Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Strange Case of Kalinda Sharma (and Alicia Florrick)

My initial plan to write something on the weirdly counter-intuitive development of the Alicia/Kalinda dynamic on The Good Wife was eclipsed by the *devastating news that Archie Panjabi is leaving the show at the end of the next season.

*I’m not being hyperbolic when I say devastating but I’m also being especially subjective because I’m conscious that Kalinda Sharma, her inscrutable nature and her journey in the legal world of Chicago has not always been a uniformly loved one by fans of the show.
Writing an obituary on the character is premature with eighteen episodes left before the season’s end. With the news of Kalinda's departure next year, I’m more intrigued in examining the oft-discussed but never truly examined issue of the Kalinda/Alicia frostbite that’s plagued the show since the middle of season four, which I had intended to do since Sunday before this news blindsided me.

And, why has the Kalinda/Alicia arc been such an essential thing for fans over the seasons of the show? It's more than just the dearth of non-confrontational female friendships on the TV landscape, the way savvy Kalinda Sharma and housewife turned legal savant Alicia Florrick hit it off from their first episode together became a constant source of certainty in the sometimes turbulent world of (then) Lockhart/Gardner. Two ladies, circumspect in different ways, open up to each other and become essential to each other. Margulies and Panjabi's rapport has always been effective, so that by time the show's fortieth episode comes around (one of its best “Ham Sandwich” comes around) we get how Kalinda giving out her address is something significant. 

Of course the delightful “Ham Sandwich” is the beginning of the end because the biggest bombshell of The Good Wife lands at the end of the episode when we find out that once upon a time in a time before Kalinda, she had a one night liaison with Peter Florrick. That was March in 2011, two months later in May Alicia found out. Things have never been the same since....

In 2013, Julianne Margulies (also producer on the show) commented that she thinks the coldness between the two is expected considering that Kalinda slept with Alicia’s husband (albeit pre the beginning of their friendhship) and it’s a legitmate concern. The Good Wife has always prided itself on evolving naturally to distressing occasions instead of being typically unrealistic and going for the easy fixes.
“I think that [the relationship] is kind of played out because of circumstance. I doubt she'll be able to trust that friendship fully. I think Kalinda's character seems to have gone in a different direction. What keeps the show interesting and sort of satisfying is to see other people come into the central character's life to open her up. She needs female friendship, but she needs to start from scratch. She can't be pouring her heart out to someone who once slept with her husband. I mean, it's just not going to happen. It doesn't seem realistic. As much as I think the relationship worked in the beginning because Kalinda is such an independent, sort of suffragette woman -- it helped Alicia to see she didn't need to be a wallflower housewife anymore -- but I think there have been too many twists and turns there. To bring it back would be going backwards instead of moving forward. And there are only so many scenes at a bar you can do. [Laughs.] I do think what it did -- which is fantastic -- is it opened up a world to Alicia where she's going to realize she needs female friendship. In a certain way, having Dallas Roberts' character on the show -- her gay brother -- gave us an inkling, sort of a moment into that. Having Stockard Channing come into her life allows us to sort of see what her life was and how she was raised and why she is the way she is.” (24 April, 2013 Huffington Post)

The way Julianna surmised that the relationship was played out always struck me as odd, for myriad reasons. Especially because, even though things had not been the same since May 2011, the show - thus far - had not made the relationship between the two impossible. Her words in 2013 seemed to be forgetting the previous year of the show. Let's take a journey back to the Kalinda/Alicia relationship after the Peter bombshell.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Scene(s) on a Sunday (sort of): Encore Awards (Memorable Scenes of 2013)

Yes, I’m still at this. (And it’s AUGUST.)

One of my favourite parts of recapping the (previous) year in film is choosing the moments or scenes in films which I remember most. Memory plays tricks on you. Even for someone as industrious as me who makes notes of everything (everything) I watch, and every scene that moves me, it’s different two five six eight months after to consider which scenes are ultimately most remembered or most effective. I opted to not include my usual short-list of 15 to go along with ultimate top 10 and glancing over my actual top 10 at quick glance there are some peculiarities. For example, only one of my top 5 films makes an appearance with a great scene. There’s also an absence of some larger than life scenes which I suppose could have, and in some realities, should have made a space here. For example, the excellent Tim wrote excellently on why the scene from Frozen was his favourite scene of the year and despite my love for Frozen (and the song) Elsa’s turning moment doesn’t appear on my list. Neither do moving moments from Short Term 12, high tension ones from Gravity or The Grandmaster or The Lone Ranger or Rush or tender ones in Philomena or The Past or Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

But, let me stop telling you what’s not on the list and tell you what is on the list.

As usual, the list excludes openings and closing which have their own individual best-of lists, and like with all things that appear here it’s incredibly idiosyncratic for better and for worse. It’s not necessarily a scene of the best cinematically proficient scenes of 2013 cinemas, but ones which appear here for reasons of import to the film, importance to the narrative, for a specific actor, because of a specific feeling it elicits or just general greatness. You can't always explain these things, still here are ten paragraphs of me trying to do just that.

#10 Frozen / “For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)”
For a movie I like Frozen falls into one of my least favourite movie conceits – keeping the most interesting characters apart for the majority of the film. It’s a way for the audience to root for them to reunite, but it also robs us of being assured of their mutual love (which Frozen depends on). Frozen still manages to make it work, though, and the film mid-film fractured reunion of Elsa and Anna works excellently. The film is annoyingly low on reprises (I’m still smarting that it doesn’t end in a reprise of “Do You Want to Build A Snow Man”, for example.) but the “For the First in Forever” which sees the sisters singing conflicting thoughts in excellent counterpoint is a great dramatic moment culminating in the final conflict of the ace in Anna’s heart. It’s a great moment, vocally, for the actors but also visually with the effects. It adds some legitimate dramatic stakes to the film without feeling forced.

#9 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug / Meet Smaug
If not me, then who will stump resolutely – and somewhat foolhardily – for The Hobbit films? Still, perceived oversaturation and whatnot it’s hard to ignore the moments here Jackson’s adoration for Middle Earth is at its height and reveals itself in the union of all aspects of the series’ filmmaking. Like the riddles with Gollum in the first (or fourth) film the meeting with Smaug becomes the seismic the film is waiting for. There’s an almost ineffable quality to how everything about the meeting works. The film has been building to it and there's the possibility it will not work, and yet it does, on a visual and on an emotional level. (Also, it continues to baffle how Martin Freeman continues to be at his best in these films when acting against CGI creatures).

#8 Saving Mr Banks / “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”
The appearance of this scene is a great microcosm of the entire list of 10 scenes. As a whole Saving Mr Banks does not quite coalesce to the thing it wants to be, although I appreciate the endeavour and like it nonetheless. It harbours some legitimately excellent moments, though, none more than the sequence where the Sherman Brothers finally settle on a song that Pamela likes. The moment becomes, somewhat inexplicably for me, the most moving scene in the film. And, sure, part of that comes from the Mary Poppins music which might suggest the film isn’t warranting the effect it has, but it’s not just the music but it’s use – the entire film is not a well-oiled machine , but this scene is. When an innocuous moment like Don taking Pamela’s hand for a dance manage to move, it’s not just soundtrack but indicative of the entire film finding its footing at once. It mixes the dramatic with the comedic with the whimsical with the earnest. It doesn’t last forever, but the moment it last for is beautiful.

#7 The Heat / Interrupted Lunch Party
The family meals, a staple of great movie moments. The Heat is not my favourite comedy of 2013 but it does have the most hilarious individual moments and this family luncheon is the peak. Dippold’s script is on fire in the scene. Example:
Gina: “You should never arrest your family.”
Mullins: “Who the fuck are you?”
Peter Mullins: “That's Gina!”
Mullins: “Well, tell Gina I'm gonna strangle her at the table!”
Beth: “Hey, she is my best friend! You touch her, you gotta go through me first.”
Mullins: “Who the fuck are you?! I'll kill you and kill her with your fucking dead body!”
The scene could get by on line-readings only but the entire sequence is made funnier by Bullock watching on silently bemused. The lead-up to my favourite (if, unoriginal) joke of the sequence is precious as one of the Mullins asks her, in his thick accent, “Are you, or are you not, a narc? A fucking narc?! Like Johnny Depp in 21 Jump Street?” Like many jokes, it works better hen you hear it, but it’s a fine example of how in control of itself and its humour is at its strongest moments.

#6 August Osage County / After the Funeral
If August Osage County was a musical, the lunch scene after the funeral would be its “Rose’s Turn” or its “Last Midnight”. It’s the most electric moment of the play as written so that in any iteration of the play, you’d expect it to soar. Wells’ film version does not succeed completely as an adaptation of Lett’s visceral drama, but the moments he gets right are remarkable and the lunch scene works. Ensemble films are at their best when the ensemble gets to interact and from Little Charlie’s awkward entrance and th spilled casserole the scene works. It’s not just the dialogue working or, Wells’ – stay out of the way – direction inadvertently being the best thing for a scene like this, each actor is on-point, from bit-part performers like Mulroney selling the reaction to the family’s crazy, to Lewis’ awkward attempts to get her mother’s attention, to Roberts’ angry resentment. The scene goes on for a bit but it works as a slice of the family’s issues and becomes a highlight of the film. Maybe more in spite of the director than because of him but no less significant because of it.
…go below the jump for the top 5…
….bathroom surprises, melancholy musicians, and a city under siege…

Friday, 11 July 2014

Encore Awards (2013 in Review): Supporting Actor

I’m back.

I’m nothing if not determined. So, as late as I am with completing my Review of 2013 in Film I will complete, and so here I am. As everyone else is obsessing over Emmy tragedies and offenses I’m still thinking about the previous year in film. Humour me by taking the trip back with me.

When last we met in April I was talking about my favourite writing of 2013. When I did my 2013 entry for the Supporting Actor Project I mentioned that I still hadn’t settled on my personal ballot for the category. Even now I have two favourite performances and then six fine turns from some actors who I'd all like to include in ballot,  I knew that one or two of the actor Oscar nominees would make their way on to my ballot, but  in what order? I was more intrigued by performances that were existing in haunts awards' bodies didn't care to look in. And ultimately my ballot revealed me to be smitten with two foreign performances, a quiet turn in prestige-films-that-could-not, a critic loved performance in a film too weird for Oscar, a forgotten performance in a film critics did love and ultimately a single Oscar nominee. Yes, I'm highlighting six performance (but the sixth is named, so you'll see what the five ballot looks like).


Bradley Cooper in American Hustle (as Richie DiMaso)
from my Supporting Actor Factor 2013 write-up: “Cooper is best-in-show not because he’s served great moments but because he manages to make those separate moments all a facet of the most significant, continuous, aspect of Richie’s character - his desperately desire to win. Even as he may be sincerely infatuated with Sidney/Edith he’s also thrilled to have a chance to one-up Irving, finally a chance to win. He’s the over-eager chump who’s so excited about the good hand he’s been dealt at in poker that he overplays his austere poker-face and betrays his excitement. It could be obnoxious but Cooper gets to the root of Richie’s childlike inclinations so his overzealous streaked when pitched just the right way becomes profoundly moving for the way it betrays a sincere case of arrested development. More so, when his fate at the end is sealed.”

Chris Cooper in August: Osage County (as Charlie Aiken)
This performance stuck with me in a way I didn’t anticipate. Charlie is quiet and like the other males he tends to get lost amidst the loudness of the women, so I kept questioning whether the performance could be a legitimately affecting one, when I don’t miss him when he’s off-screen. And yet, the moments where he does appear are exceptional. The entire performance is built on its HIGHLIGHT moments. The first at the dinner table where his sly line reading of “Everyone loves you here” precipitates Violet’s resentment by cutting into her ridiculous show. Even better is his outburst at Mattie Fae which offers a profound view into the kind of man he is, and the life they have lived. And, like his entire performance, in brief spurts offering us key insight into this silent but not unthinking man.

James Franco in Spring Breakers (as Alien)
For one, Franco's turn in Spring Breakers - weird, uninhibited, unexpected and sincere - is just so good, it's difficult not to be seduced by it just on that level. But it's working not just a level of entertainment but sees Franco giving arguably (?) his most incisive performance presenting a man who is almost too ridiculous to be taken seriously. His performance manages to avoid any lampooning of the character, or any inkling of judgement, instead giving us a seamless turn that manages to be sensitive and fun as much as it is profound and poignant. Alien shouldn't be charming, but the trick of the performance is we understand just why the girls find him to be such a curio.

HIGHLIGHT: Too difficult to chose, but how to avoid the loveliness of “Everytime”?

Jonathan Gallagher Jr. in Short Term 12 (as Mason)
Supporting or Leading? I kept having this conversation with myself as to where Gallagher's performance, straddling the line between the two would fall. He's there a lot, but often just in the corner. It's a performance easy to be lost amidst the more interesting people in the film, but it's what makes me like Gallagher's characterisation so much. Mason's stories land with a way that's earnest but appealing in its way, so we understand why Grace likes him. Mason is almost blandly regular person but it's a quality that feels real and lived in. It makes his performance work less when he's at the centre and more when he's on the fringes observing everyone. It's why, oddly, his HIGHLIGHT moment for me is not about him. His simple inability to respond to Marcus' rap works so well as the caretaker of these children, feeling for these children, hurting for them but unable to erase the past.

Tahar Rahim in The Past (as Samir)
So much of this performance, especially in the first hour, is made up of dejected glances and hurt glares and because he’s the last of the three main characters we spend significant time with it might feel as if the performance is one of posturing. But as little by little Farhadi gives us more and more of the melodramatic labyrinth at work, the narrative demands more of him and Samir’s seemingly petulant exterior gives way to an overwhelmingly heartbreaking turn.

HIGHLIGHT: The film flirts with rocky terrain when the melodrama threatens to overcome it all as we reach the denouement. The fact that everything works is as much about Farhadi's skill as a filmmakers as it s about Rahim in that confrontation with his worker making all the moving pieces realistic and affecting as the ought to be.

Max Riemelt in Free Fall (Kay Engel)
I debated long and hard on this one both because of the character's weird flatness and the film's own issues, but it's unfair to deny a performance that lingers because of the film. Reimelt is just on the cusp as my #6. A significant part of Riemelt's performance is just about the object of affection to Marc - the desirable, and enticing gay man leading the confused married man astray - but he's deftly avoiding any issues with message the film might have and even as Kay remains a character we don't quite know as the film ends Riemelt's leaves a lasting impression.

HIGHLIGHT: And so his best moments, become those where he's simply reacting to Marc. The excellent reaction shot to his I'm not gay speaks volumes.

FINALISTS: Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips for adding even more profound depth to this man making him so much more than just "evil pirate"; Gabriel Basso in The Kings of Summer, Basso is already one of my favourite teen actors right now so I’m predisposed to liking him. What’s great about his work here, though, is the slightly subversive take on the jock-in-training. Patrick’s role as the brawn of his relationship with his best friend and his peculiar family life, though played for laughs, are given legitimate consideration; Dane DeHaan in The Place Beyond the Pines for a brief turn that becomes the film's secret weapon; Tom Hanks in Saving Mr Banks, for selling the charm but also the potential for oiliness in the legend; Michael Zegen in Frances Ha, is given a sliver of a role but his awkwardness and the rapport he creates with Gerwig make the moments he appears on screen some of my favourite of the film.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Benedict Cumberbatch in August: Osage County; Colin Farrell in Saving Mr Banks; Ben Foster in Ain't Them Bodies Saints; Jason Flemying in Great Expectations; Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street; Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club; Tobey Maguire in The Great Gatsby; Rami Malek in Short Term 12; Keith Stanfield in Short Term 12

FURTHER JOURNEYS INTO THE BEST OF 2013: Opening Scenes / Supporting Actress / Actor / Sound and Music / Costume, Production Design, Editing, Visual Effects, Makeup / Cinematography / Writing

Friday, 30 May 2014

Casting Coup 1953: From Here to Eternity

And, it comes to an end. The week of casting the Best Picture lineup of 1953 closes with the Picture winner From Here to Eternity. I'm most pleased with my cast for this one. Check out all the previous entries (HERE) and Walter's choices (HERE). Walter and I will both be heading back to 1953 for June to take a look at the movies and in some cases the awardage.

...a belligerent soldier who torments Maggio...
originally played by Ernest Borgnine
played here by Stephen Grahame
He's not quite as large as the name suggests but he'd be excellent at tapping into that menacing quality essential for the role with the sort of electricity that the drama demands.

...the husband of our leading lady, and not necessarily the finest spouse...
originally played by Philip Ober
played here by Colin Firth
One of my favourite movie trends of the 90s was Firth playing cuckolded husbands in Best Picture winners. Make it a trio and have him play Dana. I could see him terrorising Prewitt, and I could see him leading a band of men, in his way.

...a friend of Prewitt who doesn't hold his liquor well...
originally played by Frank Sinatra
played here by Corey Stoll
The role calls for some amount of gravitas while being able to nail someone losing control and Stoll is excellent at that. In addition, he's great at playing an addict.

...go below the jump to see my choices for the main quartet

Casting Coup 1953: Shane

Recasting the 1953 Best Picture lineup with Walter continues. This time we're on the Western of the bunch.

Walter's cast.

....a headstrong Ex-confderate who gets defeated by the gang...
Originally played by Elisha Cook Jr
Played here by Jim Broadbent
I'd relish the opportunity to see him get out his usual "gregarious aging man" role to play this angry and self-righteous homesteader.

...a local townsman...
Originally played by Edgar Buchanan
Played here by Allan Havey
Not a very major role, but I think Havey would work here.

....proprietor of the bar where much of the action goes down...
Originally played by Paul McVey
Played here by Craig T. Nelson
He'd make for an affable bar owner.

...a ruthless and again cattle baron....
Originally played by Emile Meyer
Played here by Ian McShane
Wouldn't he be fantastic sinking his teeth into this very menacing role and going to to toe with all of his scene partners? He hasn't been as well served by film in recent year, this would be just the type of role to energise him.

CHRIS CALLOWAY of Ryker's main men....
Originally played by Ben Johnson
Played here by David Harbour
He's usually playing nicer men, but he has the potential to play menacing in a big way, I think. Underneath Chris' menacing outlier aspects he's sort of pathetic underneath and I think Harbour could tap into that quality effectively.

....a macabre gunslinger...
Originally played by Jack Palance
Played here by  Walton Goggins
He was the first person I cast, and seems like an obvious choice. It might not necessarily be completely new ground for him but he'd nail the danger of Wilson and establish the electricity of his character in a few scenes. picks for the main four characters below the jump....

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Casting Coup 1953: Roman Holiday

Walter (The Silver Screening Room) and I are recasting the 1953 best picture lineup as we prepare to head back to the same year for some retrospective cinephiling in June. We're on to William Wyler's romatic comedy/drama.

...a photographer, and friend of Joe who comes caught up in the pair's adventures...
Originally played by Eddie Albert
Played here by Tom Hardy
Right? Truthfully I'm ambivalent on my choices for the other two roles but this was easy and not just because of the resemblance. Irving always comes off to me as someone who feels he's the lead in their own story, and why not get someone with leading man charisma to play him? This Means War was a poor experience but Hardy has underutilised comedic skills.

....the reporter who becomes enamoured with the Princess...
Originally played by Gregory Peck
Played here by Michael Fassbender
I'm not a big fan of Fassbender but no other actor seemed to work. I toyed with performers I loved more but he succeeds mostly because whatever else he'll have a good rapport with my choice for Ann, I think.

...the young Princess longing for a break from her royal duties...
Originally played by Audrey Hepburn
Played here by Lupita Nyong'o
Too on the nose? I considered Carrie MacLemore for a very long time and it's true Lupita is a few years older than the very young Ann, but I feel she works in a way of having that quality of being winsome and beguiling without any sense of insincerity. It would serve her well in a role like this.