Archive for Michelle Williams

Because of the Wonderful Things He Does

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2013 by dcairns

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL should be seen for the fab 3D — Sam Raimi has always been a 3D filmmaker anyway, punching at that screen with his little girlish fists, trying to smack the audience in the face as if it were one of his beloved Stooges, and now he can finally do it, if only virtually. There are some really gorgeous effects here, particularly the snowflakes, which had us all swiping at the air like babies encountering soap bubbles for the first time. And during the Academy Ratio b&w opening sequence, Raimi keeps breaking the frame by having things like a fire-breather’s blazing puff burst out of the edges of the shot and into the auditorium.

There are, admittedly, some problems with the drama. There isn’t a lot of what you might call thrilling action, the non-period dialogue is irksome, and the mechanics whereby James Franco’s Oz actually destroys a decent character are troubling — he can never really be redeemed from this, and certainly doesn’t deserve to get the girl. If you watch this and then watch the 1939 original, the bit where Oz sends Dorothy to kill his ex-girlfriend will strike you as tonally rather off.

And an early scene where Oz, a Kansan magician, is threatened by an audience because he is unable to cure a crippled girl, is just peculiar. These may be hicks, but it’s unlikely they would expect a stage magician to perform actual miracles of healing. The scene could only make sense if Oz were a snake-oil salesman or faith healer, and I can only presume somebody thought that was too unsympathetic. But the character is pretty hateful at this stage anyway. He’s just ineffectively hateful.

My thoughts on the film seem to be whirling around like uprooted picket fence posts in a cyclone: let’s just sit by the window and check them out as they drift past. However — the movie may be best experienced knowing nothing about the story, so be aware there are a few spoilers below, and maybe avoid reading until you’ve seen the movie, if you plan to.

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The movie is a remake of Raimi’s ARMY OF DARKNESS. It is. But the ending is swiped from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. (“Revenge of the Big Face.”)

All along I had a problem with Franco, who can play a phony but can’t play calculation, insincerity and confidence-inspiring baloney. Fiona initially disagreed: “I liked him, I thought he was fine.” “They turned down Robert Downey Jnr.” “WHAAAAAAAT???!!!”

Michelle Williams is the best: the only character you always believe, for every line and look. There’s never any doubt with MW. And she’s playing the Billie Burke role, for God’s sake. It doesn’t exactly strike one as a gift to the actor. But she embraces the challenge of making Goodness and Strength interesting. Raimi has always had a touching faith in sweetness in women (and a corresponding fear of female sexuality).

Raimi’s connection to Oz goes back at least to the animate trees of EVIL DEAD, though his are considerably nastier than those Dorothy Gale tangled with.

Bruce Campbell gets hit with a stick, so that’s fine. By the dwarf from BAD SANTA: you get extra points for that.

Raimi’s still casting all his kids in crowd scenes, but he doesn’t shoehorn in irrelevant dialogue for them this time, as he did in SPIDER MAN III.

Fiona reckons Mila Kunis must look scary in real life, since her eyes are somehow bigger than the head that contains them. I was wondering how she would manage to the transformation from spherical to pointy head. Maybe she’d end up looking like a Sputnik. But the makeup is quite effective. Nobody can be Margaret Hamilton except Margaret Hamilton, though.

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The main reasons I liked this a lot better than Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, which had the same producers and also a by-the-numbers Danny Elfman score:

1) You can’t turn Lewis Carroll into a parable of good versus evil, and only an idiot would try. It’s about sense versus nonsense, or ordinary logic versus strange and sublime logic.

2) Fewer curlicues in this one.

3) Burton had no ideas for 3D whatsoever, and seemed unable to focus pull or edit without throwing the viewers’ brain out of whack, since what your eye was led to by the 3D was never consistent with the other filmmaking choices.

4) Admittedly, nobody in OTGAP is as good as Anne Hathaway in AIW. But nothing is one tenth as bad as Johnny Depp’s dance.

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China Girl is a really great SFX creation. Too bad they couldn’t have left her sweet and sentimental: the more raucous humour spoils the character a bit.

The Munchkins attempt a song, making this the fulfillment of Raimi’s dream for the ill-fated CRIMEWAVE: “I wanted to make it the Ultimate Film of Entertainment.”

(Is this the modern cinema experience in a nutshell: a big, bloated, yet oddly uneventful event, miscast and indifferently written, yet winning a measure of our respect just by virtue of presenting a slight variation on the usual form of spectacle? But wasn’t it ever thus? But isn’t it more so now?)

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Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on April 26, 2011 by dcairns

MEEK’S CUTOFF, directed by Kelly Reichert, is an unusual arthouse western, following a small wagon trail across parched desert, on a seemingly endless quest to find water — by half an hour in, the ideal of finding land to settle in is forgotten, and mere survival is the goal. Different from TRUE GRIT in nearly every particular, it does bear some resemblance in its evocation of historical speech patterns, agreeably strange to modern ears, and in the character of the guide, Meek, who shares some of Rooster Cogburn’s bluster and bullshit, but seemingly none of his redeeming competence.

Fiona and I went with my parents, who like their westerns. Though this one is unconventional, relying not on onscreen death and action for dramatic high points, but on creeping uncertainty and desperation, it still gave them some pleasure. Unfortunately, Dad didn’t wear his hearing aid — movies are usually so over-amplified he doesn’t need it, but MEEK’S CUTOFF goes the other way, presenting most of its speech at the fringes of audibility.

This is part of the film’s you-are-there aesthetic, and its identification with the female characters, who are excluded from the major policy decisions of the party, even those which affect their chances of survival. So much of the key talk is eavesdropped upon from a distance, and the soundtrack reflects that. The you-are-thereness is reinforced by impenetrably dark night scenes where the campfire illuminates only itself, long, numbing scenes of trudging across the plains, the arrhythmic squeak of a wagon wheel producing highway hypnosis of the ears, and a refusal of all but a little atonal droning in the way of music.

The you-are-there approach can be quite a powerful thing, and it can be used with taste or otherwise. Mel Gibson’s religio-snuff flick actually turned a soundtrack of dead languages into a commercial asset, by making viewers feel present at the authentic crucifixion. That makes sense of Gibson’s preference that the film be screened without subtitles, to make the ancient-world jabber as incomprehensible as it would be to a church outing of chrononauts. The excessive gore wasn’t just Gibson’s sado-masochistic impulses at play, although it was mainly that, it was also an attempt to make us feel uncomfortably close to the spectacle of torture and murder.  I suspect most devout Christians, if they could time-travel, would choose to go back and see Christ — but since they wouldn’t be able to understand a word he said, I guess they’d have to settle for watching him in action — what’s odd is that his death is judged of more interest than his miracles. Possibly, in fact certainly, the walking on water could not be portrayed with the brute viscerality Gibson brings to slaughter, the need for special effects would take us out of you-are-there literalness, so as he saw it the film’s are of effectiveness was violence, pure and simple.

With MEEK’S CUTOFF, the effects aimed at aren’t violent (there’s only one blow struck onscreen, I think), and the purpose behind the approach isn’t rubbernecking at a martyrdom, but participation in a fearful state of unknowing. I was reminded very much of John Sayles’s LIMBO, only here the domain of emptiness is more powerfully evoked. At first the travelers are uncertain as to their guide’s ability — he seems to have gotten them lost, but can he get them unlost? As doubt turns to the certainty that Meek is no reliable guide — “The only question is, is he evil or merely stupid?” — a new guide is discovered, a lone indian who speaks no English. Given his probable hostility (he’s been wounded and kidnapped by Meek), his inability to communicate verbally, and his alien culture, this man may be no more reliable than Meek, but putting faith in him seems the only way to proceed with hope…

The appearance of the line “Stay the course” made me wonder if the film was in any way a political metaphor for present American embroilments in the Middle East. I think it can read that way, but it doesn’t force the thought upon us. If we follow that line, cowboy Bush is succeeded by non-white American Obama, and the journey through the wilderness is one where the outcome cannot be known: all that’s clear is the mistakes already made, which it’s too late to correct. That seems, at least in part, reductive, though, since the film’s thematic openness is part of it’s strength, and the tactile dustiness seems to insist that the film is about exactly what it is about — THIS journey, THESE people.

Excellent performances all round, notably from Michelle Williams and Bruce Greenwood. Haunting cinematography. Bold, mesmeric pacing. I don’t award stars, but imagine lying on your back on the prairie at night, looking up at the sky.