Archive for the Television Category

Truth is a menace

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , on February 10, 2017 by dcairns

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“You walk into this room at your own risk. Because it leads to the future. Not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world. It is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It is patterned after every dictator who has planted the ripping imprint of a boot upon the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements. Technological advancements. And a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule. Logic is an enemy and truth is a menace.”

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Words and images from The Twilight Zone season 2, The Obsolete Man, written by Rod Serling, directed by Montgomery Pittman, starring Burgess Meredith and Fritz Weaver. This is not the future that will be, but the future that was. The present.

An Alternative to Facts

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

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DENIAL is something we opted to watch on BAFTA screener when something else didn’t grip us (not fair to talk about the non-gripper since we didn’t finish it). We knew DENIAL would offer a good STORY, which is what we craved, and so it did.

What has Mick Jackson been doing? I know his name from L.A. STORY, which was a while ago. He’s been on TV, I see. Well, I kind of know what he’s doing here — he’s been brought in to give it a touch of cinema. It’s a BBC film, see, and written by David Hare — very intelligently written as far as the issues are concerned, occasionally clumsy as it draws in bit players to comment on the issues. But compared to much recent exposition, very decently done.

(We attempted a screener of MY WEEK WITH MARILYN once and were appalled at the leaden way characters kept explaining things to each other that they both clearly already knew. I spoofed this with the line, “As you know, I’m your father,” and after ten minutes we’d almost convinced ourselves this was a genuine bit of dialogue.)

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The trouble is, a writer like Hare, schooled in the theatre, leaves no room for cinema or “cinema” — he gives you strong dramatic scenes of people talking to each other. A master of such stuff — and it would be lovely to see Otto Preminger getting to grips with this material — can make cinema out of just such scenes. There’s nothing wrong with Jackson’s handling of them, and he renders London in photogenic, grey, wet panoramas. Lots of frosty, foggy, atmospheric shots of Auschwitz too. It’s the bursts of attention-getting technique applied to the Holocaust that seemed a bit egregious. I’ll allow the barely audible sound of screams heard as our characters stand on the roof of a former gas chamber, since I allowed the barely audible sound of cheering in the deserted Nazi Olympic stadium in THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM — the coincidence is so striking, I have to embrace it. But the sudden horror movie plunge into a photograph of a gas chamber window, which becomes live-action and filled with distressed, clawing figures who look like ZOMBIES — that was bad, both because it belonged in a different film, and because any time a filmmaker uses such historical events to show off, I get repulsed.

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But that is, to be fair, one tiny moment in an otherwise strong, sensitively handled drama. Rachel Weisz, who made an unconvincing librarian in THE MUMMY and AGORA, makes a convincing historian here and her accent is enjoyable to listen to. EVERYONE is doing an accent, except Tom Wilkinson, who refuses to make any compromises in the direction of being Scottish. Good for him, I say, he has the right idea. Wilkinson brings the entertainment, as does Andrew Scott as his fellow lawyer (I won’t get into the whole barrister/solicitor thing) — Scott annoyed us no end in Sherlock (he’s Moriarty — we enjoyed the show but not him) but it turns out to have been to a large extent the fault of the writing. He uses many of the same tics here, but they don’t come off as tics: he has a sort of flip, aggressive way of jumping in with a line and cutting it off short, which is helpful as he’s essentially playing antagonist to a woman who wants to talk about things. One of those Sherlock writers is here too, Mark Gatiss playing Polish — and he’s really excellent, very restrained, he makes you forget the oddness of that casting (are there no Poles in Britain? To read the tabloids, not that we do, one would think there was nothing but.)

Holocaust denier David Irving is played by Timothy Spall, and just as Weiss is technically too cute to play Deborah Lipstadt, who should look like an ordinary person, Spall is not handsome enough to play Irving, who looks like the portrait of Dorian Gray if Gray were a big rugby-playing type — traces of handsomeness in a face grown gross and harsh and corrupt. Spall has actually lost a shit-ton of fat (by the looks of things, siphoning it off into John Sessions) and now looks kind of like Tim Roth wearing Timothy Spall’s abandoned skin, something I have no doubt Roth would do, given the chance.

But these observations ultimately don’t matter — you get used to the strange accents emanating from Weiss and Spall (and everyone else) and to the fact that they’re imperfect embodiments of the personages they represent, because the actual ACTING is what counts (along with the writing, of course) and it’s very good. And it all manages to express a point that shouldn’t need to be expressed, with enough subtleties around the edges (for instance, why one shouldn’t put survivors in the witness stand in a case like this) which are far from obvious and fascinating to hear argued so well. When Scott tells Weiss that he’s not going to let her testify, I was surprised and impressed and waited for the movie to change its mind and give her a BAFTA-winning speech from the box, but it never came. Almost uniquely in a film centred on a female protagonist, her job is to remain silent, to bear witness, to not debate a man who doesn’t deserve to be debated. The film’s courage in sticking to this principle is praiseworthy.

 

Headroom

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2017 by dcairns

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Finished off disc 3 of Season 3 of The Twilight Zone — as good a place to start as any — with the legendary To Serve Man. Which is not as smart a piece of science fiction as ARRIVAL, I’d say. Just the question of translation is not as well handled. The earthlings have been working on alien Richard Kiel’s space book for some time, but all they’ve managed to translated is the title, To Serve Man. One would think that the word “to” might turn up somewhere in the body of the text as well as in the title, and that might help…

If you start describing the story to a modern human who hasn’t heard it or seen the Simpsons parody of it, at a certain point they will say “It’s a cook book, isn’t it?” and this certain point will occur long before you get to that revelation. Which I don’t mind: it just gives you an insight into a more innocent time.

Despite having smart SF scribe Damon Knight as its original author, the episode has a number of “innocent” moments. “What time is it?” demands the UFO abductee, only to be told that time is a meaningless concept in outer space. “What time is it ON EARTH?” he insists, oblivious to the fact that his question is stupid. It’s not one time on Earth. It’s not even one time in the USA. Nevertheless, the giant Richard Kiel alien says “It’s noon.” Maybe he’s just humouring the jerk.

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What was most striking was the fact that poor alien Richard Kiel has to stoop to come through the door — on his own spaceship! Wouldn’t it be built with him in mind. I can imagine poor Richard’s expression on viewing the set: even when they build a set just for my character, they don’t put in enough clearance.

Alien Richard Kiel has a big bulbous bald head, like many space aliens before and since, but what’s especially good about it is it looks like he’s wearing a chef’s hat inside his scalp. Combining astronomy and gastronomy.

The door thing made me think of MOONRAKER, where Richard Kiel as Jaws never seems to hit his head on any doorways, despite the fact that it’s NOT his spaceship and you’d think they’d want to keep costs down by ignoring the slender possibility of one of their passengers being seven feet tall. The spaceship makers could have saved a fortune and the filmmakers could have gotten quite a lot of value out of Big Richard banging his forehead on every door frame in the joint. I mean, it’s not like such business would be beneath the dignity of a late-period Roger Moore Bond film…

It also made me think of KING KONG, which has the opposite problem. The natives have built a wall, a great big beautiful Donald Trump wall, to keep Kong on his side of Skull Island (how old is Kong anyway?) The trouble is, in a fit of political correctness they have thoughtfully built into their wall a Kong-sized door, despite the fact that the one thing one guesses they would not want to happen is —

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Oh well…