Talking Movies

September 24, 2018

From the Archives: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Another expedition into the pre-Talking Movies archives returns carrying an unloved comedy.

Simon Pegg attempts to break America by air-brushing everything that made him loveable in the first place and headlining an unfunny, utterly bland rom-com. Wait, did I type that or just think that?

Ah, meta-textual humour. Such honesty is after all the main reason for the social and professional failures of Pegg’s character Sidney Young. This is based on the book by one time Vanity Fair writer Toby Young who made a spectacular ass of himself during a brief sojourn with that esteemed publication. His screen equivalent writes snippy pieces about celebrities for his own magazine The Postmodern Review before getting the call to head to NYC. These opening 10 minutes set in Britain are the most charming of the film and they’re not even especially funny. It is merely comforting to see Pegg among familiar faces like The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd and Katherine Perkins before he jets off to NYC to work for Jeff Bridge’s monstrous editor Clayton Harding. It oddly parallels Pegg’s own journey from Channel 4’s sublime sitcom Spaced to this anaemic Hollywood film.

Pegg writes comedy for a living. He must know this film doesn’t work because it simply isn’t funny. This film feels like it was hit by the writers’ strike and they had to begin production with the version of the script that the script doctor hadn’t added the jokes to yet… Even worse it’s not even his type of humour, the pop reference laden whimsical absurdity of Spaced and Hot Fuzz is replaced with a string of embarrassing encounters that one would think more obviously suited to Ricky Gervais’s style. Pegg does his best with the material he’s given but far too many scenes fall flat.

The supporting cast assembled is mightily impressive except that they have nothing to work with. Scene-stealer extraordinaire Danny Huston does his best as Sidney’s overbearing section editor and Gillian Anderson is nicely glacial as a publicist but Bridges looks all at sea as the one time rebel now conformist editor. Megan Fox does her best breathy Marilyn Monroe take off but no comedic gold is mined, a la Tropic Thunder’s fake trailers, from the truly preposterous romantic flick involving a young Mother Theresa that is generating Oscar buzz for her character. Fox is only there to be, well…a fox, so it’s amazing that it is Kirsten Dunst’s long-suffering writer who steals both the audience’s hearts and the film, and I say this as someone who took most of 2007 to get over Sam Raimi re-shooting the end of Spider-Man 3 to leave Dunst’s infuriating MJ alive.

There is only one reason to see this film – watched after a double bill of Ugly Betty and Dirty Sexy Money it will convince you that 1/4 of NYC’s hottest ladies used to be guys. Think on that in the two hours of your life I’ve stopped you squandering.

1/5

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May 21, 2018

From the Archives: Fool’s Gold

A dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives reveals a true nadir that may well have inspired the mending of his ways that became the McConnaisance.

It’s rare that a film can cause vitriol to dry up, but this film fails so comprehensively that it is hard to know where to begin. So I shall start with accents, to groan hereafter at everything else. Donald Sutherland is meant to be British and so intermittently adopts the sort of plummy accent used by toffs in the 1950s, the rest of the time he uses his normal accent. Why he is in this film is a mystery. We should all thank God that he accepted the great role of Tripp Darling in Dirty Sexy Money which should keep him too busy for the foreseeable future to do dreck like this. Ewen Bremner is meant to be Ukrainian which he plays by adopting the sort of super-Scottish accent which English people have always thought sounded rather Polish. Ray Winstone meantime is distractingly trying to hide his cockney inflections behind a Kentucky Fried accent.

Matthew McConaughey tries his damndest to do his best Owen Wilson impersonation but fails miserably while Kate Hudson who is at least semi-conscious has the good grace to look miserable throughout in obvious shame at having stooped so low for the sake of an easy paycheque. To say this film fails is to state the obvious. It’s not a romantic comedy or an action adventure or any combination of the above. Its tone veers wildly and it appears to be terminally confused as to whether it’s pitching for a 12s audience or a 15s audience. There are only three laughs in the entire film. Two of which are provided by Kate Hudson hitting annoying men very hard with blunt objects. First she knocks out McConnaughey with a walking stick (more of that sort of thing!) and then nearly castrates the uber-annoying walking cliché gangsta rappa with a well aimed shovel blow while on a motorbike. The third act offers some perfunctory satisfaction as various plot machinations finally click but this is a thoroughly disheartening experience.

What really baffles is how all concerned could have gone through a whole film-shoot making something they knew to be rubbish. Did no one have the guts to stand up and demand an on-set rewrite to inject some good lines into the mechanically plotted proceedings at least?

0/5

February 5, 2014

Mr Peabody & Sherman 3-D

Rob Minkoff, director of Stuart Little, finally helms a movie adaptation of Rocky & Bullwinkle’s segment about an intelligent dog and his adopted human son.mr.-peabody-and-sherman-movie-photo-16

Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) is a business titan, trailblazing inventor, gourmet chef, two-time Olympic medallist and universally recognised and beloved genius. And a dog. Using his most ingenious invention, the WABAC machine (cunningly pronounced Way Back), Mr. Peabody takes his adopted human son Sherman (Max Charles) to experience the French Revolution, and hang out with good friend Leo Da Vinci (Stanley Tucci), as a demented form of home-schooling to prepare him for the horrors of the American public school system. And what horrors they are. Viciously bullied on his first day, Sherman fights back and so Mrs Grunion (Allison Janney) threatens to remove him from Peabody’s care. Peabody invites the bully and her parents to dinner to smooth things over, but more taunts see Sherman use the WABAC to prove a point – and so kinda loses her in Ancient Egypt…

Mr Peabody & Sherman begins as sort of the ultimate Steven Moffat outing, with Whovian larking about in time and space, and Sherlockian calculation of surroundings to evade capture by utilising environment – not least an escape from the guillotine far more convincing than any of the explanations proffered for Sherlock’s equivalent magic trick. Sadly, apart from a nice moment in Troy and some mucking about in Luxor (featuring the greatest ‘Oy!’ you will hear in 2014), this joyous aspect fades away. Instead the great Patrick Warburton voices Agamemnon as a dim jock, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is plagiarised. If you watch Modern Family you’ll recognise Ty Burrell is using the voice he reserves for formal comic interaction with his on-screen dad. But at least he finally gets to be smarter than on-screen daughter Ariel Winter, voicing Penny Petersen.

Penny is a huge problem as this movie begins and ends with Peabody & Sherman’s relationship being a pointed metaphor for gay adoption, with Mrs Grunion in the ‘conservative’ corner as saying it’s just unnatural that a dog should adopt a boy. It’s hard to believe Craig Wright, who created the glorious Dirty Sexy Money, didn’t intend that obvious reading, and this makes it all the more baffling why we’re supposed to root for a romance between Sherman and Penny when she begins the movie as an obnoxious bully who issues a slur of what must be considered coded homophobic slurs at the inoffensive Sherman. Aside from the logic of placing such subtle agit-prop over children’s heads, at what point does continually depicting vicious bullying as how schools are help perpetuate vicious bullying in schools as just how schools are?

Mr Peabody & Sherman is reasonably entertaining, but you can’t help feel a version composed solely of madcap escapades without any dutiful, plodding story beats would’ve been more fun.

2.5/5

November 27, 2012

An Arrow of a different colour

I root for shows to stay on the air, not least because so many shows I’ve loved (Cupid, Studio 60, Vengeance Unlimited) have been prematurely cancelled, but … I really hope Arrow gets scrapped soon.

There’s been a Smallville-sized gap in my world for a year now, and so Arrow you’d imagine would be right up my street. But it’s not, it’s really not; for many reasons, mostly to do with other programmes. Arrow is a show that seems to have been created by putting other hits in a blender, and then just running with whatever derivative gloop emerged. It would appear that the producers noticed that Revenge was popular last season and so figured they also could surf the zeitgeist and take down 99%ers every week, complete with Green Arrow drawing a line thru the name of the fat cat he’d successfully ruined; just like Emily’s crossing an X thru the face of the person in the group photo she’d destroyed at the end of early episodes of Revenge. Every time I see the Queen mansion in Arrow all I can think of is Lex Luthor’s mansion in Smallville. If it’s not actually the same exterior then it sure looks like it, and it’s just a bit distracting. Furthermore while Arrow fails to match the charm of early Smallville, it’s overdosing on the angst that soon blighted that show. 5 episodes in and Laurel Dinah Lance has already stated, for not particularly clear reasons, that she and Oliver Queen can never be together. Even though their character names make it blindingly obvious they will be, eventually. And so Clark and Lana nonsense begins anew…

But these aren’t even the most aggravating or troubling derivative elements of Arrow. The constant flashbacks, to Oliver Queen’s 5 years on a remote island where he became Green Arrow, complete with meaningful life lessons from a cryptically wise Chinese Arrow screamed LOST and that was before The Others showed up… It was bad enough having to endure a flashback vignette every week that related to the main story, but now there are well-organised and well-resourced military personnel on an island where shipwrecked survivors are hunting animals for food. These Others are led by a man with staring eyes, just like Ben Linus, who is the Big Bad of the show, not least because he has sadistic torturer Deathstroke at his disposal. And then for the final kicker it’s revealed that the Mandarin name for the island means … Purgatory. Just, no… we don’t need more LOST meanderings, six years of pointless nonsense was enough. And then there’s the Nolan riffing. In the first episode Oliver was seen at a grinder getting his weapons sharp, in a scene shot farcically like its model in Batman Begins where Bruce makes his first throwing Bats. But then a shadowed Oliver goes on to growl to Laurel about he can give her leverage for a case, just like Batman growled as he gave his lawyer love interest Rachel leverage on Judge Faden. That’d be okay if perhaps Arrow appreciated why Nolan’s Batman worked…

But Arrow doesn’t seem to have a clue as to how comic-book superheroes operate. When in the pilot Oliver Queen, out of costume, caught a criminal who’d kidnapped him and then broke his neck shouting “No one can know my secret!” it was an enormous shock, because it was such a stunning mis-step, and anti-Nolan to the nth degree despite all the borrowings from Nolan elsewhere. It was a return to the ethics or lack thereof of Tim Burton’s Batman who very deliberately murdered the Joker as well as carelessly offing God knows how many goons along the way. Green Arrow’s subsequent shooting of a corrupt tycoon with an arrow thru the hand was far nastier than Batman dropping Sal Maroni to break his ankles, because Nolan’s Batman was being forced to extremes by the Joker’s madness whereas that’s just how this Green Arrow rolls… And for all Green Arrow’s homicidal antics by the end of episode 4 he’s been arrested by the police for being Green Arrow. So his first murder was in vain… Only things get even better. You see, like The Joker, Loki and Silva – he planned on getting caught! He wanted them to lock him up in the MCU Skybase Churchill Bunker Queen mansion. Because, like The Dark Knight Rises, the important thing is not that Oliver Queen is Green Arrow but that there will always be a Green Arrow, no matter who’s under the hood…

Except, why should we care who is under the hood if he’s just a cold-blooded killer? Nolan’s Batman famously only has one rule – don’t kill people. Maim the hell out of them, by all means, but don’t kill them. Arrow seems to think it can lift huge chunks from Nolan’s Bat-verse and then also appropriate the industrial slaughter of Maggie Q’s Nikita, but Nikita comes from a dark place – that’s the character. She’s a drug addict who killed people before she got forced by the government to join a secret government agency and kill people before she went rogue and embarked on a new mission to kill bad people. Killing is an essential part of Nikita as a character, but not killing has always been an equally essential part of DC Comics’ superheroes as characters. David S Goyer noted that they very deliberately had Batman throw Joker off a building and then save him in The Dark Knight as a riposte to the end of Burton’s Batman because both he and Christopher Nolan felt that Batman killing Joker had been a terrible tonal mistake. And it was a mistake, just witness the brilliance of the scene that Batman then shares with the Joker dangling from a rope. There’s a mystical connection between those two characters that doesn’t allow for simple killing. Superman can’t simply knock off Lex Luthor, and it goes beyond the morality of the characters to a sense of epic grandeur. This isn’t just comic-book bilge incidentally, look at Albert Camus’ description in The Rebel of Spartacus seeking out his opposing number Crassus to die in single combat against him and him alone.

The amorality of the lead character who should be a straight arrow, as it were, is only one part of the problem though. Oliver Queen in Smallville was transparently a Batman substitute, but Justin Hartley’s performance as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow had a nonchalance entirely absent from Stephen Amell’s wooden earnestness in Arrow. Some of this may be due to the different functions of the character, Hartley was there for sparring with earnest Clark Kent whereas Amell as lead character to some degree is earnest Clark Kent. But Hartley’s Green Arrow had the same formative traumas in his past, and it didn’t swamp the character’s traditional sardonic nature, while Amell’s inert demeanour never allows him to convince as the party animal that makes Oliver Queen such close kin to Bruce Wayne. Nolan allowed us to see that public Bruce Wayne, private Bruce Wayne and Batman were three distinct personalities; and that private Bruce Wayne was a good man. But Arrow has failed to make private Oliver Queen much more likeable than public Oliver Queen. And this points to a bigger problem.

Thor and John Carter placed alongside Arrow seem to indicate that we are in the middle of a bona fide scriptwriting crisis. There’s a distinction between a rogue and a dick that appears to have been lost. Taylor Kitsch’s John Carter was deeply unlikeable as a hero, and the film was reduced to not only bafflingly introducing Bryan Cranston as a metaphorical cat to be saved, but then introducing an actual dog to be saved as well later, in a vain effort to get us to like Carter.  Thor meanwhile was entirely upended by the fact that Thor was a thoroughly unlikeable jerk who only became bearable in the last act of the film, which enabled the suave Tom Hiddleston as Loki to steal the entire movie as the cleverer brother forever cleaning up the messes of his petulant blowhard sibling. A classic rogue, like Han Solo, or even Ian Somerhalder’s Damon Salvatore in The Vampire Diaries, is cocky, likeable, and from the perspective of the other characters entirely unreliable, even though the audience always has a sneaking suspicion that the bad boy will come through in the end no matter how many times he weasels out on doing the right thing along the way to serve his own agenda. But Thor, John Carter, and Arrow are sunk by heroes who aren’t remotely likeable. Arrow has dropped the Green to emphasise its edginess but it’s dropped its character’s resonance too…

I’m sticking with Arrow for now to see Seth Gabel aka Jeremy Darling from Dirty Sexy Money as Vertigo, but once Gabel leaves the show I won’t be far behind.

September 1, 2011

The Art of Getting By

The Art of Getting By is an unfortunately titled movie as it does feel like the writer/director, having assembled a pastiche of other works, just figured it’d do…

This film opens as it means to continue, a bad cover by The Shins of the Postal Service’s 2003 song ‘Silhouettes’ almost positions the film as an equally inept cover of 2003 film Igby Goes Down. George (Freddie Highmore) shirks his homework and floats friendless thru his elite NYC high school until he begins a cutesy non-romance with Sally (Emma Roberts), threatened by George’s own remarkable idiocy and the understandable insistence of the principal (Dirty Sexy Money’s Blair Underwood) that he do his homework or get out. It’s as turgid as that synopsis sounds… This isn’t as interesting in its depiction of privileged New York teenagers with the best fake IDs in the business as a single episode of Gossip Girl. Neither is it as intelligent or touching as Adventureland in capturing a non-romance between a confident girl and an awkward boy having an over-educated existential crisis in a suddenly financially insecure world.

It’s never clear why Sally likes George. Sure, George rescues Sally from a smoking violation, but after that he’s embarrassingly solipsistic and pretentious. His intimations of mortality are sub-Smiths lyrics, and his constantly worn overcoat a painful affectation. George explains that you must cut school rarely to keep the experience special, and do something culturally rewarding like take in (the rubbish) Zazie Dans le Metro in a Louis Malle season at a wonderful little boho cinema. He (of course) ploughs through literature but refuses to do his homework, and (of course) sketches constantly but won’t paint because (sigh) he has nothing to express. When put to it, will he draw her? When she has to make a grand gesture, will she forsake thousands of dollars by not catching her plane to Europe? On this day two years ago I praised (500) Days of Summer for obliterating those infuriating rom-com tropes, but this film once again asks those questions.

Sasha Spielberg has a staggeringly irrelevant but constantly name-checked role, but then nearly everyone is irrelevant bar George and Sally (including an oddly uncredited Alicia Silverstone as George’s English teacher), even if Underwood is Fassbendering. Despite numerous aggravating montages with an indie-schmindie score akin to Death Cab for Cutie tuning their instruments this film’s 83 minutes feels more like a painfully over-extended 123 minutes. I previously eviscerated Freddie Highmore’s 2007 movie August Rush, and this is every bit as wretched. Igby Goes Down was powered by Kieran Culkin’s sublime turn as the titular sardonic teenager, but even if Highmore equalled Culkin’s charisma he’d be sunk by not having that wonderfully literate script.

Roberts does her best to save this train-wreck but this is Igby Goes Down thrown in a blender with a dire rom-com. Avoid…

1/5

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