Archive for Star Wars

Plane Sailing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2022 by dcairns

THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI is another Mark Robson war movie made for people who have just had a bath on a Sunday. That really is the mood it’s aimed at.

It’s not a distinguished film, but it has odd things of interest. It has to do with aircraft carriers, planes, the Korean war. William Holden flies a plane and Mickey Rooney flies a helicopter. Fredric March sails a ship. So much for characterisation. Well, in fact, Holden is bitter about being called up, Rooney is a hot-tempered Irishman who wears a leprechaun hat when doing air-sea rescue, March misses his son who was killed in action. OK now? Then so much for characterisation.

Early on, Fredric March is giving a pep talk in his cabin, but there are people moving about overhead, visible through gaps in his ceiling. This is odd. Apparently the DVD’s 1:1.33 aspect ratio is incorrect, the film was shot open-matte and so we are seeing things we shouldn’t be seeing. Still, I don’t know why March’s ceiling was built with gaps, or why somebody’s moving about up there. Possibly a boom operator?

The next thing of interest is William Holden in bed with his wife, who is Grace Kelly and who loves him. Characterisation achieved, moving on. But this is 1954 so I was mildly surprised to see man and wife in the conjugal bed, or at least a Japanese hotel bed, with neither of them keeping one foot on the floor as far as I could see. I guess the Hays Code injunction was breaking down (“the characters may be married by the audience knows very well that the actors are NOT” — didn’t anyone try casting married actors to see if they could then justify shared beds, penetrative sex, graphic childbirth?). Otto Preminger released THE MOON IS BLUE without a certification the previous year, so maybe the Breen Office felt it was adapt or die. It must’ve been a bit like Glasnost — for decades we’ve maintained brutal oppression from the fear that any laxity would lead to chaos — now we’re absolutely forced to loosen up — and the result is chaos. Next stop, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, THE EXORCIST, SWEET MOVIE…

I was excited about seeing 50s Tokyo — the world of Ozu as presented by Hollywood. But this Japan rarely resembles the native film industry’s portrayals, despite the presence of Keiko Awaji from STRAY DOG. There are some sidestreets that do call to mind Ozu’s bar-hopping scenes, but the big night club is something else — this might even be a matte painting for all I know.

The interior of “the Showboat” might be a set, too. But everything is very solid and expensive to build — showgirls circulate on a miniature battleship on rails, and the bandstand rotates. It also seems cramped, like there was no way to get the camera far back enough to see everything properly, so it feels like a real place. And it’s crazy enough to be a real place in Japan.

The big climax is pretty impressive. Apparently the air attack was used as placeholders for the effects shots in STAR WARS. It looks totally real. But I’d just seen VON RYAN’S EXPRESS, which seemed real until I started looking for frame grabs and then suddenly the model shots popped out at me. All cut together expertly — Robson was an assistant editor on CITIZEN KANE I think and cut CAT PEOPLE — so your eye follows a real Messerschmidt across an edit where it becomes a toy plane, and William Holden fires an MG-42 on a sound stage and his stand-in fires it from a real train and a model train gets strafed…

So, basing this solely on what the film DOESN’T show us as we soar down into the valley, explosions all around us in the air, and we fly through clouds of smoke — we don’t see people running about on the ground — so I think they built some really big model bridges in a miniature valley with real mountains in the background. And they really flew the camera through it filming in slomo while they blew everything to blazes. And it looks real, really real. I think it’s a shame nobody gave Robson a scifi movie to make. They kept giving them to Robert Wise, who did pretty well with them for a while.

We also watched the new ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT which made two films in one night that ended with major characters dead in a ditch, covered in mud. Which was probably just the distraction we needed after having to say goodbye to the cat.

THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI stars Joe Gillis; Lisa Fremont; Dr Henry Jekyll/Mr Edward Hyde; Mr Yunioshi; Sgt. Stanislaus ‘Animal’ Kuzawa; Sgt. Det. Sgt. Walter Brown; Harumi Namaki, the girl-friend; Mingo; Jason Tully – conductor; Buzz Gunderson; Mr Osato; and Mirador Motel Night Manager.

Amsterdammed with Faint Praise?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2022 by dcairns

We found AMSTERDAM rather loveable. David O.Russell is an erratic talent/person, it seems. Still haven’t risked a look at JOY, but I was impressed by THREE KINGS, I HEART HUCKABEES, AMERICAN HUSTLE, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. THE FIGHTER was OK. If you like the same ones as me (I still haven’t seen the earlier ones) you might like this.

You might not like the fact that the coda is ten minutes too long, or that New York seems strangely depopulated (but beautiful at night), or that the titular city is just interiors. You might object to Christian Bale doing a straight-up Peter Falk imitation — playing a one-eyed New Yorker he could probably have found a more original way to go, but on the other hand there are not and never could be enough Peter Falk performances, so having one more, even an ersatz one, is a treat to me. You might not like the way the joins are so visible between the true story from which the film derives, and the fictional elements grafted on. You might wish they’d had the courage to name names, specifically those of the business leaders behind the actual conspiracy — but legally, they couldn’t because the movie’s plot makes the bad guys murderers, which in real life they weren’t. To point the finger properly, the movie would have to hew closer to the facts of the case.

What I liked was the, to me, touching, friendship between Bale’s character and Margot Robbie and John David Washington’s. The plot is an adequate means of getting them in motion, and has modern resonances. The film covers the same historical span as JULES ET JIM and features a comparable trio. But never resorts to slavish pastiche or pilferage. The supporting cast is tremendous. It’s one of the few dramas to manage to incorporate a Mike Myers performance (even Tarantino, who whatever his faults generally gets everyone singing from the same hymnbookor him-book, couldn’t manage that one). Here, MM sticks out, but only slightly, helped by Michael Shannon shifting phase into a more comically stylised mode as his chief playing partner. Rami Malek and Anya Taylor-Joy are fun. There is a supporting actor called Baxter Humby, reason enough to buy a ticket, or at least to read this review.

Baxter Humby, Shadowplay salutes you!

Russell’s work, from a visual perspective, benefits from being pushed to extremes, and here it could have done with an added shove in the edit. We may make fun of George Lucas’ sole direction to his STAR WARS cast, “faster, more intense,” but it’s a good note for many occasions. Possibly the fact that HUCKABEES wasn’t a hit has hurt DOR’s confidence a bit — his more stylistically extreme film and one of the most satisfying, its failure may have curbed the excesses of a filmmaker who lives on excess, or ought to. It sometimes feels like the cast are performing inside little boxes, with insufficient master shot around them to bind everything together. Occasionally a wild Steadicam master will obtrude, and feel like something from a different movie. Possibly there were at one time more of these and they got the chop for not working, leaving scenes to struggle along as disconnected closeups.

I seem to have a lot of qualms and quibbles but while the movie was unfolding I was mostly in a state of mild bliss.

Rocketing to Earth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2022 by dcairns

Mike Hodges tells me that Larry “Buster” Crabbe was quick to condemn his 1980 FLASH GORDON. “He couldn’t quite bring himself to say this great American hero might be GAY! Hey Ho!”

If not gay, then certainly camp.

Join Larry “Buster” Crabbe and his chums for the final episode of the 1936 series!

We open, more or less, with the ceiling falling in on our heroes after they descend through a convenient trapdoor to escape aerial bombardment. The whole “Trapped in the Turret” thing is rather a misnomer as they never go upstairs. “Trapped in the Basement” would be closer to the truth, but they’re never trapped either: immediately downstairs from the “turret-which-is-played-by-a-cave” next to the “Lake of Rocks” which is just a desert, they find a corridor leading to the dungeon which allows them to rescue Prince Barin who is being escorted there. They belatedly realise that it wasn’t Barin who had been bombarding them.

Oh, and King Vultan has been injured. He’s covered in plaster and looks quite woebegone. Covering someone in plaster will have this effect, but it turns out if they’re wearing big rigid fake wings the effect is enhanced.

Fiona, having skipped most of the episodes, is amused all over by Princess Aura’s way of aiming her knockers at people. “She said, bustily.”

There is toing and froing. Or “to-ing and fro-ing” I guess since the previous iteration looks like it should rhyme with “boing.” It having been established that anyone can just barge into Ming’s throne room whenever they feel like it, our heroes do so. They also encamp in Ming’s laboratory and Zarkov electrifies the door to keep intruders out. Ming is so ineffectual, in other words, his abductees can make themselves more secure IN HIS HOUSE than he can himself. Zarkov, previously dejected by his wrecked invisibility machine, is briefly triumphant about his electric wood, until Ming outsmarts him by shutting the power off. Outsmarted by a tinpot dictator who uses common sense: there’s something to be dejected about.

Speaking of tin pots, here come the Lion Men in their “gyro-ships,” pronounced by Charles “Baldy” Ming Ming with a hard G and Frank “Knobbly Knees” Shannon with a soft one. This time, I feel Zarkov has the right idea, despite Ming being the native speaker.

“It must be hell in there,” says Fiona, gazing upon the wobbly, twirly, smoky and buzzing craft. Thun, standing at the controls as if operating a Moviola, somehow seems to have a view that isn’t constantly panning 360, which would admittedly be irritating.

At 9: there’s another of those delightful moments when a line of dialogue is yelled in by an off-camera director or AD: “It’s Thun, and his Lion Men!” Truly hilarious. The first two words have been loosely synched to “Larry “Buster” Crabbe’s lip movements, the rest play over a wide shot of rampaging cat-dudes. The voice is inept and very camp. It’s exactly the way I imagine the voice of the AD on Mankiewicz’s JULIUS CAESAR when he famously shouted “Now here comes Julius!”

There is a huge, uncoordinated fight, resembling the slapstick donnybrook at the end of HELP! Just a bunch of random shoving and falling over. In this fashion is Ming finally vanquished.

Defeated, Ming runs — RUNS! — “Max Von Sydow was far too dignified to go flapping about like that,” argues Fiona — to the only other standing set or location of any use, the tunnel leading to the recently exploded fire dragon. The smirking High Priest, who puts me in mind of comedian Joe Melia, watches him go, and, in a literal puff of smoke, Ming just vanishes.

This seems pretty weak, but I can’t recall being disappointed by it as a kid. One can even argue that the abstraction of it — transparently a means to preserve the possibility of Ming returning, Fu Manchu-style (“Mongo shall hear of me again”) — has a certain grandeur. Middleton plays it as if it’s Shakespeare, helped by the fact that there’s no dialogue to remind you that it’s not Shakespeare.

I’m then reminded that Von Sydow does a similar fade-out in the Mike Hodges version, and that as a kid I DID feel a pang of disappointment — there’s a huge build-up to Flash flying towards Ming’s palace, setting up the expectation that he’s going to do something pretty dramatic when he gets there. But no — he just crashes into it. This, of course, is perfect — Sam “Not Buster” Jones’ dim-witted Flash isn’t going to save the day in any other way than by direct collision. And it ends with “THE END?”

I’ve read numerous accounts of how the big finish of STAR WARS — boring pageantry with stirring march music — is derived from TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, but it’s clearly derived from right here, where it’s done quicker and cheaper. Pomp and reduced circumstances. FG being Lucas’ stated inspiration, and in fact the film he would have made had Dino De Laurentiis granted him the rights.

What’s left of the ’36 outing is diminuendo with the emphasis on DIM. Flash, Zarkov and Dale depart leaving Aura enthroned, to govern Mongo with the scheming and vacillation wisdom she has demonstrated in the previous twelve episodes, but the smirking High Priest plants a bar-bell bomb in the rocketship. Then, for no reason, he confesses this, still smirking, which allows Barin and co to alert the earth-chums. They open the door and chuck the bomb out. No biggie.

Fiona is convinced that actor Theodore “Smirky” Lorch is spoofing the whole thing with his scare-quotes “performance” but he was a former silent movie actor (Chingachgook in the Clarence Brown-Maurice Tourneur LAST OF THE MOHICANS) whose talking career was all bit-parts and serials, mostly in fact bit-parts IN serials, so I see no reason to assume he’s driven by anything other than delusions of competence.

Then there’s an unsuccessful attempt to inject drama into the flight back to terra firma and stock footage. Finally, in their native skies at last, Flash and Dale stare wonderingly into each others’ eyes (they could hardly stare into their own) in a doomed search for meaning or intelligent life, while Zarkov smiles creepily upon them, a father substitute in unsettling shorts.

THE END?