Posts Tagged ‘acting’

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The King’s Speech – review.

January 23, 2011

I went to see The King’s Speech with Toby last night, and thinking about the experience, the main sensation that I feel is guilt. Guilt that midway through the film’s second third, I surrendered to sleep; guilt that I could not concur with the film’s largely glowing reviews from critics and friends alike; guilt that despite the actors’ invariably fine performances, there was just something lacking. It didn’t take me long to put my finger on what the main missing ingredient was, but first, allow me to expand.

The King’s Speech is a smug, self-satisfied film that surrounds itself with a certain air that says to its audience, that proclaims  to those who see its advertisements, “You are watching this because you are intelligent, because you are interested in History. Feel congratulated, feel superior to the hoi polloi.” This air of self-importance is perhaps fitting with the film’s focus on early 20th century royalty, but is certainly at odds with the flat cinematography. In Lionel’s basement, this cheapness, this absence of depth between the background, the foreground and the actors can perhaps be forgiven as it is evocative of the speech therapist’s relative poverty – all the more pointing out with a wry smile that the future King of England has had to go there, to such a lowly place (after all, it is in a basement that can only be accessed through a cramped lift) in order to find his redemption. But when in more royal quarters, how can you really feel a sense of majesty when the decor, the scenery does not evoke this? The film’s rather small budget of $15 million reveals itself early on. And yet, Firth’s previous film, the sumptuous A Single Man, was made on half that budget and both looks and, more importantly, feels like a million dollars. Go figure.

Nevertheless, the actors all provide stellar showings – none more so than Colin Firth, whose stammer never feels affected or artificial; whose frustration, anger, silence, tenderness towards his family, fear of and eagerness for being the country’s king ring true at every turn. Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue with sincerity and humility, and while I much prefer Helena Bonham Carter as a sexy temptress à la Fight Club or a ridiculously pompous Red Queen in Alice In Wonderland, she more than does her part as Queen Elizabeth here. The King’s Speech is certainly not lacking in fine performances.

But unfortunately, the crux of the problem is this – characters cannot do anything without a story. The plot of The King’s Speech is as follows: the King has a stammer, so he gets some speech therapy to fix it so he can deliver speeches (thus the title’s double reference to the king’s ability to speak, and the film’s final speech – his ultimate test). That’s it. This plot is less than linear – it’s a dot. It goes nowhere, it does nothing unexpected or even notable. As mentioned earlier, I fell asleep for 20 minutes in the film’s second half, woke up and events were more or less where I had left them. And even worse, 99% of the film’s audience know the entirety of the plot before even entering the cinema! Even if you are not au fait with 20th century British history, the British monarchy nor the stories of wartime Britain, you will know how the film ends – for the pure fact that nobody under the age of 15 is going to see this film of their own accord, and the vast majority of those over 15 know that there has never been a king who died moments after being crowned during a World War, nor has there ever been a king whose stammer prevented him from delivering speeches. If either of these things had happened, they would be etched in our history in such a way that everyone would know about them, just as they know of the death of Princess Diana, of her wedding to Prince Charles, of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, of the Queen’s two birthdays. It would be another elementary fact. Thus, this means that it is inevitable that the King gets his stammer cured, or at least is able to manage it in order to perform his duties.

There is nothing approaching a subplot in the film to maintain interest. Edward abdicates in order to pursue love, and the audience is expected to just accept this because that’s how it happened in history – there is no attempt to probe beneath the façade of pompous dignity to question whether Edward is actually doing the right thing, the brave thing, pursuing truth over the pretences inherent in being a monarch (according to King George V himself). The film has only room for one triumphant victim, and that is Firth’s character – even when he is acting like a snobbish, spoilt moron, the viewer is not invited to feel repulsed or even more than mildly annoyed at his presumptuous pride, because he is the film’s Hero, the country’s King, and thus must not be questioned. If you are choosing to question him and other aspects of the film, then good for you – but you’re going above and beyond what the film requires you to do in order to get to the final triumph and achieve your gold star. Any attempts to psychologise the King’s speech impediment are completely reductionist – is it the absence of Daddy’s affections? The taunting of the mean big brother? Peer pressure? The King’s Speech expects its audience to overlook this simplicity because it is British, it is Royal, it is Historical – but if these explanations were transposed to an American rom-com or a Channel 5 drama, they would be seen and derided for the facile clichés they are.

Ultimately, The King’s Speech is a simple film that contains faultless performances, and whose stars should be amply rewarded for their acting. But nevertheless, it is a film that is a plotless puddle, all the while proclaiming itself a majestic ocean.

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lady gaga & beyoncé – telephone. (video review)

March 14, 2010

At the end of 2009, I rated The Fame Monster at #18 on my year-end album chart.  Although I do stand by that chart and I don’t think I would really change any of the albums that are on there, in hindsight Lady GaGa would actually be somewhere in the Top 10 (possibly quite high up).  I didn’t think so at the time, but the funny thing about The Fame Monster is that it has hidden depths and its songs are actually really enduring.  What’s more, unlike The Fame, the songs are actually about deep topics such as domestic violence (“Dance In The Dark”), intoxication (“So Happy I Could Die”) and poisonous relationships (“Bad Romance”). I find it ironic that I’ve lambasted Lady GaGa for pandering to radio too much with her repetitive nonsense hooks (“p-p-p-poker face / papa-paparazzi / eh eh / ooh la la ga ga ro ma ma” and so on), but now I find myself appreciating her songwriting craft and finding her songs becoming more solid (although The Fame Monster is streets ahead of The Fame, so in a way I’m just acknowledging her artistic progression).  So I apologise somewhat for kinda turning off Lady GaGa and not giving her her due (although her fans / “monsters” are quite off-putting and need to be less militant), although if she could keep off the repetition of nonsensical syllables that would be good.  Because she doesn’t need to do that.

And so we come to “Telephone”.  The song is about suffocating relationships, and Lady GaGa herself has said that it doesn’t just have to be a romantic situation, but could also symbolise the fact that when her telephone rings, it’s always because she has to get back to work in the studio and she can’t escape that.  The song itself is pretty strong, although it’s not as progressive as some of the other songs on The Fame Monster and resorts to the 4/4 beat that has completely oversaturated popular music (and did so about a year and a half ago).  Beyoncé’s feature is a rapid-fire verse over double-time beats and keeps the song interesting.

The video for “Telephone” was released on Friday, and it has become something of a Pop Event.  The hype the video received even before its premiere was immense, and now it’s being hailed by some as the successor to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.  Others however are lambasting it for its apparent sexism and overt lesbianism.  I read in one place that you will remember exactly where you were when you first saw it, and that much is true (at least for me).  I had just returned home from work, it was about 3:30 and after keeping track of the video reviews on Twitter, I decided to give into my curiosity.  Upon the first viewing, I was a tiny bit underwhelmed but could still see the video’s bad and good points (of which my view hasn’t really changed).  I thought that Beyoncé’s appearance far outclassed Lady GaGa, not just because Beyoncé has had some acting lessons but also because Beyoncé is more of an effortless star (not in reality, but she doesn’t look as if she’s trying so hard).  I detested the overt product placement of Virgin Mobile, Chanel & the GaGa earbud headphones – but all the kids are doing it; I just expected Lady GaGa to have more class.  But then why should she? It’s money in the bank, and when your video is 9 and a half minutes long, you need some bank to be able to make that video look and feel effective and powerful.

I’ve rewatched the “Telephone” video a few times now, and each time my estimation of it has gone up.  While not exactly on iconic level (I think it’s far too soon to be throwing that word around; GaGa has only been around for 2 years), it’s another demonstration that Lady GaGa’s commitment to her artistry is strong, defiant and interesting.  The introductory jail scene serves to debunk the rumours of GaGa’s intersex status (duh), allows her to wear a host of outlandish outfits (striped shoulder-padded body suit / yellow police caution tape / super-studded leather jacket and underwear covered in chains) the best of which is undoubtedly the cigarette sunglasses (still smoking!).  The fashion continues with the huge black tricorne hat GaGa sports upon being bailed out of prison; the shredded USA flag (subtle!) clothes in which GaGa and Beyoncé dance in the diner scene; the folded geometric telephone hat and telephone receiver hairdo GaGa wears on her head; the leopardprint body suit à la Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much”; the closing lavender and black body sheets… not all of these ideas work (on a couple of occasions both GaGa and Beyoncé look nothing short of horrendous – for some reason, in the USA flag bikini and bright yellow hair, Lady GaGa reminds me somewhat of Ken from Street Fighter and I can’t shake this association!), but they all capture the viewer’s attention, and more importantly they all leave you with something to say after watching the video.  That’s possibly “Telephone”‘s biggest success – it provokes thought and inspires discussion.  We know this because even the broadsheet newspapers are talking about it.

I stand by my statement that GaGa does seem to be trying awfully hard at being controversial and “artistic”.  She’s made a couple of great videos now, but in view of the numerous costume changes (see above), storylines and scenes, it doesn’t seem to come easily.  For comparison, where better to look than her costar Beyoncé?  For the definition of an iconic music video, look no further than “Single Ladies”; everyone and their mama has seen that video and knows the dance.  The video is in black and white, has no storyline or costumes (other than a leotard and metallic glove), is done in one take and isn’t even an original idea (see Bob Fosse’s choreography on youtube). Most importantly, Beyoncé did it almost as an afterthought to her video for “If I Were A Boy” (which in my opinion is a truly beautiful, excellent video) without breaking a sweat; and yet this is the video that captured everyone’s attention.  Now, of course Beyoncé is not anywhere near as effortless as she appears; but she makes it look easy.  GaGa does not make it look easy, and although it’s admirable that she’s so committed to the symbolism and artistic integrity she conveys (and GaGa is clearly an intelligent and talented woman), I’m scared that because the media and the fans are so interested in her image, her look, and what she’s going to be wearing that they forget that Lady GaGa is actually a singer and a musician – the most important thing should be her music.  Which, as I said at the top, is actually quite good and shouldn’t get lost in all of the surrounding gloss, however layered and substantial that gloss may be.  What happens when Lady GaGa can’t get any crazier?  What about when she wants to strip away all the layers and be more vulnerable and natural?  Will everyone turn away from her then, because they just wanted the fancy clothes and elaborate videos?  Can people not listen to her music, her lyrics without the accompanying visual?  I hope I’m wrong, because if not then that’s pretty sad.

The storyline, just as the lyrics of the song itself, can be interpreted in various ways and I’m not going to get into that here; I think that some of the reviews I’ve read have been hilariously in-depth and I think that GaGa is intelligent enough to play along in pretending to have input heavy symbolism into outfits, storylines and lyrics where there is none; people seem to need to have a meaning to every single thing, whereas I often think that GaGa is just having fun and being crazy.  Which is great!  It’s entertainment.  And the “Telephone” video is certainly entertaining; I hated the product placement, and I don’t feel that the use of the Pussy Wagon was necessary (the Tarantino homages are apparent, with elements of Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction included) – but then that’s just because I find the Pussy Wagon unfeasibly garish.  Which, in Kill Bill, was the point, and I understand that.  I really enjoyed Beyoncé’s homages to the “Paparazzi” video in her poisoning the teacup, Minnie Mouse glasses and hand over her mouth when they censored the swearing.  I loved the Japanese cooking-programme style of “Let’s Make A Sandwich”, and the dialogue between Gaga and Beyoncé was intriguingly half-cheesy, half-hard-boiled (although Beyoncé can somewhat act, and Lady GaGa really can’t – yet).  Tyrese and Beyoncé’s subtitled conversation, spoken with only looks and facial expressions, was genius. The Thelma & Louise-esque ending neatly gave closure to the video, but also made viewers wonder what was in store (that “To Be Continued…”) for next time.

Overall, I thought that the “Telephone” video was excellent, and I’m intrigued to see how the music channels edit it down to song length.  It’s a thrilling watch, and while I’m not going to pretend that it is a perfect video, I think that to compare it to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is unfair; “Thriller” is not even Michael Jackson’s best video by a long shot, and Lady GaGa’s video deserves to stand in its own right.  “Telephone” is furiously entertaining, and shows an artist coming into her own, even if at this point the numerous costume changes and persistent homages, product placements and edgy fashion poses betray an artist not quite comfortable enough in her own skin to exude her artistry naturally.  Once it becomes a little more effortless (as it has for Beyoncé, Madonna and all the other greats), that’s when Lady GaGa will be iconic and symbolic of a new musical generation.  But she’s well on her way, and I hope that the media, fans and public will appreciate that, because I myself am learning to, little by little.

ps. If only my “Bad Romance” video treatment had ended in a jail rather than in a mental institution, it would have led perfectly into the “Telephone” video!  Ah well, can’t win ’em all 😉

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dream – Louboutins, teen soldiers & cinema screens.

January 23, 2010

I was with my school friends including Liam and Nick White, as well as my mother.  I remember seeing a pair of Louboutin stilettos on my mother’s bed which were black suede / velvet with red soles, and angled awkwardly at the heels.  It turned out that I was in some sort of travelling military troop, who had to attack evil teenage girls and women who looked innocent but had deathly fighting skills.

On a night off, we’d ended up going to Liam’s house for dinner.  For some reason, I wasn’t quite confident of my friendships with Liam and Nick, and I felt suspicious of them.  Liam was upstairs getting changed, while Nick was sat next to me in the foyer of his house waiting so that we could then go and have dinner. Nick was suspicious of me, and things that I kept saying to make fun of how long Liam was taking were taken the wrong way, and I’d text Liam to hurry up as I wasn’t happy.  Eventually he came downstairs and we went for dinner in a neighbouring room in Liam’s house, with soft blue chairs.  My mother was there, as was another boy from my school called Adam (whom I didn’t much like either).  We ate food, and luckily my mum was really nice to me whereas most of the others annoyed me, and we kept stealing each others’ seats.  At odd moments, Liam pretended to be asleep, and then there was a giant cinema screen in the corner of his house, and he pretended to believe that it wasn’t a screen but a window looking through to the scene being displayed (a sort of tropical paradise scenery with changing, vibrant colours for a sky).  I wasn’t 100% sure he was pretending, as his acting was so convincing, but Nick told me not to be so stupid and insult Liam’s intelligence.

After that, as part of our troop there were some of the nurses with whom I work in real life at the hospital. We were doing a training exercise on how to stalk, fight and kill some of the evil fighting women, in the setting of somewhere which was a cross between a castle and a garden.  At first, there were just dark grey brick walls, from behind which women and teenage girls would approach me.  At first I didn’t believe they could be deadly, but that was my mistake and suddenly they would lunge for me, their teeth and faces would twist and contort and become all jagged, and I would have to punch them, attack them and kill them with my machine gun.  I was dressed in camouflage military uniform, and at the side of my vision, suddenly there was a screen with different icons.  Every time I killed one of these women, an icon with a tough-looking dark-skinned male face with a tough expression would spin from the side of the icons screen and i would acquire more points – in other words, my quest had become a video game!  After a few kills, the settings became a little more elaborate: I approached two glass doors on the outside of a patio, from which two teenage girls placidly appeared; there was a grey brick turret which looked as if it were going to shoot something straight up, when a woman lunged from behind it.  One of the nurses helping train me, whose name is Sally in real life, gave me some good hints for not falling for the evil women’s traps and keeping my mind solely on killing them.  I racked up a lot of points and a lot of soldier-icons, and that was, as far as I can remember, the end of the dream!

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notorious. (a review of sorts)

September 8, 2009

Yes, I am very late but I only picked up the DVD to Notorious yesterday, because Tesco finally had it on sale and I had been interested to watch but never managed to catch it during its run at the cinema, and wasn’t about to pay £14-20 just to get the DVD straight when it came out.  So I bade my time and finally I watched it tonight.  I’m not going to give a very in-depth review, because we all know the story – Biggie gets into drugs, gets put in jail, comes out of jail, comes close to being put in jail again but his friend takes the rap (hah!) so that Christopher Wallace can fulfil his budding rap talent and become Notorious B.I.G. All goes well as Biggie takes Lil’ Kim along with him for the ride, then meets Faith Evans and wifes her up, all while keeping his first baby mama on the backburner the whole time.  A friendship with Tupac Shakur turns sour, misunderstandings occur and both rappers end up dead, 2pac 25, Biggie 24.  That’s the plot in a nutshell.

I’m not even going to attempt to address the 2pac vs. Biggie controversy.  I have both of B.I.G.’s albums on my iPod (I prefer Ready To Die, but only because I’m much more familiar with the songs – I need to study Life After Death more tbh), whereas I only have one of 2pac’s (All Eyez On Me), which again I have only listened to a couple of times.  Both were influential and towering talents, but I’m not about to compare one to another because I’m nowhere near informed enough to have a valid opinion, and I would need to research more of their material.  Again, I have no conspiracy theory about who shot either of them, nor what role Suge Knight may or may not have played in the whole business – I’m no detective, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to say something on the subject that hasn’t already been said.  The only perspective I have on 2pac and on Biggie is retrospective, because in 1997 I was only 11 years old and barely musically awakening (I received Mariah Carey’s Butterfly for my 12th birthday later that year, which is possibly when I really opened my eyes, ears and heart musically) so I didn’t really have any acquaintance with rap music past what I would hear on the radio and see on MTV and The Box.

I was pleasantly surprised with the film: as I said, I already knew the plot and yet I still found it an interesting watch.  The only character I found unbelievable was Sean “Puffy” Combs, because the guy playing him neither looked nor sounded like Puff Daddy, in my opinion.  I only caught passing glimpses of a resemblance between the two in terms of mannerisms and vocal tics, whereas most of the others nailed it at least a fair amount of the time.  Jamal Woolard did a great, great job playing Christopher Wallace himself; Naturi Naughton was a fiery if inaccurate Lil’ Kim (but more about that in a moment), but Naturi herself did a fine job and displayed a fearlessness in her acting; Angela Bassett was supreme as usual; Antonique Smith was an astonishing Faith Evans, looking the spitting image of her and displaying a similar blend of sophistication and grit.  Not knowing much about Voletta Wallace herself, other than that she played a large part in the creation, vision and focus of the whole film, I found it hard to believe that she was as naive about her son’s imperfections as she appeared to be (confusing crack with mashed potatoes?  Come on now… how long you been living in Brooklyn?). But then again the film was not as rose-tinted as I had heard it was: Biggie displayed extraordinary passion and talent, but he was also a serial womaniser and acted childishly at some points and plain idiotic at others.  So that was somewhat refreshing.

Faith Evans was portrayed as an almost angelic beauty who still kicked one of Biggie’s jump-off’s down when she found out that he’d cheated on her not long after their marriage (again, she really should have known better than to believe he would be faithful to her).  In contrast, Lil’ Kim was similarly painted as naively believing that her and B.I.G. would last forever (his marriage to Faith was quite a sore point in the film as in real life), but her part in Biggie’s life was massively downplayed; she appeared for a fraction of a second in the funeral montage whilst the photo of her weeping with Mary J. Blige outside the funeral service is one of the defining images of that era. Her talent, her look and her persona was portrayed as completely fabricated by Biggie in a post-coital brainstorm, and according to the film, Lil’ Kim was essentially nothing but a slut who fucked for tracks. Her enduring success and establishment as the premiere female MC surely contradicts this portrayal.  To quote the review from Pajiba (who put it much better than me, and in more entertaining language):

“The person who takes it up the ass the hardest is Lil Kim. Lil Kim’s always bukakked with the reputation of being the nastiest bitch, the stripper who’s empowered by her sexuality because she can use her snappin’ pussy to get all the diamonds and the rings and the bling and have any dick she chooses. (Under ten inches — ENNNT — sorry.) In Notorious, she bangs Biggie and asks if he’s got a girlfriend later. Then, her entire rap persona is supposedly imagineered by Biggie, who says men don’t want to hear about gangsta chicks but rather want girls who’ll fuck them with the lyrics. He turns her into a whore, his whore, who turns petty and jealous when he marries the sainted Faith, and basically spends the rest of the movie like a jealous psycho starting fights and trouble. Of course, when Biggie died, Lil’ Kim went into an almost two year depression. Faith Evans and Puffy remixed a Police song and essentially lived off the fatted calf of Biggie’s corpse for the same period. So you do the math. Or don’t. Both Lil’ Kim and Faith Evans have memoir/tell-alls due out sometime in the coming year.”

Being a Lil’ Kim fan, I have appreciated her at her highest peaks as well as in her tackier moments, throughout her up and down surgeries and provocative outfits, and even lamenting her stint on Dancing With The Stars whilst being glad that it was helping to rehabilitate her career.  I wrote a blog about her daring performance of “Time After Time / Lighters Up” with Cyndi Lauper recently. At the heart of it, she is a talented rapper with consistent flow, entertaining lyrics and song concepts, and buckets of sexuality, raw passion and hard-earned grit.  I’d be interested to see her movie and compare and contrast the two portrayals of Lil’ Kim… I guess we’ll have to wait and see if such a project ever materialises.

In short, I enjoyed Notorious more than I expected to.  I didn’t find anything out that I didn’t already know, and I am not educated enough in the music nor in the history of Biggie’s life to have any valuable opinion or counter-opinion.  But there was striking characterisation, solid acting and a couple of sticking points that held my interest and attention throughout.  And it’s got me listening to Ready To Die on my iPod once again.  I guess at the end of the day, even though we’ll never know everything about what happened to Biggie, if such a film gets us to re-appreciate and re-evaluate his music and legacy, and despite his moral and intellectual shortcomings, if we can admire his passion and talent, then that is definitely something valuable.