Archive for the ‘William H. Macy’ Category


07 Nov

Room directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Drama. 117 minutes. Color. 2015


The Story: A mother and her young son live in a room; the world is also a room.


If you don’t know what this movie is about before you go, well then, neither did I, so I am not going to tell you now. I am going to say: see it.

The first half of the film is an extraordinary piece of movie writing and making and acting, almost entirely confined to scenes between Brie Larson the young mother of a boy Jack just turned 5.

Larson plays her part as a woman with a high morale, which is to say she does two things: she plays against her character’s circumstances, which is essential considering the circumstances, and she plays it dry-eyed. Modern actresses have the tendency to turn themselves into aquariums. This is both unprofessional, inartistic, and counter productive in high dramatic roles — indeed, in any roles.

She is met gesture for gesture by the performance of one Jacob Tremblay as the 5 year-old son. His is one of the most remarkable child performances I have ever seen in my life. The script gives him a big range and he seizes it without compunction. You must see him.

The second half of the film is less well written. It concerns the response of people, even family, who must engage with those who have come from a set of circumstances so odd that no conversational routine will breach them. People don’t know how to behave at these times. It’s understandable. There’s no language for it. But it also presents a problem for the writer, which here has not been met, and certainly not on the level of the first half.

So in part two we get B-Grade TV-writing – a digressive scene, for instance, with the press, and a finale with big fat music tying up the package with a big fat ribbon, and, of course, a dog.

This second half introduces a very interesting character played by William H. Macy, the grandfather of the boy. His prejudice against the boy should be the subject of the second half, instead of which Macy is banished, and we get a cheap and easy recovery, which, considering where we have been, is insulting.

However, the boy’s grandmother is played by Joan Allen, an actress of impeccable discretion and power. Her presence in a picture makes it always worth seeing. Watch her in her early scenes – how dumb the situation would make any human being. Not noble: dumb. A wise choice for an actress, because true.

Taking into account what I have said, consider it recommended highly. Go.


The Sessions

10 Nov

The Sessions –- written and directed by Ben Lewin. Docudrama. A 38 year-old man confined to an iron lung by polio decides to lose his virginity, and hires a sexual surrogate to help him. 95 minutes Color 2012.

John Hawkes plays it like a true Virgo, that is to say he plays it understanding that the only thing that is critical to the role is that the character is in a physical difficulty that no human being could become quite used to no matter how long he had been used to it, and that this requires nothing more than a shift in vocal pitch – the only thing, since, as he is completely paralyzed, his voice is the only expressive instrument available to him. Everything else in the part is played by the audience. He will be nominated again for an Oscar. We ourselves see him with difficulty – from the side, from the top looking down, in profile supine. He is never shown upright and so we must meet him by lying down too.

And what sort of person is this? A very humorous one. Even his admission of self-pity is humorous. His humor gives us enough to do the rest.

The trick for such a story is to achieve a balance of ingredients.

First is a man who is sexually potent but sexually inert. He needs training. (Some men are like that. I was, and I too relinquished my virginity late, aged 20, to the whores in Inchon, to whom I am ever grateful. Like him, I was feckless. Like him, the first time did not work.) So he arranges for a sexual surrogate to come in, a trainer in the craft, here played by Helen Hunt. Hunt gives a generous, straightforward performance, much of it easily naked. She represents and plays the simple sexual act, unburdened by social or religious or family strictures. That’s the second ingredient.

Third is the weight of all outside moral stricture in the form of a Catholic priest, his minister and confessor. This is a part that must be played by the actor who does play it, that beaker of Irish whiskey neat William H. Macy, for the role requires the most impolitic of actors, and he is just the one, isn’t he? He is inherently without rules. He is adorned with hippy locks and jeans for pastoral visits. It’s a funny performance without ever poking fun. And that is smart and correct of Macy, for Hawkes must have all the jokes.

So you see it’s very interesting from the casting point of view. Helen Hunt has a beautiful figure and must be in her fifties, so we’re not talking about a sex kitten – that wouldn’t be legit. She has to be played by Hunt who is legitimacy incarnate. And the polio man has to be played by someone we don’t really know as an actor. Why? Because we have to fall into him, as into unknown territory in ourselves. It’s the sort of part that Sean Penn would kill for, but then it wouldn’t work, would it, because with Penn we’d already know too much.

The movie is about human sexual decency at its most naked. When have you ever seen it before?


Thank You For Smoking

07 Nov

Thank You For Smoking –– directed by Jason Reitman. Satire. A ruthless lobbyist for the tobacco industry is taken to task by all who surround him, but wins through to give everyone cancer. 92 minutes Color 2006.
A gem of a comedy made possible only by the perfect casting of its leading roles of the Senator who opposes him being played by William H. Macy, and by Aaron Eckhart as the lobbyist. Macy is one of those actors who is always inherently funny because he is always on the verge of being exposed as humanly fallible. There is that in his broad flexible features which no passing shrapnel can miss. To illustrate it, watch the marvelous little scene in the Extra Features in which he offers his assistant a bottle of maple syrup. Catch the expression with which he ends the scene, his mouth opening slightly, with a tiny shaking of his head. As for Aaron Eckhart, once again he has a role proper to his instrument. Often cast as a leading man, which he is not, here he is ripe in his true vocation as a character lead. For there is in him such a balance between a person who cannot be any better than he is and another perhaps better person he does not know anything about, even by suspicion. This gives him a corner on the market of lovable rotters, such as no actor has had since Lee Marvin expired, although I do not really know how lovable Lee Marvin actually was. Eckhart has more than a scoundrel or scamp in his nature. He is able to play the modern machine-brained swine like no one else, and this is one of those roles. He plays the man who has chosen to be a foxy Yuppie monster –– Eckhart’s every assay into these characters plays like a hostile takeover of all human decency. And we love him for it. Robert Duval brings additional comic weight to the show as does J.K. Simmons, both of whom play Eckhart’s bosses. The piece is brilliantly written and directed. It is filmed like a puppet show, perfectly. Satire is a form of comedy we do not fall off our chairs laughing over. Satire is a form of comedy we remain in our chairs to gleefully relish.


Searching For Bobby Fischer

08 Nov

Searching For Bobby Fischer –– directed by Steven Zaillian –– family drama about a boy turned into a chess champion –– 109 minutes color 1993.

* * * * *

A fine picture, beautifully acted and filmed, with a story that skirts all the sentimental pitfalls and ends up full of authentic feeling. The boy Max Pomeranc is wonderful. He makes the whole thing happen. Its putative subject, chess, which put me off when I first heard of it, I found to be by no means a barrier to its interest. Joe Mantegna plays the father who pushes the boy forward. Lawrence Fishburne is the chess master who takes him on. Joan Allen is the mother, and very good indeed, as are Ben Kingsley, William H. Macy, and Laura Linney. I highly recommend it.


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