Archive for The Lookout

Block and Tackle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2020 by dcairns

Other directors had tackled the work of Lawrence Block before A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, but it hadn’t gone well. Hal Ashby was shut out of the edit on 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE, and Nic Roeg was fired after five days on NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON. Block also served as screenwriter for Wong Kar-Wei on MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, which I haven’t seen.

AWATT was also a bit jinxed, since Harrison Ford bailed on it (too violent, perhaps) and it collapsed. When it sprang to life again, screenwriter Scott Frank was in charge and Liam Neeson was the lead, and the result is very violent indeed. It also fits snuggly into that rather unproductive and creepy subgenre Neeson seems now irrevocably associated with, the female kidnap drama where Neeson says bad-ass things into a phone in a husky voice.

We watched this purely because the writer-director’s two Netflix miniseries, Godless and The Queen’s Gambit, are absolutely sensational. You’ve probably sought out the latter if you have Netflix, but go after the former too. Both are much better than AWATT, which is a decent thriller. The banter and relationship between Neeson and Astro (yes, that’s his name), defrocked cop and homeless kid, is really good. There’s what they call “strong support” from Dan Stevens (Frank seems to get half his casts from Downton Abbey) and Boyd Holbrook, and a good turn from Ólafur Darri Ólafsson.

It just doesn’t seem to add up to more than a really horrible situation that gets resolved with a substantial body count. What have we learned? I mean, I don’t require a message. But maybe the problem is that Neeson’s character, Scudder, is the star of a whole series of books, so he’s a bit unchanging. At any rate, at the end of this one he seems substantially the same lumpen brute as at the start. There’s a sense in which, if Stevens’ character were the protagonist, the stakes would escalate markedly.

Very snazzy cinematic use of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps, though.

Scott Frank is a big fan of seventies US films like DOG DAY AFTERNOON. He just doesn’t want to ever take things that far, it seems. As he himself puts it, he’s “always looking for a safe place to land.” But he’s a huge talent and The Queen’s Gambit is still the best new thing I’ve seen this year apart from THE LIGHTHOUSE.

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES stars Oskar Schindler; Hellboy; Gatz Brown; Pierce; David Haller; Alma Wheatley; Calvin Walker; Ragnar the Rock; Hiram Lodge; Jesse Edwards; and Ptonomy Wallace.

Three-Dimensional Chess

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2020 by dcairns

I read Walter Tevis’s The Queen’s Gambit years ago and loved it. His other filmed books, The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth are great too, and made good movies but the books are still worthy of investigation. The Color of Money doesn’t really have anything much in common with Scorsese’s film and you can see why they chose a different story (“but the book had a very good love story,” said Scorsese in Edinburgh, which was nice of him to note). And there’s an unfilmed sci-fi novel, Mockingbird, which is really beautiful.

I’ve also been impressed with Scott Frank’s stuff — he adapted Elmer Leonard for Soderbergh (OUT OF SIGHT — still maybe SS’s best movie) and from the audio commentary on that one you could tell he was going to direct, and probably be really good at it. And THE LOOKOUT, his first film, was terrific. Like all the promising middlebrow genre filmmakers of his generation, he did time in the Marvel salt mines but the one he wrote, LOGAN, is said to be GOOD. I wasn’t paying attention and thought A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES was just some Liam Neeson movie so I skipped that but now I have bought a DVD of it for 50p because WOW Scott Frank’s miniseries of The Queen’s Gambit is a beautiful thing.

From my memory of the book I can affirm that the CGI visualisations of chessboards are pretty much what Tevis wrote. It’s very faithful though some melodrama early on is removed, which I came to accept as a good call. Though maybe Tevis gains something by making his heroine more damaged.

I can’t recall the clothes in the book — I had a vague impression that Anya Taylor-Joy is more glamorous than the Beth Harmon who Tevis gave us, but I’m probably misremembering. But boy, ATJ is a magnificent screen presence. Her glamour is increasingly weird and witchy so she’s a credible outsider. In fact, everyone in this is terrific, down to the smallest roles — each minor player defeated by ATJ, for instance, is a little one-scene cameo and they’re all uniquely human and different.

Photography, design, music, cutting, are all weapons-grade delicious, and as the story moves through the sixties Scott allows himself a subtly evolving stylistic palette that reflects developing film language of the period without ever becoming pastiche. You don’t see more surefooted choices than this. He could maybe have taken some of them even further, but his caution is probably part of the reason why he hits absolutely everything he aims at.

Nothing negative to say about this show at all, it may be the best American film or “film” of the year.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2008 by dcairns

We don’t really hear much about Armond White in the UK, so it was a surprise to discover how much he turns up in movie conversations in New York. He’s the King of Hyperbole, read for the sheer insanity of his pronouncements, which tend towards either ecstatic transport or queenie indignation, often bearing only the most tangential relationship to the film under discussion.

The only review I read by White during my visit was for Scott Frank’s THE LOOKOUT. Boy, was White angry about that film. Since he also mentioned the fact that he hated BRICK*, which I rather liked, I figured that THE LOOKOUT was probably at worst inoffensive, at best rather good. And so it proved to be.

Scott Frank is the screenwriter of OUT OF SIGHT, probably Soderbergh’s most effective mainstream entertainment, and the film which more than any other helped confirm George Clooney as a genuine movie star (it also created a fleeting, illusionary halo of tolerability around the person of Jennifer Lopez). I’m not crazy about Frank’s other credits (Armond White, however, apparently loves MINORITY REPORT) but I was interested to give THE LOOKOUT a try sometime.

Basically, the film deals with a character played by BRICK’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who suffers brain damage during a reckless nocturnal drive and goes from being a high-school sports star to a bank janitor who has trouble remembering and sequencing events. Comparisons to MEMENTO are inevitable, but I think there’s room for more than one film about this relatively common kind of problem.

Induced by an acquaintance (Brit Matthew Goode, sporting a pitch-perfect U.S. accent) and a too-good-to-be-true girlfriend (Isla Fisher) to help out in a bank robbery, LGL’s character finds himself in over his head, outgunned and outplanned, and must work around his multiple mental disabilities in order to emerge alive.

“In THE LOOKOUT, Gordon-Levitt cements his indie rep as the poster boy for dysfunction,” writes White, suggesting a deep discomfort with any movie presenting a hero who is not perfection personified (he loves his Spielberg). And: “It takes a highly naive, cynical performer—or a doltish film critic—to find this nonsense interesting or surprising.” Naive AND cynical, that’s a nice mix. Where does Hollywood find such performers? White really seems not to believe that people with brain damage exist. The fact that JGL’s character lives with a blind man (aw, it’s Jeff Daniels — we LIKE Jeff Daniels!) seems to make him even angrier, although this is surely just WHAT WOULD HAPPEN. People with different disabilities are often housed together, so they can help each other out.

Of course, disabilities rarely DO exist in Hollywood. THE LOOKOUT doesn’t necessarily make the very best use of the issues it raises, but at least it raises them. It’s essentially a decent, tense film noir with some unusual characters. I wondered if it would be brave enough to have a downbeat ending, because I think most of the best noirs do — MINORITY REPORT would be immeasurably improved if it ended just after the Cruiser realises he’s been set up — but then I figured the film was so pervaded with loss and sadness, nobody would want to see it end worse than it started. But it’s inherent in the film’s premise that sometimes you lose something and you can’t get it back, things can NEVER be as good as they were, so the upbeat conclusion is still rather sad. This strikes me as pretty brave for the mainstream, and perhaps explains why the film didn’t do better. It’s a stylish thriller with great music and performances and the story is suspenseful and satisfying — but so many people like White are deeply uncomfortable with anything that suggests that life for some of us — or ALL of us — might not be perfectable.

Although some aspects of the film are predictable, this didn’t strike me as bad: our greater ability to work out that JGL is being exploited means that we can feel anxious long before he does. I thought it was also rather smart that the film encourages us to underestimate the hero in just the way the bad guys do. His stripper “girlfriend,” played by Isla Fisher and rejoicing in the name of Luvlee Lemons, is something of a cliched Tart-With-A-Heart: Frank wrote a proper femme fatale, but Fisher didn’t want to play unsympathetic. I think that’s a terrible choice, since femme fatales are MUCH more enjoyable that T-W-A-Hs. And Fisher telegraphs her character’s niceness in one dreadful scene by staring at JGL through a windscreen and assembling a variety of emotive expressions on her face, with a good bit of Dallas-type Odd Lip Movement.

Nevertheless, I would unhesitatingly suggest that those in search of a good modern thriller to try this one on for size. If you don’t like the movie, you can still get endless fascination by trying to figure out what the hell Armond White means by “Being an indie puppet means a willingness to pervert contemporary notions of heroism, and in THE LOOKOUT, Gordon-Levitt once again plays a moral defective as if the film’s absurdities made sense.”

“I know what all those words mean, but that statement makes no sense,” ~ Lisa Simpson in The Simpsons, studying a marquee that reads “YAHOO SERIOUS FILM FESTIVAL”.

*Self-conscious neo-noirs never seem to work, since the stylistic excesses of the classic noir were committed with a kind of innocence: the term film noir had not been invented, and filmmakers were just doing what seemed natural and right at the time. Yet BRICK’s teen-noir pastiche struck me as fresh and satisfying. It helps that the film has a bright, saturated look and surprise framing and cutting that have nothing to do with noir archetypes. At times it verges on BUGSY MALONE territory, with all those kids acting like gangsters, especially when school principal Richard Roundtree calls the young hero into his office and tells him to BACK OFF, but I enjoyed even that moment. The whole film is very self-conscious and cute, but sincere too.