Talking Movies

August 21, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXXVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Catch-22: it’s not the best one Hulu have

It was all Friedrich Bagel’s fault. It was he who sent a link to a Guardian piece raving that George Clooney had broken the curse of the unfilmable novel. But why talk about filming an unfilmable novel when it’s a TV series? You might as well call Brideshead Revisited a triumphant 13 hour movie adaptation. Only in early 1970s France or the increasingly addled BAM would that make pretend sense. And why give the imaginary credit to Clooney? He directs as many episodes as Ellen Kuras and he’s barely in it as an actor, while every episode is written by the series developers Davies and Michod. And they sort of write the same episode again and again. A little comedy gets thru each week, but what a slog to get to it. And then the same ‘shock’ ending, week after week. Things got distinctly SJ Perelman:

The murders follow an exact, rigid pattern almost like the ritual of a bullfight or a classic Chinese play. Take ‘Veiled Lady’ in the October, 1937, number of Spicy Detective – Dan is flinging some woo at a Mrs Brantham in her apartment at the exclusive Gayboy Arms, which apparently excludes everybody but assassins:

“From behind me a roscoe belched “Chow-chow!” A pair of slugs buzzed past my left ear, almost nicked my cranium. Mrs Brantham sagged back against the pillow of the lounge… She was as dead as an iced catfish”.

Round up the most young actors you can find who look alike and then dress them all alike and don’t flesh any of them out and leave the audience baffled, until they realise that if someone finally gets individuated a bit as we head into the last 20 minutes of an episode that means they’re about to die and it will probably be Yo-Yo’s fault. As The Engineer said after it was all over: “You don’t have to watch it if you ask not to watch it because it wasn’t very good, but if you ask not to watch it because it wasn’t very good, you’ve already watched it.  Catch-22. It’s the best one they have.”

The Avengers begins with Honor Blackman

It has been a disconcerting experience watching True Movies’ extremely scrambled late night re-runs of The Avengers. I had only ever seen a handful of Cathy Gale episodes late at night on RTE 1 over 20 years ago. 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 this ever became the classic show it did. It is only when Honor Blackman shows up for season 2 episode 1 ‘Mr Teddy Bear’ that things really start to click, and then she keeps disappearing in favour of Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith and her wretched musical numbers, or the second iteration of Dr King who is no more interesting than the first. And let’s not forget that the show was supposed to be about Dr King! A nigh unwatchable first iteration Dr King episode didn’t even feature Steed. It is unfathomable using IMDb to straighten out the running order to see that the writers apparently didn’t realise they’d lucked into gold with Steed and Gale. I’ve rarely seen such huge swings in quality between episodes; from touches like a man at an auction being shot on “Going… Going… GONE!” to overwrought gibberish about a mole hunt with Steed being accused while everyone ignores the world’s most obvious mole spending money like water beside him. All the while the chemistry between Steed and Gale defines the show as The Avengers.

April 15, 2015

A Little Chaos

Alan Rickman makes an unexpected return to directing nearly twenty years after his first effort, The Winter Guest, with a period drama about Versailles’ creation.

a-little-chaos

In Versailles did King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) a stately pleasure-dome decree. And while the extravagant gardens he demands in 1682 are not quite measureless to man they are certainly too much for Andre Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) to construct single-handedly, so he takes on other landscape gardeners; the most unlikely of which is Madame Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), a widower who insults Le Notre’s preference for ordered landscapes in her job interview. With the practical help of blunt rival Duras (Steven Waddington), and the political support of the King’s brother Philippe, Duke of Orleans (Stanley Tucci), and Phillipe’s wife Palatine (Paula Paul), Sabine sets to work. But navigating court politics is complicated by her growing attraction to the doleful Le Notre, and the spiteful reaction to her presence by the manipulative and petty Madame Le Notre (Helen McCrory).

Praise first. A Little Chaos looks gorgeous. Cinematographer Ellen Kuras shoots to advantage the rococo production design of James Merifield, and art direction of Kat Law and Sarah Stuart. Joan Bergin’s costumes are sumptuous, Peter Gregson’s score has a memorable and rousing final cue, and supporting turns, from Tucci’s fabulous acerbity, to the impetuosity of Louis XIV’s mistress Madame De Montespan (Jennifer Ehle) and her lover (Rupert Penry-Jones), are delightful. It’s also nice to see Irish theatre star Cathy Belton appear as Sabine’s devoted servant Louise. But my God is it dull… Rickman co-wrote the screenplay with Alison Deegan and Jeremy Brock so he must take the blame for this. There’s a plodding well-made-screenplay feel to far too many scenes; with obnoxious flashbacks to a coach crash, and hallucinations by Sabine of her dead daughter, recalling another BBC film, Creation.

Nobody expects a discourse on the movement from classical garden design to the contrived pastoral of Capability Brown in the manner of Tom Stoppard’s intellectual investigations in Arcadia. But by the end of the film it remains utterly unclear exactly what is so radical about Sabine’s small garden with water feature in the grand scheme of Versailles. And that’s to say nothing of the script’s remarkable failure to establish that Louis XIV is the Sun King. The closing image gestures to it with some elegance, but unless you know your French history well the sharp point to Sabine’s truth-telling speech about needing a little warmth from the sun is completely lost. Schoenaerts and Winslet’s romance lacks spark, and Peaky Blinders’ McCrory is atrocious. McCrory hams like a panto villain as the script lazily instructs her to sneer from first appearance.

A Little Chaos is so perfectly respectable it’s hard to hate. Cute scenes and funny performances jostle with unmotivated villainy and terrible hamming, but who will remember either afterwards?

2/5

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