Archive for the ‘Brad Pitt: MASTER ACTOR’ Category

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

29 Jul

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood—directed by Quentin Tarantino. Grand Guignol Dramedy. 161 minutes Color 2019.
The Story: An ambitionless stunt double does his TV star friend a big fat favor when the Manson Family enters the premises.
Here’s the spoiler. Brad Pitt does not die at the end and ought to. Because if he did, his movie star best friend would be in character to aver nothing happened so as to amble up Sharon Tate’s drive to angle with her husband, director Roman Polanski, for a movie part. The comedy would not just be finito but finished funny.

Barring that, barring that the film goes on a bit long at the start, it succeeds as a wild escapade into early TV Hollywood and the stunning mechanics of TV acting then and now. In this, Leonardo DiCaprio is funny indeed, or at least the situations he is placed in are funny and he rises just high enough to the brink of those situations to reap the wit the director had in mind. Astonishing.

You would think Tarantino hated Hollywood movies, for he wreaks a rare satire on them, as one would upon a dumb seduction from one’s foolish past. Tarantino is remorseless. And for this reason we want to see what he does. Quentin Tarantino is Gilbert and Sullivan with, instead of music, blood.

He does what we dare not do and says what we dare not say, overkills all when we would wish to but would not be sufficiently skilled to. The entire film is set up to display our gory tongue. We watch caught up in the bloodletting which is the film’s finale and the excuse for it.

And, gosh, we watch agreeing with his violence in its every extremity. We wield Tarantino’s dismembering rapier deliciously. The young women are brained and burned alive, and not only do we cheer, we want more: more gore, more gore. We are on the side of Brad Pitt against “those Hippies!” Every available ambition of impotent resentment is summoned in the audience, as Tarantino prepares us as a chef preparing a chef d’oeuvre. We are the feast itself.

The film is an open invitation for audience members to disgrace themselves, and we all do!

But the thing is that, after all, it’s just a movie, isn’t it?

No, it isn’t.

Movies this good aren’t just a movie.

Are they?


The Big Short

01 Jan

The Big Short – directed by Adam McKay. Docudrama. 130 minutes Color 2015.


The Story: A group of Wall Street investors, foreseeing the housing market will fail, bet against the market, but when housing fails, they can’t collect because the banks deny the failure.


Two things I don’t understand about this film: one is the sense that this is called an ensemble piece when in fact the four main actors are never or seldom together. And two is that the separation of these separate stories is achieved with over-edited snippets and over-montaged sequences such that none of it can be made out by a normal eye.

Why is this done?

Perhaps to bewilder the audience into believing the reason they can’t understand the complexities of what is at stake is not because they are too stupid but because the flashy montages are causing it. And, by gum, if we are not comfortable with this style of montage anyhow, we must be not hip.

A lot of the film is made with a hand-held camera, which is supposed to grant reality. It doesn’t; it just grants the shaking of a hand-held camera. And, of course, color film almost always denies reality; it is too heightened; it demands too little of the imagination; it is too expected. This would have been a perfect subject for black and white.

So, being an English major, how can I respond to this confetti?

It is beautifully acted. Ryan Gosling is perfect as the snappy, rude investor. Brad Pitt is swell as the retired broker who breaks the bank with the help of John Magaro and Finn Whitrock as tyro investors. Christian Bale, in a great wig, is perfectly cast as the know-it-all pioneer of the trading system. But it is Steve Carell as a disgruntled investor who stands out just a little from the others. He is nominated for several supporting actor awards, which seems quite unjust to me, since he is the moral center of, since he stars, and since he carries the film. All the supporting people are first class, including, Marisa Tomei and, I imagine, Melissa Leo whom I never saw in it at all, so flashed-by were her scenes.

The film is also up for Comedy Awards. It is not a comedy in any sense of the word or life-experience of the audience. The film is about fraud. The award categories claimed for the film are also fraud. Too bad.

Everything the film-maker could do to make the complexities readable was done and then undone. I leave it to you to tell me more about the real estate collapse and if I am missing something or everything. Or perhaps confusion is the only knowledge to be had of the matter.


By The Sea

30 Nov


By the Sea – written and directed by Angelina Jolie. Drama. 122 minutes Color 2015.


The Story: A well-to-do married couple travel through the Mediterranean seeking to reestablish their marriage.


Once again, this is a case of a director mistakenly directing her own screenplay. What’s mistaken about it, in this case, is that her own part is miswritten and underwritten.

Underwritten in that the author supposes content to be present by inference, which is to say that because the marriage is in difficulty we must empathize with a situation just because it is there.

Miswritten in that she has written the part she plays as a woman made vulnerable by a mental disturbance. Mental disorders do not inspire pity in an audience. They inspire in an audience an exit from the site of the impossible-to-deal-with.

There is also here an imbalance in the playing forced unto being that Jolie’s husband, Brad Pitt, is a more talented actor than she is.

She also makes the mistake of having her eyes arrayed in opera makeup throughout the piece. It turns her into a power-beauty like Laura Croft  and so many of her other roles and at which she is superb. But it makes no sense here, save to put the actor in a separate category from Brad Pitt, who seems to wear no makeup at all, save that he has died his hair darker than it is, whatever it is – for Pitt is 13 years older than she, into his 50s. Not that that matters much, for from the start of his career he has always registered 10 years younger than his actual age.

As to Jolie, we cannot take into our hearts a performance which takes refuge in the fast food joint of insanity. We are expected to feel pity; instead we feel pathos – pathos is pity made in Japan. At any rate, from the point of view of an actor’s choices, it’s a cop-out. She doesn’t have the resources to bring it off.

Perhaps what Jolie intended was to create a bread-and-butter note to Pitt, for all he has to put up with in being married to her. Her ruthless maternity, her vast income, and her radical physical problems.

And Pitt is cast as just the sort of husband he would be in real life. His character is patient, loving, kind, communicative. He takes good care of a problem wife. He puts up with her lovingly. Every time she does something ugly, she retreats into her persona of a nut case to escape blame. It’s a ruse. This too he forgives. The man’s a saint.

The film is beautifully filmed and staged, and the hotel setting and set decoration are remarkable. It is not a waste of time to see these two together. And they drive the most beautiful car you have ever seen, a Citroen, I believe. Check it out and drool.

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Posted in Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt: MASTER ACTOR, MARITAL DRAMA



18 Oct

Fury – written and directed by David Ayer. War Story. 134 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: Tank warfare in World War II against Germany is the challenge which five tank members face.


The word cliché has become a cliché. For respect must be assigned to it as describing something importantly human. Important because humans use and become clichés so readily. For clichés are based on thoughtless, automatic repetition. Just as our heartbeats are. And so perhaps there is that in them which assures our safety and our immortality.

It is a case of a writer directing his own script – always a perilous thing to do – for a director cannot distinguish what should be cut, or what should be de-emphasized, or what is not so hot.

What’s not so hot in Fury is the power the director ascribed to what we have all heard and seen before, as though we could only entertain what reassured us. Fill in the cliché:

A: The stalwart leader of the troop, perfect in all his strategies.

B: The beardless recruit who will develop five o’clock shadow.

C: The beastly bully who turns into a cupcake.

D: The ethnic type, braver than Ajax

E: _________________________________________________

F: __________________________________________________

G: __________________________________________________

The result is that one feels nothing for this group of males. One feels everything for the situations in which they find themselves and the blistering, bewildering jump of war. But of the main characters? – nothing.

This is a shame for the subject is fascinating, and the workings of tank warfare a novelty. At least I had never seen a film devoted to a weapon so confined. All that is very good.

And the actors are very good too. Their regional accents are too thick, but who could surpass them? Michael Peña as the Mexican driver, Logan Lerman as the raw recruit, Shia LeBoeuf as the cannoneer, and especially Jon Bernthal as the bully. Brad Pitt at 51 is excellent as the sergeant in charge of them. It’s interesting to see him in a mentor role. He is so good a playing fools, that one hopes he does not have to abandon comedy for the gravitas of such parts – at which he is, here, nonetheless, excellent.

There is an interesting scene in the movie, in which he and the raw recruit intrude into the apartment of two young ladies. And into which the other men also intrude. The effect is overdone. But it’s too late now, isn’t it? War isn’t fought like that any more. It isn’t fought for love or for hatred. It’s valor wasted on oil. Monotony of emphasis is also a cliché. What we need is maybe this director. And maybe Leo Tolstoy to give truth and human humor and the particularity of actual war experience to the poor soldiers before us, instead of these holdovers from the days of Paramount Pictures of 1945.


World War Z

21 Jun

World War Z –­ directed by Marc Forster. Action/Melodrama. A G-man with special skills tracks down the remedy for the Zombies who are gnashing everyone to death. 116 minutes. Color and 3D 2013.


I was highly entertained, held, and surprised at every turn. It’s beautifully filmed, directed, and cut. Its pace is impeccable. I wore out the edge of my seat.

Unless inhabited by stars of unusual charm, there are several sorts of movies I usually avoid. Horror is one. Sci-fi is another. Zombie films certainly fall or stumble into both categories, and I can’t say I have seen a Zombie film since the one I saw with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard when I was a kid. It did such a good job of scaring the lights out of me I knew nothing further in that line could ever do the job better.

But Brad Pitt is an actor I usually want to take a reading of, and here he is. Naturally I expected the worst. I expected there would be dumb ghoulies and that Pitt would not be on camera much.

Well, I was pleasantly wrong. He is on camera the whole time and the ghoulies are not the point. The point is his story and his attitude about what befalls him as it befalls.

He is an actor who can carry certain films in one pocket. He allows his jaw to drop as things take place and as he moves through terrors and trials. This gives him an expression of openness to experience. It also makes him look young.

Here he is dressed in his usual rags and bobtails – which is necessary to play against a being of such cuteness as he is. As usual he is classless. Or at least certainly not upper class. We continue to be thankful not to see him in a suit and tie.

All this being said, he is an actor of sublime balance. His humor and his sureness are simple, not stretched for, not “acted”. His taking them for granted lets us do the same. It’s a courtesy he does for us. The thing of himself he arranges for us to see is honest without being introverted and physically adept without being showy. It’s always a treat to see him.

He is in every scene, and that is exactly where you want him to be. I recommend you betake yourself to your local. I saw it in 3D which is a lot of fun with this film. The special effects beggar description. I don’t know how they did them. But then, also, I don’t want to know. World War Z is a very high class picture of its kind.



Killing Them Softly

12 Dec

Killing Them Softly – written and directed by Andrew Dominik. Crime Drama. A gangland gambling club is robbed, and the perps must be rubbed out; or if not the perps, anyone standing around will do. 97 minutes Color 2012.
I sit back in my seat and am amazed by the brilliance of American actors, of these particular American actors, and let’s name them right off. Scoot McNairy as one of the dumb hold-up guys and Ben Mendelsohn (actually Australian) as the other. Ray Liotta as the owner of the club and Vincent Curatola as the skeptical mastermind. I watch James Gandolfini hold the screen and I am astonished at his ease, his conviction, his imagination as an actor. Then there is Richard Jenkins (actually from Canada) as the naive businessman acting to hire the hitmen. I watch him see through this character to the bitter end. And I watch them all with amazement at their commitment to their craft, their skill in it, their comfort with the camera, their physical reality, their believability, and their ability to find humor in their characters without semaphoring it to us.

So, if you love an astonishing display of the craft of acting, look no further.

Brad Pitt is the focal character of all of them and all of this, the managing director of the offs.

Brad Pitt is an actor incapable of wearing a suit. But within his range, he is the best actor in American films. His particular instrument is not meant to play a king or a peasant. He is not Charles Laughton. Pitt lacks majesty. He can play only a peasant. But what a variety of peasants he has given us!

He always brings to the screen something new, something we have never seen before. Yes, he is usually cast as cocky, sexy, naughty, beyond the pale males, but he always is fresh, always surprising. He is, in fact, always daring. I think of him as an actor who will never win an Oscar, because he would be judged as having a limited range, whereas the truth is that, while he does have a limited range, within that range he has no limits. This is true of a number of great actors: Geraldine Page, for instance, could not play Shakespeare.

Pitt plays a character sorely vexed by the personnel he must deal with, none of whom are as smart, as realistic, or as experienced as he, and, as a self-made businessman, his peroration is a brilliant diatribe on Republican political business theory, and not to be missed.

Moreover, he is given wonderful scenes to play by the director/writer, as are all the actors, for the piece is marvelously written and directed and filmed and told. Never have so many actors been painted so incisively and intensely in so many close-ups. Andrew Dominik seems to be a first-class director at the beginning of a great career with a perfect film under his belt.


The Devil’s Own

05 Feb

The Devil’s Own — Directed by Alan J. Pakula. Thriller. A young man on a revenge mission boards with the family of a cop, who has to choose between his friendship with the lad and his hatred of what the lad stands for. 111 minutes Color 1997.


I don’t know if Harrison Ford ever knew how to act, but he certainly has forgotten how by the time he plays this character. He “acts” by “playing stern”. He does this by scowling and drawing down the sides of his lips and staring. That is to say, he makes faces. Too bad, because the result is that his vis à vis, given nothing to play with, takes every trick. The vis à vis in this case is the brilliant Brad Pitt, an actor whose every response seems right. As opposed to Ford whose every response seems righteous. We are presented thereby not with Ford’s character being tortured by his own perfection and the lack of it in others, but by an actor who never questions the foundation of and impossibility of such a rock-faced contrast. Harrison Ford has no way through his own fixed method, and no suggestion of one. We are faced with thickness. Brad Pitt, however, is all wit, susceptibility, openness, and so he makes the most unlikely situations plausible, although in this he is certainly helped by the editor. After all, it is a story with guns going off and no one getting hit. So with no one for Pitt to play against the film lies flat, save when we see him. We side with him wholly and throughout, which is not what we are supposed to do. At first it seemed that the film was set in Ireland, since the opening has everyone speaking the tongue; it was only with forced effort that I understood it to be taking place in Brooklyn. Pitt is running guns to Ireland and is lodged in Harrison Ford’s home. When Ford finds out what he is up to, oh dear! Because of Ford’s acting choice, the wrap-up goes for naught. The supporting people, particularly Treat Williams as the gun middleman, are excellent, and, this being Pakula, the production values are first rate. See it for Pitt – always worth our appreciation in lower-class roles.



21 Jan

Snatch — Directed by Guy Ritchie. Action Adventure, Thriller. A diamond heist and a fixed boxing match mix it up in an Irish stew. 103 minutes Color 2000.

* * * * *

Brad Pitt plays a bad brit in this low-life gangster caper-comedy. Brad Pitt is an actor who can do no wrong except to wear a shirt and tie, a suit and vest, into the trap of which here he does not fall. Heaven spares us that, for in playing the members of the lower orders no one can touch him; in such parts he is an actor of genius. He has the capacity to play the fool, as did Gable, indeed to play a virtual idiot, but here he is playing an ace-up-his-sleeve English gypsy in an accent rendered as back-county double-talk. You know those English or Irish or Scottish films where you can’t understand a word said for the thickness of the accent? Well, Pitt takes this and runs with it, so that not a single word is comprehensible. It’s very funny. The two other Americans in the cast stand out as well as even funnier than the English actors themselves, all of whom are very good. Dennis Farina as a New York fence is astounding and Benicio De Toro as the beautiful heist-meister given to fine cigars, exquisite shirts, and craps is delicious. But this is a director-editor-writers’ film as much as anything, and boy do they have their comic chops down. As an example of visual narration it is up there with Lubitsch. Watch it and learn. Or learn, if you can, while laughing so hard.





23 Sep

Moneyball – Directed by Bennett Miller. Sports Biodoc. A baseball general manager battles against entrenched custom and the odds. 133 minutes Color 2011.

** * * *

The picture is not just moving at the end, but all along, as various reckless moves are reckoned out carefully and executed. This may sound cold. For the content of the movie is not emotional, and its players do not emotionalize it either. The emotion involved is the emotion in the audience which can root, not for a great person, which Billy Beane was not, but a great idea, which is what he pursued. A great idea, such as Freedom or such as Democracy or such as Justice. Beane was not a particularly attractive personality, so the film is not like a Frank Capra movie, which in every other way it resembles, because it does not have Jimmy Stewart in it. Instead it has Brad Pitt, a great actor, provided he does not have to put on a suit and tie, and one who could easily access the towering rages and sense of peril and tension which Beane emitted – but Pitt does not do this. He presents Beane as just as driven, but saner than he was, but that makes Beane a person we can watch with a certain engaged coolness. Coolness is a temperature that can induce tears of joy, and it does. The justice of Pitt’s playing allows full scope for the forces arrayed against him, first by his chief scout in a part superbly played and then by the field manager played as a taciturn dog-in-the-manger by Philip Seymour Hoffman. In a role Hoffman would have been tops in when younger, Jonah Hill is a dream. Sports people tend to be dumb, and Beane’s glomming onto this person who was not dumb makes the two of them into a sort of Abbott and Costello we can root for, two losers who might turn out to be winners. One’s attention is drawn to Hill in every scene, because he is so open, and you feel that the character always has been open and always has been dismissed as a dweeb. I hand him this year’s Oscar. The methods this character uncovers and uses were not new to baseball – if you read Ted Williams’ books on his life and on batting you can see that long ago Williams was a master statistician, that he knew everything about the ballpark, everything about the shadows on the field at a certain time of day, everything about the pitcher he was up against, and to learn more, he let the first pitch pass, no matter what – and back in the day he wasn’t the only one. But here the statistics are computerable, and the fun of the film is to see these two make hay of that fact, by hiring for the lowly Oakland A’s the refuse of the majors and turning those players into good account. The joy is not their good account but the good account of the shattering of long inopperational conventions. [ad#300×250]



The Tree Of Life

11 Jun

The Tree Of Life – Directed and written by Terrence Malick. Family Drama. The death of a younger brother triggers a growth many years later between the older older brother’s spiritual life and his experience of their father. 2 hours and 18 minutes. Color. 2011.

* * * * *

One goes to the movies of Terrence Malick as one goes to the dentist, not because one wants to but because one has to. And there one sits back and endures the same monotonous drill. Fortunately Terrence Malick makes one film every ten years, so one’s visits are not frequent. One must at the start make such a facetious crack, because Malick is devoid of a sense of humor. But that does not mean he is devoid of a sense of humans. For that is what is interesting about him. Here his color scheme is glacial, It is as if he wanted to keep us at a distance from the material and the people and what they endure: you may look but do not touch or be touched by it. I think that’s rather an easy out. For he has the actors sufficient to the substance rather than the scheme of drama. The story is essentially about three boys, 9, 11, and 12 I should say, and Malick captures their ways and means fully, and I believe his treatment is made from fear of making them piteous. He certainly does not need to do it to achieve memory, for his period is the later 40s and early 50s, and that is registered fully and accurately. Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are master actors, and one goes to see how they will operate in this milieu, and they do just fine. Brad Pitt as the father has sold out and failed in the bargain he struck, giving up music for security as an engineer; then looking for a better bargain still, he works on inventions, also a failure. And, fifty years later, Sean Penn, as his architect oldest son, has also sold out. His home is as barren as the skyscrapers he constructs, so that his one-night-stand has to bring in a dead branch from the garden to give some natural life to it. Pitt’s relations especially to his elder son, who will grow up to be Sean Penn, are of ministerial authoritarianism as though in displacement of his own self castigation. He is devoid of play; even when he plays the piano he does not play, and the music associated with his burdensome personality is well upholstered classical. But he also physically loves his sons, and presents a parent who is both not the doormat-mother and is male. The movie ends with the vision of a bridge between natural life and grace. I have to say this out loud because it registers in the film as a bafflement. But if it had registered in the film it would have been as a feeble vulgarity. So – why does one go? One goes because Malik is a serious artist of film. Paul Thomas Anderson is another. There are precious few. One goes simply to be in the company of such temperaments.








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