Monday, August 31, 2009

Lana Turner, in Peyton Place
approximately 41 minutes and 45 seconds
26.7% of the film

The film

Coming-of-age story set in a small New England town whose peaceful facade hides love and passion, scandal and hypocrisy.

You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

It’s a 2 and a half hour soap opera that may or may not suit your taste. Peyton Place is a collective effort, with some storylines better than others. I thought it was ok at times, but never great or fascinating.

Lana Turner as Constance ‘Connie’ MacKenzie

Lana Turner is probably best known as one of Hollywood’s most fascinating blondes and a sex symbol especially in the late 40s. Those were her glory days, but she did get to do a couple of good movies by the end of the 50s, roles that probably shaped her image as a serious actress. The first one: Peyton Place; the second one: Imitation of Life – she looks good in both, but her beauty is not what defines these two performances.

The key word for her Peyton Place performance is frigid. She might look like a voluptuous diva, but Constance, her character, has learned her lesson about love and is not willing to make the same mistake twice or let her daughter repeat history. I’ve previously said on the other blog that this is a one-note performance. I stand by it almost entirely; it’s not a critique, but an observation.

Even though her character changes towards the end, becoming more honest with herself and with her daughter (admitting the mistress status she’d had in the past) and opening up to a new love interest, the change only brings a nuance, as there’s no big shift in the character. She’s just the same cold person she was in the beginning, only a bit nicer. That’s believable and true to the character, and I admire that, but it doesn’t offer that many acting opportunities for Lana to confront.

A problem with this role is the screentime; I can handle the minutes, but the 26.7% of the film she’s on screen is so not enough for a Best Actress nominee (and for a couple of scenes, she’s just standing in the background). It hurts my perspective on the performance when I see Hope Lange (supporting actress nominee) stealing half of the film from her and getting the most screentime & buzz in the last 30 minutes. Another damaging factor to Lana’s performance is the lack of credibility that the love story has. Her screen partner has no charisma, but possesses the most annoying voice ever and the screenwriter isn’t very interested in digging deep.

So the idea is that Lana has few to work with. She doesn’t have the screentime she deserves, the focus is on her character’s daughter and on some rape victim, her screen partner is bleah and she’s supposed to look frigid & constipated for most of the film. The only things she gets are one sexy red dress and an out-of-line crying scene in the courtroom. But you know what: I didn’t dislike her! Her performance felt mature & adequate and the frigid look was dead-on believable.

When she throws a slap once or twice I’m in ecstasy and I strangely felt like she understood the character. The courtroom scene is the only time she overplays it a bit, but other than that I felt she did it all just right. The most emotional moment to me was when she tries to speak to her daughter in the bar, just before the trial and gets unfairly rejected; I felt sorry for her, in a very Mildred Pierce way. But it’s not the only one.

It’s not much of a role, but I admire Lana’s effort when she goes for a subtle theatrical. She’s not the type that would go for subtle, so I can see it kills her. She lets it all out in a big crying scene at the end, but I accepted her need of an Oscar moment. I am subjectively captivated by her acting and I admire her understanding of the character. It’s a performance one could laugh at, it all depends on how you look at it. To me, it’s old acting style done well. I would immediately go for 2 stars, comparing it to all the profiles done in over a year. But because it felt right to me, I’m adding a 0.5, so it is. I’m already feeling ashamed for such a high rating. :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Elizabeth Taylor, in Raintree County
approximately 54 minutes and 52 seconds
33.5% of the film

The film

A graduating poet/teacher falls in love with a Southern woman, and then the Civil War and her past create problems.

You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

To quote from what I wrote there: Unfortunately the film (…) is a huge flop and for most part a waste of time, camera work and potential. It's not an epic, but a badly acted, directed, written film lacking the fluidity it needs to put some sense into the story.

Elizabeth Taylor as Susanna Drake

I’ve always lived under the impression that Elizabeth Taylor’s star persona, beauty & personal life were way above her acting and her body of work. She’s a movie star if there’s even been one. Unfortunately, her Raintree County performance confirms my theory and taunts me in believing that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was her only undeniable & brilliant achievement. There’s no doubt she had the potential for great acting, but her regular efforts were way too inconsistent. Raintree County is also her first Oscar nomination, and from what I can tell it’s quite an undeserved one.

Liz plays Susanna Drake, a Southern belle with a bit of a troubled past and lots of unresolved trauma, who falls in love with a Yankee and tricks him into marrying her. But as she approaches motherhood, her mental state starts to decline more and more and a tragic ending for her seems unavoidable. As you can tell, the role is very baity, even though she’s not the leading character of the movie, just the wife; a crazy wife, that is. At times, the role’s too much for Liz to handle and more often the messy screenplay doesn’t live up to the potential of the character.

There aren’t many good things about this performance. Sure, Liz looks great and the more seductive, mean girl role fits her. However, she’s at her most annoying when she’s playing nice, overdoing it. Her Southern charms are often overcooked, and I’m not referring to the accent, but to the loud talking and all the mannerism she brings to the performance and the falseness she defines Susanna by.

Some of her confrontation scenes just don’t work. Either she doesn’t understand the character (to be honest, the screenplay doesn’t help her at all) or she doesn’t have the experience at playing this much of a challenging, mature role (yeah, she was a child actor, but that’s a different ball game). Every time she’s in crisis, she puts on the despair, Alzheimerish look that works only once or twice. And her final scenes, right at the ending, feel boring, uncreative and I got the sense I didn’t like (nor found believable) the direction she decided for the character.

There are, however, two good elements/moments about this performance. First is when, during their boat trip after the wedding, Susanna transforms into this racist Southern bitch for a couple of minutes. As I am condemning the character, Liz showed us a bit of her speciality: playing hard bitches and nasty women. It wouldn’t have harmed the performance had she had more cruel scenes in her acting. The second is the madhouse scene, where we see a Susanna that’s beaten down and that has given up on a chance of a normal life. She’s more approachable and it’s probably for the first (and only) time we feel for the character. Not spectacular, but worthy of mentioning.

This is not a performance I liked. I didn’t hate it, nor did I find something terribly wrong, but it has it’s weak parts and a lot of mediocrity. In all fairness, the direction and the screenplay are shit, but sometimes a performance can rise above the material. Liz does it, but not enough. I hesitated on the rating. I’m gonna go with , even though it’s really a 1.5 and this is officially the least satisfying (another word for bad) performance I’ve written about ever since the birth of the blog.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Joanne Woodward, in The Three Faces of Eve
approximately 68 minutes and 50 seconds
80.1% of the film
The film
A doctor treats a woman suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder.
You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

Watching it again made me realize how naive this movie feels at times. And I go like: yeah, but it’s 1957… so I guess that means it’s pretty dated and it might not seem that fascinating today. Yet nothing really bad about it.

Joanne Woodward as Eve White/Eve Black/Jane

I am a bit fascinated by Joanne, by her looks, her choice in men :P , her friendly, yet classy, distinguished way of acting. She is quite young here and not that experienced as an actress; this element might actually help the performance, as I think the role requires a fresh face to make it feel believable. Needless to say, this is one of the baitiest types of roles an actress could ever get; multiple personality screams Oscar, not just because of one tormented soul, but because of the wide (often full) range of emotions you get to show on screen.

However, a strange thing happens with this performance: because the film is so low key, posing as a simple docudrama, with a simple plot and limited characters, the performance borrows some of the modesty & restraint that the film show. Don’t get me wrong: Joanne is the centre of the film and, as I’ll mention it, she’s way above average, but this study called The Three Faces of Eve is so simply presented that days after seeing it I remember it more as a poor documentary and it takes a lot away from the leading performance.

Joanne’s biggest acting challenge here was to not let it look pathetic. The result is a very well balanced & calculated performance, a success for as much as the screenplay allowed it to be. I congratulate Joanne for making the three personalities feel distinctive. It’s to her credit that the technical part of the performance works so well.

My favourite one was obviously the 2nd personality, Eve Black: a playful, flirty young woman, a bit mean, who always speaks her mind and really knows how to have fun. Joanne’s fresh look and youth are helping her make the change and she totally nails the fun side of the character, making the entire film look less grim. Eve White, the first and regular personality, is a simple, sad woman and Jane, the 3rd one, is a real lady, a balance between the other two. How convenient, right? :)

Joanne’s dramatic talent is undeniably present. I remember now two moments, a small one and a big splash, that prove the acting skills. There’s a scene when her stupid, unsupportive husband blames her, Eve White, for her own disease. Her answer is heartbreaking and honest: I can’t help it; Joanne does a terrific job in displaying Mrs. White’s incapacity of controlling these personalities and her desperation as she witnesses her life fading away.

The other one is the big flashy moment at the end; it’s supposed to be the moment that blows us away and it’s good, not that mind-blowing, but a solid one woman show moment. It’s where we see the leading character changing personalities one after the other in an important revealing scene. Joanne is excellent alternating these 3 women and the scene is quite Oscar-baity, with tears & screaming; but it’s not exaggerated, and Joanne balances it and restrains it as much as the screenplay allows her to.

No doubt, the performance is at least good and a very memorable effort and breakthrough from an actress that I consider one of the most interesting of her generation. I had the feeling Joanne was in control and she did save the film from chaos. Her performance is excellent in the technical department, but how about more emotion? There are such scenes, but truth is: in the end I didn’t really care that much what happened to her. I felt sorry for Mrs. White, but there wasn’t a real emotional connection between me and all these personalities of hers. Then again: a very good effort. .

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Best Actress 1957

It's true, the 50s had the best shot at being the next decade picked-up. 1957 is a rather... eccentric choice as I have to admit that at the time of the lottery I had only seen 1 (!!!) of the 5 nominated performances; that's Lana Turner in Peyton Place. I love that each of the 5 actresses has a distinctive fame; they're all well-known: one was a blonde sex symbol, one was a serious Oscar-winning Italian actress, one was a frigid-looking British sensation, one that would marry Paul Newman and do less glamorous projects and a child-star grown up that would become an icon of the 20th century.

I give you the 5 ladies that Oscar had chosen for 1957:

from left to right, I have the pleasure to introduce:

  • Lana Turner, in Peyton Place
  • Anna Magnani, in Wild Is the Wind
  • Joanne Woodward, in The Three Faces of Eve
  • Elizabeth Taylor, in Raintree County
  • Deborah Kerr, in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

Joanne will be first.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

What comes next...

I have been using the same lottery style to pick a year from the 1930s, 40s and 50s; so I had a total of 13 options. The winner is satisfying. :)

Of course, youtube jerks disabled my audio song for Amelie. Just go to the end of it to see the winner. :) it was all one-shot and no cheating.