Sunday, November 04, 2007

Commercial Catch-up: Control and Across the Universe

CONTROL (dir. Anton Corbijn, UK, 2007, 121 mins.) Briefly, this is a bio-pic of Ian Curtis' life with the 'post-punk' band, Joy Division. Not so briefly, this is gorgeously, if not brilliantly photographed and framed film, in widescreen black and white, by Martin Ruhe, though considerable 'online chatter' credits director Anton Corbijn, who is a celebrated photographer, particularly of rock bands as his subjects, i.e. he did the cover to U2's "Joshua Tree" album. Just the composition within the frame lends itself to comtemplation. It was reminiscent of the independent work coming out of the UK in the late 60's/early 70's, though that is about a decade before the film is placed. The lighting and production design is suitably sterile and morose, since it frames the character, Ian Curtis.

Sam Riley plays Ian Curtis with a tragic, yet graceful despair. During the performance sequences, Riley seems to leave his body, which becomes a tangle of limbs flying in front of him. I am not so familiar with Joy Division, much less any video of them, so I do not know if Riley's physical performance during the band's sequences is literal or a poetic analogy to his epilepsy, which haunted him and drove him into ever deeper depressions. Regardless, Riley photographs stunningly in black and white, and his singing performances are mesmerizing. Even if the character lacks the ferocity that usually garners nominations (i.e. Bette Midler in "The Rose"), his depth, skill and the fact that he is in nearly EVERY FRAME, should attract due notice on everyone's top 10 list at the end of the year. His 'off stage' persona as the passive-aggressive-civil-servant-for-a-day-job, is mostly opposite the always great Samantha Morton, who plays his wife. Morton was nearly unrecognizable in her entrance, when they first meet. However, during one of the more climatic of the numerous arguments between them, she turns what is merely on paper a few questions, into an awesome monologue of queries and pauses. Also notable is Toby Kebbell as the band's manager, 'Rob Gretton'. Perhaps it is because he is the only character in the film allowed a punchline, but his presence is wonderfully edited within the otherwise dismal storyline. The rest of the guys in the band are nearly background, without becoming generic. However, all four of them were trained on the instruments and perform live - not synced. Alexandra Maria Lara plays 'Curtis's lover, but she is merely window dressing in this. She is GORGEOUSLY photographed, but window dressing, nonetheless, as she is not given all that much to do.

Though I could not hum a few bars to a Joy Division song if my life depended on it, once the soundtrack got going, I vaguely remember their sound and really enjoyed the music, now 25 years later. Overall, I can not say I was moved to tears, as were a few in the audience I was with, as well as a report from a friend who saw it in Toronto. I just found it too beautiful to look at, even during its tragic climax, to be depressed.

Similarly, though 180 degrees its opposite in visual style, tone and budget, no doubt, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (dir. Julie Taymor, US, 2007, 131 mins.) is a BIG, BEAUTIFUL love letter to the Beatles. Director Julie Taymor could well become the next Ken Russell! The woman will sacrifice any performance or script for the sake of her imagery. She is just lucky enough to be brilliant, as far as her visuals are concerned. What is a simple boy-meets/loses/gets-girl story is set during the Viet Nam war, scored completely by Beatles songs, and sung by the cast. She has led her cinematographer (Bruno Delbonnel), production designer (Mark Friedberg), art direction (Peter Rogness) and costumer (Albert Wolsky) to create a Disneyfied version of "Hair". If I could be so gauche as to make the pitch: it is "Mama Mia" meets "Hair" meets "Beatlemania". Though the political commentary is intact, it is simplified in to a generic anti-war statement. In fact, the pacifists become the antagonists by the end of the film, which I found a tad distressing.

The ENORMOUS cast (well it IS a $200 million production, I would guess) is led by Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson. At the time I saw it, I thought they were competent enough. However, I don't remember them, unlike the various supporting cast, including Eddie Izzard, Bono, and Joe Cocker, who each pop in for a ditty, regardless of how well it might play in the script or not. These three guys display more character and prove to be more adept at a 'musical' than the leading players. I just regret that the Eddie Izzard scene could have been cut without any loss what so ever.

Of the two dozen or so songs that Taymor includes here, there were a few I had no recollection of as being by the Beatles, and they didn't really serve any dramatic purpose within her screenplay, either. She is a self indulgent artist, who does not apparently self-edit much. However, she IS an artist and she does have moments of ecstasy! I WILL have this when it is on DVD, even if I do not intend on watching it from beginning to end, but chapter skipping my way through it...

Maxxxxx says
re Control: "Such a pretty bird!"
re Across the Universe: Whistles the theme from "Bridge Over the River Kwai"


SJ said...

i loved Control! almost afraid to go see it again, because any flaws will show up. Sam Riley is incredible --- AND he hooked up with what's her face (the window dressing figure -- which I agree with -- its almost as if he didn't have time to get into a relationship with her) .. and now divides his time in Berlin with her. To think he was working in a dept. store folding shirts when he got cast -- almost had given up on acting.

Jay, aka The Angry Little Man said...

I noticed in whats-her-names IMDB trivia section that she mentions living with Riley in Berlin, now. ;)
She is also in the new Coppolla flick.

HE is great! and should be working more! I think this will change things for him...