Archives for posts with tag: ben whishaw

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The collocation of the words “London” and “spy” suggests a stylish thriller with a lot of umbrellas and conversations in St James’s Park. At the very least, some gritty leather jackets and terrorist-thwarting à la “Spooks.” Not, say, a self-pitying club kid and an irritating naïveté.

But that’s what we get. Danny (Ben Whishaw) stumbles out of a club at dawn looking like nine kinds of hell and encounters Alex (Edward Holcroft), who is a posh banker out for a run. Alex is closeted and slightly strange, but nonetheless Danny falls heavily for him, and they are together for some months. Then Alex disappears just when they’re supposed to be going away for the weekend, and when Danny manages to get into his flat, he discovers a secret bondage attic and Alex’s body in a trunk. To put it mildly, this does not jibe with Danny’s impression of Alex’s preferences, and he is therefore convinced that Alex has been murdered, and the sadomasochistic fripperies are part of an elaborate frame-up.

Danny enlists Scottie (Jim Broadbent), an older friend of his, to help him prove that his lover didn’t die in a sex game gone wrong. Things escalate quickly. Danny’s vague impression that Alex is “good with numbers” turns out to be accurate, insofar as Alex works for MI:6, and has been working on a world-changing algorithm of a truly absurd kind. The security services continue to concoct and backstop truly staggering conspiracies. Danny becomes increasingly insufferable, even to people who are trying to help him.

Atmospherically, it works. By which I mean that the blue filter suffusing everything more or less creates a plausible English misery. But the plot has holes like a Connect Four set, and only Jim Broadbent and sometimes Harriet Walter manage to invest their characters with any depth. Charlotte Rampling is mired in clichés of posh repression; both Holcroft and Adrian Lester are clumsy caricatures of men too brilliant to possess emotions. You never believe in Danny and Alex.

I would have forgiven it many of these things if it had managed to be tonally consistent. But its pretentious claims to authenticity take a nosedive into cheese fondue in the final episode, and it’s awful.

Stray observations:

  • A climactic plot moment depends on the supposedly secret algorithm being already implemented by the very security services that seek to destroy it. Okay.
  • Danny wears terrible jeans. I’m not sure anyone wears jeans like those, and I’m certain that adherents of warehouse parties don’t.
  • Scottie does have a very nice umbrella.

Director: Jakob Verbruggen
Rating: a robust TV-MA, I should say
Length: approximately 300 minutes
Score: 2/5

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This movie was, as far as I know, universally reviled and then forgotten, and I’m not sure why. People loved the book, I think, and considered the adaptation unworthy. Which… the book was not all that, and the movie was not so bad.

If you are unfamiliar with Cloud Atlas the book, it is a somewhat overdone pastiche of genres that purports to show that everything is connected. Meanwhile visionaries are punished and we are fast heading to our own destruction. It is vaguely fugal, and its main components are: the journal of an American notary in the antipodes in the 1840s, the letters of a young English composer in Belgium in the 1930s, a narrative in the present tense (tooth gnashing heard) about a journalist in not-quite-San-Francisco in the 1970s, the memoirs of an English publisher approximately now, the confession (?) of a Korean service-industry clone in the post-environmental-catastrophe future, and the fireside tale of a Hawai’ian bloke in the post-nuclear-apocalypse future. That’s a lot, and you might say it would be difficult to make into a film. I think that’s true, but I think the film did about as well as could be expected.

The movie doesn’t adhere to the fugal sequence of the book, it merely bounces around among the narratives, and I think that’s a good choice. Moreover, it reuses the actors across storylines, which serves to bring them together, and also to avoid an insane proliferation of paychecks. This does end with Ben Whishaw in unsettlingly good drag and Jim Sturgess and James D’Arcy in somewhat uncomfortable vaguely Asian make-up, but as a storytelling decision it’s effective.

Unfortunately, the film is unable to make you care about all the stories. Jim Broadbent as the English publisher trying to escape from an old folks home is amusing, but forgettable. Tom Hanks as an illiterate futuristic goatherd eventually flirting with Halle Berry is both boring and embarrassing. Mr. D’Arcy, underneath all that make-up, is almost convincingly distraught by the tale of revolution told by Doona Bae’s clone. Ms. Berry is charming and more or less engaging in her 70s haircut and journalistic integrity. But by far the best narrative is that of Mr. Whishaw’s young composer writing to his lover, a touchingly naïve and unusually blond Mr. D’Arcy. Theirs is the only outcome I cared about–I knew what it was, having read the book, but I still cared.

So the movie is no more pretentious than the book, if certainly no less. It’s visually arresting and most of the time periods are convincingly fleshed out technologically or sartorially. No one completely phones it in, and the writing echoes the novel while eschewing some of its most mannered excesses. It is, of course, somewhat fragmented, but that is deliberate and forgivable.

Stray notes:

  • I literally have no idea why Susan Sarandon was in this movie.
  • Or Hugh Grant.

Director: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Rating: R
Length: 172 minutes
Score: 3/5.

If you’ve ever asked yourself just how creepy and off-putting Ben Whishaw is capable of being (and, let’s face it, we all have), this is the movie that answers that question. It is rated R for “aberrant behavior,” and the MPAA, she is not joking.

It’s 18th century Paris. Everyone is dirty, wears brown all the time, and smells bad. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Mr. Whishaw, and, no, I am not joking about his character’s name, and, yes, I wish that I was) is born in the worst-smelling part of Paris–the fish market–and eventually as an adolescent orphan works in a tannery. All the other kids hate him because is a terrifying creep who constantly sniffs things because they feel threatened by his god-given unique talent for olfactory sense. Right.

So he smells a girl selling yellow plums, becomes obsessed, startles her badly, inadvertently kills her, then strips her and sniffs her dead body. And then it gets weird. Desperate to capture (her? the perfect? any?) scent, he manages to apprentice himself to Dustin Hoffman as a ridiculously terrible Italian perfumer, where he learns the basics. He then embarks on a killing swath through the south of France so that he can recapture a legendary Egyptian perfume by using eau de dead prostitute. (Thus the subtitle: The Story of a Murderer.)

Then it goes off the rails completely and I can’t really tell you how without spoiling it entirely, and I don’t really want to do that even though I can’t recommend that you watch this movie.

Why? Because it’s just desperately unpleasant. It’s true that the alternatively squalid and opulent portrayal of 1700s France is well done, and that the visuals are often stunning. Alan Rickman bears up pretty well as an actor under the ambient absurdity, but on the other hand both Mr. Whishaw and Mr. Hoffman are emphatically weak. As the film wears on, you find yourself wanting to continue watching, not because you actually have any sympathy with anyone, but because you’re honestly curious how it’ll get itself out of its own coils. I did not find that it did so satisfactorily; you might.

Stray observations:

  • Please wear a shirt, Ben Whishaw. Your air of stylish malnutrition may be appropriate for the part, but people wear shirts. Even crazy people and French people and poor people.
  • As the film barrelled/staggered/wafted towards its close, I seriously considered posting just the word: “What.”

Director: Tom Tykwer
Rating: R. And not the fun kind.
Length: 147 min., which was too long.
Score: 2/5. Stylish, but neither fun to watch nor enlightening.