Archive for Independence Day

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.

 

 

Anomalous

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2012 by dcairns

I was quite glad when ANONYMOUS got an Oscar nomination for Best Costumes — I saw it with my costume designer friend, whose expert eye gave it the once over and declared that it was maybe the best Elizabethan stuff she’d ever seen. And designer Lisy Christl had never done such a big film before (though her matching tennis duds and white gloves for the killers in FUNNY GAMES are one memorable contribution to cinematic dress — I hate the film, but it’s an arresting look).

Though I didn’t like the film quite as much as my expert friend did, I was pretty astonished that such a handsome, unusual, well-structured and basically non-sucky movie could come from Roland Emmerich, the mind behind INDEPENDENCE DAY (credit where it’s due: that movie did cause me to go see a lot fewer blockbusters in the following years). While it’s true that every good point of the movie has some accompanying bad points, the overall experience does NOT leave you feeling ripped off and insulted, which is maybe a first for the director.

The look: apart from the beautiful costumes, which are simultaneously original and convincing, the movie benefits from good mucky sets, planks strewn through muddy streets, and impressive CGI overviews — the next step on from Olivier’s vast model shot of Shakespeare’s London which opens his HENRY V, and a lot more handsome and convincing than the comparable stuff in the ELIZABETH duology. This is a big film, but not a HUGE film, so it’s an impressive achievement.

On the minus side, Anna Foerster’s cinematography (or the digital grading thereof) is in thrall to the current fad for orange and teal colour schemes. There are a few welcome bits that depart from this, but generally in favour of monochromatic effects, so the spectrum isn’t exactly original. BUT on the other hand, it all looks genuinely pretty, and candlelight and firelight do at least provide motivation for the warm flesh tones. I think the fact that this look is currently over-used is the only objection — at least here it’s used well.

Performances: we get a new side to Rhys Ifans in this, where he has to emerge as something approximating a leading man. We also get some fresh faces in meaty roles, which is unusual and refreshing — it can be assumed that Edward Hogg in particular, whose cold villainy enlivens many a scene, is going to be very big. And Rafe Spall gets his best role yet as Shakespeare — you know, the guy who didn’t write Shakespeare.

The only down side to this is the potential for confusion in the  large cast, some of whom inhabit more than one time frame, and some of whom are consequently played by more than one actor. But when was the last time you felt you had to work to keep up with an Emmerich movie?

The story: the notion of the Earl of Oxford being the author of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets may or may not be nonsense (but I highly recommend John Michell’s fascinating Who Wrote Shakespeare? for a broadminded summation of the various theories), and the political subtexts attributed to the plays in John Orloff’s ambitious script ARE complete fantasy, but the story moves, intrigues, surprises and ultimately delivers.

Dialogue: only Rafe Spall really sounds like a person, but the others, working in a more stylised mode, get away with the formal speech, and somehow the obvious question — Why does everybody speak in such an antiquated way in the plays, while never using a single obsolete expression in their offstage speech — never really jumps out at you.

Shakespeare may not have written any plays, but he totally invented the stage-dive.

Art/life: the movie’s take on the purpose of Shakespeare’s plays — political propaganda to influence the mob — is kind of dumb, and does the work a disservice. But the evocation of HENRY V’s debut is striking and exciting. Elsewhere, there are gigantic, and quite deliberate, factual errors (like the Globe burning down ten years early), which is all acceptable for dramatic purposes. But the final device, whereby Oxford, the true author, tries to mobilize public opinion against hunchbacked politico Robert Cecil, by staging Richard III. Leaving aside the fact that the play staged at this historical moment was actually Richard II, this makes about as much sense as the computer virus that takes down the aliens in ID4. The Globe-mob become immediately enraged at the sight of the Cecil-lookalike, before he’s even gotten as far as “…determined to prove a villain.” I wanted to actually hear the following dialogue:

“Hey, he looks like that other guy!”

“The play’s right! He IS a hunchback!”

“Yeah, I hate him!”

“Let’s riot!”

Had the movie been a little less impatient, it could certainly have made this scene play a bit more convincingly, and since it cues the film’s climax (an attempted coup: basically VALKYRIE with ruffs), it’s important to try and get it right. But it doesn’t wreck things altogether.

It’s a bitter irony that Emmerich’s first non-travesty has underperformed compared to the ghastly trash he’s pumped onto our screens in the past. I can’t feel altogether sorry for him, since really the director of GODZILLA deserves some grief. But it’s a shame for everyone who suffered through the big lizard but missed out on the court intrigue.

I wrote two lines of a limerick about this, so inspired was I by the bard’s poetic vision. Then I couldn’t think of an ending, so Hilary Barta of Limerwrecks stepped in —

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUBIOUS

Is Shakespeare a bard or a boor?
It appears that it’s hard to make sure!
Was it really an earl
What coined ev’ry pearl?
Is it all a canard of manure?

Buy John Michell’s terrific book: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

My favourite Shakespearian authorship theories —

The great Ken Campbell came up with the audacious, balls-out insane notion that the plays were “improvised by the actors.” To prove it was possible to improvise in iambic pentameter, he organized marathon improv sessions for actors, demonstrating that “the iambs only kick in after the twelfth hour.” But after twelve hours of it, you may find it easier to continue than to stop.

And in Bob Burden’s comic, The Flaming Carrot, our hero “the world’s strangest man” travels back in time to meet the swan of Avon, only to discover a drooling bumpkin. The true author, a shadowy caped figure, is eventually tracked down, and in a surprise revelation, proves to be Buddy Hackett.