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

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

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…

It's a trip I won't forget, Avon.

Blake's 7 4.11: Orbit

Robert Holmes’ fourth and final script for the series is a belter, one that combines his trademark black comedy with the kind of life-or-death peril that makes some of his more high stakes scripts for Doctor Who (The Deadly Assassin and The Caves of Androzani for example) stand out. 

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …