Talking Movies

January 22, 2021

Top 10 Films of 2020

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 4:11 pm

10) Vampires vs the Bronx

9) Yes, God, Yes

8) Possessor

7) The Boys in the Band

6) Une Fille Facile

5) An American Pickle

4) Wasp Network

3) Spenser Confidential

2) Tenet

Cr. NIKO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX

1) The Trial of the Chicago 7

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?

December 3, 2020

The WB to release Wonder Woman in Irish cinemas

In a bold move Warner Brothers is taking advantage of the relaxing of restrictions over the Christmas period to release one of 2020’s most anticipated blockbusters – Wonder Woman 1984.

December 16th will see the release of Patty Jenkins’ sequel which fast-forwards 70 years in the immortal life of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to a clash with two new foes; Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and the Cheetah (Kristen Wiig); and the mysterious reappearance of her dead (for generations) lover Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Patty Jenkins directs again from a screenplay she wrote with Geoff Johns & David Callaham, from her story with DC comics legend Johns. A world removed from the desaturated colour palette of the WWI-set original, this seems to be surfing the same cultural wave as Stranger Things and AHS: 1984. And who knows but this may be just the day-glo blast of unabashed fun and pop nostalgia that everybody needs at this particular moment in time after a relentlessly grim plague year.

November 28, 2020

Irish Film HENRY GLASSIE: FIELD WORK by director Pat Collins wins InScience Audience Award

Pat Collin’s new feature film, HENRY GLASSIE: FIELD WORK has won the NTR De Kennis van Nu Audience Award at InScience Film Festival.

InScience is a unique festival in the Netherlands, an international platform for scientific documentaries.  The themes in the InScience program are endless. About the possibility of tinkering with the basis of life, about the symbiosis of art and science, about the minuscule hope of an eternal life, about researchers being daredevils, and about revising our past and building our future.

Pat Collins in his acceptance speech thanked the film programmer Rob Van Der Berg and said it was “an honour to win the InScience Audience Award and to bring Henry Glassie’s work to a wider audience. The film is a true collaboration and couldn’t have been made without Henry’s creative input and generosity.  Henry has always acknowledged the debt he owes to the people who taught him – his teachers within the universities and the artists he has spent his life with, out in the field.  It’s very satisfying to see Henry’s long life of learning getting this acknowledgement, from a festival so dedicated to building bridges between the worlds of science and arts. Producer Tina O’Reilly of South Wind Blows said “It is such a pleasure to work with a director of the calibre of Pat Collins.  I’m delighted that the audience at InScience also felt the beauty and inspiration that we experienced collaborating with the truly remarkable Henry Glassie. I would like to extend my personal thanks to Fís Éireann / Screen Ireland and the Arts Council of Ireland for their significant support of our film, from concept to closing titles.”

Following on the success of ‘Song of Granite’, Henry Glassie: Field Work from Director Pat Collins also won Best Irish Documentary at the 2020 Galway Film Fleadh. It is a magisterial portrait of the most renowned American folklorist and ethnologist Henry Glassie now in his seventies. This film is a beautifully intricate exposition of Glassie’s life’s work which displays this director’s trademark deft touch and remarkable eye for details of the deepest significance. Glassie’s subject is folklore but his deep abiding love for the people who create it resonates throughout the film. “I don’t study people . I stand with people and I study the things they create.” Field work is at the heart of Glassie’s lifelong engagement with folklore. In the words of poet Seamus Heaney “where the perfect eye of the blackbird watched, where one fern was always green I was standing watching you”  ‘Fieldwork’ – 1979.

This film celebrates Glassie’s work, the people with whom he stands and their artwork.  Glassie’s long professional life encompasses the people and folklore of his native southern states; from the sublime vocal purity of Ola Belle Reed whom he befriended and recorded in the sixties, to the potters, sculptors, metal workers, gilders and painters of sacred art in Brazil, the ceramic masters and the women rug makers and weavers of Turkey, the story tellers and singers of Ballymenone on the Northern Irish border to mention just a few. Pat Collins’ sensitive positioning of Glassie’s own archive photographs, film and exquisite hand drawn maps deepen our understanding both of Glassie and the folklore he has so tenderly honoured in his work over decades of study scholarship love and friendship.

Filmed in Brazil, Ireland and the US in Glassie’s benevolent presence, artists like the sculptor Edival Rosas from Salvador city describe their practice as one where body and spirit are integrated, where in Glassie’s words the creative act brings “a momentary fullfilment of what it is to be human”. Under Pat Collins’ ever mindful direction the process of making something out of raw materials is luminously manifested in sequences which reflect in their measured and attentive approach the actual real time process of making, of the work of hands, of the physicality of that work , and of the close attention the artist is bringing to the work. Pat Collins’ achievement with Henry Glassie: Field Work is to bring these makers of art, in wood, fabric, yarn, paint, clay, metal, in song and story to our attention through their work, through the raw materials they shape into art objects and the through the undeniable passion they carry to their work. In this way the work is accorded profound meaning for the societies out of which it is generated an aesthetic value which is transcendent.

“What matters is passion and the devotion” and also “sincerity and fullness of being”. Without this, for Glassie, no art work can claim authenticity. The film itself stands as a realisation of this sincerity and fullness of being. Over the last 50 years the celebrated American Folklorist Henry Glassie has been writing in-depth studies of communities and their art.  Inspired by the writings and ideas of Glassie – ‘Field Work’ is an immersive and meditative documentary set among the rituals and rhythms of working artists across Brazil, Turkey, North Carolina and Ireland.  The process of making something out of raw materials is luminously manifested in sequences which reflect in their measured and attentive approach the actual real time process of making, of the work of hands and of the close attention the artist is bringing to the work.

HENRY GLASSIE: FIELD WORK will open at Irish cinemas in early 2021

November 22, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXVII

As the title suggests, so forth.

The late Spielberg and the late Hitchcock

Having recently, finally, watched The Post, just because it was on prime-time Film4 twice inside a week, I regard my scepticism towards it as having been fully justified. A movie about the wrong newspaper and the wrong heroic actors who were all not breaking a huge story, and featuring an intolerably annoying lead performance even for Meryl Streep, it’s only value was it that it set me to thinking about the late Hitchcock and the late Spielberg. It is no secret that Spielberg found it so hard to get financing for his ponderous Lincoln that it looked like it might end up like Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra – a cable TV movie in America, given a small art-house release in Europe. Such an outcome would have been a shocking fall from grace from a man who made his name being a crowd-pleaser par excellence.  But the truth is that Spielberg has entered a phase of decline in that regard. Since nuking the fridge in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Spielberg has struggled to find an audience. His 2010s output (The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, War Horse, LincolnBridge of Spies, The BFG, The Post, Ready Player One) has been prolific, but desperately uneven when it comes to connecting with an intended blockbuster audience, and the more niche trilogy of Constitutional Amendment films plagued by dull writing. The technical mastery is still there, but, like the late Hitchcock (Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, Family Plot), it is in service of poor to middling scripts – so that outre camera moves stand out more and more than they would have in previous decades where the entire films were good, not just certain sequences or conceits standing out like oases in a desert. The fact that Spielberg’s next film is an unnecessary remake of West Side Story worked over by his Munich and Lincoln writer Tony Kusher does not inspire confidence that Spielberg can pull out of this slump, and that’s before you realise the star is … Ansel Elgort.

Yippee Ki Yay Memoriser!

A Die Hard Christmas jumper having just arrived in the mail I found myself wondering the other day whatever happened to its director John McTiernan. Lawsuits. Indictments. Jail. His Wyoming ranch being liquidated. And not a film made since 2003’s Basic. In fact, it’s kind of remarkable that McTiernan only made 11 films in his 18 active years, (allegedly he is making sci-fi blockbuster Tau Ceti Four with Uma Thurman, but I will believe that when I see it), but those films include both impeccable classics and unwatchable disasters. How can someone capable of Predator, Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October and Die Hard with a Vengeance have ended up battling studio incompetence and his own poor choices to have come away carrying the bag for Last Action Hero, The 13th Warrior, Rollerball and Basic? McTiernan has given some extensive and revealing interviews explaining how things went sideways so often, and he seems to have had a lot of bad luck. But one thing he said leapt out: while studying at the AFI a crazed teacher insisted on him memorising movies – shot for shot. On the grounds that a concert pianist would commit piano concertos to memory, and when asked to improvise a cadenza would have those to draw on, so a film director should have a set of classics in his cerebellum to creatively rework when needed. And so McTiernan said he had memorised every shot in A Clockwork Orange, among others. Which leads to one to think about his films in terms of such classicism. I can easily believe that it is possible to memorise every shot in Die Hard, with especial relish for the many delightful focus-pulls, but Rollerball?… Can the decline of McTiernan’s artistic clout in the editing room be directly seen in the betrayal of the principle of memorable shots rather than hyper-cut gibberish?

October 31, 2020

RIP Sean Connery

Sean Connery is dead at  age 90, and the world is without its first Bond, James Bond.

Sick Boy lacks moral fibre—Renton
Aye, but he knows a lot about Sean Connery—Mother Superior

Trainspotting (1996)

1962. Connery takes the lead in an underfinanced spy film where the director seems more interested in the wardrobe his star will wear than the performance he will give. Connery brought two sides to James Bond. He was a vicious bastard, true to Fleming’s character, but a faithful adaptation would have resulted in a flop notable only for the unpleasantness of its lead. Connery also brought a roguish charm to the role that was all his own invention. This is what made him a star and allowed Bond to get away with callous cruelty. Terence Young tried to emphasise the spy elements and the realism in the sequel From Russia, With Love. Connery was superbly paired against Robert Shaw and their extremely realistic fight was one of the most vicious then seen and still one of the longest sustained punch-ups in cinema. Guy (The Colditz Story) Hamilton directed Goldfinger as a stylish thriller not a Bond Film. A sensation for its characters, lines and casually brilliant plot twists it trapped Connery. He made the hit romance Woman of Straw, the psychodrama Marnie for Hitchcock and gruelling war drama The Hill for Sidney Lumet to showcase his serious acting abilities and desperately squeezed in A Fine Madness between Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. But the shadow of James Bond was enduring…

“Some age, others mature”.

At 50 he received the Time Bandits script from Terry Gilliam which described Agamemnon as resembling “Sean Connery or someone of equal stature but less expensive”. Connery accepted his age and played the supporting role. He did Bond once last time while he could still pass the action bar (although taking lessons from Steven Seagal he annoyed him so much that Seagal broke Connery’s wrist), reuniting with Irish Thunderball producer Kevin McClory for a remake, probably just to annoy Broccolli who had lost the rights to use SPECTRE or Blofeld to Fleming’s co-creator McClory. Exit Bond, enter everybody’s favourite grouchy uncle. Highlander, The Untouchables and The Name of the Rose saw him showcase this character and pick up a Best Supporting Oscar for crusty Chicago cop Jimmy Malone. 1989’s Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade showed just how good Connery could be in this sort of endearing role. The Hunt for Red October also showed he could still carry a film. He received $250,000 for a thirty second cameo in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as Richard the Lionheart and played King Arthur in First Knight adding wise but warm authority to his no nonsense persona. The Rock was even more jawdropping. Connery doesn’t really play a pensioner James Bond, he plays something more valuable: The 60 something Action Hero, a role he invented and only he could get away with. Compare how ridiculously old for proceedings Roger Moore seemed in 1985’s A View to a Kill against what Connery could do in 1996. Even in misfires like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Entrapment that persona is triumphant. He delivered in ensemble drama Playing By Heart and played a villain in The Avengers where his speech given while wearing a teddy bear outfit was the only minute of the dreadful film worth salvaging. Sadly we don’t know what he thought of the voluble opinions expressed on his career and importance in Trainspotting. While his close friend Michael Caine has continued working into his late 80s, memorably appearing in multiple blockbusters thanks to his friendship with Christopher Nolan, Connery quietly retired after the troubled production of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, passing up the role of Gandalf as well as a reprise of Henry Jones Sr in favour of working on his autobiography in his Bahamas home. Ironically for the bankroller of Scottish Nationalism (and a man who had ‘Scotland Forever’ tattooed on his arm when he was 16) he was awarded a Knighthood.

October 19, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to slice this film properly for ad breaks

It happens every time. Whether it’s on Channel 4 or Film4, every time Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is on the powers that be go to the first ad break at a moment that ruins the gag. Alec Baldwin is giving a vainglorious speech to Jeremy Renner about the awesomeness of the CIA, having just shuttered the IMF, and tells him “Set your watch, Brandt. Ethan Hunt is living his last day as a free man” – and then Channel 4 and Film4 go to an ad break. And when they return we are in a different location for an action sequence of the CIA attempting to catch Hunt. But the point is lost in this time away making tea in the kitchen – his last day as a threat should be instantly followed by a caption telling us that many months have passed; and that therefore Tom Cruise is very resourceful and Alec Baldwin has been shown up and is not at all happy. Do you see, it’s in the manner of being a gag?

Coronarithms killed the movie critic

In the absence of any actual cinema releases whither not just cinema but the critic of cinema? I would think that, stripping away all the many pretensions, the major function of the film critic is as a gatekeeper; entrusted with shepherding people away from wasting their money on bad films, and telling them what they might like to what degree from the alright good and great films. This function, though, is largely dependent on people going to the cinema rather than streaming. Streaming is a flat fee for a service you use as much or as little as you like, whereas a physical trip to the cinema is a one-off punt on something – and as the price of a cinema ticket here exceeds the monthly cost of Netflix it’s quite a gamble. But not only does a streaming service reduce the financial consequentiality of the choice of movie, it also makes it easier to drop something if it’s rubbish compared to even just the physical business of leaving a crowded cinema, and it uses such choices to tailor the dreaded algorithim toward your tastes. Some years back the Engineer made an off-hand comment that he had absorbed the biases and interests of his favourite film critic to a sufficient degree to be able to account for them and thus work out how far or if he would agree with his judgements. The Netflix algorithm dispenses with that. It knows you as well as you allow yourself to be known. And when Netflix pushes towards you its just-dropped release I doubt people look around for a critical consensus on it; they just glance at the names, see the algorithm at work, and click or do not click play. The whole equation has been changed – but only now does coronavirus make it plain by making Netflix the last game in town.

September 19, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LX

As the title suggests, so forth.

But if it’s a five stage plan, how can we have started at level 2.5 and gone on to level 3, with elements of level 4? That just doesn’t track.

“I have a new plan, it involves beards and Morocco”

–So we beat on, boats all moored on the quay, hopelessly tied up for the present.

The media has curiously decided to remember the unelected and indeed rejected regime of Leo & Simon as the golden age of communications; despite the fiasco of the picnic in the park, coming after the statesman speech that said nothing, and the literal game of name that quote played for a celebrity Twitter audience.

But Dublin finds itself in an intolerable situation. The simplest task seems to stump this new cobbled together coalition of the unwanted. Why announce a plan with five levels, and simultaneously announce that Dublin is betwixt and between levels two and three? Why announce that Dublin is moving to level three, but then crucify pubs and restaurants with level four restrictions without calling those restrictions by name? Why pretend that any of this is based on science when there is no actual evidence that pubs and restaurants have been spreading disease while we all look pointedly at schools, that opened suspiciously at the right time to be responsible for the recent spike, and which will remain open – even during level five – because … science said that’s that okay?

The sinister nature of classical music

Hannibal is leaving Netflix at the end of September. Good riddance, one should say. But a completist Mads Mikkelsen impulse drove me to try and crash thru the final two seasons. To no avail. 6 episodes into season 2 and its increasingly disgusting visuals I began to lose the will to live and had to abandon the drive to the Reichenbach fall. There is much to dislike about the clear enjoyment the makers take in showing human organs being turned into haute cuisine, even when it’s a major character; suggesting they were talking about themselves when having Will say Hannibal eats not to honour, but because he regards humans as no different to pigs. So to Bryan Fuller et al these are not real living breathing characters, just empty sharply dressed ciphers to be pushed (agonisingly slowly) around the chessboard; in a world conveniently entirely devoid of CCTV outside the lunatic asylum. But I also began to be disheartened by the relentless yoking of classical music to Hannibal’s ghoulish evil. It reminded me of a piece around 2015 that praised Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation for giving Simon Pegg’s comic relief Benjy a love of classical music, when the standard operating procedure would have been to give such a detail to Sean Harris’ supervillain Solomon Lane as a marker of his supervillainy, a la Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me; watching sharks eat people to the strains of Mozart. Cruise and McQuarrie went further in fact, basing an astonishing set-piece around Puccini’s Turandot, and making ‘Nessun Dorma’ the leitmotif for Rebecca Ferguson’s mysterious assassin. But why is this so damn unusual? Why is classical music so often relegated to nonsense touches like Kevin Bacon’s Beethoven-loving Nazi in the cold open of X-Men: First Class? Football fans lap up ‘Nessun Dorma’ and ‘Zadok the Priest’, everybody who whistles the ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars is unconsciously a fan of ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’ from Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Why do film-makers who will often edit to a temp-track of classical music so despise that very same classical music when it comes to depicting it as a part of their characters’ lives?

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