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Non-Review Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 certainly makes a strong case for being “the movie of the moment.”

Adapted loosely from Ray Bradbury’s iconic and beloved science-fiction novel, a piece of source material that famously bewildered François Truffaut during his first and only interaction with Hollywood movie-making, writer and director Ramin Bahrani perfectly positions Fahrenheit 451 as a piece of pop culture for the Trump era. Bahrani smartly retains almost as much of the aesthetic of the source material as he updates, making a strong case that Fahrenheit 451 is more than just an opportunistic broadside at the current political moment.

“I’m going to burn it all.”

Nevertheless, Bahrani makes a number of changes to the story, and turns up the volume on particular story elements, to align his televisual adaptation for the current cultural moment. Ray Bradbury famously claimed that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 as a criticism of television, creating an engaging irony within this adaptation. Bahrani shifts the emphasis slightly to position his adaptation as a criticism of the internet, in particular modern internet subcultures and the way it decreases the audience’s attention span. There are live streams, in-home assistants that are always listening, emojis, and online “fans.”

This is certainly a valid approach to the material, and it’s to the credit of Bahrani as a writer and a director that he manages to build a world that is obviously of a piece with that created in the source material written sixty-five years ago and which works as a pointed commentary on modern cultural discourse. With its brutalist architecture, its cold digital cinematography, its compelling central performances, its suggested alternative history, and its ominous ambient lighting providing the occasional splash of vivid colour, Fahrenheit 451 creates a fictional world that is compelling and engaging.

Lighting a spark…

Unfortunately, the film’s narrative is nowhere near as engaging as its setting. Bahrani cannily borrows characters, premises and sequences from the source novel, but he largely reworks the story. Fahrenheit 451 is restructured as a more conventional science-fiction narrative than the original book, complete with apocalyptic stakes and a macguffin to drive the plot. The plot of Fahrenheit 451 is generic science-fiction fluff, a pale imitation of the familiar rhythms of movies like The Matrix or Equilibrium or Aeon Flux. It is almost as though Bahrani has internalised Bradbury’s critique of television as dumb and simple and broad.

As a result, Fahrenheit 451 doesn’t work nearly as well as it should. It is a beautiful piece of work from an aesthetic perspective, but one employed in a very crude and unsatisfying manner.

Television film.

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Non-Review Review: Elvis and Nixon

Elvis and Nixon is a larger than life account of a larger than life meeting between two unlikely legendary figures.

Much has been made of the fact that neither Kevin Spacey nor Michael Shannon bear much resemblance to Richard Milhous Nixon or Elvis Aaron Presley. In fact, the film even makes a point of mentioning it. After a weird encounter at the White House gate, one security guard concedes of Elvis, “He’s taller than I thought.” Of course he is; Michael Shannon is noticeably (about ten centimetres) taller than his character. Indeed, the lack of physical resemblance between the actors and the subjects seems to be the point.

"Yeah, I suppose he KINDA looks like he from an angle."

“Yeah, I suppose he KINDA looks like he from an angle.”

After all, many of the best cinematic Nixons look rather unlike the nation’s thirty-seventh president. Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella picked up Oscar nominations despite the fact that there was no risk of confusion. The same is true of Dan Hedaya, even if he never picked up an Oscar nomination. Both Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley exist as larger-than-life figures in the American popular consciousness more than distinct individuals; both are recognisable archetypes who seem to speak to the nation’s cultural memory more than its specific history.

Elvis and Nixon realises and embraces this. The film is gleefully and archly ahistorical, to the point that this becomes the point. It is not so much that the line between reality and fiction blurs for director Liza Johnson, it’s that the boundary never existed in the first place. There is no record of what actually happened during the thirty minute conversation, but that’s probably for the best. Nothing could be quite as fun as the mismatched odd couple comedy of Elvis and Nixon.

Photo finish...

Photo finish…

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Non-Review Review: Midnight Special

Midnight Special is a lot of things.

It is a meditation on faith. It is a road movie. It is an indie superhero movie. It is a Spielbergian science-fiction adventure. It is a coming of age tale. It is a film fundamentally about awe and wonder. It is a spectacle that nevertheless remains firmly rooted in the ground even as it looks upwards. It is a tribute to the “lay lines” that serve to tie the United States together, from the dark country roads to the shady motels. Midnight Special is a lot of things, and it is very good at being all those things.

However, Midnight Special is fundamentally a movie about parenting. It is a movie about the unquestioning hope that a parent might be responsible for something that is ultimately more than they were.

Son rising.

Son rising.

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Watch! Final Man of Steel Trailer!

Man of Steel arrives next week, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to it. We’ll have a review on Tuesday, but we’re also doing a whole month of Superman coverage as well to celebrate everybody’s favourite Kryptonian. Check back every weekday evening and we should have some glimpse at one of the character’s many iterations from 1939 to present.

I like the way the trailers have been shaping up. There’s an absolute minimum of dialogue here, but Jor-El seems to be staying on point – the few sentences here suggest pretty much everything we need to know about the character. (I’d suggest there’s a deeper understanding of Superman in this two-minute action-heavy trailer than in all Superman Returns. “You can save them all” is pretty much Superman in a nutshell.) Anyway, I won’t say anything more. Here’s the trailer. Enjoy!

 

Watch! New Man of Steel Trailer!

Warners have released another trailer for the upcoming Man of Steel. Most of the marketing has focused on Henry Cavill’s Superman, which makes sense for a number of reasons. Most obviously, this is his movie. Secondly, the film has to lift the pop culture stigma surrounding Superman. Third, the film seems to hinge on Superman’s character arc – which shouldn’t really be worth noting, but it’s nice to see Superman as more than a two-dimensional archetype.

The latest trailer, however, focuses on a part of the film I am actually really excited about. Michael Shannon is a superb actor, and I’m interested to see his take on Zod. Zod is a character who has had difficulty catching on in the comics, despite the fact that they seem to introduce a new version ever five years or so. The character just lives in the shadow of Terence Stamp, arguably providing the first truly iconic supervillain performance, and one which I’d argue holds up today.

Shannon doesn’t seem to be going for imitation, which is a good thing. I want to see his own stamp on the character. This trailer teases that quite well. I like that Zod is emphasising the “Superman as outsider” thing, and also that the movie seems to presenting Zod as an alien invader to Kal-El’s alien altruist. It’s a nice way to cast Superman’s character into contrast. Anyway, check it out below.

Watch! New Man of Steel Trailer!

It’s safe to say that I’m somewhat skeptical of a new live action Superman movie, particularly after the mess that was Superman Returns. That said, I’m growing cautiously optimistic about Man of Steel. The latest trailer helps, and it seems that David Goyer and Christopher Nolan (and Zack Snyder) have hit upon some of the character’s core themes – particularly the idea that Superman is more of an aspirational figure than a guy who can hit things really hard. The new trailer offers glimpses of the supporting cast. Amy Adams sounds pretty great as Lois Lane, not that there was any doubt. It’s also nice to see the wonderful Michael Shannon in full-blown villain mode. Although it looks like Zod will swear vengeance against the House of El again, Shannon’s performance looks to be a completely different tack from Terrence Stamp’s iconic performance. And that’s a good thing, as much as I love Stamp’s Zod.

Anyway, check out the trailer below, and let me know what you think.

Non-Review Review: Premium Rush

This movie was seen as part of Movie Fest, which was as much of a joy this year as it was last year. If not moreso.

Although a tad over-written and a little awkward in places, Premium Rush is a diverting high concept chase thriller that actually manages to produce something just a little unique. Set within the high-octane world of New York couriers, it sees our lead character racing to make a 7pm deadline while dealing with a whole host of problems. Much like the title character, the movie is at its best when it’s moving – zig-zagging and free-wheeling at a decent enough pace that the flaws fade away. However, it runs into a bit of bother when it tries to slow things down a bit. Still, it’s an entertaining city thriller.

Wheeler dealers?

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