Talking Movies

March 13, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXVIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Alas, Max Von Sydow

Another great has left the stage. 13 years younger than Kirk Douglas, Von Sydow was still working in high-profile productions. Indeed he worked for so many decades that one could say there are multiple Von Sydow personae. There is the Bergman art-house God that my mother remembered from The Virgin Spring, beating himself with sticks to build himself up for his vengeful rampage. There is the priest from The Exorcist and assassin from Three Days of the Condor which properly established him with American audiences after his underwhelming Hollywood debut The Greatest Story Ever Told. Then there was the first von Sydow I encountered, unrecognisable as Ming the Merciless in the gloriously silly Flash Gordon. He was already very old when I came across him as another villain, this time in Minority Report. And then I started coming across him in the art house as a tremendous supporting player in Intacto and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It is astonishing to think that while Kirk Douglas thru ill health and bad luck had his last important roles in the early 1980s Von Sydow was still working in his 90s and goes out with cameos in The Force Awakens and his role as the Three-Eyed Raven in Game of Thrones as recent reminders of his potency.

The Desplat Factor

I have, of late, been trying to distil down the elements needed to reproduce the essential Wes-ness of a Wes Anderson film. Some are practical for guerrilla film-makers, others less so. Colour coded costumes, hand-crafted sets of increasingly outrageous artificiality, whip-pans, tracking shots, overhead shots, especially of handwritten notes, and the laying out inventories, droll narration … Bill Murray. And, one might add, a score by Alexandre Desplat. Which itself may or may not be connected to the increasingly outrageous artificiality of Wes Anderson’s cinemascapes. Certainly I still regard The Darjeeling Limited as the highpoint of his work, and it was after that film, which used pre-existing music, that he replaced Mark Mothersbaugh, the composer for his first four films, with Desplat for his next four films. I rather liked Desplat’s largely percussive score for Isle of Dogs, but was not particularly taken at the time by either his Moonrise Kingdom or The Grand Budapest Hotel work. Although the latter is growing on me as I soak it in. I think my objections circle a certain childishness at the core of the Desplat/Anderson enterprise. The score for Fantastic Mr Fox had a childlike quality, which was entirely appropriate to the material. But The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film I thought soured in dialogue and action by an unexpectedly mean spirit, seemed to be given the same treatment. And in both cases they shared their approach with Moonrise Kingdom where, in thrall to the featured music of Benjamin Britten (especially his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra) Mr Desplat’s orchestration was explained in ‘The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe Part 7’. Ralph Vaughan Williams held that a composer lacking confidence in their themes could be depended upon to orchestrate all hell out of them. Desplat’s work for Anderson though is a horse of a different colour. The orchestration is sparse but determinedly eccentric, with featured unusual instrument after featured unusual instrument [“Not to speak of the glockenspiel” “The glockenspiel?” “I asked you not to speak of it”]. And this complicated curating of harps, flutes, piccolos, pizzicato strings, electric guitars, ukuleles, classical guitars, dangling blocks, sixteen bass baritone singers, balalaikas, celestes, banjos, tubular bells, cymbals, timpani, vibraphones, xylophones, triangles, clarinets, French horns, tenor saxophones, trombones, tubas, trumpets, organs, snare drums, bassoons, pianos, and, yes, glockenspiels, is far more important than his simple melodies: timbres are more important than themes. In a sense that’s a musical reflection by Desplat of style being more important to Anderson than substance. Has Anderson fallen into the same trap of Tarantino, of losing touch with basic reality and human emotions in favour of constructing his own Neverland ranch? We shall see later this year…

No Time to Die Edit

Now that the release of No Time to Die has been pushed to November it might be an idea for Cary Fukunaga to go back into the editing suite and make some cuts. The already ramping up publicity push had unwisely seen Lashana Lynch brag about how 007 got put in his place for sexual harassment in this movie. Coming just weeks after Birds of Prey bombed after a publicity campaign that couldn’t stop talking about everyday sexism, male gaze, and misogyny, you have to ask the question staff most feared hearing from President Obama – ‘Who thought this was a good idea?’ The trailer had already seen my tepid interest evaporate. Craig looks as past it physically as Roger Moore in A View to a Kill, but without even the lingering interest in the role. The moment where the security guard has no idea who Bond is clearly is meant to be hilarious and subversive, and yet it makes no sense; MI6 would remember. Think of the scene at the start of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation where a similar character realises who Ethan Hunt is, “I’ve heard the stories. They can’t all be true…” Lashana Lynch’s dialogue and smirks in the trailer quickly pegged her character as insufferable and, once again, made you yearn for any Craig-era Bond girl to measure up to Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. But the idea that No Time to Die will see Bond, and by implication the audience, receiving an endless series of lectures makes one think again on the reasons for delaying it. Quite simply, this film cannot fail or it sinks MGM. But… even if everyone is primed to go back into packed cinemas in November, will anybody bother if the cast and crew of the film keep telling them it’s not a rollicking adventure but a vitally necessary lecture on their implicit biases? The evidence of Birds of Prey, Charlie’s AngelsTerminator: Dark Fate, and Ghostbusters (2016) suggests not. Films that wish to lecture a pre-existing audience must reckon with that audience not showing up, and the supposedly untapped new audience of people on Twitter that like and retweet that pre-existing audience getting owned will also not show up, they never do. Which means of course that no one shows up. And then goodbye MGM. Time to edit?

June 29, 2016

IFI Open Day 2016

The IFI is holding its annual Open Day on Saturday July 2nd with an expanded line-up of free movies running from 1pm to near 1am. As well as free movies, and the customary barbecue in the courtyard and special discount on annual IFI membership, there are a number of tours.

IFI-OpenDay-2016-Screentime

In addition to the previews, old favourites, and sheer oddities, there are chances to lift the curtain and see the wizard, with talks from the IFI Archive staff and tours of the Projection Booth. The ‘Ask an Archivist’ desk in the foyer will give visitors the opportunity to learn about different film stocks, and even view and handle film yourself. The Tiernan McBride library will host members of the Archive team charged with preserving Ireland’s cinematic heritage giving talks about some of the projects they’re currently working on. Projection tours can be booked in advance to go behind the little window of flickering light, and check out the busy working of the specialised department; handling anything from digital, to 16mm and 35mm, up to 70mm – the IFI being the only cinema in the country that can run 70mm reels. The tours at 14.00, 15.00, 16.30, and 17.00 have limited places, which can be booked at scorrigan@irishfilm.ie. Give yourself an unfair advantage in the ‘Fiver a Foot’ competition in which you can win Premiere Friend membership for a year by correctly guessing the length of film in a film can. And as always IFI Membership will be available at a discounted rate for the Open Day and there’s a BBQ on the terrace from 16.00 onwards.

But what are the free movies? Well, here is your guide to the 14 films being shown in Temple Bar.

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Film 1

White Heat (13.00)

“Made it, Ma! Top of the world!!”, and all that… Gangster No 1 James Cagney is Cody Jarrett, a deranged mobster who’s unnervingly close to his mother. Directed by Raoul Walsh, who previously worked with Cagney on The Roaring Twenties, this is a B-movie classic. Walsh mashes up prison breaks, gangster power struggles, and film noir blurring of lines as an undercover agent befriends the unwitting Jarrett.

Amateur (13.30)

Indie auteur Hal Hartley’s 1994 effort follows ex-nun Isabelle, taking time out from her disreputable profession to help amnesiac Thomas piece together his forgotten life. Hartley wrote the role for Isabelle Huppert after she sent a letter begging for a part in his next film. His regular leading man Martin Donovan plays the nice guy whose head injury, we gradually realise, may have been a most happy accident.

Play On! (14.00)

The Open Day proclaimeth Shakespeare Lives! In 1899 an upcoming production of King John filmed scenes to produce the first Shakespearean film, and arguably the film world’s first trailer; before there were even proper film features to trail. Early silent film-makers pillaged the Bard for prestige purposes, so here are 24 scenes of silent Shakespeare scenarios, including a 1924 Romeo & Juliet featuring John Gielgud’s screen debut.

 Sweet-Smell-Of-Success

Film 2

Sweet Smell of Success (15.30)

“The cat’s in the bag, and the bag is in the river.” Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman’s quotable and seedy screenplay finds malicious gossip columnist JJ Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) finally pushing fawning press man Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) to his moral breaking point. Despite James Wong Howe’s innovative cinematography and Elmer Bernstein’s downbeat jazz, its disastrous 1957 reception effectively forced director Alexander Mackendrick into academia.

Disco Pigs (15.45)

Kirsten Sheridan made her feature debut in 2001 with the first of only two Enda Walsh plays to make it to the big screen. Cillian Murphy originated the part of Pig in 1996 and reprises it alongside Elaine Cassidy as Runt. Inseparable friends with their own private language, much compared to Anthony Burgess’ nadsat, their innocence is threatened by Pig’s growing appetite for destruction and sexual pleasures.

El Clan (16.00)

White Elephant director Palbo Trapero returns with a thriller based on improbable true events. The Galtieri regime has been swept aside in 1980s Argentina, and spook Arquimedes Puccio (The Secret in their Eyes’ Guillermo Francella) develops a new line of work with the help of his son Alejandro (Peter Lanzani): kidnapping. This tale of a low-key but distinctly psychopathic crime family won the Silver Lion at Venice.

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Film 3

King Kong (17.45)

Merian C Cooper’s beloved pulp classic from the pen of Edgar Wallace is showing on 35mm. Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) joins a film-making expedition to Skull Island in search of a mythical beast, and Skull Island does not disappoint. Peter Jackson uncharitably re-used some clunky dialogue in his remake, but the stop-motion special effects still thrill and it all builds to one of cinema’s most memorable finales.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (18.00)

Writer/director Taika Waititi (2014 Kiwi vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows) adapts Barry Crump’s novel. Surly teenager Ricky (Julian Dennison) is dispatched from the city to the depths of the countryside to live with foster father Hec (Sam Neill). When he runs away, pursued by Hec, the police misread the situation and begin a manhunt. Funny, touching, and, yes, Rhys Darby shows up.

The Virgin Spring (18.20)

Director Ingmar Bergman won his first Foreign Film Oscar for arguably the most uncharacteristic film he ever made, as this was loosely and bloodily reworked 12 years later as The Last House on the Left by Wes Craven. Ulla Isaksson based her script on a medieval source, examining Max von Sydow’s moral deterioration as he methodically violently attacks the men who raped and murdered his daughter.

 

the-neon-demon

Film 4

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (20.25)

The audience choice is regrettably Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s tale of the romantic friendship between Greg (Thomas Mann) and terminally ill Rachel (Olivia Cooke). Imagine The Fault in Our Stars meets Be Kind Rewind as directed by Wes Anderson; with cinephiles so infuriating it bears out Bret Easton Ellis’ fear of film-makers who make films based only on other films, not on lived reality.

The Neon Demon (20.40)

There may be walkouts… The inimitable Nicolas Winding Refn returns, sans Ryan Gosling, but, though there may be more dialogue than Only God Forgives, that doesn’t mean he’s changed his ways. Elle Fanning is a model arrived in LA’s fashion world whose fresh innocent beauty becomes the object of envy and desire for Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, and Jena Malone. Cue Cliff Martinez synths and weirdness.

Phantom of the Paradise (20.50)

Director Brian De Palma took elements from The Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Faust, and combined them with an Oscar-nominated soundtrack for this 1974 oddity which is being reappraised. Winslow, a young musician is betrayed and has his life destroyed by unscrupulous producer Swan. When Phoenix, a beautiful new talent, arrives it spurs Winslow on to seek revenge on Swan.

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Film 5

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (22.30)

Writer/director Stephan Elliot has never managed to equal the impact of his 1994 comedy-drama. Drag queens Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce journey across the Australian Outback in a bus called ‘Priscilla’ for a show at a desert resort. Weaving brings grieving transsexual Terence Stamp too as a kind deed, and so begins much bickering and some unexpected bonding with the locals.

Repo Man (22.45)

Scottish writer/director Alex Cox provided the archetypal cult classic in 1984 with his quotable and offbeat feature debut. Emilio Estevez’s bored punk Otto works with Harry Dean Stanton’s equally jaded Bud repossessing cars. But when one car has a $20,000 bounty added life suddenly gets interesting for Otto and Bud in the way that only feuding punks, scientists, aliens, government agents, and a televangelist can make it.

So, those are the films, but that’s only the beginning… For the second year in a row there are five sets of films instead of the traditional four. Trying to do four films was an endurance marathon at the best of times, but to get into five films is surely beyond anyone, and yet undoubtedly somebody will try… But they’ll have to sort out their strategy with someone else, and now for two reasons. Strategy was always important because you can, obviously, only watch one of the three films running at any given time, but also the film you choose from each set determines what films are open to you later on. Choose Play On! from the first set of films, and you make it damn near impossible to see Sweet Smell of Success from the second set of films.

And if you’re confident you can make a quick-change from The Virgin Spring to The Neon Demon just remember that you’ll have to leave one screen and join a queue for another, that nothing in Dublin has ever started on time, and that one speaker will always get carried away with their enthusiasm when lengthily introducing a film. If you’re confident you can carve a sensible cinematic path through the day, remember that some films will be unexpectedly in demand and some films will unexpectedly languish, and it is impossible to predict which category your picks will fall into. If finally, shaken by my scepticism, you retreat to a Hindenburg line that you’re confident you can guess which films will be on which screens, remember that audience choice winners Good Vibrations and Short Term 12 did not make it to Screen 1, but Submarine did. And if you will not be moved from your foolhardy confidence, remember that you may need plans B thru D cognisant of run-times and queuing.

And then there’s the second and new reason that you need to sort your strategy with a partner if you want to get into multiple films. Tickets used to be allocated, to a maximum of 4 per person, on a first come first served basis 11am on Saturday which always led to a queue forming from 9.30am onwards and snaking around on to Dame Street. Those days are over, and everyone will miss the buzz of the Open Day morning. This year for a number of reasons the ticketing system is undergoing a dramatic shake-up. Queues will now form inside the IFI itself, at a desk for each specific movie, an hour before the movie is screened – with a limit of 2 tickets per person. Obviously this makes life hard for the multiple movie devotees, because they’d have to not be watching a movie in order to queue to get a ticket to watch the next movie. The best I can think of is some sort of demented Game Theory equilibrium whereby people trade off movies they don’t mind missing to queue for someone else, in order to get tickets for something they do want in return. (If that even works outside of my fevered economics imagination) Apart from melting the minds of delusional economists who think they can outwit it, the new ticketing system should ensure that all tickets distributed will be used, with fatigue ceasing to be an issue for the early morning diehards stranded in town for the day. It will also make Open Day a bit less about crowd control and a bit more interactive, allowing the IFI to enagage with first-time visitors and regular patrons about what the IFI does in terms of festivals and programming and what the Irish Film Archive is all about.

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