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Showing posts with label Kind Hearts and Coronets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kind Hearts and Coronets. Show all posts

Friday, 31 March 2017

Films of former collaborators, with Q&As within 48 hours of each other

Responding together to Free Fire (2016) and Prevenge (2016) as food for thought

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

31 March

The mental collision of Free Fire (2016) (plus Q&A with director Ben Wheatley), at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, on Wednesday 29 March 2017 at 8.50 p.m., and Prevenge (2016) (plus Q&A with actor Jo Hartley), at Saffron Screen, Saffron Walden, on Friday 31 March 2017 at 8.00 p.m., gives food for thought

Babou Ceesay (Martin), Brie Larson (Justine), Armie Hammer (Ord), Sharlto Copley (Vern), Noah Taylor (Gordon) – confusing being brightily with well dressed (even if handily differentiating them…) ?

When Kevin Spacey (@KevinSpacey) talked – on the Wogan t.v. show ? – about K-PAX (2001), in which Jeff Bridges and he starred, the indications were that the film was going to be one from which one would derive much more than from his account of it¹.

Ben Wheatley (at an event for High-Rise (2015)

Were it not that one has the practice of seeking to go ‘blind’ into films, and letting them speak for themselves, hearing the interesting and excellent Q&A at The Arts Picturehouse with Ben Wheatley (@mr_wheatley), director and co-writer of Free Fire (2016) (@FreeFireFilm), and well hosted by Evie Salmon (@eviesalmon), might nonetheless have persuaded one that the film itself, even if it would not just seem like a technical exercise¹, was one in whose outfolding one would find relatively little more of interest.

Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, and Michael Smiley in Free Fire (2016)

Maybe a title at the top of the film, which said that it had been inspired by a report into what had happened in a real-life gun-battle, would have given one a different perspective from which to watch ? Since, despite the script’s origins, the actions and motivations of the characters are principally fictitious (e.g. we learnt that there had been a sincere expression of interest from Cillian Murphy in appearing in a Wheatley film, and so the question had arisen what business could Michael Smiley and he be about together), one doubts that something such as the step of having an image inset into the frame of where they all were, so that one could much better follow who was shooting at whom (at any time), and from where, would have made much difference to engaging some viewers (others may, of course, have been able to understand that very much more easily - and so also do not find battle-scenes boggling).

Self-confessed fan Ben Johnston writes thus, in a review for TAKE ONE (, @TakeOneCinema), and for whom he also interviewed Ben Wheatley² [surely 'a Ben thing' going on... ?] :

While the tenuous unions form the basis for a lot of the character motivations and a fair bit of the plot, it is the rivalries that bring the most laughs, with plenty of insults flying in between the bullets. This razor sharp banter makes it extremely difficult to figure out who to root for at any given time, especially since nobody seems to be taking the whole situation very seriously. One minute a guy is shouting out that he’s forgotten whose side he’s on, the next someone is taking a quick headcount of who’s still alive – there’s a distinct element of cartoonish slapstick that helps keep the extended gun battle from feeling too monotonous [my emphasis].

Sienna Miller, as Charlotte, in High-Rise (2015)

Having watched the film, one found that, in the event, it had had an essentially similar effect to Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s novel High-Rise (2015) (@HighRise_movie), in that one largely, and to an equivalent degree, really did not give a damn about what happened to any of the characters (Laing’s being so naively self-deceived about his importance (and other things) did not help³), or so tend to maintain much active awareness of where one was (obvious exceptions were for the swimming-pool, or Royal’s (Jeremy Irons’) penthouse), because the script could be used to draw one’s attention to it. In fact (unless one can generate enthusiasm and / or concentration), whichever happens first, the law of diminishing returns is likely to apply, because of a feedback loop in which the other is undermined, and then in turn undermines the first. In High-Rise, the issues started early, with what had brought Laing (Tom Hiddleston) to be where, and as, he was shown at the opening of the film.

Elisabeth Moss (Helen) and Tom Hiddleston (Laing) in High Rise

Yet Laing’s matter-of-fact observation about the dog being barbequed rather said it all in a nutshell (or as with Wheatley’s account of how he saw the report that had documented a shoot-out) : the act of saying it presupposes another state of affairs, and who necessarily can maintain interest in what then led up to that point - even though some films work perfectly well so (such as American Beauty (1999), or Sunset Blvd. (1950)) ? When Wheatley spoke to The Arts Picturehouse audience (Screen 1), he made quite clear that he rebels against the portrayal of ‘good guys and bad guys’ per se, but one supposes that it depends what reaction a director hopes to gain for his or her work, if everyone is seen to be flawed. As it is, the presenting reason for everyone to be there at all in Free Fire, initially or later, is illegal activity – quite apart (please see comments above) from the double-dealing between the two groups that constitute the parties, or, as it emerges, the tensions between individuals in the same group, and the other group (a continuing theme since A Field in England (2012)). (In High-Rise, an additional element of more moral illegality / dishonesty is also in play.)

By contrast, with Prevenge, the quality of Alice Lowe’s self-direction, acting and editing [at the latter of which activities, as Jo Hartley (@MissJoHartley) told us at Saffron Screen (@SaffronScreen), Lowe’s baby Della Moon Synott was, as by then fully present, able to be there] is such that her wicked jokes are both amusing and feel truly transgressive⁴ (about the word ‘cut’ after, say, her character Ruth has used a knife on someone : on reflection, one recalls that tone in Roger Moore as Bond, speaking chummily to someone who is, at least, unconscious).

Roger Moore in Live and Let Die (1973)

Whereas, except for those members of the Free Fire audience (who also found every injury or wounding a source of great amusement), the bickering and next bad behaviour that cause matters to unravel felt fairly functional, if arbitrary⁵ – could one even locate this at the level of Tarantino’s successful black humour in Pulp Fiction (1994), or did it just feel awkward when, for example, an actor is trying to be off hand with some doubt whether a character has really been killed ? As predictively Tweeted, Michael Palin and Terry Jones seem to hit the mark well with an episode from the first series of Ripping Yarns (Murder at Moorstones Manor (1976) [the link is to IMDb's web-page])...

Saffron Screen's Q&A guest, Jo Hartley (not in character)

At Saffron Screen (@SaffronScreen), Jo Hartley (@MissJoHartley), who plays the midwife in Prevenge (2016), deliberately used the word 'gestation' to refer to the timescale (as confirmed by IMDb, @IMDb) within which the film was both written and shot (very quickly, and yet with no compromise in values !) :

No time, there, for 22,000 storyboards, etc., of which Wheatley spoke, or mapping the interior terrain (such an amazing space !) and plotting all the movements out on it, or six weeks with actors such as Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley, 'lying in shit' (as Wheatley put it). (As for Ripping Yarns, one can hear Michael Palin commenting on the quality effect that director Terry Hughes and he were aiming to achieve : the shoot for 'Murder at Moorstones Manor' (in 1976), just a thirty-minute episode, was Friday 15, Monday 25 to Friday 29 and Sunday 31 October, and (on set, for the final shoot-out in the hall) Wednesday 3 to Friday 5 November.)

'Murder at Moorstones Manor' (Ripping Yarns), with Harold Innocent as Manners

Despite the time-pressures on her to get the film made, Alice Lowe lets dawn on us, at our own pace, what we see happening (or why), but we certainly have no idea of it when her character Ruth has an opening encounter with Mr. Zabek (Dan Renton Skinner), a fruitily-suggestive-cum-titillatingly-menacing proprietor of an emporium of exotic creatures : we ask what it means, and what perversion he committed that – by a voice from which we will be hearing more fully⁶ – is being 'called in' (Ruth arrives with a prepared weapon, and we also see clothes being destroyed) ?

We hear and enjoy how Alice Lowe (@alicelowe) has scripted her own role to give us a person with immense verbal and social facility, fully as much as Dennis Price’s ready charm as Louis Mazzini in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and an equal, in her personas / accents, for Alec Guinness’ celebrated cameos as members of the D'Ascoyne family (even though, properly seen, he is not the star of the show anyway, but Price’s impressive adjunct – i.e. when not seduced by novelty and the wonders of make-up, as by Linklater's gimmick in Boyhood) (2014)). For Len (Gemma Whelan), shown confronted here by Ruth (feigning to sound Welsh), Lowe has created someone who has the presence of mind to don gloves to try to box her assailant into submission, but who cannot quite help simultaneously believing - to Ruth's incredulity - the presenting story that all this is part of Ruth’s trying to sign her up to donate to a children’s charity !

Likewise, we are not only amused by DJ Dan (Tom Davis), when he casually takes his hair off, but also by the added grotesquery – here, more reminiscent of Steve Oram, with Lowe, in Sightseers (2012) (@SightseersMovie) than of Mr. Zabek’s particular qualities – of what happens to it later. Irrespective of Ruth’s motives in meeting someone such as Dan, and going through with everything necessary to be invited back, we can also – if we try – glimpse our own faiblesse in who he is happy to think that he is, as against where he turns out to live : as Ruth, Lowe does not allow herself to see her own banality (does, also, Louis Mazzini ?), but she roundly presents to us the people whom Ruth can only denigrate into prey (who disparages what someone would do on account of being called Josh - although she did try to relate to him, and, having humorously tried one, called him Dr Anchovy).

The manner of filming, and the intense look of some shots or scenes, working in conjunction with the score⁶, evoke moods and emotions in a very cinematic way : because cinematographer Ryan Eddleston seems to have free rein to make dramatic adjustments to focus and depth of feel within a shot, one experiences more than viewing what is literally depicted, so as to include being aware as a participant that (and how) one does so. There are also other moments, which are more expressionistic than suggestive, but, of course, still vocal, such as when the tables are turned on Ella (Kate Dickie), at the other end of a long, corporate table - in that Ruth is the one who gets Ella talking about her interests and activities outside work, as if she were a candidate for employment at interview. Meanwhile, at some level, we may notice that Ella’s end of the room is blue, in a cool way, whereas Ruth’s lipstick and skin-colour are alive, and fresh...

Alice Lowe (not as Ruth)

In cinema, which principal characters, and / or their relations to others (without our necessarily needing to like them, or their behaviour), will happen to interest us, but perhaps not someone else (and vice versa), may vary greatly (such as in our response to Free Free). Our reaction may be partly, but signicantly, influenced in the manner of the telling, e.g. when Stanley Kubrick decides (amongst other changes) to employ a narrator (Michael Hordern) in adapting Thackeray’s novel as Barry Lyndon (1975) [discussed in reviewing Further Beyond (2016)]). Without an obvious device (such as the inset location, mentioned above, as if the film were a crime construction), Free Fire would be different, say, with the guidance of a sardonic narrator's words, making comments such as To hammer home the offence of having been shot, Justine did not resist expressing a lot of pain, or Vernon really was more affronted at the damage to his jacket than to his shoulder.

At which point, and excused by the fact that Ben Wheatley shows what can happen to gas-cylinders, it is apt to slip in the funniest reference (in context) to people in a building and bullets, with Mia Farrow (Tina Vitale) and Woody Allen (Danny Rose) : this link is to YouTube, of Danny and Tina being shot at in Broadway Danny Rose (1984) [the scene in the hangar for the Macy's Day Parade].

Equally, a perfectly good film may build to a conclusion, as The Rocket (2013) does, but only give a pay-out that leaves one satisfied just then, rather than thinking about (the world of) the film afterwards : for some, this would be a deficit in a film, that the story’s end is co-terminous with the ending of our active satisfaction in it. In a way, A Quiet Dream (2016) falls into that category [(whether it tries, it does not achieve the effect that concludes The Hairdresser's Husband (Le mari de la coiffeuse) (1990)), whereas one almost defies anyone to be left in that place by the latter two on this list :

In the Saffron Screen Q&A, Jo Hartley referred to how, as the midwife and during one of Ruth’s appointments with her, she tells Ruth, You have to decide what's right, what's wrong - clearly, the midwife is not exactly a conscience personified (as Jiminy Cricket, in Pinocchio (1940)), or an angelic character (such as Clarence, from It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)), as both of those know what, respectively, Pinocchio and George Bailey have been doing / going through. Still, as with any prophecy, whether that inherent in a pronouncement of the oracle at Delphi or otherwise sibylline in nature, the effect is dependent – and incalculably so – on the attitude(s) of the hearer to what he or she is hearing : Jocasta and Laius, by trying to avoid what is said of Œdipus, as surely more bring it about that it does happen than as if they had ignored it. At any rate, Jo Hartley’s character is kind enough to shield Ruth from enquiry about how and where she is living, given that the story of Prevenge is inevitably heading towards a birth.

Talking, in The Arts Picturehouse Q&A, about Free Fire's ending, Ben Wheatley (without naming any films) effectively confirmed a suspicion, when watching, that there is a resemblance to one for which, around the time of Reservoir Dogs (1992), Quentin Tarantino was an executive producer. Contained in a derelict factory (which nevertheless has more resources and working utilities than one would expect ?), the film speaks of the world outside, which continues to exist, even if the warfare of person against person makes it seem remote.

In Prevenge, if we even take none of what we have seen on the level of phantasy, the question What happens next ? is not asking to be answered at the end of the film : what we have seen has been so full that we do not need to project into a future.

Spoiler alert for the following images...

Some film-references, for Prevenge (by Tweet) :

End-notes :

¹ As one did, and so went on to read the novels by Gene Brewer, of which the first (K-PAX) was the only one adapted for the screen. Twenty years on, do films, etc., still get this sort of exposure on a chat-show (probably only later at night, with the likes of Graham Norton – though he is perhaps more interested in increasing the quotient of dubious double entendre than any real form of culture ?) ?

Having said which, the documentation that Wheatley reported originally having seen, and which had been a springboard for the film, did sound to show potential at the level of forensic documentary : in the case of this film, it was just that hearing him talk about it for a short time, as against what had ‘panned out’ in ninety minutes, gave rise to a disparity in what the two time-frames had communicated. Whereas - presumably by the real Wheatley fans in the house - the opportunity was being taken to laugh deeply and fully at every moment of comedy, and not a joke, of any kind, went unbidden.

² Here are some #UCFF Tweets, which give a link to the interview (and suggest perils in being too impressed by one's interviewee) :

³ Blue paint aside, though, this is not a Godard film, and so Laing’s disintegration does not have the weight of Jean-Paul Belmondo (as Ferdinand Griffon) in Pierrot le Fou (1965).

⁴ We know that, when someone says something – it may be us, tickled by how our words have come out – or something happens, there is a difference between registering humour, because what was said or done takes a comic form, and actually smiling because of it, or finding oneself laughing – the latter is mainly involuntary (although one can, of course, set out to have a good time). With Alice Lowe's performance, we laugh despite ourselves (and not even with a groan) - for which a close correlate, as argued further down in the main text, is Dennis Price in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).

⁵ Ben Wheatley said, in the Q&A, that he dislikes genre, but Free Fire belongs to one that comprises plots that are dependent on animosity going beyond antagonism to propel behaviour, and which then tend to be located in some types or circumstances of human interaction : the Bond films, already just mentioned, for one are where we often see competitiveness in the line of some sort of spy duty take on an aspect of personal rivalry (obviously, unto death – or apparent death).

⁶ Some of us may be reminded by it of Oskar, in Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) (1979). (An odd coincidence, since IMDb credits the music to Toydrum, along with, first, to Pablo Clements and James Griffith (because it does not seem to appreciate that the latter are Toydrum).)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 8 October 2012

Guinness in different glasses

A short appreciation, from old review-notes, of Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

9 October

A short appreciation, from old review-notes, of Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Somehow, when a restoration by the Britifish Film Institute (would that they could be known as that, not as BFI!) was released last year, I failed to turn a few notes from seeing Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) into a review. Here ‘tis now…

One cannot argue with the description of this film, in Picturehouse Recommends, having 'the most articulate and literate of all Ealing screenplays'. It is not just dialogue, but Louis Mazzini's (Dennis Price's) sinister narration and how he delivers it as if what he planned and did is the most reasonable thing in the world, wherein, of course, lies the wonder of the piece. If the film gets you to laugh quite naturally at children dying of diphtheria (and their mother dying, too), then that is skilled writing, but even the best writing depends on delivery, and that of the principals is impeccable.

For me, the fact that Alec Guinness transforms himself into eight varyingly inbred members (including one woman) of Mazzini’s mother’s family is the lesser thing, and it is in this connection that I have alluded to it in my review of Holy Motors (2012) (for anyone who believes that even the resources of the limousine suffice, and not a great deal of assistance beside would be needed, is deluding him- or herself). The costume is not the least part not only of the impersonations, but of the whole film, most notably for the two leading ladies:

The character parts are cute, but it is Mazzini interacting with these crucial women that counts, Joan Greenwood as childhood chum Sibella Holland, and Valerie Hobson as Edith d’Ascoyne, the woman whom he has widowed and in favour of whom Sibella just becomes something on the side. The planning just gets a little too clever for its own good, and Mazzini ends up tried before his peers (who are peers), under the darting eyes of Hugh Griffith, and brings us crucially back to a document that he has written whilst telling his tale, and which could unwittingly end up as his confession.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Fly Australian Airlines to nowhere

This is a Festival review of Holy Motors (2012)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

This is a Festival review of Holy Motors (2012)

* Contains spoilers *

If you want to see Kylie play a cameo as an airline hostess*, you’re clutching at straws, and would be better off queuing for one of her stage-shows than watching Holy Motors** (2012): if you watched the film first, you’d have no desire to hear her version of any other song. The other song was just mawkish dross about time, regret and the past – or was that Kylie’s song instead / as well, and trauma has bereft me of remembering ?

I have Tweeted that Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and Subway (1985) meet in a mortal embrace, and it is a fight that kills off the best of both, leaving a facile scene in a warehouse-sized garage at the end that was apt to make the ritual close of t.v.’s The Waltons seem profound. It did not even visually convince that so many similar vehicles had been assembled, not least since they insisted on drawing attention to their artificiality by flashing their brake-lights.

Could anything worthwhile have preceded such a banal ending, little better than imputing significance to the fact that the vital club in Enter the Void (2009) is called – wait for it! – The Void? A few moments did, but only a very few in the whole 115 minutes, comprising : an erotic dance; a building that I could swear owes something to the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright (but I could not spot it in the credits); the bizarre pastiche of a beauty, a beast and a photographer; the first of several humorous grave-stones; and a terrific interlude (called such), in which a gathering group of musicians, centred on an accordion ensemble, processed around a large church.

After then, and despite some intrigue concerning a crime and its ritualized repetition, it was a decline, not just musically, as a continuation of the episodic. Simply put, there was simply almost no interest in how (or even why) it all hung together, and it became, if possible, less and less significant. It was as if a premise of The Matrix (1999) that, when plugged in, Neo, Trinity and the others, can enter the machine-world had been stretched out to become some sort of secret, kept to the end.

I would happily have walked out of Holy Motors, at around the point that I describe, but, as my friend did not evince the desire to leave, I stayed so that we would have both seen all of it to discuss afterwards. He thought it a sort of purgatory for M. Oscar, I thought it a purgatory for me in this parade of the pointless, and that any notion that it meant more than the following quotation*** was vain speculation (though I was, also, reminded of Edgar Allen Poe’s story The Man of the Crowd):

As the gom yawncher man passed me I recognized him as the man in the broken-rimmed hat who'd spoken to me in the underground when I was on my way home from Istvan Fallok's studio with electrodes all over my head.

'Hello,' I said.

'Nimser vo,' he said.

'You weren't talking like that the other day. How come?'

'I must've been somebody else then.'

'How's that?'

'Economy. You have a little chat with a stranger now and then, right? So do I, so does everyone. How many lines has the stranger got? Two or three maybe. There's really no need for a new actor each time, is there?'

'So you play them all.'

'The same as you.'

'What do you mean?'

'Yesterday you were the conductor on the 11 bus and you also did quite a nice little tobacconist in the Charing Cross Road. Actually London hasn't got that big a cast, there's only about fifty of us, all working flat out.'

'Are you writing a novel?'

'Novel-writing is for weaklings,' he said, and moved on.

After which, not only go to [to come], for an unfavourable comparison with The Night Elvis Died (2010), but here for a further conceit


* I have never heard the male equivalent called ‘a host’.

** Surely a take-off of the Batman dialogue.

*** From The Medusa Frequency by Russell Hoban, Pan Books (Picador), London, 1988, p. 56.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Passing through Pimlico

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

6 June

* Contains a wealth of spoilers *

Although I cannot think of a time (perhaps six months?) when I did not know the title of Passport to Pimlico (1949), and convince myself that it must have been on t.v. in my youth (although I was expecting Peter Sellers to be in the cast-list, because I was also thinking of I'm All Right, Jack (1959)), a screening yesterday convinces me that I did not really know the film at all. (And I had little conception of where Pimlico was until 30 years ago and an initiation to what, before it became Tate Britian, was The Tate Gallery.)

Not, at any rate, beyond the basic tenet - implied by the title - that Pimlico (actually, just a small part of it) becomes a separate domain. What follows is informed both by seeing it (again?), and by a review at New Empress Magazine, the work of one Ben Sheppard.

As you might have gathered from reading Ben’s review (if you have done so), Passport is not the best of the so-called Ealing comedies, and it is a little patchy: it would be interesting to research into how it was edited into its circulated form, whether Pimlico was merely chosen for euphony (and, in any case, what the name derives from, which has to be more plausible than the alleged origins of Elephant and Castle!), and how the idea was first hit upon. Maybe some day…

Essentially, the scope of the film episodically, dictated by the to and fro between the residents, the British Cabinet Ministers, and all those, such as the spivs, who would exploit the situation, divides into (in no particular order) the actions of :

* The bullish, even belligerent*, Arthur Pemberton (Stanley Holloway), fronting and furthering this series of stand-offs and stalemates between HM Government and the occupants of what appears to be part of Burgundy

* His daughter Connie (Betty Warren) as a siren, initially yielding to the fishmonger, but finding herself preferring the attentions of the Duke of Burgundy (Paul Dupuis)

* Margaret Rutherford, who, with convincingly scatty eccentricity as Professor Hatton-Jones, propounds the territorial claim, and then, at a key moment, approves the rather unlikely Duke's credentials

* The fishmonger's female employee, whose attentions he has overlooked in favour of buttering up Connie, and who (by leaving the tap on before the water-supply, which has been cut off, comes back on floods the pub basement) loses Pimlico its stockpile of provisions

* The character of Edie Randall (Hermione Baddeley) as a lady of lingerie

* The bank manager, Mr Wix (Raymond Huntley), as the Nick Leeson of his time, and, with Pemberton, part of the brains behind the outfit (although not often in agreement about the tactics)

Much is good value, with a sense of exhilaration when, for example, the Pimlico crew halt and board an Underground train that they have climbed down to intercept passing beneath their territory, or when the local constable (Philip Stainton) creeps out and reinstates the water, whilst Connie and others lure the attention of guards on the barbed-wire boundaries.

As Ben rightly says, the Berlin air-lift, which began midway before the year of release (and ended almost 11 months later), must have been a major source for the idea, and there is quite an uneasy feeling to the comedy in places, when, for all the tricks that the Burgundians try (the blockade is busted by air-drops, including a pig on a parachute), the aim of Whitehall is wilfully to starve them into submission.

By contrast with a better Ealing film from the same year, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), where the idea of a man taking revenge on and systematically murdering his mother's snobbish relatives (who had either cut her off when she married for love, or stood by when it happened) is deliciously wicked and cleverly executed, this tense and awkward feeling means that one cannot really enjoy the stand-off in Passport to Pimlico and how the game plays out, because it is just that little bit too close to home to seem like sheer fun.


* Or, in its genuine meaning, ‘feisty’.