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Archive for the ‘Ray Liotta’ Category

Killing Them Softly

12 Dec

Killing Them Softly – written and directed by Andrew Dominik. Crime Drama. A gangland gambling club is robbed, and the perps must be rubbed out; or if not the perps, anyone standing around will do. 97 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
I sit back in my seat and am amazed by the brilliance of American actors, of these particular American actors, and let’s name them right off. Scoot McNairy as one of the dumb hold-up guys and Ben Mendelsohn (actually Australian) as the other. Ray Liotta as the owner of the club and Vincent Curatola as the skeptical mastermind. I watch James Gandolfini hold the screen and I am astonished at his ease, his conviction, his imagination as an actor. Then there is Richard Jenkins (actually from Canada) as the naive businessman acting to hire the hitmen. I watch him see through this character to the bitter end. And I watch them all with amazement at their commitment to their craft, their skill in it, their comfort with the camera, their physical reality, their believability, and their ability to find humor in their characters without semaphoring it to us.

So, if you love an astonishing display of the craft of acting, look no further.

Brad Pitt is the focal character of all of them and all of this, the managing director of the offs.

Brad Pitt is an actor incapable of wearing a suit. But within his range, he is the best actor in American films. His particular instrument is not meant to play a king or a peasant. He is not Charles Laughton. Pitt lacks majesty. He can play only a peasant. But what a variety of peasants he has given us!

He always brings to the screen something new, something we have never seen before. Yes, he is usually cast as cocky, sexy, naughty, beyond the pale males, but he always is fresh, always surprising. He is, in fact, always daring. I think of him as an actor who will never win an Oscar, because he would be judged as having a limited range, whereas the truth is that, while he does have a limited range, within that range he has no limits. This is true of a number of great actors: Geraldine Page, for instance, could not play Shakespeare.

Pitt plays a character sorely vexed by the personnel he must deal with, none of whom are as smart, as realistic, or as experienced as he, and, as a self-made businessman, his peroration is a brilliant diatribe on Republican political business theory, and not to be missed.

Moreover, he is given wonderful scenes to play by the director/writer, as are all the actors, for the piece is marvelously written and directed and filmed and told. Never have so many actors been painted so incisively and intensely in so many close-ups. Andrew Dominik seems to be a first-class director at the beginning of a great career with a perfect film under his belt.

 

Starlift

26 Dec

Starlift. A smorgasbord of numbers to boost morale produced at Warners 1 hours 43 minutes.Black and White 1951.

* * *

The Travis Airforce Base stars in this pot pouri of musical and comedy numbers, designed to imitate Hollywood Canteen and This Is The Army. It is a scrapbook musical set this time not in WWII but in the Korean War, a War whose name, however, is never mentioned once during the entire film. Various superstars saunter through, among them James Cagney who is the best, and Gary Cooper who has a droll moment as a Dudley Doright cowboy in the skit narrated by the ever-bland Phil Harris. Doris Day sings whenever a bandaid appears on the arm of a returning vet. Gordon Macrae sings several numbers under his pompadour, and Virginia Mayo does a sweaty and effortful Polynesian dance in a blond wig, or perhaps the blond wig does the dance on top of Virginia Mayo. Everyone does their darndest anyhow. Jane Wyman sings, which is natural, as she actually began her career in musicals. Ruth Roman is the mother superior of  a mission to entertain the returning troops, airlifted in to Travis, (although I was in that war and we all went out by troopship from Camp Stoneman). Anyhow, the film is a actually about the movie star played by Janice Rule who is 19 when this was made. Here she is a dancer, as skilled as Gene Nelson who partners her, and she becomes involved with a forged romance, foisted off on the public by Louella Parsons who also appears. Janice Rule was to become one of the most accomplished and beautiful actresses ever to appear in film, and it is a loss that her career hadn’t more shape. She was powerful and mysterious with a beautiful speaking voice; she’s a later-day Howard Hawks sort of female, forward and humorous in her sexuality. The sides of her mouth curl up exquisitely, just as they did with that other dark-haired beauty, Cyd Charisse. What’s also fascinating is to see Doris Day in full force. Of course there never was a time when Doris Day was not in full force. She is always giving her all and it is always at the limit of her technique. Her application to the task and her daring make her look good. But she wasn’t about to play games; she was a single mother with a son to support; still, her work would appear more intelligent, were she not so eager to please. DoDo acts out of the power of a sure and certain instinct, and if you want to see instinctual acting, this is it. If you want to see instinctual acting with no discriminatory power attached, this is also it. She hits her mark every time; what is at question is the mark itself. The movie is lame, and slightly dishonest which the WWII anthology movies were not. What makes it lame is the faux naiveté of its sexuality combined with the obligatory leer of its males, wolf whistles being the shortest of all shorthands to romance.

 

 

 

Blow

15 Dec

Blow – directed by Ted Demme – a young man grows into a big time drug dealer, then withers. 2 hours color 2001.

* * * * *

Johnny Depp can carry a film all right all right. The trouble is, as the film goes on, the burden gets lighter and as the burden gets lighter the film is harder for him to carry, because there’s nothing left to carry, until he almost staggers under the exhausting weight of nothing. And this is noticeable here. The material is actually quite thin. Its first thinness is that it is about drugs to begin with, and not really about any conflict or irresolution between the characters or even in the characters. For years Depp has played noble crooks and cranks doomed to betrayal by life and love and oh so many octopi. And he had made other films about drugs, but films about drugs, stories about drugs, always end up collapsed partly because drugs are not human and partly because drugs are a power larger than any human, no matter how successful one might be in doing business with them. So the final thinness is that all films about drugs become enfeebled by the foregone conclusion that they will not end well. Ray Liotto and Rachel Griffiths are especially good as Depp’s parents, and Griffiths, who is younger than Depp and Australian, nails her New England accent and character with one blow. This is a very well made, beautifully shot and written and filmed piece. The wigs are dreadful and in them Depp and Penelope Cruz look like … well, they look like they’re wearing wigs. As Elia Kazan said, “No wigs. Wigs always look like wigs.” And he was right. So there is never a single moment when the wigs here give character registration. All they give is: “Why is Johnny Depp wearing another peculiar wig?” Depp, of course, we root for, not because of his performance, but because it is inherent to his nature that we do so. Will It Work? is our suspense. Will He Get Away With It? How Will it Turn Out? Yes. Yes. And Badly.

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