Archive for Peter Capaldi

Gunn Play

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2021 by dcairns

Recap: James Gunn made SUPER, a low-budget superhero comedy with drastic tonal problems, and parlayed that into the surprisingly balanced GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films, which actually work on the level of fun. (The first movie is about saving Planet Israel, which has not been much remarked upon.) Going from a 2.5 million budget to a 200 million budget. Not bad. Then some tweets he’d made much earlier in his life were dug up (he’d made no effort to hide them) and the Marvel people, after some hesitation, kicked him out.

The tweets were pedophilia jokes, and not only that, none of them were funny (“That’s even worse news,” to quote Norm MacDonald). One of the Twitter personae weighing in against Gunn was Matt Gaetz. When it was pointed out that these tweets were intended as jokes rather than as documentary accounts of Gunn’s day-to-day activities, Gaetz said something like, “But how do we know he’s not just using that as a smokescreen?” I toyed with the idea if asking him whether his own condemnation of the mirthless tweets might be a similar smokescreen, which would have made me fucking Nostradamus, but I didn’t do it. Having any kind of contact with Matt Gaetz, however remote? I would sooner sit on Cthulhu’s face.

Gunn was immediately, I mean indecently immediately, snapped up by DC to reboot their Suicide Squad franchise. (My problem is not that he continued to work after making failed jokes, but that any pretense was made that something was being achieved by having him swap studios for one film.) I never saw the first film, SUICIDE SQUAD, but people seem to have mainly liked Margot Robbie in it. Seems reasonable. Gunn’s film is called THE SUICIDE SQUAD, the use of a definite article to distinguish comic book adaptations having been rolled out by WOLVERINE and THE WOLVERINE. This strikes me as pathetic and unimaginative, but this is a marketing department we’re talking about, so.

I decided to see THE SUICIDE SQUAD, Fiona decided to come to. I was curious.

The concept of the insanely violent, blackly comic comic-book movie was introduced, I guess, by the KICK-ASS and KINGSMAN films, then went more mainstream with the DEADPOOL films. So naturally The Guardian newspaper has a piece about this being a new development signalling the maturity, and imminent decline, of the genre.

Gunn is returning to his roots, making a tonally unsustainable bloodbath with multiple layers of incoherent irony and odd attempts at pathos. Some of these work surprisingly well. The balance of gore and slapstick and action and fantasy and sweetness is definitely better than in SUPER, but still made me queasy all the way through. The emotional moments are predicated on the criminal heroes (this is basically THE DIRTY DOZEN with superpowers, and none of the Aldrich film’s questionable elements have been resolved in the intervening 54 years) having been damaged by their traumatic childhoods, which is Gunn’s favourite theme (he was sexually abused as a child himself).

The jokes are pretty good. Robbie is no longer the best character, since Harley Quinn seems to be incapable of evolution, and the film has to work hard to prevent her psychopathic character from doing anything unforgivable. Idris Elba is pretty fine, and I’m so glad he’s using his own accent and not playing a stereotyped African-American as in PROMETHEUS. Daniela Melchior is his surrogate daughter. There’s no real reason for them to start the bonding process, but once they do it helps rescue the film from just being a relentless mayhemfest.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD is not just a DIRTY DOZEN remake. It’s an EXTREME PREJUDICE remake — someone actually says “Terminate with extreme prejudice!” and the “guys on a mission” plot delivers a twist involving the mission’s true purpose which echoes Walter Hill’s Tex-Mex bloodbath. It’s a SUICIDE SQUAD remake — instead of a humanoid crocodile, there’s a humanoid shark. It’s a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY remake — there’s a rodent, a big dumb guy, the aforementioned damaged personalities. Basically, everything Umberto Eco said about CASABLANCA that wasn’t true there, is true here — a bunch of familiar elements have been jumbled together to create a series of nostalgic glows, comforting familiarity, a sense of cultural connectedness. As when you hear a modern pop song and all the chords and lyrics and riffs are recycled, warmly recognizable even if you haven’t heard the originals.

Gunn deserves credit for the grace notes: some Kubrick-KILLING play with chronology, a soundtrack that isn’t just the same old songs (though the “original” score is just the standard set of thumps of w hich I am mightily tired), a reference to Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese comics, some good laughs, and a sharp awareness of how Central American countries get eternally shat on by the US. Peter Capaldi gets to say “Unclutch you’re fucking pearls!” when other characters react to his human experiments. Instead of the MCU’s Stan Lee cameos, Lloyd Kaufman is wheeled on, slow-dancing with a hooker. Sylvester Stallone is effective, and we don’t have to look at him because he’s playing an animated shark (the other film is which Stallone works is ANTZ, where he and Woody Allen are the only actors with distinctive voices). This is probably the first time Stallone has been cute. Though he also bites people’s heads off. The lines “Hand,” “Bird,” and “Num-nums,” are the lines he was born to say.

Fans of excruciating violence will find a whole lot to enjoy. It’s almost as exhausting as BRAINDEAD.

I think this kind of thing, or LOGAN’s kind of thing, is destined to remain an occasional subgenre of the world-smashing superhero movie. It’s not going to take over and lead to the downfall of the costumed crimefighter flick. Only the audience demanding more variety from its family-friendly blockbusters can do that.

I’ve never read any Suicide Squad comics but John Ostrander, who rebooted it, also co-wrote, with fellow actor Del Close, the anthology Wasteland, which I admired. And he’s IN Gunn’s film.

When I was a kid, watching westerns on BBC1 Saturday nights, I would frequently get confused when the good guy and bad guy got into a fistfight, and would have to remind myself who was wearing what colour shirt. Same thing happened here.

The final boss villain is a character ripped-off by DC, back in 1960, from the Japanese scifi flick WARNING FROM SPACE. You can buy that on Blu-ray from Arrow, with some liner notes by yours truly.

Local Call

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 18, 2019 by dcairns

New from Criterion!

I had the great pleasure of sitting down to an interview with writer-director-lovely-man Bill Forsyth, which will feature as part of the bumper package of extras included on this disc, available Sept 24.

Who did Burt Lancaster like chatting with? Should dogs be dubbed? Who was Peter Capaldi in a band with? What were the alternative endings? These and other questions may well be answered in the final edit… if they aren’t, ask me later.

Balsa Minarets

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2009 by dcairns


THE SINGING BLACKSMITH. A town in New Jersey is transplanted to a Russia of the mind by the simple addition of balsa minarets. Such is the no-budget magic of Edgar Ulmer.

My friend Mary Gordon, organising a screening of all Ulmer’s Yiddish films, booked me to introduce this one, probably the weakest of the set, at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse last Sunday. There’s not that much to say about the film, except that the lead is called Moyshe Oysher (and I had to remind myself not to call him Oyshe Moysher, because that would be ridiculous) and the young Moyshe is played by Herschel Bernardi, the voice of the Jolly Green Giant. Ho ho.

I decided to tell the story of how Ulmer was booted out of Universal after running away with the script girl, who was unfortunately wed to one of the Laemmle family who ran the studio, and how he came East to pursue work opportunities outside of the mainstream — the Yiddish films and the negro films resulted from this decision, eventually leading to the Poverty Row thrillers Ulmer is most famous for. And then it hit me that the negligible plot of THE SINGING BLACKSMITH, in which the musical ironworker has an affair with a newly married woman, had autobiographical elements that would tie the whole thing together nicely.


And then I was off to see IN THE LOOP, that rare, almost unique, thing — a British comedy that’s funny. True, Armando Iannucci’s political satire doesn’t have the kinetic bustle of Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD or HOT FUZZ, but it shouldn’t. It has an understated documentary flavour which works, without ever actually doing anything interesting. It’s left to the actors to drive the comedy forward, and here Iannucci is in safe hands: Tom Hollander, Gina McKee and Chris Addison are brilliant as the “normal” British characters, the politicos who successfully cover their moral shortcomings with the fumbling and prevarication of regular folks, while the more outwardly evil figures make them jump this way and that. We also get James Gandolfini as a general, and Anna Chlumsky (aw! little Anna Chlumsky!”) with her weird and lovely grown-up face sitting on the front of her head like a confused stranger.

David Rasche plays a “boring psychopath” on the US side (the film deals with Brit-US negotiations in the run-up to an unspecified war in the Middle East) with cold, calm deliberation, providing a bracing contrast to Peter Capaldi’s parliamentary pit-bull, Malcolm Tucker (one of the few characters Iannucci has transferred directly from his TV show, The Thick of It), a hysterically vicious, sweary Scotsman (even traditional valedictions become opportunities for creative cursing, hence “Fucketty-bye!”). I recently ran down Capaldi’s career highlights for a student, who was impressed that the gangling naif in Bill Forsyth’s LOCAL HERO was also the Oscar-winning director of short film FRANZ KAFKA’S IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (balsa minaret link: Capaldi’s enchanting miniature of Prague), and the loud, violent-tempered Director of Communications here.

Iannucci, a Glaswegian Italian-Scot, gets great mileage from this seemingly one-note character, and tops the gag with the introduction of the pit-bull’s pet pit-bull, Jamie McDonald, played by Paul Higgins, who is even more ferocious, foul-mouthed and threatening than himself. My favourite moment of anger from him was his response to UN chairman Sir Jonathan Tutt’s choice of music, some kind of operatic lieder: “It’s just VOWELS!” Impressive how much fury a Scotsman can inject into the word “vowels”.