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Archive for the ‘Kevin Kline’ Category

My Old Lady

28 Sep

My Old Lady – directed Israel Horovitz, 107 minutes Dramedy Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story: An impoverished American inherits a Paris apartment and its complications.

~

Time was in American films when you could see stories about grown-ups. Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer and Rosalind Russell and Claudette Colbert and Cary Grant were grownups. Love Story is a movie about people in their forties. So is Penny Serenade and Woman Of The Year, and they were enormously successful because grownups went to movies in those days, and because age added luster to the skills of the performers and made their exact age immaterial to the universal entertainment their gifts guaranteed.

In My Old Lady, we have such a picture. It is well worth seeing for the maturity of language dedicated to its predicament – for it is a talking picture – meaning that narration does not fall into the trap of being a function of motion only, of pictures only. The people before us are strong minded, articulate, and possessed of fully developed characters.

And they are brought to us by actors we love to watch, whom we have seen over the past twenty years and so are interested in their development.

Can Kevin Kline retain his relevance as a performer? That’s bound to be a question since his screen performances are fairly rare. The answer is up for grabs as you watch his finessing the role of a ne’er-do-well failed novelist on his uppers, as he bamboozles various French operatives out of their ready money trying to keep afloat while he sells or promises to sell a Paris apartment which is not quite yet his.

What prevents this is the presence in it of Maggie Smith who has right of residence as long as she lives – she who has already lived long and promises to live longer. And he is also met by the firm gaze of her daughter played by Kristin Scott-Thomas.

Scott-Thomas is a personality I have not cottoned to in the past, but she really takes hold here as an unmarried woman of fifty or so, learning the truth of her mother’s relations to the man who deeded her the apartment, Kline’s own father. She is interesting to watch and she presents a stern front breaking down as the truth of her life and her relations to Kline’s father emerge. Kline’s weakling breaks down too to reveal a piratical firmness at all odds. Maggie Smith herself, that past mistress of ambiguity nailed by eyes like two cockatoos, crumbles as the worst comes to be known.

The material comes from a stage play and in film form has three acts, the second of which is the richest. The first arranged the predicament for us, the second confronts it, but the third goes off into a siding of romance, which is out of character for Scott-Thomas and damages the weight of the material.

Still we have wonderful actors performing it, great support from the French cast, particularly Dominique Pinon as a real estate agent. We have a real Paris. A film beautifully filmed and well directed, and the spectacle of a virtuoso actor, Kevin Kline negotiating a role without falling into its tempting traps. Grownup fare. Dig in.

 

The Last Of Robin Hood

06 Sep

The Last Of Robin Hood – written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. Biopic. 94 minutes Color 2014.

★★

The Story: A faded movie star takes up with 15 year-old girl, abetted in the affair by her mother.

~

A hollow enterprise, since it is miscast.

Everyone knows that Errol Flynn was a magnificent specimen, 6’2”, elegant, slender, athletic, beautifully proportioned, and gorgeous. Kevin Kline is none of these things and never was. But if you are to play the part of an actor whom everyone still watches in movies, you have to have some of those things, and the most important of them is probably to be 6’2”. Hugh Jackman, who comes from Flynn’s part of the world (Tasmania), is the right age and the obvious choice to play him, for the wreck of that seagoing yacht Errol Flynn needs the oomph of the remains.

Kline brings his charm to it, his fine appearance in well-tailored clothes, his way with a cigarette. We all love Kevin Kline and want him to be good – but his Flynn accent is slightly off – why is that? Flynn came from an academic background, and actually had breeding, and Kline has no trouble in convincing us he was a gentleman. But you have to get Flynn’s accent exactly right to do it. And you have to get his crocked grin, too, his sense of conning you for all you’re worth. But the script leaves him with nothing more than a journeyman-like performance to enact. We do not have scenes of Flynn’s merriment, sense of fun, playfulness, or even his love and skill with the sea. We hear about it, but we never see it.

Susan Sarandon is equally miscast as the mother of this nymphet. She is too old to play her. She skirts around the role, as she often does with parts, and does not take it head on. She has lines and scenes that tell us what the character is, but we never see from Sarandon what the character is. She is the guardian and promoter of a grande cocotte. But she herself is not grand. She has bought into being touched by the greatness of a Hollywood star as her highest moral value in life. This we never see in the actress. We hear it in the lines, but not in the actress. There is a value system at play larger than the one before us with this woman, and we need to feel it.

Finally, there is Dakota Fanning, woefully under-cast in the part of the girl. In real life, Beverly Aadland was as sexy as a young Brigitte Bardot, and couldn’t help being so, any more than Bardot could when young. Flynn was mesmerized by her. She evidently had a full natural grasp of repartee, which anyone would be drawn to once they had stopped making out. Dakota Fanning is no sexier than a pudding. It is not her fault. It is not her fault that there is no way at all that she could play this role. She has none of the natural taunt of such a girl, none of the erotic drive and certainty, none of the inherent readiness.

Unless the movie-going public is fascinated to know about the private life of these three now after so many years have gone by that no one remembers it at all any more, I think they will stay away in as large a group as I observed staying away from the seats where I witnessed this unfortunately titled dud stumbling forth from the screen. Spare your penny. See Kline in something else.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, BIO-PIC, Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon

 

Lincoln

16 Nov

Lincoln – directed by Steven Spielberg. Docudrama. President Abraham Lincoln is surrounded on all sides as he presses to get Congress to pass the 13th Amendment forbidding slavery. 149 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

I was thrilled, stirred, gripped.

I thought beforehand I would not be, for the coming attractions are ill advised.

But, once there, everything about this film surprised, entertained, informed, and moved me.

My first fear was that Daniel Day-Lewis would simply dress himself up in a top hat and shawl and, in the voice of Henry Fonda, perform The Lincoln Memorial.

But what Daniel Day-Lewis has done with Lincoln, is to give him a posture which is stooped, which we know he had, and a short gait, which we couldn’t know he had, but which keeps him in the contemplative present when he moves.

Day-Lewis’s figure is tall and thin, as was Lincoln’s, and his face is long, as was Lincoln’s. He has, as Lincoln had, cold eyes. Lincoln had a high-pitched voice, and that is what the actor contrives for us. The impersonation is beyond exception.

The actor also has the ability to negotiate Lincoln’s remarkable diction, so he is able to manage Lincoln’s speeches and his raconteurism –– everyone said Lincoln was a most entertaining individual, and folks gathered around him to hear him tell jokes and stories –– and this is given full play as is his play with his little son. But the weight of the matters that concern and confront him and how he faces them are the story.

The political shenanigans environing the passage of the 13th Amendment are the setting here, and in this he is beset by his foes and friends alike. Among the foes is Lee Pace, an actor of signal clarity of attack, who leads the Democrats of the day who, like the Republicans of our own, have no agenda but to oppose, in all matters, the person who holds The Presidency.

The complex backstairs bargaining and bribery and bullying to get the amendment through is exciting and involves a lot of first class actors to bring off. Kevin Kline as a wounded soldier, Jared Harris as U.S. Grant, Bruce McGill as Secretary Stanton. We have James Spader as the foul-mouthed operative sent to influence the undecided with sinecures and cash. Hal Holbrook as the peacenik operative whose truce-making might arrest the entire effort. John Hawkes as Robert Latham.

But the big difficulties at the time were two people who were in favor of the amendment. The first was Mary Lincoln, unbalanced by the loss of a previous child and exhausting and distracting Lincoln by indulging herself in grief because of it. This is an astonishing piece of work by an actress who has grown over the years: daring when young, even more daring now: Sally Field.

The second problematic character was Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist so radical his extreme fundamentalism bid fair to upset the applecart. A formidable politico and vituperator, it required an actor no one could out-wily, out-cunning, out-sly. And such an one we have to hand in the person of Tommy Lee Jones. He’s killingly funny and powerful in the role. It’s one of his great film turns.

The filming of story and the direction of it are exactly right, established at once by Janusz Kaminski with a Brahmsian color palette and a scenic arrangement that gives us a view from under the table of the White House goings-on and political dealings that never fall into the staid tableaux of Historical Documentary or the expected or the pat.

But the great credit of all the great credit due is to Tony Kushner who wrote it. He alone of modern playwrights could negotiate the elaborate rhetoric of 19th Century invective, without which the telling of this material would be incomprehensible. Instead of taking out your gun and firing at an insult, you had to stand still to hear it long enough to mount a more suitable riposte than a bullet. Congress in those days was messy, rude, and volatile. We see it all.

Kushner frames the picture with two speeches, and each one is given to us in a surprising way. Historical events with which we are familiar are gestured when they are not integral to the strife within. He knows how to write a scene with lots of words, and the material needs them and welcomes them. You have to lean forward and keep your ears alert, just as these men and women did in their day. You want to. It’s part of your engagement, your learning, your joy, and your satisfaction.

Up close and personal with Lincoln, if you ever imagine yourself so lucky as to be, you sure are here. You give full credence to this actor’s Lincoln. You watch Lincoln, yes, he is available. You still admire him, you are touched by him, you know him as well as you ever will, save you read his letters. A man of great depth of reserve and great humor. Torn, pure in two, but one. Because fair and honest and kind. Smart because he understands human language from aint to art. When has his party put forth for president a person of one tenth his character? Will they ever do so again?

 
 
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