Archive for the Politics Category

Dialogical Exhaustion

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2017 by dcairns

Oh no! Kevin Spacey has been accused of sexual assault! It’s OK, though, he didn’t do it, not in Alan Parker’s last film, the 2003 death-house drama THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE.

This piece will be all about the spoilers, and the film has a twist ending that’s almost as good shit as ANGEL HEART, so stop reading now if, like me, you’ve been vaguely meaning to catch up with this one for the last twenty years.

This is not only Alan Parker’s last film (to date), it will also end up being Kevin Spacey’s because when they get around to digitally replacing him with Christopher Plummer in all his movies, this is the one they’ll stop at because Plummer won’t want to do it.Spacey with Rhona Mitra, the student who’ll do ANYTHING to get a pass. When your character has to actually apologise for being a retrograde cliché, it may be a sign that your character is a retrograde cliché.

One has to respect Parker, I guess, for announcing his retirement and sticking to it, something so few filmmakers can bring themselves to do. When Bergman announced that he was packing it in after FANNY AND ALEXANDER, he’d just made a masterpiece and also a really good Christmas film which would have fitted perfectly into this blogathon, but then he went on to make more than a dozen further works — OK, it’s nice that we have them, but those I’ve seen aren’t as good. Kieslowski announced he was through making movies, then changed his mind, then dropped dead. Parker has stuck to his guns.

And a good thing too, going by this. Parker bowed out with a movie that alternates between the sclerotic and the desperate-to-be-with-it. The latter tendency is apparent mainly in the awful flash-cuts of punchy words, taken from letters, emails, etc, jabbed into the edit as the camera turns upside down. By this means, Parker gets us into his flashbacks.

Scroll rapidly between these two images while blinking a lot.

The turgid stuff is actually a lot better. Because Spacey is/was a fascinating presence, and he has Laura Linney to bounce off of some of the time. Kate Winslet’s performance is less satisfying as she falls into Parker’s cliches too readily. Also, her character name is “Bitsy.” No excuse for that. Melissa McCarthy turns up briefly as “Nico the Goth Girl.”

“I’m sinking to my knees in slow motion! NOOOOOOO!”

(I like BUGSY MALONE by the way, I liked BIRDY back when it was new, THE COMMITMENTS, and, on TV, The Evacuees made a huge impression on me. And Parker was always an interesting, bolshy, curmudgeonly commentator on the British film scene.)

I knew the film had a big twist, and that most of the reviewers hated it. It’s kind of the starting point of late Fritz Lang movie BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, the idea of a man faking up evidence so he can prove that it’s possible for someone to get wrongly convicted of murder. Parker and screenwriter Charles Randolph (THE BIG SHORT) take that idea up to the next level, and don’t cop out as Lang and his scribe Douglas Morrow did. But their twist is pretty obvious (and Louis Cyphre’s cage elevator turns up at the end to remind us that Parker has form here) and the second twist doesn’t really add anything with emotional impact. And the whole scheme is pointless because a killer, a victim and a patsy collaborating to set up the frame is a sufficiently uncommon, nay, ludicrous occurrence that the lethal-injection-happy Texas governor need have few qualms that this sort of thing is going to happen a lot.

Kubrick pointed out that the trouble with anti-lynching movies is they always focus on innocent men being hanged. Since lynch mobs always think they’ve got the right man (or else they don’t care, so long as he’s the right/wrong race), they’re not going to be put off by this. In a way, Tim Robbins’ DEAD MAN WALKING is a much better anti-capital-punishment tract because it argues that even when a man is guilty of a heinous crime, maybe there’s a case against the state taking his life. But both TLODG and DMW are the movie Richard E. Grant is pitching in THE PLAYER. I remember an embarrassing interview where a journalist speaking to Robert Altman attempted to flatter him by saying he would be the man to make the uncompromised version rather than the happy ending travesty with Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts. Of course, Altman wouldn’t have touched either version, though I guess he did make THE GINGERBREAD MAN.I can see that it’s dated, and overheated, but I sort of miss Parker’s eighties pomp — blue or sepia-tinged images, every room full of smoke for no reason except to create shafts of light blasting through every window, every road slicked with rain. Only the last touch is present in TLODG, despite the fact we’re in Texas and we only see it rain once. Stripped of his ad-man’s imagery, Parker becomes rather a flat, boring filmmaker, who apparently hasn’t noticed he’s making a deeply silly film which would benefit enormously from outrageous stylistic brio if it were applied consistently. He could have his dreadful flash-cuts, if he must, if only he’d surround them with equally ebullient directorial pyrotechnics. This movie thinks it’s a deep and meaningful political drama, when by rights it ought to be THE COLOR OF NIGHT or FEMME FATALE.

Aptly, Spacey’s David Gale is the author of a supposedly brilliant book on philosophy called Dialogical Exhaustion. Which sounds very deep dish but translates as Running Out of Things to Say.

Theory: just as TLODG (why the unnecessarily boring title?) is about a man who tries to justify the abolition of the death penalty by willfully getting himself convicted of murder, Parker’s swan song could be interpreted as him trying to justify his contention that film is a young man’s game by willfully making a movie which is both tediously disengaged and frantically desperate to be exciting and “cinematic.” So we have no choice but to applaud the old bastard for stopping.

Advertisements

The (Late) Sunday Intertitle: Famous Last Words

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , on December 3, 2017 by dcairns

From Paul Leni’s final film, THE LAST WARNING. Seemed appropriate on all kinds of levels.

The Private War of Representative Wilson

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2017 by dcairns

Both Frank Tashlin and Mike Nichols ended their careers with films about, one might say, private wars, but there the resemblance more or less ends. Though, if Bob Hope in THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT. O’FARRELL and Tom Hanks in CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR were to trade places, I don’t know how much difference it would make.

The Nichols film makes for an interesting capper. Scripted by Aaron Sorkin, who always does these things, it hashes up an unruly true story into a palatable dramatic shape. The REAL story buried inside the true one is that Wilson’s covert funding of Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet invaders eventually led to the Taliban, and a US invasion which we’re still dealing with today. The film does its best to acknowledge that without admitting any culpability on the part of its protagonist, which is an impossible balancing act. And when the movie denounces the immorality of funding the mujahideen just enough to make the USSR waste resources fighting them, without giving them enough support to win, it has to kind of ignore the fact that this policy gave us Glasnost, whereas Charlie Wilson’s policy gave us… some very bad things indeed.

What else is bad? Oh yes, the warnography, which consists of strange montages of expensive battle reenactment and cheap stock footage, scored by Thomas Newton Howard with militaristic romanticism. Most of this is just montage stuff, presumably thrown in to stop this just being talk, but the talk is what’s good about it. One little scene showing Russian pilots discussing their sleazy love lives while strafing women and kids, before being heroically taken out of the skies by Wilson’s freshly-supplied rocket launchers would be enough to make you sick were it not immediately followed by a tight closeup of Amy Adams’ tightly-skirted ass, which makes things even worse, but somehow I can’t bring myself to blow chunks while looking at Amy Adams’ ass. But it’s probably an all-time career low in taste for Sorkin and Nichols.

   

When the film is dealing with dialogue, it’s on EXTREMELY sure footing, though. Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman are terrific in slightly different modes, and we get great scenes with them and Om Puri and then Ken Stott. Ken Stott as an Israeli? Is it the thing about Scotsmen and Jews both being mean? Whatever, when a terrific Brit character actor turns up completely by surprise, we rejoice.

As this is a political drama, this is fairly male-dominated. Among the females being dominated are Adams, gazing worshipfully at Hanks, and Emily Blunt. Julia Roberts is sexualized, but in charge. Her extraordinary makeup impressed Fiona, if it’s not historically correct for the true-life character, then it’s an inspired invention.

“She’s doing her eyelashes like Audrey Hepburn! And those weird-painted on shadows around her eyelids…” It’s the Caligari approach to cosmetics.

Nichols sure sense of casting and timing is undiminished in all the scenes of scheming and arguing. His compositional sense is less pleasing since he stopped working with Harold Michelson on storyboards, and his sense of structure is diminished without Sam O’Steen as editor — though I’m not sure whether executive interference had something to do with the dumb action scenes and the choppy transitions in the last third. But what you get in this film is just-passable coverage assembled with incredible zip into scenes which showcase terrific actors speaking terrific words. And that’s somewhat rare today, as it was ten years ago when this thing came out and I apparently didn’t bother to see it.