Talking Movies

November 10, 2019

Notes on Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep, the very belated sequel to The Shining, was the catch-up film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Rising horror maestro Mike Flanagan attempts to reconcile the book of The Shining with the movie of The Shining while at the same time making a sequel that is nothing like The Shining. No wonder this is 2 hours 30 minutes. And yet it is above all things a leisurely movie. If it were better one would compare it to how David Fincher let The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo breathe by burrowing into character and mystery. But such a comparison is unearned, instead there is a more apt (and dreaded) comparison to Ready Player One. Spielberg recreated the Overlook Hotel in CGI, and Flanagan resurrects a gargantuan set, but in both cases once the initial thrill wears off you realise you are essentially on a ride at a nostalgia theme park – the recognition is all, nothing of great pith or moment or heavens preserve us originality is going to happen here. Besides which Doctor Sleep is not very scary for most of its running time, it’s perfectly agreeable but as it goes nowhere goodwill evaporates afterward.

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June 24, 2018

Notes on Hereditary

Hereditary is the horror film proving perfect 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.

Ari Aster makes an impressive debut as writer/director, but while the marketing pushes it as this generation’s Exorcist there’s actually a lot more of The Shining in Hereditary’s cinematic DNA. Toni Collette is the parent going mad in a huge house, constructed on a soundstage to allow for fluid tracking shots, with much unnerving imagery and fear so intense that terrified screams remain silent. Aster is an incredibly patient director. There are a lot sustained close-ups of reaction shots before the camera slowly pans to reveal the source of the character’s terror. And, like Sinister, you find yourself an hour into the movie having been scared profoundly by tricks of the light or perfectly natural accidents or coincidences, nothing supernatural. But then Aster puts his foot down on the pedal and, as all films like The Babadook must it sees, abandons the terror of ambiguity for the terror of supernatural mayhem. Although it must be noted tremendous unease is generated simply by jarring jump transitions between the same locations in Utah at night and morning.

Hereditary at its best is imbued with a sense of creeping unease, and a profound fear on the part of Toni Collette’s character that the mental health problems that have afflicted her family are flaring up in her under the extreme stress of bereavement. Hereditary may indeed be a film for an older audience than the teen horrors like Truth or Dare that are a staple at the multiplexes, as the true horror that is the subtext of what it fantastically depicts needs some life experience to fully hit home with any sort of jolt of recognition. Not everybody has skeletons as extreme as schizophrenia or disassociative identity disorder lurking in their family closet but depression is a black dog that finds a home most anywhere. Collette is outstanding in the lead as an artist trying to process the multiplying horrors of her life by sublimating them into a gallery show, but constantly dealing with the nerve-shredding anxiety – are these things really happening or am I just going crazy like my mother and my brother?

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.

April 30, 2018

On Urbanity

Prefacing my attack on Legion last month I noted decorum was important, and that urbanity was important as a stylistic and aesthetic goal, and noted one could stretch to call it an ethical goal too.

What then is urbanity? When I was writing for the University Observer I used to think our house style was aiming for the droll elegance of the New Yorker.  I’m not sure anybody else did. I’m not sure I would even have been able to pin down where I got that notion of the New Yorker from, possibly a refracted Dorothy Parker vibe from the Gilmore Girls. Having recently, deliriously enjoyed James Thurber’s The Years with Ross I think that I wasn’t far off in my peculiar sense of the magazine’s house style. Although it may have been just Thurber himself rather than the New Yorker writers en masse in possession of that style. Certainly the current New Yorker writers are en masse in possession of a house style, and the deployment of it by Gladwell, Gopnik & Co can be maddening in its repetition.

The New Yorker film reviews these days mostly overshoot urbanity and instead sound jaded, and snobbish. Richard Brody’s review of Ready Player One is a recent particular lowlight. Brody seems to have the shakiest of grasps on the commercial realities of movie-making, and indeed how movies are remembered by non-critics. His notion that a blockbuster themed around 1980s nostalgia should chuck The Shining for Jim Jarmusch’s oeuvre is tragicomic; once you stop laughing in astonishment, you realise he’s serious, and then need to lie down. But how should one write film reviews? I went from writing a movie column for the University Observer titled ‘Fergal’s Guide to Misanthropy’ to reviewing for InDublin. In thrall at the time to Hunter S Thompson I wrote reviews in a style that I would now never countenance. Hunter S Thompson is a great stylist, but he is not urbane.

It doesn’t matter that Hunter S Thompson is not urbane, because he is Hunter S Thompson. But it matters a great deal when people who are not Hunter S Thompson are neither urbane nor Thompsonian despite their best efforts. And those best efforts usually betray fierce labour as they attempt to do the Gonzo style without being the man who was Gonzo. As I wrote more and more film reviews for InDublin I began to appreciate that reinventing the wheel with snark and wildness each time was not sustainable. So, as I have recounted before, I turned to an earlier mentor, Michael Dwyer. I pored over his 300 review in an effort to understand how it worked, and especially how he could write so many reviews with such apparent ease; given their clarity and simplicity. I adopted my interpretation of his technique as my model.

Initially though the interpolated technique was all structural. It was only over time and ever more reviews for Dublinks.com and Talking Movies that the mature style revealed itself; borrowing a structure from Michael Dwyer had seamlessly led to an Augustan style. Films were reviewed without hyperbole over their strengths or hysteria over their weaknesses. As a result they could be reviewed with astonishing speed; my review of Prometheus took 26 minutes from first keystroke to published post. It wasn’t vitriolic, like so many reviews, it maintained an even keel. But it had taken 5 years to get to the point where that review could be penned in 26 minutes. What one looks for in urbanity is the appearance of effortlessness concealing much effort; the sprezzatura of Castiglione so promulgated by WB Yeats as the ideal of lyric poetry. Which brings us back to James Thurber…

Thurber’s droll story ‘The Bear Who Let It Alone’ concerns a bear that gets too fond of honey mead at the local bar:

He would reel home at night, kick over the umbrella stand, knock down the bridge lamps, and ram his elbows through the windows. Then he would collapse on the floor and lie there until he went to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.

But our hero sees the error of his ways. He becomes a teetotaller, and a physical fitness freak, and boastful of how the two are connected:

To demonstrate this, he would stand on his head and on his hands and he would turn cartwheels in the house, kicking over the umbrella stand, knocking down the bridge lamps, and ramming his elbows through the windows. Then he would lie down on the floor, tired by his healthful exercise, and go to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.

The simplicity of the gag makes you feel like you always knew it just after you first read it, and of course belies what must have been careful paring and paring by Thurber to get it just right. That is the key. It appears effortless; elegant, graceful, simple; and it took much effort to make it appear so. Thurber was in a contract with himself as much as the reader not to let go of the piece until he’d finely chiselled it to perfection and then polished it to remove all trace of the chisel marks. And it’s that determination to do oneself and others justice that I argue can move urbanity from aesthetics to ethics. To write urbanely is to do more, to be beneficent.

PG Wodehouse once wrote “The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well”. One might advance a similar notion when it comes to urbanity. Consider Mark Zuckerberg’s painfully laboured non-apology apology for the Cambridge Analytica flap:

“I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it”

A billionaire, surrounded by expensive lawyers and media consultants, who can take five days (which I like to imagine were spent brainstorming on a luxury houseboat moored in the dead centre of Lake Tahoe), to write and/or approve something as inelegant as that italicised sentence… Well, I opine, in identical manner to the man who cheats at golf, a man capable of writing like that is capable of anything.

John McGahern is the endpoint of the notion of urbanity as an ethical goal. His description of fictional Leitrim farmer (and, as Graham Price persuasively has it, dandy) Jamesie sitting in Ruttledge’s passenger seat on their way to the market I have characterised in my Irish University Review article ‘Competing Philosophies in That They May Face the Rising Sun’ as a Stoic benediction: “He praised where he could, but most people were allowed their space without praise or blame in a gesture of hands that assigned his life and theirs to their own parts in this inexhaustible journey”. That may be the ideal of urbanity I wish for in journalism. How it got muddled together with Thurber’s New Yorker drollness in my head is a puzzler, but there it is. Socrates said that nobody would willingly commit evil. An evil-doer is in possession of imperfect information. Nobody sets out to write badly, paint badly, compose badly, or to direct a bad film. In reviewing one should try to nudge where possible, and always offer solutions when identifying problems. One should only eviscerate if something is positively harmful, and even then try to do it with a light touch. A bad review done with urbanity is a judo flip. Identify what is obnoxious, and, if possible; and it is surprisingly often possible; see how the work can be read against itself, so that it is condemned out of its own mouth.

March 11, 2015

JDIFF: Behind the Scenes

Filed under: Talking Books,Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 3:43 pm
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The Behind The Scenes strand at JDIFF 2015 recognises the importance of the Festival to Irish film-makers with a number of masterclasses, public interviews, panel discussions, conferences, and networking events. This year there is a special emphasis on the making of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, as well as events with casting directors Margery Simkin (Top Gun) and Leo Davis (Layer Cake), and actors Robert Sheehan (Love/Hate) and Aidan Turner (Being Human).

Kubrick on set of Barry Lyndon

 

Talking Kubrick

Marking the 40th anniversary of Barry Lyndon, which receives a gala screening in the Savoy with both star Ryan O’Neal and producer Jan Harlan being interviewed by Lenny Abrahamson, there are three events related to Kubrick’s period epic.

 

Scene on the Square

2.00pm, Saturday 14th March, Wolfe Tone Square

A free event in association with LoveMovies.ie sees a fencing duel being filmed live on the Square. In a unique opportunity to see cinematic magic created up close spectators can watch the video footage live-streamed onto a large screen while the MC explains the various roles of the crew members capturing the action sequence.

 

Kubrick’s Cameras and The Cinematography of Barry Lyndon

10.30am, Saturday 21st March, Light House Cinema

The Irish Society of Cinematographers lends its imprimatur to this unmissable event for both aspiring camera operators and mere enthusiasts of Kubrick’s cinema legacy. Larry Smith, Doug Milsome, Laurie Frost, Joe Dunton, and Luke Quigley; members of the crew from Barry Lyndon one and all; will be discussing the making of the film, the challenge of working with director Stanley Kubrick, and the techniques they used to achieve the unforgettable look of the film, famous for its ultra-low-light candlelit scenes.

 

Producing with Jan Harlan

11.00am, Sunday 22nd March, Light House Cinema

Jan Harlan was executive producer on Stanley Kubrick’s final four films Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, and assisted on the production of A Clockwork Orange, as well as executive producing AI: Artificial Intelligence, and directing Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. He was also Kubrick’s brother-in-law, which must have made for a complicated dynamics. He will share insights about his career, which has veered towards documentary after Kubrick’s death, and his working relationship with the eccentric self-mythologising director.

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Talking Shop

A series of industry workshops and events features Robert Sheehan, Aidan Turner and Sarah Greene on acting, Reka Lemhenyi on editing, Tomm Moore on animating, Hossein Amini on writing movies, and Leo Davis and Margery Simkin on casting.

 

Broadcasting: A Changing Landscape

12.00pm, Friday 20th March, Wood Quay

The first of the Festival’s Screen Test series, in association with BAI, features guests David Levine (General Manager, Disney Channels UK & Ireland) and Brian Furey (BAI). This event will discuss how new and emerging platforms such as Netflix & VOD are affecting the content being produced for TV & radio. The technological developments of these download services will be explored from the point of view of broadcasters and show-runners.

 

Animators in Conversation

1.30pm, Sunday 22nd March, Light House Cinema

Two-time Oscar nominee writer/director Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea), of Cartoon Saloon, and animation producer Didier Brunner (The Secret of Kells) will discuss developments in animation today, in a must-see for anyone interested in a career in one of Ireland’s fastest growing creative sectors, as well as lovers of animation.

 

The Art of Manipulation: Editing with Reka Lemhenyi

3.00pm, Monday 23rd March, Teachers Club

In the second of the Screen Test series award-winning Hungarian editor Reka Lemhenyi (The Door) discusses editing techniques in depth and her illustrious career, including her work on Jerzy Skolimowksi’s Essential Killing, as well as Free Fall, which is screening as part of this year’s festival.

 

Expressing Emotion: Actors in Conversation

3.00pm, Tuesday 24th March, Teachers Club

As part of the Screen Test strand, young acting talents Robert Sheehan (The Road Within, Love/Hate), Aidan Turner (Being Human, The Hobbit), and Sarah Greene (Noble, My Brothers) discuss their evolving careers, their training as actors, and how they got started in the industry.

 

Write to Live, Live to Write: Managing your Writing Career

3.00pm, Wednesday 25th March, Teachers Club

In association with the Irish Writers Centre in Parnell Square, this event is aimed at screenwriters looking for advice about managing and maintaining their career, and the challenges of the creative process, idea management, and overcoming the dreaded writer’s block. The panel is comprised of script consultant Mary Kate O’Flanagan, story development professional Rachel O’Flanagan, Conor McMahon (From the Dark), and Pierce Ryan (Standby).

 

Conquering the Script (Day 1)

Friday 27th March, Hugh Lane Gallery

The day will take participants on a journey from the early generation of ideas into the development of story through the paradigm of conflict and the crisis screen characters need to undergo in order to render a film powerful and engaging. There will be a story debate with film-makers about their completed films, the development process, and the story choices they made. Panellists and guests on the day will include director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, Room), as well as development specialists Juanita Wilson (Octagon Films) and Eoin O’Faolain (Samson Films).

 

Conquering the Script (Day 2)

Saturday 28th March, Wood Quay Venue

The second day kicks off with a debate on the current state of story-telling in Irish film and television drama. As the day continues another session is devoted to kitting out the development tool box, more story debate with a feature director, and the closing keynote interview with Drive screenwriter Hossein Amini. Panellists on the day will include Michael Kinirons, Will Collins, Eugene O’Brien, Ian Power and Carol Morely.

 

It Begins with the Script: Casting Event

2.00pm, Saturday 28th March, Teachers Club

2015’s iteration of the popular JDIFF casting events sees Emmy-nominated Leo Davis, who has worked on Layer Cake, The Constant Gardener, The King’s Speech and The Queen, discuss her work in conversation with Margery Simkin, whose own credits include the blockbusters Avatar, Top Gun and Erin Brockovich.

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Talking Ideas

Pulling back from the daily practice of film-making are three events that look at the bigger picture of cultural milieu, how cinema appropriates novels and history for its own purposes and how it then helps shape people’s experiences.

 

Perspectives in Pictures

12.00pm, Sunday 22nd March, National Museum of Ireland Collins Barracks

Collins Barracks is the appropriately historic setting for a discussion on the cinematic depiction of history. Film-makers Mary McGuckian (The Price Of Desire), Se Merry Doyle (Talking To My Father), and Jennifer Goff, curator of the Eileen Gray collection at the National Museum of Ireland, will raise questions such as “do film-makers feel a responsibility to represent historical events accurately?” The answers will be interesting to hear following an Oscars dominated by prestige biopics which made a pigswill of history for the sake of deadening screenwriting clichés, while, as Maureen Dowd acidly noted of Selma’s depiction of LBJ, at the same time clutching their ‘historical authenticity’ tightly to their breasts as a talisman to win Oscars. Do film-makers have an ethical responsibility not to rewrite the past?

 

Seeking the Truth: Mark Cousins in Conversation

12.00pm, Thursday 26th March, Irish Times Building

Northern Irish film-maker, critic, lecturer, sometime Moviedrome presenter, and programmer Mark Cousins (The Story of Film, 6 Desires: DH Lawrence and Sardinia) travels south to engage in a public interview about his life and work. Will he mention Brian De Palma’s absolute refusal to assent to Cousins’ reading of his films?

 

First Rule of Book Club….

2.30pm, Friday 27th March, Pearse Street Library

With the current popularity of adaptations on large and small screen (Gone Girl, Game of Thrones, American Sniper) this discussion focuses on book to film adaptations, and what drives audiences towards one medium or another. Bob Johnston of the Gutter Bookshop and Jason Flood of Dublin City Comics will lead the debate on Hollywood’s hunger for stories. Will the latter cite Alan Moore’s contempt for moving a story designed to work perfectly in one medium into another purely to make more money and not for any creative purpose?

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