Archives for category: acting

I stumbled across this video on YouTube and found it stunning. I’m not familiar with the musician, but like the song. It’s the combination of the song and the visual that is so riveting, though. The also unfamiliar actress is phenomenal. So still. Spare. Stoic for so long and then the breaking of determination into despair. It makes you hurt to watch her face, body language, and progression of emotion. Such a stunning production. In a few brief minutes, it becomes unforgettable.

Keaton Henson–You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are

The Greatest Showman is the best musical I’ve seen in a long time. Granted, I’m a bit late to be just discovering it, but the concept of better late than never certainly applies. The best thing about this movie is that I loved the story, and then the music wouldn’t let go to the point that I went straight to YouTube and watched videos of my favorite songs that also happened to be favorite moments. Fortunately, I recently got an unlimited data plan. Somehow, these songs work best when watching the actors’ performances while listening.

The one that lingered so intensely that it drove me to YouTube initially was Jenny Lind singing Never Enough. An incredibly beautiful song, it also tells a powerful story of momentary intimacy and the extended longing it can bring. Rebecca Ferguson’s performance was remarkable. I usually skim comments, because I pick up information that way. Of course, what’s read there may be true or not, but what I found out about Never Enough was fascinating. First, that she was lip synching. Astonishing. Such emotion and grace and intensity…impossible to fake, one would think. Ah ha! It turns out that the actual gorgeous voice belongs to Loren Allred. According to bits of information scattered throughout the comments, Rebecca Ferguson was filmed actually singing the song with a recording of Allred, then sound and visual were seamlessly merged to create such an unforgettable moment. Rebecca Ferguson’s talent and selfless dedication to her craft made what might seem impossible to a layman come vividly alive on that magical, and now more and more metaphorical, silver screen. I prefer a clip that was edited like a music video that tells the story behind the song. Oddly, someone commented on her neck looking scary as she sings. I hadn’t noticed, but then I couldn’t not notice it looking as if she was about to transform into an alien creature. Eventually, it just becomes part of the viewing experience and not so prominent. It even adds an extra bit of cool factor over time.

I do mean over time.

The word obsession comes into play when music hits me just right. I watched Never Enough videos enough for it to qualify as both ear worm and eye worm! And This Is Me, as well. Keala Settle was amazing as the Bearded Lady. She carried that role like a second skin and sang fearlessly, with great beauty. She evoked empathy, admiration, and acceptance, with an anthem for those who are different in the world. A march for the downtrodden, This Is Me was choreographed like an marvelous music video from decades past. When the ensemble of characters joins her as a perfectly synced dance crew, it’s Thriller meets Beauty and the Beast. I love the fierce, joyous nature of it, accompanied by the percussion of hands and feet. This song too tells its own story and won’t be dislodged from its place in the soundtrack’s glorious irresistibility.

It took me a while to remember the beautiful Rewrite the Stars, sung by Zendaya and Zac Efron. Another masterpiece; this one more subtle and understated, thoughtful and outright romantic. Once I tracked down the video, I was again captivated by both the song and performance. The way it blends not only the danger of the trapeze work but also the grace and elegance of the ropes makes it seem magical, though the magic is underlaid with a rich patina of dispair and tragedy. Beautiful performances, by more incredibly talented actors.

The Greatest Showman as a whole would have always interested me, with its bigger than life story based on real life, particularly in the historical period in which it happened. It was made more fascinating to me, however, by the fact that I had watched the PBS documentary Circus last year. I was enthralled by the great spectacle of P. T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth, as well as awed by the myriad of tragedies and setbacks he endured. That he still succeeded as stunningly as he did seems almost miraculous. Multiple fires and mishaps destroyed his dream time after time, yet he always rebuilt, reimagined, and was reborn as a man who could entertain the world and scatter joy among even common folks wherever he traveled. When he lost his venue, the tents he used to replace it were mindbogglingly huge, seating tens of thousands of people desperate for the rare escape from mundane life. The logistics of the travel alone, when he took his massive show on the road, seemed impossible. P. T. Barnum apparently did not recognize the very idea of impossibility and the world at large was the better for it.

Never Enough:

This Is Me:

Rewrite the Stars:

​Killing off beloved characters is a dice roll. If it doesn’t work you’ve lost people who love the character, but if it does work you’ve got something sad and tragic, but glorious. After Hershel’s beheading nearly pushed me over the edge into stopping watching The Walking Dead and Beth’s untimely end shoved me a step farther, when I heard that Carl, not Negan, was about to bite the dust of the bitten, I just knew I was a watching goner. I stuck with it though, and now I’m glad I did.

Even though I hate that they killed Carl, they used it beautifully, making the letter he left for Rick touch his father so deeply. That he caught Negan and decided to keep him imprisoned and make him suffer by being confined, and possibly rehabilitate him over time, was a stroke of genius. It’s made it so that in a way Carl is sort of the eternal leader from the grave, because of the way his courage and strength and grace touched so many people and influenced how they can see the world in his wake. The whole thing mindblowingly dovetails. 

I don’t think it’s so very often that a longterm writing stream can take many characters and situations and fit them so perfectly together that, while you can’t see the entire picture until all the puzzle is completed, you get glimpses of fully realized story encapsulated in moments. When a moment appears like that you don’t care so much about what the future will bring, but more about savoring the moment at hand. That’s what the end of Carl’s arc felt like to me.

​Not letting critics put me off a movie was a good thing when I watched Passengers. I really loved it, except for the early part staying too long on just one character. Apparently a lot of people complained about that, so it’s not just me.  Otherwise, it’s one of my favorite movies I’ve seen this year. It’s sweet and romantic, yet still actiony that’s at times terrifying, all the sf colonization stuff is so, so cool, the ship is so awesome that I want to travel on it, and the ethical question at the movie’s center is fascinating. Chris Pratt is moving as Jim, especially while agonizing over whether to remain alone, then still wrestling with a combination of guilt and pure joy for much of the movie. Jennifer Lawrence displays a gamut of emotions, as Aurora endures different but equally brutal decisions. Michael Sheen’s robotic bartender adds enjoyable comic relief, with an accompanying touch of pathos. Lawrence Fishburn? What more need I say? He’s Lawrence Fishburn! As the movie unspooled, it reminded me of the final Futurama finale, which is a real compliment from me. Cautiously watching Passengers turned out to be an unexpected delight…the kind I can only wish happened more often.

Passengers Official Trailer

​I just watched Solace, and, along with a general impression, moments and images still flash through my mind. Ironically, it reminded me stylistically of the TV series Hannibal. It used unexpected imagery in artistic ways, embedding impressions flawlessly in the viewing experience. The irony of course is that Anthony Hopkins starred in Solace, long after he made Hannibal Lecter a horrorhousehold name. It’s probably entirely coincidental that the Hannibal Lecter TV series he had nothing to do with had so much in common visually with the movie Solace. It’s very odd, though.

His John Clancy is my favorite of his characters in quite some time. Rich and deep, Clancy gives his portrayer a lot to work with, which he does to perfection. A touch telepath who wears tragedy like an uncomfortable overcoat, he reluctantly helps an old friend find and stop a killer. Along the way, he finds a new friend, a strength he thought he’d lost, and possibly a measure of peace.

For all its artistic beauty, the movie shows crime scenes in real and surreal detail. Some of Clancy’s vision are bloody and violent. All of it leads to a showdown played out on mental as well as physical planes. Emotional trauma is at the forefront of many moments, particularly a satisfying ending I thought I glimpsed early on, from mere hints of foreshadowing. Or perhaps bits of writer’s instinct. 

Jeffrey Dean Morgan played his old friend Joe, a dedicated cop with a secret he knows Clancy knows. The eventual reveal and quiet acknowledgments revealed as part of the story’s unfolding the burdens such a man as John Clancy must bear. Morgan’s excellent performance was a reminder of what a wonderful actor he is, for those who can’t help being caught up in the dark days of the Negpocalypse that is his role on The Walking Dead.

I’d seen trailers for Solace for some time. They didn’t do justice to this tight, taut, and mesmerizingly vivid film.

Solace Trailer

​I woke up this morning to the news that author Colin Dexter has died. His career has the distinction of leading me to a favorite author I’ve never read. I intend to remedy that at some point, because he was the creator of a most wonderful character…Inspector Morse. 

Morse is the kind of character who makes you roll your eyes, even as you wait breathlessly for him to do something brilliant, whether it be professionally or personally. The man has layers. Many, many of them. Among the deepest is a kind, compassionate, and even romantic heart. A keen detective, the prickly bachelor works diligently to keep Oxford safe from an alarming number of murders. His difficult nature is softened by his love of literature and the classical music he blasts gleefully while flying along the narrow twists and turns of British life in his classic Jag. 

Morse is a Renaissance man wrapped in a curmudgeon, and viewers who fall in love with him despite his glaringly obvious shortcomings owe their devotion to two people. One is the uniquely talented  actor who portrayed him, John Thaw. The other is his creator Colin Dexter. Sometimes author and character and actor meet in a way that causes magic to spring forth from the TV screen. Morse is a wonderful, if unlikely, example of this feat. 

At first I was devastated by the final episode of the series, The Remorseful Day, wishing desperately it had ended earlier, when Morse went up the hotel steps, arm in arm with love at last. He’d waited so long for true, joyous love, why couldn’t he have ridden off into the sunset, as it were? Because, along with the heartbreak of that remorseful day, we finally got to truly see the depth of the sweetness, loyalty, and, yes, even love, he is capable of, in his final moments with his long suffering sergeant, Lewis. We also learned the secret he’d been carrying for far too long, when the extent of that innate loyalty extended toward a friend and colleague was finally revealed. What a man he was. And what a writer was Colin Dexter!

My favorite moment from the entire series:

Inspector Morse, The Remorseful Day, Ensanguining the Skies Scene

​I was minding my own business, channel flipping my way through an afternoon lull in any hope for productivity, when I got captured in the gossamer steel storytelling of a Grey’s Anatomy rerun. Even though I never became a regular viewer, somehow I managed to come across some of the most touching and poignant episodes of this show made up of heat, hate, and heart. Today, it was the one where George died.

So now I’m crying. 

Even coming in partway through. 

I think it’s the way they don’t know for so long. Caring for a brutally devastated dying anonymous John Doe is one thing. That he is a selfless hero is another entirely. Eventually, heartbreakingly discovering he is a colleague, a friend, a beloved essential part of your life, depending on who you are is something different and all but unbearable. And that’s just the characters.

For viewers both casual and devoted, this level of storytelling is devastating too. Even when you aren’t extremely invested in, or even familiar with, the characters involved, it feels like a personal attack on a gamut of emotions. How can we be so torn and shredded by images and words and actions carried out by people we don’t even know? People who aren’t even real? How is it possible for us to find ourselves crying over mere figments of imagination that ride into our hearts and souls and minds on bits of ink and flickering light that glitter along with our tears? It all comes down to talented writers and actors gifted with the ability to elicit emotion in a brief time, often with only a word, a gesture…a tear.

When the weeping viewer is also a writer and/or screenwriter, there’s a part of that person watching and feeling from the sidelines, awed and aspiring. This is the top tier of storytelling. The level where it’s not just the characters being moved and touched and made to cry beyond their own will, but the people who become involved in story. I’m sure this level is produced by the best storytellers. Often and well. I also think lesser beings achieve it sometimes. It is infinitely possible. 

That’s why it’s so important for people who love to write to keep writing. Even when it seems the writing is for a party of one. Every word written is part of the path, the growth, and the wonder that comes from creating something with your mind. If it happens to be that you, the writer, are the only one moved to tears over your stories and novels and scripts, so be it. It’s a beautiful thing that is a gift to be experienced. 

Izzie saying George would give it all, when asked about organ donation, then weeping by his bedside, holding his ruined hand is going to haunt me for the rest of the day. That’s another level of storytelling. Haunting  readers and viewers. It’s something Grey’s Anatomy does almost too well. But only almost.

Izzie says goodbye

I just finished watching a thrilling thriller that bombed at the British box office. It made just $141 in a weekend. I’m so used to seeing box office figures in the millions that I had to go back to check the numbers. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a movie with such a high caliber cast make just $30 per theater on opening. My taste in movies often goes against the critical reception, and this time is no exception. It’s always strange that two people can watch the same movie, then have diametrically opposed reactions to it. In the case of Misconduct, I seem to be swimming upstream in my enjoyment of this movie. Ah well, all the more reason for me to run toward something critics flee.

My title for this post is tricky. On its surface it is what it is. The case at the center of Misconduct is about as open and shut as they come. Not. Well, sure, it seems so at first. It’s obvious who the white hats are, and equally obvious that Anthony Hopkins’ character is a very bad man. A corrupt  big pharma exec, with a ruthless black heart. But…but…but he does seem to care about his beautiful young girlfriend, when she’s kidnapped. Those but…but…buts keep coming until the final frames. By the time of fade out, I felt as if my center of intellectual gravity had shifted…several times. As I waited for the mental room to stop spinning, I realized the biggest but…but…but was the floppiness of this slick, red herring riddled twisty thriller. It may be fair to say every movie is at the very least somewhat different for every person who sees it. In this case I seriously feel as if I saw an entirely different movie than the critical pariah that bombed so badly in Britain.

Anthony Hopkins was riveting, but of course I feel that way about his Barclay’s Big commercial, so consider me at least slightly prejudiced on the subject. On the other hand I’ve seen at least…seventy five of his movies and only disliked two, while still admiring his performances, so I can speak with considerable authority on his prowess with whatever script he crosses paths with. The man is brilliant. Pacino is no slouch, of course, and I always like Josh Duhamel’s tall, charming, talented, good looks (not necessarily in that order). Those three came together as a multipronged powerhouse, of obfuscating cinematic glory.

The plot boasts as many twist as the Iron Throne does sword points. Yes, it is confusing. It is extremely complex. It takes a nimble mind to keep up. Maybe you have to like the three male stars as much as I do to even try, but the reward for the effort is sitting back in awed comprehension of a puzzle with not one missing piece. It falls together in a way that makes you want to hit somebody. Several somebodies. But there’s more than enough blood and bruise makeup on display to make you realize several some bodies have already been hit hard enough for one movie. So you mentally applaud,  and in my case start the search for the next Anthony Hopkins movie in the quest to see them all.

Now about that title. Beneath the surface it’s a nod to the beautiful, seamless camera work in Misconduct. I started noticing the way we watch externally, as characters glide from one location to the next. They often traverse rooms, even buildings, with an elegant grace that is so organic that it almost seems they’re transported elsewhere by nontraveling motion. This way of handling scene transition is not only visually beautiful, but technically so as well.

The reason I’m so attuned to that kind of thing is that when I first started learning the art of crafting a screenplay, I had trouble with scene changes. I didn’t realize it at first, but as I started the extended period of proofread-and-rewrite that is such an integral part of the process, I came to see that I had not yet learned the how and where of location transition.

This odd sticking point may be due to the fact that I was a novelist first. With fiction writing, the narrative flows subconsciously, often intuitively and assumptively for both writer and reader. With screenplays it’s more technical. The script is all about what the camera sees.    Physical transition is a series of opening and closing doors. While you don’t need to describe these doors, or acknowledge their existence even, you have to make sure you clearly get a character out of a location, without zipping him into a different room as if by magic. Unless you’re actually writing Harry Potter. Then you can apparate him to your heart’s content. What you can’t do is have muggles disapparate into walls.

The more you write, the more automatic proper transition becomes, but while learning it takes concentration. I was busy remembering proper slugline structure, to CAP or not to cap, and how many lines were trying to slip into any given action block. Eventually, I came to realize that while I concentrated on all that, I was slamming cameras into walls and doors and quite possibly people I’d forgotten to move out of the way.

Watching Misconduct glide people along from an external vantage point made me realize there’s always going to be more and more and more to learn about ways to make what a screenwriter sees in his head translate to the screen visual. Thus, location transition doesn’t always have to involve opening and shutting doors, literally or figuratively.

So, another movie I went to the opposite corner with the critics on. And the box office. I wonder what the handful of people watching in each almost empty screening thought. I’d like to think at least some left thrilled with the thriller they just saw, and wondered what movie the critics who panned it had seen instead.

Misconduct–Official Trailer #1

Barclay’s Big Commercial

Last Chance Harvey is one of those movies that starts with a slow build. I seem to come across them quite a lot and sometimes wonder if they really are slow starters. Maybe it’s my lack of patience. It seems too rare to be engaged and entertained from the moment of fade in, but maybe I’m rare for being so demanding. I’m just grateful that a remote control makes personal movie editing so easy. I can be ruthless with the fast forward button. Something about Last Chance Harvey made me leave the remote alone, and I was rewarded for it.

There was something compelling about Harvey from the start, even though he danced right up to the edge of the milquetoast precipice. Dustin Hoffman is so good at whatever he does that he can hold my attention, where a lesser talent might not. It’s especially interesting to me that no matter what character he plays I see just a hint of Rainman, yet he rises beyond that defining character and leaves the hint behind. As I become absorbed in whatever he puts in front of me in the moment, I forget everything he’s portrayed before. That is serious talent. Emma Thompson brings her own charm and charisma to this movie. Between the two of them, my tendency toward impatience was overpowered.

Once the heart of the movie kicks in, it’s a real charmer. The unlikely late in life changing romance really drives home the notion that it’s never too late to find joy. Or rather for joy to find you. The idea that a last chance can lead to a second chance is so appealing. So is the idea that a downtrodden sad sack may have a romantic heart and soul lurking beneath his unfortunate inappropriate suit.

Last Chance Harvey transported me to London along with Harvey and took me along on his misadventures, his adventures, and his journey toward the courage it takes to reinvent yourself. Real life can do that, you know. Lead us down impossible paths and into dire circumstances that in turn lead to situations that seem born from pure chance. Last chance, second chance…this movie is about possibilities.

The ending is simple and sweet. Just like the story it tells of two lonely hearts that decide to walk hand in hand toward whatever future they make together. It rewards patience with a reminder that anything is possible for hearts willing to open to the potential of second chances.

Last Chance Harvey Theatrical Trailer

I’m so excited about this announcement , saying Wicked will come to the big screen in a few years. I love Gregory Maguire’s The Wicked Years novels so much. Those books make me want to vacation in Elphaba and Glinda’s Oz. To tour Shiz and The Emerald City.  To be swankified. I’ve listened to the original cast recording soundtrack so many times that it feels as if I’ve seen the Broadway musical. If only the original cast would be transplanted directly into the feature film. I could suspend any level of disbelief, if it meant getting to see Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth reprise their roles as Elphaba and Glinda. Actually, I don’t think it would take much imagination to believe those two brilliant stars are students at dear old Shiz. However, I’ll be happy to watch whatever movie the brilliant minds behind the play gift us with. I’m sure that after the experience I’ll be changed for good.