Archive for Daniel Craig

Coffee and Cigarettes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2011 by dcairns

I almost but not quite regard the time I spent reading Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy as time wasted. I’d been told that I’d find them compulsive page-turners, but in reality, the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, struck me as weirdly draggy, as the author described shopping trips, love trysts, business affairs, all pedantically spread out over a one-year cycle like a Harry Potter book. The series only started to get exciting on the second book, and I don’t know what led me to even give it a chance, but it did develop into something gripping as Lisabeth Salander’s own story started emerging. The third volume is just ridiculous, with its albino giant invulnerable to pain (I guess he’s a kind of caricature of Swedish Nazism), but pretty good fun.

I stopped watching the Swedish adaptation of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO after it became clear that it was just going to repackage the book into an endless series of micro-scenes, none hanging around long enough to develop any dramatic meat on their bones — movie as stripped-down spine. So I was kind of wary of David Fincher’s Hollywood remake, a movie which could theoretically be dismissed as redundant by anyone who can read subtitles. Would this be another bland PANIC ROOM, or worse, a BENJAMIN boring bastard  BUTTON?

It’s not, but it’s not a FIGHT CLUB or SOCIAL NETWORK either — I’d say it’s work-for-hire in which Fincher has been able to invest some real interest, not purely as a technical exercise in grafting Brad Pitt’s head onto a dancing baby. Like the novel, it’s a pulp potboiler with pretensions, but Fincher uses cinematic language considerably more deftly than journalist Larsson used prose, at least in translation. With its slick surfaces (dig the Ikea torture chamber with its colour-coordinated power tools!) and gliding camera moves (resisting, this time, the urge to fly ghostlike through a kettle’s handle or a night club bannister), the movie is consistently pleasurable to the eye, and the soundtrack, not just Atticus Ross & Trent Reznor’s buzzing, throbbing score, but the whole mix, with its fifty different kinds of wind, is a triumph — this movie wants very badly to be seen on the big screen.

It’s not perfect: Fincher’s tendency to include a cutaway insert every time somebody picks something up, puts it down or throws it away, is a Svankmajer-like tic than gets a bit annoying once you notice it (and arguably detracts from the power of the one key object discarded in the last scene). One the other hand, Fincher can do restraint: he includes numerous slick shots of Salander’s bike slicing through Nordic nightscapes, but holds off a POV of onrushing road until the last act.

Performances: while it’s nice to see Geraldine James, Steven Berkoff and Martin Jarvis (!), the actress playing Salander naturally gets the lion’s share of one’s attention. It’s to Larsson’s credit that he somehow made the quasi-autistic, kickboxing, computer hacking, physics genius, bisexual bike riding damaged goods into a vaguely convincing pulp fiction heroine. Admittedly I didn’t really watch Noomi Rapace’s origination of the role, but I did glance at it as Fiona was watching, and found her riveting – if the film had been able to keep up with her, it’d have been a wild ride. Fiona declares the new version to be even stronger though, so there you have it: Mickey Rooney Rooney Mara is an even better Salander.

Daniel Craig is quickly becoming the go-to guy for those who find Clive Owen just a bit too effervescent, Liam Neeson too irksomely perky. But he works here, as Larsson’s transparent self-portrait business journalist / loverboy. At least he doesn’t look like a baby potato. Robin Wright makes the most of her scattered moments of screen time… the only odd thing about the acting is that the Swedish accents, already an odd choice to my taste, are somewhat inconsistent. Craig doesn’t really bother with one, Rooney’s is exemplary, and everybody on the TV news programmes sounds like the Swedish Chef. Also, the written matter seen in the film varies between Swedish and English, seemingly at random.

Stephen Zaillian’s script is largely faithful to the book, but prunes away much excess and tightens ingenuously. “At least you’re not going to prison,” is a brilliant line that not only hacks away an unproductive diversion in the book, but lets us know in advance that this has been done. Intact are all the uncomfortable little references to Blomkvist/Larsson’s poor physical condition, prefiguring his tragic/absurd early death right before his books saw print. And Zaillian wisely jettisons the whole discussion about suppressing the killer’s identity and never revealing his victims’ fates, in order to protect the Wennerstrom family business. This distasteful scene rather gave the lie to the whole book’s thesis, about the wickedness of misogynists or something. We’re meant to believe that the hero believes business interests are more important than letting the victims’ families know what became of their daughters. We’re also meant to believe he has the right to make that call, despite being in business with the Wennerstroms himself. And we’re meant to believe that Salander, herself a victim of misogynist violence, would go along with it. That’s one smart script edit right there — the question of publicity simply isn’t mentioned, and we don’t wonder about it.

Tintin ambulation

Posted in Comics, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2011 by dcairns

My cinematographer friend Scott Ward (hire him — he’s excellent!) likes to stress the importance of getting The Look right. Once you have decided on The Look of your film, your job gets easier, or at least possible, because you have a Plan to guide you through the multiverse of creative decisions awaiting you. One of the reasons Sidney Lumet’s book Making Movies is so useful is he clarifies and expands on this with examples from his own career, and he shows that The Look is not a static thing imposed flatly over the script, but a dynamic, evolving process. A simple example would be his film THE HILL, which starts on a wide-angle lens, progresses to a very wide-angle lens, and finishes on a very very wide-angle lens. The distortion and confrontational quality created by the actors thrusting their faces out of the screen is progressively amped up. Likewise/contrariwise, TWELVE ANGRY MEN starts wide-ish and moves slowly to longer and longer lenses, flattening perspective so the walls press with the claustrophobia of a Fu Manchu death-trap as the film goes on.

So big, global decisions about The Look are helpful — Lumet would never have to worry about what lens to use after making that call — but they’re also important. It’s  very hard, possibly impossible, for a film to recover after going with the wrong Look. Which brings us to THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (or TAOTTSOTU).

It was obvious to me from the first screen-grabs posted, and progressively more obvious with each trailer released, that the Look of this film was rotten. This is to some extent a subjective opinion, but I’ve noted that those defending the visuals tend to say things like “What’s wrong with making it look like the comic strip?” So I win, because the film doesn’t look anything like the comic strip, as Spielberg is good enough to make clear by opening with a beautifully graphic title sequence which DOES look like the comic strip. It’s so stylised and simple that everyone involved probably thought “There’s no way we could make the whole film look like this.” And yet, as Scott says, “You get rewarded for bravery, always.” If Spielberg and Peter Jackson and WETA had gone with an actual Hergé visual surface, 2D in 3D, it would have been gorgeous, just as the titles are (for another suave Spielberg credits sequence, see CATCH ME IF YOU CAN).

Instead we get these grotesque, over-textured walking waxworks, blinding us with microscopic detail just because they can, brought to us by the horror of mo-cap. Now, the mo-cap characters in LORD OF THE RINGS or RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES need to have pores and individual hairs and so on, because they’re interacting with flesh-and-blood actors and have to match. But if you’re creating your own world entirely in the computer, the most boring, cowardly choice is to make it look exactly like the world outside your window. Plus these porous, shambling, dead-eyed fleshwads are disgusting to the eye, as any cartoon character would be if he sprang from the page and shrugged on a suit of protoplasm.

Mo-cap at its worst (ie Zemeckis) combines all the limitations of live-action (the bodies are constrained by anatomy & physics) with the limitations of animation (the micro-body language and facial language can never be as subtle and expressive as a real person) — whereas in the right hands, it could combine the best of both. But this would require the involvement of talented animators to manipulate the mo-cap info, bringing in cartoon exaggeration as required. Up until the big action set-pieces, TINTIN suffers from horrible animation: when characters fall over, they abruptly transform from weighty, clodhopping corpuses to inertia-less balloon animals, floating to the ground at a constant speed, obeying the laws of neither actual gravity nor its Loony Toon equivalent.

Happily, in the big action set-pieces, actual animation of reasonable quality dominates, and the film starts to work. As always with Spielberg, the visual gags are ingenious and clearly presented, and the form allows him to get away with all sorts of business that would be too silly in an INDIANA JONES (and which indeed were too silly in the last INDIANA JONES). The wild chase through a fictional North African city actually suggests a valid use for mo-cap, and calls to mind the motorbike-and-sidecar antics of Wallace and Gromit and THE ARISTOCATS, as well as 1941 and Spielberg’s admiration for the hairy chases in Miyazaki’s CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO.

Of course, Miyazaki’s master criminal is a much more colourful character than Hergé’s, and TINTIN suffers from a bland lead, leaving Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock (with a non-canonical Scots accent) to bring on the fun. The screenwriters (including the Scottish Steven Moffat) seems far more interested in Haddock than in the film’s nominal hero, which is understandable but problematic: Tintin is relegated to the position of bystander in the action climax, which is really an anti-climax coming so soon after the bigger and wilder bike chase. And this is followed by a ten-minute set-up for the next film, surely something the writers should have fought against given Spielberg’s post-SCHINDLER’S tendency to allow his films to drivel on and on through multiple endings.

TOP MO-CAP FACTS

1) Andy Serkis gets a lot of work in motion capture because his body is covered with evenly-spaced moles, making the technicians’ job easier. These moles are removed by CGI on those few occasions when Serkis acts in a non mo-cap role.

2) Robert Zemeckis’s fascination with the mo-cap process is explained by the fact that he experienced his first sexual awakening while gazing upon the animatronic Lincoln at Disneyland. Since then he has contrived to fill his films with marble-eyed, plastic-faced mannequins, and when Michael Douglas and Tom Hanks couldn’t give him what he wanted, he turned to CG.

3) A special feature on Peter Jackson’s KING KONG allows you to “turn off” the mo-cap and see Andy Serkis in a leotard for the whole movie. It also turns Jack Black into a sock puppet. Some scenes actually play better that way.

4) Cheapjack exploiteer Charles Band pioneered an extreme-low budget version of motion capture by smashing some old computer monitors and gluing the spilled pixels onto Brad Dourif. It still looked better than THE POLAR EXPRESS.

“Uh-oh, the reviews are out!” 

BACK TO TINTIN

So the news isn’t all bad. Some of the writing is deft and funny (although I was surprised Tintin had to be told that Marlinspike Hall belonged to the Haddock family, then discovered this fact in the library, then went there and noticed a coat of arms and realized in amazement that (gasp!) Marlinspike Hall belonged to the Haddock family. Exactly the kind of thing that can but shouldn’t happen when you have three writers.

Asides from the ever-mo-cap-ready Mr. Serkis, none of the actors really make an impression through their layers of digital wadding, and the intriguing Daniel Craig is particularly dull as the sinister Sakharine, with a sub-Dick Dastardly reading that’s a stock villain devoid of any individuality. I did realize how well thought-out the character is in graphic terms, though. Consider:

Older-than-adult as contrasted to Tintin’s younger-than.

Where Tintin has a pure white dog, Sakharine has a shit-brown hawk.

There Tintin has a peak of hair on the crown of his head, Sakharine has one on his chin. He’s nitniT, the inverse Tintin.

The film’s Look is very slightly redeemed by nice colour co-ordination, with a frequent recourse to cerulean blue which recalls the strip. The lightness of tone gets John Williams working in a less bombastic mode than usual, which is nice just as a change, and Spielberg creates some beautiful scene changes exploiting the particular nature of the animated image, it fluidity and flexibility, in a way I haven’t seen much of since the terrific overture of Disney’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

Maybe best of all is the 3D, which isn’t vulgar or needlessly intrusive, allowing itself to barely register at times, but popping out at moments of drama or for little dramatic flourishes — one shot, where a torch beam sweeps into the audience and illuminates a cloud of silvery dust motes, drew appreciative gasps from Fiona and I. Maybe this is just like the Victorian audiences who stared in autistic fascination at the blowing foliage in the background of Lumiere home movies, a novelty which will pass and which has comparatively little to do with cinema’s real power or charm. But it seemed powerful and charming to us.

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