Archive for the Comics Category

Reach for the Moon

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2018 by dcairns

I haven’t been impressed by Basil Dearden’s comedies, though I like some of his dramas a lot. THE GREEN MAN seemed very disappointing for a black comedy with Alistair Sim, but admittedly Dearden was fired from that one so maybe it wasn’t his fault. His Benny Hill vehicle, WHO DONE IT? is really lame, but then Benny Hill didn’t have a star personality, was more a man of a thousand chubby faces, so he never made sense as a comic leading man.

And I’d heard that MAN IN THE MOON was REALLY bad, but of course that just made me curious. It’s co-written with Bryan Forbes, and another Dearden-Forbes collab, THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, is terrific, and very nearly a pure comedy itself. The star is Kenneth More, who can be effective in the right part — he certainly doesn’t ruin GENEVIEVE — so it seemed worth a go.

And yes, it’s curious… a strong supporting cast includes Shirley Anne Field, who keeps taking her clothes off, and does a great comedy voice; Michael Hordern; Norman Bird, John Glyn-Jones. Charles Gray plays an astronaut, and gets all the most eye-popping scenes.

I do tend to find More fairly charmless, and in this respect he’s quite well cast here, playing a saloon-bar bore who makes an easy living as a guinea pig in studies of the common cold: he seems to be immune, and puts his astonishing health down to a carefree attitude. This unusual profession allows us to meet him dozing in a bed in the middle of a field (part of an experiment) and the scene gets more dreamlike when Field crosses the field in full evening dress. Throughout this somewhat unsatisfactory film, we do get arresting images like this.

The story goes thus: bluff, hearty chump More is recruited by the British space program, NARSTI, to serve as a disposable space guinea pig, fired secretly at the moon to establish whether the going is safe for the specially trained, celebrated super-astronauts, led by Charles Gray (quite funny casting, this). The weirdest moment is when ground control use an isolation tank to brainwash Gray, who has become very hostile to More, resenting the fact that the untrained lout is going to be first on Luna. The brainwashing is a roaring success and Blofeld Gray emerges from the tank aglow with adoration for the baffled More. Well, first he seems sinister and inhuman, a clockwork orange, then he’s hyperanimated and childish with his schoolboy crush.

Dearden and Forbes seem to accept that the men from NARSTI — it’s not clear if they’re a state operation of a commercial one — are horrible, ruthless and would brainwash without a second thought, but they don’t seem to want to make a big satirical point of it — which marks them out as cynical but conservative, a bit like the Boultings.

At first, the casting of Gray as a hearty, athletic astronaut seems to make little sense, but in fact they know what they’re doing…

Unusually for a comedy, the tech and science approximate the real thing. Depressing that British cinema could only conceive of this subject in either farcical or monster-movie terms. This one would double-feature nicely with THE FIRST MAN INTO SPACE. But at least that cheesy B-movie seems to be sincere about something or other — the existential horror of man’s aloneness in the universe, I think. Death and decay. MAN IN THE MOON needs to find something to be serious about, to be an effective comedy.

Also, there are shots in it so nice, in a dramatic, pulp sci-fi way, that it makes you wish they’d made a wholly unironic film of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future.

   

“Doctor? I’ve been searching for you… Everything seems strange and dark… I couldn’t find you! … Under this stuff, I feel like I’m suffering from some terrible disease… like I got no blood in my veins… I have no memory… Only an instinct to stay alive…until I found you… I’ve been groping my way through a maze of fear and doubt…”

The title, alas, is a cheat — More is blasted to Australia, not the moon, a fact he only realises when he encounters a tin of Heinz beans and a kangaroo.

 

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Thanos: The Hand of Fate

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2018 by dcairns

How about a Cronenberg superhero team? Brundlefly, Mugwump, Revok and Rose from RABID, led by Dr. Brian O’Blivion?

Yes, I was lured into seeing AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR by the promise of seeing Edinburgh onscreen, a mild enthusiasm for the Russo Bros, and a mild investment in these superheroes. And yet I never saw (so far) THOR: RAGNAROK, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY II or BLACK PANTHER so I’m not yet a hopeless case, even though those three are probably better than CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR which I *did* see.

Certainly the Guardians provide the most solid entertainment of all the army of supes on display here. Of the Avengers, Hawkeye is absent, and Black Widow and War Machine and Falcon don’t really get anything memorable to do. This post is going to be full of spoilers, by the way.

Characters who do get amusing business:

Bruce Banner is suffering from a kind of erectile dysfunction: he can’t hulk out, which means he’s basically a scientist in this film. They can’t find a convincing way to write such a character and Mark Ruffalo, so effective and immediately right in the role in the first AVENGERS, seems a little uncomfortable with the sillier stuff, but his embarrassment at the big green guy’s sudden shyness is very funny.

This never happens.

Alongside the third-generation Hulk is the third-generation Spiderman, who’s quite good. Emphasising that Peter Parker’s a teenager makes Tom Holland stand out. He sounds a bit like the teenage clerk in The Simpsons.

As you might predict, encounters between the very similar Dr. Strange and Iron Man — two alpha male jerks — turn into dick-measuring contests. After all, they’re both Sherlock Holmes. Thor and Starlord’s banter plays out the same way, except Starlord is obviously plagued by feels of inadequacy. Dave Bautista as Drax homoerotically rhapsodising over Thor’s muscles is amusing. But there are no actual gay, bi or trans people in this movie, and no real sex, either. There’s a sweet, non-threatening romance between Scarlet Witch and Vision, which is the Edinburgh bit, and Gwyneth Paltrow does a walk-on for some interrupted wooing with Downey Jr. Other than that, the only hint of lasciviousness comes from the tight costumes. The musclebound characters don’t sem quite human to me, so the sexiest people from my viewpoint were probably the lithe Vision and Nebula, a robot and an alien cyborg, respectively.

Nebula (Karen Gillen) is basically the only Scot in the film, since the version of late-night Edinburgh we get is completely unpopulated. This struck me as implausible — a few bellowing drunkards would have added a welcome touch of realism — and it gives the lie to Thanos’s (big purple chin)  claim that the galaxy, or was it the universe, is running out of resources and so the ONLY POSSIBLE SOLUTION is to disintegrate half of everybody alive. Many people have pointed out how silly his plan is (he could, just for example, sterilize 90% of everybody, or, with his godlike powers, he could maybe rustle up some more resources. But no.

Josh Brolin underplaying a behemoth with a giant purple chin with grooves in it like he tried to carve it into a beard, with a ridiculous masterplan, is actually really compelling as a character. A real triumph of acting and mocap and animation etc, over character design. (As a character in comics, Thanos doesn’t look ridiculous at all, or at least no more ridiculous than his surroundings. The movies ought to have tweaked his appearance slightly, or differently.)

Gee, I’m getting tired of writing about characters called Scarlet Witch and Starlord. Probably a good thing I didn’t go into comics.

Oh, other amusing things: Peter Dinklage plays a twenty-foot tall dwarf (Thor, who is slightly shorter than twenty feet, call him a dwarf). To make his acting to scale, Dinklage overdoes his Game of Thrones English accent by 4000%.

CIVIL WAR bored me because it was mostly about heroes smashing stuff up, in a meaningless fight in which you knew they wouldn’t kill each other. Very obviously, a lot of innocent bystanders would have to have been killed, but the movie airbrushes this aside. This one is more enjoyable because there is a variety to the action, it’s not all smashing property and a lot of it is in space. It’s the opposite of MISSION TO MARS: the best stuff is in space.

Fake kebab shop.

But it’s striking that the movie has neither a beginning — we start at the end of a battle we haven’t seen (was it in RAGNAROK?) and end with the bad guy triumphant (well, more like quietly contented, because Brolin is underplaying). It’s a seemingly devastating conclusion (quite effective, because there ARE a lot of nice actors in these party costumes who can look genuinely traumatised as their friends turn to unconvincing CGI ash). The “ending” is sort of bold, because I can imagine some small kids and dumbasses not understanding that it’s all going to be undone in the sequel, the only question being whether they’ll resurrect the characters who didn’t disintegrate and merely died from stabbing, brain-gouging or falling from a high place.

At the end of this, by a wild coincidence that’s sort of amusingly contrived, the characters left standing, apart from a couple of Guardians of the Galaxy, are basically the original Avengers line-up plus Don Cheadle.

Will I end up seeing the sequel? Maybe… maybe I need my Jeremy Renner fix. He’s not in this one, so I immediately watched THE BOURNE LEGACY when I got home. It was the best Bourne film, apart from Jeremy Renner.

One out of one cats prefers it

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on November 24, 2017 by dcairns

 

Wondering what to buy the cat in your life for Christmas? (Get that cat out of there!) Why not oblige the kitty with Fritz Lang’s DER MÜDE TOD? This 1921 silent German classic contains, along with the beneficial functional bacteria, all the key nutrients your cat needs, including Omega 6 fatty acids, and an umlaut. Also, the plastic casing seems to provoke some kind of fetishistic sniff/taste response.

I made a video essay for this one with Timo Langer, which I think turned out reasonably well, and you also get a fine Tim Lucas commentary track full of scholarly info. I was pleased to see we didn’t overlap too much, and he didn’t prove me wrong on too many key points, and while I felt he may have included one too many Spider-Man references, I top that in the shame stakes by dragging in the TV show Quantum Leap and the Bill Cosby film THE DEVIL AND MAX DEVLIN.