Archive for George Clooney

Science Fiction Double Feature

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2013 by dcairns


Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN, somewhat loosely adapted from the Michel Faber novel, screened at the New Sheridan Opera House in Telluride today — an amazing building which immediately makes one feel like Lily Langtry upon entering.

I found the film quite impressive, but baffling, which I think is intentional. Stripping away all the explanatory content of the novel and representing some key action in a rather abstract way, the movie depends more on imagery and eerie music and sound design than on narrative, character development or dialogue. It was particularly nice to see it in the US where 90% of the dialogue, delivered in strong Glasgow patois, must have been entirely incomprehensible. The gloomy Glasgow street scenes did not make me feel homesick (West George Street, earlier seen in CLOUD ATLAS doubling for San Francisco, and in Bertrand Tavernier’s DEATHWATCH, must be Glasgow’s most science-fictional location now).

Scarlett Johansson plays an alien, sent to Earth to seduce men, who are then abducted and — what, exactly? Fans of the book will probably be dismayed that the clear, procedural horror of the story concept is rendered vague and abstract here — still very disturbing at times, but much harder to assign meaning to. Fans of S.J. may to busy ogling her exposed skin to notice — the movie is, in a sense, structured as a strip-tease, with an unpleasant final ta-daa that takes the movie’s title rather literally…

Johanssen is good — very intriguing — but the film doesn’t allow us to understand her motivations. Glazer talked about wanting to show the world through alien eyes, but because the plot is so obscure, it’s perhaps more a case of watching an alien through human eyes.


Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY is likely to be less divisive — a sweaty-palm suspense movie which is also a spiritual odyssey and an audio-visual-tactile exploration of space travel, it delivers a conventional three-act structure and character arc with such conviction and panache as to make old-fashioned storytelling seem more daring than Glazer’s obfuscation. Screened at the new Werner Herzog Theater, it benefited from astonishing sound and picture quality which enhanced Cuaron’s long-take aesthetic — the movie produces constant gasps via pure film technique and artful deployment of bleeding edge FX technology, but uses this in support of the human element — starry yet convincing performances from Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It’s particularly a relief to see Bullock in something that isn’t embarrassing, at last. I’d almost forgotten what a strong and engaging performer she is — she works wonders here, and though Clooney fans will surely love what he does, it’s her film.

The 3D is utilized with grace and audacity, in this film in which every single shot — and there are apparently only 37 — is a special effect. A sequence of space debris flashing into the camera had me repeatedly flinching — not jumping in COMIN’ AT YA! shock, but compulsively blinking as if to avoid space dust getting in my eyes. The rest of the time the 3D is mainly used to enhance the illusion of floating in zero G — we get teardrops and a Marvin the Martian doll and numerous other bits of detritus drifting between us and the cast. It’s beautiful, but also incredibly exciting — a series of terrifying suspense scenarios that escalate as the film goes on. Quite the most remarkable major studio release I’ve seen in a long time.

Sunken Rex

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on March 5, 2012 by dcairns

This is the Rex Cinema in Paris, a great slab of 30s art deco splendour. Thanks to Friends of Shadowplay Celluloid Tongue, Paul Duane and I heard about the tour, and decided to check it out while waiting to meet a contact concerning our top secret project.

What a wild ride that was! Like a very low-budget theme park ride based around the concept of existential nothingness, it produced a strange state of mind which Paul likened to coming down from a bad acid trip. A very specific bad acid trip — Brighton Pier in the off-season, with Paul Young singing his ill-advised cover version of Love Will Tear Us Apart in the background. I haven’t had that exact experience, but I have been on the Rex Tour, so I suppose I know what he means.

The ride starts with some gratuitous smoke and water being sprayed at the punters (we two had the experience all to ourselves, which added to the bleak hilarity of it all), then there was the first of several elevator rides. I’m convinced that none of these were real, but I suppose it’s possible that sometimes the elevators actually ascended or descended to a different floor. I suspect the ride MIGHT cover two floors. One of the effects of the ride is to produce a spiraling sense of dislocation, both physical and cultural (maybe if we spoke good French and had selected the French audio option instead of the lame American voices, the latter would have been reduced) as we were led through a maze of strange spaces which had some kind of physical connection, but certainly no conceptual one. The elevators were used principally as  holding pens — places where the punters can be forced to wait while a voice-over tells them random stuff, in order to pad the ride out to however long it is (as you take the ride, time seems to stand still, run backwards, then collapse in on itself like Mickey Rourke).

There’s a brief educational piece about the building of the Rex, hardly spectacular but at least grounded in something, though as the Tongue notes, the controversial and interesting bit about the cinema’s role as a soldatenkino (soldier’s cinema) for German troops during the occupation doesn’t get a mention.

Then it’s weirdness all the way, from looking through the windows of a dark projection booth to see a miniature mock-up auditorium screening Luc Besson’s THE BIG BLUE (as bad as ever) on a little video monitor doubling as the screen, to a dubbing session in which you attempt to fill in dialogue for a set of clips of old time movie stars (most of whom aren’t even saying the line you’ve been supplied with) — you hurry through to the screening room and you get to watch video of yourselves saying the lines — you never see the results of the “dubbing”.

The strangest moment is the “updating” — most of the clips on display are either golden age Hollywood, and a few French films, or else they’re 80s Hollywood. Apart from the terrifying apparition of a shop window mannequin peering from behind a dressing room door. This is a new addition but, obviously working to a tight budget, they’ve only given him French dialogue… oh yes, he speaks. He has George Clooney’s face projected onto what probably started out as Alec Baldwin, with an animated mouth, flapping open and closed in “synch” to the French script.

At the end of the show you get to watch a standing ovation at the Cesar awards, cunningly re-edited to deploy hidden camera footage of yourselves ascending a staircase, to make it look as if it’s you that’s getting the applause. However, since the tour is designed for a dozen or so punters, the staircase shot held for long seconds after Paul and I had trotted through frame, lending the whole thing a ludicrous yet stark emptiness, like a Three Stooges film made by Bresson.

The Furry

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2009 by dcairns


Wes Anderson’s FANTASTIC MR FOX is as good as they say. Not only a free-yet-faithful adaptation of the Roald Dahl source, but a very satisfying Wes Anderson film, with all the trademarks (dysfunctional extended families, flat compositions, “offbeat2 comedy, a created world at several removes from our own). And in fact it’s Anderson’s best film for some time. His irritating tendency to undermine any credible emotional development — seen at it’s worst in THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, where Bill Murray spends the whole film slowly engaging with his son, reaches an apparently genuine tragic crisis, then pisses it all away for the sake of a cheap joke — is suspended here, maybe because it’s a kids’ film.

I have to admit to some inconsistency here. When I saw the first TOY STORY, what I admired most about it was the way it delivered the emotional requirements of a dramatic story without stopping being funny. For instance, Buzz Lightyear’s traumatic realization that he is, after all, only a toy, is comedically undercut by the TV ad that’s responsible for the revelation. The toy Buzz is pictured jetting through the air, and a caption superimposed beneath reads “Does not fly.” This is both cruelly funny and oddly moving.

On the other hand TOY STORY II departed from this approach with the heartrending song “When She Needed Me,” which is totally serious and utterly affecting, no ironic underlay required. Both techniques are valid.

I think what had been bugging me in Anderson’s films is that they were, at base, always all about emotions, but the filmmaker seemed embarrassed by the idea of resolving emotional knots, committing himself to a view of the behaviour he presented, or allowing the characters to grow and face their difficulties (full disclosure: still haven’t seen THE DARJEELING LTD). The very real problem to be faced by the maker of comedy-drama being that characters are funny when they have blind spots and stubborn areas where they cannot adapt to circumstance — they insist on being themselves at the very times they should change. And that change, very welcome in a drama, kills the laughter. So there typically is a problem to solve — some comedies successfully do without any character arc, generating laughs from the inflexibility of a character, but such films must be about something other than emotions — there must be plot. And Anderson’s stories tend to be character-driven, so there’s a requirement to deliver some kind of redemptive change or realisation, but can that be made funny? Well, if it happens late enough in the story, maybe it doesn’t have to be funny…

George Clooney is a magnificent Mr Fox, capitalizing on that air of self-satisfaction that can be his undoing in buddy fluff like the OCEAN’S films. We expect George Clooney to be glad he’s George Clooney, anything less would be ungrateful and strange, but he has to modulate away from smugness. Here, Mr Fox’s total self-belief and amoral opportunism are the very character flaws that are addressed in the adventure, so Clooney’s casting is a triump, using to the full his skills as light comedian, even if he’s apparently present only as a voice (we know that’s really him under the fur, amid the stuffing, within the puppet armature, somewhere in there). And pairing him romantically with Meryl Streep is delightful, and the kind of thing which, sadly, might be deemed impossible in a live-action film.


I love the way the long-shots make everything look like crap toys, too. Anderson’s Keatonesque flatness is finally used to serve up visual gags, as it always should’ve been, and his penchant for designing alternative universes is taken to a new extreme in a film where even the landscapes are unreal.


If some of these stills have the quality of roadkill taxidermy, it’s because they lack the alchemy of animation and voice-work. The cast, featuring several of Anderson’s usual gang (Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson) underplay in the usual Anderson manner, creating a feeling quite atypical to the world of the animated film, and it all works marvelously. And Michael Gambon, as the No. 1 villainous human, gets to apply his characterisation from THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER to a puppet seemingly modeled on Rupert Murdoch (with a wife who looks not unlike Camilla Parker-Bowles).

Now, since there’s no real way to type the finger-point, whistle and click-click which is Mr. Fox’s trademark, you’ll just have to use your imaginations.