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Non-Review Review: The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger could do with being a little stranger.

Gothic horror stories about haunted houses are often about more than just the building or the estate itself. They often serve as something at once larger and smaller; a prism through which the storyteller might examine both the society around the haunted house and the family unit trapped within. This is true of most haunted house stories, no matter where or when they are set. The Amityville Horror is about much broader familial anxieties than a mere spectre.

Stranger Things…

At the same time, it feels particularly true when applied to the more traditional and old-fashioned gothic haunted house stories, the kind of tales about old family estates in the middle of nowhere, that had once served to anchor political and economic power in a particular area, but had since watched modernity pass them by. These are the sorts of creepy houses frequently glimpsed in period pieces or older stories, whether in tales set in the England of Wuthering Heights or the New England of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Little Stranger belongs to this particularly strain of haunted house horror, unfolding on a once grand estate that is slowly surrendering itself to a rapidly-changing world. It is the story of a house in decay and decline, falling apart as it struggles to find its place in a world that might slowly shed the trappings of class hierarchies and where power might no longer be anchored exclusively in those families wealthy enough to own and maintain these grand estates.

A sorry estate of affairs…

The Little Stranger works better as a mood than as a story, a slowly unravelling portrait of a household coming face-to-face with its own obsolescence, unsure both of whether it can do anything to arrest this collapse or even whether it wants to. The tale maintains a steady sense of unease across its runtime, largely down to a tremendous performance from Domhnall Gleeson as a character who remains ambiguous and unsettling even as he positions himself at the centre of the narrative.

The Little Stranger suffers from a fairly conventional and predictable plot, with little novel or insightful to say, relying on a series of revelations that are quite clear even fifteen minutes into the two-hour runtime. The Little Stranger is a little too familiar for its own good, a little too comfortable and sedate to really pack the necessary punch.

Farraday is far away.
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Non-Review Review: About Time

About Time is pretty much vintage Richard Curtis. I don’t mean that in a bad way – certainly not in an entirely bad way. Curtis knows how to structure a romance, has a gift for distinguishing characters in a large ensemble, and has the capacity to employ sentimentality to calculated and devastating effect. About Time has moments of brilliance and emotional punch, framing the main character’s inexplicable ability to time travel in delightful metaphorical terms.

At the same time, Curtis has his weaknesses. Most notably, there’s the sense that his lead characters are all variations on the same character – with more cynical pundits suggesting the base model might be Curtis himself. Similarly, his ensembles are constructed efficiently as a collection of quirky characters who do quirky things quirkily, living out the most quaintly British of lives involving afternoon tea and indulging in the most stereotypical of exclamations (“just a tick…”, “oh gosh…”, etc). There’s a sense that Curtis’ world exists inside old-fashioned post cards more than in anything approaching the real world.

More than that, though, Curtis labours his point just a little bit too much, as if worried the audience might miss the whole “we’re all travelling in time” metaphor and the “secret to being happy” philosophy if it isn’t explicitly articulated in a voice-over monologue set to an upbeat pop song.

Time enough at last...

Time enough at last…

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Immatürity for Charity, 9:30pm, RTÉ 2, 27th December 2012

I received this and thought it was worth sharing, in aid of a good cause.

This Christmas, some of the best actors and film crew in Ireland have come together for a sketch-show comedy special in aid of St Francis Hospice, Raheny. Immatürity for Charity features a whole host of Ireland’s top thespians including Domhnall Gleeson, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Huberman, Robert Sheehan, Hugh O’Conor, Brian Gleeson, David Wilmot and many more. Their mission: to embarrass themselves with pride and embrace their immature side in comedy sketches that aim to raise money and awareness for the hospice.

Brendan Gleeson - IFC

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Non-Review Review: Anna Karenina (2012)

All the world is a stage, literally for Joe Wright’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel. Anna Karenina is visually stunning, and perfectly put together, doing a workman-like job of condensing Tolstoy’s 800-page doorstopper into a film running justover two hours. The wonderfully inventive idea of staging the film entirely in a theatre – from the foyer to the rafters to the stage itself – gives Wright the opportunity to showcase his talent as one of the finest working directors today. Tom Stoppard’s scripts is dripping with wit and does an excellent job providing digestible chunks of Tolstoy’s epic and a fair few pithy one-liners. Unfortunately, this is countered by the fact that the film never feels like it’s quite enough, and in particular the fact that its central figure feels like a shadow cast against a back wall rather than a three-dimensional character.

Save the last dance…

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