Talking Movies

April 30, 2018

Why Fund the Arts?

A little over two years ago a post here bemoaned the impact of austerity on the arts. Now I’d like to re-examine the topic with a considerably more critical eye.

The clash between Minister Hacker and Sir Humphrey still carries much weight. Art subsidies can easily be presented as a middle-class rip-off.  Take the funding of cinema, distribution rather than production that is. Cinema is not in any trouble. Well, historically it is, but let’s not open that can of worms here. Cinema is not in any trouble. (Hear, hear) There are cinemas everywhere, and people go to them ever Saturday night.  Advertisements for cinema roar at you from buses and phones, radios and televisions, billboards and newspapers. You would have to be in a coma not to have some subliminal awareness of what blockbuster is playing right now. Cinema is not in peril. What is in peril are unpopular films. Now, I like unpopular films. I routinely end up in screen 3 of the IFI, watching the films that are the most unpopular in the home of unpopular films. When the IFI writes to the Government they are obliged to camouflage their simple request for subsidies that they may show films nobody wants to see. That is brutal, but it’s the truth. I personally benefit enormously from this; I saw Alex Ross Perry’s masterful Queen of Earth during its six day run in the IFI. I am an appreciable percentage of its entire Irish audience. But should everybody else have to pay so that I can indulge my obscure tastes? Is that right and proper that Sean Citizen stump up so that I can watch a film flickering on the big screen as intended by ARP rather than get with the programme and just watch it on Amazon video?

A key argument against cutting arts funding in the last decade’s ceaseless austerity was that art develops empathy, and is therefore very useful for society. But the current obsession here, in England, and in America with *representation* completely vitiates that contention. I have identified completely with Seth Cohen, Rory Gilmore, Louis de Pointe du Lac, Esther Greenwood, and multiple characters in Brideshead Revisited and Michael Chabon novels. But the American Jewish experience is alien to me, as is the small town New England female adolescence. I know nothing of vampiric existential angst, or of 1950s female depression. I am neither a gay English aristocrat, nor a depressed creative writing student. I can look at all these characters that not like me, in nationality or gender or class or era or humanity or life experience, and empathise… But *representation* can be summed up by Mark Waid celebrating the much loathed character of Rose Tico purely because young Asian-American girls can look at an Asian-American woman onscreen and empathise – with themselves. That is not empathy. There is a GK Chesterton quote that hits this at an angle: “They say they wish to be as strong as the universe, but they really wish the whole universe as weak as themselves”. Representation is the opposite of empathy because it demands that art be a mirror held up to the person consuming the art. No work of empathy is to be done in imagining themselves in someone else’s life, and looking in this solipsistic mirror they expect that art will be representing them with positive feedback only, please; this is a safe space, you know.

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December 6, 2011

Top 7 Joel Schumacher Movies

It’s easy to make fun of the director of Batman & Robin, and God knows I’ve done it myself, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Joel Schumacher. He doesn’t have a distinct visual style or trademark thematic concerns so he’ll never be acclaimed as an auteur, but as a journeyman director he reclaims the original meaning of that word as he’s a skilled practitioner of his craft whose name usually guarantees solid entertainment.

(7) The Phantom of the Opera
This was the last Schumacher film that did decent box-office, despite lukewarm reviews, and it’s a solid adaptation. Hilariously the then unknown cast has become retrospectively impressive as the disfigured Phantom Gerard Butler tries to win the ingénue singer Emmy Rossum away from the foppish Patrick Wilson. Lloyd Webber’s music is the star, but Schumacher stages the numbers well, especially in the underground lair.

(6) St Elmo’s Fire
Schumacher co-wrote and directed the definitive Brat Pack movie. Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, and Judd Nelson, all give some of their best 1980s performances in a film about college graduates with great expectations struggling to live up to the promises of Reaganomics by self-actualising (and, pace Judd, becoming Republicans) while being buffeted by the unpredictable desires of their own hearts.

(5) The Lost Boys
Schumacher coaxed a star-making performance from Kiefer Sutherland as the villain while creating an influential version of vampires: forget Anne Rice’s philosophical angst, these are eternally teenage bad boys, bloodily partying to rock music. The great Edward Hermann’s dignity is hilariously abused by the kids who suspect he’s a vampire master. Jason Patric’s hero is anaemic opposite Kiefer, but there Anne Rice’s Louis/Lestat template is observed.

(4) Tigerland
Schumacher ‘discovered’ Colin Farrell by directing him in this incendiary first lead performance as rebellious Texan Bozz, causing discontent at a training camp for Vietnam. Part of Schumacher’s atonement for Batman & Robin, this was a defiant move to truly gritty drama, even down to the rough shooting style, and it worked – Farrell’s charisma making a fairly archetypal arc about the assumption of responsibility seem emotive and fresh.

(3) Flatliners
“Today’s a good day to die…” Schumacher’s second film with Kiefer confirmed his striking ability to foster young talent (Julia Roberts, Hope Davis and Oliver Platt) who would quickly go on to even bigger things. Medical students experiment with stopping their hearts to allow brief excursions into the afterlife, only to find they’ve unexpectedly brought back their own worst demons. Schumacher creates creeping dread with numerous nail-biting sequences.

(2) Phone Booth
Schumacher’s second film with Farrell deployed considerable visual flair, not least in its extensive split-screens, to make its titular fixed location properly cinematic. Farrell’s sleazy arrogant agent is reduced to a gibbering wreck while pinned down by Kiefer’s insidious, and verbally taunting, sniper. Part glorious high concept executed well, and part cheeky reversal of Kiefer’s 24 comeback, this was Schumacher announcing his return to the glossy mainstream.

(1) The Client
The pre-eminent John Grisham adaptation is powered by Susan Sarandon’s charm and doggedness, the latter so underpinned by integrity that even antagonist Tommy Lee Jones eventually respects it. Sarandon may have won an Oscar for Dead Man Walking but (along with Thelma & Louise) this is the film for which she’ll be fondly remembered. Schumacher also drew a great performance from Brad Renfro as her young client, and mixed nicely orchestrated suspense with a wonderfully warm humanity.

November 1, 2011

In Time

Andrew Niccol, writer of Gattaca and The Truman Show, brings his usual intelligence to a sci-fi actioner which takes Ben Franklin’s dictum ‘time is money’ at face value.

Justin Timberlake stars as Will Salas, a 28 year old living minute to minute – literally. All humans have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, and then die one year later unless they can earn more time by working, borrowing or stealing. Salas encounters Henry Hamilton (White Collar’s Matt Bomer), who, like an Anne Rice vampire, just wants to die as his mind has had enough, and has come to the Dayton ghetto to ‘time out’. He gifts Salas a century of time urging him – “Don’t waste my time”. Salas though is almost immediately struck by personal tragedy and so travels to New Greenwich, the richest time zone of them all, to try and use his time to bring down the corrupt system. He’s quickly made by timekeeper Leon and kidnaps time heiress Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), who becomes an unlikely ally in his crusade.

Timberlake sells the hurried nature of ghetto dwellers well with jumpy physicality, and also conveys a burning sense of righteousness, but, while Seyfried is gifted at comedy, here her huge eyes and pouting lips prove remarkably inexpressive and she’s out-acted by Olivia Wilde – who only has three scenes. Wilde’s stunt-casting concretises the high-concept by being Timberlake’s mother, but the horror on her face when a bus-fare suddenly rises lethally beyond her means is visceral: “But it’s a 2 hour walk. I only have an hour and a half left”, “So run…” Cillian Murphy is superb as Leon. He can’t be bribed, and to Salas’ amazement jumps, runs, shoots, and lets his time run low just like the ghetto inhabitant he used to be, making him formidably implacable. Leon is a great villain as he understands the system is unjust but swore to uphold it. Supporting turns are less nuanced but still effective. Alex Pettyfer is career-definingly loathsome as ghetto criminal Fortius, a sadistic but cowardly psychopath, and Vincent Kartheiser essays another weasel as time magnate Phillipe Weis.

Niccol fleshes out his high concept with numerous delightfully re-imagined phrases, “Do you come from Time?”, but like the best sci-fi this scarifying future is really dissecting our present. A critique of Darwinian capitalism it pits Weis’ “For a few to be immortal, many must die” against Salas’ “No one should be immortal if even one person has to die”. Salas’ motto is essentially an allegorised version of JS Mill’s moral axiom “Every person alive ought to have a subsistence before anyone has more” and is obviously morally right. Niccol though can’t mesh sci-fi brains with action brawn never mind square his allegorical circle. Salas and Sylvia become a latter day Bonnie and Clyde car-jacking the time-rich and staging heists on time-banks to the strains of Craig Armstrong’s ‘Karmacoma’ sampling score before then re-distributing time throughout the Dayton ghetto. We’re explicitly told robbing time-banks cannot break the system, yet that’s all Niccol proffers as ultimate solution to his problem. That and a credit crunch referencing possibility of time-market contagion…

In Time buckles in the third act, feels like it’s missing a detailed back-story between Leon and Will’s father, and features remarkably under-populated cities and a tendency to remove obstacles too easily, especially travelling across time zone borders. And yet it’s so near greatness that you want to like it. Well worth your time.

4/5

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