Talking Movies

June 8, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LV

As the title suggests, so forth.

Status Maroon 5

Well, today is the first day of Status Maroon 5. Libraries are to re-open, public transport is to become more frequent (for all the use you can make of it), county wide car wanders can be undertaken, and the cocooned can be visited briefly (with exceptionally discomfiting provisos). And what next? Status Crimson Tide on June 29th with the hastened re-opening of churches, museums and galleries, pubs that serve food, alongside the planned socially distanced cafes and restaurants. But when do we return to life as it was in the first week of March? It seems that public patience with lockdown is fraying, and perhaps with good reason. The global population is reckoned at 7.8 billion and COVID-19 has killed 397,000, whereas the endlessly invoked exemplar of the last global pandemic the Spanish Influenza killed between 17,000,000 and 50,000,000 of a global population of 1.8 billion. And that global population had just suffered thru the privations and depredations of a world war. If we had just all started wearing masks in February, modelling ourselves on Hong Kong and Taiwan, could we have avoided such a crippling lockdown?

Hannibal, he’s here to tease

Around this time in 2013 I previewed, and then later weighed in on, Hannibal; the blood-spattered procedural in which Laurence Fishburne’s FBI supremo Jack Crawford teams unstable but gifted profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) with brilliant psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) to fight crime. I thought a tale of friendship between future deadly nemeses before they come into celebrated and chronicled conflict sounded suspiciously Smallville. And it wasn’t, Lecter in the pilot was very much already a supervillain; eating people for fun. Not that the fun was obvious. Hannibal was incredibly gory for a network show. At the time I thought that had it been on HBO or Showtime it would be unbearable, but Hard Candy director David Slade made it bearable by distancing the viewer with a cold colour palette and a chilly emotionless feel. At its most plot-driven it could feel like a very precisely directed Criminal Minds, with exceptionally gory crime scenes and dream sequences interspersed with exceedingly crisp dialogue between two of the BAU team. And yet, as I try manfully to finally finish the last 8 episodes of that first season 7 years later, it occurs to me that I was right to ditch the show after 5 episodes back then. Why? Well, because now it reminds me not of Criminal Minds but of Mindhunter. Far too much of Hannibal’s runtime is taken up with psychobabble sessions and lame dream sequences. There is a chilly emptiness around gory schlock to portend a great depth, which simply is not there. God forbid that plots should drive, that character should be revealed in action, that dialogue scenes should arise spontaneously and, like House’s trademark, feature two topics simultaneously – procedural and personal. The Engineer put it nicely, saying he had abandoned both shows because he was sick of being drip-fed plot like sugar water to a diabetic.

…or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

It is wrong to continually think about a fictional character in relation to a real person, but The West Wing re-runs on TG4, focusing as they currently do on the electoral battle between empathetic intellectual Jed Bartlett and know-nothing jackass Rob Ritchie, make it hard not to think about Trump and the sheer vacancy he represents. Stomping all over the First Amendment he swore an oath to protect, he had protestors tear-gassed and baton-charged so he could do a strange stroll to sullenly stand in front of a Church and hold up a copy of the Bible. Holding it in such an awkward way that its proper use seemed as alien to him as if he had been clutching a Torah scroll. Did he read a passage of scripture from the holy writ? No. Did he attempt some Nixonian gesture of empathy towards the protestors? No. Did he attempt to defuse the tense situation as Bobby Kennedy had when he spoke to a crowd the night MLK was shot dead? No.  And then think of Bartlett extemporising a speech from the Biblical quote ‘Joy cometh in the morning’, of Bartlett’s desk only being seen empty in The West Wing two days after his inauguration when he thought Leo’s office was the door to a closet. And think of how Trump’s desk is empty, all the time. Trump would never read from that bible lest it show him up, because you cannot paraphrase and riff the Word of God. And that’s a problem if you cannot actually read. The empty desk betokens an empty man. Inside the bible Trump held, James said:

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabboth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

June 30, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXXIV

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 thirty-fourth portmanteau post on matters of course!

Good Times, Bad Times

All of human life can be observed on the bus, the best and the worst. In the space of a week recently I observed benevolence and bowsiness. The bowsiness came courtesy of a new cycle lane, which gave me pause considering the BusConnects nonsense about putting cycle lanes everywhere as part of their bus ‘plan’.  As the bus pulled in to the bus stop a young woman moved forward to get on. Cue the one cyclist who would likely use the new cycle lane that hour, a white-bearded man leading two young children on bicycles. As he had to slow down to accommodate the microsecond it took her to board the bus he roared at some volume “F*** YOU! F******* YOU!!” and then cycled past, setting a splendid example to his grandchildren on how to treat strangers. I was quite taken aback, observing this road rage from the top deck. Should she have waited? Perhaps. But then the cycle lane was new. Certainly the screaming profanities were uncalled for. But then there was, mercifully, benevolence on another trip. Another white-bearded man, on foot, turned around and saw with horror the bus bearing down on him, some distance from the stop. He turned and began an agonised shuffling run, and it became clear this driver was one of those cohort in whom the milk of human kindness has soured; those who affect blindness whenever they can refuse to do someone a good deed. But then the bus’ speed began to fall. How odd. The car in front had noticed the man running and had dropped to a crawl to give him a fighting chance of making the stop. The bus driver was outraged, and hooted a couple of times. The car continued defiantly dawdling. Enraged the bus driver moved to overtake only for the car to accelerate, pushing the bus back into its holding pattern. By which time the white-bearded man had got close enough to the bus stop that he could make it by the time two Spanish students there had boarded. They were going to take their time. As the unhappy bus driver began indicating to pull in to the stop the smiling Spanish students gave thumbs up to the car who resumed normal speed down the deserted road. The white-bearded man made his bus, and it did the heart good to see such benevolence.

 

Netflix is a TV network, of middling appeal

How many people actually watch Netflix? Not that many NBC claimed a few years ago, bemoaning that a show like Jessica Jones which would be cancelled for low ratings on broadcast television became a media darling and propagandised as being a hit when on Netflix. Netflix used to keep their viewing figures a tightly guarded secret, while simultaneously boasting about the record-breaking success of everything on their service. Service? Network. Netflix is essentially a TV network. It’s not too hard to imagine in the near future Netflix, Amazon, Warner Bros+/HBOxxx, and Disney+ becoming the four networks of streaming in the way that ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox were the four networks of broadcast television in the 1990s. Indeed they may supplant them entirely, at least in the esteem of the media. Netflix claim that 30 million households/individuals/smarter than your average dachshunds watched their latest movie Murder Mystery starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Wow! That is so impressive! Except… Only 13 million of those were in America. Given an average ticket price of $9.01 this year that would be an opening weekend haul of $117,130,000, a figure that puts Murder Mystery at No 11 at the North American Box Office for 2019! But of course Murder Mystery isn’t a movie, it’s a TV movie; something Netflix are moving heaven and earth to collapse as a distinction. Nobody had to leave their house to see Murder Mystery, nobody had to drive anywhere to see Murder Mystery, nobody had to buy popcorn to see Murder Mystery, nobody had to arrange babysitters to go see Murder Mystery, nobody had to put up with phone-using bozos to see Murder Mystery. And nobody had to fork out 9 dollars to see Murder Mystery, they’d already forked out $8.99 to watch as much as they could in a month. So taking Murder Mystery as a TV movie, which is what it is, on a TV network, which is what Netflix is, how impressive is it that 13 million people watched it in America over three days? Not very. 19.4 million viewers on average watched every episode of House season 3 but Fox didn’t release a press release to crow about it. It seems to be as important to Netflix as it is to Disney to create the impression that they are beloved on a level unknown to humanity before this moment. They’re not. 105.9 million Americans watched the finale of MASH in 1983. Beat that Netflix. Beat that Disney. If they’d all bought a ticket for it at $9.01 a pop, it would have made $954,159,000. But of course they didn’t have to – because it was (gulp) free.

April 18, 2018

Any Other Business: Part XV

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 fifteenth portmanteau post on television of course!

His Faults Are Legion

Decorum is important. So is the stylistic and aesthetic goal of urbanity. One might go so far as to call it an ethical goal too. But then Legion season 2 hoves into view… I had never seen any of Noah Hawley’s Fargo TV show, but I tuned into season 1 of Legion because it starred Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza, who have featured prominently hereabouts in best acting nods. 3 episodes in, my notes were: “great verve with music, offbeat as hell, style to burn – literally nothing has happened”. That was a fair judgement. Because, despite highlights such as Plaza shouting “Unhand the reptile, space captain!”, this is an FX show where the only FX are the cable logo. It’s like all the money for action was spent on the pilot, and Hawley was left wondering how to hide its absence for the remainder of the episodes. His solution? Take Wes Anderson’s X-Men to heart, apparently. Almost zero content was hidden with funky stylistic affectations, endlessly repeated scenes, and an industrial quantity of psychobabble. When you see as many analysis and interrogation scenes as in this you can be sure something has gone badly wrong in the writers’ room. This is a show pretending to be deep and smart that is in fact entirely empty, and incredibly slow-moving and boring. Even Dan Stevens’ charisma wilts under the strain, Plaza alone remaining undimmed by the tedium to the end. And then there’s the pretension to high art and social conscience with the ‘treatment of mental illness’. … The only reason this show exists is because he does have superpowers. Pretending that it’s a serious treatment of schizophrenic delusions is tacky and almost irresponsible. I will not be watching season 2 because I have rarely seen a show disappear up its own arse so quickly. Sherlock at least took three seasons. Apologies for failures in decorum and urbanity.

 

Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC

“I could wear a hat!”

Among the many pleasures of Blindspot is Ennis Esmer’s recurring character of Rich Dotcom, hacker supervillain turned hacker supervillain on a tight leash. Rich has managed in season 3 to pull off to a degree what he proposed in season 2 when he memorably pitched the set-up of The Blacklist to the Blindspot characters, with himself in the Red Reddington role of supervillain CI; hence his desperate final gambit as he was led back to prison – “I could wear a hat!” Rich’s misadventures this season have included getting sidetracked from stopping an arms deal by live-snarking Boston’s new boyfriend, outwitting Reade’s insistence he not go to a hacker party by insisting a secret meet with an unwitting criminal happen at said party making it a work event, where there just happen to be high quality pharmaceuticals on tap, but he’s sniffing because the carpet is activating his allergies. This is the kind of stress for which you might put in a request for a therapy llama, to say nothing of the fear that leads you to keep a bag of clean urine strapped to your leg at all times. When you have as lunatic a character as Martin Gero has created, “You’re using JFK against me?! He was way sluttier than I am!!” it is wise to use him sparingly; as that kind of lunacy at the centre of a show would turn the whole show as mad as if Brian Finch on NZT was-

 

Brian Finch on NZT maketh a show as mad as he

It Never Got Weird Enough For Limitless

I caught the The Bruntouchables episode of Limitless on RTE 2 last night, not long after star Jake McDorman was interviewed eating al fresco in Cork by an RTE presenter apparently unaware this charming American was an actor. The sheer barrage of whimsy, madness, and fun that is Limitless made me recall what in retrospect seems a huge blunder that at the time was not obvious at all. On its initial run on Sky the episode with Pulp Fiction style chapters following different characters ended on Hill Harper’s Boyle, and with minimal dialogue in these scenes we were instead given an Emma Thompson-Stranger Than Fiction-style voiceover about his activities. Unusual, but hardly crazier than most of the show’s conceits; after all shortly after my sketch about its creator Sweeny and Elementary show-runner Robert Doherty surreptitiously ghost-writing the end of Game of Thrones by recording a drunk George RR Martin, Limitless travelled to Russia and a key plot point was getting George RR Martin on the phone to narrate the end of Game of Thrones. It was only later that I suddenly wondered, what if there wasn’t supposed to be an Emma Thompson-Stranger Than Fiction-style voiceover for that final chapter? What if someone had accidentally turned on audio description while flicking switches to go to ad break? Stranger things have happened… But it says something for Limitless that something so bonkers could seem unremarkable.

March 29, 2011

Team CoCo

Writing about comedy is guaranteed to be unfunny, so there’s a good reason for this post not appearing on April Fool’s Day.

I’ve been watching Conan O’Brien’s new talk-show on 3e since before Christmas when Channel 4 were conducting late-night reruns of Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60. Since 2007 I’ve taken a show from auditions to performance in just over a week in UCD’s Dramsoc, which led to the shock realisation on revisiting Studio 60 that the not-SNL sketch-show Sorkin depicted was essentially a theatrical production. People tear thru various props and costumes and try to remember their lines after minimal scripting and rehearsing, while behind the scenes sets are desperately wheeled around, struck, and positioned for cameras. If a sketch works it plays brilliantly and if it doesn’t the performers and writers get to hear what 300 people not laughing sounds like… Why would a comedian like Conan O’Brien, who wrote the only episodes of The Simpsons I haven’t found unbearably smug, give that up by trading being a writer on Saturday Night Live for hosting a talk-show?

It took an embarrassingly long time for me to realise the answer. Conan stretches his opening monologue to as much as 15 minutes some nights with sketches. This means he can perform as much as 75 minutes of stand-up a week; effectively a new stand-up show’s worth of material every week rather than every year; and have it laughed at by a good audience in-house, but also be seen by millions across America – even if the TBS channel on basic cable reaches fewer people than NBC’s The Tonight Show. It also allows him to indulge his spectacular physicality. Conan can use his flailing body and dances to deflect from gags falling flat, and frequently does by acting out what he’s just said, to garner a laugh from bad material; but his elastic body and mobile face also sets him apart from every other talk-show host. You can’t see Jay Leno letting himself get rocketed across the stage, or be attacked with a real and very sharp samurai sword by a blindfolded stuntman going far too fast thru a barely rehearsed fight choreography. Conan is the only talk-show host in America who could sit next to an owl and make the same expressions, to the point where the staring spectacled owl whirled round to check, rightly suspecting that it was being mocked.

Conan is not to everyone’s taste. Last summer, alongside an unforgettable drawing (possibly nodding to Snoopy) of Conan standing to salute while crashing in a flaming Sopwith Camel, Wired memorably described Conan’s comedy as Cubist Absurdism which was being replaced by what they termed the sure-thing comediocrity of Jay Leno. And if cubist absurdism is the right term for Andy Richter and Conan playing a real-life Angry Birds with cut-outs of the cast of Jersey Shore, before Conan kills off a Snookie balloon with a blow-dart, then I guess I like cubist absurdism. Here’s why. Jay Leno may hit the laugh-mark more often but it’s most always a moderate laugh. Conan has a lot more dud jokes than Leno, but when he hits the mark, you will laugh more than you will at the best Leno jokes because Conan’s are so….you guessed….absurd.

(I would at this point attempt a serious comparison between Conan and the philosophy of Albert Camus but that would be an April 1st type piece.)

Conan airs weekdays at midnight on 3e.

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