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Non-Review Review: Brightburn

Brightburn is effectively an elevator pitch movie. It’s a heady cocktail combining Man of Steel, The Omen and We Need to Talk About Kevin into a single ninety-minute movie.

Brightburn often feels more like a sketch extended to feature length rather than a movie of itself. Its characterisation is light, its worldbuilding is shallow, its premise is not so much developed as directly stated. With the notable exception of Elizabeth Banks, who largely anchors the film in emotional terms, the performances are largely blank and generic. This is especially true of Jackson A. Dunn, who is cast in the title role. There is something very threadbare about Brightburn, as if the film is operating on nothing more than its fairly simple premise.

Red eyes at night…

Oddly enough, this all serves to make Brightburn more effective than it might otherwise be. Brightburn is a single-minded film, arguably powered entirely by its own high concept. That high concept is ingenious, and enough to sustain the film across the entirety of its ninety-minute runtime. Brightburn feels relatively light, but that is almost by design. There is little ambiguity about what it is doing, and why it is doing it. There is no clutter, no distraction, no wondering attention. Brightburn is little more than its central narrative engine, but that engine is a powerful and compelling force.

Brightburn is not a subtle film. It has all the nuance of its title character, smashing through wood as though it were wet cardboard. Somehow, that lack of subtlety makes it all the more effective.

Holy Moses.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Author, Author (Review)

Author, Author is a deeply cynical piece of Star Trek.

Author, Author is arguably as bleak as anything that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ever produced. It is a story about how shallow and how self-centred the primary cast of Star Trek: Voyager can be, but also a showcase of how little the Federation has actually evolved in the twelve years since Star Trek: The Next Generation tackled the same themes in The Measure of a Man. Indeed, with production wrapping up and the series winding down, Author, Author seems to acknowledge the flip side of the “end of history.” There is no sense of material progress. Things have not improved. Things have not changed.

Doctor Demented.

Author, Author literalises this within its own narrative. Author, Author suggests that little has changed in the Federation’s worldview since The Measure of a Man, while also insisting that nothing will change in the immediate future. Author, Author acknowledges that The Measure of a Man was a desperate punt of a thorny issue, but also frames its own narrative as exactly the same kind of punt. The closing scene of the episode places any long-term consequences of the story four months in the future. In doing so, it places them squarely outside the purview of Voyager in particular and Berman era Star Trek in general.

The only problem with all of this is that Author, Author often seems entirely unaware of how unrelentingly cynical and bleak it is.

Write on!

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134. Rush (#206)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Grace Duffy, 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 every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Ron Howard’s Rush.

In the early seventies, the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda was the stuff of legend among Formula 1 enthusiasts. Two very different men competing for every different reasons, Hunt and Lauda formed an unlikely bond that sustained and motivated both of them to push themselves further than their limits.

At time of recording, it was ranked 206th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #23!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Grace Duffy and Alex Towers from When Irish Eyes Are Watching to discuss what we watched, the week in film news, the top ten and the new releases. Grace has recently watched The Bling Ring, Alex has seen I Am Cuba, and I have watched the entire Three Colours trilogy.

In terms of film news, the Virgin Media International Film Festival is taking five Irish films to the Shanghai International Film Festival, the Irish Film Institute has launched a fundraising initiative to pay for upgrades to its facilities, and a late-breaking Emmy voting scandal is in the news.

The top ten:

  1. Avengers: Endgame
  2. John Wick: Chapter III – Parabellum
  3. Ma
  4. Detective Pikachu
  5. Take That: Greatest Hits Live
  6. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
  7. Rocketman
  8. X-Men: Dark Phoenix
  9. The Secret Lives of Pets II
  10. Aladdin

New releases:

  • Balloon
  • Diego Maradona
  • The Hummingbird Project
  • We the Animals
  • Men in Black International

You can listen to the podcast directly here.

Non-Review Review: Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4 is a lovely grace note.

Understandably, the largest tension that exists within Toy Story 4 is the question of whether the movie is “necessary”, as much as crowd-pleasing feel-good film must be “necessary.” Rather, it’s the question of whether its presence enhances or diminishes the immediately previous film in the franchise. Toy Story 3 was in many ways a pitch-perfect franchise closer, the perfect place in which to leave these characters and this world. It was bittersweet and deeply moving, striking a perfect balance between providing closure and suggesting that the adventure continues.

The real Toy Story is the toys we made along the way.

This creates an interesting challenge for Toy Story 4. Because Toy Story 3 provided such a fitting ending, it is not enough for Toy Story 4 to simple be amusing or engaging. To quote another popular Tom Hanks vehicle from the nineties, it has to “earn this.” To a certain extent, Toy Story 4 exists in conversation with Toy Story 3, and with the notable handicap of being unable to play many of the same emotional beats as strongly. “This is the epic last go-round” is a card that is difficult to play in two consecutive movies. So, quite apart from how funny and how thrilling and how clever Toy Story 4 is, it faces an uphill struggle.

It is to the credit of Toy Story 4 that it justifies itself so effectively. A lot of this is down to canny structuring; Toy Story 4 is much less of an ensemble piece than any of the two previous films in the series, focused very tightly on Woody as its focal character. This provides a nice change of pace, even compared to the fun “toys mount a rescue” template of Toy Story 2. To a certain extent, Toy Story 4 feels – in terms of tone, plot and character – much closer to the original Toy Story than any of the intermediate films in the franchise. This allows it a certain freshness and lightness on its feet.

A forkin’ delight.

However, the smartest thing about Toy Story 4 is that it understands its position. Toy Story 4 is shrewd enough to understand that it can neither ignore nor repeat Toy Story 3. Indeed, Toy Story 4 is cognisant of the fact that it must be an ending of a sort, but also a different kind of ending than Toy Story 3. The film has to both justify and distinguish itself, fitting with what came before while finding something unique to say. This is a delicate balance to strike, and it is to the credit of Toy Story 4 that it succeeds as thoroughly as it does.

Toy Story 4 exists in the shadow of Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, but most animated films do; they are both among the very best films that Pixar has produced, making them among the very best animated films ever produced. Toy Story 4 works well as an epilogue or a coda. It’s charming, smart, funny and very moving in the places where it needs to be. Toy Story 3 existed at the full stop at the end of the story, but Toy Story 4 draws a line under it.

Home on the range.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Q2 (Review)

Q2 is an episode very much in keeping with the ethos of Star Trek: Voyager, particularly at this point in its run.

It isn’t just the strange nostalgia that permeates the episode, opening with an extended oral presentation from Icheb on the heroic exploits of James Tiberius Kirk from the original Star Trek and extending through to the unnecessary return of a beloved recurring guest character from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Nor is it the awkwardness with which Q2 affects a half-hearted compromise in its final act, with the series paying lip service to the fact that its omnipotent (and mostly friendly) guest star could get the crew home with a click of his fingers, while refusing to do that because it would break the series.

“Q2 ratings are way up!”

The essential Voyager-ness at the heart of Q2 is much more profound than all of that. It has to do with how the series treats is returning guest star. Q has been a part of the Star Trek universe dating back to Encounter at Farpoint. John de Lancie has been a recurring guest star on the franchise for thirteen-and-a-half years. Although de Lancie has aged relatively well, and although suspension of belief easily allows for it, even Q himself seems much older between his first and last appearances in the television franchise.

However, Q2 takes a character who was introduced as an immortal and all-powerful trickster god in The Next Generation, and transform him into a stressed middle-aged parent by the end of Voyager. This is a very Voyager approach to characterisation and development. It is how the series has approach many of its characters. In Caretaker, Chakotay was a rebel, Paris as a rogue, and Neelix was a free-wheeling trader; within the show’s first season, all of those rough edges have been filed off. The decision to do that with a character who is effectively a trickster god speaks a lot to the central philosophy of Voyager.

Not kidding around.

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133. Saving Private Ryan (#28)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, 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 every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

It is D-Day. Allied troops are launching the liberation of France from Nazi occupation. Having led his men on the beaches of Normandy, Captain John Miller receives a unique set of orders. He is to track down lost paratrooper Private James Ryan and return him home, no matter what the cost.

At time of recording, it was ranked 28th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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