Talking Movies

November 15, 2019

Le Mans ’66

Director James Mangold reunites with his 3:10 to Yuma star Christian Bale for a less satisfying movie about driving fast cars.

Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) wins the 24 hour endurance race at Le Mans in 1959 only to be invalided out of motor-sports by a dodgy ticker. Instead he tries to run a racing team of his own, dealing with irascible driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) with the help of trusted mechanic Phil (Ray McKinnon). And then Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) comes calling, desperate to make Ford cool again by importing some European glamour to the brand by taking down Ferrari. The ego of Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) leads to an attempt to magick into existence a car capable of winning Le Mans. But Ford II’s ego is matched only by his underling Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas). He is not as forgiving as Ken’s wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe) when Ken Miles bluntly speaks his mind…

Le Mans ’66 starts promisingly with a startling recreation of racing Le Mans at night, mist obscuring a dark country road interspersed with fast cars being handled recklessly. But at 2 hours 34 minutes this is more accurately The Road to Le Mans ’66 as it is a good 1 hour and 42 minutes into the film before Bale sets foot in France. The script by the Brothers Butterworth and Jason Keller is fairly rambling, and leaves a distinctly bitter taste in the mouth after the epic run time. Bale’s performance is a curate’s egg: the showy weight loss, the Brummie accent that frequently hits Liverpool, the nervous tics and arrogant mouthing off like Liam Gallagher crossed with Bale’s meth-head in The Fighter. His quietest moments are most effective, so you wonder why Mangold sanctioned this way of playing Miles.

Damon is on far surer ground as Shelby, a man continually trying to find his footing as the world keeps changing on him. Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders devolve into generic Zimmer for the finale at Le Mans, but prior to that provide an interesting score inflected with the jazz of the time; with numerous delicate touches of rich double bass and whispering drums. Mangold’s semi-regular cinematographer Phedon Papamichael provides some dizzying shots of high-paced vehicular mayhem, but you yearn for an artsy long-take from a low-mounted camera to really capture the feel of the perfect 3:33 lap so often mentioned. Ultimately this isn’t really Ford v Ferrari, so much as a battle of wills between talented people who are experts in their field and just need money versus people who are complete idiots but for egregious reasons have money.

This is not really a feel-good movie, in fact it’s almost a feel-bad movie, about the struggles of racing guys against middle management, with the villain being the spite of an egotistical empty suit.

3/5

February 23, 2018

Lady Bird

On an avalanche of hype Greta Gerwig’s second film as director finally arrives here, depicting the senior high school year of Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson.

Sacramento native Christine (Saoirse Ronan), who insists on referring to herself by her new self-given given name of Lady Bird, is returning from scouting California colleges with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) when she breaks her arm being melodramatic. Further misadventures involve falling out with her fat best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and falling in with the rich, pretty, vacuous Jenna (Odeya Rush) while she goes from romancing charming co-star Danny (Lucas Hedges) to moody musician Kyle (Timothee Chalamet). She is determined to go to college on the East Coast despite money worries caused by her father Larry (Tracy Letts) being let go, and further family tension owing to her brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his live-in girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) working checkouts despite having Berkeley degrees because of the ‘jobless recovery’. This is 2002/3, you see. 

Among the baneful distortions of reality the Oscars cause is the unrealistic hype that can destroy some films, which can never live up to expectations like ‘the greatest screen performance of all time’ Daniel Day-Lewis supposedly gave in There Will Be Blood. Lady Bird is at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes among critics, it’s meant to be the feminist film of our times, the antidote to Trump’s America, take your pick of whatever hyperbole attaches to it online. But after Frances Ha and Mistress America this film is a disappointment. Sam Levy, who shot those two as well as Maggie’s Plan, casts a hazier light over proceedings here which matches Gerwig’s impressionistic portrait of a year with vignettes and montages. But too much of Lady Bird is populated by stock characters, a vague backdrop outside the only carefully etched relationship: mother-daughter.

It’s odd that, after Twilight (!), Gerwig sees fit to also rehash Gilmore Girls’ exemplar: the dull dependable boyfriend versus the edgy erratic boyfriend. More predictable is that, like Wish I Was Here or Middlesex, Lady Bird presents an artist’s abandoned religion as ancient nonsense/psychotic cult. In this case juvenile anti-Catholicism leads directly to a terrible misstep. Lady Bird is horrible to her best friend when she’s chorus and Julie lead in their school musical, she’s horrible to her brother when failing at college admission, and, in one of the most repellent scenes I’ve ever seen, especially for a ‘charming indie’, she’s horrible to anti-abortion speaker Casey (Bayne Gibby) whose very existence she dismisses as a joke. Lady Bird isn’t very funny, talented, smart, or nice. And as this film is steadfastly uninterested in developing anyone else that’s a problem…

‘Important’ films are rarely good, and sadly it seems Gerwig is being feted for making an important film, because this falls short of what she’s done in the past.

3/5

Blog at WordPress.com.