Monthly Archives: February 2009

Web-Line on the Horizon

Their twelfth studio album is all well and good, but the most exciting U2 news this weekend is their Broadway debut in twelve months’ time:

spider-man-musical-poster

I never thought I’d say I’m eager to see a musical production of Spider-Man, but I admit this interview with Mary Jane (Evan Rachel Wood, from Julie Taymor’s own Across the Universe) has me quite intrigued.

So far the only successful attempt at the superhero lament in pop rock form is Chad Kroeger’s “Hero” which played during the credits of the first Spider-Man movie, so I’m looking forward to hearing what Bono and Edge have come up with. I have a hunch their style is going translate well to the theatre.

Advertisements

GRAN TORINO

Clint Eastwood’s latest is full of simply atrocious acting from everyone other than Eastwood. In particular, the priest played by Christopher Carley is stupefyingly monotone while reading his lines (and he only reads them, worse than Michael Madsen in Sin City), which makes me think Eastwood’s legendary effeciency as a filmmaker has reached the point of diminishing returns. These performances could only have benefited from a few more takes, right?

But it is almost worth it all just for the ending which is a revisionist take on the ending of Unforgiven. Where Unforgiven ultimately fulfills genre convention after two hours of debunking it, Gran Torino seems to be Eastwood’s attempt to finally revise the ending of Unforgiven in a redemptive direction.

I suppose Gran Torino is of a piece with The Dark Knight and Man on Fire — how the man of violence realises that the success of his true goal is possible only by self-effacement rather than by projection of will.

FROST/NIXON

In his movie about David Frost’s attempt to extract a confession from Richard Nixon that he betrayed the principles of democracy, Ron Howard manages to betray the principles filmmaking.

Perhaps it is appropriate, since the film ends with a eulogy to the power of television. The goal of most movies is to use the camera to achieve an emotional effect in the audience, but once achieved via a powerful close-up of Nixon, this movie instantly follows success with the dissonant shrill of audio feedback in the form of Sam Rockwell describing in tedious detail the effect we have already experienced firsthand. (One is reminded of Eminem’s song over the credits of 8-Mile, whose lyrics awkwardly recap the entire plot of the film just finished.)

The screenwriter, adapting his own stage play, may be excused this indulgence because he is used to making actors describe their emotions to the cheap seats who can’t see their faces, but the director should know better. In this case, Howard evidently followed the filmmaking axiom “show don’t tell” by deciding to “show then tell.”

This self-undermining of the medium occurs early on in the film as well, though it appears to be from mere laziness rather than sabotage. Rebecca Hall’s instantaneous observation that Frost has “sad eyes” so perfectly encapsulates Michael Sheen’s portrayal of the grinning-on-the-outside but crying-on-the-inside Frost that it is too close for comfort. Does the shocked embarrassment on his face belong to Frost’s fa├žade being penetrated or Sheen’s guiding insight into the character being unceremoniously exposed?

But the laziest decision of all is the introduction of all the supporting characters via subtitles accompanying faux-documentary retrospective interviews. The exposition packed into these clips inclines one to be charitable to them as a regrettable but necessary evil–artistically bankrupt though they are as a device of excruciating artificiality. But their utter redundancy as capsules of exposition becomes clear a moment later when Matthew MacFadyen, rushing his delivery as fast as he is through an airport, is forced to declaim a painfully multifaceted assessment of Frost’s precarious career situation-to Frost himself!

Other vestiges of the screenplay’s stage origin also shine through, like Nixon’s Shakespearean soliloquy-not delivered towards the camera, thankfully, but a speakerphone. It’s a tough job to turn a series of interviews into a narrative, so I have no qualms with dramaturgical necessity to invent a non-historical phone call under the auspices of poetic licence. But such a concise divulgence of inner motivation is so typically theatrical it makes the projector reels positively creak like floorboards.

I will always love Ron Howard for his thankless narration of Arrested Development. But no matter how decorated the playwright, the buck stops with the director, and Howard’s failure to veto so many cinematic illiteracies in this screenplay is almost as atrocious as his many nominations for achievement in direction–or Peter Morgan’s for adapted screenplay.

Maybe in forty years an enterprising journalist will be able to extract confessions from those responsible for this anti-film, not to mention from those who rewarded it.