Talking Movies

November 17, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XL

Filed under: Talking Television — Fergal Casey @ 8:29 pm

As the title suggests, so forth.

The true horror is that this got made

It can be dispiriting watching all the departments firing on all cylinders, save one. The opening credits theme is so catchy it should escape the show and take on a life of its own, the costumes, sets, location shooting and special effects are all great, the acting and directing is as good as it can be (with some exceptions) – because the one department drowning in the lake at Camp Redwood is the writers’ room. American Horror Story: 1984 can’t even commit to its own title, jumping about in to many years, and spending much time after the one night in 1984 the show initially seems premised on. This doesn’t dismay as much as it would if I hadn’t abandoned the Hotel season for much the same tic, an inability to be consistent when a cheap shock or shlock can be had instead.

October 25, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXXIX

As the title suggests, so forth.

What Fool Rejigged Jools?

The compulsion to set your stamp on things by making unnecessary, costly and hugely counterproductive changes must be one of the most exasperating habits of incoming management. The inimitable Jools Holland is now to have co-hosts foisted upon him every week, after 27 years of hosting Later… by himself. Why? And why on earth the hideous redesign of the set? You could argue it is a return to the aesthetic of the early days of the show c.1994. Except, that the show moved away from that for a reason, and also that it never looked like this new abomination. The lights were so glaring during Amyl and the Sniffers last night that they reminded me of a cinema which has forgotten to dim the house lights before the film started. For the love of God, after Christmas can we please ditch the co-hosts and turn off some of the damn lights.

October 14, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXXVIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

The End of Elementary

Seven seasons have come and gone, and now Elementary is no more. I was unsure of it at the beginning. Did we really need another modern Sherlock Holmes when Sherlock was in its pomp? The casting of Lucy Liu, fresh from her terrific turn in Dirty Sexy Money, brought me to the show, where I was less sure of its casting of Jonny Lee Miller as a tattooed junkie Holmes than Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. But the fact that show-runner Robert Doherty had worked on the great Medium suggested this would be worth sticking with it. And so it was. And for all the initial misgivings this turned out in the long run to be the better of the duelling modern Sherlocks. When the shows went head to head in adapting Arthur Conan Doyle story elements it was Elementary that won time after time. The most egregious example being Doherty and his merry writers room outfoxing the entire third season arc of Sherlock concerning the Master Blackmailer in just 40 minutes. Sherlock long ago disappeared into an unwatchable sinkhole of self-regarding self-indulgence. Elementary by contrast went out verily banging a drum in the battle of wits at the highest stakes between Holmes & Watson and the villainous tech billionaire Odin Reichenbach.

August 21, 2019

At least we still have… : Part VIII

The eighth entry in an occasional series in which I try to cheer myself up by remembering what still exists in the world and cannot ever be taken capriciously away.

Bran Van 300 forever

21 years later this still sounds like summer

Epic Love

Logan and Veronica 4EVER

Any Other Business: Part XXXVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Catch-22: it’s not the best one Hulu have

It was all Friedrich Bagel’s fault. It was he who sent a link to a Guardian piece raving that George Clooney had broken the curse of the unfilmable novel. But why talk about filming an unfilmable novel when it’s a TV series? You might as well call Brideshead Revisited a triumphant 13 hour movie adaptation. Only in early 1970s France or the increasingly addled BAM would that make pretend sense. And why give the imaginary credit to Clooney? He directs as many episodes as Ellen Kuras and he’s barely in it as an actor, while every episode is written by the series developers Davies and Michod. And they sort of write the same episode again and again. A little comedy gets thru each week, but what a slog to get to it. And then the same ‘shock’ ending, week after week. Things got distinctly SJ Perelman:

The murders follow an exact, rigid pattern almost like the ritual of a bullfight or a classic Chinese play. Take ‘Veiled Lady’ in the October, 1937, number of Spicy Detective – Dan is flinging some woo at a Mrs Brantham in her apartment at the exclusive Gayboy Arms, which apparently excludes everybody but assassins:

“From behind me a roscoe belched “Chow-chow!” A pair of slugs buzzed past my left ear, almost nicked my cranium. Mrs Brantham sagged back against the pillow of the lounge… She was as dead as an iced catfish”.

Round up the most young actors you can find who look alike and then dress them all alike and don’t flesh any of them out and leave the audience baffled, until they realise that if someone finally gets individuated a bit as we head into the last 20 minutes of an episode that means they’re about to die and it will probably be Yo-Yo’s fault. As The Engineer said after it was all over: “You don’t have to watch it if you ask not to watch it because it wasn’t very good, but if you ask not to watch it because it wasn’t very good, you’ve already watched it.  Catch-22. It’s the best one they have.”

The Avengers begins with Honor Blackman

It has been a disconcerting experience watching True Movies’ extremely scrambled late night re-runs of The Avengers. I had only ever seen a handful of Cathy Gale episodes late at night on RTE 1 over 20 years ago. 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 this ever became the classic show it did. It is only when Honor Blackman shows up for season 2 episode 1 ‘Mr Teddy Bear’ that things really start to click, and then she keeps disappearing in favour of Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith and her wretched musical numbers, or the second iteration of Dr King who is no more interesting than the first. And let’s not forget that the show was supposed to be about Dr King! A nigh unwatchable first iteration Dr King episode didn’t even feature Steed. It is unfathomable using IMDb to straighten out the running order to see that the writers apparently didn’t realise they’d lucked into gold with Steed and Gale. I’ve rarely seen such huge swings in quality between episodes; from touches like a man at an auction being shot on “Going… Going… GONE!” to overwrought gibberish about a mole hunt with Steed being accused while everyone ignores the world’s most obvious mole spending money like water beside him. All the while the chemistry between Steed and Gale defines the show as The Avengers.

July 7, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXXV

What is one to do, so forth.

This bank deserves a better class of journalist

Watching BBC 2’s Inside the Bank of England during the week was a profoundly dispiriting experience. The process of setting the interest rate involved the 9 member monetary policy committee being brief on element after element of the complex matrix making up the British economy. Each briefing was the result of the work of dozens of people crunching statistics or scouting the country to gauge sentiment. The Beast from the East had hit the growth of GDP in the first quarter, so the Bank was likely to not raise interest rates to curb inflation. And what was the reaction of the journalists, who had been locked in a vault with 50 pages of material explaining the statistical context – Governor Carney, does this make the Bank an unreliable boyfriend? Are you bothered by the tag of unreliable boyfriend?

July 4, 2019

The Age of Attenborough

The Age of Attenborough can be said to have begun on the 16th of January 1979 with the broadcasting of the first episode of Life on Earth. Attenborough, before his stint as director of BBC 2 where he pioneered Wimbledon coverage and Monty Python, had of course been presenting Zoo Quest, and he presented other programmes, even delivering the Royal Instution’s Christmas Lectures in the mid-1970s. But Life on Earth was a self-consciously landmark series in the manner of Civilisation and The Ascent of Man, which Attenborough had commissioned for BBC 2 to show the ambition of the new channel.

1979 was coincidentally also the year my parents bought a humble cathode-ray tube television which has been faithfully broadcasting Attenborough’s explorations of the natural world since Life on Earth and will remain his faithful servant, as RTE 1 prepares to screen his Dynasties programme, until the 6th of August at which point the analogue signal will be turned off and this technical marvel bow out after 40 years of service.

The series that Attenborough has made over those 40 years are astonishing: The Living Planet, The First Eden, Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives, The Trials of Life, Life in the Freezer, The Private Life of Plants, The Life of Birds, The Human Face, The Blue Planet, The Life of Mammals, Life in the Undergrowth, Planet Earth, Life in Cold Blood, Life, Madagascar, Frozen Planet, Kingdom of Plants, Galapagos, Africa, Micro Monsters, Life Story, Conquest of the Skies, The Hunt, Great Barrier Reef, Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, Dynasties, Our Planet.

June 30, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXXIV

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a thirty-fourth portmanteau post on matters of course!

Good Times, Bad Times

All of human life can be observed on the bus, the best and the worst. In the space of a week recently I observed benevolence and bowsiness. The bowsiness came courtesy of a new cycle lane, which gave me pause considering the BusConnects nonsense about putting cycle lanes everywhere as part of their bus ‘plan’.  As the bus pulled in to the bus stop a young woman moved forward to get on. Cue the one cyclist who would likely use the new cycle lane that hour, a white-bearded man leading two young children on bicycles. As he had to slow down to accommodate the microsecond it took her to board the bus he roared at some volume “F*** YOU! F******* YOU!!” and then cycled past, setting a splendid example to his grandchildren on how to treat strangers. I was quite taken aback, observing this road rage from the top deck. Should she have waited? Perhaps. But then the cycle lane was new. Certainly the screaming profanities were uncalled for. But then there was, mercifully, benevolence on another trip. Another white-bearded man, on foot, turned around and saw with horror the bus bearing down on him, some distance from the stop. He turned and began an agonised shuffling run, and it became clear this driver was one of those cohort in whom the milk of human kindness has soured; those who affect blindness whenever they can refuse to do someone a good deed. But then the bus’ speed began to fall. How odd. The car in front had noticed the man running and had dropped to a crawl to give him a fighting chance of making the stop. The bus driver was outraged, and hooted a couple of times. The car continued defiantly dawdling. Enraged the bus driver moved to overtake only for the car to accelerate, pushing the bus back into its holding pattern. By which time the white-bearded man had got close enough to the bus stop that he could make it by the time two Spanish students there had boarded. They were going to take their time. As the unhappy bus driver began indicating to pull in to the stop the smiling Spanish students gave thumbs up to the car who resumed normal speed down the deserted road. The white-bearded man made his bus, and it did the heart good to see such benevolence.

 

Netflix is a TV network, of middling appeal

How many people actually watch Netflix? Not that many NBC claimed a few years ago, bemoaning that a show like Jessica Jones which would be cancelled for low ratings on broadcast television became a media darling and propagandised as being a hit when on Netflix. Netflix used to keep their viewing figures a tightly guarded secret, while simultaneously boasting about the record-breaking success of everything on their service. Service? Network. Netflix is essentially a TV network. It’s not too hard to imagine in the near future Netflix, Amazon, Warner Bros+/HBOxxx, and Disney+ becoming the four networks of streaming in the way that ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox were the four networks of broadcast television in the 1990s. Indeed they may supplant them entirely, at least in the esteem of the media. Netflix claim that 30 million households/individuals/smarter than your average dachshunds watched their latest movie Murder Mystery starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Wow! That is so impressive! Except… Only 13 million of those were in America. Given an average ticket price of $9.01 this year that would be an opening weekend haul of $117,130,000, a figure that puts Murder Mystery at No 11 at the North American Box Office for 2019! But of course Murder Mystery isn’t a movie, it’s a TV movie; something Netflix are moving heaven and earth to collapse as a distinction. Nobody had to leave their house to see Murder Mystery, nobody had to drive anywhere to see Murder Mystery, nobody had to buy popcorn to see Murder Mystery, nobody had to arrange babysitters to go see Murder Mystery, nobody had to put up with phone-using bozos to see Murder Mystery. And nobody had to fork out 9 dollars to see Murder Mystery, they’d already forked out $8.99 to watch as much as they could in a month. So taking Murder Mystery as a TV movie, which is what it is, on a TV network, which is what Netflix is, how impressive is it that 13 million people watched it in America over three days? Not very. 19.4 million viewers on average watched every episode of House season 3 but Fox didn’t release a press release to crow about it. It seems to be as important to Netflix as it is to Disney to create the impression that they are beloved on a level unknown to humanity before this moment. They’re not. 105.9 million Americans watched the finale of MASH in 1983. Beat that Netflix. Beat that Disney. If they’d all bought a ticket for it at $9.01 a pop, it would have made $954,159,000. But of course they didn’t have to – because it was (gulp) free.

June 23, 2019

Any Other Business: XXXIII

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a thirty-third portmanteau post on matters of course!

Ancient Aliens: I don’t want to believe

I had the misfortune recently to come across a paean to Erich Von Daniken on the History Channel, a special of their disgraceful Ancient Aliens series. Erich von Daniken, author of Chariots of the Gods?, was, probably tongue-in-cheek, used by Roland Emmerich as an adviser on his preposterous 10,000 BC. His patented pig-swill has popped up in everything from Battlestar Galactica to Stargate to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to Prometheus. And as it doesn’t seem to show any signs of going away it can’t be treated as the joke it is anymore, it’s become harmful. The memorable verdict of the court psychologist looking into Erich von Daniken’s mental status after his epic embezzlement had got him jailed was that the man was a pathological liar and his book was a marvel of nonsense. It is a marvel of nonsense. It should be obvious to anyone who reads it why. There are some very clever Biblical reinterpretations like Lot’s wife being got by the flash of an atom bomb, but there’s the rub. Everything that the ancient aliens do on earth is from the technology of von Daniken’s time. They dress like the Apollo astronauts. They set off atom bombs. But, Erich, we barely made it to the moon at that level of technology, if these bozos travelled here from a far-off galaxy which we can’t detect why did they apparently travel dressed in vintage couture? Could it be that because von Daniken lacked the imagination or understanding for futurism that his aliens only had the available resources of 1968? Odd that they don’t have the internet, or wi-fi, or cell-phones, or quantum devices. Odd that humanity has developed so much since that book was written, and yet people are still, and perhaps increasingly, under its spell; which has the stupefying message that humanity cannot advance without alien assistance.

Worth waiting for? Probably, not.

When you play the game of thrones, you watch or you win: Part II

Previously I compared the reaction to Game of Thrones’ finale to the eerily similar meltdown everyone had in 2010 at LOST. I’d like to tease out the perils of serialisation. I remember reading a piece about LOST which suggested the flashbacks gave just enough of a narrative hit, of a story told within an episode, to keep those plebeians who watch network shows coming back for more; despite the frustrations of a never-ending story that flailed around for 6 years, and ultimately revealed it was always insoluble. I also think of an episode of Boardwalk Empire, where the episode ended with Nucky looking at his footsteps on the carpet, and it occurred to me the episode could have ended at any point in the previous ten minutes and it would have made no difference. But it was bad of me to think that, because there is an almost secular theology at work – the virtue of pointlessness. A story that gets wrapped up in an episode?! That’s for muck savages! The sort of NASCAR-attending mouth-breathing trailer trash who’ve kept NCIS on air since 2003. No, sophisticates only watch serialised shows, where nothing ever gets wrapped up in an episode. They are above needing a narrative hit; they are doing their penance thru endless pointless episodes for their reward in the future of a grand finale that makes it all worthwhile. I think that in serialised television, if there’s no episode by episode hit of story begun and concluded then the stakes get dangerously high that the end of the show must provide the meaning that makes all the perennially delayed narrative gratification worth it. And when everything is in service of a grand ending, there never is a grand ending. People howled at the end of The Sopranos, LOST, Game of Thrones: How many times can this three card trick be played before people get wise to it? It may not even be possible to play that trick, even if you have the ending up your sleeve. Smallville’s ending was clearly something they could’ve done at any point for the preceding number of years because it was an ending that made sense but was totally disconnected from anything immediately leading up to it. LOST and The OC ended with cutesy call back to the pilot imagery which pleased only other TV writers. [LOST writer Brian K Vaughan’s pointless Y: The Last Man ended with an image he said he knew from the beginning, the problem being it was literally an image, and the comic could have ended years earlier with it.] How I Met Your Mother stuck to the original ending, not realising that too much time had gone by with the story under its own impulses to bolt that ending on without enraging everyone. It’s a Kierkegaardean paradox: stick with your original ending and ignore the life the story took on of its own volition, or do not stick with your original ending and do not ignore the life the story took on of its own volition – you will regret it either way. When I think of shows that ended well, they tend to be network or basic cable: Buffy ended with a Mission Accomplished, Angel ended with a screw you cliffhanger and a quip, Veronica Mars ended with a bittersweet exit into uncertainty, Justified ended with a character moment after an episode that wrapped up its plot surprisingly early. Their Whedon X-Files model in common? Every episode a story, every season a bigger story – complete.

June 11, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXXII

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a thirty-second portmanteau post on matters of course!

It’s a Mads Mads Mads Mads World: Part II

The ‘not that firm, never floppy’ quip of Mads Mikkelsen in the ‘Greetings’ ad for Carlsberg had become an in-joke between me and my Dad on the subject of handshakes, so I was delighted to see the ‘Unfiltered’ ad; in which the Great Dane seemed to have been retrieved after a two-week bender in the woods; so quickly followed up by a new ad in which he cycles around improbably balancing a huge amount of beer on his bike, even when he’s got off it, because Carlsberg is so perfectly balanced. But then I saw the other new ad he’s made for Carlsberg, ‘The Lake’. For most of the ad it seems quite humdrum compared to previous outings, until you get to the last seconds and the bubbles in the water – at which point if I had been drinking tea I would have spit it straight across the room so explosive and uncontrollable was my snort of laughter for Mads’ ‘Probably…’

Is this about Brexit?: Part II

At the end of February I wrote about two commercials that kept catching my eye on television, both of which seemed to be about Brexit without saying they were about Brexit. HSBC’s seemed to be an implicit rebuke to Farage’s Little Englanders by playing Elgar’s Nimrod Enigma Variation over Richard Ayoade comically reminding everyone how hopelessly connected with and dependent on the rest of the world their small island really is, and apparently offence was taken for just that implicit reason. Now Ayoade is back with another pointed ad for HSBC that is curiously impossible to find on YouTube. Amidst talk of barriers going up and shutters coming down on the high street it seems obvious that the bank is taking aim at Boris Johnson & Co’s desire for the economic calamity of a No-Deal Brexit to prove some Old Etonian point about Little England not needing any help from anyone. Except America. And Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Commonwealth. Chlorinated chicken, anyone?

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