Archive for Wallace Shawn

The Atlantic Ocean was something, then

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2020 by dcairns

I have a strange history of not watching Louis Malle & John Guare’s ATLANTIC CITY — or, as the print used in my rather poorly-transferred DVD inexplicably calls itself, ATLANTIC CITY, USA. I think I’ve started watching it twice… once was probably on BBC2’s Film Club in the eighties, or around then. I think the way the movie doesn’t insist that it’s heading anywhere (though it is), and doesn’t seem to care if you’re watching, allowed me to drift off. But those are now qualities I value highly, and bits of it certainly stayed with me. In the last few months I picked up both the DVD, and the book Malle on Malle, secondhand, so it was clearly time.

I really enjoyed it last night. It reminded me a lot of the later TROUBLE IN MIND, from Alan Rudolph, only staged against a documentary backdrop (urban renewal in the titular city, with the crew rushing from site to site to catch demolitions in the background of its scenes, rather than attempting to transform a modern city into a place of near future/alternate reality possibilities. Both movies seem to enjoy an Altman influence, direct in the case of Rudolph, maybe just more zeitgeisty in Malle’s case, but actually stronger — a network narrative of interconnected characters whose paths criss-cross — crime — jazz — Americana.

Burt Lancaster always seems like a dreamer to me — you sense immortal longings. This is what led him, in real life, to make movies with European arthouse guys. His character here is a bullshitter, dreaming up a “romantic” past as a boardwalk gangster. His longings are for a past that never was: aspiration turned inside out into nostalgia. Circumstances finally allow him, in a crazy and ironic way, to play the hero in his own life. Burt gets several of the all-time great closeups. With Burt, the dreaminess perfectly counterbalances the acrobaticism, slightly in abeyance here. But he still has that precision of movement that makes you think of his athletic grace. Each gesture is powerful yet delicate, like a martial artist crossed with an assembly line robot and taught to dance.

Susan Sarandon is also really good. There are awkward old guy and young girl moments to get across, but Burt is still, in Fiona’s view, a viable leading man in his late sixties, and the script is so good, and of course Sarandon is not into Burt the way he’s into her… the voyeuristic element reminded me of Duvivier’s PANIQUE (and its remake, MONSIEUR HIRE, made nine years after AC) which is a possible influence since Malle seems more open to ’40s French cinema than the Cahiers mob (I can’t seem to refer to them collectively without making them sound like gangsters), who had a few favourites but mostly saw that school as an old guard to be replaced — by them.

All Sarandon’s early roles seem to be about her breasts, which is a bit embarrassing now because spectacular talents like hers are more unusual than spectacular breasts like hers. There’s generally a pathetic excuse, like the spilled wine in THE HUNGER that makes it absolutely necessary for her to become topless. Here she works in an oyster bar and spends her evenings rubbing lemon juice on herself at the window to eradicate the fishy smell. “How does she manage to get oyster on her ARMS? or her TITS?” asked Fiona.

Oh, and of course we were delighted to spot Wallace Shawn, poised to slip the script of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE to his director, and the exploding head guy from SCANNERS (the movie was made with Canadian tax shelter money). The guy, Louis Del Grande, proves he’s no one-tricky pony by playing a guy whose head does NOT explode. Although I admit we were waiting for it to happen.

ATLANTIC CITY, USA stars the Swede; Janet Weiss; Linda Loman; Inspector Ginko; Eden; Lizard; Lt. Bert Samuels; Quentin Hapsburg; Gold Leader; Dr. Bill Michaels; Vizzini; Felix Leiter; and First Scanner.

The Influence of Anxiety

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by dcairns

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Fiona was WILDLY enthusiastic about Richard Ayoade’s THE DOUBLE. I wasn’t quite sure if I was or not. I really like his first feature, SUBMARINE. But, just as the overt HAROLD AND MAUDE stylistic references in that film, while appropriate, don’t really help it secure its own standalone identity, the complex filmography of influences that make up THE DOUBLE sometimes made it seem to me like it was Frankenstein’s quilt or something.

BRAZIL hangs heavy over the film, although Ayoade and his team haven’t really borrowed anything specific — office cubicles are now such a universal workplace phenomenon as to be inescapable. The dystopian vision of bureaucracy comes straight from Dostoevsky’s literary source, and the only point of connection is that Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine have chosen to set their film neither in 19th century Russia nor modern Britain, but in a non-geographic fantasy conurbation mingling British and American (and Australian) accents, with a muted colour palette and a lot of retro stylings. Once you accept this similarity of approach, you won’t find many particular points of connection.

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The movie manages to fold both Wilder’s THE APARTMENT and Polanski’s THE TENANT into its narrative. The titles of those films suggest an affinity, but they are in fact pretty different. The latter choice is intriguing because Polanski tried to adapt THE DOUBLE himself, only for star John Travolta to pull out over qualms about nudity — Steve Martin quickly stepped in as a replacement, at which point leading lady Isabelle Adjani (who was also in THE TENANT) fled, and the whole house of cards collapsed. Ayoade definitely isn’t setting out to make the film Polanski would have aimed for, but a recurring death leap, viewed from an opposing window, seems to have been transplanted almost intact from Polanski.

There’s business with an apartment key used to facilitate sexual liaisons — this is the APARTMENT connection. Ironic given Billy Wilder’s crude put-down — asked if he was going to see ROSEMARY’S BABY, he replied, “I wouldn’t touch it with a five-foot Pole.”

In resolving the story, a bit of FIGHT CLUB seems to have crept in — not anything specific, just a sense of “How can we make this dark yet somehow upbeat?”

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Fiona howled at this shot, though: “It’s his signature image — a woman staring balefully over food! It gets me every time!”

The casting is great, if possibly too on-the-nose? Jesse Eisenberg can embody a hapless nerd in his sleep, after all. It’s when he shows up as his nasty doppelganger that the film lifts off, with a new kind of energy powering it. The horror of the completely confident man. The trouble is, this is a Zuckerberg cut in two, so both the lovelorn nebbish and the blank-eyed sociopath are slightly familiar perfs.

Mia Wasiskowski can do no wrong. It’s lovely seeing Craig Roberts and Yasmin Page (and indeed Noah Taylor), the stars of SUBMARINE again. Wallace Shawn is a bit typecast, James Fox is a big tease, it’s interesting seeing comedy people Chris Morris and Tim Key, though there’s the risk of Guest Star Syndrome setting in. But both justify their appearances by being remarkable. And Cathy Moriarty!

The Japanese pop songs are the one rogue element — you can’t pin down any specific reference that’s being made — they just add to the alien atmosphere and provide something jaunty amid the bleakness. I liked them all and would like to own the soundtrack.

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Also, the film is brilliantly cut. The images sizzle against one another. This isn’t just a technical compliment, as in, “The editor has a good sense of timing/drama/comedy.” The shots are designed beautifully so that they smack together in a way that feels striking and genuinely original. Based on this alone, I’m prepared to call Ayoade one of our best and most exciting filmmakers, even if I can’t quite decide what I think of this film, a hesitation that would surely disqualify me from broadsheet film reviewing (although I get the impression some of those guys didn’t know what to make of THE DOUBLE either).

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Sidenote: I recently asked Richard Ayoade to be in a film I plan to make and he was nice, considered it, and then respectfully declined. Now his agency is helping us find an alternative. Am I resentful of Ayoade for spurning me? Am I grateful to him for considering me? Which version of Jesse Eisenberg am I behaving like? Who am I?

 

UPU2?

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2008 by dcairns

SOUTHLAND TALES felt like just the kind of film I should be defending here, before I watched it. I fairly loved DONNIE DARKO, Richard Kelly’s debut feature, and although DOMINO, which he scripted, gave me a bad vibe and I didn’t see it, SOUTHLAND sounded weird and funny and crammed with STUFF, which is often the way I like my movies. Plus it’s had a chequered history and a lot of critical savaging, much of it fairly crass.

TV’s Mark Kermode, in particular, should be struck off the critic’s list for mindlessly panning the thing on The Culture Show. “It’s terrible,” he said, “Really terrible. Look, here’s a clip. See how terrible it is?” A twenty second clip aired, and charming but light-weight co-presenter Lauren Laverne nodded. “I see what you mean.” Absolutely no critical analysis was offered whatsoever. And it’s a film which certainly warrants a bit of analysis.

The task is complicated by the fact that the version of SOUTHLAND TALES released is not the original director’s cut — Kelly was forced to alter his vision in order to get it screened at all, after the initial very bad response. What I mainly found myself wondering as I watched was what was part of the original conception and what had been added or subtracted to try and streamline the film and make it, what? Commercial, appealing, comprehensible?

The re-edit certainly fails on all three scores, at least on first viewing. The confusing narrative is surprising because there’s so much exposition — for the first third the movie is ALL EXPOSITION. Most of it is provided by a voice-over, and that’s part of the problem. Without a dramatic situation to engage us, the V.O. seems to wash over, bypassing comprehension. It’s telling us exactly what’s going on, but it’s hard to focus, in part because it’s impossible to see how the narrator, a character in the “story”, knows what he’s telling us. Since he’s not involved in most of the action, his narration blurs the story rather than clarifying it.

I was reminded of David Lynch’s DUNE, with it’s many internal monologues by many characters, seemingly pasted in out of a desperate urge to make us understand. My favourite is when the hero’s mum comes in a door, sees that her son is alive, looks relieved, and then her V.O. helpfully states, “My son — lives!” The redundancy is sort of comical and almost Lynchian. Kelly’s narration-stream isn’t as goofy as that, probably because it’s been added in an attempt to normalise a very weird film.

A Stand Up Guy

While Justin Timberlake delivers the verbal afterhthoughts with more gusto than Harrison Ford did in BLADE RUNNER, the result is more like the plot-summary that comes towards the end of LADY FROM SHANGHAI. As Orson Welles wanders the Crazy House, he muses on What Has Gone Before, and we pretty much miss everything he’s saying because it has nothing much to do with the imagery, which is far more interesting. Only when the words “…and I was the fall guy!” land on the image of Welles falling over are we able to register what’s being said at all. It’s not Welles’ fault, it’s the bone-heads at Columbia who forced him to add explanations at inapposite moments, just as R. Kelly has had to do.

Once the SOUTHLAND V.O. thins out and the plot, whatever it is, actually gets in motion, it starts to feel like we’re getting somewhere. Generally the bits with music feel like a movie, rather than a tape-slide presentation or a very long “Previously on Lost” montage, and I started to feel like the film could be an enjoyable experience even without my fully understanding it. I like lots of films I don’t understand. As the proceedings got more fun, I started to yearn for the original version. All the attempts at clarification seemed to make for a more boring experience.

The casting is the high point for me. I always rejoice in the gurning visage of Wallace Shawn, and it was cool to see POLTERGEIST’s Zelda Rubinstein, still looking like she’s been compressed in a car crusher. Bai Ling attempts to inject sultriness into every line reading or movement, Sarah Michelle Gellar does some good porn star acting, the Rock makes his eyes go beady and does weird nervous finger movements, and Justin Timberlake is rather good. Miranda Richardson seems to have been cast for her face rather than her acting, which is quaint as she’s a magnificent actress, one of the real power-houses. But since her costume screams “Villainess!” and that’s all her character is, she really has very little she can add.

The levitating ice-cream van at the end made me think of the flying car in Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, and it seemed clear at that point that the earlier visionary punk sci-fi masterpiece (which anticipates everything from THE X FILES to Grant Morrison’s comic book The Invisibles) was a definite influence. Interestingly, Repo Man now has a comic book sequel, just like SOUTHLAND TALES.

I also thought of the movie Guido’s making in Fellini’s EIGHT AND A HALF. “Do you like movies in which nothing happens?” The idea of a film which tries to include EVERYTHING is a perversely appealing one, even if it’s doomed to fail. In a way, all films fail — they always disappoint their makers. Kelly seems to have gone into this one believing he might never be given another job, so he had to make this film stand in for an entire filmography. Ironically, it’s such a high-profile catastrophe he’s almost certain to be offered more work by the kind of producers who like to present themselves as taming unruly talents.

“The name’s Rock. Rock Rock.”