Archive for Toby Jones

The Origin of Speeches

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2015 by dcairns


A filmmaker donated a big box of DVDs to the Art College so I took a few home. One was CREATION, directed by Jon Amiel, produced by Jeremy Thomas, telling the story of Charles Darwin’s struggle to write his magnum opus in the face of his deeply religious wife’s opposition, and while reeling from the death of his eldest child. I thought it might be terribly middlebrow, and in part it is, but it’s also well worth a look. I knew Fiona would be interested because it has Bambidirk Counterbath Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Jones in it, both of whom rick up in the same carriage at one point, and Jeremy Northam for good measure. We don’t get enough Northam these days.

Chas. D. is played by Paul Bettany, in a succession of unattractive wigs (the very first shot of him displays an unwise amount of cheesecloth), who’s very good in a tough role. The character is anguished more or less throughout — Darwin was plagued by horrible, possibly psychosomatic discomforts during the writing of his famous book , and Bettany has to display suffering in every scene without getting monotonous. He just about succeeds. His real-life wife, Jennifer Connolly, plays Mrs. D, with impressive toughness, never apologising for the way the character is or trying to win excessive favour from the audience.


Jeremy Thomas is attracted to classy literary adaptations and subjects that can easily seem middle-brow and uncinematic, but when he’s working with a Bertolucci or a Cronenberg the risk is obviated. Jon Amiel isn’t in that league — he benefited from working with the inherently idiosyncratic Dennis Potter in TV, bringing a restless, kinetic pizzazz to the proceedings. Here, adapting a novel himself along with John Collee, his style seems merely commercial, over-eager to keep things moving and be big and fancy. Slow motion shots, hand-held, steadicam, crane shots, jump cuts — everything is thrown at it, and not everything sticks. Fiona complimented the film for the moments which seem simplest — in fact, there’s a lot of craft and cunning going on even in these moments, but the quieter tone WORKS in a way that the more hectic and pushy style doesn’t. You can’t tart up a middlebrow think piece and pass it off as slam-bang entertainment.


The one really disappointing element of the disc was the extras, which all sounded really interesting but were horribly made — the thing called Debating Darwin wasn’t a debate at all, but a series of statements, filmed separately, by a pro-evolution guy, another pr-evolution guy who was also a Christian, and a creationist. Giving that guy a platform and pretending that he was a proper scientist on an equal footing with Lewis Wolpert was a travesty. Like inviting a holocaust denier to take place in a piece called Debating Hitler. People with these views exist, regrettably, and it’s perfectly fine to acknowledge this, but putting them on an equal footing with actual intellects who actually respect the facts is irresponsible in the extreme. Deduct ten points.

Fiona thinks further points should be deducted for the fact that the baby orangutan who appears costumed in Victorian garb as Jenny the Ape receives no screen credit, despite being prominently featured even unto the movie poster and DVD cover.

Video Nasty

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2012 by dcairns

V/H/S is a faux-found-footage anthology film featuring the work of a number of directors associated with modern horror, such as Ti West (HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) and one who has no such associations, Joe Swanberg, who stars in one episode and directs another.

One thing than has to be said is that any anthology will benefit if the writers read each others’ scripts. Two of the shorts feature scenes where a guy trips and falls downstairs while being chased by an undead ghoul, which then slowly descends upon him. Worse, nearly all the shorts either hinge upon or make reference to the idea of shooting nude footage of women — both the framing structure and the first episode feature scenarios where loutish males try to film their sexual encounters without the knowledge of their partners. The repetitiveness is uninspiring.

In fact, it strikes me as harmful that all the army of directors and writers are male. “Are so many of the characters in these things obnoxious and dumb because the filmmakers are obnoxious and dumb?” asked one critic friend. Maybe not, but it seems to me a Bad Thing to have a horror movie where we’re rooting for the characters to die as swiftly and horribly as possible.

There’s a moderately amusing spoof slasher here, which is the first faint ray of light after ugly and uninspired early episodes, but then Joe Swanberg’s episode as director, scripted by Simon Barrett, turns out to be the best story and the scariest film — twisty and twisted, suspenseful, and with a unique Skype-inflected take on the found footage gimmick. I never thought I’d like Swanberg’s work, but this was funny and gross and creepy. Then the last episode, directed by Radio Silence (a bunch of guys who work together under that collective name) is an effects-laden thrill-ride with a lot of neat visuals and, for once, a group of male characters who aren’t total dickwads.

Horror of an altogether more subtle timbre was on display in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, the new film from Peter Strickland, who made the acclaimed KATALINA VARGA, which played Edinburgh a couple of years back. This one stars the renowned actor/pouch Toby Jones as a sound mixer at work on a horror movie in Italy in the seventies, whose grasp of reality seems to disintegrate under the oppression of his nasty employers. Very atmospherically shot, with beautiful sound design and a trippy way of messing with reality that recalls THE TENANT, this ultimately feels a touch overlong and repetitive, and once the film’s tenuous hold on reality has been relinquished, there’s nowhere left for it to go in narrative terms. But the analysis of the dynamics of workplace bullying is dead-on, and often funny. There’s also a terrific fake title sequence (for a SUSPIRIAesque thriller called, wonderfully, THE EQUESTRIAN VORTEX) which seems to cram in a decade’s worth of spaghetti horror tropes without tumbling into broad pastiche. Despite the total lack of onscreen violence, the serious giallo fans in attendance — and there were many — seemed well satisfied.

Katalin Varga [DVD] (2009)

Schnooks on a Plane

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2011 by dcairns

In-flight movies — perhaps these are the ultimate justification for Hollywood pabulum. Anesthetic for the tense traveler. When you’re cramped in your seat and anxious about your untenable position hurtling through the stratosphere, it would be nice to be rapt out of yourself by dramatic catharsis, but it AIN’T HAPPENING (although I would welcome with keen interest and incredulity any stories of mid-air catharsis you have to offer) so you settle for the numbing tedium of badly thought-out genre bullshit —


Not only have they made a Harry Potter rip-off based on a rip-off novel, they’ve got Christopher Columbus who made the first two HARRY POTTER films to direct it. That’s just like stamping the word SAP on the forehead of every child who buys a ticket, isn’t it?

Terrible dross, and all I can say in my defense is that I’m working on a project with some mythological elements so I wanted to see what the kids are thinking about myth these days. Some cute moments — using an i-phone camera to observe the Medusa without getting petrified is neat. Uma Thurman has gone from Venus in BARON MUNCHAUSEN to Medusa in this — a pithier charting of the leading lady’s career arc than even Sondheim has given us.

There’s something irresistibly hilarious about the idea of Pierce Brosnan as a centaur, something the film is completely unaware of. None of the actors playing gods make much impression except Steve Coogan, doing what he does. Zeus is Sean Bean, who made Tolkien sound credible but is screwed when he has to say “You have done well,” as opposed to “Well done.” Look, it’s Kevin McKidd — as with 300, you can’t do ancient Greeks without casting a Scotsman. Now, I’ve never seen a real ancient Greek but I’ve seen the modern variety, several times, and none of them looked like Scotsmen. “It’s the magic of the movies!” you cry.


Perfectly adequate up to the two-third mark: this Chris Evans fellow is quite sweet, and the wimp-to-ubermensch narrative is engaging, the action lucid (oh, you mock Joe Johnston, don’t you, but in his fight scenes you can SEE WHAT’S HAPPENING — feel the nostalgia!) and the supporting players mainly do what they’ve been contracted for. Tommy Lee Jones is gruff, Stanley Tucci is solemn, Toby Jones is short. For a while, Haley Atwell is suitably prim, but when called upon to restage the start of A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, her inability to pull off anything else except pulchritude punctures the pathos. Hugo Weaving provides the entertainment with a Werner Herzog impersonation and hilarious little facial reactions, soon subsumed in a splurge of CG as he rips his own face off to become The Red Skull.


Continental Air likes to provide a couple of oldies and a couple of indies to its transatlantic clientele, so we get this recent-ish Soderbergh (it was this or GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? and I was actually up for that, but then I felt that I wanted to actually do it justice). Matt Damon always seemed kind of a schlub-in-the-making, and here he gets to play an actual Philip Seymour Hoffman role, and he’s splendid. I haven’t followed Soderbergh religiously — asides from his Spalding Gray bio last year, AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE, I haven’t seen anything since half of THE GOOD GERMAN (it wasn’t good) and bits of OCEAN’S TWELVE. I should catch up sometime, this was funny and clever. Soderbergh’s ludic side (cf SCHIZOPOLIS) is allowed just enough room to breath by the quietly demented voice-over, a calm recitation of delusions, non-sequiturs and stray pub facts.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 631 other followers