Archive for the ‘Rachel Griffiths’ Category

Saving Mr. Banks

07 Jan

Saving Mr. Banks – directed by John Lee Hancock. BioFlic. 125 minutes Color 2013. ★★★★★

The Story: Walt Disney attempts to induce stubborn P. L. Travers to sign over the rights to her book Mary Poppins, and both turn out to be different than you thought.


Terrific. Made with the immaculate production values we are long accustomed to with Walt Disney movies, and, once we blind ourselves the poise of them, the trip is certainly worth our while. For the making of Mary Poppins was certainly worth while. For it tugs at the heart with unlooked-for happiness, in the same good old Disney way.

Inside each of these famous people who wrangle over the production of the film a Bambi lies covert. A father ruined, and almost ruinously wonderful, preys on each of them.

This is somewhat less interesting than the performing of the principals. Kathy Baker is the wise secretary of the great man, Bradley Whitford is the script writer much abused, Jason Schwartzman is the song writer, and Rachel Grifiths sails in with her life-saving umbrella and basket of nostrums. She is the prototype of Mary Poppins, and an actor who looks unsettlingly but not quite exactly like Colin Farrell plays the prototype for Mr. Banks, the actor turning out to actually be Colin Farrell. A lovely little actress, Annie Rose Buckley, plays his six year-old daughter, enchanted by him. Paul Giamatti, in an infallible role, plays Mrs. Travers’ California chauffeur.

This high-end casting is a doily around the principles. Disney is played by Tom Hanks who is an actor who can play ordinary people unactorishly. He never pushes for effects. He never shows you he can act. He brings honor to the every-day and the expected to the expected. No more trustworthy actor exists. He is a pleasure as ever.

As the redoubtable P.L. Travers we have (and no one else would do) your favorite of all, Emma Thompson. Travers is at the end of her creative road and she knows it. So the part is set up to present you with the most difficult and rude British dame you ever met, protecting her last and dearest child from Hollywood molestation. She has that common British attitude that all things American are inferior and, even worst, vulgar. She mistakes condescension for breeding and contempt for superiority. She is crushingly dismissive of everything and everyone. And Emma Thompson means it, so you wonder, will this never end?

It does end exactly as it should, with her at the premier of Mary Poppins, and we are all in tears, because Mary Poppins is one of the most worthwhile films Disney ever made. If Julie Andrews lacks the rigor which Mrs Travers put in her, never mind, the idea gets across, and the songs crack the nut of any hard-heart within city limits. We shed tears not because we are in pain, but because we are given release of pain. And I say, Good! Shed some. Go.


The Rookie

07 Aug

The Rookie – Directed by John Lee Hancock. Sports Drama. A 40-year-old baseball coach keeps his promise to God. 127 minutes Color 2002.

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Carter Burwell’s score draws a line under every scene with the same color as the scene, making the obvious unmistakable. This is exactly the way to score a film such as this, a Disney sermon, which is inspirational and important. Important for people to see who have not fulfilled their promise. Because it’s never too late. When you consider a film like this, it’s easy to see what’s there: story, yes; situation, yes; talented actors, yes; competent direction; yes, proper filming, yes; clear roles, yes. Script, no; characters, no. It’s not that people say what people would never say under the circumstances, so much as it is that they do not say enough and that what they do say lacks the power of personal verbal flavor. This means, with too little dialogue, the actors must fall back on their personal eccentricity, which Rachel Griffiths wisely does, or that actors must fall back on acting, which makes them look ridiculous in the case of that wonderful actor Brian Cox in his final scene (watch him grasp for straws) or like a ham, which is the case with Dennis Quaid. Quaid, always well cast, is an actor of great charm and application. Good looking, with a grin and a smile almost as endearing as Brando’s, and with a winning way about him. He is a terrific male physical specimen and an ideal sort of all-American type (don’t put him costume drama, though; don’t ask him to play a European of any kind).  But over time, he has gotten to be very technical actor, and you can see it in his mouth. He makes faces. (And you rally have to be Greta Garbo to know how to do that.) So he gives less of a gutsy or eccentric or innocent performance than one which fulfills the routines of the script. Still he is a lovable cuss, and has his moments here. The film promulgates bourgeois American virtues and feelings. Why not? That’s Disney’s job always. Someone has to do it. And I need it from time to time. What makes the whole thing work is that the baseball stuff  works like blazes and that it is cast bottom-heavy with superb senior actors who give foundation and validity to the message without spelling it out in any bigger letters than Carter Burwell uses. This clarity makes it possible to turn elsewhere without disgust. Good family fare, to be sure.





Muriel’s Wedding

02 Feb

Muriel’s Wedding — directed by P.J. Hogan — a dumb Dora wants to be in the in-group, to which end she strives to be married, but she is such a mome no one will date her. She lies, cheats, and steals to achieve her goal. Good for her!  106 minutes Color 1994.

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An Australian Georgie Girl, this ruthless satire on money, men, marriage, and mammaries brings into our welcoming sight the gifts of Toni Colette, as its forebear once did those of Lynn Redgrave. Colette brings to bear her wonderful bovine eyes and cowed head to play this moronic phony to the nines. She never lets up not getting it. Her cries of dismay are the dismay of the world and her cries of delight the delight of the world. So this is a really big conception for an actor. It’s a conception by an actor with nothing to lose and Toni Colette risks everything. For the difference with this ugly duckling is that in this version she is crowded out and nearly drowned by the other ducks. Colette makes her such an oaf that the brow-beatings bend her face to the mud but do not break her. Watch Colette “take it”, and come back for more. Into this concentration camp of cruelty rides Rachel Griffiths in rare form as a high-riding tomato, and it’s good to see her in one of her less nefarious sex-killer roles, for no actor male or female can threaten like Rachel Griffiths. This vengeful resentment is in play only later, as the story switches hands over and over. But until then, she displays a zest for fun and comedy and play that is a delight to see, and into it Colette dives with her, her character almost convinced that this fairy godmother’s rescue is real. See it, oh, see it!




15 Dec

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

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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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