Talking Movies

April 18, 2018

Any Other Business: Part XV

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

His Faults Are Legion

Decorum is important. So is the stylistic and aesthetic goal of urbanity. One might go so far as to call it an ethical goal too. But then Legion season 2 hoves into view… I had never seen any of Noah Hawley’s Fargo TV show, but I tuned into season 1 of Legion because it starred Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza, who have featured prominently hereabouts in best acting nods. 3 episodes in, my notes were: “great verve with music, offbeat as hell, style to burn – literally nothing has happened”. That was a fair judgement. Because, despite highlights such as Plaza shouting “Unhand the reptile, space captain!”, this is an FX show where the only FX are the cable logo. It’s like all the money for action was spent on the pilot, and Hawley was left wondering how to hide its absence for the remainder of the episodes. His solution? Take Wes Anderson’s X-Men to heart, apparently. Almost zero content was hidden with funky stylistic affectations, endlessly repeated scenes, and an industrial quantity of psychobabble. When you see as many analysis and interrogation scenes as in this you can be sure something has gone badly wrong in the writers’ room. This is a show pretending to be deep and smart that is in fact entirely empty, and incredibly slow-moving and boring. Even Dan Stevens’ charisma wilts under the strain, Plaza alone remaining undimmed by the tedium to the end. And then there’s the pretension to high art and social conscience with the ‘treatment of mental illness’. … The only reason this show exists is because he does have superpowers. Pretending that it’s a serious treatment of schizophrenic delusions is tacky and almost irresponsible. I will not be watching season 2 because I have rarely seen a show disappear up its own arse so quickly. Sherlock at least took three seasons. Apologies for failures in decorum and urbanity.

 

Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC

“I could wear a hat!”

Among the many pleasures of Blindspot is Ennis Esmer’s recurring character of Rich Dotcom, hacker supervillain turned hacker supervillain on a tight leash. Rich has managed in season 3 to pull off to a degree what he proposed in season 2 when he memorably pitched the set-up of The Blacklist to the Blindspot characters, with himself in the Red Reddington role of supervillain CI; hence his desperate final gambit as he was led back to prison – “I could wear a hat!” Rich’s misadventures this season have included getting sidetracked from stopping an arms deal by live-snarking Boston’s new boyfriend, outwitting Reade’s insistence he not go to a hacker party by insisting a secret meet with an unwitting criminal happen at said party making it a work event, where there just happen to be high quality pharmaceuticals on tap, but he’s sniffing because the carpet is activating his allergies. This is the kind of stress for which you might put in a request for a therapy llama, to say nothing of the fear that leads you to keep a bag of clean urine strapped to your leg at all times. When you have as lunatic a character as Martin Gero has created, “You’re using JFK against me?! He was way sluttier than I am!!” it is wise to use him sparingly; as that kind of lunacy at the centre of a show would turn the whole show as mad as if Brian Finch on NZT was-

 

Brian Finch on NZT maketh a show as mad as he

It Never Got Weird Enough For Limitless

I caught the The Bruntouchables episode of Limitless on RTE 2 last night, not long after star Jake McDorman was interviewed eating al fresco in Cork by an RTE presenter apparently unaware this charming American was an actor. The sheer barrage of whimsy, madness, and fun that is Limitless made me recall what in retrospect seems a huge blunder that at the time was not obvious at all. On its initial run on Sky the episode with Pulp Fiction style chapters following different characters ended on Hill Harper’s Boyle, and with minimal dialogue in these scenes we were instead given an Emma Thompson-Stranger Than Fiction-style voiceover about his activities. Unusual, but hardly crazier than most of the show’s conceits; after all shortly after my sketch about its creator Sweeny and Elementary show-runner Robert Doherty surreptitiously ghost-writing the end of Game of Thrones by recording a drunk George RR Martin, Limitless travelled to Russia and a key plot point was getting George RR Martin on the phone to narrate the end of Game of Thrones. It was only later that I suddenly wondered, what if there wasn’t supposed to be an Emma Thompson-Stranger Than Fiction-style voiceover for that final chapter? What if someone had accidentally turned on audio description while flicking switches to go to ad break? Stranger things have happened… But it says something for Limitless that something so bonkers could seem unremarkable.

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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.

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(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.

September 4, 2014

The Guest

Dan Stevens cuts loose from Downton Abbey in impressive style as the preposterously charismatic titular stranger who causes well-intentioned chaos.

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Clean-cut demobilised soldier David (Stevens) visits the Petersons at their rural home. He introduces himself to Laura (Sheila Kelley) as a member of her dead son’s army unit; tasked with delivering a personal message of her son’s love for his family. Laura promptly invites him to stay, against the protests of her husband Spencer (Leland Orser). Spencer, however, is soon won over by the polite veteran, who tackles the bullies tormenting his youngest son Luke (Brendan Meyer), and charms the friends of daughter Anna (Maika Monroe). Anna suspects David is not what he seems, despite her attraction to him after she’s forced by her mother to take him to a party. Following some puzzling incidents with her boyfriend Zeke (Chase Williamson) and friend Craig (Joel David Moore) she contacts David’s old commander Major Carver (Lance Reddick). Not a good idea…

Directed and edited by Adam Wingard from a script by Simon Barrett, your feelings towards their last collaboration You’re Next will likely determine your enjoyment of The Guest. I loved You’re Next and so regard The Guest as a triumph of joyous film-making from David’s opening cross-country running being interrupted by comically ominous music and title card font. Wingard loves editing scenes with an almost audible whoop; lingering moments with romantic music that should play on are unceremoniously cut short. As regards music, DP Robby Baumgartner makes the film look far glossier than its budget should allow, but Stephen Moore’s music is exceptional. His synth score wondrously combines genuine feeling with total parody, without losing impact, and Wingard even sets up two delightful moments of endogenous music. Sure, you’ve seen this type of story before, but not quite like this.

Wingard and Barrett seem to be riffing on Domink Moll’s Harry, He’s here to help every bit as much as American high-school horror archetypes from Stephen King. David’s solution to problems usually involves ultra-violence, but it’s played with such glorious deadpan that it becomes deliriously enjoyable, and Stevens gets priceless moments throughout. Bret Easton Ellis criticised You’re Next for its twist, and the twist here is a bit silly; but then it’s more or less reneged on, on grounds of illogic, so it doesn’t matter. And the end of this Hallowe’en sort of horror story is perfectly set up: a big showdown in a great location, with our heroine Anna (Monroe coming across as Gwen Stefani via Leelee Sobieksi) coming into her archetypal own as she tries to stay one step ahead of David and Major Carver’s escalating homicidal duel.

The Guest is a high-risk gamble that would fail spectacularly if its leading man was not on fire. Luckily for us all Stevens burns the screen with a Tom Hiddleston as Loki level performance.

4/5

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