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Non-Review Review: Fantastic Beasts – The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald knows its audience.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is a film consciously aimed at the audience member who has charted and navigated the family trees of the Harry Potter franchise, who knows the finer details of families that were never explicitly featured in the original series and who can recognise names that were never spoken aloud. This is a film that is geared towards the kinds of fans who devour supporting material, who pour enthusiastically and endlessly over the appendices to The Lord of the Rings.

Law student.

This is not to mock or belittle those sorts of fans. Indeed, there is something infectious and exciting in that enthusiasm, in standing outside a cinema and hear enthusiastic six-year-olds with a much better grasp of the dynamics at play than the adults who accompanied them. The eagerness with which these fans pour over the finer details is genuinely heartening, and some of it might even be absorbed by osmosis as they boast about “when” they “got” some twist or other. This a movie aimed at those who devour scenes of exposition and love a good flashback or six.

The only issue is that The Crimes of Grindelwald has precious little for the more casual audience member, whether the casual cinema-goer who just wants a night full of wizards and witches or the more relaxed fan who has only watched the films or read the books once a few years ago. For those audience members, The Crimes of Grindelwald does not offer nearly enough. Or it offers too much.

Partially wanted for crimes against fashion.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #24!

We should be back to something resembling a weekly release schedule with the Scannain podcast.

This week, it’s a rather intimate affair with myself, Grace Duffy, and Donnacha Coffey from Filmgrabber. However, the conversation is suitably wide-ranging, discussing everything from the audience-versus-critics conflicts over Hereditary and Gotti to the politics of David Lynch to the sad story of Johnny Depp to the latest surreal controversy involving Star Wars fandom. Along the way, we discuss the usual array of subjects, from the week in film news to the top ten to new releases including Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Dublin OldschoolTag, Escape Plan 2: Hades and Adrift.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

Non-Review Review: Pirates of the Caribbean – Salazar’s Revenge

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salavar’s Revenge is a strange beast, a conscious effort to refactor the Pirates of the Caribbean series into a more modern movie franchise.

On the surface, the appeal of Pirates of the Caribbean seems very simple. People like pirates, pirates have adventures. The period trappings, supernatural elements and exotic maritime setting add a sense of novelty to adventure. It is not rocket science. Indeed, the relative simplicity of the premise is part of the appeal, with the series tending to construct very straightforward narratives that provide a framework for set pieces and comedy action.

They should bottle Jack’s water.

It is very hard to imagine Pirates of the Caribbean having a “mythology” in the same way that many modern blockbuster franchises have a mythology. Audiences are not necessarily watching for character arcs or larger plot developments. Audiences are drawn in by the and the set pieces, with a healthy dose of Johnny Depp’s performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. There is a reason that Pirates of the Caribbean will always be a notch below The Lord of the Rings on Orlando Bloom’s filmography, because the series has never really aspired to “epic” heft.

There is a sense that Elizabeth Swan and Will Turner only appeared in the first three films so that they could be tied together to form a “trilogy”, with the two sequels hastily bolted on to an original film that was a runaway success story. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was not diminished by the absence of Keira Knightley or Orlando Bloom, even if it ran into other structural problems related to making Jack Sparrow its primary character.

New Jack City.

As such, Salazar’s Revenge feels like a very strained attempt to rework the series to resemble modern blockbuster cinema. As with sequels like xXx III: The Return of Xander Cage and The Fate of the Furious, there is a conscious effort to appeal to nostalgia by roping in cast members from earlier installments to make token appears in order to cultivate a sense of continuity. Salazar’s Revenge attempts to create a broad “mythology” within the context of Pirates of the Caribbean, treating characters from the original film as fetish objects due to their continuity ties.

It is a very strange and unsettling creative direction for a series that would lend itself to a more episodic and playful approach, an attempt to add nostalgic weight to a franchise that cannot necessarily support it. Salazar’s Revenge buckles and suffocates under the demands of callbacks that nobody wanted and references to earlier events that are unlikely to have lodged in any viewer’s long-term memory. The result is disorienting and unsatisfying, despite some of the movie’s more endearing set pieces.

Pirates II, plus Pirates III, equals Pirates IIIII: Salazar’s Revenge.

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Non-Review Review: Black Mass

Black Mass has endearing ambition.

This is an old-school crime biography, one that foregoes clarity or singularity of purpose in favour of sprawling scale. Black Mass covers decades in the life of notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. The thematic throughline is his connection to the local branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Agent John Connolly. Connolly grew up with Bulger, and hits on the seemingly ingenious idea of advancing his own career by bringing Bulger into the fold as an “informant.” It is an arrangement that benefits Bulger and Connolly more than the FBI.

Gangbusters...

Gangbusters…

There is an interesting story to be told there, the tale of two men gaming the system for their own advantage. Many of the stories around Bulger are so ridiculous and improbable that they defy belief; they make for perfect cinematic fodder. With two strong lead actors, and a clear arc, the tale of Bulger and Connolly could be compelling and revealing. However, it also seems far too modest for Black Mass. Although Bulger and Connolly form the spine of the film, its limbs sprawl out in every possible direction trying to cover everything.

It is a valiant effort. There are moments when Black Mass really works as it picks on an awkward conversation or a loaded confrontation. However, these moments feel fleeting; they are a chain of short stories rather than a single cohesive narrative. Black Mass is frequently fascinating but seldom satisfying.

Awash with corruption...

Awash with corruption…

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Birthing Hips Sink Ships: Dark Shadows & Improbable Feminism…

I will concede that I am fonder of Dark Shadows than most. I’ve been disappointed with a lot of Tim Burton’s recent output, but something about his revival of the seventies soap opera worked strangely well. I’ll be the first to concede that it’s pretty esoteric. After all, like Casa de mi Padre, it’s effectively one single joke stretched across a film’s runtime. However, I couldn’t help but warm to it, at least because it seemed like Burton was enjoying himself a lot more than head been with films like Alice in Wonderland. There was something quite cheeky about it, from the way that it portrayed its central character as ridiculously unheroic through to the fact that it was perhaps the year’s most subversive feminist film.

Indeed, watching the film again this weekend, it struck me just how feminist the narrative actually was, despite the somewhat superficial distractions from that.

darkshadows10

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Non-Review Review: Nick of Time

Nick of Time is an underrated nineties high-concept thriller that really runs on the charm of its cast and the skill of director John Badham.In a way, Badham seems stuck in a race against time that is just as tense as anything facing his protagonist. Badham has to make it from the start of the film to the final fadeout before the audience stops to think too much about the somewhat convoluted plot taking place. Nick of Time features perhaps the most ridiculously convoluted assassination attempt ever, but it’s generally so much fun that it’s easy not to get tangled in some of the logic problems.

They weren’t trained for this…

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Non-Review Review: Dark Shadows

I really liked Dark Shadows. Of course, the film comes with the proviso that it’s probably nothing at all like anybody is expecting, at least based on the trailers. While there are elements of a comedy about a vampire lost in time, Tim Burton is far too busy constructing an elaborate spoof of a gothic melodrama to every really develop that thread. Instead, it’s a movie that seems wry and self-aware more than it is side-splittingly hilarious, an old-fashioned homage to the melodramatic horrors of old rather than a compelling story in its own right. I don’t think anybody could argue that this is truly “classic” Burton, measured against Ed Wood or Batman Returns. However, it is a director who seems to be having a great deal of fun playing with some rather esoteric toys.

Collins family values…

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