Archive for Popeye

Tardi Sweep

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2019 by dcairns

APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD — I think the title doesn’t quite work in English — too vague — is a rather dazzling and genuinely charming steampunk adventure inspired by the works of cartoonist Jacques Tardi, also the source for Luc Besson’s THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC (the key word here is “extraordinary,” it would seem).

Besson is a bugbear of mine. There are the films that are just hateful, the ones that are nearly good, or good in places and upsetting in others, and then there are his attempts to be charming, which are horrible. I think probably he has an awful personality (Google “Luc Besson accusations”) and he’s one of those guys who can’t help but put himself into his work. For all his limitations, Michael Winner had something similar going on, you always felt you were in the hands of a nasty piece of work. In the case of ADELE BS, Besson’s decision to plaster his supporting cast in grotesque, no, UGLY makeups is a great bit of self-revelation, in that it tries to be about capturing a comic-book ambience (the way the live-action Tintin movies gave Captain Haddock a bizarre, painted-on beard, or Robin Williams’ corky arms in POPEYE) but doesn’t resemble Tardi’s attractive caricatures whatsoever. It can be read only as an eruption of nastiness from somewhere outwith the project.

When I worked in animation, abortively, my colleague remarked “There’s only so much shit a thing can contain before it’s JUST SHIT.” Besson always gives me a little more shit than I can overlook.

Whereas, I’m glad to say, AATEW (AVRIL ET LE MONDE TRUQUE, or “fake world,” in the original — which doesn’t really fit the story either) is properly delightful. Marion Cotillard and the late Jean Rochefort do voices. The characters and setting look enough like Tardi to pass and there’s humour, constant delightful invention, and no Bessonian bum notes. Nobody can really draw like Tardi, and they certainly can’t mass-produce Tardi drawings in sufficient quantity for an animated feature film, and computers certainly can’t do it, but with enough skill, respect and taste there’s a possibility of getting close enough to be pleasing. This, the filmmakers (directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, writers Ekinci and Benjamin Legrand) have succeeded in marvelously.

The production design is fabulous, the colour a little cautious (as with BELLEVILLE RENDEZVOUS, a tendency towards sepiatone), the character design not as pleasing as Tardi would have made it but a long way from the unpleasantness of Besson’s silliy-putty fizzogs. But the story and the story world unite to create something really imaginative and fresh and appealing.

I liked the characters (just not the way the younger ones are drawn), who all have proper arcs and make something sweetly nostalgic out of their generic limitations. There are some good laughs. There’s a talking cat who may not be Jiji from KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE but is bloody excellent. Fiona was impressed by the anatomical exactitude of his rear elevation. Probably STEAMBOY will remain the ultimate in animated steampunk spectacle, and LAPUTA THE FLYING ISLAND the most truly wonderful, but this is quite a bit more quaint and charming — there’s an airship-powered funicular railway, ffs — the belt and braces approach to retro-futurist whimsy.

What allows it to be both charming and interesting is that the filmmakers know what we want and don’t want, and can skirt the edges of thr latter to keep it interesting. There are characters who, if they died, would really upset us. So the filmmakers threaten their lives and make us believe that they COULD die, there could be a less pleasing version but still acceptable version of the film where that happens. Whereas, the only thing that upset us was the destruction of the WALKING HOUSE, which was a house we adored and were ready to make an offer on.

Should work for kids and adults. Don’t know why it isn’t better known.

Primal Screen

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 7, 2012 by dcairns

The first movie I was taken to see as a kid was DR DOLITTLE, the Cinemascope bloater coughed up by 20th Century Fox in an attempt to  make a roadshow family picture which capitalized on Rex Harrison’s turn as a lovable misogynist in MY FAIR LADY.

This is a history lesson.

Firstly, I was born the year of the film’s release, and I don’t think my parents took me as a baby, so that tells you something — tattered, speckled prints of this gigantic flopperoo were still circulating tiredly in the provinces at least three years after the film died like an obese dog (looking up mournfully, tail wagging in a sluggish but heartbreakingly hopeful manner) at the box office. Film distribution was clearly a whole different thing in the early seventies.

Three seems to be the age at which most children are introduced to the movies. I guess these introductions are managed a bit more carefully now, with the aid of the mass media and so on…

My parents report that my first response to a movie on the big screen was to start bawling. Nobody had told me it would be dark in the cinema.

Now, I just half-watched the film (I wouldn’t attempt a proper review without whole-watching a film, but DR D does rather resist the full attention) with the intent of checking to see if I remember anything about it.

There was one image in my head, divorced from any of the glimpses of the film I’ve caught on TV over the years, and from the bits everybody knows are in it, like Harrison speak-singing “If I Could Talk to the Animals.” I had an image of a ship, or possibly a raft, on a stormy sea at night. But for some reason I had a doubt that the image might have come from Altman’s POPEYE, another family film that flopped, released much much later, which I also saw at the cinema.

The image is there! It’s a couple of hours into the film (which is purportedly about a voyage but takes that long to get properly under sail). The ship gets wrecked and then the characters are on rafts. “I told you Flounder was a terrible name for a ship.” Whereas Robin Williams in POPEYE begins the film on a raft, at sea, at night in a storm.

I suddenly flashed on the possibility that my parents had turned up in the middle of the film. We did that sometimes in those days. I certainly remember double features where we entered midway through the B-picture. Yes, there were films running in repertory then, and double bills (Roger Moore as Bond, Godzilla versus whoever was around, HERBIE VS CHRISTINE) and people still sometimes turned up without consulting the listings and went to see whatever was on, regardless of whether it had started. Alfred Hitchcock tried to wipe out this deleterious practice by banning late entrants to PSYCHO, but it didn’t completely stop careless punters from turning every film into a non-linear adventure in piecemeal narrative composition.

(I still quite like seeing a film where I’ve caught a bit of it years ago and never knew what it was or what was going on…)

So I suspect I was a distressed three-year-old because I was dragged into a giant dark auditorium in the middle of a scary sea-storm at night. Dark in the cinema and dark onscreen. Maybe an usherette with a torch to add further nocturnal drama and hushed urgency, maybe not. Maybe not, maybe we entered during the ads or trailers like civilized people, I don’t know.

I think I was repelled by the pushme-pullyou, also. Say what you like, it’s not natural.

Eye-Popping!

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , on May 13, 2009 by dcairns

On my recent New York jaunt, Guy Budziak kindly presented me with a collected set of Fleischer POPEYE cartoons, stuffed with extras. Since we’re teen-sitting this week, I thought I’d experiment upon Louis, our young charge, to see whether 1930s animation still pleases the youth of today. 

Turns out it does, and it also pleases me. Elzie Segar’s newspaper strip goes through a set of funhouse-mirror distortions to emerge from the Fleischer inkwell, with characters internally reshaped internally even when their exteriors remain the same — if I were a purist I’d be offended. I love the Segar strip, but I can still enjoy the gene-splice of Popeye characters with Betty Boop’s universe: a surreal nightmare-scape obeying strange rules of its own. Everything is alive, and therefore transmutable into something else —

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“He’s hijacked a whale!” exclaimed Louis.

Popeye steers his cetacean ride into harbour, and it converts into a nifty staircase to get him onto the pier.

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“That whale is Popeye’s bitch!”