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Archive for the ‘Tom Wilkinson’ Category

Denial

17 Oct

Denial – directed by Mick Jackson. Courtroom Drama. 110 minutes Color 2016.

★★★★

The Story: A historian/academic has defamed a holocaust-denier, and he takes her to court in England for slander.

~

Oscar-time means biopics. True stories from headlines or history books crowd our attention, as civics lessons and catch-up info, and they are always welcome for the impersonations actors bestow in them.

Here we have Timothy Spall – face once seen never forgotten – as the headline-grabber no-holocaust side. We see him charming the convinced – skinheads, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites – that Hitler had nothing to do with the extermination camps and that the cyanide was merely to delouse the inmates. His rich rhetoric, so confident, so humorous, makes us delight in how convincing wickedness can be when skillfully said.

He is the first of four fine performances. The second is by Andrew Scott as the strategy attorney who has to hold himself in check in order to hold his client in check, a female threatening to run wild.

Rachel Weisz plays Deborah Lipstadt the American historian baffled by British Court procedure and eager to run her own. show. Watching her, I wished they had cast an American Jewish actor. For Weisz, a good actor, gets lodged behind her Queens accent, such that I can’t bear to hear her utter another word after she utters the first. This stalls the performer behind her technique. I never get beneath my own irritation with her character’ coarseness to care about her as a human. The accent is flawless; that’s the trouble with it. But she does a good job of playing her scenes, which consist of gritting her teeth after she has gnashed them in outrage about how her case is being handled.

That all her ideas are wrong is set right by the performance of Tom Wilkinson as her defense attorney. He is an actor of mystery. If he were wholly mysterious, he would not be mysterious at all. But he is-half mysterious, except you never know which half. I delight to watch him. I am amazed by his discretion and power.

He has wonderful lines by David Hare to speak in the three crucial scenes in a trial that lasted thirty days and cost millions.

The film is sound, informative, honest, suspenseful, and well-told. The story is enclosed in its own drama, but you will not waste your time. Go.

 

 

Snowden

22 Sep

Snowden – written and directed by Oliver Stone. Biopic. 142 minutes. Color 2016.

★★★★

The story: A brilliant young computer whiz mounts a high level career in US government agencies, learns the terrible truth, and breaks it to the press.

~

Any gross invasion of privacy would seem to be, for Edward Snowden, all the 7 deadly sins rolled into one. He is closed off, closed down, closed up. He doesn’t want to be pried-into. And one keeps thinking, thank God Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfectly cast as him. Why? Because this actor has the face of a man you know is keeping all his secrets. A gross invasion of privacy is what he is shown hating most. No wonder Snowden spilled the beans in the biggest invasion of privacy of all, the invasion of privacy of the US government’s secret invasion of the privacy of its citizens.

Never was such gorgeous use of the big screen. Never was a biopic told with such reliance on the intelligence of the audience to watch and weigh.

And all of that is interesting and consistently vivid, informative and narratively alive.

What is not alive is Stone’s rendering of Snowden’s romance with his girlfriend, which moves through its hackneyed tropes to arrive nowhere. For Stone is not interested in romance or sex or human relations. Stone is a civics teacher, and a darn good one. Besides, it is impossible to take sides with this woman, since Snowden is such a cold fish. His love life is not primarily important to him. Which is why he is such a cold fish.

Narratively, it’s a phony conflict. Snowden’s loyalty would not be between his girlfriend and his job, but rather the tug between his mastery as a computer virtuoso, systems inventor and innovator, smart as paint – and – what would jeopardize this true calling – the disclosure which would result in the loss of this job and this calling. Which is, in fact what happened. Stalled in Russia. In Russia all Russia is a Russian airport.

But Stone never sees this. Instead we get Stone’s canned approbation of Snowden – as though we couldn’t judge that for ourselves.

Still, the film, by Anthony Mantle, is beautiful to behold. We have wonderful actors at their best – Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Nicolas Cage. And we have superb production values, Mantle’s stunning and convincing pictures, great editing by Alex Marquez and Lee Percy.

And best of all we have not the drama but the biography and background of Snowden well and clearly told, and it is worth the telling and the seeing.

 

Belle

18 May

Belle – directed by Amma Asante. Costume Drama. 109 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story: A mulatto girl becomes the heiress of a great 18th Century British fortune and goes into politics.

~

“What a great big lovely movie!” I said to myself when it was done, and so it is. Produced in the best Masterpiece Theatre manner, with grand costumes in immense mansions and slightly postured dialogue delivered in the style of low emotional tremolo when feeling is required, it delivers full value as a costume drama.

A costume drama is a drama with no drama, only certain posits foregone. Will the mulatto daughter heiress marry right and well? Will her adopted father who is Chief Justice of The Realm come out on the proper side in the case of the drowned slaves? Will society ever accept her, illegitimate and chocolate as she is? Of course, of course, of course is the answer to these questions even as they are posed. And why?

Because no one is deeply engaged in any personal drama at all. People weep and shout, but so what? Is there ever a matter, inside any main character, which is virtually undecidable? Is there a character defect in any one of them (as there is, say, in Emma), that is tragic or virtually tragic? Is there a situation that goes deeper than a code or a social necessity or a decorum? Not really.

As it stands it might be but isn’t Tom Wilkinson’s story. For he, as the Chief Justice, is the one who may or may not set the entire world on a different course on the matter of slavery. But he is not given the scenes that would cut inside him as to how this momentous case reflects out from his relations with the black niece he has harbored. Certainly she is played well by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as is his wife played our belovèd Emily Watson, and his sister, Aunt Mary, played by the redoubtable Penelope Wilton.

But the forces of Costume Drama are arrayed against any such drama. And the story is handed over to the black girl, who actually is given nothing in the writing inside herself to play against. For the expectation is that, though an heiress, she can never marry, but must, like her Aunt Mary, become the spinster chatelaine of a vast estate. Oh horrors! Why is a woman’s fortune so meagerly thus! But, really, what we need to see is the real attractions there might be in becoming just like her aunt. Instead she is presented as the perfect heroine, fetching, pretty, bright, courageous, and startlingly adept at Scarlatti. And, of course, offered the handsomest man in the picture as a beau. He is very good. His name is Sam Reid.

Still, it is a wonderful picture of its kind – like Spielberg’s Lincoln – an overview of a single historical event – involving slavery — although less of a character study. You will not be wasting your time to see it; not at all; you will be informed and heartened. And finally know that slavery is wrong? No, that something worse is wrong: blind-heartedness. Blind-heartedness is wrong.

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

31 Mar

The Grand Budapest Hotel – directed by Wes Anderson. Farce. 99 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story:  A fancy hotel manager and his apprentice chase and are chased around mittel-Europe after and because of their love-lives with their lady friends.

~

Wes Anderson knows the first rule of farce: face directly forward and deliver it all full-front to the audience.

He also knows the second rule: symmetry. And it’s shadow twin: asymmetry.

The third rule he does not know. Which is that the third act must not pause even for a joke. The not-pausing is the joke.

So go to this picture, and expect that something pneumatic will leave as its third act halts along. Watch it stall when Edward Norton appears. He pops in like a jack-in-a-box, which is fun, but he lacks farce-style, which is crisp, innocent, and depends upon the fixed position of the character – a position often made clear by a mustache – all actions unmotivated and revealed as physicalizations almost mechanical. Then, the scene after the prison escape dwells on itself too long. Then, the gunfight is not handled wittily. Then, does the story need that fourth prisoner to die? And how did she fall out that window anyhow?

Still, the director does understand how to transfer stage farce into film farce. He turns the camera into all the doors farce requires. His lens opens and slams shut with perfect timing. The joke lies less in what the characters are saying or doing than how and when they appear and disappear before us. The show is directed right out to us. And all the tricks are droll and appreciate our wit in enjoying them.

So go: relax and enjoy the pastry of great film farce. Jeff Goldblum as the trustee of the will, Adrien Brody as the dagger villain, Tilda Swinton as his 85 year-old aunt, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Bob Balaban as concierges, Willem Dafoe as the grim hit-man, Tom Wilkinson as the author old, the impeccable Harvey Keitel as a thug. The central story is introduced and framed by F. Murray Abramson and Jude Law, and the  inner and main story is carried by Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori, who are first-class. The settings are rich, unusual, and flabbergasteringly funny.

I don’t know what you think you are doing with your lives, but you shouldn’t be going to any other film right now but this one.

 

A Good Woman

08 Dec

A Good Woman – directed by Mike Barker. High Comedy. A woman of mystery turns up in Amalfi and immediately arouses gossip since it appears she is being kept by the recently married husband of a highly proper young woman. 83 minutes Color 2005.
★★★
Lady Windermere’s Fan was made famously by two famous directors, one with Ronald Coleman by Ernst Lubitsch in 1925, a silent film renowned for its mute success despite Wilde being the most verbally distinctive of writers; again in 1945 by Otto Preminger with Madeleine Carroll, George Sanders, and Jeanne Crain. The play was clearly ripe for a redo.

No, it wasn’t.

Although the play itself would be unworkable as a movie, the writers have kept Wilde’s structure, but lifted Wilde’s japes and jokes from other sources and flattened them to fit the lips of 1930’s socialites wintering on the Mediterranean, and the only actors who can get their mouths around them properly are the two old troupers who form a chorus of snipers and scandalmongers and tipplers, Roger Hammond and John Standing, and aren’t they fun!

The beautiful English actor Mark Umbers plays the now Americanized (the once Arthur and now Robert) Windermere (no longer a lord) and his wife (no longer Lady Windermere) is played by the seventeen year-old Scarlett Johansson. Johansson is a baffling presence in film, and although she comes to this one with a good deal of experience behind her, it does not show. Her voice is flat and badly placed and seems uninvested in meaning. Her heifer eyes register a wounded stupidity. She moves clumsily. She does not wear clothes well. Of course, her skin takes the camera so well, you think she must be God’s gift to the movies; I give her back unopened.

She is matched by Helen Hunt, who plays the intriguing adventuress, Mrs. Erlynne. Hunt is also American, and she too has the wrong voice for the part, oddly pitched, high, flat, and eggy. I like her face a lot, but, with its thin lips and sunken cheeks and hawk-like nose, it is likely to be miscast as that of a femme fatale. She has too much plea in her timbre. She does not have the inner puma, she’s not a wild animal in lamé, she does not have the sexual certainty to promise. She looks well in her clothes, with her beautifully proportioned, slender figure. And she is a good actress, so she makes the most of everything opposite Tom Wilkinson as Lord Augustus.

Wilkinson is the only real character we care about here. The part, a much-married playboy now in high middle age, is made much larger than in the play, in which he is presented as one of Wilde’s dear old fools. Wilkinson has several good scenes with Hunt, and with the two geezers, as they and the old trouts of leisure snipe at the scandal and inflate it by examining with vitriol eye that corpse, the institution of marriage.

But to really enjoy Lady Windermere’s Fan, one must read it. I do so in a first edition of it, old now, with its odd intestinal cover with three gold leaves, Elkin Matthew 1893: Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Play About A Good Woman. Indeed: a play about goodness of many and various stripes and kinds.

 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

12 Jun

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – directed by John Madden. Comedy/Drama. A group of retirees seek economic comfort at a Jaipur hotel, which they find also to be a retiree. 124 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

If by some merry chance you should be gulled into seeing this piece, relax then and wander for a time with this bunch of expatriates and be one of them, for in each of us at some time and place is each of the characters we find before us here, and are just as we would be should we find ourselves here. We first of all are the impecuniously retired. We are also the one so fearful of going out of doors in Jaipur India that we miss the fun of the color and assault of the stench and the poverty and the endless wealth and variety of life. Then we are also the one who betrayed a love long ago. We are no less the one who must cling to her safety blanket of familiar foods, never daring to nibble a dainty. We are the racially prejudiced. We are the brash strider venturing forth into the escape of a world both opposite to his own and also unavoidable. The mad and kindly proprietor of this old hotel is a young man who has just inherited it, and his enthusiasm is as boundless as his promises and equally unfulfillable. Never was a film so perfectly, so justly filmed and edited. Never was one so fortunately cast. The balance of the scenes is exquisite as played off against one another for length, tone, plot, and color. Tom Wilkinson plays the lover in search of his once lost love. My favorite, Maggie Smith, who is the most physical actor of her generation, plays the lower-class foodie, and gives to us, once again, that rare gift of an actor, embodiment. Richard Nighy is the fellow who ventures out into the wilds of the city. Which brings us to Judi Dench. I have always thought that to act opposite Judi Dench would be to act opposite a rock. I don’t like her. There is no give in her. Instead an adamantine quality in her chooses the moment for “sympathy,” as by a schoolmarm’s ferule.  She is an actress of advanced calculations, always an instant ahead of the moment. She’s mean. She irritates me. Usually. For this is not one of those times. Here she is given to play the part of a woman entirely opposite to all that, one naive to the world, a woman whose dead husband took care of everything, with the exception of providing for her in the event of his death. She plays it freshly. She appeals. All of them do, but the one who really appeals most is the young actor playing the delirious proprietor of the hotel. What a wonderful voice and face and energy. What a sense of humor. What a darling guy. He is Dev Patel of fond memory of Slumdog Millionaire. And the movie is directed by John Madden of fond memory of Shakespeare In Love. So you see. Whatever age you are, you cannot go wrong with this movie, for whatever age you are you too are a retiree from something, waking up in a new place and, just like our friends here, just like a newborn baby, comically disoriented. Catch it at once.