Archive for Peter Mullan


Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2017 by dcairns

We’re halfway through season one of Top of the Lake, Jane Campion & Gerard Lee’s TV series. (Lee co-directed PASSIONLESS MOMENTS, one of my very favourite Campion things.) It’s not quite auteurist TV a la Twin Peaks, so it doesn’t fill that (rumbling) void — Campion directed most but not all of it. So we’ve just had two episodes directed by Garth Davis. It’s all beautifully photographed by Adam Arkapaw, reminding me of the first True Detective in its landscape work. But you do notice the difference when Campion’s not at the tiller. The shots cut together less fluidly, the changes in shot size are less intelligible.

We get this beautiful close-up of Elizabeth Moss all of a sudden, in the midst of a conversation, and it doesn’t appear to signal an important intensification or development. It feels like either Davis felt he couldn’t sustain the interest with his previous angles so threw this in at random just to liven things up, or he got bewitched by Moss’s eyes, which look normal/small in medium shot but here suddenly transform in the sidelight into great goldfish bowls with targets painted on them. Huge, shiny, fragile, challenging.

“A closeup is like a trump at bridge,” said Billy Wilder, cautioning the filmmaker to only play it when it will have a meaningful effect.

Rewatched it to get screen grabs. I can see better what Davis is up to now. I think the line we cut in on IS meant to be a turning point in the conversation, but it doesn’t quite come off as one in the performance or cutting, which again makes the sudden close-up seem arbitrary. The point when he goes back to his two-shot, a relaxing of the tension, IS lucid and effective.

Fiona’s bothered by the fact that all or nearly all the men in this show are arseholes. I don’t feel persecuted, though. I don’t identify with them. they are the kind of men who make MY life less pleasant at times too. Maybe the plot just isn’t clever enough. With the cast searching for a missing girl, they’ve twice played, or attempted to play, the trick of having a dog turn up in a situation where we might expect it to be the girl. Of course, everything gets better when the top actors come on: Holly Hunter and Peter Mullan are energizing presences here. Although weirdly, when you put Mullan together with the weird coven of recovering women, the mix of crazies kind of cancels out the possibility for involvement. It gets a bit HOLY SMOKE.

Final verdict when we finish the thing — which we will.

Oh, I never got around to praising Happy Valley, which we caught up with quite belatedly.Both seasons. That definitely IS a terrific TV show, and apart from the coincidence of all the characters being connected in multiple ways, extremely well crafted from a story point of view, and with a central character who is both seriously flawed, capable of terrible mistakes — and at the same time, a mountain of goodness. Sarah Lancashire’s eyes aren’t limpid pools, maybe, but bolstered by Sally Wainwright’s writing, she makes an inspirational figure. (And a very credible cop.)

Statue of Limitations

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on August 8, 2016 by dcairns


I’m in Sight & Sound again. Right at the back. You could rush out and buy one or you could read this tweet. The magazine has a regular column about end sequences in celebrated movies, and I plumped for PLANET OF THE APES.

We’ll never run out of things to say about this ending, and I was glad to find a couple of bits I hadn’t seen mentioned in print before. Growling thespian Peter Mullan once cited a childhood viewing of this movie as the thing which made him realize that movies could be about ideas, and it’s still a great illustration of that point. My childhood encounters with this, and THE TIME MACHINE and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN were particularly important stages of my mental development, such as it is. They’re all kind of unresolved (what will happen to Charlton now?) but at the same time perfect and complete. The last thing you need is a sequel to round things off.

Also — have you ever noticed, that the name Franklin J. Schaffner is just incredibly satisfying to say? Try it!

Blind Fury

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2014 by dcairns

Greyhawk still 5

I want to claim a bit of credit here — as submissions viewer for Edinburgh International Film Festival, I saw and gave the thumbs-up to GREYHAWK, Guy Pitt’s drama in which blind ex-soldier Alec Newman has his guide dog stolen and sets out to get it back. A simple premise that’s instantly emotive. And Newman’s character isn’t super-heroic like Zatoichi, he’s just very determined and very angry. The excellent Newman should have been a big star long since — this ought to attract more attention to his talents — and he’s supported by the wonderful Jack Shepherd — may favourite Renfield in any version of Dracula (and Renfield is ALWAYS good), and the underwater vicar in THE BED SITTING ROOM (he’s one of only two surviving cast members). Possibly the best performance of all, though, is by Zoe Telford.

I nearly worked with Newman once — Fiona wrote a vampire movie and we had him pegged for a lead role, but the film never happened. Getting GREYHAWK programmed gives me a quiet sense of satisfaction. The film has integrity, it grips, it tears at the emotions. But, unlike too many “realist” movies, it’s not out to depress you.

As usual with realist films one can nitpick the actual realism. A veteran having his guide dog stolen would make the front page of The Sun, the police would move mountains, and most importantly, 99% of the people even on a rough housing scheme would be extremely sympathetic to the wronged man, which isn’t quite what we get here. But, as with something like Peter Mullan’s FRIDGE (below), realism is often beside the point — a dramatic situation can illuminate the world even if it only intersects with it slightly. The first priority is to grip.

GREYHAWK screens on Saturday the 21st at Cineworld Edinburgh.

The Festival launches tonight with a screening of intense police corruption drama HYENA, a rather different London crime drama, which I have seen but which is under press embargo so