Irrational Man

Posted: August 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

75**1/2

A drama with a couple of laughs rather than a comedy, and more a philosophical discussion than a drama, Irrational Man is a very contained, very minor particle of Woody Allen’s huge cinematic universe, and could’ve been a disaster were it not for the extremely committed performances of its three leads, Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone and Parker Posey.

Unlike most of Allen’s films, which feature large, intersecting ensembles, the action of Irrational Man is almost entirely comprised of interchanges between these three, and mostly between Phoenix and Stone’s characters. He’s a near-alcoholic, depressed phillosophy professor who has just joined the faculty of a gorgeous, small college in Newport, Rhode Island; she’s one of his students. She and Posey both fall for him, but he might need more than either of them to rise above his existential malaise.

In films such as Love and Death and Sleeper, Allen’s dialogue sounded like written words, because his scenes were constructed, literally, as jokes. But here, the literalness of the writing sounds didactic and contrived – yet somehow, through commitment, talent and a bit of magic, Phoenix, Stone and Posey pull it off – just. Irrational Man is a minor work in a minor key, with just enough charm to make it a passable expenditure of your time.

The Man From UNCLE

Posted: August 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

Elizabeth-Debicki-Man-From-UNCLE-Movie-Poster***1/2 (out of five)

The plot’s pretty standard, but Guy Ritchie’s Man From UNCLE remake / reboot / whatever has a lot of charm. It’s incredibly stylish, at times breathtakingly beautiful, and features an absolute star-making turn by Henry Cavill as Napoleon Dynamite – whoops, Solo – played long ago on the small screen by Robert Vaughn.

I didn’t see Cavill as Superman in Man of Steel but I’ve been told by many he wasn’t given the chance to make much of an impression, mainly due to Superman being given very few lines. Here, Cavill’s Solo has a lot to say and he says it all very well. The script is chock full of extremely dry humour and Cavill gets the tone just right. He’s also stunningly handsome in a very old-fashioned movie star way. This man is a leading man.

As Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin, played by David McCallum in the series, Armie Hammer also mounts a serious charm offensive, and together he and Cavill deliver a fun buddy movie. I haven’t seen either of Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies, but I gather this is what he does now: puts two handsome men together in a stylish period setting (in this case, the 60s) and lets them banter. These two banter very well indeed, and look great in 60s clothes.

So do Alicia Vikander and (especially) Elizabeth Debicki, who, refreshingly, are given as much chance to be wonderful as the men. Vikander plays the daughter of a German scientist who has been kidnapped by Debicki to build a nuke. Debicki doesn’t so much chew the scenery as lap it up like a spoiled cat. She is a magnificent human being.

Unfortunately, Man From UNCLE is not slaying the box office. I was hoping for a franchise. This is fun stuff.

Iris

Posted: August 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

poster-fb*** (out of five)

Unfortunately, it can’t be said for the late Albert Maysles, who died on March 5th at age 88, that his penultimate film, Iris, is anywhere close to his best, but that is damning with great praise: this is the man who (with his late brother David) made Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens and Salesman (among over forty other films) and was known as “The Dean of Documentary”. Iris is delightful enough, but so slight a subject that its scant eighty-three minute running time feels padded.

Iris Apfel, still alive at 94 (and filmed by Maysles here at 93) has had an eccentric career at the intersection of interior design, textiles and fashion, but what she’s really famous for is knowing how to put an outfit together – on herself. The women likes to shop and likes to get dressed, and that’s what we mainly follow her doing, scouring vintage stores from New York to Palm Beach and getting to be present for her singular wit along the way. Various parties, guest lecturing gigs and retrospective interviews about museum and store-window shows she’s curated let us know she’s much more than just an old New York lady haggling for a good price in second hand stores – though she is that lady, quintessentially and proudly.

The movie becomes most poignant and meaningful when Maysles suddenly turns the camera on himself, revealing the 87 year old man who is stalking the 93 year old subject. Suddenly the film doubles down on its premise that age should not be an impediment, even as age cannot help but be the film’s true theme.

Trainwreck

Posted: August 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

trainwreck_ver2***1/2 (out of five)

Trainwreck opens with one of the funniest scenes of the year thus far. It closes with a scene that is corny, clichéd and sentimental. The whole film, when broken down, pretty much works in the same way: the first act is a brilliant sex comedy, the second act is an above average sex comedy/RomCom, and the third act is a very standard Rom/Com. Regardless, this will always be Amy Schumer’s screenwriting calling card par excellence; no matter what happens to her as a performer, she will forever be able to get a screenwriting gig in Hollywood based on her script here.

This is because Schumer has balanced her naturally subversive sense of humor with the demands of true ruthless commercialism. The movie embraces every cliché any studio boss would demand of her – before even letting them read it. She gave the script to Judd Apatow fully formed, and she remains with a sole screenwriting credit. She prejudged the judges and watered down her own comedy before anyone else could. The result is a film that is 65 to 70 percent artistically inspired and also has achieved quite a remarkable box office, considering that Schumer is not yet a movie star (well, now she is).

As is incredibly typical of Apatow movies, it’s too long and flabby. But the really good scenes are really really good, as is Bill Hader, in his best ever performance, as the romantic interest. This is a RomCom where the girl is the lead, and Amy playing “Amy” essentially plays what we must assume she thinks of herself. My big fear is that she is instantly creating of herself a Woody Allen-style alter ego, and that, unless she breaks away from that pretty quickly, that will be her stock in trade. As we all know, the least interesting thing about many Woody Allen movies is how much the Woody Allen character deviates from previous Woody Allen characters.

Brie Larson is excellent as Amy’s sister, Colin Quinn is also fine as her father – quite a significant part – and her boss is played by someone, sublimely, whom I won’t reveal here. Try not to find out who’s in it before you see it, and let the credits at the end astound you with a classic case of, “Oh my god, that was her?”

Holding The Man

Posted: August 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

301679_Screen_Shot_2015_06_22_at_11_44_51_am_591w
****

The marketing – a big poster – claims that it’s a love story for everybody, but the reality is that Holding The Man is the first great Australian movie about the AIDS crisis, filtered through, yes, a great romance – but it isn’t a mainstream Friday night flick. This film – to its credit – includes some of the most challenging sexual material ever seen in an Australian mainstream film. It’s a “queer” piece of cinema, but one with ambitions to break through mainstream barriers, and it will, among the enlightened, echoing its own story.

The underlying text here is a memoir by Tim Conigrave about his relationship with John Caleo; it was amazingly intimate and immediate, and in hindsight, provided a close examination of the AIDS crisis as it swept through Sydney. Neil Armfield’s film does it brilliant justice. It’s gripping even as the conflicts within it are quite unexceptional. Problems with the parents are the main – indeed almost only – conflicts for this loving couple until, of course, the disease comes along. That’s the monster. But it’s obviously enough.

So instead of a movie with a lot of conflict, we get a gorgeous romantic tragedy. It’s not dissimilar to Love Story, or the slightly belaboured analogy of Romeo and Juliet – Conigrave’s Capulets, played by Guy Pearce and Kerry Fox, are liberal, while Caleo’s are Catholic and decidedly not into his love affair. But it’s wonderfully directed, and it’s perfectly acted. Ryan Corr is amazing as Tim Conigrave. He’s emotionally present but also appropriately distant as Conigrave must have been, as he simultaneously discovered love and ambition; as his slightly less contentious and complicated lover John, Craig Stott portrays heart-breaking innocence. He never gets to know what hit him.

This is a deeply complicated story with a very difficult concept at its heart: what if your misbehaviour has literally killed the person you love? It’s beautifully told.

missionimpossible0003***1/2 (out of five)

Christopher McQuarrie’s directorial debut in the Mission Impossible franchise, having already written for and directed Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher (and written for him with Edge of Tomorrow and Valkyrie) is a lot of fun. It’s got great action set-pieces and a nice dose of humour, but best of all, it’s got a female lead who is so good, she brings Cruise up a few notches; he’s at the top of his game in every scene he shares with her.

She’s Ilsa Faust, played by the sublime Swedish/British actress Rebecca Ferguson (the BBC’s The White Queen), and you can tell by her name how this chapter in the franchise has been constructed – it’s basically a Bond movie with an alternate set of characters. The best set-piece in the film, taking place during a big production of Turandot at the Vienna Opera House, is the most Bond-like, in the tradition of those many Bond action sequences where a vicious fight takes place simultaneously with some sort of performance (and where assassinations are also being attempted). Likewise, the villain – and all his henchmen – are directly influenced by Bond villains, going all the way back to Robert Shaw’s turtle-necked bruiser in From Russia With Love. McQuarrie playfully acknowledges all this by sticking a silver Aston Martin DB5 in a shot towards the end of the film.

But the biggest Bondian element – and the film’s ace – is Ilsa and her relationship with Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, which is flirtatious, mysterious, dangerous and downright sexy. Ilsa (her first name surely inspired by Ilsa Lund from Casablanca, where some of this film takes place) may be working with Hunt and his team or against them, on the side of good or evil, and this ambiguity, combined with an obvious attraction to Hunt, defines all the best Bond women. Hunt himself is more Bond-like than in any of the other Mission Impossible films, and the whole thing has a very British feel, with most of the characters outside of Hunt’s small team being British, and many scenes, including the climactic sequences, set in London.

It’s not as good as Casino Royale or Skyfall, but it’s better than some of the Brosnans, and it’s a lovely little palette cleanser as we wait for Spectre. Genial, exciting and featuring that thrill you get seeing a star being born (in Ferguson), it’s excellent big screen entertainment.

mr_holmes_poster-900x1334***1/2 (out of five)

In 1998 director Bill Condon and actor Ian McKellen collaborated on Gods and Monsters, an intriguing tale of Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale. It won Condon a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar and McKellen a nomination for Best Actor. Now they offer us Mr. Holmes, again adapted from a novel (A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin) and again presenting an intriguing premise, but this time, come awards season, I think only McKellen will be in the running; his performance, rather than the screenplay (or direction) is the chief pleasure of this rather dour, melancholic film.

It’s 1947, Sherlock Holmes is 93, and his memory is starting to desert him. He’s been retired from the crime-solving game for thirty years and now tends bees in a country house in Sussex, attended to by a housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker). Holmes is desperate to maintain – indeed, to stimulate – his memory just long enough, and with enough power, to remember and write down the particulars of his final case. He’s forgotten why he retired, he’s sure that it’s to do with that case, and he wants to remember.

The mystery that follows – told in flashback – is not nearly as fine as most “real” Holmes stories, and that’s a shame; if it had been a humdinger, this movie may have been very special indeed. Likewise, the meditation on ageing and memory loss is moving but not particularly illuminating; there are plenty of other movies that deal with it more interestingly. Most of the film takes place in the present, and the main relationship is between 93-year-old Holmes and young Roger, to whom Holmes is teaching the art of beekeeping. The dramatic conflict, such as it is, involves Holmes remembering his final case and the fear of his housekeeper leaving him (and taking Roger); neither is gripping.

But McKellen is playing Holmes, and McKellen is wonderful. He rises above the film’s singularly melancholic tone by simply bringing his astonishing palette. For one scene (and one scene only, which is a great shame) we see the sixty-something Holmes delivering a trademark deductive monologue with such brilliant wit, elegance, speed, precision and power that it shows Benedict Cumberbatch a thing or two. I would love to see another one of these, that dispenses with the old Mr. Holmes, and just lets McKellen play Sherlock at his own age, because he is obviously in the prime of life and the very height of his powers.