Talking Movies

May 5, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXX

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 thirtieth portmanteau post on television of course!

The night is always darkest just before it’s totally black

Game of Thrones‘ latest episode has garnered much criticism for being less an adaptation of the work of George RR Martin and more that of Matthew Arnold:

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

But it made me think about Robert Elswit’s work on Velvet Buzzsaw, not least because of its cinematographer’s curious defence. Fabian Wagner, as reported by Variety, blamed the poor saps who shelled out a cable premium to watch this underlit farrago. It’s all down to “viewers’ home devices, which he says aren’t fit for the show’s cinematic filming. ‘A lot of the problem is that a lot of people don’t know how to tune their TVs properly, ‘ he said … ‘Personally I don’t have to always see what’s going on because it’s more about the emotional impact. Game of Thrones is a cinematic show and therefore you have to watch it like you’re at a cinema: in a darkened room. If you watch a night scene in a brightly-lit room then that won’t help you see the image properly.'” But but but Fabian, this is a TV show, you’re not meant to light it as if it was a movie, because people can’t watch it as if it was a movie. I loved Bradford Young’s work on Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, but I completely understood the objections of some critics about its sepulchral lighting.  I have never seen it on television, and I can imagine it would lose much impact and become quite frustrating on the small screen because, and pay attention here Fabian, it was lit for cinema viewing – which doesn’t just mean that you watch it in the dark, but that you watch it on a big screen in the dark. A BIG screen, hence Roger Moore’s disquisition on the value of a raised eyebrow because it shoots up about 12 feet on a proper cinema screen. [As for the idea that you don’t need to see what’s going on because it’s about the emotional impact of what’s going on that you can’t see – arrant nonsense.] I had the very odd sensation watching Velvet Buzzsaw that something was off about Robert Elswit’s normally glorious cinematography; and I felt he’d got caught in an existential crisis. Here he was working on something that Netflix wants everyone (especially the Oscars and film critics) to accept is a proper movie damn it, and yet aware that this might be shown at a single film festival and then watched by nearly all of its (usually undisclosed number of) viewers on a small screen. If a movie is made to be watched on the small screen, and not to be watched in a cinema on a big screen, then what makes it different from a Hallmark TV movie other than its star power, budget, and attendant style?

Yes, Renault, I smoke, there’s no need to be so shocked about it.

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there

The BBC has got my goat in the past few days with their irritating nonsense. Multiple times on Friday night’s tribute to Jazz 625 we were treated like small impressionable children with no more free will than a Pavlovian dog by being warned that footage of the original 1960s show would contain people – gasp – smoking – clasp your pearls in horror, there’s worse to come – indoors -gasp for breath as if your lungs were being filled with secondhand smoke from a 1960s image and fall to the floor writhing in agony! Thank you Auntie, but I am capable of realising that the 1960s is not the 2010s.  But there was worse on Thursday night when Janina Ramirez warned us that footage of Alan Yentob talking about Leonardo Da Vinci in 2003 would contain Yentob – gasp – smoking – clasp your pearls in horror, there’s worse to come – indoors – gasp for breath as if your lungs were being filled with secondhand smoke from a 2000s image and fall to the floor writhing in agony! Oh for Christ’s sake…. The repetition of the phrase ‘it was a different time’ clearly means this is some sort of policy at the BBC to lecture the audience at every opportunity, but as so often with this kind of approach it was counterproductive because Yentob simply had a half-smoked cigarette in one hand while he spread out notebooks by Da Vinci on a bar counter. I would not have noticed the cigarette if my attention had not been drawn to it, if I had seen it at all I might have mistaken it for a short pencil. Well done, BBC, well done. This is the kind of policing impulse that shares a mindset with the fools who want all old movies rated 18s because they feature smoking, and it both cases it betrays a mind that wishes to excoriate when it doesn’t forget the past in order to smugly bask in the wonderful nature of the present. Oblivious to the fact that the present will no doubt be excoriated in similar manner in the future, most likely for what it is most smug about right now.

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September 9, 2018

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part IX

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.

“No, that doesn’t track”

We now know Wes Anderson’s next film will be live-action and set in post-WWII France, immediately post-war apparently. So perhaps taking cues from Les Enfants de Paradis, Jean Cocteau and Jour de Fete rather than the 50s of Clouzot, Bresson and early New Wave. Insofar as Wes Anderson takes cues from anyone… Any excitement I might have that he’s tackling a specific culture and time is tempered by the knowledge that it will be put thru the wringer until it comes out a Wes Anderson movie. A topic of conversation arises with Paul Fennessy every time there’s a new Wes Anderson – just how much of a straitjacket his trademarks have become. One of our favourite flights of fancy finds Wes and Jason Schwartzman or Roman Coppola or Owen Wilson seated at a diner in Austin; furiously scribbling dialogue and scene ideas in yellow legal pads, and beaming at each other happily, until a shadow crosses Wes’ face, and he asks in horror and disappointment, “But wait, can we do that as a tracking shot or a series of whip-pans?” Because if not, well, there’s no place for it in the cathedral of conventions that Wes Anderson has imprisoned himself within.

Photo: Matt Kennedy

“I can’t help if it I’m popular”

Well now, that didn’t take long. Less than a month after I derided it here, the Oscars abruptly threw engines into full reverse on their wonderfully patronising idea of giving out a new token Oscar for Best ‘Popular’ Movie. It was a bold move to keep the plebeians happy and watching the bloated ceremony honouring films nobody saw. I would wager cold hard cash the decision to ‘suspend’ the new award followed almost instantly on Chadwick Boseman scotching the notion he would be happy to see Black Panther dismissed with a token gong so transparently created merely to commend his all-conquering movie without commending it. He wanted, quite rightly, to be nominated, and seriously, for the Best Picture Oscar; like previous Oscar-winning crowd pleasers The Sting, Forrest Gump, and Rocky. Right now Black Panther has made 700,059,566 dollars at the North American Box Office.  Let us be cruel and note that the combined totals of every Best Picture Oscar winner this decade; The King’s Speech (135,453,143), The Artist (44,671,682), Argo (136,025,503), 12 Years a Slave (56,671,993), Birdman (42,340,598), Spotlight (45,055,776), Moonlight (27,854,932), The Shape of Water (63,859,435); come to just 551,933,062 dollars. That is why fewer and fewer people watch the obscurantist Oscars.

The means defeat the ends

Watching Ken Burns’ incredible documentary The Vietnam War last year it was hard not to think that when someone proclaims ‘the ends justify the means’ any means thus justified actually work against the proclaimed ends.  The brutal means employed in Vietnam actually strengthened the Vietcong and thus worked against the ends of keeping South Vietnam out of their hands.  And, in a disconcerting swoop to utter banality, the shamelessness of the cash-grab of The Hobbit trilogy meant grabbing shamefully little cash. Despite featuring the same writing/producing staff as the Lord of the Rings , (with the regrettable addition of Guillermo Del Toro), Peter Jackson as director, and Andrew Lesnie as cinematographer, the first two Hobbit films (I’ve avoided the last) were nothing like it. They were shot like Janusz Kaminski had left the supernova on in the soundstage, and the greenscreen room, and the digital FX studio, bedevilled by awful acting, unintentionally funny make-up and CGI make-up work, and muddled in nearly every imaginable respect of scripting and directing, with even promising sequences descending into over the top gibberish repeatedly, and this is before we even gripe that the slim volume of Tolkien being made into three films was, as Bilbo once said, like butter spread over too much bread. They were entirely lacking the magic of the Lord of the Rings mostly because of a bewildering lack of reality. Well, not that bewildering after all. The reason that unwelcome CGI was so omnipresent was because the forced perspective practical trickery of set design used to such great effect in the Lord of the Rings would not work for 3-D. So Ian McKellen got to interact with, essentially, named coconuts on sticks, until he started crying; and wailing ‘This is not why I became an actor’. Why abandon forced perspective for 3-D? Because they had to be in 3-D to make as much money as possible! But, because this made them look so awful, on top of the sheer greed of making a trilogy from a small book, people like me, who saw every Lord of the Rings film in the cinema at least twice, and then bought them on home release, in both versions, didn’t go to the cinema to suffer this misbegotten trilogy. Indeed after slogging to the end of the DVD of the second Hobbit film, with its inane love triangle and CGI Smaug whose scale was never clear during his scenes with Bilbo, and which ended with a slap in the face to the audience by leaving his attack till the next movie, I vowed never to watch the third.  And it seems many people felt as I did. The Hobbit’s takings were 1,000m, 958m, and 956m. As opposed to the Lord of the Rings’s takings of 871.5m, 926m, and 1,100m. Note how more people flocked to the Lord of the Rings film by film, while people backed away from The Hobbit. Note also that The Hobbit’s numbers are swelled by inflated 3-D ticket prices, and a decade of inflation. Well, that backfired spectacularly. The ends (making mucho money) justified the means (making awful-looking films, and too many of them, badly). And, the ends, of making mucho money, were defeated by the means employed, an unexpected trilogy of CGI in 3-D.

February 24, 2018

A Bluffer’s Guide to Phantom Thread

Life is too short to watch the films nominated for the Oscars, but how else can one join in on conversations about the films nominated for the Oscars? Fear not, for here is your manual for being in the know.

Not having seen Phantom Thread should not stop you indulging in in-jokes about it, or making obscure references to scenes to cut out from the chatter people who also haven’t seen it, but haven’t read this piece either. There are three obscure things you simply must do. You must say, “Ah Fitzrovia, all shot on location there, as you recognised I’m sure” and then sigh wistfully, leaving your listeners discomfited at their lack of Old London chic. You must praise Brian Gleeson’s upper-crust English accent, and compare it to Day-Lewis’ cut-glass accent in 1985’s A Room with a View. You must impress upon people the extravagance of Paul Thomas Anderson hiring a 1950s red London double-decker bus for an entire day, only to drive it past a window, out of focus in the background of a shot, for two seconds; and then crush them by saying “Ah, yes, but it is indispensable. Phantom Thread isn’t just set in the 1950s, in that scene for those seconds it embodies the 1950s.”

Now then, quotable quotes; some of which are damned hard to work naturally into a conversation unless you find yourself in a kitchen or eating breakfast. If you do find yourself near some food, clatter the cutlery about, and make a noisy show of scraping your knife on toast; and then mutter “Entirely too much activity at breakfast” or “It’s like you rode a horse across the room” with a knowing wink. To completely dispel any doubt that you have no idea what you’re actually referencing then deadpan very seriously, “If his breakfast gets upset he finds it very hard to recover for the rest of the day.” To chide someone, shush them away, and then bark “The tea is going out, but the interruption is staying right here with me”. To exit in high dudgeon, say “There is an air of quiet death about this house, and I do not like how it smells”. If all this is too much to remember you could just offer to cook someone your famous mushroom omelette and then degenerate into helpless laughter.

So far so good, but you can layer your faux familiarity further. You should comment loudly on the omnipresence of Jonny Greenwood’s score and say that it puts one in mind of Shostakovich, but then of course the driving strings of Plainview’s theme in There Will Be Blood owed much to the 2nd movement of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony, allegedly depicting Stalin’s ruthless energy. And then add in that a new note struck by Greenwood this time was the gorgeous piano cues, reminiscent of Debussy at his most gorgeous and minimal. As a feint you can feign ignorance if you think people are getting suspicious, note that you don’t fully (feign ignorance, never admit to ignorance) understand the purpose of the Clockwork Orange reference when Daniel Day-Lewis drives in the countryside at night. But then trump these sceptics by saying that this move’s ‘milkshake scene’ is surely the ‘asparagus scene’. Compare it to Pinter, compare it to Mamet, compare it to Le Carre as a joke because Day-Lewis raves about spies, and then seem to struggle to remember the words “You know that I like my asparagus cooked in butter and salt, yet you have cooked it in oil. Were the circumstances different I might be able to pretend to like it, but as they are I’m simply admiring my own gallantry for eating it in the way you prepared it.”

Now you are in the know. Go forth and bluster.

February 23, 2018

Lady Bird

On an avalanche of hype Greta Gerwig’s second film as director finally arrives here, depicting the senior high school year of Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson.

Sacramento native Christine (Saoirse Ronan), who insists on referring to herself by her new self-given given name of Lady Bird, is returning from scouting California colleges with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) when she breaks her arm being melodramatic. Further misadventures involve falling out with her fat best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and falling in with the rich, pretty, vacuous Jenna (Odeya Rush) while she goes from romancing charming co-star Danny (Lucas Hedges) to moody musician Kyle (Timothee Chalamet). She is determined to go to college on the East Coast despite money worries caused by her father Larry (Tracy Letts) being let go, and further family tension owing to her brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his live-in girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) working checkouts despite having Berkeley degrees because of the ‘jobless recovery’. This is 2002/3, you see. 

Among the baneful distortions of reality the Oscars cause is the unrealistic hype that can destroy some films, which can never live up to expectations like ‘the greatest screen performance of all time’ Daniel Day-Lewis supposedly gave in There Will Be Blood. Lady Bird is at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes among critics, it’s meant to be the feminist film of our times, the antidote to Trump’s America, take your pick of whatever hyperbole attaches to it online. But after Frances Ha and Mistress America this film is a disappointment. Sam Levy, who shot those two as well as Maggie’s Plan, casts a hazier light over proceedings here which matches Gerwig’s impressionistic portrait of a year with vignettes and montages. But too much of Lady Bird is populated by stock characters, a vague backdrop outside the only carefully etched relationship: mother-daughter.

It’s odd that, after Twilight (!), Gerwig sees fit to also rehash Gilmore Girls’ exemplar: the dull dependable boyfriend versus the edgy erratic boyfriend. More predictable is that, like Wish I Was Here or Middlesex, Lady Bird presents an artist’s abandoned religion as ancient nonsense/psychotic cult. In this case juvenile anti-Catholicism leads directly to a terrible misstep. Lady Bird is horrible to her best friend when she’s chorus and Julie lead in their school musical, she’s horrible to her brother when failing at college admission, and, in one of the most repellent scenes I’ve ever seen, especially for a ‘charming indie’, she’s horrible to anti-abortion speaker Casey (Bayne Gibby) whose very existence she dismisses as a joke. Lady Bird isn’t very funny, talented, smart, or nice. And as this film is steadfastly uninterested in developing anyone else that’s a problem…

‘Important’ films are rarely good, and sadly it seems Gerwig is being feted for making an important film, because this falls short of what she’s done in the past.

3/5

August 15, 2017

New Irish film The Lodgers to screen at TIFF

Tailored Films’ third and latest feature film The Lodgers has been selected by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) as part of their Contemporary World Cinema programme. TIFF is one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals and is taking place this September 7th – 17th. The Lodgers is one of the few Irish films selected this year, and it is seen as a massive honour to be included at such a highly regarded festival.

The Lodgers is a gothic ghost story set in the 1920s about orphaned twins Edward (Bill Milner) and Rachel (Charlotte Vega) who live in a crumbling manor in 1920s rural Ireland – but they are not the only residents. They share the big house with unseen entities who control them with three absolute rules. As separate fates draw them apart, the twins must face the terrible truth about their family’s ghostly tormentors. The film also features Irish actors Moe Dunford, Deirdre O’Kane, and Roisin Murphy in support. The Lodgers was directed by Brian O’Malley (Let Us Prey), and, bravely, primarily shot in Loftus Hall in County Wexford, which is widely known as being the most haunted house in all Ireland.

Tailored Films is a growing film production company based in Dublin and The Lodgers is only their third feature film by company founders Ruth Treacy and Julianne Forde, and is their first time to be featured as part of the TIFF line-up. Treacy and Forde set up Tailored Films after graduating together from the Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT), and are delighted to be a part of the growing Irish film industry and representing Irish film abroad. “It’s a huge honour to have our gothic ghost story The Lodgers selected for the highly competitive and prestigious Toronto International Film Festival. It was always our dream to have our film premiere at an A-list international festival and we’re really excited to see how audiences and distributors respond to it” said Treacy of the news.

TIFF is dedicated to presenting the best of international and Canadian cinema to film lovers. What began as the Festival of Festivals over 40 years ago, has become the world’s most important publicly attended film festival, an Oscar launching pad, and grown to embrace programming 365 days a year. www.tiff.net

January 24, 2017

ADIFF: Oscar movies

The Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017 offers the first chance for Irish audiences to see five of the films nominated for Academy Awards earlier today.
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Best Animated Feature Film nominees The Red Turtle and My Life as a Courgette will screen as part of the ADIFF Fantastic Flix children’s and young people’s strand, while Best Documentary Feature nominee I Am Not Your Negro and Best Foreign Language nominees Tanna and The Salesman feature as part of the main ADIFF programme. Eagle-eyed viewers will note that I Am Not Your Negro and The Salesman were featured in Talking Movies’ 17 films to watch at ADIFF when the programme was announced last week. Elsewhere Irish actress Ruth Negga was nominated for Loving, ADIFF Volta Award-winning Irish costume designer Consolata Boyle, was given a nod for Best Costume Design for Florence Foster Jenkins; and two films from last year’s ADIFF programme, Zootopia and Land of Mine, were also shortlisted.

The Red Turtle –Fantastic Flix’s Opening Film
A man is shipwrecked on a beautiful island devoid of humans and must make the most of what he has to survive. Watched on by a group of sand crabs, he attempts to escape but is thwarted by the weather and a red turtle with a vendetta. Then an unexpected visitor arrives who will alter the man’s fate for all time.

10th Feb, 6.30pm at Omniplex Rathmines.

My Life as a Courgette
After his mother’s sudden death, Courgette is befriended by a kind police officer Raymond, who accompanies him to his new foster home filled with other orphans his age. At first, Courgette struggles to find his place in this strange, at times, hostile environment. Yet with Raymond’s help and his newfound friends, he eventually learns to trust, finds true love and at last a new family of his own.
17th Feb 2017 11.50am at Omniplex Rathmines.

I Am Not Your Negro
Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, and with unprecedented access to James Baldwin’s original work,  Raoul Peck has completed the cinematic version of the book Baldwin never wrote – a radical narration about race in America that tracks the lives and assassinations of Baldwin’s friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Whilst partly anchored in the struggle for equality in the ’50s and ’60s, I Am Not Your Negro sees Peck extrapolate from Baldwin’s actual work to make his own statements about what it means to be black in America today.

Tuesday 21st February, 8:45pm at the Light House Cinema

Tanna
Tanna is a captivating romance set amongst the Yakel people of Vanuatu and is the first feature film shot completely on that island. Based on real events, and written in collaboration with the cast (all non-professionals), the film tells the story of Wawa and Dain, a young couple in love who must go on the run to escape Wawa’s arranged marriage to an enemy tribe.

Sunday 26th Feb 2017, 2 pm at the Light House Cinema

The Salesman
After making his previous film (The Past) in France, Asghar Farhadi (A SeparationAbout Elly) returns to his native Tehran for this story about a couple forced out of their apartment due to dangerous works on a neighbour’s building. Emad and Rana move into a new flat in the centre of Tehran, where an incident linked to the previous tenant will dramatically change the young couple’s life. Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman plays an unexpected part in proceedings, as the nature of honour and violence are explored in typically metaphorical Iranian style.
Friday 17th Feb, 6.15pm. Cineworld

Tickets for the 2017 programme are available to buy online at diff.ie, in person at DIFF House & Box Office, 13 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1 or by phoning 01 6877974.

March 6, 2015

HeadStuff

Regular readers of Talking Movies via Twitter and Google Plus will have noticed that I’ve started contributing reviews and features to newly (re)launched website HeadStuff.org.

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HeadStuff.org was founded by editor Alan Bennett, who does a better job of explaining what it’s all about than I could in this piece:

http://www.headstuff.org/2015/03/headstuff-launch-thanks/

The site now has a shop and its own podcast (first episode featuring Jarlath Regan). And having said I’d leave it to him I’ll wade in anyway and have a bash at explaining it. Imagine a site that encompasses all the areas you’re interested in, not just one, not just two or three, but all of them. Remember that scene where Rory Gilmore explained to her mother why she needed to have so many books in her bag? Sometimes you just want to read a short story, some journeys need a long novel, other times you want to delve into a life, but sometimes you can’t handle biography, so you need some good non-fiction. Rory’s bag of variety is HeadStuff. If you want to find interesting articles on science, film, music, television, history, literature, visual arts, humour, or topical issues then HeadStuff.org is for you.

 

So here’s a round-up of what I’ve written for them so far.

 

Inherent Vice

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http://www.headstuff.org/2015/01/inherent-vice-review-no-1/

 

Cake

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http://www.headstuff.org/2015/02/cake-a-review/

 

Focus

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http://www.headstuff.org/2015/02/focus-a-review/

 

And as well as reviews there’s been a brace of features:

 

 

Gotham Inc: The WB and their IP

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http://www.headstuff.org/2015/01/gotham-inc-warner-brothers-and-their-intellectual-property/

 

JDIFF 2015

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http://www.headstuff.org/2015/02/jameson-dublin-international-film-festival-2015-a-preview/

 

And also pithy predictions in a series of pieces in which HeadStuff’s film writers tried to call the Oscars:

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http://www.headstuff.org/2015/02/oscars-2015-who-will-win-who-should-win-best-picture/

 

http://www.headstuff.org/2015/02/oscars-2015-who-will-win-who-should-win-best-director/

 

http://www.headstuff.org/2015/02/oscars-2015-who-will-win-who-should-win-best-actoractress/

 

http://www.headstuff.org/2015/02/oscars-2015-who-will-win-who-should-win-best-original-screenplay/

 

And this is only the beginning…

February 5, 2015

Selma

Selma brings to vivid life the struggle for civil rights in 1965 Alabama with a fiery performance from David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr.

SELMA

Four schoolgirls are murdered in a church bombing in Selma. Any prospect for justice is defeated by the refusal of Registrar (Clay Chappell) to allow people like Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) to register to vote (on ever shifting sands of spurious tests), thereby ensuring all-white juries. And so MLK (Oyelowo) rolls into town to whip up a mass demonstration to pressure LBJ (Tom Wilkinson) to put aside the Great Society and pass a Voting Rights Act instead. Little does he know that as well as facing the obvious threat of Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth), his henchman Col. Al Lingo (Stephen Root), and the vicious Selma Sheriff Jim Clark (Stanley Houston), he will face the shadowy threat of J Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) attempting to turn King’s wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) against him. Can MLK stay the course?

Oyelowo oozes charisma as he delivers three set-piece speeches during this film. But he also shows us a vulnerable side to King; riven by guilt over the deaths of protestors drawn by his rhetoric, self-doubt about whether his leadership will achieve civil rights, and shame at his infidelities. The other black leaders Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo), James Orange (Omar J Dorsey), James Bevel (Common), Bayard Rustin (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), Andrew Young (Andre Holland), John Lewis (Stephan James), James Forman (Trai Byers), Rev. Williams (Wendell Pierce), and Rev. Vivian (Corey Reynolds), are, perhaps inevitably, less particularised; but the ensemble is equal to the challenge laid down by Oyelowo’s lead performance. Selma is especially interesting when it explores conflict between these men; with egoism and principle equally important in arguments over leadership and non-violence; and when Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch) arrives in town.

But Selma has heavy baggage. Director Ava DuVernay’s Oscar snub is not that outrageous. Even if she did rewrite Paul Webb’s script as much as claimed she’d deserve a nod only for writing. The ones hard done by are Oyelowo and cinematographer Bradford Young; who once again does extraordinary things with warm shadows in MLK’s intimate moments of doubt. But the depiction of LBJ, as uninterested in civil rights and conniving at J Edgar sending a sex-tape to Coretta, has been hauled over the coals by Maureen Dowd, and her central charge; “Filmmakers love to talk about their artistic license to distort the truth, even as they bank on the authenticity of their films to boost them at awards season”; rings uncomfortably true. Rather David O Russell’s ‘Some of this actually happened’ than claiming your fictions are truer than history.

Selma is an extremely moving, often upsetting, chronicle of an extraordinary event, powered by a magnificent lead performance, but it’s not history and must be taken with much salt.

3.5/5

January 15, 2015

Wild

Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Coast Trail solo in the mid-90s to find herself, now Reese Witherspoon hikes it cinematically in search of another Oscar.FOX_3558.psd

Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon), an ex-junkie recently divorced from patient husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski), sets out to walk from California to Washington State, a distance of over 1,000 miles – solo. As she walks she’s aided in her ambitious trek by friendly farmer Frank (W Earl Brown), helpful hiker Greg (Kevin Rankin), and unlikely named journalist Jimmy Carter (Mo McRae). But while other people can help with the logistics of hiking the PCT (her backpack is instantly nicknamed Monster by fellow hikers for its excessiveness), nobody can aid her when it comes to the inner emotional journey which takes up just as much screen-time, and is the reason for the PCT attempt: dealing with her grief over the early death from cancer of her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern), and her anger at her ne’er-do-well brother Leif (Keene McRae) not pulling his weight.

Wild is not a likeable film. When Strayed begins the trek; not having tested how heavy her backpack would be when full, not having practised setting up a tent, and not having checked what kind of fuel her portable stove takes; you can only flashback to the detestably naive protagonist of 2007’s Into the Wild. Witherspoon is transparently attempting to win an Oscar. You can almost see the calculations on the back of a napkin: true story, multiple nude scenes, hard drug use, a story of redemption – Bingo! Worse, you start to suspect from Nick Hornby’s script that wannabe writer Strayed did the trek purely to be able to write a confessional non-fiction book about doing the trek. The American wilderness seems to inspire cinematically a sort of drivelling poetical mash-up of Frederic Jackson Turner, Teddy Roosevelt, and Jack Kerouac.

Strayed writes mottoes from great writers in station-books, and Dallas Buyers Club Jean-Marc Vallee is reduced to having her accompanied by a highly symbolic CGI fox… Wild is uncomfortable viewing because, as college boys Josh (Will Cuddy), Rick (Leigh Parker), and Richie (Nick Eversman) note, Strayed is the ‘Queen of the PCT’ – people obsequiously make things easy for her, because she’s a woman – but she’s also constantly threatened with rape, especially by roving hunters TJ (Charles Baker) and Clint (JD Evermore). It’s also unrewarding, because Strayed’s reaction to grief is Jennifer Lawrence’s self-destructive spiral in Silver Linings Playbook. But we see it, and are then asked to give a Kerouacian mystical assent to sex addiction and heroin as being somehow positive because they led her to the Bridge of the Gods in Washington – and her perorating non-epiphany of an epiphany.

Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘El Condor Pasa’ is effectively used, the scenery is great, Dern is vivacious, and Strayed’s interior monologue is wise-cracking, but Wild while engaging lacks true heart.

3/5

February 24, 2012

Oscar Schmoscar: Part III

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 4:24 pm
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The annual parade of pomposity and razzmatazz known as the Academy Awards lurches around yet a-bloody-gain this Sunday, so here’s a deflating reminder of its awful track record.

The Academy is Hollywood’s way of slapping itself on the back for doing a damn fine job, and as no genre was as quintessentially American as Hollywood’s standard-bearer the Western, you’d imagine that Westerns received the slap on the back a good number of times, yeah? No. No… The Academy’s only given the Oscar for Best Picture to three Westerns in its entire history, Cimarron, Dances with Wolves, and Unforgiven. I guess Stagecoach, Destry Rides Again, Red River, Bend of the River, Shane, The Searchers, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Rio Bravo, The Magnificent Seven, For a Few Dollars More, El Dorado, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, True Grit, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Pale Rider all sucked then. But I mean the Academy know best, right? I mean it’s not like Orson Welles watched Stagecoach repeatedly before Citizen Kane to learn movie directing or anything, right? Right??

The Academy will always favour what I’ve previously dubbed ‘Immersive Acting’ over great ‘just acting’ of subtlety and power. Colin Firth won for The King’s Speech and not for his superior performance in A Single Man. Immersive acting produces terrific performances but it also has a curiously self-promoting showiness, as if acting somehow consisted of weight-loss and skills-training. The non-actor voters at the Academy only seem to be impressed if actors obviously do ‘hard work’. ‘Hey look, she’s doing an accent’, ‘Hey look, he learnt how to stammer’, ‘Hey look, she learnt to dance’, ‘Hey look, he’s playing a real person’. Bending your own life for a certain period of time to make it the same as the role (Day-Lewis in a wheelchair…) doesn’t make you a better actor than someone who reads the script, thinks about it, and gives a great truthful performance. It’ll win you more Oscars though…

We shouldn’t let it be thought that the Academy are competent to tell us what the best films of any year are when they’re incapable of recognising that Shame, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Take Shelter were all amazing films made in 2011. This event needs to be denied the oxygen of publicity, without which it would surely shrivel down to a size more commensurate with its questionable judgement. That’s why every year this blog will never speculate about the nominations before they’re made, comment on them after they’re made, or make any acknowledgement of the winners. When the Oscars are worthy of coverage, I will cover them. I look forward to the day when blockbusters, comedies, small dramas, and epic dramas that have been released throughout a year and not merely in the last three months of the calendar jostle for deserved recognition. But I don’t hold my breath.

Show me someone who truly values the Oscars and I’ll show you someone who learnt to love movies from statistics books or marketing texts, not from watching damn good movies…

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