Talking Movies

November 17, 2019

From the Archives: Lions for Lambs

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

A Republican Senator unveils a new strategy for the War in Afghanistan to a liberal journalist. Simultaneously we follow two of the soldiers involved, while their politics professor explains their lives to a disillusioned student.

Wow, Tom Cruise has gotten old. This will be the first thing that strikes you when you watch Lions for Lambs. Gone are the cheekbones of Top Gun behind some newly flabby jowls as the Cruiser heads inexorably towards 50, at which point his career as a heroic leading man will abruptly end. It’s like a rule, ask Michael Douglas about it. The second thing that will strike you is that this film is a disguised play. There are three fixed locations, each of which features two characters talking for an hour, and we cut between these with some flashbacks. Michael Pena needs to get a new agent or just move to Broadway because following on from his World Trade Centre two-hander with Nicholas Cage he’s once again immobilised in a god-forsaken locale heroically musing on patriotism and other issues with a colleague. Screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan has defended this staginess. He claims a lot of dialogue is needed to engage with the War on Terror on any meaningful ideological level.

Tom Cruise as the ambitious Republican Senator Jasper Irving and Meryl Streep as the cynical liberal journalist Janine Roth clash to good dramatic effect but you can’t help feel that while Cruise is given some good arguments he’s never going to be allowed to win. Robert Redford’s arguments as the Berkeley professor Dr Malley are hampered by his own screen image, particularly 1972’s The Candidate which opined that getting elected was possible only by abandoning all your convictions. Warren Beatty campaigned for George McGovern in 1972 while Redford justified apathy. Nixon won that election by a whopping 23% so it’s a bit rich that Redford now hectors young student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield) about political engagement. The most involving segment of the film involves Lt Col Falco’s (Berg) desperate search for his two missing soldiers and his anger at bad political leadership.

Carnahan also scripted last month’s war on terror thriller The Kingdom which was very emotionally involving but couldn’t maintain the intelligence of its opening. This film seeks to be that edgily intelligent all the way through but Carnahan’s level of political insight is only that of Michael Moore’s at the end of Fahrenheit 9/11. The worst victims of American capitalism are first to volunteer to defend that very system against foreign attacks. This film never adequately explains the logic of that choice. Pena and Derek Luke’s highly intelligent students abandon college to fight in a hopeless war. Redford deserves praise for his emotionally engaging depiction of military camaraderie but Carnahan’s script, while interesting, does not persuade us that the choice of these young men was anything but suicidal at worst or deeply misguided at best.

3/5

From the Archives: Into the Wild

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) drops out of Harvard Law School, without telling his family, to tramp the highways of America as an itinerant labourer before travelling to Alaska to live off the land.

Sean Penn’s fourth feature as director is as po-faced a bore as he is. Penn has absolutely no sense of humour, as his reaction to his caricaturing in Team America proved. He has stated that this film is “A call to the youth of America to explore their country and really live”. Into the Wild exhibits a deluded belief in the ‘rugged individualism’ preached by Theodore Roosevelt in the 1890s. Men with no ties, living off the land, fiercely independent, surviving alone in the rugged West, real men…with beards. It was fairly mythical then, and in the 1960s Hunter S Thompson sought out these deluded Henry Thoreau wannabes who wanted to commune with nature. He found only broken old men and naïve youngsters from the East Coast, with no skills. Penn in 2007 is hilariously presenting this as a positive option. Christopher McCandless’s real-life odyssey was insane in 1990 and it’s only gotten more ridiculous since as all jobs for the unskilled have dried up.

Vince Vaughn, who is surprisingly good in his cameo, is the voice of sanity in this piece! He contradicts the dribbling condemnation of American society offered by Emile Hirsch as his reason for leaving his identity of Christopher McCandless behind and becoming ‘Alexander Supertramp’. ‘Alex’ sounds like a stoned hippie whenever he tries to explain why he’s choosing a life of homelessness. It is that ridiculous. Penn depicts Bush Sr on TV justifying the Gulf War, in a soundbite carefully chosen for its eerie resemblance to Bush Jr’s justifications of the current Iraq mess. But Penn uses it to justify Alex’s illegal border-hopping to continue his tramping. For such a political activist to suggest dropping out of engagement with society and retreating to nature as the paradigm for America’s youth is baffling.

This film is pretentiously divided into chapters, while Alex quotes 19th century books endlessly rather than think for himself. For those who like clichés Alex kayaks down the Rio Grande and meets a Danish girl who instantly takes her top off. Ah, those wacky Europeans. In a later chapter he teams up with Kristen Stewart for a Bob Dylan/Joan Baez style musical relationship. Hal Holbrook is on fine form as the wise old man in the final ‘chapter’ titled ‘The Getting of Wisdom’, but it is screamingly obvious that Alex never even develops common sense. Vegetarians will not be the only ones traumatised by a graphic scene in which he kills and guts a moose. A magnificent animal is being sacrificed to sustain a pretentious, incredibly narcissistic twit who deserves his inevitable death which comes about as a result of his own idiocy. The one star is for a few good supporting turns and the undeniably gorgeous scenery.

1/5

From the Archives: Planet Terror

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

A bio-weapon is released over a small town causing its inhabitants to mutate into grotesque zombies. Go-Go dancer Cherry (McGowan) and her mysterious old flame El Wray (Rodriguez) must help the Sheriff (Biehn) kill the zombies while the scientist (Andrews) who created the virus finds an antidote.

When the first thing you see is the fake trailer for Machete you know that this is the real Grindhouse experience. Unlike Tarantino’s boring Death Proof released some weeks ago Robert Rodriguez actually made an intentionally ridiculous and highly entertaining exploitation B-movie. There is an infectious sense of fun in Planet Terror which is the polar opposite of his previous movie, the grotesque, witless garbage known as Sin City. It’s exemplified by his great score as Rodriguez keeps recycling one great riff in hilarious variations. Tarantino wimped out on the idea of using a Missing Reel but Rodriguez uses it sublimely. The image starts to degrade during a sex scene and freezes on a naked Rose McGowan. The nude image is pulled, an apology for the missing reel is displayed and BOOM, we’re back at our heroes’ base which is now inexplicably on fire, a key character has been shot, and some crucial back-story has been revealed. We know it’s crucial because the characters keep commenting on just how crucial it is, but they never tell us what it is!!

Yes, there is an insane amount of gore and any number of gross out moments which will have the audience moaning in revulsion at the telegraphed shlock effect. Naveen Andrews’ scientist likes to ‘cut the balls off people who betray’ him. If you don’t like the castration in the opening scene you should probably leave as you’re really not going to be able to handle what happens to Quentin Tarantino towards the end. But for the most part it’s all so over the top that unlike Kill Bill it does actually become funny. The zombies begin to resemble water-bombs so easily do they explode in a spray of blood if hit by a single bullet. Bruce Willis, following his turn in Nancy Drew, once again has a ball moonlighting in an uncredited cameo.

Planet Terror lets all its characters say or do something memorable. The sub-plots are all cheerfully small-fry compared to the zombie apocalypse engulfing the town. Dr Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) is cheating on her sinister husband Dr William Block (Josh Brolin) with Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, while Sheriff Hague is rack-renting his chef brother JT (Jeff Fahey in fine form) who refuses to divulge to him his secret recipe for the best barbeque in Texas. It’s all nonsense but Rodriguez delivers the clichés and heroic posturing of bad 1970s horror films so joyfully that you have to salute his faithfulness to his cheesy forebears and can’t but enjoy yourself. As for Rose McGowan’s rifle leg. Well, that’s just the cherry on the cake…

3/5

From the Archives: Good Luck Chuck

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Charlie (Dane Cook) has been hexed since adolescence, if he sleeps with a girl the next guy she sleeps with will be her true love. When he meets the girl of his dreams Cam (Jessica Alba) he must find a way to break the curse.

Jessica Alba, STARK NAKED!! Is not something that you will see in this film. Oh, I’m sorry. Did I just take away your only reason for going to see it?? Please grow up. This is the directorial debut of the man who edited Showgirls! Us adults need the multiplexes to watch films involving characters and emotions so can’t you just go to the embarrassing corner of the DVD store to satisfy your needs? The opening of Good Luck Chuck just screams Superbad as a fat kid obsessed with sex and a skinny kid nervous about it try to impress girls during a game of spin the bottle. The skinny kid is of course our ‘hero’ Charlie who gets hexed by a goth girl he sexually disappoints and so we jump to the present. Charlie is now a playboy while Stu is still fat, single and still obsessed with sex. He discovers that Charlie is famous on perfectmatch.com for being a good luck charm for single women who want to meet Mr Right. He convinces Charlie that he should sleep with all these eager women.

There follows a sex scene montage which plays like it was the ultimate fantasy of 13 year old male scriptwriters but here’s the thing, Superbad was written, at least in its first draft, by 13 year old male scriptwriters, the difference is you just know that Seth Rogen was FUNNY when he was 13 years old. Slapstick accidents that occur to Jessica Alba’s clumsy Cam are as sophisticated as the humour gets here. And there’s precious little humour which leads to the next problem…Who the hell is Dane Cook? He has no charisma and so can’t carry the film on charm alone. I have a memory for actor’s faces that can remember people from supporting turns in CSI and I recognise no-one among the undistinguished supporting players. I shouldn’t be surprised. Casting was probably done on the willingness of actresses to take their tops off.

Let’s be honest. This film is only getting a cinema release because of Jessica Alba or more accurately because of the slavering hordes of teenage boys obsessed with seeing Jessica Alba naked. Thus far thankfully she’s disappointed them but now that Natalie Portman has appeared nude it’s a safe bet that Alba will follow. I’m not sure exactly how it’s meant to be empowering for independent 21st Century women to meekly obey the cry of ‘Get ’em out for the lads!’, but it’s a given in Hollywood that if you want to be taken seriously (i.e. win an Oscar) you need to take your clothes off. Let’s see how that works out for the actresses exploited in this wretched trash…

1/5

November 7, 2019

From the Archives: The Brothers Solomon

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

When their beloved father goes into a coma socially inept brothers John (Will Arnett) and Dean Solomon (Will Forte) try to give him something to live for by providing a grandchild. However when their dating skills prove non-existent they turn to a surrogate mother Janine (Kristen Wiig) with a jealous ex (Chi McBride)

Will Forte is not Will Ferrell, but he probably thinks he is, they both worked on Saturday Night Live after all. Like the painfully unfunny film appearances of SNL star Molly Shannon (Year of the Dog anyone?) Will Forte proves that not everyone on SNL should be encouraged to traipse over to Hollywood. He wrote this film as well as co-starring in it so the blame for the deplorable lack of comedy can be placed firmly on his shoulders. The idea that being able to make sketch comedy, which relies on beating a joke around for 3 minutes till you’ve exhausted it, qualifies you to make films where you have to construct a 90 minute story with organically occurring jokes is a puzzling one. If you can hop up the stairs a couple of steps at a time it doesn’t mean you should suddenly run out and take up pole-vaulting.

The idea of making fun of two social misfits instantly recalls Dumb and Dumber but this is even more suspect and mean-spirited and at least that had some hilarious gags, before the Farrelly Brothers lost their funny bones. There are some funny moments. Chi McBride’s first appearance is comic and menacing at the same time as he takes umbrage wherever he can find it, accusing the whole world of being racist when it’s not. Could this have gone somewhere? Yeah, but a sketch show writer…oh forget it. There’s an incredibly uncomfortable sequence which features the brothers trying to prepare for parenthood by observing children at the playground and offering them ice-cream. Hmmm. There’s also an outrageous gag at an adoption agency involving a misunderstanding about a photo which provides Will Arnett with the best line of the whole movie.

Will Arnett (beloved as Gob on Arrested Development) can work wonders with weak material, as Blades of Glory showed, but this script defeats even him. Things get so tedious after a while that you start playing spot the TV actor. Oh look, there’s Jenna Fischer from the American Office in a cameo, hey, that’s depressed old Ted from Scrubs, and who’s the surrogate mother, why it’s a look-alike of Sarah Paulson from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The face that should occasion panic is Heartbreak Kid and The Invasion star Malin Akerman, a cinematic hoodoo this year. The sky banner that goes on forever and has the entire cast of supporting characters reading it is the highlight of the whole film. It is actually hilarious and worth seeing but as Dr Johnson once said: worth seeing, yes, but it’s not worth going to see.

1/5

October 31, 2019

From the Archives: Halloween Horror Bites

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

halloween-pumpkin-jack-o-lantern-3d-model-obj-fbx-blend-dae-mtl-abc

Most Gruesome Shock

The moment in John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing when a doctor doing an autopsy has his arms bitten off by a man’s chest that becomes a snapping mouth is guaranteed to make you somewhat queasy.

 

Best Music

Jerry Goldsmith’s preposterously ominous score for The Omen makes a rather ponderous film quite spine-tingling, and can probably still be heard even if you turn the sound off.

 

Best Shock Ending

Not a great film but the shock ending of Friday the 13th in which our heroine in a boat is suddenly attacked by a corpse erupting out of the placid waters is pretty memorable.

 

Best Death

The decapitation of David Warner’s photographer in The Omen has been prophesied so early on that the whole film can feel like a wait for it to happen, and when it finally arrives it’s a superbly staged gory death by window pane.

From the Archives: Eastern Promises

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

London midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) tries to uncover the mystery surrounding a Russian teenager who died in childbirth. Her quest to translate the girl’s diary leads her into conflict with restaurant owner and crime-lord Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and his menacing foot-soldier Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen).

Viggo Mortenson and director David Cronenberg follow their collaboration on A History of Violence with another film about a mysterious man connected to vicious criminals. Viggo Mortensen gives a tremendously committed lead performance. Most of his dialogue is in Russian and with his dark glasses, erect bearing, measured walk and slicked back hair he remains an enigmatic presence throughout. Cronenberg is very smart in avoiding the usual clichés about hitmen having a crisis of conscience. It’s impossible to guess the motivations of Viggo’s Nikolai and the film is all the more intriguing for it. It is also graphically violent, Cronenberg did after all give us the infamous exploding head scene in 1981’s Scanners. It’s hard not to think of Stephen King’s analysis of Psycho. Hitchcock, he claimed, served up such a big steak of violence early on with the shower scene that he was able to terrify the audience with just sizzle for the rest of the film because they feared another rare slice of gore. Cronenberg opens his film with a repulsively gruesome throat-slitting. This lends an air of tension to every scene with Mafioso that follows.

But Cronenberg doesn’t just use sizzle in Eastern Promises, we get a steak too, in what will become an infamous scene. A very naked Viggo has to defend himself at the Finsbury Public Baths against two men armed with linoleum knives in a fight twice as gruelling as that of The Bourne Ultimatum. Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain with its notoriously lengthy murder scene springs to mind here as there is a tour de force tracking shot by Cronenberg that ends in a violent act guaranteed to have audiences moaning. It’s worth noting here that the film is also surprisingly funny. Steven Knight, co-creator of Who Wants to be a Millionaire (seriously!), also wrote Dirty Pretty Things, another acclaimed picture of immigrants being exploited in London, but before that he was a comedy writer. The humour here is all the more potent for being so incongruous in the milieu of the Vory V Zakone criminal fraternity.

The acting is uniformly superb except for Vincent Cassell’s one note psychopath, the heir apparent Kirill. Naomi Watts excels opposite Viggo as the depressed midwife Anna driven to seek justice for the dead 14 year old victim of sex trafficking. She and her ordinary English mother (Sinead Cusack) and grouchy Russian uncle (Jerzy Skolimowski) are painfully powerless against the dangerous people she drags them into contact with in this dangerous quest, and we fear for them, especially against Armin Mueller-Stahl’s deceptively avuncular crime lord Semyon. This is an important film of great humanity but its graphic violence makes it hard to recommend wholeheartedly.

4/5

October 29, 2019

From the Archives: Starman – Interview with Matthew Vaughn

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

InDublin talked to Stardust director Matthew Vaughn about casting and CGI, Sienna Miller and celebrity culture, and a comic book he’d never heard of….

Matthew Vaughn is just dripping with enthusiasm for Stardust. He’s been trying to get the film made since the start of the decade, and asked what drove him to adapt Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed novella simply replies, “I loved the story”. Vaughn sees Stardust as closer to The Princess Bride than The Lord of the Rings. “The main theme for me – it’s a movie about a boy becoming a man, and he becomes a man by falling in love with the right woman. But it’s done in a way which is fun, not taking itself seriously at all, a feel good adventure romp. So it’s a movie for everyone: when you come out of the cinema I dare you not to feel good”. Gaiman, as producer, was happy to give Vaughn free rein. “He trusted me. Because every time I wanted to do a big change I always rang him up and said ‘Look, I’m thinking of changing this – what do you think?’ because I valued his opinion….If you’ve got someone who’s created the idea and it’s their baby. For me they’re the best person to ring up to discuss if you’re thinking of changing a scene”.

Vaughn was painstaking with his casting. Once he’d settled on Charlie Cox as Tristan “the poor guy had to do three months of auditioning for me to find Yvaine….it’s about the chemistry between the two. And I didn’t want to end up with Tango & Cash, you know, I wanted it to be the right chemistry”. Vaughn cast his Layer Cake star Sienna Miller as Victoria despite the potential for distraction given her tabloid fodder status: “She [Victoria] is the It Girl of the village so I think it worked for the character and that’s one of the reasons I cast her”. Vaughn laments Miller’s tabloid troubles. “I just feel it’s a shame her acting is getting eclipsed. Cos she does some good work, but – she doesn’t get known for it. But I say to her ‘Just keep persevering’ and eventually someone will say ‘Oh you’re a good actress as well!’” He also blasts the whole celebrity culture as being unhealthy for everyone. “The whole Jade Goody phenomenon I just scratch my head going, ‘WHAT does this tell you about England?’ I’m a big believer that fame should be a by-product of talent and success and I’m a big believer that years ago, and maybe its naïve of me, but great politicians or actors or poets or writers or comedians they weren’t trying to be famous, they were just trying to be the best at what they do, and then they became famous because of it”.

Directing Layer Cake after producing Guy Ritchie’s films reinforced the perception that Vaughn preferred small projects but he claims “I’ve always wanted to do big cinema”. But working on smaller projects made him determined not to have the CGI swamp the characters in his blockbusters. “A movie’s about having an emotional connection and telling a story and if you have that the special effects for me are an enhancement”. Stardust’s use of wirework for a dead sword-fighter is an example. “We had a big puppet sort of control thing to make him…we literally just said go limp and let us control him, in a way he was a puppet with the voodoo doll”. InDublin’s geekery finally erupted and we asked if he had any plans to film Neil Gaiman’s awesome graphic novel 1602. Only to end up explaining what 1602 is: superheroes of the Marvel Universe appear in 1602 at the Court of Elizabeth I…and Magneto is the head of the Spanish Inqusition. “Neil’s never told me about that!…that sounds cool – that sounds right up my street! I’m going to ask Marvel about that tonight! 1602?” After musing over the tangled film rights of the various Marvel characters Vaughn simplified the plot based on his friendship with Ian McKellen aka Magneto, “Make it at Fox. Have Fantastic Four and Magneto together…Spanish Inquisition. He’d get a lot of confessions…” Watch this space.

From the Archives: Stardust

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox) promises to bring back a fallen star from the magical kingdom of Sturmhold to impress spoilt rich girl Victoria (Sienna Miller). However the star turns out to be a young woman Yvaine (Claire Danes) who is also wanted by a murderous prince (Mark Strong) and a wicked witch (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Matthew Vaughn follows up his gritty British gangster thriller Layer Cake with a complete change of pace. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novella this is a fairytale that subverts audience expectations right from the off. Ian McKellen, like Morgan Freeman, has ascended from an actual physical presence to being the Voice of God. He narrates the beginning of the fairytale…but then disappears until the end. Rupert Everett also has a wonderful moment guaranteed to surprise the audience which I will not ruin here. The best subversive visual gag though comes when our own David Kelly, as the decrepit guard of The Hole in the Wall between England and Sturmhold, prevents the naïve Tristan (Charlie Cox) from crossing through the portal with some nifty kung-fu moves.

Stardust is a picaresque romp following the adventures of Tristan and Yvaine (Claire Danes) so it’s no surprise that the film’s quality should vary greatly depending on who they’ve fallen in with. What is surprising is that while Michelle Pfeiffer’s wicked witch Lamia is pursuing them the film is dull but when Robert De Niro pops up things take off. De Niro plays the ‘ruthless’ Captain Shakespeare, whose flying pirates capture lightning and sell it by the bottle to their fence Ricky Gervais. Gervais is a hoot in his cameo but De Niro is even better as the camp captain made miserable by having to keep up his reputation even though he likes music, fashion and art much more. The film becomes more fun at this point because it trades violence for romance. Gaiman’s original fairytale was for adults and, while the ghostly Greek chorus of murdered princes of Sturmhold is a sporadically funny motif, the fratricidal rampage of Mark Strong’s Prince Septimus is far too violent for children.

The heart of the film is the growing relationship between Tristan and Yvaine. Stars shine but they can’t do it with a broken heart and as Yvaine’s sadness melts away in her growing love for Tristan she starts to glow again, in a particularly sweet CGI effect. A CGI effect of delicious nastiness is the way that each spell Pfeiffer casts ages her. Vaughn treats us to the diverting spectacle of a dead body sword-fighting against Tristan courtesy of some voodoo doll magic and the implacable logic of a fairytale comes into force with a vengeance at the end. Stardust though is far too long at over two hours, and while the finale is swooningly romantic and packs a feel good oomph, the film itself hasn’t been magical enough to earn the plaudits its denouement cries out for.

3/5

October 25, 2019

From the Archives: Nancy Drew

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Teenage amateur sleuth Nancy Drew (Emma Roberts) moves to California with her lawyer father Carson (Tate Donovan). She tries to fit in at school but quickly becomes entangled in an old mystery surrounding their rented LA house which was owned by a murdered starlet whose manager is Carson’s new boss.

Nancy Drew is a very old character. She was created in 1930 which makes her eight years older than Superman. And just like Superman she’s an impeccably polite do-gooder who’s considered difficult to pull off in a big budget live action movie in the present climate. By present climate we mean that while Superman has been made to appear sort of lame by recent interpretations of Batman, Nancy has to contend with TV’s tough teenage PI Veronica Mars. Batman is dark, brooding, dangerous and prone to violence. Superman never lies and acts like an overgrown boy scout. Nancy Drew also doesn’t lie, is as nice as pie, and has a very curious non-relationship with her absent boyfriend Ned who is introduced by her as “a really good friend from home” when he pops up here. Veronica Mars played her own father to pull off a spectacular con against the FBI, has a tempestuous on/off relationship with a confirmed bad boy, is vindictive as hell to people who cross her and never stops spewing one-liners and sarcastically narrating her life. See the problem here?

How do you depict Nancy after Veronica? IGNORE VERONICA! Director and co-writer Andrew Fleming has chosen to go for something termed ‘retro-modern’. Don’t even try to fathom what that means, I spent half an hour at it during the film and I think I broke something in my mind-box. Nancy and Carson dress and act like they’re in the 1950s while everyone around them is defiantly 00s. At times the school in LA Nancy moves to feels like it’s the one from Bratz. You suspect that Fleming is doing an awful reprise of The Brady Bunch Movie, setting Nancy up for humiliation after humiliation. Thankfully after a while this temporal confusion ceases to matter. The mystery surrounding the previous owner of the house, a tragic starlet, is actually pretty damn involving and Nancy is smart, dogged, and resourceful in solving it. There are also some very good jokes including two cameos when Nancy wanders onto a film set that are too good to ruin here.

It’s always a joy to see Rocky Horror star Barry Bostwick in anything while Tate Donovan is an effective if underused Carson Drew. Emma Roberts carries this film scarily well for a 16 year old but then her aunt is Julia Roberts. The last half-hour is very gripping, with menacing villains and very showy direction from Fleming, which raises the suspense brilliantly. Perfect fare for the Big Big Movie crowd but if you’re a teenager you should probably be watching Veronica Mars and Batman Begins.

3/5

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