Talking Movies

May 31, 2018

Re-appraisers of the Lost Archives

It has been an odd experience this past six weeks trawling through the pre-Talking Movies archives, finding reviews of films I haven’t seen or even thought about in a decade.

It’s startling that of the 17 films I’ve re-posted the now deleted Dublinks.com reviews to Talking Movies, I’ve only watched 2 of them again since the press screening. And one of them was 10,000 BC. Which was kind of research for my 2010 Dramsoc one-act play Roland Emmerich Movie, but mostly just to share its delirious nonsensicality with friends. A DVD extra that nearly killed us all revealed Erich von Daniken as an official consultant. Erich von Daniken, who a court-appointed psychologist decades ago concluded ‘a pathological liar’ whose book Chariots of the Gods was ‘a marvel of nonsense’, was telling Roland Emmerich what was what on science and history. The other film was a recent re-watch – again in the cinema! There Will Be Blood appealed to me more second time round, and on a battered 35mm print it seemed far older than its actual vintage, which perhaps added to its mood. But, while I found more nuance in Day-Lewis’ turn this time round, I still don’t think the film deserves nearly as much adulation it receives. The only thing I would change about my sceptical review is noting how Greenwood’s score echoes the frenzied 2nd movement of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony; which allegedly represents the demonic energy of Stalin – not a bad counterpoint when you realise Plainview is Capitalism made flesh. And 10,000 BC, likewise, I wouldn’t change a thing. I would now claim that, like the first Velvet Underground album, it was seen by few people, but everybody who did see it went on to write a trashy screenplay in Starbucks. Per my own words; “It’s less a film and more of an illustrated guide on how to write a really cheesy, dumb blockbuster. This is a very bad film indeed but it’s gloriously ludicrous. I haven’t enjoyed myself this much watching rubbish in quite some time”; I certainly set to screenwriting after it.

There are several reasons I haven’t re-watched 15 of these films. I saw so very many films for reviewing purposes in 2007 and 2008 that I had little desire to revisit any of them, indeed I had a strong desire to explore older, foreign films as an antidote to the industrial parade of clichés emanating from the Hollywood dream factory. I then took a break from cinema for most of 2009, to the displeasure of one, which left me hungry to discover as many new films as possible rather than obsessively re-watch familiar ones. It was the same spirit that simultaneously motivated me to read The Crack-Up, This Side of Paradise and Tender is the Night in quick succession rather than simply continuing to re-read an almost memorised Gatsby. I then moved on to wanting to round out certain directorial oeuvres. This impulse reached its zenith in 2012 when I substantially completed Woody Allen and made decent progress on Welles and Malle. Life then got in the way of such plans. That’s the macro perspective, but on a micro level I would only have wanted to revisit Stop Loss, Street Kings, Son of Rambow, Juno, and maybe Be Kind Rewind. Keanu’s disappearance from multiplexes put Street Kings out of my mind, Stop Loss disappeared from public view after the cinema, Son of Rambow was charming but I remembered the jokes too well, Juno suffered my increasing disenchantment with Jason Reitman, and Be Kind Rewind I remembered as being just about good – and it should never be a priority to knowingly watch bad movies when you could watch good movies. Talking of which… 27 Dresses, The Accidental Husband, and Fool’s Gold are high in the rogue’s gallery of why I hate rom-coms, Meet the Spartans is only of interest (and barely at that) as a time-capsule of internet memes c.2007, Sweeney Todd and The Cottage were unpleasant agonies to watch even once, Shine A Light verily bored me into a condition of coma, and Speed Racer, Jumper, and The Edge of Love were hard slogs by dint of dullness. Who would willingly re-watch any of them?

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May 1, 2018

From the Archives: There Will Be Blood

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives finds my sceptical review of the greatest film performance of all time in a work of staggering genius.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar winning saga of oilmen in early 20th Century America opens with a dialogue free 15 minutes. In them, Daniel Day-Lewis’ monstrous capitalist Daniel Plainview scratches in the ground for gold before striking oil for the first time. Every critic worth their salt has jumped on board the ‘Hey let’s compare 2001 and There Will Be Blood’ bandwagon and so will I. Comparisons to the opening sequence of 2001 are, indeed, apt. Both sequences showcase a director more intent on confirming their auteur status by showing off their long tracking shots than on actually telling a story or giving a proper introduction to the characters. It is not coincidence that the scores of both films are given such praise, oftentimes nothing else of value is happening.

Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s score is tremendous. He early on uses a very 19th Century style of lush Romanticism that stretches harmony to breaking point before settling into a more modern dissonant and percussive mode that conveys the energy and darkness of Plainview. There are sequences when Greenwood’s use of pure percussion with gradually added staccato strings overshadows the boring visuals it scores. The problem is that screenwriter/director Anderson is so deeply in love with his pointless tracking shots (see Magnolia…) that it works against his storytelling. Major themes are flagged and then never engaged with. You keep waiting for the film to kick up a gear, then realise it’s never going to interrogate God versus Mammon, or do more with charismatic charlatan preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). The final half-hour is terrific but it sees the film veers towards deranged comedy including Day-Lewis’ infamous delivery of the line “I drink your milkshake!”, which is, by itself, worth sitting through 157 minutes for.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance could never justify its hype as one of the finest in the history of cinema. The surprise is that it’s not even the finest of his career. His Oscar seems to be an apology by the Academy for not recognising his terrifying turn as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. The first sign that something is rotten in the state of Daniel comes with his first speech, delivered in an accent suspiciously like his 1870s fop Newland Archer, from The Age of Innocence. Later he starts phrasing like Anthony Hopkins before finally edging towards Sean Connery’s accent.

This film is a classic example of the dangers of hype. Seen blind Day-Lewis gives an accomplished performance in an overlong film that meanders badly but has some wonderful set-pieces of oil accidents, deranged greed and religious mania, with a number of truly memorable exchanges between Plainview and Sunday. Seen after all the Oscar hoopla you downgrade a respectable 3 star film to 2 stars. This is worth seeing, just disregard the hype.

3/5

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.

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

 

January 7, 2015

Digital Biscuit 2015

The Screen Directors Guild of Ireland today announced the full line-up for the third annual Digital Biscuit, which will feature a talk by writer/producer David Chase: creator of The Sopranos.

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Inspired by William Wellman’s 1931 James Cagney classic The Public Enemy and his own early years in New Jersey (which he’d previously touched on in The Rockford Files), Chase created the HBO series The Sopranos, the most financially successful series in the history of cable television. Chase will join Digital Biscuit as headline speaker to discuss his career as a director, writer and producer par excellence. Speaking about his forthcoming visit, David Chase said: “I’m delighted to come to Ireland, a place of great storytelling tradition, and look forward to exploring the future of stories at Digital Biscuit.” Chase joins Michel Gondry; director, screenwriter and producer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Bruno Delbonnel; cinematographer for Amelie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Big Eyes; and Franklin Leonard; Film Executive and founder of screenwriting event The Black List; in this year’s line up of Digital Biscuit speakers.

James Gandolfini and David Chase

 

Digital Biscuit is an international film and technology forum that aims to foster innovation and collaboration in film and television production, and will take over Dublin’s Science Gallery from 28th–30th of January. Speaking about Digital Biscuit, SDGI director, Birch Hamilton said “Making a movie is one of the biggest creative collaborations between people that exists today. To truly be creative is to make connections with the people and world around us. With Digital Biscuit we are trying to enable the Irish film industry to improve its global position as a centre of creative and technological excellence. It is our hope that through Digital Biscuit groundbreaking new works will be made and new relationships formed between people in different disciplines. We are fortunate to have a global Brain Trust of leading experts in film, technology, finance, games, augmented reality, animation, software and hardware that have guided us in what I think is a really exciting line up for 2015.” That Brain Trust, entertainment industry leaders who act as ambassadors for Digital Biscuit, includes Damini Kumar (European Ambassador for Creativity & Innovation), Marie Schmidt Olesen (Commissioning Editor, New Danish Screen), and Nick Meaney (CEO at Epagogix).

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Guests at the Digital Biscuit launch today included Emmy and BAFTA award-winning director, Dearbhla Walsh (Roald Dahl’s Esio Trott), and Mads Damsbo and Lasse Andersen; who brought their innovative virtual reality experience The Doghouse from Denmark for a sneak preview ahead of its Irish Premiere at Digital Biscuit later this month. The launch also featured the latest Hexicam Aerials drone camera. Combining robots, remote control, and HD video, it is an extraordinary new piece of technology, which shoots in full HD whilst in flight. The three-day event will kick off with a special screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s psychedelic surf noir Inherent Vice at the IFI (28 Jan, 8pm). Digital Biscuit is delighted to present the Irish Premiere of Is the Man who is Tall Happy?; an animated conversation with Noam Chomsky, directed by Michel Gondry (29 Jan, 6.30pm, IFI). Digital Biscuit will present a bigger than ever Kino Play programme of events and live demonstrations, including first-person virtual reality film for Oculus Rift –  The Doghouse, a self taping booth from Bow Street, and an Irish Film Board and Oxford University collaboration on a multi-sensory film and food experiment; led by Charles Spence,experimental psychology scientist at Oxford University.

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One of the most exciting events at Digital Biscuit will be 20 minute first-person virtual reality film installation for Oculus virtual reality headset, The Doghouse. The project uses this gaming technology to allow one story to be told from five different points of view at the same time. Sitting around a dinner table set for five people, you get a view inside the character, via a virtual reality headset, to see and hear what the actor experiences, sees and hears. The film was originally seen in 2014 at the Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre as part of FOKUS video art festival. Digital Biscuit will be the first time that the film is shown in Ireland and its second European outing. Birch Hamilton said “We’re particularly thrilled to present this preview of The Doghouse, which until now has only been seen in Denmark and Switzerland. It’s like an advanced role playing game, and is an exciting development in the future of the moving image and technology.” The multi point-of-view film installation will be accessible at points over the three-day event. Producer Mads Damsbo and director Johan Knattrup will give talks about the project. The Science Gallery exhibition spaces will play host to many such demos of the latest must-have technology for the film and moving image industry.

For more information on the full programme and to book, visit www.digitalbiscuit.ie

Digital Biscuit | Speakers |

Writer, director and producer David Chase (The Sopranos); Writer, director and producer Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind); Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Amélie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Big Eyes); Writer, director and novelist Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, The Borgias); Genevieve Dexter (IP financing expert and founder of Serious Lunch); Lizzie Gillett (Producer of climate change blockbuster, The Age Of Stupid); Franklin Leonard (Film Executive and founder of The Black List); Triona Campbell (Director of beActive Entertainment); Bobby Boermans (Creative Director of 2C Films); Sophia Stuart (Digital strategist, director and writer); Mads Damsbo & Johan Knattrup Jenson (Producer and Director of The Dog House – 20min virtual reality multi point-of-view film installation for Oculus Rift); Harry McCann (Founder of the Digital Youth Council); Prof. Charles Spence (Head of Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Oxford University); Mike Cockayne (Director, Writer & Producer of The Hardy Bucks); Dr Brian Vaughan (Lecturer in Digital Media, DIT); Shimmy Marcus (Creative director, Bow Street); Eibhlin Curley (Assistant Head of Enterprise, Local Enterprise Office Dublin); Casting director Maureen Hughes (The Butcher Boy, Love / Hate); Director and animator Anitti Haikala (Niko & The Way To The Stars, Little Brother, Big Trouble); VFX artist Glen Southern (Penny Dreadful); Cinematographer Owen McPolin (Penny Dreadful, Da Vinci’s Demons); VFX supervisor and producer Thomas Horton (Da Vinci’s Demons, The King’s Speech); Supervising visual colourist Peter Doyle (Edge Of Tomorrow, Big Eyes, Inside Llewyn Davis); Vocal coach Gerry Grennell (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Heart of The Sea, Thor: The Dark World). John Maguire (Film Critic, Sunday Business Post); Gavin Burke (Film Critic, Entertainment.ie); Karlin Lillington (Technology Journalist, The Irish Times); Andrew Kavanagh (CEO & Founder, Kavaleer Productions); Damini Kumar, (European Ambassador for Creativity & Innovation); Production designer Tom Conroy (Legend, The Vikings, The Tudors); Previsualisation Vincent Aupetit (Gravity, Thor: The Dark World); Donald Clarke (Chief Film Correspondent, The Irish Times); Tara Brady (Film Critic, The Irish Times).

Find out more at http://www.digitalbiscuit.ie/#!speakers/cee5

May 10, 2011

‘Matt Damon is Not Jason Bourne’

Matt Damon is Not Jason Bourne. An obvious truth I know, but one which seems to need re-stating of late…

I’ve been bemused by more than a few posters for movies of late because of two problems, the second of which concerns Matt Damon. The first problem is ho-hum films with unmemorable titles which make matters worse for themselves by blowing up their equally generic taglines to the same size so that looking at the poster on a bus stop you can find yourself looking at the top and bottom of the poster, and wondering if that new rom-com with Vince Vaughn is actually called The Truth Hurts or The Dilemma, or if Russell Brand is voicing a CGI character in something called Hop or Candy, Chicks, and Rocky and Roll. Now it’s undoubtedly true that good films make their titles memorable even if those titles aren’t particularly great objectively, but that’s no excuse for mediocre films settling for utterly banal titles. Similarly with taglines; how far we have fallen from when taglines like ‘In space no one can hear you scream’ became as famous as any lines of dialogue from the film they advertised.

This seems to display a lack of effort by all concerned that ties into my second problem – incredibly lazy journalism being utilised for incredibly lazy marketing. Green Zone displayed on its poster a quote stating ‘Bourne Goes Epic’. The Adjustment Bureau displayed on its poster a quote stating ‘Bourne meets Inception’. It’s got to the stage now that if Paul Thomas Anderson was to make a companion piece to Boogie Nights starring Matt Damon instead of his lookalike Mark Wahlberg, you would put serious money that some idiot somewhere would obligingly write ‘Bourne goes Porn’ as a handy pull-quote for the poster. Matt Damon is Not Jason Bourne: not every film he makes will be a gritty hand-held action thriller, nor will he be taciturn and amnesiac in every role he plays. Could Hereafter be accurately described as ‘Bourne meets Medium’? This trend is as idiotic as plastering the sentence ‘Indiana Jones meets Perry Mason’ on a poster for Presumed Innocent would have been, and it desperately needs to stop now.

The death of film was loudly declared some weeks ago in an article I may parse in the near future, but, while I don’t subscribe to the idea that Hollywood doesn’t tell stories anymore, I do think it may be accurate to suggest that a malaise of sorts has indeed descended over Burbank. Possibly it’s related to the decline in DVD sales, and a consequent feeling that if everything will just be pirated and watched online for free anyway, then what’s the point of wasting your time designing a Saul Bass class poster with a tagline that will become a catchphrase to entice people to see a film in theatres, when you could just plaster a barely adequate tagline and an inane quote from a pressed for time journalist over a cast photo?

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