Talking Movies

April 26, 2020

Cultivate the Interior Life

This very day last month Andrew Ferguson proclaimed in the Atlantic that the days of self-isolation would be springtime for introverts. That hasn’t quite happened.

I suppose it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that extroverts really just can’t stop. And they can’t stop being enabled either. After all, it was not for nothing that Ferguson invoked Susan Cain’s seminal book Quiet:

“Introversion,” Cain wrote, “is now [considered] a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” Her book was a catalog of the ways in which society is designed around the pleasures and benefits of the extroverted: open floor plans in the workplace, team-building exercises everywhere, office calendars that let the boss and co-workers track your every move. Our culture’s heroes on the screen or the athletic field are always extroverts, our weirdos and deviants invariably portrayed as introverts”

If you want evidence of that last point just look at how SEAL Team portrayed it as a radical and counter-intuitive choice to recruit a quiet frogman into Bravo rather than yet another blustering alpha male, in order to avoid a total echo chamber of gung-ho decision-making. And yet the show then reversed itself within episodes to reveal said quiet frogmen as, well, a devious soul willing to throw a brother under the bus to save himself. Those sneaky introverts, so quiet…

The lockdown has done away with team building nonsense, made group meetings easy to escape by faux freezing, revealed the idiocy of open plan houses and endless commuting, and its aftermath may well also do in the idiocy of open plan offices as people demand walls, doors, and their own personal easily sanitised and secured space. And yet the ongoing war on introversion (which after reading Cain’s book I realised to my regret I had been complicit in as a tutor owing to grading guidelines) has not lost a step. You would think that being ordered to stay indoors, and being thrown back on their own internal resources, people might cultivate the interior life. Not a bit of it. Everything has to be shared, everything has to be performed for an imaginary audience, everything has to be broadcast to the world. This is the true pathology: Man alone with himself – desperately turns to social media and dances a quick step with his long-suffering dog, desperate for likes.

I thought about writing some content specifically for coronavirus – the usual drivel, appropriate movies to watch, long books to read, music to listen to – and decided not to. Calvin Coolidge said National Education Week did not need his imprimatur, it could get along just fine by itself.

March 28, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLVIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Status … Burgundy

Drip, drip, drip… It seems best to describe where we are now as Status Burgundy. We can still leave our homes without a printed and signed permission slip so it’s not quite Status Red. Yet. But as with the drip, drip, drip feed of restrictions tightening like a vise there’s a lot of ‘yet’ in the air too. Why did we not move to this crisis status immediately on March 13th? Why the sustained refusal to admit that schools would not re-open on the 30th? Fears of ‘behavioural fatigue’? It’s not like we don’t know from the experience of countries preceding us in these dominoes how this works; if you are responding to the numbers as they spike you are already too late. Uncertainty is not something stock markets or citizens appreciate. Varadkar unbelievably decided to paraphrase Terminator 2 last night following his Churchill plagiarism last week, refused to call this a lockdown when being told to ‘stay at home’ (even emblazoned under the RTE logo today onscreen) is patently a lockdown, and unwittingly combined the worst elements of Trump and Modi’s addresses. We were given three hours notice not to stray more than 2km from the house or else. But Leo, outside of Dublin it might be more than 2km to the nearest food store. And so today, presumably after howls from outside the Pale, we have a ‘clarification’ that 2km is the straying radius for exercise, you can stray 5km to get yourself a burger.

SEAL Team: Havoc has Fallen

Jessica Pare’s burnt CIA analyst Mandy has been notably underused in season 3 so it was nice to see her unexpectedly get tactical alongside Blackburn and Davis as Havoc fell the other night on Sky One and impose herself on the action in her guilt-ridden determination to rescue her kidnapped asset. Her work the problem drive and firefight skills also gave new hope to shippers that Mandy and Jason should get together, despite the awesome kismet that exists in Emily Swallow as Jason’s partner Natalie; uniting as it does Supernatural‘s Amara with Buffy’s Angel. The use of drone photography on SEAL Team has been outstanding but season 3, especially the opening episodes in Serbia, has taken it to new heights. The fact that this story of Bravo getting roughed up in Venezuela has now revealed itself as a three-parter makes one compare this trio of episodes very favourably to most action films out there. I for one would take the thrilling and legible choreography of the action in these three episodes against the choppy nonsense of Mile 22 any day.

March 10, 2019

Notes on Fighting with my Family

Fighting with my Family was the catch-up film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Stephen Merchant is the decidedly unlikely writer/director of this sports comedy-drama about the cheesy world of wrestling, which is fixed not fake as Nick Frost is quick to point out. Frost and Lena Headey are the proprietors of World Association of Wrestling, based in Norwich, but their children Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden have the chance to hit the big-time when they try out for the WWE during a London event. But coach Vince Vaughn only takes Pugh with him to Florida for SEAL/NXT training. As the Goth Pugh struggles with the talentless bikini babes being more popular than her with the wrestling audience the embittered Lowden spirals into drink and rage back home. And that is where Merchant’s name on proceedings becomes curious. A wonderful dinner party where Frost and Headey try and fail to impress the classy parents (Merchant and Julia Davis) of Lowden’s girlfriend is pure Merchant, but then the sports drama surrounding such sequences is a familiar tale differentiated only by the theatrical nature of the sport depicted in training montages.

Listen here:

July 20, 2018

Any Other Business: Part XVII

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 seventeenth portmanteau post on television of course!

 

Sorry seems to be the hardest word for Facebook

I had been thinking about commenting on Facebook’s current TV spots on British television, and then Channel 4’s Dispatches came along and disquietingly lifted the lid on the people who work for Facebook but don’t work for Facebook in Dublin. Ah, the joy of outsourcing. It’s always someone else’s fault that the high standards Facebook expects are not being upheld. Not that we’re ever told what those high standards are precisely. And nothing bad that happens is ever wrong, certainly never criminal, it’s always, well, let’s listen to the TV spot Facebook is using in Britain to try and reassure people that Brexit may have been the result of Facebook but not to worry, soon your newsfeed will be full of only cute kittens again – take it away maestro, “We didn’t come here for click-bait, spam, fake news, and data misuse. That’s not okay.” Well, that is profound. I guess if Mark Zuckerberg, whose non-apology apology to Congress came in for some stick hereabouts previously, can go so far as to admit that enabling Brexit and Trump was ‘not okay’ then we can all meet him half-way and forgive him for letting it happen, and evading responsibility. The best way to protect your privacy is not to change settings on Facebook it’s to not use social media at all. And if Facebook is really intended just to ‘connect people’ rather than say data-mine the f*** out of the world’s population for psychometrics in the service of personalised advertising then there’s one really simple way to prove it. Change it to Facebook.org

xkcd by Randall Munroe, where would our collective sanity be without it?

 

I can’t believe it’s not The Unit

I can’t remember the last time I had such a double-take reaction to a TV show as watching SEAL Team. The adventures of a band of brothers in the American military who fly about the world causing mayhem, when not dealing with domestic dramas at home. This simply was a remake of David Mamet’s The Unit, they even hired Mr Grey (Michael Irby) from The Unit to play their ‘been there done that’ character putting the hopefuls thru their paces before they can ascend to the godlike status of a Tier 1 Operator. There were touches that distinguished it from Mamet’s creation to be sure, but mostly that was a layer of SJW-babble; centred around the character of Alona Tal’s English PhD student and would-be girlfriend of would-be Tier 1 Operator Max Thieriot; and it was never entirely clear whether this was being satirical of SJW-babble or just thinking it needed to be there to represent America as it is right now. But mostly this was The Unit, with different actors, led by David Boreanaz taking over the Dennis Haysbert role. And then creator Benjamin Cavell, late of Justified, threw the mother of all structural spit-balls at the viewer. The characters just upped and left to Afghanistan for deployment, a regular occurrence, but one brought forward on this occasion because of the complete destruction of their predecessors Seal Team Echo. All the domestic dramas at home gone, apart from two Skype scenes in six episodes so far of this investigative arc into who ordered the hit on Echo which has replaced the mission by mission of the earlier standalone American episodes whose only arc was Thieriot’s training to join the team. I’m not sure I was prepared for such formalist experimentation on CBS.

“That’s some editing”

Editing the punch-lines out of jokes first annoyed me a few years ago when Willem Dafoe was voicing the Birdseye Bear. A peerless advert saw him set the scene for a romantic dinner for his hapless owner, only to be told to hop it as the no longer frozen food arrived at the impeccably mood-music’d and mood-light’d table. The bear turned straight to camera to register his astonishment, and was then found sitting outside the house muttering “There’s gratitude for ya!” But then the advert started to get edited more and more severely, and the punch-line was thrown out. Who does that? What buffoon makes these decisions? Let’s edit for time, and throw away the jokes that are the point of the seconds we’ve kept that are now pointless. James Corden’s current advert has been cut to the point of sheer gibberish. The three encounters with three fly-by-night mechanic brothers, who bore a passing resemblance to Donald Trump, and left Corden sad and depressed entering Vegas with bugger all money after their antics and then elated when he left with loadsamoney have been reduced to a decontextualised idiotic mishmash. What exactly was the purpose of this editing?

July 1, 2018

Notes on Sicario 2

Sicario 2 is an unexpected sequel providing counterprogramming for the World Cup. Here are some notes on’t, prepared for Dublin City FM’s Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle early this morning.

Sicario 2 starts off with some of the most disturbing and troubling scenes we’re likely to see this year – a prolonged suicide bombing and a retributive hi-tech torture in Djibouti. But these eventually prove to be a bit of a red herring as we return to fighting cartels in Mexico, and find that two men with no limits (Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin) eventually question whether they have reached a point where they hit a moral limit. There are great sequences in Mexico: a kidnapping, a murder in broad daylight, and an ambush on a desert road where the abrupt transition to dirt road covers a convoy in a cloud of dust, neutralising the surveillance in 10 miles utility of the drone above. But ultimately Sicario 2 made me think of Hellboy II. Delighted not to have an audience stand-in getting between us and Hellboy, we all soon discovered that character was as necessary as Ishmael in Moby-Dick. Extremities of behaviour work best when observed by someone like Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer in the original.

Sicario 2 feels different from the original, because it is missing so many key personnel. Brolin and Del Toro return but as well as Blunt, director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins sit this one out. Composer Johann Johannsson died recently and the picture is dedicated to him, and his music only plays in the last scenes (just before his name appears), reminding us how important his score was to creating the mood of the original. Stefano Sollima directed Italian crime show Gomorrah, and his style of observing extreme violence casually dispensed could best be described as blank in the vein of that show’s 2008 movie progenitor, where Villeneuve and Deakins, while also cold, provided a more Kubrickian detachment; eschewing commentary but inviting your moral reprobation. They also were far more adventurous in their shooting style, here there is less night-vision and thermal-vision photography than your weekly episode of SEAL Team. Ultimately returning writer Taylor Sheridan provides a screenplay that lacks the singular focus that gave Sicario its irresistible momentum and such richness of character.

The abundance of sequels these days means cyclical discussion of the same problems: resetting characters emotionally in order to place on the same reconciliatory arc again in Jurassic World 2, and in this case characters that worked best as supporting enigmas are placed centre stage because they were popular, and by explaining them away you remove the mystique to the point where they are no longer enigmas. This is certainly true with Alejandro, who seems to have reached the end of the line by being made the leading man. This is a pity as Sheridan’s original screenplay was so full of memorable dialogue that you lament the lack of it here as everything becomes a bit more routine, even as he hints at his interest but can’t really develop it in a notion that deserves a full blog post. Ever since Euripides wrote The Trojan Women during the Peloponnesian War artists have been wringing their hands over winning by the wrong methods invalidating the value of such victory. But must you win to wring hands?…

I didn’t get to chat about all of these points, but we did cover most of them. Tune into 103.2 FM to hear Patrick Doyle’s breakfast show every Sunday on Dublin City FM, and catch up with his excellent Classical Choice programme on Mixcloud now.

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