Talking Movies

November 15, 2019

Le Mans ’66

Director James Mangold reunites with his 3:10 to Yuma star Christian Bale for a less satisfying movie about driving fast cars.

Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) wins the 24 hour endurance race at Le Mans in 1959 only to be invalided out of motor-sports by a dodgy ticker. Instead he tries to run a racing team of his own, dealing with irascible driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) with the help of trusted mechanic Phil (Ray McKinnon). And then Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) comes calling, desperate to make Ford cool again by importing some European glamour to the brand by taking down Ferrari. The ego of Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) leads to an attempt to magick into existence a car capable of winning Le Mans. But Ford II’s ego is matched only by his underling Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas). He is not as forgiving as Ken’s wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe) when Ken Miles bluntly speaks his mind…

Le Mans ’66 starts promisingly with a startling recreation of racing Le Mans at night, mist obscuring a dark country road interspersed with fast cars being handled recklessly. But at 2 hours 34 minutes this is more accurately The Road to Le Mans ’66 as it is a good 1 hour and 42 minutes into the film before Bale sets foot in France. The script by the Brothers Butterworth and Jason Keller is fairly rambling, and leaves a distinctly bitter taste in the mouth after the epic run time. Bale’s performance is a curate’s egg: the showy weight loss, the Brummie accent that frequently hits Liverpool, the nervous tics and arrogant mouthing off like Liam Gallagher crossed with Bale’s meth-head in The Fighter. His quietest moments are most effective, so you wonder why Mangold sanctioned this way of playing Miles.

Damon is on far surer ground as Shelby, a man continually trying to find his footing as the world keeps changing on him. Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders devolve into generic Zimmer for the finale at Le Mans, but prior to that provide an interesting score inflected with the jazz of the time; with numerous delicate touches of rich double bass and whispering drums. Mangold’s semi-regular cinematographer Phedon Papamichael provides some dizzying shots of high-paced vehicular mayhem, but you yearn for an artsy long-take from a low-mounted camera to really capture the feel of the perfect 3:33 lap so often mentioned. Ultimately this isn’t really Ford v Ferrari, so much as a battle of wills between talented people who are experts in their field and just need money versus people who are complete idiots but for egregious reasons have money.

This is not really a feel-good movie, in fact it’s almost a feel-bad movie, about the struggles of racing guys against middle management, with the villain being the spite of an egotistical empty suit.

3/5

January 8, 2016

Bret Easton Ellis: Page to Screen

Bret Easton Ellis has written seven books, four have been filmed, and two of those have been set in Los Angeles. And yet they are by far the weakest of the Ellis adaptations… Here’s a teaser of my piece for HeadStuff on those adaptations.

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“I stand back from the unfinished canvas. I realise that I would rather spend my money on drugs than on art supplies” – The Rules of Attraction (novel)

While Hollywood was premiering his debut, mangled to appeal to perceived Reaganised teenagers, Ellis published his sophomore novel The Rules of Attraction, in which the influence of Reaganism is present in the Freshmen wanting a weight room and vetoing Louis Farrakhan as a speaker. Camden College life in the 1985 Fall term is narrated in short vignettes by Sean Bateman, Paul Denton, Lauren Hynde, and some secondary characters. An unreliable picture emerges from their overlapping experiences at parties, cafeteria lunches, hook-ups, classes, and trips to town. Denton narrates a secret affair with Bateman, Bateman narrates a minor friendship with Denton, Bateman and Lauren hook up for a disastrous relationship which both record very differently, and Bateman’s secret admirer (who he thought was Lauren) kills herself when he sleeps with Lauren. STDs and abortions are the frequent price of the casual sex merry-go-round of Camden’s never-ending party, and Lauren pays in full. Ellis’ dialogue is a marvel, with one-liners aplenty in concisely captured conversations, while the trademark pop culture references (everybody is listening to Little Creatures) are married to more nuanced narration. Denton, the most self-aware and self-critical character, eschews auditioning for the Shepard play because his life already is one. Spielberg is memorably critiqued for being secular humanism not rigorous modernism, but mostly these intelligent characters play dumb because excess is what’s expected.

“What does that mean? Know me? Know me? Nobody knows anyone else. Ever. You will never, ever know me” – The Rules of Attraction (film)

Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary adapted and directed the novel, and Ellis dubbed the 2002 film “the one movie that captured my sensibility in a visual and cinematic language.” The rise of independent cinema meant Avary could cast James Van Der Beek as Bateman without bowdlerising the novel. The film is alternately shocking (it opens with the rape of Shannyn Sossamon’s Lauren), hilarious (Denton [Ian Somerhalder] and Dick [Russell Sams] perform an entirely improvised dance to ‘Faith’ in their underwear), and romantic (an extended split-screen sequence shows Bateman and Lauren finally meeting at their Saturday morning tutorial). Avary stylishly plays out the climactic ‘End of the World’ party from three viewpoints before winding back to the start of term, and situates Camden in a temporal twilight zone; with broadband internet but a 1980s soundtrack of The Cure and Erasure. Avary radically changes Lauren’s character, by throwing many of her traits onto loose roommate Lara (Jessica Biel). Lauren is now a virgin, waiting for Victor to return from Europe, whereas in the book she waited on Victor while sleeping with Franklyn. From being a mirror of Bateman, who sleeps with her friend while being in love with Lauren, she becomes a Madonna. There’s no longer an alienated road-trip with Sean ending with an abortion, just as Sean’s affair with Denton is reduced to one split-screen scene implicitly showing Denton’s fantasy. Avary’s changes make more violent and consequential Bateman’s successive breaks with Lauren and Denton, when she tells Bateman he will never know her, and he repeats her lines to Denton. Denton and Lauren’s snowy encounter after the ‘End of the World’ party, scored by Tomandandy with electronic eeriness, becomes a haunting summation: “Doesn’t matter anyway. Not to people like him. Not to people like us.” Lauren’s momentary self-condemnatory thought, unsaid in the novel, is spoken and brings things close to Gatsby’s “careless people … they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money.”

Click here to read the full piece on HeadStuff.org.

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