RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Paul Giamatti’ Category

Saving Mr. Banks

07 Jan

Saving Mr. Banks – directed by John Lee Hancock. BioFlic. 125 minutes Color 2013. ★★★★★

The Story: Walt Disney attempts to induce stubborn P. L. Travers to sign over the rights to her book Mary Poppins, and both turn out to be different than you thought.

~

Terrific. Made with the immaculate production values we are long accustomed to with Walt Disney movies, and, once we blind ourselves the poise of them, the trip is certainly worth our while. For the making of Mary Poppins was certainly worth while. For it tugs at the heart with unlooked-for happiness, in the same good old Disney way.

Inside each of these famous people who wrangle over the production of the film a Bambi lies covert. A father ruined, and almost ruinously wonderful, preys on each of them.

This is somewhat less interesting than the performing of the principals. Kathy Baker is the wise secretary of the great man, Bradley Whitford is the script writer much abused, Jason Schwartzman is the song writer, and Rachel Grifiths sails in with her life-saving umbrella and basket of nostrums. She is the prototype of Mary Poppins, and an actor who looks unsettlingly but not quite exactly like Colin Farrell plays the prototype for Mr. Banks, the actor turning out to actually be Colin Farrell. A lovely little actress, Annie Rose Buckley, plays his six year-old daughter, enchanted by him. Paul Giamatti, in an infallible role, plays Mrs. Travers’ California chauffeur.

This high-end casting is a doily around the principles. Disney is played by Tom Hanks who is an actor who can play ordinary people unactorishly. He never pushes for effects. He never shows you he can act. He brings honor to the every-day and the expected to the expected. No more trustworthy actor exists. He is a pleasure as ever.

As the redoubtable P.L. Travers we have (and no one else would do) your favorite of all, Emma Thompson. Travers is at the end of her creative road and she knows it. So the part is set up to present you with the most difficult and rude British dame you ever met, protecting her last and dearest child from Hollywood molestation. She has that common British attitude that all things American are inferior and, even worst, vulgar. She mistakes condescension for breeding and contempt for superiority. She is crushingly dismissive of everything and everyone. And Emma Thompson means it, so you wonder, will this never end?

It does end exactly as it should, with her at the premier of Mary Poppins, and we are all in tears, because Mary Poppins is one of the most worthwhile films Disney ever made. If Julie Andrews lacks the rigor which Mrs Travers put in her, never mind, the idea gets across, and the songs crack the nut of any hard-heart within city limits. We shed tears not because we are in pain, but because we are given release of pain. And I say, Good! Shed some. Go.

 

The Last Station

05 Feb

The Last Station – directed by Michael Hoffman. Biodrama. 82 year-old Leo Tolstoi, both novelist and utopian guru battles both sides of his work, and flees the fray to fall ill in a railway station, while the world watches. 112 minutes Color 2010.
★★★★★
Five stars for Helen Mirren who plays every scene all out, God bless her, and who makes Sophia Tolstoi the heroine of the piece without contest from the start.

Several factors mitigate toward this mistake, and they all lie in the blame of the director/writer. He does not have a clear intention as to the story he is telling. If it is about love, well then, we know what everyone else loves, but what does Tolstoi love? Does he love the idea that his noble work will go on after he dies, and so takes his royalties of his life and work from his wife and children and hands them over to the chief administrator of the Tolstoi legend – with its hortatory texts, its communes all over the place, its passionate socialistic practices and platforms, and its vast and statuesque reputation and influence – Gandhi learned passive resistance at Tolstoi’s feet.

If so, we are never given a single instance upon what that influence was based that so many should abject themselves before it and follow him and it with unswerving and self-sacrificing devotion. In an attempt to avoid the trap of portraying a genius, the director/writer has portrayed him as a plate of potatoes. But what are people, what is the whole world responding to? Never does Christopher Plummer, who is wonderful in the part, ever have a single line that would suggest this was a man of revolutionary ideals.

The second error the director makes was either to cast Paul Giamatti as the administrator or to allow him to play him as a heavy from the start – forever twirling his mustaches like the villain from the old play. No, we must believe in the administrator’s innocence, his noble motives, and the purity of his ideals. If we don’t trust and back him, then Helen Mirren is without competition and the story is a foregone conclusion.

The third error is to have cast James McEvoy as Tolstoi’s tyro secretary. He is never believable. To the same degree as he was believable in The Last King Of Scotland is he unconvincing here. He is hammy from start to finish, making big scowling eyes like Barrymore. He plays too knowingly a character who knows nothing.

This leaves us with Christopher Plummer as Tolstoi. Sixty years ago I saw him in Stratford Ontario In Henry IV with Jason Robards as Hotspur and the two of them again in A Winter’s Tale, and I saw him on the Broadway stage in Arturo Ui, The Lark, J.B.; he was nothing more than a conventional actor with a good voice, cold. But he has grown with time. The older he gets the better he gets; he is almost a different actor entirely. May he live long and often.

Leo Tolstoi was the greatest writer of death scenes who ever lived, and his own surpassed any he ever wrote. The movie misfires by not knowing what it is about, and scanting the farcical elements of its finale which Tolstoi, great humorist that he was, would never have missed for a minute. Too bad. The movie is well filmed, beautifully costumed and set, and completely convincing as having been shot in Russia, which, of course, it was not.

 

Rock Of Ages

16 Jun

Rock Of Ages – directed by Adam Shankman. Rock Musical. A launching pad of rock and roll legends is threatened with closure, as in it new stars arise and old ones rise higher. 123 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★

Rock and roll passed me by. I was too old for it at the time. So I know nothing of it. For this reason, I believe, I found this whole endeavor consistently entertaining from start to finish. The words to the songs are audible, mirabile dictu, which means that although they do lack distinction they do not lack distinctiveness. Everyone is good in it and everyone sings good, too. The young lovers give strong performances, as they must, for they really have to carry the picture. She jumps off the bus in L.A. from Oklahoma, and he is already bussing dishes in the venue where it mostly takes place. They come to one another’s rescue throughout, for this is a fairy tale set in The Palace Of Fame, or at least in one of the outbuildings of it, The Grange Of Celebrity, a grungier pleasance. The point of the piece is immediately established behind the credits, not as parody, but as serious comedy in which everyone is played not for comment but for real, with a funny inner hat. Starting with Paul Giamatti as the star-maker manager: his prevarication of the question, “Is it true?” is hilarious, both as played and as written; you must not omit to see it. But it is not just a question of particular scenes but of consistency and sustainment of tone that made me smile from the start to the finale. That glittering puma, Catherine Zetta-Jones as the righteous mayor’s wife who wants to shut down rock and roll forever struts her musical comedy chops with great humor and knowingness. As do Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin, the latter of whose humor is particularly telling as the superannuated hippy venue owner. The songs are energetic and the choreography is fortunate. There is a cast of hundreds. And into all of this saunters the always half nude figure of Tom Cruise as the rock and roll superstar pushing fifty – a sort of combination of Iggy Pop and Robert Newton, a walking Parnassus of Sex, his jewelled crown a codpiece of rubies, in an astonishing turn by an astonishing actor – who once again throws himself into a role hook, line, and sinker. He plays him as brain-damaged by fame. His joy in his craft is abounding. His actor’s imagination is unfathomable. For instance, his character’s seduction line is so used up that there is nothing further he can find to trade it in for, and he must repeat it, knowing it will succeed with any woman in question but not with himself. He makes his character a musical star so exalted that the view from his mountain top is wise beyond knowing, but perforce also hazy as to those who live so far below that he seems out to lunch, while the fact is that at all times he has already eaten lunch. It is a wonderful piece of work. He daringly develops this character into a full grotesque ,detail by detail; that is, his fingernails are painted aubergine and bitten to the quick, so that whenever we see his hands ten tiny eggplants flash before our eyes. Well, for all these wonderful actors, and because I like musicals, I smiled all the way through this one. See it in a theatre. It’s a big show. It doesn’t belong in your living room. You belong in its.

 

The Ides Of March

13 Oct

The Ides Of March – directed and written (with others) by George Clooney. Political Thriller. 101 Minutes Color 2011.

★★★★

The Story: The office manager of a Presidential campaign learns about life from the great ones above and below him.

* * * *

I wonder if the failure of his performance will put a period to the rise of the career of a truly gifted actor. He is in the role that must carry the film. But the actor’s conception of or preparation for the role, or perhaps his being cast in it in the first place, or perhaps the director’s failure to establish the necessary grounds in the opening scenes, fails the film.

Instead the story and the dialogue have to carry this film. But they are not quite sufficient because they are just the outer story; the inner story is a change, a learning in the main character. None of the other actors can carry the film it; they are all supporting players.

The problem arises with the opening scene and continues with the scene soon after with a reporter. In the first scene he does a lighting stand-in for the presidential contestant, and recites lines of his oncoming speech. He does them listlessly, almost snidely. Then when he speaks to the reporter he avers his great and thorough belief in the candidate. She laughs at him. But he won’t have it. He elaborates his belief.

Okay, so why doesn’t it work? Because the character he plays must believe in what he says, with all his heart. However, the actor presents this character as a man whose heart is not in it. Yet the entire film depends upon his heart becoming re-educated, but since he heart is veiled to begin with, the story is devoid of human interest.

Everything else is quite interesting. All the other actors are in top form: Philip Seymour Hoffman as the campaign manager, Paul Giamatti as the opposition campaign manager, Evan Rachel Wood as a pretty intern, Maria Tomei, particularly as the reporter, Jeffrey Wright as an opportunistic senator, and George Clooney as the candidate.

Marvelously filmed by Phedon Papamichael and scored by Alexandre Desplat, one is held in bafflement as the subtleties of the main actor pass before one’s appreciative eyes. He is beautiful. He is unusual. It is a great leading role in a huge Hollywood picture. Because of him it doesn’t happen. It is a pity.

[ad#300×250]

 

 

 

 

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button