Talking Movies

December 15, 2019

From the Archives: You Kill Me

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Ben Kingsley does a better Robert De Niro than Robert De Niro does these days, and, mirabile dictu, it’s enough here to power this film to great heights. I’ve mocked Ben Kingsley as much as anyone, especially the explosion of pomposity since he got his Knighthood and allegedly starting telling production runners foolish enough to call him Ben, ‘That’s Sir Ben to you!’, as well as inserting his title into the credits on Lucky Number Slevin. But his role as shambolic alcoholic hitman Frank Falenczyk must rank beside his terrifying turn as an unhinged gangster in Sexy Beast as his best performance since his seminal roles in Gandhi and Schindler’s List. The film begins with his alcoholic Frank demonstrating the best way to incentivise yourself to clear the snow off your porch; dropping a bottle of vodka a few feet ahead of you and having to dig your way towards it to get another swig.

Frank passes out drunk while waiting to take out grasping Irish mobster Edward O’Leary and is sent to San Francisco to dry out while his Polish crime family led by Philip Baker Hall’s patriarch seek to prevent a Sino-Irish takeover of their turf in Buffalo, upstate New York. Frank is forced by his Frisco contact, bent lawyer Bill Pullman (in an odd, odd cameo), to attend AA meetings. At first resistant, as he settles into a life working at a mortuary and attending meetings he begins to seek to make amends; not for the murders, he’s not sorry about them, he is sorry about murdering them badly because he was drunk. In a priceless scene he sends a $50 voucher for the Sony Centre to the family of a woman whose throat he was meant to slit, but she moved, so she got a knife in the eye first before being dispatched.

Tea Leoni, as his love interest Laurel (who he meets at a funeral), is more relaxed and thus a better actress now that she’s 41 than she ever was when she was a ‘hot young star’ and it is her hilariously deadpan acceptance of Frank’s past that makes the film work. John Dahl, the director of The Last Seduction and Red Rock West, uses a demented tango soundtrack that underlines the playful absurdity of all of this, and if you didn’t get it already Dahl inserts an insanely happy song to score a montage of Frank using melons to show Laurel how to slice up human beings efficiently. Luke Wilson as his AA mentor also delivers an unusually subtle and effective performance as Dahl draws out a mordant approach to the material from all concerned, while also injecting an undercurrent of deep humanity into the decline and fall of the Polish mob in Buffalo. This is a black comedy to savour.

4/5

September 7, 2018

From the Archives: The Wackness

Rooting around deep in the dustbin of the pre-Talking Movies archives uncovers the last (neglected) feel-good hit of summer 2008.

I mock Ben Kingsley with the best of them but damn it if he hasn’t succeeded in having the last laugh, again, as following his superb turn as an alcoholic hit-man in last year’s You Kill Me he’s once again godlike in a comedy-drama.

The Wackness deals with one summer in the life of Luke Shapiro, a friendless teenager whose parents are embroiled in money worries, as he frets about going to college. Luke is a small time drug dealer at his school and unrequitedly in love with the impossibly hip Stephanie. He’s also in therapy with her stepfather Dr Squires, who trades psychoanalysis for marijuana from Luke, part of his rebellion against the whole world for making him feel old.

Josh Peck as Luke holds his own against Kingsley. Who’s Josh Peck? He’s the Josh of Josh and Drake, on which he displayed an aptitude for physical comedy that rivals anyone else in the last 25 years – check out the scene where Josh and Drake attempt to get a job at a sushi restaurant and fail to keep up with the food on the conveyor belt despite their most frantic efforts… He’s almost unrecognisable here after a substantial weight loss and will surprise many by displaying considerable dramatic acting chops. It may also surprise that he’s playing a drug dealer, indeed during certain scenes this film feels like ‘Nickelodeon Gone Wild’ as Mary-Kate Olsen is frankly terrifying in a cameo role as a drugged out hippy chick.

Method Man is nicely understated in a small supporting role as Luke’s supplier Percy but you suspect his most important input was into the choice of soundtrack which is very mellow 1994 hip-hop and a joy to listen to even if you think you hate rap. Quintessentially 1994 is the hatred of the new NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his nigh on fascist crusade to clean up Times Square, which is the subject of a magnificent rant by a very stoned Dr Squires that ends in a hilarious Forrest Gump moment. Juno star Olivia Thirlby uses the part of Stephanie to get out from under the considerable shadow of Ellen Page and reveal she also can act. Stephanie is endlessly optimistic, “I see the dopeness of things and you only see the wackness” she tells Luke, but phobic of commitment despite her growing attraction to Luke.

This is a slight tale but it’s not possible to over-praise The Wackness’s gorgeous cinematography. You will not see a prettier film this year, under-lit in warm browns and oranges which create an entirely appropriate woozy feel to the action. Jonathan Levine previously directed cult favourite All the Boys Love Mandy Lane but this film deserves to be more than just a niche success, The Wackness really is the last feel-good hit of the summer.

4/5

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.