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Non-Review Review: The Rehearsal

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

There’s a lot of dramatic weight to be derived from the idea that actors are fundamentally creepy.

Of course, this is a crass generalisation and in no way reflective of how the world actually works, but just conceptually there is something fascinatingly creepy in the idea of acting. At best, it is a form of grown-up make-believe, in which the performer conjures reality from imagination in a way that blurs the line between the tangible and the ethereal. At worst, it can seem almost predatory as these actors draw up real-life experiences to enhance the illusion; how must it feel for an actor to manifest something deeply personal or intimate?

ACTion man.

ACTion man.

This is perhaps why popular culture has grown so fascinated with tales of “method” actors who warp their bodies and bend their psyches in pursuit of some fundamental truth about the characters they have been asked to bring to life. It does not matter that the Stanislavski method is quite far removed from the sensationalist version that has seeped into public consciousness. After all, there is something fascinating about tales of Christian Bale’s remarkable physical transformation or that time Daniel Day Lewis saw the ghost of his father while playing Hamlet.

The Rehearsal really mines this popular notion of actors as an uncanny bunch blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, exploiting real emotions and stories so as to offer a more convincing simulacrum. The problem with The Rehearsal is in trying to wed this sensationalist and exaggerated approach to a more relaxed feel-good film and forcing to to conform to something approaching the form of a romantic comedy.

Courting controversy.

Courting controversy.

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Non-Review Review: Without Name

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Without Name is a stunningly confident theatrical debut from director Lorcan Finnegan.

In theory, Without Name belongs that long-standing environmental horror genre, the fear that nature exists in opposition to mankind and that human beings are ultimately a hostile species not welcome in their surroundings. There are all manner of variations in that classic horror set-up, but it bubbles through any number of classic horror films, from The Shining to Jaws to The Birds. There is a recurring fear that the world is not a welcoming place for mankind, and that the wilderness might one day rebel against mankind’s desire to tame it.

If you go down to the woods today...

If you go down to the woods today…

Without Name takes that familiar premise and puts a uniquely Irish spin on it, distinguishing its own set of anxieties from those felt by the European Settlers in the United States or even those disconnected from their pagan roots in the United Kingdom. Without Name draws heavily upon the Western European pagan spirituality that informs films like The Wicker Man or A Field in England, but weds it to unique Irish anxieties about property and ownership that reflect both long-standing uncertainties and modern fears.

The result is a delightfully weird little environmental horror that feels very much of its time and place, a credit to its first-time director.

Sleep well...

Sleep well…

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The 250, This Just In, Episode #6 – Moonlight (#–)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, This Just In is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.

podcast-moonlight

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Non-Review Review: The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä mies)

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki plays almost like a mumblecore Raging Bull.

To be fair, that is a very facile description. Almost every boxing film stands in the shadow of Martin Scorsese’s 1980 biography of Jake LaMotta, but The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki invites those comparisons by filming its period-specific based-on-a-true-story boxing fable in black and white. It is hard not to think of Raging Bull in that context, and it is incredibly daring for The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki to actively invite the comparison.

Skipping to the point.

Skipping to the point.

However, in explicitly evoking that classic boxing movie, writers Juho Kuosmanen and Mikko Myllylahti are able to do something genuinely interesting. Taking all the iconography and expectations of the boxing movie genre, Kuosmanen and Myllylahti are able to tell a story that skews its perspective slightly. Channelling Raging Bull only underscores this subtle shift, with The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki not so much asking for a comparison as a contrast.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is charming in the way that it embraces the clichés and expectations of the boxing movie only to subvert with a more naturalistic (and optimistic) love story about a boxer who largely eschews the conventions of the biography films that such sportsmen tend to inhabit.

On the ropes.

On the ropes.

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Non-Review Review: Lady Macbeth

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Lady Macbeth is a very beautiful, and very arch film. Perhaps a little too arch.

Writer Alice Birch and director William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is a very loose adaptation of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov, adapting the Russian novel to British surroundings. Ari Wegner’s cinematography is stunning, capturing the beauty of these new surroundings and meticulously framing the characters. Oldroyd films Lady Macbeth at a Kubrickian remove, keeping the camera still and often facing his characters head-on in a way that makes it seem like the cast are staring out of the film at the audience watching.

Thinly-veiled contempt.

Thinly-veiled contempt.

Birch’s script has an incredibly dark sense of humour, a wry grimace juxtaposed against the horrors that its characters inflict upon one another and the sense of bleakness that pervades the film. Indeed, the film balances on a knife-edge in terms of tone, shifting skilfully between moods from one scene to the next. At one moment, Lady Macbeth is a thoughtful character study, at another a cheeky feminist critique, then a pitch black comedy. Lady Macbeth is an impressive work in any technical sense.

However, there is a pervading coldness to the film, one reinforced by the intensity upon which the camera focuses upon characters who keep themselves at a remove. For all the polished sheen of Lady Macbeth, its characters remain heavily internalised and take their time expressing themselves through action. The result is a film that moves far too slowly, keeping its characters both opaque and inert for far too much of the runtime. Lady Macbeth is a very pretty film, but one that mistakes silence for profundity.

Return of the Mac(beth).

Return of the Mac(beth).

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Star Trek: Voyager – Random Thoughts (Review)

Random Thoughts is another example of Star Trek: Voyager as generic issue-driven Star Trek.

Random Thoughts is a fairly standard political-commentary-as-science-fiction-allegory plot, with the crew encountering a race of telepaths who have built a utopian society through the careful regulation of thoughts. When Torres is implicated in a very rare violent crime, the crew find themselves embroiled within mystery to determine the origin of the violent thought and the means of its transmission. Along the way, there is a hefty dose of commentary on a broad range of themes.

Scrambling the subversives.

Scrambling the subversives.

In theory, Random Thoughts is very much of a piece with Nemesis or Scientific Method, other fourth season episodes less interested in character and more driven by commentary. However, Random Thoughts is a good deal more muddled. The allegory at the centre of the story is a mess, in part because the script is so intentionally vague. Are these violent thoughts a metaphor for violence in media? Are they a commentary on heat speech? Are they an analogy for drug addiction? What about non-heteronormative sexuality?

Random Thoughts never seems to decide on one central metaphor, and so casts an exceptionally broad net. The problem is that these issues are radically different from one another, and the all-encompassing nature of the central analogy robs the episode of any nuance or sophistication. An episode advocating for the legalisation of drug use is radically different from an episode against the criminalisation of heat speech. It is very difficult to work out exactly what Random Thoughts is saying, let alone what it wants to say.

Whisked away.

Whisked away.

This muddled storytelling plays out in other ways. Random Thoughts is a mess episode, in terms of storytelling and structure. The plot wanders in various different directions, shifting focus from one member of the ensemble to another; for a story about Torres’ emotions, Torres is afforded very little agency. The narrative also diverts along pointless tangents, with obvious filler scenes like Paris and Chakotay discussing a rescue that never happens or Seven of Nine stopping by the Ready Room to discuss the moral of the episode.

There is something distractingly unfocused about Random Thoughts.

Secure in his convictions.

Secure in his convictions.

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Non-Review Review: Maudie

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

“Show me the way you see the world,” urges one buyer of Maud Lewis approximately half-way through Maudie, capturing the ageless appeal of just about any artistic vision. There is something exciting and unique about the opportunity to examine the world from a unique vantage point, to perceive time and space from the perspective of somebody else.

That is particularly true of Maud Lewis, the Canadian folk artist who captured the international imagination through the forties and into the fifties. Lewis had a very unique perspective on the world, capturing her surroundings and even people in crude two-dimensional terms with a surprising amount of depth. The little incongruous details of these seemingly simplistic paintings turned Lewis into a cultural icon, whose influence and legacy perseveres to this day.

maudie

Wedded to convenience.

The biggest problem with Maudie is that the film completely lacks any sense of original or distinctive vision, any real effort to see the world as it must have appeared to Maud Lewis. As much as the film and the surrounding characters might laud Maud for her distinct approach to painting, Maudie is a much more conventional tale. Maudie hits just about every biography cliché in the book, without offering any keen insight or shrewd observation. It lacks those small well-observed nuances that really brought Lewis’ work to life.

A superb central performance from Sally Hawkins cannot elevate a film that is so eager to engage in twee unreconstructed nostalgia.

Painting a pretty picture.

Painting a pretty picture.

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