Month: January 2017

Trevor Howard and Mary Ure in Sons and Lovers (1960)

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Trevor Howard received a best actor nod for playing Walter Moreal in Sons and Lovers…which I don’t get the placement of this nomination. While I am not particular about screentime, Walter is clearly a supporting character in this story. I’ll give Howard this though – he does have presence and leaves a fairly strong impression throughout the film.

Sons and Lovers is not bad, but if you have read the book, you will know that this is a highly condensed version of D. H. Lawrence’s story. I felt that the transitions between the key events of the story were a little jumpy, but I was engaged throughout the whole movie. I will say without hesitation that the cast is the film’s greatest asset. They really made the characters jump to life from the book, and I personally would have nominated Dean Stockwell for his terrific performance as the true lead of the film. Wendy Hiller is also great as always, and she too would have deserved to be nominated. The acting is just great all-around, with Heather Sears being the weak link (because I can’t stand Miriam as a character, not her acting, which is good).

Despite his fairly limited appearances in the film, Howard makes the most out of his role. It’s actually amazing how he manages to squeeze in the various facades of the character and make them gel together – a violent alcoholic, a bitter husband, a lonely man and a father who wants to reconnect with his son. It’s a true testament to Howard’s ability as an actor in making the characterisation work so well. My only qualm is that he was mainly overshadowed by the stories of the other characters, and his main role is to react to the events around him. Still, a strong performance that should have been nominated in supporting instead. 3.5/5.

mary-ure

Mary Ure was nominated for best supporting actress for her performance as Clara Dawes, losing out to Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry.

Mary Ure gives the kind of supporting performance I love – despite the fairly limited screentime, she also makes the most out of her character. Clara Dawes is a suffragette and an unhappy woman separated from her husband. Ure was known for being a strong dramatic stage actress, and it can be seen in this performance. She’s never theatrical, but she also has this strong presence that commands the screen whenever she is on. It also helps that she plays the most interesting character in the film – despite being a self-proclaimed free lover, we can sense Clara’s desire for stability and love. There’s a great deal of mystery, intelligence, vulnerability and complexity in this performance that’s never fully explained, but Ure’s performance draws you in like a magnet.

There’s a great deal that can be analysed here – from her stiff posture (not her performance) to her line readings that always suggest an underlying bitterness, I love how much Ure did with how little she had. In a way, the same can be said for Howard’s performance, except that Ure has the benefit of a more complex and mysterious character. I really admired and enjoyed this performance. 4.5/5.

Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend (1945)

Ray Milland won the Oscar for playing Don Birnam, an alcoholic writer in the best picture winning film, The Lost Weekend.

The Lost Weekend can be considered an unusual winner for that decade, given its grittiness and subject matter. It is a good, but a bit dated film that has a mixture of great and strange directing choices. That scene where Don hallucinates the floating coats on stage is just bizarre, but I love how Billy Wilder plays with angles to make the bottles seem like some malevolent, omnipresent force that is always watching over Don. The screenplay is okay: I appreciate that it doesn’t sugarcoat the subject matter and try to sentimentalize it, but there are a couple of a bit too convenient solutions that I don’t exaclly buy, especially the ending. The performances are range from solid to good, but this movie is pretty much Ray Milland’s show.

The main strength of Milland’s performance is pretty much its rawness. Alcoholics can be pretty damn hard to get right, and they can lead to some pretty weird acting if handled wrongly. Milland manages to use the character’s troubles as the source of his problems, showing how the drinking is being driven by his inner demons. His shrieks and breakdowns are rightfully praised – the rawness and intensity is brilliant, and one cannot help but feel sorry for Don when he is reduced to a pathetic, paranoid and mentally unstable creature at the end of the film. However, I think what’s even more worthy of praise is the way he builds up the severity of Don’s alcoholism; I especially loved how he starts of with minor gestures like the way he holds the glasses and how he places the cigarette wrongly in his mouth. There’s a surprising attention to detail that makes the performance all the more believable and captivating.

My main qualm is the slightly straightforward characterization. Don is essentially a failed writer who is constantly haunted by his own failures and his alcoholism. There isn’t much beyond this, and I wished there could have been more complexity and layers in his relationships with Helen (Jane Wyman) and his brother Wick (Philip Terry). Still, I think very highly of this performance and it is actually one of the best portrayals of alcoholism I’ve seen (Just FYI, I kinda hate Jack Lemmon’s performance in Days of Wine and Roses). A strong and deserving winner. 4.5/5.

 

Amy Adams in Arrival (2016)

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Update: Wtf she got snubbed. Especially pissed because the performance actually grew on me ALOT since I typed this post. Happy for Isabelle Huppert, but really?

As of the date of this post, Amy Adams has been nominated for a Golden Globe, SAG and Bafta for her performance as Dr. Louise Banks in the science-fiction drama, Arrival. At this rate, it is most likely that she is going to be receiving her 6th Oscar nomination as well.

What is it about Amy Adams that makes me so drawn to her? I have heard 2 entirely opposing views about her acting that I can totally understand. On one hand, there’s the camp that finds her passable but bland in most of her roles, while on the other hand, which I’m leaning more towards, there is the camp that thinks of her as a highly capable and versatile actress. Now, I love performers who are technically brilliant, like Meryl Streep, Geraldine Page, Cate Blanchett etc. However, I am also equally in awe of actresses who act from their hearts, even if they’re technically not the best – think Diane Keaton, Emma Stone, and of course, Amy Adams. The thing about Adams is that she lives her characters not through tics and mannerisms, but through grace and soul. When I think of an Amy Adams performance, I don’t think of a defining “Oscar” scene, but the performance as a whole and her entire process as that character. We get a glimpse of that with Sister James in Doubt, but in Arrival, she manages to shine through that in a leading role.

Arrival is a very good drama that I liked a lot, but did not love. I have to say that its score is incredible and plays a huge part in creating the emotions of the story. The supporting casts are all good, like the always reliable Jeremy Renner, although I did find his character a bit pointless. Personally, I love the messages and themes of Arrival more than its actual story. I have always been fascinated with the concepts of destiny and choice, and I think they are well-explored here. The slow pace didn’t bother me at all – in fact I actually thought it was necessary to build up the story and give its leading lady a good opportunity to shine. I am just a little bit iffy on the reason why the aliens came down, and I probably have to re-watch the film to finalise my thoughts on that.

When I first watched Arrival, I instantly gave Amy Adams a 3.5/5 for her performance. My thoughts were that she was good but nothing special here. However, as I got to mull over her performance, I realised how brilliantly tricky she is here (and in most of her performances). Adams’ role as Dr. Louise Banks is almost symbolic in nature: she symbolises motherhood, intelligence, peace and love. I would think that it is hard to find a particular Oscar clip for this performance as it really needs to be appreciated as a whole. A good comparison for me would be Frances Mcdormand’s brilliant turn in Fargo, where the brilliance isn’t in a breakdown scene or a crying scene, but in how the performer lived the characters through their souls.

There are so many sides to Dr. Louise Banks that Amy brilliantly embodies. I used the word “embody” instead of “portray”, because for me, I felt these sides of the character more than I saw them. It is hard for me to identify each side through a particular scene because Adams plays them so naturally, and yet I could easily describe Louise Banks as an intelligent, warm, strong and loving soul. Even through the brief opening sequence, she manages to capture the warmth and love of a mother brilliantly. Her delicate interactions with the aliens are also surprisingly captivating to watch, and it’s easy to see why they would trust her. The darkness faced by the character isn’t played in a gut-wrenching manner, but with a beautifully melancholic style that draws you in.

I am not going to spoil the twist behind the story, but Amy plays it in a way that makes it super believable despite my own issues with it. And I think that’s why her performance works wonders here – it’s so tricky, yet never manipulative.

All in all, wonderful would be the word to describe Amy Adams’ performance as Dr. Louise Banks. It is an uplifting, sorrowful, beautiful and moving process that needs to be appreciated in its entirety. 4.5/5

p.s. I was just reading about Amy Adams acting technique that she learned from her teacher, Warner Loughlin. Holy shit, I would love to take acting classes with Loughlin, her style sounds so much better than the other techniques out there.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land (2016)

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Holy crap, I freaking loved this movie. I wasn’t expecting it to be much since the first 10-15 minutes or so were pretty standard (but fun) but the moment we start following the emotional journeys of the 2 leads, I was thoroughly hooked. It’s such a brilliant tribute to the era of Gene Kelly/Fred Astaire, and surprisingly, the rather standard story works remarkably because of the amount of heart in it. Yes, La La Land can be seen as a somewhat formulaic musical about chasing your dreams and love, but instead of making me roll my eyes, the whole thing tugged at my heartstrings and even gave me chills at times. The music is FREAKING FANTASTIC! I usually hate it in musicals when everyone suddenly breaks out into song and dance, but over here the energy is plain infectious. I was actually tapping my feet along some parts, and that “love melody” that Ryan Gosling plays (I don’t know what it’s called, the one that got him fired from his first job) actually gave me goosebumps in a good way. I’m a little bit giddy with excitement now, but I just feel like La La Land is the movie we all need at this particular period, what’s with the world’s chaos and the Oscar’s love for heavy dramas like Manchester by the Sea. It is filled with heart, heartbreak, energy, optimism, cheeriness, sadness and just love. 5/5 for film.

Emma Stone

Look, I am admittedly biased about this but I have this massive crush on Emma Stone. To me, she is one of the most real celebrities out there and I really enjoy her on-screen and off-screen persona. She is another one of those actresses who can’t do wrong in my eyes, even if her actual performances aren’t necessarily that good. That being said, I have loved her since Easy A and Zombieland, and I’m so glad that she’s finally getting the career that she deserves.

You know how certain movies are basically vehicles for their lead performers? Like Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind etc.? La La Land is really Emma Stone’s show. She is absolutely luminous and charming throughout the entire film, as if there is a kind of spotlight that is shining on her in every film.

Her performance here as Mia really grew on me as I mulled over it on the way home from the theatre. Firstly, I wouldn’t say Mia is the most original character ever. She is an aspiring actress who repeatedly fails to make it big before she actually succeeds, finding love in the process. This Eliza Doolittle archetype has been played so many times that it is extremely difficult to give it a different kind of treatment. Emma Stone knows this and chooses to portray the character as written, but at the same time, she pours her own emotions, love and dreams into the character. There is so much life and love in Mia that we can’t help but root for her through her ups and downs.

Initially, I was quite content calling this a 4/5 performance, especially in the earlier parts of the performance. It’s not that she was bad (4 = very good for me), but I just thought it was going to be a pretty standard kind of musical performance that is charming and fun. However, her performance manages to hit some powerful highs, elevating it greatly. Stone’s portrayal of heartbreak especially got to me, like when Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) insults her or when her play fails. It wasn’t just “sadness” she was portraying – when she cries about being unable to pay the theatre, my heart freaking broke. And of course, there is her brilliant number that can teach Anne Hathaway a lesson or two about not needing to resort to histrionics to make a song powerful. I just love this performance. Even though I suspect there will be a certain backlash if she wins, I still think she would make a worthy winner. 5/5. (Note: Will probably downgrade it to 4.5 when I’m more objective, but I really loved her here guys!)

Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling’s performance is also getting a lot of unexpected awards recognition, which I think many people didn’t see coming. I guess it’s because the attention has always been primarily on Emma’s performance.

I happen to think that Ryan Gosling is a much better actor than people tend to give him credit for (Blue Valentine, Half-Nelson, Drive). He does tend to sail on his charisma sometimes but it actually works cause, let’s face it: the guy is good-looking. Unfortunately, that sorta became an issue here because I am actually finding it a bit hard to write about his performance. As a matter of fact, his performance really allows me to see how good Emma Stone is, because I’m honestly just thinking about her all the time. While he is very good in playing Sebastian, it’s easy to see how much more Stone gave to the character.

It’s still very nice though – I could feel his strong passion for jazz actually, like how he constantly shifted toward playing jazz on the piano despite being told not to. His disappointment when he had to give up his love for jazz in order to survive can also be felt quite well. In a way, Mia and Sebastian are similar in their pursuits of dreams and passions, but for some reason, I just didn’t feel it as strongly for Gosling. It could also be due to the fact that Sebastian tends to internalize his emotions more (I think?). I also thought his earlier scene with his sister was a little bit flat, though not terrible.

The strength of Gosling’s performance is really his charm. I know this sounds negative, but actually, it was really needed for this role. He is just damn charismatic and it’s easy to see why Mia would fall for him despite them not getting along initially. It’s actually impossible to take your eyes off him, be it when he plays the piano, sings City of Stars (I prefer Emma’s song though) or wears a goofy costume while performing with his band.

The love story in La La Land is actually really cliche, with the initial bickering to the falling in love to the quarrels to the reconciliation to the…well, won’t spoil the ending. But the 2 actors have such brilliant chemistry that this formula actually freaking works. It’s no wonder why people are shipping both of them in real life, although Gosling is already married. All in all, a very nice performance by a good actor. 4/5.