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Archive for the ‘Alfred Molina’ Category

Love Is Colder Than Death

20 Mar

Love Is Colder Than Death – Directed by Rainer Werner Fasssbinder. Gangster Drama 88 minutes Black And White 1969
★★★★
The Story: A gang syndicate invites a crook to join them, but he won’t, and then what?
~
No one feels anything. Emotional inertia is both the style and the subject. Characters stare off into space full front. A car tracks the wet city streets for five minutes looking for someone in a yellow dress. Much Significant Lighting Of Cigarettes. You care about none of these sorry folks or their doings, nor do you care about the law that seeks to keep them off the streets. So what whether any of them live or die.

But – boy – does the director hold your attention!

Why you can’t put it down, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because you want to see if any of their masks will betray a single human quirk.

This description may put you off, but I should be wicked to wish that to happen to you, for a master-hand is already at play here, even though this is Fassbinder’s first feature film.

He takes one of the three leading roles, and the other two are for the first time taken by actors he was to work with often in years to come, both of whom had big careers in German and international cinema.

Ulli Lommel plays the handsome, heartless hit-man. Hanna Schygulla plays Fassbinder’s girlfriend.

The title of the film is misleading, since Love is never at stake. The Fassbender character plays fast and loose with his girlfriend/whore, but no attraction is evinced between him and her, nor between her and him, nor between him and him. Such is not where the drama lies.

It lies in the audience, held in suspense to see if any of these people is worth anything at all, and they are not. But the film is. The experience of watching it is.

Oh, the ending is botched as well as the bank heist they plan. But by that time the film is over. A corpse.

I liked it. If liking is the word.

Held by it is the word. Held by the confidence of its energy. And by the insolence of its means.

 

Silence

20 Jan

Silence – directed and written by Martin Scorsese. Drama. 2 hours 41 minutes Color 2016.

★★★★

The Story: Two Jesuit priests strike out for 17th Century Japan to find a long-lost mentor.

~

They become considerably waylaid on their search, for by 1610 Japan has killed all Catholic priests and suppressed Japanese Christianity as a cultural pollution. So the Japanese the two priests find are rude fisherfolk with scarcely a sardine to their name. But they welcome these priests as a godsend and they dote on Confession. The priests must go into hiding as they move from place to place.

And so the story goes, until doubt arises in the viewer’s mind as the validity of the doctrine the priests recite. It’s memorized too well. Haven’t we heard this palaver before?

Yes, we have, in every Hollywood movie that crossed paths with religion.

First of all, the actors talk in measured tones, each word stepping out their mouths at funereal pace.

Added to this, all the actors emotionalize religion utterance as though that would give brainwashing guts, authenticity, and urgency. It doesn’t. It just sounds forced.

Finally, the writer has cribbed the dialogue from old Cecil B. DeMille movies. The characters talk in sentences no one in their right mind ever uttered.

The fault for all this lies at the door of the director Martin Scorsese, who has seen too many Hollywood priest movies and become hypnotized by their voicing.

These dialogue difficulties fall cruelly upon the actor playing the leading priest, Andrew Garfield. He is not an interesting actor perhaps, and he is playing a character with no sense of humor. Indeed, he is playing a religious fanatic. This means he has no mind of his own, no window for change, and no law but the authoritarian. All the actor can do is give a technical performance: suffer on cue, suffer on cue, suffer on cue.

All this makes it impossible for us to get behind the character, particularly in scenes with characters who entertain.

These are Adam Driver as his buddy/priest. Garfield is conventionally good looking, while Driver has a face you cannot forget, and his character has a lot going on inside himself.

The Grand Inquisitor, with full and fascinating over-bite, is played by Issei Ogataa a performer of great imagination and surprise. We long for his return when he is gone. And when he does return, we watch nothing else.

Then we have the reprobate played by Yôsuke Kubozuka, the in-house-Judas, a character of Shakespearean interest, always betraying, always pleading for forgiveness, certainly the only true Christian in the film.

And fourthly Liam Neeson, who is simply great as the priest sought for. Neeson brings balance and conviction to his well-written argument at the end. Neeson actually has decent lines, and if you want to see how to deliver such lines, watch him play against them, moment by moment, with a sorrow at the truths he must utter.

Probably the Part Andrew Garfield plays would have been better played by an actor of Scorsese’s own age, Martin Sheen, perhaps, someone whose mettle had already been tested, someone rich in wisdom, and, most important, someone with an authentic God-shine to him. Garfield has beautifully photogenic hair, a subject for Caravaggio perhaps, but not enough halo for film. Nor for that matter for Caravaggio.

You watch the film with admiration for Scorsese’s skill. The impeccable production, the fancy camera angles, the costumes, the editing. Wow! But one’s admiration is bridled by want of content and lack of a character to get behind. Garfield is at his best when he loses everything he values and falls still, doctrine silenced.

But, if the film were designed to display Catholicism in the end as claptrap, the stillness does not go on long enough to drown the preluding clichés.

 

 

The Dressmaker

01 Oct

The Dressmaker – directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse. Dramedy. 1 hour 59 minutes Color 2016.

★★★★

The Story: A woman returns to her hometown to wreak revenge, and finds revenge in more ways than hers.

~

Shakespeare wrote several comedies which are called problem comedies or romances or failures, depending on who’s trying how to legitimize them. But they are interesting because they’re not legit; defy expectations; renounce definition.

In one the prince is small-minded dolt, but the heroine achieves him. In another jealousy is paid back by a termagant’s plot which improbably restores virtue to its reward with the marriage bed of a vicious ruler. We are met in Shakespeare, as seldom elsewhere in drama, with sudden events which no audience is prepared for or desires. In fact, like life, they dissatisfy. They do not regroup the order of nature and the world at the final curtain. They leave their audiences with the stark tang of reality. They’re Shakespeare’s mean streak. In them, the wickedest characters defiantly proclaim – and we never forget them them for it – “What I am shall make me live!”

This kind of piece is The Dressmaker. It reminds you of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit, in which The Lunts had one of their late successes and in which in the film Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn did not. A woman comes back to the town which disgraced her, but now, she has enormous power to unleash.

If you cast Kate Winslet as the woman you are home free, for two reasons, aside from her delicious physical appearance. First, she can act the role, which is to say that it is, unlike The Reader, within the range of her instrument and she has the ability. Second, behind that which lurks in the corners of her mouth as an action determined to take place, she has also a natural sympathy for us to participate in. Kate Winslet? Who cannot like her?

Which means that, whatever she does on screen, something in us roots for her. So on the one hand we believe her vengeance is inevitable, and on the other, where we might want forgiveness to reign, virtuous or not, we actually want her to succeed even at the worst she can do. We never want Winslet to fail.

She’s not like Katharine Hepburn or the heroic actresses of that era. Her characters’ success is not mapped out beforehand. No. You don’t know what will happen. She might be stupid or shot or detoured. Will this revenge take place and what form will it take? Especially when it begins with what appears to be also an act of kindness and even forgiveness. But no more of that. It is for you to watch, wonder, and admire.

Opposite her and lodged heels-in against her is her derelict mother played by Judy Davis. Davis, as we all know, is one of the great humorists of modern art. It’s her mouth. Anyhow she is bewitching in the role, and you want to visit the film again and again to see what she does with this woman.

Flying into their midst is Liam Hemsworth, a young man of such resplendent beauty you can hardly imagine he is as good an actor as he actually is. Twenty-six when he makes this film, he is just entering the peak of his masculinity. It’s always satisfying to see a male like this about to burst into ripeness. They come along from time to time, Hugh Jackman, Tyrone Power, and Hemsworth’s appearance brings a stunning reversal of energy to the film, which shifts its story, and shifts it again. Can there be an alternative to revenge? Mmm.

Films like this are hard to end, and a director really has to wrap things up faster than The Dressmaker manages to. But I didn’t mind. I’ll see it again. I know the good of it. The good of it is better than the good of most.

 

Cafe Society

07 Sep

Café Society written and directed by Woody Allen. Romantic Dramedy. 96 minutes Color 2016

★★★★

The Story: In 1934, a young man leaves his NYC family to work for a big-time Hollywood agent and to fall in love with the great man’s secretary.

~

Steve Carell continues to be new to me. He is faster than the script of Woody Allen, and whenever he comes on, the screen saturates with something happening.

Take a gander at the look in Carell’s eye when after two years he sees his former rival for the young woman Carell has married. “See! See! See what I’ve got! What you don’t have!” the glint in his eye says. “I won. You didn’t.” it says. So we are in the pleasure of witnessing an actor of imagination. And we are also in the pleasure of the only actor who is sharp enough to take his character to a depth beneath the facetious on which all the other players are stranded. Carell’s playing cuts through to an actual human being under the quips, jests, comic verbal and plot situations, and beneath the satire in which it is almost impossible for the other actors not to be captured and stalled.

For Allen’s script does not pass beyond the ceaseless twitches of his jokes. His jokes never stop. And the terrible thing about his jokes is that they are laugh lines intended to generate no laughs, because they are actually lines of comedy of character not comedy of gags. But here Allen makes characters only for satire. He is in a frenzy of satire. This frenzy makes for monotonous company after a time, just as, after fifty years, Woody Allen’s wishful nebbish is monotonous.

Alas, because here we have a great love story – but with no depth, and a lyricism talked about but never heard, except on the impeccable sound track, where Larry Hart’s mordant lyrics supply the deficiency. Here we have a version of Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet marries Paris and Romeo marries Rosaline. What then happens to poor Romeo or poor Juliet, when they still love one another all the time?

Because of the consistent jocular style, no growth is possible with the dialogue. Nothing can happen but the next jest, nothing can get beneath it the next comic stammer. The drama drowns in a monotony of wit.

The promise of this material goes unexplored also because of the casting of the two young people. Because of his terrible carriage, I have a hard time looking at Jesse Eisenberg. I suppose he can’t help it, but neither can I. He also falls into the film actor’s trap to indicate response by doing something with his mouth. Actually, he can act. I just don’t want to see him do it.

The leading lady Kristen Stewart on the other hand orders her technique lukewarm from TV. Minutely hammy, her response range is canned. Starvation follows our every swallow. Hers is the role two men from the same family fall madly in love with, and one wonders how come. She’s so doughy, so uncooked. What do they see in her? What does she see in herself?

Having said every unhappy thing I can say about the film, I certainly have nothing left to say but see it. Woody Allen wrote it, and he is still a national treasure. Santo Loquasto’s art direction is beyond great: the places he takes us: the bars, the palaces, the dives, the nightclubs of the ‘30s! The costumes of Suzy Benzinger are smart and vicious and fun. The supporting actors are tops, among them Parker Posey as a practical materialist fashionista, and Blake Lively as the witty Rosaline character.

It’s a romantic Dramedy, but don’t expect it will move you. It’s a marvelous story, even though Woody Allen stifles the drama with a joke every time an actor opens his mouth. Proceed to the movie house. But proceed with caution.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, DRAMEDY, Steve Carell

 

Florence Foster Jenkins

15 Aug

Florence Foster Jenkins – directed by Stephen Frears. Biopic. 110 minutes Color 2016

★★★

The Story: A New York Socialite devoted to classical music brings her collapsed singing to Carnegie Hall.

~

New York never looked like that then. I was alive in the 1940s and lived there. So the first falsity is in the costumes of the extras, the cars, the buildings, all of which are CGI and show it. Carnegie Hall and the other public interiors ring no truer than Lady Florence’s soprano. Is this treatment in conflict with or is it in support of the false basis of her talent in the ears of Francis Foster Jenkins herself? For the real question is, how come didn’t she know?

We never go deeply into it. And with Meryl Streep before us in the role, we could. The honest things about the piece are that Meryl Streep does her own singing and Simon Helberg does his own piano playing as her accompanist Cosmé McMoony. Otherwise all we get is the story of a flimsy delusion.

We do get that Francis Foster Jenkins was devoted to musical performance her whole life, and sacrificed a great fortune to pursue it when, as an 18 year old, her father refused to send her to conservatory and disinherited her when she left home and taught piano to continue.

The important element missing is that Francis Foster Jenkins actually made a recording of her voice – and she must have listened to it – and she must have known she was off pitch. So there is a disparity between her appreciation of Lily Pons in the ‘40s and Jenkins being knocked out by Pons’ singing. If we know Jenkins heard Pons, how come she couldn’t she hear herself?

Her vocal irregularities may have been a derangement brought on by tertiary syphilis. In which case we might sympathize with her as a human more deeply than we do, despite Streep’s success in making her a generous, charming and appealing individual, which in real life she may have been.

So one doesn’t know what to think of this film. It is certainly not the depiction of an egomaniac. Nor is it the depiction of someone whose God-given calling was to be a musical performer, although that was her God-given calling.

Hugh Grant plays her “husband” – actually her manager – one of several who fed her with flattery in exchange for the contents of her purse. He plays it well and is well cast, but it is a thankless role as written, because we never get a chance to explore him, except as a hardworking gigolo.

All this means that Streep is left with a narrow range in which to operate and operize. Still worth seeing, of course, more for Streep than Jenkins. And we humans should not deny ourselves. For, if Jenkins had done so, wherever would we be?

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, BioDrama, Hugh Grant, Meryl Streep: ACTING GODDESS

 

True Detective

12 Apr

True Detective [Season 1] – directed by Cary Joji Fukunga. Police Procedural 8 Part HBO Series. Color 2014.

The Story: Two incompatible cops are assigned to solve a strange crime.

~

The film is a remarkable collation of production, writing, design, filming, direction, editing, and acting. With one exception.

Matthew McConaughey is not that exception. For if you ever wanted to know what power in acting looks like, here it is! Power does not require scenes of vocal range, emotion, or physical display. It may include them, but the sense always is that the artist is nowhere near the limits of his technique, but that the range accessible to that technique is without limit, given the material at hand, the canvas at hand, the occasion at hand.

Seeing him one would never make the mistake of supposing that McConaughey could sing opera or play King Lear. He is an actor who never tries to dupe us into believing that he is greater or other than he is. There are more kinds of great actor than Daniel Day-Lewis.

For, watching him, nothing comes to mind but the desire to continue to do so. We are not distracted. Instead, we sense we are in the presence of a rare opportunity an actor of rare and minute focus, of tiny gesture, each one emerging from his guts in a part perfectly suited to him.

Inside the actor one senses latitude without boundary, which means: the ability to release the material as he wishes, a fastidious rendering of the role’s structure, a sense of the proper size of the role, a sense of a cunning relationship to the architecture of the story as a whole. He understands the period. He understands the rubric of film. He understands the decorum of the character. He can create the titanic with perfect silence. Large or small in his effects he is relaxed. As an actor he is operating out of freedom and in freedom. So all this appears easy.

It is not the same for Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is in a less gutsy role but a more emotional one. But Harrelson is given to a grotesque grimacing with his lower jaw. It is hard to watch and impoverishing to the performance. What is odd is that concurrent with this facial gesticulation is a good actor at work. He is not mugging, but it looks like mugging. Harrison is full of emotion, but releases it through a tic, which someone should be kind enough to ask him to stop. One turns one’s eyes from him, until McConaughey has occasion to call his character a moron, which, unfortunately is what the actor looks like!

It’s too bad, but it does not ruin a story that proves what others have said that the best film drama these days is on cable series TV.

If True Detective is typical, mini-series TV has also changed acting style. No longer speeded up by commercials or by a two-hour time limit set by cinema owners, actors now have space to slow down and open up their work. Golden Age Hollywood Crisp acting is nowhere on view in these mini-series. Nor is modern TV acting or movie acting what we see. No, rather it’s a style of acting with latitude of range, time, and silence. In its spaces we sit and contemplate the vast paradoxes that the art of acting has to reveal about human nature. No one on earth has a greater sense of this than actors.

I understand Season 2 has a different story and performers and that Season 1 is complete in itself. By all means, see True Detective Season 1.

 

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.

 

Hail, Caesar!

18 Feb

Hail, Caesar! – written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Comedy. 106 minutes Color 2016.

★★★★★

The Story: Scandals that flare up must be doused by the studio fixer.

~

What do I make, one asks at first glimpse, of this Jollywood piece?

It opens in a confessional with Josh Brolin disgorging petty sins with wracked soul. When the priest asks him how long since has been to confession he says something like 27 hours, and is fobbed off with the penance of a few hail maries. We know at once by the solemnity of Brolin that we are in Jollywood land, that is to say we are in the selfsame satire-land as Singing In The Rain, dealing with the same object, and at just about the time Singing In The Rain was shot; that is, we are in the dread early ‘50s and we shall, therefore, now gorge on a full blown and deftly played Jollywood satire.

Jollywood? A comedy actually making fun of Hollywood.

And what pleasures there are, to be sure!

We have Tilda Swinton as vicious identical twin sisters, as antipathetic to one another as de Havilland and Fontaine. Swinton does the spitting cobra better than anyone around. Then we also have Scarlett Johansson in a major impersonation of Esther Williams in full fishtail and from the Bronx.

With this sort of acting, the actors do not have to do anything but – as Jack Nicholson has told us – “act accordingly,” which means that all Johansson has to do is inquire about the strength it must take for a legal clerk to stamp a page, and all Jonah Hill has to do it raise his big clerk’s to say “It’s my job” and let them fall on the first woman who has ever flirted with him in his life – and you know, no further word said, that something hysterically unlikely is to happen.

How do actors do that?

The words are not nothing, but the fleeting attitude of the actor seals it.

And here every actor is in sync with a subtlety of style which the Coen Brothers command from every side. It’s called making fun of something without using a pig bladder.

Brolin, a marvelous actor, once again carries the film. He plays the role of the fixer, Eddie Mannix from MGM days (although Capitol Films is what the present firm is named), and he goes about putting out fires that might incinerate reputations.

The main of these is the kidnapping of superstar George Clooney, almost through filming a film of the bloated Quo Vadis ilk, but snatched off by a covey of commies who claim blackmail from Brolin. Clooney is the most deft of light comedians, but his funniest scene in the film is his most serious: I shall not tell you; you’ll know it when it comes.

As side dishes we have Frances McDormand as an overdressed obsessive film editor, Ralph Fiennes as an Edmund Goulding type director, and Channing Tatum superbly dancing a big Gene Kelly sailor-on-leave production number. Each one hits the comic nail delicately on the thumb.

But the performance that seals the film and steals it too is by the darling Alden Ehrenreich – at least he plays a darling – as a young singing cowboy thrust into a drawing room comedy. He’s great at rope tricks and fancy bronc riding, but he can’t seem to get his lips around a word beyond “Tarnation!” He’s a wonderful actor and fresh as a daisy. You must delight yourself with this performance. Don’t miss him.

The film is pure entertainment.

Pure?

Sheer entertainment. That is, it is transparent. You think maybe that the values of the ‘50s Hollywood are dead and gone? Think it at your peril. The ‘50s are gone, but the values are in full force in 2016. How could it be otherwise?

The Coen Brother are, after all, masters of the hollow.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll See You In My Dreams

05 Jun

I’ll See You In My Dreams – directed by Brett Haley. 92 minutes Romantic Drama 2015.

★★★★

The Story: A middle-aged widow moves through her days happily, her routine interloped by a romance with a handsome stranger.

~

I’ve seen Blythe Danner most of her performing life, starting with her playing young romantic leads at Williamstown with Frank Langella and Mildred Dunnock. Her acting energy was never teeth-clenching dramatic. A soft allure surrounded her and was taken for granted by the roles she was cast in as the natural focus of sexual attention.

This halo has stayed with her throughout her long career. She is an actress whom it is understood must be given so much that she has not earned. Everyone – everyone – expects her to be the focus of romantic attention.

What I am describing here is, of course, the quality of a type – the true leading lady.

The looseness of our expected attributions to her are embodied in her vague, carefully unkempt hair. She is an actress who is expected to give little and does so give. She is naturally elegant, and this is brought forth sternly by the three bridge-playing cronies who surround her, all of whom are short and homely. Her clothes hang on her easily. She is one of those women who always looks so svelte you never know what their figures actually look like.

The romantic interest is brought on by Sam Neill, in a role which is marked, of course, by machoistic shallowness. He plays sexual confidence with a self-satisfied and knowing smile which reduces every move he makes to smugness.

At any rate, it’s not about him. It’s about Blythe Danner. And, sure enough, she is both the one you are given to watch and the one you do watch. Some women are like that on the screen. Catherine Deneuve is such an one. For all the attention I bestow on Blythe Danner is done knowing she is – unlike her daughter Gwyneth Paltrow – cold. To act she sometimes moves her mouth. Incorrectly. Why, then, do I root for her? It’s because she’s so lovely.

The theatre was packed. It’s still packed. The actor I loved in it was Martin Starr as a diffident pool guy. The script is badly underwritten, and yet Starr makes everything he says true and funny. But this is not a story about young people. For there is an audience for stories about and for people who are over 24 years-old.

To see Blythe Danner for me is to rest in the expectations and hopes of my youth, as though, this time, they might be met. I gaze upon Blythe Danner’s complexion, which at 72 is unmapped by time, and wonder if only she had the right husband, maybe me. That is to say, we have all of us who ever saw her, and see her still, to give her only as much as what her coolness dares inspire, a focus for our own vanity.

 
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Posted in Blythe Danner, Martin Starr, PERSONAL DRAMA, Sam Neill

 

The Wire

19 Mar

The Wire – various directors. TV Series. Color.

★★★★★

The Story: A Baltimore cop moves through the worlds of the waterfront, public schools, newspaper publishing, and politics to bring a drug cartel to justice

~

Well, now I’ve seen it all.

And so I must bid a fond farewell to certain characters. I say “to certain characters,” rather than to the story itself, for I found the characters more taking than the stories abounding.

The seasons are five. One story deals with the lives of stevedores on the waterfront. A second with the public schools. A third with the world of politicians. A fourth with that of newspapers. Laced through these are stories of the drug business on one hand and on the other stories of the police who seeks to dismember them.

All of this set in the city of Baltimore and shot there.

The star of the series Dominic West, an English actor in perfect voice for an Irish- American cop, I liked very much. He’s good looking, sexy, interesting, and a darn good actor. His Jimmy McNulty has a rapscallion-eye, and the daring to inaugurate rash plans, but we learn he does not really possess the imagination to execute them. A flaw.

For this he needs the doll-house-furniture-maker cop Lester Freamon, played by the inestimable Clarke Peters, also English, whom we shall see again in the producers’ Treme, as chief of the New Orleans Indians. He’s an actor who has to function around machines yielding delicate information – he it is who runs the wire taps – and it is a credit to his skill that you believe everything he does in relations to them. He brings the undramatic alive.

Deidre Lovejoy is the great looking DA who outsmarts the politicians, the judges, the police, and she is always a welcome sight in the doings. Frankie Faison also reappears in Treme in a similar role of a corrupt functionary, and he is just wonderful in this sort of part. Also in Treme, Wendell Pearce, with his easy searching eye, is a comfort to civilization as Bunk Moreland, McNulty’s chum.

As drug lords we have the perilously handsome Idris Elba as Stringer Bell, the brains fronting The Barksdale drug consortium. He is sorely missed when he leaves the story, as are J.D. Williams as Bodie, who leads the street hawkers. I began by disliking him and ended by rooting for him. As, at the last moment, I rooted for the incomprehensible Felicia Pearson playing the gender-unidentifiable Felicia “Snoop” Pearson. Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski, the ex-policeman now high school teacher played by Jim True-Frost, grows on one too. Proposition Joe, the local drug connection with the waterfront smuggler, The Greek, I also much miss. How could one forget him. He is played brilliantly by Robert F. Chew. Michael Kostroff is super as the drug lord’s lawyer, Levy. And we have Aiden Gillen as the newly elected mayor of Baltimore an actor perfectly suited one day to play that other unworthy worthy, George W. Bush.

One hopes to see these actors again and often.

But the three characters I’ll miss most are Bubbles, the shopping cart salesman hop-head, played with wide-eyed wonder by Andre Royo. What a wonderful actor. How fascinating he becomes! How real!

It is he I will miss most, along with Michael K. Williams as Omar Little, the efficient, highly ethical sawed-off-shotgun-toting robber of the druggers.

And the boy who protects his three brothers as best he can from the fates awaiting them.

For the most part the main story lodges in front of the background of a U.S. Senator’s overthrow and the entrapment of the drug kingpins. This main story is the feud between Omar and a newcomer to the Boston Drug field, one Marlo Stanfield whose icy eyes execute everyone around him who blinks the wrong way. His presence directs the style of seasons four and five. To watch Jaimie Hector act him is fascinating because of his perpetual petrifaction. He shall not be moved. His two eyes are beautiful and not quite even, which gives him a gaze of incalculable power.

These actors, in parts a little more well-written than the stories which house them, hold my attention, curiosity, and care. This is why I watch their stories to their outcomes so loyally. A series like this affords us full immersion. And here, as later in New Orleans’ Treme, the city of Baltimore allow us to visit and explore streets and scenes and persons we would know nothing of, perhaps even if we lived there.

Many interesting conclusions are to be drawn, many significant inferences. For all these worlds are worlds of double-conscience. And none of these worlds are familiar to me in any way whatsoever. If they are veracious, and I sense they are, it is a view of America harsh, but worth all the entertainment the series affords.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Duff

13 Mar

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

★★★★★

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

~

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

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

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

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

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

For Allison Janney is the champagne of fresh water!

 

 

The Normal Heart

24 Jan

The Normal Heart – directed by Ryan Murphy. Docudrama. 133 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: AIDS comes to the notice of a group of young men and a female physician, who gather together to do something about it.

~

The Normal Heart and Selma resemble one another in showing us the backstage drama of two adamant men who fought for equality in America. Larry Kramer fought for public recognition of the AIDS plague, which was sidelined by indifferent politicians as trivial. Martin Luther King Junior fought for voting rights for those whose right to it had been sidelined by indifferent politicians as trivial. See them both, why don’t you? You’ll get a bracing dose of contemporary history.

To cast the disagreeable, in-your-face screamer Larry Kramer one would have thought of a young George C. Scott or Al Pacino. One would not have thought of the panda Mark Ruffalo. He is so agreeable. So malleable. So soft. But there he is firing with all canons.

And Kramer’s methods alienate those near to him in the cause, both because he is obnoxious and because they believe his methodical throwing of vitriol in his adversaries’ faces will dampen the cause of recognition and action on the part of the government and the press. He is perhaps more incensed by the dismissal of homosexual humans than of sick humans, I’m not sure.

It’s a story whose tension hangs between, on the one hand, the character of his brother, who acknowledges the Kramer character as almost, but not quite human for his homosexuality and on the other hand the human loves dragged to an early and ignominious grave by a disease which was deemed unimportant because it was seen as exclusively and merely gay. The crossing over of this brother, beautifully and memorably played by Alfred Molina, to the love common to all is the resolution of all the barriers, public and private, which we see marked out before us, as AIDS is demonized, misunderstood, and dismissed, as it crawls to a place at the table.

Julia Roberts is excellent as the first clinician to take note of and treat the disease and to report its symptoms and recurrence. I particularly liked Jim Parsons as the office manager who makes the revolution practical. The nervous breakdown risked by all who did the work is beautifully performed by Stephen Spinella.

Larry Kramer’s was a voice crying in the wilderness of his own side. Martin Luther King Junior was the same. Proactive both, their methods were different, and neither cause would have prevailed using the other’s means. Their greatest enemies lay within their own camps. King orated, Kramer ranted. Kramer made a huge unpleasantness. He is one of the vile heroes, like Oedipus – people of extremely unpleasant character who nonetheless lay down their lives to move the human race forward one step, and do so. We – and by “we” I mean the world – are all in his debt.

 
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Posted in Alfred Molina, Gay, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo

 

Top Five

01 Jan

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

★★★★★

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

~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The 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?

 

 

Love Is Strange

31 Aug

Love Is Strange – directed by Ira Sachs. Drama. 2014 Color 94 minutes.

★★★

The story: Two men married to one another fall on hard times.

~

The problem is the writing and the problem is that the director also co-wrote it and like most directors has no gift as screenwriter.

Every scene is a genre scene. The scene at the dinner table with the abusive indifferent father. The advice scene between the teenage boy and the uncle. The street kiss at the end. Everything is picturesque, like a greeting card. Every scene is television bread pudding. I sit there longing for the scenes to be about something. Instead we get so called conversation, into the lengthy interstices of which the actors have to force emotion. This they do by grimacing, by pausing even more, and hoping, I suppose, someone will call cut. But nothing is going on. Nothing is at stake. We have lots of story, with no drama.

Inside this painfully inadequate mise en scene of chat, we have, on the other hand, the relationship of two gentlemen in high middle age during and after their nuptials. These two are all there is to see. This is the only matter of value before us. Everyone else is either indifferent to them, rude to them, or annoyed by them. But we are given nothing large enough to seize our interest, save our watching these two play together, sleep together, kiss, hug, snuggle, and laugh together. And that is just great because they are played by two experienced and well-loved hands indeed: Alfred Molina and John Lithgow. Boy, do they smooch good. It’s a relief to see this up on the screen.

To aid them is the impeccable Marisa Tomei, who never makes a false move. She must be a very well prepared actor, for one has the sense that everything she does is right, natural, and on target. There is never a sense of the random in her work. Though highly responsive, she comes on knowing what she must do, and she does it. Her face is in her favor, a great gift for an actor. Her scene trying to write is thrilling.

At the end is a scene in profile of a child crying. The scene is shot in a stairwell and goes on and on and on. And it’s wonderful that it does. And it’s also wonderful that it is taken in profile and that we do not see the young actor’s face. We just let him cry. It is wordless. This is followed by a skateboard scene that also goes on and on and on. It, like the crying scene, is wordless, and gives a suggestion that the director is not quite without talent for motion pictures. But he must stick to his last. He must do, but never speak.

For there is a difference between high drama and slice-of-life, which this mistitled movie purports to be. See Chekov: in slice-of-life the characters’ very souls are at stake. It is not just some conversations. The dripping preludes of Chopin dominate the sound track. But Chopin’s preludes are salon music; they contain, with the ferocity of a bottle of wine, tremendous sensation. Salon music, but whole lives are at stake. A salon film must do likewise.

 
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Posted in Alfred Molina, FAMILY DRAMA, Gay, Includes Some Gay Characters, John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei

 

Before And After

06 Jul

Before And After – directed by Barbet Schroeder. Drama. What happens to the parents when their young son is accused of murdering his girl friend. 108 minutes Color 1996.

★★

This is the worst film script I have encountered for major actors to perform. What makes it so? There is in it not a single character with personal eccentricity of any kind, with the exception of Alfred Molina as the lawyer eating a subway sandwich at the first interview. Otherwise, nothing anyone says would anyone say under the circumstances. What they say they would say only under the circumstances of a TV show. “I must save my son!” is not what a man in the situation would utter, unless he had watched this film. But that is what poor Liam Neeson is given to say, over and over, and it doesn’t wash. Neeson is an actor of perhaps not much intelligence. He is usually given the role of an honest lug, a role that might also promise the intelligence of luggness if the actor’s instrument had it to offer. With this piece missing, we never care about Neeson’s character, and his being married to Meryl Streep is, of course, inconceivable. His character is simply a violent dope from beginning to end; whatever soft sentiments he has to show they are still violent, crude without being primordial. But actors have a hard job; they have to act; it’s their breath as well as their bread; at times they perform material for the sociological virtue it seems to have; or not infrequently they have to just take what’s available. The fault lies not with Neeson, but with the script, which, if I may lavish it with praise, is false, cheap, and manipulative. Then too, the boy is miscast. He may be a good actor, but the trick of adopting inertia as a histrionic mode is mistaken, and the young man looks 106 not 16. I am surprised that Meryl Streep, a fairly shrewd judge of material, could not see what is being fobbed off here. In creating character, style is everything, and style always consists in the extraneous, and that comes from the writing. If there is not that, the actor has nothing to work with. Streep is not a personality actress like Katharine Hepburn. Without a strongly marked personal character of her own or one to play she is curds and whey. There is no fault in that; it’s just the instrument she has. But give her a role with some spice, and her gift awakens.Otherwise, as here, she has challenges it is not, by its nature, meant to rise to.

 

 

Impostors

02 Feb

Impostors — directed by Stanley Tucci — A 30s-style  farce aboard an ocean liner, in which two bad actors imposturing as good actors fall afoul of a bevvy of impostors —

* * * *

Farce is the hardest dramatic form of all — because it is the hardest to sustain. And Stanley Tucci, who wrote and directed this piece, illustrates the point. It is also true that stage farce works better than film farce because stage farce is best played broad, whereas film farce requires something to quiet it down. The bigger the screen the subtler it must be. If not, it splatters like a custard pie, right in the viewers face. Farce also requires fixed settings,which the stage provides and the movie camera forbids. Of course, here we have wonderful players, but all of them fall into the trap of playing over-broad. The watchword for film farce is Buster Keaton, whose dead-pan took the leaven out of his insane physical comedy such that one could watch it with a kind of rollicking amazement. Here, instead, we have a series of custard pie actors, imagining that we are having as much fun as themselves. This does not destroy all the fun, but it does leave the actors exhausted in their invention before the piece is over. Isabella Rosselini is so bent on pretending to hide that she is A Queen In Exile that she is virtually invisible. Alfred Molina playing a ham Hamlet throughout not only chews the scenery but digests and excretes it. Of course, Molina is an adorable actor as are Tony Schaloub as the resident terrorist and the great Allison Janney as a slinky faux Frenchwoman. Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci are heavenly actors. They all are, but the only ones who survive the artistic exhaustion are Lili Taylor who plays it straight as the ingenue and Campbell Scott as a mean German staff captain. He stays rigorously within the tight confines he has set himself, and so he is always welcome to our view. So, instead of bunch of actors putting on a show for us, we have a bunch of actors putting on a show for themselves. With such gifted people there are still considerable rewards. Stanley Tucci is a director whose invention does not flag even after his energy has. I liked this film. And I like his films and I want to see more.

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