Talking Movies

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.

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 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 8, 2020

20:20 on 2000

Donald Trump is a loser. A two-time loser in fact, depending on your point of view.

It’s strange to think that in 2000 a split between the electoral college and the popular vote had recently been depicted in The West Wing, and yet fiction seemed to be its proper place, whereas now it is a huge relief when the electoral college manages to actually coincide with the popular vote. What in 1992, when my class was following the fascinating three-horse election, seemed to be an endearing eccentricity of the Americans now stands revealed as a deep structural flaw. George Bush Jr was, initially, rightly sheepish about governing without the popular mandate. Donald Trump had no such qualms. Hell, even now he is trying to maintain that despite losing the popular vote again he is not a loser. He is a loser. On both counts. But the real loser is America. There is no chance that the electoral college will be consigned to the dustbin of history where it so richly belongs. Not when Republicans are bleating about America being a republic, not a democracy. It is a good thing none of these useful idiots were around in the 1950s to stymie Eisenhower’s farewell address – “We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow”.

September 30, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LXI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Donald the Impecunious aka Penniless Don Trumpf

“a formal discussion on a particular matter in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward and which usually ends with a vote”

Having been in two minds about staying up to watch the first Trump-Biden debate I ended up turning off after an hour, having tuned out around the half-hour mark, and watching the recording of the remaining drivel many hours later. Trump is, to take seriously the delirious title of George Sanders’ authorised biography, A Dreadful Man. By his own admission his achievements in four years are creating an economic boom (a lie), fixing the military (a lie), fixing the VA (a lie), and nominating lots and lots of midnight judges because Mitch McConnell can enable him. This he believes is better than the achievements of any other President in their first term. Lincoln freed the slaves. Jefferson purchased the Louisiana territory. Bested. But Trump is far too stupid to realise just how stupid he sounds when he boasts, which is all he ever does except whine about his endless and largely imaginary grievances. His behaviour last night was, incredibly, even worse than against Hillary Clinton in 2016. At times he resembled the voice of the teacher in Charlie Brown animations: blaw blaw blaw blaw blaw blaw blaw blaw. Constantly. Incessantly. Making remarks. Taunting. The kind of nonsense that one would expect of a profoundly dim school bully. Which of course is all this 74 year old man is. Sure, Biden could have done better. But, short of cutting off Trump’s microphone, how could anyone overcome his intentional disruptiveness? His white noise attack on Biden was his ‘Presidential’ modus operandi – make it impossible for anyone to think straight about anything with an endless stream of inane invective. Vote. Him. Out.

A cultural plan for the coming lockdown

Having digested the warnings that we will be subject to rolling lockdowns for six to nine months I am determined this time around to psychologically and emotionally master any new severe lockdown. I personally expect a mysteriously timed Level 1 at the end of December, that totally coincidentally allows for a Merry Christmas, followed by an immediate jump to Level 5 in January to try and undo the entirely predictable damage wreaked by *our complacency*. But this time around I feel I am prepared. I will not be psychically buffeted by the on/off stop/go/stop mixed signals. Each month starting tomorrow I will attempt to use YouTube to deepen my knowledge of a particular composer. October will be the King of Minimalism Steve Reich. November will be that English titan Benjamin Britten. December will see 2020 disappear in the romantic thunder of Sergei Rachmaninov.

August 26, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXV

As the title suggests, so forth.

I tell you R-Patz, I just can’t stop washing my hands lately. You’d think I’d been reading Heidegger or something.

The End of Cinema, or at least American-led cinema

And so Tenet is here. Eventually. The most anticipated summer blockbuster of 2020 might also be the only summer (or autumn or winter) blockbuster of 2020 that actually gets released in cinemas. But not in America. I am still tentative about venturing to a cinema for the first time since the coronavirus arrived, but it’s a dilemma. There is no such dilemma Stateside, because Tenet is not being released in America. In some senses this merely makes painfully obvious what was already to be gleaned from statistical analysis of say Transformers or Fast and Furious: major American movies make more money overseas than in America. But the risk, to simply cut off the American market and throw it away as unnecessary, is still breathtaking on the part of Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. And it seems, in this week of make-believe by Donald Trump that everything is rosy in the Rose Garden, that the pandemic has been defeated by his amazing leadership, that the roaring economy is now roaring again in a V shaped recovery, to take on an almost mythic cultural and political heft. The free world has given up on America providing any sort of leadership, and now even America’s own dream factory has given up on America. Americana still sells overseas, but the country itself is no longer a viable market.

There is an idea of a United States of America, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real country, only an entity, something illusory, and though it can hide its cold heart and you can see its flag-waving and hear its anthem deafening your ears and maybe you can even sense its values are probably comparable: it simply is not there.

Tarantino misreads 1960s television

When I returned home last August from watching Quentin Tarantino make shameful pigswill of reality with his nonsense version of the Manson Family Murders I watched the end of Kill Bill: Volume 2 randomly playing on TV and then turned on True Movies for their late night re-runs of The Man from UNCLE, and this only increased my annoyance with QT for also shamefully calumning late 1960s TV. Cinematographer Robert Richardson has noted that Tarantino deliberately included camera moves in the Western pilot that our hero Rick Dalton appears in that would have been utterly impractical for the era. Taken beside how he presents Rick’s appearance in the real show The FBI as a bad joke, you’d be hard put not to think that Tarantino is implying 1960s television was a waste of time. Which is odd given how he’s been perpetually circling a movie based on a 1960s TV show – Star Trek. The truth is that 1960s television was actually pretty good: The Prisoner, The Avengers, The Fugitive, The Man from UNCLE, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Thunderbirds, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, The Monkees, Batman, The Invaders, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Doctor Who, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Hogan’s Heroes, Rawhide, The Champions,  Land of the GiantsGilligan’s Island, Get SmartThe Munsters, My Favourite Martian, The Addams FamilyFlipper, The Flinstones, Joe 90, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and the MysteronsDad’s ArmySteptoe and Son. Ask yourself why pop culture would still be in thrall to so many of these shows if they were all a bad joke…

August 19, 2020

Status Captain Scarlet

Well, throw all the ship’s engines into hard reverse; we are now launched into an emergency lockdown again – let us call it Status Captain Scarlet.

Once again we are thrown back to the limits of where we can get to by shank’s mare. Buses and Luas are not to be used by the plebs. Confusingly cinemas and restaurants can still stay open despite a limit on 6 people rather than 50 gathering indoors. Does each cinema screen count as a separate indoor space in a multiplex? If gastropubs have been such a problem in spreading the virus why do they get an exemption from this new restriction? Having agreed to go see Tenet on August 31st, with some trepidation, I am now genuinely confused as to how that can go ahead even though it is seemingly permitted. I and many others are even more confused about why sports attendance is off. The virus is airborne and spreads best indoors; if you are outdoors the risk is less. 50 people chanting responses indoors at Mass cannot be safer than 200 people chanting outdoors at a GAA match. And how on earth schools are still scheduled to reopen in two weeks when 50 people can’t be allowed indoors together boggles the mind. Hovering over all of this bungled ‘it’s an emergency but not quite an emergency’ communique from the Government is the spectre of the Twitter mob. Are these restrictions actually necessary? Or are they a knee-jerk response from a cobbled together coalition that wants to be seen to be doing something after the Twitter mob went wild at the weekend? How many times does it need to be said that public health is rarely well served by public shaming…

May 15, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

SAVE BBC FOUR!

It was alarming to hear yesterday that Lucy Worsley and Janina Ramirez were starting a campaign to try and save BBC FOUR, after word leaked that the BBC was planning to let it disappear at the end of 2020 to save money. The BBC doesn’t need to save said money of course, it’s just the Tories maliciously toying with them in the way US Republicans toy with the US Postal Service. They object to it in principle and then set arbitrary and impossible targets to justify eliminating it in practice. Rather akin to Bogie in The Big Sleep complaining a goon will knock his teeth out and then gut-punch him for mumbling. And the real kicker is that losing BBC FOUR in 2021 means losing BBC FOUR from 2013 to 2020 too. Having lost JFK, Apocalypse Now, Die Hard, The Dark Knight and season 1 of Person of Interest to the difference between RTE 2 and RTE2 I know that all my recordings of the channel will disappear with it. And that’s a lot of recordings… To watch any of these recordings is to time-travel back to watching them with Dad since 2013.  Andrew Graham Dixon’s Art of China, several series and specials by Michael Scott on Ancient Greece, Hew Strachan’s The First World War, Robin Lane Fox’s special on the archaeological origins of Greek myths, the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s appearance on Jazz 625 in the 1960s, and a colossal amount of recordings from the BBC Proms including performances of Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and Isle of the Dead, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, Mark Simpson playing Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto, Jeremy Denk playing Bartok’s 2nd Piano Concerto, and Yo-Yo Ma playing all six Bach Cello Suites. To watch any of these recordings is to remember watching them with my Dad and also to recall the well nigh parodic amounts of workplace conversations I have been part of that began with somebody saying “I was watching BBC FOUR the other night, and there was this programme on—” I struggle to think of a greater act of wilful capricious cultural vandalism and intellectual hamstringing that could be perpetrated by a British government than the shuttering of BBC FOUR as a broadcast station. How has it offended? Telling the truth about the world, informing people? Boris ‘Bullsh-t and Bluster’ Johnson is of the party that has had enough of experts; it seems that the mere existence of objective truth now offends him, and must be plucked out. BBC FOUR exists largely because BBC 2 has abdicated its original mission. Coverage of the Proms, as Clemency Burton-Hill rightly lamented, is now largely a BBC FOUR affair. Even the venerable Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for children have been booted to BBC FOUR. If you deride and discard expertise, you end up with buffoonery bungling a plague.

That joke isn’t funny anymore

The Engineer, just before Christmas, muttered that some day he would watch The West Wing. Just probably not while Trump was President, as that would amount to self-inflicted torture… I opined that it might be better to watch it sooner rather than later, Trump or no Trump, because it took its cues from the world as it was at the peak of human civilisation in 1999 in a way that was becoming increasingly unrecognisable. Deals being made in Congress. Deals?! Deals being made across party lines? People being friends across party lines?! Conservative Democrats and Liberal Republicans? This was soon all going to be every bit as far-fetched as the need for three corroborating sources before publication in All the President’s Men. And then as I cycled again thru TG4’s re-runs I hit the ‘Stirred’ episode of season three. Oh boy… There had been a potentially a radioactive spill in a tunnel in Idaho. Bartlet jokes to Leo before taking a phone call from Boise that the Governor of Idaho wants to know what the radiation levels are, and he’ll say that he’ll tell him – but first give me all your electoral votes in the fall. Well, that joke doesn’t seem farfetched anymore given that Trump is deliberately sending more ventilators and PPE per capita to states with Republican governors that need them less than states with Democratic governors, boasting about ordering VP Pence not to call ‘the woman in Michigan’ and then lying about his own boast, and making it plain that unless governors flatter his insatiable ego they will not get the materiel they need to stop their citizens dying. Trump Delenda Est.

Objectivity for … some students!

Well, now. So Fine Gael having happily presided over the degradation of the Junior Cert on the arbitrary assertion of Ruari Quinn, a complaint hereabouts over the last four years, is abruptly unwilling to stand over the same procedure being applied to the Leaving Cert. Odd that. Remember the cutesy animation that ran in cinemas explaining why Ruari Quinn’s nonsense ‘reforms’ of the Junior Cert could only be opposed by heartless monsters equally opposed to learning and out of touch with the real world? It takes mere seconds to articulate the counter-argument against Ruari Quinn’s pet project. If you and your teacher are engaged in a profoundly active balance of terror do you really want that person marking all your work for three years, or would you prefer that your work be in the final analysis independently judged by somebody else, anonymously, and far away from the grudges of your school? Quinn’s folly was based on the syllogism that the Junior Cert needed reform, this was a reform, therefore it needed this reform; without ever articulating why the Junior Cert needed reform. Now it seems Fine Gael has belatedly realised predictive grading for the Leaving Cert would replace a system of blind meritocracy with an all too personal one obviously open to abuse, from both sides; teachers and parents. What finally made the penny drop? The threat of lawsuits from well-connected students expecting places in medicine and law? Or was it the many comedy sketches about vindictive teachers victimising their most unruly pupils? And so we have students promised exams that will be marked objectively.

Gaslighting and Masks

Well. I don’t know quite what to make of this. According to Beauregarde Hinkelmeister-Schmitt, a source usually as reliable as his name is not, it is an open secret among certain journalists that the Government ordered 100,000,000 cotton face masks some time ago and is waiting for them to arrive, hence their glacial progress towards officially admitting face masks are useful. The logic apparently being there’s no point demanding people wear them before we have enough – there’d only be panic and irritation as the shops emptied out. Also, they’re probably more useful as we relax the lockdown. However, the experience of face masks elsewhere suggests they’re useful from the very beginning. Hinkelmeister-Schmitt has perhaps been spinning a party line, in finding all sorts of ways to disparage the example of every country using masks in that fashion; the connecting logic being a fatuous —It wouldn’t work here. Well, cotton masks aren’t N95 PPE. Any old paisley bandanna will do the job. For all of Status Burgundy I wrapped a merino scarf around my face before I went on the dreaded late night shopping sortie. What makes me doubt that this can be true is that I just find incredible the idea that the ‘experts’ would denigrate mask wearing for 2 months and more, and then turn around and say — actually they are da bomb, and there’s one for everyone in the audience. Actually there’re 20 for everyone in the audience. Why would anyone ever again believe anything from the mouths of people who lied to them consistently while planning all the while to do the opposite of what they were saying? How you could possibly impose a second lockdown for a second wave in the autumn after such a breach of trust? I don’t think gaslighting the nation can ever be in the interest of the nation.

March 26, 2020

Zhang Yimou presents Tour de France 2020

The French sports minister’s suggestion the Tour de France could be held behind closed doors caused much confusion yesterday. But this was not a comment lost in translation, there is in fact advanced pre-production on the plan with a film director, writes B. Bradley Bradlee from lockdown in Hubei province.

The spectators this year will be animatronic, but their clothes and hair will be changed daily to fool the peloton.

Roxana Maracineanu’s statement at first appeared to be garbled, and then after clarification simply insane. The Tour de France is after all defined by taking place outdoors, and with or without spectators the peloton rides as tight as a flock of birds and social distancing be damned. But the plan is as logical as only the French could think. Social distancing will not be enforced because the riders, their teams, and their accommodation will all in fact already be quarantined – as the race will take place behind closed doors, on a proposed 60 acre soundstage in the south of France.

This would be 43 times the size of the 007 soundstage at Pinewood and is already at an advanced stage of pre-production, preparatory to Chinese military flying in for construction in a planned 10 days. A number of animatronic spectators are already being manufactured, with a bewildering array of costumes and wigs being sourced so that the peloton will believe them to be different each day. A small herd of goats will be installed on a mountain laid with real grass so that a sniper operating a zipline camera can recreate the effect of animals fleeing the noisy helicopter camera.

Zhang Yimou, acclaimed film director and maestro of the 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony, is masterminding this production. He is also on lockdown in Hubei province and spoke to us across the balcony. “This is for me like taking a theatre production on a cruise ship, you can’t go back for anything you forgot once you’ve started, so it’s high-stakes. Once the riders and their teams are in, that’s it. The ‘hotels’ better have all the rice and pasta they need…” We asked how the Tour would showcase France while indoors? “Huge greenscreen backgrounds, cutting edge! Real time footage of Provence”.

As well as complicated projections in the background for television, the physical space the riders travel thru will be something between an Escher staircase and a Victorian stage spectacle involving levers and pulleys. While unwilling to reveal details of how he would achieve an undulating terrain the director cackled, “The King of the Mountains will be as confused as he is exhausted by the end of this trek”. Apparently the French are resisting having Chris Froome mauled by a lion who will then be shot live on air. The director grumbled about Coppola being allowed to kill a water buffalo, and insisted that getting #ClaudetheLion trending on Twitter could only add to the publicity of the race. When pressed he admitted drinking an awful lot of green tea during this lockdown, but insisted the idea still had genuine artistic merit.

B. Bradley Bradlee is fictional editor emeritus of The New York Times. He is currently a quarantined roving reporter for the German weekly Die Emmerich-Zeitung.

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