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Archive for the ‘Christopher Plummer’ Category

Danny Collins

22 Apr

Danny Collins – writer, director, Dan Fogelman. Comedy/drama. 106 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★

The Story: A 70-year-old rock star decides to stop touring and write songs again and also to look up his long-lost son.

~

This is star-acting. Movie-star-acting. It’s a sub- or super-genre under the rubric of acting, and it requires space to shine in. This space is usually provided by a series of long scenes.

They are given. But they are interrupted by scenes which interlope the procedures necessary for star-acting. The story goes off the rails when we are asked to believe even for one Manhattan minute that his manager and his new girlfriend and certainly his own common sense could appear at a nightclub to debut only one number, when he would actually need thirty new songs to debut anything at all. 

Here again we have the write-director fallacy, the one unable to hear the other throw up. 

This side-track, so phony, kills the real interest of the material, which is: can he actually write a new song after thirty years of hackwork singing other people’s songs? 

We end up in a byway of a mawkish drunk claptrap, that we are spared the worst only by the playing of the long-lost son by one Bobby Cannavale, a lovely actor, whose strategies opposite the star capture us despite the cheap failed trick of the diversion. 

The star-acting is done by Al Pacino, I hope. And I hope you do not think you will be in for anything less. He is not offering a miniature, a water color. He is offering a big canvas, a Rubens. He covers an entire wall. His work is not about realism, naturalism, The Method, or any such. It is rather the projection of the actor’s imagination to create a world towards which the world itself must respond. The danger of star-acting is that it turn hammy. Pacino does not. Pacino is an actor of rich imagination, and even a playful modesty. He is worth beholding, as Bette Davis is worth beholding, and for the same reason. They’re big. If you don’t like Big get out of the kitchen. 

Annette Bening, another star-actor, dims her glow to support his importance, like a stewardess does a pilot. We needed more of her to hold the story true to writing songs, a highway we loose in the blue roads of the plot. Jennifer Garner helps a lot, and so does a little girl, Giselle Eisenberg, as does Christopher Plummer as Pacino’s doughty manager. 

Pacino is a real entertainer. Go. 

But remember: you don’t go to an amusement park because a roller coaster is absent.

 

The Last Station

05 Feb

The Last Station – directed by Michael Hoffman. Biodrama. 82 year-old Leo Tolstoi, both novelist and utopian guru battles both sides of his work, and flees the fray to fall ill in a railway station, while the world watches. 112 minutes Color 2010.
★★★★★
Five stars for Helen Mirren who plays every scene all out, God bless her, and who makes Sophia Tolstoi the heroine of the piece without contest from the start.

Several factors mitigate toward this mistake, and they all lie in the blame of the director/writer. He does not have a clear intention as to the story he is telling. If it is about love, well then, we know what everyone else loves, but what does Tolstoi love? Does he love the idea that his noble work will go on after he dies, and so takes his royalties of his life and work from his wife and children and hands them over to the chief administrator of the Tolstoi legend – with its hortatory texts, its communes all over the place, its passionate socialistic practices and platforms, and its vast and statuesque reputation and influence – Gandhi learned passive resistance at Tolstoi’s feet.

If so, we are never given a single instance upon what that influence was based that so many should abject themselves before it and follow him and it with unswerving and self-sacrificing devotion. In an attempt to avoid the trap of portraying a genius, the director/writer has portrayed him as a plate of potatoes. But what are people, what is the whole world responding to? Never does Christopher Plummer, who is wonderful in the part, ever have a single line that would suggest this was a man of revolutionary ideals.

The second error the director makes was either to cast Paul Giamatti as the administrator or to allow him to play him as a heavy from the start – forever twirling his mustaches like the villain from the old play. No, we must believe in the administrator’s innocence, his noble motives, and the purity of his ideals. If we don’t trust and back him, then Helen Mirren is without competition and the story is a foregone conclusion.

The third error is to have cast James McEvoy as Tolstoi’s tyro secretary. He is never believable. To the same degree as he was believable in The Last King Of Scotland is he unconvincing here. He is hammy from start to finish, making big scowling eyes like Barrymore. He plays too knowingly a character who knows nothing.

This leaves us with Christopher Plummer as Tolstoi. Sixty years ago I saw him in Stratford Ontario In Henry IV with Jason Robards as Hotspur and the two of them again in A Winter’s Tale, and I saw him on the Broadway stage in Arturo Ui, The Lark, J.B.; he was nothing more than a conventional actor with a good voice, cold. But he has grown with time. The older he gets the better he gets; he is almost a different actor entirely. May he live long and often.

Leo Tolstoi was the greatest writer of death scenes who ever lived, and his own surpassed any he ever wrote. The movie misfires by not knowing what it is about, and scanting the farcical elements of its finale which Tolstoi, great humorist that he was, would never have missed for a minute. Too bad. The movie is well filmed, beautifully costumed and set, and completely convincing as having been shot in Russia, which, of course, it was not.

 

Autumn Reunion

30 Jun

Autumn Reunion – directed by Paolo Barzman. Drama. 40 years after The War, three survivors meet again and face facing the past. 1 hour 39 minutes Color 2007.

★★★★★

What a beautiful film for us! Told to us at once carefully and imaginatively by editor Arthur Tarnowski, photographer Luc Montpellier, and director Paolo Barzman, it is the story of the price of survival on those who survive and on all who surround those who survive. When they were children Gabriel Byrne and Susan Sarandon were interned in an extermination camp way-station outside Paris, and taken under the wing of a teenage man, now grown old into the person of Max Von Sydow. All three of them by ironic chance have survived, and now they meet again on the farm of survivor Susan Sarandon in Quebec. The farm and the lake beside it hold them in a subtle vast embrace. Sarandon is a grandmother now, and the little grandson and his father, her son, stay with her there with her husband, Christopher Plummer, the college professor she married when she was his student, years before. This gathering brings into the surface the dire effects their internment had and the cruel damage it also discovers fresh means to cause. Plummer is the pivotal character of this group, Sarandon is the focal character, for she has kept alive the damage of the camps and made her life’s work the message of that damage to the world at large, sacrificing her marriage to that task, for both her son and husband suffer from her mad devotion. Each person in turn rises like a great wave out of the calm refuge of the farm and clashes with each of the others. I like everything about this movie; I like the production design by Jean-Francois Campeau; the house is just right; I like the music by Normand Corbeil; always apt – but what I admire most is the acting of these four. When I see Bette Davis’s films after All About Eve I see that she has nothing new to show me, I see the life of her skill decline by insisting on staying the same. But here I see four actors long familiar to me who still surprise me, and in the case of Plummer, an actor I ordinarily do not like, achieve not just wit but humor. They have grown. No. They grow before our very eyes; there’s no past tense to it. It is happening right before us. In acting, mastery knows no end. These four are at ease with its great difficulties. Refresh yourself with the spectacle of their accomplishment.

 

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

16 Jan

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus – directed by Terry Gilliam. Fantasy. A travelling theatre offers its eternal creative powers out to a world not interested in them whatsoever, until a certain Tony turns up. 123 minutes Color 2009.

* * *

Terry Gilliam is your ordinary fantasist, thank goodness, which means that his story is firmly lodged in classical narrative rubric, e.g., once upon a time there was an ancient magician who had a beautiful daughter. Living in their magic cave was a monster and a servant boy who was in love with her. The magician had failed in his work, however, because he had made a deal with a demon: he could live forever if he gave his first daughter as the demon’s bride. One day, the theatre company saved a young man from drowning. This man, named Tony, was set dire tasks to save the daughter: he had to enter the magic world of the wizard with three females whose souls he would sacrifice.  And so forth and so on. All we see is quite delightful and well grounded. The piece is fanciful and well cast, with Christopher Plummer as the magician, and where it is not well cast, the costumes supply the deficiency. All is well, or would be well, until the drowning man appears. Then things fall apart. For Tony is played by Heath Ledger, in what should have been the most daring and entertaining performance of his career, save for one thing: it is made invisible by facial hair. You cannot see what he is feeling or thinking; you cannot see what he wants; you cannot see what sort of person he is. The performance is a dead loss. For there is a rule for young leading male film actors. Keep hair out of all parts of your face. Keep your head hair combed back off your brow, no matter how much younger than you are you want to look, and keep all beards, goatees, mustaches, sideburns miles away from you. Beards are fine for the stage where the close-up is outlawed, where no one can see your features anyhow, but on film, nope, never. In film, they do not define character; they demote it. (You may, as Clark Gable did so effectively, wear a thin mustache as a sort of medical prescription. But that’s it.) Facial hair destroys performances. It never adds character. It always conceals character, because it conceals filmed human response. If you are a leading man, that is. If you are Monty Woolley, do as you please. Anyhow, we sigh and wander on through the film in all its expected and unexpected treats. Jeff and Mycheal Danna have written charming music and the special effects are a riot. Until we come to a point in the story when Ledger has to take three of the ladies through the magic mirror, at which point he turns into impersonations of himself, which is a lot of fun. The first is played by Johnny Depp, and that’s all right; the second by Jude Law, and that’s all right too; the third, however, drowns us in excess and even Colin Farrell, who is fine in the part, cannot rescue the logorrhea of the director, who throws into the last episode everything he ever thought up about everything – and the movie is swamped and goes under. He has a fecund imagination but no talent to cull the fruit.  Too bad.  A lost film. A lost performance.

 

 

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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Beginners

18 Jun

Beginners – directed by Mike Mills. Romantic Drama. A loser in love heads for the cliff in his latest and last romance, but will he make it? Color 2011.

* * * * *

Ewan McGregor appears to be an actor without temperament or guts. He is an actor who presents a blank cutout, as though male audiences are supposed to fit themselves into his shoes and female audiences are supposed to project their ideal male upon him. I guess. He leaves me cold. He can come through at essential moments such as the one when his father tells him that his mother knew he was gay before she married him, but said she could fix it. Then we get a readable response, one which can register upon McGregor’s features which are made limited by the perpetual influence of scowl line between his brows and the cruel error of being in half beard. But because of McGregor’s lack of affect, Melanie Laurent, an actress who unlike him presents very well, is acting in response not to him but to the dialogue. And the camera remains largely on her as she carries the various fluxes of the tale between them, carries them ably and with charm. Fortunately the dialogue is brilliant. And the tale is wonderful. Alfred Hitchcock is not a great director, but he had something which greater directors rarely have: the ability to cast a spell. And so does the director/writer of this film, whose work here is unusual, keen, and beguiling. He brings to us a film remarkable in all departments, the music, the photography by Kasper Tuxen, the editing by Olivier Bugge Coutte, and by all the actors. Christopher Plummer seems finally to be dropping his Shakespearean rodomontade and to be learning screen acting, for he is perfectly modulated in the role of the father who, finding himself a widower at 74, decides to explore his gay nature. Withal, Plummer’s wife is played with acute and stunning wit and imagination by Mary Page Keller. Every time she appears on the screen you welcome her. She brings us McGregor’s formative love as a boy of eleven. All this is interleaved with the beginning of his romance twenty five years later with a woman much resembling what Mary Page Keller has generously given us. I loved this film, I loved its writing, and because of that I should not tell any more, except permit me to spoil the ending. It ends with these two lines of dialogue: “I don’t know,” “How does that work?”

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Closing The Ring

31 Mar

Closing The Ring — Directed by Richard Attenborough — Romantic Drama A 70 year old widow comes to terms with her past love. 117 minutes Color 2007.

* * *

Shirley MacClaine sabotages this film by employing the same unnecessarily nasty and bitter energy she has employed for the past thirty years in playing characters, and by asking us to believe this rudeness constitutes a human. The problem is not so much that she has used this energy before; the problem is that, as with all neuroses, nothing lies behind it, for it has forsaken the real. Neuroses is often interesting, because it sometimes displays flashes of truth, and MacClaine certainly began her career this way. But terminal cuteness, a family trait, may have ended her. For now, one observes there is nothing behind the nastiness for one to hope for, to latch onto, to root for. The nastiness is not only unforgivable and out of character, it is uninteresting. It is certainly not entertaining, for where a character should be, there is simply a blank paten, a flat metallic stencil, and the notion that anyone could find this person overwhelmingly lovable must be to also question the sanity of the lover. So the actress wrecks the story by a wide miscalculation or, more likely, by an inveterate laziness. One must believe that the character loved and loves, but one never does. All one gets is that she despises the man she married instead of the one she loved, for that is all the actress gives and perhaps all she has to give. Christopher Plummer, for all his experience, probably doesn’t know how to act. His daughter knows. He should watch her carefully. Pete Postlethwaite has a large role as the go-between of the 50 years span. Now there is an actor who gives one pause. What is the cause for his harshness and bluntness to his young assistant? Postlethwaite always has this reserve of possibility in his character work. He is never hammy, he is always clear, definite, and a cause of wonder. But the real reason to see the film is to see Martin McCann, the young man who finds the ring of the title and who is the innocent and eager catalyst of all trouble that follows and all that follows that trouble. Brenda Fricker is, of course, wonderful as the blowsy old tart, his grandmother. The problem arising from the promise to love after death is an interesting premise. But the task of putting a grand passion on screen is probably the hardest thing to do for a writer, actor, or director — and, indeed, it may be impossible.

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