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Non-Review Review: The Aftermath

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.

The Aftermath starts with a fascinating premise.

Unfolding in the immediate wake of the Second World War, The Aftermath finds Rachael Morgan joining her husband Lewis Morgan in Hamberg for the British Occupation of the city. Tensions are running high. Most of the city lies in ruins, bodies still being pulled from the rubble. Both sides are nursing old wounds that threaten to fester. Rachel finds herself confronting these wounds even more acutely than she expected. When the Morgans move into a stately home on the outskirts of the city, Lewis suggests that the German family might remain there rather than being relocated to “the camps.” As a result, the two sides find themselves living under the same roof; British and German, occupied and occupier, winner and loser.

This is an intensely charged set-up, and one with a lot of potential. It is one thing to fight a war, it is another to end it. Reconciliation is always a challenge, particularly when dealing with a catastrophe on the scale of the Second World War. Given the trauma that both sides inflicted upon one another and the scars that still sting, forcing a British and German family to live in close proximity while those wounds are still fresh should lead to incredible drama. What is it like to surrender one’s home to an occupying force, but to linger there as a guest – or maybe a ghost? What is like to be surrounded by a people who were once bent on conquest and domination, but now find themselves at the mercy of the nations they tried to subjugate?

The Aftermath doesn’t really answer these questions. Indeed, it often struggles to articulate them. Instead, it offers a clichéd romantic triangle melodrama against this backdrop, offering a decidedly trashy narrative within the trappings of prestige. The Aftermath has an engaging central performance from Keira Knightley, but it suffers from a lack of chemistry between its three leads and a truly terrible management of tone. The Aftermath aspires to be a story of a simmering cold war, but is completely lacking any spark.

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Millennium – The Hand of St. Sebastian (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The Hand of St. Sebastian closes out the first third of the second season of Millennium. It also marks the half-way point in the episodes credited to Morgan and Wong as writers over the course of the season – it is the sixth of a phenomenal twelve scripts credited to the showrunners, even outside their responsibilities as executive producers. In many ways, The Hand of St. Sebastian represents the point at which the stage has been completely set. It establishes the last of the basic ideas that the team will play with across the rest of the season.

The Curse of Frank Black and 19:19 had affirmed that Christian eschatology would be a driving force for the show, as if that had ever been in doubt. After all, the first season’s big two-part epic had been Lamentation and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions, an epic story about demons and angels. More than that, Morgan and Wong had revised the opening credits sequence of the show so that it ended with the promise that “the time is near”, an obvious textual reference to Revelation.

Circle of trust...

Circle of trust…

The Hand of St. Sebastian confirms what was inferred in Beware of the Dog when Frank pointed out that the ouroboros was “used as a secret symbol on early Christian graves.” Here, the Millennium Group itself is identified as an ancient Christian organisation, one interested in ancient Christian relics for their spiritual and magical uses. There is a decidedly pulpy feel to the second season; one that is particularly evident in The Hand of St. Sebastian, as Frank and Peter go abroad to do a modern day Raiders of the Lost Ark on a nineties television budget. Ambition is not the worst vice.

However, The Hand of St. Sebastian is perhaps most notable for putting the focuse squarely on the character of Peter Watts. Naturally, Frank plays a pretty vital role in The Hand of St. Sebastian, but the episode does a lot to develop Peter as a character. It builds off his powerful speech in The Beginning and the End to portray a man of faith searching for validation and meaning in the world. The second season really capitalised on the presence of Terry O’Quinn, recognising the actor’s immense talent and helping to establish him as a televisual talent to watch.

This is who we were...

This is who we were…

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Non-Review Review: A Most Wanted Man

For better or worse, A Most Wanted Man is going to be overshadowed by the passing of its lead actor. Philip Seymour Hoffman was a giant, a performer with a wonderful gift for bringing flawed and real characters to life, and A Most Wanted Man serves as his last leading role in a major motion picture. It is impossible to talk about A Most Wanted Man without talking about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It is a great performance, one that reminds the audience of why they loved Hoffman in the first place – Günther Bachmann is the sort of flawed human being that Hoffman played so well, given a great deal of depth by the late actor.

What's on the table?

What’s on the table?

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Red Skull: Incarnate (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Incarnate is something of a companion piece to Greg Pak’s Testament. Testament was a miniseries following the life of a young boy named Erik during the Holocaust. Of course, Erik would grow up to become the supervillain known as Magneto, but Pak was more fascinated in the history surrounding the character – his origins as a Holocaust survivor. The series was beautifully written and well received, prompting Marvel to hire Pak to produce a companion piece.

Incarnate is effectively the origin story of the Red Skull, Captain America’s arch-enemy and a character Pak himself describes in the afterword as “the Marvel Universe’s most evil villain.” Setting the story in late twenties and thirties Germany, Pak sets the character’s origins against the rise of Nazism and the decline of the Weimer Republic.

A slice of life...

A slice of life…

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Non-Review Review: Wakolda (aka The German Doctor)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

Wakolda is a good old-fashioned pulpy pot boiler. The latest film from writer and director Lucia Puenzo, adapted from her own novel, is set in Argentina in 1960. Given the title, it’s easy enough to predict which direction Puenzo’s piece of historical fiction will be going. The history of the Nazis who sought refuge in South America following the Second World War is pretty compelling stuff, and Puenzo skilfully builds off this basic premise.

As much as popular history likes to paint the Second World War as an epic conflict of good against evil that neatly tidied itself up, there were lots of lingering threads – lots of loose ends dangling from the edge of this historical tapestry. The flight from justice, the protection that these people were afforded, and the desperate desire to bring these criminals to justice makes for a gripping pulpy narrative – but there’s also something more unsettling at work.

After all, acknowledging that the history of Nazi war criminals does not end after the signing of the German surrender means confronting the reality that such beliefs and philosophies cannot be vanquished with the stroke of a pen. Darkness still lurks in the wider world.

wakolda

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Non-Review Review: The Book Thief

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

Any film set in Germany between 1938 and 1945 narrated by death itself is going to feel a little… surreal. As wonderful as Roger Allam’s tones might be, there’s something decidedly unwholesome about the narration of the story told from the perspective of the Grim Reaper, particularly as he recounts a story from his “best of” collection.

The implication is that the life of the eponymous booklifter has touched the Death itself, which feels rather uncomfortable in the context of Nazi Germany. One would imagine that there would be quite a lot of moving and affecting stories to hold our narrator’s attention, without a need to single out one particular story as especially moving.

This is, in essence, the heart of the problem with The Book Thief, an efficient and well-produced – if condescending and tone-deaf – family film exploring the story of one family living in the shadow of Hitler’s Germany. It spends far too long telling us why these protagonists are unique, when the crux of the story seems to be that they are not.

Book her, boys!

She has no shelf-control…

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Subtitle European Film Festival, Kilkenny, 25th November – 1st December 2013

I just got this press release about the upcoming SUBTITLE European film festival being held in Kilkenny towards the end of November. I’m always a fan of European cinema, and nothing beats the ethereal atmosphere of a film festival, so I thought I’d pass it on. You can find more details about the festival and their line-up on their website here. I particularly recommend Headhunters and A Hijacking if you can get to see them.

The press release is below.

headhunters

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