Archive for the ‘John Lithgow’ Category

Dining With Beatriz

25 Jul

Beatriz at Dinner – directed by Miguel Areta. Drama 82 minutes Color 2017
The Story: A Mexican masseuse finds herself stranded in the mansion of a client who invites her to a big-business dinner with a Trump-like hotel magnate.
Preaching to the choir from beginning to end, nothing relieves the liberal piety save the occasional satire of the other guests and the occasional interest the magnate takes in the person hurling her tedious truisms into his face.

The entire cast is superb in all they do, save Salma Hayek in the title role, who is miscast. In all I have seen Hayek do she is an actor of cascading righteousness, and she is so here. Miscast, because this quality means her character has no place to go internally. Her righteousness leaves nothing for Lithgow to be but immune to her. And we join him in that. The result is either a standoff between them or a war. That is to say, dramatically nothing can occur..

We may laugh at the airs of the kowtowing guests and their formulaic ways with one another. We may delight in Lithgow’s spot-on playing of the magnate. But our interest in Beatriz is forced on us by the consistency of her closeups and the camera’s adherence to her. The film fails – not because of her skill as an actress, for Hayek can act all right – but because from the start, Hayek is set in her ways, pre-determined, already cooked.

The part needs an actress who is open, ignorant, and much lower in class and on the beauty-pageant scale. Someone who can wake up, whereas Hayek isupper class and so wide awake she wants to everyone else out of bed by tossing ice-water in their faces. She repels. This repellent quality of the actress worked in playing Frida Kalho, who was a repellent individual certainly, and, like Hayek, of the privileged class.

A high and honorable place in acting exists for actors who are personally despicable. Vincent Price, Shelly Winters – Laurence Olivier, even. Ida Lupino, Burt Lancaster, Agnes Moorehead, Kirk Douglas, Gale Sondergaard, Robert Mitchum, Gloria Graham, Basil Rathbone, Eleanor Parker, Richard Widmark. When Humphrey Bogart walks onto the screen, this is a person one must take into account! Rod Steiger had a big career. Dan Duryea was a terrific actor. Jack Palance made a fortune by unsettling us. I wish Hayek would find her niche, the place among them where she really belongs, the roles in which she can develop her gift and shine.

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The Homesman

27 Mar

The Homesman directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Western. 122 minutes. Color 2014.


The Story: With the aid of a disreputable bum, a spinster must transport 3 mad women back home to Iowa,


An interesting story, and well written, but damaged by casting, costumes, and production.

Let’s get the worst out of the way, and save the best for last.

Nebraska is set in northern New Mexico, which, of course, it does not resemble one bit. The great plains do not go there, even on Sunday. What we get instead is parched earth to the horizon – although I recall northern New Mexico as quite green. This dislocation does not harm, but then the production shifts to what is supposed to be 1850 Georgia, which looks instead like an historic theme park tricked up for tourists. Since the first three fourths of the film have been earthy and stark, this is disastrous, and who suddenly appears at the rectory door but Meryl Streep all gotten up to go to a costume party. She wears a dress oh so freshly pressed and never worn before or since.

Nor does her performance overcome this, for her hold on the role is uncertain, and she moves it at once in the direction of your customary woman of good intentions, Miss Helen Hayes. Streep’s very presence overbears this part of the film and wrecks the finale, which itself is clumsily directed and shot.

None of this would be worth mentioning were not something worth mentioning more, which is that the main character is played by Hillary Swank. She is supposed to be bossy, pious, and plain as a tin can. But we see Swank is none of those things either by art or nature. In the extras everyone describes her as wonderful to work with, and I bet she is. That does not make her good in a role where she should in fact be obnoxious. And she is by no stretch of the imagination or makeup homely. Those suitors who reject her give us wonder. She seems quite acceptable, kindly, capable, never annoying, and handsome at the least. Swank’s presence denies the film its human drama. It needed Mary WIckes.

The great gift of the film is its story, which is well worth watching, and also the remarkable places the strange wagon containing the three lunatics traverse. And Tommy Lee Jones makes a brilliant old reprobate of his Mr. Briggs. It’s one of his best efforts. See Homesman. It’s different. Except you will recognize this film’s similarity to The African Queen. Jones is better than Bogey, Hepburn than Swank. John Lithgow plays Robert Morley. The three mad women play the torpedo. And Meryl Streep plays Lake Tanganyika.


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