Talking Movies

January 8, 2018

Top 10 Films of 2017

10) The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Old Dustin Hoffman

Grumbles so loquaciously

His kids just despair

 

9) Thor: Ragnarok

Marvel does funny!

Or Taika Waititi

does Marvel, more like

 

8) Ingrid Goes West

Aubrey Plaza mad

Aubrey Plaza not bad though

Instagram’s to blame

 

7) La La Land

They sing and they dance

Might they fall in love perchance?

Well yes, all that jazz

 

6) Wind River

Two cold Avengers

Can’t believe it’s not Longmire

Till the hymn to wolves

 

5) Logan Lucky

Soderbergh returns

‘Ocean’s 7-11’

Hoot and a holler

 

3) Personal Shopper

Hip Kristen Stewart

Sees ghosts, shops for clothes, and waits

but who’s haunting her?

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3) Dunkirk

Nolan does Dunkirk

Ticking clock horror movie

Don’t need words, just feel

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2) Fast & Furious 8

Fire will not burn Vin

Bullets will not pierce The Rock

They forgive The State

1) 20th Century Women

Ode to older mums

The past lived as the present

True ’79

 
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January 13, 2016

Top 10 Films of 2015

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(10) Steve Jobs

The combination of Michael Fassbender, Aaron Sorkin, and Danny Boyle produced a far warmer movie than Sorkin’s previous tech biopic The Social Network. Sorkin’s theatrical script was tense, hilarious, meta-textual, and heart-warming as if each iteration of the same confrontations pushed Jobs closer to doing the right thing, as Daniel Pemberton’s rousing score became less electronic and more orchestral, while Boyle’s changing film formats emphasised the passage of time and  thereby generated unexpected pathos.

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(9) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Since JJ Abrams became Tom Cruise’s producing co-pilot this vanity franchise has suddenly become great fun. This doesn’t equal the blast that was Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol, but writer/director Christopher McQuarrie’s combined great comedy and stunts, with a truly mysterious femme fatale, and some well staged action sequences; the highlight being assassins’ night out at the Viennese opera, riffing shamelessly and gloriously on Alfred Hitchcock’s twice-told Royal Albert Hall sequence.

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(8) The Martian

Director Ridley Scott may have demurred at this being a Golden Globe ‘comedy’ but Drew Goddard should write all Scott’s future movies on the basis of this screenplay chock-full of great jokes. You know you’re looking at an unprecedented ensemble of scene-stealers when Kristen Wiig ends up straight man to the Fassbendering all around her, and this valorisation of can-do science arguably realised Tomorrowland’s stated intention of restoring technological optimism to the popular imagination.

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(7) Sicario

Denis Villeneuve once again directed a thriller so spare, savage, and elemental that, like Incendies, it invited comparison with Greek tragedy. Amidst Roger Deakins’ stunning aerial photography and Johann Johannsson’s unnerving score Emily Blunt’s steely FBI heroine, in her conflict with Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro, became a veritable Creon to his Antigone: for her devotion to upholding the law is the right thing, where Alejandro believes in breaking the law to do the right thing.

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(6) Listen Up Philip

Jason Schwartzman was on top form as an obnoxiously solipsistic novelist who retreated to the place in the country of new mentor Jonathan Pryce, and alienated his girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss), his mentor’s daughter (Krysten Ritter), his students, and, well, just about everybody else. This was a tour-de-force by writer/director Alex Ross Perry who threw in a wonderfully gloomy jazz score, a narrator, and alternating perspectives to create an unashamedly literary, unhappy, ‘unrelatable’ story.

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(5) Mistress America

Expectations were high after Frances Ha, and Baumbach and Gerwig’s follow-up did not disappoint. Their script provided compelling characters, with great jokes and screwball set-ups, as well as a literary sense of melancholy. The story of Brooke and Tracy is one of the best observer/hero films I’ve seen lately; from Tracy’s loneliness at college, to her meeting with the whirlwind of energy that is Brooke, to her co-option into Brooke’s restaurant dream, and all the fall-out from Tracy’s attempts to have her cake and eat it; sharply observed, but with great sympathy.

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(4) Carol

The Brief Encounter set-up of the extended flashback to explain the true nature of what superficially appeared to be casual meeting was played out with immense delicacy by stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Maray in a feast of glances and little gestures under the subtle direction of Todd Haynes. Carter Burwell’s score added the emotion forced to go unspoken in Phyllis Nagy’s sleek adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s semi-autobiographical novel which mixed romance with coming-of-age story as Mara’s shopgirl followed her artistic path and so moved from ingénue to the equal of Blanchett’s socialite.

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(3) Eden

Mia Hansen-Love followed-up Goodbye First Love with another exploration of 20 years in a character’s life. Paul (Felix de Givry) was the guy standing just next to Daft Punk in the 1993 photo of Parisian house music enthusiasts, and the story of his rise as a DJ wasn’t just about the music. We met the women in his life, including Pauline Etienne’s Louise and Greta Gerwig’s American writer Julia, and the male friends who came and went. Eden was always engaging, hilarious, tender, poignant, and rousing; in short it felt like a life.

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(2) Furious 7

Paul Walker bowed out with a gloriously nonsensical romp which made pigswill of the laws of physics because Vin Diesel, The Rock and The State said so. This franchise under the direction of Justin Lin, and now James Wan, has broken free of any link to humdrum reality to become distilled cinematic joy. And it’s so much fun they can even break rules, like not killing the mentor, yet still set themselves up for an awesome finale. CC: Whedon & Abrams, there are other ways to motivate characters and raise the stakes…

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(1) Birdman

Michael Keaton made a spectacular leading man comeback in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s meta-riff on Keaton being overshadowed by his Bat-past. Keaton was hilarious and affecting by turns, and in support Edward Norton shone in a play on his persona: preening self-regard with notes of self-loathing. Emmanuel Lubezski’s camera-work was spectacularly fluid in maintaining the illusion of a single take, but the time-lapses made you suspect it was a cinematic conceit designed to conceal the theatrical nature of essentially four long-takes. Indeed the characters were highly conscious that theatre was the only medium for a Carver adaptation; the days of Short Cuts are gone. Birdman was interesting, funny, and experimental; and to consistently pull off all three of those at the same time was enough to overcome any quibbles.

September 25, 2015

Miss You Already

Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore are thirty-something BFFs whose bond is sorely tested when Collette’s reformed wild child loses her way while battling breast cancer. Here’s a teaser of my review for HeadStuff.org.

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The film opens with a quick gallop through the lives of Milly and Jess, from Jess’ arrival as an American kid to an English school, to hanging out with Milly’s actress mother Miranda (Jacqueline Bisset), to being groupies until an unplanned pregnancy sees Milly marry roadie Kit (Dominic Cooper) and settle down to a PR career while Kit embraces the business side of music. Jess meanwhile works for a Green NGO and lives on a houseboat with Jago (Paddy Considine), a builder and oil-rig worker. And then Milly is informed she has breast cancer. So begins debilitating bouts of chemotherapy and the psyche-destroying hair-loss before the emperor of maladies unleashes the full arsenal of horrors. As Milly’s condition deteriorates it takes a heavy toll not only on her marriage, but also drives a wedge between Jess and Jago as Jago becomes increasingly aggrieved at IVF being put on hold for the sake of Milly; especially as Milly becomes increasingly unbearable.

Click here to read the full review on HeadStuff.org with Judd Apatow, Greta Gerwig, and Mia Hansen-Love in the mix.

April 1, 2015

While We’re Young

Frances Ha director Noah Baumbach returns to the NYC art scene, but loses Greta Gerwig as co-writer and reinstates Greenberg cohort Ben Stiller as protagonist.

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Josh (Ben Stiller) is a documentarian. He’s married to Cornelia (Naomi Watts), a film producer, whose father is the legendary documentarian Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin).  Josh and Cornelia’s best friends Fletcher (Beastie Boy’s Adam Horovitz!!) and Marina (Maria Dizzia) have just had a kid. Indeed the misleading opening finds Josh and Cornelia gazing at the baby while a mobile playing a cutesy version of Bowie’s ‘Golden Years’ hangs over the cot. Having lost Fletcher to the children cult Josh is receptive to a hipster couple he meets after one of his New School extension lectures. Jamie (Adam Driver) is a would-be documentarian, his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) makes home-made ice cream, and they live in a Brooklyn flat with friend and occasional band-mate Tipper (Dree Hemingway). Josh is enchanted, and soon so is Cornelia, but can this rejuvenation end well?

While We’re Young is less sunny than Frances Ha, but thankfully not as bitter as Greenberg, and, from the opening hilarious quotes from Ibsen’s The Master Builder, is always engaging. Some montages of Josh and Cornelia’s rediscovery of their youth thru hip-hop and hats equal Frances Ha’s use of pop, and Baumbach also mocks ‘Eye of the Tiger’ motivational status (“I remember when this song was just bad”). But Frances Ha was about being lost and aimless. This is about a couple who have everything, and are jaded, meeting a couple who have little, but are liberated. Josh has spent 8 years not finishing a documentary, and laments “I only have two moods: wistful and disdainful.” For Jamie making a documentary is a free and easy process, as whimsy-driven as choosing to not know a factoid rather than google it.

But when Jamie uses a remote control to zoom-in for a close-up on his face during a ‘spontaneous’ tearful scene when interviewing old school-friend Kent (Brady Corbet), Josh realises Jamie’s directing is as affected as the love of vinyl and VHS… Then things get All About Eve as Jamie supplants Josh in the affections of Leslie (veteran Grodin on fine comedic form). It’s a bit silly, not least as it draws attention to Baumbach’s own idol-supplanting. Josh is Woody Allen in Crimes & Misdemeanours: a film-maker unable to finish a documentary showcasing an aged academic proffering arcane wisdom. It’s as odd as James Murphy’s music and Baumbach’s staging creating an oddly sinister intercutting of a valedictory speech and an ethical confrontation, almost as if Baumbach is parodying his own concerns: Woody’s stakes were life and death, his, just passé ethics.

While We’re Young has moments of genuine sadness, like Cornelia (who’s miscarried repeatedly) freaking out a baby music class, but Baumbach opts for an all too pat comedy ending.

3.5/5

February 25, 2015

JDIFF 2015: A Chair with Wings

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The programme for the 2015 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival promises a number of international guests, including Julie Andrews, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Crowe, Kim Cattrall, Alan Rickman, Ryan O’Neal and Danny Huston, and intriguing films from diverse countries and eras.

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The JDIFF 2015 programme was officially launched this morning by Festival Director Grainne Humphreys, who invoked The Accidental Tourist’s image of travel writing as giving the reader a chair with wings. The ‘Around the World’ programme features nearly 140 films from nearly 40 different countries across 11 days. Humphreys invoked the Festival’s mission to amplify and complement the world cinema which is available to Irish audiences, noting that 70 to 75% of the films screened at the Festival will never be screened again in Ireland. And when such one-off screening opportunities have in the past few years included such titles as the riveting Russian WWII movie White Tiger and Aleksandr Sokurov’s Faust it only underscores the importance of the Festival.

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The Festival, in response to audience feedback, is expanding into new venues Movies at Dundrum, The Pavilion, and Riverbank Arts Centre, and introducing some double screenings. It is also ramping up its Picture House outreach project in hospitals and care homes, a project whose patron is Oscar-winning actress Brenda Fricker. A final new venue will be the Bord Gais Energy Theatre which will host the finale interview with Julie Andrews. That closing gala screening of The Sound of Music with Andrews, and Kenneth Branagh’s unveiling of his latest blockbuster directorial outing Cinderella, is indicative of a desire to make the Festival accessible to the most casual of cinemagoers rather than the intimidating preserve of cinephiles.

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Julie Andrews and Kenneth Branagh will both receive Voltas, and there are many other guests in attendance between the 19th and 29th of March. As previously mentioned hereabouts Russell Crowe will be presenting his directorial debut, The Water Diviner, in which his character travels to Gallipoli in 1919 to search for his soldier sons, missing since 1915’s bloody landing on the Turkish peninsula. Another actor-director, Alan Rickman, will present his new movie A Little Chaos, in which Kate Winslet attempts to introduce a little anarchy to the gardens of Versailles under the watchful eye of Rickman’s King Louis XIV. Actor-producer Kim Cattrall meanwhile will give an acting masterclass to the students of the Lir Academy, and introduce episodes of her new satirical Canadian TV series Sensitive Skin co-starring Don McKellar.

Kubrick on set of Barry Lyndon

The 40th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s period epic Barry Lyndon is marked by a screening in the Savoy with both star Ryan O’Neal and producer Jan Harlan, with Lenny Abrahamson leading a public interview afterwards, while O’Neal will also be on hand for a screening of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 neo-screwball comedy What’s, Up, Doc? And if all that weren’t enough to get you excited a Talking Movies favourite, the effortlessly charismatic Danny Huston, will do a Q&A after his new suspense thriller Pressure, in which he and Matthew Goode are trapped in a deep-sea station where mind-games soon jeopardise survival.

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A strong line-up of Irish features encompasses genres from horror to rom-com, biopic to gangster. The Festival will be opened by Mary McGuckian’s The Price of Desire, a beatiful and compelling depiction of Irish modernist designer Eileen Gray’s collaboration with Le Corbussier on an iconic piece of archiecture, with stars Orla Brady and Vincent Perez in attendence. Love/Hate actor Robert Sheehan will be attending a screening of his new film The Road Within, and will participate in the Actors in Conversation event, part of this year’s Screen Test programme. Gerard Barret and Jack Reynor, fresh from Sundance glory, will present Glassland, in which Toni Collette’s alcoholism pushes her son Jack Reynor into a clash with the Dublin underworld. Game of Thrones star Liam Cunningham lets rip against the Gardai in Brian O’Malley’s tense Let Us Prey, a homage to John Carpenter’s ouevre, while Conor McMahon dispenses with the comedy of Stitches for straight horror in From the Dark in which a couple in a farmhouse are terrorised. Also featured in the programme are Pat Murphy’s Tana Bana, Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal, and Vivienne De Courcy’s colourful Dare to be Wild.

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The Out of the Past season is always a Festival highlight and this year showcases Richard Brooks’ 1967 version of In Cold Blood starring Scott Wilson and Robert Blake as the killers immortalised by Truman Capote’s investigation of their brutal crime, PJ Hogan’s 1994 Abba-loving Australian comedy Muriel’s Wedding which made a star of Toni Collette, Jean Renoir’s Partie de Campagne based on a story by Guy de Maupassant, Arthur Hiller’s The Americanisation of Emily starring Julie Andres and James Garner in a tale written by Paddy Chayefsky, and King Vidor’s silent classic of urban alienation The Crowd with live accompaniment from pianist Stephen Horne.

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The Reel To Reel documentary strand features a trio of intriguing titles. The Last Man On The Moon will see directors Mark Craig and Gareth Doods in attendence for a Savoy presentation of their account of the Eugene Cirnan, the only man to travel to the moon twice. Fellow NHL fans will be as excited as Talking Movies to see the engaging and moving Russian documentary Red Army, about the greatest ice hockey team ever assembled in the 1980s Winter Olympics and their playing careers in North America. From Germany meanwhile The Decent One unveils the private documents, journals and photographs of the SS comander Heinrich Himmler to present an intimate portrait of a family man quietly engaged in genocide.

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The bread and butter of the Festival is its eclectic selection of features. The prolific and inimitable François Ozon’s latest film is The New Girlfriend, Olivier Assayas follows up autobiographical Apres Mai with the Cesar-winning psychodrama Cloud of Sils Maria, and Wim Wenders returns with The Salt of The Earth. Actor Mads Mikkelsen takes on the Old West with some Refn-like brutality in The Salvation, director Liv Ullman takes on August Strindberg’s iconic play Miss Julie, Noah Baumbach addresses the effects of technology on individual lives more successfully than Jason Reitman with While We’re Young, Jason Schwartzman antagonises everyone as an obnoxious writer in Listen Up Philip, and another Bret Easton Ellis 2014 favourite Force Majeure makes its debut here.

The full programme will be available on the festival website jdiff.com at 7pm tonight with online booking opening at 7.30pm. Tickets can be booked at the Festival Box Ofiice on 13 Lower Ormond Quay from 26th February, or at Ticket Offices in Cineworld or the Light House from 14th March.

January 9, 2014

Top 10 Films of 2013

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(10) Fast and Furious 6

This falls short of its illustrious immediate predecessor, but director Justin Lin’s sign-off to the Vin Diesel franchise he invigorated retained its Ocean’s 11 with petrol-heads vibe. A spectacular action sequence with a tank on a freeway, a charismatic villain with an outrageously designed car, and an over-busy finale as outsize as the runway it took place on were all elevated by a pervasive air of sadness. Poor Han…

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(9) Catching Fire

Jennifer Lawrence nuanced her formidable Hunger Games heroine with PTSD as she fought a deadly PR battle with President Donald Sutherland and his lieutenant Philip Seymour Hoffman. Confidence oozed from this movie, a quality noticeable in its expanded ensemble. Director Francis Lawrence’s trademark held shots and action tracks created a more rounded universe with complex villains as well as tense CGI suspense sequences in which the geography of the action was always nicely legible.

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 (8) Short Term 12

Newcomer Destin Cretton helmed his own prize-winning script about twenty-something counsellors at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers to beautiful effect. Brie Larson is outstanding as the enigmatic lead counsellor Grace, but nuanced turns from Kaitlyn Dever as possible abuse victim Jayden, Keith Stanfield as suicidal rapper Marcus, and John Gallagher Jr as Grace’s long-suffering boyfriend all draw us into an unfamiliar world detailed with insight, humour, and a tempered optimism.

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(7) White House Down

Roland Emmerich’s nonsensical Die Hard movie joyously proclaimed its debt (the villain ‘discovered’ a connection between the hero and a female hostage), paid off every plant in sight from President Obama Jamie Foxx’s Lincoln fandom to what Channing Tatum’s daughter’s six weeks honing a skill for her talent show, featured an aggressive right-wing news anchor who wouldn’t stop crying, and forced a miscast Maggie Gyllenhaal to commit so ferociously she grounded the whole thing.

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(6) Now You See Me

This Ocean’s 11 with magicians romp was gloriously insouciant crowd-pleasing fun that never flagged, and flirted with cliché but avoided its embrace. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco breezed thru flashily staged sequences of magical revenge against the 1% as their ‘Four Horsemen’ magicians caused chaos across America while being hunted by Mark Ruffalo (FBI/Scully) and Melanie Laurent (Interpol/Mulder) who began to wonder – can these be real magicks?

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(5) Frances Ha

Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach combined as writers to potent effect for a film in thrall to Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Its monochrome NYC looked incredible, the comedy was superb and clever, it used pop music to amazingly emotional effect, and it was based around an outstanding performance from Gerwig in a richly written part. From her money worries and anxieties at meeting richer people and more successful contemporaries, to her exaggerations about her success to hide embarrassment at her failures, to plain loopy decisions, this was a piercing, realistic insight into failure.

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(4) Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen mined a tragic vein as Cate Blanchett’s humbled socialite Jasmine stayed in San Francisco with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine tried to replace Ginger’s boyfriend Bobby Cannavale with Louis CK, and to replace her own dead tycoon husband (Alec Baldwin) with a widowed diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard). Two women’s romances and mental disintegration recalled Vicky Cristina Barcelona but this was far superior. Fantastic comedy from unsubtle suitors and Blanchett’s waspish tongue was combined with her extraordinary expressive portrayal of schizophrenic breaks from reality as she talked intimately to thin air, seeing people.

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(3) This is The End

Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg’s directorial debut in which Seth, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride attempted to wait out the apocalypse in a Hollywood mansion stuffed with drugs and no food was a largely unstructured ramble from one absurd set-up to the next profane bout of self-indulgence, and it was fantastic. Emma Watson’s extended axe-wielding cameo was spectacular, the theology of how to survive the end of days was ludicrous, and the use of music reduced me to helpless tears of laughter; especially the final two songs.

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(2) Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Writer/director David Lowery’s stunning tale of young criminals in love in 1970s Texas played out like Badlands re-imagined by Jeff Nichols. Rigorously under-lit by Bradford Young its glorious darkness created a moody, romantic atmosphere in which the abiding passion of parted lovers Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) assumed mythic proportions. Keith Carradine as Bob’s mentor and Ben Foster as the lawman Ruth once shot grounded this world, and Lowery built tension expertly around Bob’s escape from jail to Ruth to a suspenseful finale which ended with an image of savage grace.

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(1) Mud

Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols returned with an Arkansan tale indebted to Mark Twain as a modern Huck and Tom helped Matthew McConaughey’s titular fugitive. Teenager Tye Sheridan gave a subtle turn as Ellis, who reacted to his parents’ disintegrating marriage by bonding with Mud and his unquenchable belief in true love, despite mysterious neighbour Sam Shepard’s warning that Mud was a fool in waiting for unreliable Reese Witherspoon. DP Adam Stone imbued the Arkansan locations with a heavenly sheen, and, while Mud hiding out a river island living in a boat in a tree observing local superstitions gave rise to great comedy, there was also Twain’s darkness in blood feuds. Nichols’ third film was rich, absorbing, cautiously optimistic, and lit by a deep affection for his characters.

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