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Archive for the ‘OSCAR WINNER’ 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.

 

The Devil And Miss Jones

15 Feb

The Devil And Miss Jones – directed by Sam Wood. Proletarian Comedy. 92 minutes Black And White 1941.

★★★★★

The Story: A group of department store employees, protesting for a union, unwittingly take into their fold the owner of the store.

~

Gee whiz, what are you waiting for! Get on your pony and order up this proletarian comedy with Charles Coburn as the millionaire who spies on his employees, and Jean Arthur, the store clerk who unwittingly befriends him.

This kind of story was a staple of the age of The Golden Age: My Man Godfrey, The Lady Eve, most Frank Capra Comedies of the era, and any story where some penniless person gets to be the spouse of the boss’s favorite child: You Can’t Take It With You, The Bride Came C.O.D., It Happened One Night, Vivacious Lady, and a spate of screwball comedies from the era.

It was a great age for comedy, and, boy, do they still satisfy. They hold true now more than comedies made now, because the difference between the rich and the poor, the plutocrat and the working stiff are, once again, as marked now as then.

Charles Coburn can really play anything. He never shortchanges a role. He is never without resources. His person exudes a comic potential with every breath. He doesn’t need a situation; he is a situation. Watch him, as the children’s shoe clerk, fumble right and left, the look on him of dignity lost in the face of the preposterous. He is one of the great film character stars of the era; he can carry a film, as he does here; he can steal a film, as he does here.

But check Jean Arthur out as she creates three different ways, to clobber him over the head with the heel of a work boot. Everything she does is open, intentional, and sparse. She is incapable of a false move. Or an unappealing one.

Robert Cummings’s forte was light comedy, and he is at his best moment in his acting life as the rabble-rousing love interest of Jean Arthur. Watch his scenes on the beach and in the courtroom. Everything he says uses the forward energy which was his milk.

All these actors are at the top of their game. They don’t mug; they don’t gesticulate or exaggerate; they don’t reach for laughs or wring them to death. This kind of acting is called comedy of character and is played with the bodies of the performers as personalities, not clown bodies or situation comedy bodies. It’s not entertainment of gag or guffaw. It requires the great fluidity of perfect willingness. Master acting is required. Coburn was nominated for an Oscar and was to win one not long after for The More The Merrier.

The picture moves forward on roller skates. The camera is held by the great Harry Stradling Sr. And the writing is brilliant, surprising, and real: Norman Krasna. Treat yourself. Indulge yourself. Let yourself go. Place The Devil And Miss Jones before you.

 

Marketa Lazarova

18 Oct

Marketa Lazarova – directed by Frantisek Vlácil. Historical Drama. 162 minutes Black And White 1967.

★★★★★

The Story: Clans feud in the dark ages in Czechoslovakia.

~

What does the word “great” mean?

What does it mean when it means nothing less than the most it can mean?

Let’s put it this way: this film is on the order of Beethoven’s 9th.  King Lear.

It is on the level of the best films of Tarkovsky, Rossellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, Mizogichi, Satyajit Ray.

I don’t think I need to go on any further about it.

Great is the comprehending of that which is beyond comprehension.

I like that kind of thing.

The sublime. The profound.

The Grand Canyon.

Marketa Lazarova.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Stevens Seminar — The More The Merrier

21 Jun

By the early 40s Stevens could write his own ticket. Harry Cohn begged him to come to Columbia, saying he would never bother him, he would never even speak to him, if he would only come there and work. But Stevens said that he would value Cohn’s experience and point of view, and Stevens did go, and Cohn did not bother him.

He was to make three pictures there with Cary Grant, Penny Serenade, The Talk Of The Town. and The More The Merrier. The last of these, however, did not have Grant in it, thank goodness, for he was not available, and it really needed a middle-class regular American Joe to play Joe. (Could Grant ever play a character called Joe?) Instead it had Joel McCrea, who Katharine Hepburn said was in the same category as an actor as Bogart and Tracy, and so he was.

Jean Arthur made three pictures with Stevens, The Talk Of The Town, The More The Merrier, and her last picture, Shane. She  was tiny, but unlike most tiny women actually looked good in clothes. Like Margaret Sullavan and Kay Francis, she had a catch in her voice, but that wasn’t all that was appealing about her, for she was naturally endearing and a highly susceptible comedienne.

Stevens was eager to get into WWII, for this was 1942. He left for service before The More The Merrier opened at Radio City Music Hall, as had his other two Columbia Pictures. Like them, it was an enormous critical and popular success.

WWII took Stevens into North Africa, into the Normandy Landing, and eventually to Dachau when it was first liberated.He took color movies of it, which we have to this day. The only color movies of it.

When the War was over, he came back to Hollywood and scheduled a comedy with Ingrid Bergman. He couldn’t bring himself to make it. Katharine Hepburn always scolded him for not making comedies, for which he had such a gift.

The War had changed him.

The More The Merrier is the last comedy he ever made – and one of the best.

It’s a model for study, for camera arrangement and for directorial latitude to allow natural human comedy to arise between and on the faces and in the bodies of performers. The director has to have tremendous strength, patience, and the ability to watch in order for this rare and essential relation to arise. Perhaps no one has ever done it better than George Stevens.

 

Shane

20 Sep

Shane –– produced and directed by George Stevens. Western. A stranger pitches in to help some homesteaders in Montana and finds himself caught up in their struggle and destiny. 118 minutes Color.

★★★★★

Sam Peckenpaugh said it is the greatest Western ever made, and it probably is, for this reason: Westerns both begin and end with it. For it is a movie about how we see Westerns. It is told through the eyes of an eight year-old boy. He sees the Western hero as we as all have seen him and desired him to be, gone to Westerns to contemplate, desire, and idolize him. What’s important is that the boy is eight; he is at that stage where his pheromones are open to drink in what he must become as a male, what is inherent in the gender, where the gentleness of a gentleman is housed and demonstrated. As Alan Ladd plays it, he is nothing if not a gentleman. For him guns are the last resort, and Stevens, who had seen World War II and its guns and the criminality that war is, uses a cannon when guns go off to shock the audience into the knowledge that a gun is dreadful. And by hooking Elijah Cook Junior up to a jerk line that knocks him backward off his feet violently when he is shot, shows that when a man is shot a life dies in a crude, sudden, ugly way. Stevens sets it under the mountains of The Grand Tetons, which he films with a telephoto lens to bring them forward as cold, distant Gods sitting in their tremendous chairs watching the little doings down there in the vast valley, and he mats his adversarial faces as beautiful against a scripture of clouds scrawling across a huge blue sky. Never in a film has spectacle and intimacy been so strikingly joined. Jean Arthur brings to a close her great film career playing the pacifist wife laboring in dirty shirts to make a home for her husband and boy. She is so naturally plaintive that you cannot but respect her decency in that and in her attraction to Shane himself. Van Heflin as her homesteader husband fills the role with full value. He is one of those actors, like Charles Coburn, who satisfies a part by never slacking and never overloading it. He is a lesson to all actors of how modesty of technique can achieve the role of moral authority that a certain role requires. When Shane takes down Jack Palance (in his first screen role), it is Brandon DeWilde as the boy spying agog who stands in for us as we have always been spying, adoring the Western hero in films, prizing the gun-skills, justifying the slaughter because of its elegance and daring and aim. We have watched Westerns all our lives as DeWilde’s Joey watches Shane. We call ourselves into question because of the habit. How real are these heroes in us and to us? Westerns changed forever after Shane. Cowboys could no longer sing once this song was sung.

 

A Place In The Sun

13 Sep

A Place In The Sun – produced and directed by George Stevens. Romantic Tragedy. A young man aspires to love and success and is waylaid. 122 minutes Black and White 1951.

★★★★★

Seeing Elizabeth Taylor aged 17, as Angela Vickers sail into a mansion, you know she belongs there and you want to belong there with her. For Angela Vickers takes it all for granted. Like Daisy in The Great Gatsby, she has money in her voice. She has the silver chinks. She has everything and she gives everything, so the film naturally and inevitably slants towards her. Shelly Winters as the working class trull is given the opposite: neither sex appeal nor charm nor sympathy. She is brought into performance from beginning to end like the melted ice cream she serves and seems to be enduring morning sickness from the start. A self-pitying, sulky, nauseous look distorts her visage, a quart bottle of platitudes ready to pour. Washed around by his mother, Anne Revere and the two young women with whom he becomes involved, Montgomery Clift as George Eastman is a piece of driftwood shoved by every eddy. His body is flaccid and stooped. His face stares at us and reveals nothing but the hurt he might feel for a passing dog. His beauty registers as great but uneventful. One can read anything into his beautiful eyes, or nothing. For he cannot seem to summon any temperament. But the story is his, and so one reads, not George, but what happens to him. He stands there while it happens, not a character but a circumstance. His entire story, that is, points to Angela Vickers, as the only visible point of life, and the picture aims at what she promises to us all by her very existence on earth. Eastman is a character fostered by a magnate uncle who recognizes his resourcefulness; nepotism aside, George clearly could have succeeded in business on his own merits. And finding work he can do well and rise by is enhanced by his relations to Angela Vickers who has the sureness of her effect on men to go out for what she wants, as she does from their first big scene. We see her willfulness and her will,. We would call her spoiled, but she isn’t because she’s so kind, so happy to be alive, so generous, so gravely honest, so bright, and above all so loving. All the fun in life is lodged with her, all the beauty, all the romance. And never before or since on the screen have these qualities been so resplendently visible. Our hearts go out not to Clift or Winters, but to this wonderful girl, and to her baffled sadness and the life-long love that like a melody sings through it right to the end and beyond. Taylor’s performance throughout is gloriously right, natural, spontaneous, and her final scene is one of the greatest pieces of acting ever filmed, the finest piece of acting she ever did, and the most lyrical. Indeed, the whole film plays like something sung. It brings into being a beauty wider than either of the two beautiful faces of its leads or their romance. Did he kill her? Is he guilty. The priests says yes, of course. But the film says that the question is irrelevant. For it says that his love was a life experience so great that death is not in competition with it at all. Guilt, death, they are not even the same frame. Life has an inherent celebration in it, despite everything. Revealing this to us makes A Place In The Sun the most deeply life-loving film ever made. And the most beautiful.

 

Woman Of The Year

09 May

Woman Of The Year – directed by George Stevens. Romantic Comedy. A vibrant internationally renown newspaper female reporter and a writer on the sport page fall in love and sort it out. 114 minutes Black and White 1942.

★★★★★

Katharine Hepburn met Spencer Tracy making this comic masterpiece, the first and best of their films together. Why best? Because she is so sexy, never more so in any subsequent film with him or with anyone else, and he is in turn and at the same time is emotionally smart about her to protect his heart-on for her. They fall in love at first sight, in their editor’s office, and her face is something to behold as she grasps fully the sexual and romantic power she feels for him and wields over him. He stands back and is amazed by her sexiness, youth, and zest. He follows her from the office, she turns a corner and ambushes him on the stairs and seduces him. Tess Harding is her greatest performances. She and I corresponded briefly about this picture, which I saw when it came out and I was eight, for I understood immediately that this is the sort of marriage I would want for myself – a marriage in which the woman brought something vital from the outside into it from her professional life. This film is the greatest feminist tract ever filmed, the woman raised to the heights of competence, power, wit, kindness, sexuality, admirability, and self-awareness – and the male loving her for all of it. Sydney Guilaroff designed a perfect, sexy shoulder-length hairdo for her that does a lot for her character. That, in the press of her professional responsibilities, she falls short as a wife and mother gives us the foundation of a story which, in fact, ends stupidly. They had no ending when they started making it, and Stevens wrote an ending which proves her to be incompetent at homemaking, in which she is outwitted by three breakfast gadgets. It is a scene out of Stevens’ Laurel and Hardy days; it is a scene out of silent film, a scene based on gags. It is awful for it is a scene disconsonant with the character of Hepburn, who would have risen to the situation of the waffle iron just as she does when she catches the fourth piece of toast flying into the air. The fact is, yeast does not operate that way, toasters do not rocket launch toast, and coffee pots don’t percolate like that – and we already know from the scene in the baseball park that Hepburn was game for anything, and could have learned household chores as fast as she learned and rejoiced in, before her first game was over, the ground rules of a sport she had never witnessed before in her life. The finale is false, for the film is verbal, and their reconciliation needs to be verbal also, not a capitulation on her part, no matter how it is worked out in action. Setting this episode aside, the film depicts the triumph of the female at her best, her most characteristic and complete. She is never the victim, never the little housewife, never the doormat. And Tracy does not want her to be. He loves her even when she is brilliant and says so, and so do I, and so did I when twenty years later I married just such an accomplished female.

 

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.

 

Precious

30 Nov

Precious — Directed by Lee Daniels. Tragedy. A bullied and beset teenager lives through it. 109 minutes Color 2009.

* * * * *

A beatuiful film — beautiful in all respects, particularly as regards the resplendent beauty of its leading player Gabourey Sidibe. Andrew Dunn’s filming of it is stunning from the first shot to the last, and always surprising, and always right. The editing of Joe Klotz is tells the story with a ferocious economy, letting us fill in the blanks, and thus participate to the fullest. It does not make any sense to say that the film is performed by great actors, but only to say that everyone is great in acting their roles, particularly when you consider that many actors come from the realm of entertainment rather than theatre. Paula Patton is a raving beauty, and its effect is felt as a mesmerizing force in the classroom where she teaches. Mariah Carey, whom I had never heard or even heard of, possesses plainness and homeliness and a tired Long Island City directness that is riveting as the social worker whose job it is to get to the truth. Mo’Nique plays the mother of Precious in a performance that won her an Oscar for supporting player. It is a performance that never takes-it-back. Seeing her go beyond these extremes, one wonders how the director ever decided to use her, or any of them, but use them he did, and he elicits from them great performances in a great story. His sense of detail is infallible – a pen being shared across an aisle as a camera retreats – and his devotion to and mining of the strength and character of Precious as he got it out of Gabourey Sidibe as the put-upon girl whose story this is. Her face is set in introversion and withdrawal as she moves through her life to survive its conditions. Her eyes seem closed half the time, so dreadful is her situation. But her stillness is a sonnet. There is nothing I or anyone can say to lure anyone to see this film. Except for one thing which supervenes all else: you will be enriched immeasurably as you watch it.

 

All About Eve

06 Sep

All About Eve – Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. Drama. 138 minutes Black and White 1950.

★★★★★

The Story: A great Broadway star teeters on the brink of 40, and a younger star tries to push her over.

~

I don’t know whether Mankiewicz is a good director, but his screenplay here works like crazy, because it takes the focus off of Bette Davis and hands it around evenhandedly to the other  characters before us, so our interest in the main matter which is Can Broadway Star Margo Channing Stop Being A Brat And Become A Grownup? is left to the other actors to manage for us.

Very crafty.

George Sanders is the only non-female main character in the story, but, if you consider the part could be been played, although not so well, by Clifton Webb, you will recognize that he is not actually a male character at all. There are three other males in the piece, but Gregory Ratoff as the play producer, while very good, has little to do, Hugh Marlowe as the playwright has only a little more to do, and Gary Merrill, as her suitor and her director, does everything with contempt for the craft of acting itself and is quite bad.

This leaves us with Celeste Holm. She said, when she first came on set, Davis was rude to her on sight. Davis was an inexcusable person; so Holm is very well cast as Davis’s best friend, and the first of Eve’s suckers.

Sanders won the Oscar for this, quite rightly (George Sanders like that other master of boredom, Gig Young, eventually committed suicide. And you can see it coming in his relations with Baxter.) More than any other actor who ever lived, George Sanders drawl could make any line sound witty, which is nice, since many of the lines are so. Marilyn Monroe – she of the Copacabana School of acting – charmingly appears as the object of one of them.

This brings us to the two remaining stars.

Bette Davis is really up for this role. Her natural vitriol gives way to the sheer physical requirements of the part – snatching up a mink from the floor, waddling into a bathroom, declining a bonbon. Her command of all that is inside her and all that surrounds her wins our loyalty from the start. For once, Davis is actually at home in a role, relaxed, her customary archness vanished, and the story grants us only the best of her tantrums.

That year the stories of two aging stars, Norma Desmond and Margo Channing, vied for the Oscar, but Anne Baxter bullied the studio to put her up for one too, and, in a divided vote, both Swanson and Davis  (how characteristic of Eve) lost and Judy Holliday, the younger actress, got it. Yet, as Eve, Anne Baxter is lamentably miscast. You cannot believe that any of those shrewd judges of character that those theatre people are would have been duped for a minute by those batting eyelashes and that breathy, tobacco stained voice into believing she was an innocent.

Never mind. Otherwise more than worth the bumpy ride. Davis endures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Women

01 Aug

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

* * * * *

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

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In The Heat Of The Night

24 May

In The Heat Of The Night – Directed by Norman Jewison. Police Procedural. A Negro detective from the North is waylaid in a Southern town to solve a murder. 109 minutes Color 1967.

* * * *

The police procedural aspects of this film fall flat as the plot brings on a bunch of over-acting tertiary players as thugs, the town tart, and an impossible culprit, thus ending it in inconsequential confusion. It should have stuck to its genre and completed its obligations honorably. It would have better served the inner shift in the principals, played by Rod Steiger and Sydney Poitier, both of whom grow up into humility because of one another.  Still one follows along. The secondary actors are superb: Lee Grant (as usual, always mistakenly wearing a wig that looks like a wig), William Schallert remarkable as the mayor, Warren Oates as a dumb Kopf cop, Larry Gates as he who gets slapped, and Beah Richards, trim and crafty as the abortionist/conjure woman. Steiger won an Oscar. So did the film. So did its sound. So did Hal Ashby who edited it. Sterling Silliphant, who won the Oscar for screenwriting, wrote it in a series of hills and dales which are disappointingly similar to one another. But along the way he enters some wonderful byways, such as the scene in Steiger’s house where Poitier and Steiger share confidences. Haskell Wexler also won an Oscar for filming it, and he has a great many interesting things to impart in the Extra Features. Steiger was the most self-indulgent actor to ever draw breath, and he draws it, as usual, far too often in scenes of competitive rage, which never work because they are technical and unmotivated. It is not those scenes for which he won the Oscar, but for scenes of doubt, dismay, embarrassment. It’s lovely to see him in these –­ to see what sort of an actor he could be. Poitier is not a great actor. He is very beautiful, of course, which counts for a great deal. But what he actually does is something else. What he does is produce A Presence, which remains the same from film to film, a star turn, if you will. He does so by establishing a few eternal constants within him. They consist, first, of his eyes, which are always seeking, no matter what the scene may be. And he does so also by always remaining in reserve, which gives him a dignity that plays off against his seeking eyes in a combination that produces a tension in him and, for us, a waiting to see who will or will not take offense at him. This confines him somewhat vocally, and we are never in the presence of one who is vulnerable, which is all right, but it does limit his chances to actually act. Thank God for him, though. He remains the Jackie Robinson of movies, exactly the right person for the job, for he can hold the screen like nobody’s business. The blatant extremes of racial prejudice here now look goofy; they were probably no help then, either. Only in Larry Gates’ orchid scene do you see a subtle alternative. Otherwise the racial conflicts are garish. The film, however, operates on another level, and still works very well as two men coming to maturity in one another’s natures, both of them smart, ruthless, and alone.

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The FIghter

06 Feb

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

* * * * *

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

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Baby Doll

04 Dec

Baby Doll — directed by Elia Kazan — a comedy about a nubile teen age girl, her drooling husband, and the cotton gin of a rival. 114 minutes black and white 1956.
★★★★★
Of the six great Kazan films, all made around the same time: A Streetcar Named Desire, Panic In The Streets, Viva Zapata, On The Waterfront, East Of Eden, it is the last.

Baby Doll is one of the funniest American comedies ever made, and it certainly is the most unusual – because it resembles the low comedy of comedia del arte and certain films of Da Sica and Fellini.

Completely the opposite of the starched and laundered comedies of Doris Day, those tense technicolor sundaes of that era, Baby Doll is a comedy based in actual humor, and comes from the pen of the finest ear in the English language since Congreve.

When Caroll Baker, asserts to Eli Wallach that she is not a moron by saying: “I am a måagazine-reader!” we are in the land of comic plenty.

And when the great Mildred Dunnock as the half-cocked Aunt Rose Comfort, picking bedraggled weeds in the unkempt garden, calls them “Poems of Nature” we are in poetry heaven.

Mildred Dunnock was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance, and she and the luscious Carroll Baker and the foxy Eli Wallach and the profusely sweating Karl Malden make the most of all that Kazan and the Deep South location and Tennessee Williams’ script and The Method can offer.

This is a movie to see over and over, over the years, and I have. An American classic!

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Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids

25 Oct

Born iInto Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids –– directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski –– The Oscar winning documentary about a photographer who meets the prostitutes’ children and teaches them photography.  85 minutes color 2004.

* * * * *

Just wonderful. Zina Briski, the producer and director, enters the dark world of the Calcutta brothels by offering to teach the prostitutes’ children how to take pictures with a camera. She gives the children cameras, and what her own camera discovers is wonderful to behold. We recognize these children as just like ourselves when children. How each of them turns out is the suspense of the piece, which is beautifully filmed and is itself in every way a work of camera art. Heartening and real.

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