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Non-Review Review: Ben is Back

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

Ben is Back finds itself in a strange place in terms of weirdness.

At is core, Ben is Back is essentially the Key and Peele vehicle Keanu reimagined as an earnest prestige picture for the era of Beautiful Boy. It is an inherently absurd premise, an exploration of drug addiction that takes the form of an epic odyssey to rescue a beloved family pet. The incongruous pairing of a recovering addict with his suburban mother on this most unlikely Christmas adventure adds an extra layer of strangeness to the whole proceedings. There’s something very exciting about all of these elements thrown together, feeling incredibly unconventional.

Hug life.

Unfortunately, Ben is Back feels gun shy. It never commits to the inherent ridiculousness of using a trashy thriller template to tell a more intimate story about a pressing contemporary issue. Instead, Ben is Back compromises itself. It tries to have the best of both worlds. It tries to strike a balance between being a dogsploitation journey in to the heart of darkness with a more grounded and mundane portrait of a family struggling with the trauma that addiction has inflicted upon them. The two tones might work separately, but they jar as Ben is Back alternates between them.

This is a shame, as there’s a lot of potential in Ben is Back, and a few moments when it seems like it might actually deliver upon it.

Ben around the world, and I can’t find my baby.

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Non-Review Review: Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy is a cocktail essentially comprised of three contrasting main ingredients, none of which particularly gel.

Most obviously, it is a traditional performance-driven piece of awards fare designed to showcase the talents of Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell; there is a lot of shouting, a lot of confrontation, a lot of listless staring. On top of that, it is also a more modern piece of awards fare, one younger and hipper than stodgy old dramas about addiction; Beautiful Boy might be a good seventy-percent intercut montage set to music of beloved artists like David Bowie and John Lennon. The remaining third is a fifties moral panic anti-drugs film for the twenty-first century.

This movie is Timothée Chala-meh.

These three styles of film are constantly battling within Beautiful Boy. There must be a way to synthesise these three competing approaches into a holistic and satisfying piece of work, but instead Beautiful Boy bounces frantically from one mode to another, never settling on a single cohesive tone or approach. This is disappointing, as Beautiful Boy is a very earnest and sincere piece of work. There’s a strong sense that the film is trying to articulate something that is both important and profound. However, it just cannot clearly translate that sentiment into speech.

Beautiful Boy is a mess of a film, but a fascinating mess in a number of places.

Yes. Most of the screenshots of this film will be of Timothée Chalamet. Why?

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49. Scarface (#106)

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, Brian dePalma’s Scarface.

Antonio Montana is an exiled criminal from Cuban who arrives in Miami. Montana plans to live the American Dream, no matter who or what stands in his way.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 106th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Millennium – Human Essence (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Human Essence is the second (and final) script from Michael Duggan. It is also, notably, the first episode of the third season not to credit Duggan as an “executive producer” before the final credits.

Human Essence is a terrible episode of television. However, it is interesting to note that it is mostly terrible in ways that generic television can be terrible. The third season of Millennium is often terrible because of decisions or realities imposed by or resulting from creative decisions relating to the show itself. In the case of something like Through a Glass Darkly, the terribleness results from a perfect storm of vices associated with Millennium as a show. The Innocents and Exegesis are hobbled by choices made about the direction of the show.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

Human Essence is terrible in a much more generic way. It would be a terrible episode of just about any television show. One of the problems with the episode is that it feels like it could easily be a terrible episode of just about any television show. With some light revisions, Human Essence could easily become a terrible episode of The X-Files or a terrible episode of Law & Order. Change the character names, tweak the dialogue a little. It wouldn’t take more than some light scrubbing to remove any hint of Millennium from the script.

However, it would take significantly more scrubbing to get the smell of crap off the script.

Yeah. We're hip.

Yeah. We’re hip.

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Non-Review Review: La French (The Connection)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

La French (aka The Connection) looks and sounds beautiful.

Working with cinematographer Laurent Tangy, director Cédric Jimenez manages to capture the scenic beauty of seventies Marseilles. The classic architecture, the sea views, even the hot night spots all look absolutely stunning. Le French manages to capture the crisp feeling of the late seventies without ever feeling stylised or staged. Similarly, Jimenez manages to pull together a beautifully evocative soundtrack, with songs as distinct as Call Me and This Bitter Earth helping to underscore emotionally-charged sequences and giving the film a sense of style and taste.

lafrench

La French is a stylishly-constructed crime thriller that stretches from the south of France to New York and back again, a family loosely inspired by the infamous “French Connection” that fed drugs into France and overseas to the United States. However, despite its obvious overlap with William Friedkin’s The French Connection, it seems like Jimenez owes more to the work of filmmakers like Michael Mann or Martin Scorcese, constructing a crime epic that flows beautifully and effortlessly, with an impressive soundtrack complimenting a dynamic visual style.

This is perhaps the biggest problem with La French, a sense that there might actually be too much style – that the film may occasionally feel a little too hollow or detached from its twin leads. However, Jimenez cleverly casts Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche in the lead roles, who help anchor the film with a sense of humanity that only occasionally gets lost in the film’s beautifully-crafted production.

lafrench2

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Millennium – Walkabout (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Walkabout continues to demonstrate the flexibility of Millennium‘s format.

Millennium is often unfairly dismissed as a “serial-killer-of-the-week” show, an impression undoubtedly created by the stretch of early- to mid-season episodes that adopted an almost procedural formula in their exploration of evil. However, after Sacrament, the show takes a break from those narratives to do something a little more experimental and nuanced. Covenant had seen Frank investigating a murder that had already been solved. Here, Frank finds himself struggling to piece together a fractured memory of his own recent experiences.

A bleedin' disaster!

A bleedin’ disaster!

Walkabout is the third of four scripts from writer Chip Johannessen in the first season of Millennium. Each is a rather strange entity; doing something strange or unconventional for the show, helping to define the boundaries for this young television series. Walkabout is perhaps most interesting for the way that it engages with an aspect of Millennium that has been bubbling away in the background since The Pilot. Although Walkabout never explores the nature or purpose of Frank’s visions, the episode is built around the visions as a concept rather than simply a tool.

Walkabout is an unsettling and effective mood piece that grows more conventional as it progresses. While the final act is a little clunky, Walkabout is a fascinating piece of television and a demonstration of how Millennium has found its own voice.

"Let me outta here!"

“Let me outta here!”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Strange New World (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 January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Strange New World is the first episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to come from a writing team other than Brannon Braga and Rick Berman. Berman and Braga would dominate the writing credits for the first season. Even when the final teleplay was credited to another writer or writing team, there was often a “story by” credit given to Berman and Braga. Braga himself has conceded that he essentially re-wrote all of the episodes of the first season.

Still, Strange New World is credited to the writing team of Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong. Both had worked on Star Trek: Voyager before migrated to Star Trek: Enterprise along with André Bormanis. Sussman had pitched the story for Meld and worked on a number of solo stories and scripts before teaming with Strong on the seventh and final season of the show. The two would remain a writing team for the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise, hitting their stride with some of the strongest episodes of the troubled second season.

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

Strange New World is an interesting début for the pair. On the hand, it is a story that celebrates the unique place of Star Trek: Enterprise in the Star Trek pantheon. It’s a story about how great it must be to set foot on an alien planet, and how wondrous it must be to breath air from outside our atmosphere. With its emphasis on shuttlepods and primitive transporters, it does remain relatively true to the prequel premise of Enterprise.

On the other hand, Strange New World is a very familiar Star Trek template. Indeed, it’s a very familiar first season template. It’s the episode where the crew of the ship are exposed to some strange outside force that makes them all act out of character. It’s something of a Star Trek standard. The original Star Trek had The Naked Time and Star Trek: The Next Generation had The Naked Now, while Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had both Babel and Dramatis Personae. In many ways, Strange New World feels like a familiar old story.

Strange yellow daisy fields forever...

Strange yellow daisy fields forever…

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