Archive for Benedict Cumberbatch

The Origin of Speeches

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2015 by dcairns

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A filmmaker donated a big box of DVDs to the Art College so I took a few home. One was CREATION, directed by Jon Amiel, produced by Jeremy Thomas, telling the story of Charles Darwin’s struggle to write his magnum opus in the face of his deeply religious wife’s opposition, and while reeling from the death of his eldest child. I thought it might be terribly middlebrow, and in part it is, but it’s also well worth a look. I knew Fiona would be interested because it has Bambidirk Counterbath Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Jones in it, both of whom rick up in the same carriage at one point, and Jeremy Northam for good measure. We don’t get enough Northam these days.

Chas. D. is played by Paul Bettany, in a succession of unattractive wigs (the very first shot of him displays an unwise amount of cheesecloth), who’s very good in a tough role. The character is anguished more or less throughout — Darwin was plagued by horrible, possibly psychosomatic discomforts during the writing of his famous book , and Bettany has to display suffering in every scene without getting monotonous. He just about succeeds. His real-life wife, Jennifer Connolly, plays Mrs. D, with impressive toughness, never apologising for the way the character is or trying to win excessive favour from the audience.

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Jeremy Thomas is attracted to classy literary adaptations and subjects that can easily seem middle-brow and uncinematic, but when he’s working with a Bertolucci or a Cronenberg the risk is obviated. Jon Amiel isn’t in that league — he benefited from working with the inherently idiosyncratic Dennis Potter in TV, bringing a restless, kinetic pizzazz to the proceedings. Here, adapting a novel himself along with John Collee, his style seems merely commercial, over-eager to keep things moving and be big and fancy. Slow motion shots, hand-held, steadicam, crane shots, jump cuts — everything is thrown at it, and not everything sticks. Fiona complimented the film for the moments which seem simplest — in fact, there’s a lot of craft and cunning going on even in these moments, but the quieter tone WORKS in a way that the more hectic and pushy style doesn’t. You can’t tart up a middlebrow think piece and pass it off as slam-bang entertainment.

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The one really disappointing element of the disc was the extras, which all sounded really interesting but were horribly made — the thing called Debating Darwin wasn’t a debate at all, but a series of statements, filmed separately, by a pro-evolution guy, another pr-evolution guy who was also a Christian, and a creationist. Giving that guy a platform and pretending that he was a proper scientist on an equal footing with Lewis Wolpert was a travesty. Like inviting a holocaust denier to take place in a piece called Debating Hitler. People with these views exist, regrettably, and it’s perfectly fine to acknowledge this, but putting them on an equal footing with actual intellects who actually respect the facts is irresponsible in the extreme. Deduct ten points.

Fiona thinks further points should be deducted for the fact that the baby orangutan who appears costumed in Victorian garb as Jenny the Ape receives no screen credit, despite being prominently featured even unto the movie poster and DVD cover.

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Trench Mouth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2014 by dcairns

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We really enjoyed Parade’s End, a big prestige heritage BBC thing, which probably shows how middle-aged we are becoming.

It gets off to a shaky start, mind you — we found it genuinely hard to make sense of the tone, which fluctuated between broad, uncomfortable comedy and serious drama. By the end of the fifth part, this confusion has vanished, however, and director Suzanna White, scenarist Tom Stoppard and the cast can whisk you from stark WWI tragedy to a kind of CATCH 22 comedy of insanity, a transition as stark as the crosscutting between trench warfare and opulent dinners in country houses.

The going is tricky at first, though. Rufus Sewell, as a mad vicar, is creepily funny and sad, but some inappropriate comedy music nudges the scenes of British social awkwardness — the reverend is apt to shout out obscenities at the most inapposite moments — into really misguided terrain. And for a long time star Concordian Bumblethatch Bomberduck Kennydutch Benedict Cumberbatch seems quite miscast, not heavy and stolid enough to embody the wise, stout, painfully honorable protag. This leads Cumberbatch to adopt a Churchillian lower lip thrust which sits oddly on his face, making him look a bit like Beaker from The Muppet Show.

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Since at least the time of the TV Our Mutual Friend, directors have felt obliged to show how modern they are when doing BBC “mastepiece theater” stuff, and White is guilty of some inexplicable optical effects creating a kaleidoscope of refracted images — this echoes the show’s title sequence, but otherwise feels unmotivated and show-offy. Everything else is very effective, except for a cut to a sweeping crane shot at the end of Ep. 1, which yanks us away from an affecting bit in which Cumberbatch weeps on a horse. I was just getting ready to feel all moved, and then the director had to get in the way.

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Rebecca Hall, as the ultimate bitch goddess, tormenting wife to Cumberbatch, is magnificent from the get-go, and that’s what kept us interested. We came for Hall and stayed for Hall and everybody else. Roger Allam is extremely funny as a buffoonish general — remember how good he was as, basically, Christopher Hitchens in V FOR VENDETTA? And Adelaide Clemens, one of those Australians who can do anything, is a delight. Rupert Everett is great — the beard suits. Everyone’s great.

And the kaleidoscope effects are mainly discarded and we get one of those epic dramas that really uses its sweep and runtime to get deeper into the characters, or at least give them more body and duration and call on our affections. The miniseries might be the best form for doing this outside of the novel. Long series always end disappointingly, but minis are sustainable — somebody can cram the whole story into their head and see that it actually works.

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Not having read Ford Maddox Ford, original author, I wondered how much Stoppard invented. I expect it’s pretty faithful. But one striking bit seemed to chime with an earlier TS project. Around episode 4 the hero is truly shafted — a series of incidents and misunderstandings and gossip and false reports have seen him blamed for pretty much everything that’s gone wrong for everyone in the story — he’s supposed to be a serial adulterer with a love child and two mistresses and dubious loyalty to his homeland. Absolutely none of it is true, but the pieces of his ruin have been carefully hidden in previous episodes. I remembered BRAZIL, how at the story’s end, Sam Lowrie (Joanathan Pryce) appears in the eyes of the authorities as a dangerous terrorist, all due to a series of administrative errors and misunderstandings. I wonder if Stoppard actually borrowed the idea from FMF. It’s beautully done, anyway.

Even Dwarves Startled Smaug

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on January 14, 2014 by dcairns

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So, we saw this really unusual episode of Sherlock. The great detective wasn’t in Baker Street this time, he was in a cave, and Dr Watson was, like, really small and had a sword. Here I shall try to explain myself, lest I be suspected of madness or indulgence in symbolism. I was at the Vue multiplex and saw THE HOBBIT part 2, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, in Higher Frame Rate 3D.

The Higher Frame Rate, or HRT for short, didn’t bother me so much this time. I think it was used more skillfully, and nothing looked speeded-up anymore, which leads me to suspect stuff really WAS speeded-up last time. Or maybe it’s the fact that after watching the first film, and then seeing another film at a friend’s house with the smooth-vision set on his TV, I’m getting used to the look. You can get used to anything, I suppose, even having a hook for a hand that’s made from a crowbar stuck right up your arm and sticking out your elbow, although if you want to get used to that it probably helps to be called “the Defiler.”

(Melancholy to see that HRT, despite being showcased by a hugely successful franchise, appears to be dying: only one screen of the dozen or so showing HOB2 in Edinburgh offers the HRT option. And yes, I do know that HRT isn’t the acronym for Higher Frame Rate, but it’s more poetic that way.)

Of course the film suffers from middle-film syndrome (no real beginning or ending) and galloping elephantiasis, but Fiona is a dedicated cumberbitch so we had to go so she could see Benedict Cumberbatch play a cumbersome bandersnatch. And, having gone, I enjoyed the following —

The guy who plays the bear, Mikael Persbrandt. For every dozen actors who thud about with their olde worlde exposition, each film in this series has introduced somebody who really excels at cod-medieval thick-ear. The Ians, Holm and McKellen, and Sean Bean and Viggo Mortensen and Bernard Hill. And, perhaps oddly, Sylvester McCoy. The guy who plays the bear is gently electrifying, although the makeup department have done their best to make him hard to look at, like a grotesque in a Farrelly Brothers film.

The spiders. Creepy without being as repulsive as the pit-things in Jackson’s KONG. There’s a lovely trick whereby Tolkein’s “talking animals” malarkey, an awkward jolt of tonal difference between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, is explained by Bilbo’s wearing of the ring, which always seemed to put the wearer into a kind of ghost dimension. Later, this is used to introduce the fact that Smaug the dragon is also pretty chatty.

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The barrel chase — really ridiculous action excess. I seemed to be the only one laughing hysterically at it, but I still insist it’s very funny.

The guy who plays Bard seems like a credible person, which is hard to do in this environment.

The trippy stuff in Mirkwood. Bilbo looks down at his feet as he walks forward — and they seem to move backwards. He looks behind himself — and sees himself. I would have welcomed more of this genuinely imaginative stuff (goblins and ogres are not particularly imaginative).

The effects of the ring on Bilbo: as it takes possession of his soul, Martin Freeman is forced into radical schtick reduction. Jackson has a tendency to encourage self-caricature in his actors, but the schtick-lessening is helping reintroduce behaviour.

The dragon. There are two really great dragons, and both belong to Disney. One is Maleficent (SLEEPING BEAUTY), the other is Vermithrax Pejorative (DRAGONSLAYER). Smaug is basically the latter, with the voice of Briarpatch Cucumberdick Cunnibutch Bumbleduck Bendydick Cummerbund Bundydutch Campervan Bunnyduct Catcherbump.

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Outside Mirkwood, mind you, is the worst scene of the film. Looking one way, we have a normal NZ location, a big field basically, filmed on a dull, overcast day, with a lot of actors in fancy dress looking like some kind of role-playing society. Looking the other way, we have a highly designed fantasy forest, a triumph of faux-Disney production design. The axis of shooting causes these two environments to stay completely separate, so that cutting between them becomes an exercise in stretching Kuleshov’s principles to breaking point.