Talking Movies

October 4, 2022

Turn On, Tune In/Drop Out

Filed under: Talking Movies,Talking Television — Fergal Casey @ 9:27 pm

Hallowe’en is coming. And for the first time since 2019 it is a Hallowe’en capable of having hijinks be plotted for it. Great! And yet…

The Lighthouse is showing The Shining and The Thing on the big screen over the Hallowe’en Bank Holiday Weekend. I am interested to see both on the big screen. Interested, but not enthused. I still find the return to normality while COVID still swirls about … unnerving. Especially as my private fear with which I have freaked out numerous people remains a twindemic of a nasty flu season coupled with a resurgence of COVID in a new variation that combines the original’s lethality with Omicron’s transmissibility, forcing everyone to stay indoors just as a second Beast from the East descends upon us that stays for weeks not days this time round, and rolling blackouts plunge us into teeth-chattering frozen hell. But I digress.

As much as I find the universal pretence that COVID is done weird, I am also wary of cinema audiences for another reason. 2018’s 40th anniversary screening of Halloween at the Lighthouse. Sure, I can think of films that were pretty miserable viewing experiences for me; Crawl, The Monk; but usually that was one or two people going out of their way to be obnoxious. 2018 was the first time I was party to an entire cinema going out of its way to be obnoxious. And feeling very old, and also very disconnected from the baffling attitude on display. Which leads me to think that by studying English at college, I was part of a bubble. One that may not exist any longer, even within that rarefied field.

June 30, 2022

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XLIV

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 7:03 pm
Tags: , , ,

As the title suggests, so forth.

Totally Censored Movies

I was watching Ocean’s Eleven on TCM recently, when I had the disconcerting sensation that something had skipped, like a vinyl problem but visually. And then waiting for a line that never came, and another one I particularly treasured that also never came, I realised that the skips were very real and were in fact obnoxious censorious cuts in the movie. Somehow, this was playing after the watershed but was still censored. And then it dawned on me, this might very well be the American TV edit version of the movie. God help us. I don’t know why TCM has suddenly decided to start doing this for an audience outside America. But the mind boggles about how this could play out. Will we finally get to see for ourselves the wildly disconcerting spectacle of Cameron shouting at Ferris Bueller ‘Pardon my French but you’re an aardvark!’ or might we get the infamous Dadaist moment in The Big Lebowski when someone is told ‘This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!’ Who knows. And who knows, why after all these years TCM has chosen to do this.

May 31, 2022

“Who are you really and what were you before? What did you do and what did you think?”

I fell over a quote in the Atlantic the other week to the effect that nobody is the same person now that they were before the pandemic. Is it true?

Well, maybe… Certainly as things have opened up I have found myself… unwilling to return to 2019. Not unable, though also that to a degree, but more unwilling. I cannot rouse myself to excitement at scanning cinema listings for the new Mia Hansen-Love, try I ever so hard. I find to my surprise that the Gate theatre has a new artistic director, but scarcely shrug. Barry Douglas performs the Beethoven Triple Concerto at the NCH, and I am not there. It may not even be a question of will, so much as a fundamental disconnect – I know I should be excited by these things, I have the memory of being enthused by their predecessors in the past, and yet it seems like everything in that sphere happened to someone else, not to me. One sympathises, but it has nothing to do with me. Maybe this is only a temporary aberration. Maybe it is a permanent seachange. But, having initially scoffed at the idea that everybody is no longer themselves, I now think- yes, that’s true.

In some senses I find myself doing a somewhat baffled personal inventory akin to Kate McKinnon’s post-6/1/21 ‘What Still Works?’ SNL sketch. It’s rather like standing dazed in a room full of disassembled building blocks, and seeing which ones I can still get to glom to form a Lego statue recognisable as me. I still like listening to Lykke Li, the bard of heartbreak and unrequited love. I still like watching The Avengers, and savouring John Steed and Emma Peel being debonair and romantic. I still like walking in Marlay Park, and hearing the strange sound made by the wind whistling thru tall trees. I still like ruining both coffee and ice cream in restaurants, by pouring one over the other. I still like the inimitable sound of Sorkin speeches and Gershwin glissandos, the thrill of Mondrian lines and Van Gogh swirls. But on many fronts I feel psychically unsteady when my hollowed out sense of self clashes with the 2019 self remembered by others; who are disconcerted to find my ‘passions’ extinguished.

And so I ask myself Bogart’s Casablanca question to Bergman in the mirror, and unnervingly I don’t know the answer.

February 25, 2022

Top Performances of 2021

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 2:43 pm

Best Actor

Dan Stevens (I’m Your Man & Blithe Spirit)

Michael Keaton (Worth)

Jude Law (The Nest)

Best Actress

Melanie Laurent (Oxygen)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kate)

Carrie Coon (The Nest)

Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place: Part II)

Best Supporting Actor

Christopher Lloyd (Nobody)

Cillian Murphy (A Quiet Place: Part II)

Stanley Tucci (Worth)

Mathieu Amalric (Oxygen)

Best Supporting Actress

Garance Marillier (Madame Claude)

Amy Ryan (Worth)

Cate Blanchett (Don’t Look Up)

December 24, 2021

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XLIII

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 10:46 pm
Tags: , , , ,

As the title suggests, so forth.

Lynch After Lynch

A strange thought came to mind the other week as I was listening to the sound of the wind whistling thru tall trees, a favourite sound of David Lynch. Is Lynch, like 1990s Tarantino, a dead-end, or, more accurately, such a singular creative explosion that while he at first might appear liberating and invite people to join him in his explorations he actually leaves a Tunguska-like blast radius around him which nobody else can ever enter. Can you make a film that has surreal elements and escape being called Lynchian? Can you use dream logic or corny dialogue mixed with extreme violence and weird sexuality and not have everyone start writing up their Lynchian comparisons? Can David Lynch even escape his own shadow at this point? I’m not comparing The Nice Guys to the work of David Lynch, but Lynch’s description of how to write a screenplay; hoard ideas like a squirrel collecting acorns, and when you have forty conceits that’s the guts of an eighty minut movie; seems to be oddly applicable to Shane Black’s screenplay.

November 30, 2021

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XLII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Why must Eon always burn the other cheek?

I was initially hostile to complaints about the new Bond film featuring ‘yet another’ scarred villain, until I realised the defence was complete nonsense. Facially scarred villains have not been nearly such a Bond staple as Eon would make out. Dr No has no hands certainly, but it is not until we meet Largo in the fourth film that we meet a character with a maimed visage. Blofeld is scarred in You Only Live Twice, but then he is not scarred in the next two movies. Hook hands, third nipples, megalomania, all these are present and correct, but scarred villains really cease to be a thing with Bond … until Goldeneye. And thereafter the quotient of scarred villains gets completely out of control: Sean Bean, Robert Carlyle, Rick Yune, Mads Mikkelsen, Javier Bardem, Christoph Waltz, Rami Malek. It seems almost as if the new generation at Eon was so worried about living up to the legacy that they became fixated on one element of the past and magnified it out of all proportion as some way of proving their rights to the property.

Wes Anderson, you are locked in a prison of your own devise

It was dispiriting but unsurprising to read an interview with Robert Yeoman in which he talked about how a warehouse had to be used to shoot both The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch because Wes Anderson’s camera movements had become so outre that real locations could no longer accommodate them. For years Paul Fennessy and I have had a flight of fancy which finds Wes and Jason Schwartzman or Roman Coppola or Owen Wilson seated at a diner in Austin; furiously scribbling dialogue and scene ideas in yellow legal pads, and beaming at each other happily, until a shadow crosses Wes’ face, and he asks in horror and disappointment, “But wait, can we do that as a tracking shot or a series of whip-pans?” Because if not, well, there’s no place for it in the cathedral of conventions that Wes Anderson has imprisoned himself within. Now it seems the reality of physical space itself has to be shot down in order to shoot the Wes Anderson way. I think this may be why since The Darjeeling Limited I have responded more positively to his animations (Fantastic Mr Fox, Isle of Dogs) than to his live-action efforts (Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The French Dispatch). The necessity for artificiality to achieve the necessary artificial camera moves grates less when all concerned are made of felt. In his own demented way you could say the presence of live human beings not to mention the built human environment is now getting in the way of the Wes Anderson aesthetic.

October 31, 2021

Kingpin and the Comedy of Amputation

It took 25 years for me to finally watch Kingpin, and I nearly stopped at the point which had been the reason I had been avoiding it for quarter of a century.

I had always been wary of a dumb comedy that treated losing a hand as a comic plot point. But the actual sequence was beyond anything I could have imagined. It put me in mind of another film I only recently caught, 1981’s slasher The Burning. The prank that leaves Cropsey hideously scarred and bent on revenge is not a million miles away from the punishment meted out to Woody Harrelson’s bowler in Kingpin, with two differences – in one this maiming is obviously a motive for obsessive revenge, and in the other it is a deliberate act of staggering sadistic malice. Paul Newman gets his fingers broken in The Hustler, not chopped off. That Woody’s bowler has his bowling hand fed into the machine and the directors cut to a woodchipper …

I paused the movie, for about two hours. And then we returned to Woody smashing an alarm clock with his hook hand. His hook hand is played for laughs over and over again. And then lo and behold it turns out that Woody can bowl just fine with his rubber hand, which has also been played for laughs. I could only think of Angel, where Wolfram & Hart lawyer Lindsay is written out with an episode devoted to his new evil hand, a mystical transplant for the one Angel cut off in the gruesome season 1 finale. And so we see Lindsay, with his stump where his hand used to be. Looking at the guitar, which he can no longer play because Angel cut his hand off. And pulling one of a number of pre-knotted ties off his rack, because he can no longer knot a tie because Angel cut his hand off. Not quite the approach of the Brothers Farrelly to a bowler having his bowling hand ripped to ribbons.

September 30, 2021

Top 5 Bond Girls

The pandemic is seemingly going to be book-ended by No Time to Die‘s attempted release and its actual release. Astonishing then that in 18 months Cary Fukunaga never thought to edit down his bloated 163 minute movie, which is nearly a full hour longer than Quantum of Solace. Let us take a more abbreviated run thru the Bond greatest hits.

5) Wei Lin

Michelle Yeoh’s turn as a Chinese super-spy in Tomorrow Never Dies feels underwritten, a complaint you could throw at almost anything during the Brosnan years. And yet, Yeoh’s combat skills and delightful insouciance, alongside her character’s almost incidental contacts with Bond as she pursues her own parallel adventure, elevate her to a more convincing version of Anya Amasova aka xXx in The Spy Who Loved Me as truly being Bond’s opposite number.

4) Mayday

Roald Dahl said he’d been briefed for screenwriting You Only Live Twice on having a good girl that died, a bad girl that died, and a good girl that lived. Grace Jones got to play a twist on that as physically imposing Mayday in A View to a Kill. Betrayed by Zorin, for whom she has caused much mayhem with glee, she sacrifices herself for the greater good, with a wordless exit glare.

3) Domino Derval

Claudine Auger’s Domino is very stylish in her bespoke black and white outfits, but is more than just a very pretty face. She mordantly undercuts Bond’s first attempts at seductive patter, and has her own personal reasons for falling in with his plans against her lover Largo, a character arc climaxing in some truly monumental brass from John Barry’s score when she saves Bond with the lethal use of a harpoon gun.

2) Pussy Galore

Three knockout English blondes play the Dahlian triptych of Bond girls in Goldfinger, and Honor Blackman is the one with the most substantial role, and the most absurd name. Blackman’s considerable swagger and judo skills would have been no surprise to anyone who’d seen her as Cathy Gale in The Avengers. In a film that drips great lines, she has an almost Bogart/Bacall spikiness with Connery, trading barbs while dressed elegantly.

1) Vesper Lynd

Eva Green’s woman from the Treasury set a high watermark for Bond girls that the Craig era has never managed to reach again despite its sincerest efforts. Their first meeting on the train to Montenegro is delicious. Over dinner the pair verbally dissect each other’s characters based on their first impressions of each other. Bond is cruel but Vesper hurts him back with interest, and it is this which makes Bond interested.

* It may seem odd for a fan of The Avengers not to have included Diana Rigg’s turn as Bond’s wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but her wit and athleticism as Emma Peel were so clinically stripped from Tracy Draco that I can only watch it with deep disappointment.

August 21, 2021

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XLI

See Tom Run

I recently finally read Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed, and have thought of a short film I would love to see the great man make – ‘See Tom Run’. In which Herr Herzog assembles a super-cut from the last four decades of cinematic footage of his former co-star Tom Cruise, running. And running. And running. And running. At times Werner would let the footage play out in silence. And at other times he would let it run, pun intended, with whatever music Werner might feel appropriate to the rapid movement of the Cruise. (It is impossible to guess what music he would guess: Mongolian throat warbling? Russian Orthodox bells? Peruvian folk accappella? Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony?) And holding together all this running and jumping he would tell us in his Bavarian-inflected narration what he thinks the meaning of all this running is. Why does Tom run? Does who Tom is meant to be change how he runs? Why does he run more as an old man than as a young man? What is he running from? What is he running towards? As runs Cruise so runs American history? These are questions that need to be asked. Maybe.

Knowing what you need, knowing what you can do without

The Italian Job was on ITV 4 last weekend, so of course I watched it. Yet again. This time round I was struck by how Quincy Jones emulates Bernard Herrmann in his scoring, not musically, but by his supreme confidence in stepping aside. Just as Herrmann was content to remain silent for minutes of North by Northwest at a time, Jones opts not to score great chunks of The Italian Job. Safe in the knowledge that not only does he have his Matt Monro-warbled ‘Days Like These’ to play with orchestrally for much of the film, but, biding his time bar a brief preview in the installation of the doctored computer tape, he is audiciously keeping in reserve one of the great film themes for the last minutes – ‘The Self-preservation Society’.

*On a sidenote does Matt Monro singing theme song after theme song for films in the 1960s in a way prefigure the synergy of the music video of a film song acting as a quasi-commercial in the 1980s and 1990s?

(more…)

June 30, 2021

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XL

As the title suggests, so forth.

Tom Cruise is America, or something

I’d been thinking about this for a while, but was finally spurred into action by Megan Garber’s recent Atlantic piece on Top Gun as infomercial for nothing less than the US of A itself. She’s absolutely right. Top Gun exudes Reagan’s America even more purely than Stallone asking in Rambo: First Blood – Part II whether America gets to win Vietnam this time. (Yes, Rambo, of course.) But whither Reagan’s America now? And so to the once boyish now aged Cruiser… It occurred to me when recently watching it on TV that Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Fallout is almost a stand-in for America, maybe even Joe Biden, now. He knows that he is not physically on top of this, but his instincts remain true, and his resolve undimmed though tinged with desperation. The repeated insistence by Cruise that he will find a way, make it work, figure it out – I won’t let you down! almost seems to reflect the figure America currently cuts on the world stage. Hapless, diminished, but bloody determined to live up to its own heroic self-image.

Movie musicals are too long

I was thinking about why I haven’t loved so many of the great filmed Broadway musicals as much as I ‘should’, given that I love musicals onscreen and onstage, and then it hit me. They are too long. It could really be that simple. En masse. And they are too long because… they are too long. To be less simple. Finally watching South Pacific last year I got more out of it than most filmed Broadway musicals hitherto because I gave myself an interval. I paused the movie, made some tea, mooched about the place, reflected on what had happened so far and wondered where things might go next. As one does at an interval in a Broadway musical. I haven’t really tried this out to the extent that I can pronounce a definitive verdict on this theory, but I do think it explains why the likes of West Side Story and My Fair Lady never really seemed to connect with me the way shorter musicals like Kiss Me Kate and The Rocky Horror Picture Show did.

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