When an actor’s true character is revealed

1391380866_philip-seymour-hoffman-greatest-roles_1Character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s currency was storytelling. And yesterday, his untimely death at age 46, in an apparent heroin overdose, was the big story.

My phone on a faraway table glissandoed with the news alert one nanosecond after I hit the button on my latest post about the upcoming Oscars. My mind, bloated with movie scenes, was taking stock of the days I have left to soak up every stellar performance, each gripping tale … each grip and best boy … before the envelopes get unsealed In a month, the judgments served. So my husband helpfully grabbed my phone to bring it to me … and, without further explanation, moaned, “Nooooooooo!” He wouldn’t (couldn’t?) tell me, I had to read it for myself, and then he proceeded to his basement lair to binge on Hoffman movie clips. My daughter’s reaction an hour later, posted on Facebook, was similar: “No no no no no!” which she apparently deleted and edited down (Take 2?) to one, economic “NO!”

Hoffman as Rusty in 1999's "Flawless." A flawless performance, and the first Philip Seymour Hoffman movie I felt I had to own.

Hoffman as Rusty in 1999’s “Flawless.” A flawless performance, and the first Philip Seymour Hoffman movie I felt I had to own.

I’m pretty confident that NO was the whole world’s first reaction; like Whos trapped on this spinny blue-green ball, our collective resistance hurtled us off balance, thrusting through space, aching for something to bang into. Hoffman was one of those actors whose name would prompt the same response from everyone and anyone: “Oh, he’s my favorite!” “I love him!” I never met anyone who did not admire his work, whose body didn’t go limp with respect, recalling him as De Niro’s drag-queen voice teacher, Rusty, in Flawless (my absolute favorite role of his); or as a self-righteous bully in Doubt in which he defended his long-fought reputation; or as scrappy music journalist Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. On and on.

esq-09-exclusive-sundance-portraits-philip-seymour-hoffmanWhat do you suppose went through Hoffman’s mind as he was lying on that bathroom floor fading to black? I am not judging; just morbidly curious. Did he know he was leaving behind legions of mourners? Was he rehearsing some lines in his head? His latest movie role, or how he might explain this away at the hospital or on 60 Minutes? Or was his mind nowhere as he tried to elevate himself above the pain of being human, of knowing and feeling too much? Was that his secret — the key to being a character chameleon?

We all have to die, and the beauty of Hoffman’s life is that he left behind oodles of clips and insights into human character. We all related to him, and now some of this flawless actor’s flaws are exposed. I mourn with the rest of the world.

I couldn’t easily get to sleep last night, though, and it had nothing to do with Hoffman. It was all about that other character, Woody Allen.

bee2d12c-1378-4515-8cbd-ef0d22df2589_AP080518047180_65Also in the news yesterday was the story that Allen’s adopted daughter had finally come forward to relate, in her own words, what life was like growing up around the highly revered film star. I read her letter to The New York Times. It sickened me. As the parent of a sexual abuse victim who spent years bottled up, I found her words somehow rang true.

We’ve learned, again and again, that a celebrity’s stature does not insulate them from horrible character flaws. Flaws?! Sometimes sadistic aberrations.

So while everyone else was combing YouTube for Hoffman clips, I began reviewing Allen’s “genius.” In her open public letter, Dylan Farrow challenged us to name our favorite Woody Allen movie. Suddenly I found I couldn’t even smile watching the ejaculation scene from 1972’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask):

During Allen’s period of alleged perversion, this is the list of works that came out, leading up to the 1992 “trains in the attic” horror story:

1988: Another Woman
1989: New York Stories (segment “Oedipus Wrecks”)
1989: Crimes and Misdemeanors
1989: Somebody or The Rise and Fall of Philosophy (Short) (story “Mr Big”)
1990: Alice
1991: Shadows and Fog
1992: Husbands and Wives

woodyWhile others dissect the scourge of addiction, that seductress that snatched one of the planet’s greatest acting talents before we were ready, I can’t help but plumb the psyche of a mouse of a man, Mr. Big Shot, who perhaps after 22 years thinks he can get away with a heinous crime of nature. I hope there’s some serious detective out there somewhere doing the same.

I know, innocent until proven guilty. But let’s all just take a deep collective breath and try to accept that celebrities — actors — are masters at hiding their true issues. With them, we can be guilty of suspending our disbelief far too long.

And please, stop gaslighting children. She was a child of 7!!! when she first told her story to those around her. And these things always take years to come to light. Innocent until proven sex toys. The emperor is wearing no clothes, and is potentially pummeling the soul of a child in the attic.

I want to scream: NOOOOOOOOOOO! for her.

I don’t mean to defame a comic genius here. But “de-faming” him — stripping him of his position as idol, superstar, mentor, even feminist, Diane Keaton — may shortly prove in order. Then who will be in mourning? What would become of his art?

I’ve always known we must separate the art from the artist. A friend reminds me: “Think of all the terrors and narcissi who’ve created great works.”

But, ugh, what a gruesome Hollywood story in the making. Everything we always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask.

My quick-and-dirty Oscar picks (OK, not that quick)

Been lagging behind other, more qualified Academy Award prognosticators. Wait. Who could be more qualified than someone who has seen 74% of ALL the Oscar-nominated feature and short films (not merely the top prizes, but covering every category including sound mixing and catering)?

Kidding on catering, but one peeve: Why isn’t there an award for Best Casting … or Best Cast? My pick for this year: “Margin Call.” We’re talking Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Simon Baker and the devilishly handsome Zachary Quinto, who wins for Best Eyebrows. Now, that’s a cast-iron hot cast.

 
Enough procrastinating, on to my prognosticating.

BEST PICTURE

Prediction: The Artist
Pick: The Descendants

  • “The Artist” … all I can say is “f*** joie de vivre.”
  • I wanted to love “Loud/Close,” but there wasn’t enough of an emotional payoff – no “wallop,” as my friend and movie partner Ellen put it.
  • “The Help” was manipulative and rewrote history, but I could live with it winning: empowerment is a solid, inspirational theme.
  • “Midnight in Paris” was a great “Cinderella” story and intellectual fun, but seeing Owen Wilson “do” Woody Allen got tedious.
  • “War Horse” was “E.T” with a horse, meets “Saving Private Ryan.
  • “The Tree of Life”? I’d rather watch the Discovery channel.
  • “Hugo” would have to be my second choice – even the dust was 3-D!
  • “Moneyball” was the only movie I saw on the regular cycle, when it came out … it inspired previous blog posts and made me a temporary card-carrying baseball fan, but “The Social Network” may have blown Aaron Sorkin’s wad.
  • My pick, “The Descendants,” is the kind of movie that seeps into your skin, awakes your senses. I saw it weeks ago, and still remember every scene. Who would have thought a land deal and a coma could prove so suspenseful? All I hope for in a film it had: a well-told story, memorable and insightful characters, a non-formulaic and unpredictable plot, amazing performances, and, this is technical: I put a lot of weight on the opening and closing shots/scenes. The wife with the wind in her face, then the father and offspring cocooning to “March of the Penguins” – such spectacular choices. Speaking of which, I love it when movies show other movies within the movie. “Bridesmaids” did this, too, with “Castaways,” when Annie had hit bottom, felt as if she had no friends, just like Tom Hanks’ character befriending sports gear.

BEST ACTOR

Prediction: Jean Dujardin
Pick: Brad Pitt

I want someone (anyone?) to upset Dujardin’s au jus (French gravy) train.

 I’ve gone ’round and ’round on this one. There’s only one actor I can easily eliminate: Gary Oldman, who reminded me of something out of “South Park” with that poker face of his in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” … Tin Man.

And though I love George Clooney — and “love” is too tame a word — I just couldn’t buy the fact his kids didn’t find him equally as charming as I do. He couldn’t turn off the charm, not even with “the run.”
Jean Dujardin is the French George Clooney, and Demian Bichir is the Mexican George Clooney … they can’t all win. Bichir did take a cliché of a script and make me cry. But he’s such a long shot …

I think it’s time for Brad Pitt’s lifetime achievement award. As far as I can tell, I am the only one. He was intense in “The Tree of Life” as a family abuser, and I know he isn’t nominated for that movie, but he HATES baseball, and look how he sold “Moneyball” – his arc as a father, his insecurities … he showed us a different side of Brad Pitt. So I’m pulling for the underdog, in the spirit of the Oakland A’s.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Prediction & Pick: Christopher Plummer

(see previous post, “Bummer for Christopher Plummer?” When I wrote it, I had no clue he was the front-runner.)

BEST ACTRESS

Prediction & Pick: Viola Davis

But I wish there were room for Glenn Close. Maybe in the Best Actor category? heheh.

Ever since “Doubt,” I have adored Viola. She was also smashing this year in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” sharing praise with Sandra Bullock for giving that movie an emotional center. But what a shame for Glenn Close, whose beach scene with Janet McTeer should become as legendary as those from “Chariots of Fire,” “10,” and “From Here to Eternity.” I was transfixed by her performance. After the movie was over, and it truly settled within me, I sat weeping in the theater. But because Close spent 15 years working to bring this movie to the screen, and had already honed the Albert character onstage (and what brilliance in her interpretative manly movements), I’ll say that’s an unfair advantage. As for Mara Rooney, I liked her, but think I liked the actress in the Swedish version more. Meryl Streep, oh, Meryl. You were a better Thatcher than ever Thatcher was, but I think I’ll give it to you for makeup this year. Michelle Williams was a creampuff surprise, rounding out Marilyn with her Norma Jean essence. She wasn’t an impersonator; she was an incubator. Still … it is definitely Viola’s time.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Prediction: Octavia Spencer
Pick: Jessica Chastain (see previous post, “Moonlighting at the Movies”)

ANIMATED FEATURE

Prediction: Rango
Pick: Chico & Rita

Because it was the jazziest animated feature ever.

ART DIRECTION

Prediction: Hugo
Pick: War Horse

Because the horse-getting-stuck-in-the-barbed-wire scene sticks with you.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Prediction & Pick: The Tree of Life

Because it can’t possibly win anything else.

COSTUME DESIGN

Prediction: W.E.

Because Arianne Phillips has Madonna on her side.

Pick: Anonymous

Not THAT Anonymous! Now, that would be an easy costume ...

I also liked “Jane Eyre,” but the best costumes were over in the first 15 minutes, whereas Lisy Christl had to costume entire crowds authentically and also hand-sew all those noodly collars. Plus, Vanessa Redgrave’s gowns were to-die-for. By beheading.

DIRECTING

Prediction & Pick: Michel Hazanavicius

I’ll give him that one, because he WAS the movie. But I would be happy if Alexander Payne or Martin Scorsese managed to win. And I would like to cast anti-votes for both Terrence Malick and Woody Allen. I imagine Woody telling Owen Wilson: “Be more me.” Ugh. He even made him wear his pants like him.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Prediction: Undefeated

But I didn’t get to see it.

Pick: Hell and Back Again

 I saw only this one and “Paradise Lost,” and this one was brilliant — and daring.

FILM EDITING

Prediction: Thelma Schoonmaker for “Hugo”
Pick: Kevin Tent for “The Descendants”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE

Prediction & Pick: A Separation

 If I could select this for Best Picture overall, I would.

MAKEUP

Prediction & Pick: Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland for “The Iron Lady”

MUSIC (Original Score)

Prediction: Ludovic Bource for “The Artist”
Pick: Howard Shore for “Hugo”

MUSIC (Original Song)

Haven’t seen either movie or listened to either song yet. I’ll decide tonight, but I’m leaning toward “Rio.” Coin toss.

SOUND EDITING

Prediction: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Because voters are gonna wanna give it something.

Pick: Drive

Because this was an AWESOME movie. It’s “Taxi Driver” for stunt men.

SOUND MIXING

Prediction & Pick: Hugo

VISUAL EFFECTS

Prediction & Pick: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

WRITING (Adapted Screenplay)

Prediction: The Descendants

And I’d be thrilled for it, but I am faulting it for its narration.

Pick: Moneyball

Because OMIGOD how did they turn THAT dry book into a gripping MOVIE?

WRITING (Original Screenplay)

Prediction: Midnight in Paris
Pick: A Separation

“Margin Call” was quite interesting, but it was written in code. “Bridesmaids” was an unexpected treat, but because it was half-improv, it shouldn’t count. “The Artist” had a meatier plot than I expected, but Michel will get enough overblown credit, and because it’s silent, it’s borderline writing.

Phew. Let the Oscar parties begin!!

Why we laugh at losers: Dissecting Louis C.K.

Louie (TV series)

Image via Wikipedia

I’m a die-hard fan of Louis C.K. and Louie (Thursdays, 10:30 p.m. ET on FX Network, at the time of this posting). But C.K.’s seriocomedy isn’t offering much in the way of comic relief these days. The plot lines seem increasingly horrific. Maybe they’ve always been, and I’m just now noticing because I had to catch up on several episodes in one night.

Tickling with feathers

Let’s see: “Duckling” — an idea conceived by C.K.’s real-life 6-year-old daughter, Mary Louise Szekely — plopped the comic into the heart of the Afghanistan War, with all of its grim baggage. Still, it conquers with “heart” as his screen daughter, worried for her dad’s welfare, sneaks the classroom mascot into his duffel as an amulet. Scary war, with a warm-fuzzy touch.

The “Niece” episode explores child neglect and mental illness. “Eddie” is about suicide, while refreshingly non-judgmental. “Country Drive” riffs on racism and stars a corpse. (No disrespect to nonagenarian Eunice Anderson’s acting.)

Hats off to the comedian for gingerly handling sobering topics that have become his bread-and-butter: depression, divorce, meaninglessness, while always managing a twinkle in his eye, a glimmer of hope, like Tinker-Bell among marauding villains.

Revolutionary evolutionary comedy

Has modern comedy gotten too serious? Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s satirical news shows prompt side-splitting laughter, yet they’re merely telling it like it is. It’s actually hard to find any good escapist comedy these days. Louis C.K.’s genius offerings are so real and honest, they often make me wanna cry. Can’t remember the last time I LOL’ed watching it. My emotions puddle inside.

Licensed by CreativeCommons. “You’re rubber, I’m glue, whatever I say, bounces off of you and sticks on me?” Jim Carrey in Spain.

Laughing through tears is “soitenly” nothing new. As cutting-edge as Louis C.K. seems, his is a tried-and-true formula: stand-up from the down and downtrodden, laughing at the tears of a clown. From the woebegone Charlie Chaplin and Jack Benny, to Rodney “Don’t Get No Respect” Dangerfield and the nerdy slapshtick of Jerry Lewis … Jim Carrey’s “loo-HOO-seh-HER” springs to mind, an attack launched at others but landing on him … even the repressed/oppressed Woody Allen, “Hungarican” Freddie Prinze and countless other “subjugated” minority and female comedians — much of it stems from Schadenfreude, mirth at the misfortune of others. We’re glad we’re not that guy. Or maybe we are that guy, and that’s why we get the gag. Feeling ticklish, after all, is but the realization that an assault that could hurt us doesn’t — the momentary fear of an attack that proves non-life-threatening, so we laugh in relief and acceptance and trust-bonding, so they say. Here’s how the hilarious “Avenue Q” explains taking pleasure at another’s pain:

When at war, DUCK!! Or make “Duck Soup.” Licensed by CreativeCommons

Does that mean comedy is mean-spirited at its core? I don’t think so, but more and more it’s the absurdist view that sells, while the madcap-screwball variety seems passé. That must be a reflection of society, but someone smarter than I am can analyze it.

In terms of comic art, Louis C.K. is that rare practitioner who packs a lot of punch into his non-punch lines and running-on-emptiness perspective. The material he draws upon, his real-life fatherhood, is also what seems to inject the dark show with its bright spots. These innocents, his own duckling kids, ultimately make life worthwhile in spite of himself. The show is inconceivable without the drama of those little girls, just as it seems C.K. hit his stride only after their real-world arrival added charm and stark contrast to his act.

Kinda glad Louis C.K. didn’t dedicate all of his life to masturbation and squeezed in some procreation there.

As much as I enjoyed the heralded “Duckling” episode (based on C.K.’s own USO tour in 2008 to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan), it seemed a bit predictable for Louie. For me, the Louie episode dubbed “Halloween/Ellie” — touching on random violence yet somehow skirting Halloween horrors — may prove C.K.’s most telling of the season. For all of the “loserdom” the show glorifies, the Louie character acts almost heroically  — granted, only after taking a cue from 5-year-old Jane.

The episode also seems to sum up C.K.’s approach to his art, when his character gets a golden chance to be golden boy to a Paramount Pictures exec, who sees promise in him and could help turn his life around. Of course, he blows it, with this movie pitch:

“You know how movies … there’s always a guy and, like, his life is always OK, and then something happens, there’s a conflict, and he gets to resolve it and then his life gets better? Well, I always wanted to make a movie where a guy’s life is really bad and then something happens and it makes it worse, but instead of resolving it, he just makes bad choices and then it goes from worse to really bad, and things just keep happening to him and he keeps doing dumb things, so his life just gets worse and worse and, like, darker and … he lives in a one-room apartment, he’s not a very good-looking guy, has no friends and he works in, like, a factory … a sewage disposal plant! and then he gets fired, so now he doesn’t even have his job at the shit factory anymore, and he’s going broke, and he takes a trip and it rains … just stuff, shit keeps .. horrible .. and then he meets a girl and she’s beautiful and he falls in love, so you think that’s gonna be the thing, the happy thing! but then she turns out to be a crook and she robs him, she takes his wallet and now he’s, like, stuck in the middle of nowhere and he’s got no wallet, no credit cards. Like, what do you do? how do you even get home …?”

I like to imagine that was close to the pitch C.K. made to get his Louie pilot off the ground two seasons ago. Don’t miss the season finale, “Airport / New Jersey,” this Thursday, Sept. 8, at 10:30 p.m. on FX.

Louie, Louie, Louie, Loo-whee!!

And here is, not a clip from “Duckling,” but part of his bit on “duck vaginas,” which he recasts in the Louie stand-up segment. Warning: This is not “Duck Soup.” Also, it’s striking how peppy Louis C.K. is compared with his dour doppelganger on Louie.