Archive for Margot Robbie

Amsterdammed with Faint Praise?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2022 by dcairns

We found AMSTERDAM rather loveable. David O.Russell is an erratic talent/person, it seems. Still haven’t risked a look at JOY, but I was impressed by THREE KINGS, I HEART HUCKABEES, AMERICAN HUSTLE, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. THE FIGHTER was OK. If you like the same ones as me (I still haven’t seen the earlier ones) you might like this.

You might not like the fact that the coda is ten minutes too long, or that New York seems strangely depopulated (but beautiful at night), or that the titular city is just interiors. You might object to Christian Bale doing a straight-up Peter Falk imitation — playing a one-eyed New Yorker he could probably have found a more original way to go, but on the other hand there are not and never could be enough Peter Falk performances, so having one more, even an ersatz one, is a treat to me. You might not like the way the joins are so visible between the true story from which the film derives, and the fictional elements grafted on. You might wish they’d had the courage to name names, specifically those of the business leaders behind the actual conspiracy — but legally, they couldn’t because the movie’s plot makes the bad guys murderers, which in real life they weren’t. To point the finger properly, the movie would have to hew closer to the facts of the case.

What I liked was the, to me, touching, friendship between Bale’s character and Margot Robbie and John David Washington’s. The plot is an adequate means of getting them in motion, and has modern resonances. The film covers the same historical span as JULES ET JIM and features a comparable trio. But never resorts to slavish pastiche or pilferage. The supporting cast is tremendous. It’s one of the few dramas to manage to incorporate a Mike Myers performance (even Tarantino, who whatever his faults generally gets everyone singing from the same hymnbookor him-book, couldn’t manage that one). Here, MM sticks out, but only slightly, helped by Michael Shannon shifting phase into a more comically stylised mode as his chief playing partner. Rami Malek and Anya Taylor-Joy are fun. There is a supporting actor called Baxter Humby, reason enough to buy a ticket, or at least to read this review.

Baxter Humby, Shadowplay salutes you!

Russell’s work, from a visual perspective, benefits from being pushed to extremes, and here it could have done with an added shove in the edit. We may make fun of George Lucas’ sole direction to his STAR WARS cast, “faster, more intense,” but it’s a good note for many occasions. Possibly the fact that HUCKABEES wasn’t a hit has hurt DOR’s confidence a bit — his more stylistically extreme film and one of the most satisfying, its failure may have curbed the excesses of a filmmaker who lives on excess, or ought to. It sometimes feels like the cast are performing inside little boxes, with insufficient master shot around them to bind everything together. Occasionally a wild Steadicam master will obtrude, and feel like something from a different movie. Possibly there were at one time more of these and they got the chop for not working, leaving scenes to struggle along as disconnected closeups.

I seem to have a lot of qualms and quibbles but while the movie was unfolding I was mostly in a state of mild bliss.

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…