Archive for Howard Shore

The Vabina Monologues

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2014 by dcairns

maps-to-the-stars-julianne-moore

To understand the title (above), you have to see the film, MAPS TO THE STARS. Trouble is, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

David Cronenberg’s latest, written by Bruce Wagner, deals with a set of interlocking Hollywood lives, and contains thriller elements, but differs from THE PLAYER in the blackness of the humour (several shades darker) and I guess in the fact that the film isn’t really interested in movies at all. Altman, who likewise dropped names and threw in familiar faces to boost the verisimilitude, really did want to talk about why movies had gotten so bad. The Wagner/Cronenberg is more about American culture in general. I guess it’s another science fiction film in the manner of CRASH, in that it extrapolates modern mores a little bit on from where they are. For all the denials that it’s satire, that’s exactly what it is.

Julianne Moore is excellent — Kidmanesque in her characters cringey phoniness. John Cusack, very good, his jet-black hair and eyeliner as bold a choice, arguably, as Moore’s nudity and mania (Fiona did wonder if it was how he really styles himself). Mia Wasikowska, weird and affecting. Robert Pattinson, not really stretched at all. Olivia Williams — always, ALWAYS excellent. Evan Bird (the kid) seems like he could play the role but needs a few more takes much of the time. He’s not helped by Cronenberg’s customary deadpan stillness, which feels stilted when applied to the teenage characters. There’s not much sense of life’s messiness and noise here, everything’s so cool and composed, but rather flat and televisual rather than making something interesting out of the stasis.

(What Cronenberg is always really good at shooting is modern architecture — Toronto, basically. But there’s not much of that glossy, alienated beauty here, though the movie could use it.)

There’s some complicated backstory (two fires in the past?) and the Gothic aspects of the story involving incest and schizophrenia did not much convince — and what point was being made by their inclusion? Surely the point of celebrity culture is that it can make you crazy even if you’re not the offspring of married siblings? Some of the gross ideas shocked, but the “shocking revelations” certainly didn’t.

MapsToTheStars-thumb-630xauto-47270

And the attempts to evoke madness — curiously unchilling. Cronenberg is usually at his best when he has historical settings and bizarre imagery to punch up his laid-back shooting style, and his portrayals of insanity from the inside out have been most effective when he can show you crazy stuff and make you believe it’s real. There’s a moment in SPIDER that always really bothered me, maybe because I’d read a copy of the script before seeing it and imagined the scene a certain way. Young Spider’s mother, Miranda Richardson, has turned her back, and he hears her say that she’s killed his mother and taken her place. Now, this line is his hallucination. I felt very strongly that the line should have played over her back, from his POV. Cronenberg films it full-face. I guess he meant to give it more force, make it seem more real, but I would have felt it more from the boy’s angle.

Here, the various hallucinations — everybody seems to be having them — should have a Lynchian creep factor but just lie there. The theoretically clever idea of robbing them of sound effects, so that bathwater sloshes in silence, don’t carry any uncanny impact because of the dialogue and the Howard Shore music all over them. I can’t see Lynch making this movie, but in a way he would have been a better fit. He’d have pushes his own interests into it, which Cronenberg is disinclined to do. He’s become an adaptor in recent years, and it’s really questionable how much of his own personality he’s able to force into the material. In NAKED LUNCH, yes, and CRASH, but those works already had influenced his outlook greatly. We would like to see some full-on Cronenberg, but not a self-pastiche.

There’s a bit of CGI that’s so poor — unreleasably poor — that you think, “Oh dear, someone else has started hallucinating,” when in fact they probably haven’t. I’m still not sure though.

maps-to-the-stars2

Still, looking back at the Cronenbergs that disappointed me at the time, I find I feel quite fondly about them now, whether I’ve revisted them or not, so maybe I’ll grow to like this one more.

***

Hey, producers! I went looking for stills of this film and found mainly behind-the-scenes paparazzi shots and images of Julianne Moore. Obviously, her Oscar campaign is underway, however you are also theoretically selling a movie that’s on release and Pattinson and Miakowska have fans too. Has the movie still quietly died? LET US PREY, the film Fiona & I are credited with writing, is now gearing up for an actual US release but you can only find about four images from it online (one of them depicting a major character’s death). Stills seem to me to still have use…

Short People

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2012 by dcairns

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

“Shit just got unreal” was my Facebook comment on THE HOBBIT Part The First, which is perhaps a little unfair. The merits and demerits of the movie, the franchise, Peter Jackson the filmmaker and the faster frame rate and the RED camera all deserve a slightly more nuanced discussion than those four words.

I liked it better than Fiona! In some ways it has the same flaws as the LORD OF THE RINGS films before it, only amplified. And the 3D and 48 fps may be problematic in the same way that the digital effects in the STAR WARS prequels were problematic — they make the film seem less of a piece with its predecessors. But THE HOBBIT isn’t as bad as THE PHANTOM MENACE, let’s get that straight…

(Maybe Jackson should have shot at 24 and projected at 48, thereby making the film half as long?)

I enjoyed some of the action and settings, and the HFR probably allowed me to follow the fights and chase more readily than I could otherwise — Jackson tended to film too close in LORD OF THE RINGS, making close-up skirmishes dissolve into blurry chaos. Either because he’s improved or the technology has helped solve the issue, that didn’t happen here. I didn’t enjoy the performances as much. LOTR uses “epic acting,” big, bombastic, cod-Shakespearean and borderline campy, but much of it was done with skill and a kind of good taste. Here, I felt the usually reliable Ian McKellen was huffing and chuntering to himself too much, and he didn’t seem to have any other characters to talk to. Among the dwarves, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt and Aidan Turner managed to get some human interaction going with Martin Freeman’s Bilbo (some reality but too much schtick), the rest were basically flatulent garden gnomes. Richard Armitage doesn’t manage to make anything convincing or interesting out of Thorin Oakenshield’s bluster and grouch.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

I’m told that McKellen had to act his scene at the dinner table with a bunch of paper cut-out heads on sticks, with light bulbs that flashed on to signal when each character was speaking so he could look in the right direction. I would, on the whole, far rather see that version of the scene. Those character designs are not very appealing! Why does only one dwarf bear any resemblance to John Rhys-Davies in LOTR, who had a very detailed and specific and non-Disney look? Why does one dwarf have a bald head with what looks like a bar code on it? One looks like a waxwork of Finlay Currie, one Sean Penn, and several of them have shoelaces for hair. Not a good look.

But the reason I went, and was excited to go, was the 48 frames thing. I’d heard so much about how horrible it was, I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t picture a big expensive epic that moved like a cheap TV show, and I was fascinated to see what that would be like — it was sure to be interesting! I got a lot of intellectual pleasure trying to describe that awful Zemeckis mo-cap BEOWULF, so I just couldn’t wait.

It was indeed a very interesting thing to see. It may have had invisible benefits to action and movement which we’d only be aware of if comparing directly with a 24fps version, but it did some spectacular uglifying. Some people have compared it to cheap soap operas, to demo reels, but what I was reminded of was a making-of documentary. There you see the actors, fully costumed and made up, on set, delivering dialogue — and it’s not the same as the movie, because it’s filmed with the wrong camera, and you don’t feel part of the action the way you do in a film, you feel like an observer on the set. It’s very REAL, for sure, because the sense of cinema is stripped away, but this exposes every bit of artifice in the design and presentation and performance. Even Howard Shore’s music seemed weirdly wrong, as if it was being piped into the hobbit hole.

This applied mainly to the Bag End scene and other conversations. The only acting scene that really worked was the “Riddles in the Dark” confrontation with Gollum, which was great and I think one would have to be pretty curmudgeonly or else just averse to any kind of halfling-based performance piece to dislike. Oh, and Sylvester McCoy was good when he was on his own, acting with CGI hedgehogs.

The long shots looked mostly OK, I thought, and still scenes were fine. The action had a verité feel that made me think something like CLOVERFIELD might be good at 48fps. I wondered if the dragon attack would gain any of the feeling of real disaster footage, like 9:11 or the tsunami, but the swooping filming style didn’t allow for that. There was a very weird clash of feelings when Jackson intercut the big subterranean goblin chase with Bilbo’s one-one-one struggles with Gollum — Gollum’s last sequence had a particularly televisual quality, like a 70s Outside Broadcast Unit section from Dr Who — those plastic-looking caves. And then Gollum would crawl into shot and there’d be the thrill of the impossible — a modern CGI character who couldn’t be played by a man in a suit and who looks very convincing, appearing in the background of a fake cave that looks like part of actuality footage shot forty years ago with a tube camera. Not an effect that I think was intentional, or desirable, except that it was so damned odd it gave me a lot of pleasure.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

What I’m saying is that although I did get somewhat used to the process over the nearly three hour running time, I was still blown out of the movie by it repeatedly, right up until the end. If the movie had seemed like a masterpiece, that would have been hugely frustrating, but as it was only a middling Middle Earth epic, I was actually entertained by my own on-again-off-again disengagement. I mildly enjoyed the big fight at the end, but not as much as I enjoyed the High Weirdness of megabudget + cheapness. I was a bit frustrated by the lack of wagon wheels, though: apparently at a higher frame rate they not longer seem to turn backwards, as they do at 24fps. Jackson cruelly robbed me of the chance to finally see correct spin.

Remembering the troubles people had with early sound and widescreen, we shouldn’t be too hard on any problems Jackson’s encountering — maybe our eyes will simply retrain our brains and the associations with crappy video will fall away and the merits of the new technology will become obvious. But for now, I say enjoy the weirdness — you won’t have had an experience like this before.

The Chills #2: Insect Politics

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2008 by dcairns

undone by the fly 

This clip is from a horror movie, but that’s not actually the kind of chills I’m talking about. What this is, is a collection of those film scenes that rend the veil of mundanity and make you feel hooked into the Great Beyonderness of Things, that bring a poetic, indefinable insight to bear and open up possibilities undreamed-of, and make you feel awe and panicky joy and the exact physical sensations you felt that time Hervé Villachaise caressed your spine with an icicle.

[Spoilsports at Fox don’t want me promoting their film so they’ve removed the clip.]

Here’s Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis and John Getz in Cronenberg’s THE FLY. I would have to say this sequence, which GETS ME every damn time, is a compendium of many different emotions produced by many different things.

Howard Shore’s music is a huge part of it — if you watch a string of early Cronenbergs you get to hear Shore go from barely adequate to really, really good, quite rapidly. THE BROOD is kinda bland. SCANNERS is a rather weak PSYCHO riff, then VIDEODROME starts to get better and then THE FLY arrives and kicks ass.

And the performances are lovely, especially Goldblum, who’s perfectly cast and has perfect counterpart in Davis. John Getz properly comes into his own in THE FLY II, which is a pretty bad film but his single scene is TERRIFIC.

It’s really the dialogue that’s the core of it for me. The script is by Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg, one of the few times Cronenberg adapted another writer’s script. Pogue has been very complimentary about the results, which is rare with screenwriters — we’re so used to having people trample our work with hobnailed boots while jabbering inanely like a Barbary macaque. It’s humbling when somebody comes along and actually IMPROVES what we’ve written, and is SENSITIVE to what we were trying to do with the thing in the first place.

Back in 1986 it probably couldn’t be predicted that Cronenberg would soon be concentrating more on adaptations than on originals, subtly Cronenbergerizing them while remaining very true to the values of the source material. He’d already made THE DEAD ZONE, one of the very few decent Stephen King adaptations (the key would seem to be excavating the valuable stuff that touches chords and makes King’s work so popular, and finding a new shape for it once you’ve removed the buckets of MATTER that fill out King’s doorstop volumes — perhaps exploiting the lacunae created by swinging cuts to create mystery, the way Kubrick did in THE SHINING) and was about to bring us NAKED LUNCH and M. BUTTERFLY and CRASH…

this bed was made for Walken

Dialogue often gets short shrift in discussion of cinema. I take the view that great cinema is that which uses its tools to create a unified effect that is either powerful or complex or both, and dialogue can as well be a part of that as anything else. It can’t totally dominate, but then to get a unified effect from cinema, which is kind of a fusion of many art forms, no one part can completely dominate. If it’s JUST cool photography or great editing, that doesn’t make great cinema either. I heard Richard Stanley say the other day that cinema “doesn’t LIKE dialogue,” which struck me as, well, WRONG, and certainly out of keeping with my experience of cinema. Stanley, like his idol Argento, doesn’t write good dialogue, or film it particularly well, or get very good performances, so maybe it’s a matter of being attuned to the virtues of screen talk. It’s true that cinema started off without the ability to talk, but it started without precisely synchronised music and sound effects too, and I know of few purists who think those are a burden on film art (though there are certainly people who choose not to use them, which is just fine).

Beam me up

So, the dialogue, the score, also the lighting, the rather lovely creature make-up, the way Goldblum’s eyes move (and when he looks UP and his eyes roll, he’s strangely reminiscent of Michael Anderson, the Man from Another Place in TWIN PEAKS — something about the cheekbones, I think) and when Goldblum is on the roof, he’s suddenly Lon Chaney in our memories of both THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and the film we’re watching suddenly seems not only thematically super-rich (disease, aging, love, death, rebirth) but hooked into a whole rich history of monster movies.

What we’ve got here is SCREEN POETRY my friends. And what I’ve got is the chills.

(More chills soon. And I would LOVE for you to nominate your own examples.)