Archive for Ron Perlman

Overselling

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2022 by dcairns

We liked Guillermo Del Toro’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY. I think it’s his best film in a while, though I admit I didn’t care for THE SHAPE Of WATER or CRIMSON PEAK much at all, and PACIFIC RIM just wasn’t my kind of thing. Honestly, I still think THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE is his best.

This review will now discuss the endings, immediately, because they’re a key difference between versions:

We now have two good films of William Lindsay Gresham’s book, neither of which quite nails it, but both of which succeed in places and are good in their own right. I’m inclined to prefer the Edmund Goulding version, but I have to admit that Del Toro and Bradley Cooper nailed the ending, which Goulding and Tyrone Power weren’t allowed to do. Or, rather, they did it, but were forced to GO PAST IT so that their movie ends on a softened note. Still, if Ty Power isn’t going to turn into The Geek, he’s definitely going to turn into Ian Keith’s broken-down ex-mentalist, so it’s not THAT happy.

It makes sense to compare the movies by their casts. They have very different visual styles, of course, but oddly that seems less important to me. Goulding wasn’t a noir stylist, but his slightly more prosaic approach gave the horrors of the story a matter-of-fact quality. Though he includes more gore and slightly more sex, Del Toro’s design and camera aesthetic tend to dilute the sense of realism. Both approaches seem commendable, and probably my preferred angle would be… what if they made this in the seventies? And had actors who were willing to get period-appropriate haircuts? And could talk fast?

So, actors.

Tyrone Power versus Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle

Both actors are by rights too old: Stanton Carlisle is 21 at the start of the novel. If he ISN’T going to be young, where has he been? Who runs away to join the circus in his late thirties (Power) or mid-forties (Cooper)? Del Toro and Kim Morgan’s screenplay give Stan more of a past, but it’s a past living at home with his dad. Jules Furthman’s script for the ’47 version starts with Stan already employed at the carnival, neatly dodging the question, or almost. Fiona, who has read the novel for me (I’ll get around to it!) doubts if any very young stars could manage the part, and in fact right now there seems to me a shortage of really big stars under thirty.

What we’d be looking for in a young star is energy, I think. Cooper plays it dour, which is an example of the Del Toro film’s tendency to oversell its surface effects, ignoring the value of counterpoint. Power seems genuinely thriller by the power being a carny spieler gives him. Cooper’s Stan is running away from trauma, but what is he running TO? Where is the joy in his life?

Joan Blondell versus Toni Collette as Zeena the Seer.

An unenviable task, following La Blondell. Joan just bursts with warmth and love. Maternal but sexy. Collette is a fine actor, as we know, but seems flat here, maybe because the script is too anxious to push Zeena onto Stan’s dick without setting up a sympathetic character interest first.

Ian Keith versus David Strathairn as Pete Krumbein.

I love them both. Keith’s astonishing rendition of the words “Every boy has a dog,” is one of my favourite line readings of all time. But I think Strathairn has the edge. He’s almost too good for the movie: so right and alive, everyone he shares the screen with seems a touch unreal, underdeveloped. He doesn’t get to say Keith’s line, and the lines he gets instead don’t work as well. But if you’re wondering whether to see the movie, he would be the first reason I’d mention.

Mike Mazurki versus Ron Perlman as Bruno.

Both terrific physiognomic spectacles. Perlman is the better actor by a country mile. Mazurki at forty exudes more physical menace than Perlman at seventy-two, and threat is what the character’s for. Del Toro also gives us Willem Dafoe (very welcome, as always) and Mark Povinelli, expanding the family circus, but not creating much sense of a wider community. Spreading the dialogue to a few bit players might have been helpful. (Povinelli’s The Major is a really mean character in the book, here he’s just truculent, which is the new cliché mode for small actors since Peter Dinklage burst forth in LIVING IN OBLIVION.)

Coleen Gray versus Rooney Mara (Molly Cahill)

Rooney Mara is hands-down the better actor. Gray is good enough for the role she’s given. The Del Toro omits the creepy incest backstory — child abuse is the origin story of both Gresham’s main characters. So, Mara has a character less interesting than she’s capable of playing, basically an ingenue role, but she’s able to tamp down her own interestingness without extinguishing it, and she’s really good.

George Beranger versus Paul Anderson & Jesse Buck (the Geek/s)

This comparison is basically a question of whether it’s better to keep the Geek offscreen, or present him for our edification. Goulding’s offscreen horror is super-effective. Gresham, by showing him, is able to humanize him more (I’m getting all this from Fiona). Gresham has him mouth the words “You son-of-a-bitch,” which humanizes him, and leads the reader away from the pit as he prepares to bite the head of a chicken, playing the scene on the marks’ reaction, which is a very intelligent and restrained way to do it. Del Toro’s explicitness here lets us think ourselves superior to the crowd who lap it up, while granting us the exact same experience, with added moral superiority.

In his glossary of carnival terms accompanying the story The Freak Show Murders, Fredric Brown describes the Geek in these words ~

A freak, usually a Negro, who eats glass, razor blades and almost anything else. Don’t ask me how they can do it, but there’s no gaff about it. A geek can chew up an old light bulb just as you’d eat an apple.

Del Toro’s movie answers Brown’s mystery: the geek is hooked on opium. Interesting that both the full-time geeks we see and the aspirant geek at the movie’s end are white. It’s a very white film. I spotted one Black carny and a Black hotel employee is the only character of colour with dialogue. All Gresham’s characters seem to be white. But the movie changes other things, it could have changed that. Maybe a black geek would be too uncomfortable. But maybe that discomfort would be salutary. Carnivals were places of casual racism. Brown tells us that the term for a dance act performed by Black carnival workers was “Jig show,” and that this was “an accepted term.”

There is a fashion or movement towards racially blind casting, putting actors of different races into roles they might, in real history, not have gotten to occupy. I think this is fine if your film isn’t about real history. If the reason for no non-whites in major roles is that this is a film concerned with actual social history, I would say Phooey, It Is Not. It is, however, a diverse film in having a small person, a hairy person, etc.

Where Ty Power targets essentially one rich old bereaved person with his spook act, the new film offers a few figures: we get Mary Steenburgen, who is the other person in this film besides Strathairn who totally transcends everything they’re asked to do — she should be in everything, and I’m sure she’s busy, but it is DECADES since I saw her in a movie. Welcome back. We get Peter MacNeil and Del Toro favourite Richard Jenkins. Jenkins is playing the character Taylor Holmes has in the ’47 film. He’s good, but his backstory seems underdeveloped or overdeveloped… there’s too much of it for its incompleteness to be a satisfying mystery. Something is just a bit off — maybe in shortening his long first cut (excellent interview at Trailers from Hell), Del Toro couldn’t arrive at quite the right balance. It’s not terrible, but it might be simpler and better if the film decided to make the character less nasty and less complex: his role in Stan’s story is basically that of victim, however unpleasant.

Also here we get his henchman, Holt McCallany from Mindhunter who is just fantastic. I don’t know if he reaches the sublime heights that Strathairn and Steenburgen hit, but he somehow seems to have just stepped into our time from the 1940s. As in his Fincher TV show he’s required to exhibit a lot of righteous anger and he does that so, so well. Another actor who should be in everything, and as he’s youngish and white and male I can’t work out why he isn’t.

Finally —

Helen Walker versus Cate Blanchett (Dr. Lilith Ritter)

Blanchett is very probably lots better than Walker, but not here. In the right roles with the right director, Walker was hard to beat — you really see it in CLUNY BROWN and NIGHTMARE ALLEY. What makes her an inspired choice is her little-girl moonface, which seems to offer innocence. She’s not on the nose, at least in terms of casting. I think Stan, at least this new movie’s Stan, would be suspicious of Blanchett. She’s sinister. Funny that she gets a line about “overselling” her pitch — she’s thrown at us so blatantly, she might as well have a blinking neon sign over her saying FEMME FATALE. It’s not that she’s bad or that this is a bad approach. It’s just more obvious, less elegant, less surprising, than it could be. A shame, in a film that’s frequently elegant and surprising, and with an actor who’s shown she can do almost anything.

Rondo Hatton Investigates

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2013 by dcairns

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I was excited to read a description of Rondo Hatton, disfigured horror movie star of the 40s, as a “former reporter.” In fact, he’s usually described as a sports writer (he was a high school football star before the acromegaly kicked in) but the idea of investigative journalism resonated.

I’d like to put Hatton in a crime/espionage drama. Make it the early forties — the unhealthy B-movie star tracks a clue leading him to a gang of fifth columnists — maybe the guys who, according to Orson Welles, shot Carole Lombard out of the skies. This is the trouble with most of my movie ideas — I live in a mental space where a movie about a disfigured B-movie star snapping Nazis’ spines sounds like a Major Motion Picture that could actually happen (maybe with Ron Perlman?). At any rate, while in poor taste, it might partially make up for THE ROCKETEER, in which an actor made-up to look like Rondo played a fifth columnist.

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It Came from Outer Space Beneath the Sea

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2013 by dcairns

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We enter the multiplex auditorium and immediately feel the crunch of popcorn under foot — a heap of the stuff, spilled on the carpet. “My God, a child has exploded,” says the guy behind us.

As a pedant, the bit of Guillermo Del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM which I did not enjoy, was hearing Idris Elba say that he would die if he “stepped foot” inside one of those giant walk-robots again. This particular language-mangling is one which seems to have gained ground since I first heard it in a hair product ad ten years or so ago (how does one “step foot”? Did Johnny Eck “step hand”? I think the phrase for which Del Toro and his drift partner / co-writer Travis Beacham are grasping is “set foot,” a phrase which has the advantage that, when you think about it, it actually makes sense) and I’m not sure how it can be exterminated. Perhaps the linguistic equivalent of a plasmacaster could do it. Or an Idris Elba elbow rocket.

If the film’s grammar is faulty, its look is very nice indeed, with a lot of intense coloured light, neon etc, filtered and softened through water haze — a bit like wearing the old anaglyph 3D red-blue glasses to go swimming (what? I’m the only one to have done this?). Despite having written about giant monster movies quite a bit, I’ve never been entirely convinced that there was a way to make a really good one, the first KING KONG still being, in my opinion, the only conspicuous triumph in eighty years of kaiju kinema. PACIFIC RIM’s main achievement is to suggest that such a film, further down the line, might be possible. I don;t think this is it, but it comes closer than the likes of Michael Bay could ever dream.

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Del Toro is striving to be mainstream here, which is a potentially depressing thing to see any filmmaker do, especially one who shouldn’t need to struggle to be immensely popular. I’m convinced that his HOBBIT or his AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS would have been more interesting and probably more box office than this. As it is, his disinterest in his leading character (who has no grotesque quirks or illnesses and isn’t a child) is palpable, with Charlie Hunnam fairing worse than similar Brit-with-a-US-accent Rupert Evans in HELLBOY (a character brutally excised from the sequel with a dismissive two-line dialogue exchange). Rinko Kikuchi (memorable as Bang Bang in THE BROTHERS BLOOM) is rather delightful as his opposite number, but her child version in flashback, tiny Mana Ashida, creates the film’s only real emotion.

Ron Perlman and Charlie Day are fun. Burn Gorman, who gets a lot of work by looking like a Skull Island rat monkey, or like Lee Evans with third-degree burns, overacts rather badly. The human dimension is very cartoony, and while I don’t necessarily say that characters with names like Stacker Pentecost and Hercules Hansen are foredoomed to be one-dimensional comic strip figures (I picture a one-dimensional comic-strip figure as resembling a single dot from a Roy Lichtenstein blow-up), the figures declaiming lines like “The apocalypse is cancelled!” do not consistently transcend the emotional sophistication of the Mattel toy.

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BUT — I don’t think any of that would necessarily spoil the pleasure of anybody who already thinks that giant robots fighting giant lizards is a good idea for a movie. I do think it was a mistake to set the final battle underwater, thus losing the sense of scale of the earlier urban punch-up, which is more spectacular, more inventive, and not hampered by the drag effect of water. Underwater battles are ALWAYS dullsville, surely? Remember THUNDERBALL? It took a lot of effort to make something that dull. Del Toro’s deep-sea donnybrook is more exciting than that, but it’s weaker than what has gone before.

I remember learning, to my surprise, from a female anime fan in Leytonstone, that female anime fans really like big robot stories — the idea of piloting a big robot appeals to some untapped female primal urge — and I worry that by making his robots team-driven, the most interesting idea at play in PACIFIC RIM, Del Toro and Beacham may have negated the wish-fulfillment fantasy of having a giant steel carapace.

PACIFIC RIM

Maybe it’s time I watched PATLABOR again.

A shame the movie doesn’t use the term “waldos” — Robert Heinlein invented the term in a science fiction story and it became an accepted name for “remote manipulators” (machines which mimic the movement of a real human limb at a distance) when they were eventually invented. But the film does use the expression “Double Event,” borrowed from Jack the Ripper studies — Del Toro is a keen Ripperologist and no doubt liked the strange, mythic import of the words.