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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #6!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Ronan Doyle, Jay Coyle and Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin to discuss the week in film news. We have a broad and wide-ranging discussion of what we watched, asking tough questions like whether Flash Gordon really is the horniest movie ever made and ruminating on the visual power of Shrek Retold. There are also discussions of The Miseducation of Cameron Post and the thirties thriller Red Dust.

News-wise, awards season continues apace with the race settling down after the BAFTAs and Roma emerging as the frontrunner. Simultaneously, the Oscars continue to be struggle to get their show organised. Meanwhile, closer to home, the Irish Film Institute unveils its plans for 2019 and its evening course in British cinema since the eighties.

The top ten:

  1. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  2. Vice
  3. Mary Queen of Scots
  4. Glass
  5. The Mule
  6. A Dog’s Way Home
  7. Alita: Battle Angel
  8. Green Book
  9. How to Train Your Dragon III: The Hidden World
  10. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

New releases:

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

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Non-Review Review: Happy Death Day 2 U

“You mean this is all about money?” asks a confused grad student early in Happy Death Day 2 U, as a stubborn college dean shuts down his (frankly reckless science experiment. The dean explains that the college is primarily interested in cultivating intellectual property and patents, which comes as news to his more innocent students. The dean protests, bluntly, “Somebody has to keep the lights on around here.”

It’s an odd exchange within an odd film, and one that makes relatively little sense in the context of the story being told. however, it feels like a very revealing exchange in terms of the logic underlying Happy Death Day 2 U. The original Happy Death Day was a cinematic highlight of 2017. Somewhat (and fairly) overshadowed by Get Out, the original film was a playful and self-aware slasher movie hybrid which worked as both a charming example of the genre and broad critique of the exhausting and repetitive nature of such films.

Masking his intentions.

Happy Death Day was the story of a young woman who finds herself trapped reliving the same day over and over, facing a masked serial killer and getting murdered in a variety of inventive ways before resetting to do it all over again. Within that premise was a clear critique of horror franchise formulas that tended to trap protagonists within these familiar frameworks over and over and over again. In that context, Happy Death Day 2 U seems almost redundant. Tree has already lived the same story twelve times. What could a sequel possibly add, beyond some dollars to the bottom line?

It is to the credit of Happy Death Day 2 U that the film inherently and intrinsically understands this. Happy Death Day 2 U is a messy and awkward film, but it is crystal clear in at least one respect. Happy Death Day 2 U knows exactly what sort of film it doesn’t want to be. Unfortunately, it never seems entirely certain of the film that it does want to be.

Stab me, Baby, one more time.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #5!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Ronan Doyle, Jay Coyle and Alex Towers from When Irish Eyes Are Watching to discuss the week in film news. We have a broad and wide-ranging discussion of what we watched, including everything from John Carpenter’s The Fog to 3,000 Miles to Graceland to the work of Agnes Varda and some preemptive highlights of the upcoming Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival. We also discuss a little bit about David Fincher’s Zodiac, which we all caught on 35mm at the Lighthouse.

In terms of film news, there is a lot to cover. The big story concerns the cinema-going habits of the Irish (and international) audiences. However, there’s also news from the European Film Market, including a number of prospective Irish films on sale.

The top ten:

  1. Second Act
  2. Escape Room
  3. Mary Poppins Returns
  4. Mary Queen of Scots
  5. Vice
  6. Glass
  7. The Mule
  8. A Dog’s Way Home
  9. Green Book
  10. How to Train Your Dragon III: The Hidden World

New releases:

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

 

Non-Review Review: On the Basis

On the Basis of Sex is a sturdy, old-fashioned awards season film.

On the Basis of Sex is earnest, unshowy and very conventional in both concept and execution. All of its beats are familiar, all of its rhythms predictable. It’s not especially inventive or innovative. It is a meat-and-potatoes awards fare, a fascinating story that is told in an uncluttered manner. While there are still a handful of these sorts of films released every year, it often seems like the ground is shrinking out from under them. As awards season has leaned towards quirky indie films like Vice or The Favourite, it has left films like On the Basis of Sex and Can You Ever Forgive Me? sitting in the dust.

Ruthless litigation.

There is nothing wrong with old-fashioned awards fare, even if On the Basis of Sex occasionally feels conflicted about which particular mode of old-school biographical film it seeks to emulate; it starts like a conventional subject’s-life-in-two-hours piece in the style of films like Ghandi or Patton, and then shifts into the slightly more modern twist on the genre that tends to focus on one formative event like Frost/Nixon or The Queen or Elvis & Nixon. It is a strange shift, with On the Basis of Sex spending half an hour on a general introduction to Ruth Bader-Ginsberg before focusing on the meat of this particular story.

This lack of focus is not a major issue. Old-fashioned awards fare can work reasonably well with the right material and talent, despite seeming quaint by the standards of the time. On the Basis of Sex never stands out from the crowd in the same way as its central character, but then that might be expecting too much given that surprisingly long shadow cast by Ruth Bader-Ginsberg.

Courting controversy.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #4!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Graham Day from Speakin’ Geek to discuss the week in film news. It’s a fun and wide-ranging discussion, covering everything from the growth of Dreamworks as an animation studio to the extended cut of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. There’s also discussion of Dragonball Z and Destroyer. In film news, we mark the passing of Dick Miller, the coverage of Sundance, February at the Irish Film Institute and the thirtieth anniversary of the Cork French Film Festival.

The top ten:

  1. The Favourite
  2. Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet
  3. Stan and Ollie
  4. Second Act
  5. Mary Poppins Returns
  6. The Mule
  7. Vice
  8. Mary Queen of Scots
  9. Glass
  10. A Dog’s Way Home

New releases:

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

Non-Review Review: High Flying Bird

High Flying Bird is a quietly radical movie about a sports agent.

This should not be a surprise. Director Steven Soderbergh is a director fascinated with systems, particularly capitalist systems. Unsane might have taken the form of a trashy and tacky nineties thriller, but it was primarily interested in exploring the horrors of a psychiatric industrial complex. Side Effects touched upon the way in which pharmaceutical companies and legal systems work. Contagion was a story about structural responses to a viral infection that spread rapidly through an increasingly interconnected world.

Managing the situation.

With that in mind, it makes sense that Steven Soderbergh’s movie about the NBA lockout of 2011 would feature very little actual basketball. Sure, footage of games plays on several of the large flatscreens adorning bar or office walls, but it’s just window dressing. Just when it looks like Soderbergh might actually show a game, he cuts away dramatically to a shot of a billionaire’s daughter carrying her dog on board a private jet, flanked by two helpful staff holding umbrellas to protect her from the wind. High Flying Bird is about basket ball as an institution, but not a sport.

A cynic would argue that  High Flying Bird is about basket ball in the same way that the NBA is about basket ball, interested in institutions and structures more than the actual sport itself. Such a cynic would be right at home in the world of High Flying Bird, where characters talk freely and repeatedly about the  “game that’s been played behind the game”, “the game that they made over the game”, or “a game on top of a game.” Professional basket ball is not about basket ball, High Flying Bird argues coherently and consistently. Professional basket ball is about profiting off basket ball.

“What are you doing here?”
“Beatz me.”

High Flying Bird is drawn from a script by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who is perhaps best known for working on the story for Moonlight with Barry Jenkins. Indeed, the cast is anchored by Moonlight co-star André Holland. High Flying Bird recalls Moneyball, in that it is a film about sport that does not feature sport, understanding that the activity does not exist in a vacuum. For High Flying Bird, professional basket ball is about money and power and race, and the real game is being played away from where the camera and the audience is looking.

The only thing that keeps High Flying Bird from being a slam dunk is a lack of focus. High Flying Bird doesn’t entirely trust its cast and its premise to hold the audience’s attention through all of these conversations about abstract concepts layered upon abstract concepts placed over a game that the film only shows in the background. As a result, McCraney and Soderbergh crowd out the story with subplots designed to generate human interest; a tragic back story, an emerging romance. These elements ultimately distract from the most interesting aspects of the film.

This screenshot is also about capitalism. Somehow.

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Non-Review Review: Alita – Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel is the result of a creative union between James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez.

This partnership makes a certain amount of sense. Both Cameron and Rodriguez are genre film-makers, and one suspects that the two men would have been fast friends had they emerged at around the same time; Cameron came of age making films like Piranha 2 or Terminator, and those are certainly of a piece with Rodriguez’s filmography from Desperado through to Planet Terror and even Sin City. Cameron has arguably elevated his work into the mainstream, in that it is impossible to imagine Rodriguez producing a mass-appeal cultural smash like Cameron did with Terminator 2: Judgment Day Titanic or Avatar.

Slice o’ life.

However, allowing for that core similarity, Cameron and Rodriguez are still fundamentally different film-makers. Their interests might align when it comes to genre work, but they construct their movies in a very different manner, with a different emphasis on different aspects of their technique. Cameron is much more interested in bringing polish to his genre work, in finding a way to transform otherwise niche high-concept tales into crowd-pleasing blockbusters with mass appeal. In contrast, Rodriguez revels in the grottier aspects of his genre work, believing that the lack of sheen is part of the appeal.

Alita: Battle Angel finds these two aesthetics at odds with one another. The story at the heart of Alita is pure Cameron, dedicated to world-building and social commentary while relying on exposition and centring on big set pieces. However, the delivery of Alita is very much in the style of Rodriguez, stressing cool beats and individual sequences rather than the singular cohesive whole. The result is jarring and deeply fascinating, but it doesn’t quite come together. Alita is an intriguing piece of cinema, but a less than satisfying would-be blockbuster. Like its central character, it seems constructed of parts that don’t quite fit.

Red is dead.

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