Archive for Ewan McGregor

Here comes Johnny Yen again

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2018 by dcairns

Finally caught up with T2: TRAINSPOTTING (funny title!) — I’d had mixed feelings about the original, though Danny Boyle and company did do a lot to break Scottish cinema away from pure social realism, for which I’m grateful. I would say that both movies energize social commentary with black comedy, gross-out gags, surreal images, and an appetite for style at all costs. (I met some Spanish filmmakers who could quote reams of dialogue from the original by heart. “It’s shite being Scottish,” really meant something to them.) They take place in an unreal conurbation of Glagow and Edinburgh, evincing a merry contempt for geography as well as law and order. As realism they frequently stumble badly, being quite willing to contrive situations the mind rebels against —

Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edingow after twenty years, decides randomly to visit his old friend Spud (Ewen Bremner), arriving, by staggering coincidence, just as he’s about to die of asphyxiation in a suicide attempt. The movie has a tendency to “redeem” itself at these moments by offering something entertainingly horrid: here, Spud throws up in the plastic bag he has on his head, transforming it into a mucky orange sphere which he rips apart in order to be “reborn,” slathered in puke, into the ghastly world of bodily functions he was trying to escape.

Or: Renton and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) rob an Orange Lodge pub in Glasburgh, swiping wallets from coats that have been hung up. Which is silly: people keep their wallets on them in pubs, so they can buy drinks. But then the aging boys get caught and are forced to improvise a sectarian song on stage to prove they belong, which is pretty funny, and then they use the punters’ stolen bank cards, which all have 1690 as their PIN number — the date of the Battle of the Boyne. A grand joke that kinda justifies the ripping apart of the fabric of reality necessary to get to it.

John Hodge is on script again, creating much of the plot from whole cloth while patching together bits of Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel Porno with a bit of the original novel, which allows him to finally explain the title. Ah, the derelict Leith Central Railway Station (now demolished for a supermarket — only a bit of wall remains in the car park. I crawled through the gaping fence gap as a teenager, but never saw any junkies, or another living soul. It was a big, eerie expanse with incomprehensible stone age graffiti (a towering humanoid figure in rusty dried blood hue) and an aura of hushed sorrow.

Shot by Anthony Dod Mantle in saturated shades of neon and acid stained glass, the movie looks lovely, though ADM brings his penchant for meaningless line-crossing and confused jumping around, showcased in his Von Trier joints. Which I hate, you can probably tell. I think Boyle and his editor have embraced this hopped-up jerk-off style in an effort to look young and vigorous, and like all such efforts, it comes off a bit strained and sad. This viewer, rather than feel like an invisible observer in the scene, following the action with insight and a strange ability to also be in the right place to see what I’d like to see, felt like I was being wantonly teleported about the room, an instantaneous pinball with no control, the resulting disorientation a poor substitute for involvement in the drama.

I enjoyed all the actors. Kelly Macdonald gets, basically, nothing to do (there’s more on the cutting room floor, apparently), and Shirley Henderson is photographed looking glum at a distance, a horrible waste of her massive talent. Anjela Nedyalkova provides the movie’s injection of actual youth, so of course she’s the leading lady.

MacGregor still has his boyish charm, which acquires a kind of pathos as we see how little his character’s changed (not entirely a good thing when you’re a junkie and crook); Bremner still has funny bones, and having failed to escape the shadow of Spud (please, someone, find a showstopping role for this demigod) he dives back into it with jittery glee; Miller’s now-cadaverous features glower with malevolence and pique and I realise I’ve missed him (I don’t watch Elementary). Robert Carlyle’s Begbie is morphing, somehow, into Fulton Mackay, seeming a generation older than his mates (there’s a line to explain this — he was held back at school, making him at most a couple of years older. Jokes about him being stabbed in the liver and OD-ing on Viagra, both promising body-horror gross-outs, go nowhere. But it’s all about energy, eh? And Carlyle exerts a furious force that turbo-charges the movie through some second-act doldrums.

I do kind of like the way the script splits up aspects of Welsh’s post-Trainspotting life among the cast, with one character hanging out in Amsterdam, one becoming a writer… Welsh has become a filmmaker himself, and I suppose Sick Boy is making moves in that direction when we first encounter him as a blackmailer… Welsh himself appears, as is his wont. Cannae act.

 

Hodge’s scripts tend to plunge from wild flights of fancy back into conventional genre tropes at the end (all those bags of money), and this one does the same in a new way, combining a fight in a gutted pub with a reprise of the original’s betrayal twist, which makes things feel a little bit less than you hoped for. But it’s still somewhat satisfying, and has the best closing shot I’ve seen in a while. Let’s do this again in twenty years.

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Additional dialogue by…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2015 by dcairns

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I was lucky enough to be invited to the UK premier of MACBETH, which made me feel quite the dude, until I looked at my wardrobe and realized I was going to have to take a whimsical approach to the dress code “smart”. I also met lots of people I know there, which made me feel well-connected. There was a splendid after-party and I utilised it in moderation as I had work the following day, so all in all it was a very good afternoon/evening, apart from the film.

The film isn’t too bad, though — that was a dirty trick I pulled at the end of  that paragraph. The crowd responded with enthusiasm, en masse, though I caught some mutterings later.

All of the acting is decent, though I didn’t love any of the actors. I love Martin Shaw in the Polanski version. I love Mifune and Mrs. Mifune in THRONE OF BLOOD, more for their pyrotechnic displays of theatrical technique than as characters, but they are close to my heart all the same.

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The accents are good, though Marion Cotillard’s is pretty different from everyone else’s. It’s a shock whenever Malcolm (Jack Reynor) speaks, because he doesn’t sound like he’s doing Shakespeare — he sounds like he’s saying something he just thought of. By this reckoning he’s probably the best actor in the film, but he creates a problem for everyone else, because if that’s what a person talking is like, what are these?

The film looks pretty stunning. The locations on the Isle of Skye are brooding and dramatic and spectacular, and it’s nice seeing my native country used in a cinematic manner. Some of the Northumberland scenes look exactly like Polanski’s version, though. The designers have perversely chosen quite a Russian Orthodox look for the architecture and costumes, but this mostly works quite well, apart from the kingly robes which seem a bit samurai to me. Stuff can be the wrong period or the wrong setting as long as it isn’t jarring.

What people said:

Alex: “Paddy Considine has the world’s most disapproving beard.”

Jonny Murray: “Who’d have thought the old man would have so much mud on him?”

Emma: “It’s a shame these things can only happen with big movie stars doing big acting. Ken Loach could do Macbeth.”

Me: “But look at Fassbender in FISH TANK. Why couldn’t he be as natural in this?”

Yes, this is another muddy MAC, calling to mind the classic MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL exchange (“Must be a king.” “Why?” “He hasn’t got shit all over him.”) — only in this version, even the king gets covered in shit. Michael Fassbender turns up plastered in peat in one scene with no explanation of how it got there, and you hardly notice, because everybody’s always filthy. And all the rooms are draughty. The Macbeth’s bungalow creaks in the wind like a ship in a gale. The scenery is splendid but I wouldn’t want to live here. Oh, wait,

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I didn’t feel like anybody in the film had a relationship with anyone else. Lady Macbeth seemed basically mad from the start, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) was a savage barbarian who then goes totally psycho. Usually you get the sense that Banquo and Macbeth are mates. I have to say — the continuing problem of the Festival Theatre’s accoustics and sound system meant that I may have missed stuff that would have helped forge this connection.

The adaptation is an odd one — lots of interesting ideas. I just didn’t think they worked. The film is at pains to answer that academic’s question, “How many children did Lady Macbeth have?” According to this film, two. We open on a dead baby, so we surmise that this tragedy isn’t going to be a comedy, and then there’s a teenage Macbeth Junior who dies in the opening battle. At the risk of coming over like Tom Stoppard, who has protested the tendency of directors to treat Shakespeare’s text as a sounding-board for their own ideas, I think a productive question for academics may not be so useful for filmmakers. The Macbeths have no children that we meet in the play. To create one for the film presents a challenge — he can’t say anything, and nobody can say anything about him. So the kid dies, and Macbeth writes a letter to his wife — about some women he met on the heath. No mention of son. When Duncan  congratulates Mac on winning the battle for him, he doesn’t add, “And by the way, sorry about Junior.” We need to talk about Macbeth Jnr!

The filmmakers bring this doleful kid on as a ghost, and have him holding the dagger which Macbeth sees before him. So the line, “Come, let me clutch thee,” is addressed to his son. Who then leaves — things were getting oddly homoerotic — and Macbeth continues talking to thin air, delivering lines written to be addressed to a dagger, as if to a dead son. Who isn’t there anymore.

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The most egregrious abuse of Shakespeare is right at the start, actually, when the witches say, “Where the place?” “Upon the battlefield.”

That’s right. I seem to recall that line once reading, “Upon the heath.” Which fits the rhythm, and has an assonant connection with the following line, “There to meet with Macbeth.” This feels like a Weinstein Bros idea. Macbeth has a vision of the witches while he’s in battle. Couldn’t the battlefield be on a heath? A kind of battleheath, if you will? Apparently somebody thought this would be confusing, so it was better to rewrite Shakespeare. “Additional dialogue by…” The Weinsteins have a long history of explanatory overdubs, with exposition blasting from the back of actors’ heads the moment they turn away, just to make sure we understand what Harvey wants us to understand. This fiddling has actually occurred at script stage, though, so we can have bad exposition with good lip sync. The filmmakers can’t hear will rotate in his grave because they’re simply not on his frequency.

There are other mismatches of word and action. When we are told that Macbeth “unseamed” the traitor “from the nave to th’ chops,” clearly stating, albeit in flowery language, that he splin him open from stomach to throat, we are shown Macbeth simply lopping the guy’s head off. It’s genuinely like the director didn’t read the play, or even the script. I wouldn’t like to suggest that this was a particularly Australian tendency (George Miller, for one, always matches word to deed with striking accuracy), but the last time I felt this weird disconnect was at Baz Luhrmann’s MOULIN ROUGE! in which E. MacGregor sings “You see, I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue,” while looking straight into N. Kidman’s eyes. They’re blue, Ewan. She’s right in front of you. I’d be worried about that kind of memory loss.

When Macbeth talks to one of his murderers after Banquo’s assassination, he does it at the banquet, with everyone else standing around silently, listening to the secret murder plot echoing around the hall. You can play it that way, and it doesn’t necessarily contradict anything later, but that scene always seemed to work really well when nobody knew Macbeth had Banquo offed, and so his embarrassing flake-out when he sees his former chum’s corpse at table exposes a dirty secret and causes Lady M. to fly into hostess mode, trying to put an acceptable spin on things.

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One thing the movie works hard to fix is Shakespeare’s missing scene — Edith Evans always complained that it was impossible to play Lady Macbeth’s plunge into guilty madness right after the banquet. “She was perfectly fine at supper.” Using visual scenes, our Aussie director Justin Kurzel is able to suggest a credible, gradual descent — but then blows it spectacularly by killing her offscreen with no explanation of how she died. I do think we need to know. Wouldn’t her grieving husband ask?

It goes on… Macbeth and Macduff smash each other to pieces and disembowel each other, and only get around to the “untimely ripped” bit at the very end of the fight. Untimely indeed. I can’t even be bothered going over why that’s a goofy choice.

I said to a colleague, bright and un-hungover at work the next day, that the film was dramatically kind of dull.

“More of a Michael Slowbender?” he asked.

“Michael Grimbender,” I clarified.

Which doesn’t even mean anything. That’s me, full of soundbites, signifying nothing.

Well, *we* enjoyed it.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2012 by dcairns

I HAD intended to see Soderbergh’s HAYWIRE after enjoying the trailer, but as you can see, it took me a while.

I liked the premise of a film based around a female action star who can really do most of the stuff the script shows her doing — it seemed that HAYWIRE was the movie that would do for kicking people in the face what THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE did for soulless sexual encounters. And that, surely, can’t be bad?

Gina Carano, Soderbergh’s discovery — “a natural beauty who beats people to a pulp in a cage” — is worth it. She can act, and indeed in the conversation scenes she seems wondrously natural, her face moving about in a way that the faces of trained thespians, with their screen technique and Botox, rarely do. When you see her in interviews, she seems heftier and more voluble — Soderbergh has slimmed down her look and her mannerisms with careful filming and direction. In the more emotional scenes, he tends to use photogenics in place of histrionics, finding killer looks that express the character’s inner state.

Confirming this as an old-fashioned bit of star-grooming, Carano has very stylish costumes by Shoshana Rubin.

The rest of the cast is fine, with Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum holding their own in the punching and smashing departments, Michael Douglas a bit miscast as a trustworthy man, and Ewan MacGregor trying hard as always. Antonio Banderas is very amusing, starting the movie with a big beard and then putting it aside for the finale, really for no discernible reason.

Lem Dobbs, who scripted KAFKA and THE LIMEY, wrote this one too. It follows the cool, Melvillean aesthetic of the latter film, with a few moments of sentiment which are more underplayed than they were in the Stamp vehicle. Soderbergh said after KAFKA that he felt he wasn’t good at cold material, which is odd to me, since his OCEAN’S films seem basically slick and heartless. But then, I only like the first one of those, and that not so much. And then again, I liked KAFKA much better than SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, so maybe I’m weird.

Mexico is always a bit sepia-toned in Soderbergh films (see TRAFFIC), contrary to reality.

Dobbs (before taking his name from Bogart in SIERRA MADRE, he started his movie career as Lem Kitaj, acting for Michael Powell in THE BOY WHO TURNED YELLOW — he’s the best thing in it) provides a very simple betrayal-revenge structure which masquerades behind a cloak of sophistication, with flashbacks, lists of names, rapidly shuffled international locations and plenty of mumbled obfuscation. As with THE LIMEY, whose classic moment is a long-held exterior with sounds of mayhem raging indoors (undoubtedly influenced by the climax of THE PUBLIC ENEMY) the movie gets some of its best effects by keeping dramatic events offscreen — but nevertheless makes spectacular use of Carano’s particular talents. Nobody is likely to top the best of Jackie Chan’s fights, but HAYWIRE’s hotel havoc will live for as long as people enjoy seeing Michael Fassbender getting his neck crushed between a set of powerful thighs, and that, my friends, will be a very long time.

Now for CONTAGION and then maybe MAGIC MIKE.