Talking Movies

December 23, 2019

O Holy Night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 8:55 pm
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This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

Good riddance to 2019. Good riddance to the 2010s.

Would that it were good riddance to the whole damn 21st Century.

Talking Movies out.

From the Archives: I’m Not There

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Crazy/Brilliant, that’s not an ‘either/or’ approach to this film where you’ll consider I’m Not There to be either crazy or brilliant. No, it’s ‘both/and’, this is one of the best films of 2007; yes, it features one of the craziest concepts ever to cobble together enough financing to get made but its execution is superb in every respect. To even attempt an explanation of the structure of the film would be madness as writer/director Todd Haynes does not follow chronologically the career of Bob Dylan but cross-cuts between different aspects of it. At no point is Dylan’s name mentioned, this is not a biopic, it is inspired by his music ‘and many lives’. It could have been an unholy mess but the intercutting of different actors and settings makes perfect sense in its own deranged fashion.

The story begins with Ben Whishaw as the poet Dylan answering police questions about himself and doing the whole Greenwich Village routine. A guitar-picking black kid calling himself Woody Guthrie is Dylan’s earliest hero-worshipping incarnation, he becomes Christian Bale’s uncanny impersonation of the protest singer Dylan while Heath Ledger’s mumbling actor Jack Rollins is the embodiment of the mid to late 1960s Dylan, drunk on his own fame, married but endlessly womanising and refusing to engage with the world in his songs because it can’t be changed. Richard Gere is the outlaw Dylan trying to escape into a mythical Old West while Bale returns as the late 1970s Dylan embracing evangelical Christianity. Cate Blanchett steals the acting honours by doing a tremendous version of the Dylan that toured England in 1966 and was given the hostile reception recorded in DA Pennebaker’s documentary Don’t Look Back.

Todd Haynes redeems the disastrous hash he made of depicting glam rock in Velvet Goldmine by using this demented set-up as a means to make Dylan’s songs incredibly fresh. Woody Guthrie’s early dirty blues rendition of ‘Tombstone Blues’ sets the scene for terrific use of many songs, probably the best of which is ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’, which is made to seem a sarcastic attack on Bruce Greenwood’s sneering BBC journalist Mr Jones. The song is subsequently dissected by the Black Panthers for hidden meanings. That could be a metaphor for this film. Haynes has produced such a rich ensemble of performances (even minor turns like David Cross as Allen Ginsberg and Julianne Moore as Joan Baez), beautifully re-created film styles, and tremendous evocation of golden-green rural America (as well as capturing the disoriented vibe of Dylan in Britain in 1966 – the moment when the Beatles appear in a Help! pastiche is priceless) that this is a film which will repay subsequent re-watching and that should be seen by all Dylan fans, or people with any interest in pop culture, or…hell just anyone who’s awake!

5/5

On Doing As One Likes

Filed under: Talking Books — Fergal Casey @ 8:47 pm
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Matthew Arnold, from Culture and Anarchy:

“More and more … this and that man, and this and that body of men, all over the country, are beginning to assert and put in practice an Englishman’s right to do what he likes; his right to march where he likes, meet where he likes, enter where he likes, hoot as he likes, threaten as he likes, smash as he likes. All this, I say, tends to anarchy; and though a number of excellent people, and particularly my friends of the liberal or progressive party, as they call themselves, are kind enough to reassure us by saying that these are trifles, that a few transient outbreaks of rowdyism signify nothing, that our system of liberty is one which itself cures all the evils which it works, that the educated and intelligent classes stand in overwhelming strength and majestic repose, ready, like our military force in riots, to act at a moment’s notice, — yet one finds that one’s liberal friends generally say this because they have such faith in themselves and their nostrums, when they shall return, as the public welfare requires, to place and power. But this faith of theirs one cannot exactly share, when one has so long had them and their nostrums at work, and sees that they have not prevented our coming to our present embarrassed condition; and one finds, also, that the outbreaks of rowdyism tend to become less and less of trifles, to become more frequent rather than less frequent; and that meanwhile our educated and intelligent classes remain in their majestic repose, and somehow or other, whatever happens, their overwhelming strength, like our military force in riots, never does act.

How, indeed, should their overwhelming strength act, when the man who gives an inflammatory lecture, or breaks down the Park railings, or invades a Secretary of State’s office, is only following an Englishman’s impulse to do as he likes; and our own conscience tells us that we ourselves have always regarded this impulse as something primary and sacred?”

From the Archives: Alvin and the Chipmunks

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

This is a silly film, as almost goes without saying when discussing the adventures of a trio of singing chipmunks, but not without merit. There are some good jokes and the three chipmunks are splendidly animated and voiced. Theodore the youngest Chipmunk is unfeasibly adorable, Simon is given a number of good lines as the smart one, while the cocky Alvin is not as good as you remember from the 1980s cartoon show but does get a hilarious moment when his voice goes low after inhaling helium from a balloon. He uses this new voice to say the words “major rock stars” to their manager/songwriter/surrogate father Dave. It’s hard to not keep mentally putting a moustache on Jason Lee’s Dave Seville as he uses the exact same voice he does for his famous lead role in TV’s My Name Is Earl. Former Point Pleasant star Cameron Richardson stands around and looks pretty in a hardly written at all role as Dave’s ex-girlfriend who is assigned to cover his rise to fame in her capacity as a photo-journalist and who left him because of his inability to handle responsibility.

What’s sort of snooze-inducing about this film is its unstinting adherence to the formulaic set-up of what a kid’s flick ought to be, but then such laziness should not surprise given that the screen story was penned by Jon Vitti one of the many under-achieving writers who managed to bore us all into a coma with The Simpsons Movie. Of course the Chipmunks will win over Dave’s affections after initially sabotaging his life, of course they’ll alienate his ex-girlfriend from him and then his love for them and his willingness to take on the responsibility of being their adoptive father will win her back by showing that he’s matured. Of course they’ll fall out with him in the second act and be seduced by the dark side of fame and excess offered by ‘Uncle’ Ian, who will of course plot to drive a wedge between them and Dave which will only be solved by an intricate reconciliation/musical number in the finale.

David Cross has great fun playing record label executive Ian Hawke, a college friend of Dave who endlessly patronises him. He steals the Chipmunks away from Dave and flogs an endless amount of crummy Chipmunk merchandise while working them to exhaustion on punishing tour schedules, only keeping them going with extravagant coffees. This isn’t wonderfully written material by any means but Cross (Dr Tobias Funke on Arrested Development) makes the most of it. His final lines, cursing in Spanish before unleashing an Empire Strikes Back style bellowing ‘NOOOOOOOOO!!!!’, are almost enough to make up for the shortcomings elsewhere. This is a fun enough film that will keep kids entertained but their parents will frequently find their attention wandering.

2/5

From the Archives: P.S. I Love You

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Merciful Zeus! Was the Cecilia Ahern novel really this bad?! Disregarding the fact that this film shows all the emotional maturity of a moody teenager, and an insulting approach to bereavement and grief that staggers the mind even by lobotomised Hollywood standards, this trash is disgracefully long. No romantic comedy should last more than 90 minutes. To hit 2 hours and 10 minutes with this diabolically unfunny enterprise shows an amazing lack of cop-on by all concerned. Director Richard LaGravenese has a track record though, having scripting painfully extended films like The Horse Whisperer and The Mirror has Two Faces. If I was going to be mean I would point out that Hilary Swank gets fired in the first 15 minutes and apparently lives on air for the next year, and make some reference to the surname of a writer and certain tribunals, but it’s Christmas time so there’ll be no savage political tangents.

Instead we’ll savage the stupidity of this film, beginning with the ‘acting’. Gerard Butler’s Irish accent as the late Gerry is a sociological essay waiting to happen. It’s accepted in Hollywood that a stage-Scottish accent is merely an amped-up stage-Irish accent with rolling r’s. Gerard Butler though IS Scottish, so what the hell was he thinking when he decided to reverse that procedure to do an Irish accent? He is nightmarishly confused here; swinging between a stage-Irish accent, his own Scottish brogue, and that bizarre Irish-American mobster accent that recent TV show The Black Donnellys quickly abandoned. The decision to move the story to America but keep Gerry Irish is baffling anyway and cringe-worthy as it necessitates a trip to the auld sod for some ‘hilarious hi-jinks’ by the American girls in the third act. Quite why so many capable actors opted to appear in this dreck is an enigma. The presence of Buffy star James Marsters is referenced by an in-joke about vampire slaying not being a profession for Swank’s heroine Holly. He is utterly wasted in a tiny role as Gerry’s business partner, his only notable contribution being a well deserved put-down of Lisa Kudrow’s disgustingly materialistic chat-up lines. As for the awful cameo by Grey’s Anatomy and Supernatural star Jeffrey Dean Morgan the less said the better…

There’s only so much you can hurt a film in a review. I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of how insultingly this film portrays grieving. Apparently all you need to work through grief is to sing along to Judy Garland films, eat take-out, not clean your house and hope your loved one is psychic enough to continue corresponding with you. P.S. I Love You is savagely life-wasting trash. Compared to The Jane Austen Book Club which was absurdly enjoyable and like drinking cappuccino this is unbearably dreadful and like drinking weed-killer.

1/5

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 8:33 pm

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December 22, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 2:52 pm

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From the Archives: Youth without Youth

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

One of the worst films of the year, this should be held as proof that Francis Ford Coppola may know how to make wine but he long since forgot how to make films. After a decade away it would appear that Coppola saw Donnie Darko and decided that what he really needed to do to add to the legendary reputation of his last two films, Jack and The Rainmaker, was to make his own version of Donnie Darko. His wine business has after all left him in the happy position of being able to entirely self-finance his films and he has droned on about his insane desire at the age of 68 to be a young independent film-maker tackling unusual subjects. It is hilariously appropriate to title the film Youth without Youth, as this is Donnie Darko without its wunderkind writer/director Richard Kelly’s youthful sensibility.

Imagine Donnie Darko with an older hero, no jokes, no dramatic tension, no interesting scenes, no characterisation and enough pretension to out-do a Parisian coffee shop full of philosophy students. Coppola’s ‘script’ is a boring trawl through endless unexplained ideas which even lead actor Tim Roth has admitted not understanding in the slightest. Roth stars as 70-year-old linguist Dominic Matei whose life’s search for the original source of human language is rejuvenated by a lightning strike that restores him to his 35-year-old self, with two co-existing personalities, which makes him a coveted specimen for evil Nazi scientists….Don’t ask, this film hops genres every time you yawn. In the hands of Tom Stoppard this could have been made interesting. But then in the hands of Tom Stoppard anything can be made interesting as his approach combines fearsome intelligence with a love of comedy. Coppola though seems to be getting ever more pompous as he gets older. Witness the ‘written and directed by’ credit he insists upon claiming even though he then has to admit that this film is based on the supposedly amazing writings of Romanian philosopher/historian Mircea Eliade.

There is no trace here of the man who made The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. There is though, God help us, a trace of the man who made Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Alexandra Maria Lara, so good in Control, has the thankless task of playing both Tim Roth’s dead love from the 1890s and a lookalike Belgian schoolteacher in the 1950s who falls in love with Roth’s Matei who is only using her for her ability to channel the spirit of a 1200s Indian princess-philosopher. This will allegedly help him to finish his life’s work although that seems logically impossible if you’re still conscious enough to think about it at that point. The final image of the film is so obviously meant to be a shockingly intelligent twist that the only correct response is derisive laughter….

1/5

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 2:42 pm

l.

From the Archives: Talk to Me

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

This would be one of the films of the year, if it ended just 20 minutes sooner than it does. Petey Green was a DJ in Washington DC in the late 1960s and Don Cheadle is terrific as this ex-con keeping it real on the airwaves. Martin Sheen plays EG Sonderling, the head of the WOL radio station that broadcasts Green’s show. In one episode of Sheen’s political show The West Wing a character made reference to DC being one of the blackest cities in America, but that you would never guess it from the exclusively white faces of the corridors of power in Washington. Sheen is tremendous here in a supporting role as his character changes from utter hostility to Petey Green to a great respect for Green’s truth-telling about the city’s racial divide.

Cedric the Entertainer, who disgraced himself in last week’s Code Name: The Cleaner, has a wonderfully droll small role as a Barry White-voiced DJ in this film which offers an incisive interrogation of black American culture. British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is Cheadle’s match as black radio executive Dewey Hughes. The dramatic crackle between these two men, especially in an electrifying pool game where they verbally dissect each other, is of the highest calibre. It is two great actors sparking off each other using a script that is literate, detailed and engaged. In a desperate attempt to avoid using the racial epithet that usually follows the prefixes field- and house- in American slang let us describe Hughes and Green as they do each other. Green regards Hughes as a collaborator with the white man, talking frightfully proper English, dressing in a suit and sucking up to merit a patronising pat on the head. Hughes regards Green as a willing victim, who will spend his life in and out of jail, while boasting about how ‘real’ he is, and asking for a handout.

How these men find common ground is brilliantly handled and the period setting is tremendously evoked while everyone deserves especial acclaim for the sequence that follows the death of Martin Luther King. Nowhere has that assassination been portrayed to such devastatingly emotional effect, the impact here is so great that you may well end up crying at an event that happened 39 years ago. Primarily though this is a very funny film, especially Hughes’ initial attempts to get Petey Green on the air. The last 20 minutes stray from the radio station, as Hughes masterminds Green’s transition to TV star and stand-up comedian, and act as an epilogue to the main drama. As epilogues go it’s involving but it destroys the film’s momentum so that the end becomes something of an anti-climax. For all that though Talk to Me is both entertaining and has an important message, it deserves a wide audience.

4/5

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