial system, and he is the perfect young man, is he not? Havers gives a lovely, easy performance as Ronny, making us thankful for the thankless role. Ronny knows not what he does as a character, but Havers as an actor does.

James Fox as the local schoolmaster, friend to both sides of the ship, rules half the film largely because his acting of Fielding is so thorough that it engages our interest and bias from start to finish. Grand work.

The co-star of the picture is Victor Banerjee, making his character full of life and optimism and love and curiosity and good will. Again, terrible reports have come down about Lean’s treatment of him. Banerjee’s performance grounds the film in the fluidity of a wonderful madness when he takes Mrs Moore and Miss Quested on the trip to the Marabar caves.

The temperament of the movie is spectacle-as-narration. It contains no scene which is not visually telling, rewarding, or essential. Every detail frees the camera to our eye. Its direction retains great respect for our ability to tell a story through what we see, through the placement of character, and particularly to the painted elephant called India in whose howdah all visitors cannot help but be shaken back and forth. One of Lean’s wives was Indian, and he had lived there a good while. He had a strong sense of its place, style, and potential as a vivid film subject.

Hidden within this vast national impression is actually a closet drama, involving only five characters, Mrs Moore, Miss Quested, Doctor Aziz, Fielding, and Ronny. The opera Aida comes to mind, a closet drama surrounded by a huge military display and a vast dynasty. Many curious and unusual relationships venture into its spectacle. But the material of  A Passage To India is one thing and the direction is quite another. Even unrealized, the material is more interesting than the director’s execution of it. To witness them, A Passage To India is still worth seeing, or, in my case and maybe in yours, worth seeing again.

 

 

 

 

Departures

02 Nov

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

★★★★★

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

~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Band Of Outsiders

31 Oct

Band Of Outsiders – directed by Jean Luc Goddard. Drama. 95 minutes Black And White 1964.

★★★

The Story: Two young men induce a pretty schoolgirl to help them rob her home.

~

These three are so young they seem fraudulent. A handsome man with nothing more in his mind than the ragged top of his tiny convertible. Another man not even young looking, brutally confident. A pretty schoolgirl brainless with excitement to be hanging around with these types. And sexual attraction indulged in as twere an allergy.

These are three souls whose minds are penniless, whose characters absent. They think they are in an American movie and all go to an English class in which they pay attention to nothing save one another.

This is Goddard, and this is French cinema at its greatest pitch of artificiality – l’ homage. In it, we are asked to pay attention to three people so bored with life they will rob any rich old man who passes by, as though Godard imagined this were an entertainment. And as though the monosyllables of Humphrey Bogart constituted a style worth of mimicry as a philosophical foundation for life.

The glassy stare of French cinema epitomizes itself with this noughts and crosses of vapid emotional gesticulation. Odile’s breasts moved under her sweater we are told. What else should they be doing?

Both these men toss a coin to see who gets the girl. The girl wants the tough guy with the droopy eyelids. But no one wants anything very much. To further alienate us the entire film is accompanied by a voice over of the screenwriter talking as though their doings were a long-over and significant nostalgia.

Is there to be a sweet memory here? Not so far. The only reason in seducing the girl is to get their hands on a great deal of cash stashed in a cupboard in the young lady’s household.

While their flirtation takes place, their English teacher recites Romeo And Juliet for them to translate, but their own energy is mercilessly banal and passionless.

The mean one meets up with a meaningless fistfight with his male relatives, a family of petty thieves living off hope for the takings. The romantic one pines.

What these two males have to do with one another is as mystifying as the mystery the mean one claims to see in the schoolgirl’s face. By what is she hypnotized in them? Certainly not in the trite plan they have to rob her landlord.

She remains a pretty, young schoolgirl. They remain two cheap crooks who probably would not get way with shoplifting a candy-bar. Franz, the romantic one, quotes Jack London, as tough London were a significant American artist. Bad B movies are their beau ideal. A la Funnyface they manage a footrace through the Louvre zipping by masterpieces, observing none. They improvise a perfectly rehearsed dance in a café as though they were Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, and Phil Silvers. In short, they fool around cinematically. So what? The tough guy screws her. So what? She takes off her stockings. They see her white thighs. So what? They enter the house masked in her stockings. They wander about. They gag the girl. The robbery is so without suspense its reality is preposterous. The landlord’s door is locked. They trundle out a ladder in broad daylight to fumble up an entrance.

The manner of the acting is naturalistic. The execution of the story is realistic. The two modes don’t fadge, so the effect of the film is like hitting a pillow. The men beat one another up and give the girl significant looks which intend nothing. The robbery is told as a lethargy trying to happen. When they get to the cabinet the money is gone. They gag the lady of the house and stuff her in a wardrobe where she dies, of what? Of So What?

The mean one and his uncle shoot it out long-windedly, as in a Western; the mean one dies extravagantly, just as he has been miming from Westerns two reels earlier. Worn out with sorrow and fatigue, the romantic one and the girl take off for South America – with what money, pray tell?

The director thinks he has directed a piece of pulp. Pulp is fiction exhausted once read and soon to be trash. It is not that which is exhausted and trash before reading.

For all his love of Hitchcock, doesn’t Goddard know that sexual energy between people is a fabrication of editing? Does he realize that existentialism and American movies are at cross-purposes? American pulp is energized by the vitality of a promised land. For all it excellence, France is not a promised land, nor is its language the lingua franca of it, and therefore its attempt at pulp is flaccid.

French film ends always with a sleepy philosophical coda about life sadly unmet. For existentialism is a pose, a pose rigid with inanition. False as a tableau. It’s first words are, “So what?” So are its last.

 

The Man Who Understood Infinity

15 May

The Man Who Understood Infinity – directed by Matthew Brown. BioPic. 1 hour 48 minutes Color 2016

★★★★

The Story: A mathematical genius from India is almost beaten to death by the math department of Cambridge University.

~

In the old MGM days biopics spelled out their story with great big letters, A B C. Their plots required neither understanding, thought, or interpretation. Only acceptance. We were supposed to swallow their regimen whole. We were supposed to digest their formula by rote, since that is how they were written and since no other option was available, save, in the end, skepticism that whoever made this film maybe didn’t get their facts straight.

The writing of such biopics prohibits those scenes of conflict known as drama. What they offer instead is tableaux. That is their narrative method. In these tableaux actors must paralyze their power to act in order to mime as best they can what is constant brass. For the emotion of these stories does not depend upon actions, actors, or even characters. In tableaux there is no emotion. Or whatever emotion the music can eke out of us. There is only the rigid formality of responsible biographical information. They are about big names and require great stars to stand there and just do them.

Such biopics constitute an actual form. Many biopics follow it. The pauper-genius makes his way into the chambers of power and is met with scorn, ridicule, banishment, deadening doubt, and so forth. But someone allies himself with him, and, against all obstacles, he wins out in the end. It is a victory scathed by bitterness because of the price required to achieve it, which sometimes almost includes his mate.

This form is called the story of the underdog. And two actors of great grace and fluidity, Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel, constrain their imaginations to fit into the corset of the form in this one.

Deadening doubt is what Irons is allowed to play against Patel’s Srinivasa Ramanujan, a young impoverished nonentity who arrives from Madras at Cambridge where Irons’ Harold Hardy is a don in higher mathematics. Hardy has invited him there from India. Ramanujan is a completely untrained, unschooled conceptual genius. His mathematical formulas envision the answers to problems no one has ever solved.

Ramanujan is thrown to the snobs.  Hardy demands proofs of Ramanujan’s routes to the formulas. Ramanujan resists. Toby Jones stands by. Jeremy Northam as Bertrand Russell gives droll advice. And Ramanujan’s luscious wife has to stay in India thinking herself forgotten because her mother-in-law never delivers Ramanujan’s letters to her.

Audiences are biddable. They paid their ticket; they don’t stalk out.

Because there are other benefits here besides dramatic or narrative ones.

One of these is the setting of Cambridge in the midlands and the quad and rooms of Trinity College.

Another is the presence of these two actors who are so vivid by nature.

Irons is not here in his virtuoso mode. He plays a character hoping to save himself from the peril of disgrace by forcing his doubt on a perfect flower. That, to Hardy, mathematics itself is a poppy makes doubt grate on his wonder.

Dev Patel – he of the Slumdog Millionaire, he of the Marigold Hotels – grips one, as he always does, by the honest vitality of his being. Nothing about this actor is forced, which is a wonderful thing to see in a human. So we sit in our seats and allow the ceremony of the plot to take place before us as it has so often done before.

Dev Patel’s existence as an international star makes this story possible. Ramanujan was a great man. But who would have heard of him had not Patel been alive just now?

It’s wonderful to hear about Ramanujan. To see his name for the first time.

To see Patel fortuitously frame and make his name a name. To type it out here, over and over as someone who is now never lost.

 

 

 

 

Brooklyn

28 Feb

Brooklyn – directed by John Crowley. Drama. 112 minutes Color 2016.

★★★★★

The Story: A simple Irish girl is given the chance to move to America and makes the most of it.

~

Although she resembles John Cusack, Saoirse Ronan, the young actress reminds me, in her strength and female sparkle, of the teenage Elizabeth Taylor. I see the same beauty in them both.

She plays a young Irish girl who longs for a life better and other than the one arrayed before her in her native village. With the help of a Catholic priest in Brooklyn she transports to the new world. There she finds herself homesick, but presently acclimates herself to Brooklyn and the lives of those about her. She finds them attractive and alive, and she begins to better herself with night classes.

Circumstances, however, draw her back to Ireland, and this is the important part of the story for us, the viewers – the need one day to go back to ones roots for whatever reason – to settle matters, to get love right, to take measure – and this one must do in person.

I’m not going to tell you anything more about the story but that. For as she does this, we do it with her on our own account. So the movie has the force of myth, entering the house of death with all its lures and coming back out of it alive.

Ronan is just right for the role; she gives just enough that we may give our share too. She is up for the Oscar for the best performance, and her victory would grace the honor.

Two ringers appear in the film with her, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters, both of whom are actors who wear their comic apparel as though they had lived in it for ages. Broadbent plays the kindly priest who sponsored her, and Walters plays the harpy landlady of the women’s boarding house where she lodges. And a lovely young actor plays her beau in Brooklyn, Emory Cohen; his every move endears you to him. You understand his courtship as necessary to his intentions. You understand his attraction to Irish girls, his valentine to her as a physical dance.

The period would be in the early ‘50s, and the costumer and production designer and director have caught it all just right.

All this is in addition to Saoirse Ronan’s performance as Eilis Lacey whom you dote on and travel with and become.

 

Gandhi

16 Dec

Gandhi – directed by Richard Attenborough. Biodoc. 188 minutes. Color 1982.

★★★★★

The Story: An East-Indian lawyer briskly walks the stony path of leading his nation to social justice and freedom from colonial rule.

~

He was assassinated on 30 January 1948. He was 78. I was 14. He had ben a household word my house all my life and by all households in this country. His doings were known and found strange and wonderful and admirable.

He was one of a world of great humans of his time with whom I had the fortune to be a contemporary: FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Einstein, Schweitzer, Churchill. Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Toscanini, and many others. What they did, they stood for – in all our eyes. There are only a few such now. World heroes. Ai Weiwei, the artist/rebel is one. I grew up with many.

When Gandhi was killed, it was the first of a string of assassinations which continued with JFK and King, Lennon, and today’s public slayings, all designed to erase a social presence with which fanatics disagreed. Bullets end compromise.

Attenborough’s film begins and ends with that occasion. In between, it is a chronicle of Gandhi’s political strategies, working always around English colonial power. It does not account for his beginnings in South Africa where he came under the spell of Tolstoi’s teaching, nor does it examine the progress of his ethical or personal growth. But what it does do is to place Gandhi in his arena of the strenuous political action of non-violence.

In this arena, he appeared, often virtually unclothed. Thus this thin naked man met his opponents, and with simple shrewdness convinced the world and those opponents the right thing to do, and they did it.

Ben Kingsley plays Gandhi. He is a cold actor, and his performance is a model of how the thermodynamics of an actor can serve a role, for Gandhi never turned aside as he strode through crowds who gathered to love him, as though their love of him was irrelevant. Which it was, compared to the task at hand. His fame never detoured him. He knew their love of him, was really their love of what he stood for. Kingsley never veers.

Gandhi’s story is told simply, carefully, directly. Only a film could tell it, and it must be told because we must not forget it. The film is impressive in its honesty, directness, and innate character. It seems to inhere with the spirit of Gandhi himself.

It won eight Oscars, Best Picture, Director, Editing, Costumes, Script, Sets, Photography, Leading Actor. But the real quality of the film’s excellence lies in, for instance, the four hundred thousand extras that volunteered to enact Gandhi’s funeral, the extras that crowd every scene by the hundreds, the help of the very people of India for whom Gandhi lived and died. It was they who made Gandhi.

 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

02 Aug

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Action-Adventure. 131 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: In this 5th of the series, the indestructible Ethan Hunt and his cronies take on a terrorist syndicate who kill world leaders.

~

Tom Cruise always gives good value. Starting out – Taps – he evinced a love of acting, a devotion to it, a reveling in it. Intensity was the result of this passion, and a release of vitality admirable to beholders. He is never lazy.

In the new Mission Impossible, intensity is somewhat taken over by the intensity of the perils which cascade all around him. And Cruise Vitality, like a star superseded by the understudy, has been supplanted by the Vitality Of The Special Effects.

But in the few “acting” scenes he has Cruise hits his targets. Of course, in films of high action, it is a general rule that the acting has to be quieter in order to let the action carry the excitement, fear, and focus. Action films require a great deal of standing still while the next catastrophe is being born and the audience acts it out for themselves.

Here the credibility of the action is also compromised by feats in which he is shown doing what could neither be done nor filmed as it is filmed if it could be done – Cruise hanging on to the outside door of an aircraft taking off, to start with. It may have been filmed in a wind tunnel, but one does not lend it credence in mid air. Once this abuse to our credulity is passed, though, tricks and trials zip before us before we even are us enough to catch them. Clever they are, perhaps, and they continue to the clever end.

All this is made palatable by the supporting cast of Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Sean Harris, and Rebecca Ferguson. They are delightful foils for him and for one another.

As to what they face, it is comparable to a cartoon in which the bulldog is flattened into a pancake by a steamroller. Every one leaps up into survival afterwards. Drownings, bullets, bombs, falls from altitudes – none of this leaves an impression on one because we know they have to survive it until the last reel is reached. Besides, they’re Special Effects: Movie Impossible. In the old Silents, the damsel on the railroad tracks was going to be rescued in the nick. The difference is that then, the oncoming engine was real.

Still we don’t mind. Our pleasure is lowered in each new version of these impossible escapes because each new version is numbed by the previous version. Cruise has physical strength, a certain wit, and good looks enough to outlast anything – just as we all want him to. He’s a good actor, here as elsewhere, and, as elsewhere, he knows the genre in which he works and plays well within its decorums.

 
Comments Off on Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, ACTION/ADVENTURE, Alec Baldwin, FOREIGN LANDS, Jeremy Renner, Tom Cruise

 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

15 Mar

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — directed by John Madden. Screwball Comedy. 82 minutes Color 2015

★★★★★

The Story: The lively young owner of a hotel in India wants to expand his operation and get married at the same time and also continue to adore and serve and praise his elderly clientele and also….

~

What are doing sitting here reading this! You should jump up at once and grab your family and friends or just yourself and go see this inspiriting comedy of mismanagement.

It is fueled by the effervescent and insatiably charming Dev Patel, who performed the same services for us at the First Best Exotic Marigold Hotel a season or so back. He gambols through the piece like a gazelle. What an actor! What a silver-footed turn-on-a-dime comedian! What a sunburst of delight! I’m going to see it again.

So to save myself time in order to rush to do that, and to save you time too, I shall shorten this review by saying only that, like the first, the second film is a tonic!

Patel operates in the foreground of the fidelities, infidelities, careers, and Brittle British exchanges of a witty script fortified by the playing of Maggie Smith as a lower caste Scottish accountant, Bill Nighy as a duffer of frail memory who must fill his purse with lectures of tourist sites whose details escape him, Judi Dench who adores him from afar and then nearer and nearer, Diana Hardcastle as the bewitching straying wife of Ronald Pickup.

Celia Imre is the lascivious lady wooed by two maharajas, David Strathairn is the deciding executive of the deal, Tina Desai is the delicious almost forgotten bride-to-be, Shazad Larif is the stiff competition. Richard Gere, with his low class accent and high class wardrobe, is the dupe who dupes the dopes.

It all ends as comedy always should with a wedding and a dance.

All this in the flaming color of India!

Hasten my dears. You can’t do better for a comedy just now.

And when you come back, tell me you adore me!

 

The Imitation Game

24 Dec

The Imitation Game – directed by Morten Tyldum. BioDrama. 114 minutes Color 2014

★★★★

The Story: An odd duck of a mathematician becomes the goose that lays the golden egg when he breaks the German Enigma Code, thus hastening the end of WW II.

~

Many BioDramas just now. Selma, Wild, Rosewater, Foxcatcher, The Theory Of Everything, Unbroken, and this. Why is that?

The reason is that no one can write film drama. At least not for the silver screen. Drama has been swallowed by junk food, Blockbuster Candy. Drama has been subsumed by SciFi, Horror, and GagComedy. Drama has been gorged up by theatricalism and special effects of Action Adventure. All non dramatic genres. Drama has been devoured by series on paid TV. Besides there are too few grown-up stars to play it. To come close to making a “serious” film,” then, make a BioDrama, instead. BioDramas look dignified when the Oscars loom.

And even in BioDramas we have the foolish action sequences, as here, when haymakers fly and bodies are thrown against computers. One knows those people wouldn’t behave like that. For the English a stiff upper lip was Sufi practice.

But that is the worst of it, for, while the movie is not well directed, it is well conceived, and it has a story natural to it.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays him well: Alan Turing, a quirky lot, was the finest mathematician in England, though young – though most mathematicians show their genius only when young. He enters into the top-secret task of breaking the unbreakable Enigma code, and to do it builds what seems to be the first computer. His off-putting personality is not one to inspire overpowering amity for him in his crew, however, until the only female mathematician, well played by Keira Knightley, induces him to loosen up.

The breaks in the team’s bad luck are well recorded here and we root for them all as the code yields itself to them. How exciting!

But the breaking of the code must be kept secret. And another secret must also be kept: Alan Turing is an active homosexual. To reveal either secret would be against the law.

This is a fine and bitter story. You yourself when you see it will experience the killing imbalance in the situation. And when you do see it, you will experience also the excitements of science in the moment of breakthrough, just as we did in the old days with Paul Muni in Louis Pasteur, Edward G. Robinson in Doctor Erlich’s Magic Bullet, and Greer Garson in Madame Curie. A tedious persistence in the task precedes those thrills, but therein the drama also lies. We want so much for mankind to take a step forward. And when it happens we take it too, even in a movie theatre.

Charles Dance is particularly fine as The Adversary as is Mark Strong as the M-5 intermediary. They both threaten very particular harm. But the wireheads win through.

Except do they?

 

 

The Priest’s Wife

21 Oct

The Priest’s Wife — directed by Dino Risi. Dramedy. 103 Minutes Color 1971.

The Story: A frustrated female falls for a priest.

~

There is nothing really between them, except what we are told there is. That is the problem with the execution of the material, which has its own problems, as well.

What we have in casting Sophia Loren opposite Marcello Mastroianni here is that we cannot believe in his attraction to her resulting in love of her, because what she throws at him are her sumptuous charms rather than love itself. Magnificent Virgo that she is, Loren holds onto her reserves, but her charms she deploys with the utmost deliberation, as before her did Garbo and Bergman, those other two famous Virgo vamps. There is her wonderful walk, there is her confidence of herself as a woman, there is her sense of fun, her fine speaking voice, her goddess figure, her astounding face, vibrant hair, her immediacy, her talent. But she is essentially a cold actress. That is the challenge of her.

Mastroianni’s job is to register her volatility with his steadiness; his withdrawal in a dance with her control, but the love between them cannot register, and so the comedy and the drama never have any importance. He is also a cold actor.

Perhaps they were intimidated by the rashness of the script which takes on the Vatican itself and the regulation against priests’ marrying. It’s all right if they have mistresses, beget children, molest choirboys, but they must not tie the knot lest it distract them from their marriage to Jesus, who was certainly one for unconventional liaisons, nonetheless. These matters are met head on by the script as it proceeds. And a good thing too.

But really, Loren’s part is written as a crazy dame in miniskirts, aggressive in love from the start when she chases and runs down her faithless lover in her car. She soon chases and runs down Mastroianni, a confirmed prude and church careerist. Her behavior is actually nuts. She is run by desperate, ravenous frustration not by a need for love at all. And since Loren plays her all-out, there is nothing to correct this take on her character.

Loren is 37 and in full possession of her abilities and potential. Mastroianni is 47, but doesn’t look it one bit. The logical motion for this story would be that Loren becomes sane and Mastroianni become insane, and that they both feel love. But that’s not what happens. The director has not provided an inch of calm for either one of them. Mastroianni remains eager for nothing. Loren remains eager for everything in sight. And that’s that.

 

 

 
Comments Off on The Priest’s Wife

Posted in DRAMEDY, Filmed in Italy, Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren: SCREEN GODDESS

 

My Old Lady

28 Sep

My Old Lady – directed Israel Horovitz, 107 minutes Dramedy Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story: An impoverished American inherits a Paris apartment and its complications.

~

Time was in American films when you could see stories about grown-ups. Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer and Rosalind Russell and Claudette Colbert and Cary Grant were grownups. Love Story is a movie about people in their forties. So is Penny Serenade and Woman Of The Year, and they were enormously successful because grownups went to movies in those days, and because age added luster to the skills of the performers and made their exact age immaterial to the universal entertainment their gifts guaranteed.

In My Old Lady, we have such a picture. It is well worth seeing for the maturity of language dedicated to its predicament – for it is a talking picture – meaning that narration does not fall into the trap of being a function of motion only, of pictures only. The people before us are strong minded, articulate, and possessed of fully developed characters.

And they are brought to us by actors we love to watch, whom we have seen over the past twenty years and so are interested in their development.

Can Kevin Kline retain his relevance as a performer? That’s bound to be a question since his screen performances are fairly rare. The answer is up for grabs as you watch his finessing the role of a ne’er-do-well failed novelist on his uppers, as he bamboozles various French operatives out of their ready money trying to keep afloat while he sells or promises to sell a Paris apartment which is not quite yet his.

What prevents this is the presence in it of Maggie Smith who has right of residence as long as she lives – she who has already lived long and promises to live longer. And he is also met by the firm gaze of her daughter played by Kristin Scott-Thomas.

Scott-Thomas is a personality I have not cottoned to in the past, but she really takes hold here as an unmarried woman of fifty or so, learning the truth of her mother’s relations to the man who deeded her the apartment, Kline’s own father. She is interesting to watch and she presents a stern front breaking down as the truth of her life and her relations to Kline’s father emerge. Kline’s weakling breaks down too to reveal a piratical firmness at all odds. Maggie Smith herself, that past mistress of ambiguity nailed by eyes like two cockatoos, crumbles as the worst comes to be known.

The material comes from a stage play and in film form has three acts, the second of which is the richest. The first arranged the predicament for us, the second confronts it, but the third goes off into a siding of romance, which is out of character for Scott-Thomas and damages the weight of the material.

Still we have wonderful actors performing it, great support from the French cast, particularly Dominique Pinon as a real estate agent. We have a real Paris. A film beautifully filmed and well directed, and the spectacle of a virtuoso actor, Kevin Kline negotiating a role without falling into its tempting traps. Grownup fare. Dig in.

 

I Know Where I’m Going

12 Sep

I Know Where I’m Going – written and directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. Romantic Drama. 91 minutes Black And White 1945.

★★★★

The Story: A young British lady sets off to a Scottish island to marry a millionaire.~

It’s a very famous movie, highly popular world-wide, and one of a series these partners would bring out over the years, among which are Stairway To Heaven and The Red Shoes.

Wendy Hiller in her early glory plays the young lady, and she is an actress always easy to root for, because she’s so open-book and easy to read.

She is supported by a cast of interesting English and Scottish actors – for much of it was shot around the islands which it is about, and with a number of down-to-earth locals, plus a strong dash of English stage talent, among which is the startling young Pamela Brown.

I won’t tell you the story, because it is a fairy story dealing with a young lady who fancies herself to be a princess, and you know you have to experience such tales yourself and in person, or they don’t count.

But as you watch, you might take note of Roger Livsey who plays a Scottish laird. He is what in casting terms is called a leading man. And what a leading man does is support the star. The story is not about the leading man; it is about the star, in this case Wendy Hiller.

But just watch what Livsey does and does not do. From the moment he appears he presents himself in those aspects of the male which are perfect, which have no flaw, and which the star must awaken to. That is to say, he presents himself as loving her. And he does that by emanating the male courting energy – lyrical, attentive, caring, protective, devoted. He does not say anything, he does not do anything. He does not roll his eyes or gesticulate. He does not grab the dame unfeelingly like John Wayne, and he does not ogle her meaningfully like Clark Gable. They are stars; they can what they like. But Livsey is a leading man. He is masculine, is decent looking and has an interesting brown voice. His is a demonstration of male love evinced without a word. It is how men love women. It is a way that women seldom notice.

Because women are always looking for something else, something they have read about, or something their father didn’t give them, or something they have seen in the movies. But what a male really has to offer a female is just this, just what Livsey brings to the role, and all subsequent male love offerings partake of and come from this.

In doing this Livsey does only this. So that, as an actor, he is without eccentricity, defect, quirk. And that is what he is supposed to be, because those would interfere with the focus on the female star and her transition and her story. She has them, not he. He has character, wit, humor, grace, and the calm to act in a crisis. But all of that is only to support the story of the star. It is a true leading man performance, and a model of the type.

 

A Most Wanted Man

10 Aug

A Most Wanted Man – directed by Anton Corbjin. Spy Thriller. 122 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story: Working against the clock, a team of rogue spies attempt to corner a terrorist funding operation.

~

Why do we think of Philip Seymour Hoffman as a great actor?

What is the source of our satisfaction with him?

What does he bring to us that other actors cannot or do not wish to bring? And why do we not care to ask him to bring what other actors bring?

Why do we sit back and wonder at him?

One thing he brings is extremes we would not wish to show to anyone.

By extremes I mean a extremes on either side of the human psychological and emotional range. In this case, a dull doggedness and on the other hand a scathing rage.

And another thing that he brings is a separate person up there.

For surely as I sit back and look at his customary unruly beauty, I see a German functionary working his task of high level espionage. I have seen Hoffman before looking just like that, but now and once again playing a character I recognize as never seen before.

There is an actual person up there on the screen.

There are very few actors in the world who can do that.

Certain criticisms about the story of this film have been made. Before I talk about them, let me say that it is brilliantly filmed, directed, and acted. On the one side, we have extreme actors Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright and on the other a cast of international actors of the first water. The difficulty lies in the story not making clear that Hoffman is an obsessive. Obsessives differ in that they have no outcome in mind. Obsessives just want to complete the cycle of the obsession.The one thing we know about Hitler is that he had no purpose beyond the next obsessive act. So if Hoffman’s character is an obsessive, that is to say a pure executant, we need to know it all along and every other important character needs to discover it to us in scenes. I haven’t read the John Le Carré novel; I don’t know if the scenes are there. But here, while the tension is keenly entertaining, there is a defect to us in the writing of a film otherwise superb.

In the tracts of Zeami (1363-14440), the Shakespeare of the Noh theatre, he writes, “If the actor sees old men walking hobbled by ague, with bent knees, bent back, and shrunken frames, and he simply imitates these characteristics, he may achieve an appearance of decrepitude, but it will be at the expense of the ‘flower.’ And if the ‘flower’ be lacking, there will be no beauty in the impersonation. The ‘flower’ consists in forcing upon an audience an emotion which they do not expect.”

Over and over again, Philip Seymour Hoffman has brought forth for us those ‘flowers’. Honor him.

Here he is finally, after all. This will be the last chance to see him up there before you on the big screen. It is a place where he belonged. He’s big like a Rubens is big. Witness him there. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Grand Canyon is one street over. Quit dawdling. Get off your barstool and go.

 

The Rover

22 Jun

The Rover – directed by David Michôd. Crime Chase Drama. 142 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story: 10 years into dystopia and world chaos, a man seeks justice, and justice seeks him.

~ ~ ~

One of my two favorite actors in the world, Guy Pearce holds the screen with a focus so intense, you stay with him through thick and thin, although you have no idea what, if anything, is at stake. If you want to know what it takes to carry a movie, watch Pearce here. He scarcely moves a muscle, he scarcely shows a feeling, because what he has in mind must be – mustn’t it? – more precious than his life. With Pearce it is not, and never has been, that less is more. It is a question of him somehow having subtlely mainlined a character, and then honored the essential.

In saying this I am speaking of a talent that cannot be learned. I don’t know how it is done. Perhaps he doesn’t know either. It is probably inborn. But he does know how to do it. As you can see as you watch him be Houdini, or Edward, Prince Of Wales, or the detonation expert of The Hurt Locker, or Andy Warhol, or the cad husband in Mildred Pierce, what you see is a character brought into being with a minute shift. Pearce may appear as he appears, he may sound as he sounds, but the soul-flavor of the other person is in him, and that is what is being given. He knows how to do this, naturally, as some people know how to sing – which he happens also to know how to do, if you have ever seen him in The Slipping-Down Life. He is the one modern actor I suggest you watch and study and enjoy. He is not often cast in comedy, although he did not long ago play the petty villain in a Walt Disney Dog Movie. As with any good and interesting actor, I would love to see him in one of those Restoration Farce roles Olivier took such delectation in.

While the story here focuses on him, you are willing to put up with your own ignorance as to what is at stake – but as soon as he is joined by Robert Pattinson, an artistic wreck takes place. You get a consummate master faced with a consummate ham. The story drains as soon as this actor appears playing the backward brother of the fleeing antagonist.

Pattinson, like bad TV actors, makes much play with his mouth. Will it never stop thrashing about? He makes much play with his body, which flies flaccidly in all directions. He makes much play with his eyes, which never stop roaming except when they do long enough for you to wonder when they will start roaming once more. He withdraws focus from his eyes. He slurs his speech – which is never forgivable because never necessary – so you cannot understand what he is saying. What’s more – and this is the quandary beyond all quandaries – he plays an Australian low-life with an accent from Lil’ Abner (although Pattinson himself is from England.). All this with heavy makeup on his teeth and a half beard and you have?  You have a pitch for pathos, that’s what you have.

The excess of effects is just galling. And the result is that attention is distracted from the story – for you cannot feel compassion for him as a human being – and that is the actor’s job in this part, because the story is exactly the same as the story of Maleficent; that is to say, it is the story of a person who hates someone eventually coming to care for them. You’ve got to see how someone can come to care for him, and you can’t. The startling and beautiful ending to this movie is lost in the anarchy of Robert Pattinson’s show. All an actor needs do is one thing. For this part all Pattinson needed to do was play: To survive I Don’t Need To Know Right From Wrong; I Just Need To Believe What You’re Telling Me — Is That Right? Instead he does nine things, none of them available to the audience because none of them entertainable by them.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Good Bye, Lenin!

08 Feb

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

★★★★★

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

~ ~ ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

L’Age d’Or

05 Feb

L’Age d’Or – directed by Luis Bunuel. Farce. 63 minutes Black and White 1930.

★★

The Story: A sexual predator pursues a young woman through the ages, just as she wants him to.

The account of the making and history of this film on Wikipedia might be more interesting for you to peruse than the film itself, which seems amateur, cold, and jejune. Originally it was deemed scandalous. It was banned. It was a cause celebre. It was scorned by entire national governments and whole religions. Its producer removed it from circulation almost at once, and it was not shown for over 40 years, except at The Museum Of Modern Art, which somehow acquired a print. Now it can be seen. It is worth it to?

Everyone in gowns and tuxedos at a high–tone cocktail party in a palace; enter a huge oxcart manned by drunken peasants; the cocktailers do not notice them. Five popes pray on a seaside cliff; five starving peons crawl out to kill them; none of them make it; next shot, a hundred years later, the popes’ skeletons and skulls in their robes remain on the cliff. In the middle of performing Tristan and Yseult, the white bearded conductor charges off the stage and finds a young woman making out with another man and takes her in her arms and they kiss, badly. So you see, it wears all the medals of the pataphysicians, the Dadaists, the surrealists. Or all their counterfeits. There is other stuff, but I won’t say more, because it is clear that the movie has been set up to house one joke after another. It’s a flip-book.

Moreover, I found it hard to engage with the success or failure of the couple to consummate their romance, because the man is quite mad and crazy-violent, and because the female is not appealing.

It’s not my dish of tea. But then, Bunuel is not my dish of tea. What is it I do not like about him? His want of a sense of humor. His meanness. His puritanism. His want of lushness, growing things, eccentricity, foible. His conservatism. His clericalism, for he is not anti-church; the church is in everything I have seen him do. His lack of human warmth. Dali, whose name is on it, disowned it.

Take away from me that gelid  social fundamentalist. That Jesuit.. That Robespierre of film.

Give me Jean Renoir.

And we may hope again for a world safe for Democracy.

 

 
Comments Off on L’Age d’Or

Posted in Directed by Luis Bunuel, Farce, Filmed in France

 

Salò

14 Jan

Salò – directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Drama. 116 minutes, Color 1975.

★★★

The Story: A group of teenagers are forced into sex school by a coterie of autocrats.

If this is denounced as pornographic, it is enduring a terrible because irrelevant wrong. For no one has a good time at all in sex here. Everyone is either too mean or too horrified to feel or even pretend any pleasure. So, taken at its face value as pro-church and anti-pleasure – since any natural and easy pleasure that seeps in is punished morbidly – one must assume that Salò is about something else.

Watching it, my notion was that it is about sexual addiction, that is to say the imperious, internal compulsion that forces one to have sex rather than by normal inclination. For everyone is strong-armed into it here. All the young players are between 14 and 18 years old, and they are first kidnapped and then roughed into various sexual congress. But it’s never any fun and always unlovely, for, as it is based on a work of De Sade, it is, perforce, sadistic. The only beauty is that provided by a pianist who accompanies their lectures in degradation by playing Chopin. The exit of this pianist from the proceedings is typical of the director’s rigorous anhedonic message.

So, in terms of the actual material, Salò would seem to be The Allegory Of Rough Trade, which was Pasolini’s fancy and by which he soon was soon slain.

You have to go to the Extra Features to learn that the film was meant to be an allegory of neo-capitalism, the fascism of consumerism. There we learn that we are all being put under the trance of pleasant things. Pasolini himself tells us so. But you may be sure that when a director tells you what he intended to be in a film that he has failed to include that intention in it.

For no pleasant things are in the film itself. Or I should say, there are certain pleasant things, but they have nothing to do with neo-capitalism. We have such pleasant things as the nude bodies of the children who act in it, a bouquet of inviolable adolescents. And we have the sets, which are more interesting than the events which take place in them, for they are often big spare rooms decorated with elaborate old wallpaper. Pasolini has a classic eye for the formality of spectacle. And Pasolini’s set-ups and the arrangements of the personnel in them reveal a fine old-fashioned enjoyment of ritual. All these are pleasures to be sure. But sexual pleasure?

Pasolini himself says that power is anarchic, since it can do what it wants. And he’s right, and this is cogently illustrated by the rites of anarchy we see before us here. For fascism, dictatorship, absolutism, fundamentalism must have tremendous regimentation in which to do as it pleases. Too bad that, having achieved that level of power, doing what one pleases results in no pleasure whatsoever. The only two young people who slip out and take sexual pleasure are slaughtered.

What is it like seeing Salò? There are virtually no closeups, the camera seldom moves, and there is no focal character, only groups. Individual personalities do emerge, because Pasolini likes humans and is shy of them, both of which make him a good voyeur, so he is able to capture persons at true and characteristic moments. But that still leaves Pasolini as a bigot – the commercial classes being his detestation – since he sets them up as The Corrupt Against The Innocent – but bigotry is bigotry no matter what class you hate, and especially, as always is the case, you are fervently partial to your own notion of virtue in doing so.

Besides there is a technical problem with his Allegory, for you cannot have an allegory without a focal dupe. You cannot have a Duessa without a Red Cross Knight, a principal innocent. When in Allegory, even aimed at groups, a single person must carry us through it, as through a supermarket of abuse and temptation. For it is we, the reader, we the audience, who must pass through it with that dupe and therefore wake up to the trance of vice we are permitting ourselves to repose in. Here we witness a crowd from a distance beyond Pasolini’s own distance to it.

So the allegory is lost. But it is lost mainly because a sexual arena leads one to look for sex. It’s the crude but natural thing to do. Setting up A School For Orgy is such a bind on the imagination that the message about consumerism is somewhere over there off-campus. Yes, one is offered bread and circuses, if only in the shape of a starved clown and a crust, but still they are offered in the Circus Maximus of sex. In it, one cannot simultaneously overhear too well a homily from Saint Peter’s down the street. A different internal mob attends.

It has been elaborately re-released in a two-disc box, the second disc of which containing professors talking to professors about what professors talk to professors about. All this keeps professors in business professing, but has little to do with the actual picture, Salò, about which they are endeavoring to make a case. Although there are interesting inclusions by actual participants, such as actors, designer, original writer, and Pasolini, who is handsome, rather dear, very masculine, and genuinely reserved. A booklet of essays includes itself. I have not read it.

And why shall I read it? To prove myself wrong in all that I have said here. For why on earth would anyone read anything at all, save to be seriously disabused? For perhaps I too am lost in the vicious pleasure of consumerism. And what would it be that I consume so hungrily?

Why films, of course. Which is why I watched Salò, just as Pasolini asked me to, wanted me to, and why he made it for me to consume to begin with.

 

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

10 Jan

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom – directed by Justin Chadwick. BioFlic. 141 minutes Color 2013. ★★★★

The Story: A black country boy in South Africa becomes a lawyer and strives for the political equality of all his nation.

~

My cavil with it is that the leading role is miscast, and I keep seeing it in every frame. Idris Elba is the actor playing Nelson Mandela, and Elba is a wonderful actor in this, but he is built like mack truck and Mandela was built like a skiff. Idris Elba has the neck of a line-backer. That Mandela was slender in neck and frame was part of his appeal and power: to think that so frail a man in appearance could withstand so much physical torture. Elba has immense dark gravitas; Mandela was a light. The part needed Bill Bojangles Robinson not Jackie Robinson It doesn’t work.

But what a story! The material is fully dramatized including Mandela’s relations with his wives, particularly with Winnie Mandela who remained bellicose when Mandela became the peace-maker. We are taken into Robben Island Prison and the 26 years of hard labor there, and we are taken into the years as Mandela became the center-pin of the anti-apartheid scandal burning South Africa.

We see the villages and the townships of the cities, what they were like, how folks lived, how Mandela moved through them to prominence and natural moral leadership and eventual capture as a terrorist. We live through the days of the infamy of the forces linked against him.

But the fact was, he was too famous to kill.

Or was he?

No matter. I lived in the time of Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR and Churchill and Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer and Sister Kenny and Helen Keller. Shaw, O’Neill, Thomas Mann were my contemporaries. There were many Great Humans alive in those days. People on the order of Nelson Mandela. But in our time,  he was almost alone. Now he is gone. The Dali Lama is left. No one else that I know of.

Therefore it benefitted me to visit his biography once again. It’s a Great Man’s Tale. Don’t deprive yourself of it, even if you imagine you already know it. Great Men’s Tales are never heard  if only heard but once.

 
Comments Off on Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Posted in ACTING STYLE: INTERNATIONAL REALISTIC, BIOPIC, Edris Elba, Filmed in Africa

 

Salome

17 Nov

Salome – directed by William Dieterle. Biblical Epic. The king of Galilee and his queen are in mortal conflict over the rant of a desert prophet, but whose side will their daughter take? 103 minutes Color 1953.

★★★★

What sands, what scimitars, what sanctimoniousness!

John the Baptist on a soapbox in the dessert preaches not salvation but sedition. That is, he defames Queen Herodias because she has married twice — which is hardly prophetic, since she has been married to Herod for twenty-five years.  It seems rather hard of John. And what is worse the poor actor who has to spout this rigmarole is ill equipped for the chore. He plays it with his blue eyes constantly raised to the second balcony. Ya know what it is? It’s a bunch of hooey, that’s what it is. And it’s so aggravating, ah, if only someone would come and behead that actor – and – oh, blessed chance – whadyaknow? – someone does. But I won’t tell you who.

Into this Biblical thingamajig we have four good actors, in major roles, and all at their  professional best.

Judith Anderson with her voice of an old Chevrolet reprises her peculiar-relation–to-daughter-figures number from Rebecca.

Then we have Charles Laughton, one of the most inventive actors ever to draw breath. As he is warned against the prophet. watch him hug the pillars like a baby. Watch him put the make on his step-daughter. Watch him respond to each of Salome’s veils as they drift off of her. Watch how he agrees to Herodias’ request. He is so marvelous, you would suppose him to be playing one of the greatest roles ever written. Well, actually he is playing Herod, so perhaps he is.

Then there is Stewart Granger, who is handsome, sensual, humorous, intelligent, sensitive, and has a delicious speaking voice. Professionalism can do no more. For there again you see an actor completely convinced; the role is of a Roman Centurion, at ease in the role and also in a little white skirt. Every time he is on screen, your morale goes up. With his grey-at-the-temples look, he is well cast opposite superstar Rita Hayworth.

For, oh dear, she is twenty years too old for the part. Salome has to be a fifteen year old girl, and Rita Hayworth was well into her 30s when this was mounted for her. She, of course, is wonderful, as good an actress as you get in movies, you get behind her completely. And her dance of the seven veils (we get to, but not past the seventh) is sensational. Her power to taunt and entice was unequalled. And her dance is all about those kind of illicit, illusory invitations. Worth the price of admission.

Also worth for the costumes, by Jean Louis. They will take your breath away. C.B. DeMille never had things so wonderful on the human form. Nor did he ever, as Dieterle did, shoot 18,000 feet of exteriors in the Holy Land. Nobody had ever done that, and they are very interesting. Indeed, no expense has been spared on the production; beautifully shot by Charles Lang; sumptuous, even dazzling; and, apart from those four performances, another reason for seeing Salome.

 

Great Expectations [2013 version]

11 Nov

Great Expectations – directed by Mike Newell. A young man is snatched out of the lower classes and thrust into the role of a gentleman. 128 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

Dickens is an author of immense imagination, and while it is perfectly easy and obviously attractive to track his characters and situations down to his biography – ingénues with names beginning with E, for instance – the greatness of him lies in a world which his words create and that has nothing to do with current events or his own life at all.

Pip is one of those characters who is a white paper outline, a figure meant for us to fill with our own selves as we pass through his crises. And actors can be quite bland in such roles. It is rare to find Alec Guinness in such a part, but there he once was. And now it is nice to find both the romantic leads of Estella and Pip played by actors with some character to them and some real responsiveness, not settling to just stand there and let us do the work.

A lot of Dickens depends upon his treatment of characters in what they say, and this is garnered to this film, thank goodness, for they do not do the melodrama-speak the plots and the times adored, no; they speak quirkily, unexpectedly, endearingly.

A lot of Dickens depends upon the supporting players; Great Expectations is rich with them.

The trouble now is that all subsequent versions must compete with the David Lean version of 1946. In making his nasty-eyes, Ralph Fiennes does not bring anything special to Magwich, and is certainly less horrifying than Finlay Currie was in the sudden terror of his first appearance. Fiennes is probably miscast. As Jaggers, Francis L. Sullivan is almost equaled by the work of the current and wonderful actor, Robbie Coltrane, a man of similar mien and girth. Sally Hawkins is all wrong as Pip’s mean sister. She is played as though a crazy woman, whereas Pip’s sister is really just an ordinary example of British child-rearing. Olly Alexander is better than John Mills as the jolly, generous, eager Pocket. But Helena Bonham Carter is over-costumed perhaps to compensate for her inappropriateness in a role forever haunted by the calamitous Martita Hunt as Miss Haversham. What Bonham Carter is doing in this part is baffling. She lacks power and therefore credibility.

But the story is so wonderful to visit and revisit. It is one of the great novels of literature because of the great vibration of its inherent ambitions, which we all have: to get back at those who have wronged us; to become sudden princes; to be allowed the love we love. These and their frustrations and barriers and disappointment are rich in Dickens. So we watch the TV version, in which we receive such satisfaction to actually see Bentley Drummle kicked to death by the horse he is beating. And we see, in the modern version with Ann Bancroft disgracefully out of place as Miss Haversham, but the enchanting Gwyneth Paltrow as an Estella we can actually believe in.

There is always something wonderful, and there is always the wonderful story.

 

Matador

21 Sep

Matador – written and directed by Pedro Almovódar. Murder Melodrama. A guilt stricken young man tracks down the real murderers. 110 minutes, Color 1986.

★★★★★

The insane religiously obsessed mother we are to see in The Law Of Desire impels the same actor, Antonio Banderas, to different sexual insanities. His only problem is that he is not guilty of anything, but wishes he were, because it would mean he was a sexual being, which is the one thing his mother decries anthem-like in her every day sermons to him. So he confesses to crimes he has not committed.

The interesting thing is that he is also clairvoyant, so he actually knows where the real bodies are buried. Trouble is he faints at the sight of blood, so he couldn’t have killed a soul.

All this is a comic substrata like something out of a Preston Sturges comedy, while the main and particular story deals with the addiction to slaughter – or slaughter as sex – a compulsion shared with Banderas’ lawyer and with the retired Matador played with utter conviction by Nacho Martinez. They love killing people, and they mate over it. So one is not quite sure whether one is watching grand opera or grand guignol.

Everyone is wonderful – as is usually the case in Almodóvar films. Banderas plays the youth quite simply, so one does not really have to worry about his Mother-Church mother and whether he will recover from her. We are glad to know the mother will never recover, that is all.

There is a crazy Duel In The Sun death at the end which is quite enjoyable, and as is sometimes the case with Almovódar, one feels King Vidor is more in charge than Almodóvar is, but that does not matter.

What matters is all those poster paint colors which countermand everything we see, thank goodness, and give the uplift which turns melodrama into satire in a wink. We are so grateful for Almodóvar for this. He is a tonic for our times.

 

The Grandmaster

11 Sep

The Grandmaster – written and directed by Wong Kar-wai. Drama. Two master martial artists are drawn to one another, though they are both sworn to duel. 130 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

See it by all means in a theatre now. For is a film of such resplendent beauty, subtlety, and distinction that you must sit back in the dark of a vast hall and let it play itself out hugely before your amazed eyes. You mustn’t wait until it comes into your mere parlor.

It is not a story about athleticism or about martial art, but about character and martial artists. Their dances are performed to music, and are shown in flashes, not of bodies bashing one another, but of slices of hands, scraps of wrists, flourishes of robes and fur. You would not want to see the actual moves. What you do want to see is the result of them. A body crashing through a window. You do not want to see technique. What you do want to see is the half smile of the executant.

What you want to see is beauty, and this you see in every frame, every face, every costume, every setting, and in every delivery of them to your astonished and gratified eyes. Beauty stirs in the puddles and the reflections of the gates in the puddles, in the waiting snow on the bough in the battle in the blizzard. And why should you see this? Why is this being offered? Because inherent in it is the dignity and discipline inherent in life lived – not necessarily this Chinese way – but inherent in life lived in many ways.

To establish that dignity and that openness, we are given as The Grand Master the face of Tony Leung, one of the most beautiful faces ever to bless the screen. And the face of Zhang Ziyi, whose mouth enchants as once enchanted the mouth of Janice Rule. You cannot but be lost in the beauty of these two faces, for their beauty expands and vibrates into a latitude which only movie faces of this beauty can do, and we are given plenty of opportunity to dwell upon them, for they are filmed close-up, still, often, and well.

Beauty has no moral. It is an arena to itself. Go. Bathe in it. You owe it to yourself. I say you do. I say you deserve it and you have always deserved it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Embraces

04 Sep

Broken Embraces – written and directed by Pedro Alomodóvar. Drama. A film director changes his profession after becoming blinded and losing the love of his life. 128 minutes Color 2009.

★★★★★

This is badly titled, isn’t it? Coitus Interruptus would be closer, but the Spanish language has a striking coloration than English cannot translate.

Anyhow the embraces are plural, which coitus interruptus is not. For there are two embraces cracked by the blinding of the director, both of them the loves of his life, one being with the flabbergastering Penélope Cruz and the other with his calling as a director.

The effect of all of this on himself and those around him – his Gal Friday and her son – is momentous. And I’m not going to talk about any of that, for I never tell the story of a film to you, for I will not betray you. I trust your susceptibility to what I have to say to make clear those values I can speak of without undermining your surprise and the human need in you for participation in the deep deed of narration. The story is not mine to tell. It is the director’s to tell it, and yours to open yourself to it, which in this case I urge thoroughly to do. You need, as I do, to be told a story. But you need, as I do, to be told it by the right person. Not I, but Almodóvar is that person.

I can point out the coloration spread before us by the director, particularly marked, wouldn’t you say, in the story of a man who is blind.

I can also mention how the loss of the sight – no, I won’t point that out at all. You will know it for yourself when you see it before you.

Do so. For who is it that does not make a point of seeing any new movie of Pedro Almodóvar? Is there such a ninny breathing God’s air? Don’t you want to be in kindergarten again, playing with poster paints on those big sheets of paper? Don’t you want to hear tales of love and loyalty and princesses lodged in ogre’s castles? Have you no passion? Have you no waking dreams? Have you never seen Penélope Cruz in her home territory even once and not yearned to revisit her there once again?

Almodóvar treats Cruz’s first appearance before the director, Lluis Homar, as Charles Vidor treats Rita Hayworth’s before Glenn Ford in Gilda – as a never-to-be-banished bedazzlement, a sudden looking up at him from amidst the double bed of her fabulous hair – certainly a resource of her talent and beauty and interest – like Anna Magnani’s hair or Clark Gable’s – one of things that hold us to the screen.

The film is beautifully acted and cast, with one exception, which is that of the leading role of the gal Friday. The part is not a tragic role, but a romantic role, that of a woman holding patience in place for many years. We need to see much less of her feeling than of her precious hoarding of it.

Here we are in the house of full scale melodrama, with all of Almodóvar’s variety of humor, to appreciate which, make sure to watch the extra features for one of the funniest actor monologues you will ever have the privileged of witnessing. Go to, my friends, go to. See it and be seen by it.

 

The Last Metro

29 Jul

The Last Metro –­– directed by Francois Truffaut. Backstage WW II Drama. A Paris theatre company holds together during the German occupation. 131 minutes Color 1980.

★★★★

The presence of Catherine Deneuve in any film whatever guarantees attention to it, just as her presence in it guarantees attention to herself. She is a woman with no sex appeal save that she seems to have none; males are captivated by the challenge of their own bafflement, apparently.  And, even with persons she is making out with, she evinces no sexual interest or energy towards anyone else. She is neither attractive nor attracted. So it is no wonder that Gérard Depardieu has no eyes for her.

She is thought of as beautiful, a claim discounted by that chin. And perhaps it is her consistently soigné manner and her consistently marvelous yellow hair and that she is consistently photographed as though she were beautiful that leads to the general belief that she is so.

But, of course, I do not find her so, and that is because, as a dramatic actress she lacks fire, she lacks temperament; she gives so little to her craft it creates a detriment, a hollow, which also adds to her so-called attraction, I suppose, but it doesn’t interest me, and I have no respect for it. She seems inert, a sphinx without a secret.

That is, until I saw her in Hôtel des Amériques, which she made with the great actor Patrick Dewaere, and in which she plays broad comedy and is screamingly funny. She is, in fact, a brilliant light comedienne miscast in a career of dramatic roles, such as this one. Sad.

The movie itself is quite entertaining, because of its photography, general production, crispness in the telling, and Truffaut’s eye for subordinate characters, which, given that this is a theatre company, means we are confronted with some unusual types.

But, while the story is well told, it is not well written, for such reasons as that a romance between Depardieu and Deneuve is tagged on at the end and arises out of nothing we have witnessed. And also because neither she nor Depardieu have real passion either for the theatre as a calling or as a business. As with her relations to her Jewish husband, she is doing her duty.

The film also is in lush color, which certainly suits Deneuve’s makeup and complexion, just as it suited Betty Grable’s, but it defies the gritty black-and-white truth of World War II in starving, domineered, occupied Paris. Both she and Depardieu play characters that seem to have no personal necessity save to play the parts in the movie in which we are seeing them. The film holds one almost to the end, which is a tribute to its power to entertain, if not to explore. In France it received all the major awards. Which is natural, since it congratulates the faith, fidelity, and fortitude of the French during trying times. And who can gainsay it. Will they survive? That is the tension. The answer? They will.

 

Downton Abby, Season 3

18 Jul

Downton Abby, season 3 – various directors. Period drama, 8 part TV series. Will the great house fall or will it not fall? Color 2012.

★★★★★

Is it based on George Stevens’ Giant? It is largely the same story: enormous holdings are  invaded by the younger generation with ideas of their own and with tolerances intolerable to the masters of the spreads. Bick Benedict is the American Robert Earl of Grantham, and The Riata the holding comparable to Downton. Outsiders and lower-class folk interlope into the families, and Robert and Bick must learn new ways, or succumb. Members of the families marry outside their station, and always hypogamously. And everywhere the ranching and the farming are impressive.

Anyhow, here we have another topping season of one’s favorite characters, acted by a first class cast. I won’t summarize the story, why should I? Once you start it, two seasons back, you tell it yourself as it goes along. This version does contain the killing of two major actors, but be it far from me to reveal who. (One of them got a job in a Broadway play, and so must die. Serves that actor right.)

The clothes gain in brilliance and beauty and cut and tailoring. The makeup. The direction. The writing.

Oh, wait, the writing. This version includes the presence of Shirley MacLaine, and writing of her part is all wrong. Why is that? Because there is nothing dramatic at stake with the character being brought in. There is no question in the MacLaine character that she will provide the money. She cannot, even if she would.

Vilely costumed and wigged, her entrance is a put-up job. The scenes she plays are also not well written in terms of the other characters. All Americans are thought of as vulgar upstarts by the aristos of Downton, and perhaps by the author Julian Fellowes as well. Indeed she is even given the Jewish name of Levinson, although nothing is made of this. Her daughter, The Countess Cora, beautifully played by Elizabeth McGovern, is the finest lady in the Abby – so how could she have such a woman for a mother?

To play the part, Shirley MacLaine, who actually as a person is vulgar, is hired, I imagine, in order to confirm this view of American vulgarity. And she does. Therefore the play, even on the level of character surprise has nowhere to go when she comes on.

Nor does anything witty or rare arise in the playing of MacLaine with the other characters, such as Mrs Crawly or The Dowager. Their scenes together are not filmed as matches.

Nor indeed can MacLaine actually act them. She has no timing. It is as if she cannot act at all any more; doesn’t even know what acting is. To all reports she is great off-camera, but on camera she is inexplicable and a mess.

But this is a minor error. The rest is tops. Of course, you will see it. It is not a question of volition. It is inevitable as birth. If you were born, then sooner or later Downton Abby lies before you.

 

Lust, Caution

28 May

Lust, Caution – directed by Ang Lee. Spy Drama. In the Japanese occupation of Japan a group of students become resistance workers determined to assassinate a high ranking collaborator. 157 minutes Color 2007.
★★★★★
After making Brokeback Mountain, the angel director Ang Lee returned to China to film this account of the late 30s occupation of Hong Kong and Shanghai. He avows it was to honor the history of the period, which was his parents’ time, and which would he feared be lost if some record of it was not made. But the movie is far more than ancestor worship.

As with all his films (The Life of Pi, et al.), it is an exposure of human nature under huge pressure, danger, and duress. I am loath to recount even the beginning of this story, because each episode is precious and unusual.

Rather let me speak for a minute about the cast, which, along with Joan Chen, boasts the highest ranking Chinese actors of our day.

Wang Leehom, the international Asian singer superstar, plays the young leader of the troupe. A beautiful young man, he captures the intensity of the boy, including his fatal lack of humor linked to a sexual restraint such as to make of them a plot device in and of themselves.

The great Chinese superstar Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays the collaborationist magistrate who is the target of the troupe. You would suppose you would respond to him as a villain. But the intensity, pain, love, perspicacity, fear, cruelty, and desire he evinces forbids any such condemnation as the full human being arises before our eyes.

The power and delicacy and sensuality of his playing take the story to excruciations of lust and fear – to a point almost inhuman where neither of them obtain. And with him rides Wei Tang as the femme fatale of the troupe, out to seduce and betray him. She is an entrancing female, subtle, lovely to behold, true, believable, and interesting in and of herself.

I say no more. I have said too much.

It is beautifully filmed by Rodrigo Prieto and has an infallible sense of period.

I saw it on DVD, which offers an uncensored version, It seems to me that the film would make no sense without the full bore sex scenes. Or at least insufficient sense. After all, the film is not a candy apple.

Highly recommended for grown-up viewing.

 

Blackthorn

20 Apr

Blackthorn – directed by Mateo Gil. Butch Cassidy has survived and twenty years later wants to leave Bolivia to visit Etta Place’s son, but is waylaid by a suspect Spaniard. 102 minutes Color 2011.
★★★★
As an actor Sam Shepard can carry a film, but in this case he cannot carry it far enough.

And that is because of the construction of the narrative. If we learn only at the end that the Spaniard is a nefarious character, we feel cheated as an audience of the loyalty we have bestowed on the destiny of these two characters. And there is no reason for it.

We should know the Spaniard is a nefarious character from the start. Sam Shepard as Butch Cassidy, disguised as Blackthorn, should not know it. His tragedy should be that his long, deliberate, and pseudonymous isolation has caused him to become ignorant of the truth of the world. And our participation as an audience should be our suspense waiting for the truth to be disclosed to him and how he behaves at that moment. And it should also result in some change in his romantic attitude regarding his twenty-years after planned visit to his “son.”

But there are other faults with the script. First: is Etta’s child fathered by Sundance or by Butch; were they both involved with her, and how come?

Second: how was Sundance mortally wounded?

But, third and most important: we are given no clue whatsoever, either in the playing of Shepard or in the script, that Butch has a moral bone in his body. We hear that in the old days he and Sundance only stole from the rich, but that may be a legend. Butch’s final action must come out of a code which is never offered to us, so once again we feel cheated. Will Butch be pulled toward the money or toward his code when he learns the truth about that Spaniard? That should be lodged in our suspense early. As it is, Butch’s code springs upon us at the last minute like a rattler.

The Spaniard is beautifully played by the beautiful Eduardo Noriega. Stephen Rea is quite wonderful as a degenerate Pinkerton laying in wait for Butch all these years. His character and his scenes and his playing of them are all extra to the story, but they shed a light, they bring a life, they supply a dance, essential to our beguilement. As does the flabbergastering scenery of Bolivia where principal photography took place.

 

Ginger And Rosa

18 Apr

Ginger and Rosa –– directed by Sally Potter. Drama. Two young best friends enter the arena of adolescent betrayal. 90 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

I went to it because Sally Potter directed Yes, one of my great movies.

But this one – oh, dear.

The problem is that it is based on an unrecovered resentment, a form of autobiography which always lacks penetration and balance. The author/director has not gotten over it, whatever it was. She’s still getting back at the one that done her wrong. The consequence is that a load of approval falls on the shoulders of one girl, Ginger, and scants the other, Rosa. Emptiness results.

It all ends with a confrontation scene, identical to the one at the end of another current film, The Company You Keep, in which the love-object justifies her miscreance by spouting liberal political boilerplate. Neither scene is well directed. And in this film the actor with the liberal agenda, simply does not go for it enough to make us realize what a hollow old lie he is telling.

I also went because Annette Bening and Christina Hendricks are in it, and, yet the picture is not about them. Christina Hendricks proves once again what a magnificent actress she is. Annette Bening, of course, by now doesn’t have to prove it at all. Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt circle around the proceedings and are in fine fettle, but their parts are shelved largely because of the imbalance of attention give to Ginger (ably played by Elle Fanning).

I can only say that I await Sally Potter’s next film with abated interest.

 

Kagemusha — The Shadow Warrior

16 Mar

Kagemusha – directed by Akira Kurosawa. 16th Century Japanese Warlords find themselves deceived by the greatest of them being replaced by a hobo impostor. 180 minutes Color 1980.

★★★★★

Of course it could be said that it is too long, for the same reason that any film is too long, because the last part of it is full of detail which by now we, as the audience, telling the tale as we go, alongside Kurosawa, take as understood.

And, it could be said that the film was never meant to be viewed on a home screen but on a huge wide movie theatre screen, where I first saw it. What this means is that the power of the great troop and battle scenes is lost because they were designed as spectacle.

Of course that is not to say that the rest of the film is not spectacle. For it is. The interiors are all staged as spectacle, even when there is only one person present, even those scenes close-to, although Kirosawa here is not involved in close-ups, but in groups, or in a single player playing out his role full body. The staging of every scene is highly theatrical, perfectly organized, with nothing left to chance for our mistrust to fix upon.

And then there is the playing, which is Japanese in its style, not Noh, of which we are given a stunning sample, but cinema-Noh, which means a minimum of movement combined with the greatest intensity of content. The Noh actor, virtually static on stage, uses his voice for this; his craft is the craft of intonation. But in a movie, the actors must do most of it with their bodies and in such a way as that each movement will tell the tale required to be told, and no more. Unlike stage Noh, where the words themselves have a studied constant operatic force, in the film the actor speaks more physically than verbally. So, the movie is told as a feat of physical narration. An actor executes the necessary telling movement and immediately shuts down, and the story is told.

This is good for a fairy tale, which is what this is.

Once upon a time, there was a family, a great warrior grandfather and his devoted twin brother, the two sons of the warrior, and his four year old grandson. The most feared warrior in all Japan is this warrior, and his purpose is to protect his clan.

He is ruthless and valuable, and to protect his own life, his twin brother has played his double. However, the brother finds this role vexatious to his spirit and one day shows his brother a bum who looks like them both. An impostor is needed to give the head-brother the mysterious power of ubiquity, but this man is a wandering thief, a low-life, a vulgar ne’er do well. The two brothers train this thief to become the second impostor, a shadow warrior, which is what the title means. Or does it?

Does it not perhaps mean, when he dies, the warrior whom the peasant impersonates? Is he not the ghost warrior? Is not the person imitated the ghost?

As I sit here writing this, I do not know whether all three parts are played by the same actor. It would seem impossible, since the cantankerous and flaky thief and the warrior are so different in temperament, for the warrior brother is a mountain of immovable resolve, cunning, and wisdom. Nonetheless, this what the thief eventually becomes. How is it possible?

Everyone who reads this blog regularly knows that sometimes I like the history of movies and actors, but that I am not interested in theoretical or hypothetical or philosophical or sociological matters as regards movies and the entertainment of acting. But if I were, I might say that this film would be Kurosawa’s tribute, on the grandest possible scale, to the genius of acting and its craft.

For here we have an histrionic and cinematic masterwork about creating an histrionic and cinematic masterwork. It is the backstage story of all time.

Everything about the movie is stupendous. The costumes are stupendous, the battle arrays are stupendous, the volume of extras is stupendous. This is in order to stupefy us. And if we are in our right minds, we will be so, for the long, tense layout of each scene is of a pace important to impress. We must be silent, we must be respectful, we must bow down before this narrative style or the story will not register in us. We must wait out the tension in the room. That is our job. That is our story-telling. Around a campfire, the counselor begins a ghost story. We  allow ourselves to be riveted. There is no human alternative.

What is the moral of this story?

The moral arises in us as we watch, for it is the same that arises in the bum learning to becoming a shadow warrior – devotion to the master’s mastery, one-and-the-same thing, the master and the mastery – devotion to the warrior-master, which the shadow-warrior learns, and by an inevitable osmosis becomes; devotion to the mastery of the master, and devotion to being told the telling itself. All: one and the same thing.

One-and-the-same thing.

One-and-the-same thing.

 

The Statement

19 Feb

The Statement – directed by Norman Jewison. Manhunt. A former French collaborationist is tracked by two entities, one determined to bring him to justice, the other to murder him. 120 minutes Color 2003
★★★
The fatal error of the film is also its only abiding attraction, which is the casting of Michael Caine as a man we might have cause to hate. But we could never hate Michael Caine. He’s too much of a honey. We are asked to view him as a war criminal. whereas all we can do is sympathize with this wretched human being at his lowest ebb. We are asked to view him as a once-ruthless assassin, but now, all we can do is stand back in pity and wonder at the abjectness of his devotion to the Catholic Church whose sanctuaries for him play so many roles here. We are asked to see him as a cold assassin, but all we can do is empathize with the tears of his condition, as one might that of someone suffering from a terrible disease. He is such a darling actor, that even when he is kicking a dog, we say to ourselves, Well it doesn’t really count. You never want him to get caught, and you never believe for a minute that he was ever that dreadful betrayer of the Jews.

But, if the part had been properly cast, we would still be at the mercy of the flaccid story-telling of the director the writer, who allow the manhunt to become lost in too much responsibility to detail, one sanctuary too many really. We being with a thriller and watch it deconstruct into the thuds of a documentary. And we must sit through the Extra Features to hear from that director who the person was who was trying to kill Caine and why, and learn that the final scene is telling us that this person would be soon punished. None of this is clear in the film. The assassins are murky characters – is Ciarán Hinds a cop, a member of the FBI? Is his boss, John Neville, a politico, a Jew, a churchman, a member of the Chevalier? All this is unclear. So we lack two established rivalries for the manhunted.

What is abundantly clear is the too creamy camerawork of the south of France, so out of sync with the needs of this material. We also get the pseudo-Hitchcock moves of a director experienced enough to develop his own. We are treated to the tedium of helicopters landing and cars arriving and leaving. The film becomes clumsy, as though suavity would violate the memory of the Jews this man murdered.

But we have Tilda Swinton as a French magistrate, and we have Jeremy Northam better still as the French Police Colonel who accompanies her in her pursuit. The chase takes us into the presence of other fine actors. Alan Bates is Uncle to Swinton in a scene of heavy warning beautifully played. Frank Finlay is completely convincing as a French vintner and former friend of the fugitive. And Charlotte Rampling is particularly fine as his dowdy wife.

I loved Michael Caine in this. It is the best thing I remember him doing in film. If you like him, and I sometimes do, I think he will surprise you by what he offers. But, just remember, the offer is attached to a story that has an expiration date that becomes overdue long before we come to the end of it.

 

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.

 

Amour

27 Jan

Amour – directed by Michael Haneke. Drama. A married couple in their 80s end their time together when the wife suffers a stroke and slowly declines as the husband devotedly cares for her. 127 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
If you sit back, if you’re capable of sitting back, you will find yourself in the privileged position of watching a life-and-death process you never imagined you would witness. The direction and filming of this story is so close to its home that one does not seem to be intruding at all, much less watching a film.

The story is very simple. They are retired musicians. They have made their contribution, and when illness overtakes the wife, one of her pupils, a successful concert pianist comes to pay his grateful respects. That tells you everything you need to know about their lives before their present trial. Their daughter comes; she also is a musician; she is on tour; her views of how to handle matters are desperate and understandable – but there is nothing to be done that is not being done well.

All this sounds uneventful, and so it is in a way, because while the death sentence of life hangs in the wings, ordinary life goes on as well. The newspaper is read, the tea is made. But also the patient must be bathed. The diaper must be changed. The straw must be applied to the lips. The husband takes on these tasks. He performs them simply and well.

Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trantignant. I am almost loathe to mention the names of the two actors who plays these two old persons, because they seem to not be acting but simply enacting. The film seems not to be staged, but to unfold in large chapters before my eyes and mine alone. The two characters are often shown, not dead on but at an angle as though I were eavesdropping right there over their shoulder. It doesn’t seem like a film, so much as a record. It left me speechless.

The film is in line for a 2013 Oscar as The Best Foreign film and The Best Film. Emmanuelle Riva is nominated for Best Actress. Michael Haneke for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It won the Palm D’Or at Cannes. You owe it to yourself.

 

A Private Function

19 Dec

FOR FREE!

22 December 2012, Friday.

Read Christmas Day In The Morning, a jolly holiday tale for the whole family. And get your free Kindle application to boot. On Amazon, visit: http://amzn.com/B00AA59P5G.

~ ~ ~

A Private Function – Malcolm Mobray. Comedy Of Character. England on very short rations after The War and everyone wants a pig to call their own. 94 minutes Color 1984.
★★★★★
Not farce, not situation comedy, not joke comedy – but that rare thing: comedy of character. That is to say that comedy which produces in one the barely noticeable glow.

Alan Bennett, a master of this sort of thing (The History Boys, et al.), gathers his cohorts, such as Michael Palin and Richard Griffiths, and the incomparable comedienne Maggie Smith, along with Denholm Elliott as the selfish officious mayor, and Pete Postlethwaite as the cold-eyed butcher, to chase around a small English village the person of a pignapped porker everyone wants for their very own oven.

I lived in England near to the period of 1947, and I ate my ration of one egg a week, too, so I understand what Bennett is after in creating the socially pretentious wife of the new chiropodist in town that Maggie Smith plays. We are like her or we are nothing. We deserve the flourishes of life. We deserve the dainty extras. We deserve excess in excess. Not just beans on toast, but life glazed to a turn with an apple in its mouth, and this is what Maggie Smith is given to give us. We feed on finery or we starve.

Bennett has written a Chekhovian comedy, not one of those wonderful long tragedies he called comedies, but one of his short wonderful plays, such as The Proposal. All we have is human response to the universal need for a pig. What could be funnier!

Oh, yes, funnier in a different way. But not funnier in this particularly human way. Comedy Of Character. Don’t starve yourself. Rationing is over. See it.

 

The Quiet Man

11 Nov

The Quiet Man –– directed by John Ford. Romantic Drama. An American returns to Ireland, falls for a beautiful woman and must fight to make her his own. 129 minutes. Color 1952.

★★★★★

We get three fairy tales for the price of one. To exploit them, John Ford loads us with his usual bunk. John Wayne plays the man Ford wished he were, and the movie gives us the Ireland Ford wished it were: instead of the starvation, dirt, and violence of it that drew his own forebears to Maine, we get The Emerald Isle and Ford’s St. Patrick’s Day parade of all its clichés before our eyes. Swathed in “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” “Danny Boy,” and “The Kerry Dancers,” we drown in the sentimental blarney of The Auld Sod – with one exception: the film was actually taken in Ireland itself and with actors who actually were Irish. For it is of such a green and such a melodiousness of tongue that one’s worst expectations are swerved by.

That’s the Ford’s first fairy tale, sentimental fantasy of Ireland that Shaw, Wilde, O’Casey, and Joyce deplored.

The second one is a real fairy tale, but one in modern dress, and that’s the one in which a wounded prince enters a kingdom and wins the heart of the princess. Naturally, the princess has a wild boar father-figure who won’t let her go. And the princess has a wound as well, which is that she is the immediate relation of that wild boar, and is one too. So it is a taming of the shrew story, to boot.

The fairy tale immediately before us, however, is the fairy tale of a Hollywood movie, which has its own regulations and sentimental holdovers, played out by actors of heroic mold and legendary beauty, force, and charm. And for this purpose Ford has placed his alumni before us. We have Barry Fitzgerald who takes us a long way into believing that alcoholism is cute. Mildred Natwick plays the spinster Goddess of the town. Ward Bond, as the local priest who actually narrates the fairy tale, and actually gives sporadic evidence of what a good actor he really was. George Ford plays the town sage. And Victor McGlaglen plays the dumb galoot Boar-King whom the prince must kill.

What draws us to this gallumfry? It is the fulfillment of the crazy idea that there actually could be before us a romance played by John Wayne in which, when he kissed the girl, we did not desire to crawl under our theatre seats in horror. He is never less masculine than when kissing. But, in fact, he and Maureen O’Hara seem to have something happening between them. He has wonderfully acted scene, for instance, in which a thunderstorm arises to symbolize the wild sexual passion of O’Hara – but instead of taking advantage of her, he takes responsibility for her. He’s just great. And their kisses are shameless and fun.

They are two handsome people to be sure. Maureen O’Hara, as usual, is called upon to play the fiery red-head, but she does not fall, as she often did, into the trap of being not just high spirited but bad tempered. This is partly due to the fact that anything you could scream at the moronic Victor McGlaglen sounds like a lullaby compared to what he really deserves.

She also comes up against and matches the force of John Wayne’s patience, which is a force of nature never to be overthrown. He also carries the fastest grin in the west. It’s fast because it’s perpetually internal. It presents him before us with a ready philosophy of life, one which is quizzical, kind, long suffering, and gentlemanly. His sense of humor and his patience are one single thing. He is sedate of movement and of speech, a peaceable person, slow to punch. He is an actor who does not fare well with longer than three sentences in a row. So he stands for a taciturnity and much else that we might admire in ourselves did we possess it to any degree worth taking credit for.

This grin and this patience and this deliberation of movement move this actor into scenes like a ploughshare – which is to say they give him genuine authority. And, while Wayne may be biased and stubborn, he is no fool. He weighs matters well. He was a quick study as an actor – and what did he do between takes? He played chess. From all this we made him a great movie star, and no one was more justified to be one.

So he and O’Hara well satisfy our curiosity and our desire for their romantic connection. They are neither of them in their first youth when they play this, but Wayne still has his fine figure and O’Hara is sufficiently messy to convince you that they are not too long in the tooth for such romance, but just at the right age after all.

The movie is less offensive than other Ford pieces. One looks for Ford’s famous eye, but that search is challenged by the brilliant green of the countryside and by the authenticity of the village itself, which was built on the Republic lot and the old Gene Autry ranch in the hills. You believe they are all in one place.

Ford blocks the movie like a musical without songs. His sense of comedy is from the silent film, and does not work in sound, for it is stagy, always forcing us to find it funny, but we never do. His notion that affection between males emerges only after fisticuffs is at once homoerotic and ridiculous. His sense of small group shots gives us his infallible tableaux, although his sense of crowds is non-existent, for he handles them as just a gaggle of people waiting to react when the stars ride by. And he uses eager Irish town folk as extras, a strategy by a director that invariably produces sudden shyness in them. But the narrative is brisk, and the fairy tale of the prince and princess moves along at a fine trot.

Wayne is set an impossible task –– to get the gold from the dragon, Victor McGlaglen. McGlaglen’s hold on it is as crazy as O’Hara’s refusal to relinquish her dream for it. So there are two crazinesses whose stories must be beaten to death here, since logic will not make them sound. It ends in a donnybrook, of course. Classically comedy ends with a marriage and a dance, but here the dance is between two males, which is odd, don’t you think?

Anyhow, as usual with Ford, whatever he does badly he does well, and we ourselves complete the film by putting down the greeting card it takes the form of as the expression of a black-hearted man pretending to a heart of gold, and our forgiveness that it is human after all for him to have wished that he had one.

 

The Color Of Paradise

30 Oct

The Color Of Paradise – written and directed by Majid Majidi. Drama. A blind boy is abused by his father who is ashamed of him. 90 minutes Color 1999.
★★★★★
This is a wonderful picture, difficult for me at first, which is the customary strategy of this director, and then eventually and wholly to be surrendered to. Both the freakishness of the boy’s blindness and the dire hatred of him by the father are so off-putting that I knew I must stick with it for the good that might be arrived at — and it sure did come. I cannot imagine where the green countryside exists once this film leaves Tehran. I cannot imagine how they found that boy. I cannot imagine how they found an actor great enough to play that father so thoroughgoingingly. It is beyond my comprehension that this film, in its extraordinary extremes, came to exist at all. The whole thing is a mystery to me, and one that I am grateful for. Of course, watching it, don’t expect a walk in the park. But do expect that your capacity for compassion will be engaged to a fullness wider than wide. Expect a spaciousness in yourself to appear to hold this remarkable simple tale in your being.

 

To Rome, With Love

04 Jul

To Rome, With Love –– written and directed by Woody Allen. Farce. Four groups of people find themselves out of their depths in the Eternal City. 102 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

As the fingers of two hands folded together mesh but do not meld together, these four adventures interlace in the narrative of this film, but never coincide, except in the satisfaction their juxtaposition affords, which is the same natural satisfaction that folded hands afford. It’s farce: speed is everything, and so are doors. As each door slams on one group it breezes open unapologetically on another. The young American girl and the young Roman lawyer, engaged to be married, meet her parents, Woody Allen and Judy Davis, and their parents meet his parents, and before you know it, bingo, the father of the one is rushing the father of the other, a mortician, into a major operatic career, although the poor man is only able to sing in the shower. Jesse Eisenberg and his live-in host her trivial titillating best friend, Ellen Page, and he tumbles for the minx, although she is clearly out his class.  A young married couple arrive from the country for his interview for a big-city job, and fall foul of a lady of the afternoon, Penélope Cruz, who through force of circumstance must double as his wife at an interview with his future bosses, every one of whom is her client. All this while the young man’s wife falls into the toils of a plump movie star who offers her once-in-a-lifetime sexual possibilities. She succumbs, I am glad to say, and husband and wife come out of their escapades with useful sexual educations. A nonentity clerk, Roberto Benigni is extracted from his little family into inexplicable notoriety, which he at first resists, then embraces wildly. These four cards are played for our amusement by Allen who plays them as playful playthings. Cruz is, of course, once again hilarious in the Sophia Loren role. The movie star, played by Antonio Albanese is superbly funny as the stout sex symbol matinee idol. Ellen Page is Jim Dandy as the girl who comes to dinner and eats the host. But the entire film is stolen by Her Greatness Judy Davis from whom one cannot wrench one’s eyes. She is the actress of actresses, and Allen wisely keeps her on camera in every scene with him that he can. Her role is purely responsive to him, but you never watch him for a minute while she is there, because in never attempting to steal a scene she steals all of them, and because she is the real thing and, of course, Allen isn’t. What he is is a cartoon. Sadsack is the name of the cartoon. As an actor Allen does what he has always done, be hapless and paranoid, and he is very funny, but he is also annoying and never appealing ever, and she is. He is always appealing and so he is never appealing. His comedy as a director is not visual, but verbal and histrionic. Which means he cannot tell a story with a camera. But when a camera is on, the sound track records some very good jokes and some very telling human behavior. And that is enough for us and all we need to deserve as an audience very used to this national monument with its pigeon droppings, Woody Allen. Alec Baldwin appears as the useless sexual wisdom of the future and the past, playing Jiminy Cricket to Eisenberg’s sexual Pinocchio. He and Judy Davis define the difference between humor and Woody Allen who defines comedy. A movie can satisfy without a belly laugh because it has humor. But a comedy, with all its belly laughs, cannot satisfy if it does not have humor. To Rome, With Love has both. When it was over, we all applauded. I would send Woody Allen one perfect rose, except I think it more proper to send him a huge cellophane-wrapped basket of fresh fruit as a bon voyage gratitude to his continued voyage before us.

 

 

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 Formula

25 Jun

The Formula – directed by John G. Avildsen. International Espionage. An L.A. cop sets out to find who murdered his friend and his search leads him to higher echelons of European big money.117 minutes Color 1980.

★★★★

James Crabe was nominated for an Oscar for his beautiful filming of it, a skill which bring coherence and life and meaning to the entire piece. The director and particularly Steve Shagan, who also wrote it and produced it, talk well about it as it goes along, praising the minor actors handsomely and Crabe particularly, but also leaving us enlightened as to the behavior of George C. Scott while it was in production. I leave it to you to dive into the special features for those tasty anecdotes. They hired Marlon Brando because he was perhaps the only actor who could stand up to Scott, and so he does by making his character a sort of lolling baby – this, mind you playing a man who is one of the most merciless oilmen alive. It’s a daring and imaginative choice and Brando is choice in the role. He does something with his lower lip that is so odd and right. He is in his late fifties here and willing to take on character leads. The story involves a mysterious murder which Scott sets himself to solve. The murder seems to revolve around a secret formula for turning coal into fuel oil, which the Germans managed to do for the duration of World War II. It is a telling account of the international oil trade, as apposite today as when it was shot. My daughter went to the same school as Nancy Marchand’s children, many years before The Sopranos. She was an actor I liked a lot. One day, walking down the inside stairs I passed her and asked if she had seen George C. Scott’s TV performance the night before. “No, “ she said, “I don’t think he’s going to show me anything new.” Nor is what he does here new. I first saw him on the Broadway stage in The Andersonville Trial, playing a lawyer. He was very exciting in the emphaticness of his growl, and he was the best Shylock I have ever seen. He was brand new in those days. Later I saw him on stage in Uncle Vanya. He was no longer new. In him what we are faced with, unlike Edward G. Robinson, is a perpetual ire. He is always a sten gun about to go off. And so, seen-one-seen-them-all. The public tired of him. It’s a shame, for here he is quite good, and looking at his work now, piecemeal and years later, it does not weary one as, in its repetition, it did at the time. Indeed it impresses one with its force and intensity. He has tremendous reserves of insult and intention, great timing, the ability to focus and be still, the ability to not show his hand, and the ability to deliver his stuff full force and absolutely mean what he says. He can charm and be dangerous on a dime. You might say he plays everything the same way, but it does not matter so much here, since the story convolutions are what gather our attention in. Marthe Keller is just grand as the partisan love interest he falls in with, and John Gielgud gives great value as a dying chemistry professor, and Richard Lynch deserved an Oscar for his German general. There are three racetrack scenes, one with female jockeys and one racing on ice, and the final one played out between Brando and Scott in Brando’s office in front of Degas’ jockey scene, all of them captivatingly captured by Crabe, whose filming is a lesson in point on the art of lighting, color agreement, exposure, and how to shoot people walking while talking, of which this film has many examples. The film is a classic instance of how a cameraman alone can make a story cohere. In this case there are other coherences to count on. And of course, the presence of the greatest acting genius of the 20th Century.

 

 

 

Hysteria

10 Jun

Hysteria – directed by Tanya Wexler. Women Lib Drama. Two daughters become the objects of the attention of a doctor with an unusual therapeutic practice for women in the 1890s.100 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

Oh, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Repeat that word over and over for as long as this page is long and for as long as you like, and consider it an hosanna. The picture is a women’s lib version of a subject, 19th Century medical masturbation as a placebo for female ailments, also dealt with concurrently by the play In The Next Room: The Vibrator Play, which I have seen and which, like this, is unworthy to witness as a subject for a cause so great as equality of gender. The orgasms we see on screen are cartooned by the actresses and by the director; they are never taken as real, deep,and important. They are executed by actresses chosen because they are funny looking: either fat or thin or blousy, and when we see ordinary women being treated, they and their orgasms are mocked by the actresses themselves. The male doctors engage in this treatment with reverence. They take it they are engaging in a medical breakthrough. Jonathan Pryce is the senior physician in a part written only one way, so we know how he and the movie will end. As we know how it will end with his two daughters, the one proper, the other a Shavian modern woman running a settlement house, played by the great Maggie G. Watch how she stands at the trial scene. She never stands foursquare, but, like Garbo, always at an angle. Her whole performance is like that, except once. See if you notice it and how telling that is! Anyhow, the script is routine, and the performance by the leading actor is  – well, let’s say he is not such as to carry a film. But with a film this flimsy, that would take Atlas. The spectacular, even scandalous subject is not sufficient to make a good story of it. It simply plays like an oddity out of an old Sears Roebuck catalogue. It presumes to find itself important. One thing it seems to be blaring out is, “Tut tut, Men don’t understand female sexuality or even consider it to exist!” So you see, it’s really mean-spirited and as dated as a zombie.  It presumes to look down on male ignorance. Everything about it presumes, except for M.G, who simply vibrates with life. She, and she alone is the vibrator.

 

Goodbye, Lenin!

05 May

Goodbye, Lenin! — directed by Wolfgang Becker. Comedy/Drama. Children protect their mother coming out of a long coma that the world she knew is no longer. 121 minutes Color 2003.

★★★★★

Winner of innumerable awards, this movie goes on for a good while, and a good job too! Because it needs to evolve through its complications at its own pace, and to force us to wait respectfully for the working out of its theme — which is the use of lying. Here we have a mother lying to her children in a far more profound way than they lie to her, and yet, without their knowing her truth, they lie to save her from her own. The film is neither moral nor political in any way. Its playing is made superb by the actors, particularly Katrin Sass as the mother, an actress who puts me much in mind of Joan Allen. She has the same inner eye. So here is story-telling well-paced and a story quite unusual. We lie to protect those we love. Nothing new in that, save that I do not know of so interesting and just an examination of the matter. Acting is the art of living-it-out — whatever the “it” is. But film is a two dimensional medium, so it is very hard to find characters in a movie one can actually walk around completely to see all sides of. Of course the great master of this is the director Jean Renoir. (The Rules of the Game, French CanCan, et al.) I won’t say the director achieves that here, but I smile with wonder that actors can do as much as they do to make the story move — that they walk in and out of buildings and fry eggs — as though only I were watching them, and no camera at all, and no crew around. What a remarkable feat! Just watch, if you will, the recognition scene between the father and son, how right the older actor is in that passage! How right the girlfriend is in every scene! How right the neighbor with the pile of blond hair downstairs is! Praise be to all actors of all nations. That the piece is in German is no barrier to the craft they execute so daringly and so simply before us and for us.

 

A Separation

04 May

A Separation — written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. Drama. Life as it is, consequent on a couple’s wanting to separate, who can’t. 123 minutes Color 2011.

★★★★★

The Oscar for the Best Foreign film, thank goodness, and one wonders, first at its astonishing freedom of expression, and then, how come we would have to go to a foreign film to find out exactly how we ourselves behave. I see no English speaking film with this degree of grit, truth of performance, revelation of the human condition of people of any nation, anywhere. The only difference between the people of Iran and us is that some of the females wear a chador; the men dress like me or the guy down the street. The story is an everyday one. The wife of a couple wants to leave the country in order to make a better life for her eleven year old daughter, but the husband refuses to leave with her because he is responsible to care for his senile father who lives with them. I never tell the stories of  movies, and I won’t tell any more of this one, because the value of it registers only through the human colors revealed by its progress; our relation to those colors is what the story actually is. Like the great opening scene of Marlon Brando in Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind, it opens with its characters pleading their cases directly to the camera which acts as the magistrate and therefore us, the audience, and we are thus invited right into the squabble of the story with all its disarrangements, revelations, shifts of truth and human bearing. In terms of acting, what we see here makes Method and Meisner acting look like vanity. It is futile to speculate how such actors are trained in Tehran. Evidently they are not victims of a repressive theocracy. And it is futile, because the result of their work has nothing to do with our yearning for the ideal which the good looking or sexy looking actors Western acting offers us. No. Not here. Here we are unsullied by idealism. This acting affords us a different value entirely: pure participation. Seeing this picture, I realized I was seeing something I had longed to see all my life in film – something that film could provide better than any other medium: the seething truth of the ordinary. I do not go a work of art to be entertained, but to entertain something. And this director/storyteller seems to have set aside his desire to entertain, if he ever had it, but to give us people we can read, and the result is that I dive in and entertain myself vastly. I rejoice in this pleasure. Unlike the couple in the film, we are a perfect match.

 

The Color Of Paradise

01 May

The Color Of Paradise — directed by  Majid Majidi. Drama. A father despises his son for being blind. 90 minutes Color 2000.

★★★★★

This is a wonderful picture, difficult for me at first, which is the customary strategy of this director, and then wholly to be surrendered to. Both the freakishness of the boy’s blindness and the dire hatred of him by the father are so off-putting that I knew I must stick with it for the good that might be arrived at — and it sure did come. I cannot imagine where this film was shot once it leaves Tehran. I cannot imagine how they found that boy. I cannot imagine how they found an actor great enough to play that father so thoroughgoingly. It is beyond my comprehension that this film, in its extremes, came to exist at all. The whole thing is a mystery to me, and one that I am grateful for. Of course, watching it, don’t expect a walk in the park. But do expect that your capacity for compassion will be engaged wider even than the director’s, a spaciousness in your being you’ll welcome. Miss it and you miss something of yourself.

 

The Deep Blue Sea – 2012

04 Apr

The Deep Blue Sea — directed by Terence Davies. Romantic Drama. A woman gives her life for a man who loves her but not exactly as she wishes. 98 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

Its leads are three very good actors, of whom two are miscast. I saw this play with Peggy Ashcroft in London in 1953. Then I saw it in New Haven with Margaret Sullavan. Then in the first movie with Vivien Leigh. Now here with Rachel Weisz. Of the first three actresses playing Hester (shades of The Scarlet Letter?) only Ashcroft had the chops for the part. And all three actresses were over 40. A Phaedra story, the boy friend, associated with the husband and betraying him, must be much younger in years and energy. It’s important that all this be so, for it represents the last chance the woman has for great love. Their age difference makes her situation teeter on the brink, for if she loses that love, she will be a middle aged woman with no skills and no access to polite society, on her own in the world and no chance for love again. So to cast Rachel Weisz in this part is to lose all of that, for she is a 30 year old beauty with many years of beauty before her and she is smart and interesting. She is much too young for the part, and the boyfriend is the same age as she is. So it is with astonishment that I discover that Rachel Weisz is actually over 40. But, boy, oh boy, she does not appear to be. So what we have here instead with this actress is a woman who probably has never known sexual desperation, for she is an actress so beautiful she can pick and choose, and one who cannot or does not choose to carry the physical requirement for the part which demands exhaustion, shoulders and spirit too bent with the wisdom of the facts to be able to go on living. Also miscast is Simon Russell Beale, another good actor, but one who possess no competition for the Weisz character; he is too old looking; he is too white bearded; he is too out of shape. And he is also presented as a disloyal mama’s boy in scenes very well played by Ann Mitchel as dame bitch – scenes not in the play and accorded to the film only to demonstrate his unattractiveness to Weisz, his wife – the result being that his character is a foregone conclusion as soon as he appears, and presents no force in the play. This is one of several miscalculations on the part of the director/rewriter, errors which make his part incoherent, since he is presently presented as a kindly person indeed. The entire drama then must fall on the boyfriend and on Weisz. The boyfriend is played by Tom Hiddleston who is 30, and he is well cast, but we are not given anything in the script now to suggest what the Weisz character would see in him, save that he is young, good looking, and a great lay, none of which add up to a grand passion on their own. Kenneth More, who played it with Ashcroft and Leigh, brought to the character a lot of fun, a naughty energy, the lawlessness of a gambling rake and libertine, a big difference from the stuffy world of Judge Sir William and Lady Collyer from which Hester has come. But the real difficulty with the story would seem to lie in the material itself: a Grand Passion ending. In a Grand Passion one is in love not with the other, but with the feeling of passion inside oneself. A Grand Passion is the desire to possess the life of another, to devour that life, to have that life become one’s own. It is very convincing. And means you cannot call your soul your own – which is why you wish to die from it. But none of the characters have any inkling of this. Each in his own way wants it to be over, that is all. So one looks upon this passion here, which is photographed as through a veil or film, with a certain impatience and remove. We experience enormous empty spaces between these characters, unexplored by the script and director, but symptomized by the pauses between the lines. He has taken depth for granted. But we cannot. And he ends the story incorrectly with Weisz standing at the window of a bright new day, when the original play closes as it began with her stuffing the door with rags so that the suicidal gas she is about to turn on again will finally kill her.

 

Becoming Jane

02 Mar

Becoming Jane — directed by Julian Jarrold. Romantic Drama. Desperate pressures to get her married beset a lovely 18 Century bluestocking eventually to become Jane Austen. 120 minutes Color 2007.

★★★★

Set here in Ireland acting as Berkshire and perfectly cast as a late 18th Century place, one feels absolutely at home in the rough, peeling-painted, rectory-cum-farm of the film’s landscape, which never fails one second of this film’s footage to look right. What does fail is the sound and sound editing. The music, which is excellent, is always too loud, never more so than in the ballroom scene early on when not a single sentence of the dialogue can be heard above it. The actors do not help, either, for they believe, perhaps, that wit depends upon speed of utterance, and it does not. The elaboration of syntax, upon which much of the wit of Austen and the age depends, requires a careful mouthing. A tasting. A lingual pondering. Like wine. And dare I say it? – a drawl. It cannot be spit out like shot. Oscar Wilde was not at all like Noel Coward. And this is the age of Byron, behind whose drawl massed the power of his position and the greatness of the style of Don Juan. Ian Richardson knows the truth. His buffalo brow of disapproval looms like a dark eave over his enunciation of sentences of death. American actors think wit requires speed. Sometimes it does. But only for arrows. Austen’s zingers even when brief are instinctually weighted, tremendously elaborated shafts sent over the immense distance of a banquet table. These the actors tend to pipe or whisper. Not good. Certainly Maggie Smith understands this as she pecks apart her opponents with her chicken head beak and eyes wider than judgment. Her character relishes speech. For her, for the English, not just language, but speech is a consummate and delicious sterling silver tool. Perfectly cast, the film is also beautifully arranged for our enjoyment by the director and costumer. Anne Hathaway could not be bettered in the role of Jane; she has the intelligence, the strength of a love of independence, and no sense that she is using her looks to land a mate. She never flirts. She also understand speriod style. James McAvoy, on the other hand, is required to use his looks, and he is suitably combed and brushed and decked, and plays the part with no frippery extras but with great earnestness. (One wonders if he will ever graduate out of the category of jeune premier.) You quite believe the attraction between the two, which counts for a lot, although it does not directly feed the real plot of the film, which is how this enforces a literary imagination in the making. Julie Walters is grand as the mother of the daughters, particularly in her big scene hoeing potatoes, and James Cromwell as the minister has just the right looseness of attention to suggest his failing bank account. It is a film whose ending does not work. It needs the same ending as Splendor In The Grass: two lovers see one another after fifteen years, and it should break your heart. Instead of which it dissipates into the sentimental distraction of his having named his daughter Jane. Responsibility to historical accuracy shoots it dead in its traces. But by that time, a pretty good film is over.

 

Rashomon

03 Feb

Rashomon – Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Drama. Four participants in a violent criminal deed, each tell it from their particular point of view. 88 minutes Black and White 1950.

* * * * *

You will never forget it. And you will wonder what you really saw once you leave the theatre. I remember when it first appeared. It was, with the early films of Vittorio De Sica and S. Ray, the opening stroke of the introduction of international film to American audiences. They all were startling, indifferent to Hollywood style, profound, gutsy, and beautiful, none more so than Kurosawa. The acting style was Japanese in that it was intense, raw, highly emotional, contained, melodramatic, stylized, and firmly and deeply lodged in voice production; one had never seen humans like this before in a picture and never had one seen anyone oriental as the focus of a serious film. Mifune was first seen by U.S. audiences in this picture, playing with bold, sudden, unaccountable strokes. How he got the part is extraordinary: a friend of Kurosawa told him to come to the stodgy institute’s auditions because someone was tearing the place apart; Kurosawa came and saw that one of the greatest actors in he world, although completely unknown, was before him. He inveigled the institute to accept Mifune. Watch him: he’s the fastest actor in human response ever to appear in film. He can turn on a yen.  There is no one like him for contained anger but Brando. The woodland scenes are completely free, the scenes on the sets completely imprisoned. Does it hold up? Masterpieces do. This time round all these years later, I watch the commentary, and I recommend it highly; the critic is a master of his craft; he knows the picture in its 450 scenes, by heart. See it with your friends. If ever a film was a community experience, it is this one.

 

 

 

Albert Nobbs

31 Jan

Albert Nobbs — directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Drama. A waiter in a second tier Irish hotel is actually a female in mufti, which leads to difficulties and revelations for all. 113 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Master actor Glenn Close has co-written a screenplay of a short story of the Victorian writer George Moore, so it is curious that she makes the error she does in creating her own part. She is remarkable in it, mind you, and the film is worth seeing for two other extraordinary performances in it as well, the celebrated Pauline Collins playing, with Dickensian relish, the old trout of a hotel owner who rules her roost with the high hand of hypocrisy. And Janet McTeer. It’s wonderful to see for the first time an actress of genius whom one has never come upon before or even heard of. Once Janet McTeer enters the screen you do not want to forsake her company no matter what. You want the camera to be on her perpetually. She is not a scene-stealer or a virtuoso actress. She is simply present wholly as the character in the moment before her. To reveal more would be to betray her part in the story and the brilliant and heartful way it is played out by her. But back to Glenn Close, who is a virtuoso actress and whom we want to steal all scenes within reach. Will she get it right this time?  Or will she fall into her usual trap? But – wait, what is clear almost from the start is that the part as written by herself is virtually unplayable, by which I mean that it can’t go anywhere. First, she has chosen the name of Albert, which no other name can exceed in tedious respectability.  She does not try to make the character masculine. She does not imitate a male. She simply presents Albert as a person without gender of any kind. Also she makes him hysterical, but with an hysteria completely lidded down by fear of exposure. That is to say, Albert is forbidden all emotional life. Also she makes Albert withdrawn, an introvert’s introvert. He is shier than shy, a person without repartee. At the staff meals in the hotel kitchen we see how he is accepted by everyone as Mr. Nobbs and taken an interest in by no one. Which is as it should be, for he is so without affect that he is entirely without mystery, even the mystery of how come he is without mystery. An automaton of self-effacing efficiency, he offends no one. The creation of this human being right before our eyes is a major treat. Here is the great Glenn Close doing the impossible, and the first half of the film gives us really one of the great performances of modern times. But the thought crosses one’s mind: where can she go, having set it up as a person so frozen there is no melting possible, no calving of a glacier? Albert has one ambition, which is to open a tobacconist shop. And that is probably the direction the story should go, but it doesn’t. Instead it goes in the direction of her trying to marry a cute housemaid at the hotel. If this worked in the original story, I don’t know, but it does not work here. First, because Albert is a watcher and a listener, and it is obvious that the housemaid is involved with the sexy cad handyman. This is known; everyone says so. So Albert loses our sympathy because she is rank stupid. Secondly, the cause given for her lesbianism is the routine TV reason that she was gang-raped when young, as though every lesbian had to be likewise to become one, whereas the fact is she has no notion about sex or love whatsoever; she is a sexual anorectic; she has no drive, not even a lesbian one. She is clueless. Her desire to set up housekeeping with a woman is not sexually based; it is commercially based: she would have a shopgirl in the tobacco store. So the character loses more and more identification as the film goes on. And Close falls into her old trap of making the character she plays holy with happiness in a beach scene in a dress. Setting all this aside, the film itself is a deep and vital investigation of hypocrisy in action in us all. And worth seeing for the three great actresses at the top of their bent in it. Don’t miss it.

 

George Stevens – D-Day To Berlin

23 Jan

George Stevens – D-Day To Berlin. Documentary. The only color footage of The Allied Expeditionary Forces in the European campaign. 46 minutes Color Filmed 1943-45.

* * * * *

In early 1943, after Stevens finished the delightful comedy The More The Merrier, about the housing shortage in Washington, he enlisted. He entered the service as a major, went to North Africa with a crew towards the end of the fighting there, briefly went to Persia, and then to England, where Eisenhower assigned him to film the European campaign. He was in charge of a group which included writers already established such as Irwin Shaw and William Saroyan and a group of master Hollywood cameramen and technicians. All these proceeded to produce the black and white footage, which was then sent to London and made by Frank Capra in to the black and white movie documentaries with which we are still familiar as the film records of the war in Europe. It was clear to Eisenhower and to everyone else that the signal corps was incapable of doing a proper job of this. So Stevens and his “Stevens’ Irregulars” did it. However, for his own purposes, Stevens took along a 16mm home camera with non-fading color film, and these reels he sent home to his wife Yvonne in California as each was shot. They remained in Stevens’ attic until his son, George Stevens junior, translated them into this 1994 documentary. The D-Day landing is filmed as he came over to Normandy. He filmed the big surrenders of the generals, the liberation of Paris, the capture of 500 German prisoners, the largest underground factory in the world at Nordhausen where the V-2 rockets blitzing London were made, the entry into Dachau where the crematorium bodies lay in piles and drifts, the meeting of Bradley’s Twelfth Army with the Russians, Berchtesgarten Hitler’s mountain retreat, and then Berlin. Just as Stevens had made True Glory with Carol Reed and Garson Kanin in London which won the Oscar documentary that year, so he also stayed until the end of 1945 in Europe to make with Budd Schulberg the documentary The Nazi Plan which was used as evidence at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. But all that is in in black and white. All of this is in color. There were over 38,000 prisoners at Dachau, 6,000 of whom were dying of typhus. Stevens saw it and filmed it, and when he came back to Hollywood never made a comedy again.

 
 
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