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Doctor Who: Ascension of the Cybermen (Review)

The cynical observation about Ascension of the Cybermen would be that Chris Chibnall has spent the previous season building to an excuse to do Earthshock on a modern television budget.

After all, for all that Ascension of the Cybermen seems to tease mythos-shattering revelations, there is very little in the episode that hasn’t been seen before. The episode builds towards two concurrent cliffhangers. The first is a standard “unexpected Master reveal”, a cliffhanger that Chibnall employed earlier in the season with Spyfall, Part I. More than that, it’s pretty much one of the most archetypal Doctor Who cliffhangers. (There is something be said for symmetry, but recycling the same cliffhanger beat from the season premiere is decidedly unambitious.)

“Okay, it’s season finale time. So generic grey battlefield.”

Similarly, a large part of the power of the climax of Ascension of the Cybermen comes from the revelation that Doctor Who now has the budget to offer a particularly impressive riff on the classic “army of monsters” cliffhanger of the kind employed in beloved stories like Tomb of the Cybermen and less beloved stories like The Leisure Hive. There’s a real sense at the end of Ascension of the Cybermen that the audience is meant to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Cybermen on screen.

There are other smaller familiar cues tucked away within Ascension of the Cybermen. Chibnall also borrows a few smaller touches from his direct predecessor. The seemingly disconnected snapshots of mundane life juxtaposed with science-fiction spectacle is a familiar narrative trick within Steven Moffat’s two-parters for the show, notably the thread focusing on CAL and Doctor Moon in Silence in the Library and Danny Pink’s bureaucratic induction into the afterlife in Dark Water. Brendan’s plot offers a broader sort of conceptual mystery, a plot waiting to tie in.

Lone ranger.

However, amid all of this cacophony, there’s a strange modesty to this season finale. Ascension of the Cybermen is very much a triumph of production; it features a big introductory battle sequence, a host expensive-looking sets, galactic stakes and a sense of escalating danger. It takes its cues from a variety of familiar and populist sources, from Russell T. Davies’ work with the Daleks in Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways through to the set-up of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. The special effects are impressive. The production design is remarkable.

Despite all of this, even as it gestures at grand twists and turns, Ascension of the Cybermen seems to suggest that “Earthshock on a bigger budget” is the platonic ideal of Doctor Who in the twenty-first century. Like The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, there’s a sense in which Ascension of the Cybermen believes that a large part of any Doctor Who season finale should be spent running up and down large and atmospheric industrial corridors. It’s impressive, but it’s all rather hollow.

From the Ash(ad)s…

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Non-Review Review: Extra Ordinary

Extra Ordinary is very Irish ghost story.

“Irishness” is a very nebulous quantity. It can be very hard to precisely quantify. In humour, it tends towards a blend of irony and irreverence, often a surreal juxtaposition of the mundane with the surreal. As such, Extra Ordinary feels like a very Irish ghost story. It is a film anchored in the tropes and conventions of ghost stories – possessions, exorcisms, hauntings, satanic pacts – but which contextualises these things as just another minor frustration of country living. As the title implies, Extra Ordinary exists at the junction of the familiar and the uncanny. If the team produce a sequel, they should call it “Super Natural.”

Driving curiosity.

Extra Ordinary adopts a uniquely Irish approach to its premise, wondering what happens to those ghosts that are a bit less dramatic and lot more mundane than the usual spirits. There’s something engagingly quirky in Extra Ordinary’s depiction of the eccentricity of country living, and how so much of that eccentricity just goes on as a fact of life; the dancing lead attached to a discarded toaster, the tree branch that sways without even a breeze, the wheelie bin that just keeps flapping through the night. This is just the way that things are in this part of the world, and the locals have (mostly) made their peace with it.

Despite its supernatural premise, the most endearing aspect of Extra Ordinary is how perfectly it captures the smaller and more intimate eccentricities of the Irish countryside.

Now I seance you…

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Non-Review Review: Rosie

Rosie is a a very timely piece of Irish cinema, but one that never loses sight of the humanity of this national crisis.

From beginning to end, Rosie is infused with an endearing humanity. Writer Roddy Doyle and director Paddy Breathnach keep the story tightly focused on one particular family caught in the midst of the homeless crisis. Breathnach often literalises this, with a handheld camera that keeps the film literally centred on the face of the eponymous protagonist. Even in wide open spaces, even in public, even when she’s the only adult crossing a green or a schoolyard, Rosie is so tightly focused that it feels claustrophic and almost suffocating.

This is the point, of course. Rosie is a very visceral film, and with good reason. Doyle and Breathnach work hard to ensure that the audience feels ever minor crisis, and that it understands precisely how precarious the situation facing this family happens to be. A delayed lunch break seems catastrophic, a child spending time with a friend seems like a disaster. Time is fleeting, and always slipping through the fingers of its protagonist. When life seems to unfold moment to moment, there is no opportunity to catch her breath or to worry about the bigger picture.

Rosie is a fascinating piece of Irish cinema, both timely and intimate, both reflecting contemporary culture and telling its own story within that framework. It’s an impressive piece of work.

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Non-Review Review: Without Name

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Without Name is a stunningly confident theatrical debut from director Lorcan Finnegan.

In theory, Without Name belongs that long-standing environmental horror genre, the fear that nature exists in opposition to mankind and that human beings are ultimately a hostile species not welcome in their surroundings. There are all manner of variations in that classic horror set-up, but it bubbles through any number of classic horror films, from The Shining to Jaws to The Birds. There is a recurring fear that the world is not a welcoming place for mankind, and that the wilderness might one day rebel against mankind’s desire to tame it.

If you go down to the woods today...

If you go down to the woods today…

Without Name takes that familiar premise and puts a uniquely Irish spin on it, distinguishing its own set of anxieties from those felt by the European Settlers in the United States or even those disconnected from their pagan roots in the United Kingdom. Without Name draws heavily upon the Western European pagan spirituality that informs films like The Wicker Man or A Field in England, but weds it to unique Irish anxieties about property and ownership that reflect both long-standing uncertainties and modern fears.

The result is a delightfully weird little environmental horror that feels very much of its time and place, a credit to its first-time director.

Sleep well...

Sleep well…

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Non-Review Review: All About Eva

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

All About Eva has ambition to burn.

It is a modern film noir set against the backdrop of the Irish racing scene, filmed mostly on a single stately country home and with a functional budget that seems minuscule even by the standards of independent Irish film. The fact that it exists is a testament to everybody involved. The fact that it comes very close to working is icing on the cake. All About Eva is a very stylish piece of work that very clearly has a lot of ambition behind it. It is a trashy revenge saga that is produced with a very high level of competence. In particular, director Ferdia MacAnna does great work.

However, ambition is only so much. As good as the film looks relative to its budget, there are a number of key structural flaws that cannot support the weight heaped upon them. Most obviously, All About Eva is an attempt to hark back to the classic femme fatale movies, with a seductive and manipulative young woman infiltrating a racing dynasty so as to dismantle it from the inside. All About Eva lives or dies based on that central performance. Newcomer Susan Walsh simply does not have the ability to carry the movie around her.

To be fair, Walsh is let down by an uneven and scattered script, which revels in cliché. All About Eva is a film that seems wryly aware of its own trite plot beats and dialogue, but that self-awareness can only carry a film so far. There is a point where homage is not enough to sustain a genre pastiche. All About Eva comes surprising close to working, and has an energy that is almost infectious. Unfortunately, it cannot make it over the line.


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My 12 for ’14: ’71 and Claustrophobic Thrills…

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.

A large part of what makes ’71 so effective is the fact that is as interested in constructing a claustrophobic thriller as it is in making a clear political statement. Although it is set in Belfast in 1971, the movie has more in common with The Raid or Dredd than it does to Shadow Dancer. The movie is essentially a survival horror about a British soldier separated from his regiment, struggling to survive in hostile territory. There is a universality to the story, creating a sense that it could just as easily have been set in Basra a couple of years ago as Belfast several decades back.

’71 moves with an incredible and visceral energy, building up momentum across its relatively lean hundred-minute runtime as it presents a fugitive being chased through hostile territory by both sides locked in a bloody and bitter generational feud. Of course, ’71 is inherently political – as any movie set in any equivalent environment must be. ’71 eschews divisions between Republicans and Loyalists – between members of the Irish Republican Army and the various arms of British authority operating in the city.

71b Continue reading

Star Trek – Spock’s World by Diane Duane (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the more interesting aspect of Star Trek tie-in media during the eighties was the sense of freedom enjoyed by those working on the line.

One of the more infamous examples concerned DC’s attempts to publish a monthly comic during the release cycle of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The three films tended to build off one another, forming a tight continuity, but that did not stop the comic book company from trying to build off the ending of each of the films, leading to a variety of weird continuity hijinks. Spock left to work on a Vulcan ship; Kirk took command of the Excelsior; a Klingon joined the crew.

Writers working on the tie-in novels enjoyed a similar amount of freedom. By the time that Spock’s World was published in 1989, Diane Duane had been able to firmly establish her own supporting cast of characters in her various tie-in novels. Spock’s World includes appearances from Duane regulars like K’s’t’lk and Harb Tanzer, introduced in The Wounded Sky; even Lia Burke from My Enemy, My Ally puts in an appearance. It really feels like Duane has carved out her own space within the larger Star Trek universe.

However, perhaps that freedom finds its strongest expression in the fact that Duane was able to map an entire cultural and social history unto the planet Vulcan. Spock’s World reads almost like a biography of a fictional planet – charting the history of Vulcan from the planet’s earliest days through to the twenty-third century. It is a delightfully bold and intriguing Star Trek book, one utterly unlike any other tie-in ever published.

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The Guarantee to hit Irish cinemas 30th October with a Special Live Event Screening hosted by Matt Cooper!

We’re big fans of Irish cinema here at the m0vie blog, so we are quite excited about The Guarantee, the new film written by Colin Murphy and directed by Ian Power, covering a crucial moment in modern Irish history. With the talent involved, it could easily develop into something like Peter Morgan’s “Blair trilogy”, a fascinating look at contemporary politics through the lens of key and defining events.

There is a special screening taking place at the end of October. I’ve included the press release below.

guarantee_quad-poster-625x466 Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Spider’s Trap

Spider’s Trap is a rather heavy-handed film. There are points where this works to the movie’s advantage – the stark black-and-white cinematography lends itself to exaggeration and effect. There are also points where the movie feels a little overly-earnest and awkward as it fashions its own noir tale about second chances and long-planned revenge. Beautifully shot by director Alan Walsh, Spider’s Trap is often endearing and charming, if not quite consistently brilliant. There are a few notable missteps, but there is also a lot to like.

Things aren't so black-and-white...

Things aren’t so black-and-white…

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Hill Street at Irish Cinemas on 23rd May!

The Irish skateboarding documentary Hill Street is opening next week in Irish cinemas. The documentary has had a long road to distribution, premiering at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in 2012 to great word of mouth. Looking at the history skating scene, focusing on the eponymous street, it promises a fascinating glimpse at a piece of Irish pop culture that is often overlooked or forgotten.

Check some footage from the documentary below, and catch it in cinemas from next week.