Talking Movies

January 13, 2020

From the Archives: Top 10 Films of 2007

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

[10] 300

Bloodthirsty, outlandish, stupid, just macho to the point of insanity and altogether great quotable fun. I don’t know if this film is objectively any good I just know it’s deliriously entertaining, especially if viewed from the perspective of Irish actor Michael Fassbender who romps his way through it.

[9] Control

Director Anton Corbijn made a fine film debut with this biopic of troubled Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. Control combined thrilling live music performances with kitchen sink realism. That mix between humorously observed period setting and a deep emotional engagement with a rock star’s normal life simply dazzled.

[8] I’m Not There

Deeply crazy not-biopic of Bob Dylan which reinvented a number of Dylan’s greatest songs by using different actors for different aspects of his career set against changes in American culture. Cate Blanchett was disturbingly accurate in her impression of Dylan touring Blonde on Blonde in England.

[6] 3:10 to Yuma

Hats off to director James Mangold who remade a Western classic and actually improved on the original. The acting is uniformly superb with the human substance of the story showing there’s space for drama as well as suspense and bloody gun-battles in the slowly reviving genre.

[6] Enchanted

A hilarious self-parody by Disney which threw their animated characters into the rather different conventions of New York City, this was joyful, sweet and damn near flawless. Everyone involved is clearly having a ball but James Marsden steals every scene he appears in and finally gets the girl.

[5] Hot Fuzz

Less of a straight parody than Shaun of the Dead, but far, far funnier. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s double act is a joy to watch and the rip-offs of Michael Bay and his ilk becomes ever more absurd and deliriously enjoyable as the action parodies escalate.

[4] Sunshine

Absolutely meaningless despite its promotional claims, this said nothing about the purpose of existence or religious belief. What it did do was offer a gripping white knuckle ride through an escalating series of catastrophes onboard a claustrophobic space-ship in the hands of a masterful director and committed cast.

[3] Transformers

The feel good hit of the summer was a Michael Bay film for people who hate Michael Bay and far funnier than anyone expected. The CGI robots were dazzling, the action unrelenting and Peter Cullen’s return as the voice of Optimus Prime heart-warming for all us 80s kids.

[2] Atonement

Pitch perfectly played by a terrific ensemble, this was an incredibly structured film that is among the saddest love stories which cinema has ever produced. Director Joe Wright proved through small details as well as the Dunkirk tracking shot that he is a coming force in British film.

[1] Zodiac

David Fincher’s gripping procedural epic followed three characters as they destroyed their lives in an obsessive hunt for 1970s San Francisco serial killer The Zodiac. Eschewing his usual Fincherisms for the most part this was All the President’s Men for a new generation, but with a serial killer.

December 22, 2019

From the Archives: Enchanted

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Disney does self-parody, and it’s awesome. Shrek is exposed as the under-achieving mean-spirited wretch it always was by Disney’s generous ribbing of their own fairytale animations. This is one of the best films of the year, in which the flaws (such as the hilariously confused message about marriage and romance) do not matter as they are mere quibbles beside everything that is done superbly. The cast is even littered with cameos by voice actors who worked on old Disney films to announce that the Empire of the Mouse is striking back. The hilarious trailer tells you all you need to know about the plot. Amy Adams (who’ll always be a meteor-freak-of-the-week on Smallville to me) is perfect casting as the hopelessly naïve animated fairytale princess-to-be Giselle of Andalasia, who gets a harsh reality check when thrown down a well from which she emerges into live-action NYC, even if she does succeed in getting cockroaches to help with household chores by singing to them.

McDreamy, I mean Patrick Dempsey, plays Robert Phillip, the archetypal hard-hearted New York divorce lawyer. His calculated wooing of Nancy (played by Broadway star Idina Menzel) is chaotically upset by the arrival of Giselle in his life and the obvious bond between Giselle and his young daughter. The big musical number in Central Park doesn’t have the greatest tune but it’s performed with enough energy to make up for it as, much to Phillip’s embarrassment, buskers start to help out Giselle’s spontaneous singing. The song ‘True Love’s Kiss’ though has a great melody and also provides one of the best gags in the film, of course it involves James Marsden. Marsden as Prince Edward is an absolute scream in this film. His prince is dashing in animated Andalasia but a snobbish, misogynist ninny in NYC. He scoops up most of the film’s best lines including the priceless “Thank you for taking care of my bride, peasants!”

Sometimes progress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, compare the grotesque humans of CGI animation with the traditional method here which perfectly renders Timothy Spall’s Nathaniel, servant of the evil Queen who helps her in her quest to stop Giselle marrying Prince Edward and so taking her throne. Spall follows Edward into the real world and dons ‘disguises’ and a series of increasingly ludicrous/racist foreign accents as he tries to feed a poisoned apple to Giselle. He’s such a failure at being evil that eventually the wicked queen herself makes the leap into NYC. Susan Sarandon as her physical incarnation is so heavily fright-made up that she looks like her old Rocky Horror co-star Tim Curry’s Dr Frank-N-Furter. Her grand entrance at the film’s finale in the style of General Zod trashing NYC in Superman II is to be relished, but then so is everything in Enchanted. Truly essential viewing.

5/5

July 24, 2019

From the Archives: Hairspray

The first deep dive into the last remaining cache of pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up one of James Marsden’s two quite mad 2007 feel-good musicals.

Baltimore, 1962: a young girl dreams of being picked as a dancer on a local TV show. She may be overweight but she can dance and her friendship with a black dancer may just be the beginning of the end for the racist policies of the network…

If you’ve watched Ugly Betty you’ll remember the joyous scene where Betty’s nephew Justin, stranded on the Subway while trying to get to Broadway, entertains the other passengers with a spirited rendition of Hairspray’s opening number ‘Good Morning, Baltimore!’. As show-openers go it’s quite a tune and it sets the tone for the rest of this film, joyously upbeat with a healthy serving of camp outrageousness, as can be seen in John Waters’ cameo during the song, which is far too good a comic moment to ruin here. Like Ugly Betty, Hairspray’s campness gives it a licence to make all manner of outrageous gags. Consider Corny Collins’ (James Marsden) lyrics introducing his show: “Where nice white kids lead the way/And once a month we have Negro day”. The music is at all times bouncy, apart from one suitably sombre ballad sung by Queen Latifah during a civil rights march, but it’s the lyrics that take your breath away over and over again with their barbed wit.

Tracy Turnblad is handpicked for the Corny Collins’ show after he sees her new moves, learnt from a black dancer (Elijah Kelley) in detention (in a typical gag only black kids and fat white kids seem to get detention in this school). Amber, the lead dancer, is fiercely resentful of this and her mother, the network director, goes all out to get Tracy off the show and get rid of her corrupting influence; she thinks TV should “push kids in the white direction”. Michelle Pfeiffer’s first song, done in the style of Marlene Dietrich, is a delicious introduction to her Aryan villain Velma Von Tussell. The large ensemble does justice to this camp material with a serious subtext. Zac Efron channels his inner James Dean as moody hunk Link (with whom Tracy falls head over heels in love) while Amanda Bynes is a revelation as Tracy’s best friend Penny Pingleton, gone are the irritating tics displayed in She’s the Man and in their place genuine comic timing. John Travolta is hilarious in drag as Tracy’s mother, who hasn’t left her house since 1951 because of anxiety over her weight. His song and dance duet with Christopher Walken is a highlight.

The film does sag a bit towards the end and you fear it’s running out of steam as the savage reality of racism deflates the camp exuberance but then the mad logic of musicals (think Singin’ in the Rain) comes into operation and the finale comes up trumps. It’s always sunny in Baltimore.

4/5

April 21, 2018

From the Archives: 27 Dresses

The second deep dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives finds a review which gets quite thoroughly side-tracked by James Marsden.

This film is meant to be about perennial bridesmaid Jane Nichols in her quest to finally be the one walking up the aisle at her 28th wedding. Katherine Heigl though is, surprisingly, too bland in the lead to hold our attention so it should really be titled Everything Goes Right for James Marsden. If you’ve been following the career of poor Marsden you will have seen him lose the girl to Wolverine and Superman and get stitched up royally by Lena Headey in Gossip. 2007 represented something of a breakthrough for Marsden as he managed to at least not get screwed over in Hairspray before in Enchanted he finally got a girl…not the girl admittedly, but still it was one more girl than he’d managed to get up to that point. Now finally Marsden appears in a film where the script’s structure makes it clear that, barring genre-bending catastrophes, he has to get the girl.

27 Dresses won’t change the world of romantic comedies but it lacks any bite whatever. Marsden, a cynical reporter stuck in a hellish job writing romantic froth about society weddings, meets lovelorn PA Jane. They, of course, don’t get on. He steals her appointments book to check his hunch that she’s a wedding junkie and so writes a story about her 27 weddings as bridesmaid/fixer. Aline Brosh McKenna, the screenwriter of The Devil Wears Prada, disappointingly forgets to bring any of that film’s acerbity to this script. Judy Greer does her best to have some fun with her role as Jane’s best friend, traditionally the role in romantic comedies that actors enjoy playing the most, but her bitchy lines aren’t a patch on Emily Blunt’s equivalent repartee in Prada. Sadly this film just lacks any pizzazz. Marsden who romped his way through Enchanted is having noticeably less of a good time here.

Perhaps he’s subdued by the presence of Malina Akerman as Jane’s obnoxious sister, who immediately snares Jane’s boss (Edward Burns-sleepwalking his way towards his paycheque) and asks Jane to be her bridesmaid and plan their wedding, ending all hope of Jane finally consummating her unrequited love for him. Akerman has appeared in some of the worst films of the past year, The Invasion, The Brothers Solomon, and The Heartbreak Kid and has one of the most grating screen presences imaginable. Theoretically pretty in a square jawed blonde sort of way she just lacks any sort of charm to make an audience care about her character’s various humiliations in this film, actually we cheer them on! Marsden is having some fun but 27 Dresses is just curiously anaemic as a romantic comedy. The funniest sequences involve montages of Heigl at various weddings which set up the closing visual gag which is sweet and funny but this is really one for Marsden completists only.

2/5

September 1, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer would be the best romantic comedy of the year but for the small fact that it’s really the perfect anti-romantic comedy.

It casually dispenses with the great mind-numbing cliché of romantic comedies whereby a secret comes to light in the second act that scuppers the relationship until a grand romantic gesture is made in the third act by one of the sundered lovers which leads to a happy ever after reconciliation, and pass the sick-bucket please. Here, thanks to a sublimely fractured chronology, we see office assistant Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and greeting card writer Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) break up (because Summer’s just not happy anymore, not because of some contrived plot device) before we’ve even seen them get together as a couple. Not of course that Summer ever admits to herself or Tom that they are a couple. A refreshing change from rom-coms featuring the male with commitment issues here we have the (common in real-life but scarce on the ground in movies) female with terminological issues: ‘boyfriend’ is out, it’s more ‘the guy I’m seeing’, or ‘the guy I’m sorta seeing’, or ‘this guy I’m hanging with, I may possibly start seeing in the future, I don’t really know…’

Events occur mostly chronologically but with jumps forwards and backward to replay events so that we get an emotional oomph from scenes we thought we understand playing differently in context, like Summer being bored by Tom’s quirky humour which it transpires is a riff she had started earlier. It is important to note that this film is not a non-stop laugh marathon, but it is always warm, and filled with touches that would not look out of place in Annie Hall; such as an extended split-screen sequence depicting Tom’s expectations of a party hosted by Summer versus reality, a sparingly used droll narrator, Tom’s lists of Summer’s traits that he adores being identical to his post-breakup list of Summer’s traits that he despises, and Tom’s friends desperately calling in his 12 year old sister Rachel (wise beyond her years, of course) for an intervention to stop his distraught crockery-smashing.

Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber penned Pink Panther 2 and this is extremely clever atonement because (500) Days is a systematic deconstruction of the tropes of rom-coms which annihilates the concept of idealised soul-mate romance they perpetuate. Zooey Deschanel is luminous when she needs to be but her character is also deeply flawed, as indeed is the always excellent Gordon-Levitt, whose everyman Tom has settled for second-best in life and thus treats Summer as a Hollywood style ticket to redemption. The ending manages to be hilarious, realistic and life-affirming while being deeply subversive of the genre. If you’re sick of the Sandra Bullock rom-com conveyor belt then you should catch Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt being both charming and emotionally realistic and soak up the feel-good factor of an indie rom-com with the most joyous musical number since Enchanted’s Central Park extravanganza.

4/5

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