Talking Movies

November 30, 2021

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XLII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Why must Eon always burn the other cheek?

I was initially hostile to complaints about the new Bond film featuring ‘yet another’ scarred villain, until I realised the defence was complete nonsense. Facially scarred villains have not been nearly such a Bond staple as Eon would make out. Dr No has no hands certainly, but it is not until we meet Largo in the fourth film that we meet a character with a maimed visage. Blofeld is scarred in You Only Live Twice, but then he is not scarred in the next two movies. Hook hands, third nipples, megalomania, all these are present and correct, but scarred villains really cease to be a thing with Bond … until Goldeneye. And thereafter the quotient of scarred villains gets completely out of control: Sean Bean, Robert Carlyle, Rick Yune, Mads Mikkelsen, Javier Bardem, Christoph Waltz, Rami Malek. It seems almost as if the new generation at Eon was so worried about living up to the legacy that they became fixated on one element of the past and magnified it out of all proportion as some way of proving their rights to the property.

Wes Anderson, you are locked in a prison of your own devise

It was dispiriting but unsurprising to read an interview with Robert Yeoman in which he talked about how a warehouse had to be used to shoot both The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch because Wes Anderson’s camera movements had become so outre that real locations could no longer accommodate them. For years Paul Fennessy and I have had a flight of fancy which 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. Now it seems the reality of physical space itself has to be shot down in order to shoot the Wes Anderson way. I think this may be why since The Darjeeling Limited I have responded more positively to his animations (Fantastic Mr Fox, Isle of Dogs) than to his live-action efforts (Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The French Dispatch). The necessity for artificiality to achieve the necessary artificial camera moves grates less when all concerned are made of felt. In his own demented way you could say the presence of live human beings not to mention the built human environment is now getting in the way of the Wes Anderson aesthetic.

June 30, 2019

Notes on Yesterday

Richard Curtis’ Beatles rom-com Yesterday was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Danny Boyle may be the director but this is a Richard Curtis film, and it would be much better if it weren’t. A world in which The Beatles have been erased from existence save for the memory of one struggling musician is a high concept comedy, but Curtis insists on making it a ho-hum rom-com. Kevin Willmott’s CSA showed that you have to rein in the butterfly effect for alternate history because everything would become unfamiliar. Would the Beach Boys be as important without Pet Sounds, their riposte to the Beatles? Curtis displays no such interest, save an Oasis joke, in exploring the butterfly effect of his own bloody high concept. Kate McKinnon is the most reliably comic element of this film, and she is lip-smackingly playing a caricature record executive – Hunter S Thompson’s famous jibe mixed with notes of her SNL Hillary Clinton. But then all the characters in this film are caricatures. This poses a problem when Curtis wants you to care about the romance as if it involved characters with some humanity.

The romance is already scuppered by Jack (Himesh Patel) and Elly (Lily James) patently having the chemistry of hopeless dreamer and dutiful girlfriend in the opening scenes, until it’s bafflingly revealed they’re just friends. They do not hold themselves as fast platonic friends like Holmes and Watson in Elementary. When she complains she always wanted more, and Curtis writes improbable scenes doggedly making this fetch happen he, like Nick Hornby in Juliet, Naked, defies the felt experience of human nature. But this aggravating drive to the grand romantic gesture reaches a new low for Curtis. GK Chesterton once quipped that art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere. I draw the line at Curtis; in the vein of his Doctor Who episode in which he shamefully zipped Van Gogh to the future to hear Bill Nighy valorise him then returned him to the past to kill himself to general hand-wringing; resurrecting the murdered John Lennon as septuagenarian sage giving Jack a pep talk to make the finale’s grand romantic gesture. No… No. No. No!

Listen here:

July 22, 2015

The Legend of Barney Thomson

Robert Carlyle makes his directorial debut as a boring Scottish barber who a couple of unfortunate accidents render prime suspect in a serial killer manhunt.

barneythomson3-xlarge

Barney Thomson (Robert Carlyle) is, by his own narration, a boring man. So boring in fact that he’s about to be fired by Wullie (Stephen McCole) because nobody wants to get their hair cut by a man without any chat. Barney’s appeal to Wally’s father James (James Cosmo) hits the same brick wall – Barney’s personality, or lack thereof; “Standing over the customers like a haunted tree…” And then Barney has an unfortunate workplace accident, or two. Which happen to coincide with DI Holdall (Ray Winstone) and his sidekick MacPherson (Kevin Guthrie) getting increasingly desperate to find a serial killer before their Chief McManaman (Tom Courtenay) hands the case over to strident Robertson (Ashley Jensen). And when Barney’s formidable mother Cemolina (Emma Thompson) helpfully steps in, in her own demented manner, Barney finds himself being liked for a dismembering homicidal maniac.

The Legend of Barney Thomson begins promisingly. There are choice insults. A panicked Winstone flourishes a new lead to the press, then retreats to the toilets where MacPherson finds him slumped on the floor – “I lied. That’s why I’m in the shape of a frog.” But the insults don’t match those in Armando Iannucci’s VEEP; a show aware that verbal cruelty is enjoyable for about 25 minutes, but then becomes exhausting. The shrill shouting matches between Jensen and Winston are deeply unfunny, never seem particularly motivated, and, even for a black comedy, just bespeak superficial characterisation. Brian Pettifer’s extremely creepy turn as Barney’s ‘friend’ Charlie is equally bedevilled by totally random character beats, while Emma Thompson’s one-note turn as a hard-living 70-something Glaswegian is a piece of stunt casting amusing for as long as you find her aging-up inherently funny.

It feels like there’s a different, better comedy within this movie attempting to escape; the desperation of DI Holdall to escape the “vomit-lashed sh**hole” that his Scottish wife has connivingly dragged him to, a despair which informs his phone-call to a bookie: “Can you say that again, in English? Because I didn’t get a word you just said. Yes, I know you’re Scottish. Yes, I’m aware that I am up here.” Instead the focus is on Barney, played by Carlyle, via Jeremy Davies, with lots of nervous twitches. The cast gamely play the machinations of Barney, Cemolina, and Holdall, and there are amusing moments but it’s hard to care about such half-written characters. “This is f****** ridiculous” says Holdall when the plot reaches its final ridiculous twist, and his character, tiring of the film, is verbalising what the audience has already felt for some time.

The Legend of Barney Thomson is only 95 minutes long, and yet rarely can a film have worn out its welcome quite so fast.

2/5

Blog at WordPress.com.