#CredeMulieri: The Last Duel (2021)

I wasn’t sure what to expect of The Last Duel, Ridley Scott’s medieval drama about justice and gender. The trailer looked interesting (once I accepted that some of the hairstyles in the film took some getting used to, to say the least), I liked the actors, and Scott knows how to do a good-looking movie. At the same time, the director has been rather hit and miss for me, in particular in the last ten, fifteen years or so. Obviously Alien and Blade Runner are stone cold classics, and I’ve enjoyed quite a few of his later films, but while the likes of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant looked gorgeous, they were saddled with scripts that were uneven at best and weak at worst, which in turn wasted the usually solid, at times even great acting in these films. Scott and his collaborators have often been better at the cinematic craft than at picking material deserving of the craftsmanship.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #45: Ripley vs Ripley – who’s the most talented?

For our June episode, we’re sending the cultural baristas on a holiday in sunny Mongibello, Italy, where rich, pretty young ex-pats spend their time and money on the beach – though there are others who may be less harmless… Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr Ripley was turned into two films: René Clément’s Plein Soleil (released as Purple Noon in the English-speaking world, in spite of a distinct absence of purple-hued noons), starring a young Alain Delon, and Anthony Minghella’s 1999 adaptation, which took the title from Highsmith’s book, featuring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow. Ripley is a fascinating character, a sociopath reflecting the identities of those around him back at them, and it’s fascinating to compare these two very different interpretations of the character. Join Sam, Julie and Matt as they sail the treacherous waters of the mid-20th century Mediterranean and compare the talents of the various Messrs Ripley!

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Anyone you can be, I can be better: All About Eve and The Talented Mr Ripley

I must have seen All About Eve at least half a dozen times so far. Its writing retains the sharp wit it had when I first saw it, its performances still shine: Bette Davis is perfect as Margo Channing and delivers Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ lines with relish, but the rest of the ensemble, just as central to the success of the film, is also top-notch. As a piece of filmmaking, All About Eve may not be as audacious as its contemporary Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder’s 1950 caustic tale of an ageing actress, but its appeal has not diminished. I had the opportunity to see it again a few days ago – while cinemas are open again in these parts, you’re more likely to find them showing older films rather than new releases – and it remains a delight.

It has taken me these half a dozen viewings, however, to come to the realisation that All About Eve shares some striking similarities to Patricia Highsmith’s thriller The Talented Mr Ripley (and, to a lesser extent, the film versions made of Highsmith’s novel) and that the title characters of the two works can be seen as mirror images of each other.

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Mars Needs Matt

Looking at Ridley Scott’s two last science fiction films, The Martian and Prometheus, provides strong evidence that Scott picks his scripts with little concern for plot and character. Prometheus is one of the best recent examples of the kind of film I wouldn’t mind framing and hanging on my wall, because that’s how it’s easiest to appreciate its merits; however, once you start watching it for its storytelling and paying attention to its characters and dialogues, it turns into a frustrating, deeply silly movie that falls apart the more you think about it. And that’s unfortunate, as Prometheus is a film that desperately wants you to think about it.

The Martian

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Those who can’t, teach…

I’m about to be off and teach a two-hour colloquium on film studies. I’ve never studied the subject, but somehow the person who asked me to teach the session thought that a) having  a PhD in English and American Literature, b) being a film nut (and having 400+ DVDs to prove it) and c) having an opinion on everything qualifies me for this.

Hurm, as a certain psycho superhero might say.

Anyway, since I have to make a few last notes, I’m going to have to make this short. I’ll be analysing extracts from three films with them: The Talented Mr Ripley, Fight Club and Memento. Having re-watched the beginning of those three films, I was reminded again why I liked them so much in the first place. Ripley got a bad rap with some critics, but I still find it one of Anthony Minghella’s, Matt Damon’s and Jude Law’s finest movies. And for those who think the film lacks tension, I thought I could put a highly spoilerish excerpt in the blog. Those who haven’t seen the film yet, don’t click on the clip lest you do so at your own peril!

However, I don’t want to leave you with murder and mayhem (or soap – sorry, wrong movie…!), so here’s another, more peaceful clip from the same film. Dunno what it is about the song, but I always get an urge to snap my fingers and tap my feet when I hear it. Enjoy!

Bourne to be shaken, not stirred

Eugh. Okay. I apologise for that double-whammy of a pun. But I promise, it’s appropriate. Sort of.

I like the Bourne movies. I like how they’re set in the real world, in places I recognise and may even have been to. I like how they’re not about over-the-top villains out to rule the world – or otherwise destroy it. I also like Jason Bourne’s resourcefulness, his efficiency, and Matt Damon makes the character and his action man exploits feel credible.

I also like shaky cam. I thought it was effective in the first two Bourne movies, and when it’s done well it gives films an immediacy and a documentary feel that fits certain stories very well. In my opinion, Battlestar Galactica makes it work really well, for instance.

Yesterday I saw The Bourne Ultimatum at the cinema, and fifteen minutes into the film I started to develop a slight headache. At first I thought that the shaky cam was more pronounced than in the earlier films in the series, but then I realised that I’d seen those on DVD only. Now, I’ve got a fairly big, 42″ television, but it’s still different. The entire screen is in your field of vision. It’s much less dizzying. And that’s when I started to understand why many people compained about the shaky camera work. It’s quite a strain, on your eyes, your neck and your brain. I’m sure that if I’d just seen the film on TV to begin with, I again would have thought: “What on earth are these people complaining about?”

It took me perhaps an hour to get used to the cinematography, but I persisted, mainly because the film never lets up. The story isn’t highly original – basically it’s the first two movies all over, with some of the names and faces changed – but it bursts with kinetic energy, and it is choreographed brilliantly. There’s an early sequence at Waterloo station that is almost balletic in its elegance.

Unfortunately, the film has lost some of what made its predecessors better in the end. For one thing, Bourne is less vulnerable. He survives when he shouldn’t, or at least he shouldn’t be able to get up and go after the bad guy. In the first two films Bourne felt more real because you could always just about believe that this highly trained ex-agent could escape from this or that predicament, but you weren’t 100% certain he’d make it. This time he crosses the line into Superman-dom too often.

The other thing is that Bourne is emotionally less vulnerable. Bourne – the character and the films – has never been about emotions, yet there was the additional impulse that Franka Potente’s Marie gave the story. The main character was made more human due to her, and her death – one of the few shocking demises in US action cinema – did pretty much drive the second movie. It gave Jason Bourne a tangible reason to pursue his goal. THere’s a scene early in the third film, in which Daniel Brühl (of Goodbye Lenin fame) plays Marie’s brother. Unfortunately it is so subdued, it feels like it’s only paying lip-service to Marie, like no one’s heart was really in it. The scene might have been more effective if Brühl’s character had been introduced in one of the earlier films, but with no run-up there’s also practically no pay-off. The scene feels like it should be in the DVD’s “Deleted Scenes” section.

P.S.: The Bourne Ultimatum ends with a remix of Moby’s “Extreme Ways”. The original’s much better, though. Enjoy!