Setter’s ‘Spectives: Assessing the Virtues of ‘Calvary’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Whenever I see a good movie, I become happy. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. My mood changes … for the better.

I experienced that transformation last night after watching director John Michael McDonagh’s powerful, upsetting film Calvary, which concerns the self-reflection of a priest in Ireland who has been told during confession that he will be killed. There’s a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock mystery in this story, but much more Ingmar Bergman-esque philosophical rumination, and that suited me just fine. I like a picture that can think on Big Ideas without becoming pretentious. Calvary accomplished that. It pondered questions surrounding faith, good deeds and revenge. And it didn’t pull any punches. All while maintaining a good pace and strong dialogue.

Then there were the performances. Led by Brendan Gleeson as the priest, the cast was quite good, presenting a host of unpleasant characters with problems of their own. I think there were some credibility issues that were a bit difficult to believe (that Gleeson’s Father James wouldn’t immediately reveal his situation to the authorities didn’t make a lot of sense to me), but on the whole, Calvary presented an unusual situation realistically … and sympathetically. Perhaps it’s not a movie that I’d want to see again; parts were difficult to watch, and it wasn’t what I’d call cheerful. Still, it had a lot to offer, and I’m glad I got a chance to see it.

After all, it made me happy last night. And that’s not easy from a cinematic perspective.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Sipping at the Cup of Jon Stewart’s ‘Rosewater’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Yesterday, while at the theater to watch Nightcrawler, I saw the trailer for the Jon Stewart film Rosewater.

I have to admit, I’m a bit skeptical about this production. Stewart directed the movie and wrote the script for it, and although I think he’s a funny, often insightful guy, I’m far from a devotee of his work and don’t agree with him on everything. This serious picture, which documents the imprisonment and questioning of a journalist in Iran, is hardly comic material, and comedy is Stewart’s specialty. From a cinematic standpoint, it’s a big risk.

On the other hand, the trailer suggests some interesting cinematography and intriguing dialogue, which would be a big step forward for the usually lighthearted Stewart. It’s also topical subject matter, given the tyrannical regime currently in Iran, and might call further attention to the events occurring there. So there’s a part of me that’s looking forward to seeing it.

The question is: Will it be good? It’s hard to say. I guess I have to wait and see.

I hate doing that.

Skip’s Quips: The Song Process Remains the Same

Blog Sketch 082813If I had a dime for every movie that finishes up with some sort of awful song at the end, I’d be rich.

When did this trend in cinema start? It seems like every picture nowadays has some kind of rock tune playing over the final credits – and usually, they’re not that memorable. Once in a while, you get something along the lines of George Harrison’s “Dream Away,” which concluded Time Bandits. But it’s usually a noisy, guitar-heavy sound blast with screaming vocals. Not my cup of tea.

I like when filmmakers take the time to end their movies in interesting ways. A song can be appropriate, such as Simon & Garfunkel singing the “The Sound of Silence” in the remaining images of The Graduate. That ditty provided insight into the ways the main characters were feeling: lost and hopeful at the same time. I don’t see that kind of commentary, however, in most of the melodies ending films. And that should change. Directors can easily find songs that are germane. They don’t have to be just filler.

I don’t like watching filler onscreen. The credits can be just as much a part of a film as the dialogue; they can add something integral. Why can’t an ending song do the same?

Mundane melodies be damned. Let’s have topical tunes close more pictures … and more attention paid to these cinematic parts. A good, relevant ditty can keep fannies in the seats throughout the end of a movie. It would keep me in my place, for sure.

And that’s nothing to sneeze at. Or scream at, for that matter.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Ultimately, ‘Cloudburst’ Disappoints

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Saw the rest of Cloudburst the other night.

Sadly, it declined toward the end as it ventured into forced sentimentality and easy plot lines, including (spoiler alert) the death of one of the protagonists. I don’t care for this sort of thing; it’s a simple, common cinematic tactic and rarely garners the effect it seeks. There also was a quirky funeral involved which, like some of the content I referred to in my previous post, stretched credibility.

This film started off very nicely, with strong dialogue and sharp characters. But, as is the case with so many movies, it fell apart in an effort to be crowd-pleasing. I was hoping that it would stay on its likable path and refuse to be pegged into a hole that fit. Oh, well. Hopefully, the next film I see will be more rewarding.

A Skip and Setter Q&A: The Ancient Art of Swearing

Skip and Setter QandA Sketch 092213At a recent imaginary panel that didn’t happen at any industry conference we know of, Skip and Setter locked horns on the topic of profanity and why it’s so prevalent in movies today. The following is an excerpt from their overlong, admittedly tiresome debate.

Skip: You’ve said in the past that you like seeing profanity in movies because it calls attention to the need to upgrade the English language. Are you deliberately ignoring the fact that many venerated writers–from Ben Jonson to e.e. cummings–have used vulgarity in their works? English doesn’t need upgrading!

Setter: You’re so misinformed. I’m talking about profanity when it’s used to replace inspired dialogue. As in every flick these days that tries to emulate Pulp Fiction. I’m not talking about profanity with a purpose.

Skip: Well, don’t you think all profanity has a purpose–as long as it’s in character?

Setter: No. Read my latest book.

Skip: I’m not reading your book, dude. I hate your writing.

Setter: Well, I outline my “Theory of Profanity” there. It basically states that it’s cooler to say a swear word in a movie than to get a “G” rating.

Skip: So you’re against overusing profanity.

Setter: Sure. Unless it concerns your reviews.

Skip: I love you, too. Now, why don’t you think the vulgarity-filled sports film has survived? Slap Shot, Major League? Seems like more folks want to do a film about profane, hipper-than-thou mobsters than they do locker-room sagas.

Setter: They’ll be back. I think people are afraid of seeing depictions of the way hallowed sports figures really talk. But they’re generally more credible than watching the story of a hired assassin who likes Schubert.

Skip: Sounds like a double standard. As long as it’s not believable, it’s OK to use profanity.

Setter: Maybe. Read my latest book.

Skip: No thanks. Anyway, profanity’s part of our lexicon. It’s been around for centuries.

Setter: Doesn’t mean we should use it. Look at the Hays Code era. Lots of great movies were made without profanity.

Skip: And lots of junk came out, too. Ever see Turnabout? Blecch.

Setter: For every one of those, there’s a Casablanca. See my point? You don’t need a swear word to make a good movie.

Skip: It might sell more tickets.

Setter: It might. Read my latest book.

Skip: To channel e.e. cummings: “I will not read your CENSORED book.”

Setter: Pompous CENSORED.

Skip’s Quips: Get Into the Groove, for You’ve Got to … Oh, Forget It

Blog Sketch 082813I’m so happy the musical has evolved into the 3D song-and-dance epic.

I mean, we were really slumming with films like Top Hat and My Fair Lady, right? You don’t want to have a plot and witty dialogue messing up all those steps.

Or, for that matter, anything interfering with a story of competition so fierce that the toughs in West Side Story will want to jump ship into Mary Poppins.

Yes, I’m curmudgeonly. Sure, I’m old-fashioned. And I still grouse over the genre’s move into rock ‘n’ roll.

But I do think we’ve dropped some of the excitement that went into the great musicals of the past–excitement that can’t be replaced with legs flying out three-dimensionally from the screen.

Just look at what has come out recently. Some of these formulaic motion-filled pictures hearken back to the timelessly terrible let’s-save-the-theater yarns of yore. Aren’t there enough screenwriters out there to infuse a lackluster script with some originality?

At this rate, I’ll take even a sequel to Madonna’s best foray into cinema.

The fact is, a musical isn’t complete without something other than feet supporting it. Good writing. A smart storyline. And, of course, terrific music.

Tales of a flash mob just ain’t gonna cut it.

So for those who believe you just gotta have a gimmick, I put it to you that entertainment’s more important. It’s not just about jumping over cars and hoofing in public. Give me a screenplay with clever dialogue, and I’ll watch. Only then will I want to face the music and dance.

Let’s Get Our Definitions Straight, OK?