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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #14!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin to discuss the week in film.  As usual, we talk about what we watched this week, including an in-depth discussion of Unicorn Store, the charm of Grosse Point Blank, a reflection on the two sequels to The Matrix, the power of Little Woods and the inevitability of remaking Akira. In terms of film news, the big news of the week is the launch of Criterion Channel, which is now streaming classic movie content online. There is also the passing of veteran character actor Seymour Cassel. And a nice bracing dose of tax reform, with revisions made to Section 481.

All of this plus the top ten and the new releases.

The top ten:

  1. What Men Want
  2. Five Feet Apart
  3. The Sisters Brothers
  4. Missing Link
  5. Captain Marvel
  6. Us
  7. Peppa Pig: Festival of Fun
  8. Pet Sematary
  9. Shazam!
  10. Dumbo

New releases:

  • Wonder Park
  • Hell Boy
  • Don’t Go
  • Little
  • mid90s
  • Wild Rose

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Non-Review Review: Shazam!

There’s a lot to like about Shazam!

Most obviously, there’s the sheer joy that the film takes in live-action superheroics. It is, of course, something of a cliché to suggest that a certain film or television show “makes superheroes fun again.” Even just among the recent crop of superhero cinema, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseIncredibles 2, Ant Man and the Wasp, Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming can all claim to have injected fun back into the genre. (Indeed, for their myriad flaws, the problem with Justice League and Aquaman was not that they weren’t trying to have fun. Quite the opposite in fact.) So it is disingenuous to state that Shazam! reintroduces the concept of fun into the genre.

Dab-bling in superheroics.

However, Shazam! still takes an incredible amount of joy in playing with the tropes and conventions of the genre. Part of this comes built into the premise. While the character of Captain Marvel could be seen as an example of the “flying brick” archetype most effectively embodied by Superman, the most appealing part of the concept has always been his secret identity. Unlike other superheroes who simply change costume to fight crime, the character physically transforms into a superhero through the use of the magic word. Captain Marvel’s secret identity is Billy Batson, usually portrayed as a child or a teenager. There’s something endearing about the wish fulfillment that anchors that concept. Shazam! invites its audience to look at superheroics through the eyes of a child.

The first two acts of Shazam! are (mostly) a joy, an engaging riff on a playful concept that understands a large part of the appeal of superheroes to their target audience. Unfortunately, the film fumbles the ball in its third act. While the relative innocence and simplicity of Shazam! are a large part of its appeal, the climax of the film gets a little bit too boggled down in cynical worldbuilding, indulging in a bloated and over-extended computer-generated fight sequence that feels lifted from a much less playful and exciting film. To borrow an old cliché, Shazam! almost convinces its audience that a man can fly, but it just can’t stick the landing.

Zap to it.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #9!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Grace Duffy and Jay Coyle to discuss the week in film. Having taken time out for the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, there’s a lot to get through. There are discussions of everything from Runaway Bride to Isn’t It Romantic? to Serenity to Burning. On top of that, there’s a lot of film news to cover, including the passing of Luke Perry, the Oscar results, the various awards given out at the end of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, and the IFI International Festival Tour that is taking Irish films abroad for Saint Patrick’s Day.

The top ten:

    1. A Dog’s Way Home
    2. Kobiety Mafii 2
    3. Cold Pursuit
    4. The Aftermath
    5. The Hole in the Ground
    6. Fighting With My Family
    7. Green Book
    8. How to Train Your Dragon III: The Hidden World
    9. Instant Family
    10. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

New releases:

You can download the episode here, or listen to it below.

Non-Review Review: Captain Marvel

The biggest problem with Captain Marvel is one of spoiler culture.

“Spoiler culture” is a fascinating cultural phenomenon, and one that is interesting as a facet of cultural consumption that arose parallel with the internet. It is perhaps a logical extension of the manner in which information flows these days. Information travels instantly and in all directions, quickly consumed and quick disseminated. In the nineties, it was easy (or easier) to avoid spoilers to films like The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. After all, there was no Twitter or Facebook to share information. If somebody had already seen the film, they had to be physically talking to somebody else to discuss it, and it was posisble to establish the ground rules for the flows of information before the conversation progressed.

In an era where simply being on the internet exposes a person to torrents of information, the advent of “spoiler culture” seems logical and rational. People want to be surprised. People don’t want to know the finer points of a story before witnessing it first hand. People do not want the easter eggs given out or the finer details dissected. This is an understandable response. Having an experience described is no match for actually having that experience first-hand. So a culture has grown up online about preserving surprise and controlling the flow of information. This is fine. This is healthy. This is good. Mostly “spoiler culture” is just common courtesy and common sense. A reviewer should not reveal anything to a reader that they themselves would not want to know.

As with any philosophy, there is a tendency to take things too far. Sometimes “spoiler culture” descends into self-parody. Reviewers were famously told not to reveal any information about the plot of Blade Runner 2049, which ironically made it very hard to sell the movie to a potential audience. Some more extreme adherents felt betrayed when Sony released a trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home before Avengers: Endgame, as if the fact that Sony was making another Spider-Man movie would give away the resolution to the cliffhanger from Avengers: Infinity War. Naturally, Infinity War came with its own massive spoiler-warning from the studio, with reviewers told that “Thanos demands [their] silence.” This despite the fact the ending was lifted directly from a comic.

Captain Marvel embodies the worst impulses of “spoiler culture” because it confuses a logical and organic narrative development for a big twist. There is a reveal that comes around the half-way mark of the two-hour film which fundamentally changes the nature of the story being told. It plays against the story that had been set up to that point, and is positioned as a game-changer. It is a “twist.” It is a “big” moment. It is the kind of development for which Thanos would demand silence. Except it’s not really. It is not an actual twist. It is a plot point. It is a story beat. It is a part of the story that makes a great deal of sense in the context of the story as it is being told. However, Captain Marvel decides to play this game-changing story beat as a revelation.

There are a couple of big issues here. Most obviously, the actual narrative development is quite literally the only way that Captain Marvel could go without becoming something completely and irredeemably monstrous, so it is entirely predictable. (The twist is only a surprise to audience members who genuinely believe that Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie is likely to play out as extreme white nationalist propaganda.) More than that, though, it creates a larger problem with the flow of the story. The decision to play this story beat as a twist means the film has to conceal its hand for the first hour and fifteen minutes. This means that Captain Marvel is almost half-way over before any member of the cast gets any real character development.

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Punisher MAX by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

“This was the only way Frank’s story was ever gonna end,” Fury remarks in the closing issue of Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon’s Punisher MAX run. Picking up the threads from Garth Ennis’ celebrated run, Aaron decides to offer a definitive account of the end of Frank Castle’s one-man war on crime. It’s interesting that this is a story that had never really been told before. Even Ennis’ The End was set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future to write an allegorical conclusion to Frank Castle’s campaign of terror.

Aaron might not have as firm a grip on Castle as Ennis, but he has a pretty compelling hook. More than that, though, Aaron’s irreverent and playful style suits the book quite well. Aaron has a tendency to write cartoonish and larger-than-life characters in his mainstream superhero work, and Punisher MAX is decidedly cartoonish and larger-than-life. That’s part of the appeal. In many ways – and not just in his choice of artistic collaborator – Aaron’s Punisher MAX feels rather like Garth Ennis’ Marvel Knights: Punisher run written with the sex, violence and brutality of his Punisher MAX work.

It’s a potent cocktail.

Very armed and very dangerous...

Very armed and very dangerous…

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Avengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis, Mike McKone & Jason Keith (Review)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Warren Ellis is one of the great comic book writers. Ellis works in a bombastic larger-than-life style that is never too beholden to the current continuity of whatever company for which he is currently working and which remains accessible to just about anybody who might want to pick it. His Extremis remains the perfect introduction to Iron Man, while Ultimate Human is the most syner-tastic marketing tie-in ever written, its release coinciding with that of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.

At the same time, Ellis’ work-for-hire can occasionally feel a little reigned in, a little too relaxed and too casual – lacking the energy and enthusiasm of his stronger work. Sadly, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a book that never quite measures up to its potential. An original graphic novel written by Ellis and illustrated by Mike McKone, Endless Wartime has a wealth of clever ideas, but never manages to get too excited about any of them.

Some men just want to watch the world...

Some men just want to watch the world…

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Infinite Crisis: The Adventures of Superman – Lightning Strikes Twice (Review)

This month I’m taking a look at DC’s massive “Infinite Crisis” Event. Although it was all published in one massive omnibus, I’ll be breaking down the lead-in to the series to tackle each thread individually, culminating in a review of the event itself. Check back for more.

I think it’s quite nice that DC went to the effort to collect the vast majority of tie-ins to Infinite Crisis inside this gigantic omnibus, even when the book didn’t necessarily get its own miniseries like Villains United or The O.M.A.C. Project. Like Sacrifice, Lightning Strikes Twice was a crossover between the Superman books leading into the events of one of the lead-in miniseries. In this case, writer Judd Winick was setting up the events of Day of Vengeance, the magic-themed crossover designed to tidy up and reenergise the mystical side of the DC Universe.

Super-punch!

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