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Non-Review Review: The Christmas Chronicles

The Christmas Chronicles is corny, clumsy, cheesy. It is more than a bit naff, to the point that it frequently seems to run on naff.

It is not especially inventive or creative with its premise, and often seems to have opted for the easiest manner of jumping from one set piece to the next. The Christmas Chronicles is incredibly broad, to the point where it even includes a weird castration joke about a computer-generated elf wielding a chainsaw in what had been (up until that point) a completely non-lethal. The film takes a fairly standard Christmas movie premise – what if a bunch of kids have to work with Santa to save Christmas? – and goes through the motions with it.

No Claus for concern.

Truthfully, that is about enough. It isn’t just that Christmas is a time for generosity and cheer, it is that Christmas is also a time to welcome very simple and very striaghtforward entertainment designed to be consumed by families with across a broad range of ages, in varying degrees of consciousness and sobriety. There is a time and a place for the broadly-drawn hijinx that drive The Christmas Chronicles, and Christmas itself would seem to be it. It is an affectionate old-fashioned family movie throwback to a time when emotional arcs could be drawn in crayon and a handful of creative juxtapositions could sustain a film.

The Christmas Chronicles pulls it off. Just about.

Filed by letter.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 3, Episode 24 (“Talitha Cumi”)

I’m back on The X-Cast this week, covering Talitha Cumi with the one and only Tony Black, a nice companion piece to last week’s episode covering Wetwired.

Talitha Cumi is a controversial and divisive episode, particularly among fans of the series. It is relatively unique as far as season-finales go, in that it is perhaps the only season finale in The X-Files that could not also serve as a series finale as well. It is very poetic and very lyrical story, but also one that largely eschews a lot of the structures and rhythms that audiences expect from narratives. I have always had a soft spot for it, and I think I get a chance to articulate why on the podcast. As little sense as the actual plot of Talitha Cumi makes on a beat-by-beat basis, it works very well as a thematic piece meditating on big ideas.

It was, always, a pleasure and an honour to discuss the episode with Tony. I’m always flattered to be asked back. There were a few recording hitches with the episode that meant we had to record it, and some of that giddiness shines through a little bit. I hope it’s enjoyable to listen to, as it was one of my favourite podcasting experiences. We also talk a little bit about the third season of the series as a whole, about whether it is the best season and even how we measure such things. It’s quite an extended episode, but I hope you enjoy it.

The truth is in here. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #43!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast! A somewhat abridged edition this week, due to time constraints.

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Grace Duffy to discuss the week in film. As usual, we talk about the top ten and the new releases, as well as what we’ve watched this week. In this episode, Jay discusses continues his disaster movie marathon with Volcano and the questionable inclusion of Cliffhanger. Varda Season continues apace. Meanwhile, Grace gets into the Christmas spirit and walks us through some highlights of her binge of research into Netflix’s Christmas films.

The news this week is abridged, but there’s a brief discussion of the passing of Stan Lee and the awards given out by Irish Film London before the Irish Film Festival London.

The top ten:

  1. Hurricane (Squadron 303)
  2. Goosebumps II: Haunted Halloween
  3. Overlord
  4. Johnny English Strikes Again
  5. Smallfoot
  6. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
  7. Widows
  8. A Star is Born
  9. Bohemian Rhapsody
  10. The Grinch

New releases:

You can download the episode here, or listen to it below.

Non-Review Review: They Shall Not Grow Old

They Shall Not Grow Old is a marvelous technical accomplishment, and an adequate if flawed documentary.

A lot of the debate and discussion around They Shall Not Grow Old focuses on the manner in which director Peter Jackson has “updated” or “remastered” existing archival footage of the First World War to bring the documentary to life. They Shall Not Grow Old features real footage of the conflict shot at the same time, albeit digitally manipulated do that it could be rendered in high definition, in colour and widescreen. There are certain segments of film fandom that view this as an act of cinematic vandalism, of destruction of the historical record in a desperate populist bid.

However, this overlooks the substance of They Shall Not Grow Old as an actual documentary, reducing Jackson’s attempt to craft a visceral and tangible record of the First World War to a piece of trivia or a cinematic novelty. This is both a disservice to the documentary itself and also something of a boon. The narrative that Jackson is attempting to reconstruct with the materials available to him is interesting, perhaps much more interesting than debates about one particular facet of the movie’s production.

They Shall Not Grow Old is an ambitious effort, but it is also a deeply flawed one. Its flaws are in many cases interwoven with its virtues, with everything that makes it so unique also serving to impose rigid formal boundaries upon the work that Jackson cannot escape simply by reframing his footage.

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Non-Review Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is essentially a high concept shorn of any sense of authorship.

Lisbeth Salander is one of the very few breakout fictional characters of the twenty-first century, a concept that immediately latched on to the public imagination following the publication of Stieg Larsson’s Män som hatar kvinnor in 2005. Salander was a character who seemed to speak to the turbulent new century, a digitally native avenging angel who unleashed her wrath against a violent and misogynist establishment. Salander seemed to speak immediately and viscerally to her moment.

Phoning it in.

A Swedish language film was released four years later, featuring a career-defining performance from Noomi Rapace, which seemed to be enough to singlehandedly assure the young actor an English-language career. Hollywood quickly noticed and immediately commissioned a remake that would be directed by David Fincher, and which would go on to be nominated for five awards. Rooney Mara would effectively launch her career with a Best Actress nomination for her performance of Salander.

All of these are incredible accomplishments for a character and concept that in someways seemed clichéd and nineties. Män som hatar kvinnor was the kind of serial killer narrative that has been ubiquitous in the nineties, but largely supplanted by terrorist stories in the new millennium. As an archetype, Salander was very much of a piece with cyberpunk hackers with which Hollywood had clumsily flirted in movies like Hackers or The Matrix or Johnny Mnemonic.

Snow escape.

Salander was elevated by two things. The first was a prescient understanding of the appeal of a feminine avenging angel dismantling systems of misogynist oppression. If anything, Salander seemed ahead of her time, and should be perfectly pitched for the #metoo moment. However, the other important aspect of Salander was a strong sense of authorship and craft. Noomi Rapace embodied the character in the Swedish-language original, and David Fincher helped to elevate pulpy material to top-tier filmmaking in the American reimagining.

All of this makes The Girl in the Spider’s Web an interesting , if deeply unsatisfying case study of what happens when anything resembling a distinct creative voice is ripped away from Salander and she is stuck in a much more bland and conventional film. The results are deeply frustrating, but affirm the level of talent involved in the character’s earlier adventures on page and screen.

Everything burns.

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Non-Review Review: Colette

The story at the heart of Colette is familiar, even to those with little knowledge of its inspiration.

Colette is a story about the eponymous French writer, who rose to fame on the back of a series of novels that fictionalised her own life through the lens of a character named Claudine. Keira Knightley stars in the title role, a young woman from the country who finds herself swept into Paris by her older and more established husband. Publishing under the pen name “Willy”, Henry Gauthier-Villars is something of a cad. He is quick to capitalise on his wife’s artistic voice and to claim her successes for his own. Meanwhile, Colette struggles for her creative freedom and to find a way to express herself.

Go, West!

The broad strokes of Colette are fairly routine, the film following the rhythms and structures of the modern historical biography. Reflecting the modern creative and political climate, there is a great deal of emphasis placed on Colette as a feminist narrative, the story of a young woman trying to assert control over her own voice and come to terms with her own identity. It is certainly a timely story, even if Colette follows the standard biographical film playbook beat-for-beat. Very few developments in Colette come as a surprise, and many of the film’s twists and reversals are helpfully signposted from the get-go.

However, Colette works much better than that assessment might suggest. A lot of this is down to a clever and nimble screenplay from Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland and Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Colette is aware of all the marks that it needs to hit, and that frees the screenplay up to be a little playful in how it develops its beats and what it does when it hits each mark. Colette is a fascinating hall of mirrors, a movie packed with twisted reflections and symmetries, luxuriating in the blurred boundaries between reality and fiction. Coupled with a pair of charming lead performances, this elevates Colette very well.

A picture-perfect marriage.

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Non-Review Review: Fantastic Beasts – The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald knows its audience.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is a film consciously aimed at the audience member who has charted and navigated the family trees of the Harry Potter franchise, who knows the finer details of families that were never explicitly featured in the original series and who can recognise names that were never spoken aloud. This is a film that is geared towards the kinds of fans who devour supporting material, who pour enthusiastically and endlessly over the appendices to The Lord of the Rings.

Law student.

This is not to mock or belittle those sorts of fans. Indeed, there is something infectious and exciting in that enthusiasm, in standing outside a cinema and hear enthusiastic six-year-olds with a much better grasp of the dynamics at play than the adults who accompanied them. The eagerness with which these fans pour over the finer details is genuinely heartening, and some of it might even be absorbed by osmosis as they boast about “when” they “got” some twist or other. This a movie aimed at those who devour scenes of exposition and love a good flashback or six.

The only issue is that The Crimes of Grindelwald has precious little for the more casual audience member, whether the casual cinema-goer who just wants a night full of wizards and witches or the more relaxed fan who has only watched the films or read the books once a few years ago. For those audience members, The Crimes of Grindelwald does not offer nearly enough. Or it offers too much.

Partially wanted for crimes against fashion.

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