Saturday, December 06, 2008

Separated at Birth: When you fish around a star

JLA #190, JLAdventures #5
L: Justice League of America #190 (May 1981), art by Brian Bolland
R: Justice League Adventures #5 (May 2002), art by John Delaney
(Click picture to Mon Calamari-size)



Saturday Morning Cartoon: "Rocket Man" by William Shatner


"Rocket Man" by William Shatner, animated by Tyler Platt (Chromafly)



Thursday, December 04, 2008

Love Actually in (Sorta) Real Time: Three Weeks to Christmas

Love Actually banner
Love Actually

It's three weeks til Christmas, and by this time you oughta be getting the picture: not every Love Actually character who has a storyline is going to appear in every week's scenes, at least until the final wrap-ups. For example, where was Keira Knightley last week? A: Away on her honeymoon. (don't think about it Bully don't think about it) But don't' make the mistake that, like Mitchum deodorant, you can skip a week and still come out smelling fresh as a daisy! Oh no no no. This week, not only does Keira return (hooray!) but we meet the final major player to be introduced in our love stories, three major plotlines are finally connected by a game of Six Degrees of Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant's Prime Minister David has lots of scenes and his day in the sun, and we meet a character who could never occur outside fiction: a despicable and smarmy United States President. Sit back, sip your cuppa tea and enjoy your scones and let's fire up the old DVD to watch Love Actually in (Sorta) Real Time!

So, let's join the movie (already in progress) as we stroll down the street towards Mark's Nile Street Gallery "on the South Bank":

Love Actually



I like looking up the real-life locations in these London movies (so I can visit them the way I did last time I was in London, hanging around Bridget Jones's flat tossing pebbles up at her window so she'd come down and give me a kiss on the nose), so I put on my reading spectacles and examined the scene frame-by-frame and tried to find out where the gallery was located. Let's see: looking up Nile Street shows me an area in Hackney, London, but zoom in on the ubiquitous Google Spy Earth photos and it looks nothing like the movie. There's certainly no gallery listed in the Nile Street index, although there is the delightfully-named design firm Smoothe Communication.

No need to ask
He works for Smoothe Communication
Smoothe Communication
Smoothe Communication
Smoothe Communication
Ahem. That was a bit of fun, but it got us nowhere, so let's head over to the much-more reliable Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations, which spotlights several of the shooting locations in Love Actually so you can go hang around and wait for Keira Knightley to show up. Mark's gallery is actually at 26-27 Great Sutton Street in Clerkenwell. Gosh, it doesn't look like it's full of blackbirds:



Okey-dokey, enough disgressive YouTube videos...let's get on with the movie. The gallery's running an appropriately cutting-edge and holidayesque exhibition, Christmas Uncovered:
Love Actually


Christmas Capers flyer...although in the prop brochures scattered around the set the show is called "Christmas Capers." Darn that continuity person—first Hugh Grant's transmogrifying necktie, now this! (And if you want to pick up a souvenir copy of the leaflet, The Prop Store of London will happily sell one to you.

These risqué but humorous photographs are large-scale nudes decorated with colorful Father Christmas caps, as can be seen when we drop in on Mark (shh! He's on the phone!):
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It's the sort of art that makes schoolkids giggle:
Love Actually



The artwork, credited in the movie to "Yushio Mahoto," is actually by French photographer David Bellemère. Here's a collection of some of his other photography (WARNING: NSFW. Also, NSFLSB.)

Did I lose you there? Did you come back here? Good! Mark's on the phone to back-from-his-honeymoon Peter:
Love Actually



...who has a couple favors to ask: speak to Juliet, who he'll patch through, and be nice. With the economy of dialogue and set-up Curtis once again lets u know the score: Mark's been distant and short with Juliet, and, as close friends as Mark and Peter are, it looks like Mark's never warmed to Juliet. (Silly, silly man.)

Juliet asks Mark if he has a copy of the wedding video he taped: the professional video has turned out "a complete disaster...it's come out all blue and wibbly....all I want is just one shot of me in a wedding dress that isn't bright turquoise."
Love Actually



Mark's brusque and swift: he's pretty sure he wiped it already, he'll have a look, don't get your hopes up, and rings off, much to the bemusement of Juliet. Hmmm, maybe Sarah was right...?

I don't want to quote from the DVD's commentary track too often as I guide you through Love Actually, but this scene is accompanied by a lovely, funny bit of discussion about the multiple-plot framework of the movie by Richard Curtis, showing how he's spread out different storylines across the film:
RICHARD CURTIS: This plot with Andrew and Keira and Chiwe is in some ways the kind of model for what the film was meant to be. l always said that I wanted it to have ten good beginnings, ten good middles and ten good ends. And in fact they've really only got three scenes. They got the wedding—the beginning—and then they've got the scene where she goes to his house to see the video—the middle—then they've got the scene with the cards—which is the end. And that was sort of the idea, that you'd fillet out all the unnecessary stuff in films. And this is the one remaining little extra scenelet.

HUGH GRANT: l think it could go. [LAUGHTER]

CURTIS: Hugh, you appear to have misunderstood what we're doing here. The film's finished and that's why we're commenting on it.

GRANT: Well, you say that. lt's not out yet.

CURTIS: Will this be one example where the director's cut is actually shorter?

GRANT: We should have a Hugh's cut.
Now let's skip over to the offices of Fairtrade, where Harry is admonishing Sarah over her hesitation to make a move on the delectable Karl. (Really, he's magically delicious.)
Love Actually



Of course, in the middle of the conversation, Sarah's cell phone rings...
Love Actually



...and Harry, with an impatient sigh for the familiar interruption, wanders back to his office and past Mia, who informs him she's found a great place for the staff Christmas party: "...friend of mine works there." Q: Could this be the Nile St. Gallery we've been peeping in above? Why, that would be just too much of a connective coincidence, wouldn't it? (A: Yes, as we'll find out next week. Chalk up another thread between plotlines for Richard Curtis.)
Love Actually



"It's an art gallery," Mia purrs to Harry, "full of dark corners..."
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"...for doing dark deeds."
Love Actually



You don't have to know much body language to realize this about Mia: her underwear must be riding up and she's stretching because she's uncomfortable. I think.

Anyway, hop in your plot device hovercraft and zip above the Channel to check in on Jamie, whose French landlady Eléonore (Elizabeth Margoni) is introducing him to the cleaning woman during his stay at the cottage. This is Aurelia (the beautifully charming Lúcia Moniz), who doesn't speak a word of English or French. (Aurelia, that is, not Lúcia.)
Love Actually



Jamie's Portuguese is pretty rotten as well, despite his efforts to mime in that universal language, football:
Love Actually



Which of course makes the drive at the end of the day when Jamie takes Aurelia back into the city awkward, a one-sided stilted conversation with characters who can't even communicate in the same language. And I like how Curtis has framed them in a car: looking straight ahead, eye contact not made...not yet.
Love Actually



What I (and maybe you) didn't know is that Lúcia (like Martine McCutcheon) is also a professional pop singer. Although she was born in Portugal, the daughter of famous musicians, Wikipedia tells me that as a teenager in the early 1990s, she lived and studied in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, that booming office park metropolis just outside of Minneapolis. Hanging around Eden Prairie in those days might have resulted in quite another type of entertainment career for the young Miss Moniz: just imagine if she'd met up with the guys at Best Brains and become a cast member on Mystery Science Theater 3000! I think we all woulda been watching that show with an entirely new appreciation then. It's my favorite TV show of all time, but it always coulda used a sexy cast member. Well, apart from Tom Servo.

Did you also know that Lúcia sang Portugal's entry in the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest?

She came in sixth. Boo, Eurovision Song Contest judges! Boo! I smell a big stinky Eurovision fix!

As the old gypsy saying goes, tho', she who laughs in Portuguese gets the lucrative big-ticket record contract. Lúcia's first and second albums went gold in Portugal, and you can make all the jokes about Portuguese record players being powered by fish oil that you want, I'm not hearing any of it, because this is quite a nice music video and a catchy little tune, even if, like Jamie, she could be singing about rewinding video cassettes before you return them to the rental store for all I know:


One person who has never even placed in the Eurovision Song Contest is the President of the United States. (I know this because I download his podcasts every weekend from iTunes, and the man hasn't got a very good singing voice, even on those cowboy songs he likes so much). But here he is: The President, played by your second-favorite Angelina Jolie boyfriend, Billy Bob Thornton:
Love Actually



The President and his team are here for diplomatic talks with the PM and his cabinet (weren't you paying attention to last week's bit? Shame), but as they walk 'n' talk, Curtis has a nice piece of expository dialogue that perfectly captures pretty much what the President is really interested in here in London:
PM: I'm sorry your wife couldn't make it, by the way.
PRESIDENT: So it she. Although she would have been kind of lonely, I'm sure.
PM: Yes, pathetic, isn't it. Just never been able to tie a girl down. I'm not sure politics and dating really go together.
PRESIDENT: Really? I've never found that.

Love Actually



And in case you miss that subtle hint, here's the President commenting on Natalie as she passes them on the stairs...
Love Actually



"My goodness, that's a pretty little sonuvabitch right there. Did you see those pipes?" Oh, so he's Bill Clinton.
Love Actually



Hey, don't look at me! I didn't vote for the fictional lech of a President in 2000. Don't blame me: I voted for Lex Luthor.
Lex 2000


I'm a big supporter of his urban renewal and tax cut policies. I'm not as fond of his Superman-killing policies.

The PM's Cabinet isn't that fond of the President's policies, either. (Who says this isn't the age of sneaky screenplay segues, true bull-lievers?) While the President and the PM sit back and survey the carnage, the American chief-of-staff...
Love Actually



...and the Prime Minister's...um...Chief Whip, Black Rod, Jelly Baby, whatever they call him...
Love Actually



...fight and argue over the US's stubborn denial to bend on any argument to meet a middle ground. Golly, that doesn't sound like any Americans I know...you?
Love Actually



While Prez Billy smirks, PM David worries. And rightfully so! He's probably wishing he could get his hands on that vial of blood that used to hang around Angelina Jolie's neck so he could build a voodoo doll. But that trick never works!
Love Actually



Later in the evening, the score is pretty much Britain nil, U.S.A. several, as David and the President talk on a more personal level alone at Number 10.
Love Actually



David leaves the room to get some papers, passing Natalie on her way in with drinks...
Love Actually



How fast a worker is the President of the United States? This fast:
Love Actually



To heck with the cabinet disagreements, US citizens haven't moved in on British territory this aggressively since a pack of Alabama rednecks threw rocks at Jeremy Clarkson, Captain Slow and the Hamster. Hugh Grant, of course, summons up his patented "I'm furious and absolutely steamed and you ought to know it by my savage expression" expression:
Love Actually



The President is cheerful and unapologetic, Natalie is mortified and embarrassed, leaving swiftly. And in David's mind are forming the words of that great American statesman: "You know of course, this means war!"
Love Actually



Next day: high noon. The PM and the President meet on the deserted streets of Birdcage Walk, slowly surveying each other from twenty paces apart. A tumbleweed rolls by. The President's hand hovers over his six-shooter; he flexes his fingers. Suddenly, they draw! Shots ring out and one figure falls to the ground...

Oh wait, sorry, I accidentally changed the channel. Here's what really happened at the next day's press conference:
Love Actually



Glum and sullen are the words to describe the expressions of the PM's staff. Sure, they're disappointed with their boss for not having the spine to stand up to the big bad US Prez...
Love Actually



...but that's nothing compared to how Natalie is feeling. Poor Natalie! I'm sure she's not the only girl this fast-talking POTUS has put his...ahem...arm around.
Love Actually



Mister Smug-Ass Leader of the Free World tells the reporters how pleased he is with the meeting—"We got what we came for and our special relationship is still very special."
Love Actually



And then David speaks:

I love that word "relationship"—covers all manner of sins, doesn't it?
Love Actually



I fear this has become a "bad relationship"—...
Love Actually



...a relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants...
Love Actually



...and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to...
Love Actually



...Britain. We may be a small country but we're a great one too. A country of Shakespeare, Churchill, The Beatles, Sean Connery...
Love Actually



...Harry Potter. David Beckham's right foot...David Beckham's left foot, come to that.
Love Actually



And a friend who who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength...from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that.
Love Actually



Oh, what the heck, here it is in all it's Union Jack-wavin' glory. Never mind the buzzcocks bad formatting, enjoy the speech:


I love that speech. Real-life Prime Minister Tony Blair didn't...he argued that any premier who followed that example would win applause at home for a day, and put Britain out in the cold for 20 years. But what the hey! To paraphrase Ham Salad, it's only a movie. And indeed, feted and toasted by his party and his colleagues, David is indeed having his day in the sun, briefly interrupted when his sister phones him to congratulate him/ask if he's gone off his nut. Clearly, there's a little bit of Tony Blair in David's sister. (Oh dear. An unfortunate sentence. Strike that. Reverse it.)
Love Actually



Wait, David's sister? Is Curtis tossing another character into the stew this late in the game? One more person to keep track of? Tsk, tsk, no he isn't: his sister is Karen, and I can't think of a better sister to have than Emma Thompson:
Love Actually



Well, that's all fun! Tying together two story-lines, Curtis deftly connects the Daniel/Sam story with the David/Natalie plot using his Two Degrees of Emma Thompson handbook. It's all very clever, but don't trying throwing another coincidence at us quite so quickly, Mister Curtis...
Love Actually



Aieeeeee!! I think my neck got broken in that plot point crash! Okay, so Karen is married to Harry. Wow, all the strings are becoming untangled so we can see where they interconnect. Very very clever! But that of course means that Harry's story...
Love Actually



...changes from "innocent flirtation at the office" to "man tempted to cheat on his wife." No, no, no Alan Rickman. You do not cheat on Emma Thompson. Uh uh. Just sit there in your cozy domestic home and listen to Joni Mitchell CDs with her, because, as Karen says "I love her and true love lasts a lifetime. Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to love." "Did she?" asks Harry. "I must write to her sometimes and say thanks." But first, Harry's gotta help Karen pick out which doll should go to which of their daughter's friends...the one (as Karen says) "that looks like a transvestite, or the one that looks like a dominatrix?"
Love Actually



(Those are actually redressed Ken dolls, by the way.)

Later that night, in his bedroom, the PM's listening to the radio, where the DJ raves over "our arse-kicking Prime Minister" and dedicates the Pointer Sisters's "Jump" to him. For a moment David doesn't react. But then...
Love Actually



Oh, okay. This is a scene I cannot replicate properly using stills or screenshots. If you haven't watched any other of the probably-too-many YouTube videos I've embedded in this week's post, click-a-rooney on this one and watch:



Hugh Grant has said that he was so mortified by his dancing in that scene that he vowed never to dance again...on the screen or in public. None of which explains his "music video" from the 2007 film Music & Lyrics:



Okay, you don't have to watch that one.

Next week: why you should always make backup copies of your thriller-novel-in-progress, a very dangerous Christmas party, Sam learns what happened to Ringo Starr, and

Keira Knightley arrives with banoffee pie.

Be still, my little red satin heart.

Eyestrain from peering at those little badly-converted YouTube videos up above? You really should be watching along with your own Love Actually DVD, you know, while you read along in your Love Actually scriptbook and listen to your Love Actually soundtrack CD and drink tea out of your official Love Actually teapot with the mug shaped like Colin Firth's bushy, bushy head, and...



Because I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that Love Actually merchandise is all around. See you next week, Actualalites!