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Non-Review Review: Happy Death Day 2 U

“You mean this is all about money?” asks a confused grad student early in Happy Death Day 2 U, as a stubborn college dean shuts down his (frankly reckless science experiment. The dean explains that the college is primarily interested in cultivating intellectual property and patents, which comes as news to his more innocent students. The dean protests, bluntly, “Somebody has to keep the lights on around here.”

It’s an odd exchange within an odd film, and one that makes relatively little sense in the context of the story being told. however, it feels like a very revealing exchange in terms of the logic underlying Happy Death Day 2 U. The original Happy Death Day was a cinematic highlight of 2017. Somewhat (and fairly) overshadowed by Get Out, the original film was a playful and self-aware slasher movie hybrid which worked as both a charming example of the genre and broad critique of the exhausting and repetitive nature of such films.

Masking his intentions.

Happy Death Day was the story of a young woman who finds herself trapped reliving the same day over and over, facing a masked serial killer and getting murdered in a variety of inventive ways before resetting to do it all over again. Within that premise was a clear critique of horror franchise formulas that tended to trap protagonists within these familiar frameworks over and over and over again. In that context, Happy Death Day 2 U seems almost redundant. Tree has already lived the same story twelve times. What could a sequel possibly add, beyond some dollars to the bottom line?

It is to the credit of Happy Death Day 2 U that the film inherently and intrinsically understands this. Happy Death Day 2 U is a messy and awkward film, but it is crystal clear in at least one respect. Happy Death Day 2 U knows exactly what sort of film it doesn’t want to be. Unfortunately, it never seems entirely certain of the film that it does want to be.

Stab me, Baby, one more time.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Repentance (Review)

Repentance marks another example of the seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager groping clumsily and awkwardly towards an archetypal Star Trek plot.

The Star Trek franchise has cultivated a reputation for being a vehicle for progressive social commentary, largely on the back of episodes like Let That Be Your Last Battlefield or Plato’s Stepchildren. Of course, those episodes were decidedly less progressive and more complicated than the popular memory would allow, but there is an argument to be made that the idea of Star Trek as a voice for social progress is worth something even if the franchise did not always live up to those ideals. After all, the franchise also gave audiences The Omega Glory and Turnabout Intruder.

In the neck of time.

The seventh season of Voyager seems to recognise this social commentary as something essential to Star Trek‘s cultural identity, something that essentially defines Star Trek as Star Trek and distinguishes it from other popular science-fiction. This explains why the seventh season of Voyager is so preoccupied with the Prime Directive, which even gets name-dropped within Repentance; it is a major element in stories like Flesh and Blood, Part I, Flesh and Blood, Part II, Natural Law and Friendship One. It is seen as something identifiably Star-Trek-ian in nature.

The seventh season of Voyager builds a number of episodes around big social issues of the late nineties and the new millennium; Critical Care grappled with the healthcare crisis, while Lineage wrestled with anxieties about designer babies. Repentance is very much of a piece with those episodes, although it turns its gaze towards the issue of capital punishment. On paper, this is archetypal Star Trek storytelling, an allegorical exploration of a hot button issue through the prism of science-fiction. However, as with so many of these episodes, the archetypal Star Trek trappings feel superficial.

Hologram for a king’s ransom.

Repentance has very little to actually say about the death penalty. More than that, what it does have to say is deeply confused and unfocused. Voyager is perhaps the most consistently conservative of Star Trek shows in terms of political philosophy, which has led to a number of spectacularly poor decisions like the characterisation of the Kazon from Caretaker onwards or the false rape accusation paranoia underpinning Retrospect. It seems entirely predictable, if no less disappointing, that Voyager stumbles clumsily into an ill-judged take on the application of capital punishment in Repentance.

As with Critical Care and Lineage before it, Repentance is an episode that understands the importance of using a platform to say something important about one of the most pressing issues of the era while also extending a great deal of effort trying to avoid saying anything at all.

“Cue the women in prison fan-fic.”

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #5!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Ronan Doyle, Jay Coyle and Alex Towers from When Irish Eyes Are Watching to discuss the week in film news. We have a broad and wide-ranging discussion of what we watched, including everything from John Carpenter’s The Fog to 3,000 Miles to Graceland to the work of Agnes Varda and some preemptive highlights of the upcoming Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival. We also discuss a little bit about David Fincher’s Zodiac, which we all caught on 35mm at the Lighthouse.

In terms of film news, there is a lot to cover. The big story concerns the cinema-going habits of the Irish (and international) audiences. However, there’s also news from the European Film Market, including a number of prospective Irish films on sale.

The top ten:

  1. Second Act
  2. Escape Room
  3. Mary Poppins Returns
  4. Mary Queen of Scots
  5. Vice
  6. Glass
  7. The Mule
  8. A Dog’s Way Home
  9. Green Book
  10. How to Train Your Dragon III: The Hidden World

New releases:

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

 

117. Before Sunrise – “Two Guys Die Alone 2019” (#204)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, a Valentine’s treat. Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise.

An arguing couple on a train unexpectedly bring two much younger people into contact; Jessie is a seemingly cynical American who has found himself bumming around Europe while waiting for a flight home while Celine is a student returning to Paris. On a whim, the two young people decide to spend one magical night together, knowing that it may well be the only time that they ever spend together.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 204th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: On the Basis

On the Basis of Sex is a sturdy, old-fashioned awards season film.

On the Basis of Sex is earnest, unshowy and very conventional in both concept and execution. All of its beats are familiar, all of its rhythms predictable. It’s not especially inventive or innovative. It is a meat-and-potatoes awards fare, a fascinating story that is told in an uncluttered manner. While there are still a handful of these sorts of films released every year, it often seems like the ground is shrinking out from under them. As awards season has leaned towards quirky indie films like Vice or The Favourite, it has left films like On the Basis of Sex and Can You Ever Forgive Me? sitting in the dust.

Ruthless litigation.

There is nothing wrong with old-fashioned awards fare, even if On the Basis of Sex occasionally feels conflicted about which particular mode of old-school biographical film it seeks to emulate; it starts like a conventional subject’s-life-in-two-hours piece in the style of films like Ghandi or Patton, and then shifts into the slightly more modern twist on the genre that tends to focus on one formative event like Frost/Nixon or The Queen or Elvis & Nixon. It is a strange shift, with On the Basis of Sex spending half an hour on a general introduction to Ruth Bader-Ginsberg before focusing on the meat of this particular story.

This lack of focus is not a major issue. Old-fashioned awards fare can work reasonably well with the right material and talent, despite seeming quaint by the standards of the time. On the Basis of Sex never stands out from the crowd in the same way as its central character, but then that might be expecting too much given that surprisingly long shadow cast by Ruth Bader-Ginsberg.

Courting controversy.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #4!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Graham Day from Speakin’ Geek to discuss the week in film news. It’s a fun and wide-ranging discussion, covering everything from the growth of Dreamworks as an animation studio to the extended cut of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. There’s also discussion of Dragonball Z and Destroyer. In film news, we mark the passing of Dick Miller, the coverage of Sundance, February at the Irish Film Institute and the thirtieth anniversary of the Cork French Film Festival.

The top ten:

  1. The Favourite
  2. Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet
  3. Stan and Ollie
  4. Second Act
  5. Mary Poppins Returns
  6. The Mule
  7. Vice
  8. Mary Queen of Scots
  9. Glass
  10. A Dog’s Way Home

New releases:

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

Non-Review Review: High Flying Bird

High Flying Bird is a quietly radical movie about a sports agent.

This should not be a surprise. Director Steven Soderbergh is a director fascinated with systems, particularly capitalist systems. Unsane might have taken the form of a trashy and tacky nineties thriller, but it was primarily interested in exploring the horrors of a psychiatric industrial complex. Side Effects touched upon the way in which pharmaceutical companies and legal systems work. Contagion was a story about structural responses to a viral infection that spread rapidly through an increasingly interconnected world.

Managing the situation.

With that in mind, it makes sense that Steven Soderbergh’s movie about the NBA lockout of 2011 would feature very little actual basketball. Sure, footage of games plays on several of the large flatscreens adorning bar or office walls, but it’s just window dressing. Just when it looks like Soderbergh might actually show a game, he cuts away dramatically to a shot of a billionaire’s daughter carrying her dog on board a private jet, flanked by two helpful staff holding umbrellas to protect her from the wind. High Flying Bird is about basket ball as an institution, but not a sport.

A cynic would argue that  High Flying Bird is about basket ball in the same way that the NBA is about basket ball, interested in institutions and structures more than the actual sport itself. Such a cynic would be right at home in the world of High Flying Bird, where characters talk freely and repeatedly about the  “game that’s been played behind the game”, “the game that they made over the game”, or “a game on top of a game.” Professional basket ball is not about basket ball, High Flying Bird argues coherently and consistently. Professional basket ball is about profiting off basket ball.

“What are you doing here?”
“Beatz me.”

High Flying Bird is drawn from a script by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who is perhaps best known for working on the story for Moonlight with Barry Jenkins. Indeed, the cast is anchored by Moonlight co-star André Holland. High Flying Bird recalls Moneyball, in that it is a film about sport that does not feature sport, understanding that the activity does not exist in a vacuum. For High Flying Bird, professional basket ball is about money and power and race, and the real game is being played away from where the camera and the audience is looking.

The only thing that keeps High Flying Bird from being a slam dunk is a lack of focus. High Flying Bird doesn’t entirely trust its cast and its premise to hold the audience’s attention through all of these conversations about abstract concepts layered upon abstract concepts placed over a game that the film only shows in the background. As a result, McCraney and Soderbergh crowd out the story with subplots designed to generate human interest; a tragic back story, an emerging romance. These elements ultimately distract from the most interesting aspects of the film.

This screenshot is also about capitalism. Somehow.

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