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The Singing Detective (2003)
See this film with an open mind
TSD must not be judged alongside the earlier great miniseries. The film has to be allowed to stand on its own. Similarly, it is not a film that is typical of Hollywood, so viewers can't expect the same 'stah vehicle', facile storytelling and gratuitous titillation's that come out of Tinseltown. TSD is a complex, convoluted story that requires the audience to think intelligently, to remain aware and to be able to recollect what has gone before.
I found this film to be confronting, nasty, funny, moving, neurotic and deeply sad. IMO, Downey is a good enough actor to not need his fans to keep on harping about his past notoriety and drug abuses. He's an actor. He knows how to act and do that very well indeed. He played the tortured man in TSD with exactly the kind of skill and conviction that I would expect of a man of his talents. It is an excellent portrayal but not, imo, a great one. Katie Holmes's prettiness stood her in good stead, but apart from that, almost any of the current crop of young actresses could have done as well. I fail to see why a wig and a prosthetic nose should win Mel Gibson such acclaim for his rather mundane performance. Robyn Wright Penn was utterly convincing as was Carla Gugino. I liked Adrian Brody's shifty stand over man. But for me, the real standout performance was Jeremy Northam's as the handsome, oily, despicable, decadent and seductive Binney. I have read many times that Northam strives to select widely diverse roles, that he does not want to ever be typecast, that he never wants to be choked by wing collars again etc. Well, in TSD, he is about as far from Mr Knightly or Prince Amerigo or Wigram etc as he could possibly be! Here is a marvellously gifted character actor who is able to transform himself on screen in a truly powerful way. I am a great fan of Northam's acting but I confess that I found some of his scenes in TSD to be almost too confronting for comfort, but TSD is not about coddling its audience. The sum of its parts are intentionally awkward and messy, as a metaphor for Dark's life, and so it is entirely appropriate that the characters convey these conflicts too. I would recommend this film to any who like a challenge, who are not afraid of having to think, and who are brave enough to take a step out of their own comfort zone.
The Golden Bowl (2000)
Eagerly anticipated. Rather disappointing, however
I was so eager to see this, as I am completely in thrall to Jeremy Northam, and I even love his acting. What can I say. I even read the novel. Did my homework. Learned that James stated that the Prince, having been educated in and lived in England, spoke with an English accent. So why oh why did M/I require Northam to adopt a fractured Italian accent? Unlike many critics however, his efforts in this area did not bother me so much as make me annoyed as they were so unnecessary.
SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW!!!
I loved how the film looked. The setting, costumes and the scenery were lush, rich and wonderfully evocative of a time and place long gone. M/I interpret this sort of thing so well. My big problem with the film did not occur to me until about half way into my first viewing in the theatre: we now live in an age where infidelity in general and all that that means has been, at least in my opinion, largely trivialised into a soap opera by media/current mass values/breakdown in traditional mores/insatiable demand for movie and tv plot lines. Whathaveyou. Some viewers will strongly disagree with me, and I know that to be the victim of a faithless partner or associate is still, and always will be, personallly painful and generally hideous to live through. But I just could not get as uptight as I needed to about the dastardly flaws in marital and other relationships in this film. I was far more intrigued by the notion which came to me that the Prince, poor as dirt but with lofty desires and a family history stretching back to forever, but could not sustain unless they were funded by somebody like Nolte, could never have even contemplated taking paid contract work and so become self supporting. The idea just did not occur to him. The times were not in tune with such a course. Instead, he opted for another sort of contract in exchange for some renovations on the crumbling pallazzo. So the Prince's tragedy, to me, was not primarily his infidelity to his wife and, indeed, to his lover, his father in law and his son, but to his own potential amd dignity. Why oh why did he need to get into a messy personal dilemma, when an ad in the Personals and a decent lawyer could have got him a rich and varied range of well paid jobs! I know, a far too 20th century take on a 19th century dilemma, and one not even hinted at in the plot, but it took my mind off the awfulness of Kate Beckinsale, and allowed me to turn my ears off whenever Huston's wavering and unstable Southern accent hit the speakers. I did not mind Nolte's performance - he seemed to me to be a reasonable personification of the arrogance and insensitivity common to Verver's parvenu class, but something of a harsh stereotype too, as some of his class and type had real class. His love of fine things, tho' genuine, was always linked to their monetary value. As for Jeremy Northam, I liked his portrayal of a man with a moral dilemma but too little conscience. I was not entirely convinced when the plot required him to fall in love for real with his wife, but if an actress other than Beckinsale had been playing the part I may not have had a problem. Northam is always an intelligent, thinking and feeling actor, so I enjoyed watching the ambivalence he enabled his character to show he was experiencing. Overall, however, for students of Northam's movies, this is not his best work: he looks uncomfortable at times, and I don't think it is all the Prince's doing. Uma Thurman satisfied me as Charlotte, but more because she shows the woman as being emotionally unhinged by her dilemma, not able to be in control of herself nor her desires, and with a bleak and miserable future. She and the Prince do have good chemistry together [altho' I never bought her as the daugher's friend]. The Prince's double betrayal of her saddened me, but mainly because I indulged again in some more plot-rewriting as I watched the film and foreshadowed the misery that is in store for Charlotte as the wife of a no-doubt unforgiving Adam. Not a man to turn into a cuckold, I would guess. As a sample of genre film making, I think The Golden Bowl works OK. The slow pacing of the plot did need some tightening: the film is way too long and although I do no look for shoot-em-ups every 20 minutes, cerebral cogitations and emotional angst can make the film seem very static. However, as a consolation, the supporting characters were all excellent, especially James Fox as Fanny's worldly and tolerant husband, and the randy and amoral aristocratic Lady after whose houseparty the Prince and Charlotte resume their liason. As a way to spend 130 minutes, I'd give it 6.5 out of 10.
A very pleasant adaptation. And Northam is a real find!
By no means my favourite Austen novel, and Paltrow is by no means my favourite actress, but I found the film almost totally delightful. Paltrow does a good job, and Cummings, Stevenson and the one who plays 'Miss Bates' are all absolutely terrific. The period detail is not alienating; the feel of the movie is just right, in fact. But the real 'find' is Jeremy Northam as Mr Knightley. There could not be more perfect casting, IMO. I hated Mr K in the novel, but found him wonderfully human and humane in the film. Northam's good looks and smiling eyes are no hindrance to enjoyment, either! Highly recommended. AnaR