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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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Non-Review Review: Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows

The first Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes was a pulpy pleasure, an enjoyable steampunk occult mystery with a casual sense of fun and two solid central performances with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson respectively. Unfortunately, the sequel, A Game of Shadows, doesn’t seem to be quite as much fun. It seems to lack the pulpy edge of its predecessor, perhaps taking itself a bit too seriously at times. The are moments when Ritchie seems to get into the swing of things, and Downey Jr. and Law work as well together as ever, but A Game of Shadowsdoesn’t quite feel like the ideal spectator sport.

He bought, hook, line and sinker!

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Non-Review Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow evokes pulp science-fiction cinema with an earnestness and an eagerness that is endearing, if not infectious. Although the special effects have dated significantly in the time since the movie’s release, it’s hard not to admire director Kerry Conron’s use of computer graphics to forge a connection to classic cinema. However, one senses that Conron might have been better suited to emulate the mood, rather than merely the appearance, of these old adventure serials. The problem is that despite its rather wonderfully crafted appearance, there’s never anything in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to really get excited about. And that’s a shame.

A ray of hope?

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