Talking Movies

April 29, 2020

Sergei Prokofiev: 5 Works

Symphony No 5

Scythian Suite

Peter and the Wolf

Piano Concerto No 5

Cello Sonata in C Major

Any Other Business: Part LI

As the title suggests, so forth.

“It’s mandatory advisory, but it’s not compulsory”

And we’re back to this unloved Fine Gael gibberish again. Leo Varadkar, who’d like to remind you a few more times that he’s a medical doctor, thinks the science is uncertain when it comes to masks. It is not. The Atlantic tried to disentangle the miasma of confusion and scepticism around wearing a face mask. For some baffling reason it’s being led by the WHO, one hopes not simply for political reasons to avoid agreeing with Taiwan. There are two distinct concepts here that are endlessly conflated – ingress and egress. To prevent oneself getting infected you need medical-grade PPE, but to stop oneself infecting everyone else you simply need a cotton bandanna. A cotton mask will reduce virus particles emitted from your mouth by 99%, quite obviously reducing your chances of infecting anyone. “Models show that if 80% of people wear masks that are 60% effective, easily achievable with cloth, we can get to an effective R0 of less than one. That’s enough to halt the spread of the disease”. Sure, there are other factors at play, like social distancing and demographics, but “in every region that has adopted widespread mask-wearing, case and death rates have been reduced within a few weeks”. So the science here is uncertain in the same sense that George Bush Jr used to insist the science was uncertain on global warming. But whatever, just advise people to wear masks, and then watch so many Mike Pences float about the place boasting “I’m not infected”, oblivious to the fact that you can be infected after taking a test clearing you, the virus takes days to manifest, and you can be asymptomatic.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time

We are now well into the fifth week of Status Burgundy lockdown. It is clear that the ‘caretaker’ government is softening us up by leak after leak for an extension for another 2 weeks, and adding insult to injury by blaming it on our complacency over social distancing rather than their strategic blindness over nursing homes being an obvious locus for COVID-19. But given the hysteria over policing this Bank Holiday does anyone seriously think that we will not be in lockdown for the June Bank Holiday too? Come Friday, Varadkar and Harris will trot out and regretfully inform us that because we got complacent, and our lax social distancing (inexplicably) caused a spike in transmission in nursing homes, that we will have to do penance for another two weeks. When those two weeks are nearly up, they will appear again, and announce another two week extension to take the June Bank Holiday out of play, lest all our good work be undone by dispersal to the seaside, and make this seem like a moment of buoyant optimism – this is how we beat COVID-19, can’t you see it? can’t you see it? One might think simply making it mandatory that everybody wear a mask at all times might allow us out of this national house arrest of not being allowed stray further than 2km on foot. One might equally think that a government clearly rejected by the people should not be making such consequential decisions for those people, all the while calling for national unity while openly disdaining 1/4 of voters. One would apparently be wrong on both fronts.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 1:21 pm

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April 26, 2020

Cultivate the Interior Life

This very day last month Andrew Ferguson proclaimed in the Atlantic that the days of self-isolation would be springtime for introverts. That hasn’t quite happened.

I suppose it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that extroverts really just can’t stop. And they can’t stop being enabled either. After all, it was not for nothing that Ferguson invoked Susan Cain’s seminal book Quiet:

“Introversion,” Cain wrote, “is now [considered] a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” Her book was a catalog of the ways in which society is designed around the pleasures and benefits of the extroverted: open floor plans in the workplace, team-building exercises everywhere, office calendars that let the boss and co-workers track your every move. Our culture’s heroes on the screen or the athletic field are always extroverts, our weirdos and deviants invariably portrayed as introverts”

If you want evidence of that last point just look at how SEAL Team portrayed it as a radical and counter-intuitive choice to recruit a quiet frogman into Bravo rather than yet another blustering alpha male, in order to avoid a total echo chamber of gung-ho decision-making. And yet the show then reversed itself within episodes to reveal said quiet frogmen as, well, a devious soul willing to throw a brother under the bus to save himself. Those sneaky introverts, so quiet…

The lockdown has done away with team building nonsense, made group meetings easy to escape by faux freezing, revealed the idiocy of open plan houses and endless commuting, and its aftermath may well also do in the idiocy of open plan offices as people demand walls, doors, and their own personal easily sanitised and secured space. And yet the ongoing war on introversion (which after reading Cain’s book I realised to my regret I had been complicit in as a tutor owing to grading guidelines) has not lost a step. You would think that being ordered to stay indoors, and being thrown back on their own internal resources, people might cultivate the interior life. Not a bit of it. Everything has to be shared, everything has to be performed for an imaginary audience, everything has to be broadcast to the world. This is the true pathology: Man alone with himself – desperately turns to social media and dances a quick step with his long-suffering dog, desperate for likes.

I thought about writing some content specifically for coronavirus – the usual drivel, appropriate movies to watch, long books to read, music to listen to – and decided not to. Calvin Coolidge said National Education Week did not need his imprimatur, it could get along just fine by itself.

April 13, 2020

Montgomery Micawber-Mycroft’s 9 rules for living elegantly

In this time of lockdown when dress codes are in sad abeyance and the whole world is going to hell in a handcart what one needs are edifying rules, says discreet Hollywood power player Montgomery Micawber-Mycroft who spoke exclusively to B. Bradley Bradlee, as they both self-isolate in a yacht off of Key Largo.

1) A gentleman is judged by the quality of his repartee

Any dweeb can be polite, but a gentleman always strives to be witty and leave the other party feeling amused and valued

2) Never ever wear brown shoes

An Irishman called PJ Mara once told me of his stricture against brown shoes and blue suits, I have expanded it

3) Always travel with a pen and paper

You may need to make notes, and in dire straits a piece of paper can be made to look a pocket square from a distance

4) Potted plants are all that separate us from mere anarchy

Even if all you can do is maintain the health of a cactus while stranded at sea like we are currently, maintain a potted plant!

5) Sandals are all well and good, but in their place

I winter in Los Angeles, but summer in England, for a reason, my good Bradley, I respect the sandal, but do not love it

6) If you have to give a speech, never paraphrase Churchill

There is no faster way to making a prize ass of yourself than to plagiarise Churchill and expect people to applaud or ignore it

7) Burgundy is a dashed tricky colour to pull off

I have been defeated many times over the years, and in the end have decided the best I can do for it is a tie

8) Black shoes always, but light gray for Chelsea boots

Always wear black shoes, but when it comes to Chelsea boots always a shade of light grey that goes with light blue suits

9) Don’t take Alexander Kraft seriously at all

A man willing to be photographed wearing black socks, brown shoes, and white trousers is not a man worthy of your time

Any Other Business: Part L

As the title suggests, so forth.

Modern Family goes big

11 years is a long time for a sitcom to run, Cheers and MASH did it, but they didn’t have child actors built into the premise of the show like Modern Family did. Modern Family is the only American network sitcom that I would stand beside Arrested Development, and for much the same reasons. The faux docu-format, the lack of a soundtrack, and the delight in absurdity made it stand out in a world befouled by Chuck Lorre crudities. What made Modern Family so great for so long was the sheer variety of comedy in play: cross purposes, mistaken identity, sight gags, slapstick, word play, parody. Its weakest moments came in seasons that wobbled towards parody in the way that the final Naked Gun movie seemed to run out of comic invention and leaned too heavily into parody and ex nihilo zaniness. The triumph of the show is that it managed to course correct, perhaps as the maturing of the child actors into adults opened up new realms for the writers to explore. As a result this final season, now airing on Sky One, has had episodes; in particular ‘The Prescott’; that have been dizzying in the sheer number of plates kept spinning for twenty minutes, while the ‘Paris’ special feels like a North by Northwest moment as the writers grabbed one last big chance to do stuff they’d always wanted to but never got to.

Supernatural returns

E4 have finally got round to airing season 14 of Supernatural, two years after season 13. Since then RTE2 have shown the second revival of The X-Files, which seemed at times to be directly pitting itself against its spiritual descendant. Supernatural is not the show it was back in 2005, not least because someone turned on the lights in season 6 after creator Eric Kripke left and they’ve never been turned off again since, which has changed the goriness and mood of the show. But starting season 14 now is an odd moment, because you can’t but be aware that season 15 is coming to an end in America, and its final episode will be the finale for the entire series. Supernatural began in 2005, first aired in Ireland on TV3 in summer 2006, and will likely finish its run on E4 in 2021 or 2022 depending on their dilatoriness. That is an incredible amount of time to have spent with the characters of Dean and Sam Winchester, and their treasured Chevy Impala – which as we know from Chuck turned out to be the most important object in the history of the universe.

The democratic revolution continues

Today is the first day of a further three week period of what feels rather like martial law, imposed by a government rejected by the people but which has refused to leave office – and nobody in the media seems to want make a fuss about that. Far from all being in this together the Garda Commissioner has been actively encouraging people to inform on their neighbours. That feels a bit too much like Soviet Russia for my liking, and, it should be noted, comes just months after Drew Harris wanted access to everyone’s business on their phone ‘to fight serious crime’. That was before the pandemic. As the idea of testing and tracing for a relaxation of lockdown in Germany involves accessing data on phones it’s not hard to see Drew’s snooping being double downed as ‘for the sake of public health’. And yet… a temporary crisis is always a perfect moment for doing away with civil liberties on a permanent basis. By all means lockdown the country for public health, but let’s have more discussion. And if a national crisis needs national unity then form a national government. The refusal to do so should be seen for what it is, and discussed for what it is, a shameful attempt by Fine Gael to profit politically from a pandemic. Their failed election campaign centred on scaremongering that only they could handle the crisis of Brexit. And now they cling stubbornly to power to … make their point that only they can handle a crisis…? Remember Varadkar blustering he wanted to go into opposition? What exactly does it take for Fine Gael to leave government when they lose an election? Must we send the entire Cabinet abroad for St Patrick’s Day and change all the ministerial locks?

April 10, 2020

Top 5 Connery Bonds

As we now look forward to another 3 weeks of Status Burgundy, which by its sheer duration might be more appropriately thought of as Status House Arrest at this point, let us give thanks for ITV 4’s insistence on continually airing one of the crown jewels of 1960s cinema – the first five Connery Bonds.

5) Dr No

Joseph Wiseman’s titular Spectre agent is revealed late in the film with icy dinner party repartee and sets an impressive bar, as does Ken Adam’s first ever expansive supervillain lair. We see Bond’s home, something apparently forgotten by Mendes and Craig when it came to puffing up his minimalist flat in Spectre, and get some nice ruthlessness from 007: “You’ve had your six”. Ursula Andress’ memorable entrance as Honey Ryder rising from the sea set the marker for Bond girls’ glamour, but this is in retrospect a surprisingly grounded film with Bond doing some dogged detective work.

4) From Russia with Love

The second Bond film has no Ken Adam, busy creating Dr Strangelove’s War Room, but from the dashing title credits composer John Barry really starts to impose himself with his brass heavy, jauntily heroic secondary Bond theme. There is trade-craft aplenty but the action is a bit disconnected and notably bound to the location of Istanbul until the finale which pays homage to North by Northwest twice over with its espionage on a train and then a helicopter attack. Robert Shaw’s muscular psychotic and Lotte Lenya’s high-kicking Spectre supremo are hugely memorable as archetypal villains.

3) Thunderball

I have warmed to Kevin McClory’s Bond production in recent years. Ken Adam launched a thousand parodies with his modernist cavernous Spectre office, complete with lethal chairs, not to mention the Spectre agent du jour, eye-patched Emilio Largo, maintaining a pool for sharks to dispatch incompetent henchmen and MI6 gadflies. Claudine Auger’s Domino is a more than just a very pretty face, with a character arc climaxing in monumental brass. Elsewhere John Barry’s sinuously sinister descending woodwind motif conjures underwater intrigue before boisterously matching director Terence Young’s showy underwater battle and bravura carnival chase with Hitchcockian assassination attempt.

2) You Only Live Twice

The men in blue boiler suits versus the men in grey boiler suits as Stephen King put it. Ninjas versus Spectres: inside a VOLCANO. Ken Adam spent £1 million on the volcano set, complete with functioning monorail, gantry, lift, and full-scale rocket model. The next year Harold Wilson devalued sterling. John Barry created a suspenseful space march for Spectre’s extraterrestrial sabotage, as well as the signature use of his secondary Bond theme for Little Nellie’s helicopter battle. Donald Pleasance revealed to us at last the face of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, quipping from Roald Dahl’s fantasia.

1) Goldfinger

The most quoted exchange in all the Bond films; “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die”; sits among cinematic riches equivalent to Fort Knox. Ken Adam’s gargantuan and gleaming Fort Knox set, the garrulous Goldfinger and his lethal laser, the mute Oddjob and his lethal hat, Felix Leiter in the role of Triumph the insult comic dog. Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton and Tania Mallet are the knockout trio of English blondes in the series’ ‘traditional’ roles of the bad girl who dies, the good girl who dies, and the bad girl who lives. Sean Connery is in fine mid-season form as 007, matched by Blackman’s characteristic swagger; her Pussy Galore helping save the day when John Barry’s stirring Goldfinger march complements Guy Hamilton’s gorgeous direction, with more subtle push-ins and zoom-outs than Terence Young ever considered.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 12:00 am

Who anywhere will ever read these written words?

April 7, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLIX

As the title suggests, so forth.

RIP Honor Blackman

Honor Blackman has died aged 94; she was the oldest surviving Avenger. I wrote last summer about what a disconcerting experience it was watching True Movies’ scrambled late night re-runs of The Avengers. I had only previously seen a handful of Cathy Gale episodes late at night on RTE 1 over 20 years earlier. As True Movies jumped between episodes and seasons of the first three years of the show it became evident that it was something of a miracle that it ever became the classic show it did. It was only when Blackman debuted in the first episode of the second season, ‘Mr Teddy Bear’, that things really started to click. The chemistry between Steed and Gale, and her judo prowess, defined the show as The Avengers. In retrospect she fared much better than Diana Rigg in transferring from The Avengers to Bond. I remember watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service for the first time after devouring Channel 4’s re-runs of The Avengers in the mid-90s, and being immensely frustrated that Rigg’s Bond girl was so damn passive. By contrast Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger walked from a TV role into a movie role and traded away none of her antagonistic strength, flirtatious charm, and judo prowess. And that is not something that can be said, even now, for many actresses making that transition; just look at Jessica Alba’s failure to ever find a film role to remotely equal her star-making lead in Dark Angel.

Donnie Dumbo

Trump Delenda Est

I think at this point we can say that Trump has not grown into the job; he has actually got far worse. What can be said about a man whose ego is so monstrous that he has transformed press briefings on a pandemic into virtual campaign rallies, who is so incredibly incapable of not making a pandemic all about him that it drives hardened journalists to profanity in their disbelief? This is his shooting people on 5th Avenue moment. People have died, are dying, and will continue to die because of Donald J Trump’s ego. The bragging, the bluster, the bullsh-t, the strong impression of functional illiteracy; a ten year old is trying to run one of the world’s biggest countries, and not a smart ten year old, but the type of bully who when called upon to read aloud in class painfully plods along not reading so much as sounding out the letters he sees as he sees them as if he’s never seen them before in his life. It explains much when you actually allow yourself to admit that Trump probably cannot read. He can pick out certain words, and improvise around them, with his simplified vocabulary. But he cannot read. If you forced him to deliver a well-known Bible passage at a Mass, he would endure agonies, because it would be made obvious thru cutting off his favourite tactic of paraphrase and riffing. His decision to weigh in on the firing of Captain Crozier, who was actually trying to do his job, makes a lot of sense from that perspective: the peculiar gripe that this was not English Lit, don’t write a letter, just call someone, makes perfect sense coming from a man who cannot read. Mike Pence probably wouldn’t do a stellar job of steering America thru this pandemic, but, freed of Trump and the need to continually massage Trump’s ego, he might not make things worse by actively promoting snake-oil remedies from the White House. Invoke the 25th Amendment now.

April 3, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXX

Filed under: Talking Books,Talking Movies,Talking Television — Fergal Casey @ 5:59 pm
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As the title suggests, so forth.

This could be how I see Tenet in 70mm later this year, if it or any other blockbuster gets released at all in 2020

The polling suggests cinema may be done

It seems somebody had the good sense last week to poll Americans on whether they would return to cinemas once this coronavirus unpleasantness has blown over. The answer was yes. Certainly. But not right away. Rather like the beach on the 4th of July in Amity Island everybody would stand back and let someone else be the first to paddle out into the water and make sure there were no killer sharks lurking thereabouts. But if people are serious about waiting three weeks or three months before they’d dare venture into a packed cinema again, how can the cinemas survive? How many days can you survive as a going concern when your biggest screens showing the biggest blockbusters at the height of summer garner an attendance more usually seen at an Alex Ross Perry movie in the IFI? Big releases have been pushed into 2021 with abandon: Fast & Furious 9, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Morbius. I’d be surprised if MGM didn’t get nervous and shove No Time to Die from November to next April if they think that by November people will still be readjusting to the idea that going to sit in the dark with 300 sweating sniffling coughing strangers packed like sardines in a crushed tin can isn’t like asking for rat stew during the Black Death. I for one like the idea of taking a coffee into an obscure French film and listening to Jazz24 in screen 3 of the IFI after normal service has been resumed – but the kicker is, that would be a fairly empty screening. And too many years of press screenings, matinees, and unpopular art-house choices have made me unaccustomed to truly packed cinemas. I was already frequently exasperated at bustling audiences before the coronavirus; because of the constant talking, shuffling in and out to the toilets and sweets counter, and, above all, the feeling that I was looking out over a WWII night scene as the light from endless phones strafed the roof of the cinema on the watch for incoming enemy aircraft. To put up with that, and then be paranoid that anybody, not just the people sniffling or coughing, but asymptomatic anybody could have the coronavirus and I could end up with scarred lungs and no sense of smell or taste from watching a film makes me hesitant to go before the second wave.

Further thoughts on the xkcd challenge

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned re-watching Aloha and thinking about the xkcd challenge [https://xkcd.com/2184/]. To wit, it is easy to prove your independent streak by disliking films universally beloved, but less easy to prove your independent streak by liking films universally reviled. Randall Munroe gave a critical score under 50% on Rotten Tomatoes as the target, the other two parts of his trifecta being that the films came out in your adult life post-2000, and are not enjoyed ironically. Well, gosh darn if I didn’t find these ten films rated between 40% and 49% by critics on Rotten Tomatoes. And you know what, their critical pasting is, I would argue, largely undeserved. Some of them are rather good, some of them are not nearly as bad as reputed, and I would happily watch all of them again.

What Lies Beneath

I was astonished to see that Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 Hitchcock pastiche was so critically pasted when it features some sequences; in particular the agony in the bath tub; that rise to the height of genuine Hitchcock level suspense. Zemeckis’ increasing obsession with CGI-enhanced technical wizardry hasn’t yet completely swamped his interest in his characters, as he overtly toys with Rear Window expectations.

Orange County

Colin Hanks and Jack Black are the main players in Mike White’s knockabout comedy about a hopelessly bungled application to Stanford, courtesy of Lily Tomlin’s guidance counsellor, and increasingly ludicrous attempts to get the admissions kerfuffle all sorted out by any means necessary. It may not be as sharp as other White scripts but it’s always amusing for its less than 90 minutes.

xXx

Vin Diesel has valiantly kept the memory of this ludicrous 2002 film alive by somehow making it his only successful non-Fas & Furious franchise. The premise of an extreme sports dude being recruited into being an amateur CIA spook makes no sense what-so-ever, but it had better action, jokes, and humanity than the Bond film of its year by some measure – “Bora Bora!”

The Rules of Attraction

It was a genuine shock to see that this film was so critically reviled when I enthusiastically featured it in my list of best films of the 2000s. It stands beside American Psycho as the best adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel, and Roger Avary draws career highlight turns from leads Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn Sossamon, and James Van Der Beek.

Daredevil

One of the last examples of the big blockbuster movie with the big blockbuster song complete with a big blockbuster video; the at the time inescapable Evanescence hit ‘Bring Me To Life’; this is an only semi-successful attempt at knockabout nonsense with the villains all trying to out-ham each other (and Colin Farrell’s Bullseye winning), but Jennifer Garner shines as Daredevil’s love interest Elektra.

Switchblade Romance

I will die on this weird Gallic hill! Alexandre Aja’s utterly blood-soaked shocker starring Cecile de France (and a chainsaw that spooked the next crew to use it) is a goretastic virtuoso thrill-ride, and the final twist, which was presented as it was on the advice of Luc Besson that it would be funnier that way, makes the film even more preposterously entertaining!

The Village

This was the final straw for critics when it came to M Night Shyamalan, but it’s actually a very engaging and deeply creepy film with a star-making lead performance from Bryce Dallas Howard. Sure the final twist is probably over-egging the pudding, and indicated that M Night was now addicted to twists, but it doesn’t undo the effectiveness of all the previous suspense.

Constantine

Keanu Reeves’ chain-smoking street magus powered a supernatural thriller with exquisitely deliberate pacing, courtesy of future Hunger Games main-man Francis Lawrence; here making his directorial debut. It had a fine sense of metaphysical as well as visceral horror, featured outstanding supporting turns from Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare, a memorable magus versus demons action showdown, and was easily Keanu’s best film since The Matrix.

Super

I can’t believe that writer/director James Gunn’s delirious deconstruction of the superhero genre could actually have been this lowly esteemed by critics on release in 2010. Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page both give tremendous performances as the delusional heroes who decided to dress in absurd costumes and fight crime; suicidally going up against Kevin Bacon’s gangster, who is very much not a comic-book villain.

The Green Hornet

I will often stop on this if I catch it late at night while channel-hopping. It may not be a very smooth or coherent film, but it has scenes, lines, and ideas that still pop into my mind frequently; “You brought a gas mask?” “Of course I brought a gas mask!” “Just for yourself?”; and Seth Rogen’s DVD commentary is a hoot.

You didn’t build that, Disney

It’s been quite maddening to see bus after bus pass by in the last few weeks with huge ads on their sides for the launch of Disney+ and know that this lockdown is a gift from the universe to a mega corporation by making their new streaming service an obvious choice for harassed parents eager to occupy the time of housebound children with the Disney vault while they try to get some work from home done. Not of course that it’s really Disney’s vault, as is made plain by the attractions listed on the side of the bus. The Simpsons, which is to say 20th Century Fox. Star Wars. Pixar. Marvel. National Geographic. That’s Disney+? These things aren’t Disney. Matt Groening created The Simpsons, and I highly doubt Walt Disney would have approved. George Lucas created Star Wars and changed the cinematic world with ILM, and it was from Lucasfilm that Pixar was spun out, with the help of Steve Jobs. Not anybody at Disney. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko are responsible for most of the characters of Marvel, and without James Cameron and Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi there probably wouldn’t have been an MCU for Disney to buy. And Disney sure as hell didn’t found the National Geographic Society in the milieu of Alexander Graham Bell in the 1880s. Disney bought these. They didn’t build them patiently, they didn’t put in hard work, or exercise quality control over decades to build up a trusted reputation, they just waved a cheque book, and somehow regulators looked the other way at the increasing monopoly power being acquired. Disney bought these to accumulate monopolistic power and make mucho money, and in the case of Star Wars when they have attempted to build something themselves they have spectacularly managed to kill the golden goose, as can be seen by looking at the downward trajectory at the box office of the late unlamented Disney trilogy.

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