Archive for Guillermo Del Toro

The Noms

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2018 by dcairns

So, unusually, I have actually seen some of the Oscar-nominated films.

We saw THE SHAPE OF WATER. Fiona is a big Del Toro fan. I like him as a person on the movie scene, but usually wish I could like his films more than I do. I like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE best, the rest seem to miss the mark. I like the compromised MIMIC better than I like PAN’S LABYRINTH, which gives you some idea.

This one disappointed both of us, but all the reasons I could give you don’t mean much, because the real reason was we didn’t buy into the central relationship and as a result we weren’t moved. We were interested, but we didn’t get weepy, which we should have, surely, since this is basically E.T. (and SPLASH, but then SPLASH is E.T. too).

The romance seemed to consist of Sally Hawkins giving Doug Jones some hard-boiled eggs. I can imagine that Guillermo sees this as the highest form of love, and he might feel he would be tied by unbreakable romantic bonds to anybody who gave him some hard boiled-eggs, but I couldn’t relate to this. Now, if it had been cheese on toast…

The production design of Hawkins’ apartment, styled after Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (episode: The Drop of Water), is gorgeous. We didn’t buy the light from the cinema downstairs filtering through the floorboards, but we were willing to be indulgent. But then when Hawkins fills the bathroom with water, we stopped indulging. You can have a flimsy, permeable floor or an impossibly strong, almost-watertight floor, not both. And that flooding the house was a stupid thing to do when you’re hiding from the authorities.

(How I know about water and floors: there’s an anecdote from the filming of TOMMY. The production made what can in hindsight be seen as a mistake in putting Oliver Reed and Keith Moon in the same hotel. One evening, Moon knocks on Ollie’s door and asks for help moving his water-bed. Ollie is a very strong man: his party trick was to seize a bar-top and hold his entire body out horizontally. But he doesn’t know that it’s impossible for a human being to move a water-bed when it’s full of water. It weighs about twice what any strong man could lift. Still, Ollie has a try, and does succeed in ripping the water-bed, flooding the room with 200 gallons of water, not enough to fill a bathroom but enough to cause Moon’s hotel room to collapse into the room below. So I always laugh at stories of rock stars destroying hotel rooms. They merely destroy the contents of hotel rooms. Moon and Reed destroyed two actual rooms. This may seem like a digression but the film is called THE SHAPE OF WATER so it isn’t.)

Other bits of production design we liked: well, all of it, but the dais Jones is strapped to is borrowed from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

And the idea of a film set in a secret government lab but centering on the cleaners is lovely.

But I didn’t buy the baddies wanting to dissect their only specimen, I didn’t buy the Russians at all (what they wanted seemed to make no sense). I couldn’t invest because I couldn’t believe. The twist was cool, but the sudden miraculous powers bit kind of confused that. It seemed odd that a writing team wouldn’t pick up on each others’ mistakes more. But I’m sure if Del Toro asked me to co-write a film (ain’t going to happen NOW, is it?) I would be somewhat in awe of him and just agree with all his ideas even if I privately thought maybe they were silly.

We also saw THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. That has lots of entertainment value, and we did respond emotionally, and I think we’re all grateful Martin McDonagh isn’t trying quite so hard to be Irish. I did have qualms, but mostly some time after seeing it, so I can kind of recommend it as a cinema experience.

At first, when I heard people having an issue with the film’s treatment of race, I thought, well, that’s not really what the film’s about. Which I would stand by. But Sam Rockwell’s character is explicitly identified as a particularly horrible racist. And then he’s put through quite a lot, and tries to redeem himself. But racial awareness never plays any role in that character arc, that shot at redemption. He doesn’t seem to think about it, and nor does the movie anymore. Which I think is a problem. It does seem rather too urgent and serious an issue to drop into and out of your movie. Would it have been better to leave it out, or else deal with it more fully? How would they have done that?

By making Frances McDormand’s character black, I guess. Hmm, would that make it a more urgent, serious and meaningful film, all by itself? I think it might.

And we have seen GET OUT (no complaints, a masterpiece — so why didn’t I write about it?), THE DISASTER ARTIST (a wasted opportunity), I saw DUNKIRK, Fiona saw and liked LOGAN, we saw the STAR WARS and the BLADE RUNNER and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.

Gotta see PHANTOM THREAD! That’s the one I feel doltish for not having caught. But oh look, it isn’t out here. So I’m not stupid for missing it, yet.


It Came from Outer Space Beneath the Sea

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2013 by dcairns


We enter the multiplex auditorium and immediately feel the crunch of popcorn under foot — a heap of the stuff, spilled on the carpet. “My God, a child has exploded,” says the guy behind us.

As a pedant, the bit of Guillermo Del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM which I did not enjoy, was hearing Idris Elba say that he would die if he “stepped foot” inside one of those giant walk-robots again. This particular language-mangling is one which seems to have gained ground since I first heard it in a hair product ad ten years or so ago (how does one “step foot”? Did Johnny Eck “step hand”? I think the phrase for which Del Toro and his drift partner / co-writer Travis Beacham are grasping is “set foot,” a phrase which has the advantage that, when you think about it, it actually makes sense) and I’m not sure how it can be exterminated. Perhaps the linguistic equivalent of a plasmacaster could do it. Or an Idris Elba elbow rocket.

If the film’s grammar is faulty, its look is very nice indeed, with a lot of intense coloured light, neon etc, filtered and softened through water haze — a bit like wearing the old anaglyph 3D red-blue glasses to go swimming (what? I’m the only one to have done this?). Despite having written about giant monster movies quite a bit, I’ve never been entirely convinced that there was a way to make a really good one, the first KING KONG still being, in my opinion, the only conspicuous triumph in eighty years of kaiju kinema. PACIFIC RIM’s main achievement is to suggest that such a film, further down the line, might be possible. I don;t think this is it, but it comes closer than the likes of Michael Bay could ever dream.


Del Toro is striving to be mainstream here, which is a potentially depressing thing to see any filmmaker do, especially one who shouldn’t need to struggle to be immensely popular. I’m convinced that his HOBBIT or his AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS would have been more interesting and probably more box office than this. As it is, his disinterest in his leading character (who has no grotesque quirks or illnesses and isn’t a child) is palpable, with Charlie Hunnam fairing worse than similar Brit-with-a-US-accent Rupert Evans in HELLBOY (a character brutally excised from the sequel with a dismissive two-line dialogue exchange). Rinko Kikuchi (memorable as Bang Bang in THE BROTHERS BLOOM) is rather delightful as his opposite number, but her child version in flashback, tiny Mana Ashida, creates the film’s only real emotion.

Ron Perlman and Charlie Day are fun. Burn Gorman, who gets a lot of work by looking like a Skull Island rat monkey, or like Lee Evans with third-degree burns, overacts rather badly. The human dimension is very cartoony, and while I don’t necessarily say that characters with names like Stacker Pentecost and Hercules Hansen are foredoomed to be one-dimensional comic strip figures (I picture a one-dimensional comic-strip figure as resembling a single dot from a Roy Lichtenstein blow-up), the figures declaiming lines like “The apocalypse is cancelled!” do not consistently transcend the emotional sophistication of the Mattel toy.


BUT — I don’t think any of that would necessarily spoil the pleasure of anybody who already thinks that giant robots fighting giant lizards is a good idea for a movie. I do think it was a mistake to set the final battle underwater, thus losing the sense of scale of the earlier urban punch-up, which is more spectacular, more inventive, and not hampered by the drag effect of water. Underwater battles are ALWAYS dullsville, surely? Remember THUNDERBALL? It took a lot of effort to make something that dull. Del Toro’s deep-sea donnybrook is more exciting than that, but it’s weaker than what has gone before.

I remember learning, to my surprise, from a female anime fan in Leytonstone, that female anime fans really like big robot stories — the idea of piloting a big robot appeals to some untapped female primal urge — and I worry that by making his robots team-driven, the most interesting idea at play in PACIFIC RIM, Del Toro and Beacham may have negated the wish-fulfillment fantasy of having a giant steel carapace.


Maybe it’s time I watched PATLABOR again.

A shame the movie doesn’t use the term “waldos” — Robert Heinlein invented the term in a science fiction story and it became an accepted name for “remote manipulators” (machines which mimic the movement of a real human limb at a distance) when they were eventually invented. But the film does use the expression “Double Event,” borrowed from Jack the Ripper studies — Del Toro is a keen Ripperologist and no doubt liked the strange, mythic import of the words.

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.