Talking Movies

October 2, 2019

From the Archives: Across the Universe

Another rummage through the pre-Talking Movies archives uncovers Julie Taymor’s under-watched and under-appreciated Beatles musical featuring the under-appreciated Joe Anderson.

Liverpudlian dock worker Jude (Jim Sturgess) travels to Princeton in the 1960s to find his long lost GI father but moves to New York with Max (Joe Anderson) and falls in love with Max’s sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). When Max is sent to Vietnam, Lucy’s political activism tears her away from Jude…

Musicals, like Westerns, seem to be experiencing something of a renaissance. But both genres are nowadays farcically burdened with justifying their conventions and director Julie Taymor never quite establishes whether people are just going to burst into song randomly like in 1950s musicals or in archly contrived scenarios like 2002’s Chicago. Instead she throws both styles together, which works fine for the most part, but this is definitely more Moulin Rouge! than Chicago. Be warned, there’s a good deal of the overt theatricality you’d expect from a director with Godlike status on Broadway. The use of ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ is fantastic as Max is accosted by a poster of Uncle Sam and choreographed sergeant majors at his army medical exam before a visual gag far too good to spoil here. However, this use of CGI and wooden masks presages the utter nonsense that begins when Bono arrives to sing ‘I Am the Walrus’. The use of photographic negative and trippy imagery that takes over proceedings quickly becomes very irritating and makes the running time of the film seem grotesquely overlong.

A simpler early sequence best exemplifies the cleverness with which Taymor approaches the songs. The extremely poppy ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ is transformed into a slow minimalist heartbreaker of a song as lesbian cheerleader Prudence (TV Carpio) serenades the lead cheerleader while footballers tackle each other as a tumbling chorus. If you don’t like this sequence then you will hate this film and most probably punch the person behind you who mutters ‘That’s Awesome!!’ Taymor at her best is able to wring unexpected meaning from the over-familiar songs and brings out the sadness implicit in Lennon and McCartney’s fondness for minor key compositions. At her worst she completely loses the realism of the Jude/Lucy love story and the sly wit in making the songs emerge organically from action, indulging instead in symbolical visual zaniness that plays like a bad 1960s Roger Corman exploitation film.

Jim Sturgess as Jude can sing but he lacks charisma and Evan Rachel Wood is good as Lucy but not good enough to carry him, she should have really have been playing opposite Joe Anderson who is wonderful as the raffish Max. It takes heroic resolve to overlook Taymor’s wayward psychedelia but she does return to the realism of musicals so that the finale has a nice emotional oomph with the end credits a neat pay off for a gag we’ve been waiting for the whole length of the film. No I’m not going to tell you what it is, go see it yourself.

3/5

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.

Listen here:

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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March 31, 2017

The Boss Baby

Alec Baldwin is the star of the show as the voice of the titular infant in an animated comedy aimed at a surprisingly niche audience.

Tim (voiced in Wonder Years style narration by Tobey Maguire) has a perfect life. Loving parents, who sing him ‘Blackbird’ as his own personal song, a faithful alarm clock that talks to him in the dialogue of Gandalf, and an active imagination, obviously. Which is ruined when a baby in a business suit pulls up in a taxi, power-walks into the house, and demands attention at all hours of the night and day from his parents. When Tim discovers the baby can talk, and does so in the voice of Alec Baldwin, he tries to figure out what is the what before his parents’ love for him is entirely consumed by the demands of the boss baby…

The Boss Baby is a curious creature. Baldwin’s delivery of “Uh-uh, cookies are for closers” is one of a handful of jokes aimed at parents, the other pick being Baldwin’s query if Tim’s parents are actually Lennon & McCartney when he complains how they are now singing his personal song ‘Blackbird’ for the baby. But there is precious little here for parents. Indeed, there is at times precious little for children either. There is, mercifully, none of the usual Dreamworks shtick about how the most important thing in the world is to just be yourself, but instead there’s a message targeted at what can only imagine is a fairly niche child audience. 7 year olds dealing with jealousy at a new sibling. Indeed if a 7 year old was dealing with jealousy at a new sibling they might be as irritated as a cinephile by the painfully protracted ending in which Tim and the Boss Baby get what they want, but…not what they need.

2/5

August 18, 2011

Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie

Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie is less concert film, featuring most of the cast of Glee performing in character, and more socio-political manifesto by Ryan Murphy.

The film opens with backstage interviews with the Glee cast. Oddly some of them stay in character and some don’t. Their character names then flash up on screen during their on-stage introduction and Artie stays in his wheelchair just to hammer home that they’re performing in character as New Directions, sort of. If the film wants to refer to the performers by character name, I’m happy to oblige and save myself a visit to IMDb. Proceedings begin, of course, with the trademark god-awful cover of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. The words ‘of course’ apply to most of the numbers. This is a greatest hits package of songs that the show has affixed to particular characters, all of whom get the chance to step up and strut their stuff.

Miss Holliday cameos for one Ce Loo song, but Mr Schuster is conspicuously absent. Puck, Mercedes and Artie all get to show off with solo songs but the most notable turn is Britney’s energetic performance of ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’, which is outrageously sleazy, and leads to the thought that 3-D works well for horror and animation but is perhaps also something that could enhance musicals. Not that it works particularly well here, the choreography is too basic for there to really be anything to show off, but there are moments when it adds something. But while they fail to exploit the third dimension these are good performances – Mike Chang can dance! As indeed can the other secondary characters. But then the lead characters can really sing. Rachel belts out ‘Firework’, and, as Nadine O’Regan has noted, Katy Perry’s lungs resemble those of a blue whale.

Regrettably this is not solely a concert film. There are endless inserts following three Glee fans. Apparently Glee cures Asperger’s, makes dwarves (their term) popular and enables gay students survive high school. Apparently I hallucinated three hilarious pre-Glee seasons of Ugly Betty valorising a hopeless nerd, celebrating difference and positively depicting a fabulous high school student… Lady GaGa’s ‘Born This Way’ is the show-climaxing statement of socio-political intent, but Glee cannot sustain this solving-all-the-world’s-problems-with-a-soft-shoe-shuffle pomposity – what could? Glee is just a TV show with glaring limitations. It’s a blender which flattens all music. Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and Massive Attack’s ‘Inertia Creeps’ would all emerge sounding the same, as deeply over-produced pop. I previously criticised its lack of ambition beside Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe, and here Kurt performs ‘I Want to Hold your Hand’ – precisely as Taymor reinterpreted it! Even their innovations are derivative!!

This is a genuinely enjoyable concert, but the documentary segments are actually mildly disturbing…

2/5

(P.S. Stay on after the credits for another signature song…)

July 11, 2010

Ride the Lo-Fi Country

My beloved 1993 CD player died yesterday, forcing me to turn to its sister tape player for the first time in years, and muse over living lo-fi in a hi-tech world…

Not only is my beloved 2004 Auf der Maur album stuck in the CD player with no means of escape, I can’t listen to her new CD (which I just bought) on the thunderous speakers which echo around the room, instead I have to settle for throwing it into the laptop and listening to the tiny volume that it delivers in comparison. Small wonder that I’ve instantly turned to my long-neglected tape collection to still use the speakers and their great potential for noise. As a result I’ve spent the last two days listening to the Stone Roses, Bryan Ferry, The Beatles, and the Chemical Brothers. And that was just picking the tapes that were at the top of the pile. I know that somewhere in the dusty stash is The Goon Show not to mention the Pixies, Lightning Seeds, Bowie, Ash and The Doors.  And then there’s all the tapes I’ve forgotten I even made, which is going to be a treasure-trove of 1992-2004 time capsules for me to dig through.

But this has happened when I’ve just seen Tom Stoppard’s dazzlingly clever and utterly hilarious Arcadia which is nonetheless a simple enough play to stage, and as I’m ploughing my way through Jonathan Franzen’s epic family drama as state of nation saga The Corrections which is modern in style and content but very old in its ambitions, and as thoughts, possibly blog-worthy, possibly not, about each mull around in my mind. These pieces of work are very old-fashioned, lo-fi, if you will, but still impressive, just as the music I’m blaring from my tapes is fantastic, regardless of the ancient method of its delivery. It’s brought home to me just how at ease I still am at living a lo-fi life in a hi-tech world, how what’s dismissed as ‘obsolete’ is really often just ‘different’, and how the obsession with instant gratification can blind us to the qualities of older forms and the greater rewards provided by work that demands more active engagement. After all, filling out an 8-track led to Parklife

I write a weekly blog but posting it can be the only time I venture on-line each week, as I write on a lap-top with no internet connection, about films which, for the most part, I have seen once in the cinema and then analyse from memory. This to me is normal, but I can imagine other people being crippled without access to IMDb or YouTube, just as I can imagine few people would be able to understand that I improvised dictation of nearly a year’s worth of articles down the phone to my co-writer for the University Observer, and wrote nearly half of my PhD thesis long-hand and had it supervised in that way.

I still am lo-fi, it’s just the world that upgraded.

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