Archive for Gravity

Mars Needs Work

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2018 by dcairns

De Palma’s MISSION TO MARS is the nearest thing to a De Palma film De Palma doesn’t like in DE PALMA. De Palma De Palma De Palma. But it’s not clear that he doesn’t think it’s a masterpiece along with all his other films, he just didn’t enjoy making it. All those special effects, taking forever.

The stuff on Earth is very recognizably De Palmaesque, with long Steadicam shots and so on. The stuff in space is more anonymous, I suspect because effects weren’t quite at the stage where he could rove about as he liked. There’s one very good spacewalking suspense bit, subsequently borrowed and improved upon in GRAVITY, and there’s a weirdly counterproductive Morricone score, and too many scenes where actors slowly, casually do things they should be doing in a desperate hurry. I can’t quite account for that. De Palma does talk about how he likes slow set-pieces with few sound effects, to make room for the music, but this is the only film of his where whole scenes are dragged out that really NEED to be played fast.There’s a certain class of actor who play astronauts, isn’t there? THE RIGHT STUFF established Ed Wood Harris (WTF?) in particular as NASA’s representative on Earth, so he turns up in APOLLO 13 and as the voice of Ground Control in GRAVITY. APOLLO 13 then brought Gary Sinise into the fold, and here he is again. Matt Damon is a space guy in INTERSTELLAR and a different one in THE MARTIAN. If you’re making ALIEN or something you can cast anyone, but for realistic or near-future spacey shows there’s this limited pool.

Sinise is his old reliable self here, Connie Nielsen is lovely — you’d want somebody who smiles like that on a space mission — Tim Robbins and Don Cheadle add character, There’s this guy, Jerry O’Connell, who’s like the comedy relief astronaut — you expect him to whip out a harmonica. I didn’t enjoy him much but by the end I kind of dug him. There’s an unbelievable exchange where they’re looking down from space at the Martian base they’ve lost contact with, and he gets excited because there’s only three graves, so one guy must be alive, right? Then it’s pointed out that the guy probably couldn’t bury HIMSELF.But it’s quite diverting — of course the effects have dated curiously (I haven’t looked at TITANIC lately, but those seas NEVER looked real) but not offensively. And then it all goes to shit at the end when the CGI alien shows up. “We just ran out of money,” De Palma hints, though he doesn’t specifically list the ET as a casualty of this. It’s one cheap-ass-looking alien. The decision to do a bunch of things that could only be done with CGI — which seems to make sense, on the face of it — results in something that looks like nothing else but CGI. It should have been played by a human in prosthetics, maybe a tall African like in ALIEN, but I guess this was too soon for CGI enhancements to actors — they could just about erase Sinise’s legs in FORREST GUMP but Frank Langella’s subtractive scar in THE BOX was a ways away. Was a ways aways away.

There’s just not enough of De Palma’s bravura technique and obnoxious personality in this. BLACK DAHLIA looks kind of anonymous too — but I recently acquired REDACTED and PASSION so I’m curiously about those. Maybe it’s time for a De Palma Week, or would my skepticism get wearying?

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Abbot and Costello Go To Earth

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Painting, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , on November 12, 2016 by dcairns

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ARRIVAL is a thing of beauty. If you’re in need of a shot of hope, a movie that acknowledge’s humanity’s gross collective stupidity while holding out some possibility for improvement, it may do you some good.

Dennis Villeneuve makes beautiful images, perhaps tending to exploit shallow focus a little TOO much, but in doing so he uses it in unexpected ways, sometimes throwing the whole subject of the shot into an artful blur. Tricks with gravity also allow images to be inverted or tilted ninety degrees, calling to mind the “familiar object photographed from an unusual angle” round of questions from Ask the Family. Add smoke and other atmospheric effects, and a lot of discordant yet eerily beautiful music — including the de rigeur terror honks heard in nearly every large-scale sci-fi/psychological horror film in recent years. (I think David Lynch may have invented the terror honk as a film music device, in WILD AT HEART. Would be interested in earlier examples.)

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We know how good Amy Adams is. Here she seizes the opportunity of playing a character freaked out and terrified for the whole movie. While Sandra Bullock in GRAVITY is specifically frightened of the exact situations she’s faced with (already nervous about being in space, she has to face cosmic debris, oxygen starvation, the absence of George Clooney), Adams seems generally nervous and lacking in confidence. Part of the job of a good dramatic screenwriter is to use situations to test character — so it’s often a good idea to put the worst possible character in the situation, forcing them to tackle their weaknesses and uncover their strengths. Or you can find the worst possible situation for an otherwise capable character, as with Indiana Jones and his fear of snakes. It gets more subtle when the lines are blurred ~

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Adams plays a linguist called in to help translate the speech of a race of visiting aliens, the heptapods (we meet two, nicknamed Abbot & Costello). She’s an awesomely skilled linguist, faced with a problem nobody has ever had to tackle before. The aliens have two distinct languages, one for speech (various echoing rumbles and clicks and digitial didgeridoo drones) and one for writing (forms resembling a cross between a Rorschach test and a coffee cup stain). She also has to deal with politicians and the military, who don’t understand the task she has been set, or anything else, really. One can imagine her role played with a lot of acidity and aggression, because she has to deal with fools, and at times it’s even written that way, but by playing this woman as a character for whom that doesn’t come easily, Adams raises the stakes and makes everything more interesting. That’s what you want from an actor.

Also Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker, very good.

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Abbot and Costello are admirable too. Convincingly alien and strange, combining qualities of squids and hands, they are never not alarming. I wasn’t so keen on the spaceships — they are unusual and odd, and reveal different qualities from different angles, but are somehow not awe-inspiring. It’s a difficult brief. The huge craft of INDEPENDENCE DAY were impressive (in a terrible film) because they filled the sky. These long, bean-like things, which turn out to be scooped almost hollow at the back, don’t have any menacing weight. Their defiance of gravity puts me in mind of Magritte’s wondrous painting The Castle of the Pyrenees, but they’re not bulky enough so they crucially lack the sense of heft defied.

Is this a golden age of science fiction dawning? This one is clever. It feels very rewatchable, too. See it big.

 

 

In Hazard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 3, 2014 by dcairns

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In Telluride, I had two contrasting experiences of Robert Redford — one was seeing him in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour programmed by Pierre Rissient — the barely-formed Redford on display was subtly out-of-whack, not yet blandly handsome, but actually odd-looking, with tiny slitty eyes — but he gave an excellent performance — the other encounter was actually brushing shoulders with the Great Man himself at a brunch in the mountains. Suddenly seeing him up close was startling — the distractingly youthful hair and the post-handsome famous heaped incongruously underneath it.

But in ALL IS LOST, the oddities of Redford’s appearance totally work, and he looks spectacular, rugged and rumpled and defiant. He’s the only actor onscreen apart from one stray body part I shouldn’t spoil for you, he’s the only voice we hear apart from a very brief snatch of radio talk in a foreign language and a song in the end credits, but he barely speaks during the whole movie — I guess about a dozen words, max. He doesn’t even have a character name: the credits, which are full of quirky details and worth staying for, helpfully let us know that he’s called “Our Man.”

Our Man is on a yacht somewhere off Sumatra (odd, how you spend ages not hearing about Sumatra and then two references come along in 24hrs — Mark Gatiss’s episode of Sherlock the previous night referenced The Giant Rat of Sumatra, that favourite unwritten Holmes adventure) which gets punctured by a huge floating metal container full of sneakers (oddly, the title of a 1992 Redford film). The rest of the film is Our Man fighting leaks, electrical short-outs, inclement weather (forgive the understatement) and possibly an angry God. By being so minimalist — J.C. Chandor, who made the acclaimed MARGIN CALL, doesn’t even use music for the first long chunk of the action — the movie positively invites allegorical readings of this kind, but smartly holds off on tips which might lead us one way or another. Is Our Man a symbol of America, masculinity, mankind — is the film about mortality, and is ALL really LOST?

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The Arri Alexa Raw is unforgiving at close range and we become intimate with every crack and blemish in the ancient mariner’s once blank and beamish face — and that landscape, nudged around from within by the subtle thoughts and concerns animating the actor’s mind, becomes an engrossing spectacle as fascinating as the blue depths full of gleaming fish that arc beneath his ruptured vessel.

Just as the debate around AMERICAN HUSTLE and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET takes the unproductive form of “Which is the better Scorsese film, the one by Scorsese or the other one?”, ALL IS LOST gets paired with GRAVITY, and different people find each film more thrilling. I was definitely more excited by the thrill-ride of GRAVITY, but I did get a visceral, tactile response to ALL IS LOST (the film sports plenty of visual effects, which I couldn’t tell from reality, but there’s plenty of real ocean too — whereas essentially nothing in GRAVITY is photographically real except the actors’ faces, and there’s room for doubt with those) — as the storm whipped up, I felt the need to put on the jumper I’d just taken off because I was too warm. Now, it could be that some wily cinema manager has the air conditioning timed to the film’s plotline, but I prefer the more psychological explanation in this case — and that Skywalker sound, with every raindrop distinct, really does get under your skin.