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whirrsinwonderland

Thoughts from my brain – often about films

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October 2015

About

So I started blogging. Just because if I didn’t it felt like I might die or something. No.. wait that’s a quote from My So-Called Life. Man, that was a good TV show. Anyway. My blog is currently about movies, films, the talkies, moving pictures.

It might change. But for now…enjoy. If you want me to blog any classic movies – I will always take requests.

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Beware of Crimson Peak! And spoilers…

‘It was all a bit Bluebeard’ I said after seeing Crimson Peak. ‘Who?’ said my boyfriend. Apparently Bluebeard hasn’t passed into everyone’s consciousness, maybe cos it’s not a fairytale Disney could do. At least I hope not… they’d mess it right up (see Into the Woods)…  anyway you know Bluebeard right? If not – click here – I like the German version best don’t worry. I’ll wait.

Good right? Well, Crimson Peak wasn’t really like that because of course it had been Guillermo del Toro’d so Bluebeard has a sister who is MUCH scarier than Bluebeard,  the new wife can see ghosts and there’s no brothers coming to rescue you, only Charlie Hunnam doing another appalling American accent and being the human equivalent of paint drying. Whatever the character I just find my eyes sliding to the right, like he’s wearing a Tardis key (low level perception filter) and I’m not really supposed to look directly at him. Charlie doesn’t seem to annoy most people though, but apparently Mia Wasikowska does. A lot of people when I said ‘oooh CRIMSON PEAK’ went ‘meh, not sure about Mia W’ and ‘Mia Whatsherface – with her annoying face’. I think she’s lovely, not super exciting or anything but just quietly becomes the character and you believe her – she was the best thing in Burton’s Alice for sure. As Edith she is given a similar role, her job is to navigate the audience through the creepy world she tumbles into. Only this time it’s Tom Hiddleston (with full on pale-dark-wig Loki colouring) as Mr Sharpe to lure you down the rabbit hole. I liked that Edith just went full scale obsessive crush on the mysterious Mr Sharpe when he arrives, her opening introduction of independent aspiring writer, with opinions of her own (shock horror!) is shoved to one side as she googles sexy Sharpe, victorian style, by looking up his family seat in a big history book.

The set for Allerdale Hall is just exquisite. Built in it’s entirety on the lot, it’s a Gothic nightmare that you REALLY want to go and play in. The big, bold colours and lines of Edith’s American period dresses are dwarfed by the huge Gothic wood balcony, the creepy wrought iron lift (Don’t ever go below this level) and the gigantic fireplaces that breathe. And Del Toro wrings out every last ounce of pleasing terror he can; a dream-like waltz sequence, blood red clay oozing and penetrating, a grand piano, enormous bathtub, handle to fire up electric light and Edith roaming the night halls with her full length white gown, candle-stick and flowing golden hair. I adored the use of weather and natural colour – there was a scene before Mr Sharpe proposes where Edith is dressed in sumptuous autumnal colours bathed in the late summer sun while Mr Sharpe and his sister (oh I am getting to her) linger in shadow dressed all in black. This is swiftly followed by the staple of all gothic and film noir,  a funeral in the pouring rain with black umbrellas filling every corner of the screen. When we arrive at Allerdale Hall, Del Toro employs beautiful shots of leaves and later snow tumbling softly through the holes in the roof of the house and frames his violent and tense finale with a raging snow storm – so no help can get through until morning – classic!

And so we come to Jessica Chastain. She plays Lucille beautifully – totally unnerving from the off, but only drip feeding the audience a little more of the crazy each time she appears, so we wait a long time before we realise just how horrific she is. The scene where she throws the breakfast across the table was the scariest for me – the outburst and then the clawing back of control. In the hands of another actor this part could easily have been over the top but Chastain is so accomplished she pitches it right every time. Her power over her brother was softly played but totally convincing. I read that Benedict Cumberbatch was originally to play Thomas Sharpe – whether by design or accident, I thought Hiddleston the better choice. Both actors can play evil and scheming, with a dark handsomeness that makes them utterly desirable, but Sharpe’s desire to escape the house and the treadmill of death his sister has him on, his struggle as his feelings for Edith grow and his ultimate attempt at redemption, this was where Hiddleston really excelled. We knew he was bad news and plotting nefarious deeds from the outset, but we still felt sorry for him when Edith’s dear Papa told him off for having soft hands, didn’t we?

Of course this is Del Toro, so we have some horrifically realistic gooey ghosts, a jerky and terrifying black smokey monster and some satisfyingly graphic violence (cheek stab and slow removal of blade – yay!). The beauty of Del Toro is his twists on convention, the heroine isn’t naive or oblivious, she can see ghosts, one of the scariest ghosts in the place is her own mother and despite her initial terror of the house, she quickly realises she must fear the living not the dead. Crimson Peak is a sumptuous, slow-building proper Gothic horror but it is the fully realised characters (well except Charlie Hunnam) and the attention to detail that really elevates it. I look forward to seeing it again on my own with all the lights out. Eeek!

Final thought: The only bit I didn’t get was why Mr Sharpe appears as some kind of weird Harry Potter resurrection stone / Star Wars force ghost when all the other ghosts were, well, oozy or at least deformed? Thoughts? Was it Edith’s projection that made the others appear as they did?

Macbeth: Alas, poor country! Almost afraid to know itself.

I don’t remember if I read Macbeth before studying it for GCSEs. I read a lot of other Shakeys but it was definitely age 14 or 15 I fell hard for the Scottish play – and it’s still my favourite. School destroys the Bard for so many people, which is a massive shame. Luckily I had an amazing GSCE teacher, Mrs Dowse, one of those teachers you remember for the right reasons.

This was mid-90’s. Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet landed like a gift for English teachers trying to get their class to engage – boys the girls wanted and the boys wanted to be, toting guns, boasting an immense soundtrack, fast cars and those angel wings that inspired a thousand fancy dress costumes – suddenly everyone loved Shakespeare. Whether Mrs Dowse had seen R+J I am not sure but she did find a production called Macbeth on the Estate. Filmed on a Birmingham housing estate combining real people and actors  – the war was for dealer territory, Ray Winstone was Duncan the drug king and everyone had a (more passable than Peaky Blinders) Brummy accent. I loved it, we all did. It opens with a load of young men kicking in a door and smashing people’s heads in with baseball bats – YEAH! Mrs Dowse pausing the video after James Frain’s delivery of one of Macbeth’s final speeches and turning slowly with a tear in her eye to say ‘That was one of the best renditions of the Tomorrow speech I have ever heard’ stayed with me. My friend used to mimic that line at me and I pretended it was a ‘laugh at Teach’ moment, but really I got it.

Macbeth on the Estate popped up on YouTube* at some point recently and as I revisited it I realised a lot of it doesn’t work. But still the Tomorrow speech is immense, blunt and brummy – Frain spitting the words over Lady M’s corpse and eyeballing the camera to deliver the final (and one of my favourite) lines: ‘Blow, wind! Come, wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back.’ The other scene that was still excellent was mad Lady M and the damned spot. Susan Vidler’s estate savvy, scrunchie and cycling short wearing Lady M hunched over her kitchen sink in the bleak little flat – wonderful stuff. All these years, I’ve banged on about Macbeth on the Estate at people but I’ve also waited for another Macbeth to get all the other bits right for me and when I heard about the Fassbender and Cotillard Cannes-ten-minute-standing-ovation Macbeth – I was VERY excited. Spoilers coming.

Last night I went to see it – I’d heard that the pace was lacking, but I went in open minded. And you know what? I loved it. By putting Macbeth back into a medieval setting, filming in bleak, cold and brutally beautiful Scotland, all the bits that didn’t work on the Estate – because with a modern setting we need motive and backstory and modern emotional responses – clicked.

Kurzel’s Macbeth was like being in a dream, familiar yet unnerving all at once. Combining period accurate misty heather, battle scenes, oodles of blood and bruises (poor continuity person) with some very modern editing, slow motion and horror film-like flickering cuts and zooms, the result was eerie and gripping as hell. Fassbender was perfect as Macbeth, playing it close and guarded, a damaged soldier driven by pure, evil ambition with just a dash of madness. I loved him and Cotillard together -they were totally believable as the Macbeths – scheming, seductive and terrifying. They beefed up Lady M’s screentime and the decision to have Macbeth burn the Macduff family entirely openly was inspired (What, all my pretty chickens and their dam at one fell swoop?). There’s no grey with Macbeth – he EVIL. It worked perfectly in the setting (we’d already seen Duncan carry out his own execution of the original Cawdor) and gave Lady M the reason for her descent into madness. Sean Harris as Macduff, the physical hardness with ‘did someone nearly slice your head off’ scar and stoically Scots glare only served to emphasise his emotional moments, from throwing up after finding Duncan’s mutilated corpse to his hill top delivery of grief, ‘first I must feel it like a man‘ – he was devastatingly brilliant.

The only two bits it didn’t nail for me were (unsurprisingly cos Estate Macbeth got me young) were the Tomorrow speech – just say it, don’t dance around with Lady M’s corpse dude not cool – and Lady M’s ‘out damned spot’ speech. Though Cotillard’s return to the ‘scene of the crime’ was visually stunning, snow drifting in and those eyes filling with tears, for me you can’t talk about handwashing and hands that smell of blood, without using your hands. Vidler’s Kappa Slapper Lady M wins it for me.

There was a lack of pace at times and you could argue it was all bleak with no lighter moments (surely some chuckles post witches for Banquo and M were missing), but it was fully committed and if you just relax and embrace the slow intensity, it’s wonderful, stirring cinema at it’s best. And it’s the first time they’ve managed to pull of the Birnam wood to Dunsinane – I wanted to cheer – bloody brilliant – set it on FIRE. YES.  And that final red, orange ash filled fight scene I would watch on a loop.

All hail, Macbeth!

*If you fancy watching Macbeth on the Estate:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UV25yBl9VkM&list=PLC79AF51422D5BDB7 

 

Legend film review – spoilers sweetie…

Tom Hardy has a walk for every character. His shoulders usually feature heavily and directors always do at least one tracking shot from behind Mr H as he ambles / struts / powers along. Legend was no exception – but this time he had a charming east end strut for Reg and a bull like power stance for Ron. Hardy is uniformly excellent as the two Kray twins, channelling Waterfront Brando as Reg and Godfather Brando as Ron  – the jaw pushed forward, the way his face was altered by the false teeth. There are moments where you laugh, where his performance of the unhinged Ron walks the line of comedy  – shades of Lock Stock in the early pub scene – ‘A shoot out is a fucking shoot out. Like a western’ – but always, always he pulls it back from the brink of caricature. The film stays close up, there is nowhere for Hardy to hide but he makes it remarkably easy for the viewer to forget they are watching one actor.

But I knew Hardy would nail it, so for me it was Emily Browning as Frances (Frankie) that was the surprise. Browning absolutely soars. She has a longer more complicated journey to travel in the film’s running time than the Krays. We meet her as a lemon sherbet sucking, jumper wearing, rebellious young beauty and leave her bruised, addicted to pills and eventually dead in a London high-rise.  Frankie’s outfits were a beautiful device to guide us through her demise. Though Reg is appalled that Frankie’s Mum (a heartbreaking performance from Tara Fitzgerald, in early scenes her eyes giving us all of her terror and primal maternal protection in just a few frames) wears black to his wedding, he doesn’t seem to notice when Frankie ditches her bright patterns for black too. When Frankie leaves Reg (a scene which demonstrates the excellence of this film, Ron, who we have become increasingly appalled by wins us back with one line ‘that is not how we were raised‘) she dresses in white and it is that same white dress she dons to escape forever.

Legend has a huge male cast, women are background beauties in 60’s micro minis, smiling vacuously or screaming and running when the world of the Krays get too real, but the few lead performances by women, like Fitzgerald as Frankie’s Mum, are the backbone of this film, building a real world for Hardy to play in. Even with less than 5 minutes of screen time,  the Blind Beggar barmaid was a fully rounded character, her shaking terror at the identity parade a triumph. Mrs Kray senior, is first shown at Frankie and Reg’s wedding, then she’s there as the cash is poured into the kitchen sink, overseeing her sons success with a strong matriarchal eye and criticising her new daughter-in-law’s tea skills. The scene after the Blind Beggar shooting was reminiscent of the famous scene in Goodfellas – late night, Mother in her dressing gown, feeding her boys and chatting – but where Scorsese deliberately left his (own) Mother in ignorance of what her son and his friends had done, Mrs Kray is starkly aware. Shot close on Ron’s face, Mrs Kray is all blurred bosom, cosy flannel and tea and cake but again with just a few lines the cliches are shattered as she tells Reg ‘whatever he’s done he’s your brother’. The delivery is clear and simple, this is no oblivious Italian Mamma this is a woman who knows precisely what her psychopathic baby is capable of and knows what she is asking his twin to do.

Like Goodfellas, Legend draws you in to a world which is initially appealing. The opening scenes with Reg offering tea to the coppers who are tailing him, greeting the locals and his light voiced chivalrous charm with Frankie are a joy – Hardy positively twinkles. The colour palate of the film utilises the sharp lines of the tailored suits, against the bricks and gasworks of old London and the old school glamour of the East End. Even the washing on the line seems idyllic, chocolate boxy. It doesn’t take long for the violence and muck to creep in, the mock court of the rival gang drags us right down into the murk, but the film keeps the Kray brothers both terrifying and appealing all the way through, always grey, never black or white. Frankie and Reg’s courtship was a delight, the beautiful slow zoom in the club on their first date, where the music and sound of the club fade and we see and feel what Frankie does, that they are the only two in the room, the world. When Reg proposes, he scales the drainpipe like Romeo but it is Ophelia Frankie evokes for me. Her brother tells us early on ‘she’s been away, she’s fragile’ – Ophelia is a foil for Hamlet, Frankie a fully formed, real person – but that fragility and her breakdown – the parallels are clear. I didn’t know Frankie’s story when I went in, so I got to experience the ‘twist’ (that our narrator would leave us two thirds through the film) others probably won’t experience. It also meant I was rooting for her, we are swept along with her and cannot but help share her triumph as she smiles at her wedding, realising she has won Ron over. This made the fall even harder to take, as the bright colours are switched for black, the charm for loneliness, the sherbet lemons for pills – the subtlety of this switch brought into sharp focus as Frankie takes out her final sherbet lemon and then overdoses. Browning’s eyes are mesmerising, just a touch of 60’s black kohl to frame as we see Frankie’s dawning realisation that she is stuck in the East End forever, her insomnia, the subtle as brick late night game of solitaire and her shrinking joy when Reg cannot teach her to drive her new Triumph.

Though the ‘Does Hamlet rape Ophelia’ theory will always be just a theory, though forever debated, Legend does not leave us in any doubt of why Frankie finally finds enough strength to pack her suitcase. The film’s violent scenes are chosen and edited carefully, we see the smile of disbelief of George Cornell as he realises he’s been shot, every swing of the memorable Kray brothers fight in sharp detail, but for Frankie’s attack the camera just leaves, slowly panning back from the door frame. The image of tiny Browning in her bra and tights utterly rag doll like under Reg’s lift is enough, we don’t need to see more, the fact the camera leaves making this domestic violence somehow more powerful. If, as the film says, everyone in 60’s East End London had a story of the Krays, the film perhaps does a service to all domestic violence victims by leaving the specifics of Frankie’s attack to our imagination, but still keeping it real and relevant. I adored the close up of her eyes as Frankie gets in the taxi, next day, make-up that actually looked slept in, smudged and bruised and starkly real. Some viewers may see Reg’s return of Frankie’s engagement and wedding rings to her dead body as remorseful, regretful – ‘he loved her really’. For me it was his last act of ownership – Frankie escaped but he still brands her even after death, like Hamlet leaping into Ophelia’s grave, these men cannot let their women rest without one last statement ‘she was mine’.

A mesmerising watch, what could have been just a vehicle for Hardy to flex his character acting muscles and a triumph of split screen / layered filming was lifted by all of the supporting cast and the time and space given to let the story unfold. I look forward to seeing Legend again.

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