Archive for Jeremy Irons

Slop

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2020 by dcairns

Feeling like a grumpy old man. So, I had to show students the 2016 British movie THEIR FINEST as part of someone else’s class. I did not like this movie.

It’s about women — but actually, one woman, played by Gemma Arterton — working in the Brit film industry in WWII. The premise is that the war opens up opportunities for women in cinema. I’m not sure that premise is true — who are these women whose careers were helped, and does a comparison of figures of female crew pre-war and during-war bear out this premise? My impression is that there were always women and they were always the exception in any job except actress…

Still, I think you could make a decent film about that even without a solid underpinning of documentary fact. Certainly the general point that a lot of previously restricted jobs were opened up to women during the war has a very solid basis, and transposing that into filmmaking, or wizardry, or taxidermy would be a legitimate fictional conceit.

But, from its truncated title on down, this isn’t the right film. It’s based on Their Finest Hour and a Half, a novel by former TV producer/director Lissa Evans, which has a title that actually works and means something. Evidently somebody thought it was too long, so we’re left hanging. Their finest WHAT? There’s a rule, or anyway almost a rule, that if you throw out a good title for a bad reason, you’re going to end up with a really terrible title. And since nobody in film development ever UNDOES a decision, you’ll never get the moment of clarity where someone holds up the two titles side by side and says, “Waitaminute…”

This FEELS like a script that’s been “in development” — the book came out in 2009. Screenwriter Gaby Chiappe hasn’t found, or been allowed to find, a strong throughline of the cinematic kind. Since the film is mainly about a screenwriter, there’s a horrible irony that we can’t answer the questions “What does the heroine want?” or “Why isn’t the film over?” I was forced to ask the second question about three times, as it kept trundling on.

It looks very nice, though its vision of a 1940s film crew — about six people and a tiny Technicolor camera — what happened to the “magic cottage”? — where’s the sound crew and equipment? — no continuity girl? — is pathetically unconvincing. And director Lone Scherfig never seems to move her own camera. Maybe she should have used the little blue Dinky toy from the film.

There’s a very good glass painting gag. I have to give them that. I was trying to explain glass paintings to an actor friend recently and this film did a far better job in five seconds of imagery than I could manage in a minute or so of babbling.

Jake Lacey is very funny as the token American, a pilot drafted in as actor, who can’t act, doesn’t even know what acting IS. When the movie and the actors know what joke they’re supposed to be telling, they can do it quite well. But confusion has set in on the macro level and it seeps down.

Gemma Arterton, who we KNOW is really good, is wasted as a smiley cipher. The scenes with Bill Nighy and Helen McCrory don’t really need to be there at all, but they bring the entertainment, with one character trait apiece. One-dimensional characters are fine, in their place.

“Slop” is the male filmmakers’ word for the kind of emotional stuff you need a woman to write. Weirdly, that’s the weakest component here. It’s a NICE — sloppy, sappy — film, without emotional fire. In telling the story of a Welsh woman screenwriter, they must have encountered, surely, the story of Diana Morgan, the actual Welsh woman screenwriter in WWII. I suppose her story was probably the inspiration. Morgan was known to the blokes at Ealing as “the Welsh bitch.” And that was at EALING — sweet, cosy Ealing. There’s no sense in this film of how obnoxious men could really be, pre-liberation. You get a slightly handsy Jeremy Irons for one scene (he’s good value) and a sarcastic Sam Claflin (I think I will call him Sarcastic Sam Claflin from now on). Nobody has the courage to actually be shocking. There are no actual bastards (in a film about moviemaking??!)

Somebody at the top doesn’t know what a story is, or what a scene is, and they haven’t done their research. And the edit seems concerned mainly with overdubbing lines so we’ll understand, rather than care or believe.

“Have you ever met Robert Donat?” Cut to back view. Overdub: “The famous actor?”

More offensive than that is the film’s patronising attitude to the films of the period. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP is so much more sophisticated as film art than THEIR FINEST, there’s just no comparison. But this movie looks smugly back at what it perceives to be naivety and cookie-cutter storytelling. It’s as if a daytime soap paused to congratulate itself on being better-written than King Lear. Hell, the real Diana Morgan contributed to WENT THE DAY WELL?, a genuinely horrifying film about the effects of war on ordinary British people.

Not anybody’s finest 117 minutes.

THEIR FINEST stars Tamara Drew; Finnick Odair; Withnail; Karl Marx; Jack Kerouac; Duchess of Sutherland; Minister Rufus Scrimgeour; Paul Wolfowitz; Narcissa Malfoy; Beverley & Elliot Mantle; Richard Semco; Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully; and Ethel Huggett (archive footage).

Significant Other in a Coma

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2019 by dcairns

I’d never gotten around to Jeremy Irons’ Oscar-winning turn in REVERSAL OF FORTUNE, but was finally spurred on by a few things. Viewing director Barbet Schroeder’s fascinating feature doc TERROR’S ADVOCATE led me to suspect the film might provide a more nuanced view of legal ethics than hitherto suspected, and recent appearances in the news by Alan Dershowitz, who is portrayed in the film, and Felicity Huffman, who acts in it, further sparked my curiosity.

Huffman’s appearance in the flick, giving a perfectly decent performance in vivid contrast to the sort of behaviour she’s been charged with, isn’t specially revealing. The representation of Dershowitz, now a bloviating Trump mouthpiece, is more intriguing. The seeds are present here.

Though a lot of the film’s interest comes from creepy touches like Sunny Von Bulow’s narration from her coma bed (beautifully performed by Glenn Close), Irons’ bravely accurate rendition of Claus Von B.’s distinctive and very weird mode of speech, and Ron Silver’s typically robust performance as Dershowitz, a good deal of the fascination now stems from the ambiguity in the way this figure is presented. Though Schroeder’s filming is a bit too dependent on the Steadicam for my liking, with shots floating about aimlessly when they could have been more tightly rendered with traditional tracks (perhaps the schedule was oppressively tight?), he does well with the story, characters and issues explored in Nicholas Kazan’s script.

In TERROR’S ADVOCATE, we hear the story of Jacques Vergès, a lawyer who started out defending, based on his political convictions, of various Algerian freedom fighter’s/terrorists, and follow his path from this to acting as legal advisor to a mindbogglingly array of war criminals, dictators and serial killers. The slow decay of the moral sense, or just a successful career progression?

ROF is very interesting on the ethical dilemmas a lawyer may face, and when the film uses the same arguments as THE PEOPLE VS LARRY FLYNT to show that every accused person deserves a good lawyer — “I may not like Claus Von Larry Flynt-Bulow, but etc” — it does so with more nuance, with the sense that this may be a slippery slope fraught with peril. Silver, looking like a sort of Groucho Einstein, plays Dershowitz with enough compassion to be compelling and enough beady-eyed critique to make us feel that this flawed and morally rather flexible figure could turn into the televisual apparition we now all know and regard with revulsion. For the lawyer who fights a monstrous system becoming a monster may be a professional hazard.

Nicest directorial touch, for me: standard-issue helicopter shot credits, but sailing over palatial residence after palatial residence, as Mark Isham’s score pours a kind of heartsick malaise over the top of it all.

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE stars the Marquise de Merteuil; Beverly & Elliot Mantle; Eugene Hunt; Angie Tucci; Frieda Maloney; Constance Bulworth; Lynette Scavo; and Elaine Dickinson.