Saturday, 29 December 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1987: Will Patton in No Way Out

Will Patton did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Scott Pritchard in No Way Out.

No Way Out is a mostly decent remake of The Big Clock, despite its ludicrous bookends, about a naval officer in intelligence, Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner), finding himself in the middle of a duplicitous conspiracy.

As a remake No Way Out makes several changes to its "wrong man" plot, however the one major consistency is that there is a powerful man who has killed his mistress which his assistant decides to coverup by framing the man the mistress was with. In this version the powerful man is the secretary of defense named David Brice played by Gene Hackman. A major difference though is in this assistant here played by another "that guy" actor, in Will Patton. The character is expanded with his Scott Pritchard actually being responsible for bringing Costner's Farrell into the U.S. intelligence fold. Patton's performance here is heavily mannered, though in a wholly brilliant way that I'd say alludes less to the character's homosexuality and more so to his fastidiousness. Patton portrays Pritchard with a very exact presentation in every way, showing a man who seems to emphasize an exact control of the situation. The way he stands and conducts himself is with sly incisiveness, and a strict confidence about him. Patton grants an innate consistency with this, and specific method to this as even he blinks in a specific way of a man who knows exactly how he must conduct himself to best serve his boss.

Patton's setup I'll admit is already intriguing alone, and it is fascinating just to watch him here. This is an example of a great mannered performance to be sure as everything Patton does feel lived in within the character, and creates this as the natural state of the man Pritchard at the very least believes himself to be. He is atypical to be sure, but atypical in such a compelling way that never feels forced either. Patton is marvelous to watch, but he is also essential in creating this very specific operator within the film. This is even as we first meet him as he just simply introducing his old college acquaintance Farrell to some people around Washington D.C. Patton has a forcefulness even in this simple task. This is particularly remarkable in the way Patton maintains such a careful, technically affected, delivery with his voice that sounds almost Truman Capoteesque. Now this one can certainly say alludes to the character's homosexuality, however what is so notable about what Patton does is how he uses this so effectively in his work. The character carries an innate power in the way Patton fashions this altogether as very much the operative protocol for the man, that gives him a real menace even though he's not the typically menacing sort.

Of course when Pritchard really steps up is when Hackman's Brice kills his mistress (Sean Young), who is also seeing Farrell. Brice goes to Pritchard for a personal counsel supposedly before going to confess to the police this crime. Patton is downright brilliant in this scene as he portrays a geninue concern in Pritchard, but also shows that gear kick in. He is not simply listening to the confession rather Patton shows the wheels turning in the man's head, making it when he suddenly springs in with an alternate path by making the murder seem to be part of a conspiracy of a secret Russian agent that they'll say was the last man to see the mistress alive. Again what is brilliant about what Patton does in this scene though is make it more than just a determined underling doing his job. That concern Patton mixes in with this wholly honest passion to helping his boss that he is firmly devoted to. A devotion that creates the essential motivation within the character of Pritchard as he is far from a typical sycophant. Now the film actually I would say as written seems to try to simplify this towards Pritchard being in love with Brice. I appreciate how Patton uses that partially but takes it much further. In that he creates this determined sense of respect as he speaks about Brice early on that shows that it isn't some simple lust, but rather Patton depicts Pritchard as caring about Brice on a deep personal level. 

This leads Brice and Pritchard to develop a manhunt, that they have Farrell ironically lead to find the "Russian agent" therefore finding a fall man for the murder. Meanwhile Farrell attempts to find something to incriminate Brice with in a race against time. This is where again Patton's performance is an essential facet to the film, and really quite the most compelling aspect of it. On one hand he is needed to be a proper villain for the thriller, as Brice is shown as hesitant towards the whole idea of the coverup initially, but the devoted Pritchard stands by the idea. I love again that passion Patton brings towards the investigation, though carefully placed within the calculated personal style of the character, that becomes so overwhelming that it creates a needed palatable sense of danger to the proceedings. Patton though is simply, again, just fascinating to watch particularly his physical performance where he slowly creates a greater strain on the man's style alluding so effectively that perhaps the weight of the gamble is even too much for him. A most riveting example of this is when Pritchard learns about Farrell connections to the woman, and knowledge of Brice's hands in the murder. Patton makes just the act of a few too many blinks, and slight raise of the voice have an impact, showing the man nearly breaking. His violent act being portrayed essentially his method of returning to his needed calm equilibrium. This ends up being but slight reprieve in the final confrontation between Farrell, Brice and Pritchard. Patton is downright brilliant in this scene as he begins with that controlled manner, now so painfully repressed and artificial in Patton's manner. This being something he quickly breaks once Farrell presents his evidence, and Patton brings such desperation as Pritchard tries to take hold of the situation. Sadly for him Brice decides to instead switch Pritchard to the scapegoat. Patton again is outstanding as he plays it as far more meaningful to Pritchard than just his boss abandoning him. Patton loses all control in manner and voice, showing a man whose world has come crashing around him. Patton conveys such a powerful sense of anguish that his friend he so deeply respected, and really loved has betrayed him, that I have to admit I actually felt sympathy for his villain. This is a great performance by Will Patton, as he takes the little nuggets of complexity in the part and expands them so effectively. He avoids turning into just a plot device, or a one note stereotype, but rather steals the film entire in what could've been just a role there to move the plot forward.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1987: Kurtwood Smith in Robocop

Kurtwood Smith did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Clarence Boddicker in Robocop.

Robocop is an entertaining action film, biting satire, and an emotional exploration into the mind murdered police officer who is revised through robotics.

Kurtwood Smith is a proper "that guy" actor of the 80's and on in television and film. An example of a talented actor who usually is in brief often unimportant roles, though makes them feels a bit less unimportant. It is then always fun to see such an actor get an actually a role to sink his teeth into. And I feel that is a properly appropriate description for the character of Clarence Boddicker the mob boss of the Detroit of the future. Clarence is not a villain with some grand master plan or some evil scheme to rule the world. In fact in perhaps the wrong hands Clarence might be a bit disposable in more ways than one. Smith's performance though is rather great by really embracing the idea of a villain who very much is in it for the money and the joy of being a criminal. This again seemingly could be boring, but Smith's approach not only makes it work, it makes the whole character come to life in a rather special way. Smith's approach is just to really embrace the sort of inner jerk of a criminal, and it is this that so enlivens the role. This approach is interesting in that it allows him to stand out in scenes that technically really he should not necessarily do so, but does so because of Smith's performance.

This is right from the first full scene he is in where he and his gang are being trailed by the still living, eventual Robocop, Murphy (Peter Weller) and his partner. Smith brings this very distinct approach in the way he approaches the scene. As he portrays almost this specific type of annoyance rather than an exact fear. This approach that Smith fashions making Clarence in a way sort of character who kind of treats the city as his little playground. This is as in the action scene Smith combines the intrusion as bothersome, though he doesn't overplay this to a unbelievable point of indifference. Smith instead makes it something far more entertaining, while still finding a definite menace in the sort of carelessness towards life that he portrays in this. Smith finds an actual menace by portraying such a lack of hesitation, and not doing in quite  detached or a traditional psychopathic way. It is rather this sort of fascinating way of playing as well just a bit of scum. His glee in the moment for example is not excessively viciously sadistic, even though that is indeed what his actions are, but Smith instead depicts it like it is all a game that Clarence loves to play.

Smith's approach is a touch askew and that is what makes Clarence memorable, when he is technically just a general thug in terms of overall conception. We see this in the essential scene where Clarence and his thugs massacre Murphy, which eventually turns him into the titular cop. Smith is brutally effective in the scene playing the whole thing up with a blunt bit of fun as he toys with the cop before killing him. The callous enjoyment that Smith delivers in every one of his scenes is what makes him stand out so well. Again Clarence isn't the man with the grand plan yet he doesn't become overshadowed by technically the main because Smith plays the part as a guy who is entirely fine with the way things are. Smith way of handling a scene then gives it a bit of different angle that makes far more memorable. Take the scene where he kills Robocop's creator, for his boss, where Smith is mostly silent in the scene. The little looks of "you're going to die soon", with a sly grin, or the almost sensuous way he removes the grenade pin to perform the coup de grace,  not only gives Clarence more character, but the whole scene. This approach even allows his scene, where he becomes a complete coward toward Robocop giving up his boss from a bit of intimidation, not to lose anything from the character. This is as Smith plays it with the exact same "who cares" selfish attitude as anything else fitting to the proper slime ball he is. This is not only a good villainous turn but really just a fun performance as well from Smith as he subtly gives a bit of an atypical energy to what could be a standard thug.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1987: Robert Downey Jr. in Less Than Zero

Robert Downey Jr. did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Julian Wells in Less Than Zero.

Less Than Zero follows a college freshman, Clay (Andrew McCarthy), returning to Los Angeles during his holiday to discover his old high school friends have fallen into a world of drugs and depravity.

Less Than Zero does not come together as a film mostly depicting its material without cohering a proper thematic understanding in the drama. This in part comes from the miscasting of two of the most central figures particularly Andrew McCarthy in the lead who largely gives a distant performance. I'll admit it is not helped that it seems they took off so many edges off of the character of Clay that he eventually became two-dimensional. The film is not entirely bereft of merit though largely due to the, sadly, perfectly cast Robert Downey Jr. as Clay's old high school friend Julian. This is though before we even brave towards the prophetic material as even within the opening scene of the main character's high school graduation, Downey delivers that dynamic presence that helped to launch his initial stardom. We get the young actor/young man, seemingly with his whole life in front him. Downey just exudes that grand charisma of someone who should only go up from there, with that ease and grace to his very existence that just makes him so immensely likable. The scene itself evidently added to help sympathize with the characters, but it is not wasted by Downey who establishes essentially Julian's potential before we find his future some months later.

We catch back with him as Clay returns to L.A. with already some bad blood preexisting as Julian slept with Clay's girlfriend Blair (Jami Gertz). Nonetheless things do seem excessively off as he finds the two enjoying high life in more ways than one. Downey of course brings with that one of a kind energy of his fitting to a make one who is high on more things than life. Downey's excellent though as the breaks in this become evident rather quickly. A great moment for him comes earl yon as he takes a car ride in Clay's convertible with both him and Blair. It all seems fun briefly as he dances and sings around in the car. Downey is without a doubt charming even in these troublesome antics, however his near slip out of the car, within his antics alludes to something far more problematic. His apology afterwards having this considerable unease that realizes that this us quite the literally a high wire act. Something that quickly expands itself as we see Julian trying to find success as he goes deeper in debt with his old classmate/drug dealer Rip (James Spader, also perfectly cast). Downey though almost convinces the viewer as well as he tries to work the deal as there is such a sincerity in that thrill he brings that adds towards his persuasive attitude.

The unfortunately prophetic elements begin to quickly express themselves as though as, like Downey himself, Julian is an out of control drug addict. Like Downey again, Julian seems as though he can control his life as a talented young man. Downey properly tempers his work even as he has this certain physical stress within his eyes conveying the drug addled state even when a bit more sober. Downey is excellent in the way he does not pigeonhole Julian immediately showing that even as he's in the thick of it, he still has it in a way. When talking to Clay of the good old days there such an assured sense of nostalgia as he ponders their old popularity, when he makes a deal with his Uncle the sincerity of his sales pitch is unquestioned. Downey realizes the facade of respectability even with the big cracks evident, there is that strained confidence that just allows one to believe Julian will somehow make it all work. There is still this undercurrent of desperation that only seems to fester as the way Downey makes it this constant, making it essential part of the eventual grotesque enthusiasm that tries to hold the man through each night living his life. In every morning, no matter where Julian ends up, we see a similar state that Downey realizes so vividly. The night itself with every drug and every bit of exasperation wearing on him.

That desperation now worn so directly in his very being as Downey shows a man simply spent right down to the charisma as Downey so quietly plays these moments as the man would rather hide away this state. The meekness he brings being so powerful in terms of showing the weight of his lifestyle. This only exacerbates as Julian takes more drugs while finding himself deeper and deeper in debt to Rip. Eventually going to Clay and Blair nearly in a broken state due to his abuse. Downey's work is absolutely harrowing as he does not hold back, and does not strike single false note in portraying the blunt physical decay. There is no charm, no potential, just a man festering away as he vomits his life out, and Downey makes every moment of this exceedingly visceral and honest. This is shortly followed by one of the best acted scenes of Downey's career where Julian begs his father for a second chance. Downey is wholly heartbreaking in delivery such pain in his eyes from his physical exhaustion, and the betrayal of his father's trust. That history of his life is all there, even if it was never depicted we know what it is that Julian has been through. The weight of every second of this is utterly heartbreaking as Downey is so brutally vulnerable in the moment in expressing the man's desperate need for help. Robert Downey's work is painful to witness at times, especially knowing the man's own trials that only became worse after this film. Downey's amazing performance so effortlessly captures this tragedy of a misspent youth and its descent through a short life of "pleasures" and failures. Although the film itself never realizes the potential of the material, Downey's work unquestionably does as he delivers a heart wrenching depiction of drug addiction that gives a real emotional poignancy to the film, that is only earned through Downey's unforgettable portrayal of Julian.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1987: Bill Paxton in Near Dark

Bill Paxton did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Severen in Near Dark.

Near Dark, although not anything too special, is a fairly unique horror film about a young man (Adrian Pasdar) randomly finding himself being taken in by a group drifters/vampires after being bitten by a young woman.

Bill Paxton plays one of the vampires, and perhaps is the best expression of the different sort of tone that Kathryn Bigelow's direction is trying to create as this sort of grunge horror. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all in for the dark and more directly evil portrayal of the lead drifter Jesse played by Lance Henriksen. Henriksen isn't too far off a more typical Dracula in some ways. Paxton though offers something a bit different. This is, I suppose, should be expected as Paxton, for better and worse at times, was a unique performer. There's an energy, an off-beat quality inherent in Paxton that ensured he stood out in his films, though these results were sometimes mixed. Near Dark offers the right type of avenue for Paxton's boundless enthusiasm, where he so often seemed to refuse to phone anything in. This in the role of Severen essentially the punk rocker vampire, where Paxton makes a rather wonderful choice for the role. This is to play Severen as someone who just is absolutely having a blast in being a vampire, lacking the qualms of some of his younger (looking) compatriots, and the pretense of the older Jesse.

Paxton plays the part as just some sleazy dude who became a vampire, and just is loving the life. Paxton oozes these carefree amorality that he dips with a certain darkly tipped humor in this smiling indifference. What is probably my favorite scene in the film isn't really a horror scene involving Severen, though it does have some terrible implications, where he prepares himself for a night on the town, while practicing some quick draws, before hitching a ride with his eventual victims. It's a marvelous bit of physical acting of Paxton who simply owns the display like a lounge lizard. Paxton's work has this distinct lack of shame in the right way as it so effortlessly realizes Severen as a unique monster, by playing him as a man who thinks he has nothing to lose. Paxton dials it up, and manages to be menacing in this approach by showing what can be so threatening of, for the lack of a better word, a scumbag who has nothing to lose. Paxton verbalizes this unabashed glee in the life of the night which typically involves lots and lots of killing. The near lack of any pathos in Paxton's work, besides a moment of frustration towards the pathos of one of his companions, is what makes Severen truly come to life as a character. Paxton brings a bit of anarchy to every single one of his scenes making the whole film better for it. I especially enjoy him in the action showdown near the end of the film where Paxton plays it as though Severen is having the time of his living death, even when he's about to be run over by a truck. His "come at me bro" as picture above, is simply a magnificent expression by Paxton that might as well sum up this performance. It is just an entertaining turn by Paxton, which throws a crazed curve ball at a well worn type of villain.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1987

And the Nominees Were Not:

Bill Paxton in Near Dark

Will Patton in No Way Out

Robert Downey Jr. in Less Than Zero 

Kurtwood Smith in Robocop


Roy Cheung in Prison on Fire

Friday, 7 December 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Results

10. Gaspard Manesse in Au Revoir Les Enfants -Manesse gives a fine natural turn however his performance is largely limited as the perspective of a mostly naive young boy.

Best Scene: The ending.
9. Steve Martin in Roxanne - Martin gives a surprisingly respectful sendoff of the Cyrano character re-imagined as a fireman, though I perhaps wish he stayed even truer to the spirit of the original.

Best Scene: Smelling fire.
8. Joe Mantegna in House of Games - Mantegna is limited by the character however he gives effective portrayals of the many different sides of a con man, from the sucker, to the smooth operator, and even just the slime ball beneath it all.

Best Scene: "Thank you sir, may I have another"
7. Klaus Kinski in Cobra Verde - Kinski as usually makes an impact in his emotionally raw turn however his work is constricted by the film's distant perspective character.

Best Scene: How to spear
6. Martin Short in Innerspace - Short gives an absolutely hilarious portrayal of an especially unlikely hero, but he also naturally finds some dramatic substance in his character's journey towards confidence.

Best Scene: The dream in reality.
5. Christian Bale in Empire of the Son - Bale gives a dramatic and compelling portrayal of the gradual maturation of a young boy through the horrors of war. His work though often seems strangely at odds with Steven Spielberg who seems often too timid to make a story about the loss of innocence.

Best Scene: After the bombings. 
4. Terry O'Quinn in The Stepfather - O'Quinn is in a garbage film however he breaths a genuinely chilling life into a man who thrives on the love of family but does so through killing them.

Best Scene: Who am I?
3. Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride - Elwes gives a somewhat underrated turn, in a highly regarded film, as his work captures just the perfect tone between earnest charisma, and sly comedy.

Best Scene: "Drop your sword"
2. Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I - Richard E. Grant delivers a marvelous feature film debut in his varied comical, yet not without pathos, portrayal of an actor trying his best to play the play that is his life.

Best Scene: Hamlet in the rain.
1. Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart - Rourke tops this list with ease in his charismatic yet also brilliantly exhaustive portrayal of a vicious mental and moral decay of a man as he descends towards hell.

Best Scene: "I know who I am"
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1987 supporting

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I

Richard E. Grant did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character, the first half, in Withnail and I.

Withnail and I follows two unemployed and rarely sober actors as they venture to the countryside for a holiday.

The film follows the titular "I" aka Marwood played by Paul McGann who is a more low key sort though in a similar state as his friend played by Grant in his feature film debut. McGann being the often reactionary straight man to the force of personality that is Grant's Withnail. A character that is in many ways the film in creating it to be more than just one down on his luck actor trying to drink his worries away. Grant is the needed catalyst to the make the story just a bit more interesting in his portrayal of Withnail, who may be both more and less than he is. Fittingly to a name making performance, is the character of Withnail which Grant broaches with great aplomb. One could perhaps try to accuse Grant of showing off, however this is entirely the right approach for Withnail who while unemployed is after all an actor. A supposedly devoted actor, and this idea is most well realized in Grant's performance which is essentially of a performance much of the time. In that Grant so often is playing the part of Withnail as Withnail playing the part of Withnail, as he sees himself.

In the opening scenes we see the predicament of the two aspiring actors as they sit around outside their apartment, and Grant fashions a certain style within the role. A style that is all his own as he presents a man who while can't make acting a living, does seem to act to live. In that as they ponder their current state, Grant delivers the lines with a certain poetic melancholy, even if the lines themselves are not poetic, as Withnail laments his existence. A lamenting that Grant makes of a man who knows how one should properly lament if to be taken seriously, of course still just complaining when one breaks it down. Grant eloquently, and quite frankly, brilliantly plays with this idea as he works with these two warring sides of the man. This becomes all the more obvious when we see the man in a certain state of undress, that isn't all too pleasant of a sight, as Withnail forgoes his more metaphorical "fuel" for a some literal fuel, lighter fluid due to the lack of drink. Grant plays with a raw discontent in his words of a man suffering with withdrawal. His emotions messy as he complains of another's success, yet still maintain some false air of respectability in his walk. A grotesque walk in this instance of a strange yet striking combination of Grant of a man trying to maintain a perfect performer's posture, while falling apart.

Grant makes Withnail this fascinating presence within the film by so effectively portraying the man's method of getting through his existence. Part of this is certainly just entertaining to be sure. These moments usually stemming from when it appears Withnail has a scheme, and Grant brings such a powerful assurance to the role. Too powerful in a certain sense as he exudes the confidence of a man far greater than he particularly as he speaks of their plans for the holiday. I love though the detail in which Grant brings to any given scene, presenting as though Withnail is moving onto one character to antoher often in this time. Now one of these characters is of the proper "genius" friend showing his friends essentially the ropes of being a perpetual drunk. Grant delivers this impish spirit and that force of personality. Grant offers this strict charisma of a man who is quite sure of what he is saying even if in reality he is not. This is in his rich and uncompromising delivery even when the man speaks of his plan to procure boy urine in case he is tested. Grant maintains this certain stature of some pseudo brilliance, so cheerfully unaware of really how stupid most of his ideas are. Grant makes every moment of convincing of "I", to go along with a simple task, as Grant so effectively plays the part of Withnail so effectively playing the part of some strange mastermind of the nothing.

Grant is indeed very entertaining in Withnail as he performs for his friend, and for his lecherous Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths). Grant is a delight in their scene visiting the man as makes his mannerisms just a bit more foppish, and even all the more sinister befitting a man whose exploitation seems to be going to plan. The plan being to rent the older man's cottage in the country where the two friends believe they'll find some sort of respite. The two hardly find any of that running into the stress of actually needing to work to find food, and running to the angry locals, both animal and man. Grant is terrific as the nature of his act becomes far more desperate in his depiction. His performance still commands that immaculate posture, and refined demeanor, however the cracks within the facade become all the more evident. Now part of this is comical, particularly Grant's weaselly weak assurance when telling "I" to face an angry bull, or his attempt to show up the locals at the most near pub. Grant is despicable in the best of ways with a certain sly energy in the high wire act with an ever thinning wire. Grant is exceptional in the way he peels this way throughout their "tribulations" of their holiday slowly revealing a bit more of Withnail than perhaps he care to share.

This initially reveals itself most in a night scare where Withnail believes one of the locals is seeking revenge against the men for an earlier verbal sparring. Grant maintains a certain respectable level of the actor's dignity, yet makes it rather phony as he reveals a real dismay within his eyes showing a man who is genuinely fearing for himself, even as he tries to keep a certain distance of performance. It slowly becomes all the more grotesque in Grant's hands as not a single truth or reward comes from him. Even in a more comedic moment, such as driving to use his urine trick with the police, while funny Grant's work is that of a writhing in mediocrity. Withnail is a pathetic sort from the outset, but Grant is fantastic as he shows the wear of his method to hide this fact. Although amusing in part it does finally become something more as Grant's final scenes reveal it not only a facade for others but a comfort for himself. This is best reveleaed in his masterful final scene where "I" leaves, having gotten a job, and Withnail is left to stew in his nothingness. Withnail remains alone in the rain and Grant delivers a heartbreaking pathos as his expression is that of a man who has lost something important. Again though in the act of performance there is this attempt at comfort, this time by performing Hamlet, which while we once again here the command of a great actor, it no longer can hide the sad lonely man beneath it all. This is great performance by Richard E. Grant, essentially creating a slowly decaying portrait of a performance of a more dishonest sort.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart

Mickey Rourke did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Harry Angel in Angel Heart.

Mickey Rourke's career is perhaps one of the great cautionary tales of stardom. Starting a meteoric rise that fell into obscurity of the direct to DVD bin. This unfortunately perhaps overshadows his talent particularly in regards to his place among the young actors of the 1980's. Rourke, sometimes literally, taking over roles that were meant for the premiere 70's actors like Pacino, De Niro or Nicholson. Harry Angel, a private investigator in the 50's, is one such role, and perhaps was the perfect vessel for Rourke as well. Angel Heart is a neo noir in style of course, but naturally classic noir in its setup. This is where a strange man, Louis Cypher (Robert De Niro), hires Angel to track down a crooner named Johnny Favorite who has disappeared without paying some "debt" to Cypher. In that it does not appear that the role will be immediately an overtly emotional, as the P.I. is often used as the audience surrogate. In this way we open with Rourke's Angel merely taking upon the case by the strange Cypher and his rather vague intentions for the elusive target. Rourke makes up for any potential space using his considerable charisma to add to Harry's personal style. A particularly notable success on Rourke's part, as even as Harry looks a bit spent, if not even a little smelly, Rourke just maneuvers within a scene with such remarkable ease.

Rourke is a proper noir lead in these early scenes where we see Rourke just working the case. In particular he brings an essential levity of sorts to his performance. This isn't to say that this is at all a comedic performance, it's not. It's rather though just finding that sort of charm within the detective that seems is one step in front of the competition. Rourke excels with this, that again falls right within that charisma he delivers to the role. Rourke empowers the role of Angel in itself because of this showing a man seemingly well within his powers. Now this is in even his earliest scene in taking the case as Rourke exudes a natural confidence through a casual demeanor as a man who has caught more than one man performing a disappearing act in his time. This is backed up though by his moments of actually tracking Favorite, starting with a hospital that supposedly housed him. Rourke's way with the nurse is quite marvelous in just bringing just the right slyness in the slick smile of his bringing out the right quality of persuasiveness as he tricks her into giving too much information. We see a similar thing as he tracks down the drug addict doctor who helped to hide Favorite's escape. Despite breaking and entering, Angel controls the situation, and Rourke makes every second of this utterly convincing in his near grace of his delivery and physical disposition as he breaks the doctor down to give him the information he wants. This without a single threat of violence.

The confident detective, while quite compelling already, is but a warm up act for Rourke's performance. Not that this is wholly eliminated, not at all. In fact Rourke maintain just a bit of that classical noir lead presence helps the film from becoming too dour right away. He allows one to believe properly that this is just one strange mystery, of course things shift rather quickly when he finds the doctor has been brutally murdered. Rourke is exceptional in the moment of discovery of the crime portraying so effectively the immediate fear, properly losing any of that ease. This is fitting to a man who tries to quickly back out of the case in his next meeting with Cypher, only kept on by the promise of a greater financial reward. Rourke's performance though expresses the greater weight of the situation immediately, but goes further than that. In he slowly develops this subtle anxiety that becomes a constant. An internalized intensity that initially creates this sense of unease not only in Angel, but we are the witnesses of the mystery. There is simply something off about it all and Rourke embodies this brilliantly. What is most remarkable though perhaps is how effectively Rourke tempers this all the same, as with the material it would've been easy to become too much too quickly, yet Rourke takes the right approach making the sinister nature slowly get under your skin, as it does Harry's.

There is some less gut wrenching thrills to be had at first as Angel still is working the case, and Rourke is still so terrific in playing into the noir style so effortlessly. He's great though in the way that any scene that is even a bit of exposition, or even looking over a less extreme clue, Rourke makes all the more fascinating. His performance is never vacant in its expression, as he grants such nuanced detail to every scene. Rourke is never simply there in creating such a captivating presence that is both dynamic and reflective in a given scene. Rourke again has that way with words, and just manner that makes every moment stand out to at least a certain regard. That is in the way he always brings a bit more of an overt charm when interviewing any of the women, while channeling a more incisive intensity of inquiry when questioning potentially duplicitous men. Both qualities though Rourke finds that similar ease. He though doesn't stop there though as the plot thickens, and the idea of the supernatural slowly seems to become far more present. Rourke's work conveys this and carefully grounds it in a certain reality. This is he portrays the reaction to these revelations as a normal man within the situation would, avoiding an overtly stylistic approach that wouldn't have suited the role.

Now this connection to the plot is initially presented more as that fear and anxiety that Rourke gradually builds within the film, that creates an all the greater tension in the film. It slowly becomes more than that as Rourke exudes so effectively this as the body count piles up. This fear he conveys less as only an exact shock, but also with almost this certain underlying near guilt as he looks upon the murder scenes. Rourke physically loses that ease creating this decay of self as Angel struggles to comprehend what he is finding, and begins to see all the more horrifying visions besetting him. Rourke's work makes the film's atmosphere all the more palatable by so powerfully humanizing this shock, and paranoia of a man who seems to be descending into some personal hell. Rourke's eyes deliver this chilling uncertainty, that is all the more pointed as he loses all nearly all of that charisma. He no longer has that ease, or even the charisma, as he loses himself physically and mentally with Rourke portraying a man seemingly decaying. This is as Angel reaches closer to the conclusion of the mystery which spoilers finds that he is in fact Johnny Favorite, in at least some sense. As Harry Angel had his soul stolen from the man in a satanic ritual. The moment of this revelation is perhaps the greatest acting of Rourke's career in the sheer intensity and emotional devastation he grants the revelation. Although it deals with the supernatural it is made heart wrenching through Rourke's portrayal of a man who's entire reality is torn asunder. Rourke delivery is strained of man drained of all capacity of understanding, and at an edge of his mental capacity as he relives the murders of the witnesses of Favorite, that he in fact committed. Rourke's exasperated cries of "I know who I am" are absolutely haunting as a man at the end of two lives. Rourke creates the sense of man struggling to keep the truth of his mind, while accepting the devastation it inflicts upon his psyche. Rourke is equally powerful though in his near final moment of acceptance as he looks upon the final murder. Rourke conveys such raw despair as Angel/Favorite fully understands what he is and what he has done. This is an amazing performance by Mickey Rourke as he utilizes his star charisma so naturally in tandem with his emotional range, to craft an unforgettable portrait of a man discovering his own sins on his path towards Hell.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Steve Martin in Roxanne

Steve Martin did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, winning NSFC and LAFCA, for portraying C. D. "Charlie" Bales in Roxanne.

Roxanne is an enjoyable enough modern re-telling of Cyrano de Bergerac re envisioned about a long nosed firemen and tennis racket fencer searching for his titular love.

I have previously covered Cyranos in the form of the Oscar winning and Oscar nominated performances of Jose Ferrer and Gerard Depardieu respectively. The comedic performer Martin, who also wrote this film, one would assume would have a different intention overall for Cyrano which is less comedic and much more tragic than in its original form. Martin though actually doesn't fully subvert the idea of the character and in many ways embraces the traditional part even beyond the character's extended facial non conformity. This is right within the character's profession as a firemen that lends itself naturally to heroic sort, and Martin very much plays into the heroic nature of the character, though perhaps with a certain cheekiness. This from the outset where he helps the titular Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) get back into her house after being locked out...naked of course. Martin doesn't creep it up exactly though delivers a certain sly smile when telling the rest of the firemen there isn't anything too exciting about the job.

The way Martin portrays Charlie going about the job though is with this very straight forward confidant demeanor. The same is even true for when he battles some hecklers with his tennis racket, which while ridiculous as a concept Martin does present it with this strange sincerity in a way. This actually adds to the comedy since Martin plays it like an actual duel rather just a few guys goofing around. In an interesting way Martin clearly holds the role of Cyrano in great esteem since he never makes fun of the character or the idea of it. Although this is a comedy Martin doesn't ever insult the nature of the original story. This is within moments of strict earnestness within his performance such as a scene of helping kids on a roof. Martin delivers a natural warmth within that confidence of a man who wishes to do the right thing. The same is with the central romance with the titular woman where the long nosed Charlie, just as Cyrano finds himself in dangerous territory in the friend zone. Martin though in these early interactions delivers his lines without sarcasm presenting a man genuinely smitten, even if it is not returned to him.

Oddly enough the parts where he is least Cyrano are also the parts that are most traditionally Steve Martin as a comic performer. This being the famous moment of Cyrano taking down one of his nose heckler by delivery proper nose insults. This is reworked as Charlie rattles off insults based on different subjects, and Martin kind of falls upon his more traditional comedic presence. His timing is of course good, and he delivers the scene well in a comedic sense. I don't think it necessarily is entirely true to the rest of the presentation of the character. Martin isn't bad in this scene at all, in fact he rather funny, but his portrayal of Charlie's Bravado feels a touch standard. This is especially when compared to the rest of his performance that seeks to be much more the real Cyrano, even with that modern bent. This isn't to say I expected Martin to fully replicate what Ferrer did so well, I mean he did even bother to get the really bland main two co-stars, but rather his other scenes feel like a proper riff on that where that scene is more just Martin the comic. This perhaps falls more into the film not really being overly ambitious. It mostly just a loving tribute to the original, and that is Martin's performance. It seeks to lovingly allude to the Cyrano that came before as Charlie, with a bit more comedy, but not much more than that. It never quite reaches this greater grandiose styling it occasionally seems to try to achieve.  This even in the more earnest moments that slowly feel more traditional romantic comedy with Martin as the hapless romantic, though still with that undercurrent of the poet at times. It's a fun performance, even a delightful one at times. It however isn't even Martin's best performance from 1987 with his straight man turn in Planes, Trains and Automobiles leaving a greater impression.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Klaus Kinski in Cobra Verde

Klaus Kinski did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Francisco Manoel da Silva aka the titular character of Cobra Verde.

Cobra Verde, as per usual with Werner Herzog film, frequently has compelling and unique visual imagery, though dramatically it doesn't feel quite fully realized in the story of a bandit being sent to African to attempt to reopen the slave trade.

With this film I come to the fifth and final collaboration between the German mad men of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski, though I shall return to this for the two I've missed. In the matching of this pair though you have something most unusual as the two are as noted for their off screen conflict as they are known for their onscreen success. Kinski as an actor is a fascinating force all on his lonesome, but with Herzog he seems an essential element in part of his tapestries relating to the chaos and cruelty of nature. Of course Kinski plays a man, but a man inflicted with a madness to somehow break the bonds of that to reach perhaps resulting in an even greater insanity in the attempt. Of course this results in a not particularly sympathetic figure, in fact so far the most sympathetic role I've covered for Kinski was as the blood sucking vampire in Nosferatu. It is then a testament though to the natural power of the performer that there is something inherently transfixing about our central character even as despicable as he may be.

Kinski portrays many evil men here just in the form of one man. In the film's opening we see an vicious bandit who terrorizes those around him, though only after having suffered some tragedy alluded by the opening of the film. It is with this that Kinski works his magic in a sense as there is such an emotional intensity inherent within his portrayal of Silva that it makes him captivating even as we know little of him other than the terrors he inflicts. Of course what he initially inflicts is quite random as he interacts with other despicable exploiters initially. Kinski of course is compelling and even perhaps too convincing in portraying such a deranged sort. Although the act he commits seem random there is an internal logic through Kinski's performance that creates this sense of chaos within the man demeanor and eyes that makes him this force that refuses to conform to the norm, even when the norms themselves are hopelessly deranged as well. This inability for Silva to to even exist in this world leads him to an exile of sorts, by being sent to African to attempt to reopen the slave trade with a local African king.

Once Silva arrives to Africa the film becomes even more distant towards Silva who is rather reactionary for much of it. Kinski is effective in terms of capturing this certain attitude in Silva as he begrudgingly shows off the firearms, and attempts to posture as a proper colonial. Kinski does this with certain reserve, which notable for him, representing a man who is doing his act very much as an obligation for his life than a real passion. This changes though when he comes afoul of the king and becomes his prisoner. We get a proper Kinski intensity represented in his fear and anger as he remains the King's prisoner, being prepared for execution. Kinski captures really the brunt of this torture in only the way he can. This is in terms of his full physical and mental exhaustion of it all. Eventually Silva is released where he works with the King's rivals to stage a revolt and complete his mission. His training of the local women is quite easily the highlight of his performance. Kinski is outstanding in the moment in throwing himself fully into this warriors ferocity as he displays lunging with a spear. He shows more than just the technique but the requirement to properly deliver the determination to find victory on the battlefield. This leads to his victory, and to some rather horrible moments of Silva showing his "success" via the slaves from the king. Eventually the slave trade ends and Silva is essentially exiled. This leaves a moment of pondering and sadness, however well performed they are distant as is the character. This is not on Kinski's front who does provide something through the sheer will of his ability as a performer, the character's personal journey remains a little too vague even within Herzog's typical style. As it seems to assume we know who Cobra Verde is, even though we don't and what his story even meant to him beyond the clues garnered by Kinski's work. It is still a compelling turn as to be expected but the character is a little too nebulous even for the mad German.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride

Cary Elwes did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Westley in The Princess Bride.

As I have written before The Princess Bride is an effortless delight of a film, however its success is an unusual one. In that it manages to both subvert the idea of the heroic fairy tale while also wholly embracing all the same. These contradictions in a way should not add up yet they do, and one key element of this is the pitch perfect casting throughout the film. A central thread in this tapestry is Cary Elwes himself as our hero Westley who goes from stable boy to heroic pirate of sorts. Now Elwes doesn't have as emotional of a part as Mandy Patinkin as Ingio Montoya, nor is he as comedic as the villains of Chris Sarandon as Humperdink or Wallace Shawn Vizzini, nor is he the idiosyncratic wonder that is Andre the Giant as Fezzik. His role actually is that of a typical adventure film, not at unlike the role Errol Flynn played in the 30's and 40's. Elwes even bares at least a minor passing resemblance to Flynn as a type. Elwes though is given a harder task that Flynn had in that he must be almost the embodiment of the tone of the film itself, which though light is actually quite tricky.

Now on the outset Elwes is there for a visual establishing point, as the "as you wish" exclaiming stable boy who does anything old Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) commands. That visual being, for the lack of a better word, and I mean that!, a dreamboat. There is more to this than meets the eye though as even his method of saying "as you wish" needs to be more than it is. What I mean by that is that this could be a overdose of corn, it really should be, however Elwes even in this line develops something, something key to his overall performance, that is this sort sly earnestness. As even as he says "as you wish" there is a sincerity in it absolutely, yet also in his little glance he almost seems to say to the audience "yeah this could be little much, but it's also just right". Of course that is only the introduction as Westley disappears, supposedly killed by pirates, leaving Buttercup to be married off to the evil Humperdink, but only first to be kidnapped by the schemer Vizzini and his two good natured henchmen Ingio and Fezzik. The one man who comes to the rescue is dressed all in black, and if anyone has a particular good eye sight, or even hearing they'll notice this dashing young hero is of course the long lost Westley.

This leads to another of Elwes's challenges as he portrays the unknown hero initially facing off three challenges in order to save his one true love. Now here he is no longer the unassuming stable boy, but rather the assured hero. This brings the challenge to be both effortlessly confident and charming, while also doing that whole sly earnestness. Elwes indeed captures a natural confidence that makes Westley a most endearing hero. He however never comes off as smug despite this supreme confidence, balancing it so beautifully with this certain purity of manner that he delivers that allows this confidence to be as brimming as it is. This goes in the tone of the film that Elwes's work is an essentially part of. This being both wholly embracing the fairy tale yet also making fun of it. Elwes has this certain knowing quality in his work, particularly in his overtly comedic moments such as his showdown with Vizzini, yet even then still Elwes never goes so far as to truly mock. He nearly winks but never mocks. More importantly he provides that strict sincerity within his work particularly in regards to the central romance with buttercup, which Elwes supports with his every fiber.

Of course in a way we get a beautiful turn on this though in the film's third act, when Westley is mostly dead via a torture device and along with Ingio and Fezzik must save Buttercup from the fiendish Humperdink. The turn being that Westley is dead essentially in body yet still has his mind to contend with the evil Prince. This leaves Elwes to physically play the part of dead weight physically, along with few hilarious moments of wailing anguish, while maintaining that brimming confidence in his eyes and expert delivery. Again it creates this fantastic combination between both making fun of this sort of hero, while also wholly being such a hero all the same. It plays with the idea brilliantly as Elwes is indeed both playing with the ideas of the romantic swashbuckler, yet never disregarding them. He's flopping around like a dead body, but still exuding that charisma of a proper a hero. The best moment of this being when he directly confronts Humperdink without drawing blood. Elwes is sitting the whole time yet his persuasive eyes, and assured manner as he describes the "pain" he will bring to Elwes grants such a conviction. When he finally lifts himself to deliver the most dramatic "Drop your sword" moment, in that moment Elwes truly is the magnificent hero, and wholly earns the moment both as a fully earnest one, but also convincing in terms of Westley's victory. Of course he's also hilarious in his near collapse a moment after that victory, which in a single scene shows how wonderful this performance is. Elwes is perfectly cast, however his work goes beyond that. His performance walks this tightrope without fail to make Westley both an essential comedic element in the subversion of a high fantasy, but also purely realizing that fantasy for all its worth.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Martin Short in Innerspace

Martin Short did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jack Putter in Innerspace.

Innerspace is an enjoyable comedic adventure about a pilot shrunk down into a tiny machine who happens to end up in the body of a random nervous man. The two then work together to try to save each other from corporate espionage.

Martin Short is someone I'd describe as very funny, however his film work is more typically within the frame of limited vaudevillian style turns as cartoonish side characters. Innerspace is a notable departure of sorts, in that he is the comedic foil to are more traditional leading man in Dennis Quaid's test pilot Lt. Tuck Pendleton. Although the film is a comedy, the role actually is a bit more dramatic than one might expect from a quick glance at the synopsis. A part of this comes from Short's performance which is rather well tempered within the film. In that he does not make Jack this over the top figure in the film, in fact one could easily argue Quaid's Tuck is far more overt. Instead Short's performance seeks to make Jack a proper average, well more of a proper average nervous schmoe I suppose. That is in the opening of the film we see Jack just dealing with his life of normal store employee, which is perhaps even more than he can take. Short though is delight though in the role in he allows his natural comedic timing to be evident, but actually plays the anxiety of the character we an earnest conviction. There is a particular hilarious moment early where Jack has his own "man behind Winkies" moment involving a customer with miniature gun, where a nightmare becomes reality. Short's great in this scene as his little breaths, and darting expressions, are so well placed in each moments, yet he is also convincing in showing this poor man having a bit of nervous breakdown.

That is of course are basis for the character with what Short runs with once Jack gets involved with the plot, by being injected with Quaid's micronaut as a last resort. Here we get a most unusual duo between Short, and Quaid as the man in a tiny ship within his body. We have though the two men one hard drinker braggart, and Short's Jack. Short is terrific in finding this effortless balance in the role though in creating comedy within these interactions of fear at his situation, while also making it easy to genuinely empathize with Jack in his predicament. One the initial shock wears off though we get the two's interplay which is simply wonderful. Short is great in creating this slowly growing sense of curiosity in his reactions to Quaid, though always underlined with a proper degree of fear that takes a very long time to let up. They go beyond that though as they even develop a certain level of warmth in their interactions that creates a genuine friendship. These are just small, yet pivotal moments in their performances where they both just bring the right humanity to this bizarre situation. This is of course also is bolstered by Short's realization of the concept through his physical performance. Short is a proper hoot throughout the film in mastery every little awkward physical tic that becomes a series of comical reflections of what is going on Jack's outside as Tuck messes with his insides.

Short's performance is something that helps this film stand out, particularly as he makes such a most unusual lead for an action picture, even one with a great deal of comedy. A lot of this comedy comes with the unlikely hero, which is welcomed though as any typical action scene is a touch different with Short at the center of it. One scene in particular involving a high speed chase with a truck, and a convertible, we get the typical thrills of such a scene though with far more laughs granted by Short presenting a man in the scene who should never be. His scared witless reactions at every point are comic gold and give the action scenes something unique they would probably lack otherwise. Now we also get something surprising though in Short's overall performance that is also far more dynamic that you'd expect. This comes in Short's portrayal of Jack needing to essentially be Tuck to save the day. Short wholly earns the gradual transition of scenes in creating this brewing confidence. He never leans too much one way, and is particularly good in capturing this certain thrill in his eyes as he shows Jack getting caught up in the adventure. This highlight of this idea though is in Jack's relationship with Tuck's former girlfriend as well as investigative reporter Lydia Maxwell (Meg Ryan), that forms a most unusual love triangle. We get some classic Short fits and starts in their initial interactions, however Short is fantastic in creating the growth in a clear affection for his "co-pilot's" love. Short manages to naturally build this to a moment that is the highlight of his performance for me, even though it is a purely dramatic one. That is when Jack insists on wholly taking over the situation and talking to Lydia alone. Short is honestly incredible in the scene in he brings such a sweetness to the romantic moment, and even shows this strength within Jack's modest nature in the moment. Short delivers such an earnest scene that makes this transition to a more confident man natural by showing it to almost reveal itself through the strengths of his former weaknesses. The arc of the character is earned by Short's work which never hand waves it, or just plays it for laughs. He captures so much more with Jack and in turn makes the film so much richer for it. It is a marvelous turn from Short as he creates a more fully realized character by balancing the comedy with a surprising degree of depth within the man's journey. 

Monday, 5 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Gaspard Manesse in Au Revoir Les Enfants

Gaspard Manesse did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Julien Quentin in Au Revoir Les Enfants.

Au Revoir Les Enfants is an effective film following a schoolboy in Nazi occupied France during World War II.

 In 1987 there were three films that featured the child's perspective during World War II, obviously I just reviewed Christian Bale as the British boy in Japanese occupied China in Empire of the Sun, then there was a British boy in the blitz in John Boorman's Hope and Glory, and then finally we have Louis Malle's semi-autobiographical here. Although all three feature that perspective the latter two have a more distant approach in terms of how the central performance is utilized. Of course this does not speak to the quality of the films, I believe the latter two films to be superior than Spielberg's film. The two though are not strictly of innocence breaking rather the idea of innocence is reflected in the boy's interactions with their situation. This is what we have here in Gaspard Manesse as the schoolboy simply attending a catholic boarding school. There is a bit of fear but even this is portrayed in a pretty low key way by Manesse as Julien says goodbye to his mother. Not in an underwhelming way mind you, Manesse delivers it as the slight hesitations of a well adjusted boy, and it isn't anything that one would need to dwell upon.

The film then is mostly of Julien attending his school. Now far more is going on around it with the Nazi soldiers prowling around, an anti-Jewish sentiment being pervasive in some, the priest principal at the head of the school seeming as though the weight of the world on his shoulders and one fellow school boy who just doesn't seem to quite fit in. In the middle of this is Julien who isn't blissfully ignorant, but rather Manesse's portrays the ignorance of a boy not really at an age where that would press unto his mind. Manesse's performance rather realizes the state of Julien as simply a boy who wants to do well in school and perhaps make a few friends. This eventually is the boy who doesn't quite fit in named Jean. Manesse's portrayal of interactions with the boy though is that of boy's being boys. That being a bit of jealousy at first, at his mutual academic performance, that slowly transforms into camaraderie and friendship. None of this is particularly intense in nature, nor should it be, rather both young actors just realize the friendship of two boys as though they were of any time. There are hints of the boy's situation of course, and this is perhaps where Manesse's greatest challenge in terms of his performance is realized.

This being in Julien's slow realization that the boy Jean is in fact Jewish and is being hidden to escape persecution by the Nazis. Manesse manages to handle this largely in reactionary moments throughout the film. This being in granting a particular focus to certain moments where Jean's background is questioned. Again though Manesse's handling of these moments is still just a boy who is quietly discovering something, not of some investigator of any sort. Julien is not in some quest of any kind he's just a friend to the boy, and exists in a world of just trying to live his life. Eventually the Nazis do come for the Jews being hidden in the school, and Julien accidentally telegraphs Jean's location. This is a good moment as played by Manesse as just a most genuine fear of a boy for his friend. He handles the whole "purging" sequence well by conveying the growing anxiety in the boy with this certain sense of disbelief as though his whole world is crashing down. This too is reserved, though effectively so, as Julien is not the one being arrested, and he really can't do much about it. Manesse's depiction is that of a nearly being petrified which is an honest portrayal given that Julien is not any more than just a boy who hasn't experienced much hardship in his life. Manesse's performance is still rather moving in its final moments of portraying the overwhelming sadness in the boy as he watches those being taken away. Manesse's whole performance is one that works well for the film however it is limited. It is distant, though detached, as this straight forward representation of a young student simply living a young's student life, until suddenly the horrible outside world tears that simplicity from him.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun

Christian Bale did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jamie "Jim" Graham in Empire of the Sun.

Empire of the Sun is a somewhat curious attempt by Steven Spielberg into straight drama as his love of adventure and whimsy seems to muddle his intention of a loss of innocence through the story of a English boy in Japanese occupied China during World War II. The film is not without merit, however.

One of those merits is perhaps in the partial discovery of the talented Christian Bale. Obviously an actor who went onto acclaim in adulthood through his intense portrayals with a particularly extreme physical commitment to his roles. It is interesting then to look at Bale here who we see in the early scenes of the film as a soft spoiled school boy blissfully unaware in initially British controlled China. Although Bale is playing a bit of a brat this strangely enough is probably one of his most charismatic performances. He manages to not become excessively petulant in the portrayal of the character's attitude. Instead he makes it rather a natural curiosity within the character that includes seeing what he can "abuse" within his power he has in his initial privilege. Bale though establishes it well though with a more sympathetic child like wonder in the boy as he watches the culture around him, and becomes fascinated by aircraft. Bale brings the right specifically childlike wonder that sets up Jamie as very much interested in what surrounds him even if initially detached from it.

The film shifts itself quickly when the war directly hits China and Jamie is soon disposed from his world of luxury. He is separated from his parents and left to fend for himself within the war torn setting. Bale is excellent in these scenes in capturing the less focused intensity of the fear of the boy as he goes around looking for help. To the point he goes to a random self-centered ex-patriot named Basie (a kind of a miscast John Malkovich), whom he immediately looks up to. Bale plays this fascination with Basie well making the boy's loyalty to the obviously morally questionable man believable. He makes that fascination just so earnest and even heartfelt showing this innocence in his attitude suggesting the boy just simply must believe the man will help him. Of course the two quickly end up in a prison camp, and Basie nearly leaves Jim behind when they are about to be transferred to an internment camp. Bale has a great moment where he begs and pleas to go with him. Bale makes properly so messy of just this boy breaking down. He is decidedly not calculated in this which allows the moment to find the right naturalism as he shows it to still be Jamie as a boy just pleading for help from his new "father".

In the internment camp is where the problems in tone really arrive as Spielberg can't decide what film he is trying to tell with a strange mix of scenes. Spielberg himself seems to innocent to allow the innocence to go. In that we get Jamie, now Jim far more worldly as he survives in the camp. He only goes so far with this though still keeping it a boy playing a game of survival more than maturing to a survivalist. Bale's performance frankly conveys the themes little better as he fashions those softer side to bring a more inherent intensity, and even toughness in his portrayal. He brings a confidence within the tempering of emotions that effectively shows the boy beginning to understand the world he exists in. The film though shifts this with still those moments of wonderment in his moments of scrounging, and anything involving planes in the war. In these moments Jim is still fascinated by them, in nearly a childlike way, but with that greater intensity. The message Spielberg is trying to imply is perhaps a touch too vague, but Bale's portrayal of Jim's sincere devotion to aviation almost as a religion is remarkable. The passion is only more intense now, and Bale carries these moments to the point that they do have power even when their purpose is somewhat questionable. Is the idea that he's using these to hide his anguish, the film kind tries this but doesn't really pull off the idea very well. This is not a knock against Bale's work though as his moment of fully breaking down after a moment of jubilation is brilliantly performed. Again he excels in making it feel so authentic in the moment of Jim's painful realization of what he's lost, as this emotional turmoil, though the film fails to fully utilize this properly.

The film's ending is a particularly muddled element as Spielberg refuses to "grow up" despite wanting to tell a story of the loss of innocence. We see this through the whiplash in his direction that leaves Bale in a bit of strange place as Jim. In that we will have one scene of extreme horror in the sudden shooting of a young Japanese man that Jim desperately tries to resuscitate. Extremely well performed by Bale as he captures something childlike in his manic delivery that has this painful hope in it, wishing it like a child would. We then will get a strange moment of whimsy when he uncovers Basie's scrounged supplies and uses the old internment camp as a pseudo playground. The scene posits Jim fully as just a boy, and is out of place. There is nothing wrong with the way Bale captures the excitement however it is not natural by design. Spielberg kind of wants to make Come and See, but seems to timid to commit to the proposition. This becomes far more evident in the final scene which switches again where we meet Jim in an orphanage. There the loss of innocence is shown and Bale is terrific in bringing the intensity in thousand yard stare, almost an indicator of the nature of his future performances. Bale does capture that loss of that innocence of the boy's curiosity, however the power of that is lost because Spielberg frankly bungles it. None of this is Bale's fault, as he gives a very good performance here that actually illustrates the central conceit better than the film does, to the point the film gets kind of in the way of his performance.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Joe Mantegna in House of Games

Joe Mantegna did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Mike in House of Games.

House of Games I found to be David Mamet's best film, that I've seen, despite being his first film benefiting from a more focused narrative than some of his later efforts.

Mamet mainstay, both on stage on screen, Joe Mantegna naturally is there for the first foray into the cinematic form. A film that follows a subject matter, that being the world of con artists, that seems more fitting to sort of Mamet's mametese style of dialogue. The film explores the world of con artists through the curiosity of a doctor Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) who initially comes upon the world in the belief she is helping one of her patients. Joe Mantegna appears as one of the first connections to the world seemingly as a gambler willing to help her patient wipe away a debt if she helps him play poker. Mantegna is of course a fine fit for such part fitting right into the underworld setting. Mantegna's performance though is interesting in it essentially him playing with the idea of just what type of criminal his Mike is throughout the film. At first we meet him seemingly as shady, but seemingly affable enough gambler. Mantegna captures a generalized sorta tough guy well enough that it becomes believable enough as he reveals a bit of seeming vulnerability in trying to get Margaret to help him win at poker. I will say this probably Mantegna's weakest scene as it is in general somewhat stilted, though this perhaps to show the artifice of the situation since the whole thing is revealed to be a con to try to scam Margaret.

She catches on though but rather than turning them into the police she becomes intrigued by the con men particularly Mantegna's Mike. Mantegna switches his performance accordingly to be a particularly amiable con man. Here Mantegna excels in bringing a real charm to his performance in expressing this outward warmth with an underlying attraction towards Margaret. He is particularly effective in creating the intrigue of the con by overlaying with this considerable charisma. Mantegna speaks with an energy and magnetism of a man trying not only to woo the woman but also to welcome her into the world. His whole manner delivers this eagerness to show off though in a way that captures her intrigue. Mantegna and Crouse share an earnestly sweet chemistry together even as they speak of essentially cheating other people. That mutual attraction is well realized though specifically created in the foundations of that sort of danger involving the con. Mantegna though seems to remain consistent as really her "man" even as they go along towards a more dangerous con that she invites her into. Mantegna plays these moments though with an earnest concern always towards her, almost a little too impassioned in her support to the point where one might question the loyalty based on just how selfless it appears.

The violent con ends up being yet just another con at Margaret's expense, a long con to get her money, and in this Mantegna segues towards his final turn as Mike, the real Mike. Mantegna here makes for a real proper jerk now just showing a completely callous criminal who is neither dangerous nor intriguing. Mantegna instead does well by just staying true to the nasty nature of the con and presents a man just without any scruples. Mantegna takes the approach that is pretty cold though effectively so in showing just how brutal the nature of the con is. This is as he shows not a hint of a hidden real affection showing quite bluntly instead that the Mike of all previously scenes was merely the con artist playing the part to rope her in. This made all the more evident in the final confrontation which is perhaps Mantegna's best scene. Mantegna doesn't beat around the bush brandishing the indifference of Mike right to her face with this venomous disregard in every line delivery. He leaves no moment for sentiment revealing just a small pathetic man behind all his false charm that really was just a mask. This is revealed all the more when she one ups him by resorting to violence for satisfaction. Mantegna is very good in revealing a genuine desperation while still keeping the man's vile nature intact as he captures a man clearly fearing for his life though with a pride that prevents him begging for it. It's a terrific moment as Mantegna reveals the little rat that was Mike all along. Now this though does create a structure for the character that keeps a distant type, rather than real man for much of the film. Nonetheless this is a good performance by Joe Mantegna even within that certain restriction.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Terry O'Quinn in The Stepfather

Terry O'Quinn did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, for portraying Jerry Blake or is it Henry Morrison or is it Bill Hodgkins, well maybe you should just call him the titular Stepfather.

The Stepfather is a pretty schlocky horror film, but there is a reason I'm writing about it.

That reason should be evident enough as we have an example of a talented then relatively unknown actor in Terry O'Quinn picking up a leading role in what is a film without any higher ambitions. O'Quinn though is perhaps operating on some alternate level seeking to give this film all he's worth, even if the film itself isn't worth a lot with its often ridiculous plot, stilted dialogue, and downright hilarious choices in terms of the use of score. O'Quinn's performance is well worth watching on every front. Now on one end there is the idea of creating a proper "monster" for the film and in this sense O'Quinn is brilliant. On the main surface we have his Jerry Blake the new family man seeking to ingratiate himself as a proper stepfather. O'Quinn plays this side with a father knows best sort of voice that is just wonderful with the artifice in just how "perfect" he makes it. O'Quinn's delivery is just primed with this level of sweetness as he woos his new wife Susan, and tries to make good with his skeptical stepdaughter Stephanie. O'Quinn's whole demeanor is just of this super guy in every way, a friend to everyone with his welcoming smile, and cheerful attitude that extends both to his family and all of his customers a realtor. O'Quinn makes Jerry just everything he should be as a great friend to all especially this new family of his.

Of course from the outset of the film we know this is a thin veneer as in the opening of the film where "Jerry" cleans himself up, and marches out of a home having massacred all within. O'Quinn is great in this wholly silent scene actually by how he performs the moment. As we see the man literally naked, but also metaphorically so as he builds up his new "stepfather" after disposing of the old. O'Quinn brings the appropriate intensity within his eyes fitting for a killer yet is especially chilling by the way he so methodically plays each moment of the scene. O'Quinn brings this devotion to his performance that is what actually delivers something far more eerie to the scene. He doesn't play it so callously as though it is nothing at all for the man to do this. O'Quinn rather makes it almost this ritual in the palatable emotional undercurrent of he brings to the transformation as he shows the man remaking himself. O'Quinn fully embodies this almost as this religious experience as he goes from this demented psychopath who "reforms" himself in this state of calm as he becomes a new man.

The film then gets into its plot which is rather dull and often repetitive. O'Quinn though is consistently compelling in the role of the family who occasionally descends into a madness when alone or killing someone. Again O'Quinn is fantastic in both sides and his portrayal of the mental breakdown scenes are particularly marvelous. They would be easy moments to go way over the top with but O'Quinn delivers towards these extremes without going too far. His performance rather matches the sheer mania of it all in his way of speaking the nonsense of a man who is essentially is of multiple minds going at once. He brings this force to the mania that is chilling, but never does he become ridiculous in this approach. O'Quinn tries, and does not wholly fail to bring some depth to the character through even when he's saddled with some rather awful lines. This is especially the case in the third act when he becomes the slasher killer, and is given some one liners like "Next time Jim, Call before you drop by" after literally dropping the man by killing him. O'Quinn deserves all the credit for not becoming altogether goofy even when saying goofy things. He speaks even those words with a real conviction, and sells them as the film desires even if it isn't best for what it seems like he trying to do with the rest of his performance. That being an attempt an actual examination of the demented psyche of the man. O'Quinn is excellent in these moments where he grants more than silliness to the central idea of this man longing for a family. In a moment where we see him watching another happy father, O'Quinn is genuinely moving in granting such an honest need in "Jerry's" eyes as he looks to the thing he wants most but cannot have. His conviction to this idea even comes through in the stupid finale in his final lines. O'Quinn's last line of "I love you" to the stepdaughter who has just stabbed in the heart, is again of one of earnest need rather than a glib statement. The film isn't anything more than you'd expect it to be, but Terry O'Quinn gives a terrific performance far beyond what you'd expect in such a film. And I will give credit to the general critical examination of the film at the time for recognizing his work even when most, properly, bemoaned the film. He seems to derive everything can from the role to a give far more complete portrait of this psychopath than the film devised or even desired.