Talking Movies

September 22, 2019

Notes on Ad Astra

Brad Pitt’s sci-fi Ad Astra was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Pitt is Roy McBridge, son of legendary lost astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). Roy is renowned for having a preternaturally low pulse rate, never above 80, even in a crisis; such as at the start where he falls to earth off an atmosphere-scraping antennae following ‘The Surge’. He simply waits to stop spinning, thendeploys his parachute; no point getting het up about it. The Surge killed 43,000 people but, it transpires, is only the beginning. It was caused by a wave of anti-matter attacking the planet as it courses across the solar system, growing in power as it travels from its origin off Neptune. Which as John Finn and John Ortiz’s brass inform Roy is where Project Lima is, and where they believe Clifford is alive and well and liable to end all life unless dissuaded by Roy.

It’s a minor miracle that neither Finn nor Ortiz instructs Roy to terminate Clifford’s command, with extreme prejudice. Because this is a film in thrall to Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad; Clifford’s out there operating without any decent restraint, and the journey to save or end him will be psychological as much as physical. Donald Sutherland’s mentor Colonel Pruitt and Ruth Negga’s enigmatic Martian pop up for an allotted span of time much like characters in Apocalypse Now, as Roy travels from vignette to vignette on his quest. There’s an unlikely action sequence on the surface of the Moon as this dystopian future paints the orb wracked by conflict between competing miners and pirates preying on their divisions. A tense sequence responding to an SOS while en route to Mars might as well proclaim “Never get out of the boat”.

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September 8, 2019

Notes on IT: Chapter Two

The epic horror adaptation IT: Chapter Two was the film of the week earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

IT: Chapter Two is looooong. 2 hours 49 minutes long. It takes damn near as long to tell half the Stephen King story as the 1990 mini-series did to tell the whole story. And while there are undeniably good scares and some sequences of genuine dread, I came away with a feeling of dis-satisfaction; feeling that somehow the 1990 mini-series had done more in less time than this bloated shocker. Honest Trailers mocked the TV network censorship of the mini-series, and yet the almost parodic plethora of F-bombs masquerading as considered dialogue in this movie make you yearn for Taste & Decency. The practical effects of the Chinese restaurant scene are predictably swapped out for CGI, which of course isn’t nearly as effective a gross-out; and indeed the CGI gets so out of control that by the end we are confronted with the great cliche of our times – the giant swirling trashcan in the sky. I was always dubious about abandoning King’s structure to have a Losers Club as kids movie, and then a sequel if it went well, rather than the two-parter Cary Fukunaga intended which would flesh out King’s story with more detail and more gore.

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September 1, 2019

Notes on Crawl

Alexandre Aja’s Gator horror Crawl was the catch-up film of the week earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Alexandre Aja is on restrained form, for him, with Crawl. Certainly compared to the gleeful shlock of Piranha 3-D, this looks like a man determined to rein in the blood and gore for once. Having said which there is an injury to a main character to equal the nightmarish agony of the oft-censored finale of Romancing the Stone. But there are a lot of limb-severing chomps that don’t sever limbs in this film, and when the gators do come up trumps, it is not to the extent you would expect from the director of Switchblade Romance and The Hills Have Eyes remake. This is a survivalist horror rather than a shlock-fest you see. Aja wants you to care about these characters as he puts them thru the wringer. The one moment played for laughs is an out-of-focus background shot of a gator attack with the foregrounded character oblivious. Once we get in close Aja wants to make us feel the pain. He is remarkably effective at that, helped by the leanness of the Rasmussens’ script: this is 80 minutes that tightens like a well-oiled vise. First there’s the problem of the gator in the crawlspace, then there’s the problem of the flooding in the crawlspace, then there’s the problem of the levees breaking, each new problem a click in the mechanism of the vise.

August 25, 2019

Notes on Pain and Glory

Almodovar’s memory piece about mortality was the melancholy movie of the week earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Antonio Banderas, made up to look more like Almodovar than he does, and living in a flat made up to look like Almodovar’s actual flat plays Salvador Mallo, a film director who may or may not be based on Almodovar. He is a physical wreck after spinal surgery and cannot countenance directing or even writing because it makes him too aware that he is in no shape to direct. Living the life of a recluse and popping medicine for pain like Gregory House MD, Salvador is also haunted by memories of his youth in Franco’s Spain and his failings as a good son to his recently deceased mother. An invitation to present a classic film from the 1980s reunites him with the leading man, and soon Salvador has found an ill-advised way to cope with his back pain even as he may accidentally be about to make a comeback as a confessional playwright.

August 18, 2019

Notes on Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

Director Quentin Tarantino’s eleventh movie was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

This movie, like so much post-Pulp Fiction Tarantino, is aggravating. It’s bloated running time of 2 hours 40 minutes is completely unnecessary and could be trimmed; first off by getting rid of the preposterous amount of driving while listening to the radio, dancing around to music at parties, and dancing around listening to vinyl at home. All of which music is present simply to allow Tarantino curate his obscure cuts for 1969 music. You’re not going to be troubled by The Beatles, The Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival or The Who here. Secondly you could save time by cutting all the material involving Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate because QT has no interest in giving Robbie anything substantive to do as Tate or in depicting the gruesome Manson Family murders which allegedly this film was meant to revolve around. Charles Manson makes one appearance, and there’s an extended sequence with Brad Pitt visiting the Manson Family at home, but that’s not what this film is about – it’s 1960s Birdman. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are at the top of their game as fading star Rick Dalton and his loyal stunt double Cliff Booth; DiCaprio playing an incapable character, and Pitt a very capable one.

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August 12, 2019

Notes on The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain was the film of the week yesterday on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of those baffling films that successfully tells a story in a competent manner and yet leaves you perplexed as to who on earth the possible audience could be. It is a massively depressing film despite having Kevin Costner as the voice of Enzo, the adorable golden retriever owned by aspiring racing driver Milo Ventimiglia. If the audience for a movie about a dog’s life from the dog’s point of view is children then this succeeds admirably in the downer stakes next to Disney’s infamous 1950s effort Old Yeller. If it’s not intended for children then why the conceit of the dog? And why a tale of such unremitting misery? As Enzo is lying helpless at home in the first scene from which the entire flashbacks we have a notion at the back of our heads that nobody was around, so Amanda Seyfried’s love interest is marked for doom from the moment she arrives.

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August 4, 2019

Notes on Hobbs & Shaw

Fast & Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

The Rock and the Stath glittered in the ensemble of the Fast & Furious, but spun out on their own they are less stellar despite regular scriptwriter Chris Morgan being augmented by Drew Pearce. Morgan and Pearce tiresomely mine one vein of comedy for far too much of the movie, let us call it the grande cojones seam. It is a delight when Kevin Hart unexpectedly ends a protracted bout of this anatomical arguing with some character-based comedy, his Air Marshall is desperate to get back in the field with Special Forces and instantly tags the warring duo as spy and soldier. Except that it’s a trio – Vanessa Kirby is the Stath’s estranged MI6 agent sister, forced to go rogue after coming up against Idris Elba’s Black Superman. The casting of Statham and Kirby as siblings isn’t outside the realm of possibility, Vera and Taissa Farmiga prove that, but it makes their 1970s childhood flashbacks nonsensical.

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July 28, 2019

Notes on The Current War

The late 19th Century duelling engineers drama The Current War was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Benedict Cumberbatch adds another name to his roll call of Sherlock Holmes, Alan Turing, and Dominic Cummings, playing another character with poor social graces and a conceited regard for their own high ability. Except that in this instance of course Thomas Edison is wrong. Simply wrong. As Michael Shannon’s George Westinghouse puts it if Edison gets his way and insists on direct current being the standard used then America will become a checkerboard of power plants as Edison constructs one every square mile because he refuses to use the superior system of alternating current. The film doesn’t hold back from how unpleasant Edison was in blackguarding Westinghouse’s AC because he lacked the mind necessary to solve the problem of its high voltage. The man, who once worked for him, possessed of that mind was Nikola Tesla; played here by Nicholas Hoult, and used sparingly, almost as if, like the Nolans with The Prestige, Tesla can only be a minor character in a film because there really is simply too much of the wizard about him.

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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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