Talking Movies

January 22, 2021

Top 10 Films of 2020

10) Vampires vs the Bronx

The Lost Boys meets Attack the Block? Sorta… This was a deliriously entertaining and knowing slice of genre nonsense as teenage heroes realise the gentrifying property company forcing them out is actually run by vampires.

9) Yes, God, Yes

Karen Maine’s directorial debut was uncomfortable but rewarding as Natalia Dyer’s innocent teenager gets victimised by scandalous gossip, and is sent to a religious retreat as punishment, but learns more there than was planned

8) Possessor

Brandon Cronenberg’s second film, after an eight year wait, proved he is quite good at the family business of body horror as an assassin hijacking a mark’s mind finds herself in a fight for survival as the mark and her meld eerily

7) The Boys in the Band

Matt Crowley’s 1968 play gets a second big screen adaptation, with Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto heading the cast that gathers for a dinner party exposing the complications sinister and farcical of pre-Stonewall gay life.

6) Une Fille Facile

Rebecca Zlotowski makes the best Eric Rohmer film since he died in 2010. Mina Farid is the Cannes teenager at a crossroads who follows her glamorous cousin into high society, but like Pauline a la Plage learns too much.

5) An American Pickle

The dream team of writer Simon Rich and Seth Rogen (flexing his acting muscles) combined for a surprisingly more serious take on the absurdist comic novella Sell Out. Yes, Rogen was hysterically funny as Herschel the pickled immigrant, but he also conveyed the quiet desperation of Ben, leading to an unexpected affirmation of faith and family.

4) Wasp Network

Director Olivier Assayas made a sharp turn from last year’s French romantic comedy Non-Fiction with this multilingual sun-kissed thriller set in 1990s Havana and Miami following the exiles, spies, defectors, and double-agents playing merry hell with Castro’s regime, the CIA, and all points in between. Audaciously structured, this was always absorbing and frequently tense.

3) Spenser Confidential

Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg combined again for a thriller loosely based on the classic Robert B Parker PI creation. ‘Loosely’: because this took place in the sort of chaotic Boston milieu familiar from The Fighter, and seemed every bit as interested in setting up absurdist comedy riffs as it was in actually solving the mystery.

2) Tenet

In a normal year this film would’ve charted lower… The Protagonist’s quest to find pieces of an infernal machine dismantled in the future had a very enjoyable puzzle piece intricacy which will repay multiple viewings, but the Debicki/Branagh emotional motor did not hum, making me question whether this should’ve been a Memento noir rather than a plane-crashing blockbuster.

Cr. NIKO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX

1) The Trial of the Chicago 7

I had the odd complaint about Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game that it wasn’t Sorkin enough. No such concerns with this courtroom drama, this is a tour-de-force of Sorkin dialogue, once intended for Spielberg to direct. Every speaking part seems to have a zinger at some point, and the political import of 1968 to 2020 leaps off the screen without any need for the occasional anachronism. I watched this twice within a week with no loss of relish for the flashback structure, the fantastic ensemble, and the trademark Sorkin sincerity.

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

September 23, 2018

Notes on Mile 22

Mile 22 was the topic of discussion early this morning on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Mark Wahlberg shoots and swears. The 5 word summary. But Mile 22 is not as fun as that might suggest, let down by its script and edited to shreds. Iko Uwais, star of The Raid and Man of Tai Chi, is one of the fight choreographers but director Peter Berg and his five (!) editors don’t seem unduly concerned about getting his silat showdowns on screens. And that’s to say nothing of the jarring editing of simple dialogue scenes where every few words uttered by a character precipitates a needless cut; as if Berg’s team had seen the finale of the ‘Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting’ Gilmore Girls episode and decided to imitate that.

Mark Wahlberg meanwhile plays an unlikeable jerk, alongside Laura Cohan’s unlikeable jerk, and Ronda Rousey’s unlikeable jerk. This wouldn’t be a problem, after all Wahlberg was fantastic in an incredibly abrasive part in The Departed, but that this script does not have the richness of The Departed. The constant cursing here seems an admittance of defeat; with nothing creative to say the characters simply hurl perfunctory abuse at each other.

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