Archive for Cary Fukunaga

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.

Trying too hard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2018 by dcairns

A fast-talking saleswoman (not Fiona) persuaded me to get the Sky movie channels, which means we’ve been able to catch up on a bunch of things we couldn’t be bothered seeing at the cinema. The generally unsatisfactory nature of the product discovered would allow me to congratulate me on my good judgement in giving it the go-by, except now I’ve gone and seen it, haven’t I?

What’s the name of the latest Ridley Scott sequel? — I want to say ALIEN VS PROMETHEUS — I will admit it doesn’t have P’s awful dialogue or nonsensical/stupid behaviour by characters. It just about makes sense as narrative. Except why open with a long, tedious discussion about the origins and purpose of human life — the central concern of the previous film, you may recall — if you’re never going to bring it up again? The ending is memorably horrible, I have to give them that, but the big silly fighting on a spaceship action climax doesn’t belong in this genre at all. What is this film supposed to be?

A friend asks: “Are the bodybuilders back?” I get a sudden false-memory flash: an arena full of the musclebound hearties, all furiously pumping iron. Why not?

But MAYBE I regret not seeing this on the big screen because Scott’s use of 3D, already assured, improved radically in THE MARTIAN (a terrific film, imho) and I can’t help wondering what it was like third time around.

ATOMIC BLONDE is dripping with style, but shall we say, somewhat overdone? As in, the titles identifying time and place (eighties Berlin) are not only in a dayglo spray-can font, but they spray on to the screen via animation, and there’s a spraying SOUND as they do so. Big long take fight scene which is really multiple takes stitched together digitally but impressing nonetheless. Charlize Theron essays sexy English accent and speaks in a whisper throughout. But has no opportunity to hit the emotions as she does in FURY ROAD. Nor does anyone else. The emotional flatline means that nothing feels surprising — we sure don’t care about the mission, and though there ARE plot twists, they carry no weight. The punch-ups are seriously ouchy, but there seems to be one every ten minutes, and they don’t lead to anything that feels like a development or paradigm shift. That’s as near as I can define what makes this slick thing seem so pointless and ugly.

IT has a similar problem. Set-piece after set-piece with almost no forward momentum. One of those films where an interesting director (Cary Fukunaga) quit ahead of shooting. Funny how creative differences always lead to creative sameness. The kids are all really good. Some dread is created, or it was for us, before repetition sets in. Yes, we get it, it’s about fear, but WHAT about fear? A lot of the problems may be in the source novel, but its the filmmakers’ job to solve them — they can’t be accused of being over-faithful to the letter of Stephen King’s doorstop (described by one critic at the time as five tons of crap in a three-ton crate). What insight into fear does the movie want to give us? And what supernatural rules does Pennywise the Clown follow? And what made anybody think having him turn into a giant spider was a good idea?

My personal aesthetic analysis: clowns can be scary, as we know, and if you take them out of the circus you get an added dissonance because they’re all dressed up, sureally inappropriate to their setting. A man looking out of a storm drain is scary, if he acts like he has a perfect right to be there. A similar kind of eerie out-of-placeness is created. He could be the modern equivalent of one of Magritte’s bowler hat guys. BUT — a clown in a storm drain is, again, trying too hard.BABY DRIVER is undoubtedly the best thing we saw. Edgar Wright reminds us that his stylistic paintbox contains more than just fast cutting — really lovely long take credits sequence. “You can see why they hired a choreographer,” exclaimed Fiona. The cast is terrific. Ansel Elgort (literally, Ansel the Gort) should be a star, although THAT NAME. Was there already a Captain McGlue in Actor’s Equity?

Only quibble is the ending, which literally takes five years to happen. One doesn’t like protracted endings. I somehow felt something problematic coming during the climax — a built-in indecision about who is the baddie (there are two candidates with better claims than the guy the settle on for their climactic confrontation), whether this should be a tragedy (I just don’t think the story has any weight if it isn’t) and if so, what is the hero’s tragic mistake (it seems to have happened before the movie starts, which isn’t the best approach)?But there’s such a wealth of film-making brio on display — maybe on a re-watch the ending won’t bother me so much. Why it bothers me now is partly because the rest of the film is so strong, and partly because it’s so symptomatic of the focus-grouped narrative soft-soaping that holds illimitable dominion over modern Hollywood. Like, we will never again have an ending that takes things further, or hits harder, than we expected.

To prove me wrong — what new films SHOULD I be seeing on cable?

Eyre Turbulence

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2014 by dcairns

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Cary Fukunaga’s JANE EYRE is a cracker.

(I remember The Scotsman‘s film critic greeting BLADE RUNNER at Edinburgh Film Fest with the opening sentence, “Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a cracker,” and thinking it was simultaneously slightly cool and slightly shocking that he should jettison the dignity of his position in such an enthusiastic, fanboyish way, but there are times when that’s appropriate.)

The director of True Detective serves up a smart period film that feels modern in all the right ways. The costumes and settings take us directly into the Bronte-world, and the authentic candlelight cinematography of Adriano Goldman allows us to feel actually present in a way not possible until very recently (Kubrick’s much-vaunted candlelight scenes in BARRY LYNDON still required huge banks of candles offscreen, erasing the flicker and rendering the effect not totally realistic, while the extremely narrow focal depth forced the actors to remain rooted to the spot.) I was reminded of The Knick — though Fukunaga doesn’t go quite so far as to deploy an electronic score to show just how modern he can go. The understated Dario Marinelli piano and violin accompaniment chosen has an appealing delicacy. You don’t want to get too clever for your own good, and what works for Soderbergh wouldn’t here.

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The performances are also strongly naturalistic — Mia Wasikowski and Michael Fassbender not only speak in authentic-sounding Yorkshire accents (and for once Rochester sounds properly regional), they have absorbed the accents so that they are able to concentrate fully on each other.

I didn’t see the popular BBC version, so I mainly recall the Zefferelli on ’96, which strikes me as inferior in every way, save one. I had remembered Maria Schneider, as the first Mrs. Rochester, having a more fully-written role. I actually remembered her having dialogue. Not so — here’s the scene on YouTube.

Some of Zefferelli’s editing choices seem whimsical — there’s an unexpected high angle shot that seems inserted to protect us from the performances rather than to allow us to understand the scene — Jim Clark’s account of editing for Franco Z in his book Dream Repairman (he worked on YOUNG TOSCANINI) kind of suggests that Zefferelli will favour in the edit whoever he happens to be on good terms with that day — but Schneider’s reaction shots are vivid and articulate. It’s often the best policy to play mad people as sane (cf Wasikowska in MAPS TO THE STARS and Kathleen Byron in BLACK NARCISSUS, who is terrifying but consciously decided to play it sane in defiance of screenplay and director), and you can tell Mrs. R understands everything her despised husband is saying, though he talks as if she is a dumb animal. Schneider, the madwoman in the attic of European cinema, had a lot to draw on here.

Not that Valentina Cervi is in any way inadequate as Bertha in the Fukunaga — she has the appropriate menace — it’s just that I think Zeff pulled off a casting coup that would be hard to beat.

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Also in Fukunaga’s cast and of note: Judi Dench can’t suppress her obvious intelligence to play a silly housekeeper, but we don’t mind; Jamie Bell manages to not annoy in the most thankless role; Simon McBurney always adds a touch of the unexpected; Amelia Clarkson is a terrific Young Jane. The idea of starting in media res and exploring the story via flashbacks allows Fukunaga to intercut a child and an adult who don’t really look anything alike and make us forget to bother about that, a bit like Bunuel and his two leading ladies in THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE —

— a casting decision that came about after Bunuel fired a recalcitrant Maria Schneider, thus closing the circle here and allowing me to escape. Sound of footsteps, door slam. Mad cackle.