Archive for The Usual Suspects

The Impossible Takes A Little Longer…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 3, 2019 by dcairns

…two hours and twenty-seven minutes in the case of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT.

I caught up with Christopher McQuarrie’s two MI films, a bit belatedly. The only thing I’d seen of his was THE USUAL SUSPECTS (THE USUALS, for short), which he wrote. And I dimly remembered that he had one of the two rival Alexander the Great biopics — evidently the wrong one got made.

This guy’s really skilled! He can move the camera to show what characters are thinking. His action is visually coherent, his blocking of normal dramatic scenes (there are a couple) is also dynamic and inventive. He steals from the best, with elan.

Of course, the exciting adventures of the International Monetary Fund Impossible Missions Force are still a step down from those of Alexander of Macedon, and I guess McQuarrie had to recalibrate his industry expectations during the twelve year gap between his directing debut and Tom Cruise giving him another chance with JACK REACHER. Cruise has spoken of wanting each film in this series to have it’s own distinctive director, though maybe that idea was born because Brian DePalma wa s such a grouch on the first film. McQuarrie has broken the mould by being asked back. The time might now be right for him to try something more serious because surely there are limits to what you can express through the medium of punching, kicking, shooting and chasing, in a glossy Bondian fantasy world? I know, it does sound like fun, and as far back as THE USUALS, McQuarrie ha s been inventing a kind of mythic world of unknowable, Mabusian supergeniuses…

The challenge DePalma faced with his entry was to turn a team-based TV show into a star vehicle for one guy, while keeping it nominally about a team. With the later entries, maybe the problem is how to make it feel like anything matters in a series where ludicrous shit is constantly being accomplished on the hoof.

Fiona, having watched Chernobyl, points out that you should never do this with a plutonium core.

“NOTHING in this film is real!” declared Fiona, midway through McQ’s 2nd MI joint. Not a complaint about the pervasive CGI jiggery-pokery (we know TC did enough of his own jumping to hurt one of his little legs, but the bike chase through Paris must have involved more head removals than the Thermidorian reaction — ironic, in a film where people keep swapping faces via those silly masks) but an admiring/exasperated response to the incessant narrative trickery. The “big store” cons so popular in the TV version haven’t been exploited this much in previous franchise entries, but they really go crazy with it here. But they don’t quite overdo it, even if the mission in this kind of hokum is to overdo everything in sight: unlike in OCEAN’S 11, where every moment of jeopardy was followed by a twist revealing that it was all part of the plan and everything was under control, which got monotonous and frustrating (you can, it seems, get TIRED of surprise).

Oh, and I like Rebecca Ferguson’s technique for fighting much bigger men: she climbs up them and hits them from above.

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Licking Hitler

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2011 by dcairns

Tom Von Cruise.

I was always very curious to see Bryan Singer’s VALKYRIE. Just not curious enough to actually see it, at least until three years after it came out.

The film, whose true title is LET’S KILL HITLER TO DEATH, as my friend Randy rightly says (in the same way that the true title of Meryl Streep’s A CRY IN THE DARK is A DINGO ATE MY BABY, as my friends Colin and Morag rightly insist), got a lot of negative publicity early on when people saw what Tom Cruise looked like in a Nazi uniform and eye-patch. Cruise is still a big star, despite being a strange cult member, and so the studio must have felt his involvement bolstered what was already a compelling true story torn from the history books (if you visit a library in LA, all the newspapers and history books are incomplete, because of all the stories torn from them), but the problem is identical to that faced by MGM when they made PARNELL: for every great star, there is a role which is so alien to what the star’s public expects, that the combination of actor and role destroys whatever appeal each may have had. In the case of Tom Cruise, that role was a Nazi with an eye-patch.

I confess to mixed feelings about Bryan Singer. I liked THE USUAL SUSPECTS as much as most people seem to, and his first X-MEN movie seemed like the first superhero movie to capture the appeal of comic book superheroes — good guys and bad guys, broadly drawn, each with his/her own unique set of powers, fighting each other and having soap opera emotional crises. Since some powers are particularly effective against others (Magneto’s magnetism turns Wolverine’s metal skeleton from a strength to a liability), the result has some of the cleverness of a chess game, but with more violence and property damage, so everybody wins.

Of course, SUPERMAN RETURNS was a misfire, despite a convincing Christopher Reeve clone and an amusing Lex Luther and Miss Tessmacher and a convincing duplication of the original Donner and Lester movie’s feel — when it became clear that the plot centered around a scheme basically identical to the first Donner movie’s masterplan, the whole thing started to get arthritic.

Just what this movie needs — a Busby Berkeley water ballet.

VALKYRIE seems to follow an opposite course, actually acquiring greater conviction and force as it goes on. To begin with, the American and British actors mingle poorly, and no alibi is in force to explain why all these German characters have different ways of speaking English. (I hated INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, hated it, but I have to give Tarantino points for an uncompromising approach to language, with everybody speaking the tongue they would have spoken, in the situations they would have spoken it in.) Then Hitler turns up, and he has a GERMAN accent.

I don’t want to be too down on Jeremy Bamber, the non-lookalike cast as the fuhrer. I don’t know whose idea it was that he assume a phony accent, or play the role with similar infirmity to Bruno Ganz’s still-fresh-in-memory barnstorming triumph in DOWNFALL. I can only say, “Lousy idea.”

Then some actual German actors turn up, confusing things still further. And meanwhile, Singer’s directorial tropes are all either over-familiar to the point of distraction, or else stylistically inexplicable and counter-productive. So, much as one wants to be mature and NOT laugh at the spectacle of Tom Cruise in a Nazi uniform and eye-patch, the movie doesn’t exactly help one. Once Cruise was seen recruiting Eddie Izzard in a men’s room, and Kenneth Branagh compared Germany to Sodom, I started to wonder if the whole movie could be some kind of strange, sly metaphor concocted by the out gay Singer around the officially heterosexual Cruise. It was weird.

But, as we near the moment of detonation, suspense starts to kick in. Here, David Bordwell talks about the mystery of how movies generate suspense around stories where the outcome is already known to us. It’s a fascinating area. Singer is helped by the fact that, though one hopes most of his audience know the plot against Hitler failed (just as one hopes they know Tarantino’s version of events is not historically accurate), the precise outcome of the aftermath of the failed coup is less familiar to many of us. So, while John Ottman’s scoring and editing, the high-stakes, complicated operation put into action by Cruise, Izzard, Terence Stamp etc (was the whole casting process predicated on height? Cruise may be the tallest man in the film), and the inevitable “what if?” and “if only” thoughts inspired by the story, all do their part, in some ways the denouement’s predictability only adds to the clarity Hitchcock insisted was necessary for true suspense.

As an example of the “what if?” factor — the coup fails because, obviously, Hitler failed in his part of the plan and didn’t die. But, more crucially still, he proved he was still alive by communicating by telephone and radio. Which suggests that, even if he HAD died, the bad Nazis (as opposed to all those good Nazis we’ve all heard so much about) could still have convinced the world A.H. was in charge by enlisting the services of a decent Hitler impersonator. Who was the Third Reich’s equivalent of Rich Little, anyway? On questions like this, the fate of nations may be decided.