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Non-Review Review: Black ’47

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

Black ’47 is a powerful piece of pulp storytelling, a bold and daring window into an under-served chapter of Irish history.

Directed by Lance Daly, working from a story derived by a variety of writers, Black ’47 is essentially a western set against the background of the Irish Famine. Of course, the reality is much more nuanced than that simple description would suggest, but it provides a suitable starting point for discussion. Indeed, all the genre elements are in place; a soldier returns home from war to discover the horrors that have befallen his family, and decides that there shall be no justice on earth save for that which he might exact by his own hand.

Black ’47 is a very sparse and rugged film. It would be a surprise if the nominal lead character, Feeney, speaks more than one hundred words. Indeed, at one point he explicitly rejects the English language as a tool of communication. The landscape of the film is rough and cold, the audience feeling the chill that runs through the film and almost smelling the decay in the air. Black ’47 reflects its rough and wild settings, and the characters who have been shaped and moulded by those surroundings.

Black ’47 is an effective piece of storytelling.

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Non-Review Review: The Lodgers

The Lodgers is a beautifully-directed and somewhat muddled gothic horror film.

The Lodgers literally drips with atmosphere, as one might imagine given the combination of writer David Turpin and director Brian O’Malley. Turpin has studied and lectured in English, writing his doctoral thesis on therianthropy. O’Malley directed Let Us Prey, one of the most visually striking and memorable Anglo-Irish horror films of the past couple of years. As such, a gothic horror set against the backdrop of Irish Independence seems very much in keeping with their aesthetics, and it does not disappoint.

The fall of the house of Lodgers.

The Lodgers is a rich piece of work, both in terms of visuals and themes. Like any good horror story, the subtext simmers through the work, O’Malley and Turpin tapping into rich veins of social and political anxiety, often weaving those threads together in a compelling and exciting manner. The Lodgers might be best described as the work of Edgar Allan Poe channeled through a seance with William Butler Yeats. It feels undeniably Irish, rooted in the land and its people.

At the same time, The Lodgers suffers slightly in its own internal mechanics. Like the big house at the centre of the story, the construction is largely sound. However, there is a sense that some upkeep and maintenance might be required. The Lodgers is undercut by a number of key defects including its casting and its dialogue. The Lodgers is visually striking and rich, but it stumbles in some of its more basic elements.

Stairway to heaven.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #4!

The Scannain podcast is back, baby!

Discussing the latest in film news here and abroad, the Scannain podcast is a weekly podcast discussion of what we watched, what we talked about, what is dominating and the box office, and what is lurking on the horizon film-wise. This week we discussed everything from Paul Thomas Anderson to P.T. Barnum, the launch of The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix and the evolution of “direct-to-video” schlock.

I’m thrilled to be part of a panel including Niall Murphy and Stacy Grouden. Give it a listen below.

Non-Review Review: Finding Your Feet

Finding Your Feet is a fairly placid and mostly unobjectionable film that adheres to an increasingly familiar formula, a gentle reminder that life can often begin at sixty.

Finding Your Feet largely coasts off the charm of its cast, who seem to be having an enjoyable time with one another and appreciating the opportunity to find themselves cast as romantic leads in a globe-trotting adventure. In particular, there is something disarming in seeing Timothy Spall cast as a charming romantic lead, a disarmingly sincere lovable rogue who inevitably scrubs up quite nicely. Finding Your Feet offers very few surprises, but that is part of the attraction, perhaps worried that too many surprises might throw off the presumed viewer.

Spall good, baby.

However, Finding Your Feet is too awkward and clumsy to allow the audience to get entirely caught up in the familiar beats and rhythms of the tale. The familiar plotting of Finding Your Feet helps compensate for some strange storytelling decisions, with major character arcs unfolding off-screen and the film trying to fill its run time with things happening rather than focusing on the people to whom these things are happening.

Finding Your Feet is bland and inoffensive, its central cast providing a disarming charm that the movie never quite earns.

The sequel will feature a new addition to the cast and will be titled, ‘So You Think You Can Charles Dance?’

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65. Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries) – “Two Guys Die Alone 2018” (#152)

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.

This time, a Valentine’s treat. Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries.

Professor Isak Borg embarks upon a road trip to receive an honourary doctorate from his university, but soon discovers that the fourteen hour car journey represents a trip into his past, reflecting on life lived and love lost as he comes to terms with his decisions and his relationships.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 152nd best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: The Cloverfield Paradox

The Cloverfield Paradox is important. It’s just not very good.

The Cloverfield Paradox is a movie that seems destined to be overshadowed by the circumstances of its release. The Cloverfield Paradadox is one of several films that Netflix harvested from the increasingly beleaguered Paramount Pictures. Netflix will be handling the international distribution of Annihilation and picked up The Irishman when Paramount backed out. However, The Cloverfield Paradox remains one of the strangest fruits of this bitter harvest, in large part because of its pedigree, its production and its release.

It ain’t Clover ’til it’s Clover…

As the title implies, The Cloverfield Paradox is part of the shared universe of JJ Abrams films including Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Both were films that cleverly snuck up on audiences, and both were films that performed well for Paramount. As such, Paramount’s decision to sell off The Cloverfield Paradox seems strange – this is one of the company’s few successful properties, and there is even a fourth movie in the pipeline still aiming for a theatrical release. It seems a strange choice for Paramount to offload on Netflix.

Then again, the film’s production was notoriously troubled. The film was originally titled “The God Particle” before being changed to “Cloverfield Station” before finally being released as “The Cloverfield Paradox.” While the finished film looks impressive and has a top-notch cast, watching it is an incredibly disjointed experience. There is a sense that The Cloverfield Paradox has not been edited so much as filleted, that the audience is watching the leftover elements of a film that have been assembled from leftovers after the connecting tissue has been scraped from the bone.

Admiring the handiwork.

However, all of this is overshadowed by the circumstances of the film’s release, with Netflix finallising the deal to purchase The Cloverfield Paradox in late January, reportedly paying over $50m for it, and releasing it directly following the Super Bowl. There were no critics’ screenings, no advanced hype. There were simply two television spots promising viewers that they could watch the film on Netflix “after the game.” This was a brutally effective piece of marketting from Netflix, using the film to create a “disruption” to the established pattern of major movie releases.

This was an uncanny move, because all of the surrounding hype around this “event” glosses over the fact that The Cloverfield Paradox is just a new sheen on a familiar cliché. It is a “direct to video” film elevated to a seismic pop cultural phenomenon. And it is not even a good “direct to video” film.

Station-keeping.

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Non-Review Review: The Mercy

It can be tempting when reviewing contemporary films to looks for some sort of profound meaning, some deep insight on the contemporary world reflected back on celluloid. This is particularly true in the current climate, when it seems like every piece of American pop culture is just waiting to be read as a meditation upon the tenure of President Donald J. Trump. Some of this is because politics are particularly inescapable at this moment, when a reality television star is the leader of a free world. Part of it is perhaps down to critics trying to make their own meaning in the world.

Nevertheless, The Mercy seems to be the quintessential Brexit film. A biography of (in)famous British sailor Donald Crowhurst, The Mercy is a fascinating piece of a work. A large part of the film’s success is down to how skilfully and cannily it manipulates its audience and their expectations, how heavily leans on the tropes and conventions of the standard biographical drama to wrongfoot the viewer. The Mercy starts out as one type of film, only to make a brutal swerve into another. It is a harrowing tale of grand delusion smashed against the shoals of reality.

Tough sail.

Note: This review will assume some passing familiarity with the story of British sailor Donald Crowhurst. These true-life events may be considered spoilers for audience members without any foreknowledge and who wish to see the movie entirely blind. So consider this something of a spoiler warning.

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