Tag Archives: Tom Hiddleston

Our Kind of Traitor (Susanna White, UK, 2016)

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A not quite successful adaptation of John Le Carré’s novel that I nonetheless found intriguing and enjoyable. In a year with two such Le Carré adaptations, this one for film and The Night Manager for TV, both directed by women (Susanne Bier directed all six episodes of Manager for TV), the works are bound to raise interesting questions about the connections between film and TV  long-form fiction narratives, which is the best form to adapt this type of novel to, and the place of women directors at the intersection of these media.

Let’s be clear, The Night Manager is by far the most successful work. It was glamorous, tense, thrilling; it had superb and memorable performances (I was particularly impressed by Olivia Coleman and Hugh Laurie; whilst the beauty of Elizabeth Debicki and the callow elegance of Tom Hiddleston remain memorable). The failure of Our Kind of Traitor is mainly due to it not being exciting; there’s not enough tension in the scenes; there are not enough thrills; and the heart remains distanced and disengaged from what melodrama there is on offer.

I nonetheless enjoyed the film because there’s a very glamorous film star turn from Ewan McGregor, one he rarely chooses to give, opting instead for the plumping for greater depth often unwarranted by characters like the Perry Makepeace he plays here. There’s also a truly great performance from Stellan Skarsgård as a Russian Mafioso equally capable of love and murder; I also appreciated the inter-racial romance (McGregor’s wife in the film is played by the elegant Naomi Harris) and how it’s presented without fuss and as completely commonplace. Lastly, the director has found a fascinating way to film the moral ambiguities of a thriller; everything in the film appears only partial; we see through distorted images or through glass that dimly reflects what happens outside that which contains or carries our characters (reflected through cars, windows, etc); how we see is made equivalent to what we know. Bits and pieces; aspects; as the peaces of the puzzle are put together, so is our sight in relation to the events that are shown. One understands how the director is trying to condense and symbolise; to create images that not only convey plot but reverberate into other aspects of the story. I found it quite beautiful.

It’s not enough however: chase scenes and fights scenes are both lax;, unforgivable in an espionage thriller; and at the heart of the film is the embarrassment that is Damien Lewis’ performance. He’s trying for a stylised turn but is letting his glasses do most of the styling and in making this choice also loses the emotional effects a more understated and realistic performance might have conveyed of the lengths a father might go to avenge his son.

Not good but enjoyable and worth seeing.

****

This is now on Netflix. It stands up well to a second viewing, seeming even better than I at first thought. The visuals seem even more striking; the gender politics so much clearer (woman are depicted with a depth here they usually lack in other films of the genre) and even Damien Lewis seems better.

9th of March, 2017

José Arroyo

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, USA, 2013)

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In Only Lovers Left Alive, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are said to have lived for thousands of years but clearly haven’t spent even ten minutes of them Hoovering their homes. They live in dusty spaces crammed with things they’ve loved enough to keep for centuries, books and music mostly. Some people walked out of the film but I loved it; the anomie, the sadness, the great r&b tracks —  particularly Charlie Feathers’ Can’t Hardly Stand It and Denise Lasalle’s Trapped by a Thing Called Love — which speak of loss and loneliness but with an energy that conveys the opposite; the use of drugs as a parable for vampirism; the final insistent choice on life and love. It’s stayed with me all day.

The film begins with Adam, played by Tom Hiddlestone, shy, reclusive, living in Detroit, a city as much of a shell of former glories as he himself, a spectral place with hidden beauties, echoes of former lives and secret places were bodies can easily be disposed of. Adam lives for his music and for his fix. He’s got everything neatly arranged, a doctor who gives him top-grade, really pure blood and a sweet-faced squeaky-voiced young man (Anton Yelchin) on the edges of the music industry who might be pirating and selling on  Adam’s compositions but can arrange pretty much everything else Adam might need and is well-paid for doing so.  Adam  is trying to find a reason to continue living and having trouble finding it.

Meanwhile, Eve (Tilda Swinton) is living in Tangiers, the Tangiers of myth with Pepe Le Moko streets, Paul and Jane Bowles ambiance,  and the sheltering sky of balmy nights and a good supply. She’s got a friend there, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt, gruff, poetic, endearing) who is also her connection to centuries-old literary gossip and grade-A blood. Her life is neatly arranged until she talks to Adam, finds out the extent of his loneliness and goes out to him. Adam and Eve once, maybe even originary lovers, reconnect as soul-mates, wonder through the nights, talk, find their old maybe unexciting but still essential rhythm with each other, until Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives. The aptly named Ava, with her disrespect for convention, her selfish need to have a good time, her intense focus on her bodily needs and pleasures disrupt the more cerebral, retired life of Adam and Eve and brings chaos: though Adam and Even try to keep the humans they call zombies at bay, Ava has a positive and dangerous relish for them.

I can’t imagine watching Only Lovers Left Alive on anything but a big screen. It has its own pace, one which requires patience, but if you give yourself to its tempo and its conceits, it draws one into its enveloping images and and hazy rhythms, enthralls, involves you in its play of allegory, meaning, sensation. By the end, the audience becomes enveloped and enchanted by the Tangier sky, the night, the music, the feelings and views of worn out junkies in love wondering what the point of it all is, the speculation on the meaning of life and art. Then, when Adam and Eve, and we, hear Yasmine Hamdam sing ‘Hal’ in a café, we understand why art, why evoking what Hamdam conveys and makes us feel, is worth living for — even if the price is murder. And we then realise that Only Lovers Left Alive has provided that as well.

It was nominated for the Palme D’Or at Cannes and worth seeing on the largest screen you can find.

José Arroyo

Corolianus, NT Live Transmission

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Seeing the live National Theatre broadcast of Coriolanus last Thursday brought home once again how we’re all glued to screens now: our eyes rarely far from and seemingly hypnotized by the lure of the light emanating from our phones, tablets, computers and TV’s. But the screen that has always meant most to me – a big one with a movie projected onto it– is decreasing in significance, at least socially. Arguably, movies are better than ever. But we watch them through many outlets other than the cinema – computers, TV, DVD — and when we go to the pictures it’s not always movies we go to watch.

What ‘cinema’ is, where we see it and how we see it is all in flux. Theatre, ballet, opera — even boxing — are only some of the events we can now see as live transmissions onto big screens at cinemas. The picture-houses themselves are evolving to meet the different functions they’re required to fulfill in order to survive. The Electric in Birmingham is now the type of trendy venue where people pay premium prices for the privilege of sinking into big leather sofas to drink in their art with their cocktails. I tried to get tickets for Coriolanus there but they were sold out.

I was luckier at Cineworld because Corolianus was showing on two different screens. Of course, I could have waited to see it on DVD later but it would have lost the dimension of ‘liveness’, the size of the screen would have shrunk, and it would have meant wresting control of ‘time’ from the show’s makers: on DVD, I could pause at any time, make myself a cup of coffee and possibly wreck all the filmmakers’ carefully considered attempts to realise effects that rely on suspense, timing, rhythm.

But what are we watching when we see Corolianus at the ‘pictures’? It’s for sure we’re not watching a movie. There was no evidence of the care with choice of camera angle, camera movement, design, décor and editing that would have gone into conceptualising Corolianus as a movie, evidence clearly visible in, say, Ralph Fiennes 2011 film version. During the live transmission there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for camera set-ups or movement except following the actors. Even the focus on some of the close-ups was poor; and for cinema, that’s as basic as it gets.

It was also clear that the actors had not designed their performances for a big screen. The pitch of their voices and the size of their gestures were aimed at the audience in the Donmar Warehouse, which however cozy in relation to other theatres, is not as intimate as a close-up. The actors’ movements seemed too outsized and their speaking seemed oddly stylized on a big screen. Though I loved some of the performances (Hiddleston’s Coriolanus and Deborah Findley’s Voumnia were particularly memorable), they weren’t designed for the big screen.

If the Coriolanus I saw was not a movie it was also not live theatre. The staging seemed marvelously inventive for theatre but pretty ‘blah’ for the movies, or at least so I deduced from what I could see. For example, one can imagine how the fight sequence must have been thrilling on stage but here it just seemed like a phony, rather well-choreographed little tumble. Tom Hiddleston’s shower and his being hung up near the end must have seemed equally dazzling theatrical moments at the Donmar but didn’t quite thrill through a lens. One could imagine the effects but one didn’t feel them. Moreover, in the cinema even a ‘live’ transmission does not convey presence and one also loses the ability one has in the theatre of letting the eye wonder, of picking and choosing where to lay the focus of one’s attention.

One of the reasons for these live transmissions is to see the great actors of the day perform in great plays old and new. That was the rationale for the old BBC ‘Play of the Month’,  which ran from 1965-1983 (Janet Suzman and John Gielgud in George Bernard’s Shaw’s St. Joan from 1968 is but one example), or the series of filmed plays to be sold and screened at cinemas that Ely Landau produced from the  1960s onwards, two of them starring Katharine Hepburn: Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey into Night (Sidney Lumet, 1962)and Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance (Tony Richardson, 1973).

What these live transmissions offer that is new and valuable is the combination of a large screen, a communal and social viewing experience, and the sense of occasion that attends to the ‘liveness’ of the transmission; although these events are recorded and sometimes shown in cinemas later, whenever there seems to be a demand for it (the NT’s production of Frankenstein with Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch played in cinemas long after it ceased its run at the National).

Though I find nothing as boring as seeing ballet on television, I love seeing live broadcasts of ballet on a big screen. Size really does reveal the athleticism and control of the dancers in a way that is impossible on TV or sometimes even on stage. Seeing Sergei Polunin in a live transmission of the Royal Ballet’s production of Sleeping Beauty was for me an unforgettable experience, one I’d not had in a theatre for a long time. But I’ve still to experience anything remotely close to that when watching a play broadcast at the cinema.

I enjoyed Coriolanus. The language is glorious. It felt it a privilege to be able to see Tom Hiddleston so close up, to see how Mark Gatiss’ Melenius compares to his Mycroft, to evaluate how Brigitte Hjort Sørensen, the lovely Danish reporter from Borgen, spoke Shakespeare. The live transmission is not a replacement for theatre and it’s not a replacement for cinema as we knew it. It is however an addition to an audio-visual ecosystem that is helping to transform and redefine the visual culture that we live in.

José Arroyo

Seen Thursday, 30th January at Cineworld Cinemas, Birmingham

A Shorter version of this was published in The Conversation at https://theconversation.com/screening-shakespeare-coriolanus-doesnt-captivate-at-the-multiplex-22682

Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor, USA, 2013)

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Thor: The Dark World is much better than Thor. Visually, it’s a fan-boy’s delight, with the comic-book world a dream cinematic rendering. The filmmakers have succeeded in creating a believable world that is nonetheless not too far removed from the three-strip colour comic of adolescent memory. The CGI works beautifully for this type of superhero film as, even when its detectable, it only reinforces the ‘illustrated’ dimension of the comic-book world that is being created for us.

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The look of the film, surely the most beautiful and imaginative production design of the year, exceeds expectations. Thor’s world is a wonderful intersection of Gothic Viking imagery, a knowable and iconic London, and that which its sci-fi/ fantasy setting makes permissible (super-powers, the aligning of dimensions, magic). One comes out of the film with an appreciation of the brilliance of its imagery: Odin’s throne-room, Frigga’s funeral, Loki’s prison, each is recognisably what one expects, yet better composed and executed than one dared imagine.

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There are also fantastic set-pieces that do make one gawp: the initial battle sequence, Malekith’s entrance into Asgard, the aerial fight as Thor and Jane Foster try to escape it, the magnificent way Thor calls for his hammer in the final fight. I found all of this viscerally exciting and visually thrilling. But if the whole look of the film is spectacular, the actors who people that world and bring these characters to life are also deserving of praise.

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Chris Hemsworth is clearly born to that part; with his hair, his colouring and his musculature, it’s hard to think of anyone else in the role. But then there’s also Tom Hiddlestone with his wonderfully theatrical performance of Loki, and the way Anthony Hopkins as Odin creates effects just by the way he enunciates the final consonants in key words; and Christopher Eccleston unrecognizable but also vocally superb as Malekeith, and the way Idris Elba’s face is used almost sculpturally to create a  superb visually iconic myth of Heimdall — note how the yellow of his eyes is co-ordinated with his armour and helmet makes for very memorable close-ups — but one which also creates the illusion of three-dimensions. Aside from these, there’s also Kat Dennings and Chris O’Dowd for comic relief (which I found tired but which I attribute to my age as the younger audience seemed to lap it up) and Natalie Portman, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgaard. It’s an extraordinary all-star cast.

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The particulars of the story are sometimes hard to follow and I’m not sure if the story is as tightly plotted as one would have wished. However, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t much matter here. There other pleasures that more than compensated: the self-referential cameo by Chris Evans as Captain America, the jokey way the portals between dimensions is introduced, the appearance of Chris O’Dowd and other minor aspects of the film are delightful. But the main thing is how Thor: The Dark World looks true to the original yet newly striking, how the film moves beautifully and how it plays so well; and with some exciting action and a few laughs thrown in for good measure. Whiners may quibble; but it’s one to see again, preferably on IMAX.

José Arroyo