Avengers Disassemble

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2015 by dcairns

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It’s an enjoyable thing. There’s too much of it, too much bloodless property damage and quips, as before. I miss Loki, I miss the smirking face of evil — when all your baddies are faceless robots, it starves the film a bit, even if James Spader is doing the faceless robot voice. And all the fights seemed to involve everybody, all the time — some smaller skirmishes would have helped a lot. My main memory of the action is a blur of flame and debris and one very funny bit of a giant Iron Man punching the Hulk in the face a hundred times very fast.

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Writer-director Joss Whedon works hard to make Thor likable and interesting, which previously looked like a challenge. There still aren’t enough female characters and the movie is missing some of the highly paid actresses from various branches of the mega-franchise so it feels like for the first time there are some things Marvel can’t afford to do — they can’t afford to have Natalie Portman and Gwyneth Paltrow turn up at a party scene to tend bar.

There’s nothing as wonderful as Harry Dean Stanton popping up in the first movie for no reason other than that the cinematographer was making a documentary about him.

Oh, about the cinematography. Film 1 was shot by Seamus McGarvey, who did, for instance, the ruthlessly colour-planned WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. This one is shot by Ben Davis who did the psychedelically garish but still coordinated GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. So I don’t know what it is — it’s competently shot but the palette is just screamingly LOUD. I guess all those spandex costumes and shiny armours and green skin just won’t BLEND. That poster up top is literally what the film looks like.

But there’s a nice love story, unexpected if you haven’t read the spoilers, and Chris Evans can still be heartbreaking, and there are some eerie quieter moments amid the bombast of Danny Elfman and his back-up orchestra (as near as I can work out, even Elfman at full blast wasn’t loud enough, so they had Brian Tyler provide a whole different score at the same time. I’m pretty sure that’s what they did.) I liked The Vision. Joss Whedon has worked hard to humanize these immortals, even Thor who literally is a god is portrayed as just a nice Aussie bloke, so it’s nice to meet The Vision who is basically an actual god. Not one of us, as Mrs. Thatcher would say.

Sunday without Intertitles

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , on April 26, 2015 by dcairns

No intertitles here, in the only surviving fragment (that we know of) from THE PORTRAIT (1915), a Gogol adaptation attributed to the great Ladislas Starewicz (though the IMDb knows nothing of this). Echoes of Cocteau and RINGU.

It’s proper terrifying. The projector whirr it comes fitted with is annoying though, so I suggest muting this video, setting it to full screen, but in another window playing Aaron Copland’s Grohg, which is here. Watch it alone after dark, and stuff will happen to you.

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It’s interesting to see a Starewicz film (if that’s what this is), or part of one anyway, that’s deliberately scary. Most of his children’s animations are creepy without seeming to intend it. Even his other Gogol adaptation is more humorously grotesque than sincerely spooky, to my mind.

Lenny Borger informs me that Starewicz’s producer was Louis Nalpas, who went bankrupt with his 1929 MONTE CRISTO. As his finances failed and he traded the film industry for the yoghurt industry (People Will Always Need Yoghurt), Nalpas gifted Starewicz’s films back to him, a kindly gesture which seems to have resulted in nearly all of them surviving (although who knows how many fell through the cracks of film history like this one?).

Hi Ho

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics, Radio, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2015 by dcairns

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When I first visited Richard Lester to try to talk him into giving an interview, we exchanged a few words about the generally regrettable state of Hollywood cinema and recent flops. “But THE LONE RANGER is coming!” he added, with gleeful irony.

It came, it flopped, and now as with JOHN CARTER people are starting to say, Hey, that wasn’t so bad. A little different.

(I strongly recommend Scout Tafoya’s video essay on LONE RANGER, comparing it to HEAVEN’S GATE. Really! It makes sense.)

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JOHN CARTER had some unwearable costumes and bland characters, but was also fun, spectacular and had a really good ending. LONE RANGER is beautifully designed and shot, and the characters certainly aren’t bland, but tonally it must be admitted there’s something haywire. I think someone felt that some humour was needed to make it commercial, but the goofy humour and broad slapstick selected are a little too far from the darker stuff, the genocide and cannibalism. It’s hard to conceive of a film that could contain that breadth of material and attitude without rupturing itself. I guess the rabid rabbits are an attempt at finding something that’s as goofy as slapstick and as creepy as cannibalism, but they don’t work.

How else to describe the film’s problem? Well, on the one hand it borrows from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST almost as extravagantly as the same director’s RANGO swiped from CHINATOWN, and also from LITTLE BIG MAN, THE GENERAL, THE WILD BUNCH and THE PRINCESS BRIDE. But it also seems to reference NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (see above), PLANET TERROR (one-legged woman with a gun for a prosthesis) and there’s a bit of DEAD MAN thrown in. That indicates either a very ambitious film, one whose scope might not fit within the requirements of a summer blockbuster, or else someone has been drinking loco water.

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I think tonal uncertainty is a key thing that makes audiences reject something. I mean, when we don’t know how to react to moments in David Lynch’s work, it’s clear enough that he’s put in a lot of work to make us feel that our conflicted response is OK. To give one example in LONE RANGER, the hero is mercilessly dumped on by the writers, and his Dudley Doright stuffiness allows quite a bit of fun to be poked. But when they try to make us laugh at his concern for his dead brother’s kidnapped wife, it’s rather awkward — because the last time we saw her, it looked as if she’d been shot in the head. Too soon?

Then there’s the film’s approach to race, which I think is well-intentioned but still troublesome. The casual shooting of innocent black and Chinese characters seems intended to make a point about the evils of the times, and a valid one, but in a feel-good action film shouldn’t there be something positive for the non-white audience to take away? Otherwise it feels like an unintended point is being made about the evils of modern Hollywood blockbusters, where the minorities can be laid waste but it’s still a happy ending because the important white folks were saved. (Remember Kurt Vonnegut’s point, expressed in Breakfast of Champions, that stories where there are important versus unimportant characters are a part of our major social problem.) And it’s true that the film’s ending is quite a bit less heartening than is usual in these things — his arc is one of gradual disillusionment with all of western civilisation, and he doesn’t even get the girl. But they’re still trying to make us laugh…

But it’s quite possible to enjoy most of the film on one level or another, if you treat it as a series of scenes rather than as a coherent whole — it’s only the tone that fragments it. The plot, on the other hand (by PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN scribes Elliott & Rossio, plus Justin Haythe whose big credit is, weirdly, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD), is perfectly serviceable, with enough reverses and surprises and logic and motivation to scrape by.. In particular, Tonto’s back story is cleverly prepared for, and quite moving when delivered. And fans of beautiful imagery certainly wouldn’t be able to watch this and then claim that they hadn’t seen a great deal of beautiful imagery. Some of it original. Verbinski can do shots which are epic, shots which are poetic, and shots that are funny, actual comic compositions which do support the film’s ambition to bow down to Buster Keaton.

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