Archive for Joe Dante

Game Ova

Posted in FILM, Interactive with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2018 by dcairns

The easter-egg/treasure hunt plot of READY PLAYER ONE is very INDIANA JONES, while the quasi-dystopian world is pure MINORITY REPORT, but the movie references numerous other Spielberg productions as it attempts to visualise the postmodern concept of the pop-cultural universe as a virtual place where every fictional character and artifact exists alongside each other.

Maybe WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? was the first movie to attempt this kind of mash-up, but it contented itself with folding Disney & Warners cartoons together, with a few strays like Betty Boop, deliberately excluding later cartoons that would have diluted what stylistic consistency it had. Then THE LEGO MOVIE threw everything into the mix but achieved a surprising consistency by making it all Lego.

Complaints about Spielberg’s new movie warping the character of Brad Bird’s warping of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man (a delightful warping, but definitely a warping) and some of the other icons recycled in his big messy new flick seem quite misguided — according to the movie, these are merely avatars, not the real things. As someone who, as a kid, would make Action Man fight Cindy and Stretch Armstrong and a fluffy rabbit and Cassius Clay, I could appreciate the way the filmmakers are having fun cramming together things that just don’t belong together. It’s a bit like if, one second after the camera flashed on the Sergeant Pepper’s album cover, a massive fight broke out.

And it really doesn’t matter if you don’t get all the references, or any of them. The treasure hunt plot is one of the dullest conceptions available to the storyteller (follow the clues, win the reward), though slightly less obnoxious than Rescue The Princess, but writers Zak Penn & Ernest Cline throw in some neat complications to make things less boringly single-track. It’s diverting, sugary popcorn.

If the cultural (mis)appropriation doesn’t matter and the question of “Will the kids know who Buckaroo Banzai is?” doesn’t matter, and they really, really don’t and aren’t you ashamed of yourselves for caring, movie pundits?, then what does matter? Well, the hero is very bland and made more so by being flanked by a couple of cool, contrasting girls. And then Mark Rylance makes a caricature aspie genius figure become dimensional and wholly believable and that sort of lessens everyone else, especially poor Simon Pegg who can’t compete. Pegg can do many things but he’s not in Rylance’s league. He’s not even in his sport.

And of course there’s the whole issue of MEANING. Our hero joins an underground resistance movement but ends up as an all-powerful CEO, not only levelling up but lawyering up, and the film isn’t interesting in exploring or questioning or making fun of the contradictions. Those parts of the film’s world-building concerned with what makes the bad guys bad are so sketchily rendered as to wholly lack weight, and the Evil Corporation meme, which has always been a somewhat translucent veil when used by Hollywood movies produced by huge corporations, has never seemed so wispy and full of holes. This movie can’t even BEGIN to invest in the idea of authentic capitalist evil, so it all comes down to one nasty suit, well played by Ben Mendelsohn… but has he been cast just because he looks a bit like Miguel Ferrer in ROBOCOP?

A few people have suggested that this kind of fantasy, requiring a little satirical edge, might better suit a creator like Joe Dante, and I would recommend to you the flawed (by executive interference) LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION and the majestic GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH for films which really earn one’s respect by straining to bursting point to fulfill the contradictory requirements of selling toys and mocking the whole business of movie/merchandise synergy.

Still, RP1 is fun. If you surrender to it, the action is exciting, the extended Kubrick homage is a blast, Rylance is magnificent (say, can PTA discover him, please? Now that D-Day Lewis has apparently had his day?) and though it has a worryingly protracted wrap-up like in the bad old days immediately following SCHINDLER’S  LIST (or like Penn’s script for X-MEN II), it doesn’t completely outstay its welcome.

Advertisements

Sham Rock

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, Television, They Live with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2017 by dcairns

Fiona’s been researching the works of legendary TV/movie screenwriter Nigel Kneale, so she got me to run HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, which I believe I saw at my school film society when it was about a year old, and which I dismissed as tosh at the time. I learned at some point that Kneale had been involved — he wrote a draft but then took his name off the film — and sympathised with him. John Carpenter, apparently, is a big Quatermass fan, but the film got compromised, by Dino De Laurentiis and others, and director Tommy Lee Wallace, who reckoned that “60%” of Kneale’s script remained, ended up with sole writing credit (which seems a bit shifty of him, though if the sometimes irascible Kneale was unwilling to even touch the film with a nom de plume, what else could they do?).

Well, I was definitely right about the film back in 1983 or so. The lead roles are colossally underwritten — surely the unconvincing way they fall into bed together is part of Wallace’s 40% — in a film featuring robots, it’s even more of a problem than it normally would be when your main characters behave like automata programmed with a pianola roll of clichéd genre behaviour. The villain’s plan is completely absurd and worse, not scary. The only actor having fun is Dan “Nice shootin’ son” O’Herlihy, but his eccentric monologuing seems to have been cut to the bare bones, which is tragic since it robs us of additional lipsmacking and leaves the motivation for his elaborate scheme largely unexplained.

Of course, Kneale’s raison d’être as a fantasy writer was his ability to invest absolute conviction in potentially absurd ideas, but something is way off here. Fiona learned that the bit of stolen Stonehenge used as MacGuffin was not part of Kneale’s putative 60% contribution, but an addition by the production, who felt it was in the spirit of Kneale’s work since he had just used stone circles in the final Quatermass series. In the movie, Irish novelty mask manufacturer O’Herlihy (see also the unpleasant but offscreen Irish industrialist in Kneale’s The Stone Tape) is planning to reestablish the pagan roots of Halloween by implanting microchips with bits of henge silica, fit them to rubber masks, and send out some kind of subliminal signal in his TV commercials which will cause the wearers’ heads to erupt with cockroaches and snakes. Well, if Kneale was responsible for 60% of that guff, I can only assume we’re talking about a percentage of the letters of the alphabet, suitably rearranged.

Indeed, this site informs me helpfully that Kneale was thriftily repurposing an old TV script of his, The Big, Big Giggle, in which a TV signal causes teen suicides, rejected by a BBC in fear of imitative behaviour issues (not altogether unreasonably, though holding television responsible for the actions of people with mental health issues is always slippery and unsafe). Already it looks like Kneale’s idea is more disturbing, shorn of the ridiculous bug-head stuff, and convincing enough to cause TV execs to actually worry that it might, in a way, come true. It’s still voodoo television, and the henge-chips don’t really make it sillier, so I’d even allow that aspect of it, but the bugs are a step too far.

Kneale also apparently wrote the automata henchmen (or hengemen, if you will), which somehow fail to be creepy at all in the finished film, and are pretty damn implausible given the state of 1980s cybernetics, or even contemporary cybernetics. In the movie these guys are mainly used to add gory and unnecessary (in plot terms) deaths, which Kneale hated. But the movie was never going to go into production without a bunch of set-piece killings. Film history was not on Kneale’s side, even if the history of Samhain was.

But OK. Dull as the human interactions are, rote as the conspiracy investigation is, ludicrous as the conspiracy itself turns out to be, and entirely empty of meaning as the film itself is, it does have a few pleasures. The attractive widescreen is one of the few connections with Carpenter’s original film (glimpsed on TV sets — also we hear Jamie Lee Curtis’ echoing voice from factory tannoys). There’s one good BOO! moment early on, repeated to lessening effect. Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s electronic drones are lovely: somehow the crudeness forced on Carpenter by early synths enhances his music rather than detracting from it; somehow the marriage of 35mm anamorphic widescreen and pulsing electronic tonalities is just wonderfully RIGHT.

Carpenter, who as co-producer must share some of the blame as well as credit, admires Kneale but has never been very comfortable in the domain of IDEAS, which are what Kneale is all about. PRINCE OF DARKNESS is a beautifully-photographed rendition of what a Kneale concept would be like if it didn’t have a concept. The big exception, of course, is THEY LIVE, a rather wonderful genre mash-up which blends Phildickian paranoia with the establishment dread of Kneale’ Quatermass II. Joe Dante, originally touted to direct, who seems to have suggested Kneale in the first place, thrives on eccentric ideas, the more the better, and often involving TV, the media, toys. Indeed, the conspiracy at the heart of LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION carries an echo of Kneale’s Big, Big Giggle. But even Dante may have struggled to keep Kneale on board — now there was a man used to getting his own way. Or, if he didn’t always get it, he could certainly point to the fact that when he did, the results were usually sensationally effective and successful. And when he didn’t, you got a head full of cockroaches.

The Obligatory Dick Miller

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , on August 4, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-08-01-16h26m26s006

When my school friend Robert and I first became aware of Dick Miller, being impressed by him in AFTER HOURS (“He said the title!”) but realizing that somehow we already knew him from many films, we had trouble remembering his name. It seemed too ordinary for him. So we called him The Character Actor.

One thing we quickly realized is that The Character Actor nearly always turned up in Joe Dante films, as a kind of Added Treat.

Here he is (left)  making his obligatory appearance in Joe Dante’s excoriating satire THE SECOND CIVIL WAR, the timely subject of this fortnight’s edition of The Forgotten. Now THAT’S character!