Talking Movies

March 21, 2016

Mo Names, Mo Problems

THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, Mos Def, 2005, (c) Touchstone

THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, Mos Def, 2005, (c) Touchstone

INT. THE FREGOLI HOTEL BALLROOM, LOS ANGELES-NIGHT

 

TITLE: SPRING 2015

 

DANNY McBRIDE, SETH ROGEN, EVAN GOLDBERG, and DAVID GORDON GREEN are sneaking outside, with questionable tobacco products hanging out of their pockets. As they approach the French windows Green veers off to one side to scoop up another glass of champagne from a table. The others continue on. Green then sees an entire tray of cocktail sausages being neglected. As he munches his way through the sausages a man on the far side of the ballroom observes him. MOS DEF, for it is he, stops talking to KANYE, squints at Green, and then roars across the ballroom.

 

MOS DEF: D.G.!

DG GREEN: (choking on cocktail sausage) Mos!!

MOS DEF: (looking annoyed, oblivious to Green’s choking noises) It’s not Mos.

DG GREEN: (coughs up half a sausage into his glass) It’s not?

MOS DEF: No, man, it’s not been Mos for three years and counting.

DG GREEN: Oh!

MOS DEF: DG, man, what exactly do I have to do to get a meeting with you?

DG GREEN: Huh?

MOS DEF: I tried like hell to get Our Brand is Crisis!

DG GREEN: You did?

MOS DEF: Uh, Yeah! I musta called your office a hundred times!

DG GREEN: I don’t remember that.

MOS DEF: Well, then you need a new secretary.

DG GREEN: What?! No way, no way! Janelle’s incredibly efficient. Delaney vouched for her. Well, I mean Delaney’s secretary Janine vouched for her.

MOS DEF: Well, if she ain’t telling you Yasiin Bey on the line then she ain’t that efficient.

DG GREEN: Yasiin Bey?

MOS DEF: Yeah, Yasiin Bey. As opposed to Mos Def, which I’ve not been using as a name for three years and counting, like I said earlier.

 

CLOSE ON: David Gordon Green’s pupils dilate.

 

INT. GREEN’S PRODUCTION OFFICE, LOS ANGELES-DAY

 

The camera observes JANELLE at her desk on one side of the split-screen, and on the other half DG GREEN at his desk, scribbling on storyboards, which he throws away in frustration when his phone rings. He punches the button for speakerphone.

 

TITLE: 5 MONTHS BEFORE PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY ON OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

 

JANELLE: A Yasiin Bey is on line 1.

DG GREEN: Don’t know him. (hangs up)

 

TITLE: 4 MONTHS BEFORE PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY ON OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

 

JANELLE: Yasiin Bey on line 1 again, he really wants to talk about the role of Ben.

DG GREEN: That’s nice. (hangs up)

 

TITLE: 3 MONTHS BEFORE PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY ON OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

 

JANELLE: Yasiin Bey on line 1 again. He wants to know if you have time for a lunch at The Fregoli, he has some great ideas for the role of Ben he wants to run past you.

DG GREEN: (stunned, then outraged) Who … the hell does this guy think he is?! (hangs up)

 

TITLE: 2 MONTHS BEFORE PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY ON OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

 

JANELLE: Yasiin Bey on line 1 again, sir. He says he’ll give you a soundtrack song for free if you just give him a chance to audition like anyone else.

DG GREEN: Well now we’re finally getting somewhere! He can have a chance to audition like anyone else because he is anyone else. Does he have an agent? Delaney? (hangs up)

 

TITLE: 1 MONTH BEFORE PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY ON OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

 

JANELLE: Yasiin Bey on line 1 again, sir, and, sir, Janine connected him to me.

DG GREEN: Oh! (reflects for a moment) It’s going to have to wait. I’m meeting Anthony Mackie in a half an hour. I don’t have time for any new people right now. (hangs up)

 

INT. THE FREGOLI HOTEL BALLROOM, LOS ANGELES-NIGHT

MOS DEF: Yo! DG! Anybody in there? You’re doing that thing with your eyes from Fantastic Mr Fox. Some kind of memory bells ringing?

DG GREEN: (stops doing that thing with his eyes) No…

MOS DEF: Well… So much for that.

DG GREEN: Yeah, sorry man. (turns to scoop the soggy half sausage out of his glass and eat it without Mos seeing) … … So, uh, Yasiin Bey?

MOS DEF: Yeah.

DG GREEN: Why?

MOS DEF: What do you mean why?

DG GREEN: Why the change of name? Did you convert to Islam?

MOS DEF: Did I convert to Islam?! Yeah, DG, I did convert to Islam. Twenty-sumpn’ years ago!

DG GREEN: Oh.

MOS DEF: You are unbelievable. Do you ask Snoop that every time he changes his name?

DG GREEN: Well he never changes it very much. If you’re not called Mos Def anymore, how will people know who you are?

MOS DEF: How will… How will people know who I am?! Do you recognise me, standing here in front of you, talking to you? I ain’t changed into a different person! Do you think nobody knew who Muhammad Ali was when he changed his name? All that’s different is I got a name now that reflects who I am now. (several beats) You’re doing that thing with your eyes again, man.

DG GREEN: Sorry I was just thinking about Snoop calling himself something reflecting who he is. Snoop M-Jane. Like a play on the Beach Boys song–

MOS DEF: I got the ‘Sloop John B’ namecheck, thank you, and you got Snoop on the brain.

GREEN: You’re the one who brought him up!

MOS DEF: Look, a man in his forties should not be carrying a moniker like Mos Def around. Can you imagine me hitting 50 and still basically being called ‘Aw Yeah!’?

DG GREEN: LL Cool J seems happy.

MOS DEF: (several Pinter pauses pass by) Do not compare me to LL Cool J. I will drown you in a jeroboam of champagne and sample your death-rattle as a bass track.

 

DG Green gulps audibly, and grabs another glass of champagne from a passing waiter, he then grabs the waiter and pulls him back to grab a second glass. He drinks both, and then nervously smiles at Mos Def.

 

DG GREEN: Look, Mos…

MOS DEF: Don’t … call me Mos! Come on, man! Make the effort.

DG GREEN: Oh! Sorry, my bad. Um, yeah, so, look, um. … … … … …

MOS DEF: (sighs) Did you seriously just forget my name in the middle of a conversation about my name?

DG GREEN: No! No. It’s … uh. … … (snaps fingers) Dante.

MOS DEF: No, that’s the name I was born with.

DG GREEN: Wait, of course, it’s, uh, uh, … … Terrell!

MOS DEF: No. That’s the middle name of the name I was born with. I can see why you’re such a good fit for directing stoner comedies…

DG GREEN: Hey! That was uncalled for. I’ve got a mortgage to pay. Look I am sorry about the whole Our Brand is Crisis mix-up, but, uh, look, have you booked a movie since you changed your name?

MOS DEF: Oh what the hell, DG? I’ve been in Life of Crime and Begin Again since I changed my name. People respect those movies, even if nobody saw them.

DG GREEN: Yeah, but had you booked them as Mos Def before you changed name?

MOS DEF: (several Pinter pauses) What are you trying to say?

DG GREEN: Could it be that people don’t know it’s you when you ring?

MOS DEF: Are you saying you remember me ringing you?

DG GREEN: No, no, I was just … running with your example. If people don’t know that, when you ring, maybe you could do like Prince…

MOS DEF: I am not introducing myself as The Actor Formerly Known as Mos Def.

DG GREEN: Maybe just have a symbol to go with Yasiin Bey?

MOS DEF: If I’m going to have conversations like this every time I get a meeting I think I’d just rather retire.

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March 16, 2016

Sing Street

Writer/director John Carney builds on his American debut Begin Again’s success with another funny can-do tale of musical swashbuckling, this time set in 1980s Dublin.

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Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a rich kid whose cosy private school adolescence comes to a crashing halt when parents Robert (Aidan Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) announce an austerity drive. A fish hopelessly out of water at Synge Street CBS he is viciously bullied, but after being befriended by entrepreneurial fixer Darren (Ben Carolan) he meets aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) and ascends the pecking order at school after forming a band to impress her. Older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) provides sardonic mentoring while multi-instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna) provides the musical foundations over which Conor, soon renamed Cosmo, lays lyrics about Raphina. Cosmo increasingly clashes with school Principal Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley) as the band ‘Sing Street’ become increasingly disruptive in their appearance and attitude. But will Conor’s increasingly ambitious efforts be enough to stop Raphina emigrating to London?

“But is there a difference between liking a thing and thinking it good?” – Brideshead Revisited

Bridey’s question is extremely pertinent for Carney’s movie. The original music is great, especially the band’s first song ‘The Riddle of the Model’. Carney’s script is very funny, and Reynor is on terrific form as the stoner older brother. But this feels like a backward step from Begin Again on a number of fronts. Reynor’s character is almost a mash-up of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Zooey Deschanel’s roles in Almost Famous, and, though Sing Street captures elements of the period perfectly; school exercise books, constant smoking; there is also an air of total fantasy (doubly odd in a film which so obviously wants praise for its grittiness) which has Brendan as its focal point. He’s almost a time-traveller from 2015 landed in 1985 in the social critique he lays on his parents’ marriage and the Christian Brothers’ ethos. His dismissal of Genesis makes a nonsense of his affection for Duran Duran, and then you realise his taste is temporally inconsistent. Brendan ought to be agonising over whether Bowie, Springsteen and The Clash have sold out on their latest albums, and avidly listening to The Smiths and REM, not watching Top of the Pops. And then there’s U2… Never mentioned, never listened to, in 1985 Dublin.

Raphina never convinces as a real person, she is merely an object of desire, and the film has so little interest in Conor and Brendan’s sister; especially her reaction to their parents’ separation; that you wonder why she’s there at all. But while the female characters fare poorly, compared to Conor and Brendan, they’re not alone. Ngig (Percy Chamburuka) is also sidelined, and Larry (Conor Hamilton) and Garry (Karl Rice) are interchangeable comic relief. Sing Street’s set-up recalls The Inbetweeners but pretty boy Cosmo, living in a three storey house, is not likeable. He humiliates the school bully; fully aware said bully is a victim of abuse; and aggravatingly ‘rebels’ against Brother Baxter; who has to contend with regular students’ violent behaviour without Cosmo’s New Romantics nonsense; with Carney stacking the deck by creating an uncomfortable unfounded expectation of molestation.

Sing Street is an entertaining film made with much confidence, but that doesn’t excuse its many puzzling artistic choices and the most ridiculous ‘upbeat’ ending since The Way Back.

3.5/5

January 27, 2015

Top Performances of 2014

As the traditional complement to the Top 10 Films, here are the Top Performances of 2014. The refusal to isolate single winners is deliberate; regard the highlighted names as top of the class, the runners up being right behind them, with also placed just behind them. They’re all superb performances.

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Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) Arquette’s character grows older but not wiser, instead we see her becomingly increasingly brittle as even she realises that she’s sensible about everything except her romantic choices.

Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) Forming a great double act with Ben Affleck, Coon broke out from theatre with a glorious turn as his twin sister– the foulmouthed and spiky voice of reason.

Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) Lawrence was perhaps too young for the part, but she played it with such comic panache that her sporadic appearances energised an overlong film.

Runners Up:

Maggie Gyllenhaal (Frank) Gyllenhaal was pitch-perfect as scary obscurantist Clara, with wonderful nuance in the slow reveal of how such off-kilter music bonds her and Frank’s damaged and isolated psyches.

Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar) Foy was bright, furious, and resentful, and blew Jessica Chastain off the screen as the younger iteration of their character, the indomitable Murph.

Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave) Paulson’s casual brutality towards slaves was deeply shocking, but her horror at being replaced sexually by a slave subtly underscored her menace.

Also Placed:

Amber Heard (3 Days to Kill) Parodying her hyper-sexualised persona (The Informers) Heard, in leathers and wigs, flirted with burlesque girls and sexualised both driving fast and injecting medicine.

Joey King (Wish I Was Here) Pitted against Zach Braff’s glibly sarcastic agnosticism the sincerity of King’s adherence to Jewish faith, language, and cultural identity blew him off the screen.

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Best Supporting Actor

Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) His character’s drugs spiral, even as his friendship with Ron becomes beautiful, was extremely moving, with his fierce commitment extending to deliberately ravaging his appearance.

Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) His vicious bible-thumping alcoholic was terrifying, but also complex; slaves are either sub-human or masters are guilty, and Epps is self-destructing from mercilessly exploiting his slaves.

Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) Hawke physically filled out in a career-best performance of serious comedy as deadbeat dad whose rebelliousness was an affectation thrown off for mellow acquiescence with the world.

Runners Up:

Andrew Scott (The Stag, Locke) Scott was their sole highlight: his Locke vocal performance exuded excitability and exasperation, while Davin was a man fatally wounded by romantic rejection being tortured some more by his ex-girlfriend.

Killian Scott (Calvary, ’71) His Calvary misfit Milo was dementedly funny in rambling frustration, and he so transformed into ruthless IRA leader Quinn that he seemed not only older and tougher, but almost taller.

Zac Efron (Bad Neighbours) Efron’s previous subversions of his image were nothing next to this jackpot: his squeaky clean looks have never been put to such diabolical and hilarious use.

James Corden (Begin Again) Corden not only frequently gave the impression that he was ad-libbing great comedy moments, but also that he was improvising Knightley into unscripted corpsing bonhomie.

Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) Bautista took what could have been a tiresome running gag and instead by dedicated deadpan made utter literalness to the point of insanity infinitely unexpected and hysterical.

Also Placed:

Adam Driver (What If, Tracks) Sparring against Mackenzie Davis and Daniel Radcliffe in What If he was highly amusing and occasionally sagacious, and was both funny and adorably awkward in Tracks.

Gene Jones (The Sacrament) He was patently playing Jim Jones, and turned the charisma up to 11 for a TV interview that was so mesmerising it explained Father’s cult of personality.

Mandy Patinkin (Wish I Was Here) Patinkin brought deep humanity and biting humour to his wise, religious father disappointed by his glib, agnostic son but delighted by his bright, devout granddaughter.

Tyler Perry (Gone Girl) The man can actually act! And as celebrity defence attorney Tanner Bolt he transformed the oily character from the novel by bringing palpable warmth to the part.

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Best Actress

Keira Knightley (Begin Again) Knightley sang rather well, but not only did she carry a tune she also carried the movie with a return of her old confidence. Maybe all that’s needed to restore the old swagger is James Corden ad-libbing her into improvising so she forgets her stage-fright.

Mackenzie Davis (We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, What If) Her What If wild child was oddly reminiscent of Katy Perry, albeit interpolated with Daisy Buchanan, and was strikingly different from her reserved bookworm subtly using her wits to escape a noir nightmare in We Gotta.

Runners Up:

Rose Byrne (Bad Neighbours) It’s always a joy when Byrne gets to use her native Australian accent, and she swaggered with such foul-mouthed comedic assurance that at times Seth Rogen became her foil as the sensible one in their marriage.

Agyness Deyn (Electricity) Deyn was a commanding presence. She grabbed with both hands this defiant character, who wears short dresses and fluorescent jacket; drawing the eye to a body covered in cuts; and had no vanity in showing these effects of seizures.

Also Placed:

Juno Temple (Magic Magic) Temple reprised some elements of her naïf in Killer Joe, though thankfully she was less over-exposed here, and made her character’s steady descent into insomniac madness chillingly plausible.

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Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) McConaughey’s physical commitment to the role was jaw-dropping, initially rake-thin before then wasting away before your eyes to harrowing effect. Initially unsympathetic, he patiently revealed the hidden softer side which engaged Dr Eve, and beautifully developed an unlikely and most affecting friendship with Rayon.

Runners Up:

Daniel Radcliffe (What If) Radcliffe is sensational as the hero who’s crippled romantically by his traumatised desire to act ethically. A Young Doctor’s Notebook served notice of his comedy chops, but combining uncomprehending deadpan and dramatic sharpness this was a comic role of unexpected substance.

Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again) It’s hard to imagine anyone else, save 1973 Elliot Gould, pulling off this role quite as well. The Ruffalo exudes immense shambolic charm, shuffling about in scruffy clothes, doing permit-free guerrilla location live music recording that would make Werner Herzog proud.

Dan Stevens (The Guest) The Guest is a high-risk gamble that would fail spectacularly if its leading man was not on fire. Luckily for all concerned Stevens burns a hole in the screen with a Tom Hiddleston as Loki level performance – playing scenes tongue-in-cheek serious as the charismatic helpful stranger.

Also Placed:

Ben Affleck (Gone Girl) Affleck as an actor too often contentedly coasts, and (even when gifted zingers as in Argo) acts as a still centre. But, with Fincher pushing him with endless takes, he was fantastic as the hapless everyman; who we root for despite his flaws.

Pal Sverre Hagen (Kon-Tiki, In Order of Disappearance) The imposing Norwegian perfectly captured old-fashioned grit, naive enthusiasm, and quiet heroism as Thor Heyerdahl, and then played crime-lord The Count as an epically self-pitying vegan equally stressed by divorced parenting with his ex-wife, and a nasty turf war with Serbian mobsters.

January 12, 2015

Top 10 Films of 2014

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(10) X-Men: Days of Future Past

Bryan Singer triumphantly linked X-ensembles as Wolverine time-travelled from a Sentinels-devastated future to 1973 to prevent Mystique assassinating Bolivar Trask and being captured by Stryker. X-2 vim was displayed in Quicksilver’s mischievous Pentagon jail-break sequence, J-Law imbued Mystique with a new swagger as a deadly spy, and notions of time itself course-correcting any meddling fascinated. The pre-emptive villainy of Fassbender’s young Magneto seemed excessive, but it didn’t prevent this being superb.

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(9) The Guest

Dan Stevens was preposterously charismatic as demobbed soldier David who ‘helped’ the Peterson family with their problems while director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett riffed on Dominik Moll and Stephen King archetypes. Wingard edited with whoops, Stephen Moore’s synth combined genuine feeling with parody, ultraviolent solutions to Luke (Brendan Meyer) and Anna (Maika Monroe)’s problems were played deliriously deadpan, a military grudge-match was staged with flair: all resulted in a cinema of joyousness.

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(8) Mystery Road

Writer/director Ivan Sen’s measured procedural almost resembled an Australian Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Aaron Pedersen’s dogged Detective Jay Swan battled official indifference as well as suspicion from his own community as he investigated an Aboriginal teenager’s death. Strong support, from Tamsa Walton as his estranged wife and Hugo Weaving as a cop engaged in some dodgy dealings, kept things absorbing until a climactic and startlingly original gun-battle and a stunning final image.

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(7) In Order of Disappearance

Nils (Stellan Skarsgaard), snow-plougher and newly-minted citizen of the year, embarks on a killing spree when authorities deem his son’s murder an accident. Nils’ executions accidentally spark all-out war between the Serbian gang of demoralized Papa (Bruno Ganz) and the Norwegian gang of self-pitying and stressed-out vegan The Count (Pal Sverre Hagen). Punctuated by McDonaghian riffs on the welfare state and Kosovo provocations, this brutal fun led to a perfectly daft ending.

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(6) Frank

Director Lenny Abrahamson loosened up for Jon Ronson’s frequently hilarious tale of oddball musicians. Domhnall Gleeson’s Jon joined the band of benevolent melodist Frank (Michael Fassbender wearing a giant head) and scary obscurantist Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Great comedy was wrung from Jon viewing writing hit music as a means to fortune and glory, but then affecting drama when music was revealed as the only means by which damaged souls Frank and Clara could truly connect.

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(5) Begin Again

Once director John Carney delivered a feel-good movie as Mark Ruffalo’s desperate record executive took a chance on a guerilla recording approach when he discovered British troubadour Keira Knightley performing in a bar. The Ruffalo was on glorious shambling form, and was matched by an exuberant Knightley; who in many scenes seemed to be responding to comic ad-libbing by James Corden as her college friend. Carney was surprisingly subversively structurally, perfectly matched Gregg Alexander’s upbeat music to sunny NYC locations, and stunt-casted wonderfully with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine as Knightley’s sell-out ex.

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(4) Tom at the Farm

Xavier Dolan’s wondrously ambiguous thriller saw Tom (Dolan) bullied by his dead lover’s brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), into keeping Guillaume’s sexuality hidden from mother Agathe (Lise Roy); but exactly why Guillaume had elided Francis’ existence, and why Francis needed Tom to stay at the remote Quebec farm, remained murky. Dolan showed off subtly; the lurid colours getting brighter during an ever-darkening monologue in a bar; and flashily; expressionistly changing screen format during violent scenes; and deliriously; a transgressive tango on a nearly professional standard dance-floor unexpectedly hidden in a barn.

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(3) Gone Girl

David Fincher turned in a 2 ½ hour thriller so utterly absorbing it flew by. Ben Affleck’s everyman found himself accused of murdering his icy wife Rosamund Pike. Only twin sister and spiky voice of reason Carrie Coon stood by him as circumstantial evidence and media gaffes damned him. Fincher, particularly in parallel reactions to a TV interview, brought out black comedy that made this a satire on trial by media, while, from fever dreams of arresting beauty to grand guignol murder and business with a hammer, making this material his own.

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(2) Dallas Buyers Club

Quebecois director Jean-Marc Vallee drew incredibly committed performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in this harrowing drama. McConaughey wasted away before our eyes as Ron Woodroof, an archetypal good ole boy diagnosed with HIV, who reacted to his terminal diagnosis with total denial before smuggling drugs. Leto matched McConaughey’s transformation as transvestite Rayon, who sought oblivion in heroin, even as he helped Woodroof outwit the FDA via the titular group. This was an extremely moving film powered by Woodroof and Rayon’s friendship, beautifully played from initial loathing to brotherly love.

boyhood

(1) Boyhood

Director Richard Linklater’s dazzling technical achievement in pulling off a twelve-year shoot was equalled by the finished film’s great heart. The life of Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) from age six to eighteen in Texas with mother Patricia Arquette, sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and weekend dad Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) was followed in seamless transitions with teasing misdirection and subtle reveals. Child performances that began in comedy grew thru shocking scenes to encompass depth of feeling. Hawke gave a wonderful performance of serious comedy, Arquette grew older but not wiser, and Linklater was richly novelistic in revealing how surface facades belied the truth about characters and personality formation defied self-analysis. Watching Boyhood is to be wowed by life itself; your own nostalgia mixes with Mason Jr’s impressively realised youth.

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