Archive for Jeremy Northam

Creature with the Atom Brain

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 13, 2018 by dcairns

I’m sometimes credited with an ability to draw surprising connections, but I think it’s life that does that. Here’s a copy of Atom Egoyan’s Martin-and-Lewis inspired erotic thriller WHERE THE TRUTH LIES, with a sticker marking it as the former property of Larbert Library. Larbert was the birthplace of Laurel & Hardy co-star/nemesis James Finlayson. Factor in Jerry Lewis’s oft-stated and demonstrated admiration for Stan Laurel and we might have the beginnings of a blog post, if I weren’t so thick with the cold (and I mean THICK).

I enjoyed some early-ish Atom Egoyan but I worry about this one. It makes me morbidly curious, of course. And I know Colin Farrell Firth and Kevin Bacon aren’t literally playing Martin & Lewis. That would be crazy. But then again, Jeremy Northam once played Dino in a TV biopic of the duo, and that’s every bit as insane. (Very good actor but, you know, no goombah.)

Has anybody seen this Egoyan and would I be wasting my time totally?

The Origin of Speeches

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2015 by dcairns


A filmmaker donated a big box of DVDs to the Art College so I took a few home. One was CREATION, directed by Jon Amiel, produced by Jeremy Thomas, telling the story of Charles Darwin’s struggle to write his magnum opus in the face of his deeply religious wife’s opposition, and while reeling from the death of his eldest child. I thought it might be terribly middlebrow, and in part it is, but it’s also well worth a look. I knew Fiona would be interested because it has Bambidirk Counterbath Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Jones in it, both of whom rick up in the same carriage at one point, and Jeremy Northam for good measure. We don’t get enough Northam these days.

Chas. D. is played by Paul Bettany, in a succession of unattractive wigs (the very first shot of him displays an unwise amount of cheesecloth), who’s very good in a tough role. The character is anguished more or less throughout — Darwin was plagued by horrible, possibly psychosomatic discomforts during the writing of his famous book , and Bettany has to display suffering in every scene without getting monotonous. He just about succeeds. His real-life wife, Jennifer Connolly, plays Mrs. D, with impressive toughness, never apologising for the way the character is or trying to win excessive favour from the audience.


Jeremy Thomas is attracted to classy literary adaptations and subjects that can easily seem middle-brow and uncinematic, but when he’s working with a Bertolucci or a Cronenberg the risk is obviated. Jon Amiel isn’t in that league — he benefited from working with the inherently idiosyncratic Dennis Potter in TV, bringing a restless, kinetic pizzazz to the proceedings. Here, adapting a novel himself along with John Collee, his style seems merely commercial, over-eager to keep things moving and be big and fancy. Slow motion shots, hand-held, steadicam, crane shots, jump cuts — everything is thrown at it, and not everything sticks. Fiona complimented the film for the moments which seem simplest — in fact, there’s a lot of craft and cunning going on even in these moments, but the quieter tone WORKS in a way that the more hectic and pushy style doesn’t. You can’t tart up a middlebrow think piece and pass it off as slam-bang entertainment.


The one really disappointing element of the disc was the extras, which all sounded really interesting but were horribly made — the thing called Debating Darwin wasn’t a debate at all, but a series of statements, filmed separately, by a pro-evolution guy, another pr-evolution guy who was also a Christian, and a creationist. Giving that guy a platform and pretending that he was a proper scientist on an equal footing with Lewis Wolpert was a travesty. Like inviting a holocaust denier to take place in a piece called Debating Hitler. People with these views exist, regrettably, and it’s perfectly fine to acknowledge this, but putting them on an equal footing with actual intellects who actually respect the facts is irresponsible in the extreme. Deduct ten points.

Fiona thinks further points should be deducted for the fact that the baby orangutan who appears costumed in Victorian garb as Jenny the Ape receives no screen credit, despite being prominently featured even unto the movie poster and DVD cover.

My Life as a Dog

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2010 by dcairns

I hadn’t heard of director Toa Fraser but I was drawn to DEAN SPANLEY, his film, for a variety of reasons.

1) The cast is excellent, with the underrated Jeremy Northam, the always excellent Sam Neill, and the indefatigable Peter O’Toole. Plus Bryan Brown (it’s been a while) and Judy Parfitt.

2) The screenplay is by Scottish writer Alan Sharp, who penned ROB ROY, whose resemblance to a classical western is easy to understand when you take into consideration his authorship of ULZANA’a RAID and BILLY TWO HATS. Cinephiles probably prize his screenplay of NIGHT MOVES most dearly of all.

3) The story is by Lord Dunsany, whose stuff I haven’t read but have been intrigued by on reputation alone. Pretty sure I’m going to read some now.

I noticed this film just before it came out, and then failed to see it on release. I’m now recommending EVERYBODY see it. To the above reasons, which I knew of before I watched it, I can add these —

1) It’s an intelligent weepy. It creeps up on you and then gently wrings your tear ducts till they squeak. In dealing with our relationships with our pets, and making a connection to our other, human, relationships, it’s skating on some thin ice, with a treacly Tokay of sentiment just below the surface, but I didn’t feel manipulated: instead I felt that the film illuminated something true about these strange “friendships” we form with animals.

2) Don McGlashan’s sumptuous score walks a similarly fine line, and with grace.

3) Leon Narbey’s cinematography is rich and pleasing, and somehow skirts the dangerous waters of “heritage cinema,” which the plush Edwardian decor brings us close to.

4) I confess to mixed feelings about Fraser’s direction: he presides over magnificent performances, and his filming of them is very solid and sometimes quite elegant, but he occasionally attempts a cutaway to a detail or a wide shot of an environment, and it doesn’t always add anything. The piece is so driven by performances that anything else gets in the way — with the exception of the slomo shots of bounding dogs, with which he is on safe ground. Perhaps a more vigorous and imaginative approach could have added layers of cinematic life to Sharp’s typically epigrammatic and thoughtful script, but what is there is more than enough to satisfy.

On reviewing, I found a lot of unobtrusive craft in the subtle way Fraser weaves the camera around and towards his characters, contributing greatly to the film’s unique, solemn-quirky atmosphere.

I imagine Lasse Hallstrom pitched his new movie, HACHIKO: A DOG’S STORY (Richard Gere + dog = dog) as “It’s MY LIFE AS A DOG, only with a dog.” The damn thing probably works, in terms of uplift and sentiment and a good work-out for the old weeping apparatus, but I suspect I would feel used by it. That’s where DEAD SPANLEY scores.

There’s an oddball plot here: Jeremy Northam is frustrated by his stiff-upper lip dad (O’Toole), who refuses to mourn the son he lost in the Boer War, or his wife, who died from grief. “When a thing goes to the trouble of happening, it is best regarded as inevitable,” is his bluff philosophy. Then Northam meets Spanley (Neill) at a talk on reincarnation, and discovers that the cleric is oddly affected by his favourite tipple, Tokay, which causes him to remember his past life as a Welsh spaniel. More remarkably still, it starts to seem that as a spaniel Neill may actually have belonged to O’Toole — his beloved dog, Wag. “One of the seven great dogs. At any one time, there are only seven.”

Where on earth is this going, you ask, and that indeed is one of the pleasures of the film: not knowing. The purpose of it all is carefully concealed until an hour in, but we were hypnotized by the expert playing and the charming insights into canine psychology afforded by the dean’s glimpses of his previous existence. And it’s all the more unpredictable because the film doesn’t appear to be for anyone, in a commercial sense. Which is refreshing. Most good books aren’t targeted in the rather deplorable way that films have to be, after all. I love genre films, but it’s frustrating to me that you can’t, for example, make a horror film with a child protagonist, despite childhood being a great source of fear, because the audience for horror films is perceived to be teenage, and what teenager wants to watch their kid brother or sister in a movie?

Every copy of DEAN SPANLEY comes with a complimentary Dudley Sutton.

So while DEAN SPANLEY may have suffered from being a hard project to situate in the marketplace, I’m hoping to do something to spread word of mouth that will help at least a few people discover it. The movie deserves it. It not only offers an emotional release, it reflects upon the value and nature of that release, which is one possible way to differentiate between what’s repulsively known as a “tear-jerker” (even porno movies don’t get called “sperm-jerkers”, do they?) and a movie which deals with emotion as subject.

Perhaps, I found myself thinking, we keep animals with shorter lives than themselves, in part to practice our mourning. That, after all, is such a big part of what we have to do in life.

Available from Amazon UK: Dean Spanley [DVD] [2008]