movies, sketches, cinemas, film festivals and the occasional film-making
October 18, 2010
10.10: LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE and CATCH-UP CLASSIC: TOUCH OF EVIL
The story of the Guardians is pretty basic, pulling in some usual fantasy film tropes and riffing on Star Wars a fair bit. Young owl Soren, enamoured of the legendary Guardians, and his brother Kludd are swept up by two large owls working with the evil baddies, the Pure Ones. Seems lots of young owls are being carted off to work in slavery for the Pure Ones. Some, such as Kludd, come to find their place here, letting their vicious selves loose. It’s not long before Soren has broken free and hooked up with the usual unlikely gang of misfits to track down the long-unseen Guardians and ask for their help.
Things move along at a brisk clip, occasionally having the feeling of box ticking as we rush from story-point to story-point. There is, however, a true sense of adventure throughout and it’s nice to have a kids film that doesn’t talk down to them. If I was 10 years old and watching this, I’m fairly certain I’d love it. There are moments of darkness, and Snyder doesn't shy away from the violence (or the fact that owls are, y'know, predatory birds) and big bad guy, Metal Beak is a truly frightening figure, especially as voiced by Joel Edgerton.
That Star Wars influence seeps through everything in the film: a young hero thrust to the forefront of the action but guided by an inner mystical feeling, a crazed mentor who is more than he seems, a bad guy maimed from a previous encounter with crazy mentor, a “twap!” for the goods guys that gets taken down by our plucky heroes...
It's relatively unsurprising these days to find actors you're more accustomed to seeing in live-action doing voice-over work for animated films. It is refreshing to have them speak in their native accent: there's a strong Australian and English voice cast here and it helps to mark Guardians out from the rest of the animated pack. What is unusual is having a director more accustomed to live-action filmmaking coming into direct an animated film. We've seen a couple of animation directors move into live-action recently but no much the other way around. It helps that Snyder has a strong visual style already. Whatever else you think about the man, you can't say he doesn't have a strong, singular style of his own. Have I said before how much I am loving the Sunday afternoon films at the Embassy? Because I am. This is, quite frankly, an absolutely phenomenal thing that’s going on. Touch of Evil is a classic, and is far and away better than most new releases I’ve seen this year. Thanks to the Embassy Theatre and Event Cinemas I have seen an Orson Welles noir on the big screen (after narrowly missing out seeing The Third Man in Vienna). It used to be I was nostalgic for my year in England, cinema-wise; I saw Manhattan, Alien, Die Hard and King Kong. But now, well, just look over my recent posts: Ghostbusters, Enter the Dragon, Badlands and now Orson Welles' 1958 Touch of Evil with more to come!
This is, without a doubt, a towering classic of American noir. Yes, Charlton Heston is in brown-face as top Mexican narcotics cop, Vargas, but you get past that pretty quickly. Especially once Orson Welles and his impressive bulk wander on in as Detective Quinlan. Welles' Quinlan is one of the most fascinatingly nasty pieces of work in cinema history: a bloated, racist and vindictive cop, he's also something of a local celebrity in the border town due to his famous "hunches" and his outstanding arrest and conviction record.
As with a lot of the great noir films, the central mystery barely matters: two American tourists are blown up on the American side of the border from a bomb planted on the Mexican side. But this takes a definite backseat to the back and forth of Vargas and Quinlan, and this struggle between the two is a deliciously dangerous dance to watch. It's not long before Quinlan is approached by representatives of a Mexican drug cartel being squeezed by Vargas, and they arrange to have Vargas' newly-wed wife abducted and discredited. Things get pretty dark, pretty fast with a sense of tension you couldn't cut with a knife.
Some poor decisions made by characters aside (if you're the top narco officer on the other side of the border would you stick your newly-wed wife in a cheapo motel in the middle of nowhere?)... this film, woah. This freakin' blew me away and woke me up (again) to that crazy talent of Welles'. And how, barring Citizen Kane the poor guy could barely make a film without studio interference (even on this; Welles was famously fired in post-production and the film cut according to the studio suits. I saw the restored cut from 1998). Although this was made some 50-odd years ago it manages to feel fresh and modern still. It's a film that somehow feels more with it, more exciting in it's use of cinematic language than a lot of newly released films I've seen this year.