Talking Movies

February 21, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLIV

As the title suggests, so forth.

“What a shocking cheap hat!”

Deja vu, all over again. Two years on from ‘Beast from the East’, as we suffer thru a month of storms every weekend, once again if you walk into Dundrum Town Centre and mooch through Penneys or M&S you will find woolly hats and rugged scarves and thermal gloves being shovelled out at the door at knockdown prices. You will find shorts, bikinis, polo shirts, and sun-hats as the new in thing to wear. The clothes on sale in our shops have, somehow, as always, changed seasons well in advance of the actual weather. We have just had the coldest days of the winter and are expecting more of the foulest and yet the clothes offered as just in at this moment will be unwearable until June. I need an economist to explain to me how this makes sense – do people really buy their wardrobes that far in advance? – doesn’t anybody suddenly need a new scarf or a heavier hat in February or March when it snows after the shops have shifted seasons? – do the shops not take a commercial beating selling clothes that won’t be needed for another five months? What’s going on, in short, and why does this happen season after season? In the meantime I shall be pulling on a trapper hat much like the one pictured above, bought at an outrageous discount last week at H&M.

The Gibraltar Gambit

Previously I’ve suspected there was a recurring Google Calendar alert somewhere in the Spanish civil service. This reminded them to enrage Michael Howard into threatening to cable out the entire Mediterranean fleet by periodically asking for Gibraltar back. Now it seems the Greeks are getting in on the act, if the return of the Elgin marbles really has been tacked onto proposals for trade talk tactics between Britain and the remaining members of the EU. Where might this all end? Yield Rockall? There are so many grievances that so many countries have with the lonely island that the list could get truly absurd. Mind you would it really be any more absurd than the American list topped by “– and agree to have all your chickens dumped in chlorine like they’ve been to a low-rent swimming pool”?

A bold artistic decision to ensure the future of the show … that cancels the future of the show

I feel like this is a corollary to the previous series of entries on attempts to make mucho money by terrible artistic decisions that ended up making predictably terrible art and then hysterically nada money. It appears Hulu have absolutely no plans whatsoever to continue their revival of Veronica Mars. Critics lauded the bold artistic decision creator Rob Thomas considered necessary to ensure the future of the show, but die-hard fans excoriated that bold artistic decision, which they saw as simply dynamiting Veronica Mars. And as the die-hard fans were the only reason a cancelled Zeros network show had such a curious afterlife in the first place this was a move that backfired spectacularly; quelle surprise but the brickbats of the fans matters more to Hulu than the garlands of the critics. I will probably never bother with the Hulu season because I don’t want to see the final five minutes. (And I had been intrigued to see JK Simmons, who was so good in Thomas’ unseen show Party Down, enter the world of Neptune.) I don’t check out of this universe lightly; I have both of the Veronica Mars novels and all three seasons on DVD. When I had to introduce Elliot Harris to Veronica Mars from scratch, before catching the Veronica Mars movie in the one cinema in Dublin showing it, I sent him six clips I thought would give him a flavour of the show and act as a ‘Previously on Veronica Mars…’  I told him if he only watched one that Logan’s ‘Epic Love’ speech to Veronica was by far the most important one. Rob Thomas’ justification for throwing that speech, that dynamic in the morgue bin was that for the show to continue as a noir mystery Veronica had to be a lone wolf. Well… offhand the existence of The Thin Man and Moonlighting suggests otherwise. Maybe simply have Logan appear from time to time, as the service permits, as in the novels. Anything but blow him to blazes so that the show can continue in limited runs whenever Thomas and Kristen Bell can fit it in their schedules. If nobody is left who wants to see the show then your damn schedules could be free enough to accommodate a network season but it doesn’t matter.

Starbucks doubles down in Dundrum

To return to Dundrum Town Centre and the laws of economics puzzling me, how the devil is Starbucks returning to its previous haunt by the Mill Pond? This was the smaller of their two Dundrum Town Centre establishments, and shared its space with Mao. After some mysterious happening an eternal refurbishment unsurprisingly led to the departure of both Starbucks and Mao and a dizzying array of temporary tenants (bean bags, arcade games, net cafe, Italian furniture) before now Starbucks has returned, to take just not its old slot, but Mao’s slot too!

iZombie, oDear

After two years or so of a break since finishing season 2 of iZombie I found myself utterly lost when attempting to start season 3 and so went back to the pilot and re-watched the show, enjoying it greatly. And then, as I finally made my way into new episodes, a sinking feeling started to take hold. Season 3 of iZombie is not all that great… There are several threads one could point to that unravelled the fabric of the show: the utter idiocy of the Peyton/Blaine/Ravi storyline, the utter idiocy of Major’s hooking up with a clearly unhinged Chaos Killer groupie, the utter idiocy of Ravi spilling the entire secret history of the zombie plague to a reporter unawares. All revolved around characters behaving like complete morons at odds with their previous actions on the show. The wider conspiracies surrounding the activities of Fillmore Graves and Zombie Truthers never quite exerted the magnetic pull of the Max Rager machinations of the previous season, and this less satisfying arc tended to swamp the case of the week mysteries which themselves became more hit and miss.

Mitt Romney: Profile in Courage

How unexpected. A year and a half ago I was remembering the 2012 election duel between Obama and Romney because of College Humour’s ‘Gangnam Style’ parody video ‘Mitt Romney Style’. At the time I referred to the robotic Romney, who surprised Obama in the first debate by having had a Reagan upgrade to the operating software;  beginning with a perfectly executed joke that left Obama so stunned that he staggered thru that entire debate punch-drunk. I had seen Romney’s sons appear on Conan O’Brien’s TBS show and had mused that George Romney’s charisma had skipped a generation. Of late, however, the interviews Romney has been giving to the Atlantic‘s McKay Coppins suggests a looser more devil-may-care character has emerged in the last job he will ever have. Eighteen months ago I mused that everyone had been glad that the RNC intimated to Romney that he should stop seeking to run again in 2016, but what people wouldn’t give now to have had Romney rather than Trump as the GOP candidate in 2016. And now it seems Romney, at eight years distance from his run when it was obligatory to demonise him, is revealing what he might have been like as a President in a crisis – voting his conscience though the heavens fall.

May 31, 2018

From the Archives: The Edge of Love

Another deep dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives reveals an inert biopic of Dylan Thomas that presumably sent Matthew Rhys scurrying back into the comforting arms of well-written television roles.

Keira Knightley stars in a film written by her mother Sharman Macdonald. One hates to toss around words like nepotism but I would be very surprised if another actress would have been so eager to get this project green-lit. Macdonald is an established playwright, The Winter Guest being her most famous work, and director John Maybury previously directed Love is the Devil, another art-house biopic about a self-destructive artist. Sadly this film about poet Dylan Thomas falls far short of his take on painter Francis Bacon. Brothers & Sisters star Matthew Rhys is magnificent casting as the saturnine poet but the film seems to shy away from Thomas’ mile-wide self-destructive streak until near the end when it belatedly remembers that the man could be a total bastard and that he dedicatedly drank himself to death before he turned 40.

The Edge of Love begins promisingly with a vividly impressionistic take on the horrors of the Blitz, all soft-focus reds and blacks. There are some visual echoes of Atonement though which really hurt this film which lacks the emotional power and crisp scripting of that masterpiece. Keira Knightley (with a passable Welsh accent) is Vera Phillips, an ex-girlfriend of Dylan from Wales, who randomly meets him in war-torn London. A messy love quadrangle quickly forms with Dylan, his wife Caitlin, (Sienna Miller acquitting herself well once she dispenses with a half-attempted Irish accent) and Matthew Killick, a standout performance by Cillian Murphy as a stolid English soldier who is the voice of reason amidst all these selfish Celtic lunatics.

Sadly once Killick leaves to serve in Greece the film’s momentum goes with him. The script becomes so dramatically inert that you recoil in horror on hitting the hour mark as you realise there’s still another 50 minutes to go, which alternate between the incredibly boring and the absolutely infuriating. How you can possibly take the life of Dylan Thomas, add abortion, attempted murder and infidelity and induce yawns is beyond me. The best you can say about The Edge of Love is that it is ‘interesting’, by which of course one means that it assembles a number of good ideas and then leaves them lying around waiting for a coherent script. Killick’s shell-shock for instance is ‘explored’ through ridiculous scenes like him slapping a preposterously irritating woman from the BBC who sneers at his war service.

This film fails miserably at getting inside Dylan Thomas’ head no matter how many lines of poetry it has Rhys sonorously mumble in voiceover. It never really gets to grips with the tormented marriage of Dylan and Caitlin and in fact it really only succeeds, intermittently, in portraying female friendship forged by a connection to a charismatic but repellent man. And that really isn’t enough to sustain nearly 2 hours of cinema.

2/5

October 24, 2013

Ender’s Game

Wolverine director Gavin Hood redeems himself substantially with this sci-fi effort, but Ender’s Game, despite its celebrated source novel, is still some way from being a film that you simply must rush out to see.

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Ender (Asa Butterfield) is a twelve year old at space academy who shows such promise that Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) cuts him from the programme; to provoke a violent attack by a bully. Ender returns home to his empathetic sister (Abigail Breslin) and psychotic brother. However, his vicious response to bullying was what Graff hoped to see and Ender is dispatched to Battle-School to hone his potential to become the next Julius Caesar. There he quickly falls foul of his older classmates because of his superior intelligence. After clashing with his classmates, and commanding officer Bonzo (Moises Arias), Ender is given his own war game team. With new lieutenant Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) by his side he succeeds so well that he is promoted to the fleet’s command school bordering the planet of the Formics. The Formics were defeated decades before only by the sacrifice of legendary hero Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). But now their military capabilities have become threatening again…

This is a far slicker outing by writer/director Gavin Hood than his 2009 Wolverine muddle. The CGI work is unusually good, being very crisp looking so that the zero gravity war games are totally convincing. The script, however, is problematic. Far too many major characters are deeply unpleasant. There’s brutally abusive bullies at every level of education, an unhinged brother at home, and the voluble approval of ultraviolent tactics by Graff every step of the way. Hugo star Asa Butterfield’s blue eyes are as fetishised as Daniel Craig’s in Layer Cake, but there’s precious little emotion behind those deadened irises. Ender is a hero that it’s very hard to truly care about. True Grit’s Steinfeld is totally wasted (the script doesn’t ever bother introducing a structural romance with Ender), while Ford and Breslin are mere ciphers. Perhaps it’s not coincidence that the finale recalls The Matrix Reloaded in its subversion of action finales, as anything that recalls Reloaded is doomed.

But then Ender’s Game is a veritable echo chamber of influences. Mazer Rackham defeats the arthropod Formics with Independence Day’s finale. Except Orson Scott Card’s source novel predates it… And so it goes. Deja vu, all over again. How much influence did Card have on that other tale of adults forcing children to be violent, The Hunger Games? But then how much influence did Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers have on Card? Did Card influence Verhoeven’s subversive film of Heinlein’s bug-hunting? I spent far too much time trying to puzzle through the politics of the historical analogies employed by the film. The constant valorisation of ultra-violence as a strategy by Ender is quite troubling, and, I thought very Alexandrian, except that after therefore comparing the factions to Greeks and Persians throughout they turned out to be more Romans and Carthaginians. All of which is probably far too complex anyway given that Harrison Ford actually says Napoleon “conquered the known world.” Ahem…

The high concept of Ender’s Game; teenage children commanding an entire star-fleet while successful adult generals stand aside; never succeeds in making much sense, but despite a worryingly nasty streak it’s a solid movie.

3/5

April 5, 2011

Politik

“Gil! Learn to be more politic…” – CSI: LV.

The hysteria of the general election caused me to write a few political tweets, satirical and serious, so here’s a brief excursion by the blog proper into the political realm.

The Vision Thing

I said that Fianna Fail had a vision of society, switched it for a vision of an economy, and now were left bereft of any vision at all. DeValera undoubtedly had a vision of the society he wanted to created, and tried to bend the world to fit it, as the presence of a Gaeltacht in Meath will attest. Whether you agreed with that vision or not, you could hardly deny its sincerity, and after all Fine Gael’s precursors had introduced censorship so their vision was hardly dissimilar. Lemass took the bold, almost insane step, of disavowing all he’d worked for over thirty years and starting again by replacing Dev’s vision of an ideal society with a more pragmatic vision of a functioning economy. This vision worked for a while, fell apart because of two oil-crises and the inability of politicians, of all parties, to figure out that spending cannot be infinite, and taxes cannot be raised to 58% on the average punter before he just leaves. Savage treatment got it working again and Fianna Fail took the credit, but after having become the natural party of government because of their economic credentials they then encouraged a bubble whose bursting blew out the tyres on the entire country rather than just the building sector. Having comprehensively set fire to their trump card, they’re now bereft of any vision. What exactly does Fianna Fail stand for? Who knows? Admittedly Fine Gael had the same problem not so long ago but it’s always a more pressing question when in opposition. Vision is a rarity in Irish politics. Fine Gael had a vision in the 1960s (quickly discarded) and in the 1980s (doggedly attempted) but right now their vision is not entirely clear. Fianna Fail are in the same position the Republicans found themselves in from 1932-1952, nobody will put them in charge again. But, unlike the Republicans, they don’t still have muscle at a lower level, they have been obliterated. And unlike the Republicans they don’t have the luxury of a two-party system allowing them the time and space to find some way to rebuild their credibility; as the Republicans decided to invoke socialism at home and communism abroad to paint the Democrats as elitist and unpatriotic before finally in the 1980s speciously managing to regain the mantle of being the economically ‘responsible’ party. Task: Vision, Time: Five Years…

Balanced Government

A man who has three lemons in one pocket and two in the other and throws away one lemon to have two in each pocket is balanced; if asked what he plans to do with all these lemons, he’ll answer ‘lemonade, obviously…’ The idea promulgated by Labour in their absolute panic during the last weeks of the election that one should vote for them in order to ensure a balanced government is much like saying a man with five lemons in one pocket and two oranges in the other should throw away three lemons in order to be balanced; ask him what he plans to do with this odd assortment of fruits, he’ll answer ‘God only knows, but it sure won’t taste nice…’ Incoherence in government is incoherence, not balance, and a government that apparently has no idea exactly what its second Finance minister is actually going to do doesn’t appear to have got off to a particularly cogent start. A Fine Gael majority government supported by the Fianna Fail rump would not only have been a delicious re-run of the Tallaght Strategy with the blame for screwing things up reversed, but might have given us all a chance to finally have a coherent left/right divide in this country. Not that two-party systems are particularly brilliant, but because the lack of first past the post and the inanity of our constituency and voting systems makes anything with a degree of clarity preferable. But then perhaps Irish politicians fear that precisely because then clarity would be demanded of them. HCG Matthew’s reading of Gladstone’s political genius is that he was able to find causes that managed to unite warring Radicals, Peelites, Whigs, and Liberals into something approaching a purposeful Liberal party – which then usually collapsed at the end of its governing term until the next cause was found to pull it together. Can any one party really sum up all the varied attitudes that make up a single individual’s response to the world? No, absolutely not. All parties are a poor substitute for the sort of direct democracy that a combination of Australia’s compulsory voting and direct secure internet referendums could produce. But short of such a space-age Athenian democracy in action it would be nice to have some sort of coherent oppositional ideological divide between two dominant parties rather than have to mumble embarrassedly about a civil war.

Club Med/The Piigs

As with the credit crunch and the housing crash anybody with an eye in their head could have foreseen the current difficulties of the Eurozone. Back in 1999 UCD Economics Professor Rodney Thom was heavily critical of the admission of what were then dubbed the Club Med countries; Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain; into the European Monetary Union. They were countries that had great difficulty in balancing budgets and maintaining fiscal restraint or stable currencies, and guess what, they’re, with the addition of Ireland, the countries now monikered The Piigs. In other words they were pegged as troublemakers before the Euro was even physically introduced and they’ve proven to be troublemakers. The reasons the markets are relentlessly targeting the Piigs is because the markets are working out the inexorable logic of economics not politics. The Piigs should never have been part of the Eurozone in the first place. Gordon Brown created economic tests for joining the Euro which he knew would never be fulfilled but in a very real way all he did was expose the stupidity at the heart of the project; which was privileging political aspirations over economic reality. A common currency area will work if each region’s trade is predominantly with the others involved, and if their economic cycles are synched, otherwise it will be ruinous. It was always obvious that France, Germany and the Benelux countries were admirably suited economically, but that no one else should join for economic reasons; and they didn’t, they joined for political reasons – the insane need to be seen as ‘good Europeans’. Ireland is now ruined largely because it gave away the power to set its own interest rates. The ECB kept interest rates farcically low compared to what a responsible Irish central bank would have hiked them to in order to cripple the housing bubble long before it got to its ultimate supernova status, and in imploding the property sector has taken down everything else. We joined an economic system for political reasons, and were happy to have a round economy ineptly hammered into a square political hole, because we thought it made us look like good troupers in the grand European project. The best thing the Piigs could do now is en masse to impose bank-debt-for-equity-swaps, belatedly leave the ill-suited Eurozone, and loudly point out that economies are too important to be sacrificed to theoretical political models.

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