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Non-Review Review: Rebecca

The most shocking thing about Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of Rebecca is how tame it feels.

The bulk of the coverage of the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic romance focuses on the idea that Wheatley is tilting at cinematic windmills by daring to explore the same ground that Alfred Hitchcock had already so memorably mapped. Hitchcock is as close to a cinematic sacred cow as exists, and to attempt to remake one of his most beloved films would be tantamount to making another version of Gone with the Wind or restaging Casablanca. It is one of the rare lines that exists in a modern pop culture built around recycling existing intellectual property.

Maxim-um fun.

In truth, there’s nothing wrong with daring to approach the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. After all, Park Chan-wook’s Stoker was very much an update of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. More than that, there are perhaps valid reasons for wanting to go to Manderley again. Hitchcock’s adaptation of du Maurier’s novel was constrained by the demands of the Production Code Authority, and forced to change key plot points and obscure others through subtext. While some observers might argue this renders the film more “artful”, it does justify a revisit in a less puritanical time.

However, Wheatley never manages to bring these ideas to the surface. His version of Rebecca never manages to quite articulate or express the anxieties lurking in the shadow of Hitchcock’s classic. Rebecca is a sleek and stylish production with a set of solid performances and a few flashes of visual vigour, but it lacks a strong sense of its own identity – often seeming disjointedly caught between its influences and its impulses, failing to reconcile the two into anything especially compelling.

A time for reflection.

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Non-Review Review: Free Fire

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Free Fire is probably best described as “Character Actor Death Match.”

Director Ben Wheatley draws together a fine collection of recognisable and veteran character actors for his single-location thriller. Free Fire has a cast including Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Jack Raynor, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley and Wheatley fixture Michael Smiley. The premise is remarkably straightforward. In Boston, in 1978, a bunch of Irish Republicans set out to buy some guns from an unreliable South African arms dealer, with various other parties caught in the crossfire.

All fired up.

All fired up.

The weapons deal gradually breaks down, whether due to mistrust between the parties or personal animosity between individuals. The abandoned industrial warehouse chosen to host the deal quickly descends into anarchy, with characters drawn into a sprawling (and intentionally muddled) fire-fight in which many of the participants seem entirely unclear about what is happening and which group to which their allegiance lies. “Sorry!” one character apologises over a cheap shot at a supposed ally. “I forgot which side I was on!”

Free Fire is a fast-moving free-wheeling absurdist action comedy that leans heavily upon a fantastic cast and on the director’s mischievous sense of fun.

Shooting the Brie-ze.

Shooting the Brie-ze.

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Non-Review Review: High-Rise

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

Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is a beautiful ugly film.

An adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s surrealist novel, High-Rise fits rather comfortably within Wheatley’s aesthetic. There is an apocalyptic paranoia running through the film, which charts the social decay of the eponymous building over a three-week period. Class warfare is rendered literal in multiple senses, as the lower classes visit violence upon the wealthier inhabitants of the tower block. Even during the most peaceful and serene sequences of the movie’s first half, there is an underlying anxiety and dread bubbling just beneath the surface.

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High-Rise is disjointed and uneven, but that would seem to be something of the point. Amy Jump’s screenplay and Ben Wheatley’s direction eschew conventional pacing, with the world collapsing more in fits and starts than in a steady decline. Wheatley and Jump also edit the film, emphasising the chaotic nature of this collapse through jumps and montages that document the erosion of social order in a manner that ebbs and flows. It is disorientating and occasionally even frustrating, but one senses that this is meant to be the point.

High-Rise is a messy piece of work. But then, as the movie seems to suggest, things get messy when life is forced into a neatly delineated box.

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Doctor Who: Deep Breath (Review)

“Dormant.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t. Just hoping.”

– the Doctor and Clara discover things haven’t changed too much

The regeneration from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi represents the third time that Doctor Who has changed its lead actor since its relaunch in 2005. It is the third time that a regeneration has forced a change in the opening credits. Along the way, there have been a number of other on-screen regenerations, from Derek Jacobi to John Simm through to John Hurt to almost!Christopher Eccleston. And that excludes River’s transformations or David Tennant’s pseudo-regeneration at the end of the fourth season.

All of this is to say that, as we approach the tenth anniversary of the revived Doctor Who, audiences are quite familiar with the concept of regeneration. This isn’t as dramatic a shift as it was when Christopher Eccleston melted into David Tennant at the end of The Parting of the Ways. That was a freshly relaunched show swapping out its lead actor after less than a year. In contrast, Deep Breath marks a much more orderly and logical transition. It isn’t earth-shattering.

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All of this means that producer and writer Stephen Moffat gets to have a bit of fun with the concept. Moffat’s previous regeneration episode, The Eleventh Hour, had the burden of demonstrating that Doctor Who could survive without both Russell T. Davies and David Tennant. In fact, it was rumoured the BBC had considered just cancelling the show at that point. As such, The Eleventh Hour was an episode designed to reassure fans that not everything had changed; this was still the same show. Moffat’s first season as showrunner was very much “business as usual.”

Deep Breath has no such weight attached to it. It is an episode that doesn’t feel the same need to reassure its audience that everything is okay and everything is the same. Instead, it can revel in what is different; it can celebrate what is new. Deep Breath lacks the sheer energy and powerful charisma that made The Eleventh Hour so fantastic, but it has a comforting sense of certainty to it that makes it a joy.

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Non-Review Review: Kill List

A special thanks to the guys over at movies.ie for sneaking us into an advanced preview screening.

Being charitable, Kill List is a complete mess of a film. It has a decent concept, and a solid middle section. However, these are surrounded by an incredibly boring opening half-hour and a monumentally stupid and non-sensical ending. It’s a shame, because one gets the sense that there’s a very clever, very entertaining movie to be found if one can dig deep enough, but it’s very hard to like a film that is so decidedly uneven and feels like an especially random video nasty.

Not exactly light subject matter...

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