Archive for the Television Category

Hi Ho

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics, Radio, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2015 by dcairns

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When I first visited Richard Lester to try to talk him into giving an interview, we exchanged a few words about the generally regrettable state of Hollywood cinema and recent flops. “But THE LONE RANGER is coming!” he added, with gleeful irony.

It came, it flopped, and now as with JOHN CARTER people are starting to say, Hey, that wasn’t so bad. A little different.

(I strongly recommend Scout Tafoya’s video essay on LONE RANGER, comparing it to HEAVEN’S GATE. Really! It makes sense.)

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JOHN CARTER had some unwearable costumes and bland characters, but was also fun, spectacular and had a really good ending. LONE RANGER is beautifully designed and shot, and the characters certainly aren’t bland, but tonally it must be admitted there’s something haywire. I think someone felt that some humour was needed to make it commercial, but the goofy humour and broad slapstick selected are a little too far from the darker stuff, the genocide and cannibalism. It’s hard to conceive of a film that could contain that breadth of material and attitude without rupturing itself. I guess the rabid rabbits are an attempt at finding something that’s as goofy as slapstick and as creepy as cannibalism, but they don’t work.

How else to describe the film’s problem? Well, on the one hand it borrows from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST almost as extravagantly as the same director’s RANGO swiped from CHINATOWN, and also from LITTLE BIG MAN, THE GENERAL, THE WILD BUNCH and THE PRINCESS BRIDE. But it also seems to reference NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (see above), PLANET TERROR (one-legged woman with a gun for a prosthesis) and there’s a bit of DEAD MAN thrown in. That indicates either a very ambitious film, one whose scope might not fit within the requirements of a summer blockbuster, or else someone has been drinking loco water.

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I think tonal uncertainty is a key thing that makes audiences reject something. I mean, when we don’t know how to react to moments in David Lynch’s work, it’s clear enough that he’s put in a lot of work to make us feel that our conflicted response is OK. To give one example in LONE RANGER, the hero is mercilessly dumped on by the writers, and his Dudley Doright stuffiness allows quite a bit of fun to be poked. But when they try to make us laugh at his concern for his dead brother’s kidnapped wife, it’s rather awkward — because the last time we saw her, it looked as if she’d been shot in the head. Too soon?

Then there’s the film’s approach to race, which I think is well-intentioned but still troublesome. The casual shooting of innocent black and Chinese characters seems intended to make a point about the evils of the times, and a valid one, but in a feel-good action film shouldn’t there be something positive for the non-white audience to take away? Otherwise it feels like an unintended point is being made about the evils of modern Hollywood blockbusters, where the minorities can be laid waste but it’s still a happy ending because the important white folks were saved. (Remember Kurt Vonnegut’s point, expressed in Breakfast of Champions, that stories where there are important versus unimportant characters are a part of our major social problem.) And it’s true that the film’s ending is quite a bit less heartening than is usual in these things — his arc is one of gradual disillusionment with all of western civilisation, and he doesn’t even get the girl. But they’re still trying to make us laugh…

But it’s quite possible to enjoy most of the film on one level or another, if you treat it as a series of scenes rather than as a coherent whole — it’s only the tone that fragments it. The plot, on the other hand (by PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN scribes Elliott & Rossio, plus Justin Haythe whose big credit is, weirdly, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD), is perfectly serviceable, with enough reverses and surprises and logic and motivation to scrape by.. In particular, Tonto’s back story is cleverly prepared for, and quite moving when delivered. And fans of beautiful imagery certainly wouldn’t be able to watch this and then claim that they hadn’t seen a great deal of beautiful imagery. Some of it original. Verbinski can do shots which are epic, shots which are poetic, and shots that are funny, actual comic compositions which do support the film’s ambition to bow down to Buster Keaton.

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Fair and Lovely on the Campaign Trail

Posted in FILM, Painting, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2015 by dcairns

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In THE CANDIDATE (1972), Michael Ritchie does such a good job of surrounding golden boy Robert Redford with grotesques, ugly Americans, non-WASP imperfect specimens of ordinary humanity, that the overall effect is similar to Heironymous Bosch’s painting of Christ Carrying the Cross, thronged and taunted by gurning Semitic caricatures. The once-dapper Melvyn Douglas is used to particularly unsightly effect, seemingly serving his aging kisser up happily to curdle our blood with a lot of sinister, wet grinning. Also Allen Garfield’s ebullient bulbousness, Peter Boyle sporting a Mr. Upside-Down-Head full beard, even a young Michael Lerner, every part of whom seems to be wider than it is long.

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This is one I had to watch pan-and-scan in an off-air recording, which seems a terrible gap in the historic record. You’d think Redford was well enough known for there to be a DVD somewhere. I’d suggest an Eclipse box set to compliment Criterion’s excellent DOWNHILL RACER — “Winning and Losing with Michael Ritchie” — it could have SMILE, THE CANDIDATE, DOWNHILL RACER, THE BAD NEW BEARS and maybe The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. And does anyone rate SEMI-TOUGH? Still, this would have to come after René Clemént’s “Occupation and Resistance,” which is top of my wish list.

What shall it profit a Malibu blond? It’s the age-old tale of the idealist who loses his way — Ritchie and editors Richard A. Harris (regular collaborator) and Robert Estrin shape Jeremy DRIVE HE SAID Larner’s script so that the path to hell has plenty of missing paving stones, forcing us to fill in the blanks, mentally. There are great transitions and elisions, and for once the principles Redford starts with actually sound like principles — pro-choice, pro-bussing, anti-pollution. Most political dramas, from MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON to House of Cards, contain sub-homeopathic doses of politics. Watching Redford get whittled down to nothing by his campaign managers is both depressing and grimly satisfying. Also, it’s a very good portrayal of how awful campaigning must be: an utterly moronic process designed to trap intelligent adults into humiliating situations.

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The movie anticipates Robert Altman’s excellent TV series Tanner ’88, which Altman considered his best work, in many ways, not least the use of real politicians and journalists playing themselves. And once again, Redford’s manner of heroism looks oddly off-kilter, a kind of behaviour we wouldn’t find noble anymore — he’s petulant and passive-aggressive. We aren’t convinced he’s really struggling to hang onto his integrity, and maybe that’s the point. But the whole thing also works as a depiction of the cult of celebrity, and how frightening and degrading it must be to experience from the inside. Redford once said that when he first saw his portrait on the cover of Time with the caption Robert Redford: Actor, he was convinced for a second it said Robert Redford: Asshole. That’s showbiz.

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Special

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2015 by dcairns

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Managed to largely ignore the Oscars again this year. My overall take on the awards is that they can pretty much be guaranteed to go to the wrong people for the wrong films. If an award-worthy actor gets a little golden swordsman, it will be for the wrong film, probably in the wrong year. I have to be careful here because I have a great good friend who has three of the metallic minions, and he totally earned them. Maybe I can make my rule work by saying he should have won his 2001 award in 2003, his 2002 award in 2001, and his 2003 award in 2002. Yeah, that makes sense. Good.

I have a sort of perverse respect for the tradition of the Honorary or Special Oscar. Why should the year’s great accomplishments be forced to fit into a set of more or less random categories? Traditionally, these went either to children, black people and the disabled, or, by some special dispensation, to Walt Disney, who got three. Maybe because he made children’s films, and although he was neither black nor disabled, he was a racist, which is a kind of disability which relates to people of colour.

 
Prepare to cringe: at 3:14 Clooney utters the most disappointing words of his life (apart from, I guess, for some, the words “I do”). Disappointing since he’s supposed to be smart.

If you’re an able-bodied actor pretending to be disabled, obviously you can get a normal Oscar. Confusingly, Harold Russell got a Special Oscar AND a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Although they don’t actually manufacture a special Oscar with hooks for hands, or a child-sized Oscar struggling to see around the bloody great broadsword. So it’s sort-of special, but not THAT special.

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Still, though there’s a certain amount of confusion about how Honorary Oscars work (James Baskett got one for playing Uncle Remus, but Hattie McDaniel got a regular award for playing Mammy in GONE WITH THE WIND: she just had to sit at a segregated table away from her colleagues on the production), I think the tradition should be expanded upon. Anything that makes the Academy more ridiculous and self-parodic is to be encouraged, so that the awards can be enjoyed but not taken too seriously.

There should, upon occasion, be an award for Best False Nose, and this should be presented not to the actor or to the makeup artist but to the actual nose. The acceptance speech would be gratifyingly short. To avoid any sensation of anti-climax maybe Rick Baker could rig up some kind of air pump so the nose could sneeze its gratitude.

There should be an award for Best Dead Person Left Out of the Obituary Montage. This might have to be annual and there might have to be multiple winners.

Rather than giving honorary gongs to people who have never won fair and square and who are now approaching death, they should randomly pick a young up-and-comer each year and give it to them, on the understanding that the Academy can henceforth ignore this person’s work without feeling guilty about it. A sort of pre-emptive Lifetime Achievement Award. If we’d given that to Michael Keaton for NIGHT SHIFT, imagine how much better we’d be feeling now. Or MR. MOM, or JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY!

Look at how well it’s worked for Roberto Benigni.

The honest thing to do, now that we recognize that going “Awww” in the form of an Oscar isn’t an appropriate response to children, ethnic minorities and the disabled (although, given the Academy’s reluctance to hand out awards to any of those groups, why not give ’em a chance at a patronizing consolation prize at least?), might be to give Special Oscars to people who have been humiliatingly dumped by their celebrity partners. Jennifer Aniston is overdue for this. The poor woman STILL seems to evoke sad-face sympathy reactions ten years post-Brad, despite her wealth and success and constant visibility. It’s as if she had invisible hooks for hands. She deserves a medal — or an Oscar. Hmm, who could present it, to drive the point home?

There could be award for people who have contributed greatly to the cinematic culture by stopping making films. If he just took a short sabbatical, Michael Bay could qualify, and let’s face it, what other chance does he have?

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Imagine this guy in gold!

No person of diminutive stature has ever won the Oscar for anything — clearly an insulting mini-Oscar should be gilded in preparation for the moment when Time has whittled the surviving Munchkins down to one. Treat it as a tontine — the Oscar goes to Last Dwarf Standing. The Academy — nay, the industry as a whole — has a proud history of insensitivity and bogus good intentions — there’s so much to live up to.

Your suggestions are welcome.

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