Talking Movies

September 20, 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Director Matthew Vaughn helms a hasty sequel to his Mark Millar absurdist spy fantasy which sadly displays its hasty production.

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Our hero Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is waiting for a Kingsman cab when he is attacked by old rival Charlie (Edward Holcroft); unexpectedly, because he was presumed dead, and didn’t have a bionic arm. Said ‘arm’ leads to Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) being the last Kingsmen standing, and having to seek help from their American cousins, the Statesmen. They get a gruff reception from Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum), but a warmer welcome from Merlin’s opposite number Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) who has developed a maguffin for dealing with headshots. Et voila – despite Colin Firth being shot in the head last time out – Harry lives! But will Harry recover his memories and his co-ordination in time to save the world from the depredations of drug baron Poppy (Julianne Moore) or does his distrust of Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) bespeak incurable paranoia?

This sequel was written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, but the tone is off; right from the twisted but not funny use of Chekhov’s meat-mincer in Poppy’s introduction. The fact that Eggsy and Merlin face the same Kingsmen apocalypse in this first act as the original’s third act feels very lazy, as does the Hollywood cliché for raising stakes in the finale.  This is a bloated movie: Tatum is barely in it,  Jeff Bridges even less so, and the impulsive jackass President played by Bruce Greenwood (!) feels like a late Trump-bashing addition to the script; especially his final scene which is a transparent and asinine piece of wish fulfilment. The running time could be trimmed by removing Elton John; his foul-mouthed temper-tantrums in support add nothing. Indeed all the swearing lacks the purposeful artistry of a McDonagh or Mamet.

A notably bombastic yet unmemorable score is punctuated by ecstatic uses of Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ and John’s ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’ for elaborate fights as Vaughn relentlessly searches for but never really finds an action sequence to equal the church brawl from the original. Like The Matrix Reloaded, physical reality is traded for bullet-time and CGI, and the magic of choreography is lost. Oddly the most effective use of music is the most muted; John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ for an all guns blazing character moment. Hanna Alstrom’s Princess is now Eggsy’s girlfriend, possibly as a response to criticism, yet Poppy Delevingne’s femme fatale Clara is subjected to even more tasteless comic use than Alstrom was… Moore’s super-villain has an interesting plan; but you feel Vaughn and Goldman understand it to articulate something meaningful that they never actually articulate.

This strains to equal the fun quality its predecessor had naturally, but, despite many misgivings, there are enough good action sequences, gags, performances, and uses of pop to make this worth your cinema ticket.

3/5

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January 25, 2017

That’s “Mr. President The Donald” to you…

Yes, it’s time for one of the regrettable lapses into politics on this blog; occasioned by the vitriol thrown at Donald Trump’s Presidency, which is of dubious historical merit when considered under the headings of mandate, legitimacy, and suitability.

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MANDATE

Donald Trump got 46% of the popular vote.

Bill Clinton got 43.01% of the popular vote in 1992.

Woodrow Wilson got 41.8% of the popular vote in 1912.

Armando Iannucci is one of many people to claim that Trump has no mandate, because more people voted for someone else.

Well, the only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to win over 50% of the popular vote, isn’t it?

If a candidate must receive more than 50% of the popular vote to have a mandate, then no Democrat President in the 20th and 21st centuries has ever had a mandate except Franklin D Roosevelt, Lyndon B Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama.

By contrast every Republican President from William McKinley’s 51% in 1896 onward has had a mandate, except Richard Nixon, George W Bush, and Donald Trump; and Nixon and Bush both achieved over 50% of the vote on re-election.

 

LEGITIMACY

The electoral college system is silly, but it’s been silly for a long time now.

Andrew Jackson blew a gasket in 1824 when he was denied the Presidency.

But it wasn’t fixed then.

Rutherford B Hayes ended Reconstruction in 1876 to be let be President.

But it wasn’t fixed then.

Nor in 1888, nor in 2000, because, like AV in England, it is politically insoluble.

If you weep for Hilary Clinton’s near 3 million votes and no Presidency, did you also weep for Nigel Farage’s 5 million votes and only 1 (previously filched Tory) seat in 2015?

Hilary Clinton effectively built up massive and useless majorities in safe seats, while Donald Trump eked out tiny majorities in seats that could be flipped, and so won with equal legitimacy as David Cameron did in 2015.

 

SUITABILITY

Trump as an unsuitable character to be President…

More unsuitable than Johnson, who boasted that he’d had more women by accident than JFK had on purpose?

More unsuitable than JFK, who was so out of control new Secret Service agents were aghast at being assigned hooker detail?

More unsuitable than Nixon and Reagan, who both committed treason to win the Presidency?

Should the Republicans only be allowed to nominate candidates approved by the Democrats?

Would the Democrats then be happy to only nominate candidates approved by the Republicans?

Wasn’t that instinct what led to Watergate – Nixon trying to swing the nomination towards McGovern because he felt, and rightly so, that he could easily destroy him in the campaign proper?

 

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER

Donald Trump is the President.

He has more of a mandate than Bill Clinton  in 1992, Richard Nixon in 1968, and Woodrow Wilson in 1912.

He has the same legitimacy as John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W Bush.

And he has fought fewer duels than fellow populist and all round short-fuse exponent Andrew Jackson.

 

All three strands are ahistoric rationalisations obscuring the raw howl  ‘I voted for the other candidate!’.

Well, in a two-party system, there is a 50/50 chance that the other candidate wins every 4 years.

And then you wait for the next roll of the dice in 4 years and place your money on your candidate again.

January 18, 2017

ADIFF 2017

The programme for ADIFF’s 15th celebration of cinema is now available to browse and download at www.diff.ie and tickets go on sale tomorrow Thursday January 19th at 10:00am; available by phone on +353 1 687 7974 or in person at DIFF, 13 Ormond Quay.

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World cinema is coming to the Audi Dublin International Film Festival from 16th-26th February 2017 with Vanessa Redgrave, Nathalie Baye, Kerry Fox, Ross Noble, Ben Wheatley, and Anna Friel joining Irish stars Jack Reynor, Moe Dunford, Cillian Murphy, John Butler, and Aiden Gillen on the red carpet.

Grainne Humphreys, Festival Director, said ‘I’m thrilled with the selection of films that not only showcases some of the biggest names in world cinema but features a selection of first time directors from across the globe who will make a serious impression with our audience in this and in coming years. To be able to include new Irish films from Aisling Walsh, Jim Sheridan, Emer Reynolds, Aiden Gillen, John Butler, Neasa Ní Chianán, Juanita Wilson, and Ken Wardrop is an extraordinary testament to the current strength and depth of the Irish film industry. I hope that as many Dubliners as possible take this chance to explore and celebrate the art of film.’

Richard Molloy, Head of Marketing and Product at Audi Ireland, said, “Following a hugely successful partnership between Audi and the Dublin International Film Festival in 2016 we are proud to continue this into 2017.  Audi’s brand philosophy, ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’, really connects with the festival’s ethos of inspiring progressiveness and creativity. Furthermore, our partnership with the festival allows us to celebrate the art of film-making while recognising new and emerging film talent. This year we are delighted to introduce an Audi Gala screening to the festival programme providing festival fans with the ultimate red carpet film experience.”

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Galas and World Premieres

The Gala Opening Night of ADIFF 2017 will be the Irish Premiere of Maudie, the internationally acclaimed biopic of folk artist Maud Lewis by award-winning Irish director Aisling Walsh (Song for a Raggy Boy) which stars Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture, adapted from the award-winning novel by Sebastian Barry, will receive a Gala Irish Premiere and see ADIFF present a Volta Award to British theatrical royalty Vanessa Redgrave. The Volta Award is the Festival’s most prestigious honour, reserved for those who have made an outstanding contribution to the world of film. Jack Reynor, Cillian Murphy, and Ben Wheatley will attend the Audi Gala screening of Wheatley’s new film Free Fire. ADIFF’s new Centrepiece Gala will be Neasa Ní Chianán and David Rane’s In Loco Parentis documentary study of the Headfort School. World Premieres at ADIFF 17 include Juanita Wilson’s Tomato Red with star Anna Friel in attendance, Dennis Bartok’s terrifying hospital horror Nails, and Aiden Gillen and Jamie Thraves’ Pickups (features Gillen playing a semi-fictionalised version of himself). Ken Wardrop (His & Hers) brings his characteristic warmth and humanity to piano grade exams in The Piano Lesson, while John Murray and Traolach Ó Murchú’s Photo City delves into the celluloid history of Rochester, NY. ADIFF’s prestigious Closing Night Gala is the Irish premiere of Handsome Devil, the new comedy-drama set in an Irish boarding school from John Butler, who directed The Stag.

International Programme

Nathalie Baye, Kerry Fox, and François Cluzet will attend the festival. Baye becomes the target of a dangerous obsession in Moka, Fox is the uncompromising acting teacher in The Rehearsal, and Cluzet stars in stylish paranoia thriller Scribe. ADIFF’s world cinema programme feature films from over 35 countries, from Bhutan to New Zealand, Seoul to Senegal, and Nova Scotia to Manila. There are new films from Festival favourites including Olivier Assayas, Pablo Larraín, Michael Winterbottom, Aki Kaurismäki, Ben Wheatley, Asghar Farhadi, Cristian Mungiu, Lone Scherfig, and Terence Davies. In 2011, Iko Uwais’ flying fists and lightning-fast feet in The Raid brought the house down in the Savoy. Now Uwais returns as the hero of IFI Horrorthon sell-out Headshot, bringing his astounding fighting skills to this tale of amnesia and revenge.

First-time Directors

This year’s programme features a number of new international voices making feature debuts: Juho Kuosmanen’s uplifting Oscar-tipped boxing biopic The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, Ben Young’s Australian kidnap nightmare Hounds of Love, British director William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth, and Daouda Coulibaly’s thrilling West African crime thriller Wùlu. Irish director Lorcan Finnegan’s deeply creepy walk in the woods eco-horror Without Name marks him out as a talent to watch closely in years to comeThe frustration and unease those in the arts have felt at people uninterested in the arts voting for Brexit and Trump is expressed through acerbic and bitter humour – Dash Shaw’s My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea!, Sean Foley’s Mindhorn (with Ross Noble in attendance), Anna Biller’s Love Witch, and Kris Avedisian’s comedy of discomfort Donald Cried.

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Special Events and the Surprise Film

Masterclasses include leading British director Ben Wheatley (High Rise, Free Fire, A Field in England, Kill List), and Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne (Doctor Strange). Terence Davies, a singular master of film adaptations, will take part in a public interview with Roddy Doyle. Celebrating the current high point in Irish film, an exhibition by Hugh O’Conor features intimate portraits of his colleagues. An annual treat for the brave, the Surprise Film is a tightly guarded secret known only to the Festival Director, and this year the screening is supported by Just Eat, the official food ordering app, who will be offering special discounts and vouchers to the audience.

Fantastic Flix

The Festival’s expanding Fantastic Flix programme brings the world of cinema to the next generation in its packed festival of children’s films from around the globe, workshops, short film selections, the Fantastic Flix Children’s Jury and special events. Highlights include a special selection of films from visiting children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson, along with the Golden Globe-nominated animated film My Life as a Courgette, and Michaël Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle.

Awards
Alongside the Volta Awards that recognise outstanding achievement, the ADIFF Discovery Award sees the festival reward emerging Irish talent; the Dublin Film Critics Circle Jury selects the best of the festival for their awards ceremony; and film-goers themselves select their favourite with the AUDI-ence award. The AUDI-ence award-winning film-makers
 will be flown to the Berlin International Film Festival in 2018, where they will enjoy a true VIP Audi experience.

July 18, 2016

Re-Elect Calvin Coolidge as President

Rumours had been rife that an attempt would be made at the Republican National Convention to sideline Donald Trump in favour of an alternative Presidential nominee. Little did anyone suspect the man chosen would be the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, writes B. Bradley Bradlee from Cleveland.

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Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan is shamelessly lifted from The Gipper, so perhaps it shouldn’t surprise that his enemies in the GOP establishment have reached even further back to the precedent of Eisenhower and Goldwater. After all, elephants can remember. What does surprise is their decision to leave drafting an alternative candidate to thwart Trump so very late. Their choice of former President Coolidge as a unity candidate is proving controversial in the media at this particular moment of national tension for two reasons: because of his hard-line actions during the Boston Police Strike, and him being dead.

Kentucky Trump delegate Tom O’Shanter was outraged, “It’s a crying shame that a man who won so many votes in primaries can be thrown over for a multicultural advocatist like Coolidge.” On being pressed O’Shanter elaborated, “Coolidge signed that Act giving Injuns the rights to practice their culture. I mean, give me a break! This is ’Murica. You adopt the culture that’s already here!!” Asked whether Coolidge’s track record on tax cuts might sway his vote O’Shanter’s opposition faltered, “Well, I’ll allow he did cut taxes in ’24, ’26, and ’28. He’s got a track record, even if he’s dead.”

Stockton Crouse, a strategist for Jeb Bush’s failed primary campaign, was as surprised as anyone, “I know we were short on choice when it came to one-term Presidents, I myself ruled out drafting George HW, but Coolidge…” Crouse was in two minds on Coolidge’s platform, “On the one hand, I like that he tried to improve our strained relations with Mexico, that’s important after Trump’s rhetoric. On the other hand, signing the Immigration Act is just too like a 1920s piece of Trump demagoguery for my taste. And that’s to say nothing of his being dead, what about the debates?”

But according to Coolidge’s communications director, Broder Mackin, Crouse’s concerns are overplayed. “Don’t listen to his sour grapes. I think we’re all familiar with that Dorothy Parker quote, B. Bradley, Calvin is going to do just fine in the debates.” Pressed on how active a President Coolidge could reasonably be Mackin was firm, “The people have had enough of executive over-reach, B. Bradley. What they want is to be left alone. And Calvin will do that. First, he has form in this; this is a man who said National Education Week did not need his imprimatur. And second, he’s dead.”

B. Bradley Bradlee is fictional editor emeritus of The New York Times. He is currently covering the Republican Convention for the German weekly Die Emmerich-Zeitung.

February 3, 2016

The Great Star Wars Lie

You are being lied to, repeatedly and with purpose, by massive entertainment corporations using a media all too happy to shill for the sake of Hollywood glamour driving traffic numbers.

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I’ve been writing about this truth for almost as long as I’ve been writing this blog. A series of articles in February – April 2010 ruminated on Avatar and its reception, and I posed one very simple question back then which is even more relevant now: why is it that every blockbuster that’s released seems to break a new box-office record?

Summer 2007 was a nadir for sustained mendacity: almost a case of “Shrek 3 has the biggest ever opening weekend, beating the previous record-holder Spider-Man 3, which beat the previous record-holder Pirates of the Caribbean 2”. But now we have a new whopper on our hands: The Force Awakens. Back in 2010 I noted that banner headlines about record-breaking opening weekend box-office grosses become hilarious if you do the unthinkable, and adjust the figures for inflation. Titanic is the only film made after 1982 that makes the all-time Top 10 once you adjust for inflation.

Yet right now we are being repeatedly whacked over the head with the notion that The Force Awakens is the most popular film in the history of popularity and film. And thankfully Andrew O’Hehir of Salon.com has weighed into the fray with a truly irrepressible combo of sarcasm and statistics:

If you squint and fudge in just the right light, The Force Awakens is now sorta-kinda the biggest hit in United States history, and has maybe a 50/50 shot of catching Avatar for the No. 1 global spot.

Actually, a further word on Disney’s loud crowing this week about SW: TFA having reached the status of Biggest Movie Ever. That word would be “oh no, you don’t.” If you adjust for inflation — which is, y’know, how actual economic comparisons are done — it’s not even close. According to Box Office Mojo’s seemingly reasonable calculations, The Force Awakens is now roughly the No. 21 movie of all time, well below such titles as The Lion King, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Exorcist. It will certainly climb a fair bit higher, but I’m not convinced it will earn the extra $300 million required to catch Doctor Zhivago at No. 8. And I would bet Donald Trump’s bottom dollar that it won’t get anywhere near the all-time champ, Gone With the Wind, which made almost $200 million in 1939 dollars, in a nation with less than half our current population where the typical movie ticket cost less than a quarter.

The new Star Wars is a big movie, for sure. But it’s not quite as ginormous and culture-dominating and universally beloved as Disney wants us to think it is. The bigness of TFA, or at least the idea of its bigness, is a central element of the Mouse House strategy to spin Star Wars into a marketing, merchandising and entertainment empire.

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Since he wrote that piece The Force Awakens has climbed up to reach 11 on the all-time list, but is still nearly 200 million shy of catching Doctor Zhivago. It would need to double its gross to date to topple Gone with the Wind… But what does it all betoken?

O’Hehir sees deep cynicism in The Force Awakens’ marketing style of lying constantly about record-breaking popularity. Back in 2010 I wrote that the obsession with opening weekends was a betrayal of proper cultural criticism, never mind the lasting quality of the film feel the quantity of its inflated takings, and was actually lobotomising cinema. 2007’s summer of the threequel proved enough eye candy and CGI could, combined with a huge PR push, generate a staggering opening weekend; which word of mouth would then collapse precipitously. I hoped Avatar had firmly thrashed the media and studio obsession with opening weekends by starting slow, not breaking any records, being almost dismissed as a failure for that, but then, when its takings didn’t collapse but remained constant week after week, being trumpeted as a phenomenon. But then Shutter Island was hailed as Scorsese’s most successful opening weekend, and Tim Burton’s Alice the most successful 3-D film opening weekend.

Now I think that nothing is ever going to change this hyperbolic approach, because, even more than the cynicism O’Hehir identifies, I believe it betokens desperation. Adjusting for inflation raises the extremely uncomfortable truth for Hollywood that people are historically uninterested in cinema-going, no matter how many sensational headlines about record box-office business are fed out like so much pigswill.

I called for a ruthless insistence that Avatar’s box-office gross be discounted for inflation, because it hadn’t even dented the actual all-time Top 10. But now I think the best approach is mockery. The Force Awakens’ need to scream from the rooftops how popular is it is no less pathetic than Betamax’s plaintive advertisement in the 1980s reminding people it was still in the game. If you were really ginormous, culture-dominating and universally beloved you wouldn’t need to tell people you were quite so much.

Cinema is no longer as important as it once was. The archetypal Saturday night movie memorably recounted by Gus Van Sant on the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast, where the entire high school rocked up to the cinema because that’s what you did on Saturday night before anything else you might get up to, is long vanished. No amount of hype will bring that world back, just like no amount of fraud can hide the fact you can’t buy a house for the same price your parents did because of inflation, and that inflation didn’t magically not affect cinema tickets too.

Every time you hear The Force Awakens being trumpeted as uber-successful, so much winning it would make Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen tired of winning, remember you’re hearing a desperate plea for relevance rooted in insecurity. And think of this.

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