Archive for Patrick Stewart

Tournament of Death

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2022 by dcairns

The familiar strains of Liszt’s Les préludes, symphonic poem No.3, S.97 (crap name) can mean only one thing — another episode of FLASH GORDON!

TOURNAMENT OF DEATH begins with an even more incoherent recap-titles than usual ~

“When Dale at sight of Flash being tortured betrayed…” — where’s Virginia Woolf when you need her?

“If we had been informed of your coming, a banquet would have been served,” declaims Vultan, making little nervous flaps of his cape with his fingertips. We’ve seen his banquets, they’re not that impressive, and so his fidgeting is understandable.

Flash throws the shovel in the furnace (again) and this time the model of the city in the sky rocks violently, with an explosion several blocks wide engulfing midtown. Yet Flash and friends survive it by hiding behind a low lead wall in the heart of the (vaguely atomic) explosion. Then they come rushing into the throne room, since the city in the sky is, though composed of twenty-odd buildings in the wide shot, is only about three rooms on the studio floor.

Flash is fairly glistening with baby oil, which might allow him to slip by both Ming and Vultan’s numerous guards, but instead he resorts to his old standby, shoving the nearest Hawk Man and sending him staggering dopily under the weight of his wings. He soon has Ming at swordpoint, but incomprehensibly Dale throws herself at him, seizing one greasy bicep and dragging him off-balance, so that Vultan can wrestle him into a half-Nelson. Way to go, girl!

Amusing conversation between sweaty Barin in his nappy and hairy Zarkov in his onesie. Zarkov is worried that the whole city is about to drop out of the air and smash. Barin doesn’t care about all that. “We’ve got to save Flash!”

Flash and Thun face the firing squad — when the, uh, conductor, or whatever he’s called, cries “Ready!” they brace themselves to LEAP. Why? Fortunately, the city’s little gravity defiance problem becomes critical at just this moment. The camera starts Star Trekking about, while everyone staggers drunkenly.

(In LOGAN, I have just learned, when Professor Xavier has his seizures, Sir Patrick Stewart specifically requested camera wobble — from his Trek experience the knighted thesp understood that this kind of thing cannot be done by acting alone! The filmmakers rattled the camera wildly, then attempted to stabilize it in post, creating a weird distortion effect that’s tremendously effective. I like the idea that Sir PS demands camera shake for all emotional scenes. I’d like him to demand shaking stages when he plays Shakespeare.)

The confusion allows Flash and Thun to jog past the firing squad and past a bunch more guards, who stand staring curiously after them as if auditioning for MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.

Fortunately, the immediate doom of everyone can be averted by Zarkov, who has just discovered/pulled out of his ass “a new ray.” Vultan swears to release all his captives if Z can save him. He swears by “the Great God Tao” — he of the changing appearance, depending on whether he’s a prop from THE MUMMY or stock footage swiped from JUST IMAGINE (and later swiped again by Kenneth Anger, who made the best use of it yet).

Zarkov switches on a Strickfaden contraption and the model city gradually tilts back to the horizontal, while everyone watches and sways, as if about to sing “Kumbaya, My Lord.” It’s very touching. Princess Aura puts her hands over her ears, for unknown reasons. Maybe she’s expecting everyone to sing “Kumbaya, My Lord.”

Flash and Thun come bounding into the throne room AGAIN. That’s the sign of a serial written in real time: chases fights and reversals that bring you back to the exact situation you were already in, with nothing altered. All the rushing and wrestling begins to seem curiously aimless since nothing is advanced. See any 6-part Dr. Who adventure from back in the day. These things can get kind of Bunuelian.

“As the Emperor of the Universe, it is my right to call a tournament of death,” declaims Ming, a relatively rare instance of an actor being allowed to say the title of the episode. Since all the dialogue in the serial has, effectively, speech balloons around it, they should let the cast enunciate the chapter titles as a matter of course. But Richard Alexander has devised an even better approach, saying his line here with a drunken slur. It’s a tribute to the acting profession that you rarely hear them sounding drunk when they’re not supposed to, unless it’s Wilfred Lawson or someone of his stature. FLASH GORDON, however, is not a tribute to the acting profession.

Flash changes into a nifty Prince Valiant costume — chainmail sweatshirt and tight black trousers and silver belt. “Your weapon will be presented to you at the Arena of Death,” says a guard ($1.25 a day). That has such an ominous sound. Couldn’t they have come up with a cheerier name? The guard, who has hilarious painted eyebrows for no reason, helps Flash into his stylish cape.

The arena turns out to be a reverse angle of the throne room. Space is at a premium in the city in the sky. Flash is to fight “the masked swordsman of Mongo,” who, it is immediately obvious, is Prince Barin. He’s already expressed an interest in the fight but isn’t present in the audience. Plus, the m.s. of m. is a big fat guy, the only one in the story who doesn’t wear fake wings.

Barin, masked, caped and bare-legged as usual, cuts a ridiculous figure, but then so does Santo, and he got a whole series of movies celebrating his exploits. Don’t give up hopes of stardom yet, Prince Barin!

I just noticed that Dale’s new gown has a sort of elongated sporran.

Looooong swordfight with multiple nonreaction shots, which starts to become faintly hilarious. Genre convention suggests that Dale and Zarkov should be looking concerned, Ming malicious, Vultan amused. But everyone is just sort of staring. Like they’re all waiting for a drop of water to fall from a fawcett. It’s funny and sort of abstract, as the illusion that they’re actually looking at what the editing suggests disintegrates and it becomes a series of disconnected strips of celluloid.

Flash unmasks Barin, and a defect on the film causes him to acquire a soap bubble around his nose for a single frame.

The tournament of death having ended in non-death, Flash and Barin repair to the nearest bedroom. I’ve got the sound turned off so this is somewhat surprising. No doubt if I could hear the dialogue all would be clear.

ROUND TWO!

And NOW the onlookers look concerned —

TO BE CONTINUED!

Undercaffeinated blog post

Posted in Comics, FILM, Interactive, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2021 by dcairns

Hope I wake up before I finish writing this.

Finished reading Making a Film: The Story of Secret People, which is adorable. More on that soon.

More charity shop haulage: I bought LOGAN on Blu-ray for a pound. It’s a near-miss for me. I just think the mission of trying to make a superhero movie that’s super-serious is a bit silly. I could see that the same team’s THE WOLVERINE was trying to get away from costumed CGI asskicking and do noir stuff, but it all ended with a big robot fight, they hadn’t been allowed to really go for it. LOGAN goes for it, but hits a wall somewhere.

(I watched the b&w version, LOGAN NOIR, figuring that since director James Mangold went to the trouble of making it, it’d be the version to see, I have the colour version playing now for comparison. Very strange seeing it in colour. Like losing a friend.)

The part of the film that really works is all the Patrick Stewart stuff — in this film’s version of the future, Professor Xavier, beloved mentor of the X-Men, has dementia. This is so well written (Scott Frank is co-writer with Mangold and Michael Green) and played, and is such a great idea… I can’t think of any example of a senile superhero even in comics, and Prof. X. is the perfect character to apply this to, since his powers are mental. What happens when he has one of his seizures is really creepy and wild.

Unexpected added value from Stephen Merchant and Richard E. Grant, two more Brits stepping outside their usual arch mode and really committing to taking the thing seriously.

Hugh Jackman as the title character has always been good in this role, and certainly wants to be great in this. And all his stuff with Patrick Stewart is very strong. The fact that the story is just a chase and some fights doesn’t seem to do any harm here.

It’s the relationship that has to take over from the Logan/Xavier one, with which the intended audience has a longstanding familiarity, that suffers from having to make room for the punchy-stabby bits. Dafne Keen is properly uncanny as the young mutant who is in some way Logan’s daughter. Nothing lacking in the performance, which is mainly physical. The key to my dissatisfaction probably is highlighted by a moment when Keen and Stewart watch SHANE together. It’s nearly always a mistake to smuggle a classic film quotation into a not-yet-classic-and-maybe-never-will-be movie.

SHANE is about a man and a child, two rival father figures who are on the same side but have different styles. And it’s about violence, its terribleness and necessity — it being a western, the necessity for violent action is only lightly questioned, but nevertheless the film attains some depth. LOGAN certainly CONTAINS a lot of violence — an INSANE amount of violence — and everybody does it and there really isn’t any interrogation of it, and most of it has no consequences. There’s an attempt to show us that murderizing store clerks is bad, but the lesson is abandoned to make more room for sticking knuckle-knives through nameless dismayed persons’ heads. Knasty.

The holding back of sentiment is commendable, but at some point the emotion should break through and also we need to feel the pain of a dying protagonist — it’s like THE AGONY AND ECSTASY again, it fails on the agony. Jackman limps but still feels invulnerable.

Also I’d watched THE GUNFIGHTER where the whole film is “Hurry up and get out of town Gregory Peck.” This one is a long chase where the character TWICE stop running and casually say “We’ll move on first thing in the morning.” NO. That’s not going to work, is it?

Beautiful moment where the little heroine, a Kaspar Hauser with the power to punch through walls, encounters a vision of the family she’s never had —

I tried plugging my Blu-ray player into my laptop but nothing happened, so here are some photos taken off my TV on a bright day. Yes, I suck. And here I am critiquing James Mangold, who on this evidence should kill it with the new INDIANA JONES (my favourite of his is DAY AND KNIGHT [although there are lots I haven’t seen] so I think he can get the tone).

We also watched JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE which more fun than a Donkey Kong barrel full of CGI monkeys. Clever, character-based jokes, a beautiful ensemble cast — TWO ensembles, in fact — and although the thing’s a CGI-fest (something LOGAN, to its credit, never feels like), which meant I wasn’t particularly interested in any of the action, it as the alibi that it’s all happening inside a game. There’s probably a visual look out there which would have made interesting use of CG stylisation, the way TRON did, but neither the original JUMANJI with its ambulatory taxidermy animals, not this one, has found it. But the Rock and Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan and Jack Black are lovely, and although I find I strangely still have no interest in other Jake Kasdan films such as BAD TEACHER and SEX TAPE, I would happily watch the sequel to the reboot of film of the book about the game.

A DD-Notice Situation

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2017 by dcairns

We watched LIFEFORCE recently, to get me in the mood for my trip to London. With Fiona protesting that she’d rather watch THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or any of the, you know, GOOD Tobe Hooper films. Because the man had just died, and was this really the way he’d want to be remembered? But then, I bet he’d want to be remembered as more than JUST the director of TTCM.

I also read some good defences of the (arguably indefensible) film and that, coupled with the fact that, you know, the man had just died, made me sort of afraid to write about it, because I couldn’t really bring myself to say that the film is “good” — but at the same time, we had a hell of a good time watching it, so there’s that.

How do we parse this distinction between “good” and “a good time”? Are movies like women in ‘forties films? At any rate, much of what is hilarious and delightful in LIFEFORCE *could* be deliberate, which should lift the movie clean out of the “so bad it’s good” category. What makes my head go all Linda Blair is a feeling that even IF the ridiculous choices ARE purely intentional, they still seem crazy and impossible to defend on any normal grounds.What do I mean? Well, the story, adapted from Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby (INVADERS FROM MARS) deals with a naked space lady (Mathilda May) sucking the energy out of London’s masculine population. I think the idea of a monster movie where the monster is a naked girlie is kind of hilarious — as if they asked the question, What are teenage boys REALLY scared of? I think they could even have gotten away with the nude, but not a really busty nude. The film looks glorious — Alan Hume’s lovely lurid colours in anamorphic widescreen — but the shot of the menacing shadow of tits on the wall should arguably have been vetoed. Except no, because it’s perfectly in tune with the film’s demented tone. Hell, it exemplifies it.

(Colin Wilson was England’s top existentialist angry young man for a fortnight in the fifties — I don’t know what led him to write a Quatermass knock-off. I first encountered him during research for a Jack the Ripper project — he was a prominent ripperologist — but, as I discovered in my reading — he really didn’t know very much about the case, and much of what he claimed to know was wrong.)

Hard to explain the odd effect of the dialogue: apart from Steve Railsback, it’s a lovely cast of Brits, speaking in a pastiche of Britishness that seems at least ten years out of date. V FOR VENDETTA has a similarly timewarped quality, highly gigglesome. I don’t imagine it sounds so comical to Americans, because it’s not THAT off. It’s a good pastiche of Hammer horror dialogue, or maybe a tough crime drama with Stanley Baker.That cast — Frank Finlay is playing it quiet, well aware how close to looking ridiculous he is. He only loses it when he has to shout over a radio link, and his Shakespearean enunciation makes the whole thing rather Toast of London. Peter Firth is superb — full-on restrained camp. That thing when restraint becomes in itself a form of ham. And then there’s good old Michael Gothard, yielding sweatily to the temptations of the flesh just as he did in THE FOUR MUSKETEERS and THE DEVILS and…And Patrick Stewart! As if the second question they asked was What else will freak out teenage boys? and their answer was Homosexual Panic. Possessed by the naked space babe, Patrick turns on his sexual magnetism, and Railsback just can’t resist leaning in for a kiss. Hilarious to watch Firth and Aubrey “PR Deltoid” Morris dashing in to manfully prevent this same-sex violation of the norm, and then the room going poltergeistically haywire as the thwarted sex drive runs amok. (“CAN YOU IMAGINE how much fun Patrick Stewart would be having with a scene like that?” asked my host in London when I described it.)There’s more, so much more. The film is much less interested in its male vampires, but one of them does get to say to Firth, “It’ll be much less terrifying if you just come to me.” Whoops and cheers.

There’s lots of impressive animatronic zombie-work, all cut SLIGHTLY too loose, spoiling the illusion, and lots of fun QUATERMASS AND THE PIT panic on the streets, and as I say, the film looks great. In fact, my host in London was taught at the NFTS by Alan Hume. “He called everyone darling, regardless of sex.” He was clearly the man for LIFEFORCE.And Frank Finlay’s finale is terrific — the film’s one genuinely great scene for which you don’t have to make apologies or suspend disbelief or try to wedge yourself into a previously unimagined tone encompassing camp and B-movie thickear, the knowing and the unknowing. A scene that would hold its own in a real Nigel Kneale script. And FFinlay, having held back so long, makes a perfectly judged decision to have fun with it, as he expires in a welter of bladder effects. Stirring stuff.

(This is arguably as inappropriate an homage to the late Mr. Finlay as it is to Hooper, but I watched him in Dennis Potter’s Casanova too so I’m covered on that score.)

So why can’t I give the film total respect? It does seem to know what it’s doing. I feel like a humourless critic at a Ken Russell film, recognising that he’s displaying a comedic attitude but unable to grant him permission because the precise timbre of his wit seems unacceptable. I love Ken Russell, I *can* accept his bizarre tonal combinations and jokes that seem designed not to get laughs but just to buffet the sensibilities. Maybe LIFEFORCE isn’t serious enough to get away with it? Maybe I should just bloody well RELAX? “It’ll be much less terrifying if you just come to me.”