Archives for posts with tag: james d’arcy

MV5BN2YyZjQ0NTEtNzU5MS00NGZkLTg0MTEtYzJmMWY3MWRhZjM2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDA4NzMyOA@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_There were a lot of deeply irritating things about this movie, so I’ll just get them out of the way at the start. First, it suffered from having the sound mixing set to “human voices are irrelevant,” like all Christopher Nolan films. Second, it had stupid intertitles and explanatory text. If you can’t figure out that the BEF is trapped on the beach in Dunkirk trying to evacuate, from 106 minutes of a film called “Dunkirk,” either the film is very bad or you are very dense. Third, the chronological fiddling was misguided. The film follows the men on the beach for a week, a boat from England for a day, and three Spitfires for an hour–concurrently. This means that time moves at different rates for the various characters and you watch various events from different points of view at different times. It’s confusing and pretentious. At least once it destroys suspense.

Admirably, the film doesn’t do the thing where it has old men in cigars in a panelled room in London arranging things blithely while young men die. It has only the bored tired disgust of the officers on the ground actually trying to fix the situation: an army colonel (James D’Arcy) and a naval commander (Kenneth Branagh). Also admirably it does not indulge in the modern taste for gore, which largely allows it to avoid a certain kind of cynical emotionalism (Saving Private Ryan, I am looking at you). Instead, Branagh flatly informs D’Arcy that a wounded man on a stretcher takes the space of seven standing men. Bleak.

On the beach too it is miserable, and we see the vicissitudes of a soldier’s life there by following Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he flees German guns and then keeps getting not entirely evacuated. On the way he runs into Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Harry Styles, for some reason. It’s wet.

In the air we have Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farrier (Tom Hardy) in Spitfires, trying to provide air cover for the evacuation. This consists of the best film air combat I have ever seen: it makes you try to crane your neck to see the enemy planes better. They’re both charming and Tom Hardy’s weird mouth is hidden for most of it, which is a plus.

At sea is the Moonstone, a yacht out of Weymouth, crewed by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and another young man, George (Barry Keoghan). They have joined other small vessels from the south coast to help bring their men off. On the way they pull Cillian Murphy out of the water; he is, as usual, dangerously intense. Mr. Dawson is perhaps a bit too unflappable and good, but it’s earned, and Mark Rylance is a superb actor, so you buy it.

The film’s main and significant virtue is its roundedness. Awful things happen–there is an apparent randomness to death that rings and is true–and men do awful things, which is also true. But amazing things happen, and men and women do amazing things, which, thank God, is true as well.

Stray observations:

  • Very few of the characters in the film have names, and the star is the synecdochic “Tommy.” I can’t decide if I love this or hate this.
  • I have a personal antipathy towards Aneurin Barnard’s face, so I didn’t care a jot about his character; I suspect you are supposed to.
  • This gives the impression that the RAF was composed of literally three Spitfires. That’s a little bit true, of course, but not quite.
  • It is a shockingly dark-haired and brown-eyed BEF. And I know we assume that blonds in films are Nazis, but couldn’t we have had a ginger or two? There were some Scottish accents flying around. (Literally: Collins, one of the pilots, is Scottish. And blond, in fairness. As is Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Glynn-Carney. But that’s RAF, Royal Navy, and civilian respectively. No blonds in the army at all.)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: PG-13, which is a relief
Length: 106 minutes
Score: 4/5

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I keep oscillating between 1/5 and 2/5 for a score for this movie, because while it wasn’t any good at all, it also wasn’t actively bad, so 1/5 seems mean, but it was also really not any good. And probably other people aren’t quite as keen on James D’Arcy looking tense in a naval uniform, so that doesn’t get a free point.

In WWII, radar happened, and it is the subject of many excellent movies and even better quips (see, for instance, the charming exchange from Battle of Britain: “So I tell the cabinet that you’re trusting in radar and praying to God, is that right?” “More accurately the other way ’round. Trusting in God and praying for radar.”). And, in that grand tradition, Age of Heroes is about commandos sent to Norway to take out a German radar installation, I’m pretty sure.

Danny Dyer saves some of his men in the retreat towards Dunkirk, but then is sent to prison for desertion because of a misunderstanding or simple nastiness on the part of a superior officer. Sean Bean ignores the pleas of his pregnant wife to lead a commando unit (helpfully made up of men from Danny Dyer’s military jail and also some random Scandinavian-born American, which is where Askel Hennie comes in).  John Dagleish has to go with the commandos to Norway as the radar expert, but is largely useless for anything else. Our old friend and the only character whose name I learned, and that only because I already knew it, Ian Fleming (Mr. D’Arcy), is stressed out in the cabinet war rooms.

So they go to Norway and it’s cold and John Dagleish is useless and their contact has maybe gone dark or is maybe dead or is definitely a girl. Nazis are very unpleasant, to a point that seems cartoonish but is probably accurate. At this point the movie loses shape entirely, but not out of attempts at realism, just out of carelessness. All the set-up–explaining radar, commandos, intelligence services, geography–falls by the wayside in a welter of bad dialogue and worse pacing. Danny Dyer is, I think, meant to be conflicted and confused, but he comes off as dense and ineffectual. Which is not great, for a titular hero.

Commandos are fascinating, and I daresay a good film treatment of Fleming’s war service could exist and perhaps already does, but this isn’t it. (Neither is Any Human Heart, in which he figures as a minor character but which I couldn’t even finish watching, it was so dire.) Accounts of the early part of the war are usually depressing–Battle of Britain ends with a collective, near-despairing shrug–but this one is also just bad.

Oh, and, of course Sean Bean dies.

Director: Adrian Vitoria
Rating: NR
Length: 90 minutes
Score: 1/5

Do you remember the strange several years when everyone was convinced that Russell Crowe was both good-looking and a good actor? Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary on both fronts? We gave this man an Academy Award!

Just…wow.

Anyway, Master and Commander is probably my favorite Russell Crowe movie, and that’s mostly in spite of him, and in spite of its…not really being all that good. When I saw it the first time, I hadn’t read any of the Aubrey-Maturin novels on which it is ostensibly based, and I rather liked it. Now I have read fourteen of the Aubrey-Maturin novels on which it is ostensibly based, and I like it no less.  This movie follows the plot of no single O’Brian novel, neither the one called Master and Commander nor the one called The Far Side of the World. Nor of any other. Which is fine, really; those novels succeed better at atmosphere than at plot. I have heard on good authority that this is a fairly verisimilitudinous reflection of naval life. The film also aims for atmosphere, sketching your favorite characters from the books in a pastiche of more or less plausible events that take place near the Galapagos and involve fighting the French navy.

Jack Aubrey (Crowe), the titular master and commander, is blond, sanguine, and incipiently fat. He’s smirkingly terrible and his accent is worse. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) is as unattractive as they can make him as the doctor and naturalist who spends most of his time kvetching that a warship is not his private exploratory vessel. He has no Irish accent and is not a spy, so devotés of the books may resent it; I enjoy that he can walk in a straight line and probably add. James D’Arcy plays the good-looking lieutenant Tom Pullings, and I love him. That’s all Tom Pullings ever does–be good-looking and lieutenant as well as he bloody can. Billy Boyd is awful as the boatswain Bonden, but they don’t give Bonden a damn thing to do, so that’s the real problem.

Max Pirkis is an amalgam of various tiny midshipmen, including one named Reade and one named Blakeney, and he, as also playing Octavian in HBO’s Rome, is a revelatory, heartbreaking gem. Early on he loses an arm, and Aubrey gives him a biography of Lord Nelson, and I cry. So much. Later on, he squeakingly collects beetles for Maturin, still later he squeakingly helps decide the course of a battle with the French vessel Acheron. He’s wonderful.

This film’s chief failure is that it captures neither the unremitting navy-ness of the books nor the rather charming blink-and-you-missed-it humor. In addition it’s scattershot, trying to cobble together one full plot from a dozen loosely connected episodes. But, if you like movies about old boats and aren’t terrifically particular, you’ll love this. If not, you’ll be annoyed by the winking in-jokes, the borderline incoherence, and Russell Crowe.

Stray observations:

  • This film makes heavy, heavy use of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” and, while I deeply love that piece of music in all its forms, the anachronism makes me insane.
  • I really wish there had been more of these movies, as it clearly looked like they were planned, and I would eat them up like candy. However, I also see why there weren’t more–the movie strikes a bad balance between pleasing lovers of the books and pleasing neophytes, and ends up pleasing no-one. Also it made $50 million less than it cost.

Director: Peter Weir
Rating: PG-13
Length: 138 minutes
Score: 4/5

You know who was pretty interesting? Wallis Simpson, and also the Duke of Windsor. I’d watch a movie about them. I thought this was a movie about them. I question the choice of putting out a movie about the Duke of Windsor just after The King’s Speech, but, well, whatever, Madonna.

This movie was, however, only sort of about the titular W. and E. Instead, there was an asinine framing device: Wally (Abbie Cornish, and so named because her mother was obsessed with Mrs. Simpson, and also apparently cruel and deranged) desperately wants to have a baby; her husband William (Jeff from “Coupling”) does not. Wally’s coping mechanism is to haunt the sale of the Windsors’ estate at Sotheby’s and flirt with Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), a security guard. Intermittently Mrs. Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) will appear in Wally’s imagination to give her advice.

I submit, my dear, that if you need advice on your life plans, that Wallis Simpson may not be the place to turn.

In and around all this garbage is an abbreviated account of the romance between Mrs. Simpson and the Prince of Wales &c. (James D’Arcy). The angle, though, is purported to be new: everyone knows what Edward VIII gave up to marry an American divorcée, but what, the film asks, did Wallis give up to marry Edward? The film doesn’t answer this question satisfactorily, and even if it did, the answer is still “not a kingdom” and “who cares?”

Riseborough and D’Arcy show fairly well, but the convoluted drama of Wally-William-Evgeni just embarrasses the actors involved. Bertie (to become George VI) is relegated back to the role of a clumsy stutterer whose wife speaks for him in all things, presumably in the interests of making his brother look more dashing. It sort of works, but you feel manipulated. This is the problem with the whole movie, in fact: you get what it’s doing, but it’s so heavy-handed that you lose interest.

Stray notes:

  • In case you were wondering, ladies, this movie clears up any doubts: if you can get pregnant, you are a worthwhile human being.

Director: Madonna
Rating: R
Length: 119 min.
Score: 2/5.

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.