Eragon

Edward Speelers in Eragon

 

 

Here be dragons. Dungeons and Dragons, to be more specific. Because that’s what this British Lord of the Rings knock-off most resembles. The 2000 film also heavily featured Jeremy Irons, who moved heaven and earth to save it but could not ultimately fight the sheer dead weight of the script and its deadly fantasy game holdovers. Something similar is going on here, with Irons once again mustering all his considerable charisma to try and float a sodden barque, a tale of a fine-limbed young farm lad (Edward Speelers) who has somehow sprung noble from the poor lumpen volk, his nice-boy accent setting him off against the ooh-aarghs of fellow proles and a token of his specialness. He finds a dragon’s egg – for what is “Eragon” if not “dragon” with a typo? – a discovery that sets him off on a journey. For he has been chosen to save his land etc and rid it of evil etc etc. Every Skywalkerish figure needs his Ben Kenobi. Enter Irons, working like a man might to save a drowning child. Enter also Rachel Weisz as the voice of the dragon (cajoling, caring, a tough-love mother). And enter John Malkovich in a have-cape-will-swish turn that’s also worth five of your minutes.

Based on the trilogy (yes, there are more – shudder) of fantasy novels by Christopher Paolini, Eragon feels like what it is – the regurgitated fantasy reading of a lively 15-year-old (which Paolini was when he started on the series) brought to life by a mercenary production that’s determined to cut any corner, and directed by a visual effects man (Stefen Fangmeier – a not inappropriate name) who seems better versed in the looks of TV than the big-budget movie. The singer Joss Stone turns up as a fortune teller, briefly. Not because she brings anything to the role, but because she brings another demographic to the film. And having done her job, she is dispensed with. If art is all about hiding the artifice, Eragon has a long and mythic quest in front of it. Not only can you see the actors acting and hear the script changing gears, you can see the marketing levers being pulled – and that’s really bad. But ultimately it’s the gulf between the film’s ambitions and its execution, its unwillingness to cut its jerkin according to its cloth that marks Eragon out as a dud. You can make a sword-and-sorcery film for nothing, but not like this one has been made. And with that, incanting up his wizard’s sleeve, your humble reviewer was gone.

 

 

Eragon – Buy it/watch it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

 

 

Margin Call

Jeremy Irons in Margin Call

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

6 March

 

Alan Greenspan born, 1926

On this day in 1926, the economist Alan Greenspan was born in New York City. His father was a stockbroker and analyst but Alan initially seemed to be heading towards a career in music, studying clarinet at Juilliard, playing with Woody Herman’s band, before switching to economics. He gained a bachelor’s and a master’s in economics before becoming an analyst, then a consultant. In 1974 he was appointed by President Gerald Ford as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Greenspan was a member of the Group of Thirty (wise men of economics, essentially) in 1984 before becoming chairman of the Federal Reserve in 1987, a position he held until just before his 80th birthday in 2006. Greenspan was a monetarist, a rationalist and a follower of Ayn Rand, but he was first and foremost a numbers man. When the figures didn’t match the theory, it was the theory that was wrong. He admitted in congressional testimony in 2008, after the worst financial collapse since the great depression, that his belief in deregulation had been “shaken”.

 

 

 

Margin Call (2011, dir: JC Chandor)

Director/writer JC Chandor really seemed to come out of nowhere with this debut, a remarkable thriller about the financial collapse – who’d have thought such a thing possible – that boils everything down to one fateful night in one investment bank, where some geeky junior has suddenly realised that the numbers don’t add up and that fiduciary apocalypse beckons. The junior is a junior actor – Zachary Quinto – who spends the film accompanied by his more doltish chum Seth (Penn Badgley) who is there to explain any of the sticky stuff, of which there is remarkably little. The structure of Chandor’s film is remarkably simple – over the course of the night Badgley, Quinto and whoever they have picked up en route, are bussed from one meeting to another, constantly moving up the pecking order, from daily offices to executive suites, the plebeian to the patrician, the outer to the inner sanctum, up, up, up they go. At each level of this glass and steel edifice everyone has to get used to breathing a slightly more rarefied air. And there are a lot of levels. This is a film where all actors concerned seems to understand that what they’re doing is momentous; everyone is pulling out the good stuff. Early on we meet Stanley Tucci, as the lowest level of the big players, the guy who is fired in the opening scenes, shrugs and then goes home. Paul Bettany is the tic-driven, adrenaline-snorting salesman. Kevin Spacey is his superior, the first of the financial big players to make our stand-ins, Quinto and Badgley, a little loose bowelled, and the last who has any humanity (his dog is dying at home) left inside. Demi Moore plays another formidable executive, a woman in a man’s world who wears the glass ceiling almost as jewellery and so is not as frightening as the next guy up the ladder – Simon Baker, a brash street guy done good, a man who drank greed is good with his mother’s milk. We think we’re at the top already but then we go up one more, to meet Jeremy Irons, in the sort of role that Laurence Olivier would once have played, all affability and stiletto, the CEO of this mighty financial empire who has arrived at dawn in a helicopter like a bird of prey. It’s with Irons that the full dastardly logic of self-preservation plays out – he takes decisions that he knows will cause the market to collapse, but they will ensure that his firm will survive. It’s the small guy who is going to suffer, the same small guy who is left out of the reckoning when bonus season comes around. Chandor doesn’t rely on his viewer having even a slender grasp of economics to make this film work – it’s essentially a human drama about minnows awed by sharks. And doesn’t this world of big money look fantastic – the workers reduced to faceless drones while the fixtures and fittings have real character. A perfect film? Nearly. Maybe someday somebody will just tighten up the last third a touch, remove one of the too-many speeches that defend the way money guys do things, so it runs with the same pitiless speed as the first two thirds. Or maybe I’m just nitpicking. In a very short list of great films about money (Greed, Glengarry Glen Ross, Boiler Room, both the 1928 and 1983 L’Argent spring to mind), this is the best film about the 2008 crash, no question.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • The arrival of writer/director Chandor, fully formed
  • A great cast on top form
  • A thriller from finance – remarkable
  • John Paino’s formidable production design

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Margin Call – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Inland Empire

Laura Dern and fantasy girls in Inland Empire

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

9 February

 

 

Carole King born, 1942

On this day in 1942, the singer/songwriter Carole King was born, as Carole Klein, in New York.

A prodigious talent who was playing piano at four, she had formed her own band in high school. Writing songs from her early teens, she was a professional while still in college, where one of her ex boyfriends, Neil Sedaka wrote the hit Oh Carol for her in 1959.

It was however Jerry Goffin she married and went into songwriting partnership with. Together they wrote Take Good Care of My Baby, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and The Locomotion, among 100 chart hits, including Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman and James Taylor’s You Got a Friend. Her friendship with Taylor led to her expanding her solo work. After a split from her husband and a move to Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, she released her second solo album, Tapestry, in 1971. Marking the high water mark of the early 1970s singer/songwriter boom, the album has sold more than 25 million copies and at the time of writing is still in the Billboard 200.

 

 

 

Inland Empire (2006, dir: David Lynch)

This is it, the last film made by David Lynch, who has since announced his retirement, though he continues to produce adverts for Dior, music videos for the likes of Duran Duran, his intention being to focus on music rather than film-making for now at least.

But it is the perfect Lynchian farewell, a gift for the fans who were hoping for something suitably weird from the director of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. And weird it undoubtedly is, like a film playing very loud in another room down a hotel corridor, and at its centre Laura Dern, who the IMDb insists is playing two character but it seemed to me more like three or four.

And here’s the difficult plot bit: Dern plays a fading actress who lands a part in an overcooked melodrama, discovers that it’s actually an unfinished project and that its original stars were murdered. As she journeys further into the identity of the character and the woman who originally played the part, she increasingly starts to disappear into her own inland empire. I think.

Shot on the hoof with no script, with a camera you could buy for buttons in a supermarket, Inland Empire was literally made up as it went along, Lynch shooting scenes that grabbed his fancy and then stitching them all together in post-production.

So of course it’s chaotic, dreamlike, artificial, infuriating and almost impossible to follow – are we watching Dern as the actress, as the character she’s playing, as the murdered actress, as a strongly imagined fantasy character? They’re all up for grabs.

Giant rabbits feature, would it be a Lynch film if they didn’t? Pop music, 1950s decor, non-sequitur dialogue, uneasy shifts between black and white and colour, between Poland and the USA, grotesque stylisation, foreign languages, Lynch keeps piling on the alienation until, poor viewer, you’re forced to abandon any attempt to wrest meaning from the whole thing and instead become a screen across which Lynch projects his neurotic psychodrama.

And at exactly this point, way way into the three hours that the film runs, it starts to make a sort of schizophrenic sense.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • David Lynch’s final film, so he says
  • Jeremy Irons and Justin Theroux’s supporting roles
  • Naomi Watts voices one of the giant rabbits
  • Goffin and King’s The Loco-Motion in an entirely new light

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Inland Empire – at Amazon