Archive for the Comics Category

Of bannisters and beer

Posted in Comics, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2022 by dcairns

“The time has come,” Satanik said / “To speak of hope and fear / Of spies alive and spies quite dead / Of bannisters and beer.”

SATANIK (1968) is a kind of crossbreed of DIABOLIK and A WOMAN’S FACE, or maybe THE WASP WOMAN. Like the Bava film, it’s based on a fumetti, like the Cukor and Corman, it deals with a disfigured woman whose beauty is restored, but in a manner that thrusts her into CRIME!

In fact, Dr. Marnie Bannister (yes, we kept calling her “Minnie,” and spoke to each other in Goon Show voices throughout) is already evil, stabbing the discoverer of the youth-and-beauty formula just because he wants to do more tests before allowing her to munch his magic crystals. Probably her really dreadful monster makeup has driven her crazy.

The film is really a crime movie, but it has a spy movie vibe — DIABOLIK, after all, is just a crime movie with a supercool espionage flavour. Unfortunately, SATANIK isn’t supercool, despite varied locations in Spain and Switzerland and a reasonably snazzy credits sequence. Our girl only dons the catsuit and mask to do a striptease; she’s not a likable or even clever protag; the cops chasing her are bores.

But it’s amusing the way director Piero Vivarelli (also a songwriter!) keeps framing her with or through bannisters, as if to remind us of her name. Even when the cops are discussing her crimes, there’s a bannister. The organized crime guy she takes up with has a totally weird horizontal bannister dividing his room in two. Can you call it a bannister when it has no stairs and doesn’t go at an angle? Wouldn’t that be a fence? But who has a fence in their lounge?

Slightly better, but only slightly, is LIGHTNING BOLT, aka OPERAZIONE GOLDMAN. Directed by Antonio Margheritti, with extra cheese, it’s at least a proper spy film, with some terrific sets including a really impressive control room, it has lots of people in black catsuits (but no red one: the poster lied), rocket ships, cryogenic freezing (not QUITE women in tubes, but near as makes no difference) and hilarious model shots — you can spot a tiny paper cutout of a man folding over as the red paint “lava” bursts in, with a dubbed “Aargh!” to make us believe in him. It’s extremely touching.

One of the main action sequences consists entirely of NASA stock footage, a tiny model car wobbling across a diorama, and rear-projection shot of the hero jerking his steering wheel: a kind of holy trinity of cheapniz.

The English dub shows signs of trying for laconic hardboiled wit, but on the other hand they spell the composer’s name wrong (“Ritz” Ortolani). Margheriti hides behind his Anthony M. Dawson pseudonym as usual.

Anyway, the villain owns a brewery, and his product forms a kind of light beer leitmotif throughout, established far earlier in the film than in needs to be, proving that somebody, maybe talented screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, actually thought about this. Which was arguably a waste of his time and talent, but nevertheless I salute him, if it was him.

When the redheaded villain falls to his death, the redheaded hero quips, “I didn’t like your beer either.”

SATANIK and LIGHTNING BOLT star nobody at all.

Mustard

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , on November 13, 2021 by dcairns

When I spoke to Richard Lester about his career he was at pains to make clear that his work on SUPERMAN (as a go-between going between Richard Donner and the Salkinds) and SUPERMAN II, finishing the film Donner started, was strictly professional and impersonal. “You were able to get more of your sensibility into SUPERMAN III,” I ventured. “Yes. And that didn’t work.”

SUPERMAN III is indeed flawed, there is some kind of mismatch between Lester the satirist, grounded in some kind of social reality, and the comic book fantasy of Supes, and this weirdly results in a film that’s MORE comic-book and juvenile than its predecessors, maybe because Lester can’t take the thing seriously enough to indulge in the epic chunkiness of Donner, whosaw the thing in terms of myth. Well, to Lester, myths exist to be examined and debunked.

It’s probably a perfect entertainment for the under-tens, but as a fifteen-year-old I remember being offended by nonsense like a weather satellite being reprogrammed to make weather instead of analysing it. When the baddies try to slip some kryptonite to Superman, pretending it’s an award for his services, they don’t sculpt it into a convincing medal, they just hand it to him in a lump. That seems kind of charming to me now, and there’s something benign about a superhero movie actually aimed at little kids, as it should be.

But what’s with the mustard motif?

This first appears as a literal splash of mustard on Jimmy Olsen’s sweater, before the very very Lester title sequence, a chain reaction of Tatiesque chaos on the streets of Metropolis (Calgary). In the next scene, Clark Kent spots the stain using his supervision. But even before then, a girl in mustard coloured kneepads and cap rollerskates into the hot dog cart and propels it into a set of mustard call boxes, toppling them into mustard plantpots.

To say nothing of the mustard dicky-bows of the runaway wind-up penguins, and the jumper worn by the chap Superman rescues, echoed by the parking sign he’s run into:

There’s more. I think it maybe has something to do with Superman’s colours being mirrored throughout the film: a traffic jam is all red white and blue and yellowcabs. One green car (for kryptonite?) has crept in. Lana Lang is associated with a softer yellow, matching the Kansas wheatfields (of Alberta) while the Smallville sweater than nearly gives Clark’s secret identity away is definite mustard.

Maybe the further answer is that when the defective synthetic kryptonite turns Superman bad, the colours of his costume get muddied, turning the yellow of his S emblem into a muddy… mustard?

The car wrecks are all red, white, blue and yellow too. A lot of effort has been gone to, Antonioni style, in this Milton Keynes junkyard.

Okay, I’m satisfied that this is all about the costume. Although it should be noted that Superman gets his powers thanks to earth’s yellow sun, which we see in the closing shot. Turns out it really is yellow. Sorta mustard, in fact.

Gunn Play

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2021 by dcairns

Recap: James Gunn made SUPER, a low-budget superhero comedy with drastic tonal problems, and parlayed that into the surprisingly balanced GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films, which actually work on the level of fun. (The first movie is about saving Planet Israel, which has not been much remarked upon.) Going from a 2.5 million budget to a 200 million budget. Not bad. Then some tweets he’d made much earlier in his life were dug up (he’d made no effort to hide them) and the Marvel people, after some hesitation, kicked him out.

The tweets were pedophilia jokes, and not only that, none of them were funny (“That’s even worse news,” to quote Norm MacDonald). One of the Twitter personae weighing in against Gunn was Matt Gaetz. When it was pointed out that these tweets were intended as jokes rather than as documentary accounts of Gunn’s day-to-day activities, Gaetz said something like, “But how do we know he’s not just using that as a smokescreen?” I toyed with the idea if asking him whether his own condemnation of the mirthless tweets might be a similar smokescreen, which would have made me fucking Nostradamus, but I didn’t do it. Having any kind of contact with Matt Gaetz, however remote? I would sooner sit on Cthulhu’s face.

Gunn was immediately, I mean indecently immediately, snapped up by DC to reboot their Suicide Squad franchise. (My problem is not that he continued to work after making failed jokes, but that any pretense was made that something was being achieved by having him swap studios for one film.) I never saw the first film, SUICIDE SQUAD, but people seem to have mainly liked Margot Robbie in it. Seems reasonable. Gunn’s film is called THE SUICIDE SQUAD, the use of a definite article to distinguish comic book adaptations having been rolled out by WOLVERINE and THE WOLVERINE. This strikes me as pathetic and unimaginative, but this is a marketing department we’re talking about, so.

I decided to see THE SUICIDE SQUAD, Fiona decided to come to. I was curious.

The concept of the insanely violent, blackly comic comic-book movie was introduced, I guess, by the KICK-ASS and KINGSMAN films, then went more mainstream with the DEADPOOL films. So naturally The Guardian newspaper has a piece about this being a new development signalling the maturity, and imminent decline, of the genre.

Gunn is returning to his roots, making a tonally unsustainable bloodbath with multiple layers of incoherent irony and odd attempts at pathos. Some of these work surprisingly well. The balance of gore and slapstick and action and fantasy and sweetness is definitely better than in SUPER, but still made me queasy all the way through. The emotional moments are predicated on the criminal heroes (this is basically THE DIRTY DOZEN with superpowers, and none of the Aldrich film’s questionable elements have been resolved in the intervening 54 years) having been damaged by their traumatic childhoods, which is Gunn’s favourite theme (he was sexually abused as a child himself).

The jokes are pretty good. Robbie is no longer the best character, since Harley Quinn seems to be incapable of evolution, and the film has to work hard to prevent her psychopathic character from doing anything unforgivable. Idris Elba is pretty fine, and I’m so glad he’s using his own accent and not playing a stereotyped African-American as in PROMETHEUS. Daniela Melchior is his surrogate daughter. There’s no real reason for them to start the bonding process, but once they do it helps rescue the film from just being a relentless mayhemfest.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD is not just a DIRTY DOZEN remake. It’s an EXTREME PREJUDICE remake — someone actually says “Terminate with extreme prejudice!” and the “guys on a mission” plot delivers a twist involving the mission’s true purpose which echoes Walter Hill’s Tex-Mex bloodbath. It’s a SUICIDE SQUAD remake — instead of a humanoid crocodile, there’s a humanoid shark. It’s a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY remake — there’s a rodent, a big dumb guy, the aforementioned damaged personalities. Basically, everything Umberto Eco said about CASABLANCA that wasn’t true there, is true here — a bunch of familiar elements have been jumbled together to create a series of nostalgic glows, comforting familiarity, a sense of cultural connectedness. As when you hear a modern pop song and all the chords and lyrics and riffs are recycled, warmly recognizable even if you haven’t heard the originals.

Gunn deserves credit for the grace notes: some Kubrick-KILLING play with chronology, a soundtrack that isn’t just the same old songs (though the “original” score is just the standard set of thumps of w hich I am mightily tired), a reference to Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese comics, some good laughs, and a sharp awareness of how Central American countries get eternally shat on by the US. Peter Capaldi gets to say “Unclutch you’re fucking pearls!” when other characters react to his human experiments. Instead of the MCU’s Stan Lee cameos, Lloyd Kaufman is wheeled on, slow-dancing with a hooker. Sylvester Stallone is effective, and we don’t have to look at him because he’s playing an animated shark (the other film is which Stallone works is ANTZ, where he and Woody Allen are the only actors with distinctive voices). This is probably the first time Stallone has been cute. Though he also bites people’s heads off. The lines “Hand,” “Bird,” and “Num-nums,” are the lines he was born to say.

Fans of excruciating violence will find a whole lot to enjoy. It’s almost as exhausting as BRAINDEAD.

I think this kind of thing, or LOGAN’s kind of thing, is destined to remain an occasional subgenre of the world-smashing superhero movie. It’s not going to take over and lead to the downfall of the costumed crimefighter flick. Only the audience demanding more variety from its family-friendly blockbusters can do that.

I’ve never read any Suicide Squad comics but John Ostrander, who rebooted it, also co-wrote, with fellow actor Del Close, the anthology Wasteland, which I admired. And he’s IN Gunn’s film.

When I was a kid, watching westerns on BBC1 Saturday nights, I would frequently get confused when the good guy and bad guy got into a fistfight, and would have to remind myself who was wearing what colour shirt. Same thing happened here.

The final boss villain is a character ripped-off by DC, back in 1960, from the Japanese scifi flick WARNING FROM SPACE. You can buy that on Blu-ray from Arrow, with some liner notes by yours truly.