Archive for August, 2018

Trying too hard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2018 by dcairns

A fast-talking saleswoman (not Fiona) persuaded me to get the Sky movie channels, which means we’ve been able to catch up on a bunch of things we couldn’t be bothered seeing at the cinema. The generally unsatisfactory nature of the product discovered would allow me to congratulate me on my good judgement in giving it the go-by, except now I’ve gone and seen it, haven’t I?

What’s the name of the latest Ridley Scott sequel? — I want to say ALIEN VS PROMETHEUS — I will admit it doesn’t have P’s awful dialogue or nonsensical/stupid behaviour by characters. It just about makes sense as narrative. Except why open with a long, tedious discussion about the origins and purpose of human life — the central concern of the previous film, you may recall — if you’re never going to bring it up again? The ending is memorably horrible, I have to give them that, but the big silly fighting on a spaceship action climax doesn’t belong in this genre at all. What is this film supposed to be?

A friend asks: “Are the bodybuilders back?” I get a sudden false-memory flash: an arena full of the musclebound hearties, all furiously pumping iron. Why not?

But MAYBE I regret not seeing this on the big screen because Scott’s use of 3D, already assured, improved radically in THE MARTIAN (a terrific film, imho) and I can’t help wondering what it was like third time around.

ATOMIC BLONDE is dripping with style, but shall we say, somewhat overdone? As in, the titles identifying time and place (eighties Berlin) are not only in a dayglo spray-can font, but they spray on to the screen via animation, and there’s a spraying SOUND as they do so. Big long take fight scene which is really multiple takes stitched together digitally but impressing nonetheless. Charlize Theron essays sexy English accent and speaks in a whisper throughout. But has no opportunity to hit the emotions as she does in FURY ROAD. Nor does anyone else. The emotional flatline means that nothing feels surprising — we sure don’t care about the mission, and though there ARE plot twists, they carry no weight. The punch-ups are seriously ouchy, but there seems to be one every ten minutes, and they don’t lead to anything that feels like a development or paradigm shift. That’s as near as I can define what makes this slick thing seem so pointless and ugly.

IT has a similar problem. Set-piece after set-piece with almost no forward momentum. One of those films where an interesting director (Cary Fukunaga) quit ahead of shooting. Funny how creative differences always lead to creative sameness. The kids are all really good. Some dread is created, or it was for us, before repetition sets in. Yes, we get it, it’s about fear, but WHAT about fear? A lot of the problems may be in the source novel, but its the filmmakers’ job to solve them — they can’t be accused of being over-faithful to the letter of Stephen King’s doorstop (described by one critic at the time as five tons of crap in a three-ton crate). What insight into fear does the movie want to give us? And what supernatural rules does Pennywise the Clown follow? And what made anybody think having him turn into a giant spider was a good idea?

My personal aesthetic analysis: clowns can be scary, as we know, and if you take them out of the circus you get an added dissonance because they’re all dressed up, sureally inappropriate to their setting. A man looking out of a storm drain is scary, if he acts like he has a perfect right to be there. A similar kind of eerie out-of-placeness is created. He could be the modern equivalent of one of Magritte’s bowler hat guys. BUT — a clown in a storm drain is, again, trying too hard.BABY DRIVER is undoubtedly the best thing we saw. Edgar Wright reminds us that his stylistic paintbox contains more than just fast cutting — really lovely long take credits sequence. “You can see why they hired a choreographer,” exclaimed Fiona. The cast is terrific. Ansel Elgort (literally, Ansel the Gort) should be a star, although THAT NAME. Was there already a Captain McGlue in Actor’s Equity?

Only quibble is the ending, which literally takes five years to happen. One doesn’t like protracted endings. I somehow felt something problematic coming during the climax — a built-in indecision about who is the baddie (there are two candidates with better claims than the guy the settle on for their climactic confrontation), whether this should be a tragedy (I just don’t think the story has any weight if it isn’t) and if so, what is the hero’s tragic mistake (it seems to have happened before the movie starts, which isn’t the best approach)?But there’s such a wealth of film-making brio on display — maybe on a re-watch the ending won’t bother me so much. Why it bothers me now is partly because the rest of the film is so strong, and partly because it’s so symptomatic of the focus-grouped narrative soft-soaping that holds illimitable dominion over modern Hollywood. Like, we will never again have an ending that takes things further, or hits harder, than we expected.

To prove me wrong — what new films SHOULD I be seeing on cable?

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Film Artist

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , on August 30, 2018 by dcairns

William Cameron Menzies sketch for GONE WITH THE WIND.

Since The Believer has put its back issues online, you can read my big piece on Menzies HERE.

I’m baffled by the title, but as I recall, I failed to think up anything better so I can’t complain.

Here comes Johnny Yen again

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2018 by dcairns

Finally caught up with T2: TRAINSPOTTING (funny title!) — I’d had mixed feelings about the original, though Danny Boyle and company did do a lot to break Scottish cinema away from pure social realism, for which I’m grateful. I would say that both movies energize social commentary with black comedy, gross-out gags, surreal images, and an appetite for style at all costs. (I met some Spanish filmmakers who could quote reams of dialogue from the original by heart. “It’s shite being Scottish,” really meant something to them.) They take place in an unreal conurbation of Glagow and Edinburgh, evincing a merry contempt for geography as well as law and order. As realism they frequently stumble badly, being quite willing to contrive situations the mind rebels against —

Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edingow after twenty years, decides randomly to visit his old friend Spud (Ewen Bremner), arriving, by staggering coincidence, just as he’s about to die of asphyxiation in a suicide attempt. The movie has a tendency to “redeem” itself at these moments by offering something entertainingly horrid: here, Spud throws up in the plastic bag he has on his head, transforming it into a mucky orange sphere which he rips apart in order to be “reborn,” slathered in puke, into the ghastly world of bodily functions he was trying to escape.

Or: Renton and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) rob an Orange Lodge pub in Glasburgh, swiping wallets from coats that have been hung up. Which is silly: people keep their wallets on them in pubs, so they can buy drinks. But then the aging boys get caught and are forced to improvise a sectarian song on stage to prove they belong, which is pretty funny, and then they use the punters’ stolen bank cards, which all have 1690 as their PIN number — the date of the Battle of the Boyne. A grand joke that kinda justifies the ripping apart of the fabric of reality necessary to get to it.

John Hodge is on script again, creating much of the plot from whole cloth while patching together bits of Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel Porno with a bit of the original novel, which allows him to finally explain the title. Ah, the derelict Leith Central Railway Station (now demolished for a supermarket — only a bit of wall remains in the car park. I crawled through the gaping fence gap as a teenager, but never saw any junkies, or another living soul. It was a big, eerie expanse with incomprehensible stone age graffiti (a towering humanoid figure in rusty dried blood hue) and an aura of hushed sorrow.

Shot by Anthony Dod Mantle in saturated shades of neon and acid stained glass, the movie looks lovely, though ADM brings his penchant for meaningless line-crossing and confused jumping around, showcased in his Von Trier joints. Which I hate, you can probably tell. I think Boyle and his editor have embraced this hopped-up jerk-off style in an effort to look young and vigorous, and like all such efforts, it comes off a bit strained and sad. This viewer, rather than feel like an invisible observer in the scene, following the action with insight and a strange ability to also be in the right place to see what I’d like to see, felt like I was being wantonly teleported about the room, an instantaneous pinball with no control, the resulting disorientation a poor substitute for involvement in the drama.

I enjoyed all the actors. Kelly Macdonald gets, basically, nothing to do (there’s more on the cutting room floor, apparently), and Shirley Henderson is photographed looking glum at a distance, a horrible waste of her massive talent. Anjela Nedyalkova provides the movie’s injection of actual youth, so of course she’s the leading lady.

MacGregor still has his boyish charm, which acquires a kind of pathos as we see how little his character’s changed (not entirely a good thing when you’re a junkie and crook); Bremner still has funny bones, and having failed to escape the shadow of Spud (please, someone, find a showstopping role for this demigod) he dives back into it with jittery glee; Miller’s now-cadaverous features glower with malevolence and pique and I realise I’ve missed him (I don’t watch Elementary). Robert Carlyle’s Begbie is morphing, somehow, into Fulton Mackay, seeming a generation older than his mates (there’s a line to explain this — he was held back at school, making him at most a couple of years older. Jokes about him being stabbed in the liver and OD-ing on Viagra, both promising body-horror gross-outs, go nowhere. But it’s all about energy, eh? And Carlyle exerts a furious force that turbo-charges the movie through some second-act doldrums.

I do kind of like the way the script splits up aspects of Welsh’s post-Trainspotting life among the cast, with one character hanging out in Amsterdam, one becoming a writer… Welsh has become a filmmaker himself, and I suppose Sick Boy is making moves in that direction when we first encounter him as a blackmailer… Welsh himself appears, as is his wont. Cannae act.

 

Hodge’s scripts tend to plunge from wild flights of fancy back into conventional genre tropes at the end (all those bags of money), and this one does the same in a new way, combining a fight in a gutted pub with a reprise of the original’s betrayal twist, which makes things feel a little bit less than you hoped for. But it’s still somewhat satisfying, and has the best closing shot I’ve seen in a while. Let’s do this again in twenty years.