José hasn’t seen a worse film from David Fincher than Mank, a contentious biopic of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter whose collaboration with Orson Welles resulted in The Greatest Film of All Time™, Citizen Kane. Mike had rather a good time, despite seeing numerous problems with the film, raising the question: How much background knowledge is the right amount for enjoying Mank?
Mank doesn’t even explain, for instance, that the film Mankiewicz and Welles would create is considered one of history’s greatest, so some knowledge of the subject is clearly necessary; too much, though, and its missed opportunities and purposeful alterations to and adaptations of the facts become evident and impossible to ignore. Mike finds that he’s just ignorant – or is that informed – enough to understand the film’s background and setting without going crazy, as José does, as it clashes with his knowledge of the history.
We discuss Mank‘s obvious inspiration in Pauline Kael’s discredited essay, Raising Kane, which argued that Mankiewicz deserved sole credit for Kane‘s screenplay; its flashback structure that shows us where the screenplay came from and why Mankiewicz is the only person who could have written it; its depiction of Hollywood in the 30s (not to mention Mankiewicz in HIS 30s); the parallels that it draws with Hollywood and, more generally, the state of the world today, and more. Almost every criticism José makes, Mike agrees with – but he cannot and will not deny that he had a good time, finding the film witty and energetic where José felt it musty and lethargic. It’s a poor showing from a filmmaker with a largely exceptional oeuvre – unless you’re in that Goldilocks zone with Mike.
We finish off Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, the most entertaining and enjoyable of the three films. In a Gotham free of crime thanks to the draconian Dent Act, passed in the wake of Harvey Dent’s murder at, so the story goes, the hands of Batman, who hasn’t been seen since, the intriguing, intimidating, revolutionary figure of Bane arrives to terrorise and occupy the city. A recluse since the events of The Dark Knight, the threat of Bane gets Bruce Wayne back in his cowl, but he finds he’s met his match.
We again question the film’s politics, Mike arguing that its fascism isn’t so much particular to this series as a core component of Batman in principle, and that maybe the most a Batman story can do is ignore it, rather than fix it. Its aesthetics come back into focus too, in its cinematic style and militaristic sensibility, José taking issue with both, though he loves the opening set piece. He finds a new appreciation for Michael Caine, and we take pleasure in the new additions to the cast, particularly Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway, and we leave the series in agreement that no matter our problems, it ended on a fun note.
Having established a muted tone in Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s Batman series receives a welcome injection of flair in Heath Ledger’s Joker, the villain and main attraction of 2008’s The Dark Knight. Ledger’s Joker captured imaginations and helped the film to a billion dollar box office gross, back when hitting that milestone was rare. José, as with Batman Begins, never got The Dark Knight, while Mike was so hyped for it that he saw it twice in IMAX before its official release. We discuss what holds up today and what doesn’t, what the appeal is, the 70mm IMAX cinematography, how and why the film became a cultural meme, and what ideologically drives it.
A chamber piece about history which looks like a combination of Rembrandt and an old photograph. In the podcast we discuss how Joe Wright might be getting short shrift as a director and the excellence of the performances:Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn and Lily James are all marvellous. Mike mentions how the film is not the life of Churchill but a few defining weeks in the life of Churchill; how the film shows us nothing of Dunkirk, we merely see it on a map; and how wonderful a supercut of this and Dunkirk might be. Mike also highlights how the cemeteries of Belgium tell a very different story from the official one in relation to Britain’s ‘going it alone’ in the two World Wars. We discuss how the film’s emotional manipulations are cheap but how one finds oneself responding to the film’s jingoism. I would have enjoyed it more had the film been less of a Brexit film, whether the filmmakers intended it or not. I would really like to see a film with the same actors just focussing on the relationship between Clemmie and Winston, and there’s a wonderful volume of letters full of sketches of kitties and piggies called Speaking for Themselves that I wish someone would draw on for a film. Mike guardedly recommends the film and is instantly remorseful but agrees there are pleasures to be had from it. But…..
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.
This week the focus is on The Hitman’s Bodyguard and the topics under discussion include: Can an action film that goes through Coventry be any good? Is it important that action scenes are funny? Is Gary Oldman a whore? All valuable questions. All answered in our chat about The Hitman’s Bodyguard. I think.
The Robocop remake is a mixed bag. I think Joel Kinnaman is a brand new star. In the original, Paul Weller seemed a little robotic and inhuman even before he became a cyborg. Here, Kinneman runs the whole gamut from romantic longing to mechanical catatonia but lets the audience into every aspect of it. The rest of the cast is a treat too. I’ve not seen Michael Keaton better since Beetlejuice. He’s lithe, charismatic and oozes the kind of menacing and sleazy charm that can bribe politicians with one hand and pick your pocket with the other. He’s like a Mafia Don of robocops but one who’ll bring out the jazz hands if needed to seal the sale. His scenes with Gary Oldman — as a scientist emollient to the point of weakness and ambitious past the point of ethics — have a real snap.
Samuel L. Jackson, hair high, almost but not quite straightened and set with enough hairspray to stop any onslaught is a delight as a manipulative Fox-style news presenter: reasonable in a speaking-from-the-pulpit kind of way when setting out a case, impatient when he’s not, and bombastic when speaking directly to the audience. It was lovely to see Jennifer Ehle as well wearing clothes as dark as her morals and with elegant features arranged into a poker face until called to action. I also liked Abbie Cornish as Murphy’s wife though the spectre of Nancy Allen – curvy, saucy, crisp and acid – like biting into a tart apple — is bound to haunt anything ever connected with her.
The film is set in 2028; in a Detroit that seems prosperously reconstructed but still crime-ridden and corrupt; thus is license afforded to critique present-day America. But Robocop doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know: corporations rule above governments unimpeded by checks and balances; we live in a surveillance culture that surveys and manipulates the weak and powerless; the media is brutally manipulative and mendacious; life is cheap. The original told us all of that and with a lot more wit, in a setting that seemed more spectacular, and with dialogue that was spare but with enough cutting lines to pack a punch: they relied on irony, conveyed satire, and earned belly-laughs from the audience – who can forget ‘you’re fired!’?
This Robocop doesn’t really overcome the failings that plague cinema in the digital age: the image still seems too thin to me, Padilha hasn’t learned how to make action exciting, lots of people get killed but there’s nothing at stake in their death – or indeed in Alex Murphy/Robocop avoiding his own — and the narrative still hasn’t figured out how to make use of all of story-telling possibilities new technology both diegetically and extra-diegetically make possible. I think what’s really missing is thought on how the new possibilities of dealing with time and the new challenges posed by changing standards of what is believable can result in different ways of communicating meanings and conveying pleasures.
If one could stop thinking about the original however, the film is very enjoyable and worth seeing for the actors alone.