Wednesday, 4 July 2012

I Should Be So... (au cinema, bis!)

I had difficulty with The Artist. Everybody loved it and I so dearly wanted to, too. But it was just so pleased with itself, so brimming with self-regard about its black-and-whiteness and its ooh-there’s-no-wordsness and its just-like-the-1930s-ness, that I simply couldn’t love it. I could admire it, but that’s not the same. That’s like telling a girl who’s spent ages trying to get you to go out with her that you have high regard for her literacy skills. 
So I wasn’t overwhelmed with anticipation when The Lodger ripped open one of those Amazon packages that he buys instead of paying me any rent and waved the enclosed copy of Lucky Luke at me. 
Lucky Luke. It’s French, it’s set in a romanticised past (and given that it was made in 2009, it comes from a romanticised past), it stars Jean Dujardin. Three things that make it very like The Artist. But I refuse to dismiss anything out of hand without giving it a fair try (this is untrue. I dismiss a great many things out of hand without giving them a fair try, simply because it’s easy, it’s fun, and leaves me untroubled by any of that awkward ‘ooh blimey I quite like this even though I really should be sneering at it’ business that probably blights the life of the average Guardian Guide contributor). 
And you know what? Within ten minutes I’d fallen in love with it. 
You can argue with me, but you can't argue with status
It’s one of the best comic-book adaptations I’ve seen; faithful to the original drawings, faithful to their sly humour and knockabout slapstick. It’s certainly the best I’ve seen this year; yes, it’s knocked Marvel The Avengers Assemble (or whatever) off top spot, but it’s done that by being an entirely different type of film. Where Avengers was very much a loud, look-at-me-NOW! blockbuster tentpole movie, Lucky Luke, despite being the most expensive film to be made in France (I’m told), is small and charming and unassuming. 
At the same time, it’s almost in awe of the old American west and the men therein, and it invites us to join us. It has an astonishing visual texture; the cinematography literally glows, even in the darker scenes. And it has no shame whatsoever in indulging in any number of visual puns, trompe l’oeil, verbal puns (in French when spoken, but as nearly all of the on-screen text - store signs, etc - is in English, it’s not shy of bilingual wordplay as well) and snappy doubletalk. 
There’s also a hugely pretty production design; the town Luke cleans up is very much a platonic ideal of the Old Western Town, as are its ne’er-do-well inhabitants, and the final act is set in - well, I’m not telling you what it’s set in, but if you don’t applaud the way it looks, we can’t be friends. 
Jean Dujardin, who was so very slightly over-smooth in The Artist, is a superb Luke; stupidly handsome, knowing it but not using it. It’s a better all-round performance than in The Artist and one that he looks like he’s enjoying a lot more. And although the Lucky Luke character as drawn is relatively simplistic and as such should be easily portrayed by almost anyone - it’s a quiff and a cowboy outfit, in essence - Dujardin looks the part. Not just visually; he’s got the hair, he’s got the squint, he’s got the cigarette, but underneath the props he’s got the attitude and the feel of Luke. 
If there’s a down side to Lucky Luke, it’s that the plot can feel less than original at times; it’s fairly obvious who the bad guy’s going to turn to be, equally so for the mysterious saloon-bar siren Luke falls for. 
But that’s forgivable. Don’t argue, it just is. 
Go and see it. Buy the DVD. If you want to justify it on an intellectual basis, see how many references to other films you can recognise (or, if you’re a miserable sod, ‘see how many shots have been stolen from other films’). But really, you owe it to yourself. If only for the horse. 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

au cinema!

It strikes me as odd that this thing gets a number of page views from China. I’d like to believe it has become some form of rallying-post for the disgruntled and disenfranchised, some clarion call that kickstarts a new Tianenmen Square. But it’s more likely to be some poor sods who have Googled what limited selection they're allowed to Google and been offered this as an alternative to whatever anti-Party subversion they were after. 
Still, it’s for their own good. 
Anyway: if I may misappropriate something from someone on Twitter: what if there was an upside to Orwell? What if, in 1984, that boot stamping on a human face, forever, was stamping on the face of someone who deserved it? Paddy McGuinness, say? Or that git who lights a bonfire every time I put washing out? Or the people who made the Green Lantern movie? 
I ask this because, despite my credentials as an Impeccable Liberal, I too can feel hate. Maybe 'hate' is a bit too much. 'Enmity', perhaps. 'Rather strong dislike'. 

I feel it for the people who deserve it; professional politicians of all stripes who screw the everyman while focussing on what’s best for their party; media moguls who profess innocence of their newspapers’ behaviour; media outlets that fill us with inconsequentialities and non-entities while steering us away - nothing to see here, move right along - from the things that we should be told about; bankers breaking laws and bankrupting nations, safe in the full knowledge that there’ll maybe be a bit of an outcry and maybe a slapped wrist or two, but no actual justice, retributive or restorative, for their crimes.
Sometimes, I want to stamp on somebody’s face. 
Sometimes, I want to take a gun. 
Yep, just like this. 
The film God Bless America feels the same way. It’s written and directed by the comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, best known for being incomprehensible in the Police Academy films, but it’s a different, far blacker form of comedy than those, and one unlikely to see a sequel. 
In it, an ordinary Joe reaches breaking point; fired from his office drone job for incomprehensible reasons, enraged and disappointed by the culture of greed and dishonesty, fed up with the celebration of that greed by the media, he takes a gun, intent on suicide, but decides to take one especially spoilt example of reality-show teen queen with him. When that goes slightly wrong, he finds himself travelling America in the company of an awed teenage witness. 
It’s a strange film, in that it doesn’t escalate in the way that, say, Falling Down - which shows a similar man reaching a similar breaking point - did. There’s a climactic scene at the end, but it doesn’t seem dramatic, pacing itself in the same leisurely way as the rest of the film. 
It’s also, for all its strengths and its superb central performances from Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr, something of a coward; it directs its anger purely at the media, taking scant aim at the social and political diseases that underly the current thirst for the reality and talent shows that lead to, and eventually finish, the story. I wouldn’t expect Goldthwait to burden his characters with the narratively impossible task of taking down the President or anything equally as cliched; he’s too good a writer for that. I would have liked something a little more astringent applied to the spots he chose to take on. 
God Bless America hits some unexpected targets: sympathies are very much with Murray’s character, but he has to stop - as do you - and question whether the humiliations visited on contestants on a TV show clearly modelled after America’s Got Talent are as much willing celebrants of the genre’s relentless appetite for simpleton as they are its victims. 
The film reminded me in many ways of James Gunn’s Super in terms of the dynamic between the two leads, but it doesn’t quite have that film’s bleakness of tone (both narrative and visual - the cinematography in God Bless America is, at times, positively vibrant) and possibly it suffers for that. 
God Bless America is released here in the UK on July 6th; it’s not perfect, but I’d say you should get to see it. 
Next: au cinema, bis!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Saves You Buying The Observer

In the last couple of weeks we have been Cultured. 

And now I shall tell you about it. 
We went to the theatre, for a start; proper theatre, not a jukebox musical or a comedian’s vehicular revamp of something old (though there’s nothing wrong with either of those), but proper arse-numbing, tiny auditorium, Something Important To Say theatre. And we quite enjoyed it. 
We found one of the actors (of which there were only three) to be pitching his performance a little large for an 80-seat theatre, but he was the one off the telly and may have been the one the punters had come to see pre-arts-section-review, whereas post-arts-section-review they’d have come specifically for the play itself and for another of the actors, who was pitch perfect in a rather difficult role. 
What we enjoyed most, though, was realising, during the interval, that if we opened a certain door we could - and did - step out onto a tiny, narrow balcony some way above the street  but concealed by the theatre’s very own logo, and from there, hiding behind the neon block capitals, throw the ice cubes from our orange juice (four quid apiece, mind you) at the gits below. 
Why should we do this? Why perform so unsocial an act on a balmy Friday evening? If I tell you the play was The Witness by Vivienne Franzmann (her mother’s a friend, so the enjoyment was tinged with duty just as the choc-ice is tinged with future diets), and that it was at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, and that this theatre stands feet from some awful place filled with exactly the type of people you would expect to be drinking in a Sloane Square bar on a Friday evening, and that this Friday evening was quite pleasant, almost balmy in fact, and so these people were drinking al fresco, and were the kind of people who not only drink al fresco in italics but also say al fresco in bloody italics as well... Well, if I tell you that, I’m sure you’d not only sympathise, but offer to buy me more orange juice. Or some knives. 
Also, as we were there on what turned out to be The Playwright’s Mother Has Bought Every Seat Tonight And Filled It With Her Friends Night, the theatre was rather full of ladies of a certain age, so making me, for the first occasion in a very long time, something of a toyboy. 
The play? Quite excellent apart from the slight oversizing mentioned above;  asked a few uncomfortable questions about the exploitation of the Third World by developed countries, and whether the crumbs of individual help we throw are tossed purely to assuage our own guilt, and whether those crumbs, once tossed, give us the right to impose our ways onto those countries and then get upset when they begin to reject our guidance. 
That’s what I took from it anyway. 
Oh, and I got one ice cube to land right on some long-haired git’s head. Result! 
Next: au cinéma!