Archive for Marlon Brando

Ape Crisis Centre

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2017 by dcairns

Sorry for the tacky title, but somebody already reviewed KONG: SKULL ISLAND with the tagline I LOVE THE SMELL OF APE PALM IN THE MORNING, better than which it is impossible to do. It wasn’t the famous Anonymous Wag, it was somebody real with a name, I just can’t recall who and can’t be bothered checking. but well done, Nonymous Wag.

I didn’t see KK:SI but I did see WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, slightly dragged by Fiona, and it has just probably as many APOC NOW refs as the big gorilla one. There’s even a graffita reading APE-POCALYPSE NOW, so I couldn’t use that as my header either. The Vietnam stuff is a little heavy-handed and dumb, though in a war with the apes Americans surely WOULD call their enemy “the Kong” so I have to grant them that one. (They called their enemy that in ‘Nam, too — I know you know that, but did you know it was actually a made-up name? There was no such group as the “Viet Cong,” the US made the name up because they wanted something that sounded cool and sinister. NOTE: see correction in comments section.)

So, I was glad I saw this in the end — we’d seen  films one and two in the trilogy, and this one does its best to actually be a concluding episode, though I’m sure there’ll be pressure to do more — a reboot, or some kind of sequel that also serves as a remake of the original Chuckles Heston apetacular (still the best in the series/serieses).

DIGITALLY RENDER UNTO CAESAR

The first half hour is nicely directed, though the 3D didn’t add as much as I expected — maybe because the sinuously moving camera does all the 3D’s work for it. But I wasn’t really engrossed dramatically. Caesar (Andy Serkis and his army of animators) is quite chatty in this one, despite Noam Chomsky’s firm stance on ape language, but he apparently has never learned to use contractions. So talks like Data from Star Trek, or like a man in a biblical epic. This is obviously as deliberate as the ‘Nam refs, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. (Notice how Data’s robospeak gradually infected the rest of ST:TNG‘s cast as the writers forgot how people talk).

I guess the biblical epic aspect has always been there, from the casting of Heston to all the talk of a “Lawgiver,” echoing Heston’s role as Moses and eventually embodied by John Huston, director of THE BIBLE (and portrayer of Noah, another man who conserved species from an environmental disaster) in BATTLE FOR, the last of the original series. That movie is referenced here just enough (a single teardrop!), and there are lots of other clever harkenings to the earlier films, which the reboot has always been nicely respectful of.

But the first half hour is also terribly uninvolving. No effort is made to remind us of the personalities of the lead apes from the previous installments. One fellow only gets a little character grace note five minutes before being offed, which retroactively makes said grace note seem like a cynical plant. Inexplicably, the film’s baddie, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson as Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz with a side order of Robert Duvall’s Kilgore) shows up out of nowhere to kill some apes and set Caesar on a mission of revenge, then vanishes back to his hideaway — Caesar falls off a waterfall, very dramatically, but in the next scene is back in his (compromised, unsafe) base camp, making plans. It feels muddled, and the emotion is dampened by confusion.

Fiona points out that the film is still afraid of female apes: none of them talk in this film, and they don’t fight, contrary to nature. They don’t have big purple behinds, so the movie resorts to having them wear little hair braids so we know who’s a girl. They make little feminine grunts, the way real apes don’t. I think the rot set in with Tim Burton’s appalling POTA movie, with Helena Bonham Carter and Lisa-Marie as sexy ape-babes. Ugh. That’s the only bit of wrongheadedness from that abomination which has kind of survived and mutated, as if exposed to an experimental gas canister (Burton is getting to resemble an experimental gas canister more and more).

BAD TIME FOR BONZO

There’s also, I would say, a problem with the first half’s post-apocalyptic landscape. Unlike the crumbling cities of DAWN OF, there’s nothing specially evocative about, say, a Snow Cat lying abandoned in a snowy forest. It looks like quite a normal site. I love post-man settings in the same way I love empty set photographs — I’m all about the defining absence, me. So this was disappointing.

But it was in the midst of the snowy rural stuff where the film is aiming to be THE SEARCHERS with even more sign language that it starts to get good. There’s a quite brilliant scene of Maurice the orang (Karin Kanoval and her animators) and a silent little girl (Amiah Miller) which is LOOONG, wordless, quiet, tender and hypnotic. Really unexpected in a summer blockbuster. And the film starts improving right now.

Next we meet Steve Zahn (and his Zahnimators) as the comedy relief chimp (his “Oh nooo…” sounds very Scottish, somehow). Comedy relief characters are primarily needed by films with no sense of humour, or films afraid that a sense of humour will deflate the pomposity that sustains them. Both certainly factors here — any film with a lead who can’t use contractions must be afraid of humour. Get it safely contained in one character and you’ve quarantined it. But Zahn & co create a rather adorable figure here. So appealing, I worried he was being set up for a moving death scene. But the film doesn’t ALWAYS do what you expect.

EMOTION CAPTURED

Now the movie becomes a prison camp flick, and the Colonel shows semblances of another of his rank, Saito in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. But it’s a wall he’s building. Yes, this feels like the first anti-Trump blockbuster (or the first I’ve seen — I don’t see many). And it will feature an ape swinging from a Stars and Stripes which is also inscribed Alpha Omega and is also on fire. An image for our times. (Also prefigured by John Huston, this time in WINTER KILLS.)

Science fiction films never accurately predict the future (except BRAZIL, which has all come true) but one hopes this does, just so we can have Don Jr. lose the power of speech and his dad shoot him. Oh, come on. It’d be interesting.

But the movie isn’t as dark and vengeful as that, after all. It has a much more nuanced take on vengeance than, say THE REVENANT, which proved remarkably dumb and unsophisticated. And it even redeems the somewhat fascistic ending of RISE DAWN, which had Caesar depriving his enemy of apehood so he could kill him without breaking the “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape” rule. That climax, which seemed like it was meant to be just cool and bad-ass, is back-engineered to seem genuinely proto-fascist, something that must be atoned for and which leaves trauma for the perpetrator, or maybe this was always part of their plan (the writers of the first film are execs on this, granting a sense of cohesion and trilogic world-building). Caesar feels guilt for killing Toby Kebbell as Koba the bonobo (I just like writing that) and gets a chance to act differently this time.

APE PLURIBUS UNUM

So maybe because I like apes or because I don’t like concentration camps, this movie got quite emotional for me. I seemed to continually have something in my eye (mayve it was the 3D). It wasn’t profoundly moving, because torturing animals always gets a reaction (my friend Alex makes fun of the bit in RISE OF where Malfoy shows up with girlfriends to abuse apes — “No matter how evil you are, it’s unlikely you’d think that torturing chimps would be a good way to impress the girls,” — but in fact, animal abuse is a staple of entertainment, since drama depends on a good bit of unpleasantness to work its magic). Arguably, it was all too easy. But it worked. And it didn’t become so manipulative and Von Trieresque that I resented its effect.

It’s nice to get a proper trilogy. The middle one is the darkest. The first and third are the best. This is as it should be.

 

The Animal Kingdom

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2017 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2017-02-05-22h34m55s114Finally caught up with Kent Jones’ HITCHCOCK TRUFFAUT which is excellent, as you’d expect. I probably suffer a bit from overfamiliarity with the subject, but there were still new things to notice, and Fiona threw at me a hitherto unknown fact too — “Mrs. Bates,” upon ripping open the shower curtain, is in blackface, since it was the only way to make the silhouette dark enough. A blackface Mrs. Bates is an even more terrifying thought!

(At this point, Fiona looks over my shoulder as I’m typing and says, “You’d better check. I *think* that’s correct.”)vlcsnap-2017-02-05-22h35m16s708We also saw LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, a documentary by David Gregory which paints a sympathetic, even-handed portrait of the eccentric Brit’s attempt to make an extreme but faithful-to-the-spirit adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel. Famously, Stanley was fired by New Line after just a couple of days’ shooting, and John Frankenheimer finished the film in typically combative style, wrangling Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer and pissing off everyone else.

The best-known stories are all present and correct, though weirdly there’s no mention of David Thewlis and how he came to replace Rob Morrow in the lead, though we hear all about the near-miss involvement of Bruce Willis and James Woods. Thewlis doesn’t take part, though he’s spoken about the film in the past (“I just hated, hated, hated the director,” he said, meaning JF nor RS, who he probably never even got to meet). Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider and various Aussie cast and crew make very affable guides to the madness, along with the now quite phlegmatic Stanley. Fiona went on a night out with friends once which included Stanley, who she thought was a very nice chap, and one can’t escape the feeling that he was rather shat on by this production.

My trouble is I like the resulting farrago a lot more than I like any version of Stanley’s HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL, which have nice things in them but also truly terrible things in them which seem wired deeply into the sensibility behind them. So I’m not sure I’d have preferred his version of MOREAU, even though it sounds like it had some really nifty ideas.

The MOREAU we have lacks key elements like the House of Pain, but it does have —

The Smallest Man in the World playing a tiny grand piano (can something be tiny and grand at the same time? Well, the SMITW can…) on top of a full-size grand piano played by an identically dressed Marlon Brando, in a moment designer Graham “Grace” Walker justifiably claims as one of the greatest in all cinema. he’s laughing when he says it… does that matter?

Val Kilmer dries, corpses, and walks off camera without finishing his line. I think he was in the midst of explaining how Moreau invented Velcro, a promising story angle left undeveloped…

Brando is sitting next to the SMITW when the SMITW puts his feet on the table. Brando breaks off in mid-line to say “No no no,” to the little fellow, and you can see the SMITW’s shoulders SHAKING in helpless mirth at this unexpected ad-lib.

David Thewlis has a fight with genetically-enhanced mice. Fiona also met one of the army of scriptwriters helicoptered in to vivisect Stanley’s material. “I *told* them that was a bad idea,” he said.

Thewlis has decided, according to his mood, to read every line with passionate intensity, or else completely flatly, as if off the plate in front of him (that dinner scene again).

Brando has decided to play it as the naughty vicar from The Dick Emery Show, only fat and painted chalk-white. When Thewlis asks for an explanation of the inhuman manimals surrounding him, Brando’s Moreau thinks he’s talking about his own alabaster features and launches into an explanation of his sun-block. “Look at these people!” clarifies Thewlis at the top of his voice. “Look at HIM!” he cries, voice rising to a hysterical falsetto as he gestures at the inoffensive SMITW.

vlcsnap-2017-02-05-23h23m07s486vlcsnap-2017-02-05-23h24m06s061

It’s not surprising that Thewlis, Balk and Hofschneider had a terrible time, since Frankenheimer evidently decided his job was to indulge Brando, Kilmer and the SMITW in their madness while venting his frustrations on everyone else. Brando et al could have fun mucking about, and those who felt a responsibility to embody their characters struggled to maintain credibility. Brando flat-out refused to discuss character with Balk. It’s not in the film, but Fiona got an anecdote from her screenwriter contact — when he wanted to talk to Brando about the film, Marlon responded with, “It’s NOT a film, it’s a PAGEANT.” Which it became, in truth.

The thing flat-out can’t survive the disappearance of Brando midway, and kind of lumbers to a halt like a speared mammoth, though without making the earth shake.

Frankenheimer used it to get a three-picture deal, then died two films later.

Vista Visions

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 29, 2016 by dcairns

one-eyed-jacks-50s-westerns-2

You can read more about Criterion’s ONE-EYED JACKS here.

And Criterion have uploaded a clip from my video essay —

ONE-EYED JACKS – An Excerpt from Video Essay “I Ain’t Hung Yet” from Criterion Collection on Vimeo.

Next up, more pieces for Criterion’s online outlets, The Current and Filmstruck. If you’re a Filmstruck patron you should already be able to access a piece Stephen Horne and I made about the late, great Pierre Etaix. More on him soon!