Talking Movies

June 29, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXIV

As the title suggests, so forth.

2001: A very bad year

Well, I finally saw Evolution last weekend. Just because it was on. And because I was eating dinner. It was a sorta ambient film-watching experience. Watch 45 minutes. Tape the rest. Watch that during lunch the next day. Wonder then why I bothered watching any of it. Muse on not knowing about Head & Shoulders’ efficacy against aliens. Cheer on some truly minor TV actors in small roles. Wonder why on earth David Duchovny took the lead. Muse on whether its failure stopped him from parlaying his X-Files fame into a leading man career on the big screen. And then remember that, even though it was from the director of Ghostbusters, I’d skipped the film on purpose in 2001 from a complete lack of interest. A lack of interest not limited to Evolution. There were multiple reasons why I saw only eleven films in the cinema in 2001, an alarming number of them rep showings. But one of them is that the year 2001 was not a very good year for cinema. In fact it was by way of being a very bad year. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Tigerland, which were 2001 highlights for me arrived here then but were actually 2000 films. And the hangover went the other way with Ocean’s 11 and Monsters Inc being 2002 experiences here. Shrek, Planet of the Apes, AI, Moulin Rouge!, The Others, The Fellowship of the Ring. These were the films of 2001 I saw on the biggest screens in the Savoy and Ormonde during 2001, and if not for the Antipodeans Luhrmann and Jackson unleashing immortal classics in the final four months of the year what a washout it would have been. I don’t know if anything can really be said to cause a slump the likes of which Hollywood experienced in 2001 but it was a slump for sure.

John Cusack: Former Film Star

John Cusack turned 54 yesterday which led me to the question: What in the hell happened to John Cusack? In what should have been the decade of his career in which he played a defining role, like Kirk Douglas in Spartacus or John Wayne in The Searchers, or Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko or Keanu Reeves as John Wick, the best that Cusack rose to as a fortysomething was his lead role in the minor Stephen King horror story 1408 and his hero repeatedly escaping just ahead of the shockwave(s) in Roland Emmerich’s over-egged disaster pudding 2012. What went wrong? How did he end up making so many films that were not released, barely released, or sunk without trace here? 1408 and Cell, his two Stephen King horrors with Samuel L Jackson, got cinema releases in late summer 2007 and 2016 – they almost neatly cordon off the decade of disaster under scrutiny, and the decline in Cusack’s celebrity, as the latter went to VoD before a very limited cinema release. Before 1408 came Grace is Gone and The Contract. Ring a bell? Nope… 2012 and Hot Tub Time Machine while not great films got wide releases and made money. The Raven and The Frozen Ground are better films but got less wide releases and made considerably less money. They also flag a recurring problem – there are way too many films here that merge together when you read the loglines; impressive casts assembled for some glossy crime thriller, involving a serial killer or assassination or heist: The Factory, The Numbers Station, The Bag Man, Drive Hard, The Prince, Reclaim. There’s even a Phone Booth–like appearance in Grand Piano. And what’s stranger is that in the midst of these formulaic films Cusack made We Are Not Animals in Argentina, about a Hollywood star fleeing formulaic films, and then went back to Hollywood to make more formulaic films. There have not been enough meaty roles like his older Brian Wilson in the split-focus biopic Love & Mercy. Instead he’s made cameos in The Paperboy, The Butler, Adult World, taken more substantial roles in glossy films that sank without trace (Dragon Blade, Shanghai), indie films that failed to connect (Maps to the Stars, Chi-Raq), and somehow bungled a spiritual sequel to his towering 90s achievement Grosse Pointe Blank in the shape of War, Inc. Cusack has not stopped working, and perhaps that’s the problem. Like Matthew McConaughey, he needs to say no to a looooot of scripts for a while if he wants to get back on track. Otherwise Cusack will continue to work steadily, but solely on trashy nonsense (constantly declining in quality), that is made for midnight drunken Netflix buffoonery, and clicked on increasingly only by people who remember that his was once a face that appeared on posters inside cinemas.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 2:58 pm

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Any Other Business: Part LVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

“The new orders say we’re all to wear masks now. My world is collapsing…”

Status Crimson Tide

Well, today is the first day of Status Crimson Tide. And basically everything is good to go: pubs are open with provisos, churches are open with crowd control, cinemas are open with clearances, barbers are open with bookings, galleries are open with guidance, and countrywide drives can be conducted with caution. There was meant to be Status Captain Scarlet on July 20th, and then the all clear on August 10th, but things got …accelerated. It was obvious that public compliance with social distance, especially among young people, wasn’t just fraying but had completely broken down, so the government was just making official what had become obvious. I’m inclined to think that the blame can be laid largely on the government itself. Leo’s little picnic was the kibosh on people inconveniencing themselves for the sake of others when the unelected and in fact rejected Taoiseach would have no such sacrifices for himself. The complete failure of voluntary mask-wearing is a corollary of this decline of moral authority. Leo and Simon Harris did photo-ops of themselves wearing masks and nobody cared. After all they had been disparaging masks for nearly four months. Were they lying then or lying now? So now we have a new law to force mask-wearing on buses, and HSE ads have begun to run on TV extolling the joys of mask-wearing: it’s to protect others from you spreading the disease. NO DUH! That was obvious in March. But from March onwards all the government wanted to talk about was how masks would encourage bad behaviour and the science was uncertain. The science wasn’t uncertain, the bad behaviour argument was idiotic, and the upshot is that masks are unlikely to take off here which will hurt us all in the long run in trying to get back to a functioning society.

Christophe Beck and the Buffy sound

Crashing thru Buffy on E4’s late-night re-runs, almost from the first few minutes of episode of season 2 it was obvious that something had changed, and that change was confirmed when the credits rolled: Christophe Beck had entered the recording studio.  If season 1 was scored in a surprisingly straightforward spooky music for horror set-ups way then season 2 was when Beck, and almost by implication the other composers working around him, realised that this series was not an out and out horror show and should be scored as such. Instead it should be set with an emphasis on melancholy and romance as well as stirring action and jump scares.

Jools and the Jazz Trance

Well, now. So Jools Holland was allowed to present Later…with Jools Holland solo again as I had wished for before Christmas, and it only took a global pandemic to stop the middle-management meddling… It was nice, if curious, to have a featured guest interviewed and curate archive performances interspersed with the odd musical guest in the curious Zoom fashion of the times. And damn if Jools didn’t regale Gregory Porter, to Porter’s obvious delight, with the tale of the jazz trance mentioned hereabouts last year. It was a 2010 live episode of Later…with Jools Holland and Jools was trying in his inimitably (and endearing) ramshackle way to keep the show on track for time given that Newsnight was prepping to air live too once his show stopped. And standing waiting in the shadows was a large choir ready to join Elbow, but unfortunately he’d put on the McCoy Tyner Trio just before, and all four of them had gone into a proper eyes closed working out their harmonies by feel jazz trance. The camera captured a nervous looking Jools, baffled at how to get them to stop as he couldn’t make eye contact with any of the players: a moment of panic that reduced Dad and I to helpless laughter. At last one musician opened his eyes and Jools was able to flag him down. He stopped, and Jools initiated a round of applause. Only for McCoy Tyner to misinterpret this, in his jazz trance, as a groovy audience’s enthusiasm, and so into another chorus, only for Jools to foil him by asserting his authority as MC to insist that this had now gone on long enough and it was time for Elbow to get a look in.

St Vincent: one more tune

I didn’t want to put a cover version into the selection of 10 of her best songs the other day, but you should check out St Vincent’s performance of ‘Lithium’ with the surviving members of Nirvana, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 because what a cover version it is.

June 26, 2020

St Vincent: 10 Songs

Paris is Burning

Cruel

Cheerleader

Year of the Tiger

I Should Watch TV

Prince Johnny

Digital Witness

Huey Newton

New York

Los Ageless

June 19, 2020

Interpol: 10 Songs

Obstacle 1

PDA

Stella was a diver and she was always down

Evil

Slow Hands

Not Even Jail

Pioneer to the Falls

Mammoth

My Desire

If you really love nothing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 5:43 pm

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June 8, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LV

As the title suggests, so forth.

Status Maroon 5

Well, today is the first day of Status Maroon 5. Libraries are to re-open, public transport is to become more frequent (for all the use you can make of it), county wide car wanders can be undertaken, and the cocooned can be visited briefly (with exceptionally discomfiting provisos). And what next? Status Crimson Tide on June 29th with the hastened re-opening of churches, museums and galleries, pubs that serve food, alongside the planned socially distanced cafes and restaurants. But when do we return to life as it was in the first week of March? It seems that public patience with lockdown is fraying, and perhaps with good reason. The global population is reckoned at 7.8 billion and COVID-19 has killed 397,000, whereas the endlessly invoked exemplar of the last global pandemic the Spanish Influenza killed between 17,000,000 and 50,000,000 of a global population of 1.8 billion. And that global population had just suffered thru the privations and depredations of a world war. If we had just all started wearing masks in February, modelling ourselves on Hong Kong and Taiwan, could we have avoided such a crippling lockdown?

Hannibal, he’s here to tease

Around this time in 2013 I previewed, and then later weighed in on, Hannibal; the blood-spattered procedural in which Laurence Fishburne’s FBI supremo Jack Crawford teams unstable but gifted profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) with brilliant psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) to fight crime. I thought a tale of friendship between future deadly nemeses before they come into celebrated and chronicled conflict sounded suspiciously Smallville. And it wasn’t, Lecter in the pilot was very much already a supervillain; eating people for fun. Not that the fun was obvious. Hannibal was incredibly gory for a network show. At the time I thought that had it been on HBO or Showtime it would be unbearable, but Hard Candy director David Slade made it bearable by distancing the viewer with a cold colour palette and a chilly emotionless feel. At its most plot-driven it could feel like a very precisely directed Criminal Minds, with exceptionally gory crime scenes and dream sequences interspersed with exceedingly crisp dialogue between two of the BAU team. And yet, as I try manfully to finally finish the last 8 episodes of that first season 7 years later, it occurs to me that I was right to ditch the show after 5 episodes back then. Why? Well, because now it reminds me not of Criminal Minds but of Mindhunter. Far too much of Hannibal’s runtime is taken up with psychobabble sessions and lame dream sequences. There is a chilly emptiness around gory schlock to portend a great depth, which simply is not there. God forbid that plots should drive, that character should be revealed in action, that dialogue scenes should arise spontaneously and, like House’s trademark, feature two topics simultaneously – procedural and personal. The Engineer put it nicely, saying he had abandoned both shows because he was sick of being drip-fed plot like sugar water to a diabetic.

…or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

It is wrong to continually think about a fictional character in relation to a real person, but The West Wing re-runs on TG4, focusing as they currently do on the electoral battle between empathetic intellectual Jed Bartlett and know-nothing jackass Rob Ritchie, make it hard not to think about Trump and the sheer vacancy he represents. Stomping all over the First Amendment he swore an oath to protect, he had protestors tear-gassed and baton-charged so he could do a strange stroll to sullenly stand in front of a Church and hold up a copy of the Bible. Holding it in such an awkward way that its proper use seemed as alien to him as if he had been clutching a Torah scroll. Did he read a passage of scripture from the holy writ? No. Did he attempt some Nixonian gesture of empathy towards the protestors? No. Did he attempt to defuse the tense situation as Bobby Kennedy had when he spoke to a crowd the night MLK was shot dead? No.  And then think of Bartlett extemporising a speech from the Biblical quote ‘Joy cometh in the morning’, of Bartlett’s desk only being seen empty in The West Wing two days after his inauguration when he thought Leo’s office was the door to a closet. And think of how Trump’s desk is empty, all the time. Trump would never read from that bible lest it show him up, because you cannot paraphrase and riff the Word of God. And that’s a problem if you cannot actually read. The empty desk betokens an empty man. Inside the bible Trump held, James said:

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabboth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

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