Archive for Dan O’Herlihy

Watney’s Red Planet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2015 by dcairns


Matt Damon as Mark Watney became the second ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS in my birthday treat movie on Saturday, which turned out to be a bigger treat than I’d expected, and quite possibly Ridley Scott’s best film since the eighties.

THE MARTIAN — filmed in all three dimensions of outer space! 3D seems to be something directors get better at on repeated exposure — Fleischer, Dante, Arnold. Scott, speaking of PROMETHEUS actually said, “The 3D was no problem at all. We actually see in 3D all the time,” which one might charitably interpret as a senior moment, but Fiona says, “Ridley would still have said that in 1979.” One worried that he hadn’t given the matter sufficient study.

In THE MARTIAN, there’s far more exploitation of the gimmick, but not in a chuck-spaceships-at-the-lens way. PROMETHEUS’s best quality was its vivid and immersive environments, and here the planetscapes are more shapes and multi-leveled, with aerial shots that let the dunes and buttes roll past the lens. But Scott also gets great value out of little sprouts poking through topsoil, and the multiple rows of screens and workstations in NASA HQ. And in the Hermes, he’s gifted us a gyroscopic spacecraft that’s a sheer joy to observe as we fly past it or through its rotating rings. The sensual pleasure of moving through a deep environment becomes as rich as the use of smoke, rain, multiple little light sources, widescreen composition, long lens ECUs, and all the other features of the Scott visual style.


The dumbness of PROMETHEUS, its bad dialogue, and its mainly dopey, inconsistent and unappealing 2D characters, have all been replaced here with an intelligent scenario by Drew Goddard from Andy Weir’s novel, full of nice people working together to help each other. It’s astonishingly positive. This, along with the NASA mission control setting, has led to a lot of comparisons with APOLLO 13, which is a very good film, probably Ron Howard’s best, so the likening isn’t an insult, but I think this one’s better, because it has the same virtues plus some extra ones, mostly audio-visual.

Scott’s always been rather good at casting, though his background in ads would seem to equip him solely to flick through Spotlight and pick out faces he liked. But look at ALIEN — every one of the Nostromo’s crew is a wonderfully quirky thesp. When ill-health forced Jon Finch to drop out, Scott replaced him with John Hurt, which shows flexibility as well as excellent taste. For BLADE RUNNER, Scott’s masterstroke was Rutger Hauer, but he also saw something in Darryl Hannah that nobody else had recognized, and was one of very few directors to have tapped the potential of Joe Turkel (basically Kubrick and Scott are his whole career).

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Here, Damon is a personable everyman, onscreen solo for most of 140 mins, and neither bland nor irksomely quirky. The quirks are left to the supporting cast, all briefly sketched in but suggesting the possibility of greater depths. For a while it feels like Kate Mara is going to do nothing but punch computer keys, but some more stuff eventually happens. Jeff Daniels, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover and of course Kirsten Wiig are often associated with comedies, which I guess equips them to be likable. Sean Bean seems like a stand-in for the director. And Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain and Michael Peña… it’s just such lovely company to be in.


In Bunuel’s THE ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE, when Dan O’Herlihy leaves the island he hears his dog bark — a dog that had died some years before. This is something I sometimes quote to students as an example of the poetic power of surrealism. Nobody needs to have the moment explained, yet it comes from a place beyond the rational. There’s nothing as elegantly imaginative as that here, but there is the power of realism. The design and performances and writing create a conviction that carries us along. We don’t need interpersonal conflict hyped up when the central situation works as a magnificent plot motor.

Robinson Crusoe is a tricky figure to make work on screen, since fictional characters feed off their interrelationships with one another to become real and engaging. Someone else has to care about them before we can. Watney is alone for ages, and we get very little interaction with his team-mates, but what makes us go with him is his relationship with US, via the vidcams dotted around his Martian “hab.” Implausibly, these all provide a 3D image, something I guess you just have to go with, but it’s worth it.

Saw the film with an actual botanist, who thought it plausible enough except that Martian sunlight would be rather weak for growing veg, and Damon should have swept the red dust off his skylight to help things along.

“I’m gonna cube that mother but good!”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2009 by dcairns

Realising that Bunuel’s old cinematographer from his Mexico days shot a movie about LSD was enough to make me very grateful to a kind providence. Realising that said movie starred Lana Turner was enough to make me want to kiss God full on the lips.

But the TV-style yellow credits and flat, unimaginative staging of  most of the regular action was a warning that THE BIG CUBE was not going to be a real masterpiece, even of the camp variety. The trip sequences turned out to be enjoyable but not too inspired: plasma lighting, flash cuts and solarisation effects were the extent of it, and while I enjoy all of those things, sometimes you want a little more. And sometimes you think, gee, they really haven’t done their research, have they?

Basically THE BIG CUBE is Patrick Hamilton’s GASLIGHT on LSD, and while that may sound alluring, the combination of hip trendspotting and old-fashioned morality tale is pretty stodgy in reality. Dopey Karin Mossberg is jealous of her new stepmother, Lana T, a glamorous stage star. When dad Daniel O’Herlihy is killed in a yachting accident (NEVER go boating with Dan O’Herlihy, movie-goers: that’s basic), her venomous stepchild is seduced into a fiendish plan by George Chakiris, an acid-peddling med student: drive Lana mad by spiking her tranqs with lysergic whatnots. Cue faux-trippy montages and much screaming.

More compelling than that, and more compelling than Lana’s bizarre performance in the everyday scenes — incompetence + total self-belief = a Maria Montez-like mindblowing poise and preposterousness — and more compelling even than Dan O’Herlihy’s bizarre attempt at a performance (good actor: what was he thinking?) are the two female supports, the stepdaughter and her best pal, Bibi (Pamela Rodgers).

As you can see, Pam gives a bizarre, strained, one-note performance that’s like a third-hand imitation of Marilyn Monroe misremembered in a trance. (Next in her career, THE MALTESE BIPPY beckons.) On the other hand, at least it IS a performance (she can’t really be like that). At least it HAS one note.

Karin Mussberg manages to convey all the different kinds of bad acting you could ever hope to see, entertainingly wrapped up in one package. What can go wrong with a performance?

When normal people try too hard to act, they tend to sound stiff and forced. Sometimes they fall into copying, badly, something they’ve seen that they think of as “acting”. This kind of strain is well-evoked by Julianne Moore in BOOGIE NIGHTS when she adopts a forced high-pitched voice when her character attempts to act.

When you encounter trained actors who are simply untalented, as I’m afraid I have from time to time, you sometimes get a tendency to load “import” and “meaning” onto lines by heavy stress. This isn’t actually import or meaning because it has no actual importance or meaning, it’s just stress. And also, clumsy or inexperienced actors sometimes place the stress on the wrong word. In this way, trained actors can actually be worse than amateurs. Real people, in real life, never ever stress the wrong word in a sentence.

Even good actors can make other kinds of blunders — I’m really only dealing with dialogue here. If an actor is confused they can read a line with the wrong meaning in mind, with the wrong tone or mood. They can be unintentionally funny, as I think Dan O’Herlihy is at the end of that first clip a clip you’ll find in the comments section.

What’s impressive about Mussberg is her ability to blend and fuse all those errors together in a single performance. It’s not like these mistakes are blemishes upon the performance. They ARE the performance. It’s quite fascinating.

The only really comfortable player in the film is Chakiris, as the villain, who’s actually good. Our faith in him as a heartless Machiavellian seducer is hurt by the fact that he embarks upon this plot with a complete idiot for an accomplice, but he’s still got more on the ball than anyone else. Life is so unfair! Nic Cage eats a cockroach in VAMPIRE’S KISS and the world swoons. George Chakiris puts an ant in his breast pocket in THE BIG CUBE and his only reward is weary indifference. It’s exactly this kind of injustice I established this blog to rail against.

The film reaches a new and, I must admit, agreeable height of insanity after Lana is plunged into amnesia by all that acid, so her playwright friend resolves to cure her by writing a play that will force her to reenact the trauma and confront what’s happened. Quite incredibly, they not only rehearse the play with a full cast, but proceed to opening night with a full audience. Lana recovers her memory, is reunited with her repentant step-brat, falls in love with the playwright and scores a theatrical smash-hit. Meanwhile George Chakiris freaks out and overdoses on acid-laced sugar cubes. An ambulance hurtling him to hospital passes Lana’s limo. Cue jaunty music, the end.

The name’s Bunuel. Luis Bunuel.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2008 by dcairns



If you’re like me, you often wish Luis Bunuel had directed a Bond film. One, probably anything’s better than Marc Forster directing a Bond film, and two, Bunuel was riding high during the heyday of 007, so why couldn’t it have happened?

Looking deeper, we see that Bunuel directed Bond girl Carole Bouquet in THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE, in which she played one half of the object, shortly before her appearance in MOONRAKER, and furthermore MOONRAKER bad guy Hugo Drax was played by Michel Lonsdale, seen getting his bottom thrashed in Bunuel’s PHANTOM OF LIBERTY back when Roger Moore was battling Scaramanga.


“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”

Like Bond, Bunuel’s characters, at least in his later films, are always impeccably turned out, and demonstrate perfect sang-froid even in the most stressful situations, whether it be alligator attack or the army arriving for dinner unexpectedly. Like Bond, they are famous for their discrete charm.

Bunuel’s enthusiasm for fire-arms is well documented. You can even see him shooting a mountain goat in LAS HURDES/LAND WITHOUT BREAD (well, you can see the puff of smoke from the right of frame just before the goat falls off the mountain). Don Luis’s enthusiasm for experimental weaponry had him making his own bullets, playing around with different charges, trying to develop a bullet with just enough momentum to leave the gun barrel before bouncing lightly off its target. This interest in fancy weaponry surely marks him out as the ideal man to bring Bond to life.


“Do pay attention, 007!”

While Bond favours the vodka martini, Bunuel leans more towards the dry martini made with gin and angustura bitters, but that’s a minor point. The martini is a creative drink, also favoured by Busby Berkeley (a Busby Bond? Why not? But later.)

So it’s not an implausible idea, OK?

Scaramanga’s dwarf sidekick, Hervé Villechaise, would have been right at home in any of Don Luis’s films (dwarfs trot through SIMON OF THE DESERT, THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY and several others), and Bond’s tendency to run up against scorpions, tarantulas and other obscure fauna would be quite in keeping with the action of a Bunuel. My Bunuel 100 Anos book (or, as I call it, The Boys’ Big Book of Bunuel) even includes a Bunuel Bestiary in the back.

So, Dan O’Herlihy as Bond. Celtic Bonds have been successful before, of course, and as Bunuel’s Robinson Crusoe, O’Herlihy got in plenty of experience in exotic locations. I’d love to see what he made of the part.


Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Fernando Rey, suavely villainous in Hollywood movies like THE FRENCH CONNECTION, would make a great master-criminal. Could we resist Catherine Deneuve as Bond girl Anne Dalou, and could she resist playing it if the high priest of cinematic surrealism were in charge? Zachary Scott, fresh from THE YOUNG ONE, could play Bond’s CIA counterpart Felix Leiter. Oh wait, he died in 1965. Damn. OK, Bernie Hamilton then. Sean Connery always thought Felix should be black — I presume on the basis that it was the kind of thankless part where nobody would object, and therefore you should make the effort.

Ken Adam, I submit, would have had a great time building sets for Bunuel, who loved “secret passages leading on to darkness”.

THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL would make a great title for a Bond. Imagine what Shirley Bassey could do with a lyric like that. Much better than QUANTUM OF SLOSH, anyway.

But let’s call our imaginary Bunuel Bond GRAN CASINO ROYALE. The globe-trotting narrative will take us through Spain, the U.S.A., Mexico and France. Bond will battle tarantulas, snakes and flesh-eating ants, and face enemies armed with razors, rifles, burlap sacks and buggy-whips. All in search of a mysterious box with undisclosed, buzzing contents…


That Obscure Odd-Job of Desire.


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