Archive for The Matrix

Gas Giant

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2018 by dcairns

JUPITER ASCENDING! I had a vague hankering to see this, partly since I collaborated with the Wachowskis on CLOUD ATLAS (i.e. since I directed ten seconds of the bottom left-hand corner of a splitscreen montage in that film), partly because it sounded like it might be bonkers.

Sadly, only Eddie Redmayne is proper mad in this film, essaying a husky-voiced characterisation punctuated by Sudden Random SHOUTING that betrays the influence of A. Hopkins in particularly fruity mode. So he’s bringing the entertainment, or embarrassment, depending on your viewpoint. Some said the role would cost him the Oscar he might have otherwise clasped for THE DANISH GIRL. My friend and co-writer Alex Livingstone disagreed, insisting that it was the role of Balem Abrasax in the Wachowski space opera that he should in fact have been nominated FOR.As for the other actors, Mila Kunis does OK with a role that’s basically just asking questions about cosmology (while wearing nice frocks). Look at Linda Fiorentino, an equally poised and forceful actor, floundering horribly in Kevin Smith’s DOGMA to see how difficult this kind of exposition-speak can be. But then look at Sean Bean, who is SO good that he actually seems like a human being while talking this crap and hampered with the name Stinger Apini. Meanwhile, Channing Tatum is part-wolf, but he also used to have wings, but he can still fly without them thanks to his science skates, so that’s OK. Or is it? Seems kind of… NEEDLESSLY COMPLEX.

So is everything in this bloated yet wafer-thin pulp. The small greys are from such-and-such a system, says Tatum, but they’ve been modified to serve as OH SHUT UP CHANNING TATUM. Everything is needlessly complicated to disguise how simplistic it is, including the characters’ looks. Fiona complained that all the extras had pointless bits stuck on their faces. I blame Lobot. That guy with the tin ears in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. He’s Lobot. I know these things because I’m a film critic.“So… I play a guy with a stripey chin…”

We get an explanation of how the aliens cover up their activity on Earth, after a big chase trashes half of Chicago, but since the film goes on to spend zero time with ordinary humans, they might as well have not bothered. The MATRIXesque phildickian “something’s going on but you don’t know what it is, do you, Jupiter Jones?” thing simply has no reason to exist in this movie.

The brave thing about J.A. is that it’s not a sequel or a superhero movie, but that scarcely matters when it delivers the same boilerplate characters and “thrills” as every CAPTAINIRONBATSUPERWONDERBLACKTHORHULKSPIDERPANTHERMANWOMAN film out there. We get distinct nods to Mike Hodges’ FLASH GORDON and David Lynch’s DUNE, but the subversive and strange qualities of those movies are absent. Might as well have gone for broke, in retrospect, since this movie tanked anyway.The Terry Gilliam cameo is hugely enjoyable for this reason — they hired a non-actor for jokey reasons and let him do the same mugging and nonsense he’d do in the background of Monty Python sketches. Also, he doesn’t give us his thoughts on the #MeToo movement. The movie really needed about 400% of this sort of thing. Get Richard O’Brien! Get Martin Short!

Alternatively, the action scenes would need to be brought off with the kind of enthusiasm and cohesion and imagination the Wachowskis manages just once, in the original MATRIX. Well, the sequels had some eye-catching bits, I guess. But SPEED RACER had no flow, and this one has a bit so damn busy that the screen just disintegrates into particles. Some little spaceships called “Warhammers” were attacking a bigger spaceship. “I have no idea what I’m looking at,” protested Fiona, “except it’s shit.” I put forward that the theory that what we were looking at was pixels. To save money, the siblings had dispensed with computers and just poured a bunch of pixels all over everything. Really, if the second-hand disc had been damaged and started artifacting, we wouldn’t have known it.

Examples ~ It’s NOT any clearer when it’s in motion. It’s either a space battle as envisioned by Michael Snow or its the last image to pass before George Lucas’s mind’s eye as he gets dragged through the waistline of a radioactive hourglass.

Finally, Mila Kunis does get to do some acting, make some choices for herself, and have a fight scene, where it suddenly turns out she has the ability to fall for about a mile and then grab hold of something, which is odd as she’s not supposed to be superpowered. But at least she’s DOING SOMETHING rather than inviting other characters to dump information on her, The Wachowskis, as we now from the later MATRICES, have a real weakness of explanation.

But it’s too little, too late, in a film which is otherwise too much, too soon (rather than using its protagonist’s experiences to introduce the weird space characters, the film can’t resist splurging and flinging them at us right away). Jupiter is an expository device like CITIZEN KANE’s Thompson, leaving Tatum to drive the plot — but he’s not the title character, and he’s viewed as an object of desire. It’s nice when the Wachowskis mix up gender roles, but not nice when they sabotage the drama. At the climax of the film, Tatum has to fight a crocodile man, but I was struggling to get worked up about it. “I don’t dislike this crocodile man,” I found myself saying. “I think he’s OK.”Still, in the film’s one really neat bit of sci-fi action, Tatum drops the reptilian fellow through a portal in a glass floor and snaps it shut on his neck. Nasty.

Also oddly reminiscent of maybe the most startling gag in Buster Keaton’s career ~The tragedy of the Wachowskis, or maybe tragicomedy since they’re probably quite happy, is that they are authentically left-field talents (BOUND is still their most satisfying movie) who got boosted into superproduction mode by THE MATRIX and fundamentally don’t belong there. And maybe they’re not quite clever enough to either escape or turn the situation to any artistic advantage.

Advertisements

Masquerade

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by dcairns

cloud-atlas-concept-art

I was predisposed to like CLOUD ATLAS because I directed part of it. Not a large part — not as much as Tom Tykwer or Andy or Lana Wachowski. Just around five seconds of the bottom left hand corner.

Around a year ago, our friend David Brown, who was line producing the Scottish section of the shoot, got in touch with me and asked if the students at Edinburgh College of Art might be persuaded to shoot material for a big split-screen montage showing the media sensation caused when London Irish gangster throws a literary critic off a rooftop for dissing his book. I volunteered my own services and produced a short TV segment debating the merits of murdering critics, and was joined by a number of students, all of us seizing the chance of a decent payday and an exciting CV entry.

It’s possible that the DVD contains the unexpurgated versions of our films, I’ll get back to you on that.

The trailer for the movie was kind of a wow, but did worry me with its VO pontifications. Happily, the movie digests all the philosophizing a lot better than the MATRIX sequels, and struck me as that rare phenomenon, a movie that’s more than the sum of its parts. Following in the path of DW Griffith and INTOLERANCE, Buster Keaton and THE THREE AGES and Bill Forsyth and BEING HUMAN (only the middle movie was a real success), the movie tells six stories in different historical periods, and connects them mainly thematically and with a few little motifs — the gimmick of David Mitchell’s source novel, in which the characters from one story read others, or see movies based on them, isn’t as central here, which means the script has to work to establish why exactly it IS telling so many apparently unrelated yarns. I liked the effect.

We’d heard that the script was around 180 pages and rumours hinted that the rough cut of the first half of the movie came in at three hours, but the finished product, though long, never felt it. Multi-narrative things can drag easily, as it takes longer for each narrative strand to get started, interrupted as it is by others. The team here are buoyed along by the sheer puzzlement of what all these stories have to do with each other. It’s a very different plan from the book’s nested narratives, but a pleasingly perverse one.

It’s also fun trying to figure out the literary and/or cinematic influences behind each story, and which sources inspired Mitchell versus which influenced the filmmakers, something I’m not smart enough to do. But here are some guesses —

cloud-atlas-260712-12

South Pacific 1849

No idea where this derives from, but it’s another take on the slave trade, which suddenly seems the topic du jour. It’s quite moving, and improves on DJANGO UNCHAINED with its pseudo-science phrenology monologue from Leo DiCaprio, by giving its slave-owning characters philosophical self-justifications that aren’t just nonsense — they have a particular kind of self-serving pseudo-logic.

Best perf: Jim Sturgess is lovely. I saw THE BROWNING VERSION back in 1994 so I guess I saw him as a kid, but this was my first real exposure. Keith David is also great, but I most enjoyed Tom Hanks grotesque fancy-dress turn.

cloudatlas1

Cambridge and Edinburgh 1936

The amanuensis set-up made me think of Ken Russell’s TV play Song of Summer, but like all the storylines, this one turns into a thriller. I would have liked to see more of Edinburgh, of course.

Best perfs: Ben Whishaw is very affecting.

Cloud-Atlas-585x350

San Francisco 1973

Seems to channel bits of SILKWOOD, with its nuclear industry whistle-blower plot. Funny seeing West George Street in Glasgow, situated on a steep hill, standing in for San Francisco. Likewise, a Scottish bridge forms the approach to the power plant, which has been digitally painted in to the shot.

Best perfs: This is Berry’s chance to shine, but I also loved Brody Nicholas Lee, and Hugo Weaving as hitman Bill Smoke, a variant on his MATRIX nasty.

1941973c

Niall Fulton, who plays The False Natan in NATAN, is standing just offscreen on the right, playing one of the diabolical Hoggins Brothers.

UK 2012

Tykwer’s comic relief episode (to which I contributed my few seconds) ties into the theme of the struggle for liberation, as Jim Broadbent tries to escape from an oppressive old people’s home. I guess it has some antecedents in the English comic novel, but I don’t know what. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST certainly seems relevant though.

Best perfs: It’s Broadbent’s show all the way, but the other oldsters are terrif.

cloud_atlas_02

Neo Seoul, Korea, 2144

This one has quite a lot in common with V FOR VENDETTA, which the Wachowskis produced, and it makes sense that this section of the novel would appeal to them. An innocent woman is adopted by a seemingly superhuman terrorist to battle oppression in a future society where some kind of holocaust has been instigated — it’s very similar, but the story world itself is very different, incorporated imagery reminiscent of BLADE RUNNER, ATTACK OF THE CLONES, THX 1138 and even SPEED RACER.

Best perfs: Doona Bae and Xun Zhu are both great, but I also loved James D’Arcy’s coolly “sympathetic” interrogator.

cloud-atlas-260712-19

The Big Island of Hawaii 2321

Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker, a post-nuclear adventure where everybody speaks a strange patois of degenerated English, must have been the influence here. By coincidence I just reading Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, and since that features the culture clash between those who have devolved to barbarism and those who still have technology, that may also have figured in the mix. The filmmakers’ exploded structure pulls this out from the centre of the novel where it’s the only uninterrupted tale, and allows it to bookend the whole film, while weaving in and out. The last shot is a winner.

Best perf: Tom Hanks gets to do his conflicted hero thing here.

cloudatlas7

Asides from the good performances, the film is also full of strange impersonations, as actors are got up in prosthetics and funny voices to play different ages, genders and races, though interestingly the movie squeamishly eschews the blackface that so enlivened O LUCKY MAN!, the last obvious case of an ensemble cast playing multiple roles. Instead we get a lot of yellowface and some equally unconvincing instances of Korean actors playing white. This is all interesting.

I wasn’t offended in the least. I did wonder slightly at the intended effect, since the makeups are elaborate but not convincing at all, and not all of the actors are suited to chameleonic performances. Hanks makes a nicely repulsive quack, and an amusing Scottish landlord, and he does have a knack for the grotesque. Likewise, Hugo Weaving makes a good manly female nurse, and it’s a role which suits drag. I enjoyed Hugh Grant’s old age turn, even though he looks like a Spitting Image puppet under all that latex. (Incidentally, that humiliating arrest of his has really opened up a useful line in villainous sleaze for Grant: all his characters in CLOUD ATLAS are baddies.)

But mostly the film shows that actors are often better playing characters they are a little bit like — and one reason the film works as well as it does is that the more blatant disguises function mostly as novelty turns in storylines centred around characters played by actors roughly the right age, race and sex for their roles. It does add an amusing guessing-game element to the film, and the end credits have a LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER moment of revelation.

Blue Sky Casting: Preston Sturges’ MATRIX

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 10, 2008 by dcairns

 I know kung-fu

There’s an unproduced Preston Sturges script, first written in the thirties, later floated in the forties as a possible Gene Tierney vehicle, called MATRIX. I once contacted the Sturges family via their website, asking if there were any plans to publish the document. It would be more useful to have out there than all the scripts of the Sturges films that WERE made, excellent though they are.

Alas, the Sturgeses (Sturgi?) replied that they preferred to keep MATRIX to themselves, which struck me as slightly selfish, but it’s their right I suppose.

So we must use our imaginations as to what Preston Sturges’ MATRIX might have been…

We don't know who struck first, us or them

The Cast:

Eddie Bracken … Neo (Let’s be honest, how many computer geeks look like Keanu Reeves?)

William Demarest … Morpheus (I want to see him do that pratfall [above] in “bullet time”)

Ella Raines … Trinity (my octogenarian friend Lawrie said, “I was always very interested in Ella Raines, because I’d heard she was a lesbian, and of course… I had no idea what that meant.”)

Al Bridge … Agent Smith (he’s got the DRAWL)

Jimmy Conlin … Oracle

Franklin Pangborn … The Architect 

Veronica Lake … Persephone

Akim Tamiroff … Twin #2

Lionel Stander … Twin #1

Eric Blore … the Merovingian (and why not?)

The body cannot live without the mind

I feel a little guilty about casting a white guy in Larry Fishburn’s role, but I would feel more guilty about casting Sturges’ favourite black actor, “Snowflake”… although he’s a very funny guy.

Sturges had the best stock company of supporting players of any filmmaker. I bet you could cast any movie with that troupe. As Easter approaches, I’m thinking about doing KING OF KINGS.