Archive for X-Men

Superhero Death Match

Posted in Comics, FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2012 by dcairns

THE AVENGERS, or AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, or whatever it’s called, may signal the death knell of what I call “double voodoo,” the principle that you can’t have more than one aberrant, reality-defying concept per movie. Or not without ending up with an unacceptable fruit salad. Thus, HOUSE OF DRACULA combines lycanthropy and vampirism, which are both sort of supernatural blood diseases, which could work, but then throws in mad science electro-galvanism, which “makes the whole thing unbelievable,” as Bob Hope says to the bibbed vultures in SON OF PALEFACE.

But in AVENGERS we have aliens and mutants and cyborgs, which I guess are all SF concepts, and also Norse gods. That’s quite a stretch. The only overarching idea that can umbrella all those disparate elements is the superhero genre, which does exactly that in comic books. The Frankenstein Monster, a crime-fighting millionaire, the last son of an alien civilization, a vegetable nature god, and demon-conjuring magicians are all part of the DC Comics universe, and Marvel Comics have just as big a menagerie.

Until now, the movies have been cautious of this everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach. SUPERMAN featured only one superbeing. SUPERMAN II added three supervillains, but they all had the same origins and powers as Supes. The entire BATMAN saga got by with no superpowers at all, ever. Only X-MEN introduced the gimmick which makes most superhero comics amusing — the idea of an array of characters with different powers. They’re like chess pieces, each with their own strengths and limitations. When Magneto’s magnetism cancelled out Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton, I suddenly recognized what the earlier movies had been missing.

The X-MEN characters are all mutants, an implausible enough excuse for their multiple magic powers, but at least a consistent one. AVENGERS seems to throw the door open to a much crazier clashing of different fantasy concepts. Here are some suggestions.

SANTA CLAUS VS LOKI

Both are immortal nordic demi-gods, so you could say this was a grudge match waiting to happen. Loki commands an extraterrestrial army in AVENGERS, and Santa has experience fighting Martians. He also had his own movie, from the Salkinds, who produced the Chris Reeve SUPERMAN. But it was seeing Loki in his flying chariot that made me realize how perfectly suited they are as opponents. Tom Hiddleston versus David Huddleston.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS BIG BOY

In the De Niro-Pacino rematch fans have been waiting for, the HEAT stars reprise their roles from MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN and DICK TRACY respectively. Kenneth (THOR) Branagh directs, and also cameos as Laurence Olivier (SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW).

THE GIRL WHO KICKED OVER THE GREEN HORNET’S NEST

Lisbeth Salander is a superheroine, let’s face it. A bisexual, maths genius, computer hacking, bike riding, autistic, kick-boxing emo girl? Come on. Anyhow, after David Fincher’s highly watchable revenge-fantasy fairy-tale underperformed, and the comedy GREEN HORNET positively UNperformed, both series need a reboot. And Seth Rogen is surely just the kind of crass male Salander would enjoy butt-fucking and tattoo-graffitizing.

He might like it too.

TARZAN VS MECHAGODZILLA (hat-tip to Godard). HOWARD THE DUCK MEETS CONDORMAN. FANTOMAS CONTRE FU MANCHU. TEAM AMERICA: SLAVES OF THE PUPPET MASTER. METEOR MAN MEETS CANDYMAN. CONDORMAN MEETS CANDYMAN.

Roland Joffe exec produced SUPER MARIO BROTHERS. And made a film about the Manhattan Project. You’d think I’d be able to make something of that, wouldn’t you?

Obviously, the comments section is merely an open invitation to you guys to join in…

Team Building Exercise

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2012 by dcairns

I couldn’t not like AVENGERS ASSEMBLE in the end, because where else can you see Jenny Agutter attempt to nuke Manhattan? She hasn’t wielded power like that since WALKABOUT.

And there are other enjoyable guest spots besides her 30 seconds of screen time: Harry Dean Stanton, Jerzy Skolimowski, Powers Boothe. Oh yeah. You heard right. Powers Boothe.

Of the main cast, Robert Downey Jnr has the most star wattage, and continues to have fun with the Howard Hughes goes rock ‘n’ roll aspect of Iron Man. Scarlett Johansson is most like a comic book character, in a good way, and is intriguingly understated in everything she does, whether it’s swearing in Russian, walloping elderly Polish film directors, or jiggling. And Mark Ruffalo is THE BEST. “Always have a secret from the audience” — this guy has a hulk-full. Tom Hiddleston: very enjoyable. Chris Evans provides the heart, which turns out to be crucial in what could merely be a glib, loud entertainment.

Oh, and there’s that Thor guy.

Was sort of glad we chickened out and saw this one flat, because the sheer duration/volume gave me a pounding headache, but I still enjoyed myself. The writers of X-MEN and X-MEN II join forces in the ultimate team-up! And it works, because not only are the quips of a higher than average standard, they’re wonderfully character-specific. The nicest one-liner might be Captain America, refugee from the ’40s, being pleased to actually get a cultural reference (to THE WIZARD OF OZ). But there are lots of good moments. A sequence where the Hulk violently interrupts Loki’s monologuing reminded me of a favourite moment from Alan Moore’s early Captain Britain strip, back in the day.

(Cap has a villain down on the ground, and menaces him with a huge boulder. The villain starts taunting Cap, saying he hasn’t got the guts to make good on his threat. The reader turns the page and WHUMP – Cap makes good on his threat. Refreshing, since it cuts through a time-honoured comic book cliché, where the villain always manages to turn the hero’s merciful nature to his advantage, and the hero always falls for it. We’re willing to forgive the whole murder thing in sheer relief at sidestepping tedium.)

The film is weaker on plot than it is on dialogue, action of (admittedly comic-book) character. The heroes obey comic book law by getting into petulant fist-fights with each other, which is fine, and there’s a lot of gamma-irradiated dick-measuring going on, but at the moment they manage to figure out the Hulk’s role in the villains’ masterplan, they really should have acted more rapidly to get him out of harm’s way. There are a few things like that.

But as blockbusters go, this does actually bust blocks — I know the dream of post-9:11 sensitivity to images of burning cities is long dead, but I was still slightly surprised that this movie’s willingness to, you know, GO THERE: although this is an urban apocalypse with no visible civilian casualties. That’s problematic, in a way: the airbrushing out of human death.

I was reminded of Grant Morrison’s comics, which are the only superhero stuff I tend to read nowadays. He would have had more interesting aliens though. And I recommend his book, Supergods, to those interested in this phenomenon. His thesis, that superheroes are breaking out of the comics and into every other medium, preparatory to actually becoming real, does seem borne out by a lot of developments. Clearly, the movies are in thrall to the costumed crime-fighter right now. Only a couple of Hulks and a Green Lantern have tanked, the rest have basically hit the button, box office-wise. Judging by the new BATMAN trailer, Christopher Nolan is continuing to take his series closer to hyped-up realism. When his trilogy ends, a further reboot is supposedly already in the works. SPIDERMAN is coming back after just ten years. And KICK-ASS was the first modern, “realist” superhero movie.

I read an interview with Morrison last year where the interlocutor, attempting both levity and sanity, pointed out that the superhero look, shorts and tights, was still not popular. But he was wrong: admittedly, it’s only girls wearing them for now, but I see girls in tights or leggings with denim shorts on top ALL THE TIME.

Cue Twilight Zone theme.

And cue Fred MacMurray as a superhero –

(Freudian dream from Mitchell Leisen’s NO TIME FOR LOVE)

And cue the superhero, Captain Marvel, who was actually based on Fred –

Buy:

Incident at Loch Ness

Zak Penn’s film never got the audience it deserved. Herzog vs Nessie!

Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero

They’re coming! And when they do, you want to be Jimmy Olsen (Superman’s Pal!) not Lex Luthor.

Licking Hitler

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2011 by dcairns

Tom Von Cruise.

I was always very curious to see Bryan Singer’s VALKYRIE. Just not curious enough to actually see it, at least until three years after it came out.

The film, whose true title is LET’S KILL HITLER TO DEATH, as my friend Randy rightly says (in the same way that the true title of Meryl Streep’s A CRY IN THE DARK is A DINGO ATE MY BABY, as my friends Colin and Morag rightly insist), got a lot of negative publicity early on when people saw what Tom Cruise looked like in a Nazi uniform and eye-patch. Cruise is still a big star, despite being a strange cult member, and so the studio must have felt his involvement bolstered what was already a compelling true story torn from the history books (if you visit a library in LA, all the newspapers and history books are incomplete, because of all the stories torn from them), but the problem is identical to that faced by MGM when they made PARNELL: for every great star, there is a role which is so alien to what the star’s public expects, that the combination of actor and role destroys whatever appeal each may have had. In the case of Tom Cruise, that role was a Nazi with an eye-patch.

I confess to mixed feelings about Bryan Singer. I liked THE USUAL SUSPECTS as much as most people seem to, and his first X-MEN movie seemed like the first superhero movie to capture the appeal of comic book superheroes — good guys and bad guys, broadly drawn, each with his/her own unique set of powers, fighting each other and having soap opera emotional crises. Since some powers are particularly effective against others (Magneto’s magnetism turns Wolverine’s metal skeleton from a strength to a liability), the result has some of the cleverness of a chess game, but with more violence and property damage, so everybody wins.

Of course, SUPERMAN RETURNS was a misfire, despite a convincing Christopher Reeve clone and an amusing Lex Luther and Miss Tessmacher and a convincing duplication of the original Donner and Lester movie’s feel — when it became clear that the plot centered around a scheme basically identical to the first Donner movie’s masterplan, the whole thing started to get arthritic.

Just what this movie needs — a Busby Berkeley water ballet.

VALKYRIE seems to follow an opposite course, actually acquiring greater conviction and force as it goes on. To begin with, the American and British actors mingle poorly, and no alibi is in force to explain why all these German characters have different ways of speaking English. (I hated INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, hated it, but I have to give Tarantino points for an uncompromising approach to language, with everybody speaking the tongue they would have spoken, in the situations they would have spoken it in.) Then Hitler turns up, and he has a GERMAN accent.

I don’t want to be too down on Jeremy Bamber, the non-lookalike cast as the fuhrer. I don’t know whose idea it was that he assume a phony accent, or play the role with similar infirmity to Bruno Ganz’s still-fresh-in-memory barnstorming triumph in DOWNFALL. I can only say, “Lousy idea.”

Then some actual German actors turn up, confusing things still further. And meanwhile, Singer’s directorial tropes are all either over-familiar to the point of distraction, or else stylistically inexplicable and counter-productive. So, much as one wants to be mature and NOT laugh at the spectacle of Tom Cruise in a Nazi uniform and eye-patch, the movie doesn’t exactly help one. Once Cruise was seen recruiting Eddie Izzard in a men’s room, and Kenneth Branagh compared Germany to Sodom, I started to wonder if the whole movie could be some kind of strange, sly metaphor concocted by the out gay Singer around the officially heterosexual Cruise. It was weird.

But, as we near the moment of detonation, suspense starts to kick in. Here, David Bordwell talks about the mystery of how movies generate suspense around stories where the outcome is already known to us. It’s a fascinating area. Singer is helped by the fact that, though one hopes most of his audience know the plot against Hitler failed (just as one hopes they know Tarantino’s version of events is not historically accurate), the precise outcome of the aftermath of the failed coup is less familiar to many of us. So, while John Ottman’s scoring and editing, the high-stakes, complicated operation put into action by Cruise, Izzard, Terence Stamp etc (was the whole casting process predicated on height? Cruise may be the tallest man in the film), and the inevitable “what if?” and “if only” thoughts inspired by the story, all do their part, in some ways the denouement’s predictability only adds to the clarity Hitchcock insisted was necessary for true suspense.

As an example of the “what if?” factor — the coup fails because, obviously, Hitler failed in his part of the plan and didn’t die. But, more crucially still, he proved he was still alive by communicating by telephone and radio. Which suggests that, even if he HAD died, the bad Nazis (as opposed to all those good Nazis we’ve all heard so much about) could still have convinced the world A.H. was in charge by enlisting the services of a decent Hitler impersonator. Who was the Third Reich’s equivalent of Rich Little, anyway? On questions like this, the fate of nations may be decided.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 420 other followers