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Archive for the ‘Alan Alda’ Category

California Suite

16 Feb

California Suite – directed by Herbert Ross. Low Comedy. Four sets of married couples find themselves in a series of unmarried stories in a Hollywood hotel. 103 minutes Color 1978.
★★
Unutterably vulgar.

Herbert Ross, despite the fact that he is a choreographer, has no gift for the physical comedy which poor Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby are called upon to enact. Two funny men and Ross finds nothing funny in them. Their episodes are played with pig-bladder depth. Neither actor is qualified to play physical comedy of this banana splat type. It requires tremendous, almost balletic training.

Jane Fonda at 41 is the perfect age to play the fast-talking career woman whose tongue gets the better of her marriage and motherhood. Her character is too quick on the draw to realize marriage is a draw. And Simon is too stupid to realize, even though he knows his gift for the shallows is fatal to his exploration of the possibilities of comedy at all, that the way out of that predicament is not more of the same. To think that her ex-husband Alan Alda can think of Jane Fonda as once attractive, with that mouth on her, places a new priority on our suspension of disbelief either in the sanity of Alda or the attraction of Jane Fonda, who, after all, next to Eve Arden, is one of the least romantically attractive screen personalities ever to breathe. Fonda is superb in the part.

So is Maggie Smith in hers; she won a supporting Oscar for this. She plays a British actress come over to collect a supporting Oscar, accompanied by her bi-sexual husband, to whom she is tragically sexually attracted, or so we are supposed to believe. This person is played in the far rear court by Michael Caine, who does not have a homosexual cell in his body. That’s why he plays it in the far rear court. He finds the casting as funny as I do.

The playwright further misconducts the proceedings by writing an improbable sequence involving Walter Matthau as a man who wakes up in his hotel bed to find himself next to a soporific tart. This unfunny situation is, of course, compounded by the premature entrance of his wife, played by Elaine May. They are all at a loss for what to do with lines that have no foundation in human response or human humor.

The material would work for a comedian of gross exaggeration, such as Sid Caesar, for whom Simon once wrote, where it might look good, but only, at best, on paper. Matthau plays it valiantly with his last nickel.

Neil Simon does not seem to get it that his talent completely embodies the values he himself thinks he is satirizing.

Neil Simon is a playwright whose comedies I am ashamed of.

 

Tower Heist

09 Nov

Tower Heist — Directed by Brett Ratner. Heist Comedy. The employees of a fancy apartment high-rise plan to rob the Ponzi schemer who has robbed them. 109 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Ben Stiller, a wonderful actor, is of the Buster Keaton School Of Comedy. His face remains still but what goes on behind it is alive, true, and funny. He does not need to put on the funny nose of physical comedy to make his comic point, and because of this inherent humor in him, which combines with a kind of modesty, one wants to be in his company often – even when he hands the focus over to the comedy of others. Once again we have him as the driving force behind a group of disparate males. Casey Affleck, he of the irritating voice, is at least perfectly cast as the unwilling go-along on this caper. Gabourey Sidibe is irresistible as the maid who can crack any safe in Christendom within fifteen minutes of fingering it. Alan Ada brings his terrifying affability to the part of the Madoff monster. Michael Pena plays the recent hireling to the building with remarkable address and presence. Stephen Henderson gives us a Santa Claus doorman whose stocking has been pilfered and whose dismay is the axel that turns the story around. Téa Leoni is perfectly cast as the FBI agent who slips the info to Stiller that saves the day. Matthew Broderick plays the dowdy accountant who can whiz-bang sums and whose fear of heights will make everyone want to leave their seats and head for terra firma. And finally we are given Eddie Murphy who sashays in as the ringer to coach the others into the deed of theft. Eddie Murphy’s chimpanzee smile is sudden, surprising, and sapient. As the low life hood who has never stolen anything over $1000 because to do so would be to commit a felony and now must prevail to steal 45 million, Murphy nails the entire structure of the role. He is a modern miracle as an actor. There seems to be no part of him that is not engaged in a given performance, and nothing seems difficult or unreal for him. Granted, he has taken over the low comedy slot vacated by Martin and Lewis, but so what? He brings true hauteur to a role, true authority, a kind of internal grandeur that is quite hilarious. When you find someone who has a genius for a thing, it is worth seeing him enact it. His eyes alone are worth the price of admission. The movie is closer to a cartoon of a heist movie than to a heist movie, so do not expect Rififi. Tower Heist spends time without wasting it.

 

 

 
 
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