Month: January 2016

Jane Fonda in The Morning After (1986)

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Jane Fonda received her seventh Oscar nomination for playing Alex Sternbergen in The Morning After (1986). I really wonder how Fonda managed to secure this nomination as she was not nominated for anything before this, and the movie is a big pile of crap. I guess it is is cool that the Academy likes to throw in surprise nods like this anyway.

I came into The Morning After after reading several reviews, so I was actually quite prepared for how bad it is. Let’s just say Sidney Lumet had fallen since his glory days of Dog Day Afternoon and Network. The whole murder mystery is so illogical, and fyi, it is only addressed in the beginning and end of the film, which is hilarious. For the most part , the story focuses on its two leads and their relationship, with some weird soundtrack playing at the back. Sighs, disappointing.

I usually try not to write negative reviews (I think I have nothing but praise for all the performances I’ve written so far, even the unpopular ones) but I just felt like I needed to get this out of my system. First of all, let me qualify myself by saying that I think Jane Fonda is a terrific actress, and I am one of those people who has no issues with her two Oscar wins (Yes, even the second one although I still think Bergman should have won). Technically, I don’t think she is the best but I have always found her a very soulful actress who can communicate the character’s inner life and emotions through her eyes.

In The Morning After, Jane Fonda is stuck with a weirdly written character, and unfortunately, I really couldn’t get anything out of it. I know some people see it as a “mysterious” as her intentions and background are never clear, but to me, it is just a sign of sloppy characterization. I hate to use this term, but I feel like Fonda is merely “going through the motions” here. She has a few breakdowns, a few sarcastic one-liners, and a couple of drunk scenes, but all these just don’t seem to gel together for me. I found it hard to care about Alex because the character’s intentions are just so weak and under-developed, and I find it hard to buy her actions. Unfortunately, I don’t exactly buy that it is because she is confused and unsure either. Throughout the entire film, I just felt that Fonda was playing the scenes as written. Sure, there are the few huge emotional moments scattered here and there but they cannot rise above the awful direction and screenplay. I mean, one moment she and Jeff Bridges are passionately making love, and the next morning they are screaming at each other and smashing bottles? What is this?

I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at how I reacted towards this performance, maybe because of the raving reviews I’ve heard about her work here. While I don’t think she is outright terrible per se, the whole thing to me is also just okay at best. I hate to assign a rating to her, but it would at best be a 3/5.

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Simone Signoret in Room at the Top (1959)

Simone Signoret won her Oscar for playing Alice Aisgill in Room at the Top (1959).

Room at the Top is one of my favourite movies; everything about it is perfect – the score (Fantastic), the direction, the acting and the script. I love how gritty, dark and depressingly realistic the story is, and how it goes all out to portray the awfulness of people in general. Hermione Baddeley received a supporting actress nod for a 2 minutes 19 seconds performance, which in my opinion is quite deserved although she is no Beatrice Straight. And Laurence Harvey couldn’t be even more amazing here; I really feel that he deserved that Oscar more than Charlton Heston.

As usual, there have been a couple of debates over whether Signoret’s performance is a leading or supporting one. To me, despite her limited screentime, she is clearly the lead actress of her film as her story has enough weight to constitute a major portion of the central storyline. Simone Signoret’s features are one of the most unique ever, and even though one could argue that she was no longer at the prime of her beauty (I still think she has aged extremely beautifully in this film), there’s no denying that her presence is always felt in this movie. I can only compare her to Catherine Deneuve in Indochine (not a very popular performance, I’m aware) – they don’t say that much and disappear for quite a major portion of their films, and yet they have such a haunting and long-lasting effect on the viewers. They are like that “mysterious lady” who is always described in poems and songs. Be it the scene where she and Harvey were smoking in the car (their eyes when they look at each other OMG), or her final expression where Joe leaves her…it just stays with you.

Re-watching the film this time round made me realise how little Signoret was given to work with,and this made me triple my respect for her performance even more. Alice almost never reveals her true feelings until the second half of the film, and yet one could understand and feel for her so well. In the beginning, even though she is the one lending a listening ear to Joe’s ramblings, you always get the feeling that she needed him with her. She never expresses her desire for Joe and always plays hard to get, and she also never outwardly expresses her sadness over her awful marriage, but her eyes always tell a different story.

Gradually, Alice “lowers her defenses” as she calls it, and reveals her inner feelings little by little. It is through these moments where we start to see the vulnerability, the sadness and the loneliness. It is heartbreaking, because we know that at the end of the day, she is just being made used of. I will never forget the farewell scene at the train station,and how she made a simple line like “it’s only a lifetime” sound so heartbreaking. And her final scene where she told Joe that he is better than the people “at the top” was wonderful. It just reveals how intelligent Alice actually is, but unfortunately nobody saw that in her.

Ultimately, this is a terrific performance which I grew to appreciate a lot more than I initially did. While I don’t flat-out love it as some people do, I really understand where the immense love for it is coming from. A deserved Oscar win. 4.5/5.

Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Fredric March won his second Oscar for playing Al Stephenson in William Wyler’s best picture winner, The Best Years of Our Lives.

I think I have mentioned this before, but I am a huge fan of William Wyler. I really love his movies in general (maybe except Ben-Hur), and I really like his directing style, which is fairly simple and straightforward, but effective in its storytelling. He clearly knew how to handle his actors and stories very well, and I more often than not find myself drawn into his movies, even the dated ones like Jezebel.

I did have my reservations about The Best Years of Our Lives (TBYOOL) because it’s…well, a war-themed film and I often find them depressing to watch. And considering that it was from the 40s, that made me not want to watch it even more. However, there was this other part of me that wanted to find out more about Fredric March and his films, hence I decided to go ahead with it. Thankfully, I found TBYOOL to be a pretty great movie. It’s so free of the cheesiness from this decade, and I think it’s largely because Wyler based a lot of its elements from his own experiences in the war. He wanted to tell a story about the difficulties war veterans have in adapting to their civilian lives again, and I think he succeeded. The film is very engaging and draws you into the lives of the 3 war veterans, with strong supporting performances by Myrna Loy and Teresa Wright. I especially liked how Wright did so much with such a thin role, and I might actually have given her a nomination myself. Couldn’t really stand Virginia Mayo (and I mean her acting, not her character), but strangely enough, I actually found myself sympathizing with her character. In terms of characterization, the film really succeeds – other than the three main characters, I found myself feeling for the supportive wife/daughter and even the (arguable) bitch of the film. Harold Russell more than deserved his Oscar,though I can’t decide whether him or Claude Rains is more deserving. As a whole, I’m not sure whether I prefer TBYOOL over It’s a Wonderful Life and Brief Encounter (which wasn’t even nominated), but overall, it’s a solid and deserving best picture winner.

And I guess I can say the same for Fredric March’s performance as well. In my mind, the 1946 best actor Oscar belongs to Jimmy Stewart for his almost iconic performance, but March gave a solid performance in this film as well. As many of you who have read reviews on this performance would probably have known, March really isn’t the focus of this film. He is definitely not supporting either, but rather a secondary lead in comparison to Dana Andrews, who definitely should have been nominated for his really touching performance. It is a bit strange, I admit, and while I am very sure I have seen such secondary lead performances being nominated (can’t think of any off the top of my head right now…Deborah Kerr in Separate Tables, maybe? Or Anne Bancroft in The Turning Point, even though I felt she had more weight over Maclaine?)…having a performance of such nature win is indeed strange. But if we were to put all these aside, I would say that March still manages to do a lot with what he had, leaving a deeper impact than expected.

It is not uncommon to compare Andrews to March, but to me I actually find them pretty equal in terms of performance quality. Which probably says a lot about March’s work, considering he had less to work with. What I liked was how he made Al such a multi-faceted character with personal demons to struggle with. The opening scene where the three veterans were returning home was terrific – even though there was nothing overly dramatic or Oscar-y about their conversations, he managed to portray such exhaustion in his face that I found him the most convincing out of the three of them. However, I’ll admit that I didn’t think the following scenes where he got heavily drunk were that good – it’s not bad either, and I blame it more on the direction for choosing a comical tone, but I felt that they were too light to suggest how troubled Al really was. It was all implied through Loy and Wright’s worried expressions, which just wasn’t enough for me.

One can say that March has the least dramatic heavy-lifting to do, since his character arguable has the best life out of the three veterans. There’s Homer with his struggle to fit back in, and Fred with his difficulties in finding a job and managing his overly-demanding wife. Al’s worries seems relatively trivial in comparison, since he has a fairly stable job as a banker and a highly supportive family. I liked how March still succeeded in introducing some dramatic conflict within his character, like his decision to go against the bank’s policy and grant high-risk loans to war veterans. And the increasing dependence on alcohol was also fantastically portrayed, never too in your face but very naturally handled. I especially loved the speech he gave at the dinner scene where he essentially screwed the bank over for not sympathizing enough with war veterans – it was so heartfelt, passionate, and naturally delivered at the same time.

We also get to see Al as the caring father that he is, and I thought March was great in these scenes. I liked how he portrayed his concern for his daughter, and the small scenes where he gave her life advice were really well-handled. The scene where he sternly told Fred to leave Peggy alone was also one of the highlights of this performance.

I guess the main complain I have for this performance is that it could have been more drawn out and heavy in nature. We catch the glimpses of greatness here and there, and he does have some strong speeches/monologues, but most of the film’s focus is still on Andrews. Still, I liked what March did here, and it can be largely attributed to his strong presence and talents as an actor. Overall, a solid effort. 4/5.

P.S. As usual, I am going to put my 1977 best picture marathon on hold. I was actually going to watch The Goodbye Girl yesterday, but I was just in the mood for 40s-60s film (Simone Signoret, Room At The Top coming up next FYI). SIghs, I know I shouldn’t be procrastinating but I will definitely get back to this personal project as soon as possible.