Talking Movies

May 18, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXII

As the title suggests, so forth.

The End of the Beginning

Today is the first day of Status Vermillion, in which we are permitted to socialise outdoors, if we comport ourselves like the Dave Brubeck Quartet after Paul Desmond has blown up at Joe Morello for drumming too damn loud and Dave Brubeck and Eugene Wright are both keeping a wary distance. And a few days ago Movies@Dundrum revealed a sketch of their plans for August 10th, the red letter day on which cinemas here will re-open. None of the studios want to suffer a tent-pole collapsing because audiences are scared to congregate, although rumour has it Christopher Nolan had to be talked off the ledge by the WB on letting Tenet try that stunt, so there will be a dearth of new releases. Movies@Dundrum intends therefore to revive The Lord of the Rings as well as The Little Shop of Horrors alongside more recent crowd-pleasers A Star is Born and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, entice the kids with The Iron Giant, Fantastic Beasts and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and bring back A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood which was coming to the end of its run when all this unpleasantness began and its star famously came down with the coronavirus. Will this initial comfort programming work? Will the lure of seeing the battle of Helm’s Deep on the big screen once again lure me out of hiding? I don’t know. Certainly not at this remove, when August 10th when all this ends is a date further away from now than is March 13th when all this began. I also don’t know how sustainable a cinema run as in the panicky days of mid-March with mandatory empty seats every other seat can possibly be. In the unlikely event we make it to August 10th on the ridiculous road-map laid out by the ridiculous rejected government it will still only be the end of the beginning when it comes to living with this plague.  (Oh look, I paraphrased Churchill.)

Tarantino and the obscurantist imperative

I had the misfortune last week to watch Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies last week on Sony Movies. Why did I put myself thru this agony? Because they included Sharon Tate’s turn in The Wrecking Crew, as featured prominently in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, and as curated by Quentin Tarantino last summer for Sony Movie Classics for his Ten Swinging Sixties picks:

  • Gunman’s Walk (1958)
  • Battle of the Coral Sea (1959)
  • Arizona Raiders (1965)
  • The Wrecking Crew (1968)
  • Hammerhead (1968)
  • Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
  • Cactus Flower (1969)
  • Easy Rider (1969)
  • Model Shop (1969)
  • Getting Straight (1970)

What is the point of getting upset about audiences not realising that Leonardo DiCaprio has replaced Steve McQueen in a real scene from The Great Escape when you indulge in this sort of too cool for film school buffoonery? To realise that DiCaprio has digitally been stood in for McQueen you would need to have seen The Great Escape, but it’s a big brash blockbuster, so if famous film directors never recommend it why would you watch it when you could get kudos from them for instead watching something nobody’s ever heard of? Tarantino’s obscurantist imperative comes back to haunt him… He had the opportunity to showcase 10 films from the Columbia back catalogue and these are what he chose? If you want proof of how obscurantist they are just consider that Mike Myers clearly lifted the Fembots for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery from a brassiere sub-machine gun modelled for Dean Martin in one of the Matt Helm movies. Dino even makes an inferior calibre joke to Dr Evil. Myers knew he could get away with this, because nobody would remember seeing the conceit bungled 30 years earlier. These ten picks are for the most part not fondly remembered movies, because for the most part these are not good movies. Dean Martin is far too old for the part of Matt Helm, the promotion of his music and dissing of Sinatra is self-indulgent rather than amusing, the first film exemplifies the sheer dullness of the series with an endless scene of Dean discussing the plot with a woman sans any jokes, and, above all, his four movies are creepily sleazy in their depiction of women and actually have less self-awareness and sense of humour than the Bond films they are supposedly sending up. The only 1960s Bond that comes close to them comes after them: the tasteless dinner scene in OHMSS.

February 7, 2020

20:20 on 2000: Part II

On the 3rd of February 2000 The Beach was released…

It’s hard to overstate the hype attached to it; DiCaprio’s first choice following the success of Titanic, after American Psycho had hoved into view and then hoved out again. The novel itself was a zeitgeist-surfing cause celebre, as much a part of the wider Britpop moment as 1960s nostalgia and This Life.

Did The Beach deserve the pithy review given by an acquaintance at the time, “It started off sh*te, and went downhill from there”? Probably not.

But that’s a verdict only possible once removed from the bubble of the initial release.

January 19, 2020

Top Performances of 2019

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Michelle Quance/VARIETY/Shutterstock (10404629aa)
Noah Baumbach and Adam Driver
Variety Studio at Toronto International Film Festival, Presented by AT&T, Day 3, Canada – 08 Sep 2019

August 18, 2019

Notes on Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

Director Quentin Tarantino’s eleventh movie was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

This movie, like so much post-Pulp Fiction Tarantino, is aggravating. It’s bloated running time of 2 hours 40 minutes is completely unnecessary and could be trimmed; first off by getting rid of the preposterous amount of driving while listening to the radio, dancing around to music at parties, and dancing around listening to vinyl at home. All of which music is present simply to allow Tarantino curate his obscure cuts for 1969 music. You’re not going to be troubled by The Beatles, The Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival or The Who here. Secondly you could save time by cutting all the material involving Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate because QT has no interest in giving Robbie anything substantive to do as Tate or in depicting the gruesome Manson Family murders which allegedly this film was meant to revolve around. Charles Manson makes one appearance, and there’s an extended sequence with Brad Pitt visiting the Manson Family at home, but that’s not what this film is about – it’s 1960s Birdman. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are at the top of their game as fading star Rick Dalton and his loyal stunt double Cliff Booth; DiCaprio playing an incapable character, and Pitt a very capable one.

Listen here:

August 8, 2019

From the Archives: The Hoax

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives finds Richard Gere ghostwriting Howard Hughes’ autobiography, but as he’s actually faking it all dealing with his publishers and Hughes’ lawyers is going to require a lot more ingenuity than his usual plotlines.

“The book of the century!” is what Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) promises his publishers after they reject the manuscript of his latest novel. Sure enough once he’s had time to construct an outrageous lie, he delivers the sensational goods in the shape of the authorised memoirs of Howard Hughes, as ghosted by Irving…

Set in 1971 this comedy-drama sees Clifford and friend and fellow writer Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina) keep on digging ever deeper holes for themselves as they try to write the explosive memoirs of a man they’ve never met while simultaneously fabricating evidence that Hughes really has been spilling his life story to them to convince the lawyers to hand over outrageous amounts of money to them. This film should have been a hilarious 90 minute comedy. Its best moments belong to the hi-jinks of that grifter sub-genre, as Gere and Molina steal files from the airforce and illegally photo Senate testimony to nail Hughes’ speech patterns and business tactics. Director Lasse Hallstrom though, for some reason best known to himself, decides to attempt dark and dramatic. Gere becomes increasingly paranoid and delusional as he immerses himself in the character of Howard Hughes to write the ‘memoir’.

And that is where the wheels fall off the wagon. Lasse Hallstrom is almost the text-book example of a talented European director who goes to Hollywood and settles into a career of unremitting mediocrity. Following on from such fare as The Cider House Rules and Chocolat Hallstrom once again produces a film that is offensive by dint of its sheer blandness. There’s nothing wincingly wrong with this film, it just screams of a lost opportunity, it could have been so much better. It’s at least half an hour too long and becomes increasingly uncertain as to whether there’s meant to be any laughs at all. Richard Gere is, you guessed it, bland…as is the usually reliable Alfred Molina. Julie Delpy is incredibly irritating in a ‘sexy’ cameo as Gere’s mistress while Marcia Gay Harden’s role as his wife is weakly written and her wavering accent (I think it’s meant to be Swedish but it keeps hitting British) only adds to the sense of drift of the film. Down the credits Eli Wallach is criminally wasted, his great talent thrown away on just one scene, but at least the godlike Stanley Tucci gets to have some fun playing the arrogant chairman of McGraw-Hill publishers.

Scorsese at his worst is better than Hallstrom being bland, and the shadow of The Aviator hangs heavy over this film. Hoax seems to assume we know nothing about Howard Hughes but we’ve seen Leonardo DiCaprio (however hamfistedly) portray his descent into reclusive paranoia. Hughes, by being humanised, has become tragic. The fate of the cardboard characters in this film aren’t tragic at all, it is only the comic machinations that hold the attention, and once they’re ditched so is our interest.

2/5

January 9, 2019

Fears: 2019

The Death and Life of John F Donovan

We have waited long,

Too long, for Dolan anglais,

Now we fear for Snow

 

Captain Marvel

Brie Larson arrives

To save the day, 90s day.

Nick Fury’s phone friend

 

Dumbo

Tim Burton is back

Pointless ‘live action’ remake

This will not fly high

 

Avengers: Endgame

Free at last, says Bob.

Downey Jr’s contract’s up!

Snap away, Thanos!

Godzilla: King of Monsters

Um, may not contain

Godzilla… going by last

bait and switch movie

 

Men in Black: International

Thor plays dumb, again

Reunites with Valkyrie

But where is Will Smith?

 

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

It’s X-3 remade,

with little context for Jean,

who cares? C.G.I!

 

The Lion King

Like the classic one

But now CGI drawings

Why not just re-release?…

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

QT does Manson.

Bad taste abounds, but also

Pitt, Leo, et al

 

New Mutants

Fox does X-horror.

X-Men that is, obscure ones.

They’re affordable

 

It: Chapter Two

They’re all grown up now.

But fear never does grow old.

Yet may be retread?

 

Joker

Phoenix: Mistah J.

Dark take, from Hangover man.

I’m Still Here: Part two?

The Goldfinch

Dickens in New York,

Bret Easton Ellis Vegas,

Tartt’s chameleon.

 

Zombieland 2

Hey, the gang is back!

But what can they do that’s new?

A needless sequel.

 

Terminator: Dark Fate

Arnie’s back. Again.

All save T-2 not canon.

But Linda H back!

 

Kingsman ‘3’

Hasty sequel two-

Except, gasp, it’s a prequel!

So, but still hasty.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Critics applaud, not

because the thing is done well,

but because it’s done.

 

Star Wars: Episode IX

Fans don’t give a damn…

Who to kill off next? Lando?

Money grubbing sham.

 

Little Women

Gerwig’s needless film-

(Winona forever!)

-version seven. Sigh.

July 13, 2018

Les Femmes d’Inception

The box-office failure of Ocean’s 8 made me think of a conceit from the summer of 2014 when in an argument I recast Inception with all the male roles played by women and vice versa.

inception-ellen-page_Joseph-Gordon-Levitt

Look, I didn’t have anything to do with you not making it into the recasting. And stop asking me questions while I’m trying to handle the plastic explosives.

It wasn’t always possible to cast the same nationality or exact age but I quite liked my recasting then, and think it still stands up now. Try in particular to think about the scene in limbo near the very end where Cobb, Mal and Ariadne are at the table chez Cobb arguing over whether Cobb should stay with Mal in limbo forever.

Replacing Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb – Cate Blanchett

Replacing Joseph Gordon-Levit as Arthur – Lizzy Caplan

Replacing Tom Hardy as Eames – Emily Blunt

Replacing Ellen Page as Ariadne – Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Replacing Ken Watanabe as Saito – Li Gong

Replacing Dileep Rao as the Chemist – Archie Panjabi

Replacing Marion Cotillard as Mal – Mads Mikkelsen

Replacing Cillian Murphy as Fisher – Jodie Whitaker

Replacing Tom Berenger as Uncle Peter – Margo Martindale

Replacing Pete Postlethwaite as Fisher Sr – Eva-Marie Saint

Replacing Lukas Haas as the 1st Architect – Tina Majorino

and

Replacing Michael Caine as Miles – Vanessa Redgrave

February 27, 2016

For Your Consideration, Delaney

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EXT.SPANISH VILLA, LOS ANGELES-DAY

LEONARDO DICAPRIO walks up the drive to the villa and rings the doorbell.

 

TITLE: LAST SATURDAY MORNING IN HOLLYWOOD…

 

While he waits he takes out his phone and scrolls down a list of names.

 

CLOSE ON: Delaney. Agent, friend of Micawber-Mycroft, likes potted plants.

 

DELANEY, an agent to the stars, opens the door, looking more confused than usual.

 

DICAPRIO: Well, good morning, Delaney.

DELANEY: Uh, hello.

DICAPRIO: (Brushing past him) Thanks for inviting me into your home.

DELANEY: I didn’t actually…

 

INT.CHEZ DELANEY-DAY

Delaney shuts the door and turns around to see DiCaprio stroking the leaves of a fern.

 

DICAPRIO: It’s nice to see someone else who appreciates the comfort a good potted plant can give to a residence.

DELANEY: Do you like potted plants too?

DICAPRIO: Absolutely. Absolutely! I knew when Christopher Nolan mentioned that you were a devotee of potted plants that you were my kind of man.

DELANEY: But, I don’t know Christopher Nolan.

DICAPRIO: Pssshh! Nolan knows Micawber-Mycroft, you know Micawber-Mycroft, and so I feel like I really know you. We men of potted plants.

DELANEY: Did Mycroft give you my address?

DICAPRIO: No, I looked it up in the Academy’s records office.

DELANEY: Are they allowed to just give out members’ addresses like that?!

DICAPRIO: Well, it’s not strictly speaking legal. (He gives Delaney a dazzling smile. A smile that understood him just as far as Delaney wanted to be understood, and believed in him as Delaney would like to believe in himself. Delaney blinks.)

DICAPRIO: I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called on you this fine morning.

DELANEY: It had crossed my mind. It’s very early.

DICAPRIO: Early?! Good God man, it’s very nearly 9am. You’re the fourth person I’ve called on this morning. I’d like to talk to you about my Oscar.

DELANEY: You want an Oscar for The Revenant?

DICAPRIO: Yes, I do. Let’s face it. It’s time.

 

DiCaprio turns and walks into the kitchen. Delaney picks up a watering-can from the floor beside the fern, and follows him. He sets to loving work on a potted plant sitting on the kitchen island that DiCaprio is now lounging against.

 

DICAPRIO: We gardeners, we understand the virtue of patience. We understand nourishing. I’ve paid my dues. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? The Aviator. Blood Diamond. The Wolf of Wall Street. Now, like a yucca, I am finally flowering.

DELANEY: But, about The Revenant

DICAPRIO: It was so cold, so bitterly cold, but I acted my heart out. Let me explain something of my method. When I was lighting gunpowder on my face to cauterise a wound how did I convey the appropriate amount of pain?

DELANEY: I don’t know.

DICAPRIO: I thought about how I got beaten for my subtle portrayal of intellectual diffability by Tommy Lee Jones doing his Tommy Lee Jones gruff shtick.

DELANEY: Yes, but about The Revenant

DICAPRIO: When I dragged myself out of the shallow grave I channelled the fury and determination that I felt when, after saving Scorsese from making Nicolas Cage movies and Tibet travelogues, I didn’t win an Oscar for playing a true-life figure struggling with mental health issues.

DELANEY: See, about The Revenant

DICAPRIO: When I had to float down through rapids in freezing water I thought about how with Blood Diamond I’d made a socially responsible film with a socially responsible director, nailed a tricky accent, and still didn’t win an Oscar. What is freezing water compared to that agony?

DELANEY: It’s just that The Revenant

DICAPRIO: When I had to eat raw bison liver I just howled inwardly, thinking if I act like an actual wolf maybe they might regret snubbing me as The Wolf of Wall Street.

DELANEY: Mycroft thinks The Revenant is a Discovery special, not high art!

 

DiCaprio stares at Delaney. Delaney looks at the floor. DiCaprio sighs.

 

DICAPRIO: Look, I didn’t want to bring it up. But, for The Revenant’s big scene I, I… Well look, I’ll just come straight out and say it. I was… ((leans forward to Delaney’s ear, whispers inaudibly).

DELANEY: (recoils in horror) NO!!!! NO!! Really?!

DICAPRIO: Yes, for the sake of art. Whatever it takes to get the Oscar, Delaney, whatever it takes.

DELANEY: Well that changes everything. I’ll have to call Janine right now.

DICAPRIO: Who?

DELANEY: My secretary. She handles all my paperwork.

DICAPRIO: Oh. Well, you call right away. I’ll just sit here. (Smiles at him again.)

DELANEY: (fumbles with his phone) Janine! (beat) Yes, I know today is Saturday, but Leonardo DiCaprio is in my villa. (beat) Really! (beat) He’s doing the Gatsby smile, Janine, I think I can tell whether it’s him or a conman. I want to give him my vote for Best Actor. The poor guy was… (whispers inaudibly).

 

DiCaprio smiles, takes out his phone and starts scrolling down a list of names again

 

DELANEY: What do you mean he wasn’t? He’s sitting right here, I’m telling you, and he says he was.

 

DiCaprio pockets the phone, and leans forward, looking concerned.

 

DELANEY: What difference does it make if the bear was female? What are you trying to say? Is this a trick question to make me commit a micro-aggression? Wait, the bear was CGI? So he couldn’t have been–

 

DiCaprio bolts from the kitchen island, and glad-hands Delaney in passing.

 

DICAPRIO: Delaney, it’s been great catching up. Keep watering that plant now.

January 14, 2016

The Revenant

Birdman director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu goes into the wild with Leonardo DiCaprio for a survival story in the Old West.

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DiCaprio is Glass, a scout for an expedition led by Domhnall Gleeson’s Captain Henry, hunting for animal pelts along the Missouri River. But this puts them into dangerous proximity to ‘the Ree’ aka the Iroquois Nation. After a surprise attack by the Iroquois, who transpire to be on a Searchers mission for their chief’s kidnapped daughter, the pelt party has to literally abandon ship and head into the snowy mountains. Unfortunately that’s when Glass has an intimate encounter with an irate bear. And when the antagonistic Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is left in charge of his care, while the rest of the party trek on, you get the feeling this won’t end well. Sure enough Fitzgerald ditches a not quite dead Glass in a shallow grave. Glass though claws his way out, and clings to life for the sake of revenge…

Not that this is a revenge movie. There’s about 20 minutes of revenge at the end. Prior to that you are watching a survival movie which quite often feels like a feature ‘Old West’ special of Bear Grylls: Born Survivor aka Man Vs Wild. Glass utilises a number of Bear’s tricks: he rearranges stones in a river to catch fish, scoops the guts out of a horse to hide inside its carcass to avoid a storm, uses a flint to light a fire, and even manages to break his fall off a cliff by using a tree. The one unconscionable thing he does is eat snow, which Bear has repeatedly warned against; but as Glass had lost his canteen at that point he probably gets a Mulligan. DiCaprio gives a committed performance, proudly displaying a kinship with Pierce Brosnan when it comes to the grunting and moaning in pain school of physical acting, while Hardy is a good antagonist; his naked self-interest quite probably as correct as Peter Weller’s misgivings in Star Trek Into Darkness.

Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski shot only in natural light in what seems little more than creating unnecessary difficulties in order to prove their worth as artistes. It doesn’t add much to the cinematic experience, these landscapes speak for themselves; indeed it grates when you’re asked to marvel at CGI animals when you’ve seen the real bison and wolves in The Hunt on the BBC. The Iroquois attack is spectacular because of the shooting style, but thereafter the in-DiCapario’s-face affectation becomes annoying. You wish the camera would back up about four feet and jack up another five so you could have some sense of location and action. There is a scene where gravely injured Glass gets down from a cliff in one startling jump-cut, the total lack of establishing shots makes you wonder if he just rolled over the edge…

The Revenant is 2 hours 36 minutes but it flies by. An engaging how-to manual for surviving the Old West ought not be confused with high cinematic art though just because its makers made its shoot a living hell.

3/5

January 8, 2016

Bret Easton Ellis: Page to Screen

Bret Easton Ellis has written seven books, four have been filmed, and two of those have been set in Los Angeles. And yet they are by far the weakest of the Ellis adaptations… Here’s a teaser of my piece for HeadStuff on those adaptations.

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“I stand back from the unfinished canvas. I realise that I would rather spend my money on drugs than on art supplies” – The Rules of Attraction (novel)

While Hollywood was premiering his debut, mangled to appeal to perceived Reaganised teenagers, Ellis published his sophomore novel The Rules of Attraction, in which the influence of Reaganism is present in the Freshmen wanting a weight room and vetoing Louis Farrakhan as a speaker. Camden College life in the 1985 Fall term is narrated in short vignettes by Sean Bateman, Paul Denton, Lauren Hynde, and some secondary characters. An unreliable picture emerges from their overlapping experiences at parties, cafeteria lunches, hook-ups, classes, and trips to town. Denton narrates a secret affair with Bateman, Bateman narrates a minor friendship with Denton, Bateman and Lauren hook up for a disastrous relationship which both record very differently, and Bateman’s secret admirer (who he thought was Lauren) kills herself when he sleeps with Lauren. STDs and abortions are the frequent price of the casual sex merry-go-round of Camden’s never-ending party, and Lauren pays in full. Ellis’ dialogue is a marvel, with one-liners aplenty in concisely captured conversations, while the trademark pop culture references (everybody is listening to Little Creatures) are married to more nuanced narration. Denton, the most self-aware and self-critical character, eschews auditioning for the Shepard play because his life already is one. Spielberg is memorably critiqued for being secular humanism not rigorous modernism, but mostly these intelligent characters play dumb because excess is what’s expected.

“What does that mean? Know me? Know me? Nobody knows anyone else. Ever. You will never, ever know me” – The Rules of Attraction (film)

Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary adapted and directed the novel, and Ellis dubbed the 2002 film “the one movie that captured my sensibility in a visual and cinematic language.” The rise of independent cinema meant Avary could cast James Van Der Beek as Bateman without bowdlerising the novel. The film is alternately shocking (it opens with the rape of Shannyn Sossamon’s Lauren), hilarious (Denton [Ian Somerhalder] and Dick [Russell Sams] perform an entirely improvised dance to ‘Faith’ in their underwear), and romantic (an extended split-screen sequence shows Bateman and Lauren finally meeting at their Saturday morning tutorial). Avary stylishly plays out the climactic ‘End of the World’ party from three viewpoints before winding back to the start of term, and situates Camden in a temporal twilight zone; with broadband internet but a 1980s soundtrack of The Cure and Erasure. Avary radically changes Lauren’s character, by throwing many of her traits onto loose roommate Lara (Jessica Biel). Lauren is now a virgin, waiting for Victor to return from Europe, whereas in the book she waited on Victor while sleeping with Franklyn. From being a mirror of Bateman, who sleeps with her friend while being in love with Lauren, she becomes a Madonna. There’s no longer an alienated road-trip with Sean ending with an abortion, just as Sean’s affair with Denton is reduced to one split-screen scene implicitly showing Denton’s fantasy. Avary’s changes make more violent and consequential Bateman’s successive breaks with Lauren and Denton, when she tells Bateman he will never know her, and he repeats her lines to Denton. Denton and Lauren’s snowy encounter after the ‘End of the World’ party, scored by Tomandandy with electronic eeriness, becomes a haunting summation: “Doesn’t matter anyway. Not to people like him. Not to people like us.” Lauren’s momentary self-condemnatory thought, unsaid in the novel, is spoken and brings things close to Gatsby’s “careless people … they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money.”

Click here to read the full piece on HeadStuff.org.

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