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?

November 27, 2019

From the Archives: The Darjeeling Limited

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Three estranged brothers travel thru India on a spiritual journey, a year after their father’s death. But it quickly becomes less conciliatory than hoped for.

This is a Wes Anderson movie for people who hate Wes Anderson movies. The trademark whip-pans are present and correct but here the story doesn’t feel constrained by them. The tracking shots between rooms through walls that blighted The Life Aquatic by sheer overuse are quite charming here. Hell, even Bill Murray, who runs for and misses the titular train in the hilarious opening sequence, uses more facial expressions in his cameo than in the entirety of The Life Aquatic. It is a truly wonderful moment when we go into slow-motion as Murray hopelessly sprints for the train and a very distinctive nose emerges beside him as Adrien Brody overtakes him, catching the train at the last possible second. Watching the impossibly gangly Brody run in slow-motion is almost reason enough to see this film.

Brody steals the acting honours, as you might expect. As Peter, a man unsure if he’s really ready to have a child (because of his own troubled upbringing), haunted by the death of his father a year previous, and extremely wary of his older brother, he is nuanced and engaging. Surprisingly Owen Wilson (swathed in bandages throughout) is close behind him as the domineering older brother Francis, whose attempts at reconciliation on this spiritual pilgrimage are thwarted by his own controlling personality which has made detailed itineraries for them all. Jason Schwartzman is in the film. Why? He and his cousin co-wrote it. As the youngest brother, the failed author Jack, he is the weak link of the film but not even his blankness can detract from The Darjeeling Limited’s truly magical quirkiness.

The spiritual journey thru India inevitably goes wrong and, amidst much sibling bickering, the trio are thrown off the train. Anderson at this point casts in the stuff of real drama to the mix, with a revealing extended flashback to the funeral of the brothers’ father a year earlier, and the result is surprisingly affecting. Anjelica Huston’s subsequent cameo as their mother is quite magnificently fitting and leads to an enigmatic tracking shot of imaginary connections between characters in the film that is wonderfully sweet and sums up the charm of the whole enterprise as the brothers do finally arrive at a sort of spiritual epiphany and reconciliation with each other as a result of all their mishaps. It’s a pity Anderson prefaces this film with his execrable short Hotel Chevalier, which will be screened before this in all cinemas. You do not need to see it to enjoy The Darjeeling Limited. It is a cheap exploitation flick whose sole purpose is to showcase Natalie Portman’s first and last nude scene as she was horrified to find that for months the only part of the short film that was leaked onto the internet was her nude scenes. The Darjeeling Limited itself is endearing and substantial, get a ticket.

3/5

January 7, 2019

Top 10 Films of 2018

10) First Reformed

Ethan Hawke goes green

As only Schrader would think:

God’s taxi driver

9) Hereditary

Artist loses head

When daughter loses her head

Demons are the worst

8) 120 BPM

Click your fingers and

Act Up, throw pig’s blood, shout loud

Fight to save your life

7) Cold War

Love in black and white

Here, there, and everywhere

Polish misery

6) Isle of Dogs

Wes returns to form

Dog lovers of the world – cheer!

(Frost on windowpane)

5) A Quiet Place

Don’t make a sound, and

watch where you step, and accept

kids are your downfall

4) Mission: Impossible – Fallout

A chase, by car, bike,

chopper, on foot, and truly

THE FIGHT for an age

3) Goldstone

Strong silent type cop

ruffles rich Outback feathers

in odd homecoming

2) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Woody H insists

Truth in Advertising has

gone too damn far here

1) The Old Man and the Gun

‘Over the hill’ gang:

Repartee a specialty,

Catch them if you can

September 9, 2018

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part IX

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.

“No, that doesn’t track”

We now know Wes Anderson’s next film will be live-action and set in post-WWII France, immediately post-war apparently. So perhaps taking cues from Les Enfants de Paradis, Jean Cocteau and Jour de Fete rather than the 50s of Clouzot, Bresson and early New Wave. Insofar as Wes Anderson takes cues from anyone… Any excitement I might have that he’s tackling a specific culture and time is tempered by the knowledge that it will be put thru the wringer until it comes out a Wes Anderson movie. A topic of conversation arises with Paul Fennessy every time there’s a new Wes Anderson – just how much of a straitjacket his trademarks have become. One of our favourite flights of fancy finds Wes and Jason Schwartzman or Roman Coppola or Owen Wilson seated at a diner in Austin; furiously scribbling dialogue and scene ideas in yellow legal pads, and beaming at each other happily, until a shadow crosses Wes’ face, and he asks in horror and disappointment, “But wait, can we do that as a tracking shot or a series of whip-pans?” Because if not, well, there’s no place for it in the cathedral of conventions that Wes Anderson has imprisoned himself within.

Photo: Matt Kennedy

“I can’t help if it I’m popular”

Well now, that didn’t take long. Less than a month after I derided it here, the Oscars abruptly threw engines into full reverse on their wonderfully patronising idea of giving out a new token Oscar for Best ‘Popular’ Movie. It was a bold move to keep the plebeians happy and watching the bloated ceremony honouring films nobody saw. I would wager cold hard cash the decision to ‘suspend’ the new award followed almost instantly on Chadwick Boseman scotching the notion he would be happy to see Black Panther dismissed with a token gong so transparently created merely to commend his all-conquering movie without commending it. He wanted, quite rightly, to be nominated, and seriously, for the Best Picture Oscar; like previous Oscar-winning crowd pleasers The Sting, Forrest Gump, and Rocky. Right now Black Panther has made 700,059,566 dollars at the North American Box Office.  Let us be cruel and note that the combined totals of every Best Picture Oscar winner this decade; The King’s Speech (135,453,143), The Artist (44,671,682), Argo (136,025,503), 12 Years a Slave (56,671,993), Birdman (42,340,598), Spotlight (45,055,776), Moonlight (27,854,932), The Shape of Water (63,859,435); come to just 551,933,062 dollars. That is why fewer and fewer people watch the obscurantist Oscars.

The means defeat the ends

Watching Ken Burns’ incredible documentary The Vietnam War last year it was hard not to think that when someone proclaims ‘the ends justify the means’ any means thus justified actually work against the proclaimed ends.  The brutal means employed in Vietnam actually strengthened the Vietcong and thus worked against the ends of keeping South Vietnam out of their hands.  And, in a disconcerting swoop to utter banality, the shamelessness of the cash-grab of The Hobbit trilogy meant grabbing shamefully little cash. Despite featuring the same writing/producing staff as the Lord of the Rings , (with the regrettable addition of Guillermo Del Toro), Peter Jackson as director, and Andrew Lesnie as cinematographer, the first two Hobbit films (I’ve avoided the last) were nothing like it. They were shot like Janusz Kaminski had left the supernova on in the soundstage, and the greenscreen room, and the digital FX studio, bedevilled by awful acting, unintentionally funny make-up and CGI make-up work, and muddled in nearly every imaginable respect of scripting and directing, with even promising sequences descending into over the top gibberish repeatedly, and this is before we even gripe that the slim volume of Tolkien being made into three films was, as Bilbo once said, like butter spread over too much bread. They were entirely lacking the magic of the Lord of the Rings mostly because of a bewildering lack of reality. Well, not that bewildering after all. The reason that unwelcome CGI was so omnipresent was because the forced perspective practical trickery of set design used to such great effect in the Lord of the Rings would not work for 3-D. So Ian McKellen got to interact with, essentially, named coconuts on sticks, until he started crying; and wailing ‘This is not why I became an actor’. Why abandon forced perspective for 3-D? Because they had to be in 3-D to make as much money as possible! But, because this made them look so awful, on top of the sheer greed of making a trilogy from a small book, people like me, who saw every Lord of the Rings film in the cinema at least twice, and then bought them on home release, in both versions, didn’t go to the cinema to suffer this misbegotten trilogy. Indeed after slogging to the end of the DVD of the second Hobbit film, with its inane love triangle and CGI Smaug whose scale was never clear during his scenes with Bilbo, and which ended with a slap in the face to the audience by leaving his attack till the next movie, I vowed never to watch the third.  And it seems many people felt as I did. The Hobbit’s takings were 1,000m, 958m, and 956m. As opposed to the Lord of the Rings’s takings of 871.5m, 926m, and 1,100m. Note how more people flocked to the Lord of the Rings film by film, while people backed away from The Hobbit. Note also that The Hobbit’s numbers are swelled by inflated 3-D ticket prices, and a decade of inflation. Well, that backfired spectacularly. The ends (making mucho money) justified the means (making awful-looking films, and too many of them, badly). And, the ends, of making mucho money, were defeated by the means employed, an unexpected trilogy of CGI in 3-D.

April 18, 2018

Any Other Business: Part XV

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a fifteenth portmanteau post on television of course!

His Faults Are Legion

Decorum is important. So is the stylistic and aesthetic goal of urbanity. One might go so far as to call it an ethical goal too. But then Legion season 2 hoves into view… I had never seen any of Noah Hawley’s Fargo TV show, but I tuned into season 1 of Legion because it starred Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza, who have featured prominently hereabouts in best acting nods. 3 episodes in, my notes were: “great verve with music, offbeat as hell, style to burn – literally nothing has happened”. That was a fair judgement. Because, despite highlights such as Plaza shouting “Unhand the reptile, space captain!”, this is an FX show where the only FX are the cable logo. It’s like all the money for action was spent on the pilot, and Hawley was left wondering how to hide its absence for the remainder of the episodes. His solution? Take Wes Anderson’s X-Men to heart, apparently. Almost zero content was hidden with funky stylistic affectations, endlessly repeated scenes, and an industrial quantity of psychobabble. When you see as many analysis and interrogation scenes as in this you can be sure something has gone badly wrong in the writers’ room. This is a show pretending to be deep and smart that is in fact entirely empty, and incredibly slow-moving and boring. Even Dan Stevens’ charisma wilts under the strain, Plaza alone remaining undimmed by the tedium to the end. And then there’s the pretension to high art and social conscience with the ‘treatment of mental illness’. … The only reason this show exists is because he does have superpowers. Pretending that it’s a serious treatment of schizophrenic delusions is tacky and almost irresponsible. I will not be watching season 2 because I have rarely seen a show disappear up its own arse so quickly. Sherlock at least took three seasons. Apologies for failures in decorum and urbanity.

 

Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC

“I could wear a hat!”

Among the many pleasures of Blindspot is Ennis Esmer’s recurring character of Rich Dotcom, hacker supervillain turned hacker supervillain on a tight leash. Rich has managed in season 3 to pull off to a degree what he proposed in season 2 when he memorably pitched the set-up of The Blacklist to the Blindspot characters, with himself in the Red Reddington role of supervillain CI; hence his desperate final gambit as he was led back to prison – “I could wear a hat!” Rich’s misadventures this season have included getting sidetracked from stopping an arms deal by live-snarking Boston’s new boyfriend, outwitting Reade’s insistence he not go to a hacker party by insisting a secret meet with an unwitting criminal happen at said party making it a work event, where there just happen to be high quality pharmaceuticals on tap, but he’s sniffing because the carpet is activating his allergies. This is the kind of stress for which you might put in a request for a therapy llama, to say nothing of the fear that leads you to keep a bag of clean urine strapped to your leg at all times. When you have as lunatic a character as Martin Gero has created, “You’re using JFK against me?! He was way sluttier than I am!!” it is wise to use him sparingly; as that kind of lunacy at the centre of a show would turn the whole show as mad as if Brian Finch on NZT was-

 

Brian Finch on NZT maketh a show as mad as he

It Never Got Weird Enough For Limitless

I caught the The Bruntouchables episode of Limitless on RTE 2 last night, not long after star Jake McDorman was interviewed eating al fresco in Cork by an RTE presenter apparently unaware this charming American was an actor. The sheer barrage of whimsy, madness, and fun that is Limitless made me recall what in retrospect seems a huge blunder that at the time was not obvious at all. On its initial run on Sky the episode with Pulp Fiction style chapters following different characters ended on Hill Harper’s Boyle, and with minimal dialogue in these scenes we were instead given an Emma Thompson-Stranger Than Fiction-style voiceover about his activities. Unusual, but hardly crazier than most of the show’s conceits; after all shortly after my sketch about its creator Sweeny and Elementary show-runner Robert Doherty surreptitiously ghost-writing the end of Game of Thrones by recording a drunk George RR Martin, Limitless travelled to Russia and a key plot point was getting George RR Martin on the phone to narrate the end of Game of Thrones. It was only later that I suddenly wondered, what if there wasn’t supposed to be an Emma Thompson-Stranger Than Fiction-style voiceover for that final chapter? What if someone had accidentally turned on audio description while flicking switches to go to ad break? Stranger things have happened… But it says something for Limitless that something so bonkers could seem unremarkable.

February 1, 2018

Wes Anderson @ the Lighthouse

Wes Anderson has a new movie arriving soon, so the Lighthouse will spend the month of March presenting a full retrospective, finishing with a massive Wes Anderson party on opening night of Isle of Dogs on 30th March.

Tickets : https://lighthousecinema.ie/EVENTS/fantastic-mr-anderson

Bottle Rocket

March 5th 3pm & 8.45pm

Based on his short black & white film of the same name, Bottle Rocket was the world’s first introduction to the colourful world of Wes Anderson and his frequent collaborators the Brothers Wilson. Bottle Rocket is a crime caper and a road movie about three friends who embark on a (mis)adventure in the world of crime, with James Caan playing what we would now recognise as the Bill Murray role.

 

Rushmore

March 9th 10.45pm

March 10th 3pm

The film that got Wes Anderson noticed internationally, Rushmore follows Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a student obsessed with his school, Rushmore Academy, but less for its academia than for extracurricular events. Rushmore features the first of many superb supporting performance for Anderson from Bill Murray. Here he is a wealthy industrialist who becomes a friend and love rival to Max for the affections of teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams). Anderson’s aesthetic started to develop its mature style in this icon of 90s indie cinema.

 

The Royal Tenenbaums 35mm

March 13th 3pm & 8.30pm

March 16th 10.45pm

March 18th 3pm

Arguably Anderson’s masterpiece, The Royal Tenenbaums is an elegantly told story about a family of child geniuses who grow up to be, in their own ways, disappointing. It earned Anderson the first of his three Oscar nominations for best original screenplay, although more than a few reviewers thought JD Salinger’s stories of the Family Glass were an inspiration. Anderson’s trademark camerawork; all whip-pans and tracking shots; stylised production design, and autumnal colour palette do not swamp the deeply flawed characters brought to life by an ensemble cast led by a combative Gene Hackman.

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The Darjeeling Limited 35mm

March 14th 3pm & 8.30pm

March 17th 3pm

Anderson made a notable comeback after The Life Aquatic‘s treading water with The Darjeeling Limited. The film follows three American brothers (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody) as they try to reconnect with each other on an epic train journey through India. Darjeeling is a gorgeous film, making use of an extensive colour palette based on the Indian setting, and where could Anderson’s propensity for elaborate tracking shots find a better home than the carriages of a train. More impressive was the emotional maturity in tackling weighty themes of grief, abandonment, and romantic and filial resentment.

 

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

March 21st 3pm & 8.30pm

March 23rd 10.45pm

4 films in and Wes Anderson experienced the cinematic equivalent of difficult 2nd album syndrome. Expectations were high for the adventures of a rag-tag bunch of seafarers led by Bill Murray. But, despite a soundtrack that uses Bowie innovatively, and some wonderful comedy from Willem Dafoe, this ramshackle Moby Dick; Zissou aims to track down and exact revenge upon a mythical shark who killed Zissou’s partner; is to Wes Anderson’s oeuvre as Dune is to David Lynch.

 

Moonrise Kingdom

March 24th 3.30pm

March 28th 3pm & 8.45pm

Anderson’s films have all had a certain nostalgia for a past that never actually happened outside the pages of the New Yorker. And Bob Balaban’s fantastical narrator here brings us a tale of young love set to the music of Benjamin Britten on a New England island in 1969 just before a major storm is about to hit, the least of the forces of law and order’s worries as they attempt to apprehend two runaway underage teenagers with amorous intent. Moonrise Kingdom features a wonderful turn by Ed Norton and a devastating existential riddle on the goodness of dogs.

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Prosecco and Patisserie

March 24th 12.00pm event, 1pm film

Andrew Marr quoted a joke that if you put a few Viennese people together for long enough they will do two things: found a University, and start a patisserie. The Lighthouse are thus appropriately hosting a very special “prosecco and patisserie” afternoon screening of The Grand Budapest Hotel on Saturday 24th March. Your ticket will include a glass of prosecco or a Grand Budapest-themed cocktail, along with beautiful patisserie treats inspired by the film, and a ticket to a screening of The Grand Budapest Hotel at 1pm.

 

Fantastic Mr Fox

March 25th 3pm

Behold Anderson’s first foray into the world of stop-motion animation. Based on Roald Dahl’s short novel about a fox whose main thrill in life is baiting three farmers who live nearby, Anderson injects more of himself into the story than one would have thought possible. George Clooney voices Mr Fox, who, despite his love for his wife and teenage son, can’t quite bring himself to move on from his glory days of chicken-killing and settle into domestic life. There is a tremendous tracking shot to the strains of the Beach Boys as well as a peerless critique of songwriting by Michael Gambon’s antagonist.

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 29th 3pm & 8.30pm

Anderson’s most recent film The Grand Budapest Hotel is a curio: it tells the story of an old writer remembering when he was a young writer who met an old man who told him a story about when he was a young man and knew the hero of this film, Ralph Fiennes’s M. Gustave. An uneven tale, Anderson showcases an unexpected flair for sinister suspense, but there is a sourness to the comedy that is unexpected, and not really a showcase as promised for the world of Stefan Zweig.

dogs

Wes Anderson Party + Isle of Dogs

29th March Party – 9pm, Isle of Dogs Screening – 00.00am

The Lighthouse will be hosting a Wes Anderson Fancy Dress Party on 29th March. Don’t miss your chance to share a cocktail with fellow fans and walk amongst a plethora of Tenenbaums, Zissous, Lobby Boys (and girls!), and maybe even some fantastic Mr Foxes, topped off at midnight with the first chance to see his new film, Isle of Dogs, Anderson’s second foray into stop-motion animation with an all-star voice cast on hand to bring to life a boy’s quest to find his lost dog on a polluted Japanese island.

 

***Season artwork at the Lighthouse is by Steve McCarthy is a Dublin based designer and illustrator. His style is bold, colourful, and a mix of practical and digital techniques that he describes as feeling most comfortable somewhere between the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and Dumbo’s pink elephants. In 2016 he won best illustration at the Irish design awards, and in 2017 his second children’s book ‘A Sailor went to sea’ won the Bord Gais children’s book of the year. He also worked as a background designer for the Oscar-nominated animated feature Song of the Sea.

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

July 11, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes 3-D

Andy Serkis, via motion capture, returns one last time for more monkey business as Caesar, the Moses of intelligent apes.

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Caesar is in the woods, with his apes, and just wants to be left alone; to brood over his murder of rival Koba (Toby Kebbell), and raise his new young son. But not only have Koba’s followers started to collaborate with the humans against Caesar in order to avenge his death, the humans have also become menacingly organised under a new leader, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). An early bloody skirmish is followed by a night raid with the Colonel himself attempting to terminate Caesar’s command, with extreme prejudice. Caesar abdicates his duties as leader, vowing revenge. While the apes set out for the promised land beyond the desert, Caesar, with trusted lieutenant Maurice the orangutan (Karin Konoval), and two gorilla bodyguards, sets out to assassinate the Colonel. But matters are complicated by a new mutation of the virus assailing humanity.

War for the Planet of the Apes would be more accurately titled Commando Raids for the Planet of the Apes. Indeed a large portion of the movie is Prison Break for the Planet of the Apes, cycling back to the pivotal sequence of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes where super-intelligent Caesar was incarcerated with regular chimpanzees – because he chewed off a man’s fingers for being rude. Blake Snyder’s ‘Save the Cat’ does not advocate having your hero chew off a man’s fingers for being rude to elicit audience sympathy, quite the opposite really. Yet we are expected to automatically root for Caesar through three films progressively less interested in human characters. If one could call the ciphers in this franchise human. This is surely the worst written trilogy this decade, and logically so; if an audience accepts ciphers, why bother sweating writing characters? If an audience accepts Gary Oldman’s noble sacrifice to save humanity resulting in nothing, why bother even setting up protagonist and antagonist humans? Woody Harrelson’s Colonel McCullough is the only articulate human, and even Harrelson can’t excel with this straw man antagonist. Hard to credit this franchise was spawned by Rod Serling’s mischievous screenplay.

Rupert Wyatt in Rise, and Matt Reeves in Dawn, both threw in striking sequences of directorial bravura to try and paper over the poor scripting. But here, there is nothing going on in that department, which is a tremendous surprise given that Reeves returns as director. Where are his visual trademarks – the lengthy tracking shots following chaos exploding into frame, the fixed-position sequences, the Hitchcockian visual suspense? This is all the more surprising given the unsubtle references to the visually extravagant Apocalypse Now: slogans daubed everywhere, a shaven-headed Colonel expounding on history, culture and morality, a mission to exterminate (‘The only good Kong is a dead Kong’), Jimi Hendrix, and, just in case you didn’t get it, ‘Ape-pocalypse Now’ graffiti. It’s as if Reeves has just given up, going through the motions in a permanently 3-D darkened landscape of snow and concrete that renders things verily sepia-vision. Steve Zahn as a nebbish ape is a highlight, mostly because, when dressed akin to Bob Balaban’s Moonrise Kingdom narrator, he appears to have wandered in from Wes Anderson’s Planet of the Apes; the idea of which is more entertaining than this tedious movie, dragged out by its insistence on ape sign language.

The powerful and emotive finale is unintentionally hilarious when you realise just how literal the Caesar as Moses motif is being taken, but it’s just one final plodding mis-step. Caesar blows up the Colonel’s base and yet escapes the fiery blastwave because it is all-encompassing but apparently all to one side just to avoid enveloping him, Caesar’s final confrontation with the Colonel sees him extend a character redeeming mercy that looks uncannily like the height of cruelty, and the new mutation of the virus, which reduces humans to mute amiable simpletons, leads us seamlessly into the world of the Charlton Heston classic. So, we are required to cheer for the devolution of the human race into mute amiable simpletons, and yet that isn’t presented as a somewhat challenging proposition when even 2008’s disastrous The Invasion noted the paradox of rooting for free will at the cost of world peace. To reference another 1979 film that’s been in the air this summer Caesar’s story involves us losing the ability to produce another Groucho Marx, Willie Mays, Louis Armstrong, Ingmar Bergman, Gustave Flaubert, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Paul Cezanne or even understand who they were or appreciate what they did. Hail, Caesar?

0.5/5

September 4, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl plays as a tragically awful The Fault in Our Stars and Be Kind Rewind mash-up by Wes Anderson.

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Greg (Thomas Mann) navigates high school by being super-nice to all cliques, and a member of none. He avoids the cafeteria turf wars, eating with his sole friend Earl (RJ Cyler) in the office of cool history teacher Mr McCarthy (Jon Bernthal). (You know he’s cool because he has tats and a shouted slogan ‘Respect the Research!’) But then Greg’s odd, odd mother (Connie Britton) forces him to befriend classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) when Rachel is diagnosed with leukaemia. Rachel’s weird mother Denise (Molly Shannon) is delighted at this development, and soon Greg’s eccentric dad (Nick Offerman) is hosting marathons for Rachel of the dreadful movies Greg and Earl have made. Greg is losing his treasured detachment, and, despite repeated protestations in his narration, Rachel is going to die; what will the emotional impact be on such a self-loathing figure?

You won’t care, because this film quickly becomes extremely grating. Set in Pittsburgh with an emotionally deadened hero who opens up under female tutelage this invites invidious comparisons with The Perks of Being a Wallflower; but Project X star Thomas Mann is no Logan Lerman, and novelist/screenwriter Jesse Andrews is no Stephen Chbosky. As for director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon who has worked on American Horror Story and Glee… This is his second feature after The Town That Dreaded Sundown. He’s not straying far from familiar settings. His whip-pans, arty tracking shots, hand-crafted animations, long-takes, narration, chapter titles, straight to camera monologues, odd perspectives, and painfully self-conscious quirkiness all play like ersatz Wes Anderson and become increasingly maddening. Having a character die of cancer doesn’t gift your movie instant profundity. Telling us twice that she’s not going to die is just annoying.

Bernthal is the only actor who escapes this farrago with dignity intact, as he has some interesting material on the nature of memory and biography to work with. Offerman is reduced to non-sequitirs and monologues akin to his workshop appearances on Conan. Shannon is creepy and disturbing as Rachel’s overly-sexualised mother, while Britton is unbelievable and bizarre as Greg’s mother pushing him into a weird gesture. Greg and Earl are ‘characterised’ by their love of Herzog, Kurosawa, and the Nouvelle Vague, which they pastiche in home-movies. The result is as infuriatingly pretentious, derivative, and mannered as the central trio in The Dreamers. So of course Greg’s former crush Madison (Katherine C Hughes) suggests making a new movie especially for Rachel. Dying is almost worthwhile if it inspires self-referential self-congratulatory cinema! This truly is Bret Easton Ellis’ nightmare conception of film-school student making films based on films, not on life; a cinematic parallel of Mannerist artists proudly painting based on Old Masters not on observed reality.

Having experienced Nico Muhly’s soundscape for the Wilton Diptych in the British National Gallery, I weep at his music being wasted trying to give Greg’s contemptible film some depth.

1/5

August 12, 2014

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Simon Pegg is Hector, a psychiatrist who travels the world researching happiness in this comedy-drama adaptation of a French novel.

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Hector lives a very orderly life in London. He treats patients with absurdly first-world problems, and lives with Clara (Rosamund Pike); who creates enticing names for pharmaceutical products. But is it all too orderly? Hector decides to go on a journey of enlightenment; partying with wealthy businessman Edward (Stellan Skarsgard) in Shanghai, praying with a wise monk (Togo Igawa) in Tibet, working with old medical school friend Michael (Barry Atsma) and clashing with Columbian drug-lord Diego (Jean Reno) in central Africa, before finally arriving in California to talk with the pioneering Professor Coreman (Christopher Plummer). And with Coreman’s research assistant Agnes (Toni Collette) aka The One Who Got Away… Clara is rightly suspicious that Hector’s entire trip is an excuse to reconnect with Agnes, but the trip itself actually does teach Hector some hard lessons about life and, yes, happiness.

Director Peter Chelsom has had an odd career (Funny Bones and Serendipity?), and this is another curious entry. Hector and the Search for Happinessbears all the marks of a Europudding; a fantastic amount of international producers, a multinational cast, a screenplay by Swede Maria von Heland, rewritten by Chelsom himself with Tinker Lindsay, all adapted from Francois Lelord’s novel; and yet it actually almost works. Hector’s journey is very naive. The comedy of Hector’s clumsiness is quite forced, and yet there is a very nice trick with a running gag which I won’t spoil. But, though it works, it’s almost a synecdoche for the film: Hector works best when it is serious, but most of the time it’s whimsical. Hector’s infatuation with Shanghai student Ying Li (Ming Zhao) is nicely undercut, but whimsy keeps intruding and preventing true substance.

Sure, there’s some quite amusing Wes Andersonish FX fun with a decrepit plane but the film’s standout sequence is when Hector tends to an ill woman on his flight to LA, because Pegg gets to play quiet empathy. Collette is fantastically cast as the woman worth waiting for, and her harshness is perfectly judged. As her mentor Plummer rightly remarks Hector is not responding to stimuli like a grown man, so how can he ever expect to be happy? The film itself, however, when it comes to articulate its grown-up wisdom promotes a facile viewpoint: change, for its own sake, guarantees happiness. Why is a comfortable routine ispo facto bad though? Do people really like constant change? As a rigid guiding principle it seems to say ‘That was great, we really enjoyed it, now let’s not never do that again.’

Hector and the Search for Happiness is a curious film. It doesn’t quite work as a comedy-drama, but it is consistently engaging throughout (not least because of its colourful cast) with some memorable moments.

2.5/5

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