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.

October 19, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to slice this film properly for ad breaks

It happens every time. Whether it’s on Channel 4 or Film4, every time Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is on the powers that be go to the first ad break at a moment that ruins the gag. Alec Baldwin is giving a vainglorious speech to Jeremy Renner about the awesomeness of the CIA, having just shuttered the IMF, and tells him “Set your watch, Brandt. Ethan Hunt is living his last day as a free man” – and then Channel 4 and Film4 go to an ad break. And when they return we are in a different location for an action sequence of the CIA attempting to catch Hunt. But the point is lost in this time away making tea in the kitchen – his last day as a threat should be instantly followed by a caption telling us that many months have passed; and that therefore Tom Cruise is very resourceful and Alec Baldwin has been shown up and is not at all happy. Do you see, it’s in the manner of being a gag?

Coronarithms killed the movie critic

In the absence of any actual cinema releases whither not just cinema but the critic of cinema? I would think that, stripping away all the many pretensions, the major function of the film critic is as a gatekeeper; entrusted with shepherding people away from wasting their money on bad films, and telling them what they might like to what degree from the alright good and great films. This function, though, is largely dependent on people going to the cinema rather than streaming. Streaming is a flat fee for a service you use as much or as little as you like, whereas a physical trip to the cinema is a one-off punt on something – and as the price of a cinema ticket here exceeds the monthly cost of Netflix it’s quite a gamble. But not only does a streaming service reduce the financial consequentiality of the choice of movie, it also makes it easier to drop something if it’s rubbish compared to even just the physical business of leaving a crowded cinema, and it uses such choices to tailor the dreaded algorithim toward your tastes. Some years back the Engineer made an off-hand comment that he had absorbed the biases and interests of his favourite film critic to a sufficient degree to be able to account for them and thus work out how far or if he would agree with his judgements. The Netflix algorithm dispenses with that. It knows you as well as you allow yourself to be known. And when Netflix pushes towards you its just-dropped release I doubt people look around for a critical consensus on it; they just glance at the names, see the algorithm at work, and click or do not click play. The whole equation has been changed – but only now does coronavirus make it plain by making Netflix the last game in town.

April 10, 2020

Top 5 Connery Bonds

As we now look forward to another 3 weeks of Status Burgundy, which by its sheer duration might be more appropriately thought of as Status House Arrest at this point, let us give thanks for ITV 4’s insistence on continually airing one of the crown jewels of 1960s cinema – the first five Connery Bonds.

5) Dr No

Joseph Wiseman’s titular Spectre agent is revealed late in the film with icy dinner party repartee and sets an impressive bar, as does Ken Adam’s first ever expansive supervillain lair. We see Bond’s home, something apparently forgotten by Mendes and Craig when it came to puffing up his minimalist flat in Spectre, and get some nice ruthlessness from 007: “You’ve had your six”. Ursula Andress’ memorable entrance as Honey Ryder rising from the sea set the marker for Bond girls’ glamour, but this is in retrospect a surprisingly grounded film with Bond doing some dogged detective work.

4) From Russia with Love

The second Bond film has no Ken Adam, busy creating Dr Strangelove’s War Room, but from the dashing title credits composer John Barry really starts to impose himself with his brass heavy, jauntily heroic secondary Bond theme. There is trade-craft aplenty but the action is a bit disconnected and notably bound to the location of Istanbul until the finale which pays homage to North by Northwest twice over with its espionage on a train and then a helicopter attack. Robert Shaw’s muscular psychotic and Lotte Lenya’s high-kicking Spectre supremo are hugely memorable as archetypal villains.

3) Thunderball

I have warmed to Kevin McClory’s Bond production in recent years. Ken Adam launched a thousand parodies with his modernist cavernous Spectre office, complete with lethal chairs, not to mention the Spectre agent du jour, eye-patched Emilio Largo, maintaining a pool for sharks to dispatch incompetent henchmen and MI6 gadflies. Claudine Auger’s Domino is a more than just a very pretty face, with a character arc climaxing in monumental brass. Elsewhere John Barry’s sinuously sinister descending woodwind motif conjures underwater intrigue before boisterously matching director Terence Young’s showy underwater battle and bravura carnival chase with Hitchcockian assassination attempt.

2) You Only Live Twice

The men in blue boiler suits versus the men in grey boiler suits as Stephen King put it. Ninjas versus Spectres: inside a VOLCANO. Ken Adam spent £1 million on the volcano set, complete with functioning monorail, gantry, lift, and full-scale rocket model. The next year Harold Wilson devalued sterling. John Barry created a suspenseful space march for Spectre’s extraterrestrial sabotage, as well as the signature use of his secondary Bond theme for Little Nellie’s helicopter battle. Donald Pleasance revealed to us at last the face of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, quipping from Roald Dahl’s fantasia.

1) Goldfinger

The most quoted exchange in all the Bond films; “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die”; sits among cinematic riches equivalent to Fort Knox. Ken Adam’s gargantuan and gleaming Fort Knox set, the garrulous Goldfinger and his lethal laser, the mute Oddjob and his lethal hat, Felix Leiter in the role of Triumph the insult comic dog. Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton and Tania Mallet are the knockout trio of English blondes in the series’ ‘traditional’ roles of the bad girl who dies, the good girl who dies, and the bad girl who lives. Sean Connery is in fine mid-season form as 007, matched by Blackman’s characteristic swagger; her Pussy Galore helping save the day when John Barry’s stirring Goldfinger march complements Guy Hamilton’s gorgeous direction, with more subtle push-ins and zoom-outs than Terence Young ever considered.

March 28, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLVIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Status … Burgundy

Drip, drip, drip… It seems best to describe where we are now as Status Burgundy. We can still leave our homes without a printed and signed permission slip so it’s not quite Status Red. Yet. But as with the drip, drip, drip feed of restrictions tightening like a vise there’s a lot of ‘yet’ in the air too. Why did we not move to this crisis status immediately on March 13th? Why the sustained refusal to admit that schools would not re-open on the 30th? Fears of ‘behavioural fatigue’? It’s not like we don’t know from the experience of countries preceding us in these dominoes how this works; if you are responding to the numbers as they spike you are already too late. Uncertainty is not something stock markets or citizens appreciate. Varadkar unbelievably decided to paraphrase Terminator 2 last night following his Churchill plagiarism last week, refused to call this a lockdown when being told to ‘stay at home’ (even emblazoned under the RTE logo today onscreen) is patently a lockdown, and unwittingly combined the worst elements of Trump and Modi’s addresses. We were given three hours notice not to stray more than 2km from the house or else. But Leo, outside of Dublin it might be more than 2km to the nearest food store. And so today, presumably after howls from outside the Pale, we have a ‘clarification’ that 2km is the straying radius for exercise, you can stray 5km to get yourself a burger.

SEAL Team: Havoc has Fallen

Jessica Pare’s burnt CIA analyst Mandy has been notably underused in season 3 so it was nice to see her unexpectedly get tactical alongside Blackburn and Davis as Havoc fell the other night on Sky One and impose herself on the action in her guilt-ridden determination to rescue her kidnapped asset. Her work the problem drive and firefight skills also gave new hope to shippers that Mandy and Jason should get together, despite the awesome kismet that exists in Emily Swallow as Jason’s partner Natalie; uniting as it does Supernatural‘s Amara with Buffy’s Angel. The use of drone photography on SEAL Team has been outstanding but season 3, especially the opening episodes in Serbia, has taken it to new heights. The fact that this story of Bravo getting roughed up in Venezuela has now revealed itself as a three-parter makes one compare this trio of episodes very favourably to most action films out there. I for one would take the thrilling and legible choreography of the action in these three episodes against the choppy nonsense of Mile 22 any day.

October 25, 2019

From the Archives: Rendition

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

An Egyptian man resident in America (Metwally) is the victim of extraordinary rendition to Morocco where a CIA agent (Gyllenhaal) ‘observes’ his interrogation. In Washington the man’s wife (Witherspoon) tries to find out what has happened with the help of a friend (Saarsgard), an aide to a key Senator (Arkin).

Oh My God, it’s Syriana: Part 2. Once again a small army of talented actors stand around waiting for someone to throw them some dramatic meat they can get their teeth into. And again with the baffling idea that constantly intercutting between nothing happening in four different stories is an artistically impressive substitute for developing any of those plot-strands. This film may have some use as a compendium of torture techniques, from water-boarding to electrocution via naked beatings, but if it’s meant to be anything other than a CIA training manual it fails badly.

The CIA does not torture people of course. It merely hands them over to people who will. Of course Jake Gyllenhaal’s Agent Freeman has a crisis of conscience as he ‘observes’  Fawal (Kojak lookalike Yigal Naor) torturing the unfortunate Anwar. Of course Reese Witherspoon runs up against a brick wall in Washington as Peter Sarsgaard is warned off by his Senator with the line “If you want to be the guy who never compromises, go join Amnesty International!” But the logic of the French General in 1960s classic The Battle of Algiers has become unnervingly convincing, if you want to beat an enemy this hate-filled you have to go to extremes too, or you will lose.

The tricksy structure of the film revealed at the end of the film is deeply pointless. At first as it’s telegraphed well in advance it seems like a leap into poetic metaphor for the cycle of violence, then you think that it’s flat out fantasy and makes a nonsense of the whole film, then you slap your thigh and go ‘By Gad Sir I get it!’ and realise that it’s still lame even though it makes sense. It’s also quite easy to miss if you’ve dozed off as is highly likely by that point. If you have nodded off on waking you should just point at the screen, mumble “You’re the Canadian” in a stoned manner, and leave. You won’t have missed anything.

1/5

February 14, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXIV

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a blog post proper? Why round them up and turn them into a twenty-fourth pormanteau post on matters of course!

The Valley of the Short

National Geographic’s Valley of the Boom has been an odd watch. Coming off the back of 4 seasons of The West Wing re-runs on TG4 it’s been quite nice to see Bradley Whitford in light suits walking around corridors again, but this time affecting a drawl and dispensing gnomic wisdom. Elsewhere it’s been fascinating learning about Facebook before Facebook in the shape of TheGlobe.com, but there’s no compelling reason this couldn’t all have been a documentary; even if that would mean losing Josh Lyman himself. Making it a docudrama is a baffling decision, and one which ‘creator’ Matthew Carnahan seems to have interpreted as license to war on the fourth wall to make sure we understand that what little drama there is is not as factual as the documentary surrounding it. Interestingly enough in light of Vice’s suffering the law of diminishing returns when employing the tricks of The Big Short the deployment of those self-same tricks here actually work reasonably well, and even include a musical number; something filmed for but dropped from Vice.

You Don’t Know Dick

All roads lead back to Vice… The more I’ve thought about Vice the more uneasy I am about it. McKay’s interest in Dick Cheney is that which animates all Presidential biographers – the years in the Oval Office. So why bother making a film about the years leading up to it as well, and not just zero in on those eight years? Those eight years, after all, are what really (and clearly) gets McKay’s goat. And yet Vice gallops thru them, offering Cheney’s infamous (and cheerfully repeated by myself and Emmet Ryan during writing sessions, explicitly mentioning that Vice-Presidential imprimatur) “Go F*** Yourself” to Senator Patrick Leahy, and his accidental shooting someone while hunting, almost totally decontextualised, purely because they had to be included; because they’d been fodder for the SNL writers, as McKay once was. The scene in which Cheney demands to see all intelligence, no matter how flimsy, is presented as his quest for a fictional casus belli to invade Iraq. I’ve been thinking though of how that scene could be written, with the same misgivings by the agency directors, and the same outcome, but an entirely different and equally plausible motivation for Cheney’s actions. The truth is that is possible for many scenes in Vice, because McKay always assumes the absolute worst of Cheney, usually in the absence of any information whatsoever. So try this on for size as reason for trampling the constitution beneath his feet:

CIA: There’s only one source for that, Mister Vice-President, that’s why it’s not included.

CHENEY: I want to see everything.

FBI: But, Mister Vice-President, we have to sift thru the intelligence to determine what’s credible.

CHENEY: Do you? Is that what you did when you dismissed as ‘racial profiling’ a flag on an Arabic man saying he didn’t need to learn how to land the plane, just how to fly it? 3,000 Americans are dead because we dropped the ball. We dropped the ball, and they died. So from now on I see EVERYTHING. I don’t care how ‘credible’ you think it is. I need to see EVERYTHING. We are not going to have another 9/11, not on my watch. Now get out of here, and don’t fumble the f****** ball again…

And now perhaps imagine how McKay would handle a similar scene involving President Obama justifying lethal drone strikes on American citizens without any due process.

 

Our long national nightmare is over

And once again with The West Wing re-runs on TG4, because Declan Rice’s statement last night contained a fatal phrase that immediately had me humming Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore ditty. I have felt, almost from the beginning of this will he/won’t he saga, that it was unseemly. And as it progressed I felt it was increasingly humiliating for us to be so desperately begging someone to play for us. Especially as he is ‘a proud Englishman’. Sing it!

But in spite of all temptation

To belong to other nations

He remains an Englishman!

November 5, 2018

From the Archives: Quantum of Solace

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up from the depths Daniel Craig’s pointlessly reviled outing; whose problems derive from the strike everybody knew about but affected not to.

Daniel Craig returns as James Bond in Quantum of Solace, which features a lot more action than Casino Royale. It doesn’t quite measure up to its mighty predecessor, but it does offer an intriguing re-invention of Bond’s 1960s foes.

The opening establishes that this is less the talk-talk-bang-bang formula of Casino Royale and more bang-bang-bang-BANG! The opening sequence is an incredibly frantic car-chase, after which we have to put up with the godawful Jack White song and sleazy silhouettes of naked ladies, but then it’s straight into the interrogation of Mr White, the villain Bond caught in the final scene of the last film. This scene features a shock so good it took me 20 minutes to get over it. 20 minutes of action as Bond travels to the Caribbean for a vicious Bourne style fist fight in a bathroom and a boat-chase. It really is surprising just how much action Marc Forster, the director best known for Stranger than Fiction and Finding Neverland, has crammed in here. He only comes unstuck with an aerial dogfight which comes perilously close to returning the franchise to Roger Moore style campiness but just avoids doing so, and only displays art-house leanings with a silent shootout in Vienna wonderfully sound-tracked only by the opera the characters have been attending.

The sheer preponderance of action over meaty drama though makes this film feel like a victim of the writers’ strike. Paul Haggis’ rewrite of the script was infamously delivered mere minutes before the strike began last year and it could have used more character beats, even though there are great unexpected moments throughout. There is an absolutely priceless gag involving Bond’s distaste for cheap accommodation amid many other quotable lines. The CIA is depicted as morally bankrupt, willing to turn a blind eye to any right-wing dictatorship’s human rights abuses if there’s a plentiful supply of cheap oil to be had, while a high-ranking member of the British Government is revealed as a member of Quantum, Haggis’ reinvention of super-villain organisation Spectre. The rights to Spectre are owned by Irish writer/producer Kevin McClory so Haggis has re-imagined Bond’s 1960s foe as a network of ex-spooks and shady businessmen and politicians. This film pays further homage to the 1960s with the death of a major character, a score which evokes the softer, and more sinister, moments of John Barry’s scores, and a desert lair in Bolivia which is pure Ken Adam in its set design.

Mathieu Amalric, a god of French cinema, is slightly underwritten as Quantum villain Dominic Greene but makes his ‘environmental philanthropist’, who’s secretly plotting to seize control of the natural resources of Bolivia, a worthy foe for Bond. Olga Kurylenko, who graduated from taking her top off in French films (Le Serpent) to taking her top off in Hollywood films (Hitman), miserably fails to escape the shadow of Eva Green’s Vesper. Her character has an intriguing back-story but the parallels between her search for vengeance and Bond’s search for closure evaporate due to her inert screen presence.  The best relationship is between M and Bond who develop almost a fraught mother/son bond by the end. Craig is once again magnificent as Bond; physical, but also offering glimpses of the inconsolable grief behind his driven pursuit of Mr Greene. This is a good film and well worth seeing, and the consistently brutal action combined with some clever conceits left unresolved suggest that Craig’s next Bond film may surpass Casino Royale.

3/5

May 12, 2018

Conspiracy Cinema at the IFI: Part II

The IFI presented a season of post-Watergate conspiracy cinema in June 2011, and now it’s having another conspiracy cinema season with a more European flavour. It’s rather appropriate that this German-flavoured season comes just as the GDPR comes into effect, as the GDR experience of surveillance and paranoia (that isn’t actually paranoia because they really are watching you) informs both the regulation and the season. These films reflect a time of political violence internationally by guerrilla groups and government militias, a feeling that anyone could be assassinated at any time, and the continual intrusion into private lives of shadowy forces.

 

Z

Saturday 12th May 2018
16.00

Costa-Gavras’ third feature made his international reputation, winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1970; and more importantly making it onto Barry Norman’s 100 Best Films of the Century. It was inspired by the killing of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963 and was a defiant artistic gesture against the Generals in Athens. “Any similarity to actual events or persons living or dead is not coincidental. It is intentional” it proclaims in its credits.

127 MINS, FRANCE, 1969, DIGITAL, SUBTITLED

THE DAY OF THE JACKAL

Sunday 13th May 2018
16.00

A right-wing paramilitary group plots to kill French President General De Gaulle in response to his belated granting of Algerian independence. There is only one man for the job, Edward Fox as the professional assassin known as The Jackal. Learning of the conspiracy, police inspector Lebel (Michael Lonsdale before Moonraker) is given emergency powers to conduct his investigation and a game of cat and mouse ensues, with Cyril Cusack playing a memorable part. High Noon director Fred Zinnemann’s amps up the tension in this suspenseful adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s 1971 novel, which was itself inspired by an actual 1962 attempt on De Gaulle’s life.

143 MINS, UK-FRANCE, 1973, DIGITAL

THE FLIGHT

Wednesday 16th May 2018
18.15

Dr Schmidt (Armin Mueller-Stahl) has had it. He’s had with the GDR, he’s had it with the Stasis, he’s had it with the bureaucracy that pretends to be running a functioning Communist state by its own lights but sets the price of grain based on the market prices reported from Kansas. So he seeks the help of an underground faction to escape to the west. Incredibly Roland Gräf’s film was actually made in East Germany,  bankrolled by the state-owned DEFA studios. Winner of the Grand Prix at the 1978 Karlovy Vary Film Festival, it was the last film Mueller-Stahl made before, in a touch of life imitating art, he bolted from East Germany to West Germany in 1980.

94 MINS, EAST GERMANY, 1977, DIGITAL, SUBTITLED

INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION

Saturday 19th May 2018
16.00

Director Elio Petri surfed the same zeitgeist as Dario Fo’s play Accidental Death of an Anarchist with this stylish black comedy of endemic police corruption in Italy. Gian Maria Volontè plays a respected police inspector who murders his mistress and then, oh joy, handles the investigation of the murder himself. Like a more satirical riff on Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window he begins to drop ever-more obvious clues that he dun it, but nobody wants to know… This won the 1917 Best Foreign Film Oscar, but more importantly it boasts a terrific Ennio Morricone score.

115 MINS, ITALY, 1970, DIGITAL, SUBTITLED

THE PARALLAX VIEW

Sunday 20th May 2018
16.00

Alan J Pakula’s 1974 thriller sees Warren Beatty’s journalist investigating the possibility that powerful corporation the Parallax Organisation was behind a political assassination allegedly carried out by a conveniently dead lone gunman, and then murdered all the witnesses to the truth. Production was affected by a writer’s strike, and it shows, but there is a notable use of sound, as well as a scene where Gordon Willis allegedly cast a huge shadow over Beatty’s hammy breakdown to stop him embarrassing himself. The dazzling and famous highlight comes when Beatty is subjected to a test to see whether he fits the criteria for maladjusted misfit that Parallax likes to use for its lone gunmen. You know, people like say Lee Harvey Oswald, or James Earl Ray…

102 MINS, USA, 1974, 35MM

STATE OF SIEGE

Wednesday 23rd May 2018
18.30

Costa-Gavras again, this time his follow up to Z in 1972 in which he drew attention to US meddling in the internal politics of their near neighbours. Yves Montand is Philip Michael Santore, a CIA agent advising an unnamed Latin American government on the best method of dealing with terrorists. Enhanced interrogation the euphemism is now. Kidnapped by the very leftist guerrillas he’s been training the state to subdue he gets a taste of his own medicine, as he’s used as collateral in a prisoner swap. Media hysteria ensues, and Costa-Gavras critiques the brutality of Kissinger’s realpolitik, propping up right-wing dictatorships to prevent the emergence of left-wing dictatorships.

120 MINS, FRANCE-ITALY, 1972, DIGITAL, SUBTITLED

THE LOST HONOUR OF KATHERINA BLUM

Saturday 26th May 2018
16.00

Released just a year after Willy Brandt was forced to resign as Chancellor, following the explosive revelation that one of his closest advisers was a Stasi agent; undercover for 20 years!; this spoke to West German fears of being completely destroyed by unwitting association. Angela Winkler is Katherina Blum, a maid who sleeps with an attractive man. And also a suspected terrorist, and so she finds herself accused in private and public of being a terrorist too. Not based on BILD, for legal reasons, this was an indictment of media rush to judgement, aided and abetted by out of control forces of law and order.

106 MINS, WEST GERMANY, 1975, BLU-RAY

THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR

Sunday 27th May 2018
16.00

Sydney Pollack shamelessly muscled in on Alan J Pakula territory with this post-Watergate slice of paranoia. Robert Redford is an unimportant CIA researcher Joe Turner who goes to lunch one day and is thankful that he did and had a long lunch because when he finally returns he finds everybody else in the office got shot. Kidnap a cute hostage (Faye Dunaway), fend off a European assassin (Max Von Sydow), unravel international global conspiracy that he’d accidentally stumbled on? All in a day’s work for a CIA desk jockey. Okay, maybe more than just a day, but still not bad for one unused to the field.

117 MINS, USA, 1975, BLU-RAY

KNIFE IN THE HEAD

Wednesday 30th May 2018
18.30

Angela Winkler again, this time playing the estranged wife of Bruno Ganz; who is Hoffman, another victim of wilful state character assassination. Hoffman is looking for his estranged wife when he gets caught in the suppression of a left-wing rally. He wakes up in hospital, partially paralysed and with severe memory loss. The police accuse him of killing one of their number, the left-wingers hail him as a victim of police brutality, he hasn’t a clue what happened. His attempts to figure out the truth lead to clashes with the authorities, and a grand metaphor for a country haunted by its violent past.

108 MINS, WEST GERMANY, 1978, 35MM

October 21, 2016

Keeping up with the Joneses

Director Greg Mottola returns to cinemas for the first time since Paul, but working with inferior material to his recent Rogen, Pegg, and Sorkin scripts.

kutj-gallery3

Jeff Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis) is an ineffectual HR drone who is genially disregarded by all the people with security clearance at major weapons manufacturer McDowell-Burton International. His wife Karen (Isla Fisher) is dissatisfied designing an absurd bathroom for obnoxious neighbours the Craverstons (being a largely wasted VEEP star Matt Walsh as Dan and Maribeth Monroe as Meg). As the Gaffneys agonise over how to utilise their sons’ time at summer camp to revitalise their marriage new neighbours arrive; the uber-stylish uber-sophisticated Joneses, Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie (Gal Gadot). Jeff is surprised at Tim, the travel writer who blows glass sculptures as a hobby, befriending him. But Karen grows suspicious that Tim and Natalie are actually spies, and when Jeff takes his concerns to MBI security officer Carl Pronger (Kevin Dunn), the Gaffneys enter the sinister world of ‘The Scorpion’.

What exactly is Greg Mottola, director of Arrested Development, The Newsroom, Superbad, Paul and Adventureland, doing helming this action-comedy? This is the comediocre terrain of hack auteurs like Shawn Levy or (shudder) Paul Feig. Mottola has some fun playing on the remarkable coincidence that Gadot & Hamm are both 7 inches taller than their counterparts Fisher & Galifianakis. There’s a lot of looming… It’s a treat to hear Gadot berating Hamm in rapid-fire Hebrew insults, but there’s not a whole lot else going on. Mottola shoots action with pleasing commitment to practical stunt-work, and throws in gleefully parodic action-hero slo-mo and hero shots of Gadot and Hamm, but the lack of any real driving comedic intent is almost metatextually reflected in Andrew Dunn’s cinematography being remarkably soft-focus; as if he was massaging out the cast’s wrinkles in Murder, She Wrote.

Michael LeSieur’s screenplay is a strange beast, and it’s hard to see what in it attracted Mottola. This film is obviously in debt to Mr & Mrs Smith, and even that had longueurs, but Keeping up with the Joneses lacks that movie’s over-arching sense of fun; which kept the wheels spinning when there were no actual jokes. Here LeSieur has very few actual jokes at all, and, in sending Jeff on trips to exotic snake restaurants with Tim, slips into what feels like a tip of the hat to David Duchovny’s intermittently interesting satire The Joneses; where perfect new neighbours are actually a guerrilla sales team. Depressingly early on you realise this is another major studio comedy that has tidy plotting and neat character arcs, and basically no jokes. When exactly did that approach to writing ‘comedy’ become conventional wisdom?

Keeping up with the Joneses just about holds the attention, but given the calibre of talent involved you just wonder how nobody noticed that it wasn’t actually … funny.

1.5/5

November 25, 2015

Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg returns with a true Cold War spy story that’s thankfully imbued with far more energy and clarity of purpose than his meandering Lincoln.

ST. JAMES PLACE

Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is a deep cover Soviet spy apprehended in Brooklyn in 1957, who is assigned as his counsel insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks); after some arm-twisting by Donovan’s boss Thomas Watters Jr (Alan Alda). Watters, and Donovan’s wife Mary (Amy Ryan) are soon surprised by the bond that develops between wry Abel and the stolid Donovan, and Donovan’s dogged determination to demand the rights promised by the Constitution be granted to an illegal alien from an enemy power. The Donovan children Peggy (Jillian Lebling), Roger (Noah Schnapp), and Carol (Eve Hewson) are as uncomprehending as Joe Public of their father’s actions. But when U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down in May 1960 Company man Hoffman (Scott Shepherd) brings Donovan to Allen Foster Dulles (Peter McRobbie) to be entrusted with a secret mission.

First off, history… English playwright Matt Charman’s screenplay was polished by the Coens, but in a BBC Radio 4 interview Charman didn’t mention Giles Whittell’s 2010 book Bridge of Spies. Perhaps it’d raise uncomfortable questions; like why Hoffman and Dulles tell Donovan their intelligence suggests the GDR is about to wall off East Berlin when the CIA, despite Berlin crawling with so many spies Willy Brandt derided it as grown-ups playing Cowboys and Indians, had no idea till secretly stockpiled barbed wire went up overnight. Also master spy Abel (Willie Fisher during his British adolescence) perfected his Brooklyn cover, as a retiree taking up painting, at the expense of actually spying. Despite prosecutorial fulminations he wasn’t charged with acts of espionage, because there was no evidence of any. And the arrest of Yale doctoral student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) is total melodramatic fiction; the Stasi were simultaneously extremely sinister and blackly hilarious. Their ineffectual interrogations of Pryor were True Kafka.

There are three moments in this tale spun from historical elements; a polite mugging, a pompous phone call, and a fake family; that are pure Coens, but this is Spielberg’s show. His visual storytelling is concise and expressive; especially the opening FBI pursuit of Abel, where we recognise Agents by glances, and Powers’ dismayed expression at his Moscow show trial, where a craning pull-out emphasises his isolation. Janusz Kaminski mostly reins in his diffuse supernova lighting to showcase Adam Stockhausen’s decrepit design, while Thomas Newman stands in for John Williams with orchestral flavours akin to Williams’ JFK score. Donovan’s line, “It doesn’t matter what other people think, you know what you did,” is the moral of the film, emphasised visually twice over. And his bloody-minded defence of the 4th amendment seems extremely pertinent when the 1st amendment is equally beleaguered.

Twitter lynch-mobs wouldn’t appreciate the nuance Donovan tries to impart to Judge Byers (Dakin Matthews) but Spielberg’s film is a call for decency over outrage that is alarmingly timely.

3.5/5

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