09 April, 2006

Captain Joe and the Wood of Tomorrow

Some years ago, I was a film reviewer. I had friends who were in a position to commission me and I managed to see hundreds of films while being paid for the privilege. But now those friends have moved onto other jobs and I haven't been paid to see a film in about four years. Hence why today I'm putting my monster-making self-analysis to one side to review a film I didn't get the chance to see at the time of release.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a homage to the chapter plays of the 1930s. Set in a world where art deco just got bigger and bigger, and where the technology of the future arrived early, it's populated by some of the most beautiful machinery since Metropolis. Being a moving comic book, it boasts some jaw-dropping visuals - a 1930s New York filmed in chiaroscuro, with light and shade being used to paint in the details. Armies of robots straight out of Ted Hughes' Iron Man battle against pre-WWII fighter planes, with nods to War of the Worlds (the sound of the robots' lasers) and King Kong (a trip to a mossy Lost World).

Every set is created in a computer; like the Star Wars prequels, this is a world of green screen and pixel precision. For a film as artificial as this, it really needed its actors to rise to the challenge and milk it for every drop of archness they could manage. Sadly, by playing it 'realistically', Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law are splinteringly wooden. There's some kind of backstory here about which of them betrayed the other first and who was responsible for the breakup of their relationship some years previously, but it's hard to care when the metallic monsters that pop up every ten minutes manage to emote more convincingly than the humans. With scenery this chewable, you're just begging for someone to take a huge bite - so thank God for Angelina Jolie. When she turns up wearing an eyepatch, a figure-hugging body-suit and a cut-glass English accent, you're almost punching the seats with relief. Finally someone who knows the right level of camp to pitch to. As a consequence, Jolie manages to steal the entire film in a sequence that lasts less than 15 minutes but is the absolute high-point of the movie.

There's one curious thing about the film though. Early on, there's a clip from The Wizard of Oz, which doesn't seem to have any relevance until later on, when the villain of the piece appears via a hologram to explain some of the plot. As we waited for an old man to pop up form behind a curtain, we suddenly realised that the villain was played by a remarkably young Laurence Olivier (courtesy of some grave-robbing CGI), though it's not really clear why. To fudge the intertextuality here, once the hologram disappears, Jude Law's character asks 'is it safe?', referencing Olivier's often-quoted line from Marathon Man for no reason at all.

It looks stunning, but I didn't really make any connection to the two-dimensional characters. By the close of the movie, I was glad that (thanks to my flatmate paying for the rental), I got to see this particular film for free. Pretty to look at, but just a little soulless.

08 April, 2006

Prescience and Bad Taste

It's back to the retrospective reviews of my own postings on mailing lists, and this one from Friday 23 July, 1999, on the subject of Paul McCartney, who my mate Jim was insisting 'is a bloody genius'.

... and therefore invalidated every one of [Jim]'s previous opinions on everything. When my dictatorship comes to fruition, Jim, that man will be tried for his crimes against nature.

I *hate* it when he says in interviews "So I said to John..." when it's just painfully obvious that he didn't. You can hear it on one of the Anthology session recordings when he tries to have a go at John by saying "I'll try to remember, but if I don't it's too bad", and then wusses out by doing a funny voice to mask his petulence. And then he knocks over a glass and John
immediately jumps in with "Paul's broken a glass, broken a glass he's broken today" revealing his calm, wonderous talent and showing Macca up.

On the subject of Peace and Goodwill to All Men:
JL - "War is Over"
PMc - "Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time"

On the subject of their wives:
JL - "Woman"
PMc - The Frog Chorus*

Still, they both married complete dogs who should have stuck to art instead of "having a go" at music.

Oh, and then years later, Macca collaborated with Elvis Costello and in the interviews all we got was "so then I said to Elvis..."

I bet he's waited YEARS to use that phrase - even if it was the wrong Elvis (and yet the right one - in SO many ways).

* Okay, technically speaking, The Frog Chorus was inspired by Linda's dad advising Paul to buy the rights to Rupert Bear and making him rich, but it was a joke just sitting there, pining to be picked up, despite its useless back legs.

Okay, so that last line about useless legs made me wince. How was I to know that Macca would be married to Heather Mills within seven years of writing that, eh?

I'm still not overly fond of Macca, though I work with people who claim he's their favourite Beatle. he'll never be mine, even if he outlives Ringo Starr. Why would I pick him when I can still have 'Scarab' and 'Dung'?

Later on that same day, apparently after a horrible meeting (the weekly status meeting I bet; by this time I was struggling to create enough time for the teams to do a decent job, because all of the 'fat' in the schedules had been slashed down), I backtracked a little and had something nice to say about Paul McCartney. It's a view I'd still stand by today:

McCartney made the Beatles popular. He had an ear for a good tune, a skill for upbeat popular styles and a way of reinventing other people's songs (in the early days) and adapting them to his own methods.

But Lennon made then unique. The moment he lost interest (around the time of the White Album) is when, for me, they stop being interesting and start laying down the template that Paul Wellar would stick to for his entire career (and Oasis, The Verve...)