Archive for Bruce Campbell

Because of the Wonderful Things He Does

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2013 by dcairns

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL should be seen for the fab 3D — Sam Raimi has always been a 3D filmmaker anyway, punching at that screen with his little girlish fists, trying to smack the audience in the face as if it were one of his beloved Stooges, and now he can finally do it, if only virtually. There are some really gorgeous effects here, particularly the snowflakes, which had us all swiping at the air like babies encountering soap bubbles for the first time. And during the Academy Ratio b&w opening sequence, Raimi keeps breaking the frame by having things like a fire-breather’s blazing puff burst out of the edges of the shot and into the auditorium.

There are, admittedly, some problems with the drama. There isn’t a lot of what you might call thrilling action, the non-period dialogue is irksome, and the mechanics whereby James Franco’s Oz actually destroys a decent character are troubling — he can never really be redeemed from this, and certainly doesn’t deserve to get the girl. If you watch this and then watch the 1939 original, the bit where Oz sends Dorothy to kill his ex-girlfriend will strike you as tonally rather off.

And an early scene where Oz, a Kansan magician, is threatened by an audience because he is unable to cure a crippled girl, is just peculiar. These may be hicks, but it’s unlikely they would expect a stage magician to perform actual miracles of healing. The scene could only make sense if Oz were a snake-oil salesman or faith healer, and I can only presume somebody thought that was too unsympathetic. But the character is pretty hateful at this stage anyway. He’s just ineffectively hateful.

My thoughts on the film seem to be whirling around like uprooted picket fence posts in a cyclone: let’s just sit by the window and check them out as they drift past. However — the movie may be best experienced knowing nothing about the story, so be aware there are a few spoilers below, and maybe avoid reading until you’ve seen the movie, if you plan to.

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The movie is a remake of Raimi’s ARMY OF DARKNESS. It is. But the ending is swiped from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. (“Revenge of the Big Face.”)

All along I had a problem with Franco, who can play a phony but can’t play calculation, insincerity and confidence-inspiring baloney. Fiona initially disagreed: “I liked him, I thought he was fine.” “They turned down Robert Downey Jnr.” “WHAAAAAAAT???!!!”

Michelle Williams is the best: the only character you always believe, for every line and look. There’s never any doubt with MW. And she’s playing the Billie Burke role, for God’s sake. It doesn’t exactly strike one as a gift to the actor. But she embraces the challenge of making Goodness and Strength interesting. Raimi has always had a touching faith in sweetness in women (and a corresponding fear of female sexuality).

Raimi’s connection to Oz goes back at least to the animate trees of EVIL DEAD, though his are considerably nastier than those Dorothy Gale tangled with.

Bruce Campbell gets hit with a stick, so that’s fine. By the dwarf from BAD SANTA: you get extra points for that.

Raimi’s still casting all his kids in crowd scenes, but he doesn’t shoehorn in irrelevant dialogue for them this time, as he did in SPIDER MAN III.

Fiona reckons Mila Kunis must look scary in real life, since her eyes are somehow bigger than the head that contains them. I was wondering how she would manage to the transformation from spherical to pointy head. Maybe she’d end up looking like a Sputnik. But the makeup is quite effective. Nobody can be Margaret Hamilton except Margaret Hamilton, though.

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The main reasons I liked this a lot better than Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, which had the same producers and also a by-the-numbers Danny Elfman score:

1) You can’t turn Lewis Carroll into a parable of good versus evil, and only an idiot would try. It’s about sense versus nonsense, or ordinary logic versus strange and sublime logic.

2) Fewer curlicues in this one.

3) Burton had no ideas for 3D whatsoever, and seemed unable to focus pull or edit without throwing the viewers’ brain out of whack, since what your eye was led to by the 3D was never consistent with the other filmmaking choices.

4) Admittedly, nobody in OTGAP is as good as Anne Hathaway in AIW. But nothing is one tenth as bad as Johnny Depp’s dance.

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China Girl is a really great SFX creation. Too bad they couldn’t have left her sweet and sentimental: the more raucous humour spoils the character a bit.

The Munchkins attempt a song, making this the fulfillment of Raimi’s dream for the ill-fated CRIMEWAVE: “I wanted to make it the Ultimate Film of Entertainment.”

(Is this the modern cinema experience in a nutshell: a big, bloated, yet oddly uneventful event, miscast and indifferently written, yet winning a measure of our respect just by virtue of presenting a slight variation on the usual form of spectacle? But wasn’t it ever thus? But isn’t it more so now?)

The Sunday Intertitle: Animal Crackers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2012 by dcairns

Didn’t get around to viewing any Max Linder this week, which had been the plan — but I’ve been delving deeper into the wonderful world of Charley Chase. Ridiculous that it’s taken this long to form an appreciation of this comic. For some reason I’d found him a little bland before, but that was based on a few excerpts. Since some of Chase’s films have quite convoluted plots, they take more time to get going than the usual silent comedies, and there’s a slow-burn effect that doesn’t come across in clips.

DOG SHY is another collaboration with Leo McCarey, whose farce plotting is comparable to PG Wodehouse. He would have been a great man to adapt “Plum”. And I’m not just saying that because here Charley impersonates a butler, which is a very Wodehousian trope.

There’s a lot more to it than that, of course. Charley is trying to rescue a nice flapper from marriage to a dastardly Duke. But Charley is also deathly afraid of dogs. And the family dog is also called The Duke. The lady of the house instructs her new butler to give the Duke a bath. He’s a little surprised, but then, rich people are famously eccentric, aren’t they? She warns him that The Duke may offer resistance, and he shouldn’t be afraid to use force.

Charley, very amused by the whole thing, attempts to lure the human Duke away from his lady friends by enacting various bathtime activities. His versatility as mime gets a good work-out here, and both the Duke’s incompehension and exasperation and Charley’s hilarity add immensely to the pleasures of the scene. Once he finally lures his prey into the bathroom, the ensuing struggle takes on some of the qualities of a homosexual rape, without, thankfully, any of the concomitant vulgarity.

Of course, once the confusion is straightened out, Charley’s problem worsens, as the canine Duke (played by “Buddy”), is much more intimidating and just as resistant to washing.

The plot thickens as Charley’s elopement gets tangled with a burglary and a dognapping, all three schemes depending on a midnight howl signal — it’s remarkable how McCarey uses the absurdity of his plotting to his advantage. Even though this is a comedy, it’s easy to imagine such improbability cause irritation as much as amusement.

As in MIGHTY LIKE A MOOSE, Buddy gets the last laugh, offering a paw of congratulation to Charley upon his eventual triumph, then snapping at him when he attempts to accept it.

We also watched ROUGH SEAS, a Chase talkie enlivened by Thelma Todd being cute as a French stowaway, and Napoleon the monkey being cute as a French monkey stowaway (“Remember how I found you on the battlefield?” asks doughboy Charley, and Josephine lies down and plays dead.) I have to assume that Napoleon either comes from the same simian stable as Josephine, companion to Buster Keaton in THE CAMERAMAN and Harold Lloyd in THE KID BROTHER, or else is actually Josephine in drag (the monkey wears a miniature doughboy uniform just like Charley’s).

Here’s Josephine with Harold in THE KID BROTHER.

It’s a pleasure to hear Charley speak (and sing!). His voice and delivery seem to lower his social standing slightly, although some of that may just be the role he’s playing here. Rather than the middle-class man about town, he’s more of a blue-collar goof, and his “Aw honey” manner seems weirdly to be the inspiration for Bruce Campbell’s entire screen persona.

Directed by Chase’s brother, James Parrott (why Chase didn’t use his real name, which is eminently humorous, when acting, is a mystery to me), ROUGH SEAS lacks the fastidious construction of DOG SHY, preferring just to cram a bunch of silly people and ideas together on a ship, but it’s entirely winning and very funny. Now that most all of Laurel & Hardy’s films are familiar to me, discovering Chase’s world seems like a new lease of life.

Somebody’s helpfully uploaded edited highlights of Charley and Thelma (and Napoleon) in ROUGH SEAS, preceded by its prequel, HIGH C’s…

Schlock Corridor

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2011 by dcairns

I idly wondered if the best bit from Sam Raimi’s CRIMEWAVE (his second film, following THE EVIL DEAD, co-written with the Coens) was on YouTube. Of course it was.

A strangely beautiful bit of live-action cartooning.

CRIMEWAVE was the victim of consistent and egregious studio interference — they refused to allow Bruce Campbell to play the lead, despite his modest EVIL DEAD cult status (their replacement choice is a complete no-name) and messed with the score and sound effects. What with Raimi mixing Three Stooges slapstick with Hong Kong action cinema camerawork, the result is a rather deafening bit of chaos: I know from experience that an extra cook or two can turn something from “lively” into “irritating” in short order. But a few bits are beautiful. I wish Raimi had brought some more of his style to the SPIDERMAN franchise, which was one of the better superhero things while it lasted but seemed to have been through some kind of extravagance removal program.

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