Talking Movies

September 30, 2021

Top 5 Bond Girls

The pandemic is seemingly going to be book-ended by No Time to Die‘s attempted release and its actual release. Astonishing then that in 18 months Cary Fukunaga never thought to edit down his bloated 163 minute movie, which is nearly a full hour longer than Quantum of Solace. Let us take a more abbreviated run thru the Bond greatest hits.

5) Wei Lin

Michelle Yeoh’s turn as a Chinese super-spy in Tomorrow Never Dies feels underwritten, a complaint you could throw at almost anything during the Brosnan years. And yet, Yeoh’s combat skills and delightful insouciance, alongside her character’s almost incidental contacts with Bond as she pursues her own parallel adventure, elevate her to a more convincing version of Anya Amasova aka xXx in The Spy Who Loved Me as truly being Bond’s opposite number.

4) Mayday

Roald Dahl said he’d been briefed for screenwriting You Only Live Twice on having a good girl that died, a bad girl that died, and a good girl that lived. Grace Jones got to play a twist on that as physically imposing Mayday in A View to a Kill. Betrayed by Zorin, for whom she has caused much mayhem with glee, she sacrifices herself for the greater good, with a wordless exit glare.

3) Domino Derval

Claudine Auger’s Domino is very stylish in her bespoke black and white outfits, but is more than just a very pretty face. She mordantly undercuts Bond’s first attempts at seductive patter, and has her own personal reasons for falling in with his plans against her lover Largo, a character arc climaxing in some truly monumental brass from John Barry’s score when she saves Bond with the lethal use of a harpoon gun.

2) Pussy Galore

Three knockout English blondes play the Dahlian triptych of Bond girls in Goldfinger, and Honor Blackman is the one with the most substantial role, and the most absurd name. Blackman’s considerable swagger and judo skills would have been no surprise to anyone who’d seen her as Cathy Gale in The Avengers. In a film that drips great lines, she has an almost Bogart/Bacall spikiness with Connery, trading barbs while dressed elegantly.

1) Vesper Lynd

Eva Green’s woman from the Treasury set a high watermark for Bond girls that the Craig era has never managed to reach again despite its sincerest efforts. Their first meeting on the train to Montenegro is delicious. Over dinner the pair verbally dissect each other’s characters based on their first impressions of each other. Bond is cruel but Vesper hurts him back with interest, and it is this which makes Bond interested.

* It may seem odd for a fan of The Avengers not to have included Diana Rigg’s turn as Bond’s wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but her wit and athleticism as Emma Peel were so clinically stripped from Tracy Draco that I can only watch it with deep disappointment.

August 21, 2021

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XLI

See Tom Run

I recently finally read Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed, and have thought of a short film I would love to see the great man make – ‘See Tom Run’. In which Herr Herzog assembles a super-cut from the last four decades of cinematic footage of his former co-star Tom Cruise, running. And running. And running. And running. At times Werner would let the footage play out in silence. And at other times he would let it run, pun intended, with whatever music Werner might feel appropriate to the rapid movement of the Cruise. (It is impossible to guess what music he would guess: Mongolian throat warbling? Russian Orthodox bells? Peruvian folk accappella? Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony?) And holding together all this running and jumping he would tell us in his Bavarian-inflected narration what he thinks the meaning of all this running is. Why does Tom run? Does who Tom is meant to be change how he runs? Why does he run more as an old man than as a young man? What is he running from? What is he running towards? As runs Cruise so runs American history? These are questions that need to be asked. Maybe.

Knowing what you need, knowing what you can do without

The Italian Job was on ITV 4 last weekend, so of course I watched it. Yet again. This time round I was struck by how Quincy Jones emulates Bernard Herrmann in his scoring, not musically, but by his supreme confidence in stepping aside. Just as Herrmann was content to remain silent for minutes of North by Northwest at a time, Jones opts not to score great chunks of The Italian Job. Safe in the knowledge that not only does he have his Matt Monro-warbled ‘Days Like These’ to play with orchestrally for much of the film, but, biding his time bar a brief preview in the installation of the doctored computer tape, he is audiciously keeping in reserve one of the great film themes for the last minutes – ‘The Self-preservation Society’.

*On a sidenote does Matt Monro singing theme song after theme song for films in the 1960s in a way prefigure the synergy of the music video of a film song acting as a quasi-commercial in the 1980s and 1990s?

(more…)

June 30, 2021

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XL

As the title suggests, so forth.

Tom Cruise is America, or something

I’d been thinking about this for a while, but was finally spurred into action by Megan Garber’s recent Atlantic piece on Top Gun as infomercial for nothing less than the US of A itself. She’s absolutely right. Top Gun exudes Reagan’s America even more purely than Stallone asking in Rambo: First Blood – Part II whether America gets to win Vietnam this time. (Yes, Rambo, of course.) But whither Reagan’s America now? And so to the once boyish now aged Cruiser… It occurred to me when recently watching it on TV that Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Fallout is almost a stand-in for America, maybe even Joe Biden, now. He knows that he is not physically on top of this, but his instincts remain true, and his resolve undimmed though tinged with desperation. The repeated insistence by Cruise that he will find a way, make it work, figure it out – I won’t let you down! almost seems to reflect the figure America currently cuts on the world stage. Hapless, diminished, but bloody determined to live up to its own heroic self-image.

Movie musicals are too long

I was thinking about why I haven’t loved so many of the great filmed Broadway musicals as much as I ‘should’, given that I love musicals onscreen and onstage, and then it hit me. They are too long. It could really be that simple. En masse. And they are too long because… they are too long. To be less simple. Finally watching South Pacific last year I got more out of it than most filmed Broadway musicals hitherto because I gave myself an interval. I paused the movie, made some tea, mooched about the place, reflected on what had happened so far and wondered where things might go next. As one does at an interval in a Broadway musical. I haven’t really tried this out to the extent that I can pronounce a definitive verdict on this theory, but I do think it explains why the likes of West Side Story and My Fair Lady never really seemed to connect with me the way shorter musicals like Kiss Me Kate and The Rocky Horror Picture Show did.

April 25, 2021

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXIX

What a difference a director makes

So after many years of humming and hawing I finally got round to watching The American Friend, which was a revelation. Being bored senseless by Wings of Desire had put me off going near it, given that I had found the 2003 movie Ripley’s Game a trite bore and it was based on the same novel. Well, everything Bret Easton Ellis says about mood and atmosphere being everything in cinema is proved right with a vengeance in this instance of compare and contrast. John Malkovich may be more in line with Ripley the would be sophisticate, but Dennis Hopper is a better performance focusing on the sheer instability of Ripley’s own sense of self. And Wenders goes to town with Hitchcockian flourishes, the suspense of the train murder, the exaggerated camera movements as Bruno Ganz escapes his first crime in the Metro, the overpowering sinister score. And that’s before the amped up ambient sound design accompanying the extremely unflattering industrial landscapes of Hamburg; a stark contrast to the novel and the later film’s lush Southern European settings.

Spike Lee approves this Oscars

Steven Soderbergh may be in charge of the ceremony but the acting nominations (and arguably the directing nods as a ripple effect) are all the product of Spike Lee’s freakout five years ago. Except for the third godfather at the table: Harvey Weinstein. As has become customary under his baneful influence the Oscars are ostentatiously preoccupied with unpopular films this year. I’ve written about this before, but this year is an intriguing proposition. If the likes of the Guardian have been right in their pronouncements over the last five years then the fact that white actors have been shunted to the side so extravagantly this year should result in a ratings bonanza. Because the problem was ‘a lack of diversity’ making the Oscars ‘increasingly irrelevant’. If you think that the problem was that nobody in America had seen, or in all too many cases would ever want to see, the films nominated then the ratings tonight should be as low as last year or even lower owing to the fact that this year’s nominated movies are even more niche than usual. Intriguingly the Guardian seems to be hedging its bets by running a piece a few weeks ago about producers fretting that Americans would not watch the ceremony…

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?

January 31, 2021

Fears: 2021

Godzilla v Kong

Wingard blockbuster!

But will he get lost in fog?

Does shroud Godzilla…

Black Widow

She’s already dead!

Talk about your bad timing

A badly missed chance

The One and Only Ivan

Mike White writes for kids?!

Sam Rockwell: gorilla voice

This could be damned odd

No Time to Die

“Bond’s too old” – AGAIN??!!!

Rami Malek has a mask

Does script have a clue?

Chaos Walking

Doug Liman’s folly

Is it unreleasable?

Daisy Ridley ‘stars’

The Many Saints of Newark

Sopranos Begins

But so long since that hard black

Does anyone care?

Morbius

Jared Leto’s back

As comics supervillain

They can’t cut the lead!

Coming 2 America

Now a twice told tale?

After 32 long years

Who wanted sequel?

West Side Story

Spielberg musical!

Of Bay’s fave, but why did Steve

cast Ansel Elgort?

In the Heights

It’s Hamilton man!

But not doing Hamilton

Odd, eye on China?

Dune

Its Achilles Heel?

Lead Timothee Chalamet…

Not a patch on Kyle!

January 22, 2021

Top 10 Films of 2020

10) Vampires vs the Bronx

The Lost Boys meets Attack the Block? Sorta… This was a deliriously entertaining and knowing slice of genre nonsense as teenage heroes realise the gentrifying property company forcing them out is actually run by vampires.

9) Yes, God, Yes

Karen Maine’s directorial debut was uncomfortable but rewarding as Natalia Dyer’s innocent teenager gets victimised by scandalous gossip, and is sent to a religious retreat as punishment, but learns more there than was planned

8) Possessor

Brandon Cronenberg’s second film, after an eight year wait, proved he is quite good at the family business of body horror as an assassin hijacking a mark’s mind finds herself in a fight for survival as the mark and her meld eerily

7) The Boys in the Band

Matt Crowley’s 1968 play gets a second big screen adaptation, with Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto heading the cast that gathers for a dinner party exposing the complications sinister and farcical of pre-Stonewall gay life.

6) Une Fille Facile

Rebecca Zlotowski makes the best Eric Rohmer film since he died in 2010. Mina Farid is the Cannes teenager at a crossroads who follows her glamorous cousin into high society, but like Pauline a la Plage learns too much.

5) An American Pickle

The dream team of writer Simon Rich and Seth Rogen (flexing his acting muscles) combined for a surprisingly more serious take on the absurdist comic novella Sell Out. Yes, Rogen was hysterically funny as Herschel the pickled immigrant, but he also conveyed the quiet desperation of Ben, leading to an unexpected affirmation of faith and family.

4) Wasp Network

Director Olivier Assayas made a sharp turn from last year’s French romantic comedy Non-Fiction with this multilingual sun-kissed thriller set in 1990s Havana and Miami following the exiles, spies, defectors, and double-agents playing merry hell with Castro’s regime, the CIA, and all points in between. Audaciously structured, this was always absorbing and frequently tense.

3) Spenser Confidential

Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg combined again for a thriller loosely based on the classic Robert B Parker PI creation. ‘Loosely’: because this took place in the sort of chaotic Boston milieu familiar from The Fighter, and seemed every bit as interested in setting up absurdist comedy riffs as it was in actually solving the mystery.

2) Tenet

In a normal year this film would’ve charted lower… The Protagonist’s quest to find pieces of an infernal machine dismantled in the future had a very enjoyable puzzle piece intricacy which will repay multiple viewings, but the Debicki/Branagh emotional motor did not hum, making me question whether this should’ve been a Memento noir rather than a plane-crashing blockbuster.

Cr. NIKO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX

1) The Trial of the Chicago 7

I had the odd complaint about Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game that it wasn’t Sorkin enough. No such concerns with this courtroom drama, this is a tour-de-force of Sorkin dialogue, once intended for Spielberg to direct. Every speaking part seems to have a zinger at some point, and the political import of 1968 to 2020 leaps off the screen without any need for the occasional anachronism. I watched this twice within a week with no loss of relish for the flashback structure, the fantastic ensemble, and the trademark Sorkin sincerity.

Top Performances of 2020

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 4:02 pm

December 22, 2020

You Have Been Listening To: Part V – An A to Z of Great Moments in Film

As we throw our hands up in despair and wait for the Grinch-timed return of lockdown it seems a good point to look back at a 2020 project that is nearing completion. There has been a lack of reviews by me of new releases on 103.2 Dublin City FM this year, and what was personally an injury-enforced sabbatical from studio and cinema was made a general cinema sabbatical for all for most of the year. But if you’re eager to explore the back catalogue here’s a list of the films we discussed as the film links morphed into an A to Z of Great Moments in Film that attempted to tip the hat as often as possible to films that had an anniversary of some kind in 2020.

All About Eve

Back to the Future

Cast Away

Les Diaboliques

The Empire Strikes Back

The Falcon Takes Over

Goodfellas

Top Hat

The Ipcress File

Jane Eyre

Kelly’s Heroes

The Lavender Hill Mob

Memento

Nosferatu

Othello

Psycho

The Quiller Memorandum

Rififi

The 39 Steps

Tremors

The Usual Suspects

Vertigo

Westworld

X-Men

Yojimbo

Dr Zhivago

December 20, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXVIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Stripey Heartbreak

Well, well, well… this was unusual. Watching two 1980s US army movies back to back it suddenly became clear there was a bit too much crossover for a fully sane mind to handle. A hard-bitten old sergeant has to whip some layabouts led by disruptive jokers into proper soldiering shape before an absurdist war in the final reel because you can’t have a movie about the army without there being a war goddamnit. And the one that didn’t get official approval from the military in the end was the Clint Eastwood action flick not the rambling Bill Murray comedy. Clint swore too much for the Marine Corps endorsement. Even though it’s based on real life, even though people die on both sides, the culminating action of Heartbreak Ridge in Grenada somehow feels no more real than the bloodless baloney in Czechoslovakia that ends Stripes, before both sets of characters return home to a heroes’ welcome as they tumble off the plane onto the tarmac. Thinking about this paradox suddenly made me recall the complaint of an officer to George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia: he griped that their Spanish Civil War experience was not truly one of war – this was merely a comic opera, with the occasional death.

Whither Nolan, whither the WB?

Another WB stalwart has been in the wars with his superior officers… Christopher Nolan has been actively biting the hand that feeds him over Warner Bros’ shock announcement that their 2021 slate of films (many of which were their 2020 slate of films) would now be released to stream on HBO Max to get around the collapse of cinemas in America because of the catastrophic response to the coronavirus. Nolan loudly decried this use of the work of the brightest and the best as a mere loss-leader, as people who thought they were working for the best studio ended up working for the worst streaming service. A trenchant statement, that will not have been appreciated by the beancounters, marketers, and management gurus all playing catch-up with Disney’s monopoly status. Where exactly this leave Nolan’s previously untouchable standing with the top brass at the WB is unclear. Tenet failed to entice Americans back to cinemagoing during a pandemic that ‘incompetence exacerbated by malevolence’ perpetuated, but that was hardly a surprise. But Tenet despite being the third biggest film of the year worldwide at $361 million did not make enough money overseas to compensate for only making $57 million of that figure in America. Doing it Nolan’s way has left the studio out of pocket for roughly half its expected takings. If they try it the other way and that doesn’t work either maybe he’ll be forgiven. If not… is it the end for Nolan after two decades working for the WB?

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