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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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Non-Review Review: Anomalisa

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

Anomalisa is a heartbreaking tale of isolation and loneliness, an affecting drama about living in a world that feels illusory.

Directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman, from Kaufman’s screenplay adapted from his own stageplay, most of the discussion of Anomalisa has focused upon its unconventional production. The movie was essentially crowdsourced, as the space allocated in the closing credits to the project’s kickstarter backers will attest. However, Anomalisa is also a stop motion production, painstakingly and meticulously filmed using life-like dolls to tell a sad story about adultery and anomie.

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In some respects, this fascination with form makes sense. After all, Anomalisa is a very human and grounded story. Even allowing for the difficulty that Kaufman had fundraising for the project, it would likely have been more practical to realise the story with living performers in a more conventional style. However, the distinctive technique provides a powerful emotional weight to Johnson and Kaufman’s story. The relative banality of the illusion is very much the much the point.

Anomalisa is not so much a story about fantasy as it is about a disconcerting sense of unreality.

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Non-Review Review: Hail, Caesar!

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

Hail, Caesar! is little more than an excuse for the Coen Brothers to adventure through classic Hollywood; a series of fantastic scenes and sequences tied together more by central theme than by a linear plot. It is telling how many performers essentially find themselves relegated to only a single scene or two, with performers like Scarlett Johannessen, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Alison Pill, Ralph Fiennes and Channing Tatum effectively (and occasionally literally) dancing around the film than weaving through it.

In many respects, this simply shouldn’t work. On paper – and perhaps on reflection – Hail, Caesar! plays like an anthology of great little scenes; a collection of short films all linked by the classic Hollywood aesthetic more than a single unifying narrative. The actual substance of the film is quite removed from the story promised by the trailers, which seem to tease “an old-timey movie Ocean’s Eleven with actors teaming up to rescue a kidnapped George Clooney.” It spoils nothing to reveal that the movie is most definitely not about that.

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Although the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock is a central thread, Hail, Caesar! plays more like a day in the life of Hollywood studio fixer Eddie Mannix. Mannix is (very) loosely based on the real studio executive (and notorious “fixer”) of the same name, although it seems quite unlikely that he ever had a day quite as bizarre as that presented here. The Coen Brothers have a great deal of fun incorporating classic Hollywood iconography into their film, both as movies within the movie and then in a more meta-fictional manner towards the climax.

However, Hail, Caesar! is tied together through its recurring humanism. The movie opens with Mannix taking confession for his sins, part of a daily ritual. One of the films featured is an old-school biblical epic. Complex economic theories are woven through the narrative, and the film repeatedly touches upon the awkward relationship that exists between Capitol Pictures and its performers. Although Hail, Caesar! is too shrewd to propose easy answers to its complex web of character interactions, it does tease some insightful questions. And features some great set pieces.

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Non-Review Review: Truth

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

Truth is a truly repugnant piece of work.

It is quite plain to see what Truth aspires towards. It wants to be a prestige picture about the erosion of journalistic freedom in twenty-first century America; it positions itself alongside films like Spotlight and All the President’s Men (and even television series like the fifth season of The Wire) in contending that a free press is an essential organ of a functioning democracy. It is entirely correct in this respect. Truth is bookended by reminders of how the press exposed scandals like Abu Ghraib and held those in authority to account.

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However, Truth is spectacularly ill-judged. The film clearly wants to tell a story about journalists who find themselves under intense scrutiny for reporting something that those in power would not want exposed. There are very candid stories to be told about the failure of the American press in this role during the early years of the twenty-first century; the role of the media in the march towards the Iraq war, the death of newspaper journalism and the rise of messier (and uglier) system in its place.

Unfortunately, Truth chooses the worst possible story upon which to make this stand. What clearly aspires to be a drama about journalistic integrity becomes a tone-deaf testament to journalistic incompetence. Then again, perhaps Truth picked its subject matter perfectly.

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Non-Review Review: Sing Street

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

Sing Street is a joyous musical coming of age story.

As with Once and Begin Again, director John Carney demonstrates an innate (and romantic) appreciation for the role of music in interpersonal interactions. As in both Once and Begin Again, Carney employs music as an emotional shorthand; both in how the characters relate to one another and how the audience relates to the film. As with his two prior films, Carney treats music as a language of love and attraction, offering his characters the chance to communicate ideas or feeling that can only be hinted at through conversation, no matter how intimate.

However, Sing Street more firmly ties its musical elements to a sense of memory or nostalgia, with a soundtrack that evokes the film’s secondary school setting as effectively as costumes or set dressings. Sing Street is an ode to the joys and adventures of youth, set to a catchy synthesiser beat.

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