Archive for Ridley Scott

The Look 3: McDowell Toasts

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2016 by dcairns

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Since Donald Benson helpfully mentioned the starchild/space baby’s look to camera in the final shot of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, (comments section, here) I’m following on with the opening shot of Kubrick’s next film, CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which seems to answer that cool gaze.

I like it when films join up like that. Just think, if Kubrick had made NAPOLEON in 1970 as originally planned, this wouldn’t have happened, or not so neatly.

The film’s aren’t as directly successive, but it’s kind of neat the way Fred Gwynne finds some chewing gum stuck under his balcony railing in Bertolucci’s LA LUNA — Marlon Brando’s last act in  LAST TANGO IN PARIS was to stick his gum under Maria Schneider’s railing (and no, that’s not a euphemism for something beastly).

But back to this look. As Kubrick’s camera withdraws from closeup, via a zoom and a dolly back, Malcolm raises his glass to the audience. The next day, after seeing the rushes, Kubes rushed up to him and congratulated him on that detail. He hadn’t noticed. Despite the fact that he was operating the camera himself.

This isn’t as bizarre as it sounds. A camera operator, during a moving shot, tends to concentrate on the edges of the frame more than the subject, checking the composition is working and that no unwelcome boom mic or tracks or, god forbid, crewmembers, have come into shot. This is why Harrison Ford was displeased to find Ridley Scott handholding the camera in BLADE RUNNER — he knew the director wouldn’t be watching his performance. (But Richard Lester speaks of his great pleasure at precisely the act of watching a great performance being delivered into the lens, while operating — but Lester would tend to operate on the wide shot, which wouldn’t require him to adjust so much for movement, leaving most of his great brain free to watch and assess the acting.)

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In fairness, the “toast” is a little tiny micro-pause as the glass rises to the lips. Still, Kubrick’s failure to see what his leading man was doing in the centre of his opening shot could be seen as another welcome dent in the myth of Kubrickian perfection. I’m campaigning to have Kubrick’s reputation altered from obsessive perfectionist to amiable bumbler.

 

Watney’s Red Planet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2015 by dcairns

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Matt Damon as Mark Watney became the second ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS in my birthday treat movie on Saturday, which turned out to be a bigger treat than I’d expected, and quite possibly Ridley Scott’s best film since the eighties.

THE MARTIAN — filmed in all three dimensions of outer space! 3D seems to be something directors get better at on repeated exposure — Fleischer, Dante, Arnold. Scott, speaking of PROMETHEUS actually said, “The 3D was no problem at all. We actually see in 3D all the time,” which one might charitably interpret as a senior moment, but Fiona says, “Ridley would still have said that in 1979.” One worried that he hadn’t given the matter sufficient study.

In THE MARTIAN, there’s far more exploitation of the gimmick, but not in a chuck-spaceships-at-the-lens way. PROMETHEUS’s best quality was its vivid and immersive environments, and here the planetscapes are more shapes and multi-leveled, with aerial shots that let the dunes and buttes roll past the lens. But Scott also gets great value out of little sprouts poking through topsoil, and the multiple rows of screens and workstations in NASA HQ. And in the Hermes, he’s gifted us a gyroscopic spacecraft that’s a sheer joy to observe as we fly past it or through its rotating rings. The sensual pleasure of moving through a deep environment becomes as rich as the use of smoke, rain, multiple little light sources, widescreen composition, long lens ECUs, and all the other features of the Scott visual style.

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The dumbness of PROMETHEUS, its bad dialogue, and its mainly dopey, inconsistent and unappealing 2D characters, have all been replaced here with an intelligent scenario by Drew Goddard from Andy Weir’s novel, full of nice people working together to help each other. It’s astonishingly positive. This, along with the NASA mission control setting, has led to a lot of comparisons with APOLLO 13, which is a very good film, probably Ron Howard’s best, so the likening isn’t an insult, but I think this one’s better, because it has the same virtues plus some extra ones, mostly audio-visual.

Scott’s always been rather good at casting, though his background in ads would seem to equip him solely to flick through Spotlight and pick out faces he liked. But look at ALIEN — every one of the Nostromo’s crew is a wonderfully quirky thesp. When ill-health forced Jon Finch to drop out, Scott replaced him with John Hurt, which shows flexibility as well as excellent taste. For BLADE RUNNER, Scott’s masterstroke was Rutger Hauer, but he also saw something in Darryl Hannah that nobody else had recognized, and was one of very few directors to have tapped the potential of Joe Turkel (basically Kubrick and Scott are his whole career).

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Here, Damon is a personable everyman, onscreen solo for most of 140 mins, and neither bland nor irksomely quirky. The quirks are left to the supporting cast, all briefly sketched in but suggesting the possibility of greater depths. For a while it feels like Kate Mara is going to do nothing but punch computer keys, but some more stuff eventually happens. Jeff Daniels, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover and of course Kirsten Wiig are often associated with comedies, which I guess equips them to be likable. Sean Bean seems like a stand-in for the director. And Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain and Michael Peña… it’s just such lovely company to be in.

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In Bunuel’s THE ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE, when Dan O’Herlihy leaves the island he hears his dog bark — a dog that had died some years before. This is something I sometimes quote to students as an example of the poetic power of surrealism. Nobody needs to have the moment explained, yet it comes from a place beyond the rational. There’s nothing as elegantly imaginative as that here, but there is the power of realism. The design and performances and writing create a conviction that carries us along. We don’t need interpersonal conflict hyped up when the central situation works as a magnificent plot motor.

Robinson Crusoe is a tricky figure to make work on screen, since fictional characters feed off their interrelationships with one another to become real and engaging. Someone else has to care about them before we can. Watney is alone for ages, and we get very little interaction with his team-mates, but what makes us go with him is his relationship with US, via the vidcams dotted around his Martian “hab.” Implausibly, these all provide a 3D image, something I guess you just have to go with, but it’s worth it.

Saw the film with an actual botanist, who thought it plausible enough except that Martian sunlight would be rather weak for growing veg, and Damon should have swept the red dust off his skylight to help things along.

Children of a Messier God

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by dcairns

It’s Prometheus! Hello, Prometheus! (From MACISTE IN HELL)

I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as possible while discussing PROMETHEUS, but if you want to see the film with totally fresh eyes, you’re better off not reading anything about it until afterwards, aren’t you?

Although, once you’ve seen it, you’ll be struck by how it’s largely a remake of the original ALIEN — the same story beats, but with interesting / horrific variations. The whole thing is put over with great style, and is very exciting and icky and everything you’d want it to be. Really, it not only acts as if the last two ALIENS films didn’t happen, it mainly ignores James Cameron’s highly-regarded sequel also, and certainly there’s no loose talk of the PREDATOR crossovers. This is, essentially, a prequel/replay of Scott’s original monster movie.

I like Marc Steitenfeld’s music, which continues the fine tradition of terror honking exemplified by SHUTTER ISLAND, but does so much more — including presenting a nice sombre religious grandeur theme, which plays in all sorts of unexpected scenarios.

The best way to talk about it, giving teasers rather than spoilers — might be in the form of a broken radio transmission —

KRRZZZT!

— Begins in Scotland! (where BATTLESHIP ends!) —

— very ALIENS-like spacecraft design —

— very 2001 interiors, continuing the ALIEN series’ odd conceit that as we get further into the future, everything gets danker and rattier —

— “Weyland” — mythic reference, but can’t work out signif —

— Skull Island sphinx statue —

— for once, Fassbender’s penis not largest serpentine organ on view —

— not only watching LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in 3D, but dying his hair to look like O’Toole —

— in old age make-up FOR NO REASON —

— BRRZT! —

— guy getting all Crocodile Hunter with newly discovered alien species. Not smart —

— actors hitting their character’s single dimensions as HARD as they can: “Stupidity with confidence” —

–can’t believed they showed this IN THE TRAILER —

— kzzt!

One of the film’s strangest pleasures for me was the appearance of Kate Dickie, a Scots actress of some standing, who seems rather out of place — not because we can’t accept Scots on a spaceship — there’s Scottie, after all — but because I think she’s struggling with the American dialogue, which is very clipped and snappy, while her delivery is very emphatic and precise (while still in a very broad accent) — this might not be an issue for non-Scots, but I can assure you I’ve never heard anybody talk like this, ever. I suspect the idea was to keep the authentic accent but ensure clarity by stressing everything quite hard and leaving clear spaces between each word — whereas everybody knows that Scots communicate in a succession of continuous vowels. This is like a cross between Scots and morse code.

There’s also the fact that Noomi Rapace is delightfully Swedish, but in a dream-flashback she has an English accent as a child, which fits her character name, Elizabeth Shaw (deep space chocolatier!) but is a little puzzling. Couldn’t they have changed the character name and hired a Swedish child?

This is obviously Erich Von Daniken year — the comparative mythology Was God an Astronaut? stuff here (which serves the same role as the distress signal/warning in ALIEN) also turns up in JOHN CARTER — and would’ve been central to Del Toro’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS if that had happened.

What might frustrate some fans is the fact that the film doesn’t really set out to provide answers to the new questions it poses, though it does give information about the nature of the “Space Jockey” species found dead in ALIEN, and the origins of the titular creature itself. Those are questions that nobody really needed answers to, so the new mysteries we’re left with are much more intriguing. And I kind of hope they remain unanswered, but I guess there’s little chance of that — there’ll be a 2010-style sequel along sooner or later to explain everything to death.

We went with our friends Kim and Egg, and Egg was freaked to see that the geologist character looks exactly like the first geologist he ever met (and it’s quite a distinctive look: shaved ginger tattooed head and goatee). Do all geologists look like this?

King Lear in space” was how Fiona described one set of characters, who introduce a theme of age and succession. “Rupert Murdoch in space,” was how I described it. I can’t think why else they cast an Australian and then covered him in old age makeup. Given that this is a Fox film, it does suggest that old Rupert is losing touch with his empire…

I enjoyed this movie and may write more on it when there’s less fear of spoilers.

Hopefully that wasn’t too spoilery, but I make no promises about the comments section. Though it’d be nice if folks keep it misty re major plot points.