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Non-Review Review: White Boy Rick

White Boy Rick struggles to articulate what it is actually saying.

The basic premise of White Boy Rick is quite clear from the outset. The film is set in Detroit. Barring a coda, the bulk of the action unfolds in the four years following on from 1984, during Ronald Reagan’s second term. Although the President himself is not directly discussed in the context of the narrative, there is an early conversation in which two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and one member of the Detroit Police Department ruminate upon Nancy Reagan’s famous “just say no” appeal.

Ricked off.

White Boy Rick is an earnest and well-intentioned movie exploring the consequences of the so-called “War on Drugs” in eighties America, and the manner in which that campaign was both fruitless in terms of its nominal objectives and actively harmful to the communities in which it unfolded. White Boy Rick attempts to position itself as a tragedy about a young man – the eponymous character’s age is something of a recurring battle cry – who happens to get wrapped up in something much bigger than his own circumstances.

Unfortunately, White Boy Rick struggles to construct a strong and engaging narrative around this central thesis statement, repeatedly stumbling in trying to graft the character’s arc and decisions to the broader social commentary that it wants to make. The result is a deeply frustrating film that squanders potentially interesting subject matter.

Daddy’s home.

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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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41. Crossover (-#35)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The Bottom 100 is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, a trip through some of the worst movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Preston A. Whitmore II’s Crossover.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 35th worst movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Detroit

Detroit is a powerful and visceral piece of cinema, one that loses its way in a muddled second act.

The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty cemented Kathryn Bigalow’s talent for conveying a sense of chaos and disorganisation on film. It can be very difficult to capture the messiness of real life in the movies, given how cluttered narratives can become distracting or disorienting. It takes a very real talent to guide the audience through this carnage in a way that captures the organic ambiguities of the story while ensuring that nobody is lost or distracted. Bigalow has a very rare talent for that.

Insecurity guard.

Unsurprisingly, Detroit works best in its opening and closing acts, when the narrative pulls back to the real-life story covering the Detroit Riots in late July 1967. The film’s opening and closing beats have the feel of a weird docudrama, with Bigalow using handheld cameras and tight focus in a way that allows her to blend footage of the cast with archive material. Characters are identified by legends down the bottom of the screen, while the audience is frequently put in the position of confused spectators in a way that captures the mere anarchy loosed upon the city.

However, Detroit fumbles a little bit in its second act. For the middle of the film, Detroit narrows its focus significantly. Instead of providing socio-economic and political context for the entire riots, or dealing with the aftermath of horrific events, Detroit transforms into a story about a bunch of characters locked in a confined space together. As the film’s closing text admits, these sequences are much less verifiable than the snapshots populating the opening and closing acts, much less a matter of public record.

Big Mackie.

The second act of Detroit is a more conventional fictional narrative. While the movie is never less than interesting and clever, that organic sensibility is lost. During the first and third acts, the focus is on the broader story of the larger community, so it does not matter that many of these characters feel like archetypes and ciphers. When Detroit zooms in on the characters, they seem drawn too crudely to support the scrutiny. Detroit works a lot better as an epic social study, and less well as a claustrophobic character study.

Bigalow struggles to get the balance right, resulting in a film that is certainly ambitious and worthy, but also more uneven than her recent output. Detroit is too confident and too professional to be deemed a failure, but its second act is too shallow to be a success either.

I predict a riot.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Carpenter Street (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

This is the point at which it becomes all but impossible to argue that the production team knew what they were doing this season.

The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise holds together reasonably well, if the viewer pulls back to a big enough distance. The broad arcs are discernible and logical – there is a clear start point and a reasonable trajectory, even if the first half of the season tends to get a bit lost. It really pulls itself together during the second half of the season, with one or two exceptions, building towards a finalé that satisfies both the demands of a year-long arc and the franchise surrounding it. It is not perfect, but it is not bad for a first attempt.

Hey kids! It's Leland Orser!

Hey kids! It’s Leland Orser!

Of course, it is also quite clear that the production team really had no idea what they were doing – or even what they were trying to do. The fact that it comes together in the second half of the season all but concedes that it doesn’t hold together in the first half. The first half of the third season is populated with standalone episodes that tend to either fit thematically (North Star, Similitude) or tonally (Impulse, Exile) with the general direction of the show, but a rather limited sense of progress or advancement.

Carpenter Street is the point at which any real sense of trust between the audience and the production team snaps like a twig. It is a story that features the characters time travelling to modern-day Earth in the middle of a gigantic story arc about how they are more isolated than they ever have been before. It throws away any sense of internal logic or consistency, never really exploring how an alien species that can travel back to Detroit in 2004 should have a problem with Earth in 2153. And, crucially, it is not fun enough to excuse those issues.

Hey kid! It's Jeffrey Dean Morgan! (Really!)

Hey kid! It’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan!
(Really!)

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Non-Review Review: Brick Mansions

Brick Mansions is an incredibly stupid film. It’s a movie that doesn’t make any real sense. It hinges on a series of set-ups and reversals that don’t even hold together while watching the movie. Anybody expecting an action movie that makes any semblance of sense is probably best advised to look elsewhere. And yet, despite this, there’s a point where the sheer unrelenting absurdity of Brick Mansions becomes fun in a grindhouse “this is probably great fun at 2am” sort of way.

At its heart, Brick Mansions feels like a throwback to a very particular style of eighties science-fiction cinema. It’s an action movie with the faintest trace of a social conscience that really exists just to justify ridiculous plot developments and excuse a central story that makes absolutely no sense. Lacking the awareness or intelligence that defined the best of the socially-conscious eighties science-fiction action films, Brick Mansions feels a lot like the kind of guilty pleasure that eats up the airwaves at the most unsocial broadcast hours.

You don't need that to make out the plot holes...

You don’t need that to make out the plot holes…

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Non-Review Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

The vampire genre has been around for a reasonably long time. The literary genre that was formalised by Bram Stoker’s Dracula at the dawn of the twentieth century, even if it drew on a rich selection of local beliefs and superstition. And yet, despite that, there really hasn’t been too much radical done with vampires in recent times. The last attempt to do something a bit provocative and game-changing with vampires occurred with Anne Rice’s discovery that you could easily shape vampire narratives into creepy romances – a technique refined by Stephanie Meyer to considerable commercial and popular success.

As such, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is fascinating because it manages to push the archetype a little further. It builds off those sorts of vampire romances and vampire fantasy epics in order to tell a more novel sort of story. Only Lovers Left Alive is a wonderful piece of mood based around two powerful central performances, taking one of cinema’s oldest monsters and finding a way to make them interesting again.

Only Lovers Left Alive is the most original vampire movie in what feels like an eternity.

onlyloversleftalive5

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