Friday, February 22, 2019

ON TO OSCAR, PART 5.

(Other Best Picture Nominees considered so far: Black Panther, A Star is Born, Roma, BlackKkKlansman, and The Favourite.)

Bohemian Rhapsody. I've often said that the biopic is an intrinsically minor artform, and that only extremely rare exceptions bend the curve. Bohemian Rhapsody looks good and moves with some of the strut and glide of Queen's music, but it has all the traditional biopic problems -- for example, outside the star, there are no real characters. Credit Tom Hollander for sneaking a hint of dry humor into his lawyer/manager Jim "Miami" Beach (and Mike Myers -- had me fooled!), but everyone else is a cipher. Maybe it's because they're all still alive and could make trouble but the movie bandmates don't give us anything besides the most pro-forma behind-the-music moments: The lightbulb that's-a-great-riff! moments, the Freddie-you've-gone-too-far moments, etc. Even Mercury's female "love of my life" Mary never shows any feelings but Freddy-related feelings, and out of a regrettable soap opera at that. What if they'd been a little playful about it? When Freddie says "I think I'm bisexual" and Mary says, "you're gay," didn't anyone on the set realize how funny that is? I was laughing, anyway.

In fact all the stuff about Freddie's sexuality is weirdly fraught -- I haven't seen a leather scene like that since Cruising. (Wait'll they make the Rob Halford biopic!) Well, the closet can do strange things to a man and, given his background, Mercury was particularly [cue the music!] under pressure from both directions -- pushed not to go too far for obvious social reasons, but compelled to reveal what was going on inside himself for artistic reasons. That's a lot to take on and I can hardly blame Bryan Singer,  the superhero-movie director of a big-budget can't-miss biopic (who has some issues himself), for deciding that the answer is the true love of a decent bloke you can bring home to your stereotypically uptight immigrant dad. But sweet as that is, judging by his music I bet that wasn't all Freddie Mercury was going for.

But if the script doesn't show us, at least Rami Malek's performance is able to suggest it. There have been a lot of jokes about Rami Malek's dental prosthesis doing the acting for him, but like any good actor Malek makes the thing work for the character -- sometimes the teeth are a totems of his fears and sorrows, something to hide and brood over, and sometimes they're the prow of a proud ego-ship steaming late into rehearsal. And despite being 90% of the movie, Malek's Freddie is still able to remain a little mysterious -- even in the cliche good-love and bad-love scenes, you can feel that he's protecting something inside himself -- his heart, maybe, or his ego, or his talent; something, in any case, that can't stand too much handling. Whether at the top of his game or the height of his madness, that makes Mercury vulnerable and lovable and fascinating, and not just someone we're staring at because he's famous. For a biopic that's an achievement.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

ON TO OSCAR 2019, PART 4.

(Other Best Picture Nominees considered so far: Black Panther, A Star is Born, Roma, BlackKkKlansman.)

The Favourite. [Mild spoilers.] This struck me at first as an exceedingly cold-blooded comedy of manners, like a Joe Orton adaptation of Wycherley -- or a Peter Greenaway movie with much better dialogue (Servant, whose room is invaded by a courtier: "Have you come to seduce me or to rape me?" Courtier: "I am a gentleman." Servant: "So, rape then.") The photography, which while gorgeous leans at lot on the fish-eye, also seemed designed to distance us, literally and figuratively, from the characters. But flashy as it is, the film reveals a very poignant strain.

The early-18th-Century rivalry between Churchill forebear Sarah Duchess of Marlborough and her reduced distant relation Abigail Hill for the affections of Britain's Queen Anne is such a sure-fire subject I was surprised not to have seen it done before -- though apparently it has been, including in a 2014 Helen Edmundson play. As the principals are introduced, we are brought quickly up to speed on Sarah's sway over the addled and capricious queen and on impoverished Abigail's desire to rise; the conflict seems inevitable and the ensuing machinations, beautifully written, give the traditional thrill of seeing a couple of live ones go at it. (As their shooting-range repartee reveals, Sarah has age and guile but Abby has youth and quickness.)

But while Abigail's drive to get up the ladder occasions astonished laughter, we also get some very cold glimpses of what she has had to pull herself up out of ("when I end up on the street selling my asshole to syphilitic soldiers, steadfast morality will be a fucking nonsense that will mock me daily"). By the time she offers a truce to Sarah after having nearly killed her, even as the audacity of it amuses we realize she's serious; she's inviting Sarah to sympathize sufficiently with her situation to forgive and, though we obviously can't expect her to accept, we may also feel that Sarah, having been protected by her class all her life, is being a bit ingracious in responding with blows ("Obviously, you still have some anger to expiate").

But Sarah has her own vulnerability as an (it has to be said) aging lover whose good sense sets her above the herd but also apart from sympathy; when she discovers Abigail in Anne's bed, her heartsickness could not be more genuine. As for the Queen, her capriciousness and cruelty are funny and sometimes shocking, but over time we come to understand it's based on severe emotional distress, caused by an understandable lack of trust in nearly everyone (and a feverish over-valuation of the few she does trust), and exacerbated by her royal isolation. I was especially struck by her bright, almost demented happiness at the wedding she hastily arranges for Abby and the poor dope Masham -- maybe because it's a rare occasion for her power to create joy.

The acting couldn't be better. Even at Abigail's shittiest, Emma Samms' face can show an almost childlike openness (I don't recall noticing how big and blue her eyes were before); Rachel Weisz employs the full force of her natural magnificence to o'erween without losing our rooting interest. Olivia Colman does that too, but in the manner of a baffled, spoiled child who can find no comfort and yet must still do her sums and read her speeches.

Monday, February 18, 2019

ON TO OSCAR 2019, PART 3.

BlacKkKlansman. From the title to coda, this is just way too much -- which is what Spike Lee does and it's alright with me. There are times when his Sesame-Street schematic style just made me laugh out loud; like when he was setting up the black-cop-plus-white-cop-make-one-klansman plot, I thought, come on -- this is even a true story and I don't quite believe it. (The chief might buy the idea from black rookie cop Ron Stallworth if it were allowed to grow on him -- but a snap decision on a sit-down and "with the right white man we can do anything"?)

I got over it, though. I'm a sucker for this stuff. To me Lee and Oliver Stone are the heirs to Sam Fuller -- vulgarians who muscle and hustle you along. And though the KKKreeps in the movie are cartoons, how far from cartoon characters can the actual fuckers be, with their racist monomania and basement-den boys' Valhalla? But though they're cartoon characters, they're still characters, and Lee gives them enough operating room so you can see how they might be a real danger, especially under the guidance of "national director" David Duke -- whom Topher Grace plays sort of like Eric from That 70's Show grown up racist, which makes him more horrifying than any po-faced Evil Dwells Among Us portrait. (I think Grace's comic understatement has a lot in common with my favorite Marlon Brando performance: George Lincoln Rockwell in Roots II.) And if the white cops in the station are just variations on Officer Hoppy from Sanford and Son, at least they learn to roll with Ron's jam and get a kinder laugh in the end.

But the good-n-evil games are the least of it -- though Lee builds numerous tense scenes with an expertise that comes with constant work (TV shows, documentaries, movies -- he doesn't just hustle audiences). It's Ron's identity crisis that's the most interesting feature. He's mysterious coming in, dressed and coiffed out of an Afro-American fashion catalogue but seeming to play the line-walking good father's son -- which we take for a dodge until we realize it's only partly a dodge, he is that good son taught from birth to walk the line, and his "that's heavy" and "my sister" at the Kwame Ture event seem stiff because he's stiff. (Much is made at the station of his alternating "straight" and "jive" manners, but there's really not much functional difference.) Ture's long speech is there not only to give Lee a chance to raise our consciousness, but to raise Ron's.

As Ron's running his undercover act with the Klan, he's also running one on his Black Power girlfriend -- and in both cases he can't keep the double game up forever. (John David Washington is excellent at walking that line.) It's a dramatically pleasing solution that Ron sorts out his identity crisis by partnering on the Klan scam with the white Jewish cop Flip (a moody Adam Driver). It's weird to consider that for all Lee's alleged radicalism, and for his and the black characters' contempt for white savior shtick, this plot device isn't too far from 60s Sidney Poitier territory; the two men keep needling and proving themselves to each other, and when Flip acknowledges that, by putting the white face on Ron's fake Klansman, as a Jew he's "passing" too, the comraderie finally seems to break the lifelong tension that's made it hard for Ron to relax into himself -- and also seems to help solve (spoiler here, folks) the conflict with his girlfriend. Though she can't accept a brother working from the inside, she comes to accept Ron, and I think it's because he's come to accept himself.

That's heavy, my brother! Lee also gives us a lot of cinema sweets and sours -- Ron standing face to face with the human target that is, basically, him; the cross-cutting from Harry Belafonte in the student union to the Klan meeting; Ivan the drunken Klansman just making that weird sound of incomprehension into the camera. And I've been singing "It's Too Late To Turn Back Now," not just because the song is irresistible but also because Lee's delirious black love & soul dance scene is too.

As for that coda: I disapprove on Farberesque principle with this sort of gimp-string manipulation. I didn't like it, for example, when Gus Van Sant did it at the top of Milk to make a veil of sorrow that the film hadn't earned.  I did think , though, it was fair play for Lee to use Rodney King at the beginning of Malcolm X to rack-focus us between the past and the present. And as for the flash-forward to Charlottesville and the tiki-torch boys at the end of this Klan story, what I have to say is this: fuck the Klan, fuck David Duke, and fuck Donald Trump.


BEZOS OFF.

I'm unlocking a newsletter issue today (Subscribe! Cheap!™) showing a possible outcome in Amazon's search for a new HQ2 location, involving a longtime alicublog mainstay, Fritters, Alabama.

It's a response in large part to all the dummies acting as if the oversight New York would have put on Amazon in exchange for billions of dollars in tax breaks, which caused the tycoon Bezos to decamp in a huff, were unspeakable insolence in the face of corporate beneficence -- and the even crazier idea that New York, the economic titan of the nation, would suffer greatly from the loss of this single project.

About the worst of the bunch is, natch, at The Hill, written by Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation -- it's basically a concatenation of ancient rightwing slurs. "The Empire State has to be the most business hostile place in all of North America," Moore snarls, which is why New Yorkers walk around barefoot in patched overalls, as opposed to the wealthy citizens of business-friendly Bumfuck, Mississippi. Like the lower-profile idiots, Moore also cartoonishly portrays the objections to the Amazon deal thus: "They do not want Amazon jobs because Bezos has made so much money. The Ocasio-Cortez followers hate Amazon almost as much as Walmart." (Rendering this even more of a non sequitur, Walmart just opened a Jet.com warehouse in The Bronx.) Also, he claims, the foolish Gothamites demanded "every job be unionized" -- not sure where he's getting that from: Maybe he refers, albeit bullshittily, to the union push at Amazon's existing facility in Staten Island.

Moore declares it a "catastrophic loss for New York," which he no doubt expects his readers out in the sticks to believe, and which inspires my fantasia; go look.

Friday, February 15, 2019

BEZOS AND FDR FINALLY UNITED IN RIGHTWING HISTORY.

I keep forgetting how dumb Jonah Goldberg is, merely because I don't read him as much as I used to (yes, I am still capable of growth and learning). But Jesus:
Amazon is taking its ball and going home, and New York Democrats are actually celebrating.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the deal New York and Amazon worked out. I don’t like corporate welfare, and the race among municipalities to bribe businesses to set up shop in their backyards has a lot of problems.
Followers of the Goldberg style will recognize the all-bases cover he uses when he knows taking a firm position will leave him exposed. (Around here we call it the pee-dance.) He can't just say, as have many wingnut morons doing If I Was Mayor of a City I Obviously Hate cosplay on the internet, that it was bad to reject Amazon's deal because Crony Capitalism is one of the THIMK-style signs in his office (the others include Liberal Fascism, You're the Real Racist, and My Mom Can Get You Fired). But he still has to bitch about it -- the big picture of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with whom the dummies are associating the deal, shows he's pretty much expected to -- so he has to fudge (without thinking about fudge, which would delay his filing by 30 minutes and 700 calories). Now let's look at the horrible mutant baby of logic in which this results:
...But what’s just astounding to me is how Democrats can (almost in one breath, figuratively speaking) champion a Green New Deal that would use the powers of the state — taxes, subsidies, regulatory bullying, etc. — to herd whole industries into alignment with their vision of a just and green society, and at the same time denounce these very tactics when actually put into practice.
Did you know large national projects such as the Space Race and crony capitalism are the same thing? Let's hear Goldberg explain:
...The most prominent architect of the GND is New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Under her proposal, cows might suffer, but humans will thrive thanks to all the wonderful new jobs and free health care her utopian scheme would provide.
LOL at the idea you can ever make anything better for non-billionaires!
...When Inskeep pointed out to her that deficit spending is “borrowing money that has to be paid back eventually through taxes,” AOC reversed herself with an impressive lack of embarrassment, saying that’s okay because this isn’t spending, it’s investing. Borrowing tens of trillions for her “investments” will pay for itself, “Because we’re creating jobs.”
The Amazon deal would have created some 25,000 jobs with an average annual salary of $150,000...
Quit laughing -- just because it would cost New York $3 billion in tax breaks, plus which these big corporate promises seldom pan out, doesn't mean it's impossible.
...but AOC was against it because the agreement amounted to “creeping overreach of one of the world’s biggest corporations.”
Maybe it did. But I have news for AOC and others trying to use the precedent of the original New Deal as an excuse to get the band back together: This is how New Deals work.
Yes, Goldberg thinks the profit motive of a rich oligarch is pretty much the same as FDR's reason for launching the Works Progress Administration. His hook, or rather his rusty hatpin, is that the New Deal was a "bonanza for big business":
In their effort to mobilize the U.S. economy to fight the Depression, the New Dealers favored big businesses and “associations” — cartels, guilds, syndicates, etc. — at every turn. The largest corporations individually or in association wrote the “codes” — i.e., regulations — of the National Recovery Administration and other agencies for their own benefit. It was all done in the name of efficiency and progress. 
For instance, the big chain movie houses of the 1930s — the Netflixes and Hulus of the time — wrote the codes in such a way that independents were nearly run out of business, even though 13,571 of the 18,321 movie theaters in America were independently owned.
The New Deal also, indeed primarily, fed, housed, and gave employment to a whole lot of starving, homeless, jobless citizens. Even if Amazon's promised jobs panned out they were not going to the needy, and might not even have gone to locals.

Goldberg thinks it was just a racket, though, the secret purpose of which was... I don't know, to make America Communist by consolidating the power of Big Movie Theater Chains, or to pay off FDR's donors.

The howler is that when Republicans do big-government big-money interventions -- even the one Republican president Goldberg allegedly disapproves of -- he's willing to accept their allegedly patriotic and utilitarian logic: e.g. "My hunch: The tax bill will help the economy," tweeted Goldberg about the amazingly transparent donor payoff Trump and Congressional Republicans pulled in 2017. But if Democrats propose a jobs program, it's a utopian fantasy. Even if it were a fantasy, I'd still take it over the dystopian reality Goldberg seems to think we deserve.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

ON TO OSCAR 2019, PART 2.

Roma. [Mild spoilers.] When I was a young man I went with this girlfriend to visit her parents in Miami. As she, like most of my girlfriends, came from considerably more money than I did, the parents had a swell place, and a maid greeted the girlfriend at the door -- very effusively and even emotionally, I thought, considering she was after all a maid, though also with some reserve (like the hugs, though there were a lot of them and they were obviously heartfelt, never lasted very long) that made it seem even weirder. After the woman went back to her work, the girlfriend said, "That's [name of maid] -- she sort of raised me."

That played on my mind when I saw Roma, which as you may know is about a live-in servant to a middle-class family in the eponymous district in Mexico City in the early 70s. The servant, Cleo, young and modest and indígena, seems to be more or less the housekeeper; there's another girl who seems to be the cook, but they help each other in their jobs. In addition to housework, Cleo spends a lot of time with the children, one of whom, fair-haired and sensitive and given to tales of his past lives, I at first took to be her son, she seemed to understand him and love him so well, though she seemed too young to have had him. When I realized he was instead one of the family, and that he was probably the avatar of the filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón,  I cried, and not for the last time. In fact I haven't cried for a movie as much since Moonlight, so there's a lachrymal vote in the Oscar sweepstakes.

Even before I made that connection, I could see it was a memory movie even if I hadn't heard in advance that it was -- so often details are jacked up in the way a child would perceive and then remember them in adulthood: The overdriven sound of 60s cars, the multilayered din of city streets, the chaos and clatter of hawkers flashing and bouncing their wares outside the movie palace, the paneling and fluorescent lights of the mueblería. Even in scenes the child Cuarón could not have witnessed, the look and feel asserts itself, as if to insist on its importance, even over the story -- which I confess sometimes made me impatient, because it reminded me more of the sort of film installations one sees in museums than a movie.

But things do happen. Cleo takes up with Fermin, a friend of a cousin who turns out to be no good, a hitter in the Los Halcones paramilitary, who gets her pregnant and abandons her. (His abandonment and later renunciation of her are among the more protracted scenes, and thinking about it now I guess maybe I felt impatient with them because they're so painful.) The family meanwhile is disrupted; the father fucks off with a mistress, and his wife and her mother can at first think of nothing better than to deceive the kids and pretend he's just away on business. The twin sorrows of Cleo and her employer run on tracks that are sometimes parallel and even come very close, but there's always, as there was with my girlfriend's parents' maid, a line that no one is going to cross. But the maid and the family get through -- one would say together, but not quite, except in the blessed memory of a boy who grew up to make a movie where she was, at last, the center of attention, and at the close ascends into the endless memory of art.

There is so much that's virtuosic in this movie, and it's mostly Cuarón, who directed, wrote, shot and edited it (and I bet he had a lot to say about the sets); I especially love the long dolly shots, from the servants' giddy race down a Mexico City street to the genuinely how-the-hell amazing ocean rescue, but every scene is a jewel of rhythm, blocking, and dramatic emphasis, including the revelation scene at the seaside restaurant where the mother is the focus but there's a little boy who can't stop crying. All the acting is choice but Yalitza Aparicio's Cleo is the sort of thing that might have made Bresson think, maybe it's okay if the actors try a little. Her performance is more perfectly on the cusp of acting and not-acting than any other I've seen, and I've seen Joseph Chaikin. If you don't like the movie, you'll at least like a lot of the things that you see and hear in it.

(Kind of hate to disturb the reverie, but if you want to know everything that's wrong with "conservative" "arts criticism," you might check out Ross Douthat's studiously inept review of the film. The crux of it is, liberals r hypocrites because they like a movie where the maid is exploited, what if it was Berkeley huh libs. And wait till you hear his more specific criticisms; get this -- "The choice to film in black and white feels a wee bit pretentious, depriving the viewer of the rich colors that many of the street scenes imply" -- similarly, why were In Cold Blood, Psycho, and Dr. Strangelove in black and white, they had color then, I don't get it -- aaaargh fuck this guy; how perfect that this alleged follower of Christ should be such a perfect philistine.)


Sunday, February 10, 2019

ON TO OSCAR 2019, PART 1.

[As I do from year to year, I'm going to try and get down as many Oscar-nominated films as I can before the big show on March 4.]

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. [Up for best adapted screenplay, 2 others] [Mild spoilers that get hotter as we go.] I have frequently said the Coens must be stoners, and I mean that neither as a dis nor as a backhand compliment so much as a description of what their work suggests. They have the stoner's voluptuary taste and feeling of randomness -- they seem to keenly feel things and notice details other people wouldn't. Sometimes this gives them a fresh, unexpected perspective that lights up a scene -- as we all saw recently when a lot of people were playing the Danny Boy clip from Miller's Crossing in honor of Albert Finney. (And of course it's apparent in all of The Big Lebowski, the first of their films that I really got.) But they also let their enthusiasms lead them down side roads and alleys and sometimes far, far from the point.

For 18 minutes their omnibus film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is brilliantly on point. The old-time kid's western storybook framing device launches, and we get the gunslinging balladeer himself hilariously tall-taling and Mike Finking his way through some spectacular showdowns -- brilliantly funny and violent -- without mussing a hair or missing a beat; even when his number finally comes up, his eloquence does not fail, but rather ascends (along with Buster himself) in song.  It's as if the Coens had taken the childish notion of The Old West -- the kind kids of the storybook era knew, with bloodless gun-battles and happy-ending cliffhangers -- and run it through 50 years of New Westerns, leaving the old storybook innocence spattered with Peckinpah blood, wised-up and absurd, but still mythic.

That's the high point, though. Not that the other stories aren't good, they're just not as inspired, and exhibit a mean streak that saps the pleasure from even the Coens' abundant inventiveness. The story of the bank robber who escapes justice only to be captured by fate is clever  -- but it's also right out of O. Henry and Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. The celebrated "Meal Ticket" episode is a dark and compelling conceit, but finally just depressing. "The Gal Who Got Rattled" cooks up a wonderful Oregon Trail sorta-romance between a marooned Midwestern maiden and a comically noble cowboy -- only to cut it brutally short because, well, I guess because that's life, pardner. "The All-Gold Valley" ends more happily but no more cheerfully. By the time we get to the big, dumb death-metaphor of "The Mortal Remains," I felt like this is what O Brother Where Art Thou would be like if they hadn't known enough to let go of Homer.

It all looks great -- Bruno Delbonnel, who did the Simon & Garfunkel cover look for Inside Llewyn Davis, makes a series of gorgeous, living tipped-in four-color plates here, and Carter Burwell's majestic music would make Jerome Moross proud or maybe jealous. All the actors are wonderful, but I give the palm to Tom Waits as the greatest successor to Gabby Hayes, Tyne Daly who knows how a lady should be treated, and Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan for the sweetness they bring to the hard trail.

A Star is Born. This old war horse always pleases me one way or another -- whether with old-Hollywood glammah or with the outrageous 70s excess of Barbra and Kris. I was surprised how straightforward and muted this Bradley Cooper version is -- it really looks like an actor made it, with the scenes played for maximum honesty and the dialogue super-naturalistic to the point of being frequently hard to make out (which makes sense as Jackson Maine, the latest incarnation of the drunken, doomed star, is losing his hearing). I was going to say that he even cut the big confrontations and set pieces from the earlier versions but looking back I see they're all still in there -- they just evolve so naturally, without announcing themselves (like Ally's manager telling Maine what's what), that you don't feel the build-up. It's almost John Cassavettes' A Star is Born. Cooper's insight seems to be that the story's so strong you don't have to force it. And he's right.

Maybe they let Cooper make this movie in such a minor key because Lady Gaga as Ally supplies more than enough major-chord glammah to pull the crowds with her big splashy song numbers; they're not my thing, but they by God convince you she's the star you're watching get born. The best thing I can say about her acting is that she doesn't get blown out of the water by the big boys she's running with here. Sam Elliott, in particular, is not only great in the customary Sam Elliot way of just being Sam Elliot, but his scenes of brotherly blood and iron with Cooper are tough and true. And Cooper, who was amazing in American Sniper, is amazing here playing a different kind of damaged case. The one drawback in his performance is mainly a wound to the film: his Maine is so buried in his pain -- squint-faced, greasy-haired and grin-armored; you can smell the booze on him -- that you wonder what Ally sees in him -- she acts the enabler with him at first, sure, but her behavior with her dad (Andrew Dice Clay! Who's very good!) shows that she's not a sucker. But I bought that he was able to get this far and not much farther without cracking, and that finding Ally was like getting a glimpse of his own soul after it being long away, and it helped him go a few more miles than he might have. I wouldn't give up Lowell Sherman and Constance Bennett for this, but it's a worthy entrant.

Friday, February 08, 2019

FRIDAY 'ROUND-THE-HORN.



Pop's not dead!

•   I have opened another issue of the Roy Edroso Breaks It Down newsletter to the public at large (that's you) (subscribe, why don't you? It's cheap), this one announcing a new conservative-but-not-that-kind of conservative magazine, The Bulshit. Plz enjoy.

•   RIP, Albert Finney. As a youth he was wonderfully handsome and charming, which he used to fine effect in his early films -- his Tom Jones is hilariously callow and on-the-make, but so pure in his pleasure that we always side with him. That fine animal energy never left his acting, and as he outgrew romantic leads he used it to illumine from within his classic character roles. His performances in Annie, Murder on the Orient Express, The Dresser, et alia are almost ridiculous -- bigger than we're used to anymore, played to the balcony in an age of tiny multiplexes and home theaters, but fascinating because they have a strong internal logic, are built with a craftsman's purpose, and have that light inside, showing all the affect and prosthetics are just the armament of the man. My own favorite Finney performance is from a mostly-forgotten 90s film, A Man of No Importance, in which he plays Alfie Byrne, a thoroughly closeted small-town Irish bus conductor and off-hours theater director who endeavors to put up a production of Wilde's Salome (which he pronounces voluptuously like "baloney") and falls hopelessly for a young actor. I'm allergic to phrases like "struggles to embrace his sexuality," but the scenes in which he does just that -- never has a middle-aged man been so terrified to enter a gay bar -- are by turn humorous and heartbreaking. The light inside was very strong indeed.