Friday, March 10, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Oscar worthy

Cher's Oscar-worthy performance in "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Hugh Jackman's Spectacular Farewell to Wolverine. Also — Digging Way Too Deep and Way Too Long on "The Americans."

“IN THE language of an actor, to know is synonymous with to feel,” said acting guru Stanislavski.
AFTER 17 years of playing the tormented comic book hero Wolverine, Hugh Jackman knows his character, and feels him. Over time he has made something very real and human about this mutant — so misused, abused and misunderstood by humans and even other mutants. 

Now, the long screen tenure of Wolverine, aka Logan, has come to an end, in Jackman’s latest — and he says, last — outing as the hairy guy with the retractable bone claws (later altered to some kind of indestructible metal alloy.)
I’m not going to pretend to be a wise comic book geek, with a vast knowledge and memory of all the movies based on superheroes  that have proliferated for the past twenty-plus years. Keeping track of all the various Supermans, Batmans and Spidermans has been hard enough in re-boot crazy Hollywood.  The incestuous mixing of the various X-Men, Avengers, etc has become a dizzying parade of costumes, CGI, pumped up physiques, sequels and prequels. DC vs. Marvel — the head hurts, the mind spins. 
However, Wolverine has remained consistent; he has always been played by Mr. Jackman — who retracts his claws periodically to act wonderfully in human roles. (He was already famous as Wolverine when he came to Broadway in “The Boy From Oz” playing the later singer/songwriter Peter Allen, and taking home a Tony Award.)

Jackman has always given the hirsute mutant his all.  But in this cinematic finis, titled “Logan,” Jackman gives his all, and then one thousand percent more!

This movie is already a huge hit, so this critique means nothing at the box-office.  I’m just here to tell you that even if you’ve never seen an X-Men movie, and have no knowledge of Wolverine, if you consider yourself above this kind of film — reconsider.  This is old, beaten-up and beaten-down Wolverine.(It’s set in 2029 — the “retired” super-antihero drinks a lot and drives a limo.)  Life as a mutant hasn’t been fun. His powers are waning — if not his anger and penchant for violence when threatened.  His mutant pal Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is also tired, ailing and endangered. 
And there’s a new young mutant, Laura (Dafne Keen) with powers and anger issues similar to Logan. She needs protection.  These three bond, go on the run, and great havoc ensues.  Fair warning — very graphic violence; far more I think than in any Wolverine film in the past.  But, given the history of this character (and for those few who might not be up on it, enough past info is provided), the blood-letting doesn’t really seem gratuitous or surprising.
There’s a lot going on in “Logan.” It is layered, poignant and bleak — distressingly bleak, I’m sure, for those who don’t want an end to Wolverine, and don’t want to see him tattered and bitter.

Hugh Jackman gives an award worthy performance. (And I don’t mean something from Comic-Con!)  I say it now, although I doubt  the Academy will recognize his effort and passion, because, well — the claws, the name, the facial hair.  There was some talk last year that Ryan Reynolds’ engaging turn in “Deadpool” might nab an Oscar nomination.  That didn’t happen. 
But if Oscar voters can work their way through the comic book mythology, the violence and special effects, a tremendously visceral, moving and committed acting performance resides within “Logan.” (Stanislavski would most definitely approve!)  And it deserves more than the adoration of fans and the joy of studio execs, counting up their grosses. 
If you're not convinced, just watch Jackman doing ADR on this chase scene!
P.S. Mr. Stewart and young Miss Keen are also excellent, Stewart especially moving as the weakened Professor X.  (The actor, looking terrific and in his usual fine, witty form, told Conan O’Brien the other night that he deliberately lost almost twenty pounds for “Logan,” the better to convey the professor’s physical and mental decline.)
SEASON FIVE of “The Americans” premiered this week.  The show has been a favorite of ours since it debuted, and I think we were there cheering when the series — starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Russian spies, circa 1984 — wasn’t getting much media traction.  This season promises to be as dark and creepy and paranoia-drenched as ever. (One of the couple’s teenage kids, the daughter, figured out that her all-American mommy and daddy are really Soviet spies. That they are also ice-cold killers hasn’t quite registered yet. And when it does, will she issue a big “nyet” or go along with the program?) 
However, the return episode, which aired on Tuesday night contains a scene that has already become famous — a prolonged sequence with Russell and Rhys and some of their spy friends, digging a hole, trying to get to something (we won’t spoil).  But, this digging goes for so long that it became unintentionally funny — like mellow marijuana funny. I think it’s already been transformed into an online meme or trope or gif.   If I had ever imagined a scene about digging a hole might contain elements of interest or tension, that salute to shovels in “The Americans” put such thoughts to rest.  

Can’t wait to see the rest of the season, but let’s keep it above ground, okay?
OUR FRIEND Dick Guttman, PR man of many celeb lives, wrote in, recalling Robert Osborne:  “A friend true of heart, warm of caring, astonishing in knowledge. He bore the loving of great films on his shoulders long enough to pass that happy task to the widest audience.  No question, getting to be a guest programmer with him, on TCM, was the greatest honor I have ever had.  True, there have been no other honors, but had there been they would have stood in its shadow.”
On a happier note, responding to a recent column on Cher, Guttman recalled working with the star after the release of “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.” (In the role of Sissy, which Cher had originated on Broadway.) 

Dick:  “There was well-deserved talk of an Oscar nomination, and she was making the publicity rounds.  I had her do a Q&A at UCLA; the crowd was big, enthusiastic and friendly.  But the very first question was ‘is it true your bedroom looks like a snake pit?’  Without batting an eye or changing expression noticeably, she said, ‘Only on occasion.’  It was a master class example of cut-to-the-chase wit and matter-of-fact brevity.”

Contact Liz here.