Archive for The Prestige

Back Asswards

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2020 by dcairns

SPOILERS FOR TENET! !TENET ROF SRELIOPS

Lots of them.

I felt a sort of historic obligation to see TENT since it positioned itself as the Great Return to Cinema — its writer-director seemed eager to create a series of super-spreader screenings and, like his Russian supervillain, bring his medium of expression (arms dealing, cinema) to an end along with all of us. That plan was thwarted, perhaps by a time-traveling secret agent, and now, also like his Russian supervillain, his movie has bellyflopped into the icy waters of indifference, pausing only to smash its skull on a jutting section of luxury yacht, and will shortly be towed off by a motor launch, its pale and shapeless body, a Felliniesque dead mackerel, glistening with poorly-applied sun cream. Or am I stretching my simile too far?

I enjoyed this film! Maybe my favourite Nolan since THE PRESTIGE. Of course I have grumbles, but there were at least moments where I felt a kind of glee over what was about to happen, or maybe what had just happened? So hard to tell.

Of course I went in knowing that all the dialogue was exposition, and most of it was inaudible. Knowing that helped to not worry about that. Must be even tougher if you’re unused to Cockney.

Robert Pattinson’s impersonation of Christopher Hitchens may not be as dazzling as Roger Allam’s in V FOR VENDETTA, but it’s very entertaining.

About that: Sir Michael Caine appears, since this is a Nolan joint, and it’s always nice to see him. But the appearance feels valedictory. Damn you, 2020! It’s a wholly sedentary appearance, unevenly cut, and that fine actor seems to be having trouble speaking. That thing, whatever it is, when your teeth are no longer firmly rooted. Nolan gives Caine some of the best lines in the film, and drops the thundering Zimmerist music of Ludwig Göransson so we can hear him. Caine is playing Sir Michael Crosby, and when John David Washington (continuing to prove his worth as an excellent, sensitive leading man) gets up to leave he pauses, and in a specially weighted close-up, says, “Goodbye, Sir Michael.”

So there’s THAT — the only emotional moment in the film, really, and the most successful emotional beat of Nolan’s career. Maybe I’m out of line for even mentioning it. I do hope Caine does lots more films. Nolan and Caine seem to be admitting otherwise, if that moment is there for a reason.

Elsewhere, the film is a series of heists and capers and assaults. You know that thing about INCEPTION? That thing where they bend Paris, and it’s just a DEMO, to let you know the kind of thing they can do in a dream? And then they never do anything like that again? Except the Fred Astaire punch-up in the rotating corridor?

Well, TENT, sorry, TENET, isn’t quite like that, but I was waiting for them to do more with their reverse gear. I had guessed from the title that the film would go forwards for half its running time, then backwards to the beginning, but that’s not really true. They do start reversing at the halfway mark. There’s a fun backwards car chase. And a fight played first with the protagonist moving forwards, then replayed with him reversed (Nolan can’t quite shoot this expressively enough to make the masked man the hero — your eye keeps going to the unmasked one). And at the end there’s a “temporal pincer movement” in which one set of attackers are in reverse, but why?

Best bit in that attack — where a building seems to blow up twice, both forwards and backwards and there really wasn’t time why or even WHAT — is when a wall reverse-explodes and sucks a passing trooper into itself. Presumably, if we had a flashback to the construction of that wall, we’d see a couple of builders going What do you want done with these human bones? Oh just put them in the wall, it’ll be fine. Are you sure? Yeah, when somebody eventually blows up the wall all the bits will turn into a person and he’ll run off backwards it’ll be FINE.

Disappointing the film does not include that scene.

TENET contains the palindrome Tenet, and also the reversible names Sator and Rotas, and it contains a racecar (kind of) and a mom. But no kayak or madam. The LA JETEE moment when a memory is replayed only this time the person whose memory it is becomes a character seen in that memory — I saw that one coming — is, given that the character is called Kat, perhaps a visualisation of the palindromic sentence “Was it a cat I saw?”

In terms of clarity — I think the film suffers not just from everyone saying important lines through masks or cockney accents, but because Nolan is not the world’s most lucid visual storyteller. Think of the incoherent fights in his first BATMAN, then listen to him saying they were like that on purpose, then look at the later BATMEN and their fights, which are only like 25% better. So he can’t help it. I always felt THE PRESTIGE needed not just a big CITIZEN KANE shot at the end — which is easy to do if you have a big budget for man-sized mason jars — but a tracking shot that shows a reasonable sampling of WHO is in those jars. Because I value clarity. TENT has a big briefing scene (I think it’s actually in a TENT) where they explain what they’re going to do before the final battle, and it’s STILL confusing.

Some really nice location shooting. But if it had proper James Bond swooning strings and torch song vamping over it, that would have been better than the pounding, throbbing stuff Nolan always goes for. The James Bond films that inspire him are technocratic power fantasies of violence and casual sex, and when you put s. strings and t.s. vamping on top, you get wonderful IRONY. Which Nolan doesn’t do, does he? Extraordinary that you can be a Bond fan and not appreciate or aspire to an ironic tone.

But he’s quite an odd fellow, I think, Nolan, in his dry, boring way.

TENT stars Ron Stallworth; Crocker Fenway; Fleur Delacour; Rev. Preston Teagardin; Bobby J. Braganza; Harry Palmer; Mopsy Rabbit; Prince Bertie; Hercule Poirot; John Lennon; and Lilian Roth.

Overlook

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 30, 2013 by dcairns

(L-R) Andy Serkis, David Bowie, Hugh Jackman

So, here’s the order of events —

We find out we’re screening at Telluride, but we’re sworn to secrecy. The peculiarity of this festival is that nobody knows what’s on until they get here.

Then I realise that the reason the place-name is familiar to me is from Richard Lester’s BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS, where the town is regarded as a kind of outlaw paradise.

Then, through circumstances that may be narrated one day, I get to meet Mr. Lester. Despite being sworn to secrecy, I mention Telluride to him, because, well, I figure Who’s he gonna tell? No, not that, I figure he’s trustworthy. And he tells me about filming there, and how it was one of the first towns with electric street lighting anywhere, because of the generator needed for the mine, and how they featured those streetlights in his film.

Then, looking up Telluride under “locations” on the IMDb, I realise that actual incident, the electrification of Telluride, is recreated in Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE, a film I actually like better than most Nolan movies (but what it really needs is a big wide CITIZEN KANE shot at the end to actually clarify what has been happening — thinking about it, a big wide shot in that warehouse with a few identifiable corpses floating in tanks — clear everything up beautifully).

And now I’m here. Partying in the Rockies with Francis Ford Coppola, the Coens, Philip Kaufman, Allan Arkush, Robert Redford, Salman Rushdie, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Bruce Dern and David Thomson (who has written our programme notes in typically unconventional and imaginative style) while thunder rumbles in the not-so-distance, The drive up was total SHINING credits sequence material, but my hotel is less like the Overlook and more like the Great Northern in Twin Peaks. As for altitude sickness, I’m not sleeping, I’m breathless, my head aches and I feel weak as a kitten — which is all perfectly normal for me.

The bus driver tried to give me Bruce Dern’s luggage by mistake. Maybe I should have accepted it?

Perception

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2010 by dcairns

If there’s a problem with Christopher Nolan — and I submit, ladies and gentlemen, that there IS a problem with Christopher Nolan — it’s perhaps that, with all his impressive gifts for visualisation, he doesn’t always make the best choices in what to visualise and how to visualise it. My Nolan Problem dates back to his over-cutty, bowdlerized remake of INSOMNIA, and came back to bite me with the incoherent set-piece fights in BATMAN BEGINS (which I mulled over here). I liked THE PRESTIGE a good deal, but had a nagging feeling that the last shot could have crystallized the story a whole lot better if we’d seen clearly the contents of lots and lots of big jars. Instead of a great “Ah-hah!” we get a big “Ah-hah… I think.” But maybe he likes that — the end of the new one could be described as aiming for just that feeling.

Anyhow, I liked THE DARK KNIGHT fine, for what it was — “Big movies have got to get better,” said Soderbergh, before making OCEAN’S 11 thru 13, increasingly proving his own point without solving the problem — and Nolan is closer to attaining this improvement than most of his contemporaries. The problems with TDK are perhaps inherent to the comic book action thriller, which is to say they’re not problems at all for the audience that digs those movies… I like my action sequences to advance the plot, personally…

My INCEPTION Problem has a little to do with clarity — I see no reason why the set-up of the equipment used for dream invasions couldn’t make it pictorially quite clear just WHO is invading and just WHO is being invaded, which would help in the early setting up of the rules. But then I did quite like having to struggle occasionally to follow the story, which is an unfamiliar sensation in modern cinema.

I find the title slightly comical, but here I have to digress and explain why. A few friends were talking movies, and they came up with what seemed at the time like a pretty good thriller idea, set on an oil tanker in the North Sea. One of them suddeny became very excited: “Oh, oh! I know what it should be called! The perfect title!” Drum roll. His friends lean forward in suspense. “CONTAINMENT,” he says.

To me, INCEPTION is like CONTAINMENT — it comes on quite strong as a word sound, but it doesn’t follow through on the level of meaning. It’s not an exciting word.

But my REAL Problem With Inception — which essentially I enjoyed, I have to say — is that the rules set up in the training sequence seem to allow for some fantastic visuals that you couldn’t get in another movie: folding Paris, for instance. And the scary, paranoid threat of all the extras turning hostile when you do things like that. And that isn’t followed through in the action climax, or not to a satisfactory level. The Escher staircase and its variants are very nice, but shouldn’t there be something even bigger than the Paris roll-up? And the way everything explodes when a dream collapses — shouldn’t that have been repeated? Instead we get some well-staged action sequences with guns and explosives. The problem here is that those kind of sequences could occur in any movie — Nolan could have saved the snow attack for a BATMAN movie and we’d be none the wiser.

(My dinner companion of Wednesday night shrewdly points out that this big shoot-em-up seems inspired by Anthony Mann’s THE HEROES OF TELEMARK, but there’s nothing to compare to the wordless, music-less, hushed advance through the snow in that movie, which is sheer poetry.)

So while I enjoyed Joseph Gordon Levitt fighting on the ceiling like a two-fisted Fred Astaire, I wanted more of that kind of thing. A really interesting story world is summoned up here, but the pay-off is overly intercut action sequences (shades of Lucas) which don’t sufficiently exploit the unique qualities of that vision.

Still — the pluses are a really strong supporting cast for Leonardo DiCaprio (who’s not having much luck with the ladies lately) — the very lovely Ellen Page gives it warmth, Tom Hardy and Dileep Rao (most compulsively, amusingly watchable Hollywood new discovery of this century?) give it humour, Watanable and Postlethwaite and Caine and Berenger give it class, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives it that indefinable Joseph Gordon-Levitt Feeling — some fantastic environments, including of course the crumbling city (give me a crumbling city and I’m a happy fellow) and the full-blooded, if derivative, bombast of Hans Zimmer’s score.