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Non-Review Review: Greed

Greed, for lack of a better word, is not good.

Greed belongs to a relatively recent subgenre, the sort of ironic and winking social commentary of films like The Big Short, Vice and Bombshell. There is a sense with these sorts of films that earnestness is overdone, that aching sincerity will only get a strong moral message so far, and that the proper way to engage with audiences is through a wry self-awareness that acknowledges the cynicism of the world in which people live. Theoretically, this approach allows the film to communicate strong central themes without potentially alienating audiences through self-righteousness or self-satisfaction.

Like all subgenres, the quality of the end result varies on a case-by-case basis. However, Greed seems like a project perfectly suited to director Michael Winterbottom. Winterbottom is a director who frequently blends fact and fiction in his work – to point where, due to his work on projects like The Trip and Tristram Shandy, a lot of his collaborations with Steve Coogan involve the actor playing a fictionalised version of himself. So there’s something interesting in the way that Greed takes a template often applied to true stories and instead builds a story around a fictional avatar of capitalism, Sir Richard MacReady.

However, Greed just doesn’t work. It’s not consistently funny enough to pull off the knowing approach to its tale of global inequality. It packs fewer genuine laughs into its runtime than more direct critiques of capitalist excess like The Wolf of Wall Street. It also lacks the comfort of projects like The Big Short and Vice in blending exposition into narrative, often clumsily halting its story to deliver earnest lectures almost directly into the camera through painful framing devices. “Think of me as an idiot,” insists one character, before setting in motion the obligatory “how capitalism works” montage.

More to the point, the narrative elements themselves also struggle, with the film awkwardly trying to casually set up dominoes to build to a seemingly chaotic outcome that looks a little too arch and too planned to come across as spontaneous. This is the problem with Greed. The film, ironically enough, seems greedy. It wants to do too much, it wants to be too many things. As a result, it winds up under-cooking the constituent elements and struggling to find a way to integrate them into a cohesive whole.

Greed is an interesting work in that – like Bombshell – it serves as a reminder that films like The Big Short and Vice are managing a much more complicated balancing act than might originally appear.

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“The Price You Pay for Being Successful”: How “The Empire Strikes Back” Was One of the First Blockbusters of the Eighties…

Star Wars is often discussed in the context of the late seventies, whether the political context of the Vietnam War or George Lucas’ status as an up and coming director alongside the likes of Francis Ford Coppola or Steven Spielberg or even just the way in which it shifted movie-making away from the new Hollywood model towards the blockbuster template.

Despite all of this, it is often overlooked just how firmly Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is rooted in the context of the early eighties. There are obviously any number of reasons for this. Most obviously, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi consciously retreated back to the late seventies trappings of the original film, right down to its decision to restage the Vietnam War with adorable toyetic teddy bears in the place of the Viet Cong. There’s also a sense in which the cultural markers of The Empire Strikes Back are more subtle than those of Star Wars.

Sabre-rattling.

Watched from a modern perspective, The Empire Strikes Back seems to herald the arrival of the new decade. Like all great sequels, it broadens both the scale and scope of Star Wars, but it also pushes the franchise forward. Even beyond the now iconic revelations about family lineage and power dynamics, The Empire Strikes Back radically redefines what it means to be a Star Wars film. It is no longer about navigating the moral ambiguity of an uncertain time, wrestling with the spectre of American might. It is instead about exploring social power structures, of finding one’s place in system.

The Empire Strikes Back might just be the first truly great eighties movie.

A little father-son outreach.

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My 12 for ’14: The Wolf of Wall Street and More!

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Everything about The Wolf of Wall Street is excessive, even its length.

Still, The Wolf of Wall Street never feels like long film. This is somewhat paradoxical. After all, the film does not have too much ground to actually cover. For a film that runs to almost three hours, the movie has a pretty straightforward plot. Cinema audiences are quite familiar with this sort of story: the story of a wealthy crook who inevitably (and spectacularly) implodes. The audience watching The Wolf of Wall Street knows the tale inside out: the arrogance, the hubris, the greed; the consequences, the price, the fallout.

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Of course, our villain doesn’t really implode. It turns out that – despite what we’d like to believe – crime does pay. The Wolf of Wall Street alludes to this uncomfortable truth in its closing scene, as Belfort attracts an audience of people eager (and willing to pay) to learn his financial secrets. The cruel gag extends even beyond the movie’s own narrative into the real world; Belfort has boasted he made more from The Wolf of Wall Street than he did from his time on Wall Street. He has used very little of that money to pay back the victims he swindled.

In many ways, The Wolf of Wall Street plays like a belated companion piece to Goodfellas or Casino, a loose exploration of greed and corruption that avoids a lot of the easy moralising that audiences have come to expect from stories like this. Instead, The Wolf of Wall Street basks in its hedonism, affording its villainous protagonist almost unquestioned control of the narrative. As such, it seems to tease the audience: who would be able to refuse such luxury and such debauchery? There’s something delightful uncomfortable in how the film needles the viewer.

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The X-Files (Topps) – The Pit (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Tucked away in the Winter 1996 issue of The X-Files Magazine and republished with The Silent Sword in September 1996, The Pit is an atmospheric short story from Petrucha and Adlard, demonstrating the two work quite well together across a variety of formats. The Pit is only nine pages long, including two splash pages – and another half-page splash. There isn’t a lot of room for plot or detail. Instead, Petrucha and Adlard opt for mood and atmosphere, crafting a weird and spooky little diversion.

All fall down...

All fall down…

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