Skip to main content

We're all obscene. Everyone's obscene.

A Bigger Splash
(2015)

(SPOILERS) This remake (of 1969 film La Piscine) didn’t quite work for me, mostly due to a third act narrative lurch that feels disproportionate and (relatively) unmotivated. Combined with a cryptic quality that tends to the annoying rather than intriguing, A Bigger Splash lends itself to a bigger let-down than I had expected.


Mainly because, prior to that point, it had me fully engaged, rather than frustrated. The tensions between the isolated quartet on the idyllic Italian island of Pantelleria simmer nicely, as Harry (Ralph Fiennes), ex- of recuperating rock royalty Marianne (Tilda Swinton), gate-crashes her and toy boy Paul’s (Matthias Schoenaerts) the love nest. In tow is petulant daughter Penelope (Dakota Johhson), whose relationship with her recently discovered daddy is fairly unconventional.


But then, everything about the relationships here is fairly unconventional. Harry is revealed to have introduced Paul to Marianne, encouraging their relationship, but he now wishes to rekindle their flame, dismissing her dalliance with Paul as boring and lacking that one true spark. Penelope flagrantly flaunts herself towards the disinterested, uptight Paul, and the jealousies nursed by Harry towards studly Paul suggest the unspoken undercurrent of something more.


The dynamic during the first 90 minutes is intriguing in both what it does and doesn’t say. That said, the use of flashbacks to illustrate the history between Harry, Paul and Marianne is all but redundant (there’s little one would regard as essential there, and some lousy back projection in the stadium scenes to boot), and mischief-maker Penelope is used in such a wilfully perverse manner that she seems like a cynically-imposed plot motor rather than any sort of character in her own right. But Swinton and Fiennes bring such life to their characters that it’s impossible not to become engrossed.


Swinton, despite suggesting the very luvvie-ish conceit of giving her character struggling post-throat surgery (oohhhh, the thematic resonance!) is as indelible as an aging (not that you’d really notice) diva as she is in everything she does, while Fiennes, in a wholly gregarious, obnoxious, exhausting, but entirely self-aware (so much so, he breaks the fourth wall at one point) performance as a provocative rock producer keen on abandon in every sense (including some hilariously woeful dancing), but also very sharp, seizes a gift of a role – not typical of the kind of thing he’s offered – and bear hugs it.


Less successful is Schoenaerts, who too frequently passes from brooding into stolid and unpersuasive. The film needed a performance suggesting something more combustible lurking within, particularly to set to the stage for the final act, and the result is that we never quite believe it when the confrontation with Harry occurs and the latter ends up at the bottom of the pool. Prior to this, Harry’s advances have been decisively spurned by Marianne, while Paul has succumbed to Penelope’s coquettish come-ons, leading to a superb dinner table scene, post-coital conundrums, in which Paul becomes the most animated he has in the movie, and the penny drops for all concerned.


But the picture hasn’t earned itself a murder plotline. It doesn’t have that kind of canvas. Indeed, it feels like a cheat on the good character drama previously unfurled. Added to which, some hugely clodding elements are imposed that fail to mesh; the police chief sweeping the investigation under the rug because he’s a big fan; the ungainly attempt to make this topical by referencing the refugee crisis as a plot resolver; and the “reveal” that Penelope speaks fluent Italian and was 17 all along (I thought I was missing something; the more interesting reveal, which I wouldn’t dismiss even now, although Harry’s comments seemed to suggest otherwise, is that there’s no connection between “father” and “daughter”, and she was merely brought along to help facilitate his stealing back Marianne).


What does the elimination of Harry add to the picture consequently and thematically? Perhaps La Piscine made this scenario succeed more effectively. We are left with pregnant presentations of the remaining characters, Penelope’s veneer slipping (Johnson can play older no problem, but no one is buying her as 17) and the relationship between Marianne and Paul appears affirmed, showing their relief at having got away with it, whatever it was, as there’s no sense the Harry-sized hole in their lives has any real consequence. Which may reflect the characters on one level, but it doesn’t reflect the first three-quarters of A Bigger Splash.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…