Talking Movies

June 29, 2019

On Rewatching Movies

The Atlantic recently showcased some findings from behavioural economists suggesting that we overvalue novelty and undervalue repetition, and it made me think about how I’ve been watching movies of late.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me? Do I anticipate Trump? Very well then I anticipate Trump.

I have been finding it hard, looking back to 2010 in the last few weeks, to get a handle on the contours of this decade, cinematically speaking. And I think some of that difficulty is owing to my not having rewatched as many movies as I would have done during the previous decade. This was a deliberate decision to use my time to add as many new titles to my ken as possible rather than simply rewatching what I had already seen. And that decision has been quite rewarding: I have seen more Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Andrei Tarkovsky, Louis Malle, and Mia Hansen-Love films than I would’ve had I not sought them out. But it seems there is an opportunity cost: if you focus on expanding your knowledge, it comes at the cost of deepening existing knowledge.

There is a lot to be said for repetition to really soak in a film. After all a vital check on whether a film really stands up is whether it can be rewatched with profit. I saw Birdman and High-Rise twice within days and loved them both times. In the case of High-Rise I had a totally different viewing experience each time: a crowded screening in IFI 2, where Stephen Errity and I managed to miss the opening scene, brought out the comedy of the film, whereas a deserted screening in IFI 1 with Paul Fennessy brought out the visual grandeur of the film. John Healy opines that repetition, like constantly catching snippets or indeed all of Jaws on heavy rotation on a movie channel, allows you enjoy lots of little details you’d otherwise miss without seeing it so often.

Little details can create what I’ve previously dubbed ‘mental architecture’. Watching The Matrix again and again and again you find yourself responding to someone asking your name with ‘Yeah, that’s me’ and only later realise you were quoting Keanu Reeves. Clambering off the floor with a somewhat awkward grace you realise later you were approximating how Keanu Reeves got up off his knees at the end of Constantine. In neither instance were these conscious emulations, simply physical or verbal replications of an oft-seen physical action or verbal response. The joy of repetition is that which comes from knowing a movie inside out: like watching a James Bond movie with my Dad, hooting at in-jokes about Ken Adam’s inability to stop blowing the budget on working monorails, or quoting along to The Matrix Reloaded line after line en masse with friends.

Whooping up Back to the Future Day on ITV 2 with my Dad back in 2015 wouldn’t have been half as awesome if we hadn’t watched each film repeatedly together over three decades. When Dad couldn’t countenance a full film I would summon from the DVR just the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now, Donald Sutherland’s JFK monologue, the Joker’s attack on the van in The Dark Knight:

At the far left of the shelf of DVDs was a single unlabelled videocassette. Schwartz slid it out with a finger and popped it into the ancient VCR.

“What’s this?” Henry asked.

“You’ll see.”

Schwartz watched this tape alone sometimes, late at night, the way he reread certain passages of Aurelius. It restored some nameless element of his personality that threatened to slip away if he didn’t stay vigilant. (The Art of Fielding)

Repetition can allow us grasp a film from different angles, enjoy the red herrings we missed before, create personal in-jokes, and provide us with an idiosyncratic frame of reference. But it can also utterly surprise. I was experiencing the rare joy of sharing a friend’s first encounter with a classic in 2017 when I nearly gasped at Citizen Kane on the big screen. Donald Trump’s threat to Hillary Clinton during their debates that he would, if elected, appoint a special prosecutor to look into her situation, now found an incredible anticipation in Charles Foster Kane’s threat during his speech that his “first official act as governor of this state will be to appoint a special district attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution and conviction of Boss Jim W Gettys”. There was now a new meaning in an old text.

In the case of Citizen Kane and American politics life was imitating art, as Oscar Wilde opined happened more often than vice versa, and a piece of art that had seemed to have a stable meaning had had that meaning upended. Repetition is not old hat in a world of novelty and completist instincts. It is both a time machine, that can enable us remember the way we enjoyed a movie the first time we saw it and remember ourselves and the milieu of that experience, and a transmogrifier that reworks old movies into something we never suspected our contemporary.

November 5, 2018

From the Archives: Quantum of Solace

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up from the depths Daniel Craig’s pointlessly reviled outing; whose problems derive from the strike everybody knew about but affected not to.

Daniel Craig returns as James Bond in Quantum of Solace, which features a lot more action than Casino Royale. It doesn’t quite measure up to its mighty predecessor, but it does offer an intriguing re-invention of Bond’s 1960s foes.

The opening establishes that this is less the talk-talk-bang-bang formula of Casino Royale and more bang-bang-bang-BANG! The opening sequence is an incredibly frantic car-chase, after which we have to put up with the godawful Jack White song and sleazy silhouettes of naked ladies, but then it’s straight into the interrogation of Mr White, the villain Bond caught in the final scene of the last film. This scene features a shock so good it took me 20 minutes to get over it. 20 minutes of action as Bond travels to the Caribbean for a vicious Bourne style fist fight in a bathroom and a boat-chase. It really is surprising just how much action Marc Forster, the director best known for Stranger than Fiction and Finding Neverland, has crammed in here. He only comes unstuck with an aerial dogfight which comes perilously close to returning the franchise to Roger Moore style campiness but just avoids doing so, and only displays art-house leanings with a silent shootout in Vienna wonderfully sound-tracked only by the opera the characters have been attending.

The sheer preponderance of action over meaty drama though makes this film feel like a victim of the writers’ strike. Paul Haggis’ rewrite of the script was infamously delivered mere minutes before the strike began last year and it could have used more character beats, even though there are great unexpected moments throughout. There is an absolutely priceless gag involving Bond’s distaste for cheap accommodation amid many other quotable lines. The CIA is depicted as morally bankrupt, willing to turn a blind eye to any right-wing dictatorship’s human rights abuses if there’s a plentiful supply of cheap oil to be had, while a high-ranking member of the British Government is revealed as a member of Quantum, Haggis’ reinvention of super-villain organisation Spectre. The rights to Spectre are owned by Irish writer/producer Kevin McClory so Haggis has re-imagined Bond’s 1960s foe as a network of ex-spooks and shady businessmen and politicians. This film pays further homage to the 1960s with the death of a major character, a score which evokes the softer, and more sinister, moments of John Barry’s scores, and a desert lair in Bolivia which is pure Ken Adam in its set design.

Mathieu Amalric, a god of French cinema, is slightly underwritten as Quantum villain Dominic Greene but makes his ‘environmental philanthropist’, who’s secretly plotting to seize control of the natural resources of Bolivia, a worthy foe for Bond. Olga Kurylenko, who graduated from taking her top off in French films (Le Serpent) to taking her top off in Hollywood films (Hitman), miserably fails to escape the shadow of Eva Green’s Vesper. Her character has an intriguing back-story but the parallels between her search for vengeance and Bond’s search for closure evaporate due to her inert screen presence.  The best relationship is between M and Bond who develop almost a fraught mother/son bond by the end. Craig is once again magnificent as Bond; physical, but also offering glimpses of the inconsolable grief behind his driven pursuit of Mr Greene. This is a good film and well worth seeing, and the consistently brutal action combined with some clever conceits left unresolved suggest that Craig’s next Bond film may surpass Casino Royale.

3/5

February 25, 2015

JDIFF 2015: 15 Films

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Booking opened for the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival at 7.30pm tonight, so here are 15 films to keep an eye on at the festival.

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THE PRICE OF DESIRE (8.15pm Thu 19th Mar, Savoy)

Writer/director Mary McGuckian’s first film since The Man on the Train in 2011 opens the festival. Orla Brady stars as Irish modernist designer Eileen Gray, with Vincent Perez as legendary architect Le Corbussier. The film examines how Le Corbussier arrogantly attempted to minimise the contribution of Gray to a landmark piece of modernist architecture, the E-1027 house. Co-stars include Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe and Alanis Morrisette (!).

THE WATER DIVINER (7.30pm Fri 20th Mar, Savoy)

Russell Crowe makes his directorial debut with a WWI tale about the slaughter of the ANZAC in Turkey. Crowe’s farmer Joshua Connor travels to Gallipoli in 1919 in search of his three sons, missing in action since 1915. He is aided in this likely fool’s errand by Istanbul hotel manager Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and heroic Turkish major Yilmaz Erdogan (Once Upon A Time in Anatolia).

99 HOMES (8.30pm Fri 20th, Cineworld)

Writer/director Ramin Bahrani tackles the collapse of the sub-prime bubble in this tale of Florida real estate. Michael Shannon is a heartless real estate agent who is the Mephistopholes to the Faust of Andrew Garfield’s unemployed contractor. First he evicts Garfield, then he offers him a job, and Garfield, though conflicted accepts… Yes, Shannon gets to let rip; according to him Bahrani kept polishing his set-piece rant throughout shooting.

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BARRY LYNDON (1.30pm Sat 21st Mar, Savoy)

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Thackeray’s picaresque romp Barry Lyndon is now 40 years old. Kubrick’s obsession with using only natural light was enabled by John Alcott, Ken Adam’s production design recreated the splendour of the 18th century, and a mischievous sense of humour belied the 3 hour running time and symmetrical compositions. Star Ryan O’Neal and producer Jan Harlan will be interviewed afterwards by Frank director Lenny Abrahamson.

LISTEN UP PHILIP (6.30pm Sun 22nd Mar, Cineworld)

Writer/director Alex Ross Perry breaks through with his third film. Jason Schwartzman is an obnoxious writer splitting up with Elisabeth Moss as he simmers over the reception of his second novel. His retreat in his mentor’s country home is interrupted by the arrival of Krysten Ritter. But can he get past his ego to notice her? Bret Easton Ellis vouches for this, but remember Greenberg, exercise caution.

THE CROWD (8.15pm Sun 22nd Mar, Lighthouse)

King Vidor’s 1928 silent movie The Crowd might be one of the earliest examples of a studio deliberately losing money in order to gain prestige. A portrait of urban alienation and ennui, whose influence can be seen in Orson Welles’ disorienting presentation of a vast office space in his 1963 film The Trial, this will have live accompaniment from Stephen Horne. A rare screening not to be missed.

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THE TRIBE (6.00pm Tues 24th, Lighthouse)

Festival director Grainne Humphreys noted that Ukranian film-maker Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s The Tribe is being screened because it reinvents the way you think about cinema. There are no subtitles, just sign language, as a young boy is initiated into the brutal gang culture of a boarding school for the deaf thru intense, complex long takes. Grigoriy Fesenko is the innocent who falls for Yana Novikova and upsets the vicious hierarchy.

FORCE MAJEURE (8.15pm Thu 26th Mar, Cineworld)

Force Majeure is a pitch-black Swedish comedy-drama from writer/director Ruben Ostlund (Play) that has been hailed by Bret Easton Ellis as one of 2014’s finest films. If you want to see a man, specifically Johannes Kuhnke, running away from a threatened avalanche when he should be saving the day (so  his wife Lisa Loven Kongsli expects), then check out this droll study of total cowardice and family bickering.

GLASSLAND (6.30pm Fri 27th Mar, Lighthouse)

Director Gerard Barrett and star Jack Reynor, fresh from Sundance plaudits, will present Glassland. Barrett was the writer/director of Pilgrim Hill and he stays firmly within his comfort zone for another dark drama. Toni Collette’s alcoholism pushes her towards death, and her taxi-driver son Reynor into a dangerous clash with the Dublin criminal underworld of human trafficking. Barrett’s film-making has broadened in scope, but his vision remains grindingly bleak.

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PRESSURE (9.00pm Fri 27th Mar, Cineworld)

Cineworld plays host to director Ron Scalpello, writers James Warren and Alan McKenna, and, most importantly, Talking Movies favourite Danny Huston, for a screening of their suspense thriller Pressure. Huston and Matthew Goode lead a small cast in a claustrophobic thriller as oil-rig repair workers trapped in a deep-sea pod after an accident who turn on each other. Huston is always effortlessly charismatic, and this is an acting showcase.

LET US PREY (10.40pm Fri 27th Mar, Lighthouse)

Liam Cunningham gets to be even more unhinged than his drug dealer in The Guard in Brian O’Malley’s tense horror. He lets rip with gusto as a mysterious stranger known only as Six, pitted against the forces of law and order in an isolated rural police station, led by rookie cop Pollyanna McIntosh. This has been described as a supernatural Assault on Precinct 13. Bring it on!

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (1.00pm Sat 28th Mar, Cineworld)

Olivier Assayas’ autobiographical Apres Mai also screened at JDIFF, and his follow-up psychodrama Clouds of Sils Maria was recently in the news for Kristen Stewart’s supporting actress Cesar win. Juliette Binoche’s famous actress is locked in conflict with Chloe Grace Moretz. Binoche is returning to the play that made her name, but her part is now taken by Moretz. Did you say Gallic All About Eve?

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A LITTLE CHAOS (6.15pm Sat 28th Mar, Cineworld)

Alan Rickman unexpectedly returns to directing after a 17 year absence for his second feature. His sumptuously appointed period drama sees Kate Winslet’s landscape designer employed by Matthias Schoenaerts to work on the gardens of Versailles for Rickman’s exacting Louis XIV. But jealousies, both sexual and professional, dog her steps as she attempts to introduce a little anarchy into this ordered world revolving around the Sun King.

FAR FROM MEN (11.00am Sun 29th Mar, Savoy)

The difference between what Viggo Mortensen and Peter Jackson did after LOTR is enough to make you weep. Here the polyglot Viggo speaks French as a schoolteacher in colonial Algeria who develops an unusual bond with a dissident he must transport. Writer/director David Oelhoffen brilliantly transplants many Western tropes to Algeria’s war with France, but surely there are also echoes of Albert Camus’ Exile and the Kingdom?

THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON (2.00pm Sun 29th Mar, Savoy)

The Last Man On The Moon is the story of Eugene Cernan, an actual cowboy who became not just any old astronaut, but the only man to walk on the moon twice, and also the last moonwalker. Its spectacular footage, which regrettably includes CGI recreations of his spacewalks, will be on the Savoy’s biggest screen, with directors Gareth Dodds and Mark Craig interviewed afterwards.

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