Archive for The High Sign

Gas Giant

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2018 by dcairns

JUPITER ASCENDING! I had a vague hankering to see this, partly since I collaborated with the Wachowskis on CLOUD ATLAS (i.e. since I directed ten seconds of the bottom left-hand corner of a splitscreen montage in that film), partly because it sounded like it might be bonkers.

Sadly, only Eddie Redmayne is proper mad in this film, essaying a husky-voiced characterisation punctuated by Sudden Random SHOUTING that betrays the influence of A. Hopkins in particularly fruity mode. So he’s bringing the entertainment, or embarrassment, depending on your viewpoint. Some said the role would cost him the Oscar he might have otherwise clasped for THE DANISH GIRL. My friend and co-writer Alex Livingstone disagreed, insisting that it was the role of Balem Abrasax in the Wachowski space opera that he should in fact have been nominated FOR.As for the other actors, Mila Kunis does OK with a role that’s basically just asking questions about cosmology (while wearing nice frocks). Look at Linda Fiorentino, an equally poised and forceful actor, floundering horribly in Kevin Smith’s DOGMA to see how difficult this kind of exposition-speak can be. But then look at Sean Bean, who is SO good that he actually seems like a human being while talking this crap and hampered with the name Stinger Apini. Meanwhile, Channing Tatum is part-wolf, but he also used to have wings, but he can still fly without them thanks to his science skates, so that’s OK. Or is it? Seems kind of… NEEDLESSLY COMPLEX.

So is everything in this bloated yet wafer-thin pulp. The small greys are from such-and-such a system, says Tatum, but they’ve been modified to serve as OH SHUT UP CHANNING TATUM. Everything is needlessly complicated to disguise how simplistic it is, including the characters’ looks. Fiona complained that all the extras had pointless bits stuck on their faces. I blame Lobot. That guy with the tin ears in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. He’s Lobot. I know these things because I’m a film critic.“So… I play a guy with a stripey chin…”

We get an explanation of how the aliens cover up their activity on Earth, after a big chase trashes half of Chicago, but since the film goes on to spend zero time with ordinary humans, they might as well have not bothered. The MATRIXesque phildickian “something’s going on but you don’t know what it is, do you, Jupiter Jones?” thing simply has no reason to exist in this movie.

The brave thing about J.A. is that it’s not a sequel or a superhero movie, but that scarcely matters when it delivers the same boilerplate characters and “thrills” as every CAPTAINIRONBATSUPERWONDERBLACKTHORHULKSPIDERPANTHERMANWOMAN film out there. We get distinct nods to Mike Hodges’ FLASH GORDON and David Lynch’s DUNE, but the subversive and strange qualities of those movies are absent. Might as well have gone for broke, in retrospect, since this movie tanked anyway.The Terry Gilliam cameo is hugely enjoyable for this reason — they hired a non-actor for jokey reasons and let him do the same mugging and nonsense he’d do in the background of Monty Python sketches. Also, he doesn’t give us his thoughts on the #MeToo movement. The movie really needed about 400% of this sort of thing. Get Richard O’Brien! Get Martin Short!

Alternatively, the action scenes would need to be brought off with the kind of enthusiasm and cohesion and imagination the Wachowskis manages just once, in the original MATRIX. Well, the sequels had some eye-catching bits, I guess. But SPEED RACER had no flow, and this one has a bit so damn busy that the screen just disintegrates into particles. Some little spaceships called “Warhammers” were attacking a bigger spaceship. “I have no idea what I’m looking at,” protested Fiona, “except it’s shit.” I put forward that the theory that what we were looking at was pixels. To save money, the siblings had dispensed with computers and just poured a bunch of pixels all over everything. Really, if the second-hand disc had been damaged and started artifacting, we wouldn’t have known it.

Examples ~ It’s NOT any clearer when it’s in motion. It’s either a space battle as envisioned by Michael Snow or its the last image to pass before George Lucas’s mind’s eye as he gets dragged through the waistline of a radioactive hourglass.

Finally, Mila Kunis does get to do some acting, make some choices for herself, and have a fight scene, where it suddenly turns out she has the ability to fall for about a mile and then grab hold of something, which is odd as she’s not supposed to be superpowered. But at least she’s DOING SOMETHING rather than inviting other characters to dump information on her, The Wachowskis, as we now from the later MATRICES, have a real weakness of explanation.

But it’s too little, too late, in a film which is otherwise too much, too soon (rather than using its protagonist’s experiences to introduce the weird space characters, the film can’t resist splurging and flinging them at us right away). Jupiter is an expository device like CITIZEN KANE’s Thompson, leaving Tatum to drive the plot — but he’s not the title character, and he’s viewed as an object of desire. It’s nice when the Wachowskis mix up gender roles, but not nice when they sabotage the drama. At the climax of the film, Tatum has to fight a crocodile man, but I was struggling to get worked up about it. “I don’t dislike this crocodile man,” I found myself saying. “I think he’s OK.”Still, in the film’s one really neat bit of sci-fi action, Tatum drops the reptilian fellow through a portal in a glass floor and snaps it shut on his neck. Nasty.

Also oddly reminiscent of maybe the most startling gag in Buster Keaton’s career ~The tragedy of the Wachowskis, or maybe tragicomedy since they’re probably quite happy, is that they are authentically left-field talents (BOUND is still their most satisfying movie) who got boosted into superproduction mode by THE MATRIX and fundamentally don’t belong there. And maybe they’re not quite clever enough to either escape or turn the situation to any artistic advantage.


Red All Over

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2017 by dcairns


I had never seen a Red Skelton movie. In the clips I saw he looked kind of awful, but on the other hand, Buster Keaton liked him. A friend said, “There was talent there, but the volume switch was faulty.”

So, we got on an Esther Williams kick — there’s talent there too — which led us to run ZIEGFELD FOLLIES, which has a nice little water ballet directed by Vincente Minnelli — interesting to see how he handles it, as opposed to Busby Berkeley or Charles Walters or George Sidney. It also has Red Skelton hamming it up in one sketch (like KING OF JAZZ, it intersperses songs and sketches). The sketch is pretty unfunny, and Fiona’s immediate reaction to the mugging was revulsion. But then he actually got a few laughs, overcoming our resistance to his overkill with more overkill. Overandoverkill. And he certainly had some chops as a visual comedian.


A gag from THE HIGH SIGN! Was Buster working as gag man at MGM in 1943? It seems likely.

So then my same friend mentions DU BARRY WAS A LADY, and that seems like a suitable medium for further investigation. If Skelton gets too much for us, we have his fellow redhead Lucille Ball, and third-billed Gene Kelly, and Tommy Dorsey and his band, and a practically juvenile Zero Mostel doing a really good Charles Boyer impersonation — not just the voice — he kinda morphs his face so as to actually resemble Boyer, albeit a pudgy, ugly Boyer.


Too bad Zero doesn’t get to sing a note, except as part of the chorus. But maybe best of all, the film has Virginia O’Brien, singing a song not in the Cole Porter show ~

Like KISS ME KATE, this play has had considerable damage done by rewriting, moving of songs, substitution of songs. It’s verging on a revue, like ZIEGFELD GIRLS, but with just enough connective tissue to be able to call itself an actual movie. And Skelton has it dialled down slightly — he’s playing an awful obnoxious dope, though, and Skelton’s particular comic instrument does not reduce the less appealing qualities.

But — in a Twitter conversation I was just defending the musical, but saying that even the worst MGM musical will still tend to have a few jaw-dropping moments. This one has QUITE a few.

Best gag: Red wins the sweepstake, and as he passes out in shock we get the traditional newspaper montage, only each headline carries only a fragment of the story —





The Man with the Mondrian Wheels

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2016 by dcairns


9 a.m. HER MAN (Tay Garnett). Proto-Wellesian tracking shots, and Phillips Holmes looking Greek-godly in a shredded sailor suit. “That was practically a bdsm costume,” said Meredith Brody.

11. a.m. BROADWAY (Pal Fejos, whose very credit drew applause). “You’re seeing all sorts of fresh-minted clichés,” observed Mark Fuller.

16.00 MAS ALLA DEL OLVIDO (BEYOND OBLIVION, 1955) Argentinian Gothic melodrama which draws from REBECCA and GASLIGHT while harking forward to VERTIGO and even THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK. See it if you ever get the chance.

21.45. THE HIGH SIGN (music by Donald Sosin), COPS (music by Timothy Brock) and THE KID (music by Charlie Chaplin adapted by Timothy Brock). Orchestral accompaniment. The Piazza Maggiore. Sublime.

A rare “golden” print of REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE was displayed. Andrew Moor observed of the movie, “It’s a sort of mash-up of BILKO and EQUUS.”

Saw a man in a very cool wheelchair — it had Mondrian wheels. “We should compliment him on his chair!” Moving a little closer: “We should compliment him on his career!” Bernard Bertolucci, in the flesh. But the towering bodyguard maintaining his privacy as he chatted to Scott Foundas barred all compliments.