Archive for Judge Dredd

Blood and Thunder

Posted in Comics, FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2015 by dcairns

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To my surprise, Edinburgh University Library turned out to possess copies of Marvel’s THOR and its sequel, which I discovered while unsuccessfully trying to get something on Joseph Mankiewicz (but I won’t tell you why, just yet). A certain dumb curiosity made me want to check out the “Film by Kenneth Branagh” — rarely has a possessory credit (on a film Mr. Branagh did not write) seemed so fatuous. Maybe I just wanted to see if he’d gotten any better at directing films.

When Branagh first burst upon the scene, I didn’t admire his films but I could see where he was stealing from, and at least the source of his theft — mostly Welles — showed ambition. It wasn’t an ambition — becoming Orson Welles, only more commercially successful — that he was ever likely to succeed at, but it seemed possible that he might get good.

I have enjoyed some of the Marvel superhero things (Ben Kingsley is so wonderful in IRON MAN III I can’t describe it) up to a point, so it didn’t seem totally pointless looking at this thing, but I should admit it was pretty pointless after ten minutes. Fiona was enjoying Tom Hiddleston’s facial expressions, but there wasn’t much else to appreciate. I thought it was strikingly poorly edited, and Branagh’s big Wellesian idea this time seemed to be Dutch tilts. I imagine the meeting thus —

“I think we’ll have Dutch tilts in this one. Comic book vibrancy and all that.”

“When shall we use them?”

“Oh, I don’t think that matters.”

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Thor (Chris Helmsworth) was my least favourite character in AVENGERS ASSEMBLE so I admit I wasn’t expecting to love this. He has an OK character arc, I guess, and Natalie Portman is appealing. I don’t quite believe she’s a brilliant scientist but I don’t quite believe Stellan Skasgaard is either. Nor do I believe that when the Norse god is banished to earth and crash-lands in New Mexico (I knew he should have made that left turn at Albuquerque), he’s slammed into by a kind of Mystery Mobile in which three scientists are cooking meth doing physics, and one of them happens to be Scandinavian. But one shouldn’t really get upset about probability in a thing like this. I’m more upset about the meaningless camera angles.

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I rented DREDD because I’d heard good things, and I’m a child of 2000AD comic, and I slightly regretted missing this one on the big screen in 3D. And indeed, there are some pretty visual effects I bet looked spiffing in depth. Films made by Andrew MacDonald’s DNA tend to go for unsympathetic characters and unpleasant story worlds — odd, since he seems such a nice middle-class chap (and grandson of Emeric Pressburger). This makes him ideal for Judge Dredd, created by Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra and Scottish writer John Wagner, who conceived him as a futuristic Dirty Harry, only more fascistic if you can imagine such a thing. The trouble with the 1995 JUDGE DREDD was that they neutered the character, turning him into an honorable action hero and removing his helmet (the comic book character has never been seen unmasked — he’s basically an impersonal functionary/killing machine).

Alex Garland’s script has a few good ideas and is part of his general redemption these days — I thought EX MACHINA was quite fine, despite hating his writing on 28 DAYS LATER, so I guess the dumbness was coming from Danny Boyle. This Dredd is meaner — Karl Urban basically just has to huskily whisper like Clint Eastwood, but with excellent timing. The comic WAS/IS comic, a jet-black, nihilistic blast of punk nihilism, dark chuckles amid Leonesque mayhem. I think the current movie is a little lacking in laughs, though there are some good ones, mainly to do with the sheer excessiveness of the bloodbathery — but you might not be amused by a man being made to blow off the top of his head with his own assault rifle, which makes you a better person than me.

I liked the acidic colours and Carpenteresque score. Director Pete Travis marshalled his resources well — a UK-shot, US-set dystopian thriller could all too easily resemble DEATH WISH III.

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There’s only a microscopic amount of character change in this one, mostly around Dredd’s rookie partner, Olivia Thirlby (unconventional and interesting) — weirdly, this actually makes it MORE pleasing than THOR, because less familiar. I challenge the screenwriting gurus to figure that one out.

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I finished my comic book weekend by actually reading a comic book, Domu by Katsushiro Otomo, creator of AKIRA. This was something I bought dirt cheap in a charity shop and it had been lying unread by my bedside for literally YEARS (along with heaps of other impulse-buy literature — it’s a real mess). Having finally picked it up, I consumed it avidly between the hours of midnight and one. Otomo has the ability to intrigue — his plots don’t resolve very neatly, but there’s so much damned apocalypse going on it’s hard to notice. The psychic kid stuff in this one is familiar, but this time the narrative is basically a police investigation crossed with a ghost story, set around a housing estate plagued by mystery suicides. The loose ends and unexplained elements are pretty evocative, suggesting an intriguing direction Hollywood movies could go in if they continue to de-emphasize plot at the expense of massive action set-pieces. Bring on the negative capability!

 

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Dramatic Ironmongery

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2008 by dcairns

Get your self a snack from the fridge or I’ll punch your chin out!

There, I’ve done it. Since movies always begin with threats these days, and nobody seems to mind, I thought I’d begin a blog post the same way and see if it works. But I’m a good-hearted fellow, so I threaten you into doing something enjoyable. Which means it’s not a crime, right?

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The kind of threats I mean are the ones that warn you against video-recording a movie at the cinema, promising terrible legal repercussions if you should walk out of the theatre with some lasting evidence of your experience. IRON MAN is the latest attempt to scupper the movie pirates, as it’s a movie that literally erases itself from your brain as you watch it. I want to write something about it but I have to be quick or there’ll be nothing left — it was pneumatically blasted into my skull through my eye and ear sockets, but now it’s just leaking out my back-brain like a lactulose O.D. My spine is wet with bits of Terrence Howard.

Not that it’s a bad film, it is actually very entertaining, and has a far better set-up than most summer blockbusters/buckblowers. And main dude Jon Favreau did a beautiful thing by casting Robert Downey Jnr., who’s “riddled with charisma” as Fiona puts it. All that chemistry Downey has poured into his bloodstream over the years is still evaporating from his skin and appearing onscreen — he has great chemistry with everybody: Gwyneth Paltry, who CAN be something of a no-joy zone but here is rather fun: a large mammal called Jeff Bridges, who brings the world’s largest private collection of affability to bear on the bad guy role; Shaun Toub, who’s a very nice actor indeed — I ducked out of seeing the Haggis CRASH and THE KITE RUNNER so this was my first exposure. Downey even has great chemistry with a robot arm carrying a fire extinguisher which, through deft writing and the personality lent it by Downey, acquires the best character arc of anyone in the film. 

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(Downey can’t do as much with Terrence Howard, who’s stuck in a thankless, sexless, meaningless best friend role. As a thought experiment, try cutting him out of the film in your mind, and watch in awe as NOTHING HAPPENS.)

Enjoyable as the film is, it crucially lacks resonance, which is why I’m struggling to recall most of it, one hour after the screening. I do remember enjoying it. There are good lines (RD Jnr: “Give me a whiskey, I’m starving”) and a very nice initial flying sequence, but the film’s reluctance to carry through the themes it set up (loud and clear, with big tags on them saying “THEME”) in the first section robs it of any mental staying-power. It comes down to a conflict between all-out capitalism — Stark Industries sell arms to the highest bidder, because that’s what they’re in business for — and, what? Enlightened capitalism? Or just fantasy super-heroics? Downey’s hero tries to stop his company making weapons, but never explains how he’s going to keep his business afloat and his staff employed.

Contrast this with ROBOCOP, which this movie evokes frequently (Verhoeven’s festival of irony and guts pre-empted so many comic book adaptations, from Batman to Judge Dredd, it’s unbelievable). While the Verhoeven was a rock ‘n’ roll speedball of dark wit and graphic bodily mayhem, it also set up numerous dialectics. Paul Weller’s cyborg policeman is a real public servant (the words on the side of his car, “To protect and serve” are given strong emphasis) in conflict both with social chaos and rampant capitalism, which are shown to be hand in glove.

Bridges, as “Obadiah Stane”, at one point rides on of those wheelie things that George W Bush fell off — you know, the things you’re not supposed to be able to fall off? — but isn’t set up to embody neo-con evil or hawkish militarism or anything but basic greed, and by the end of the movie he doesn’t even have a masterplan. Corporate bad guys don’t smush secret agents and punch superheroes through walls with their big metal fists, even metaphorically. Where’s the profit in that? He’s not an evocative bad guy because he’s mutated from a character into a bare plot function. As soon as he suits up and starts walloping, he’s a fugitive from justice who isn’t going to be selling arms to anyone, so it doesn’t much matter if he’s defeated by Gwyneth pulling levers to make Something Happen That Will Work.

BUT, the film, as I say, is entertaining, and does have one good stick-in-the-mind moment, when Paltrow inserts her hand into her leading man’s body. The scene is queasily funny, frightening, and perversely romantic, and I award extra points because it isn’t the kind of scene you’d automatically think necessary in a comic book action adventure. I hope she does it again in the sequel. Use both hands next time, Gwyneth!

Isn't it Iron-ic?