Friday, 15 July 2011

The Trollenberg Terror (1958)

aka The Crawling Eye

Adapted from his own TV serial by famed Hammer horror scribe Jimmy Sangster, this is a sub-Quatermass yarn and an early example of a sci-fi-horror crossbreed. This film is hampered by an extremely low budget, so that it doesn’t wring as much paranoia and atmosphere from the story as it could, and provides old B-movie mockers with plentiful ammunition. Nonetheless, the story is fun and irresistible to fans of invading alien movies, and director Quentin Lawrence conquered his straitened circumstances to conjure effective chiaroscuro lighting and dry-ice fogs, use smash cuts punctuating moments of fright and horror, and sustain a crisp dramatic by-play between his serviceable cast, all of which helps Trollenberg work a minatory magic. Mysterious, malevolent extraterrestrials have planted themselves on a Swiss mountain, needing to acclimatise in the thin atmosphere, ripping the heads off hapless mountaineers who stray too close. They also exude a psychic menace that attracts holidaying young clairvoyant Anne Pilgrim (Janet Munro) and her protective sister Sarah (Jennifer Jayne). Egghead scientist Crevett (Warren Mitchell), researching cosmic rays from his avalanche-proof station close to the mountain, recognises the proliferating phenomenon from a similar incident he investigated in South America with Alan Brooks (Forrest Tucker), and he calls in Brooks to help investigate. Brooks recognises recurring elements of the earlier phenomenon, including the fact that the aliens can psychically possess people and use them to kill potential threats. They take over Brett (Andrew Faulds), an English climber, who then murders both his climb partner Dewhurst (Stuart Saunders) and rescuers sent up after them, before descending to ice his real target: Anne, whose psychic gifts threaten them.

Sangster’s script offers up ideas of potential and some characters that might have been interesting if developed more, particularly the protective sisterly angst of the Pilgrims, and it steadily cranks up the drama from chilling manifestations of the unknown to all-out survivalist warfare in the best traditions of this subgenre. The control of mood and imagery is strong, and John Carpenter has cited this as a major influence on The Fog (1980). That’s easy enough to spot. Like Carpenter’s film, this sports the motif of monsters moving about within a menacingly directed mist, a sequence with a slowly resurrecting corpse getting up from the slab to go stalk the heroine, and a sequence in which the sounds of horrible death in a remote outpost are audible to a listener on the other end of a phone line. What this lacks is a cinematic intelligence as solid as that wielded by Carpenter, or contemporaneous directors like Terence Fisher or Val Guest, who had directed Tucker’s previous tussle with high-altitude monstrosities, the Nigel Kneale-penned The Abominable Snowman (1957), which accomplishes what this film ought to but doesn’t. It also lacks the theoretical and human depth that Kneale wielded, and which Sangster himself usually squeezed in with his horror films. There’s an awkward lack of substantive conflict between the characters and their world-views to offset the alien drama and crank up the hysteria. The fact that Brooks and Crevett already basically know what they’re facing thanks to prior experience saps the narrative of the drama of discovery. Journalist Philip Truscott (Laurence Payne) is introduced chiefly for Brooks and Crevett to expound exposition at rather than offer a contradictory moral or strategic voice, for better or worse. Anne’s psychic link to the aliens doesn’t lead anywhere on a substantial plot level except for justifying having guys trying to kill the pretty girl in classic tradition.

The Trollenberg Terror was produced by Monty Berman and Robert Baker, who for a time in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s attempted with some success to rival Hammer with a distinctly trashier, but also more bizarrely inventive, brand of cinema nasty, often with more gore and a nastier tone, exhibited by the likes of Fiend Without A Face (1957) and Grip of the Strangler (1958). Glimpses of grotesqueness dot this film too, still a long way from the full-bore carnage horror fans would be used to by the ‘70s but certainly embryonic of the gore genre, with snatched visions of severed heads and bloodied corpses. One interesting scene depicts an amnesiac Brett returning to the hotel where Brooks and the other are congregated, Brooks watching in scientific fascination as Brett laboriously attempts to light a cigarette and pour a drink, his muscular and neural reflexes retarded, not by exhaustion but, as Brooks recognises, by alien influence. The monsters are first seen in a disorienting moment as Brooks saves a child from within a hotel they’re besieging, one of the beasties, a globular mass with a single giant ocular orb, looming rapidly towards the open door. But Lawrence overplays and shows too much of them in amusingly unconvincing model shots. Still, the almost entirely set-bound production gives the impression of having squeezed a hell of a lot out of very little indeed, and there are flourishes of cheapjack hype, like the opening titles appearing after the camera, mounted on the front of a train, plunges into a railway tunnel, lettering flashing out of the darkness. Tucker is appreciably cast in the sober rational scientist part after playing the huckster foil in The Abominable Snowman. In spite of its lacks, the film's modest intensity and concise, unfussy aesthetic are precisely the qualities that boost its entertainment factor.  Perhaps not the sort of movie that will keep you out of bed on a cold winter’s night. But if you can’t sleep, it fills in the time nicely with a cup of cocoa.

Peter Falk (1927–2011)

Bill Hunter (1940–2011)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Blue Valentine (2010)

An absorbing, affecting, mostly successful portrait of two young people meeting in the flush of youthful longing and then breaking up some years later in a squall of pathos. Whilst the title suggests some aspiration towards the perverse, American Gothic postures and noirish romanticism of Tom Waits, this is a film far more in the key of heartfelt, straightforward indie rock about why everything turned so shitty with that great girl. The truly excellent performances by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are the substance and raison d’etre for this film, which starts out with a relatively facile hook – overt comparison of the stages of commencing a relationship and its final days through a cross-cutting structure, perhaps inspired by the likes of Francois Ozon’s 5x2 (2004) and Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (2002) – and invests it with biting, flailing life. Gosling is Dean, a deeply unambitious young man with few expectations because of the failure of his musician father. Williams is Cindy, a young woman who successfully struggles to become a doctor, determined to avoid the malaise that beset her parents. Marital collapse commences in a series of small gestures and provocations in the course of a perfectly ordinary workaday morning. Exhausted Cindy is woken from slumber by the playful, painfully contrasting energy of husband and daughter Frankie (Faith Wladkya); aggravations accumulate until the minor tragedy of discovering their dog has been run over after escaping the yard. Cindy encounters a former flame, Bobby Ontario (Mike Vogel), an impudent, narcissistic former jock who once beat the hell out of Dean for “stealing” Cindy away from him. The child is offloaded onto Cindy’s ailing father Jerry (John Doman), as Dean cajoles Cindy into a hopefully revivifying sojourn to a vulgar hotel. There, trapped for the evening with each-other with booze, amidst hideously tacky futuristic motifs, their inability to find any sort of intimacy results in gruesome bout of bad sex. Cindy perhaps gratefully flees in the morning when work calls, leaving Dean alone to imbibe plentifully, and eventually pursue her and start what people often refer to as a scene.

In the flashbacks, interpolated with unnecessary jaggedness by director Derek Cianfrance, Dean, with his signposted quirky romanticism – he carries about a ukulele to entertain the lady he’s a-courtin’ and expresses his certainty that men are inherently more romantic than women – glimpses young Cindy when he’s delivering furniture to an old folk’s home where she’s stashing her grandmother. Cianfrance's cinematic time jerks us elastically between poles, sometimes with clarifying focus. Cindy’s encounter with Bobby seems initially like a variation on the cliched motif of the encounter with the old flame, yet shot through with a strange uncertainty, for reasons that become much clearer once we've seen Bobby and Cindy's past, making it clear he’s a jerk who has hardly grown at all. But neither has Dean, with his receding hairline and scrub moustache, who declares that he has dedicated himself wholeheartedly to family life and holds down a job as a housepainter: he seems initially to be a natural bohemian artist looking for an outlet, but in fact he proves, in perhaps the most original character touch, to be merely a bum. He gives away his spiralling frustration in his simmering discontent and (partly justified) paranoia about her elevation into a different socioeconomic sphere where the profession offers diffuse channels for her passion, and rivals for his love wait aplenty, whilst an incapacity to balance work and home is draining Cindy’s marrow. Gosling and Williams reportedly mostly improvised around Cianfrance’s story structure after he decided to toss the script out, and the result is electrifying in places. Such places include the casually, if calculatedly, delightful slacker-chic song and dance Dean and Cindy improvise on their first date, to the full-bore eruptions of ugly emotion in their hotel room shenanigans and Dean’s infuriated drunken crack-up in the hospital Cindy works in, walloping Cindy’s on-the-make colleague Feinberg (Ben Shenkman) in a furious resentment of her place in a world beyond his reach.

The emphasis is on a certain tactile authenticity, attuned to the rhythms of behaviour, particularly in sex, that clue us in to the state of any given relationship, and in this regard the film is particularly astute. Cindy’s prostration beneath Bobby with his grizzly bear sexual technique contrasts her melting in response to Dean going down on her. The depiction of the couple, older, drunk, filled with hatred and a certain remnant yearning, trying and failing to screw with an edge of violence inflecting Cindy’s desire as she “playfully” pummels Dean before they finish up in a grinding bundle on the floor, forms the film’s best and most compelling scene. Perhaps the most interesting and yet also underdeveloped aspects lie in the hints that show why the relationship is both based in, and doomed by, the same root causes, observed in the subtle way in which class psychology, aspiration, sexual attraction, and emotional expectations graze against each other and then evolve in disparate directions. Dean’s claims for modest ambitions prove to be shot through with resentment and a boy-man’s emotional leeching, whilst Cindy’s designating Dean as “the bad guy” excuses her from examining her own alienating behaviour.

The film in some ways takes an easy option in reducing its concerns to the brittle actor-perfect set-pieces of romance and bust-up, avoiding a causative portrait of decline. Blue Valentine employs some familiar notions, as unexpected pregnancy forces a union that might have either developed with breathing space or exhausted itself, and subsequent child-rearing sucks the easy verve out of coupling. Cindy’s declaration that she will never be like her parents, of whom we get one scarifying flashback depiction of volatile suburban malaise, feeds her remarkable tendency to keep picking the wrong guy, and yet her psychology remains only distantly perceivable. The excellence of the acting and Cianfrance’s fine, if overly mannered, technical filmmaking yearns, and often deserves, to be described as a raw and gritty and honest, but in the end there are vast aspects of the main characters, and the largely caricatured and dismissed supporting roles, that demand and do not receive much examination, and this significantly hampers the film's potential to be a truly insightful human drama. Still, it avoids the stagy, smug, overly-posed drama of the likes of Revolutionary Road (2009) and Rabbit Hole (2010) to which it might easily have otherwise surrendered to. The air of bleary exhaustion that hovers over Dean as he wanders away in a cloud of firecracker smoke captures with atmosphere the way the collapse of the miniature world of family seems apocalyptic and yet stands in contrast to the larger world’s blithe continuation.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Master of the World (1961)

The first impulses of what we now call steampunk were evinced in a glut of cinema adaptations of the science fiction pioneers Jules Verne and H. G. Wells in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, films that resisted updating them a la George Pal’s War of the Worlds (1953), and instead based a large part of their appeal in the juxtaposition of technology that never was with an historical era separated by two world wars and manifold social changes, and yet lingering in the common pool of fond, if quaint, remembrance. An adaptation of two Verne novels, this enjoyable, inventive, if rather too cheap AIP production casts Vincent Price as Robur, a genius inventor who, in the context of mid-19th century industrial imperialism, declares war on war, and hopes to browbeat the world into scrapping its armies and navies with his colossal airship-cum-helicopter made entirely from compressed paper. As the novels were essentially a redraft of Verne’s own 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with a different conceptual gimmick and a similar inventor-rebel antihero, keeping impressed but offended witnesses captive aboard his fantastic machine, a similarity that Richard Matheson’s screenplay exacerbates by giving Robur an idealistic crusade to act out against the might of empires just like Nemo. Master of the World is far less well-produced and dynamically directed than Richard Fleischer’s Disney adaptation of that more famous book. But it’s also weighed down by far less dubious comedic silliness than both that film and Henry Levin's top-heavy version of Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), and benefits from Matheson’s fluent and intelligent adaptation, especially the well-defined conflict of Robur (Vincent Price), Strock (Charles Bronson), and Philip Evans (David Frankham), representing a triangle of values and methods, rather more distinctly a Matheson trait than Verne’s.

Strock is a US government official assigned to investigate a mysterious phenomenon at the Great Eyrie in Pennsylvania, from which thunder and a booming voice quoting scripture seem to erupt, terrifying the locals. Strock secures the aid of Prudent (Henry Hull) and his daughter Dorothy (Mary Webster), and her fiancĂ© and Prudent’s foil Evans, representing as they do the controlling minds of a ballooning club working on propelled flight, who can get Strock up to the Eyrie to see what secrets it contains. Once they reach the Eyrie, however, the quartet are shot down by rockets, and all four awaken, after a crash landing, upon the Albatross, Robur’s fantastic aircraft, staffed by fiercely loyal men dedicated to Robur’s ideal of using the threat of untouchable force from above to attempt to enforce a pax aeronauticus. The smiles and pleasantries with which Robur greets his uninvited passengers don’t last long, as they bridle at being prisoners to a man with values deeply opposed to theirs: Prudent is, as well as a ballooning enthusiast, a fabulously successful arms manufacturer who’s afraid of landing in Ireland because he sold guns to the British. Evans, brave but obnoxiously bullish and self-satisfied, appoints himself representative of Yankee gentlemanly values, and determines to escape at the first opportunity, disdaining Strock’s apparent ambiguity and cowardice. That disdain flares into outright hate when Strock alerts Robur about his dangerous insistence on trying to shimmy down a water hose, and when both men are punished by being dangled from ropes beneath the Albatross, they fist-fight in mid-air, until Evans is knocked out and Strock has to hang onto him after his rope breaks during a buffeting storm.

Master of the World was directed by William Witney, an old hand from serials, including The Mysterious Dr Satan (1940), comic book adaptations, including several of the ‘40s Dick Tracy movies, and westerns, the genre in which he made his last film in the ‘80s. With his grounding in the speedy vicissitudes of the serials, Witney infused Master of the World with the rapid-paced energy and squarely illustrative verve of such fare. Except for the usual cheesy comic relief, provided by Robur’s French cook, Topage (Vitto Scotti), the film keeps admirably focused on personality conflict as the sounding board for larger dramas: the stiff-necked, tunnel-visioned Prudent and Evans contrast Robur’s well-intentioned messianic ruthlessness, and Strock’s pragmatic determination to find a way to stop Robur whilst not showing his hand for as long as possible. In such a way, Matheson’s screenplay cleverly teases out a depiction of the modern world being created not only through technology but through responses to situations and implicit values, as well as bolstering the often cardboard, but amusingly, florid, action. As the film rockets toward its climax, sexual jealousy is tossed into the mix as Evans sees Dorothy gravitate towards Strock, and he finally confirms his hypocrisy when he knocks out Strock and leaves him to die on the Albatross, which they’ve conspired to sabotage.

This was a project sadly a little beyond AIP’s financial resources, stretch them as they might. Master of the World is awkwardly filled out with stock footage from films like That Hamilton Woman (1941) and The Four Feathers (1939), more than a bit egregious when Robur rains bombs down upon a Napoleonic-era British fleet. The original special effects are pretty clunky, full of unconvincing back projection, but in a way such limitations only adds to their charm, especially considering that Witney rightly only uses them as a means to an end, unlike too many modern movies, to animate rather than dominate the drama. There are some interesting visions of the airship’s interior and external workings. Witney stages the first revelation of the Albatross with a simple but excellent flourish as his camera zooms out from a detail of the painted logo of the Albatross on the hull to a long shot of its majestic progress through the clouds. Throughout, he offers up a cheery, Technicolor-swathed sprawl that retains an appealing edge of retro charm mixed with comic-book hype, the film’s title leaping out an explosion, and expository titles in period typeface, amidst a film consistently rendered in lithographic hues and given a layer of lushness by Les Baxter’s florid score. The proto-arms control message is interestingly mediated by a critique of the terrorist mindset as Robur gives into exactly the sort of wild-eyed destructive pleasure he professes to hate, as he tries to force two clashing armies in Egypt into ceasing by raining bombs on them, but ventures so low in pursuing his pacifying bloodlust that he severely damages his own ship. Strock, having patiently awaited for Robur to reveal his plans and his mindset, determines quietly to destroy him, making sure his companions know this might mean they have to sacrifice their lives.

Price’s Robur doesn’t suggest the underlying pain and tragic grandeur that James Mason achieved playing Nemo, perhaps because Matheson’s adaptation seems less interested in his background motives than in the immediate matter of the schisms between the perspectives of the characters, emphasising rather Robur’s edge of domineering wilfulness, which contradicts his idealistic slogans even before his actions do. Bronson, just after The Magnificent Seven (1960) heightened his profile immeasurably, is surprisingly excellent playing a far more intellectual sort of hero than he was usually cast as, and like several of his roles in this period, suggest a talent diffused by endless glowering tough guy roles. The closing scenes generate an unexpected pathos as Robur’s crew amass, refusing to abandon him as his ship and dream both plunge into the sea, martyrs to a cause which the heroes have, perhaps tragically, brought to an end, without having their own values altered sufficiently. The result is a film that could be better known to matinee aficionados, even if it's far from being a classic. It’s a pity that Verne only receives adaptations in the form of tacky TV movies these days, because an imaginative, top-flight remake of this might actually be welcome.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

What if Fate was a literal army of humourless bureaucrats shoving people in whatever chosen direction they’re supposed to go in? What if God was a disinterested dilettante sketching people’s lives out in ledger books and then changing the course for arbitrary reasons? The Adjustment Bureau asks these questions, and yet refuses to answer them with a curious blend of imagination and moral and intellectual cowardice that incidentally speaks a lot about certain aspects of the contemporary Hollywood mindset. After George Clooney helped one major talent who worked on the Jason Bourne franchise, Tony Gilroy, to make his directing debut with Michael Clayton (2007), here Matt Damon aids another, George Nolfi, who attempts to blend the theme of the man on the outside beset by existential forces of oppression, with more fantastic, overtly conceptual arabesques. The result is both engaging and finally galling. Damon plays David Norris, a wunderkind politician, who, having served as the youngest Congressman in history, is trying to graduate to the senate, but his charge is fatally stalled by a “scandal” where he’s photographed mooning his college chums at a reunion. The notion this is shocking enough to derail a serious senatorial campaign is perhaps the most genuinely alternate-reality touch in the film. Anyway, on the night of his crushing loss, he encounters a charmingly disingenuous, almost anarchic, yet still roaring hot young woman, Elise (Emily Blunt), in a men’s bathroom in the Waldorf, where she’s hiding out for security after crashing a wedding for the hell of it. She inspires David to give an off-the-cuff concession speech mocking the pretensions of his campaign, effective enough to reinvigorate his chances for his next bid.

In the meantime he takes a job with the investment firm run by his friend Charlie Traynor (Michael Kelly). Getting on the bus for his first day, David meets Elise again, and meanwhile a mysterious hatted shadow, Mitchell (Anthony Mackie), who tries with difficulty to arrange a seemingly random chain of events that will separate the couple again. He fails, and David not only gains Elise’s phone number, but arrives at his office early enough to find a horde of more mysterious, hatted goons, who seem to have stopped time within the confines of the office block and who, perturbed at his presence, chase down David and browbeat him into never revealing their existence. As per the exposition speeches of Richardson (an amusing John Slattery, balancing businesslike cool with increasing exasperation) and Thompson (a wasted Terence Stamp), David learns their Bureau is charged as agents of order and direction in the human world, through their endless employment of tiny strokes of chance and action to result in desired outcomes, and that he and Elise have to be kept apart if both are to fulfil their missions to become President and world’s greatest choreographer, respectively. The catch, which they can’t divulge: the couple were supposed to be together in several earlier plans for them, and they’re still responding to those implanted cues, and the battle becomes one that pits David’s improvisatory zeal against the Bureau’s omnipotent yet curiously unimaginative power.

If, like Peter Venkman, call it luck, call it fate, call it karma, you believe that everything happens for a reason, then The Adjustment Bureau might seem slightly more substantial than an ungainly blend of paranoid they’re-out-to-get-me conspiracy thriller, romantic chase melodrama, and soul-searching meta-drama elucidating the way coincidence, character, and metaphysics might all work in sometimes contradictory ways. It’s based on a Philip K. Dick story, sporting some classic Dickian ideas, but the result falls far short of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002) as an attempt to make mainstream thriller stuff out of Dick’s inherently asocial material. To its credit, The Adjustment Bureau tries to take its inherently silly premise and the characters in it with a degree of sobriety. The visual palette employs art-deco architecture and a retro ‘50s man-in-the-grey-flannel-suit look for the Bureau men, and a look for their goons that recalls the security thugs of Fahrenheit 451 (1967), seeming to promise a noir-styled sci-fi swashbuckler that never eventuates. Damon and Blunt are highly engaging to watch play off each other, and like last year’s even worse Hereafter, the greater part of the pleasure it offers is in watching Damon interact with his leading lady: no-one will ever cast Damon in a romantic comedy because of his air of eternal self-seriousness and plebeian good-looks, which is pity. But the film fails not only in not placing convincing impediments in the way of his political ascent, but in the initial task of making David seem genuinely like a guy who’s consistently undone by his weaknesses and immaturities. Damon plays him right from the start as a stolidly likeable idealist, albeit with a hint of necessary melancholia for a man defined by the early loss of his parents, giving him an insatiable need for attention that the Bureau has fostered in him, and which they fear Elise will ease. For a film that’s about the capacity of the individual to avoid conformity to pre-ordained structures, it’s remarkably conventional in and of itself.

The most curious thing about Nolfi’s film is how it manages to take a bunch of potentially fascinating ideas and images and process them into a mild, mushy, gutless love-conquers-all melodrama. The story material invokes multiple strands in Christian and secular humanist philosophy, questioning the limits of free will in the face of chance and forces that might be perceived and comprehended but never entirely overcome, and yet represents them in a lazy, indecisive way. The film is driven along by the hero’s resistance, and yet in the end everyone smiles and goes on their way, in a safely bland, non-committal wrap-up that strains to avoid painting the heavenly operatives as too villainous, whilst still satisfying our desire to see the heroes validated as good self-motivating individualists. The smell of unprocessed contemporary cultural ephemera hangs around this film, but it’s impossible to quite pin down because it’s playing both sides and corners of the fence. The Adjustment Bureau hovers uncertainly for much of its length, waiting for a good solid shove of authorial invention that might either make it an affecting It’s A Wonderful Life-esque fantasy that metaphorically elucidates the primal pleasures and terrors inherent in being an individual human at the mercy of society and time, or a disastrous high-concept train wreck. It never really achieves either status, however, delivering an incredibly weak ending as the heroes are let off the hook by the under-defined Chairman, who might be God, or Rupert Murdoch, or the Great Gazoo. The narrative raises one particularly interesting stake for its drama, in explicating the ways in which ambition and affection compromise many a life, particularly women’s: Thompson browbeats David with the factoid that Elise will finish up teaching dance to eight-year-olds rather than becoming a world-famous, art-form-rejuvenating star if she hooks up with him. It’s made clear that David’s been chosen as an agent of Fate to save the world from global warming or something, but I couldn’t help but feel the film could have been more urgent, say, if the hero was an unemployed welder in New Jersey, or an evicted single mother, you know, people who might have some more pointedly immediate reason to take issue with Fate’s bureaucrats, but then that might raise the eternally verboten spectre of class conflict. Also, there are more than enough politicians in the world who think they’ve been pushed to become Important People by higher powers; do we really need a film validating that?

Tension and amusement does build in David’s war of devices with Richardson, and the concept of a world run by creepy guys in suits with portals between realities, usually rendered in safely generic terms a la The Matrix but here adopting a veneer of fuzzy pseudo-religious fable, is well-visualised. Nolfi handles the shift in locale that the Bureau’s agents can use, with doors into broom closets that open in Yankee Stadium and so forth, with some fluidity and sense of staging. But he seems to totally lack any capacity to develop an enveloping atmosphere of oppression and eerie permeability. The threat of the Bureau never seems all that convincing, especially when Mitchell, who for his own ends, possibly related to disgust at the killing of David’s parents to spark his career (although this is only hinted; the dark side of the Bureau’s activities is only properly signalled by their warnings for David if he breaks their rules), gives aid and advice to the rebel lovers. Any real sense of what The Adjustment Bureau wants to accomplish is missing, the action is finally vapid, thanks to the excessive literalness of Nolfi’s sub-Inception reality bending and special effects, and a tonal indecision. Fortunately, performances buoy this exercise, with Damon, Stamp, and Slattery doing effective variations on their most familiar roles, and Blunt and Mackie, in spite of their clichĂ©d roles as naughty art chick and magical Negro helpmate, imbue their parts with spry solidity.