Archive for Rachel McAdams

Andante

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on July 15, 2014 by dcairns

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I was curiously unenthused about seeing TO THE WONDER — my fear was that the bad reviews sounded, for once, fairly reasonable, and tied in with the least interesting aspects of TREE OF LIFE — the Sean Penn stuff, in other words. Reviewers complained that the characters and situations in TTW lacked specificity, and specificity is the very thing we are always telling our students at film school that they ought to go for. You only achieve the universal through the specific. Chaplin became the great everyman of his age by playing an eccentric tramp with specific costume, walk, mannerisms.

Yet Sean Penn never convinced as an architect because there was no detail about the job to suggest Terrence Malick had done any research or cared anything about architecture. Clearly he was just a stand-in for the filmmaker, only Malick didn’t want to make a film about a filmmaker but he wasn’t interested in anything else.

Seeing TO THE WONDER seemed like it might be unrewarding as an experience and writing about it probably wouldn’t be much fun either, if I found myself parroting other reviewers. Probably I should have gone anyway: I loved the boyhood stuff in TOL (and the dinosaurs — dinosaurs are always good) , and it’s always easier to surrender to a movie on the big screen.

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On DVD, TO THE WONDER is resistible for all the reasons critics suggested — fading out the dialogue, Malick robs his scenes of what they’re about. The mannerism of women wading through cornfields touching the crops in a wistful way has hardened into cliché, although at least Rachel McAdams has the good grace to look awkward doing it.

When Malick fragmented his stories into glittering mosaics, I was still onboard, because he still HAD stories. I’m not certain TREE OF LIFE has a story but it has some strong scenes and juggles disparate elements in an original way and the emotion behind those evocations of childhood feels really strong and genuine to me. I guess TO THE WONDER should be evoking pangs of past relationships, but instead it felt like a bunch of beautiful shots — and we know Malick can produce beautiful shots, it feels like that’s easy to him, and it was a relief whenever he (rarely) offered up something that wasn’t stunning. It isn’t magic hour all the time, dude. That’s why they call it magic hour.

Malick has made enough great work to be allowed a failure. To other eyes, it may be a success. But I hope he gets back into narrative, and allowing scenes to play — a very useful weapon in one’s armoury.

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The only fresh insight I flashed on was in a pre-coital moment with Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko scored to the Second (Andante) Movement from Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto, a favourite piece of mine. And as the dying notes sounded I flashed on how the Third (Allegro) Movement begins in a sort of dainty stampede which would be appropriate backing to a Keystone Kops chase. It was immediately clear than this film could not contain a speeded-up sex romp cut to this music, and Malick duly switched scene and score and didn’t Go There. A pity. A sense of the ridiculous is precisely what the film lacks.

It’s not absolutely necessary to me that everything be funny. But TO THE WONDER is clearly missing something, for all it’s sincerity and gorgeous photography and elegant music/sound design. It’s really lacking humanity and a feeling of reality. Plus leave the bloody curtains alone:

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Holmesick

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2011 by dcairns

Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES may be one of the few films to contain a spelling mistake in its title shot — not counting deliberate mistakes like BIUTIFUL or PET SEMATARY.

The title manifests itself from a news headline, but we can still read the lettering around it — SHERLOCK HOLMES AIDES POLICE. Maybe Ritchie thinks that an extra E will give things an Olde Worlde quality. He should’ve called his film SHERLOCKE HOLMESE. Or maybe he was terrified of having the word AIDS anywhere near his title. Can I suggest a few synonyms, such as HELPS or ASSISTS?

I’m stunned to think of how many hands and eyes this sequence must have passed through without, apparently, anybody taking any interest in it. A later newspaper blunder, showing a photo of Holmes on a newspaper in a period when newspapers could not print photos, is piddling compared to this.

The film itself? About what you’d expect from a movie that dumbs down Holmes to make a kick-boxing action hero out of him. Downey, with a rather uneven Noel Coward impersonation, is amusing. Jude Law plays Watson as a cockney. Mark Strong is authoritative as a baddie, Rachel McAdams is, as ever, like a thin translucent film dropping before your eyes and obscuring your view of the production design. She uses her eyes very well, in one shot: so there’s hope. Elsewhere, she extends the corners of her mouth as if trying to make them meet at the back of her neck, detaching her cranium. Her character is a sufficiently obscure Holmesian figure to make one suspect that one of the huddle of writers actually read some Doyle, but there’s always Wikipedia, so probably not.

The weirdest directorial touch concerns the early fight scenes — Ritchie, always a fan of messing with camera speeds, presents these partly in ultra slo-mo, with a Holmes VO that shows him analysing each punch and assessing the strategic damage it will inflict. Ritchie uses CGI to enhance the impact of each wallop, so we get rippling flesh effects impossible to achieve normally without actually injuring an actor. It’s reasonably impressive, and does at least attempt to address the mismatch between Holmes’s famed intellectual prowess and his status in this movie as an action hero. But after showing this, Ritchie then proceeds to show the entire fight AGAIN, at normal speed, without the VO. How he could ever have imagined this would be anything other than ludicrously redundant is impossible to conceive.

Bernard Hill turns up as a river rat, and looks like he might be about to say something entertaining, but nobody’s thought to write anything.

Me: “It’s a long way down from Captain of the Titanic.”

Fiona: “Wasn’t he in LORD OF THE RINGS too?”

Me: “Yes. As a king. And look at him now.”

Also letting herself go is Bronagh Gallagher, dragged up as a gypsy fortune teller with a small moustache. Good to see her. I’ve liked her ever since THE COMMITMENTS, and always found her oddly attractive, even though her head is the shape of a claw hammer.

Two things I have to say in the name of fairness: the production design (Sarah Greenwood), costumes (Jenny Beavan) and cinematography (Philippe Rousellot) are fabulous, conjuring a detailed, idiosyncratic, dramatic and grungy Victorian London. And Ritchie reportedly won the respect of the whole crew by shepherding the production through while amid a veritable media shitstorm over his divorce from some singer. OK, three things: he shoots action sequences that you can actually follow.

Unfortunately, the climax involves everybody climbing to the top of the Tower Bridge (under construction) for no reason, and concludes by having all the major resolutions occur by coincidence: falling objects defeat bad guys, fortuitous ledges save falling heroines… Might as well just have God swing down on a rope and shove a lightning bolt through the villain. A shame, because star charisma, busy plotting, cool design and frenetic punching might otherwise have seen the movie through, on its own dumbe termes.

The Wind that Shakes the Barbie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 12, 2009 by dcairns

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Wes Craven’s RED EYE is only an hour and fifteen minutes long. I mention that up front as a big justification for my having watched it. Also, Fiona brought it home from the shop she works in and demanded to see it. So I was just being sociable. She takes the view that Wes is due a return to form, while I take the view that he never had that much form to begin with.

That’s not quite fair, though. He’s an adept manipulator of the audience as far as shocks and suspense are concerned. Give him a scene of violent conflict and tension and he can be relied on to make a good, effective job of it. I never find anything very imaginative in his filmmaking, which always follows the fashion, with a little visual taste and conservatism to stop him going all Michael Bay on us.

If Craven has a particular, giant, glaring flaw, it’s probably in his casting. Rachel McAdams in RED EYE gives a “decent” performance, but she’s just not interesting. Probably she’ll get more interesting and authoritative with experience, if she can get the parts, but she just doesn’t have the fascinating essence, the life experience, or the skill to really hold a film together. She’s in a direct line of descent from Heather Langenkamp and Neve Campbell, and all these actresses played characters with traumatic backstories, but were completely unable to suggest any kind of tortured inner life going on behind their eerily smooth surfaces. It seems that all Craven requires of a starlet is a perfect complexion. (His interest in the skilled and magnetic Emily Mortimer, whom he cast in SCREAM III and his episode of PARIS JE T’AIME, is a saving grace.)

It’s a double shame, this casting of pert vacuums, since Craven has an ace up his sleeve with Cillian Murphy as his villain. Murphy has a handsomely sculpted potato for a face, and piercing blue special-effect eyes — he could join the Fremen in DUNE without touching a grain of spice. I want to say he’s intense  enough for two, but nobody is, given the collaborative nature of performance — nobody can strike sparks off a damp tea-towel.

The writing is fair-to-middling, with a constant supply of suspenseful situations, as Murphy blackmails hotel manager McAdams during a flight to Miami, so she will make a phone call and move a bullish Homeland Security politician into a different hotel room where he can be picked off by assassins. I was kind of uncomfortable with the idea that we should be rooting for a Republican reptile to survive the movie. But it was interesting to see that Craven was quite willing to buy into that and make a basically right-wing film, I was slightly surprised at him. The terrorists have no specific agenda or cause, like those in Hitchcock’s SABOTAGE, but this struck me as more sinister in Craven’s case. It suits us in the West to imagine that our enemies have no point of view, are just guys in black hats. You can’t negotiate with them — or you might find out that they have their reasons. (I don’t say good reasons…)