Undercaffeinated blog post

Hope I wake up before I finish writing this.

Finished reading Making a Film: The Story of Secret People, which is adorable. More on that soon.

More charity shop haulage: I bought LOGAN on Blu-ray for a pound. It’s a near-miss for me. I just think the mission of trying to make a superhero movie that’s super-serious is a bit silly. I could see that the same team’s THE WOLVERINE was trying to get away from costumed CGI asskicking and do noir stuff, but it all ended with a big robot fight, they hadn’t been allowed to really go for it. LOGAN goes for it, but hits a wall somewhere.

(I watched the b&w version, LOGAN NOIR, figuring that since director James Mangold went to the trouble of making it, it’d be the version to see, I have the colour version playing now for comparison. Very strange seeing it in colour. Like losing a friend.)

The part of the film that really works is all the Patrick Stewart stuff — in this film’s version of the future, Professor Xavier, beloved mentor of the X-Men, has dementia. This is so well written (Scott Frank is co-writer with Mangold and Michael Green) and played, and is such a great idea… I can’t think of any example of a senile superhero even in comics, and Prof. X. is the perfect character to apply this to, since his powers are mental. What happens when he has one of his seizures is really creepy and wild.

Unexpected added value from Stephen Merchant and Richard E. Grant, two more Brits stepping outside their usual arch mode and really committing to taking the thing seriously.

Hugh Jackman as the title character has always been good in this role, and certainly wants to be great in this. And all his stuff with Patrick Stewart is very strong. The fact that the story is just a chase and some fights doesn’t seem to do any harm here.

It’s the relationship that has to take over from the Logan/Xavier one, with which the intended audience has a longstanding familiarity, that suffers from having to make room for the punchy-stabby bits. Dafne Keen is properly uncanny as the young mutant who is in some way Logan’s daughter. Nothing lacking in the performance, which is mainly physical. The key to my dissatisfaction probably is highlighted by a moment when Keen and Stewart watch SHANE together. It’s nearly always a mistake to smuggle a classic film quotation into a not-yet-classic-and-maybe-never-will-be movie.

SHANE is about a man and a child, two rival father figures who are on the same side but have different styles. And it’s about violence, its terribleness and necessity — it being a western, the necessity for violent action is only lightly questioned, but nevertheless the film attains some depth. LOGAN certainly CONTAINS a lot of violence — an INSANE amount of violence — and everybody does it and there really isn’t any interrogation of it, and most of it has no consequences. There’s an attempt to show us that murderizing store clerks is bad, but the lesson is abandoned to make more room for sticking knuckle-knives through nameless dismayed persons’ heads. Knasty.

The holding back of sentiment is commendable, but at some point the emotion should break through and also we need to feel the pain of a dying protagonist — it’s like THE AGONY AND ECSTASY again, it fails on the agony. Jackman limps but still feels invulnerable.

Also I’d watched THE GUNFIGHTER where the whole film is “Hurry up and get out of town Gregory Peck.” This one is a long chase where the character TWICE stop running and casually say “We’ll move on first thing in the morning.” NO. That’s not going to work, is it?

Beautiful moment where the little heroine, a Kaspar Hauser with the power to punch through walls, encounters a vision of the family she’s never had —

I tried plugging my Blu-ray player into my laptop but nothing happened, so here are some photos taken off my TV on a bright day. Yes, I suck. And here I am critiquing James Mangold, who on this evidence should kill it with the new INDIANA JONES (my favourite of his is DAY AND KNIGHT [although there are lots I haven’t seen] so I think he can get the tone).

We also watched JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE which more fun than a Donkey Kong barrel full of CGI monkeys. Clever, character-based jokes, a beautiful ensemble cast — TWO ensembles, in fact — and although the thing’s a CGI-fest (something LOGAN, to its credit, never feels like), which meant I wasn’t particularly interested in any of the action, it as the alibi that it’s all happening inside a game. There’s probably a visual look out there which would have made interesting use of CG stylisation, the way TRON did, but neither the original JUMANJI with its ambulatory taxidermy animals, not this one, has found it. But the Rock and Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan and Jack Black are lovely, and although I find I strangely still have no interest in other Jake Kasdan films such as BAD TEACHER and SEX TAPE, I would happily watch the sequel to the reboot of film of the book about the game.

9 Responses to “Undercaffeinated blog post”

  1. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I liked Logan. I saw that film in early 2017 and I found it cathartic at the time. All the heroes died and end up as losers. The corporations have made them slaves and toys (which makes sense since that’s what these characters are). And the movie goes straight towards tragedy, meaning that these characters don’t get better or have more adventures. To me the movie captured the sense of defeat about Trump winning, albeit unintentionally since obviously the production happened before the election and so on.

    About the only other superhero movie that comes close to being truly subversive is Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (a touchstone for Assayas in Irma Vep). That’s a better film ultimately but Logan is quite good. I’ve only ever seen the color version so haven’t seen the black-and-white.

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

    The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is most definitely a subversive superhero.

  3. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    It’s subversive of a lot of things rather than just superheroism.

    The problem with superheroes is the word hero…movies went through a phase where we learnt to doubt and distrust regular heroes back in the ’60s and ’70s (Peckinpah, Altman, Taxi Driver, likewise Chinatown, Night Moves, among others) and superheroes once again ask us to lapse into a naive classicism. The most interesting parts of superhero stories are usually the villains and the costumes, and the props…so Batman Returns has more screentime for Michelle Pfeiffer’s villain. Whereas Logan removes villains altogether and has the hero fight corporations and the state and end up defeated and exploited.

    Olivier Assayas said in an interview recently that he used to follow superhero comics in the 80s and he regrets the fact that the superhero adaptations don’t reflect the weirdness and strength of the comics.

    In Irma Vep he connected modern action films of the early 90s with Feuillade. And fundamentally Feuillade and stuff like Lang’s Dr. Mabuse didn’t get corporatized remaining part of a real authentic culture whereas superheroes are essentially toys (the comics for instance barely sell anything and around the world superhero comics aren’t as popular as people think they are).

  4. I had some hopes that Doctor Strange would capture some of the comics’ psychedelic madness, but not so much. I’m sure the next one will be pretty, and probably a bit better, but yes, the true weirdness of Kirby and Ditko is missing.

    The superhero genre is based in adolescent power fantasy, which has its place, but the attempts to dignify it with “realism” or Wagnerian pomp strike me as misguided. And the way it dominates cinema right now is very unhealthy.

    Thanks for the Assayas link!

  5. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I am not against the idea of “dignifying” superhero stories on principle. After all, westerns and crime movies and science-fiction movies at different times have been dignified, as have musicals (“dignity…always dignity”). The problem is that most producer’s ideas of dignity is on the level of bad sports movies and Oscar weepies and nothing else. I don’t know if the only alternative to the self-serious pompous superhero film is the pop-art Lichtenstein approach…which itself is as dated as the superhero junk of the ’60s once was. And even then William Klein captured that zeitgeist so perfectly in the 1960s that it’s hard to conceive improving on Mr. Freedom.

    For instance, Cronenberg’s SCANNERS always felt like a superhero movie to me even if it wasn’t. And I recently got to see Allan Dwan’s “The Most Dangerous Man Alive” which seems to have inspired many comics creators of that decade based on the plot and some of the imagery alone.

  6. You’re right, not much separates Scanners from the concept behind X-Men, the idea of some people being born different, an idea with particular appeal to the teenager. The Dwan film is very comic book on every level (Durgnat preferred Enchanted Island, AD’s previous film, but I think he’s wrong).

    Musicals use a stylised approach to tell stories which can have psychological depth and real-world connections, westerns can be variously realist or operatic, but the superhero is hard to separate from adolescent power fantasy (the soap opera aspects of the Lee/Ditko Spiderman came closest to escaping this, but the movies never dwell long on Peter Parker’s struggles out of costume, and lacking thought bubbles the character’s self-doubt is rarely apparent.

  7. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Joseph Losey’s THESE ARE THE DAMNED is not far from Logan in its concept, it’s just that Losey’s movie is more Marxist and anti-imperialist, as well as with more sex and intensity. Ironic when you consider that when Losey adapted “Modesty Blaise” he was arguably the first major film-maker to adapt comics into cinema, thereby heralding the current era. Allan Dwan’s The Most Dangerous Man Alive is amazing in that it’s kin to Boetticher’s Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond and plays as the last “”30s-style gangster movie”. In fact it’s kind of a semi-remake of High Sierra mashed with the end of White Heat. So it’s like the gangster movie evolving away from reality, exhausting away to a new place.

    For me I think the approach to comics is “more unreality”. The attempt to make these superhero fantasies anchored in reality is fruitless. For me, I think the ideal is to make it as unrealistic and over-the-top as possible. That’s how it should be. Be Maximalist rather than Minimalist. It must be possible, or at least conceivable, to tell 50 years worth of superhero comics in a 2 hour movie the way John Boorman compressed the King Arthur cycle in 2hours in Excalibur.

    That’s why Buckaroo Banzai is so interesting because it basically has this exhaustive back-catalogue of stories and concepts that’s suggested but never meant to be elaborated. It’s supposed to be dropped in, we accept it, and move on without additional context. That kind of incomplete, eternal in-medias-res thing is how this should be.

  8. Prior to Losey there’s Launder & Gilliat’s The Belles of St Trinians and Henry Hathaway’s Prince Valiant, and I suppose Colonel Blimp sort-of counts. But Losey’s pop-art approach was in a way truer to the medium, though he was distorting a straight-faced spy strip into a campy spectacular.

    The MCU has stealthily been becoming more like its comics equivalent: if one rewatched Iron Man now (and why would you?) it would no doubt be surprising how Tony Stark seems to be the only superhero in the world.

    The comparison with These Are the Damned is illuminating because the science fiction concept is indeed similar. But in a superhero story you have to end up with cool powers. Some negative attributes are permissible to complicate the fantasy, but you can’t just be disabled or an outcast.

  9. David Ehrenstein Says:

    My favorite Wenders is “The State of Things” in which a group of actors, writers et. al. ( Viva, Patrick Bachau, Isabelle Weingarten, Sam Fuller, John Paul Getty III) attempt to remake “The Most Dangerous Man Alive” but run out of film and funds.

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