Talking Movies

June 9, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XIII

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.

La La Land and its predecessors

I’ve noted before that I fell into the trap of watching the movies I recommended as TV choice of the week on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle. I therefore re-watched a chunk of La La Land on BBC 2 a few months back, but ducked out after the hour mark. It occurred to me that when discussing it with Patrick Doyle I’d invoked New York, New York for its equally miserable ending, but somehow never even thought of mentioning Moulin Rouge!  which undoubtedly has the most miserable ending of all three. I’ve been trying to puzzle out why that might be and I think it is because the ending of La La Land irked me. As Patrick Doyle said if you have people flying about a Planetarium then you have located the film as a fairytale and you can’t really go for a miserable ending then. New York, New York had been posited by Scorsese as a Vincente Minnelli musical done with social realism, and I opined that those two approaches were actually mutually exclusive, but there is no denying that with social realism a miserable ending does not jar so. I had actually forgotten how good La La Land was, such was the pall the miserable ending cast over the movie in my memory. When it’s good, it’s very, very good. The performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are of the first order, the comedy sparkling, the jazz wonderful, and above all it is a rare modern beast – a musical that does not apologise for being a musical but simply skips from one big production number to the next. There is a vein of nostalgia and romance which mixes sweet touches like Gosling walking past his car to spend more time with Stone with hugely impressive swooping long takes of choreography; especially in the bench at sunset sequence. But then it all goes to hell when it takes a dive into New York, New York territory of careerism and social climbing derailing romance. I think, much like Drive, it is the bait and switch that irks me, the end does not develop naturally from the beginning. But in Moulin Rouge! the madly over the top nature of the film, with its riotous comedy and exuberant romance, betrays the hand of an opera director (which is a sideline of Baz Luhrmann’s); so the death of Satine in the finale feels of a piece with what has come before – utterly heightened. And so I fondly remember Moulin Rouge! while somewhat resenting La La Land.

One Two Three: Stone & Gosling

I’ve been, lamentably, thinking about the contours of this cinematic decade after Paul Fennessy sprung on me the first Films of the Decade list we’ll be bludgeoned with this year. It occurred to me that one of the features of the first half of the decade, if you grant a few months’ grace, was the romantic chemistry of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart and of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. La La Land is the high watermark of the latter pairing, and one supposes the result of their two previous films together: the wonder of the 5 minute long-take bench at sunset sequence, in comic timing and choreography, only possible in part because they have established a working rapport. Gangster Squad is not a film that will be remembered fondly if at all, while Crazy Stupid Love seems to have undeservedly fallen from favour, but if they set up La La Land’s chemistry they deserve our thanks.

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July 31, 2013

RED 2

Bruce Willis and John Malkovich return for a second knowing outing as the retired and extremely dangerous spies who just want to be left alone.

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Frank (Willis) is trying to play house with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), but a trip to Costco sees Marvin (Malkovich) warning him that they’re in terrible danger because someone is sniffing around their botched Cold War Op codenamed Nightshade. And sure enough before long MI6 doyenne Victoria (Helen Mirren) cheerfully informs them she’s been hired to kill them, they’re running from a well-resourced bent spook Horton (Neal McDonough), and they’re also running from his employee – the world’s greatest assassin Han (Byung Hun Lee), who has a personal grudge against Frank. And that’s before Frank and Sarah’s relationship is strained to breaking point by Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), his Russian agent Ex, appearing. Can Frank and Marvin get their hands on Nightshade’s weaponry before it gets them killed? And what role does mad Professor Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) play in all this?

RED 2 is a fun caper that works best when it’s at its most absurd. Too often director Dean Parisot is content to merely insert Mirren into daft scenarios and watch the audience smile rather than forcing us to laugh with good gags. But when the gags are forthcoming they’re good. There are a couple of terrific back and forth scenes between Frank and Sarah, and a Zen disagreement between Frank, Marvin and Han. There is also a daft sequence in the Kremlin where Marvin attempts to leave Sarah in charge of guarding a vault while he does spy stuff with Frank that is priceless. Parisot also stages a car chase thru Paris with elan and wit as he never loses focus on the chase’s real interest: it’s another example of ‘helpful’ intervention by Marvin in Frank and Sarah’s relationship.

Willis and Parker continue to be an appealingly believable couple, well, ‘believable’, and Malkovich Fassbenders his way thru proceedings. There is, however, a reason that scriptwriters Jon & Erich Hoeber’s previous work Battleship was instanced in the recent Slate article decrying the baneful effect of Blake Snyder’s scriptwriting book Save the Cat! becoming the literal playbook for all Hollywood blockbusters. You can see all 15 of Snyder’s story beats arriving at the appropriate moments here, including the inevitable and infuriating ‘apparent victory’ – whose ruthless application in The Avengers, Skyfall, Gangster Squad, et al is driving us all slowly crazy. But thankfully, unlike Battleship, there’s enough stupid fun here to counteract the formula. Especially as the ‘thematic statement’ from Marvin to Frank is so wonderfully dumb in concept and wording that its resolution can’t help but be a knowingly parodic moment.

There’s life in the old dogs yet, and while this probably won’t run as long as the Fast & Furious franchise it deserves to match Ocean’s with a trilogy.

3/5

July 24, 2013

World War Z

In a follow-on to his piece about Hollywood’s trouble with zombie movies last week Elliot Harris writes:

Marc Foster’s adaption of the best seller World War Z is a better film than expected but not as good as it could have been. Despite release delays and stories of re-shoots; WWZ is a watchable summer blockbuster.

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The film opens in the serene family kitchen of the Lane family where we are introduced to Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), his wife Karin (Mireille Enos, Gangster Squad) and their children Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins) hours before the Zombie apocalypse reaches their home city of Philadelphia. Having witnessed firsthand the devastating effects and rapid spread of the virus, Lane struggles to get his family to safety, fighting both the already and soon to be infected. Faced with cities and whole nations across the globe falling to the ravages of Zombie hoards, Lane reluctantly answers the call from his former employers for help. With no clear information on the origin of the outbreak, and only rumours to work with, Lane is dragged across the globe in search of the cause of and possible solutions to this global pandemic.

What transpires is a globe-trotting race against time with the future of the human race at stake. Starting with little information, and only a small team of crack SEALS, Lane and Harvard virologist Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel, Welcome to the Punch) are dispatched to the site of the first reported Zombie outbreak. As time ticks down, Lane is faced with an increasing array of seemingly unanswerable questions and very few answers. This coupled with the logistical nightmare of trying to not only stay ahead of the infection, but catch up with its source in a world falling apart helps build the tension. The tension never quite reaches the crescendo that it promises and the resolution seems to come about more through fortune and luck than the result of a Holmes-like investigation that Lane set out on.

The film, while not the utter mess that many predicted, definitely has a number of problems and certainly fails to live up to the book that it’s based on. These issues range from the join-the-dots narrative to some suspect decisions in the film’s storytelling and casting of some of the minor characters. Evidence of the much speculated and forecasted flop have survived the cutting room floor. Despite these issues, and the near complete divorce from the source material (which is quite jarring at times), WWZ is not without its charms. The reshoots manage to complete a fairly logically, if totally open-ended ending. Based on the film’s takings to date and the standard sequels clauses in most actors’ contracts these days, you can likely expect the announcement of a sequel in the next few months. Hopefully, any sequel produced will be a little more truthful to the book.

While WWZ neither lives up nor even sticks to the plot of the book that it’s based on, it delivers a solid zombie film worthy of the genre.

2.5/5

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