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Non-Review Review: Ben is Back

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.

Ben is Back finds itself in a strange place in terms of weirdness.

At is core, Ben is Back is essentially the Key and Peele vehicle Keanu reimagined as an earnest prestige picture for the era of Beautiful Boy. It is an inherently absurd premise, an exploration of drug addiction that takes the form of an epic odyssey to rescue a beloved family pet. The incongruous pairing of a recovering addict with his suburban mother on this most unlikely Christmas adventure adds an extra layer of strangeness to the whole proceedings. There’s something very exciting about all of these elements thrown together, feeling incredibly unconventional.

Hug life.

Unfortunately, Ben is Back feels gun shy. It never commits to the inherent ridiculousness of using a trashy thriller template to tell a more intimate story about a pressing contemporary issue. Instead, Ben is Back compromises itself. It tries to have the best of both worlds. It tries to strike a balance between being a dogsploitation journey in to the heart of darkness with a more grounded and mundane portrait of a family struggling with the trauma that addiction has inflicted upon them. The two tones might work separately, but they jar as Ben is Back alternates between them.

This is a shame, as there’s a lot of potential in Ben is Back, and a few moments when it seems like it might actually deliver upon it.

Ben around the world, and I can’t find my baby.

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Non-Review Review: Larry Crowne

Larry Crowne isn’t a terrible movie, but rather a frustrating one. Written by, directed by, and starring, Tom Hanks, the movie seems to want to be a romantic comedy skewered towards older and more mature viewers, which is a great idea – not only because so few movies cater to that demographic, but because the few comedies that do have been proven successes. The audience is there, and it’s a great idea to unite Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks, the king and queen of the classy nineties rom-com in a film that might have a more considered and reflective edge over most other romantic comedies. Unfortunately, the movie is so ridiculously pedestrian that it’s hard to work up any excitement. If the movie, rather than the character, were doing the college courses in the film, it would get graded “must do better.”

A scoot couple...

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Non-Review Review: Ocean’s Eleven

Everybody likes to take it easy sometimes. Just because we generally work hard on offering some sort of deep insight on the way that people (or the world) work doesn’t mean that – every once in a while – you want to just kick back and take things easy. And so it is with Ocean’s Eleven, which is considered (along with its two sequels) among the lighter work in Steven Soderbergh’s ambitious filmography. If you ever wondered what the man responsible for ambitious (if not always effective) movies like Che and Traffic does to relax, I can’t help but imagine it might look a little bit like this. Ocean’s Eleven is a triumph of style over substance. There’s not a lot going on underneath the shiny surface (hell, for all I know it’s dead under there), but the exterior just oozes effortless cool.

A drop in the Ocean...

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Twilight of the Stars?

I’ve been thinking a bit of late about movie stars. Are we reaching the end of the star-driven era of Hollywood stars? What got me thinking about it was the news of Tony Scott’s upcoming Unstoppable – a movie about a runaway train starring Denzel Washington, who has been one of Scott’s most consistent collaborators in the past. I loved Denzel Washington – and I loved Crimson Tide and, to a lesser extent, Man on Fire. And yet, I have absolutely no urge to see the film. It isn’t a “must see” simply because of the talent or skill involved. And, being honest, I don’t think I’m alone. There would have been a time years ago when a name on a marque would have marked a film as “must see”. I am beginning to suspect that the era of “star power” might be slowly passing.

Am I Cloo(ney)ed into something?

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How Studios Put Together Valentine’s Day…

News broke last week that Julia Roberts received $500,000 a minute for her screentime in this year’s romantic ensemble comedy Valentine’s Day. Yes, for six minutes of screentime, she got $3m (which really doesn’t seem that impressive without the zeroes – so $3,000,000). However, that wasn’t the most interesting part of the coverage of the movie – well, at least for me. A bit of commentary revealed how Hollywood can attract so many big names under one matinee sign (which is, undoubtedly, a key part of the movie’s success).

Here's to you, Mrs. Roberts(on)...

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