Talking Movies

November 30, 2019

Top 5 Hitchcock Films not directed by Hitchcock

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 9:52 pm

(5) Seven

David Fincher has displayed a flair for showy suspense in a number of his films, think of the taut escape thru an open plan house in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and this strikingly old-fashioned movie could be the work of the Hitchcock of Frenzy.

 

(4) What Lies Beneath

Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 homage to Hitchcock amazingly features both jokey references and real terror. Zemeckis deliberately structures the start of the film as a Rear Window clone, only to reveal that’s all been a shaggy dog story. What follows could come straight from Hitchcock’s steamer trunk of unfilmed ideas, a particular highlight being when Michelle Pfeiffer is drugged and left to die in a slowly, very slowly filling bath-tub.

 

(3) Charade

Stanley Donen borrows Cary Grant for a jaunt four years after North by Northwest in a caper that is both slyly sending up Hitchcock and yet also following his playbook for real.

 

(2) The Big Clock

Charles Laughton had starred in Jamaica Inn, Hitchcock’s last British movie, and he plays a marvellous villain here as the murderous newspaper editor who instructs his investigative journalism team to solve the murder he’s committed but which he’s framed the head journalist for. Ray Milland would go on to appear in Dial M for Murder.

 

(1) Les Diaboliques

Director Henri-Georges Clouzot allegedly stole the rights to the novel from under the nose of Hitchcock by a matter of hours, so the writers made it up to Hitch by penning their next novel for him. It became Vertigo… Clouzot’s 1955 masterpiece sees Vera Clouzot and Simone Signoret plot to murder their brutish husband and lover respectively. Their ingenious plan springs a leak, however, when his body disappears… Clouzot eschews music except for the dissonant opening credits, and racks the tension higher and higher, with a French Columbo and an exceptional final suspense sequence.

November 27, 2019

From the Archives: The Darjeeling Limited

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Three estranged brothers travel thru India on a spiritual journey, a year after their father’s death. But it quickly becomes less conciliatory than hoped for.

This is a Wes Anderson movie for people who hate Wes Anderson movies. The trademark whip-pans are present and correct but here the story doesn’t feel constrained by them. The tracking shots between rooms through walls that blighted The Life Aquatic by sheer overuse are quite charming here. Hell, even Bill Murray, who runs for and misses the titular train in the hilarious opening sequence, uses more facial expressions in his cameo than in the entirety of The Life Aquatic. It is a truly wonderful moment when we go into slow-motion as Murray hopelessly sprints for the train and a very distinctive nose emerges beside him as Adrien Brody overtakes him, catching the train at the last possible second. Watching the impossibly gangly Brody run in slow-motion is almost reason enough to see this film.

Brody steals the acting honours, as you might expect. As Peter, a man unsure if he’s really ready to have a child (because of his own troubled upbringing), haunted by the death of his father a year previous, and extremely wary of his older brother, he is nuanced and engaging. Surprisingly Owen Wilson (swathed in bandages throughout) is close behind him as the domineering older brother Francis, whose attempts at reconciliation on this spiritual pilgrimage are thwarted by his own controlling personality which has made detailed itineraries for them all. Jason Schwartzman is in the film. Why? He and his cousin co-wrote it. As the youngest brother, the failed author Jack, he is the weak link of the film but not even his blankness can detract from The Darjeeling Limited’s truly magical quirkiness.

The spiritual journey thru India inevitably goes wrong and, amidst much sibling bickering, the trio are thrown off the train. Anderson at this point casts in the stuff of real drama to the mix, with a revealing extended flashback to the funeral of the brothers’ father a year earlier, and the result is surprisingly affecting. Anjelica Huston’s subsequent cameo as their mother is quite magnificently fitting and leads to an enigmatic tracking shot of imaginary connections between characters in the film that is wonderfully sweet and sums up the charm of the whole enterprise as the brothers do finally arrive at a sort of spiritual epiphany and reconciliation with each other as a result of all their mishaps. It’s a pity Anderson prefaces this film with his execrable short Hotel Chevalier, which will be screened before this in all cinemas. You do not need to see it to enjoy The Darjeeling Limited. It is a cheap exploitation flick whose sole purpose is to showcase Natalie Portman’s first and last nude scene as she was horrified to find that for months the only part of the short film that was leaked onto the internet was her nude scenes. The Darjeeling Limited itself is endearing and substantial, get a ticket.

3/5

From the Archives: August Rush

Filed under: Talking Movies (Reviews) — Fergal Casey @ 5:25 pm

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Classical cellist Lyla and rock singer Lewis only meet each other for one night but it produces a son August Rush who, unbeknownst to either, survives childbirth. He escapes the orphanage and heads to New York to find his parents.

Where to begin the evisceration? A musical with no musical numbers worth speaking of, there’s a start. Across the Universe, flawed as it was, featured a cast breaking into Beatles songs at the drop of a hat. Here the most tuneful thing we get is Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’, after that it’s just occasional bad rock songs whined by Rhys Meyers in clubs and annoying guitar slapping by Freddie Highmore supposedly showing off what a prodigy he is. The characters are all simpletons. I’m not sure if that’s an actual conscious intent, they are after all spouting some of the most cringe-inducing dialogue since the Star Wars prequels so it could just be the actors’ brains going into lockdown, refusing to believe such writing is possible. The early scenes between Lyla and Lewis have to be groaned through to be believed.

The film picks up somewhat when ‘orphan’ Evan arrives in New York but even that is unintentionally hilarious. He stands swaying to the ambient noise of the city and it’s meant to be fearfully emotive of his special gift for hearing the music in nature, which will allow him locate his parents. Unfortunately it is more reminiscent of the Irish character Tyres in Simon Pegg’s TV show Spaced who could groove along to a beat made out of the noise of a traffic light and a beeping motorist. There is literally no end to the annoying elements of this film. August (as Evan is quickly renamed) always slaps the guitar, never strumming, while in Juilliard his curriculum is so basic for the age group depicted as to cast doubt on its reputation…

When August falls in with a group of musical urchins it feels like the credits should read ‘Story by Charles Dickens’ as it’s pure Oliver Twist meeting the Artful Dodger, with Robin Williams’ role halfway between Fagin and Bono. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is pretty but can he act? The rest of the cast can’t, except Terrence Howard and Williams who in some scenes look like they’ve gone to the bother of inventing a back-story for their characters. The screenwriters never bothered so kudos for personal initiative. Too bad we’re left assuming motivations though…especially as you know they’re probably operating several levels of intelligence above the script. There is an hour of story here, it’s dragged out for two and feels like three. The boredom becomes so acute that when Becki Newton appears you will scream, “Hey it’s Amanda from Ugly Betty! What, no! Don’t leave after one scene, come back and say something cutting, surely there’s someone with a cold sore you could go make fun of”. This atrocity gets a star purely because Rhys Meyers looks like he’s having fun showing off his cheekbones again…

1/5

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 5:19 pm

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November 24, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 3:05 pm

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November 20, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXII

As the title suggests, so forth.

star-wars-episode-9-confirmed-cast-and-returning-characters.jpg

“There are now seven different drafts of the speech. The President likes none of them”

With apologies to The West Wing. It’s been pretty entertaining hearing about apparently unbridled panic in private at Disney as they try to fix Star Wars without ever admitting in public that they broke it. Reshoots continuing until within six weeks of release. Test screenings of five cuts of three entirely different endings. These are the rumours, and great fun they are if you checked out of this cash-grab when Han went for coffee and was never seen again as he got into a lively debate about whether he or Greedo shot first with some patrons of the Westeros Starbucks. A particularly entertaining rumour has people shouting abuse at the screen as they attempted to walk out of a test screening after a bold artistic decision. Said bold artistic decision synching up with everything that has gone wrong so far it seems almost plausible. And yet… I half wonder if Disney are faking footage of a mind-blowingly awful finale so that when by contrast a merely bad finale arrives people will be relieved, and forgiving. Call it the old Prince Hal gambit. If this bold artistic decision is actually real, and in the final cut, it constitutes a piece of cultural vandalism that puts one in mind of Thomas Bowdler correcting Shakespeare by giving King Lear the rom-com ending it so clearly needed.

 

Very poor choice of words

I was minding my own business in Dundrum Town Centre the other day when suddenly a large screen started cycling thru shots from the new Charlie’s Angels, before ending with the misguided tagline – ‘Unseen. Undivided. Unstoppable.’ As the Joker aptly put it, very poor choice of words, as indeed Americans have left the movie monumentally unseen. There are a lot of reasons you could proffer about why, but let’s start with the poster. Elizabeth Banks’ name appears THREE TIMES. From Director Elizabeth Banks. Screenplay by Elizabeth Banks. Directed by Elizabeth Banks. ‘From Director…’ usually is accompanied by old hits, like Fincher being dogged by Seven until The Social Network, but not in the case of Banks, for obvious reasons. This is her first credit on a screenplay. This is her second feature as a director. The first was Pitch Perfect 2. Perhaps easing back on the Banks angle might have been wise. Maybe it would have been even wiser to have realised the problem isn’t the poster, it’s the people on it. Kristen Stewart and… two other actresses. Think of the combined star power of Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu in the year 2000 when their Charlie’s Angels was 12th at the North American Box Office for the year. Now look at this poster again and think of the combined star power of Kristen Stewart and effectively two British television actresses. Things get even worse when you see the trailer and it presents Stewart, the star, as effectively being the quirky comic relief to two nobodies. This film needed a poster with Stewart flanked by Emma Stone and Maggie Q to even get to the same starting gate as the Barrymore-Diaz-Liu effort.

Terminator 6 or 24: Day 5?

Terminator: Dark Fate has bombed at the box office, and hopefully this third failed attempt to launch a new trilogy will be the end of that nonsense for the forseeable future. By the grace of God I did not have to review it, but I would have had no compunction in mentioning its opening shock while doing so. One of the frustrations of reviewing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was that the ending by dint of being the ending was considered unmentionable by good manners, even though it was an ending which made pigswill of much of the entire movie and it seemed Tarantino was deliberately taking advantage of such good manners in an act of tremendous bad faith. However, Terminator 6 in the opening minutes made an artistic decision that, once I had heard it as a rumour, struck me as entirely plausible given its similarity to the equally obnoxious opening of 24: Day 5. Denis Haysbert famously refused to return as President Palmer just to be killed off after mere seconds in the opening scene as a shock to launch the season until he was guilt-tripped into it by being told the entire season had been written around it. In retrospect he says he should have held out. That decision, to kill Palmer, was indicative of how Day 5 was going to lose its way to the point that I simply stopped watching; abandoning a show I had loved from its first episode on BBC 2 in 2002. The end of 24: Day 4, with Jack walking away into a hopeful sunrise after a phone call of mutual respect with President Palmer, was the perfect ending, for both those characters and for the show. But then the show had to keep going because money, so those character arcs were ruined, and, indeed, Day 1 of 24 (saving Palmer from assassination) became a complete and utter waste of time, and all emotional investment in his character over subsequent seasons was also a waste of time. Bringing back young Edward Furlong in CGI just to kill him off in the opening minutes of Terminator 6 was equally bone-headed. Suddenly the first two Terminator movies, the classics, were now a complete and utter waste of time. The last minutes of Terminator 2, which must rank among the greatest endings in cinema, were old hat to the eejits behind Terminator 6. If you want to make a mark on something you’re new to, it’s inadvisable to wildly antagonise all the fans who are the reason there is something for you to be a new writer or director to in the first place. If you want to create new and exciting characters, you have to write new and exciting characters, not just kill off important and beloved characters as if that magically and automatically made your new ciphers equally important and beloved. Tim Miller and Manny Coto. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.

Music based on themes originally whistled by…

To return to the catastrophic egomania of Elizabeth Banks you wonder if the situation was always doomed with her as director/producer of if a decent screenplay that she couldn’t have screwed up too badly could have been wrung from her pitch had she not donned that hat too, taking it upon herself to rewrite the shooting screenplay as her first ever screenwriting credit. The upcoming Harley Quinn movie is a paragon of the absurd idea that only women can now write for women. (As a corollary Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers would no doubt be surprised to find their creations Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey cancelled for the sake of consistency.) But even if you grant that absurd premise it doesn’t follow that this particular woman ought to write Charlie’s Angels. Off the top of my head I can think of seven screenwriters whose work I have enjoyed greatly over the years who might have done a splendid job had Banks stopped hiring herself for every job: Marti Noxon, Jane Espenson, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Moira Kirland, Melissa Rosenberg, Stephanie Savage, Diane Ruggiero. It might be objected that their experience is largely on the small screen. Yes, it is. But Banks had no writing credits on any screen.

From the Archives: American Gangster

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

In 1970s America, narcotics agent Richie Roberts works to bring down the drug empire of Frank Lucas, who is smuggling pure heroin into the country in military coffins returning from the Vietnam.

The black Goodfellas this is not. Ridley Scott is hailed on this film’s posters as the director of Gladiator. He’s also the director of GI Jane, Kingdom of Heaven and A Good Year to name just three of his super-turkeys from the last decade. This film has his usual striking visual quality, it’s very murkily lit and NYC looks very grimy and cold indeed. But American Gangster lacks energy, the analogy with Goodfellas practically screamed at us by the end sequence only reminds us just how dazzling Scorsese’s frenetic direction of that film really was. Such lethargy renders this film grotesquely long, the sort of running time that makes you keenly aware of absurdities, like why are all the hookers cutting Frank’s drugs topless or naked? It’s eventually lamely explained but it seems part of a drive by Scott to get as much gratuitous female nudity in to the film as he can manage. Is this Good Luck Chuck?!

Denzel Washington is as bad as he’s been in Inside Man, Out of Time, and all the other dreck he churns out while retaining a baffling reputation as a great actor. Russell Crowe, in a role with surprisingly little screen time, fares slightly better but despite playing a character of great professional integrity and personal dishevelment he looks like an actor going through the motions rather than exploring the possibilities of the part.  Josh Brolin, so good as the crazed Dr Block in last week’s Planet Terror, is much more committed as repellent bent cop Detective Trupo. The amount of police corruption portrayed in this film is really quite depressing. Scott uses it, in an effort as misguided as John Boorman’s attempts with Martin Cahill in The General, to valorise Frank Lucas. A psychopathic killer who pays lip service to taking care of Harlem while getting the whole borough hooked on cheap, potent heroin? Either pick someone else to mythologise or get a better scriptwriter.

Oscar-winning writer Steven Zaillian (an award the trailer boasts about far too much) won for a film Aaron Sorkin did an uncredited dialogue polish on while his previous film for Scott was co-written with legendary playwright David Mamet. His directorial debut, last year’s All the King’s Men which he also wrote, abundantly proved that, along with his problems with writing memorable dialogue, Zaillian has no idea of pacing. This story is just not interesting enough to sustain its bloated length while characters/plot devices like Carla Gugino’s shrill wife (divorcing Crowe’s emotionally distant cop) never convince as real people. The trailer for Charlie Wilson’s War, written by Aaron Sorkin precedes American Gangster and painfully highlights the utter vacuity of Zaillian’s dialogue in a film which all concerned obviously believe to be epic and meaningful but which is nothing of the sort.

1/5

From the Archives: The Jane Austen Book Club

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Following her husband’s decision to end their marriage Sylvia’s friends console her by starting a Jane Austen book club and trying to set her up with its sole male. Romance at the club though takes a familiarly Austen twist.

Sometimes bad books are the best ones to adapt. I remember this book getting slated on its release for having the temerity to include Jane Austen in the title when it was mere frothy chick-lit. Well guess what? In the hands of Little Women screenwriter Robin Swicord, who also directed, it becomes as refreshing as a cappuccino. This film is not going to win much critical acclaim for startling insight but its darned enjoyable and that’s a high achievement. Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) is distraught at her philandering husband ditching her after a speech in which he seems to imply he deserves a medal for staying married for 20 years. Her single friend Jocelyn (Bello) sets up a Jane Austen book club, which will read one Austen novel each month, and invites a younger man she meets a dog breeder’s conference to join. Her plan is to set him up with Sylvia. In a riff on the plot of Emma Jocelyn is blind to her own feelings and when, after Grigg has done everything in his power to woo her, he starts to show interest in Sylvia she gets jealous.

Mario Bello and Hugh Dancy are the heart of the film and both give winning turns. Emily Blunt though steals the show. She gives a tremendous performance as Prudie, the buttoned down daughter of a hippie, who is fatally attracted to a flirtatious student as she falls out of love with her good ole boy husband. This is a world away from her hilarious scene stealing in The Devil Wears Prada. Her performance here is very controlled as she brilliantly conveys that Prudie is battening down a lot of passion in a desperate effort not to become her mother, who briefly appears in an over the top cameo by Lynn Redgrave. Prudie has fallen out of love with her husband Dean (Marc Blucas: Buffy fans still hate him for a short-lived role) who places his career before their marriage. She thus picks Persuasion, Austen’s novel about giving love a second chance, for her turn in hosting the book club.

The highlight of the film comes as Blunt has a very LA Story moment when about to make a calamitous decision with Kevin Zegers’ tempter student. In a scene sound-tracked by Aimee Mann’s terrific ‘Save Me’, a traffic-light starts to flash ‘What Would Jane Do?’ at her. Silly but sweet, and the happy endings that occur are all the sweeter for being somewhat unexpected. No higher compliment can I pay this film than to say its depiction of the power and emotional insight of Austen’s Persuasion has made me eager to go out and get an Austen book I never read.

3/5

From the Archives: Beowulf 3-D

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

The warrior Beowulf arrives to kill the monster Grendel, who is terrorizing King Hrothgar’s court. Killing Grendel enrages his demon mother, who made a deal with the treacherous Hrothgar, and Beowulf’s actions unleash a dragon.

Robert Zemeckis’ film of the Old English epic poem is a visually amazing triumph, which you should see in 3-D for full impact. There is a tracking shot which turns into an outrageous pull-out from Hrothgar’s hall, across the landscape, to Grendel’s cave. Hilariously this is more or less a tale of violence caused by noisy neighbours, as Grendel’s super-hearing is driven wild by the raucous celebrations at Hrothgar’s feasting hall. This film provides a deep down and dirty portrayal of Dark Ages bawdiness, especially in the salacious songs of the warriors and Anthony Hopkins’s startling performance as the lecherous drunken King Hrothgar. All of which makes Beowulf radically unsuitable for children. Zemeckis is after all Spielberg’s protégé and takes equal delight in seeing just what he can and cannot get in to a 12A film. The motion capture technology Zemeckis used in The Polar Express has been vastly improved (characters’ eyes are no longer soulless) and Zemeckis, who was always visually inventive, wows with the physically impossible shots it allows him achieve.

Hrothgar’s call for a hero to kill Grendel is answered by the warrior Beowulf. Killing Grendel is the easy part though as Beowulf discovers that Hrothgar was Grendel’s father. He had been seduced by a temptress demon who now wants her way with Beowulf. That popping sound you hear is the noise made by the imploding heads of Professors of Old English the world over. Screenwriters Neil Gaiman (Stardust) and Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction), who worked on the screenplay for nearly a decade, have based their script on the idea that Beowulf is an unreliable narrator. Which it must be admitted is a compelling justification for re-telling a tale that dates from around the 8th century. Their version is filled, in the spirit of the original campfire telling, with over the top butch moments of heroism. Beowulf’s battles with sea-monsters and the climactic showdown with the dragon have moments which rival 300 for ridiculous machismo. The changes also tie together the three disconnected battles of the original in a more satisfying fashion while academics will be mollified by all Grendel’s dialogue being in Old English.

Crispin Glover’s portrayal of Grendel as a tortured half-demon, half-human outcast is quite touching and nicely counterpoints Ray Winstone’s cockney bellowing as Beowulf. Angelina Jolie appears, startlingly, full frontally nude but she’s a water demon and has some archly minimalist scales on her breasts so that’s okay. Hmmm, all I’ll say is that she’s suspiciously more photo-realistic than some other characters. This version of Beowulf was dogged by suspicions of style beating substance but Zemeckis justifies this approach by combining budget blowing spectacle (such as the dragon fight) with quiet moments between characters, and adhering to the poem’s spirit.

4/5

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 4:24 pm

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