RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Willem Dafoe’ Category

A Most Wanted Man

10 Aug

A Most Wanted Man – directed by Anton Corbjin. Spy Thriller. 122 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story: Working against the clock, a team of rogue spies attempt to corner a terrorist funding operation.

~

Why do we think of Philip Seymour Hoffman as a great actor?

What is the source of our satisfaction with him?

What does he bring to us that other actors cannot or do not wish to bring? And why do we not care to ask him to bring what other actors bring?

Why do we sit back and wonder at him?

One thing he brings is extremes we would not wish to show to anyone.

By extremes I mean a extremes on either side of the human psychological and emotional range. In this case, a dull doggedness and on the other hand a scathing rage.

And another thing that he brings is a separate person up there.

For surely as I sit back and look at his customary unruly beauty, I see a German functionary working his task of high level espionage. I have seen Hoffman before looking just like that, but now and once again playing a character I recognize as never seen before.

There is an actual person up there on the screen.

There are very few actors in the world who can do that.

Certain criticisms about the story of this film have been made. Before I talk about them, let me say that it is brilliantly filmed, directed, and acted. On the one side, we have extreme actors Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright and on the other a cast of international actors of the first water. The difficulty lies in the story not making clear that Hoffman is an obsessive. Obsessives differ in that they have no outcome in mind. Obsessives just want to complete the cycle of the obsession.The one thing we know about Hitler is that he had no purpose beyond the next obsessive act. So if Hoffman’s character is an obsessive, that is to say a pure executant, we need to know it all along and every other important character needs to discover it to us in scenes. I haven’t read the John Le Carré novel; I don’t know if the scenes are there. But here, while the tension is keenly entertaining, there is a defect to us in the writing of a film otherwise superb.

In the tracts of Zeami (1363-14440), the Shakespeare of the Noh theatre, he writes, “If the actor sees old men walking hobbled by ague, with bent knees, bent back, and shrunken frames, and he simply imitates these characteristics, he may achieve an appearance of decrepitude, but it will be at the expense of the ‘flower.’ And if the ‘flower’ be lacking, there will be no beauty in the impersonation. The ‘flower’ consists in forcing upon an audience an emotion which they do not expect.”

Over and over again, Philip Seymour Hoffman has brought forth for us those ‘flowers’. Honor him.

Here he is finally, after all. This will be the last chance to see him up there before you on the big screen. It is a place where he belonged. He’s big like a Rubens is big. Witness him there. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Grand Canyon is one street over. Quit dawdling. Get off your barstool and go.

 

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.

 

Mississippi Burning

21 May

Mississippi Burning –– directed by Alan Parker. Drama. Two FBI agents search a small Southern town for the murderers of three young civil rights workers. 128 minutes Color 1988.

★★★★★

It hasn’t dated one day.

Two widely divergent investigative styles cross their purposes in this recounting of the actual murders. And in this the film has its only flaw, which is the casting of Wilhem Dafoe as the conservative by-the-books young Turk agent whose methods overwhelm the investigation. He is either miscast or not a good enough actor to play the role unconventionally. Instead we get the conventions: the glasses and the stuffy manner. We get the primness and the stiff necked pride. The problem is as soon as the role is played that way the audience dismisses the character as known.

It needed to be played with easy physical flexibility and charm. The character would still have to say the same lines, it’s just that you would never be able to expect what was coming. It needed an actor much more temperamentally lithe than Dafoe – Robert Downey Junior, say – an actor with whom you never know what’s coming, an actor who can play against the script and still reveal it.

Particularly as opposite him, Gene Hackman, as the second string agent, gives what may be his finest screen performance, in a character so fluid and variable that he can infiltrate a den of snakes and out-writhe them. Every choice is subtle and pertinent. His scenes opposite that great actress Frances McDormand, as the modest wife of the criminal deputy are exquisite.

The film uses Southern negro townsfolk, and their wonderful faces and beings illuminate the screen with telling force. The same is true of the sets and set decoration, which is first class (I know those Southern bungalows) and the locations, most of which were taken in the deep South. These lend an astonishing veracity to the poverty and down-troddenness of the black folk, and the brain-damage of the white folk whose blind bigotry strong-arms and gentles the negroes into the shanty mind of second class citizens in a free nation. Which changes with glacial rapidity. Not even that.

Yet it happened, and they caught those rats.

I was moved by the story and impressed by the authenticity of everything I saw in Mississippi Burning. All of it still pertains.

 
 
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