Archive for the ‘DRAMEDY’ Category

20th Century Women

24 Jan

20th Century Womendirected by Mike Mills. Dramedy 119 minutes Color 2017


The Story: The mother of a teenage son enlists the help of her friends to rear him.


When we are teenagers we become secretive to our parents. If we are not secretive already, still we pull away into the unknown experiment called independence.

Annette Bening does not understand this about her son because she does not remember that she did the selfsame thing in adolescence. She does not remember and she is not aware that she does not remember.

This makes her character a gem to watch. Because it means we who watch it can fit into her ordinariness and her error. We can fit into it by means of seeing how disordered her hair often is and how unaware she is of that disorder. And how she, most of the time, is unconscious of any notion of being aware of it to begin with.

How we live our actual lives seldom gets to the screen. Movies are often about tying things up. From the very first reel they aim in that direction. And it is a fine direction to aim for, because wrap-up is one good way to end a story.

I liked the way the story unfolds. I liked the this-and-that of it. The foolishness of the endeavor. I liked what Bening found in this woman. I liked what the writer put in the woman to begin with. Such a woman allows us to forgive everyone we ever met, including our difficult mothers. Forgive them, and forgive ourselves, for they, like us, lived their hours and days in untidy life. Not silly. Not without purport. Not without accomplishment. But not camera-ready.

I tend to adore Annette Bening.


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Posted in ACTING STYLE, Annette Bening: ACTING GODDESS, Billy Crudup, DRAMEDY, Elle Fanning, FAMILY DRAMA


The Dressmaker

01 Oct

The Dressmaker – directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse. Dramedy. 1 hour 59 minutes Color 2016.


The Story: A woman returns to her hometown to wreak revenge, and finds revenge in more ways than hers.


Shakespeare wrote several comedies which are called problem comedies or romances or failures, depending on who’s trying how to legitimize them. But they are interesting because they’re not legit; defy expectations; renounce definition.

In one the prince is small-minded dolt, but the heroine achieves him. In another jealousy is paid back by a termagant’s plot which improbably restores virtue to its reward with the marriage bed of a vicious ruler. We are met in Shakespeare, as seldom elsewhere in drama, with sudden events which no audience is prepared for or desires. In fact, like life, they dissatisfy. They do not regroup the order of nature and the world at the final curtain. They leave their audiences with the stark tang of reality. They’re Shakespeare’s mean streak. In them, the wickedest characters defiantly proclaim – and we never forget them them for it – “What I am shall make me live!”

This kind of piece is The Dressmaker. It reminds you of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit, in which The Lunts had one of their late successes and in which in the film Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn did not. A woman comes back to the town which disgraced her, but now, she has enormous power to unleash.

If you cast Kate Winslet as the woman you are home free, for two reasons, aside from her delicious physical appearance. First, she can act the role, which is to say that it is, unlike The Reader, within the range of her instrument and she has the ability. Second, behind that which lurks in the corners of her mouth as an action determined to take place, she has also a natural sympathy for us to participate in. Kate Winslet? Who cannot like her?

Which means that, whatever she does on screen, something in us roots for her. So on the one hand we believe her vengeance is inevitable, and on the other, where we might want forgiveness to reign, virtuous or not, we actually want her to succeed even at the worst she can do. We never want Winslet to fail.

She’s not like Katharine Hepburn or the heroic actresses of that era. Her characters’ success is not mapped out beforehand. No. You don’t know what will happen. She might be stupid or shot or detoured. Will this revenge take place and what form will it take? Especially when it begins with what appears to be also an act of kindness and even forgiveness. But no more of that. It is for you to watch, wonder, and admire.

Opposite her and lodged heels-in against her is her derelict mother played by Judy Davis. Davis, as we all know, is one of the great humorists of modern art. It’s her mouth. Anyhow she is bewitching in the role, and you want to visit the film again and again to see what she does with this woman.

Flying into their midst is Liam Hemsworth, a young man of such resplendent beauty you can hardly imagine he is as good an actor as he actually is. Twenty-six when he makes this film, he is just entering the peak of his masculinity. It’s always satisfying to see a male like this about to burst into ripeness. They come along from time to time, Hugh Jackman, Tyrone Power, and Hemsworth’s appearance brings a stunning reversal of energy to the film, which shifts its story, and shifts it again. Can there be an alternative to revenge? Mmm.

Films like this are hard to end, and a director really has to wrap things up faster than The Dressmaker manages to. But I didn’t mind. I’ll see it again. I know the good of it. The good of it is better than the good of most.


Danny Collins

22 Apr

Danny Collins – writer, director, Dan Fogelman. Comedy/drama. 106 minutes Color 2015.


The Story: A 70-year-old rock star decides to stop touring and write songs again and also to look up his long-lost son.


This is star-acting. Movie-star-acting. It’s a sub- or super-genre under the rubric of acting, and it requires space to shine in. This space is usually provided by a series of long scenes.

They are given. But they are interrupted by scenes which interlope the procedures necessary for star-acting. The story goes off the rails when we are asked to believe even for one Manhattan minute that his manager and his new girlfriend and certainly his own common sense could appear at a nightclub to debut only one number, when he would actually need thirty new songs to debut anything at all. 

Here again we have the write-director fallacy, the one unable to hear the other throw up. 

This side-track, so phony, kills the real interest of the material, which is: can he actually write a new song after thirty years of hackwork singing other people’s songs? 

We end up in a byway of a mawkish drunk claptrap, that we are spared the worst only by the playing of the long-lost son by one Bobby Cannavale, a lovely actor, whose strategies opposite the star capture us despite the cheap failed trick of the diversion. 

The star-acting is done by Al Pacino, I hope. And I hope you do not think you will be in for anything less. He is not offering a miniature, a water color. He is offering a big canvas, a Rubens. He covers an entire wall. His work is not about realism, naturalism, The Method, or any such. It is rather the projection of the actor’s imagination to create a world towards which the world itself must respond. The danger of star-acting is that it turn hammy. Pacino does not. Pacino is an actor of rich imagination, and even a playful modesty. He is worth beholding, as Bette Davis is worth beholding, and for the same reason. They’re big. If you don’t like Big get out of the kitchen. 

Annette Bening, another star-actor, dims her glow to support his importance, like a stewardess does a pilot. We needed more of her to hold the story true to writing songs, a highway we loose in the blue roads of the plot. Jennifer Garner helps a lot, and so does a little girl, Giselle Eisenberg, as does Christopher Plummer as Pacino’s doughty manager. 

Pacino is a real entertainer. Go. 

But remember: you don’t go to an amusement park because a roller coaster is absent.


The Priest’s Wife

21 Oct

The Priest’s Wife — directed by Dino Risi. Dramedy. 103 Minutes Color 1971.

The Story: A frustrated female falls for a priest.


There is nothing really between them, except what we are told there is. That is the problem with the execution of the material, which has its own problems, as well.

What we have in casting Sophia Loren opposite Marcello Mastroianni here is that we cannot believe in his attraction to her resulting in love of her, because what she throws at him are her sumptuous charms rather than love itself. Magnificent Virgo that she is, Loren holds onto her reserves, but her charms she deploys with the utmost deliberation, as before her did Garbo and Bergman, those other two famous Virgo vamps. There is her wonderful walk, there is her confidence of herself as a woman, there is her sense of fun, her fine speaking voice, her goddess figure, her astounding face, vibrant hair, her immediacy, her talent. But she is essentially a cold actress. That is the challenge of her.

Mastroianni’s job is to register her volatility with his steadiness; his withdrawal in a dance with her control, but the love between them cannot register, and so the comedy and the drama never have any importance. He is also a cold actor.

Perhaps they were intimidated by the rashness of the script which takes on the Vatican itself and the regulation against priests’ marrying. It’s all right if they have mistresses, beget children, molest choirboys, but they must not tie the knot lest it distract them from their marriage to Jesus, who was certainly one for unconventional liaisons, nonetheless. These matters are met head on by the script as it proceeds. And a good thing too.

But really, Loren’s part is written as a crazy dame in miniskirts, aggressive in love from the start when she chases and runs down her faithless lover in her car. She soon chases and runs down Mastroianni, a confirmed prude and church careerist. Her behavior is actually nuts. She is run by desperate, ravenous frustration not by a need for love at all. And since Loren plays her all-out, there is nothing to correct this take on her character.

Loren is 37 and in full possession of her abilities and potential. Mastroianni is 47, but doesn’t look it one bit. The logical motion for this story would be that Loren becomes sane and Mastroianni become insane, and that they both feel love. But that’s not what happens. The director has not provided an inch of calm for either one of them. Mastroianni remains eager for nothing. Loren remains eager for everything in sight. And that’s that.



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Posted in DRAMEDY, Filmed in Italy, Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren: SCREEN GODDESS


My Old Lady

28 Sep

My Old Lady – directed Israel Horovitz, 107 minutes Dramedy Color 2014.


The Story: An impoverished American inherits a Paris apartment and its complications.


Time was in American films when you could see stories about grown-ups. Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer and Rosalind Russell and Claudette Colbert and Cary Grant were grownups. Love Story is a movie about people in their forties. So is Penny Serenade and Woman Of The Year, and they were enormously successful because grownups went to movies in those days, and because age added luster to the skills of the performers and made their exact age immaterial to the universal entertainment their gifts guaranteed.

In My Old Lady, we have such a picture. It is well worth seeing for the maturity of language dedicated to its predicament – for it is a talking picture – meaning that narration does not fall into the trap of being a function of motion only, of pictures only. The people before us are strong minded, articulate, and possessed of fully developed characters.

And they are brought to us by actors we love to watch, whom we have seen over the past twenty years and so are interested in their development.

Can Kevin Kline retain his relevance as a performer? That’s bound to be a question since his screen performances are fairly rare. The answer is up for grabs as you watch his finessing the role of a ne’er-do-well failed novelist on his uppers, as he bamboozles various French operatives out of their ready money trying to keep afloat while he sells or promises to sell a Paris apartment which is not quite yet his.

What prevents this is the presence in it of Maggie Smith who has right of residence as long as she lives – she who has already lived long and promises to live longer. And he is also met by the firm gaze of her daughter played by Kristin Scott-Thomas.

Scott-Thomas is a personality I have not cottoned to in the past, but she really takes hold here as an unmarried woman of fifty or so, learning the truth of her mother’s relations to the man who deeded her the apartment, Kline’s own father. She is interesting to watch and she presents a stern front breaking down as the truth of her life and her relations to Kline’s father emerge. Kline’s weakling breaks down too to reveal a piratical firmness at all odds. Maggie Smith herself, that past mistress of ambiguity nailed by eyes like two cockatoos, crumbles as the worst comes to be known.

The material comes from a stage play and in film form has three acts, the second of which is the richest. The first arranged the predicament for us, the second confronts it, but the third goes off into a siding of romance, which is out of character for Scott-Thomas and damages the weight of the material.

Still we have wonderful actors performing it, great support from the French cast, particularly Dominique Pinon as a real estate agent. We have a real Paris. A film beautifully filmed and well directed, and the spectacle of a virtuoso actor, Kevin Kline negotiating a role without falling into its tempting traps. Grownup fare. Dig in.

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