Archive for the Comics Category

Tardi Sweep

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2019 by dcairns

APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD — I think the title doesn’t quite work in English — too vague — is a rather dazzling and genuinely charming steampunk adventure inspired by the works of cartoonist Jacques Tardi, also the source for Luc Besson’s THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC (the key word here is “extraordinary,” it would seem).

Besson is a bugbear of mine. There are the films that are just hateful, the ones that are nearly good, or good in places and upsetting in others, and then there are his attempts to be charming, which are horrible. I think probably he has an awful personality (Google “Luc Besson accusations”) and he’s one of those guys who can’t help but put himself into his work. For all his limitations, Michael Winner had something similar going on, you always felt you were in the hands of a nasty piece of work. In the case of ADELE BS, Besson’s decision to plaster his supporting cast in grotesque, no, UGLY makeups is a great bit of self-revelation, in that it tries to be about capturing a comic-book ambience (the way the live-action Tintin movies gave Captain Haddock a bizarre, painted-on beard, or Robin Williams’ corky arms in POPEYE) but doesn’t resemble Tardi’s attractive caricatures whatsoever. It can be read only as an eruption of nastiness from somewhere outwith the project.

When I worked in animation, abortively, my colleague remarked “There’s only so much shit a thing can contain before it’s JUST SHIT.” Besson always gives me a little more shit than I can overlook.

Whereas, I’m glad to say, AATEW (AVRIL ET LE MONDE TRUQUE, or “fake world,” in the original — which doesn’t really fit the story either) is properly delightful. Marion Cotillard and the late Jean Rochefort do voices. The characters and setting look enough like Tardi to pass and there’s humour, constant delightful invention, and no Bessonian bum notes. Nobody can really draw like Tardi, and they certainly can’t mass-produce Tardi drawings in sufficient quantity for an animated feature film, and computers certainly can’t do it, but with enough skill, respect and taste there’s a possibility of getting close enough to be pleasing. This, the filmmakers (directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, writers Ekinci and Benjamin Legrand) have succeeded in marvelously.

The production design is fabulous, the colour a little cautious (as with BELLEVILLE RENDEZVOUS, a tendency towards sepiatone), the character design not as pleasing as Tardi would have made it but a long way from the unpleasantness of Besson’s silliy-putty fizzogs. But the story and the story world unite to create something really imaginative and fresh and appealing.

I liked the characters (just not the way the younger ones are drawn), who all have proper arcs and make something sweetly nostalgic out of their generic limitations. There are some good laughs. There’s a talking cat who may not be Jiji from KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE but is bloody excellent. Fiona was impressed by the anatomical exactitude of his rear elevation. Probably STEAMBOY will remain the ultimate in animated steampunk spectacle, and LAPUTA THE FLYING ISLAND the most truly wonderful, but this is quite a bit more quaint and charming — there’s an airship-powered funicular railway, ffs — the belt and braces approach to retro-futurist whimsy.

What allows it to be both charming and interesting is that the filmmakers know what we want and don’t want, and can skirt the edges of thr latter to keep it interesting. There are characters who, if they died, would really upset us. So the filmmakers threaten their lives and make us believe that they COULD die, there could be a less pleasing version but still acceptable version of the film where that happens. Whereas, the only thing that upset us was the destruction of the WALKING HOUSE, which was a house we adored and were ready to make an offer on.

Should work for kids and adults. Don’t know why it isn’t better known.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Joe

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2019 by dcairns

I should have gone to see THE DEATH OF STALIN when it came out, as I really admire Armando Iannucci’s work — maybe I didn’t because I don’t think he’s entirely cinematic. Maybe he’ll get there. This one only becomes really satisfying visually during the end credits, which repurpose the USSR’s revisionist airbrushing to witty effect, in a way that’s funny and uncomfortable, as is the film.

I remember getting into a weird discussion on Twitter with a Russian who was offended by the film, hampered by the fact that I hadn’t seen it and he had. He was disgusted that the film gets laughs out of Stalin having pissed himself. While I suppose laughing at a sick man isn’t nice, it’s still Stalin, and if that’s the thing you single out in this movie as being unsuitable for comic treatment, as opposed to Beria’s mass murders and vicious sexual opportunism, you have a problem with your priorities and are fonder of the late dictator than you are to admit.

Beale was ROBBED of the role of Dick Cheney. Or else Beria ought to have played it.

This is certainly very black comedy indeed — the characters are all totally lost to any sense of decency or compassion or compassion. The various political animals in Iannucci’s The Thick of It and IN THE LOOP were similarly bereft, and one interesting comparison between his various works (I haven’t seen enough of Veep but it looked good, but maybe lighter?) would be that the politburo bastards here aren’t necessarily worse, at a fundamental human level, that the New Labour and Tory scum of his previous outings — it’s merely that the structures of a dictatorship deform them differently than those of a democracy. Malcolm Tucker probably can’t have you killed, directly. But if he was working for Stalin he would surely have to, and might find he got a kick out of it.

A great many striking performances to enjoy here. The mingling of British and American actors and comics doesn’t always work — maybe in the past it’s been evidence of productions too eager to turn a profit, losing track of how to achieve a unified style. IN THE LOOP of course, by its very story, had to mix the two, and did so very sensibly and effectively. Here, it’s simply a question of ignoring the accents — which you can’t totally do with Stalin being played as a bluff northerner by Adrian McLoughlin (actually a southerner). But the Americans and Brits are equally strong. Fiona observed that casting Michael Palin as a ruthless state official works just as well here as it did in BRAZIL, casting “the nicest man in the world” (as Gilliam called him) as far against type as possible. Palin and Paul Whitehouse have to grab a few moments here and there, as does Paul Chahidi, who’s REALLY good at that, but Steve Buscemi and the amazing Simon Russell Beale and Jeffrey Tambor have centre stage. Then Jason Isaacs walks in (in slow motion, as do some of the others, but he really owns it) and practically blasts all opposition aside. Remarkable — the performances and dynamics just keep getting better as the thing goes on.

Nicky Smith, who features so prominently and entertainingly in our latest podcast, was telling me about Iannucci’s forthcoming THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, which has innovative racially-blind casting, with Dev Patel in the lead and a white actor as his mother, and appearances by greats like Benedict Wong. Of course, Victorian London was full of people of different races, but Dickens largely neglected to write about them. This is something different — casting people because they’re good, not because they’re racially “appropriate.” It’ll be amusing to see conservative critics tiptoeing around this. Anyway, I wonder if Iannucci noticed how white the cast of TDOS was, and asked why, if we can sit Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin round the same table, both playing Russians, then why not Delroy Lindo or Thandie Newton?

Hector Beggory

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , on April 18, 2019 by dcairns

Uxoricidal tips from the movies, in Fred Kida’s The Strange Case of Henpecked Harry, courtesy of Four Color Fear from Fantagraphics Books.

“Hector Beggory” is hilarious.