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“And If There’s No News…I’ll Go Out And Bite A Dog!” MOVIES! Sometimes You Can All Komodo My Place And We’ll Watch Some Stuff!

John Kane

Okay, there’s nothing happening in my head comics wise at the moment. But I wanted to chuck some content up so here’s some stuff about movies. The earliest one here was made in 1947 and the latest one was broadcast a week ago so something for everyone? Highly unlikely.
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Anyway, this…

QUIRKE: Season 1, Episode 1: CHRISTINE FALLS
Directed by John Alexander
Adapted by Andrew Davies
Based on the book by John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black)
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Nick Dunning, Janet Moran, Brian Gleeson, Geraldine Somerville, Michael Gambon etc
Music by Rob Lane
BBC, 2014

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Christine Falls is the first in a trio of newly minted BBC Benjamin Black adaptations; Benjamin Black is the pen name used by John Banville when he’s writing entertainment rather than award winning literature. (No, I don’t know why he feels the need to separate the two.) Now, I haven’t read either his (John Banville’s) literature or his (Benjamin Black’s) entertainment but on screen Christine Falls was one of those dour detective things in which even when the sun is shining it seems like it isn’t. It’s set in Ireland during The Age of Men in Hats and revolves around Gabriel Byrne’s drunken disaster of a pathologist sticking his nose where he shouldn’t and then wishing really, really hard that he hadn’t. It involves family secrets, kids and The Church and since this is Ireland and everything’s shot like we’re in someone’s bowels you can bet it’s not going to be about how The Church and kids are a good mix. The Beeb appeared to have strategically blown most of the budget on Gabriel Byrne and Michael Gambon, thus leaving necessity to mother invention via zooming in on people’s noses for the duration of a conversation or having a close up of some water dripping with rain SFX sizzling on the soundtrack to suggest a storm; it’s the kind of TV thing where Boston is one house, two cars and a coastal road and it works because there’s a strong plot and quality acting taking the strain.

Actually, the biggest problem was nothing to do with the budget but rather the running time. A whole heck of a lot happened over 90 minutes with nary a breath being drawn between each incident. As a result the very hallmarks of this type of fiction (intricate interconnectedness; historical wrongs presented in a fictional context; the past coming back to bite; hero beaten up), seemed more than a little credulity suffocating. Obviously, Television is better than books because you can see things and hear things without any effort on your part but books do have the edge in that over a couple of hundred pages you can pace the proceedings as you like; something this dense probably reads a lot better than it views. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible or anything, just flawed. I certainly did appreciate the way it didn’t end with someone falling off a building in slow motion or exploding in space but instead went with a complete, and deserved, trepanning of the initial cliché of the cheeky and sexually alluring drunken rogue of a hero. I know it’s tricky sticking a book on the screen but they had a fair crack at it here; the worst I can say is it could have done with a bit more running time to stretch its legs in. That’s not bad so I guess it was GOOD!

BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH (AKA OUT OF THE PAST)
Directed by Jaques Tourneur
Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring (with James M Cain & Frank Fenton)
Based on the novel by Daniel Mainwaring
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Webb etc
Music by Roy Webb
RKO, 1947

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This is a noir and other folk with more time on their hands can argue about how noir it is. Me, I reckon it’s none more noir; maybe it could do with a bit more German Expressionism but then any expressionism is a bonus when Robert Mitchum’s involved. A joke there; I like Old Bob, he might not have been a great actor but he was always a great Robert Mitchum and the way he plays this patsy to Fate (casually doomed; like an exhausted man spending 90 minutes sliding resignedly off wreckage and into the sea) is just right. Mitchum plays a guy who’s both clever and honest but not enough of either to save himself from Jane Greer’s bright eyed moral vacuum. Everybody else in the film may be a better actor but this movie is Mitchum’s and while Mitchum always looked like he was smuggling a side of beef under his shirt in this movie his presence is positively titanic. So much so that even Kirk Douglas (Kirk Douglas, yet!) looks small, seeming to scamper nattily (and nastily) around Mitchum’s stolid menhir, as Greer’s decidedly fatale femme sneers from the sidelines. This is the movie where Mitchum talks about dying being okay as long as you die last and it’s also the movie where Mitchum says “Baby, I don’t care” so hard the whole world goes weak at the knees. I watched this on the BBC and the print was shocking but that didn’t matter; this is a great film. It’s a great movie about lies and where they lead and yet it’s a movie that’s honest enough to end with a lie setting someone free. And it’s a lie from someone who can’t speak. Like I said; none more noir. I’m a laugh a minute kind of guy and I thought Build My Gallows High was EXCELLENT!

THE WORLD’S END
Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike etc
Music by Steven Price
Universal, 2013

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For around three quarters of The World’s End’s run time the slick and inventive direction, skilfully affable acting and fairly amusing jokes (“A poo?” Other bits. ) enabled me to concentrate on the amusing relocation of one of my favourite genre tropes (no spoilers!) to a refreshingly bucolic and familiar setting, and to do so largely to the exclusion of my teeth baring dislike of the menopausal male nostalgia elements it wallowed in so jocularly. And then there was the final half hour. Now, I don’t make movies for a living but it appears self-evident to me that in much the same way as it’s wise to leave the house only after ensuring your cock isn’t hanging out it’s also advisable to have an ending written before you start filming. Otherwise the results are likely to be EH! However, My Lady of Infinite Patience liked it far more than I did so maybe I was just that way out. I understand I can be quite mercurial at times so I could be wrong about this one (TWIST: I’m not).

ACE IN THE HOLE
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels & Walter Newman (from a story by Victor Desny)
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cady, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal etc
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Paramount Pictures, 1951

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It’s tempting to get my Elitism on and taunt the modern viewer by pointing to this movie as evidence that at one time a blockbuster movie, rather than consisting of things hitting each other, could be an examination of the world its audience inhabited so intelligent, incisive and entertaining that it would remain all those things some sixty-three years later. Tempting but untrue, because there’s a lie in there; Ace In The Hole wasn’t a blockbuster. Oh, it should have been a blockbuster; they intended it to be a blockbuster. It had Billy Wilder as director and co-writer, it had a star in Kirk Douglas and the money thrown at it is all on screen. But the money is mostly on show in the form of an expensive mine set to trap Richard Benedict in for the film’s duration; the money is largely spent on making a dark cramped place. And Kirk Douglas, the star, portrays a man with a dark cramped soul; he plays a disgraced reporter (Chuck Tatum; oh man, those old timey names) willing to do almost anything to get back in with the Big City boys; willing even to exploit a man’s tragedy for his own gain. Pretty soon he finds that there’s no almost in it for nearly everyone else around him and it’s not long until everyone is involved in a vortex of sociopathic self-interest and events start to outpace even Chuck Tatum and his fancy footwork.

In the end Tatum finds out that as far as he’s willing to go, others are willing to go further as long as the tab’s picked up by somebody else. And as dreadful as he is (and he is; he’s a real stinker) Tatum still comes out best as all the decent characters prove ineffectual and it’s only Douglas’ character who has a modicum of self-awareness. He actually has to think about how to exploit the situation but for everyone else it’s instinctive. And it’s the most natural of these natural predators, Jan Sterling’s simultaneously satanically self-interested and self-pitying house frau, in whom Tatum decisively meets his match. Wilder didn’t get away with it with Ace in The Hole; he had got away with it in the past because he’d directed his scathing blasts at drunks (Lost Weekend), insurance men (Double Indemnity) and Hollywood (Sunset Blvd); targets Joe Public could disdain without cost. But Ace in The Hole holds up everyone as either a fool or a fraud and it isn’t too particular about stepping on toes. Ace in The Hole leaves a nasty taste in even the dullest of mouths. So Joe Public politely declined and Billy Wilder found out that sometimes you can go too far. I imagine Kirk Douglas survived okay; he was made of stronger stuff; he was made of Kirk Douglas stuff. But Billy Wilder wasn’t. Ace in The Hole’s reception took the wind out of Wilder’s sails for a good few years and his output took a turn for the more comedic. Billy Wilder bit the hand that fed him and paid the price. But that was in the short term and while it’s no comfort to the deceased Billy Wilder it is still a fact that in 2014 A.D. I watched Ace in The Hole and it was EXCELLENT! See, tastes may change but misanthropy don’t date. You can still almost hear Chuck Tatum laughing in the Hell he damned himself to.

SKYFALL
Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan.
Based on characters created by Ian Fleming
Starring: Daniel Craig, Dame Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear etc…
Music by Thomas Newman
007 Theme by Monty Norman
MGM & Sony Pictures, 2012

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Every now and then I wonder what it’s like to root for The Establishment so I watch a James Bond film. This is a modern one so James Bond is played by a sexy knuckle and every shot is slathered in mustards or teal so that we can pretend this is more serious than a Roger Moore Bond film. It isn’t though. The best bit in this one was when James Bond (played by an aerobicised to within an inch of his life Sid James) sees a Komodo dragon and reacts like a delighted child all pointing index fingers and popping eyes. It was just a split second but it was a great split second. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any other good bits because there were, and while these usually involved, as ever in Bond, a preposterous plot, fantastic tailoring, ridiculous stunts and (mostly foreign (Boo! Hiss!), sometimes ladies, occasionally foreign ladies) people being killed in thrilling fashion they also included some sturdy performances (Dame Judi Dench kicking ass and taking names; Albert Finney as a violent Father Christmas; the sneaky decency of Ralph Fiennes; Rory Kinnear as a wigless Brian Molko; an eight year old child playing Q; Javier Bardem’s flamboyant bad guy (the damp squib of whose ending was partially redeemed by his earlier removal of his dental plate and the consequent collapsing of his face; just like my old Mum “settling down” for the evening). What with all the guff about how people reckoned ready for the knackers yard still have a bit of spit and vinegar in ‘em Skyfall even came close to having a theme; which is good because the best thing I can say about the actual singing theme is that I didn’t actually notice it. Rumour has it (rumour has it (rumour has it (rumour has it))) it was Adele? Not exactly a great compliment for a James Bond theme there; not remembering it. Other than that though this was polished 21st Century blockbuster brains-off, Up The Queen entertainment, so it was GOO(7)D!

No, I don’t expect you to die, Mr. Bond; I expect you to read some – COMICS!!!

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