Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mary Tyler Moore, in Ordinary People
approximately 30 minutes and 28 seconds
25.3% of the film

The film

The accidental death of the older son of an affluent family deeply strains the relationships among the bitter mother, the good-natured father, and the guilt-ridden younger son.

You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.
It’s a very well structured family drama, with high-class acting and a smart feel to it. It’s about human relationships and the feelings displayed are faithful to reality. For the most of it, it’s a successful Best Picture winner.

Mary Tyler Moore as Beth Jarrett

There’s a scene towards the end of Ordinary People when Calvin is coming home from the psychiatrist and confronts his wife Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) about a forgotten aspect from their son’s funeral. Why did she care what shoes he wore that day? Their son had just died, but she still cared about matching shoes… To me, it’s the strongest moment of the film and it says so much about Beth. I understand Beth; and, very often, I act just like she does. Her incapacity of displaying any (love) emotion is defining for the character.

But did you check her time on-screen (it’s mentioned under the main photo)? At 30 minutes, she’s 3rd to last from all the years I’ve counted so far. We can see her for just 25% of the film, which makes it a 2nd leading performance, how I’d call it. Mary plays Beth, a cold intelligent woman, subtly dealing with her favorite son’s death and her dislike for the surviving one. We discover Beth as a mother, a wife and most of all: a strong opinioned woman who cares a great deal for appearances.

What is mostly required of the actress is to make Beth look like she’s always on the edge of her sit. Beth is kind to her husband, loving and slightly manipulative, but she feels terribly uncomfortable in the presence of her son. I do believe she doesn’t hate him; it’s just that hard to explain lack of human connection. They just don’t click. And Mary Tyler Moore is perfect for the part, because she can inspire both intelligence and class, and also the stiffness much needed for this role.

But Beth is no cold monster and Mary understands that. Instead of creating a frigid bitch, she underlines her incapacity of displaying emotion and her preference for image, and not substance. There are one or two scenes in which she tries to get close to her son or is plainly forced by the situation. Mary allows us to see the good nature of the character and relate to her. It’s emotional and tragic and she’s much aware of this, but it’s hard for her to change when there is so much regret and anger and untold words behind her relationship with her son.

When accused for her coldness and cornered for being the way she really is, Beth shows her vulnerability. I don’t know what anyone wants with me anymore. It’s her wish to continue living behind a wall of silence and not deal with all the problems. And who could blame her? Her final scene, after her husband’s confession is heartbreaking and, while she’s being forced into the truth of everything around her, we soon realize that in the end Beth is the real victim of the story, not her son. It’s Beth who lost everything. [Does all this sound confusing for someone who hasn’t seen the film?]

Mary Tyler Moore is responsible for all the character analysis mentioned above. She allows us to see Beth in a way other actresses might have not allowed us to. Her performance is so smart and balanced and empathetic that in the end you HAVE to understand her and feel sorry for her. Mary’s only weakness: the competition in her own film. It’s Timothy Hutton who has most screentime and in an excellent performance he manages to steal the show. His final scene in the psychiatrist office is greatly acted beyond words. Conclusion: I thought of giving Mary 3 stars, but it’s a deep performance and subtle like none other from this 1980 line-up. For that itself, it deserves .

Friday, December 25, 2009

Best Picture winners... and Scarlett

Because it's Christmas Day (already 7 pm where I live right now), I thought of revisiting my favorite movie; and I did. By doing so, I've checked (again) all the Best Picture winners between 1928-1939 included. It's a slow burning project I'm doing over at My Latest Oscar Film, the other blog.

I've posted there a ranking (included in the few words I wrote on Gone With the Wind). If you care to check it out, just click HERE.

But go now, don't let Scarlett waiting :P
Meeeeeery Christmas!

Alex in Movieland and My Latest Oscar Film wish you all a very Merry Christmas filled with nice food, good deeds, warm feelings and excellent movies.

With not much to do over here, I myself am about to jump into the arms of Miss Scarlett O'Hara! Fiddle-dee-dee, just look at the time...
And excuse the quick, arrogant, I have no Christmas tree and I'm pissed about it photo :) Best of wishes, boys & girls!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Gena Rowlands, in Gloriaapproximately 78 minutes and 32 seconds
67.4% of the film

The film

A gangster's girlfriend goes on the run with a young boy who is being hunted by the mob for information he may or may not have.

You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.
By far one of the messiest films I’ve seen in a very long time. The idea is good: but that’s all there is to it. For 40-50 minutes the film just goes in circles. Gena Rowlands can’t save it because she has nothing to work with. The dialogue is horrible and I think I was watching the worst child performance EVER. A mess.

Gena Rowlands as Gloria Swenson

I haven’t seen A Woman under the Influence (yes, I know I need to), but I have seen Opening Night and Gena Rowlands is spectacular in that Oscar-snubbed performance. And I don’t know… just by looking at her you can tell how cool & fabulous she is. She inspires a smart diva actress feeling! I’m sure that in a studio era she would’ve given Bette Davis a run for her money.

But this movie called Gloria is pure non-sense. She is incredibly above the material, but even so: there’s too much of a mess going on. Gena plays Gloria, a mobster’s ex-mistress, who due to some special circumstances ends up taking care of an annoying kid with a target on his head while her former gangster friends are hunting both of them. We don’t know much about Gloria, except that she did some time and that she’s an insider. There is nothing too deep about the character and for the most of it she just runs in circles from one NY location to another…

I need to underline yet again how stupid the screenplay is: it’s hardly believable and there is no character justification. People stupidly waiting to die, characters changing their minds every 5 minutes, a kid with lines a kid would never say, a mob guy on every bus & street corner in New York & an ocean of brainless screenplay solutions… And Gena is the middle of it all. Her screen partner is frustratingly incapable (that Razzie win for the kid is the most justified ever) and all that’s left for her to do it to take little and exploit it so much by trying to give a mood to the scene.

There are a couple of moments when she’s terrific; of course she is, because she’s frikkin Gena Rowlands. Caught up on the streets by the mob (all of them in a car), she is requested by old friends to hand over the kid. It’s a tough call for her: keeping him near is a death threat for her, but she knows that if she gives him up he’ll be dead. Gena helps us understand that, so her You wouldn’t shoot a kid, would you? (quoting from memory) is humble, begging and terribly effective. That’s a 5 star delivery!

As I said, she exploits the little material she’s given. Unfortunately, she sometimes takes it too far: pointing the gun at some gangsters and making crazy faces – that’s overacting to say the least. It’s not completely bad, but you can feel the desperation of the actress who is aware she’s doing a shitty role in a shitty movie. [Cassavetes actually had no intention of directing his screenplay, he just wanted to sell it. But when his wife got attached to the project, he was forced to step in]. Talking between her teeth, almost barking at the screen!

I imagined her final scene with the big Mafia boss is gonna give us some huge Oscar moment. It didn’t happen, as the dialogue itself was a boring cliché, with no real meat on it. Gena danced around it and did the best she could, just like she did the hour and a half before that.

This performance has one or two great moments and she was the only one who got me through this movie. I get sad when a wonderful actor doesn’t get the proper material. It could’ve been a great performance of a strong, tough, experienced woman. But it wasn’t; the worse of the film takes over the spotlight. How can I rate this?! It could’ve easily been a 3 or 4, but because I don’t know who Gloria is and I barely believe the information given to me: it’s a . With spots of 5. :)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ellen Burstyn, in Resurrection
approximately 77 minutes and 1 second
79.8% of the film

The film

It tells the story of a woman who survives the car accident which kills her husband, but discovers that she has the power to heal other people.

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

The movie starts well, as a mixture of drama and spirituality and after life, but after 1 hour it goes downhill, especially the screenplay. It’s a pity. The best thing about it: Maurice Jarre’s music which would’ve deserved Oscar recognition.

Ellen Burstyn as Edna

It’s not very often that a performance coming from a fantasy/sci-fi/horror movie gets recognition here. I actually didn’t keep track, but it’s easy to tell. Sigourney Weaver got it for Aliens, Ellen Burstyn for The Exorcist… and again for this little movie called Resurrection. It’s not really a fantasy, but it deals with afterlife, so there’s a paranormal thing going on. However, the easiest explanation for the nom is the dramatic requirement of the role, the personal experience of a normal woman dealing with change.

Ellen plays Edna, a 40-something married woman who after a sudden accident becomes a widow and a paraplegic. While almost experiencing death, she wakes up with a strange (energy) power of healing, both herself and others. It’s a good idea of a role, with the potential of a good performance, at it demands a lot: going through the real dramatic part, making the healing look believable and not overdoing the dialogue. And I can say that Burstyn does a very fine job, at least in the first 2/3rds of it.

Her most solid moments come in portraying the suffering Edna; she had lost her husband and she’s now in a wheelchair. The hospital scenes are good and there’s a great one at the cemetery with her saying goodbye to him. Ellen can see the truth in this simple woman, so the daily-life scenes are among the best.

The healing part doesn’t require big, flashy reactions from Ellen. She just closes her eyes and uses, through her hands, a power which is invisible to us. However, she does make it believable and it’s also because of her generally calming presence. She is very reassuring and although she represents the paranormal element of the film, she’s at the same time the person/actress who keeps it grounded. It’s all because we trust Burstyn and the character she’s creating.

That’s a plus for the understanding of the film, because it becomes pretty obvious early on that she’s the one carrying the whole picture on her back. By creating a relatable character, she sells Resurrection to us, the first part of it, that is. Her flashiest scene is the big healing one, a difficult case where we practically see Burstyn taking upon herself the sickness of the patient. It’s a well-planned acting moment, which doesn’t seem fake at all.

However, my favourite acting scene of hers is while saying goodbye to her grandmother towards the ending of the movie. A great scene partner helps and Burstyn is able to take us back to Edna’s daily-life emotions from the first part; her teary eyes seem so genuine and her honest acting creates a loving, natural, relatable scene: saying goodbye to someone you love and acknowledging you’ll probably never see them again.

And then there’s the downfall: the final 10 minutes make for an almost ridiculous ending. The old Edna looks like a witch. Beyond the unconvincing makeup, Burstyn fails in making us believe that decades have passed. It’s an incredibly bad and uninspired take which kills any side of believability. Just because you put on a wig (but no wrinkles) doesn’t mean 20-30 years have passed; it really was an unfortunate soap-opera move.

Burstyn does a fine job in creating a simple woman, dealing with too many new elements in her life. There IS a character arc and her presence throughout the film makes the whole power thing seem believable. It’s a relatable character and she’s nicely selling the film, except for the last part, where she really drops the ball. I give her , being more of a 2.5. I could totally understand why someone would see this more like a 2, but because she puts soul into it and I enjoyed the first part, I thought about being a bit generous.

***EDIT: As stated at the 100th profile celebration (HERE), Ellen's performance has been downgraded to  . :( Mostly for that terrible acting at the ending. 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Golden Globe predictions - Just Acting

I swear these are my last predictions before the big Oscar ones. I postponed my usual Best Actress posting to put this up. The Globe noms will be announced on Tuesday (I think). So these are the possible nominees. Hell, my predictions! Just in the acting category, because these are the ones I care mostly about. The photos, I guess, represent possible winners (and nomination locks).

Actor - Drama:

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Viggo Mortensen, The Road

runner-up: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Actor - Comedy / Musical:

Matt Damon, The Informant!
Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine
Robert De Niro, Everybody's Fine
Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer

runner-up: the guy from A Serious Man

Actress - Drama:

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

runner-up: Abbie Cornish, Bright Star [or why not Robin Wright Penn]

Actress - Comedy / Musical:

Marion Cotillard, Nine
Zooey Deschanel, (500) Days of Summer
Michelle Pfeiffer, Chéri
Meryl Streep, It’s Complicated
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

runner-up: Bullock could easily sneak in instead of Pfeiffer or Zooey

Supporting Actor:

Alec Baldwin, It's Complicated
Alfred Molina, An Education
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

runner-up: Woody Harelson, The Messenger

Supporting Actress:

Penélope Cruz, Nine
Judi Dench, Nine
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo’Nique, Precious
Susan Sarandon, The Lovely Bones

runner-up: Morton or Cotillard instead of Sarandon. I just don't see Julianne getting nominated here.

We'll see! Unfortunately I'll be at work when they'll announce them, but maybe I can see a recording of the live announcement when I get home (and ignore any info by then). Let's hope youtube will work fast.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Precious experience.

I have finished watching Precious on an FYC dvd. I didn’t take any breaks from it, it was a continuous viewing. After I’ve finished it, I got up and sat on the balcony for 3 minutes, just to bread some air and leave it behind. To me it was a haunting, a bit traumatizing experience. It’s definitely not the feel good movie of the year. It struck some cords, but I guess that was the intention… I don’t think it’s a masterpiece and I hate that I’ll have to see it again (both Gaby & Mo’Nique will get Oscar noms). At the same time, I’d want everybody I know to see it; because it’s an unpleasant sit-through and an emotional blackmail, right now it makes me feel… wiser, a more profound person. But then again: I’ve finished it less than 30 minutes ago…

Mo’Nique’s Oscar win is gonna be one of the best this category’s ever had. Gaby will not win, neither will Lee Daniels (I think), nor will it get the Best Picture (not because I’m sure that there’ll be much better movies, but I can’t imagine that a lot of people would want to remember Precious, because of its heavily uncomfortable experience). It is over-directed, but that’s the way to do it especially in the first part, when the screenplay needs help. Impossible to rate it so soon: an 8 maybe, slowly heading towards a 9. Paula Patton was also great and Mariah didn’t have enough screentime. But Mo’Nique rocked.

I don’t usually watch movies from that year until December – January – February. So I need a lot of catching up to do. Recently seen future Oscar-nominees:
- Inglourious Basterds: too much tension, but delicious.
- District 9: highly overrated.
- Transformers II: great visuals, non-sense story.
- Julie & Julia: Meryl is fine, but otherwise a simplistic flick.

Probably the next ones: Public Enemies, Star Trek, The Hurt Locker, The White Ribbon, Broken Embraces,… I would add some animated, but I’m not a big fan, so I might wait for the Oscar noms.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Miss Hepburn

Andrew (you can click on his movie blog: Encore Entertainment) is organizing a Katherine Hepburn blog-a-thon and I thought about writing something about one of her performances, one not previously discovered by me. I am not the biggest K. Hepburn fan, but I would definitely say any time of day that she was a very very talented actress and that her acting presence in the 20th century cinema is an essential one. My favourite performance of hers is probably in The Lion in Winter.

Right now, I’m writing a bit on her performance in Stage Door, a very nice 1937 movie.

Katherine plays Terry Randall, a mature, even a bit arrogant rich girl who is convinced she wants to become an actress on her own. She steps into a boarding house for aspiring actresses and becomes a strange member of a very colourful, fun group.

The role doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch for Hepburn, because the stiff, rather frigid persona seems to fit her perfectly. It’s a rigid performance for the most of it, but that’s because the roles requires so. As a first time viewer, I was a bit put off by her performance, because I was enjoying the fun-side of the story, which Ginger Rogers and the others delivered.

However, regarding the commitment to her character, Hepburn’s in it. The reactions of Terry seem to fit her way of being and, despite this arrogant facade, you can always feel her good intentions. Terry is not disconnected from real life, but she has assumed some kind of redeeming role, as the one who brings justice; she has no problem in speaking her mind and seems to have a more mechanical approach on life, which infiltrates in her perspective on acting…

Truth is Terry is an awful actress. And for that matter, Kate is pretty bad at playing the bad acting - if that makes sense :) But Terry becomes an excellent one when involuntarily she’s forced to dig into her emotions and, overwhelmed by a tragedy for which she feels responsible, gives the performance of a lifetime by putting heart and soul into the lines she’s saying on stage. It’s here where Kate succeeds and the reading of the line "The calla lilies are in bloom again..." which her character says on stage becomes the greatest achievement of the performance.

It’s definitely not one of Kate’s best performances, but the film is memorable and Hepburn’s presence in the film is a necessary one.

Do remember to check Andrew’s blog on Saturday. I’ll link the blog-a-thon as soon as there is one. ***Edit: here's the link: CLICK

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sissy Spacek, in Coal Miner's Daughter
approximately 84 minutes and 43 seconds*
70.7% of the film

The film

Biography of Loretta Lynn, a country and western singer that came from poverty to fame.

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

A decent movie, for a biopic. Of course it could’ve been better in exploiting the leading character, but in the end you know what to expect: it’s mostly about the music. An easy to watch film, lifted by the leading performance and the direction.

Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn

What can you say about a performance that won the Oscar, the Golden Globe, the NBR, the National Society, the New York, the Los Angeles and the Kansas City awards for Best Actress? Well, unless it’s Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice) or Emma Thompson (Howards End), you criticize it. But that’s just me joking; partly. Because Sissy Spacek easily manages to act above other biopic performances.

It’s good to know that I am not familiar with the real Loretta Lynn, so I’m not influenced by the real-life artist. Also, even though I admire that Sissy sang her own songs (and did a great Grammy-nominated job for that), it won’t affect my judging. So Sissy plays Loretta, a coal farmer’s daughter who (foolishly) marries very young and accidentally becomes a country music sensation!

For the role to work, they needed someone who could play Loretta from 13 years old to her mid 30s. Sissy seems to be the perfect casting, as she always kept a girlish look and has the technique and experience (Carrie) to pull off a teenager performance. By doing that, she proves lots of talent: she makes the character believable and doesn’t bother to hide Loretta’s flawed decisions or redneck attitude. She gets lost into the character and that’s what makes the movie work.

I’m not sure how accurate her Southern accent is, but it sounded good enough for me. I’m not sure if Loretta was a fierce personality, loud and big-mouthed, but by choosing to go there, Sissy invests in creating a full character. To her credit, she manages to show us Loretta’s journey in a believable way and you can definitely feel the character arc, the evolution from a shy teenager to a loud housewife to a straight-forward, proud woman.

Her singing moments seem to be perfectly acted; she feels the emotion of the lyrics and it’s definitely a breath of fresh air from the loudness of the normal-life Loretta. It’s Sissy Spacek who makes this film enjoyable and gives it credibility (Beverly D’Angelo also contributes a lot in her scenes); even though she sometimes goes a bit too far on the hillbilly aspect of it (the first radio scene), Sissy really knows the character, manoeuvring it most correctly.

The scene that seduced me is of course her breakdown on stage. Though disappointing screenplay-wise, Sissy saves the scene and makes it so believable that you can’t help but be moved by it. The tears, the speech, knowing exactly when to say the lines and always keeping the accent: you can feel the emotion and the dedication to the character.

Sissy Spacek makes the right choices: she doesn’t create a glamorized, idealized character, but a flawed person whose journey we can understand and truly believe in. The singing aspect of the performance is admirable mostly due to the emotion displayed while hitting the lyrics. It’s not the best performance ever, nor a favourite one for me, but I really admire the work that went into offering us an enjoyable, yet difficult to portray, character. Nice work: . And I can’t honestly say that I don’t know if this will be my 1st choice for 1980, my 2nd or 3rd. We’ll see!

*the screen-time never includes photos, but does include voice (and considering that Sissy did her own singing, her voice was counted even when she wasn’t on screen)