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Non-Review Review: Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell is a paradox of a film, a narrative so propelled with righteous fury that it somehow misses its own point.

Clint Eastwood’s latest is his tightest and leanest narrative since Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, and this is not a coincidence. There’s considerable thematic overlap between Richard Jewell and Sully, both of which speak to themes that interest Eastwood as one of the defining American filmmakers. Like Sully, Richard Jewell is the story of an exception person who heroically saves lives only to witness the bureaucratic institutions of the state (and the press) turn upon them.

Pressing on.

Of course, Richard Jewell is quite distinct from Sully. Eastwood trades out “America’s Dad” Tom Hanks for the more ambiguous figure of Paul Walter Hauser. While Hanks is the embodiment of American decency, a clear-cut spiritual successor to Jimmy Stewart, Hauser has largely been defined by more muddy and murky roles with fantastic turns in films like I, Tonya and BlackKklansman. Indeed, the opening act of Richard Jewell leans into Hauser’s inscrutability, suggesting a more ambiguous interrogation of masculine heroism.

Unfortunately, Richard Jewell does not develop in that direction. Its early suggestions of moral complexity and anxieties about individual as much as collective authority give way to a stirring condemnation of a conspiracy to “railroad an innocent man.” This righteous fury is entirely justified, after all. The press and the authorities demonised Jewell, arguably hounding him to an early grave. However, Richard Jewell winds up so caught up in its righteous fury that it winds up “railroading” another innocent, abusing its power in the same way it accuses the press and authorities.

Lawyer up.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #3!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Grace Duffy, Ronan Doyle, Jay Coyle and Alex Towers from When Irish Eyes Are Watching to discuss the week in film news. We may all have been sneaking out to catch Zodiac at the Lighthouse, so it’s a fast-paced discussion this week. Highlights include chance encounters at a midnight screening of Michael Mann’s Heat, trying to make sense of The Sisters Brothers, and the bizarre premise that is Monkey Shines.

In terms of film news, the big news of the week is given over to the announcement of the Academy Awards nominations and the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival launch, along with the passing of Jonas Mekas.

The top ten:

  1. Bohemian Rhapsody
  2. Bumblebee
  3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  4. Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet
  5. The Favourite
  6. The Upside
  7. Mary Poppins Returns
  8. Stan and Ollie
  9. Mary Queen of Scots
  10. Glass

New releases:

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

Non-Review Review: The Mule

The Mule is an endearingly and charmingly bizarre piece of work, one which plays to both the best and worst impulses of its leading man and director.

A revealing moment comes very early in The Mule, when the protagonist is making his way through a horticultural convention. Pausing at a table where a salesman is explaining that customers can now order their flowers online, Earl pauses and sighs. “The internet,” he mutters to both himself and the audience. “Who needs that?” It’s a moment that serves as something of a litmus test, in which the audience find themselves asking how much that statement illuminates Earl’s perspective or the film’s central arguments.

Who needs Netflix money anyway?

Earl is very much an archetypal Clint Eastwood protagonist. He is crotchety, casually racist, well-intentioned and irresistibly charming. These elements are often uncomfortable when played off one another, with films like Gran Torino playing with the tension between the film’s perspective and the outdated views of its incredibly engaging protagonist. Eastwood is everybody irascible elderly relative, to the point that it’s almost impossible not to like him. Particularly in his later roles, Eastwood rarely plays characters who are actively malicious. They are just insensitive and blunt.

Of course, Earl is also a decidedly ambiguous figure. This is part of what defines him as an archetypal Clint Eastwood protagonist. Eastwood’s screen persona is the very definition of a certain sort of masculinity; confident, assured, assertive, canny. However, Eastwood’s screen persona is also built around deconstructing certain old-fashioned notions of masculinity, picking at the role that violence plays in defining a masculine identity or exploring the emotional consequences of rigid professionalism and stiff stoicism.

Case foreclosed.

Earl is incredibly disarming, and almost impossible not to like, a fact that The Mule repeatedly and consciously acknowledges. From Drug Enforcement Administration agents to cartel enforcers, Earl has the capacity to smooth-talk absolutely anyone. Attending his granddaughter’s wedding, his ex-wife very pointedly has to fight off the urge to succumb to Earl’s charm offensive. The Mule is quite conscious that Earl’s wit and charisma are not the entirety of who he is, and how they belie other less flattering aspects of his personality.

The Mule is a film that is stuck in a constant push-and-pull with its leading man, which results in an uneven but compelling film. The Mule never seems certain what to make of its title character, never sure how seriously it takes him. The result is to leave a lot of space for the audience to navigate their own reaction to the film’s cocaine-carted grandfather.

Not beaten yet.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #35!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Jason Coyle and Ronan Doyle to discuss the week in film. As usual, we talk about the top ten and the new releases, as well as what we’ve watched this week. In this episode, the celebration of Agnès Varda continues, dovetailing into the release of her new film Faces Places. We also discuss the Toronto International Film Festival, the masculinity of Clint Eastwood, the strange reception of A Wrinkle in Time and the appeal of the classic Disney animated canon.

We also mark the passing of Irish film critic Stephen Coffey (who wrote under the name of Gar Cremona). Details of the memorial service can be found here, and his books are available for sale here.

The top ten:

  1. King of Thieves
  2. Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation
  3. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again
  4. Christopher Robin
  5. BlacKkKlansman
  6. The House With A Clock In Its Walls
  7. The Predator
  8. Crazy Rich Asians
  9. The Nun
  10. Black ’47

New releases:

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

 

67. Gran Torino (#157)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.

Korean War Veteran Walt Kowalski lives out his life in the deteriorating suburbs of Detroit, disconnected from his family and whiling away his days drinking beer on his porch. Initially aggressive and belligerent towards the Hmong family who moved in next door, Kowalski finds himself drawn into the lives of the two youngest children, forming an unlikely bond and forcing him to reassess his opinion of the community.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 157th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Sully – Miracle on the Hudson

Sully: Miracle on the Hudson has a certain Frank Capra quality to it.

To be fair, a lot of that comes from the casting of Tom Hanks in the title role. Hanks radiates a certain ineffable integrity, a “Hanksian Decency” that informs his performances in films as diverse as Bridge of Spies and Inferno. It is tempting to think of him as “America’s Dad”, particularly given the grey hair and the moustache that he donned for the title role here. However, it is also tempting to think of him as a latter-day Jimmy Stewart, the embodiment of a certain type of fundamental American decency that lends itself to this sort of narrative.

Hanks for the memories.

Hanks for the memories.

Similarly, director Clint Eastwood has a similar philosophy. Eastwood’s films tend to be organised around strong moral principles. Often those principles are articulated in terms of personal responsibility, particularly the responsibility that individuals have for others whether in a professional capacity (J. Edgar) or a personal capacity (Million Dollar Baby) or simply by virtue of being there (Gran Torino). Eastwood’s recurring fascination with individual responsibility makes him a quintessentially American director.

This combination is ideally suited to Sully, which is constructed as something akin to a modern-day American fairytale.

"Mr. Sullenberger goes to the NTSB Debriefing."

“Mr. Sullenberger goes to the NTSB Debriefing.”

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Non-Review Review: Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys looks and feels pretty much exactly how you might expect a musical directed by Clint Eastwood to look and feel.

Adapted from the Tony-Award winning hit musical, it is awash with nostalgia. Jersey Boys provides an account of the career of Frankie Valli from his early days in the local neighbourhood through to induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the nineties. The film is shockingly traditional in terms of construction, adhering rigidly to the formula for a successful musical bio-pic, from the early grifting to the eventual discord to the heart-felt reunion epilogue, complete with questionable old-age make-up for the cast.

Jersey Boys hits all the expected notes, but never quite brings the house down.

Sign of the times...

Sign of the times…

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