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Archive for the ‘James Gandolfini’ Category

Enough Said

29 Sep

Enough Said – directed by Nicole Holofcener. Romance. Their children about to start college, two middle aged folks try to make a match of themselves, but complications attack. 92 minutes Color 2013.

★★★

This is not a chick-flick. It is a hen-flick. It is a movie for an audience of the-past-middle-age. Indeed, the matinée audience I saw it with was packed, and they were all seniors or approaching that without-hope-of-sex moment or past it.

Why was it packed? Perhaps they were a senior club on an outing, I should have asked. Perhaps because Julia Louis-Dryfus had such a hold over a loyal public as a TV actor for so many years? Or because of her combination with James Gandolfini, who also held sway on the tube? Did it get good reviews? I never read its reviews. I am ignorant. I don’t have an answer.

Certainly the script is no higher than Situation Romance. People say things they would never say and behave as they never would. And then, to look human, wear the wrong clothes for a scene or two. The writing is moribund.

Certainly Julia Louis-Dreyfus is frozen in TV acting technique, and, as it is her story, we see a lot of her, and, of course, she’s very nice, and her toothy smile is ever-present, and she can act, in that debased mode more than adequately, but who wants to see it, really? Everything she is asked to do we are asked to find funny, even before it happens. No actress worth her salt, and Dryfus is worth more than a few shakers full, can survive such prefabrication in a full-length motion picture.

James Gandolfini, a lovely actor, is limited or limits himself to being the big hearted stout fellow. But then it is not his story. Nor is it the story of the invaluable Toni Colette, the best friend and confidante, married to a husband who is looked down upon and a housemaid who is also looked down upon, both without cause. Nor the story of Catherine Keener as the first wife, whose fine house has no real bearing on the story and who offers to strike up a friendship with Louis-Dryfus that is without foundation in nature.

I would say it is not well-directed did I not feel that its heart was in the wrong place and that no direction of any kind could have resuscitated it into breath. It is the story of mistaken identity eluding itself. When I imagine what George Stevens and Jean Arthur would have made of these possibilities, I turn myself away from this in shame, enough said.

 

12 Angry Men [Jack Lemon Version 1997]

26 Aug

12 Angry Men [Jack Lemon Version] –– directed by William Friedkin. Courtroom Drama. A jury reconsiders a foregone verdict. 1 hour 57 minutes Color 1997.

★★★★★

Each of the three versions of this screenplay is longer than the one before it, and each is perfectly adequate to the task. None of them is a moment too long or too short. This one is interracial, the most bigoted member of it being Black Muslim. It is beautifully cast, directed, and acted, as are the other two. And in each case the principal actor gets older. Robert Cummings is 44. Henry Fonda is 55. Jack Lemon is 72.

I imagine it is impossible to badly direct this piece. It is not impossible to overact it, for it is occasionally and in certain small ways, in all its versions, over-written, but that is a cavil. It is not overwritten in its addition of material and episodes. None of the actors dally or milk their parts for attention. This version holds us, even though, after three versions, we know its episodes, its moves, and its outcome. In this version color adds a good deal to the drabness of the jury room itself, and in this version the rain convinces. Nothing is more insufferably sweltering than a July downpour in New York City. A minor matter is that Bayside High is said to have a football team. It does not even have an athletic field. I went there and I know.

Jack Lemon, a wonderfully jittery actor and comic master, evinces none of his trademark volatility and plays the part steady-on, as it should be played. He is exemplary, and his evident age adds a bent of physical vulnerability subtly advantageous to our tension.

One of the expanded parts of the play is the final scene which George C. Scott plays coming to terms with the scar of hatred for his own son. I saw George C. Scott starting out on the New York stage in The Andersonville Trial. He was mightily impressive, and has remained so ever since. However, he has not shown us anything new for years. Until now. This is the finest and most extreme demonstration of his gift I have ever seen – an extraordinary performance, which opens him up to a region I never associated him with. Don’t miss it. He won Golden Globe and Emmy for it that year.

I admire great actor-technicians such as Scott and Armin Mueller-Stahl. All the actors are excellent, and James Gandolfini, a different sort of actor entirely, is particularly lovely.

This version was made for television, and I saw it on VHS. All versions are riveting. All versions are worth seeing.

Jack Lemon, Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis, George C. Scott, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Dorian Harewood, James Gandolfini, Mykelti Williamson, Edward James Olmos, William Petersen, Tony Danza, Hume Cronyn, and Mary McDonnell as the judge.

Henry Fonda, Lee. J. Cobb, Robert Webber, George Voskovec, Ed Begley, Jack Warden. Joseph Sweeny, Edward Binns, E.G. Marshall, John Fiedler, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman.

Robert Cummings, George Voskovec, John Beal, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold, Joseph Sweeny, Paul Hartman, Bart Burns, Lee Philips, Norman Fell, Larkin Ford. 

 

Zero Dark Thirty

13 Jan

Zero Dark Thirty – directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Docudrama. The story of a young woman’s ten year manhunt for Osama bin Laden and his assassination by her. 157 minutes Color 2013.
★★★★
I felt unsatisfied.

Oh, I felt a good deal of tension in the execution of certain passages, such as the actual flight that night into Pakistan by the Navy Seals. And I was held by the authentic look of the ruckus of the operation in action. I felt that must have been much like what is was like.

But I didn’t see Osama bin Laden shot. It was reported as having taken place “upstairs”. Odd camera angles hedge the moment when Jessica Chastain, the CIA agent working to bring him to ground, unzips the body bag, as though the mortality of that well known face were for the satisfaction of her eyes alone. But our satisfaction is left out of the picture.

Other odd things stumped me. I did not understand the story purpose of the extensive torture scenes, beautifully played though they are by Reda Kateb and Jason Clarke, since, unless I am mistaken, torture yielded nothing in the way of leads. I can understand those scenes as giving us a picture of Jessica Chastain hardening to her task. However, since as a character, she comes out of nowhere, has no family no friends, no past, and in the end no future, her development as a human is irrelevant. All we need is an actress who can go from compliant to implacable, and this Chastain brings to the role as part of her nature; we do not need a story to reveal it; the actress herself is the story.

The film is confetti-edited, and hard to look at. As humans, we do not live out the stories of our lives in nanosecond splices. To walk to end of the block takes three minutes. That’s how our stories are told, not in tiny inscrutable bits of flash. Confetti editing is a resort to blanket a feeble tale. And the film’s first part’s partly inaudible. My bias is that if actors say something, you should, unless the film is Altmanized, be able understand exactly what those words are. I also felt the escape from bin Laden’s compound was cut short; there was a whole bunch of soldiers I saw left behind, as the damaged helicopter was demolished.

As filmed it is never less than spectacular. Pakistan looks chaotically beautiful and therefore hopeless. I loved seeing it, and all the settings. It’s beautifully cast and well-acted by everyone, and Chastain holds our interest by not attempting to. She’s someone one can play respectful attention to. I watch her, I wonder about her, I care for her, and I don’t want her to be hurt. I felt a sense of her accomplishment in the assassination. He needed to be put out of our misery.

But, as this is the one picture that will go down as a record of the mission, I feel cheated of a sense of its authenticity. My curiosity was not satisfied. No one applauded.

 

Killing Them Softly

12 Dec

Killing Them Softly – written and directed by Andrew Dominik. Crime Drama. A gangland gambling club is robbed, and the perps must be rubbed out; or if not the perps, anyone standing around will do. 97 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
I sit back in my seat and am amazed by the brilliance of American actors, of these particular American actors, and let’s name them right off. Scoot McNairy as one of the dumb hold-up guys and Ben Mendelsohn (actually Australian) as the other. Ray Liotta as the owner of the club and Vincent Curatola as the skeptical mastermind. I watch James Gandolfini hold the screen and I am astonished at his ease, his conviction, his imagination as an actor. Then there is Richard Jenkins (actually from Canada) as the naive businessman acting to hire the hitmen. I watch him see through this character to the bitter end. And I watch them all with amazement at their commitment to their craft, their skill in it, their comfort with the camera, their physical reality, their believability, and their ability to find humor in their characters without semaphoring it to us.

So, if you love an astonishing display of the craft of acting, look no further.

Brad Pitt is the focal character of all of them and all of this, the managing director of the offs.

Brad Pitt is an actor incapable of wearing a suit. But within his range, he is the best actor in American films. His particular instrument is not meant to play a king or a peasant. He is not Charles Laughton. Pitt lacks majesty. He can play only a peasant. But what a variety of peasants he has given us!

He always brings to the screen something new, something we have never seen before. Yes, he is usually cast as cocky, sexy, naughty, beyond the pale males, but he always is fresh, always surprising. He is, in fact, always daring. I think of him as an actor who will never win an Oscar, because he would be judged as having a limited range, whereas the truth is that, while he does have a limited range, within that range he has no limits. This is true of a number of great actors: Geraldine Page, for instance, could not play Shakespeare.

Pitt plays a character sorely vexed by the personnel he must deal with, none of whom are as smart, as realistic, or as experienced as he, and, as a self-made businessman, his peroration is a brilliant diatribe on Republican political business theory, and not to be missed.

Moreover, he is given wonderful scenes to play by the director/writer, as are all the actors, for the piece is marvelously written and directed and filmed and told. Never have so many actors been painted so incisively and intensely in so many close-ups. Andrew Dominik seems to be a first-class director at the beginning of a great career with a perfect film under his belt.

 
 
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