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Non-Review Review: Official Secrets

Official Secrets is an interesting story with some solid performances, but it’s also an unstructured mess.

Official Secrets unfolds against the backdrop of the lead up to (and immediate aftermath of) the invasion of Iraq. It follows GCHQ employee Katharine Gun’s decision to leak a classified internal memo in an effort to prevent the nation’s march to war. Along the way, Katherine’s story intersects with the press who bungled their efforts to hold the government to account, before evolving into something that vaguely resembles a Kafka-esque legal thriller about a woman charged with treason who cannot defend herself because to share any information with her legal team would be treason of itself.

Bringing a mic to the gun fight.

All of this should provide the solid basis for a character-driven drama. The film’s structure and content are typical of second-shelf-from-the-top awards fare; it is dealing with weighty subject matter in such a way that it also plays as a commentary on contemporary society, it is structured in such a way as to serve as a showcase for its lead performer who has a track record as an awards winner, and it treats its narrative and its characters with the solemnity that they deserve. This is quite close to something like Denial, to pick an obvious example.

Unfortunately, Official Secrets lacks to the sort of tight focus and easy self-confidence that elevates the best of these films. Official Secrets is constantly pushing itself and trying to ensure that it is holding the audience’s attention. It never feels entirely sure where the drama lies within the story, and so spreads its attention too wide and too thin. The result is a disjointed and uneven exploration of a story (and character) that deserve better.

“It’s all memo, memo, memo…”

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New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 1, Episode 22 (“Paper Dove”)

Recently, I had the pleasure of stopping by the first season of The Time is Now to talk about Millennium, joining the great Kurt North to discuss Paper Dove. It was a delight to be asked back, particularly because it’s the first season finale.

Paper Dove is a fascinating episode. Because every season of Millennium essentially reboots and reinvents itself, each season finale also becomes a sort of series finale. Each season-ender essentially bids farewell to a certain vision of what Millennium was or could be. This is very much the case in Paper Dove, which stands as one of the series’ most compelling and engaging “serial killer of the week” episodes right before the second season makes a conscious effort to move away from that approach to storytelling. It’s a wonderful illustration of how far Millennium has come since those early episodes, and a fantastic piece of television.

As ever, you can listen to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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Non-Review Review: Gemini Man

Gemini Man is a weird and unashamed nineties action movie throwback, for both better and worse.

This is baked into the film. The poster capitalises on the star power that drives the film. Alluding to the clone drama that drives so much of the plot, the poster to Gemini Man credits lead actor Will Smith twice above the line. In an era where the very concept of the movie star is trapped in a seemingly terminal decline, Gemini Man literally doubles down on its star branding. More than that, there is something surreal in the choice of Will Smith as that leading man, an actor whose career is largely defined by nineties hits like Enemy of the State, Men in Black or Bad Boys and whose career has floundered in recent years.

Face to Face/Off.

Gemini Man leans into this nostalgia. The film’s central hook lies in confronting Will Smith with a younger version of himself. Will Smith plays retiring assassin Henry Brogen, who finds himself hunted by a much younger version of himself. De-aged into the uncanny valley, the younger version of Will Smith consciously evokes the actor’s golden age. The film is set in 2019, but the computer-augmented action star feels lost in time; even his hairstyle and facial hair recall the actor’s appearance in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air rather than anything that might suggest a young man growing up in the twenty-first century.

While there’s a lot to unpack in the film, there’s also something disappointingly lifeless about Gemini Man. One of the film’s big action beats take place in a creepy catacomb, in what feels like an encapsulation of the film. Gemini Man never seems truly alive, instead feeling like a facsimile of another, older style of blockbuster.

Out of scope.

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New Escapist Column! “Joker” as a Perverted Superhero Origin Story…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday. Naturally, it tackled the big release of the moment, Todd Phillips’ Joker.

Joker has been the source of a lot of controversy and attention. However, one of the most interesting debates around it has been the discussion over whether it counts as a superhero story at all – director Todd Phillips and actor Marc Maron have been quick to distance the film from the genre. However, despite these claims, Joker actually works very well as a perversion of the archetypal superhero origin story. In doing so, it suggests something interesting about the state of the genre at the current cultural moment.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: The Day Shall Come

The Day Shall Come is an ambitious piece of work that suffers from some very fundamental flaws.

Chris Morris’ long-awaited follow-up to Four Lions treads on relatively familiar ground. The narrative unfolds along two threads in parallel. The first of these focuses on Moses Al Shabazz and the Church of the Star of Six, a vaguely radical (but completely non-violent) religious organisation built around addressing historical injustice and using psychic powers to bring down construction cranes over Miami. The other narrative thread is build around the bureaucratic machinations of local law enforcement, desperate to justify the bulking up of their budget after the attacks on the World Trade Centre.

My ami.

Separately, these elements feel like they should work well enough for Morris. The opening credits promise that the film is “inspired by one hundred true stories” and the set-up is absurdist enough that it feels entirely believable. Morris’ knack has always been in articulating the heightened and surreal aspects of the modern world while grounding them in mundanity, so that even the most outlandish of concepts feels anchored in a world that is recognisable and convincing. Like all great satirists, Morris holds a mirror up to the world that he sees and produces a caricature that feels as true as an naturalist portrayal.

However, The Day Shall Come just doesn’t work. A lot of this is tonal, with one of the film’s two central story lines occasionally veering into trite sentimentality that feels completely at odds with the rest of the film and which plays as an attempt to soften Morris’ more conventional and abrasive style. The result is a film that has a few compelling elements and solid (if bleak) gags, but which often feels unjustly worried about how its audience will respond and so sands down its rough edges to make something more palatable. The problem is that the rough edges are by far the most interesting parts.

He can preach until he’s horse.

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150. Joker – This Just In (#9)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jenn Gannon, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This week, Todd Phillips’ Joker.

In eighties Gotham, a failed clown descends into madness as the city breaks down around him. Garbage builds up in the streets as violence lurks in the alleyways. What kind of a man can survive such a world?

At time of recording, it was ranked 9th on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the best movies of all-time.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 4, Episode 24 (“Gethsemane”)

So The X-Cast has reached the end of its fourth season coverage, and I’m delight to be joining Tony Black to discuss the fourth season finale Gethsemane.

Gethsemane is an interesting season finale, and a defining episode of The X-Files. It opens with what appears to be the suicide of Fox Mulder, and then builds to that as a season-bridging cliffhanger. Of course, the audience knows from the outset that the cliffhanger will be Mulder’s death, and the audience also understands that Duchovny is going to spend the summer shooting The X-Files: Fight the Future. So there’s an incredible tension there, right at the moment when the series had become one of the most popular television shows of the decade.

More than that, though, there’s something very lyrical and poetic about Gethsemane, which eschews the sort of action and adventure beats that defined a lot of The Erlenmeyer Flask or Anasazi or Talitha Cumi. There is a sense that writer Chris Carter (working without partner Frank Spotnitz) is meditating upon some of the internal contradictions of the show, and trying to work through some of the tensions that simmered through a complicated and scattershot fourth season as a whole.

The truth is in here. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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