Archive for It!

The Sunday Intertitle: Chimproper Behaviour

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2020 by dcairns

SUDDEN CHIMPACT

LE MANOIR DE LA PEUR (1927 or thereabouts) chimpressed me no end. Though the story of Alfred Machin & Henry Wulschleger’s thriller is fairly naive, mainly an opportunity to exploit the services of chimpanzee actor Monsieur Schey, the photography (by Mario Badouille), design (unknown), editing (maybe the directors?) and performances are terrific.

A mysterious stranger moves into the MANSION OF FEAR (turn left at the cemetery). Soon, the village is plagued by a crime spree. But we’ve already been shown who’s doing it: the sinister stranger’s servant (Cinq-Leon) has been training a lab chimp, Hello (Monsieur Schey), to burgle the burghers. He chalks a kind of HOBO SIGN on the door of each home to be ransacked, then dispatches the chimpetuous Hello to do his hairy bidding.

Cinq-Leon, a self-described wretch, is a remarkable presence. Every part of him is in an advanced state of decay, from his teeth to his face to his walk, a scuttle that’s equal parts infantile, senile, rodent and crustacean.

He seems to be playing his part in English, as you can see his hideous mouth parting wide in a repeated exhortation of “Yes!” as he instructs his chimpressionable protege. I imagine this being delivered in a fervent, Ben-Kingsley-in-SEXY-BEAST manner.

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Hello chimplements his crimes with chimpetuous chimpiety. What are they gonna do, lock him up?

Look how beautiful the photography is, though.

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Most of this joint is location-based, but we get some terrific interiors when we visit the town hall, which has seen better days. Unsightly ducts, heaps of neglected books, and a massive fissure in the ceiling. Plus terrifyingly tall doors. It’s expressionist in its exaggeration, but very solid and tactile and real at the same time. And we’ll probably never know who was responsible.

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SLIDESHOW!

The mayor gets his flunky to check the town’s history to see if something like this has happened before. And you know what? Something like this has happened before! Only that time, the stranger was the devil and they got rid of him by burning him in the town square. Simpler times.

I was struck that this plot idea — a demonic force descending periodically upon a small town, its backstory discovered in the archives — anticipates Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (and Stephen King’s It, but we know where HE got it from).

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One of the wacky and advanced things about the film is the sudden appearance of the Devil and the scary house during the opening titles. Spliced in without warning. They ought to be subliminal flashes I suppose, but the filmmakers didn’t quite have the nerve for that. But you could argue the non-diegetic and pseudo-subliminal Satan anticipates THE EXORCIST. Or I’ll argue it. Hold my coat.

Dig that zigzag

Hello the Chimp has been trained in one more trick — when Cinq-Leon is worried that he’s going to be unmasked, he sends his chimplacable avenger out with a bottle of poison to spike the ale of his potential denouncer. But Hello goes astray, murders a signalman instead, thus sending a locomotive hurtling towards a collapsed viaduct… Cue exciting rail chase…

So there’s a lot going on here. It’s a film of sensations. Many of them involving a chimpanzee. I really want to see more by this team. They all collaborated with the versatile Monsieur Schey in LES HÉRITIERS DE L’ONCLE JAMES (1924 or thereabouts) but alas that isn’t readily available. But I’ll let you know what I find.

The Time Tunnel

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on July 26, 2019 by dcairns

Yes, we are enjoying Dark, since you ask.

A German Netflix show about time travel, it so far, two out of three promised seasons in, shows every sign of being meticulously planned, so that it might be one of those rare shows that not only compels binge-watching, but leaves you satisfied at the end.

It’s set in the fictitious town of Winden, where it’s always raining and everyone’s miserable, so as Scots we related. As with any good small-town soap opera, everyone has a secret, too, which in this case translates into nearly everyone having a small package buried in the woods.

Timelines multiply — we meet the characters in 2019 but are soon time-traveling back to 1986. Then 1953, and so on — the number 33 is significant (yay! my favourite number, because in French it sounds like a fanfare). One of the amazing accomplishments is to have found so many sets of three German actors who can play the same characters at three different times in their lives. They use a few tricks like stick-on moles, an impressive cauliflower ear, and heterochromatic eyes to help you follow who is now who. But the line “Confused? You will be,” is still an apt one.

I instinctively distrust things without humour, and Dark is quite remarkably free of laughs. However, it doesn’t seem to be making many mistakes. One of the questions raised by the narrative is whether time travel precludes free will, as a way of preventing paradoxes, and the conclusion seems to be that it does. We even get Appointment in Samarra type instances of characters attempting to alter events, and their interventions become the springboards that CAUSE those events. The downside of this is a couple of scenes where the pre-determined plot causes characters to do things you can’t quite believe they WOULD do (like acquiescing to a loved one’s suicide, based on no proof that this is necessary, on the say-so of a character they have no reason to trust), or suddenly act stupidy because the plot demands it, despite being otherwise smart and capable (“Let’s go to the place where you’re supposed to die today, even though I’m trying to prevent that!”)

These are missteps, but they don’t cancel out the otherwise strong presentation (particularly gorgeous nocturnal establishing shots), performances (although humour could lift these even further), or twisty, moreish plotting. They’re the only indications that the showrunners, director Baran bo Odar and his writing partner Jantje Friese, might not be equal to resolving their tangle of timelines (a temporal wormhole thingy central to events fittingly resembles a ball of black wool having an epileptic fit). Oh, and a scene where three nice characters basically torture a friend, get what they need from him, and are then all friends again. Not wild about that.

The show is probably successful in part because it’s not WILDLY original. It takes time travel seriously and applies it to a soap format, and otherwise it borrows from other places in rather direct ways — the showrunners perhaps don’t even know they’re doing it. “It’s happening again,” says a character early on, straight-up quoting the Giant in Twin Peaks. The recurrent, cyclic spates of child abduction/murder echo Stephen King’s It. A mysterious, windy tunnel is right out of BEING JOHN MALKOVITCH, though its destination is not the inside of a famous actor’s head (unless that’s a plot turn being held back for Season 3). When Matt Groening created The Simpsons, he says, he tried to keep certain elements mundane — the domestic setting, the two point four kids — so the audience’s heads wouldn’t explode from all the other crazy stuff. This seems to work, but you have to be really good to pull it off.

The Dark team seem to be really good.

More TV stuff shortly — we’re halfway through the new Veronica Mars.

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?