Archive for Brian Cox

The Ludlummox

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2018 by dcairns

And so to the ludicrously-named THE BOURNE SUPREMACY. Parlour game: invent a Robert Ludlum property that’s stupid-sounding enough to not be convincing — THE DOBERMANN INCONGRUITY, THE PIPKIN UNCERTAINTY, THE NIFFELNEGGER IMPONDERABLE all sound like they might pass. THE GREENGRASS TREMOR?

Brit Paul Greengrass, fresh from the success of the emotional and effective BLOODY SUNDAY, slides into a director’s chair still warm from Doug Liman’s buttocks. Tony Gilroy takes solo screenplay credit for the one time in the trilogy. I don’t like his ROGUE ONE or DEVIL’S ADVOCATE scripts, but is the acclaimed MICHAEL CLAYTON actually good?

Immediately the team pulls a no-no, killing of Lola Run, leading lady from the previous film. I think the argument against this kind of thing — ALIEN³ is probably the most notorious example — is that when a movie ends happily, the audience is being told that the characters are going to be OK, and when you bump off a major one in the sequel, you make a liar out of the first film and betray your fanbase, the very people invested in your story. Here, I might allow the filmmakers some latitude because (a) I wasn’t very invested in the character or relationship and (2) the death scene is the emotional high point of the film, despite being staged underwater. Casting directors take note: Matt Damon may be our best underwater actor. Partner him with Sally Hawkins immediately.

Now Matt Damon is out for revenge, except that’s not what Lola Run would have wanted, so he’s out to find out the truth and stop himself being killed, which is pretty much same as last time. Karl Urban is his main physical opponent and Brian Cox, returning from film 1, is the bad guy at the CIA. There are two kinds of British bad guy: the kind with a British accent that marks them as untrustworthy, and the kind with an unconvincing American accent that marks them as SUPER untrustworthy. In the third film, Albert Finney pops up and is, obviously, the most untrustworthy man in the galaxy.  Brian Cox hides, pissing off his co-star.

We’re also joined by Joan Allen — effortlessly the best thing in the film — and Julia Styles, who looks like she’s being groomed as the next leading lady for Bourne, only he’s not quite ready for that kind of commitment. So the cast includes Pat Nixon, Judge Dredd, Hannibal Lektor, Lola Run and Damien from THE OMEN’s mom. Bourne is going to have to do some serious head-kicking here.

And he does, but I couldn’t bring myself to care. The fights are all insanely over-cut, not as incoherent as Christopher Nolan at his worst, but messy and no fun to watch. The car chases are even worse, and the music is kinda horrible, so they’re pretty enervating rather than exciting. (John Powell’s score for the third film is a considerable improvement on his work here.) The reason I’d call the editing bad is not just what it does in the fights, but the way it chops a basic action into pieces, using three shots for a man parking his car where one would do. Breaking Sidney Pollock’s Law: Let the boring crap be boring crap. Fact: if you chapter hop rapidly through this film you see cars, trams, airports. You’d think it was a documentary about public transport in Europe. I feel like the DVD was bad quality, with an unpleasant digital look, so maybe I can’t fairly judge DOP Oliver Wood’s work, but my impression is that this whole series is mostly ugly-looking. Even the green-tinged fluorescent lighting, which can be BEAUTIFULLY ugly in some movies, is just yucky here.

The dialogue is better than the previous film — we should probably give Gilroy credit for reducing the corniness. And everything with Joan Allen has a certain credibility. The retconning begins, also — the previous film might have left you with the impression that govt. assassin Bourne crapped out on his first mission, but in fact he’s been a highly proficient murderer for some time, though admittedly he was brainwashed so we shouldn’t blame him too much (although I note that when Indiana Jones drank the Black Death of Kali, he was still able to assert his will and humanity. Maybe the CIA has invented something more powerful than the Black Death of Kali, though I for one find that very hard to believe.Good last scene (Joan Allen features prominently). Moby plays us out. I don’t really know why I watched the third film, but I did. To be continued…

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Sleepwalkies

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2014 by dcairns

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I confess to being underwhelmed by Hannibal (TV version) despite hearing rave reports. One Facebook admirer diagnosed the show’s problem as “the FBI is stupid and everyone’s a serial killer,” which is about right. The FBI part is a bigger problem. I’m at episode 11. There’s a character who was missing for several years, presumed dead. Then that character’s severed arm turns up (it’s that kind of show). Nobody is surprised that the arm is apparently still fresh, nobody thinks to check if it has been frozen, nobody speculates that the arm’s owner might still be alive. I’m betting that the arm’s owner is still alive, but I’ll be annoyed either way.

But apart from shoddy thinking — a show about an FBI agent who can think like a serial killer, whose writers can’t even think like an FBI agent — the show’s problems are hard to diagnose. Fiona complains of a lack of humour, and while it’s true that for a series with one of The Kids in the Hall playing a pathologist and Eddie Izzard as a murderer, it isn’t very funny,but  there are dashes here and there. It obviously owes a debt to The X Files, which borrowed the typed-on place name subtitles from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (and Hannibal borrows Gillian Anderson), but X Files, even outside of the remarkable episodes written by Darin Morgan, had a streak of dry wit just below the surface.

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Hugh Dancy is a more vulnerable Will Graham that William Petersen was in MANHUNTER, despite not being tiny and wee with bandy legs. Mads Mikkelsen is a very good Lecter — while Brian Cox played it casual, which was very effective (he spoke of Michael Mann cutting different takes together so that the character’s intensity fluctuated in an unpredictable way), Mikkelsen underplays to the point of coma, his stillness adding creep factor — if the show could afford to slow down, he would really register.

Despite the oceans of gore, we’re not scared — we’re tired of serial killers and their art installations. When they graduated from making corpses into angels with their flayed backs spread out as wings, to assembling a giant totem pole of body parts  on a deserted beach, Fiona’s reaction was hilarity, which I don’t think tells you something scary about her, though I may be biased.

Hannibal himself reminds me irrestistibly of the guy from Electric Six.

One thing that really charmed me, however, was the scene where Hugh/Will goes sleepwalking, and one of his adopted stray dogs tags along. Sleepwalkies! It’s a good idea. I liked owning a dog, but I got tired of standing in the rain waiting for it to poop. You never met charming girls and got your leashes tangled (another area in which the movies lied to me). But if you could walk them in your sleep… and if your dog was trained as a guide dog so it could keep you out of the path of traffic…

Nice that a show in which the serial killers outnumber the non-serial-killers should offer such a quaint and useful lifestyle tip.

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The scariest thing on Hannibal is this silent, smiling Lilliputian throng, advertising America’s Got Talent. The latest in unobtrusive advertising.

 

The Ape of Things to Come

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2011 by dcairns

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. In which, as we always knew he would, James Franco destroys human civilization.

SUDDEN CHIMP ACT

Seriously, think about it: all the decisions leading, in practical terms, to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES’ apocalyptic climax becoming possible are due to unprofessional actions by the film’s hero. To be fair, though, all the emotional drive which makes that climax desirable to the characters engaged in it (ie the apes) are due to the actions of more unsympathetic humans.

Who are all played by British actors (would you entrust your ape to a sanctuary run by Hannibal Lektor and Draco Malfoy?). If it weren’t for the fact that the director and lead ape are British, one would suspect some kind of restaging of the American Revolution in simian drag. Just give Caesar (Andy Serkis) a set of wooden teeth and the illusion would be complete.

Actually, referring to Serkis as Caesar is an oversimplification, in a way that referring to John Hurt as the Elephant Man isn’t. Hurt certainly had the assistance of Chris Tucker’s prosthetic makeup effects (no, not that Chris Tucker), but when he whooped and grunted and shrieked, it was his voice, and when he swung from the bars of his cage and leaped through the treetops, that was really him. That’s not quite accurate, but you get what I mean. And asides from his stuntwork and voicework, considerable portions of his performance, Serkis has had his facial performance “reproduced” by motion capture. Every animator I’ve spoken to is of the opinion that, when this happens, the animators involved (and you had better get animators involved) have to interpret what the mo-cap supplies, and sometimes depart from it, to create an effective performance. Andy Serkis obviously just thinks he’s wearing a pixel suit,  which is fine for him but not TRUE.

I’m not saying he shouldn’t be eligible for an Oscar. I don’t take awards THAT seriously, and in any case, countless actors have been rescued or enhanced by good editing, which is maybe a better reference point than good costumes or makeup. Somebody interfered with those performances, tweaked the timing, censored the misjudged moments, manufactured reactions that never really happened. Mo-cap performances are several stages on from this, but as long as we acknowledge that WHENEVER a movie actor wins an award, it’s for part of a group effort, and that this is true to the power of a hundred with mo-cap, there’s no reason why an effective performance shouldn’t be celebrated. If this thing continues to catch on, though, maybe a special category would be the way to go.

Obviously, ROPOTA *is* a film about revolution, and in some respects a starry-eyed one. As Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman once remarked, “the right people never get hurt,” but in Rupert Wyatt’s film of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s hyper-condensed screenplay, swift simian justice is distributed to most of the bad humans, and the movie is squeamish about depicting injury or fatality to the numerous blameless cops who get in the way.

THE APE OF RAGE

OK, I’m just going to wade in here: due to the coincidence of the film’s UK opening being a little behind the US one, it’s impossible not to think, occasionally, of the London riots. One doesn’t have to be the racist joke guy on Facebook who’s suddenly reinvented himself as a patriotic voice of reason and won the endorsement of our mean, vapid PM (himself a vandal and lout in his college days) to compare the insurrections in film and life.

Neither the riots nor the film are fundamentally about race, but it’s at the very least a  complicating factor in both. The APES series always touched on race a little, and in not quite comfortable ways, although the first film has barely a trace of this. By the time you get to CONQUEST it’s all about “ape power” and it’s a bit dubious. Including black humans as peaceful good guys in the last two films helped complicate and blur the metaphor a bit, which was useful, and casting David Oyelowo as a big pharma bad guy in the new one is even better. Really, the movie is about any oppressed group, and how violence erupts when injustice has built to such a point that the only conceivable response is a cry of “No!” and the taking up of arms. Whether the violence will actually produce any positive result has come to seem irrelevant to the perpetrator, so intolerable is the status quo.

The apes in ROTPOTA actually act with a much more effective, coherent and sensible common purpose than the rioters in London… actually, that’s unfair. The various goals of the rioters, insofar as they can be gleaned, were achieved, and delivered the short-term results they aimed at. Those were, in no particular order, (1) attaining a feeling of power by intimidating others, preferably those of a different social class, and by violating normal social rules (2) acquisition of free consumer goods (3) expression of revolt against the police. Some took part in all three activities, some in only one or two.

In fairness to the rioters (!), their festive rampage was basically spontaneous, whereas the apes had been planning theirs, at least a bit. So one uprising had only short-term goals, and probably looks a bit stupid now they’ve had a chance to think about it and now that many of them are under arrest, whereas the other had a long-term, desirable result in mind, although one that probably wouldn’t have worked if not for the movie’s other apocalyptic gambit.

What ROTPOTA does, quite usefully, I think, is show the pleasures and satisfactions of violent overthrow of the social order. In the understandable rush to condemn, there’s a tendency to view the disruptive element as alien, other, mindless and unmotivated. David Cameron has wholeheartedly embraced his predecessor John Major’s moronic sound-bite  “We need to condemn more and understand less!” A line which suits him, since he really understands absolutely fuck all. (Hearing that line first spoken, to resounding cheers, at a Tory Party Conference on the TV news was a truly chilling moment for me.) When Julien Temple was asked whether turning a race riot into a dance number in ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS risked making it seem entertaining, he protested that a riot IS entertaining and extremely exciting when you’re in one. This movie dramatizes that in a way that speaks to a contemporary audience more effectively than Temple could manage.

ANTHRO-PO-MO

While Time Burton’s inane and abortive series reboot seemed to regard its predecessors as silly, excusing its own dull humour and anything-goes sensibility (gorillas suddenly evice the ability to leap twenty feet straight up — and all because Ang Lee had just boosted wirework), ROTPOTA respects its primate ancestors and builds a credible pseudo-prequel that doesn’t slot into the series (here, Caesar is the child of a lab animal, not time-traveling chimp scientists from the year 3978) but draws upon story elements of the first, third and fourth films, producing a narrative outcome that could lead almost directly to the first movie but without necessarily requiring two thousand years of atomically accelerated evolution to do so.

Accordingly, the movie is stuffed with nods to Schaffner, Wilson and Serling’s Boulle original adaptation, some of which are glaring (can a nod glare?) and some so subtle you’ll only figure them out with a crib sheet or IMDb cross-referencing. The examples below are me taking things too far, as usual.

1) The film is set in San Francisco, which is a homage to actor James Franciscus who starred in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES.

2) The casting of David Hewlett as an unlucky neighbour is not only part of the actor’s ongoing project to appear only in movies about geneticists who take their work home with them (see also SPLICE), but also a reference to SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS: Hewlett plays a character called Hunsiker, and in SSOS there’s a character called Susie Hunsecker, played by Susan Harrison. And Nova in PLANET OF THE APES is played by Linda Harrison. No relation.

3) In ROTPOTA, John Lithgow plays a man with Alzheimer’s. This is a reference to the original films’ decline into senility with the 1974 TV show.

4) In ROTPOTA, the leading man/doomsday catalyst is played by James Franco. This is a reference to James Whitmore, who plays Dr Zaius some random orang in the original film.

5) The milky eye of Koba, the scary chimp, in ROTPOTA, is a reference to Kirk Douglas in THE VIKINGS, which also features James Donald. Donald also appears in QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, in which ancient visitors in a spacecraft reawaken submerged warlike tendencies in the populace of London, which is exactly what Dr Zaius fears Charlton Heston will do in the original film, as well as being exactly what David Cameron has done in modern London, only without a spacecraft.

He started well but now he’s just got silly.

TARZAN AND HIS (PRI)MATE

Since Fiona’s quite well read on the subject of interspecies communication, she was able to supply me with additional insight into the film’s exploration of the subject. “They’ve really done their homework,” she says, pointing to the moment where Caesar is punished for biting a man’s finger, an incident drawn from the life of Washoe, a signing chimp. Some very experienced people like primatologists  Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Bob Ingersoll (hero of PROJECT NIM) have praised the film for its expressive evocation of the physicality of our ape relations and sympathy with animal characters over human. There have always, or nearly always, been films that took the side of the outsider — in a way its easier, or more flattering, to take the viewpoint of a rebellious chimp than it is to relate to the fleeing citizenry who are closer to our own type — but this movie takes it further than most. The humans are all either ineffectual or wicked.

The film’s air of somewhat-authenticity even manages it to steamroller over moments of outrageous artifice, such as the presence of another signing ape in the hellish “sanctuary” where Caesar is imprisoned. “Circus ape,” is his explanation for his communicativeness, as if any circus taught signing to its orangs. But the emotional impact of Caesar finally having another of his own kind to talk to is such that the contrivance is swept aside.

Really, quite an interesting film, probably the first blockbuster to even try to do anything interesting with real-world engagement since, I don’t know, V FOR VENDETTA. And it probably incorporates its ideas more neatly than that one. This can be seen, on one level, as the first APES film in the series to be actually about our relationship with the animal kingdom.

To take us out, here’s Johnny the chimp reenacting the end of ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES. This is entirely real.