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Non-Review Review: Rocketman

As has been noted, the iconic Elton John song that inspired the film is titled Rocket Man, while the film itself is simply Rocketman.

The missing space is an intriguing stylistic choice, given that the film is obviously designed to evoke Elton John’s beloved contemplative ballad about space-age truckers. What purpose does the omission of that space serve? What is gained by contracting the song to create a single-word title for the biographical feature film. Having watched the film, it feels like the missing space might have been lost as an inadvertent consequence of a thorough find-and-delete of anything resembling subtext from the screenplay.

Fancy, that.

To be clear, this isn’t entirely a flaw with Rocketman. Musicals are fundamentally designed to render subtext as supratext, to literalise and articulate the themes and ideas and emotions underscoring a character or plot. By their nature, musicals feature characters very theatrically expressing their innermost feelings and desires directly to the audience through the medium of song and dance. Subtlety is not necessary in this context, and could even become something of a hindrance. A musical – especially a jukebox musical like this – is narrative as stadium rock.

The musical sequences in Rocketman capture this beautifully, and are the film’s strongest attribute. The movie just has trouble turning the volume down in the scenes between those numbers.

Key details.

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Non-Review Review: On the Basis of Sex

On the Basis of Sex is a sturdy, old-fashioned awards season film.

On the Basis of Sex is earnest, unshowy and very conventional in both concept and execution. All of its beats are familiar, all of its rhythms predictable. It’s not especially inventive or innovative. It is a meat-and-potatoes awards fare, a fascinating story that is told in an uncluttered manner. While there are still a handful of these sorts of films released every year, it often seems like the ground is shrinking out from under them. As awards season has leaned towards quirky indie films like Vice or The Favourite, it has left films like On the Basis of Sex and Can You Ever Forgive Me? sitting in the dust.

Ruthless litigation.

There is nothing wrong with old-fashioned awards fare, even if On the Basis of Sex occasionally feels conflicted about which particular mode of old-school biographical film it seeks to emulate; it starts like a conventional subject’s-life-in-two-hours piece in the style of films like Ghandi or Patton, and then shifts into the slightly more modern twist on the genre that tends to focus on one formative event like Frost/Nixon or The Queen or Elvis & Nixon. It is a strange shift, with On the Basis of Sex spending half an hour on a general introduction to Ruth Bader-Ginsberg before focusing on the meat of this particular story.

This lack of focus is not a major issue. Old-fashioned awards fare can work reasonably well with the right material and talent, despite seeming quaint by the standards of the time. On the Basis of Sex never stands out from the crowd in the same way as its central character, but then that might be expecting too much given that surprisingly long shadow cast by Ruth Bader-Ginsberg.

Courting controversy.

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My 12 for ’18: “I, Tonya” and the Post-Truth Biopic

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number two.

One of the interesting things about being an Irish film critic, as opposed to an American film critic, is that it does make the end-of-year top tens rather… jumbled.

Piracy and social media have done a lot to close the gap between cinematic releases in peak blockbuster season. Movies like Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Avengers: Infinity War tend to be released day-and-date around the world in an effort to prevent bootleg copies and spoilers cutting into those profit margins. The conversation about such films tends to be instantaneous or nigh-instantaneous, as it is with even off-season blockbusters like Mary Poppins Returns or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

In contrast, awards fare is still staggered. The “big” and “populist” awards fare films tend to synchronise releases across the globe; A Star is Born, First Man, Bohemian Rhapsody, Widows. However, the smaller and more eccentric films end up staggered across the New Year. So although I have seen If Beale Street Could Talk, ViceStan and Ollie and The Favourite, they are not eligible for this end of year countdown.

In contrast, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and I, Tonya both make the countdown of my favourite releases of 2018, despite the fact that the bulk of the conversation around them (and the bulk of their cultural context) was anchored in 2017. It is something that seems strange, even as I go through my end of year list, feeling like I’ve arrived late enough to the party that I might as well just order breakfast.

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Non-Review Review: Vice

Vice feels at once like an extension of both Adam McKay’s work on The Big Short and recent innovations on the biographic picture format codified by I, Tonya.

At its core, Vice is the biography of a man whose defining attribute is how unassuming he appears. The opening text lays out the challenges facing the production team in trying to structure a biographical film around a man who has spent his life lurking at the edge of the frame, how hard it can be to extrapolate his inner workings from the outline of his journey through the world. Dick Cheney worked very hard to erase his own footprint; it is with no small irony that the film notes how thoroughly Cheney cleared his own email servers.

No need to be a Dick about it.

The film’s anonymous narrator, himself framed as perfectly average individual, repeatedly stresses how “ordinary” the central character presents himself. At one point, he advises a former colleague that the new standard operating procedure is “softly, softly.” Similarly, the documentary acknowledges the lacunas in the narrative that is constructing, how difficult it is – to evoke a different Shakespearean play than he chooses to quote – “to see the mind’s construction in the face.”

The result is fascinating, a character study that becomes an exploration of systemic flaws and inequities. Vice is a story about a man who appears to have no fixed political beliefs, no strong political identity, no clear political voice. Instead, Vice is a study of the politics of power as politics of itself, a tale about a man whose central political motivation is not ideological or existential, but purely practical. Vice is the tale of the will to power of a perfectly mundane and average individual, and the carnage wrought on his journey towards that power.

Vice City.

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75. Amadeus (#82)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Phil Bagnall, The 250 is a trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT, with the occasional weekend off.

This time, Miloš Forman’s Amadeus.

Following a failed suicide attempt, ageing composer Antonio Salieri is consigned to psychiatric institution while babbling incoherently. When a young priest comes to visit, Salieri offers an account of his life. In particular, he elaborates upon a confession that he made on the night that he tried to take his life, that he murdered an illustrious young rival by the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 82nd best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: The Price of Desire

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

I have been informed that reviews for The Price of Desire are embargoed, despite the fact it was screened as the gala opening of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015, a high-profile event with tickets available to the public that afforded the film a significant public platform. (In the interest of disclosure, I purchased my ticket with my season pass – purchased for €245. Individual tickets for this screening were €20.)  As a courtesy to any fellow reviewers affected by the embargo, I have taken down the review.

However, as the film is eligible for the festival’s “audience award”, I am leaving my rating in place.

All audience members are asked to rank films in the festival from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, here is my score: 1 thepriceofdesire1

Non-Review Review: Yves Saint Laurent

Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent feels more like a mood piece than a biography. Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and sensuously performed, there’s no real sense of structure to Lespert’s account of one of the most influential fashion designers of the past half-century. While the movie trods familiar bio-pic ground, with betrayals and addictions and scandal and love, it works best as a snapshot of its subject in motion. It doesn’t offer any particular insight into the life and times of Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent, instead trying to capture some of the mood of the designer’s life.

Drawing back the curtain...

Drawing back the curtain…

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