Saturday, November 29, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: "Synecdoche New York"

"Synecoche New York" reflects writer/director Charlie Kaufman's depressing (and endless) narcissistic ruminations of life, creativity, theater and semi-profound philosophy and surreal use of film. Mostly it reflects him. I recommend to Kaufman anti-depressants and anti-psychotics (some available by proscription; some hopefully soon to be developed) before he commences another film.

In analyzing why Philip Seymour Hoffman (one of my favorite, favorite contemporary actors) took the leading role in the film, I came up with five factors: (1) he got caught up in the Hollywood, pseudo-intellectual-Kaufman hype,(2) he was on screen every minute, (3) he was able to play a MacArthur Fellow (often called the genius award) and (4) he got to age in performance from a vibrant young man to a dying old man, and (5) he got to roll around in the mind (and in the sack) in lotsa, lotsa scenes with lotsa lotsa lovely (and often nude) and wonderfully talented actresses (including Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis and many others).

It is sad that so much talent (especially Mr. Hoffman's) was wasted in this film.

Sidney Kimmel, Anthony Bregman and Spike Jonze are credited as producers...hopefully they produced with someone else's money. If not, they need to be proscribed (if they are not already on them) the same anti-depressants and anti-psychotics I recommend for Kaufman.

Friday, November 28, 2008

ON ACTING: Performance "Reality" Trumps Rehearsal "Choices"

In performance, the actor's spontaneously felt emotion must trump emotional pre-desgn from rehearsal.

During a performance, what the actor-as-character actually feels at any point must be enacted; even if that spontaneously-felt reality goes against what the actor prepared to feel in rehearsal (the actor's "choices", so to speak).

However, an excellently accomplished actor can learn to narrow the range of possible spontaneous feelings felt within the scene to feelings fairly proximate to what the actor had chosen to feel in rehearsal. It's similar to someone in real everyday life saying: "I'm going to have a good time whatever happens"...and does! Or, "I don't care what she says, it's going to anger me"...and anger ensues.

However, the good actor knows...and this is very critcal...the "good time" or the "anger", while it can be made to be experienced every time...will also always be a little (spontaneous) different ("proximate", not exact) each and every time it is acted. Reality in good acting demands nothing less.

Creating spontaneous freedom of feeling within narrow design is one of the essences of good emotional-acting craft.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: "Frost/Nixon"

The film, a drama built around the syndicated two-hour (distilled from 12 hours) Richard Nixon taped interviews with the Australian-born television personality David Frost. It is directed by the often excellent Ron Howard, and produced by his longtime partner, Brian Glaser.

It misses the mark. At core it remains a adequate adaptation of the theater work upon which the film was based; a glossy treatment of a could-be fascinating subject, President Richard Nixon, who quit office in 1974 before being impeached; but it gets bogged down in the creators' obvious political bias (and their well-honed Hollywood by-the-formula film making technique ).

The film leaves one feeling manipulated by the storytelling and preached to by the lack of complexity. I learned nothing new about politics, life, Richard Nixon, etc...except gossipy details. (I personally lived through the Nixon years; perhaps that is my problem. Who needs to see Richard Nixon beaten up again, even as an obvious subject matter surrogate for George Bush II, whom I feel was the creators' primary target in mounting this tale.)

Full disclosure: I like and admire left-wing politics; I lean left myself. But the argument for the left is not enhanced (nor intelligently furthered) by more preaching-to-the-choir, self-congratulatory, media-praising political righteousness.

The cast was not served by the heavy-handedness of the material, especially poor Sam Rockwell, who had to suffer the foolishness of the film's writing bias. The creators of the film might argue that it was the tragedy of a fallen man. Nice try, but no? See the documentary "Fog of War" about Robert MacNamara for the truly great baring of the soul of a tragic man.

Frank Langella, who originated the role of Nixon on Broadway, was very good.

Michael Sheen as Frost was okay; his clever acting work showed through.

Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt were fine.

Rebecca Hall, the director Sir Peter Hall's daughter, who played Frost's travel-around bed mate, was...I don't know what (or why) she was in the film. T & A meets Democracy's Frankenstein?

A final thought: as a dual quasi-biography, it was a rehash of the 'known' for my age group. Young people (unless tremendously politically hip) will get lost. Could be why it didn't make oodles money?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Visitor"

Delicately and delectably written and directed by Tom McCarthy, who wrote a similarly touching human film, "The Station Agent, a few years ago. He crafts this film with great simplicity and tasteful understatement. The cast contains no big names (Richard Jenkins is the biggest, playing a quiet professor; Haaz Sleiman and Danai Gurira as star-crossed young lovers), and they all deliver touching performances.

It is a story about illegal immigrants (ethnic diversity abounds) who are just people, trying to live life happily: to earn a living, finding an apartment, fall in love and face with cleverness the constant dread (the plot core of this film) of illegal immigration arrest, detention and deportation.

There are no 'heavies' in the film; not even the immigration deportation authorities. As I said, it is a human film. The story tells it like it is: complex, fair and unyielding.

A lovely, poignant film throughout. The ending, however, left me more than a little disappointed (especially in the middle aged love story...which is done with exquisite taste and beauty...between the professor and the young man's widowed mother, an actress I have never seen before, an Israeli actress, Hiam Abass, who plays a Palestinian/Syrian mother and widow living in America. I loved everything about her, and the love story).

The ending was disappointing because I felt McCarthy ran away on purpose from a happy ending (my rule: you should not impose a sad ending on a happy tale no mmore than you should not impose a happy ending on a sad tale. Each story, and the way it unfolds and is enacted by the performers, demands it's own true ending.) "The Visitor" cried out for a 'togetherness' ending.

Other than that little bit of aesthetic/positivist/romantic need of my part, I heartily recommend it. Especially for a lazy, lovely Sunday afternoon.

Monday, November 24, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: "Rachel Getting Married"

Once again I am reminded why I have little fondness for the 1970s; the world (and temperment) in which this tedious film swims. Rachel Getting Married is a long, self-absorbed, indulgent (I thought the wedding reception scene would never end) celebration of "we all love each other, don't we"- a quintessential wedding party of racial, gender, ethnic diversity and New Age togetherness.

The hand held camera bounces and bounces and bounces amonst all that love, the actors are so 'real' and improvisatory and neurotically emotional (that kind of acting emotional-without-any-narrative-obligation isn't as hard to do as it looks, by the way) that the film and the central characters becomes cloying and cute.

Do we need yet another adolescent neurotic drama of a dysfunctional family? I wanted to shout: "Haven't we all been-there/seen-that/done-that'! Yes, our Mommies and Daddies weren't perfect; yes, there is a tragedy in all our family lives. So get over it and grow up. Or at least try harder and quicker to grow up and maybe I'll identify with you more when you find it difficult."

My wife said: "When is this #$@% going to end."

The answer: never; as long as audiences (at all ages) stay adolescent and self-absorbed, and writers and directors and producers continue to indulge, focus on and venerate without objectivity or depth their shrinks, Neil Young, and Hindu mysticism.

The acting is fine (I like Rosemarie DeWitt better than Anne Hathaway); as is the editing; but the creative vision sucks. Jonathan Demme, the director, got caught in a (personal?) time warp: back to Woodstock, everyone?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Relationships; and the Past and Present

Emotions created and felt by past relationships are important in motivating present objective quest and its moment-by-moment success or failure.

Prior experiences pre-sensitize us, predispose us to the expectations of certain operating modalities, expectations of feelings--but upon entering the scene they remain only emotional probabilities, ‘guesstimates’ on how we are likely to feel.

What actually will be felt will be based, in large measure, on what we desire from someone now, how our objectives are being fulfilled now. In terms of relationships, the present is noun and verb, the past only adjectival and adverbial.

It’s amazing how a lifetime of hate for my father can turn into love when my father gives me the ten thousand dollars needed to pay my debts. Or how much my fondness for my best friend turns into vitriolic anger when they betray a confidence . Or an impersonal business attitude can turn sexual when I walk into my sales partner’s hotel room for a business meeting and she is waiting for me undressed in her bed.

Past relationships emotionally predispose us; present reality, present objectives, fulfilled or denied, dispose us.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Intent of Human Actions

All our actor's (and character's) efforts in a scene (dialogue, lage body movements, facial and hand gestures and prop handling) are an attempt to consciously or unconsciously manpulate (convince) others in the scene to give us what we want.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

ON ACTING: Freedom Within Limitations

The desire for narrow performance parameters ("just say these lines"; "move here and nowhere else") need not militate against all spontaneity. Emotional fluidity and personal reality can be maintained by great actors even within the narrowest of dialogue and directorial constraints.

The great pianists Horowitz, Rubenstein, Paderewski and Liszt played within the most rigid pre-set musical score of a single Bach, Mozart or Beethoven composition, i.e., without changing a note, but their piano playing always remained distinctive and free. They were able to retain their individual selves in spite of very strict formal demands.

Good actors can achieve the same results, with practice and experience. A wonderful definition of maturity is: learning to live freely and spontaneously within limitations.