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CinÉireann – Issue 4 (February 2018)

The latest issue of CinÉireann had just been released.

I’m delighted to have contributed several pieces to the magazine, talking about the Oscars, about Netflix and about Black Panther and the IMDb. There is some fantastic talent involved, and it is an honour to be involved.

As ever, 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.

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Non-Review Review: Finding Your Feet

Finding Your Feet is a fairly placid and mostly unobjectionable film that adheres to an increasingly familiar formula, a gentle reminder that life can often begin at sixty.

Finding Your Feet largely coasts off the charm of its cast, who seem to be having an enjoyable time with one another and appreciating the opportunity to find themselves cast as romantic leads in a globe-trotting adventure. In particular, there is something disarming in seeing Timothy Spall cast as a charming romantic lead, a disarmingly sincere lovable rogue who inevitably scrubs up quite nicely. Finding Your Feet offers very few surprises, but that is part of the attraction, perhaps worried that too many surprises might throw off the presumed viewer.

Spall good, baby.

However, Finding Your Feet is too awkward and clumsy to allow the audience to get entirely caught up in the familiar beats and rhythms of the tale. The familiar plotting of Finding Your Feet helps compensate for some strange storytelling decisions, with major character arcs unfolding off-screen and the film trying to fill its run time with things happening rather than focusing on the people to whom these things are happening.

Finding Your Feet is bland and inoffensive, its central cast providing a disarming charm that the movie never quite earns.

The sequel will feature a new addition to the cast and will be titled, ‘So You Think You Can Charles Dance?’

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Black Panther Movement: IMDb Vote Rigging and the Politicisation of Everything…

Everything is political.

And not just in abstract sense any longer. Over the past two years, it has become clear that popular culture is not insulated from politics, and cannot be insulated from politics. There are any number of markers along this road; the rise of socially-conscious film criticism, the election of a reality television star as President of the United States, debates about diversity and representation on screen and in organisations. It is fair to debate all this, to wonder whether it is a necessary step on the road to maturity or another way in which it has become harder to escape into pop culture.

Over the past few weeks, Black Panther has become another front in the perpetual and never-ending culture wars, a battleground much like Gamergate in which views that would have been socially unacceptable even half a decade earlier are spilling out into the mainstream. Weeks before the film was released it found itself subjected to organised vote brigading and troll campaigns, racist fear-mongering and dogwhistling, panic and chaos. This was before the public had been given the opportunity to actually watch the film. Black Panther became a pop culture totem.

Much has been made of Black Panther as a progressive milestone. It is not the first black superhero movie, but it is the first Marvel Studios film with a primarily black cast and focusing exclusively on a black hero. It is perhaps the first true black superhero film of the superhero boom that the Blade trilogy helped to kickstart, but subsequently stood apart from. Black Panther is undeniably compelling from that perspective, a bold and necessary step forward. However, one look at social media demonstrates that there is still a long way left to go.

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Non-Review Review: The Cloverfield Paradox

The Cloverfield Paradox is important. It’s just not very good.

The Cloverfield Paradox is a movie that seems destined to be overshadowed by the circumstances of its release. The Cloverfield Paradadox is one of several films that Netflix harvested from the increasingly beleaguered Paramount Pictures. Netflix will be handling the international distribution of Annihilation and picked up The Irishman when Paramount backed out. However, The Cloverfield Paradox remains one of the strangest fruits of this bitter harvest, in large part because of its pedigree, its production and its release.

It ain’t Clover ’til it’s Clover…

As the title implies, The Cloverfield Paradox is part of the shared universe of JJ Abrams films including Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Both were films that cleverly snuck up on audiences, and both were films that performed well for Paramount. As such, Paramount’s decision to sell off The Cloverfield Paradox seems strange – this is one of the company’s few successful properties, and there is even a fourth movie in the pipeline still aiming for a theatrical release. It seems a strange choice for Paramount to offload on Netflix.

Then again, the film’s production was notoriously troubled. The film was originally titled “The God Particle” before being changed to “Cloverfield Station” before finally being released as “The Cloverfield Paradox.” While the finished film looks impressive and has a top-notch cast, watching it is an incredibly disjointed experience. There is a sense that The Cloverfield Paradox has not been edited so much as filleted, that the audience is watching the leftover elements of a film that have been assembled from leftovers after the connecting tissue has been scraped from the bone.

Admiring the handiwork.

However, all of this is overshadowed by the circumstances of the film’s release, with Netflix finallising the deal to purchase The Cloverfield Paradox in late January, reportedly paying over $50m for it, and releasing it directly following the Super Bowl. There were no critics’ screenings, no advanced hype. There were simply two television spots promising viewers that they could watch the film on Netflix “after the game.” This was a brutally effective piece of marketting from Netflix, using the film to create a “disruption” to the established pattern of major movie releases.

This was an uncanny move, because all of the surrounding hype around this “event” glosses over the fact that The Cloverfield Paradox is just a new sheen on a familiar cliché. It is a “direct to video” film elevated to a seismic pop cultural phenomenon. And it is not even a good “direct to video” film.

Station-keeping.

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Non-Review Review: The Mercy

It can be tempting when reviewing contemporary films to looks for some sort of profound meaning, some deep insight on the contemporary world reflected back on celluloid. This is particularly true in the current climate, when it seems like every piece of American pop culture is just waiting to be read as a meditation upon the tenure of President Donald J. Trump. Some of this is because politics are particularly inescapable at this moment, when a reality television star is the leader of a free world. Part of it is perhaps down to critics trying to make their own meaning in the world.

Nevertheless, The Mercy seems to be the quintessential Brexit film. A biography of (in)famous British sailor Donald Crowhurst, The Mercy is a fascinating piece of a work. A large part of the film’s success is down to how skilfully and cannily it manipulates its audience and their expectations, how heavily leans on the tropes and conventions of the standard biographical drama to wrongfoot the viewer. The Mercy starts out as one type of film, only to make a brutal swerve into another. It is a harrowing tale of grand delusion smashed against the shoals of reality.

Tough sail.

Note: This review will assume some passing familiarity with the story of British sailor Donald Crowhurst. These true-life events may be considered spoilers for audience members without any foreknowledge and who wish to see the movie entirely blind. So consider this something of a spoiler warning.

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Non-Review Review: Black Panther

Black Panther is something special.

In a lot of ways, it is a very typical Marvel blockbuster. The familiar formula is in place, and the movie follows the rhythms that audiences have come to expect from these films. There is a certain tempo and structure to the film, the sort of clean efficiency that delineates most of the movies produced under the banner of Marvel Studios. For a film advertised using a remix of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, it is striking how conservative Black Panther is.

The Panther Strikes!

However, there is a lot to be said for the film’s more understated revolutionary qualities, the depth of understanding that the production team bring to the adaptation. Black Panther is acutely aware of what it means to construct a superhero fantasy epic about an African prince who leads a utopian society in the context of 2017, and there is something reassuring in how confidently and efficiently the film works within that framework. It is not merely that the existence of Black Panther is important, it is that Black Panther‘s assertion of its identity is important.

Black Panther is superior blockbuster by any measure, constructed with a great deal of care and thought about what it means. Much like its title character, there is a sense that the weight of expectation is upon Black Panther, and the most remarkable thing about the film is how seriously it takes that obligation without ever feeling burdened.

Heavy lies the head that wears the cowl.

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The Netflix Paradox: New Media and Old Methods…

Last night, Netflix released The Cloverfield Paradox.

The release of the film was announced in a Superbowl advertisement, promising audiences that the film would be available direct to them “after the game.” It was a striking move, particularly because so little was known about the film. It was, in many ways, an unexpected Christmas present, particularly as hyped and teased by director Ava DuVernay on Twitter. On the surface of it, this looked like a game-changing paradigm, a film released with only a few hours’ notice, directly bypassing critics and hype in a way that rendered it accessible to casual movie-goers.

Never too far a (Clover)field.

However, it also feels like a publicity coup for Netflix. The company has pulled off something truly remarkable with this release, in pulling off one of the oldest tricks in the film distribution playbook, while making it seem fresh and exciting. More than that, Netflix took a tactic that is traditionally associated with the release of bad films, and presented it as something revolutionary and democratic. Twitter commentators argued that this was the future of film releasing. Peeling back the layers on the release of The Cloverfield Paradox, it looked to be something quit different.

This was simply an old trick being cast in a new light.

#FilmTwitter right now.

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