Talking Movies

September 30, 2019

Politik: Part X

As the title suggests, so forth.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

Having watched both episodes of The Cameron Years on BBC 1, which somehow forgot the referendum on PR in which he took out the legs from under the Liberal Democrats, I was left thinking not about Cameron and Lord North; whom Paxman scathingly shelved him aside in the pantheon of catastrophic Prime Ministers; but about Cameron and Robert S McNamara. McNamara in The Fog of War, more than 40 years later, was still insisting that Ike had let a missile gap develop. He had not. Everyone knew it. But RSM still couldn’t admit it.  He had his lie from 1960, and by God he was going to stick to it to his dying day. Cameron has his lie, Labour blew up the British economy with their frivolous spending (on the undeserving poor) and poor old Call-Me-Dave had to fix the mess with a decade of biting austerity; which will somehow now magically end because Boris needs to throw money about to hide the economic consequences of Brexit. It’s a good story, it’s just a pity it’s not true. In 2005 the UK current budget deficit was less that £20 billion. The budget deficit somehow got to £50 billion in 2009 and £103 billion in 2010. Austerity had got the deficit by March 2019 to just, wait, oh actually there was now a budget surplus of £19 billion. Wow, that was some enthusiastic deficit reduction. But Labour, what monsters of frivolity! To balloon spending so much so needlessly in 2009 and 2010; almost as if they were reacting to some incredible economic shock that threatened the entire system. Check out the very revealing graphs here: https://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/uk_national_deficit_analysis

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 6:47 pm

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Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XX

As the title suggests, so forth.

Whither Fassbender?

Things have not been going well for Michael Fassbender of late. 2015 was something of an annus mirabilis with the glorious offbeat Western Slow West, a cinematic and brutal Macbeth, and the Sorkin/Boyle dream-team walk-and-talk of Steve Jobs. And that coming on the heels of 2014’s feel-good time-travel blockbuster X-Men: Days of Future Past and eccentric musical comedy Frank. And then everything seemed to go sideways in 2016. X-Men: Apocalypse was an unmitigated disaster, gangster film Trespass Against Us and period drama The Light Between Oceans failed to find even an art-house audience, and video game romp Assassin’s Creed, which he also produced and was intended as the ‘one for them’ for Macbeth, backfired spectacularly. The came 2017. Song to Song only fuelled the flames of Malick fatigue where it was released, horror sequel Alien: Covenant infuriated everyone despite his entertainingly ridiculous turn as two androids, and Scandi-noir The Snowman was crippled from the start by production ending before it had, um, quite ended. Either of these years would be an annus horribilis. To have one after the other spectacularly bad luck. Almost of Jude Law 2004 proportions. Since then Fassbender has only made one film – X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Sigh. As of today Fassbender is filming a part in Kung Fury 2. A sequel to a 2015 short film. And this may well be merely a glorious cameo. There is nothing else confirmed for the man from Kerry. How can he turn this around?

September 29, 2019

Notes on Ready or Not

Shlocky horror-comedy Ready or Not was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

It is semi-remarkable that this is the work of directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who made the found footage Rosemary’s Baby riff Devil’s Due that (apparently unwittingly) used the Euro sign as a Satanic symbol. Admittedly Ready or Not boasts a far better script, by Guy Busick (Urge) and (no, not that) Ryan Murphy, but it also looks gorgeous. Andrew M Stearn’s production design for the De Lomas mansion and grounds are lit by Brett Jutkiewicz to bring out the warmth of the wood panelling and lamps and to cast us into a more Fincheresque colour scheme outdoors. Meanwhile in support John Ralston as major-domo Stevens gamely plays a kitchen sequence of Hitchcockian delight and a truly delirious conceit that would do Scream proud; featuring the most improbable and incredibly inopportune rocking along to Tchaikovksy’s 1812 Overture imaginable.

Listen here:

Hecuba

Filed under: Talking Theatre (Reviews) — Fergal Casey @ 9:04 pm

Rough Magic bring Marina Carr’s 2015 reworking of ancient Greek material to the Project for this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival.

Troy has fallen. Queen Hecuba (Aislin McGuckin) sits in the throne room as the rampant army led by King Agamemnon (Brian Doherty) razes the city to the ground. The Trojan War is finished, and this will be a peace unlike any before it; all male heirs to the throne will be put to the sword. Hecuba’s husband Priam is dead, her son Hector is dead; indeed all of her eighteen children are dead except Polydorus, exiled in Thrace, Polyxena, compromised by her affair with the dead demigod Achilles, and Cassandra (Martha Breen),  who might as well be dead as Hecuba has nothing but hate for her. The Thracians, represented by Polymester (Ronan Leahy), long for the departure of the ravening Greeks, with their Trojan hostages, but Odysseus (Owen Roe) makes clear the Gods are not finished with Hecuba just yet…

Although the Gods don’t really get much respect in this production as Carr makes it clear that Agamemnon, who sacrificed his own daughter Iphigenia to get the army a fair wind to Troy, does not believe in the efficacy of human sacrifice, because he does not believe in the Gods at all. Well, welcome strange traveller from another time, bringing 21st Century disbelief to the Ancient Greeks.

Rough Magic’s Phaedra misfired at the 2010 Dublin Theatre Festival in this space, and, well, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice… (sic)

2/5

Hecuba continues its run at the Project Arts Centre until the 6th of October.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 8:36 pm

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From the Archives: Death Proof

A dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up an exasperated review of a Tarantino film I think of as Riding in Cars with Bores.

Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) uses his death-proofed stunt car to murder a group of women in Texas. When he attacks again though, in Tennessee, he meets his match in the form of two stuntwomen…

I was a Taranteenie. I was 13 when Pulp Fiction came out which put me slap bang in the demographic thus labelled by The Sunday Times. My secondary school life in an all-boys school was filled with people reciting Tarantino dialogue, talking about the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs (which no one had actually seen) and listening to his super-cool soundtrack albums. Thing is Tarantino disappeared after Jackie Brown in 1998 and damn if us Taranteenies didn’t grow up. For fractured non-linear approaches to narrative we turned to Christopher (Memento) Nolan. For self-consciously stylish long takes and fixed camera directing we looked to M Night (Unbreakable) Shyamalan. When Quentin reappeared with Kill Bill we realised that he hadn’t grown up too, he’d regressed. Death Proof has so little emotional maturity it’s scary to think that a 44 year old man thinks it’s worth his while directing something this lightweight.

The first hour of this film is utterly appalling. Imagine being trapped somewhere and having to overhear three girls conduct a preposterously boring conversation about sex while one of them infuriates the others with irritatingly obscure pop culture references. Tarantino’s foot fetish has a justification in the context of this being a parody of exploitation cinema, and it does pay off with a wonderfully gory FX shot, but it’s starting to become just an annoyance, like his other trademarks, and not a little bit creepy. The only good thing about this first story is the slow introduction of Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike as once again Tarantino coaxes a revelatory performance from a faded star. The story of Mike’s second murder spree is much better as Zoe Bell steals the show…as herself (oh the in-jokery). Stuntman Mike is utterly unprepared to have the tables turned on him by two stuntwomen and the car-chases that follow are undeniably thrilling and go some way to redeeming the waste of Tarantino’s talent that we have hitherto endured.

Tarantino’s 2005 CSI special (effectively an 80 minute TV movie) shows he still has talent to burn, but only when he’s challenged. For CSI he had to tell a story in 80 minutes, on a low budget and within censorship restraints, and his response was suspenseful and emotional. Given licence by the Weinsteins to do whatever he wanted he has created here a folly that the term self-indulgent can’t even begin to adequately condemn. If you want to see everything that this film does not feature; female characters who are witty, assertive, sexy, smart as hell and tough as nails and don’t come across as just sad male fantasy; I seriously suggest that instead of going to Death Proof that you just tune into RTE 2 on Thursday nights and watch Veronica Mars.

2/5

September 27, 2019

What the Hell is … An Objective Correlative?

I’m interested both in the origin of the term and its usage now, both actual and potential, and the difference between the two…

TS Eliot coined the term ‘objective correlative’ in his infamous critical essay ‘Hamlet and His Problems’ to describe an ideal objectivity that the artist would achieve between the impulse to create and the finished work of art.

More specifically, suppose that a dramatist wishes to write a play about war, having served in a war. Eliot would instantly insist that the dramatist distance themselves from what they’re proposing to create, for the play to have any value it must speak to people who have not been in a war, the playwright must find an objective correlative that converts their personal experience into universally accessible art. Eliot’s essay is infamous because in it he denied Hamlet masterpiece status because he claimed Shakespeare had been too close to the raw emotion of the loss of his son, to properly explore the theme of father-son grief, and so his play did not find an objective correlative of that emotional state, but was intensely subjective.

Eliot’s audacity is amazing but the same sentiment is found self-reflexively in John McGahern’s preface to the second edition of The Leavetaking: “I had been too close to the ‘Idea’, and the work lacked that distance, that inner formality or calm, that all writing, no matter what it is attempting, must possess.” McGahern thus rewrote the entire first half of his novel because he felt he had been too close emotionally to his subject and that it had been subjective more than it had been objective as art.

I think that objective correlative went from being used by people who’d read Eliot’s essay to other critics who’d only read it in the context of critical writings by those people, to eventually leaping from academia into popular criticism where it was used by people who hadn’t read any of the essays that came before them.

Barack Obama, in his discussion of religion and politics in The Audacity of Hope, invokes an equivalent of TS Eliot’s objective correlative, demonstrating its application not just to art but to any intellectual pursuit in which the subjective and the objective collide. Obama’s argument is that no argument on an emotive issue involving religion and politics can get anywhere if people merely quote Scripture or Thomas Jefferson at each other. What must be done to take the emotive heat out of the argument is to convert subjective religious values into their objective correlative – arguments invoking universal values, which can be accommodated in political discourse without everyone losing their minds.

From the Archives: Sparkle

Scraping the Mariana Trench of the pre-Talking Movies archives finds a English movie so completely forgotten it’s very title has been obliterated by Whitney Houston.

Sam Sparkes gets his start in PR by sleeping with his demanding boss Sheila. Little does he know he’s also sleeping with her daughter Kate. Hilarity ensues.

Insipid. That’s the best word to use when discussing Sparkle. It’s not enough to decry the film as a romantic comedy with no romance and fewer jokes. There’s many another film with those twin afflictions which has just about managed to scrape by on the enthusiastic playing and natural charisma of the leads. But here the lead actors don’t even seem to show any interest in trying to salvage something from the wretched material by sheer exuberance on their part. Stockard Channing wears the baffled appearance of someone wondering why The West Wing isn’t on TV anymore rather than expressing the diva quality attributed to her character Sheila. Meanwhile Amanda Ryan as her daughter Kate seems to have wandered in from auditions for Steven Poliakoff’s thoughtful drama Gideon’s Daughter. The real blame though must be placed on Shaun Evans as our hero Sam Sparkes. He’s not to blame for the diabolical script, however, he is to blame for not being able to carry a film. The sad truth is that Evans has no charm. Not only is this a basic requirement for a leading man in a romantic comedy but it’s even more vital when the plot is posited on this Liverpudlian likely lad scaling the London career ladder from wine waiter to PR PA by charm alone.

The triangle of Sam, Kate and Sheila is only one part of this film. Sam’s mother Jill Sparkes (Lesley Manville), her landlord Vince (Bob Hoskins) and his brother Bernie intertwine with the main story throughout the film before both strands resolve into an inter-connected finale but it has all the emotional punch of watching someone solve a Rubik’s cube. The entire film plays as merely an intellectual exercise in connecting plot strands for the sake of it as there is no real warmth for the characters detectable behind it. Bob Hoskins though seems to be enjoying himself as a shy quiet man and such casting against type, see his latest snarly menacing bald bloke turn in Hollywoodland by way of illustration, is quite refreshing for the audience too.

Buffy fans (meaning yes, me, I did this) will greet the appearance of Tony Head with a cheer and justifiably too as he is one of the few things in this film worth cheering. As Kate’s louche uncle (also named Tony), Head is a hoot. His priceless reaction to finding a cuddly blue dolphin toy delivered with his milk in the morning is one of the few, few reasons to smile during the last 40 minutes. This is one comedy that fails to shine. Somewhere in England there’s a community hall that still has a leaky roof because a grant was given towards this film’s budget by the National Lottery. Register your civic disapproval…

1/5

From the Archives: A Mighty Heart

Digging in the pre-Talking Movies archives uncovers Angelina Jolie’s Oscar-bait in which the show was stolen by the supporting players.

Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is kidnapped by terrorists in Pakistan. Through the eyes of his pregnant wife Marianne we follow the frantic search operation to find him.

A Mighty Heart is based on a true story. Daniel Pearl was captured by Islamist extremists in Pakistan in early 2002 and held as a captive before being beheaded, an act of depravity videoed for posterity by his captors. Michael Winterbottom adapts the style of Paul Greengrass, the shaky hand-held camera and documentary feel, to recreate a sense of urgency given that we all know how the story ends. He is helped by an extremely impressive sound design which lets the chaotic roar of Karachi envelop the audience placing us in the midst of a strange city, with many rules for the safety for Western journalists. The most important rule is to always meet a contact in a public place. We see Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) being told this repeatedly before meeting his contact. When the contact doesn’t appear, Pearl leaves, only to be abducted and used as a bargaining chip to get Guantanamo Bay shut down.

The ensemble of this film is very strong. There are standout performances though from Futterman who convinces us of Pearl’s quiet integrity and courage, Archie Panjabi as the pugnacious Indian Wall Street Journal reporter with whom the Pearls are staying, and Irrfan Khan as the Captain in charge of Counter-terrorism (Pakistan’s Jack Bauer, even down to torturing suspects). In its dogged reconstruction of the intelligence operation tracking down Islamist suspects this film comes close in feel to last year’s acclaimed mini-series The Path to 9/11. While that featured Harvey Keitel’s best performance in years as the doomed FBI agent John O’Neill the responsibility of playing a real person has the opposite effect on the lead of this film.

Angelina Jolie as Marianne Pearl gives a performance designed to win Oscars but that intention is so obvious it backfires. All you can think about is what a ‘performance’ Angelina is giving: look at her curled hair, her darkened pigmentation, her French accent…if she ‘acts’ any harder she might pull something. She’s at her best here in her quiet moments as shouting scenes play like a reprise of the showiness that won her an Oscar for her sociopath in Girl, Interrupted. John Wayne took a number of years to create the persona of ‘John Wayne’ that he perfected in Stagecoach and lived off for the next three decades. Angelina Jolie though has not created a film persona like Wayne’s, she has created a purely public persona that cannot be captured on celluloid. Her sole smash hit of the last decade was Mr & Mrs Smith. Centred on a tempestuous relationship with Brad Pitt this was a heightened expression of the comic book which is her life. The baggage of tabloid headlines she brings to this film fatally undermines it. Marianne Pearl should have been played by a lower profile actress…

2/5

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