Archive for Sherlock

An Alternative to Facts

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2017 by dcairns

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DENIAL is something we opted to watch on BAFTA screener when something else didn’t grip us (not fair to talk about the non-gripper since we didn’t finish it). We knew DENIAL would offer a good STORY, which is what we craved, and so it did.

What has Mick Jackson been doing? I know his name from L.A. STORY, which was a while ago. He’s been on TV, I see. Well, I kind of know what he’s doing here — he’s been brought in to give it a touch of cinema. It’s a BBC film, see, and written by David Hare — very intelligently written as far as the issues are concerned, occasionally clumsy as it draws in bit players to comment on the issues. But compared to much recent exposition, very decently done.

(We attempted a screener of MY WEEK WITH MARILYN once and were appalled at the leaden way characters kept explaining things to each other that they both clearly already knew. I spoofed this with the line, “As you know, I’m your father,” and after ten minutes we’d almost convinced ourselves this was a genuine bit of dialogue.)

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The trouble is, a writer like Hare, schooled in the theatre, leaves no room for cinema or “cinema” — he gives you strong dramatic scenes of people talking to each other. A master of such stuff — and it would be lovely to see Otto Preminger getting to grips with this material — can make cinema out of just such scenes. There’s nothing wrong with Jackson’s handling of them, and he renders London in photogenic, grey, wet panoramas. Lots of frosty, foggy, atmospheric shots of Auschwitz too. It’s the bursts of attention-getting technique applied to the Holocaust that seemed a bit egregious. I’ll allow the barely audible sound of screams heard as our characters stand on the roof of a former gas chamber, since I allowed the barely audible sound of cheering in the deserted Nazi Olympic stadium in THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM — the coincidence is so striking, I have to embrace it. But the sudden horror movie plunge into a photograph of a gas chamber window, which becomes live-action and filled with distressed, clawing figures who look like ZOMBIES — that was bad, both because it belonged in a different film, and because any time a filmmaker uses such historical events to show off, I get repulsed.

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But that is, to be fair, one tiny moment in an otherwise strong, sensitively handled drama. Rachel Weisz, who made an unconvincing librarian in THE MUMMY and AGORA, makes a convincing historian here and her accent is enjoyable to listen to. EVERYONE is doing an accent, except Tom Wilkinson, who refuses to make any compromises in the direction of being Scottish. Good for him, I say, he has the right idea. Wilkinson brings the entertainment, as does Andrew Scott as his fellow lawyer (I won’t get into the whole barrister/solicitor thing) — Scott annoyed us no end in Sherlock (he’s Moriarty — we enjoyed the show but not him) but it turns out to have been to a large extent the fault of the writing. He uses many of the same tics here, but they don’t come off as tics: he has a sort of flip, aggressive way of jumping in with a line and cutting it off short, which is helpful as he’s essentially playing antagonist to a woman who wants to talk about things. One of those Sherlock writers is here too, Mark Gatiss playing Polish — and he’s really excellent, very restrained, he makes you forget the oddness of that casting (are there no Poles in Britain? To read the tabloids, not that we do, one would think there was nothing but.)

Holocaust denier David Irving is played by Timothy Spall, and just as Weiss is technically too cute to play Deborah Lipstadt, who should look like an ordinary person, Spall is not handsome enough to play Irving, who looks like the portrait of Dorian Gray if Gray were a big rugby-playing type — traces of handsomeness in a face grown gross and harsh and corrupt. Spall has actually lost a shit-ton of fat (by the looks of things, siphoning it off into John Sessions) and now looks kind of like Tim Roth wearing Timothy Spall’s abandoned skin, something I have no doubt Roth would do, given the chance.

But these observations ultimately don’t matter — you get used to the strange accents emanating from Weiss and Spall (and everyone else) and to the fact that they’re imperfect embodiments of the personages they represent, because the actual ACTING is what counts (along with the writing, of course) and it’s very good. And it all manages to express a point that shouldn’t need to be expressed, with enough subtleties around the edges (for instance, why one shouldn’t put survivors in the witness stand in a case like this) which are far from obvious and fascinating to hear argued so well. When Scott tells Weiss that he’s not going to let her testify, I was surprised and impressed and waited for the movie to change its mind and give her a BAFTA-winning speech from the box, but it never came. Almost uniquely in a film centred on a female protagonist, her job is to remain silent, to bear witness, to not debate a man who doesn’t deserve to be debated. The film’s courage in sticking to this principle is praiseworthy.

 

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The Sunday Intertitle: The English Coast

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , on July 24, 2016 by dcairns

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The English coast? Well, that narrows it down a bit. (Since Britain is an island, saying someone is on the coast doesn’t really help locate them.) The film is SHERLOCK HOLMES (1916) and it’s an American film restored from a French print, titles translated, so maybe that explains the oddness. To the French, “the English coast” would mean the bit facing France.

Miraculously rediscovered, and restored with funding from the team behind the BBC’s Sherlock, this is initially stagey and stodgy, with a great deal of longshot lipflapping in drawing rooms, but it’s fascinating and fun nonetheless. William Gillette as adaptor and star does a good job as the world’s first consulting detective, looking a bit like Clive Brook or Jeremy Brett. As the story unfolds, the camera actually starts to move — rather than simply following people about, it will often set off on its own and let them join it at their own speed. This is quite enjoyable.

The intertitles do exhibit that regrettable trait of early silent films, spoiling the action by telling you what’s about to occur. I would have thought this approach, visible in the famous Edison FRANKENSTEIN, would have gone out of fashion pretty quickly, but here it is in full suspense-killing force.

But the acting is interestingly low-key, and since this is a fairly faithful reconstruction of a play, using the original cast, it probably gives us a clearer picture of early twentieth-century theatre acting than most movies of the time.

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Don’t smoke while doing chemistry, Sherlock!

In Hazard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 3, 2014 by dcairns

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In Telluride, I had two contrasting experiences of Robert Redford — one was seeing him in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour programmed by Pierre Rissient — the barely-formed Redford on display was subtly out-of-whack, not yet blandly handsome, but actually odd-looking, with tiny slitty eyes — but he gave an excellent performance — the other encounter was actually brushing shoulders with the Great Man himself at a brunch in the mountains. Suddenly seeing him up close was startling — the distractingly youthful hair and the post-handsome famous heaped incongruously underneath it.

But in ALL IS LOST, the oddities of Redford’s appearance totally work, and he looks spectacular, rugged and rumpled and defiant. He’s the only actor onscreen apart from one stray body part I shouldn’t spoil for you, he’s the only voice we hear apart from a very brief snatch of radio talk in a foreign language and a song in the end credits, but he barely speaks during the whole movie — I guess about a dozen words, max. He doesn’t even have a character name: the credits, which are full of quirky details and worth staying for, helpfully let us know that he’s called “Our Man.”

Our Man is on a yacht somewhere off Sumatra (odd, how you spend ages not hearing about Sumatra and then two references come along in 24hrs — Mark Gatiss’s episode of Sherlock the previous night referenced The Giant Rat of Sumatra, that favourite unwritten Holmes adventure) which gets punctured by a huge floating metal container full of sneakers (oddly, the title of a 1992 Redford film). The rest of the film is Our Man fighting leaks, electrical short-outs, inclement weather (forgive the understatement) and possibly an angry God. By being so minimalist — J.C. Chandor, who made the acclaimed MARGIN CALL, doesn’t even use music for the first long chunk of the action — the movie positively invites allegorical readings of this kind, but smartly holds off on tips which might lead us one way or another. Is Our Man a symbol of America, masculinity, mankind — is the film about mortality, and is ALL really LOST?

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The Arri Alexa Raw is unforgiving at close range and we become intimate with every crack and blemish in the ancient mariner’s once blank and beamish face — and that landscape, nudged around from within by the subtle thoughts and concerns animating the actor’s mind, becomes an engrossing spectacle as fascinating as the blue depths full of gleaming fish that arc beneath his ruptured vessel.

Just as the debate around AMERICAN HUSTLE and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET takes the unproductive form of “Which is the better Scorsese film, the one by Scorsese or the other one?”, ALL IS LOST gets paired with GRAVITY, and different people find each film more thrilling. I was definitely more excited by the thrill-ride of GRAVITY, but I did get a visceral, tactile response to ALL IS LOST (the film sports plenty of visual effects, which I couldn’t tell from reality, but there’s plenty of real ocean too — whereas essentially nothing in GRAVITY is photographically real except the actors’ faces, and there’s room for doubt with those) — as the storm whipped up, I felt the need to put on the jumper I’d just taken off because I was too warm. Now, it could be that some wily cinema manager has the air conditioning timed to the film’s plotline, but I prefer the more psychological explanation in this case — and that Skywalker sound, with every raindrop distinct, really does get under your skin.