Archive for Marvel

The Sunday Intertitle: DAVID!

Posted in Comics, Dance, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2018 by dcairns

“The only trouble with this show is they keep shouting “DAVID!” says Fiona.

“Well, how do you think *I* feel?” I ask. “I even get it in intertitle form.”

The show is Legion, which is a Marvel thing, and it’s very stylish indeed. Occasionally I feel too much of the style comes from 2001 and CLOCKWORK ORANGE (plus that ever-popular STRANGELOVE-ADDAMS FAMILY font), but there’s a wide ranger of influences for the snazzy visuals. It’ a superhero show, nominally, but very psychedlic and tonally skewed, so that when a good guy and bad guy meet, they’re more likely to have a dance-off than to punch each other through walls.

This show, brought to the screen by Noah Hawley of Fargo, could be paired with the very different Jessica Jones to suggest that superheroes could become the new westerns, a genre with some constraints, maybe, but allowing filmmakers to tell all kinds of stories in all kinds of modes. The movie versions don’t have that variety, I’m afraid: they’re basically all about good guys saving the world. Apart from maybe LOGAN?

Jessica Jones varies the formula by keeping things small-scale and making the heroine’s powers an afterthought. The powers of the opponents have more dramatic weight, but work as metaphors and dramatic intensifiers: a manipulative abuser who can do mind-control is still an abuser, a mother with anger issues and super-strength is still a mother with anger issues.

 

Legion is also smaller-scale than the movie versions, though more cosmic. It has astral plane stuff like DOCTOR STRANGE but makes this much more eerie and weird, the way the old comics could by actually changing the media used (those photo-collage splash pages blew my little mind as a kid: Legion comes close to that effect with its bizarro musical numbers). Dan Stevens (as the intertitular David everyone’s always shouting for) and Rachel Keller (as Syd Barrett [!]) ground the show in believable emotions as two damaged people whose psychic abilities blur into their mental issues.

Legion has a measure of phildickian “What is reality?” stuff and lots of psychic powers and goofiness: it seems influenced by Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles far more than the style of original author Chris Claremont (never liked his stuff), it has fantastic production design and cinematography, and amazing actors. Too many to mention. But I’m very keen on Hamish Linklater’s inappropriate smiles, which can be ironic, chilling or heartbreaking. Plus he plays a villain who turns out to be gay and a loving partner and father, and then a hero.

And then there’s Aubrey Plaza, with her tics and smutty grins and eyeballs the size of Phobos.

And Jonathan Demme alumni Bill Irwin (Ham Gravy in Altman’s POPEYE).

We’re near the end of season 2 in our viewing and there’s a serious lull of interest going on right now — but I think things are about to kick in big-time. I trust the creators. Will probably be able to confirm this in the comments section later.

Avengers Disassemble

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2015 by dcairns

age-of-ultron

It’s an enjoyable thing. There’s too much of it, too much bloodless property damage and quips, as before. I miss Loki, I miss the smirking face of evil — when all your baddies are faceless robots, it starves the film a bit, even if James Spader is doing the faceless robot voice. And all the fights seemed to involve everybody, all the time — some smaller skirmishes would have helped a lot. My main memory of the action is a blur of flame and debris and one very funny bit of a giant Iron Man punching the Hulk in the face a hundred times very fast.

ageofu

Writer-director Joss Whedon works hard to make Thor likable and interesting, which previously looked like a challenge. There still aren’t enough female characters and the movie is missing some of the highly paid actresses from various branches of the mega-franchise so it feels like for the first time there are some things Marvel can’t afford to do — they can’t afford to have Natalie Portman and Gwyneth Paltrow turn up at a party scene to tend bar.

There’s nothing as wonderful as Harry Dean Stanton popping up in the first movie for no reason other than that the cinematographer was making a documentary about him.

Oh, about the cinematography. Film 1 was shot by Seamus McGarvey, who did, for instance, the ruthlessly colour-planned WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. This one is shot by Ben Davis who did the psychedelically garish but still coordinated GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. So I don’t know what it is — it’s competently shot but the palette is just screamingly LOUD. I guess all those spandex costumes and shiny armours and green skin just won’t BLEND. That poster up top is literally what the film looks like.

But there’s a nice love story, unexpected if you haven’t read the spoilers, and Chris Evans can still be heartbreaking, and there are some eerie quieter moments amid the bombast of Danny Elfman and his back-up orchestra (as near as I can work out, even Elfman at full blast wasn’t loud enough, so they had Brian Tyler provide a whole different score at the same time. I’m pretty sure that’s what they did.) I liked The Vision. Joss Whedon has worked hard to humanize these immortals, even Thor who literally is a god is portrayed as just a nice Aussie bloke, so it’s nice to meet The Vision who is basically an actual god. Not one of us, as Mrs. Thatcher would say.

Blood and Thunder

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

Thor-and-Jane-Thor-2011-thor-and-jane-26482102-1920-816

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.”

thor_pictures02

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.

vlcsnap-2015-04-13-12h39m14s153

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.

vlcsnap-2015-04-13-12h38m15s69

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.

domu_03

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!