Archive for Zelda Rubinstein

War of the Colossal Midgets

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2008 by dcairns

The producer of VALMONT was asked if he’d learned anything from its commercial failure, following in the wake of Stephen Frears’ DANGEROUS LIAISONS, which had successfully tackled the same book. He said yes, as a matter of fact he had learned something. “Never make a film somebody’s just made.”

The only exceptions I can think of to the rule that the first film out of the trap in a movie-race wins, are ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, which was unharmed by following on the heels of a cheaper, more sombre ROBIN HOOD (“You do know this isn’t the Kevin Costner film?” concerned staff would ask customers buying tickets for the Patrick Bergin version) and the ANTZ / A BUG’S LIFE and DEEP IMPACT / ARMAGEDDON face-offs.

And so to INFAMOUS, a fine little film by Doug McGrath, which came and went with little fuss, all its tremulous thunder stolen by CAPOTE. Apart from coming first, CAPOTE had a star of sorts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who had paid his dues and was ready for Oscar appreciation. You may have heard people say that INFAMOUS is a better film, and I’d like to add my voice to that small hubbub of approval. INFAMOUS is not only livelier, funnier, more moving, more erotic and more intelligent, it is better cast.

It may have hurt McGrath’s film that people hadn’t heard of its star, but there’s no arguing he chose the right man (though I wouldn’t mind seeing Zelda Rubinstein, the little woman from POLTERGEIST, play Capote). Toby Jones, son of the unique Freddie Jones, a Shadowplay favourite, has two crucial advantages over the somewhat bear-like Hoffman. (1) Jones is a little guy, like Capote. This turns out to be more important than you’d think, allowing references to Capote’s smallness and accompanying toughness. (2) Jones has a much better script to work from. McGrath’s writing flows more smoothly than that of CAPOTE scribe Dan Futterman (this may be to do with the direction also), traversing the story in a pacy but unhurried fashion, where CAPOTE seems slow, threatening to stall altogether at times. McGrath seems bolder in his handling of artistic license, too. It’s ironic that both films take Capote to task for fictionalising reality, and both films are forced by necessity to invent their own versions of the truth. McGrath embraces this and concentrates on telling a good dramatic story.

My least favourite thing about CAPOTE, which had good acting and a strong picturesque feel for Kansan landscapes, was its attempt to create some kind of comparison between the crimes committed by the killers Capote chose to write about, and Capote’s supposed moral crime in exploiting their story. I simply can’t see any justification for making a comparison at all. Whatever Capote’s behaviour may be, it is in no way comparable to snuffing an entire family. Let’s be sensible. INFAMOUS manages to avoid milking this tempting comparison, detailing Capote’s dishonesties and betrayals without suggesting that his guilt has any equivalence to that of the cold-blooded murderers he woos.

McGrath’s brightness has other advantages too. While CAPOTE’s highlight is the author giving a public reading of In Cold Blood, which showcases Hoffman’s skill and command of our attention, but reveals the weakness of the script in comparison to Capote’s prose, INFAMOUS doesn’t quote the book at length but does provide a higher standard of wit throughout.

CAPOTE is a decent TV movie with an outstanding central performance from a superb actor who does everything possible to overcome a physical inappropriateness to the role.

INFAMOUS is a modestly conceived but very smart and interesting movie with an outstanding central performance from an equally superb actor who is able to fit the role perfectly, and I hope we’ll be hearing a lot more from him.

And then there’s Richard Brooks’s film of IN COLD BLOOD, which is a BLOODY MASTERPIECE, and Capote’s book itself, which is even better.

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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.”