Archive for the Comics Category

Blood and Thunder

Posted in Comics, FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2015 by dcairns

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To my surprise, Edinburgh University Library turned out to possess copies of Marvel’s THOR and its sequel, which I discovered while unsuccessfully trying to get something on Joseph Mankiewicz (but I won’t tell you why, just yet). A certain dumb curiosity made me want to check out the “Film by Kenneth Branagh” — rarely has a possessory credit (on a film Mr. Branagh did not write) seemed so fatuous. Maybe I just wanted to see if he’d gotten any better at directing films.

When Branagh first burst upon the scene, I didn’t admire his films but I could see where he was stealing from, and at least the source of his theft — mostly Welles — showed ambition. It wasn’t an ambition — becoming Orson Welles, only more commercially successful — that he was ever likely to succeed at, but it seemed possible that he might get good.

I have enjoyed some of the Marvel superhero things (Ben Kingsley is so wonderful in IRON MAN III I can’t describe it) up to a point, so it didn’t seem totally pointless looking at this thing, but I should admit it was pretty pointless after ten minutes. Fiona was enjoying Tom Hiddleston’s facial expressions, but there wasn’t much else to appreciate. I thought it was strikingly poorly edited, and Branagh’s big Wellesian idea this time seemed to be Dutch tilts. I imagine the meeting thus —

“I think we’ll have Dutch tilts in this one. Comic book vibrancy and all that.”

“When shall we use them?”

“Oh, I don’t think that matters.”

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Thor (Chris Helmsworth) was my least favourite character in AVENGERS ASSEMBLE so I admit I wasn’t expecting to love this. He has an OK character arc, I guess, and Natalie Portman is appealing. I don’t quite believe she’s a brilliant scientist but I don’t quite believe Stellan Skasgaard is either. Nor do I believe that when the Norse god is banished to earth and crash-lands in New Mexico (I knew he should have made that left turn at Albuquerque), he’s slammed into by a kind of Mystery Mobile in which three scientists are cooking meth doing physics, and one of them happens to be Scandinavian. But one shouldn’t really get upset about probability in a thing like this. I’m more upset about the meaningless camera angles.

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I rented DREDD because I’d heard good things, and I’m a child of 2000AD comic, and I slightly regretted missing this one on the big screen in 3D. And indeed, there are some pretty visual effects I bet looked spiffing in depth. Films made by Andrew MacDonald’s DNA tend to go for unsympathetic characters and unpleasant story worlds — odd, since he seems such a nice middle-class chap (and grandson of Emeric Pressburger). This makes him ideal for Judge Dredd, created by Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra and Scottish writer John Wagner, who conceived him as a futuristic Dirty Harry, only more fascistic if you can imagine such a thing. The trouble with the 1995 JUDGE DREDD was that they neutered the character, turning him into an honorable action hero and removing his helmet (the comic book character has never been seen unmasked — he’s basically an impersonal functionary/killing machine).

Alex Garland’s script has a few good ideas and is part of his general redemption these days — I thought EX MACHINA was quite fine, despite hating his writing on 28 DAYS LATER, so I guess the dumbness was coming from Danny Boyle. This Dredd is meaner — Karl Urban basically just has to huskily whisper like Clint Eastwood, but with excellent timing. The comic WAS/IS comic, a jet-black, nihilistic blast of punk nihilism, dark chuckles amid Leonesque mayhem. I think the current movie is a little lacking in laughs, though there are some good ones, mainly to do with the sheer excessiveness of the bloodbathery — but you might not be amused by a man being made to blow off the top of his head with his own assault rifle, which makes you a better person than me.

I liked the acidic colours and Carpenteresque score. Director Pete Travis marshalled his resources well — a UK-shot, US-set dystopian thriller could all too easily resemble DEATH WISH III.

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There’s only a microscopic amount of character change in this one, mostly around Dredd’s rookie partner, Olivia Thirlby (unconventional and interesting) — weirdly, this actually makes it MORE pleasing than THOR, because less familiar. I challenge the screenwriting gurus to figure that one out.

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I finished my comic book weekend by actually reading a comic book, Domu by Katsushiro Otomo, creator of AKIRA. This was something I bought dirt cheap in a charity shop and it had been lying unread by my bedside for literally YEARS (along with heaps of other impulse-buy literature — it’s a real mess). Having finally picked it up, I consumed it avidly between the hours of midnight and one. Otomo has the ability to intrigue — his plots don’t resolve very neatly, but there’s so much damned apocalypse going on it’s hard to notice. The psychic kid stuff in this one is familiar, but this time the narrative is basically a police investigation crossed with a ghost story, set around a housing estate plagued by mystery suicides. The loose ends and unexplained elements are pretty evocative, suggesting an intriguing direction Hollywood movies could go in if they continue to de-emphasize plot at the expense of massive action set-pieces. Bring on the negative capability!

 

The Batman

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2015 by dcairns

The Batman from David Cairns on Vimeo.

This is from the Robert Florey-directed THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY (1936). At a certain point in the story, we get glimpses of different movies being shot on different stages of a studio which is being targeted by a murderer/terrorist, who turns out to be… well, I won’t spoil it. But we get to see Hank Mann and Snub Pollard as clowns doing crosstalk patter instead of the slapstick they were famed for (Mann plays the drunken millionaire in CITY LIGHTS, among many other roles through a long career beginning at Keystone), but much more interestingly we witness the shooting of an expressionist horror movie, featuring a character called The Batman. He wears a dark cape and is accompanied by a grotesque figure with a painted grin.

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THE BAT WHISPERS

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS

This is all very interesting as the DC Comics Batman (known as THE Batman in his early appearances) didn’t make his first appearance until 1939. Creators Bill Finger & Bob Kane always credited the movies, though they mentioned THE BAT WHISPERS (1930) and THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928). And indeed, the Bat and Gwynplaine look a lot more like the comic book characters than these doofuses, with the quaint twist that the Bat was a villain and Gwynplaine a hero, rather than the other way around.

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I’m also slightly amused that The Batman in Florey’s film looks so much like Brandon Lee in THE CROW, a much later descendant of the costumed crime fighter.

Florey, of course, directed for-real horror movie MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE and *nearly* got to do FRANKENSTEIN, but for me the more relevant credits are his early shorts, THE LOVE OF ZERO and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA. Both are made in a Caligariesque kind of cardboard expressionism, and the latter is even a behind-the-screen story of moviemaking like THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY.

As for the actors — the screen’s first Batman turns out to have been German character player Henry Brandon, best known for playing Scar in THE SEARCHERS. IMDb refers to his sidekick as “the gnome,” and the actor is my hero, John George, from TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS. A dynamic duo by anybody’s standards!

In-Flight Mentaltainment

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2015 by dcairns

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Movies seen while going to America —

EDGE OF TOMORROW, directed by Doug Liman and written by THE USUAL SUSPECTS’ Christopher McQuarrie along with mockney specialists the Butterworth Brothers, which was really good by big Hollywood standards. Emily Blunt excellent as always — I knew she could do almost anything but I couldn’t have sworn she could be bad-ass. Tom Cruise is also really well-used, and has a huge character arc, starting out a bit like James Garner in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY or if Don Draper got drafted. It’s really funny to see Cruise playing a conflict-averse wuss. And by the end he has of course become an unstoppable killing machine on the side of good. Yes, it’s GROUNDHOG DAY meets INDEPENDENCE DAY, but it’s refreshing to see a film with so many interesting narrative notions.

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By contrast —

The recent GODZILLA remake has a scene with an upturned Eiffel Tower, just like EDGE OF TOMORROW, but the one in the kaiju knock-off is the miniature imitation version in Vegas, which kind of sums up the relationship GODZILLA has to a proper movie. Thanks to some hectic editing they even manage to make Bryan Cranston look like a bad actor. If you’ve ever wanted to see Juliette Binoche outrunning an explosion, this is the film for you, and I hope you choke on it.

Fans complained that there was a bare minimum of the big green guy, and not very much of Cranston. The filmmakers had completely miscalculated their audience’s needs, like the makers of the previous US GODZILLA, who thought the public wanted Godzilla as an atomic bad guy stomping on cities for kicks. The great minds at Legendary Pictures grasped the fact that Godzilla, as he is known and tolerated by millions, is thought of as a benevolent colossus who breaths radioactive fire on other, nastier monsters, and only kills thousands of people by accident, a bit like America or Israel. What they failed to grasp is that audiences want to look at Godzilla doing these things for longer than ten minutes out of two hours. Ideally, what the film should have delivered is a 300 foot tall Bryan Cranston, in his Heisenberg guise (“Say my name!”), fighting the big lizard all over New Mexico. Or else Bryan Craston AS Godzilla, with Aaron Paul as Godzooky*.

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Pierce Brosnan is walking away from this explosion because it Simply Doesn’t Interest Him.

I usually seek out bad movies to watch on planes because I don’t like to see good ones “adjusted to fit my screen” or “edited for content.” THE NOVEMBER MAN isn’t totally awful — maybe it’s the best film Roger Donaldson could make now —  but the only thing that could have made it memorable would be a downbeat, 70s-style ending. A happy ending on a thing like this (spy thriller) suggests that the security services are basically benign and that rotten eggs will be filtered out (with one of those egg filters you can buy in the shops, I suppose — couldn’t find a way to write this sentence without a mixed metaphor) and that leaves the movie feeling pretty inconsequential.

Olga Kurylenko looks amazing, though, and after she gets over a regrettable impulse to smile on one side of her mouth to convey ‘tude, she acts well. Pierce Brosnan is someone I always enjoy, though I’m a bit fed up of him always playing a widower. It’s started to feel like a tacky exploitation of his own biography. He’s a fun presence, though — I watched PERCY JACKSON & THE LIGHTNING THIEF on a plane once, and the sight of him as a centaur was inexplicably hilarious. They should really have cast him as the statue of Talos from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS though, so they could have the credit “with Pierce Brosnan as Bronze Person.”

Movies seen returning from America —

Flying back home was somehow much quicker. I watched an episode of Louie and one of Veep, neither of which I’d gotten around to. Clearly I will have to see more, they were both excellent. Man with hangover in Veep: “Find me a hamburger made out of aspirin, I’m going to get some air and be sick in it.”

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Then Fiona and I watched HOW TO DRAIN TRAIN YOUR DRAGON II, which was very nice, as good as the first one. Excellent vocal perfs, beautiful images (Roger Deakins advised on the virtual cinematography, as he did on RANGO), great action and storytelling and a lot of emotion. This one felt more like a flattering portrait of America — we always seek peace but if we need to fight, we will kick ass” (like GODZILLA) which made me feel a little uncomfortable. But for sheer craft approaching artistry, I couldn’t fault it.

Then I looked at X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (the title seems a riff on killer Bob’s rhyme in Twin Peaks) which was something of a return to form for Bryan Singer, only the plane landed seconds before it was over. It has the best bullet-time ever, with cheeky Evan Peters running around the walls of a circular room like a cross between Fred Astaire and Gary Lockwood.

The movie is action-packed, has a reasonably complicated story, and the dispute between Professor Xavier’s get-along-with-the-humans philosophy and Magneto’s kill-them-before-they-kill us attitude remains compelling, even as all the other characters are more interesting AS characters. And somehow, Jennifer Lawrence fighting in blue rubber pasties never got boring to look at.

BTW, United Airlines have the best safety film I’ve ever seen. We saw it twice in a week and didn’t get bored. The idea is novel, the production values immense, it’s all very slick, there’s some wit, but what helps most of all are the little non-professional moments, such as the flight attendant at around 1.54 who can’t stop laughing for unknown reasons.

*Purists will say that any miniature Godzilla should be called Minilla, after the pudgy reptile star of SON OF GODZILLA, but I recall the Hanna-Barbera series The Godzilla Power Hour, which, though completely without any artistic merit whatsoever, was, episode by episode, a lot shorter than any Godzilla film from either Toho or Tristar or Legendary.

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