Month: July 2016

Vanessa Redgrave in Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)

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The more I watch Vanessa Redgrave, the more I “get” her as an actress. The thing is, I wouldn’t even say I am a huge fan of her or her performances. As mentioned in my previous post, Mary, Queen of Scots was a disappointment. And yet, that famous, “glowing” presence of hers, that charisma and radiance that she naturally possesses just makes me like her as a performer, even if her actual films and performances aren’t that great. Also, this unique presence of hers helps to enhance the type of characters she usually plays – free-spirited, mysterious and strong characters that aren’t necessarily meant to be understood (probably a reflection of her real life personality too). Think the mysterious Julia, or the free-spirited Isadora Duncan, or Olive Chancellor in The Bostonians.

Vanessa was fairly young when she made Morgan – this is actually one of her first few films and she received her first Oscar nomination for this. She also won the prestigious best actress award at Cannes, which is a bit much to me (more on that later). I just think it is interesting that this role of her is considered to be merely a filler nod by so many bloggers today, considering the amount of recognition she actually received. However, I don’t think anyone stood a chance against Elizabeth Taylor in winning the Oscar that year anyway.

Morgan is definitely a hit or miss kind of film. It is very experimental and “free”, and I can see why some go crazy over it. The story follows Morgan, a man with a terrible mental illness who goes all out to prevent his ex-wife from remarrying, even if it means destroying her life. Redgrave plays Leonie Delt, the ex-wife in question. The film is often frustrating to watch for me, and the main character is just a downright awful person, mental illness or not. There isn’t a proper story, it is just Morgan harassing Leonie from the beginning to end, with some not very subtle references to socialism.

Redgrave’s nomination is interesting, considering that Leonie is really a supporting character in this film. She is not even the main focus, and when you see her, it is more of her reactions to Morgan’s shenanigans. In my opinion – Leonie isn’t a well-written character. I get that the writer may have been trying to create some “complex feelings”, especially with regards to her dilemma about whether she loves Morgan or not. However, it comes off as weird, confusing and not very well thought out. Other than this dilemma, there is nothing else about the character that I found particularly noteworthy, other than the fact that she is a weird free-spirit.

Strangely, I think Redgrave pulls it off well. To me, she sells the Leonie’s confusion about her feelings towards Morgan well enough. The scenes of annoyance and frustration are well-played, but there are also very subtle scenes where she suggests she still has feelings for him. It is all very confusing and weird – there are times where I wonder why Leonie still puts up with Morgan and don’t have him locked up instead, but Redgrave portrays these moments of confusion well, even if I don’t understand it.

Her “weird” and free-spirited scenes are also strange and don’t make sense, especially when she crazily encourages her new lover to fight with Morgan, or when she is singing and dancing in the car. With any other actress it would have been weird and stupid, but Redgrave’s charm saves it, injecting energy and making the weirdness of these scenes work.

Unfortunately, that is all there is to Redgrave’s performance here. It is not a well thought-out character, and she is definitely a supporting player in this film. She is a 3/5 in my book but unlike other performances that I have given the same rating, I actually have positive feelings for this one.

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Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)

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Vanessa Redgrave is an actress I am familiar with mainly because of her reputation. She is often in many people’s list of top actresses, and I have always wanted to watch more of her work. From what I’ve read by other bloggers, I got the impression that she belongs to the category of actresses you either “get” or don’t. Personally, I would agree strongly with the one thing about her that many people are crazy about – she has a one of a kind presence that seems to be able to elevate the quality of the films she is in. And like what many others say, you really can’t take your eyes off her when she is on screen, it is almost as if she is glowing. Seriously, I can’t even argue much against her nomination for Howard’s End, even though she technically didn’t do much in that role (Quite a few people even think that she should have won). Who else can leave such a deep impression just by walking through a garden in the opening credits of a film? I guess this is the main reason why her performance in Julia worked so damn well, where she played a mysterious character that the viewer isn’t even sure is real or not.

I found Mary, Queen of Scots to be a really weak and dull film. Don’t expect The Lion in Winter – this movie is nothing more than an overblown and superficial soap opera. Even though it cramps quite a bit into its 2 hours runtime, I found myself taking away nothing from it because of the way everything is so artificially presented. By the time the first 30 minutes were over, I could not care less about who was plotting against who and who was going to kill who. The “suspenseful” moments are really dull, and even the killing of David Riccio was unintentionally funny. Some of the lines are so corny and unrealistic that it is impossible to take the film seriously, especially when you see the characters behave exaggeratedly or “break away” to talk to themselves. The music was also pretty campy and grating.

This is the first leading role of Vanessa Redgrave’s that I have watched and I think I’ll just be direct here: it’s quite disappointing. The above-mentioned “radiant presence” is noticeably absent here, and the overall effect is quite weak. She doesn’t rise above the weakness of the script and while it might seem blasphemous to say this about Redgrave, I found some of her line deliveries and mannerisms quite fake. I mean, what’s with all those over-the-top gasping and shocked expressions? I could see that Redgrave was trying her best to inject life into the artificial screenplay, but her struggles are also quite apparent.

Mary is portrayed as an idiot in this film, which is already to Redgrave’s disadvantage since Glenda Jackson’s Elizabeth would come across as the more fascinating and powerful character. Jackson also gave the better performance, mainly because she played the character before. However, I should add that I am not really that crazy about her work too though – some of her scenes are rather ridiculous because of the screenplay.

But even if Mary is “weaker”, I do not believe that this should have limited Redgrave’s performance in any way. What I found the most disappointing was how Redgrave was just playing everything on the surface – she runs through her lines, she acts shocked, she acts angry, she acts wildly in love, but at the end of the day there is no depth at all. I rarely feel anything about this character – I don’t feel angry at her stupidity, I don’t feel saddened by her helplessness. When Jackson’s Elizabeth remarks at the end about how Mary’s life “is steeped in blood and violence”, I was like “Oh REALLY?” because I definitely did not get that impression from Redgrave. Neither does her performance “inspire pity” like what Elizabeth says, since the whole thing is just kinda empty. Furthermore, we know from the descriptions of the other characters that Mary did her fair share of plotting but Redgrave never really brought out that cunning, manipulative side of the character too. She pretty much portrays her as a stupid and victimized saint.

That being said, while re-watching some clips from the film, I was actually sorta impressed by certain parts of Redgrave’s performance (I am seriously wondering whether she is better as a supporting actress, where she can shine in a few brief scenes). She does capture the stubbornness, arrogance and naivety of Mary well, although there’s nothing mind-blowing here either. I will say this though – it is really mostly the screenplay’s fault. It is just so weak that I didn’t think Glenda Jackson was really amazing either, even though she gave a much better performance. However, despite all this, there is at least something interesting about Redgrave that makes me want to watch more of her. 2.5/5.

 

Brief thoughts on 1977

This took me really long to complete, but despite that, it is still an easy year to sit through and rank. I don’t think the films are all amazing, but like 2012, they are very interesting to say the least, and I actually enjoyed watching them. It’s worth noting that each of them had something special/unique/original – Star Wars is, well Star Wars. Annie Hall has Diane Keaton. The Goodbye Girl produced the youngest best actor winner at its time. Julia had Vanessa Redgrave’s brilliant performance and controversial speech. The Turning Point has the distinction of being the first movie with 11 nominations (including some head-scratching acting nominations) without winning any.

Despite my constant procrastination, I think ranking this is pretty easy. Some of the scores have changed as I became more objective over time.

5. The Turning Point – 2.5/5
4. The Goodbye Girl – 3/5
3. Annie Hall – 4/5
2. Julia – 4.5/5
1. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – 5/5

Best actress:

5. Marsha Mason in The Goodbye Girl – 3/5
4. Shirley Maclaine in The Turning Point – 3/5
3. Anne Bancroft in The Turning Point – 4.5/5
2. Jane Fonda in Julia – 5/5
1. Diane Keaton in Annie Hall – 5/5

Future plans: I have to confess, my enthusiasm for this project has died a little, and if I were to pick one year as motivation to continue, it would be either 1974 or 1976 as these years sound amazing. But as of now, it is going to be film performances. I want to explore the works of famous actors and actresses whom I need to watch more of – Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Alec Guinness, Maggie Smith, Kirk Douglas, Peter O’Toole etc.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

 

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I mean seriously, what else is there to say about Star Wars and its influence? George Lucas did not merely create a film, he created an iconic moment in cinema that would be remembered till today. There is a reason why people today are still referencing Star Wars, be it by hardcore fans or in the form of parodies. From the iconic opening, to the fantastic score, to the amazing visuals, almost nobody would not have heard of this legendary franchise. Almost everyone would have at the very least heard of “May the force be with you”, or “I am your father”. Most people would also have known Star Wars as the movie with the girl with the funky donut hairdo.

Like how Tolkien created the fantasy world of LOTR, Lucas’ shows us how incredible his mind is with Star Wars. There are so much details, personalities, cultures and humour within this world that one could not help but marvel at the breadth of this man’s imagination. I love the small little quirks he adds to the different aliens and droids, giving them much more “life”. And the designs of all those spaceships and battle stations! The Death Star! The X-fighters! I won’t dwell too much on the technical aspects – they are amazing and still stand the test of time. I mean, this was in 1977, and yet I think it looks better than some of the movies made today!

The story in itself is simple, and yet unlike directors like James Cameron, Lucas gives so much soul and depth into its rather straightforward narrative. The characters aren’t the most complex as well, but the actors bring them to life. Princess Leia is likable as the feisty Princess Leia, Harrison Ford nails his portrayal of the charming scoundrel Han Solo, and Mark Hamill brings the right amount of naivety and courage as Luke Skywalker. Alec Guinness is absolutely memorable as Obi-Wan Kenobi, bringing out the character’s wisdom, experience and power. That being said, I have to admit that this isn’t really much of an actor’s movie, although this cast definitely fares a LOT better than the horribleness of Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in the later films.

Of course, there are going to be criticisms about how some of the lines are not entirely realistic, as well as some of the weaker moments/plotholes in the films. But this does not change the fact that Star Wars is an absolutely mind-blowing and powerful experience that it is. 5/5.

The Goodbye Girl (1977)

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I watched The Goodbye Girl a couple of years back and kinda hated it then. I found it artificial, contrived and overly theatrical. I felt like Neil Simon was trying to throw in as many wisecracks and witty lines into the script, and it was quite grating. Re-watching it this time round, well…I actually still feel the same way, except that I don’t hate it anymore. I understand the whole angle it was going for and I can accept why so many people find it a charming film. That being said, I could not help but wonder if I would have appreciated it more as a live theater production. Still, it is a nice, heartwarming tale about falling in love under unlikely circumstances (*coughs* better explored in Annie Hall *coughs*) and I did smile at the end of it.

Certain things definitely improved on this re-watch. Firstly, I thought Richard Dreyfuss deserved his slightly unpopular Oscar win. He has always been the mvp of this film for me, but I really enjoyed his performance this time round. It’s an atypical win for this category, especially if you were to compare it to the other winners of this decade, but I thought it was so damn good. Even when his character was annoying and grating in the beginning, I actually felt sorry for him and understood where he was coming from. And then when we understood the character’s struggles more, with Dreyfuss nailing the vulnerable moments (his sadness after his failed play was pretty heartbreaking), I actually got to appreciating how multi-faceted his portrayal is. He actually has some pretty similar mannerisms to Woody Allen’s performance is Annie Hall, except that I find Dreyfuss a much more charismatic and charming performer. I mean, that rooftop dinner is so cheesy and yet I’ll be lying if I said I wasn’t charmed by it.

On the other hand, I am pretty much with Roger Ebert on Marsha Mason’s performance. I never really appreciated it then, and unfortunately, I still kinda feel the same way. A lot of people are saying that she should have won the Oscar but I totally don’t get this love. Definitely not over Keaton, and I actually would have ranked some of the other nominees over her. While Dreyfuss manages to give a convincing portrayal, I feel that Mason kinda flounders a bit and she never really overcomes the artificiality of the script. In fact, I felt that some of her neurotic tics and line deliveries were quite fake. Maybe I just don’t “get” her acting style, but there are times I found her more annoying than Dreyfuss and no, it is not the character. Most people seem to feel the other way round though.

Overall, The Goodbye Girl was a nice film, but I personally never cared too much for it. I don’t think Neil Simon’s writing is really my kind of thing – or at least on film. Dreyfuss elevates it imo, but as a whole – okay, with nice performance by Quin Cummings and song by David Gates. 3/5