Talking Movies

September 15, 2019

Notes on Extra Ordinary

Filed under: Talking Movies,Talking Radio — Fergal Casey @ 8:19 pm

Irish comedy-horror Extra Ordinary (sic) was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Extra Ordinary left me feeling unmoored in time and space. Everybody seems to be using Nokia phones from at least fifteen years ago without mentioning that this is not set now. And while initial aerial shots of flat fields and peat bogs seem to locate us in the Midlands as the film goes on more and more the accents bend towards Cork. At least something was easy to grab hold of with both hands: the ‘twist’. Will Forte, playing a mockery of Chris De Burgh as ‘Cosmic Woman’ one-hit wonder Christian Winter, decides to make a deal with the devil. But he must make a sacrifice. When his abrasive girlfriend (Claudia O’Doherty) explodes their intended sacrifice, he must find another pronto. And his triumphant moment of villainy early in the film has a note of ambiguity which I noted unambiguously, hoped it wasn’t going to be a ‘twist’, and then an hour later was hit over the head with as the twist. Rarely has the pay-off of a plant annoyed me so much. And not only that but how this twist was then resolved.

Forte paints in the broadest of brush strokes, as does O’Doherty, while Jimmy’s Hall star Barry Ward as the posthumously henpecked Martin Martin takes full advantage of showing off his range as he is possessed by a range of ghosts including his dead wife Bonnie. Also a presence from beyond the grave, via a preposterous VHS series on ‘The Talents’ (think the Shining) is a glorious Risteard Cooper as a pompous 1980s paranormalist. Against all this madness Maeve Higgins’ driving instructor Rose ends up being the straight man, grounding the film so that everyone else can go over the top. There are some wonderful conceits in the film (Forte’s business with gloves, a high-stakes chase at a very low speed), and Frank cinematographer James Mather makes the film look better than it has any right to be. And yet for all that I did not like it. I can see that there is much good in it, but the increasing gore and ludicrousness saw me zoning further and further out.

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September 10, 2019

From the Archives: Top 10 College Movies

Another deep dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives dredges this up editorially requested piece from September 2007.

10 Chariots of Fire

People forget the importance of Cambridge in this film where future Olympian Harold Abrahams first silences anti-Semitic prejudice by doing the impossible; hurtling around the tight corners of the Trinity Quad in a 60 second sprint, as judged by the pealing of the clock tower.

 

9 Revenge of the Nerds

A key 1980s college movie Revenge of the Nerds had a joyously simple premise. Nerds go to college. Jocks kick nerds out of their house. Nerds fight back. Hilarity ensues.

8 Love Story

For any of you starting college as hopeless romantics it’s time to get real. The only relationship this preposterously successful 1970 Harvard romance will have to your experience is as perfect ironic viewing for a DVD night. All together now, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.

 

7 Wonder Boys

Wonderfully offbeat whimsy about a Pittsburgh English Professor (Michael Douglas) who, for various reasons, is forced to deal with three different romantic entanglements, a dead dog and a depressed student (Tobey Maguire) who may be faking his woes just to have an excuse to hang out with him…

 

6 Starter for Ten

This far more realistic 2006 bittersweet British comedy sees awkward student James McAvoy torn between an upper class hottie and a working class activist in Thatcher’s Britain and trying to impress both by, of all things, getting a place on Bristol University’s team for University Challenge.

5 Old School

The film that finally made Will Ferrell a star sees Ferrell, Vince Vaughan and Luke Wilson start an off-campus frat house in an attempt to recapture their youth. Will Ferrell’s ‘perfect response’ in a debate they must win to avoid being evicted is a thing of genius.

 

4 Back to School

The film Old School wants to be sees millionaire Rodney Dangerfield start college to help out his flunking son. Watch out for the hilarious continuity humour of the celebrated diving scene where a sexagenarian Dangerfield (and a muscle bound stunt double) perform the Triple Lindy move.

3 Real Genius

Val Kilmer headlines a group of students studying physics in the pressure cooker environment of a college that is not MIT (tedious legal reasons…). The scene where Kilmer uses slices of frozen nitrogen as change for vending machines should be shown in Irish schools to promote chemistry.

2 Animal House

Nevermind the ‘plot’, just know that this film was the best cinematic showcase for John Belushi’s great comedic talent. If you are in college and you haven’t seen this madcap comedy then there is something wrong with you. Three words best describe Animal House: Toga! Toga! Toga!

 

1 Rules of Attraction

Over a semester at fictional Camden College an impossibly pretty bisexual love triangle plays out between James Van Deer Beek (Sean Bateman), Shannyn Sossamon (Lauren) and Ian Somerhalder (Paul) as the shadow of AIDS looms over the general debauchery. Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary adapts Bret Easton Ellis’ nihilistic novel about Patrick Bateman’s brother to be shocking, romantic and hilarious.

Best Teacher

Donald Sutherland in Animal House. Who can resist his response to the utter boredom of his English class especially the indignant howl of the last two lines: “Don’t write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring too. He’s a little bit long-winded, he doesn’t translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible. [Bell rings, students leave] But that doesn’t relieve you of your responsibility for this material. Now I’m waiting for reports from some of you… Listen, I’m not joking. This is my job!”.

 

Best Preparation for College

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ferris is just helping out Cameron: “He has a lot of issues to work thru before he finishes High School. He can’t go to college wound this tight. His roommate will kill him!”

 

Best College

Barnett College. Don’t remember it? It’s where Indiana Jones taught archaeology in The Last Crusade. Now that’s a faculty and a half.

 

How Not to Apply to College

Orange County. This 2002 cult comedy sees Colin Hanks embark on a quest to convince Orange County University to admit him after his school accidentally sends the wrong transcripts.

Made in the USA, for Export to China

I’ve been mooching around the notion of writing a piece about the impact of China on Hollywood for long enough, here are some speculative musings.

Bret Easton Ellis on his Podcast some years back observed that gay characters were being quietly pushed out of blockbusters, and places reserved for them in cheaper movies intended as domestic fare only, and generally they could rampage around television. I’ve noted that in passing in a review of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and a piece on Independence Day: Resurgence. The latter was particularly telling because Roland Emmerich had penned Harvey Fierstein’s role in 1996’s Independence Day, which was exactly the kind of character Ellis had observed was disappearing. But while Emmerich made Brent Spiner’s character gay, the gay couple could still pretend to just be good friends, while Emmerich laughed up his sleeve at the Chinese censor not understanding that male friends do not call each other baby. Also laughing up their sleeve that summer were Simon Pegg and Justin Lin when they made Star Trek Beyond’s Sulu gay, but in a similarly nod and wink fashion.

But these nods and winks are necessary because the American studios live in terror of locking themselves out of the Chinese market. Transformers: Dark of the Moon made 69% of its money overseas, so Michael Bay is now purveying American bombast to a non-American audience; which is quite something. But that creates a weird feedback loop. People in America don’t go see Transformers: Age of Extinction, and they’re sublimely irritated by its very existence because they didn’t go see Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Then Transformers: The Last Knight rolls along, on the back of international revenue (especially Chinese revenue as Transformers: Age of Extinction pandered so extensively to the market), and they howl in anguish that Hollywood is making terrible films, and they go on strike from seeing anything at all… And so Hollywood continues to be immensely profitable, but possibly at the cost of alienating its home market, so that American cinema becomes an export-led industry.

After all, James Gray said on the Bret Easton Ellis podcast that the removal of the 40 million dollar film from the equation has removed Hollywood from the conversation around water-coolers; that’s now been taken over by TV shows like Game of Thrones. The habit of paying money on Saturday night to go sit in a theatre and watch Jimmy Stewart, as he put it, has been lost.

September 8, 2019

Notes on IT: Chapter Two

The epic horror adaptation IT: Chapter Two was the film of the week earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

IT: Chapter Two is looooong. 2 hours 49 minutes long. It takes damn near as long to tell half the Stephen King story as the 1990 mini-series did to tell the whole story. And while there are undeniably good scares and some sequences of genuine dread, I came away with a feeling of dis-satisfaction; feeling that somehow the 1990 mini-series had done more in less time than this bloated shocker. Honest Trailers mocked the TV network censorship of the mini-series, and yet the almost parodic plethora of F-bombs masquerading as considered dialogue in this movie make you yearn for Taste & Decency. The practical effects of the Chinese restaurant scene are predictably swapped out for CGI, which of course isn’t nearly as effective a gross-out; and indeed the CGI gets so out of control that by the end we are confronted with the great cliche of our times – the giant swirling trashcan in the sky. I was always dubious about abandoning King’s structure to have a Losers Club as kids movie, and then a sequel if it went well, rather than the two-parter Cary Fukunaga intended which would flesh out King’s story with more detail and more gore.

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The Roaring Twenties

Filed under: Talking Books,Talking Movies,Talking Music,Talking Politics — Fergal Casey @ 2:14 pm

Some time back I speculated that this decade, the censorious Tens, would have to give way to, indeed would provoke, something rather different. I didn’t have in mind an exact historical re-run of the 1920s but now I find we are mere months away from the ever-moving marker of centenaries crossing into the Roaring Twenties. Which it must be said were roaring for the USA, but not quite as much fun for the rest of the world…

The next five years will see the centenaries of:

 

British forces massacaring civilians attending a football match in Croke Park

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari being released

F Scott Fitzgerald publishing The Great Gatsby

Edith Wharton publishing The Age of Innocence

DH Lawrence publishing Women in Love

Sinclair Lewis publishing Main Street

The USA introducing Prohibition

 

The Anglo-Irish Treaty being signed

The Kid being released

The Sheik being released

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse being released

 

The Civil War beginning

The destruction of records and archives at the Four Courts

Michael Collins being assassinated

Nosferatu being released

James Joyce publishing Ulysses

F Scott Fitzgerald publishing The Beautiful and the Damned

TS Eliot publishing The Waste Land

 

The Civil War ending

WB Yeats winning the Nobel Prize for Literature

Shadow of the Gunman being staged at the Abbey

PG Wodehouse publishing The Inimitable Jeeves

Safety Last! being released

The Charleston dance craze sweeping the world

The Bauhaus School moving to its signature building in Dessau

Adolf Hitler staging Beer Hall Putsch in Munich during Weimar hyperinflation

 

Juno and the Paycock being staged at the Abbey

Sherlock Jr. being released

EM Forster publishing A Passage to India

Thomas Mann publishing The Magic Mountain

George Gershwin composing Rhapsody in Blue

September 6, 2019

Personalities: The Savoy

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 4:26 pm

Last month the IFI began its refurbishment and was subjected to a threnody on its three screens. This month the Savoy will be given a memory treatment, because its distinctive screens no longer exist.

Savoy screen 1 was a screen of immense size and immense sound. I still remember the feeling of the lobby scene in The Matrix passing through my feet in a rumble of soundwaves. For a while Savoy screen 1 on a Saturday night was my defining experience of cinema-going. What was on there was the biggest movie of the week; whether that was an uproarious packed house at a matinee of American Beauty, or a fretful night-time audience jumping at What Lies Beneath.

Screen 2 was very nearly as big and I saw Batman BeginsThe Prestige and Inception there. It was nearly screen 1 but not quite. Screen 3 was also very big but had a more distinct personality than screen 2 as it had a large railing separating its upper seats from the lower. I vividly remember this for some reason as an intrinsic part of the experience of watching Mission: Impossible 2 where I got to find out what 400 people groaning at the hero kicking a gun vertically 6 feet up in the air from submerged in sand sounds like.

September 1, 2019

Notes on Crawl

Alexandre Aja’s Gator horror Crawl was the catch-up film of the week earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Alexandre Aja is on restrained form, for him, with Crawl. Certainly compared to the gleeful shlock of Piranha 3-D, this looks like a man determined to rein in the blood and gore for once. Having said which there is an injury to a main character to equal the nightmarish agony of the oft-censored finale of Romancing the Stone. But there are a lot of limb-severing chomps that don’t sever limbs in this film, and when the gators do come up trumps, it is not to the extent you would expect from the director of Switchblade Romance and The Hills Have Eyes remake. This is a survivalist horror rather than a shlock-fest you see. Aja wants you to care about these characters as he puts them thru the wringer. The one moment played for laughs is an out-of-focus background shot of a gator attack with the foregrounded character oblivious. Once we get in close Aja wants to make us feel the pain. He is remarkably effective at that, helped by the leanness of the Rasmussens’ script: this is 80 minutes that tightens like a well-oiled vise. First there’s the problem of the gator in the crawlspace, then there’s the problem of the flooding in the crawlspace, then there’s the problem of the levees breaking, each new problem a click in the mechanism of the vise.

10 Years since (500) Days of Summer

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 12:53 pm
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It’s been 10 years to the day since Talking Movies proper began with a review of (500) Days of Summer.

It is strange looking back a decade to a film I have not rewatched since I saw it at a press screening then.

It is stranger still to think that (500) Days of Summer came at the end of the 2000s, so understanding it the context of its decade flashes you back to the year 2000, and we are now just 4 months away from crashing into the 2020s. Tempis fugit.

From the Archives: Movies Without Heroines

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives finds this thinkpiece from the end of summer 2007.

With the postponement of the Wonder Woman film yet again Hollywood still believes that heroines can’t carry summer blockbusters no matter how super-powered. Fergal Casey looks at how this summer’s crop of blockbuster heroines have fared in the shadow of the action men.

It’s been a mixed summer at the cinema for actresses reduced to strong supporting roles and objectified love interests. The worst example of a leering camera was undoubtedly Michael Bay’s Transformers. Bay has always liked to drool over his brunettes and Megan Fox received this treatment to a degree which was quite farcical. Meanwhile Rachael Taylor, as Maggie the Aussie computer hacker, managed to avoid this (probably by being blonde) and impressed in a far more assertive if much smaller role. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy McClane in Die Hard 4 proved herself to truly be her father’s daughter. Kidnapped Lucy was handed the phone by the villain and whimpered “Daddy?” If this was 24 you know that her exact equivalent Kim Bauer would have been her usual maddeningly weak self begging for one man army Jack Bauer to come rescue her. But Lucy McClane coldly continued “Now there are only 5 of them left”. The indefinable quality of what makes a strong female character is best pinned down by contrasts.

Keira Knightley in Pirates 3 became a sword-fighting Pirate Queen and yet it still wasn’t enough to convince that her Elizabeth Swann was actually a strong character. Maybe it’s the uncomfortable tone of the Pirates sequels as the implicit threat of rape has hung over many of her scenes with strange pirate crews, especially in At World’s End. Spider-Man 3 meanwhile saw Kirsten Dunst subjected to endless humiliation. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing given how annoying Kirsten Dunst usually is it’s somewhat disturbing given that Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) was so noticeably underused and underwritten in the love triangle that Sam Raimi forgot to make. It also made the last minute decision not to kill MJ at the end utterly baffling.

Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music was the last actress who headlined the year’s top grossing film. It’s become conventional wisdom (despite the Alien films) that women can’t carry the action blockbusters which are the only films now capable of dominating the box-office. High-concept blockbusters travel very well owing to their visual storytelling which leads to a minimum of subtitles when compared to actress led chick-flicks which are heavily dependent on their witty dialogue. If you doubt this generalisation just think about how many shots in Spider-Man 3 eschewed dialogue to tell the story visually. Hitchcock would have been proud of such ‘pure cinema’.

It is thus outside the blockbusters that we must look to find meaty roles for actresses. One such tantalising prospect is Cate Blanchett reprising her role as Queen Elizabeth in The Golden Age (out in October) focusing on her relationship with adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh. Not quite a heroine but definitely a charismatic survivor…

August 25, 2019

Notes on Pain and Glory

Almodovar’s memory piece about mortality was the melancholy movie of the week earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Antonio Banderas, made up to look more like Almodovar than he does, and living in a flat made up to look like Almodovar’s actual flat plays Salvador Mallo, a film director who may or may not be based on Almodovar. He is a physical wreck after spinal surgery and cannot countenance directing or even writing because it makes him too aware that he is in no shape to direct. Living the life of a recluse and popping medicine for pain like Gregory House MD, Salvador is also haunted by memories of his youth in Franco’s Spain and his failings as a good son to his recently deceased mother. An invitation to present a classic film from the 1980s reunites him with the leading man, and soon Salvador has found an ill-advised way to cope with his back pain even as he may accidentally be about to make a comeback as a confessional playwright.

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