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.

October 16, 2015

Simon Rich: Absurdist Conscience

Simon Rich’s work as a staff writer at Pixar finally saw the light of day with Inside Out, and with a second series of Man Seeking Woman coming soon to FXX, here’s a teaser for my HeadStuff piece on how Rich has moved from pure absurdism to something more like a biting satirist.

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“‘Chess players are not naturally confrontational. But by the time I entered the number five spot, my opponents were growing bolder. ‘We know you’re cheating,’ they’d say. Or, ‘You’re obviously cheating.’ Or, ‘Please, Terry, why won’t you stop cheating?’” – Elliot Allagash

Rich’s first novel was published in 2010. A novel of scheming and anecdotage (and the anecdotes are mostly about scheming), its tale of a bored teenage billionaire upending his school’s social hierarchy was labelled a Pygmalion riff and optioned for cinema by writer/director Jason Reitman. Elliot and his raconteur father Terry have obvious predecessors in Percy and Braddock Washington in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, with the innocent John T Unger being reinvented as Rich’s narrator Seymour Herson. Seymour becomes president after Elliot destroys rivals with schemes that include diabolical exam cheating. But as Seymour edges closer to Harvard he reaches his limit with Elliot’s antics… To read Elliot Allagash is to want to tell people, verbatim, just how Terry became the Harvard chess champion without understanding chess, what the secret of ancestor Cornelius Allagash’s private club was, and how Elliot took revenge on the restaurant that refused him service. It’s that hysterically quotable.

Click here for the full piece on HeadStuff.org covering the evolution of Simon Rich’s prose comedy from Ant Farm to Spoiled Brats.

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