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Non-Review Review: Marriage Story

Towards the end of Marriage Story, divorced dad Charlie Barber decides to check in on his son, Henry.

Charlie has been absent from his son’s life for quite some time, the toll of familial separation weighing heavily on him. Arriving home before his ex-wife Nicole, he finds a strange man in his life. His former mother-in-law has accepted his replacement. When Nicole arrives, the conversation makes it clear just how quickly her life has moved on without him. When somebody mentions that she has been nominated for a prestigious award, Charlie can’t even guess what she was nominated for.

Marriage of inconvenience.

It is Halloween. The family are getting ready to go out together. They have theme costumes. They are going as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is itself a reflection of the level of subtlety at which the film is pitching itself. Of course, Charlie was an unexpected arrival; whether because he failed to signal ahead or simply because he has been so completely erased from the life of his ex-wife and son that nobody gave any serious consideration to the possibility that he might show up. Hastily, one character suggests an improvised costume. “You can be a ghost.”

This is simultaneously the best and worst moment in Marriage Story, and generally indicative of how the movie operates.

Getting off-track.

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Non-Review Review: The Delinquent Season

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

“You’re a f&!king cliché!” one character screams at another during a particularly heated moment in The Delinquent Season.

That’s a dangerous line to put into a screenplay, particularly in what is supposed to be an intimate character-driven drama. The line skirts the boundaries of self-awareness, inviting the audience to consider it as a statement of authorial intent. It takes genuine courage to force the audience to assess whether the character in question really just “a f&!king cliché”? Obviously, the film believes that its central characters are more than just a collection of familiar tropes repackaged and reheated, but it takes confidence to stare the viewer right in the eye and broach the question.

“Look, it’s this or Infinity War.”

The Delinquent Season certainly has lofty goals. It aspires to be provocative and confrontational, to push the audience a little bit out of their comfort zone by asking them to empathise with characters who are abrasive and awkward. The Delinquent Season seems to genuinely hope that the audience might find its central characters to evoke strong emotions; to feel pity or hatred or anger at their decisions and their actions. There are points watching The Delinquent Season where writer and director Mark O’Rowe is goading the audience to hate these characters.

Unfortunately, The Delinquent Season never even considers that the audience might be bored by these four particular characters.

Table this for later.

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My 12 for ’14: Gone Girl and the most $£@!ed up people…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Gone Girl is a surprisingly playful film.

David Fincher is a director who likes to play with his audience, constructing elaborate and stylish labyrinths that might trap the audience as easily as they trap his characters. Gone Girl plays to Fincher’s strengths, as Gillian Flynn adapts her best-selling novel into a pulpy thriller. The news that Fincher and Flynn would collaborate on HBO’s Utopia is fantastic, giving television viewers something to anticipate; one hopes that the collaboration might be as fruitful as that enjoyed by Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Joji Fukunaga on True Detective this year.

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Gone Girl is a story about stories. Most particularly, it is the story of two people fighting to control their own narratives; to try to steer the stories being told around them. Is Nick Dunne a loving husband desperately searching for his missing wife? Or is Nick Dunne a sociopath desperately trying to cover-up her murder? Is Amy Dunne an innocent victim who has worked her way into the heart of the American public? Or is Amy Dunne a manipulative and ruthless (and ruthless) cynic who has helped to turn her marriage into a perpetual struggle?

Gone Girl is a very sleek and stylish film that is lovingly crafted and wryly self-aware. It is a horror story about a dysfunctional marriage, a tale about media fascination and a black comedy about resentment and revenge. More than that, it is a puzzle that competes against the audience, a story that seems to change form at any point where the viewer might finally have come to grips with what they are watching.

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Note: This “best of” entry includes spoilers for Gone Girl. You should probably go and see the movie, because everybody is talking about it. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you. Still there? Good. Let’s continue. Continue reading

The Flash (1987-2009) #5-6 – Speed McGee/Super Nature (Review)

So, I’m considering reviewing this season of The Flash, because the pilot looks interesting and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Scarlet Speedster. I’m also considering taking a storyline-by-storyline trek through the 1987-2009 Flash on-going series as a companion piece. If you are interested in reading either of these, please let me know in the comments.

Half-way through its first year, The Flash is still a mess.

It’s easy enough to see what writer Mike Baron is trying to do, but nothing is really gelling together. In theory, The Flash is the story of a twenty-year-old kid who is trying to fill his mentor’s shoes. It’s about a hero who has only just passed from his teenage years into adulthood, and trying to navigate all the problems that come with that. The intent is quite obvious here – to draw in readers who had been alienated by the somewhat generic (and perhaps even “dull”) perception of Barry Allen.

"Hm. This is always much more atmospheric when Batman does it."

“Hm. This is always much more atmospheric when Batman does it.”

This is an approach that clearly owes a lot to Marvel’s reinvention of the superhero genre, and it’s fairly easy to read Mike Baron’s Wally West as an attempt to update the superhero archetype established by Peter Parker for the eighties. Wally is a bit more grounded and real than his predecessor, with a bit of an edge. He finds himself navigating issues and personal problems that Barry Allen never had to worry about.

Unfortunately, the series can’t quite make this work. For every step forwards, there is an awkward step backwards. Every time it seems like The Flash might have a good personal hook into the world of Wally West, it falls back on generic superhero clichés that seem to have been ad-libbed into the script.

"Talk about an explosive relationship."

“Talk about an explosive relationship.”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – House of Quark (Review)

The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

House of Quark is a delightful episode that probably does a better job of setting the tone for the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine than The Search. As much as the Dominion were introduced as “a big deal” and clearly intended to change the show’s status quo, the third season does very little with them. There are a few mentions here and there, a late-season two-parter, two scattered episodes looking at aspects of the Dominion, and a series finalé, but they don’t drive the third season as much as one might expect, or as much as they drive the fifth through seventh seasons.

In contrast, House of Quark is a decidedly irreverent look at the world of Star Trek, a decidedly cynical perspective on one of the franchise’s sacred cows – a downright subversive exploration of something that the franchise takes for granted.

A knife story, there, Quark...

A knife story, there, Quark…

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Non-Review Review: A Long Way From Home

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

A Long Way From Home is a fairly simple story about a mid-life crisis by a British and Irish couple who have retired to France. Elevated by a bunch of wonderful central performances from Brenda Fricker, James Fox and Natalie Dormer, along with director and writer Virginia Gilbert’s willingness to embrace the story’s simplicity, A Long Way From Home is a slow-moving character study and mood piece. Containing little in the way of surprises or twists, it’s an endearingly sweet glimpse at a marriage threatened by the fifty-year itch.

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Non-Review Review: Hope Springs

Hope Springs is a fairly unambitious romantic comedy that is very clearly chasing the silver dollar. Featuring two veteran performers playing a couple struggling through a mid-life crisis, Hope Springs feels like an attempt to demonstrate that the careers of romantic leads don’t necessarily end at forty. It is, on that level, quite pleasing to watch – there’s a proud sense that David Frankel is refusing to leave hum-drum romantic comedy to young actors who seem barely out of puberty. However, the problem is inherent in the premise. Hope Springsproves that romantic comedies aren’t exclusive to younger casts, but it also demonstrates tat very few of the familiar quirks, conceits and plot devices are that much more endearing when delivered by actors old enough to remember a world before mobile telephones.

Well, they’ve made their bed…

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