Talking Movies

January 13, 2020

From the Archives: The Kite Runner

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Gruelling is the best word to describe this film. Indeed it’s hard to fathom how such an unrelentingly depressing story could ever have become a world-wide best seller. But then maybe Troy screenwriter David Benioff has sprinkled his own peculiar variety of anti-gold dust over the original novel. After all German-Swiss director Marc Forster has a much better track record than Benioff having brought us Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland and Stranger than Fiction. Forster is almost physically incapable of making an uninvolving film and The Kite Runner grips like a vice throughout. However that’s not because you’re emotionally engaged with the characters, it’s more that you’re scared, rightly wary of what new horror Forster intends to visit upon the audience.

The story centres on the relationship between two young boys, Amir and Hassan, in 1978 Afghanistan. Amir’s father is rich and Hassan is the son of his loyal servant Ali. Hassan thus shows fanatical devotion to Amir but asserts this loyalty to the wrong bullies and gets raped by a gang of older boys. The terrifying villain of the piece Assef is (like the infamous Fascist Captain in Pan’s Labyrinth) just too many kinds of evil all rolled into one, without any redeeming features or quirks, to actually convince as a character. Assef in 1978 is a racist despising Hazzara Afghans, a rich snob who exults in his wealth and Pashtun breeding, and a homophobe who rapes Hassan to teach him a lesson. Assef in 2000 is a Taliban official who is now a bisexual paedophile, when he’s not stoning women to death for committing adultery. If you’ve managed to sit through the rape, you have a graphic stoning to death of a woman for committing adultery and a bloody slingshot to the eyeball still to come…

The Kite Runner fails because Amir is so incredibly horrible to Hassan after the rape. Nothing he does can achieve redemption as Hassan has the patience of a saint in all his scenes while Amir is never likeable. In addition despite the laudable use of subtitles and Afghan actors this film arguably falls into the old trap of using an ‘American abroad’ approach by having Scottish born Khalid Abdalla play the adult Amir. If this is an attempt to focus our sympathies with the San Francisco dwelling older Amir then it doesn’t work. Amir cannot find ‘a way to be good’ as the trailer so pompously promises. While it is interesting to see the Western influence in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion and the realities of life under the Taliban it’s not enough to make the misery worth while. You would not recommend this to friends.

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.

Listen here:

May 27, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXXI

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a thirty-first portmanteau post on television of course!

When you play the game of thrones, you watch or you win

I gave up on Game of Thrones after suffering thru 3 seasons. I was unwilling to continue torturing myself to ‘keep up to date with pop culture’. So I’m quite amused at everyone now having a LOST-style meltdown that the show wasted their time for 8 years. In retrospect it was probably insane of HBO to greenlight a TV show based on an ongoing book series that the author clearly had no interest in finishing. I’ve long been comparing George RR Martin to a stand-up comic who 10 minutes into a 12 minute shaggy dog story loses interest and wanders off stage, leaving the poor fools in the audience outraged that he just wasted 10 minutes of their time, and even more outraged when Neil Gaiman walks by to chastise them for feeling outraged that his good friend George wasted their time – he doesn’t owe anybody the punchline to a shaggy dog story.

But now I wonder if there was another more conniving strand to his literary inaction. By refusing to finish writing the books Martin has got the poor saps Benioff & Weiss to test an ending for him to gauge reaction to it. So now Martin just has to say his books would have done it all … differently, and continue to never finish them, but do more fun things like attend sports events and fan conventions like a conquering hero, and he’ll go to his grave with that taunt irrefutable. When did he realise that by not finishing he can eternally be better than the TV ending without ever having to actually furnish his ending?

Jazz Trances, real and fictional

Happening across The Mighty Boosh late at night the other week I suddenly remembered Howard Moon’s jazz trance, something which I saw just a few years prior to a 2011 live episode of Later with Jools Holland featuring a bona fide jazz trance. Jools was trying in his inimitably (and endearing) ramshackle way to keep the show on track for time given that Newsnight was prepping to air live too once his show stopped. And standing waiting in the shadows was a 40 piece choir ready to join Elbow in a rendition of a meisterwerk, but unfortunately he’d put on a jazz band led by an aged jazz legend just before, and all four of them had gone into a proper eyes closed working out their melodies by feel jazz trance. The camera captured a nervous looking Jools baffled at how to get them to stop as he couldn’t make eye contact with any of the players: a moment of panic that reduced Dad and I to helpless laughter. At last one musician opened his eyes and Jools was able to flag him down. He stopped. And then another musician opened his eyes wondering why he’d stopped, and saw, and stopped too. Only for our man, the legend, to misinterpret this, in his jazz trance, as his merry men waiting on him to change key, which he duly did, until the third musician stopped, and then he opened his eyes, and lo, the jazz trance was broken. And a mightily relieved Jools rushed across to stop it starting up again and hurried Elbow and their 40 piece choir into action.

November 25, 2011

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part II

As the title suggests here are some short thoughts about the movies which aren’t quite substantial enough for each to merit an individual blog posting.

Deja Vu
I’m finding it impossible to work up any enthusiasm either to read Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel The Help or to see its very successful film adaptation. The reason is that The Help is what I like to call a ‘self-evident proposition’ work.

JEFFERSON: Isn’t liberty a great thing?
ADAMS: Um, yes. Were you expecting a different response to that question?
JEFFERSON: No, I just wanted to check that it was indeed a self-evident truth.

Having seen trailers, clips and interviews I feel like I’ve already seen the movie and read the book.

THE HELP: Wasn’t racism in the Deep South in the 1960s awful?
AUDIENCE: Um, yes… obviously – got anything else to add?
THE HELP: Isn’t inter-racial class-divide-crossing female empowerment just swell?
AUDIENCE: Get out…

I praised Emma Stone when I reviewed Superbad for InDublin in 2007 but I’m not about to watch predictable platitudes just to boost her to a well-deserved A-list status. Especially not when the platitudes are wrapped in another faux 1960s package, hot on the heels of Mad Men, Pan Am and X-Men: First Class. I’m a bit of sick of people caricaturing a decade they weren’t around for to make themselves feel enlightened.

The Horns of Desolation
I had the misfortune to stumble across the final scenes of Troy some weeks ago. My Delaney sketches can be traced back to one colour piece in the 2004 Christmas issue of the University Observer where I poured as much scorn as 908 words could hold on Troy. A poorly scripted mess that is stunningly disrespectful of one of the founding texts of Western literature and brought to botched life by a mixture of hammy or simply ill-judged performances Troy is a film that few people will ever watch again willingly. Which leads to the intriguing idea that any work wasted on it could be salvaged for use elsewhere. James Horner scores the fall of Troy with blaring horns and trumpets that bespeak desolation and the fall of an ancient civilisation, and I knew the melody they were playing very well. But I hadn’t seen Troy since 2004 so I couldn’t know the music from Troy itself. I seemed to associate the music with another film entirely but oddly also particularly with just such a scene of a culture being traumatically destroyed. And then it hit me, it’s the music from Avatar! The assault on Hometree and then the final battle – it’s the same horns of desolation. Horner, by association of ideas genuinely composed the same melody and orchestration again, or, (as I hope) directly lifted music he’d composed and foolishly thrown away on a much loathed film and re-used it on a much loved film.

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