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Archive for the ‘COMIC ACTION ADVENTURE’ Category

Inside Out

21 Jun

Inside Out – director Peter Docter. Animated Feature. 102 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★

The Story: The inside of an eleven-year-old girl’s mind in crisis.

~

Even in 3-D the most noticeable aspect before us is not birds flying into our eyes, but the greater interest lying in the witty veracity of responses of the main characters to what confronts them. In this, all human comedy consists, and we are treated with an untiring and untiresome display of it, even when the film sinks beneath its own spectacle, as it is bound to do, because nowadays each film released must exceed the one before in vulgar excess, or the audience, it is imagined, will be failed and fail it.

For I long to dwell upon a detail. Won’t they allow me that, even once? Inside the little girl’s head we have such Castles In The Air as FAMILY, HONESTY, HOME, GOOFBALL, each one set up as elaborate Pleasure Islands Of Nostalgia And Habit. Oh, I want to examine one of those, see what it contains! Please! But no, we are whisked away to the next loom of catastrophe quicker than two eyes can blink or even one.

The trouble with catastrophe is that it soon becomes labored and ho-hum. Still, there is pleasing suspense in just how the two heroines will be reunited. For OUTSIDE is the girl Riley, whose thumbnail bio we are given from birth to introduce the human qualities she was born with and contains INSIDE.

INSIDE, from her first glimpse of air, Riley is possessed of and is possessed by a quintet of forces and tendencies, Grief, Rage, Paranoia, Revulsion, and Joy. Joy alone is female. Joy is Riley’s default position, and so Joy womans the controls.

But something goes wrong, and she and Grief are zoomed into a region separated from those controls and, to save the day for Riley, must get back to where they belong, a journey more picaresque and fraught than any one ever had getting back to Tara or There’s No Place Like Home.

On their way they enter many a curious station, The Warehouse Of Memory, The Palace Of Imagination, The Compost Bin Of Experience. They meet up with Riley’s imaginary childhood friend, Bing-Bong, with whom they try to jump The Train Of Thought. He’s a lot of fun, too.

I say no more, save that, as in Frozen, it was good to see two female heroes before us, and no romance. The idea of animation entering the mind was overdue, although it has always been present in Bugs Bunny without saying so. Best of all I liked the wit of the drawing and the script. If the film confuses movement for zest, that is the temptation of all cartoon.

So much was included it was hard to note what was missing, which was the presiding character of Attention – that which discerns the INSIDE with the OUTSIDE. But perhaps that was left in the hands of the audience for a job, which, with no applause, we all did accurately and with care.

 
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Posted in COMIC ACTION ADVENTURE, DRAMEDY, FANTASY, PERSONAL DRAMA, SUSPENSE

 

The General

02 May

The General – directed by Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman. Farce. 107 minutes. Black and White Silent 1926.

★★★★★

The Story: A railroad engineer, turned down by his lady friend after failing to be taken into the rebel army, thwarts the Yankee takeover of a key railroad engine. 

~

I balk at writing about this picture because the word praise is insufficient to it.

If you enjoyed Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel you will see where it comes from and what is to be learned from The General at the same time as being entertained by it.

Full frontal exposure is how film farce must work, and Keaton knew this. He grasped the two-dimensionality of the motion picture screen and reveled in it. So when something comes from the right, it must flee from the left. The actors’ responses must  play into the camera and out to the audience as though the audience knew all along.

It’s the greatest chase film ever made. He employs masses of extras as armies and stages the most expensive special effect to that date: a train falls through a bridge. Except, it’s not a special effect. It’s actually done.

And Buster Keaton is clearly performing the daredevil, life-on-your-line stunts, one after another. He was the king of the pratfall; no one has ever approached him in this.

Farce is sudden, bold, mechanical. It works like a choochoo train, and the picture takes place in, on, and around a famous engine, The General. A great deal of farce depends upon our seeing what the main character does not see, and Keaton is a master of this gag. For while he sustains super human exploits and athletic feats of derring-do, he is also a sacred innocent. He is caught up in the folly of circumstances and responds to them humbly. It makes him one of our greatest screen actors. He has the Great Stone Face, but it is a stone curiously sensitive and readable. You always know what he is feeling, despite the rigor of his visage. For his eyes are large, beautiful, and subtle.

You see how Keaton makes me babble. I have no hallelujah large enough for him.

I suppose he is the greatest performer/entertainer ever to appear in film.

Will that do it? If not, shoot me.

No, no, not in the foot, you fool, you’re supped to misfire, over there, where that man with the fat ass stands. So he can fall on Buster. And Buster can skitter out from under, just as fatso is about to land on him.

My version had a second disc of extra features, all of which are fascinating, particularly a reel of Buster Keaton’s many dealings with railroad engines, streetcars, buses, and autos. A gem dangling from a diamond.

 

Iron Man 3

04 May

Ironman 3 – directed by Shane Black. Comic Book Adventure. The Iron Man irons things out. 130 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

Robert Downey Junior is suave, witty, and sexy, and his enemy, Guy Pearce, is suave, witty, and sexy. So the question is not whether one will best the other, but whether charm will best demolition.

For the skies, the earth, and the waters are laced with explosions, collapses, blasts, mass burials, attacks, and not a policeman in sight. Oh, Good!

In all this, I can only give praise to Downey, who is so cool as to be cryogenic. Nothing fazes him. He rises from every blitz with perfect aplomb. He always has a jest to impart and it takes no fall from high places to make him dizzy beforehand. He also has the astounding ability to make pins drop at certain moments with the reality of his response, as for instance with certain women with whom he is at the same moment absolutely sincere and absolutely false. It is very endearing of him. He is such a prick you cannot but let him off scot free, particularly with that wonderful actor’s face of his with its flexible mouth and huge black eyes that are always begging forgiveness. And all that bounce! He’s our Dark Angel, isn’t he? Valuable….

He is paired at various times with that marvelous actress, our belovèd Gwyneth Paltrow, who always arrives in a film role followed by porters bearing enormous quantities of luggage, all Vuitton. Don Cheadle, a welcome presence here as elsewhere, backs up Downey as a military person in charge of just what we never know. Ben Kingsley earns another deposit in our continued respect for him, as The Most Evil Person In The World. Dale Dickey gives a fabulous turn as The Wife Of The Man With The Files. And Ty Simpkins refreshes the entire film as a little boy with a crush on our super-hero.

But none of this and no one —  save perhaps the gifted Guy Pearce who is fascinating and fun as a businessman rogue — none of this and no one is given enough screen time and anything like a scene that we may dwell upon before the screen once again is splashed with visual violence.

The story, if there is a story, seems completely out of control. It takes the form of a smash and a splat. And the plot gathers no strength in its reins when it arrives, very late at the party. Until then, we are raped with the spectacle of calamity upon calamity, and none of them moved me or scared me or more than distantly entertained me, although they are very pretty even when they are hard to follow. And they are hard, for they are edited so spastically who can register them? It is the way with such films. We are not supposed to follow them. We are supposed only to be impressed. The problem is that the effects are impressive without making any real impression. Except for one marvelous air rescue that is really quite simple and a treat. But what we have here is a story in which no one is in peril, which means an adventure story without an adventure – meaning without danger. The explosions are too cataclysmic to threaten anybody.

You sit back and you haven’t wasted your dime. Not a bit. The actors are somewhat wasted amid the monotonous detonations, some of them internal.

Nor can we forgive the stifling excess by claiming it is a comic book, and meant for the mentality of boys. Of course it is. That’s why one goes. But that does not exactly excuse incompetence, does it?  Or maybe it does – if that’s the true subject here.

Yes. That must be it. It is a blockbuster about how everyone flops! Trouble is you never know what they were trying to do to start out with!

But still, it is impossible, it really is, it is impossible, to really dislike it.

 

Gunga Din

12 Apr

Gunga Din — produced and directed by George Stevens. Comic Action Adventure. 117 minutes Color 1939.
★★★★★
George Stevens was 17 when he jumped over the wall of the Hall Roach Studios. What he found on the other side was a Western, Rex, King Of The Wild Horses, and its sequels. As assistant cameraman he went off into the rugged mountains and made up movies, and ever after he said that the Western was his preferred genre. What this gave us is, of course, Shane but it also produced The Greatest Story Ever Told, shot in those settings and Gunga Din a sort of Eastern Western, situated in spectacular mountains and in a frontier fort and a remote town, and with a host of bloodthirsty savages.

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, authors of His Gal Friday, wrote the story, which, naturally therefore, has one of a trio of soldiers of the Raj wanting to get married and the other two sabotaging his immanent retirement by engaging all of them in putting down the Thugees, a tribe of native killers – read The Taliban.

To say there is a plot to this were to rearrange the meaning of that word, for the movie is one thing after another, a comic scene at the fort, followed by a big battle scene, comic scenes back at the fort, another battle scene, another comic scene back at the fort, and so forth.

The battle scenes are as funny as the comic scenes, for Stevens had learned gag comedy at The Roach Studios so the movie resembles Indiana Jones, or rather Indiana Jones resembles Gunga Din, for Jones kept up with Din by aping it in scene after scene. Stevens’ visual imagination in devising interesting and entertaining slaughters was unequalled. They involved thousands of actors and, to insure no one was hurt, they had to be carefully imagined, very slowly rehearsed, then repeated a bit faster, then faster still, then shot at full speed.

But Stevens also knew what to look at with his fort scenes, where the comedy depends not on gags but on the expressions on actors’ faces. Each of the sergeants – Douglas Fairbanks Junior is Scottish, Victor McLaglen is Irish, and Cary Grant is Cockney – has rich comic scenes to play, and from the start they are all involved in comical branagans. Grant has his lust for booty, McLaglen a darling elephant, and Fairbanks the milksop Joan Fontaine.

Stevens knows exactly what to look at with his camera, which is manned by the great Joe August, who even gives us an in-tight Place-In-The-Sun closeup of Fontaine. Abner Biberman and Eduardo Ciannelli play the outright villains outrightly. And Sam Jaffe is just lovely as the waterboy, Gunga Din, a middle-aged man who saves the day and who is the hero of Rudyard Kipling’s poem from which the picture is loosely derived. They originally wanted the great child actor Sabu, so Jaffe said he played it exactly as Sabu would have, and he’s just marvelous.

Alfred Newman’s music is rousing, and the thousands of troops on the parade grounds and threading through huge mountains is spectacular. Cary Grant is especially gratifying in, for him an unusual, lower class part and also a dopey one. There are comic effects on his face you will never see from him in any other film. All you need do is sit back and look at him to be entertained. He was lower class in origins, and it shines through with a warm, particular and special wit.

Stevens seldom moves his camera so the adventure takes place without intrusion, and he seldom used reaction shots, so the energy between actors is never broken. It is one of the most “complete” films ever made, and remained a George Stevens’ favorite.

The film has never been out of circulation since its immensely popular first showing in the year of the movie miracles, 1939.