Archive for Antz

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.

Dog Zero: Unleashed

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2018 by dcairns

I think ISLE OF DOGS is one of the best things I’ve seen in a while, on the big screen. Half an hour in, Fiona whispered to me, “I like this better than FANTASTIC MR. FOX.” Don’t worry, nobody was sitting nearby to be disturbed. I remember we loved FANTASTIC MR. FOX so I would have to see that one again to compare more freshly. But this one is pretty great, and may show advances in the Wes Anderson emotional lexicon. (In brief: there are a lot of crying dogs and people in this one, and not all of the emotion is smothered under a thick layer of irony. This may mean Anderson is about to become a rank sentimentalist, but for now it means he’s opened up a little, the possibilities have become wider. It’s a process we’ve seen hints of for some time.)

I’d like to dispose of the whole cultural appropriation question quickly. I think this is a pretty clear example of the GOOD kind of cultural appropriation. It’s obviously born of a deep love of Japanese culture; it displays, and shares, relatively nuanced knowledge of that culture; I find it preferable to the bored tourist’s eye view of LOST IN TRANSLATION. I see lots of American indie films in my work as submissions viewer for Edinburgh International Film Festival, and one thing there isn’t enough of in American cinema is interest in other parts of the world. Sure, this is set in futuristic comedy Japan, but little kids aren’t going to be seeing Ozu just yet. Fiona wondered if the film was too strange and too dark for little kids. I don’t care: it’ll be SOME strange, dark little kid’s favourite movie.

If there are clear (but shifting) limits on the extent to which Anderson’s films engage with other cultures (Colourful Backdrop in THE DARJEELING LIMITED; Ruritanian Allegory in GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL), it’s still impressive here how much of the film plays as anti-Trump. I mean, the orange blob has only been squatting in office a year, and how long does it take to make an animated feature? The movie is obviously more broadly anti-dictator though, and I guess they’re all somewhat alike (Trump’s incoherent Twitter bellowing is down to the fact that he’s an aspiring dictator whose found himself in charge of a democracy, and doesn’t understand why he can’t make things happen just by shouting). But the executive order signing seems like a specific jab.

There’s a conspiracy plot — power-grab using manufactured plague — which dates back to AIDS conspiracy theories (the truth about Reagan-administration indifference to the “gay plague” is horrifying enough without need for germ warfare elaborations) and which is a repeat of a story point from an earlier agit-prop fantasy: the Wachowski-scripted V FOR VENDETTA, which went after G.W. Bush with very internet-era Hitler comparisons. (I liked that film a fair bit despite some egregious flaws. Here’s the nonsensical timeline: government builds concentration camps and experiments on prisoners, creating virus it uses to decimate populace and seize power. Wait, seize power? Aren’t they already IN POWER, powerful enough to set up concentration camps? It’s not just a tangled web, it’s a moebius strip… or a script by people who aren’t as smart as they think they are.)

Tilda as “Oracle”

Brief summary of what I liked in this film: resonant Bryan Cranston voice (his first great movie role); Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton are the Anderson regulars who work best as voice artists (some of the others maybe aren’t distinctive enough*); the beautiful imagery you’d expect; Alexandre Desplat’s score, snagging quotes from THE SEVEN SAMURAI and Prokofiev’s Troika, and reminding me of AKIRA and YOJIMBO in places; deaths of sympathetic characters; no deaths for unsympathetic characters; everything seen on TV screens is animated in 2D, anime-style; I laughed; I cried; it has lots of dogs in it.

Fiona didn’t like that the bad guys are cat lovers: but she liked the fact that jailed evil people got to keep their cats in prison.

*Voice acting for cartoons is strange. In the anaemic ANTZ, Sylvester Stallone’s distinctive mush-mouthed delivery makes him far more effective that Gene Hackman, who just sounds like some dude, despite being self-evidently the superior actor.