Archive for Richard Kelly

Retro Viral

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on September 3, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona watched Stranger Things avidly, but I only half-watched it. We both watched IT FOLLOWS. Retro electronica scores and sorta-period detail unite these two shows. Otherwise they’re pretty different.

I wasn’t too taken with Stranger Things because I recognized pretty much all the elements, and they were all drawn from a rather narrow pool of influences. The creepy child experiment stuff was new to Fiona, because I realized she hadn’t seen AKIRA — rectifying that tonight. The best I can say about the story world in this series is that the portal-to-hell stuff is more like a modern video game influence, or THE MIST, and transplanting it back in time into an ET/EXPLORERS 80s setting imparted what freshness the show had.

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IT FOLLOWS is arguable less successful overall — it doesn’t achieve a rounded, satisfying arc the way Stranger Things does (albeit a deeply conservative one, where outsider characters are conveniently erased and nuclear families preserved), but it has its own look and its own fresh central idea.

I felt the half-period/half-alternate-world schtick achieved precisely nothing in itself, and undercutting the reality of the milieu wasn’t really helpful to the fantasy, but I guess it spared writer/director David Robert Mitchell from having to accurately capture modern youthspeak. It’s the first sign of the dumbness that eventually derails the movie.

Well, not quite the first sign — during the opening shot, our first victim is introduced, desperately fleeing the unseen menace, which is, in best 80s slasher tradition, at this point represented by the camera eye itself.

“She’s in heels!” exclaimed Fiona. “Why is she in heels? Those are heels! Just kick them off!”

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Too late.

Though obviously Lynch-fluenced — in a way, this movie references the 80s the way BLUE VELVET referred back to the 50s — Mitchell has a pleasing camera style which is individual, seductive, and informs every shot. I particularly liked the high angles which don’t quite make it as POV shots. And the fondness for slow pans is refreshing. He also has a slightly prurient eye for young women’s bodies — I was beginning to wonder when we were going to meet a fully dressed female character — but this mild Larry Clark tendency still seemed honestly individual. Maybe it’s my Scots puritanism worrying unnecessarily.

But as the inanities piled up, he began to make me think of M. Night Shyamalan and Richard Kelly, whose neat ideas and visual confidence tends to be undercut by a tendency to be excited by really dumb stuff, to have fatal lapses of taste and judgement, and to fail to question themselves with sufficient rigour. All three filmmakers might at some future point resolve their problems and fulfil their early promise. Here, it’s the inane swimming pool plan that shows up the weakness in following through on a strong (if unpleasant) premise. It’s all downhill after that.

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Another sign of dumbness, though a counter-intuitive one. My friend Rolland is of the view that any time a movie quotes Dostoevsky, it’s a sign of stupidity ahead. Not that Dostoevsky is stupid, by any means, but he seems to appeal to people who aren’t as clever as they think. I guess everyone reading him for the first time gets all excited and thinks they’ve made a great discovery that nobody else knows about.  And they make the mistake of thinking that quoting him will raise the intellectual level of their venture. I’m interested in hearing if anyone can suggest exceptions to this “rule”. And is it worse when the extracts are read from a fictitious clamshell compact Kindle device?

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Three-Quarter-Face

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , on September 4, 2010 by dcairns

THE BOX wasn’t as bad as I’d heard, but it wasn’t exactly great. Richard Kelly’s run-for-cover response to the catastrophic reception to SOUTHLAND TALES sees him repeat the CGI fluids and pointless period setting of DONNIE DARKO, but unfortunately following the over-explained approach of the director’s cut. I *love* DONNIE DARKO, but only the original, more mysterious version.

This one comes from a six-page Richard (INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) Matheson story, a story with a powerful premise and a lot of mystery. In the DVD extras, Kelly talks about wanting to know the answers to the questions the story raised. Which is fine, you’re supposed to want to know the answers. What you’re NOT supposed to do is make a $30,000,000 Cameron Diaz movie that answers them all.

I say Cameron Diaz movie, but Frank Langella is really the whole show here. His mellifluous voice, easy-going-delivery, and steely eyes make him perfect to play the guy with the improbable facial injuries (his missing cheek looks like an open wound — wouldn’t the surgeons have given him some kind of skin covering for that thing? Never mind, any unanswered questions should be welcome here).

He has a nice, open face.

In the process of complicating Matheson’s yarn up to feature film running time (I haven’t seen the Twiulight Zone episode but I imagine it’s closer to the right length), Kelly does add some intriguing elements which play out in some nice, mildly spooky sequences. The extras are well cast for their staring eyes and uncanny looks. But at the point where the big “but” gets dropped by Langella, and we immediately grasp roughly what’s going to happen to the leading characters, the film seems to slow way down — a subjective feeling, because in fact the whole movie is rather slow. In fact, the slowness becomes more intensely felt because we know approximately where the film’s got to get to now, and instead it’s dawdling around with some NASA stuff that doesn’t seem that relevant.

I might have enjoyed it all more if I hadn’t recently seen KNOWING, which it has too much in common with. And KNOWING has a big problem in feeling very familiar too. The widescreen, glossy cinematography; the monied middle-class interiors (we might sympathise with THE BOX’s central couple more if they seemed genuinely poor); the baffling aliens typed as beneficent yet behaving in abhorrent ways; making a major character a teacher so we can drop in some subtext in the most heavy-handed way possible…

UPU2?

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2008 by dcairns

SOUTHLAND TALES felt like just the kind of film I should be defending here, before I watched it. I fairly loved DONNIE DARKO, Richard Kelly’s debut feature, and although DOMINO, which he scripted, gave me a bad vibe and I didn’t see it, SOUTHLAND sounded weird and funny and crammed with STUFF, which is often the way I like my movies. Plus it’s had a chequered history and a lot of critical savaging, much of it fairly crass.

TV’s Mark Kermode, in particular, should be struck off the critic’s list for mindlessly panning the thing on The Culture Show. “It’s terrible,” he said, “Really terrible. Look, here’s a clip. See how terrible it is?” A twenty second clip aired, and charming but light-weight co-presenter Lauren Laverne nodded. “I see what you mean.” Absolutely no critical analysis was offered whatsoever. And it’s a film which certainly warrants a bit of analysis.

The task is complicated by the fact that the version of SOUTHLAND TALES released is not the original director’s cut — Kelly was forced to alter his vision in order to get it screened at all, after the initial very bad response. What I mainly found myself wondering as I watched was what was part of the original conception and what had been added or subtracted to try and streamline the film and make it, what? Commercial, appealing, comprehensible?

The re-edit certainly fails on all three scores, at least on first viewing. The confusing narrative is surprising because there’s so much exposition — for the first third the movie is ALL EXPOSITION. Most of it is provided by a voice-over, and that’s part of the problem. Without a dramatic situation to engage us, the V.O. seems to wash over, bypassing comprehension. It’s telling us exactly what’s going on, but it’s hard to focus, in part because it’s impossible to see how the narrator, a character in the “story”, knows what he’s telling us. Since he’s not involved in most of the action, his narration blurs the story rather than clarifying it.

I was reminded of David Lynch’s DUNE, with it’s many internal monologues by many characters, seemingly pasted in out of a desperate urge to make us understand. My favourite is when the hero’s mum comes in a door, sees that her son is alive, looks relieved, and then her V.O. helpfully states, “My son — lives!” The redundancy is sort of comical and almost Lynchian. Kelly’s narration-stream isn’t as goofy as that, probably because it’s been added in an attempt to normalise a very weird film.

A Stand Up Guy

While Justin Timberlake delivers the verbal afterhthoughts with more gusto than Harrison Ford did in BLADE RUNNER, the result is more like the plot-summary that comes towards the end of LADY FROM SHANGHAI. As Orson Welles wanders the Crazy House, he muses on What Has Gone Before, and we pretty much miss everything he’s saying because it has nothing much to do with the imagery, which is far more interesting. Only when the words “…and I was the fall guy!” land on the image of Welles falling over are we able to register what’s being said at all. It’s not Welles’ fault, it’s the bone-heads at Columbia who forced him to add explanations at inapposite moments, just as R. Kelly has had to do.

Once the SOUTHLAND V.O. thins out and the plot, whatever it is, actually gets in motion, it starts to feel like we’re getting somewhere. Generally the bits with music feel like a movie, rather than a tape-slide presentation or a very long “Previously on Lost” montage, and I started to feel like the film could be an enjoyable experience even without my fully understanding it. I like lots of films I don’t understand. As the proceedings got more fun, I started to yearn for the original version. All the attempts at clarification seemed to make for a more boring experience.

The casting is the high point for me. I always rejoice in the gurning visage of Wallace Shawn, and it was cool to see POLTERGEIST’s Zelda Rubinstein, still looking like she’s been compressed in a car crusher. Bai Ling attempts to inject sultriness into every line reading or movement, Sarah Michelle Gellar does some good porn star acting, the Rock makes his eyes go beady and does weird nervous finger movements, and Justin Timberlake is rather good. Miranda Richardson seems to have been cast for her face rather than her acting, which is quaint as she’s a magnificent actress, one of the real power-houses. But since her costume screams “Villainess!” and that’s all her character is, she really has very little she can add.

The levitating ice-cream van at the end made me think of the flying car in Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, and it seemed clear at that point that the earlier visionary punk sci-fi masterpiece (which anticipates everything from THE X FILES to Grant Morrison’s comic book The Invisibles) was a definite influence. Interestingly, Repo Man now has a comic book sequel, just like SOUTHLAND TALES.

I also thought of the movie Guido’s making in Fellini’s EIGHT AND A HALF. “Do you like movies in which nothing happens?” The idea of a film which tries to include EVERYTHING is a perversely appealing one, even if it’s doomed to fail. In a way, all films fail — they always disappoint their makers. Kelly seems to have gone into this one believing he might never be given another job, so he had to make this film stand in for an entire filmography. Ironically, it’s such a high-profile catastrophe he’s almost certain to be offered more work by the kind of producers who like to present themselves as taming unruly talents.

“The name’s Rock. Rock Rock.”