1956

Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life (1956)

I feel sorry for Kirk Douglas for several reasons. One of them is having to deal with Melissa Leo, but the other is due to the fact that he is a talented actor whom imo, should at least have one acting Oscar today. I guess this feeling also stems from my immense dislike of Yul Brynner’s win – one of my least favourite best actor winners – but my point is, Douglas has grown to become one of my favourite actors as I watch more and more of his films. I actually think he is better actor than his son even though some people will start this lengthy debate about whose acting style is better (classical vs modern blablabla). To me, it’s not just his well-known emotional intensity that captivates me as a viewer. He has this specificity in his acting choices that makes his characterizations memorable and sharp, and when combined with his emotional intensity, it’s really like watching fireworks.

I was completely mesmerised by Douglas’ performance as Vincent Van Gogh. He captures the painter’s turbulent brilliance, and his desperate desire to capture life through his paintings. Douglas portrays how Van Gogh was slowly consumed by his need to understand life and people, and how he would eventually be consumed by his own demons. His mental deterioration is ugly to watch, and in true Douglas fashion, the intense ugliness of it is disturbing and sad.

There are so many facets in Douglas’ performance that makes it stand out. Van Gogh’s selfishness, social awkwardness and bluntness can be off-putting (like the way he forced himself onto his cousin), but Douglas manages to penetrate his psyche and allow us to understand what drives the man to do what he does. Or more accurately, he allows us to understand that what goes through Van Gogh’s mind cannot be understood, even to Van Gogh himself, and this ultimately led to his tragic demise. Despite his lack of likability, Van Gogh is an extremely sympathetic and heartbreaking figure thanks to Douglas’ portrayal – I will never forget that monologue about his fear of loneliness.

This is a brilliant portrayal of a tortured artist that left me feeling as exhausted as Douglas (probably) did. Great, great work. 5/5.

P.S. Watched Alien: Covenant and thought it was utterly mediocre. Wanted to write a post about it but honestly, I can’t bring myself to cause I found it so predictable, lacking in suspense and forgettable. 2/5.

 

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Performance of the week: Nancy Kelly in The Bad Seed (1956)

Nancy Kelly received her only Oscar nomination for playing Christine Penmark, the mother of a murderous child in The Bad Seed. She previously played the part on stage and even won the Tony Award for her performance there. Also reprising their stage roles are Eileen Heckart and Patty McCormack, both Oscar nominated for their respective performances as Hortense, the mother of the murdered child, and Rhoda Penmark, the little murderer.

The Bad Seed is…okay. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it either. It’s very watchable and entertaining, but at the end of the day I don’t have any strong feelings for it. I guess in 1956 it must have been considered “shocking” but by today’s standards it is very mild and dated. The whole film seems to have retained its stage roots, with a good 90% of the entire movie taking place inside the house and the characters entering and leaving for each scene. That wasn’t a big problem for me though. I just wished that it delved deeper into the whole “nature vs nurture” debate instead of touching on it so superficially (“She’s a bad seed. Done”). Also, while the pigtail (her hair is like that for 24/7 it seems. Even when she’s sleeping) killer must have been the source of everybody’s nightmares back then, I find her a little bit hard to take seriously now, and the same can be said for McCormack’s performance (even though I’m aware of the fact that it has its fans). I get that her character is supposed to be this psychotic, fake good girl who is a bit too intent on killing people, and she played it as she’s supposed to, but the writing of the character just isn’t very believable at times and all that screeching came off as a bit plastic instead of frightening to me. (“YOU BETTER BRING BACK THE SHOES BACK TO ME LEROOOOOOY! RIGHT HERE TO MEEEEH” “SO I KEPT ON HITTING HIM WITH THE SHOES MO-THEEEEEER”) I guess that was the point of it; she was supposed to be smarter than other kids but not mature enough to cover up her tracks, which is why her curtseys and “acting cute” is very fake. I’m just torn up about what to feel about her work, which affected my opinion of the movie as a whole. I guess the film explains it by letting her mother see through her act, which sort of justifies the “fake-ness” of it. 

Having said all that, I thought Eileen Heckart was fantastic as the mother of the dead child – with merely 2 scenes, she gave us all an acting class on how to play a drunk without being hammy and ridiculous. Her over-the-top acting matched the inner pain of the character very well, and she might even have deserved to win the Oscar (haven’t watched Dorothy Malone though).

So what about Nancy Kelly? From what I‘ve read on the internet, her performance here seems to be frequently lambasted as the worst performance to be nominated for the best actress Oscar. That being said, from what I’ve read and watched (Ingrid Bergman, Deborah Kerr), it seems like 1956 isn’t the greatest year for this category either and everybody seems to have their own favourites for the win. For the case of Nancy Kelly, the criticisms thrown at her are generally about her extreme overacting in some scenes, and in this case, I would have to agree. I get that her character is on the verge of a breakdown and is hysterical, but no matter how hard I try to use this to justify her acting choices, it still feels overdone. This is especially so with the scene where she was confronting her father about her past. Maybe I’m being over particular, but the way she “recalls” her dreams felt way too abrupt and random (“DENKER!?”) and all that screeching afterwards was a bit funny (“IS SHE FATHER IS SHE!?”).

So why did I choose to write about a commonly criticised performance? I don’t know, it could be the rebellious side in me that tends to favour criticised works, but I felt like the performance actually grew on me by quite a bit! Firstly, Kelly played the role on stage and while this may not necessarily justify anything, I always felt that she understood this character inside out and was not resorting to histrionics purely for the sake of it. People have often criticised Kelly’s role as the one being in the background while the supporting characters steal the show. That may be partially true, since Eileen Heckart steals the 2 scenes that she was in, but I’ve always felt that Kelly’s character was the emotional core of this twisted film. I also thought her ending phone call with her husband was very well-handled and she injected a right amount of sadness and regret into it.

Another aspect that I liked is how she handles the character’s gradual realisation of the truth about her own daughter. Individually, her hysterical scenes are way too much, but I did feel that there was a kind of gradual arc that may be easy to overlook. From the beginning to the end, I found myself believing that Christine was slowly becoming more and more disturbed of her daughter’s actions, and in this sense, I found the build-up towards her hysterical behaviour somewhat justified, even if Kelly’s delivery is clumsy. I also liked her famous breakdown scene with the “STOP THAT MUSIC!” screech – I found myself believing the character’s devastation at that point.

So all in all, I actually kinda liked Nancy Kelly’s performance here, even though I’m not supposed to! Despite the flaws, there was something about it that drew me to her work here; it could be the honesty underneath the extreme overacting, or the fact that I’m usually drawn to such highly emotional characters. Interesting work, that may not necessarily be perfect, but has something in it that I admire. 

First Look: Leave Her to Heaven (1945) and The King and I (1956)

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

I have been on this classical movies chase lately (all thanks to their ready availability on Youtube) and to be honest, I don’t think they are as bad as some say. As a matter of fact, I do think that some of them are brilliantly made and worthy of their iconic statuses. I’m not ashamed to admit that I actually enjoy them heheh :p

Leave Her to Heaven is basically a crazy-girlfriend movie from the 40s. I used to think that Fatal Attraction was THE crazy-girlfriend movie of all time until I came across this one. I have to admit though, I do have a soft spot for these wacky movies. Yeah, they’re pretty insane at times (to put it mildly), but I find them so damn entertaining that i am willing to just overlook their flaws. I mean, won’t you be like “Hell yeah!” when the girl gets her revenge? Maybe it’s just me. Anyway, the actors are usually great as well, especially the actresses playing the crazy girlfriends.

And this movie is no exception by itself. Hell, I was surprised when I discovered that this was one of Martin Scorsese’s favourites. Some people have passed if off as being incredibly silly, which may be true, but I wouldn’t be so quick as to say that the movie is totally unrealistic. Is it entirely impossible for someone to love too much? Is excessive love, to the point that it becomes a dangerous obsession, a concept too far off from reality? Are we really unfamiliar with the stories of murderous lovers and their determination to wreck everything that stands in their way? It’s up to you to decide. I found the story gripping and entertaining, even at the unlikely parts. Yes, there are flaws but it didn’t bother me too much because I found the whole thing slightly campy but engaging. The acting was decent and there was little to fault but it’s kinda obvious who got the best part.

The ridiculously beautiful Gene Tierney plays Ellen Berent, a psycho socialite who simply “loves too much!”. I feel that Tierney’s beauty did help her make the most out of this part, even though one can argue that this has little to do with acting. But honestly speaking, when I look at her cold and beautiful face, I have no qualms in believing that this woman is capable of commiting those cruel crimes just purely out of love. In fact, Tierney’s performance is actually very subtle and natural, something that is rare among actresses from that era. I can go on and on about how chilling her “Afterall, he’s a cripple!”, “I hate the little beast” and “What are you running away from?” lines were delivered. You can imagine someone like, say Ingrid Bergman, announcing these lines in a super dramatic way, but Tierney managed to avoid these traps and spoke them as though they were already a part of the character’s subconscious. She said them in such a natural manner that I felt as if the darker side to this woman was bursting out of her minute by minute in a very insidious manner, so much so that it made the character’s actions understandable and believable. At some points you might even feel for her. Magnificent. Some may find it stiff but the performance worked for me on a whole.

The King and I (1956)

Oh boy. I’m not going to lie, but I did not like The King and I (1956). I don’t care if some people are going to consider this as an indication of my ignorance towards movies, especially seeing as to how this movie is widely considered a classic, but if I’m being perfectly honest, the whole thing just feels dated and too shallow for me. And it’s not as if I hate musical films like some people do , because I’m actually quite an admirer of the true classics like A Star is Born. Heck, even The Sound of Music (1965) worked brilliantly for me because I felt that the story actually had depth and meaning to it, and despite the excessive sugar-coating, it actually managed to sufficiently deal with the more serious issues such as the terrors of escaping the war. I also greatly enjoyed My Fair Lady (1964) too by the way.

And yet, despite my partiality towards film musicals,  I found The King and I’s plot was way too ridiculous to take seriously. I don’t wish to offend the fans, but the ending especially bugged me for some reason. It also addressed the theme about the clash/exchange of cultures in a rather shallow and superficial way, although I’ll admit that the “Getting to know you” song was nice. And yes, I felt that the whole romance portion featuring Rita Moreno (who looks nothing like a burmese) was really bad and out of place. I mean, they were supposed to be this pair of clandestine lovers, and yet there they were, SINGING to each other at the top of their voices in the garden. Not to mention that the acting was pretty bad and the two lacked chemistry. I guess the fact that this movie is supposed to be a musical meant that I was supposed to suspend logic but even this one was too much for me to swallow. Well, maybe the palace guards didn’t patrol the gardens? I don’t know. The whole part was just to show the darker side of the king towards the ending and yet I felt that the ending itself lacking in intensity because everyone jumped into some melodrama mood.

The set isn’t that fantastic too, by the way. Maybe it was considered great back then, but right now I found that it looked rather fake and cheap. I do admit that there was probably a lot of effort being put into building and decorating it but I just didn’t believe that the place was a palace. The fountains in the garden were too much for me also.

And the acting! I already talked about Rita Moreno, so right now I’ll go to Yul Brynner. Yes, I found out that he won the Oscar for his performance, and this was his most famous role as an actor, but the whole thing was just way too comical for me to take seriously. My sister actually liked his performance, as she kept making comments like “haha, so funny/cute” when he displayed his extremely bizarre mannerisms and his weird way of talking (“eat! eat! eat”). I would say that he was extremely entertaining and I guess to a certain extent likeable but that was pretty much it. His performance basically suffered because the character was written as a caricature and I think that really affected the credibility of his performance. I just didn’t even believe that he was a king for one second. Hell, it’s not as though the issues that he had to deal with were really serious. The Buddha praying scene was kinda dumb as well. Was it meant to be funny? I don’t know. And I honestly did not believe that he was dying in the end. I SERIOUSLY expected him to jump up from the bed and declared that he was just pretending to die so that he could get her to stay. Yeah, maybe I am being ridiculous, but when you watch the movie, you’ll find the character written in such a ridiculous manner that my suggested ending may not be too much of a surprise anyway. And what was he dying from? Huh? He was still fine and jumping around and being silly when he suddenly decided to fall ill and die just because of his fall out with Anna? Wtf??

Of course, I’ll acknowledge that there were some good things about the film, so that I won’t be labelled as a mere hater. In my opinion, the movie’s shining light was Deborah Kerr. I felt that she was the best part of the whole mess, which isn’t saying much. Yes her character suffers at times because of some weirdly written scenes, but I think she did the best that she could out of a thinly written part and even added a whole touch of realism to it. You could see that this character was not just some mere goody two shoes, but she was a woman who is willing to fight for what she wants. Thanks to Kerr’s portrayal, we got to see that Anna was a loving mother, a caring teacher and also a brave woman who is willing to challenge the norms. She was easily the best part of the weird (and abrupt) scene where Tuptim was about to get whipped. The fierce way she insisted that she was going to stay and watch, as well as her “You have NO HEART!” declaration was very well done. So yes, I can understand the overwhelming praise for Kerr, who is not one of my favourite actresses, but at the same time I wouldn’t call her performance here the greatest ever by an actress.  I just think that this role fitted Kerr’s subtle and dignified acting style very well, so the whole thing worked, although she was affected by the melodrama and rather unfunny humour of the script at times. 

So yes, I apologise to the fans of this movie. It was entertaining though…

First look: Anastasia (1956)

Anastasia (1956) is probably known as the movie in which the legendary Ingrid Bergman won her second Academy Award and the forgiveness of the public after her infamous affair with Roberto Rossellini. Many people have claimed that Begman’s performance here is overrated, and that the reason for her second Oscar win is because of the scandal she was involved in. So having watched this piece of work, is it really the case?

The movie, in my opinion, is a decent one. It’s no masterpiece by any means but there are a lot of positive things to talk about. The acting by the main casts is decent all around, especially by Helen Hayes, who really stood out among them all. The set is lavish, the costumes are beautiful, the story is simple and easy to follow. So yea, I did enjoy it to a certain extent, although I can understand why some find it boring. There isn’t much to the story, other than it being about this mysterious (amnesiac) woman trying to pass off as the Grand Duchess Anastasia after being discovered by this charming general played by Yul Brynner. But honestly, who can deny that this movie is ultimately a vehicle to showcase the talents of this famous swedish actress?

Ingrid Bergman does what she does best here: Being charming, and throwing a whole range of emotions at your face. Ok, that sounded really awkward, but I actually respect her a lot. I wouldn’t say that she’s my favourite classical actress (Vivien Leigh? Bette Davis?) but her presence was immense. She was PHENOMENAL in Autumn Sonata, great in Cactus Flower, and I even enjoyed her rather disliked performance in For Whom The Bell Tolls. I wish I could say the same about that movie though. If there’s one thing that Bergman could play to perfection, it would be fragility, innocence and pureness. I’m serious, you really can’t help but feel sorry for her when you watch her characters on screen.

That being said, she did have this tendency for that kind of melodramatic overacting from the classical era which becomes very annoying at times. Like I said before, I’m never particular about the way actresses act (it’s not like I’m a professional critic or anything), but it does become rather distracting when I see her displaying her usual on-screen histrionics whenever her character is going through some breakdown. I’m sorry, but to me it’s kinda fake. Maybe that’s the reason why I could never really enjoy her performance in Gaslight (“Elizabeth! Eliiiizabeth!!!!!”). I think I have a really weird taste, because everyone loved her there. But whatever. Maybe I’ll rewatch that movie someday and have a revelation, like the one I had with Vivien Leigh’s (haunting, tragic, beautiful, heartbreaking…) Blanche Dubois. All in all, I think that Bergman’s later performances in the 60s and 70s were the ones that really showcased her acting talents and skills.

So…what about Anastasia? Well, I can safely say that Bergman was pretty great. Not phenomenal by any means, but it is the kind of very good Ingrid Bergman performance that is very watchable. Like I said before, her presence is very strong, and you simply can’t take your eyes off her. However, I don’t think that the script does her justice because the character isn’t very well-written, especially in the second half, where all she does is to be charming and lie her way through. I felt like there could have been more depth in this portrayal but I didn’t really see it. But having said that, she does display the initial helplessness, doubts and confusion of the character very well.

I have to mention that her chemistry with Yul Brynner isn’t very strong. Maybe it’s just me, but I found it hard to believe that they were even interested in one another. I just thought that they were annoyed. Yes, there were subtle hints here and there but it wasn’t very convincing. That kind of affected the credibility of the ending.

Ultimately, while this was a good performance by Ingrid Bergman. I don’t know whether she deserved the Oscar or not, and frankly, I don’t care. She’s always a delight to watch on screen.