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The 13th Monkey

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2012 by dcairns

A day of time travel stories —

To the cinema! To see Rian Johnson’s LOOPER. Big fan of his BRICK and I think THE BROTHERS BLOOM deserves more credit than it got even if it didn’t quite make it. After this hit, maybe more people will see it at least. But LOOPER is tough to talk about without spoilers, and it’s new so lots of you haven’t seen it. I’ll just say that Jeff Daniels berating Joseph Gordon-Levitt for copying his style from movies that themselves copied their style from older movies seems a very witty self-critique on Johnson’s part. We’ve already seen JG-L stand before the mirror and adjust his tiny duck-ass quiff in homage to Delon in LE SAMURAI… a movie which, like most Melville, transfigured moments and shots and set designs from old Hollywood noirs.

So it’s not the time to get into LOOPER, even though the film is current. We both really liked it, but I’d always rather talk about old stuff anyway.

The Outer Limits — watched the Harlan Ellison scripted Demon with a Glass Hand the same day as LOOPER, to get our heads nicely a-buzz with time travel ideas. Ellison sued the makers of THE TERMINATOR over its similarities to two of his stories, this and Soldier. Odd, since LOOPER owes much more to THE TERMINATOR, but one can’t imagine anyone suing over that resemblance. In Demon, Robert Culp (who can play both supermasculine and intellectual) comes from the future and has a cybernetic hand that tells him stuff, but can’t reveal the whole plot until it gets all its fingers back. This is a crazy, charming plot device, much more effective to deliver exposition than the scenes where Culp forces his enemies (who all look like Uncle Fester, as Fiona pointed out — except for the one who looks like a pitifully young Iggy Pop) to reveal what they know. They’re all remarkably loquacious, despite the fact that Culp is going to kill them anyway.

Byron Haskin, an old genre hand, directs, and rather delightfully the whole thing (apart from the above studio shot) plays inside the Bradbury Building, famous from BLADE RUNNER and a million other things, a building supposedly envisioned by its architect in a dream. Somebody should shoot some kind of cock-eyed compendium film of DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE there, since all of those came from dreams too. The ultimate oneiric movie.

The deserted office building at night is a vivid way to encapsulate the hero’s existential aloneness, which Ellison, lays on thick as you’d expect. He’s like a purple Kafka. Time travel per se plays little active role until the stinger at the end — the bad guys are aliens and removing their medallions could just as easily zap them back to their home world as forward in time. It’s interesting to me how baggy most of the Outer Limits scripts are — the one hour running time demands more complicated premises than Twilight Zone, but often the complications are stray stuff, padding or the narrative equivalent of patio extensions.

A case in point is The Man Who Was Never Born, which begins with a wholly superfluous astronaut character going through a time warp before the story actually begins. The true protagonist is Martin Landau as a futureworld mutant, traveling back in time to kill the scientist who’s going to invent a plague that sterilizes mankind and causes Landau’s disfigurement. So this story, by Anthony Lawrence, actually has more in common with THE TERMINATOR (and T2) than the Ellison story. Yet it’s prefigured too, by John Wyndham’s Consider Her Ways, which became a memorable episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Lawrence claimed his biggest influence was Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE (Shirley Knight makes a radiant Beauty), and Conrad Hall’s fairytale cinematography actually conjures a comparable glamour using a very different palette.

The same day we watched LOOPER and the Ellison, the BBC screened the season finale of Dr Who, so we had a serious dose of time travel. Stephen Moffat’s run as script editor has been up and down — he allowed the Doctor to step hideously out of character in one episode, vindictively murdering a bad guy. It seems like there’s a quality control issue in the selection of writers, probably because Moffat doesn’t have time to read script samples and write his own episodes and rewrite everybody else’s.

In principle, I think the Weeping Angels who first appeared in the stand-out episode Blink are a one-trick pony and probably shouldn’t have been re-used. The basic gag of statues which only move when you aren’t looking, is terrific, but somehow stopped being scary after the first show (where it was terrifying). Which means that the pleasures of this episode came from the actors  — Mike McShane rather wasted, but Alex Winter Kingston (d’oh!) zesty as ever. Farewell to the best assistants the doc has ever had, but we still have Matt Smith as the Time Lord himself, a completely wonderful embodiment of the character. It pains me to say, but I think Smith really will struggle to find suitable roles when his stint finishes. As with Tom Baker, when you’re that good at playing an alien/funny uncle/Christ figure, it can be hard for casting directors to see you any other way. But I hope I’m wrong — in terms of emotional range, Smith can play anything, and generally comes at the emotion from a surprising angle, which made the climactic farewell scene here really affecting. Moffat wrote it very nicely, Smith and Karen Gillan (who assuredly will have a great post-Who career) played the hell out of it, and the awful music did its best to smother the whole affair in treacle but couldn’t quite succeed.

Cornier Transplant

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2011 by dcairns

“Like all deaf people, I don’t much like the blind.” ~ Luis Bunuel.

LOS OJOS DE JULIA / JULIA’S EYES is from Guillem Morales, who brought us and the producers of THE ORPHANAGE, with Guillermo del Toro as exec prod again. It’s not quite as good as THE ORPHANAGE, which wasn’t quite as good as a Del Toro, but it’s still a fun, old-fashioned shock-thriller. Morales folds together two old warhorses, the blind girl in jeopardy and the identical twins plot — the first scene change, which implies that the death of one twin is felt by the other, miles away, establishes the blend of pseudo-science and folk superstition he’s working with. The heroine’s surname is Levin, a nod to Ira Levin, whose novel A Kiss Before Dying, filmed twice, uses the sister act murder detection ploy as plot motor.

What stops this being as effective as THE ORPHANAGE is the soupy music, chipboard husband character, and a plot which doesn’t quite add up: the death of one major character is left pretty well unexplained. Morales heaps on plot twists to cover the fact that several of his key twists are easily forseeable, but the fact that, during the longish section of the film where the heroine’s eyes are bandaged, all the other characters are framed with their heads out of shot, has an eerie and oppressive tension to it quite beyond its mere functionality to keep a secret from us.

Stylistic flourishes are the film’s strong point — inevitably, some version of WAIT UNTIL DARK’s climactic blackout must be attempted, and Morales delivers, fusing that swipe with a bit of REAR WINDOW for good measure. Recombining borrowed elements is a form of originality, I suppose, and when its done with this level of skill and confidence it can be exhilarating.

In common with Bruce Robinson’s JENNIFER 8, there’s also a queasy assumption that sighted children raised among blind people are going to be somehow marked or twisted by the experience. This isn’t anything the films insist on, it merely comes as baggage with the plotting which seeks to “explain” the killer’s obsession with the blind.

Since Fiona’s written a screenplay with a degenerative eye condition as part of the plot, she was worried that Morales might have pipped her to the post with the medical details in his film, but no worries: this is strictly movie medicine, with no evidence of even basic research to bolster the conviction. A shame: even a rather minor suspenser like BLINK shows the value of digging up obscure info on your subject, and the film’s credibility is already slightly stretched by the way the plot keeps hurling the heroine into darkened corridors, cellars, power blackouts etc. Still, as an old-fashioned twister with giallo style but minus the misogyny, this is a diverting ride.