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Blindspot 2012: Nil by Mouth

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Written and Directed by Gary Oldman (1997)

Starring: Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke, Charlie Creed-Miles, Laila Morse

Nil by Mouth is, primarily, a difficult movie to watch.  For years I had known that it existed as Gary Oldman’s directorial debut and being a bit of a completionist when it comes to actors I admire filmographies, I knew I was going to watch it.  But I really, really didn’t want to.  It is the realistic depiction of a working class neighborhood in London, with social ills such as drug use, alcoholism, and spousal abuse prominent in the narrative.

The film works best as a series of moments in life for the extended family.  Valerie (Burke) is married to Ray (Winstone) and expecting their second child.  Her brother Billy (Creed-Miles) is living with them, but gets kicked out for stealing Ray’s drugs.  He goes to live with his mother Janet (Morse), who supports his drug habit because she can’t stand his withdrawal.

I never want to watch someone shoot up ever again.  I also never want to watch someone drink Smirnoff vodka or start fights.  Subjects that other directors have handled as romantic are stripped down to the realistic results of addiction and abuse.  Over the course of the film Ray beats Valerie and causes her to lose the baby.  He proceeds to drink and harass her as she moves to her mother’s and a friend’s house to stay away from him.  When she does confront Ray she eloquently gives a speech about their relationship, but it seems like the sentiment won’t last.  They still have a child together and Ray still has legal rights.

Ray himself does not seem like an inhuman figure.  He tells his friend a story about watching his father in the hospital and their difficult relationship.  Its an important reminder to the audience that even though Ray is a person who does terrible things, he’s still a person.

Its just a really difficult two hours to get through to see that.

Costume Envy: Immortal Beloved

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Image from Tirelli Costumi

For a movie that roughly covers the period 1770-1827 (Beethoven’s life), you’d think there would be more costumes to profile.  Nope.  Why?  Because the plot focuses in on 1810-1827– the ugliest of 19th century dress.  However, Gary Oldman’s costumes end up really good, so I guess this movie is +10 to Men’s Costuming.

GQMF

Anyway, this costume is from the style, circa 1800 aka The Best Style.  As a historical costume nerd, this period is a complete change from the large-skirted, voluptuous and detailed oriented Rococo style of the late 19th century.  Thanks to the revolutions that hurt the over-the-top style of aristocracy and republics and democracies becoming the new norm, style looked to Rome and Greece, creating the Empire Fashion.

What I love about this dress in particular is that, while a great example of Empire-waist fashion, it is still very regal.  The gold embroidery on such a bright blue satin is excellent.  Considering this part of the film is about politics and classism getting in the way of Beethoven’s impending marriage to Countess Giulietta Guicciardi (Valeria Golino), since he loves the revolutions and democracy, but is too poor to support her.  The costume shows how the aristocracy of Austria has adopted the fashions of Revolutionary France, without being able to abandon their social standing to democratic reform.

On the Immortal Beloved DVD extras, the actress swoons over this dress and I can totally get behind that.

Costuming for Immortal Beloved was by Maurizio Millenoti.

Criminal Law

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Directed by Martin Campbell (1988) Starring: Gary Oldman, Kevin Bacon

My immediate reactions to this movie? 1) Gary Oldman’s hair was really distracting and 2) It’s a Yuppie movie.  Ben Chase (Oldman) is defending Martin Thiel (Bacon) for murder.  He gets him off, but the murders begin again.  Chase has to face the consequences, including what it means to be a “friend” to a violent murderer.

All of the characters are grade-A, 1980′s yuppies.  Thiel is the son of old-money, his mother a successful obstetrician-gynecologist.  Ben Chase used to be a prosecutor, until he realized that going into defense could better fund his grey apartment.  Let’s put it this way: He plays racket ball.  Nothing more yuppie or 80s than that.

The first half is largely uninteresting.  There’s a blonde lady prosecutor who acts as some kind of moral guidepost for Chase to ignore and we see him celebrating the big win before getting a phone call from Thiel to meet him in a park, where he trips over a dead, burning body.  Not only does the murder signal Thiel’s return, but also forces Chase to question his career of defending the guilty.  He also meets the roommate of the victim, who becomes the romantic interest and active lady character in the better latter half.

Martin Thiel’s motivation is related to his mother’s job, or one segment of it: She performs abortions, working for clinics around the city.  Thiel sees these as “little murders,” and he picks his victims from his mother’s patients.  The last twenty minutes or so are devoted to this aspect, as Chase joins the hunt for evidence to send Thiel to prison for the recent murders.

It’s not much of a thriller, except for two key scenes.  If you want to see a bizarre performance from Mr. Oldman’s hair, you’ve found yourself the right movie.

 

The Book of Eli

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes (2010) Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits

I don’t have too many thoughts on The Book of Eli, but I do have some:

a) As much as it makes sense to have done it this way, the washed out color scheme got on my nerves.  I am lack-luster about it, stylistically.

b) The Bible as the titular book is not surprising, nor a spoiler.  I’m glad that the script explained that “the war” was the reason why there aren’t any more copies.  However, I was impressed by the spoiler, since it does relate to Eli’s personal copy of the book, and that was a decent twist.  Movie, you have my applause.

c) Solara (Kunis) … eh, I guess she was necessary.  Just, slightly less annoying than the Kid in Six String Samurai.

d) Gary Oldman is playing a villain again, and his performance was pretty cool, but not his best.  Carnegie comes off as a mix between O.W. Grant (Interstate 60) and Mason Verger (Hannibal), so not terribly original either.  I also can’t imagine anyone else in this role, but that is pretty typical with my opinion of Oldman.

e) Tom Waits is in this!  I actually knew that before I popped this into the DVD player, but I had forgotten.  Pleasantly surprised, got to say. And also Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour, although I didn’t recognize them immediately.

f) I feel like I should have seen the shaking hands plot point coming, but it was a nice detail in the script.

g) Oh! While I’m on the script: damn, not that interesting.  Some lines just fell flat, and it was uneven enough that it’s obviously a script problem, not a performance problem.

h) I like knowing Denzel Washington did the action sequences himself.

i) These character posters are really classy.

My thoughts: There they are.

True Romance

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I can’t say what made me end up deciding that I had to watch this movie, like right now, when I was putting it at the top of my queue.  Naturally, I’m a big fan of Gary Oldman, so I knew I would have to watch this movie eventually.  Recent interest in Quentin Tarantino also fuels this eventual interest.  What might have pushed me over the edge was an article in the December issue of Empire, which discussed how a violent couple in the 1950s created a stir in the American culture and inspired movies upon movies.

The weird thing is– and I watched this within days of watching Wristcutters– I couldn’t help but think of what a cute couple it was.  If you have to say one thing about the Christian Slater-Patricia Arquette duo, uh, that’s it?  I bought into the romance of True Romance.  Which seems weird since this is not exactly a romantic movie, instead leaving audiences watching drugs and violence occur over and over on the screen.  It’s all very effective, well shot and well acted.

Clarence (Slater) works at a comic book store and meets Alabama (Arquette) at a movie theater’s triple feature.  They hit it off, and only later does Clarence learn that Alabama is a rookie hooker, but now she just wants to be with him.  And… wackiness ensues?  I can’t really word it better than that right now.  Clarence has to kill Drexl, Alabama’s pimp, but ends up with a crazy, crazy amount of cocaine thinking that it’s Alabama’s clothes.  They run off to Los Angeles, followed by the mafia (led by a crazed Christopher Walken) whose coke that is.

I tried explaining this to a friend of mine and she could only say that it sounds like a movie that is really, really bad and implausible.  Somehow it comes together and works out really well to the point that I embrace it.  I can’t not. There is something extraordinarily likable about Clarence and Alabama and makes me root for them while they go through the process of unloading this cocaine.

Overall, I’ve gotta say that it’s good.  I wish I could say that it’s all in the script, but I’m reading it now and um… no.  Yeah, that’s not it.  It’s definitely everything else coming together, casting, directing… costume designing (the costumes, particularly the leopard-print coat Alabama wears, remind me of Sid & Nancy, whether that was intentional or not).  This is something that I got to watch again really.

Dead Fish

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… the fuck did I just watch?

image from amazon

AND WHY IS GARY OLDMAN IN IT?!

Zero Stars. Do not waste your time, not even for the lulz.

Prick Up Your Ears (and the Question of Biopics)

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Y’all, I think I have a problem: I’ve become a Biopic addict.

I’ve watched Prick Up Your Ears for the second time this afternoon, which was on the nice HD TV downstairs, as opposed to in bits and pieces on youtube.  While viewing it in the episodic manner many moons ago, a lot hit me more dramatically or became very forgettable.  The internet is giving me a terrible short-term memory, I’m afraid.  Watching full length movies online is almost impossible.

Now, in case you weren’t familiar, Prick Up Your Ears is a biopic on Joe Orton, English playwright, played by the wonderful Gary Oldman.  Joe was homosexual in an age when homosexuality in Great Britain meant prison, which hit me over the head the first time I viewed the film.  It was like, “Yeah, okay I can understand it,” but also “No, shit!  Really?  They made it illegal?”

Now, that same point hits me, but more because it’s a central point to the film.  Joe’s gay, and he doesn’t care.  In fact, I get the feeling that he wants to get caught in the bathrooms sometimes.  Which is, well, a bit awkward to watch, considering his histrionic boyfriend Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) knows what’s going on.

So I got distracted by Molina during this viewing.  I kept thinking “Now, is he over acting?  Well, I suppose that’s how Halliwell was, if he was that damaged.  Is he overacting?” etc etc, I do believe you get the point. 

It also feels like an old British movie, if someone took British cinema and laid it out from end to end.  Which works with the 1960s setting of Orton’s life, but also makes the movie feel very sad, almost waiting for something to happen.  Then something happens, and it’s terrible, but it’s true: How Orton died.  I remember crying when I first saw that, in a sad pathetic little way in front of the computer screen.  Because I really didn’t expect it, and I had gotten attached to Joe, but felt like he hadn’t lived much.  Anonymous sex, a boyfriend he wasn’t in love with (maybe never had been), and just the beginning of success.

Meanwhile, I get to read someone’s comment on IMDb who says that it’s the biopic that finally worked for her because of it’s strong narrative arc.  Which I can see.  The narrative being the relationship between Orton and Halliwell. 

It just brings me back to another point: I’ve become addicted to biopics.  The question is “Why?” and is that even a genre?  It’s the Costume Drama that’s real, it’s the soap opera that actually happened, if the viewer is lucky.  As much as I like them (or seem to like them– they’re the genre that takes up considerable space on my shelf  at least) I can’t figure out why.  Why like biopics?  They usually end up lying to you about a person’s life.  Immortal Beloved can show you Beethoven, but it still feeds you fiction in order to produce a narrative at all.  Lust for Life shows you Van Gogh, but leaves out the whores, syphillis, close relationship with Gaugin, just because of the time it was made.

And yet, I’m addicted.  I know they’re wrong, but I keep coming back to them.  The question of biopics. Prick Up Your Ears, as it stands, is the most soap operatic of them all, as far as I’ve seen, in an underworld kind of way. London in a different age, experienced by people I can only understand depending on my mood.

Basquiat: Good Choice, Bad One…?

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Ahh… let me begin by saying, Borders near my house was having a sale.  But since they didn’t have “The Last Metro” nor “The Lives of Others”, I felt content by shoveling out the cash for “Basquiat” because, hey, I like  biopics and Gary Oldman!  Makes sense to me. And if it’s bad, I can just give it to Natalia.

A-hem.  Well, I’m only on Chapter 6, according to my sister’s laptop.  I like it so far, but it also seems kind of hopeless and, what the opening monologue calls, “The Van Gogh Boat”.  Living homelessly in New York, Basquiat wants to be considered as a real artist.  Snobby artists like Gary just don’t understand the miracles of dada graffitti poems after all.

Eventually we’ll get to the part where Basquiat becomes a major explosion of success, but I’m just grooving until we get there.

Once I got home, I realized that I could have wasted just as much money on “State of Grace”, had it been there (I can’t remember) but I never liked Sean Penn much anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

Three for Three: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

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Read the book.  See the Play.  Watch the Movie.

Pic from Rachel.

Pic from Rachel.

I really love this play, and attached to that, the movie.

I saw the movie first, sometime last year: In the middle of my discovery of the works of Gary Oldman, I found the IMDb page for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.  Now remember, dear readers: I do not have netflix.  The one time that my family did have netflix, I was too young to really comprehend the point of blogging, besides ranting about stuff that you want to keep private, that society wants you to keep private, but you rant about it on a public space anyway.

So, I went to Blockbuster.  Blockbuster has never really been high on my list of good feelings places until recently (because, y’know, cheap DVDs…).  When I walked in, I couldn’t find it so I went up to the cashier and asked “Do you have R+GaD?”

And he said, “No, but it’s a great movie!”

Sadface.  Now, I put it out of my mind for awhile, but the youtube clips were really good and my friend Lucy is all excited about it from when she saw it in her Philosophy class. 

On a shopping trip, we arrrive at Suncoast and I get the idea “Hey, what about…”

So I ask the cashier, “Do you have R+GaD?”

And he said, “No, but it’s a great movie!”

I’m just about to leave in utter defeat when he says, “Wait, I can order it for you!”

This would be the first time I would buy a movie without seeing it first.  And although I was a little worried, I did not really care.  I wanted to see this movie that much.  The thing of it is, it was a really good purchase and the Suncoast guys are really nice, so ordering was a piece of cake.

I get home, pop the DVD in, and just sit on the corner of the couch cushion for awhile.

The first twenty minutes, maybe less, are not all that impressive, since it’s just Tim Roth and Gary Oldman wandering through some woods hypothesizing on God knows what.  And just as I was suspecting that I had made a bad purchase, Plot descends!

I really love this movie right now.  I went out and read the play and lent the movie out to friends or we watched it together on movie days and nights.  It’s so much fun to see someone really like the movie all at once, actually get it straight off the bat.  Or even if they don’t, at least being able to see them piece the bits together.

I loved the play while reading it– couldn’t stop talking about it for ages.  Bought it when I had the money.  Used the text for art projects or random quotes.

Then this past summer, I finally saw it performed by an amateur group.  And I couldn’t help but think, “Y’know, this is really the way to watch the play as a play.  If you want the cut and dry, absolutely perfect version, watch the movie.”  As the play that it was, with much more expression and random arrangements, hyper Rosencrantz and Guildenstern played by women, a Player who looked and acted a lot like Heath Ledger’s Joker, it was a fresh view.

So, here’s Three for Three, read and reviewed.

The Dark Knight

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Spoilers Abound, my Pretties…

I almost knew what I was walking into when I got to the theater… four weeks late.  I went to see it with my friend, Greyson, who had already seen it, like everyone else.  Further, I saw it at one of those mega theaters with the surround sound on too loud, but it works for movies like this one.  Giant summer blockbusters have that ability, not so much “Dream Girls” (which may have it’s own fabulousness that succeeds, just not with the music blaring constantly in your ear).  I digress…

How can I possibly word the insanity and intensity that is this movie?  It’s a lot of things all at once that I can’t quite get out.  One thing after another after another, and there’s no pause for a break.  If you aren’t watching the bat tank roll over and over then you’re watching some emotional stress with Harvey/Rachel/Bruce triangle.   Or all of the other things that make that movie one glorious hot mess.  Not thirty minutes after walking out did I want to go back to the theater to watch it again.

(On a side note: Anyone want to answer something for me?  I’m watching an episode of Batman: The Animated Series in another window, and is Harvey Dent supposed to be black? His race is totally ambiguous, but almost everyone in this series has the same super-tan skin tone.  Thoughts, opinions, anyone?)

This late in the game, there isn’t a point to give a flat out review for The Dark Knight, so here’s just some of my favorite parts or the parts I want to make note of.

I saw The Dark Knight a few days after I finished reading Dark Victory, the sequel to The Long Halloween which is getting a lot of the credit for the plot of TDK.  Knowing that, I had a great appreciation for how Christopher Nolan kept the film- really, both films– close to the comic roots.  Dark Victory  has a lot of the themes relating to Harvey Dent that gets examined in the movie, especially how his romantic attachments affected his transformation, though this changes from his wife Gilda to Rachel.

I DID NOT KNOW THAT GORDON WASN’T DEAD.  Greyson was really close to laughing at me in the theater at this point. I think I went through all the stages of grief in the next x number of minutes before that Supah Awesome Cool confrontation in the streets.  When I saw that my friend was smiling, I thought that was to reassure me that no, he wasn’t really dead, but they told his wife!  HIs kid was all wide-eyed and wandering around.

This upset me for my own reasons.  This past year I came to the conclusion with another friend of mine, Miss Natalia, as we worked our way through all of the great Batman graphic novels of the past thirty years, no one hurts Gordon as a kind of unwritten law.  The closest it’s come to is The Killing Joke, and if you’ve read the comic you know why and if you haven’t then read the comic.  So I was angry at Nolan for about twenty minutes and then Greyson did laugh at me, for obvious reasons, so there we go.

Heath Ledger, rest his spirit, is the best and scariest Joker ever.  I don’t think anyone could top his performance, even twenty or thirty years in the future when another director wants to revamp the franchise for another interpretation.  This is the performance for any past Jokers, any future Jokers, or really any other Batman villains that will get used in the next movies.  This is the face of psychopath, in it’s purest form: Less a man, more an agent of chaos.  No one knows how the Joker works, and as it is, I’d rather not ever know.  You would go insane just trying to find out, because a force of nature isn’t meant to be understood to any real extent. 

Meanwhile, I think it’s inevitable that the Joker character will be revived because he’s the perfect foil for Batman.  They’re both insane people doing insane things, but one’s Chaos while the other is Order, even if it’s the kind of order that exists outside of the norms of society.  To the society of the movies, both are like opposite sides of nature, especially in that they just appear.  The audience may know what makes Batman tick, but the citizens of Gotham don’t.  Now it’s switched for the audience, where we will always have a character that we will never understand.  We get a small taste of what it’s like to live in that city, although we’re separated by the silver screen.

Action sequences.  I get lost with them, or in them, but they’re a lovely item of modern cinema.  Like watching lightning in a bottle, over and over everything becomes what it is, and it falls apart and comes together.  They’re lengthy, but they’re lengthy for good reason, not just to keep the lowest common denominator awake.  The best are the street duel and the final battle with the Joker, as it switches views from the cell phone sonar and what’s actually happening.

Harvey Dent, as a character.  Everyone talks about Heath Ledger, and with good reason, but Aaron Eckhart’s performance was very striking as Dent, moving from ultimate hero as the white knight figure to another avenging villain.  The ruined half of his face was terrible in the best ways for that representation.  I don’t understand on a realism level why he didn’t get some bacterial infection and die as soon as he stepped outside of the hostpital though– all of that exposed flesh.  And bone.  And… ew.  Just, that’s a nightmare what happened to Dent and that’s how we’re supposed to see it.  How everything ended horribly and ugly and why Batman decided that Harvey couldn’t be seen to the public as corruptible. 

And I think that’s all I’ve got on this for now.  Woosh, that was a lot, but it feels good to get it off my mind and onto print.

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