Archive for Jagged Edge

Dog Scoop

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2020 by dcairns

I have this heap of unwatched Woody Allen films dating back decades — I’ve only seen two films he’s made after DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. Which makes it seem like at some level I believe the accusations against him and lost my desire to look at his work around that time. Which isn’t CONSCIOUSLY true. I don’t believe or disbelieve. What went on in that attic is like the inside of Schroedinger’s maybe-lethal cat-box to me. I can’t know.

But DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, which is quite a strong film, almost feels like a confession, Allen plays such a loathsome character. Around that time, he said that he could play two characters and be accepted by the public, an intellectual (“even though I’m not one”) and a low-life. Harry is both. And the low-life thing really emerges in the wake of the divorce acrimony, as if Allen intuited that a new characterisation had been fortuitously opened up for him.

So I have this suspicion that subconsciously I’ve been put off Allen even without accepting his guilt as fact. I’m not interested in relitigating it. I can’t CHOOSE to believe one thing or the other. But for some reason, I stopped watching his films. I had become a bit erratic at the time of BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, but looking back at it, that’s a good one too. Mysterious.

Anyhow, I pulled SCOOP off the shelf in a fit of perversity, having heard nothing but bad things about it. Boyoboy were those bad things on the money. But not very specific.

Overall, the typical “this is a dire comedy” type reviews are basically correct. But dire how? Well, it’s sloppy at nearly every level. Scarlett Johansson is introduced as an over-her-shoulder on some other guy and then we cut to a clean single of her ~

I guess it ought to work as his POV, but it’s impossible to express how wrong it feels in motion — you are completely convinced that the two characters are not in the same time, space or movie.

They must have been, though, because a couple of scenes later, they’ve slept together. In a clueless bit of writing, she’s talking quite lightheartedly about having been plied with drink and being unable to remember anything, the kind of development that wouldn’t have seemed worrisome maybe, oh, fifty years ago? Hard to imagine any modern woman NOT being seriously concerned at such an outcome.

But then, little seems to bother Johansson’s character — at the end of the film, the man she loves has turned out to be, not Hugh Jackman with a Brit accent, but Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE, merely played by Hugh Jackman with a Brit accent. But she’s not downhearted. If Woody Allen were her neighbour in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, her lack of emotional response would spark his suspicions.

But instead, Woody Allen is the Great Splendini, a stage magician. OK, the name made me laugh, and some of his crummy gags cracked me up through sheer exertion, though his timing seems a bit off. He used to have this strange gift for delivering jokes in a halting, stumbling way, while still nailing every moment that needed to be nailed to make the joke land. Here, his ums and ahs sometimes take the joke off at the knees.

Worse, his character is given no reason to tag along with Johansson, another instance of simply lazy writing. He’s against the whole thing. But he’s there. Participating. The thing is crazy. Hugh Jackman cannot possibly be Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE. A scene later, when the evidence looks shakier, he’s certain that Hugh Jackman must be Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE.

Running through the story is the on-paper amusing plot conceit of Ian McShane as a deceased reporter stumbling across a scoop while on the ferryboat to the afterlife, and apporting into Johansson’s presence to pass on the story. It’s the kind of charming fantasy Allen has succeeded with in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and some of his short fiction. But the relationship goes nowhere, maybe because Allen has shoehorned himself into the story and is using all the oxygen.

Everybody seems under-rehearsed, most of all McShane. ScarJo is fairly adorable and has learned her lines well enough to say them fast, which wins her major points in this creaky affair.

A shaggy dog with alopecia.

SCOOP stars Black Widow; Fielding Mellish; Wolverine; Lovejoy; Cassandra Mortmain; Grand Maester Pycelle; Rupert Giles; and Truman Capote.

The American Problem

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2019 by dcairns

The following contains spoilers for Joe Eszterhas’s Number One Plot.

I remember thinking THE MUSIC BOX was OK, but now I’ve watched it again and it’s kind of not.

I think Costa-Gavras thought he could make intelligent political films in the US (post-producing them in France to maintain some distance) but maybe he was wrong. The most pernicious form of censorship, suggested Alexander Mackendrick, is self-censorship.

The screenwriter is Joe Eszterhas but I vividly remember that at the time most of us were not on to him. He had written FLASHDANCE (which I’ve never seen — the Wikipedia plot synopsis, however, is HILARIOUS, just a bunch of random incidents separated by dithering — I’ve been working on editing together old movie serial recaps, and this seems like one of those) and JAGGED EDGE and Costa-Gavras’ BETRAYED.

The big obvious joke with J.E. is that he always writes the same movie. Well, JAGGED EDGE (his signature work, it even shares his initials) is the exact same story as BETRAYED, THE MUSIC BOX and BASIC INSTINCT and I assume JADE. Someone is involved with someone else who may be a monster spoiler alert they totally are.

Though it was fashionable to say that JAGGED E. “kept you guessing to the very end,” I did notice, aged eighteen, that I was not guessing at all at the end. It was obvious to me that if Jeff Bridges wasn’t the killer, they would have to do a lot of tiresome explanation, SUSPICION-style, and also it wouldn’t be as dramatic. Still, let’s give J.E. (the man and the film) credit for doing a version of SUSPICION with the right, and less obviously commercial, ending.

Then he just does it again and again. In MUSIC BOX, for the first time the villain is a father, not a lover, and the crimes are historic. I recall the friend I saw it with back in 1989 saying, “The moment I saw that guy I knew he was guilty, but I was still sucked in.” Which is true. You do need to know how it’s going to turn out.

Flatly, is the answer. The very strong premise of a daughter defending her father on war crimes charges, complicated by the fact that the communist government of Hungary might be framing him because he’s a vocal anti-commie, seems like a good set-up, and it is, but they have no ending up their sleeve other than “Surprise! He’s guilty!” And since we’re not surprised, that’s not very gripping. They know they can’t trump up some kind of fight over a hunting knife and kill the guy. So they’ve got nothing.

I do like how Armin M-S’s credit appears over an animatronic likeness of him.

This being a J.E. script, all the men are inappropriately sweary or sexual, something that is more obvious to us post-SHOWGIRLS (written on the FLASHDANCE random-shit-and-dithering model) but was always a feature of Dirty Joe’s writing (JAGGED EDGE, Peter Coyote: “The guy’s got a rap sheet as long as my dick!”)

Costa-Gavras’ direction is smooth, there are some good-ish shots, but nothing breaks out of the Oscar-bait conventions of the script. When Jessica Lange walks by the Danube in search of inspiration, there are some shots of rippling water, but no cinematic poetry to lift us out of the merely photographic and suggest the emotional process the screenwriter has failed to write.

Freeze-frame ending. Ugh.

Fiona’s main observations: “This script is LEADEN,” and “That’s a really ugly dressing gown.”

Lange refuses the case because she’s too emotionally involved (mythic structure #101) then changes her mind after examining her knees in a mirror. She seems about to go full Sharon Stone. I have no idea what’s going on in this scene.

I like C-G, normally, because he weaves political considerations into rivetting stories, seamlessly, and because he is one of the best storytellers with the camera we have — he doesn’t get enough credit for his dynamic visual language. But it just feels like he has nothing to work with here. It’s like trying to sculpt soup.

And yes, Armin Mueller-Stahl is good, if a bit one-note (everyone is one-note, it’s an Eszterhas script).

Armin Mueller-Stahl’s Oscar campaign.

The best thing Joe Eszterhas wrote, a horrifying, craven piece of unintentional black comedy, is his letter to Mel Gibson. You will scream.

MUSIC BOX stars Dwan; Thronfolger; Hammett; Lyndon B. Johnson; Samuel; and Henry Portrait.