Valmont and Danceny

Watch this bout between Valmont and Danceny from 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons:

“Dangerous Liaisons” (1988): Duel Scene and de Tourvel’s Death from August Martin on Vimeo.

(fun fact, Malkovich’s baseball slide at 1:40 was apparently his suggestion to fight coordinator William Hobbs)

The Vicomte at least turns up to the fight sober, unlike this scene from 1989’s Valmont.

In both versions Valmont and Danceny are probably evenly matched, Valmont having more experience but the Chevalier having youth, vigor and a lot of technical skill (as shown in Danceny’s bout with Gercourt in Valmont at about 1h00).

What’s interesting is how the positions are reversed between the films. Reeves’ Danceny attacks with uncontrolled and dogmatic fury while Malkovich’s Valmont has a calm and irritable aloofness. But in Valmont, Colin Firth’s character is the one to initiate the exchange, forward and angry while Henry Thomas’ Chevalier remains calm throughout, always giving ground until Valmont’s fury is spent before delivering a single, fatal thrust (we assume, as this happens off-camera).

The encounter in Valmont is more credible, both for length and position of the protagonists. Dangerous Liaisons’ duel looks dramatic with Reeves and Malkovich running all over the place, panting with exhaustion, etc. Note that the affair is not settled at first blood, which is probably period correct, as Amberger notes in The Secret History of the Sword:

in Central Europe the First Blood principle was held in low esteem — which meant a debilitating injury was required to terminate the duel.

What’s going through these characters’ minds?

Malkovich’s Valmont

malkovich valmont

Valmont does not want to kill Danceny. He has control of the fight throughout — he chooses when to retreat and when to advance, displaying great calmness, vigor and judgement, sparing Danceny when he could kill or wound him, non-verbally halting the duel to change swords, ignoring his opponent even when on his knees, and ultimately choosing to die.

To him the whole affair is a tragic waste of time. But, did he intend to die from the outset? It would seem so given that he is carrying around Merteuil’s letters, and he is psychologically hamstrung by the fallout from his affair with Tourvel; but it’s uncertain whether he decides to die out of despair, or because he must be punished, or just as an alternative to inevitably killing Danceny.

Reeves’ Danceny

reeves danceny

Danceny doesn’t know what he wants. All he knows is that he is unable to concede, and he lets this drive him throughout the exchange to one end or another.

After his temper has cooled Capaldi’s Azolan tells him “it’s all very well for you to feel sorry now”. While this seems a bit harsh given all we know of Valmont’s mind, still Danceny is an immature character who didn’t realise the stakes until too late.

Firth’s Valmont

firth valmont

Steinmetz notes in The Romance of Duelling “he who makes free with the bottle seldom rises with a steady hand”. Valmont’s judgement is fatally clouded by drink.

This Valmont is every bit as aggrieved as Danceny; while we can put his drinking the previous night down to fatalism, at the point of the duel he is practically enraged. Was there time enough for Valmont to think? Consciously or not, in the end he forces the same decision onto the Chevalier that Malkovich makes for Reeves.

Thomas’ Danceny

thomas danceny

Danceny would have been satisfied by an apology, and probably first blood if the opportunity had arisen. The earlier bout with Gercourt shows exactly how much control the Chevalier has with the sword; but the fury of Valmont’s advance probably left him with little option.

Probably. After all, the Chevalier doesn’t seem too cut up at Cecile’s wedding to Gercourt. Perhaps he’s a sociopath after all.

Plus, we know he could probably have Gercourt on a good day. Watch Dangerous Liaisons II: Doubly Dangerous and see Cecile and Danceny conspire to arrange a duel, dispense with Gercourt and live happily ever after.

DL duel

Afterword

Bonus! Spot the high octave:

octave 2

octave 1

Cut Up Sunday

Withdrawal

The Cronenberg Project opens on November 1st of this year, celebrating “all things Cronenberg”. Unfortunately it’s in Toronto, but there’s a virtual exhibition.

Cronenberg donated several props to the Toronto Film Festival — including the Clark Nova from Naked Lunch, which opened the press conference.

Clarknova

BugNova

The iconic Clark Nova writing on its own and then in full BugWriter mode. In real life it’s a Smith Corona Sterling. For yet more typewriter porn check this page on Antikeychop.com for some pics of authors and typewriters — including Burroughs with the Clark Nova.

Re-watching Naked Lunch I noticed Optimum’s little promotional booklet of their other films — and was surprised to find Malcolm Tucker:

Tucker

Welcome to Annexia, Malcolm.

Like all Cronenberg films Naked Lunch was scored by Howard Shore — and I’m torn between it and his score for Crash as my all-time favourite.

I could talk about Burrough’s own recordings, which include Dead City Radio, his readings for  Giorno Poetry Systems and the fantastic Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales (with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy). But I just found this recording of Frank Zappa reading “The Talking Asshole”:

Since I’m on youtube and in a Burroughs mood, here’s Bomb the Bass’s Bug Power Dust:

Did you get all of it? The lyrics are easier to hear on the downtempo mix from the K&D Sessions.

Anyway. I also found this fantastic Beastiemix of Root Down. It’s something like mix number 3728:

And talking about the Beastie Boys:

…yeah. These must be the symptoms of withdrawal from a substance that doesn’t really exist.

I’ve Seen A Version Of Bladerunner You People Wouldn’t Believe

I watched the Bladerunner Workprint last weekend. I was expecting something pretty rough and forgettable which I could have on in the background while I did other stuff, but it turned out to be engrossing.

<

p>Of course, it helps if you think Blade Runner is one of the greatest films ever made. The Workprint has

  • no happy ending
  • no Harrison Ford voiceover (except during the Tears in Rain scene)
  • no unicorn dream (which I have mixed feelings about)
  • the length of cuts differs
  • more violent
  • the language differs (fun fact: Batty calls Tyrell “father” in this version, but the word was changed to “fucker” for all releases until it was changed back in the Final Cut)
  • no end credits
  • the music is different — the final scenes with the extended Deckard/Batty chase don’t use Vangelis’ score, presumably because it hadn’t been finished. Instead there’s stock dramatic music. It changes the tone quite a bit:

(Workprint)

(Theatrical release)

Clearly for enthusiasts only, but I felt this version captures Scott’s original intent and the replicant’s emotions very well, and without the unicorn or the happy ending it’s the most ambiguous, and I like that. The workprint appears in the 5-disc “ultimate collectors edition”.

Ray Harryhausen, RIP

Ray Harryhausen passed away yesterday. Among his film credits are Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, as well as three Sinbad films.

Aside from his contribution to film special effects, Harryhausen should have a special place in the heart of any gamer. He’s responsible for the kraken, medusa, clockwork owls and swordfights with animated skeletons:

For me, his films were as formative as The Hobbit or the Narnia books. When I think of Runequest and its Bronze Age/Mythic Europe settings, I think of this. Harryhausen’s fight scenes were usually nice and sunny.

Rest in peace, dude.

Looper

I saw Looper yesterday. It was quite good.

Looper2

I say “quite good” because critics have gone apeshit over it, and I’m starting to wonder if I saw the same film. Angela Watercutter’s Wired review opines

“There are the moments where Looper truly excels at simultaneously being a sci-fi film, an action movie, and a thought-provoking drama”.

Peter Bradshaw calls it “very exciting and very confusing at the same time”. Henry Barnes calls it a “sharp, smart sci-fi thriller”. Total Film calls it “This Decades’ The Matrix“.

Philip French’s praise is faintly damning, ending with

“It’s one of those pictures that courts the adjective “thoughtful” but doesn’t stand up to much thinking about.”

For a spoiler free yet balanced view of the film, read this review: it pretty much sums up everthing I like and dislike.

Here’s what you can find out from the trailers: in the future time travel is illegal and used by organised crime to dispose of bodies by sending them back in time where they’re executed by a waiting assassin. Some times the older version of the assassin is sent back to be killed by himself. This is called “closing the loop”. Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fails to kill old Joe (Bruce Willis) when he’s sent back. Plot ensues.

The premise is fantastic, the direction is very good and there are a couple of scenes that are truly inspired; but I wouldn’t give it an unreserved recommendation. On the other hand it’s worth watching if only to debate on what standards it should be accountable to.

Now for some spoilers

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p>Wattercutter opens her review with “Here’s the problem with most time-travel movies: They’re about time travel.” She goes on to say “so many time-travel stories have been told that it’s hard to make a new one”.

The problem with Looper is that it promises to be a time-travel story. Its whole setup is worthy of Philip K Dick; yet when it’s approaches the really hard questions about determinism, causality and multiple timelines, it flinches. We’re told early on that every minute Old Joe runs around in the past is “bad” (as in paradox-bad), but there are no obvious consequences to anyone other than the victims of his murder spree. Early on the mob take great pains not to kill Seth for his transgression, implying that to do so would be “dangerous”; yet when Young Joe kills himself at the end of the film, there are no obvious consequences.

We know there are (at least) two timelines; they never come into conflict, simply existing as two “possible futures”; nevertheless Old Joe is certain that his future is the one that will come to pass, even after admitting that the time-travel is making his memories unreliable.

The biggest issue is The Rainmaker, who in the future has supposedly taken over all organised crime single handed, and is closing everyone’s loops. But at the end we learn that The Rainmaker is a ten year old boy with monstrous telekinetic powers. Suddenly the film is not about time-travel, it’s about psionics. I don’t mind being surprised like this but it draws a great deal of attention away from what little time travel plot there is, and mostly robs the viewer of the needed confrontation between Old and Young Joe. Not to mention the fact that the Rainmaker as a threat to looping isn’t very credible; he’s a blunt instrument. Throughout the film the Rainmaker is touted as a mastermind with a definite purpose to closing loops, but at the end that premise is all but abandoned.

Overall the film promises big and fails to deliver; halfway through the pace slows to a crawl, only to pick up in one of the incongruous scenes of violence.

For a deeper, equally spoilerific analysis of the ending, go here.

SCENG Theory

When I saw The Nine Lives Of Thomas Katz a few years ago there was a Q&A session afterwards with director Ben Hopkins. Several questions came from a rather emotional young man who’d clearly thought a lot more about the film in 90 minutes than Hopkins had when he was filming it.

“But… but… you must be making a point” he complained.

“If all I wanted was to make a point, I could have written it down on a piece of paper and given it to you in the street” Hopkins replied.

He went on to say that he didn’t feel he was obliged to make any point: he just wanted to make a bit of nonsense.

Just recently I hooked up with friends to play a bunch of games. I ran King Morris’ Feast, this time using Unisystem, and it worked very well indeed. We boardgamed, we talked and we drank. During the talking bit Admiral Frax made an interesting proposal – she challenged Ron Edwards’ GNS theory saying there are two other types – Emotionalism and Conversationalism.

My instinct (and apparently I’m not alone) was to argue that these are sub-classifications of Narrativism; Frax rejects that argument. The main problem I had, and also the key to Frax’ argument, is that Emotionalism and Conversationalism aren’t compelling goals for me in themselves – they come about as part of the narrative. But for Frax they are compelling goals – therefore they are distinct from narrative construction.

It made me think about Thomas Katz. Here the director had no goal to make “a point”, but he clearly wanted to make a film. The director’s goals were arguably not narrative, but they were conversationalist – the film being the sum total of interactions and events within.

The confusion with discussing GNS – sorry, SCENG theory (thanks, Mo) is seperating goal from tools. Any game can have a goal of creating a narrative but may use gamist, simulationist, conversationalist or emotionalist tools to achieve it. A conversation can arise due to narrative, and even emotion can arise as result of game elements (if the player is emotionally invested in the outcome of the game).

And I also realised something about myself. Gamist goals really don’t suit me any more. I’ve almost completely lost my taste for level grinding either in tabletop or video games. Gaming as a tool to generate narrative and emotion, certainly – but killing the monster and taking its treasure has never appealed.

Being a scientist I like neat little models which explain the universe, which is why I’m drawn to GNS theory. But models need to be challenged and adapted when they are shown to be incomplete – and I feel Frax has done this. Welcome to SCENG.

In Flight

These are pretty much all of the new films I’ve watched while travelling this year. Here are my brief reviews. Some mild spoilers, but generally no more spoiling than what the films have already done to themselves.

In Time

Alternate In Time

Tries to be Philip K. Dick; ends up as Pralines and Dick. I expected better of Cillian Murphy. D

Drive

DRIVE

Slow, predictable, total lack of exciting car scenes. The Emperor’s New Motor. C-

Immortals

Immortals poster

Excellent, if you like looking at the same CGI cliff face over and over again. B-

Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses

Could have been a really funny, sharp take on Strangers On A Train; spoiled by crude/misogynistic bits. B

Spiderman 3

Spider Man 3 International Poster

Nobody captures the depressing, miserable existence of a superhero like Toby Maguire. B

Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides

On Stranger Tides Poster

Exactly what you would expect from a franchise that’s three movies too long. Better ending than the last 2 films though. B-

Chronicle

Chronicle movie poster 540x404

Kids get superpowers, documented in the style of Cloverfield. Predictable conclusion, but engrossing. A-

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Mission Impossible 4 poster

Aka Shaun of the Spooks. Run of the mill plot with some spectacular scenes. But, this movie has spoilers in its own credit sequence so it can fuck right off. B

Jeff Who Lives At Home

Jeff who lives at home poster

Oh, we love dysfunctional family comedy-drama, don’t we. Actually pretty funny, and doesn’t outstay its welcome. A-

Man On A Ledge

Man on a ledge poster

Dumb heist movie that loses any interest it held once the weakly concealed plot is revealed. And Jamie Bell could have worn the shiny catsuit; the director just wanted to show Genesis Rodriguez in her pants. C-

John Carter

John carter movie poster 3

Mediocre plot, unremarkable acting partially redeemed by animation and flying ships. B-

The Woman In Black

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p>Woman in black

Distrustful locals, spooky noises, fatal accidents with children. Repeat until dead. B-

Prometheus

How excited was I to hear Ridley Scott was directing Prometheus?

Prometheus

Scott has been (almost) my favourite director since I saw The Duellists on Alex Cox’s Moviedrome. I keep hoping that he’ll do something to equal his last decent film, Thelma & Louise. I don’t know whether it’s poor choices with the script, excessive cutting in fight scenes or just an unhealthy association with Russell Crowe but I don’t think he’s made anything worthwhile since.

In the case of Prometheus my expectations weren’t high, but even those weren’t met. The direction is gorgeous but the script stinks, which I would have figured if I’d realised who’d written it before I watched the film. Half of the writing team is Damon Lindelof whose credits include Lost (I don’t have a lot of respect for a series that can be summarised in 8 minutes).

This is a rant rather than a review, and it contains some spoilers. If you don’t want to be spoiled I recommend the review in The Independent – not Geoffrey MacNab’s inexplicable review (which gives the film four stars despite calling the film “anti-climactic”) but the short round-up from Nicholas Barber, who summarises it all nicely:

if Alien was intended as a spooky little horror movie, only for it to turn out to be a visionary classic, Prometheus gets things the other way round.

Here Be Spoilers

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p>The problem with Prometheus is it’s trying to be worthy, hard-science sci-fi that tackles the questions sci-fi tackles – like what it means to be human. At the same time it’s trying to cater to the lowest common denominator of viewer, providing 3D thrills, explosions, and monsters. All this while trying to be true to the visual and thematic legacy of Alien.

In Alien the cast’s competencies were based on their job flying the space tug-boat Nostromo. They were hopelessly unprepared for what was being done to them – being duped into picking up a dangerous xenomorph – and acted according to available information and their abilities. Eventually the answers for the alien’s origin came from their android traitor, who told them that the Weyland-Yutani corp knew all about the monster and wanted it as a weapon. There was no need to go into how the company knew about it or what they were going to do with it. All that mattered was the present.

Prometheus is a bunch of pretentious plot ideas clumsily thrown together with no thought to coherence or closure (like Lost). Characters don’t behave believably, competencies are not used logically – either by the characters or by the scriptwriters. The cast are a mixture of scientists and spaceship crew, with the (yawn) corporate oversight character. Yet none of the scientific explanations for their situation come from the scientists – instead they’re the first to be killed in unnecessarily gory ways that far exceed Alien. The best we get is a theory from Idris Elba’s nonchalant Captain that this isn’t the Engineers’ homeworld, it’s a military installation full of biological weapons – and the Engineers plan to send their spaceship back to earth to destroy all the life they created having changed their fucking minds.

This theory suddenly becomes accepted wisdom by cast and creators, as the one opportunity to communicate with the Engineer race ends with violence, murder, and the traitor android getting its head ripped off. Oh, deja vu.

Ian Holm Ash Alien

If this planet were not the Engineers’ homeworld, why do the ancient star maps all point to it? Why would the gigantic aliens draw a primitive culture’s attention to a biological weapons dump in space, and communicate it clearly enough to humans that ancient civilisations with no properly evolved language could paint it on cave walls?

As for the rest of the plot – it represents a number of missed opportunities. Android Traitor David is clearly wrestling with the same why-am-I-created question that the scientists are trying to answer, yet his actions are sociopathic. Like Ian Holm’s original Android Traitor Ash he’s at the beck and call of his master, but his mission lacks clarity of purpose. Weyland (Guy Pearce), the hidden master of AT David is an irrelevance.

The final insult is that this film pretends to be a prequel to Alien, even placing the ruined alien ship ready to be rediscovered by the hapless crew of the Nostromo, yet there are visual inconsistencies with the original film – no-one in the pilot’s chair, for example. The corridors in the new Engineer ship are far smaller than those discovered in Alien. And the ending, with a fully-formed Alien bursting out of the dead Engineer’s chest is the worst kind of pandering to the Alien franchise.

Like Lost, this film promises a lot early on – but at some point the writers realise they’ve bitten off more than they can chew and resort to the usual tropes, ignoring continuity and even the plots they thought of at the start. This is straight-to-DVD material that somehow got a big screen airing.

The Shared Experience

Tonight we went to see The Hunger Games:

HungerGames

Utterly predictable, far too long to get to the killing (most of which happened off screen), a lot of wasted plot opportunities and fairly uninventive murdering. I can’t think of a single point where the protagonist has to make a moral choice – and at no point is she forced to take an innocent life for her own survival, or made to feel conflicted in her participation. Good soundtrack, though.

Battle Royale with Cheese

The first cinema (the Vue) declined to show the film despite it being listed on Monday night. I guess they didn’t have enough pre-sold tickets.

The Odeon did show the film after an interminable period of targeted ads for zit cream and a “live” NKOTBSB concert. There was a brief intermission when they showed a “red carpet” feature sponsored by M&Ms with banal soundbite interviews from the cast, interspersed with footage from the film. What this was supposed to serve I have no idea. They had my £9.20 plus ice-cream money, so I wasn’t exactly a hard-sell.

After that (which nicely spoiled me for the best scenes in the film) we suffered more ads, followed by the inevitable Orange “turn off your phone” skit and a final anti-piracy message.

This message consisted of an empty, dusty cinema, signifying the “end of the shared experience”, the result of (you guessed it) piracy.

No, people are not avoiding the cinema because of piracy. They are avoiding it because they can do better than spend over the odds for weird-shaped seats and overpriced food and having to sit through 40 mins of ads before they get to see the feature they paid for.

Cinema is dying? Good. Fuck you, Odeon.