Archive for Billy Magnussen

Plenty of Time to Die

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2022 by dcairns

So, we actually LIKED the new Bond, NO TIME TO DIE. Probably enjoyed it more than any of this series since GOLDENEYE (but haven’t seen them all), the first Brosnan, which didn’t hold up particularly well over time but seemed like a great gain in confidence/competence back then.

The new one is by a proper director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, who made a fine film of JANE EYRE and helmed the first season of True Detective. So I was expecting an impressive long take, and was not disappointed.

Of course, the epic running time and delusions of seriousness and meaningfulness are a drawback. But the moviemakers have remembered to have some fun, too. The middle of the film gets lighter, and there’s an adorable turn by Ana de Armas as a novice CIA agent which really lifts the movie. Bond needs real people around him if he’s to seem human at all, and Lea Seydoux, the marvellous Jeffrey Wright (I want to see him given more starring roles), little Lisa-Dorah Sonnet, and Billy Magnussen all help enormously. Daniel Craig is a gifted actor, but I think he made a mistake, essentially, in starting his Bond off so dour way back in CASINO ROYALE. As the filmmakers’ pile trauma upon trauma, he seemed to have nowhere to go but down, into some masklike inexpressive roboticism… Giving him a proper, sort-of convincing relationship helps some.

The attempts to get some fun into it come with one hitch: Craig is given more quips than before. For whatever reason, this gifted thesp cannot sell a quip, not in character. There aren’t any good ones, they’re all dreadful dad jokes, but you never feel that this version of Bond would even attempt them.

The real humour comes from believable-ish (we’re always modifying our expectations according to this genre and franchise) professional banter from Killing Zoe’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I mean, I’m assuming she’s the author of the biological warfare lab gags, they totally sound like her. What’s amusing is that nearly all the film’s byplay is bitchy, feminine — and Craig does this well, along with everyone else. It’s only when he’s paired off against Ralph Fiennes as M that the dialogue becomes hypermasculine, in a rather hilarious way, like a certain Fry & Laurie sketch…

I mean, this is how men talk, right?

Anyway, the whole thing looks spectacular and beautiful. Maximum scenic value extracted from a range of locations, including my native land… I think it was probably a mistake to use a forbidden island for the climax, too much like that Sam Mendes one, whichever it was.

The other big flaw I think was in the baddies. David Dencik is a very enjoyable creep. But Christoph Waltz as Blofeld and Rami Malek as “Lyutsifer Safin” (pwahahaha) should have coordinated, to prevent them from giving the same rather flat perf. Neither can touch Donald Pleaasence’s unblinking, low-affect turn in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, which he did on short notice in just a day or two of filming. And the writer’s haven’t thought nearly enough about Safin’s motivation. The villain’s motivation in these kind of things is far more important than the hero’s — Bond just wants to do his job, maybe protect a loved one or two — Safin is out for revenge, but not after anyone in particular, it seems. Even in the very first sequence (the pre-pre-credit sequence, since according to this movie’s bloat we need two before the usual dreary song and overblown CGI titles), he’s a bit swithery. Can’t stick to his purpose. He talks a lot but he seems vague about why he’s doing what he’s doing. A good supervillain can have a plan that makes no sense, like Thanos, but if we believe it makes sense TO HIM the movie can just about get away with it. What does the Penguin actually WANT in BATMAN RETURNS? Something different in every scene, it feels like. That won’t do at all.

The movie walks into some hilarious cliches without flinching — there’s the megadeath weapon intended for peaceful purposes —

Thanks to regular Shadowplayer Simon Kane for nailing that one in advance.

And there are the weird quips, which don’t work with the new grim-visaged Bond —

Since nobody’s asked, here’s my advice for how they should tackle the next Bond:

They could call it 007. Why not? Instant brand recognition. The poster could say INSERT NAME HERE *IS* 007.

The character should start out lighter. You need someone compellingly tough to do the lightness well, the way Connery did. The quips could be black humour, a man dealing with an unpleasant situation, the way cops and paramedics use unpleasant gags to deal with the strain. As your series goes on and Bond gets abused and traumatised more, the quips can become grimmer, the character crueller. The efforts to extend a one-note character like Bond, giving him some kind of ARC, that extends through five looong films, has really been a strain. It might, actually, be nice to give up on the idea of an arc for Bond. Keep him consistent, let everyone else change (mostly by killing them, obvs).

The only successful Bond arc was Lazenby’s, and he only played the bastard once.

Connery’s arc was putting on weight and a toupee. He was definitely the best Bond though, for his first three or four outings: his machismo and grit gave an interesting underpinning to the flippancy. With Roger Moore you get ONLY flippancy, with Craig you get ONLY machismo (yet there are moments of physical humour in his performance this time… interesting). The series is never going to top GOLDFINGER. Partly because of the obsession with applying a character arc to such a one-note cartoon figure and universe.

Alex Cox used to express an interest in doing a Bond film, saying that the series was refreshingly free of the tiresome good-versus-evil paradigm. Bond is just a ruthless soldier, using technology and muscle and nerve against official national enemies. The movies can try to make the bad guys seem bad, but the hero is a professional killer… Then, they can have the villain claim that he and Bond are much alike (this goes back to GOLDEN GUN, and Roger Moore’s retort to Chris Lee, “When I kill it’s on the orders of my government…” is pretty thin as moral arguments go.

Actual line from the novel Goldfinger: “Bond had never liked going up against the Chinese. There were too many of them.” This is not great art.

I really hope Fukunaga doesn’t make another one — he’s proven he can do it. I hope this gives him the clout to make his own things. (He’s a writer on this one, though, so it’s not purely a job-for-hire.) I want to see what he wants to make next.

NO TIME TO DIE stars Benoit Blanc; Charlotte LaPadite; Freddie Mercury; Maria Rambeau; Lord Voldemort; Paddington Bear; Frances Barrison / Shriek; Lord Lucan; Roebuck Wright; Col. Hans Landa; Marta Cabrera; and Dr. Mabuse.

The Abuses of Enchantment

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2016 by dcairns

into-the-woods-movie-teaser-screenshot-cinderella1

So, yes, Fiona is in a dark place — each morning we don’t know what level of anxiety and/or depression to expect. Good days are not as good as they ought to be, but are very welcome because the bad days are almost unendurable. This can make film viewing strange and risky — we both hugely enjoyed the John Cromwell PRISONER OF ZENDA but the teary conclusion was difficult for Fiona: “It’s too horrible!” she cried, a reaction the Ronald Colman swashbuckler has probably not often provoked.

into-the-woods-movie-screenshot-anna-kendrick-cinderella-4

INTO THE WOODS is something I just clicked onto on NetFlix because I saw it was there and I’m trying to get a decent amount of use out of Netflix as long as I’m paying for it. (I did the same with Jonathan Demme’s pallid remake of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and was watching it in short bursts when the bastards deleted it on me.) I should have been warier but my main experience of Sondheim’s musical was decades ago when I watched a televised stage version. This was sort of diverting but of course I had the feeling of being too far away from the action all the time. Televised stage stuff has gotten a lot better and if it helps subsidize the theatre then it’s nice I suppose, but it’s not the real thing.

Still, this is, in principle, the sort of thing I ought to enjoy — what had put me off was not liking CHICAGO much. A friend had said “It’s brilliantly cut,” but it turned out he meant “There is a lot of cutting in it,” which is not the same thing. Some of the transitions are clever but the dances were slashed into an incoherent fruit salad, impossible to tell who was where and if it was really them at all. (Richard Gere, I’m looking at you — or am I?) Maybe Harvey Weinstein is to blame.

Anyhow, I missed out on the intervening films — except now I realise I didn’t, because Marshall did a fairly anonymous job on PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES, which I saw for my sins. I’m cheered to report that INTO THE WOODS is pacey without being frenetic, shots are allowed a chance to make their mark and sometimes do more than one thing, and the design is lovely in a fairytale way, never quite breaking with convention but then maybe it shouldn’t. Letting this Disney film look like a Disney film is the best way to allow the play to be subversive.

into-the-woods-movie-screenshot-meryl-streep-witch-11

Script is credited to James Lapine but he is surely not responsible for the VO, which is clumsily written (subject and object get jumbled) and which mainly just describes what we can already see. You don’t do that: that’s Page 1 of the Billy Wilder rulebook. Narration is for things we don’t see. It’s being used as a kind of glue here, to unite the fragmented stories, and to replaced the character of the storyteller deleted from the stage version, which is fine, but it just needs to be good English and to serve some purpose other that descriptions for the visually impaired. I suspect it’s been added by a producer or director, since I certainly hope nobody gets paid money to write this badly. If someone at the top wrote it, nobody would be able to say “This is not good, clear English and it’s not saying anything we need to hear.”

If Lapine DID write the VO, he wrote it in half an hour during post-production while in a very bad mood.

The cast is generally good. Johnny Depp is basically a cameo, in wacky mode, giving it a kind of imprimatur since he was Sweeney Todd. Meryl Streep is really good (apart from a strangely underpowered rendering of “I was just trying to be a good mother,” a killer line which everyone seems to have decided, inexplicably, should not be funny), and it’s the song where we see a sympathetic side to the witch that set Fiona off. Controlling mothers… something perhaps Fiona and Sondheim have a shared understanding of. Emily Blunt is pretty amazing, getting unexpected laughs and being a real human in the midst of all this make-believe. Agony, rendered by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, is properly hilarious.

into-the-woods-movie-screenshot-anna-kendrick-cinderella-dress

Some of Marshall’s ideas don’t work. Using a time-stop device so Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) can sing On the Steps of the Palace, moving about while she’s supposed to be stuck in tar, is more confusing than helpful. The palace itself is a dingy stone medieval edifice, a slab of masonry with no Disneyland about it, not what the situation seems to demand.

What I only vaguely remembered from my viewing of the stage/telly version is the bold way Sondheim and Lapine weave disparate stories together and create a great pile-up of happy endings at the halfway mark, then methodically smash them all to bits like a bratty child with a toy box, working out some issues. Which is what INTO THE WOODS is about, really. The compromises the play has gone through in reaching the screen are essentially formal, and the challenging refusal of fairytale happiness is, unexpectedly, intact and potent. Disney has actually decided not to Disnefy.