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Non-Review Review: Zootropolis (aka Zootopia)

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2016.

Zootropolis is a solidly entertaining family film that strains under the weight of its core premise.

There is a great idea in here, a detective film set in an anthropomorphised world featuring a rabbit and fox who must team up to solve a number of mysterious disappearances. Along the way, writers Jared Bush and Phil Johnston fashion the story into an allegory rich with social commentary about race and class issues in American cities. It helps that the script is light on its feet and packed with enough fast gags that it breezes along without ever getting stuck in the same place for too long.

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However, this becomes a problem in and of itself. There is a sense that Zootropolis struggles to do too much in the space afforded to it. The plot covers quite a lot of ground as our plucky heroes embark on their investigation, including extended (and overt) riffs on pop culture standards like The Godfather and Breaking Bad. There are points at which it feels like Zootropolis might be a much stronger film if it slowed down a bit, instead of hopping from one set-up to the next in the style of its rabbit protagonist.

Zootropolis largely works, but it never comes together in the way that the best Disney outings do. There are points at which Zootropolis feels more like a turducken than a chimera.

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Non-Review Review: Hitchcock/Truffaut

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2016.

Hitchcock/Truffaut is incredibly light and fluffy.

In many respects, Kent Jones’ documentary about the eponymous piece of classic film literature plays like something of a late night infomercial populated with nerdiest film endorsements imaginable. Hitchcock/Truffaut is not so much interested in exploring and expanding its source text, instead settling for celebration. Wes Anderson boasts that his copy of the book is so well-used that it is held together by rubber bands; Kiyoshi Kurosawa explains that the only thing holding him back from blatantly stealing from the book is a promise to himself.

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There is not anything particularly wrong with this. There is something quite fun in watching film-makers get evangelical about their craft. All of the talking heads offer some insight into their own work when they expand upon what Alfred Hitchcock means to them. Martin Scorsese’s joy as he journeys shot-by-shot into Psycho is infectious, and it is clear that everybody involved with the project holds Hitchcock in the highest possible regard and embraces him as a cornerstone of modern movie-making.

Hitchcock/Truffaut‘s biggest issue is also its strongest virtue; this is a cheerful and superficial acknowledgement of its subject, one that decides particularly in-depth coverage of the auteur is secondary to rendering the material accessible to neophytes.

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Non-Review Review: Miles Ahead

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2016.

Miles Ahead is a very strange film.

Don Cheadle stars as jazz musician Miles Davis. Not that Davis particularly cares for the descriptor. “That’s a made-up word, jazz,” he reflects during the opening credits. Asked to select a better description of his work, Davis settles on “social music.” In many ways, that awkward conversation sets the tone for the rest of the film, which weaves between a fairly conventional music biopic and a comedy musical heist adventure for no real reason beyond the fact that it really doesn’t want to be a conventional music biopic.

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Miles Ahead feels like a passion project for Cheadle, who not only headlines the film but also directs and co-writes. Watching the movie unfold, it is clear that Cheadle cares deeply for the source material and understands the challenges the face any twenty-first century musical biography. Because Miles Ahead is adapting a life for film, it cannot avoid the familiar beats; the drug addiction, the disintegrated marriage, the wilderness years. However, Cheadle works to undercut these familiar tropes through a surreal and ambitious framing device.

Miles Ahead does not work. The film has no shortage of ambition, very clearly angling towards a free-form narrative style intended to evoke the protagonist’s unique musical sensibility. Cheadle is determined that Miles Ahead will not be lumped among the dozens of fairly nondescript musical biographies, instead tailoring something to his subject. However, Miles Ahead lacks the improvisational flourish that defines its central character, feeling more disjointed than harmonious.

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Non-Review Review: Green Room

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2016.

Green Room is a masterful artisanally-crafted suspense thriller.

Writer and director Jeremy Saulnier crafts a loving tribute to seventies horror that feels like a truer successor to the “backwoods horror” genre than many contemporary remakes and reimaginings. Following a punk band named The Ain’t Rights that stumble into a tense stand-off with a bunch of neo-nazis in rural Oregon, Green Room is almost aggressively old-school in its horror sensibilities. It is tense and claustrophobic, paranoid and unsettling. Saulnier has a masterful understanding of the genre and its expectations, crafting a pitch perfect homage.

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Green Room is a very canny piece of work, but never in a manner that is distracting. The film is wry without being ironic, more arch than subversive. Appropriately enough, given its punk protagonists, the movie’s hints of cynicism about its genre and set-up bely a more earnest appreciation of the form. Green Room is a classic and conventional horror film about a bunch of kids who took a wrong turn, and it is utterly unapologetic about that. Instead, it commits to providing one of the most visceral traditional horror experiences in recent memory.

Green Room is a nasty piece of work. And is all the better for it.

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Non-Review Review: Demolition

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2016.

Demolition is saturated by quirk.

Demolition is suffocated by quirk.

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