Archive for The Agony and the Ecstasy

Undercaffeinated blog post

Posted in Comics, FILM, Interactive, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2021 by dcairns

Hope I wake up before I finish writing this.

Finished reading Making a Film: The Story of Secret People, which is adorable. More on that soon.

More charity shop haulage: I bought LOGAN on Blu-ray for a pound. It’s a near-miss for me. I just think the mission of trying to make a superhero movie that’s super-serious is a bit silly. I could see that the same team’s THE WOLVERINE was trying to get away from costumed CGI asskicking and do noir stuff, but it all ended with a big robot fight, they hadn’t been allowed to really go for it. LOGAN goes for it, but hits a wall somewhere.

(I watched the b&w version, LOGAN NOIR, figuring that since director James Mangold went to the trouble of making it, it’d be the version to see, I have the colour version playing now for comparison. Very strange seeing it in colour. Like losing a friend.)

The part of the film that really works is all the Patrick Stewart stuff — in this film’s version of the future, Professor Xavier, beloved mentor of the X-Men, has dementia. This is so well written (Scott Frank is co-writer with Mangold and Michael Green) and played, and is such a great idea… I can’t think of any example of a senile superhero even in comics, and Prof. X. is the perfect character to apply this to, since his powers are mental. What happens when he has one of his seizures is really creepy and wild.

Unexpected added value from Stephen Merchant and Richard E. Grant, two more Brits stepping outside their usual arch mode and really committing to taking the thing seriously.

Hugh Jackman as the title character has always been good in this role, and certainly wants to be great in this. And all his stuff with Patrick Stewart is very strong. The fact that the story is just a chase and some fights doesn’t seem to do any harm here.

It’s the relationship that has to take over from the Logan/Xavier one, with which the intended audience has a longstanding familiarity, that suffers from having to make room for the punchy-stabby bits. Dafne Keen is properly uncanny as the young mutant who is in some way Logan’s daughter. Nothing lacking in the performance, which is mainly physical. The key to my dissatisfaction probably is highlighted by a moment when Keen and Stewart watch SHANE together. It’s nearly always a mistake to smuggle a classic film quotation into a not-yet-classic-and-maybe-never-will-be movie.

SHANE is about a man and a child, two rival father figures who are on the same side but have different styles. And it’s about violence, its terribleness and necessity — it being a western, the necessity for violent action is only lightly questioned, but nevertheless the film attains some depth. LOGAN certainly CONTAINS a lot of violence — an INSANE amount of violence — and everybody does it and there really isn’t any interrogation of it, and most of it has no consequences. There’s an attempt to show us that murderizing store clerks is bad, but the lesson is abandoned to make more room for sticking knuckle-knives through nameless dismayed persons’ heads. Knasty.

The holding back of sentiment is commendable, but at some point the emotion should break through and also we need to feel the pain of a dying protagonist — it’s like THE AGONY AND ECSTASY again, it fails on the agony. Jackman limps but still feels invulnerable.

Also I’d watched THE GUNFIGHTER where the whole film is “Hurry up and get out of town Gregory Peck.” This one is a long chase where the character TWICE stop running and casually say “We’ll move on first thing in the morning.” NO. That’s not going to work, is it?

Beautiful moment where the little heroine, a Kaspar Hauser with the power to punch through walls, encounters a vision of the family she’s never had —

I tried plugging my Blu-ray player into my laptop but nothing happened, so here are some photos taken off my TV on a bright day. Yes, I suck. And here I am critiquing James Mangold, who on this evidence should kill it with the new INDIANA JONES (my favourite of his is DAY AND KNIGHT [although there are lots I haven’t seen] so I think he can get the tone).

We also watched JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE which more fun than a Donkey Kong barrel full of CGI monkeys. Clever, character-based jokes, a beautiful ensemble cast — TWO ensembles, in fact — and although the thing’s a CGI-fest (something LOGAN, to its credit, never feels like), which meant I wasn’t particularly interested in any of the action, it as the alibi that it’s all happening inside a game. There’s probably a visual look out there which would have made interesting use of CG stylisation, the way TRON did, but neither the original JUMANJI with its ambulatory taxidermy animals, not this one, has found it. But the Rock and Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan and Jack Black are lovely, and although I find I strangely still have no interest in other Jake Kasdan films such as BAD TEACHER and SEX TAPE, I would happily watch the sequel to the reboot of film of the book about the game.

Don’t tell Chuck (again)

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2021 by dcairns

(Or, Creative Differences Two)

Having enjoyed LUST FOR LIFE no end, I popped THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY on, because that’s the other film based on one of Irving Stone’s popular art biographies. MGM had optioned LFL and sat on it for ten years, concluding “There’s no story there.” Then Minnelli came along and disagreed, and we got the film. TAATE definitely has a clearer kind of story, it’s based around a single goal (the Cistine Chapel ceiling) and it has a central conflict (Michelangelo vs. Pope Julius II). But it differs from most mainstream movies in that the conflict results in creation, not destruction.

This movie has not much of a reputation. Carol Reed was considered past his best in 1965, and so was the historical epic. It’s a white elephant picture par excellence. But I rather liked it. Shot by Leon M. Shamroy, designed by John DeCuir, two men with spectacular lists of credits, it’s a visual feast, and mostly the splendor avoids vulgarity.

Oh, except when Michelangelo gets his inspiration from a matte painting, that’s awful.

Chuck Heston in his memoir talks about the difficulty of playing Michelangelo is that the man didn’t seem to be interested in anything but his work. Really, Chuck? Diane Cilento has been pasted into this picture as a beard to heterosexualise the hero. Since Heston is always stiff in the wrong way around women, not much passion is suggested, but Chuckles is devoid of any trace of ambiguity so the effort could probably have been spared. Still, screenwriter Philip Dunne has included an archly amusing scene where the Pope has soldiers hunting for his painter, who’s gone on the lam. They;re seen searching a brothel, where a half-naked woman in bed is in hysterics: “You’re looking for Michelangelo in THIS HOUSE?”

So we have the amusing situation of Heston playing, for the second time (after BEN-HUR) a character whose sexuality he’s not allowed to know about. He isn’t terrible in the part — it’s not like his demented Moses — but had Rex Harrison a nimbler, more vulnerable and expressive co-star, it could have been pretty great. The agony doesn’t really come across. Michelangelo gets sick, but I missed much sense of backbreaking toil, and of course we never see anything really get painted, just the odd stroke.

The Reed film this most resembles is probably TRAPEZE, if you think about it.

But — Reed found to his surprise that the Vatican was willing to let them film in the real Cistine. But he turned them down. And he was right. DeCuir’s team built an identical replica at Cinecitta, ceilinged it with photographs of the real thing, with the colours brightened to make it look like new. And when Pope Julius leads his reluctant artist into the chapel for the first time, Reed can tilt up to reveal — a BLANK Cistine Chapel ceiling. Having a duplicate to shoot in obviously also freed the filmmakers from all kinds of restraints. But that’s an expensive solution!

Like everyone else who crossed Sey Rexy’s path, Heston found him tricky, though he has the appealing habit of trying to like everyone. He notes that Harrison objected strongly to carrying a papal pointer in a scene which was supposed to end with him breaking the pointer over Michelangelo’s back, an incident which really happened, was the climax of the scene, and was even referred to in dialogue later.

The script is by Philip Dunne, writer of Fox movies for thirty-plus years, some of which (THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY) are great. This one’s literate, and doesn’t suffer too much from Epic Dialogue Syndrome.

Rex Harrison’s memoir is hilarious on this one. Harrison’s huge ego demands that he be the star in a film about Michelangelo even though he’s not Michelangelo. “I don’t think Carol was himself. I think Charlton Heston was absolutely himself, and by the end I didn’t know who I was. Pope I knew I was, though the real star was Michelangelo, and Heston very politely and very nicely made me feel that it was extremely kind of me to be supporting him. Carol did little to disabuse him of this notion, so I did everything I could to make myself believe that the picture was about Pope Julius rather than about Michelangelo. In this I was not too successful.”

They wanted Olivier, Rexy.

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY stars Moses; Professor Henry Higgins; Molly Seagrim; 13th Earl of Gurney; Prof. Alberto Levin; Prof. Henry Wassermann; Largo; Pat Garrett; Julia Martineau; Manuel ‘Cuchillo’ Sanchez; and Chief Inspector Tim Oxford.