Archive for Kevin McKidd

Schnooks on a Plane

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2011 by dcairns

In-flight movies — perhaps these are the ultimate justification for Hollywood pabulum. Anesthetic for the tense traveler. When you’re cramped in your seat and anxious about your untenable position hurtling through the stratosphere, it would be nice to be rapt out of yourself by dramatic catharsis, but it AIN’T HAPPENING (although I would welcome with keen interest and incredulity any stories of mid-air catharsis you have to offer) so you settle for the numbing tedium of badly thought-out genre bullshit –


Not only have they made a Harry Potter rip-off based on a rip-off novel, they’ve got Christopher Columbus who made the first two HARRY POTTER films to direct it. That’s just like stamping the word SAP on the forehead of every child who buys a ticket, isn’t it?

Terrible dross, and all I can say in my defense is that I’m working on a project with some mythological elements so I wanted to see what the kids are thinking about myth these days. Some cute moments — using an i-phone camera to observe the Medusa without getting petrified is neat. Uma Thurman has gone from Venus in BARON MUNCHAUSEN to Medusa in this — a pithier charting of the leading lady’s career arc than even Sondheim has given us.

There’s something irresistibly hilarious about the idea of Pierce Brosnan as a centaur, something the film is completely unaware of. None of the actors playing gods make much impression except Steve Coogan, doing what he does. Zeus is Sean Bean, who made Tolkien sound credible but is screwed when he has to say “You have done well,” as opposed to “Well done.” Look, it’s Kevin McKidd — as with 300, you can’t do ancient Greeks without casting a Scotsman. Now, I’ve never seen a real ancient Greek but I’ve seen the modern variety, several times, and none of them looked like Scotsmen. “It’s the magic of the movies!” you cry.


Perfectly adequate up to the two-third mark: this Chris Evans fellow is quite sweet, and the wimp-to-ubermensch narrative is engaging, the action lucid (oh, you mock Joe Johnston, don’t you, but in his fight scenes you can SEE WHAT’S HAPPENING — feel the nostalgia!) and the supporting players mainly do what they’ve been contracted for. Tommy Lee Jones is gruff, Stanley Tucci is solemn, Toby Jones is short. For a while, Haley Atwell is suitably prim, but when called upon to restage the start of A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, her inability to pull off anything else except pulchritude punctures the pathos. Hugo Weaving provides the entertainment with a Werner Herzog impersonation and hilarious little facial reactions, soon subsumed in a splurge of CG as he rips his own face off to become The Red Skull.


Continental Air likes to provide a couple of oldies and a couple of indies to its transatlantic clientele, so we get this recent-ish Soderbergh (it was this or GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? and I was actually up for that, but then I felt that I wanted to actually do it justice). Matt Damon always seemed kind of a schlub-in-the-making, and here he gets to play an actual Philip Seymour Hoffman role, and he’s splendid. I haven’t followed Soderbergh religiously — asides from his Spalding Gray bio last year, AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE, I haven’t seen anything since half of THE GOOD GERMAN (it wasn’t good) and bits of OCEAN’S TWELVE. I should catch up sometime, this was funny and clever. Soderbergh’s ludic side (cf SCHIZOPOLIS) is allowed just enough room to breath by the quietly demented voice-over, a calm recitation of delusions, non-sequiturs and stray pub facts.

Shots of Scots: Topsy yvruT

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on June 5, 2009 by dcairns


Shirley Henderson and Kevin McKidd in TOPSY TURVY. Two remarkable Scottish talents, and apparently delightful people too.

After I complained that MiKe Leigh’s films typically leave me cold — cold and irritated — my good friend Comrade K., the Cobble Hill hierophant, advised me that I should really give TT a try. I was slightly reluctant to do so, partly because Comrade K. has a vexatious habit of being right, and one does hate to surrender a cherished prejudice, and partly because I have no great affection for the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.

But these objections couldn’t really do, since if I enjoyed the film I could hardly count myself to have lost out by the experience, and it’s one of my precepts that one shouldn’t be overly influenced by a film’s subject: if I worshipped Gilbert and Sullivan, that still wouldn’t make Leigh’s film good, and so the fact that I’m mainly indifferent to them can’t make it bad. And if I liked their work any better at the end of the film, I could count the thing a success on that level, and a life-enriching one too.

From quite early on, I could see why K thought I would like the film — several of my objections to the usual Mike Leigh thing were overturned by the period setting. I never liked the way Leigh places broadly theatrical performances in real-world settings, without any visual stylisation to make them seem at home. The weirdness of the approach should appeal to me, maybe, but it never has. Well, the Victorian setting takes care of that, pretty well. Another, related objection is that I have found Leigh’s films mostly lacking in any kind of visual pleasure. TOPSY TURVY has plenty to feast the eye upon, in terms of sumptious costumes and settings, and Leigh’s work with his regular D.P. Dick Pope rises to the occasion at least somewhat. They at least film a lot of the theatre performances flat on, giving them a sense of symmetry and design. Symmetrical composition  can be the dumbest, crudest way of creating a sense of visual style (see Greenaway for a real one-trick-pony) but by alternating these shots with the usual loosely composed stuff they trade in, Leigh and Pope do get some variety into it.

The other thing I hate in Leigh is his use of music. That’s sorted here, because even if I’m not a big G&S fan, I can’t really argue that their music isn’t an appropriate choice for a film about G&S.

Moving from this grudging appreciation, we come to more positive stuff yet — I noticed, initially with some dismay, that Leigh frequently presented scenes, especially early on, in which there was no dramatic conflict or tension at all. A lot of these scenes were just introductions to minor characters, with a bit of humour perhaps, but very little discernible point. But then I had to grant that this stuff was rather entertaining, and that as the story went on, each scene revealed a structural purpose that had been hidden. and in these days of over-plotted, crudely structured blockbusters, a cunning structure is an especially appealing thing. If Leigh was keeping me entertained without plot or conflict, then that was pretty clever of him.

It’s also a very clever period film: the historical detail is nicely integrated, without that sense of it being served up for our delectation by a swooning, drooling window-dresser (like those Comrade K. calls the Ivory Merchants). There’s a lovely phone call scene, for instance:

Which leads to one of the great pleasures, the dialogue, which isn’t modern, but isn’t too horribly formal either. The elaborate politeness of some of it is very useful in heightening one of the film’s main themes, the delicate task of collaboration between over-sensitive, egotistic artists. One of the ironies of my disliking Leigh’s stuff generally is that I usually like the actors he uses, just not when they’re in his films. But nobody here rubbed me up the wrong way. Allan Corduner was terrific as the sickly and oversensitive Sullivan. Jim Broadbent was magnificent as ever, in fact even more so than usual, as Gilbert. Prickly, grandiloquent, often near-intolerable, he nevertheless inspires a good deal of affection in the role, perhaps because he’s Jim Broadbent. I laughed out loud at an exchange with Pidgeon, his servant (Kenneth Hadley), as they hang a samurai sword on the wall.

“Would that be Spanish or Italian, sir?”

“Neither, Pidgeon.”

The fact that Gilbert sees no need to actually enlighten his servant contains a world of information about class relations, without any of the heavy-handedness I find in contemporary Leigh. Of course, we do learn something about what makes the character so awkward, by meeting his mad parents. His father, played by esteemed relic Charles Simon, will not touch an electric doorbell for fear of instant death, while his estranged and bedridden mother, Eve Pearce (another Scot), looking like an emaciated bird of prey, warns her daughters, “Never have a humorous child.” These two grotesques take us from the world of G&S and into one more congenial to me, that of Mervyn Peake.

So far, so good. My biggest criticism is that the film is overlong and drawn-out. The central dramatic problem, which is established early on but grows with admirable indirection, is the clash between lyricist and composer. This conflict is resolved by Gilbert’s conception of The Mikado as an operetta to replace the piece Sullivan has rejected: from here it should be a speedy journey to the more-or-less happy ending. But we’re only half-way through the movie.

(Incidentally, in the charming material dealing with Gilbert’s discovery of Japanese culture, there are two surprises. Firstly, Leigh bodges the notorious “Gilligan cut” — the moment where we cut from a character swearing he shall not, under any circumstances, do something, to a shot of him doing it — which is unexpected incompetence from a comedy director. I mean, the Gilligan cut is pretty hoaky, and I don’t think you should necessarily do it at all, but if you’re going to do it, you have to DO IT. Secondly, Leigh tries a psychological track-in on Broadbent as inspiration strikes. It works, and it’s a rare moment of independant camerawork for Leigh.)

Much of what follows is amusing, but it could all be rendered redundant by a good ellipsis or two. The story of the production of The Mikado isn’t really a story. The story of Gilbert and Sullivan’s creative partnership and how it overcomes a crisis IS. So I was a bit disappointed by the flabby denoument. The loose construction of the first act had proved to be a cunning ploy, concealing smart design, but I couldn’t see any equivalent merit in the last act. The music was nice — some of those songs are VERY good — but nearly everything that happened dramatically was off the main spine of the story.


In spite of this, I found the film at all times enjoyable, and would recommend it to anybody who normally has a problem with Leigh, as I do. Perhaps a big part of the trouble is the lessons Leigh has learned from the British cinema around him, rather than endemic in his ability as a filmmaker. But it’s certainly hard to imagine the kind of films he might make if he’d been born elsewhere.


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