Talking Movies

October 19, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to slice this film properly for ad breaks

It happens every time. Whether it’s on Channel 4 or Film4, every time Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is on the powers that be go to the first ad break at a moment that ruins the gag. Alec Baldwin is giving a vainglorious speech to Jeremy Renner about the awesomeness of the CIA, having just shuttered the IMF, and tells him “Set your watch, Brandt. Ethan Hunt is living his last day as a free man” – and then Channel 4 and Film4 go to an ad break. And when they return we are in a different location for an action sequence of the CIA attempting to catch Hunt. But the point is lost in this time away making tea in the kitchen – his last day as a threat should be instantly followed by a caption telling us that many months have passed; and that therefore Tom Cruise is very resourceful and Alec Baldwin has been shown up and is not at all happy. Do you see, it’s in the manner of being a gag?

Coronarithms killed the movie critic

In the absence of any actual cinema releases whither not just cinema but the critic of cinema? I would think that, stripping away all the many pretensions, the major function of the film critic is as a gatekeeper; entrusted with shepherding people away from wasting their money on bad films, and telling them what they might like to what degree from the alright good and great films. This function, though, is largely dependent on people going to the cinema rather than streaming. Streaming is a flat fee for a service you use as much or as little as you like, whereas a physical trip to the cinema is a one-off punt on something – and as the price of a cinema ticket here exceeds the monthly cost of Netflix it’s quite a gamble. But not only does a streaming service reduce the financial consequentiality of the choice of movie, it also makes it easier to drop something if it’s rubbish compared to even just the physical business of leaving a crowded cinema, and it uses such choices to tailor the dreaded algorithim toward your tastes. Some years back the Engineer made an off-hand comment that he had absorbed the biases and interests of his favourite film critic to a sufficient degree to be able to account for them and thus work out how far or if he would agree with his judgements. The Netflix algorithm dispenses with that. It knows you as well as you allow yourself to be known. And when Netflix pushes towards you its just-dropped release I doubt people look around for a critical consensus on it; they just glance at the names, see the algorithm at work, and click or do not click play. The whole equation has been changed – but only now does coronavirus make it plain by making Netflix the last game in town.

September 19, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LX

As the title suggests, so forth.

But if it’s a five stage plan, how can we have started at level 2.5 and gone on to level 3, with elements of level 4? That just doesn’t track.

“I have a new plan, it involves beards and Morocco”

–So we beat on, boats all moored on the quay, hopelessly tied up for the present.

The media has curiously decided to remember the unelected and indeed rejected regime of Leo & Simon as the golden age of communications; despite the fiasco of the picnic in the park, coming after the statesman speech that said nothing, and the literal game of name that quote played for a celebrity Twitter audience.

But Dublin finds itself in an intolerable situation. The simplest task seems to stump this new cobbled together coalition of the unwanted. Why announce a plan with five levels, and simultaneously announce that Dublin is betwixt and between levels two and three? Why announce that Dublin is moving to level three, but then crucify pubs and restaurants with level four restrictions without calling those restrictions by name? Why pretend that any of this is based on science when there is no actual evidence that pubs and restaurants have been spreading disease while we all look pointedly at schools, that opened suspiciously at the right time to be responsible for the recent spike, and which will remain open – even during level five – because … science said that’s that okay?

The sinister nature of classical music

Hannibal is leaving Netflix at the end of September. Good riddance, one should say. But a completist Mads Mikkelsen impulse drove me to try and crash thru the final two seasons. To no avail. 6 episodes into season 2 and its increasingly disgusting visuals I began to lose the will to live and had to abandon the drive to the Reichenbach fall. There is much to dislike about the clear enjoyment the makers take in showing human organs being turned into haute cuisine, even when it’s a major character; suggesting they were talking about themselves when having Will say Hannibal eats not to honour, but because he regards humans as no different to pigs. So to Bryan Fuller et al these are not real living breathing characters, just empty sharply dressed ciphers to be pushed (agonisingly slowly) around the chessboard; in a world conveniently entirely devoid of CCTV outside the lunatic asylum. But I also began to be disheartened by the relentless yoking of classical music to Hannibal’s ghoulish evil. It reminded me of a piece around 2015 that praised Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation for giving Simon Pegg’s comic relief Benjy a love of classical music, when the standard operating procedure would have been to give such a detail to Sean Harris’ supervillain Solomon Lane as a marker of his supervillainy, a la Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me; watching sharks eat people to the strains of Mozart. Cruise and McQuarrie went further in fact, basing an astonishing set-piece around Puccini’s Turandot, and making ‘Nessun Dorma’ the leitmotif for Rebecca Ferguson’s mysterious assassin. But why is this so damn unusual? Why is classical music so often relegated to nonsense touches like Kevin Bacon’s Beethoven-loving Nazi in the cold open of X-Men: First Class? Football fans lap up ‘Nessun Dorma’ and ‘Zadok the Priest’, everybody who whistles the ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars is unconsciously a fan of ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’ from Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Why do film-makers who will often edit to a temp-track of classical music so despise that very same classical music when it comes to depicting it as a part of their characters’ lives?

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?

December 22, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXIV

As the title suggests, so forth.

“Name” “Bond, James Bond” “And you are?” “Moneypenny, Miss Moneypenny”

Having seen the trailer for No Time to Die I think Daniel Craig should have retired with Spectre as he has clearly gone beyond the point where he is too old for the role of 007. He may be younger than Roger Moore was when he finally hung up the Walther PPK, but he is showing his age badly next to the even older Tom Cruise who is enthusiastically committed to TWO more Mission: Impossible films. But where to go next? Has, as John Fahey suggested to me, this iteration of Bond now exhausted the possibilities of its approach just as Brosnan’s did? Perhaps. Well then, we must recast, and rethink. First off, just cast Tom Hiddleston already before he gets to be too old to play the damn part. Next, cast Emily Blunt as Miss Moneypenny. Having seen Moneypenny in the field in Skyfall it should not be a stretch to imagine her in the field again. But in a rather different capacity. I started thinking about this when Patrick Doyle began wishing for a millionaire to finance his one hour episode versions of Ian Fleming stories done faithfully and therefore requiring Colin Firth. I noted Firth had somehow played both Bond and Mr Steed in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Oho! If Craig’s Bond leaned towards Jason Bourne, then Hiddleston’s Bond should lean towards John Steed. Imagine the elegant repartee of Steed and Mrs Peel in The Avengers becoming the verbal fencing of Bond and Moneypenny. Imagine Emily Blunt in black leather dispatching villains with judo kicks to the head. Imagine routinely getting a Bond film every two to three years made with practical stunts and action but more witty dialogue scenes and a production air of sprezzatura rather than the agony in the garden atmosphere that has produced only five films in 14 years for Craig.  What’s not to like?

November 17, 2019

From the Archives: Lions for Lambs

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

A Republican Senator unveils a new strategy for the War in Afghanistan to a liberal journalist. Simultaneously we follow two of the soldiers involved, while their politics professor explains their lives to a disillusioned student.

Wow, Tom Cruise has gotten old. This will be the first thing that strikes you when you watch Lions for Lambs. Gone are the cheekbones of Top Gun behind some newly flabby jowls as the Cruiser heads inexorably towards 50, at which point his career as a heroic leading man will abruptly end. It’s like a rule, ask Michael Douglas about it. The second thing that will strike you is that this film is a disguised play. There are three fixed locations, each of which features two characters talking for an hour, and we cut between these with some flashbacks. Michael Pena needs to get a new agent or just move to Broadway because following on from his World Trade Centre two-hander with Nicholas Cage he’s once again immobilised in a god-forsaken locale heroically musing on patriotism and other issues with a colleague. Screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan has defended this staginess. He claims a lot of dialogue is needed to engage with the War on Terror on any meaningful ideological level.

Tom Cruise as the ambitious Republican Senator Jasper Irving and Meryl Streep as the cynical liberal journalist Janine Roth clash to good dramatic effect but you can’t help feel that while Cruise is given some good arguments he’s never going to be allowed to win. Robert Redford’s arguments as the Berkeley professor Dr Malley are hampered by his own screen image, particularly 1972’s The Candidate which opined that getting elected was possible only by abandoning all your convictions. Warren Beatty campaigned for George McGovern in 1972 while Redford justified apathy. Nixon won that election by a whopping 23% so it’s a bit rich that Redford now hectors young student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield) about political engagement. The most involving segment of the film involves Lt Col Falco’s (Berg) desperate search for his two missing soldiers and his anger at bad political leadership.

Carnahan also scripted last month’s war on terror thriller The Kingdom which was very emotionally involving but couldn’t maintain the intelligence of its opening. This film seeks to be that edgily intelligent all the way through but Carnahan’s level of political insight is only that of Michael Moore’s at the end of Fahrenheit 9/11. The worst victims of American capitalism are first to volunteer to defend that very system against foreign attacks. This film never adequately explains the logic of that choice. Pena and Derek Luke’s highly intelligent students abandon college to fight in a hopeless war. Redford deserves praise for his emotionally engaging depiction of military camaraderie but Carnahan’s script, while interesting, does not persuade us that the choice of these young men was anything but suicidal at worst or deeply misguided at best.

3/5

June 23, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XIV

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.

Edge of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

I blundered into the middle of Edge of Tomorrow aka All You Need is Kill aka Live. Die. Repeat. recently, at a time when I couldn’t commit to watching something, but was a bit annoyed that I couldn’t catch the first 20 minutes before turning off. Then realised that I could do something better, because it was showing on a channel with a +1 option. So I started switching between the two channels, one of them about 15 minutes in, the other 1 hour 15 minutes in. Back and forth, back and forth, even as Tom Cruise tried to explain to Emily Blunt how all this had happened to him before and how he’d got better at navigating this world, death by farcical death. An exposition lecture I was illustrating by channel-hopping. There is a peculiar joy to be derived from rewatching temporally trippy films in such a temporally scrambled way. I have fond memories of watching Interstellar with my Dad two years ago when RTE premiered it at a time of critically low DVR capacity. As a result of something running over we were forced to tape and watch, tape and watch, until eventually we found ourselves fatally behind, and forced to watch live until an ad-break because we couldn’t tape. And once the ads came we were able to finish the few minutes of taped material we needed in order to delete that chunk, setting us back nearly an hour in the story, and then we could start taping again while beginning the remaining 30 minute chunk of taped material. Dad complained at the end, not unreasonably, that he couldn’t make heard nor tail of the last three hours of gibberish.

The MARVELlous Mr Renner?

It’s slightly depressing to think that Jeremy Renner, despite having been pretty vocal about the shoddy writing of his character Hawkeye after The Avengers, is going to spend part of a second decade chained to him. As has been noted hereabouts the cinematic Hawkeye is a pale shadow of his immediate comic-book antecedent in Mark Millar’s The Ultimates. As indeed are all the cinematic Avengers, which is what makes the Marvel Studios juggernaut so very depressing when it exists at the same time in history as Fast & Furious 5-thru 8. Looking back at this decade, as is becoming depressingly unavoidable, it’s clear that what Renner did when he jumped off the Marvel juggernaut was when he really shone: The Town, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Bourne Legacy, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Immigrant, American Hustle, Kill the Messenger, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Arrival, Wind River, The House, Tag. Renner lights up the two M:I movies, with Christopher McQuarrie dubbing him a fantastically funny ad-libber. His supporting turn in The Town is a masterpiece turning what is often a one-note character in heist movies into a wonderful imp, and in Arrival and Wind River he is superb at grounding sci-fi and Western noir in humanity.

April 14, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XI

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.

The means defeat the ends: Part III

Bob Iger has declared a hiatus because of Star Wars fatigue. People he thinks can have too much of a good thing. Well, certainly people have can too much of a good thing. But that is not the problem with Star Wars. People are clamouring for more Fast & Furious movies and Mission: Impossible at a faster rate until Tom Cruise’s body gives out. But Disney has managed the incredible feat of draining the Star Wars cash cow dry in just 4 movies. The decision to make three Star Wars movies between 2015 and 2019 was always rather suspect, because it would inevitably lead to what indeed happened – not a singular creative force like George Lucas or Christopher Nolan or Christopher McQuarrie driving decisions, but instead development and execution by committee. And it is not for nothing that they say a camel is a horse designed by a committee. I bought some Star Wars socks just before Christmas in Marks & Spencer and they amusingly summed up what went so catastrophically wrong for Disney. The packaging was festooned with images of Rey, Finn, and Poe, who we are all meant to find enthralling beyond belief. And yet the socks themselves featured stitched in renditions of R2-D2, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, a stormtrooper, and the Star Wars logo. Because they knew that nobody would buy the socks if they featured Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo, and Rose. And so the socks themselves were entirely OT, and you could throw the packaging away with a maniacal laugh. Much like the end of the new Star Wars trailer.

Seraphim Falls Revisited

I recently watched Seraphim Falls for the first time since I saw it in the cinema in 2007 as it popped up on TV in an eerie coincidence. From a distance of twelve years I was surprised by how much I remembered of the physical details of the chase, even as I’d forgotten the particulars of the revenge, how the trippy ending took up less screentime than it did in my remembering, and also how it seems to inhabit a grittier version of the same fantasy Old West populated by Irishmen as Michael Fassbender’s Slow West. This is the film in which John Healy first pointed out to me what I later referred to in my review of The Revenant as “Pierce Brosnan’s grunting and moaning in pain school of physical acting”. It’s especially interesting watching Liam Neeson play a man out for revenge the year before Taken, when he was still riding high off playing two bearded mentors in 2005’s Batman Begins and Kingdom of Heaven.

January 8, 2019

Top Performances of 2018

July 29, 2018

Notes on Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the only possible choice for movie of the week. Here are some notes on’t, prepared for Dublin City FM’s Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle early this morning.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a more serious film than its two immediate predecessors. There are far fewer jokes, and even the colour palatte is grimmer: Berlin, Paris, London, and snowy Kashmir. No jaunts to Dubai or Morroco here. Instead we have a film that marks 10 years since The Dark Knight with a very Batman/Joker dynamic between Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and the diabolical mastermind he refused to kill, Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane. Just like Batman and the Joker, Hunt’s refusal to take one life may result in many more lives being lost; where is the morality in that? There’s even an elaborately planned assault on a prisoner transfer as Lorne Balfe’s score knowingly dives into the Zimmer Bat-soundscape of ostinato synthesiser and strings.

January 15, 2018

Hopes: 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh…

Grieving mother takes on cops

Cue absurd mayhem

 

Lady Bird

Northern Cali teen

Gerwig directs Ronan as

Gerwig, critics notice!

 

Meg

The State fights big shark

An Asylum film times ten

Thank China for that

 

Unsane

Soderbergh on phone,

Making a film with Claire Foy,

Don’t tell David Lynch

Ready Player One

Spielberg and 80s

Are like that, so, perfect fit

For 80s ref. Fest

 

Isle of Dogs

Cute Japanese dogs

Do cute Wes Anderson things

All in stop motion

 

Wonderstruck

Todd Haynes does The Hours,

so to speak, Julianne Moore,

stories in two times.

 

Deadpool 2

How to make sequel?

Discuss. He will. In sequel.

In camera. Yeah!

Jurassic World 2

Goldblum finds a way

They never leave well alone

These dino islands

 

Mission Impossible 6

McQuarrie returns

Cruise runs and jumps (and falls too)

Cavill’s tache wows all

 

The Predator

Shane Black was bit part

Now he’s running the whole show

Lightning strike again?

Under the Silver Lake

It Follows: P.I.

Sort of, Garfield the P.I.

Riley Keough the femme

 

Bad Times at the El Royale

Drew Goddard directs

Thor in 60s Tahoe dive

Horror might ensue?

 

Widows

Mainstream Steve McQueen

Gone Girl writer does La Plante

What will this look like?!

Golden Exits

ARP returns

With J Schwartzman in Brooklyn

Domestic dramas

 

Maya

Mia Hansen-Love

a war journo kidnap drama

and, of course, after…

 

Chris Morris TDK

Anna Kendrick stars in-

Um, nobody knows a thing

Bar it’s Chris Morris

 

Crooked House

Familiar ground:

Julian Fellowes, Big House,

Murder, A Christie

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