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!

 

More

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2015 by dcairns

Okay, now this happened.

It suddenly occurred to me that subtitling Leo was the way to go, and wouldn’t be that hard. So that’s what I did. I rewrote it slightly from yesterday’s version for purposes of timing, so there are some new lines in there. Enjoy!

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More limericks, like this one on Greenstreet & Lorre

More schinkenworter (ham-words) — in which I attempt to condense movie stars of the early thirties into single compound words. It may make more sense if you just go look at it, care of The Chiseler.

 

George of the Jungle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 13, 2015 by dcairns

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I got sparked off by this touching piece at Movie Morlocks.

The MGM lion — originally the Goldwyn lion, when embodied by a feline named Slats in 1917 — is an enduring icon of cinema. There’s something wonderfully incoherent about the image of a disembodied lion head — as if mounted on a wall, yet still conscious and roaring, accompanied by a latin motto saying “Art for Art’s Sake.” What does the lion have to do with the motto, or the motto with the lion? What does Metro Goldwyn Mayer mean? Two guy’s names and a random word? It only got better when I discovered that Goldwyn himself wasn’t part of the company, had in fact got his own company.

It’s not quite as confusing as Twentieth Century Fox — what IS a twentieth century fox and how does it differ from an earlier or later member of the canidae family?

Anyhow, MGM as a whole is not my favourite studio — Mayer’s personality comes across too much — but I love enough of their movies to get a buzz each time I see Leo, or Slats, or any of the intermediate lions. But not George. George makes me go “Aaaach, not HIM!”

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George was the MGM lion only briefly — 1956 to 1957. They obviously realized they’d miscast, and badly. His predecessor, Tanner, lasted twenty years. He existed in b&w and colour, he had a great bassoprofundo roar, and there seems no obvious reason to make a change. Maybe Tanner had “gone Hollywood” and was making unreasonable demands? A Winnebago with a giant cat flap, a saucer of milk with his name on it, and christians. Lots of christians. Or maybe MGM management, drunk on the heady wine of revolution having recently deposed one head, CEO Louis B. Mayer, determined to symbolize this triumph by ejecting another head from its logo-collar and replacing it with an upstart in their own faceless image.

It’s possible that fame went rapidly to George’s unkempt, shapeless head (the rest of him being shielded by the logo), but I think the execs got rid of him because he just wasn’t up to snuff. George’s hair, for instance. His hair is terrible. A weird, boxy-looking mane, quite unconvincing, practically filling his celluloid circle. Like Charlton Heston’s wig in leonine form. And George himself has no decorum. Previous and future incumbents would pause, looking regal, then give vent to an impressive bellow, and then relax back into a noble stance. Dignity, always dignity.

George, by contrast, just lets rip immediately, and won’t stop. He seems like he quite literally wants to chew the scenery. It’s a great big wildcat strop, a hissy fit, a coke-fuelled tantrum. “I want a sack of Kibble the size of Stubby Kaye and I want it now!” he seems to demand. A charmless approach, quite lacking nuance. He was swiftly retired to “the Cat House,” an LA ranch for retired predators (I believe Darryl F. Zanuck enjoyed a stay).

In a way, George’s vertiginous rise and fall foreshadows that of his famous namesake, Mr. Lazenby. And, as it turns out, “Lazenby” is derived from the Old Norse word “leysingr,” meaning “dishevelled or inadequate lion.”*

*Untrue.

1) “Hey, lookee, an audience! Lots of tiny people for me to munch, potentially.”

2) “What? What the heck? How did I get inside this circle? Oh, and grrr, by the way.”

3) “What is that, a tennis ball on a stick? Well why you wavin’ it around?”

4) “I can talk! Stick around folks, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet! This is my best side. Rather Barrymoresque, don’t you think? Or do you prefer three-quarters face?”

5) “Small roar. Big roar. Small roar.”

6) “My colour is fading and it’s pissing me off. Quit it. I said QUIT IT!”

7) “Me again. Still surly.”

8) “I can’t decide which of you two mugs I detest more heartily.”

9) “What do you mean, I’ve changed? I’m positively the same lion.”

10) “This is more like it. I’ve got poise, gravitas, in a word, class.”

11) “I’m GEEEEOOOORGEE! Get used to me, I plan on being around for decades.”

12) “I’m still here, you sons of bitches!”

13) “Hi, sorry about that, Normal service has been restored. I’m Leo and I’ll be your lion this evening.”

14) “Still me, but my voice has gotten deeper. Have I been dubbed, or is it all those cigars?”

15) “Deeper again. I sound like a Harrier Jump Jet taking off. How much further can this go?”

16) “YouTube can’t even handle this level of bass. All the needles are in the red at this point.”

17) “In a homage to James Finlayson, I’m going to do a little double-take at the end of this one just before they fade out. Hope you enjoy it.”

18) “That seemed to go over well, let’s make it a regular feature.”

19) “What the hell are you doing with that camera? Lock that thing off, Michael Bay, or I’ll eat your stupid face!” (does double take)

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