Talking Movies

March 13, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLV

As the title suggests, so forth.

If we just hold our position here, fellas, a plot might stumble across us

The Winds of the Pacific War

Having staggered to the end of HBO’s incredibly underwhelming miniseries The Pacific I found myself growing irate at the closing credits which revealed the fates of a number of the characters who were real. The sense of camaraderie and regret among these men over the decades following the war only highlighted the failure of the series to depict any of this camaraderie. This stands in stark contrast to the C Company in-jokes and friendships that made its predecessor Band of Brothers so compelling. Characters the show lost interest in, that I had given up for dead, turned out to have survived and the band of brothers all re-united Stateside after VJ Day. What a colossal waste of resources it was to take these ten scripts and give them the big bow wow HBO treatment. I can’t help but feel that in the golden age of miniseries in the late 1970s and early 1980s if someone had brought these ten scripts to a network executive two things would have happened. First, he would have beaten senseless the writers room who had confused the mores of New Hollywood with network television. Second, he would have patiently explained that the ten episodes proposed lacked any sense of focus or direction or indeed point. Band of Brothers was based on one book about one company on their journey from training to D-Day thru the Battle of the Bulge to Germany. The Pacific by contrast tried to pull together three books about disparate bands of brothers on different missions and failed miserably. Ditching John Basilone entirely to focus on Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie would be the most obvious fix for some of the problems, but even then… Shortly before watching this series I had seen The Pacific War in Colour, which covers the same battles with the same soldier-memoirists using their actual words as voiceover. And maps and diagrams that gave the geography as well as the stakes of the engagements. How is it possible to have got more of a sense of the battles from CGI maps plus vague colour war footage and voiceover than from a big budget show depicting the authors of those voiceovers literally in the trenches fighting? Did The Pacific need to introduce officer characters as an excuse for some big maps on big boards in war rooms, as well as dialogue to explain how the strategy of the theatre informs the tactics that Sledge and Leckie must execute? That sort of clarity, along with putting far more effort into fleshing out the friendships of these men, should surely have been the first order of business in the outlining stage of the writing, and would have made The Pacific feel less disjointed and prone to wandering off on aimless tangents to the point where you perversely doff your cap in astonished disbelief that anybody could take the Greatest Generation’s own accounts of their Hell in the Pacific and make it so goddamn boring.

I know, Holden. Charles Manson… Even thinking about the guy makes me start to yawn.

Where is my Mind(hunter)?

I admit defeat. My temporary Netflix subscription has expired and I still had the final 4 episodes left to watch of Mindhunter season 2. I just couldn’t motivate myself to do it. I stuck in there for as a long as I could. I managed to hold on for longer than my sometime co-writer the Engineer did, making it thru the horrors of Anna Torv’s newly yellow appearance all the way to Justified star Damon Herriman’s fantastic turn as Charles Manson. And yet, for all that Herriman gave that long-anticipated sequence all he could, it was let down by, of all things, a seeming lack of confidence by the writers of Mindhunter that the audience would be interested in Holden Ford and Bill Tench interviewing Charles Freaking Manson without that Tench be given some thoroughly bogus (and oh so very painfully and slowly manufactured) ‘personal’ stake in the Manson case via his son being dragged into a macabre crime by youths. It’s Charles Manson. If you’re watching Mindhunter, you’ll be interested.

One Nation, Indivisible?

There is a keen if not sickening irony in Leo Varadkar calling for national unity at this time of global coronavirus crisis. As a minister and as Taoiseach he has presided directly and indirectly for nearly a decade over a number of campaigns designed specifically to set citizen against citizen. Public money was spent on cinema advertisements to propagandise to students that their teachers were wrong to resist Ruari Quinn’s debasement of the Junior Cert. Varadkar himself beamed broadly shortly before he became Taoiseach as he held a placard to launch his ‘Welfare cheats cheat us all’ campaign – his sole achievement as Minister for Social Protection. He was deeply involved in gay marriage and abortion referendum campaigns that were deliberately run in as bitter a fashion as possible. And his government continues advertisements lecturing us about sexual harassment on television, teaching us to always assume the worst of each other. And now, after Fine Gael losing a second election in a row, but showing even less inclination than last time to leave government, he has the audacity to turn around and lecture us all on the need for national unity – having just rejected the national unity of a national government to deal with this coronavirus crisis; because it seems fully 1/4 of the voters he wants to unify behind his continued unelected (and indeed actually rejected) leadership would fit neatly into his own personal basket of deplorables. To mash together the 1940 sentiments of David Lloyd George and Leo Amery – There is nothing which can contribute more to unity in this time than that he should sacrifice the seals of office. In the name of God, GO!

The Fall of New Seattle

And as I continue catching up iZombie the feeling of disappointment only grows stronger. The idea of making Ravi a part-time zombie for the lolz seems a Scrappy-Doo like innovation to the format, the depiction of the walled city of New Seattle never satisfies in the way that Dark Angel‘s technologically crippled Seattle did, and the season arc of Liv becoming the new Renegade opposed to Chase Graves’ Robespierrean rule rings hollow because it ignores the fact that Chase’s behaviour is motivated not by outright psychopathy but a food supply that cannot support the zombie hordes already in existence. The feelgood riff on Buffy being elected Class Protector at her Prom doesn’t feel remotely earned as a finale, and frankly I am not sure I want to watch another 13 episodes of iZombie if it’s going to keep declining this precipitously.

85,000 dead, Leo?

I’m curious as to the provenance of this figure of coronavirus potentially killing 85,000 people in Ireland. My back of the envelope calculations last week put it at potentially 39,000 dead in the Republic, and that was working from an American estimate that 39% of the population would be infected. Either Leo is assuming that closer to 80% of the population is going to be infected, or he’s assuming the coronavirus is twice as lethal as the given figure. Either of which is a startling change of parameter that I’d like to hear more about. In any case 39,000 dead from the coronavirus here would sit on top of around 30,000 deaths a year in Ireland. Which is equivalent to doubling the amount of funerals you attended last year. A nasty jolt to the national psyche. After all only 20,000 people were reported to have died here from the Spanish Flu in 1918 and 1919.

February 7, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

I don’t know, Holden, sometimes I feel I’m just playing John the Baptist to the Jesus Christ that is Criminal Minds’ Hotch.

The virtues of network television

David Fincher has walked away from Mindhunter after two seasons, and who could blame him? Joe Penhall, its creator, had walked away after the first season. Catching up with the Netflix show and HBO’s The Pacific simultaneously in the last few weeks has been a dispiriting experience. And I can’t help but feel that both cable shows could really have done with some network aesthetics being beaten into them. To wit:

  • making a character unlikeable does not magically also make them compelling, as my sometime co-writer the Engineer put it, Livia and Gregory House are horrible people but very entertaining to watch
  • all your episodes should be the same length, randomly having a 34 minute episode when your show is meant to be an hour long is not okay, it’s like a Modern Family episode ending unresolved at the ad break
  • gather an ensemble that you use every episode because they are each individually actually there for a purpose, it would for example be absurd for Josh to miss three episodes in The West Wing
  • course correct in real time by airing as you shoot rather than dumping all your episodes out as is…
  • Sans feedback you end up with (a) preposterous ciphers like Holden’s walking sociology textbook girlfriend who would have been tagged for writing out on network after negative reaction to her first few episodes (b) Wendy’s absurdly yellow makeup which made her look like she just fell out of a Van Gogh painting at best and like a cut-rate Oompa Loompa at worst (c) supporting characters disappearing with no mention of their fates, ever

  • being able to answer the question ‘what is your show about?’ with an answer that isn’t entirely abstracted, iZombie has complicated season arcs but each episode has its own internal motor
  • having episodes exist as episodes because they are actually about something, like early House‘s medical mysteries and later House‘s illuminations of character, rather than just being a spoon sized slop of gruel
  • it may seem trivial to ask for a name for each episode, but it gives the impression that you know what the point of an episode is if you can name it, rather than simply say it’s ‘Reasonably Sized Slab of Content #11’

Flights of fancy

Well, that didn’t take long. Ryanair has been told to stop using their ridiculous climate change ad because it features a lie. It features more than one, in point of fact. They do not fly direct to destinations, they are rather famous for doing the complete opposite. Beauvais is quite far from Paris, I’ve been on that bus. They do not try to fill every plane for the sake of the environment, if that was their noble aim they wouldn’t price gouge the poor saps booking the last seats just before takeoff. And if their customers really wanted to save the environment they would not fly anywhere. Until we get the early 19th Century international network of sailing clippers up and running again grounding yourself is really the only honest move.

January 13, 2020

From the Archives: Top 10 Films of 2007

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

[10] 300

Bloodthirsty, outlandish, stupid, just macho to the point of insanity and altogether great quotable fun. I don’t know if this film is objectively any good I just know it’s deliriously entertaining, especially if viewed from the perspective of Irish actor Michael Fassbender who romps his way through it.

[9] Control

Director Anton Corbijn made a fine film debut with this biopic of troubled Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. Control combined thrilling live music performances with kitchen sink realism. That mix between humorously observed period setting and a deep emotional engagement with a rock star’s normal life simply dazzled.

[8] I’m Not There

Deeply crazy not-biopic of Bob Dylan which reinvented a number of Dylan’s greatest songs by using different actors for different aspects of his career set against changes in American culture. Cate Blanchett was disturbingly accurate in her impression of Dylan touring Blonde on Blonde in England.

[6] 3:10 to Yuma

Hats off to director James Mangold who remade a Western classic and actually improved on the original. The acting is uniformly superb with the human substance of the story showing there’s space for drama as well as suspense and bloody gun-battles in the slowly reviving genre.

[6] Enchanted

A hilarious self-parody by Disney which threw their animated characters into the rather different conventions of New York City, this was joyful, sweet and damn near flawless. Everyone involved is clearly having a ball but James Marsden steals every scene he appears in and finally gets the girl.

[5] Hot Fuzz

Less of a straight parody than Shaun of the Dead, but far, far funnier. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s double act is a joy to watch and the rip-offs of Michael Bay and his ilk becomes ever more absurd and deliriously enjoyable as the action parodies escalate.

[4] Sunshine

Absolutely meaningless despite its promotional claims, this said nothing about the purpose of existence or religious belief. What it did do was offer a gripping white knuckle ride through an escalating series of catastrophes onboard a claustrophobic space-ship in the hands of a masterful director and committed cast.

[3] Transformers

The feel good hit of the summer was a Michael Bay film for people who hate Michael Bay and far funnier than anyone expected. The CGI robots were dazzling, the action unrelenting and Peter Cullen’s return as the voice of Optimus Prime heart-warming for all us 80s kids.

[2] Atonement

Pitch perfectly played by a terrific ensemble, this was an incredibly structured film that is among the saddest love stories which cinema has ever produced. Director Joe Wright proved through small details as well as the Dunkirk tracking shot that he is a coming force in British film.

[1] Zodiac

David Fincher’s gripping procedural epic followed three characters as they destroyed their lives in an obsessive hunt for 1970s San Francisco serial killer The Zodiac. Eschewing his usual Fincherisms for the most part this was All the President’s Men for a new generation, but with a serial killer.

November 20, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXII

As the title suggests, so forth.

star-wars-episode-9-confirmed-cast-and-returning-characters.jpg

“There are now seven different drafts of the speech. The President likes none of them”

With apologies to The West Wing… It’s been pretty entertaining hearing about apparently unbridled panic in private at Disney as they try to fix Star Wars without ever admitting in public that they broke it. Reshoots continuing until within six weeks of release, test screenings of five different cuts of three entirely different endings: these are the rumours, and great fun they are if you checked out of this asinine cash-grab when Han went for coffee; and was never seen again as he got into a lively debate with some patrons of the Westeros Starbucks about whether he or Greedo shot first. A particularly entertaining rumour has people shouting abuse at the screen as they attempted to walk out of a test screening after a bold artistic decision. Said bold artistic decision synching up with everything that has gone wrong so far it seems almost plausible. And yet… I half wonder if Disney faked footage of a finale so mind-blowingly awful that when by contrast a merely bad finale arrives people will be relieved, and forgiving. Call it the old Prince Hal gambit. If this bold artistic decision is actually real, and in the final cut, it constitutes a piece of cultural vandalism that puts one in mind of Thomas Bowdler correcting Shakespeare by giving King Lear the rom-com ending it so clearly always needed.

Very poor choice of words

I was minding my own business in Dundrum Town Centre the other day when suddenly a large screen started cycling thru shots from the new Charlie’s Angels, before ending with the misguided tagline – ‘Unseen. Undivided. Unstoppable.’ As the Joker aptly put it, very poor choice of words, as indeed Americans have left the movie monumentally unseen. There are a lot of reasons you could proffer about why, but let’s start with the poster. Elizabeth Banks’ name appears THREE TIMES. From Director Elizabeth Banks. Screenplay by Elizabeth Banks. Directed by Elizabeth Banks. ‘From Director…’ usually is accompanied by old hits, like Fincher being dogged by Seven until The Social Network, but not in the case of Banks, for obvious reasons. This is her first credit on a screenplay. This is her second feature as a director. The first was Pitch Perfect 2. Perhaps easing back on the Banks angle might have been wise. Maybe it would have been even wiser to have realised the problem isn’t just her name over and over on the poster, it’s the three people pictured on it. Kristen Stewart and… two other actresses. Think of the combined star power of Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu in the year 2000 when their Charlie’s Angels was 12th at the North American Box Office for the year. Now look at this poster again, and think of the combined star power of Kristen Stewart and effectively two British television actresses. Things get even worse when you see the awful trailer and it presents Stewart, the star, as effectively being the quirky comic relief to two nobodies. This film needed a poster with Stewart flanked by Emma Stone and Maggie Q to even get to the same starting gate as the Barrymore-Diaz-Liu effort.

Terminator 6 or 24: Day 5?

Terminator: Dark Fate has bombed at the box office, and hopefully this third failed attempt to launch a new trilogy will be the end of that nonsense for the foreseeable future. By the grace of God I did not have to review it, but I would have had no compunction in mentioning its opening shock while doing so. One of the frustrations of reviewing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was that the ending by dint of being the ending was considered unmentionable by good manners, even though it was an ending which made pigswill of much of the entire movie (and history) and it seemed Tarantino was deliberately taking advantage of such good manners in an act of tremendous bad faith. However, Terminator 6 in the opening minutes made an artistic decision that, once I had heard it as a rumour, struck me as entirely plausible given its similarity to the equally obnoxious opening of 24: Day 5. Denis Haysbert famously refused to return as President Palmer just to be killed off after mere seconds in the opening scene as a shock to launch the season until he was guilt-tripped into it by being told the entire season had been written around it. In retrospect he says he should have held out. That decision, to kill Palmer, was indicative of how Day 5 was going to lose its way to the point that I simply stopped watching; abandoning a show I had loved from its first episode on BBC 2 in 2002. The end of 24: Day 4, with Jack walking away into a hopeful sunrise after a phone call of mutual respect with President Palmer, was the perfect ending, for both those characters and for the show. But then the show had to keep going because money, so those character arcs were ruined, and, indeed, Day 1 of 24 (saving Palmer from assassination) became a complete and utter waste of time, and all emotional investment in his character over subsequent seasons was also a waste of time. Bringing back young Edward Furlong in CGI just to kill him off in the opening minutes of Terminator 6 was equally bone-headed. Suddenly the first two Terminator movies, the classics, were now a complete and utter waste of time. The last minutes of Terminator 2, which must rank among the greatest endings in cinema, were old hat to the eejits behind Terminator 6. If you want to make a mark on something you’re new to, it’s inadvisable to wildly antagonise all the fans who are the reason there is something for you to be a new writer or director to in the first place. If you want to create new and exciting characters, you have to write new and exciting characters, not just kill off important and beloved characters as if that magically and automatically made your new ciphers equally important and beloved. Tim Miller and Manny Coto. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.

Music based on themes originally whistled by… Elizabeth Banks

To return to the catastrophic egomania of Elizabeth Banks you wonder if the situation was always doomed with her as director/producer or if a decent screenplay that she couldn’t have screwed up too badly could have been wrung from her pitch had she not donned that hat too, taking it upon herself to rewrite the shooting screenplay as her first ever screenwriting credit. The upcoming Birds of Prey is a paragon of the in vogue but absurd idea that only women can truly write for women. (As a corollary Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers would no doubt be surprised to find their creations Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey cancelled for the sake of consistency.) But, even if you grant the absurd premise that only women can write for women, it doesn’t follow that only this woman can write Charlie’s Angels. Off the top of my head I can think of seven screenwriters whose work I have enjoyed greatly over the years that might have done a splendid job had actress/writer/director/producer Banks stopped hiring herself for every job: Marti Noxon, Jane Espenson, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Moira Kirland, Melissa Rosenberg, Stephanie Savage, Diane Ruggiero. It might be objected that their collective writing experience is largely for the small screen. Yes, it is. But then Banks had no writing credits on any screen.

November 10, 2019

Notes on Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep, the very belated sequel to The Shining, was the catch-up film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Rising horror maestro Mike Flanagan attempts to reconcile the book of The Shining with the movie of The Shining while at the same time making a sequel that is nothing like The Shining. No wonder this is 2 hours 30 minutes. And yet it is above all things a leisurely movie. If it were better one would compare it to how David Fincher let The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo breathe by burrowing into character and mystery. But such a comparison is unearned, instead there is a more apt (and dreaded) comparison to Ready Player One. Spielberg recreated the Overlook Hotel in CGI, and Flanagan resurrects a gargantuan set, but in both cases once the initial thrill wears off you realise you are essentially on a ride at a nostalgia theme park – the recognition is all, nothing of great pith or moment or heavens preserve us originality is going to happen here. Besides which Doctor Sleep is not very scary for most of its running time, it’s perfectly agreeable but as it goes nowhere goodwill evaporates afterward.

Listen here:

October 6, 2019

Notes on Joker

Joaquin Phoenix’s turn in Joker was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Todd Phillips gets by with a little help from his friends; Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Alan Moore and Frank Miller. No joke, Joker will frequently leave you with your jaw on the floor as ideas, scenes, camera moves, style and sequences are lifted from other, better films. If you have seen The King of Comedy or Fight Club or House MD you will be getting some severe deja vu. Joker is grimly impressive, from Mark Friedberg’s decrepit production design modelled on the awful appearance of NYC of the mid 1970s, to the artfully framed and held cinematography of Lawrence Sher imitating to a tee the work of Michael Chapman, Jeff Cronenweth and Wally Pfister, to the oppressive score from Hildur Gudnadottir which adds featured drums and horns to the Zimmer dissonant strings approach to the character. But all these production values can’t hide the emptiness of this enterprise. You show nothing of your own work Todd Phillips, how this film won a Golden Lion at Venice is amazing, as Marshall MacLuhan might say.

Listen here:

September 21, 2019

From the Archives: Disturbia

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives pull ups Shia LaBeouf’s second major summer hit of 2007, a Hitchcock homage.

Depressed teen Kale Brecht (Shia LaBeouf) is sentenced to house arrest and starts spying on his neighbours. When he begins to suspect a neighbour is a serial killer he desperately needs the help of the new girl next door.

It’s not a good idea to say you’re remaking a Hitchcock film. A Perfect Murder got torn apart for being a reworking of Dial M for Murder, whereas if everyone had kept shtum it would probably have been regarded as an okay thriller. There are only a handful of directors that one would trust with a Hitchcock remake and DJ Caruso is not one of them. Spielberg, Fincher or Peter Jackson could conceivably do a good job of helming a Hitch remake, the miracle here is that DJ Caruso does not disgrace himself with this loose riff on Rear Window. Shia LaBeouf’s shtick is going to tire pretty soon but at the moment it’s flavour of the month and he’s very good in his role as a teenager going off the rails since the death of his father, shown in the prologue. Unable to leave his house thanks to an electronic tag on his ankle he soon goes all Jimmy Stewart; “It’s passive observation. It’s a harmless side-effect of chronic boredom”; spying on his neighbours and becoming convinced that Mr Turner (David Morse) is a serial killer….

Where would Rear Window be without Grace Kelly? Up a creek that’s where. It is thus astounding that 53 years later Grace Kelly’s smart, assertive Lisa Carol Fremont has been replaced by a ridiculously sexualised ‘hot chick’. Sarah Roemer has a thankless task playing Ashley, the girl who moves in next door to Kale and is ogled at by him. Her decision to just join Kale and his friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) in their snooping is unfathomable, why she is so cool with being spied on and drooled over never being convincingly explained. The other female role in the film is equally bizarre. Only four years ago Carrie-Anne Moss was the sexy female lead in The Matrix sequels. Now, courtesy of some severe looking dresses, she’s the mother. There are two hilarious moments near the end of the film where it looks as if wardrobe and/or lighting forget they were meant to be making her look dowdy and she steps forward as her old kick ass persona.

These objections to the underwritten female characters aside the film does work quite efficiently. David Morse is skilfully ambiguous as Mr Turner and there some very nice Hitchcockian plot feints. DJ Caruso finally manages to parlay his undoubted slickness behind the camera into a hit film. Disturbia has got a lot of goodwill because it only cost 20 million, which made it seem a moment of sanity in a summer of ridiculously over budgeted and under-scripted blockbusters. But while it is quite enjoyable given its teen horror genre limitations you just wish there had been more ambition in the script.

3/5

August 10, 2019

Personalities: The IFI

The IFI is about to start serious refurbishments to fix the leaking roof and restore screens 1 and 2 to a level equal to the plush comfort of screen 3. I thought it would be meet to reflect on the personality of the IFI and its three very different screens.

Screen 1 is the biggest screen with 258 seats and I have seen some appropriately big movies on it: Apocalypse Now Redux, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blade Runner Final Cut, and Vertigo 70mm. Vangelis’ glorious synthesiser score bouncing around that relatively small space made far more of an impact than seeing the same cut of the movie in the cavernous space of the ‘IMAX’ screen in Cineworld. But not all films in screen 1 are as totally packed as the four shows just named were. Paul Fennessy and I once had the wildly disconcerting experience of seeing Olivier Assayas’ Apres Mai in a private screening because nobody else showed up for the matinee, and we greatly enjoyed seeing Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip very unexpectedly on that big screen for the benefit of about a dozen punters.

Screen 2 is far smaller at 106 seats and I have sat thru many press screenings there, and witnessed the rush at Open Days for the good seats: those in the first of the two rows placed above the fray to the right at the very back which thus afford infinite legroom, or the seats in the front row which also afford infinite legroom. Legroom, as you may have divined, is an issue in this screen. It has also had a tendency to emulate the late lamented Screen and get overpoweringly hot when at full capacity. I vividly remember stumbling out of an Open Day screening of 8 ½ feeling dehydrated. But screen 2’s intimate nature has made for bizarre audience interactions; the previously described outraged Bruce Campbell fans at Bubba Ho-Tep and accidental heckler at The Tree of Life.

Screen 3 has but 61 seats, it is the Old Dramsoc of the IFI’s screen, and for the vast majority of the times I have been there it has been half-empty at best. Indeed for a spell there I was plagued with shows where audiences halved within the first hour as people walked out in disgust. My favourite non sequitir being the people who walked out after the long-take of two successive monologues in Queen of Earth; obviously disgusted at Alex Ross Perry’s virtuoso directing. There have been startling exceptions such as uncomfortably crowded shows of Mulholland Drive and The Disaster Artist. There was the unexpected occasion of not seeing Le Doulos at all because there was only one ticket left when we arrived expecting the usual relaxed atmosphere and found a frenzied queue. But usually it’s laidback as Jazz24.

Maybe Jazz24 is the key to how I regard the IFI; the only cinema where it seems right time after time to get a coffee to bring in to the film with me. Perhaps because I’ve seen so many French films there. It’s been suffering thru something of a malaise for the last two years, maybe sprucing the place up will be the key to regaining the half a yard in pace lost to the Lighthouse.

January 27, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part X

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. What a week it’s been in the continuing cultural meltdown two tribes go to war turn it off and on again freakout of Trump’s America…

Playing a Trump Cad

I have recently fallen into the seductive but dangerous trap of watching the movies I recommend as TV choice for the week on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle. And so yet more of my free time enjoyably disappeared re-watching Speed for the first time in a while. As I mightily enjoyed Dennis Hopper’s villainy; whooping it up as he snarled Joss Whedon’s quotable dialogue at Keanu Reeves; and sat thru numerous TV spots for Christian Bale in Vice, I had a light-bulb moment. The perfect actor to play Donald Trump is the late, great Dennis Hopper. His performance in Speed, notably the comic timing, the sneering and taunting, along with notes from his sinister turn as the unpredictable, childishly explosive, sexually aggressive Frank in Blue Velvet, would provide an admirable palette for portraying President Trump in the Oval Office. Were it not for the fact that we are talking about the late, great Dennis Hopper. I’ve previously sighed over Michael Shannon’s comments about his aggressive lack of interest in playing Trump, even as he is happy to portray Guillermo Del Toro’s latest one-dimensional villain. Trump’s speeches are rarely played uninterrupted on Sky News for as long as Obama’s were, but one of the rare occasions they gave him some airtime I was taken aback at what it reminded me of – for all the world he was performing the opening monologue on a late night talk-show. His satirical invective was aimed at very different targets, but the madly free-wheeling style following the ebbs and flows of audience feedback was like an improv comedian ditching his script to go after the trending topics on Twitter. The ad hominem attacks of Trump aren’t so dissimilar to Colbert mocking Trump’s Yeti pubes or Meyers mocking a Trump’s aide receding hair. That bullying joy in cruelty, aligned with the obvious insecurities that drive Trump, seems like fertile ground for any actor. But especially for an actor who used his magic box of memories for any number of undesirables; determined to find motivations that made monsters someone whose skin he could inhabit.

 

The means defeat the ends: Part II

Back in September I pointed out the commercial shortfall of the Hobbit trilogy owing to the artistic shortcomings justified in the name of making it … commercial. It turns out that I took my eye off the ball since then and have only just noticed another example. Back in 2011 the studio was volubly unhappy with David Fincher spending an unconscionable 90 million dollars on making The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. They felt that for what it was, an R-rated thriller, it could have cost a lot less. An awful lot less, especially if directed by somebody else who wouldn’t shoot every scene about 60 damn times. So Fincher was thrown overboard, and with him Rooney Mara and Steve Zaillian (and possibly the non-committal Daniel Craig), and Fede Alvarez came onboard, but not, as initially assumed, Jane Levy. Instead Claire Foy took over as Lisbeth Salander, and, with the budget being watched like a hawk, the movie came in at only 43 million dollars. See, Fincher?! SEE??!! That’s what line-producing looks like. And then The Girl in the Spider’s Web only made 35.1 million dollars worldwide. As opposed to Fincher’s effort netting 232.6 million worldwide… Oops. So that’s a profit (sic) of 142.6 million dollars being replaced by a loss (sic) of 7.9 million dollars in the quest for greater profit. Once again the studio confused shaking the cash tree with cutting down the cash tree. As my sometime co-writer John Healy noted he wouldn’t have even have watched the first one if Fincher hadn’t been involved. The ends (making mucho money) justified the means (firing Fincher, Mara, Zaillian, and trimming runtime and budget). And, the ends, of making mucho money, were defeated by the means employed.

June 8, 2018

Trailer Talk: Part IV

In an entry in this sporadic series I round up the trailers for some of this autumn’s most anticipated films.

Bad Times at the El Royale

Buffy the Vampire Slayer great Drew Goddard returns to the director’s chair, and he brings his Cabin in the Woods star Chris Hemsworth with him for what looks a lot like a glorious cameo as the villain. I fear the trailer may give away a bit too much regarding the nefarious folk that hang out at the El Royale and the bad times that go down there, but Goddard has an undeniable flair for comedy and has assembled a terrific cast of newcomers and established stars. There are echoes of The Cabin in the Woods in the notion that characters who think they’re doing their own thing are being watched and manipulated by a mysterious management. It’s also hard not to wonder if Hemsworth might be playing a Charles Manson type, given the setting, and that Manson seems to be in the air in Hollywood as the 50th anniversary of the Helter Skelter massacre approaches. Let us see what mixture of comedy and gory bombastic deeds Goddard has produced.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Rooney Mara does not return. Claire Foy is now Lisbeth Salander. David Fincher also does not return. Fede Alvarez is now David Fincher (sic). And, stunningly, Stieg Larsson does not return. Fede Alvarez and others are now writing for him. So, 2 films in and this has turned into the James Bond juggernaut; where the creatives are easily replaceable and only the original author’s title or some riff on it survives the adaptation process. I had always wondered how they would solve the problem of the supervillain Niedermann that Larsson unwisely introduced into his later novels; a man part Hulk and part Wolverine inserted in a previously grimly realistic universe. Little did I suspect the solution would be throwing away those two novels… Alvarez and Foy are both great, but the firing of Mara and Fincher to make way for them leaves a sour taste that may be impossible to overcome; especially as the Salander as avenging angel motif is clumsily played up so astonishingly literally in this trailer.

Under the Silver Lake

And David Robert Mitchell is cutting his film, after a brutal reaction at Cannes. Nobody should ever do anything based on brutal reaction at Cannes. Nobody should do anything based on reaction at Cannes. The worst films get lauded and the best films get crucified in that unnatural atmosphere, and the world is the poorer for it when this forces changes. Let’s not forget people at Cannes booed The Neon Demon.

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