Saturday, October 17, 2009

How Quickly A Year Goes By...

Live Blogging Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor: Part III

Final Ratings:-

Olly - 9/10
Lucie - 8/10
Danyl - 7/10
Joe - 6/10
Stacey - 6/10
Miss Frank - 6/10
Rikki - 6/10
Jamie - 6/10
John & Edward - 5/10
Rachel - 5/10
Lloyd - 5/10

Simon is right. She didn't look comfortable. She comes up with this absurdly cartoonish outburst that seems exaggerated to get votes. But whatever. They've all sang and it was a bit disappointing really. The two best, Olly and Lucie, sang first.

There's talk of her forgetting the words. Frankly, you've got a better chance of going through if you forget the words. She's singing a song that isn't originally Beyonce's, "At Last". Lovely pink eye shadow. She started well but is getting shaky. She may have forgot the words. At least she looked confused. It didn't blow me away. 6/10.

Stacey is the kind of person you'd see going into the Big Brother house. Incredibly talkative. Incredibly thick. Interminably annoying. But last week she showed a different edge to her voice that I liked. But we're going from Coldplay to Beyonce...

Joe Calzaghe is out of Strictly. Danni calls Jamie's version "soft", which is exactly what it wasn't. Simon calls it "fantastic" and has raved about all three of his acts this week. I get the impression that The X Factor judges have such pre-conceived, rehearsed comments for them all regardless. After a final set of advertisements Stacey will close the show with the second Beyonce song of the evening, and I'm already betting they say it was the best performance of the night.

Here's Jamie singing Christina Aguilera. Eh? I hope it's not "Fighter", that song annoys me. Oh, it's "Hurt". Great song. This is Jamie's attempt to be "versatile". Frankly, I don't completely buy his edgy rock vibe in the first place. His voice sounds rather harsh and the rougher edge to the song does not work. The vocals aren't all that. 6/10.

Ricky gets OK reviews but Simon says the song was too big for him. Agreed. Although we got that "you're not connecting" line again. Not entirely sure what that means. Sounds like a bit of a cop-out for "I'm not sure". Meanwhile, the Strictly results are in and the bottom two are Joe & Kristina and Zoe & James. Surprised about the latter but they'll be fine here. Joe is way worse and it's time he went.

He's singing R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Not sure this is a good idea. He has the right tone for it but it's a big, big song and he's a wee thing. Bad arrangement again Cheryl. 6/10.

After an eight-minute break here's Rikki Loney, whose Mum believes one day she'll see his name up in lights. How cute. I liked this guy but he disappointed me last week. He's singing Aretha.

They're even wearing the Britney behind-the-ear mics. Their vocal is bad, and the backing is even louder than in Britney's concerts. Oh my god, they even did the talking part of the song. Hysterical! Way too karaoke though. Camp but laughable in all the wrong ways. 5/10.

Here come John and Edward to heighten the quality. Sarcasm? Just a bit. They're singing "Oops I Did It Again" by Britney Spears. Are they asking to be ridiculed?

Danni was on the fence. Simon says that Cheryl isn't managing him properly. She admits that it was a bad song choice. She's in tears. Lloyd goes up to hug her. Argh! Cheap vote-getting. Booooo!

Lloyd is up on X Factor singing "Bleeding Love" in some kind of softer arrangement. He's not strong enough vocally, and certainly isn't very interesting. Very puzzling song choice. Four words: out. of. his. depth. 5/10.

Chris gets 23, and oh my god, Laila and Anton got 22. What went wrong there?!

Danyl gets praise, which I think was necessary after last week's debacle. Simon is way too keen to big up Danyl. He's playing a dangerous game cause nobody likes a frontrunner.
Over on BBC Chris Hollins is being gleeful and hilarious doing the jive. Very, very fun but far from accomplished. 6/10.

Danyl is next. He's talented, but he gets on my wick. I'd get the impression he'd murder his own mother for a break though. He wants that beanstalk badly. The smoke machine is out in force for his ballad (I don't recognise the song), and he's typically stellar vocally. Sadly, he shaved this week. Not exciting. 7/10.

Phil got a bit of a hard time, considering. Len tells him to "polish his balls", which is a tad risque. I love all the innuendo's on Strictly. It's a much warmer, cosier, tongue-in-cheek show than X Factor. Phil gets 27.

Phil is as chilled as usual. Very easy to watch, although the hold looks a little awkward. They're dancing to "Mad About the Boy", which is cute. I'm only on the second vodka, since I can only pick up the glass when I get the chance. I liked Phil. 7/10.

I feel like I've abandoned Strictly. The rents don't watch it, see. Phil and Katya are up next. Sue Barker and Matt Dawson are discussiing Phil's bum. Like they do. I'm more concerned about the fact they look like a pair of stone boulders. He's dancing the waltz so let's hope he's a little looser and fluid than a rock.

And that song is "Where do Broken Hearts Go?". Thankfully, he has less make-up on than last week. It's a bit cabaret. The song is by a woman so it suits the tone of his voice. Alright, but very dull. 6/10.

Laila and Anton are up on Strictly. Joe's turn on X Factor. He's besotted with Whitney Houston, and he's singing one of her songs.

ITV have enlisted Wally Pfister to shoot Rachel's performance of Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy", a song I like in spite of its often shambolic lyrics. She's average vocally but it's an empty setup, and she's wearing denim of all things. A mess. 5/10.
I missed Natalie.

Joe got 21 but isn't bottom, which means Craig got lower. Eek! Natalie and Vincent are dancing the Viennese Waltz next.
Meanwhile, Rachel is saying how surprised she was that she was in the bottom two last week. I wasn't in the slightest.

Joe is dancing the jive and is truly awful. He has absoloutely no rhythm to speak of. He can't do much with his hips either. Dreadful. 2/10.

I missed Craig's score because Simon was trashing Miss Frank over on ITV. Harsh but it really wasn't good. They should be singing much more urban, edgy stuff than that.
Joe Calzaghe is next on Strictly so I'm not expecting much. Another ad break during X Factor already. Dear me...

Craig looked decidedly less nervous, but still wasn't great. 5/10. That could be it for him.
Miss Frank are singing a diva song and understandably don't come across as much of a "group". They mentioned Stephen Gately in the clip, too. I think this was a mistake. 6/10.

Ricky gets a 10 from Alesha! And 36 overall. Olly gets raves from the judges but that really isn't saying much. Pleasantly surprised by how much I liked him as I haven't in the competition thus far. It's skin watch on the Beeb with Craig Kelly's nerves taking another test. It looks like he may have been spray-tanned this week.
Meanwhile on X Factor Miss Frank, who I love are up next!

Ricky is great. I'll be surprised if he doesn't win. 9/10.
Olly is singing "Just a Fool", which is very old-fashioned but he's giving it a lot of character. I really love him doing this kind of stuff! Wow, he just strutted his hips rather sexily. Totally knocked this one out of the PARK. 9/10.

Zoe gets 30. Hmm..Ricky number two is next.
Over on X Factor Olly is getting ready to sing a song by a diva. Should be interesting. I've just thought if Danyl is going to sing a love song without changing the words this week. It'd probably ensure he stays in another week. Cynic? Me? Never ;-)

Alesha needs to make her input more interesting. In the second week she was ace. This is looking like 30+, which would again be generous. Loving James's chest hair.

Because every clip on X Factor takes forever this is actually working out quite well. Zoe and James are dancing the jive. Zoe looks like Michelle Pfeiffer in Hairspray. James looks hunky as usual. It's got bounce and jip but I'm not that interested. 6/10

Jo and Brendan get 23. Cheryl criticises Lucie, saying there's something "not connecting" with her performance. Ridiculous. I love Girls Aloud but Cole has very limited talent and absoloutely no credentials for judging singing hopefuls.

She's singing that song that LMC remixed a couple of years back. She's moving around the stage, looks great, and has a lovely tone to her voice. Coping very well with the choreography. I'm really impressed! 8/10

Jo is actually alright. 6/10. Whitney is coaching Lucie, who goes first and will therefore probably be a disadvantage. People are fickle and forget you.... unless you get criticised. She's singing one of Whitney's songs which may get Simon on his high horse about her not being able to live up to the original again. We'll see.

Things are hotting up. Louis isn't there! I'm disappointed. But on the bright side, it's diva's night! The Cheryl versus Danni fashion war is another victory for the "older" woman. Less is more, Cheryl.
Over on Strictly it's hairspray watch with Jo Wood, who's dancing the waltz with Brendan. Amy Winehouse wants her to win don't you know?

Meanwhile over on ITV the exploit artists are out in force for the start of The X Factor. Will Louis be there? Will Lloyd sing in tune? I can hardly contain my excitement.
Ali's getting a battering over on BBC. She wasn't that bad guys.

8.04pm: They're dancing to Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" and he just sat on some woman's lap. Is that allowed? Ali definitely has good rhythm (is that how you spell rhythm?) but she looks a little out of her depth. They're not covering much of the floor either. But I'm having fun. Maybe that's the vodka? 7/10.

8.00pm: Jade receives a score of 35, which is fairly huge. Way overboard, if you ask me. Here are the sex fiends, Ali and Brian. Brian's lips are very red. They're dancing the jive, which I'm sure they've practiced quite often.

7.58pm: The judges are heaping praise to the extent where she's almost crying with pride. I'm not sure I'd go that far. I love Bruno, he's so romantic. Craig was predictably more critical but liked it. I'm sensing high scores.

7.56pm: They're dancing to James Brown's "It's a Man's World". And it probably still is. Jade's frame is very consistent, if a little too stiff to call excellent. It was glamorous. 7/10.

7.50pm: Craig mentioned the socks. Bruce danced. Bruno has jam in his doughnut. I wonder if it's sweet.... (note to self: behave!). Ricky gets 25, but I reckon he'll be fine. He's a likeable guy. Up next are Ian and Jade, who is wearing what can only be described as a french maid outfit. They're dancing the Viennese Waltz, which may explain why she looks like something that should be on top of a cake.

7.47pm: His trousers are way too short for him. How embarassing... It looks a bit like theyre drunk in a park somewhere. All I can focus on is his orange socks. Erin looks younger than usual, although I still think she's worryingly skinny. I didn't love it. 5/10

7.45pm: "You don't get anything for a pair...", absoloutely love it! Erin and Ricky number one are up first. Ricky mentions his bad knee. He's doing the jive so that knee might come in handy. My expectations for this are less than lofty.

7.42pm: Fashion watch: What on earth is Jade Johnson wearing? Hairspray watch: Cloudy with a chance of frizz. Sex watch: Ali and Brian are so doing IT!

7.38pm: I totally picked the wrong night to do this. The show has finally started! I love what Tess is wearing tonight. Gorgeous shade of blue! Already Amy Winehouse has been mentioned. Her appearance last week was a little odd, although I thought the young girl was dynamite.

7.31pm: It's looking like there's been drama in Brazil. Talk of cancelling qualifying?! Move over motor cars, I wanna see the sequins!

7.27pm: Oh for gods sake BBC, get your act together! They're showing another live performance now.... and it's, wait for it....... Primal Scream. Hmm, well for a lack of other people to judge I'll start here. There is a terrible collection of haircuts, suspect singing, but the music is good. 7/10?

7.25pm: Current beverage of choice: Vodka/Slimline Red Bull. It's gonna be one of those nights. Totally looking forward to Bruce trying to rush Bruno.

7.23pm: So the Grand Prix coverage is running over and they've decided to stick a live performance of 'Warwick Avenue' from Duffy on to fill the gap. This is totally my favourite song of hers.

7.19pm: Tonight's questions: Just what shade of pale will Craig Kelly's face be tonight? Will Louis show up? How many X Factor contestants will mention the death of Stephen Gately? (I'm guessing eight.) And will Jo Wood get the dreaded can of hairspray out? Surely it's time...

7.15pm: The night has started promisingly with Joanna's cheese coaster fetching a hefty £820. And that's just 'Flog It!'. I'm not sure the coaster was worth seeing in high definition though. They really should have put the Grand Prix coverage on instead.

Pre-Precursor Oscar Predictions

As things start hotting up on the festival/awards circuit (just 47 days until the National Board of Review announce their 2009 picks) I've decided to make some Oscar predictions. Here they are:-

Green = very likely, Amber = probably, Red = Maybe


An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

The Lovely Bones

Up in the Air

I wasn't wowed by the Avatar trailer but Cameron has such an amazing pedigree that I don't think it can possibly be a bad film. Maybe the lowered expectation will help it become a hit. Up in the Air and Precious seem the strongest at the moment after their smashing reception at Toronto, and An Education is exactly the kind of film Oscar likes. The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and Up are all early releases that made an impact. The Lovely Bones and Nine, while I'm not convinced they'll be that great, are the kind of films that get nominated for being released in December.


Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
Lee Daniels – Precious
Clint Eastwood – Invictus
Rob Marshall – Nine

Jason Reitman – Up in the Air

Up in the Air seems very strong so I'd expect Reitman to get a second nomination. From there, they love Clint, and the last time Rob Marshall did a musical he nearly got the Oscar. Bigelow has raves and her film is showy visually, and I'm thinking Precious is strong enough to get Daniels into this five, even though it likely won't be remembered for him.


Michelle Monaghan – Trucker
Carey Mulligan – An Education
Gabourey Sidibe – Precious
Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia

Hilary Swank – Amelia

Carey Mulligan already looks on track to join the list of nobody-to-somebody starlets that Oscar have occasionally gone for. Streep is a given, and Sidibe looks strong. From there it could be a few, so I went for the baitiest: Michelle Monaghan's indie misery and Swank's juicy biopic. I don't think Michelle Pfeiffer should be nominated, but she's bound to get that Globe comedy nomination, and in 2000 that worked for Juliette Binoche against some much harder-hitting alternatives.


George Clooney – Up in the Air
Robert Downey Jnr. – Sherlock Holmes
Colin Firth – A Single Man
Morgan Freeman – Invictus
Hal Holbrook - That Evening Sun

Clooney has another big film and Colin Firth has the reviews of a lifetime. Holbrook and Freeman are veterans with baity roles. Maybe then we need some fun? Robert Downey Jnr. managed a nomination last year for a bit-of-fluff film, so why not as Sherlock Holmes, a very established literary character with notable eccentricities?


Marion Cotillard - Nine
Judi Dench – Nine
Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air

Mo’Nique – Precious
Julianne Moore – A Single Man

A bit of a lottery this one beyond Mo'Nique and Moore's buzzed performances. They love Judi Dench beyond measure and she looks like fun in Nine, and Cotillard in the same film may benefit from her turn in Public Enemies earlier in the year, as well as her status as an Oscar-winner. That's assuming she doesn't go lead.


Matt Damon - Invictus
Alfred Molina – An Education
Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Road
Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones

Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds

If Christoph Waltz doesn't get nominated there's something very wrong. Molina and Tucci still have big buzz. Damon in Invictus is a bit of a lottery but he's looking less and less likely to get in for his terrific Informant performance so this may have to do. I expect Kodi Smit-McPhee will get all the Young Actor critic awards and might grab a nomination from SAG, who like to reward the kids.

A Crime Against Music Has Been Committed

Third Time's a Charm

Yes, I've been reeled in again. Very predictable. For the third year in a row I'll be live-blogging Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor, even though there's a sizeable overlap. Expect frantic bitching.

Here are the first two installments, in case you missed them:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Anything Does Not Equal Everything

Pour elle (Anything For Her) (2008)
Directed by Fred Cavayé
Starring: Vincent Lindon, Diane Kruger

What Quentin Tarantino did so well with Kill Bill was to outline its basic premise (that simple but wonderfully effective title) and then build upon it, his sleeve stacked with stylish, hybrid aces that dazzled, added meat and scope. French thriller Anything For Her may as well be titled "Free Lisa", and there are no bones about what's at stake and what will go down -- a mere ten minutes in Julien sees his innocent wife carted off to jail and soon vows to break her out -- but that's where Anything For Her begins and really ends.

Most maddening is the film's rigidly basic structure, from the flatlining routine narrative to the lack of any notable supporting characters to the abstinent approach towards character development. Just moments after Lisa's murder conviction appears a flashback of the absurd circumstantial manner by which she is wrongly mistaken of the crime, obliterating any sense of mystery about the event or doubt about the motivations of either spouse. For a film about righting the course of justice there is hardly any exploration of guilt whatsoever, the possibility of landing the pair of them in prison and leaving their son essentially parentless (a very legitimate concern, if you ask me) discussed for all of five seconds. For all of the faults in Neil Jordan's erratic depiction of justice, The Brave One, it at least addressed this issue and encouraged us to read into its character's moral dilemna. The unconditional justification of Julien's actions is admittedly more akin to Tarantino's bride than Jordan's radio host, but Anything For Her is like cutting from the first scene of Volume 1 to the last scene of Volume 2, without the sparkling dialogue.

As for the escape plan Julien formulates it by covering the living room wall with the kind of diagrams and intricacies you'd see at a police station, investigative, thought-out. I honestly couldn't tell you how he managed to cover so much of the wall (maybe he doodled on half of it?) as there is precious little complexity to how he goes about cutting her loose. Only two brief scenes take place in the prison, the bulk of the escape action within a hospital that for all we know could be five, ten, fifty miles from the place. Thankfully the sequence allows for a brief sojourn into the kind of pace and tension you'd expect from a thriller, and is very well constructed. Any tension, however, is killed when a final frustrating act of fate tips the scales of justice to an emphatic clatter. C'est la vie.

Director Fred Cavayé was inexplicably Cesar-nominated for this film, less puzzlingly in the 'First Film' category. It's not terrible visually, but doesn't succeed in any cinematic area that I can think of, unable to flesh out an already limited number of souls, and absent of the kind of stylistic ambition necessary for a production based upon such a simple framework.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Personal Canon: 88. Nieco z Alenky (Alice) (1988)

Directed by Jan Svankmajer
Starring: Kristýna Kohoutová

I hadn't researched Jan Svankmajer's Alice before I sat down to watch it as part of my Animated Film module, assuming rightly that it was based on the story of Alice in Wonderland and wrongly that it was going to be somewhat colourful. The pallid nature of the film, which mixes a child actor and mostly genuine locations with stop-motion characters, adds to the eery drained atmosphere of a world that's very far removed from the Wonderland I'd been accustomed to.

As the visually creative Tim Burton seeks to re-jig the story this coming Spring even he will have a job to match the creepy exploits of Svankmajer, who extracts all of the sinister elements of Lewis Caroll's characters, including an intimidating and very anti-social white rabbit, a clockwork Mad Hatter and March Hare, and an axe-wielding Queen of Hearts. As a character Alice is impetuous and cold, and the deadpan repetition of her delivery of "said the white rabbit", accompanied by a close-up of the girl's mouth, gives the impression that this girl is entranced, inhuman even.

Above all, Alice is a victory for interpretation and originality. Svankmajer isn't subverting Alice into an anti-fairy tale so much as interpreting the more intense, enigmatic areas of the story to reveal the darkness in Caroll's work. The physical transformations Alice must endure in order to adapt to Wonderland's cavernous character, and how the people she meet encourage intolerance and disorder.

Venice Reviews: Choi voi (Adrift)

Choi voi (Adrift)
Directed by Chuyên Bui Thac
Starring: Do Thi Hai Yen, Nguyen Duy Khoa, Linh Dan Pham, Johnny Nguyen
Grade: B+

The promotional material for Adrift features two naked women underneath a sheet, and all the information I'd heard about it prior to the Venice viewing was that it was distinctly 'sexual'. This turned out to be misleading, and the inaccuracy of my expectations became divided between cynicism and guilt. Is it wrong to accentuate areas of a film in order to sell it? Is it wrong to assume that a film with a poster featuring naked women necessarily means overt lesbian sexuality?

In the end, this dilemna is summarised well by the film's married couple, who each think they're getting something different from the other. Separated by five years (the woman is 24, the man is 19) they are married by arrangement, but it soon becomes clear that the man is still entrenched in adolescence and only really interested in being "looked after", and the woman is craving affection and unable to get it. This is the cue for sexual exploration, and Adrift is essentially the story of how each partner reacts to the deadening state of their non-event marriage.

Having already divulged that their main problem is age and maturity, Adrift takes a rather roundabout route in detailing its characters' decisions to pursue the most natural course of action that you'd have wagered on anyway. Refreshingly, the film is written with such an understanding of male and female sexuality, rather like Kubrick's final hurrah (and my favourite of His films) Eyes Wide Shut, in that it recognises that attraction and infidelity emerge from assurance -- advice itself matters far less than the person giving the advice. Dangerous Liaisons-style, the wife (Do Thi Hai Yen) is manipulated into a sexual relationship with a womaniser by his own on/off flame (Linh Dan Pham in an astoundingly effective performance), who in turn harbours feelings for the torn wife.

Every time the film seems to make an easy assessment about a character it forces us to challenge that assessment, and manages to create a network of genuine, interesting people that 'fail' through being too true to themselves. Adrift has a rather cavalier, if far from revelatory message that upset is the natural product of looking after one's own needs (whether that be sexual gratification, security, forbidden love) and emerges as a solemn, resigned meditation on arranged marriage. It's a beautifully-made tragedy, and the biggest critique of promise rings and age-gap relationships you're likely to see this year.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Men of the Thirties: 1937

The Nominees Were...

Charles Boyer - Conquest
Fredric March - A Star is Born
Robert Montgomery - Night Must Fall
Paul Muni - The Life of Emile Zola
Spencer Tracy - Captains Courageous

And the Winner Was...

Spencer Tracy - Captains Courageous

Had Paul Muni not got his Oscar for playing Louis Pasteur in 1936, he probably would have got it for playing Emile Zola in '37. As it stands, the Oscar went to the only other character of the five without any real flaws, the Portugese fisherman played by Spencer Tracy in Captains Courageous. Boyer and Montgomery had juicy roles as Napoleon and a potential killer respectively, but didn't have BP nominees to back it up. March's role is sympathetic so he may have been in with a chance, but it isn't difficult to surmise why Tracy managed to get this win, given his nomination the year before.

My Ratings (in order of preference):-

*** Charles Boyer in Conquest

Conquest sounds like an epic tale of conflict but so isn't, and seems only concerned with the silly soap opera of the French emperor's complicated love life. Boyer more than anyone else is aware of the film's silliness, and plays Napoleon like a big kid in a man's body, sure of what he wants (at least in the short-term) but clueless about how to go about things. Unsurprisingly then he flourishes when the tone of the film is lighter, super fun when wooing and flirting with Garbo and successful at conveying Napoleon's lack of emotional intelligence. A particular scene in which Garbo teaches him to dance is a highlight. It's a shame that Boyer can't really follow this through into the bouts of melodrama, and doesn't give any variation to his superior "Why don't you see things the way I do?" glare that became a staple into the peak of his career.

*** Fredric March in A Star is Born

March set the ball rolling for pretenders James Mason and Kris Kristofferson as the overshadowed husband of Janet Gaynor's movie sensation Vicki Lester. I actually don't like the role of Norman Maine: it's underwritten, fairly simple, rather dull in truth. Disappointment creeps into March's reactions to every phone call and correspondence being for his wife and not him, and as his career dies a death March charts Norman's decreasing self-worth fairly competently. But A Star is Born has always been about the leading lady.

** Spencer Tracy in Captains Courageous

Spencer's trained modesty gets another outing in this little fable, and it's a lovely change to see Tracy play somebody like fisherman Manuel, more exotic and less culturally cardboard. While Tracy himself gives an occasionally moving account of a grouch who has his emotions deepened (using his eyes to great effect) he doesn't convey enough of the core industriousness of Manuel. It's lucky he has an incredibly talented co-lead to work with, and the rapport between the two is convincing enough to carry off the earthy versus pompous sparring.

** Paul Muni in The Life of Emile Zola

And here we are again - Paul Muni's fourth nomination in five years. Sadly this is incredibly similar to his winning turn the year before, and the film too is equally as unconcerned with tapping into its principal figure. One could have crafted the film from scouring the archives for all of half an hour. Muni does a semi-reprisal, but looks less like a goat and more like a shaggy dog, shaking his head in a "What is the world coming to?" kind of fashion. He fares better (if only because he gets some tasty monologues to sink his teeth into) and is able to impart the struggle of an academic within a 'practical' society.

Unseen Nominees:-

Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall

The Snubbed

***** Cary Grant in The Awful Truth

The wonderful thing about Grant as a comedy actor is that he can play both the unstable hapless victim (Bringing Up Baby, Arsenic and Old Lace) and the sly, scheming charmer, seen in His Girl Friday and most wonderfully Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth. He knows what's expected of him in giving the relationship backstory and ensuring that the audience know that this pairing has a future. Grant revels in his love/hate relationship with Dunne, and sells every wisecrack with brisk, perfect timing and unrivalled charisma.

**** Freddie Bartholomew in Captains Courageous

As a pompous, uppity schoolkid Bartholomew seems like he's just been plucked out of a private school. God knows where they plucked him from but whoever made that call did well, since his performance is the perfect buffer for the film's ideas about class structure and self-sufficiency. Bartholomew gives Freddie exactly the right level of arrogance, and even at his most testing you can see that the boy is not massively fazed by having to do things for himself as much as inconvenienced by not being completely aware of his setup. He has several line deliveries that are laugh-out-loud funny, and is very patient with his simple arc, becoming emotionally effective in the final act.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Double Actress Profile, Or: How Diane Was De-throned, For All of Ninety Minutes

There was a moment yesterday, while I was watching John Cassavetes' Opening Night (a film about a famous Broadway Actress who undergoes heavy emotional turmoil after the death of one of her fans), where Gena Rowlands' performance moves from excellent to extraordinary. The role is certainly very showy, but Cassavetes is so keen to make us step back from this woman, align us with her peers and bosses, wonder what on earth she's going to say and do next, and his complete confidence in Rowlands' ability to make this woman as enthralling, confused, and necessary of your attention is thoroughly rewarded. To his credit he doesn't give her any real streams of sympathy to pursue, and Opening Night's production-inside-a-production setup, while a tad gimmicky, offers up Rowlands to such intense scrutiny that it's incredible how much she manages to confound meagre judgement, and collate her character's inconsistencies into a rich, whole, and fascinating portrayal.

Rowland's performance won her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Leading Actress in a drama, which she lost to Jane Fonda. The recipient of the equivalent comedy prize, Diane Keaton, went on to win the Oscar for Annie Hall. I hold Keaton's performance in incredibly high regard, and was so enamoured with Rowlands that I found it difficult to judge the two. So, a third viewing of Annie Hall was called for, and an opportunity to judge Diane and Gena's comparative worth fairly.

Annie Hall is a film I've loved for a long time. I love how Allen reduces love, ridicules heartbreak, but can't help sentimentalising both. And how romance and relationships are ultimately shown as expansive, promising, and worthwhile, even though the characters don't end the film in a blaze of glory.

Diane Keaton's trademark goofy nature is evident most in the early scenes of Annie and Alvy's relationship, but that is not how we first see her. Keaton's first scene is getting out of a taxi, complaining to Alvie that she missed her therapy session, and frustrated that he won't walk into a screening of Liv Ullman's Face To Face two minutes late. The element of Keaton's performance I find most interesting is how she makes Annie seem so eager to promote the idea of herself as fleety and free-loving in the early stages. How she flirts by making her ticks so outlandish and yet totally adorable to Alvy, and how she eventually becomes so resentful of her decision to become an 'appealing' romantic option. It's refreshing to see a romance occur between two people that are so ego-centric and often selfishly undevoted to each other, and in the same way as Rowlands it is Keaton's job to confound ours (and Alvy's) expectations of the dynamic of their relationship and how it unfolds.

Film Verdict: Annie Hall: A+ Opening Night: A-
Actress Verdict:
Keaton wins by a whisker or two.