Talking Movies

October 28, 2018

Notes on Halloween

There was a seasonally spooky special of Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle today featuring discussions of Halloween past and present.

David Gordon Green takes an appropriately Gordian approach to the tortured continuity of the Halloween series, affecting that this is the first entry since the original, and therefore logically has a 61 year old man running amok with the superstrength and healing superpowers of a much younger supervillain. Aside from wondering if Michael Myers is in fact Wolverine, I spent far too much time doing mental arithmetic to work out how old he’s meant to be in this movie. As director Green brings the gore, and some style, but this feels a world away from the patient chills of John Carpenter’s 1978 original.

Possibly the scene most akin to the original is the cold open wherein two British podcast journalists visit Michael Myers in a prison yard and try to get a reaction from him by brandishing his bleached William Shatner mask. Myers is unresponsive, but the other inmates freak out, animals become unhinged, and we smash-cut to the infamous pumpkin re-inflating as Carpenter returns to provide the synth score.

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

February 1, 2012

Man on a Ledge

Asger Leth makes the jump from directing documentaries to directing features with a caper movie, which sees a potential jumper provide distraction for an audacious heist.

Sam Worthington is the mysterious suited man who checks into the Hotel Roosevelt as the splendidly implausibly named Jay Walker, and promptly steps onto a 21st floor ledge bringing traffic to a standstill in Midtown. Cops surround 45th and Madison predicting that if he jumps he’s going to make quite a mess, as well as ruin the reception honouring Dave Englander, Ed Harris’ reptilian corporate monster. Leth neatly flashbacks to Worthington in prison as we discover he’s actually Nick Cassidy, a disgraced ex-cop who stole a fabled diamond from Englander. Nick then delightfully explodes a cinematic cliché while staging a jailbreak at his father’s funeral. Leth quickly reveals that Nick’s ledge stunt is cover for his brother (Jamie Bell) to steal the diamond again to prove Englander’s fraud, and playfully teases us with the possibility that Nick’s ex-partner Mike (Anthony Mackie) is aiding him too.

The situation escalates as Nick’s specially requested NYPD negotiator Lydia (Elizabeth Banks) arrives even as Kyra Sedgewick’s TV news reporter stirs up the crowd; who are equal parts clumsy Dog Day Afternoon homage and Occupy Wall Street reference. The execution of the heist is good fun, but not as slick as the Soderbergh Ocean’s gold standard, and the final act is pure implausible Violence as Function with characters shooting everything in sight in the hope a resolution might emerge from the gunsmoke. Oddly enough the performances are what remain in the memory afterwards. Banks is part of an unusual cabal (Emily Blunt, Judy Greer, Sarah Paulson) of wonderful comedic actresses who are equally effective in dramatic parts. Her introduction as the burnt-out Lydia is pure low-comedy but she thereafter powers the drama.

Worthington continues to be an adequate leading man, but not much more; with his ever wavering American accent a constant distraction. Jamie Bell displayed signs of impressive acting maturity in last year’s Jane Eyre but he fares less well here, shackled as he is to a comedy double act with the deeply unimpressive soap star Genesis Rodriguez. It’s hard to know if Rodriguez was cast purely for her physique, showcased in one sequence, or whether she’s being let down terribly by the scripting of her part. Her character feels as tonally wrong as Ugly Betty’s Hilda Suarez being dropped into the screenplay for Inside Man. Mackie and Harris are sadly underused, but Harris Fassbenders immensely because Englander is the sins of the 1% made flesh. Titus Welliver is equally joyful as Nathan Marcus, head negotiator who’s overly deferential to Englander’s power.

Man on a Ledge isn’t a dazzling film by any means, but it is solidly entertaining for its 102 minute running time and ends pleasantly with one last feel-good twist.

3/5

January 26, 2012

The Descendants

George Clooney stars in a comedy drama set in Hawaii about a family facing up to bereavement and a truly first world problem involving tracts of ancestral land.

Clooney’s lawyer Matt King lives off only what he earns from his practice, as his principled father did, eschewing the vast wealth that he’s inherited from being one of the descendants of the daughter of the last King of Hawaii. His many cousins have no such scruples and squander their money on frivolous pleasures before selling another parcel of their inherited land to fund their idle lifestyles. However, a new law means they must sell off their remaining tracts in one go; and Matt as the responsible trustee has to guide his extended family away from selling to the highest bidder and towards selling to the local bidder. These machinations are rudely interrupted by his wife’s boating accident. Her living will requires that her life support be switched off and so Matt brings his wayward eldest daughter Alexandra home from boarding school to say goodbye.

Alexandra, played with considerable spark by Shailene Woodley, reveals that her mother had been cheating on, and planned to divorce, Matt. A stunned Matt quickly confirms this is true and tries to hide his secret grief as he informs everyone that his (unfaithful) wife is about to die. Robert Forster’s turn as her materialistic father is very hard to watch, as his misplaced trust in his daughter’s total devotion to Matt twists into blaming Matt for her death because he didn’t shower King money on her. Despite such potential for layered dramatic conflict The Descendants works best at its funniest moments, of which there are many. Nick Krause as Alexandra’s friend Sid is consistently hilarious, his amiable surfer dude helping her surprisingly effective buttressing of Matt’s inept attempts at parenting the troubled Scottie (Amara Miller).

Sideways director Alexander Payne coaxes good performances, including a surprisingly effective dramatic turn from Judy Greer as another betrayed spouse, but as co-writer he doesn’t inject his usual unpredictability. The 17 year old Alexandra and the 10 year old Scottie are basically Medium’s bickering but loving DuBois sisters Ariel and Brigitte. Matt’s quixotic quest to track down his wife’s lover Brian Speer uses a plot device that proudly displays a diploma from the ‘Well, Jesus, that was easy’ School of Screenwriting. The third act infuriates because it flags that a grand rom-com gesture is going to be made, which, like Clooney’s conference speech in Up in the Air, will annoy the characters attending the event interrupted by this nonsense. This film skirts dramatic deep waters to paddle in insubstantial dramedic shallows.

The Descendants illustrates the dangers of hype which also afflicted There Will Be Blood. Its Golden Globe wins promise a cracking serious comedy, but this is a decent comedy shackled to a too predictable drama.

3/5

October 6, 2009

Love Happens

This film is a real oddity. Aaron Eckhart, Martin Sheen and Zodiac’s John Carroll Lynch all seem to think they’re in a serious drama about bereavement and grieving. Everyone else thinks they’re in a sappy rom-com…

The always charismatic Eckhart plays Burke Ryan, a psychologist who has moved from writing practical newspaper columns to an uneasy fame conducting workshops to deal with bereavement on the back of his best-selling book A-Okay (complete with inane hand symbol) about his recovery from the impact of his wife’s violent death at his side in a car-crash. While (against his better judgement) conducting a workshop in Seattle he encounters Manic Pixie Dream Girl,  sorry,  I meant florist, Eloise (Jennifer Aniston), who likes scribbling obscure words like Quidnunc in odd places in hotels. Eloise has a wonderful moment where she pretends to be deaf to avoid Burke’s advances but this film is not a romantic comedy, the only laughs come from Eckhart doing slapstick with a parrot. Instead, though Judy Greer and Dan Fogler give it their all as the archetypal best friends of the leads, this is that rare beast, a romantic drama.

Co-writer/director Brandon Camp started work on this film after his mother’s death, and there is a strong authenticity to much of the material, which he deserves great credit for tackling. Danny Boyle noted in his Sunshine commentary that cinema’s forward momentum makes it nearly impossible to grieve for a character, so this film is one of the very few you will see in mainstream cinema seriously tackling loss. Eckhart has a phenomenal scene when his character is ambushed at the end of one of the first workshop sessions by his father-in-law (Sheen) who lambasts him for exploiting the death of his daughter. Eckhart has no dialogue – we simply watch his completely silent reaction as the façade of confidence crumbles. Following this Burke makes it his mission to save ex-contractor Walter (Lynch) from his cul-de-sac of guilt over his young son’s death on a building site. Some of these scenes are rom-com structural tropes, but filled with such dramatic sizzle that they actually make an impression. But this tension between form and content is never satisfactorily resolved, even a climactic scene between Eckhart and Sheen becomes slightly suspect when obligatory romantic sappiness bleeds into it. There are also cameos by NCIS star Sasha Alexander as a photographer and Joe (charisma to burn) Anderson as Aniston’s unfaithful musician boyfriend that are bizarrely pointless.

This should be the kind of brainless fluff like The Core and No Reservations that Eckhart does to make money (without exercising his brain) to subsidise LaBute plays and films like Thank You For Smoking. Instead it’s a strange beast. Saddled with rom-com clichés and stranded half-way between romantic drama and serious drama it bends its formal structures to breaking point without quite achieving the heights that should come from such a daring imposition of challenging material in a trifling genre. A decent film, just a very confused one.

2.5/5

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