During last January’s Sundance Film Festival I went to some trouble to see Stevan Riley‘s Listen to Me, Marlon. I posted some captures of 16mm color footage from the filming of On The Waterfront but then forgot to review it. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy called it “moving, poignant, troubling and sad. Due superficially to nothing more than the tremendous girths they both achieved in their later years, it’s easy to draw a certain comparison between Brando and another great artist of the approximate period and same geographic origins about whom there similarly lingers the feeling that he achieved less than he might have — Orson Welles. To an armchair psychologist, it seems that what perhaps held back both men the most was a lack of discipline quite likely fostered by untidy, vagabond childhoods.”
In a nutshell, Thomas Vinterberg‘s Far From The Madding Crowd (Fox Searchlight, 5.1) is not a “woman’s film,” although I presume that over-25 or over-30 women will comprise the core audience this weekend. I sat down with a guarded attitude but I was relaxing and settling in only minutes after it began. This is a trimmer, more condensed adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel than John Schlesinger’s lavish 1967 version, which ran 169 minutes. Vinterberg’s film is 50 minutes shorter, but is just as flavorful and well-scented as the Schlesinger, which I haven’t seen in ages but which no one seems to have really loved. The Vinterberg is a convincing, well-structured capturing of a complex story of twists and turns and ups and downs, and in a way that doesn’t drag in the least. Early on I was muttering to myself, “Wow, this is about as tight and fat-free as one could expect…not a wasted line or shot…I really wasn’t expecting this kind of discipline.”
There can be no question that Vinterberg’s film is more stirringly acted, certainly when you compare Carey Mulligan‘s Bathsheba Everdeen (accent on the first syllable of the first name) to Julie Christie‘s. The ’67 Bathsheba was a somewhat flighty, whimsical beauty who seemed to almost casually glide from event to event and romance to romance, but Mulligan’s is made of sterner stuff — a woman of passion and steel spine, or quite the spirited feminist by the measuring stick of Victorian England. Mulligan is magnificent and in no way girly-ish or dreamy-eyed. The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw wrote that Mulligan’s face “has a pinched girlish prettiness combined with a shrewd, slightly schoolmistressy intelligence — the sort of face which can appear very young and really quite old at the same time.” Well put.
It also needs to be understood that Michael Sheen‘s William Boldwood, the oldest and most financially stable of Bathsheba’s three suitors, finds elements of true pathos. This is one of the saddest rejected-male performances I’ve ever witnessed. I’m usually not moved by guys who don’t “get the girl”, or, in Sheen/Boldwood’s case, guys who never had a chance in the first place. But my heart went out to Sheen. His acting reminded me what it feels like to be told by a beautiful woman that “you’re a nice guy but I’m not going to be intimate with you or anything along those lines….sorry but you don’t do it for me” or, much worse, the dreaded “can we be friends?”
This is Sheen’s finest performance since he played Tony Blair in The Queen, and — take this to the bank — the first male supporting performance in 2015 that can be called award-worthy.
This is probably as close as I’ll ever come to experiencing a tsunami-sized avalanche. As horrifying as it must have been on 4.25 at the Mount Everest base camp, at least the guy shooting this video wasn’t one of those killed (at least 18) or buried in suffocating blackness. The four Americans killed were Tom Taplin (cousin of producer Jonathan Taplin), Dan Fredinburg, Marisa Eve Girawong and Vinh B. Truong. 14 woefully underpaid Sherpas also lost their lives that day — obviously an equally tragic event or even more so, given their number.
This clip from Errol Morris‘s The Fog of War is one of the most eerie blendings of found footage and looking-back narration ever used in a documentary. It’s like JFK is sitting at a desk in some celestial realm and listening to Robert McNamara, his former Defense secretary, relate a story about 11.22.63. A split second after McNamara says “was shot in Dallas” Kennedy’s eyes drop to the desk and a faint look of laissez-faire regret comes into his eyes. Kennedy seems to be saying “yeah, it must have been really hard on McNamara and my brother and everyone else…I’m part of the cosmic swirl now and so all the pain and anguish of life has naturally subsided but I get it…it was hard for those who were there.”
A decision by Far From The Madding Crowd star Carey Mulligan to forego eye make-up during photography for the current Vogue has resulted in perhaps the most quietly mesmerizing photo of the 29 year-old actress I’ve ever seen. Mulligan has embraced various mascara’d looks since she popped six years ago but this is some kind of kind of classic breakthrough.
Last night I bought and watched the Twilight Time Bluray of Broadway Danny Rose, mainly to savor Gordon Willis’s black-and-white photography. It looks fine but it didn’t deliver anything close to what I like to call a Bluray “bump” — dollars to donuts the DVD doesn’t look much different. I’m disappointed. (You’d never know it from the packaging but the Bluray between La Notte and Paths of Glory is The Social Network.)
This column has been running for exactly 16 and 1/2 years now. It began in October 1998. Photo was taken when I was suffering at People magazine, partly because I hated it there and partly because at the time I was….naah, private.