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 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?

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.

August 31, 2020

Tenet

Christopher Nolan’s much anticipated new film is an intricate and satisfying puzzle piece housed in a less satisfying blockbuster frame.

John David Washington is the protagonist who has a mysterious close shave with a bullet that seems to whip out of woodwork and away from him during a terrorist siege of the Kiev Opera House. Shortly thereafter Martin Donovan informs him that he has been recruited for an international mission involving Robert Pattinson’s British agent that will take them from Mumbai to London, Oslo to Tallin, and deep into the cold heart of Siberia trying to unravel the secrets of Kenneth Branagh’s vicious Russian oligarch arms dealer. An uneasy alliance forms with Branagh’s estranged wife Elizabeth Debicki, as Washington and Pattinson try to understand why an arms dealer is able to anticipate all their moves as if he already knew them, and why ‘inverted’ bullets may be the least of their worries as a wider more sinister conspiracy unfurls itself.

And so to ‘inversion’… Time travel, but not really time travel. If you liked cult Ethan Hawke flick Predestination then you will like this. If talk of closed loops, grandfather paradoxes, and the like makes your nose bleed then you will not like this. Nolan’s script features the same deeply satisfying feeling as Interstellar and Dunkirk when a piece of the puzzle slots into place and you understand that there was more going on than you apprehended first time around. But this satisfying feeling is surrounded by the scaffolding of a blockbuster that doesn’t truly stand tall when the scaffolding is kicked away. Crashing a large airplane into a building for real is great fun to watch, and the chase with cars driving inversely on a freeway is also entertaining, but there is no true knockout punch of a sequence.

Some of this is because this is less fun than Inception, almost as if Tom Hardy and JGL’s roles had been collapsed into one and Robert Pattinson (rediscovering his inner Cedric Diggory) couldn’t possibly deliver both those notes at once. Some of it is because this has less heart than Interstellar, with the Debicki/Branagh dynamic not humming as it ideally should as the emotional motor of the movie. Nolan regulars Hoyte van Hoytema and Nathan Crowley are present and correct but the largely Northern European settings are neither as crisply shot as one might expect nor as intriguingly designed; indeed the finale recalls the crumbling Russian industrial hellscape from Hobbs & Shaw. Jeffrey Kurland provides some notably sharp suits and elegant dresses for the ensemble, but Hans Zimmer’s replacement Ludwig Goransson struggles to impose himself with any truly memorable motifs.

Tenet does not reach the hoped for heights, but it is devilishly clever and always absorbing; one wonders if perhaps making it on a smaller scale, more noirish, less blockbusting, might have been wiser.

3.5/5

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 5, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXI

As the title suggests, so forth.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; I must whirl about like a dervish, to dub it merely bad a disservice

I’d heard enough mutterings about OHMSS being a great Bond film to start questioning whether I had in fact been wrong when I watched it in the late 1990s and thought very little of it. So I watched it again on ITV 4. No, it really is awful. In fact embarrassing is the mot juste. There is a level of professional incompetence that takes the breath away. It’s directed by Peter Hunt, the editor of the first five Bond movies, who was 2nd unit director on You Only Live Twice. It’s edited for him by John Glen, uncredited second unit director on The Italian Job and future director of all the 1980s Bond movies. How can these two men’s footage be so jarring and awful when working together? ALL the fistfights are dreadful. It’s almost as if Hunt arrived in with no properly shot action footage at all, just random shots that did not match up in choreography or angles. And so they just edited like billy-o with what little they had to create the facsimile of a fight with unintentionally funny sound effects.  John Barry’s OHMSS theme is majestic in David Arnold’s 1997 re-orchestration, but here is blighted by eccentric instrumentation, which I consider the musical equivalent of Lazenby’s casino appearance literally wearing Austin Powers’ frilly shirt. Who thought either touch was a good idea? How did the costume designer so often leave Lazenby looking like a beanpole when suited? Why do the corridors and interiors of luxury hotels not look remotely plush? Did Ken Adam’s absence cause an explosive decompression in classiness? The air of slapdashery even extends to Bond’s car! There are the baffling executive decisions: recasting Blofeld from Mitteleurope-accented scarred Donald Pleasance to American-accented unscarred Telly Savalas, throwing out continuity with the last film so Bond having met Blofeld in the last film now has a ‘Is everybody here very stoned?’ moment of not recognising him, and, perhaps most damaging of all, revoking Roald Dahl’s license to improvise with a vengeance. Adapting Fleming’s novel faithfully may have sunk the film. The dinner with Blofeld’s girls could have come straight from a Carry On movie, and the romance between Lazenby and Diana Rigg is never remotely convincing; not least when the movie forgets her for about half an hour and then has 007 propose to her about four scenes after he’d made plans to again bed two girls and add a third to the roster.  Imagine how devastating the end of this film would be if it had been Sean Connery and Honor Blackman at the end of Goldfinger, that’s how badly wasted it is on these two ciphers. How this is being given the critical rehabilitation shtick blows my mind. I can only assume that Christopher Nolan’s fondness for OHMSS is based not on the merits of the actual movie but on some sort of fever dream in which he’s mashed up Diana Rigg’s wit and athleticism as Mrs Peel from The Avengers with action scenes from Where Eagles Dare and loved that movie. … … To be honest as I think about it…. Where Avengers Dare sounds like a movie I’d pay good money to see.

When shall we big screen again?

As we begin yet another final extension of Status Burgundy, with our inner boundary maven now measuring 5km from home instead of 2km, we at last have a date set in stone (sic) for the re-opening of cinemas – August 10th. Set in stone insofar as all of this great five phase plan could be chucked at the first sign of trouble. And, as noted hereabouts before, whether anybody shows up on that date is another matter entirely, and even if people do show up in droves they won’t be allowed in in droves as the 50% (at best) capacity for social distancing will once again come into play as it did in the desperate days of mid-March. Will cinemas anymore than restaurants remain going concerns if forced to operate at half-tilt (or less) revenue and full-tilt (or more) expenses for an extended period of time? Who can tell…

Cameron Diaz retired?!

Oops… Seeing a recent interview in which Diaz expressed her lack of interest in returning to acting took me back to the end of 2009 when Brittany Murphy died, and it only became apparent in retrospect that something had gone badly wrong with her film career after 2005. The fact that her movies kept premiering on TV for another three years after her profile dimmed at cinemas kept her artificially in the public eye. So it was that as Diaz’s turns in The Green Hornet and The Counsellor kept popping up as staples of late night programming, and her 2014 films Sex Tape, Annie and The Other Woman trundled onto television, that I didn’t notice there were no new Diaz films. Even as I was writing before Christmas about the star wattage of the original Charlie’s Angels it didn’t strike me that Diaz was actually now a retired film star rather than just someone who probably had something new coming out sometime.

October 6, 2019

Notes on Joker

Joaquin Phoenix’s turn in Joker was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Todd Phillips gets by with a little help from his friends; Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Alan Moore and Frank Miller. No joke, Joker will frequently leave you with your jaw on the floor as ideas, scenes, camera moves, style and sequences are lifted from other, better films. If you have seen The King of Comedy or Fight Club or House MD you will be getting some severe deja vu. Joker is grimly impressive, from Mark Friedberg’s decrepit production design modelled on the awful appearance of NYC of the mid 1970s, to the artfully framed and held cinematography of Lawrence Sher imitating to a tee the work of Michael Chapman, Jeff Cronenweth and Wally Pfister, to the oppressive score from Hildur Gudnadottir which adds featured drums and horns to the Zimmer dissonant strings approach to the character. But all these production values can’t hide the emptiness of this enterprise. You show nothing of your own work Todd Phillips, how this film won a Golden Lion at Venice is amazing, as Marshall MacLuhan might say.

Listen here:

September 29, 2019

From the Archives: Death Proof

A dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up an exasperated review of a Tarantino film I think of as Riding in Cars with Bores.

Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) uses his death-proofed stunt car to murder a group of women in Texas. When he attacks again though, in Tennessee, he meets his match in the form of two stuntwomen…

I was a Taranteenie. I was 13 when Pulp Fiction came out which put me slap bang in the demographic thus labelled by The Sunday Times. My secondary school life in an all-boys school was filled with people reciting Tarantino dialogue, talking about the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs (which no one had actually seen) and listening to his super-cool soundtrack albums. Thing is Tarantino disappeared after Jackie Brown in 1998 and damn if us Taranteenies didn’t grow up. For fractured non-linear approaches to narrative we turned to Christopher (Memento) Nolan. For self-consciously stylish long takes and fixed camera directing we looked to M Night (Unbreakable) Shyamalan. When Quentin reappeared with Kill Bill we realised that he hadn’t grown up too, he’d regressed. Death Proof has so little emotional maturity it’s scary to think that a 44 year old man thinks it’s worth his while directing something this lightweight.

The first hour of this film is utterly appalling. Imagine being trapped somewhere and having to overhear three girls conduct a preposterously boring conversation about sex while one of them infuriates the others with irritatingly obscure pop culture references. Tarantino’s foot fetish has a justification in the context of this being a parody of exploitation cinema, and it does pay off with a wonderfully gory FX shot, but it’s starting to become just an annoyance, like his other trademarks, and not a little bit creepy. The only good thing about this first story is the slow introduction of Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike as once again Tarantino coaxes a revelatory performance from a faded star. The story of Mike’s second murder spree is much better as Zoe Bell steals the show…as herself (oh the in-jokery). Stuntman Mike is utterly unprepared to have the tables turned on him by two stuntwomen and the car-chases that follow are undeniably thrilling and go some way to redeeming the waste of Tarantino’s talent that we have hitherto endured.

Tarantino’s 2005 CSI special (effectively an 80 minute TV movie) shows he still has talent to burn, but only when he’s challenged. For CSI he had to tell a story in 80 minutes, on a low budget and within censorship restraints, and his response was suspenseful and emotional. Given licence by the Weinsteins to do whatever he wanted he has created here a folly that the term self-indulgent can’t even begin to adequately condemn. If you want to see everything that this film does not feature; female characters who are witty, assertive, sexy, smart as hell and tough as nails and don’t come across as just sad male fantasy; I seriously suggest that instead of going to Death Proof that you just tune into RTE 2 on Thursday nights and watch Veronica Mars.

2/5

July 28, 2019

Notes on The Current War

The late 19th Century duelling engineers drama The Current War was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Benedict Cumberbatch adds another name to his roll call of Sherlock Holmes, Alan Turing, and Dominic Cummings, playing another character with poor social graces and a conceited regard for their own high ability. Except that in this instance of course Thomas Edison is wrong. Simply wrong. As Michael Shannon’s George Westinghouse puts it if Edison gets his way and insists on direct current being the standard used then America will become a checkerboard of power plants as Edison constructs one every square mile because he refuses to use the superior system of alternating current. The film doesn’t hold back from how unpleasant Edison was in blackguarding Westinghouse’s AC because he lacked the mind necessary to solve the problem of its high voltage. The man, who once worked for him, possessed of that mind was Nikola Tesla; played here by Nicholas Hoult, and used sparingly, almost as if, like the Nolans with The Prestige, Tesla can only be a minor character in a film because there really is simply too much of the wizard about him.

Listen here:

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.