Talking Movies

October 6, 2019

Notes on Judy

Judy was the secondary film of the week in an innovation much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

The finances of Judy Garland (Zellweger) are perpetually in a state of vague distress. When she is forced to house her children at the home of their father Sidney (Rufus Sewell), after her hotel releases her suite, she finds herself accepting a five week engagement in London over Christmas 1968 to try and raise some quick cash. Impresario Delfont (Michael Gambon), his fixer Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley), and bandleader Burt (Royce Pierreson) are unprepared for the ramshackle performer who arrives, despite her reputation. Adding to the volatility is her unwise romance with much younger musician Mickey (Finn Wittrock), who she meets at a party where daughter Liza (Gemma-Leah Deveraux) reveals she is about to star in a musical. Such breaks are beyond Judy at this point; her voice and body failing after years of substance abuse, these concerts become a swansong.

Judy isn’t as colourful as one might hope from director Rupert Goold of the Almeida Theatre. Instead it feels an awful lot like the sumptuous but sedate My Week with Marilyn, another BBC Films biopic of an American starlet in post-war London that was simply straining itself to earn Oscar nods. Production designer Kave Quinn and costume designer Jany Temime do a sterling job of recreating a late 1960s London that feels by turns swinging and solid, but the screenplay by Tom Edge; reshaping Peter Quilter’s play and fleshing out Judy’s mistreatment by Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordery in a highly creepy performance perhaps informed by Harvey Weinstein); only occasionally reaches high notes of emotion or insight. On the whole proceedings are quite dull.

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October 1, 2019

Judy

Renee Zellweger goes all in to win an Oscar playing troubled star Judy Garland in her last public concerts before her early death in 1969.

The finances of Judy Garland (Zellweger) are perpetually in a state of vague distress. When she is forced to house her children at the home of their father Sidney (Rufus Sewell), after her hotel releases her suite, she finds herself accepting a five week engagement in London over Christmas 1968 to try and raise some quick cash. Impresario Delfont (Michael Gambon), his fixer Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley), and bandleader Burt (Royce Pierreson) are unprepared for the ramshackle performer who arrives, despite her reputation. Adding to the volatility is her unwise romance with much younger musician Mickey (Finn Wittrock), who she meets at a party where daughter Liza (Gemma-Leah Deveraux) reveals she is about to star in a musical. Such breaks are beyond Judy at this point; her voice and body failing after years of substance abuse, these concerts become a swansong.

Judy isn’t as colourful as one might hope from director Rupert Goold of the Almeida Theatre. Instead it feels an awful lot like the sumptuous but sedate My Week with Marilyn, another BBC Films biopic of an American starlet in post-war London that was simply straining itself to earn Oscar nods. Production designer Kave Quinn and costume designer Jany Temime do a sterling job of recreating a late 1960s London that feels by turns swinging and solid, but the screenplay by Tom Edge; reshaping Peter Quilter’s play and fleshing out Judy’s mistreatment by Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordery in a highly creepy performance perhaps informed by Harvey Weinstein); only occasionally reaches high notes of emotion or insight. On the whole proceedings are quite dull.

It’s hard not to think the film-makers in focusing on shows that lurched to shambolic collapse are trying to pull a Woodstock and valorise what was really a failure.

2/5

October 24, 2012

Stitches

Conor McMahon, writer/director of cult Irish zombie flick Dead Meat, teams up with stand-up Ross Noble for a goretastic horror-comedy about a revenant killer clown.

Noble plays Richard ‘Stitches’ Grindle, a jaded clown working the children’s birthday circuit. A particularly tough crowd of 10 year olds sees a regular gig, thru a series of unfortunate events, end in Stitches’ accidental and very grisly death at the hands of the unruly children. Six years later the children have grown up, even more obnoxious than their younger selves; with the exception of the traumatised birthday boy Tommy (Tommy Knight) and his old crush Kate (Gemma Leah Deveraux). Tommy’s mother travels for work just as his birthday looms, and so his friend Vinny bullies Tommy into holding his first birthday party since Stitches died. But gathering the other guests from that fatal party (boisterous Richie, camp Bulger, bullying Paul, and bitchy Sarah) on the anniversary inevitably summons up the vengeful ghost of Stitches…

Stitches’ opening will produce some deep cultural confusion. Stitches and Tommy are both English, as is Stitches’ girlfriend and Tommy’s mother, so you assume the film is set in England. But no, a licence plate reveals that it’s set in Wicklow, but no one makes any reference to stray accents; before a later reference to a girl being easier to get into than community college adds another layer of baffling cultural colonisation. Noble is a supporting presence for a surprisingly lengthy time leaving Knight to carry the film alongside Deveraux’s caring heroine. Both are fine but structural conventions allow them to be overshadowed by wonderfully colourful supporting performances from Roisin Barron as the verbally abrasive and physically abusive mean girl Sarah, and Tommy Cullen as Kate’s narcissistic boyfriend Dan who has something of the young Matthew Goode about his swagger.

Noble, the former circus stilt-walker, would seem perfect casting as a diabolical undead clown, but while he delivers some good one-liners amidst the mayhem, too often you feel his improv comedy skills are being subordinated to a not particularly sharp script. McMahon and his co-writer (and fellow IADT trained editor) David O’Brien seem happy to just insert shlock moments into a structurally sound horror. Brains being scooped out, arms ripped off, intestines being pulled out, heads kicked off, and eyes being poked out; all occur in slow motion, usually in close up, and are lingered on in loving and farcically gory detail. But, bar a truly delirious piece of practical magic involving a pump and an inflating head, this parade of gross-out shlock never quite hits the mark. The intentions are good, there’s even an in-joke cameo from a Dead Meat star as an archetypal teacher, but horror-comedy’s a trickier proposition than comedy-horror.

Stitches is competent work that is quite amusing in places, but it doesn’t match up to a top-notch horror-comedy like Slither.

2/5

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