Archive for Margot Robbie

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.

Lumiere Sisters

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2019 by dcairns

I’ve already expressed my dissatisfaction with aspects of ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD. Daniel Riccuito of The Chiseler had a very nearly opposite response, however, and when he asked me to provide a few words for a piece he was putting together along with Tom Sutpen, connecting the reincarnated Sharon Tate played by Margot Robbie with the reincarnated Laura Palmer played by Amanda Seyfried in Twin Peaks, I cheerily agreed.

The result, as Freddie Jones is always saying, is plain to see…



Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2019 by dcairns

I started out wanting to observe, for what it’s worth, that every single movie name-dropped in ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD is terrible, but that’s not quite true. THE GREAT ESCAPE is a fun movie, and FUNNY GIRL is OK. But it’s startling how many stinkers are featured. CANDY is a very unusual and kind of interesting bad movie, and John Dykstra worked on it, so I guess it’s an in-joke too, since he did this film’s model shots (the drive-in crane shot, and the Pan-Am jets). But then we get a poster for Mike Sarne’s JOANNA… holy crap.

Then we have THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S (described by its own director, before it opened, as a piece of crap); KRAKATOA, EAST OF JAVA (the most geographically inaccurate title ever?), THREE IN THE ATTIC (QT once tried unsuccessfully to get star Christopher Jones out of retirement), THE MERCENARY, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, DON’T MAKE WAVES (OK, the last two have Sharon Tate in them so one can understand them being mentioned — but DMW was such a miserable experience it caused Alexander Mackendrick to give up film-making), THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, THE SERGEANT, LADY IN CEMENT…

Vulture’s article on this cites a few actual good films I’d forgotten or missed: 2001, PRETTY POISON, THE BOSTON STRANGLER. So there are good films in the mix: I guess a recreation of 1969, if accuracy is the aim, ought to feature more bad films than good, since that’s the way the balance always swings. But I don’t understand the nostalgia for this kind of stuff.

I suppose true nostalgia could definitially be about ephemera and garbage, stuff that exerts an emotional pull on us despite or maybe even because of its seeming worthlessness. But that kind of nostalgia — “Remember Space Hoppers?” — is pretty useless. It gets its power from an unrelated source — “I was young once” — and the specific things it focusses on are meaningless to others of a different generation.

The weirdest hommage to me is THE WRECKING CREW, a Dean Martin “Matt Helm” movie — I’ve always regarded that series as genuinely toxic. We all know the sixties Bond films are chauvinist; the Flint movies with James Coburn are seriously sexist; but the Matt helm movies are actually misogynistic. The filmmakers sincerely seem to hate women and devote as much screen time as they can to demeaning them.

This makes for an odd, unreadable scene in OUATIH when Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate goes to see the real Sharon Tate in TWC. I like that they didn’t digitally replace Tate with Robbie, or reshoot the movie. But if the intention is to pay tribute, the material used seems a strange choice. But then Tate’s movies are not a glorious bunch, alas: THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS is probably the least obnoxious, and I guess VALLEY OF THE DOLLS has camp value.

I get the impression that the scene is supposed to show Tate enjoying the audience’s reaction to her performance. And I guess maybe it works that way for some. But THE WRECKING CREW devotes most of Tate’s screen time to humiliating her character, showing her as clumsy, stupid, annoying to the hero, while displaying her body at every opportunity. Margot Robbie seems to have a hard time overlooking this, or at any rate her reactions don’t totally convince as those of someone enjoying the experience in a clearly readable way. I think Tate was too smart to have behaved this way, and Robbie is too smart to convincingly act it. There’s some kind of barely-tangible discomfort that manifests itself in a kind of blankness — the smile is big, apparently sincere, but somehow empty and non-specific.

When you see interviews with B-movie starlets looking back on some trash they were in, there’s always a rueful quality, and also a little pride — “At least I was a trouper, I put up with it all.” To me, showing Tate with that attitude to a really dumb, obnoxious movie she was in would give her more credit as a thinking professional.

(Acting watching a movie seems to be hard: when the kids go to see Harold Lloyd in HUGO, it’s maybe the most forced bit of performance in any Scorsese film; Kiarostami, no slouch, made a whole movie focussing on an audience watching an imaginary film, and it’s weirdly pointless and unmoving.)

Look, I know it’s not great film criticism, but I just really, really despise the Matt Helm series. It may be what’s stopped me looking at director Phil Karlson’s earlier noirs, which are supposed to be very good. Although I stumbled on a few fun Henry Levin movies — Henry helmed the two Helms that Phil didn’t film — and they’re modestly enjoyable. Both men seem to be bone-weary, disenchanted and dyspeptic by the time they get to Dean Martin spy caper hell.

In the memoir of gap-toothed comedian Terry-Thomas, he writes about working with Sharon Tate. Like everyone else who knew her, he was struck by her sweetness. She told him she couldn’t act at all, but that he shouldn’t worry, it seemed to come out alright. And he observed that she appeared to be correct: she played her scenes quite naturally, didn’t seem to try to act, and was perfectly effective onscreen. That self-deprecating, insightful and carefree attitude MIGHT leave Tate able to look at her work in THE WRECKING CREW and smile. But I think it’s a more interesting insight than anything Tarantino offers.