Archive for Arrival

Less Human Than Human

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2017 by dcairns

One line of thought. Probably spurious. On seeing Denis Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL right after the 2016 presidential election, I was struck by how it felt like an optimistic statement — despite our stupid differences, humankind manage cooperate among ourselves and with the strolling heptapods — a movie aimed at that branch of the multiverse where Hillary won. BLADE RUNNER 2049, arriving hot on its heels (how did he manage that?) — with its polluted, post-nuclear police state, is aimed squarely at the Trump Parallel. Since escapism sells, it was ARRIVAL that was the hit.

It’s like somebody said about Kubrick: 2001 was the future we could have had; CLOCKWORK ORANGE was what we were going to get.

As shot by Roger Deakins — excuse me, Roger A. Deakins (where did the A come from?) — 2049 looks really good — I mean, REALLY good — and the performances are excellent, with a very committed Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford and an interesting bunch of relative newcomers supporting them. Poor Robin Wright has to find a new way to play an ice queen, but ever resourceful, she does it. And the story is OK — it avoids the Damon Lindelof approach of simply reconfiguring the original elements and rehashing them out of sequence with the roles switched. But we were vaguely engaged without being particularly excited by the movie.

We’d just seen a bunch of movie trailers and they were ALL for sequels, two of them superhero franchises, one of them the JUMANJI reboot (which seemed to show the most originality, grading on a curve). And BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a superior sort of belated sequel — it’s largely faithful to its source, and not only reproduces familiar design elements (the recurring Mayan kitchen) but concocts new ones that seem quite in keeping as well as being beautiful in themselves (dustbowl Vegas, Dave Bautista’s brown lounge). It has a precise sense of the original’s sick, slightly kinky violence, gialloesque, chilling and inventive. But we didn’t care too much.

There are clever touches — the ads for Atari and Pan-Am that “date” the original film are repeated, and a “Product of CCCP” logo confirms that this is an alternate future, so that it doesn’t matter that Leon’s incept date was 2017 in the first movie, and yet artificial Brion Jameses are not available in the shops this Christmas. The Peugeot and Sony signs are pure product placement, though — I only hope the well-documented (by me, right now) Curse of Blade Runner will swoop down and send those corporations spiralling into administration the way it did to the games company and the airline. But clever touches don’t necessarily make us care about a movie’s characters or story or even themes.

Impossible to explain such a visceral thing, and I’m not certain our response is of any use to anyone else — best to provisionally accept the positive things listed above and see it for yourself. It’s worth seeing.

I guess one problem is that the movie does seem to aim for a fairly straightforward kind of emotional appeal in its ending, and that somehow didn’t come off for us. And even if it had, I think it would have been less interesting than the original movie. Ridley Scott’s films tries halfheartedly to be about Rick Deckard but comes to life when dealing with Roy Batty, a much more original hero with a more pressing problem to solve. The fact that his methods are “questionable” just makes him more interesting. And while the movie’s attempts to find an emotional arc for Deckard are so ineffectual that the subsequent director’s cuts (two of them?) can chop off his last scene and nobody misses it, the emotions it rouses for Batty are, though conflicted, huge and operatic — that’s why I used a frame grab of the elevator scene in my previous BR post. Batty has just killed his father — God — and is breathing deeply of the strange new possibilities around him — while at the same time falling, falling, away from the heavens.

To get anywhere near that, 2049 would have to have been about its own most interesting, scary and transgressive character, Luv, ferociously played by Sylvia Hoeks. But she is very far from being even the chief antagonist — she’s a henchwoman for Jared Leto. And Leto’s wacko billionaire is the film’s most hackneyed element, and nonsensical to boot — always complaining that replicants are too difficult to manufacture, while randomly killing perfectly good replicants every time we see him.

The first film is about all kinds of stuff, but as Batty’s story resonates most deeply, it seems to mainly be about mortality. The second film seems to be almost straightforwardly about slavery — an important subject in the first movie too, but a less universal one. And in the original, since the replicants are escapees when we first meet them, slavery is relegated to backstory and is less an active theme. Death is the problem. In this sequel, our hero is a slave — maybe we need more convincing information about how he breaks his programming? But the story of his gradual growth beyond the limits imposed on him should be touching. I do actually hold out hope that this may kick in more on a second viewing.

2049 is a kind of replicant movie — beautiful, complex, elegant, closely resembling what it’s modelled on and undeniably made with enormous skill — but crucially lacking some important, indefinable inner ingredient. If the first film is cold — and it is — but possessed of some kind of weird, nameless Wagnerian emotion of its own — the sequel tries to do something commendable but less interesting — tell a touching human story — and doesn’t really quite manage it. (The two times I did feel some emotion: early on when we see Gosling’s K being the victim of prejudice; when he loses his cyber-partner; when he sees her porno billboard Doppelganger. Which suggests that Ford’s excellent performance is essentially a distraction from what should be Gosling’s movie.)

“I suppose that was the best BLADE RUNNER sequel we could ask for,” mused Fiona, doubtfully. But we never asked for one. “Well, maybe if they’d hired the OTHER writer,*” I mused, just as doubtfully.

*David Peoples, co-writer of BLADE RUNNER, also co-wrote THE UNFORGIVEN and 12 MONKEYS. Hampton Fancher, co-writer of BLADE RUNNER and 2049, is a former flamenco dancer once married to Sue Lyon, which is also pretty cool.

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And then some naked men with swords come in

Posted in FILM with tags , , on February 27, 2017 by dcairns

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I’m live-blogging the Oscars in the company of Fiona and our friends Nicola & Donald.

If one imagines the scene — a glittering Hollywood event attended by the top people in the film industry, and then imagines a bunch of naked men with swords entering the room — then a happy outcome — the naked men slaughtering the Hollywood honchos — seems perfectly possible. But because we live in a dystopia, I’m afraid what’s going to happen is that the golden men will be distributed as gifts to the movie movers and shakers.

This year I think I have seen two of the nominated films, plus a couple of little bits. My disengagement with contemporary cinema is almost complete! Although I have seen a few other new films that haven’t been nominated for anything. The Oscars are not so white this year, which is to say the nominated films and performers are even less typical of what is actually made in modern American cinema than usual. The two films I saw are HIDDEN FIGURES and ARRIVAL — black women fire white men into space, black aliens come from space, talk to white woman — which were good enough to make me feel I should’ve seen more. Bit I just didn’t. Too busy catching up with Esther Williams and Red Skelton.

There will be frocks. There will be speeches. I will follow the standard procedure of being rude about people’s clothing, despite being the world’s sloppiest dresser myself (and the world’s sloppiest eater — the two are very much connected). My rudeness level on speeches will depend on their content. The intros are always appalling, of course. Anti-Trump speeches have to be welcomed with the world being as it is (“with grim death gargling up at you from every sidewalk”) but this event is such a safe space, even with live TV coverage, that there doesn’t seem much courage involved. On the other hand, a pro-Trump speech wouldn’t take much courage either since anybody giving such a speech would have to be completely divorced from reality.

OK, as this evening lengthens, so will this post. Keep checking in.

Now read on…

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RED CARPET BOMBING

So, we’re watching the Sky Cinema coverage — they have a bunch of pundits on a couch to talk during the US commercial breaks. We’ll be talking over them. We have a TV comedy actor, two film critics and a woman who does the sums on a quiz show.

We might also switch to the repulsive E! just to see what that’s like — red carpet coverage might be superior, or inferior, or different.

Shot of Damien Chazelle. “He’s twelve!” complains Fiona.

A lot of mean remarks I won’t report about dresses and hair, but a chorus of approval for Kirsten Dunst’s black dress. And Taraji P. Henson’s black dress. “She’s magnificently booby,” says Fiona.

Jessica Biel’s come as an Oscar. Octavia Spencer announces that she’s wearing comfy shoes, which gets a cheer from the women in this room. Nobody knows what to think about David Oyelowo’s white tuxedo jacket. Well, we do — we don’t like it, but none of us can think of a specific reason. Probably he should get points for not doing the safe thing, though.

Adrien Brody just turned up in a car commercial.

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Janelle Monae is wearing schrapnel, but looks good, I think. Dakota Johnson is also dressed as an Oscar. Spectacularly awkward E! interview. The room denounces her hair and frock.

“What is it with the low-slung breasts?” demands Fiona, remarking on a tendency she’s spotted. “They’re wearing them that way this year,” I explain.

Dylan Matthew, film critic, just got here. Now we’ll see some action!

Halle Berry with afro. The dress is admired. “She’s rocking the crazy cat woman look,” says Nicola, re the hair.

Dylan just did an expressive mime illustrating what his face did at the end of LA LA LAND. I told you we’d see some action. Sky shows a clip and Fiona points out that Ryan Gosling is wearing c0-respondent shoes. The E! fashion pundits analyse his suit. “All that drama coming through his shirt.” I yell “Eat your cereal!” at him in tribute to my former student, the late Ryan McHenry.

“Does anyone else find that the trailer for FENCES makes them not want to see it?” asks Dylan. I take a look at it. I don’t mind it. I think what makes me not want to see it is it was made after 1977.

Viola Davis’ dress is much admired.

Okay, I think it’s starting… we have a bottle of Prosecco to open.

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A SILVER TONGUE IS MORE VALUABLE THAN A GOLDEN SWORD

Donald pops the cork. “Remember, it should come out like a nun’s fart,” says Nicola. Donald does it beautifully — very nun-farty indeed.

Timberlake! Actually, quite a pleasant start. Don’t recall this kind of an opening — singer passing through the audience. Then VERY good reaction from Justin to JImmy Kimmel’s first put-down. Though I hope that Kimmel isn’t going to do the whole Ricky Gervaise insult comedian thing.

First celebrity AAARGH of the evening goes to Mel Gibson, who is a very odd colour with very odd face-lines. He’s roughly the hue of Ben Grimm, the Thing. (“The very rich are no longer remotely human” wrote William Gibson, truly a profit of the future.)

I’m quite liking Kimmel. Because he’s deadpan, he doesn’t come across as gloating and he can say mean things without seeming remotely mean.

Alicia Ex Machina has a very shiny face. Didn’t see any of the Best Supporting Actor films. But I know the director of HELL OR HIGH WATER so I’ll root for Jeff Bridges. But they might give it to Michael Shannon, out of fear…

Mahershala Ali! Well, I’m happy about that — didn’t see the film, but he’s good in HIDDEN FIGURES. And he seems lovely.

“Have you got anything you desperately want to win?” asks Dylan, getting into the spirit. None of us do, failing to get into the spirit. HIDDEN FIGURES is suggested, which we all liked, but since we have seen almost nothing else we couldn’t swear that all the other films aren’t better.

Make-up. Only three nominees. SUICIDE SQUAD wins. Man with VERY yellow glasses talks very very fast in Italian accent, and another guy who looks like a silver-haired lion.

Costume — we like Colleen Atwood, so we’re happy. Despite the fact that she always wins, she apparently didn’t prepare anything. Rookie mistake, Colleen!

Rolex ad. Several of us get confused and think it’s the In Memoriam bit. “Charles Bronson? No!”

98-year old Katherine Johnson is wheeled on. “I’m going to look that good when I’m 68,” says Dylan. Segue to Best Documentary which goes to OJ: MADE IN AMERICA. Which is seven hours long. Is it actually a film?

The Rock. Affable. A song. The girl from Moana. “Only sixteen?” protests Nicola. “The grow up fast nowadays” says Fiona. Midway through, one of the big spinning petals hits the poor kid. But she keeps going. “She’s got that awful combination,” says Dylan, “of a beautiful voice and a beautiful face.”

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“She’s dead… wrapped in plastic…”

OSCARS NOT SO WHITE

Dylan pops out for a cigarette and Jimmy Kimmel starts parachuting confectionary onto the assembled guests. You missed the best bit, Dylan!

ARRIVAL wins something! Sound editing, or mixing or something. French guy pronounces “Amy Adams” in a charming way. It was very good sound. HACKSAW RIDGE gets mixing, which is the guy who’s been nominated 21 times and never won. He seems happy! The other two winners don’t get to say anything, but they must have suspected that would be the case.

Mel seems even crazier than before.

Now we’re promised that Sting is going to perform. “There’s no need for Sting,” protests Donald.

We protest that the lifetime achievement awards are dealt with at a separate event. They would have been a highlight.

But I’m quite digging the clips of Oscars past — lots of unexpected people turning up. Lee Grant! You never hear about Lee Grant.

Amused by the fact that two of the Best Supporting Actress clips feature swearing that has to be muted out, with the women’s lips going out of focus. Very intense acceptance speech from Viola Davis. Very, um, dramatic. Very FAKE, in other words. She’s much better in the movies.

God, this is going on for ages. Not the ceremony, this speech. I think the trouble is, if you start at that fervid emotional pitch, you have nowhere to go but complete meltdown.

Charlize Theron namechecks THE APARTMENT which, along with Billy Wilder, must be the most mentioned-at-Oscars bit of film history. I approve!

Asghar Farhadi wins Best Foreign Film. And a proper bit of politics in the speech he sent. And the group is played off with “Hooked on a Feeling.”

Sting! And the air rushes out of the room. I ask Dylan why he hasn’t gone for a smoke. I may START smoking. But Sting is commendably short. And then the orchestra strikes up “Take My Breath Away,” and a Rolex commercial begins. Bill Paxton is in it, which must be why we got so confused before and people thought it was the In Memoriam. It has to be just an unfortunate, tragic coincidence. Poor Bill Paxton.

Dylan proposes that Oscars should be divided into films you see at the cinema and films you catch up with later. “And the Oscar for Best Film You’ll Catch Up With Later goes to HACKSAW RIDGE!”

Short Animated Oscar from short, animated Gael Garcia Bernal. PIPER wins — a film I have actually seen. Then ZOOTOPIA, but in between GGB gets in a good swipe at Trump’s wall. Look forward to POTUS tweeting about the overrated, failing Oscars.

Production Design goes to LA LA LAND and is presented by the stars of FIFTY SHADES OF SHIT who STILL have no chemistry together.

Then they bus in a tour bus of tourists. Denzel Washington performs a marriage. “It’s Denzel so it’s legal.” It’s getting quite Bunuelesque.

Dylan has become confused, thinking maybe the tourists are refugees and it’s a political statement. The discussion becomes quite heated as we repeat the words “tour bust” and “tourists” at him a lot.

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NOM NOM NOM

Some of the cast of ROGUE ONE present Visual Effects. We rather approve of THE JUNGLE BOOK winning on the basis of the quality of the work (from the bits we’ve seen) even though I’m kind of horrified the remade it.

A tribute to BACK TO THE FUTURE. I think it’s a really good film but I’m always a bit embarrassed when people rave about it. Seth Rogen and Michael J. Fox present Best Editing. They show some clips in which edits happen. HACKSAW RIDGE wins. Mel Gibson continues to be terrifying.

LION KING moment with cute kid.

Sky host says we’re slightly past the halfway mark. Losing the will to live. And blog. The pundits are slightly struggling to find things to say.

Hayek and Oyelowo on Doc Short and Live Action Short. Sci-Tech Awards. I kind of like the way the presenters are kind of parodying the awful material presenters usually have to spout. But it’s nearly four a.m. and I am, as a very great man once said, too old for this shit.

“Everyone be upstanding for Meryl Streep,” says Fiona. Meryl and Javier Bardem are doing Cinematography. LA LA LAND wins again.

Mean Tweets! OK, that was pretty funny.

Gosling & Stone introduce a couple of songs from their film. It’s kind of boring. Fiona manages to go the loo and miss it. I’m trying to work out when I should go to the loo. This would have been a good moment.

LA LA LAND wins for score. Samuel L. Jackson’s intro speech is a but too much like the bad old days of sincere intros. The composer does a decent short speech — a lot of these guys are really not very good at public speaking, and why should they be? LA LA LAND wins for Best Song, so Justin Hurwitz has to bound out of his seat AGAIN. VERY good speeches this time. “I am actually freaking out right now!”

In Memoriam. Well, I’ll probably think of somebody they missed later, but it seemed quite tasteful.

Original Screenplay. Affleck & Damon. Very good joke as Kimmel tries to play Matt Damon off during his reading of the nominees. Playing with the form!

Oscar goes to Lonergan. I think that’s probably a good thing. Not that I saw any of the films.

Amy Adams — “Tit tape!” declares Fiona. “Well, wouldn’t you want tit tape if you were wearing that?” says Nicola. But this is an award for adapted screenplay, not tits, and it goes to MOONLIGHT. GREAT, FAST speeches from these guys.

Cookies and donuts are parachuted in.

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Best Director is coming up! Halle Berry presenting. An earnest and entirely inaccurate checklist of traits a director should have is recited. Damien Chazelle wins. Widespread outrage that he’s 22. We’re a bunch of fogeys.

Bree Larsen. “That is a dress,” acknowledges Nicola. Casey Affleck wins for MANCHESTER BY THE SEA and mumbles. “That is an unremittingly bleak film, isn’t it?” asks Donald, who hasn’t seen it. “Every clip they’ve shown…” Dylan has seen it and says it does have some very funny bits.

Leo! Leo by the sea-o! So it’s best actress. Nice to see Ruth Negga up there, just a couple of years after she starred in the worst closing film I have ever seen at Edinburgh Film Fest. We’re all still laughing at the FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS clip when Emma Stone wins. We like her.

“Who won Best Actor again?” asks Fiona. That testifies to the impact of Affleck’s performance, I think.

Warren Beatty’s eyes are terrifying. Like the mouse in DUMBO. Little black dots. Faye Dunaway, it goes without saying, is a bit scary. Whoever wins best film ought to arm themselves with the shield of Perseus.

MOONLIGHT looks, dare I say it, cinematic.

Beatty milks the suspense horribly.

LA LA LAND. Chazelle is doomed.

And then MOONLIGHT! Well, that was exciting. Warren had the wrong envelope! This is the highlight of the night. Wow. Dylan had gone for a smoke and missed it.

Thank God LA LA LAND already won lots. Still must be a bit crushing, but they got to make speeches, which they wouldn’t have otherwise…

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Into the Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 28, 2016 by dcairns

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Having enjoyed ARRIVAL, we went back in time and watched director Denis Villeneuve’s previous hit. SICARIO. It’s very impressive, but we were less convinced by the “human killing machine” tropes which climax it than we had been by the hellish drug war developments of the first two acts. Shot by the always-impressive Roger Deakins, it has a more classical style than ARRIVAL (Deakins weaned the Coens off the wide angle lens, and seems to have drawn Villeneuve away from extreme depth of field long lens stuff, but I’ll have to see even earlier Villeneuves to know if my guess is accurate) with several of the impressive dusk scenes that distinguished NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (cartoon violence by comparison with this). The above image is just about all we see of a harrowing torture scene — imagination does the rest.

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And then there’s this one, which recalls the closing shot of FULL METAL JACKET. The deceptive approach to perspective is an incidental pleasure which may not mean anything: the foreground figures’ bulk emphasises their closeness, but the low angle and silhouette effect makes them seem to be the same distance away as the line of smaller figures. Giants and dwarfs walking together. A Wellesian defiance of space, in the service of graphic impact.

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But the fact that, as the figures advance, they sink below the horizon line, swallowed up by the same liquid darkness they’re composed of, gives the sequence a doom-laden quality, as if the men are descending into the Underworld, or beneath the surface of a dark ocean. Chills.

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