Archive for Shirley Henderson

The Boys

Posted in Dance, FILM with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2019 by dcairns

Went to see STAN & OLLIE en masse — well, five of us did. Is five a masse?

Hmm. I know some people love this movie. I think the sparse audience didn’t help it catch fire at this particular screening. And there are a lot of good things to be said about it: nice long take at the start, good thirties locations/sets, and much more importantly, very good performances (enhanced by invisible, highly effective makeups).

We were all happy enough to have seen it, but a bit underwhelmed by the overall experience. We debated whether it fell between two stools — not accurate/insightful enough for people who know a lot about Laurel & Hardy, too nerdy for those who don’t. But I think it’s done fine with people who are fond of the boys but don’t know much about them.

I’ve tried to imagine what the film would seem like to people who don’t know anything at all about Laurel & Hardy, haven’t seen them (practically a whole generation). I guess they would get the impression that the boys were famous primarily for a little dance they did, which was charming and inexplicably caused audiences to roar with laughter. And for a scene where Ollie has a broken leg while Stan eats an egg.

I know — quite difficult to get across the breadth of what Laurel & Hardy did within one film while mainly telling a story about their real life relationship and their last days as performers. I think, though, at a minimum, the film should have shown, early on, the transformation that must have taken place when the boys shifted from being themselves — a comedy-obsessed genius and a meek actor — to being their characters — two idiots who don’t know they’re idiots. The lovely dance is actually in the way.

Director Jon S. Baird does some nice things, but his style as manifested in his previous film, FILTH, is modern and hyper-kinetic (quite effectively so). Applied to comedians doing visual comedy and dance on a stage, he’s both stifled by the lack of opportunities and practically Klingon in his insensitivity to the delicate pantomime in front of him. So he cuts everything into fragments, with continual reaction shots of guffawing audiences, which is a REALLY good way to stop the movie audience from laughing. And every time he tries to be “cinematic” in his narration, with flashbacks (picture or just sound), imaginary sequences, etc, it’s just horrible, in a way that makes me too tired to even break down why it’s so ineffective and ugly. I suppose “unnecessary” would be the word I would wearily reach for.

A shame, because there are touching moments — it’s much better at that than at reproducing or suggesting the comedy. And, around midway, the wives show up, and the film gets a tremendous lift. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda are terrific in these roles, and they have all the advantages. Unlike Steve Coogan And John C. Reilly, they’re not tasked with impersonating famous and beloved comics. And, while the men have to peel away the layers of performative artifice to show us what Arthur Stanley Jefferson and Norvell Hardy were really like, thereby making them not funny any more (the boys always wanted to be lit as flatly as possible, to keep their on-screen dimensionality to a minimum), the wives get to be stereotypes, well-formed characters with only a couple of traits, perfect for being funny. AND they’re more aggressive than the boys which is funnier, AND this ties them to the long tradition of the boys having domineering wives in any films in which they play husbands. Which makes the whole bit delightful.

“I wanted a film about them,” said Fiona.

I can’t predict whether you’ll love this film or not based on how you feel about Laurel & Hardy. Don’t take this as a consumer guide — don’t EVER take anything I write as a consumer guide. I’m more in the genre of eccentric dancing.

Here comes Johnny Yen again

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2018 by dcairns

Finally caught up with T2: TRAINSPOTTING (funny title!) — I’d had mixed feelings about the original, though Danny Boyle and company did do a lot to break Scottish cinema away from pure social realism, for which I’m grateful. I would say that both movies energize social commentary with black comedy, gross-out gags, surreal images, and an appetite for style at all costs. (I met some Spanish filmmakers who could quote reams of dialogue from the original by heart. “It’s shite being Scottish,” really meant something to them.) They take place in an unreal conurbation of Glagow and Edinburgh, evincing a merry contempt for geography as well as law and order. As realism they frequently stumble badly, being quite willing to contrive situations the mind rebels against —

Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edingow after twenty years, decides randomly to visit his old friend Spud (Ewen Bremner), arriving, by staggering coincidence, just as he’s about to die of asphyxiation in a suicide attempt. The movie has a tendency to “redeem” itself at these moments by offering something entertainingly horrid: here, Spud throws up in the plastic bag he has on his head, transforming it into a mucky orange sphere which he rips apart in order to be “reborn,” slathered in puke, into the ghastly world of bodily functions he was trying to escape.

Or: Renton and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) rob an Orange Lodge pub in Glasburgh, swiping wallets from coats that have been hung up. Which is silly: people keep their wallets on them in pubs, so they can buy drinks. But then the aging boys get caught and are forced to improvise a sectarian song on stage to prove they belong, which is pretty funny, and then they use the punters’ stolen bank cards, which all have 1690 as their PIN number — the date of the Battle of the Boyne. A grand joke that kinda justifies the ripping apart of the fabric of reality necessary to get to it.

John Hodge is on script again, creating much of the plot from whole cloth while patching together bits of Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel Porno with a bit of the original novel, which allows him to finally explain the title. Ah, the derelict Leith Central Railway Station (now demolished for a supermarket — only a bit of wall remains in the car park. I crawled through the gaping fence gap as a teenager, but never saw any junkies, or another living soul. It was a big, eerie expanse with incomprehensible stone age graffiti (a towering humanoid figure in rusty dried blood hue) and an aura of hushed sorrow.

Shot by Anthony Dod Mantle in saturated shades of neon and acid stained glass, the movie looks lovely, though ADM brings his penchant for meaningless line-crossing and confused jumping around, showcased in his Von Trier joints. Which I hate, you can probably tell. I think Boyle and his editor have embraced this hopped-up jerk-off style in an effort to look young and vigorous, and like all such efforts, it comes off a bit strained and sad. This viewer, rather than feel like an invisible observer in the scene, following the action with insight and a strange ability to also be in the right place to see what I’d like to see, felt like I was being wantonly teleported about the room, an instantaneous pinball with no control, the resulting disorientation a poor substitute for involvement in the drama.

I enjoyed all the actors. Kelly Macdonald gets, basically, nothing to do (there’s more on the cutting room floor, apparently), and Shirley Henderson is photographed looking glum at a distance, a horrible waste of her massive talent. Anjela Nedyalkova provides the movie’s injection of actual youth, so of course she’s the leading lady.

MacGregor still has his boyish charm, which acquires a kind of pathos as we see how little his character’s changed (not entirely a good thing when you’re a junkie and crook); Bremner still has funny bones, and having failed to escape the shadow of Spud (please, someone, find a showstopping role for this demigod) he dives back into it with jittery glee; Miller’s now-cadaverous features glower with malevolence and pique and I realise I’ve missed him (I don’t watch Elementary). Robert Carlyle’s Begbie is morphing, somehow, into Fulton Mackay, seeming a generation older than his mates (there’s a line to explain this — he was held back at school, making him at most a couple of years older. Jokes about him being stabbed in the liver and OD-ing on Viagra, both promising body-horror gross-outs, go nowhere. But it’s all about energy, eh? And Carlyle exerts a furious force that turbo-charges the movie through some second-act doldrums.

I do kind of like the way the script splits up aspects of Welsh’s post-Trainspotting life among the cast, with one character hanging out in Amsterdam, one becoming a writer… Welsh has become a filmmaker himself, and I suppose Sick Boy is making moves in that direction when we first encounter him as a blackmailer… Welsh himself appears, as is his wont. Cannae act.

 

Hodge’s scripts tend to plunge from wild flights of fancy back into conventional genre tropes at the end (all those bags of money), and this one does the same in a new way, combining a fight in a gutted pub with a reprise of the original’s betrayal twist, which makes things feel a little bit less than you hoped for. But it’s still somewhat satisfying, and has the best closing shot I’ve seen in a while. Let’s do this again in twenty years.

Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on April 26, 2011 by dcairns

MEEK’S CUTOFF, directed by Kelly Reichert, is an unusual arthouse western, following a small wagon trail across parched desert, on a seemingly endless quest to find water — by half an hour in, the ideal of finding land to settle in is forgotten, and mere survival is the goal. Different from TRUE GRIT in nearly every particular, it does bear some resemblance in its evocation of historical speech patterns, agreeably strange to modern ears, and in the character of the guide, Meek, who shares some of Rooster Cogburn’s bluster and bullshit, but seemingly none of his redeeming competence.

Fiona and I went with my parents, who like their westerns. Though this one is unconventional, relying not on onscreen death and action for dramatic high points, but on creeping uncertainty and desperation, it still gave them some pleasure. Unfortunately, Dad didn’t wear his hearing aid — movies are usually so over-amplified he doesn’t need it, but MEEK’S CUTOFF goes the other way, presenting most of its speech at the fringes of audibility.

This is part of the film’s you-are-there aesthetic, and its identification with the female characters, who are excluded from the major policy decisions of the party, even those which affect their chances of survival. So much of the key talk is eavesdropped upon from a distance, and the soundtrack reflects that. The you-are-thereness is reinforced by impenetrably dark night scenes where the campfire illuminates only itself, long, numbing scenes of trudging across the plains, the arrhythmic squeak of a wagon wheel producing highway hypnosis of the ears, and a refusal of all but a little atonal droning in the way of music.

The you-are-there approach can be quite a powerful thing, and it can be used with taste or otherwise. Mel Gibson’s religio-snuff flick actually turned a soundtrack of dead languages into a commercial asset, by making viewers feel present at the authentic crucifixion. That makes sense of Gibson’s preference that the film be screened without subtitles, to make the ancient-world jabber as incomprehensible as it would be to a church outing of chrononauts. The excessive gore wasn’t just Gibson’s sado-masochistic impulses at play, although it was mainly that, it was also an attempt to make us feel uncomfortably close to the spectacle of torture and murder.  I suspect most devout Christians, if they could time-travel, would choose to go back and see Christ — but since they wouldn’t be able to understand a word he said, I guess they’d have to settle for watching him in action — what’s odd is that his death is judged of more interest than his miracles. Possibly, in fact certainly, the walking on water could not be portrayed with the brute viscerality Gibson brings to slaughter, the need for special effects would take us out of you-are-there literalness, so as he saw it the film’s are of effectiveness was violence, pure and simple.

With MEEK’S CUTOFF, the effects aimed at aren’t violent (there’s only one blow struck onscreen, I think), and the purpose behind the approach isn’t rubbernecking at a martyrdom, but participation in a fearful state of unknowing. I was reminded very much of John Sayles’s LIMBO, only here the domain of emptiness is more powerfully evoked. At first the travelers are uncertain as to their guide’s ability — he seems to have gotten them lost, but can he get them unlost? As doubt turns to the certainty that Meek is no reliable guide — “The only question is, is he evil or merely stupid?” — a new guide is discovered, a lone indian who speaks no English. Given his probable hostility (he’s been wounded and kidnapped by Meek), his inability to communicate verbally, and his alien culture, this man may be no more reliable than Meek, but putting faith in him seems the only way to proceed with hope…

The appearance of the line “Stay the course” made me wonder if the film was in any way a political metaphor for present American embroilments in the Middle East. I think it can read that way, but it doesn’t force the thought upon us. If we follow that line, cowboy Bush is succeeded by non-white American Obama, and the journey through the wilderness is one where the outcome cannot be known: all that’s clear is the mistakes already made, which it’s too late to correct. That seems, at least in part, reductive, though, since the film’s thematic openness is part of it’s strength, and the tactile dustiness seems to insist that the film is about exactly what it is about — THIS journey, THESE people.

Excellent performances all round, notably from Michelle Williams and Bruce Greenwood. Haunting cinematography. Bold, mesmeric pacing. I don’t award stars, but imagine lying on your back on the prairie at night, looking up at the sky.