Archive for the ‘John Goodman’ Category

The Big Easy

21 Apr

The Big Easy – directed by Jim McBride. Romanic Police Procedural. 108 minutes Color 1987.


The Story: An Assistant D.A. searches for police corruption in The New Orleans Police department, and falls for one of the cops


It’s not very convincing as a story, but as a movie it is fetching. Rash improbabilities sabotage our credence. But we have John Goodman in New Orleans where he made an even bigger impression later in Treme. And here is Ned Beatty in his heyday.

Ellen Barkin is here in all her sexy peculiarity. It’s had to believe in her as an actress because she seems so uncertain as to her effects, but there is something appealing about her asymmetrical face. Her whole face appears to be a scar. It isn’t, of course. But it makes her an actress who inspires not admiration but compassion. In this piece she is always slightly ahead of herself, jumping a gun that is never fired.

We also have Dennis Quaid with his clothes off. Quite rightly too, as he had a terrific figure. He is in his early 30s here and looks younger.

Dennis Quaid counts a good deal on a quirky charm and his supernal grin to pull him through the plot. But he’s always worth a visit as an actor. He can always summon the needful.

I have seen him completely naked more than once in films, and it suggests a quality he had and still has as an actor of knowing exactly what to do with a woman when he is with her, exactly what moves to make in front of her, exactly what shall come from his eyes in order to turn her on. He knows how to look at a woman and behave before her as though to convey just what it would be like for her to go bed with him. Now, in some men this might be sleazy, but in Dennis Quaid is ebullient. It is full of fun and wit and a delight in his life. It is a quality rarer in big star movie actors than one might suppose. Charles Boyer possessed it, Sean Connery and Jean-Paul Belmondo possessed it, Marlon Brando possessed it but was seldom called upon to use it.

In this film, this quality makes up the necessary. For Quaid’s sexual confidence, his willingness to drop his drawers, is the exact opposite of Ellen Barkin’s want of experience and total lack of confidence. The result is a chemistry so convincing you forgive the implausabilities of the plot.

Most interesting of all is the presence of the renowned Charles Ludlam, maestro and superstar of The Ridiculous Theatre Company. I remember him playing Camille there, with Garbo’s dresses and manner and a hairy chest topping her crinolines. It was one of the most moving performances I have ever seen. Here he plays a canny Southern lawyer and if you want to see what an actor can do to capture every trick and turn of a character and a type, Ludlam in The Big Easy is a lesson in point.

We also have New Orleans on display, always an interesting diversion, in which, with Barkin, Quaid, Ludlam, Beatty, Goodman and the others, one could do worse than wile away an easy hour.



05 Dec

Trumbo – directed by Jay Roach. Biopic. 123 minutes Color 2015.


The Story: US Congress & Hollywood-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo undergoes hard adventures surviving it.


Bryan Cranston, an actor I have never heard of before, seizes the role of the principled black-listed screen writer in his teeth and never lets go – which fits the part down to the ground. For Trumbo, whatever his gifts may have been, must be considered as more than a perdurable survivalist and more than just someone who couldn’t stop writing screenplays. He stood by his guns, even when they seem to have been pointing at himself.

It’s Oscar time, and so we get various heroic biopics, from which we are to choose a best actor. Mind you, we are not picking someone from a best drama. For, really, you know, civics lessons may be dramas of a sort but they are not dramas of the most victorious sort.

But they sure can be informative and a lot of fun. Such as when John Goodman, a producer, hires Trumbo to churn out scripts for his B-minus movies, and Trumbo ropes in his other out-of-work screenwriters to supply the deficiency. Or such as when Kirk Douglas, an opportunist of the first water, outstrips Otto Preminger in being first in giving Trumbo screen credit after Trumbo’s years of being blacklisted. And, yes, Preminger actually did say that: when Trumbo retorted, to Preminger’s complaint that every scene of Trumbo’s screenplay for Exodus must be brilliant, that, if every scene were brilliant, the story would be monotonous, Preminger actually did say: “Make them all brilliant, and I will direct unevenly.”

Trumbo’s writing by his own admission tended to the verbose and sentimental, and Cranston by his very being perhaps captures this. His is an extravagant face. It is a true actor’s face, full of moment and potential humor. It is not given to small expression but expression writ large. And this counts for everything, because it is not the face of a Hollywood hero, not the face of someone who is immune from slings and arrows.

Of course, in Hollywood all writer are outsiders, so it is as well that he does not look like Gregory Peck, but like someone who would definitely not be in a movie. Moreover, he is the only actor I have ever seen playing one whom I believed actually was a writer. The scrip enforces this by making him churn out his stuff by the truckload.

The story is well told, and Trumbo certainly had formidable opposition: The FBI, The Hollywood Producers, and most powerful of all, Hedda Hopper, whom Helen Mirren brings to millinery life for us.

The issue of naming names before a Congressional hearing is still moot. The real issue is, not whether the witnesses were or were not un-American, but whether Congress was. By which I mean un-Constitutional. Trumbo puts us in thought about it all.

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Posted in BioDrama, Diane Ladd, Helen Mirren: acting goddess, John Goodman


The Gambler

03 Jan

The Gambler – directed by Rupert Wyatt. Suspense Drama. 111 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: A man gets in over his head and owes a fortune to three men who mean mortal business.


Mark Wahlberg is a wonderful actor.

What does that mean? It means that I look upon him and wonder. I contemplate his visage, his emotion or his emotion held in check or his delivery or what his mouth is or what his eyes are, and I wonder.

What does this mean to me? It means that both of us are in exactly the right places, I in the audience doing what I am supposed to be doing and he is up on the screen doing likewise.

Various things fall in his favor as an actor. First, he seems to have learned on the job, a good way to come into the craft. Second, his essence is working-class, which in this role would seem out of place, for he plays a college English professor and the son of a millionairess bank owner – yet his presence as such is without contradiction because he has conceived the role as beyond circumstance. Irony is the razor edge of death. Third, his male energy does not prevaricate. It stands there giving him, along with his medium-height and tone, the common touch. And finally he knows how to be before a camera such that both the camera and the audience can participate being there with him.

I felt he should have had the Oscar for The Departed. I felt he should have had the Oscar for The Fighter, but the withdrawn character he played was neoned-out by the electricity of Leo and Bale. He’s a first class screen actor. Will someone please hand one to him?

The picture is beautifully directed in terms of narrative intrigue. The director allows every actor forward into their talent. Jessica Lange, always a touchy actor, holds herself in strict check to play Wahlberg’s mother. John Goodman is filmed half naked, which grants us the power of his mass and the mass of his intelligence. Brie Larson holds us as the student taken with Wahlberg. Michael Kenneth Williams makes great book as the black money-lender. Alvin Ing is the still point of a knife in the role of a Korean gambling king. Richard Schiff plays a tip-top scene as a porn broker.

Every scene counts. Every scene is delicious to look at and never distracts with that fact. The music is mad and neat. It is perfectly cast. It is elegantly written. Grieg Fraser has filmed every scene color-right, and the unusual frequent use of closeups brings us into the situation every time. Production design, art direction, costumes, editing – all are unexceptionable.

The Gambler is the best movie I have seen all year.

Oh, this is the second of January, isn’t it! Well, you know what I mean. Take a gamble. See it.


The Monuments Men

09 Feb

The Monuments Men – directed by George Clooney. War Drama. 118 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: A WW II mission to save works of art destined for destruction should the Nazis loose.

~ ~ ~

If ever a movie sank more solemnly under the freight of its miscasting, I have yet to see it. Art museum directors, curators, scholars, educators, archivists — George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Bill Murray, thou never wert.

If John Goodman was not obviously such a good actor, he might be convincing as a sculptor.  And if Jean Dujardin were not so helplessly charming one might root for his loss from a profession we never grasp. This leaves Bob Balaban, who might pass for an academic in the world of world art, Hugh Bonneville as a former drunk, Dimitri Leonidas as the German-speaking Brooklyn Jew, and Cate Blanchett who is thoroughly convincing as the Jeu de Paume curator who kept a record of the stolen pieces.

All the others, wonderful actors though they are, exercise their noble craft as best they may, imagining that the good will which backs our affection and admiration for each and every one of them will supply the deficiency of their being in the wrong parts entirely.

George Clooney is the main culprit. For he is producer, writer, actor, and director. It is as a writer he is first to be stripped of his medal. For he has given the men the most routine of male chat to move things forward. Silent strength – you know the sort of thing – stalwartness in red, white and blue. I once worked in the high-testosterone History Of Art Department of Yale in the early ‘50s, and the chat was not that.

As director he lets his actors go where they will, as they will, each of them basically falling back on their star masculinity to perform their roles for them. As an actor, Clooney reverts to his casual, laid back, insouciant manner, and lets tacit charm muscle a job which has no place in it. Damon falls back on his Everyman quality, Murray on his piquant personality; both are irrelevant.

As producer, the picture cost 70 million – although how so blandly round a figure is come at one wonders – and it made what is essentially a small movie about a large subject, into a large movie about a subject which is invisible.

For Clooney sermonizes that these works of art must be saved from destruction and returned to their owners because they are the golden fruit of Western civilization. Everything we are fighting for! A great “accomplishment” which must not be lost. What vulgarity! What nonsense!

The only reason these works of art should be saved from theft and destruction, much less returned to their owners, is their priceless and inherent beauty. All these rescuers were chosen for their dedication to beauty. But “beauty” is a word never uttered by Clooney nor by anyone else. It is as though the word “beauty” were unmanly. The entire adventure operates under the cow pad of this omission.





09 Nov

Flight –– directed by Robert Zemeckis. Melodrama. An alcoholic and drug addicted pilot saves a disintegrating passenger plane from crashing, and then suffers the consequences. 138 minutes Color 2012.
You might want to go in order to see the performance of James Badge Dale as a free-associating cancer patient on a chemo-high. His appearance is so welcome one hopes that the film will take off in this direction of brilliant decor, as Renoir’s films were wont to do –– but no. The film remains predictable from its unpredictable start, which takes us into an exciting crisis aboard a malfunctioning aircraft. To save the ship we have that old reliable ship-saver Denzel Washington. Washington is, as Sydney Poitier was the proud black hero, the powerful black hero. With what wit, what sangfroid, does he give the odd orders that will save his nose-diving airliner! Wonderful! And then…and then he has to face the music of have a blood test come out positive for a snort of cocaine and two mini shots of vodka. Ah, I had hoped to see a rare performance here. Washington has been doing serious stage work, so when he comes under official scrutiny, he has drunk scenes to play, which he plays well, and scenes of personal insecurity, which he plays well, but the time comes when he has to tell the investigating board, spearheaded by Melissa Leo, about those two shots of vodka, and boy does he chew the scenery. He rolls his tongue into one cheek and then into the other, then back to the first, just as Olivier used to do, in similar straits, straits which in Olivier’s case he caused himself by doing such things. Washington pauses until an entire freight train can pass, he hesitates, he under-projects, he does everything a human actor can do to disguise the lousy line he has to answer: “In your opinion did the stewardess drink those two bottles?” It’s not a line any investigator would speak, for the answer to the line is, “It’s not proper to offer an opinion on the matter. It’s not proper of you to ask the question. Opinion has nothing to do with it.” And then, of course, he tells the truth and pays the price. But so do we, for we next find him in a prison speaking to an AA meeting, but in such a dour, gravid, and solemn manner that it is impossible for us to swallow the medicine prescribed. We’d rather see him drunk. Or, no, we’d rather see him happy, joyous, and free, as is the speaker at the AA meeting he first attends with his girlfriend. So we are left, not with a message to black males from their idol, Denzel, about the wreckage addiction causes, but with an almost caddish preachment, which will beguile no one towards the path of sobriety at all. So the film ends by the actor making the character dull. The light in his eye has gone out. No one applauds. The film is perfectly and usefully cast. Don Cheadle plays his lawyer, Bruce Greenwood his ally at the union. Pete Gerety is marvelous as the owner of his airline. They have very good lines. Their scenes, each by each, are effective and surprising. John Goodman, always a welcome presence, plays Washington’s drug fixer in a turn that delights the senses. The material in its details is unexpected. But the films as a whole falls flat. This is inevitable when a main character is given star treatment, because its actor is a star. Washington has presented himself as the power hero for years. Poitier was never sexually powerful (righteous people seldom are), but he was beautiful and earnest, and firm. For Washington whole chapters of acting are open that Poitier was never called upon to explore, and, besides, Poitier did not have the gift for exploration. He had anger and a searching eye. Moreover he was not American, he was Jamaican, while Washington is American all through. Poitier would lack believability in a role such as this. But also such roles as this did not exist in his day, which is not far past. But the danger artistically is the same for both of them: to exploit their star presence and replace acting with it. There are moments here when Washington does just this –– the mouth drawn down in taciturn authority, for one. I wanted a great piece of work from Washington here, and why isn’t it here? In that odd scene with James Badge Dale (uncuttable because it’s the scene where the hero and heroine meet), you see Dale alert, standing within himself, doing it, whereas you see Washington sitting back inside his star authority on a break. His choice might better have been to be eager for Dale to shut up, so he could get to talk to the girl. So his is a performance interesting in certain details but not in all, and not in its overall arc, which, like the film itself, is politically and politely pat.



27 Oct

Argo – directed by Ben Affleck. Docuthriller. The staff of American Embassy in Iran is seized, but six escape. A CIA agent determines to spirit them out by the bizarre means of imposturing them as a B-level Hollywood sci-fi film crew scouting locations. 120 minutes Color 2012.
Ben Affleck plays the agent and carries the film’s strong script by being able to convey the ability to tolerate his own uncertainty of success, all along the line. From the time the U.S. government first realizes the six are, unbeknownst to the Iranians, holed up in The Canadian Embassy and starts hatching escapes, each one worse than the one before, it finally ends up with the best of the worst, devised by Affleck. He is pals with a famed Hollywood make-up artist, played by John Goodman, who is always a welcome presence, and Goodman enlists a superannuated director, played by Alan Arkin. Both of these expertly supply the comedy, for the three men have to come up with a script and a shooting schedule and an announcement bash to get the film, Argo, in the papers, so it will sound real to the Iranians when the time comes for Affleck to go Tehran and attempt the caper. Affleck has directed a first class suspense thriller, and lets us see the point of view of the hiding six, the government who okays it, the last minute changes of plan and favor, much as it all must have happened to everyone back in the day when President Carter was stuck with the horrible embarrassment of the situation to the U.S., and the peril to the majority of the Embassy staff, who remained imprisoned for 444 days. Affleck is great in the part, the music is good, the script is nifty, the color is suave, and you wonder how they ever managed to film all those crowd scenes. How’d they ever do it! Terrific. And educational too: I never heard of this daring escape before. Did you?


Trouble With The Curve

09 Oct

Trouble With The Curve – directed by Robert Lorenz. Sports Drama. A blind baseball scout is helped by his estranged daughter to scope out a heavy hitter on a high school team. 111 minutes Color 2012.
Clint Eastwood plays the same grouch he has played from the beginning of his career in films, which began in his mid-30s, and now, at over 80, he is still swinging on that star. He walks good. He talks bad, like tea through a teabag. This gives a strain to his utterance which is a stand-in for dramatic grasp. But there is no doubt in the world that of this he is a master. So we watch him to see if something will happen. Will he break through? No. A creature of unerring solitude, he will stalk on. Well, if that’s what you want to do, okay. “I’ll take the bus,” is his last sardonic snap in this piece, and we understand his crankiness perfectly. The presence of him before us with all his wattles intact is without question impressive, as though Yosemite itself had walked before us. He seems always to have a perfect right to be here. So there is hardly a chance to question his ability to exercise that right, so we must say nothing about his craft or whether at 80-something he would have a child of 30-something, with the past history with her the film describes. For anyhow, the film lies more in the capable hands of Amy Adams, an actor of considerable range of character, if you consider her ditsy dame in Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, the stern consort in The Master, and the striving ally of The Fighter. It’s a very good part for her, as she confronts and cooperates with a father who had abandoned her. The baseball stuff is quite arresting, as it was in Moneyball, and she plays one who is a master at it. She plays off her encyclopedic memory of it against her new swain, played with considerable interest by Justin Timberlake, as a man willing to wait for her to come in from the outfield. There’s a lot of fun to be had watching the three of them carry on in local Southern saloons. Adams has virtuoso hair, such that she can appear to be a glamor pus in one scene and a legal eagle in the next, for, as with certain actors such as herself and Sean Penn, the hair is the first character choice to be made. She invites a lot of attention as we watch Eastwood refuse to court her and Timberlake refuse not to court her. Eastwood produced this piece, and his usual staff were on hand to edit it and bring it forward before and after, so it has a coherence unusual in modern films, and its director gives his actors lots of latitude and lots of space around them for us to settle in with them. Eastwood has frequently played in and directed stories in which an older absent father has had to face off with a difficult daughter or daughter figure, and this one offers no surprises, except that in this one the daughter is the preeminent figure. The twist at the end with the pitcher is neat. I like that pitcher a lot. John Goodman is also with us, an always welcome person, is he not? What is the story here, and why is it good? It has to do with the truth being jeopardized and eventually breaking through. I like stories like that.


What Planet Are You From?

25 Sep

What Planet Are You From – Directed by Mike Nichols. Penis Comedy. An Alien is sent down to take over Earth by impregnating a woman. 105 minutes Color  2000.

* * *

All the women in this picture are dressed badly, all the men are dressed so beautifully it is as though Fred Astaire had haberdashed them. Why is that? I can understand frump in Annette Bening’s case because her character’s a dither-head. But why would the sensationally sexy Linda Fiorentino stalk into her husband’s bank office in a see-thru skirt is baffling.

Anyhow, it probably fits with the monstrously minute mental elegance of Garry Shandling who wrote this one low joke comedy. Strange that no mature comedy is available for grown-ups, when Irene Dunne and Cary Grant were middle aged when they made their great ones.

Sir Ben Kingsley is present intoning orders from on high, meaning A Star Up There. While it is true that those gifts from the Gods, Camryn Manheim and Richard Jenkins, momentarily beguile us, this does not compensate for the presence before us of Shandling himself looking like a doomed sheep. What are his eyes always appealing for? What is that? Why does anyone find him funny? I mean funny in the sense of amusing, not in the sense of peculiar, which he certainly is.

This leaves us with the sleazy charms of Greg Kinnear, who is a master of them, and wins one’s heart with his vileness and his beautiful suits.

And with the great, the indissoluble, the loveable, the gifted, the sweet, the sexy, the imaginative, the tribute to American womanhood, and marvelous character leading actress, Dame Annette Bening, she who holds the Columbia torch!

One star for Annette Bening, one for Greg Kinnear, and one for John Goodman, who races around magnificently in chase of the answer to it all.




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