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Non-Review Review: Vivarium

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. 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.

Vivarium is an abrasive and aggressive work of surrealism.

It is very much of a piece with director Lorcan Finnegan’s earlier work, feeling like a clear descendant of his “ghost estate” short Foxes and his “land will swallow you whole” horror of Without Name. Indeed, Vivarium taps into many of those same fears, essentially beginning as a horror story about a young couple going house hunting and ending up lost in a monstrous and seemingly unending estate. It morphs from that into an exploration of a broader set of anxieties about the very idea of “adulthood”, of what young people expect from their adult life and what it in turn it expects from them.

Vivarium often feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. It features a small core cast. Although shot on an actual housing estate, Finnegan pushes the production design into the realm of the uncanny so that it looks like a gigantic creepy sound stage. The script consciously pushes its narrative into the realm of the absurd. However, throughout it all, the film remains keenly focused on a simple and strong central metaphor. Although Vivarium operates at an unsettlingly heightened level of reality, and although its populated by a mess of signifiers it never entirely explains, it remains firmly anchored in relatable ideas.

Vivarium is perhaps a little over-extended and little heavy-handed in articulating its central themes and ideas, but it is consistently interesting and ambitious. It’s well worth the time.

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Non-Review Review: Need for Speed

The obvious comparison for Need for Speed is to suggest that the movie feels like a video game. After all, the film is an adaptation of EA’s successful car racing video game franchise, porting the adventure to the big screen. However, that doesn’t quite cover Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed. Instead, his car racing adventure feels almost like a cartoon for most of its runtime, adopting a much lighter tone and more careful visual style than the Fast & Furious series which also invites comparisons.

This cartoonish quality is endearing at points, with certain racing sequences and chases feeling almost like a live-action version of Wacky Races, but it means that the movie struggles to shift gears. Attempts to get the audience to invest in a standard central plotline about redemption and justice are hard to balance against the decidedly over-the-top atmosphere of the rest of the film. There are points where Need for Speed needs to convince us to care about its characters, but it can’t make them seem real – no matter how hard it tries.

Stop right now, thank you very much...

Stop right now, thank you very much…

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Non-Review Review: A Long Way Down

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

A Long Way Down is never anywhere near as irreverent as it thinks it is. The story of four people who attempted suicide on “the most popular suicide spot on the most popular night for suicides” has a pretty effective basic premise. There’s a lot of material for a pitch black comedy here, particularly with Pierce Brosnan playing a former television presenter who has been convicted of having sex with a minor. (The BBC co-production credit makes this plot point feel particularly awkward.)

Instead, A Long Way Down pitches itself as a generic feel-good yearn about how people are nowhere near as cynical as they might initially claim to be. Ironically, this ends up making A Long Way Down feel particularly cynical.

alongwaydown2

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Non-Review Review: A Late Quartet

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013.

Watching A Late Quartet, you can almost read the text the text of the “for your consideration” letters, advertisements and press releases. This is, after all, the story of a classical music quartet dealing with the fallout when their cellist discovers that he is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The cellist’s announcement that he will be departing the group causes each of the other three members to question their role in the ensemble, and even where their lives have brought them. It is, very much, an invitation for melodrama, and the script takes up that invitation with considerable enthusiasm. However, despite (or perhaps because of) the script’s decision to embrace that melodrama, A Late Quartet serves as a fascinating showcase for a rather wonderful ensemble.

Music, sweet music...

Music, sweet music…

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Non-Review Review: The Look of Love

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013.

Paul Raymond (or “Paul Ray-monde!” as he introduces himself in flashback) is a pretty compelling character. The so-called “king of Soho”, Raymond was at one point the wealthiest man in Britain, owning an empire built on the back of gentlemen’s clubs, pornography and property. Michael Winterbottom’s exploration of Raymond’s life and times is a fascinating exploration of a very contradictory figure. On one hand, with his sharp suits and dignified dialogue with the press, Raymond presented himself as something approaching a gentlemen. He owned a nice house, his children partook of “all the right activities” and he was even fond of quoting Oscar Wilde. On the other hand, his empire was founded and built on an idea that was so simplistic it would be condescending if it wasn’t so successful: Raymond acquired his wealth through simple acknowledgement of the fact that people will pay to look at naked women.

All that glitters...

All that glitters…

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Non-Review Review: Fright Night (1985)

I have a soft spot for the original Fight Night. It feels like an affectionate slice of pulp nostalgia, harking back to a simpler time in cinematic horror. It rejects the growth and expansion of the slasher subgenre to focus on the original celluloid monster. As a result, Fright Night offers a conventional vampire story, told in a decidedly unconventional manner. While it is occasionally just a little bit too cheesy and too dated for its own good, it’s hard not to enjoy the conscious callbacks to an older time.

Don’t cross him…

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Non-Review Review: Fright Night

This movie was seen as part of Movie Fest, the rather wonderful film festival organised by Vincent and everybody else over at movies.ie. It was well worth attending, and I’m already looking forward to next year. Good job all.

Fright Night is great fun. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s one that’s produced with enough skill and charm that it feels well worth your time. A superb cast and confident direction make the film feel like a breeze, even with a slightly muddled middle section and some strange plotting and pacing. It’s also one of the best uses of 3D I’ve seen since Tron: Legacy, and I genuinely don’t say that lightly. All of adds up to a movie well worth sinking your teeth into.

Put the Fright one on...

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