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Non-Review Review: Searching…

Searching… is an interesting fusion. It blends the innovative narrative style of Unfriended with the more convention cinematic language of thrillers like Kiss the Girls.

This cocktail is at once welcome and overdue. Unfriended was one of those rare genuinely innovative pieces of mainstream cinema; in form, if not necessarily in function. Unfriended built from a premise that was both incredibly simple and also formally daring, telling a fairly standard supernatural teenage revenge story entirely through a computer desktop. As with Searching…, all of Unfriended unfolded within a computer screen.

Windows ’95 into the soul…

In hindsight, it is surprising that it has taken other genres so long to embrace that formal experiment. Cinema has a long history of eagerly coopting the language and experiments of horror for more prestigious and high-brow fare. Consider, for example, how quickly other genres coopted the “found footage” revolution of the early twenty-first century for action movies, thrillers, comedies, and even monster movies and superhero films. (Then again, that embrace of the “found footage” aesthetic may have caught on for reasons beyond the success of The Blair Witch Project.)

Searching… takes the basic formal conceit of Unfriended and applies it to a more conventional genre film. The result is an abduction thriller told exclusively through screens, through video streams, search histories, web cameras and screenshots. It’s a provocative premise, effectively turning the bigger screen into a smaller one and changing the rules of how the audience processes the imagery in front of them. However, Searching… clearly aspires to bridge the gap between screens big and small.

She needs to screen her fans better.

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Non-Review Review: Skyscraper

Hollywood never really gives up on a genre that it loves, even when it might appear that the audience has moved on.

The perpetual reinvention of the western is one example, a genre that is constantly updated in terms of style and substance to reflect the times. The western has been reinvented and reimagined countless times over the past few decades, whether by combining it with other genres or by examining its underlying assumptions. The western survives in movies like The Hateful EightThe RevenantBone Tomahawk; films that are very clearly westerns even if audiences from the genre’s peak would struggle to recognise them.

Hanging on in there.

Disaster films are another example of Hollywood’s perpetual reinvention of a genre that has fallen out of style. While by no means as ubiquitous as they once were, disaster films still pop up from time to time. The attempts to update the disaster film often take the form of hybridisation, of tying the trappings of the genre into a more marketable template. In the nineties, Independence Day cleverly wed the disaster movie to an alien invasion narrative. More recently, Patriots’ Day tied the structure and rhythms of the disaster movie into a counter-terrorism epic.

Skyscraper hits upon what might be the ultimate genre fusion for the disaster movie template. At the very least, it feels like an inevitable hybrid in the modern cinematic climate. At its core, Skyscraper essentially asks… “what if a disaster movie, but also a superhero film?

The bed Rock of a stable marriage.

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Non-Review Review: The Secret of Marrowbone

The Secret of Marrowbone is an interesting premise, albeit one told in the clumsiest manner possible.

The basic story is sound. The film has all the trappings of a gothic eastern seaboard horror, even borrowing several of its cues from the work of Edgar Allan Poe. There is a secretive family living in a rundown house, with a dark secret involving betrayal and violence. The central family, with the delightfully gothic name of “Marrowbone” have journeyed from England to the United States in the hope of a clean break, a fresh start. “No more memories,” the characters repeatedly assure one another. However, this is a ghost story. What are ghost stories but stories about memory?

Putting their secrets to bed.

However, the execution is severely underwhelming. The Secret of Marrowbone is a film with an incredibly tonal dissonance. Writer and director Sergio G. Sánchez veers wildly from gothic Jungian horror to exaggerated fifties melodrama and back again, the whiplash heightened by Fernando Velázquez’s heavy-handed score and Xavi Giménez’s inconsitantly saturated cinematography. The Secret of Marrowbone is half a semi-competent horror movie and half an overwrought trashy soap opera, neither element meshing cleanly with the other.

The result is dizzying and disorienting, but probably not in the way that Sánchez intended.

All Jacked up with nowhere to go.

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CinÉireann – Issue 8 (June 2018)

The latest issue of CinÉireann has just been released.

I’m delighted to have contributed several pieces to the magazine. You can read my take on:

As ever, there is some fantastic talent involved in the issue, and it is an honour to get a chance to write for CinÉireann. A massive “thanks” to the fantastic Niall Murphy over at Scannain for letting me be a part of it.

You can read CinÉireann as a digital magazine directly. You can even subscribe and get future issues delivered to you directly. Or click the picture below.

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #24!

We should be back to something resembling a weekly release schedule with the Scannain podcast.

This week, it’s a rather intimate affair with myself, Grace Duffy, and Donnacha Coffey from Filmgrabber. However, the conversation is suitably wide-ranging, discussing everything from the audience-versus-critics conflicts over Hereditary and Gotti to the politics of David Lynch to the sad story of Johnny Depp to the latest surreal controversy involving Star Wars fandom. Along the way, we discuss the usual array of subjects, from the week in film news to the top ten to new releases including Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Dublin OldschoolTag, Escape Plan 2: Hades and Adrift.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

Non-Review Review: Whitney

Celebrity documentaries can be tricky.

There are so many forces that pull narratives in so many directions; the attempts by those in the celebrity’s orbit to shift the story in order to favour their account of events, the yearning for a tabloid sensationalism to feed the impulses of the public, the difficulty separating personality from persona, and the fact that deceased celebrities cannot speak for themselves. Whitney has to contend with all of these challenges in its attempts to construct a portrait of one of the most vocal artists of the twentieth century.

Director Kevin MacDonald does a remarkably job in structuring his account of the troubled singer’s life and times, of capturing what it was that made Whitney Houston such a compelling figure for so long in the public consciousness, and the forces that contributed to her rise and her eventual implosion. Working with interviews of friends and family, and drawing from a variety of interviews both public and candid, MacDonald manages to sketch an outline of an intriguing figure and to explore a deeply harrowing story of fame and self-destruction.

Whitney is a deeply moving, sincerely soulful and truly heartbreaking piece of documentary cinema.

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Collapsing Into One Frame: Miami Vice, Time and Luck…

It’s that time.

Yeah.

Badges get flashed, guns come out. Arrests get made. That’s what we do.

So?

So, fabricated identity and what’s really up collapses into one frame. You ready for that on this one?

I absolutely am not.

Time and again, Michael Mann’s Miami Vice returns to the idea of images collapsing into a single frame.

It’s a recurring visual and thematic motif in Miami Vice. Around the midway point, the undercover police note the technique that smugglers are using to get past the complex array of checkpoints and scans set up to secure the border. “What’d you spot?” Tubbs asks their source at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “Go-fast boats running that close?” Crockett muses looking at the footage. “On radar they look like one, not two.” The same technique is used later with the jet, which blurs on radar into a single image. More impressively, Mann accomplishes something similar with the camera. Two become one.

This theme of collapse is core to Miami Vice. Watching the film, there is a sense that everything is falling apart, that boundaries cannot hold. This is true of all barriers; the lines that Crockett and Tubbs try to create between their professional and personal lives, the walls set up among the different groups on the inter-agency taskforce, the borders that nominally exist to separate Miami from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. It arguably even applies to the boundaries that writers and artists try to impose upon story, with Miami Vice constantly threatening to collapse into itself.

The result is a challenging a provocative piece of work, an ethereal dream-like mediation that reads very much as the inevitable climax of Mann’s meditation on the themes of law and order. Mann’s protagonists typically work to maintain some structure on what they do, to prevent the barriers from completely caving under outside pressure. Miami Vice represents the film in which those boundaries come crashing down.

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