Talking Movies

March 13, 2021

A Journal of the Plague Year

It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year since things got serious and a Friday the 13th appropriately marked the beginning of paranoia, restrictions, and hygiene theatre.

The End now appears to be in sight. Perhaps. I’m in no mood to get Churchillian playing about with this rhetorically. But even if we vaccinate everyone and stamp out all variants and finally declare the virus dead, will things ever go back to the way they were? Will certain habits persist? And will certain activities just never return? After all if one gives credence to the 21/90 rule then we have all very much habituated ourselves to the new behaviours foisted upon us by the coronavirus. Which means it will take quite a conscious effort to break those habits and return to the way we were. And an all new consideration of risk and reward will impinge on our consciousness during those moments of decision.

  • Will we really want to go back to the cinema? Yes, there is the big screen. But sitting with a crowd of strangers in a dark confined space will unnerve us now, rather than simply annoy us as in the past when people talked obnoxiously and lit up the place with their phones, because no film is worth getting the coronavirus for just to have seen it on a big screen. And even if that risk is miniscule it will be still play a subconscious role in our decision-making, along with the obvious comforts a year of Netflix has hammered home – you can riff on the film with your friends and family in the comfort of your own home, you can rewind it when you miss something, you can pause it, and you can eat inexpensive snacks and not overpriced popcorn. You can even stop watching The Devil All the Time and watch an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine to restore your flagging energy.
  • Will we really want to go back to the theatre? I have a certain nostalgia for the buzz of the interval, drinking tea hastily with a club milk biscuit and speculating where the action is going to go in the next act, and from watching several filmed theatre shows I know that being in the presence of live performance adds a je ne sais quoi of ephemeral magic that cannot be captured on film. And yet I can’t say I have been desperately missing theatre during this year. My theatre-going had already been in steep decline as I had found less and less shows of interest. The high price was already complicating the risk/reward ratio, as spending the guts of 40e on something like the Gate’s Look Back in Anger travesty leaves far more of a bitter taste than wasting 10e on a bad movie.  If the risk/reward calculation involves a crowd of strangers and coronavirus, well, I can continue to not theatre-go.
  • Will we really want to go back to the concert hall? Now, this does not concern rock concerts. Something which I gave up on for good after suffering thru the distracted audience at St Vincent’s Iveagh Gardens gig in 2015. I have previously fretted hereabouts regarding the future of the National Concert Hall and the potential nature of its altered programming in trying to operate under various levels of lockdown restrictions. But after a year of listening to classical music on BBC Radio 3, YouTube, Spotify, and CD, I now think that an equal problem might be my own 21/90 inertia. I have in the past fallen completely out of the habit of going to concerts because of life crises. And it took years to return to the habit. Will that prove to be the case for many other people who have simply found a different way to listen to the music they love?

December 3, 2011

The Big Year

Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson star in a pleasant tale of competitive bird-watching that just stubbornly refuses to take true comedic flight.

Martin plays the retired CEO of a major company who’s trying to belatedly achieve a ‘big year’, in which he would spot more species of birds in North America in a single calendar year than any other birder. That means spotting more than 700 types of bird. This involves trekking all over the continent on hot tips to spot rare birds like the great snowy owl or the pink-footed goose, travelling to the farthest island tip of Alaska (nearer to Tokyo than Anchorage) for a week to see the Asian wildlife landing there, and chasing major storms that will cause migrating birds to touch down unexpectedly on the Gulf Coast. The lengths to which the birders go results in a number of nicely rendered stampedes and diabolical schemes and tricks as well as a charming travelogue of some of America’s prettiest landscapes.

Martin is supported in his absurd quest by his wife, but perpetually harassed by requests from his former lieutenants to head back to NYC to help them with deals. Wilson, by contrast, plays the world-record holder Bostick who is testing the patience of his wife Rosamund Pike to its breaking point. She’s taking hormones to try and conceive, but he’s never around as he’s trying to better his own record to secure his place in the history books as the undisputed best birder of all time. Black is the singleton of the trio, a divorced loser who wants to achieve something with his life, and is aided by his mother Dianne Wiest arranging his travel schedule even as his father Bryan Dennehy despairs of the stupidity of his son’s choice of goal. The adorable Rashida Jones crosses his path from time to time as a fellow birder who he just can’t summon up the courage to ask out.

It’s a delight to see Anjelica Huston crossing swords with her regular Wes Anderson colleague Wilson, over his mutiny on her birding ship in his previous ‘big year’ quest to see a rare bird rather than the whale she was showcasing to tourists. It’s also amusing to see a veritable pantheon of TV comedy actors including Joel McHale from Community, Kevin Pollak, CSI Miami’s Byron quoting British Person in the lab, Network head Jack and the demented impressionist from Studio 60, as well as Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory as a blogger causing trouble. However, this movie while big hearted, solidly acted, perfectly structured, and nicely subversive of the philosophy of winning at all costs, just doesn’t have enough jokes. There’s one sublime gag but mostly you’ll just chuckle and smile.

The verdict must rest with the good doctor, Samuel Johnson: “Worth seeing? Yes. Worth going to see? No.”

2.5/5

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