Thursday, December 27, 2007

FILM REVIEWS: In Brief: "No Country For Old Men"; "Juno", "Charlie Wilson's War:; "Work Hard"; "The Great Debaters"

These films I saw before I left and now don't have time to review in detail...but:

"No Country For Old Men"...A depressing C-. Much ado about nothing.

"Juno"...Sweet; has a wonderful lead actress. Wonderful other actors. But: the film is about irresponsibility masking as responsibility. SO: B-

"Charlie Wilson's War"...So much talent (Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Mike Nichols, etc.) wasted on mediocre film. B-

"Work Hard"...The first ten minutes are funny. Then...over and hour of the same gag over and over and over and over and over and over and over and get my point...again. Only Ravel could pull that off (SEE "Bolero")...D+ (Ravel: A)

"The Great Debaters"...When the heart is focused, in the right place, even cliches work...B+

When all is said and done, see "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and "Eastern Promises". When you do, you'll see why I am so hard of the other films reviewed above. Another Arena

Sorry I haven't been writing...but my mind and my computer has been dormant. I am in Iowa working with the John Edwards campaign at the most basic stamp licking, phone calling, campaign literature binding-in-packets level. My bosses are JJ at 26 (a very bright lady...amazing) and Zack (a former middle school teacher), aged 30, her deputy. They teach; I learn. I obey. It is exhilarating. I'll be done with the campaign (hopefully with a victory for John Edwards) and back in LA at my studio... and my acting blog insertions...January 4th. Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

FILM REVIEW: "Atonement"

A shaggy dog story (I credit my wife for that insight): with a final pay-off that seems a not quite an emotionally logical (albeit brilliantly clever) resolution to the main narrative if the story of "Romeo and Juliet" suddenly ends with a wrap-up about the Nurse dealing with her responsibility in the lovers' deaths...and you find out the love story didn't happen the way you thought it happened; because the Nurse lied in the telling.

The story of "Atonement" (within the story of "Atonement"): Poor son-of-a-servant boy greets grown-up-together rich girl at invited dinner party; their heat which has been long deferred, suddenly is almost (barely?) consummated. All this occurs by the way on day one of the film (and a long day it is: a long 40 minutes into the film!). But their coupling (wonderfully shot, by the way) is interrupted by a thirteen year old sister of the love-interest girl, a sister who also has an infatuation with the servant-boy, and who then proceeds to wreak her revenge on the caught lovers when a young friend of the family is later also caught by the young sister flagrant with someone else; the friend says she's been raped, and the infatuated sister blames it on the servant boy...she just saw him overheated; moreover she says she saw him do it!)

By now we're an hour into the film. The servant boy is off to prison.

The second half starts (second half; or another film?): 5 years later, and World War II (primarily around Dunkirk) where the British Army (including the servant boy who volunteered to change prison stripes for khakis) is catching war-hell from the Germans and is trying to get back to England. At this point the simple, single narrative, contained in the first hour of the film becomes surreal, illustrative, symbolic and agonizingly undramatic (one long overstuffed tracking shot is style substituting for narrative substance--a 'no-no' in my book)...culminating in the shaggy dog ending. (By this second-half part in the story the two rich sisters are nurses, bravely serving the war effort..and waiting for the servant boy--in Europe suffering from his wounds--to come home again.)

The lovers finally get together again...or so we think...and the lying sister seeks only a writer can...on a talk show plugging her book RE the love tale.

From the opening shot in the film of her as a thirteen year old, typewriter clacking, we see she is a writer--and in some ways the central narrative-drive in the film...(although from a pragmatic--$$$$$--point of view, a film about a thirteen-year old kid doesn't attract bankable stars and box-office so the star-crossed lovers have a lot of--in my mind, unnecessary and narrative-diverting--screen time).

Writing being the character-conceit in the film, the overall film contains stories within stories within stories (like many of these films about writers--SEE Charlie Kaufman's films) as well as the now obligatory 'in' novelistic style of flash forward, flash backward)...we get a plethora of post-modern mania for multiple points of view and no objective truth!...(which the Japanese film "Rashomon" achieved much more brilliantly, by the way, fifty years ago!!!)

By the almost-end of "Atonement", like an example of deus ex machina, we are introduced to Vanessa Redgrave as the now seventy-year-old plus formerly lying sister who wraps up the story for us. I kept thinking while watching her: I wish Ms. Redgrave had been onscreen from the beginning, alone, in a close-up, just telling us te whole story...she is that brilliant; and brave...unlike the 'moan'-y leads, James McAvoy and Keika Knightly, who are wonderfully accomplished actors, and successful...but tirelessly fixed--at least in this film--in the contemporary 'sigh and suffer' school of acting performances (SEE Ralph Fiennes).

"Atonement" is a beautifully mounted film, but a bit precious and artistically heated while simultaneous over-delicate. It was directed by Joe Wright; written by Christopher Hampton.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

ON ACTING: Acting Is Not Pretend

Many people consider the skill of acting to be 'pretend', or 'make believe', or 'false behavior'.

When they think of acting in that way, they are wrong. To 'act' is the opposite of false behavior: it is 'real' behavior; albeit in a certain circumstance.

In everyday language people commonly use the following phrases: "to act cautiously", "to act with restraint", "to act judiciously", "to act with consciousness aforethought", "to act stupidly". In all of those phrases, "to act" means simply "to behave" in a certain manner: cautiously, restrained, stupidly, etc, as the particular case may be. But it does not in any of these instances refer to false, pretend or make believe behavior.

So, too, in 'acting; the circumstances of the story and character may be imaginary, created only for the occasion of the play or film, but the actor's behavior is always real within it. The actor's task is to live with emotional truth within that imagined reality, to behave in accordance with human logic--and feeling--no matter what the circumstance.

In the dark of night, and sometimes in the light of day, we dream (some would say 'create') dreams, but...the feelings we feel during those dreams are real.

So let it always be with good acting.

Monday, December 17, 2007

ON ACTING: The Value of 'Dumbing Down'

Drama and comedy happen to the unsuspecting.

If human characters knew that pain, suffering, trials and tribulations, or, on the other hand, foolish behavior and the ridicule of others, would be their oncoming dessert, they would flee--avoid involvement--at all costs. Their life would not consist of drama and comedy. Non-theatrial blandness--safety--would be their reality.

'Fools rush in where others fear to tread.' That is the motto of actors.

However, sometimes actors as they enter the performance, forget to forget that whereas they have knowledge of the beginning, middle and end of the script--the character hasn't.

When actors have trouble forgetting the oncoming events of the script--and they 'play on top of the material'...or 'play results'...or 'indicate'...all forms of an actor knowing too much in advance about the plot and the character's emotional response to the plot's events, I recommend that actors 'dumb down' the character, drop his or her IQ by forty points...which in truth is what happens to people when they take things so seriously that they enter the domain of drama and comedy. Life becomes so important and involving that too great an amount of blood flows to the groin or heart that little is left over for their brain.

I offer 'dumbing down' as an acting preparation for all good performances of dramatic and comic characters. It is fun--and performance profitable--to take on dramatic and comedic events of a script without consciousness aforethought. Ignorance is performance bliss.

Monday, December 10, 2007

ON ACTING: The 'Act' and the '' in Acting

Why do they call it act-ing?

Let's break it down.

To 'act' is to do; to be involved in an activity. Act-ing derives from a verb, not a noun. The '-ing' portion of that verb (the present-participle tense of the verb) reminds us that the activity of the actor-as-character is in the present, and 'in process'.

The one thing acting is NOT is a replication of the past (a prior rehearsal). If that were the case, the craft of acting would have been called 'acted', 'having acted'.

'Act-ing', 'do-ing'...present (tense) participle in the hands of a good actor.

Friday, December 07, 2007

ON ACTING: And Acting Schools and Agents and Scams

Ms. A. wrote to me:

"i auditioned for this agency john robert powers and got in but they want 1000 is that a scam? and the people from one source talent want me to work for them for 30 a month for some card that they do are something is that a scam"

Then as a follow up:

"there making me pay 30 a month for some card that they make but they said since their a managment and not an agency they don't take your earnings."

I wrote back to Ms. A.:

"Why does John Roberts Powers want a thousand? For classes? I thought you went to them for agency representation? There is such a concept as 'bait and switch'...which is a 'no-no'!...bait them in with the promise of representation and switch them to classes. Beware of 'dream merchants'...they make money off other people's dreams...and too often, sadly, don't fulfill their dreams but make off with their money. As to One Source Talent: are they paying you $30 a month or are you paying them $30 a month? The old adage applies: "If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true." Do you have professional level talent? Are you good enough to be competetive with other actors, to make it worthwhile for producers to hire you instead of others? Or are 'classes' and 'agents' people ripping you off; exploiting only your dreams and not really helping you develop your talent? Remember: it is a business out there. Business logic...not dream logic...applies. Follow your dreams; but follow them reasonably, carefully, and smartly.
Good luck.
And best regards, Cliff"

ON ACTING: "...Personality, Eloquence and Daring"

In an L. A. Times obituary of Elizabeth Hardwick, the New York Review of Books co-founder, it quoted the following from her 1979 essay in the New York Times:

"A good essay should be 'full of personality, eloquence and daring'."

Actors might follow the same advice in their performances.

Monday, December 03, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"

Brilliant. Exquisite. Poetic. Clean. Elegant. Powerful. True.

Based on a true story. The editor of "Elle" (fashion) magazine, Jean-Dominique Bauby, a rather libido-driven guy, early forties, has a stroke---which leaves him totally paralyzed, and only able to see and blink with one eye.

The film starts with him coming out of a coma...and follows him from there. Not a very promising concept for a major motion picture, but thanks in some part to the courage of Miramax, the Weinstein's, and the greatness of the filmmakers, it got made...and wonderfully so. Oh, did I mention: the film is based on Mr. Bauby's autobiography, dictated letter by letter with a single- or double-blink of his one good eye while in the hospital,!

See this film.

See it on a big screen; not on your mobile phone. Sub-titled. It's beauty warrants and deserves it's true size. See it if you see nothing else this year.

Yes; it is a foreign film (French). Of course.

After leaving the Academy, after seeing the film there, I said ruefully to my wife: "Why are all the best movies these days ("Talk to Her", last year's "Lives of Others", this year's "Eastern Promises"...) made by foreigners?!

I got home, I looked up the director's name, Julian Schnabel, on IMDB, Inter Movie Data Base. He was born in Brooklyn, raised in Brownsville, TX, and schooled at the University of Houston!!!! He just directs foreign!...With sensitivity, style, meaning, intelligence, insight and wit.

Am I saying that Americans do not have these qualities. Sure they do. But the ones that do just don't get hired very much by studio executives who ($$$$-driven) are pandering after kids who they assume in their movie tastes and desires are not sensitive and bright. But...French kids are?

The writer of this film, by the way, Ronald Harwood, was an actor very early in his career, and the writer of "The Pianist" and "The Dresser". He is seventy-three. Schnabel is fifty-five. Schnabel does not have a long list of film credits to his name (over the years he has been busy also being a fine artist; a painter). If there is any justice, he will start compiling a long list of film credits now.

The acting is amazing. Each character is distinct. Each character has a story to tell...and you like them all, warts and all. An overall brilliant effort. David Denby, the critic for the "New Yorker" magazine, said it best: "A feast of movie making. It feels like nothing less than the rebirth of the cinema."