RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Mid-Tragedy’ Category

Her

29 Jan

Her – directed by Spike Jonze. Psychological Romantic Drama. 126 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

The Story:  A thirty-something divorcé starts up a love-affair with a perfectly formulated human who is a voice on his computer.

The premise may seem so repellent as to keep you away. But the execution of it is so arresting you will remain riveted to the screen. And the reason for that is the voice is that of Scarlett Johansson who delivers the best performance of her life, a piece of work made more wonderful because she never appears before one, for Johansson’s physical appearance and mimetic awkwardness has been a detriment to her creamy advantage all along.

You will also remain riveted because, when you are not, you are riveted by your own mulling of the matter at hand. These recesses come up whenever the writing declines to the tropes, diction, and obligations of soap opera. For, alas, the director is also the writer, and when this happens a picture usually tends to fall foul of a want of critical acuity and an absence of slapping self-indulgence on the fanny. The divorce-papers scene between the man and his soon-to-be former wife is such a scene. It is not necessary, and it does not ring true, unless the two participants are stewed on daytime drama and their emotions are quotations hiccupped up from it.

The acting is helpless not to imitate these TV styles of histrionics. Joaquin Phoenix falls into the trap of the unnecessary smile, the puerile giggle, the senseless smirk upon which soap opera actors lean with toppling weight to flesh out the vapid moment and lend it a smear of good will. Amy Adams, as his chum, is no less a victim of the style. But it’s not their fault. There is no other way to play junk save as junk, unless you are Garbo – and, don’t worry, Garbo smiled a lot! That’s not the problem. The problem is the style. The style turns everything silly — silly without being funny. But that’s only sometimes. For:

However. And there is a big however here. We still have Joaquin Phoenix, who is the most sensitive actor before the cameras today, and we have Amy Adams who is as versatile as her hair-dos. And we have Scarlett Johansson, speaking endearingly, intelligently, gamely, with him. We have the ups and downs of their courtship. We have the surprises of her development as a character, as a human, as a spiritual possibility – and she is the only character who has these traits – and so the picture never flags. We are kept poised for the next interruption of her into his life. We are poised for the next unexpected. And it always captures us unpoised.

The story takes place in some unset time when all humans seem to conduct their lives in talk to earphones. Where writing folks’ billets-doux is parceled out to love-letter-professionals. Where jobs involve TV productions in which housewives fuck refrigerators. Where automaticity reigns.

Is Love a Machine? Is Romance a Fabrication? Companionship a Contraption?

Except that people remain absolutely themselves. Human. Real. Baffled. And yearning.

I should go see it, if I were you. It is the most unusual Hollywood film I’ve seen all year.

 

The Bitter Tea Of General Yen

15 Jan

The Bitter Tea Of General Yen – directed by Frank Capra. Drama. 88 minutes Black and White 1933.

★★★★★

The Story: A girl from a nice New England family is kidnapped by a Chinese warlord.

Nils Asther is certainly one of the more fascinating actors of motion pictures. The actor he puts one in mind of is Garbo. Like Garbo he was Scandinavian, and like Garbo he was very beautiful, and unlike Garbo he was called The Male Garbo – although in a way she was also the male Garbo. In any case, he is a power of subtlety as General Yen (oh, rightly named!) hankering after Barbara Stanwyck. He wears a brilliant make-up, achieved by shaving his eyelashes (which caused his eyes to bleed) and a viperish mustache. He smokes a cigarette so you know exactly what six things he is feeling at the moment, and you presently come to care about his soul, which is his main resemblance to Garbo after all. His eye make-up is so severe he never blinks.

For we are in the arena of miscegenation, and there is no doubt about the story playing upon our inner horror of mating outside our race. We wait out the story to see if it will take place. Oh, horrors! Can a white girl from a proper old New England family actually give herself to An Oriental? We are not dealing with preaching what is Politically Correct here. The film starts with the fine actress Clara Blandick laying it out flat: “They are all tricky, treacherous, immoral. I can’t tell one from the other. They are all Chinamen to me.” So we are immediately thrust into in the underground of our own natural prejudice.

The great character actor, Walter Connolly makes his film debut here in a ripping role, that of a scallywag financial wizard finagling the General’s power. His acting, his presence, and the writing of his part keep tipping the scales not just backward and forward but everywhichway, so our expectations are all a-tumble.

The great cameraman Joe Walker, who filmed many of Capra pieces, brings glory to the screen. His camera placements and lighting are a university education in camera craft.

The only difficulty is that Stanwyck is miscast as a girl from an upper crust New England family, for she is nothing of the kind and does nothing even to suggest that she is. She is common. Stanwyck brings her fabled honesty to the part, which she did all her long life, but that is not enough. But sometimes it was just enough, as here, but she never played deeply with accents, never learned character work. She brings herself at the moment. She started as a dancer so she brings physical certainty to her roles. There are never two things going on. If she says yes and really wants to say no, the “Yes,” will sound like “No.” She is without ambiguity, uncertainty, or subtext. But she is steady on. She has a fine voice for film and a face camera ready in any light and under any conditions. And, a rarer thing than you might think, she is an actor with the common touch. She never blinks either.

The film is magnificently produced. It cost over a million to make. It was the first movie ever to play at Radio City Music Hall (where it failed), and Frank Capra said it was his favorite film. The material is surprising and real, and the treatment unforced and free. It certainly is one of the most interesting films of the ‘30s.

 

Two Lovers

18 Jan

Happy Christmas Day In The Morning, all you readers of movie moody.com! And a splendid New Year!

Read, enjoy, love, and adore Christmas Day In The Morning, a jolly holiday tale for the whole family. On Amazon, visit: http://amzn.com/B00AA59P5G.

Also, go to the menus on the right, go down to the third, and get your FREE Kindle app. There are many books on Kindle you may want one day to read, consider, research, and add to Christmas Day In The Morning.

Heigh Ho!
~ ~ ~
Two Lovers – directed by James Gray. Drama. A bourgeois man is drawn between two women, one of whom everyone wants him to marry and the other of whom no one wants him to marry. He wants to marry both. 110 minutes Color 2008.
★★★★★
The emergence of a true ingénue is rare in film.

What is the quality that defines an ingénue?

In a young woman, it is the quality of innocence which is a two-edged sword whose gleam charms the right people and protects her against the wrong ones. The protection side is never visible, but its existence dictates the story of any drama a true ingénue appears in. But few of them ever do appear. In film, in my lifetime, only two true ingénues: Audrey Hepburn and Gwyneth Paltrow.

But what happens to an ingénue when she is thirty or forty? With Audrey Hepburn nothing happens, for she continues, even in dramatic parts, to play the ingénue until she retires. But the ingénue is well beloved from the first, and the affection she inspires influences the box office to repeat her in the same role over and over again, such that she can hardly learn to play anything new or other. Audrey Hepburn was smart; she knew the limits of her talent, and she knew her fate, and she left off.

Ingénues are not physically small: Hepburn and Paltrow are rather tall: both of them are also fashion plates. While I don’t know that that defines the type, their slenderness gives them apparent vulnerability, so it must be seductive for them to adhere to their type. However, with Gwyneth Paltrow, this is not the case, for we do not live in an age of sophisticated comedy, and she is inherently far more talented than Audrey Hepburn never mistook herself to be. To work, Paltrow has played mothers. Paltrow has played a drug-addicted country singer. Leading lady to Iron Man. And you believe each one of them. I may have missed some of her films, but I didn’t mean to. She is unique in films for the same rare reason Audrey Hepburn was: she authentically sympathizes.

And so surely one must watch her play this part of what would in anyone else’s hands play out merely as a spoiled meth-head rich girl strung out on a married older man. Joaquin Phoenix tumbles for her big time. And who would not? Watch how she cares for him as she says no.

Phoenix is an actor mysteriously underrated by critics, who do not see his ruthless art for what it is, an almost pathological refusal to entertain. It’s perverse and noble. In this case, he is fat. His face is swollen with early middle age. He plays an overgrown failure, established as a loser from the start, due to inherit the dull fate of a dry-cleaning business, a man whose physical beauty, which in Joaquin’s Phoenix’s case is considerable, is as completely gone as though it never existed. He has nothing to fall back on but love, and he is not loved, at least not by men. His mother, played with exquisite proportion by Isabella Rossellini, loves him, and his fiancé, well played by Vinessa Shaw, loves him as a rescue project. And Paltrow loves him, but not that way.

His story, the picture’s story, is a fascinating account of a man incapable of a move which is not suicidal.

 

The Descendants

03 Dec

The Descendants – Directed and written by Alexander Payne. Mid-Tragedy. A well-to-do landholder in Hawaii faces three directions at once: his wife’s mortal coma, his two daughters, and selling the land. 115 Minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

George Clooney is not an actor of high temperament or big effects. Perhaps that is because he is the man who has everything or perhaps it is because he is naturally reserved or phlegmatic. In any case, this quality serves his character’s frugal lifestyle, “Give your kids just enough so they do something with their lives, and not so much that they do nothing with their lives,” is his motto, but he is a busy soul, and he has given his kids no attention at all. When their mother lies on her deathbed he has to herd these two kittens – but they soon herd themselves as they track down the man who was having an affair with their mother just before she died. The girls are well played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller. And everyone else is good too: Nick Krause as the tag-along teenager, Beau Bridges as one of the relatives bidding fair to rake in a bundle from the sale of land to developers, Patricia Haste as the moribund wife, Matthew Lillard as the adulterous husband, Judy Greer as his wife. It was especially gratifying to see Robert Forster as the grandfather, a long way from Reflections In A Golden Eye and still an actor doing Oscar worthy work. The piece is structured as high tragedy, with the three children as the chorus and all the obligatory scenes, but it is not written that way. The style is mid-mimetic, and that is quite right, for a movie is what it is. It did not draw a tear. It was not aiming to. And while we all adore George Clooney that does not mean that we sympathize with him, for why should one sympathize with the man who has everything. This providence makes it difficult for him as an actor. What is difficult? It’s difficult for him as an actor to have a difficulty. We adore him because he carries his many benefactions with ease, grace, and humility. But as a character undergoing the horrors of this story, he does not seem to have the daring or technique to invest himself in responding deeply to them. We, of course, can empathize from time to time with his situation here. But his shoes are far too comfortable for any audience member to put themselves in, for since he fits into them all too well, there is room for none of us whatsoever. All this being said, he is no detriment to this material. He carries the picture, just as he always does, but this time playing a character who at the start at least is hapless, at odds with his situation, flummoxed by the behavior and diction of his daughters, and lost, all of which he does very well – and he has the tact to never make any of this comedic. It is later on when his character becomes crazier, or ought to become crazier, that the story loses in urgency. I felt neither fear nor pity. The picture is beautifully made, grown-up and well worth seeing.

 

 
 
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