Archive for Steven Spielberg

Game Ova

Posted in FILM, Interactive with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2018 by dcairns

The easter-egg/treasure hunt plot of READY PLAYER ONE is very INDIANA JONES, while the quasi-dystopian world is pure MINORITY REPORT, but the movie references numerous other Spielberg productions as it attempts to visualise the postmodern concept of the pop-cultural universe as a virtual place where every fictional character and artifact exists alongside each other.

Maybe WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? was the first movie to attempt this kind of mash-up, but it contented itself with folding Disney & Warners cartoons together, with a few strays like Betty Boop, deliberately excluding later cartoons that would have diluted what stylistic consistency it had. Then THE LEGO MOVIE threw everything into the mix but achieved a surprising consistency by making it all Lego.

Complaints about Spielberg’s new movie warping the character of Brad Bird’s warping of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man (a delightful warping, but definitely a warping) and some of the other icons recycled in his big messy new flick seem quite misguided — according to the movie, these are merely avatars, not the real things. As someone who, as a kid, would make Action Man fight Cindy and Stretch Armstrong and a fluffy rabbit and Cassius Clay, I could appreciate the way the filmmakers are having fun cramming together things that just don’t belong together. It’s a bit like if, one second after the camera flashed on the Sergeant Pepper’s album cover, a massive fight broke out.

And it really doesn’t matter if you don’t get all the references, or any of them. The treasure hunt plot is one of the dullest conceptions available to the storyteller (follow the clues, win the reward), though slightly less obnoxious than Rescue The Princess, but writers Zak Penn & Ernest Cline throw in some neat complications to make things less boringly single-track. It’s diverting, sugary popcorn.

If the cultural (mis)appropriation doesn’t matter and the question of “Will the kids know who Buckaroo Banzai is?” doesn’t matter, and they really, really don’t and aren’t you ashamed of yourselves for caring, movie pundits?, then what does matter? Well, the hero is very bland and made more so by being flanked by a couple of cool, contrasting girls. And then Mark Rylance makes a caricature aspie genius figure become dimensional and wholly believable and that sort of lessens everyone else, especially poor Simon Pegg who can’t compete. Pegg can do many things but he’s not in Rylance’s league. He’s not even in his sport.

And of course there’s the whole issue of MEANING. Our hero joins an underground resistance movement but ends up as an all-powerful CEO, not only levelling up but lawyering up, and the film isn’t interesting in exploring or questioning or making fun of the contradictions. Those parts of the film’s world-building concerned with what makes the bad guys bad are so sketchily rendered as to wholly lack weight, and the Evil Corporation meme, which has always been a somewhat translucent veil when used by Hollywood movies produced by huge corporations, has never seemed so wispy and full of holes. This movie can’t even BEGIN to invest in the idea of authentic capitalist evil, so it all comes down to one nasty suit, well played by Ben Mendelsohn… but has he been cast just because he looks a bit like Miguel Ferrer in ROBOCOP?

A few people have suggested that this kind of fantasy, requiring a little satirical edge, might better suit a creator like Joe Dante, and I would recommend to you the flawed (by executive interference) LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION and the majestic GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH for films which really earn one’s respect by straining to bursting point to fulfill the contradictory requirements of selling toys and mocking the whole business of movie/merchandise synergy.

Still, RP1 is fun. If you surrender to it, the action is exciting, the extended Kubrick homage is a blast, Rylance is magnificent (say, can PTA discover him, please? Now that D-Day Lewis has apparently had his day?) and though it has a worryingly protracted wrap-up like in the bad old days immediately following SCHINDLER’S  LIST (or like Penn’s script for X-MEN II), it doesn’t completely outstay its welcome.

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Zoning Out

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2017 by dcairns

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Even though Joseph DR NO Wiseman’s lead character in the Twilight Zone episode One More Pallbearer is called Paul Radin, I could determine no reason why his building is called Radin Blog. (Note: I got it eventually.) I tweeted author Dean Radin, whose book The Conscious Universe is a good eye-opener, to say that it’s a shame he wasn’t writing a blog anymore as I had found the perfect banner for him.

I don’t think I ever want to run out of PG Wodehouse books to read, and in the same way I don’t want to run out of Twilight Zone episodes, although all the same i would hate to check out leaving any of them unenjoyed. This will need careful management.

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One More Pallbearer is Rod Serling in atomic mode (see also: Carol for Another Christmas), which is usually good value, and he has the ideal star. As Dr. No, Wiseman played a scientist with metal hands, having lost his original flesh ones in an atomic experiment. That always struck me as improbable and a bit funny. This one suffers a bit from having no sympathy, really, for any characters, but the double twist at the end is a zinger and a half. Not quite two zingers, but still pretty good.

Kick the Can was remade by Spielberg in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and Fiona suggested it might be illuminating to check out the original. It was — where Spielberg’s filmlet was cloying and annoying, the original is beautifully bleak. All the rough edges were smoothed off, and the result bathed in a honey-like amber glow. The old folks’ home where it’s set seems paradisical in the movie, and starkly deadening in the series installment. The ending, in which the inmates rejuvenate and run of into the night, leaving one bereft old skeptic, is stark and strange in the series: we don’t know how these kids will live, where they will go. Serling pops out of the bushes to say they’re in the Twilight Zone, which might as well mean they’re dead. It’s eerie, not reassuring.

In the Spielberg, having enjoyed their moment of second childhood, the oldsters return to their doddering, hip-replaced selves, because the status quo must, apparently be preserved.

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I like Scatman Crothers fine, though as a “magic negro” figure he Uncle Toms it a bit in the Spielberg, encouraged by his director. There’s no such character in the series episode, just an old duffer who HOPES, but does not KNOW, that playing children’s games might cancel out the aging process. I was wracking my brains to identify the actor while I was watching, then realized it was old Ernest Truex, best known as the saccharine would-be poet from HIS GIRL FRIDAY (maybe they hired him to script the Spielberg), and also memorable in Preston Sturges’ CHRISTMAS IN JULY. Turns out he had a huge career, starting in silents, and they even tried him in lead roles during the pre-code era when such things seemed worth attempting. WHISTLING IN THE DARK, which pairs him, improbably, with Una Merkel, is well worth a look.

 

Ragnarok

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2015 by dcairns

Belatedly caught up with MILIUS, an entertaining (snappily cut) and affectionate (as far as would be possible without straying into straight hagiography) portrait of the auteur of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, RED DAWN, THE WIND AND THE LION and the exceptional DILLINGER, which is the one I would point to as demonstration that Milius has genuine talent and isn’t just a loudmouthed cartoon character — sort of a monstrous crossbreed of Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn. In fact, the fondness with his contemporaries speak of him, and the sympathetic way they try to parse his failings and outright insanities, speaks very well for him. And you can quite see, give Milius’s health troubles and the bravery he’s shown dealing with them, why you wouldn’t in any way want to make the movie a hatchet job.

Leave that to me.

The bad things I know about John Milius —

The published screenplay of APOCALYPSE NOW is a terrible piece of work. Windy, incoherent, preposterous and pretentious. All those qualities can be found in the finished film, for sure, but it’s delivered with such gusto by Coppola and his team — a film made by a bipolar personality in the extreme end of his manic cycle — and the additions to the script made by Brando, Hopper, and particularly Michael Herr, partially rescue it from its excesses. Milius did write some good stuff, including a striking opening in which a jungle slowly comes alive with hidden Viet Cong. I don’t know if that was ever filmed. But try reading the thing. Your brain will get indigestion.

“I still can’t get a room at the Ritz in Madrid because of what John Milius did,” complained the venerable filmmaker to me. Basically According to this account, Milius got drunk and shot up his expensive hotel room with his expensive gun collection, I guess during THE WIND AND THE LION or maybe more likely CONAN. The room was decorated with original painting and Milius put a bullet through each of them. Let’s think about that, as an action by a creative artist.

(But see below for comments from someone who strongly doubts the veracity of the above.)

“A bully,” was the verdict of the venerable film editor, of legendary standing, who walked off a Milius film in mid-post-production, something she had never done before.

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Milius has claimed credit for DIRTY HARRY and Robert Shaw’s big speech in JAWS. Don Siegel describes basically pasting together a bunch of different writers’ drafts on the former film, so I don’t know how much Milius really contributed — not enough to get a credit. He did more on MAGNUM FORCE, and look how that turned out. Carl Gottlieb, one of the writers on JAWS, gives more credit for the sinking of the Indianapolis speech to Robert Shaw himself. Various writers had tackled it, and Milius was one, literally phoning in his version, but Shaw — the best writer involved in that film, including the original novelist, turned up as Spielberg was finishing dinner one evening and delivered a sunset recitation that floored Spielberg and ended up in the film word for word. As Gottlieb has said, “Who are you going to believe, the guy who wasn’t there who says he did it, or the guy who was there who says he didn’t do it?” (In the movie, Spielberg sensitively gets around this by crediting Milius with the key writing and Shaw with the edit which took the monologue down from ten minutes to just a few.)

RED DAWN is a really, really bad movie.

Milius is not only what we’d now call a libertarian (Oliver Stone calls him out on that, critically but not unkindly), he has flirted with Nazism not just in the imagery of CONAN but in his promotion of it “This is a film that would have done very well in the Third Reich.”

I can forgive Milius, I guess, for dishing all the dirt on his friends to Peter Biskind for Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, because (1) it’s very entertaining dirt and I love gossip, as the above makes clear and (2) Milius loves telling stories and so how could he possibly help himself, when he knows all this hilarious/disgusting/embarrassing stuff?

And at the end of the doc, and looking back on the best bits of Milius’s work, I still have to like him a little. Even bullies can be often entertaining when they’re not in attack mode. Milius’ friends clearly like him and can see past the bluster, the cigars, the firearms and the contrarian-libertarian “politics” — in recounting the terrible circumstances that have robbed his friend of the power of speech, Spielberg is moved almost to tears — something we have never seen. We realize how glib Spielberg usually is, how he often can’t even be bothered to make sense. Here. he’s incredibly sharp and articulate. So is Lucas, for God’s sake. Anyone who can inspire those guys to choose their words more carefully deserves some respect.

After missing Vietnam due to his asthma (don’t smoke, kids), Milius finally has a campaign of his own to wage as he struggles to reacquire language. I want him to succeed. He was always a good storyteller when he got out of the way of the story, and now he’s going to have new and interesting things to say.

And then there’s this ~

Hats off to the big bastard, in a way.