Archive for Chris Pine

The Abuses of Enchantment

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Last Train

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2013 by dcairns

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UNSTOPPABLE, Tony Scott’s last film prior to his unexplained jumping from a bridge — his brother was supposed to be the depressive one — is pitched somewhere in the quieter end of his frenetic, acid-coloured, shakycam style, meaning that fans of DOMINO probably don’t find it interesting enough and I can just about bear it (the way I tolerated CRIMSON TIDE and DEJA VU, which were both enjoyable stories). It’s also uncharacteristically benign, with only one death — which is at least intended to have some emotional impact — and no out-and-out villains. There’s a mild anti-corporate stance although everybody ends up not making too much of a fuss because they want to get on in life. It’s not very rock’n’roll. But it’s inoffensive — and I often find Scott’s films shockingly unpleasant and inhumane.

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It was Fiona who spotted the orange dot just ahead of the train — a woodland critter which kind of FLOWS across the tracks like a sheet of newspaper in a babbling brook — “They must have been SO EXCITED when they caught that!”

There’s a runaway train full of toxic chemicals and this time Jon Voight ISN’T at the wheel quoting Nietszche, if you remember RUNAWAY TRAIN — worse, no one’s at the wheel, and only Captain Kirk and Malcolm X can stop this mile-long juggernaut from destroying Stanton. Part of the film’s overall sweetness is that it trusts its audience to care about a town of less than a million inhabitants. Why, in ARMAGEDDON Michael Bay had to obliterate Paris just to show he meant business.

Working class heroes are welcome, Denzel Washington’s laid-back charisma compensates for Pine’s callowness, and incidentally DW gets to show why he’d be impossible to defeat or fluster in an argument — the film could’ve as well been called UNFLAPPABLE.

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Scott’s credit comes over an unfortunate image.

I remain agnostic about Scott’s imagery — I did feel a bit claustrophobic from all the colour-manipulation going on, which boosted the orange-and-teal nightmare from which American cinema has yet, it seems, to awaken, into something even more hallucinatory and queasy, which I guess is better than just using it normally without thinking. I grew to loathe Scott’s tobacco filters, so this is at least something else. Maybe that’s his redeeming cinematic trait — amping up worthless techniques until they become interesting through sheer excess — no longer fit for the banal purpose they were designed for, they suggest some ungraspably alien higher intent. Scott, I feel, would have been the ideal man to make SUB SUB, the imaginary rock ‘n’ roll post-apocalyptic caveman movie described in Theodore Roszak’s cinematic conspiracy novel Flicker — a film so  virulently “cinematic” that it could sterilize mankind. Is that a respectful thing to say about a recently death-plunged filmmaker? Possibly not, but it seems the right kind of compliment for his kind of cinema.

Star Trek: Into Zero Dark Thirty

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by dcairns

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The new STAR TREK film met with our approval — it’s very silly, on the one hand, and on the other, very neatly worked out. So unlike PROMETHEUS, which is ponderous and nonsensical, and which also flowed in part from the pen of Damon Lindelof. TREK seems aware of its own daftness — the suggestion that a “cold fusion device” is what you use when you want to make things really cold may well have been thrown in just to annoy the kind of people who get annoying by things like that.

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It’s also unexpectedly moving in places, mainly because it concentrates on Spock, and he’s such an intriguing concept for a character. The movie sort of treats him as an Aspergers person. Zachary Quinto is excellent in the role, but Chris Pine’s Kirk delivers a lot of the key scene too. And, in my gruff, manly way, I just love Karl Urban as McCoy.

In this movie Kirk battles Sherlock Holmes and Robocop, which I didn’t know going in.

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I felt Simon Pegg’s Scottish accent had deteriorated a bit since the last film, where he was actually convincing. It’s weird, as I think he has a Scottish wife, and the film’s first assistant director is Tommy Gormley, who has the broadest Glaswegian accent I’ve ever encountered on a living human being. Pegg does throw in some nice bits of observational Scottishness, and I get a warm glow around the cockles, as if they were being beamed up, when I hear somebody use the phrase “hud oan” (translation: “Hold on”) in a Major Motion Picture, but the fact remains he is now a less convincing Scotsman than James Doohan. Which is a bit like being a less convincing echidna than Wallace Beery.

No explanation is given why Peter Weller talks like a cowboy while his daughter, Alice Eve, has a cut-glass English accent. Probably something to do with cold fusion. The show’s other new cast member, Benedict Cumberbatch, is pretty good value, striking dynamic poses and being cold-blooded in a way that’s distinct enough from the Vulcans to register.

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Director JJ Abrams layers on the lens flare as usual, but manages to simulate the confusion of combat without his action sequences degenerating into actual incoherence, which I appreciate. He also does a few of the nice tie-in shots which made MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III quite pleasing in its set-pieces — a crashing craft pulls the camera down to a foreground character, who leads the camera onwards in a kind of relay. In an age when many directors seem unable to conceive of a shot which has more than one thing happening in it, this is refreshing.

On the whole, this is a kind of pumped-up remake of THE WRATH OF KHAN, but some aspects of it actually improve on that movie, so I’ll give it a pass.

It’s always been interesting, the way Star Trek reflects America’s view of itself and the world. In the original series, the Federation represented both a united mankind, and the USA, with the Klingons obviously standing in for the USSR. In this movie, with the Enterprise dispatched to retrieve a terrorist from the Klingon homeworld, they seem to be the Middle East in general and Pakistan in particular. And thus the movie seems to point with hope towards eventual peaceful coexistence with alien empires, while (perhaps, mildly) criticising Obama’s death squad incursion and drones policy.

Oh, there’s also a great segue involving a swearword and a sliding door — the sound effects gag of the season.