Archive for Benedict Cumberbatch

Are enemies electric?

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2022 by dcairns

Rather enjoyed THE CURRENT WAR. I found a secondhand DVD of it in a charity shop, rather to my surprise. Fiona had been interested in seeing it when it came out here and was on the side of buses. Cumberbatch, of course. And an interesting subject. I discouraged her slightly because I don’t believe in seeing films because of what they’re about or who’s in them. There’s a problem there, in that it leaves very few possible reasons to see anything, unless it’s by a filmmaker you admire, which is what I base most of my choices on. And that disadvantages new or just unfamiliar filmmakers, which is bad. So I know I’m in the wrong here and it’s a little dangerous.

Anyway, I’m glad I’ve seen the film — it’s rather good. Perhaps not great. But maybe? I think the script by Michael Mitnick is terrific and the direction at least consistently interesting. It’s made up of a lot of short scenes, the music tends to run across them, joining them together, and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon films them with a very wide lens and a lot of unconventional movement which is sort of appealing but sort of alienating at the same time. A bit like the more recent Cumberbatch THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN… you sometimes wish the filmmaker would get out of the way and just let you watch stuff. Which is a bit ungenerous because if not for him you wouldn’t see anything.

A busy script plus busy direction — the constant onwards surge feels a little like CASINO, which was sort of overwhelming on first viewing, and somehow seemed more documentary than drama, few really long developed scenes. None of which is bad, just somehow hard to adjust to.

The film is chocka with Brits playing dignified Americans — Michael Shannon’s Westinghouse is the most prominent actual yank. I’m assuming the Brits won their roles by being able to sound vaguely posh. That doesn’t explain Nicholas Hoult as Tesla but he’s very good, certainly more believably Serbian-American than David Bowie in THE PRESTIGE. Tom Holland for some reason plays Samuel Insull as British (he wasn’t, but I guess he’s not well-known enough for that to matter).

I recall the reviews being sort of “this is OK, could be better.” Which surprises me, I’d expect critics to be either infuriated by the style or impressed by it. I’m only 10% infuriated, mostly I like it. I’d like to see more from these guys.

The DVD doesn’t say whether this is the director’s cut, which I would think might mean it probably isn’t. I wonder if that’s better? Certainly, with the baleful influence of Harvey Weinstein removed, I could imagine the possibility of things being better in all sorts of ways.

News from Catland

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2021 by dcairns

The Benedict Cumberbatch cat movie is better than the Benedict Cumberbatch dog movie, in our view. Not just because the dog movie has no dogs, just shadow that looks a but like one, whereas the cat movie has actual cats, lots of them, some of which speak to us via subtitles, but because the cat movie is surprising, original, wonderfully moving, and because it is inside the realm of stuff B.C. can do compellingly well. Not that it doesn’t stretch him, but it stretches him into places he can actually reach.

You have to stick at it: Will Sharpe’s film, THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN, co-written with Simon Stephenson, documents the life of Edwardian cat painter Louis Wain, and his undiagnosable strangeness, and it uses several techniques that get it off to an uncertain start. There’s an omniscient narrator, Olivia Coleman, who sometimes makes it feel too much like a documentary, or worse, a tape-slide presentation — Arthur Sharpe’s score sometimes has a docu-quality too, the way it runs on from one scene through another — however, it is absolutely gorgeous, and weird, the best film score I’ve heard lately. The other problems seemed to me to lie in an over-fussy condensation of images, as if the film had been mired in post-production with a lot of competing voices arguing over the first act (there are twelve producers listed), and a tendency for the wide-angle lens to be observing from too far away or from the wrong side altogether. When it calmed down and simply observed the performances (Cumberbatch is great, Claire Foy is great) things immediately got better.

As an artist biopic, the natural comparison for it would be the works of Ken Russell — and the VO makes it early Russell. But it’s photographed inside the artist’s mind, so it also has aspects of mid-period Russell. The two best periods, arguably. And it’s its own thing, at the end of the day: not hugely like anything else out there.

Cumberbatch has a false nose, a distant stare, awkward body language, an accretion of old age makeup (very effective) — but it seems to me a truly FELT performance, not a bunch of tricks. Since Louis is always a step or two away from consensus reality, the early parts of the film also suffer a little from our difficulty in getting close to him, especially since his sisters, the other main characters at this point, are rather noisy and unsympathetic. Foy’s entrance into the film forms a bridge to Louis, allowing us greater access to his emotions. It clearly allows HIM greater access to his emotions, too.

Totally recommend this one, but you have to give it more than half an hour, brushing aside impatience and irritation and waiting for the catmagic to take hold. I picked up the director’s previous film, BLACK POND, a while back, now I must watch it.

Enough Rope

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2021 by dcairns

Um. This is the first time I can remember feeling the pressure that I suspect broadsheet reviewers suffer from. The way they seem to go in lock-step so much of the time, even remarking on the same points in the films under discussion. Occasionally you’ll get a “look at me” review where someone will defend a movie that’s been trashed by everyone else. Rarer to get a lone negative review. One feels like one is missing out on something perceived readily by others.

So it feels vaguely sacrilegious of me to be writing that I found Jane Campion’s film THE POWER OF THE DOG a little… dull. Incredibly lovely-looking. Good performances. But neither Fiona or I felt the dread that others have talked about. We felt a notable lack of tension, actually. It may be because Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t a natural tough guy. I’m not sure tough is something you can act. Though certainly a lot of movie tough guys were probably not so tough in reality, they looked it on the screen, and Benedict doesn’t. There’s nothing wrong with his acting. He’s clearly committed to the physicality. His character is nasty — Fiona wanted someone to hit him, immediately. It wasn’t clear why nobody did, because he didn’t seem like the kind of fellow they’d be scared of.

Kubrick reckoned that intelligence was the only quality that couldn’t be acted, which sounds good, but doesn’t seem true to me. If the actors learn the lines and how to pronounce the big words, they can make it seem like they’re thinking them up — that’s what actors do. OK, maybe Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist is pushing it, but usually the illusion is achievable. As John Huston cruelly observed, in FREUD, Montgomery Clift makes us believe he’s thinking.

So I think a certain kind of danger, toughness, hardness, is the unactable quality, it’s a matter of physiognomy and essence. If R. Lee Ermey can’t make Matthew Modine look like a killer, what chance does Jane Campion have with the lovely Mr. Cumberbatch? In fact, BC may have the opposite problem: he can’t hide his intelligence. So he can’t say “It’s time she faces up to a few — whatchacallum? — facts!” and make us believe he’s that inarticulate. The solution would be for him to get so furious he starts to lose his language, but does he have that kind of anger in him?

Without the fear seeming real, the movie becomes a succession of attractive scenes of people who don’t communicate. Which is of only mild interest, until things get strange with Kodi-Smit McPhee.

THE POWER OF THE DOG: KODI SMIT-McPHEE as PETER in THE POWER OF THE DOG. Cr. KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX © 2021

We did get really excited about the bit with the dog though. There’s a shape in the hills — a barking dog — and only two of the characters can see it. It’s a shadow. The hills themselves vaguely resemble crouching animals, but when they talk about the dog, it took me ages to see it. And then I helped Fiona see it. It’s good and subtle. Imagine what a scene we’d have made in a cinema. (We watched on Netflix.)

Can you see the dog?

I guess I’m doing something human and stupid — assuming that because I wasn’t bowled over by the film, others who say they were are being insincere. I guess also if I felt my opinion had any chance of affecting Campion’s employment prospects — it’s been too long since her last film, and the climate is not favourable to anyone making dramas without people getting punched through buildings — I would bite my tongue. And if I were interviewing Campion and she started talking about getting Benedict Cumberbatch and Jessie Plemons to waltz together so they would learn each others smell and feel like brothers, I might not suggest getting them to wrestle instead. But I would think it.