Archive for Rhys Ifans

The Sunday Intertitle: Bad Vats and Jeroboams

Posted in FILM, literature, Radio, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2015 by dcairns

UMW 1

There are TWO intertitles in Kevin Allen’s new film of UNDER MILK WOOD, screened at EIFF in advance of its general release this autumn. Sadly, I don’t have a copy of the film to frame-grab these from, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. And I can’t remember exactly what they say. The Fest is becoming blurry.

As is the film — frequent smearings of digital vaseline to rub the image into a glassy glaze, along with multiple other tricks and tics — it’s a hugely resourceful film, visually, as it needs to be. The challenge of matching pictures to Dylan Thomas’ “Play for Voices” which don’t overwhelm the text or blandly illustrate it must have been daunting. Allen, who reports that he spent the intervening decade since his last feature working on a pig farm, seems to have grown immensely in stature as a director — this was a proper Ken Russell phantasmagoria.

Allen burst on the scene with TWIN TOWN, producer Andrew MacDonald’s follow-up to TRAINSPOTTING, which I think suffered from the sense of letdown that it wasn’t as assured and entertaining as its predecessor — but it did give us Rhys Ifans. Ifans, who seems to be in every film in the Fest, is back here as both First Voice and Captain Cat Complimenting his Jekyll-Hyde dual role in THE MARRIAGE OF REASON & SQUALOR), along with the estimable Charlotte Church, all lusty smile and lascivious jiggle as Polly Garter.

UMW 3

Allen decided to treat the film as ALL DREAM, with scenes flowing together and surreal and bawdy rupturings of reality pushing through at every turn. It’s frequently delirious and only occasionally deleterious — when what the text calls a “shaving glass” is represented by a wall mirror in a shop, I couldn’t see what was gained by the mismatch. And maybe there are too many phalluses. But it’s all livelier and more evocative than the earlier Richard Burton job, I think. In that one, the line “circling her nipples with lipstick” is illustrated by a busty wench drawing rings round the outside margins of her bosoms, as if about to turn them into pink-nosed smiley faces. Allen persistently seems to have a better idea of what Thomas was on about, and aided by Mark Thomas’ epic, sumptuous score and Andy Hollis’ gorgeous photography, has created something rather intoxicating.

Sun, Sand and Scuzz

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2015 by dcairns
A Marriage of Reason and Squalor Sky Arts © Justin Downing For Sky Arts 2015

A Marriage of Reason and Squalor
Sky Arts
© Justin Downing For Sky Arts 2015

Edinburgh International Film Festival is upon us (pictured)! Or almost — the opening gala is tonight, but the press screenings began on Monday and I am scurrying to catch up before the event has even opened.

I feel I should have an Edinburgh-themed banner, but haven’t gotten around to that either. I was thinking of photoshopping Greyfriars Bobby into the TRAINSPOTTING toilet, or showing a woad-daubed Adrienne Corri torching Sean Connery in a Wicker Man fashioned in the likeness of Alastair Sim.

We took a punt on THE MARRIAGE OF REASON AND SQUALOR, the debut feature from Jake Chapman, one half of the Chapman Brothers art-making entity, although getting in proved tricky when neither one of us could remember the title.

“That was exactly what I would expect him to have made,” Fiona said afterwards.

“As meaningless as its title. Although there was a marriage.”

“And squalor.”

“But no reason.”

The film is sometimes icky, as you’d expect from the guy who assembled child mannequins with sex organs for faces, and indeed from the brother of the other guy who did the same thing. It’s also sometimes funny, I have to admit. There is apparently a shorter TV edit, and that seemed like it would work better — the film’s more interesting ideas are overextended at feature-length. As a grotesque parody of Mills & Boon-style Gothic romantic paperbacks, it begs the questions Why Do That Now? and Do You Think That’s Edgy?

A very good perf from Sophie Kennedy Clarke, traveling to the beautiful but smelly island of Morass to marry her consulting surgeon Rhys Ifans, helps anchor the thing in some toehold of reality. The island itself is a mix of modest sets, un-sunny British locations, and CGI. It never achieves the stylistic wholeness of Stroheim’s Sternberg’s wholly artificial ANATAHAN. There are some terrific bits of percussive editing in the more experimental scenes, and lame editing in the dramatic ones.

I couldn’t quite work out why Chapman felt himself qualified to write this as a novel, and to direct it as a film/TV show, but needed Brock Norman Brock, he of the comedy name, to write the adaptation. “Maybe he’s not qualified to write a script?” Fiona speculated. “He’s not qualified to write a book or direct a film, but that didn’t stop him.”

I can be cruel, as Fiona will tell you. Actually, I’m kind of glad something as peculiar as this can get made, even if for basically silly reasons. (“He’s an artist! Give him a camera and he can be an artist with a camera!”)

Looking seriously forward to THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMPSON opening the Fest tonight, and to the press showing of Bogdanovich’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY earlier in the day. Also industry screening of THE CHAMBERMAID LYNN, which goes before the public on Friday — that’s one of the few I’ve already seen, because I got to write the catalogue copy — I’ll quote you a bit later. It’s lovely.

Webb Head

Posted in Comics, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2012 by dcairns

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN — enough has been said about whether this was an absurdly rapid reboot (I’d say so), about whether there are too many superhero movies (I’d say so) or about whether making every superhero film an origin story betrays a lack of imagination (it does)  — having caught the film at last, I want to say that it’s pretty good, for a superhero movie.

It’s really two movies. Director Marc Webb must’ve been hired partly for his name, and partly to bring the characters to something like three-dimensional life. This, he succeeds in. The film is actually emotional, the leads are appealing and convincing, and everything involving Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Fields and Denis Leary is good, human drama. The filming is a little ordinary, to the point where you can barely even tell it’s in 3D for the first ten minutes or so.

Then there’s the action side. This is kinetic and packs plenty of visual oomph. We’re used to big movies being kind of patchworks, with the visual effects and second unit guys handling everything that doesn’t involve standing still and emoting, but the result is particularly striking in this case. On the other hand, the dialogue in the scenes involving Spidey and the Lizard, his hulking foe, is pretty pitiable, a collection of clichés and disconnected one-liners. I’m guessing that two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent (PAPER MOON, STRAIGHT TIME) didn’t write those bits.

As well-staged as it is, the monster-fighting doesn’t offer much we haven’t seen before, although the web-slinging and city-swinging is MUCH more convincing here than it was in Sam Raimi’s cartoony pastel Manhattan. And the film’s villain, Rhys Ifans / the Lizard, isn’t very well integrated into the other storylines. Ifans, maybe the film’s best actor (see his AMAZING turn as Peter Cook in Not Only But Always), gives probably its weakest central performance. I don’t think anybody involved was really enthusiastic about, or believed in, the mad scientist transformation stuff.

Here’s where the origins story thing hurts the movie: it’s actually sort of interesting, in a nerdy formulist way, to watch Spider-man’s origin get re-told, exactly the same key story points expressed in different ways, but like the first Raimi film, the movie takes an age to get going because we also have to see the villain’s origin. And Raimi did this in EVERY ONE of his Spider-man movies (and in DARKMAN). How much more interesting (and speedy!) it would be to have the monster already at large and have the hero uncover the secrets of its existence and motivation. The only recent movie I can think of that does anything like this is THE AVENGERS. Which is part of why I respect THE AVENGERS.

Then we ran (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, Webb’s previous effort, and it was so much better than THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that I did kind of wonder — has Webb wasted several years of his life? He could clearly have made two movies like (500) in the time it took him to make the blockbuster, and for that money he could have made (50). Of course, the economics of the film biz doesn’t work that way. But I’m hoping that the bigger movie will allow him to make more smaller movies.

(The harsh version: John Cassavetes to Martin Scorsese, after the latter had made BOXCAR BERTHA. “You just wasted a year of your life.”)

Webb has a real gift, clearly, for casting handsome couples — Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel go great together. And the playful narrative choices (think ANNIE HALL’s splitscreen, animation and subtitles) and non-linear structure via first-time screenwriters Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber keep the thing constantly on its toes. The pity of it is that a super-hero blockbuster COULD have precisely those virtues — the nasty but very funny KICK ASS practically does. (KICK ASS also has a more convincing sense of the modern world, with its hero becoming a YouTube sensation. In AS-M, a giant lizard rampages across the Williamsburg Bridge and nobody shoots it on their phone, leading the cops to dismiss it as a fantasy.)

There’s also emotional depth — you may tear up, and you certainly may recognize bits of your own life, sharply observed. The film is so much fun that it could coast by on charm alone, but it chooses to get into real heartbreak, which is what separates the truly romantic from the mere romcom. And this comes out even in the ludic filmmaking choices — a splitscreen comparison of expectation versus reality late in the show creates a genuinely anxious, sinking feeling in the stomach.

I carry in my mind the idea that we’ve lost the ability, for some reason, to do good romantic comedies, but while I stand by the idea that it used to be somehow easy and natural to do those films well and now it seems to be hard, there have been some really good funny romances in the last twenty years. It’s just that, from GROSS POINTE BLANK to SCOTT PILGRIM VERSUS THE WORLD to (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, they more often seem to be predominantly from the male perspective. Am I wrong, or why is that?

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