Archive for Hollywood

Hollywoodland

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2013 by dcairns

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Off to LA on top secret business. Will try to keep you posted.

Watched SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS not knowing much except a few of the names of the excellent cast and that it’s the guy who made IN BRUGES, which we mainly enjoyed. So it turned out to be set in Hollywood — opening shot is the famous Shadowplay Hollywood sign — and it has an ADAPTATION kind of self-reflective side, being the story of a drunken Irish screenwriter trying to write a screenplay entitled Seven Psychopaths, but he keeps encountering the characters he writes about. SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR?

This is kind of like a Bertrand Blier romp, jumbling an outrageous comic plot with self-referential deconstruction, except without much apparent serious side. The weird coincidences whereby characters invented by Colin Farrell’s character turn out to be real are never explained. The auto-critique of violent movies is just a joke, and having Christopher Walken tell Farrell that he writes dreadful female characters does not necessarily excuse wasting the talents of Abbie Cornish in a role with zero development and a combined wet T-shirt/death scene.

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BUT — it must be said that Martin McDonagh’s gift for outrageous dialogue outstrips Tarantino’s, and he has fantastic performers on the top of their game: Farrell is really good at this kind of thing, and he has a character that makes more sense than in IN BRUGES; Christopher Walken is on top form AND is cast against type, kind of; Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are very funny too. And Harry Dean Stanton turns up, all too briefly as seems to be the way with him these days. Must see HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION, the acclaimed documentary, so I can get a decent dose of Harry Dean.

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Plus Tom Waits and a rabbit.

It’s all pretty rambling and meaningless, and though Walken and Linda Bright Clay are employed to give it some heart, it’s the fact that, after Gabourey Sidibe is terrorized by gunmen (to show how bad the bad guys are), she’s allowed to live, that suggests McDonagh might actually have some feeling for his marionettes. Helpless characters in action cinema generally exist only to be snuffed as demonstrations of villainy and to motivate the hero towards more violence: we all know Robert Rodriguez or John Woo would have wasted her in a heartbeat.

The Sunday Intertitle: Gold Fever

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2013 by dcairns

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Clarence Brown’s THE TRAIL OF ’98 makes somewhat morbid viewing, if you’re aware of the story told about its making — a boatload of stuntmen overturned while running the rapids, and a rope strung across the river to help them resist the current proved ineffectual, because the assistant director hadn’t reinforced the dangling nooses with wire. The nooses hung limp and froze into knotty poles — the numb fingers of the perishing crew men could not find purchase, and four were swept off to their deaths. Only two bodies were recovered, the other two being carried away into the glacier.

So we’ll get them back any day now.

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The movie is spectacular — the Chillcoot Pass sequence easily dwarfs its equivalent in Chaplin’s earlier THE GOLD RUSH — but lacks a plot for most of its running time. An opening montage shows how the discovery of gold energizes a motley band of hopefuls to drop everything and Go North, and then we follow their travails, but the drama is stubbornly not on a human scale — we can’t learn much that differentiates Dolores Del Rio’s character (she’s not playing Mexican here, which is interesting) from, say, Tully Marshall’s scraggly preacher or Karl Dane’s comedy Swede (yes, he does say “Yumping Yiminy!”)

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The only one to make a real impression is Harry Carey as the villain, because he has such a fiery screen charisma. Just by grinning coldly he lets us know that this guy is dangerous. Later, he rapes Del Rio, and Brown films a driving track-in on her terrified face from Carey’s point of view — the scene fades out with a Vitaphone scream, this being an MGM soundie (also featuring gunshots and a song).

The movie is also a pre-code, which means that Del Rio, forced into prostitution, doesn’t have to die — she and her lover are reunited and he begs her forgiveness, since it was his abandoning her to go hunt gold that led to her downfall in the first place. MGM movies weren’t usually so progressive, but Clarence Brown does embody the studio’s more humane and liberal tendencies (making the brutality of this film all the more startling).

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At the impressive climax, Carey biffs it out with hero Ralph Forbes, in the bloodiest bit of stage fighting I’ve seen outside of RAGING BULL or TOKYO FIST. Finally, Carey draws a gun and Forbes lets him have it with an oil lamp — the blazing Carey (or rather, his double) staggers down the corridor, setting fire to the building as he goes, then topples over a balcony onto the dance floor. He’s still trying to pull himself along by his hands as the whole of Dawson City bursts into flames…

The movie isn’t exactly likable — movies with fatalities seldom are — and the thinness of the plot doesn’t help it, but the spectacle is shockingly good. A special effects avalanche saved them from killing even more people, and though you can see that the victims vanishing beneath the falling snow are actually being removed by an animated wipe, it’s very effective.

The IMDb reports that Jacques Tourneur was an extra in this and that Dolores Del Rio’s stunt double was Lou Costello. This is hard to imagine, but fairly amusing if you manage it. The main problem with the anecdote is that Dolores doesn’t jump out of any windows, but plenty of other people do, so the possibility of Lou donning drag and defenestrating himself cannot be dismissed altogether.

The Merkel Worker

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2013 by dcairns

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The Forgotten returns after Cannes fortnight, with a terrific movie of the pre-code era, suggested by regular Shadowplayer La Faustin — BEAUTY FOR SALE.

Above, Una Merkel strikes a suggestive pose. Which reminded me of something another regular Shadowplayer had mentioned. Mark Medin informed me that Merkel can be seen topless in a stag film of the twenties which is quoted in Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s majestic and otherwise largely non-pornographic documentary series Hollywood.

Here she is –

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Beyond a strong (facial) resemblance and the fact that the nudie cutie star can actually act, we can’t PROVE it’s her, I guess. But it definitely is her. Glad to report that the film is innocuous and inoffensive, and hopefully served as an alternative to the casting couch rather than a development of it.

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