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Non-Review Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 certainly makes a strong case for being “the movie of the moment.”

Adapted loosely from Ray Bradbury’s iconic and beloved science-fiction novel, a piece of source material that famously bewildered François Truffaut during his first and only interaction with Hollywood movie-making, writer and director Ramin Bahrani perfectly positions Fahrenheit 451 as a piece of pop culture for the Trump era. Bahrani smartly retains almost as much of the aesthetic of the source material as he updates, making a strong case that Fahrenheit 451 is more than just an opportunistic broadside at the current political moment.

“I’m going to burn it all.”

Nevertheless, Bahrani makes a number of changes to the story, and turns up the volume on particular story elements, to align his televisual adaptation for the current cultural moment. Ray Bradbury famously claimed that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 as a criticism of television, creating an engaging irony within this adaptation. Bahrani shifts the emphasis slightly to position his adaptation as a criticism of the internet, in particular modern internet subcultures and the way it decreases the audience’s attention span. There are live streams, in-home assistants that are always listening, emojis, and online “fans.”

This is certainly a valid approach to the material, and it’s to the credit of Bahrani as a writer and a director that he manages to build a world that is obviously of a piece with that created in the source material written sixty-five years ago and which works as a pointed commentary on modern cultural discourse. With its brutalist architecture, its cold digital cinematography, its compelling central performances, its suggested alternative history, and its ominous ambient lighting providing the occasional splash of vivid colour, Fahrenheit 451 creates a fictional world that is compelling and engaging.

Lighting a spark…

Unfortunately, the film’s narrative is nowhere near as engaging as its setting. Bahrani cannily borrows characters, premises and sequences from the source novel, but he largely reworks the story. Fahrenheit 451 is restructured as a more conventional science-fiction narrative than the original book, complete with apocalyptic stakes and a macguffin to drive the plot. The plot of Fahrenheit 451 is generic science-fiction fluff, a pale imitation of the familiar rhythms of movies like The Matrix or Equilibrium or Aeon Flux. It is almost as though Bahrani has internalised Bradbury’s critique of television as dumb and simple and broad.

As a result, Fahrenheit 451 doesn’t work nearly as well as it should. It is a beautiful piece of work from an aesthetic perspective, but one employed in a very crude and unsatisfying manner.

Television film.

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Non-Review Review: Entourage

Entourage is surprisingly inoffensive.

It has been four years since HBO’s showbiz comedy went off the air. In many respects, Entourage feels like a class reunion – even to somebody unfamiliar with the source material. There is a lot of affection here, no real sense of tension or stress. Everybody is perfectly comfortable, and the entire film has the feeling of something that everybody involved has been doing for quite some time. Anything that looks like a rough edge has been smoothed off, so the film glides along without any meaningful obstruction.

All at sea...

All at sea…

Entourage is not a great film on its own terms. However, it is not trying to be. Instead, it feels like an affectionate slice of nostalgia. It is telling that most of the cameos in the film tend to nod towards older actors and audiences. At one point, Johnny “Drama” Chase reflects that he was cast in the table read of The West Wing and he finds himself competing for roles against David Faustino of Married With Children. Faustino is just one cast member of Married With Children to cameo. Entourage feels familiar and safe, and entirely comfortable with those attributes.

The result is a functional cinematic adaptation for a show that probably did not need one. The stakes in Entourage never feel particularly high, the characters never seem particularly worried. It seems like Entourage was produced in the same way that it was intended to be enjoyed – in a rather relaxed and cordial fashion, without any real verve or energy.

Going for Gold...

Going for Gold…

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Watch! True Detective Trailer!

Matthew McConaughey has really reinvented himself, hasn’t he? Over the past few years, McConaughey has invested considerable effort in being taken seriously as an actor. His work in films like The Lincoln Lawyer and Bernie has been a large part of this, but he’s always garnered considerable praise for his work on films like Killer Joe and Mud. His upward trajectory seems to be continuing, with McConaughey taking the lead role in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and now headlining (with Woody Harrelson) HBO’s upcoming new drama True Detective.

It’s amazing how skilfully HBO has cornered the market on high-quality high-interest television. True Detective would be interesting enough given its caliber and pedigree – McConaughey and Harrelson starring, with Cary Fukunaga directing – but it’s especially interesting given the format that has been chosen. The first season will apparently be a self-contained story, charting a seventeen-year investigation in Louisiana. However, if the show is renewed, apparently plans are to recruit an entirely new cast for an entirely different story.

In essence, it seems – not having seen the show in action – that it’s a serial anthology. Or, perhaps more accurately, a collection of annual miniseries collected under the same brand. Colour me excited at the prospect. American television tends to be wary of miniseries as anything other than prestige pieces, but I grew up on British television, where it was possible for a show to run just eight episodes and to be considered an artistic success. True Detective looks like an experimental take on a familiar set-up from a fantastic creative team. It looks stylish and atmospheric, and I’m a sucker for well-told crime tales.

I’m already looking forward to it. It’s out this January, on HBO, which means Sky Atlantic will likely air it not too long afterwards.

The Sopranos: Guy Walks Into A Psychiatrist’s Office…

Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office gets the second season of The Sopranos off to a strong start. We’re immediately informed that time has elapsed and that everything has sorted itself out. We get a montage to assure us that it’s business as usual, and the early part of the episode features Tony tying off the last possible lose end in the feud between himself and Junior. However, there’s also a sense that things are changing, both in the lives of our characters and also in the way the show is structured.

The first season of the show is a damn fine piece of television, but it’s also somewhat misleading. It’s a beautifully structured thirteen-episode mob epic which manages to satisfactorily tie up all its loose ends by the time the credits role on I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano. It’s understandable that so many people were frustrated by the show’s non-resolution after the first season wrapped up so elegantly.

With the success of that first season, there’s a sense of earned confidence to Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office, as if Chase feels like he has a bit more freedom to work with in telling his great American novel.

Something's not quite right here...

Something’s not quite right here…

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The Sopranos: I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (Review)

From pretty much the opening scene, I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano begins wrapping up loose ends with a ruthless efficiency. Jimmy, the rat identified in Nobody Knows Anything, is murdered less than five minutes into the episode. All the various plot threads seeded throughout the show’s first year come to a head. The feud between Junior and Tony is resolved. The FBI swoop in. Tony and Melfi talk it out and figure out exactly what their relationship is. Even Artie’s restaurant becomes a focal point, providing a direct link back to the very first episode.

For all the talk of randomness and inconsistency in The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti, everything here seems to come a full circle. It’s absolutely stunningly executed, and one of the best things that can be said about I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (and one of the best things that could be said about any piece of television drama ever) is the fact that it feels so much deeper and richer than its runtime. We know that it’s an hour-long, but it really feels so much meatier and more substantial than that.

It’s a beautiful culmination to a year’s worth of television.

Lights out...

Lights out…

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The Sopranos – Nobody Knows Anything (Review)

Nobody Knows Anything represents the beginning of the end of the first season of The Sopranos. It is, despite my reservations about Boca and even A Hit is a Hit, a remarkably strong season of television. Part of the thrill of Nobody Knows Anything – particularly after two relatively stand-alone episodes – is watching the series gracefully and fluidly start knocking down the dominoes it has been lining up since the start of the season.

It’s text-book set-up and pay-off, executed with considerable skill. Rewatching the first season of The Sopranos, it’s easy to understand why so many viewers were frustrated by the non-resolution of Made in America. The Sopranos has constantly riffed on The Godfather, right down to Paulie’s car horn here, and it feels like the show is making a conscious effort to emulate the efficiency with which Coppola structured that gangster classic’s final act.

Diving on in there...

Diving on in there…

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The Sopranos: Boca (Review)

Boca pretty much interrupts a hot streak of first season Sopranos episodes. It serves as a reminder that the show might have brought the medium into the twenty-first century, serving as a massive influence on televisual storytelling over the past decade, but the first season was still a product of nineties television. Boca feels strangely like a stand-alone episode, a strange artefact from some parallel universe where David Chase and his team decided that The Sopranos might work just as well as a piece of episodic television, rather than as serialised narrative.

Boca feels like one of those “ripped from the headlines” issue-conscious pieces of television drama, as if we’re watching The Sopranos by way of Law & Order. Of course, the script still has the show’s wit, and the episode plays into the series’ themes, but Boca feels a little strange. It’s not a bad piece of television, but it’s the first episode of The Sopranos that feels like it could have been repurposed from something else.

Old love...

Old love…

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