Talking Movies

July 27, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XVIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Phase IV

FilmFour are showing Phase IV, Saul Bass’ singular movie as director, very late next Friday night. So late it’s technically Saturday morning at 2:20am. But it’s well worth watching. Mayo Simon, who also scripted the sequel to Westworld and The Man from Atlantis in the 1970s, provides the screenplay very reflective of its time. 20 years after classic creature feature Them! where the ants were scary for their size these ants are scary for their smarts, and the product not of atomic anxiety but burgeoning green consciousness. Them!’s practical monsters are replaced by wildlife photographer’s Ken Middleham’s stellar close-up photography of real ants. Who knows whether FilmFour are showing the version which restores Saul Bass’ original trippy finale, but the journey to it is wonderful as scientists under siege in their laboratory start to suffer paranoia and panic as ants seemingly become intelligent and aggressive. Michael Murphy as the naive idealistic scientist is unrecognisable from his Manhattan jaded sophisticate, while Avengers stalwart Nigel Davenport is customarily redoubtable as the cynical older scientist; whose determination to overcome his arm swelling to giant and useless size from an ant bite earned a special mention from Stephen King in Danse Macabre.

Oh, you thought I meant Phase 4!

No. No, I generally don’t have that much interest in business plans or announcements of new product lines. There is as much excitement to be gathered from Disney’s blustering about their plans to bother cinemas with a conveyor belt of green-screened grey-tinted generic CGI ‘spectacle’ as there is in learning about a new line of just super-duper hoovers from Mr Dyson. There are 5 TV shows that will no doubt be inexplicable without watching the films, so you have to shell out for your streaming subscription and head to the multiplex which might well be showing only Disney films because Disney might well have that much power soon. And in the multiplexes we will see Black Widow, surrounded by an air of pointlessness Natasha R having been killed off by the time Kevin Feige deigned to let her fly solo, Doctor Strange 2, bearing a notably silly title, and Thor 4, which seems suspiciously focused on Natalie Portman deigning to return to the MCU as female Thor and (insufferable since Veronica Mars) Tessa Thompson outing Valkyrie rather than on Taika Waititi’s winning comedy. Blade and Fantastic Four have no directors attached, but it doesn’t matter. Directors don’t matter. Edgar Wright was kicked off Ant-Man for having a directorial vision. Disney is wasting the time of directors like Scott Derrickson and Destin Daniel Cretton who will be remembered for their horrors and dramas, not their CGI assemblages. Shang-Chi and The Eternals will likely not be given the latitude that James Gunn was given to bring obscurities to success with Guardians of the Galaxy but instead rely on the Too Big to Fail ethos that now pervades the production and reception of the MCU. I see a lot of business here, but not much show.

July 21, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XVII

As the title suggests, so forth.

A supposedly fine film I’ll never view again

I keep coming back of late to  a thought by GK Chesterton that I can’t seem to pin down anywhere in his voluminous writings. In which he said he didn’t mind how far an artist dipped the human soul into the mire so long as he didn’t break the mechanism. Well, Robert Bresson, J’accuse! You have broken the mechanism, and on purpose. I staggered out of Au Hasard Balthazar in the IFI this week considering that one ought not to praise excessive cynicism in art, because it is merely the other side of the coin of excessive sentimentality. If you want to criticise Spielberg or Capra or Dickens for sentimentality, that is to say painting in black and white with outrageous villains and suffering heroes, and no grey area of nuance, then you must also criticise Bresson for painting in black and black with outrageous villains and suffering jackasses (literally in this case) without any silver lining, a portrait painted entirely in black lacks also grey nuance, it is merely a picture of pitch. The rapist, thief, and murderer Gerard outdoes anything Dickens presents in Uriah Heep or Bill Sikes. He is pure evil, he inflicts suffering because he enjoys watching people and animals in pain, except that his blank face doesn’t seem to register much enjoyment of it. I have no idea what Bresson was getting at it in presenting Gerard’s rampage of brutality in southern France. And no interest in thinking more about this movie in order to find out.

The Wasp cries to be implicated in such mendacity

Lies, damn lies, and statistics

Kevin Feige et al boasted at Comic-Con yesterday that Avengers: Endgame had just beaten Avatar to become the most popular movie ever. No, it didn’t. Because they didn’t adjust for inflation. It’s a lie. It’s not that hard to adjust for inflation, go to boxofficemojo.com and then plug the relevant figures into westegg.com/inflation/. It shouldn’t take you even two minutes. If you would be happy to never have your salary adjusted for inflation then by all means repeat this Marvel talking point. (Which is a lie.) If not…

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/avengers-endgame-passes-avatar-become-no-1-film-all-time-1225121

What is a film?

This may sound rather like a film critic having an existential crisis but it seems like a rather pertinent question now that we’re drawing the curtain on two decades of the 21st Century. Not least because the idea that Twin Peaks: The Return is one of the best films of the 2010s seems to collapse all ideas into gibberish. The idea that a film is real physical action captured in camera on a piece of celluloid, with additional material added to it later as it’s assembled into a coherent assemblage of images, before being run thru a projector and by flickering light taking up a huge space in a public place where an audience of strangers sit without interruption for 2 hours to watch a story that only needs 2 hours of motion doesn’t seem to hold true anymore – it’s a very 20th Century notion. What is a film now? By the year 2030 we might have to define it as something released by Disney into cinemas where disruptive, almost exclusively under-20s, audiences play with their phones while flickering light projects a digital record of a semi-coherent assemblage of digitally animated landscapes populated by digitally animated characters with occasional humans interspersed to keep the pretence that the digitally animated action unfolding onscreen means something. And as many of these pieces of art (sic) will not be remotely self-contained stories within 2 hours, the MCU having revived the idea of the matinee serial but made it into the main attraction, that won’t even hold true for a definition of this brave new world.

June 29, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XV

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.

There’s, uh, just not enough Goldblum available to meet the existing demand

That at least is what I’ve taken from the Lighthouse’s third Jeff GoldBLUMSDAY two weeks ago. The internet of the 2010s really has made Goldblum latterly a much bigger deal than he actually was in his pomp. This year the Lighthouse’s three films were Thor: Ragnarok, Jurassic Park, and Jurassic Park: The Lost World; that is to say one leading role, one major supporting role, and one highly amusing but basically glorified cameo – as a spin on his own web-enhanced persona. Last year was The Big Chill, Independence Day, Thor: Ragnarok (again), The Fly, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension; that is to say (arguably) two lead roles, two major supporting roles, and the same glorified cameo. But what else can you screen? You have to commit to showing the likes of The Tall Guy, Deep Cover, and Into the Night if you want more lead roles, or for major support Silverado, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Nine Months, or for memorable small turns The Right Stuff, Igby Goes Down, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Otherwise you will find yourself recycling the same handful of 1980s cult films, 1990s blockbusters, and 2010s ironic nods every year.

Alas, poor Robert Downey Jr, a man of infinite jest

Writing an Icon piece for the University Observer about Keanu Reeves 15 years ago I noted that their 40s was the decade when a star had both the clout and the maturity to make the films they would be remembered for. Robert Downey Jr had an infinitely more financially successful 40s than Keanu Reeves; just compare Iron Man 1-3, The Avengers, Sherlock Holmes 1&2, Due Date, and Tropic Thunder, to The Day The Earth Stood Still, Constantine, The Lake House, 47 Ronin, and John Wick; but artistically speaking I fear he has wasted his peak years. Whereas Keanu was clearly on a downward slope at the box office after The Matrix Reloaded, which compromised his ability to make big projects, RDJ hit the big time with Iron Man, giving him clout when he was at the peak of his powers.  Having got clean and sober RDJ was making really interesting stuff: Good Night, and Good Luck, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Scanner Darkly, Zodiac, Charlie Bartlett, and Tropic Thunder. And then after the success of Iron Man he used his muscle to make … Sherlock Holmes and The Soloist. Then there was Due Date, Sherlock Holmes 2, and, following in the footsteps of The Soloist, another painfully belaboured and failed attempt to win an Oscar with The Judge. He remembered who he used to be for Chef, but 2014 was the last time he played any part but Tony Stark. What really galls is that Downey Jr was not allowed any more Iron Man movies because it would have been too lucrative for him rather than Disney, so instead he was inserted into Spider-Man and Captain America movies, and more Avengers sequels. There is only so many times any actor can go to the well before they (a) find nothing there (b) discover that like Eugene O’Neill Senior they have ruined their range and can now only play one part. Robert Downey Jr is now 54 years old, and, finally free of Marvel, he’s, unbelievably, making Sherlock Holmes 3, but first another remake of Doctor Dolittle. To paraphrase Elmore Leonard: What happened to you, man? You used to be beautiful…

Mean Girls – 22nd August Lighthouse cinema

The Lighthouse remembers the Wonder Years

The Lighthouse is following up Keanurama with a rambling two month season entitled Wonder Years – Films to grow up with. The entire 8 movie Harry Potter series is the cornerstone of the films screening from 6th July to 13th September.  I’ve never really understood the critical love affair with coming-of-age narratives. It was entirely predictable that Mark Kermode in his semi-disastrous Secrets of Cinema series chose coming-of-age as one of the four cardinal genres. If you would ask me what Almost Famous is about I’d say music, journalism, first love, family, and disillusionment, but I’d never say ‘coming of age’. Wordsworth declared that poetry took its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity. One might say that coming of age films are the nostalgic or acerbic recollections of thirtysomethings about their early teenage years. An even greater distancing than that between twentysomething musicians making music for fans a decade younger. The great paradox of coming of age films is that they cannot be watched by the people they are about. Even when they could, half the time they wouldn’t; my class at national school would have committed hara-kiri rather than watch My Girl. The audience is adults, and immediately there is a sort of instant nostalgia, even if none is intended, simply by locating the story in a past recognisable by cultural totems. Christopher Nolan rightly said people discover films thru Spielberg not Godard. I think lived reality is the putting away of childish things and the struggle to embrace adult things that are beyond you; moving straight from comic-books to PG Wodehouse; not wallowing for seven years in a cocoon of teenage material produced for teenagers by thirtysomethings – that which in secondary school my class rebelled against reading because we didn’t want to be patronised, we chose Nineteen Eighty-Four and rejected Buddy. And none of us grew up watching supernatural Japanese anime, just as outside the bubble of film criticism/film studies/film-making I have never heard anyone even mention the endlessly valorised Cinema Paradiso. But then as Charles noted in Brideshead Revisited everyone tinkers with the markers on their youth to give them the sophistication they wished they’d had.

MY GIRL

(From 6th July 2019)

HARRY POTTER 1

(From 7th July 2019)

CINEMA PARADISO

(From 10th July 2019)

MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO [DUBBED]

(From 13th July 2019)

MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO (SUBTITLED)

(From 13th July 2019)

 

HARRY POTTER 2

(From 14th July 2019)

REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

(From 17th July 2019)

SPIRITED AWAY (DUBBED)

(From 20th July 2019)

SPIRITED AWAY (SUBTITLED)

(From 20th July 2019)

BOYZ N THE HOOD

(From 20th July 2019)

 

HARRY POTTER 3

(From 21st July 2019)

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

(From 24th July 2019)

HARRY POTTER 4

(From 28th July 2019)

STAND BY ME

(From 1st August 2019)

KES

(From 8th August 2019)

 

MOONLIGHT

(From 10th August 2019)

Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN

(From 10th August 2019)

DEAD POETS SOCIETY

(From 11th August 2019)

HARRY POTTER 5

(From 11th August 2019)

MARIE ANTOINETTE

(From 14th August 2019)

 

RAW

(From 17th August 2019)

MOONRISE KINGDOM

(From 17th August 2019)

HARRY POTTER 6

(From 18th August 2019)

MEAN GIRLS

(From 22nd August 2019)

INSIDE OUT

(From 24th August 2019)

 

HARRY POTTER 7

(From 25th August 2019)

HARRY POTTER 8

(From 27th August 2019)

SING STREET

(From 28th August 2019)

LADY BIRD

(From 29th August 2019)

BOYHOOD

(From 31st August 2019)

 

IT

(From 5th September 2019)

It: Chapter Two arrives in cinemas on September 6th.

June 9, 2019

Notes on X-Men: Dark Phoenix

The last chapter in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men saga was the film of the week today in a return to Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

This is the way the X-world ends, not with a bang but a whimper. Simon Kinberg first arrived as X-screenwriter with the awful X-3, and now he rehashes X-3 as X-writer/director and makes it even worse, which is perversely impressive. X-3 has some rather nice music from John Powell, strong acting even in minor roles, and a number of upsetting moments (that were doubly upsetting for how badly Brett Ratner handled them) that leaned on the good work of the first two movies. This movie has A-list composer Hans Zimmer only occasionally elevating the material with emotive minimalism, some of the worst acting outside of X-Men: Origins – Wolverine, and absolutely no memorable moments whatsoever in part because there has been no good work done in previous movies to establish anything. Cyclops was killed off 20 minutes into X-3 by Jean Grey to establish she was out of control, and here Mystique is killed off 40 minutes in by Jean Grey to establish she is out of control. Kinberg shamelessly reuses dialogue and the ideas of X-3, but doubles down on them to make what was once annoying now insufferable.

Prior to her merciful death Mystique spends her screentime whingeing about Professor X, after she dies Beast takes up the whingeing baton to the point where you just want to shout at the screen “Why don’t you just move out of the mansion you’ve been living in rent-free for 30 years if you feel that strongly about him being a bad man?” Professor X is the villain of this piece. Somehow. I’m not nearly as sure as Kinberg is that hiding from a girl, who just murdered her mother because she wouldn’t stop listening to Glen Campbell, that her father regards her as a monster and wants nothing to do with her is a morally evil act. How does he think Jean would react to hearing that? Badly? Would she kill many people in her rage? Oh, the rage. In a scene where Jean is moody at a bar one longs for Sarah Snook in this role as Sophie Turner renders Jean Grey’s transformation into Dark Phoenix the temper tantrums of a petulant teenager. Jessica Chastain barely acts as the emotionless alien Vuk, and Jennifer Lawrence projects only deep boredom.

J-Law may be the audience avatar in that respect, fed up so much talent could be squandered on a twice-told tale. Kinberg has Christopher Nolan’s regular editor and composer, and yet there is a cut with the X-jet arriving and the team appearing as jarring as the scene John Ottman apologised for in Bohemian Rhapsody. The cinematographer of Avatar is on hand to, well, hide the action under cover of darkness and big swirly CGI. Watching X-Men and X-2 in recent days they really are films of the 1990s rather than the 2000s with their emphasis on practical effects to which CGI is added; a quaint notion long abandoned by Marvel and DC films that superpowers are more impressive interacting with tangible physical reality rather than being a welter of CGI battling a big swirly thing of CGI in a CGI landscape populated by CGI extras. There is some pleasing practicality here, but this is not a movie to stand beside Guy Hendrix Dyas’ amazing sets for X-2. And let’s remember the big swirly thing CGI that reached its nadir in X-Men: Apocalypse began in X-3 for Dark Phoenix’s powers.

Kinberg reprises it here in another display of creative bankruptcy. What exactly is the point of filming the Phoenix storyline? To plonk an actress down in mauve garb to stare moodily/blankly at everything for two hours while everyone stands around agonising over killing her while repeating that she’s unstoppably powerful and therefore can’t be killed unless she wishes it? Does that sound at all interesting? At this point it seems safe to say that the writing credits strongly suggest that the only X-screenwriters worth a damn were David Hayter, Zak Penn, Matthew Vaughn, and Jane Goldman, and everyone else was just coasting off their story ideas. It seems perilously close to the truth to say that, as set up by Bryan Singer’s original decisions, these films rarely worked without Hugh Jackman as Wolverine – the best of the bunch were X-Men, X-2, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Maybe the reason for X-Men: First Class succeeding was that the charismatic turn by Michael Fassbender as vengeful hot-headed Magneto stood in for Wolverine. This is a terrible way for the X-Men to end given that they started the Marvel era.

It’s especially bad given that Disney will fold them into the MCU and a Marvel executive seems to think the signal problem with the X-Men was not their farrago of continuity, their revolving door of writers and directors, their recycling of the same stories, their failure to properly establish characters, their over-reliance on one actor, their ever-escalating budgets, their out of control CGI, their limited palette of character motivations and plots, but the fact that they were called the X-Men.

Listen here:

August 5, 2018

Notes on Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp is the big movie this week. Here are some notes on’t, prepared for Dublin City FM’s Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle early this morning.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is not as funny as it needs to be. Edgar Wright was booted off the original, but some of his script and sensibility survived. Not so here. Peyton Reed is no visual stylist, and the funniest moments tend to be centred around Michael Pena and the comedy of getting derailed by tangents; as John Cleese once described Michael Palin and Terry Jones’ typical approach to scripting. Pena and his co-workers get derailed by Danishes for breakfast, the truthiness of truth serum, the existence of the Baba Yaga, and the Moz nature of his grandmother’s jukebox. All of which is a merciful relief from a film with three villains, two of whom aren’t really villains, and none of whom make much impact. Five writers are credited with this work and one imagines pages flying around at random, some with jokes, others with blank pages and INSERT SCENE: SOMETHING SOMETHING QUANTUM written on them. It remains baffling to the end how Paul Rudd was able to enter the quantum realm and leave again not a bother on him while Michelle Pfeiffer got stuck there for thirty years.

July 20, 2018

From the Archives: The Dark Knight

On this day ten years ago I saw The Dark Knight on the biggest IMAX screen in the world. Yeah…

“Where do we begin?” The Dark Knight is a sequel that expands upon and darkens an existing cinematic universe so successfully and unsettlingly that it ranks far above what one would think of as the obvious reference point The Empire Strikes Back and instead starts advancing menacingly towards The Godfather: Part II…

Director Christopher Nolan and his screenwriter brother Jonathan are very clever, as evidenced by their last collaboration The Prestige, and see greatness where others do not, as evidenced by reading the original novel of The Prestige. In The Dark Knight they have constructed a story that takes the mythology of the DC comic books and turns it into both high tragedy and violent mayhem.

Christian Bale is superb as Bruce Wayne who is quickly becoming a physical and emotional wreck after one year of being the Batman. What was intended as a short-term project to clean up corruption looks to be nearing its end with a final audacious swoop on the mob’s money-men. Bruce’s only chance of a normal life is slipping away though as his sweetheart Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal at her most winning), tired of waiting for Bruce, is dating the idealistic new District Attorney Harvey Dent (a wonderfully charismatic Aaron Eckhart who also communicates an underlying instability that could lead Harvey to places of great moral darkness). Bruce can only compete against Dent for Rachel if he can trust Dent enough to retire Batman and leave the crime-fighting to the legitimate forces of Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) and his Major Crimes Unit. However such plans are wrecked when the mob in their desperation at Batman’s success decide to fight back by hiring, in the Don Sal Maroni’s own words, “a two bit whack-job in a cheap purple suit and make up”…The Joker.

Heath Ledger’s Joker, physical and unhinged – licking his lips like a snake sensing its prey, blows away the inert Jack Nicholson performance and retires the role for a generation if not all time. Oscars don’t go to films like this but Ledger’s performance here is worthy of consideration. His Joker is blackly hilarious and utterly terrifying, usually at the same time, and even his musical theme is chilling. The Nolan brothers cross many lines in depicting his psychopathic unpredictability. One of the taglines for this film was “Welcome to a world without rules”. Batman cannot understand Joker.  Carmine Falcone wanted power, Scarecrow wanted money, Ras Al’Ghul wanted order, The Joker? –  “I’m an agent of chaos”… His escalating mind games in the film move from straight crime with a superbly staged opening heist against a Mob bank, to terrorist attacks, to sick mass murder and beyond…

The Dark Knight is fiercely intelligent, ingeniously structured (to reveal plot details would be a sin) and gives memorable lines and moments to each member of a large ensemble, while the twisted bond between Batman and Joker that exists in the comics finally receives a cinematic depiction. This is all incredibly realistic looking with 60% of the film shot on location and if seen on an Imax screen, as Christopher Nolan indeed shot it especially for, Gotham becomes a character in its own right with its cityscape lovingly captured in vertiginous shots. Written, played and directed with supreme assuredness this is one of the most gut-wrenchingly suspenseful films of the year that looks to 1970s crime thrillers like Serpico rather than superhero films for its modus operandi with its theme of police corruption. Indeed this is unlike any previous Bat-sequel, as can be seen by the difference between the grisly Two-Face in this film compared to previous camp interpretations, and is even tonally different in many ways to Batman Begins. Wanted may be the most fun blockbuster this summer but the Bat has captured the classy end of the spectrum with a film that combines meaty drama with explosive action.

You need to see The Dark Knight. Repeatedly…

5/5

April 22, 2018

And he built a crooked house

Stephen Errity, who has occasioned a few pieces like this, prodded me to mark 10 years since the first spark of this blog in 2008.

Talking Movies proper began on Sep 1st 2009, but April 22nd 2008 saw the staking of this claim in the digital terrain; and there is an obvious topic to hang an anniversary post on. Just over a week later the first review went up – Iron Man… 10 years later, that bloated business plan known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to finally pay-off (HA!! Yeah, right…) in the shape of (The) Avengers (3): Infinity of Characters War. I will not be going to it. It’s not just that I don’t care about Thanos, of many of the other characters, or the Infinity Stones that have become a deadly serious ‘Fetch’. Marvel Studios’ omnipresence have made the last 10 years seem very long indeed, and have successfully killed off my interest in their characters, comic-book movies, and comic-books themselves. “Oopsies!”

I’ve charted my obvious decline of interest in the Marvel movies below. I saw the bold in the cinema, the italics on DVD, and the others remain unwatched.

Iron Man

The Incredible Hulk

Iron Man 2

Thor

Captain America

The Avengers

 

Iron Man 3

Thor 2

Captain America 2

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Avengers 2

Ant-Man

 

Captain America 3

Doctor Strange

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Spider-Man

Thor 3

Black Panther

The Avengers 3

Working my way through the archives in the last week I find myself complaining over time that the Marvel movies lack the outrageous fun of Mark Millar’s comic extravaganza of these same characters, The Ultimates. I vividly remember being pedantically lectured by a bore on how audiences wouldn’t accept a scene as outré as the ultimate Millar action movie fantasy beat where Black Widow jumps from building to building and calls for a gun to be dropped from a chopper above her so she can grab it in mid-air and crash into the next building spraying bullets to save Hawkeye. Clearly, audiences wouldn’t accept this. I mean 3 movies into the MCU audiences had already accepted a bank vault being towed and used as a prehensile wrecking ball in Fast & Furious 5, and would later accept an endless runway in Fast 6, a man running up a falling truck at the same speed and so remaining in situ in Fast 7, and, oh yeah, cars driving out of one skyscraper, into another skyscraper, out of that skyscraper, and into another one. But yeah, Marvel actually adapting a panel from one of their own comics, clearly, audiences would rebel. Just as they howled in outrage and ripped up the seats when X-Men: First Class put the characters in their original yellow and blue outfits rather than the fetish leather that we were told was the only choice in 2000 because audiences wouldn’t accept those silly costumes. Oh wait, they didn’t.

January 31, 2018

Any Other Business: Part XIII

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a thirteenth portmanteau post on television of course!

Dangerous, Handle With Care.

Very Dangerous, Do Not Handle At All.

Watching re-runs of The Avengers (in colour!) on ITV 4 over a few months before Christmas it was hard not to be struck by two things. It was better than most current TV shows, and it made the soapbox posturing of the CW’s Berlantiverse look utterly inane. The ludicrous blackmail episode, ‘You Have Just Been Murdered’, is so hilarious, as the blackmailers repeatedly mock-murder their wealthy victims and leave a calling card just to prove how easy it would be to do it for real, so pay up, was one of the best episodes I saw on TV in 2017. The sustained ninja attacks on Steed’s friend; a car almost runs him over, he is attacked with a fake katanna, and finally shot with an arrow that imprints ‘You Have Just Been Murdered… Again!” on his shirt; floored me. And there were many other episodes almost at the same level in Diana Rigg’s 25 colour episodes, and some equally wonderful in the subsequent 32 episodes with Linda Thorson. The Rigg episodes were very telling in their writing of Renaissance woman Mrs Peel: painter, sculptor, chemist, journalist, mathematician published on the subject probability as applied to Bridge, and amateur secret agent. Nobody makes any deal out of Steed’s partner being a woman, apart from a doddery Colonel back from the tropics in ‘The Hidden Tiger’; “Highly unusual to have a woman on a hunt, Steed” “Highly unusual woman, Colonel”. And Mrs Peel, expert in judo, wins most of the fights she gets into, hence her amusement in ‘The Correct Way To Kill’ when she finds two photos with handwritten annotations in the local KGB HQ. Steed is described as ‘Dangerous, Handle With Care’. She then discovers that ‘Very Dangerous, Do Not Handle At All’ refers to her. This is a fictional universe where many of the villains have women as their most ruthless lieutenants, and any daffy woman is very possibly a ruthless lieutenant hiding in plain sight by playing up to bimbo stereotypes. In ‘The Living Dead’ the village hospital is run by a woman doctor, and nobody mentions her gender; she’s just the doctor who runs the village hospital. Steed and Mrs Peel almost co-opt her as a third agent in their investigations, but Mrs Peel doesn’t make a big deal of it. It would be literally impossible for a woman to run a small-town hospital in a Berlanti show without a plethora of dialogue about it, and if she were to aid Supergirl we would get girl power dialogue about the sisterhood working together in a man’s world. It is disconcerting when a 1967 show assumes equality, entertains, and provides an indomitable heroine with a delightfully light touch, while 2017 shows talk endlessly, needlessly about equality, as if trying to convince themselves.

The Berlantiverse was once highly praised on this blog but as time has gone on it has become more and more obviously flawed. So let’s try and isolate the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Berlantiverse: The Good

Tony Zhou amusingly gutted the MCU a while ago for its complete, deliberate absence of memorable music. Their copy of a copy of a copy elevator muzak approach seems to be a determined attempt to free cinema from the Wagnerian leitmotifs that composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold had in the 1930s made the convention for scoring the fates of characters and the progress of action. As a result of Marvel’s decision no matter how many Avengers assemble there will never be any music that can announce the arrival of a single one of them. What is lost by that? Well, look at what Blake Neely was able to pull off in the Supergirl/Flash/Arrow/Legends crossover extravaganza for the final fight against the alien Dominators. When Green Arrow is shooting the Dominator the jagged Arrow theme is heard, when he is thrown off the roof the music hangs in the air with him with a sustained note on strings, only for a roar of brass to announce the arrival of Supergirl to catch him from plummeting to his death. That is what leitmotifs are for. Why Marvel would want to pass on that sort of emotional punch is a mystery.

Berlantiverse: The Bad

There are elements; such as 24’s lack of humour; that you forgive so long as the show is good. But once you stop enjoying a show you remember those flaws, and notice new ones. I never made 10 episodes of Arrow, but I was surprised the same creators brought forth the fun that was The Flash. I also watched Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl until the recent crossover. Then I ditched all three shows. My problems with Arrow I’ve outlined. The Flash became idiotically repetitive; “My name is Barry Allen, and I am the fastest man alive!” – apart from Reverse Flash, and Zoom, and Savitar…; emotionally manipulative; Barry watches his mother die again, watches his father die, gets them back sort of only to give them up, gives up Iris, how much damn angst does one character need; and eventually unwatchable despite maintaining a comic edge. Supergirl from the get-go had problems, which started to converge with the problems of Legends. Legends degenerated from a fun show in which time-travellers screwed up their mission, to a less fun show in which they took George Lucas in Love as their ur-text and applied it to Lucas, Tolkien, and Arthurian legend, to the E.T. episode where they re-did E.T. in 40 minutes with their characters, like House or CSI: NY saw writers take off a movie they saw, just with less self-awareness. Supergirl’s characters kept getting on soapboxes; Jimmy Olsen on black men not being allowed show anger, Cat Grant on being a woman leader, Kara on being a woman and a superhero; rather than having comic-book adventures. Moving network for season 2 Berlanti decided that Alex should be gay now, an abrupt character reboot handled with the grace of an Austin Powers skit. But then he doubled down by beginning season 3 with Alex and Maggie engaged. Wow, that was quick! They break up because they never had a discussion about having children before getting engaged. Berlanti’s political imperatives were trumping his aesthetic imperatives with a vengeance. Legends’s characters arrive in the 1950s with an injunction not to attract attention; so they set up Ray and Kendra as a married couple, with Sara as a nurse. Berlanti castigates Jim Crow racism and has Sara liberate a repressed nurse. This makes nonsense of the injunction not to attract attention. The way to do that would have been to have Ray and Sara play house, with Kendra as a nurse. But internal logic was starting to be damned if it got in the political way.

Berlantiverse: The Ugly

Can you tell who Don Siegel voted for in 1956 and 1972 from watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dirty Harry? Adlai Stevenson? Maybe? Richard Nixon? Maybe?? It’s not easy. Can you tell who Greg Berlanti voted for in 2016? … It seems Berlanti was traumatised by the failure of America to be with her. Now, art and politics don’t need a Jeffersonian wall of separation, but there ought be some artistic guile cast over political intent, like Arthur Miller addressing Senator McCarthy at three centuries’ remove. Berlanti has a beef with Trump. He could silently showcase heroic, adorable, and honourable minority characters like The Blacklist. [Navabi, Aram, Dembe] He does not. Instead, to stick it to Trump, he introduces to Legends the rather insufferable Zari, and reminds us repeatedly that she’s a Muslim American. He probably needs to remind us because she doesn’t wear a hijab, or have a prayer mat, nor use it 5 times a day, worry about keeping halal, or attending a mosque. Given previous complaints about American artists’ inability to take faith seriously this shouldn’t surprise, but ironically it makes Zari the kind of Muslim Trump might endorse – invisible. Berlanti could espouse meritocratic ideals like Bernie Sanders’ support for basic income. He does not. Instead Berlanti has gone down the rabbit-hole with Hillary. Her failure was due to misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. Ignore that she was as historically awful a candidate as if the Republicans had nominated Robert A Taft in 1948, and that she called ¼ of the eligible voters “a basket of deplorables”. Pushing Hillary’s apologia is killing the Berlantiverse. It would be clumsy and obvious to try and push basic income. But it couldn’t be worse than the gender studies harangue when Helen of Troy appeared in Legends, or when The Flash had a stripper lecture her clients on her critique of the male gaze. That same episode a female supervillain was taken down by the female characters working together and Iris said “Hashtag Feminism”. This, along with insisting “We are The Flash”, is Iris’ new thing. The abandoning of all pretence of artistic guile over political intent in attacking Trump came in the recent crossover, with this interchange: “Make America White Again” “Which it never was” “Hashtag Melting Pot”. But the nadir was Nazi Arrow proudly announcing “We’ve created a meritocracy”. … … … One should not have to point out that Nazis did not believe in meritocracy, but in its exact opposite, aristocracy. It is self-evident.

If you’re looking for the brightest and the best, you get Einstein, and then, if you’re a Nazi, mutter, damn, a Jew, and issue another call for the brightest and the best, but Aryans only please. Whereas if you’re not a Nazi you say, Welcome, Mr Einstein, I hear you are a very brilliant genius. Meritocracy advances people on the basis of ability. Aristocracy advances people on the basis of bloodlines, rather than their ability.

Berlanti wasn’t being ironic, none of the superheroes protested about this calumny of meritocracy. That degradation of meritocracy, the one true guarantor of equality, shows Berlanti pursuing a political agenda that while thinking itself liberal is not. The Berlantiverse no longer entertains because so many artistic decisions are clearly suborned to a political agenda, and it troubles because that political agenda is clearly Hillary not Bernie. Meritocracy doesn’t see colour, gender, or religion. It sees ability. And it only sees ability. Attempt to attach secondary considerations to it and it is gone. You can’t grade a test on correct answers and ensuring a diversity quota.

January 11, 2018

Fears: 2018

The Post

Hanks fights Nixon – yay!

But at wrong newspaper – boo!

Spielberg, what the hell?

 

Phantom Thread

Day-Lewis swansong

There Will Be Bodices (sic)

Somewhat overwrought?

 

The Shape of Water

Del Toro is back

Less Gothic, more Creature-y

and boo hiss Shannon

 

Red Sparrow

J-Law needs a hit

This will not be it. Too bad.

Ersatz Nikita.

Annihilation

Portman and a man

Odd that, but Garland ‘writes well’

And directs again

 

New Mutants

Fox does X-horror

X-Men that is, obscure ones

They’re affordable

 

The God Particle

Cloverfield in space

Elizabeth Debicki

Looks on earth aghast

 

Pacific Rim

Exit Del Toro,

Enter Steven S DeKnight,

Thanks a bunch, China

Solo

Disney paid a lot

You must help them make it back

Han: the Wall St. Years

 

Avengers: Infinity War

The infinity

is really the damn cast list

Makes LOST seem restrained

 

Sicario 2

Blunt has not come back

Instead the wolf is let loose

Del Toro, that is

 

Ocean’s 8

Cinema’s great hug

Retconned as male privilege;

All girl cast fixes that

 

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Critics applaud, not

because the thing is done well

but because it’s done

 

A Wrinkle in Time

‘Oprah for ’20!’

It starts here! Diverse sci-fi.

Love this or get coat

 

Mute

Duncan Jones does ‘Hush’

Berlin barman tracks girlfriend

His fists speak for him

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

It’s X-3 remade,

with little context for Jean,

who cares? C.G.I!

 

John F Donovan

We have waited long,

Too long for Dolan anglais,

Now we fear for Snow

 

Holmes and Watson

Will Ferrell bromance

Can’t be worse than Downey/Law

A dumb comedy

 

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