Archive for Logan

Gunn Play

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2021 by dcairns

Recap: James Gunn made SUPER, a low-budget superhero comedy with drastic tonal problems, and parlayed that into the surprisingly balanced GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films, which actually work on the level of fun. (The first movie is about saving Planet Israel, which has not been much remarked upon.) Going from a 2.5 million budget to a 200 million budget. Not bad. Then some tweets he’d made much earlier in his life were dug up (he’d made no effort to hide them) and the Marvel people, after some hesitation, kicked him out.

The tweets were pedophilia jokes, and not only that, none of them were funny (“That’s even worse news,” to quote Norm MacDonald). One of the Twitter personae weighing in against Gunn was Matt Gaetz. When it was pointed out that these tweets were intended as jokes rather than as documentary accounts of Gunn’s day-to-day activities, Gaetz said something like, “But how do we know he’s not just using that as a smokescreen?” I toyed with the idea if asking him whether his own condemnation of the mirthless tweets might be a similar smokescreen, which would have made me fucking Nostradamus, but I didn’t do it. Having any kind of contact with Matt Gaetz, however remote? I would sooner sit on Cthulhu’s face.

Gunn was immediately, I mean indecently immediately, snapped up by DC to reboot their Suicide Squad franchise. (My problem is not that he continued to work after making failed jokes, but that any pretense was made that something was being achieved by having him swap studios for one film.) I never saw the first film, SUICIDE SQUAD, but people seem to have mainly liked Margot Robbie in it. Seems reasonable. Gunn’s film is called THE SUICIDE SQUAD, the use of a definite article to distinguish comic book adaptations having been rolled out by WOLVERINE and THE WOLVERINE. This strikes me as pathetic and unimaginative, but this is a marketing department we’re talking about, so.

I decided to see THE SUICIDE SQUAD, Fiona decided to come to. I was curious.

The concept of the insanely violent, blackly comic comic-book movie was introduced, I guess, by the KICK-ASS and KINGSMAN films, then went more mainstream with the DEADPOOL films. So naturally The Guardian newspaper has a piece about this being a new development signalling the maturity, and imminent decline, of the genre.

Gunn is returning to his roots, making a tonally unsustainable bloodbath with multiple layers of incoherent irony and odd attempts at pathos. Some of these work surprisingly well. The balance of gore and slapstick and action and fantasy and sweetness is definitely better than in SUPER, but still made me queasy all the way through. The emotional moments are predicated on the criminal heroes (this is basically THE DIRTY DOZEN with superpowers, and none of the Aldrich film’s questionable elements have been resolved in the intervening 54 years) having been damaged by their traumatic childhoods, which is Gunn’s favourite theme (he was sexually abused as a child himself).

The jokes are pretty good. Robbie is no longer the best character, since Harley Quinn seems to be incapable of evolution, and the film has to work hard to prevent her psychopathic character from doing anything unforgivable. Idris Elba is pretty fine, and I’m so glad he’s using his own accent and not playing a stereotyped African-American as in PROMETHEUS. Daniela Melchior is his surrogate daughter. There’s no real reason for them to start the bonding process, but once they do it helps rescue the film from just being a relentless mayhemfest.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD is not just a DIRTY DOZEN remake. It’s an EXTREME PREJUDICE remake — someone actually says “Terminate with extreme prejudice!” and the “guys on a mission” plot delivers a twist involving the mission’s true purpose which echoes Walter Hill’s Tex-Mex bloodbath. It’s a SUICIDE SQUAD remake — instead of a humanoid crocodile, there’s a humanoid shark. It’s a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY remake — there’s a rodent, a big dumb guy, the aforementioned damaged personalities. Basically, everything Umberto Eco said about CASABLANCA that wasn’t true there, is true here — a bunch of familiar elements have been jumbled together to create a series of nostalgic glows, comforting familiarity, a sense of cultural connectedness. As when you hear a modern pop song and all the chords and lyrics and riffs are recycled, warmly recognizable even if you haven’t heard the originals.

Gunn deserves credit for the grace notes: some Kubrick-KILLING play with chronology, a soundtrack that isn’t just the same old songs (though the “original” score is just the standard set of thumps of w hich I am mightily tired), a reference to Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese comics, some good laughs, and a sharp awareness of how Central American countries get eternally shat on by the US. Peter Capaldi gets to say “Unclutch you’re fucking pearls!” when other characters react to his human experiments. Instead of the MCU’s Stan Lee cameos, Lloyd Kaufman is wheeled on, slow-dancing with a hooker. Sylvester Stallone is effective, and we don’t have to look at him because he’s playing an animated shark (the other film is which Stallone works is ANTZ, where he and Woody Allen are the only actors with distinctive voices). This is probably the first time Stallone has been cute. Though he also bites people’s heads off. The lines “Hand,” “Bird,” and “Num-nums,” are the lines he was born to say.

Fans of excruciating violence will find a whole lot to enjoy. It’s almost as exhausting as BRAINDEAD.

I think this kind of thing, or LOGAN’s kind of thing, is destined to remain an occasional subgenre of the world-smashing superhero movie. It’s not going to take over and lead to the downfall of the costumed crimefighter flick. Only the audience demanding more variety from its family-friendly blockbusters can do that.

I’ve never read any Suicide Squad comics but John Ostrander, who rebooted it, also co-wrote, with fellow actor Del Close, the anthology Wasteland, which I admired. And he’s IN Gunn’s film.

When I was a kid, watching westerns on BBC1 Saturday nights, I would frequently get confused when the good guy and bad guy got into a fistfight, and would have to remind myself who was wearing what colour shirt. Same thing happened here.

The final boss villain is a character ripped-off by DC, back in 1960, from the Japanese scifi flick WARNING FROM SPACE. You can buy that on Blu-ray from Arrow, with some liner notes by yours truly.

Undercaffeinated blog post

Posted in Comics, FILM, Interactive, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2021 by dcairns

Hope I wake up before I finish writing this.

Finished reading Making a Film: The Story of Secret People, which is adorable. More on that soon.

More charity shop haulage: I bought LOGAN on Blu-ray for a pound. It’s a near-miss for me. I just think the mission of trying to make a superhero movie that’s super-serious is a bit silly. I could see that the same team’s THE WOLVERINE was trying to get away from costumed CGI asskicking and do noir stuff, but it all ended with a big robot fight, they hadn’t been allowed to really go for it. LOGAN goes for it, but hits a wall somewhere.

(I watched the b&w version, LOGAN NOIR, figuring that since director James Mangold went to the trouble of making it, it’d be the version to see, I have the colour version playing now for comparison. Very strange seeing it in colour. Like losing a friend.)

The part of the film that really works is all the Patrick Stewart stuff — in this film’s version of the future, Professor Xavier, beloved mentor of the X-Men, has dementia. This is so well written (Scott Frank is co-writer with Mangold and Michael Green) and played, and is such a great idea… I can’t think of any example of a senile superhero even in comics, and Prof. X. is the perfect character to apply this to, since his powers are mental. What happens when he has one of his seizures is really creepy and wild.

Unexpected added value from Stephen Merchant and Richard E. Grant, two more Brits stepping outside their usual arch mode and really committing to taking the thing seriously.

Hugh Jackman as the title character has always been good in this role, and certainly wants to be great in this. And all his stuff with Patrick Stewart is very strong. The fact that the story is just a chase and some fights doesn’t seem to do any harm here.

It’s the relationship that has to take over from the Logan/Xavier one, with which the intended audience has a longstanding familiarity, that suffers from having to make room for the punchy-stabby bits. Dafne Keen is properly uncanny as the young mutant who is in some way Logan’s daughter. Nothing lacking in the performance, which is mainly physical. The key to my dissatisfaction probably is highlighted by a moment when Keen and Stewart watch SHANE together. It’s nearly always a mistake to smuggle a classic film quotation into a not-yet-classic-and-maybe-never-will-be movie.

SHANE is about a man and a child, two rival father figures who are on the same side but have different styles. And it’s about violence, its terribleness and necessity — it being a western, the necessity for violent action is only lightly questioned, but nevertheless the film attains some depth. LOGAN certainly CONTAINS a lot of violence — an INSANE amount of violence — and everybody does it and there really isn’t any interrogation of it, and most of it has no consequences. There’s an attempt to show us that murderizing store clerks is bad, but the lesson is abandoned to make more room for sticking knuckle-knives through nameless dismayed persons’ heads. Knasty.

The holding back of sentiment is commendable, but at some point the emotion should break through and also we need to feel the pain of a dying protagonist — it’s like THE AGONY AND ECSTASY again, it fails on the agony. Jackman limps but still feels invulnerable.

Also I’d watched THE GUNFIGHTER where the whole film is “Hurry up and get out of town Gregory Peck.” This one is a long chase where the character TWICE stop running and casually say “We’ll move on first thing in the morning.” NO. That’s not going to work, is it?

Beautiful moment where the little heroine, a Kaspar Hauser with the power to punch through walls, encounters a vision of the family she’s never had —

I tried plugging my Blu-ray player into my laptop but nothing happened, so here are some photos taken off my TV on a bright day. Yes, I suck. And here I am critiquing James Mangold, who on this evidence should kill it with the new INDIANA JONES (my favourite of his is DAY AND KNIGHT [although there are lots I haven’t seen] so I think he can get the tone).

We also watched JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE which more fun than a Donkey Kong barrel full of CGI monkeys. Clever, character-based jokes, a beautiful ensemble cast — TWO ensembles, in fact — and although the thing’s a CGI-fest (something LOGAN, to its credit, never feels like), which meant I wasn’t particularly interested in any of the action, it as the alibi that it’s all happening inside a game. There’s probably a visual look out there which would have made interesting use of CG stylisation, the way TRON did, but neither the original JUMANJI with its ambulatory taxidermy animals, not this one, has found it. But the Rock and Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan and Jack Black are lovely, and although I find I strangely still have no interest in other Jake Kasdan films such as BAD TEACHER and SEX TAPE, I would happily watch the sequel to the reboot of film of the book about the game.

Three-Dimensional Chess

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2020 by dcairns

I read Walter Tevis’s The Queen’s Gambit years ago and loved it. His other filmed books, The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth are great too, and made good movies but the books are still worthy of investigation. The Color of Money doesn’t really have anything much in common with Scorsese’s film and you can see why they chose a different story (“but the book had a very good love story,” said Scorsese in Edinburgh, which was nice of him to note). And there’s an unfilmed sci-fi novel, Mockingbird, which is really beautiful.

I’ve also been impressed with Scott Frank’s stuff — he adapted Elmer Leonard for Soderbergh (OUT OF SIGHT — still maybe SS’s best movie) and from the audio commentary on that one you could tell he was going to direct, and probably be really good at it. And THE LOOKOUT, his first film, was terrific. Like all the promising middlebrow genre filmmakers of his generation, he did time in the Marvel salt mines but the one he wrote, LOGAN, is said to be GOOD. I wasn’t paying attention and thought A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES was just some Liam Neeson movie so I skipped that but now I have bought a DVD of it for 50p because WOW Scott Frank’s miniseries of The Queen’s Gambit is a beautiful thing.

From my memory of the book I can affirm that the CGI visualisations of chessboards are pretty much what Tevis wrote. It’s very faithful though some melodrama early on is removed, which I came to accept as a good call. Though maybe Tevis gains something by making his heroine more damaged.

I can’t recall the clothes in the book — I had a vague impression that Anya Taylor-Joy is more glamorous than the Beth Harmon who Tevis gave us, but I’m probably misremembering. But boy, ATJ is a magnificent screen presence. Her glamour is increasingly weird and witchy so she’s a credible outsider. In fact, everyone in this is terrific, down to the smallest roles — each minor player defeated by ATJ, for instance, is a little one-scene cameo and they’re all uniquely human and different.

Photography, design, music, cutting, are all weapons-grade delicious, and as the story moves through the sixties Scott allows himself a subtly evolving stylistic palette that reflects developing film language of the period without ever becoming pastiche. You don’t see more surefooted choices than this. He could maybe have taken some of them even further, but his caution is probably part of the reason why he hits absolutely everything he aims at.

Nothing negative to say about this show at all, it may be the best American film or “film” of the year.