Talking Movies

February 7, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXV

As the title suggests, so forth.

The Golden Age has passed

Alas, Kirk Douglas is dead. As plans for this week’s Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle quickly change to pay tribute to the last great of Hollywood’s Golden Age something that’s occurred to me is just how vivid and indelible Kirk Douglas’ performances were. When I caught up with At Eternity’s Gate recently I kept faulting Willem Dafoe for not capturing Vincent Van Gogh in the way that Kirk Douglas did, though it had been over 20 years since I’d seen Lust for Life. When I finally saw My Darling Clementine a couple of years ago I kept inwardly (and occasionally outwardly, to the exasperation of the Engineer) sighing that Victor Mature was not measuring up to the Platonic Ideal of the nervy, doomed live-wire Doc Holliday, which was of course Kirk Douglas in Gunfight at the OK Corral which I hadn’t seen for a decade. Here are ten Kirk Douglas films I’m thinking about:

Build My Gallows High (1947)

Young Man with a Horn (1950)

Ace in the Hole (1951)

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Lust for Life (1956)

Paths of Glory (1957)

Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957)

The Vikings (1958)

Spartacus (1960)

Seven Days in May (1964)

The means defeat the ends: Part IV

As rumours continue to swirl that JJ Abrams originally delivered an entirely different lousy Star Wars movie to Disney than the lousy Star Wars movie they released in cinemas one strand of speculation stands out. To wit, that the grand finale was severely reworked in deference to the sensibilities of the Chinese Communist Party. I knew when watching Taiwanese movie The Assassin a few years ago that the appearance of a ghost was a provocative move, but I didn’t really understand why the mainland was so firmly opposed to ghosts. I only recently read that the appearance of ghosts was associated with disorder and the loss of the mandate of heaven, and so the Party is eager for those associations of ideas not to start associating in the minds of the people. And of course Force Ghosts would start such associations, were they to physically appear as ghosts. But why else would Hayden Christensen have been on-set if not to physically reprise his role of Anakin Skywalker as a Force Ghost? It seems likely that he and others were originally physically present in the showdown between Super-Rey and the inexplicable zombie Emperor, but that the scene was reworked to make the Force Ghosts a mere vocal montage of pep talks. That is to say Disney completely reworked the scene in an attempt to make mucho money in China. But… Chinese audiences really couldn’t have made it any plainer that they could give a damn about Star Wars in toto. The idea that a finale which would have added some pizzazz belatedly to this asinine cash grab trilogy was scrapped for the sake of making mucho money in a territory where it was never going to make mucho money, at the cost of luring back disenchanted actual Star Wars fans in the rest of the world, blows the mind.

June 9, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XIII

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.

La La Land and its predecessors

I’ve noted before that I fell into the trap of watching the movies I recommended as TV choice of the week on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle. I therefore re-watched a chunk of La La Land on BBC 2 a few months back, but ducked out after the hour mark. It occurred to me that when discussing it with Patrick Doyle I’d invoked New York, New York for its equally miserable ending, but somehow never even thought of mentioning Moulin Rouge!  which undoubtedly has the most miserable ending of all three. I’ve been trying to puzzle out why that might be and I think it is because the ending of La La Land irked me. As Patrick Doyle said if you have people flying about a Planetarium then you have located the film as a fairytale and you can’t really go for a miserable ending then. New York, New York had been posited by Scorsese as a Vincente Minnelli musical done with social realism, and I opined that those two approaches were actually mutually exclusive, but there is no denying that with social realism a miserable ending does not jar so. I had actually forgotten how good La La Land was, such was the pall the miserable ending cast over the movie in my memory. When it’s good, it’s very, very good. The performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are of the first order, the comedy sparkling, the jazz wonderful, and above all it is a rare modern beast – a musical that does not apologise for being a musical but simply skips from one big production number to the next. There is a vein of nostalgia and romance which mixes sweet touches like Gosling walking past his car to spend more time with Stone with hugely impressive swooping long takes of choreography; especially in the bench at sunset sequence. But then it all goes to hell when it takes a dive into New York, New York territory of careerism and social climbing derailing romance. I think, much like Drive, it is the bait and switch that irks me, the end does not develop naturally from the beginning. But in Moulin Rouge! the madly over the top nature of the film, with its riotous comedy and exuberant romance, betrays the hand of an opera director (which is a sideline of Baz Luhrmann’s); so the death of Satine in the finale feels of a piece with what has come before – utterly heightened. And so I fondly remember Moulin Rouge! while somewhat resenting La La Land.

One Two Three: Stone & Gosling

I’ve been, lamentably, thinking about the contours of this cinematic decade after Paul Fennessy sprung on me the first Films of the Decade list we’ll be bludgeoned with this year. It occurred to me that one of the features of the first half of the decade, if you grant a few months’ grace, was the romantic chemistry of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart and of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. La La Land is the high watermark of the latter pairing, and one supposes the result of their two previous films together: the wonder of the 5 minute long-take bench at sunset sequence, in comic timing and choreography, only possible in part because they have established a working rapport. Gangster Squad is not a film that will be remembered fondly if at all, while Crazy Stupid Love seems to have undeservedly fallen from favour, but if they set up La La Land’s chemistry they deserve our thanks.

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