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Archive for the ‘Ed Harris’ Category

Cymbeline

15 Sep

Cymbeline directed by Michael Almereyda. Shakespearean Fantasy. 97 minutes Color 2017.
★★★★
The Story: A princess, against her father’s wishes, marries her love who is forced to flee, and, after extreme complications, he is restored to her.
~
The director has cut the play, quite rightly and expertly, to its stony bones. It’s set in modern times, but it was written in the time of Game Of Thrones, which is to say in a Dark Ages that never existed save in fantasy drama – a genre which remains enormously popular to this day.

It would be silly to track the story here, as it would that of Game Of Thrones, for our interest lies in who shall be king. Everything in the story subserves that end.

Except, in this case, Shakespeare has created marvelous humans to enact the exploits and coincidents and passions so multitudinously arrayed before us. Cymbeline, being a pre-medieval computer game, is the most modern of Shakespeare’s plays, and the director gives it to us in modern dress. What does not work is that he gives it to us in modern acting style.

The recreation of the Globe Theater in London is large and holds 1400. The original Glob Theater held 3,000. (Radio City Music Hall holds 6,000.) So you see, the original Globe was enormous. So Shakespeare’s words were written for a certain vocal production audible in a vast theater, open air, out of doors, in full daylight, in a busy noisy city.

None of the actors here have the training in this particular voice production.

It is not simply a matter of speaking loud. It is a way of speaking, of surrounding words chosen for that way of speaking, surrendering to them, getting not just behind but way behind them. None of the actors, save one, has the inner placement from which to deliver the language.

Actors required for Shakespeare also, have to have enormous stage personality. And as good as Ed Harris’s Meisner training might be as the basis for the main body of his fine work as an actor, Meisner despised and denounced Shakespeare, and so Harris does not fare any better than the others do in opting to make the lines colloquial, gutsy, and intuitive. The voice is placed just at the back of his throat, so everything comes out without weight, without emphasis. He can act the part, but he cannot speak the part. The investment is missing. The investment is not Method investment, but an investment in a place in the human body from which these truths must be uttered.

This is true of all the actors, and because they have wonderful parts one watches them through. John Leguizamo, as the obedient/disobedient retainer, gathers himself into and out of the situations convincingly. His physical weight has carrying power and as a middle-aged actor we care for his destiny. Leguizamo knows something that enables him to play this part.

Anton Yelchin plays the brat/villain with every convention sticking out of his performance like a porcupine. We need to identify with this character’s compromised position in the drama, not dismiss him out of hand as a stereotype.

Dakota Johnson as Imogen gives us this great role with vapid tone, her voice wrinkling like a Valley chick. But Imogen is not a Valley chick. She, like Desdemona, is a young woman of parts, a role for a young Katharine Hepburn, a woman who dares defy her father to marry the man of her choice, and who will not back down. You need a big personality to play this young woman. It was a role for which Ellen Terry was renowned. But Johnson’s Imogen does not know what she is saying nor how to say it.

Ethan Hawke takes the choice role of Iachamo. Certain things he does well: the closet scene with the chest, for one. I believed it. But it is a pantomime scene. When he opens his mouth, the words that come out do not belong to Iachamo, nor to Hawke either. Nor does he seem to understand the character.

Iachamo is a Texas A & M fraternity boy of devastating looks and charm – and a nasty streak a mile wide. His ego sets the play in motion, but Hawke plays him mildly, as an After Sunset chap with a sly eye. No. Iachamo is the brat of brats. He’s a horror, but you’ve got to hand it to him. Finally, Hawke is simply too old for the part.

The one actor who does not suffer from inadequacy here is the great Delroy Lindo as Belarius, the stepfather of the princes. He simply has by nature the voice the role requires. When will someone give Delroy Lindo Lear?

I loved watching the movie; I liked the cuts; one gets to see Cymbeline too seldom. I was grateful for a lot of it. And – oh, that late Shakespeare – best in my appreciation books.

 

Gravity

15 Oct

Gravity – directed by Alfonso Cuarón. SciFi Drama. Two astronaunts on a space mission come up against The Universe. 90 minutes, Color, 2013.

★★★★★

George Clooney has the most hopeful eyes. And there’s such fun in them. This is what makes it virtually impossible for him to die in a movie. A real hero, yet. Gary Cooper had it written into his contracts that his characters would never die — because the only thing Gary Cooper could do was be a hero. Such are the qualities and strategies of The Stars!

Sandra Bullock has wary eyes, almost skeptical. She doesn’t quite believe. This also makes her good as a hero – because it means she is up against her inner lack of faith in the Universe, as well as everything else on the bus-ride. “This can’t work out but I’ll go through with it anyhow,” is her mantra.

What a pair they make!

Dancing through space, they make us see the Earth itself as dancing through space, and doing so compulsively, thank goodness, as by the merest chance. How vulnerable the huge Earth is, and how dear – never more plainly seen as from the great distance from it to which this story takes us.

Space!

What a place!

How beautiful! How restful! How dangerous! How unlikely!

You’ve never seen it before, and never have you had the opportunity to appreciate it more than in Gravity, in part written, produced, and edited by its Mexican director.

How on earth Clooney and Bullock ever signed themselves up for this project I shall never know. I mean, from Y Tu Mamá También, how could these grand stars have the least inkling that this was not just going to be another Buck Rogers cliff-hanger? How could they ever have imagined it would be this good!

The film is breathtakingly beautiful in how it shows what is breathtakingly beautiful.

Both actors are super-duper. Clooney plays a jocular raconteur blabbing on all the time, and Bullock plays an introverted scientist he mentors.

I saw it in 3-D in a picture palace, and it is well worth seeing it thus. And, of course, besides all that, it really is a cliff-hanger!

 

Appaloosa

13 Nov

Appaloosa – directed by Ed Harris. Western. Two gunfighters are hired to save a New Mexico town from an outlaw gang leader, when a lady of fortune enters the picture. 117 minutes Color 2008.
★★★★

What is wrong with Ed Harris as an actor?

He is good looking enough, even sexy. He is actually a real actor, not someone thrust forth into the métier. But nothing I have ever seen him do quite works. It lacks center. So I usually stay away from him. I sense a real actor-talent in him, and a ground of technical prowess, but it misses. He never gets to what lies behind it. With one exception, The Human Stain, I have never seen him succeed in bringing forth a character I could care about or get behind. It looks like he counts on his masculinity to carry him. He seems to use it as a weapon of stardom, which doesn’t work, since masculinity works only when it is not used. He looks like he has abandoned his knowledge of being a second son to play the first son, but he is not a first son, he is a second son, with the vast vulnerability inherent in that position of being superfluous.

Here again we have him in a leading role one simply can, in the end, feel nothing for. And yet one can see his real talent in the scene when Renée Zellweger comes on and Harris falls all over himself like a bashful schoolboy. Harris is a cold person. But he is playing a cold person who heats up, and he never heats. We are told he does, but he doesn’t. With Viggo Mortensen he plays not friends, but something deeper, mates, much as Astaire and Rogers were – a couple allied more deeply than marriage. They have lots of scenes together as they take on Jeremy Irons, the local nasty, who is grotesquely suave in a courtroom scene opposite a judge deftly played by Harris’ own father, Bob L. Harris. Irons can carry a film all by himself, but Harris cannot. You don’t give a rap about him at the end.

The problem here is exacerbated by the failure of the story to attend to the Zellweger character once it is clear that she and Harris are a couple. René Zellweger is never given a single scene of her own. What lies behind the fact that she chooses her survival to depend upon her sexuality, and how does this fact engage Harris more deeply when she betrays him? This whole relationship should drive the story.

But no, the story veers off into nailing the Irons character and getting him executed. Zellweger herself is an actress, like Shirley MacLaine, who cannot rise beneath her quirks, and, while she has her moments, you never see that her terror is the terror of the terrorized town, her disloyalty the town’s disloyalty, her thin culture the town’s hope for survival. In fact, the town’s survival story, once the copper mine is closed, is let flag. The ton’s survival is what is at stake, however unworthy. Cut from the film, the town lacks attraction as a place to make a home in, and therefore lacks temptation to Mortensen when the time comes for him to leave it.

Mortensen we care about, because he, as an actor, has done all of the work of creating the relationship as junior partner between himself and Harris. His playing-innocent-of-the-guilty-schoolboy in the exposition scene when he has to explain how Zellweger came onto him is a lovely unexpected choice, and so right because he is not guilty at all. There is a second son, for you. A part Harris had been better cast in than the starring role he fancied himself qualified for.

 

Running Mates

18 Oct

Running Mates – Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Political Comedy 92 minutes Color 1992

* * * * *

Yes, of course you know it’s going to turn out well. All you’re supposed to care about is the cleverness of the array of obstacles to it. Diane Keaton is perfectly cast as the dame off whose tongue gaffes fall trippingly. No one has achieved flusterdom on the screen with such brilliance since Jean Arthur. With Keaton, of course, you cannot do anything but veer toward comedy. She’s never going to play Clytemnestra. Her touch is too light. But she is an actor of genius. She looks like she is making everything up, stumbling along, not knowing which way to turn, and blurting out her lines this way and that. But the fact is every word she utters is scripted, and every move musically right. The same was true of Bing Crosby whom she resembles in nonchalance and aplomb. He never ad-libbed anything. Keaton is 46 here and looks 36, which is the age she is playing, opposite Ed Harris who is butch but with dimples. He is miscast, since he has no sense of humor, but they are very good in their scenes together, and of course it is her you watch. She draws focus even when she doesn’t, because you expect her to. The picture is a good Hollywood political comedy along the lines of State Of The Union with Hepburn and Tracy, good middle-class comedy, well-mounted in all departments. Keaton won her Oscar for Annie Hall which she made when she was 31. The shelf life of pretty actresses is usually not of the duration hers has proven to be. Thank goodness she has never abandoned ship. Comedy is her preservative. Twenty years later she is still before us, and we are blessed to be able to watch her ply her craft, one of the great techniques ever to appear before us on screen. A full body craft. Watch how she makes her exits, if you want to know how an actor of genius gets it done.

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Public Enemies

14 Dec

Public Enemies – directed by Michael Mann – action adventure drama . Bank robber John Dillinger is hunted down by idealist G-man Melvin Purvis. 2 hours and 20 minutes color 2009.

**

Shot with an impenetrable suavity that dooms it, we are kept from this picture even as we try to penetrate its tricks, its angles, its lighting, its attitude of Aren’t We Making A Movie Though! For it is a movie, not about its characters or story, but about Movie Making. Yet, for all its technical virtuosity, it is badly recorded, so one cannot hear what people say. Christian Bale, he of the face of shattered glass, plays Melvin Purvis the man who tracks down John Dillinger in 1934 , but although false calling seems to be the key to his character, we have no sense that Purvis is in the wrong profession, beyond a certain natural distaste for the distasteful aspects of it. This is partly because Depp’s line to Bale about it is inaudible, and partly because Bale is an English actor playing a Southern aristocrat, and Southern aristocrats have hotter blood, hot blood being a gift beyond Bale’s capacity. Cold blood, yes, hot blood no. Johnny Depp is playing a part ideally suited to Brad Pitt, that is to say the part of a man whose sexual appeal seduces everyone in sight, male or female and who is a lot of fun. And Marion Cottillard is appealing but she too is not American. She brings a great deal to the part, and is probably the best actor up there, but she has everything but Van Camp’s Pork And Beans, which is the one thing you need in that role. The shame and the blame lies with the director, though. The nine-lives story of Dillinger’s elusive, cat-like, getaways and the drying up of his career are clear and interesting and cautionary for us all. On his deathbed, Dillinger, wearing a Clark Gable mustache, watched Gable in Manhattan Murder. Public Enemies needed to be shot with the simple plainness of the gangster movies of its era, the 30s, instead of as this affected and fancy farrago.

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Running Mates

02 Dec

Running Mates – directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg – political comedy in which his outspoken fiancée almost saws down a presidential timber – 88 minutes color 1992.

* * * * *

Yes, of course you know it’s going to turn out well. All you’re supposed to care about is the cleverness of the array of obstacles to that. Diane Keaton is perfectly cast as the dame from whose tongue gaffes fall trippingly. No one has achieved flusterdom on the screen with such brilliance and daring since Jean Arthur. With Keaton, of course, you cannot do anything but veer toward comedy. She’s never going to play Euripides’ Clytemnestra. Her touch is too light. But she’s an actor of genius. She looks like she is making everything up, stumbling along, not knowing which way to turn, and blurting out her lines this way and that. But the fact is every word she utters is strictly scripted. And every move musically right. The same was true of Bing Crosby whom she resembles in nonchalance and aplomb. He never adlibbed anything. Keaton is 46 here and looks 36, which is the age she is playing, opposite Ed Harris who is butch but with dimples. They are very good in their scenes together, but of course it is her you watch. She draws focus even when she doesn’t, because you expect her to, so you look to her for it. The picture is a good Hollywood political comedy along the lines of State Of The Union with Hepburn and Tracy, middle-class comedy, well-mounted in all departments. Keaton won her Oscar for Annie Hall which she made when she was 31. The shelf life of actresses is usually not of the duration hers has proven to be. Thank goodness she has never abandoned ship. Thirty-five years later she is still before us, and we are blessed to be able to watch her ply her craft, one of the great skills ever to appear before us on screen. A full body craft. Watch how she makes her exits, if you want to know how an actor of genius gets it done.

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