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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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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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Non-Review Review: Tag

Tag is a charming comedy that largely coasts off star charisma and a surprisingly heartwarming premise.

The plot is a compelling hook of itself. Inspired by a true story, Tag is the tale of a bunch of male friends who take one month out of every year in order to participate in a game of tag. This game has been going, on and off, for the better part of three decades. As the players get older, the pranks get more elaborate – the ruses, the feints, the misdirections, the ambushes. However, throughout the movie, the characters repeatedly stress that the game has also kept them together and in one another’s lives.

Touching.

This is a familiar set-up. It is the stuff of “overgrown manchildren” comedy, the tale of adult (and often even middle-aged) men who have the emotional maturity of children. Stepbrothers is perhaps the gold standard of the increasingly common comedy subgenre, which arguably includes films as diverse as Old School, Bad Neighbours and Knocked Up. Even indie comedies have gotten in on the act with movies like The Skeleton Twins, Cyrus or Adult Beginners.

While not strong enough or smart enough to rank with the best examples of the genre, Tag flirts with something resembling self-awareness. The movie is just cognisant enough of its underlying immaturity to keep the audience onside. Tag also benefits from a strange bittersweet quality, its joyous celebration of hypermasculine friendship gently flavoured with something resembling melancholy. It’s never entirely clear how much of that melancholy is intentional, but it permeates and enriches the film.

Renner, Renner.

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Non-Review Review: Escape Plan 2

Escape Plan was a rather disappointing exercise.

The first Escape Plan had a hell of a hook entirely separate to its central plot. Escape Plan brought together eighties action movie icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger for the first time as equals; not one cameoing in the other’s movie, not a sly wink or a nod, but as leads in an action movie together. This was the b-movie equivalent to Heat, an opportunity to watch two titans square off against one another inside the framework of a vaguely defined science-fiction b-movie. The results were underwhelming, the film feeling too late and self-indulgent.

Escapes and scowls.

Escape Plan 2 is just a bad movie.

Escape Plan 2 seems to assume that the appeal of the original Escape Plan was not in its combination of two iconic action stars collaborating as equals, instead suggesting that the audience for the original Escape Plan was really there for the reheated prison movie clichés that had been handled much better in other movies. And so Escape Plan 2 drops Schwarzenegger for an even more complicated escape from an even more complicated prison. This feels like a fundamental misunderstanding of what the audience wanted. An unsatisfying prison movie without the Stallone/Schwarzenegger team is just an unsatisfying prison movie.

It’s all going according to plan.

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Non-Review Review: Dublin Oldschool

Dublin Oldschool is a pillpopping, soulsearching, trainspotting Ulysses.

Following its central character on what effectively amounts to a bank-holiday-weekend-long bender, Dublin Oldschool is an ode to the idea of Dublin as a village. It is a celebration of the nation’s capital as a place where you are always where you needs to be, even if you don’t know exactly where you’re going. It’s a moving meditation on that intangible spirit of the city, on the metaphorical rivers that move through it, guiding its residents along journeys that they don’t always comprehend.

To beach’s own.

Befitting its protagonist, who spends most of the movie lost in a hazy of exotic substances and bouncing from one crisis to another, Dublin Oldschool is loose, rambling, a little indulgent. The movie isn’t afraid to wander, to take its time getting to where it’s going, to soak in the characters and the dynamics. However, that’s kinda the point. There is an endearing mellowness to Dublin Oldschool, even in its most sombre and serious moments, a sense of a film that is drifting to where it is supposed to be.

There’s something endearing in that idea.

Urban wild life.

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Non-Review Review: Set It Up

Set It Up is a loving ode to the classic romantic comedies of the nineties, harking back even further to their antecedents, the screwball comedies of the forties.

The basic premise of Set It Up is straightforward. Zoey Deutch is Harper, the personal assistant to Lucy Liu’s Kirsten. Kirsten is a cutting-edge sports journalist, and Harper is an aspiring writer who found herself working as a personal assistant and has been unable to extricate herself from that situation. Glen Powell is Charlie, the personal assistant to Taye Diggs’ Rick. Charlie hopes to leverage his experience with Rick into a successful and prosperous career, if he can survive Rick’s temper tantrums.

Their chemistry is through the roof.

Following a chance encounter while picking up a delivery late one night, Charlie and Harper hit upon a cunning plan to escape the ridiculous demands of their bosses. Charlie and Harper will use the positions of trust afforded to them as personal assistants in order to trick their bosses into a relationship. Their logic is that a potential romance would eat into Kirsten and Rick’s free time, and thus afford Charlie and Harper more personal time. Charlie can reconnect with his increasingly estranged girlfriend, while Harper can try to become the writer that she always wanted to be.

It is perhaps churlish to describe Set It Up as formulaic, as the primary appeal of the movie is in watching a charming cast navigate a modern spin on a variety of classic romantic comedy tropes. There are perhaps moments when Set It Up leans a little too heavily into its genre trappings, and there are moments when its attempts to update genre conventions for the twenty-first century don’t exactly land. Nevertheless, the film is elevated by charming central performances and breezy yet witty script that understands the mechanics of the genre enough to know when to play with them and when to play them straight.

Will we see some PDAs from the PAs?

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