Archive for Oldboy

Episode 3.5: An Old Hope

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2017 by dcairns

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Spoilers in this one — don’t read it if you’re ever planning to see ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

THE FORCE AWAKENS had some kind of vestigial appeal for me because I was ten when STAR WARS came out. But it was also frustrating because, like most JJ Abrams joints, it was just a remake and remix of its original. Another, even bigger Death Star? Again? Are ideas so scarce?

This new one didn’t awaken the same sentimental warmth in me because there were fewer of the original actors and less of the original John Williams leitmotifs. I enjoyed all the design and the environments (though two rocky planets in the first act was a mistake: should’ve differentiated them more). They picked up the best designs elements of the Lucas-Kirschner-Marquand trilogy, ditched the dodgy bits, added a bunch more that were stylistically in keeping and of a high standard. But the characters and plot and dialogue — ugh. OK, dialogue was never the series’ strong suit, but one does remember a few lines. There’s basically one good line in this, from the blind guy.

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Just one of the many exciting action sequences in ROGUE ONE.

I think it’s maybe a good thing that this one was less good vs. evil, black-and-white. There’s more conflict within the Rebel Alliance. But the story is very fragmented. After the first sequence we flash forward fifteen years or so. Then we start following several plotlines at once — quite different from the neat, WIZARD OF OZ like linearity of Lucas’ first effort. We meet the hero quite late in that one, because Lucas realized he had to use the robots to guide us through the story — as memory serves: when the droids meet Princess Fisher, we can then follow her and meet Grand Moff Cushing, and from then on we can intercut between droids, Fisher and Cushing. Then the droids meet Luke Hammillwalker, and we can intercut between his POV and the others (but sparingly). Luke meets Alec Kenobi, and then they meet Harrison Solo and Mayhewbacca. We don’t meet anyone before the droids meet them, except the baddies, who we meet via a kind of relay with the Princess.

Here, we just meet people all the time, whenever the committee in charge of the film feel like it, so it’s a jumble. And though the threads do intertwine more tightly to bring us to a climax on one planet, it still results in one of those horrible intercutty all-at-once climaxes that became a problem around RETURN OF THE JEDI. (STAR WARS has one climax, EMPIRE has two, JEDI has three). And it features the most ludicrous data retrieval system ever conceived, basically based on that arcade game with the claw where you try to pick up gifts.

(I think the awful inefficiency of the filing system must be why the cloned Cushing blows up the Empire’s entire records office at the end, along with the planet it’s on. There is no other possible explanation. I mean, it can’t have been in order to get the two surviving rebels, can it?)

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WARS and TREK both tend to deal in a mixture of one-dimensional and two-dimensional characters. Monsters and robots are mostly one-dimensional. C-3PO has one characteristic, he’s prissy. Chewbacca is large. Yoda is wise. The flesh-and-blood actors who show their own face-skin have slightly more facets, partly because Lucas realized they needed more, but also just because human beings tend to bring additional messiness to anything they play. Harrison Ford tends to sound bored, so his character becomes cynical and also crooked but also bored. Luke is noble and naive but also shrill and whiny.

In ROGUE ONE, the blind guy believes in the force and his pal is defined entirely by his faithfulness to the blind guy. The actors bring a little more to the table with individual line readings, but really that’s all they get to work with. It’s hard to say what makes the nice English girl in this different from the nice English girl in FORCE AWAKENS, other than backstory. The robot sounds like C-3PO only an octave lower, to which is added Chewie’s signature character trait of largeness. I can’t put any names to any characteristics of Diego Luna except he’s brave and a little ruthless. Riz Ahmed gives the best performance but it’s a miracle, since he has almost nothing to work with. Fairly early on, his brain gets tentacle-raped by Forrest Whitaker’s fat squid, and he’s a bit traumatized for the duration of a scene. Letting his combat shock last throughout the movie would have actually given him a part to play. What we get in the end is a pretty magnificent example of an actor bringing an empty outline to life by sheer force of commitment to inhabiting it with his humanity.

And then there’s Forrest Whitaker’s cyborg guy — a one-dimensional character with a two-dimensional head.

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Elsewhere we have the CGI Carrie Fisher about which all one can say is it doesn’t work, and the CGI Peter Cushing which doesn’t work and is an insult to a fine actor’s memory. I don’t care that his secretary gave permission. The idea that a bunch of nerds at computers are going to turn another thin actor into Cushing is preposterous and offensive and the results bear that out. Martin Scorsese said that as a kid seeing Hammer movies, he admired Cushing and “the precision of his movements within the frame.” The clone version certainly moves precisely — but the result is just “cut scenes” from vidgames only with a more detailed complexion.

So, my question is — given the movie’s commendably bold decision to basically kill all its characters, did someone say, “Better not make them too appealing, or people will be upset?” That doesn’t seem likely, but it’s what it felt like when I watched the film.

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Toallow a positive note — when Brian DePalma saw a rough cut of STAR WARS, the ever-obnoxious auteur sneered, “THAT’S your bad guy’s entrance?” as Dave Prowse in a plastic hat stepped into view at the end of a long corridor. This movie does give Darth Vader a much better entrance. First there’s a teaser of some guy living in a glass of milk in a big lava tower — Who lives in a house like this? The lava tower is actually an early Lucas idea for EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and the partially-glimpsed, helmetless figure is actually a swipe from EMPIRE. A couple more bits. And then he gets a great action sequence at the end which sadly involves to actual characters but is very well staged, although not as good as the comparable fight in OLDBOY. But if you graft this one onto STAR WARS, Darth finally has a really strong, hissable entrance.

Did that make it worth twenty quid of our money? Hell no.

 

“Monster, indeed!”

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2010 by dcairns

So, in a twist of film history both inevitable and deeply demented, the Frankenstein monster gets drafted into the Japanese kaiju genre and pitted against a man in a lizard costume, under the directorial aegis of GODZILLA helmer Ishiro Honda…

I hope you understand that I’m watching FRANKENSTEIN VS BARAGON, aka FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, purely because the late Denis Gifford saw fit to include a b&w illo from it in his Pictorial History of Horror Movies. So in my mad quest to see all the films depicted therein, a quest I have abstrusely entitled See Reptilicus and Die, I totally had to watch this movie. I mean, it’s not as if I go out of my way to see this kind of thing normally.

“Do I LOOK like I’m kidding?”

We begin in Germany, where a swivel-eyed mustache guy is working on the  still-beating heart of the Frankenstein monster in a mad scientist’s layer in a castle somewhere unwisely close to the front lines. ThenNazi stormtroopers arrive with a compulsory purchase order and confiscate the creepy ticker, shipping it to Hiroshima by sub, where the leader of the Seven Samurai proceeds to examine this strangely immortal pump, with a view to mass-producing bullet-proof Japanese soldiers. This perfectly reasonable subplot is brought to an abrupt end by the detonation of an atom bomb.

Fastforward to the poptastic sixties, and a “degenerate waif” is terrorizing the city, rather a lot like Denis Lavant in Leos Carax’s episode of TOKYO! “There were a lot of these boys after the war,” says a concerned supporting player, perhaps visualizing GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES. Apprehended by the authorities (including a gratuitous roundeye scientist, Nick Adams — ot’s gaijin vs. kaijin), the monster waif starts growing to, well, monstrous size, no doubt due to all that radiation he soaked up — for you see, this large deformed boy is no less than the Frankenstein monster’s heart, which has regenerated an entire new body around itself (I would love to have seen the halfway stage of that) a bit like Oddbod Jnr. in CARRY ON SCREAMING — who germinated from a single discarded finger — whom he closely resembles (he also looks a bit like Richard Kiel disguised as a hillbilly).

Dangerous curves.

Meanwhile, the late Baragon has emerged from the bowels of the earth and is ravaging the countryside. While Frank, escaped from his tiny cell, roams the hinterland searching for a spot with a climate akin to that of Frankfurt, but with a sufficient supply of life-giving protein. His dinners are being swiped by Baragon — cue shots of the lizard thing stomping a puppet horse… a battle seems inevitable: underground monster vs. 100 ft waif.

Baragon, although known as The Underground Monster, is clearly recognizable to westerners as Edward Lear’s The Dong with the Luminous Nose.

Slowly it wanders,–pauses,–creeeps,–
Anon it sparkles,–flashes and leaps;
And ever as onward it gleaming goes
A light on the Bong-tree stems it throws.
And those who watch at that midnight hour
From Hall or Terrace, or lofty Tower,
Cry, as the wild light passes along,–
‘The Dong!–the Dong!
‘The wandering Dong through the forest goes!
‘The Dong! the Dong!
‘The Dong with a luminous Nose!’

“Ha ha, you missed me, you need glasses!”

Battle Royale, or Batoru Rowaiaru, commences — by this time, alas, we were no longer taking the film as seriously as it deserves, even though Honda was a friend of Akira Kurosawa and even directed bits of DREAMS and merits the greatest of respect. Once the monsters started fighting it was impossible not to make up dialogue for them, so they trash-talk each other while slamming one another with papier-maché boulders. Finally Frank, without doubt the spazziest of all Japanese monsters, murders Baragon by tearing his head apart, but is then immediately set upon by an Act III giant octopus, which appears out of nowhere in an eleventh-hour “development” unprepared for in any way.

“Watch it, mate, I’m gonna audition for the lead in OLD BOY right now, using you as main course!”

“Oh yeah? Well here we are in Japan, and I’ve got eight tentacles… ever see that Hokusai print of the pearl diver?”

The movie, having never quite come up with a practical solution for what to do with the monster, now cuts the Gordian knot by having him fall into a lake with a big octopus. Everybody immediately goes home: “Nothing to see here.” He’s barely been submerged five seconds!

“He’ll be back,” speculates a sequel-grubbing scientist. “Somewhere, sometime.”

“Perhaps the best thing would be for him to die,” says another, who isn’t going to be invited back for FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTERS: SANDAH VS GAILAH. “After all, he’s only a monster.”

Only?