Talking Movies

September 14, 2013

Things We Learnt From Movies

Martin Scorsese at his most ebullient can give the impression that Old Hollywood taught its audience how to act in every imaginable scenario. But sometimes the things we learn from movies are just slightly absurd…

03-29-51_mesrine-public-enemy-no-1_original

“I’m telling you, Besse, it’s really that easy”

TG4 is showing the second part of 2009 French crime epic Mesrine next Friday night. But while Mesrine: Public Enemy No 1 is a sprawling and rewarding saga it’s to be hoped that TG4 don’t fall asleep at the wheel like they did when they premiered the movie. Vincent Cassell’s legendary bank-robber Jacques Mesrine had just escaped from prison by shinning over a wall with Mathieu Amalric’s fellow prisoner Besse when the prison guards finally noticed and started to shoot and give chase. Mesrine and Besse made it to a car, but left behind their third prisoner when he got shot on the other side of the street; making it impossible to bundle him into the car. As they took off in the car, TG4 cut to an ad-break. But somebody while pushing the button to start the ads forgot to also push the button to stop the movie… And so, after the ad-break, instead of the hair-raising stylish escape across town in a car and a train, we caught up with Mesrine and Besse in a flat. It gives the impression that escaping from French prisons is surprisingly easy; almost as if we missed this scene on the street…

 

EXT.STREETSIDE OF PRISON WALL – DAY.

The burly Chief Warden PIERRE runs panting out of immensely heavy doors; which open just a fraction of a second before he bolts thru them. He finds two young prison guards JEAN and MARC standing beside a wounded PRISONER and looking disconsolately down the street. Pierre follows their gaze and sees a car containing MESRINE and BESSE is speeding away…

PIERRE: What are you two imbeciles doing? Why aren’t you chasing Mesrine?

JEAN: (quietly) He crossed the street.

PIERRE: (in disbelief) No!!

MARC: Yes, he just, he came out, and then he just… crossed right on over.

PIERRE: Pierrot Le Fou! I hate that rule…

JEAN: We couldn’t do anything.

MARC: I even had a shot, but he had one foot on the pavement, and I didn’t want to take the shot because I thought that might be against the rules.

PIERRE: You were quite right not to shoot, Marc. The last thing we want is to put ourselves in the wrong.

JEAN: (sadly) If it was even just a little wider, as a street.

PIERRE: Well what do you expect when you put a prison in the middle of a residential part of town? Oh God, that rule is just so infuriating!

MARC: Permission to go back in and beat le snot out of the other prisoners as misplaced frustration?

PIERRE: Granted. Give us your baton there and I’ll start.

Marc hands Pierre his baton. Pierre idly whacks the wounded prisoner about the head a few times; then tosses the baton away in disgust.

PIERRE: (shaking his fist) Damn you Mesrine!

JEAN: He pronounces it May-reen.

PIERRE: Shut up.

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February 8, 2012

A Dangerous Method

David Cronenberg and a stellar cast tackle a clash between two heavyweights of 20th Century intellectual history, but this film punches just below its fighting weight.

Michael Fassbender is Carl Jung, Viggo Mortensen is Sigmund Freud, and Keira Knightley is their shared patient (and alleged muse) Sabina Spielrein in a riveting drama about the disagreement between the two great founding fathers of psychoanalysis that split the medical movement at its founding. Atonement scriptwriter Christopher Hampton adapts his own play which begins with Sabina’s arrival at the Swiss clinic where Jung works. This allows him put Freud’s untested theory of the ‘talking cure’ into practice, leading to a meeting with Freud that sees the two men become friends and colleagues. Freud, however, sends a deranged colleague Otto Gross (played by an unruly Vincent Cassell) to Jung for treatment, and after their bruising debating sessions Jung succumbs to his darkest desires with Sabina, who is on her way to becoming an analyst herself; and a disciple of Freud…

Knightley, sporting an impressive Russian accent, gives a startlingly alien performance as the hysterical girl who slowly transforms herself into Jung’s intellectual equal. Her attacks of hysteria include a disturbing jutting of her jaw that conveys a body almost breaking in trying not to scream. Sabina’s recovery allows Knightley to play a nuanced fragility. Fassbender (looking oddly like James Joyce) is assured as a clever, kindly man corrupted by his own darkest desires. Viggo has a determinedly supporting role as Freud, but is droll in delivering put-downs, and wordlessly noting the class and religious divide between himself and Jung; which are slightly overplayed. He also excels at making Freud charismatic but ambiguous; did he send Gross to corrupt Jung because Jung threatened to undermine Freud’s sexualised theorising?

There is minor body horror in Sabina’s account of a waking hallucination of a mollusc attaching itself to her spine, but the real Cronenberg touch is the S&M between her and Jung. Cronenberg’s triumph is using deep focus in the therapy sessions so that we can observe the faces of both Jung and Sabina, and in foregrounding consistently compelling verbal fencing between characters who professionally dissect language for its nuances. Emotions trump ideas though… Freud’s insistence on total obedience or excommunication, his dogmatic atheism, his refusal to abrogate sexual interpretations to anything, and Jung’s counterpointing of a spiritual instinct and metaphoric rather than literal readings of Oedipus complexes are never adequately explored. Jung’s empirical discovery of the complexes is glancingly depicted, but his theory of synchronicity (a psychic echo of physical events) is rendered as stark gibberish, while Freud’s concept of the death drive and Jung’s anima/animus theory become Sabina’s ideas…

This is an excellently played drama that is always absorbing, but more detail about the ideas of the characters rather than just their emotions would have made it truly great.

4/5

January 22, 2010

Top 10 Films of 2009

(10) Crank 2 Jason Statham rampages thru the streets fighting mobsters, electrocuting himself, humiliating Amy Smart and generally incarnating lunacy in celluloid form. I saw it in a ‘private screening’ in Tallaght UCI and my brain is still slowly recovering.

(9) Star Trek I still have issues with the intellectual con-job involved in its in-camera ret-conning plot, and its poor villain, but this was a truly exuberant romp that rejuvenated the Trek franchise with great joy and reverence, down to the old familiar alarm siren, even if Spock (both versions) did act new Kirk off the screen. Here’s to the sequels.

(8) Mesrine 1 & 2 A brassy, bold piece of film-making, this French two-parter about the life of infamous bank-robber Jacques Mesrine saw Vincent Cassell in sensational form aided by a supporting cast of current Gallic cinematic royalty. Sure, this was too long and had flaws, but it had twice the spark of its efficient but autopiloted cousin Public Enemies.

(7) Moon Playing like a faithful adaptation of an Isaac Asimov tale this low-budget sci-fi proved that a clever concept and good execution will always win out over empty special effects and bombast as this tale of a badly injured worker having an identity crisis in a deserted moon-base was both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

(5) (500) Days of Summer It’s not a riotous comedy, but it is always charming, it is tough emotionally when it needs to be and its systematic deconstruction of the rom-com is of great importance, as, bar The Devil Wears Prada, Definitely Maybe and The Jane Austen Book Club, that genre produces only bad films and is moribund, hypocritical and, yes, damaging.

(5) Frost/Nixon It was hard to shake the wish that you had seen the crackling tension of the stage production but this is still wonderfully satisfying drama. Sheen and Langella are both on top form in their real-life roles, backed by a solid supporting cast, and the probing of the psyches of both men, especially their midnight phone call, was impeccable.

(3) Inglourious Basterds Tarantino roars back with his best script since 1994. Historical inaccuracy has never been so joyfully euphoric in granting Jewish revenge on the Nazis, QT’s theatrical propensities have never been better than the first extended scene with the Jew-hunter and the French farmer, the flair for language is once again devoted to uproarious comedy, and the ability to create minor characters of great brilliance has returned.

(3) The Private Lives of Pippa Lee An intimate female-centred film this was a refreshing joy to stumble on during the summer and, powered by great turns from Robin Wright and Blake Lively, this was an always absorbing tale of a woman looking back at a life lived in an extremely bizarre fashion. Rebecca Miller inserted a great message of hope for the possibility of renewing yourself if you could only endure in an ending that averted sentimentality.

(2) Milk For my money a far more important landmark than Brokeback Mountain as Gus Van Sant, directing with more focus and great verve than he has shown for years, melded a convincing portrait of gay relationships with an enthralling and inspirational account of the politics of equal rights advocator and ‘Mayor of Castro’, the slain Harvey Milk.

(1) Encounters at the End of the World After a slow start Werner Herzog’s stunning documentary melds breathtaking landscape and underwater photography and a warning on the dangers of global warming with a typically Herzogian journey into madness whether it be an insane penguin or the eccentric oddballs and scientists who live in Antarctica’s bases.

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