Archive for Adrien Brody

Grand Hotel

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2014 by dcairns

The Grand Budapest Hotel

My friend Stephen Murphy worked on the makeup for the aged Tilda!

To the 100-year-old Cameo Cinema to see THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. They were also showing INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. You wait ages for a movie with F. Murray Abraham in a roll-neck sweater and then two come along at once.

I liked MOONRISE KINGDOM more than any other Wes Anderson film (though I still haven’t caught up with BOTTLE ROCKET which some people like best of all, considering everything subsequent to be an ever-downward spiralling into bloodless mannerism, which is a point of view) and I liked FANTASTIC MR FOX before that more than everything before that, so there was evidence that he was on a roll. I didn’t like this one as much as those but I enjoyed it. There was a slightly uncomfortable quality though.

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The art direction and look are as finicky and perfectionist as ever — I don’t dislike that so that’s fine. And he does vary the screen ratio, the font and even the lens I think on this one (unless all those zooms are all CG fake, which is possible), so in a superficial way we have to say he’s progressing artistically. I’ll come to the more thematic progress in a moment.

More good stuff: Ralph (it’s pronounced “Ralph,” by the way) Fiennes is extremely funny and a little bit endearing, doing his Leonard Rossiter impersonation which he always does when asked to be light. No bad thing. I can’t decide if it IS an impression or if it’s just his natural comic mode. Weirdly, Peter Serafinowicz’s impersonation of Ralph Fiennes as Leonard Rossiter seems to predate IN BRUGES, the first film I saw in which he got his Rossiter on properly. Maybe he was inspired by it.
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The whole rest of the cast is very fine. It’s deliriously overdone, like everything with Anderson. Is this role a good use of, say, Harvey Keitel’s remaining time on earth? He mainly seems to have been employed to jiggle his pectorals. Couldn’t somebody who needs the money and exposure more be given a chance at that? But it was nice to see Jeff Goldblum, who doesn’t seem to do enough movies, and who should still be a top leading man, not some kind of guest star. Nobody else can do what he does.

This is really the first Wes Anderson film with proper villains, it seems to me. Adrien Brody is not really heavyweight enough compared to Willem Dafoe, who does all the nasty stuff anyway, so there’s a slight problem of dramatic priorities in terms of dealing with those characters and their evil schemes. The violence was startling for an Anderson film. Sure it’s cartoony but it leaps out at you in this flat, pastel, artificial world. I felt it was a problem that (a) Anderson concocts his own version of European history, with a Ruritanian central setting (which is fine in itself) menaced by a fictional version of Nazi Germany (which was fine for Chaplin in THE GREAT DICTATOR but doesn’t make such clear sense here) and (b) gives almost all the violence to some scheming aristocrats — in other words, Nazi Germany, present by proxy, has almost no role in the story. I didn’t get the sense that the personal perfidies of Brody and Dafoe were there to be compared to the encroaching political darkness, either in terms of “These minor villainies are insignificant compared to what’s coming” or “These minor villainies are a microcosm of what’s coming.” I felt Anderson was actually uncomfortable dealing with the politics at all. He’s said that the kind of politics he likes in films is the kind you get in DUNE — fictional factions whose movements add to the reality of the created world, rather than saying anything about this world or making any kind of point. I mean, there are NO politics in DUNE — there are good guys, bad guys, and different factions, but there is no sense that the Atreides clan, the Harkonnens or the Emperor desire any different kind of constitutional set-up. It’s similar in GBH.

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The natural comparison would be with Lubitsch and TO BE OR NOT TO BE. How do you stage a comic operetta narrative against a backdrop of fascism? The difference is, Lubitsch had a compelling reason to do it and he knew what the reason was, and he clearly thought deeply about all his choices. I mean, for all I know Anderson had reasons and thought deeply too, I just don’t see the evidence onscreen. I think the film falls short of that part of its ambition which is serious, which is why I don’t feel reminded of the work of Stefan Zweig.

One thing that was fun about MOONRISE KINGDOM was that it didn’t have any bad guys but still managed to function as a peculiar kind of action movie, making quite enthusiastic use of Bruce Willis as an icon of that genre. GBH has a chase through a museum seemingly inspired by the one in Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN (a lovely scene in a darkened hall full of suits of armour, each picked out of the enveloping blackness by its own personal spotlight, is the film’s most striking visual development — it doesn’t violate Anderson’s ironclad aesthetic, but it doesn’t look like anything else he’s done either) and a toboggan chase that comes either from ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (an influential film, these days) or THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, though the figures’ movements in longshot have the speeded-up zaniness of FANTASTIC MR FOX.

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I would like another animated Wes Anderson film, please.

Blocking and Punching

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2010 by dcairns

Great fight scene in THE DARJEELING LIMITED! (starts at around 4:06)

Enjoyed this Wes Anderson, which I belatedly got around to after adoring FANTASTIC MR FOX, although I did have more trouble than usual with the fact that his characters are all rich layabouts with designer suitcases. Why should that bother me? It might be because the characters are out of their natural environment, which might be presumed to be the kind of urban world of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS. India here is a colorful backdrop to the privileged cavortings centre-stage, and it seemed there might be more of dramatic import going on behind, say, Adrien Brody. But the film seems aware of this ridiculousness, and of the touristic nature of the characters’ approach to India, and of it’s own fairly shallow skimming of the subcontinental surface. And it’s laying a trap, because things do get deeper and darker.

Meanwhile, the fight, where the comedy comes not from slapstick blows exchanged, but from camera blocking — it’s all “jump up from below frame” and “step left out of frame” until it’s basically a choreographed puppet show using real protoplasm instead of foam rubber (not counting all the packing attached to Owen Wilson’s head).

Loco Parentis

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2010 by dcairns

Off to Glasgow for the Glasgow Film Festival and Frightfest’s screening of SPLICE, Vincenzo Natali’s sci-fi drama with Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. I enjoyed CUBE, Natali’s debut, on the whole (it makes highly inventive use of limited locations and cast, but those limitations seem to close of the possibility of a more interesting ending, somehow) and his follow-up, CYPHER, a good deal. A phildickian tale of industrial espionage with Jeremy Northam and Lucy Liu, it really deserved a bit more attention than it got, even if the plot twists and Northam’s pleasingly weird central perf kind of exclude the audience from full engagement.

NOTHING, Natali’s third feature, is a pretty crashing disappointment, even though his visual skills are much in evidence. The movie’s puppyish desire to please drives it into irksome comedy, and the central premise — the main characters wish the world out of existence and find themselves and their house stranded in a featureless white limbo — is ignored in terms of narrative logic and dramatic development, which means the film really has to try and be funny about, literally, nothing.

But that misfire has proven useful in a way, forcing Natali to add a more kinetic series of tricks to his repertoire, out of that need to make something from NOTHING, and he’s able to shuffle between sparky high-speed mode (montages of weird science) and slow, suspenseful creepiness, in the new SPLICE, a dream project he’s been working on for years. Basically a tale of science-meets-parenthood, it deals with a young couple of brilliant geneticists who splice human and animal DNA together to create Dren, played by Delphine Chanéac (and young Abigail Chu, and a bunch of CGI), who develops at an accelerated rate (as these things always do), and falls awkwardly between the status of child and experiment for the hitherto childless couple.

The stylistic and genre trappings that inform the film stem mostly from Cronenberg’s THE FLY and Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, with flashes of exec Guillermo Del Toro’s monster movie maudit MIMIC (things in jars). This splicing of different movie worlds (Sarah Polley plays Elsa Castle, a near-anagram of Elsa Lanchester, and Brody plays Clive, named after Colin Clive, both references to James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN films — this cuteness is sustained but fortunately never intrusive) forces me to recall Cronenberg’s verdict on ALIEN: he loved the evolving monster’s life-cycle (of course he did!) but felt that in the last third the movie plunged wholeheartedly into the least interesting potential direction: monster chases girl.

SPLICE seems to have been hard to get made because Natali was genuinely interested in exploring the disturbing emotional possibilities of his story, and he sends tendrils of interest out in a number of fascinating directions. But the perceived need to climax in a monster holocaust effectively amputates most of those possibilities, and it all comes down to conflict, that Holy Grail of the unimaginative. As Olivier Assayas said, lots of American movies start out with interesting ideas, but they usually wind up with a fight in a warehouse. What worlds of weary derision that phrase contains.

Substitute barn for warehouse and you might have SPLICE. And this is a great shame, because the movie explicitly sets out what it’s supposed to be about early on — this child is aging rapidly and will die of its own accord very soon. The scientists who have created her were unable emotionally to face parenthood, but find it thrust upon them, and in the most painful way. They’re far more unprepared for the struggles ahead than most of us would be, since their “offspring” is a previously unknown species with mysterious dietary, emotional and sexual needs. Which makes the set-up perfect for a satire on both parenting and science. The whole second act is rich in this kind of amusing, and sometimes alarming, material.

(Fiona thought it was a shame Natali couldn’t attend, to hear the collective gasp from the audience when the little girl version of Dren scuttles onscreen for the first time in a cute little dress: her sudden quasi-humanity erects a big sign reading “Welcome to Uncanny Valley.”)

There’s also the scientific ethics side — real-life investigators who have raised chimps as children have faced the dilemmas created by taking responsibility for another living thing, and in a sense robbing it of its birthright as a wild animal, substituting the (uncertain) benefits of civilisation and humanity, but never quite delivering the supposed advantages that come with being human. Again, SPLICE evokes all this pretty well.

It’s rather unfair of me to slam Natali for copping out with an action climax — it’s unlikely the film would ever have been made without one. And he does his best to take us into icky moral terrain immediately after the dust has settled. On the plus side, he has fine perfs from his leads (Polley in particular is more natural than you ever expect anybody to be in this kind of movie) and the combination of effects work and performance is stunningly effective in the creature character — for a fraction of the cost, he’s made something a lot more interesting and beautiful than the artificial population of AVATAR. It’s a little unfortunate that Cameron’s megasplurge uses the same eyes-wide-apart design aesthetic for its creatures, but Natali’s beast actually has a better reason for having that look, and Natali is a lot less squeamish about exploiting the squirmy possibilities of xenophilia. Natali’s mascot, David Hewlett, appears again, this time as a corporate sleaze, a role he essays with unseemly relish. Despite my reservations, SPLICE may be the most wholehearted proper science fiction film we see this year.

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