Archive for Natalie Portman

Blood and Thunder

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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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Remember, Remember

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on November 5, 2013 by dcairns

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Re-watching V FOR VENDETTA to get in the mood for Government Detonation Day. My, the dialogue is worse than I remember it. I haven’t seen a London as unconvincing as this since LIFEFORCE, which the movie somehow resembles. An odd thing — while Americans say the word “bollocks” quite charmingly, with just a hint of becoming self-consciousness, and British actors generally say it quite effectively, when American writers put “bollocks” into British mouths, it doesn’t come out right.

So for the first hour I was kind of wondering why I’d given this film kind of a pass at the time. True, its heart is in the right place, more or less — it’s still probably the most gay-friendly blockbuster, big movies generally lagging far behind comic books and the rest of the culture when it comes to these issues. And there are good shots, a few decent action scenes and montages. But that weird fake London thing comes back to haunt it — we get used to Hugo Weaving’s mask after one scene, but never get used to Natalie Portman’s accent. And the filmmakers (James McTeague and the Wachowskis) compound the awkwardness by casting Stephen Rea as the other major British character. He does OK, but a whole level of unease could have been stripped away by casting a Brit.

Alan Moore objected to the changes made to his comic (“All I’m saying is, just give me the deal you were happy to give [Superman creators] Siegel and Schuster for decades: don’t mention my name and don’t pay me any money”) but I think tying the film’s fascists into the real-world neo-cons was a brave and admirable move — had the film proved a hit, we could be enjoying more political blockbusters. The bigger betrayal was cutting all the talk of anarchy. The other biggest change is trading an atomic war backstory, which barely worked in the eighties original, for a biological terrorist attack — this is OK in itself, but leads to a lot of time being spent on the 9/11 truther conspiracy plot (which never made sense to me — the human experiments preceded the rise of fascism?), exposited through wooden verbiage and wedging out more piquant material, like the mean, DR PHIBES details of V’s vendetta — in the comic he kills a pedophile priest with a poisoned communion wafer, thus disproving the miracle of transubstantiation. And does the Wachowskis’ love of kink lead them to make slightly too much of Natalie P in her little girl costume? Possibly.

The rhythms of the film are also odd — to deal with the overwritten dialogue, the actors all underplay and talk fast, both of which are approaches I like but in particular the fast talking sits oddly with the standard action movie portentousness, It’s like the pompous self-importance doesn’t have room to breathe. Arguably a good thing, but it doesn’t quite play.

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But it gets better — first with Sinead Cusack’s cameo — bring on the great actors and things generally get better — again the dialogue is sometimes unsayable but she sells it. And then in my favourite chapter from the comic, the Valerie sequence, the most faithfully adapted part of the movie, thank God, Natasha Wightman’s voice-over does just what it needs to. I always find this bit very moving in comic and film.

At the same time, as she moves from doubt to anguish, Portman finds her dramatic footing and simultaneously limbers up for GOYA’S GHOSTS, part of her Trilogy of Torture which has either yet to be concluded or climaxed with YOUR HIGHNESS which tortured the audience.

And I still feel a thrill at the Houses of Parliament going up at the end. “It’s a shame, though — it’s a nice building,” said Fiona after we saw this on release.

“Yeah, but, can’t make an omelette…”

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Of course, the film’s lasting significance is the face it gave to Occupy, that anti-political political movement (whose spokesman is surely Russell Brand). Alan Moore was amused by the irony of a piece of Warner Brothers marketing being commandeered by an anti-corporate movement — every mask sold adding dollars to the WB coffers. But he was also a little touched, I think.