Talking Movies

March 30, 2014

Phantom RIP

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It’s been a strange experience listening to ‘105.2 FM’ for the past two weeks. It’s the strange afterlife of Phantom, before TX FM starts tomorrow…

“They’ve closed the chapel at Brideshead … the priest came in … and took out the altar stone … then he burned the wads of wool with the holy oil on them and threw the ash outside; he emptied the holy-water stoop and blew out the lamp in the sanctuary, and left the tabernacle open and empty, as though from now on it was always to be Good Friday … I stayed there till he was gone, and then, suddenly, there wasn’t any chapel there any more, just an oddly decorated room. I can’t tell you what it felt like.” – Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

There is, you see, an appropriate Brideshead quote for almost any occasion. It was a very odd feeling listening to the last hours of Phantom on Sunday the 16th of March, before this strange automated playlist ghost of a station took over, calling itself ‘105.2 FM’ not ‘Phantom 105.2’, and playing more Smiths and Pumpkins and Jeff Buckley in the daytime than we’ve been accustomed to. Having talked about the latest disastrous move by management as being ‘Phantom’s death rattle’ for years, it was unexpectedly moving to hear the actual death rattle as favourite DJs like Richie Ryan and Jack Hyland disappeared one by one. You see I’ve complained about it like nobody’s business over the last few years. I moaned about Michelle Doherty being moved off Finest Worksongs, I griped about John Caddell moving from Key Cuts to Finest Worksongs, I tiraded whenever they changed anything about Cinerama (and especially when they cancelled it), I mocked the decision to hire Vogue off of Fade Street as a DJ, I was outraged by the firing of founder Simon Maher, and, well, Joe & Keith, well, ’nuff said surely. But I was complaining because I was still listening – to the end.

I have spent hours sitting at my desk writing to the sound of Phantom blaring out of a farcically aged clock radio for many years. And I mean many years. I first discovered it as a pirate around this time of year in the months of frantic revision leading up to the Leaving Cert, and their later jingle ‘we’re the reason you own a radio’ rang quite true. I discovered Garbage and The Jam purely from listening to Phantom as a pirate. And when it was on legal hiatus the only shows worth listening to on official radio tended to be those presented by Phantom alumni (Jenny Huston, Dan Hegarty), because, well, what else was there to listen to out there? Especially in the desert of daytime radio… Phantom is the reason I listen to Metric and Death Cab for Cutie. It’s what finally made me appreciate LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire after years of resistance. TX FM’s playlist tomorrow may be similar but the gutting of Phantom removes my abiding affection and loyalty and makes tuning in a questionable decision. John Caddell said Phantom had made mistakes as a commercial station. Sure, but I thought of another quote:

“McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.
Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?” – Hunter S Thompson, Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72

Phantom RIP.

March 28, 2014

The Baz Aesthetic

THE GREAT GATSBY

I’ve considered myself a fan of Baz Luhrmann for a long time, but after Australia and The Great Gatsby, I’ve become sceptical that the ‘Red Curtain’ trilogy was really a deliberate trilogy – I think all of his films reveal the Baz Aesthetic; and it’s being imposed on increasingly unsuitable material.

Deleted scenes are often the most revealing features on DVDs. Baz Luhrmann deleted the scene in The Great Gatsby in which Jordan and Nick’s romance ends. He shot it as Nick taking the phone away from his ear, and hanging up on Jordan. Because in the book it says Jordan’s voice faded away and then they weren’t talking anymore. I always thought that Nick spaced out thinking about Gatsby’s fate and Jordan hung up on him, because that seems far more in character – but Baz went with what is a very literal interpretation. It transpires Luhrmann also cut Gatsby’s famous line “Her voice is full of money”, because it complicated a scene – but only because Luhrmann had put the line in a different scene to begin with… So this is an adaptation in which the text is taken literally, but all the meaning and nuance lost – not unlike Zack Synder’s worst missteps with his Watchmen.

But it is also an adaptation in which Luhrmann’s particular aesthetic is mercilessly imposed upon a text for which it is radically unsuitable. Why does Nick Carraway suddenly want to be a writer? Duh, so that the film can be framed, like Moulin Rouge!, with him depressed, and then, by writing his story, redeemed by art at the end with his completed manuscript representing his salvaged personality. But … what was wrong with F Scott’s original novel that it needed to be Moulin Rouge!’d? Nothing, that’s just the Baz Aesthetic… How else could one justify transforming the small smoke-filled restaurant that Gatsby and Nick dine with Wolfsheim in into a raucous Jay-Z booming speakeasy with black strippers twerking onstage? How else could one explain turning the grand piano in Gatsby’s mansion into an organ that would look outsize in the Albert Hall? How else could one excuse ditching the actual glorious popular music of the 1920s for terrible anachronistic Jay-Z drivel, and replacing the fiendishly complicated dance moves of the Charleston (which are quite the spectacle when choreographed en masse) with pathetic ‘raise your hands in the air’ hip-hop stylings? How else could one make sense of using so much unnecessary CGI that you feel like Avatar had more of a sense of physical reality, and of deliberately ditching the iconic flapper look of the 1920s for more cleavage because ‘sexiness’ is all that matters?

The Baz Aesthetic is excess – everything has to be excess. And that’s fine as an aesthetic; when it synchs with the material, but here it doesn’t. Gatsby gleefully tosses his shirts down a floor to Daisy leading to her tears over the shirts, and Nick adds a helpful line to tell the audience her line about the shirts is stupid – but in the novel Gatsby is distractedly tossing shirts about because he’s in a trance, and Daisy cries because she can’t articulate what she feels and she says a stupid line knowing it’s a stupid line. Baz Luhrmann doesn’t do subtlety or nuance, and that’s not a problem for Moulin Rouge! But if you’re going to shoehorn every property into the template of Moulin Rouge! then that is a problem.

March 12, 2014

Veronica Mars in Dundrum and Dundrum Only

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I was doubtful that it would even get a cinema release here, but come Friday Veronica Mars will open exclusively in Movies at Dundrum, and the premiere’s already sold out.

Veronica Mars ran from 2004 to 2007 but now, just like Firefly, it has risen from the ashes of unjust cancellation on TV to sneak into cinemas to continue its story. Kristen Bell has never quite found the equal of her iconic role as the teen detective, and creator Rob Thomas’ 90210 reboot never quite hit the heights he’s capable of, so it’s nice to see them reunited for more sleuthing. And, owing to the movie’s small budget being raised by fans on Kickstarter, there’s no question of dumbing things down for a cinema audience unaware of who the beloved characters are – indeed some websites have hailed this as a first: a movie made for the fans because they’re the people who paid for it.

And for that reason Veronica Mars: FBI has been deemed non-canonical by Thomas, because it made it too hard to reunite the cast. So instead rising legal eagle Veronica returns from NYC to sunny and class-ridden Neptune, CA to attend her high school reunion. Present and correct are loyal friends Mac (Tina Majorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III), 09er nemesis Madison (Amanda Noret) and frenemy Dick (Ryan Hansen). Dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni) remains a sage, warning against the obvious peril of insipid college boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell) being replaced in her affections by roguish high school ex Logan (Jason Dohring), who is once again accused of murder and so asking for V’s help. Just when she thought she was out, they pull her back in…

Thomas as good as hinted in commentary on season 3’s finale that Piz couldn’t win in the long run against Logan, so here’s hoping that, come Friday, we see the sparks of ‘epic love’ spanning ‘decades and continents’ fire up.

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March 6, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Wes Anderson’s second period film in a row is a considerable contrast to the charmingly nostalgic Moonrise Kingdom, and that’s not necessarily a good thing…

To begin at the beginning, a young woman visits the grave of a writer. Wait, no, that writer (Tom Wilkinson) before he died recorded a talk about the background of his most famous novel. Hang on, when he was a young writer (Jude Law), [now we’re getting somewhere] he stayed in the Grand Budapest Hotel. There he met ineffectual concierge M. Jean (Jason Schwartzman). Wait, no, M. Jean didn’t matter, what mattered was that the young writer met Mr Moustafa (F Murray Abraham), who told him about the glory days of the hotel in the 1930s. Back then, [finally, real progress!] Moustafa was known as Zero (Tony Revolori), and he was the lobby-boy to legendary concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). Gustave was completely devoted to rich, widowed, amorous guests such as Mademe D (Tilda Swinton, after she wrecked the picture in her attic.) So much so that when she unexpectedly died after leaving the hotel he was summoned by her staff Serge X (Mathieu Amalric) and Clotilde (Lea Seydoux), to hear her lawyer Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum) read the will – which left a priceless painting to Gustave, much to the fury of Mademe D’s son Dmitri (Adrien Brody), and as he had the scary thug Jopling (Willem Dafoe) on retainer that meant Gustave was well-advised to run for his life, despite the protestations of policeman Henckels (Edward Norton); who remembered Gustave’s abundant kindness to him as a boy. And after that, reader, things really got complicated.

Anderson’s film is bursting at the seams from sheer busyness, and the film thus lacks emotional depth even as it boasts under-used actors (Harvey Keitel, Saoirse Ronan), a deliberately unnecessary Chinese box of narratives, and a sequence in which Anderson tests how many times the same gag can be made in succession; even by Bill Murray and Bob Balaban; before an audience grows restive. His regular production designer Adam Stockhausen’s archly mannered sets are the most artificially coloured he has rendered for Anderson to date. Think about that.

Anderson showcases an unexpected flair for blackly comic suspense but there’s an odd and draining mean-spiritedness to this film’s gruesomeness. Fiennes’ dialogue makes no sense for the setting, lurching as it does from a gentlemen quoting poetry to an R-rated Oddball from Kelly’s Heroes, but it does make for some spectacular laughs. Anderson is apparently honouring the terrifyingly obscure author Stefan Zweig, and the worst thing I can say about this film is that after seeing such loving homage I have no desire to read Zweig’s work.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an impeccably mounted film, but it unavoidably disappoints because it doesn’t come close to The Darjeeling Limited for depth or Moonrise Kingdom for whimsy.

3/5

The Stag

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Sherlock star Andrew Scott returns home to play the hapless best man forced to organise a last-minute stag party which quickly descends into embarrassing chaos.

Trinity lecturer and enthusiastic hill-walker Davin (Scott) is best man for dweebish stage-designer Fionan (Hugh O’Conor), who is marrying Davin’s ex-girlfriend Ruth (Amy Huberman). Fionan doesn’t particularly want to have a stag party, but Ruth instructs Davin that he must organise one, after Fionan unnervingly expresses interest in attending her hen party. And so Davin rounds up depressed businessman Simon (Brian Gleeson), Fionan’s gay younger brother Kevin (Michael Legge), and Kevin’s drug-addled boyfriend Kevin (Andrew Bennett), for an arduous mountaineering weekend – the one thing, alongside carefully screened phone calls, guaranteed to ensure the absence of Ruth’s deranged brother The Machine (Peter McDonald). Or so they think… The Machine arrives and instantly sets about destroying any veneer of respectability with crude and cruel nicknames and putdowns, wanton property destruction, vandalism of heritage sites, involuntary electrocution, and simply endless drug-fuelled public nudity.

I loathed Scott’s Moriarty in Sherlock, so when I say the stars this film receives are purely for his performance, that’s something. Davin was fatally wounded by Ruth’s rejection, and having to smile thru her wedding is a cruel twist of the knife. Arguing with Fionan (purportedly about The Sopranos) on how Fionan always takes ownership of things Davin liked first has a subtext obvious to anyone but the characters, and Scott’s later rendition of ‘Raglan Road’ has a stunning emotional charge. But I’m praising a serious arc in an intended raucous comedy because The Stag is both juvenile and unfunny. McDonald co-wrote his ‘hilarious’ role, which the brothers McDonagh might have rendered funny, but which here flails about desperately as McDonald’s accent hits Ireland, England, America and New Zealand – questing for the most bombastically macho line-reading of every line.

Co-writer and director John Butler has a resume of sketch comedy and short films. His feature debut ticks all the clichés of predictable pay-offs and tidy arcs, even appropriating Little Miss Sunshine’s feel-good subversive ending to allow The Machine ‘solve’ the recession. There are no genuinely funny sequences, but many painfully extended ones – to wit, the nudity. The Stag is littered with snide gay jokes, but because Fionan’s father (John Kavanagh) is surprisingly condemned by The Machine for homophobia, that’s okay, right? Well, no, because Kavanagh would also be unlikely to approve if his son brought home a drug-using woman twice his age… Such inconsistencies make you wonder: can one write an asinine script, then inject structural trickery to achieve a closing group rainbow hug, and so, implausibly, secure Film Board funding by dint of one’s impeccable political zeitgeist surfing?

The Stag tragically wastes a cadre of talented Irish actors who are left mugging like Amy Huberman while the audience remembers having been on funnier stags than this one.

1.5/5

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