Archive for the Fashion Category

Gas Giant

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2018 by dcairns

JUPITER ASCENDING! I had a vague hankering to see this, partly since I collaborated with the Wachowskis on CLOUD ATLAS (i.e. since I directed ten seconds of the bottom left-hand corner of a splitscreen montage in that film), partly because it sounded like it might be bonkers.

Sadly, only Eddie Redmayne is proper mad in this film, essaying a husky-voiced characterisation punctuated by Sudden Random SHOUTING that betrays the influence of A. Hopkins in particularly fruity mode. So he’s bringing the entertainment, or embarrassment, depending on your viewpoint. Some said the role would cost him the Oscar he might have otherwise clasped for THE DANISH GIRL. My friend and co-writer Alex Livingstone disagreed, insisting that it was the role of Balem Abrasax in the Wachowski space opera that he should in fact have been nominated FOR.As for the other actors, Mila Kunis does OK with a role that’s basically just asking questions about cosmology (while wearing nice frocks). Look at Linda Fiorentino, an equally poised and forceful actor, floundering horribly in Kevin Smith’s DOGMA to see how difficult this kind of exposition-speak can be. But then look at Sean Bean, who is SO good that he actually seems like a human being while talking this crap and hampered with the name Stinger Apini. Meanwhile, Channing Tatum is part-wolf, but he also used to have wings, but he can still fly without them thanks to his science skates, so that’s OK. Or is it? Seems kind of… NEEDLESSLY COMPLEX.

So is everything in this bloated yet wafer-thin pulp. The small greys are from such-and-such a system, says Tatum, but they’ve been modified to serve as OH SHUT UP CHANNING TATUM. Everything is needlessly complicated to disguise how simplistic it is, including the characters’ looks. Fiona complained that all the extras had pointless bits stuck on their faces. I blame Lobot. That guy with the tin ears in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. He’s Lobot. I know these things because I’m a film critic.“So… I play a guy with a stripey chin…”

We get an explanation of how the aliens cover up their activity on Earth, after a big chase trashes half of Chicago, but since the film goes on to spend zero time with ordinary humans, they might as well have not bothered. The MATRIXesque phildickian “something’s going on but you don’t know what it is, do you, Jupiter Jones?” thing simply has no reason to exist in this movie.

The brave thing about J.A. is that it’s not a sequel or a superhero movie, but that scarcely matters when it delivers the same boilerplate characters and “thrills” as every CAPTAINIRONBATSUPERWONDERBLACKTHORHULKSPIDERPANTHERMANWOMAN film out there. We get distinct nods to Mike Hodges’ FLASH GORDON and David Lynch’s DUNE, but the subversive and strange qualities of those movies are absent. Might as well have gone for broke, in retrospect, since this movie tanked anyway.The Terry Gilliam cameo is hugely enjoyable for this reason — they hired a non-actor for jokey reasons and let him do the same mugging and nonsense he’d do in the background of Monty Python sketches. Also, he doesn’t give us his thoughts on the #MeToo movement. The movie really needed about 400% of this sort of thing. Get Richard O’Brien! Get Martin Short!

Alternatively, the action scenes would need to be brought off with the kind of enthusiasm and cohesion and imagination the Wachowskis manages just once, in the original MATRIX. Well, the sequels had some eye-catching bits, I guess. But SPEED RACER had no flow, and this one has a bit so damn busy that the screen just disintegrates into particles. Some little spaceships called “Warhammers” were attacking a bigger spaceship. “I have no idea what I’m looking at,” protested Fiona, “except it’s shit.” I put forward that the theory that what we were looking at was pixels. To save money, the siblings had dispensed with computers and just poured a bunch of pixels all over everything. Really, if the second-hand disc had been damaged and started artifacting, we wouldn’t have known it.

Examples ~ It’s NOT any clearer when it’s in motion. It’s either a space battle as envisioned by Michael Snow or its the last image to pass before George Lucas’s mind’s eye as he gets dragged through the waistline of a radioactive hourglass.

Finally, Mila Kunis does get to do some acting, make some choices for herself, and have a fight scene, where it suddenly turns out she has the ability to fall for about a mile and then grab hold of something, which is odd as she’s not supposed to be superpowered. But at least she’s DOING SOMETHING rather than inviting other characters to dump information on her, The Wachowskis, as we now from the later MATRICES, have a real weakness of explanation.

But it’s too little, too late, in a film which is otherwise too much, too soon (rather than using its protagonist’s experiences to introduce the weird space characters, the film can’t resist splurging and flinging them at us right away). Jupiter is an expository device like CITIZEN KANE’s Thompson, leaving Tatum to drive the plot — but he’s not the title character, and he’s viewed as an object of desire. It’s nice when the Wachowskis mix up gender roles, but not nice when they sabotage the drama. At the climax of the film, Tatum has to fight a crocodile man, but I was struggling to get worked up about it. “I don’t dislike this crocodile man,” I found myself saying. “I think he’s OK.”Still, in the film’s one really neat bit of sci-fi action, Tatum drops the reptilian fellow through a portal in a glass floor and snaps it shut on his neck. Nasty.

Also oddly reminiscent of maybe the most startling gag in Buster Keaton’s career ~The tragedy of the Wachowskis, or maybe tragicomedy since they’re probably quite happy, is that they are authentically left-field talents (BOUND is still their most satisfying movie) who got boosted into superproduction mode by THE MATRIX and fundamentally don’t belong there. And maybe they’re not quite clever enough to either escape or turn the situation to any artistic advantage.

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A Star is Burned

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2018 by dcairns

Inside Daisy Clover from David Cairns on Vimeo.

I’m extremely glad I never watched the pan-and-scan copy of INSIDE DAISY CLOVER I used to own, so I could appreciate the proper super-wide-screen version I have now acquired. That said, there’s only really one scene in it that really comes alive, but BOY does it come alive.

Producer Alan Pakula and director Robert Mulligan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) tackle Gavin Lambert’s novel (with the author himself adapting the screenplay), effectively a Judy Garland roman a clef, with a perfectly cast Natalie Wood as the waif-starlet abused by the system. There’s good, creepy work from Christopher Plummer as her studio boss (though no thirties studio boss was remotely as handsome — you were lucky if you got Darryl Zanuck, “he of the air-conditioned teeth,” as Orson Welles unkindly but accurately remarked) and Katharine Bard as his sinister sister wife. Ruth Gordon plays the crazy mama, a more benign figure than the monstrous stage mother in Natalie’s own life, and Roddy McDowell is rather wasted as a studio factotum.

Robert Redford is intriguingly cast as a dashing drunk, a Flynn/Barrymore composite who also turns out to be gay, something one can’t imagine Redford playing later. Since reading Peter Biskind’s gossip-fest book Down and Dirty Pictures, which characterises RR as, essentially, a passive-aggressive jerk, I can’t help see his characters as passive-aggressive, and it’s definitely a suitable filter for this one. Weird how an actor who’s been criticised for being bland and always playing sympathetic golden boys can be realigned as the movies’ biggest and best portrayer of arrogant jerks.

But the movie fails to catch fire. Wood is energetic and effecting as she always was, but the story’s progress is full of mysterious lacunae. Is it a problem that, in charting this aspirant screen goddess’s rise to fame and heartbreak, we never see her first day on set, meet her co-stars or directors, or see her actually notice her fame or meet her public? It might not have to be, if the lacunae were bridged by consistent narrative development. But Daisy is introduced as a girl who wants to sing, and then her singing drops out of the picture altogether. Sure, there are a couple of musical numbers staged by Herbert Ross, who, as his later PENNIES FROM HEAVEN shows, could certainly pastiche 30s style, but here seems to have been ordered to keep it vague as to period. Edith Head and team’s costumes likewise eschew anything smacking too strongly of the depression, and try to touch lightly on sixties styles. The movie’s planting its feet three decades apart makes for an uncomfortable pose.

It’ a strangely underpopulated film — giant studio barns, inside and out, a deserted boardwalk, a motel in a literal desert, a yacht at sea (always uncomfortable to see Natalie in such a setting, but Redford is there and he’s Mr. Boat) — scene after scene is stripped of extras and period detail, perhaps making a point about the loneliness of stardom, but not as vividly as showing the uncaring mob would.

Then comes the scene quoted above. Outstandingly edited by Aaron Stell, with a really creepy drone from André Previn on the soundtrack, and striking choices with sound editing that make the whole thing modernistically unsettling. There just weren’t Hollywood films evoking this kind of European unease at the time, or damn few: how many American directors really gave the impression they’d seen Godard, Fellini and Antonioni? Mulligan sure has.

I guess this is the pay-off to the character’s initial love of singing, the thing that makes her feel the world isn’t as crappy as it seems. Even that’s been taken from her. But there’s no real middle to that journey. Still, it gets a powerful ending.

The movie ends happily — either a cop-out or an act of mercy. Give Daisy the triumphant escape so few of her real-life counterparts achieved, why not? We also get perhaps cinema’s first instance of what is now a tiresome cliché, the Walking Away From An Explosion moment. Astonishing. Without Natalie Wood, no Wolverine.

The Sunday Intertitle: You Bad Ass

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2018 by dcairns

Movies from 10.30 a.m. until around midnight yesterday at the Hippodrome (and also at Bo’ness Railway Station). The one film I was unsure of, the recently rediscovered early ‘3-s Chinese film, STRIVING, turned out to be a highlight. For all its blatant propaganda content (“Bullets dodge brave soldiers,” one intertitle tells us — and we learn how the Chinese defeated the Japanese, which is pretty counter-factual), I actually like it better than the admired THE GODDESS. It’s in perfect nick, and Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius really brought it to life with their accompaniment.

Everybody’s favourite intertitle came from this film: “You bad ass!” a charming mistranslation which meant to come out as “You awful jerk!” or something. Difficult to find an idiom that carries the meaning and feels natural but doesn’t sound too, well, idiomatic.

The day began with Baby Peggy in THE KID DETECTIVE and Neil Brand at the piano. Neil told us that he’s actually played before B.P. herself. He asked her if they played music on set when she acted, and she said yes, there was one piece that would always make her cry. So when he accompanied her film he played it, and glanced into the audience, and sure enough, there were tears running down her face. I wish we’d had her with us yesterday. She was a big hit, especially in drag with tweed suit and inverted Hitler mustache.

Then there was the very peculiar SAVING SISTER SUSIE, a 1921 Christie Comedy with Dorothy Devore, who I hadn’t seen before. On the slenderest pretext, Devore is forced to dress as a child so she can’t steal her sister’s rich beau, but he falls for her anyway, the “Buster Brown” costume failing to put him off — maybe it even encourages him. This foretaste of THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR meant that the naive little farce stood out in a day full of imperilled virigins and sexual threat, as perhaps the most disturbing film of all.

DER SCHATZ (1923), the first film of GW Pabst, was impressive, but hampered by the score. The Hippodrome set like a good improvisation as much as the next silent film geek, but we like to feel the musician is improvising TO the film. Alois Kott had laid down a sound bed of strange noises, which sometimes changed in sync with the scenes, and then he added another layer of abstract musical noise with an amazing instrument that looked like a cross between a cello and a Curly-Wurly™. None of the sounds would necessarily have been inappropriate for this film, though the intergalactic computer twinkling was something you might want to be careful with. But none of them seemed to follow or reflect the action, tone, mood of the characters or create either tension or space. The effect became like watching a good film (with Werner Krauss and THE 39 STEPS’ Lucie Mannheim) through a thick pane of frosted glass: music as barrier.

We did learn that Kott has provided live improvised accompaniment to football matches, though. I like that idea — sounds like about the only thing that could make the experience of a football match tolerable to me.

Oh, somewhere in there I accidentally won a chocolate egg in a quiz, which I then shared with random audience members. Seemed only fair since I’d guessed half the answers.

Tom Mix and his Wonder Horse, Tony, starred in THE GREAT K & A TRAIN ROBBERY (1926), where the clean-cut hero pretends to be a bandit in order to thwart real outlaws. Heroine Dorothy Dwan (fresh from the ’25 WIZARD OF OZ) seems to be serious obsessed with bandits, fantastising Mix as Dick Turpin via match dissolve, and gloating lustfully over her big book of Romantic Highwaymen. Who knew that highwayman porn was a thing? Second favourite intertitle stemmed from this film, where an effete villain is introduced with the words, “if he’s a college man — it must have been Vassar.” It’s at 2.36 in the above YouTubing. The movie is impossibly innocent — six-shooters blast all over the Colorado setting, but nobody ever gets shot, but it IS a bit heteronormative, I guess you could say.

John Sweeney pounded the ivories to strong dramatic effect despite the chill of the open-air performance amid the Bo’ness steam locomotives.

Then came the double feature of THE PENALTY and SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN, which I’d written programme notes for. Graeme Stephen & Pete Harvey provided a beautiful score for the former, quite light and airy for this sadistic gangster-horror melodrama, and maybe a counter-intuitive choice to use strings for a film about a mad pianist (Lon Chaney) — but it worked!

I’m biassed, but Jane Gardner’s score for SEVEN FOOTPRINTS, performed with Roddy Long on violin, was my favourite of the day. It started with jaunty tunes from piano and bow, then when the going gets spooky, Jane switched to electronic keyboard and Roddy added an array of filters to his violin for an eerie selection of drones, pulses, throbs, wails and screeches — but not forgetting the tunes. This movie originally had a Vitaphone soundtrack, now lost, and while it would be unlikely that Jane happened on any of the precise effects of the original (apart from the gong), I could well believe that her work complimented the film every bit as effectively. Director Benjamin Christensen must be looking up from Hell, smiling.