Archive for Josh Brolin

Thanos: The Hand of Fate

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2018 by dcairns

How about a Cronenberg superhero team? Brundlefly, Mugwump, Revok and Rose from RABID, led by Dr. Brian O’Blivion?

Yes, I was lured into seeing AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR by the promise of seeing Edinburgh onscreen, a mild enthusiasm for the Russo Bros, and a mild investment in these superheroes. And yet I never saw (so far) THOR: RAGNAROK, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY II or BLACK PANTHER so I’m not yet a hopeless case, even though those three are probably better than CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR which I *did* see.

Certainly the Guardians provide the most solid entertainment of all the army of supes on display here. Of the Avengers, Hawkeye is absent, and Black Widow and War Machine and Falcon don’t really get anything memorable to do. This post is going to be full of spoilers, by the way.

Characters who do get amusing business:

Bruce Banner is suffering from a kind of erectile dysfunction: he can’t hulk out, which means he’s basically a scientist in this film. They can’t find a convincing way to write such a character and Mark Ruffalo, so effective and immediately right in the role in the first AVENGERS, seems a little uncomfortable with the sillier stuff, but his embarrassment at the big green guy’s sudden shyness is very funny.

This never happens.

Alongside the third-generation Hulk is the third-generation Spiderman, who’s quite good. Emphasising that Peter Parker’s a teenager makes Tom Holland stand out. He sounds a bit like the teenage clerk in The Simpsons.

As you might predict, encounters between the very similar Dr. Strange and Iron Man — two alpha male jerks — turn into dick-measuring contests. After all, they’re both Sherlock Holmes. Thor and Starlord’s banter plays out the same way, except Starlord is obviously plagued by feels of inadequacy. Dave Bautista as Drax homoerotically rhapsodising over Thor’s muscles is amusing. But there are no actual gay, bi or trans people in this movie, and no real sex, either. There’s a sweet, non-threatening romance between Scarlet Witch and Vision, which is the Edinburgh bit, and Gwyneth Paltrow does a walk-on for some interrupted wooing with Downey Jr. Other than that, the only hint of lasciviousness comes from the tight costumes. The musclebound characters don’t sem quite human to me, so the sexiest people from my viewpoint were probably the lithe Vision and Nebula, a robot and an alien cyborg, respectively.

Nebula (Karen Gillen) is basically the only Scot in the film, since the version of late-night Edinburgh we get is completely unpopulated. This struck me as implausible — a few bellowing drunkards would have added a welcome touch of realism — and it gives the lie to Thanos’s (big purple chin)  claim that the galaxy, or was it the universe, is running out of resources and so the ONLY POSSIBLE SOLUTION is to disintegrate half of everybody alive. Many people have pointed out how silly his plan is (he could, just for example, sterilize 90% of everybody, or, with his godlike powers, he could maybe rustle up some more resources. But no.

Josh Brolin underplaying a behemoth with a giant purple chin with grooves in it like he tried to carve it into a beard, with a ridiculous masterplan, is actually really compelling as a character. A real triumph of acting and mocap and animation etc, over character design. (As a character in comics, Thanos doesn’t look ridiculous at all, or at least no more ridiculous than his surroundings. The movies ought to have tweaked his appearance slightly, or differently.)

Gee, I’m getting tired of writing about characters called Scarlet Witch and Starlord. Probably a good thing I didn’t go into comics.

Oh, other amusing things: Peter Dinklage plays a twenty-foot tall dwarf (Thor, who is slightly shorter than twenty feet, call him a dwarf). To make his acting to scale, Dinklage overdoes his Game of Thrones English accent by 4000%.

CIVIL WAR bored me because it was mostly about heroes smashing stuff up, in a meaningless fight in which you knew they wouldn’t kill each other. Very obviously, a lot of innocent bystanders would have to have been killed, but the movie airbrushes this aside. This one is more enjoyable because there is a variety to the action, it’s not all smashing property and a lot of it is in space. It’s the opposite of MISSION TO MARS: the best stuff is in space.

Fake kebab shop.

But it’s striking that the movie has neither a beginning — we start at the end of a battle we haven’t seen (was it in RAGNAROK?) and end with the bad guy triumphant (well, more like quietly contented, because Brolin is underplaying). It’s a seemingly devastating conclusion (quite effective, because there ARE a lot of nice actors in these party costumes who can look genuinely traumatised as their friends turn to unconvincing CGI ash). The “ending” is sort of bold, because I can imagine some small kids and dumbasses not understanding that it’s all going to be undone in the sequel, the only question being whether they’ll resurrect the characters who didn’t disintegrate and merely died from stabbing, brain-gouging or falling from a high place.

At the end of this, by a wild coincidence that’s sort of amusingly contrived, the characters left standing, apart from a couple of Guardians of the Galaxy, are basically the original Avengers line-up plus Don Cheadle.

Will I end up seeing the sequel? Maybe… maybe I need my Jeremy Renner fix. He’s not in this one, so I immediately watched THE BOURNE LEGACY when I got home. It was the best Bourne film, apart from Jeremy Renner.

Grain

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2015 by dcairns

Inherent-Vice

Pting. Vessooey. Wooch.

I never saw THE MASTER on the big screen. I missed the 70mm screenings in Dublin by days, and the big print never made it to Edinburgh. Apparently the London cinema that had first dibs on it had booked their best projectionist to handle it, but decided to save a little money by letting a less experienced employee take care of the press screening. He wrecked the print.

Bliffle. Wazzmap. Trintrintrittock.

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And I wasn’t completely sure I was going to bother with seeing INHERENT VICE in 35mm — Fiona, influenced by bad reviews, wasn’t interested, and a few friends reported disappointment and bafflement. I let the Cameo screenings slide by. But, on a whim, I popped along to Filmhouse 3 after work yesterday — and I really, really liked it. But it’s put me in quite a strange frame of mind. Vuvuvungle. Ilm. Fffffiip.

Another thing that had put me off slightly is that I had read the book, and found it extremely slight by Pynchon standard. Not just thin physically — The Crying of Lot 49 is also slender — but conceptually. It seemed filmable, but a director of Paul Thomas Anderson’s stature, should have selected a LESS filmable book and then grappled with its challenges/impossibilities.

I mean, we’d already had Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE, which maybe didn’t overtly male Philip Marlowe a stoner, but by casting Elliott Gould at least implied as much. And then THE BIG LEBOWSKI made it literal. Pynchon’s “Doc” Sportello seemed doubly redundant, and more so as a movie character. Trahumph. Crrrrk.

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Since seeing the movie, I have a Tourettes-like urge to make silly noises, rather in the manner of Jerry Lewis in WHICH WAY TO THE FRONT? when he can’t handle rejection. Vooolf.

Burke Stodger, Japonica Fenway, Puck Beaverton, Sauncho Smilax… Wrrrab. Sporf. Maybe it’s the onslaught of Pynchonian names, even more overpowering on the screen, where an actor has to actually introduce himself as Dr. Threeply. Giddiness sets in. Watching lots of drugs being consumed doesn’t usually produce any vicarious effect in me except perhaps boredom, though the fast cutting in the brownies scene in I LOVE YOU, ALICE B TOKLAS did make me feel kind of sick. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, watched on a single glass of wine, did produce some kind of elation, and I kind of caught Brad Pitt’s mania from TWELVE MONKEYS. Preet. Prott. Hespelafigo.

Luckily there was nobody at the bus-stop after the film so I could Vrrroop and Pleck and Spraddlekoffup to my heart’s content.

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I will discipline myself. No more eruptions. Anderson’s film is flawed — I don’t mean that it’s impossible to follow — I actually understood most of it better than I understand THE BIG SLEEP, and I suspect a repeat viewing would clear up the remaining mysteries (which are not insignificant: what the hell was Bigfoot Bjornsen trying to achieve with the stolen drugs?). But there are plainly too many two-hander scenes in which Joaquin Phoenix (very funny) sits down with an informant and gets told some more plot. In one lengthy exchange over a canister of nitrous oxide (which literally induces laughter here, something I understand to be pharmacologically inaccurate), Anderson serves up the exposition in a pair of closeups against featureless white walls in a tiny cubicle, until I felt suffocated of all visual stimulation (kind of like the incomprehensibly long two profile shots outside the church in KILL BILL: death by understimulation). But those white walls showed up the grain nicely.

I wasn’t sure how nostalgic I felt about celluloid. When the censor’s certificate came on at the start, scratched to buggery and out of focus, I thought, “Oh, I haven’t been missing THIS.” But that dancing pointillist patina… a film that so successfully evokes its period would be impossible on digital, even with all the colour manipulation available. This experience is akin to time-travel.

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Oh yes, the movie’s flaws. It’s overlong and overshoots its climax by what feels like twenty minutes. But it has Owen Wilson, the heart of the movie. (The melancholy of the first scene, with the protean Katherine Waterston — one of a regiment of scratchy-voiced chicks rocking the natural look — sets up the undercurrent of sadness that Pynchon gets at in his prose sometimes but never in the actual SCENES of the novel, so it’s a brilliant piece of adaptation to me). It has Martin Short, channelling Burgess Meredith at his most Creep Factor 11, filtered through a layer of Phil Spector. Genius. I mean, NOBODY does Burgess Meredith. Short has a history of crystallizing the madness of whatever film he’s in, presenting it in a purer, more intoxicating form (MARS ATTACKS!). Josh Brolin, presenting the Tragical Comedy or the Comical Tragedy of Whiteman (to quote the Robert Crumb cartoon: “I must retain this rigid position or all is lost!”) Benicio Del Toro, underselling his quirkiness, which makes it even more striking. Some guys I don’t know so well are astounding: Jeannie Berlin, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jefferson Mays. And, in the “Where you been?” category, Eric Roberts and Martin Donovan.

This spaced-out Rockford Files won’t appeal to everybody. As I watched, I was wondering if my mum would like it. She enjoyed THE BIG LEBOWSKI… But this is more intense, peculiar, and dysfunctional. But it also has more of a purpose. Anderson, unlike Altman or the Coens, finds Sportello’s moral code admirable, I think. And the film’s elegiac quality, creeping up on you unexpectedly, is something far out of the register of its predecessors. Pynchon’s best bit in the book is the foreshadowing of the internet — it’s when the whole enterprise belatedly acquires some gravitas and atmosphere. Anderson deletes it entirely — but he captures the gravitas, and enhances the atmosphere.

Zzzzzzeeb! Hataracack.

 

The False Good Idea

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2009 by dcairns

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It’s one of my favourite concepts in film-making, the False Good Idea, and I’m indebted to producer David Brown for introducing me to it. Of course, some would say that a False Good Idea is just the same as a True Bad Idea, which is hardly a new concept, but the beauty of the phrase for me is how it encapsulates the glitter and appeal of the FGI, the thing which is presented as good, accepted as good, and leads us all to hell.

The FGI in Oliver Stone’s ALEXANDER is the principle of historical accuracy in costumes (big nappies all round) with bright, crisp, clear sunlight, exposing the full ludicrousness of the proceedings.

The guy who edited the excellent trailer for Stone’s W. identified the FGI in that one as, “Who wants to see a fair and balanced portrait of George W Bush by Oliver Stone?” The neo-con audience would avoid the film because it’s Stone, who is the anti-Christ. Stone’s admirers would avoid the film if they thought it was a whitewash. What was needed was a Michael Moore approach, playing to Stone’s percieved strengths as a maker of chaotic, pop-art satires like NATURAL BORN KILLERS (a film I despise, personally) . With NIXON, the idea of humanizing the Devil was a more interesting way to go, and the greater historical distance obviated any need for messianic urgency, but W. could and should have been a genuinely political film from a passionately held viewpoint.

Accompanying the film’s weakness on politics is an aesthetic weakness — too many scenes of Sedentary Characters in Plush Rooms, without any interesting cinematic angle on what to DO with S.C.s in P.R.s (if Stone can’t create chaos by mixing film stocks and flying around moving characters, he’s rather emasculated as a director) — and a problem of character. Stone has said that he admires Bush for conquering his addictions and the aimless lifestyle of his youth. Of course, an ability to overcome ones demons is admirable, although I do wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off had Bish not drunk himself to death (actually, I don’t wonder: I’m pretty sure we would be). And Stone can relate to Bush’s battle, which is fair enough. But I actually think being harsher on Bush would have been a better course for Stone, since if the film is to some small extent a veiled depiction of his own journey through hedonism to achievement, it doesn’t do to be too indulgent. My favourite character in NATURAL BORN KILLERS was Robert Downey Jnr’s documentarist, mainly because he seemed like a Stone surrogate in part, supplying a degree of distance in a film otherwise jammed much too far up itself.

I watched W. during our teen-watching week. It’s a largely dull film, and a dull script — as in THE DOORS, Stone seems incapable of shame even when serving up the eggiest lines of exposition of the “This is the sixties,” variety. Jumping around in Bush’s life serves no good purpose — it’s not even chaotic enough to serve Stone’s craving for “energy”, especially with explanatory titles supered up to locate each scene in space-time. But there are a couple of pleasures.

The starry cast serves to illustrate the adage that “Politics is showbusiness for ugly people,” — every actor in the film is better-looking than the personage they’re playing. Yet Thandie Newton, transfigured by makeup, does an astounding, terrifying job of embodying the walking madness known as Condoleeza Rice. The other highlight is Toby Jones, whose Karl Rove is likewise a creature of hallucination — in these scenes, Stone sometimes gets close to a kind of Strangelovian nightmare comedy (directly referenced in the war room set — see also WATCHMEN), partly because it’s impossible to evoke those personalities convincingly without tipping the film over into the realms of CALIGARI. And one scene, in which Bush tells his pastor of his intention of running for president, actually achieves a rather magnificent wit — although I couldn’t be sure if this was accidental, given the leaden writing and direction elsewhere.

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Josh Brolin’s GWB is backlit in heavenly fashion during the scene, which isn’t the witty part, although it made me smile very slightly. But Toby Jones, arranging himself in the background like a truncated python that’s swallowed a goat, is. As Bush talks of the God that’s inspired him, Jones’s preening postures and smug expression make us feel that he IS that God. Which puts the candidate’s faith in a whole new light. What’s even funnier is that nobody else in the scene appears to be able to see him.