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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #23!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Grace Duffy and Alex Towers from When Irish Eyes Are Watching to discuss what we watched, the week in film news, the top ten and the new releases. Grace has recently watched The Bling Ring, Alex has seen I Am Cuba, and I have watched the entire Three Colours trilogy.

In terms of film news, the Virgin Media International Film Festival is taking five Irish films to the Shanghai International Film Festival, the Irish Film Institute has launched a fundraising initiative to pay for upgrades to its facilities, and a late-breaking Emmy voting scandal is in the news.

The top ten:

  1. Avengers: Endgame
  2. John Wick: Chapter III – Parabellum
  3. Ma
  4. Detective Pikachu
  5. Take That: Greatest Hits Live
  6. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
  7. Rocketman
  8. X-Men: Dark Phoenix
  9. The Secret Lives of Pets II
  10. Aladdin

New releases:

  • Balloon
  • Diego Maradona
  • The Hummingbird Project
  • We the Animals
  • Men in Black International

You can listen to the podcast directly here.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #22!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Jay CoyleGrace Duffy and Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin to discuss what we watched, the week in film news, the top ten and the new releases.

What We Watched

The Week in Film News

The top ten:

  1. Paw Patrol Mighty Pups
  2. The Hustle
  3. Avengers: Endgame
  4. John Wick: Chapter III – Parabellum
  5. Ma
  6. Detective Pikachu
  7. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
  8. Rocketman
  9. The Secret Lives of Pets II
  10. Aladdin

New releases:

You can listen to the podcast directly here.

Note: Due to unforeseen technical issues, the audio quality is a little rougher this week than usual, and there was some audio lost towards the end of the conversation – including the discussion of Late Night.

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #20!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, editor Niall Murphy returns to host the podcast, joining Jay Coyle and I to discuss the week in film. Jay watched Wages of Fear and Persepolis for the first time. Niall has been to Cannes, but regales us with some of the films that he saw outside the festival, including The Fate of the Furious.

A lot of the news this week comes direct from Cannes, including good news for a whole host of Irish filmmakers. Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium won the Distribution Prize at Cannes Film Festival’s Critics’ Week. Ireland and Luxumberg launched a joint female-focused development fund. Screen Ireland announced four productions as part of their inaugural POV funding scheme.

The top ten:

  1. Breakthrough
  2. Wonder Park
  3. Dumbo
  4. Long Shot
  5. A Dog’s Journey
  6. Paw Patrol Mighty Pups
  7. The Hustle
  8. Avengers: Endgame
  9. John Wick: Chapter III – Parabellum
  10. Detective Pikachu

New releases:

You can listen to the podcast directly here.

The Wickedness That Man Do: The Logic, Structure and Morality of “John Wick”

The John Wick films remain a minor miracle.

John Wick was the product of an era where big budget action films were increasingly moving away from in-camera effects and practical stunt work towards computer-generated spectacle. The original film was designed to consciously showcase the craft involved in stunt work, a profession that is still undervalued in filmmaking circles. (Notably, there is no Academy Award for “Best Stunts.”) The original film was designed from the ground up in order to give a group of stunt artists the opportunity to showcase their craft for theatrical audiences, at a point in time where a lot of the best stunt choreography was going direct-to-video.

It certainly works on those terms. The films in the series are among the most impressive action films of the twenty-first century, showcasing the commitment of the stuntmen working on them. The climax of John Wick: Chapter II and the opening thirty minutes of John Wick: Chapter III – Parabellum rank among the most visceral action ever captured on film. The films even acknowledge their influences and inspirations; the opening scenes of Chapter II feature Sherlock Jr. projected onto the front of a building, while Chapter III broadcasts The General on a Time’s Square billboard. This is not arrogance, but aspiration.

However, there is something interesting happening beneath all of this. The story running through John Wick, Chapter II and Chapter III is largely incidental; the tale of a man who lost his puppy and who embarked upon a murderous rampage that sucked him back into a life that he long ago abandoned. The world-building is impressive, but abstract; the characters navigate a byzantine social structure of rules and codes that govern an underworld of assassins, arms dealers and black market surgeons. The whole set-up is incredibly heightened, and incredibly fun. It is absurd, but enjoyably so.

At the same time, these aspects of the John Wick have a strange and powerful resonance. The entire John Wick series is built around the idea of codes of honour and rigid social hierarchies, in a way that feels more than just incidental. This world of gold coins and killer hotels, of a New York City seemingly populated entirely by murderous assassins, is one of the most striking aspects of the series. It also feels the most pointed and timely. The John Wick films are designed as visceral thrill machines, but there are aspects of the films that resonate beyond that.

In their own weird way, the John Wick films seem like the perfect answer to the modern troubled cultural moment.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #19!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Jay Coyle, Grace Duffy and Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin to discuss the week in film. Jay has returned from holidays, but has still had the time to take in a variety of films including Steven Spielberg’s remake of War of the Worlds. Grace has enjoyed both Lady Macbeth and Short Term 12. Luke has watched a variety of films including Netflix’s Something Great, which is more like something so-so.

In film news, the Cannes Film Festival is underway. Closer to home, eight Irish film festivals have undertaken the 5050 x 2020 challenge to improve gender representation and transparency in how these festivals are organised and run. Alex Gibney is attending the new DOCS festival in Belfast in June. The Irish Film Institute is hosting their third Dark Skies season focusing on killer artificial intelligences.

The top ten:

  1. Wonder Park
  2. Wild Rose
  3. Dialogues Des Carmelites – Met Opera 2019
  4. The Curse Of La Llorona
  5. Dumbo
  6. A Dog’s Journey
  7. Long Shot
  8. The Hustle
  9. Avengers: Endgame
  10. Detective Pikachu

New releases:

You can listen to the podcast directly here.

Non-Review Review: John Wick – Chapter III: Parabellum

The biggest issue with John Wick: Chapter III – Parabellum is that it lacks an ending.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with an ambiguous or open-ended film. Indeed, a large part of the thrill of John Wick: Chapter II was the extent to which it fudged such boundaries. Despite the fact that John Wick offered something of a satisfying conclusion, the sequel picked up mere moments later to offer a coda that audiences never realised was needed. The ending of the first sequel bled (both literally) into the one that would follow. Open-endedness is not an issue of itself.

“So John Wick flees on horseback, the assassin’s after them on a motorcycle and it’s like a battle between motors and horses, like technology versus horse.”

After all, Chapter II belonged to the now-familiar family of “second films in trilogies.” Traditionally, the first film in a series would be relatively self-contained, with a broad teasing ending at best that could provide closure if the box office numbers didn’t work; Star WarsBack to the Future. In contrast, after those movies were box office hits, sequels were often commissioned in batches of two; Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back bleeds more obviously into Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, Back to the Future II bleeds into Back to the Future III.

However, there tended to be an understanding that closure was necessary at some point. Not necessarily in a definitive or conclusive manner for the series as a whole; Return of the Jedi is not the last Star Wars movie. However, a sense that the single narrative being tidied up. The characters’ journeys may not be completed, but their arc within this particular story is complete. Parabellum feels very much like a cheat on this front. Although building from a premise with a clear ending, it seems to be awkwardly constructing a perpetual motion device.

Shattering expectations.

After all, John Wick’s journey has a clear end point. The character arc that began in John Wick has any number of potential resolutions. Chapter II seemed to offer some clear linear progress to that journey, taking the character from his position in the closing moments of John Wick and escalating the existential stakes significantly. The single biggest problem with Parabellum is that the film doesn’t manage a comparable transformation. Wick’s situation doesn’t seem particularly different between the beginning and the end of the film. At most, the character has run a closed loop.

This is a shame, as that is a lot to like in Parabellum. As with both John Wick and Chapter II, this is a visually stunning film. It is saturated with neon glows of reds and blues, mingling and reflecting into beautiful purples on grimy streets and immaculate sterile sets. The stunt choreography is breathtaking, and a testament to an underappreciated artform, ballet with blades and bullets. Indeed, Parabellum even improves upon the already enchanting heightened operatic (and gloriously melodramatic) storytelling of John Wick and Chapter II, weaving them into an engaging parable.

Getting their just deserts.

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Non-Review Review: Polar

At the heart of Polar is a vaguely interesting idea.

The basic premise of Polar filters an archetypal masculine midlife (or retirement) anxiety through the prism of a hyper-violent fantasia. It is almost a cliché to suggest that certain types of men revert to boys when confronted with their own mortality, but only because it permeates popular culture that treats middle age as a relapsed adolescence reflected in the shiny toys that such men buy and the selfish decisions that such men make. Polar just takes that central metaphor and runs with it.

The assassin who came in from the cold.

Even beyond that basic concept, there’s something potentially compelling in the premise of an assassination-themed black comedy that hinges on what amounts to a pension swindle. It’s hyper-capitalism run wild, the commodification of human life to the point that workers are literally killing one another to prevent the company from having to make a pay-out. The Other Guys managed that deft balance with ease and grace. On some strange level, it’s fun to imagine a hyper-violent assassination thriller rooted in something as mundane as balance sheets, mergers and annual reports.

Unfortunately, Polar is a disaster of a film. It just doesn’t work. More than that, the ways in which it doesn’t work are painfully and predictably mundane. It’s leery, voyeuristic and trashy, but not in any fun way. It has a weird anal fixation that most obviously manifests itself in those sleazy tight close-ups of female derrieres, but which has a slight equal opportunity air to it; audiences are also treated to a number of shots of Mads Mikkelsson’s ass as he thrusts into his female co-stars, and the film opens with Mikkelsson receiving a prostate exam that might serve as a metaphor for the store film.

Not a patch on John Wick.

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