Archive for Kim Cattrall

All for nothing?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2011 by dcairns

Richard Lester is some kind of favourite director of mine, and his THREE MUSKETEERS and FOUR MUSKETEERS have a special place in my affections. So his last dramatic feature, RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS, is something of a problem. Haunted by tragedy, hampered by budget shortages, flawed by script problems, it can never be “a worthy successor” and most reviewers have been content to dismiss it. I love a lot of the picture, but can’t in earnest embrace it as a whole.

Lester’s final film, GET BACK, a Paul McCartney concert flick, truly does deserve rapid dismissal — to linger on its faults would seem merely cruel. McCartney was not the performer he had been, the footage is inadequate (especially the oft-repeated shot of an attractive audience member — was she the only ticket buyer under forty?) and the whole thing feels redundant and nostalgic — there’s some kind of tentative desire to do more, but the tools aren’t there for a thoughtful reappraisal of the sixties.

RETURN has much more going for it than GET BACK, although the nostalgic impulse is there also. The movie reunited all the characters who survived the first films and the intervening years, to deliver a fairly faithful adaptation of Dumas’ Twenty Years After — fortunately, Lester only waited fifteen years, so his cast were still comparatively spry, or are made to appear so. Unfortunately, their star profiles had dimmed considerably in the time since 1974, so that the presence of Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Oliver Reed, Geraldine Chaplin and Christopher Lee (who apparently died, quite conclusively, in the previous movie, but is a specialist in resurrection) signalled “B movie” in 1989. Frank Finlay and Roy Kinnear were always character players rather than stars. So a lot depended on the new blood, and C. Thomas Howell and Kim Cattrall didn’t enhance the film’s standing — he had fallen from his brat pack heights, while she was in between the two successful periods of her career.

(But it’s a good, hearty, thigh-slapping performance from Kim, and Howell, the son of a stuntman, is a convincing swordsman.)

It’s easy to ignore all that now, but harder to deal with the effects of Roy Kinnear’s tragic death during the shoot, when his horse slipped, he fractured his pelvis and succumbed to heart failure. I remember the news reports and it’s easy to spot the scene in the film where the accident occurred, although no footage of the fall was used or exists. It’s also easy to spot the stand-in who replaced Kinnear in long shots, and the overdubs replacing lines Kinnear wasn’t around to re-voice himself. It seems abandoning the film wasn’t a legal option, or maybe it was emotionally easier for Lester to simply charge forward with production. It clearly cast a pall over the film, a non-diegetic aura of sadness and confusion that in no way helps the film’s ambition to be a rollicking romp.

Had the movie been more ambitious, like its predecessors, it might have coped better, but the focus is very much on the lighter aspects of the story. While FOUR MUSKETEERS ended with heroes and heroines tragically slain, this one has the arch-villain escape at the end, borrowing a note from ROYAL FLASH (also written by George MacDonald Fraser) which hadn’t worked too well the first time.

So why talk about the film at all? Only because the good bits are often very good — it was great seeing Oliver Reed back on the screen in something at least vaguely worthy of his talents, throwing himself into the fight scenes with sweaty intensity and authentically murderous/suicidal gusto. Frank Finlay’s ebullient delivery and silly comedy voice are as welcome as ever, and Kinnear is wonderful when he’s around — his role as Planchet, D’Artagnan’s long-suffering servant has been built up, in keeping with the film’s more consistently frivolous tone. An opening tavern brawl is an excellent showcase for Lester’s slapstick skills, as Kinnear poaches food from the rafters using a fork on a stick, eventually provoking a series of misunderstandings down below which escalate into a comic riot.

The fights are as inventive as ever, mixing balletic grace with authentic moments of clumsiness and bad luck (all of which can feel unfortunate given the film’s troubled history) and the overall idea of the first films is continued — the political backstory and the scheming royals and clerics are eyed sceptically, the romance is ironically undercut, the swashbuckling is blended with slapstick to make what must be called either swashstick or slapbuckle, but somehow all of this is kept under control so that there’s still room for excitement and character empathy. It’s a very tough balancing act. What keeps the films in line is their critique of history — like Keaton’s THE GENERAL, everything is “so real it hurts”, and the best jokes come from an evocation of poverty, violence, squalor, venality or stupidity, founded in bitter fact. This is something THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films don’t get. Michael Powell said that Lester’s first two MUSKETEERS films showed him the tone he’d failed to get with THE ELUSIVE PIMPERNELL, but the difference is that that film takes its romance and heroics seriously but its world is mere scenery. In Lester’s films the settings are three-dimensional and the characters two-dimensional, quite intentionally.

Kinnear, fleeing pursuers, jumps on planks projecting from the back of a cart, but when the cart trundles off, the planks stay put, being part of an entirely different structure — a compositional joke straight from Keaton.

Howell and Cattrall embrace passionately — Lester cuts to a ball being thrown through a hoop, with a little grunt of exertion, a bathetic parody of the sexual act.

Expressive lines that are funny not because of jokes but because of how they encapsulate character. Frank Finlay, being dragged behind a carriage as a nobleman stabs a rapier at his chest: “D’Artagnan! I am at a loss!”

Insane but convincing period detail — Finlay does some target practice by firing his musket at wooden doves on sticks held aloft by hapless servants crouched in a pond, as he rotates on a tiny carousel hand-pushed by more liveried schmoes.

Comedy overdubs — a nobleman escapes prison in extreme longshot, forced to clamber over his own men. “Use my head, sir — ouch — sorry about my head, sir.”

Cattrall traps the musketeers in a diabolical booby-trapped house, all trap doors, sliding panels and snapping manacles in chair arms — the workings are eventually exposed, a control room manned by dwarfs, all black-clad like stagehands or highwaymen.

Scot-mockery! King Charles II of Britain appears, playing golf, and he’s Bill Paterson, with Billy Connolly as his caddie.

Brit-mockery! When D’Artagnan insists that the British public will never stand for the execution of their king, Oliver Reed tells him, “The British public will put up with anything except an increase in the price of ale or the mistreatment of pack animals.” Screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser was, after all, a journalist.

Ghost Writing

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2010 by dcairns

What to call Polanski’s latest? In America it’s THE GHOST WRITER, a rather pedantic and factual title with nothing evocative or provocative about it. Here in Britain it’s THE GHOST, a title it shares with Robert Harris’s novel, a title reflected in the film, where the nameless hack played by Ewan McGregor refers to himself as “your ghost.” So the shorter title should be the preferred choice, right? But it’s obvious from the film’s artful end credits that THE GHOST WRITER is the name it’s been produced under, and the tacked-on main title at the start betrays Polanski’s obvious intent to start the movie without any titles at all.

Whatever we decide to call it, it’s a very fine film. I’m not sure Polanski would see it as a political film, although the backdrop is politics and it takes a jaundiced view of certain very recognizable real-world figures. Certain qualities, like the savage joke of an ending, can be seen both as evidence of the director’s earnestness or his flippancy. Certainly the behaviour of the hero at the end, and the readiness of the antagonists’ response, do not promote a view of the film as fundamentally realistic, but a movie can enter the paranoid mindset of the genre thriller without abandoning political engagement… I’m just not sure.

None of which hampered my enjoyment of the film, especially the playing. McGregor is having a very good year, and Olivia Williams should rise to preeminence on the back of this. Pierce Brosnan has always been a funny guy, and he’s hugely enjoyable as the intellectually lazy former PM, avoiding any hint of impersonation (we have Michael Sheen if we need a precise copy) and insisting on his character’s reality within the film, rather than depending on Tony Blair’s outside it. None of which is intended as any disrespect to Sheen.

“Don’t grin,” says Williams to Brosnan’s image on TV, and I can imagine Polanski saying the same thing to McGregor, a likable thesp who has tended to fall back on his shiny teeth a bit too much. Actually, Brosnan on TV is the only wrong note: he’s slurring his words strangely, in what must be intended as his “statesman” voice, perhaps meant to sound like Albert Finney as Churchill in The Gathering Storm, but coming off more like Albert Finney in THE DRESSER. Weird.

The other weird notes I thought were quite good, really. When McGregor finds some old photos of Brosnan at university, the images are pathetically photoshopped and deeply ludicrous, but it seemed sort of apt that Tony Blair should have a past constricted via Stalinist revisionism, retouched photos of a retouched life, something from 1984. And it’s his world we’re living in, so the digital sky replacements, adding smudgy watercolour greys to every background, not quite convincingly, added something too. Blair/Brosnan has brought the English weather with him.

Of course this Blair is called Adam Lang, and the movie begins with a nice swipe from THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE, a single unmoving car among many mobile ones signifying the death of its occupant. But generally Polanski avoids Langian flourishes, maintaining the more relaxed, fluid and unshowy style he’s inhabited since THE PIANIST. His actors and slow trickle of conspiracy plot are more than enough to hold the attention.

Back to those actors: an amusing scene with Scotsmen McGregor and David Rintoul both pretending to be English. Irishman Brosnan plays Scottish, Tom Wilkinson plays American (as a sort of sinister Robert Osborne) and the only person who’s unconvincing is Kim Cattrall, playing English — despite the fact that she IS English. I quite like KC, but she does sometimes mismatch the pitch of her perf to what’s going on around her: BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES was another case where she was a notch or two more shrill than everyone else, which was a seriously bad idea in that movie. Keep your head down and hope nobody spots you, would be my advice.

Rintoul, who was in LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF, is further evidence of my theory that Polanski casts Brits he remembers from 60s/70s horror movies. This probably started with Jon Finch in MACBETH, and Finch’s VAMPIRE LOVERS co-star Barbara Jefford was in THE NINTH GATE. Not a coincidence, since she makes so few films. Add Peter Copley (OLIVER TWIST / FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED), Frank Finlay (THE PIANIST / TWISTED NERVE) and Roy Kinnear (PIRATES / TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA) and it starts to look like some kind of strange plan

Other welcome faces this time: Timothy Hutton, Jim Belushi and Eli Wallach. Wallach is a special joy. When viewing a very elderly actor, especially one as explosive as he, I generally have two slight fears: that the actor will overplay uncontrollably and embarrass us both, or that he’ll just kind of keel over in mid-sentence. Neither happens here. Result! Better yet, Wallach reminds us how exhilarating and intensely focused a performer he is.

Meanwhile, this is a very fine film, with interesting connections to CHINATOWN (Lang’s oriental servants, the drowning death of a witness…) and a measured control of pace that continually pays off in viewer fascination. My favourite little moment was probably when McGregor pauses midway through the intractable manuscript, looks out the window, and sees the Asian help loading beach debris from the porch into a wheelbarrow, while the wind blasts it out as soon as he turns his back. A perfect analog for the creative process on a bad day.

He’ll be in his trailer.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2008 by dcairns

Those Lips! 

I wonder if Otto Preminger died, of Altzheimer’s and lung cancer, mouthing the word “Rosebud”? Unlikely, I guess. But ROSEBUD, his second-last film, is the one where his critical rep really bottomed out, and it must have stung. If the ailing Preminger could remember anything from recent years, that failure might be it.

The Human Stain

Although I’ve yet to experience ROSEBUD, I must admit I found his follow-up, THE HUMAN FACTOR, released four years later, pretty grim — Otto was reportedly already losing the plot, and it’s easy for me to believe. The volcanic Nicol Williamson seems miscast, and the model (and current Mrs. Bowie) Iman gives a performance of extraordinary awkwardness and painful self-consciousness (she’s rather good in STAR TREK VI, though, smoking a cheroot and battling Bill Shatner). Otto could still move the camera gracefully through the barren locations, though one wishes he wasn’t saddled with such an unconvincing studio Moscow for the film’s despairing conclusion. Graham Greene, who wrote the (rather unsatisfying) book, advised Preminger not to attempt the film, which he felt was too subtle for Otto’s temperament, or something. He also remarked afterwards that the film was plagued by budgetary difficulties.

(Despite all of the above, THF has an odd kind of pathos, mainly because it’s so thin-looking, so uncomfortable with its own shabbiness, like a terribly old person trying to cover their nakedness. You don’t want to look, but sorrow somehow forces you.)

No such issues seem to have beset the glossy multinational hostage drama ROSEBUD. The problem here may be more one of intrinsic naffnessin the plot: Palestinian terrorists hijack a yacht containing five naked young millionaires’ daughters, played by Debra Berger, Brigitte Ariel, Lalla Ward (future wife of Dr Who Tom Baker, and now of God-bashing evolutionary scientist Professor Richard Dawkins), Isabelle Huppert and Kim Cattrall.


The Sheik

Peter O’Toole is clearly the man to rescue these damsels, and Lord Attenborough turns up also, as somebody called Edward Sloat, which is enough to make me want to see this film VERY BADLY. Naked millionaires’ daughters + Edward Sloat = Shadowplay Must-See.

Cattrall had a rough time with Otto and his ROSEBUD. “Rosedud , we called it,” she told the Guardian in 2002. “I was 17 [Preminger was 69], I hadn’t seen THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, or LAURA, or any of those films, and I didn’t realise what an innovative, brilliant film-maker Preminger was. All I knew was that he was very, very important, and he seemed to be screaming and yelling all the time. There’s a film called GULAG 17 [actually STALAG 17], which he was in, playing a Nazi commandant – and I felt like we were really living it.” Cattrall provoked some of this screaming by laughing whenever Otto called “Action!”

“Well, I thought that was really funny. I thought they only ever said that in films made about films. I thought in real films, they said something like, ‘When you’re ready.'”

Preminger retaliated by telling Kim, “You remind me of Marilyn Monroe. Not in looks, of course. In lack of talent.”

I always think any actor confronted with this kind of backchat from a director should reply, “Well, you probably shouldn’t have hired me, then.”

Dear me. Is Otto really trying to sell the film based on its VARIETY OF LOCATIONS? And isn’t he rather an awkward presence as voice-over man? I think I even prefer the guy who, as Ewen MacGregor puts it, “must spend all his time driving from one recording studio to another, swigging whisky and smoking cigars and gargling broken glass.”

But still — gotta see ROSEBUD.

This is a much better Otto trailer — it’s alternately LUDICROUS and SOPORIFIC, but the good bits are amazing, starting with Otto’s hilarious first appearance (intentionally hilarious, yes, but why?) , and perhaps climaxing in his hyping of Barbara “Goo-goo” Bouchet, “a new face…und a new body.” Plus he sounds more and more like Arnie the longer he talks (and he seems to talk a looong time).

I might have to give IN HARM’S WAY another try sometime… I remember the Pearl Harbour stuff being really impressive, Preminger’s long-take aesthetic married to gigantic pyrotechnic effects— not much chance of a retake there. And the Saul Bass end titles are wonderful, of course, the Preminger credit immediately followed by a ‘tomic ‘splosion (I never said SUBTLE). But I didn’t get much out of the film otherwise. I find the older John Wayne a little hard to take, until THE SHOOTIST redeems everything.


I love Jonathan Rosenbaum’s piece on late Preminger in Richard Roud’s Cinema: A Critical Dictionary. J-Ro might be more positive today, but he captures with some sympathy the sheer oddness of late Preminger: “Yet for all their hysterical indigestibility, they are candidly (and sometimes painfully) personal works: what is lost in craftsmanship is gained in lucidity, even if this lucidity is often the expression of an ambivalence that borders on the schizophrenic. … Thus the ambiguity beginning in LAURA ends in pure and simple contradiction: the blind viewer may say ‘comedy’, the deaf viewer may say ‘tragedy’, but the spectator will have to settle, like Preminger, for something else.”

That does go some way to describing the fascination of late Preminger, both the good films and the bad films (not that there’s universal agreement on which is which).