Archive for Kenneth Branagh

Ray D. Tutto

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-08-12-10h37m45s223

Sad news about Robin Williams. Mourning people you’ve never met is silly, but it turns out a couple of people I know crossed paths with Mr. Williams and had nothing but good things to say about him. I feel sad for them.

Richard Lester wanted to cast Williams as his Stalin look-alike in RED MONARCH, a near-silent comedy that never got made. Williams took about a year off work to clear room in his schedule while Lester tried to get the funding together.

A couple of my favourite Williams performances are ones he took no credit for. In THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN he was a last minute replacement for Sean Connery (!) who dropped out either because the schedule changed or because he heard how chaotic the shoot was. His pseudonym in that is a pun on “King of Everything,” which is what the character claims to be. Williams also excelled at creepy roles — if one has a criticism of his work, it’s that his unashamed warmth could lead him down the path of schmaltz if the material or the director encouraged it, but it seemed to be a kind of relief to find nasty characters — he plunged in without a trace of apology. His cold and bitter defrocked hypnotherapist in DEAD AGAIN is a still, true portrait amid a posse of showboaters.

Though he didn’t want these bit parts used to publicise his work, they fed into his career handily — the collaboration on MUNCHAUSEN led to Terry Gilliam getting THE FISHER KING, and DEAD AGAIN led to HAMLET with Branagh and all those roles where Williams shrugged off the funnyman persona for repressed or creepy studies in minimalism.

Advertisements

Superhero Death Match

Posted in Comics, FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2012 by dcairns

THE AVENGERS, or AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, or whatever it’s called, may signal the death knell of what I call “double voodoo,” the principle that you can’t have more than one aberrant, reality-defying concept per movie. Or not without ending up with an unacceptable fruit salad. Thus, HOUSE OF DRACULA combines lycanthropy and vampirism, which are both sort of supernatural blood diseases, which could work, but then throws in mad science electro-galvanism, which “makes the whole thing unbelievable,” as Bob Hope says to the bibbed vultures in SON OF PALEFACE.

But in AVENGERS we have aliens and mutants and cyborgs, which I guess are all SF concepts, and also Norse gods. That’s quite a stretch. The only overarching idea that can umbrella all those disparate elements is the superhero genre, which does exactly that in comic books. The Frankenstein Monster, a crime-fighting millionaire, the last son of an alien civilization, a vegetable nature god, and demon-conjuring magicians are all part of the DC Comics universe, and Marvel Comics have just as big a menagerie.

Until now, the movies have been cautious of this everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach. SUPERMAN featured only one superbeing. SUPERMAN II added three supervillains, but they all had the same origins and powers as Supes. The entire BATMAN saga got by with no superpowers at all, ever. Only X-MEN introduced the gimmick which makes most superhero comics amusing — the idea of an array of characters with different powers. They’re like chess pieces, each with their own strengths and limitations. When Magneto’s magnetism cancelled out Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton, I suddenly recognized what the earlier movies had been missing.

The X-MEN characters are all mutants, an implausible enough excuse for their multiple magic powers, but at least a consistent one. AVENGERS seems to throw the door open to a much crazier clashing of different fantasy concepts. Here are some suggestions.

SANTA CLAUS VS LOKI

Both are immortal nordic demi-gods, so you could say this was a grudge match waiting to happen. Loki commands an extraterrestrial army in AVENGERS, and Santa has experience fighting Martians. He also had his own movie, from the Salkinds, who produced the Chris Reeve SUPERMAN. But it was seeing Loki in his flying chariot that made me realize how perfectly suited they are as opponents. Tom Hiddleston versus David Huddleston.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS BIG BOY

In the De Niro-Pacino rematch fans have been waiting for, the HEAT stars reprise their roles from MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN and DICK TRACY respectively. Kenneth (THOR) Branagh directs, and also cameos as Laurence Olivier (SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW).

THE GIRL WHO KICKED OVER THE GREEN HORNET’S NEST

Lisbeth Salander is a superheroine, let’s face it. A bisexual, maths genius, computer hacking, bike riding, autistic, kick-boxing emo girl? Come on. Anyhow, after David Fincher’s highly watchable revenge-fantasy fairy-tale underperformed, and the comedy GREEN HORNET positively UNperformed, both series need a reboot. And Seth Rogen is surely just the kind of crass male Salander would enjoy butt-fucking and tattoo-graffitizing.

He might like it too.

TARZAN VS MECHAGODZILLA (hat-tip to Godard). HOWARD THE DUCK MEETS CONDORMAN. FANTOMAS CONTRE FU MANCHU. TEAM AMERICA: SLAVES OF THE PUPPET MASTER. METEOR MAN MEETS CANDYMAN. CONDORMAN MEETS CANDYMAN.

Roland Joffe exec produced SUPER MARIO BROTHERS. And made a film about the Manhattan Project. You’d think I’d be able to make something of that, wouldn’t you?

Obviously, the comments section is merely an open invitation to you guys to join in…

“Isn’t it a bit old-hat?”

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2008 by dcairns

Kenneth Branagh usually comes up with some interesting directorial strategies. The trouble is, they usually don’t work, and neither do the films. He’s inventive, ambitious, and courageous, but I somehow never feel he’s a natural film-maker.

Nevertheless, some critics were perhaps too nasty about SLEUTH. The film unites an interesting bunch of people, looks very handsome, and is easy enough to watch. There are good bits. Harold Pinter’s reworking of Anthony Shaffer’s play is often amusing.

JL: “Maggie never told me you were… such a manipulator. She told me you were no good in bed, but she never told me you were such a manipulator.”
MC: “She told you I was no good in bed?”
JL: “Oh, yes.”
MC: “She was joking. I’m wonderful in bed.”
JL: “I must tell her.”

As in the original, a successful thriller writer confronts the much younger man who has made off with his wife, and a variety of vicious mind-games are played. Pinter dispenses with Shaffer’s critique of the English mystery novel tradition, leaving the piece as simply another Pinter power-play of pauses. Even the title becomes irrelevant.

One can’t escape the fact that the gimmick casting — Michael Caine returns from the original Joe Mankiewicz version, but playing the other part, Jude Law, who’s already played a Caine role in the ALFIE remake, plays Caine’s part from the original —  is a titillating concept, but not necessarily the best way to fill the parts. Olivier, in the original film, stood boldly for the English establishment, and Caine was the working-class upstart — it was almost too perfect. With cockney Caine as the rich author and the vaguely classless Law as his romantic rival, the distinction is lost. But more important is what Branagh can get out of these actors in the way of acting.

Caine starts off like he’s trying for poshness, perhaps imitating Alan Bates (a fine interpreter of Pinter), which is a bit queasy. The it starts to feel like he doesn’t know his lines well enough — little hesitations and bodging of the difficult bits are either methody additions or genuine screw-ups, and either way they’re harmful to Pinter’s rhythms. But gradually Caine’s undiminished charm and inexplicable authority work their spell, and he becomes enjoyable.

Law is fine when he underplays, and rather embarassing when he tries too hard. He’s a star when he just holds the camera’s gaze. Some insecurity forces him to spoil it by doing stuff, and the effort shows. He’s probably most useful when he’s being tormented by Caine, since some evil part of this viewer derives some pleasure from seeing Law having a hard time. Later, he will do foolish things with a loaded pistol, much like the detective in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Nobody would call this prime Pinter. Although the Great Man has written screen thrillers successfully in the past (THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM, under-valued) here there are odd, damaging implausibilities. Why does Caine have an automated rope ladder in his stately home? Why does Law take his gun from his holster for no reason, lay it on the bed for no reason, thus allowing Caine to grab it at the climax? That’s quite bad playwriting, or direction.

What makes the film watchable? The set, designed by Branagh’s regular collaborator Tim Harvey, is very nice, all shiny surfaces and disco lighting, and the photography of Haris Zambarloukos serves up innumerable great widescreen close-ups. But the James Bond lair doesn’t make much sense, and is part of the overall watering-down of Shaffer’s original concept, the conflict between tradition and progress. The Bond vibe is both apt and ironic, since original Bond designer Ken Adam created the look of the original SLEUTH,

The stylised environment is doubtless meant to provide a comfortable setting for the stylised talk, but Pinter’s verbal gymnastics are defiantly archaic, and sound more so amid these glossy surfaces and pointless hi-tech appurtenances. I’m reminded of the grand staircase in FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA’S KENNETH BRANAGH’S MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN (I think that’s the full title), which has no bannister and makes you nervous to look at it. It’s quite an interesting effect, but you can’t help wonder WHY would anybody have a stair like that in their house?

This next is a bit spoilerific — if you’ve read the above and still plan on seeing SLEUTH, skip this last stuff.

Full disclosure — Stephen Murphy, prosthetic makeup artist for Jude Law, did the make-up on my clown film and is a good friend. He’s been working on HARRY POTTERS and stuff, turning ex-porn dwarfs into goblins, working his way up, and this is is his biggest job yet. Oddly, the transformation reminds me of another make-up creation, even though Stephen didn’t design the Law job.

It’s the Ringo Starr/Mexican bandit look Stephen created for Alice Bicknell in my film CLARIMONDE using mainly liquid latex and wet tissue paper. I’m also reminded of another makeup creation, Reece Shearsmith as Geoff Tipps in THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN:

I am a man

Even the voice is the same! The transformation works OK until Law starts overdoing it again, which makes him more recognisable. Stephen reports that Law was a very nice chap to work with, which is about what I’d expect, actually. Hitting the odd paparazzo doesn’t make him a bad guy, in fact I give him points for it, even though I’m anti-violence.

In the original SLEUTH, make-up artist Tom Smith, required to transform Michael Caine completely, executed a self-portrait, changing Caine into a Smith clone. I asked Stephen if he’d been tempted to do the same, but alas, he hadn’t known. What might have been REALLY interesting would have been if the remake’s make-up DESIGNER, Eileen Kastner-Delago, had given Law a sex change and made him over in her own image.

Made Up

Sexual ambiguity does enter the picture in the last act, with both Caine and Law suggesting bisexual sides, a motif borrowed from Sidney Lumet and Ira levin’s DEATHTRAP, the low-rent version of SLEUTH — Caine, having kissed Christopher “Superman” Reeve, now kisses “Sky Captain”. But this additional twist leads to no new dramatic suspense, and certainly doesn’t carry the mild shock value it did in 1982 (“But it’s so juicy,” Lumet pleaded, when Reeve objected to the kiss). As with the despised DIABOLIQUE, the re-makers try to preserve the twist surprise by adding a further wrinkle to the already-creased story, but it does nothing but drag the film long past its emotional climax… which is about half an hour in.

For all that, the film is diverting, short, and at least it has a different set of flaws from the ones we’re used to seeing all the time. Any bets on what the next Michael Caine remake will be?