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Non-Review Review: La French (The Connection)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

La French (aka The Connection) looks and sounds beautiful.

Working with cinematographer Laurent Tangy, director Cédric Jimenez manages to capture the scenic beauty of seventies Marseilles. The classic architecture, the sea views, even the hot night spots all look absolutely stunning. Le French manages to capture the crisp feeling of the late seventies without ever feeling stylised or staged. Similarly, Jimenez manages to pull together a beautifully evocative soundtrack, with songs as distinct as Call Me and This Bitter Earth helping to underscore emotionally-charged sequences and giving the film a sense of style and taste.

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La French is a stylishly-constructed crime thriller that stretches from the south of France to New York and back again, a family loosely inspired by the infamous “French Connection” that fed drugs into France and overseas to the United States. However, despite its obvious overlap with William Friedkin’s The French Connection, it seems like Jimenez owes more to the work of filmmakers like Michael Mann or Martin Scorcese, constructing a crime epic that flows beautifully and effortlessly, with an impressive soundtrack complimenting a dynamic visual style.

This is perhaps the biggest problem with La French, a sense that there might actually be too much style – that the film may occasionally feel a little too hollow or detached from its twin leads. However, Jimenez cleverly casts Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche in the lead roles, who help anchor the film with a sense of humanity that only occasionally gets lost in the film’s beautifully-crafted production.

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Millennium – Walkabout (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Walkabout continues to demonstrate the flexibility of Millennium‘s format.

Millennium is often unfairly dismissed as a “serial-killer-of-the-week” show, an impression undoubtedly created by the stretch of early- to mid-season episodes that adopted an almost procedural formula in their exploration of evil. However, after Sacrament, the show takes a break from those narratives to do something a little more experimental and nuanced. Covenant had seen Frank investigating a murder that had already been solved. Here, Frank finds himself struggling to piece together a fractured memory of his own recent experiences.

A bleedin' disaster!

A bleedin’ disaster!

Walkabout is the third of four scripts from writer Chip Johannessen in the first season of Millennium. Each is a rather strange entity; doing something strange or unconventional for the show, helping to define the boundaries for this young television series. Walkabout is perhaps most interesting for the way that it engages with an aspect of Millennium that has been bubbling away in the background since The Pilot. Although Walkabout never explores the nature or purpose of Frank’s visions, the episode is built around the visions as a concept rather than simply a tool.

Walkabout is an unsettling and effective mood piece that grows more conventional as it progresses. While the final act is a little clunky, Walkabout is a fascinating piece of television and a demonstration of how Millennium has found its own voice.

"Let me outta here!"

“Let me outta here!”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Strange New World (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Strange New World is the first episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to come from a writing team other than Brannon Braga and Rick Berman. Berman and Braga would dominate the writing credits for the first season. Even when the final teleplay was credited to another writer or writing team, there was often a “story by” credit given to Berman and Braga. Braga himself has conceded that he essentially re-wrote all of the episodes of the first season.

Still, Strange New World is credited to the writing team of Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong. Both had worked on Star Trek: Voyager before migrated to Star Trek: Enterprise along with André Bormanis. Sussman had pitched the story for Meld and worked on a number of solo stories and scripts before teaming with Strong on the seventh and final season of the show. The two would remain a writing team for the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise, hitting their stride with some of the strongest episodes of the troubled second season.

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

Strange New World is an interesting début for the pair. On the hand, it is a story that celebrates the unique place of Star Trek: Enterprise in the Star Trek pantheon. It’s a story about how great it must be to set foot on an alien planet, and how wondrous it must be to breath air from outside our atmosphere. With its emphasis on shuttlepods and primitive transporters, it does remain relatively true to the prequel premise of Enterprise.

On the other hand, Strange New World is a very familiar Star Trek template. Indeed, it’s a very familiar first season template. It’s the episode where the crew of the ship are exposed to some strange outside force that makes them all act out of character. It’s something of a Star Trek standard. The original Star Trek had The Naked Time and Star Trek: The Next Generation had The Naked Now, while Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had both Babel and Dramatis Personae. In many ways, Strange New World feels like a familiar old story.

Strange yellow daisy fields forever...

Strange yellow daisy fields forever…

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The Flash (1987-2009) #12-14 – Velocity 9/Savage Vandalism/Wipe Out (Review)

So, I’m considering reviewing this season of The Flash, because the pilot looks interesting and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Scarlet Speedster. I’m also considering taking a storyline-by-storyline trek through the 1987-2009 Flash on-going series as a companion piece. If you are interested in reading either of these, please let me know in the comments.

Does anything date a mainstream superhero comic worse than the almost obligatory anti-drug issue?

In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC made a rather conscious effort to engage with younger readers. Some of these worked, but quite a few were cringe-induncing in execution. On paper, introducing more diversity into the shared universe via New Guardians was a good idea; in practice, these diverse characters were little more than stereotypes. On paper, killing Barry Allen and replacing him with the younger Wally West was worth doing; in practice, it seemed like the company had no idea how to make him relatable.

Drugs are bad, m'kay?

Drugs are bad, m’kay?

Quite a few of the comics published around this time have dated poorly. They seem like awkward attempts to reengage with the cultural zietgeist, without understanding that zietgeist at all. Mike Baron had given fans a younger and more grounded version of the Flash, but immediately had the character win the lottery and move to the Hamptons. There was a sense that the comic wanted to dispel criticisms that DC was old-fashioned or stuffy, but had no idea of how to actually go about that.

This leads to stories like Velocity 9, the obligatory “winners don’t use drugs” story that tries to be timely and cutting edge, but simply doesn’t work.

Tripping himself up...

Tripping himself up…

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Non-Review Review: The Armstrong Lie

The Armstrong Lie is about a lot of things. It’s nominally about Lance Armstrong’s attempted come back in 2009, and then about how it was all one big lie once the doping allegations became impossible for the athlete to deny. Those are, in a way, the least interesting aspects of Alex Gibney’s documentary. Instead, the film works best as an exploration of power and vested interest, as well as an exploration of narrative and how that narrative is manipulated and shaped to suit agendas.

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Non-Review Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

In 1987, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street was arguably too subtle in its criticisms of the Wall Street mentality – the philosophy that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good” or that enough can never really enough. After all, the film apparently inspired a whole generation of stock brokers and investment managers, with quite a few aspiring to be their generation’s Gordon Gekko – when the movie’s central point was that Gekko was hardly an idol to worship.

This would seem to explain the rationale of Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, a film that makes Stone’s brutal evisceration of Wall Street excess seem positively mild-mannered. Indeed, the film all but directly acknowledges this fact in an early scene where a “hatchet job” of an article from Forbes (the same article that would lend Belfort his sobriquet “Wolfie!”) prompts a massive upsurge in job applications for Belfort’s Stratton Oakmont.

The money shot...

The money shot…

So, understanding the need to go a bit bigger and larger, The Wolf of Wall Street introduces us to its protagonist, Jordan Belfort, snorting cocaine out of the bodily orifices of a prostitute, and yet somehow descends deeper and deeper into acts of debauchery and excess. It’s an unrelenting and energetic film, that is exhausting and exhilarating. It’s less of a structured story and more a three-hour laundry-list of depravity.

While the last hour of the film (the inevitable “it all comes tumbling down… or does it?” act) can’t maintain the forward moment that make the first two so exhilarating, The Wolf of Wall Street remains proof that Scorsese is an incredible film maker with an almost impossible vigour and enthusiasm for the medium.

Drinking it in...

Drinking it in…

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When the Sheen Comes Off: The Lonely Ballad of Charlie Sheen…

It’s human nature to want to rubberneck at some grotesque car wreck. I have no idea where that grim compulsion is rooted, but it is buried deep within our human nature – we can’t resist it, like some form of morbid curiosity. In fact, on major motorways, the problem is so intense in that it has been suggested in the Netherlands that police should erect blank screens to stop passing drivers from peering at accidents. As I watch Charlie Sheen’s continuing descent into madness (because it seems – defying the laws of nature – like there is no rock bottom), I can’t help but wonder if we should do something similar about the actor’s recent attempts to train wreck his career.

He's not Half the Man he used to be...

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