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Non-Review Review: Malcolm and Marie

The reactions to Malcolm and Marie have been divided, to the say the least.

On one extreme, some critics have been quick to laud Sam Levinson’s black-and-white character study as a surprise late addition to the awards race, a bracing old-fashioned character drama anchored in two compelling performances that interrogates a relationship that never seems certain whether it will implode or explode. It is the kind of film that invites comparisons to works like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Boys in the Band or even something like Autumn Sonata: characters trapped in a confined space, with the drama ready to boil over.

On the other extreme, critics have been quick to argue that Malcolm and Marie is an indulgent mess anchored in a grossly unlikeable and shallow protagonist that never digs beneath the skin of its central characters. More than that, Levinson seems to use the film as an opportunity to work through his own issues as a promising (and privileged) young filmmaker who feels like he has not necessarily been given the critical respect that he deserves. Malcolm and Marie is a series of self-serious monologues delivered in the aesthetic of a (very pretty) Calvin Klein commercial.

As ever, the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

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New Escapist Column! On Why Chris Evans Returning to the MCU Would Be a Bad Idea…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Last week, there were rumours that Chris Evans might be returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, following his departure in Avengers: Endgame.

This is interesting, because it potentially undermines one of the more interesting facets of the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward. Comic books are largely shaped and defined by nostalgia, with beloved characters filling familiar roles in perpetuity, with any major change to the status quo eventually rolling back to the default. In contrast, a cinematic universe operates by different constraints: actors move on, age out and even die. This would force a long-form shared universe to evolve in a way that comics haven’t had to. This is a good thing, as evolution is necessary.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On How “The Force Awakens” Killed the Unlikely Adult-Oriented Christmas Blockbuster…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. It has been five years since the release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. While this anniversary has been discussed and dissected from countless directions over the past few weeks, there is one under-explored aspect of it.

In the early 2010s, as blockbuster cinema came to dominate the cultural landscape, something interesting happened in the Christmas release window. Movies like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Django Unchained and The Wolf of Wall Street somehow managed to thrive in the Christmas corridor, by offering reasonably-budgeted adult-skewing movies that could draw crowds over the holiday season, safe from the blockbuster pile-up over the summer. Sadly, The Force Awakens signalled the end of this.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! The Movie Palace – “Summer of Psycho: Gus Van Sant’s Psycho”

I had the pleasure of joining the great and generous Carl Sweeney on his excellent classic Hollywood podcast The Movie Palace.

To mark the sixtieth anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, The Movie Palace has dedicated a run of episodes to exploring elements of the iconic horror film. I was thrilled to rejoin Carl for a discussion of the infamous and divisive remake of the film, in which Gus Van Sant leveraged the success of Good Will Hunting to convince Universal to sign off on a full colour remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, using a largely unchanged script and even emulating a lot of the same camera angles. The result was a critical and commercial failure, but remains an interesting experiment.

You can listen to the episode here, back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

191. Sunset Boulevard (#64)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Charlene Lydon and Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.

Screenwriter Joe Gillis is found floating upside down in the pool of silent era film star Norma Desmond. As the authorities begin to piece together exactly what happened, Gillis’ corpse narrates a sordid tale of desperation, resentment, lust – and Hollywood haunted by its own past.

At time of recording, it was ranked 64th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “Gladiator” as a Celebration of Spectacle…

I published a new piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. Gladiator was released twenty years ago this month, so it seemed like a good time to look back on it.

Gladiator is very obviously an example of classic Hollywood spectacle, harking back to the biblical epics of the middle of the twentieth century like Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments or Spartacus or even Cleopatra. However, there’s also a more reflective aspect to the film. Ridley Scott constructs Gladiator as a celebration of the art of spectacle, and the power of populist narratives to shape and define a larger society. Maximus does not triumph because he is a soldier or a general, he ultimately wins because he is an entertainer.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

 

179. Le salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear) – World Tour 2020 (#202)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Tony Black, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le salaire de la peur.

Four men drift idly around a deadend town in the heart of South America, when an unlikely opportunity strikes. A freak accident has caused a fire at an American oil well, and the company is offering a lavish payday to anybody who can help. The only catch is that to earn that money, these four men will have to drive extremely volatile nitroglycerine across some of the most treacherous terrain imaginable. Those who survive will have enough to escape the purgatory in which they’ve found themselves, and those who don’t won’t care.

At time of recording, it was ranked 202nd on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Judy

Judy is set primarily against the backdrop of Judy Garland’s time performing in London in the late sixties within the six months leading to her death.

As such, it’s no surprise that the film features more than a few sequences of the protagonist taking to the stage and performing to the sold out crowds. In fact, there are very few surprises in Judy at all. The film hits most of its marks and delivers pretty much everything that is expected of it. After all, what would be the point of a Judy Garland biography that didn’t include renditions of old favourites like Somewhere Over the Rainbow or even The Trolley Song? The film’s framing device allows director Rupert Goold to fold these classics in without having to embrace the musical sensibilities of something like Rocketman.

Let’s Judge Judy.

The most revealing and indicative of the performances peppered through the film is not the one where Garland falls to pieces, nor the one where she makes a triumphant return and pours her heart out to the audience. (Naturally, the film hits both of those marks.) The most compelling of these sing-on-stage sequences is the first. Having arrived in London, Garland has refused to rehearse. As opening night approaches, she sits in her bathroom drinking. She is micromanaged and guided to the stage, thrown out in front of the first crowd. She is palpably nervous. The audience is anxious. It could all fall apart.

And it… goes okay. It isn’t the best night ever, nor the worst. Garland’s voice cracks a little even when she finds the right tempo, her movements are slightly robotic rather than spontaneous or energised. However, despite these complaints, everything holds together long enough for Judy to finish the set. The crowd gets what they paid for, and Garland delivers what she promised. It plays almost as a microcosm of Judy as a whole.

A familiar song.

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143. Once Upon Time… in Hollywood – This Just In (#127)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Phil Bagnall, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.

It’s February 1969. Everything is changing. Hollywood itself seems to be facing an inevitable collision with the turmoil that has engulfed the rest of the world. Against this backdrop, lives intersect and collide. Returning from the United Kingdom, Sharon Tate moves in next door to washed up fifties western star Rick Dalton, both completely unaware of how profoundly their lives will impact one another.

At time of recording, it was ranked 127th on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a fairy tale, for better and for ill.

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