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Archive for the ‘Ben Kingsley’ Category

Iron Man 3

04 May

Ironman 3 – directed by Shane Black. Comic Book Adventure. The Iron Man irons things out. 130 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

Robert Downey Junior is suave, witty, and sexy, and his enemy, Guy Pearce, is suave, witty, and sexy. So the question is not whether one will best the other, but whether charm will best demolition.

For the skies, the earth, and the waters are laced with explosions, collapses, blasts, mass burials, attacks, and not a policeman in sight. Oh, Good!

In all this, I can only give praise to Downey, who is so cool as to be cryogenic. Nothing fazes him. He rises from every blitz with perfect aplomb. He always has a jest to impart and it takes no fall from high places to make him dizzy beforehand. He also has the astounding ability to make pins drop at certain moments with the reality of his response, as for instance with certain women with whom he is at the same moment absolutely sincere and absolutely false. It is very endearing of him. He is such a prick you cannot but let him off scot free, particularly with that wonderful actor’s face of his with its flexible mouth and huge black eyes that are always begging forgiveness. And all that bounce! He’s our Dark Angel, isn’t he? Valuable….

He is paired at various times with that marvelous actress, our belovèd Gwyneth Paltrow, who always arrives in a film role followed by porters bearing enormous quantities of luggage, all Vuitton. Don Cheadle, a welcome presence here as elsewhere, backs up Downey as a military person in charge of just what we never know. Ben Kingsley earns another deposit in our continued respect for him, as The Most Evil Person In The World. Dale Dickey gives a fabulous turn as The Wife Of The Man With The Files. And Ty Simpkins refreshes the entire film as a little boy with a crush on our super-hero.

But none of this and no one —  save perhaps the gifted Guy Pearce who is fascinating and fun as a businessman rogue — none of this and no one is given enough screen time and anything like a scene that we may dwell upon before the screen once again is splashed with visual violence.

The story, if there is a story, seems completely out of control. It takes the form of a smash and a splat. And the plot gathers no strength in its reins when it arrives, very late at the party. Until then, we are raped with the spectacle of calamity upon calamity, and none of them moved me or scared me or more than distantly entertained me, although they are very pretty even when they are hard to follow. And they are hard, for they are edited so spastically who can register them? It is the way with such films. We are not supposed to follow them. We are supposed only to be impressed. The problem is that the effects are impressive without making any real impression. Except for one marvelous air rescue that is really quite simple and a treat. But what we have here is a story in which no one is in peril, which means an adventure story without an adventure – meaning without danger. The explosions are too cataclysmic to threaten anybody.

You sit back and you haven’t wasted your dime. Not a bit. The actors are somewhat wasted amid the monotonous detonations, some of them internal.

Nor can we forgive the stifling excess by claiming it is a comic book, and meant for the mentality of boys. Of course it is. That’s why one goes. But that does not exactly excuse incompetence, does it?  Or maybe it does – if that’s the true subject here.

Yes. That must be it. It is a blockbuster about how everyone flops! Trouble is you never know what they were trying to do to start out with!

But still, it is impossible, it really is, it is impossible, to really dislike it.

 

Elegy

16 Jan

Elegy – directed by Isabel Coixet. Romantic Drama. A celebrity professor of 60 and a student fall in love, and try for some history together. 112 minutes Color 2008.
★★★★★
Five stars, because of Penélope Cruz’ performance, with its fluidity, freedom, and accessibility. What a wonderful talent she has, what a beauty of spirit and form. But there is something wrong with the script or the story or with Ben Kingsley as the professor. Let’s start with him, because the film’s subject is so gripping and so beautifully told by the director, that I want to end with that, and get the questionable part out of the way first.

“I am here,” the last line of the script does not work nor does cancer as a dramatic tool. For the professor is a man who won’t commit. So, if the woman is dying of cancer the question of quitting her is no longer moot. Of course he can commit to her: she’s not going to live long. So if the cancer scene at the end is meant for us to believe that he finally does commit, it fails. It is not even strong enough to be ambiguous.

As to Kingsley’s performance, good as he is, he is not a film actor of the order of freedom of brilliance of Cruz, and what that means is that we never see in him the possibility that he might commit. So, for us he is without inner conflict. He is only one thing, non-commital. The character, however, has an open heart. He loves her. To be willing to feel such a love is already to commit, for it is to be taking an enormous risk. Kingsley is able to “act” love, but never to be in love. We never see the other side of his refusal.

However, setting all this aside, as I hope you do, the film is a thoroughly adult treatment of the subject of love. It is not about love’s approaches or love’s departures, but about love itself, what it looks like, how it goes. Abetted so ably by the brilliant supporting playing of Dennis Hopper, Peter Sarsgaard, and Patrician Clarkson, the film took my respect and interest and care all along.

The film is very badly titled, irrelevantly titled. It is set in New York City but filmed in Vancouver, so its atmosphere is more drenched than New York’s is, but that hardly matters as the picture unfolds behind its drawn shades and we are let into love’s unlikely clearing in the woods once more. It is not an elegy. It enlarges its subject with the life Cruz brings to it and my hope things will work out and the energy of my attention to those workings. I hope you will agree.

See it.

 

Hugo

11 Dec

Hugo — Directed by Martin Scorsese. Drama. An orphaned boy winds the clocks of a huge Paris railway station as he seeks his true parentage. 127 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

Asa Butterworth plays the 12 year-old and hits a homer. His performance is simple and ingratiating, for he lets his impression of his situation carry him, and Martin Scorsese lets Asa’s fine blue eyes carry him the rest. He is mated with another 12-year-old well played by Chloë Grace Moretz. The two of them take us along on their adventures in early 1930s Paris, adventures which are imperiled by the train station guard, a victim de la guerre, played with a crazy Martin Short accent which is supposed to be comic but is not, by Sacha Baron Cohen. The problem with the material lies not with them but with the special effects which clog and over-lengthen their tale. These effects which are 3-D and which at first impress and amaze, fade in power as they supplant the story and the human interest of it. For instance, two of the greatest actors alive, Richard Griffiths and Frances de La Tour (remember them in The History Boys), are sidelined, while the sequences in the towering stacks of a bookshop owned by Christopher Lee displace the narrative with a plot device that could have been handled more briskly another way. Virtuosoism will attack narration every time. For the entire film is manufactured by computer. All we see, save the actors themselves, is fabricated with the doomed magic of an application. It even opens the picture carrying a character moving through a maze, duplicating a famous opening sequence in another Scorsese film of years ago. But these elaborate and highly detailed fabrications steal breath. What first impressed now fails to. The forgotten passages of the huge old station bring us into the power of the secret mischief of the Hunchback Of Notre Dame and The Phantom Of The Opera, but with them the special effects of the station itself eventually cannot compete. The film almost loses heart – but not quite, for the heart is that of Martin Scorsese, and the story is that of the Ben Kingsley character, an old great silent film fantancist/magician/inventor, Georges Méliès, now superannuated and inutile and running a toy store in the train station. We hope our Master Scorsese does not fear to become like this director, outdated, his work lost and forgotten. The old director is restored to praise, and, when I saw it, the audience applauded Hugo, as I did myself. A good whole-family picture.

 

 

What Planet Are You From?

25 Sep

What Planet Are You From – Directed by Mike Nichols. Penis Comedy. An Alien is sent down to take over Earth by impregnating a woman. 105 minutes Color  2000.

* * *

All the women in this picture are dressed badly, all the men are dressed so beautifully it is as though Fred Astaire had haberdashed them. Why is that? I can understand frump in Annette Bening’s case because her character’s a dither-head. But why would the sensationally sexy Linda Fiorentino stalk into her husband’s bank office in a see-thru skirt is baffling.

Anyhow, it probably fits with the monstrously minute mental elegance of Garry Shandling who wrote this one low joke comedy. Strange that no mature comedy is available for grown-ups, when Irene Dunne and Cary Grant were middle aged when they made their great ones.

Sir Ben Kingsley is present intoning orders from on high, meaning A Star Up There. While it is true that those gifts from the Gods, Camryn Manheim and Richard Jenkins, momentarily beguile us, this does not compensate for the presence before us of Shandling himself looking like a doomed sheep. What are his eyes always appealing for? What is that? Why does anyone find him funny? I mean funny in the sense of amusing, not in the sense of peculiar, which he certainly is.

This leaves us with the sleazy charms of Greg Kinnear, who is a master of them, and wins one’s heart with his vileness and his beautiful suits.

And with the great, the indissoluble, the loveable, the gifted, the sweet, the sexy, the imaginative, the tribute to American womanhood, and marvelous character leading actress, Dame Annette Bening, she who holds the Columbia torch!

One star for Annette Bening, one for Greg Kinnear, and one for John Goodman, who races around magnificently in chase of the answer to it all.

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Alice In Wonderland

16 Mar

Alice In Wonderland – Directed by Nick Willing – Fantasy Live Action TV production. A Victorian 10 year old girl doesn’t want to sing at a party and runs off into the garden and down a rabbit hole and so forth. 133 minutes Color 1999.

* * *

A labored telling of a dream, oh dear, and we all know what that means. Lewis Carroll’s original, of course, is the most revolutionary work of English literature since Shakespeare. But here everything is literal and old mad hat. Here is a work that should work with the speed of film and works with the speed of high Victorian taffy. Film would be ideal for the material. But the sequences go on at great length and to no good. A director’s collision. Poor Martin Short who must endure himself straining through the same grimace reel after reel. Pete Postlethwaite in a sub-supporting role as The  Carpenter who duets with Peter Ustinov’s The Walrus, but, boy, is it clunkilly staged. Whoopie Goldberg alone survives because she really does have the smile of a Cheshire Cat, and because she is so knowing. And the great Elizabeth Spriggs triumphs as the Duchess. Otherwise the whole farrago is a Caucus Race. Gene Wilder as The Mock Turtle and Donald Sinden as The Gryphon were missing from the version I saw, so perhaps they, with a sigh of relief, are well out of it. Alice In Wonderland could satire anything around that is there to be satirized and allegory anything around to be allegorized. This version has wonderful costumes, true, but consists of  encounters with a series of very rude bad tempered personages indeed, and, alas, that is all it is. It just won’t join the dance.

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The Merry Wives Of Windsor

01 Mar

The Merry Wives Of Windsor – Directed by David Hugh Jones – Low Oomedy. A fat old reprobate tries to seduce two wealthy wives. 120 minutes Color 1982

* * * * *

Here we have one of the greatest recordings of a Shakespeare play ever set down. And yet it is of one of WS’s thorniest scripts. Like Henry V it is tortured with a melange of voices in Latin, French, Welsh, and German, making the script monstrously hard to parse! But it wasn’t written to be read, but to be acted, and WS understood the rubric of acting like no one else, so that in the bodies of the actors it comes alive here, understandable here, priceless here. The sixteen shifts of mood in one character’s speech on the page are gibberish, but in the craft of the great Elizabeth Spriggs as Mistress Quickly, we have a masterpiece of human truth and humor, a performance of genius. Each minor character here is enacted, embodied, played to full measure. They are characters with no history, for their history lives in the exact present entirely. The piece is a proving ground for its players, led by Judy Davis’ Mistress Ford and Ben Kingsley as her frenetically jealous hubby Frank Ford. Prunella Scales’ performance as Mistress Page gets lost and monotonized behind its regionalism, but its energy is right on the money. Richard Griffiths we have recently seen in The History Boys plays Falstaff. Now this was made 25 years ago, so our actors are in their twenties (i.e. Alan Bennett) , and perhaps Griffiths is too young for the part in the sense that he wants merriment. TMMOW is a play, unlike Henry IV 1 & 2. In those plays Falstaff is driven by a lust for zest; here he is driven by a lust for money through lust, and it’s not that he is just too old and too fat, which he is, he is also just too ridiculous to score. This complicates the part, and Griffiths makes him a little more downbeat than one wants him to be. A little less of an unmoored balloon. A little less of a roguish liar. Still, when he thinks he has finally achieved the bosom of Mistress Ford, and utters the jubilant line, “Let the sky rain potatoes!” we are in a world of comedy unparalleled. The odd attic setting and the inn and the house of Ford and Caius and all the costumes and wigs and make-up are fabulous. If you love Shakespeare or want to learn to love Shakespeare, dive in.

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