It ain’t always fun, the movies. Amongst this year’s least-fun pictures we probably have the likes of Alita: Battle Angel, Glass, Dark Phoenix and Gemini Man, all of which share in common a clear prioritization of special effects over storytelling. They’re also united in the fact that production was rocky in every instance, be it years of limbo or last-minute hackjobs in the editing bay, though that’s not necessarily synonymous with a bad film. Production on one of this year’s best, The Lighthouse, was described by its own director as “tense” and “cold”. No fun to be had in making that movie. Only in watching it.
In a pre-recorded clip before the New England premiere of Knives Out, writer/director Rian Johnson — whilst thanking us for seeing the film and imploring us not to spoil it — said flat out that making it was “a blast.” It’s not hard to believe, and evident from the film’s very first scenes: everyone in front of the camera (Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis and a million others) breezes through having the time of their lives. And Johnson, too, exudes a confidence here as both a writer and a director that can only be borne of exciting material in the hands of a craftsman coming into his prime.
Continue reading Knives Out (2019)
Is Ewan McGregor just awesome, or what? He truly brings his A-game to every role, and he refuses to shy away from anything, whether it seems too “out-there” or taboo or even if it seems like a risky film that could damage his career if it fails. I love this about him; I respect this about him. In a recent interview promoting the recent latest blockbuster Focus, Will Smith spoke about his career and said that in previous years, he had been overly concerned with making sure that his movies were hugely popular and that they made a lot of money. If they weren’t, he felt like he had failed. Now, he has let go of this obsessive, limiting mindset and has decided that he is more interested in creating. The beauty of the art of acting, of exploring the human mind by diving into and becoming someone other than yourself is his newfound passion. I think it is evident that Ewan McGregor shares this passion. Examining the list of characters he has played, I believe it must be that he delves into the bodies and minds of these vastly different people because he is unsure who he is himself. I tend to really enjoy watching films with actors who I see this in; Beginners is one of them.
Beginners is really a simple film. The film takes place over three distinct time periods and flips back and forth between them, but this is not confusing, nor meant to be, and there are no grand action sequences or diabolical twists. This film is simple, it’s about people, it’s about life and everything, every emotion rather, that comes with it. We see sadness and happiness, of course. We see sympathy and confusion, we see love. We see it all. Yet, this is still a simple film. There are a hand-full of characters, mostly quite likable, and we get to watch their lives as they are for about a month. Oliver (McGregor) has been through a bit of a rough patch: he lost his mother to cancer; immediately after, his father tells him he is gay; he watches him fall in love with a younger man; and then he watches his father, too, die of cancer. Oliver does not struggle with coming to terms with the fact that his dad is gay, but with the idea that his childhood was a ruse, a lie, it occurred under false pretenses. Oliver struggles not with the fact that his dad loves a man, but that his dad loves any person other than his mom. To make matter worse, he is hurt by seeing his father loving a man his own age and feeling as though his father loves this man more than he loves him.
Continue reading Beginners (2010)
A smash cut can be a beautiful thing. It can also be a broadly-defined thing, somewhat unfortunately, which means I have to reel you into a conversation about Michael Mann’s The Insider by providing a narrowed definition of smash cut. Excited yet? The added problem, of course, is that one of you
damn dear readers will no doubt have the time to point out precisely where I’m mistaken in my definition, holding my hand and stating that, no, that’s not a smash cut, that’s a match cut, and that one over there is a jump cut, and over there is…my, oh my! Is that a Dutch angle shot in its natural habitat?
Anyway, the thing I’m thinking of might not even qualify as a smash cut, but for now that descriptor will have to suffice. Mann loves an extreme close-up, especially in his earlier works like Heat (I’m thinking of that early bouncing shot of Val Kilmer), and in his follow-up The Insider we probably get closer to the facial pores of Russell Crowe and Al Pacino than we’ve ever been before. But there are a few close-ups not of faces but of objects, inserted for a second or a half-second right smack in the middle of a scene, and those cuts are what I’m talking about. They smash to the forefront when you’d least expect them, these otherwise uninteresting objects. Why does Mann shove these in so boldly, and how does he get it to work so damn well?
Continue reading The Insider (1999)
It can be a strange thing these days: some actors either play a role so many times or play it so effectively once that it becomes nearly impossible to fill the shoes, impossible to recast the role or to even imagine recasting the role. The former scenario – where an actor owns a role by performing it over multiple films – is more and more common now that the shared universe and neverending saga models are actually viable. Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman had the advantage of being the first to play Tony Stark and Wolverine in their respective franchises, but it’s still damn difficult to imagine what those cinema characters will look like ten years from now once Messrs. Downey and Jackman age out of the parts.
The latter camp – those who own a role after only a single performance – is more interesting, at least when the role we’re considering is that of Sherlock Holmes. The great deerstalker-capped detective has been played by hundreds of actors onscreen, notably by the likes of Basil Rathbone, Christopher Lee, Roger Moore (in Sherlock Holmes in New York), and the aforementioned Downey Jr. in the most recent feature adaptations. Peter O’Toole voiced the character in a series of animated shorts in the early ’80s, Ian McKellen will portray him in 2015’s Mr. Holmes, and Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sexy Holmes in the BBC show Sherlock. Jeremy Brett’s decade in the role spanning four separate series is certainly one of the most interesting turns – Brett’s health declined noticeably as each series progressed, and his time in the role ended up charting a tragic bearing through his final years.
Continue reading Murder by Decree (1979)