Monday, 25 March 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2013: Christoph Waltz in The Zero Theorem

Christoph Waltz did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Qohen Leth in The Zero Theorem.

The Zero Theorem is a return for Terry Gilliam to a world of overwhelming nonsensical bureaucracy, and for me, a return to form. This time through the story of a loner programmer given a most unusual task. A film I've found rather compelling both times I've watched it, strangely enough suffering from the flu while doing so both times. Of course I can't say for sure whether that aided or hindered the experience each time, or if in fact was somehow the cause of the for thought.

Christoph Waltz is an actor who as much as he was embraced by mainstream Hollywood by winning an Oscar in his breakthrough role, then won a second only three years later. As notable of an achievement as that is, it did not lead Waltz to avoid being used as most international performers are, which is that of the villain. Although to be fair that is where Waltz's breakout came from, however these roles were far thinner than his Oscar winning role of Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. One notable exception to this is here, where he not only doesn't play the villain, he has the chance to solely lead a film. Most importantly though it grants Waltz a chance to show off his range outside of flamboyant foreigners capable of great violence, though on very different parts of the moral spectrum. Here though Waltz must call upon a different aspect of his talent as the part of Qohen Leth is that of the quiet programmer, who unlike Waltz's roles that became his claims to fame, is an extremely reserved man who would rather stay home at all times, and have as little interaction with others as possible. A man who rather hideaway in his former monastery apartment rather than live out in the cold alienating world of this future.

Waltz's performance is fittingly a great departure as he changes his physicality within the role, rather than the outgoing gestures of his Quentin Tarantino collaborations. Waltz internalizes his work much more with his often furrowed brow of a man always trying to avoid eye contact with those around him, and his meek walk of a man trying to avoid notice. Waltz effectively establishes this precarious place of Qohen as a man trying so hard to not be part of the world around him, and makes sense of this man. This man who speaks in pluralities of "we" rather than I. A logic that Waltz brings to life brilliantly as again this painful modesty of a man who can't even bring up the courage to speak as one, deflecting towards any feelings or ideas as a group. Although of course the man wants to avoid actually interacting with a group, Waltz is fantastic in finding the difficult comfort the man has in these statements of the we, that avoids both being himself, but also avoids being part of anything. He makes a man completely isolated yet wholly without an individualism, which is a fascinating juxtaposition that Waltz brings a remarkable life to.

What Waltz does in his establishment of Qohen is that he is able to humanize a character that could have been a grotesque series of tics. Waltz though manages to find essentially the logic behind every strange little mannerism of the man. The mannerisms are never perfunctory, as he manages to create not only that logic to them, but an emotional truth within. Yes they are farfetched in a certain sense, however Waltz breathes into them a real sense of the cause of each. The causes being these methods of the man to disconnect himself essentially from the experience of life. Waltz offers this as not something hollow, but rather with a genuine pathos. A inherent sadness that Waltz brings to his eyes, that carries itself a man deeply wounded at some point in his experience, which we never fully are told the circumstances of. Waltz realizes this struggle as something quite tangible that offers the needed soul within the film, to grant the film a purpose within the character of Qohen. This is before Qohen is given the most unusual task by management (Matt Damon), to finish a theorem that is meant to prove that life is meaningless.

Now this performance is still a lead in a Terry Gilliam so there is a matter of balance to be maintained with the purposefully mad tone he brings to the proceedings. A tone that Waltz masters with his performance that is able to both create an honest character within Qohen as a man, while having just the right bit of color essentially within his work as he interacts with the world. This is as he finds a certain level of humor in his work, which actually a facet of all of Waltz's successful performances that I've seen, although here he very much delivers them within still the expression of this man's interactions with the world around him. In his scenes with his the less sympathetic forces of the world including management, as well as the majority of the other company workers, Waltz's delivers wonderful bit of unease of this experience. A man whose very being seems shaken by every bit of interaction as this horrible strain. Waltz manages to even within the specific nature of the character offer just enough of the right reality, to find the befuddling humor within certain circumstances of technically great anxiety. This is just a welcome facet of Waltz's work, but what stays with me about this performance is actually the most human elements within it.

This is found through the two central relationships within the film, the first being with the beautiful Bainsley (Melanie Thierry) who seems perhaps a little too eager to begin a sexual relationship with him, though through virtual reality. Waltz though is again fantastic in showing the struggle within the reticence within Qohen even with her apparent aggressive affection. This is worn away of course, and Waltz though is great by not playing it as this overt lust within these scenes. He rather grants the sense of Qohen opening himself, still timid in his manner, but with just a bit of extroversion as he finally looks and interacts with her with a real appreciation for another person. This also comes when she questions a very specific habit of Qohen's which is to habitually wait for a single phone call that he finally explains. This explanation being a highlight of Waltz as an actor as he brings such a painful passion and even inspiration within his eyes as he explains that he waits for a phone call that will give him the meaning of life. Waltz is heartbreaking as this explanation, as delusional as it may seem, he grants such a terrible sincerity of a man who has this desperation need for answers and so firmly believes they will all be answered in a single message.

Unfortunately for Qohen, he discovers Bainsley seemingly to be just a tool of management to keep him happy while he finishes the project. The other relationship though is in his stranger, pseudo fatherly relationship with a physically unwell young intern sent to help him, Bob (Lucas Hedges), who doesn't fully know what to make of Qohen. Waltz's work in these moments though is excellent in again portraying the state of Qohen when he is challenged a bit, as Bob both questions and supports the loner. Waltz has some especially important moments in his work where he is allowed to discuss his own past, including the relationship with his wife. This description being a brilliant bit of acting by Waltz as he manages to be completely unemotional in his delivery of the destruction of apparently the love of his life, while in his eyes still showing this sense of an unhealed wound, of a man whose shut off himself to avoid any further pain. I love the moment of empathy Waltz again slowly reveals within Qohen for the physically troubled young man, that is without hesitation even if still modest. We see this challenge though against Qohen's personal protections, that Waltz poignantly reveals.

An even greater one comes as Bainsley appears speaking of genuine affection for Qohen, and offering him a way outd. Waltz only says a few words, however finds a real power within this silence and frankly anguish in the man weighing this love, against his delusions and essentially the fear of this unknown. Waltz again does so much within the minor detail of his expression, portraying so well the pain of a man who tries to internalize everything. His mistakes though come to ahead as he finds himself lost within the virtual world, and faced with an uncaring management. Waltz is outstanding in this scene again of finally unleashing his anguish more forwardly, as this intense despondency as he questions trying to prove that life is trivial. Unfortunately for him, management has already determined this based on Qohen refusing to live his life based on the need for his "meaning of life" phone call that would never come. In the end though Qohen finds some serenity within technically a false reality, but it is an amazing moment for Waltz. As in this scene he loses the physical restraints to show this man embracing his existence with a delight and unrestrained splendor, even if it is perhaps all now an illusion. This is a great performance by Christoph Waltz as he finds the essential humanity within this more surreal journey, showing another facet of his talent and range, that hopefully he'll be able to explore again sometime soon.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2013: Alden Ehrenreich in Beautiful Creatures

Alden Ehrenreich did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ethan Wate in Beautiful Creatures.

Beautiful Creatures I guess may be the one YA supernatural romance to go with, if you're to watch one of them, as it's not bad, aside from some not so nifty visual effects and questionable cinematography. This one being about a young man, and a witch.

The young man is an essential ingredient to the film's "not badness" through Alden Ehrenreich's performance that thwarts being just a generalized hunk. In fact his whole performance is a rather wry, nearly satirical, take on the hapless hero for such a narrative. The film features Ethan as our guide initially into the Podunk town in the southern U.S. An accent that Ehrenreich would tweak even further towards the absurd as Hobie in the cowboy in The Coens's Hail Caesar!. This is partially towards the absurd, however Eldenreich really finds the right way with it to evoke a down home sort while still maintaining the right earnestness. This is as Ehrenreich narrates the opening of the film partially making fun of setting up the deep south town, and the general idea of the upcoming romance, in his wry delivery, yet not going so far that it feels as though he is sabotaging the film. In fact I'd say Ehrenreich approaches a tone that I would say is similar to the one that Cary Elwes realizes in his performance in The Princess Bride. A comparison that I do not make lightly, but Ehrenreich earns it through his work that refuses to be the bland any man, that Ethan isn't far from as written.

Ethan's role is actually pretty simple within the story in that he only really needs to do one thing, which is to charm and fall in love with a witch Lena (Alice Englert). The complication then comes in her family which includes her cold, yet still good, uncle (Jeremy Irons), but also her evil fellow witches in her sultry cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum) and mother Sarafine (Emma Thompson hamming it up to the high heavens). Ehrenreich's part though is just to be this normal guy among it all, and quite frankly it would've been very easy to be bland in this role. Ethan probably would've been closer to a block of wood if a more straight forward actor played the part, even the original choice of Jack Reynor, an actor I generally like, I think probably would've fallen flat here. Alden Ehrenreich, despite some questionable pro-Ansel Elgort propaganda you might've heard around Solo, is a rather dynamic performer. This is seen here where he not only captures a definite charm even within the rather thick accent, but also manages to take it further in finding a bit of an atypical approach to the material that likely would've lost in another actor's hands.

Ehrenreich now of course hits his mark in just bringing such an endearing presence, particularly in the romantic scenes. He doesn't overplay them towards melodrama, rather finds the right combination of an earnest affection in his eyes, against the right sense of befuddlement in his delivery as he discovers every new little bit of lore, or family member to wreck havoc on his poor mortal soul. I thoroughly enjoy how Ehrenreich manages to capture the right sort of confused fear, along with still portraying this low key yet utterly believable passion behind the character's persistence. Ehrenreich's slightly slanted approach honestly does wonders for the film as he brings this consistent humorous yet also grounding element for the story no matter how ridiculous it gets in parts. He keeps the right lightness to it all, yet again in that Elwes's sort of way, he manages to make fun of it all, while never ridiculing to the point of destroying any potential dramatics. Even in the scenes of the most basic exposition, that slight smile of his, that so delightfully bemused look of his, just makes it all the more digestible. There isn't a scene in the film where he just sits back, despite Ethan often being sidelined in the story itself, always bringing a nice extra bit of energy tot he proceedings. Although I won't say Ehrenreich made this film amazing by any means, he does his best to not only bring enough of a sincerity to it all, but also with a much needed sense of fun.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2013: Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty

Toni Servillo did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jep Gambardella in The Great Beauty.

The Great Beauty follows a writer as he explores a life of decadence and art in Italy.

If that plot synopsis sounds similar then you're probably thinking of Fellini's La Dolce Vita. This is not a hidden quality as Paolo Sorrentino wears his influences on his sleeve to the point that Toni Servillo's character of Jep Gambaredella seems a bit of amalgamation of Marcello's Mastroanni's Guido Anselmi and Marcello Rubini from 8 1/2 and "Vita" respectively. This is as he shares the same basic appearance of Guido, particularly down to his iconic pair of corrective lenses and is a writer examining those on most high like Marcello. One major difference is the age of the character who is a bit older than either, though you might say is an approximate to Marcello by the end of that film. The man is again that of the observer, fitting to a film with a particularly blunt directorial edge, who is seeking for some "great beauty" as he grows older, and must deal with the hollowness of the life of the decadence. Again, not at all far from the struggle Marcello faces in "Vita", and much like Mastroanni's work in that film, Servillo's performance is a passive one. A performance with a particular intention though nonetheless as his work must create the meaning to a film that is claimed to be about nothing, and is essentially stated to be as such in its final moments.

I had my concerns regarding this film already given my lack of affection for Sorrentino's later effort about an observant elderly man in the lap of luxury in Youth, and the fact that I was not too impressed by Servillo's minimalist performance in Il Divo, as a tight lipped and very careful politician. This performance actually isn't nearly as purposefully repressed at that work, though certainly still low key as leading turns typically go. Well on one hand, I preferred this film to Youth, though much of Sorrentino's directorial touches still distracted rather than amplified the drama for me, and I certainly did not think it was the masterpiece the film is clearly aspiring to be. On the other hand I did actually rather like this performance from Servillo and he essentially realized what I did like about the film. This is as his work essentially offers the soul to the piece that otherwise would be as hollow as the world it is critiquing. Servillo's work is a much needed anchor for the entire experience of the film as he is this constant that offers essentially the humanity to the film, that is not always foreseen within Sorrentino's choices of sweeping shots, rapid editing, randomness of perspective and glossy aesthetic.

Servillo's portrayal of Jep manages to be captivating in creating the sense of the experience through his performance, which is quite often a series of reaction shots. Servillo's work though doesn't waste this idea, nor does it honestly seem constricted by them, as it essential in creating the man's existence and his way of navigating his world. This is as in the state of observing one outrageous if not grotesque piece of art, Servillo's piercing eyes offer his own critique merely in them rather than in a befuddled glance or light deprecating chuckle. Servillo's work offers the expertise essentially of the man who looks not only with the sense of a critic, but also this idea of the exasperation. There is the light touches of an exhaustion within his way of maneuvering within these sequences, of a man just slowly walking around struggling to keep up the act fully. Servillo manages to find the right state of not an overt ennui, but rather this need for a genuine curiosity. Servillo manages to broach this sense of it though within the confines of the man still stuck in the state of near lethargy as lead by a career that hasn't lead him to any great meaning. This creating a certain low key struggle that Servillo realizes effectively without falling into any type of hollow posturing.

As seems a requirement of  a Sorrentino film, there must be a moment where his visual storytelling takes a break for some monologue, usually critical of someone or something. Well that does appear here in essentially Servillo's Jep tears down one of his fellow bourgeoisie speaking with some great affection for her own self. Servillo's work is essential in his work as he does manage to make it natural moment as a lashing out that is concise and confident, fitting for a critic, but with this certain internalized anxiety as he accentuates the speech as much of a critical appraisal of his own experience as much as it is hers. This in addition is nicely, subverted a bit later on when he interacts with her again with a near repentant flirtation which Servillo manages to infuses a real charm within in his own unassuming way. The center of his work though is that seeking some truth whether it be examining the past, the present or even the future in a way. In this, is where Servillo finds the real power within his work, as his moments of melancholic reflection on youth, the loss of his real friends, or in his moments of finally finding a real beauty in his existence and art, capture a real poignancy. Servillo loses any hollowness or exasperation, being genuinely moving at times in creating the deeper sense of reflection and the haunting feelings of the truly meaningful moments one can find in life. Although I will admit the film did not in itself create a meaningful experience for myself, I cannot fault Servillo's work that managed to carry me through it all, and at least leave something of value within all of vapid extravagance.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2013: Terence Stamp in Song For Marion

Terence Stamp did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Arthur in Song For Marion. 

A Song For Marion is a tad too cornball as a film about a widower trying to cope with the death of his wife by joining her choir group.

The film itself isn't especially good as it falls too often into scene after scene of "aren't old people wacky" in several scenes of geriantics. The saving virtue of the film is in its lead of Terence Stamp, who you might say is almost in the wrong film as he intends to deliver something that the writer of the film might struggle to comprehend. This is as the film itself isn't too assured in its methods of portraying the struggle of Terence Stamp's Arthur, who as the film opens is dealing with his wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) who is dying from cancer, and is outgoing, while Arthur decidedly is not. This film honestly seems to what to treat this almost as something precious as well in the way a lot of scenes are framed, however Stamp's performance intends something far more dramatic in his portrayal of Arthur's general grumpiness. Stamp doesn't hold back in this regard putting a real intensity within the character's bitterness especially as it connects to the decaying state of his wife's health. Stamp doesn't brush it off as nothing, bringing something far deeper in creating the sense of anger in the man, and presents a harsh man in Arthur, who seems frankly not at all at ease with the general excessive goofy portrayal of most of the characters.

The film lacks a proper detail most points, take for example we get only some snippets of Arthur's relationship with his son James (Christopher Eccleston), which we're told is just generally tense, mainly illustrated through a scene where Arthur yells at him for being late, due actually due to Arthur's own confusion. Although the scene is lacking as written, Stamp manages to give it a bit more than is there through his work that offers the blunt disregard and particularly direct forcefulness of a father far too prone to discipline towards his son. Stamp finds just the right approach within this as he gives enough a reality even towards the rather thin material. He does not hold back, even when the film seems to. This is often what Stamp's work amounts to throughout the film, as he tries to consistently grant an honesty to the material that is rather lacking within it. When Marion does die, Stamp is able to find the real heartbreak in the loss, and the immediate hollowness of his state as he initially withdraws to nearly a nothingness at the point. This setting up of course Arthur finding his way towards life again through his wife's old singing group, and especially through their choir leader Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton).

The scenes become pretty obvious where they are going to go, as Arthur is going to become less of grump as he becomes part of the choir and becomes friends with Elizabeth. Again though Stamp is terrific as he does not fall into easy sentiment, in fact outright refuses it. Stamp, even in the somewhat overt humorous moments intended for him, stays true to his honest approach to the character by making his eases away from bitterness gradual. Stamp is so successful in this approach, as he only lightens his delivery a bit, his hard eyes, only a bit, granting appropriate ease in the transformation. He never jumps fully to a man he's not. Now the reason though I'm talking about this film, are the two main songs in the film, the one sung by Marion and then the one for Marion. These scenes are the obvious highlights of the film, and the reason being Terence Stamp's performance in each. The first being Marion's song to Arthur essentially of "True Colors", which takes place obviously before his transformation, however Stamp uses it brilliantly to suggest that possibility. Stamp is quite outstanding in the scene, as it is just the silent reaction to Marion singing. Stamp takes a subtle, so poignant, approach as he shows as the song goes on his look of callousness fades to this quiet affection that so strongly shows his love. What is most powerful though is as the words prod him, Stamp is fantastic in being able to just exude enough of that emotion on the edge, while still showing Arthur trying to hold it in. It's a marvelous moment, only bested by Arthur's solo performance of "Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)", at the climactic performance of the choir group. Stamp delivers one of the finest moments of his career in his performance of the song. This is in every second of it as he depicts the initial hesitation of the introverted curmudgeon, before a prompting from his granddaughter, that gets him to sing the song. The actual performance delivered with such a refined passion by Stamp with such heart given to every word. The most heartbreaking touch being Stamp's way of keeping his eyes closed during the song, and with this quiet anguish across his face as though he is indeed singing directly to his deceased wife. Stamp offers only a real emotion in the moment that skirts any cheap manipulation, to grant something so much more potent. That is the highlight of his work, and if you took only the songs, you'd think this was a far greater film, given they focus so directly on Stamp. Although the bridge between these songs is shaky within the film, Stamp still never is, and even though the songs are far away his best moments, this stands nonetheless as a touching portrait of grief by Stamp that rises far above its material.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2013: Domhnall Gleeson in About Time

Domhnall Gleeson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Tim Lake in About Time.

About Time follows a young man's romantic adventures through life after he discovers the men in his family have the ability to travel through time.

I won't hesitate to state that I found this film to be easily the best film associated with writer/director Richard Curtis on any front. Mind you I feel that Love Actually, is a crime against humanity, but I did find this film to be mostly delightful, if just teetering on causing one to overdose on sugar occasionally. A man who must be given a great deal of credit for this is Domhnall Gleeson. Much like Paddy Considine, Domhnall Gleeson is another actor who've I've taken a long time to get to on here with an actual review, though I feel my affection for him as a performer is fairly evident. The younger Gleeson, fitting to his lineage, has shown a notable range in genre and tone. This is as much as Gleeson can handle the ennui of duplicitous android, and their creators, he is as apt for the far lighter tone of a work here. This is as his character of Tim is just an average "below average" chap just going about his life. This is not a stretch as Richard Curtis lead characters goes, though this idea is typically deigned to Hugh Grant, who while I don't dislike those performances, was always perhaps a bit too confident to be genuinely awkward. Well with the younger Gleeson this quality you might say feels a bit more earned.

Domhnall Gleeson in fact seems perfect for this role as his natural presence is one of being a little naturally awkward while also being charming. This is ideal for Tim whose life is changed through time travel primarily as a form of dealing with life's little awkward moments, and getting a chance to make them work just a bit better. Well, Gleeson therefore needs to do two things quite often in this performance. This is to be awkward first as we see Tim go about his first tries, whether that be failing to go in for a kiss at new years, failing take a romantic chance or two, and of course fumbling his way around his first sexual encounter with his love. Gleeson is wonderful at doing just the right touches of stilted speech, and inability to place himself physically in the right position, to be just the right sort of completely out of place in the moment. This of course is against his scenes of going back to "fix" things for himself, by now taking the chance, saying the right thing, or making the right move. Gleeson makes this method actually particularly endearing because while he carries a sense of confidence in his manner he does wholly lose that awkwardness that he makes a natural part of Tim.

These ole switcheroo's may be the sort of gimmick the film has to pull you in, however the film is more in general about just Tim living his life with his strange group of friends, his father (Bill Nighy) and his eventual love in Mary (Rachel McAdams). Well in each segment of these various vignettes, pieced together by the little time travel moves, we always have Gleeson as the rock center. Now that might sound like a criticism against the film, but it honestly isn't as it works in this largely breezy approach to the matter. It is of course helped by Gleeson's work though which just sort of maneuvers around the film with the effortless of someone living a life, even if technically a most unusual way. This actually is all helped by Gleeson's overarching approach which is to never overplay a single facet of the character. This is as the comedic moments are just as natural in his work as are the romantic ones. Gleeson keeps a light but never weak touch with the material. Gleeson rather finds just the right approach for any given scene, and in this sense very much makes the film by creating such a strong anchor.

Take the more hapless moments of the time travel, which are the most humorous of the film, Gleeson brings just a low key hilarity in his little reactions in a given moment. This is whether it be of enjoyable frustration and confusion when he has to take excessive effort to set things right, such as getting all the lines to some forgetful actors for a playwright acquaintance, or his knowing reactions when not so quietly figuring out his situation in front of others. I especially love the way Gleeson delivers his lines so directly in the sequence where he attempts to find a way to woo Mary again, after time travel shenanigans have technically caused more problems than they solved. Gleeson though is as good in the quiet romantic moments with McAdams where the two do develop just an absolutely splendid chemistry honestly based upon a mutual awkwardness essentially. Gleeson though just makes the moments work by playing every moment so honestly and quite affectionately, that makes it quite the sweet if certainly unassuming romance. The film of course has some slight detours towards the dramatic, initially through Tim's sister who has a less than pleasant experience in life. This isn't given too much depth but I'll credit Gleeson with making them work quite well, through his earnest work that grants the weight of his inability to help. Gleeson's terrific in this low key way though in that he avoids any melodrama yet grants enough gravity to not make it feel slight. The highlight though of the film, that in way combines all these elements, are his scenes with his equally time travel able father. He and Nighy are great together. Gleeson excels in his early befuddled elements, but where they really the most of the material in their moments of a mutual empathy that comes from two fellow time travelers. This eventually builds towards something more when his father is going to die and Tim can't do anything about it, accept use the time he has with him. Again what actually keeps this from a tonal problem is how light both actors keep these moments. Gleeson still grants the right earnest pathos within his eyes reflecting the loss, however he keeps that subtle, emphasizing instead the joy in their shared moments that captures the thematic spirit of the film beautifully. That is of course the entire performance of Domhnall Gleeson's here. It is not some earth shattering work but rather pitch perfect by being so charmingly average.