Archive for Edgar Wright

Trying too hard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2018 by dcairns

A fast-talking saleswoman (not Fiona) persuaded me to get the Sky movie channels, which means we’ve been able to catch up on a bunch of things we couldn’t be bothered seeing at the cinema. The generally unsatisfactory nature of the product discovered would allow me to congratulate me on my good judgement in giving it the go-by, except now I’ve gone and seen it, haven’t I?

What’s the name of the latest Ridley Scott sequel? — I want to say ALIEN VS PROMETHEUS — I will admit it doesn’t have P’s awful dialogue or nonsensical/stupid behaviour by characters. It just about makes sense as narrative. Except why open with a long, tedious discussion about the origins and purpose of human life — the central concern of the previous film, you may recall — if you’re never going to bring it up again? The ending is memorably horrible, I have to give them that, but the big silly fighting on a spaceship action climax doesn’t belong in this genre at all. What is this film supposed to be?

A friend asks: “Are the bodybuilders back?” I get a sudden false-memory flash: an arena full of the musclebound hearties, all furiously pumping iron. Why not?

But MAYBE I regret not seeing this on the big screen because Scott’s use of 3D, already assured, improved radically in THE MARTIAN (a terrific film, imho) and I can’t help wondering what it was like third time around.

ATOMIC BLONDE is dripping with style, but shall we say, somewhat overdone? As in, the titles identifying time and place (eighties Berlin) are not only in a dayglo spray-can font, but they spray on to the screen via animation, and there’s a spraying SOUND as they do so. Big long take fight scene which is really multiple takes stitched together digitally but impressing nonetheless. Charlize Theron essays sexy English accent and speaks in a whisper throughout. But has no opportunity to hit the emotions as she does in FURY ROAD. Nor does anyone else. The emotional flatline means that nothing feels surprising — we sure don’t care about the mission, and though there ARE plot twists, they carry no weight. The punch-ups are seriously ouchy, but there seems to be one every ten minutes, and they don’t lead to anything that feels like a development or paradigm shift. That’s as near as I can define what makes this slick thing seem so pointless and ugly.

IT has a similar problem. Set-piece after set-piece with almost no forward momentum. One of those films where an interesting director (Cary Fukunaga) quit ahead of shooting. Funny how creative differences always lead to creative sameness. The kids are all really good. Some dread is created, or it was for us, before repetition sets in. Yes, we get it, it’s about fear, but WHAT about fear? A lot of the problems may be in the source novel, but its the filmmakers’ job to solve them — they can’t be accused of being over-faithful to the letter of Stephen King’s doorstop (described by one critic at the time as five tons of crap in a three-ton crate). What insight into fear does the movie want to give us? And what supernatural rules does Pennywise the Clown follow? And what made anybody think having him turn into a giant spider was a good idea?

My personal aesthetic analysis: clowns can be scary, as we know, and if you take them out of the circus you get an added dissonance because they’re all dressed up, sureally inappropriate to their setting. A man looking out of a storm drain is scary, if he acts like he has a perfect right to be there. A similar kind of eerie out-of-placeness is created. He could be the modern equivalent of one of Magritte’s bowler hat guys. BUT — a clown in a storm drain is, again, trying too hard.BABY DRIVER is undoubtedly the best thing we saw. Edgar Wright reminds us that his stylistic paintbox contains more than just fast cutting — really lovely long take credits sequence. “You can see why they hired a choreographer,” exclaimed Fiona. The cast is terrific. Ansel Elgort (literally, Ansel the Gort) should be a star, although THAT NAME. Was there already a Captain McGlue in Actor’s Equity?

Only quibble is the ending, which literally takes five years to happen. One doesn’t like protracted endings. I somehow felt something problematic coming during the climax — a built-in indecision about who is the baddie (there are two candidates with better claims than the guy the settle on for their climactic confrontation), whether this should be a tragedy (I just don’t think the story has any weight if it isn’t) and if so, what is the hero’s tragic mistake (it seems to have happened before the movie starts, which isn’t the best approach)?But there’s such a wealth of film-making brio on display — maybe on a re-watch the ending won’t bother me so much. Why it bothers me now is partly because the rest of the film is so strong, and partly because it’s so symptomatic of the focus-grouped narrative soft-soaping that holds illimitable dominion over modern Hollywood. Like, we will never again have an ending that takes things further, or hits harder, than we expected.

To prove me wrong — what new films SHOULD I be seeing on cable?

The Sunday Intertitle: Busywork

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2013 by dcairns


Start as you mean to go on, Zasu!

But the purpose of this post isn’t to discuss Marshall Neilan’s 1917 film of A LITTLE PRINCESS. It’s a scattershot round-up of a few recent doings that don’t quite suit a post of their own.


I don’t engage in modern culture that much — I watch one TV show (Breaking Bad) and read one comic (Batman Inc, which has just finished its run under Grant Morrison) and follow one stand-up comedian, Stewart Lee. And at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival I was too tardy even to get a ticket for him. But there were still tickets for Baconface, a Canadian cult comic who performs in a wrestling mask adorned with strips of glistening bacon. This is ironic, since (a) the tickets for Baconface are cheaper than the tickets for Stewart Lee and (2) Bacon Face IS Stewart Lee. So we have now usefully established that Stewart Lee with bacon on his face is worth less than Stewart Lee without bacon on his face.

Lee’s first appearance with a new character (which might either clear up or further confuse the problem of distinguishing Lee the man from the character he portrays in his stand-up, an exaggerated version of himself) was an unexpected revelation. Much of the material was stuff Lee could have done as himself, but much of it was demented backwoodsman parody, and the rest was a parody of that parody, vanishing down a plughole of deconstruction. And there was a movie reference, which allows me to tie it in to the function of this blog: Bacon Face was probably the only artiste at the Fringe to mention Volker Schloendorff’s film of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, part of an extended routine about dragging up as Margaret Atwood for Canada Day.



THE WORLD’S END is the least impressive film of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s informal “Cornetto Trilogy” but it’s still very enjoyable. I have only three criticisms are (1) It feels a bit like a first draft — I would have liked to see little clues to the alien invasion dropped in during the first half hour, a la Philip Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or THE BIRDS — instead, the movie attempts an abrupt genre switch like FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, OK in principle but leaving the first act to get by purely as situation comedy, with a rather irksome lead character (deliberately so, but an escape valve of sci-fi suspense would have helped) (2) Wright overuses the device of having a foreground object wipe frame and invisible lead into the next shot. Shame to hide a good cut, I say, and if you play this card too often it comes to look like you’re short of ideas, which we know is not the case with Wright, having seen the dazzling kinetics of SCOTT PILGRIM (3) the ending is really terrible, protracted and unfunny and inexplicable in character terms. That’s a real shame, but the middle is incredibly enjoyable. Not that new, after SHAWN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, but hysterical entertainment all the same.


MONDO TEENO or TEENAGE REBELLION is a 1967 mondo shock doc — as dreadful as you’d expect, but with interesting credits, as the IMDb and Wikipedia list Eriprando Visconti (Luchino Visconti) and Richard Lester as co-directors. Lester is uncredited on the film, and it seemed unlikely he’d get involved in something like this, especially at the height of his career.

There IS some London street footage which looks a bit like the hidden-camera stuff in THE KNACK, so that might be how the rumour started.

I asked him about it and he said “As to Teenage Rebellion, this has been attributed to me before, usually on Wikipedia.  I don’t have the skills required to remove it, perhaps you can do it.” So I am saying this here so I can cite the director himself when I try to edit Wikipedia. Sort of like Woody Allen pulling Marshall McLuhan in to win his argument for him in ANNIE HALL.

Listing slightly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2012 by dcairns

“Oh no… can you imagine how sarcastic that coroner’s going to be THIS time?”

I try to avoid writing lists, mainly. I used to make to-do lists, but it seemed to be a way of putting off doing things. And I used to make lists of favourite films, which is perhaps an OK way to start thinking about films, but runs out of value pretty quickly.

But for some reason I bought Sight & Sound specially for the Critics’ and directors’ poll this month. Actually, more the directors’. A good list there works as a sort of map of the filmmakers’ head. Just agreeing or disagreeing with the choices isn’t enough, I want to learn something about the person. That’s why my favourite last time was Bryan Forbes, because he included his own movie, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND. Tells you a lot about him.

Forbes wasn’t asked back, but my favourite lists were those Guillermo Del Toro (FRANKENSTEIN, FREAKS, LA BELLE ET LA BETE), Mike Hodges (all thrillers, all on the verge of noir but not quite typical), Richard Lester (visual comedies and period movies), Edgar Wright (from DUCK SOUP to THE WILD BUNCH) and especially Terence Davies (lots of cineastes listed SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, and one doesn’t doubt their sincerity, but with him it really means something). Also Bong Joon-Ho (CURE and TOUCH OF EVIL and ZODIAC) and Abel Ferrara (A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, THE DEVILS).

I also like the mysteries: Charles Burnett is the only filmmaker to list Henrik Galeen’s THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE and doesn’t amplify; does Rolf de Heer really like FEARLESS that much or did he feel the need to list a film from an Australian (the film is good, but is it that good?); Andrew Dominik’s list is all-English language and all post-1950 — his choices are all great, but doesn’t he feel any embarrassment?

Atom Egoyan claims to have listed ten films that have had “the most dramatic impact on the artform,” as if his personal feelings didn’t come into it.

I find myself in favour of goofy lists. I don’t want the overall top ten to change that much, but it gets boring to see the same names again and again. In the critics’ poll, Ian Christie lists RW Paul’s THE “?” MOTORIST, Geoff Dyer has WHERE EAGLES DARE, and they’re obviously quite sincere, and the Ferroni Brigade has PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (“We don’t believe these are the ten best films of all time, but we are convinced it would be better if they were,” begging the question, WHAT would be better?). One of Alexander Horvath’s choices, NOISES (anon, 1929) cannot be located using Google or the IMDb (“While it should be pretty obvious that these are the ten greatest films of all time, I still wonder if anyone will agree”). On the other hand, Slavoj Zizek, as always, tries a bit too hard to be interesting.

Creating an alternate list to the top ten ought to be fairly easy — just sub in an alternative choice from the same director or era or country or movement or genre. But in fact, the list is pleasingly stuffed with sui generis oddities — no other Dreyer film really compares to JOAN OF ARC (some may be better, but none are like it), CITIZEN KANE stands unique in Welles’ oeuvre even if one prefers CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, VERTIGO is a uniquely strange Hitchcock, LA REGLE DU JEU a uniquely strange Renoir, and Vertov offers only one obvious candidate. Ozu, Ford and Fellini made enough masterpieces for credible substitutions, though 8 1/2 still seems summative.

I know my favourite film: HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (ten years ago, Mark Cousins listed this: now, I don’t think anyone has). And then PLAYTIME and 2001 are the most amazing films I know. Beyond that, I’d surely have to have Powell, Welles, Sturges, Kurosawa, Keaton, Hitchcock, Russell, Lang, Fellini… oops, that’s eleven already. This is a silly game, I’m not playing.