Talking Movies

October 6, 2019

Notes on Joker

Joaquin Phoenix’s turn in Joker was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Todd Phillips gets by with a little help from his friends; Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Alan Moore and Frank Miller. No joke, Joker will frequently leave you with your jaw on the floor as ideas, scenes, camera moves, style and sequences are lifted from other, better films. If you have seen The King of Comedy or Fight Club or House MD you will be getting some severe deja vu. Joker is grimly impressive, from Mark Friedberg’s decrepit production design modelled on the awful appearance of NYC of the mid 1970s, to the artfully framed and held cinematography of Lawrence Sher imitating to a tee the work of Michael Chapman, Jeff Cronenweth and Wally Pfister, to the oppressive score from Hildur Gudnadottir which adds featured drums and horns to the Zimmer dissonant strings approach to the character. But all these production values can’t hide the emptiness of this enterprise. You show nothing of your own work Todd Phillips, how this film won a Golden Lion at Venice is amazing, as Marshall MacLuhan might say.

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Notes on Judy

Judy was the secondary film of the week in an innovation much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

The finances of Judy Garland (Zellweger) are perpetually in a state of vague distress. When she is forced to house her children at the home of their father Sidney (Rufus Sewell), after her hotel releases her suite, she finds herself accepting a five week engagement in London over Christmas 1968 to try and raise some quick cash. Impresario Delfont (Michael Gambon), his fixer Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley), and bandleader Burt (Royce Pierreson) are unprepared for the ramshackle performer who arrives, despite her reputation. Adding to the volatility is her unwise romance with much younger musician Mickey (Finn Wittrock), who she meets at a party where daughter Liza (Gemma-Leah Deveraux) reveals she is about to star in a musical. Such breaks are beyond Judy at this point; her voice and body failing after years of substance abuse, these concerts become a swansong.

Judy isn’t as colourful as one might hope from director Rupert Goold of the Almeida Theatre. Instead it feels an awful lot like the sumptuous but sedate My Week with Marilyn, another BBC Films biopic of an American starlet in post-war London that was simply straining itself to earn Oscar nods. Production designer Kave Quinn and costume designer Jany Temime do a sterling job of recreating a late 1960s London that feels by turns swinging and solid, but the screenplay by Tom Edge; reshaping Peter Quilter’s play and fleshing out Judy’s mistreatment by Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordery in a highly creepy performance perhaps informed by Harvey Weinstein); only occasionally reaches high notes of emotion or insight. On the whole proceedings are quite dull.

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September 29, 2019

Notes on Ready or Not

Shlocky horror-comedy Ready or Not was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

It is semi-remarkable that this is the work of directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who made the found footage Rosemary’s Baby riff Devil’s Due that (apparently unwittingly) used the Euro sign as a Satanic symbol. Admittedly Ready or Not boasts a far better script, by Guy Busick (Urge) and (no, not that) Ryan Murphy, but it also looks gorgeous. Andrew M Stearn’s production design for the De Lomas mansion and grounds are lit by Brett Jutkiewicz to bring out the warmth of the wood panelling and lamps and to cast us into a more Fincheresque colour scheme outdoors. Meanwhile in support John Ralston as major-domo Stevens gamely plays a kitchen sequence of Hitchcockian delight and a truly delirious conceit that would do Scream proud; featuring the most improbable and incredibly inopportune rocking along to Tchaikovksy’s 1812 Overture imaginable.

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September 22, 2019

Notes on Ad Astra

Brad Pitt’s sci-fi Ad Astra was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Pitt is Roy McBridge, son of legendary lost astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). Roy is renowned for having a preternaturally low pulse rate, never above 80, even in a crisis; such as at the start where he falls to earth off an atmosphere-scraping antennae following ‘The Surge’. He simply waits to stop spinning, thendeploys his parachute; no point getting het up about it. The Surge killed 43,000 people but, it transpires, is only the beginning. It was caused by a wave of anti-matter attacking the planet as it courses across the solar system, growing in power as it travels from its origin off Neptune. Which as John Finn and John Ortiz’s brass inform Roy is where Project Lima is, and where they believe Clifford is alive and well and liable to end all life unless dissuaded by Roy.

It’s a minor miracle that neither Finn nor Ortiz instructs Roy to terminate Clifford’s command, with extreme prejudice. Because this is a film in thrall to Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad; Clifford’s out there operating without any decent restraint, and the journey to save or end him will be psychological as much as physical. Donald Sutherland’s mentor Colonel Pruitt and Ruth Negga’s enigmatic Martian pop up for an allotted span of time much like characters in Apocalypse Now, as Roy travels from vignette to vignette on his quest. There’s an unlikely action sequence on the surface of the Moon as this dystopian future paints the orb wracked by conflict between competing miners and pirates preying on their divisions. A tense sequence responding to an SOS while en route to Mars might as well proclaim “Never get out of the boat”.

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September 15, 2019

Notes on Extra Ordinary

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 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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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.

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.

August 18, 2019

Notes on Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

Director Quentin Tarantino’s eleventh movie was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

This movie, like so much post-Pulp Fiction Tarantino, is aggravating. It’s bloated running time of 2 hours 40 minutes is completely unnecessary and could be trimmed; first off by getting rid of the preposterous amount of driving while listening to the radio, dancing around to music at parties, and dancing around listening to vinyl at home. All of which music is present simply to allow Tarantino curate his obscure cuts for 1969 music. You’re not going to be troubled by The Beatles, The Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival or The Who here. Secondly you could save time by cutting all the material involving Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate because QT has no interest in giving Robbie anything substantive to do as Tate or in depicting the gruesome Manson Family murders which allegedly this film was meant to revolve around. Charles Manson makes one appearance, and there’s an extended sequence with Brad Pitt visiting the Manson Family at home, but that’s not what this film is about – it’s 1960s Birdman. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are at the top of their game as fading star Rick Dalton and his loyal stunt double Cliff Booth; DiCaprio playing an incapable character, and Pitt a very capable one.

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August 12, 2019

Notes on The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain was the film of the week yesterday on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of those baffling films that successfully tells a story in a competent manner and yet leaves you perplexed as to who on earth the possible audience could be. It is a massively depressing film despite having Kevin Costner as the voice of Enzo, the adorable golden retriever owned by aspiring racing driver Milo Ventimiglia. If the audience for a movie about a dog’s life from the dog’s point of view is children then this succeeds admirably in the downer stakes next to Disney’s infamous 1950s effort Old Yeller. If it’s not intended for children then why the conceit of the dog? And why a tale of such unremitting misery? As Enzo is lying helpless at home in the first scene from which the entire flashbacks we have a notion at the back of our heads that nobody was around, so Amanda Seyfried’s love interest is marked for doom from the moment she arrives.

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