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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #8!

A packed week at the Scannain podcast, looking at the week in Irish cinema.

Still recovering from the Audi Dublin International Film Festival and the Oscars, I was delighted to join Niall Murphy and Grace Duffy on the podcast. We discussed all the usual topics: the mountains of films that we had watched during the festival, and while snowed in; the weekly top ten including Game Night, Lady Bird and Black Panther; and the slew of high-quality new releases including The Lodgers and You Were Never Really Here.

Check it out here, or give it a listen below.


38. Dunkirk – This Just In (#37)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Niall Murphy, Jay Coyle and Phil Bagnell, This Just In is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

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No, Christopher Nolan is not “the Next Stanley Kubrick”

Another Christopher Nolan film, another round of stock comparisons.

To his credit, Nolan sparks genuine critical debate and discussion online, even if there’s an uncomfortable whiff of sensationalism to the coverage. Is Christopher Nolan responsible for everything that is wrong with Hollywood right now? (Spoiler: No. Not at all. Not even slightly.) Is Christopher Nolan a pompous and privileged douchebag for wanting audiences to see his film in the format that he has intended? (Spoiler: While he could probably be a bit more mindful that one size doesn’t always fit all, dude has a right to have a preference about how his work is consumed.)

To be fair, these provocative and confrontational articles at least provide a nice reprieve from the listacles and fan service that define so much of the discourse about modern summer movies. How does [minor character] set up the future of [major franchise]? How many easter eggs did you identify from in [franchise blockbuster]? One of the advantages of Hollywood’s modern franchise-driven mindset is that it makes ranking [entire franchise] articles popular and recyclable. It is exhausting. At least a new Nolan film tends to mean new director-centric debates.

That said, there is one comparison that tends to get rehashed quite a bit. Almost every time that Christopher Nolan releases a feature film, film writers who really should know better stop to ask whether Christopher Nolan is the next Stanley Kubrick. Andrew Pulver addressed the comparison in The Guardian, providing a nice piece of symmetry to an article he wrote almost a decade ago. Christopher Priest, author of The Prestige, made the case only a few years ago.

It is a fairly obvious argument. Both Nolan and Kubrick are directors who worked at a remove from the press, tending to live and work outside the studio system while developing their ideas. They both seem to straddle the Atlantic, both having spent a lot of time living in England and working in America. Neither director ever seemed entirely comfortable talking to the press or doing the publicity circuit. Both produce films that are very stylishly produced, often tending to keep the audience at a slight remove from their characters that some may consider “cold.”

However obvious the comparison might be, it relies on a fundamental misunderstanding of both directors.

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Non-Review Review: Dunkirk

Dunkirk is compelling in its contradictions.

Dunkirk concerns a pyrrhic victory, a defeat which became a source of national pride. Dunkirk is at once a story rooted in a very particular event and a mythic narrative populated by archetypal characters. Dunkirk follows three parallel stories as they move towards a singular inevitable climax, although those narratives are allowed to move at their own pace towards those epic events and even overshoot one another. Dunkirk is at once chaotic and disjointed, and yet moving with a very clear sense of purpose and direction.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, it is too much to describe Dunkirk as a “puzzle box” narrative. It always very clear to the audience exactly what is going on, and the movie’s mysteries and revelations tend to be smaller and intimate rather than broad and sweeping. Nevertheless, it is a movie consciously unstuck in time, recalling Nolan’s long-standing fascination with shifting his narrative backwards and forwards along a timeline. (Insomnia, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises stand out as Nolan’s most linear films.)

Dunkirk is a war epic in the broadest possible sense, its narrative bouncing between three separate timelines covering the retreat from the eponymous port. However, there is also a faint sense that Dunkirk itself is unstuck in time. As much as the film is rooted in the reality of the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk, it speaks to something much bigger and more sweeping. There is a vagueness to Dunkirk which suggests that the film might well speak to realities beyond its specific setting.

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My 12 for ’14: Interstellar and Our Place in the Stars…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Interstellar is an unapologetically emotional film.

This seems a bit odd, given the reputation that Christopher Nolan has built up as a somewhat cold and clinical film maker. However, that reputation always seemed a little undeserved, based more on his meticulous craftsmanship and tendency towards intricate plot structures than on the material content of his movies. Nolan’s films have always had strong emotional cores buried beneath cynical exteriors. He is one of the few writers to give Batman a happy ending, after all.


Interstellar tips its hand early on, with Brand proposing love as a universal force on par with gravity. Despite Interstellar‘s keen attention to detail and physics, the final act was all but inevitable. At its core, Interstellar is the story about a father’s love transcending time and space. The actual mechanics necessary to reach that point are intricate and stylishly realised, but they are not the point of the film. Ironically, in constructing a film that repeatedly (and consciously) mimics 2001: A Space Odyssey, Nolan casts off the stock comparison to Kubrick.

Oddly enough, Nolan brings a decidedly old-school aesthetic to Interstellar. Any number of visuals from the film would not look out of place on the battered cover of a fifties or sixties paperback. Filmed using practical effects and on real film, Interstellar‘s style evokes an older style of cinematic spectacle. Even its pacing evokes classic Hollywood storytelling, with Interstellar never feeling too rushed or relaxed as it crafts a three-hour saga. The result is stunningly beautiful piece of work.

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Non-Review Review: Interstellar

Interestingly, Christopher Nolan seems to have generated a reputation as a rather detached director. Common wisdom around Nolan’s films suggest that the film-maker is perhaps too cold and clinical in his approach to the material; that his films lack warmth or humour. This reputation is probably a result of the director’s fascination with non-linear storytelling. After all, The Dark Knight is his only straight-arrow-from-beginning-to-end film.

Probably also due to the narrative contortions and distortions of films like Memento or The Prestige, Nolan is generally presented as a film-maker who constructs visual puzzle-boxes. His films are frequently treated as riddles to be solved. Consider the discussion of narrative “plot holes” in The Dark Knight Rises that fixates on how Bruce Wayne got around back to Gotham, or the discussion on the mechanics of the final shot of Inception. This approaches to his work tend to divorce the viewer from his films.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

Interstellar will likely be Nolan’s most polarising film to date, replacing The Prestige or The Dark Knight Rises. The film offers an extended two-and-a-half hour rebuttal to accusations that Nolan is detached or distant. Much has been made about the attention to detail on Interstellar. The physics on the movie were so exact and precise that physicist Kip Thorne actually made theoretical advances while working on the film.

However, at the same time, one character posits love as a force more powerful than gravity or time. Interstellar might be precise and meticulous, but it is not a film that lacks for an emotional core; it is not a movie that lacks for warmth. Interstellar feels like a conscious attempt to cast off the image of a cynical and cold film-maker.

Out of this world...

Out of this world…

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Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s Run on Batman Incorporated – Demon Star & Gotham’s Most Wanted (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Between September 2006 and July 2013, Grant Morrison crafted his epic Batman saga from the ashes of Infinite Crisis. Over the course of seven years, the Scottish author re-worked and re-imagined the Caped Crusader, boldly trying to condense the character’s convoluted and sprawling history into a single narrative. Morrison pulled elements from across the character’s continuity – including stories believed wiped out by continuity reboots and existing as alternatives or “what-ifs.”

To describe Grant Morrison’s Batman epic as ambitious doesn’t begin to do it justice. It is a story that pushed the character out of what had been his comfort zone since the eighties and nineties. He made Bruce Wayne a father; he killed Bruce Wayne off; he banished Batman to the dawn of time and forced him to fight his way back to the present; he made Dick Grayson into Batman; he turned Batman into a franchise so that it might fight twenty-first century crime.

Beware the Batman...

Beware the Batman…

These are all seismic shifts to the status quo, and don’t necessarily conform to what people think about when they imagine a typical Batman story. The character of Bruce Wayne and his world changed dramatically. The very first issue of Morrison’s Batman run featured Batman capturing the last of his classic villains, allowing the Caped Crusader a change to face larger and more existential threats.

It is quite telling that Morrison’s storytelling became the driving force of Batman continuity, with DC spinning books and stories off from his central premise. Scott Snyder’s first Batman epic was The Black Mirror, a story featuring Dick Grayson as Batman, as part of Morrison’s status quo. When the company relaunched Batman & Robin as part of the “new 52”, it featured Damian Wayne as Robin, another innovation introduced by Morrison.

It's all connected...

It’s all connected…

Despite this sense that everything was changing, it seemed inevitable that everything would inevitably be reset. You can only change an iconic character like Batman so much, after all. If you bend Batman too far out of shape, he must inevitably snap back into his classic mould. It’s not inherently a bad thing – “Batman and Robin will never die!” to quote Batman R.I.P., and the characters endure because they revert to archetypes – but it does lend a sense of tragedy to everything.

Coming in the wake of the “new 52” reboot that represented an attempt to reset DC continuity back to its most archetypal configuration, it makes sense that Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham would write the second volume of Batman Incorporated as a tragedy. Morrison would announce his intention to step away from mainstream brand-name superhero stories in the wake of Batman Incorporated, and you can sense some of that fatigue in this story about how everything eventually gets set back to zero.

Everything falls apart...

Everything falls apart…

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