Archive for Ben Whishaw

Bear Jams

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2018 by dcairns

Since we’re nothing but a pair of abject slugabeds, it’s taken Fiona & I this long to catch up with PADDINGTON and PADDINGTON 2. Had we realized that director Paul King was responsible for directing The Mighty Boosh on TV, we’d have gotten into the swing of things sooner. As it was, our interest took a while to get kindled.

The news that the producer of the HARRY POTTER series was making a CGI Paddington initially sparked revulsion. I have very fond feelings for the BBC series, which had a lo-tech look that seemed more charming and more in keeping with the innocent flavour of the thing. I even made this tribute. And Fiona has a history with Michael Bond’s original books — when she was very small, her teacher would end the class by having Fiona read a bit of Paddington, as she was an advanced reader. This was done for the sadistic pleasure of seeing her try not to crack up at stories she found irresistibly funny, while the rest of the class, dullards to a man, stared on blankly.Anyway, as the world now knows, the PADDINGTON movies are lovable triumphs, true to the spirit of the original while also folding in a lot of hyperkinetic action and gags and quite a bit of the cuddly Britishness of Aardman animation. But a very inclusive Britishness — the Peruvian bear may speak with an English accent (what accent would be more believable to you, smart guy?) but the films have a theme about welcoming immigrants that’s highlighted by the musical choices including a calypso band, D. Lime, who pop up whenever needed, like the troubadors in CAT BALLOU. Too bad such a message doesn’t seem to stick. How many families who enjoyed these movies also buy the Daily Mail?

Director King’s TV work had a beautiful stylised look, but the lifting of budgetary constraints have allowed him to splash out in a joyous and cineliterate way. He knows when to go all THIRD MAN ~

And a Chaplin reference — Paddington drawn through the cogs of a clock tower — ends with him wiping off a sooty mustache that neatly tips the derby to another Londoner, another immigrant ~

Like the Harry Potters, the films are jammed with the cream (or creamed with the jam?) or British and Irish acting talent, with one Aussie, Nicole Kidman. Actually, it’s the villains of the films that pose slight difficulties: the movies are so sunny and good-natured, really investing in the dream that a benevolent bear can turn hostility and suspicion into love and acceptance, that they don’t quite know what to do with their baddies. Kidman’s nasty taxidermist actually comes complete with a heartbreaking backstory — she has simply learned entirely the wrong lesson from her father’s tragic downfall. Great as NK is at playing a hush-voiced, plummy vamp (spoofing her ex’s MISSION IMPOSSIBLE stunts), I wanted to see even her redeemed by the bear’s goodwill. Her comeuppance is fittingly mild for this kind of movie — forced to work in a petting zoo is a modest enough punishment for attempted murder — but she carries in her a bitterness that’s a far darker fate than this kind of movie can bear (sorry).

Hugh Grant — doing a wicked impression of Edward Fox — goes the opposite way in the sequel. He’s not punished at all, in that he enjoys his punishment and turns it into his dream come true. Nor does he learn anything. Being a parody of an actor, other people are irrelevant to him, and he’s never cared one way or the other about our ursine hero. So the pay-off for his character, in a sense, cannot provide 100% narrative satisfaction — but it nevertheless turns into a triumphant end credits sequence that finishes the series on an all-time high.

Additional shout-outs: Ben Whishaw voices the bear with unapologetic sweetness; Hugh Bonneville is gradually establishing himself as the UK’s bestest thing; all of Sally Hawkins films will now be seen through the retrospective fish-eye of THE SHAPE OF WATER so all her swimming and interspecies activities here are hilarious; the kids, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin, sprouting alarmingly from one film to the next; Brendan Gleason, the funniest recipient of a hard stare; national treasure Jim Broadbent; Simon Farnaby, who resurrects the comedy cliché that when men drag up unconvincingly, other straight men suddenly find them irresistible.

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Masquerade

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by dcairns

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I was predisposed to like CLOUD ATLAS because I directed part of it. Not a large part — not as much as Tom Tykwer or Andy or Lana Wachowski. Just around five seconds of the bottom left hand corner.

Around a year ago, our friend David Brown, who was line producing the Scottish section of the shoot, got in touch with me and asked if the students at Edinburgh College of Art might be persuaded to shoot material for a big split-screen montage showing the media sensation caused when London Irish gangster throws a literary critic off a rooftop for dissing his book. I volunteered my own services and produced a short TV segment debating the merits of murdering critics, and was joined by a number of students, all of us seizing the chance of a decent payday and an exciting CV entry.

It’s possible that the DVD contains the unexpurgated versions of our films, I’ll get back to you on that.

The trailer for the movie was kind of a wow, but did worry me with its VO pontifications. Happily, the movie digests all the philosophizing a lot better than the MATRIX sequels, and struck me as that rare phenomenon, a movie that’s more than the sum of its parts. Following in the path of DW Griffith and INTOLERANCE, Buster Keaton and THE THREE AGES and Bill Forsyth and BEING HUMAN (only the middle movie was a real success), the movie tells six stories in different historical periods, and connects them mainly thematically and with a few little motifs — the gimmick of David Mitchell’s source novel, in which the characters from one story read others, or see movies based on them, isn’t as central here, which means the script has to work to establish why exactly it IS telling so many apparently unrelated yarns. I liked the effect.

We’d heard that the script was around 180 pages and rumours hinted that the rough cut of the first half of the movie came in at three hours, but the finished product, though long, never felt it. Multi-narrative things can drag easily, as it takes longer for each narrative strand to get started, interrupted as it is by others. The team here are buoyed along by the sheer puzzlement of what all these stories have to do with each other. It’s a very different plan from the book’s nested narratives, but a pleasingly perverse one.

It’s also fun trying to figure out the literary and/or cinematic influences behind each story, and which sources inspired Mitchell versus which influenced the filmmakers, something I’m not smart enough to do. But here are some guesses —

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South Pacific 1849

No idea where this derives from, but it’s another take on the slave trade, which suddenly seems the topic du jour. It’s quite moving, and improves on DJANGO UNCHAINED with its pseudo-science phrenology monologue from Leo DiCaprio, by giving its slave-owning characters philosophical self-justifications that aren’t just nonsense — they have a particular kind of self-serving pseudo-logic.

Best perf: Jim Sturgess is lovely. I saw THE BROWNING VERSION back in 1994 so I guess I saw him as a kid, but this was my first real exposure. Keith David is also great, but I most enjoyed Tom Hanks grotesque fancy-dress turn.

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Cambridge and Edinburgh 1936

The amanuensis set-up made me think of Ken Russell’s TV play Song of Summer, but like all the storylines, this one turns into a thriller. I would have liked to see more of Edinburgh, of course.

Best perfs: Ben Whishaw is very affecting.

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San Francisco 1973

Seems to channel bits of SILKWOOD, with its nuclear industry whistle-blower plot. Funny seeing West George Street in Glasgow, situated on a steep hill, standing in for San Francisco. Likewise, a Scottish bridge forms the approach to the power plant, which has been digitally painted in to the shot.

Best perfs: This is Berry’s chance to shine, but I also loved Brody Nicholas Lee, and Hugo Weaving as hitman Bill Smoke, a variant on his MATRIX nasty.

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Niall Fulton, who plays The False Natan in NATAN, is standing just offscreen on the right, playing one of the diabolical Hoggins Brothers.

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Tykwer’s comic relief episode (to which I contributed my few seconds) ties into the theme of the struggle for liberation, as Jim Broadbent tries to escape from an oppressive old people’s home. I guess it has some antecedents in the English comic novel, but I don’t know what. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST certainly seems relevant though.

Best perfs: It’s Broadbent’s show all the way, but the other oldsters are terrif.

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Neo Seoul, Korea, 2144

This one has quite a lot in common with V FOR VENDETTA, which the Wachowskis produced, and it makes sense that this section of the novel would appeal to them. An innocent woman is adopted by a seemingly superhuman terrorist to battle oppression in a future society where some kind of holocaust has been instigated — it’s very similar, but the story world itself is very different, incorporated imagery reminiscent of BLADE RUNNER, ATTACK OF THE CLONES, THX 1138 and even SPEED RACER.

Best perfs: Doona Bae and Xun Zhu are both great, but I also loved James D’Arcy’s coolly “sympathetic” interrogator.

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The Big Island of Hawaii 2321

Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker, a post-nuclear adventure where everybody speaks a strange patois of degenerated English, must have been the influence here. By coincidence I just reading Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, and since that features the culture clash between those who have devolved to barbarism and those who still have technology, that may also have figured in the mix. The filmmakers’ exploded structure pulls this out from the centre of the novel where it’s the only uninterrupted tale, and allows it to bookend the whole film, while weaving in and out. The last shot is a winner.

Best perf: Tom Hanks gets to do his conflicted hero thing here.

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Asides from the good performances, the film is also full of strange impersonations, as actors are got up in prosthetics and funny voices to play different ages, genders and races, though interestingly the movie squeamishly eschews the blackface that so enlivened O LUCKY MAN!, the last obvious case of an ensemble cast playing multiple roles. Instead we get a lot of yellowface and some equally unconvincing instances of Korean actors playing white. This is all interesting.

I wasn’t offended in the least. I did wonder slightly at the intended effect, since the makeups are elaborate but not convincing at all, and not all of the actors are suited to chameleonic performances. Hanks makes a nicely repulsive quack, and an amusing Scottish landlord, and he does have a knack for the grotesque. Likewise, Hugo Weaving makes a good manly female nurse, and it’s a role which suits drag. I enjoyed Hugh Grant’s old age turn, even though he looks like a Spitting Image puppet under all that latex. (Incidentally, that humiliating arrest of his has really opened up a useful line in villainous sleaze for Grant: all his characters in CLOUD ATLAS are baddies.)

But mostly the film shows that actors are often better playing characters they are a little bit like — and one reason the film works as well as it does is that the more blatant disguises function mostly as novelty turns in storylines centred around characters played by actors roughly the right age, race and sex for their roles. It does add an amusing guessing-game element to the film, and the end credits have a LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER moment of revelation.

Star Bright

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2010 by dcairns

Jane Campion’s BRIGHT STAR is easy to underrate because it drifts by quite easily, very lovely to look at and quite nice, making some effort to get the audience to really hear poetry, not always wholly succeeding, not quite managing something which would cross over the arthouse barrier and hit the teen market the way ROMEO + JULIET did (I’ve since come to thoroughly loathe Luhrmann’s style, but seeing that film in a cinema full of sobbing schoolies made me appreciate its brute effectiveness) — but that doubtless wasn’t Campion’s aim anyway.

I would almost compare the effect to somebody like Olivier Assayas, whose films grip with such cushioned gentleness that you’re scarcely aware of being interested at all, except that you can’t look away. And Campion also has a nice rogue element, in the form of Paul Schneider as Keats’s friend, Charles Armitage Brown. Good Ol’ Charlie Brown! Keats groupies seem to be divided between those supporting the poet’s lover, Fanny Brawne, and those who reject Fanny and regard CAB as Keats’s true friend. Campion, of course, is on the side of Fanny.

Schneider plays Brown with a Scottish accent borrowed largely from Mike Myers’ work in SHREK, for which I don’t believe there is much historical evidence. It’s not the worst attempt at a Scots accent I’ve ever heard, but it’s slightly second-hand and certainly not convincing to a native — not as downright weird as Anna Paquin’s in THE PIANO, which deserves some kind of STAR TREK-sponsored reward, but AP had a pretty good alibi in that she was Canadian, shooting in New Zealand, and aged ten. Schneider is American, but at least he was thirty-two and shooting in the UK.

However, despite his linguistic handicap, Schneider is a barrel of smiles (and you can get more of those in a barrel than you can laughs: stack them sideways to avoid breaking a smile) — while the film’s lovers are quite teenaged in their all-or-nothing romanticism, Brown is a peevish little git, emotionally about three years old, an agglomeration of lousy traits packed within a meaty, fundamentally fairly decent personage. Watch him be annoying! It’s great.

The little girl’s great too. Adorable and completely real.

The other real coup in the film is Abbie Cornish’s meltdown at the end, the rawest expression of grief Fiona and I could remember having seen, ever. In a film, anyway. Cornish and Ben Whishaw are both excellent throughout, but this moment of unphotogenic pure trauma was a very considerable feat. Now I want to see IN THE CUT to see if it’s as bad as everyone says.