Archive for Laura Linney

Dialogical Exhaustion

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2017 by dcairns

Oh no! Kevin Spacey has been accused of sexual assault! It’s OK, though, he didn’t do it, not in Alan Parker’s last film, the 2003 death-house drama THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE.

This piece will be all about the spoilers, and the film has a twist ending that’s almost as good shit as ANGEL HEART, so stop reading now if, like me, you’ve been vaguely meaning to catch up with this one for the last twenty years.

This is not only Alan Parker’s last film (to date), it will also end up being Kevin Spacey’s because when they get around to digitally replacing him with Christopher Plummer in all his movies, this is the one they’ll stop at because Plummer won’t want to do it.Spacey with Rhona Mitra, the student who’ll do ANYTHING to get a pass. When your character has to actually apologise for being a retrograde cliché, it may be a sign that your character is a retrograde cliché.

One has to respect Parker, I guess, for announcing his retirement and sticking to it, something so few filmmakers can bring themselves to do. When Bergman announced that he was packing it in after FANNY AND ALEXANDER, he’d just made a masterpiece and also a really good Christmas film which would have fitted perfectly into this blogathon, but then he went on to make more than a dozen further works — OK, it’s nice that we have them, but those I’ve seen aren’t as good. Kieslowski announced he was through making movies, then changed his mind, then dropped dead. Parker has stuck to his guns.

And a good thing too, going by this. Parker bowed out with a movie that alternates between the sclerotic and the desperate-to-be-with-it. The latter tendency is apparent mainly in the awful flash-cuts of punchy words, taken from letters, emails, etc, jabbed into the edit as the camera turns upside down. By this means, Parker gets us into his flashbacks.

Scroll rapidly between these two images while blinking a lot.

The turgid stuff is actually a lot better. Because Spacey is/was a fascinating presence, and he has Laura Linney to bounce off of some of the time. Kate Winslet’s performance is less satisfying as she falls into Parker’s cliches too readily. Also, her character name is “Bitsy.” No excuse for that. Melissa McCarthy turns up briefly as “Nico the Goth Girl.”

“I’m sinking to my knees in slow motion! NOOOOOOO!”

(I like BUGSY MALONE by the way, I liked BIRDY back when it was new, THE COMMITMENTS, and, on TV, The Evacuees made a huge impression on me. And Parker was always an interesting, bolshy, curmudgeonly commentator on the British film scene.)

I knew the film had a big twist, and that most of the reviewers hated it. It’s kind of the starting point of late Fritz Lang movie BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, the idea of a man faking up evidence so he can prove that it’s possible for someone to get wrongly convicted of murder. Parker and screenwriter Charles Randolph (THE BIG SHORT) take that idea up to the next level, and don’t cop out as Lang and his scribe Douglas Morrow did. But their twist is pretty obvious (and Louis Cyphre’s cage elevator turns up at the end to remind us that Parker has form here) and the second twist doesn’t really add anything with emotional impact. And the whole scheme is pointless because a killer, a victim and a patsy collaborating to set up the frame is a sufficiently uncommon, nay, ludicrous occurrence that the lethal-injection-happy Texas governor need have few qualms that this sort of thing is going to happen a lot.

Kubrick pointed out that the trouble with anti-lynching movies is they always focus on innocent men being hanged. Since lynch mobs always think they’ve got the right man (or else they don’t care, so long as he’s the right/wrong race), they’re not going to be put off by this. In a way, Tim Robbins’ DEAD MAN WALKING is a much better anti-capital-punishment tract because it argues that even when a man is guilty of a heinous crime, maybe there’s a case against the state taking his life. But both TLODG and DMW are the movie Richard E. Grant is pitching in THE PLAYER. I remember an embarrassing interview where a journalist speaking to Robert Altman attempted to flatter him by saying he would be the man to make the uncompromised version rather than the happy ending travesty with Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts. Of course, Altman wouldn’t have touched either version, though I guess he did make THE GINGERBREAD MAN.I can see that it’s dated, and overheated, but I sort of miss Parker’s eighties pomp — blue or sepia-tinged images, every room full of smoke for no reason except to create shafts of light blasting through every window, every road slicked with rain. Only the last touch is present in TLODG, despite the fact we’re in Texas and we only see it rain once. Stripped of his ad-man’s imagery, Parker becomes rather a flat, boring filmmaker, who apparently hasn’t noticed he’s making a deeply silly film which would benefit enormously from outrageous stylistic brio if it were applied consistently. He could have his dreadful flash-cuts, if he must, if only he’d surround them with equally ebullient directorial pyrotechnics. This movie thinks it’s a deep and meaningful political drama, when by rights it ought to be THE COLOR OF NIGHT or FEMME FATALE.

Aptly, Spacey’s David Gale is the author of a supposedly brilliant book on philosophy called Dialogical Exhaustion. Which sounds very deep dish but translates as Running Out of Things to Say.

Theory: just as TLODG (why the unnecessarily boring title?) is about a man who tries to justify the abolition of the death penalty by willfully getting himself convicted of murder, Parker’s swan song could be interpreted as him trying to justify his contention that film is a young man’s game by willfully making a movie which is both tediously disengaged and frantically desperate to be exciting and “cinematic.” So we have no choice but to applaud the old bastard for stopping.

21 bees, Baker Street

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2015 by dcairns

holmes

Though Cannes is not what you would call an egalitarian film festival (few of them are), it did used to be the case (I haven’t tried it lately) that you could show up at the Palais, present a cheap business card declaring yourself to be the director of a fictitious film company, and you would, eventually, be presented with a low-level pass. This would get you into the odd gala screening, if you queued early in the day, and into the various pavilions, and into market screenings, which meant you could see a lot of films, just not necessarily the hot tickets. This suited Fiona and I just fine, and in this manner we were able to see Bill Condon’s GODS AND MONSTERS, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

So we were hoping MR HOLMES would be a worthy successor, and it just about is. Despite its leisurely narrative pace, it does create a series of compelling mini-mysteries for the aged Holmes (Ian McKellan) to solve, from the forgotten conclusion of his last case, lost in the mists of incipient senility, to the problem of who or what is bumping off his bees.

Mitch Cullin’s source novel picks up on a few references in Conan Doyle to Holmes eventually retiring to Sussex (like Richard Lester) to keep bees (unlike Richard Lester). Adding in the idea of Holmes declining mental powers allows for a compelling set of subplots, two unfolding in parallel flashbacks, one in present tense. Like GODS AND MONSTERS, it’s quite moving. Modest budgetary means are well-mustered so the film never strains to convince us of its period setting (though I thought the Japanese scenes maybe needed something — I’m not sure what — more to really convince us we weren’t on British soil).

holmes2

Sadly, I don’t think McKellan’s Holmes is as good as his James Whale in GODS AND MONSTERS. We have less of an idea of what Whale was like, of course, and McKellan’s lack of physical resemblance to the great director wasn’t really a problem. In a sense, Whale, who is visible and audible only in a couple of seconds of ONE MORE RIVER and in various stills, is less real than Sherlock Homes. Somehow I can’t imagine a young McKellan playing a young Holmes, so I struggle a bit to see an older one playing an older one. Also, McKellan has gotten very keen on pulling faces, chewing his lip, tonguing his teeth, etc. That’s probably quite appropriate for the pensive, anxiety-prone senile Holmes, but he did so much of it in his last turn as Gandalf that it feels less like characterisation and more like actorly mannerisms.

Still, he can work our emotions as of old, and he’s backed up by an excellent Laura Linney and wunderkind Milo Parker, who shares most of the key scenes with McKellan. He’s pretty amazing — he has to do everything Brendan Fraser did in GODS AND MONSTERS only backwards and in heels while being much, much smaller.

tenniel

One real issue — the film is seriously over-edited. The deliberate pace cannot be converted into a hurly burly by intercutting like mad. There’s a lack of variety to the rhythms, with everything rushed on and offscreen, where a contrast between longer shots and more hurried one would have been much more exciting and appropriate. It’s apparent at once, where a scene in a train carriage is framed to let Holmes resemble a Tenniel illustration for Through the Looking Glass. But the shot is whisked away before we can enjoy it, we get barraged with closeups for a bit, and then the shot returns for another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance.

Never repeat a master shot. If anyone can tell me why, I’ll give you a jar of honey.