Talking Movies

September 16, 2019

Ad Astra

Brad Pitt follows his comeback turn in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood with another stoic and very capable character housed in a curate’s egg.

Pitt is Roy McBridge, son of legendary lost astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). Roy is renowned for having a preternaturally low pulse rate, never above 80, even in a crisis; such as at the start where he falls to earth off an atmosphere-scraping antennae following ‘The Surge’. He simply waits to stop spinning, then deploys his parachute; no point getting het up about it. The Surge killed 43,000 people but, it transpires, is only the beginning. It was caused by a wave of anti-matter attacking the planet as it courses across the solar system, growing in power as it travels from its origin off Neptune. Which as John Finn and John Ortiz’s brass inform Roy is where Project Lima is, and where they believe Clifford is alive and well and liable to end all life unless dissuaded by Roy.

It’s a minor miracle that neither Finn nor Ortiz instructs Roy to terminate Clifford’s command, with extreme prejudice. Because this is a film in thrall to Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad; Clifford’s out there operating without any decent restraint, and the journey to save or end him will be psychological as much as physical. Donald Sutherland’s mentor Colonel Pruitt and Ruth Negga’s enigmatic Martian pop up for an allotted span of time much like characters in Apocalypse Now, as Roy travels from vignette to vignette on his quest. There’s an unlikely action sequence on the surface of the Moon as this dystopian future paints the orb wracked by conflict between competing miners and pirates preying on their divisions. A tense sequence responding to an SOS while en route to Mars might as well proclaim “Never get out of the boat”.

But as Roy suffers thru regret for his failed marriage to Liv Tyler and resentment at his father, the Conradian nature of things unravels. Director and co-writer James Gray splices in flashback imagery to show Roy hallucinating, but Ad Astra never gets hallucinatory. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema may be onboard but there is nothing as trippy as Interstellar’s closing chapter even as we orbit Neptune, while Max Richter’s music makes less of an impact here than a sampling of his work on Arrival. Tyler and Jones are unsatisfactorily used, and the pay-off for everything in character terms is as unsatisfying as the emotionally false moment with the medallion at the end of Super 8. Pitt is on good form, but Gray has delivered a film whose excellent special effects belie a preponderance of pomposity over actual insight or a point.

Ad Astra is engaging, but not nearly as intelligent as it so clearly believes itself to be and, as Hunter S Thompson would lament, it never gets weird enough.

3/5

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Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 3:07 pm

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September 15, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 8:20 pm

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Notes on Extra Ordinary

Filed under: Talking Movies,Talking Radio — Fergal Casey @ 8:19 pm

Irish comedy-horror Extra Ordinary (sic) was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Extra Ordinary left me feeling unmoored in time and space. Everybody seems to be using Nokia phones from at least fifteen years ago without mentioning that this is not set now. And while initial aerial shots of flat fields and peat bogs seem to locate us in the Midlands as the film goes on more and more the accents bend towards Cork. At least something was easy to grab hold of with both hands: the ‘twist’. Will Forte, playing a mockery of Chris De Burgh as ‘Cosmic Woman’ one-hit wonder Christian Winter, decides to make a deal with the devil. But he must make a sacrifice. When his abrasive girlfriend (Claudia O’Doherty) explodes their intended sacrifice, he must find another pronto. And his triumphant moment of villainy early in the film has a note of ambiguity which I noted unambiguously, hoped it wasn’t going to be a ‘twist’, and then an hour later was hit over the head with as the twist. Rarely has the pay-off of a plant annoyed me so much. And not only that but how this twist was then resolved.

Forte paints in the broadest of brush strokes, as does O’Doherty, while Jimmy’s Hall star Barry Ward as the posthumously henpecked Martin Martin takes full advantage of showing off his range as he is possessed by a range of ghosts including his dead wife Bonnie. Also a presence from beyond the grave, via a preposterous VHS series on ‘The Talents’ (think the Shining) is a glorious Risteard Cooper as a pompous 1980s paranormalist. Against all this madness Maeve Higgins’ driving instructor Rose ends up being the straight man, grounding the film so that everyone else can go over the top. There are some wonderful conceits in the film (Forte’s business with gloves, a high-stakes chase at a very low speed), and Frank cinematographer James Mather makes the film look better than it has any right to be. And yet for all that I did not like it. I can see that there is much good in it, but the increasing gore and ludicrousness saw me zoning further and further out.

Listen here:

September 10, 2019

From the Archives: Top 10 College Movies

Another deep dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives dredges this up editorially requested piece from September 2007.

10 Chariots of Fire

People forget the importance of Cambridge in this film where future Olympian Harold Abrahams first silences anti-Semitic prejudice by doing the impossible; hurtling around the tight corners of the Trinity Quad in a 60 second sprint, as judged by the pealing of the clock tower.

9 Revenge of the Nerds

A key 1980s college movie Revenge of the Nerds had a joyously simple premise. Nerds go to college. Jocks kick nerds out of their house. Nerds fight back. Hilarity ensues.

8 Love Story

For any of you starting college as hopeless romantics it’s time to get real. The only relationship this preposterously successful 1970 Harvard romance will have to your experience is as perfect ironic viewing for a DVD night. All together now, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.

7 Wonder Boys

Wonderfully offbeat whimsy about a Pittsburgh English Professor (Michael Douglas) who, for various reasons, is forced to deal with three different romantic entanglements, a dead dog and a depressed student (Tobey Maguire) who may be faking his woes just to have an excuse to hang out with him…

6 Starter for Ten

This far more realistic 2006 bittersweet British comedy sees awkward student James McAvoy torn between an upper class hottie and a working class activist in Thatcher’s Britain and trying to impress both by, of all things, getting a place on Bristol University’s team for University Challenge.

5 Old School

The film that finally made Will Ferrell a star sees Ferrell, Vince Vaughan and Luke Wilson start an off-campus frat house in an attempt to recapture their youth. Will Ferrell’s ‘perfect response’ in a debate they must win to avoid being evicted is a thing of genius.

4 Back to School

The film Old School wants to be sees millionaire Rodney Dangerfield start college to help out his flunking son. Watch out for the hilarious continuity humour of the celebrated diving scene where a sexagenarian Dangerfield (and a muscle bound stunt double) perform the Triple Lindy move.

3 Real Genius

Val Kilmer headlines a group of students studying physics in the pressure cooker environment of a college that is not MIT (tedious legal reasons…). The scene where Kilmer uses slices of frozen nitrogen as change for vending machines should be shown in Irish schools to promote chemistry.

2 Animal House

Nevermind the ‘plot’, just know that this film was the best cinematic showcase for John Belushi’s great comedic talent. If you are in college and you haven’t seen this madcap comedy then there is something wrong with you. Three words best describe Animal House: Toga! Toga! Toga!

1 Rules of Attraction

Over a semester at fictional Camden College an impossibly pretty bisexual love triangle plays out between James Van Deer Beek (Sean Bateman), Shannyn Sossamon (Lauren) and Ian Somerhalder (Paul) as the shadow of AIDS looms over the general debauchery. Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary adapts Bret Easton Ellis’ nihilistic novel about Patrick Bateman’s brother to be shocking, romantic and hilarious.

Best Teacher

Donald Sutherland in Animal House. Who can resist his response to the utter boredom of his English class especially the indignant howl of the last two lines: “Don’t write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring too. He’s a little bit long-winded, he doesn’t translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible. [Bell rings, students leave] But that doesn’t relieve you of your responsibility for this material. Now I’m waiting for reports from some of you… Listen, I’m not joking. This is my job!”.

Best Preparation for College

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ferris is just helping out Cameron: “He has a lot of issues to work thru before he finishes High School. He can’t go to college wound this tight. His roommate will kill him!”

Best College

Barnett College. Don’t remember it? It’s where Indiana Jones taught archaeology in The Last Crusade. Now that’s a faculty and a half.

How Not to Apply to College

Orange County. This 2002 cult comedy sees Colin Hanks embark on a quest to convince Orange County University to admit him after his school accidentally sends the wrong transcripts.

Made in the USA, for Export to China

I’ve been mooching around the notion of writing a piece about the impact of China on Hollywood for long enough, here are some speculative musings.

Bret Easton Ellis on his Podcast some years back observed that gay characters were being quietly pushed out of blockbusters, and places reserved for them in cheaper movies intended as domestic fare only, and generally they could rampage around television. I’ve noted that in passing in a review of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and a piece on Independence Day: Resurgence. The latter was particularly telling because Roland Emmerich had penned Harvey Fierstein’s role in 1996’s Independence Day, which was exactly the kind of character Ellis had observed was disappearing. But while Emmerich made Brent Spiner’s character gay, the gay couple could still pretend to just be good friends, while Emmerich laughed up his sleeve at the Chinese censor not understanding that male friends do not call each other baby. Also laughing up their sleeve that summer were Simon Pegg and Justin Lin when they made Star Trek Beyond’s Sulu gay, but in a similarly nod and wink fashion.

But these nods and winks are necessary because the American studios live in terror of locking themselves out of the Chinese market. Transformers: Dark of the Moon made 69% of its money overseas, so Michael Bay is now purveying American bombast to a non-American audience; which is quite something. But that creates a weird feedback loop. People in America don’t go see Transformers: Age of Extinction, and they’re sublimely irritated by its very existence because they didn’t go see Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Then Transformers: The Last Knight rolls along, on the back of international revenue (especially Chinese revenue as Transformers: Age of Extinction pandered so extensively to the market), and they howl in anguish that Hollywood is making terrible films, and they go on strike from seeing anything at all… And so Hollywood continues to be immensely profitable, but possibly at the cost of alienating its home market, so that American cinema becomes an export-led industry.

After all, James Gray said on the Bret Easton Ellis podcast that the removal of the 40 million dollar film from the equation has removed Hollywood from the conversation around water-coolers; that’s now been taken over by TV shows like Game of Thrones. The habit of paying money on Saturday night to go sit in a theatre and watch Jimmy Stewart, as he put it, has been lost.

September 8, 2019

Notes on IT: Chapter Two

The epic horror adaptation IT: Chapter Two was the film of the week earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

IT: Chapter Two is looooong. 2 hours 49 minutes long. It takes damn near as long to tell half the Stephen King story as the 1990 mini-series did to tell the whole story. And while there are undeniably good scares and some sequences of genuine dread, I came away with a feeling of dis-satisfaction; feeling that somehow the 1990 mini-series had done more in less time than this bloated shocker. Honest Trailers mocked the TV network censorship of the mini-series, and yet the almost parodic plethora of F-bombs masquerading as considered dialogue in this movie make you yearn for Taste & Decency. The practical effects of the Chinese restaurant scene are predictably swapped out for CGI, which of course isn’t nearly as effective a gross-out; and indeed the CGI gets so out of control that by the end we are confronted with the great cliche of our times – the giant swirling trashcan in the sky. I was always dubious about abandoning King’s structure to have a Losers Club as kids movie, and then a sequel if it went well, rather than the two-parter Cary Fukunaga intended which would flesh out King’s story with more detail and more gore.

Listen here:

The Roaring Twenties

Filed under: Talking Books,Talking Movies,Talking Music,Talking Politics — Fergal Casey @ 2:14 pm

Some time back I speculated that this decade, the censorious Tens, would have to give way to, indeed would provoke, something rather different. I didn’t have in mind an exact historical re-run of the 1920s but now I find we are mere months away from the ever-moving marker of centenaries crossing into the Roaring Twenties. Which it must be said were roaring for the USA, but not quite as much fun for the rest of the world…

The next five years will see the centenaries of:

 

British forces massacaring civilians attending a football match in Croke Park

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari being released

F Scott Fitzgerald publishing The Great Gatsby

Edith Wharton publishing The Age of Innocence

DH Lawrence publishing Women in Love

Sinclair Lewis publishing Main Street

The USA introducing Prohibition

 

The Anglo-Irish Treaty being signed

The Kid being released

The Sheik being released

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse being released

 

The Civil War beginning

The destruction of records and archives at the Four Courts

Michael Collins being assassinated

Nosferatu being released

James Joyce publishing Ulysses

F Scott Fitzgerald publishing The Beautiful and the Damned

TS Eliot publishing The Waste Land

 

The Civil War ending

WB Yeats winning the Nobel Prize for Literature

Shadow of the Gunman being staged at the Abbey

PG Wodehouse publishing The Inimitable Jeeves

Safety Last! being released

The Charleston dance craze sweeping the world

The Bauhaus School moving to its signature building in Dessau

Adolf Hitler staging Beer Hall Putsch in Munich during Weimar hyperinflation

 

Juno and the Paycock being staged at the Abbey

Sherlock Jr. being released

EM Forster publishing A Passage to India

Thomas Mann publishing The Magic Mountain

George Gershwin composing Rhapsody in Blue

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 1:50 pm

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From the Archives: Year of the Dog

Digging in the pre-Talking Movies archives throws up this forgotten tale of lonely office worker Peggy (Shannon); devastated when her dog dies, but her life changes when a vet (Sarsgaard) offers her a dog to adopt.

Mike White is a gifted comedy writer. He has penned School of Rock, Orange County and Nacho Libre as well as the more serious dramedies The Good Girl and Chuck & Buck. So when you hear that he’s assembled an interesting cast for his directorial debut your expectations get raised ever so slightly. Which is what makes Year of the Dog such a terrible let down. Things start off promisingly enough as we’re shown the empty life of office worker Peggy (Molly Shannon) whose best friend is really her dog Pencil, who promptly dies of toxic poisoning leaving Peggy distraught. But that unexpected emotional punch makes it obvious that we have been sold a pup by the misleading trailer. Peter Sarsgaard arrives as the big romantic lead…and announces he’s celibate owing to the trauma of childhood abuse. That’s a good summary for how far this film is from the advertised sweet romantic triangle between Peggy (Shannon), Al (John C Reilly) and Newt (Sarsgaard); dog lovers all.

White’s script infuriatingly introduces a host of horrible people who could be the stuff of comedy and then refuses to do anything funny with any of them. John C Reilly dunders around as the loutish next door neighbour but then disappears. Laura Dern makes your skin crawl as Peggy’s sister-in-law who treats her children as if she’d read Howard Hughes’ guide to parenting but is given little screen-time. Regina King (Layla) is given the joyfully offensive line; “I believe there is someone in this world for everyone, even retarded cripple people get married”; but precious little else to flesh out Peggy’s best friend. All of these characters are thrown away in favour of focusing on Peggy’s journey towards becoming a vegan, or a nutjob which is how she turns out, which is ironic given that writer/director White is a vegan.

It’s hard to watch someone betray their family and friends, commit cheque fraud, lose their job as a result and adopt 15 dogs from the city pound and accept it as a spiritual epiphany. White lamentably falls into the Hollywood cliché where the mechanics of what happens next is conveniently never explained. If she’s unemployed, and for a reason that makes her unemployable, where does Peggy get the money to pay her rent let alone her dog food bills? It’s hard not to think these are really the first steps to homelessness, which is a disquieting thought when you’re meant to be cheering along Peggy the newly minted animal rights activist. Year of the Dog ends up in the nightmare pitfall of dramedy where there’s enough sweetness to keep you watching in the hope of a joke popping up again fairly soon (which it probably won’t) but not enough dramatic meat to make you believe in these characters as real people. A dog of a debut…

1/5

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