Archives for January 2010

I am Cheating on the Post ….

In keeping with the previous “borrowed” blog post (Denzel Venn Diagram), this next posting is also borrowed from another source. It is none other than one of m favorite film critics, Mark Kermode espousing the virtues of the work of the Hughes Brothers, who have made films such as Menace II Society, From Hell and the film at the central thesis of Mr. Kermode’s blog post, Dead Presidents which technically I should add to my “On Location” feature since some of it was shot in Westchester County and the Bronx.

Denzel Washington Venn Diagram

From the folks at Maxim Magazine.

A Single Man

A Single Man (2009). Directed by Tom Ford. Produced by the Weinstein Company

How do I describe my reaction to A Single Man? It was a rather bold, artistic venture. It should come as no surprise that the man at the helm of the project, Tom Ford comes from the fashion world. He definitely has a photographic eye and play with colors and hues pretty effectively.

While generally I do not like to give away too much of the plot when I review (write about I kind of hate the word review) a film, here is a very brief rundown of the plot: based on a novel of the same title (written by Christopher Isherwood), the story is about George Falconer (Colin Firth), and English professor living in Southern California. The movie takes place during the height of the Cuban Missile crisis. It is nearly a year since the death of his partner (Matthew Goode, seen in flashbacks), and he is finding it very hard to cope. Until today that is when he makes a fateful decision about his life.

With this frame of reference, let me talk a little about what I saw in the movie …

The performances were very good especially the central performance (Colin Firth). Who knew Mr. Firth was so versatile? Quite a few people is the answer. There has been evidence of his acting range in a host of films, but like with so many actors, he has been typecast in the role that put him on the map, Mr. Darcy and it various incarnations. It is a shame really but we can remain hopeful that the deserved accolades he is receiving for this performance in A Single Man will lead to more of this type of work.

Not to take anything away from the supporting players either – who are equally effective at hitting the notes that needed to be struck. Julianne Moore delivered as always. And what a good actor young Nicholas Hoult has turned out to be? It seemed like only yesterday that he was playing Hugh Grant’s protege in About a Boy. In between Boy and Man, he is probably also known for his role in the British teenage “dramedy” Skins. In this film he plays a pivotal role in how Firth’s character sees himself and his role in the world. There is one scene near the end of the film (they are sitting in a bar) which is particularly poignant and just about sums up central question the film poses.

Now on the (mildly) down side, there were things that I found a challenge to surmount at times during my viewing. Cinematically, there close-up was used quite often.  Personally I had to adjust myself to it as I was watching. Also, there was not as much dialogue in it as I expected – there were lots of moments with no dialogue, just silence or background music – and the stylized visuals. I mark this down to the aforementioned fashion / photographic background of Mr. Ford. Overall these were minor distractions that I think the viewer can adjust themselves to, but some may find it challenging.

On one more positive note, the costume, hair and makeup were fantastic!

In sum total this is a particularly good film considering it is Ford’s directorial debut and he is great at getting what he needs from his actors and creative team. I cannot imagine that the vision he created on screen could have been any less than he imagined in his head (since he also co-wrote the screenplay).

* One final amusing observation I made while watching the movie I noticed actors were speaking in accents not native to them. Mr. Goode and Mr. Hoult were American and Ms. Moore was British … go figure.

Fish Tank

After being taken quite aback by Ms. Arnold’s feature-length directorial debut Red Road I was cautiously looking forward to seeing Fish Tank. This past week, I had the extra pleasure of catching a sneak preview of the film at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where Ms. Arnold and one of the films’ stars, Michael Fassbender, were on hand for a post-screening question and answer session. As previously mentioned, my knowledge of Ms. Arnold’s work is Red Road and to put it simply it was an uncomfortable watch – but not in the way you would expect. I look at Fish Tank the same way.

Best summed up by Mr. Fassbender this past Thursday, one of the strengths (and sources of unease in my opinion) in the director’s work is that she is merely observing her characters in their world – she is not casting aspersions on their actions or decisions. In that regard, the audience is not given the opportunity to say, “Oh yeah he is a bad guy and his actions and their consequences are emblematic of this.” We are not let off that easily; we observe Ms. Arnold’s characters as flawed people who often make decisions that while not of made out of malice, they will come to regret. I looked at this story and its characters without judgment – a rarified cinematic experience. As I wrote this “review” I rejected the idea of scribing a synopsis because I feel to summarize this story as a “coming of age” tale does it a little of a disservice.

Yes, we are looking at the story through the lens of the teenager Mia (sensational debut by newcomer Katie Jarvis) but there are so many more ideas and themes at play in the film.

In closing, all I can say is that it was a fantastic watch and I highly recommend it.

The Next Director for James Bond

"Hamlet" Broadway Opening Night - Arrivals & Curtain Call

This looks promising … Mendes to Direct Bond?

Can’t wait!

Response to Blog I Saw Over the Holiday

British flag

This is in response to a blog posting I saw featured on the site Cinematical entitled What Makes British Actors So Versatile?

I decided to take a general look at the theory that is postulated and came up with the following points:

Best of the Best: I generally agree with comment from a user regarding getting the “cream of the crop” of British screen talent. I watch plenty of British TV and you soon realize that there is definitely getting range of observable talent.

Language: from an American perspective, we often think of  the versatility of British actors mostly having to do with donning an American accent. While many do succeed, a lot do fail to pull off a convincing accent, especially when the role hones in on a particular U.S. region.

Versatility, Part II: As stated above, many Americans may be amazed by the ability of actors to affect an accent not native to them. This is definitely a skill, but not the only skill we should look at when defining versatility. To be versatile does cover a large array of skills, including but not limited to: the ability to perform in a variety of genres, (as mentioned in the article) the ability to physically change one’s appearance, etc. With this broader definition, we may discover that the list of truly versatile performers is very exclusive, without respect to where they are from.

The UK film and theater industries: in many ways, the UK film industry, relative to the juggernaut of the Hollywood system, is a cottage industry. As a result, I suspect this forces many more aspiring actors to focus on drama and theatrical training, given the tradition and prominence of “treading the boards” in the UK. This extra training also allows the actor in training to spend time developing and honing their skills “off camera.” So when they are “camera-ready, the results speak for themselves.

In contrast, the Hollywood system is primarily focused on star-making; this relies a little more on superficial qualities and talent can be sacrificed for popularity, likability or perceived attractiveness.

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It should be noted as several commenters to the original article noted, we must be careful about the generalization many of us make (including myself) of grouping all actors from that part of the world as simply “British.”

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A Fun Week in Film

Movie Seats with Abandoned Drinks

First on Thursday I am going to BAM Rose Cinema in Brooklyn to see a preview showing of “Fish Tank” Andrea Arnold’s latest film to be followed by a Q&A with the director and one of the film’s stars, Michael Fassbender.

And later in the week I will be catching “A Single Man” at the Paris Theatre. I am also going to try to sneak in a mass-audience film in the form of one “Sherlock Holmes.”

I will post my reactions, etc. here.