Archive for December 23, 2010

Mistletoe and Whines

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 23, 2010 by dcairns

In a very special festive edition of The Forgotten, I delve into THE HOLLY AND THE IVY, a powerfully depressive, and therefore somehow cheering, British Christmas movie.

Somewhere in there I make the, perhaps startling, allegation that there’s something inherently Christmassy about the actor Denholm Elliott. This may require amplification.

My mental association of the talented, biesexual, inebriate actor with the festive season perhaps stems from TRADING PLACES, in which he played a comedy butler, something every British actor is required to do at some stage in his career, unless he’s Judi Dench. The movie takes in the holiday season as part of its narrative sweep (we get Dan Aykroyd as a Bad Santa), and Elliott has a scene where he comes in with a tray and rounds off a scene where the heroes are planning their counterattack on the nefarious Duke brothers, with the line, “Not if we beat them to it. Eggnog?”

Elliott did the final word “As if I were adding fire to their brimstone,” and the crew laughed. Landis, a man of sure, yet perhaps conventional, comic instincts, yelled “Cut!” He was outraged that a performer was getting an unintended laugh. “That’s not supposed to be funny!” Elliott pointed out that the crew had thought it funny. “What do they know?” demanded Landis, with the tact he’s famous for.

The line reading is still in the film, though — having gotten over his shock, Landis recognized that an additional laugh in a comedy was not, after all, a disastrous occurrence. The lesson may be that it’s a mistake to think that the director’s job is to realize the scene the way he’d envisioned it. His job is to envision it, and then realize it better. Or, as Orson Welles delightfully put it, a director is someone who presides over accidents.

Tron Curtain

Posted in FILM, Interactive with tags , , , , on December 23, 2010 by dcairns

Fiona dragged me to see TRON: LEGACY, out of some kind of nostalgic feeling for the attractive but narratively cumbrous 80s original. And she got exactly what she was expecting, so that was nice. And I didn’t hate it, either.

The opening is kind of nice — luminous green gridlines forming into a city, while Jeff Bridges murmurs some poetic-sounding stuff in VO. Then we get a scene of a digitally-rejuvenated Bridges putting his kid to bed — they keep his face hidden until he starts to leave and turns back for one line — and for that one line, they sustain the illusion, and it’s pretty spooky. Uncanny Valley here we come.

And then we have to flash-forward to the present day and there’s a bunch of TVs sitting on a black glass plain while the news broadcast on their screens fills us in on some expository stuff, and somebody’s artfully added some bars rolling up the TV screens, the way they used to do in movies before anyone figured out how to deal with the camera shutter and the whole 24fps/25fps thing, or whatever it was that did that. So that showed attention to detail and a puckish sense of humour somewhere. So I thought, let’s really give this a chance, and see where it trips up…

And there’s not exactly a moment where it does, just a slow slide into banality. Leading man Garrett Hedlund struck me as wooden, but look what he’s got to work with: every line a stultifying cliche, every damn line! And his character doesn’t go through much actual growth or change, God knows.

We do get two Jeff Bridgeses for our money, and the old grizzled one has been written with some Dude Lebowski speech patterns to make him entertaining, and the young digitally-facelifted one is creepy to look at, in a Robert Zemeckis way. After that first, surprising shot, you get a chance to look him over and note how his lips don’t behave like human lips and his eyes don’t seem to have any expression — it kind of works for a humanoid computer program character, I guess, but it suggests there are still limits to this technology.

We also get Michael Sheen in a cameo as a camp bad guy, and this is the genuine highlight, acting-wise. Nine-parts David Bowie to one part Tim Curry, with one line delivered as Bruno for good measure, this is literally a masterclass in queeny ham, with Sheen using props as if he was in a drama workshop with a gun at his head. Very nice indeed. I rather wanted him not to be a villain and not to die, but alas, cliches reign…

And then there’s Olivia Wilde, whose charms surpass mere acting: her catsuit and bobbed hair look had Fiona turning “lesbionic” whenever she was onscreen. She’s very beautiful indeed, hypnotically so, and she even has a character to play, a naive cyber-person who’s interested in the world beyond the virtual reality universe she inhabits. She does two things that I liked: when she’s seen driving a sci-fi vehicle through the digital landscape, her hands are on the wheel making little turns every second, as if she’s driving through a slalom (the road doesn’t curve that much) — I like to think this is just the actress taking the piss out of the whole thing.

And at the end, liberated from the shiny computerverse, she buries her face in Hedlund’s scarf, and I thought, “Yeah, I bet they don’t even have smells in that streamlined artificial world. Their bowel movements probably look like Pac-Man’s pac-dots.” But that’s a good bit of acting, you see — it opens up a whole universe.