Archive for The Force Awakens

Stupidity of the First Order

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2017 by dcairns

Fiona dragged me to see… no, I’ve got to stop saying that. I was curious to see the new Rian Johnson film too — big fan of BRICK, LOOPER, and THE BROTHERS BLOOM may be a misfire but it’s the kind of misfire I’d welcome more of. I wasn’t absolutely sure I wanted to see the film RIGHT AWAY, but what the heck, it is a big screen spectacular…

There are spoilers ahead, but I’ll try to be discreet.

And some of the reviews were very good — though Peter Bradshaw bemoaned a major section of the plot being essentially a pointless side-trip. But that side-trip may be the most Johnsonian section of the narrative, a decadent art deco gambling world milieu. It inspires him to replay a shot from Wellman’s WINGS, soaring over the tables and between the customers. And it looks very much like it’s setting stuff up for the next film: the entrancing child actors from this sequence are coming back, it seems. But yeah, there’s too much of this film, and whole planets exist just to get the heroes captured so they can escape so they can get captured again. This is what happens when you don’t have enough real story.

Actors! Daisy Ridley seemed fine in the J.J. Abrams opener, but she has some very poor moments here, notably her first big speech. She’s cursed with a flat voice and an inexpressive face. That tiny cute scar on her cheek is her claim to interest. Though she’s not as bad as early Keira Knightley so maybe she’ll get there. John Boyega is fine in the non-eggy moments, Oscar Isaac is good but we know he can be better. Laura Dern continues her bold hair colouring from Twin Peaks. Hamill is good and Carrie Fisher’s valedictory turn is touching. Benicio Del Toro is the one bringing the real entertainment though I think giving him a stammer was over-egging it. He’s a natural eccentric already. Kelly Marie Tran is an unusual and charming presence and I was really interested in Veronica Ngo who has all too brief a role but gets to do the most affecting heroic stuff in the movie.

Andy Serkis is a CGI creation AGAIN, and I really don’t know why. The icky subtractive scar effect modelled by Frank Langella in the otherwise stultifying THE BOX is much more disturbing on a real actor than it is on a thing of pure pixels. Look at Voldemort in the HARRY POTTERs (there’s some quite Potterish stuff in this one) — a real actor rendered digitally noseless. As a voice performance, Serkis’ is a very generic baddie, and as a physical performance, he sits in a chair. And Adam Driver still feels too peevish and adolescent to be our boss villain, especially in a plot that basically has him outsmarted a lot.

Yoda and Maz Katana’s fleeting bits are just fan service. Chewbacca and the droids are barely more.

But there are some nifty set pieces — maybe the best light-saber battle ever, staged on a red set like something out of an MGM musical by way of Kurosawa. The opening dogfight has one very good thing going for it: it’s coherent. I wasn’t bored as I was with ROGUE ONE but I was ready for the movie to be over long before the makers apparently were. Then it would manage to muster my interest again. There’s a bit where the heroes escape on space buses. I was waiting for Princess Leia to say, “What am I, Carrie Fisher, doing playing piano on a bus to the moon?” I’ll be surprised if more than a couple of you get that reference.

If THE FORCE AWAKENS was a slavish remake of STAR WARS (you know, the first one, the film called STAR WARS), which it sure as shit was, Johnson’s opus is THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in its broad strokes: the Rebels/Resistance have to flee their base, a young Jedi gets training from a Master while other characters go to a gambling planet but are betrayed; the heroes regroup at the end but face an uncertain future. Concurrent with these familiar beats are callbacks to memorable bits from the first film (Obi-Wan faces his pupil; garbage hatch escape; parental revelations; a hero disconnects his comms link while gunning for the weak spot of a huge weapon…), some deliberate, some maybe more desperate or resulting from the filmmakers running out of new situations.

But there’s stuff we haven’t seen before: super-fast dissolves as characters in different scenes exchange telepathic glances. A visual rebuttal of Lucas’s midichlorians bullshit, showing the force connecting all things with a nature montage suggesting the welcome influence of King Hu and A TOUCH OF ZEN. And I have to be cheered by so much of the film being set in Ireland, even if it’s meant to be Space Ireland.

There is some uncertainty of tone: is the movie duty-bound to feel like the old STAR WARS? Giving women and people of colour stuff to do is a welcome departure from Lucas’ films, but otherwise? One of the (innumerable) things that seemed wrong about Lucas’ own prequels was the stuff that just didn’t belong in the universe he’d created: fart jokes, the comedy sports announcer, that kind of stuff. There’s more of that here — a gag with what’s set up as a spacecraft but turns out to be a robotic iron pressing First Order uniforms seems more like a Richard Lester joke, and isn’t really connected to anything else the film attempts. There’s a relentless barrage of quips and many of them are not good. Though at least they don’t tend to paint the heroes as sadistic Man With No Name/James Bond thugs, as the quips in ROGUE ONE do: Poe Dameron doesn’t make mocking remarks to random stormtroopers as he’s killing them.

So it’s a mixed bag of Jedi mind tricks. Entertaining enough — if I had kids I would feel I was poisoning them if I let them watch the prequels, but this would get a pass. Not an exact clone,  for all its harking back, so that counts for something. But then, not as emotional as FORCE AWAKENS was. Watch this space, but I think I’m done with seeing this series on the big screen. But I’d like to see Johnson build a universe of his own.

My blog saw something that night

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2017 by dcairns

We very much enjoyed the first episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return. But what was it we were enjoying? I suspect we won’t know until the full eighteen episodes have aired, and maybe not even then.

What is Dr. Jakoby (Russ Tamblyn) going to do with all those shovels? And what answer to the question could possibly satisfy us?

I guess don’t read this if you haven’t imbibed the first four episodes and are concerned about spoilers.

This is certainly a sequel to Twin Peaks but, like FIRE WALK WITH ME, it doesn’t wholly inhabit the same genre/s. The soap opera aspects are largely absent, in favour of a kind of demented supernatural procedural, spread across various parts of the US and involving various familiar and unfamiliar characters.

So far, nothing much resembling a narrative has emerged in the town of Twin Peaks itself, except for Deputy Sheriff Hawk (Michael Horse) vaguely investigating clues suggested by the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson, one of a number of players who has sadly passed on after filming their scenes). Mostly, the TP scenes introduce familiar characters and let us see what’s going on in their lives 25 years later: Ben and Jerry Horne, James the soulful biker, Shelly the waitress, bad boy Bobby Briggs. These scenes don’t seem to be going anywhere, really, but maybe they are, just very very slowly. They do kind of resembled the MISSING PIECES from FIRE WALK WITH ME, some of which are enjoyable as cameos, but which rightly hit the cutting room floor since they didn’t advance the (disturbing, ambiguous) narrative.

But, while I want those characters to actually get properly involved in the story, at the moment what has me hooked is the adventures of the two Agent Dale Coopers, one a long-haired, permatanned outlaw, possessed by the spirit BOB (it seems), the other a total amnesiac wandering Las Vegas, unable to figure out his purpose in life or even how to go to the bathroom. This gives Kyle McLachlan plenty to do, which is great news.

But my favourite performances so far are Matthew Lillard, playing a Leland Palmerish type — respectable citizen with secret criminal life — who is just electrifying, even while looking strangely like Earthworm Jim in knitwear, and Michael Cera in a throwaway cameo… I guess stop reading if you haven’t viewed episode four, I think it was…

Cera plays Wally Brando, son of beloved regulars Andy and Lucy, who was just a twinkle in the eye back in season 2. He’s envisaged as the lovechild of Wally Cox and Marlon Brando, specifically in THE WILD ONE, and Cera delivers a spectacularly mean takedown of Brando’s more windy improvisatory moments from his late work. That combination of wistful musing on the surface, fatuous pontification by way of content, and an undercurrent of desperate what-the-fuck-am-I-going-to-say-next panic. With a convincing copy of Brando’s whistling lisp. We found it rather fine.

A friend said he found Harrison Ford’s appearance in the trailer for THE FORCE AWAKENS kind of dispiriting — “Just a reminder of your own mortality.” I guess because we’d been seeing Ford grow old and that was OK, but our memories of Han Solo were still young. Many of the cast of TP are still firmly associated with their roles in the show and little else — plus three of them have died since filming this. So there’s a certain amount of non-diegetic sadness floating around this show. I’d have been happy if they’d deleted a line of dialogue about Miguel Ferrer looking unwell. If Ferrer tried to act malaise, it didn’t come across, because the poor man looks unwell all the time here. But it’s still good to see him as Albert. Some kind of guardian angel allowed Lynch to make this just before the world lost Albert and Dr. Hayward and the Log Lady.