Talking Movies

November 22, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXVII

As the title suggests, so forth.

The late Spielberg and the late Hitchcock

Having recently, finally, watched The Post, just because it was on prime-time Film4 twice inside a week, I regard my scepticism towards it as having been fully justified. A movie about the wrong newspaper and the wrong heroic actors who were all not breaking a huge story, and featuring an intolerably annoying lead performance even for Meryl Streep, it’s only value was it that it set me to thinking about the late Hitchcock and the late Spielberg. It is no secret that Spielberg found it so hard to get financing for his ponderous Lincoln that it looked like it might end up like Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra – a cable TV movie in America, given a small art-house release in Europe. Such an outcome would have been a shocking fall from grace from a man who made his name being a crowd-pleaser par excellence.  But the truth is that Spielberg has entered a phase of decline in that regard. Since nuking the fridge in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Spielberg has struggled to find an audience. His 2010s output (The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, War Horse, LincolnBridge of Spies, The BFG, The Post, Ready Player One) has been prolific, but desperately uneven when it comes to connecting with an intended blockbuster audience, and the more niche trilogy of Constitutional Amendment films plagued by dull writing. The technical mastery is still there, but, like the late Hitchcock (Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, Family Plot), it is in service of poor to middling scripts – so that outre camera moves stand out more and more than they would have in previous decades where the entire films were good, not just certain sequences or conceits standing out like oases in a desert. The fact that Spielberg’s next film is an unnecessary remake of West Side Story worked over by his Munich and Lincoln writer Tony Kusher does not inspire confidence that Spielberg can pull out of this slump, and that’s before you realise the star is … Ansel Elgort.

Yippee Ki Yay Memoriser!

A Die Hard Christmas jumper having just arrived in the mail I found myself wondering the other day whatever happened to its director John McTiernan. Lawsuits. Indictments. Jail. His Wyoming ranch being liquidated. And not a film made since 2003’s Basic. In fact, it’s kind of remarkable that McTiernan only made 11 films in his 18 active years, (allegedly he is making sci-fi blockbuster Tau Ceti Four with Uma Thurman, but I will believe that when I see it), but those films include both impeccable classics and unwatchable disasters. How can someone capable of Predator, Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October and Die Hard with a Vengeance have ended up battling studio incompetence and his own poor choices to have come away carrying the bag for Last Action Hero, The 13th Warrior, Rollerball and Basic? McTiernan has given some extensive and revealing interviews explaining how things went sideways so often, and he seems to have had a lot of bad luck. But one thing he said leapt out: while studying at the AFI a crazed teacher insisted on him memorising movies – shot for shot. On the grounds that a concert pianist would commit piano concertos to memory, and when asked to improvise a cadenza would have those to draw on, so a film director should have a set of classics in his cerebellum to creatively rework when needed. And so McTiernan said he had memorised every shot in A Clockwork Orange, among others. Which leads to one to think about his films in terms of such classicism. I can easily believe that it is possible to memorise every shot in Die Hard, with especial relish for the many delightful focus-pulls, but Rollerball?… Can the decline of McTiernan’s artistic clout in the editing room be directly seen in the betrayal of the principle of memorable shots rather than hyper-cut gibberish?

October 19, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to slice this film properly for ad breaks

It happens every time. Whether it’s on Channel 4 or Film4, every time Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is on the powers that be go to the first ad break at a moment that ruins the gag. Alec Baldwin is giving a vainglorious speech to Jeremy Renner about the awesomeness of the CIA, having just shuttered the IMF, and tells him “Set your watch, Brandt. Ethan Hunt is living his last day as a free man” – and then Channel 4 and Film4 go to an ad break. And when they return we are in a different location for an action sequence of the CIA attempting to catch Hunt. But the point is lost in this time away making tea in the kitchen – his last day as a threat should be instantly followed by a caption telling us that many months have passed; and that therefore Tom Cruise is very resourceful and Alec Baldwin has been shown up and is not at all happy. Do you see, it’s in the manner of being a gag?

Coronarithms killed the movie critic

In the absence of any actual cinema releases whither not just cinema but the critic of cinema? I would think that, stripping away all the many pretensions, the major function of the film critic is as a gatekeeper; entrusted with shepherding people away from wasting their money on bad films, and telling them what they might like to what degree from the alright good and great films. This function, though, is largely dependent on people going to the cinema rather than streaming. Streaming is a flat fee for a service you use as much or as little as you like, whereas a physical trip to the cinema is a one-off punt on something – and as the price of a cinema ticket here exceeds the monthly cost of Netflix it’s quite a gamble. But not only does a streaming service reduce the financial consequentiality of the choice of movie, it also makes it easier to drop something if it’s rubbish compared to even just the physical business of leaving a crowded cinema, and it uses such choices to tailor the dreaded algorithim toward your tastes. Some years back the Engineer made an off-hand comment that he had absorbed the biases and interests of his favourite film critic to a sufficient degree to be able to account for them and thus work out how far or if he would agree with his judgements. The Netflix algorithm dispenses with that. It knows you as well as you allow yourself to be known. And when Netflix pushes towards you its just-dropped release I doubt people look around for a critical consensus on it; they just glance at the names, see the algorithm at work, and click or do not click play. The whole equation has been changed – but only now does coronavirus make it plain by making Netflix the last game in town.

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