Archive for British

In Bruges*

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2008 by dcairns

*It’s in Belgium.

And it’s a pretty good film! I hate how my expectations are  lowered whenever I approach a British film, but I suppose it does allow a modest film like this to shine out. It’s a Film4 Production, therefore British, starring Brendan Gleason and Colin Farrell, therefore Irish, but set almost entirely in Bruges (whose tourist industry it should greatly benefit), therefore European. And released through Universal.

Eigil Bryld’s photography shows the city off to great effect, but Martin McDonagh’s intelligent direction keeps the scenic values working to the benefit of the film as a whole. His only error as director is to presage a long take with a glimpse of TOUCH OF EVIL on TV. Referencing that famous crane shot is rather studenty — Altman got away with it in THE PLAYER by doing it so blatantly it became a postmodern gag. James Toback did it in EXPOSED and it struck me as juvenile. It doesn’t help when the takes involved lack the complexity and bravura of Welles’ ground-breaker.

The filming is elegant and unhurried, attentive to performance, and it’s here the film scores. As two criminals laying low, Gleason and Farrell are funny and engaging, even when misbehaving atrociously. McDonagh’s script serves up skull-fulls of political incorrectness, with Farrell in particular using most of the forbidden derogatory terms, and karate-chopping a dwarf for good measure. In fairness, the little guy, Jordan Prentice, had just been promoting race war. The fact that he’s American, short, and apt to spout racist nonsense under the influence of cocaine suggests some kind of Mel Gibson spoof, but it isn’t belaboured.

Farrell redeems himself from his ALEXANDER embarrassment with an assured comic performance. The central joke of his character — an entirely unmotivated hatred for the inoffensive Bruges — never wears out, and he’s allowed some genuine pathos as well. Gleason is a marvel to behold. His great decomposing pudding of a face fully justifies the presence of 31 visual effects artists in the credits — it couldn’t have been easy to create. He earns our respect by demonstrating an unnatural ability to animate and transmogrify every fold and flap of facial flesh, but mostly CHOOSING NOT TO. In his last moments, he does things with one eye that simply defy both belief and comprehension, retracting it inwards, before extending it like a thumb, apparently looking at himself, winching it back into its pillows of skin, then somehow turning it off, apparently forever.

Clémence Poésy, Farrell’s romantic interest, is charming, distinctive looking, and hypnotically watchable — she may be the HARRY POTTER kid who has the strongest chance of adult stardom. Jordan Prentice manages to make the “racist dwarf” character sympathetic as well as surly, and transcends his role’s starting point as a swipe from LIVING IN OBLIVION.

And then there’s Ralph Fiennes. Looking more and more like Leonard Rossiter, and playing a role that could easily have been a pale imitation of Ben Kingsley’s terrifying turn in SEXY BEAST. Fiennes plays the part as if that worry hadn’t occurred to him. Although his cockney accent always has an artificial quality (some real ones DO) he’s effective, menacing, and very funny, something I hadn’t known he COULD be. Although a friend who worked with him has called him “the most boring man alive”, he’s certainly compelling on the screen.

Peter Serafinowicz as Ralph Fiennes / Leonard Rossiter.

His appearance does pose problems, however. The amusing script spends its first half replaying Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter. When Fiennes shows up, it slowly becomes an action thriller. And the action doesn’t build, sustain, dazzle with spectacle or obey the rules of logic. Having dismissed the idea of shooting Gleason in public, Fiennes pulls a gun and starts blasting at Farrell in full view of swarms of tourists.

But the flaws aren’t enough to wreck it altogether — the film is still witty and gracefully made even when it’s a bit off-track. And it’s a first feature. So there’s hope.

“Lots of midgets have offed themselves. I hope yours doesn’t, otherwise your film’ll be fucked.”

My Mum’s capsule review ~ “Sweary but good.”

And yes, the MPAA confirms the second part: “pervasive language”.

Hazel.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2008 by dcairns

Was saddened to read on Tim Lucas’ Video Watchblog that Hazel Court has died. I always felt she didn’t get her due as an actress — her wicked comic turn in Corman’s THE RAVEN is a high point in a film also loaded with stars Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, all of whom are very funny. Corman’s advice to juvenile lead Jack Nicholson was “Just try to be as funny as the old guys.” The callow Nicholson failed, but Court more than holds her own. The fact that she’s astonishingly lovely and voluptuous helps, of course.

In her other roles — many of the most memorable ones in horror films — she doesn’t get to shine comedically, but she’s a sultry satanist in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, engaging in a bizarre hallucinatory, sado-masochistic ritual in order to be initiated into DARK SECRETS OF THE OCCULT. Gamely, she allows cinematographer Nic Roeg to distort her lovely face this way and that with his WEIRD LENSES (actually, maybe an optical effect?)

Hammer films tended to cast her in good girl roles, as in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN or THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, mostly thankless parts for an actress of Court’s range, although she always played plucky heroines rather than bimbos.

I’ll be raising a glass of whatever’s handy in honour of the great H.C. when I get a copy, at last, of DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, possibly her first genre film, in which a shiny-costumed lesbian dominatrix from space terrorises H.C. and Adrienne Corri in a Scottish pub, thus neatly fulfilling a requirement of Brit sci-fi-horrors, according to I.Q. Hunter’s excellent study, British Science Fiction Cinema – at some point the protagonists must and should RETIRE TO PUB AND AWAIT END OF WORLD.

A partial list of RTPAAEOW films:

THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING

THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE

QUATERMASS II

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT

SHAUN OF THE DEAD

…but there are many more.

A Critical Mauling

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2008 by dcairns

This is Willy Rozier defending an actress’s honour by fighting a duel with the critic who gave her a bad review in his film, 56, RUE PIGALLE.

Flash-forward decades, and schlockmeister Uwe Boll challenges an array of critics to a boxing match, and proceeds to WHALE ON THEIR ASSES, delivering an animalistic, fist-based drubbing that knocks each and every one of them for six. It looks as painful as watching one of Boll’s movies.

Inbetweentimes, we have a notorious confrontation between director Ken Russell and Evening Standard critic Alexander Walker, on live T.V. (the clip appears not to have been preserved). Walker, slamming Russell’s THE DEVILS, had listed all the violent and obscene moments in the film, charging “we see Oliver Reed’s testicles crushed.” “That must have been wishful thinking on his part,” says Russell, “because they certainly weren’t.”

Confess!

Viewing the film attentively, it is clear what actually goes down: Reed has his legs placed between slats and crushed by Michael Gothard, who drives wedges in between the slats with a big hammer. I’m sure Walker would have found that pretty offensive too, but it IS based on solid historical fact, and we never see the hammer connect. Also, Aldous Huxley’s description of the scene in his source book, The Devils of Loudun, is explicit, matter-of-fact, and just as appalling. The censor had actually made Russell cut the hammer blows down to ONE blow, then said, “Oh no, that makes it WORSE,” and made him put some back.

Oliver red

Russell raised the inaccuracy of the review in the television discussion, but Walker didn’t acknowledge any error. Understandably frustrated, Mad Ken proceeded to swear violently and strike Walker over the head with a rolled-up copy of his own review. “Should have had an iron bar inside it, but I didn’t have one to hand.”

Alexander Walker, curiously smackable

It’s pretty clear that the critics have invective sewn up. Artists can’t respond to criticism verbally without looking like buffoons. They stifle their hurt and grow ulcers. When James Cameron suggested that critic Kenneth Turan should be fired for not liking TITANIC — since this proved Turan was out of step with public opinion – he just looked like an arse.

But violence ALWAYS works! If Cameron had struck Turan in the face with a pie, like the Belgian “pastry terrorists” who creamed Godard and Bill Gates some years ago, a lot more people would have sympathised (though we knew in our hearts even then that TITANIC was basically manipulative piffle). This kind of thing satisfies our inner sensation-seeker, and makes us feel that a worm has turned, an underdog has had their day. A filmmaker writing to the papers feels like a worrying reversal of the natural order. A filmmaker throwing a ridiculous strop and shoving a dignified older gentleman into a fountain just seems right and proper.* Tony Richardson, once a critic himself, said that his former colleagues in that profession were “acidulated intellectual eunuchs hugging their prejudices like feather boas,” and certainly in these bracing physical encounters it’s the critics who tend to come out of it worst.

But it can’t be right, all this FIGHTING. Isn’t there an alternative?

The movie THEATRE OF BLOOD suggests one possibility. It’s a whimsical fantasy in which a ham actor (Vincent Price, arguably typecast) murders his way through the critics’ circle, appropriating his choice of weapons and methodology from the plays of Wm. Shakespeare. Much better to revel in IMAGINARY violence, which is, after all, what most filmmakers are used to doing. When director Quentin Tarantino and NATURAL BORN KILLERS producer Don Murphy got into a fight in a Hollywood restaurant, both claimed to have given the other a thorough thrashing, but a waiter who witnessed the scuffle observed, “It was obvious neither of these guys knew how to fight.” One pictures a hysterical BRIDGET JONES-style slappy fight, unbecoming of such maestros of cinematic mayhem.

THEATRE OF BLOOD upset me as a kid, when I saw it one Hogmanay night. It was a shock to see sitcom star Arthur Lowe getting his head sawn off in bed (and being murdered IN BED was particularly upsetting to a child). I’m still not even sure which Shakespeare play that was meant to be. A loose reading of Macbeth? Robert Morley being force-fed his own poodles in a pie, a reworking of Titus Andronicus, put one acquaintance off chicken pie for life. The appalling sadism savagery was inexplicable to a child, even one such as I who had been weaned on a diet of Hammer horror. Only with an adult’s experienced eye can we appreciate the satisfaction of slaying critics. It then becomes clear how the film was able to attract such an all-star cast: great names of British film, theatre and television were queuing up to be slaughtered wearing cravats: Jack Hawkins, Michael Hordern, Dennis Price, Harry Andrews, Robert Coote, with Diana Dors and Coral Browne providing female victims (Price seems to particularly relish electrcuting his real-life wife).

cook until Browne

As someone who both sits in the director’s chair, when asked, and sits in judgement, in this blog, I have divided loyalties on this issue, and naturally I don’t want to see anybody get hurt. I would be doubly at risk. So the idea of slaughtering critics through the medium of film strikes me as the most civilized and balanced option. Reviewers can continue to vivisect film-makers on the page, as long as the movie people can retaliate by hacking up the hacks on the screen. The public, who have always loved a Roman circus, are likely to be the winners.

*Nobody has actually done this to a critic yet but I’m hoping for a copycat crime to boost my circulation.

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