Archive for Ken Stott

The Private War of Representative Wilson

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2017 by dcairns

Both Frank Tashlin and Mike Nichols ended their careers with films about, one might say, private wars, but there the resemblance more or less ends. Though, if Bob Hope in THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT. O’FARRELL and Tom Hanks in CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR were to trade places, I don’t know how much difference it would make.

The Nichols film makes for an interesting capper. Scripted by Aaron Sorkin, who always does these things, it hashes up an unruly true story into a palatable dramatic shape. The REAL story buried inside the true one is that Wilson’s covert funding of Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet invaders eventually led to the Taliban, and a US invasion which we’re still dealing with today. The film does its best to acknowledge that without admitting any culpability on the part of its protagonist, which is an impossible balancing act. And when the movie denounces the immorality of funding the mujahideen just enough to make the USSR waste resources fighting them, without giving them enough support to win, it has to kind of ignore the fact that this policy gave us Glasnost, whereas Charlie Wilson’s policy gave us… some very bad things indeed.

What else is bad? Oh yes, the warnography, which consists of strange montages of expensive battle reenactment and cheap stock footage, scored by Thomas Newton Howard with militaristic romanticism. Most of this is just montage stuff, presumably thrown in to stop this just being talk, but the talk is what’s good about it. One little scene showing Russian pilots discussing their sleazy love lives while strafing women and kids, before being heroically taken out of the skies by Wilson’s freshly-supplied rocket launchers would be enough to make you sick were it not immediately followed by a tight closeup of Amy Adams’ tightly-skirted ass, which makes things even worse, but somehow I can’t bring myself to blow chunks while looking at Amy Adams’ ass. But it’s probably an all-time career low in taste for Sorkin and Nichols.

   

When the film is dealing with dialogue, it’s on EXTREMELY sure footing, though. Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman are terrific in slightly different modes, and we get great scenes with them and Om Puri and then Ken Stott. Ken Stott as an Israeli? Is it the thing about Scotsmen and Jews both being mean? Whatever, when a terrific Brit character actor turns up completely by surprise, we rejoice.

As this is a political drama, this is fairly male-dominated. Among the females being dominated are Adams, gazing worshipfully at Hanks, and Emily Blunt. Julia Roberts is sexualized, but in charge. Her extraordinary makeup impressed Fiona, if it’s not historically correct for the true-life character, then it’s an inspired invention.

“She’s doing her eyelashes like Audrey Hepburn! And those weird-painted on shadows around her eyelids…” It’s the Caligari approach to cosmetics.

Nichols sure sense of casting and timing is undiminished in all the scenes of scheming and arguing. His compositional sense is less pleasing since he stopped working with Harold Michelson on storyboards, and his sense of structure is diminished without Sam O’Steen as editor — though I’m not sure whether executive interference had something to do with the dumb action scenes and the choppy transitions in the last third. But what you get in this film is just-passable coverage assembled with incredible zip into scenes which showcase terrific actors speaking terrific words. And that’s somewhat rare today, as it was ten years ago when this thing came out and I apparently didn’t bother to see it.

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Short People

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2012 by dcairns

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

“Shit just got unreal” was my Facebook comment on THE HOBBIT Part The First, which is perhaps a little unfair. The merits and demerits of the movie, the franchise, Peter Jackson the filmmaker and the faster frame rate and the RED camera all deserve a slightly more nuanced discussion than those four words.

I liked it better than Fiona! In some ways it has the same flaws as the LORD OF THE RINGS films before it, only amplified. And the 3D and 48 fps may be problematic in the same way that the digital effects in the STAR WARS prequels were problematic — they make the film seem less of a piece with its predecessors. But THE HOBBIT isn’t as bad as THE PHANTOM MENACE, let’s get that straight…

(Maybe Jackson should have shot at 24 and projected at 48, thereby making the film half as long?)

I enjoyed some of the action and settings, and the HFR probably allowed me to follow the fights and chase more readily than I could otherwise — Jackson tended to film too close in LORD OF THE RINGS, making close-up skirmishes dissolve into blurry chaos. Either because he’s improved or the technology has helped solve the issue, that didn’t happen here. I didn’t enjoy the performances as much. LOTR uses “epic acting,” big, bombastic, cod-Shakespearean and borderline campy, but much of it was done with skill and a kind of good taste. Here, I felt the usually reliable Ian McKellen was huffing and chuntering to himself too much, and he didn’t seem to have any other characters to talk to. Among the dwarves, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt and Aidan Turner managed to get some human interaction going with Martin Freeman’s Bilbo (some reality but too much schtick), the rest were basically flatulent garden gnomes. Richard Armitage doesn’t manage to make anything convincing or interesting out of Thorin Oakenshield’s bluster and grouch.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

I’m told that McKellen had to act his scene at the dinner table with a bunch of paper cut-out heads on sticks, with light bulbs that flashed on to signal when each character was speaking so he could look in the right direction. I would, on the whole, far rather see that version of the scene. Those character designs are not very appealing! Why does only one dwarf bear any resemblance to John Rhys-Davies in LOTR, who had a very detailed and specific and non-Disney look? Why does one dwarf have a bald head with what looks like a bar code on it? One looks like a waxwork of Finlay Currie, one Sean Penn, and several of them have shoelaces for hair. Not a good look.

But the reason I went, and was excited to go, was the 48 frames thing. I’d heard so much about how horrible it was, I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t picture a big expensive epic that moved like a cheap TV show, and I was fascinated to see what that would be like — it was sure to be interesting! I got a lot of intellectual pleasure trying to describe that awful Zemeckis mo-cap BEOWULF, so I just couldn’t wait.

It was indeed a very interesting thing to see. It may have had invisible benefits to action and movement which we’d only be aware of if comparing directly with a 24fps version, but it did some spectacular uglifying. Some people have compared it to cheap soap operas, to demo reels, but what I was reminded of was a making-of documentary. There you see the actors, fully costumed and made up, on set, delivering dialogue — and it’s not the same as the movie, because it’s filmed with the wrong camera, and you don’t feel part of the action the way you do in a film, you feel like an observer on the set. It’s very REAL, for sure, because the sense of cinema is stripped away, but this exposes every bit of artifice in the design and presentation and performance. Even Howard Shore’s music seemed weirdly wrong, as if it was being piped into the hobbit hole.

This applied mainly to the Bag End scene and other conversations. The only acting scene that really worked was the “Riddles in the Dark” confrontation with Gollum, which was great and I think one would have to be pretty curmudgeonly or else just averse to any kind of halfling-based performance piece to dislike. Oh, and Sylvester McCoy was good when he was on his own, acting with CGI hedgehogs.

The long shots looked mostly OK, I thought, and still scenes were fine. The action had a verité feel that made me think something like CLOVERFIELD might be good at 48fps. I wondered if the dragon attack would gain any of the feeling of real disaster footage, like 9:11 or the tsunami, but the swooping filming style didn’t allow for that. There was a very weird clash of feelings when Jackson intercut the big subterranean goblin chase with Bilbo’s one-one-one struggles with Gollum — Gollum’s last sequence had a particularly televisual quality, like a 70s Outside Broadcast Unit section from Dr Who — those plastic-looking caves. And then Gollum would crawl into shot and there’d be the thrill of the impossible — a modern CGI character who couldn’t be played by a man in a suit and who looks very convincing, appearing in the background of a fake cave that looks like part of actuality footage shot forty years ago with a tube camera. Not an effect that I think was intentional, or desirable, except that it was so damned odd it gave me a lot of pleasure.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

What I’m saying is that although I did get somewhat used to the process over the nearly three hour running time, I was still blown out of the movie by it repeatedly, right up until the end. If the movie had seemed like a masterpiece, that would have been hugely frustrating, but as it was only a middling Middle Earth epic, I was actually entertained by my own on-again-off-again disengagement. I mildly enjoyed the big fight at the end, but not as much as I enjoyed the High Weirdness of megabudget + cheapness. I was a bit frustrated by the lack of wagon wheels, though: apparently at a higher frame rate they not longer seem to turn backwards, as they do at 24fps. Jackson cruelly robbed me of the chance to finally see correct spin.

Remembering the troubles people had with early sound and widescreen, we shouldn’t be too hard on any problems Jackson’s encountering — maybe our eyes will simply retrain our brains and the associations with crappy video will fall away and the merits of the new technology will become obvious. But for now, I say enjoy the weirdness — you won’t have had an experience like this before.