Archive for the ‘Michael Peña’ Category

The Martian

16 Oct

The Martian – directed by Scott Ridley. Scifidrama. 141 minutes Color 2015.


The Story: An astronaut left behind and believed dead on Mars, contrives to survive, while rescuers on earth exhaust various schemes to save him.


Among actors of his generation Matt Damon possesses the rare quality of human decency – which Tom Hanks possessed and Jimmy Stewart possessed and which his contemporary Jim Caviezel also possesses. It means that he can bring to his characters an atavism, a strain of honesty which supersedes modernity by going back to the American primordial, a strain which is recognizable, trustworthy, and inviting. As such, Mark Damon is an actor as useful as bread. Not for just the characters he may sometimes play, but always for the way he plays the character.

For the character is not always white bread.

Here it is sour rye. His character is not peachy clean. He has temperament. Opinions. Dislikes. Vanity. Tartness. In embodying this, Damon gives to us someone we might know. And whose survival we might care about and root for.

All this, naturally, is in the writing, but Damon extends himself into each word said as a physical release – which is important, since he is often bench-bound. And since his resources for survival are so technical they cannot be appreciated, save in the actor’s practical, personal commitment to them.

The story is beautifully filmed and directed. Each member of the all-star supporting cast is scrumptious to watch. Each of them is a space program bureaucrat. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the NASA mission director; Michael Peña plays a fellow astronaut; Benedict Wong plays the rocket engineer; Donald Glover as the aerodynamics pro who masterminds one of the rescue missions; Jeff Daniels as NASA head; Jessica Chastain as the captain of a space ship.

If you like The Wizard Of Oz, you will find that this is the sort of story The Martian is. A fellow human finds himself unprotected and alone in strange land. Assisted by friends, plus his own gumption and perseverance, he must make a long journey through it to reach the salvation that will whisk him home.

You will cheer at the end. I understand you will cheer even more if you see it in 3D. I didn’t, but I enjoyed the story and the spectacle just as well. It’s a big hit, and Damon well worth the Oscar for it, don’t you think? For his opening scene alone. Check it out.


End Of Watch

04 Oct

End of Watch – produced, written, and directed by David Ayer. Drama. Two L.A. cops, in their many perilous adventures patrolling crime-hoods, annoy the drug cartel folks and get in over their heads. 109 minutes Color 2012.
Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhaal should win Oscars in tandem for their astonishing work as these two policeman badinaging in a car. I just rejoice to see them: two American actors at the peak of their powers and masculinity being marvelous over and over in scene after scene in parts better than which will probably come their way again never. For which credit one’s hat is off to the writer who gives them marvelous palaver and marvelous silences. The piece begins with the drug folk opposition, and since their entire dialogue consists of one word repeated like a doxology, and you know what that word is, their story needs to be told with camera alone, and it is. It is told with as much brilliancy as are the big scenes of dialogue. The film is a series of episodes, each one thrilling and unusual, beginning with a car chase which precedes the credits. These episodes do not constitute a story, but they are exciting in themselves, and they build one upon the next, so one is content to witness the two cops’ work, which, after all, also is one thing after another, and to endure the suspense of one’s ignorance of, care for, and interest in their fates. Gyllenhaal’s film persona in the past has been the knight of doleful countenance; here he displays an inherent fluidity and comic power one had not seen before. (If anyone is ever to play the part of Louie Zamperini, it is he.) Michael Peña sets down firmly in the seat of wisdom and constancy as his co-cop. But it is idle to comment on them separately because they are twinned by their playing, they are talking heads who talk one another’s heads off, jocular, acute, loyal. They come alive as a pair, as Laurel and Hardy did. They impregnate one another as actors and as characters. Gyllenhaal’s habit of hanging his arm out the window for a respite, Peña’s habit of a little Bronx cheer when pressed, toss sprinkles on one thing, a banana split, a single treat shared. I love acting and when it is wonderful I know what a miracle I am faced with. What joy to see them! Feebly titled, the film, nonetheless, deals with crime, and while its episodes are extreme, they are presented by the filmer, Roman Vasyanov and the editor, Dody Dom, in sufficient intimacy and speed to give us a sense of the blindness of the peril the two of them undergo together. The entire cast plays brilliantly; the set designs are right on the money; the music, by David Sardy, does no more and no less than the demands of the scenes require and is as welcome when played as when still. The piece is beautifully executed by the director. And the streets of L.A. have never been more vivid in their meanness and meaning.



15 Nov

Crash — Directed by Paul Haggis. Detective Story. A fender bender leads to a web of universal bigotry. 112 minutes Color 2004.

* * * *

Anger is an emotion easy for actors to access, and this film registers as blatantly misdirected from so much of it being allowed them, anger, anger, anger, Venetian-blinded with tears, another easy access for actors. This is too bad, because it makes the film hermetic, self-congratulatory, and monotonous, or rather bi-tonous. Thandie Newton is clearly an excellent and well-trained actress, but she is allowed both expressions to a degree which cancels out her role quite nicely; fury added to the lachrymose equals nothing, because either one subtracts the other, either concurrently or sequentially, that is, either in a given scene or in scene by scene. Crash is written and directed by white males, who seem mightily pleased with themselves for having essayed the subject of bigotry out loud, and I do not know whether this causes the picture’s scenes with the black actors to fail, but they do —with the one exception of Terrence Howard’s, and for a very good reason, that being that he allows his character to bring a degree of modulation into the playing. There is only one actor who should be allowed tears in this film, and that is Beverly Todd, playing the mother of a slaughtered son. And there are only two characters who should be allowed out-and-out anger in this story, and neither one of them are angry because of bigotry but because they were born angry. The second of them is the storeowner played by Shaun Toub who is brilliantly horrible as a stupid berserk patriarch illiterate. The first is Sandra Bullock whose rage should set a tone which should never be duplicated again in the picture, but modulated and pulled underground by the actors, to make visual what the story actually tells which is that everyone is overtly or secretly a bigot. The scene in which the Don Cheadle character is offered a job in return for shutting up about a certain cop-slaying is a scene played with an excellent actor, William Fitchner, who simply is misdirected to play for excitement or insensitivity, whereas something else would be much more interesting, sympathy, for instance, o=r “Will you offended by what I am about to say?” As it is, we immediately take sides against him, which loses the conflict and thus loses the scene. Over and over again the direction causes the material to fall back in on itself, no more noticeably than when the music stoops to soften us up at the end with a dictatorial sentimentality. Because the film is essentially well written, the execution needed to be more subtle than glaring – after all, bigotry has already been put forth: Elia Kazan made Pinky way back when – and so all we get as our allowed response is “Aint it awful,” but, in fact, sadness and sympathy are not enough. Everyone’s done good? Nah. They have, but smugness is the wrong thing to end up with. Sandra Bullock’s playing is a miracle of impenitence, but she ends up in the arms of her Hispanic maid, saying, “You’re my only friend,” when the fact is that the maid would have many friends, of whom the Sandra Bullock character still knows and wishes to know nothing, while Sandra Bullock’s character unbeknownst to Bullock, is not one of the maid’s friends at all. It won Oscars that year for Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Film, and many other awards from other awarders. Matt Dillon did not win best supporting actor Oscar, but his moments while saving from a burning car while he’s lying on top of her a woman whom he has molested are remarkable in this actors long, underestimated, and remarkable career. Michael Peña is excellent as the locksmith whom Shaun Toub is too incensed to make sense of.  The picture is worth seeing for its diction and for the modesty of most of its cast, insofar as they were allowed it: Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Peña, Matt Dillon, and many others.


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