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Non-Review Review: The Mercy

It can be tempting when reviewing contemporary films to looks for some sort of profound meaning, some deep insight on the contemporary world reflected back on celluloid. This is particularly true in the current climate, when it seems like every piece of American pop culture is just waiting to be read as a meditation upon the tenure of President Donald J. Trump. Some of this is because politics are particularly inescapable at this moment, when a reality television star is the leader of a free world. Part of it is perhaps down to critics trying to make their own meaning in the world.

Nevertheless, The Mercy seems to be the quintessential Brexit film. A biography of (in)famous British sailor Donald Crowhurst, The Mercy is a fascinating piece of a work. A large part of the film’s success is down to how skilfully and cannily it manipulates its audience and their expectations, how heavily leans on the tropes and conventions of the standard biographical drama to wrongfoot the viewer. The Mercy starts out as one type of film, only to make a brutal swerve into another. It is a harrowing tale of grand delusion smashed against the shoals of reality.

Tough sail.

Note: This review will assume some passing familiarity with the story of British sailor Donald Crowhurst. These true-life events may be considered spoilers for audience members without any foreknowledge and who wish to see the movie entirely blind. So consider this something of a spoiler warning.

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Non-Review Review: The Kingsman

The creators of The Kingsman either really love or really hate the classic Roger Moore Bond films. Probably both.

Another creative collaboration between Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Mark Millar, The Kingsman is just as juvenile, crass and ultimately charming as Kick-Ass. There is a sense of mischievous and cheeky fun to this classic spy film homage. It is effectively an update of those seventies and eighties spy films with a more cynical and self-aware attitude. There is a sense that The Kingsman is simply more transparent than its inspirations in its infectiously juvenile and borderline offensive sensibilities.

Sound and Firthy...

Sound and Firthy…

It is hard to tell how much of this homage is genuine nostalgic affection, and how much is witty subversion. The Kingsman is a spy film that not only uses outdated (and occasionally insensitive) spy movie tropes, it practically revels in them. Although the third act occasionally feels a little too mean-spirited in its riff on classic Bond sensibilities, The Kingsman has enough boundless energy and raw enthusiasm to keep the audience watching. The script is well-observed and the direction is tight. A superb central cast helps to anchor the film.

The Kingsman is an odd beast. It is that rare homage that seems quite likely to shock and offend many fans that otherwise share its nostalgic inclinations. However, those willing to be a bit more adventurous will find much to love in this updated spy caper.

Matthew Vaughn's fingerprints are all over this...

Matthew Vaughn’s fingerprints are all over this…

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Non-Review Review: Magic in the Moonlight

Attending a Woody Allen movie can often feel like playing low-stakes roulette. An extraordinarily prolific director with an incredible body of work behind him, Allen seems capable of churning out films that run the gamut from joyless and pedestrian to magical and exceptional. Woody Allen movies are like trains; if you don’t like this one, there will inevitably be another along in a year or so. However, it feels strange that his fiftieth feature should land so near the middle of the pack.

Magic in the Moonlight is an enjoyable Woody Allen comedy. It lacks a mesmerising central performance like Blue Jasmine or the sheer charm of Midnight in Paris, but it is a well-made and enjoyable excursion. There is charm and wit to it, and it never drags too heavily. However, there is very little truly exceptional about it. Magic in the Moonlight is more of a parlour trick than a how-stopping illusion; delightful and diverting, but feeling a little too unrefined to be truly memorable.

magicinthemoonlight4

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Non-Review Review: The Railway Man

The Railway Man is certainly an ambitious film. Adapting the true story of British Second World War veteran Eric Lomax, who won the 1996 NCR Book Award and the J. R. Ackerley Prize for The Railway Man, his autobiographical account of his time in Japanese captivity and the aftermath of the war. Adapted by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson, and directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, it remains a fascinating and compelling exploration of the wounds left festering by war.

The biggest problem with The Railway Man is that it is perhaps too ambitious; it tries to include too much, and to cover too much ground in the space available. Despite that, it remains a moving and harrowing look at the remarkable life of one veteran.

Trained for this...

Trained for this…

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My 12 for ’12: Shame & Silence

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #2

Addiction stories are very tough to do right. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the melodrama of the cycle – the excess, the withdrawal, the relapse, the epiphany. It’s tempting to wallow in each of those stages, to structure them as acts in a drama. It’s hard to resist the urge to heighten absolutely everything, to dwell on the heat of obsession and desperation that surrounds any addiction.

Director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender do a sensational job with Shame, avoiding these potential problems, offering a portrayal of addiction and personal collapse that is strangely understated and introverted rather than overwhelming or excessive. Indeed, the fact that the movie is about sex addiction might lead some potential viewers to worry. If ever an addiction lent itself to trashy and tasteless excess, one might imagine that sex would be that personal demon.

Instead, McQueen shows admirable restraint in tackling the topic. While he never blushes in presenting the depths of his lead’s degradation, he never sensationalises it. Instead, much like Brandon’s addiction, Shame is cold and clinical – and all the more powerful for it.

shame2

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That One Role: Seeing a Star Differently…

I saw Magic Mike last week. And I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. Part of the fun of the film was revelling in a superb performance from Matthew McConaughey as the incredibly sleazy manager Dallas. Watching the film, I found it almost hard to believe that this was the same Matthew McConaughey who had headlined such nightmares as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Sahara, Failure to Launch, The Wedding Planner, Fool’s Gold and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, to keep the list brief. It’s amazing how one performance can really change your opinion of an actor’s abilities, serving as something of a revelation of talent and ability that maybe you had never really seen before.

It’s a kind of magic…

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Non-Review Review: A Christmas Carol (2009)

I’m yet to be sold on the Robert Zemeckis school of “motion capture.” Don’t worry, I don’t hold a prejudice. I’m just waiting to be convinced, and I worry that Zemeckis – for all his championing of the technology – might not be the one to do it. For, as impressive as the technical merits of his technique might be, I think that Zemeckis has yet to find a story that truly needs to be told in that format, or at least a story that resonates in that format. Much as Pixar have somewhat validated computer-generated animation (a school of filmmaking that met with a ridiculous amount of cynicism in its early years), I think the key to proving the worth of this sort of approach lies in finding a story that connects with audiences, while demonstrating the strengths of the tool being used to tell it.

While it’s an enjoyable enough holiday film, A Christmas Carol simply is not that film.

Totally Scrooged...

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