I Am the Talented Mr. Monkey Man, Weekly Reel #68 (2024)

I Am the Talented Mr. Monkey Man, Weekly Reel #68 (1)
  • Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis will premiere at the Cannes Palais on May 17 (happy birthday to me!). The film will be in competition after rough negotiations with buyers after screening to potential distributors for a Fall wide release in Imax. The film, which was self-financed in the nine-digits from selling a large chunk of his wine empire, is an ambitious passion project that will rely on its reception from Cannes, which is where Coppola already won two Palme d’Ors (The Conversation and Apocalypse Now). Also during this Cannes, his buddy George Lucas will receive the honorary Palme d’Or.

  • The signed open letter reaction to Jonathan Glazer’s Oscar acceptance speech was denounced by another signed open letter of those supporting Glazer. Goes to show how flimsy these things are, but for what it’s worth, the letter in support of Glazer has much larger star celebrity support. In an unrelated interview, Kirsten Dunst sums up what Glazer’s speech was originally about before everyone started taking everyone else out of context: “My interpretation was he was saying that genocide is bad.” Inspiring stuff.

  • Interstellar will be re-released in 70mm IMAX later this year for its ten year anniversary, which should be a must-schedule for anyone reading this. This viewing on film, which is how it was shot rather than digitally transferred, was an unforgettable experience when it first opened in 2014, so I couldn’t recommend enough.

I Am the Talented Mr. Monkey Man, Weekly Reel #68 (2)

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Monkey Man (2024, Dev Patel, Canada/Singapore/USA) is the strong debut feature of Dev Patel and shows how effective one can use the John Wick aesthetic while remaining completely unique. Patel grafts this purplish-neon pulsing hardcore action onto contemporary socio-politican problems in India (Hindu nationalism in bed with religious figures against Muslims, Christians, and other minorities), which will surely ruin its Rupee box office take but solidifies Patel as a filmmaker like Jordan Peele, who produced this film, unafraid at using genre conventions to explore charged social issues. Patel plays the main character of the film, known as Kid/Bobby/Monkey Man, who wears a monkey mask and lets fighters beat him up for decent pay. His lower class status, important for both the film’s drama and reality of India’s caste system, makes it difficult for him to do much work beyond this, so when he gets the chance to take revenge on bad upper class men through a wait-staff position, he blows it and has an arc similar to batman’s in The Dark Knight Rises: fail, train, then rise again.

The action is more shank-fu than Wick’s gung-fu (including one of the great knife kills in cinema) and cinematographer Sharone Meir throws the camera around akin to the battery-in-backpack camera-work of Slumdog Millionaire. While it appears to be generic high-tension action on the surface, it never fails to keep the story squarely focused on injustices rarely seen in action films dominated by generic Eastern European baddies with lame End of Ideology or War on Terror plots.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999, Anthony Minghella, USA)

With the new Netflix show Ripley released, attention is once again being placed on the most famous adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s most famous character. Last year’s Saltburn brought back The Talented Mr. Ripley to the cultural milieu (not counting its placement on the ‘best of 1999’ lists that people churn out faster than Highsmith boilers) because of the former’s heavy-handed—and quite gross class-self-flagellation considering Emerald Fennell status—rip-off of the latter. But whereas Saltburn was DOA, The Talented Mr. Ripley will take longer to deflate. Signs are apparent in its Miramaxy nineties aesthetic and Miramaxy nineties Gwyneth Paltrow performance, but Damon performing his career-intended role as weirdo outsider to the more conventional movie star performance of someone like Jude Law will always reign larger in his filmography than his action and sci-fi leading roles. And as with any film, Philip Seymour Hoffman gives the best pound-for-pound performance for anyone given five to ten minutes of screentime.

Due to the large volume of Ripley books and adaptations, this one is the usual go-to for its mainstream accessibility. One should try opting for Plein soleil (1960, with Alain Delon peaking hard) or Wim Wenders’ The American Friend (1977), with a heavyweight lead-duo of Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz, including a supporting cast with more directors than actors (including Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller, Jean Eustache, and many more).

I Am the Talented Mr. Monkey Man, Weekly Reel #68 (3)


Io Capitano (2023, Matteo Garrone, Belgium/France/Italy) is a migrant-misery p*rn tale of two teen-agers from Dakar, Senegal who attempt to traffic themselves to Europe via Sicily. While depicting the dangerous journey from the migrant’s perspective was most likely done with noble intentions, the result is an unfortunate ‘damn that looks awful but I’m chilling over here in comfort’ patronization of that plight. Garrone’s light fantastical flourishes with spirits and familial longing tries adding the needed poetic distance, but it’s not enough to escape the trappings of standard misery p*rn cinema. It’s the perfect kind of film for NGOs and multi-national EU film producers to use as what they believe to be ‘truth to power’ in filmmaking and art in general: putting you in someone else’s shoes. But with this film, and many more from different countries with migration problems, the filmmakers can renew their superficial liberal credentials while remaining in relative affluence. They’re effectively telling us, ‘doesn’t all this just really suck?’, and then continue participating in the socio-economic world that created those miseries. And the film’s Oscar nomination cemented the chance for Academy members to continuously avoid dealing with the Global South in any non-superficial way. Stories like this can be told, I read a very similar story by Nigerian-born author Bunye Ngene called The Bodies That Move that respects its characters and motivations, but are often clumsily handled by those born and raised above the Mediterranean.

I Am the Talented Mr. Monkey Man, Weekly Reel #68 (4)

There was a moment in time when we were all locked inside for months. Most inside things shut down (except the essentials), toilet paper ran out, and the world stopped revolving when Tom Hanks got Covid. As per everyone, I had a bittersweet time in 2020: I wrote my masters thesis (with an extension) and moved to a great neighborhood in Munich, but I couldn’t break into the job market after graduating and all the cool summer events were canceled.

Regarding cinemas, some closed for months but they mostly stayed open as long as everyone wore a mask. My favorite theater, which only plays original English versions, started showing classics because nothing new was released. I got to see Gladiator, Once Upon a Time in the West, Interstellar, Inception, and Apocalypse Now on the big screen. But the most anticipated release at the time was Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which was only delayed a month while everything else was pushed a year. I watched the film in August 2020 in a dotted seating arrangement, similar to a men’s bathroom pissoir, as part of my thesis celebration.

The reaction to many who braved the airborne novel virus to watch was, including my own, that it was a stinker. Although not fully the case in hindsight, its spotty release during a global pandemic wasn’t a great choice (and shows how important a non-festival film’s theatrical release is to its reception). Everyone was on edge and hadn’t left their dwellings in months. We had to wear masks and socially distance and be hyper-vigilant to all coughs within a 50 meter (164 ft.) radius. But now because of Oppenheimer and cinemas being ‘back’, Tenet is having an interesting near-retro-glow-up (with an IMAX re-release), one that is usually reserved for films release way more than four years ago. Bilge Ebiri, one of the finest film critics working for New York and Vulture, wrote about the reception of the film and how its now a ‘A Backward Movie for an Upside-Down World’:

The movie left us impressed — and perplexed. “That was great, but I wasn’t always exactly sure what was … uh, happening” was how one of my pals, the filmmaker Branan Edgens, put it at the time. (My colleague Nate Jones did yeoman’s work when he wrote a great explainer piece on the actual plot, which many readers have referred to over the years.) Tenet both enthralled and baffled me. I was enormously moved by scenes even as I only vaguely grasped what was happening in them. At one point, I wondered if, after months of being shut indoors glued to the television, I had simply forgotten how to watch a movie in a theater. Maybe my mind was just refusing to process these images.

I have revisited Tenet many times since. I’ve torrented cam rips. I’ve watched it streaming. I’ve watched it on Blu-ray and in 4K. I’ve seen it again in theaters since a number of New York City rep houses and museums have wisely shown it on film over the past few years. And yes, I have tickets to see it in its brief, long-overdue Imax rerelease. I have come to realize, however, that nothing will ever match that first showing because what was onscreen reflected in some way the unhinged nature of our lives at that moment. Despite the nutty circ*mstances of its release, I can’t help but think Nolan’s thriller wound up perfectly timed — a backward movie for an upside-down world.

A defense of Nolan’s most common complaint made against him:

Nolan, like his hero Stanley Kubrick, has sometimes been accused of being a cold, fussy technician. I’ve never found this to be the case. (It wasn’t true of Kubrick, either.) If anything, Nolan seems to get totally wrapped up in the emotional texture of his movies. For him, a MacGuffin is never just a MacGuffin. In Inception (2010), planting an idea in your mark by manipulating their most basic, fundamental feelings turns out to be what the whole film turns on. Interstellar (2014) may be the bleakest Hollywood sci-fi adventure ever made, consumed with the devastation of the Earth and the profound tragedy of not being able to see one’s children grow up; its ostensibly triumphant finale is bathed in melancholy and death.

Anybody who revisits Tenet in the wake of Oppenheimer will see that Nolan’s fears about humanity’s capacity for self-destruction are on full display here as well. (J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project are even name-checked in the movie.) “I had become fascinated by the idea that you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” the director told me last year when I asked him about the similarities between the two films. “So Tenet is a metaphorical science-fiction approach to the scientists who discovered nuclear power, nuclear fission, and then fusion. It’s sort of a paradoxical, cathartic wish that there was some way to put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

In a way, Tenet was the perfect kind of film for its time. There’s nobody who wouldn’t wish to put the Covid toothpaste back in the tube.

The connection between Nolan’s personal and artistic interests, and the conditions of the world in which the film was released:

Is it any wonder Nolan’s growing obsession with an incoming apocalypse coincides with his becoming a parent? This may be one reason the anxiety at the heart of Tenet never really dissipates, even at the film’s supposedly victorious climax. Does the fact that our heroes stop Sator and the forces of the future from destroying the past in turn mean that they’ve guaranteed humanity’s destruction? The characters in Tenet speak memorably of a temporal pincer movement — a military tactic in which one half of a team moves forward in time, and the knowledge they gained is used by the other half of the team, who move backward. The implication is that we can act more boldly, more fully, more wisely if we know what the future holds.

But we often do know what the future holds, don’t we? Let’s not forget that Tenet wasn’t just released into a world ravaged by a global pandemic; it was released into a world that had been warned for years that a global pandemic was coming. “What’s happened’s happened,” says Neil as he leaves the Protagonist behind at the end of their final scene together. “Which is an expression of faith in the mechanics of the world. It’s not an excuse to do nothing.”

Again, the plot mechanics fall away and we are left to contemplate the gleaming immediacy of the moment: a life lived in the knowledge of death. This, after all, is the paradox of the human condition. We know what’s to come, yet we have the freedom to act. Will we then act differently when we realize that the future is a real place — that it’s where our children and later generations live? “This whole operation is a temporal pincer,” Neil tells the Protagonist as he walks away. “Whose?” “Yours.” There’s a reason the Protagonist has no name. He’s Everyman. He’s us. Life is a temporal pincer movement. Most of us simply haven’t realized it yet.

No wehc ot gnihtemos.

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I Am the Talented Mr. Monkey Man, Weekly Reel #68 (2024)
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