Talking Movies

March 13, 2021

A Journal of the Plague Year

It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year since things got serious and a Friday the 13th appropriately marked the beginning of paranoia, restrictions, and hygiene theatre.

The End now appears to be in sight. Perhaps. I’m in no mood to get Churchillian playing about with this rhetorically. But even if we vaccinate everyone and stamp out all variants and finally declare the virus dead, will things ever go back to the way they were? Will certain habits persist? And will certain activities just never return? After all if one gives credence to the 21/90 rule then we have all very much habituated ourselves to the new behaviours foisted upon us by the coronavirus. Which means it will take quite a conscious effort to break those habits and return to the way we were. And an all new consideration of risk and reward will impinge on our consciousness during those moments of decision.

  • Will we really want to go back to the cinema? Yes, there is the big screen. But sitting with a crowd of strangers in a dark confined space will unnerve us now, rather than simply annoy us as in the past when people talked obnoxiously and lit up the place with their phones, because no film is worth getting the coronavirus for just to have seen it on a big screen. And even if that risk is miniscule it will be still play a subconscious role in our decision-making, along with the obvious comforts a year of Netflix has hammered home – you can riff on the film with your friends and family in the comfort of your own home, you can rewind it when you miss something, you can pause it, and you can eat inexpensive snacks and not overpriced popcorn. You can even stop watching The Devil All the Time and watch an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine to restore your flagging energy.
  • Will we really want to go back to the theatre? I have a certain nostalgia for the buzz of the interval, drinking tea hastily with a club milk biscuit and speculating where the action is going to go in the next act, and from watching several filmed theatre shows I know that being in the presence of live performance adds a je ne sais quoi of ephemeral magic that cannot be captured on film. And yet I can’t say I have been desperately missing theatre during this year. My theatre-going had already been in steep decline as I had found less and less shows of interest. The high price was already complicating the risk/reward ratio, as spending the guts of 40e on something like the Gate’s Look Back in Anger travesty leaves far more of a bitter taste than wasting 10e on a bad movie.  If the risk/reward calculation involves a crowd of strangers and coronavirus, well, I can continue to not theatre-go.
  • Will we really want to go back to the concert hall? Now, this does not concern rock concerts. Something which I gave up on for good after suffering thru the distracted audience at St Vincent’s Iveagh Gardens gig in 2015. I have previously fretted hereabouts regarding the future of the National Concert Hall and the potential nature of its altered programming in trying to operate under various levels of lockdown restrictions. But after a year of listening to classical music on BBC Radio 3, YouTube, Spotify, and CD, I now think that an equal problem might be my own 21/90 inertia. I have in the past fallen completely out of the habit of going to concerts because of life crises. And it took years to return to the habit. Will that prove to be the case for many other people who have simply found a different way to listen to the music they love?

May 18, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXII

As the title suggests, so forth.

The End of the Beginning

Today is the first day of Status Vermillion, in which we are permitted to socialise outdoors, if we comport ourselves like the Dave Brubeck Quartet after Paul Desmond has blown up at Joe Morello for drumming too damn loud and Dave Brubeck and Eugene Wright are both keeping a wary distance. And a few days ago Movies@Dundrum revealed a sketch of their plans for August 10th, the red letter day on which cinemas here will re-open. None of the studios want to suffer a tent-pole collapsing because audiences are scared to congregate, although rumour has it Christopher Nolan had to be talked off the ledge by the WB on letting Tenet try that stunt, so there will be a dearth of new releases. Movies@Dundrum intends therefore to revive The Lord of the Rings as well as The Little Shop of Horrors alongside more recent crowd-pleasers A Star is Born and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, entice the kids with The Iron Giant, Fantastic Beasts and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and bring back A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood which was coming to the end of its run when all this unpleasantness began and its star famously came down with the coronavirus. Will this initial comfort programming work? Will the lure of seeing the battle of Helm’s Deep on the big screen once again lure me out of hiding? I don’t know. Certainly not at this remove, when August 10th when all this ends is a date further away from now than is March 13th when all this began. I also don’t know how sustainable a cinema run as in the panicky days of mid-March with mandatory empty seats every other seat can possibly be. In the unlikely event we make it to August 10th on the ridiculous road-map laid out by the ridiculous rejected government it will still only be the end of the beginning when it comes to living with this plague.  (Oh look, I paraphrased Churchill.)

Tarantino and the obscurantist imperative

I had the misfortune last week to watch Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies last week on Sony Movies. Why did I put myself thru this agony? Because they included Sharon Tate’s turn in The Wrecking Crew, as featured prominently in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, and as curated by Quentin Tarantino last summer for Sony Movie Classics for his Ten Swinging Sixties picks:

  • Gunman’s Walk (1958)
  • Battle of the Coral Sea (1959)
  • Arizona Raiders (1965)
  • The Wrecking Crew (1968)
  • Hammerhead (1968)
  • Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
  • Cactus Flower (1969)
  • Easy Rider (1969)
  • Model Shop (1969)
  • Getting Straight (1970)

What is the point of getting upset about audiences not realising that Leonardo DiCaprio has replaced Steve McQueen in a real scene from The Great Escape when you indulge in this sort of too cool for film school buffoonery? To realise that DiCaprio has digitally been stood in for McQueen you would need to have seen The Great Escape, but it’s a big brash blockbuster, so if famous film directors never recommend it why would you watch it when you could get kudos from them for instead watching something nobody’s ever heard of? Tarantino’s obscurantist imperative comes back to haunt him… He had the opportunity to showcase 10 films from the Columbia back catalogue and these are what he chose? If you want proof of how obscurantist they are just consider that Mike Myers clearly lifted the Fembots for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery from a brassiere sub-machine gun modelled for Dean Martin in one of the Matt Helm movies. Dino even makes an inferior calibre joke to Dr Evil. Myers knew he could get away with this, because nobody would remember seeing the conceit bungled 30 years earlier. These ten picks are for the most part not fondly remembered movies, because for the most part these are not good movies. Dean Martin is far too old for the part of Matt Helm, the promotion of his music and dissing of Sinatra is self-indulgent rather than amusing, the first film exemplifies the sheer dullness of the series with an endless scene of Dean discussing the plot with a woman sans any jokes, and, above all, his four movies are creepily sleazy in their depiction of women and actually have less self-awareness and sense of humour than the Bond films they are supposedly sending up. The only 1960s Bond that comes close to them comes after them: the tasteless dinner scene in OHMSS.

April 13, 2020

Montgomery Micawber-Mycroft’s 9 rules for living elegantly

In this time of lockdown when dress codes are in sad abeyance and the whole world is going to hell in a handcart what one needs are edifying rules, says discreet Hollywood power player Montgomery Micawber-Mycroft who spoke exclusively to B. Bradley Bradlee, as they both self-isolate in a yacht off of Key Largo.

1) A gentleman is judged by the quality of his repartee

Any dweeb can be polite, but a gentleman always strives to be witty and leave the other party feeling amused and valued

2) Never ever wear brown shoes

An Irishman called PJ Mara once told me of his stricture against brown shoes and blue suits, I have expanded it

3) Always travel with a pen and paper

You may need to make notes, and in dire straits a piece of paper can be made to look a pocket square from a distance

4) Potted plants are all that separate us from mere anarchy

Even if all you can do is maintain the health of a cactus while stranded at sea like we are currently, maintain a potted plant!

5) Sandals are all well and good, but in their place

I winter in Los Angeles, but summer in England, for a reason, my good Bradley, I respect the sandal, but do not love it

6) If you have to give a speech, never paraphrase Churchill

There is no faster way to making a prize ass of yourself than to plagiarise Churchill and expect people to applaud or ignore it

7) Burgundy is a dashed tricky colour to pull off

I have been defeated many times over the years, and in the end have decided the best I can do for it is a tie

8) Black shoes always, but light gray for Chelsea boots

Always wear black shoes, but when it comes to Chelsea boots always a shade of light grey that goes with light blue suits

9) Don’t take Alexander Kraft seriously at all

A man willing to be photographed wearing black socks, brown shoes, and white trousers is not a man worthy of your time

March 28, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLVIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Status … Burgundy

Drip, drip, drip… It seems best to describe where we are now as Status Burgundy. We can still leave our homes without a printed and signed permission slip so it’s not quite Status Red. Yet. But as with the drip, drip, drip feed of restrictions tightening like a vise there’s a lot of ‘yet’ in the air too. Why did we not move to this crisis status immediately on March 13th? Why the sustained refusal to admit that schools would not re-open on the 30th? Fears of ‘behavioural fatigue’? It’s not like we don’t know from the experience of countries preceding us in these dominoes how this works; if you are responding to the numbers as they spike you are already too late. Uncertainty is not something stock markets or citizens appreciate. Varadkar unbelievably decided to paraphrase Terminator 2 last night following his Churchill plagiarism last week, refused to call this a lockdown when being told to ‘stay at home’ (even emblazoned under the RTE logo today onscreen) is patently a lockdown, and unwittingly combined the worst elements of Trump and Modi’s addresses. We were given three hours notice not to stray more than 2km from the house or else. But Leo, outside of Dublin it might be more than 2km to the nearest food store. And so today, presumably after howls from outside the Pale, we have a ‘clarification’ that 2km is the straying radius for exercise, you can stray 5km to get yourself a burger.

SEAL Team: Havoc has Fallen

Jessica Pare’s burnt CIA analyst Mandy has been notably underused in season 3 so it was nice to see her unexpectedly get tactical alongside Blackburn and Davis as Havoc fell the other night on Sky One and impose herself on the action in her guilt-ridden determination to rescue her kidnapped asset. Her work the problem drive and firefight skills also gave new hope to shippers that Mandy and Jason should get together, despite the awesome kismet that exists in Emily Swallow as Jason’s partner Natalie; uniting as it does Supernatural‘s Amara with Buffy’s Angel. The use of drone photography on SEAL Team has been outstanding but season 3, especially the opening episodes in Serbia, has taken it to new heights. The fact that this story of Bravo getting roughed up in Venezuela has now revealed itself as a three-parter makes one compare this trio of episodes very favourably to most action films out there. I for one would take the thrilling and legible choreography of the action in these three episodes against the choppy nonsense of Mile 22 any day.

March 20, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Just in the nick of time!

I almost didn’t notice it but the Horror Channel are re-running The Time Tunnel from the very beginning in their Sci-Fi Zone. I for one shall be tuning in at 12pm tomorrow for a triple bill. Irwin Allen’s 1960s shows were re-run in the late 1980s and early 1990s on Channel 4 and Sky One and I have very fond memories of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, and The Time Tunnel. Having been highly impressed in the last few years by re-runs of The AvengersThe Man From UNCLE, and The Invaders I’ll be interested to see how this stands up. In particular when I was originally watching the show I was totally unaware that Lee Meriwether, who played scientist Dr Ann MacGregor, was Catwoman in the 1966 Batman movie. And if you think a triple-bill on a Saturday afternoon is overdoing it then I merely say you can’t excuse yourself on the basis that you possibly have anything else to do at this particular moment in time.

Who fears to take The Strokes Test?

Back in January Stephen Errity sent me on Evan Rytlewski’s provocative tweet (https://twitter.com/Evanryt/status/1215008355149856768) about what he called The Strokes Test: Would people still care about this band if their best album did not exist?  It is meant to knock out The Strokes but it also gravely endangers Nirvana, because of their tragically truncated discography. Pixies survive the test because if you get into an argument over whether Surfer Rosa or Doolittle should go then you are still left with either Surfer Rosa or Dootlittle to place beside Bossa Nova and Trompe le Monde. Talking Heads survive the test in style because if you get into a spat over Fear of Music, Remain in Light, Speaking in Tongues, or Little Creatures as their best album you are still left with three great albums and several more to boot. A similar embarrassment of riches occurs for the Beatles, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, U2 and REM. But, and here’s a nagging thought, what about the Beach Boys? Absent Pet Sounds from their discography and what remains? And once you dwell on that you realise you could say the same for Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Kinks and the Who. Any band with a number of great songs that never truly perfected the art of making essential albums is imperilled by the test.

And normal service has been resumed…

We are a week into the social distancing shuttering of the country and yet the government won’t admit what we all know – a more perfect lockdown is coming. The universities have abandoned the 2019/20 academic year; it’s over, classes, exams, something something online, don’t bother coming back to campus, have a good summer, see you in the autumn, maybe. The schools patently will be told to stay out until the Easter holidays begin, and then, sure why not take off all of April, and well, you know, May is kind of freewheeling into the end of the year anyway so who really needs it. Yet officially everything is still just on the mother of all pauses until March 29th. Are we supposed to take that seriously? Are we meant to believe all pubs and cinemas, cafes and theatres will re-open on that day and we all breathe a sigh of relief that we shut down that pesky coronavirus good? How does it help to keep the citizens of the country engaged in an idiotic guessing game? When will the actual status red lockdown begin? March 30th? April 1st? What is the point of Leo Varadkar embarrassing himself and us by going on national television on St Patrick’s Day to plagiarise Winston Churchill? You do not become a statesman for our time by appropriating a resonant phrase from a statesman from another state at another time anymore than I would become Dan Rather by ending all these posts with the single word – Courage. Yet Varadkar decided to tell us what we already knew about the coronavirus, fail to elaborate on economic aids for people thrown out of work, and did not announce a lockdown – which one would have thought the only reason for such a state of the nation address. Instead he told us the Emergency was ‘likely’ to continue past March 29th. Good to know.

Courage!

February 28, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXVI

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

Is this about Brexit?

Two commercials keep catching my eye on television at the moment, and both seem to be about Brexit without saying they’re about Brexit. One seems to be an implicit rebuke to the Little Englanders by playing Elgar’s Nimrod Enigma Variation over Richard Ayoade reminding everyone how hopelessly connected with and dependent on the rest of the world the small island is, while the other appropriately enough features recent Churchill impersonator Gary Oldman in a spirit of ‘keep buggering on’ as it attempts to cheer up the British that they have done good things in the past and so might survive this folly.

October 26, 2011

Politik: Part II

After a lamentable fall off the wagon with a post-election political blog in April here is the even more disgusting spectacle of a pre-election political blog in October. Thankfully there won’t be any more political events until 2014. We hope.

Senator McCarthy as Requested
The two constitutional referendums to be voted on this Thursday have been alarmingly lost in the white noise of the hopelessly bilious Presidential campaign. Tom McGurk and Vincent Browne have both written cogent columns arguing against granting more power to the Oireachtas to conduct inquiries as the Government wishes. Worryingly this proposal seems to be liable to be passed by a landslide. Browne’s legal objections to the wording of the proposed amendment raise the terrifying spectre of these committees deciding that the people they call before them don’t have the right to legal representation, to face their accusers, or to know the charges brought against them, and that they don’t have the right to see if the courts believe that the committee has acted fairly by the constitutional rights of the person so victimised in striking this balance between rights and cost-effective enquiry. I don’t know if Browne is scaremongering or not, or whether it’s possible that Fine Gael could spend the entirety of this Dail investigating every member of Sinn Fein one by one for their own private amusement, as has been suggested elsewhere in a piece of definite scaremongering. All I know is that a committee investigated Ivor Callely over his expenses and its conduct was so ill-advised that when the courts were finished reviewing the proceedings Ivor Callely appeared like a victim whose rights were traduced by a witch-hunt. If the Seanad was incapable of properly investigating and making findings against one of its own friendless members, do you really want the Oireachtas to be given power to investigate ordinary citizens and make findings of fact against them without judicial oversight that they are conducting proceedings in a responsible fashion? Is an ill-informed landslide about to give us our own democratically requested HUAC?

James Madison is Disheartened
In the frenetic last days of his pursuit of a nomination David Norris made a petulant outburst when a county council voted against him which implied that a vote against his candidature was a vote against democracy itself, rather than say, a vote against his candidature. Norris in insisting that only the public should vote on his candidature appeared to be conflating a democracy with a republic, a distinction James Madison was always keen to make. In a democracy the citizens vote directly on matters affecting them, but in a republic they elect representatives to vote for them on such matters; this is what allows republics to grow in size. Madison expanded this exponentially in Federalist 10 by advocating a large continental republic as the best defence against vested interests hijacking government because there would be so many vested interests they would cancel each other out. So, if the county councillors are trusted enough by the voters to elect them as their representatives what is the substance of Norris’ complaint? It would appear to be either that the county council system is undemocratic because it denies citizens a public plebiscite on every issue (in which case he apparently has no faith in the concept of a republic) or, it would appear to be that the county councillors who voted against him were unqualified to represent the wishes of their electors on this and this matter alone but were qualified to represent the wishes of their electors on all other matters. The latter possibility would be an extraordinary interpretation of what Irish democracy is all about but then Norris was never really seriously questioned on the major contradiction of his rhetoric of appealing to the people, has he not just spent two decades representing a rotten borough?

First We Go Negative
Gay Mitchell’s bizarre campaign has been both hilarious and awful to observe. Churchill said that he never knew of a man who had added to his dignity by standing on it, and Martin McGuinness’s candidature seems to have been contrived as an in-joke to enable the Irish public to enjoy one of the funniest recurring spectacles in Irish politics, that of Fine Gael rabidly frothing at the mouth about “Law an’ Order, Law’n’Order, and the Foundation of the State!” But Mitchell’s self-destructive savaging of McGuinness set the tone for his whole campaign. Attacks on Mary Davis, carefully crafted under the guise of ‘research’ by polling companies, as reported in the Sunday Business Post, saw questions couched so as to vilify a candidate without seeming to. Imagine, for example, “Would you be more or less likely to vote for X if you knew that X had been convicted of burning a small town in Leitrim to the ground during the course of a drunken hooley in 1985?” (That example’s inspired by Neil Sharpson’s hilarious play The Search for the Real Jimmy Gorman) Gay Mitchell’s campaign was like watching a poor 100m runner kick all his opponents in the shins during the warm-up before the race in the misguided hope that this would allow him to win in his personal best time of 30 seconds. It wouldn’t. It would get you disqualified by the officials, or here public opinion. Gay Mitchell needed to articulate why we should vote for him, but he never did, instead he just told us ad nauseam why we shouldn’t vote for anyone else. It’s obvious the Fine Gael top brass never wanted him as a candidate but amusing themselves by joining in kicking everyone else’s shins rather than championing Mitchell has spectacularly backfired.

November 27, 2009

Glorious 39

I’m in something of a quandary about Glorious 39, a rare cinema outing by acclaimed writer/director Stephen Poliakoff who specialises in making literate thoughtful dramas for the BBC. When I interviewed Bill Nighy in February he was bubbling with enthusiasm for working with Poliakoff again, having won a Golden Globe for his lead role in the sublime 2005 TV film Gideon’s Daughter. Sadly Glorious 39 has all the recognisable Poliakoff concerns but inexplicably falls apart in exploring them.

In the present day the elderly Walter (Christopher Lee) narrates to his young cousin the events of the glorious summer of 1939 when the world stood on the brink of war – a prospect with which the private dramas of the Keyes family, in which Walter played a minor part, seemed intertwined. Romola Garai, who sparkled in the lead role in the BBC’s recent adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, stars as Anna the eldest but adopted daughter of Bill Nighy’s aristocratic Tory MP Sir Alexander Keyes. Nighy is rather good as a compassionate man whose experiences in WWI have so unfitted him for dealing with another war that he tries to retreat into the private realm to dote on his children. Jeremy Northam is startlingly good as the sinister MI5 agent who dogs this retreat from Westminster while David Tennant has a nice cameo as a Scottish MP who makes a passionate attack on the policy of appeasement at a Keyes garden party. Anna (Garai) has little time for all this, being more concerned with her budding film career and boyfriend in the Foreign Office (Charlie Cox). However she discovers recordings of secret meetings revealing an MI5 plot to murderously suppress any opposition to Neville Chamberlain’s policy of Appeasement and is thrown into a dangerous world of espionage and intimate betrayal.

Glorious 39 starts as a thoughtful drama but unexpectedly develops Hitchockian paranoia. Poliakoff’s trademark concerns with memory, family, the moving image, and the impact of the past on the present are all present and correct and Glorious 39 is wonderfully atmospheric. All the performances are very good enabling Poliakoff to deliver some shocks with devastating emotional impact amidst a string of unsettling suspense set-pieces including a kidnapped child. Ultimately though the film degenerates into sub-Hitchockian pastiche, undermined by the knowledge that whatever action Anna takes is irrelevant to war being declared or Churchill becoming PM, as this film will not have a Tarantinoesque disregard for historical fact. Poliakoff thus switches genres to introduce a Victorian madwoman in the attic horror story before contriving a deeply odd ‘meaningful’ ending.

A character study that made us empathise with decent individuals promoting Appeasement for good reasons, even though they are on the wrong side of history, by re-inscribing their uncertainty about what the future held would be prime Poliakoff. Sadly Poliakoff eschews this route meaning that this misfiring thriller should have stayed on the small-screen.

2/5

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