Talking Movies

June 29, 2019

On Rewatching Movies

The Atlantic recently showcased some findings from behavioural economists suggesting that we overvalue novelty and undervalue repetition, and it made me think about how I’ve been watching movies of late.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me? Do I anticipate Trump? Very well then I anticipate Trump.

I have been finding it hard, looking back to 2010 in the last few weeks, to get a handle on the contours of this decade, cinematically speaking. And I think some of that difficulty is owing to my not having rewatched as many movies as I would have done during the previous decade. This was a deliberate decision to use my time to add as many new titles to my ken as possible rather than simply rewatching what I had already seen. And that decision has been quite rewarding: I have seen more Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Andrei Tarkovsky, Louis Malle, and Mia Hansen-Love films than I would’ve had I not sought them out. But it seems there is an opportunity cost: if you focus on expanding your knowledge, it comes at the cost of deepening existing knowledge.

There is a lot to be said for repetition to really soak in a film. After all a vital check on whether a film really stands up is whether it can be rewatched with profit. I saw Birdman and High-Rise twice within days and loved them both times. In the case of High-Rise I had a totally different viewing experience each time: a crowded screening in IFI 2, where Stephen Errity and I managed to miss the opening scene, brought out the comedy of the film, whereas a deserted screening in IFI 1 with Paul Fennessy brought out the visual grandeur of the film. John Healy opines that repetition, like constantly catching snippets or indeed all of Jaws on heavy rotation on a movie channel, allows you enjoy lots of little details you’d otherwise miss without seeing it so often.

Little details can create what I’ve previously dubbed ‘mental architecture’. Watching The Matrix again and again and again you find yourself responding to someone asking your name with ‘Yeah, that’s me’ and only later realise you were quoting Keanu Reeves. Clambering off the floor with a somewhat awkward grace you realise later you were approximating how Keanu Reeves got up off his knees at the end of Constantine. In neither instance were these conscious emulations, simply physical or verbal replications of an oft-seen physical action or verbal response. The joy of repetition is that which comes from knowing a movie inside out: like watching a James Bond movie with my Dad, hooting at in-jokes about Ken Adam’s inability to stop blowing the budget on working monorails, or quoting along to The Matrix Reloaded line after line en masse with friends.

Whooping up Back to the Future Day on ITV 2 with my Dad back in 2015 wouldn’t have been half as awesome if we hadn’t watched each film repeatedly together over three decades. When Dad couldn’t countenance a full film I would summon from the DVR just the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now, Donald Sutherland’s JFK monologue, the Joker’s attack on the van in The Dark Knight:

At the far left of the shelf of DVDs was a single unlabelled videocassette. Schwartz slid it out with a finger and popped it into the ancient VCR.

“What’s this?” Henry asked.

“You’ll see.”

Schwartz watched this tape alone sometimes, late at night, the way he reread certain passages of Aurelius. It restored some nameless element of his personality that threatened to slip away if he didn’t stay vigilant. (The Art of Fielding)

Repetition can allow us grasp a film from different angles, enjoy the red herrings we missed before, create personal in-jokes, and provide us with an idiosyncratic frame of reference. But it can also utterly surprise. I was experiencing the rare joy of sharing a friend’s first encounter with a classic in 2017 when I nearly gasped at Citizen Kane on the big screen. Donald Trump’s threat to Hillary Clinton during their debates that he would, if elected, appoint a special prosecutor to look into her situation, now found an incredible anticipation in Charles Foster Kane’s threat during his speech that his “first official act as governor of this state will be to appoint a special district attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution and conviction of Boss Jim W Gettys”. There was now a new meaning in an old text.

In the case of Citizen Kane and American politics life was imitating art, as Oscar Wilde opined happened more often than vice versa, and a piece of art that had seemed to have a stable meaning had had that meaning upended. Repetition is not old hat in a world of novelty and completist instincts. It is both a time machine, that can enable us remember the way we enjoyed a movie the first time we saw it and remember ourselves and the milieu of that experience, and a transmogrifier that reworks old movies into something we never suspected our contemporary.

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December 13, 2015

Speed-reading towards illiteracy

Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller gave an interview recently to BBC Radio 4’s The Film Programme, which poses some intriguing questions about how new cinemagoers experience the medium.

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Miller cited Kevin Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone By as a seminal text; the entire language of cinema was defined pre-sound. Miller was intrigued by the notion that there was a pure film language not reliant on the spoken word, and he decided to tell stories through that language; going so far as to describe Mad Max: Fury Road as a silent movie with sound – what matters is that one shot leads into the next shot to a purpose. As Miller notes this kind of cine-literacy is an acquired language, and a recent one; but it is one that can be mastered, in all cultures, before we’ve got a handle on actual literacy. But it’s his remark that we’re now all speed-reading stories (backed up by some statistics), that is a lit match tossed into a powder keg… Mad Max 2 had 1,200 shots, Mad Max: Fury Road had 2,900 shots, while Miller was told Jurassic Park had 950 shots, and Jurassic World by his estimation had more than triple that.

If we’re speed-reading stories, are we speed-reading into illiteracy? Back in 1997 Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese bemoaned the cine-illiteracy of young audiences:

ALLEN: I was talking to some college kids the other day, and they were bright kids who were going to a good college, and they had no idea about great directors. These bright college kids have no knowledge whatsoever of Truffaut’s films or Fellini’s films. And yet the universities do encourage them to read Mark Twain and Flaubert and Melville. … So many film students are film illiterate. They’re not unsophisticated. They probably know more about steadicams and special effects than the average audience. The guy who drives your cab will use those terms when talking about a film, but they’re illiterate in terms of —

SCORSESE: The lineage.

ALLEN: They’ve never seen any of these films. I think they have a different attention span. [My italics]

I admit my culpability in having that different attention span Woody Allen fretted over. I saw Scream as a teenager and was blown away by it. When I subsequently saw Hallowe’en I was inevitably bored by its slow pacing compared to its younger rival. I knew that without Hallowe’en there would be no Scream, I understood the lineage, I respected the execution, but I couldn’t stop myself wishing Carpenter would hustle things along a bit. As a result I’ve never re-watched Hallowe’en, while Scream remains one of my favourite and oft re-watched films. In 1997 Scorsese bemoaned his inability to be influenced by younger film-makers: “The young people today are the 21st century. I’m 20th century, I can’t help it. It’s hard to let new stuff in.” And there’s an equal generational problem in film criticism. The New Hollywood has been so valorised by audience that Bret Easton Ellis and Quentin Tarantino bemoan the 1980s to each other as the nadir of American movies. Whereas Back to the Future Day demonstrated the impact that decade’s movies had on their audience.

Miller extols the virtues of Buster Keaton and the montage technique of Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike, but will the youngsters who lapped up Mad Max: Fury Road delve back into cinema history to watch the movies that inspired Miller’s visual storytelling? No. If you are used to 2,900 shots a movie something that’s less than a third of that will bore you senseless. What was already a problem in 1997 is only going to get worse. ‘Jurassic World is a mere inept retread of Jurassic Park’ howl we who saw the original in the cinema. But, like a dead owl, the kids going to Jurassic World don’t give a hoot. They probably haven’t watched Jurassic Park all the way through because they find it unbearably slow-moving. This might explain the Russos’ baffling belief that the execrable Captain America 2 deserved an Oscar for casting Robert Redford and throwing 1970s paranoia shapes.

1970s paranoia was an organic cinematic response to the mood engendered by Watergate and Vietnam, and, like all movements that begin organically, when it became a commercial affectation it died a horrible death. The idea that Captain America 2 in rehashing a trope that was valid and original 40 years ago somehow itself becomes pertinent and (coughs in disbelief) original is as absurd as Gareth Edwards believing that his 2014 Godzilla is a good parallel for the trauma of Fukushima. If Sion Sono’s 2011 Himizu can react almost instantaneously to Fukushima in a valid and original cinematic fashion what makes Edwards think that Hollywood rehashing its interpretation of a 60 year old Japanese response to an entirely different national trauma is anything but a crass attempt to attach spurious relevance (via some extremely patronising cultural voiceover work) to the commercial imperative of rebooting a dormant franchise. But here’s the kicker – it doesn’t matter. None of the fulminations of film-makers or critics or punters of a certain age matter. My complaint that Jurassic World is not as good as Back to the Future doesn’t matter. Logic doesn’t even matter. The 12 year olds who go to Captain America 2 and Godzilla will likely never watch All The President’s Men or The Parallax View or Gojira because they’re too slow-moving and boring. 2045 will see Jurassic World as fondly remembered as Back to the Future is now, and all us haters will be so many Bret Eastons moaning that the 2010s were the nadir of American movies.

Perhaps we’re not speed-reading into illiteracy so much as into an eternal kinetic present. The past is a foreign country, they edit films boringly there.

October 22, 2015

Getting Back to Back to the Future

Watching the Back to the Future trilogy yesterday for ‘Back to the Future Day’ made me think again about the Films You’d Love Your Kids To See season in the Lighthouse cinema this past summer.

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Back to the Future of course featured in that season. Time travel has never, ever been as much fun as 1980s teenager Marty McFly’s jaunt back to 1950s Hill Valley where he must ensure his teenage parents meet and fall in love to ensure his own future existence. Watching all three films you realised anew what a great double-act Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd were as Marty and Doc Brown, how stirring Alan Silvestri’s score was, the incredible 1980s-ness of everything, and just how sharp a script Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote. Watching the waves of nostalgia washing over ITV 2 yesterday you also wondered if the 1980s really was a golden age for kid’s films or if it’s just the generation that grew up with them wallowing in nostalgia for their own childhood rather than the films.

Back in the summer I wrote about the paradox of the Lighthouse encouraging adults to take their children to see films they had enjoyed as children. Your children cannot have the same childhood you had because films are part of a cultural matrix. You can’t separate them from the culture surrounding them. Observe Huey Lewis, Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, Clint Eastwood, Star Wars, Star Trek and Japanese corporations in the Back to the Future trilogy. These are films of the 1980s, with all that means for politics, music, fashion, television, and on and on and on… To remember originally experiencing Back to the Future involves comics and annuals that accompanied it, which tied it together with a whole complex of movies; Ghostbusters, Short Circuit, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Star Trek, The Goonies, E.T., The Karate Kid, Roger Moore’s Bonds; and television; Doctor Who, The Real Ghostbusters, Thundercats, Transformers, Mask, ALF, Family Ties, MacGyver, The A-Team, Knightrider. That’s some fearsome nostalgia.

But in a smartphone age there is something retro not just about making children experience movies with hundreds of people who have all ditched their phones to unite as an audience and groan as one at Indy being served monkey brains but also in showing them movies shot in such an old-fashioned way as Back to the Future. Robert Zemeckis recently said vis a vis The Walk that spectacle doesn’t just mean CGI. A close-up is cinematic spectacle, because close-ups don’t happen in reality. Look at all the moments in Back to the Future when Silvestri’s score tells you how to read a scene while Zemeckis moves the camera as outrageously as Hitchcock to draw your attention to something, convey importance, or just dazzle you. When Zemeckis unleashes the train pushing a DeLorean finale of Back to the Future: Part III it shames today’s blockbusters. This summer saw many action sequences that were neither choreographed nor legible, but simply CGI edited in a frenzy to create an impression of thrilling action. Zemeckis’ train finale by contrast, is so perfectly constructed, shot by shot, that a 1910s audience would comprehend it and thrill to it as Guido Silvestri hammered his piano.

Twitter went crazy because Back to the Future: Part II’s future day had arrived, but watching that 2015 sequence yesterday it was striking just how much of its vista of hoverboards and flying cars was realised practically. To say nothing of how the earliest cinema pioneers would have smiled approvingly at the lo-fi trick Zemeckis employed in the sequels to have multiple versions of Fox and Lloyd interacting with each other onscreen. And watching Zemeckis’ inspired writing partner Bob Gale effortlessly handle the parallel timelines chaos of Back to the Future: Part II’s time-travel antics you couldn’t help but sigh, remembering just how insultingly nonsensical Terminator: Genisys was. Zemeckis and Gale are no doubt appreciative of how beloved their work is, but Zemeckis probably wishes people would go see the movie he released last month instead of hyping one he made thirty years ago. Perhaps the takeaway from ‘Back to the Future Day’ is we get the movies we deserve.

Zemeckis & Gale had a horrible time getting their script greenlighted in the 1980s. But the idea that anybody would touch it with a bargepole now is fantasy. It’s not a sequel, it’s not based on a comic book, or a toy, or a TV show, or a YA novel, it is simply an original idea that happens to be cinematic lightning in a bottle. If we want films now that will be as beloved in 2045 as Back to the Future is now then we need to put our foot down: we want sharp scripts and properly choreographed action.

July 8, 2015

Kids’ Films at the Lighthouse

Films You’d Love Your Kids To See, a season of classic 1980s movies back on the big screen, kicks off in the Lighthouse cinema tonight.

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During July and August you can relive the golden age of kids’ films of the 1980s, with a brace of detours to the 1970s. The Lighthouse promises films which drew audiences into worlds filled with magic, adventure, thrills, and frights, courtesy of goblins, spaceships, pirates, muppets, friendly aliens, flying dragons, cars that could go back in time, and imbued with a sense of awe and optimism that can now be relived and enjoyed once more by new and older generations. If the last clause about awe and optimism causes bad flashbacks to Tomorrowland fear not. Film-goers are invited to experience the original spectacular sci-fi of Spielberg’s E.T. and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, as well as the fantasies of Jim Henson’s LabyrinthThe Dark Crystal, and The NeverEnding Story, and the tongue-in-cheek derring-do of Indiana Jones and The Goonies.

Special events include Lighthouse Book Club screenings of Willy Wonka and Stand By Me (both of which will have special Kids’ Book Club screenings), as well as a Jim Henson Double Bill, and an  Indiana Jones Marathon. There will be late-night screenings for adults and matinees for families to enjoy. So whether you want to re-live one of your old favourites on the big screen or introduce a whole new generation to these wonderful films, the Lighthouse invites you to escape into these magical worlds this summer on the scale they were originally intended – for a big screen with hundreds of people groaning at Indy being served monkey brains. It must be noted that the split-focus of the season, between 1980s kids who now have families, and 1980s kids who just want to relive their childhood is kind of interesting…

Your children cannot have the same childhood you had; the world has moved on, unless of course we’re talking about the seemingly indestructible world of Transformers. But even Transformers proves the point, my memories of those toys are inextricably bound up with an accompanying British comic and its staggeringly Shakespearean storylines, not a series of Michael Bay films whose screenwriters probably never heard of that comic. But the desire to introduce children to the 1980s classics Lucas & Spielberg et al suggests something more than nostalgia, it says something about the current state of cinema – and it’s more or less a white flag. Omnipresent CGI that can render anything you can imagine just so long as you imagine looking it like CGI will never capture the imagination the way that the last stand of practical effects did in the 1980s.

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E.T.

WED 8TH JULY, 3PM & 8.30PM | SAT 11TH JULY, 3PM & 10.30PM

Science fiction when visualised by Spielberg and scored by Williams is an emotional wonder to experience on the big screen. E.T. asks the question ‘are we alone in the universe?’ and allows the audience to believe that if we’re not, then there’s a universe of adventures to be had and friends to be made. A film that can make grown men cry, Spielberg’s early masterpiece has an innate sense of wonder that is unequalled.

 

LABYRINTH

TUE 14TH JULY, 3PM & 8.30PM | SUN 19TH JULY, 4PM

Part Muppets, part Monty Python, this dark fairytale was directed by Jim Henson and written by Terry Jones. Starring a very young Jennifer Connolly and a very wicked David Bowie, Labyrinth is a rock’n’roll fantasy whose dark heart is cheered up by a colourful cast of Muppets who aid Sarah in her attempt to free her baby brother from the clutches of the Goblin King.

 

THE DARK CRYSTAL

WED 15TH JULY, 3PM & 8.30PM | SUN 19TH JULY, 2PM

In a world divided between the malevolent Skeksis and the benevolent Mystics, two ‘gelflings’ must quest to find the shard of the Dark Crystal to ensure the world doesn’t fall to darkness. Muppets mastermind Jim Henson and Frank Oz (Yoda himself!) co-directed this striking and beautifully crafted, yet sometimes rather dark fantasy.

 

THE DARK CRYSTAL & LABYRINTH

FRI 17TH JULY, 8.30PM

Are you a Gelfling or a Goblin? Celebrate the genius of Jim Henson by going back to the fantastical worlds and characters he created in The Dark Crystal and getting your Chilly Down (doing the Magic Dance) with David Bowie’s Goblin King. That’s right, it’s an 80s cult double bill in the shape of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

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THE NEVERENDING STORY

TUE 21ST JULY, 3PM & 8.30PM | SAT 25TH JULY, 3PM & 10.30PM

Upon discovering a mysterious book, Bastian enters a magical world of Fantastica and is called on to help the Child Empress and young warrior Atreyu to save the world from terrifying non-entity ‘The Nothing’. But for every wish he makes, Bastian loses a memory from his real life. Fairy-tale action of the highest order – who hasn’t dreamt of flying on their own luck-dragon!?

 

WILLY WONKA

MON 27TH JULY, 6.30PM | SUN 2ND AUG, 1PM (FOR KIDS)

Keeping up the annual Roald Dahl summer book club, this year Lighthouse book club invites you to join them for a screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, Roy Kinnear, and a host of Oompa-Loompas. For the first time ever, there’ll be both an adult book club in the usual slot and an extra Sunday afternoon children’s edition.

 

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?

WED 29TH JULY, 3PM & 8.30PM | SAT 1ST AUG, 3PM & 10.30PM

It’s difficult to say if Robert Zemeckis’ film was intended specifically for children or not. With its film-noir stylings, the ludicrously sultry Jessica Rabbit, and its knowing winks at the ego and corruption at work in Hollywood, there’s as much to love in this live-action-animation hybrid for adults as there is for children as Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd clash.

 

BACK TO THE FUTURE

TUE 4TH AUG, 3PM & 8.30PM | FRI 7TH AUG, 10.30PM | SUN 9TH AUG, 3PM

Time travel has never, ever been this much fun. Michael J Fox is 1980s teenager Marty McFly who, stuck in a time-travel jaunt back to the 1950s – courtesy of his mad-scientist friend Doc Brown – must ensure that his parents end up falling in love so his existence is ensured. Mind-bending in the greatest way and full of spectacle and adventure, as all great family films should be.

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THE KARATE KID

WED 5TH AUG, 3PM & 8.30PM | SAT 8TH AUG, 3PM & 10.30PM

Everyone on your street did at least one karate class as a kid and there was probably some kid with a black belt who seemed like the coolest person in town. That is thanks, to a huge extent, to this film. Probably the greatest pairing of master and student in sports movie history, Daniel and Mr Miyagi throw poses like nobody’s business in this classic coming-of-age sports film.

 

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND

WED 12TH AUG, 3PM & 8.30PM | SUN 16TH AUG, 3PM

Spielberg’s first foray into the world of extra-terrestrials, Close Encounters is not only a wonderful film, but one that has hardly aged at all despite its heavy use of special effects. The trademark Spielberg sense of wonder, channelled through man-child alter-ego Richard Dreyfuss, makes this a marvellous big-screen experience for both young and not-so-young. Although children might not be so enamoured with the idea of dad simply abandoning the family to hang out with ET.

 

INDIANA JONES TRILOGY

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg put their blockbusting heads together and came up with the ultimate family-friendly adventure. A throwback to old 1930s cliff-hanger serials, Harrison Ford is the perfect charismatic, quipping leading man. These films have everything – action, romance, face-melting, whips, running from a giant rolling boulder. Not only does each film get its own daily screenings but there’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch all three back-to-back in the Indiana Jones Trilogy Marathon. What do you mean there were four films?

 

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

TUE 18TH AUG, 3PM & 8.30PM

INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM

WED 19TH AUG, 3PM & 8.30PM

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE

THURS 20TH AUG, 3PM & 8.30PM

INDIANA JONES TRILOGY  MARATHON

SAT 22ND AUG, FROM 2PM

For €21 TRILOGY DISCOUNT PRICE – call 01 8728006 or book in person at Box-Office.

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THE GOONIES

THURS 27TH AUG, 3PM & 8.30PM | SAT 29TH AUG, 3PM & 10.30PM

Goonies never say die! Get your treasure maps out and come along to screenings of The Goonies, one of the most beloved of 80s cult classics. The ultimate kids’ adventure tale sees a group of friends trying to save their homes from being demolished and in doing so discover an old treasure map from the legendary One Eyed Willie, but they must battle the weirdest family in America for the hidden treasure. Pirate outfits and truffle shuffles encouraged.

 

STAND BY ME

SUN 30TH AUG, 1PM (FOR OLDER KIDS) | MON 31ST AUG, 6.30PM

Based on the short novella The Body by Stephen King, Stand By Me is a masterful adaptation of a very brilliant book, with Rob Reiner reining in King’s customary tendency to go just a bit too far. Pushing the definition of kids’ films to its limits this coming of age thriller starring the future Wesley Crusher and a fully-formed villainous Kiefer Sutherland is the perfect discussion piece for the YA Lighthouse Book Club.

 

Tickets are now on sale at www.lighthousecinema.ie, with free online booking for members.

June 9, 2015

IFI Open Day

The IFI is holding its annual Open Day on Saturday June 20th with an expanded line-up of free movies running from 1pm to 1am. As well as the free movies, and the customary barbecue in the courtyard and special discount on annual IFI membership, there are also some new attractions. Here’s a teaser of my preview for HeadStuff.org.

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The Tiernan McBride library will host a pop-up museum of cinema equipment, a pop-up picture house showing films from the vaults, and at 11.30, 14.30, and 16.30 tours of the vault. The tours have limited places, which can be booked at scorrigan@irishfilm.ie, as well as tours at 14.00, 15.00, 16.30, and 17.00 which bring you behind the theatre to see the projectionist at work; handling anything from digital, 16mm, and 35mm, up to 70mm – the IFI being the only cinema in the country that can run 70mm reels. And for younger cinephiles, at 12.00 artist Laura Healy will facilitate a ‘build your own time machine’ workshop. Places are limited, and must be pre-booked, and feature the option of family tickets for Back to the Future

But what are the free movies? Well, click here to read the guide to the 15 films being shown in Temple Bar.

December 22, 2011

Fanboys Vs Paul

At what point on the homage-o-meter does a film become so dependent for its laughs on just referencing other films that it simply ceases to exist in its own right?

I’m posing this question because I quite recently watched both Paul and Fanboys which are so referentially dependent that taking away that crutch of familiarity would cripple both. Paul would be less hobbled than Fanboys, because it’s operating on a higher level of comedic sureness, but the two films share the same basic DNA – nerds go on a road trip and things get very silly, with copious references to late 1970s/early 1980s pop culture, and Seth Rogen even appearing in both movies. There is obviously a huge difference in budgets between the two films, evident in looking at the star wattage of the casts. Sam Huntington, Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler, and Kristen Bell for Fanboys weigh in substantially lighter than Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, and Kristen Wiig for Paul. But that’s not that clinching, throwing money at bad jokes doesn’t make them funny.

Huntington is a gifted comedian who was a sublime Jimmy Olsen, Jay Baruchel is a reliable comedic presence, and Kristen Bell rarely gets to be as awesome in film as she was as Veronica Mars but she’s always got that charisma in reserve. Dan Fogler, however, sums up the problem with Fanboys. I’ve been mystified by Fogler’s rise because I don’t think he’s particularly funny in Balls of Fury, Good Luck Chuck, or Fanboys. Indeed the only time I’ve been impressed by him was in Love Happens where in a straighter role than usual he was quite good, even damn good in one serious scene. Fanboys sees him purvey his usual brand of crude, physical humour (constant dry humping) and he puts so much obvious energy and commitment into his performance you actually feel bad singling him out as a synecdoche of the film’s failings.

Fanboys is a film where the script constantly falls back on crudity and slapstick and asks its performers to mug like hell to hide the shortcomings of the material. It is intermittently amusing, but, with some exceptions, those laughs come from references to the Star Wars film, or from the efforts of cameoing stars whose presence are the only reason jokes work – think Carrie Fisher saying “I know” when someone says “I love you”, or William Shatner boasting “I’m William Shatner, I can score anything”. Even Rogen’s dual roles only work because of the sublime moment where as a Trekkie his beloved Kirk statue is destroyed and he cradles it shouting “KHAAAAAAAAAAN!” Take away the famous actors in tiny roles, and you’re left with a deeply suspect attempt to graft an emotionally manipulative arc about a dying friend’s last wishes onto raucous road trip comedy.

Paul by contrast has a far less weighty arc that works much better. It just wants Pegg to get a girlfriend and Frost to finish writing his novel as the transformative result of encounter with runaway alien Paul. It’s a funnier film than Fanboys because, though Paul’s dialogue is crude and the Kristen Wiig sub-plot is foul-mouthed and oddly mean-spirited, there is still more comedic gold left when you sift away the referential gags. Those references to Lucas, Spielberg, Zemeckis and Landis are hysterically funny, not least the moment when our heroes walk into the Roadhouse to find the band playing the Cantina music. But they are equalled by the absurdity of Jason Bateman’s character name, and the peerless Kristen Wiig’s crestfallen reaction to Pegg telling her she ‘should go’, meaning to visit the UK, but she takes it as meaning to just go away.

Paul is better than Fanboys but, while it’s hilarious to see Paul offering Spielberg advice on the phone on creating E.T., does Paul just feature too many referential gags versus original gags compared to the previous two Pegg/Frost movies directed, and crucially co-written, by Edgar Wright? Sigourney Weaver’s appearance saw me start a mental timer until the line ‘Get away from her you bitch!’ was referenced, and of course it was. Are Pegg and Frost compensating for the loss of Wright’s flair for visual absurdity by gripping ever more tightly their pop culture talismans? If, by some miracle, you could find a viewer entirely unfamiliar with cinema and pop culture from 1974 onwards would they still find Paul, and especially Fanboys, funny at all? Or would they merely look baffled and say ‘I don’t get it, what’s meant to be so funny about that line?’ Obviously though such an ideal viewer is impossible as Lucas and Spielberg colonised the popular imagination in a manner most film-makers can only dream of.

Still, it must be asked at what point doffing the cap to Lucas and Spielberg becomes a despairing admittance of defeat at ever conjuring up something equal to their magic?

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