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Non-Review Review: Widows (2018)

At its most basic, Widows is a testament to applying the skill and craft of two filmmakers working at the very top of their game to a sturdy and reliable genre framework.

The basic plot of Widows is relatively straightforward, adapted from Lynda LaPlante’s book by way of a very successful British television miniseries. A group of women find themselves drawn into an unlikely life of crime when their husbands are killed during a botched robbery. Caught between corrupt politicians and scheming gangsters, the women are thrown out of their comfort zone as their leader commits to completing a heist that was carefully and meticulously planned by her late husband. It’s pulpy, it’s trashy, it’s fun.

Widows of opportunity.

However, the beauty of Widows lies in applying the skill of Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen to this set-up. Flynn is one of the biggest writers working today, known for both her novels and for her work on screenplays. Gone Girl was enough of a cultural force to turn its title into a verb, and embodied a certain kind of sleek self-aware trashy storytelling style. McQueen is a great writer in his own right, but already one of the most esteemed and respected directors working in contemporary cinema; known for his work on Shame or Twelve Years a Slave.

Widows is a movie that is completely unashamed of the trappings of its story, a familiar story about unlikely criminals who find themselves forced into “one last job”, with the biggest irony being that it is somebody else’s last job. Widows never looks down upon the heightened aspects of its narrative, nor does it feel a need to elevate or legitimise them. Instead, Widows allows its intelligence and insight to fold into the contours of this slick stylish crime thriller. The result is simply dazzling.

Stealy resolve.

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Star Trek – A Piece of the Action (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

A Piece of the Action is the last script credited to Gene L. Coon.

Of course, Coon would write two episodes for (and contributed two more stories to) the show’s troubled final season under the alias Lee Cronin. However, A Piece of the Action could be seen as the last hurrah for Gene L. Coon’s vision of Star Trek. The writer and producer had helped to shape and define many of the ideas that Star Trek fans take for granted. A lot of the core Star Trek ideas that have permeated into popular culture – the Federation, the Klingons – originated with Coon.

Dey call his Boss Koik...

Dey call him Boss Koik…

While Coon is often overlooked when it comes to crediting those responsible for creating Star Trek as fans have come to know it, history has tended to gloss over his wry subversive streak. In many ways, Coon could be said to be the godfather of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Had he not passed away at the tragically young age of forty-nine, Coon might have been coaxed back to write a first season episode of Deep Space Nine alongside Dorothy Fontana. Coon was, after all, the first Star Trek writer to shrewdly and knowingly problematicise the Federation.

So it feels appropriate that the last Star Trek script credited to Coon should have Kirk proposes the Federation as an intergalactic racket.

Top gun...

Top gun…

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Roger Ebert

I’ve been away for a while, with personal stuff, so this is quite late. Which is probably for the best, as I don’t think I can really say too much about Ebert that hasn’t already been said by so many more eloquent individuals all around the internet.

Roger Ebert meant a lot to me. It’s no real exaggeration to suggest that he was the first real American film critic that I noticed. Obviously, I grew up with British and Irish film critics on television and radio. I was fond of (and am still fond of) Barry Norman, Jonathan Ross, Mark Kermode and Dave Fanning among others. However, Ebert was the first American film critic who really resonated with me.

rogerebert2

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Severed by Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft & Attila Futaki (Review)

Severed is a distinctly American horror story, feeling like something of a companion piece to author Scott Snyder’s American Vampire or even the work of Stephen King. Set during the dark days of the first world war, it’s an exploration of the darker side of the American Dream, to the point where it’s quite telling that our narrator refers to the anonymous villain merely as “the Nightmare.” It’s rich, sophisticated and atmospheric storytelling, a modern American fable co-written by Scott Tuft and with bone-chilling illustrations from Attila Futaki that are sure to unsettle.

Not too far afield…

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Non-Review Review: Lawless

Lawless is, like director John Hillcoat’s other films, the story of people shaped (or mirrored) by their harsh and unforgiving surroundings. A prohibition crime thriller, Lawless feels more like the story of local people fighting fiercely to resist the taming influence of more “civilised” outsiders who believe themselves inherently superior to the “dumb hicks” who have made this terrain livable. “It is not the violence that sets men apart, it’s the distance they’re willing to go,” Forrest Bondurant tells his brother at one point in the film, and Lawless seems to respect its lead characters for refusing to feign civility and to at least acknowledge the innate violence of their existence. It’s thoughtful, powerful stuff. Not without its flaws, it’s still an interesting exploration of man’s capacity for violence.

Sadly, though undoubtedly quite sage, this Forrest never once suggests that “life is like a box of chocolates…”

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Non-Review Review: The Blues Brothers

I had the pleasure of catching a Jameson Cult Film Club screening of The Blues Brothers earlier this evening. And it was awesome. Really, really great night. Might have been the best yet. I’ll have more details on it later in the week, but now seems like a good time to revisit the classic.

It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.

Hit it.

– Elwood and Jake

It might seem a bit redundant to say it, but The Blues Brothers has soul. Not just the funky music, though it has plenty of that. Nor an evangelical message, although the two brothers are, as they claim, “on a mission from God.” No, The Blues Brothers has a core of pure exuberance, a sense of joy that is all too rare – it doesn’t seem like writers Dan Ackroyd and John Landis threw ideas at the wall to see what stuck, so much as they demolished the wall and threw it at another wall. The Blues Brothers is, by turns, absurd, wry, grounded, sarcastic, charming, heartwarming and sardonic, with those elements frequently overlapping to an almost insane degree. In many ways, like John Belushi’s scheming, manipulative and aggressive Jake Elwood, it’s far more charming than it really should be. But we love it for it.

It’s a dirty business…

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