Archive for Christian Bale

Wall Street Bull

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on May 26, 2018 by dcairns


Adam McKay’s entertaining, broad cop comedy THE OTHER GUYS actually hinges on financial crimes involving the police pension fund, and unexpectedly ends with an animated credits sequence explaining stuff like Ponzi schemes and wealth inequality in America — it’s by some way the cleverest and most serious thing about the movie. The subject obviously fascinates the director, and having rather shoehorned it into that film, he centres THE BIG SHORT on those financial services dudes who saw the coming financial crisis and enriched themselves by betting against the housing market, previously thought to be the most stable of institutions.THE BIG SHORT is eager to have us understand the issues at stake — it has an uphill task with me, since I tend to go blurry whenever the stock market of high finance enter the picture. I can just about follow TRADING PLACES (“You guys are a couple of bookies!”) until the ending, at which point it becomes like one of those poker scenes in a western — I don’t understand the game, but I know something important is happening with money and somebody will win and somebody will lose. The documentary INSIDE JOB had set me up with some useful terminology, and it’s full of little mini-lectures that set out the key concepts in simple terms (“When you hear ‘sub-prime,’ think ‘shit.'”)Where INSIDE JOB can simply tell us stuff using talking heads, and encourages us to be interested by laying out the stakes, McKay knows that a drama has to convey its information through scenes of rising dramatic tension. He can break this rule with the mini-lectures by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain et al, by keeping things entertaining, but he has to give his actors meat. Fortunately, the real-life characters are adapted into appealing, extreme personality types (I don’t know how accurately, but Steve Carell, Christian Bale et al are interesting and convincing) and the script gives them plenty of funny, explosive scenes. This stuff is also dressed up with some creative fracturing of the fourth wall, which doesn’t stop us caring (Brecht was wrong) but does mix up the approach and keeps things snappy and surprising.

The cast includes Batman, Driver, Nebula, Gru, Spiderman’s Aunt May, Tyler Durden…The film’s choppy cutting style is also worthy of note. I didn’t exactly like it, but it’s worthy of note. Many of the conversations are shot in a fragmented, zoom-happy mockumentary manner, using the reframings and adjustments you’re normally supposed to leave out (Hill St. Blues seems to have originated this approach for its morning briefing scenes) and the edits are also often abrupt, premature, cutting out of a scene before it a gesture or word has been completed. The earliest example of THAT which I can think of is HAROLD AND MAUDE, where a traumatic moment is cut short before Harold can quite finish the word “WHAAA-” That movie does it once — this one seems to do it constantly. It’s enervating, which is sort of effective, and it’s an innovation, but it’s one I rather hope doesn’t catch on. It could potentially take the joy out of editing the way the BOURNE series takes the joy out of cinematography.

There are also some photomontages. These are surprisingly poor. Is this a lost art? Or did the film not have enough money to get enough good stills? I think it’s a lack of editing skill, maybe. Like, the ugly cutting of the staged scenes is definitely deliberate, is going for ungainliness as an effect. But I can’t see any advantage to the clumsiness of the photomontage.

But in a way this is all just window-dressing — perhaps necessary stuff to help tell this complicated and technical story — there are multiple narratives, each with its own protagonist, all of which explore the abstruse world of financial services — but the film thrives on its multiple scenes of dramatic confrontation, unfolding like a detective story garnished with bizarre human comedy, and powered by sorrow and anger which it transmits with skill. The methods used, ultimately, may not matter, so long as they provide clear context for the Big Scenes.

 

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Wayne, Bane & Michael Caine

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2012 by dcairns

Fiona wasn’t sure she wanted to see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I said I’d go myself, but she forbade me. So we eventually saw it together (and in IMAX) and in fact she liked it best of all three films — mainly for Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman/Selena Kyle, the only reliable source of humour and sexiness. She was  fan of Michelle Pfeiffer’s work in the role, but Hathaway, though less feline, is more woman-shaped, a fact Nolan even accentuates by having her ride a motorcycle in the doggy position.

This one does seem to me to succeed better than the previous two films, and in fact it could be argued that Nolan’s series defies most if not all historical precedent by improving from film to film.

There’s nothing maybe as extraordinary as Heath Ledger’s remarkable Joker — but to my own surprise I enjoyed Tom Hardy’s Bane, with his ridiculous voice (sounding at times, more in phrasing than accent, like James Mason talking into a polystyrene cup). For a man who’s been through so much (spending his life in the world’s worst prison, having his face smashed off), Bane seems to be constantly very, very happy — I’m judging more by his vocal delivery than by his facial expressions, admittedly. He’s quite inspirational in that way. Of course, he does murder almost everybody he meets. I’m reminded of James Coburn’s diagnosis of CIA assassin Godfrey Cambridge in THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST — “That’s why you’re so well-balanced: you can get out you’re hostility by actually killing people!”

The film is dotted with favourite actors — Nolan even finds a good use for Matthew Modine, an appealing thesp who seemed to go out of style once his eternal boyishness ceased to match his biological age — and striking faces (stand up, Burn Gorman).

Fiona always maintained that Christian Bale’s Batman voice is that of the dog who can say “sausages” (and “Anthony” and “a jar”) —

It’s nice here to see Bayle given what seems like more talking scenes as Bruce Wayne, who talks like a person and doesn’t require a cheerful northerner to manipulate his jaw muscles.

I did feel a bit sad for Michael Caine, who does too much blubbering in close-up — the kind of big emotion that would play less unpleasantly from a distance. I’ve never had any desire to see Caine blubber (Billy Wilder suggested that strong emotion is best filmed from behind). Incidentally, Alfred the butler in the comics is usually written as a sardonic geezer who masks his devotion to Bruce Wayne with his cutting wit — make him sentimental and the character really loses all depth.

The film is generally better at emotion on the grand, operatic and epic scale rather than the human — which is true of most blockbusters these days, but particularly Nolan’s. Still, it matters than Nolan can deliver the excess required to do this kind of thing well, as attested by the opening aeroplane stunt (featuring a welcome Aidan Gillen) which is gloriously absurd yet put over with po-faced conviction.

Nolan’s shooting and cutting of action has been a talking point throughout this series. There was a cunning plan behind the incoherent cutting of the fights in the first movie — make the audience as confused as Batman’s enemies. The trouble with that idea is that an action movie audience would rather see a stunning action sequence than be plunged into the confusion felt by the third goon from the left just before the caped crusader punches his lights out. The second film was altogether less messy, although by delayed effect it picked up most of the bad reviews for confusing staging (I think only the truck chase really lost me), though I’d agree there was room for improvement.

This time round, we get a chance to see the fights in wide-ish, waist-high shots that actually last more than one punch. Unfortunately, Bale or his stuntman in that heavy outfit can’t really move as fast as we always imagined Batman should be able, so the fights (some set in broad daylight) feel clunky at times. And Batman has a disconcerting way of going in without a plan and getting his ass kicked. The Batman written by Grant Morrison in the comics would never do that, and certainly not twice in a row with the same opponent. It not only makes the character seem dim-witted, and it’s dramatically unsatisfying to see him fail to learn.

But I’m being a touch over-critical — I enjoyed the movie’s sweep, and felt the plot delivered some good surprises that shouldn’t have been possible with such  well-known mythos. Some of this is done by changing character names, and some of it might not have worked if I were more quick-witted, but it felt satisfying to me to find a couple of familiar comic book figures, hiding in plain sight.

“Why so serious?”

Raging Bale

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 2, 2011 by dcairns

To start with the obvious — what a great idea, pairing David O Russell, whose tantrum on the set of I HEART HUCKABEES became the stuff of YouTube legend, with Christian Bale, something of a laughing stock after his meltdown on the set of TERMINATOR SALVATION (and, looking back on it, can anything connected to that film justify taking yourself so seriously?), but before he went nuts and beat up female family members. Throw in Mark Wahlberg, a man with a criminal record for racially motivated attacks in his youth. And Amy Adams once shot a man just to watch him die, so don’t look to her as a steadying influence.

Whatever. THE FIGHTER is still a welcome return for Russell, who made a film about the Gulf War (THREE KINGS) so astute it pretty much makes most of the films about the present war(s) redundant. I didn’t really know what to expect from this new one, which is one of the fun things about Russell. Fiona had been to see THE KING’S SPEECH in the daytime: audience largely populated with pensioners. “That looks exhausting!” says one lady. “And it did!” reported Fiona. Oh, and she enjoyed THE KING’S SPEECH: “Just what I was expecting: a very classy TV movie.”

The most exhausting element in THE FIGHTER is Bale, as motormouth Dicky, crackhead brother and trainer of great white hope Micky (Wahlberg). It’s a very good, big performance. Everybody is big and loud in this movie, with the exception of Wahlberg, who does his speciality: the honest, simple man who’s puzzled by all the wrongness around him. Wahlberg genuinely excels at this, whether it’s in THREE KINGS or PLANET OF THE APES (where a puzzled frown would be an actor’s only survival mechanism), and he brings out the irony of the film’s title: in a family where mother, brother and sisters live their lives in a whirl of expletive hysteria, and in a profession based upon pummeling work colleagues into unconsciousness, Micky is a man who intensely dislikes personal conflict. His reluctance to engage in battle with loved ones in order to carve out just a little corner of control over his own life is the film’s most moving feature.

The film is also funny, with Melissa Leo and her brood of appalling daughters getting most of the laughs. The downside of all this is the danger of the flick devolving into a kind of Jerry Springer marathon, but I don’t think this quite happens — there’s enough insight into the characters to stave of the migraine of white trash pandemonium. Leo’s ability to conjure moments of “How has this happened?” angst never gets old, either, the joke being that How This Has Happened is generally (a) entirely self-apparent and (b) entirely due to Leo’s character’s own actions.

Oh, and this might be my new favourite Amy Adams performance: I’ve sometimes found her a bit mannered, like she’s making unusual stylistic choices when just being straight with us would be better. Here she seems extremely real, within the movie’s slightly hyped-up melo reality. Her most “interesting” moment is a love scene, where we see how the character uses sex as a kind of dramatic performance, which is interesting and sweetly observed.

As much as I enjoyed this, I’m more psyched to see Russell’s next project, NAILED, which he’s a writer on (unlike here), and which sounds properly bonkers. THE FIGHTER is, at core, somewhat conventional, and this really emerges during the boxing stuff, which eventually turns into a ROCKY sequel style tale of underdog triumph. Nobody since RAGING BULL seems to have come up with a stylistic palette that doesn’t seem cribbed from Scorsese (Michael Mann tried, in ALI, didn’t quite make it), no doubt because Scorsese’s approach was so varied and so effective. Russell uses TV-style lo-def video, which is nice, but the onscreen titles announcing each fight, the slomo, the swish pans, all seem drawn from Scorsese’s model, without the really gothic excesses or the tactile qualities of black & white or the subjective feel created by Jack Warner’s sound editing.

I don’t want to sound like I’m down on this movie: I actually found the shamelessly manipulative final fight extremely entertaining and exciting. There’s an excellent chance you will too, and I’d like you all to see it. I just think this isn’t quite the complex and weird film DOR has in him.

Oh, and Bale should probably stop getting worryingly thin for indie movies and then bulking up for BATMAN movies. He’s going to die.