Archive for Toby Jones

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 –

PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF

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.

CAPTAIN AMERICA THE FIRST AVENGER

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.

THE INFORMANT!

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.

Language

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2010 by dcairns

Despite the fact that of the two popular music biopics currently on release, NOWHERE BOY clearly has the stronger cinematic credentials, we went to see SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL, the Ian Dury story as written by actor-turned-scenarist Paul Viragh and directed by TV helmer Matt Whitecross. Possibly because Fiona likes Ian Dury a lot, and possibly because she likes Andy Serkis, who plays Ian Dury, a lot.

What a remarkable figure Dury was: his music combines punk, funk and music hall, and he comes over on stage as a sort of sweary Essex Noel Coward, filtered through the wraith of Gene Vincent. Bizarre. And then there’s the wastage of half his body, caused by polio, giving him a marked limp. “On stage I try to sort of hover,” he says in the movie. “You’re putting that on,” someone once told him. “I thought I was trying to cover it up,” he replied.

The film is pretty creditable in many ways — the high-water mark for this kind of thing was set most recently by CONTROL, whose familiar structure of struggle, success and dissolution is echoed unavoidably in S&D&R&R, but the stylistic approach couldn’t be more different. In the film’s zanier scenes, deploying animation designed by the artist Peter Blake, and in its not-quite chronological structure, the movie is perhaps more influenced by 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE (which also featured Serkis), although it substitutes music video japery for the more interesting cod-Brechtian antics of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s witty script. While Michael Winterbottom apparently had no clue how to use the Factory Records music in that film, Whitecross does at least find room to let Dury’s songs register, via sustained concert sequences and linking montages. The concerts, though ridiculously hyped-up in their cutting, are effective, and provide a semi-fantastical framing structure whereby Dury appears to introduce and wrap up the movie, but the montages reveal a certain desperation to be interesting, which shouldn’t be a problem with such a colourful central character.

The film is a lot like the trailer, hectic and eager-to-please but with something interesting oozing through. Except the trailer leaves out a lot of the best bits for censorship reasons.

Serkis as Dury holds the movie together, more or less overcoming a central indecision in the script — is this Dury’s story or his son’s? It’s a very effective impersonation of Dury’s singing, his manner, his disability (Dury is an almost unique example of a disabled pop star), his charm and his self-destructiveness. Dury’s main musical collaborator, Chas Jankel, produced the film’s soundtrack and reported that working with Serkis was liking attending a seance.

Supporting cast is very fine, with young Bill Milner impressive as Dury’s son (a strange effect is created by the fact that Dury’s kids never seem to age, but why let that bother us?) and Toby Jones enjoyably snarling as an underwritten villain. The women in Dury’s life present a problem, falling into the same stereotypes as those in CONTROL, long-suffering wife and fun, faintly annoying girlfriend. One has our sympathy but we don’t especially want to hang out with her when the fun is elsewhere, the other can’t really hope for sympathy and is too much of a hanger-on to be compelling on any other level. The problem is endemic to the material: philandering musicians write uninteresting roles for the women in their lives. Still, that’s no excuse to show Olivia Williams hurling crockery at her husband, a wretched cliché forty years ago, and something unworthy of inclusion in the film even if it happened. Important note to filmmakers everywhere: just because something happened, that’s no reason to put it in a film. Or as Dury himself says, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

The biggest success is the consistently entertaining dialogue — at least as long as Dury is around — a lot of Dury’s witticisms are hoary old jokes, but he has an endless supply of them and no shame about trotting them out whether the situation demands it or not. His joy in the English language is evoked in a scene where he trades synonyms for “penis” with his son (although, I note sadly, there is no English synonym for “synonym”), but really illustrated by the songs themselves.

I was pleased to find a couple of my students at the same screening, and even more pleased to learn that at least one, the excellent Oliver, was already a fan. When Dury died ten years ago the student I mentioned it to had never heard of him. Progress!

Movie lovers can see the real Dury in THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER and PIRATES.

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