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.

September 4, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LIX

As the title suggests, so forth.

A Blacklist Darkly

Well, that was … unexpected. The unintentional season 7 finale of The Black List aired on Sky One last week. And it was half-live action, half-animated. Not at all the expensive rotoscoping over live action of A Scanner Darkly, but clearly that was at the back of someone’s mind as they tried to figure out how to finish the story with the remaining dialogue being phoned in by the actors, and a limited budget to render them and their environments accurately. Leading to such wonderful innovations as little title cards telling us the narrative and emotional import of the facial expressions of the animated characters when there was no time or money to actually make the avatars tell the story that way. One hopes that this approach is not going to catch on…

Golfgate, moral hysteria, and No Deal Brexit

Imagine a world where nobody in the media was allowed to use Twitter or report on Twitter. Imagine a world where government did not respond clumsily and frantically to frenzies whipped up by the tiny fraction of very loud people who use Twitter. In this world the Cork Examiner might still have taken out Dara Calleary, a target that remains highly suspicious, but not Phil Hogan. Instead the Twitter-led moral hysteria brigade have excelled themselves, and Phil Hogan is gone. Now nobody should cry over the end of Phil Hogan’s political career. The man was a boor of long standing and his disastrous quango Irish Water will outlive him. But to go now. For attending a dinner that was perfectly legal. As the Atlantic reported yesterday the rich in America are saving oodles of money because they have nowhere to go right now. If functions which separate people into groups of less than 50 and give them different exits, entrances, and toilets, are to be verboten because somebody might go mental on Twitter – who benefits? The hotels that cease to host such functions and shut down? The staff who cease to work such functions and go home? This is the self-defeating performance of austerity in another guise: where a billionaire decides not to buy a new yacht for fear of it being seen in a poor light, and a number of yacht-builders go on the dole because of the optics. So… less than 6 weeks to go until a deal needs to be ready to present to a top level EU gathering to approve Brexit with an actual trade deal. And the EU has no Trade Commissioner. And whoever comes in, with less than 6 weeks to appoint someone, will be totally clueless as to their brief as opposed to being on top of it from being there all thru the Brexit farrago. Good Job Everyone!!! A satisfying bout of righteous crucifixion during the silly season, and, well, come January, when we will be battling the flu season, the seasonal spike in patients on trolleys in hospitals, a surge in coronavirus as we all stay indoors without any preparation for proper ventilation, and probably another total lockdown we look forward to the final kibosh: 3 weeks of empty shelves, and an eternity of higher prices thereafter, as No Deal Brexit arrives like a tonne of bricks and all our imports from England become hugely expensive, and all our supplies perforce must come thru France at greater uncertainty and therefore a new model of supply chain management involving the resurrection of warehouses which don’t come for free, we can all content ourselves with the knowledge that the Bad Man Was Made Quit and that makes it all okay.

You really mean that this Spotify list is so highly classified you damn people would kill to keep it a government secret?!

Spotify these 60 songs for a 70s mood

Edwin Starr – War // Talking Heads – Life During Wartime // Blue Oyster Cult – Don’t Fear the Reaper // David Bowie – Station to Station // David Shire – The Taking of Pelham 123 theme // Led Zeppelin – Kashmir // Lou Reed – Sweet Jane live // Boston – More Than a Feeling // Iggy Pop – The Passenger // Bob Dylan – One More Cup of Coffee Before I Go // Creedence Clearwater Revival – Who’ll Stop the Rain // The Beatles – Across the Universe // Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water // Arvo Part – Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten // The Doors – Hyacinth House // Bob Dylan – Tangled Up in Blue // Blondie – One Way or Another // Roxy Music – Love is the Drug // Talking Heads – Psycho Killer // Creedence Clearwater Revival – Up Around the Bend // The Doors – LA Woman // Lynyrd Skynyrd – Freebird // ABBA – Voulez-Vous // David Bowie – Starman // T-Rex – Children of the Revolution // Kansas – Carry On My Wayward Son // Alice Cooper – School’s Out // Blondie – Heart of Glass // Stevie Wonder – Superstition // The Rolling Stones –Brown Sugar // The Clash – London Calling // Pink Floyd – Us and Them // Led Zeppelin – The Rain Song // Creedence Clearwater Revival – Have You Ever Seen the Rain // Bob Dylan – Shelter from the Storm // John Lennon – Imagine // Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody // The Doors – Love Her Madly // ABBA – S.O.S. // Blondie – Call Me // The Kinks – Lola // The Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen in Love // The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again // John Williams – Jaws theme // David Bowie – Life on Mars // Van Morrison – Moondance // The Band – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down // Lou Reed – Satellite of Love // John Williams – Superman march // David Bowie – D.J. // Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised // Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side // Talking Heads – Memories Can’t Wait // David Shire – All the President’s Men finale // Glen Campbell – Rhinestone Cowboy // ELO – Mr Blue Sky // John Williams – Star Wars march // Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven // The Knack – My Sharona // The Sex Pistols – Pretty Vacant // ABBA – Waterloo

November 2, 2009

The Men Who Stare at Goats

George Clooney’s writing partner Grant Heslov directs his collaborator in an adaptation of British journalist Jon Ronson’s book, which, while consistently amusing, never becomes the laugh-riot we had hoped for concerning American military attempts to weaponise (non-existent) psychic powers.

Goats does though at times recall the Peter Cook sketch involving Lord Streebling who had been training ravens to fly underwater for decades but when asked by Dudley Moore’s reporter how many ravens he had actually successfully taught to fly underwater sheepishly replied ‘Ah, none’. Clooney as Lyn Cassady in 2003 Iraq endlessly talks up his awesome psychic powers to Ewan McGregor’s credulous newspaperman Bob Wilton then does something brutally violent before explaining how he just achieved his objective predominantly by mental means.

In flashbacks it’s another story entirely, as Wilton isn’t around to fact-check… These flashbacks to the 1970s and 1980s contain by far the funniest sequences in the film as Cassady’s mentor Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) bruised by his experiences in Vietnam, and a baffling near-death vision, investigates various New Age movements as a research mission and then tries to train an army unit to use their gentleness as a weapon – it’s like watching The Dude taking over David Mamet’s The Unit… Cassady joins Django’s unit and learns to dance, which (naturally) leads on to finding kidnap victims using remote viewing as his mind soars over the planet to the strains of Boston’s More Than a Feeling.

There are good gags dotted throughout the film like Wilton’s annoyed response to some training by Cassady: “‘Attack’ me” “What’s with the air-quotes, like you think I’m only capable of ‘ironic’ attack?” What’s most interesting though is that Heslov and Clooney have used Ronson’s book to make a film which is really about the American/capitalist tendency to militarise and/or crassly commercialise everything so that even positive discoveries invariably turn sinister or inauthentic. Kevin Spacey as Larry Hooper represents this dark side of the force as an ambitious recruit to the unit who aspires to lead a full on psychic warrior division. Cassady, under pressure from Hooper, does in fact kill a goat by staring at it till he makes its heart stop but in doing so the Jedi Warriors (as the New Earth battalion are known – have a good laugh at McGregor being an ex-Jedi, now stop) turn to the dark side, and they are cursed from that moment on for having misused their powers.

The film’s insane finale in a secret army base in Iraq would feel at home in both MASH and Inglorious Basterds as it outrageously rewrites recent history with a more positive version of American liberty. It’s while watching this final sequence that it hits you Heslov’s point is really just Hunter S Thompson’s 1971 musing on “what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon”. Amen to that.

3/5

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