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Non-Review Review: What If?

“Can men and women ever really be friends?” is so familiar that it’s practically a cliché. The line that exists between platonic male-female friendship and romantic entanglement was the engine that drove When Harry Met Sally, one of the best-loved romantic comedies ever produced. What If? covers familiar ground, charting the awkward friendship that develops between a young animator in a long-term relationship and a medical school drop-out working through his own issues.

To be fair, the tension between “romantic entanglement” and “platonic friendship” is somewhat undercut by the fact that What If? positions itself as a romantic comedy. The movie plots a familiar arc, hitting the expected plot points along the way. The structure is very clearly that of a romantic comedy, right down to the somewhat contrived (and inevitable) third act obstacles. Imposing the genre constraints of the “romantic comedy” upon a film like this cannot help but suggest an obvious answer to the  driving question.

What If? works despite the familiarity. That is largely down to the charm of its two lead performers. Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan play well off one another, creating a wonderfully intimate dynamic that suggests genuine affection rather than simply superficial attraction. What If? is a light comedy, but one that is executed with sufficient charm and wit.

Why can't we be friends?

Why can’t we be friends?

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Non-Review Review: Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings feels like several different films all rolled into one. Is it an English major detective story about investigating one ruthless act through character and theme and other literary devices? Is it a coming of age story about a young man finding himself at college in New York City against the back drop of the Second World War? Is it a condemnation of the recklessness and the irreverence of the young Beat movement? Is it a standard college adventure story about young students sticking it to the man, and refusing to let authority figures tell them how to live their lives?

Kill Your Darlings is most interesting in the space between the familiar genre trappings, when it focuses on the characters at the dawn of the emerging literary movement. Indeed, the spirit of the film is best captured in one drug-induces segue in which our characters find themselves slipping between the reality and existing in a gap between moments. Kill Your Darlings is by turns romantic and cynical in its handling of Allen Ginsberg and his development as a young artist, featuring a wealth of superb central performances which can’t quite hold the film together.

Given the literary cut-up technique that we see the gang experiment with here, it feels strangely appropriate that Kill Your Darlings should be an uneven mess of a film, with a wealth of great ideas existing in the space between plot and tone and substance and reality. It just doesn’t make for a particularly satisfying film.

Talkin' 'bout the Beat Generation...

Talkin’ ’bout the Beat Generation…

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Non-Review Review: Nick of Time

Nick of Time is an underrated nineties high-concept thriller that really runs on the charm of its cast and the skill of director John Badham.In a way, Badham seems stuck in a race against time that is just as tense as anything facing his protagonist. Badham has to make it from the start of the film to the final fadeout before the audience stops to think too much about the somewhat convoluted plot taking place. Nick of Time features perhaps the most ridiculously convoluted assassination attempt ever, but it’s generally so much fun that it’s easy not to get tangled in some of the logic problems.

They weren’t trained for this…

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Non-Review Review: When the Lights Went Out

At its best, When the Lights Went Out feels like a cinematic throwback, almost like The Woman in Black. While The Woman in Black harked back to a period of classic British horror, the height of Hammer’s gothic schtick, When the Lights Went Out feels like an affectionate homage to the urban haunting movies of the seventies, like The Amityville Horror with a Yorkshire accent. Although the final third comes off the rails in a fairly massive way, there’s enough charm and nostalgia to keep When the Lights Went Out entertaining for most of its runtime. It’s not just the setting and the aesthetic that hark back to the seventies, but also the tone and the mood.

I hope she’s not left hanging…

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Equus at the Mill, Dundrum (Review)

London Classic Theatre have brought Sir Peter Shaffer’s classic 1973 play to the Mill Theatre in Dundrum, and I had the pleasure of attending on Friday night. I must admit that it was my first time to see Equus, although I couldn’t help but be aware of the headline-grabbing aspects of the play.  I wonder exactly how much work Daniel Radcliffe has done to popularise the play, using a West End run as an attempt to divorce himself from his most iconic role, and the media revelling at the details of the show. While I was impressed with what London Classic Theatrebrought to the stage, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the play itself.

Easy rider...

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Non-Review Review: The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black is a stately, old-fashioned horror film – the kind of Victorian era ghost story that I honestly feared had vanished from the multiplex. James Watkins’ adaptation of Susie Hill’s cult 1983 horror novel revels in the classic horror conventions, complete with jump scares, a stylish atmosphere and a hyperactive orchestral string section. It’s very much a loving resurrection of the type of classy conventional scary movies that have been replaced by serial killer or found footage films. There are moments when the movie might stick a little bit too close to that classic formula, and it feels a little brisk in the middle, but it’s a hugely enjoyable and thrilling experience.

Potter at the gates at dawn?

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Non-Review Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Truth be told, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has a lot of problems. It’s structurally the weakest of the films, existing as a bridge between what came before and what follows – but ultimately feels like treading water. One gets the sense that the ruthless editing that made Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire work so well was sorely missing here. It literally feels more like a collection of subplots rather than a movie in its own right. And then there’s the ending, which is ridiculously weak, but also somewhat undermines the threat the last film spent so long building up.

It's not a knock-out success...

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