What kind of movie do you feel like?

Ask Movie Mom

Find the Perfect Movie

Sheila O’Malley on “Bacting” — Acting from the Back

Posted on August 24, 2019 at 8:00 am

Actors often refer to their “instrument,” as though their faces, voices, and bodies are for them what a clarinet or piano or violin is for a musician. The movies invented a new kind of acting, and in its earliest days performers who were expert at projecting to the back row of the theater had to adapt to silent films and close-ups, where the slightest flicker of a facial expression had more of an impact than an entire play’s declaiming.

Photo by Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock (5886139z)
Kim Novak
Vertigo – 1958
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Paramount
USA
Scene Still
Sueurs froides

Today we hear their voices, but often in a whisper, and the close-up of a face is still more eloquent than the most compelling line of dialogue. But what if we do not show their face at all? Actress-turned critic/screenwriter/director Sheila O’Malley writes in a fascinating essay for Film Comment about “back-ting,” which she calls what we see, feel, and learn when an actor turns his or her back to the camera.

Movies from the classic Hollywood period are filled with great back-ting, perhaps because so many of the actors came from theater, where the body has to do much of the heavy lifting. If your character is grieving, the people in the cheap seats have to feel it. Watch Joan Crawford walk across a room. She is the container for the film, not the other way around. Crawford, whose closeups remain high watermarks of the art form, understood how her body was responsible for moving the story forward. Maybe the most famous back-ting moment is John Wayne’s in the final shot of The Searchers. Seen through the dark doorway, he turns and walks into the desert. At one point, his left knee buckles underneath him. It’s a subtle stumble. In his lonely back, we can see his terrible awareness of the brutal life he has lived and what it has cost him.

The gold standard of back-ting is Bette Davis. She has yet to be topped. You want to know how a character has transformed? Watch Davis walk across a room. You want to understand a character’s objective? Look at Davis’ posture, or how she lights a cigarette, or where she places her hands. Davis wrote in her first memoir about studying with Martha Graham as a young woman, and how influential dance training was on her approach to performance: “ body via the dance could send a message… would with a single thrust of her weight convey anguish. Then in an anchored lift that made her ten feet tall, she became all joy. One after the other. Hatred, ecstasy, age, compassion! There was no end, once the body was disciplined.” Davis continued: “Every time I climbed a flight of stairs in films—and I spent half my life on them—it was Graham step by step.”

Interview: the Director and Technical Advisor of “Angel Has Fallen”

Posted on August 23, 2019 at 9:06 am

For The Credits, I interviewed Ric Roman Waugh and former Secret Service Assistant Director Mickey Nelson about “Angel Has Fallen.” Excerpts:

Ric Roman Waugh: Gerard Butler and I have known each other for a number of years and been wanting to work together, and we talked about a number of things. And then I got a call out of the blue about doing the third installment of his Fallen franchise. What Gerard wanted to do was to take the action and the spectacle of the first two movies and send it to new directions and basically make more of an origin story. I love that idea.

So the idea was to not do an event-style plot of the White House being taken in Olympus Has Fallen, or the world leaders being assassinated in London Has Fallen. This movie is about Mike and it shows a day in the life of service. And also the complications that come with that and the heroism and the addictions to the job. You know it’s very much like what our military community or the first responders and law enforcement go through, or even if you think about it, professional athletes.

Mickey Nelson: Most of the Secret Service men and woman that retire go on to do something else–like now I try to do projects like this, so that is a challenge. Luckily you train all along the way, not just initially when you go into the Secret Service. So I think that really helps you adjust. You realize that you can’t stay on all of the time so you inject, as Ric always talks about, a lot of levity. You will see some levity, in the movie. I use that still to this day quite a bit as you probably have noticed. So that’s kind of what helps me deescalate.

Trailer: Bombshell

Posted on August 23, 2019 at 8:47 am

If you want a master class in acting, watch the faces of three brilliant actresses as they take a an elevator in this trailer for “Bombshell,” based on the sexual harassment scandal at FOX News.

Margo Robbie plays Kayla Pospisil, Charlize Theron plays Megyn Kelly, and Nicole Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson. The powerhouse cast also includes Alice Eve as Ainsley Earhardt, Allison Janney as lawyer Susan Estrich, and John Lithgow as the late Roger Ailes.

Tribute: Peter Fonda

Posted on August 23, 2019 at 6:18 am

Copyright 1969 Pando Company

We mourn the loss of Peter Fonda, a fine actor whose work was overshadowed by his Oscar-winning father, Henry Fonda, and sister, Jane Fonda. He will be best remembered for “Easy Rider,” a film that turned Hollywood upside down in the late 60’s with its fiercely independent spirit on and off-screen.

For rogerebert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz writes:

From the start of his stardom, the actor, director, filmmaker, producer, activist, and father of actress Bridget Fonda (“Jackie Brown,” “Point of No Return”) had a complicated vision of his time and country. It endured as he aged and started playing roles that commented on his youthful stardom. His signature works are “The Wild Angels,” “Easy Rider,”, “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry,” “The Hired Hand,” “Ulee’s Gold,” “The Limey,” “Escape from L.A.,” and “Ghost Rider.” All were animated by words and phrases that might pop into the heads of Peter Fonda fans when they thought about his career: motorcycles, counterculture, hippies, drugs, alienation, chaos, romanticism, regret, philosophical reflection, world-weariness, hope, and fathers and sons.

It was just six years earlier that he played bland Sandra Dee’s bland love interest in the ultra-bland “Tammy and the Doctor.”

Copyright Universal Studios 1963

But then, the same year that the film of the Woodstock festival came to theaters, he co-wrote, produced, and starred in the film that was so transformative it led the title of one of the best books ever written about Hollywood history. As Variety wrote, the film “shook up Hollywood and revolutionized the country’s sense of itself….He was the youth-culture version of an icon, rebel son of the archetypal patriarch, and it meant something seismic to see a figure like this — the descendant of American royalty, who could have gone the Ivy League route, or else enlisted in Vietnam — reject his father’s relatively conservative values.” The film cost just $400,000 but made $60 million. Hollywood might not have understood the counterculture, but it understood box office economics.

Copyright 1997 Orion Pictures
In 1997, he played the title role in “Ulee’s Gold.” Director Victor Nunez remembered, “When we started shooting, he was an inspiration on the set. He did a lot of scenes with real, swarming bees. But Peter never got stung. Which says something about him as an actor — he could even charm the bees.”

May his memory be a blessing.

Angel Has Fallen

Posted on August 22, 2019 at 5:42 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence and language throughout
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Nudity/ Sex: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and graphic peril and violence, many characters injured and killed, chases, explosions, assassination attempt, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 24, 2019

To recap: first the White House was attacked. Not White House Down — that was PG-13 with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. I’m speaking of Olympus Has Fallen, rated R, with Gerard Butler as Mike Banning and Morgan Freeman as Secretary of Defense Allan Trumbull. And then it went international with London Has Fallen, with all of the world leaders as targets when they are in England to attend a funeral. Then there was Hunter Killer, but that was about a submarine commander, not a Secret Service agent. Still, it was a fate-of-the-world shoot-em-up, so we’ll include it as an affiliate member of the GBU (Gerard Butler Universe).

That brings us to chapter three of the Banning/Trumbull saga, and, as they like to say in movie trailers, this time it’s personal. “Angel Has Fallen” is about another attack on the President. But this time what, or I should say, who has fallen is Banning himself. Trumbull has gone from Defense Secretary to Vice President, and now President, and Banning is up for the job of head of the Secret Service. But he has two reasons to be reluctant to accept. First, he is feeling the effect of his concussions and other injuries and is popping a lot of pain pills. Second, he dreads the thought of a desk job. The action is what makes him feel alive.

On a fishing trip, the President is attacked — a stunning scene featuring drones swarming together like demonic birds via artificial intelligence and facial recognition. Banning, who had asked to be relieved because his headache was overpowering, returns just in time to rescue Trumbull, but everyone else on the detail is killed. Banning has been framed; there is a deposit of $10 million from Russia in his bank account. An FBI agent (Jada Pinkett Smith) is after him. Banning is Angel and he has fallen. He has to go on the run, off the grid, to find out what is happening, clear his name, and still keep the President safe.

And so we get to find out something about Banning’s past, and about the way intense, adrenaline-pumping peril can become addicting. I’ve had a problem in the past with the careless collateral damage in this series, and that continues to be a problem. Even a mindless popcorn action movie where the “surprise” bad guys are instantly recognizable has to be careful about staying within the parameters of fun chases and shoot-em-ups and explosions, not too heavy on the carnage. That is an even bigger issue this time, as Banning’s character and struggles are a part of the storyline. Making him a character with more dimensions, maybe one and a half or two but not three, just means more of an adjustment every time we swing into one of the big stunt extravaganzas. Is it all the excitement that has Banning no longer needing to chomp down pain pills all the time? It might have been more intriguing to see him try to outsmart and out-fight the bad guys with some uncertainty around his coping with past injuries, but the story pretty much jettisons all of that as soon as the action starts. The different think and feel levels are disconcerting, especially in one scene that got a lot of laughs in the theater but involves many people getting blown up.

Director Ric Roman Waugh is a former stunt man and stunt coordinator and his staging of the intense scenes of conflict and action is assured and exciting. In addition to the drone attack (filmed by drone cameras), the battle in a building during the movie’s climax is pure testosteronic cinema. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Mike Banning — the only question is what or who will be the next to fall.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent film with intense and graphic peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed, guns, drones, explosions, disturbing images.

Family discussion: How are Wade and Mike and Mike’s dad alike? What does “lions” mean to them? Should Mike take the director job?

If you like this, try: the other “Fallen” movies, “Hunter/Killer” and the “Taken” series