Talking Movies

December 23, 2018

O Holy Night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 10:25 pm

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

Talking Movies will return in 2019.

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December 16, 2018

From the Archives: Australia

Baz Luhrmann’s genre-wrecking epic was a late in the day blockbuster of 2008 as I discover diving thru the pre-Talking Movies archives.

“A Life lived in fear is a life half lived” is the motto that appears at the start of Baz Lurhmann’s chaotic epic and he is indeed fearless/foolhardy in attempting to smash together a number of different genres.

The film begins with Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) flying to Australia to sell the farm belonging to her ne’er-do-well husband and drag him back to dear old Blighty. This should be an obvious homage to films like Giant where the heroine marries into an exotic lifestyle in sweeping landscapes except that Lurhman has written the first 30 minutes in the high camp style that worked so well for Moulin Rouge! It’s so out of place here though that you fear for your sanity if a 2 hour 45 minute western epic is to continue like this…

Thankfully the film settles down after a confrontation with Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), the racist villain running the farm, and becomes an archetypal western in the mould of Red River as Sarah joins force with the rough-hewn Drover (Hugh Jackman) to save Faraway Downs by driving the cattle herd to Darwin to sell them to the army for supplies. The action here is superbly choreographed and the diabolical plotting of Fletcher to protect his boss King Carney’s  beef monopoly is thrilling, but the mix of obvious CGI shots with beautiful landscape vistas undercuts the effect of the location shooting. At this point magical realism rears its head as Lurhmann endows the aboriginal characters with magical powers over animals and their native outback.

This is well intentioned as a riposte to the racist disregard for native culture that was the official Australian policy of the 1930s but the mashing up of genres makes it very problematic. Sarah attends a society ball which doubles as a homage to Titanic, when a clean-shaven Drover crashes it to the horror of the upper crust and the swooning of the female audience, and a Rabbit-Proof Fence style debate on the rights and wrongs of the forced assimilation of the stolen generation of Aboriginal children into white society. You will wince every time a character uses the word “creamy” to describe half-Aboriginal half-Caucasian children in this film but such incisive politics sit uneasily in a supposed romantic adventure movie.

The film finally ends as a collision of Pearl Harbour and Empire of the Sun as the surrogate family of Sarah, Drover and the Aboriginal orphan Nulla (Brandon Walters) is torn apart while Japanese forces destroy Darwin. Historical fact is outrageously altered here and Lurhmann veers uneasily between cliché and heartfelt moments before a very fitting ending of national reconciliation. This film is an over-reaching mess but it has very good sequences and its intentions are very honourable, if perhaps just expressed in the wrong genre, and it is well worth seeing.

3/5

December 9, 2018

You Have Been Listening To…

It is time to discreetly begin to draw the curtains for Christmas. There will be no more reviews by me of new releases on Dublin City FM 103.2 this year. But here’s a round-up of links to the previous editions of Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle and a list of the films we discussed on each one if you’re eager to explore the back catalogue.

JUNE

Jurassic World 2

Hereditary + TV Choice Sicario + Classic The Living Daylights

 

 

JULY

Sicario 2 + TV Choice Alien + Classic Once Upon a Time in the West

The First Purge + TV Choice Three Kings  + Classic The Truman Show

Hotel Artemis + TV Choice Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation  + Classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers ’78

Mission: Impossible – Fallout + TV Choice X-2  + Classic The War of the Worlds ’53

 

 

AUGUST

Ant-Man and the Wasp + TV Choice Nightcrawler  + Classic Star Trek IV

The Meg + TV Choice Fruitvale Station + Classic Heathers

 

 

SEPTEMBER

Searching + TV Choice Vertigo + Classic The Age of Innocence

The Seagull + TV Choice Dredd + Classic Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

The Predator + TV Choice Die Hard + Classic Superman

Mile 22 + TV Choice The Nice Guys + Classic From Russia, with Love

Cold War + TV Choice Bone Tomahawk + Classic The Birds

 

 

OCTOBER

Venom + TV Choice Hell or High Water + Classic The Dark Knight

Hallowe’en ’18 + Hallowe’en ’78 + Donnie Darko + Scream

 

NOVEMBER

Juliet, Naked + TV Choice Bridge of Spies + Classic The Invisible Man

Widows + TV Choice Goldeneye + Classic Jurassic Park

Overlord + TV Choice JFK + Classic Billy Liar

Assassination Nation + TV Choice The Martian + Classic Sherlock Holmes in Washington

 

DECEMBER

The Camino Voyage + TV Choice Gideon of Scotland Yard + Classic Rope

From the Archives: The Prestige

Hugh Jackman is in the news this week just as I find in the distant past before even the pre-Talking Movies archives a review of one of his best films.

Every magic trick has three acts, every film has three acts, and Christopher Nolan has wittily combined the two by playing a three-card trick on the audience. Set in 1890s London The Prestige follows the professional rivalry and very personal enmity that develops between magicians Borden (Christian Bale) and Angier (Hugh Jackman) after Borden is responsible for the death of Angier’s wife (a tragically underused Piper Perabo) in a magic trick gone badly wrong.

Christian Bale brings his usual intensity to the role but as always so completely inhabits his character that, despite the presence of fellow Batman Begins alumni Michael Caine and Nolan, you will not think of his Dark Knight once as you watch his poor cockney try to upstage the aristocratic Jackman. Jackman is surprisingly good playing an equally driven and fairly unpleasant character while in support Michael Caine is reliably solid and the tragically overused (by which I mean she appears in the film) Scarlett Johansson is reliably pouty. Caine is pitted against Bale’s character, which for film critics with a chronic inability to focus makes some scenes look amusingly like an act-off over who has the best cockney accent. It has to be said on balance that Bale manages to out-Caine Sir Michael Caine himself. David Bowie could really have stirred things up on this front but he performs his cameo role as Niklos Tesla in a restrained Serbian accent.

The extreme lengths the magicians Borden and Angier are willing to go to in order to sabotage each other will make you wince and are genuinely shocking, one image at least should haunt you for weeks. But, as with all Christopher Nolan films, it is the telling of the tale and not the compelling tale itself that makes the film extraordinary. Narrated by both Borden and Angier the film is a Chinese box of narrative tricks. Christopher Nolan and his brother and screenwriting partner Jonathan Nolan are after all responsible for the intricately structured Memento, one of the defining films of the decade, as well as the frighteningly intelligent blockbuster Batman Begins.

M Night Shyamalan’s biggest success had one twist at the end that took people’s breath away. There are at least four twists scattered throughout The Prestige which will make you feel as if you’ve been punched in the stomach so completely do they reorder your understanding of what you’ve already seen. Which makes it damnably hard to write about without ruining the joy of its structure. When this film ends you will feel cheated. In a way that’s part of the trick. The real fun comes over the next day and a half when you realise ‘oh that’s what that scene meant’ and ‘so that’s why he said that’. While you’re waiting for The Dark Knight go see The Prestige and be the victim of masterful cinematic sleight-of-hand.

4/5

At least we still have…: Part VI

The sixth in an occasional series in which I try to cheer myself up by reminding myself what still exists in the world and can never be capriciously taken away.

From the Archives: W

A penultimate dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up Oliver Stone’s forgotten and rather pointless George Bush Jr takedown.

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This George W Bush biopic reunites Oliver Stone with his Wall Street co-writer. It is thus very disappointing that there is no trace of that film’s searing indictment of American greed, but perhaps even more amazingly the man who directed JFK has lost his visual flair.

W is a very odd film, it’s not satire and it’s not a factual drama. It attempts to straddle, and falls short of, both genres. 13 Days made the Cuban Missile Crisis gripping simply by showing how Kennedy dealt with it blow by blow. Channel 4’s The Deal made the trade between Brown and Blair fascinating, even if it was largely speculative. BBC 4’s The Alan Clark Diaries made real politics hilarious. W hopelessly tries to combine all three approaches. We follow the run-up to and fall-out from the Iraq War, while flashing back to the pivotal moments in W’s life that led him to the White House. Stone though has nothing to say about these moments except that Bush has ‘daddy issues’, and that’s why he went to war. This insight isn’t profound or original but could have been heard in bars, on both the sides of the Atlantic, after too many drinks, for the last five years.

James Cromwell alone among the cast does not try to imitate his character and so nicely counterpoints Brolin’s Jr. Cromwell’s George Sr (or Poppy) appears cold and disapproving but we realise that his shepherding of his son Jeb rather than W towards the Presidency is because he wishes to shelter W from the strain of a job that does not suit his temperament. Josh Brolin is extraordinary as W. He perfectly captures the voice and mannerism of Bush Jr but also makes us care deeply for this uncomplicated jock. When W loses a 1980 run for Congress and storms into his backyard exclaiming “I’ll never be out-Texased or out-Christianed again!” we feel his pain more than the obvious satirical anticipation of his 2000 run for Presidency that Stone intends. W’s born-again Christianity is handled with surprising (and welcome) warmth, but while personally Bush saw the light, politically it led him to some dark places. However to expect that sort of complexity is to want a different, less obvious, film.

And Stone does get very obvious… Jeffrey Wright plays Saint Colin Powell while Richard Dreyfuss needs a moustache to twirl villainously as Dick Cheney. Characters say in private their most infamous public gaffes while Condoleeza Rice is written out of history, perhaps because Thandie Newton’s forced attempts to get Rice’s voice right make her screen presence too painful to dwell on. George Bush is not a bad man, he’s just a very bad president, the worst since Herbert Hoover, who also made way for a charismatic Democrat offering change, FDR. But, Oliver, we already knew that…

2/5

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 3:50 pm

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Sorkinesque

Filed under: Talking Television — Fergal Casey @ 3:49 pm
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Rewatching The West Wing on TG4’s lunchtime re-run has been an immensely nostalgic and rewarding experience.

One striking moment came when that ‘oratorical snob’ President Bartlet critiqued a bad sermon and spoke on the nature of words spoken aloud for effect being a different type of writing than words written down to be read. It’s hard not to feel that the speech was really Sorkin writing about himself and his process; he notoriously having walked schmack into a glass door while speaking aloud some of his dialogue to see if it worked. And one that thing that fascinates a viewer of The West Wing after that episode where the spoken word is compared to music is to consider Sorkin’s dialogue in the show as music and see that repetition and diminuendo is a key part of Sorkin’s work – the repeated ‘okay. … okay’ – as well as silence. Sorkin is never afraid to regard a rest as being just as important as a note when he scores his scenes. The scenes he chooses not to dramatise were always an interesting artistic choice, but on rewatching you notice the scenes where silence simply becomes the true way of revealing character.

Any Other Business: Part XXI

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a twenty-first portmanteau post on matters of course!

Move over Chekhov, here’s Gresham: bad writing drives out good

I was very late in catching up with Westworld given that I loved Jonathan Nolan’s previous TV show Person of Interest. However, if I had watched the pilot of Westworld unaware of who was behind it I would have never have guessed Nolan, J. I was stunned at how humdrum to lousy so much of the dialogue was, and floored by the immediate and lasting awfulness of the British writer character. Indeed to critique Westworld I find myself digging into the Talking Movies archives for my review of Safe Haven, where I complained “one-note characterisation is far too prevalent,” and find myself grimacing that yes, one could level the same charge against the most acclaimed, epochal, cerebral TV show of our age. But then we come to my complaint regarding Cobie Smulders’ character in Safe Haven: “Indeed the shallowness of the writing is such that it allows an infuriatingly connived third-act reveal, infuriating because it relies on one particular shallow characterisation without realising that hiding it behind shallow characterisation all around hurts the film.” Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy clearly thought they were doing an awesome job of hiding two cards up their sleeves, but dropping hints. The problem being that if your hint that Bernard is a host is that he seems to be unconcerned about the whereabouts of his deputy then you as showrunners should probably be more concerned about the whereabouts of your characters. Why on earth should I worry that Bernard doesn’t seem worried that his deputy has gone missing when this show left two technicians at knifepoint by Thandie Newton’s character, and then never came back to them for the bulk of an episode? If forgetting about characters afflicts the writers of the show who’s going to notice it in one of their creations? What’s worse is that jumping a scene almost with Thandie Newton leaves it very unclear why the techs continue to play ball after they’re no longer at knifepoint.  But as that’s vital to the season arc, it’s just glossed over. And so I end up drawing comparisons between the writer of Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Person of Interest, and Nicholas Sparks…

December 3, 2018

Notes on the Camino Voyage

Filed under: Talking Movies,Talking Radio — Fergal Casey @ 7:40 pm

Irish film The Camino Voyage was this week’s catch-up movie of the week on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

A TG4 presentation in four languages: Irish, English, French, and a performance of ‘Molly Malone’ in the original Basque. Irish writer and poet Danny Sheehy, emboldened by a 500km journey in 2012 to the Scottish Abbey of Saint Colmcille in Iona, planned an audacious journey – 2,500 km voyage from Ireland to Santiago de Compostela. For hundreds of years people sailed from Ireland to A Coruña in Northern Spain and walked the Camino from there.  In 2014 Sheehy’s crew renacted this historical voyage in a traditional Naomhóg (a Kerry curragh), for 6 weeks each May in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Dónal Ó Céilleachair’s documentary follows Sheehy, accordionist Brendan Begley, painter Liam Holden, stonemason Brendan Moriarty, and, in a glorious cameo, Oscar-winning songwriter Glen Hansard, as they row their fragile open boat across open seas and closed canals.

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