The Old Guard

The cast of The Old Guard in a group shot

 

Dark hair, dark shades, dark clothes, it’s Badass Charlize Theron who turns out for The Old Guard, a superhero adventure kind of thing with a mournful air and an eye on a franchise.

There are four distinct Therons – the actor (Monster, In the Valley of Elah), the babe (Gringo, The Devil’s Advocate), the snark (Young Adult, Tully) and the buttkicker (Aeon Flux, Atomic Blonde). She’s good at them all but it’s the last in that list that we get here. Though at 45 Charlize isn’t bouncing out of the helicopters the way she once did. But if Tom Cruise can do it… and he’s 13 years older.

Theron plays androgynously named “Andy”, head of what looks like an A Team sort of outfit who go into impossible situations and sort shit out. But Andy, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) aren’t quite the people we at first think they are, and it’s not too much of a spoiler to reveal that Andy’s full name is Andromache the Scythian, that she is hundreds if not thousands of years old and that she’s the leader of a crack team of fellow immortals.

Not too much of a spoiler because all the publicity says as much and the film reveals the immortals’ true identity about 15 minutes in, after they get shot to ribbons in an ambush – set up by the shady Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is working for even shadier Big Pharma king Merrick (Harry Melling) – and bounce straight back to life.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, a boots-on-the-ground soldier (KiKi Layne) is realising that she’s unusual too, having had her throat cut and died, only to bounce back to life, fully healed. A new recruit!

 

Harry Melling as bad guy Merrick
Harry Melling as bad guy Merrick

 

The fact that Nile (Layne) is a black woman and seems to have been soldiering in a war zone with an all-female squad isn’t that important to the plot. Nor is the fact that two of Andy’s crew, Joe and Nicky, are gay lovers who have been together for hundreds of years. And nor, very much, is the detail that the immortals are a rationalist, humanist outfit of progressive trans-generational do-gooders. In fact none of these things make no difference to the plot at all, but it does suggest that writers Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez are aiming The Old Guard at a particular audience, one that probably doesn’t wear a red MAGA baseball cap.

In a Bond villain role, Harry Melling (once upon a time Harry Potter’s awful cousin Dudley Dursley) manages to sculpt out a bit of space as the pharma boss who wants the immortals’ DNA for his own nefarious purposes, managing to make Merrick the sort of guy you can imagine indulging in revenge porn when he’s not being a tech titan.

It is in some respects a very familiar superhero film – check anything by Marvel in the last 15 years – but the immortality angle adds something, because there’s a bittersweetness about living for ever that’s amplified when it turns out that perhaps nothing is for ever.

As action movies go, this sombre undertone both adds something extra to The Old Guard and saddles it with a buzz-kill vibe. That ambivalence extends to the role of Nile. How far to push her into the limelight is something that neither the writers nor director Gina Prince-Bythewood have answered to anyone’s satisfaction, especially KiKi Layne’s. And as it eventually becomes clear that this is a franchise opener, so it also becomes obvious that no matter how enjoyable this actioner is, there’s little chance it’s going to make it to a second instalment. Netflix say it will so it’s a case of place your bets.

 

 

The Old Guard – Buy the graphic novels the film is based on at Amazon

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

 

 

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 17 – The Girl from Auntie

Liz Fraser, Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg on set

 

The Girl from Auntie this episode is called, a nod to The Man from Uncle, which had debuted about six months earlier on US TV and become an instant hit with its sexy spies, gadgets, 007 goofery and strong sense of the ridiculous, having clearly drunk from the same well as The Avengers.

 

All that said, sadly this is not a great episode, though it is stuffed with good things. It’s also not particularly heavy on Emma Peel, who was perhaps off talking to the Bond people – Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore having made waves – or just enjoying a bit of a break when the episode was in production.

 

She turns up in the opening scene, in a bikini, then again towards the end. In between, the female sidekick role is taken by Liz Fraser, a familiar 1960s face who specialised in dizzy blondes and doesn’t disappoint as a character whose mouth is in motion at almost all times.

 

The plot: someone (Fraser) is impersonating Emma Peel. Why? Something to do with the forgery of famous paintings, which are stolen and the forgery inserted in their place, so no one’s the wiser. Why is someone impersonating Emma Peel, though? Coughs, mumbles, hurriedly moves on.

 

It’s a double-act affair, Steed and Georgie Price-Jones (Fraser) moving from one locale to the next, just in time to find another crop of dead bodies (big body count in this episode), always one step behind a mysterious, hypodermic-wielding old lady on a bike. Is this Auntie? Oh, it might be, though Alfred Burke also turns up later in the proceedings as someone called Gregorie Auntie, though he’s obviously not a “girl”, so lethal biddy it probably is. And her name is Aunt Hetty, so…

 

Murderous Aunt Hetty
Best avoided: hypodermic-wielding Aunt Hetty

 

But before we meet Gregorie Auntie and the people behind dodgy business Art Incorporated, we meet the occupants of the business next door, Arkwright’s Knitting. This is an outfit that teaches knitting and, as played by Bernard Cribbins, is run by a man with a wrist surely too limp to keep a pair of needles in productive action.

 

Roger Marshall’s script is full of in-jokes and running gags (the taxi driver having a lot of fun both with Steed and the various bits of sporting gear Steed keeps loading into his car), Laurie Johnson’s score this time out is more in Randall and Hopkirk (aka My Partner the Ghost in the US) jangly harpsichord territory and Roy Ward Baker’s direction is brisk and tries to keep an overstuffed screenplay moving, which he manages.

 

Why is Mrs Peel in a bikini early on and in a near-invisible (on 405 lines 1960s monochrome TV for sure) body stocking later on, making her appear naked? Salacious sexism is the only answer that can really be offered, and there is a clear tendency in this episode to treat women as chattels and objects of fun (whether meekly riding bicycles or sitting in knitting circles), not an accusation you’d usually level at a series that has championed smart independent women from the off.

 

Like I say, good stuff is in here – Fraser, Burke and Cribbins are all fun, there’s a distinct Swinging London vibe (look out for the John, Paul, George and Fred joke) and I really enjoyed watching Steed and Peel exiting the show in a Messerschmitt bubble car, one of the more idiosyncratic vehicles of the era.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monster

Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

9 October

 

 

Aileen Wuornos executed, 2002

On this day in 2002, the serial killer Aileen Wuornos was killed by lethal injection in Florida. She had been found guilty on six counts of first degree murder. Her father, who she never met, was a schizophrenic who was convicted of sex crimes against children. Aileen’s mother abandoned her and her brother, leaving them to be brought up by her grandfather. Which sounds cosy until we learn that at 13 Aileen was pregnant after having been raped by one of her grandfather’s friends. At 15 she was homeless, and started earning a living as a prostitute. At 20 she was married to a 69-year-old president of the yacht club, who ended up taking out a restraining order against her on account of her rowdy behaviour. The marriage lasted nine weeks. Over the next ten years Aileen was arrested for armed robbery, imprisoned and involved in numerous minor offences. At 30 she met Tyria Moore in a gay bar and together the couple set up home. Shortly after this time Wuornos embarked on her killing spree.

 

 

Monster (2003, dir: Patty Jenkins)

Nick Broomfield made two documentaries about Aileen Wuornos (The Selling of a Serial Killer and Life and Death of a Serial Killer), the first of which had surely been seen by Charlize Theron, who plays Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’s sensitive biopic which doesn’t seek to condone but to explain. It’s an interesting choice of film for an actress who fits the “drop dead gorgeous” category. Oscar-bait, if you’re being cynical. And sure enough, Oscar complied, though Oscars have been handed out for far less dramatic transformations than Theron’s. Playing Wuornos as a woman who probably didn’t have a hope in hell of leading a normal life, whose essential good looks had been blown off her face by bad choices and bad liquor, Theron plugs into a character of awful hopelessness. Rarely has a serial killer been portrayed with so much sympathy – the unspoken notion being that she has fallen from the pedestal on which all women are placed. Though Wuornos’s deeds are not airbrushed away, nor her victims dismissed as guys who deserved to die because they’d paid for sex. Christina Ricci is the other revelation here, playing a subordinate role below her pay grade, as the dim bulb whom Wuornos picks up and falls for, a creature almost as damaged as she is – together they’re going to start a new life, something approaching normality. But given that Wuornos is all over the place (and check out Broomfield’s documentaries to see how brilliantly Theron captures this) the two of them don’t stand a chance. Nor, sadly, did the guys who ended up pumped full of bullets.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Theron’s Oscar-winning, and Oscar-worthy, performance
  • To compare and contrast with the real Wuornos in Nick Broomfield’s documentaries
  • Monster resists the urge to make Wuornos some feminist icon, or a female Hannibal Lecter
  • It took a whole team of make-up people to make Theron look like that

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Monster – at Amazon