Talking Movies

June 8, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LV

As the title suggests, so forth.

Status Maroon 5

Well, today is the first day of Status Maroon 5. Libraries are to re-open, public transport is to become more frequent (for all the use you can make of it), county wide car wanders can be undertaken, and the cocooned can be visited briefly (with exceptionally discomfiting provisos). And what next? Status Crimson Tide on June 29th with the hastened re-opening of churches, museums and galleries, pubs that serve food, alongside the planned socially distanced cafes and restaurants. But when do we return to life as it was in the first week of March? It seems that public patience with lockdown is fraying, and perhaps with good reason. The global population is reckoned at 7.8 billion and COVID-19 has killed 397,000, whereas the endlessly invoked exemplar of the last global pandemic the Spanish Influenza killed between 17,000,000 and 50,000,000 of a global population of 1.8 billion. And that global population had just suffered thru the privations and depredations of a world war. If we had just all started wearing masks in February, modelling ourselves on Hong Kong and Taiwan, could we have avoided such a crippling lockdown?

Hannibal, he’s here to tease

Around this time in 2013 I previewed, and then later weighed in on, Hannibal; the blood-spattered procedural in which Laurence Fishburne’s FBI supremo Jack Crawford teams unstable but gifted profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) with brilliant psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) to fight crime. I thought a tale of friendship between future deadly nemeses before they come into celebrated and chronicled conflict sounded suspiciously Smallville. And it wasn’t, Lecter in the pilot was very much already a supervillain; eating people for fun. Not that the fun was obvious. Hannibal was incredibly gory for a network show. At the time I thought that had it been on HBO or Showtime it would be unbearable, but Hard Candy director David Slade made it bearable by distancing the viewer with a cold colour palette and a chilly emotionless feel. At its most plot-driven it could feel like a very precisely directed Criminal Minds, with exceptionally gory crime scenes and dream sequences interspersed with exceedingly crisp dialogue between two of the BAU team. And yet, as I try manfully to finally finish the last 8 episodes of that first season 7 years later, it occurs to me that I was right to ditch the show after 5 episodes back then. Why? Well, because now it reminds me not of Criminal Minds but of Mindhunter. Far too much of Hannibal’s runtime is taken up with psychobabble sessions and lame dream sequences. There is a chilly emptiness around gory schlock to portend a great depth, which simply is not there. God forbid that plots should drive, that character should be revealed in action, that dialogue scenes should arise spontaneously and, like House’s trademark, feature two topics simultaneously – procedural and personal. The Engineer put it nicely, saying he had abandoned both shows because he was sick of being drip-fed plot like sugar water to a diabetic.

…or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

It is wrong to continually think about a fictional character in relation to a real person, but The West Wing re-runs on TG4, focusing as they currently do on the electoral battle between empathetic intellectual Jed Bartlett and know-nothing jackass Rob Ritchie, make it hard not to think about Trump and the sheer vacancy he represents. Stomping all over the First Amendment he swore an oath to protect, he had protestors tear-gassed and baton-charged so he could do a strange stroll to sullenly stand in front of a Church and hold up a copy of the Bible. Holding it in such an awkward way that its proper use seemed as alien to him as if he had been clutching a Torah scroll. Did he read a passage of scripture from the holy writ? No. Did he attempt some Nixonian gesture of empathy towards the protestors? No. Did he attempt to defuse the tense situation as Bobby Kennedy had when he spoke to a crowd the night MLK was shot dead? No.  And then think of Bartlett extemporising a speech from the Biblical quote ‘Joy cometh in the morning’, of Bartlett’s desk only being seen empty in The West Wing two days after his inauguration when he thought Leo’s office was the door to a closet. And think of how Trump’s desk is empty, all the time. Trump would never read from that bible lest it show him up, because you cannot paraphrase and riff the Word of God. And that’s a problem if you cannot actually read. The empty desk betokens an empty man. Inside the bible Trump held, James said:

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabboth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

May 29, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LIV

As the title suggests, so forth.

Emily Maitlis punished for telling the truth, Domic Cummings given free pass for breaking lockdown

Dominic Cummings broke the rules, the country can see that, and it’s shocked the government cannot.

The longer ministers and prime minister tell us he worked within them, the more angry the response to this scandal is likely to be.

He was the man, remember, who always got the public mood, he tagged the lazy label of ‘elite’ on those who disagreed.

He should understand that public mood now. One of fury, contempt, and anguish.

He made those who struggled to keep to the rules feel like fools, and has allowed many more to assume they can now flout them.

The prime minister knows all this, but despite the resignation of one minister, growing unease from his backbenchers, a dramatic early warning from the polls, and a deep national disquiet, Boris Johnson has chosen to ignore it.

Tonight, we consider what this blind loyalty tells us about the workings of Number 10.

We do not expect to be joined by a government minister, but that won’t stop us asking the question.

Peter Mandelson was an essential part of New Labour; in the triumvirate of himself, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown.

Tony Blair fired Peter Mandelson, twice.

How pathetic a man of straw must Boris ‘Bullsh-t and Bluster’ Johnson be to fear firing Dominic Cummings even once?

Will the NCH survive this?

I completed a survey the other day from the National Concert Hall looking for feedback on the various options they are exploring for re-opening under COVID-19 conditions in the coming months. It provided considerable food for thought. Should there be no intervals to avoid people stampeding to the toilets and queuing too closely for refreshments? How much of the hall should be left empty? What about temperature checks and the end of physical tickets? How disconcerting would all this be? How likely would it be that you would simply wait for a coronavirus vaccine before venturing out to hear live music again? After reading thru all these puzzlers I began to wonder if the NCH will actually survive this. After all its audience does skew older so would be more likely to eschew mass gatherings prior to a vaccine. And if many seats have to be left empty will the prices perforce rise for the remaining seats creating a doom loop where demand falls because of high prices causing even higher prices to try and stabilise revenue? And how does one even programme in the absence of an interval? The logic of a concert like Arvo Part’s Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten followed by Grieg’s Piano Concerto followed by an interval followed by Brahms’ 2nd Symphony falls apart if there is no interval. Can large symphonies even be performed under social distancing? Or will there need to be many re-orchestrations of gargantuan orchestral works for chamber orchestras? There were a number of concerts I had planned to attend that have fallen victim to the government lockdown – Maxim Vengerov playing and conducting, Barry Douglas leading the Beethoven Triple Concerto, the RTE NSO tackling among other works Sibelius’ 5th Symphony, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, Debussy’s La Mer, Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto, and Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano Concerto. I don’t know if programmes like this will exist in the near future, and I don’t know if I will be willing to put myself at risk to hear the music performed live.

2020: The Year the Final Curtain Fell

There has been much talk in a spuriously optimistic life gives you lemons make lemonades vein about how Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest works during the plague. There has been less talk of how Shakespeare’s company took commercial and artistic advantage of the decimation of their rivals by the plague. And the stop-start nature of the Elizabethan theatre looks to be the most salient point of all. This may be the end of theatre as we know it for quite some time. A general shuttering of the theatres akin to Cromwell might last for some years with intermittent ineffectual re-openings in between resurgent waves of the coronavirus. Theatre as an art form might come back eventually, after a vaccine is found, but it is unlikely that all the individual theatres currently around will be there to return at that point. There will be something between a winnowing and a purge. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Gate Theatre need to be founded anew in 2028 for its second attempt at reaching 100.

By gad, sir, that’s leadership”

Leo Varadkar went for a picnic in the park with friends, days after his Assistant Secretary General Liz Canavan publicly told people not to go for a picnic in the park with friends. “If you’re visiting a public amenity try not to stay too long at the site or have picnics. Please do your exercise and then go home.” People accurately heard “try not to … have picnics”. Leo tried to, with some level of organisation, and succeeded. How did Canavan respond? Claiming she had not seen images of Leo having a picnic in the park with friends. Indeed… Well, hold the briefing for a second, and the assembled press corps can pull up the pictures and hold their phones up and then, having seen them, she can comment on them; unless she averted her eyes to maintain an increasingly implausible plausible deniability.  The damage control centred on insisting that Leo had moved residence since lockdown, despite telling off people for going to their second homes, and therefore he was allowed to go for a picnic in the park with friends because it was within 5km of his residence. Nobody cares that Leo was within 5km. Some people might care that he’s escorted by Gardai when he moves residence when everyone else was being stopped by Gardai for attempting to do so. Everybody cares that Leo’s staff told everyone else not go for a picnic in the park with friends, while Leo himself was clearly planning to do just that himself. Perhaps he wanted to ensure an empty park for ease of social distancing? Canavan’s defence was, “Again this is guidance. We’re asking people to use their head.” We are using our heads. If it’s guidance that doesn’t apply to Leo, then it shouldn’t apply to anyone else either, so why bother mentioning it at all? Defending the indefensible is the one thing politicians do that infuriates more than any other infraction. There was no apology, no contrition. Not unlike Dominic Cummings, who flagrantly breached the rules he was instrumental in drawing up and promoting, and can’t stop lying about it. No apology, no contrition, just increasingly outlandish excuses and explanations. To drive from one end of England to the other for childcare is the act of a caring father? Meanwhile people walking their dogs in a deserted area are shamed by police drones, people attempting to enter supermarkets as couples to speed up their shopping are shamed by officious stewards, and people attempting to sit in parks are hysterically abused at close quarters by braying police officers. Elsewhere England’s father of the year is busy bundling his wife and kid into a car for a 30 mile drive, to check if he can see beyond the bottom of the driveway. One would have thought it might make more sense, paternally speaking, to make that suicide run a solo mission. But then of course by an astonishing coincidence it was his wife’s birthday when the Specsavers Special steamed into a noted beauty spot. Meanwhile in America Senators Loeffler, Burr and Perdue are also stoutly maintaining the coincidental defence: they did not run from a classified briefing on the coronavirus to find a quiet corner in the Capitol to shout “SELL FOCKING EVERYTHING!” down the phone at their stockbrokers, before brainstorming which stocks would likely rise in a global pandemic, and ringing back their stockbrokers with instructions on what to buy. When the elite decide not to follow the rules, they should not be surprised if the plebeian masses suddenly out of nowhere get the idea not to follow the rules either. Pericles died in the plague that devastated Athens in the early years of the Peloponnesian War. Pericles will be remembered forever. One wonders if the current crop of leaders will be remembered that far into the future? Or will they have created a world that thinks of Pericles only that he should have sailed to Sardis to test his eyesight…

May 15, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

SAVE BBC FOUR!

It was alarming to hear yesterday that Lucy Worsley and Janina Ramirez were starting a campaign to try and save BBC FOUR, after word leaked that the BBC was planning to let it disappear at the end of 2020 to save money. The BBC doesn’t need to save said money of course, it’s just the Tories maliciously toying with them in the way US Republicans toy with the US Postal Service. They object to it in principle and then set arbitrary and impossible targets to justify eliminating it in practice. Rather akin to Bogie in The Big Sleep complaining a goon will knock his teeth out and then gut-punch him for mumbling. And the real kicker is that losing BBC FOUR in 2021 means losing BBC FOUR from 2013 to 2020 too. Having lost JFK, Apocalypse Now, Die Hard, The Dark Knight and season 1 of Person of Interest to the difference between RTE 2 and RTE2 I know that all my recordings of the channel will disappear with it. And that’s a lot of recordings… To watch any of these recordings is to time-travel back to watching them with Dad since 2013.  Andrew Graham Dixon’s Art of China, several series and specials by Michael Scott on Ancient Greece, Hew Strachan’s The First World War, Robin Lane Fox’s special on the archaeological origins of Greek myths, the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s appearance on Jazz 625 in the 1960s, and a colossal amount of recordings from the BBC Proms including performances of Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and Isle of the Dead, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, Mark Simpson playing Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto, Jeremy Denk playing Bartok’s 2nd Piano Concerto, and Yo-Yo Ma playing all six Bach Cello Suites. To watch any of these recordings is to remember watching them with my Dad and also to recall the well nigh parodic amounts of workplace conversations I have been part of that began with somebody saying “I was watching BBC FOUR the other night, and there was this programme on—” I struggle to think of a greater act of wilful capricious cultural vandalism and intellectual hamstringing that could be perpetrated by a British government than the shuttering of BBC FOUR as a broadcast station. How has it offended? Telling the truth about the world, informing people? Boris ‘Bullsh-t and Bluster’ Johnson is of the party that has had enough of experts; it seems that the mere existence of objective truth now offends him, and must be plucked out. BBC FOUR exists largely because BBC 2 has abdicated its original mission. Coverage of the Proms, as Clemency Burton-Hill rightly lamented, is now largely a BBC FOUR affair. Even the venerable Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for children have been booted to BBC FOUR. If you deride and discard expertise, you end up with buffoonery bungling a plague.

That joke isn’t funny anymore

The Engineer, just before Christmas, muttered that some day he would watch The West Wing. Just probably not while Trump was President, as that would amount to self-inflicted torture… I opined that it might be better to watch it sooner rather than later, Trump or no Trump, because it took its cues from the world as it was at the peak of human civilisation in 1999 in a way that was becoming increasingly unrecognisable. Deals being made in Congress. Deals?! Deals being made across party lines? People being friends across party lines?! Conservative Democrats and Liberal Republicans? This was soon all going to be every bit as far-fetched as the need for three corroborating sources before publication in All the President’s Men. And then as I cycled again thru TG4’s re-runs I hit the ‘Stirred’ episode of season three. Oh boy… There had been a potentially a radioactive spill in a tunnel in Idaho. Bartlet jokes to Leo before taking a phone call from Boise that the Governor of Idaho wants to know what the radiation levels are, and he’ll say that he’ll tell him – but first give me all your electoral votes in the fall. Well, that joke doesn’t seem farfetched anymore given that Trump is deliberately sending more ventilators and PPE per capita to states with Republican governors that need them less than states with Democratic governors, boasting about ordering VP Pence not to call ‘the woman in Michigan’ and then lying about his own boast, and making it plain that unless governors flatter his insatiable ego they will not get the materiel they need to stop their citizens dying. Trump Delenda Est.

Objectivity for … some students!

Well, now. So Fine Gael having happily presided over the degradation of the Junior Cert on the arbitrary assertion of Ruari Quinn, a complaint hereabouts over the last four years, is abruptly unwilling to stand over the same procedure being applied to the Leaving Cert. Odd that. Remember the cutesy animation that ran in cinemas explaining why Ruari Quinn’s nonsense ‘reforms’ of the Junior Cert could only be opposed by heartless monsters equally opposed to learning and out of touch with the real world? It takes mere seconds to articulate the counter-argument against Ruari Quinn’s pet project. If you and your teacher are engaged in a profoundly active balance of terror do you really want that person marking all your work for three years, or would you prefer that your work be in the final analysis independently judged by somebody else, anonymously, and far away from the grudges of your school? Quinn’s folly was based on the syllogism that the Junior Cert needed reform, this was a reform, therefore it needed this reform; without ever articulating why the Junior Cert needed reform. Now it seems Fine Gael has belatedly realised predictive grading for the Leaving Cert would replace a system of blind meritocracy with an all too personal one obviously open to abuse, from both sides; teachers and parents. What finally made the penny drop? The threat of lawsuits from well-connected students expecting places in medicine and law? Or was it the many comedy sketches about vindictive teachers victimising their most unruly pupils? And so we have students promised exams that will be marked objectively.

Gaslighting and Masks

Well. I don’t know quite what to make of this. According to Beauregarde Hinkelmeister-Schmitt, a source usually as reliable as his name is not, it is an open secret among certain journalists that the Government ordered 100,000,000 cotton face masks some time ago and is waiting for them to arrive, hence their glacial progress towards officially admitting face masks are useful. The logic apparently being there’s no point demanding people wear them before we have enough – there’d only be panic and irritation as the shops emptied out. Also, they’re probably more useful as we relax the lockdown. However, the experience of face masks elsewhere suggests they’re useful from the very beginning. Hinkelmeister-Schmitt has perhaps been spinning a party line, in finding all sorts of ways to disparage the example of every country using masks in that fashion; the connecting logic being a fatuous —It wouldn’t work here. Well, cotton masks aren’t N95 PPE. Any old paisley bandanna will do the job. For all of Status Burgundy I wrapped a merino scarf around my face before I went on the dreaded late night shopping sortie. What makes me doubt that this can be true is that I just find incredible the idea that the ‘experts’ would denigrate mask wearing for 2 months and more, and then turn around and say — actually they are da bomb, and there’s one for everyone in the audience. Actually there’re 20 for everyone in the audience. Why would anyone ever again believe anything from the mouths of people who lied to them consistently while planning all the while to do the opposite of what they were saying? How you could possibly impose a second lockdown for a second wave in the autumn after such a breach of trust? I don’t think gaslighting the nation can ever be in the interest of the nation.

April 7, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLIX

As the title suggests, so forth.

RIP Honor Blackman

Honor Blackman has died aged 94; she was the oldest surviving Avenger. I wrote last summer about what a disconcerting experience it was watching True Movies’ scrambled late night re-runs of The Avengers. I had only previously seen a handful of Cathy Gale episodes late at night on RTE 1 over 20 years earlier. As True Movies jumped between episodes and seasons of the first three years of the show it became evident that it was something of a miracle that it ever became the classic show it did. It was only when Blackman debuted in the first episode of the second season, ‘Mr Teddy Bear’, that things really started to click. The chemistry between Steed and Gale, and her judo prowess, defined the show as The Avengers. In retrospect she fared much better than Diana Rigg in transferring from The Avengers to Bond. I remember watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service for the first time after devouring Channel 4’s re-runs of The Avengers in the mid-90s, and being immensely frustrated that Rigg’s Bond girl was so damn passive. By contrast Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger walked from a TV role into a movie role and traded away none of her antagonistic strength, flirtatious charm, and judo prowess. And that is not something that can be said, even now, for many actresses making that transition; just look at Jessica Alba’s failure to ever find a film role to remotely equal her star-making lead in Dark Angel.

Donnie Dumbo

Trump Delenda Est

I think at this point we can say that Trump has not grown into the job; he has actually got far worse. What can be said about a man whose ego is so monstrous that he has transformed press briefings on a pandemic into virtual campaign rallies, who is so incredibly incapable of not making a pandemic all about him that it drives hardened journalists to profanity in their disbelief? This is his shooting people on 5th Avenue moment. People have died, are dying, and will continue to die because of Donald J Trump’s ego. The bragging, the bluster, the bullsh-t, the strong impression of functional illiteracy; a ten year old is trying to run one of the world’s biggest countries, and not a smart ten year old, but the type of bully who when called upon to read aloud in class painfully plods along not reading so much as sounding out the letters he sees as he sees them as if he’s never seen them before in his life. It explains much when you actually allow yourself to admit that Trump probably cannot read. He can pick out certain words, and improvise around them, with his simplified vocabulary. But he cannot read. If you forced him to deliver a well-known Bible passage at a Mass, he would endure agonies, because it would be made obvious thru cutting off his favourite tactic of paraphrase and riffing. His decision to weigh in on the firing of Captain Crozier, who was actually trying to do his job, makes a lot of sense from that perspective: the peculiar gripe that this was not English Lit, don’t write a letter, just call someone, makes perfect sense coming from a man who cannot read. Mike Pence probably wouldn’t do a stellar job of steering America thru this pandemic, but, freed of Trump and the need to continually massage Trump’s ego, he might not make things worse by actively promoting snake-oil remedies from the White House. Invoke the 25th Amendment now.

April 1, 2020

President Trump announces plan to 25 himself

President Donald J Trump will shortly be removed from office, writes B. Bradley Bradlee who talked to Trump exclusively; after he was mysteriously teleported from quarantine in Hubei province to the Presidential suite in Mar-a-Lago when Bill Nye’s attempts to prove Chopped do not slice salads to subatomic level backfired.

Trump said the idea came to him while watching Donald Sutherland as the Architect in The Matrix Reloaded

President Trump explained that he had decided to sign a letter invoking Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America; removing himself from office until such time as he shall write another pursuant letter reinstating himself in office; after catching the end of The Matrix Reloaded on Fox the other night. “I was watching that, with the Architect. You know the scene. Everyone knows it. Tremendous actor, Donald Sutherland. Great guy. Great American. Really loved him as the wise leader in the Hunger Games movies. You know the Hunger Games movies? Everybody does.”

Trump then came to the point – “And he says, this is what he says, in the movie, I couldn’t solve the problem, because I’m too perfect. Isn’t that something? I couldn’t solve the problem, because I’m too perfect. It wasn’t that he couldn’t solve the problem, it was that the problem, it could only be solved, by somebody who wasn’t as perfect. And I thought, My God, that’s me! You know?” When pressed Trump confirmed he was talking about the Wuhan Flu Coronavirus. “What the country needs now, Bradley, is for me to step away, because I’m just too perfect.”

Trump continued, at length –“Did you know it says it, right there in the Constitution, that the Constitution is there to form a more perfect Union? Did you know that? Most people don’t know this. But it’s right there. I know it. Nobody knows more about the Constitution than I do. And I thought about that and it makes sense, of course it makes sense. If I’m perfect, that’s what I should be focusing on – not just Keeping America Great Again, but making America as perfect as I am. So that’s where my focus should be for the next while.”

When pressed on when he would resume office Trump speculated “the 4th of July has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I think that would be a good time. Mike Pence can handle this Wuhan Flu Coronavirus. I mean don’t get me wrong, he’s a great guy, very appreciative of what I’ve done for him, but he’s not perfect. If it wasn’t for me he’d probably have lost the election in Indiana to that kid Mayor. He’s exactly the kind of lesser mind you need to stop everyone from getting the common cold.” Trump then asked whether I was with Fox. He was puzzled as to why a German weekly had been granted access, and how I didn’t sound German. I explained I was American, writing for a German weekly, but had worked for — at which point the President instructed the Secret Service to “kick this bum to the kerb”. As I was being manhandled out of the suite Trump asked how I had got in. I protested that with quantum physics it’s hard to assign blame, but the bag should probably stop with Bill Nye, and he roared “The SCIENCE Guy?! You liberal elite ARE all working together!”

B. Bradley Bradlee is the fictional editor emeritus of The New York Times. He is currently a roving reporter breaking quarantine by strange physics for the German weekly Die Emmerich-Zeitung.

*Bill Nye wishes to clarify that his experiment slicing salad did not ‘backfire’, it simply disproved his hypothesis, and that is why science is science; failure always teaches you something – in this case that overly sliced salads can open wormholes.

March 28, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLVIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Status … Burgundy

Drip, drip, drip… It seems best to describe where we are now as Status Burgundy. We can still leave our homes without a printed and signed permission slip so it’s not quite Status Red. Yet. But as with the drip, drip, drip feed of restrictions tightening like a vise there’s a lot of ‘yet’ in the air too. Why did we not move to this crisis status immediately on March 13th? Why the sustained refusal to admit that schools would not re-open on the 30th? Fears of ‘behavioural fatigue’? It’s not like we don’t know from the experience of countries preceding us in these dominoes how this works; if you are responding to the numbers as they spike you are already too late. Uncertainty is not something stock markets or citizens appreciate. Varadkar unbelievably decided to paraphrase Terminator 2 last night following his Churchill plagiarism last week, refused to call this a lockdown when being told to ‘stay at home’ (even emblazoned under the RTE logo today onscreen) is patently a lockdown, and unwittingly combined the worst elements of Trump and Modi’s addresses. We were given three hours notice not to stray more than 2km from the house or else. But Leo, outside of Dublin it might be more than 2km to the nearest food store. And so today, presumably after howls from outside the Pale, we have a ‘clarification’ that 2km is the straying radius for exercise, you can stray 5km to get yourself a burger.

SEAL Team: Havoc has Fallen

Jessica Pare’s burnt CIA analyst Mandy has been notably underused in season 3 so it was nice to see her unexpectedly get tactical alongside Blackburn and Davis as Havoc fell the other night on Sky One and impose herself on the action in her guilt-ridden determination to rescue her kidnapped asset. Her work the problem drive and firefight skills also gave new hope to shippers that Mandy and Jason should get together, despite the awesome kismet that exists in Emily Swallow as Jason’s partner Natalie; uniting as it does Supernatural‘s Amara with Buffy’s Angel. The use of drone photography on SEAL Team has been outstanding but season 3, especially the opening episodes in Serbia, has taken it to new heights. The fact that this story of Bravo getting roughed up in Venezuela has now revealed itself as a three-parter makes one compare this trio of episodes very favourably to most action films out there. I for one would take the thrilling and legible choreography of the action in these three episodes against the choppy nonsense of Mile 22 any day.

February 21, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLIV

As the title suggests, so forth.

“What a shocking cheap hat!”

Deja vu, all over again. Two years on from ‘Beast from the East’, as we suffer thru a month of storms every weekend, once again if you walk into Dundrum Town Centre and mooch through Penneys or M&S you will find woolly hats and rugged scarves and thermal gloves being shovelled out at the door at knockdown prices. You will find shorts, bikinis, polo shirts, and sun-hats as the new in thing to wear. The clothes on sale in our shops have, somehow, as always, changed seasons well in advance of the actual weather. We have just had the coldest days of the winter and are expecting more of the foulest and yet the clothes offered as just in at this moment will be unwearable until June. I need an economist to explain to me how this makes sense – do people really buy their wardrobes that far in advance? – doesn’t anybody suddenly need a new scarf or a heavier hat in February or March when it snows after the shops have shifted seasons? – do the shops not take a commercial beating selling clothes that won’t be needed for another five months? What’s going on, in short, and why does this happen season after season? In the meantime I shall be pulling on a trapper hat much like the one pictured above, bought at an outrageous discount last week at H&M.

The Gibraltar Gambit

Previously I’ve suspected there was a recurring Google Calendar alert somewhere in the Spanish civil service. This reminded them to enrage Michael Howard into threatening to cable out the entire Mediterranean fleet by periodically asking for Gibraltar back. Now it seems the Greeks are getting in on the act, if the return of the Elgin marbles really has been tacked onto proposals for trade talk tactics between Britain and the remaining members of the EU. Where might this all end? Yield Rockall? There are so many grievances that so many countries have with the lonely island that the list could get truly absurd. Mind you would it really be any more absurd than the American list topped by “– and agree to have all your chickens dumped in chlorine like they’ve been to a low-rent swimming pool”?

A bold artistic decision to ensure the future of the show … that cancels the future of the show

I feel like this is a corollary to the previous series of entries on attempts to make mucho money by terrible artistic decisions that ended up making predictably terrible art and then hysterically nada money. It appears Hulu have absolutely no plans whatsoever to continue their revival of Veronica Mars. Critics lauded the bold artistic decision creator Rob Thomas considered necessary to ensure the future of the show, but die-hard fans excoriated that bold artistic decision, which they saw as simply dynamiting Veronica Mars. And as the die-hard fans were the only reason a cancelled Zeros network show had such a curious afterlife in the first place this was a move that backfired spectacularly; quelle surprise but the brickbats of the fans matters more to Hulu than the garlands of the critics. I will probably never bother with the Hulu season because I don’t want to see the final five minutes. (And I had been intrigued to see JK Simmons, who was so good in Thomas’ unseen show Party Down, enter the world of Neptune.) I don’t check out of this universe lightly; I have both of the Veronica Mars novels and all three seasons on DVD. When I had to introduce Elliot Harris to Veronica Mars from scratch, before catching the Veronica Mars movie in the one cinema in Dublin showing it, I sent him six clips I thought would give him a flavour of the show and act as a ‘Previously on Veronica Mars…’  I told him if he only watched one that Logan’s ‘Epic Love’ speech to Veronica was by far the most important one. Rob Thomas’ justification for throwing that speech, that dynamic in the morgue bin was that for the show to continue as a noir mystery Veronica had to be a lone wolf. Well… offhand the existence of The Thin Man and Moonlighting suggests otherwise. Maybe simply have Logan appear from time to time, as the service permits, as in the novels. Anything but blow him to blazes so that the show can continue in limited runs whenever Thomas and Kristen Bell can fit it in their schedules. If nobody is left who wants to see the show then your damn schedules could be free enough to accommodate a network season but it doesn’t matter.

Starbucks doubles down in Dundrum

To return to Dundrum Town Centre and the laws of economics puzzling me, how the devil is Starbucks returning to its previous haunt by the Mill Pond? This was the smaller of their two Dundrum Town Centre establishments, and shared its space with Mao. After some mysterious happening an eternal refurbishment unsurprisingly led to the departure of both Starbucks and Mao and a dizzying array of temporary tenants (bean bags, arcade games, net cafe, Italian furniture) before now Starbucks has returned, to take just not its old slot, but Mao’s slot too!

iZombie, oDear

After two years or so of a break since finishing season 2 of iZombie I found myself utterly lost when attempting to start season 3 and so went back to the pilot and re-watched the show, enjoying it greatly. And then, as I finally made my way into new episodes, a sinking feeling started to take hold. Season 3 of iZombie is not all that great… There are several threads one could point to that unravelled the fabric of the show: the utter idiocy of the Peyton/Blaine/Ravi storyline, the utter idiocy of Major’s hooking up with a clearly unhinged Chaos Killer groupie, the utter idiocy of Ravi spilling the entire secret history of the zombie plague to a reporter unawares. All revolved around characters behaving like complete morons at odds with their previous actions on the show. The wider conspiracies surrounding the activities of Fillmore Graves and Zombie Truthers never quite exerted the magnetic pull of the Max Rager machinations of the previous season, and this less satisfying arc tended to swamp the case of the week mysteries which themselves became more hit and miss.

Mitt Romney: Profile in Courage

How unexpected. A year and a half ago I was remembering the 2012 election duel between Obama and Romney because of College Humour’s ‘Gangnam Style’ parody video ‘Mitt Romney Style’. At the time I referred to the robotic Romney, who surprised Obama in the first debate by having had a Reagan upgrade to the operating software;  beginning with a perfectly executed joke that left Obama so stunned that he staggered thru that entire debate punch-drunk. I had seen Romney’s sons appear on Conan O’Brien’s TBS show and had mused that George Romney’s charisma had skipped a generation. Of late, however, the interviews Romney has been giving to the Atlantic‘s McKay Coppins suggests a looser more devil-may-care character has emerged in the last job he will ever have. Eighteen months ago I mused that everyone had been glad that the RNC intimated to Romney that he should stop seeking to run again in 2016, but what people wouldn’t give now to have had Romney rather than Trump as the GOP candidate in 2016. And now it seems Romney, at eight years distance from his run when it was obligatory to demonise him, is revealing what he might have been like as a President in a crisis – voting his conscience though the heavens fall.

June 29, 2019

On Rewatching Movies

The Atlantic recently showcased some findings from behavioural economists suggesting that we overvalue novelty and undervalue repetition, and it made me think about how I’ve been watching movies of late.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me? Do I anticipate Trump? Very well then I anticipate Trump.

I have been finding it hard, looking back to 2010 in the last few weeks, to get a handle on the contours of this decade, cinematically speaking. And I think some of that difficulty is owing to my not having rewatched as many movies as I would have done during the previous decade. This was a deliberate decision to use my time to add as many new titles to my ken as possible rather than simply rewatching what I had already seen. And that decision has been quite rewarding: I have seen more Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Andrei Tarkovsky, Louis Malle, and Mia Hansen-Love films than I would’ve had I not sought them out. But it seems there is an opportunity cost: if you focus on expanding your knowledge, it comes at the cost of deepening existing knowledge.

There is a lot to be said for repetition to really soak in a film. After all a vital check on whether a film really stands up is whether it can be rewatched with profit. I saw Birdman and High-Rise twice within days and loved them both times. In the case of High-Rise I had a totally different viewing experience each time: a crowded screening in IFI 2, where Stephen Errity and I managed to miss the opening scene, brought out the comedy of the film, whereas a deserted screening in IFI 1 with Paul Fennessy brought out the visual grandeur of the film. John Healy opines that repetition, like constantly catching snippets or indeed all of Jaws on heavy rotation on a movie channel, allows you enjoy lots of little details you’d otherwise miss without seeing it so often.

Little details can create what I’ve previously dubbed ‘mental architecture’. Watching The Matrix again and again and again you find yourself responding to someone asking your name with ‘Yeah, that’s me’ and only later realise you were quoting Keanu Reeves. Clambering off the floor with a somewhat awkward grace you realise later you were approximating how Keanu Reeves got up off his knees at the end of Constantine. In neither instance were these conscious emulations, simply physical or verbal replications of an oft-seen physical action or verbal response. The joy of repetition is that which comes from knowing a movie inside out: like watching a James Bond movie with my Dad, hooting at in-jokes about Ken Adam’s inability to stop blowing the budget on working monorails, or quoting along to The Matrix Reloaded line after line en masse with friends.

Whooping up Back to the Future Day on ITV 2 with my Dad back in 2015 wouldn’t have been half as awesome if we hadn’t watched each film repeatedly together over three decades. When Dad couldn’t countenance a full film I would summon from the DVR just the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now, Donald Sutherland’s JFK monologue, the Joker’s attack on the van in The Dark Knight:

At the far left of the shelf of DVDs was a single unlabelled videocassette. Schwartz slid it out with a finger and popped it into the ancient VCR.

“What’s this?” Henry asked.

“You’ll see.”

Schwartz watched this tape alone sometimes, late at night, the way he reread certain passages of Aurelius. It restored some nameless element of his personality that threatened to slip away if he didn’t stay vigilant. (The Art of Fielding)

Repetition can allow us grasp a film from different angles, enjoy the red herrings we missed before, create personal in-jokes, and provide us with an idiosyncratic frame of reference. But it can also utterly surprise. I was experiencing the rare joy of sharing a friend’s first encounter with a classic in 2017 when I nearly gasped at Citizen Kane on the big screen. Donald Trump’s threat to Hillary Clinton during their debates that he would, if elected, appoint a special prosecutor to look into her situation, now found an incredible anticipation in Charles Foster Kane’s threat during his speech that his “first official act as governor of this state will be to appoint a special district attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution and conviction of Boss Jim W Gettys”. There was now a new meaning in an old text.

In the case of Citizen Kane and American politics life was imitating art, as Oscar Wilde opined happened more often than vice versa, and a piece of art that had seemed to have a stable meaning had had that meaning upended. Repetition is not old hat in a world of novelty and completist instincts. It is both a time machine, that can enable us remember the way we enjoyed a movie the first time we saw it and remember ourselves and the milieu of that experience, and a transmogrifier that reworks old movies into something we never suspected our contemporary.

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.

September 9, 2018

You get Hoynes/Trump!

It’s been a nostalgic blast watching The West Wing from the start on TG4 this past week. Coming at the exact moment that Bob Woodward’s new book of nasty quotes and the New York Times’ anonymous op-ed painted a picture of the workings of a very different Oval Office it led to disquieting thoughts about Presidents Bartlet, Obama and Trump.

The Ringer recently produced a list of the 100 best TV episodes since 2000. I got the impression reading that one contributor would almost rather say ‘not anti-hero’ than ‘hero’ because if they said hero that would bespeak not being the kind of world-weary sophisticate who writes for The Ringer. This excerpt is fairly characteristic of them:

I don’t disagree about the Bartlet hagiography, but to me that’s almost a charm of the show; in the world of Walter Whites and Hannah Horvaths and the sociopaths of Succession, the idea of the “good guy we’re rooting for” is almost quaint.

But… if the media, especially the unlimited digital ink allowed by the internet, spends its time praising only anti-heroes, difficult men… and the Emmys and Golden Globes go only to shows on cable about anti-heroes, difficult men… and both the media and industry generally deride when they don’t ignore shows  (usually on network, like, say NCIS) that feature principled heroes, can both media and industry (as seen at every awards show) really get up on such a moral high horse when an anti-hero, difficult man becomes the President? If Obama now says Trump is a symptom not the cause, is the media and industry not partially culpable? Did they not prepare the culture to bring forth just that?

Years ago I wrote but never posted a lengthy piece based around a reading of a segment of Obama’s Dreams From My Father and the complaints on BBC of a Hillary Clinton staffer that Obama had had an unfair advantage because pop culture had prepared the way for a black President via Morgan Freeman and Denis Haysbert but there was nobody similarly making straight a path in the wilderness for Hillary. But if Deep Impact and 24 were literally held to have given Obama an advantage then surely The West Wing must have contributed mightily too. During the dark days of Bush Jr’s inarticulate incompetence there was a President who was charming, articulate, intelligent, a university lecturer; he was fictional, but you can’t have everything; and Bush Jr was replaced by a President who was charming, articulate, intelligent, and a university lecturer.

But then after a decade of anti-heroes, difficult men, what do you know but the American public went and elected one of those cultural icons as President – the anti-hero-in-chief. Where could they have got such a weird idea?

Oh, for one of those crassly commercial network notes now! “Can you make President Trump more likeable?”

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