and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) is not the presence and performance of The Rock, who is, as pretty much always, the main attraction of a film you can’t quite believe you’re paying to see (though more on this below), nor is it the absence of Robin Williams, who just as often was really fucking irritating, even more so than Jack Black, who here is surprisingly – and thankfully – kept largely in check, nor is it the interesting spectacle of the excellent Karen Gillan, who insists on wearing a coat, playing a three-dimensional rendition of a two-dimensional avatar who nonetheless much more closely resembles an actual character than the one she gets to play in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (even if Jake Kasdan and his chums were too lazy to choreograph ‘dance fighting’, one of her ‘strengths’, reducing it instead to ‘dancing then fighting’), nor was it waving my debit card too close to the machine just as they were changing the seat reservations for us, thus locking the system in a loop that meant they had to reboot it, which meant we would miss the start of the movie, which meant they instead waved us in without us actually having to pay, no, the best thing about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the opportunity to see the reproduction of dominant ideology engineered with such precision, transforming Judith Butler’s arguments about the performativity of gender into tips on how to pick up guys, and throwing two actors of colour centre stage so as to pretend the colonial imagery and ideology underpinning it all has disappeared or is somehow magically no longer racist, cos seriously guys you really do need more than a little Hart and a big Johnson…
and so anyway it turns out the best thing about Thor: Ragnarok (2017) was not the automatic ticket machines being out of action so we had to queue up at the box office to collect tickets we’d already paid for, nor was it the cinema’s decision to start a screening of Justice League (Snyder 2017) at roughly the same time so we had to queue among even bigger idiots doomed to even greater disappointment than me, nor was it the curiously Oirish-sounding music on the soundtrack every time the story took us to Norway, nor was it Tom Hiddleston’s always amusing inability to actually deliver lines of dialogue, which this time faced some tough competition from an oddly Americanised Frumious Bandersnatch, nor was it Karl Urban’s rather baffling but spot-on London cabbie accent, though it probably helped make Idris Elba feel at home during the two or three days he was on set, nor was it Marvel/Disney’s cunning ploy of bringing in the always vastly overrated mildly funny Taika Waititi to imbue an otherwise plodding-but-not-quite-as-plodding-as-usual late franchise entry with some mild and vastly overrated funniness, as well as to pay homage to Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon (1980) while generating the shifts in tone necessary to clumsily staple the main franchise universe to the version in Guardians of the Galaxy movies, nor was it the disappointing absence of the Rock (Thor: RagnaROCK!!!!) whose trailered Jumanji just looks better and better in comparison, while still looking terrible, you understand, no, the best thing about Thor: Ragnarok is perhaps almost the most ignominious, in that it fulfilled a long-held shamefully festive and object-cathecting fantasy, that is, to see Cate Blanchett play Servalan in panto….
and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about San Andreas (2015) is the way Rock has to cope with losing one daughter in a rafting/drowning incident, with losing his wife to cowardly millionaire architect scumbag Reed Richards, with his other daughter getting lost in an earthquake-hit San Francisco and hooking up with Constable Hugh and drowning and coming back from the dead, and with having to navigate in various vehicles through a devastated California and through every cliché in The Boys’ Great Big Bumper Book of Clichés, and yet – like the San Andreas fault responding to the mere presence of California – he just shakes it off, shakes it off…
From Bailiwick: Bristol’s Independent Listings Magazine
Jason Wyngarde talks to playwright Peter King about filming, feminism – and working with Ray Harryhausen
Local playwright and university lecturer Peter King is just back from Hollywood, where stop-motion animation legend Ray Harryhausen is putting the finishing touches to an adaptation of his play, Consciousness Rising.
‘Being home is disorientating,’ King explains, ‘because Los Angeles is so weird.’ His plane only landed this morning and he is feeling rather dishevelled. ‘Half the time you’re astonished the people talking to you can look you in the eye; the rest of the time you’re surrounded by talented, hard-working folks whose names appear so far down the credits not even their mums stick around to see them. And LA’s so familiar from films and TV that you constantly have these moments of epiphany. I was in a bookstore on Venice Beach and I suddenly realised, “My god, this is exactly where the Rock stood in Southland Tales!”’ He laughs. ‘I’m not going to convince anyone that that was an epiphany, am I? I won’t tell the story about traipsing around the Westin Bonaventure, trying to find the spot where Gil Gerard stood in Buck Rogers…’
The question everyone’s asking, though, is not about LA but about how he got to work with Harryhausen. ‘Ray’s amazing. He’s been doing this for seventy years and he still loves it. His stuff is an indelible part of my childhood. The sword-fighting skeletons, of course, like everyone else. And I really loved the octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea – the effects budget was so tight on
that movie it only has six tentacles. Ray was doing a talk about his work at the Watershed, and we just kind of started chatting. He was visiting Aardman animation while he was in town because he was thinking about coming out of retirement one last time and he really, really wanted to do a film in claymation. Something different, something focused on human interactions, and when I mentioned Consciousness Rising – which he’d actually heard of, from a granddaughter, I think – he asked to see a copy of the script. Serendipity. Nothing in life is ever that easy.’
‘Well, we also had amazing luck with the voice cast. I had this list in my head of actresses who could play each of the characters, and we got all my first choices: Isabel Adjani, Holly Hunter, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sarah Polley. There were two minor male characters we added for the film, only a few lines each, but Holly got us John Goodman, and Sarah and Jennifer picked on Don McKellar until he joined in. They all turned down scale, which was all we could afford, for a cut of the box-office, so really they worked for free because they believed in the movie, thought it was important. And once we had those names – along with Harryhausen and Aardman – the financing came together almost overnight.’
The film represents quite a departure for Harryhausen, and not just in the style of animation. ‘Well, it does have a fantasy premise of sorts, but yes, it is basically four women sitting, talking and drinking coffee. No mythological beasts, giant apes, Venusian lizards. No dinosaurs.’
So what is it about?
‘I spent years working with students who thought feminism was just this kind of dreary, dungareed monolith, this thing that happened in the past and was over and done with now. I wanted to find other ways to open up its liveliness and diversity, and its relevance. I spent a year working on a novel about Simone de Beauvoir’s relationship with Nelson Algren, but that was really about learning to imaginatively invest in the material, to make it come alive. And then I saw this Russian film, Chetyre, at the Arnolfini. It has this fabulous opening section with four strangers meeting in a bar and idly talking to each other – and that’s when the whole play came to me in a flash. It takes some counterfactual juggling of biographies, but basically, sheltering from the rain one day, de Beauvoir (Adjani) runs into Mary McCarthy (Hunter), Betty Friedan (Leigh) and Helen Gurley Brown (Polley) in a New York hotel. You have these four amazing women: a French existentialist philosopher; an anti-Stalinist socialist writer and critic; the author of The Feminine Mystique and first president of the National Organization of Women; and the author of Sex and the Single Girl and editor of Cosmopolitan. Four women who don’t know each other, the younger two yet to make their marks, all of them feminists but in profoundly different ways. And in their conversation over coffee, their differences of opinion and their common ground emerges. Second-wave feminism coalesces. It’s like the first consciousness-raising session, hence the title.’
Consciousness Rising premiered at the Tobacco Factory to impressive reviews, and the production toured all around the world. ‘I had a great group of women to work with there, as well. I borrowed a trick from Peter Watkins and gave each of them a huge pile of stuff to read about the women they were playing, about the society and culture in which they grew up. And then we just kept on workshopping until we had transformed my rough script into a play. It’s why they get co-writing credits; there is so much in the play that would not have been there without them. For the film, there was a different kind of workshopping – basically me learning from smart and experienced people how to make this into a movie. We opened it up, added some blokes and a couple of musical daydream/fantasy sequences. It’s the same story, but also a whole other can of fish, kettle of worms, now. I saw an almost finished cut two days ago – no, wait, that was yesterday – and Ray had organised a real surprise for me. He only went and put Joseph Gordon-Levitt singing “Natural Woman” over the end credits!’
Kaffeeklatsch of the Titans opens in the spring.
It is not in 3D and does not star Sam Worthington.
This is the last of the old ‘by Jason Wyngarde’ pieces I will post here. It is all rather Mary Sue and doesn’t really work, but I have a fondness for it because when China Miéville posted a version on his old blog back in 2010 a whole bunch of people thought it was real. Go figure. (Actually one bit of it is sort of real only it happened differently. I saw Southland Tales weeks after being in the Venice Beach bookstore, but me and The Rock were both once in the same physical space, just sadly not at the same time, and I did get all excited about it. Same thing happened once with Cory McAbee, more or less, and a hotel in Perth.)