Friday, April 30, 2010

Isn’t She Great?

Last year I wrote a bit about Cranford, calling it the best tv movie / miniseries I had seen in a while. Actually, the most entertaining and my type of movie making. [yes, I have seen John Adams]. The miniseries had 5 parts and although quite girlie it fits perfectly for anybody who enjoys period pieces like Sense & Sensibility and stuff. BUT, Cranford also had some humour on the side, provided mostly by Imelda Staunton.

So I was excited when I heard it was back with 2 more episodes slash Christmas special. After seeing them, I can declare they weren’t as good as the first 5, but still a treat.

Judi Dench was AMAZING in the first Cranford, giving one of my favourite performances of hers (if not THE one). And it’s not a character she’s often done before: an honest, educated, incredibly kind spinster. Had it not been for Laura Linney in John Adams, I’m quite sure Judi would’ve won both Emmy and Golden Globe. Her performance was so touching and effective and it remains the same for these 2 new episodes.

These were my favourite 2 stills of hers from this Christmas special. She must get an Emmy nomination this summer and if she submits part II, she will be a definite contender for the win. Love her! See Cranford, especially the first 5 episodes!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Irene Dunne, in The Awful Truth
approximately 59 minutes and 46 seconds
69.7% of the film

The film

Suspicions lead a married couple to begin divorce proceedings, whereupon they start undermining each other's attempts to find new romance.

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

Is the film that good or was I just in the mood for a relaxing screwball comedy? Whatever the answer, The Awful Truth is very entertaining, and fun to watch and quite well written. The Irene Dunne – Cary Grant pairing works perfectly and there really isn’t anything bad about this movie.

Irene Dunne as Lucy Warriner

Comedy is hard to judge. After something dramatic, much too expressive like Luise Rainer’s performance, I get the total opposite: the fun, light, relaxed acting of Irene Dunne… And I’m usually tough on comedy in this category, but when a performance seems so effortless and effective, it gets all my admiration. Irene Dunne glows all throughout The Awful Truth. And not just because of fancy dresses and luxurious sets; what she does is allow the fun and silly to take over the performance.

Irene plays Lucy Warriner, a modern, beautiful 1930s married socialite. When she and her husband both fall under the suspicion of cheating, they decide without thinking on a divorce that really doesn’t bring happiness to any of them. The awful truth is that they still love eachother. Lucy starts dating a well mannered Southern man, but her heart still belongs to Jerry. The comedy comes from wacky episodes involving either the characters or a very smart dog.

As I said, Irene smiles her way through the film and she really is the star of the picture. In many ways, she steals the spotlight from Cary Grant and that’s not easy to do. The scene lightens up every time she’s on screen and she does get some of the best lines. The screenplay helps a lot and offers her the right material for a true comedic performance. Her timing is perfect, the dialogue is carried very well and much in the spirit of the film and genre.

Irene is having so much fun that she seems like she’s drunk sometimes. Her cool joyfulness is contagious and makes the character immediately likeable. It’s also an effortless performance: her way of being/acting is so sweet and charming that the performance has a natural, believable and relatable feeling. Her decision to keep it light is very relevant for the film, but even so: Irene knows when to nuance it a bit.

The Awful Truth doesn’t have dramatic scenes, but it does have one or two emotional ones, when Lucy realizes that she really wants Jerry back and subtly tries to find out if he’d be interested too. A soft, loving look or face expression is all we need from Irene to understand what Lucy is all about, and Irene knows how to do all of that without disturbing the funny mood of the film.

There are two big scenes I see as most relevant for her performance. First, it’s when she’s dragged on the dance floor by Dan, her new fiancĂ©. His dancing technique is embarrassingly creative and Lucy is forced to dance along even though she looks most uncomfortable. I giggle when remembering it. The second one: the big scene towards the end when she pretends to be Jerry’s white trash sister just to embarrass him in front of his girlfriend and her family. The scene has it all: great funny dialogue, a crazy singing moment from Irene and most of all: terrific acting.

When you get such a well written funny role, it should be easy to deliver a decent performance. However, Irene does much more than that. She is naturally charming, has acting experience, comedy timing and gives one of the best screwball comedy performances of the 30s. I liked it too much to ignore it: .

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Luise Rainer, in The Good Earth
approximately 57 minutes and 17 seconds
42.1% of the film

The film

The story of a farmer and his wife in China: a story of humility and bravery.

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

The Good Earth has its good moments and it really is easy to watch. Technically, it’s pretty impressive for that era and, even though it’s much dated, the film is a nice sit through if you’re in the mood for 1930s epics.

Luise Rainer as O-Lan

While watching the film again, I was smiling: can you imagine Greta Garbo or Norma Shearer playing O-Lan, Luise Rainer’s Oscar winning character? This role was not for everyone, and I’m sure not everyone wanted it. If you’ve seen The Good Earth, try to picture that. :) It’s not just deglam, it’s a victim role in a misogynistic film. What’s kind of special about O-Lan is that the role requires almost NO vanity from the actress. You need to be able to look as poor and uneducated and humble as it gets. Though it doesn’t seem like a compliment for her, Luise Rainer manages that and it’s good casting.

Luise plays O-Lan, a poor, humble Chinese slave offered as wife to a poor, not-so-smart but well intended and loving farmer. Together they build a family and work the land and prosper, but destiny gives them a lot of bumps: famine, danger, greed, betrayal. As the family goes together through a lot, we always know that O-Lan is the wise one, she has the balls to make the tough decisions, act courageously and save the day. She is always the moral compass of the film and the unselfish mother hen.

You can roll your eyes when you see such a character. To Luise’s credit, she plays it just as unselfishly as O-Lan is and makes it believable. There’s nothing strange in seeing her working on the field or washing the clothes with a stick or looking drugged when confronted with hunger. Luise IS in character and sometimes actually takes it a step too far.

I didn’t know how to call that. Luise is like an overacting silent film star. Her face does most of the acting here, because O-Lan is too uneducated and humble to speak too much for herself. But one might say some facial expressions are taken too far and it becomes exaggerated when she’s expressing everything too literally. Her acting is theatrical, but to me it worked for the most parts. The role is of such a manner and let’s not forget this is a simple, kind woman, so her reactions are obvious and never fake.

However, this doesn’t mean there’s no depth to the character. I was surprised when we got the idea that she killed her newborn just because she knew it would benefit the family. It’s a key moment and another proof that she’s the one who knows best. And Luise plays it so well that I didn’t judge her, not even for a second.

There are 2 scenes standing out for her from my point of view. The first one is obvious: the stealing of the diamonds and getting caught. Here is where I think her overacting works, because it’s such a tense moment in the film, as she might get killed, and the fear on her face fits perfectly with the scene. The other one is much lighter: in a moment of childish day dreaming, she dreams out loud about wearing something new to impress the people from the house she was a slave in. Her innocence is charming and shows a different side of the character.

Luise Rainer’s performance is not on everyone’s taste. I myself call it overacting, but at the same I go back to the character and find reasons in the story. What’s obvious is that her performance is the best of the film and her character a bit more layered that we might’ve thought. She shows range and makes O-Lan accessible and likeable. It’s not a performance I love, as I can see the flaws, but it IS what the character demanded, with no vanity, and in the overacting touch of the 1930s. I go with .

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Best Actress 1937

I cannot wait for The Last Station any longer, to finish my Best Actress 2009. When I'll find it, I'll post about Helen Mirren and draw the conclusions... In the meantime, I have one decade left: the 1930s. I have chosen this specific Best Actress category for over a year now, but didn't get to talk about it until now. So... it's 1937! I owe it to 1937. Once this category's over, I'll get back to the lottery style...
But getting to Oscar's lineup: all 5 are well known names. Garbo, Irene Dunne and maybe even Stanwyck can be considered movie legends. Luise Rainer holds the unique record of being the first performer to have 2 Oscars (also consecutive). And Janet Gaynor is the first winner the Best Actress category has ever had. It's not a year with fascinating movies, but it's an interesting mix of comedy, soapish drama and very old fashioned drama.

So I give you the 5 ladies that Oscar had chosen for 1937:

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

  • Irene Dunne, in The Awful Truth
  • Barbara Stanwyck, in Stella Dallas
  • Luise Rainer, in The Good Earth
  • Janet Gaynor, in A Star Is Born
  • Greta Garbo, in Camille

I will write first about the winner, Luise Rainer.