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Non-Review Review: The Last Duel

The Last Duel is a thorny and compelling medieval epic. It’s a little rough around the edges, but that’s undeniably part of the appeal.

The Last Duel is adapted from the book of the same name by historian Eric Jager. As its title implies, the film offers an account of the last judicial duel permitted by the Parlement of Paris. That duel was fought between two noblemen: Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris. The challenge was offered over allegations that Le Gris had raped de Carrouges’ wife, Maguerite. The assumption was that divine authority would ultimately determine where the truth lay in the matter, that the victor in this mortal combat would ultimately be vindicated.

Duel narratives.

Naturally, the events that inspired The Last Duel remain contentious. Historians are not entirely sure what happened, and how much of the various accounts reflect the truth of what happened or have been shaped by the convenient narratives of the victors. The film, with a screenplay from Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener, leans into this ambiguity. The film is structured similarly to Akira Kurosawa’s Roshomon, outlining three separate accounts of the events leading up to the trial from the perspective of each of the key figures: Jean, Jacques and Maguerite.

The result is a film that touches on the blurred boundaries between history and narrative, and explores the way in which these sorts of stories are shaped by wounded pride and vain ego. It’s an uncomfortable and unsettling film, occasionally a little clumsy in its execution, but which grapples with big ideas.

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New Escapist Column! On “No Time to Die”, and the Limits of a Changing Bond…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the American release of No Time to Die, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the movie’s ending, now that everybody has had a chance to see it.

One of the big questions hanging over Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond is the extent to which the character can evolve or change, whether he can grow with the times or must remain fixed in stone. In contrast to Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of James Bond as a professional who seemed to enjoy his work, Daniel Craig offered a more introspective version of the superspy, one who seemed to wonder about what he did and why he did it. As Craig’s final film in the role, No Time to Die has the opportunity to truly grapple with the question of whether Bond wants to change and whether he can change.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below. Note that the piece contains major spoilers.

New Escapist Column! On “No Time to Die”, and the Daniel Craig Era’s Understanding of James Bond as a Performance…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the looming release of No Time to Die, it seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on the larger Daniel Craig era of James Bond.

One of the more striking aspects of Craig’s enure as the suave secret agent has been an understanding that James Bond is a performance as much as an actual human being. Bond is set of mannerisms and conventions, coming with a set of expectations and weight. Throughout Craig’s time playing the secret agent, there has been a fascination with that level of performance, and the question of what it entails to be trapped within that framework. It’s a very clever and very self-aware approach to a franchise that is almost sixty years old at this point.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

 

243. Dabangg 3 – This Just In (-#86)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The Bottom 100 is a subset of The 250. It is a journey through the worst 100 movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Prabhu Deva’s Dabangg 3.

Veteran police officer Chulbul Pandey is living a seemingly idealistic existence, when a simple people trafficking case brings back a ghost from his own past. Confronting an old enemy and painful memories, Chulbul Pandey finally learns what it means to be truly fearless.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 86th worst movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “Fast Five” as the Best (and Most Complete) “Fast and Furious” Movie…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of the trailer for F9, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the best entry in the larger Fast & Furious franchise: Fast Five. Fast Five arrived at an important moment for the larger Fast and Furious franchise, representing a pivot point between the earlier urban western adventures and the superpowered blockbusters that would follow. Fast Five is the moment at which the film series commits to becoming a twenty-first century blockbuster franchise, but also never loses sight of the origin. The result is a movie that is perhaps the most holistic and representative embodiment of the Fast and Furious as a franchise. You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

226. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (#86)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Graham Day, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Zack Snyder’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Following the death of Superman, Batman sets about putting together a team of superheroes to fight a threat that is charging at Earth from across the cosmos.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 86th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On How “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” Cast Daniel Craig as a Bond Girl…

I published a new piece at The Escapist this evening. Because The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is now on American Netflix, it seemed like a good time to take a look back at David Fincher’s underrated adaptation.

Daniel Craig has always had a challenging relationship with his most iconic role, that of super-suave super-spy James Bond. Many of his roles play off that tension, juxtaposing Craig with the audience’s expectations of him. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is no exception, essentially casting Craig in the role of the Bond Girl to Lisbeth Salander. Craig is repeatedly presented as vulnerable and distressed, often requiring rescuing and often existing as an extension of the women around him. It’s a clever, self-aware piece of casting.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

 

200. Goodfellas – Summer of Scorsese (#17)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jenn Gannon, with Andy Melhuish, Jack Hodges and others, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Colour of Money, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

As far back as he could remember, Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster. However, the life that Henry leads doesn’t turn out exactly as the young hoodlum might have expected, as he finds himself navigating a web of betrayal and violence involving his closest friends.

At time of recording, it was ranked 17th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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199. Raging Bull – Summer of Scorsese (#146)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Grace Duffy, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season, Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, CasinoGangs of New York, The Departed, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Jake LaMotta is a boxer who dreams of a shot at the big time. However, Jake does not play by the rules of the game. Over the course of his life and career, Jake struggles to tame the violence inside himself as he proceeds to push those closest to him further and further away.

At time of recording, it was ranked 146th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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“You’re a Real Cowboy!” The Haunted Emptiness of Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, will be launching a belated Summer of Scorsese this week with a look at Taxi Driver. It is a fun and broad discussion that is well worth your time, but it spurred some of my own thoughts about Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader’s 1976 classic.

Even watched today, there is something deeply unsettling about Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.

Travis Bickle is a haunting figure, drifting through the night in what writer Paul Schrader has repeatedly described as a “metal coffin.” Of course, Taxi Driver is a film of the seventies. The New York through which Bickle moves no longer exists – the one famously (but not actually) told to “drop dead” by Gerard Ford. Bickle is a Vietnam veteran, later sequences revealing scars on his body, and even his mohawk is drawn from experiences of soldiers who served in that war. Even beyond this, the vacuous-but-wholesome politics of Palantine evoke the disillusion of the post-Watergate era.

However, there is also a timelessness to Travis Bickle. His strange isolation in a city populated by millions of people is a manifestion of Emile Durkheim’s concept of “anomie”, the weird loneliness that human beings can feel when trapped in confined spaces with countless anonymous neighbours. More than that, as countless observers have explained in the nearly half-century since Taxi Driver‘s release, Bickle’s murderous possessiveness towards Betsy and Iris feels eerily prescient in an era of mass shootings and manifestos by entitled angry young men.

What is most striking about Taxi Driver is the emptiness of Travis Bickle. Bickle is a young man who seems to be completely lacking in any sense of identity or self, any strong sense of who he is or what he wants. As much as Taxi Driver presents Bickle as a nightmare of urban living, he is also a reflection. He is an empty vessel that seems to have been shaped by the world around him without any deeper understanding or comprehension of what that means. Bickle isn’t a person so much as a manifestation of a culture so far in decline that it has folded into itself.

Indeed, much of how Bickle sees the world is informed and shaped by the forces around him, perhaps even unconsciously and passively. Bickle offers a glimpse of American masculinity in crisis, of decades of westerns and pulp adventures that have been digested and processed and rehashed until there is no meaning underneath it all. It’s possible to read Taxi Driver as a reiteration of The Searchers, one of the greatest westerns ever made and one of Martin Scorsese’s famous films. However, it isn’t Taxi Driver recreating The Searchers so much as Bickle himself.

There’s an uncomfortably warped sensibility to all this, a bitter meaninglessness that serves as an indictment of the world around him. Travis Bickle is a monster, but he is a monster manifested from the collective unconscious of a city (and perhaps a world) trapped in decline and decay.

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