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A Surprise Movie Is Good For the Soul: In Praise of Blind Screenings…

A number of major Irish and British cinema chains have begun offering “Secret” or “Surprise” screenings over the past few years. ODEON have their “Screen Unseen” brand, Omniplex have their “Secret Screenings”, the Irish Film Institute have their “Mystery Matinee”, Cineworld have their “Secret Unlimited Screenings.” This is to say nothing of what might be the biggest example on the cinematic calendar, the Dublin International Film Festival’s long-standing “Surprise Film”, which famously originated when Michael Dwyer discovered that he had accidentally left a gap in the original programme.

The basic premise of a “Surprise Film” is simple. The audience buys a ticket to the screening, often at a discounted rate compared to usual ticket prices. The audience is not told what the film is to be ahead of time, instead trusting the organisers of the screening to produce something interesting and compelling. The audience then gets to experience the movie completely blind, without any lead-in and without any hype. It is something to behold, a rare opportunity to see a movie completely blind in an era of heavy media saturation and social media gossiping.

Of course, the quality of these screenings is highly variable. Over the past year, Irish surprise screenings have included films as diverse as I, Tonya, Lady Bird, Snatched, The Florida Project, Ghost Stories, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Unsane, Battle of the Sexes, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Mindhorn, Baby Driver, The Big Sick. That is an eclectic list of films, and it is almost certain that there is something for everybody in that list and also something that will repulse everybody on that list. But that is the thrill of such screenings.

There is something to be said for the willingness of a movie goer to open themselves to new experiences, to step outside of their comfort zone and to take a risk on something that they are not anticipating. Even if those films are occasionally terrible, and especially if they were not films that the audience member would choose to see on their own terms.

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Non-Review Review: Kissing Candice

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

Kissing Candice is a vivid and confident theatrical debut. If only that confidence were in any way earned.

Kissing Candice is clumsy, indulgent, over-signified and convinced of its own profundity.

Talk about your red lights.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #8!

A packed week at the Scannain podcast, looking at the week in Irish cinema.

Still recovering from the Audi Dublin International Film Festival and the Oscars, I was delighted to join Niall Murphy and Grace Duffy on the podcast. We discussed all the usual topics: the mountains of films that we had watched during the festival, and while snowed in; the weekly top ten including Game Night, Lady Bird and Black Panther; and the slew of high-quality new releases including The Lodgers and You Were Never Really Here.

Check it out here, or give it a listen below.

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #7!

Before the storm…

The arrival of “Storm Emma” and the “Beast from the East” ensured one of the most memorable Audi Dublin International Film Festivals in recent memory. Myself, Jason Coyle and Ronan Doyle took a bit of a breather in the middle of it all to talk about the best of what we’d already seen, what we thought would win at the Oscars, as well as the usual trip through the weekly top ten and the new releases.

Check it out here, or give it a listen below.

Non-Review Review: Hannah

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

Hannah is a quiet, meandering movie elevated by a powerhouse central performance from Charlotte Rampling.

The second feature film by Andrea Pallaoro, Hannah unfolds primarily in silence – or in the absence of talking. There is dialogue, but it often seems incidental to the story being told. Much of the film consists of extended wordless passages, focusing on the eponymous character as she moves through the world. Dialogue is often perfunctory and functional, seldom exposition driving a scene. A lot of the sound in the film is ambient; a train approaching and then pulling into a platform, a cloth cleaning a gigantic glass door, water trickling from taps and faucets.

As the title implies, Hannah is essentially a character study. Charlotte Rampling plays the eponymous character, the film following her through her routine. Gradually, the film sketches out her world, first in broad pencil strokes and then in fine detail. Rampling anchors the film, conveying so much through her eyes and her expression, providing a strong emotional core to the film buried beneath an emotionally reserved exterior. Rampling’s performance is crushing and heartbreaking, and all the more powerful for its low-key nature.

However, Hannah is perhaps too low-key. Barring a bunch of clumsy symbolism, there are points at which the film feels like it might easily lapse into a coma without anybody noticing.

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Non-Review Review: Le Fidèle (The Racer and the Jailbird)

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

The Racer and the Jailbird is certainly a very strange film, and not in a particularly interesting way.

Running two hours and ten minutes, The Racer and the Jailbird is essentially two very different films stitched together. Michaël R. Roskam‘s third feature-length film is a curious hybrid, a passable eighty-minute Heat knock-off followed by an interminable European Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week. How stereotypical European, you ask? So European that it features a completely earnest reading of the line, “I am not pregnant with new life, but with death.” it is kind of brilliant, in its own ways. Many writers spend their lives in search of prose that purple.

To be fair, there is something interesting in the premise of The Racer and the Jailbird, and in its eventual narrative substitution. There is something be said for setting up a premise and then swerving dramatically to upset an audience’s expectations, to catch them off-guard by establishing a familiar set of genre elements and then twisting sharply in an unexpected direction. However, these sharp turns demand a very precise set of skills, including complete mastery of tone and narrative.

The Racer and the Jailbird lacks that control, and so misses the turn, spinning out of control and flipping dramatically before ending up as a mangled heap by the side of the road.

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Non-Review Review: The Meeting

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

The Meeting is a fascinating story, told terrible.

The real-life events that inspired The Meeting are genuinely moving. Nine years after she was sexually assaulted walking home from the bus, Ailbhe Griffith convenes a meeting with the man who raped her. In a small room, Ailbhe Griffith and Martin Swan engage in a dialogue about those events, about how that evening shaped both of their lives, and about the scars that linger. It took remarkable courage for Griffith to put herself in that room, and she is clearly a thoughtful and fascinating subject. There is a great movie to be made of this story.

Unfortunately, The Meeting is not that great movie. There are various reasons why The Meeting doesn’t work. Some of those reasons are justifiable and understandable, defensible creative choices that simply don’t pay off in a satisfying manner and serve to undercut the narrative being constructed. However, some of those reasons are unjustifiable decisions that could never have worked even in abstract theory and which serve to turn The Meeting into a spectacularly ill-judged piece of cinema.

The eponymous meeting might have been a genuinely moving and affecting experience, but The Meeting is nothing short of a disaster.

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