Trench Mouth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2014 by dcairns

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We really enjoyed Parade’s End, a big prestige heritage BBC thing, which probably shows how middle-aged we are becoming.

It gets off to a shaky start, mind you — we found it genuinely hard to make sense of the tone, which fluctuated between broad, uncomfortable comedy and serious drama. By the end of the fifth part, this confusion has vanished, however, and director Suzanna White, scenarist Tom Stoppard and the cast can whisk you from stark WWI tragedy to a kind of CATCH 22 comedy of insanity, a transition as stark as the crosscutting between trench warfare and opulent dinners in country houses.

The going is tricky at first, though. Rufus Sewell, as a mad vicar, is creepily funny and sad, but some inappropriate comedy music nudges the scenes of British social awkwardness — the reverend is apt to shout out obscenities at the most inapposite moments — into really misguided terrain. And for a long time star Concordian Bumblethatch Bomberduck Kennydutch Benedict Cumberbatch seems quite miscast, not heavy and stolid enough to embody the wise, stout, painfully honorable protag. This leads Cumberbatch to adopt a Churchillian lower lip thrust which sits oddly on his face, making him look a bit like Beaker from The Muppet Show.

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Since at least the time of the TV Our Mutual Friend, directors have felt obliged to show how modern they are when doing BBC “mastepiece theater” stuff, and White is guilty of some inexplicable optical effects creating a kaleidoscope of refracted images — this echoes the show’s title sequence, but otherwise feels unmotivated and show-offy. Everything else is very effective, except for a cut to a sweeping crane shot at the end of Ep. 1, which yanks us away from an affecting bit in which Cumberbatch weeps on a horse. I was just getting ready to feel all moved, and then the director had to get in the way.

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Rebecca Hall, as the ultimate bitch goddess, tormenting wife to Cumberbatch, is magnificent from the get-go, and that’s what kept us interested. We came for Hall and stayed for Hall and everybody else. Roger Allam is extremely funny as a buffoonish general — remember how good he was as, basically, Christopher Hitchens in V FOR VENDETTA? And Adelaide Clemens, one of those Australians who can do anything, is a delight. Rupert Everett is great — the beard suits. Everyone’s great.

And the kaleidoscope effects are mainly discarded and we get one of those epic dramas that really uses its sweep and runtime to get deeper into the characters, or at least give them more body and duration and call on our affections. The miniseries might be the best form for doing this outside of the novel. Long series always end disappointingly, but minis are sustainable — somebody can cram the whole story into their head and see that it actually works.

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Not having read Ford Maddox Ford, original author, I wondered how much Stoppard invented. I expect it’s pretty faithful. But one striking bit seemed to chime with an earlier TS project. Around episode 4 the hero is truly shafted — a series of incidents and misunderstandings and gossip and false reports have seen him blamed for pretty much everything that’s gone wrong for everyone in the story — he’s supposed to be a serial adulterer with a love child and two mistresses and dubious loyalty to his homeland. Absolutely none of it is true, but the pieces of his ruin have been carefully hidden in previous episodes. I remembered BRAZIL, how at the story’s end, Sam Lowrie (Joanathan Pryce) appears in the eyes of the authorities as a dangerous terrorist, all due to a series of administrative errors and misunderstandings. I wonder if Stoppard actually borrowed the idea from FMF. It’s beautully done, anyway.

Space Punch-Up: The Movie

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2014 by dcairns

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This piece has multiple beginnings and no ending, which makes it the opposite of most blockbuster movies.

“The summer had crashed,” is a very good sentence in Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square and it came true as a hot July switched to a thundery, rainy, windy, cold August. God, who for a fictional construct can be a total dick, had decided to flip the dial to “November” to keep us on our toes, and Robin Williams killed himself. The guy who played Patch Adams committed suicide. I can’t even think of an analogy for that.

So we went to see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY because a movie, even an indifferent one, kind of rapts you out of yourself — a friend who worked on it recommended it. I wasn’t sure I would like it but I figured either I would feel worse, and thus drive a car over my own head, or better. Instead I feel about the same, but the actual movie was OK.

What made me wary of it, apart from it being a mainstream release dated after 1980, was the reports that it has no story and everyone in it is an asshole. In fact, it has as much story as any of these things — a bunch of characters who want different things run around while stuff explodes — that’s the whole history of western literature right there, according to Stan Lee — there is an orb everybody wants, but it might as well have been a cube — and the characters’ obnoxious tendencies are actually explained/redeemed a bit as it goes on. And Groot, the walking tree is a kind of positive guy — source of the only moments of visual poetry, if you can call it that — though he has no drives of his own and seems to exist only to help the others. He’s a dendritic Magic Negro — or Magic Tree-Gro.

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Oh, the other thing that made me wary of it was that the director, James Gunn, made SUPER, which I hated. God. Just remembering it. How anything with the delightful Ellen Page could be so horrible to watch I can’t think. Kind of makes me want to drive a car over my head, just remembering it. And I can’t even drive.

He’s basically redeemed himself — GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY easily surpasses the low expectations I had. It has Henry Portrait (which is what we have to call actor Michael Rooker) painted blue, with a screw foe a tooth and what looks like a headlight emerging through his scalp. It has a planet called Morag. It has a soundtrack structured around an 80s mixtape of super sounds of the seventies. It has Zoe Saldana (so versatile — first she was blue, now she’s green!) pronouncing the word “doom” as “dume” for no reason. It has a mining colony inside the severed head of a god. It has John C. Reilly. Mainly, it has decided what it thinks of its characters, which is that they’re “not 100% dicks.” And that saves it from being SUPER.

I generally try to see some contemporary relevance in these things — this one seems to be an American fantasy vision of Israel as a sort of Epcot Center world, besieged by vari-hued genocidal barbarians and protecting itself with a sophisticated aerial defense system. Unfortunate timing, then, but nobody seems to mind.

Sleep Big

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on August 13, 2014 by dcairns

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“Being old is like being in a war,” wrote Kurosawa’s AD, Teruyo Nogami. “Each week brings casualty reports.” So, a day after discovering that we had to live in a world without Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall passes away.

The death of an old person isn’t supposed to be tragic, but if you asked the old person you might get a different view. At any rate, though I try not to turn Shadowplay into an obituary column, because deciding who to honour and who to ignore feels kind of obscene, like the role call of the dead at the Oscars, where the applause-o-meter measures the stock of the departed.

The reason Bacall seems impossible to ignore is that she was perhaps the last truly iconic star of the forties. She started young, and lived a long time, (Still Here, reads the title of her autobiography) and so it seemed like she’d always be with us.

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Which, of course, she will.

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