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Archive for the ‘Mark Ruffalo’ Category

Spotlight

14 Nov

Spotlight – directed by Tom McCarthy. Drama. 128 minutes Color 2015

★★★★★

The Story: “Spotlight,” the investigative reporting crew of The Boston Globe,” probes the Catholic priests molesting youngsters and the church’s hiding it.

~

The difficulty actors face in playing writers is that the writer’s instrument reserves, the actor’s instrument reveals. Writers always keep the real story to themselves. Actors never do.

Thus we have the main journalists, John Slattery, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo all behaving like actors and the non-journalists, such as Billy Crudup, behaving as whatever their characters may be.

Stanley Tucci, for instance, gives a performance so justly calibrated that it stands out as brilliant next to actors being journalists. His playing a non-writer, a lawyer, impatient of fools and wastrels, which at first he believes these journalists to be, gives us a human being. And what is true of him is true of all the other non-writer characters in the piece, all of whom, like Crudup and Len Cariou as Cardinal Law, Neal Huff moving as a molestation survivor, and all the Boston locals, are remarkable.

Liev Schreiber, however, playing the editor-in-chief, actually creates a character, a man soft-spoken, stolid, gracious, and guarded of speech. The other actors have not taken the trouble to create characters. They simply act off of their technique.

This is especially true of Mark Ruffalo who acts his part all over the place, not realizing that though his character in real life may have done the same thing, he didn’t look like an actor doing it. Ruffalo has always been rather a ham – in film a ham means that where once overacting meant gesticulating with the arms, it now means gesticulating with the face. Will he ever stop pressing his lips to express stuff? If he did we could see his eyes, which are wonderful.

But this foible is understandable. Since there are no fully developed long scenes in the track-down, no main actor has the chance to stand before us as a character. Each scene is about The Next Bit Of Information. The script is expository from start to finish. This means it is by definition not dramatic. The actors think they have to rev things up to make them so. They are mistaken. They do not trust the information, which, just because it is expository, does not mean it is not stunning.

Exposition, of course, does belong in plays, and exposition scenes can be great. Greek tragedy is full of them “Attention, attention must be paid…” are words from a famous one in Death Of A Salesman. An exposition scene catches you up on what’s happened so far.

But a play usually has but one of them.

This play has, of necessity, a passel. For it is about the conveying to the characters and to the audience the next piece of information. As, for instance, The Cardinal knew. Wow! A list of priests exists. Wow! 79! Wow! What the congregants did about it. Wow! How were the young children affected by it. Wow! What we did then. Wow!

This information is well presented. The movie is a treasure hunt looking for a skull. But, since we know already that the skull was found, what it has to offer is the ins and outs of the chase, which are not generally known. This is the way we got around the court order. This is the way we got them to release the documents. This is the way we went door-to-door.

The movie never moves off its back-stage premise, the hunting camp, and that’s a real good thing, a great strength of the picture. It is never objective; it is always subjective.

Its general subject, the sexual violation of children – hidden, overlooked, not believed or admitted to – remains keenly important. It is well to witness the difficulties faced by honest men struggling to bring the truth of the matter to light – the molestation of children being the greatest of human wrongs.

 

 

 
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Posted in Billy Crudup, John Slattery, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton

 

The Normal Heart

24 Jan

The Normal Heart – directed by Ryan Murphy. Docudrama. 133 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: AIDS comes to the notice of a group of young men and a female physician, who gather together to do something about it.

~

The Normal Heart and Selma resemble one another in showing us the backstage drama of two adamant men who fought for equality in America. Larry Kramer fought for public recognition of the AIDS plague, which was sidelined by indifferent politicians as trivial. Martin Luther King Junior fought for voting rights for those whose right to it had been sidelined by indifferent politicians as trivial. See them both, why don’t you? You’ll get a bracing dose of contemporary history.

To cast the disagreeable, in-your-face screamer Larry Kramer one would have thought of a young George C. Scott or Al Pacino. One would not have thought of the panda Mark Ruffalo. He is so agreeable. So malleable. So soft. But there he is firing with all canons.

And Kramer’s methods alienate those near to him in the cause, both because he is obnoxious and because they believe his methodical throwing of vitriol in his adversaries’ faces will dampen the cause of recognition and action on the part of the government and the press. He is perhaps more incensed by the dismissal of homosexual humans than of sick humans, I’m not sure.

It’s a story whose tension hangs between, on the one hand, the character of his brother, who acknowledges the Kramer character as almost, but not quite human for his homosexuality and on the other hand the human loves dragged to an early and ignominious grave by a disease which was deemed unimportant because it was seen as exclusively and merely gay. The crossing over of this brother, beautifully and memorably played by Alfred Molina, to the love common to all is the resolution of all the barriers, public and private, which we see marked out before us, as AIDS is demonized, misunderstood, and dismissed, as it crawls to a place at the table.

Julia Roberts is excellent as the first clinician to take note of and treat the disease and to report its symptoms and recurrence. I particularly liked Jim Parsons as the office manager who makes the revolution practical. The nervous breakdown risked by all who did the work is beautifully performed by Stephen Spinella.

Larry Kramer’s was a voice crying in the wilderness of his own side. Martin Luther King Junior was the same. Proactive both, their methods were different, and neither cause would have prevailed using the other’s means. Their greatest enemies lay within their own camps. King orated, Kramer ranted. Kramer made a huge unpleasantness. He is one of the vile heroes, like Oedipus – people of extremely unpleasant character who nonetheless lay down their lives to move the human race forward one step, and do so. We – and by “we” I mean the world – are all in his debt.

 
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Posted in Alfred Molina, Gay, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo

 

Foxcatcher

29 Nov

 

Foxcatcher – directed by Bennett Miller. Biodrama. 134 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story: Two international wrestling champion brothers become enmeshed with a wealthy aficionado.

~      

One wonders what scene it might be, but there is a sense of one missing. Between Vanessa Redgrave who plays his mother and Steve Carell, who plays the billionaire John Du Pont.

For Mrs Du Pont is an enormously accomplished equestrienne. Now being an equestrienne, with an entire room of her mansion given over to her many trophies, requires an early start, among riders who are seasoned and talented and unbribable. To win those prizes you have to be the same. You have to know your onions from way back.

Her son, however, takes on the hobby of international competitive wrestling in his fifties. He had the interest and even the temperament to be a patron. But he sets himself up, instead, as a “mentor, leader, and coach” – none of which he was, as though to compete with the his mother in her own sport.

As this fraud takes place before our eyes, we see his protégé, played by Channing Tatum, lose vim. Having already won two world championships, he is to compete in the Seoul Olympics. But the more Du Pont engages with him the less true air remains for Tatum to inhale as his own. Presently, Du Pont alienates him from his own brother, David, played by Mark Ruffalo. And then bribes Ruffalo to live at his vast estate where he has built a training facility for the Olympic wrestlers.

But somewhere we need one more scene with the mother. We see her voice her opinion that wrestling is lowbrow, and in another scene we see her turn away from the training of the wrestlers as her son attempts to show off his “leadership” in front of her. It might be a scene in which he says to her, “What if I won an Olympic Gold Medal, mother?’

The piece could not be better cast or played. Ruffalo, who is the real coach, completely convinces that he is a coach, and the care and savvy he imbrues the character with are just enough to delude him about the possible nature of Du Pont.

Channing Tatum plays Mark Shultz, the younger wrestler brother as a young man focused on his sport to the exclusion of everything else. He has no girlfriend, no children, no outside interests. This means he has the blinders on, but Tatum plays the wrestler as aware of himself and his own nature upon which he depends for security in his sport.

Steve Carell plays Du Pont. He carries himself chin-in-air like William Buckley, and like Buckley he is clammy as an adder – but with this difference, Buckley was a person of great accomplishment, Du Pont is a person of none that have not been purchased. His is a cogent portrayal of an idiot dauphin. He’s quite fascinating.

I’m not sure, however, that films are solely about portraiture. Or that to achieve a fine representation of a character is sufficient to a drama. The drama here does not play out; one figures it out. Carell is especially worth dwelling on amid an unexceptionable cast. And such a story is come by rarely. So it’s good to be given it by all of them. And you will not waste your time spending a couple of hours with it.

 

Begin Again

11 Aug

Begin Again – directed by John Carney. Showbiz Musical. 104 minutes Color 2014.

★★★

The Story: A record producer hitting bottom discovers a singer of uncertain talent.

~

“Why doesn’t that young woman have her teeth fixed?” is my mantra watching Keira Knightley, and it comes up every time her acting fails her, which is half the time. Otherwise I watch her with surprise that she has any talent at all and with admiration for it when it arises.

The problem lies with over-writing, a common flaw with a writer/director. They never know when to cut the dialogue. There’s some very good stuff in this script, but every word is not a darling. A good example of this is a brilliantly directed scene brilliantly played by Knightley when her singer/boyfriend comes back to New York from a trip to LA and sings a song he wrote while away. It slowly dawns on her that he has been unfaithful. Without a word, the look in her eyes tells the story, and is the only story we need told. She boxes his ear. It’s enough. But no. The banalities start: “It just happened,” and so forth.

Another error is that this boyfriend returns to the story, too late to reengage our interest in him, if it was ever engaged, which it probably was not, because it is played by Adam Levine who is too perfectly cast as self-centered. Again, as the credits roll, the director continues the denouement of the story in a way that is both unnecessary and distracting from the honor owed to those on those credits.

Knightley’s character begins interestingly, as a diffident, sharp-tongued young songwriter, and at first this is so well rendered by Knightley, we actually imagine we are presented with a character. But the script fails her, and she is left, as are we, with an actress having to come up with something. Sometimes she’s pretty good at it. Other times not.

Eventually what she has to come up with is the singing of songs, which she does in a sweet small voice. The difficulty is that the songs by her and Levine are sung with such poor enunciation one cannot make out the words, and, the melodies being undistinguished, the words are where the action is supposed to be. For the punch of the story supposedly lies in the brilliance of these songs. It’s not my sort of music anyhow.

Mark Ruffalo’s acting contained his customary riffs and ruffs and a beard, which is an error of histrionics. He is a leading man whose face you cannot really see. Otherwise he is fine; the script supports him when he is, when it doesn’t he fails. But the ad hoc working up of the demo disc in New York locales is a lot of fun, and so is James Corden as Knightley’s sidekick, Cee Lo Green as an old crony of Ruffalo, Mos Def as his business partner, Hailee Steinfeld as his wayward daughter, and Catherine Keener as his diffident, sharp-tongued wife.

I liked the ending. There was applause when it came. But me? – I didn’t get no satisfaction. Try it. See what you think.

 
 

Thanks For Sharing

28 Sep

Thanks For Sharing – directed by Stuart Blumberg. A quartet of sex addicts in recovery stumble toward one another in mutual aid and redemption. 112 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

Josh Gad is probably miscast as the premier liar of this story, for his casting is like casting Bud Abbott in the role. He is meant to supply fat-boy comic relief to material that does not welcome it, since the underpinnings of the lie are nothing-funny.

These people are stern addicts. And their humor would have been best served by its emerging in meetings themselves, where 12 Step style can be very funny indeed, but germane, which Gad’s is not. It’s not the actor’s fault. It’s the fault of the role.

Otherwise we have an excellent film to go to with your fellowship buddies or with those who need some education as to the catastrophe of the condition of addiction to pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, sexual resorts, and the long list of the rest. For the film does a fair and honest and informed job of looking closely at the addiction in action and in remission – remission being no guarantee of recovery, of which no such thing has ever been known. It’s hard to quit sex addiction; harder than alcohol. You carry around your saloon in your britches.

Pink is completely convincing as the raving sex maniac who comes into the program late and, with help, finds her way toward sobriety. Mark Ruffalo plays a man five years on the sexual wagon, and he is solid in the role. Tim Robbins plays his long-time sponsor, a bleeding deacon of the S-Fellowship (which is never defined), and the parent of a son who has gone sober from drugs cold-turkey on his own. His relation to this son, his refusing to work an 8th and 9th Step with him, is a key drama in the story and one important to behold.

The Ruffalo character has not had sex or a date in five years, and, when he allows himself to, he falls quickly in a relationship with an eager beauty played by Gwyneth Paltrow.

Paltrow is one of the great creatures of the modern screen. When Audrey Hepburn appears on screen one falls in love with her. There is no question as to how good an actress she is. She occupies our heart. And the same holds true for Gwyneth Paltrow, who is a very good actress indeed. She is an actress of great suppleness, intelligence, and grace. Aways fresh. She responds to everything happening to her physically, as though it belonged to her. Like Audrey Hepburn, she is a lady. But one with no stodginess to her. She is fascinating fun to watch.

And all this being true of her, the audience’s energy moves more towards whether this relationship will work out than to whether the quartet of addicts will stay sober.

But the story still honors their stories. And the record of them is true to the facts of sex addiction and its effects on everyone, addict or not, sober or not. So inform yourself. Thanks For Sharing will do for sex addiction what The Lost Weekend once did for alcoholism. It’ll give you the inside story.

 

Rumor Has It

20 Jul

Rumor Has It – Directed by Rob Reiner. Upper Class Romantic Comedy. The Graduate Part II. 97 minutes Color 2005.

* * *

We are doing fine as long as Mark Ruffalo is with us. When force of circumstances require our heroine, Jennifer Aniston, to separate him out, the story declines in all areas of its life. Kathy Bates in a white Harpo wig enters in a muumuu the size of a stadium and give a performance to match. This followed by Kevin Costner who almost escapes execution by the false premise of a script which takes Miss Aniston on a billionaire bash, a treat which impresses her nothing, since the gal is from Pasadena, where billionaires are as to flies on cheese. Even the remarkable Richard Jenkins turns in a bad performance. Now, I ask you, if he fails, can winter be far behind? It is not. It takes the form of Shirley MacLaine, in a part requiring the deftness of Myrna Loy; instead she runs the schtick she has run for the past 30 years, that of a stinker granny, turning every line she utters into the stab of a yellow jacket. Aniston alone skims across this mire unscathed, I don’t know how. For one thing her touch on a role is infinitely light. For another, she really is a master comedienne. She seems to be quite tiny, but her size gives her an appeal, which is met by her tiny features in the broad plains of her face. Inside her, as inside Mickey Rourke, is the instrument of a harpsichord, so that she is never stuffy but also never undignified, even when disdignity looms. She is probably not a physical comedienne, as were Katharine Hepburn and Carole Lombard, but is more along the lines of Jean Arthur, who had a quirky voice just as Aniston has quirky mouth, and one we love to have with us so we can watch it and wonder. She knows exactly how to register the merest ripple of difficulty. You’ve got to hand it to her, except I hope no one ever again hands her a movie so badly written and directed as this one is. Mark Ruffalo, where are you when we need you? Oh, there you are, gasp, true blue to the end!

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