Talking Movies

July 19, 2017

Who cares what critics say anyway?

Uproxx.com had a much-discussed piece recently arguing that critics should not have to watch and review films like Transformers 5, because it’s bad for them to see a film they’re going to hate, dulling their palate, and not much use to anyone else either; as critics constantly carping about unstoppable cinematic behemoths gives the impression of rarified and tiresome elitism.

In that light it’s interesting to see that websitebuilder.org have an interesting new infographic

Click here for the link: https://websitebuilder.org/resources/online-reviews-infographic/

How do people make decisions on how to spend their money when they go to the cinema? It turns out that it’s not Rotten Tomatoes, the bane of many a studio executive and film director, but rather IMDb that is the most trusted source online. In fact, Rotten Tomatoes comes 5th in the ranking of importance in this infographic, behind even the late Chicago Sun-Times’ man legacy website RogerEbert.com. To wit, audiences do not care what critics on the most discussed critical aggregator say about new movies nearly as much as they care what other punters say about new movies. This is assuming IMDb’s ratings are driven mostly by punters not pundits, which is reasonable given that IMDb’s Top 250 is topped by The Shawshank Redemption, not Vertigo or Citizen Kane. This leaves film critics somewhat at a loose end…

Intriguingly Twitter meltdowns, like the official Ghostbusters account endorsing Hillary Clinton as a gesture against the imaginary patriarchy who weren’t going to its film last year, might also be even more spectacularly counter-productive than you’d think. The infographic from websitebuilder.org has it that if a retailer responds properly to a negative review on social media or online ratings site there is a 33% chance that the negative review will be deleted or changed into a positive. Or, you know, a major studio could just let someone start a Twitter war, shouting abuse at the very people they are meant to be politely asking for money, and see how that works out for the bottom line…

The takeaways must be that word of mouth is stronger than ever, but now in an online form, that critics are definitely not gatekeepers anymore, and that studios need to be very careful about how they respond to the ever proliferating trolls online for fear of digging holes even deeper.

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May 31, 2013

Populaire

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Competitive speed-typing is the unlikely subject of this French mash-up of a sports flick and a rom-com set in 1959.

Rose (Deborah Francois) is a shopkeeper’s daughter eager to escape the ennui of her provincial existence. She applies for a job as a secretary in Lisieux, a position that attracts a large number of conspicuously attractive applicants who dismiss her chances. Rose indeed makes a mess of her interview, but her formidable typing skills gain her a reprieve. Her boss, insurance agent Louis (Romain Duris), sees potential for her to win the regional speed-typing contest, even if this means enduring her disastrous performance in handling paperwork. In a nod to Pygmalion he even bets his American friend Bob (Shaun Benson) that he can train this girl to become the French national typing champion, a wager strongly disapproved of by Bob’s wife, Marie (Berenice Bejo); who was once almost married to Louis. But can Louis and Rose’s relationship remain strictly sporting?

So, how do you make speed-typing exciting? Well, the answer is to shoot the contests in what is probably the closest we’ll ever get to John Healy and I’s dream of ‘Un Film de Michel Bay’. ‘Un Film de Michel Bay’ should be thought of as an archetypal black and white Eric Rohmer film like Ma Nuit Chez Maud in which very serious and literate discussions of Pascal’s philosophy are organically interrupted by explosions of vehicular mayhem and spectacular pyrotechnics. The national championship in Paris is shot in just this fashion, with fast tracking back and forth between typewriters followed by bombastically heroic panning in a circle around the two typists. Director Regis Roinsard even inserts a proper Rocky training montage into proceedings just to demonstrate that speed-typing really is a sport; a point struck home to a snooty journalist.

But that nice visual gag and the elan of the typing sequences cannot disguise that this is merely an insubstantial rom-com mashed up with a sports movie set-up that is lacking in either good gags or character insight. The mind wanders so much that in a pivotal scene you tut-tut that Berenice Bejo is once again appearing in a film that explicitly steals from Vertigo, and then, as that scene changes completely in nature, you realise the appropriate 1958 movie to reference is in fact Les Amants. Far too explicit for its 12 rating, and falling between several stools in its attempt to address the legacy of the Resistance and the American liberation, feminism and sexual exploitation, you will be immensely frustrated when Populaire fails to stop at its natural ending, but persists on for an unconvincing parade of cliché.

Populaire is a feather-weight confection that could be commended as amusing were it 25 minutes shorter, but the fatal mistake of running thru a contrived finale renders it dull as it outstays its welcome.

2/5

September 18, 2012

Hitchcock @ the Lighthouse

The  Lighthouse presents six films showcasing icy  blondes, blackly  comic moments, pure  cinema  suspense sequences, and  director cameos in a season  of films spanning over twenty  years of Hitchcock’s  career.

North  by Northwest

Wednesday,  September 19th 20:30

Sunday,  September 23rd 15:30

Hitchcock  and screenwriter Ernest Lehman abandoned a fruitless novel adaptation for a story dazzlingly showcasing  scenes Hitchcock had always longed to film; a murder at the United Nations, a  man attacked by a crop-duster in an empty landscape. Cary  Grant’s MadMan  (cough) Roger O Thornhill, a man as hollow as  his affected middle initial, blunders into spymaster Leo G Carroll’s elaborate ruse and  is ruthlessly  and lethally pursued across  America by the  sinister James Mason and his clinging henchman  Martin Landau, all the while  dallying with their dangerous associate Eva  Marie Saint. Hitchcock’s preoccupations were never explored more  enjoyably…

Rebecca

Wednesday,  September 26th 20:30

Sunday,  September 30th 15:30

Hitchcock’s last British  film  adapted Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica  Inn, and his  American debut tackled her magnum opus, and won Best Picture at the Oscars.  Timid unnamed narrator Joan Fontaine is rescued from employment as a companion  to an old battleaxe by marriage to the dashing Max De Wynter (Laurence Olivier).  When they return to his mansion Manderley, however, she finds herself haunted by  the memories of his dead wife Rebecca, continually pressed on her by Judith  Anderson’s malevolent housekeeper Mrs Danvers, and Rebecca’s rakish cousin, the  great George Sanders. Competing with a dead  woman for Max’s affections leads to tragedy…

Notorious

Wednesday,  October 3rd 20:30

Sunday,  October 7th 15:30

Hitchcock’s  1946 movie has a vaunted reputation but is hard-going in its initial stages as  the daughter of a spy, Ingrid  Bergman, is  recruited  by a government agent, Cary Grant, to  infiltrate a cabal  of wealthy Nazis  who have relocated to South  America. Bergman succeeds all too well with an eminent Nazi, a deliciously  sympathetic Claude Rains, arousing her hander’s jealousy. A  maguffin  involving smuggled uranium is an  excuse for a tour de force shot in which  Hitch zooms down across a crowded party to focus on a tiny key in  Bergman’s  hand, a  suspenseful sequence key to a  stunning finale.

Vertigo

Wednesday,  October 10th 20:30

Sunday,  October 14th 15:30

Hitchcock’s 1958 magnum  opus  recently toppled Citizen  Kane from  its perch as the ‘greatest film ever made.’ Hitchcock burned money perfecting  the dolly-in zoom-out effect so crucial for depicting Jimmy  Stewart’s titular fear; which Spielberg cheekily  appropriated it for one show-off shot in Jaws. The twisted plot from  the French novelists behind Les  Diaboliques is played  brilliantly by the increasingly  unhinged Stewart, Kim Novak as  the anguished blonde he becomes  obsessed  with, and a young Barbara Bel Geddes as the friend  who tries to keep him grounded. Visually gorgeous,  lushly scored, and dripping pure  cinema sequences without any dialogue – see this.

Psycho

Wednesday,  October 17th 20:30

Sunday,  October 21st 15:30

Hitchcock’s low budget  1960  classic boasted one of the drollest trailers imaginable  and his direction is equally parodic  in the first act, with its sinister traffic-cops and endless car plates,  because Hitchcock relished investing the audience  in a shaggy-dog story which sets up a number  of prolonged blackly comic sequences as well as some  chilling suspense. Anthony Perkins’s Norman  Bates emerges as a terrific resonant  villain, especially in the chilling final scene scored by Bernard Hermann with  full-on Schoenbergian atonal serialism.  The shower scene with Janet Leigh being slashed to Hermann’s bravura stabbing  violins orchestration remains an iconic ‘pure cinema’ scare.

The  Birds

Wednesday,  October 24th 20:30

Sunday,  October 28th 15:30

Hitchcock  spun out Daphne Du Maurier’s short story which had been inspired by her simple  thought when  watching a flock wheel towards her over a field, “What if they  attacked?,” into  an unsettling and  bloody film.  Socialite Tippi Hedren’s pursuit of the judgemental lawyer Rod Taylor to his  idyllic small town on the bay seems to  cause the local birds to turn homicidal, but  don’t look for explanations – just  enjoy the slow-burn to the bravura attacks. Watch  out for Alien’s  Veronica Cartwright as Taylor’s young sister, and a bar stool philosophiser  allegedly modelled on Hitchcock’s bruising encounters  with Sean O’Casey…

Tickets can be  booked at the  Lighthouse’s website  (www.lighthousecinema.ie), and,  as with the just finished Film Noir season there  is also  a special  season pass available only at the box office; which allows you see six  films for only €36.

December 22, 2011

Thus Endeth the Winning Streak

I’ve already cast doubt on the wisdom of using Bane as the villain in The Dark Knight Rises, but I have strong presentiments of disaster that extend well beyond that.

I was alarmed after writing my piece to read Christopher Nolan talking about Bane to Empire and specifically extolling how he makes Batman physically vulnerable; and Scarecrow setting Bats on fire, Ras Al’Ghul dropping a log on him and Two-Face shooting him can go to ret-con hell. Nolan then went on to quite graphically describe Bane’s brutal fighting style before belatedly backtracking and talking about Bane’s great tactical mind hidden behind the monstrous physique. The scent of Knightfall is heavy in the air, and the sound of breaking spines emerge from crystal balls and runes everywhere. But I’ve come to feel that it’s inevitable that The Dark Knight Rises is going to be a disaster because Nolan is quite simply overdue one at this point.

Indeed in an article during the summer I wrote “Christopher Nolan is due a disaster at some point. Every director, writer, playwright, musician, artist will make a screw-up of epic proportions at some point.” I’ve quoted an old Charlie Brown line as my title because I’ve since traced back the origins of my belief in the inevitability of disaster in artistic careers to a Peanuts comic strip.  Charlie Brown’s baseball team had been on an unwonted winning streak, and as he stood on the base he knew this couldn’t possibly last – a massive disaster had to scupper them at some point to restore the cosmic balance. And they immediately lost, and he sighed “Thus endeth the winning streak.” But how does this apply to artists?

My favourite directors Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg have both suffered disastrous ends to great winning streaks. I think that The Dark Knight Rises is going to be that moment when the wheels come off the wagon spectacularly, and Christopher Nolan will stand up amidst the wreckage, look around, mutter “Thus endeth the winning streak”, and dream it all up again. And it’s not all superstition that somehow one can become overdrawn at the Bank of Inspiration – if we may call whatever that external well of ideas is that Jung dubbed the spiritus mundi, and which every writer knows the tingling feeling of tapping into; when the characters start to say things to each other that you, their creator, didn’t know they were going to…

There are obvious tangible reasons why great directors suddenly make a catastrophic hash of things. Continued success surrounds you with money, yes men, and a feeling of invincibility. Your judgement is temporarily euphorically suspended, as you breezily take risks you wouldn’t have taken before, and you become implacably convinced that whatever idea you come up with is pure gold because you’re a genius (rather than sifting thru a number of ideas to find which is the best one because you’re good but you need hard work and inspiration to hit pay-dirt) – and then WHACK! Box office disaster slaps you back to reality like a wet fish right in the kisser. Disaster is what makes next the winning streak possible. Forced back to smaller budgets and second-guessing yourself you sift thru ideas, regain your critical eye and return stronger than ever.

Spielberg screwed up with 1941 and returned with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hitchcock bored everyone with The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Wrong Man and roared back with Vertigo. Even Joel Schumacher rose from the ashes of Bat-disaster with Tigerland and Phone Booth. Who knows just how good Nolan’s comeback would be?

March 15, 2010

Oscar Schmoscar

There’s been an odd prevalence of live blogs surrounding this year’s “goddamn meat-parade” – as George C Scott so memorably described the Oscars. This blog did not do a live commentary on the Oscars for three reasons. Firstly, I rather like sleeping at night and think that many other people share this strange attitude. Secondly, I don’t believe that even Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie writing together could possibly write anything funny or insightful enough LIVE! to justify a live blog. Thirdly, the Oscars are (whisper it) (no in fact bellow it!) POINTLESS!

There are 5,777 voting members of the Academy. These individuals do not have a better idea of what makes a great film than any other 5,777 random individuals around the world. There was a reason that JFK told Ben Bradlee what he’d learned from the Bay of Pigs was this – “Don’t assume that because a man is in the army that he necessarily knows best about military strategy”. If you doubt that consider these three facts.

The Academy in its wisdom thought that Alfred Hitchcock, director of The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Strangers On a Train, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds, was not truly exceptional enough in his field to win a Best Director Oscar.

The Academy in its wisdom thought that Ron Howard, director of The Da Vinci Code, was.

The Academy nominated both Apocalypse Now and Kramer Vs Kramer for Best Picture of 1979 and thought that the film which would have most impact on popular culture, which pushed the boundaries of film-making, and which would endure and be fondly remembered was…Kramer Vs Kramer. I love the smell of dumbness in the Kodak.

According to the Academy the best 10 films of the Zeros were Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, The Return of the King, Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Hurt Locker.

Not Memento, Moulin Rouge!, The Two Towers, Master & Commander, The Bourne Supremacy, Good Night and Good Luck, Casino Royale, Atonement, The Dark Knight and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.

Or Amores Perros, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Rules of Attraction, X-2, Mean Girls, Brick, The Prestige, Zodiac, Hunger and Up in the Air.

We don’t need the Academy to tell us that Christoph Waltz gave a great performance in Inglourious Basterds. We don’t need the Academy’s nominations to help us tell the difference between a good blockbuster with commercial clichés and a bad Oscar-baiter with its own set of equally rigid (but more idiotic because they’re ‘edgy’) clichés (Little Miss Sunshine, I’m looking at you). Maggie Mayhem tells Bliss in Whip It “Be your own hero”. Follow her advice, trust your own instincts…

September 15, 2009

Third Time Lucky for 3-D?

So, Avatar is allegedly going to change the future of film-making, but is the third time really going to be the charm for the adoption of 3-D technology?

3-D first appeared in the 1950s and despite Alfred Hitchcock utilising it in Dial M for Murder it’s remembered best as a gimmick used for shlock horror films like the original House of Wax, ironically directed by a Hungarian Andre de Toth who only had one eye but memorably explained “You only need one eye to look thru a viewfinder”. Right now we can witness something of the same dynamic – brilliant directors like James Cameron, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg are all working with 3-D motion capture technology, but the cheap and cheerful shlock horrors will always outnumber the quality pieces. Which begs the question that’s always dogged 3-D, is the technology a brilliant film-making tool to more accurately depict the world as we experience it or just a flashy gimmick?

Once upon a time painters discovered perspective and so rendered the world more accurately than it had previously been depicted. Should we regard the coming of 3-D as the same leap as that between religious icons and renaissance painting? It’s not as if cinema is currently badly lacking a sense of perspective and volume, as anyone who clung to their seats for fear of falling down the abysses of the cityscapes in the IMAX Dark Knight will attest. Is the ‘need’ for 3-D as spurious as wanting to see the Mona Lisa in 3-D? Or is 3-D is to be compared with the innovations of sound and colour? The coming of sound while derided initially as a gimmick in truth merely got rid of the freakish aberration cinema had introduced of silent acting. The coming of colour was also a gimmick at first, something to make Gone with the Wind look even more spectacular or to convey the difference between grey Kansas and magical Oz. If you want proof of the slowness of adopting colour just look at Hitchcock’s career. Between arriving in Hollywood in 1940 and making I, Confess in 1953 Hitch made just two colour films. Between 1954 and 1976 he made just two black and white pictures. The move from glorious technicolour to more realistic colour certainly added this process, the ability to use colour as magisterially as he did in Vertigo helped, but the threat posed by TV in the 1950s was probably the deciding factor. The advent of TV saw cinema do epics, extras, wide-screen and colour – anything in fact to distinguish itself from what the goggle-box could offer. It also saw the first wave of 3-D films but 3-D technology fizzled out.

The second wave of 3-D came at another time when cinema was considered in peril, the 1980s, and this time TV’s cousin the video was the villain. So 3-D films again appeared, I have childhood memories of one film which one involved the hero getting into peril in various burning houses so that flaming rafters could fall towards the audience. I may have missed some of the subtleties of its plot. Actually, no, I don’t think I did. Once again cinema survived, and 3-D did not. Now here we are with cinema under threat from this generation’s big bad, online piracy. And the saviour is something that can’t be recreated except in a cinema, it’s…digital 3-D. Hmm. 3-D has been rejected as a gimmick each time it’s been fan-fared where other innovations have endured.

I lean towards the belief that 3-D has been rejected each time while other innovations have been adopted because it is essentially a gimmick, and for this reason. 3-D films currently being released tend towards two camps. There’s films where children reach out their hands towards the screen to touch the characters (Monsters V Aliens, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and films where teenagers squirm at the dismembered body-parts and pick-axes flying off the screen towards them (The Final Destination, My Bloody Valentine). In both cases 3-D seems to be a blank cheque for abandoning serious effort on the script in favour of shallow special effects moments. When the trilogy of heavyweight directors arrive, they will bring a wave of PG-13 thrill-rides like Avatar, but can you conceive of anyone filming a serious thoughtful drama like Good Night, and Good Luck in 3-D? Until the answer to that question is yes, then 3-D will always remain gimmick.

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