Talking Movies

August 12, 2018

Notes on The Meg

The Meg swims into cinemas this week. Here are some notes on’t, prepared for Dublin City FM’s Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle early this morning.

I have seen the future and it makes Cliff Curtis happy.

The Meg has been rescued from two decades in development hell by Chinese money. They really wanted to see The Stath battle a giant shark. So here we have a Hollywood blockbuster, led by English and Antipodean talent, with Li Bingbing co-star with the Stath, the action taking place off of Shanghai, and, a particular delight this, Li’s screen father taking on the 1950s B-movie staple of the scientist who wants to study the monster not destroy it. Why does this make Cliff Curtis happy? Perhaps it’s being allowed to use his own accent, perhaps it’s shooting near New Zealand, but I have the distinct impression of a continually winking, thumbs-upping, grinning Curtis in his role as friend of the Stath who guilts him into this madness.

June 2, 2018

Jeff GoldBLUMSDAY

It’s back and bigger and better than last year’s debut celebration – Jeff GoldBLUMSDAY returns to the Lighthouse on June 16th.

Sure, some people will be dressing up in Edwardian boater hats and cycling around town pretending they’ve either actually read or read and liked James Joyce’s Ulysses. But some people will be dressing up in whatever feels right to celebrate the hesitations and mumblings of one cinema’s most famously uh-ing actors. Screen 3 is taken over the entire day to showcase the charisma of Goldblum from glorious cameos in blockbusters, to leading roles in dumb action and gory horror, and memorable supporting turns in rich drama and zany nonsense. Can anyone manage to see all 5 films? Someone will try…

(c)Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

The Big Chill

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1983 saw Goldblum and Harry Shearer as memorable comic support in The Right Stuff, but the breakthrough for Goldblum was a plum role in Lawrence Kasdan’s epochal drama. Seven friends from college reunite for a weekend at a South Carolina winter house to attend the funeral of their friend (Kevin Costner) who has killed himself. Kasdan’s opening use of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ to introduce all the characters is taught to aspiring screenwriters, and the richly character driven examination of memory and nostalgia, and enduring friendship, clearly informed 2011’s Little White Lies.

Independence Day

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Roland Emmerich’s meisterwerk: a big dumb blockbuster capable of appealing to two different audiences for two entirely different reasons at the same time, because it is a work of uber-American patriotism, directed by a German. While people in Idaho punch the air, people in Ireland fall off their chairs laughing. Goldblum is the recycling, cycling, chess-playing computer whiz who alone possesses the skills to strike back against the all-conquering aliens. But it will take quips by Will Smith, an epic speech by Bill Pullman, and a dog escaping a wall of flame to pull off.

Thor: Ragnarok

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Thor and Loki come up against their long-lost sister Hela, and get their asses kicked. She takes over Asgard with literally contemptuous ease. And so Thor finds himself pitted against the Hulk in gladiatorial combat on a strange world presided over by an even stranger dictator: The Grandmaster. Is his character name a joking reference to Goldblum’s prowess at chess in Independence Day? Definitely not. But Goldblum is clearly enjoying himself as part of the parade of rambling, improvised tangents as Maori magician Taiki Waititi produces the funniest film Marvel Studios have ever permitted released.

The Fly

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Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis are one of the tallest screen couples ever in David Cronenberg’s 1986 horror re-make, which took Vincent Price’s 1950s original, removed the camp, and added plentiful gore and Cronenberg body horror. Goldblum starts to transform into a giant hybrid of man and fly after an unwise experiment with his new invention goes catastrophically wrong. It’s all very well to be optimistic and aspire to be the first insect politician, but it’s more likely that by the time you are a giant man-fly that you’ll just start melting people’s hands off.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

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What can one say about The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension except that it clearly falls within Hollywood Babylon’s Lighthouse remit of showing trashy films to drunk people. Peter Weller is Buckaroo, Goldblum is New Jersey, and John Lithgow is over the top as the villain. The cinematographer was replaced mid-shoot for making this not look cheap and campy enough. Think on that as you raise an eyebrow, the way Sheriff Lucian Connally raises his hat, at 1984’s most convincing brain surgeon and rock musician.

February 15, 2018

Ecuador plots daring escape for Julian Assange

A drunken Ambassador who is shamelessly junketing in South Korea to support Ecuador’s sole entrant in the Winter Olympics has accidentally let slip an elaborate long-term plan to get Wikileaks founder Julian Assange out of their London embassy without being arrested by the Met, writes B. Bradley Bradlee from Pyeongchang.

Julian Assange met with Noam Chomsky to discuss the ethics of selling the movie rights to his forthcoming escape. Mr Chomsky insisted he be played only by philosopher Sam Harris.

Hugo de Bradias, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed over his seventeenth tequila that the Ecuadorean embassy in London had had enough. “You think we really had a package delivered of mysterious white powder last week? Mystery white powder?! We were just, testing, hiccup, the response time of the Met. All our white powder comes from the Bolivian embassy’s chauffeur. Don’t print that. I’ll deeeny I shaid shit.” Ambassador de Bradias then flourished a piece of paper which was headed ‘Julian Assange Escape Plan’ ™. When pressed on why it was trademarked he mumbled about various copyright infringements, and ‘out-chutzpah’.

The document, which will no doubt be of especial interest to London’s Metropolitan Police, details an elaborate escape plan for Julian Assange – to take place on Hallowe’en night 2018. Ambassador de Bradias laughed so hard he fell off his barstool explaining that the final version of the plan had come together after Assange had gone to bed for the night and the embassy staff stayed up and watched recent episodes of Longmire and Blindspot after Olly Murs had caused chaos on Twitter by implying Oxford Street’s Selfridges had become Nakatomi Plaza with Murs himself as an all-singing all-dancing John McClane.

The plan involves a huge amount of simultaneous Tube platform altercations and minor vandalism on busy shopping streets to divert police resources all over London. The Ecuadorean embassy will be hosting a masked ball for some 10,000 partygoers, flooding the building and grounds. Assange will make a speech from his usual balcony, and get a coughing fit mid-tedious tirade. He will duck inside to get a glass of water, a light bulb will blow, but he will soldier on, giving the speech in half-light. But, and Ambassador de Bradias hooted with glee – this will not be the real Assange.

The real Assange will have disappeared when he went for his glass of water, replaced by a double. At this moment of subterfuge all 10,000 partygoers will flood out of the Ecuadorean embassy; and the mask that everyone is wearing will be revealed to be the face of – Julian Assange. The real Assange escapes because the Met are stretched too thin from all the mayhem to search so many civilians without probable cause. That at least is the plan. Obviously such a massive subterfuge, requiring so much materiel and so many personnel, and, strictly confidential, an outlay for a fake party and gunbattle in Harrods to inspire panicked tweets from an influential useful idiot like Kim Kardashian, would be hugely costly for troubled Ecuador.

When pressed on how the embassy would pay for all this Ambassador de Bradias tapped his nose and alluded to the presence in Pyeongchang of Kim Jong-Un’s diabolical sister, the Livia of North Korea. He was more forthcoming on the plan’s urgency, “This man, Assange, he must go. At first, yay, stick it to the Americans. Now, no. Now he pain in ass. BBC 2 make sitcom about him. What do we get? Nada. We try to interest Aaron Sorkin. Hey, come do research, make movie, Assange he is like Man who come to dinner, no? No. Sorkin, no.” When asked if he was not concerned that Assange, a digital Tom Paine, could end up being beaten with sticks about the kidneys in a floating black site not unlike the prison in Stallone/Schwarzenegger vehicle Escape Plan, the Ambassador gave me a withering look and called for more Ferrero Rocher.

B. Bradley Bradlee is fictional editor emeritus of The New York Times. He is currently covering the Winter Olympics for the German weekly Die Emmerich-Zeitung.

June 27, 2016

5 Dispatches from Independence Day: Resurgence

Independence Day has been all over our TV screens, and the sequel, while entertaining enough, is never going to trouble it in popular esteem or take pride of patriotic bombast place in Roland Emmerich’s oeuvre. Here are observations on it.

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1. Hansoloitis

“It doesn’t need matter that you come back, just how you come back” proclaimed Longmire’s gruff season 4 tag-line; and Independence Day: Resurgence bungles beloved characters as badly as The Force Awakens. It’s always great to see Judd Hirsch, but that doesn’t mean he can literally just drive around in a parallel universe to the forward drive of the plot without seeming superfluous. Vivica A Fox’s return is on every level as baffling as Bill Pullman being given a kind of rousing speech to kind of deliver to Jeff Goldblum with kind of the intention of being overheard by pilots, but only kind of, to the point where even the orchestra string section doesn’t know whether to swell or not. And then there’s the great dilemma: is it okay to kill fan favourites just to ‘raise the stakes’?

2. Turn on the bright lights

If The Bling Ring is the most over-lit film of our times, I have rarely wanted to scream ‘Turn on a bloody light!’ as much as for Independence Day: Resurgence. Markus Forderer aggressively discards the lighting schema established in 1996 by Karl Walter Lindelaub. This is possibly Emmerich’s murkiest film since Ueli Steiger hid Godzilla in night, rain, and shadow, and for no very clear reason. It hides scale in the African scenes, muddies action within the alien mothership, and gives the impression that commands are issuing from a bunker with a half-capacity generator.

3. Practical Magic

It is startling to see the practical VFX in the original Independence Day. Aliens that are CGI creations in Independence Day: Resurgence are costumes and puppets in the original. It’s odd to think that Independence Day by dint of being released in 1996 still had regard for tangible reality in blockbuster visuals; models of the White House et al blowing up mingled with real people and cars being yanked about on wires. And now, no, now we mostly get the same ‘awe-inspiring’ CGI as X-Men: Apocalypse. It is of course probably impossible to depict a city being ripped into the air by the gravity of a passing spaceship using models. But even trying and failing to get it all would sure have more impact than watching actors do their ‘amazed at the storyboard for the shot’ expression.

4. ‘Baby’

Bret Easton Ellis lamented that the growing importance of Chinese cinema audiences was leading to a quiet purging of gay characters from blockbusters. He feared supporting characters, like Harvey Fierstein in Independence Day, would be edited out by notes with an eye on the Chinese market, and gay characters, while happily surfing the zeitgeist in television, would disappear from American blockbusters. But Roland Emmerich, while pushing Chinese products and heroic Chinese characters, also reveals that Brent Spiner and John Storey’ Drs Okun and Isaacs are a gay couple. Almost entirely via body language and the word ‘baby’, as if chuckling that he might hoodwink the Chinese censor by insisting they’re just work colleagues, the censor has imagined something that’s not there in translation.

5. Funny haha

Aside from the unintentional hilarity, pointed out to me by John Healy, of cold fusion weapons, this isn’t very funny. Goldblum’s nods to Emmerich trademarks lack pizzaz, and new characters make little impression without memorable zingers. Emmerich co-wrote with trusted collaborators Dean Devlin and James Vanderbilt, and James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright (who starred in White House Down, in which everything paid off). How did writers so attuned to blockbuster structure under-nourish humour and over-complicate plot?

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