Talking Movies

April 3, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXX

As the title suggests, so forth.

This could be how I see Tenet in 70mm later this year, if it or any other blockbuster gets released at all in 2020

The polling suggests cinema may be done

It seems somebody had the good sense last week to poll Americans on whether they would return to cinemas once this whole coronavirus business has blown over. The answer was yes. Certainly. But not right away. Rather like the beach on the 4th of July in Amity Island everybody would stand back and let someone else be the first to paddle out into the water and make sure there were no killer sharks lurking thereabouts. But if people are serious about waiting three weeks or three months before they’d dare venture into a packed cinema again how can the cinemas survive? How many days can you survive as a going concern when your biggest screens showing the biggest blockbusters at the height of summer garner an attendance more usually seen at an Alex Ross Perry movie in the IFI? Big releases have been pushed into 2021 with abandon: Fast & Furious 9, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Morbius. I’d be surprised if MGM didn’t get nervous and shove No Time to Die from November to next April if they think that by November people will still be readjusting to the idea that going to sit in the dark with 300 sweating sniffling coughing strangers packed like sardines in a crushed tin can isn’t like asking for rat stew during the Black Death. I for one like the idea of taking a coffee into an obscure French film and listening to Jazz24 in screen 3 of the IFI after normal service has been resumed – but the kicker is, that would be a fairly empty screening. And too many years of press screenings, matinees, and unpopular art-house choices have made me unaccustomed to truly packed cinemas. I was already frequently exasperated at bustling audiences before the coronavirus because of the constant talking, shuffling in and out to the toilets and sweets counter, and, above all, the feeling that I was looking out over a WWII night scene as the light from endless phones strafed the roof of the cinema on the watch for incoming enemy aircraft. To put up with that, and then be paranoid that anybody, not just the people sniffling or coughing, but asymptomatic anybody could have the coronavirus and I could end up with scarred lungs and no sense of smell or taste from watching a film makes me hesitant to go before the second wave.

Further thoughts on the xkcd challenge

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned rewatching Aloha and thinking about the xkcd challenge [https://xkcd.com/2184/]. To wit, it is easy to prove your independent streak by disliking films universally beloved, but what about proving your independent streak by liking films universally reviled? Randall Munroe gave under 50% on Rotten Tomatoes as the target, the other two parts of the trifecta being that they came out in your adult life post-2000, and are not enjoyed ironically, and gosh darn if I didn’t find these ten films rated in the 40s on Rotten Tomatoes. And you know what, their critical pasting is I would argue largely undeserved. Some of them are rather good, some of them are not nearly as bad as reputed, and I would happily watch all of them again.

What Lies Beneath

I was astonished to see that Robert Zemeckis’ Hitchcock pastiche was so critically pasted when it features some sequences that rise to the height of genuine Hitchcock level suspense and the technical wizardry hasn’t yet completely swamped Zemeckis’ interest in his characters.

Orange County

Colin Hanks and Jack Black are the main players in Mike White’s knockabout comedy about a bungled application to college and ludicrous attempts to get it all sorted by any means necessary. It may not be as sharp as other White scripts but it’s always amusing for its less than 90 minutes.

xXx

Vin Diesel has valiantly kept the memory of this ludicrous film alive by making it his only successful non-Fast franchise. The premise of an extreme sports dude being recruited into being a spook makes no sense but it was better than the Bond film of its year by some measure – “Bora Bora!”

The Rules of Attraction

It was a genuine shock to see this was so reviled when I had it in my list of best films of the 2000s. It stands beside American Psycho as the best adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel and features never better turns from Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn Sossamon, and James Van Der Beek.

Daredevil

One of the last examples of the big blockbuster movie with the big blockbuster song with a big blockbuster video this is knockabout nonsense with the villains all trying to out-do each other (and Colin Farrell winning) while Jennifer Garner shines as Daredevil’s love interest Elektra.

Switchblade Romance

I will die on this hill! Alexandre Aja’s blood-soaked shocker starring Cecile de France is a gory virtuoso thrill-ride and the final twist, which was presented as it was on the advice of Luc Besson that it would be funnier that way, makes the film even more preposterously fun!

The Village

This was the final straw for critics when it came to M Night Shyamalan, but it’s actually an engaging and deeply creepy film with a star-making lead performance from Bryce Dallas Howard. Maybe the final twist is over-egging the pudding but it doesn’t undo the effectiveness of previous suspense.

Constantine

Keanu Reeves’ chain-smoking street magus powered a supernatural thriller with exquisitely deliberate pacing, courtesy of future Hunger Games main-man Francis Lawrence; making his directorial debut. It had a fine sense of metaphysical rather than visceral horror, and was Keanu’s best film since The Matrix.

Super

I can’t believe that James Gunn’s delirious deconstruction of the superhero genre could actually be this lowly esteemed by critics. Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page give tremendous performances as delusional heroes suicidally going up against Kevin Bacon’s very much not-comic-book villain.

The Green Hornet

I will often stop on this if I catch it late at night while channel-hopping. It may not be a very smooth film, but it has scenes, lines, and ideas that still pop into my mind frequently (“You brought a gas mask?” “Of course I brought a gas mask!” “Just for yourself?”) and the DVD commentary is a hoot.

September 22, 2019

From the Archives: Superbad

Another rummage thru the pre-Talking Movies archives finds me grappling with the Seth Rogen paradox for the very first time.

Two sex-starved teenage boys Seth and Evan try to exploit the last high-school party before graduation by agreeing to get liquor for the girls they want to hook up with. However their plan goes hysterically awry when they run into two cops.

It seems to be becoming obligatory to kneel before writer/director/producer Judd Apatow and hail all his works as being The Second Coming of American Comedy. It’s all very well to celebrate the revival of the R rated comedy purely for being R rated but surely the first concern in judging a comedy should be how funny it is, not how dirty the jokes are. The truth is that Knocked Up and Superbad are filthy minded and mouthed comedies that are actually no more abundantly supplied with laughs than something like the work of Mike White and Jack Black. What distinguishes the Apatow/Rogen oeuvre is both the sheer amount of references to sex and the crudity of those remarks.

Seth Rogen, the star of Knocked Up, co-wrote Superbad and has a supporting role in it while Apatow of course produced in his capacity as a one man studio. The plot is concerned with how Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) can have sex before leaving High School. The answer? Alcohol: “You know when girls say ‘I was so drunk, I don’t know what I was thinking’? We have a chance to be that mistake!!”. But here’s the rub, the story sheers off into two strands. One strand follows Seth and Evan desperately trying to acquire booze for the party hosted by Jules (the husky voiced Emma Stone). The other sees uber-nerd Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) fall in with two lunatic cops played by Rogen and Bill Hader. Literally every scene of his adventures with these cops is screamingly hilarious. The other strand with Seth and Evan isn’t, as it’s so focused on gross out moments that it frequently forgets to be funny. Being extremely realistic about the stupidity of teenage boys is not a good enough reason for not having enough jokes in a comedy.

Indeed you can’t help but feel that all the talking dirty is some way of hiding away the sentimental soft-spot Rogen and Goldberg have for their characters, hiding away the most appealing side of their writing in favour of the most easy headline grabbing controversial side. Indeed the unlikely sweetness is reminiscent of previous Apatow /Rogen works. The characters of Jules and Evan are extremely likeable and in the denouement incredibly and sensibly honourable. Seth and Becca (Martha MacIsaac), respectively, learn from them how to behave like decent human beings. Was that emotional maturity the reason Rogen and Goldberg wrote the filth, as a necessary part of a character arc, or was it just a handy way of positioning their film in the marketplace? It’s impossible to know but it produced one of the best comedies of the year in either case.

3/5

September 8, 2019

From the Archives: Year of the Dog

Digging in the pre-Talking Movies archives throws up this forgotten tale of lonely office worker Peggy (Shannon); devastated when her dog dies, but her life changes when a vet (Sarsgaard) offers her a dog to adopt.

Mike White is a gifted comedy writer. He has penned School of Rock, Orange County and Nacho Libre as well as the more serious dramedies The Good Girl and Chuck & Buck. So when you hear that he’s assembled an interesting cast for his directorial debut your expectations get raised ever so slightly. Which is what makes Year of the Dog such a terrible let down. Things start off promisingly enough as we’re shown the empty life of office worker Peggy (Molly Shannon) whose best friend is really her dog Pencil, who promptly dies of toxic poisoning leaving Peggy distraught. But that unexpected emotional punch makes it obvious that we have been sold a pup by the misleading trailer. Peter Sarsgaard arrives as the big romantic lead…and announces he’s celibate owing to the trauma of childhood abuse. That’s a good summary for how far this film is from the advertised sweet romantic triangle between Peggy (Shannon), Al (John C Reilly) and Newt (Sarsgaard); dog lovers all.

White’s script infuriatingly introduces a host of horrible people who could be the stuff of comedy and then refuses to do anything funny with any of them. John C Reilly dunders around as the loutish next door neighbour but then disappears. Laura Dern makes your skin crawl as Peggy’s sister-in-law who treats her children as if she’d read Howard Hughes’ guide to parenting but is given little screen-time. Regina King (Layla) is given the joyfully offensive line; “I believe there is someone in this world for everyone, even retarded cripple people get married”; but precious little else to flesh out Peggy’s best friend. All of these characters are thrown away in favour of focusing on Peggy’s journey towards becoming a vegan, or a nutjob which is how she turns out, which is ironic given that writer/director White is a vegan.

It’s hard to watch someone betray their family and friends, commit cheque fraud, lose their job as a result and adopt 15 dogs from the city pound and accept it as a spiritual epiphany. White lamentably falls into the Hollywood cliché where the mechanics of what happens next is conveniently never explained. If she’s unemployed, and for a reason that makes her unemployable, where does Peggy get the money to pay her rent let alone her dog food bills? It’s hard not to think these are really the first steps to homelessness, which is a disquieting thought when you’re meant to be cheering along Peggy the newly minted animal rights activist. Year of the Dog ends up in the nightmare pitfall of dramedy where there’s enough sweetness to keep you watching in the hope of a joke popping up again fairly soon (which it probably won’t) but not enough dramatic meat to make you believe in these characters as real people. A dog of a debut…

1/5

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