Category Archives: Talk Cinema

Coherence (2013) 4/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77.6
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller
Duration: 89 mins
Director: James Ward Byrkit
Stars: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon

The kind of nimble science fiction that makes hardcore genre fans giddy with excitement is a rare event and one that usually emerges within independent cinema where brains are relied on more than visual effects. Coherence is one such movie. When a group of friends meet in one of their homes for a dinner party, a passing comet causes a power-cut which sets in motion a disturbing unravelling of their reality. Though further revealing of the plot will detract from the experience, suffice to say that loyalties are tested, relationships realigned, and soon everyone finds themselves doing things they never thought they were capable of – precisely because they are worried that they might be! If that doesn’t twist your melon enough, then sit down to the full 90 minutes and you’ll be suitably dizzy by the end. Made over five nights and on a shoestring budget, writer director James Ward Byrkit and his crew nonetheless manufacture an eerie psychological thriller, shot, cut, and produced to a rather plush standard. To that end, restricting the drama largely to the house in question was a crafty decision but, by generating a sense of claustrophobia, it also ends up augmenting the power of the movie’s premise. A premise that the cast, a complementary roster of familiar faces from 90’s TV, are all tied into extremely well and who are instantly successful in their roles of leader, trouble-maker, wacky one, etc. That said, not one of them fails to round off their central character dimensions with a compelling degree of humanity. Where Coherence will inevitably and rather ironically be targeted by demanding sci-fi fans will be in the moments of incoherence that naturally accrue within a complex plot. This is not always an empty criticism though, for a film that requires heavy investment from its audience has an onus to keep it straight. But in the case of this one, there are precious few plot-holes to be concerned with and so Coherence can be considered one of those few modern movies that picks up where the “Twilight Zone” left off and helps carry the baton for all of science fiction.

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Philip Baker Hall

Hard Eight (1996) 4/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 85.1
Genre: Drama, Crime
Duration: 101 mins
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson

Paul Thomas Anderson’s lean and spotless neo noir sees Philip Baker Hall assume the well deserved lead role as a professional gambler who takes a vulnerable John C. Reilly under his wing and teaches him his trade. But when Gwyneth Paltrow’s waitress, moonlighting as a prostitute, enters their lives, a crisis soon emerges that requires all of his seasoned calm to resolve it. There are different levels of acting success out there and the two male leads on show here represent one of the more fortunately unfortunate. Fortunate in that their supreme talent is recognised by the industry but unfortunate to be forever pigeon-holed as nothing more than “strong support players” simply because they don’t look like movie stars. Well it didn’t stop writer-director Anderson from seeing the potential of building a film around the pair and we should all be thankful.

Hard Eight is remarkably efficient story telling even for a director who has specialised in such film making. Dialogue is used sparingly but plenty is said at the right moments and it always rings with sympathetic wisdom. For a cynical film shot with an aversion for the frills and warmth of more stylish directors, this forensic engineering of compassion is a true achievement. Like his casting, Anderson doesn’t shy away from rough edges and the three main players are presented warts and all. But the honesty of how their interactions are captured set against bare production design and dulcet score renders them all the more real and relatable.

Needless to say Baker Hall doesn’t waste a second of this opportunity and, as the jaded Sydney, he finesses the film from drama to thriller and thriller to drama. He may not look like a movie star but he has a great face all the same and regardless of what career his character may have pursued, every day of it seems etched on his face. Reilly is equally splendid in what transpires to be a lesser part but his intense vulnerability wonderfully complements Baker Hall’s composed presence. To her credit, Paltrow isn’t left behind either and she gives us one of the more interesting takes on what has become a standard Hollywood trope of gender economics. Above all else, however, it’s the savvy interplay between these characters who, one and all have been there and done that, which makes Hard Eight so enjoyable and, during the sequences in which Samuel L. Jackson’s sly security guard spars with the ever cool Sydney, the generation gap between their street smarts makes for subtly riveting games of cat and mouse.

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Hidden Gems

SubUrbia (1996) 3.71/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.6
Genre: Comedy Drama
Duration: 121 mins
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn, Nicky Katt

Richard Linklater’s completion of an unofficial trilogy of films looking at the plain nuances of late adolescent life in small town U.S.A. is the most understated and indeed pessimistic movie of the bunch. After the ‘devil may care’ optimism of Slacker and the nostalgic charm of Dazed and Confused, SubUrbia (not to be confused with the famous and not dissimilar punk documentary of the same name) takes an acerbic glance at the disaffection of middle class kids a year out of high-school. Following a group of friends over the course of a night as they hang out on their preferred corner of a convenience store, the film looks at the effect that the return of a former friend, now a successful rock star, has on their night and already touchy self perceptions.

Among the group is Giovanni Ribisi’s “Jeff”, who is as close to a lead as Linklater gets here. The tracks to Jeff’s rut are the most worn and, though his rantings are often wearingly familiar, Ribisi layers them with just enough exasperation and angst to make them both funny and relatable. Ribisi always had a sideways charm (that’s probably held him back on the cusp of proper stardom) and it’s in these indie comedies where it works best. Nicky Katt has a (welcome) larger role than he usually gets and he makes the most of it as the twisted ex-soldier “Tim” whose depression has turned to anger because he thinks he’s seen the world outside his town and it’s not much better. Steve Zahn’s manic “Buff” is the only one of the group who seems content with a life of under-achievement and he is the star of the show. Achieving a joyous balance between verbal and physical comedy, his character is the movie’s safety cord, sling-shotting it back from the depths of post-adolescent panic on numerous occasions. As Jeff’s girlfriend “Sooze”, Amey Carrie has the most difficult role too pull off as she plays the only one of the gang with enough optimism to try to escape their rut but who’s barely hidden insecurities are repeatedly exposed by the cynicism of Jeff and Tim.

Whereas most directors would flounder in the earnestness of teenage angst or end up compromising the entire project with the necessary comic relief, Linklater breathes in one and out the other. Like Slacker, a stream of colourful and often disparate experience replaces plot but, through his skill as a writer and director, it coheres around character profile and some marvelously improvised acting. Drunk and stupid is not an easy thing to pull off without losing the audience at some point but so charming is the dialogue, so tangible is the characters’ inertia, and so impeccable is Linklater’s distance that it all plays to the central musings of the film and, with it, a generation of intelligent but under-stimulated minds. And having Steve Zahn’s improvised mannerisms and his remarkable but less seen genius for physical comedy in there hinders not at all.

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Rules of Attraction (2002) 4/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 67.2
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 110 mins
Director: Roger Avary
Stars: James Van Der Beek, Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn Sossamon

Roger Avary’s adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’ novel is a case of the borderline gratuitous times two. What makes the film worth watching is Avary’s genuine talent for finding the comedy in those most debasing moments of self-obsessed human depravity. Rules of Attraction won’t be to everyone’s liking and there are times when this film goes over the line simply for the sake of doing so (such as in that appalling suicide scene) but it’s an interesting project in its own right in that it that shows the do’s and don’ts of filming in equal measure.

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The Man From Earth (2007) 3.29/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.2
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction
Duration: 87  mins
Director: Richard Shenkman
Stars: David Lee Smith, Tony Todd, John Billingsley

This low budget, low tech science fiction drama is built around an interesting premise: a close friend tells a group of friends, learned academics all, that he has been alive for 14,000 years. The Man From Earth unfolds in real time as the friends quiz him to decide whether he is mad or telling the truth.

The progression of the conversation from bemused inquiry to intense interrogation to angry accusation is fascinating and intuitively realised. The richly drawn and assorted characters behave in believable ways and at all times consistently with their personalities. The actors playing them are accomplished journeymen including the likes of Tony Todd, William Katt, and John Billingsley and all are great to watch in their roles. The character at the centre of it all, John, played wonderfully by David Lee Smith, is of course what the film hinges on and it’s a tour de force of scientific research and intellectual construction. The psychology and sociology as demonstrated and indeed described from the perspective of a man claiming to be 14,000 years old are faultless and insightfully conceived and combined with Smith’s intense performance, they make his story truly compelling. Even the anthropological, religious, and historical references and discussions seem on the mark and as John forensically puts it all together with the help of his friends, the audience is left riveted.

Despite relatively lean production values (e.g., lighting and sound), The Man From Earth reels you in and keeps a hold of you for the best part of 90 mins. Mark Hinton Stewart’s interesting score plays a strong role in this picking up in unpredictable ways during more intense points in the discussion while defaulting back to a more soulful melody during calmer moments. Through a combination of it, the acting, and the crafty dialogue, the film moves steadily towards a strong conclusion.

However, in taking the more difficult route and basing the premise on the trust of friends rather than some climactic demonstration of proof, the writer (Jerome Bixby of Star Trek fame) and director (Richard Shenkman) gave themselves a might task and in truth, it seems like they never quite figured out how to end this fascinating tale. As a result, the film tends to fizzle out in the closing scenes. That said, this is well worth a watch for sci-fi fans with a taste for something different (which should really be all sci-fi fans, right?).

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Pulp Fiction (1994) 4.93/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 94.5
Genre: Crime
Duration: 154  mins
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. JacksonQuentin TarantinoBruce Willis

This is the film that confirmed to the world that Reservoir Dogs was no fluke and that, in Quentin Tarantino, a master film-maker had emerged from the position of a video store clerk. Pulp Fiction skillfully interweaves the stories of two hit-men – Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), a boxer – Butch (Bruce Willis), and a mobster’s wife – Mia (Uma Thurman) into an innovative tale of crime and punishment in los a Angeles. The set pieces are spellbinding, the source music is inspired, every single one of the cast give a career defining performance, and the dialogue is the coolest, most original writing to be ever uttered on screen. “Let’s get into character.”

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Reservoir Dogs (1992) 4.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 88.7
Genre: Crime
Duration: 99 mins
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Quentin Tarantino

You know the story: a bunch of suit-clad, blood-drenched criminals end up in their gang’s hideout after a jewelry store heist goes sideways. As they interrogate and accuse each other of being an informant, the backstory to each of the characters is revealed in flashback until the full picture is painted.

Debut directors have rarely announced their arrival with such explosive confidence as Quentin Tarantino did with Reservoir Dogs. From the very first scene, we know that this guy has his own ideas on how to do things. The type of dialogue-embedded action that defines every scene was so new and fresh at the time that it signalled a revolution in cinema. But being the visionary he is, he realised that revolution must come from within and so we have a film full of self-referential flourishes (i.e., those which serve the story not vice versa). This film is a cinema lover’s delight from the colour coded names of the criminals (a nod to The Taking of Pelham 123) to the visceral and innovative action choreography (think John Woo at his best).

It’s hard to imagine now but, back in 1992, Reservoir Dogs was a ferocious cinematic experience. Mr. Pink’s getaway sequence alone made every previous action sequence look pale and timid. And wrapped as it was in Tarantino and Roger Avery’s new metacultural vernacular, it caught everyone’s attention. As he did in later films to even greater effect, Tarantino blends a number of cinematic styles to create his own unique vision. Thus, we’re treated to an array of gorgeous dolly shots, low angle character perspectives, and some of the most subtly impressive examples of staging in modern cinema. The script is white hot and the awesomely good ensemble cast masterfully brings it to life with all the improvisation and genius that you’d come to expect from Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Penn, and co. If for some wild reason you haven’t seen it, then see it and see it now. If you have, see it again.

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The Social Network (2010) 3.43/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 92.9
Genre: Drama
Duration: 120 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake

“Creation myths need a devil.” The Social Network was hyped by some as one of the best films of all time on its release and actually, they just might have been right with this one. A master class in pacing and screenwriting, this story about the founding of Facebook and the man behind its creation is one of the most compelling films of the modern era. It may take dramatic license as it reconstructs the details of the personal and legal battles that followed the launch of the website but the result is as focused an examination of the digital generation as we’ve seen thus far.

Deeply sophisticated parallels are forensically drawn through the centre of this story as director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin intertwine Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to prominence with the traditional concept of social popularity while reflecting on the dynamic the latter shares with the new order. Characters and plot are richly conceived as the drama unfolds in Shakespearean proportions and by the time it’s all done, we feel we’ve been let in on something really special. Everyone involved acts their socks off but this film is built around the ever excellent Jesse Eisenberg’s sensational performance as Zuckerberg. It’s an intricate piece of work because much of the character’s thoughts and emotions occur very internally and are therefore left to the audience to infer. But thanks to an abundance of carefully orchestrated and delightfully timed micro-expressions, we do.

For a film which was largely built around an emotionally reserved protagonist, the score was always going to be important and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross respond to the challenge in resolute fashion with what could arguably be referred to as one of the best scores of the decade. Their subtly balanced electro-rock compositions are perfectly weighted to the different segments of the film and wonderfully carry the audience through the complex social worlds the characters inhabit. As they do in the script, the parallels present in the different compositions help to tie them together into one overarching score that feels as comprehensively part of the film as the cinematography or production design (which by the way were also just about the best we’ve seen in the last decade).

However, the final words of praise should be saved for Sorkin and in particular Fincher who craft this complex, multi-tiered tale into an astute study of the struggle for acceptance in the modern world. In the streamlined focus of the latter’s direction, the former’s writing found its perfect outlet as Sorkin’s potentially wearing indulgences are shorn away in favour of properly individuated character conceptions. Fincher doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to edit scripts but one look at the “behinds the scenes” footage of his writing meetings with Sorkin quickly reveals how he steered Sorkin’s lush script away from the pretentious self-glorification of something like The Newsroom.

But it’s Fincher’s overall command of the project that makes The Social Network such a magnificent experience. A low hum of anticipation builds through the picture, particularly during the early scenes, giving the audience a genuine feel for the magnitude of the project Zuckerberg was embarking on. It’s an implicit but irresistible feeling engineered through structure and Fincher’s impeccable understanding of how much distance to keep between his actors and the camera at all times. In those moments of revelation and/or accomplishment when this sensation actualises, we are witnessing the consolidation of truly mesmerising direction. The ultimate example being the arresting sequence in which Fincher parallels Zuckerberg’s facemash assault with the Phoenix Club’s first party of the fall semester in their mutual misogynistic glory. As a scene of pure drama, it is a peerless piece of impossibly sleek film-making and damn near the best sequence in modern cinema.

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Roger Dodger (2002)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77
Genre: Drama
Duration: 106 mins
Director: Dylan Kidd
Stars: Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg, Isabella Rossellini

“You drink that drink. Alcohol has been a social lubricant for thousands of years. What’d you think, you’re going to sit here tonight and reinvent the wheel?” Writer/director Dylan Kidd’s incisive indie drama about a cynical advertising executive who agrees to teach his young naive nephew to pick up women in the midst of his own personal crisis. The film opens with Roger dominating a conversation with his friends and colleagues by waxing lyrical about man’s encroaching obsolescence, a concern which quickly comes to symbolise his own perceived loss of utility. Roger is a self-motivated manipulator of people and while he talks a good game and is quick to point out other people’s failings he is simply recognising his own insecurities and weaknesses in those he targets. Campbell Scott gives a searing performance as the articulate, cruel, but not altogether heartless uncle. Jesse Eisenberg shows early on how good he is by simply managing to hold his own alongside Scott’s tour de force. Kidd’s script is intelligent and quietly cutting as it reveals a personality that is all too real. His hand-held camera and quick editing style gives the audience the sense that they’re peering in on the strange dynamic. However, the standout strengths of Roger Dodger are the clever script and in particular the acting which combine to make this a very unique and fascinating film.

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Slacker (1991) 3.14/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.7
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Duration: 97 mins
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Rudy Basquez, Jean Caffeine

Richard Linklater’s meandering camera follows a section of Austin Texas’ younger population one by one as they go about their daily business. Slacker is an experimental mini-masterpiece whisks you through the lives of one fascinating character after another throwing up some genuine laughs as it does so. Linklater used actual locals to play the roles which only heightens the sense of authenticity. Give yourself over to the unorthodox structure and just let it happen. You’ll be hooked in 15 minutes and a fan for life.

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Before Sunset (1995) 4.57/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The  Bad – 53.9
Genre: Romance, Drama
Duration: 80 mins
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

See review on “Before Sunrise”. Another tedious treatment of one slightly annoying woman putting up with one incredibly annoying man. Linklater and Hawke are still tops but just not here.

 

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Before Sunrise (1995) 4.29/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 59
Genre: Romance, Drama
Duration: 105 mins
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Andrea Eckert

Richard Linklater could legitimately be described as a master of talk cinema but irrespective of how many people hail this as a perfect film there’s no way around the fact that this is an awkwardly acted, superficially written, and adolescent exercise in tedium. Fans of the Linklater that gave us the gentle wit of Slacker, the thunderous resonance of Dazed and Confused, and even the insightful analysis of Tape have repeatedly tried to like this but Before Sunrise fails to even roughly emulated those aforementioned pieces. On top of that, the two leads are entirely out of sync with each other for much of the film, which alone destroys its entire premise. Ethan Hawke comes across as annoying and vacuous and Julie Deply seems continually disengaged and overall an unlikely match for him. Linklater’s directorial craft is all over this however, and his ability to seemingly blend the camera into the reality of the characters’ worlds is as evident here as it was in Slacker. Alas, that is not enough to save this un-engaging and excruciating romantic drama.

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