Posts Tagged ‘James Caan’

Where do I begin with Carol Morley’s Out of Blue? Let’s get that title out of way, to begin with. That is not one of typos to which all flesh is occasionally prey, as a quick glance at poster below will confirm: movie really is called Out of Blue. But why? It is based on a novel by Martin Amis, which was titled Night Train; just why Morley has decided on retitling of it is by no means clear (one of many things about this film which is fuzzy, to say least). What does Out of Blue even mean? I don’t know. Omission of definite article must be significant on some level: I wouldn’t mind adding a bit of significance to blog, which is why this particular piece will be an experiment in not including definite articles too (hopefully we won’t be required to discuss Matt Johnson’s well-known post-punk band, as that could get a bit tricky).

Basic plot of Out of Blue proceeds something like this: Patricia Clarkson is arguably cast somewhat against type as veteran New Orleans PD homicide detective Mike Hoolihan. Early in film she is assigned to a new case: body of a young female astronomer is found, dead from a gunshot wound. Her enquiries initially focus on dead woman’s colleagues, mainly Toby Jones and Aaron Tveit, but eventually move on to her family, a secretive and wealthy bunch led by patriarch James Caan and his wife Jacki Weaver. However, as investigation proceeds, Hoolihan discovers similarities with a series of unsolved killings committed by a serial killer decades earlier. Hoolihan finds herself becoming obsessed with discovering truth of case, even if it means having to grapple with her own personal demons.

When you distill it down like that, plot of Out of Blue sounds like that of fairly straightforward police procedural movie, and I suppose that on some level it operates as such. However, this is a very deep and well-concealed level, because no-one (I would imagine) is coming out of a screening of this film saying ‘Hmmm, that was a fairly straightforward police procedural movie’: critics are using words like incoherent and silly, and likening film to a clown car, while general audiences… I don’t know, but there were only three people at screening I attended, and I had to battle quite hard to stay focused on it; film is that unengaging.

As I say, film is based on Martin Amis’ novel Night Train, which I am not familiar with. Given that we have already discussed hereabouts dismal nature of certain elements of Amis’ career as originator of genre movies, my natural inclination would be to blame him – but on this occasion it seems that master of absurd grotesqueness is off hook, as his novel has been very freely adapted for silver screen. There seem to be some vague similarities of plot and theme, but also some very significant differences on many levels, particularly when it comes to serial killer storyline (wholly new, as far as my very limited research can discern).

So Carol Morley is clearly up to something beyond simply adapting Amis, problem is trying to figure out what this is. Obviously on one level film is trying to work as a piece of genre cinema, adopting familiar form of a very slightly noir-ish police procedural detective story – there are various suspects, and odd twists, and revelations, and  so on. Then again, there are also signs of it attempting to function as a kind of character piece: Clarkson is giving a very intense central performance and she’s in virtually every scene. Finally, there is way film appears to be grasping for some kind of profundity or resonance by exploring deep metaphysical and philosophical themes. There are various allusions to astronomy and astrophysics, and scenes where characters sit around having po-faced discussions about Schroedinger’s cat (at one point they even put a cat in a box as a kind of visual aid for the hard-of-thinking, just in case any of audience couldn’t quite grasp concept).

Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of this in principle – when this sort of idea is executed correctly, it can give heft to an otherwise lightweight genre film and provide big ideas with a way of reaching a mainstream audience. Problem is that Out of Blue fluffs police procedural aspect so badly that deep thoughts about nature of universe just feel incongruous – and, to be honest, hopelessly pretentious. Or, to put it another way, thriller angle is handled in such a clumsily mannered way that it provides no comforting context for more outre aspects of the movie to embed themselves in. You do almost wonder if there is an element of send-up going on here, so hackneyed is background given to Clarkson’s character – she’s a dedicated, brilliant cop with a history of psychological troubles and a drink problem, and so on, but film is almost totally lacking in humour or warmth. Patricia Clarkson is a fine actress, but she seems all at sea here, the script requiring her to do some fairly ridiculous things before story concludes.

In a way I am almost reminded of Paul Anderson’s Inherent Vice, another peculiar crime thriller with a notably impossible-to-follow storyline. There is a school of thought that actual plot of Inherent Vice is secondary to it giving you experience of what it feels like to be high on drugs: you just sort of drift mellowly from moment to moment as things occur in front of you. In a similar way, I suppose that Out of Blue would make much more sense if it was actually intended to make share experiences of someone undergoing a psychological breakdown – nothing seems to make sense, things seem to occur for no particular motivation, and so on. Alas, I have seen nothing to suggest this is actually case, but film certainly seemed to be giving me sense that I was drifting in and out of consciousness (of course, there is always the possibility that I genuinely was drifting in and out of consciousness – one should never rule this out at a matinee in the middle of a heavy week).

Very seldom does an English-language movie, especially a genre movie, fail to connect with me quite as completely as Out of Blue did, but I do note that Mark Kermode has seen it three times and found something new to enjoy on each occasion, while film’s publicists have managed to find people apparently willing to describe the film as ‘dazzling’, ‘thrilling’, and ‘mesmerising’ – although I note they are picking single words and using them out of context. Only one of those I would even come close to agreeing with is last one, and this is one trance I was very happy to wake up from.

Read Full Post »

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published March 21st 2002:

Remake fever surges on apace in Hollywood: in the last twelve months we’ve seen the new Planet of the Apes and the new Ocean’s Eleven, and a new version of The Time Machine was reviewed only last week by my worryingly talented rival Jedi Jade. And a few weeks ago American audiences were treated to the new Rollerball – the original, 1975 version of which I thought I would look at this week.

Rollerball is set in the near future, when nation states have become defunct and a few all-powerful corporations rule the world. Poverty and war have been banished and the violent impulses of the population are given vent in the form of a gladiatorial new sport, Rollerball, a mixture of American football, motorbiking, roller-disco, and kicking people in. The greatest player in the history of the game is Jonathan E (James Caan), star performer for the world champions. But his fame is making him a hero, an example of individual achievement that his corporate-minded masters cannot permit to continue. Jonathan’s employer, Bartholomew (John Houseman) decrees it is time for him to step down – but he is neither shy nor willing to retire, and the organisers of the game are forced to try and arrange his removal – by any means necessary…

But this isn’t the head-banging action movie you might expect. It clearly has aspirations to be a serious, thoughtful, mature drama – something indicated by the choice of an adagio by (I think) Bach as the main musical theme. Unfortunately this ambition reaches the screen in the form of a succession of painfully slow, grindingly heavy-handed scenes as Caan broods a lot and ponders the state of the world. There’s very little humour and all the female characters are a) Caan’s successive girlfriends and b) criminally underwritten. Allusions to the decadence of the Roman Empire are hammered home without wit or subtlety. In the past I’ve written critically of the dumbing down effect of Star Wars on the big-budget SF movie, but I suppose there’s something to be said for the cinema of raw spectacle and emotion if this sort of thing is the alternative.

The only time Rollerball really comes to life is in the actual arena sequences, which get progressively more violent as the film goes on. But they’re not that special, and their main point of interest nowadays is that they’re all done ‘as real’ without a special effect in sight. Even here, though, there’s a problem, as director Norman Jewison’s clear intention to make a point about the brutalising effect of violent sports on players and spectators is hugely undercut by the fact that the violent sports sequences are far and away the best bits of his film.

Technically, things are solid rather than spectacular, the film taking place in one of those spotless and moulded-from-plastic futures seemingly beloved of early 70s SF film set designers. It was filmed in Europe, explaining the presence in the cast of familiar-faced emigrés from North America like Shane ‘Thunderbirds‘ Rimmer and Angus ‘Star Wars’ MacInnes, alongside British stalwarts like Burt ‘Hey Little Hen’ Kwouk and Sir Ralph Richardson (who clearly hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about). Caan is okay in the lead role, managing the neat trick of looking macho in roller-boots, although he’s rather subdued when not on the track. The most natural performance, though, comes from John Beck as Caan’s psycho team-mate.

Rollerball‘s culty reputation is probably the sole reason for the remake, and it’s telling that the new version seems to have ditched all the highbrow posturing in favour of more action. As it is, the original film succeeds only in terms of the violence it’s intended to condemn. And its vision of the future is pretty ropey, too: a world ruled by global corporations, with the population kept happy by stage-managed violent spectacle? As if. I’m off to McDonalds before the WWF starts.

Read Full Post »