The Morning After: Nov. 4, 2013

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Elizabeth Taylor is considered one of the greatest actors in the history of cinema for a reason. Sure, she has had her duds, but for every mediocre part she played, there were fierce, electric performances that easily subsumed the others. Such is the case of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a performance that is easily better than any she ever gave (at least until Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).

She isn’t alone, though. As the wife of a miserable drunk (Paul Newman), Maggie must navigate his anger while deftly protecting him and his father (Burl Ives) from the vultures that have gathered to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. Events that occur before the narrative, based on the legendary Tennessee Williams play, slowly play out as the denizens of the Pollitt household wrangle for attention and solitude against a backdrop of the dire news that Big Daddy is dying and his estate is to be passed off to one of his children (Newman is one, Jack Carson plays the other).

This fiery drama showcases why Williams was such a force to be reckoned with on stage. His crisp, biting dialogue flows luxuriously from his characters’ mouths given brilliant readings by a treasure trove of gifted actors. Taylor is fiercely spectacular, Newman is bitterly brilliant, Ives gives the best performance of his career and Judith Anderson as Big Momma plays a role unlike any I’ve ever seen from her. They aren’t alone, but they are the quartet most in charge of the film’s grand dramatic situations and gestures. Carson is fine as Brick’s brother Gooper, but Madeleine Sherwood as his wife Mae is the most gratingly annoying character in the film and fills her role out nicely. Only Larry Gates as Big Daddy’s cowardly doctor and Vaughn Taylor as the local deacon turn in disappointing performances, but they aren’t given much room to do anything with the little time they’re given.

It’s hard to take a stage play and open it up for the audience, considering most plays take place within a single room or a pair of rooms for their duration. Director Richard Brooks does expand the property well enough, taking us into various locations within the household and even showing us to the airport early in the film, but it’s the claustrophobia of the massive estate that acts as a lightning rod for the drama taking place and Brooks lends his actors plenty of space to carry out his demands, yielding a compelling bit of drama. Even if it isn’t originally a great work of cinema, the result is a great work nonetheless thanks to the superb talents of the actors involved and the smart Brooks who lets us take them all in.

In a World…

In her feature film directorial debut, actress and voice over artist Lake Bell spins a loopy yarn about a vocal coach trying to break into the voice acting business in which her father remains a prominent figure.

In the days leading up to a Lifetime Achievement award ceremony for her father (Fred Melamed), Carol (Bell) fills in for an ailing rising star (Ken Marino) and nets a few jobs as a trailer voice over artist, a domain that female voice actors have struggled to crack. All of this drama leads to her consideration for the trailer voice for an upcoming quadrilogy based on a popular young adult book series.

Bell is a humorous presence in the film and she’s ably supported by a strong cast of characters based on the script she wrote. Getting another voice over legend on board (Melamed) is something of a coup and it’s not hard to see why. Although the film is very funny and uses the voice over business as a touchstone for amusement, it is heavily reverential, treating famed vocal artist Don LaFontaine like a god, using his coined phrase “In a World…” as inspiration.

Apart from being an affable presents, Bell is a skilled screenwriter, crafting one of the more original indie features this year. Some of the beats may seem ultimately familiar, pulling inspiration from a number of sources, Bell makes the film her own and with it should earn a great deal of respect for her achievement. Women may have carved out a niche within the indie filmmaking realm, but they are still struggling for greater recognition on the mass market. The film acts doubly as a rebuke of that type of chauvinism as well as an embrace of the change in direction the world of cinema has taken in recent years.

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