Archive for Jeffrey Wright

Plenty of Time to Die

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2022 by dcairns

So, we actually LIKED the new Bond, NO TIME TO DIE. Probably enjoyed it more than any of this series since GOLDENEYE (but haven’t seen them all), the first Brosnan, which didn’t hold up particularly well over time but seemed like a great gain in confidence/competence back then.

The new one is by a proper director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, who made a fine film of JANE EYRE and helmed the first season of True Detective. So I was expecting an impressive long take, and was not disappointed.

Of course, the epic running time and delusions of seriousness and meaningfulness are a drawback. But the moviemakers have remembered to have some fun, too. The middle of the film gets lighter, and there’s an adorable turn by Ana de Armas as a novice CIA agent which really lifts the movie. Bond needs real people around him if he’s to seem human at all, and Lea Seydoux, the marvellous Jeffrey Wright (I want to see him given more starring roles), little Lisa-Dorah Sonnet, and Billy Magnussen all help enormously. Daniel Craig is a gifted actor, but I think he made a mistake, essentially, in starting his Bond off so dour way back in CASINO ROYALE. As the filmmakers’ pile trauma upon trauma, he seemed to have nowhere to go but down, into some masklike inexpressive roboticism… Giving him a proper, sort-of convincing relationship helps some.

The attempts to get some fun into it come with one hitch: Craig is given more quips than before. For whatever reason, this gifted thesp cannot sell a quip, not in character. There aren’t any good ones, they’re all dreadful dad jokes, but you never feel that this version of Bond would even attempt them.

The real humour comes from believable-ish (we’re always modifying our expectations according to this genre and franchise) professional banter from Killing Zoe’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I mean, I’m assuming she’s the author of the biological warfare lab gags, they totally sound like her. What’s amusing is that nearly all the film’s byplay is bitchy, feminine — and Craig does this well, along with everyone else. It’s only when he’s paired off against Ralph Fiennes as M that the dialogue becomes hypermasculine, in a rather hilarious way, like a certain Fry & Laurie sketch…

I mean, this is how men talk, right?

Anyway, the whole thing looks spectacular and beautiful. Maximum scenic value extracted from a range of locations, including my native land… I think it was probably a mistake to use a forbidden island for the climax, too much like that Sam Mendes one, whichever it was.

The other big flaw I think was in the baddies. David Dencik is a very enjoyable creep. But Christoph Waltz as Blofeld and Rami Malek as “Lyutsifer Safin” (pwahahaha) should have coordinated, to prevent them from giving the same rather flat perf. Neither can touch Donald Pleaasence’s unblinking, low-affect turn in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, which he did on short notice in just a day or two of filming. And the writer’s haven’t thought nearly enough about Safin’s motivation. The villain’s motivation in these kind of things is far more important than the hero’s — Bond just wants to do his job, maybe protect a loved one or two — Safin is out for revenge, but not after anyone in particular, it seems. Even in the very first sequence (the pre-pre-credit sequence, since according to this movie’s bloat we need two before the usual dreary song and overblown CGI titles), he’s a bit swithery. Can’t stick to his purpose. He talks a lot but he seems vague about why he’s doing what he’s doing. A good supervillain can have a plan that makes no sense, like Thanos, but if we believe it makes sense TO HIM the movie can just about get away with it. What does the Penguin actually WANT in BATMAN RETURNS? Something different in every scene, it feels like. That won’t do at all.

The movie walks into some hilarious cliches without flinching — there’s the megadeath weapon intended for peaceful purposes —

Thanks to regular Shadowplayer Simon Kane for nailing that one in advance.

And there are the weird quips, which don’t work with the new grim-visaged Bond —

Since nobody’s asked, here’s my advice for how they should tackle the next Bond:

They could call it 007. Why not? Instant brand recognition. The poster could say INSERT NAME HERE *IS* 007.

The character should start out lighter. You need someone compellingly tough to do the lightness well, the way Connery did. The quips could be black humour, a man dealing with an unpleasant situation, the way cops and paramedics use unpleasant gags to deal with the strain. As your series goes on and Bond gets abused and traumatised more, the quips can become grimmer, the character crueller. The efforts to extend a one-note character like Bond, giving him some kind of ARC, that extends through five looong films, has really been a strain. It might, actually, be nice to give up on the idea of an arc for Bond. Keep him consistent, let everyone else change (mostly by killing them, obvs).

The only successful Bond arc was Lazenby’s, and he only played the bastard once.

Connery’s arc was putting on weight and a toupee. He was definitely the best Bond though, for his first three or four outings: his machismo and grit gave an interesting underpinning to the flippancy. With Roger Moore you get ONLY flippancy, with Craig you get ONLY machismo (yet there are moments of physical humour in his performance this time… interesting). The series is never going to top GOLDFINGER. Partly because of the obsession with applying a character arc to such a one-note cartoon figure and universe.

Alex Cox used to express an interest in doing a Bond film, saying that the series was refreshingly free of the tiresome good-versus-evil paradigm. Bond is just a ruthless soldier, using technology and muscle and nerve against official national enemies. The movies can try to make the bad guys seem bad, but the hero is a professional killer… Then, they can have the villain claim that he and Bond are much alike (this goes back to GOLDEN GUN, and Roger Moore’s retort to Chris Lee, “When I kill it’s on the orders of my government…” is pretty thin as moral arguments go.

Actual line from the novel Goldfinger: “Bond had never liked going up against the Chinese. There were too many of them.” This is not great art.

I really hope Fukunaga doesn’t make another one — he’s proven he can do it. I hope this gives him the clout to make his own things. (He’s a writer on this one, though, so it’s not purely a job-for-hire.) I want to see what he wants to make next.

NO TIME TO DIE stars Benoit Blanc; Charlotte LaPadite; Freddie Mercury; Maria Rambeau; Lord Voldemort; Paddington Bear; Frances Barrison / Shriek; Lord Lucan; Roebuck Wright; Col. Hans Landa; Marta Cabrera; and Dr. Mabuse.

I see France

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2021 by dcairns

I thought I was going to miss THE FRENCH DISPATCH out of sluggishness but had a morning class at the Art College, filling in for someone else, so I dropped in on a matinee at the Cameo, where I hadn’t been since before Covid I guess.

This might not be a very interesting piece — the movie is a mixed bag, like everyone says. The short bits are OK, short enough not to be a problem, though when the movie attempts to do gags I found it unfunny in a way that hurt it — Owen Wilson crashing his moped was never amusing, always mistimed, and too CGI-fake to have slapstick appeal. When the movie is merely quirky it’s funny enough.

The three main chunks are: Benicio Del Toro as a criminally insane artist, in which Del Toro is droll, Lea Seydoux has the same daunting self-assurance I sensed when I met her at Telluride, and Adrien Brody is very, very good. Bonus Bob Balaban and Henry Winkler, Tilda Swinton (well-observed caricature, easier to take than her SNOWPIERCER grotesque); student riots with Timothee Chalomet and Frances McDormand, the long pointless episode everyone complains about; Jeffrey Wright as Wesworld’s answer to James Baldwin, profiling gourmand detective Mathieu Amalric and his chef, Steve Park — prime Wes Anderson, if you like Wes Anderson.

Anderson, asked about political content in his films, has said it might be nice to do politics the way DUNE does politics — imaginary politics. His films are hermetically sealed miniatures but increasingly detailed exercises in worldbuilding, so this makes a kind of sense — allowing the worlds to expand into the political sphere, but not letting in the oxygen of reality, which he perhaps would fade everything away like the fresh air corroding the unsealed frescos of Fellini’s ROMA. The problem with this is that DUNE has no real politics, it’s just a choice of dictators, benign or malign. Factions, not politics. The first stab at this in Anderson’s oeuvre, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, actually worked and was even moving, because the substitution of a Chaplinesque equivalent for Nazism was quite fitting — REAL fascism WOULD corrode a Wes joint, would be too toxic and acid, the paper-thin pretence of the ZZ initial instead of swastikas allows just enough distance from pain and tragedy for the comic-opera tone to take root.

But in THE FRENCH DISPATCH the denatured student riots are rendered silly, trivial and meaningless, and so is the episode. And, frankly, the behaviour of the French police has been fascistic enough during the historical period covered, that they might need a fictional alibi too. They work better in the third episode, where what holds it together is the amusing crime story, the really excellent perfs, the genuine emotion. Wright proves a transfiguring addition to the Wesverse — he doesn’t do a straight impersonation of Baldwin, which might be rather insulting, but works with a different timbre altogether, maybe a touch of Orson Welles? Just really pleasurable to watch. But Baldwin, as I understand his work, was concerned with the world, and making him a food critic in a dollhouse world is definitely robbing him of a lot. Maybe the experiment is to see how much that’s powerful is left when you do that. The “disputed passage” which Wright’s character cuts from his piece and Bill Murray’s editor reinstates, a beautiful scene played with Park (and it’s very encouraging to see that both actors are to return in Anderson’s next film), becomes, as Murray says, “the reason for writing it.” That kind of reason has sometimes seemed absent in W.A.’s precious productions. He’s wary of emotion (the French Dispatch’s office bears a No Crying sign), commitment, commentary — which makes the subject of journalism maybe an oddball, unpromising choice for him.

While the nested narratives of BUDAPEST worked well for his style, the discrete boxes of DISPATCH seem to overemphasise the airlessness and anxiety about meaning. And Anderson is perhaps not quite a brilliant enough writer to pastiche the varied literary styles he’s looking at: the narrators mostly sound the same. His nods to Tati and Tardi don’t quite get there either — Hulot’s house from MON ONCLE is reconstructed practically brick by brick, and just feels like plagiarism, and the animated section is fun but the artists can’t ink with Tardi’s wondrous fluidity — everything is clenched. (Just read that the actual inspiration was Tintin and Blake & Mortimer — the latter explains the stiffness.)

But the good bits are great. And, while Anderson repeats himself — he did better Tati pastiche in his little ad films — we get another cutaway diagram of a vessel, as in THE LIFE AQUATIC — he’s still adding to his toybox. I counted the following new elements: the varied aspect ratios of BUDAPEST are enhanced by b&w sections; tableaux vivants (which the classic Anderson shot is always verging towards anyway); theatrical lighting changes; the aforementioned animation insert, supposed to evoke a bandes dessinées version of the true events; more non-white faces than previous Andersons.

If I sound picky, it’s because Anderson’s work is very irresistible, except when it’s irresistible (as in, for me, for instance, MOONRISE KINGDOM, ISLE OF DOGS). This one didn’t wholly overcome my defences.

THE FRENCH DISPATCH stars Dr. Gonzo; Wladyslaw Szpilman; The Ancient One; Sabine Moreau; Marge Gunderson; Paul Atreides; Constance Bonacieux; Felix Leiter; Serge X.; Peter Venkman; Coy Harlingen; Orr; Principal Arthur Himbry; Partita Dupea; Zero; Dr. Astrov; Dr. King Schultz; Chéri; Cotton Weary; Max Schreck; Sheldon Mopes / Smoochy the Rhino; Lady Bird McPherson; Kitty Tyler / Dahlia; Gag Halfrunt (uncredited); Rock Bork; Jack Goodman; and the voice of Morticia Addams.