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Birthing Hips Sink Ships: Dark Shadows & Improbable Feminism…

I will concede that I am fonder of Dark Shadows than most. I’ve been disappointed with a lot of Tim Burton’s recent output, but something about his revival of the seventies soap opera worked strangely well. I’ll be the first to concede that it’s pretty esoteric. After all, like Casa de mi Padre, it’s effectively one single joke stretched across a film’s runtime. However, I couldn’t help but warm to it, at least because it seemed like Burton was enjoying himself a lot more than head been with films like Alice in Wonderland. There was something quite cheeky about it, from the way that it portrayed its central character as ridiculously unheroic through to the fact that it was perhaps the year’s most subversive feminist film.

Indeed, watching the film again this weekend, it struck me just how feminist the narrative actually was, despite the somewhat superficial distractions from that.

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My 12 for ’12: The Dark Knight Rises & Blockbusters with Brains…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #1

There’s a popular idea that just because a movie makes a lot of money, or just because it attracts a large audience, or just because it features fantastical elements, that it is somehow unworthy of discussion and debate. The Dark Knight Rises has been a divisive film, sparking a lot of debate about its relative merits and those of Christopher Nolan, the director and co-writer. Following on from the massive success of The Dark Knight, Nolan opted for an unconventional approach for his sequel. Structurally and tonally, The Dark Knight Rises represented a significant departure from The Dark Knight. While the The Dark Knight had been an urban crime thriller exploring the wake of 9/11, The Dark Knight Rises was an epic social drama pondering how divided American society had become.

It isn’t quite as fantastic as The Dark Knight, but it was strong, bold, vibrant and challenging film making – proof that budget does not belie brains.

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My 12 for ’12: Shame & Silence

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #2

Addiction stories are very tough to do right. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the melodrama of the cycle – the excess, the withdrawal, the relapse, the epiphany. It’s tempting to wallow in each of those stages, to structure them as acts in a drama. It’s hard to resist the urge to heighten absolutely everything, to dwell on the heat of obsession and desperation that surrounds any addiction.

Director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender do a sensational job with Shame, avoiding these potential problems, offering a portrayal of addiction and personal collapse that is strangely understated and introverted rather than overwhelming or excessive. Indeed, the fact that the movie is about sex addiction might lead some potential viewers to worry. If ever an addiction lent itself to trashy and tasteless excess, one might imagine that sex would be that personal demon.

Instead, McQueen shows admirable restraint in tackling the topic. While he never blushes in presenting the depths of his lead’s degradation, he never sensationalises it. Instead, much like Brandon’s addiction, Shame is cold and clinical – and all the more powerful for it.

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My 12 for ’12: The Muppets & Everything You Need, Right In Front Of You

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #3

I can’t help but feel that The Muppets probably aren’t quite as popular over here as they really should be. After all, we had to wait about three months for the eventual release of the film in Irish cinemas. Even later this year, following all the publicity around the recent revival, I was only able to find one cinema in Dublin doing three screening of The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, despite the highly-publicised re-release. However, perhaps I shouldn’t take their international publicity for granted either. After all, Jason Segal spent six or seven years trying to guide everybody’s favourite felt performers to the big screen again.

Still, The Muppets demonstrated that the gang had lost absolutely nothing in transitioning out of retirement and back to the screen, demonstrating that all these sorts of characters need is a bit of sincere love and affection.

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My 12 for ’12: The Cabin in the Woods & The Virtues of Constructive Criticism

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #4

The horror movie has always been a bit of an ugly stepchild when it comes to film genres. It seems, for instance, that horror movies (and directors) have to wait longer to receive recognition for the work that they’ve done. The Shining, for example, earned several Razzy nominations in the year of release, but is now regarded as one of many classics within Kubrick’s oeuvre. There are lots of reasons that the horror genre is easy enough to dismiss or ignore.

You could argue that there’s something so basic about fear that it isn’t considered as much of an artistic accomplishment to scare the audience. There are legitimate arguments to be made about the sexist connotations of various horror films. Perhaps more than any other genre, successes within the horror genre have a tendency to lead to self-cannibalisation – sequels, remakes, knock-offs – that dilute and erode any credibility that the original film had earned. The innovation of Paranormal Activity is harder to recognise after half-a-decade of found-footage imitations. The cleverness of the original Saw becomes harder to distinguish amongst a crowd of “torture porn” wannabes.

All of these are very legitimate criticisms to make about the nature of the genre as a whole, and perhaps they speak to why films within that niche are so easily dismissed. I will aggressively argue that several horror films are among the most important films ever made, but I will also concede that there is (as with everything) a lot of trash out there, and a lot of things we need to talk about. Cabin in the Woods feels like a genuine attempt to have that sort of conversation, and to raise those questions. More than that, though, it comes from a place of obvious affection for the genre and all that it represents. This isn’t a stern lecture about the inherent inferiority of a particular type of film,  but constructive criticism from a bunch of people who care deeply about the genre as a whole.

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My 12 for ’12: Prometheus, Faith, Treachery & The Great Beyond…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #5

In the year 7510,
If God’s a-comin’, he ought to make it by then.
Maybe he’ll look around himself and say,
“Guess it’s time for the Judgement Day.” 

In the year 8510,
God’s gonna shake his mighty head.
He’ll either say “I’m pleased where man has been”,
Or tear it down and start again.

-Zager and Evans, In The Year 2525

Faith is a funny thing. If you don’t have it, it’s impossible to explain. If you do have it, it needs no explanation. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus feels a little bit ham-strung by the Alien DNA” that it carries. As a prequel to the iconic film series, it’s hardly the most successful endeavour. Indeed, the film’s references to everybody’s favourite chest-bursting extra-terrestrial feel almost forced. Like the discussion about the Scientology influence on The Master, focusing on the instantly recognisable xenomorph tends to obscure the unique strengths of Prometheus as its own film.

Interestingly, the strongest connection to Alien is thematic rather than literal. Like Ridley Scott’s first science-fiction masterpiece, Prometheus postulates a cold and uncaring universe, one that is inherently alien, incomprehensible and hostile. The human condition causes us to question, but Prometheus suggests that there can be no answers – no satisfactory answers at least.

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My 12 for ’12: The Master & The American Century

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #6

It’s very weird being a popular culture nerd who lives outside the United States. A significant portion of pop culture is exported directly from the United States. I grew up on Star Trek and Batman, two iconic American franchises. I probably know more about American history – filtered through feature films, television shows and other popular forms of entertainment – than school taught me about the origins of my own nation. Even then, it still feels a little strange to watch American film makers commentating on American situations, and to not only recognise but almost understand how those references work within the American subconscious.

The Master is a fascinating exploration of post war America, the period where America well and truly emerged as the defining global power, where the country embraced economic prosperity and manifest destiny no longer referred to expansion out west, but a bold adventure into a promising future. In an article published shortly before America entered the Second World War, Henry R. Luce argued that the twentieth century was “the American century.” If it seemed that way before the conflict, it was all but certain afterwards. Of course, economic prosperity does not always bring with it a sense of peace and tranquillity, and The Master explores the sense of existential ennui that took root in a way that is, if you’ll pardon the pun, masterful.

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