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.

Listen here:

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

September 29, 2019

From the Archives: Death Proof

A dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up an exasperated review of a Tarantino film I think of as Riding in Cars with Bores.

Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) uses his death-proofed stunt car to murder a group of women in Texas. When he attacks again though, in Tennessee, he meets his match in the form of two stuntwomen…

I was a Taranteenie. I was 13 when Pulp Fiction came out which put me slap bang in the demographic thus labelled by The Sunday Times. My secondary school life in an all-boys school was filled with people reciting Tarantino dialogue, talking about the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs (which no one had actually seen) and listening to his super-cool soundtrack albums. Thing is Tarantino disappeared after Jackie Brown in 1998 and damn if us Taranteenies didn’t grow up. For fractured non-linear approaches to narrative we turned to Christopher (Memento) Nolan. For self-consciously stylish long takes and fixed camera directing we looked to M Night (Unbreakable) Shyamalan. When Quentin reappeared with Kill Bill we realised that he hadn’t grown up too, he’d regressed. Death Proof has so little emotional maturity it’s scary to think that a 44 year old man thinks it’s worth his while directing something this lightweight.

The first hour of this film is utterly appalling. Imagine being trapped somewhere and having to overhear three girls conduct a preposterously boring conversation about sex while one of them infuriates the others with irritatingly obscure pop culture references. Tarantino’s foot fetish has a justification in the context of this being a parody of exploitation cinema, and it does pay off with a wonderfully gory FX shot, but it’s starting to become just an annoyance, like his other trademarks, and not a little bit creepy. The only good thing about this first story is the slow introduction of Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike as once again Tarantino coaxes a revelatory performance from a faded star. The story of Mike’s second murder spree is much better as Zoe Bell steals the show…as herself (oh the in-jokery). Stuntman Mike is utterly unprepared to have the tables turned on him by two stuntwomen and the car-chases that follow are undeniably thrilling and go some way to redeeming the waste of Tarantino’s talent that we have hitherto endured.

Tarantino’s 2005 CSI special (effectively an 80 minute TV movie) shows he still has talent to burn, but only when he’s challenged. For CSI he had to tell a story in 80 minutes, on a low budget and within censorship restraints, and his response was suspenseful and emotional. Given licence by the Weinsteins to do whatever he wanted he has created here a folly that the term self-indulgent can’t even begin to adequately condemn. If you want to see everything that this film does not feature; female characters who are witty, assertive, sexy, smart as hell and tough as nails and don’t come across as just sad male fantasy; I seriously suggest that instead of going to Death Proof that you just tune into RTE 2 on Thursday nights and watch Veronica Mars.

2/5

May 22, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XII

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.

Films of the Decade, already?!

I was horrified when Paul Fennessy sent me a Films of the Decade list that had appeared on the World of Reel website on the 30th of April. April?! Can we not start obsessing over this until 1st of December?! I am dreading the end of the year and all these fevered lists and attendant arguments enough as it is without having them blunder into my consciousness in early summer. As I’ve said before on this topic, way back in October 2009, lists are generally easy when you don’t think about them too much. I found it far easier in 1998 to make a list of the single film that defined each decade from the 1930s to the 1990s than I did in 2009 to make a Top 10 Films of the 2000s list. The agonising questions from October 2009 are equally valid now I feel: Should you simply pick the films you liked best? Or should it be films that in some (in)tangible way summed up the decade? If you choose the latter route do you pick films that were influential over later, better films that needed the precursor’s breakthrough? (Do you pick films you didn’t like/really see because they’re ‘important’?) Do you load the list with films that only 100 people in the country ever saw? Is it permissible to introduce quotas for foreign films to get round the popular imagination being defined by America? Do you even need to get round that? Does a film need to be set in its own decade or can it define it by allegory? Do you try to be comprehensive by shoe-horning in as many genres as possible? If a genre dominates a decade does it deserve disproportionate weighting? I ended up thinking that films which have stood the test of time and have matured deserves place most. I then offered a Top 20 Films of the 2000s. I’m not going to do that now because this is May. I don’t think much of World of Reel’s list, not least because it includes an entire season of a TV show as a film of the decade. I’d like to revise my 2000s list please to include season 2 of The West Wing on that idiotic basis.

 

Oscar bait is temporary, Benny Goodman is forever

I was ecstatic watching this advertisement with my Dad in February to note that Benny Goodman’s rendition of ‘Sing Sing Sing’ has now lost all association with dire 2011 movie The Artist to which it was forcibly yoked during its prolonged Oscar-campaign. Benny’s swing has ascended once again to the realm of glorious music, and The Artist has been mercifully forgotten as the inept worthless gimmick it was. Seriously, when was the last time you heard anyone rave about that movie? Stitching together elements of A Star is Born and Singin’ in the Rain while using Vertigo’s music to generate emotion a film about a four year sulk could not manage on its own is not to be applauded. Mugging in the way silent movie actors had to because of the lack of sound is not to be applauded anymore than someone forgetting how to paint with perspective. ‘Ah, they don’t make ’em like they used to.’ What?! This film was far too popular with critics because it massaged a peculiar obscurantist spot, that one which is akin to someone saying theatre was never as good after they took the masks off. This film was always a spurious silent movie, and nobody cares to remember they were made to root for this film as a feel good throwback by the fallacious aggressive marketing of one H. Weinstein.

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