Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Women of 1975: Faye Dunaway

Faye Dunaway in “Three Days of the Condor”

Grade: **

The inimitably glamorous Faye Dunaway was in the peak of her career in the mid 1970s, having just received a second Oscar nomination for Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown,” and thus awards attention for a glorified Supporting role in commercial and critical success “Three Days of the Condor,” isn’t all that surprising. In marrying a Hitchcockian narrative with the world of paranoid espionage, Sidney Lumet’s Cold War thriller heavily relies upon an at-sea Robert Redford to inject dynamism as recompense for limply-constructed plotting. Dubbed the ‘condor’, neither he nor his choice of prey, the fitfully meek Faye Dunaway, express a lasting sense of burden from having been thrust into a dangerous situation together, exhibiting no real chemistry or dramatic impetus as a pairing.

Dunaway’s artsy Kathy is underwritten, the actress sidelined by the blandness of the script, and the confusion of just what her character is supposed to represent. Is she simply a responsible citizen compelled by love, or does she fit into the political concerns of the narrative? Honestly, I’ve no idea, and judging by the way that Dunaway approaches this performance; introspectively retreating while pondering the dearth of interest going on around her, hardly helps you to consider Kathy’s position. I suppose there’s a mild pendulous quality to the way that she hangs onto an arc, but moments of clarity, however embedded in Dunaway’s consciousness, fail to reveal themselves.

What makes 1975’s slate of actresses so atypical is that it doesn’t contain a movie star performance, Dunaway’s recognition by the Golden Globes (who else, right?) rendering her the closest member of A-list royalty to breach this category’s shortlist, but unable to convince the Academy that she was worthy of nomination number three. Rest assured that they got this one right.

Accolades: Golden Globe Nomination (Best Actress in a Leading Role, Drama)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: GONE

Directed by Heitor Dhalia
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer Carpenter, Wes Bentley, Daniel Sunjata
Grade: F

While some may be trembling violently at the prospect of girl-next-door Anne Hathaway donning a cat suit this summer, the choice of Hathaway as a feline villain will likely fail to eclipse the misjudged casting of Amanda Seyfried in “Gone.” Regardless of the absurdist, rollicking action in Jaume Collet-Serra’s “Unknown” its star Liam Neeson at least appears to be bordering on recognising the parodic nature of his career pattern. Seyfried, admittedly neither experienced enough to be able to approach self-reflexivity nor to recognise the hilarious flaws of this similarly deranged, icy thriller, treats the text as seriously as cancer and is duly punished.

Even with the thankless task of humanising a woman incapable of listening to any form of rationale, Seyfried expresses the tremulous urgency of her character’s tricky predicament with the mannered impulses of a recovering junkie, itchy for their methadone and unreasonably pushy in hastening its arrival. In reality – or the vague semblance of it existent in “Gone” – what Seyfried’s Jill really wants is answers: Who is the serial killer who tormented her over a year ago? Where is he now holding her sister captive? While “Untraceable” scribe Allison Burnett handily suggests Jill’s angst may be attributed to the trauma of her kidnapping and subsequent mental breakdown, she also asserts that cops merely sit around drinking coffee and chortling at the pained ramblings of hysterical teenage women, and are content to dismiss the girl’s theories about her sister’s disappearance as mere paranoia.

In spite of attempts to represent Jill as a potentially wronged heroine, as a viewer it’s extremely difficult to establish an allegiance to her, the easiest move being to side with the patronising naysayers observing Seyfried’s vigilante-destined-to-be-cat-lady histrionics with furrowed brows and utter guffaw. When, less than fifteen minutes after she notices her sibling’s absence, Jill is threatening a random electronics van driver with a gun, our affinity with her becomes compromised, and the subsequent escalation of events only curtails any point of relativity we may have had with the character. In rendering Jill the only source of investigative edge, “Gone” lacks a clear perspective towards an increasingly colourless mystery, consistently lacklustre as a dramatic showcase. It aimlessly wanders, offering peripheral characters with no discernible purpose in furthering the narrative, underdeveloped on paper and malnourished in execution. As the inane decisions continue, one is forced to wonder why a sequence in which Jill bursts in on a gay couple getting down and dirty in their bedroom has made the final cut, rather than a scene exploring her relationship with either her sister, or the case’s chief suspect.

Clearly hoping to evoke the mystery of backstory in “Halloween” and the desperate high-stakes chase evident in “Taken,” Dahlia’s film achieves neither objective, lacking an effective relationship dynamic or strong opposition to justice within its 'Without a Trace' conceit. Severely lacking in fresh ideas for the ‘missing’ thriller sub-genre, its chief claim to fame is coining the term “rapey-eyes,” a phrase the Oxford English Dictionary would be wise to ignore. Audiences should be advised to exercise that same ignorance with “Gone,” and hope for Amanda Seyfried that this represents her “Flightplan” or “Freedomland” amid otherwise distinguished pursuits.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Women of 1975: Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand in “Funny Lady”

Grade: ***

One of only two actresses ever to be involved in an Oscar tie, Barbra Streisand returned seven years after her triumphant turn as Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” to reprise the role in its handily-titled sequel “Funny Lady.” Switching up established legend William Wyler for man-of-the-moment Herbert Ross the film unsurprisingly failed to live up to its predecessor, garnering mixed reviews despite a slew of praise for Streisand herself. This sequel is far from terrible, but neither does it evolve Brice’s tepid story into something worthwhile, benefitting from the charm of an assured James Caan, but otherwise a colourful failure. 

While through the course of “Funny Lady” the journey from ‘girl’ to ‘lady’ begins to ring true, Brice is still a dramatic entertainer on and off the stage, and still relatively hopeless in love. Far more primed for the prospect of eventual heartache, Streisand imparts a cynicism in Brice she herself may have adopted in the period between the two films – in which she divorced Elliot Gould – rattling off trademark one-liners with more caustic impact, and much warier in flirtation than her younger portrayal. She and Caan have more chemistry as opposing forces than Streisand mustered with a dull, uptight Walter Matthau in “Hello, Dolly!” because the actress knows how to come across as conservative without alienating the viewer. In many ways Fanny is reckless, but she isn’t the impulsive, thrill-seeking performer of all those years ago, more of a genuine diva these days, tired of trying too hard and blaming everyone else for her misfortune. 

It’s possible that the biggest obstacle for Streisand in “Funny Lady” is that she doesn’t feel ready to be this much of a showbusiness stalwart, where her energetic presence can’t always be put to good use. As an actress who always seems younger than the roles she’s playing, this lady is still a breath of fresh air, but the film doesn’t afford her the showcase of pizzazz that the original required of a debutante motivated and expected to claim everyone’s attention. Streisand’s shtick feels worn here; in part two of a series which has already trod on the juicier aspects of Brice, and which increasingly feels like a soapy episode with nothing else to say about her. This is still great work within the confines of “Funny Lady” itself, but really we’ve seen it all before.

Accolades: Golden Globe Nomination (Best Actress in a Leading Role, Comedy/Musical)

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Women of 1975: Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton in “Love and Death”

Grade: ***

Diane Keaton’s third teaming with Woody Allen in as many years finally provided her with a role seriously discussed in terms of awards, as a disloyal Russian aristocrat in period comedy “Love and Death.” Representing Allen at his most coarsely cynical, “Love and Death” is laden with anachronistic pop-culture references, stand-up style quips and slapstick humour, provided largely by Allen himself as a counter-punch to the absurdity of Russia’s stuffy political history. After a pedestrian effort like “Midnight in Paris” it’s rather welcome to reflect on Allen in his less mature days as a filmmaker, in which Diane Keaton’s grasping ambition as a young actress lended itself well. 

The villainous, independent nature of Keaton’s Sonja at least gives her a foothold towards securing the attentions of the gazing public, the only remotely significant female character of “Love and Death,” and by far its chilliest representation of Russian nobility. The way in which she appears at once contemplative, and then brazenly dismissive, teases Allen’s lovestruck Boris into false hope – both of a union, and that she might possess an inkling of compassion. As a comedic device, this meshes well with the instinctively shallow aspects of Sonja; her thirst for male attention, tendency to commit too early, and her unashamed promiscuity. A satirical embodiment of what the most famous (or infamous) women in history are famous for – sleeping around – Sonja allows Keaton to use her quirks as an actress, transforming the character’s standoffishness into a dry outlet for humour .