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Archive for the ‘James Cromwell’ Category

Becoming Jane

02 Mar

Becoming Jane — directed by Julian Jarrold. Romantic Drama. Desperate pressures to get her married beset a lovely 18 Century bluestocking eventually to become Jane Austen. 120 minutes Color 2007.

★★★★

Set here in Ireland acting as Berkshire and perfectly cast as a late 18th Century place, one feels absolutely at home in the rough, peeling-painted, rectory-cum-farm of the film’s landscape, which never fails one second of this film’s footage to look right. What does fail is the sound and sound editing. The music, which is excellent, is always too loud, never more so than in the ballroom scene early on when not a single sentence of the dialogue can be heard above it. The actors do not help, either, for they believe, perhaps, that wit depends upon speed of utterance, and it does not. The elaboration of syntax, upon which much of the wit of Austen and the age depends, requires a careful mouthing. A tasting. A lingual pondering. Like wine. And dare I say it? – a drawl. It cannot be spit out like shot. Oscar Wilde was not at all like Noel Coward. And this is the age of Byron, behind whose drawl massed the power of his position and the greatness of the style of Don Juan. Ian Richardson knows the truth. His buffalo brow of disapproval looms like a dark eave over his enunciation of sentences of death. American actors think wit requires speed. Sometimes it does. But only for arrows. Austen’s zingers even when brief are instinctually weighted, tremendously elaborated shafts sent over the immense distance of a banquet table. These the actors tend to pipe or whisper. Not good. Certainly Maggie Smith understands this as she pecks apart her opponents with her chicken head beak and eyes wider than judgment. Her character relishes speech. For her, for the English, not just language, but speech is a consummate and delicious sterling silver tool. Perfectly cast, the film is also beautifully arranged for our enjoyment by the director and costumer. Anne Hathaway could not be bettered in the role of Jane; she has the intelligence, the strength of a love of independence, and no sense that she is using her looks to land a mate. She never flirts. She also understand speriod style. James McAvoy, on the other hand, is required to use his looks, and he is suitably combed and brushed and decked, and plays the part with no frippery extras but with great earnestness. (One wonders if he will ever graduate out of the category of jeune premier.) You quite believe the attraction between the two, which counts for a lot, although it does not directly feed the real plot of the film, which is how this enforces a literary imagination in the making. Julie Walters is grand as the mother of the daughters, particularly in her big scene hoeing potatoes, and James Cromwell as the minister has just the right looseness of attention to suggest his failing bank account. It is a film whose ending does not work. It needs the same ending as Splendor In The Grass: two lovers see one another after fifteen years, and it should break your heart. Instead of which it dissipates into the sentimental distraction of his having named his daughter Jane. Responsibility to historical accuracy shoots it dead in its traces. But by that time, a pretty good film is over.

 

The Artist

22 Feb

The Artist — written and directed by Michael Hazanavicius. Romantic Comedy. A silent film star falls on evil days when sound comes in, but can a rising female star rescue him? 100 minutes Black And White Silent 2011.

★★★★★

Look around you. Why are there no birds in the trees? Why, it’s because The Artist has charmed all of them off, hasn’t it. And you won’t even notice this as you watch this film because you have been charmed and can do nothing else but continue to watch it. As everyone has already whispered to you, the film is both black and white and silent, and partly because of this it takes us on a ride we were skeptical of enjoying when we started and are thus all the more susceptible to when we find ourselves helplessly in midstream of it. George Valentin is a silent film star along the lines, not of John Gilbert, but of Douglas Fairbanks, whom you would never dream of casting opposite Garbo either. That is to say, George is not a romantic matinee actor but a restless, dancing, chandelier-swinging one, capable of stunning athletic and gymnastic feats, and can toss his head back in laughter of fiery derision at every turn and even oftener. Like Fairbanks, when talkies came in George lost his calling. Fairbanks made a few desultory films, and our George makes a silent jungle epic and it sinks. Fairbanks never drank, but our George does and he goes downhill fast. He ends up with a face like a defeated amusement park. Partnered by his loyal dog, played impeccably by Uggie, and by his loyal chauffeur played by James Cromwell who drives a Packard that will make you swoon with desire, and by the young rising star, Bérénice Béjo, who wants to help him, but a man has his pride. Well, a man does. But is that why won’t he make talking films? Ah, that is the conundrum the film reveals but I won’t. Béjo has wonderful eyes, full of the reality of the power of youth and the reality of the power of flirtation. But it is Jean Dujardin who is our focus, and he has all the ingredients of the matinée idol. Lacquered hair, a handsome head, a long powerful nose, a chin noble in profile, flexible eyebrows, the mustache of a merry cad, flashing eyes, a smile that could convince a cobra to simper, the most beautiful mouth you have ever seen, and a personality so full of itself you have to stand back six rows and let it. Both he and Béjo play in the style of the era, parodying it without mocking it. And because they do the film takes fire as film because film is huge, it is already exaggerated, it is up there on the screen, after all. And we do honor to its capacities by enjoying ourselves no end with them, so generously revealed to us here. When it’s over, sigh with satisfaction, then look about and ask yourself if you can remember to: Are the birds back on the trees yet?

 

 
 
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