Archive for Tom Hardy

Beach Front

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2017 by dcairns

There’s a moment early in the brisk 100 minutes of Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK that struck me as rather false, and it kind of took me out of the movie, although in fact I stayed in the movie and saw all of it. Newcomer Fionn Whitehead, having reached Dunkerque beach, pauses to take a dump in the sand. But we don’t get a strenuous, epic Wim Wenders type defecation. It’s just a quick drop-trou, look nobly into the distance, and then pants up again jobbie. No troublesome, uncinematic wiping or anything like that. This made me worry for our hero’s comfort during the rest of the film, and I wished he’d waded into the cleansing English Channel to do his business.

I suppose you could argue that maybe Mr. Whitehead’s poo was hygienically solid, tough and tightly assembled, like MEMENTO. But I fear that after the foreign environment, army food and the stress of battle, it would be more likely to be splashy, explosive and incredibly protracted, like THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

(I could take this comparison further. After days of tension and combat, Mr. Fionn Whitehead’s pooing would resemble THE DARK KNIGHT RISES in the way it would drown out dialogue, cause people to put on masks, and bring tears to Sir Michael Caine’s eyes.)

Worse, Mr. Whitehead defecates on a sand dune, gazing out to see, with the likely result that anything emerging from his bottom would roll downhill and end up in his trousers.

I felt a lot of concern about this since, in my haste to attend the 10 a.m. press show at Edinburgh Filmhouse, where the film screened in 70mm, I narrowly avoided a humiliating toilet accident of my own which would have made me late. There. You don’t get that amount of confessional detail from Kenneth Turan. Not even from Harry Knowles.

Travelling further back in time, like the protagonist of MEMENTO, I passed a restless night in which I dreamed that there was a SECOND Bologna film festival in July, and that I was missing it. So, Christopher Nolan has successfully incepted a dream into my head. In reality I was subconsciously worrying about oversleeping and missing DUNKIRK, only my dream made it much more suspenseful by making it something I would really care about. In the event, Lord Momo, our cat (a rare Tonkinese Battlehorn) woke me up in plenty of time, at 5 a.m., by screaming his head off and randomly batting objects from shelves. He’s better than any alarm clock, is Momo, except that (a) you can SET an alarm clock and (b) you can STOP an alarm clock. You don’t have to just carry it through to another room and shut it in.

But back to DUNKIRK. I enjoyed it. It has that effect of making war seem like a lovely, heroic, colourful adventure in which you end up maimed or dead.

It has three stories/timelines, furiously intercut like the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI. The three narrative thrusts are each introduced by a superimposed title: THE MOLE: 1 WEEK; THE SEA: 1 day; THE AIR: 1 hour. These intros baffled me, and I spent the whole film trying to figure out what they meant. As the end credits rolled, I figured it out. So, in case you’re not brighter than me (I’d say there’s a good chance you ARE), I’ll explain what I figured out. The Mole must be a nickname for Whitehead’s inept beach crapper. His story lasts a week, mostly spent waiting on the beach or trying to inveigle his way onto rescue craft. The journey by boat of the BFG (played by Mark Rylance) takes a day. The flight by Mad Max (played by Tom Hardy) takes an hour.

So by intercutting these different timescales as if they were happening simultaneously, the movie is playing a game similar to that of INCEPTION.

“I didn’t see why the subconscious should have so many explosions in it,” said my friend Toni Dove after INCEPTION.

“Well, that was a weird sort of Brexit fantasy,” said my friend David Sorfa after DUNKIRK.

And indeed, the film is all about ESCAPING FROM EUROPE. And we seem very keen to LEAVE THE FRENCH BEHIND. But then, at the end, Kenneth Branagh magnanimously says they can come too, now that we’ve gotten ourselves out. So it’s having its gateau and eating it, in a fine cinematic tradition.

I recommend the cast list: it’s hilarious. Characters include IRATE SOLDIER, SHIVERING SOLDIER and FURIOUS SOLDIER. But not IRATE, FURIOUS, SHIVERING SOLDIER, which would have been the role I’d have accepted if they’d offered it. But the cast list does not include Michael Caine. I thought I heard his voice, coming in over Tom Hardy’s radio, explaining why we’re leaving from Dunkirk and not Calais, in the kind of mistimed and unnecessary exposition Nolan seems so fond of. Since Sir Michael has valuable experience winning THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, it would be nice of his mate Nolan to ask him along.

I’m not alone in having found Nolan’s direction of action confusing and irksome in the past. Nothing to worry about here: he’s helped by the very clear geography of the beach: sea over there, land over here. Germans up there, Brits down here. In the aerial combat, he might have gotten into serious trouble (three-dimensional battlefield) but by restricting our POV to the British pilots, he keeps it very sharp and taut and lucid. When the Spitfires are sneaking up on Heinkels we see it from the Brit pilot’s viewpoint. When the Germans sneak up on the Spitfires their ack-ack is a complete surprise, as it would be if you were there. This means losing out on dramatic he’s-behind-you irony but gaining pretty solid clarity and audience identification, better than in several of the old war movies I’ve run.

But I wasn’t actually moved. The last two movies I saw at the cinema, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES and THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, had me quite tearful. The only emotional bit in this was when I started thinking about war movies I like that were made in or immediately after the war. I’m a sucker for the drama of that period. I think possible one reason Nolan’s film left me unaffected in this way was his relentless intercutting, which kills the terror-suspense of all the vehicles filling up with water (great Dutch tilts and even inverted angles on fast-rising waterlines, though). And also the weird unrealistic realism like the gravity-defying poo, and a bit in a boat filling up with water where somehow they all think throwing somebody overboard will allow them to float.

Proprietary pleasure: Brian Vernel, who was in our LET US PREY, turns up. Amused to see that Nolan treats him just as harshly as we did. In an early draft of our film we had his bollocks lopped off. Considering what happens to him here, I’d hate to think what the early drafts were like.

What else? Good use of Tom Hardy. Lots of sound design. No Americans and barely any women. Lots of hard-to-make-out dialogue. A sort of actionably close remix of Elgar’s Nimrod by Hans Zimmer (the man who has repurposed the symphony orchestra as a percussion instrument). Harry Styles from the popular boy band Wonder Erection. The Scarecrow, played by Cillian Murphy, as a man who does something bad and then doesn’t have a character arc about it, which is a novelty in this age. Kenneth Branagh in the Jack Hawkins part, but unfortunately and inevitably seeming more like Kenneth More.

I prefer the Leslie Norman version, but then I would (John Mills never shits on the beach). You could say that this movie, with its state-of-the-art everything, bears the same relation to that movie as Cameron’s TITANIC to Roy Ward Baker & Eric Ambler’s A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. Despite the immersive technique of both modern films, the older ones give you more of an emotional feeling of being there. Something to do with conviction.

 

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Heydrich Heydrich heydrich Heydrich

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2017 by dcairns

“Stop the film!”

HHhH is an excellent novel by Laurent Binet, telling the story of the rise and assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by two Czechoslovak patriots parachuted back into their homeland by the Brits. What makes the novel distinctive, and almost not a novel at all, is (a) the author’s fidelity to all the known facts, and his commentary on this fidelity — his refusal to imagine ANYTHING, or at any rate his disgusted self-denunciation whenever he does, part of (b) his constant commentary on his own process, and his reluctance even to accept dialogue quoted by sources when it sounds implausible. In such cases, he can offer a fictional version that strikes him as more likely, but he still has to denounce himself for making stuff up. In a way, it allows the author to be attractively modest — in the face of the heroic acts of the Czech and the Slovak, who knowingly sacrificed their lives out of certainty that their cause was just, Binet offers his own uncertainty, self-doubt, vacillation.

So we started watching the recent movie ANTHROPOID, which takes a piece of this story — just the mission, starting from the moment the heroes drop from the skies — and serves it up as a grim-faced and desaturated spectacle. It’s certainly because I’d just read Binet’s book, but I was intolerant of the movie’s mucking about with historical fact. Right after landing, our humourless, characterless heroes (a far cry from the rather jaunty, romantic figures Binet gleans from the historical record) run into a traitor and have to kill him to escape betrayal. In fact, the agents were discovered by a gamekeeper, who helped them. So the movie has gained an action sequence, albeit a very familiar one, presented in a shaky, muddy way by director Sean Ellis, but has lost a moving scene of an ordinary man risking his life for a noble cause, which is the kind of scene war movies used to live on.

I felt, personally, that the filmmakers had departed from the facts in order to offer something LESS INTERESTING.

Likewise, the presentation of Kubis and Gabcik, played by Christian Grey and the Scarecrow, as emotionless killing machines seemed like a less effective choice than Binet’s. The movie has a far shorter emotional distance to cover if the characters are already miserable, implacable, devoid of light and shade. They’re going to be spending quite a lot of the film staring death in the face. Will we notice any difference in their mood?

Incidentally, when they jumped from the British plane, the real Kubis & Gabcik landed, Binet tells us, in a graveyard. Ellis and co-writer Anthony Frewin eschew this. perhaps for fear of seeming to indulge in symbolism. But it really happened! It would be an interesting challenge to include this WITHOUT making it look symbolic. But, to be fair, I have no idea how this could be achieved.

When the film forgets to do wobbly sepiatone, it occasionally delivers beautiful shots, and the action scenes are pretty effective, but it has no humour and no gradation of tone. The task of creating characters defeats the screenwriters. A “poetic” touch at the end is brave, but seemed unearned, hokey and basically disastrous to Fiona & I.

Binet’s researches uncovered previous novels and films about these incidents. He’s impressed by John Carradine’s perf as Heydrich in Sirk’s HITLER’S MADMAN, which I wrote about here. A good B-picture ruined by the infusion of MGM class, was my harsh verdict, but I agree about JC. Beginning with the assassination, the film concentrates on the extermination of Lidice in retaliation. The movie’s biggest distortion of history is to stage the assassination at Lidice and not in Prague — surely the location of the incident was one of the few things known for certain at the time? But the filmmakers, it seems, couldn’t follow the Nazis’ logic — why was this random village chosen? So they had to invent a reason, when in reality there was none.

The most artistic responses to the incident in film are Humphrey Jennings amazing THE SILENT VILLAGE, which imagines the fate of Lidice befalling a Welsh mining village — aiming to de-exoticise the tragedy, to literally bring it home to British viewers; and Fritz Lang’s HANGMEN ALSO DIE!, a wholly fictitious account of the assassination and its aftermath. Binot is very forgiving of Sirk and Lang (and their writers, including “Bert” Brecht), allowing that the true facts weren’t known at the time and filmmakers had to just make stuff up — the good filmmakers did this thrillingly.

HANGMEN deserves a wholly entry on its fantastic rogue’s gallery of gloating Nazi pigs.  It’s a masterpiece. Binot rightly credits some of this to Brecht’s excellent, made-up story. It particular, it has a fruity and vile Heydrich played by Hans Heinrich von Twardowski (CALIGARI, CASABLANCA) in a joke shop nose. I don’t think anyone’s ever seriously alleged that Heydrich was gay (it was getting engaged to two different women at once that got him drummed out of the navy, leading to him joining the Nazi party), but that seems to be how Twardowski is playing him. Heydrich DID have a very high voice, according to Binot, but nobody’s ever played him that way. It might seem silly. Probably the only way to pull it off would be to hire an actor already known for having a high voice, so it didn’t seem so much like an artistic choice — because there’s no way to make it clear to the audience that you’re being factual here.

Another Heydrich perf Binot admires is Kenneth Branagh’s in the 2001 TV play Conspiracy. Branagh plays to his strengths — his Heydrich is warm and matey, a little overbearing with it, but he comes on like everyone’s chum, making opposition difficult by his air of affable reasonableness. As Binot says, there aren’t really any accounts of Heydrich that stress chumminess as one of his qualities, but the effect is very disturbing. The whole show is terrific — Loring Mandel’s script mostly sticks to things the actual Nazi high command said on the record at Wannsee, plotting the Final Solution, and in the unrecorded conversations between bouts at the conference table he draws heavily on other conversations they are known to have had. And there’s none of the wretched “As you know…” style of exposition we’ve grown sadly used to in British drama.

(STARTED watching MY WEEK WITH MARILYN with friends. The cackhanded exposition was so pervasive and dumb (Fiona says the film gets better later) that I coined the phrase “As you know, I’m your father,” and after a few real examples of this kind of writing we almost convinced ourselves that it was an actual piece of dialogue. I’m not sure I want to blame Adrian Hodges, the credited writer, because this is exactly the sort of thing execs the Weinstein Bros would insist on being included. They honestly believe the purpose of having characters is to explain things to the audience.)

Binot seems to have missed OPERATION: DAYBREAK (why the colon?), directed by Lewis Gilbert and adapted by Ronald Harwood (THE PIANIST) from the novel by Alan Burgess, which he does know about. The film is pretty factual, it seems to me, though aesthetically quite dull, apart from the odd choice of David Hentschel’s synth score. It has a fine Heydrich, Anton Differing (he of the combustible behind) — at last, an actor with a big enough nose! I remember the film itself being a little boring, which is odd given the authentic life-or-death stakes involved.

And now there’s a film of HHhH (you wait ages for a Heydrich and then two come along at once), which I guess, following my practice of capitalising film titles, I will have to call HHHH. An awkward title either way. (Binot writes that if the book we’re holding isn’t called Operation Anthropoid, we’ll know his publisher won the argument.) The acronym stands for the German version of the phrase Heydrich Is Himmler’s Brain (which is the small H?), and not for Heydrich Heydrich heydrich Heydrich, as I may have inadvertently given you the impression. This was a popular “meme” in the Czech Protectorate, before they knew what memes were. I guess it’s precisely the fact of Heydrich being Himmler’s brain that made it such a damn good idea to kill him.

The film will have to live up to the book’s high standards of accuracy, though frankly it CAN’T — it will have to invent conversations and present them without apology or comment (I’ll be impressed as hell if it attempts anything as pomo or self-critical as the book — it just won’t). It seems to have a pretty good Heydrich in Aussie Jason Clarke, although oddly he’s doing it with an English accent and all the others are putting on German accents. Playing characters who in reality would be speaking a different language, and doing them with a mild accent, always struck me as silly. Although here we have Stephen Graham looking like a VERY good match for Himmler, and I guess if he’d played it with his native Liverpool accent, that would have been unacceptable. Though not to me, because I delight in marvellous variety.

(Graham is a smashing actor and a master of accents. He plays cockney in the recent series Taboo. Tom Hardy is playing the lead role as a very good impersonation of Oliver Reed — only Keith Allen has done it better. So Stephen Graham comes on as the late Bob Hoskins, not to be put down. The more Hardy bats his eyelashes and whispers in a threatening growl, the more expansive and waannafow Graham becomes. You may not recollect that Hoskins pronounced “wonderful” as “waannafow,” but take it from me, he did. It was part of what made him so waannafow.)

Have I missed any good Heydrichs? What are your favourite performances of members of the Nazi command, if you have any? Oh, I know… Goebbels is always good value. But let’s look BEYOND GOEBBELS…

 

Sub Sub

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2015 by dcairns

madmax In Theodore Roszak’s novel Flicker, there’s a movie entitled SUB SUB, which is presented as the climactic achievement of cinema — a quadrophonic acid-trip caveman movie full of rape and violence with a deafening non-stop rock score. The book’s semi-serious conspiracy theory suggests that cinema is a Cathar conspiracy to prepare us for the end of the world. Cinema as anti-life equation. I do sort of believe this. I think art and religion are both ways of dealing with the consciousness of our own deaths. George Miller’s triumphal return to big-screen carnage, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD feels a lot like SUB SUB. It has a bit more humanity, to be sure, but in its high-octane relentlessness, its constant grotesquerie, its deafening onslaught of mayhem, it is the kind of movie it’s easy to imagine alien archeologists unearthing from the ruins of our civilisation, screening, and saying “Well of course these bastards became extinct: they were making things like this.” It was suggested by someone or other that our ability to imagine post-apocalyptic scenarios does not seem to make us better at avoiding the kind of behaviour that will lead to apocalypses — instead, it just feels like a dress rehearsal for the inevitable. madmaxi If the Tasmanian Devil ram-raided FELLINI SATYRICON, or the characters of THE BED SITTING ROOM discarded their “mustn’t grumble” British inertia, OD’d on bath salts and invaded Namibia, the results would resemble this dirt-caked pile-driver of a film. George Miller doesn’t need 3D to punch his audience in the face. Astonishingly, a film which steamrollers over the action movie competition of beardless youths like Bryan Singer or Matthew Vaughn, is directed and photographed by septuagenarians, and costume designed by a nice lady who used to do all Merchant-Ivory’s films.

mad-max-fury-road

Production process: for over a decade, the film was waiting to get made, existing, like The Bible, without the benefit of the written word — instead, Miller papered a room with a storyboard by comic book wiz Brendan McCarthy, himself a MAD MAX fan whose punk armageddons of mutation and madness prepared him perfectly for this descent into the maelstrom. It’s in some ways the most comic book movie ever, with character simplified mostly to design and cool names (Imperator Furiosa, Rictus Erectus) and basic, primal motivations. Max hardly speaks. Engine noise and the choral freak-out of Junkie XL’s score are privileged over dialogue (weird that I enjoyed this earsplitting sensory pugilism and then, due to my noise phobia, couldn’t walk into a busy pub to discuss it — movies have SOUND DESIGN but real life can be intolerably garbled). madmaxx Miller insisted that, anamorphic cinematography be damned, the subject of interest in every shot had to be dead centre, so that the eye didn’t have to rove around to catch what was going on. He was going to cut shots into second-long blipverts, and play some of his action as fast as six frames per second, so the tardy eye was never going to have a chance if everything wasn’t always in the same space. You’d think this might lead to visual dullness, but at the manic maximum overdrive sustained almost throughout, such a thing is impossible. Fatigue is certainly conceivable, and will depend on your tolerance for sweaty brutality and desperate urgency, which never flag. You just have to keep up. Logic is present only in the characters’ basic sense of direction — from almost the start, the world of Miller’s films hasn’t made a lick of sense. In a world where petrol has run out, everyone spends all their time driving around. Don’t let it worry you. More problematic was always the use of homosexual and disabled characters as monstrous villains. Here, it’s a little more complex — Miller, a former doctor, still has a love of physical deformity, but this is evenly parcelled out amid good and bad characters. Charlize Theron, the film’s real lead character, has a prosthetic arm, and Nicholas Hoult is extravagantly decorated with scarifications and a couple of bulbous tumours (with smiley faces inked on them). Sexuality has been entirely displaced by the necessity of procreation on a dying globe, and the exercise of violence is the only means the bad guys have for getting their jollies. “no unnecessary killing!” yells one of the babes Max and Imperator are rescuing at one point, but fortunately for the sensation-seeking multiplexers, a very large amount of killing proves to be completely necessary. madmaxresdefault (2) Miller pays hommage to ozploitation films past, borrowing the spiky Volkswagon straight out of THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS and strapping Max to the front of a speedy car like a live hood ornament, just like Cassandra Delaney in FAIR GAME. It’s just one way in which Max, hung in a cage and milked of blood by the bad guys, is treated more like a leading lady than Theron. He’s not as objectified as he might have been, though, and the film also loses homoerotic points by dotting its shirtless “warboys” with hideous goitres. The two groups of women show the extent to which Aussie commercial film has/has not moved on from its blokish origins. First, Max stumbles upon a kind of bikini carwash wet T-shirt competition among the lingerie models, then he meets a commune of leathery Germaine Greers. In this way the movie can have its cheesecake AND eat it AND spit it in your face while laughing maniacally. mad-max-trailer Even if the characters are hinged cardboard, Theron in particular invests some actual humanity in the proceedings. Miller’s long-standing tendency to cast for physiognomy means he’s saddled himself with slightly more lingerie models in lead roles than a proper film should have. The guy with brittle-bone disease or something, who looks like a jester’s bladder, is such an extraordinary human special effect in himself that I wouldn’t mind if he couldn’t act, but Rosie Huntington-Whitely isn’t really artistically excusable. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is as immersive and toxic as the extraordinary HARD TO BE A GOD, and the only thing separating Russian art film from Australian-American action film is the propulsive narrative drive — a straightforward sense of mission grounded in character. Someone said that the film borrows the structure of Keaton’s THE GENERAL, and it’s true enough — a long chase one way, then a long chase back, using the same terrain in new ways. Keaton gains added variety from the fact that in the first chase, he’s after the Northern spies and in the second, they’re after him. Here, it’s basically Max and Furiosa being pursued all the time. I’m slightly bewildered to hear of friends rushing to see it a second and third time. I enjoyed myself, but I’m uncertain as to how repeatable the experience is, and do I want to do that to myself again? I don’t think I’ll discover hidden depths. But I can’t wait to own a copy so I can pick it apart in the comfort of my own home…