Archive for the ‘Frank Langella’ Category

Robot and Frank

29 Aug

Robot and Frank – directed by Jake Shreier. SciFi Drama. An elderly man is assigned a robot to be his caretaker. 89 minutes Color 2012.


Frank Langella is a wonder to watch as he gets to accept his odd companion, played by the voice of Peter Sarsgaard. Langella has been around the block as an actor so long that he surprises every nook and cranny he comes upon.

The story is by a half-wit writer (according to the moronic Extra Voice Over he supplies, a “sort of” Valley Boy, using “sort of” six times a clause), but, unlike him, it has its charms, which supply the robot with a moral and ethic denied to the Langella character who is cat burglar striving for his final hit. He teaches the robot to pick locks.

Supplying a welcome set of variations for these two, we have three fine actors, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, and the inestimable Susan Sarandon. Watching Sarandon these days one sits back as confident as in the company of the best claret and simply enjoys a skill which is as past expertise as the moon the earth. What ease! What human insight! What open presence!

These three circle around Frank and his robot and they work toward a perhaps too sappy denouement for such a grouch.

But never mind. The idea of a robot pal ordered-in to care-take a dotty senior has a fine simplicity to it, and we look upon the doings of these two as perfectly possible in the near future.

A pleasant way to spend time without wasting it.







The Eccentricities Of A Nightingale

16 Apr

The Eccentricities Of A Nightingale — Directed by Stephen Porter. Romantic Drama. A Southern spinster sets her sights on the handsome boy next door. 1970’s/2002 Color 120 minutes.

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Tennessee Williams wrote this material four times, and his rewrites never solved the defects it presented. Samson Raphaelson said that while Williams was a much greater playwright than himself, if he had only fifteen minutes with Tennessee Williams he could have solved the problems of his plays, and he’s right. In this one, for instance, Williams writes a long closet or bedroom scene between the mother and John, but places it at the end of the play. The mother should not appear in the park, and it should be set, if at all, at the beginning of the play after the first scene between Alma and her father. This would invest the piece with the power of suspense, and build to the the seduction scene in Act III. Williams was a great playwright but not much of a craftsman. The essential problem of the play for an audience  is Alma, and the fact that, like Flora in Milktrain, Alma talks too much for an audience to care about. She is flibbertygibbet-boring.  But her tragedy is not that she has eccentricites or that she talks too much or is nervous or laughs oddly. Her problem is she has adopted these to make herself different from what she knows herself to be, which is normally sexed but maybe sexually unmateable. Adapting Eccentricities from From Summer And Smoke, Williams removed the rakes-hell boy next door and all the madness of The Moonlake Casino. But Rosa Gonzales and  little Nellie, while not subplots, at least gave the play something solid to bounce back from, and their light sheds upon the boy next door  the color of his vices. Wiliams replaced the rakes-hell with a nebbish. He replaced his righteous father with an incestuous mother. He replaced the melodrama with nothing. Alma got laid. But nothing improved. And nothing happened. The play declined in power and lost its great and brilliant and moving final scene in the doctor’s office. And in neither version is there is there a subplot, no secondary line of interest feeding the main matter, as there is between Stanley and Stella, for instance in Streetcar, or Mitch and Blanche, or between big Daddy and Brick in Cat, and in any Shakespearean play you might mention. What we have instead is two hours of  the rantings of a frustrated spinster and some voluble locals, and a mother who will not shut up, all of them molasses-Southern and rendered with Williams’ infallible ear, but none of them of sufficient dramatic or comic import to supply the deficiencies of a play which, being underwritten, ends up overwritten to compensate. The long bedroom scene at the end of the first part offers us nothing we do not already know from the mother’s merely taking her son’s arm at the fireworks display. Neva Patterson plays the mother here, a part written so it can only be played one way, witchy, which makes her character one-note-monotonous. It’s not Patterson’s fault, although she and all the players over-Southernize their accents, when Williams, by his diction alone, supplies all the accent needed. Summer and Smoke is certainly the better play, and Geraldine Page as Alma is superb in the role. Blythe Danner is an actress so inherently lovely it seems impossible she could remain a spinster, although she does supply a wince to regulate and demote her beauty and the neurasthenic affectations which make her annoying enough to make us think she is unmarriagable. But the part cannot work, because Williams has not got to the heart of it. Frank Langella brings his rich voice to the characterless part of the boy next door. Langella smiles affectionately throughout, a smart move, but it’s a dog’s-body of a part; here’s nothing there; and all one can do is thank him for not making more of a thankless role than can be made. Their losing their virginity together is a beautifully written scene and beautifully played, and worth the price of admission, but it shouldn’t be in the play. These two actors have played together many times on the stage, where I have seen them, and their high style is well suited to one another, and the respect for the talent and workings of one another make them look like Lunt and Fontanne. I love Tennessee Williams. And I love this material. Yes, as Hal Holbrook says in his introduction, it is different From Summer And Smoke. Different, yes. Better, no.



The Twelve Chairs

15 Mar

The Twelve Chairs — Directed by Mel Brooks —— Slapstick Comedy. The jewels of a Russian duchess sewn into the seat of one of twelve dining room chairs are the focus of a madcap treasure hunt. 93 minutes Color 1970.

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Frank Langella comes before us fully equipped as that rare creature, a classic romantic actor. Which means he has a big, beautiful voice, is gorgeous, and has the speed, economy, and inner-power-to-spare for the big gesture. The instrument both physically and internally is dark velvet moved by the breeze of circumstance. Here he is young, 32, and quite at home in himself. He seems to know what he is and is not fooled by it. Other actors looking at him, or any audience for that matter, might sense that the parts he plays when young do not either inspire or require his full power, and that he is never operating to the limit of his capacity. But that was not so important as that, still, we know we are getting our money’s worth; he was easily sufficient. The older he has gotten the better he has gotten. The more he has lost his rich thick, glossy black hair the closer he has come to the great actor inherent in him. I remember seeing him at Williamstown in the summer with Blythe Danner and Mildred Dunnock in Anouilh’s Ring Around The Moon, and thinking, “That young man has a great ass; I wonder if he will ever get beyond the prerogatives it grants him.” He has. It would be interesting to see him perform now the great roles in Sophocles or Euripides. Why he has, to my knowledge, never done Oedipus, gives me hope that one day I shall see him play it. Or Coriolanus. Here, as the Russian mountebank, he is delightful, fluid, kind, direct, and smart. And quite impenitent about everything that must be done to secure the fortune. Mel Brooks is hilarious as the peasant servant and Dom DeLuise is amazingly and admirably entertaining as the priest also after the jewels. Ron Moody fares less well because the role wants variety. He is always Drooling Greed. That’s the way it’s written and that’s also the way it’s directed. It’s a part Brooks must have written for himself, so it offers nothing for us to revel in but but the idea that consistent vulgarity of imagination is funny.  The other actors have more scope offered to them, and they seize it, and play it out with silent film frenzy and panache. It makes me want to see all of Brooks’ films. After Blazing Saddles I wanted to see none of them. After Young Frankenstein I wanted to see all of them. Now I shall.


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