Movie Accents — Erik Singer on Actors Playing Real People
Posted on August 25, 2017 at 8:00 am
I am always fascinated by accents, in real life and in movies and I love to hear people who can switch from one to another. I was most recently very impressed with the Appalachian accents in “Logan Lucky,” especially Daniel Craig.
In this video from Wired, dialect/accent/linguistics expert Erik Singer talks about actors who take on one of the most difficult challenges of all, “ideolects,” not just a regional or class-related accent but the specific way a particular individual speaks, from Steve Jobs and Muhammad Ali to Ray Charles or Jacqueline Kennedy. We know the way these iconic figures sound. It takes a very talented and dedicated actor to get the details so right that we barely notice and can just focus on the performance.
“Leap!” would be amiable if a bit dull, a mediocre-grade filler if not for a crucial misjudgment about the main character’s choices and consequences and a storyline that depends on two key characters having completely unfounded total changes of personality.
The premise is a generic “kid with a dream” story about a boy and girl who run away from an orphanage to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer and his dream of becoming an inventor (and his other dream of becoming her boyfriend) in Paris of the late 19th century, as both the Eiffel Tower is being built. The spirited Felice (Elle Fanning) and awkward Victor (Nat Wolff) are best friends who are the closest thing to family in the orphanage run by stern Mother Superior (Kate McKinnon), and grumpy Luteau (Mel Brooks), a cross between a janitor and a truant officer.
With the help of mechanical wings invented by Victor, they finally make it to Paris, where Victor becomes an apprentice to an engineer and Felice lies her way into the prestigious ballet school, using the acceptance letter of a snooty rich girl named Camille (real-life dancer and Sia muse Maddie Ziegler). She actually does not know anything about ballet, but a mysterious cleaning lady with a limp with the name of one of ballet’s most famous roles, Odette (singer Carly Rae Jepsen) agrees, Mr. Miyagi-style, to give her some lessons. Jump up to ring a bell tied to a tree branch and land in a puddle without making a splash. And yes, wax on and wax off — but with her feet.
We know where this is going. Strong voice talent and some imaginative visuals, especially in the dance scenes, cannot make up for tedious detours (a handsome and charming young male dancer who makes Victor jealous, a dragon lady meanie a la Cruella de Vil, a visit to the in-progress Statue of Liberty with a recitation of the Emma Lazarus poem that we have all just been reminded was not added until later), and, as noted, plot developments that depend on two characters having complete changes of personality for no reason. Most troubling is that Felice makes repeated serious mistakes, breaking promises and telling lies, with almost no consequences, giving a sourness to the storyline. It’s one thing to imagine that a young girl could learn several years of ballet training in a few days; it’s another to show her hurting the people around her, and then have her easily forgiven without any effort to make amends.
Parents should know that there is some reckless and irresponsible behavior with only minor consequences; they will want to discuss Felice’s choices and their impact on the people around her. There is also some potty humor.
Family discussion: Why did Felice break her promise to Odette? How did helping Felice change Odette’s ideas about herself?
If you like this, try: “An American Girl: Isabelle Dances into the Spotlight” and “A Ballerina’s Tale”
In the third “Trip” movie, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon again traveling through gorgeous countryside, eating exquisitely prepared meals, and trying to top each other’s impressions, Coogan does something we have not seen before. He laughs. The series plays deftly with what is real (the actors’ names, the general outline of their careers, their improvised banter) and what is fiction (their heightened characteristics and tension between them, their family members, romantic interests, and professional colleagues played by actors and the created relationships and developments, the fact that they do not acknowledge they are being filmed). Coogan’s character, that is, the version of himself he plays in the films, is at the same time insecure and superior, and therefore he usually responds to Brydon’s comments and performances by either insulting them or topping them. But in one scene here, he can’t help himself; he just laughs, more than once, and we see a very different, more relaxed, genuine, and appreciative, perhaps more “real” Coogan.
In this third “trip,” the pair goes to Spain, where the literary overlay is Don Quixote (they even dress up as Quixote and Sancho Panza for a photo shoot), the impressions are as funny as ever (Mick Jagger, John Hurt, Roger Moore talking about the Moors), and the subject of aging comes up now and then. They assure each other that in their 50’s they are in the “sweet spot,” still attractive to women and if, too old to play Hamlet, still too young for Lear. Coogan, always wanting to appear erudite and successful, finds a way to mention the Oscar nominations for “Philomena” (he co-wrote and starred in it), and his new script, called “Missing.” And Brydon points out that “Philomena” was the story of a mother looking for her son and “Missing” is the story of a father looking for his daughter, so perhaps it might be time to go in another direction. The two men go back and forth, jockeying with each other in a dozen different ways, as they obliquely and sometimes directly engage with the passage of time, between glimpses of flaming pans and delectable sauces being spread just so.
Coogan and Brydon are more comfortable and compatible in this version, and, as always, very, very funny. If they get on each other’s nerves, for us in the audience they are excellent traveling companions. The poignancy of their choices and disappointments adds some welcome depth and complexity. There have been some complaints and controversy about the end of the film, which is jarring and out of place with the mood of the series. I am not sure what it is intended to do, but I hope that there will be another trip to find out.
Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, alcohol, teen pregnancy, sexual references, and some implied peril.
Family discussion: Why do Rob and Steve enjoy impersonations so much? Do you agree with Rob’s decision? What should Steve have said to his son?
If you like this, try: the other “Trip” movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and of course “Philomina”
Created as a response to his dissatisfaction with having his politically-heavy, current-events themed scripts censored by network executives, The Twilight Zone allowed Serling, as well as noted fantasy/sci-fi writers Charles Beaumont (The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao), Richard Matheson (the novel I Am Legend) and George Clayton Johnson (Logan’s Run) the opportunity to tell stories about the turbulent 1960s using monsters and aliens, but always reminding the audience that the greatest enemy is ourselves. This unique blend of fantasy and commentary influenced many of TV’s greatest writers, including JJ Abrams, Vince Gilligan, and George R.R. Martin, who, before writing the fantasy novels which made him famous, penned scripts for the 1980s Twilight Zone reboot.
Fassler recommends his favorite episodes, including the classic with Burgess Meredith as a book lover who thinks he has achieved his dream when he is left alone on earth with all the books in the world, until….And he recommends another with Burgess Meredith, “The Obsolete Man.”
Lorraine Hansberry Documentary to Premiere at Toronto Film Festival
Posted on August 24, 2017 at 12:52 pm
I am delighted that there is a new documentary about one of my greatest literary heroes, Lorraine Hansberry and that it will premiere at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival on Friday, September 8, 2017. While she is best remembered for the groundbreaking play A Raisin in the Sun, her other work is also of enormous importance and insight and her too-short life was filled with struggle and triumph.
“Sighted Eyes|Feeling Heart,” from director Tracy Heather Strain, tells the story of Hansberry, iconic playwright, communist, feminist, lesbian, and outspoken trailblazer. It is narrated by LaTanya Richardson Jackson with Anika Noni Rose as the voice of Lorraine Hansberry. Fourteen years in the making, the film features interviews with some who worked with Hansberry and those who knew her best including Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte and Lorraine’s sister Mamie Hansberry.
“I am so delighted that “Sighted Eyes|Feeling Heart” is making its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival!,” says Strain. “It is a dream come true after so many of years of work on what is the first feature documentary about Lorraine Hansberry. She was a powerful chronicler of her times with a voice that resonates today. It is a perfect time to (re)introduce her to the world. I am grateful for the platform to share her story.”
The documentary will be broadcast on PBS in February 2018.