Archive for James Spader

Avengers Disassemble

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2015 by dcairns

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It’s an enjoyable thing. There’s too much of it, too much bloodless property damage and quips, as before. I miss Loki, I miss the smirking face of evil — when all your baddies are faceless robots, it starves the film a bit, even if James Spader is doing the faceless robot voice. And all the fights seemed to involve everybody, all the time — some smaller skirmishes would have helped a lot. My main memory of the action is a blur of flame and debris and one very funny bit of a giant Iron Man punching the Hulk in the face a hundred times very fast.

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Writer-director Joss Whedon works hard to make Thor likable and interesting, which previously looked like a challenge. There still aren’t enough female characters and the movie is missing some of the highly paid actresses from various branches of the mega-franchise so it feels like for the first time there are some things Marvel can’t afford to do — they can’t afford to have Natalie Portman and Gwyneth Paltrow turn up at a party scene to tend bar.

There’s nothing as wonderful as Harry Dean Stanton popping up in the first movie for no reason other than that the cinematographer was making a documentary about him.

Oh, about the cinematography. Film 1 was shot by Seamus McGarvey, who did, for instance, the ruthlessly colour-planned WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. This one is shot by Ben Davis who did the psychedelically garish but still coordinated GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. So I don’t know what it is — it’s competently shot but the palette is just screamingly LOUD. I guess all those spandex costumes and shiny armours and green skin just won’t BLEND. That poster up top is literally what the film looks like.

But there’s a nice love story, unexpected if you haven’t read the spoilers, and Chris Evans can still be heartbreaking, and there are some eerie quieter moments amid the bombast of Danny Elfman and his back-up orchestra (as near as I can work out, even Elfman at full blast wasn’t loud enough, so they had Brian Tyler provide a whole different score at the same time. I’m pretty sure that’s what they did.) I liked The Vision. Joss Whedon has worked hard to humanize these immortals, even Thor who literally is a god is portrayed as just a nice Aussie bloke, so it’s nice to meet The Vision who is basically an actual god. Not one of us, as Mrs. Thatcher would say.

Marvelous Hairy About the Face

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2013 by dcairns

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Like many filmmakers before me, I have grown a beard. Oh, I denied this at first, claiming it was merely a coincidental gathering of hairs, or insulation for the winter, or a new kind of chin hologram, but there’s no denying it now. Through careful ignoring of my jowl area, I have given rise to a positively Melies-like hair construct.

So to LINCOLN, Spielberg’s hairiest movie ever, hairier even than HOOK, which had Robin Williams in it for God’s sake (“his arm is like an otter” ~ Jiminy Glick). There are all kinds of beards in it. Big beards, small beards, beards as big as your head. Although I note that rather than sporting the full Irish, that strange jaw-fringe, Daniel Day-Lewis looks merely unshaven at the sides, with a tuft on the end of his chinny-chin-chin that’s more like a jazz beard than the half-a-chimney-brush sported by the late president in contemporary portraiture.

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The rest of the fine cast have all kinds of facial appurtenances, from the voluminous side-whisker to the billowing moustachios on perspiring ectomorph James Spader. His appearance excited comment from Fiona ~

“He would still be gorgeous if he’d lose weight. Maybe he doesn’t care.”

“Maybe he’d like to lose weight but likes eating, and doesn’t like exercising, and doesn’t want it all sucked out through pipes.”

“They could make a second James Spader with what they sucked out.”

“A wobblier one.”

“Why would it be wobblier?”

“Well, it wouldn’t have any bones.”

“Maybe they could grow some bones and stick them in and then we’d have two James Spaders.”

But sadly, Fiona’s beautiful dream is as yet unfulfilled. I don’t think they’d grow bones for James Spader. They didn’t do it for Ray Bolger, whose need was clearly greater.

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Oh yes, Tommy Lee Jones — that vast monster — is awfully good, compelling in a way nobody else in the film can manage, entertaining though some are. (For once, Jackie Earle Haley plays a man stranger-looking than himself; Spader is the third actor to be playing a character called Bilbo in today’s cinemas, surely a record; little Gulliver McGrath who stole the show in HUGO is great as Tad Lincoln; David Costabile from Breaking Bad is a delight as always; Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, Babe-raham Lincoln.)

John Williams pours on the syrup — maybe less than you’d expect, but more than the film needs, since it’s at its best as a dry political procedural. Janusz Kaminski gives Lincoln his Jesus lighting a lot less than I’d expected. More than I’d like, but seriously, far less than I expected. Joanna Johnston puts David Strathairn in an orientalist dressing gown that must by the loveliest thing that fine, stoic stick has ever worn.

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AMISTAD.

This is a return to AMISTAD territory, I guess. I liked AMISTAD, but it suffered an imbalance — it devolves from an exciting mutiny, with Africans filmed like Jurassic Park raptors (a ballsy but justifiable choice) to a courtroom drama with inevitable anticlimax. Richard John Berry’s TAMANGO is better. It stays on the boat.

LINCOLN’s script by, MUNICH writer Tony Kushner, makes a good fist of the politicking, though some of the film’s pleasures — smug, nasty politicians being bested by shrewd, good-hearted ones — are inevitably a touch predictable. But it works when the movie keeps its mind on its plot, but this being later Spielberg it isn’t altogether allowed to — the film ends several times, each more ineffectually than the time before, long after the purpose of the story — the emancipation vote over the 13th Amendment — has been brought to its conclusion. The film devotes a lot of screen time to Mrs Lincoln, and Sally Field is very fine, but as the movie seems determined to prove Mary Todd Lincoln sane, or at any rate to avoid showing her genuinely irrational (all her hysterics and histrionics seem perfectly justifiable, if extreme), the role isn’t everything it might have been.

It is, of course, largely a film about white men deciding the fates of black men, women and children. That’s the part of the story the film has chosen to focus on, and it’s most successful when it does focus on it. The stuff showing the Civil War is oddly ineffectual, and attempts to build a role for Gloria Reuben as Elizabeth Keckley feel a little forced at times, though it’s nice that she has more lines than Kerry Washington in DJANGO UNCHAINED.

It’s too tempting to see the Tarantino and the Spielberg films as the two basic choices open to filmmakers: one a gleeful exploitation movie, the other a respectful, dusty hagiography. But this isn’t so. In fact, the dichotomy is false on its own terms, since LINCOLN, though sometimes stodgy, is never as dull as the longeurs in DJANGO, but even if both films enthusiastically did what it said on the tin, there would be a whole wealth of alternatives. One might be to let black filmmakers tell some of these stories. We watched Charles Burnett’s documentary NAT TURNER: A TROUBLESOME PROPERTY, and despite a meagre budget, its true story was more sensational than anything Tarantino’s imagination has conjured up, and it delved deeper into the issues thrown up by slavery, or any other great evil, than Spielberg’s film. And in less than half the running time of either film.

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