Archive for The Dirty Dozen

Gunn Play

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2021 by dcairns

Recap: James Gunn made SUPER, a low-budget superhero comedy with drastic tonal problems, and parlayed that into the surprisingly balanced GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films, which actually work on the level of fun. (The first movie is about saving Planet Israel, which has not been much remarked upon.) Going from a 2.5 million budget to a 200 million budget. Not bad. Then some tweets he’d made much earlier in his life were dug up (he’d made no effort to hide them) and the Marvel people, after some hesitation, kicked him out.

The tweets were pedophilia jokes, and not only that, none of them were funny (“That’s even worse news,” to quote Norm MacDonald). One of the Twitter personae weighing in against Gunn was Matt Gaetz. When it was pointed out that these tweets were intended as jokes rather than as documentary accounts of Gunn’s day-to-day activities, Gaetz said something like, “But how do we know he’s not just using that as a smokescreen?” I toyed with the idea if asking him whether his own condemnation of the mirthless tweets might be a similar smokescreen, which would have made me fucking Nostradamus, but I didn’t do it. Having any kind of contact with Matt Gaetz, however remote? I would sooner sit on Cthulhu’s face.

Gunn was immediately, I mean indecently immediately, snapped up by DC to reboot their Suicide Squad franchise. (My problem is not that he continued to work after making failed jokes, but that any pretense was made that something was being achieved by having him swap studios for one film.) I never saw the first film, SUICIDE SQUAD, but people seem to have mainly liked Margot Robbie in it. Seems reasonable. Gunn’s film is called THE SUICIDE SQUAD, the use of a definite article to distinguish comic book adaptations having been rolled out by WOLVERINE and THE WOLVERINE. This strikes me as pathetic and unimaginative, but this is a marketing department we’re talking about, so.

I decided to see THE SUICIDE SQUAD, Fiona decided to come to. I was curious.

The concept of the insanely violent, blackly comic comic-book movie was introduced, I guess, by the KICK-ASS and KINGSMAN films, then went more mainstream with the DEADPOOL films. So naturally The Guardian newspaper has a piece about this being a new development signalling the maturity, and imminent decline, of the genre.

Gunn is returning to his roots, making a tonally unsustainable bloodbath with multiple layers of incoherent irony and odd attempts at pathos. Some of these work surprisingly well. The balance of gore and slapstick and action and fantasy and sweetness is definitely better than in SUPER, but still made me queasy all the way through. The emotional moments are predicated on the criminal heroes (this is basically THE DIRTY DOZEN with superpowers, and none of the Aldrich film’s questionable elements have been resolved in the intervening 54 years) having been damaged by their traumatic childhoods, which is Gunn’s favourite theme (he was sexually abused as a child himself).

The jokes are pretty good. Robbie is no longer the best character, since Harley Quinn seems to be incapable of evolution, and the film has to work hard to prevent her psychopathic character from doing anything unforgivable. Idris Elba is pretty fine, and I’m so glad he’s using his own accent and not playing a stereotyped African-American as in PROMETHEUS. Daniela Melchior is his surrogate daughter. There’s no real reason for them to start the bonding process, but once they do it helps rescue the film from just being a relentless mayhemfest.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD is not just a DIRTY DOZEN remake. It’s an EXTREME PREJUDICE remake — someone actually says “Terminate with extreme prejudice!” and the “guys on a mission” plot delivers a twist involving the mission’s true purpose which echoes Walter Hill’s Tex-Mex bloodbath. It’s a SUICIDE SQUAD remake — instead of a humanoid crocodile, there’s a humanoid shark. It’s a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY remake — there’s a rodent, a big dumb guy, the aforementioned damaged personalities. Basically, everything Umberto Eco said about CASABLANCA that wasn’t true there, is true here — a bunch of familiar elements have been jumbled together to create a series of nostalgic glows, comforting familiarity, a sense of cultural connectedness. As when you hear a modern pop song and all the chords and lyrics and riffs are recycled, warmly recognizable even if you haven’t heard the originals.

Gunn deserves credit for the grace notes: some Kubrick-KILLING play with chronology, a soundtrack that isn’t just the same old songs (though the “original” score is just the standard set of thumps of w hich I am mightily tired), a reference to Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese comics, some good laughs, and a sharp awareness of how Central American countries get eternally shat on by the US. Peter Capaldi gets to say “Unclutch you’re fucking pearls!” when other characters react to his human experiments. Instead of the MCU’s Stan Lee cameos, Lloyd Kaufman is wheeled on, slow-dancing with a hooker. Sylvester Stallone is effective, and we don’t have to look at him because he’s playing an animated shark (the other film is which Stallone works is ANTZ, where he and Woody Allen are the only actors with distinctive voices). This is probably the first time Stallone has been cute. Though he also bites people’s heads off. The lines “Hand,” “Bird,” and “Num-nums,” are the lines he was born to say.

Fans of excruciating violence will find a whole lot to enjoy. It’s almost as exhausting as BRAINDEAD.

I think this kind of thing, or LOGAN’s kind of thing, is destined to remain an occasional subgenre of the world-smashing superhero movie. It’s not going to take over and lead to the downfall of the costumed crimefighter flick. Only the audience demanding more variety from its family-friendly blockbusters can do that.

I’ve never read any Suicide Squad comics but John Ostrander, who rebooted it, also co-wrote, with fellow actor Del Close, the anthology Wasteland, which I admired. And he’s IN Gunn’s film.

When I was a kid, watching westerns on BBC1 Saturday nights, I would frequently get confused when the good guy and bad guy got into a fistfight, and would have to remind myself who was wearing what colour shirt. Same thing happened here.

The final boss villain is a character ripped-off by DC, back in 1960, from the Japanese scifi flick WARNING FROM SPACE. You can buy that on Blu-ray from Arrow, with some liner notes by yours truly.

Twelve Mangly Men

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2020 by dcairns

Neither of us had watched THE DIRTY DOZEN before. So we did.

The distance between the nominally anti-war ATTACK! and this is not as great as first appears: the trouble with the “bad officer” school of war movie is that the assumption must be that, with a better officer, more of the right sort of people could be killed. TDD is correct in showing that war is a dirty business, but it can’t help but be an enjoyable guys-on-a-mission romp. The Boys Own adventure was traditionally clean-cut, but you can have dirty versions and much remains unaltered.

“There’s all kinds of weird male energy going on here!” remarked Fiona. Most of it comes from Lee Marvin, who puts on a mock-camp act to tease the men, but is also genuinely seductive when recruiting them. This is a man, we can assume, who is confident in his masculinity. Aldrich shoots hell out of everything with bullets but also angles: his coverage is extensive but interesting. Plenty of floor-level shots. And Donald Sutherland makes a good thing to cut to when in doubt.

If the idea is that these guys are effective in war because they’re much worse than ordinary soldiers (I’m told that the Germans really did have a squad recruited from prisons and asylums, but their missions were all the same: commit atrocities against civilians — the SS thought they went too far) then it’s odd that the grisly idea of burning the enemy alive in their bomb shelter is suggested by the officer, a non-dirty participant. But there are many things that don’t add up here. The title sequence is very nearly great except the titles chap, in a hurry to get the thing over in a decent amount of time, scrolls credits past each of the dozen, resulting in amusing name-face mismatches. THE DIRTY DOZEN stars Liberty Valance; Ragnar; Harmonica; Slaughter; Johnny Stacatto; Sheriff Kip McKinney; Herman Scobie; Mike Hammer; Smith Ohlrig; Pontius Pilate; Giacomo Casanova; Nick Nitro; Juror 12; Alraune; Ming’s Brute; Capungo; and Walter Paisley.

Pecs and Violence

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2020 by dcairns

COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA, AKA MACISTE, IL GLADIATORE PIU FORTE DEL MONDO is my least fave Michele Lupo film so far — and in fact it was his first, so he got better. At least I now know his first name is pronounced Mee-Kelly (approx). Maybe it’s just that I’m not a big peplum guy.

Mark Forest, now, he IS a big peplum guy, especially about the chest. And he’s playing, appropriately enough, McChesty, or Maciste if you prefer. Righter of wrongs, puncher of faces. He has a shrill comedy sidekick, as is traditional (at least, it was traditional for Steve Reeves in HERCULES and that’s the tradition we’re following — something to do with the massive box-office takings of that film). This is Jon Chevron as Wambo, whose main job is to say stuff like “Maciste, come quick!” Maciste then waddles up, glistening, and attempts to sort things out using his knuckles. They make a good team.

Nothing about Wamba’s role is degrading, oh no. I get the impression Lupo liked casting black people, he seems to do it in nearly every film, but the roles aren’t particularly progressive. The evil black gladiator, Extranius, is a better character. He’s played by Harold Bradley and he also appears in Lupo’s second McChesty film as a different character, enabling him to be killed by McChesty all over again.

McChesty is described by Wikipedia as one of the oldest cinema characters — meaning he was invented by the cinema, in CABIRIA in 1914, embodied by the hulking Bartolomeo Pagano. Originally Nubian or something, Pagano immediately ditched the blackface and started turning up in contemporary settings. When the character was revived in the sixties, he was a series of white dudes, including Mark Forest but also a confusing swarm of Tarzans, Herculeses, Ursuses, machos and Mae West chorus boys. He traveled in time by simply walking from one period film to another, and encountered or punched vampires, mole men, witches, fire monsters, Mongols, Moon Men, the sheik, a cyclops, Zorro, and Czar Nicolas II.

Oddly, McChesty doesn’t appear for the first twenty-five minutes of this pseudo-epic (big sets, but they’re repurposed from other movies, evoking a dizzying array of periods and places). Lupo spends the whole first act introducing his bad guys, six nasty gladiators and their boss who hires them as mercenaries for some dirty tricks. Seven was Lupo’s lucky number, it seems (SEVEN TIMES SEVEN, SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST ROME, SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS). The non-magnificent seven (and their pet chimp, which has been dubbed with eeks and ooks of a transparently human origin) seem to interest Lupo more than his musclebound protag. Since he was about to switch over to the spaghetti western genre, this enthusiasm for bad guys and antiheroes seems appropriate. It’s surprising that this bad-guys-on-a-mission show predates THE DIRTY DOZEN. I’m not sure what the influence might have been (hard to believe they invented the trope in this obscure series entry).

Their Asterix names would be Follicles, Grampus, Yulbrynnus, Chucknorus, Dubius and Extranius.

Plus the nicer one, who’s good at dodging. I’ll call him Avoidus.

These guys are hired by a cut-out working for evil Prince Chinbeard and their mission is to kidnap the liberal queen of a mythical kingdom. No sniggering at the back. Only one man can stop them. Clue: it’s not Wambo.

Wambo, First Bwud.

Mee-Kelly made a second McChesty film the following year. I got a little bored of COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA one so I jumped over to GOLIATH AND THE SINS OF BABYLON, which is American International’s title for MACISTE, L’EROE PIU GRANDE DEL MONDO. Then I jumped back and forth, which made no difference. The main distinction seemed to be that the bad guys pass themselves off as gladiators in one film, but in the other the good guys do. Plus the evil prince in the second film has muttonchops instead of a chinbeard.

A great moment in one or other film, where they have to dub some rhubarbing extras reacting to bad news. No lipsync is required here, so the gloves are off for the dubbing artists: “Aw, the Queen is dead, and she was so nice!”

I find, after jumping back and forth between films a few times, I can’t see the wood for Mark Forest. But he’s undeniably skilled at staring into the middle distance and looking like he wants to punch it.

No sign of Wambo in this one. I assume McChesty ate him. Instead of Wambo, and instead of the chimp dubbed with a man’s voice, we have a dwarf dubbed with a woman’s voice.

McChesty sees his first dwarf. He’s delighted! So funny! Or maybe he’s seen lots, and they never get old.

Apart from this one. He’s gotten old. He is Weejimmikrankus.

The films look simultaneously costly and cheap, an interesting feat. You get big sets and exotic locations and elaborately choreographed action scenes and lots of them. On the other hand, the costumes are unwearable and look recycled from every different kind of period movie. So are the sets, but at least those are big enough to contain entire actors. The frocks always have bits bulging out.

Oddly, the first one has more of Lupo’s hyperkinetic style. He’s putting the pep back in peplum. But then he seems to get weary, and stays that way for his whole next feature. Still, not even Leone could muster much brio when it came to sword-and-sandal shenanigans.

“You idiot, I said ‘Avast’ not ‘Aghast’!”

MACISTE, IL GLADIATORE PIU FORTE DEL MONDO stars Hercules; Molly Pink; Oliver Mellors; Zorikan; and Calamity John.

MACISTE, L’EROE PIU GRANDE DEL MONDO stars Hercules; Mary, mother of Jesus; Scott Mary; Cesare Borgia; Iphitus, Son of Pelias; Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith; and another Hercules.