Thoughts on two James Bond films seen in the last week:

Spectre )

Goldeneye )
sir_guinglain: (Spock_annual1975)
( May. 30th, 2015 02:22 am)
Yes, I should have gone to bed, but I caught up with Star Trek - Into Darkness instead. Several visually impressive moments, but the cast were underused and there isn't as much mileage in immature boy Kirk as they seem to think. I am not a Star Trek expert, but I had the feeling that it didn't mirror the beats of The Wrath of Khan as well as it seemed to believe; and it wore its legacy too heavily too. There were also far too many fisticuffs, and little sense of lessons learned on the part of people or institutions - but that is the mode of action films in our time, I suppose.
Some months after seeing the 1939 Tower of London, I've this evening watched the 1962 version as directed by Roger Corman. It bears little relation to the 1939 version other than the setting, the name, and the presence of Vincent Price as Richard III, who played the duke of Clarence in the earlier film. The historical parallels with the contemporary political scene are gone. Instead, Shakespeare's histories and some of his tragedies have been fed into a blender; most of the nutrition has then been removed, and what is left is held together by actor-scholar Vincent Price, with some spirited performances from others such as Sandra Knight as Mistress Shore - not Edward IV's mistress here, but a loyal retainer to Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville who refuses to join Richard's cause. Little of the historical chronology remains; until the last third of the film, when an archbishop is needed to crown Richard, it appears that the established religion of late Plantagenet England is some form of paganism, represented by the good magician-physician Tyrus and his invocations to the forces of darkness. In the end, Napoleonically, Richard crowns himself, thus saving on extras. The battle scene depends on skilful cutting of stock footage, though Richard finds his horse before falling badly and being fatally wounded... but that almost gives away the twist. There's some imaginative photography and brazen use of anachronistic sets and costumes, however, and canny presentation to make tame torture scenes seem more horrific than they are.
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Last night's dramatic entertainment was King Arthur the Young Warlord, a TVM assembled in the 1970s from episodes of HTV's Arthur of the Britons (1972-1973). I'd only seen one episode of the latter, when it was repeated on ITV during the 1980s, and not been greatly impressed, as the episode consisted of a series of weapons trials which seemed to show that the cast had enjoyed themselves on a sunny afternoon in the West Country and not a lot else. I bought this compilation from the US several months ago, before I realised that the whole series was being released on DVD by Network this month.

The compilation, despite the lack of a plot (there was a linking narration which fought valiantly to simulate one) was largely watchable, although it could have stood more editing, even though one episode, about a confrontation with Picts, was cut down to about a minute of clips. The series raided the British legendarium freely - Arthur's foster brother is Kai, for example, but their foster-father is not Ector but Llud the Silver-Handed. Arthur's rivals include Ambrose, a Mithras-worshipping tribal chief who wanders around in a simulacrum of Roman dress and is mocked for it; a priest of Nodens; and Mark of Cornwall, played by Brian Blessed and of interest to Blessedologists as an early example of the characterisation brought to Vultan in Flash Gordon, Richard IV in The Black Adder and Yrcanos in Doctor Who's Mindwarp. Early on Blessed is provided with a slightly-built peasant to pat heartily; peasant duly falls over. He still can't remove the stone from the sword, though (yes, stone from the sword, not the other way round) - that takes Arthur's team leadership skills.

The only speaking female character was Rowena, performed by an actress only credited in the titles as 'Gila' but actually Gila von Weitershausen, whom I'd not seen before, but she appears to have been prominent in Germany and was here making a rare foray into English-language work. Rowena works hard, as she represents the Rowena of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Guinevere, and Isolde all at once. She and Arthur have a backstory which contributes to the last-minute failure of her betrothal to Mark, of which we hear little but it involved her fighting alongside Arthur and then taking off her dress so it could be ripped up into bandages to bind his wounds. However, this is a children's series and especially a boys' one, so all Arthur can do is puzzle over why he's so possessive about Rowena, and trot off in denial back to his encampment. It's probably a sign of how online fandom has corrupted me that when Arthur's narration refers to his attempt to "have his way" with Mark, in a later sequence where Mark is tricked into helping with a rescue mission, my eyebrows are raised, though I am sure that there is much in this edited compilation from which others with more, shall we say, creative minds than mine would derive great amusement.

There's no writing credit on the film, which speaks volumes, and no closing scroll of actors other than the so-called leads. Peter Firth as Corin, 'son of Mordor' - someone had been reading their Tolkien - appears in one sequence, while sometime Maigret, Rupert Davies, as Cerdig appears in two and is more relevant to the ongoing series theme, but Firth's star was rising when the compilation was made in 1975, probably explaining why he appears in both the opening and closing titles. The film is valuable mostly as a concise edition of the television series, one of the first of the many in which HTV took their cameras out around their ITV franchise area of Wales and the West, and dramatised the 'identity' of their region by appealing to and embellishing British mythology, all but making legend their property within the bounds of ITV during the 1970s and 1980s. I will see if I can get my hands on the unedited DVDs in some form.
sir_guinglain: (Default)
( Mar. 8th, 2008 03:11 pm)
I've only read one of the Earthsea books, The Tombs of Atuan, when I was nine, and haven't revisited it since. I don't remember very much about it beyond an awareness that the story didn't develop in a way that developed my enthusiasm. I therefore had no expectations of the Studio Ghibli Tales from Earthsea, watched with [livejournal.com profile] taruithorn last night.

I don't know very much of Japanese animation; unlike the present student generation, I didn't grow up with it, and of the films I've seen the only one which I've found really successful is Spirited Away. Tales from Earthsea's design and story included elements which seemed to me misunderstandings or misrepresentations of originals, from the mishmash of architectural details in the city to the characters, who seemed forced into off-the-peg sub-Joseph Campbell roles. I did like the castle at the end, which seemed to owe something to the present state of Tintagel, with its plunging wooden stairways and areas ready to collapse. The villain's (Lord Cob's) appearance seemed closely based on David Bowie, and certainly androgynous, reminding at least one other of Michael Jackson. Otherwise there seemed little that was greatly distinctive about the film, with the usual magical devices of 'true names' and shapeshifting being deployed without any substantial development.
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sir_guinglain: (Default)
( Jan. 23rd, 2008 08:04 pm)
Last night I joined a celebrating [livejournal.com profile] dr_biscuit, [livejournal.com profile] exactlyhalf and [livejournal.com profile] emily_shore at the Phoenix, to see I'm Not There, the innovative Bob Dylan biopic that reconstructs Dylan as six different individuals played by different people. I'd long been curious about it and was very glad that I went along. I'm not greatly familiar with Dylan's music (bar the contents of The Essential Bob Dylan) nor his biography (beyond what I remember from Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home, which I watched when it went out on BBC 2 in 2005; but the film presents a thematic narrative, that while twisting around in chronological time (one sequence, that featuring Richard Gere as Billy the Kid, is placed in an environment more American Gothic than American Gothic, representing I think an America both innocent but enjoying its daring and experimental liberty, imminently threatened by a mass communication represented by the freeway and the motor car), is nonetheless consistent. Of the Dylans, the two outstanding performances are those of Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn, a piece of transgender casting which makes absolute sense; and Marcus Carl Franklin as an eleven-year-old boy who travels the 1950s railroad calling himself Woody Guthrie (complete with 'This machine kills Fascists' written on his guitar case) and entertaining fellow hitchers, seedy fairgrounds (until he's thrown out) and his fellow (we assume) black poor and prosperous white folk alike with his renderings of Depression songs from the 1930s. The thought that is pressed upon Woody, 'Live your own time', lingers with me.

There are lots of beautiful performances and eerie recreations of sequences I recognised from footage included in the Scorsese documentary, including the Newport Folk Festival and Manchester Free Trade Hall concerts where audiences denounced Dylan's electric performances. In both these it is Cate Blanchett's character who incarnates Dylan. More slow-burning on the memory are Christian Bale as Jack Rollins, representing Dylan's early stardom as a spokesman of the protest movement and the folk revival, and his later embrace of born-again Christianity; and the dogged but nonetheless wide-ranging performance of Heath Ledger as Robbie Grant, the actor who comes to fame playing Rollins in a 1960s biopic and inherits his celebrity when Rollins seeks anonymity. Opposite Ledger is Charlotte Gainsbourg, stunning as Grant's painter wife Claire. She's come a long way since she loped across the Yorkshire moors as a greyhound-like Jane Eyre in the early 1990s.

This is often a very funny film. Everyone seems to have mentioned the Beatles, who appear as caricatures of their Hard Day's Night era selves crossed with the Keystone Kops manic energy of Help!; the looming presence of Allen Ginsburg (a gnomic David Cross) in Jude Quinn's life at the same time is also an effective caricature of another friend of Dylan's. Does Quinn's sometime lover Coco (played by Michelle Williams) represent a historic partner of Dylan, or the love affair with drugs Quinn has at this point in the film? Another actor deserving mention is Bruce Greenwood, who plays a British television presenter, Keenan Jones - whose connections recall those of Kenneth Tynan - determined to expose what he sees as the artifice and deception of Quinn, and then Billy the Kid's nemesis Pat Garrett, determined likewise to sweep away the valley and town where Billy has successfully hidden himself for decades, in the interest of building a freeway.

The soundtrack is outstanding, a mixture of original Dylan recordings and cover versions; the latter have been grouped together on the soundtrack album. I found I appreciate Dylan's songs more almost as part of a narrative; they appeal to a context, perhaps, which I don't always sufficiently grasp. I'm Not There is well worth your time.
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sir_guinglain: (arthurelaineletr)
( Jan. 21st, 2008 12:05 am)
This is a film that, though made in 1938, is at times so self-conscious that this viewer, seventy years on, felt that its makers knew that an audience a couple of generations away would one day watch it and appreciate the jokes from a distance. Its portrayals of a succession of Anglo-British stereotypes: the barrister and his 'wife', actually the wife of a senior colleague with whom he is having an affair and an illicit holiday, the kind but daffy middle-aged governess, the cynical leisure-loving jam factory heiress on her way home to marry a peer because it will please her father, the self-obsessed dilettante musicologist, and above all the cricket-obsessed men of evident but invisible means, are introduced with affection but are also set on trajectories that will either show how misleading our initial impressions are, or leave us uncomfortable as initially sympathetic figures turn out to be obstructive and too focused on their private concerns to notice that something very sinister has happened on board their train taking them across central Europe, despite the protests of pretty heiress Iris (Margaret Lockwood). Only the folk-music collecting Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) believes that there was a Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) in Iris's compartment, despite the insistence of the nearest medical expert that she was a hallucination brought on by concussion.

The film's mockery of British insularity made a serious point in 1938, and political sensitivity led to the omission of a scripted sequence where goose-stepping soldiers dissolved into a flock of gabbling geese. In the final shoot-out the barrister reveals himself as a pacifist who believes that everything can be settled by negotiation - as already seen, this includes his own word to his lover, Margaret, as he wheedles out of an immediate divorce and remarriage because it will prejudice his career. His waving of a white flag before the nation's security forces ends predictably. While it could be argued that Gilbert ends up representing another British stereotype of the unpredictable outsider as hero, at his first appearance he is a nuisance and even a cad, someone without any respect for his fellow hotel guests; but his overwhelming curiosity about other cultures translates into a sensitivity to the European political situation which too many of his fellow-British passengers regard as a sign of the instability of foreigners which only inconveniences them when travelling abroad and justifies their complacency about the superiority and invulnerability of the British way of life. All helped by a witty script from Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, which surely set a standard for keeping the pace going so quickly that the audience is amused rather than irritated by all the implausibilities; and directed for Gainsborough Pictures with acute judgement by Alfred Hitchcock.

Viewed at the National Film Theatre with [livejournal.com profile] gervase_fen and a full house, Sunday 20 January 2008.
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I'm not up on the Bond canons, but after watching Die Another Day, wonder whether, if I was, I'd be making an argument for Die Another Day as the most fannish Bond film? The film throughout seems to both propose and subvert a classic Bond film structure, and there seems something particularly Mary Sue-ish about Colonel Moon, Jinx and Miranda; Moon, explicitly, is a fan who wants to be his hero. The lashings of CGI gave the impression of the film unfolding in a cyberdreamscape, with the final clash between Jinx and Frost coming across like a battle of the fangirls wanting control of the plot. Moon's name was perhaps a reference to 'Robert Markham''s Colonel Sun, the first (I think) licensed post-Fleming Bond novel. Even if greater familiarity with the series would prove this a misreading, I still found it entertaining...
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sir_guinglain: (Default)
( Nov. 13th, 2007 08:40 am)
Continued from here.

A patchy comparative review of Stardust )

edit: to acknowledge [livejournal.com profile] cealdis's correction.
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Spent this evening, first at Almaza at Gloucester Green, where the 'Shef's Special' was fine if not greatly varied in its vegetable selection; and then on, with [livejournal.com profile] narahttbbs, [livejournal.com profile] shanith, [livejournal.com profile] elleblue, [livejournal.com profile] e_pepys and [livejournal.com profile] louisekdyson to the Odeon George Street, where we were joined by [livejournal.com profile] colinbj for the 9.30pm screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Minor review )

Additional observation, 10.51am )
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"Christopher Eccleston is also due to start filming shortly on
The Dark is Rising
, an adaptation of the fantasy book by Susan Cooper."

This is all they say. I don't know DiR but expect that this is old news to those who do. Nonetheless, I'm reporting it anyway.
sir_guinglain: (salmon)
( Feb. 6th, 2007 08:36 am)
I don't think that there has been a film in which, fifty minutes in, I am looking at my watch not because the film is bad, but because its narrative makes such uncomfortable viewing. Notes on a Scandal (adapted from Zoe Heller's novel by Patrick Marber, and directed by Richard Eyre) depicts human weakness and manipulation in so many twists and turns that still ring very true. I didn't like it at first, and was ready to relegate it to the barrel of unconvincing tales of contemporary complicity alongside Michael Frayn's novel Headlong, which I read over six years ago and didn't believe; but this rapidly gained more credibility with me.

Ringing is appropriate because the phone is a motif; characters' lives are altered by information disclosed over the phone, or in meetings arranged by it. Text messaging is the prerogative of youth, specifically Sheba Hart's teenage lover Stephen Connolly (Cate Blanchett and Andrew Simpson). Juxtaposition of dialogue and image is managed skilfully; there's a shot early on where Judi Dench's character, Barbara Covett (the names of the two main characters are not the most subtle in literature or cinema), describes the action but completely misses the importance of the event for her object of study, Sheba Hart; or does she? For the narration is part of Barbara's diary, which is not a masterpiece of self-deception, but seems to do the trick.

There are lots of other touches in the direction and photography, too. Of the schoolteachers, Tom Georgeson's Ted Mawson is always moving through the shot and we never get a firm image of his face. The film starts and ends on Hampstead Heath, Barbara looking over London both solitary and isolated, and a hawk (or perhaps more appropriately a cat) looking for her next prey. There's a pleasing in-joke in the casting of Anne-Marie Duff, a third screen Elizabeth I, as the new object of Barbara's attentions at the end.

I thought Judi Dench just too old to play Barbara, even taking into account Barbara's embittered detachment from her environment and her inner dessication. Her performance is nonetheless excellent. The impression I have of Cate Blanchett's Sheba in this film is one of movement; the camera moves around her, flirting with her as Sheba does with it: Barry, played by Phil Davis in a manner that recalls Timothy Spall's Barry in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, and not at all his King John in Robin of Sherwood, recognises that Sheba's way of relating to people is to flirt with them in such a way that makes her intentions unclear. At times I felt the film was going to conclude that Sheba and Barbara deserved one another, but Sheba is allowed redemption, leaving Barbara looking for mice upon the heath.
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sir_guinglain: (arthurelaineletr)
( Dec. 16th, 2006 01:00 pm)
Last night's film at Lady Alysande's was meant to be A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, the Bing Crosby version, which I'd ordered from the US a few weeks ago, and left at Lady A's other half Q's porter's lodge, only to find that it disappeared. Lady A subsequently borrowed Beowulf and Grendel from a film reviewer friend, with Q frantically reformatting it for his home-made projection system as VC and I arrived.

Lady A and VC had been apprehensive about Beowulf and Grendel, largely thought the knowledge that St Brendan appears in it. I don't know the stories but I learned from both that Brendan and Beowulf don't fit well. As it happens neither had anything to be afraid of - Brendan here is a personification of the Christian voice in the Beowulf poem, apparently, introduced at the point in the story where critics are agreed Christian themes are introduced, and done away in a casually brutal fashion by a hitherto sidelined major character towards the end. My main issue with the film was the dialogue, which lurches clumsily from the heroic, to pub closing time talk, to the 'hood. I took a little time to get used to Gerard Butler's Scottish Beowulf, who surfaces - literally - in such a way that I expected him to say that he's been walking along the sea bed and all he knows is that he's two days out from Inverness.

In this version Grendel's motivation is textbook stuff - as a bearded, blond child he saw Hrothgar kill his father, and since has nursed the mummified head in his cave - and a new character, Selma, a witch who lives outside the Danes' settlement, in her person (a slightly underfed Sarah Polley) negotiates what becomes an equilibrium between Beowult and Grendel, even though realisation comes too late. The production has a homespun feel, as if the cameras have just been set rolling without any great effort to compose actors and scenery into an image that tells a story. Sturla Gunnarsson's picture could thus be a useful corrective to anyone feeling that they have been exposed to too much of Peter Jackson's vision of Tolkien's middle earth. There were some striking pictures, though, such as the Geats'  ship sailing through a frozen landscape in search of Grendel's lair, that spoke to my sense of personal location. I thought of Britain as an island suspended between the north and the west, and I come from a part of the country where that tension is most felt. I live in a 'western' territory, but watchign the film made me yearn for the north; the Christmas visit to Northumberland will be insufficient, I think. I need a visit to northern Scotland, Iceland or parts Scandinavian.
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