Archive for Marion Cotillard

They Call It Puppet Love

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2021 by dcairns

We enjoyed ANNETTE, with reservations.

I certainly liked it better than the last arthouse musical I can recall seeing, DANCER IN THE DARK. Though it has a slight echo of Von Trier, in its literal-mindedness. The characters sing a song to say the show is starting. They sing a song about how much they’re in love. They sing a song saying they hope we enjoyed the show. And the dialogue/lyrics often have a slightly leaden, awkward quality, as if written by someone who doesn’t speak English as a first language. But the Mael brothers, who wrote it, are American, so is it purely director Leos Carax’s influence making strange, or just the fact that they’re not experienced screenwriters? Probably the latter.

The Maels have written an opera, The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, and they were UCLA film students, so this isn’t all completely new to them. They also scored a Jean-Claude Van Damme action film, KNOCK-OFF. And some of the clunk has charm, particularly the intro and outro songs (stay through the end credits).

As the film got off to its slow start, I wondered if it had been really wise to make the protagonist/anti-hero (Adam Driver) a stand-up comedian. We get quite a lengthy set from him, and what I was wondering all through it was, Is this meant to be funny? It wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t — arguably the idea is to satirise edgy stand-up — the problem is the tone and intent aren’t clear. There’s a second routine, later in the story, which flops with the audience and is therefore easier to take — this is NOT meant to be funny, but it does contain some terrific stagecraft: Driver, speaking of death, lies flat on the stage, cruciform, laying his mic on his chest, and we hear his heartbeat. Stuff like that.

Anyway the first act felt LOOONG but there are some lovely visuals, mostly associated with Marion Cotillard’s character’s career as an opera singer. A scene of Driver driving and being tormented by visions from various operas kicks things up several notches. And it’s amusing how, in this film, characters sing while having sex, going to the toilet, giving birth. Then Driver’s character starts shedding all claims on our sympathy, and the plot runs through echoes of the Natalie Wood story and The Tell-Tale Heart (Carax thanks E.A. Poe in the end credits, but spells his name “Edgard” — in a way, that kind of idiosyncratic mistake is cheering in today’s era of machine-tooled cinema).

Sparks/the Maels are expressive and quirky lyricists, but not here. I’m guessing the pressure of having to create songs tied to a narrative has constrained their invention. But then why did the moments that seemed most plotty — the birth scene, and the police interrogation, for instance, give me the most musical pleasure? I think it’s because they each involve a little crowd of additional characters — so they bring in some exciting harmonies, and they don’t depend on Driver’s voice. Driver can sing, and he can sing emotionally — he really gives a dramatic performance while singing, which a lot of better singers can’t do, but his limited strength stops the music taking flight. On the other hand, he’s also a producer on the film and it’s doubtful we would have it if not for his input.

I don’t want to sound too down on the film — visually and musically, if not so much lyrically, it’s often extraordinary. And I enjoyed being back at Filmhouse. Didn’t enjoy the subtitles for the hard of hearing and couldn’t work out why they were there (are a lot of deaf people seeing this musical? If it was felt the lyrics needed help, OK I guess, but the sound effects didn’t need help).

Cotillard is strong, but the best perfs are Simon Helberg and singing sprog Devyn McDowall, a real prodigy. Of course they have the benefit of not having to carry the whole film, they breeze in like pint-sized breaths of fresh air, and in a film that’s almost entirely sung, you really need all the oxygen you can get.

See it, maybe not expecting perfection, and you should get something of value out of it.

Tardi Sweep

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2019 by dcairns

APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD — I think the title doesn’t quite work in English — too vague — is a rather dazzling and genuinely charming steampunk adventure inspired by the works of cartoonist Jacques Tardi, also the source for Luc Besson’s THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC (the key word here is “extraordinary,” it would seem).

Besson is a bugbear of mine. There are the films that are just hateful, the ones that are nearly good, or good in places and upsetting in others, and then there are his attempts to be charming, which are horrible. I think probably he has an awful personality (Google “Luc Besson accusations”) and he’s one of those guys who can’t help but put himself into his work. For all his limitations, Michael Winner had something similar going on, you always felt you were in the hands of a nasty piece of work. In the case of ADELE BS, Besson’s decision to plaster his supporting cast in grotesque, no, UGLY makeups is a great bit of self-revelation, in that it tries to be about capturing a comic-book ambience (the way the live-action Tintin movies gave Captain Haddock a bizarre, painted-on beard, or Robin Williams’ corky arms in POPEYE) but doesn’t resemble Tardi’s attractive caricatures whatsoever. It can be read only as an eruption of nastiness from somewhere outwith the project.

When I worked in animation, abortively, my colleague remarked “There’s only so much shit a thing can contain before it’s JUST SHIT.” Besson always gives me a little more shit than I can overlook.

Whereas, I’m glad to say, AATEW (AVRIL ET LE MONDE TRUQUE, or “fake world,” in the original — which doesn’t really fit the story either) is properly delightful. Marion Cotillard and the late Jean Rochefort do voices. The characters and setting look enough like Tardi to pass and there’s humour, constant delightful invention, and no Bessonian bum notes. Nobody can really draw like Tardi, and they certainly can’t mass-produce Tardi drawings in sufficient quantity for an animated feature film, and computers certainly can’t do it, but with enough skill, respect and taste there’s a possibility of getting close enough to be pleasing. This, the filmmakers (directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, writers Ekinci and Benjamin Legrand) have succeeded in marvelously.

The production design is fabulous, the colour a little cautious (as with BELLEVILLE RENDEZVOUS, a tendency towards sepiatone), the character design not as pleasing as Tardi would have made it but a long way from the unpleasantness of Besson’s silliy-putty fizzogs. But the story and the story world unite to create something really imaginative and fresh and appealing.

I liked the characters (just not the way the younger ones are drawn), who all have proper arcs and make something sweetly nostalgic out of their generic limitations. There are some good laughs. There’s a talking cat who may not be Jiji from KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE but is bloody excellent. Fiona was impressed by the anatomical exactitude of his rear elevation. Probably STEAMBOY will remain the ultimate in animated steampunk spectacle, and LAPUTA THE FLYING ISLAND the most truly wonderful, but this is quite a bit more quaint and charming — there’s an airship-powered funicular railway, ffs — the belt and braces approach to retro-futurist whimsy.

What allows it to be both charming and interesting is that the filmmakers know what we want and don’t want, and can skirt the edges of thr latter to keep it interesting. There are characters who, if they died, would really upset us. So the filmmakers threaten their lives and make us believe that they COULD die, there could be a less pleasing version but still acceptable version of the film where that happens. Whereas, the only thing that upset us was the destruction of the WALKING HOUSE, which was a house we adored and were ready to make an offer on.

Should work for kids and adults. Don’t know why it isn’t better known.

Additional dialogue by…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2015 by dcairns

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I was lucky enough to be invited to the UK premier of MACBETH, which made me feel quite the dude, until I looked at my wardrobe and realized I was going to have to take a whimsical approach to the dress code “smart”. I also met lots of people I know there, which made me feel well-connected. There was a splendid after-party and I utilised it in moderation as I had work the following day, so all in all it was a very good afternoon/evening, apart from the film.

The film isn’t too bad, though — that was a dirty trick I pulled at the end of  that paragraph. The crowd responded with enthusiasm, en masse, though I caught some mutterings later.

All of the acting is decent, though I didn’t love any of the actors. I love Martin Shaw in the Polanski version. I love Mifune and Mrs. Mifune in THRONE OF BLOOD, more for their pyrotechnic displays of theatrical technique than as characters, but they are close to my heart all the same.

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The accents are good, though Marion Cotillard’s is pretty different from everyone else’s. It’s a shock whenever Malcolm (Jack Reynor) speaks, because he doesn’t sound like he’s doing Shakespeare — he sounds like he’s saying something he just thought of. By this reckoning he’s probably the best actor in the film, but he creates a problem for everyone else, because if that’s what a person talking is like, what are these?

The film looks pretty stunning. The locations on the Isle of Skye are brooding and dramatic and spectacular, and it’s nice seeing my native country used in a cinematic manner. Some of the Northumberland scenes look exactly like Polanski’s version, though. The designers have perversely chosen quite a Russian Orthodox look for the architecture and costumes, but this mostly works quite well, apart from the kingly robes which seem a bit samurai to me. Stuff can be the wrong period or the wrong setting as long as it isn’t jarring.

What people said:

Alex: “Paddy Considine has the world’s most disapproving beard.”

Jonny Murray: “Who’d have thought the old man would have so much mud on him?”

Emma: “It’s a shame these things can only happen with big movie stars doing big acting. Ken Loach could do Macbeth.”

Me: “But look at Fassbender in FISH TANK. Why couldn’t he be as natural in this?”

Yes, this is another muddy MAC, calling to mind the classic MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL exchange (“Must be a king.” “Why?” “He hasn’t got shit all over him.”) — only in this version, even the king gets covered in shit. Michael Fassbender turns up plastered in peat in one scene with no explanation of how it got there, and you hardly notice, because everybody’s always filthy. And all the rooms are draughty. The Macbeth’s bungalow creaks in the wind like a ship in a gale. The scenery is splendid but I wouldn’t want to live here. Oh, wait,

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I didn’t feel like anybody in the film had a relationship with anyone else. Lady Macbeth seemed basically mad from the start, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) was a savage barbarian who then goes totally psycho. Usually you get the sense that Banquo and Macbeth are mates. I have to say — the continuing problem of the Festival Theatre’s accoustics and sound system meant that I may have missed stuff that would have helped forge this connection.

The adaptation is an odd one — lots of interesting ideas. I just didn’t think they worked. The film is at pains to answer that academic’s question, “How many children did Lady Macbeth have?” According to this film, two. We open on a dead baby, so we surmise that this tragedy isn’t going to be a comedy, and then there’s a teenage Macbeth Junior who dies in the opening battle. At the risk of coming over like Tom Stoppard, who has protested the tendency of directors to treat Shakespeare’s text as a sounding-board for their own ideas, I think a productive question for academics may not be so useful for filmmakers. The Macbeths have no children that we meet in the play. To create one for the film presents a challenge — he can’t say anything, and nobody can say anything about him. So the kid dies, and Macbeth writes a letter to his wife — about some women he met on the heath. No mention of son. When Duncan  congratulates Mac on winning the battle for him, he doesn’t add, “And by the way, sorry about Junior.” We need to talk about Macbeth Jnr!

The filmmakers bring this doleful kid on as a ghost, and have him holding the dagger which Macbeth sees before him. So the line, “Come, let me clutch thee,” is addressed to his son. Who then leaves — things were getting oddly homoerotic — and Macbeth continues talking to thin air, delivering lines written to be addressed to a dagger, as if to a dead son. Who isn’t there anymore.

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The most egregrious abuse of Shakespeare is right at the start, actually, when the witches say, “Where the place?” “Upon the battlefield.”

That’s right. I seem to recall that line once reading, “Upon the heath.” Which fits the rhythm, and has an assonant connection with the following line, “There to meet with Macbeth.” This feels like a Weinstein Bros idea. Macbeth has a vision of the witches while he’s in battle. Couldn’t the battlefield be on a heath? A kind of battleheath, if you will? Apparently somebody thought this would be confusing, so it was better to rewrite Shakespeare. “Additional dialogue by…” The Weinsteins have a long history of explanatory overdubs, with exposition blasting from the back of actors’ heads the moment they turn away, just to make sure we understand what Harvey wants us to understand. This fiddling has actually occurred at script stage, though, so we can have bad exposition with good lip sync. The filmmakers can’t hear will rotate in his grave because they’re simply not on his frequency.

There are other mismatches of word and action. When we are told that Macbeth “unseamed” the traitor “from the nave to th’ chops,” clearly stating, albeit in flowery language, that he splin him open from stomach to throat, we are shown Macbeth simply lopping the guy’s head off. It’s genuinely like the director didn’t read the play, or even the script. I wouldn’t like to suggest that this was a particularly Australian tendency (George Miller, for one, always matches word to deed with striking accuracy), but the last time I felt this weird disconnect was at Baz Luhrmann’s MOULIN ROUGE! in which E. MacGregor sings “You see, I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue,” while looking straight into N. Kidman’s eyes. They’re blue, Ewan. She’s right in front of you. I’d be worried about that kind of memory loss.

When Macbeth talks to one of his murderers after Banquo’s assassination, he does it at the banquet, with everyone else standing around silently, listening to the secret murder plot echoing around the hall. You can play it that way, and it doesn’t necessarily contradict anything later, but that scene always seemed to work really well when nobody knew Macbeth had Banquo offed, and so his embarrassing flake-out when he sees his former chum’s corpse at table exposes a dirty secret and causes Lady M. to fly into hostess mode, trying to put an acceptable spin on things.

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One thing the movie works hard to fix is Shakespeare’s missing scene — Edith Evans always complained that it was impossible to play Lady Macbeth’s plunge into guilty madness right after the banquet. “She was perfectly fine at supper.” Using visual scenes, our Aussie director Justin Kurzel is able to suggest a credible, gradual descent — but then blows it spectacularly by killing her offscreen with no explanation of how she died. I do think we need to know. Wouldn’t her grieving husband ask?

It goes on… Macbeth and Macduff smash each other to pieces and disembowel each other, and only get around to the “untimely ripped” bit at the very end of the fight. Untimely indeed. I can’t even be bothered going over why that’s a goofy choice.

I said to a colleague, bright and un-hungover at work the next day, that the film was dramatically kind of dull.

“More of a Michael Slowbender?” he asked.

“Michael Grimbender,” I clarified.

Which doesn’t even mean anything. That’s me, full of soundbites, signifying nothing.