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Archive for the ‘Jamie Bell’ Category

Nicholas Nickelby

03 Jun

Nicholas Nickleby – directed by Douglas McGrath. Period Dramedy. 132 minutes Color 2002.

★★★★★

The Story: A multitude of coincidences and outrages and improbable persons converge to thwart and encourage a nineteen-year-old to care for and save his sister and widowed mother from destitution, derangement, and doom.
~
The recipe for a Dickens pie is to cook the first comic characters early and let their tang fade as the villains appear and let the villains fade as the romantic leads cinch the finale. Sprinkle Pathos Persons over the crust and devour.

What this means – but, fear not, the plot will out – is that love conquers all. It may as well, because the love interest here is played by two young beauties, Charlie Hunnam and Anne Hathaway.

The problem is that romantic love in Dickens is more a function of pity than sexual drive. Sex drive in his romantic leads is pictured more as feeling sorry for someone. Lovers are drawn to one another on rafts of compassion splashed with the lesser rain of pathos. Thus – real– but not quite real.

This means that the meanies and clowns dominate our interest.

So that Christopher Plummer’s brilliance as Old Man Nickleby astonishes us with his perfectly distributed sang froid, while the travelling theatre impresario Mr. Crummles of Nathan Lane fades under his nutty general good-heartedness – not without leaving behind a vivid memory of his wife played to a T by Barry Humphries inhabiting Dame Edna Etheridge as his grandiosely burbling and blindly devoted wife.

And the early villains fade behind the later ones. Jim Broadbent plays the defective school principal Wackford Squeers all out, and, boy, is he frightening! – as he should be – and, if he is not excelled in cruelty to children by his wife, done by Juliet Stevenson, that is because we are too blinded by the brilliance of both actors to distinguish one meanness over the other. You wonder how it is possible that English actors dare to body forth persons of such characteristic English vileness, but here they are, no holds barred.

But such is Dickens plenitude, that he has lots to spare as one richness is supplanted by the next.

The lubricious Sir Mulberry Hawk is given to Edward Fox to personate and bring to ruination, but he too disappears under the pustules of his disgrace, while Tom Courtenay as Plummer’s insolent coocoo-clock butler bores through his tippling to save the day for one and all.

You find Jamie Bell as Smike – the crippled dogsbody of the Squeers’ Dotheboys school and confidante of our hero, young Nickleby who kidnaps him away from it and saves Smike from being beaten to death. He dies beforehand, though.

The moving picture medium suits such a character as Smike because his painful lameness becomes visible there, so it carries an impact unwitnessed on the printed page, even those of the impressive Dickens. Likewise true of the Tweedledum and Tweedledee characters of the Cheeryble brothers played by Timothy Spall and Gerald Horan, masterfully bewigged for the roles – or role. Hello. Goodbye.

Because of the great entertainment value of Dickens’ material from its start as a serial in a magazine, then into a 600-page novel, Nicholas Nickleby has charmed its way into drama before now, as in the filmed 8-hour stage version.

But you cannot beat this 132-minute movie for its writing and casting and fully realized parts. It contains Christopher Plummer’s greatest film performance. The scar of his handsome, cockeyed face presents a temperament seized with the discretion of a rapier never drawn, always sheathed, always covered with blood. I love actors, let me say it again: I am always at a wonder how they dare to admit to the light of day that they have in them persons so vile.

Or so foolish. Or so funny.

Of course, no smart actor thinks his character is vile or foolish or even funny.

Every actor must take his character as the one vital to embody and preserve the highest of human values for all God’s eternity!

Those values, in their rainbow scope, are available to the reader or watcher of Dickens. Film nowadays may be interloped with an exclusifying crudeness, but the values of Nicholas Nickleby are real and do exist and are abroad in the air in their conflict with one another still. One place we go to appreciate, remember, and take sides with them, in and for our souls and hearts, is in the work and the fun of Charles Dickens.

 

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

03 Nov

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool—directed by Paul McGuigan. 106 minutes Color 2017.
★★★★★
The Story: A faded American film star has a great love affair with a young actor in her rooming house, becomes part of his family, and is welcomed by them when she grows ill.
~
Elia Kazan declared female actors were more daring than male actors (with the exception of Marlon Brando). He was referring to Mildred Dunnock, Jo Van Fleet, Geraldine Page, and, in her way, Vivien Leigh. Had he worked with her, he would have also meant Annette Bening in Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool.

She is at the top of her bent—which is pretty high as acting goes, and acting goes very high. She does not miss a measure. She bares all, or enough for anyone to take her as fully exposed as the character of this woman.

That the film is based on an actual film star, Gloria Grahame, does not matter if you do not know Grahame’s work. The treatment of the character has the truth of fiction rather than the mere verisimilitude of fact. And Bening does not do an imitation of Gloria Grahame. She simply plays up her tragic failing: her vanity. It was Grahame’s vanity that caused her, when young, to have such extensive plastic surgery done on her face, to make her beautiful in a way she never could be, so that her mouth became frozen with dead nerves—and her major film career ended because of it. Bening does nothing with this, thank goodness.

But, boy, do you see the in and out and up and down of this character in Bening’s gleeful attack on the role. If you love Bening, you must see the picture. She has that rare capacity of an actor to surprise and not surprise you. She not-surprises with a smile of shocking loveliness, but what lies around it and behind it and instead of it is what truly surprises.

Jaimie Bell, who in 2000 danced into our hearts as Billy Elliot, the boy who would dance ballet, is exactly in balance with Bening—meaning he has to be off balance a lot of the time because Bening’s character is. He’s tops. Bening’s character is in her late 50s, Bell’s in his late 20s, and the unlikely bridge over that 30 year span is absolutely convincing to behold in its strength and fun and rarity.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is beautifully told, directed, filmed, and cut. It even has the incomparable Julie Walters again playing Bell’s mother. As soon as Walters appears on screen, in no matter what, you know you’re really in for it. She does not disappoint. But the film’s leading performance is Bening’s. She’s a much better actress than Grahame, whose range was narrow—although it’s interesting to see Grahame come alive in Man On A Tightrope, just to see what she was willing, for once, to have a great director, Elia Kazan, make of her.

 

Jane Eyre

01 May

Jane Eyre – Directed by Cary Fukunaga. Gothic Melodrama. A governess is duped by the lord of the manor. 120 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

All the nighttime interiors are filmed like de la Tour: candles both glamorize and mortify the faces. Outdoors the sun never seems to shine. And this captures the lugubrious inner climate of Victorian fiction, with the doom of death, which we find in Dickens, in Tennyson, and here, where a wedding is the next best thing to a funeral, the first being the white prelude to the black childbirth demise of the second. All this the director has realized. And so has the costumer Michael O’Connor, and so has everyone on the technical side, with one exception, the casting director. For it is perfectly clear in the novel and it is perfectly clear in the screenplay that Jane and Rochester are homely people, yet they have been cast with handsome people. ‘Do you find me handsome?” asks Rochester at one point, and when Jane says “No,” we must suppose that she is, for the first time, lying, or that she is as blind as Rochester will one day become. The novel has the great advantage over films of this story in that we never see these two. But films of this story lie to us over and over, in version after version. Joan Fontaine, even in her wan drab stage was pretty, and Orson Welles was infernally magnificent. Without their being homely, the entire story is baffling nonsense, for the entire story is that of honesty cutting through all levels of fine and proper appearance: of wealth, of religion, of position, of gender, of face, of figure, of sexuality and even of physical deformity, since Rochester ends up blind. As it is, all you’re left with in this version is that you have got to be blind to get married. I prefer Rebecca, which is its most famous duplicate. Or I prefer the 1998 Masterpiece Theatre television version. This one is a movie; it’s too short. This one leaves out how much Jane enjoyed running the school she founded; it even leaves out that Rochester’s ward is infuriating and is actually his illegitimate child. It leaves out how come Jane starts out as a girl of high temperament and becomes a teenager of no temperament whatsoever. The 1998 TV version also has at least an unusual looking Jane. This one, however, has Judi Dench, quite fine as Mrs Fairfax the housekeeper, and it has the great Sally Hawkins as the wicked witch Mrs Reed, and it has our own Billy Elliot, Jamie Bell, as St. John. In the TV version the characters are more fully rounded, St. John, for instance, because the material is a big Victorian novel, and two hours cannot compass the long vital surgery it performs, the first layer of which is the meaning and meaninglessness of the want of beauty in its principals.

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The Chumscrubber

21 Apr

The Chumscrubber — Directed by Arie Posin. Community Satire. Teenagers create their own adventures among oblivious parents. 108 minutes Color 2005.

* * * * *

It unreels like a perfect film and maybe it is. 19 year old Jamie Belle, who beguiled us dancing through Billy Elliot, is the driving force of this picture, no particular of whose story shall I reveal to you. The perfection of the film can be accounted for by excellent direction, a marvelous screenplay, and by the playing of its senior actors, each one of whom seizes on the tone of the screenplay and plays each part brilliantly. I’ll simply name them: the great-hearted Allison Janney, the virtuoso actress Glenn Close, William Fitcher, Ralph Fiennes, John Heard, Carrie-Anne Moss, Rita Wilson — all of them, some of them acting scenes with one another without even seeing one another, carry the satire all the way to the store and back — each one playing a present but distant parent, in this film in which everyone, parents and children alike, are all slightly mad. The director/writer Arie Posin and Zack Stanford had beginner‘s mind and luck. And with James Horner, they even had a great musical score On the small screen, the Chumscrubber leitmotif is lost, as are other details, but it does not matter because the script is so strong. Here the utopian suburbia becomes a dystopia in which justice cannot be done and whose poison pellet is a certain boy madder than the others, but the dystopia of the post apocalyptic world of The Chumscrubber TV cartoon, which everyone watches to the exclusion of everything else, actually presents a utopian dystopia, where justice is done instinctually. Never mind that. Just see it. You’ll rejoice.

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