Archive for Apocalypse Now

Ape Crisis Centre

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2017 by dcairns

Sorry for the tacky title, but somebody already reviewed KONG: SKULL ISLAND with the tagline I LOVE THE SMELL OF APE PALM IN THE MORNING, better than which it is impossible to do. It wasn’t the famous Anonymous Wag, it was somebody real with a name, I just can’t recall who and can’t be bothered checking. but well done, Nonymous Wag.

I didn’t see KK:SI but I did see WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, slightly dragged by Fiona, and it has just probably as many APOC NOW refs as the big gorilla one. There’s even a graffita reading APE-POCALYPSE NOW, so I couldn’t use that as my header either. The Vietnam stuff is a little heavy-handed and dumb, though in a war with the apes Americans surely WOULD call their enemy “the Kong” so I have to grant them that one. (They called their enemy that in ‘Nam, too — I know you know that, but did you know it was actually a made-up name? There was no such group as the “Viet Cong,” the US made the name up because they wanted something that sounded cool and sinister. NOTE: see correction in comments section.)

So, I was glad I saw this in the end — we’d seen  films one and two in the trilogy, and this one does its best to actually be a concluding episode, though I’m sure there’ll be pressure to do more — a reboot, or some kind of sequel that also serves as a remake of the original Chuckles Heston apetacular (still the best in the series/serieses).

DIGITALLY RENDER UNTO CAESAR

The first half hour is nicely directed, though the 3D didn’t add as much as I expected — maybe because the sinuously moving camera does all the 3D’s work for it. But I wasn’t really engrossed dramatically. Caesar (Andy Serkis and his army of animators) is quite chatty in this one, despite Noam Chomsky’s firm stance on ape language, but he apparently has never learned to use contractions. So talks like Data from Star Trek, or like a man in a biblical epic. This is obviously as deliberate as the ‘Nam refs, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. (Notice how Data’s robospeak gradually infected the rest of ST:TNG‘s cast as the writers forgot how people talk).

I guess the biblical epic aspect has always been there, from the casting of Heston to all the talk of a “Lawgiver,” echoing Heston’s role as Moses and eventually embodied by John Huston, director of THE BIBLE (and portrayer of Noah, another man who conserved species from an environmental disaster) in BATTLE FOR, the last of the original series. That movie is referenced here just enough (a single teardrop!), and there are lots of other clever harkenings to the earlier films, which the reboot has always been nicely respectful of.

But the first half hour is also terribly uninvolving. No effort is made to remind us of the personalities of the lead apes from the previous installments. One fellow only gets a little character grace note five minutes before being offed, which retroactively makes said grace note seem like a cynical plant. Inexplicably, the film’s baddie, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson as Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz with a side order of Robert Duvall’s Kilgore) shows up out of nowhere to kill some apes and set Caesar on a mission of revenge, then vanishes back to his hideaway — Caesar falls off a waterfall, very dramatically, but in the next scene is back in his (compromised, unsafe) base camp, making plans. It feels muddled, and the emotion is dampened by confusion.

Fiona points out that the film is still afraid of female apes: none of them talk in this film, and they don’t fight, contrary to nature. They don’t have big purple behinds, so the movie resorts to having them wear little hair braids so we know who’s a girl. They make little feminine grunts, the way real apes don’t. I think the rot set in with Tim Burton’s appalling POTA movie, with Helena Bonham Carter and Lisa-Marie as sexy ape-babes. Ugh. That’s the only bit of wrongheadedness from that abomination which has kind of survived and mutated, as if exposed to an experimental gas canister (Burton is getting to resemble an experimental gas canister more and more).

BAD TIME FOR BONZO

There’s also, I would say, a problem with the first half’s post-apocalyptic landscape. Unlike the crumbling cities of DAWN OF, there’s nothing specially evocative about, say, a Snow Cat lying abandoned in a snowy forest. It looks like quite a normal site. I love post-man settings in the same way I love empty set photographs — I’m all about the defining absence, me. So this was disappointing.

But it was in the midst of the snowy rural stuff where the film is aiming to be THE SEARCHERS with even more sign language that it starts to get good. There’s a quite brilliant scene of Maurice the orang (Karin Kanoval and her animators) and a silent little girl (Amiah Miller) which is LOOONG, wordless, quiet, tender and hypnotic. Really unexpected in a summer blockbuster. And the film starts improving right now.

Next we meet Steve Zahn (and his Zahnimators) as the comedy relief chimp (his “Oh nooo…” sounds very Scottish, somehow). Comedy relief characters are primarily needed by films with no sense of humour, or films afraid that a sense of humour will deflate the pomposity that sustains them. Both certainly factors here — any film with a lead who can’t use contractions must be afraid of humour. Get it safely contained in one character and you’ve quarantined it. But Zahn & co create a rather adorable figure here. So appealing, I worried he was being set up for a moving death scene. But the film doesn’t ALWAYS do what you expect.

EMOTION CAPTURED

Now the movie becomes a prison camp flick, and the Colonel shows semblances of another of his rank, Saito in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. But it’s a wall he’s building. Yes, this feels like the first anti-Trump blockbuster (or the first I’ve seen — I don’t see many). And it will feature an ape swinging from a Stars and Stripes which is also inscribed Alpha Omega and is also on fire. An image for our times. (Also prefigured by John Huston, this time in WINTER KILLS.)

Science fiction films never accurately predict the future (except BRAZIL, which has all come true) but one hopes this does, just so we can have Don Jr. lose the power of speech and his dad shoot him. Oh, come on. It’d be interesting.

But the movie isn’t as dark and vengeful as that, after all. It has a much more nuanced take on vengeance than, say THE REVENANT, which proved remarkably dumb and unsophisticated. And it even redeems the somewhat fascistic ending of RISE DAWN, which had Caesar depriving his enemy of apehood so he could kill him without breaking the “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape” rule. That climax, which seemed like it was meant to be just cool and bad-ass, is back-engineered to seem genuinely proto-fascist, something that must be atoned for and which leaves trauma for the perpetrator, or maybe this was always part of their plan (the writers of the first film are execs on this, granting a sense of cohesion and trilogic world-building). Caesar feels guilt for killing Toby Kebbell as Koba the bonobo (I just like writing that) and gets a chance to act differently this time.

APE PLURIBUS UNUM

So maybe because I like apes or because I don’t like concentration camps, this movie got quite emotional for me. I seemed to continually have something in my eye (mayve it was the 3D). It wasn’t profoundly moving, because torturing animals always gets a reaction (my friend Alex makes fun of the bit in RISE OF where Malfoy shows up with girlfriends to abuse apes — “No matter how evil you are, it’s unlikely you’d think that torturing chimps would be a good way to impress the girls,” — but in fact, animal abuse is a staple of entertainment, since drama depends on a good bit of unpleasantness to work its magic). Arguably, it was all too easy. But it worked. And it didn’t become so manipulative and Von Trieresque that I resented its effect.

It’s nice to get a proper trilogy. The middle one is the darkest. The first and third are the best. This is as it should be.

 

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The Look # 1: Julie Flashes

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2016 by dcairns

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Julie Christie flashes the camera in BILLY LIAR.

I am reading and enjoying Geoff Dyer’s Zona — it really is as good as everyone says. The kind of book I’d like to write, if I could settle on a film and if anyone would agree with me on which film was worth settling on.

Dyer has plumped for Tarkovsky’s STALKER, and his discursive approach echoes the antics of a lively mind watching a slow film — sometimes totally concentrated on the sounds and images in front of him, sometimes darting off into memory or fantasy, inspired by the movie but running on a parallel track. Here’s Dyer on a moment when Tark’s characters seem to meet the camera’s gaze ~

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This is in direct contravention of Roland Barthe’s edict in his essay ‘Right in the Eyes’, that, while it is permissible for the subject to star into the lens–at the spectator–in a still photograph, ‘it is forbidden for an actor to look at the camera’ in a movie. So convinced was Barthes of his own rule that he as ‘not far from considering this ban as the cinema’s distinctive feature…. If a single gaze from the screen came to rest on me, the whole film would be lost.’

Either the quotation is doing Barthes no favours, or Barthes is a silly man who hasn’t seen enough movies. “Don’t look at the camera!” cries Francis Ford Coppola in APOCALYPSE NOW, playing a documentary director, ignoring the fact that in documentaries (which are, arguably, movies), characters looking at the camera actually ENHANCES the realism. It’s when they’re too good at pretending it isn’t there that the fly-on-the-wall approach starts to seem artificial, staged.

Nevertheless, in fiction films it’s true that there’s a convention — which only means that those, quite frequent moments when the rule is broken always seem mildly unconventional. In a mainstream film, the effect is noted, and the ticket-buyer says, “OK, this is a little unusual, but as long as the filmmaker doesn’t get too crazy, I’m going to allow it.”

My favourite video store story: two young men looking at prospective rentals. One picks up the Christian Slater vehicle KUFFS. The other says he’s seen it. “Any good.” “Aye, awright.” “Much action in it?” A micro-pause. “Ah… he talks to the camera.” Said as if this were, arguably, a form of action.

In BILLY LIAR, Julie’s lapse is momentary and obviously unintentional, but in good movies even flaws are good. This scene is already breaking from Billy’s POV, which makes it a violation of the movie’s own rules. If Julie is exceptional enough to merit a scene of her own, away from the prying eyes of the POV character, and devoid of any fundamental narrative purpose (well, it’s introducing Julie, swinging her handbag, and that’s ENOUGH), then surely she’s allowed to sneak a peek at camera operator Jack Atchelor. She’s Julie Christie, she has special privileges.

Inaugurating a little season considering some looks to camera, and what they might mean.

Me and Marlon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2015 by dcairns

It continues! At Kaput, Already, Renlau Outil considers Antonioni’s swan-song, BEYOND THE CLOUDS. Do check it out.

And here at Shadowplay, regular Shadowplayer Judy Dean addresses the career of Marlon Brando, recently summed up by a posthumous appearance in LISTEN TO ME, MARLON.

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ME AND MARLON

It’s hard to explain why Marlon Brando took so long to enter my consciousness.  I’m at primary school when that magnificent run of early films comes to a halt with Desiree. By the time I’m 15 I know that he once made a film so dangerous we’re not allowed to see it, but that doesn’t stop all the bad boys in town from dressing like him and wanting a Triumph like the one he rode. A couple of years later, when I join a group who spend every Sunday afternoon in the front row of the local ABC, regardless of what’s on, he’s become just another actor.  We are vaguely aware that he is troublesome, that he caused a lot of problems on Mutiny on The Bounty and wasted a lot of money on a western.  Did I see him during this period of indiscriminate filmgoing?  Bedtime StoryThe ChaseA Countess from Hong Kong?  I must have done, but I have no memory of it.

Come the seventies and life has taken a serious turn.  I’m married, working, and cinema has become an occasional indulgence but, like almost everybody of my generation, I see his great trilogy.

The Godfather is a major, much anticipated event. We drive home afterwards talking excitedly about the restaurant shootings and the horse’s head but I don’t remember our discussing Brando’s performance.

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Then Last Tango In Paris becomes a cause celebre.  We see it in London’s West End soon after it opens and find the cinema picketed by supporters of Mary Whitehouse, which only adds to the sense of occasion.  The film makes me feel queasy.  What exactly is it we are witnessing here?   But I am astonished by Brando’s physical appearance.  The Godfather has made me think of him as old, but here is this beautiful man in his forties with a blonde ponytail who can do a backflip.

Move on a few more years and we’re in the West End again for Apocalypse Now, a special journey made with friends in order to see it in 70mm and stereo.  A collective sigh of pleasure is heard as the sound of helicopter blades travels from one side of the auditorium to the other. There’s more than a whiff of pot in the air. Again, there is little talk afterwards of Brando; we think him weird.  It’s spectacle we’re after and we emerge high on images of air raids and napalm.

Now we’re into the eighties and everything goes quiet. Brando disappears from the screen and parenthood kicks our social life into touch.

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Move on another decade and I find myself, thanks largely to the arrival of Blockbuster video, starting to explore cinema’s back catalogue. Something in a Brando performance captures my imagination, some small gesture, some tiny detail.  What was it?  Putting on Eva Marie Saint’s glove in On the Waterfront?  Sliding a letter between his wife’s toes in The Ugly American?  Sharing a carrot with his horse in The Missouri Breaks?  I honestly can’t remember, but I know that I have never seen an actor do something like this before and I am entranced by it. Why this coup de foudre hasn’t happened sooner I’m not sure, but it leads me to start seeking out his films in a systematic kind of way and in so doing I discover Burn!  I am bowled over by this tale of colonialist meddling in the West Indian sugar trade, and ecstatic when I later discover that it’s his favourite role.

Overnight I become a Brando completist.   I watch every film, buy every biography and every coffee table book, hunt down every article and every review, correspond with every webmaster.  I am obsessed.  Eventually my passion is exhausted, the fever subsides and I return to the normality of just another fan. (That is, until the same thing happens with Buster Keaton; but that’s another story.)

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Jump to November 2015.  I decide to write about The Score for David’s blogathon.  Surely, with a cast like that, it can’t be as uninspiring as I remember it?  I buy the DVD to refresh my memory and find that it is.  I am depressed.  What a note to end a career on.  And what can I find to say about such a film?

Then a miracle occurs with the perfectly timed UK release of Listen to Me, MarlonThe Score proves not to be his final film after all.  Brando himself has the last word on his life and career.  And this moving documentary brings it all flooding back to me – his beauty, the damage caused by his unhappy childhood, the courage he showed in his political involvement, his failings as a husband and father, the blame for problems on set that were not of his making and, above all, the originality of his performances.  Forget all his feigned indifference to the art of acting.  Here he is talking about what lay behind the small gesture (whatever it was) that opened my eyes to his genius.

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“When an actor takes a little too long as he’s walking to the door, you know he’s going to stop and turn around and say ‘Quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’. Never let the audience know how it’s going to come out.  Get them on your time. And when that time comes and everything is right, you just fly.  Hit ‘em!  Knock ‘em over!  With an attitude, with a word, with a look.  Be surprising.  Figure out a way to do it that has never been done before.  You want to stop that movement from the popcorn to the mouth.  Get people to stop chewing.  The truth will do that.  Damn!  Damn!  Damn!  Damn! When it’s right, it’s right.  You can feel it in your bones. Then you feel whole.  Then you feel good.”

Let’s finish with a song.  Over to Dory Previn.

Judy Dean

Of course I’m liberated now

I see life as it is.

I call my soul my very own

and I no longer covet his.

 

No one else can get you through

I’ve learned with some regret.

I’ve outgrown all my heroes

I am cured of kings and yet…

 

And yet the other night

By chance, I saw him

There on the TV screen

Overbearing, arrogant

Marvellous, marvellous

And oh, so mean.

 

And that old addiction gripped me

You know how women get

I’ll bet I could have handled him

If only we had met.