Talking Movies

July 14, 2019

Notes on Stuber

Dave Bautista’s underwhelming action-comedy Stuber was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Possibly I would not have been as disappointed with this movie as I was if it had not been from the director of Goon and What If, Michael Dowse. If it had just been dull and unfunny that also would have been tolerable. The truth is that Stuber is dull, but does occasionally hit the comedic mark. The problem is that it has such a low batting average. There are jokes upon jokes, and the vast majority are not funny, which makes it frustrating when good ones do land, because if they had simply made a straightforward action film with the occasional very good joke this would be far more palatable. Even if that would be hard to do from a premise that could be summarised as ‘Mr Magoo meets the Mob’. Why screenwriter Tripper Clancy thought that was intrinsically hilarious I’m not sure as there are really only two scenes in which it yields any comedy. But not to worry tidy character arcs and life lessons abound. And that’s the real secret of comedy…

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July 7, 2019

Notes on Apollo 11

The visually stunning Apollo 11 was the catch-up film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Director Todd Douglas Miller, who doubles as his own editor, revisits the Apollo 11 moon landing 50 years on with the help of restored archival footage from NASA and the results are visually stunning, utterly immersive, and imbued with a great generosity of spirit. This is a documentary of a rare sort: no talking heads, little editorialising beyond notes of speed distance acceleration and people where relevant – what are you watching is simply footage of the time overlaid with sound of the time. Walter Cronkite’s TV narration laid over helicopter footage of the crowds gathering at Cape Canaveral, the hum of Mission Control as the camera tracks along the interiors crowded with NASA personnel. And this 4K restored footage looks incredible, some of it from neglected 70mm footage shot at the time. There is a 1969 quality to the footage, undoubtedly, but it is so crisp you’d swear it was shot yesterday. The ravages of time have not affected this film footage; unscreened, undamaged, almost a capsule of 50 years ago waiting for rediscovery.

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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!

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June 23, 2019

Notes on Brightburn

A disappointing piece of counter-programming was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

What if Superman did not grow up to be the embodiment of Kansan farm-grown decency? It’s not a bad premise, but this is a bad exploration of it. While I was twitching thru 80 minutes in the cinema I was thinking about Mark Millar’s Red Son in which Kal-El landed in 1938 Ukraine not Kansas and grew up with very different ideas about Truth, Justice, and the American Way. I was thinking about Mark Millar’s Chosen, in which a small-town American teenager realises he has powers, and thinks he may be the Second Coming. As this teenage dark Superman mucked about I began to think of Smallville, when it had descended into total gibberish. I thought of Damien in The Omen as Elizabeth Banks and David Denman struggled with their adopted son’s growing menace. And I thought a lot about Chronicle, and how Dane DeHaan’s character turned to the dark side once he acquired powers because he’d been subjected to such bullying by his peers. Regrettably the Gunn family didn’t give these as much thought.

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June 17, 2019

Notes on Balloon

An old-school nerve-shredding Cold War German thriller was the film of the week yesterday on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

30 years ago the German Democratic Republic aka East Germany was still in existence, an insanity propped up by Russia. This film is set in 1979 with two families desperate to escape to the West, and taking the unusual approach of running the border by hot air balloon. The first attempt is a failure, and the wreckage of the balloon 200 metres from the border leaves enough evidence for Stasi Lt. Col. Thomas Kretschmann to find them, given enough time. Resources are not a problem. He has 300 agents working by the end on catching 4 people who wanted to live 10 kilometres to the south. As Kretschmann closes in our heroes decide to go for broke and build a second balloon, and composer Ralf Wengenmayr does his best Hans Zimmer and really elevates the film with rhythmic percussion, scurrying strings, and swoops of synthesiser. Director Michael Herbig is best known in Germany for comedy, but this film is a chilling portrait of a society drenched in fear and paranoia, and dripping with well-crafted suspense.

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June 9, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XIII

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.

La La Land and its predecessors

I’ve noted before that I fell into the trap of watching the movies I recommended as TV choice of the week on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle. I therefore re-watched a chunk of La La Land on BBC 2 a few months back, but ducked out after the hour mark. It occurred to me that when discussing it with Patrick Doyle I’d invoked New York, New York for its equally miserable ending, but somehow never even thought of mentioning Moulin Rouge!  which undoubtedly has the most miserable ending of all three. I’ve been trying to puzzle out why that might be and I think it is because the ending of La La Land irked me. As Patrick Doyle said if you have people flying about a Planetarium then you have located the film as a fairytale and you can’t really go for a miserable ending then. New York, New York had been posited by Scorsese as a Vincente Minnelli musical done with social realism, and I opined that those two approaches were actually mutually exclusive, but there is no denying that with social realism a miserable ending does not jar so. I had actually forgotten how good La La Land was, such was the pall the miserable ending cast over the movie in my memory. When it’s good, it’s very, very good. The performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are of the first order, the comedy sparkling, the jazz wonderful, and above all it is a rare modern beast – a musical that does not apologise for being a musical but simply skips from one big production number to the next. There is a vein of nostalgia and romance which mixes sweet touches like Gosling walking past his car to spend more time with Stone with hugely impressive swooping long takes of choreography; especially in the bench at sunset sequence. But then it all goes to hell when it takes a dive into New York, New York territory of careerism and social climbing derailing romance. I think, much like Drive, it is the bait and switch that irks me, the end does not develop naturally from the beginning. But in Moulin Rouge! the madly over the top nature of the film, with its riotous comedy and exuberant romance, betrays the hand of an opera director (which is a sideline of Baz Luhrmann’s); so the death of Satine in the finale feels of a piece with what has come before – utterly heightened. And so I fondly remember Moulin Rouge! while somewhat resenting La La Land.

One Two Three: Stone & Gosling

I’ve been, lamentably, thinking about the contours of this cinematic decade after Paul Fennessy sprung on me the first Films of the Decade list we’ll be bludgeoned with this year. It occurred to me that one of the features of the first half of the decade, if you grant a few months’ grace, was the romantic chemistry of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart and of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. La La Land is the high watermark of the latter pairing, and one supposes the result of their two previous films together: the wonder of the 5 minute long-take bench at sunset sequence, in comic timing and choreography, only possible in part because they have established a working rapport. Gangster Squad is not a film that will be remembered fondly if at all, while Crazy Stupid Love seems to have undeservedly fallen from favour, but if they set up La La Land’s chemistry they deserve our thanks.

April 6, 2019

You Have Been Listening To…: Part II

It is the third weekend of a personal hiatus from the radio. There will be no more reviews by me of any kind on Dublin City FM 103.2 till May. But here’s a round-up of links to the previous editions of Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle and a list of the films we discussed on each one if you’re eager to explore the back catalogue.

DECEMBER

Review of 2018 (A Quiet Place) + TV Choice Die Hard 2 + Classic Home Alone

Review of 2018 (Mission Impossible 6, Goldstone) + TV Choice Spectre + Classic Duck Soup

Review of 2018 (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, The Old Man and the Gun) + TV Choice Skyfall + Classic Home Alone 2

Preview of 2019 (Once Upon A Time in Hollywood) + TV Choice Edge of Tomorrow + Classic The Great Escape

 

JANUARY

BumbleBee + TV Choice John Wick + Classic Blade Runner

Stan & Ollie + TV Choice In the Line of Fire + Classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Glass + TV Choice Speed + Classic Heat

Vice + Oscars 2019

 

FEBRUARY

Happy Death Day 2U + TV Choice The Social Network + Classic Tom Jones

Cold Pursuit + TV Choice La La Land + Classic The Taking of Pelham 123

 

MARCH

The Aftermath + TV Choice Hunt for the Wilderpeople + Classic The Third Man

Fighting with my Family + TV Choice Boyhood + Classic The Italian Job

Classic The Enemy Below + Classic The Woman in the Window

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.

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February 26, 2019

Notes on Cold Pursuit

Liam Neeson’s thriller Cold Pursuit was the film of the week the other day on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Cold Pursuit is a curious exercise in repetition and variation, being a remake of the tremendous Norwegian black comedy In Order of Disappearance with Neeson taking on the Stellan Skarsgard role, and the same director Hans Petter Moland directing the same scenes again. And yet often they aren’t the same scenes. The original showcased rambling absurdities to do Martin McDonagh proud, a highlight being two gangsters so distracted over an argument about whether it was better to be poor in Africa than Scandinavia; because at least you’d have sunshine; that they fail to notice Skarsgard kidnapping a child in the background. That discussion is gone, as is the subtext about immigration involved in a Swede being citizen of the year in a Norwegian town while he accidentally starts a turf war between a Norwegian drug gang and a Serbian drug gang. This remake instead showcases unpleasant vulgarities, and an odd fascination with the mundanity of cranking up platforms in warehouses and morgues. Neeson in a rampage role is also inherently less funny casting than Skarsgard.

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February 17, 2019

Notes on Happy Death Day 2U

Sequel Happy Death Day 2U was the film of the week on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle much earlier today.

Having finally caught up with Happy Death Day recently I was greatly looking forward to its hasty sequel. What could be better than Scream meets Groundhog Day: Part II in which Jessica Rothe’s Tree having attained the mastery of her time loop and become a better person gets to help someone else thru the same nightmare with hard-bitten savoir faire? Funny you should ask… My suspicions were flagged when I saw on the poster on the way in ‘based on characters by’. The problem with hasty sequels is that while you can re-assemble your cast, sets, VFX team, stuntmen, cinematographer, and composer quite readily, you will then usually find yourself doing your best Chico Marx – “Whaddya know? We forgotta da script!”. In this case, whaddya know, we forgotta da scriptwriter, as Christopher Landon decides he can both direct and write at the same time. Like Gerald Ford, walking, and chewing gum, he is badly mistaken. By the end of Happy Death Day 2U you have only the memory of a slasher flick, buried under slapstick.

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