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Non-Review Review: The Rhythm Section

Perhaps the most revealing distinction between The Rhythm Section and the James Bond franchise is that the characters in The Rhythm Section appear to have done their beer sponsorship deal with Stella Artois rather than Heineken.

That’s a little facetious. After all, it seems highly likely that Heineken paid a great deal more to sponsor No Time to Die than Stella Artois paid for a few minutes of screentime in a late January release from producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Nevertheless, there is something to it. Although the marketting copy is keen to sell The Rhythm Section as something of a gender-swapped teaser for No Time to Die“from the producers of James Bond,” boasts the trailer and the advertising – it’s to the credit of director Reed Morano that she is interested in something a little bit more complex and sophisticated.

Taking a shot at it.

Of course, The Rhythm Section doesn’t entirely work. It is a messy and clumsy film. At points, this seems to be a deliberate stylistic choice and a clear point of contrast, an attempt to imbue the classic spy movie format with a sense of the chaos that informs and shapes the real world. At other moments, it feels like a miscalculation and an error in judgment. The Rhythm Section is an earnest attempt to crash the trappings of an espionage revenge thriller into a more intimate personal drama about grief and trauma, but sometimes the mix goes wrong and the film veers into the realm of indulgent self-parody.

Still, there’s a lot to like about The Rhythm Section in spite of its imbalances. The film is genuinely trying something something ambitious, even if it occasionally buckles under the weight of those attempts. At its best, The Rhythm Section suggests a new spin on an old formula. At its worst, it is at least anchored in a compelling central performance amid overwrought clichés. The Rhythm Section might not hit every note perfectly, but it manages to keep time.

Spy, craft.

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Non-Review Review: Vox Lux

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. 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.

Vox Lux very brazenly and very openly positions itself as the evil twin of A Star is Born.

Both Vox Lux and A Star is Born are meditations on the idea of fame in contemporary America, particular the effect that it has upon an individual. Effectively the third (or fourth) retelling of a classic Hollywood fairy tale, A Star is Born offers a much more optimistic perspective on how deeply fame is anchored in the American popular consciousness, a story about an individual being seen and elevated because of their unique gifts. Vox Lux is a decidedly more cynical take on that same story, a darker meditation on the corrupting power and toxic cult of fame.

All the glitters…

These are old ideas. Popular culture has grappled with fame and stardom for decades, the push-and-pull around the siren call of celebrity both lauded and dissected over and over and over again. Neither A Star is Born nor Vox Lux have anything especially innovative or insightful to say about the notion of celebrity, nothing that hasn’t been explored or deconstructed or interrogated countless times. Much is made of the idea popstar Celeste as a new voice for the twenty-first century in Vox Lux, but it’s never clear that the film has anything new to say.

That’s not an issue. There is power in reiterating familiar ideas. Vox Lux tells a familiar tale with a strong est of performances and confident narrative style. Perhaps this is enough, in its own wry way. Perhaps Vox Lux is arguing that the bold new voices of the twenty-first century are just repackaging and reheating old ideas with a new energy and new commitment. It might just be the movie’s darkest joke.

Life of Lux-ury.

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Non-Review Review: King Arthur – Legend of the Sword

The most striking aspect of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is how little interest it has in being a “King Arthur” film.

King Arthur is the latest blockbuster from Guy Ritchie, and contains much of the director’s signature style. Indeed, King Arthur works best when it indulges these stylistic quirks, as cockney characters construct winding non-linear narratives that double back upon (and trip over) one another in a decidedly playful manner. The best and most enjoyable segments in King Arthur feel almost throwaway, as if they might easily have been lifted from (or perhaps even dropped into) a completely different feature film without causing any significant problems.

Set in stone.

King Arthur runs into trouble when it comes to the meat-and-potatoes business of constructing a blockbuster franchise-starter. To be fair, the formula has been relatively well established to this point, with audiences very familiar with the expected plot beats. Even still, King Arthur has little enthusiasm for hitting or expanding these beats. Many of the bigger moments in King Arthur feel like an exercise in box-ticking, elements that exist largely because they are expected in a film like this and with a minimum amount of set-up or panache.

The result is a deeply uneven film that feels very much at odds with itself and no real engagement with the movie’s central driving narrative. King Arthur works best as a series of engaging diversions, but underwhelms as a functional narrative in its own right.

Going out in a blade of glory.

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Non-Review Review: Spy

Spy is broad, but it is funny. It might just be the best collaboration between director Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy.

Feig reteams with McCarthy following on from the critical and commercial successes of Bridesmaids and The Heat. Both films were frequently cited as leading a new wave in female-led comedy, proving that audiences and critics would respond to classic comedy movie tropes executed with a largely female cast. Although Spy features an ensemble that is more gender-balanced, it remains a feminist comedy. Feig’s screenplay is never heavy-handed in its gender politics, but it wryly aware of how its female characters are wading into a traditionally masculine space.

I spy a winner...

I spy a winner…

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Non-Review Review: Side Effects

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

On one level, Side Effects is a deliciously pulpy medical thriller, with the kind of zig-zagging twisty plot that you’d expect from a Michael Crichton novel. It’s more than satisfying on these terms, almost serving as a feature-length pilot for an imaginary medical drama starring Jude Law. After all, with House off the air, there’s a clear gap in the market for a smooth English actor playing the lead in an unconventional medical drama. If he is sarcastic, all the better. While the genius of the early years of House came from mashing up the medical subgenre with the police procedural to produce a then-unique hybrid, Scott Z. Burns instead blends the medical drama with a decidedly more trashy and sordid thriller to provide a satisfyingly twisty drama.

However, on another level, Side Effects teases issues that are far more interesting than the movie it eventually becomes. It’s very frustrating when your red herrings feel like they’d produce a more thoughtful or insightful piece of cinema than the final story. Side Effects broaches topics that mainstream cinema hasn’t really engaged with, and the opening scenes flirt with the idea of providing an entirely different film. It’s not always fair to judge a film for what it isn’t, but the problem is that Side Effects sets up a much more tempting and intriguing look at medicine than we get with the final product.

Love isn't the only drug...

Love isn’t the only drug…

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Non-Review Review: Anna Karenina (2012)

All the world is a stage, literally for Joe Wright’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel. Anna Karenina is visually stunning, and perfectly put together, doing a workman-like job of condensing Tolstoy’s 800-page doorstopper into a film running justover two hours. The wonderfully inventive idea of staging the film entirely in a theatre – from the foyer to the rafters to the stage itself – gives Wright the opportunity to showcase his talent as one of the finest working directors today. Tom Stoppard’s scripts is dripping with wit and does an excellent job providing digestible chunks of Tolstoy’s epic and a fair few pithy one-liners. Unfortunately, this is countered by the fact that the film never feels like it’s quite enough, and in particular the fact that its central figure feels like a shadow cast against a back wall rather than a three-dimensional character.

Save the last dance…

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Non-Review Review: Gattaca

I genuinely think that Gattaca is an unsung modern science-fiction classic. Andrew Niccol also wrote the screenplay for The Truman Show at the same time, another science-fiction masterpiece of the nineties, and another film way ahead of its time. I wonder if The Truman Show eclipsed Niccol’s work on Gattaca. It’s certainly a far more conventional science-fiction feature film, with a decidedly retro-futuristic aesthetic to it, and a slightly more earnest approach to its central themes. Still, I think that Gattacais a film that has held up remarkably well since its release and deserves a great deal more praise and attention than it really gets.

A face in a crowd…

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