RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Bob Balaban’ Category

Absence Of Malice

04 Jan

Absence Of Malice – directed by Sydney Pollack. Newsroom Drama. 116 minutes Color 1981.

★★★★★

The Story: The son of a former gangster is exposed in a Miami newspaper as under criminal investigation and tries to learn the truth from the female reporter who printed it.

~

When Mildred Dunnock came home from working with Paul Newman in Sweet Bird Of Youth, she told me “He’s always acting.” I didn’t ask her what she meant by this, though I knew she liked it, but I am going to report what I assumed she meant.

He is always generating.

What that means is that the character he is playing and the scene he is playing and the words he is saying and the attitudes he assumes all arise from a ground of chosen acting energy that you can’t notice, because if you did it would looked acted.

It certainly is true here. Newman’s task as an actor is to create a character who is competent. To do this he hauls liquor cartons, deals with strike breakers, opens fine wine, takes care of a 1943 yacht, serves a picnic on it, and reserves himself sexually by courting. He is always shown in competence-requiring actions. Ordinary everyday competence is the characteristic he must establish, because the finale of the film depends upon unobtrusive competence. You’re never to notice it; that’s how he gets away with it. It is his main character decision in the part, and he is right. Everything I said he does, he does. And as he does them he does them without effort or fear – slowly, carefully, as though he had done them many times before. He never “acts” them. The part of him that acts is another part entirely, and you can’t see it.

For to create this competence, it must spring from a center second nature to him: the thing he gets around in: the inner limousine of the Actor. Which you never see.

Newman’s habit of generating this conscious and constant energy is that of a race driver holding the car in neutral. The problem for Newman is that this tends to slow down momentum and get dull. You can see him practically fall asleep in Buffalo Bill And The Indians and Quintet. (They were Altman films and everyone smoked dope like mad; perhaps that’s what it was.)

Newman is 54 here admitting to 47, and he looks good. He entered films when he was 30, so he always looked younger, and, of course, to the day he left the screen he kept his figure and looked good. I notice when talking to him over the phone that he had most beautiful speaking voice. People talk about his looks, figure, blue eyes, but an actor’s best tool is his voice, and he had a great one. Check it out.

The ever-fretful Sally Field, a top notch actor, plays the reporter, who takes upon herself to write stories that cause a great deal of harm. To me it seemed the character was not authorized to write any of them, but the story has them meanly instigated by an assistant D.A., beautifully played by Bob Balaban. Wilford Brimley enters in to wrap-up the story and rap knuckles. It’s good to see Luther Adler as a Godfather in his last film role. Melinda Dillon plays the unbalanced friend of Newman so well that you think Dillon herself is unbalanced. But the film is not about acting but about an ethical crime.

I liked the film. I went with its pace, as it took its time to move through the examination of its subject dramatically, carefully, and fairly. Journalism put on the hot seat. Good.

 
Comments Off on Absence Of Malice

Posted in Bob Balaban, DIRECTED BY: Sydney Pollack, Paul Scofield, PERSONAL DRAMA, Sally Field

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

31 Mar

The Grand Budapest Hotel – directed by Wes Anderson. Farce. 99 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story:  A fancy hotel manager and his apprentice chase and are chased around mittel-Europe after and because of their love-lives with their lady friends.

~

Wes Anderson knows the first rule of farce: face directly forward and deliver it all full-front to the audience.

He also knows the second rule: symmetry. And it’s shadow twin: asymmetry.

The third rule he does not know. Which is that the third act must not pause even for a joke. The not-pausing is the joke.

So go to this picture, and expect that something pneumatic will leave as its third act halts along. Watch it stall when Edward Norton appears. He pops in like a jack-in-a-box, which is fun, but he lacks farce-style, which is crisp, innocent, and depends upon the fixed position of the character – a position often made clear by a mustache – all actions unmotivated and revealed as physicalizations almost mechanical. Then, the scene after the prison escape dwells on itself too long. Then, the gunfight is not handled wittily. Then, does the story need that fourth prisoner to die? And how did she fall out that window anyhow?

Still, the director does understand how to transfer stage farce into film farce. He turns the camera into all the doors farce requires. His lens opens and slams shut with perfect timing. The joke lies less in what the characters are saying or doing than how and when they appear and disappear before us. The show is directed right out to us. And all the tricks are droll and appreciate our wit in enjoying them.

So go: relax and enjoy the pastry of great film farce. Jeff Goldblum as the trustee of the will, Adrien Brody as the dagger villain, Tilda Swinton as his 85 year-old aunt, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Bob Balaban as concierges, Willem Dafoe as the grim hit-man, Tom Wilkinson as the author old, the impeccable Harvey Keitel as a thug. The central story is introduced and framed by F. Murray Abramson and Jude Law, and the  inner and main story is carried by Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori, who are first-class. The settings are rich, unusual, and flabbergasteringly funny.

I don’t know what you think you are doing with your lives, but you shouldn’t be going to any other film right now but this one.

 

The Monuments Men

09 Feb

The Monuments Men – directed by George Clooney. War Drama. 118 minutes Color 2014.

★★★

The Story: A WW II mission to save works of art destined for destruction should the Nazis loose.

~ ~ ~

If ever a movie sank more solemnly under the freight of its miscasting, I have yet to see it. Art museum directors, curators, scholars, educators, archivists — George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Bill Murray, thou never wert.

If John Goodman was not obviously such a good actor, he might be convincing as a sculptor.  And if Jean Dujardin were not so helplessly charming one might root for his loss from a profession we never grasp. This leaves Bob Balaban, who might pass for an academic in the world of world art, Hugh Bonneville as a former drunk, Dimitri Leonidas as the German-speaking Brooklyn Jew, and Cate Blanchett who is thoroughly convincing as the Jeu de Paume curator who kept a record of the stolen pieces.

All the others, wonderful actors though they are, exercise their noble craft as best they may, imagining that the good will which backs our affection and admiration for each and every one of them will supply the deficiency of their being in the wrong parts entirely.

George Clooney is the main culprit. For he is producer, writer, actor, and director. It is as a writer he is first to be stripped of his medal. For he has given the men the most routine of male chat to move things forward. Silent strength – you know the sort of thing – stalwartness in red, white and blue. I once worked in the high-testosterone History Of Art Department of Yale in the early ‘50s, and the chat was not that.

As director he lets his actors go where they will, as they will, each of them basically falling back on their star masculinity to perform their roles for them. As an actor, Clooney reverts to his casual, laid back, insouciant manner, and lets tacit charm muscle a job which has no place in it. Damon falls back on his Everyman quality, Murray on his piquant personality; both are irrelevant.

As producer, the picture cost 70 million – although how so blandly round a figure is come at one wonders – and it made what is essentially a small movie about a large subject, into a large movie about a subject which is invisible.

For Clooney sermonizes that these works of art must be saved from destruction and returned to their owners because they are the golden fruit of Western civilization. Everything we are fighting for! A great “accomplishment” which must not be lost. What vulgarity! What nonsense!

The only reason these works of art should be saved from theft and destruction, much less returned to their owners, is their priceless and inherent beauty. All these rescuers were chosen for their dedication to beauty. But “beauty” is a word never uttered by Clooney nor by anyone else. It is as though the word “beauty” were unmanly. The entire adventure operates under the cow pad of this omission.

 

 

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button