Talking Movies

December 5, 2011

Green Lantern: In Overcast Evening

I’ve just read Green Lantern: Secret Origin by Geoff Johns, so it’s an opportune time to weigh in with some thoughts on how Martin Campbell handled the same story cinematically.

Back in January I dubbed Green Lantern the biggest gamble of the year because the power ring which allows him to physically project anything he can imagine, but can’t handle the colour yellow because of the evil Parallax, makes him the most far-out of the major DC Comics characters. I predicted that if the movie worked it would open up the whole DC Universe for cinematic imaginings. If it failed then I foretold that Nolan’s Batman swansong and Snyder’s Superman: The Man of Steel would be the end of DC on film for another decade. Sadly the popular and critical reception appears to have consigned Green Lantern to the dustbin of abject failure, and Wonder Woman and The Flash ride with it to development hell. For my money it’s not a disaster and it’s not a triumph, it’s merely perfectly acceptable with some nice touches.

But therein lies the problem, being perfectly acceptable is not acceptable for the summer blockbuster market, and only having some nice touches doesn’t cut it in the writing stakes even though it’s a logical consequence of the straitjacket of the origin myth within which all new superhero franchises are constrained. I tweeted the other week that I couldn’t actually remember what the summer blockbusters had been, perhaps because of the ubiquity of origin myths – which are all effectively the same damn story with a different coloured cape in the lead role. I’ve never heard anyone complain that The Maltese Falcon wasn’t Sam Spade’s first case and we were never told how he became a PI, but superhero movies appear to bear out Jacob Lambert’s contention that the legacy of Lucas’ convincing special effects was to destroy the audience’s ability to suspend its disbelief without tutorials.

Green Lantern dutifully trots thru the obligatory origin myth that almost all of us could write from memory at this point in a breezily efficient manner, without ever being particularly brilliant on the large scale. What I liked were the little touches from the writers kicking against this enforced rail. I adored the fact that Hal Jordan simply said “Hey Hector” as he walked past the villain at a party, thus saving us about 20 minutes of narrative hide and seek, as they’ve known each other for years. In a similar vein the writers cheekily revealed that Hector Hammond’s overbearing father is the Senator referenced by other characters, and that’s the reason Hector was given the job of examining Abin Sur’s crashed ship – a plum assignment that ironically backfires against the father trying to do something nice for once for his disappointment of a son.

The endless angst produced in films by the strain of maintaining secret identities, as well as the stark nonsense of doing so thru the use of terrible disguises, was almost immediately dispensed with by Carol Ferris recognising Hal, despite his protestations, and loudly proclaiming, “Hal! I’ve known you all my life. I’ve seen you naked. You think I’m not going to recognise you because I can’t see your cheekbones?” Hal also got wonderfully upbraided for his carelessness in charging his power ring, “You broke it already?!” Nicest of all was that he gleefully showed off the instantaneous costume-change to that same friend, “Cool, right?”, and in a wonderful move was depicted cheating at the start of the movie as a fighter pilot in a combat simulation, and cheating again at the end of the movie as a Green Lantern in the climactic fight against Parallax.

Parallax is used well as a villain who becomes stronger the more afraid you are of him, and the revelation of his origin is a nice stroke after the discussions of the power of will versus that of fear. Not to push things too far but there’s some mileage to be had in the idea that according to this movie the native hue of resolution is green, and it’s sicklied o’er by the pale cast of thought which is yellow. In slightly less strained interpretations there is some very Nietzschean undertones to the discussions about Will and Fear surrounding the use of the power rings but sadly they’re never fully developed. The really cinematic joy of Green Lantern should be that with a power based on imagination, it’s fun to see what Hal thinks of to save the day, but there’s not enough of that.

There’s a certain amount of similarity between the movie and Johns’ origins comic, but the differences are vast. Hammond is a confident sleazy scientist in the comic, Carol Ferris and Hal Jordan have never been an item, Parallax is not involved at all, though there are hints of a renegade Guardian, and Sinestro plays a much more important part and is more supportive of Hal after initial misgivings. Johns hides within the origin myth a set-up for a future storyline in his saga, a touch that refreshes a familiar tale that the movie cannot adopt. The choices of Hammond as weakling controlled by villain Parallax, Hal and Carol as re-united lovers, and Sinestro as minor figure are all interesting and valid, but the film never achieves the feeling of fun of the comic which comes from believing you’re confidently re-telling a classic tale with purpose.

The post-credits scene seemed to imply that we could expect the sequel to be a spin on Johns’ Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corp Wars storyline. Sadly, that’s now unlikely to happen, so perhaps we should stop being slightly ridiculous about all this and just read the great, varied and unpredictable comics to experience the DC universe rather than watching decent, identikit predictable films apparently aimed at people who have no ability to suspend their disbelief and just go with it.

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January 28, 2011

2011: Hopes

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 6:14 pm
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In Darkest Night

Ryan Reynolds is Green Lantern, Blake Lively is love interest Carol Ferris, and Mark Strong is renegade alien lantern Sinestro in the biggest gamble of the year. Green Lantern’s ring which allows him to physically project anything he can imagine, but which can’t handle the colour yellow because of the evil Parallax, is the most far-out of the major DC characters; but in the right hands (see the recent resurgence of the comics title by Geoff Johns) he can be majestic. If this movie works it opens up the whole DC Universe for cinematic imaginings. If it fails then Nolan’s Batman swansong and Snyder’s Superman will be the end of DC on film for another decade…

A Knife-Edge

Talking of gambles what about Suckerpunch: can Zack Snyder handle an all-female cast and a PG-13 rating after the flop of his animated movie? The answers provided by his Del Toro like escapade set in a 1950s mental hospital where Vanessa Hudgens and Abbie Cornish escape into a fantasy universe to fight a never-ending war will give hints as to how he’ll handle Lois Lane and the challenge of resurrecting Superman’s cinematic fortunes. Breaking Dawn sees Bill Condon, director of Gods & Monsters, take on the final Twilight book in two movies. Given that the book sounds the epitome of unfilmable on the grounds of utter insanity, it’s a gamble to split it in two when it may make New Moon look competent. On the other hand he may take the Slade/Nelson route of Eclipse and simply play the romance as stark nonsense and be as nasty as he can with what little time for horror is left him after he’s shot Jacob shirtless 20 times. Paul should be a lock: it’s a comedy with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. However, they’re not working with Edgar Wright, co-writer and director of their other two movies, but with Greg Mottola, writer/director of Adventureland, and this film was meant to be released last year. Kristen Wiig has a supporting role created for her and Seth Rogen voices the titular slobbish alien with whom Pegg & Frost’s archetypal nerds have daft adventures, but will this be a mish-mash of styles?

A Grand Madness

Werner Herzog’s My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? has had immense success on the festival circuit and seems to confirm that Bad Lieutenant was no one-of, he really has got his feature mojo back.  Michael Shannon stars in a very loose version of a true-life murder case which saw reality and fiction tragically become fatally confused for a young actor appearing in a Greek tragedy. The Tempest sees Julie Taymor takes a break from injuring actors on Broadway to helm another Shakespeare movie. Her last film Across the Universe was misfiring but inspired when it worked, expect something of the same from this. Helen Mirren is Prospera, while Russell Brand’s obvious love of language should see him Fassbender his way through his jester role.

In England’s Green and Pleasant Land

February sees the release of two adaptations of acclaimed English novels. Brighton Rock sees Sam Riley, exceptional as Ian Curtis in 2007’s Control, take on the iconic role of the psychotic gangster Pinkie in an adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1938 novel. This remake updates the action to the 1960s and mods v rockers, with Helen Mirren as the avenging Fury pursuing Pinkie for murdering an innocent man, and rising star Andrea Riseborough as Pinkie’s naive girlfriend. Greene and Terence Rattigan co-wrote the script for the superb Boulting Brothers’ 1947 film, so this version has to live up to the high-water mark of British film noir. Meanwhile Never Let Me Go sees one of the most acclaimed novels of the Zeros get a film treatment from the director of Johnny Cash’s Hurt video. Can Mark Romanek find a visual way to render Kazuo Ishiguro’s dreamy first-person narration of the slow realisation by a group of elite public-school pupils of the sinister purpose of their isolated education? The cast; Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, and Carey Mulligan; represents the cream of young English talent, but replicating the impact of the novel will be difficult.

Empire of the Spielberg

Super 8. I gather it’s about aliens, and monsters, in fact probably alien monsters. In fact really it’s probably Cloverfield: Part II but with Abrams writing and directing instead of producing. Spielberg is producing so it’s safe to say this will be exciting. Whatever it’s about. It’s out in August. The War Horse sees Spielberg breaks his silence after Indy 4 with an adaptation of West End hit which follows a young boy’s journey into the hell of World War I in an attempt to rescue his beloved horse from being used to drag provisions to the front. Meanwhile with Tintin we get an answer to the question does Peter Jackson still have his directorial mojo? His version of the beloved famous Belgian comic-book has a lot to live up to, not least the uber-faithful TV cartoon adaptations. And can the problem of dead eyes in photo realistic motion capture CGI finally be solved?

The House of M: Part I

Kenneth Branagh’s directorial resurgence sees him helm Thor, his first comic-book blockbuster. Branagh will no doubt coax great performances from Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman, but does Chris Hemsworth have the charisma as well as the physique to pull off a Norse God banished to Earth just as Loki decides to invade it? This is a pivotal gamble by Marvel’s in-house studio. If this flops, it puts The Avengers and Iron Man 3 in major difficulties, and it is a worry. Captain America had fantastic storylines in acclaimed comics by Mark Millar and Jeph Loeb in the last decade, but Thor really has no great canonical tale that cries out to be told. Not that those Loeb/Millar ideas will get in the way of a (How I Became) Insert Hero Name approach to the Cap’n. Chris Evans, fresh from dazzling comedic turns in Scott Pilgrim and The Losers, takes on the title role in Captain America: The First Avenger. He will be a likeable hero but it’s almost certain that Hugo Weaving will steal proceedings as Nazi villain The Red Skull. Joe Johnston’s Indiana Jones background should probably guarantee amusing hi-jinks in this 1940s set blockbuster.

The House of M: Part II

Other studios, content to build one franchise at a time around Marvel characters, will unleash two very different comic-book blockbusters. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance sees the lunatics behind the Crank films finally get their hands on a blockbuster after their script for Jonah Hex was rewritten to make it vaguely ‘normal’. The prospect of Nicolas Cage, fresh from his brush with Herzog, being encouraged to again find his inner madman while the two writers/directors shoot action sequences from roller-skates besides his bike is an awesome one. Matthew Vaughn meanwhile helms X-Men: First Class starring James McAvoy as the young Professor X and Talking Movies’ hero Michael Fassbender as the young Magneto. This prequel charts the early days of their friendship and the establishment of Xavier’s Academy, before (according to Mark Millar) a disagreement led to Magneto putting Xavier in a wheelchair. The prospect of Fassbender doing his best Ian McKellen impersonation gives one pause for joy.

April 23, 2010

Who the Hell is … Mark Strong?

This second in a series of occasional features celebrating character actors who deserve more attention focuses on the current blockbuster villain of choice Mark Strong.

I first noticed Mark Strong when he starred as an East End Jewish gangster in 1960s London in the BBC 2 four-parter The Long Firm. After that he had minor film roles as the torturer who pulls out George Clooney’s fingernails in Syriana and as the crazed Russian cosmonaut trying to destroy humanity in Sunshine. Matthew Vaughn gave him a more substantial film part in Stardust as the surprisingly bloodthirsty villain of the fairytale who continues to duel even after his death, in a show-stopping piece of mechanical special effects. At this point Strong became a fine actor who should be getting better parts, like Linus Roache in The Chronicles of Riddick, with a minor role in another Vin Diesel mess Babylon AD. Thankfully that didn’t derail him and Vaughn’s old collaborator Guy Ritchie gave him a high profile gig in Sherlock Holmes as the evil revenant Lord Blackwood. Vaughn cast Strong again in his next movie, the outrageous Mark Millar comic-book flick Kick-Ass, as Frank D’Amico the crime-lord driven to distraction by amateur superheroes ruining his business. Vaughn has now been joined in praising Strong by Ian McKellen who called him the greatest actor in England at the present moment.

Strong, like Ben Kingsley, possesses features which casting agents deem capable of portraying a span of nationalities from Jewish to Syrian, via English and Italian. But he can do this without it seeming insulting because of his chameleon like ability to change for each role – a complete lack of vanity which saw him buried under fright make-up and shot out of focus for his appearance in Sunshine, or, as Vaughn raved to me in a 2007 interview for Stardust, to go limp like a rag-doll, be wired up to a rig overhead, and be physically puppeteered for a swordfight as a magically animated corpse. So, now that you know who Mark Strong is look out for him as The Lord Villain (not the actual character name but accurate) in Robin Hood, and as Sinestro, the renegade alien Lantern, in 2011’s long-in-development Green Lantern. Geoff Johns has been masterminding a resurgence in the comics title of late and an unreliable appraisal of the screenplay last year suggested that this was going to be the real deal. The casting of Strong along with Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern and Blake Lively as Carol Ferris certainly bodes well for a movie as romantic, thrilling and sweeping as Johns has made the comics.

It would be a great pity if Strong was reduced to playing villains for the rest of his career but for the moment let’s just enjoy an unsung actor having his star ascend by sheer talent and hard work.

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