Talking Movies

April 28, 2019

Keanu Reeves at the Lighthouse

The Lighthouse cinema is gearing up for something they call Keanurama, a whole season of films starring the inimitable Keanu Reeves. Talking Movies‘ reaction to this news could only be captured by one word – whoa.

There is a feast of Keanu on offer here, from his team-ups with Winona Ryder in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, A Scanner Darkly and Destination Wedding to his 90s-defining action movies Point Break and Speed, from his indie classics River’s Edge and My Own Private Idaho to his mainstream hits Parenthood and Devil’s Advocate, from his original breakthrough Bill & Ted movies to his recent John Wick comeback trilogy.

John Wick & John Wick: Chapter 2 DOUBLE BILL

May 10th

Destination Wedding

May 10th

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

May 10th

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

May 15th

Speed 35mm

May 25th

A Scanner Darkly 35mm

June 1st

Parenthood

June 5th

River’s Edge

June 7th

Devil’s Advocate

June 14th

My Own Private Idaho

June 18th

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

June 21st

 

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

June 22nd

Bill & Ted DOUBLE BILL

June 23rd

“Will you be at this party?” “Definitely.”

Point Break 4th July Party

July 6th

Point Break

July 11th

 

And coming directly after that the 20th anniversary re-release of … The Matrix.

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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.

February 11, 2014

Close-up: Iconic Film Images from Susan Wood

An exhibition of work by New York photographer Susan Wood is now open until the 22nd of February in the Irish Georgian Society’s City Assembly House on South William Street, and Wood will give a free admission lunchtime talk about her life and work on Friday 14th February at 1pm.

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Close-up is part of the JDIFF programme and is a collection of iconic 1960s film images from movies including Leo the Last and Easy Rider, representing milestones in American photography over a period of more than thirty years. Under contract to Paramount Pictures, United Artists and 20th Century Fox, Wood’s assignments allowed her to capture remarkable, unrehearsed shots of some of the era’s most unforgettable personalities – Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Monica Vitti, Marcello Mastroianni, Billie Whitelaw, John Wayne, Billy Wilder, and Joseph Losey. The pictures are on display as a group in this exhibition for the first time ever. Wood’s editorial, advertising, and fashion photography has appeared in LookVoguePeople and The New York Times and she is known for her portraits of John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Susan Sontag, and John Updike. A founding member of the Women’s Forum, Wood was friends with many of the vanguard of the feminist movement, including Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. This exhibition, presented with the Irish Georgian Society, has been curated by Irish photographer Deirdre Brennan, who has worked with Wood’s archive for the past decade. Wood says “I am thrilled that these photographs, lovingly curated by Deirdre Brennan, will be seen together for the first time in Dublin and I’m honoured to be one of the first artists to exhibit in this wonderful new space at the Irish Georgian Society.”

easyriderlarge

Wood is the winner of many Art Director and Clio awards, and her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide. Throughout the 1970s and 80s she was a regular contributor to New York magazine, and did a notable cover story on John Lennon & Yoko Ono for LookMademoiselle her as one of their ‘10 Women Of The Year’ in 1961, and she went on to interview and photograph Joseph Heller and Norman Mailer, as well as delve into investigative reporting for the celebrated New York magazine expose of medical malfeasance, “Dr. Feelgood”. She is the co-author of Hampton Style (1992), a Literary Guild selection, for which she took over 250 original photographs of houses and gardens on the East End of Long Island. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Yale School of Art, her work is in the Library of Congress and her own website www.susanwood.net.

Brennan is an NCAD graduate who worked as a photojournalist and documentary photographer in New York for over a decade before returning to Dublin in 2008. On contract with The New York Times since 2000, her work has been published throughout the world in NewsweekMarie ClaireThe Smithsonian and the Sunday Times. Brennan is currently working on a photo documentary entitled Ulysses Map of Dublin, utilising the map and structure of James Joyce’s novel to consider politics, race and class in the modern capital. She has been a member of New York’s Redux Picture Agency since 2000. (Seewww.deirdrebrennan.com)

June 10, 2011

What the Hell is … Method Acting?

It may seem obvious, as it’s an endlessly cited term, but I’d like to examine it because I’ve been musing for a few years now about a brace of BBC documentaries which seemed to imply there were two styles of acting filed under the one term…

 

Method Acting was invented by Constantin Stanislavsky who directed the first productions of Chekhov’s four major plays (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard) from 1898 to 1904 at the Moscow Art Theatre. So far, so good – you couldn’t hope for a better provenance, and sure enough Stanislavsky wrote numerous books on the more realistic style of acting and staging that he had developed, which focused on emotional authenticity and hyper-detailed/intrusive sound design to suggest the surrounding world offstage respectively. Best to gloss over the fact that Chekhov thought him incredibly ponderous in his staging, and given to destroying comedic scripts by weighing them down with psychological realism. The Method made the leap from Russian into English and from Russia to America and, as taught by Lee Strasberg in the Group Theatre in New York, became a vogue in Hollywood in the 1950s. But what exactly is the Method? The late great Dennis Hopper, in a detailed BBC interview a few years ago spoke extensively of the Method as a way of imbuing acting with felt emotions thru the use of a magic box of memories. In short the actor playing a role mined his own experiences for emotional equivalents and thought of them to achieve the desired emotion rather than trying to imagine out of nowhere an authentic emotional response to a fictitious event.

So if Hopper was told onscreen that his father had died, Hopper the actor wouldn’t start crying because he had intellectually thought about the troubled father-son relationship of his character and conjured an appropriate level of sorrow, he would start crying because he would have thought of the death of a beloved relative and hammered into that memory until real tears started to flow – and the audience would never know that these real tears were being shed for a real person and had nothing to do with the character’s father. Hopper then clarified this point, saying that it was crucial for Method Actors to continually renew their magic box of memories with new emotional triggers because otherwise memories would cease to be vivid and fresh and the resultant acting wouldn’t be authentic but would simply be ‘just acting’.

 

Fine, that’s good Method Acting, and Brando, James Dean and Hopper all gave great performances in the 1950s, and seemed to redefine the lexicon of screen acting. Except…Marlon Brando wasn’t really a Method actor. Sure he mumbled onscreen like Dean, but not to somehow be in the moment in character, but because of a hilarious inability/refusal to learn his lines. In theatre other actors on Broadway spoke in awe of how he could use tiny details of stage-craft to convey sucker-punches of emotion, how Brando hunched over a counter with his legs wrapping around a bar-stool could convey a helplessness and a weak despair that could reduce an audience to tears. In other words he wasn’t Method acting, he was merely ‘just acting’ exceptionally well. Indeed Brando only spoke of using the Method for one film, Last Tango in Paris, and felt violated as a result of how much of his own life Bertolucci had tricked him (as he saw it) into revealing to millions of people by talking about his own parents when his character spoke about his troubled relationships with his parents. Brando vowed never to make himself that emotionally vulnerable again, and to never dig deep into his own soul for roles in that fashion ever again, before triumphantly boasting that in future he’d ‘just act’, and no one would be able to see that he wasn’t engaging on the Method level – purely because he knew he was that good at regular acting.

Where then does that leave Brando’s performances in Apocalypse Now and The Godfather? Physically changing his appearance to more closely resemble the role as written shows great commitment but it’s not strictly speaking Method acting in the Dennis Hopper magic box of memories sense. Brando’s dismay at his one use of the Method technique of using real emotional traumas mirrors Stanislavsky’s alarm at the hysterical reactions this technique was producing in some of his actors. Ironically Brando’s vow to merely ‘just act’ really well seems, in its emphasis on improvisation and physicality, to actually replicate Stanislavsky’s later emphasis on physical actions and improvisation rather than the magic box of memories to achieve subconscious authenticity. So, as Brendan Behan said of every Irish Republican endeavour thru history, the first agenda on the item was the split – another type of Method.

 

A type of Method exemplified by those 1970s show-offs Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, and their more recent confreres, Daniel Day-Lewis and Christian Bale. The fact that Al Pacino is the one member of the 1970s generation of Method actors who does the most theatre work, associated with Lee Strasberg, and can still be found at the Actors’ Studio even now, should give the answer to the question of where the dividing line between the two Methods lies. What Hoffman, De Niro, Day-Lewis, and Bale do is not Method acting as Stanislavsky originally understood it; certainly it’s hard to think of Chekhov doing anything but throwing his hands up in even more than usual horror/despair at their antics. Hoffman’s continual improvisations would destroy any Chekhov play, or indeed any play, hence his great difficulty in performing Macbeth on Broadway until another actor menaced him into just finding truth in the words Shakespeare had written for him… Indeed if you watch the extras on Marathon Man you can see Hoffman’s insistence on endless improvisation damn near destroying that film as it leads to endless deleted scenes where the other actors get so rattled by his in-character ramblings that their minds go visibly blank, because they can’t improvise, and they start nervously babbling but all they have to babble as dialogue are the screenplay’s plot points; whose premature disclosure is not advisable in a suspense thriller, and is the reason those scenes were unusable.

Pacino never worked the same way that De Niro and Hoffman did in their hey-day, and that Day-Lewis and Bale still do. What this quartet does can only work for film, it is utterly unsuited to theatre, and given that Stanislavsky was a theatre director perhaps we need a new term for this quasi-hysterical evolution of his later conception of the Method. I’d like to propose ‘Immersive Acting’ as a more accurate term, because that is what they do. They don’t bring their own experiences to the role as Dennis Hopper propounded with his magic box of memories, instead they take the role and bend their own life for a certain period of time to make it the same as the role; think of De Niro driving a taxi, Hoffman long-distance running, Day-Lewis learning the craft of butchery, and Bale losing a terrifying amount of weight; and then they play that, interpreting Stanislavsky’s emphasis on physicality as meaning the actor gaining subconscious authenticity in the role almost thru sheer muscle memory.

Immersive acting produces terrific performances, but I think it needs its own term to emphasise its peculiarity, its curiously self-promoting showiness, as if acting somehow consisted of weight-loss and skills-training. Colin Firth’s reaction to a phone call in A Single Man has nothing to do with physically immersing himself in his role, but it will break your heart. Not bad for ‘just acting’.

August 29, 2010

Great Production Disasters of Our Time: Apocalypse Now

Few people have understood cryptic references in interviews by other actors over the decades to Harvey Keitel’s unusual powers. Keitel is in fact a master of the mystic arts, an American Magus, who has used his powers to escape disastrously prolonged shoots twice in his career…

EXT.PHILLIPINES-DAY, 1976
HARVEY KEITEL, DENNIS HOPPER, SAM BOTTOMS and ROBERT DUVALL are walking thru a jungle with electricity cables and camera tracks running thru it. Disorganised CREW yell at each other about the chaos while various lights fall off of the rigs shambolically connected to the trees.

KEITEL: (looking around him) I have a bad feeling about this…
DUVALL: I passed on that script. I’ll tell you this for free, George is just selling out with that project.
KEITEL: No, I meant I genuinely have a bad feeling about this, right here. I think this film’s going to get badly out of hand. In fact, I’m going to check. (He pulls a pen and paper from his pocket) Sam, can you meet me in my trailer in half an hour with the following items. Don’t stress about the eye of newt if you can’t get it readily…

Keitel hurriedly scribbles a list and hands it to Sam Bottoms who takes off running.

KEITEL: (gravely) Let’s all pray that I’m wrong…. (he holds out his hands)
DUVALL: Pray my ass. I’ve got better things to do, I’m going to go ring George again, make him cry by quoting him at himself again. “Anyone can drown some kittens and make the audience cry”. Oh yeah George, and what do you call the Millenial Falcon swooping in to save the day at the last second then?
KEITEL: Look, just what is this script that you’re so bitter about ‘passing on’?
DUVALL: Doesn’t matter. I passed on it. I did pass on it. It’s rubbish. I’m not bitter. Juvenile trash. Regurgitated Joseph Campbell. Didn’t want to be in it anyway. Only read the script as a favour to him.
HOPPER: Dude, I heard he wanted you to wear a wig for the audition. A wig! Full on Sinatra… (starts to giggle uncontrollably, while Duvall stops and the others do too)
DUVALL: (tense beat) Dennis, remember when you said you were going to strap dynamite to your chest and blow yourself up as part of an art happening, and I said that’s not performance art you moron that’s suicide with the potential to become mass murder. Well, I was wrong Dennis – absolutely do that if it feels right to you.

Exit Duvall, grumbling about space smugglers needing hair to look properly roguish.

KEITEL: (He grabs Hopper before he can follow Duvall) Dennis, I want you to listen to me very carefully. On no account are you to strap dynamite to yourself and attend an art happening.

INT.PHILLIPINES-DAY
One hour later. FREDERIC FORREST walks into Keitel’s trailer to find Bottoms, Hopper, and Keitel, in a hooded cape and muttering readings from a book, gathered around a steaming cauldron, which is placed in the centre of a chalk pentagram.

FORREST: What the hell’s going on here?
HOPPER: He’s using the mystic arts man. Weird sister hoodoo is going on right here.
BOTTOMS: He’s reading the runes, and they are far-out my brother.
HOPPER: Psychedelic indeed, just grasp it – we have an authentic mage in the cast.
FORREST: Huh, trippy man.
KEITEL: Could everyone try very hard to be just a little less of a walking hippie cliché for a moment while I try to concentrate on reciting this Latin right?!

EXT.PHILLIPINES-DAY
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA is storming thru the jungle with his PA. He is bellowing constantly at various crew members that drop ever more lights off trees in their fright.

COPPOLA: I’m surrounded by incompetent amateurs. Where is my espresso?
PA: We’re in a freaking jungle! Accept that there is no espresso machine here.
COPPOLA: Well, what am I supposed to do to keep alert in this absurd humidity?
PA: Here’s a pill.
COPPOLA: A pill. I ask for espresso and you give me NASA food. What is it?
PA: Do you care?
COPPOLA: (beat) No. (pops the pill) What’s the worst that could happen?

INT.PHILLIPINES-DAY
Frederic Forrest is storming around Keitel’s trailer running his hands thru his hair.

FORREST: HOW LONG ARE WE GOING TO BE HERE?!
KEITEL: A year and a half at least seems to be what the powers are indicating. Divination is not an exact science. It’s not actually a science at all, technically.
BOTTOMS: Oh man, will the drug supply last that long?
KEITEL: Believe me when I tell you Sam that the drug supply will last long after everything else has run out, including sanity.
HOPPER: Oh man, can I righteously wait that long before dynamiting myself?
KEITEL: Not that sanity was in much supply to begin with… Gentlemen, it’s been… peculiar, but, if you’ll excuse me, I have to contrive to get fired as soon as I can.

INT.PHILLIPINES-DAY
Keitel knocks on the door of Coppola’s trailer. He thinks he is interrupting but it turns out that Coppola is merely bellowing orders at a tree thru the window for no reason.

KEITEL: Francis! Glad I caught you. I had some ideas I’d like to run past you.
COPPOLA: Come on in man, come on in! That’s what doors are for!!
KEITEL: (sits nervously) I want to do at least one scene thru interpretive dance.
COPPOLA: Groovy. I love interpretive dance. (He gets up and starts to dance)
KEITEL: I’d also like to juggle chickens during the plantation dinner scene.
COPPOLA: Sure. (He sits down and starts juggling cigarette-lighters, and drops them all quite quickly) Sure, sure, I’m sure you can pull it off with practise. You, man. You. (beat) You.
KEITEL: Yeaah. I, uh, I want to interpret Willard as a tomato filled with self-loathing at his hyphenated status who slowly learns to overcome his liminal status by embracing it. But only in alternating takes. The other takes – I’ll be a French mime.
COPPOLA: Interesting take on the character… Really ties in to the politics of it all.
KEITEL: I also have deep ethical issues with actually killing a cow with a machete.
COPPOLA: You’re fired.
KEITEL: Thank Christ. I was beginning to think I’d never push you over the edge.

Keitel pulls his cloak around him while he stands up and disappears in a puff of smoke. Coppola observes this without emotion, but eventually starts to look askance.

COPPOLA: I’m requesting an espresso machine gets flown in first thing or we’re never going to get any work done around here.

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