Talking Movies

April 3, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXX

Filed under: Talking Books,Talking Movies,Talking Television — Fergal Casey @ 5:59 pm
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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 coronavirus unpleasantness 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 re-watching 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 less easy to prove your independent streak by liking films universally reviled. Randall Munroe gave a critical score under 50% on Rotten Tomatoes as the target, the other two parts of his trifecta being that the films came out in your adult life post-2000, and are not enjoyed ironically. Well, gosh darn if I didn’t find these ten films rated between 40% and 49% by critics 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’ 2000 Hitchcock pastiche was so critically pasted when it features some sequences; in particular the agony in the bath tub; that rise to the height of genuine Hitchcock level suspense. Zemeckis’ increasing obsession with CGI-enhanced technical wizardry hasn’t yet completely swamped his interest in his characters, as he overtly toys with Rear Window expectations.

Orange County

Colin Hanks and Jack Black are the main players in Mike White’s knockabout comedy about a hopelessly bungled application to Stanford, courtesy of Lily Tomlin’s guidance counsellor, and increasingly ludicrous attempts to get the admissions kerfuffle all sorted out 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 2002 film alive by somehow making it his only successful non-Fas & Furious franchise. The premise of an extreme sports dude being recruited into being an amateur CIA spook makes no sense what-so-ever, but it had better action, jokes, and humanity than the Bond film of its year by some measure – “Bora Bora!”

The Rules of Attraction

It was a genuine shock to see that this film was so critically reviled when I enthusiastically featured 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 Roger Avary draws career highlight turns from leads 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 complete with a big blockbuster video; the at the time inescapable Evanescence hit ‘Bring Me To Life’; this is an only semi-successful attempt at knockabout nonsense with the villains all trying to out-ham each other (and Colin Farrell’s Bullseye winning), but Jennifer Garner shines as Daredevil’s love interest Elektra.

Switchblade Romance

I will die on this weird Gallic hill! Alexandre Aja’s utterly blood-soaked shocker starring Cecile de France (and a chainsaw that spooked the next crew to use it) is a goretastic 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 entertaining!

The Village

This was the final straw for critics when it came to M Night Shyamalan, but it’s actually a very engaging and deeply creepy film with a star-making lead performance from Bryce Dallas Howard. Sure the final twist is probably over-egging the pudding, and indicated that M Night was now addicted to twists, but it doesn’t undo the effectiveness of all the 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; here making his directorial debut. It had a fine sense of metaphysical as well as visceral horror, featured outstanding supporting turns from Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare, a memorable magus versus demons action showdown, and was easily Keanu’s best film since The Matrix.

Super

I can’t believe that writer/director James Gunn’s delirious deconstruction of the superhero genre could actually have been this lowly esteemed by critics on release in 2010. Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page both give tremendous performances as the delusional heroes who decided to dress in absurd costumes and fight crime; suicidally going up against Kevin Bacon’s gangster, who is very much not a 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 or coherent 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 Seth Rogen’s DVD commentary is a hoot.

You didn’t build that, Disney

It’s been quite maddening to see bus after bus pass by in the last few weeks with huge ads on their sides for the launch of Disney+ and know that this lockdown is a gift from the universe to a mega corporation by making their new streaming service an obvious choice for harassed parents eager to occupy the time of housebound children with the Disney vault while they try to get some work from home done. Not of course that it’s really Disney’s vault, as is made plain by the attractions listed on the side of the bus. The Simpsons, which is to say 20th Century Fox. Star Wars. Pixar. Marvel. National Geographic. That’s Disney+? These things aren’t Disney. Matt Groening created The Simpsons, and I highly doubt Walt Disney would have approved. George Lucas created Star Wars and changed the cinematic world with ILM, and it was from Lucasfilm that Pixar was spun out, with the help of Steve Jobs. Not anybody at Disney. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko are responsible for most of the characters of Marvel, and without James Cameron and Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi there probably wouldn’t have been an MCU for Disney to buy. And Disney sure as hell didn’t found the National Geographic Society in the milieu of Alexander Graham Bell in the 1880s. Disney bought these. They didn’t build them patiently, they didn’t put in hard work, or exercise quality control over decades to build up a trusted reputation, they just waved a cheque book, and somehow regulators looked the other way at the increasing monopoly power being acquired. Disney bought these to accumulate monopolistic power and make mucho money, and in the case of Star Wars when they have attempted to build something themselves they have spectacularly managed to kill the golden goose, as can be seen by looking at the downward trajectory at the box office of the late unlamented Disney trilogy.

March 17, 2015

Any Other Business: Part X

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 tenth portmanteau post on television of course!

DaraOCinneide_1

Hurlers on the Ditch Jersey Turnpike

GAA USA, a new four part series, begins on TG4 at 9.30pm tomorrow night. Dara Ó Cinnéide, former All-Ireland winning Kerry captain and award-winning broadcaster, investigates the extraordinary and largely unknown history of Gaelic games in the United States. Produced by Éamonn Ó Cualáin, and directed by Sean Ó Cualáin, the series sees Ó Cinnéide visit NYC’s Gaelic Park & Yankee Stadium, and Milwaukee’s Hurling Club, as well as attend the 2014 North American Championships in Boston. In conversation with Irish people who have made a home for themselves in America, he encounters an enduring love of Gaelic games, and resourcefulness and passion, that since the 1870s, kept the GAA the most important Irish cultural organisation in America, intimately linked to continuing Irish emigration.

 

Episode 1: Go Meiriceá Siar – West to America, (1840-1918)

Dara investigates the earliest reporting of Gaelic games in America and the devastating effect baseball had among the immigrant Irish of the eastern seaboard; discovering compelling evidence of ‘pay for play’ long before the amateur ethos was enforced. In 1888, the newly formed GAA organised an American tour of visitingIrish athletes. A huge surge in interest followed this ‘Irish Invasion Tour’ as record numbers of new clubs were founded in dozens of cities. As the self-help movement became militarised, huge support for Irish independence in America funded and armed the IRB and IRA. And yet, despite huge interest in Irish affairs and the evolution of strong competitions across the country, when America entered WWI thousands of Irish-Americans left to fight Germany, and the playing of Gaelic games virtually ceased.

 

Episode 2: Idir Dhá Shaol- Striving for an Identity, (1918-1945)

The GAA reflected a profound dilemma faced by Irish-Americans driven by the idea of Irish Independence while striving to carve out a new identity in America. The health of the GAA mirrored America’s mood during the Roaring 20s: hopeful, bold, brash, expansionist. In an illustration of the resurgent interest in Gaelic games, the Kerry team played in front of a crowd of 60,000 spectators at Yankee Stadium in 1931. But, even as American newsreels began to notice Gaelic games, reportage was very much coloured by stereotypes of the Catholic Irish prevalent at the time; which had been fostered aggressively by the Scots-Irish since the 1840s. Rare 1930s footage demonstrates such racist propaganda: hurling was a brutal ‘thug sport.’ In the early 1930s St Mary’s College in California introduced hurling to its students, only to disband the team under pressure from the local baseball league. The Great Depression and WWII crippled the American GAA. To stand any chance of revival an unprecedented sporting spectacle was required.

 

Episode 3: An Ré Órga – The Golden Age (1945 -1980s)

In 1947, the All-Ireland final was staged at the Polo Grounds in New York. This unlikely event gave the GAA in America a much needed shot in the arm. The Polo Grounds are long gone, but Dara locates the only remaining part of the historic arena, a small stairway that once overlooked the stadium. The 1947 All-Ireland final coincided with a reopening of the floodgates at Ellis Island, and the consequent dawn of a golden age of Gaelic games in America. Never-before-seen colour footage of matches from the Polo Grounds show crowds in excess of 25,000 cheering their teams, as well as visiting teams (including legendary Cork hurler Christy Ring).This success was matched by increasing political influence. But this couldn’t prevent strict new immigration laws in the mid-1960s.

 

Episode 4: An Chéad Ghlúin Eile – The Next Generation

After the 1960s, in response to tighter immigration laws and a reluctance among the children of Irish immigrants to get involved, American clubs looked to Ireland; importing players, paying them to play for entire summers. The wealthiest clubs got the best players and the most championship wins. In recent years it’s estimated American clubs raised in excess of $100,000 to win local championships. By the late 1990s, it was clear that change was needed. All across America, ordinary members of the GAA made a concerted effort to focus on youth development, spending money on the development and training of American-born children. This, he discovers, is where the real future of the GAA in America lies. And on the evidence he finds, that future looks bright.

AnBronnEDIT+day11 (38 of 47)

They call it award-winning Celtic Noir now

The feature film version of An Bronntanas is enjoying a strong run at international festivals, and recently received the Jury’s Special Award at the Boston Irish Film Festival. An Bronntanas started life as a TG4 series, noted hereabouts in a piece about Celtic Noir a few months back. A contemporary thriller set on the coast of Connemara, it found a lifeboat crew responding to a distress call on a stormy night only to discover a fishing boat with a dead passenger and a cargo of over a million Euros worth of drugs, tempting them to leave the body and sell the drugs… Directed by Tom Collins (Kings), with Cian de Buitléar as DoP, and produced by Ciarán Ó Cofaigh of ROSG (Cré na Cille) and Tom Collins, it starred Dara Devaney (Na Cloigne), Owen McDonnell (Single Handed), Michelle Beamish (Crisis Eile), Charlotte Bradley, Janusz Sheagall, and, in a previously hailed stroke of casting genius, the unexpected Gaeilgeoir John Finn (Cold Case). The TV show was re-edited into a feature film, which has recently screened in Barbados and Washington, and will soon be screening in Boston, Chicago, and Rome. Producer Ciarán Ó Cofaigh says:

“We were very proud of the success of the series when it was broadcast recently on TG4, but it’s apparent that the film version has its own legs.  The production of An Bronntanas was an enormous challenge and we believe we have achieved this production to a high international standard.  Winning this award in Boston and the film’s selection for many other festivals will further promote the film and the Irish language.” With Hinterland and An Bronntanas winning acclaim Celtic Noir is definitely an award-winning thing. We just need a dark thriller series from Brittany now to make things complete.

blacklist

“I do not believe that’s how psychos behave” (with apologies to Dr Seuss)

Complaining about The Blacklist’s many shortcomings, or even attempting to catalogue its pilfering from other shows and movies, is apparently a futile gesture. But I have to say something about its pilfering from Ridley Scott’s Hannibal. Peter Stormare’s introduction as super-villain Berlin at the end of season 1 was somewhat compromised by the fact that someone like Peter Stormare is not going to guest star and be anyone other than Berlin, try the script ever so hard to convince you otherwise with various feints. But the revelation of his identity; disguised by his appearance at a hospital with an amputated hand as a victim of Berlin, and the “lexical ambiguity” of the witnesses as to what happened between the prisoner and the guard as the plane crashed – “He cut off his hand”; screamed Hannibal Lecter cutting off his own hand at the end of Hannibal in order to escape from Clarice Starling’s handcuffs. But… while Hannibal’s actions were just about plausible (if not very likely) given his observance of etiquette towards Clarice (she could after all have an amputated hand reattached when the emergency services arrive), it just becomes farcical when Berlin cuts off his own hand instead of cutting off the guard’s hand and making a break into a crowded city from the downed plane. As always The Blacklist favours blindly following previous exemplars rather than think anything out for itself, but by following Hannibal’s lead here it seems to suggest that psychopaths are defined by masochism and an ability to endure self-mutilation for the sake of their freedom. Whereas you’d imagine psychopaths, on the whole, would skew more towards sadism and an ability to casually sacrifice other people’s body parts to ensure their freedom…

November 19, 2013

Potentials: Francis Lawrence

In this, the first of a series of occasional features, I’m going to argue the case for Francis Lawrence having the potential to be a great director of the future.

Francis-Lawrence-Camera

Who the hell is Francis Lawrence? Glad you asked. Francis Lawrence is the director of ConstantineI Am Legend and Water for Elephants. He came from music videos, just like David Fincher. He had a happier initial time of it in mainstream commercial movies than Fincher’s Alien 3 nightmare debut, even if the ending of I Am Legend got completely changed in post-production on him, but it appears that that bruising experience was enough to send him into mini-exile. Lawrence took some time after I Am Legend before helming another movie. Before 2011 IMDb at one point listed him as being involved in developing 7 different projects simultaneously – all with the same proposed release date… While this exercise in development hell or development indecision was going on in Hollywood, Lawrence turned to TV; directing Ian McShane in the drama Kings, a modern re-telling of the rise of King David in the Torah. Kings was inevitably cancelled and so Lawrence hitched a lift on the Twilight bandwagon with 2011’s period romance Like Water for Elephants starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson.

I’m a bigger fan of Lawrence’s three films than most. I’d rate Constantine as Keanu’s best film since The Matrix, at that time. I’d rank I Am Legend very highly as an exercise in suspense, until the dog dies and everything goes to pieces. And I actually think Water for Elephants is a good film, despite its critical mauling. But more importantly I think all three films display some qualities that bode well for Lawrence really imposing his style on Hollywood. Water for Elephants is as measured in its pacing as Lawrence’s previous two films, even if it seems a world away in content. In an age of action editing that reduces everything to a CGI Impressionist swirl, Lawrence is willing to hold shots, wring the suspense out of his sequences, and make the geography of action legible. But his liking for restrained CGI in his two blockbusters explains the joy he found in working with animals, his visual style does convey magic at times; even managing to impart beauty into night-vistas glimpsed from the train which are obviously CGI.

Another strong point derived from his liking for sustained shots and measured sequences is that he has a neat eye for framing, a skill declining rapidly in a world of steadicam. And framing to a large extent is what lies behind an ability to do stomach-churning suspense that Hitchcock would have appreciated. Just think of the expert lengthening of the shadows when Will Smith is suspended in a street with vampire dogs waiting to rip into him when he falls into shade. Lawrence also has a genuine skill for getting fine performances from his actors, especially in supporting roles. Jim Norton is genuinely affecting in what should be a walking cliché of a role in Water for Elephants, much as pre-Oscar Tilda Swinton made her mere handful of scenes immense in Constantine. Then there’s villains…

Lawrence does villains exceedingly well. Christoph Waltz’s August in Water for Elephants is as nuanced a villain as previous Lawrence antagonists. Socrates says that no man would knowingly do evil. Gabriel in Constantine thought she was doing good, that mankind was not worthy of the gift of salvation and needed to be truly tested. The vampires in I Am Legend are the next evolution of humanity, they have bonds of kinship and leaders that motivate their actions. August is a man desperate to escape the Great Depression by pushing his animals and performers, and when he whips the elephant he is overcome with remorse, and offers all his whisky to soothe her wounds as well as explaining that he was enraged by his wife’s endangerment. The fact that we see August commit animal cruelty but only hear about him red-lighting people makes his end rage seem like an Othello-like product of jealousy rather than motiveless malignity. The subtlety of August’s portrayal was not obvious from the trailer. And even Touch, the unloved Kiefer Sutherland TV show had a pilot directed by Lawrence in which Titus Welliver’s villain was revealed to be a damaged hero rather than a true villain. Lawrence didn’t write that, but it’s hard not to think that such a reveal attracted him to Tim Kring’s script. Such an ability to invest villains with real complexity is unusual, and it would be refreshing to see it in a blockbuster where another quality he’s displayed finds a natural home. If August’s nuances were not obvious from the trailer for Water for Elephants then neither was the chasteness, a few stolen kisses, of the romance between Jacob and Marlene until they literally jump. It echoes the chaste relationships in Constantine and I Am Legend, and it seems tailor-made for PG-13-land…

Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire is Lawrence’s next movie, and it’s out on Thursday, with Lawrence already committed to directing its two sequels. I think Lawrence has the potential to be a future great. Whether he realises that potential is largely down to whether he’s brought his skills truly to bear on his greatest opportunity.

April 16, 2012

Lockout

Writer/producer Luc Besson’s one-man studio continues with an entertaining sci-fi actioner starring Guy Pearce attempting to rescue Maggie Grace from 500 scumbags.

Pearce is Snow, an ex-CIA agent in 2079. Snow is arrested by Secret Service supremo Langral (a wonderfully ambiguous Peter Stormare) when Snow’s mentor is killed after requesting him as back-up on an undercover operation. Snow is unable to retrieve vital exculpating evidence in a briefcase he passed to his partner Mace (Tim Plester) just before his arrest. Meanwhile First Daughter Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) is visiting new maximum security prison space station MS1 to ensure humane treatment of the sedated convicts. Some joyfully dumb coincidences see her taken hostage along with the crew by the newly awakened prisoners, headed by Scottish brothers Alex (Vincent Regan) and Hydell (Joseph Gilgun); who have different ideas about how to bargain their way home. Snow’s CIA friend Shaw (Lennie James) persuades Langral to send Snow to MS1 as an implausible one-man army to rescue Emilie, and only Emilie…

Lockout wastes absolutely no time in setting up its plot. Indeed it features one of the most arresting openings this year as a handcuffed to a chair Pearce is repeatedly punched out of frame to allow the credits to pop up, before he sits back up to deliver another witticism and get punched out of frame again. He even delivers a wonderful gag about why punch-lines are so titled. It’s odd to see Pearce rather than Statham in a role like this, but, following sparkling supporting turns in Animal Kingdom, The King’s Speech and Justice, it’s great to see him headlining. Pearce swaggers his way thru this film with sardonic wisecracking gusto. Grace improves once she starts to act opposite him, especially with short, dark hair; which she gets courtesy of the application by Snow of scissors and a mix of engine grease and coffee.

This is a knowing genre piece. The basic concept is a riff on Escape from New York, the friction between Snow and Emilie the girl he wished he hadn’t rescued pure Han Solo and Leia, and the sympathetic Shaw talking Snow thru the operation on MS1 obviously Die Hard. This is silly action with a wink. The ‘spectacular’ CGI motorbike chase at the start is hilariously poor, as Pearce runs from the Secret Service on what is the Bat-pod, even down to lifting the crashing thru a shopping mall shot from The Dark Knight. Such entertaining hokum is derailed by Mancunian Gilgun’s quickly irritating turn as Hydell. A cross between twitchy-twitchy Jeremy Davies as Trainspotting’s Begbie and Andy Serkis as Gollum at his most self-pitying it’s just too much for a cipher; the violent loose cannon ruining Alex’s negotiating plans.

Irish directors and co-writers Stephen Saint-Leger and James Mather got Besson’s attention with their short film Prey Alone. Lockout should get Hollywood’s.

2.5/5

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