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Non-Review Review: The Silent Storm

The Silent Storm is an ironic title for this over-produced melodrama.

The Silent Storm is a story about an abusive marriage and an unlikely affair that blossoms on an abandoned Scottish island when a trouble young man is assigned to the care of a fire-and-brimstone minister and the minister’s housekeeper-slash-wife. Inevitably tension mount and passions flair as the three characters dance around each other, with nothing but the craggy cliffs and choral soundtrack to keep them company. For an empty island abandoned to the forces of modernity, there’s a pretty loud choir to keep our three primary characters company.

Let us prey...

Let us prey…

There is an appeal to this sort of dour character study. Writer and director Corinna McFarlane has cast two great actors in the lead roles of her first narrative feature; Damien Lewis and Andrea Riseborough are perfectly suited to this depressive melodrama, as a couple trapped in a repressive and abusive marriage with simmering tensions. The problem is the McFarlane never pitches the film at the right level. For a harrowing story of abuse and violence, the film frequently trips into self-parody.

Part of the fault rests with Lewis and Riseborough, who turn their performances up to eleven to match the production around them. However, a lot of the blame falls to McFarlane, who is utterly unwilling to let any moment stand on its own without pushing the theme or the mood to breaking point. The result is a film that struggles to find the right tone and so occasionally feels like a postmodern ironic deconstruction of the genre into which it is trying to fit.

Passion project...

Passion project…

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Non-Review Review: Birdman (or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman is a staggeringly cynical piece of work.

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s showbusiness satire has its knives out from the opening sequence, and never puts them away. It is a movie that is relentlessly snarky and bitter about just about any facet of the artistic process. The movie seldom pulls its punches, lawing into its targets with a vengeance. There are points where it almost seems too much, where it feels like Iñárritu might be better served to pull back or ease off for a moment as the film becomes just a little bit too much.

Showtime!

Showtime!

Then again, Iñárritu turns the film’s relentlessness into a visual motif, structuring Birdman as one long unbroken take. This structure is only slightly disingenuous. While there are any number of “cheats” that allow Birdman to stitch together multiple takes, the end result is still a hugely ambitious and impressive piece of work. Even viewers as cynical as the film itself may find themselves marvelling at some of the incredibly fluid transitions and extended sequences. Birdman‘s anger might occasionally come close to suffocating, but its energy is infectious.

That is to say nothing of the performance at the centre of the film, with Michael Keaton playing a washed-up has-been celebrity desperately (and pathetically) fighting for artistic credibility after a career spent in blockbuster cinema. One of the more interesting aspects of Birdman is that it seems just as dismissive of the attempts at artistic rehabilitation as it does of the original “sell out” work. Birdman is a wry, clever and vicious piece of work. It is also a phenomenal accomplishment.

You wouldn't like him when he's angry...

You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry…

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Non-Review Review: Oblivion

Director Joseph Kosinski wears his science-fiction interests on his sleeve. Tron: Legacy was obviously an update of an eighties science-fiction cult classic, and Oblivion feels like another form of pulpy homage. At its best, Oblivion feels like a spiritual successor to those wonderful cult science-fiction movies of the seventies and eighties, by way of classic version of The Outer Limits. Oblivion isn’t the strongest piece of science-fiction I’ve seen this year, nor the most ambitious, nor the most intelligent.

The movie is full of twists and turns, but few that any genre aficionado will fail to see coming. Instead, the movie largely works because it feels like an affectionate homage to those old-school post-apocalyptic pulpy sci-fi adventures. It’s cinematic nostalgia, but it’s lovingly crafted and skilfully rendered. Kosinski might not be the best storyteller working in the business, but he has a wonderful eye and keen sense of how to construct a beautiful scene.

On top (what remains of) the world...

On top (what remains of) the world…

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Non-Review Review: Welcome to the Punch

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013.

Welcome to the Punch is a weird best, a sort of a hybrid that runs on a engine built of mismatched parts. It’s very clearly a distinctly British film. the presence of Mark Strong and James McAvoy attests to that, let alone the supporting cast composed of people like Daniel Mays, Jason Flemyng, Davide Morrissey, Peter Mullen and Andrea Riseborough. However, it’s constructed in the style of an American action movie, with lots of guns, explosions and chases. It’s a very strange cocktail, and Welcome to the Punch suffers because it doesn’t blend the strength of both schools of thrillers. It feels rather clumsily, and rather hastily, thrown together without any real thought as to what the final composition might turn out like.

Top gun...

Top gun…

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Non-Review Review: Shadow Dancer

Shadow Dancer is a taut, intelligent, sophisticated thriller. In a way, James Marsh’s film is more notable for what it doesn’t say, than what it does. Long passages of the film go by in relative silent, with the an economy of language to communicate information to the audience. It’s quite heartening how much faith Marsh seems to have in his viewers, that the film never feels the need to burden itself with awkward exposition, instead trusting the actors and the surroundings to tell the story. You won’t find a thriller this year that thinks more highly of its audience.

“Have you seen ‘The Informant!’…? Good, because this is going to be a lot less light-hearted.”

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