Talking Movies

January 20, 2020

That Was The 2010s

The first Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle of 2020 unveiled the pick for best film of 2019 as well sober reflections on the changing meaning of cinema in the 2010s.

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I remember when this was all forced perspective sets

If you regard The Dark Knight as being the last great film of the 1990s, owing to its use of CGI as building upon spectacular practical special effects shot in real locations, then there are few better indicators of how the 2010s shook itself free from the 1990s than comparing The Lord of the Rings with The Hobbit.  The Lord of the Rings began production in the 1990s and so had location shooting, armoury and costumes and prosthetics by the truckload, and huge miniatures to complement CGI on top of these practical special effects. The Hobbit did not, as the above picture shows.

As the decade wore on the voice that spoke up for practical effects disappeared. It was unusual when George Nolfi decided to build a men’s bathroom in a baseball stadium in The Adjustment Bureau rather than use a CGI backdrop for when Matt Damon and Emily Blunt use a magic fedora to transport from one location to another. By the time we got to the fiasco of Cats there was no left to ask – why can’t we just use make up and costumes like the stage show?

As cinema ceased to be photography of actors in real locations or dressed sets with practical effects to be projected on a big screen in the dark for a communal experience with an audience of strangers gathered for a two hour experience did the term cinema cease to exist in continuity with a century of development?

December 22, 2019

From the Archives: Enchanted

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Disney does self-parody, and it’s awesome. Shrek is exposed as the under-achieving mean-spirited wretch it always was by Disney’s generous ribbing of their own fairytale animations. This is one of the best films of the year, in which the flaws (such as the hilariously confused message about marriage and romance) do not matter as they are mere quibbles beside everything that is done superbly. The cast is even littered with cameos by voice actors who worked on old Disney films to announce that the Empire of the Mouse is striking back. The hilarious trailer tells you all you need to know about the plot. Amy Adams (who’ll always be a meteor-freak-of-the-week on Smallville to me) is perfect casting as the hopelessly naïve animated fairytale princess-to-be Giselle of Andalasia, who gets a harsh reality check when thrown down a well from which she emerges into live-action NYC, even if she does succeed in getting cockroaches to help with household chores by singing to them.

McDreamy, I mean Patrick Dempsey, plays Robert Phillip, the archetypal hard-hearted New York divorce lawyer. His calculated wooing of Nancy (played by Broadway star Idina Menzel) is chaotically upset by the arrival of Giselle in his life and the obvious bond between Giselle and his young daughter. The big musical number in Central Park doesn’t have the greatest tune but it’s performed with enough energy to make up for it as, much to Phillip’s embarrassment, buskers start to help out Giselle’s spontaneous singing. The song ‘True Love’s Kiss’ though has a great melody and also provides one of the best gags in the film, of course it involves James Marsden. Marsden as Prince Edward is an absolute scream in this film. His prince is dashing in animated Andalasia but a snobbish, misogynist ninny in NYC. He scoops up most of the film’s best lines including the priceless “Thank you for taking care of my bride, peasants!”

Sometimes progress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, compare the grotesque humans of CGI animation with the traditional method here which perfectly renders Timothy Spall’s Nathaniel, servant of the evil Queen who helps her in her quest to stop Giselle marrying Prince Edward and so taking her throne. Spall follows Edward into the real world and dons ‘disguises’ and a series of increasingly ludicrous/racist foreign accents as he tries to feed a poisoned apple to Giselle. He’s such a failure at being evil that eventually the wicked queen herself makes the leap into NYC. Susan Sarandon as her physical incarnation is so heavily fright-made up that she looks like her old Rocky Horror co-star Tim Curry’s Dr Frank-N-Furter. Her grand entrance at the film’s finale in the style of General Zod trashing NYC in Superman II is to be relished, but then so is everything in Enchanted. Truly essential viewing.

5/5

From the Archives: Bee Movie

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

This is a bit of a conundrum to review. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good movie that features some hilarious gags. It is certainly several leagues above Dreamworks’ previous animated feature this year, the dire Shrek the Third. Jerry Seinfeld, who finally stopped doing stand-up to make this film, has really thought out the internal logic for his epic about bee society. The depiction of the worker bees that leave the hive to collect pollen is hilarious as they’re all jocks in a Top Gun style fighter squadron valorised by the rest of the hive. The sequence where Barry B Benson (voiced by Seinfeld) finally achieves his dream and flies with them on a sortie through the city is genuinely exciting. The problem is that while there are a number of great gags which are truly of the calibre you expect from a Seinfeld script the movie overall feels somewhat flat. This oddly deflating vibe is exemplified by the use of Chris Rock, who is hilarious but appears in just three scenes as the voice of a mosquito.

Despite the spirited protestations of Dreamworks Animation supremo Jeffrey Katzenberg there is no doubt that this film is less in thrall to celebrities than previous Dreamworks fiascos like Shark Tale. The presence of Patrick Warburton, who voices ultraviolent bodyguard Brock Samson in cult animated show The Venture Brothers, is testament to that. I have no idea what Warburton looks like, he’s a voice actor, and he’s hilarious as Ken, Vanessa’s jock boyfriend who has absurd self-confidence. In Shark Tale celebrities whose voices aren’t particularly memorable were made obvious by making all the anthropomorphic fish look exactly like the person voicing them. The characters were then made exactly like the screen persona of these stars. Which it must be admitted is about as far removed from the idea of an actor bending themselves into a role as is possible to imagine. Here Seinfeld is recognisable as a bee but no one else really is bar real human characters like Ray Liotta and Sting (both mocking themselves with gusto) and a gag about B Larry King.

The plot is very similar to Antz with an extremely neurotic Jewish insect (seriously, the amount of Jewish references here would appear excessive in a Woody Allen film) agonising over his life and his attempts to become an individualist in a conformist society. This is done in typically melodramatic Hollywood fashion by suing humans for stealing honey. The bees are helped by Renee Zellweger’s kind-hearted florist Vanessa for this showdown which should theoretically enable Barry’s hive to have more time for leisure and a life outside of work. But that’s not the end of the story. Seinfeld cleverly subverts the clichés established by Dreamworks’ ‘subversive’ films but it still doesn’t make this essential viewing.

3/5

December 15, 2019

From the Archives: The Golden Compass

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

A shockingly humourless bore that is even more tiresome than 2005’s Narnia. The first thing to go with fundamentalists, whether they are religious fundamentalists or atheist fundamentalists like Philip Pullman and Richard Dawkins, is always the sense of humour. It should come then as no surprise that there is only one gag, involving Sam Elliott’s daemon rabbit, in The Golden Compass. Philip Pullman fans have whinged that the message of the book has been neutered. One can only wonder how stridently didactic the book’s Anti-Catholicism is if that’s true, because it is painfully obvious here that The Magisterium is the Catholic Church, which must be EVIL because all the actors playing its members have adopted the camp Nazi mannerisms of ’Allo, ’Allo. Beating the mortal crap out of Catholicism is of course socially acceptable, we just shouldn’t hold our collective breath waiting for Pullman to do a similar hatchet job on Islam or Judaism. Such bigotry makes the posturing of the Oxford dons about ‘tolerance’, and the existence of the daemons as the incarnate souls of each person, preposterously illogical.

Director Chris Weitz thinks that if he throws enough CGI at the screen and sets the orchestral bombast at a (noticeably) ear-piercing volume he can distract from the pathetic script. He’s badly mistaken and the result is just plain boring. Heroine Lyra Belacqua’s carefully cultivated Mockney accent, despite being the niece of Lord Asriel (played by Daniel Craig, for literally 7 minutes), is incredibly irritating and newcomer Dakota Blue Richards lacks the acting chops to overcome such a fatal character detail. At no point do we care about Lyra’s fate, even when imprisoned by Nicole Kidman’s typically anaemic villain. Some actors do salvage something from the wreckage though. Ian McKellen is clearly enjoying himself far too much voicing an armoured polar bear, as is Sam Elliot in a reprise of his Big Lebowski role as an Old West character comically out of place, while Eva Green’s cameo as a flying witch queen should convince everyone that she needs to play the lead in the new Wonder Woman movie.

The final showdown at an arctic Magisterium facility that is half mental hospital, half convent school, is the occasion for some more deeply confused Catholic-bashing as children are separated from their daemons. ‘Dust’ and Sin are hilariously equated before a comically inept Empire Strikes Back style “No Lyra. I am your mother!” revelation occurs, which is then ignored in the rush to get to the badly choreographed ‘epic battle’ and much speechifying to set up the plotline for a sequel or two.

1/5

December 4, 2019

From the Archives: Fred Claus

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Vince Vaughn’s getting no presents this Christmas. Despite being Santa Claus’ older brother Fred Claus is a self-centred jerk who spends the film being hostile to people and ruins Christmas for everyone by making the elves shirk their toy-making work so they can join him partying. Obviously this naughty boy needs to be taught that it’s bad to be so selfish, and about the true meaning of Christmas, and – wait…does the world really need another Santa film? Children just about recovering from the trauma inflicted by the dead eyes of the soulless characters in The Polar Express must be kept away from Fred Claus for the love of God. There is a problem with the elves… John Michael Higgins as Willie and Ludacris as DJ Donnie for some reason aren’t subjected to the clever tricks of set design and camera positions used on the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. Oh no, someone thought it would be simpler to CGI their faces on to the bodies of smaller actors. The result is quite disturbing, as their faces don’t quite synch up with the rest of their heads.

Elizabeth Banks is gorgeous as Santa’s Little Helper and is given no character. Paul Giamatti is oddly anaemic as Santa Claus, as if he’s not entirely sure how he got roped into this movie, while Vince Vaughn is just not funny as Fred Claus. Reuniting with his Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin they fail to strike comedic sparks and he’s too abrasive for a kid’s film. There is an agreeably chaotic delivery of presents by Fred standing in for Santa but really it’s the Superman absurdities which keep you interested up to that point.

Superman action figures modelled on Brandon Routh are prominently displayed in the early scene where Vince Vaughn gets arrested, prompting his trip to the North Pole. He is picked up by Willie, who achieves amazing speed in his sleigh by the use of a team of what must be Krypto the Super-reindeer. Kevin Spacey aka Lex Luthor then arrives in a chopper to music very similar to his theme tune in Superman Returns. Why is his efficiency expert Clyde so evil? Because he topped the naughty list in 1968 and so didn’t get his Christmas wish for a Superman cape. His subsequent refusal to stop wearing glasses because Clark Kent wore glasses only prolonged his bullying and he became bitter and twisted, bent on punishing Santa someday. But damn it all if Clyde doesn’t have a Christmas miracle too and, finally donning the Superman cape, repents. All this and Roger Clinton, Frank Stallone and Stephen Balwdin alongside Fred at Siblings Anonymous too! It’s a pity that Vince Vaughan is so charmless that even his obligatory moral transformation is not enough to inject some real Christmas spirit.

2/5

October 31, 2019

Notes on Countdown

Countdown was the film of the week for a special PG-13 horror Hallowe’en edition of Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

It’s almost hard to believe that Countdown wasn’t produced by Jason Blum. There is a certain Happy Death Day quality to proceedings, although this is far darker in tone; pushing the PG-13 rating to the limit with its demon CGI FX. The cold open certainly puts one in mind of Scream, sketching in the plot and tone of the film with great economy. The dread it generates is replicated numerous times before it starts to lose its effectiveness. Meanwhile Elizabeth Lail continues the odd flashback vibe as she seems to be channelling Kellie Martin’s ER role.

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October 29, 2019

From the Archives: Starman – Interview with Matthew Vaughn

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

InDublin talked to Stardust director Matthew Vaughn about casting and CGI, Sienna Miller and celebrity culture, and a comic book he’d never heard of….

Matthew Vaughn is just dripping with enthusiasm for Stardust. He’s been trying to get the film made since the start of the decade, and asked what drove him to adapt Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed novella simply replies, “I loved the story”. Vaughn sees Stardust as closer to The Princess Bride than The Lord of the Rings. “The main theme for me – it’s a movie about a boy becoming a man, and he becomes a man by falling in love with the right woman. But it’s done in a way which is fun, not taking itself seriously at all, a feel good adventure romp. So it’s a movie for everyone: when you come out of the cinema I dare you not to feel good”. Gaiman, as producer, was happy to give Vaughn free rein. “He trusted me. Because every time I wanted to do a big change I always rang him up and said ‘Look, I’m thinking of changing this – what do you think?’ because I valued his opinion….If you’ve got someone who’s created the idea and it’s their baby. For me they’re the best person to ring up to discuss if you’re thinking of changing a scene”.

Vaughn was painstaking with his casting. Once he’d settled on Charlie Cox as Tristan “the poor guy had to do three months of auditioning for me to find Yvaine….it’s about the chemistry between the two. And I didn’t want to end up with Tango & Cash, you know, I wanted it to be the right chemistry”. Vaughn cast his Layer Cake star Sienna Miller as Victoria despite the potential for distraction given her tabloid fodder status: “She [Victoria] is the It Girl of the village so I think it worked for the character and that’s one of the reasons I cast her”. Vaughn laments Miller’s tabloid troubles. “I just feel it’s a shame her acting is getting eclipsed. Cos she does some good work, but – she doesn’t get known for it. But I say to her ‘Just keep persevering’ and eventually someone will say ‘Oh you’re a good actress as well!’” He also blasts the whole celebrity culture as being unhealthy for everyone. “The whole Jade Goody phenomenon I just scratch my head going, ‘WHAT does this tell you about England?’ I’m a big believer that fame should be a by-product of talent and success and I’m a big believer that years ago, and maybe its naïve of me, but great politicians or actors or poets or writers or comedians they weren’t trying to be famous, they were just trying to be the best at what they do, and then they became famous because of it”.

Directing Layer Cake after producing Guy Ritchie’s films reinforced the perception that Vaughn preferred small projects but he claims “I’ve always wanted to do big cinema”. But working on smaller projects made him determined not to have the CGI swamp the characters in his blockbusters. “A movie’s about having an emotional connection and telling a story and if you have that the special effects for me are an enhancement”. Stardust’s use of wirework for a dead sword-fighter is an example. “We had a big puppet sort of control thing to make him…we literally just said go limp and let us control him, in a way he was a puppet with the voodoo doll”. InDublin’s geekery finally erupted and we asked if he had any plans to film Neil Gaiman’s awesome graphic novel 1602. Only to end up explaining what 1602 is: superheroes of the Marvel Universe appear in 1602 at the Court of Elizabeth I…and Magneto is the head of the Spanish Inqusition. “Neil’s never told me about that!…that sounds cool – that sounds right up my street! I’m going to ask Marvel about that tonight! 1602?” After musing over the tangled film rights of the various Marvel characters Vaughn simplified the plot based on his friendship with Ian McKellen aka Magneto, “Make it at Fox. Have Fantastic Four and Magneto together…Spanish Inquisition. He’d get a lot of confessions…” Watch this space.

From the Archives: Stardust

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox) promises to bring back a fallen star from the magical kingdom of Sturmhold to impress spoilt rich girl Victoria (Sienna Miller). However the star turns out to be a young woman Yvaine (Claire Danes) who is also wanted by a murderous prince (Mark Strong) and a wicked witch (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Matthew Vaughn follows up his gritty British gangster thriller Layer Cake with a complete change of pace. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novella this is a fairytale that subverts audience expectations right from the off. Ian McKellen, like Morgan Freeman, has ascended from an actual physical presence to being the Voice of God. He narrates the beginning of the fairytale…but then disappears until the end. Rupert Everett also has a wonderful moment guaranteed to surprise the audience which I will not ruin here. The best subversive visual gag though comes when our own David Kelly, as the decrepit guard of The Hole in the Wall between England and Sturmhold, prevents the naïve Tristan (Charlie Cox) from crossing through the portal with some nifty kung-fu moves.

Stardust is a picaresque romp following the adventures of Tristan and Yvaine (Claire Danes) so it’s no surprise that the film’s quality should vary greatly depending on who they’ve fallen in with. What is surprising is that while Michelle Pfeiffer’s wicked witch Lamia is pursuing them the film is dull but when Robert De Niro pops up things take off. De Niro plays the ‘ruthless’ Captain Shakespeare, whose flying pirates capture lightning and sell it by the bottle to their fence Ricky Gervais. Gervais is a hoot in his cameo but De Niro is even better as the camp captain made miserable by having to keep up his reputation even though he likes music, fashion and art much more. The film becomes more fun at this point because it trades violence for romance. Gaiman’s original fairytale was for adults and, while the ghostly Greek chorus of murdered princes of Sturmhold is a sporadically funny motif, the fratricidal rampage of Mark Strong’s Prince Septimus is far too violent for children.

The heart of the film is the growing relationship between Tristan and Yvaine. Stars shine but they can’t do it with a broken heart and as Yvaine’s sadness melts away in her growing love for Tristan she starts to glow again, in a particularly sweet CGI effect. A CGI effect of delicious nastiness is the way that each spell Pfeiffer casts ages her. Vaughn treats us to the diverting spectacle of a dead body sword-fighting against Tristan courtesy of some voodoo doll magic and the implacable logic of a fairytale comes into force with a vengeance at the end. Stardust though is far too long at over two hours, and while the finale is swooningly romantic and packs a feel good oomph, the film itself hasn’t been magical enough to earn the plaudits its denouement cries out for.

3/5

October 15, 2019

From the Archives: Resident Evil: Extinction

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

The T-Virus has populated the world with zombies. A convoy of survivors led by Claire (Larter) encounters Alice (Jovovich) in the Nevada desert and gets drawn into her fight against the evil Umbrella Corp who created the virus.

When the hell did Resident Evil become a franchise? How is it even possible that Paul WS Anderson is still given big budgets for this dreck? Who out there keeps going to these damn films? Paul WS Anderson after showing some initial promise as a writer/director has become the Ed Wood of our times, only with a budget – which he is given repeatedly in his baffling capacity as Hollywood’s go-to-guy for bad horror adaptations of computer games. He has written, directed and produced everything from Mortal Kombat to Alien Vs Predator and has scripted all three Resident Evil films. Anderson, whether out of guilt that he got the job of writer/director on Resident Evil after horror legend George Romero was unceremoniously fired, or because he’s sick of the critical pastings he always receives, has lifted large chunks of George Romero’s Day of the Dead for his screenplay here. From the tension between military and scientists trapped underground, to the skeletal makeup effects for the long time undead, to the infected heroes who won’t admit that they’re now a threat to the notion that the real evil is inside the souls of humans, this film revisits themes and even scenes from that bleak 1985 film.

Sadly none of this gives any depth to Resident Evil: Extinction. What it does do is waste time that could be better used for zombie ass-kicking. Milla Jovovich now has super-strength and can use The Force (no, I’m not making this up). This means that watching Alice fight hordes of zombies you feel she’s in about as much peril as Buffy facing one vampire in a cemetery. The fight choreography should make this a lot of fun but here director Russell Mulcahy fails badly. There are sequences in this film like an attack by a flock of infected crows and an assault by mutated zombies that could have been bravura set-pieces under the direction of Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) but are just insipid as orchestrated by Mulcahy.

Oded Fehr as Alice’s old comrade Carlos, Heroes star Ali Larter as Claire, Spencer Locke as convoy mascot K-Mart and Jason O’Mara as the Chairman of Umbrella Corp all give committed performances, but they’re working with thinly written characters. I’m happy to say Iain Glen enjoys himself far too much as Dr Isaacs, head scientist for the evil Umbrella Corp. Newcomers to this franchise would know they’re evil because they’re introduced to us by Dr Isaacs who, using the cinematic shorthand for villainy, is a ‘Sneering British Person’ who stops just short of ending his first appearance with a “MRHAHAHAHA!!!”. The film ends with this franchise’s irritating trademark: a CGI enhanced ‘shock’ pull-out shot and wait… What!! Another sequel?!

2/5

October 14, 2019

Notes on Gemini Man

Will Smith’s Gemini Man was the underwhelming film of the week early yesterday morning on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Watching Gemini Man is a disconcerting experience, and not just because of the uncanny valley effect that (and this is very baffling) intermittently afflicts scenes with the CGI’d 1990s Will Smith. No, what truly disorients is that Ang Lee, director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Sense & Sensibility, has made a film of very occasional muddled and dull action surrounded by a cast of fine actors (Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benedict Wong, Clive Owen) mumbling their way blankly thru endless tedious exposition in an idiotic script that waits for about 55 minutes to reveal what we know from the poster in the cinema lobby – that Will Smith is being hunted by his younger clone. David Benioff and Billy Ray are given the lion’s share of the credit for this mess after 20 odd years of development hell and one can only dream of what Andrew Niccol’s draft of this material might have done with the philosophical implications of cloning because this movie has zip interest except as a stepping stone to a shootout.

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