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Archive for the ‘Jude Law’ Category

Side Effects

06 Mar

Side Effects ­– directed by Steven Soderbergh. Suspense. A psychiatrist prescribes a new drug to a suffering young woman, and the results are as prescribed, alas. 106 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

Side Effects, a right properly titled piece, falls into the category of Hitchcock suspense, by which I mean that it is arranged around a falsely accused man.

In Hitchcock’s many versions of this situation, To Catch A Thief, North By Northwest, Saboteur, I Confess, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Birds, Strangers On A Train, Rebecca, The Wrong Man, and so forth, something allows us to get behind the falsely accused character. This is not always solved by casting, but it is always enforced by Hitchcock’s treatment of the character. After all, these characters were not always played by Jimmy Stewart. Hitchcock’s usual strategy is to have the character thus falsely accused start the first act by evincing a really good sense of humor and be limber in his life. The humor may disappear with the tension of the story, but it has given us him as a human enjoying his life, and thus we don’t want him to lose it.

In the case of Side Effects, we have in Jude Law no Jimmy Stewart. He is a good actor but a cold one and seemingly empty. I don’t really care whether he lives or dies. And our chance to identify with him is crowded out by the fact that as written his character is not humorous but a workaholic. He is not enough fun for us to take to our hearts in such a tale.

Why a non-America actor is playing this part anyhow is a bafflement. His being from The British Empire adds nothing to the role. It would be a good part for Tom Hanks in his late thirties, and a perfect one for Adrian Brody and Robert Downey Junior right now – and for any number of other American actors, including black ones, presently in their thirties or early forties.

So the film fails to engage on a personal level, and we are left with a cunning story, beautifully told by the director and cinemaphotographer and editor. We go to a movie to see them, too, of course, and they do not disappoint, but they are not the one’s we need to identify with.

The story involves a troubled young woman sorely depressed upon the release from prison of her husband, well-played by Channing Tatum. Catharine Zeta-Jones is excellent as her former shrink. And Rooney Mara plays the young woman herself. She is taken to a therapist after an attempt at self-injury. The therapist is played by Jude Law.

The story held my attention from beginning to end, and I enjoyed and accepted its modulations into and out of peril. That is what suspense films are for, aren’t they? But I feared nothing for its hero, which is not what suspense films are for.

 

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

16 Jan

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus – directed by Terry Gilliam. Fantasy. A travelling theatre offers its eternal creative powers out to a world not interested in them whatsoever, until a certain Tony turns up. 123 minutes Color 2009.

* * *

Terry Gilliam is your ordinary fantasist, thank goodness, which means that his story is firmly lodged in classical narrative rubric, e.g., once upon a time there was an ancient magician who had a beautiful daughter. Living in their magic cave was a monster and a servant boy who was in love with her. The magician had failed in his work, however, because he had made a deal with a demon: he could live forever if he gave his first daughter as the demon’s bride. One day, the theatre company saved a young man from drowning. This man, named Tony, was set dire tasks to save the daughter: he had to enter the magic world of the wizard with three females whose souls he would sacrifice.  And so forth and so on. All we see is quite delightful and well grounded. The piece is fanciful and well cast, with Christopher Plummer as the magician, and where it is not well cast, the costumes supply the deficiency. All is well, or would be well, until the drowning man appears. Then things fall apart. For Tony is played by Heath Ledger, in what should have been the most daring and entertaining performance of his career, save for one thing: it is made invisible by facial hair. You cannot see what he is feeling or thinking; you cannot see what he wants; you cannot see what sort of person he is. The performance is a dead loss. For there is a rule for young leading male film actors. Keep hair out of all parts of your face. Keep your head hair combed back off your brow, no matter how much younger than you are you want to look, and keep all beards, goatees, mustaches, sideburns miles away from you. Beards are fine for the stage where the close-up is outlawed, where no one can see your features anyhow, but on film, nope, never. In film, they do not define character; they demote it. (You may, as Clark Gable did so effectively, wear a thin mustache as a sort of medical prescription. But that’s it.) Facial hair destroys performances. It never adds character. It always conceals character, because it conceals filmed human response. If you are a leading man, that is. If you are Monty Woolley, do as you please. Anyhow, we sigh and wander on through the film in all its expected and unexpected treats. Jeff and Mycheal Danna have written charming music and the special effects are a riot. Until we come to a point in the story when Ledger has to take three of the ladies through the magic mirror, at which point he turns into impersonations of himself, which is a lot of fun. The first is played by Johnny Depp, and that’s all right; the second by Jude Law, and that’s all right too; the third, however, drowns us in excess and even Colin Farrell, who is fine in the part, cannot rescue the logorrhea of the director, who throws into the last episode everything he ever thought up about everything – and the movie is swamped and goes under. He has a fecund imagination but no talent to cull the fruit.  Too bad.  A lost film. A lost performance.

 

 

Sherlock Holmes: The Game Of Shadows

18 Dec

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows — Directed by Guy Ritchie. Boulevard Thriller. 129 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Better than the first one by a long shot. Firstly because it is more witty, and secondly and thirdly because it is more witty. By that I mean that while it is also more spectacular, the spectacle is witty. I am not going to spoil the jests by describing them; let them come upon you unawares. Then too, the story swans around Europe with uncommon velocity and the picture simply expects you to go along for the ride, which is essentially Dr. Watson’s ride, since that is who we have to be, since none of us can ever be Holmes, can we. When a director or storyteller takes wit for granted in his audience he has done the wittiest thing he could do. And always the director lets us in on the joke, by which is meant that he expects us to finish the punch line for him, Alà Lubitsch. And it also means that the dialogue is witty, and dialogue can only be witty in a film if there is really a lot of it, so that we can sink our ears into it and live with the flavor of it as things unfold. There are mistakes, or rather one mistake, which is that, again, the fight scenes fall prey to scrambled editing so that there is no knowing what is going on or what is doing by whom to whom. But these are over early, and the story opens out into its drolleries and detours amply. The décor, the costumes, the carriages, and the protocols are all Teutonic, the jammed living rooms, the opulent restaurants, the creamy excesses of dress and manner, the expression, the repression – all are Germanic. It is 1891 and Victoria is on the throne and she was a German. Victorianism everywhere always has a German accent. And the designers have made the most of this and played off against it in the person and personality of Robert Downey Junior, who is the most romantic in appearance and affect of any Sherlock Holmes before. He never wears a high collar or a tie. His shirts are always Byronically open at the neck. He never does the prim Basil Rathbone/Jeremy Brett thing of the pinched genius with the long condescending nose. Instead he is all close-up and personal and tousled and Peck’s Bad Boy. Of course, like those others, he is dreadfully neurotic. He also speaks a lot more clearly here than in the first installment. In all this he is ably mated by Jude Law, again as Watson, who almost equals Holmes in magical prestidigitations. Stephen Fry makes an astounding appearance as Mycroft Holmes, Sherry’s brother, and a welcome presence he is indeed. Can we follow all this? We are not meant to. All we are meant is to feel privileged to tag along. I liked doing that. It is a sumptuous ride.

 

 

 

Hugo

11 Dec

Hugo — Directed by Martin Scorsese. Drama. An orphaned boy winds the clocks of a huge Paris railway station as he seeks his true parentage. 127 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

Asa Butterworth plays the 12 year-old and hits a homer. His performance is simple and ingratiating, for he lets his impression of his situation carry him, and Martin Scorsese lets Asa’s fine blue eyes carry him the rest. He is mated with another 12-year-old well played by Chloë Grace Moretz. The two of them take us along on their adventures in early 1930s Paris, adventures which are imperiled by the train station guard, a victim de la guerre, played with a crazy Martin Short accent which is supposed to be comic but is not, by Sacha Baron Cohen. The problem with the material lies not with them but with the special effects which clog and over-lengthen their tale. These effects which are 3-D and which at first impress and amaze, fade in power as they supplant the story and the human interest of it. For instance, two of the greatest actors alive, Richard Griffiths and Frances de La Tour (remember them in The History Boys), are sidelined, while the sequences in the towering stacks of a bookshop owned by Christopher Lee displace the narrative with a plot device that could have been handled more briskly another way. Virtuosoism will attack narration every time. For the entire film is manufactured by computer. All we see, save the actors themselves, is fabricated with the doomed magic of an application. It even opens the picture carrying a character moving through a maze, duplicating a famous opening sequence in another Scorsese film of years ago. But these elaborate and highly detailed fabrications steal breath. What first impressed now fails to. The forgotten passages of the huge old station bring us into the power of the secret mischief of the Hunchback Of Notre Dame and The Phantom Of The Opera, but with them the special effects of the station itself eventually cannot compete. The film almost loses heart – but not quite, for the heart is that of Martin Scorsese, and the story is that of the Ben Kingsley character, an old great silent film fantancist/magician/inventor, Georges Méliès, now superannuated and inutile and running a toy store in the train station. We hope our Master Scorsese does not fear to become like this director, outdated, his work lost and forgotten. The old director is restored to praise, and, when I saw it, the audience applauded Hugo, as I did myself. A good whole-family picture.

 

 

Contagion

01 Oct

Contagion – Directed by Stephen Soderbergh. Drama. A mysterious plague moves fast through the world killing millions. 109 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

I don’t believe this film succeeds in accomplishing what it set out to do, which is to incite. But I don’t know if that is what it set out to do, because the massive and spectacular documentary details of its execution, none of which we are allowed to dwell upon either, causes us to lose identity with the characters – such that the characters, in terms of narration, are executed tokenly – bigger than a cameo, smaller than a part — although they are not acted that way. A good example is the final scene of Marion Cottillard to whom is delivered the news that she has unwittingly participated in a fraud, and she simply gets up to rectify it presumably by telling those defrauded that they have been. It’s not enough. And over and over again the spectacle of ruination of the mysterious killer disease is shown, to the dead loss of all of the main characters, except in a sort of follow the dots plotting. But characters are not dots. So there is nothing to latch onto in the human realm, leaving the arrangement of the plague to look like a put-up-job, a numb what-if. The characters turn up here and there and are given very little screen time, leaving us with a fancy show of contagion, which does not frighten because no one we know is threatened. Why? Because the disease kills  immediately; it never threatens, it just does you in. Marion Cotillard plays a research person, and she really should give up playing non-character leads in American films. She is not a leading lady. She is completely cold on the screen. It is as if she were just waiting to find another monster to play. Gwyneth Paltrow is, as usual, an unexceptionable actress, in the part of the first carrier of the disease, as is Kate Winslet who goes out earnestly to stop the plague. Laurence Fishburne is the honcho in charge of Disease Control, and most of what he does is to transmit or suppress what is supposed to be scary information. Jude Law as an Aussie yellow journalist who early latches onto the story and attempts to radicalize it – but succeeds only in making it a scandal – seizes the screen between his uneven teeth and shakes it like a mutt shaking a dead rag. But it is Matt Damon who anchors the film; he’s a very fine actor, if one of modest means, and he deserves a lot of credit for way he holds this role. The acting is unadorned, and no one does a star turn, which is to the director’s credit. The fault lies with the writer’s conception that we could have a movie about a plague that looks like a documentary, is played like a documentary, but is really a whole sea of confetti made from cut up newsprint barged into at various points by neat O’Henry twists.

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