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Non-Review Review: Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You is striking, vibrant and vital. And essential.

Boots Riley’s directorial debut is a work of striking confidence, one that emerges almost perfectly formed with the skill and craft of a director much more experienced. Sorry to Bother You knows exactly what it is doing from one moment to the next, without any sense of hesitation of self-doubt. Sorry to Bother You is strikingly self-assured, maintaining an incredible level of high-energy across its runtime. This sustained propulsive dynamism in infectious, as the movie bounces from one big idea to the next.

Dialing up the social commentary.

The most obvious antecedents of Sorry to Bother You are the vibrant science-fiction social satires of the eighties, most notably the work of Paul Verhoeven that used a hyper-stylised aesthetic to depict the grosteque excesses of capitalism. Of course, the true horror of Sorry to Bother You lies in the sense of how the world itself has moved to close the gap over the past three decades. Although Sorry to Bother You unfolds primarily in a lightly fictionalised Oakland, the most unsettling aspect of the film is how close it feels to the modern status quo.

Sorry to Bother You is a work of bold vision.

Few satires are a patch on this.

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Doctor Who: Rosa (Review)

“We don’t serve negroes.”

“Well, that’s good. Because I don’t eat them.”

Rosa is undoubtedly well-intentioned and timely.

It is hard to imagine a more relevant or important episode of Doctor Who at this moment in time than one which acknowledges the history of racism within the United States, and the horrors inflicted upon its minority populations within living memory. (A “Brexit” episode might be closer to home, though.) This is, after all, a point in history where the President of the United States has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, described nations with black populations as “sh!thole countries” and argued that Mexico is exporting rapists and murderers to the United States.

Park it here.

Of course, this isn’t just an American issue. The Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom was driven by racial anxiety, to the point that the “Leave” campaign unveiled billboards that evoked Nazi propaganda. In countries like Hungary, a resurgent ethno-nationalism is on the rise. Even on the day that Rosa was broadcast, there was a prominent news story about a white man on a Ryanair flight who insisted that a woman of Jamaican descent could not sit next to him. Rosa is certainly very timely and very relevant. It is important for children (and adults, frankly) to hear this.

There are problems, however. Rosa is a very worthy episode of television with a lot of very important things to say. In particular, its handling of Ryan and Yaz’s experiences in both the fifties and the present are very illuminating and insightful. That said, the episode runs into the same problems that haunt most of the series’ big “fixed point in history” narratives, in that it adopts a fundamentally conservative approach to history and predetermination, arguing that things can only be as they ever were. This may not be the best approach to a story about Rosa Parks.

Suitcase of the week.

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89. The Intouchables (#38)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guest Kieran Gillen, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s Intouchables.

Sparks fly and worlds collide when a wealthy quadriplegic hires an unemployed former felon to serve as his personal care nurse. Philippe and Driss forge an unlikely and heartwarming bond, coming to a deeper understanding of on another and the world around them.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 38th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #39!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast! A somewhat bumper edition this time.

This week, I join Jason Coyle, Grace Duffy and Ronan Doyle 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 talks about “instant classics”, Ronan discusses the heartbreak of Rosie, and Grace inadvertently watched The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings again.

In film news, we discuss the upcoming Cork Film Festival, Katie winning Screen Directors Guild Finders Series Award, and Netflix’s successful “Summer of Love.” There’s also an extended season about awards season social media fatigue.

The top ten:

  1. Night School
  2. Cliff Richard Live: 60th Anniversary Tour (Concert)
  3. Bad Times At The El Royale
  4. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween
  5. Kler (Clergy)
  6. First Man
  7. Johnny English Strikes Again
  8. Venom
  9. Smallfoot
  10. A Star is Born

New releases:

  • The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid
  • Dogman
  • Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween
  • Halloween

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

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #38!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast! A somewhat bumper edition this time.

This week, I join Jason Coyle, Grace Duffy and Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin 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, Grace discusses her love of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and encourages a Bruce Springsteen singalong, Jason blazes through a twelve-film week and contemplates the seventies fetishism of A Star is Born, and Luke discusses Maniac and the strange intoxicating allure of Venom. Complete with mumbly Tom Hardy impressions.

The top ten:

  1. Crazy Rich Asians
  2. Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation
  3. A Simple Favour
  4. Aida at Met Opera 2018
  5. Black ’47
  6. The House With A Clock In Its Walls
  7. Night School
  8. Johnny English Strikes Again
  9. A Star is Born
  10. Venom

New releases:

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

Re-“Born Again”: Daredevil, Season Three, and the Limits of Textual Fidelity…

One of the more interesting aspects of the modern boom in geek culture is the increased emphasis on textual fidelity.

Much has been written about the high volume of adaptations, sequels, remakes and reboots that dominate contemporary popular culture. The trend is strong, even among this year’s prestige releases. A Star is Born is the third remake of the film, and there are many more stories besides. First Man is a story that covers well-worn ground, a modern American myth, albeit from a unique perspective. Suspiria is a remake of a beloved cult classic. Widows is an adaptation of a British television series. If Beale Street Could Talk… is taken from a James Baldwin novel.

However, it is also very revealing that so many modern adaptations of beloved properties are very much fixated on the idea of fidelity. “Faithfulness” has become a watchword for these adaptations, not just in terms of easter eggs, but in terms of basic construction. In its own way, this may perhaps be an extension of the emphasis on comic books and graphic novels as a key inspiration for modern blockbusters. Given how many comic book artists also work as storyboard artists in film, it is tempting to treat the source material as a storyboard, to adapt a panel into a still image.

This is an interesting approach, but one which often overlooks the actual act of adaptation as an art of itself. It is not enough to cobble together a film from a collection of familiar static images, and can occasionally lead to a very surreal and uncomfortable disconnect, with a filmmaker lifting very literally from their inspiration while also making something that bears little resemblance to the source material in any non-visual manner. The third season of Daredevil runs into this problem repeatedly, largely as a muddled attempt to bring Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Born Again to the screen.

Note: This article contains minor spoilers from the third season of Daredevil.

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Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument (Review)

The Ghost Monument feels almost worryingly safe.

To be fair, it is almost churlish to complain about this. The Woman Who Fell to Earth seemed designed to assure audiences that the Chibnall Era would be a safe pair of hands, a stylishly produced piece of televisual science-fiction that visually upped the ante in terms of how Doctor Who looked and felt on the small screen. It was consciously designed to be safe and accessible to new viewers, to avoid anything that could be considered weird or strange.

Artful appearance.

By all accounts, this approach paid off. Reviews for the episode were largely positive. The ratings were spectacular, with Jodie Whittaker premiering to a larger audience than any Doctor since Christopher Eccleston and earning the series its highest ratings since the end of the Davies Era. There is a lot to recommend this relatively safe approach to Doctor Who, particularly following the ambition and experimentation of the Moffat Era.

Chibnall is very much adopting a back-to-basics approach. The Woman Who Fell to Earth demonstrated the way such an approach could work. This is the function of premiere episodes, particularly following a regeneration or a significant change behind the scenes. The goal is to comfort audiences still curious whether Doctor Who is the show that they love and to welcome those viewers who might be dipping their toes into the water. Rose and The Eleventh Hour did this as well, constructing tightly-wound accessible thrill rides.

Piecing it together.

However, the question then becomes “what about the second episode?” What happens after the premiere? Having welcomed both old and new audiences into the fold, what does a showrunner do next? In the case of both Davies and Moffat, the answer was to produce something ambitious and messy, something that showcased just how weird and strange the series could be. If the premieres lured viewers in, the following episodes suggested what that audience might be in for; consider the gonzo weirdness of The End of the World or The Beast Below.

The Ghost Monument is a much cleaner and much more streamlined episode than either of those two. It is an efficient action adventure that carries over a lot of the more effective elements of The Woman Who Fell to Earth. However, The End of the World and The Beast Below also suggested just how bizarre and wonderful Doctor Who could be, underneath their messiness. The Ghost Monument is simply effective.

Things went South (Africa) very quickly.

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