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Archive for the ‘Stanley Tucci: Acting God’ Category

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1

23 Nov

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1 – directed by Francis Lawrence. SciFi. 123 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: A young woman is unwillingly enlisted as the symbol of an underground movement to overthrow a tyrant.

~      

I have never seen such a film before. I have never been to one of these series films, partly because I am not interested in SciFi as a subject of any depth of drama or intelligence of scope and also because I am not interested in violent and mechanical action as a film style. I went to this one because it would be one of the last times to be seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman on the big screen. His appearance is rationed, he looks bad, and he does everything beautifully.

As do Joanna Moore as the president of the insurgents, Stanley Tucci as the evil interviewer, Woody Harrelson as the clever reprobate, and the always praiseworthy Jeffrey Wright. They cannot make a mistake, and they never appear to be slumming. Far from it: they seize every scene they are in with just the right grip. As does Donald Sutherland with his refulgent white hair belying his swinish interior. Only Elizabeth Banks seems out of place here: she seems to be playing a transvestite fashionista or something. Her character seems out of place, which is fine, but her performance also seems out of place, which is not fine. She doesn’t appear to be someone who should be doing this.

The main burden of the story lies with Jennifer Lawrence, who evidently has been in earlier versions of this series. She is not pleasant to look at and she is not pleasant. Moreover, her choice as an actor seems to be to play shellshock. I question it. She seems continually benumbed by something. In the past, she has had great success in playing marginal characters, but for her to play a heroine, a focal character is perhaps not her métier. But the story is hers.

And, for me, the interesting thing about it is how slowly, how leisurely it moves, how scenes are developed, how matters are discussed, how interior toward the characters the pressures of the story are aimed. I sit back in my multiplex armchair and stretch my legs into the aisle and watch in great comfort as this long, slow, story engrosses me – not just because of the satisfactions of its occasional and quite sensational blaps and gallooms but because Story in itself should sometimes invite repose, acceptance, trust, and the ease of the treat of a very expensive entertainment before one.

I took my pleasure, I may tell you. I did not feel cheated because I knew nothing and expected nothing. However, I realized as I left that what I had been watching was one of those Flash Gordon episodes I used to see back in the ‘40s, at the Saturday matinee – a cliff-hanger a week – and that I had started myself on the Perils Of Jennifer. And that I was bound to see the next one, and the one after that, praying only that Donald Sutherland will reach the end of the series before the end of his life. And mine.

 

The Company You Keep

19 Apr

The  Company You Keep –– directed by Robert Redford. Manhunt Drama. A member of the Weather Underground lams from the law to find the one who can prove his innocence. 125 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

The story is beautifully cast –– and why shouldn’t it be? – with a series of actors playing parts which revisit the terrorist activities of the early 1970s as each one reflects upon the parts the movement played and his part in those parts. Susan Sarandon starts off as the match who ignites the fuse of detonations involving her allies from the old days. Sarandon plays it as an honorable grown-up handing herself over to the law, and peaching on no one, because Weathermen never betrayed one another and she’s not going to start now.

She is interviewed by a local newspaperman, played by Shia Leboeuf, whom she trusts. LeBoeuf is admirably irritating, to his editor played by Stanley Tucci, and to everyone else, which is just right for this role. And his implacable hunger for the rest of the story leads to each of the old-timers. Richard Jenkins brilliantly embodies a man who makes flaccid excuses for his dead ideals by entertaining his students with the exploits they led to. Nick Nolte plays a man who has done well and is still willing to pitch in to help a friend in trouble from the cause. And Robert Redford plays the man on the run.

He is sought on two sides. The FBI in the person of Terrence Howard wants him for the famous bank robbery in which he was supposedly involved and in which a teller was killed. And the reporter himself seeks him for a good story. They pincer him.

The chase leads to Julie Christie, an ideologue from the old days, still fervent. However, the final scene, very much like the final scene in the recently released Sally Potter film Ginger and Rosa, is badly played and shot. Baffling.

It requires the tension of a great debate. All the issues that united them then need to be displayed, and they are, for the film is very well written, but in this scene others make several destructive mistakes.

One is that it appears they also spend the night in sex together – which is irrelevant, or ought to be.

The second is Julie Christie’s hair, which is wrong for the character. We see her hair straight when she is young. Now its curls mask her face. She cannot be seen. Someone should have said No to Julie Christie, except that to do so to her about anything is probably unthinkable. I couldn’t a done it. We’re all still too much in love with her.

The third great harm is that the scene needs to take place out of doors in full daylight, instead of in front of an unconvincing fire in a cabin by a lake where, again, it is too dark to see it.

The fourth and worse harm is that neither actor is allowed to really engage with the other, which is the fault of the director and photographer, who do the scene in a series of reaction shots. The scene collapses.

But the movie is interesting up until this the penultimate point. And Redford is quite good in the film throughout. Notice what he plays. He does not play The Hero or The Important Person Invincible. He plays someone failing at every attempt.

Actually, that’s not playable by an actor, any more than the other two are.

But watch him as he believes he is being let down by Jenkins and Nolte. He does not get mad. No. He is wounded. He is scared. Very good choice. And, while if you sit there calculating how old would have Redford been in the ‘70s, and does it seem likely he would have a nine year-old daughter, it is still one of the better pieces of acting he has done. Our attention to his beauty – the more sad being gone now – has been supplanted by our interest in his well-being as a character, which is just as it should be.

The film engaged me up to the end, which I have spent too much time on descrying and decrying. It has lots of entertainment value, and wonderful performances to behold.

 

Margin Call

23 Oct

Margin Call — Directed and Written by J.C. Chandor. Suspense. A huge Wall Street company teeters on the brink of collapse and a crisis of conscience. 105 minutes Color 2011

* * * * *

The infuriatingly dull title for this very exciting film detours one away, only to be pulled back toward it by the presence of a superb cast. What great actors we have in this world, and all of them are at the peak of their game here. If there were Oscars for casting, this movie should win one. The focal character is played by Kevin Spacey, in the part of a management director of a trading company. He learns that the company is in dire jeopardy, and his moral dilemma is to find a way out that is on the up and up. The film begins with the ritual execution of half the staff of the company including its risk director, played with uncanny reserve by Stanley Tucci. His novice assistants follow through on his work and discover the fatal state of the company. Simon Baker-Denney plays the cold head of operations and his cold partner by Demi Moore. The announcement of Moore’s firing is a beautiful piece of acting by her, an infinitesimal response. Fabulous. The boys who uncover the disease are well played by Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley, each of them given key scenes of resolution which they meet perfectly. Paul Bettany plays the sardonic observer-of-it-all and brings to the inner circle the necessary presence of a lack of naiveté. Everyone knows what it’s really about. The suspense builds like black cream being whipped – until the arrival of Jeremy Irons, the pivotal character of the piece, at which point suspense stops. Irons is beyond excellent in the role of the owner of the company. He’s an actor who pulls focus with every inhalation and who can carry a film easily. The problem is in the writing of his part, although he is so good at delivering it as is, that you cannot tell. The fact is that the role of a pivotal character depends on whether he will turn to the right or to the left, and our not knowing which until at last. To create this second level of suspense the picture must refocus this character’s decision on his relations with the characters we have already met and thus postpone it, and the script does not do that. We are faced instead with the question of will people be fired or not, which is jumping the gun which the Irons character holds in his hand. Instead the focus turns to the Spacey character and makes him the focal character, which he is not. But even then the story is quite fascinating and the writing even in its miscalculation is quite fascinating and the playing of the scenes is quite fascinating. Somehow each of these actors has the ability and the material to create characters, no matter how cold, no matter how little we know about them, with whom we can identify. One of the reasons for that is that none of them have private lives. It’s touching. They are all and only worker bees. None more so than the Irons character who can do nothing whatsoever in life but go out and gather more honey and never question it at all.

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Impostors

02 Feb

Impostors — directed by Stanley Tucci — A 30s-style  farce aboard an ocean liner, in which two bad actors imposturing as good actors fall afoul of a bevvy of impostors —

* * * *

Farce is the hardest dramatic form of all — because it is the hardest to sustain. And Stanley Tucci, who wrote and directed this piece, illustrates the point. It is also true that stage farce works better than film farce because stage farce is best played broad, whereas film farce requires something to quiet it down. The bigger the screen the subtler it must be. If not, it splatters like a custard pie, right in the viewers face. Farce also requires fixed settings,which the stage provides and the movie camera forbids. Of course, here we have wonderful players, but all of them fall into the trap of playing over-broad. The watchword for film farce is Buster Keaton, whose dead-pan took the leaven out of his insane physical comedy such that one could watch it with a kind of rollicking amazement. Here, instead, we have a series of custard pie actors, imagining that we are having as much fun as themselves. This does not destroy all the fun, but it does leave the actors exhausted in their invention before the piece is over. Isabella Rosselini is so bent on pretending to hide that she is A Queen In Exile that she is virtually invisible. Alfred Molina playing a ham Hamlet throughout not only chews the scenery but digests and excretes it. Of course, Molina is an adorable actor as are Tony Schaloub as the resident terrorist and the great Allison Janney as a slinky faux Frenchwoman. Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci are heavenly actors. They all are, but the only ones who survive the artistic exhaustion are Lili Taylor who plays it straight as the ingenue and Campbell Scott as a mean German staff captain. He stays rigorously within the tight confines he has set himself, and so he is always welcome to our view. So, instead of bunch of actors putting on a show for us, we have a bunch of actors putting on a show for themselves. With such gifted people there are still considerable rewards. Stanley Tucci is a director whose invention does not flag even after his energy has. I liked this film. And I like his films and I want to see more.

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Burlesque

29 Nov

Burlesque – directed by Steve Antin – a musical about farm girl with hidden talent who comes to L.A and tries to break into Show Business – 118 minutes color 2010.

* * * * *

Cher is perfectly cast as a Burlesque Queen which is what she is and always has been. She is a National Treasure, so we must seize any opportunity that comes along to be in her presence. She is especially good in the first half of the picture in her relations with the extraordinary Stanley Tucci who has won so many Academy Awards it would not be fair to bestow another on him for this delicious performance, and the excellent Peter Gallagher, her former husband and present business partner. Cher declines in interest as the plot not just thickens but curdles around her, for she is in peril of losing her nightclub, oh dear, and Will Not Sell Out. The director should have told her that Tigresses do not weep. Otherwise the piece is very well directed and beautifully filmed, and one feels that a major musical is in hand. The duties of the plot eventually forbid this, of course, but at least we have Cher, in very good voice, singing two songs, the second of which is indecipherable because her enunciation is, as usual, blurred by her vocal production. However the principal player here is one Christine Aguilera, whose vocal quality is similar to Cher’s. She has one Big Number after another, and she is impressive, and these are set on a stage which it is conceivable could hold them. However they are show-off-edited, such that the cuts prevent any single number from registering, so you never can tell what the performer is actually accomplishing. One good part of that is that the off-stage stories are spliced into these numbers at times, which works for the stories if not always for the numbers. For by praising the feat, the editing distances us from experiencing the feat of such performances, and , by giving us canned admiration, forcing us out of  admiring it for ourselves. The dancers and singers are full of beans and beyond-talent, and that does satisfy. Burlesque, in the old days when there was Burlesque, was live-theater in which dirty-joke comics alternated with ladies who disrobed or almost avoided disrobing. In this version the numbers combine the dirty jokes with the witty songs and parodic dances, all of which is dandy. The only striptease is performed by Cam Gigandel who is our heroine’s beau, and who takes it off all the way at one point with great comic effect. He has a mighty fine figure and is a deft and imaginative actor and a good looking young man, perfect in his scenes, and perfectly cast. I hope he has a future. We need a great big smashing musical every year, and this year, this is it!

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