The latest in a long line of star-studded adaptations of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, Death on the Nile sinks without trace under the weight of Kenneth Branagh’s all-consuming ego. Failing to understand that one of the pleasures of such films is the attention given to the impressive cast, he instead gives his focus entirely to his own performance as Poirot, engaging in mythmaking and heroics at the expense of everybody else. In its limited capacity, the focus on Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express worked for Mike – here, there’s no defending it.
A surprising, imaginative comedy full of dark twists and scathing observations, Sorry to Bother Youfires us up. There’s so much going on in it that we love. It builds a forceful critique of modern capitalism, drawing on black stereotypes, animal imagery, and factory cities to develop a thesis of 21st century capitalism as thinly veiled slave labour. Everything is available for commodification and absorption by the establishment; the system is able to tolerate dissent by co-opting it. But there is a vital resistance movement, embodied exceptionally by the coruscating Tessa Thompson, and though the film depicts a deeply unfair world in which power is entrenched, there is plenty of room for hope and joy, even through something as simple as a sigh when confronted with the latest absurdity.
The film is a kaleidoscope of ideas, always on its toes, always unpredictable, absolutely restless, and although we feel it lacks a certain visual finesse and overall coherence, the benefits of its madnesses far outweigh their costs.
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Because my time is so constrained and I can only write on things that take up a couple of hours, I’ve been feeling I’ve been avoiding the truly interesting, complex or problematic films in this blog, and dealing only with what can be dealt with in the time I have. I’m glad I’m doing this podcast with Mike because at least it allows me touch on them conversationally and not hope to wait for time that never arrives like with Alain Guiraudie’s great L’étranger du lac.
This is my second time seeing Call Me By Your Name and Mike’s first. We touch on issues that have been troubling some friends: class, culture, language, sexuality, the absence of the AIDS pandemic, the peach scene. My second viewing does bring up formal flaws in the film that I hadn’t noticed before. Armie Hamer’s performance comes off less well upon second viewing. Chamelet continues to seem great. It seems a lesser film on second viewing though, to the film’s great credit, I remained just as involved and just as moved. One of the criticisms made is that the film seems to be addressed to heterosexuals. If this is indeed the case, and I don’t think it is, it signally failed with Mike who watched it with restrained fury throughout, as he so eloquently elaborates upon throughout the podcast.
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I’m quite blown away by Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. I hadn’t quite taken to a Single Man, finding it overly designed. But this is great. First impressions are: an audacious narrative structure with early scenes as tense as any I remember seeing; the best ensemble acting of any American film this year, with Michael Shannon making another strong argument for consideration as the best American actor of his generation: a film that discomfits with its demands but pays off and rewards attention. A noir melodrama on class, family and a rural/ urban divide in America. An extraordinary credit sequence. Amy Adams looks wrong for the part but turns out to be right for the movie. Brilliant cameo by Laura Linney and a superb turn from Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Armie Hammer, finally well-used in a movie. Tom Ford knows how to film men: Jake Gyllenhall, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Armie Hammer have never looked better. Is the film a revenge narrative; or does it leave open other possibilities? A film I’d like to see again and talk to people about.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is unexceptional but rather fun, in a slightly leaden way. Guy Ritchie directs the action well, attempts a cheeky ironic tone for the film he doesn’t always succeed in achieving, and is not very good with those actors who need his help: Armie Hammer is completely inexpressive physically though does a great accent and can find comic timing vocally that somehow eludes other aspects of his performance; Henry Cavill does better and is better looking doing it but he’s done so much weightlifting his body strains at his suits, evoking a kind of physical boxiness that works against that nonchalant physical elegance the character is meant to exude; a rare instance in which a great body works against the role (though his performance is also sabotaged by the cinematography); Alicia Vikander is pretty but can’t find a rhythm for her performance and seems wasted; Elizabeth Debicki fares better as the villainess and her long leggy frame, elegant way of wearing clothes, and understated ironic way with a line makes her very enjoyable to watch. But it is Hugh Grant — only in the film for what seems like two minutes — who steals the show. A trifle, not light or sparkly enough but with some clever action and a great score of 60s tunes. The audience did like it even though either the print or the projection didn’t provide the luminosity the colour palette seemed to require. It is better and more enjoyable than an episode of the old TV show.
Addendum: I have now seen this twice more on Netflix and found it great fun. My appreciation of Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander increased; my love of the soundtrack sky-rocketed. It is a trifle, very broad and fast-moving with the set-pieces working much better than my first impression. I now recommend it.