Thursday, May 27, 2010

Victor Victoria

Andrew is organizing some kind of a Celebration of Musicals on Sunday May 30th. Because I’ll
be out of town, I’m posting today my favorite. Do click HERE on Sunday (or earlier) to see what bloggers think of musicals and their favorites.

I love Victor Victoria, so much that I consider it among the best EVER. It’s true, the main reason doesn’t stand in the music. You see (or you know), it’s not the type of musical in which people start singing all of the sudden. Victor Victoria is a fantastic comedy, with lots of songs and music. It tells the story of a woman who is forced to pretend to be a man pretending to be a woman. It might sound confusing, but the movie is truly a classic.

The screenplay is the highlight, without a doubt one of the best ever written. Yes, I stand by it: so many excellent one-liners, the dialogue is fabulous and funny and the story just makes sense all around. It is Blake Edwards’ greatest achievement and one of Julie’s Andrews best performances.

The actors are fabulous, both Robert Preston and Lesley Ann Warren deserved to win supporting Oscars for the hilarious comedy performances. Julie is fabulous, understands the movie for the screwball it is and probably delivers her best singing on screen. Which brings me to the Songs: Le Jazz Hot is a classic and such a demanding piece of music. See it to believe it. It stands on its own, but the scene in the film brings so much glam to an already fabulous song. Julie performing it is beyond words and I really couldn’t praise it more.

The Shady Dame from Seville is funny and gives Julie the chance to hit an incredible high note. I won’t talk about all of them, I’ll just say that the supporting actors also share the limelight, with a special dedication to Lesley Ann Warren’s own musical number, the funniest.

I know when I see (again and again) something I really enjoy. I rarely directly recommend films and this one’s a winner. The sharp screenplay and terrific acting make it an instant comedy classic…

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Barbara Stanwyck, in Stella Dallas
approximately 70 minutes and 5 seconds
67.5% of the film

The film

A young woman succeeds in social advancement through a romantic relationship and marriage. However, the marriage is not successful, and she ends up dedicating her life to their daughter's advancement and success.

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

Stella Dallas is a very cheesy, predictable, dated film. It’s never hard to watch, but rarely brings something new or refreshing. Its one successful element is Barbara Stanwyck’s performance; and, oh yes: a very good final shot. Just for ‘30s fans.

Barbara Stanwyck as Stella Dallas
Barbara Stanwyck received her first Best Actress nom (out of 4) with the help of deglam and melodrama. She was already a Hollywood star, but I suspect she was soon to become a phenomenon. Of all her Oscar roles, this is the trashiest and it’s as Oscar baity as it gets. No wonder she thought she gonna win: the role has tears, character arc and lots of no makeup scenes.

Stankwyck plays Stella, a stubborn, good hearted white trash beauty who marries out of her league, dreaming of becoming a lady. However, once married, she ignores her husband’s guidance, settling for a lack of good taste. She dedicates herself to raising her daughter, but soon discovers her uneducated manners & image affect her daughter’s future prospects.

There are two opposite sides to her performance. First, there’s Barbara playing an ignorant and stubborn woman, unaware of how embarrassing her lack of taste is. Here is where Stanwyck mostly fails, because often enough she’s unconvincing. She stretches a lot the vulgarity of Stella, which isn’t always bad, but often enough lacks believability. There’s one particular physical scene with her throwing out a drunk, where I felt like she totally pulled out of character for a couple of seconds and almost unintentionally laughed.

Then there’s the real human side of Stella: the mother. She plays this role with a lot of emotion and it’s her face that beautifully suggests love, or shame or regret. There are a couple of scenes which are quite heartbreaking. Not the flashy, dialogue-filled one, but moments of quiet in which Barbara lets us know exactly what Stella feels.

There’s a scene on the train in which Stella accidentally finds out that her daughter was the laughing stock because of the vulgarity of her mother. She feels guilt when suddenly confronted with this truth she hadn’t realized till now. And it’s all in Barbara’s expressive eyes. The second one is the ending in the rain, which I won’t spoil, but it’s the same acting effect, previously used to perfection and same here.

What a confusing performance Barbara delivers. She’s so good when in the emotional area, but kind of fails in delivering a full believable performance. It needs to be all natural to feel right to me. Yet, in those seconds of greatness she probably delivers the best single acting moments of her category. Conflicted as I am, I’m going with .

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Janet Gaynor, in A Star Is Born
approximately 60 minutes and 21 seconds
55% of the film

The film

A young woman comes to Hollywood with dreams of stardom, but achieves them only with the help of an alcoholic leading man whose best days are behind him.

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

If you are looking for a movie representing 1930s Hollywood, this must come as a recommendation. I enjoy it and respect it a lot, as it was the film that opened the road for a lot of movies of its kind. It’s hardly perfect, but I prefer it to the 1954 and 1976 versions.

Janet Gaynor as Esther Blodgett / Vicki Lester

Janet Gaynor holds that one distinction of being the first person to win the Best Actress category, and not for one, but for 3 (!) performances. A Star Is Born was her Oscar comeback and it’s an important role, but not as meaty as some might think. And it’s hard for her performance to stand the test of time: in 1954, Judy Garland took the same role, gave it a musical twist and created a veeery admired performance, with some Oscar drama of its own. But in the end, this is not a comparison game…

Janet Gaynor plays Esther Blodgett, a simple girl from a small town dreaming of becoming a Hollywood star. She moves to L.A., faces some difficulties, then marries drunken fading star Norman Maine and she becomes an overnight acting sensation. However, the success of her career brings personal unhappiness. It is indeed a leading role, but the real stars of the film are the subject and the storyline… and was her casting that great?

To me, the problem with the performance is both character and casting related. First, as I said, despite the premise of the film, Esther/Vicki is not a very complex role and it lacks some of those big scenes that would demand a real dramatic effort from the actress. She does get some drama, but the writing doesn’t underline the acting or Janet just fails to put it all out there, which brings me to problem no. 2.

For the most of it, Janet is underplaying, even though it’s not necessarily a role that would’ve asked that. I can understand her shyness and a bit of restraint in the beginning, which is justified by the character’s innocence. Esther is an honest girl and doesn’t sleep her way to the top, she is simple and kind and sweet. But at one point, Janet’s acting should have shifted a bit; I didn’t buy that she was all of the sudden a big movie star, because I didn’t sense it in Janet’s performance. She didn’t bother to act the role from that perspective, and I would’ve wanted her to.

Is it in the end all about the casting? Janet looks like a nice, innocent girl (ps: I would’ve chosen a younger actress) but she doesn’t make me believe that she’s hungry enough to want to live the Hollywood life. And also, she doesn’t really sell the charisma of the character as I didn’t find myself rooting for her. As my last comparison, even though I’m not the biggest fan of Judy’s performance, her casting was great: she inspired both the kindness, but also that fierce desire to reach her goal.

I’ve made it sound like I really dislike this performance, but that’s not the case. She is constantly ok throughout the film and there aren’t mistakes or something bad about the acting. It’s just not a performance to remember. You remember the story, Fredric March’s terrific performance, but not that much about Janet; she is ok, good at times, but maybe a bit lazy in her acting. So I guess I’m going with .