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Non-Review Review: It Must Be Heaven

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. 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.

It Must Be Heaven offers a Chaplin-esque meditation on what it means to be “a citizen of the world,”, albeit filtered through a Palestinian lens.

Writer and director Elia Suleiman neatly divides his comedy into three acts. Playing himself, the veteran Palestian director journeys from Palestine in a bid to finance his latest movie. First, he visits Paris. Then, he visits New York. Along the way, he acts a silent and deadpan observers of the chaos of the world around him. Over the course of the film Suleiman only talks on a handful of occasions. Indeed, it would be handy enough to exorcise those sequences and reduce him to a classic silent film protagonist. However, the world buzzes around him.

So much of It Must Be Heaven is a purely observational film. Suleiman drifts idly from one scene to the next, always watching with mild bemusement as he steps into another story that is already in progress, often without any larger context: a father and son squabble across the balconies of their shared home, two brothers threaten a restaurant owner for serving wine in their sister’s food, a woman marches slowly and certainly from a well carrying two containers of water in a rather relaxed relay. Sometimes narratives reveal themselves through the act of looking, and sometimes they don’t. Such is life.

It Must Be Heaven seems more like a resigned sigh than a profound statement, a candid acknowledgement of how people are strange all over, even if some places offer their own unique brands of eccentricity.

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Non-Review Review: Mickey and the Bear

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. 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.

Mickey and the Bear marks a confident theatrical debut from director Annabella Attanasio.

Mickey and the Bear is a study of poverty in the Pacific Northwest, unfolding against the backdrop of a small Montana town. The opening scenes establish this quite effectively, introducing Mickey as a young woman living in a trailer that is literally falling apart with her father Hank. Hank is a veteran of the Iraq War, and the scars clearly linger. He has an opiod prescription to help with his leg wound, but adamantly refuses the psychological help that he clearly needs to come to terms with the trauma. The film is essentially a ticking time bomb in the form of a character study, a countdown to the point where Mickey’s world implodes.

Mickey and the Bear is bolstered by a set of strong performances. Mickey is played by relative newcomer Camila Morrone, who offers a complex and nuanced take on a character who has largely given up any real hope of outside intervention and so has retreated into herself. Hank is played by veteran James Badge Dale, with Hank’s dysfunction feeling of a piece with the psychological damage felt by Badge Dale’s characters in films like Flight or Echoes of War. The two play off one another well, layering their relationship with myriad emotions which suggest the full range of their complicated dynamic.

As writer and director, Attanasio infuses Mickey and the Bear with a palpable sense of quiet desperation. Dread and anxiety hang over the film, but even they are pressed beneath the weight of grim inevitability.

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Non-Review Review: Vivarium

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. 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.

Vivarium is an abrasive and aggressive work of surrealism.

It is very much of a piece with director Lorcan Finnegan’s earlier work, feeling like a clear descendant of his “ghost estate” short Foxes and his “land will swallow you whole” horror of Without Name. Indeed, Vivarium taps into many of those same fears, essentially beginning as a horror story about a young couple going house hunting and ending up lost in a monstrous and seemingly unending estate. It morphs from that into an exploration of a broader set of anxieties about the very idea of “adulthood”, of what young people expect from their adult life and what it in turn it expects from them.

Vivarium often feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. It features a small core cast. Although shot on an actual housing estate, Finnegan pushes the production design into the realm of the uncanny so that it looks like a gigantic creepy sound stage. The script consciously pushes its narrative into the realm of the absurd. However, throughout it all, the film remains keenly focused on a simple and strong central metaphor. Although Vivarium operates at an unsettlingly heightened level of reality, and although its populated by a mess of signifiers it never entirely explains, it remains firmly anchored in relatable ideas.

Vivarium is perhaps a little over-extended and little heavy-handed in articulating its central themes and ideas, but it is consistently interesting and ambitious. It’s well worth the time.

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Non-Review Review: Her Smell

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.

Put frankly, Her Smell stinks.

To be fair, there’s some interesting material here. film has long been obsessed with stories about fame and celebrity, particularly when filtered through the lens of tragedy and recovery. After all, A Star is Born roared to life as the early frontrunner in this year’s awards race, while Vox Lux provided a darker and weirder meditation on similar themes. Her Smell is very much a companion piece to these other films, a meditation on what fame does to a person, how strange it is. Her Smell is the story of a washed up punk rocker who inevitably collides with rock bottom, and yet somehow finds a way to keep going despite (or perhaps because of) the love of the people around her.

It is interesting to note that “Becky She” hits rock bottom and just keeps going, because this feels like an adequate assessment of Her Smell. Alex Ross Perry’s latest film is two hours and fifteen minutes long, and feels every single one of them. The movie has one single point that it keeps hammering again and again and again, one particular rhythm that it keeps playing again and again and again. Scenes within the film are interminable of themselves, but somehow repeated again and again and again. However, this shallow repetition is not the biggest problem with Her Smell, it’s the combination of that shallow repetition with a smug satisfaction, the cocky assuredness that underscores every single moment.

Her Smell is a dull and lifeless movie convinced of (and insistent upon) its own profundity. Roger Ebert famously argued that no good movie is too long and no bad movie is too short. One could cut two hours from Her Smell and it would still be fifteen minutes too long.

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Non-Review Review: Papi Chulo

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.

Papi Chulo has a very narrow line to walk.

At its core, Papi Chulo is a very old-fashioned opposites-ultimately-attract buddy comedy. In keeping with the conventions of the genre, the central duo crosses racial and class divides. It is the story of a burnt-out Los Angeles weatherman who hires a Mexican day labourer to (ostensibly) paint his patio deck. Despite the fact that the two are from very different worlds and literally speak different languages, an unlikely bond develops between the two. This is a fairly standard set-up, and an old feel-good Hollywood standard. Indeed, Green Book employed the formula to considerable awards-season success, demonstrating that the template endures.

Peak happiness.

As such, Papi Chulo comes a fascinating premise, but a loaded one. Indeed, the Green Book comparison is something of a double-edged sword. The decision to position an immigrant day labourer as one half of the mismatched couple at the centre of Papi Chulo gives the movie a lot of political weight in the current cultural climate. It would be impossible for a movie about an unlikely friendship between a white man and a Mexican in modern California that crosses class divides not to resonate with everything else happening in the world around it. In fact, given the popularity of this sort of template for exploring issues of race and class in America, it is surprising that there have been so few movies along these lines. It is also surprising that this movie comes from an Irish director.

To be fair to Papi Chulo, the movie always seems aware of how deeply awkward it is for a rich white person to hire a day labourer to (in effect) be his friend. That power imbalance and privilege is always lurking off-screen, and the film is never particularly ambiguous in its assessment of Sean’s behaviour; the weatherman is not working through his issues in a healthy way, but imposing himself on Ernesto. However, these issues never come to the fore, and are only fleetingly acknowledged over the course of the film. This works well enough when the film can count on the unlikely chemistry between Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patino to carry the first half of the film, but it doesn’t really work when the film makes a conscious choice to separate the duo in the second half.

Snap chat.

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118. The Kid – Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019 (#99)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT. This week, the pair are joined by Sarah Ahern, the programmer of the Fantastic Flix slate at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.

This time, Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid.

When a wandering tramp discovers an abandoned baby in an alleyway, he takes the young child into his care. The pair forge an unlikely familial bond, living at the margins of society, but it all threatens to unravel when the authorities become involved.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 99th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

The Kid is being shown as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival. It will be shown in the Lighthouse Cinema, next Saturday 23rd February 2019. Tickets are available online. Any Irish listeners of the podcast interested in watching the film are more than welcome; the film is introduced in broad terms at the start of the podcast.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #3!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Grace Duffy, Ronan Doyle, Jay Coyle and Alex Towers from When Irish Eyes Are Watching to discuss the week in film news. We may all have been sneaking out to catch Zodiac at the Lighthouse, so it’s a fast-paced discussion this week. Highlights include chance encounters at a midnight screening of Michael Mann’s Heat, trying to make sense of The Sisters Brothers, and the bizarre premise that is Monkey Shines.

In terms of film news, the big news of the week is given over to the announcement of the Academy Awards nominations and the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival launch, along with the passing of Jonas Mekas.

The top ten:

  1. Bohemian Rhapsody
  2. Bumblebee
  3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  4. Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet
  5. The Favourite
  6. The Upside
  7. Mary Poppins Returns
  8. Stan and Ollie
  9. Mary Queen of Scots
  10. Glass

New releases:

You can download the episode here, or listen to it below.

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #31!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast.

This week, I join Graham Day from Speakin’ Geek, Alex Towers from When Irish Eyes Are Watching and Grace Duffy to discuss the week in film. Topics for discussion include the subtle brilliance of Lorne Balfe’s soundtrack to Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the rebranding of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, the “ageing out” of kid actors in long-running franchises, the drama around Danny Boyle’s departure from the latest Bond movie and the possible casting of Idris Elba as James Bond.

New releases include Alpha, Slender Man and The Children Act; the tail end of the podcast includes an extended discussion of Spike Lee’s latest film, BlacKkKlansman, which all four panelists have seen.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.