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Non-Review Review: Focus

Focus is a fun old-fashioned heist movie that suffers from the lack of a central plot.

In some respects, Focus plays as a con itself. While movies about con artists are inevitably built around charismatic rogues and antiheroes, the stories practically structure themselves. Cons are visually interesting and dynamic, they are fun and exciting. Watching characters trying to out-wit one another in rapidly-escalating situations creates instant dramatic tension, and it is easy to see why the genre has remained popular. The beats are familiar – the “big one”, the “revenge con”, the “try to get alive game.”

Off the clock...

Off the clock…

Focus keeps teasing the audience with possible plot hooks that might sustain a two-hour film, diverting the audience’s focus and keeping them off-balance. “So what about the big con?” Margot Robbie’s Jess teases Will Smith’s Nicky. “You mean the one where we all make so much money we all retire?” Nicky teases back, dismissively. What makes Focus so interesting – and what also arguably prevents it from working as well as it might – is that it consciously plays against these recognisable elements. There is no big con, there is no story.

This is the long con that Focus plays – and plays very well. For all that it teases the plot-driven trappings of a caper movie, Focus is a good old-fashioned star-driven drama, a movie built around Will Smith’s movie icon charisma. It is one hell of a gamble, and one that doesn’t play off as well as it might, Focus‘ unwavering commitment provides a charm and energy that carries movie through. Offering advice to Jess, Nicky insists, “You never drop the con. Never break. Die with the lie.” It seems that Focus lives by its own words.

A star vehicle...

A star vehicle…

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The X-Files – Herrenvolk (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

After Talitha Cumi, Herrenvolk cannot help but seem like a little bit of a disappointment.

Towards the end of the episode, the Alien Bounty Hunter hunts down Jeremiah Smith. Mulder begs for mercy, but the Bounty Hunter will hear nothing of it. “He shows you pieces, but tells you nothing of the whole,” the Bounty Hunter remarks to Mulder. It feels like that sentiment encapsulates Herrenvolk in a nutshell. Mulder goes on the run with Jeremiah Smith and sees a collection of vague but compelling things that may or may not tie into colonisation.

"Now you're thinking, 'I hope that's shepherd's pie in my knickers!'"

“Now you’re thinking, ‘I hope that’s shepherd’s pie in my knickers!'”

Like a lot of the mythology in the fourth and fifth seasons, it feels like a holding pattern. Talitha Cumi was surprisingly candid in its revelations. The aliens were plotting to colonise Earth in collaboration with the human conspirators. The date had been set, the plot was in motion. That was a pretty big bombshell, confirmed in unequivocal terms. It was arguably the clearest and most transparent that the conspiracy arc would ever be. There was a clear goal, a deadline, and a sense of purpose.

Almost immediately, Herrenvolk works to muddy the water. It stalls, it procrastinates, it delays, it evades. It is a plot structured around a collection of ominous conspiracy buzz words (DNA, smallpox, colonies, clones) without a clear purpose or objective.

A bloody mess...

A bloody mess…

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Non-Review Review: Deceptive Practice – The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

A veteran magic performer since his childhood, with a career stretching back over half a century, Ricky Jay is an absolutely fascinating subject. Jay is a master magician in his own right, but he’s also a writer, historian and actor. He is this gigantically important pop culture figure, having worked with directors like David Mamet or Paul Thomas Anderson – having appeared in film and television roles unconnected to his stage career. At one point, Jay even reads a poem written about him, The Game In The Windowless Room.

Jay has this incredible diversity of skills and interests, and it’s absolutely intriguing to delve into those interests. Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay suffers a bit from never really pinning down the man himself, but it does demonstrate his long and abiding affection for the artform of magic, as well as some insightful glimpses at the long history and pedigree of this most mysterious performance art.

deceptivepractice1

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