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Non-Review Review: Serenity (2019)

Serenity is the story of a grizzled middle aged man and a tuna fish. A tuna fish named “Justice.”

There are many, many problems with Serenity. Indeed, fixing the most obvious problems with Serenity would just reveal a whole new set of problems. It is all recursive. Serenity does not work in either broad stroke or finer detail. It is flawed from the foundation through to the finishing touches. The basic concept of the movie is spectacularly ill-judged, but this impulse towards poor-decision-making branches out to smaller and more intimate moments of dialogue. It is hard to think of a major cinematic release that has been this obviously and fundamentally broken since Book of Henry. Indeed, like Book of Henry, there is a sense that Serenity might possibly live on as a cult bad movie, the kind of film so committed and thoroughly wrong that it becomes a source of pleasure.

The most obvious thing to criticise about Serenity is the central twist, because that is the hinge upon which the movie turns and central point from which so many bad decisions flow. It is big and glaring, flashing like a beacon. Indeed, one of the characters in the film who identifies himself as “the Rules” might describe it as a lighthouse. However, the central twist often feels like a distraction. There have been successful movies that have pulled off bigger twists than Serenity, and which have worked. There are beloved movies that are built around nominally insane plotting developments, but which have managed to walk that finest of lines; The Sixth Sense, Memento, The Usual Suspects.

The issue with Serenity is not so much its admittedly endearingly insane central revelation. The issue is absolutely everything else, including what it does with that major plot twist.

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Non-Review Review: White Boy Rick

White Boy Rick struggles to articulate what it is actually saying.

The basic premise of White Boy Rick is quite clear from the outset. The film is set in Detroit. Barring a coda, the bulk of the action unfolds in the four years following on from 1984, during Ronald Reagan’s second term. Although the President himself is not directly discussed in the context of the narrative, there is an early conversation in which two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and one member of the Detroit Police Department ruminate upon Nancy Reagan’s famous “just say no” appeal.

Ricked off.

White Boy Rick is an earnest and well-intentioned movie exploring the consequences of the so-called “War on Drugs” in eighties America, and the manner in which that campaign was both fruitless in terms of its nominal objectives and actively harmful to the communities in which it unfolded. White Boy Rick attempts to position itself as a tragedy about a young man – the eponymous character’s age is something of a recurring battle cry – who happens to get wrapped up in something much bigger than his own circumstances.

Unfortunately, White Boy Rick struggles to construct a strong and engaging narrative around this central thesis statement, repeatedly stumbling in trying to graft the character’s arc and decisions to the broader social commentary that it wants to make. The result is a deeply frustrating film that squanders potentially interesting subject matter.

Daddy’s home.

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Non-Review Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

In 1987, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street was arguably too subtle in its criticisms of the Wall Street mentality – the philosophy that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good” or that enough can never really enough. After all, the film apparently inspired a whole generation of stock brokers and investment managers, with quite a few aspiring to be their generation’s Gordon Gekko – when the movie’s central point was that Gekko was hardly an idol to worship.

This would seem to explain the rationale of Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, a film that makes Stone’s brutal evisceration of Wall Street excess seem positively mild-mannered. Indeed, the film all but directly acknowledges this fact in an early scene where a “hatchet job” of an article from Forbes (the same article that would lend Belfort his sobriquet “Wolfie!”) prompts a massive upsurge in job applications for Belfort’s Stratton Oakmont.

The money shot...

The money shot…

So, understanding the need to go a bit bigger and larger, The Wolf of Wall Street introduces us to its protagonist, Jordan Belfort, snorting cocaine out of the bodily orifices of a prostitute, and yet somehow descends deeper and deeper into acts of debauchery and excess. It’s an unrelenting and energetic film, that is exhausting and exhilarating. It’s less of a structured story and more a three-hour laundry-list of depravity.

While the last hour of the film (the inevitable “it all comes tumbling down… or does it?” act) can’t maintain the forward moment that make the first two so exhilarating, The Wolf of Wall Street remains proof that Scorsese is an incredible film maker with an almost impossible vigour and enthusiasm for the medium.

Drinking it in...

Drinking it in…

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Watch! True Detective Trailer!

Matthew McConaughey has really reinvented himself, hasn’t he? Over the past few years, McConaughey has invested considerable effort in being taken seriously as an actor. His work in films like The Lincoln Lawyer and Bernie has been a large part of this, but he’s always garnered considerable praise for his work on films like Killer Joe and Mud. His upward trajectory seems to be continuing, with McConaughey taking the lead role in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and now headlining (with Woody Harrelson) HBO’s upcoming new drama True Detective.

It’s amazing how skilfully HBO has cornered the market on high-quality high-interest television. True Detective would be interesting enough given its caliber and pedigree – McConaughey and Harrelson starring, with Cary Fukunaga directing – but it’s especially interesting given the format that has been chosen. The first season will apparently be a self-contained story, charting a seventeen-year investigation in Louisiana. However, if the show is renewed, apparently plans are to recruit an entirely new cast for an entirely different story.

In essence, it seems – not having seen the show in action – that it’s a serial anthology. Or, perhaps more accurately, a collection of annual miniseries collected under the same brand. Colour me excited at the prospect. American television tends to be wary of miniseries as anything other than prestige pieces, but I grew up on British television, where it was possible for a show to run just eight episodes and to be considered an artistic success. True Detective looks like an experimental take on a familiar set-up from a fantastic creative team. It looks stylish and atmospheric, and I’m a sucker for well-told crime tales.

I’m already looking forward to it. It’s out this January, on HBO, which means Sky Atlantic will likely air it not too long afterwards.

Watch! New Wolf of Wall Street Trailer!

I’m really looking forward to Wolf of Wall Street. It helps that it’s a Scorsese film starring Leonardo DiCarpio, but the first trailer just cements that enthusiasm, teaser a ride which looks completely and utterly insane. The trailer is a work of bizarre genius, a celebration of tasteless excess which seems to show an actor and director who aren’t worried about going over the top; in fact that’s the entire point.

Check it out below.

 

Non-Review Review: Bernie

Bernie is a gem. Reteaming director Richard Linklater and Jack Black, two talents re-energised by their last collaboration in School of Rock, Bernie is a black comedy based on a true story about a Texas mortician named Bernie Tiede. It’s a beautiful and darkly funny little film, one Linklater shoots in a mockumentary style just to add a touch of  the surreal. It’s a fake documentary (complete with staged reconstructions) of a real event, one of those bizarre slices of Americana. It’s never to harsh on its subject, but it also never pulls any of its punches, feeling very much like one of those stories that is so ridiculous that it must be true.

Mortifying...

Mortifying…

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Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013: Highlights!

The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival launched the programme for its eleventh year today. There’s some great stuff in here. There’s a variety of films, from European to American to Asian, from big budget blockbusters to intimate documentaries to more personal films. It’s a great selection of films, and festival director Grainne Humphreys should be proud. After all, if your biggest complaint is having to choose between L.A. Confidential and Bernie, then you must be doing something right.

I’ve picked out some of my own most anticipated events of the schedule below, in rough chronological order, so if you are looking for something to do on a particular day, feel free to see if there’s anything of interest. Unfortunately, some of the events overlap, so you can’t attend everything – something that’s a massive shame given some of the films on display here. With that in mind, the list is below.

JDIFF Brand 2011 (Landscape) copy

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