Sunday, May 27, 2012

Vanessa Redgrave in The Bostonians

Vanessa Redgrave received her fifth Oscar nomination for playing Olive Chancellor, a 19th-century suffragette in the Ivory-Merchant film, The Bostonians. I honestly don't know how much chance of winning Vanessa had. I suppose she was fifth in the end for several reasons. First, she was already an Oscar winnner who delivered a shocking speech when she won (they were probably afraid of giving her the Oscar once again). Second, her movie wasn't really successful in terms of nominations. I suppose in the end, she had to make do with some British and Jane Fonda's votes. I suppose at that time, she wasn't really concerned about her Oscar chances (since she had just lost her father, Michael Redgrave). 

First of all, let me just say that I dislike Ivory-Merchant movies quite and The Bostonians is a typical Ivory-Merchant movie. It's very fancy on the outside, but inside I don't see that much real content. However, I must say that I was impressed to a certain extent, especialy by the acting part. It was delightful to see some childhood (Christopher Reeve) and new favorites (Nancy Marchand, Linda Hunt) give wonderful, believable and impressive performances in their respective roles. I have to underline Nancy Marchand's work here, which may not be discussed at all, but is masterful, in my opinion. I think I would have rewarded her efforts with an Oscar nomination (I'm not kidding). But I don't want to rave about Marchand's wonderful work when I can rave about Vanessa Redgrave as well. :)

And now it's confession time: I've seen The Bostonians twice now and I was ready not only to condemn not only this particular performance of Redgrave but also (dedicated fans stop reading) Vanessa Redgrave as an actress (in a way, not completely) since now that NONE of her nominated leading performances impressed me as much as I expected based on the ravings of Redgrave's adoring fans. However, a second time (many should give a second chance to certain performances, now it was more of a co-incidence, though) made it all too clear why so many people idolize Vanessa (including the best of the best, Jane who always has to be right). Now I get not only this particular performance of Vanessa but also her as an actress and how she works as an actress and works miracles.

From a sexist point of view, it would be so easy to condemn Olive Chancellor's character as a man-hating, crazy lesbian who just wants to bang her little girl after executing all the men in the world. Crazily enough, this view can even be justified by some of Vanessa's choices in her performance: she doesn't show Olive as a perfect, gentle human being, instead she draws a much more complex and intriguing portrait of a woman who has very strong principles. Moreover, she was not even afraid of making her character an unlikeable, overdramatic, theatrical woman at certain points.

I would say that Olive is quite a bit like Barbara in Notes on a Scandal. She's in love with another woman but more in a platonic, poetic way. I'd say that sexuality is only a minimal part of her affection, it's more that she wants to have a noble, beautiful relationship with tenderness and intelligent conversations. However, neither Olive nor Barbara is afraid of blackmailing their true love. I was crazily impressed by the way Vanessa was portraying Olive's fake, theatrical  breakdowns whenever her darling Verena was meeting a man and therefore "cheating" on her. I always felt that Vanessa suggested that Olive was totally aware of her actions and the possible consequences on Verena.

Vanessa is simply a thrill to look at in the scenes between her character and Verena. The range of emotions that she's able to portray there is just fantastic: we can see her in love, being desperate, happy, devastated, deceited and lonely. Her face at the first meeing is just unforgettable: her teary eyes, her lips make you wonder how Vanessa can be so masterful and natural at the same time (I guess that's what we call talent). The same could be said about her previously mentioned breakdowns: it all becomes so haunting even despite the fact that Olive acts way too possessively with Verena. We can never find out if she wants to save Verena because of her own selfishness or the fact that she can really see the potential in that girl. It's unbelievable for me how wonderfully mysterious and haunting Olive's character becomes in the interpretation of Vanessa. For most of the time, it seems as if Olive was a spirit because that's what Vanessa does best: becoming one soul and body with her character (with the soul being the more significant one). This could have turned into crazy overacting (as some people consider this performance) but Vanessa wonderfully toned herself down whenever it was needed. Again, it's just amazing that she can be so natural and calculated at the same time (or not even calculated).

Olive's interactions with Christopher Reeve's character could have become scenes with bitchy one-liners and petty fights and instead they all turn out to be very realistic and unspectacular, just like how they would happen in real life. They become great opponents for each other and it's like looking at two worlds and belief systems battling on the screen. Every time Vanessa literally turns her back to Reeve, she seems so noble and superior (at least to me).

I also loved how Vanessa made all of Olives lines sound so solemn as if she was constantly putting on acts and delivering rousing speeches. Olive keeps saying that Verena is the one with the grace and the elegance and she's awkward and dull. One of the greatest achievements I can imagine from Vanessa is looking awkard and dull. It's interesting hwo Vanessa showed the "dull" side of Olive: we get to discover that she's a fascinating personality in private but in public she's rather artificial. Just look at her final speech: we can see that Olive is full of passion and fire and she 100% stands for what she believes in.

Overall, I can say that Vanessa is nothing short of fantastic  in The Bostonians. The screentime may not be on her side, she does a mighty fine job with her role, making her character a really inrtiguing and complex woman. Thanks to her beauty, radiant presence and fascinating personality, (just as Katharine Hepburn said) Vanessa is just a thrill to look at and listen to. An interesting, wonderful portrayal full of layers and mysteries.     For some, this could be the perfect example of overacting but for me, this performance was a real thrill.
What do you think? 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jessica Lange in Country

Jessica Lange received her third Oscar nomination for playing Jewell Ivy, a woman who's determined to keep her farm in the controversial movie Country. Jessica was one of the three farm girls in the 1984 Best Actress line-up and since this was a (kind of) open field after Peggy Aschcroft dropped down to supporting, it's very difficult to speculate about the way the voting went. I suppose the contemporary subject and the passion project factor helped a lot to Jessica who was third and didn't get the Oscar because she most certainly lost the Republican vote, especially after President Reagan's comments on the film. Had the movie been less controversial, I think she would have had a better chance to win the Oscar (especially that some might have felt awkward that she won supporting two years before instead of leading).

Being able to finally see Country was such a triumph for me that I really didn't care about its quality (very much like the case of Anna). It seemed such an impossible thing a couple of months ago but I suppose the fact that I never gave up on it must have helped a lot. And actually, I was sort of impressed by it. Although the lines are often incredibly cheesy, the movie itself is thought-provoking and even moving. It has incredibly strong scenes, especially the one with the thunder and some of Jessica's moments, which are, quite simply, unforgettable. Sam Shepard gives a strong performance and his character is much more multi-dimensional than we would expect. 

Jessica, Jessica, Jessica... Really, I'm not going to deny my love for Jessica Lange who has gradually become on of my favorite actresses of all time (thanks to her amazing weekly performances on American Horror Story, for which she will win the Emmy in September). I used to think that Jessica got a limited range of roles and could never really show her talent. However, nowadays I can see that she shows incredible range even within her parts. Her performances are mostly subtle and she rarely goes over the top (I suppose that's one of the reasons why her work in Blue Sky is so outrageously underrated). 

Country is obviously a passion project for Jessica and she's seemingly dedicated to the film, in which she 100% believes. Just like Great Glenn in Albert Nobbs or Nicole in Rabbit Hole, Jessica takes the difficult way and she doesn't use this project to provide herself with showy Oscar scenes and meaty dialogues. Her acting is so unselfish and generous here and her aim was obviously to make the picture more believable and thought-provoking. This type is generosity is what I admire most about these "passion project performances" and it arguably why the Academy loves to reward these efforts with nominations (too bad that louder, showier performances steal the hype from them). 

To imagine Jewell, you just have to think about what Julie Nichols from Tootsie would have turned out to be if she had stayed at the farm with her father. Jewell is a simple woman who may not have had lots of education but she's wise, intelligent and really sensible. Actually, if it wasn't for her, that whole farm would stop working. Her personality has a certain amount of earthiness in it and it was great to see that Jessica Lange knows the different between earthy and hammy (that's something that Sally Field cannot always say). Jewell is a reserved, simple woman as I said but to me it was amazing how Jessica fulfilled her with lots of layers despite the fact that the she seems to be a really one-dimensional character at first sight. 

Although Jessica could be criticised for not making Jewell more vivid, colorful and layered and I'd say that criticism has some merit, I'd rather "blame" it on the fact that Jessica was never desperate to steal the spotlight from the movie. Yes, she often steps back and leaves opportunities for the others, but I just cannot deny the fact how fantastic she is in this movie. Plain and simple, Jessica is wonderful as Jewell. Excuse the stupid pun, but this performance of hers is indeed a jewel. Jessica shines in this part, showing so much dignity and determintation that she sometimes reminded me of her fellow nominee's performance in Norma Rae (except for the showiness). Strength is rare portrayed as subtly as Jessica does in Country. 

I also loved how much intensive emotion Jessica was able to concentrate in some of the scenes, which makes them unforgettable and so heartbreaking. The most intense moment is probably when Jewell tries to convince one of her friends not to commit suicide. She delivers those simple arguments so effectively and her timing is so excellent that it's, in my opinion, one of the best moments that Jessica has ever had on the screen.  She was able to create so much tension and suspense that the outcome would have been difficult to take anyway. In a way, it's a scene where she drew all her principles and her desire to survive when everybody else around her gave it up. 

I doubt that I'll ever see such a subtly tragic heroine as Jewell. I know it's unfair to compare the fellow nominees inside a review so let me just say that Jessica gave the sort of performance that I expected from Sally Field in Places in the Heart. Although the two characters are astonishingly alike and the actresses even had the same approach to them, Jessica stands out so much more as she was able to turn this simple woman into a grand, heroic lady. It's funny how sentimental I can get about her when she's everything but sentimental. I just felt that in the interpretation of Jessica Lange, Jewell Ivy became a true American hero (sometimes I even heard the national anthem of the USA while she was talking) and all of this in the most positive way. 

However, Jessica is also able to nail all the tenderly emotional scenes as well. Jewell's interactions with her husband are terrificly played by both Jessica and Sam Shepard. Their chemistry (as always) is just brilliant (my goodness, why did they have to split?) and they form a perfect couple with Jewell being the calmer, more sensible and less of a drama queen in the relationship. In the beginning, when they lie on the bed, about to make love is such a wonderful and intimate moment despite the fact that they make it more playful. But their last scene together is the one that's really heartwrenching, especially with the lack of dialogues. 

Jessica portrays  Jewell as a mother just as amazingly as she does with every other aspects. Her speech to her children about their father's anger is just brilliant. Again, she has quite cheesy lines to work with and yet she's able to make us forget that, thanks to her wonderful talent and confidence on the screen. 

All in all, I can do nothing but praise Jessica Lange's performance in Country. It may not be her strongest work, but she's able to play with my heartstrings even with a limited screenplay and cheesy lines, thanks to her emotional intelligence and enormous talent. She's able to make a scene unforgettable with only one look or a few tears. She's able to make a lasting impression without huge breakdowns and screaming and her dedication for the film is indeed admirable. 

What do you think?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Judy Davis in A Passage to India

Judy Davis received her first Oscar nomination for playing Ms. Adela Quested, the heroine of the movie based on E.M. Forster's novel, A Passage to India. It's very hard to find out how much chance Judy had on Oscar night. Although her second loss was a very unexpected (and ugly; don't even TRY to get me started on it, I'm furious just thinking about it) one because she almost swept the critics' awards, the first time she wasn't much of a front-runner. I presume the fact that Peggy Aschcroft conteded in supporting enabled Judy to get the Best Actress nomination. Based on the overall success of the movie among Academy members and the fact that Judy was the only Oscarless actress of the bunch must have helped her become second. 

It's kind of stunning to me how many people seem to hate A Passage to India. Although it's not on the same level as Amadeus or The Killing Fields, it's a very proper movie by an aging David Lean. It's not as much of an epic as Lawrence of Arabia or The Bridge on the River Kwai but I see the fingerprints of Lean. It absolutely deserved both Oscars it won. Peggy Aschcroft gives a wonderful supporting performance as Mrs. Moore (a much better one than I remembered). She's so full of kindness, good spirits and decency. I was most definitely impressed by her, just like Maurice Jarre's score (which is once again not as famous and popular as his previous co-operations with Lean). That being said, this film earned its Best Picture nomination way more than Places in the Heart. I saw that Lean had something to say with this movie besides entertaining the audience. 

David Lean was, I presume, a very strong personality very much like Judy Davis with whom he so famously clashed with during the shooting of A Passage to India. Judy is said to be a difficult actress to work with (oh the gossip about her part in River Phoenix's death is so annyoing), however, I feel that she's a consummate artist who doesn't stand in line for an Oscar win, who doesn't give a shit about becoming a star or doing self-campaigning. I see her as a woman of strong morals and an actress of immense, beautiful talent. Besides Kathy Bates, I feel that she's the most unique and unusual actress working today. In each and every part of hers she shows us an amazing, inexplicable quality that makes her performances wonderfully chaotic and brilliant. 

After her famous role in My Brilliant Career, it really was A Passage to India that much deservedly shot Judy to world fame. The part of Miss Quested fits Judy like a glove and she used every opportunity to shine but not according to Hollywood's expectations but on her own terms. Adela is a neurotic, troubled woman that Judy specialises in playing. On the surface, Adela is one of the most shallowly written and boring characters of all time. However, beneath there are depth that Judy shows us and reveals some hidden layers in this seemingly one-dimensional woman. While it's true that the movie and the story limit her greatness to an extent and don't give her enough time to completely build up this character, Judy does her very best with Adela. However, Judy wants to take her time with this character and yet the movie sometimes cuts short her efforts. A flower needs some time to blossom and that's very much true to Judy Davis.

What makes this movie so vibrating and unusual is most definitely Judy's presence. She's surrounded by old-fashioned English actors and a seemingly conservative director (in terms of filmmaking) and there's Judy with her radiant, modern, progressive and innovative presence, which refuses to be just "another brick in the wall". In a 19th century Hungarian drama, The Tragedy of Man, there's a scene where in the distant future, Michelangelo is a carpenter whose punished for making special carvings for chairs and not keeping himself to the forms according to which he's expceted to create. Judy Davis does the same: while people around him just do their jobs as they are expected to, Judy wants to create something special and as a result, she becomes far and away the most special part of her movie. 

I suppose this is why she had a feud with David Lean who visibly doesn't give a shit about her if you see the movie carefully. Of course, it's easier for Judy to give a performance that leaves you shitless if she works with someone like Woody Allen who's so obviously in love with her, however, giving a great performance with less help might even be a greater feat (though not that directly). 

What I admire about this performance is how mysterious Judy makes Ms. Quested. The only thing we get to know about her background is that she was brought up to tell thee truth. We don't even know her intentions or thoughts, we just get some insight into her head and then she closes it. Those occasional moments are when we see real brilliance and these somewhat moody changes are what make her work here so special. 

I admittedly have a soft spot for movie breakdowns, especially from actresses and next to Great Glenn, Judy is my favorite actress to watch break down in front of a camera. Her scene in the cave is so haunting and disturbing just because of that. The same goes for her amazing questioning at the court. The whole scene is uncomfortable and hard to watch despite the fact that nothing extraordinary happens. Judy so wonderfully portrays neurotic women that you get as nervous as the character does. And she does so without many juicy lines and great monologues. I don't even dare to imagine what would have happened had she had a more carefully written, baitier part. Fireworks, for sure. And I suppose the lack of "huge" scenes and a great Oscar clip was what cost Judy this Oscar. 

But seriously, who cares about Oscar clip when you see Judy display such a wide range on the screen. She shows so many facets of this woman: the curious Adela, the disturbed Adela, the unhappy Adela and so on. It's fantastic to experience all of these stages of the character. Unlike Sally Field in Places in the Heart, Judy was able to develop her character without much help from the screenplay (It indeed takes a very special actress to be able to do so and who's special if not Judy Davis). Judy gives the sort of  performance I expected from Glenda Jackson in Sunday Bloody Sunday: quiet but really bursting with brutal, hidden emotions. 

I can conclude that Judy Davis gives a wonderful, unforgettable performance as Adela Quested. She transforms her movie into something really special and exctining with her radiant presence and amazing talent. She staunchly keeps herself to her very own way and she never surrenders to the temptations of going the shorter, easier way just like the rest of the movie does. Although the movie doesn't give her much time or even credit (which is the reason why she doesn't leave you breathless like she does in Husbands and Wives), she's the one who leaves the strongest impression on the viewers haunting them for a long time after the credits roll. 

What do you think?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sally Field in Places in the Heart

Sally Field received her second Oscar nomination and Academy Award for playing Edna Spalding, a widowed mother who's trying to keep her farm during the Depression in the Oscar-winning movie of Robert Benton, Places in the Heart. Sally's win seems to be one of the most inexplicable Oscar wins of all time considering the fact that she wasn't due and she didn't knock this performance out of the part enough to come out victoriously for a second time. However, the fact that three of her fellow nominees were previous winners and that Judy Davis didn't get Best Actress awards because of her own co-star must have been the reason why Sally took home and was able to deliver her infamous "You like me" speech. I wonder what would have happened if Peggy Aschcroft had been campaigned in leading (I guess Geraldine Page would have won in 1984, Whoopi in 1985 and Lorraine Bracco in 1990; oh damn it).

Places in the Heart is excellent entertainment but nothing more, really. I seem to be underestimating a Best Picture nominee, which in my opinion is not the case, I just think that it has no right to be among masterpieces like Amadeus and winning Original Screenplay over Broadway Danny Rose. Still, Places in the Heart is a delightful, pleasant experience after which you have no trouble going back to your daily stuff, you just feel a little bit better. Lindsay Crouse and John Malkovich received Oscar nominations for their respective supporting performances though I think it was a deserved honor only in Malkovich's case (and just because it was a shitty field; and yes, he still stood next to me a couple of weeks ago. lol). 

Although the fact that Sally Field is a two-time-Oscar-winner pisses of a lot of people and I find it weird as well, it's still really unfair to compare her to Hilary Swank. In my humble opinion, Sally Field is a really-really talented actress (seriously, anyone who can say really-really as fast as her deserves an Oscar for that alone): she tends to go over the top and yet that leads to excellence and memorability (see Norma Rae). Television lead roles and supporting roles in feature film fit her better not because she's "inferior" by any means, it's just that she's the best when she can concentrate her energy for a shorter period of time (honestly, who can forget her as Abby's mom on ER or her being the single worthy thing of attention in Forrest Gump). 

The character of Edna Spalding would be an lead excellent for a tv series. Places in the Heart seems to be a "best moments" version of a season of a tv show with its many characters and storylines. Edna would be indeed an excellent lead there: she would be the center of all the storylines and I presume she would be able to carry a whole show on her shoulders, especially if a talented actress got to plax her (maybe even Sally Field). There would be great episodes (just like there are great scenes here) with the titles "The Death of Mr Spalding", "The New Worker" or "The Tornado". However, this episodic sturcture of the film prevents it from being really deep. 

And unfortunately, that applies to Sally Field's character as well. She suffers a lot from the many storylines: despite being the most interesting person in the whole film, she doesn't get to develop and not even Sally is able to do much with her. When we first see her, she's a hard-working, dedicated mother and wife and she remains so in the end. Maybe in this case, the character shouldn't change so much but I never saw that she really was going through anything at all. There isn't enough time for her to show her grief and it seems as if nothing happened. It wasn't drama I missed, it was reality. I feel that instead of the useless Amy Madigan/Ed Harris storyline, the director should have focused more on Edna's story.

I suppose this is the reason why many people consider Sally's performance a total disaster and a terribly unworthy winner. However, I feel that with Sally's natural charm and radiant presence, this one turns out to be a pleasant and lovely experience. Although it's true that Edna doesn't really go from point A to point be, Sally almost completely makes up for it with her warmth and kindness.

The aspect that Sally nails the most in this part is Edna's steadfast determination and willingness to fight for her family's survival. She's not a loud revolutionary like Norma Rae, she's more quiet, more careful and she tries not to get to emotional. I suppose with such a character, Sally Field could have done so much more but Edna didn't provide her with meaty monologues. Whether you like it or not, Sally has to chew the scenery to make a performance work. Without that, she becomes a bit insignificant.

Still, Sally's able to be effective in many of the scenes and she makes it impossible not to sympathise with her character. With the struggles of Edna being so emphasised, it was very difficult to screw up this aspect and thankfully, Sally was able not to do so.

Sally's best scene comes towards the end when John Malkovich's character asks her to describe how she looks like. It's probably the single greatest thing that Sally achieves in this movie. She manages to give some real depth to her character and we get to discover that she's a real woman besides her admirable heroism and motherly instinct.Watching Edna softening during a scene is just a wonderful experience and her chemistry with John Malkovich there (and Danny Glover in the rest of the movie) is just wonderful.

In the end, I can conclude that while Sally Field does nothing spectacular or really significant with her character, she still gives a proper and likeable performance as Edna in Places in the Heart. The screenplay and the movie is seriously working against her and she wasn't given enough opportunities to fight against it and maybe she didn't even have the strength as an actress in the first place. Still, her performance works just like Places in the Heart does: it relaxes you, entertains you. It's like drinking a cup of tea: it feels good but hardly makes you come.

What do you think? As you can see, I'm back. I'm not yet back on full speed (it comes after 21 June) but I'll be able to post at weekends. One or two posts/week seems realistic. I'll say when it changes. :) Hope my return was satisfactory for all of you guys and I hope you missed my craziness. :)