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Archive for the ‘Christian Bale’ Category

The Big Short

01 Jan

The Big Short – directed by Adam McKay. Docudrama. 130 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★

The Story: A group of Wall Street investors, foreseeing the housing market will fail, bet against the market, but when housing fails, they can’t collect because the banks deny the failure.

~

Two things I don’t understand about this film: one is the sense that this is called an ensemble piece when in fact the four main actors are never or seldom together. And two is that the separation of these separate stories is achieved with over-edited snippets and over-montaged sequences such that none of it can be made out by a normal eye.

Why is this done?

Perhaps to bewilder the audience into believing the reason they can’t understand the complexities of what is at stake is not because they are too stupid but because the flashy montages are causing it. And, by gum, if we are not comfortable with this style of montage anyhow, we must be not hip.

A lot of the film is made with a hand-held camera, which is supposed to grant reality. It doesn’t; it just grants the shaking of a hand-held camera. And, of course, color film almost always denies reality; it is too heightened; it demands too little of the imagination; it is too expected. This would have been a perfect subject for black and white.

So, being an English major, how can I respond to this confetti?

It is beautifully acted. Ryan Gosling is perfect as the snappy, rude investor. Brad Pitt is swell as the retired broker who breaks the bank with the help of John Magaro and Finn Whitrock as tyro investors. Christian Bale, in a great wig, is perfectly cast as the know-it-all pioneer of the trading system. But it is Steve Carell as a disgruntled investor who stands out just a little from the others. He is nominated for several supporting actor awards, which seems quite unjust to me, since he is the moral center of, since he stars, and since he carries the film. All the supporting people are first class, including, Marisa Tomei and, I imagine, Melissa Leo whom I never saw in it at all, so flashed-by were her scenes.

The film is also up for Comedy Awards. It is not a comedy in any sense of the word or life-experience of the audience. The film is about fraud. The award categories claimed for the film are also fraud. Too bad.

Everything the film-maker could do to make the complexities readable was done and then undone. I leave it to you to tell me more about the real estate collapse and if I am missing something or everything. Or perhaps confusion is the only knowledge to be had of the matter.

 

American Hustle

04 Jan

American Hustle – directed by David O. Russell. GrifterFlic. 138 minutes Color 2013. ★★★★★

The Story: Complications pile on complications as the characters of the characters execute and sabotage and execute and sabotage themselves and each other in a super-sting operation.

~

Everyone has phony hair. And yet the motto of these dodgers is, “From the feet up!” meaning everyone has to be authentically committed to the ruse at hand.

False hair’s a wonderful image, redounding on each character’s flaws as the story unfolds. Bradley Cooper has tiny pin-curls to make his black straight hair curly and cute. Jennifer Lawrence has a baroquely streaked blond coif, always in flirtatious display. Amy Adams has ringlets manufactured down to and included in her décolletage, which is always arrayed for us, and, in its bra-less excellence would, we fear, be on array upon her presentation to The Queen. Jeremy Renner’s pompadour has a pompadour. And Christian Bale has a comb-over so complex it requires a combination. “From the feet up” – means until-but-not-including the crown of the head, which, of course, leaves everybody uncommitted.

The story is told in big long fully developed scenes that you can glom onto and relish, and the writer/director lodges the story not in plot but in the plot’s being directed by the divergences of each main character’s character. Jennifer Lawrence, in a particularly well-written role, makes her contribution by always being right by making everyone else wrong, doing one thing and saying another. Amy Adams levels her battleship intelligence on the false target of swindling her way into love. Bradley Cooper is shredded by his own intensity, which is blind. Jeremy Renner, the only sympathetic character among the bunch, loses his way in the byways of honest ambition. And Christian Bale, who is not quite on target with his character, is shot in the foot with his own rifle – which is firing blanks. As an actor he alone misses the innocence of his character, and innocence is important for all these fools, because, as Oscar Wilde said (and Oscar Wilde  was never wrong), “It is always wrong to be innocent.”

Is the story too complicated to follow? No. Is it engrossing? Yes. Does it have its legitimate surprises? Yes. Does it betray its audience’s credulity? No. Is the story well and unusually and strongly told? Yes. Are the scenes daringly played? Yep. Do you experience being entertained? Yes. Are you seeing some of the best acting in your life? Absolutely. Does it stick to your ribs into the lobby? No. Have you wasted your time? No.

2013 is strong year for male performances, and Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper look good here. And so do Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. The cast is great, but as ensemble, since there are few ensemble scenes to speak of, that is not the draw, but, performance by performance, you can’t do better. And the whole shebang is wonderfully and humorously told. It is one of several important GrifterFlics this year: The Wolf Of Wall Street runs side by slippery side with it in local theatres. See ‘em both. Tell ‘em Bruce sent ya.

 

Laurel Canyon

10 Jan

Laurel Canyon – directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Sex Drama. Conflict arises when an uptight young doctor and his fiancé move into the house of his libertine mother. 104 minutes Color 2002.
★★★★
“Do I have to review this film?” I whine. “I only watched it because of Frances McDormand. If I write it, I’ll have to pigeon all over Christian Bale, and I don’t want to pigeon all over anybody. What’s wrong in this actor?”

It has been pointed out that he has no sense of humor of any kind, and that certainly seems to be the case. But perhaps it is also true that, an Englishman, he should not be playing Americans. Or at least it seems so, since this particular character looks like he learned his personality from watching TV acting. Did the character do that or did the actor do that?

The problem, for me, is that there seems to be that within Christian Bale that cannot play a character who can be trusted.

He is brilliant, powerful, and adept, but this so dominates his energy that it supervenes all other character needs, such as being affectionate, loving one’s mother, or one’s brother – which is why he was so perfectly cast in The Fighter for which he rightly won a supporting Oscar. He cannot be trusted. All the more so, since Bale’s humorless solemnity and self-seriousness seems not that of the character he is playing, but a form of artistic arrogance. Watching him, we feel always up against the ingrown vanity of his craft. He seems always self-tragic. I find it sickening. I also question it as true. True as an introvert.

For is this character an uptight introvert? Or is not his fiancée the uptight introvert? Yes, she is. And what seems obvious in his playing his character as an introvert is that he actually is not one at all when, at a certain point, he flies into full blown rage against his mother, played by Frances McDormand. This outburst looks far more natural. Otherwise he sits there responding by twitching his mouth and making-the-masculine. For Bale is brilliant in extrovert scenes – although the power of their acting this one with McDormand is lost by being shot with them moving down hotel stairs, and by a failure of the writing to let them really face off.

McDormand is an astonishing actress and more than holds her own against Bale’s real power. She brings fully integrated character forth for us, an L.A. record producer, doing dope and screwing and running a band’s recording sessions as an accomplished executive, biting and hospitable, smiling and baffled. She is completely convincing and funny as can be. The film succeeds largely because of her.

But the film fails in terms of the sexual values the script exposes. For it assumes these values are up for whim or will. But they are not; sexual values are not learned; they are inherent. Men don’t learn their sexual code from Cosmo or from other males. They are born with it, like any other genetic code, so the idea that Bale could have a flutter with the Israeli doctor, played beautifully by Natascha McElhone, who rolls her gorgeous eyes at him, is nonsense. It is a non-starter as a dramatic premise. Other different codes display themselves, McDormand’s and that of her singer boyfriend, beautifully played by Alessandro Nivola. And they too are inherent.

But the real problem with the script is that the conflict between the mother and the son is never run to a thorough battle and thus to a convincing truce. Indeed we are falsely forced in another direction entirely. Because of the overture of his eating out his girlfriend which, for some reasons, precedes the credits, we are forced to know that Bale is sexually competent, which makes no sense, since he finds his mother’s nature and her way of life intrusive. She does not intrude but to him her very existence intrudes. This matter is not settled by her shy admission at the end that she loves him. It works no better than his intern scenes in the hospital, for one would no more trust Christian Bale as one’s therapist than one could trust his Bruce Wayne to lurch toward honor and social restitution as a character the only properly cast quality of the actor being those fang-pointed wings.

 

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

20 Jul

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises – directed by Christopher Nolan. Comic Book Action Adventure. Batman wants to retire. but no; the forces of virtue and of evil must be met. 164 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

A tragic aura dogs the claws of Batman, or at least dogs the velvet slippers of Bruce Wayne, and it’s fragrance imbues all who come in contact with him, from Michael Caine, who plays his loyal godsbody all the way to Anne Hathaway who plays the Catlady, a sort of second story jewel thief whose wit almost cuts through the sorrows of our hero, valiantly played by Christian Bale. Hathaway supplies the only comic relief of this piece and the actress is brilliant at it; one sighs with relief whenever her impudent self appears before us. As to the rest of the cast, they are the best actors in the world. Gary Oldman as the chief of police with a dark secret of his own; Tom Hardy as the heaviest heavy in all hell; Marion Cotillard as the billionairess out to save the day; Morgan Freeman as the keeper of the flame of Bruce Wayne’s fortune and dangerously advanced experiments. Then we have Matthew Modine as the cocky cowardly cop and Liam Neeson who is the cause of it all and Joseph Gordon-Levitt terrific as Batman’s volunteer helper. And the reason all is well with the acting is that the script is tops, with many diversions and excursions, examinations, and analyses, blasts and bombs and a flying bat jalopy and leaps and bounds, and so many long corridors of interest and imagination that one is lost, until the story finds one again at the end, the ends, the loose ends. I shall spoil nothing by saying that the obvious difference from this and all other Batman movies, aside from the superiority of the script, is that the big branagan at the end, and lots that lead up to is, is shot in full daylight. Batman was ordinarily a nocturne, wasn’t it? The Dark Knight operated only in The Dark Night? Because? Because why? Because he was a bat!

 

 

A Murder Of Quality

04 Feb

A Murder Of Quality — directed by Gavin Miller. WHODUNIT. Spymaster George Smiley is dragged out of retirement to solve a murder in a boys’ public school. 90 minutes Color 1991

★★★★★

Gary Oldman and Alec Guinness, after and before, have been called upon to play the ruthless taciturn Mr. Smiley but the role clearly belongs to Denholm Elliott, who, granted, is asked to resuscitate the character only for the petites pommes de terre of a policier of a provincial whacking. Guinness, he of the moonstone school of acting perfected by Ralph Richardson and finally put out of business by Paul Scofield, was the most opaque and Gary Oldman the most ruthless of the Smileys, but Denholm Elliott outsmarts even those masters of scene larceny by giving Smiley not just one implacable spine but a suppleness of carriage that gives him a place to begin and a place to go. He first appears to be a mealy-mouthed amateur when meeting the local inspector, masterfully cast and played by Matthew Scurfield, not as a bumbling dope or bigot but as a highly proficient but frustrated professional with a strong personality and smart views. Denholm Elliott is assisted in the detection by the curmudgeon-mouthed Glenda Jackson, and one can see the reason for her Oscars by just the way she puts a napkin down on the table and rises in utter silent disgust at the fascism of the culprit when she learns of it. Billie Whitelaw scares us silly as mad Jane the local loony, simply by the swiftness and lack of motivation of her violence, a wonderful choice by an actor. Then on the one hand we have Joss Ackland as the grandiloquent gay master fascinating his boys with his magic quotes from the Rubyiat and on the other as one of the boys, Christian Bale, he of the inner smirk. Yes, even at 16 years of age this is so. A completely untrained actor to this day, Bale brings to the character a minimalism perfect for an adolescent out of his depth in the machinations of adult doings. If you look at him carefully, or even carelessly, you can see here his systèm. He begins with a tiny single point and retains it. In later years this skill spokes out to produce performances and characters of  terrifying intensity. Think of him as the opposite of Sean Penn, but playing the same sorts of parts with the same rash effect. He is one of those masters-through-experience actors I prefer. I find it very hard to look at him. I don’t like his face, which difficulty makes his work all the more admirable to me. A craft and a talent devoted to stretching beyond the extreme borders cuts through my revulsion of a physiognomy he simply cannot help. It would be fascinating to see him perform Noël Coward’s Private Lives, that is to say a high comedy of manners: Mirabel in Congreve’s The Way Of The World. Jack in Bunbury. Someone, that is to say, not doomed by what he knows.

 

The New World

06 Jul

The New World. Written and directed by Terrence Malick. Historical drama.  A native Indian princess is wooed by two suitors in 1607. Pocahontas. 135 minutes Color 2005.

* * * * *

Colin Farrell and Christian Bale are the suitors for the hand of Pocahontas, but neither of the men is the focal character of the story. That falls to Q’Orianka Kilcher who plays the Indian maiden and plays her with great delicacy and meaning. It is probably not possible to imagine another actor to do it so well. There is that in her which carries the film’s 2 1/2 hours, and everything human in the film depends upon her performance, which grows and grows on one, just as it should do. The film recounts the miserable beginnings of the Jamestown Colony in Virginia, its various early difficulties and resolutions. But the story itself is a grand romance, simple, and extended, for it unfolds, dignified and stately, as it probably did from the time Pocahontas threw herself across the body of John Smith to save him from death, to her subsequent history with John Rolfe. The story is very old- fashioned, for both men keep their hands off the maiden, whom both of them love, to be sure. Farrell woes her with his big brown eyes full of pain and fear; Bale woes her with his little brown eyes full of patience and doubt. But then Romance, by definition, depends upon separation. Lovers must be kept apart for Romance to work. Smith, it would seem, is her true mate, but is marriage-shy. But I say no more about the story, for there is so little to tell, that I would give away the entire plot in a sentence if I spoke more. The colony built on site at Jamestown certainly rings true, and so do the Indian villages. Unfortunately the crowd scenes are very badly directed and quite silly and unconvincing. No one is bloodthirsty; everyone is out to perform an honest tourist demonstration; it just won’t do. But the picture itself is beautifully filmed, of course, as are all Malick’s pictures, and abetted by music written one and two and three hundred years later, which Malick knows perfectly well, and which I found charming and right. A fine family film and most satisfying.

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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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