Ugh, why do I bother? Neveldine-Taylor’s Ghost Rider 2: The Spirit of Vengeance recounts the back story of the comic book because no one bothered to watch the first Ghost Rider movie. This second installment begins in ‘Eastern Europe’ just in case the powers that be who birthed this movie thought that their audience was stupid enough to use their phones to look up where Romania was in the map. Think about that while they set the ending in a specific place in Turkey, which is apparently the furthest place from heaven. Like what did Turkey ever do to deserve that? It’s a movie of locales, stopping by an American diner in between the kinetic 3D highlighting the majestic rock formations and structures of Europe and ‘Europe.’ If you count Turkey as part of the European continent and union but anyway….
And speaking of 3D, there’s some nice fetishistic shoe and sequins closeups that are nice and all. Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze goes crazy only and disappointingly once as he gets a deal from a French rogue priest (Idris Elba, with a questionable accent) to rescue a boy from being anointed as the Devil’s (Ciaran Hinds) son. Blaze and a younger woman, who is the child’s mother, go from point a to point b to carry out this mission and Blaze doesn’t even hit on her. Neveldine-Taylor combines biker Gothic pathos with infantile subculture humour but we just really want the campy version of the latter and we don’t get enough of that. In essence, we’re talking about the first boring Nicholas Cage movie, which is a shame. Anthony Head of Buffy fame cameos as a monk who dies way too soon. 1/5
I’ve seen the Oscar Live Shorts a few weeks ago and they’re apparently bad crop but they show different emotions and they’re better than the animated ones. I ranked them, but doing that via Twitter limits the discourse towards whoever’s favourite short or whatever, so for completist’s sakes I’m writing about each in the order I’ve seen them.
Pentecost (Ireland) – Peter MacDonald – It’s the most visually pleasing of the bunch, the digital photography deepening the hues of the leaves and the brick walls of the setting. It reminds me of Albert Nobbs cinematography in some ways, showing us that the trees in the British Isles makes North American ones look malnourished. But it plays out the same joke that becomes tedious even in its ten minute running time, an 11-year-old altar boy named Damian (Scott Graham) in the late 20th century and those around him bringing up comparisons of mass to football. The deacons as coaches, the boys as players, the Archbishop’s mass as the big game. Meh.
Raju (Germany/India) – Max Zahle and Stefan Gieren – A couple (Wotan Wilke Möhring and Julia Richter) come to India to adopt a child named Raju. The husband and Raju go out to Calcutta before they leave for Germany but he loses the child, leading to a big reveal. The camera loves Möhring’s face as he observes the city’s squalor-filled third world streets with wonder, not revulsion. The movie deals with colonialist issues so it’s not going to win in some people’s eyes. If you’re filling your Oscar ballot with your mind and not your heart, pick this movie because the Academy loves important issues and this movie fits that bill.
The Shore (United Kingdom) – Terry George – Ciaran Hinds and Kerry Condon lend their talents as a San Francisco father and daughter Jim and Patricia visiting his hometown Northern Ireland, having left because of the turmoil decades beforehand. But this is more about the personal secrets between him and the other townspeople, specifically his best friend (Conleth Hill), an alcoholic who works as a seafood harvester, married to a woman (Maggie Cronin) who used to be Jim’s girlfriend. The bucolic tone makes sense in the beginning but it unfortunately stays on that. Nothing happens, the storyline feels chopped up as funny anecdotes and the ending makes me feel like Hinds’ character is a terrible person.
Time Freak (United States) – Andrew Bowler – I read another blogger’s column about these shorts and asked why would the protagonist make a time machine and keep coming back to a specific day within the present and not visit Ancient Rome. With all due respect, listen. If you visit Ancient Rome, you would die, everyone from the present day would die from an extremely violent and disgusting moment of human history. While prosperity and safety was only given to 1% of the population of previous eras, our generation is the most advanced and we can only go downhill from here. And short filmmakers are poor, they don’t have money for costumes and period sets. Our mistakes, big or small, haunt us if only in the faintest sense. This is what neuroses are like. Besides, I’m part of the Youtube generation. I have no idea what my forebears looked for in their shorts but I look for compelling – read, hiLArious – storylines so this one gets my vote. But not for my friends who find the next as their favourite.
Tuba Atlantic (Norway) – Hallvar Witzo. We’re spending a few minutes with a curmudgeon named Oskar (Edvard Hægstad) who likes to shoot birds. His seaside existence is interrupted when a doctor announces his impending death. Fortunately his mean-spirited nature, which governs the movie’s tone, is counterbalanced by a perky blond Death Angel (Ingrid Viken) who comforts him in his last days while ensuring that he goes through all five stages. I like this interesting concept, heightened by Oskar’s regression into his childhood inventions like the titular tuba, a quirk that’s successfully played. His progress parallels her growth as an angel. Witzo is an exciting filmmaker and I can’t wait for his next movie.
The Oscar-nominated live action shorts are playing in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for the next few afternoons and evenings, as they have been for the past two weeks. Pictures via TIFF.
The new movie adaptation of veteran spy novelist John le Carre‘s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy feels a bit quiet but that wouldn’t be a surprise because of its director, Tomas Alfredson, who made a vampire movie look sanitized. Although instead of snow and tiles painted with blood, he brings the same craftsmanship to London and Istanbul circa 1973. Unlike the more casual 1979 BBC miniseries, Alfredson and crew have the burden of making the movie feel distant from contemporary times. Old wooden furniture, soot-stained marble and stone buildings, MI-6 employees wearing sepia tone double-breasted vests, typing on dull green computer prototypes. I have a few issues with the tone, like the soundtrack in the beginning and the shadows on the actors faces but nonetheless, its’ an exercise in style in the best of ways, the formalism appealing because everything’s so toned and filed down, like a dull but blunt object.
Control (John Hurt) sends Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) down to Budapest to get a codename of a mole who has been in the MI6 – nicknamed ‘The Circus’ – for years. The set-up goes awry and Jim dies. To redeem themselves from national embarrassment, Cabinet Secretary Sir Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney) enlists someone from the ‘outside,’ cuckolded and ousted agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to pick up where Jim has left off. George differs in his approach to the matter, he’s not trying to lure some field agent overseas. Instead he looks within the agency, its paperwork and interviews of ex-employees, convinced that the double agent would try, and fail to cover his tracks at home.
This movie is the epitome of boy’s club but in the best of ways, as the story lets us into the group’s fracking façade. The infighting, as these middle-aged Received Pronunciation speakers bellow about how authentic each other’s stolen information are and the sources from which these files are produced. They end up accusing each other of being too old, too much of a wild card or too paranoid, leading to some dismissals from the agency. The next step, of course, is for Smiley and other agents to spy on each other. One of the circus’ mostly deluded yet loyal members is a woman, Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke). When Smiley ends her interview, she waves, saying along the lines of ‘If it’s bad, don’t come back to let me know.’
Loyalty is the biggest conundrum here. It lacks the showy-er elements of contemporary spy movies which is a deterrent for some audiences. However, the MI-6 of the 1970’s doesn’t need muscular action against its enemies and neither do their battles involve a weapon that can kill them all. They live in a world where agents cross the Cold War’s already fluid lines. This betrayal is sickening and perplexing enough to these characters although thankfully, George and his rogue allies are jaded enough not to fight while brandishing Connie’s blind patriotism.
I’m on the fence here – the more time elapses between that surprisingly exhilarating last shot makes everything else seem more like a passing flavour. Like an experience that immerse its audience then just as gradually lets them go. A few things stay with me, like Tom Hardy’s performance as footman Ricky Tarr, that burly man reintroducing himself and his voice as a wounded stray. Or Colin Firth’s modest expressions as Bill Haydon. The zoom-outs between two pillars as dread-inducing jet fighters fly through European skies and another one from Control hearing about Jim’s death. And the slow motion sequence in the conference room with Control’s suspects, Tinker – Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Tailor – Haydon, Soldier – Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Poorman – Esterhase (David Dencik). The pipe smoke lifting from their faces, their eyes mockingly looking at George the Spy, Control’s oblivious fifth suspect. Good movies are one that twists the mind.
The first thing the movie makes me remember is Daniel Day Lewis’ performance as Daniel Plainview. He’s all you see for the first fifteen minutes, even more. It’s funny that a performance mostly known for Day Lewis speaking through the roof of his mouth begins with silence. When he injures himself falling down his little oil well and has to go to a makeshift smelting office place thingy to give them his chunk of silver. He is lying down on the dusty field and seconds later we cut to the office and he’s still lying down, and the audience believes that he slithered his way there.
He asks about HW’s friend/future wife Mary. He then plays around with Mary and tells her that there will be no more hitting. Yet he can’t get no love from her since she feels so uncomfortable.
Also, is that Daniel’s feeling being hurt? He has feelings? He conveys the feeling knowing how distant he is from his real family without the gaping mouth that any amateur would. This scene also subverts Daniel’s image of a family man, an image that he tries to present in his business dealings and one that his competitors have eventually debunked. Yet he stitches his wounds and moves on.
There is subtlety and naturalism to Day Lewis’ work here. His reading of ‘why don’t I own that,’ for example. He makes business talk within a business themed film to be more interesting than it should. There’s also the first time he talks to the realtor, more hilarious since I know what he’s up to.
The movie frames him as a nicer, insecure yet misunderstood guy this time around, although the denouement makes the audience realize that he unfortunately just doesn’t know how to convey his niceness to other people.
I’ve always contended that Brad Pitt gave the best performance that year. The only other nominees I’ve seen are Depp and Viggo, who are worthy adversaries. I always believe in apples and oranges, but there’s something physical and direct about his Day-Lewis’ role and performance. He had a lot to do, did it, won an Oscar for it.
Speaking of performances, adult HW’s closeups are just as effective.
O hai Ciaran Hinds! In all honesty, I didn’t know who Ciaran Hinds was til last year. Oh, that makes it worse!
The movie operates in large strokes, Instead of plot revelations where one thing happens one minute after another, the film focuses on one main action that percolates within five to ten minutes. We see one thing and we see the consequences for the rest of an allotted time. Sometimes, like Daniels’ scene with adult HW, it develops through dialogue, while in others, when a derrick explodes, the film lets nature take control.
Some of its audience might be reductive their perception of a movie by saying it’s two and a half hours of fields or business talk. But the personalities within the movie, specifically Daniel and Eli (Paul Dano) makes it accessible. They declare instead of whisper. And so quotable!
A movie is funnier if you watch it with more people. ‘Just give me the water, Eli’ and ‘That was a hell of a show’ in that straightforward delivery was funnier, as well as every scene where Eli gets owned. I wasn’t laughing the first time I saw those violent moments, I felt Kubrickian shock. I first saw the movie at the VIP section. One of the employees asked me if what kind of food/drinks I wanted, but it was such an ascetic experience that I had to take seriously. This was in March 2008, or February, before the Oscars. This was the most important movie of all time and I couldn’t laugh at anything. This time, I was starving yet I could laugh.
I remember the blues and the warm colours. I should smack myself for forgetting the foliage depicted within the movie. I also don’t remember the movie being this dark looking. And how menacing the first shot is of the mountains. And the symmetry, of course.
And the music. The only ones I’ve retained are the ones in the beginning and its beehive effect and the Cormac-esque fiddle in the end, the latter I haven’t been able to find. I’ve listened to the soundtrack a lot, it gets me through winter. I tried to keep a mental note on which tracks were playing in which scenes.
I am also one of the few people who will defend Paul Dano’s performance, his Eli building on the foundations that Burt Lancaster has in “Elmer Gantry.” He’s supposed to be annoying and over the top. He’s also the reason we have such a bad impression of Daniel, popping up at the wrong time to ask for the money that Daniel already paid to Eli’s brother Paul (Paul Dano). He sermons like Elvis.
I waited two years to rewatch this movie, and it is the best way to rewatch is to let it gather dust instead of watching it to death. Although the movie still fails the Bechdel test.