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70. Barry Lyndon – St. Patrick’s Day 2018, w/ When Irish Eyes Are Watching (#225)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

This week, a special crossover episode with When Irish Eyes Are Watching, an Irish film podcast wherein Alex, Clíona and Séan take at a look at films connected to the Emerald Isle.

The 250 and When Irish Eyes Are Watching are crossing over for a St. Patrick’s Day treat. Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

Barry Lyndon is the epic story of the eponymous character, a dashing Irish rogue who seems to bumble his way through the eighteenth century. Using nothing but his wits, Barry manages to manipulate his way to the fame and fortune that he so covets, only to discover a fortune won is not so easily kept.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 225th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Form a Square For That Purpose: Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” and the Illusion of Civility

In some respects, Barry Lyndon is seen as an outlier in Stanley Kubrick’s filmography.

The film is a lush and extended period drama, adapted from a nineteenth century novel set in the eighteenth century. It arrives in the middle of an acclaimed run of films from director Stanley Kubrick: Doctor Strangelove; Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket. By all appearances, Barry Lyndon stands apart from these films. “Period piece” is obviously a film genre unto itself, but it is not as heightened as the bigger and bolder films around it.

Arresting imagery.

Barry Lyndon is arguably Kubrick’s only “period film” outside of Spartacus, which the director famously disowned and is arguably seen as a film more overtly influenced by its leading man than its director. Of course, some of Kubrick’s films move backwards and forwards in time; Full Metal Jacket takes place in the late sixties, while the prologue to 2001: A Space Odyssey is set at “the dawn of man.” Nevertheless, for many casual film fans approaching Barry Lyndon, the film’s period trapping stands out from the surrounding films, which are largely set near the present and into the future.

Indeed, it could be argued that this difficulty that casual observers have in positioning Barry Lyndon within the Kubrickian canon accounts for some of the controversy around the film’s place in the director’s larger filmography. Upon release, the film was largely met with confusion and disinterest, critics often struggling with what to make of the finished product. For his part, Kubrick dismissed the idea of critics forming a consensus on a film like Barry Lyndon after just one viewing.

Initial audiences weren’t enamored with the film.

Of course, this is arguably par for the course with Kubrick films, particularly those towards the end of his career. Many Kubrick films opened to a divided critical opinion before slowly solidifying their popular reputations over time; 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining. However, Barry Lyndon seems to be a special case. Debate was still raging over the critical merits of the film after Kubrick’s death, even in letter columns of newspapers like The New York Times. Even the release of remastered editions forty years later find proponents arguing the film is undervalued or underrated.

However, watching Barry Lyndon, the film never really feels like an outlier in terms of Kubrick’s filmography. Indeed, in some respects, it feels like a culmination of many of the director’s recurring themes and fascination. Barry Lyndon is perhaps the clearest articulation of some of the key themes within Stanley Kubrick’s larger body of work, in particular through its engagement with the Enlightenment as a window through which he might explore the human concept of “civilisation.”

Drawing to a close.

Repeatedly over the course of his filmography, Kubrick engages with the idea of civilisation and order, the structures that mankind imposes upon the world in order to provide a sense of reason or logic to a chaotic universe. Repeatedly in his movies, Kubrick suggests that “civilisation” is really just a veneer that masks the reality of the human condition, providing a framework for acts of violence and self-destruction that seem hardwired into the human brain. Kubrick suggests that “civilisation” is a fragile construct, and one that occasionally seems hostile to the nature of those who inhabit it.

Unfolding against the rigid social mores of the eighteenth century, Barry Lyndon allows Kubrick to construct the starkest and most literal example of that theme.

Soldiering on.

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Non-Review Review: Kissing Candice

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

Kissing Candice is a vivid and confident theatrical debut. If only that confidence were in any way earned.

Kissing Candice is clumsy, indulgent, over-signified and convinced of its own profundity.

Talk about your red lights.

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Non-Review Review: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time is messy and unfocused, but also beautiful and wonderful.

It is wonderful in a very literal sense. A Wrinkle in Time is best enjoyed with a sense of childlike wonder, allowing the succession of beautiful and striking images wash over the audience. Director Ava DuVernay strives for a childlike sense of wonder, adopting a very heightened and exaggerated aesthetic. A Wrinkle in Time is filled with impossible and uncanny images that seem to have sprung from a rich and vivid imagination. This sense sense of wonder often has little to do with momentum, DuVernay finding a way to make actors standing in field of wheat seem enchanting.

Here comes the science.

However, A Wrinkle in Time suffers a little bit when it tries to force these images to cohere into a singular linear narrative. The plot of A Wrinkle in Time is an archetypal children’s adventure story, about a group of children crossing impossible distances and facing impossible odds in order to reunite a broken family. However, A Wrinkle in Time follows the familiar beats and rhythms without ever suggesting a central thesis or point. The issue is not that A Wrinkle in Time is a family film without ideas. It often feels like A Wrinkle in Time has too many ideas.

A Wrinkle in Time works better from moment to moment than it does as a single story. At is best, A Wrinkle in Time feels like an album of striking and evocative images paired with clever and provocative themes. However, these elements never quite line up as smoothly as they should.

It all balances out.

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Non-Review Review: Game Night

Game Night is a delightfully strange creation, the kind of film that feels willfully esoteric.

Game Night a comedy built around an extended whole plot reference to a largely forgotten-by-all-but-hardcore-devotees mid-tier nineties David Fincher movie. Despite amassing something of a cult following, and despite the fact that it has aged relatively well as an example of Fincher’s craft, The Game is largely seen as a curiousity in Fincher’s filmography. It lacks the gravity and cultural weight afforded to the Fincher films that impacted the zeitgeist and resonated with critics; se7en, Fight ClubZodiac, The Social Network.

A cheesy premise.

As such, it is strange to see a comedy built as an extended homage to The Game. Not that there is anything wrong with The Game. As with any Fincher film, it is a very well-constructed film and one that is satisfying on its own terms, even if it never elevates itself in the same way as the best of the director’s work. It seems like a strange choice for a loving spoof twenty years after the fact. Perhaps Game Night can be contextualised as one of the more bizarre and specific expressions of the nineties nostalgia otherwise referenced in films like Jurassic World or Independence Day: Resurgence.

However, what is especially striking about Game Night is its commitment to this singular extended reference. This is not a film recycling the basic concept of The Game, it is a film defined and shaped by The Game. While it is very clearly nested inside the framework of a contemporary studio comedy, Game Night proves endearingly invested in its inspiration. Game Night is very… well… game.

Getting on board with the premise.

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Non-Review Review: Ni juge, ni soumise (So Help Me God)

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

So Help Me God is a very strange film, in that it is very difficult to imagine how exactly this documentary got made.

Anne Gruwez is a judge working in Brussels. As part of her role in the criminal justice system, she not only supervises on-going investigations, but also hear minor cases on something approaching a one-on-one basis. So Help Me God follows roughly a year in the life of Gruwez, splitting its attention between her on-going stewardship of a cold case murder investigation and the more routine cases that she hears on a daily basis. What emerges is a fascinating and compelling examination of the Belgian legal system.

So Help Me God has an amazing amount of access to the workings of the criminal investigations overseen by and the criminal cases heard by Anne Gruwez. No faces are blurred, no voices are disguised. There is no artificial barrier created between the audience and the subjects, no attempt to disguise identities. In many ways, So Help Me God feels very much like a particularly eccentric workplace documentary, with little sense of any red tape or restrictions upon the production team. It is a testament to directors Yves Hinant and Jean Libon that they were able to construct such a candid film.

So Help Me God is fascinating and engaging viewing, even if there is a sense of something decidedly less quirky and amusing resting somewhere beneath its polished and charming exterior.

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Non-Review Review: Hannah

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

Hannah is a quiet, meandering movie elevated by a powerhouse central performance from Charlotte Rampling.

The second feature film by Andrea Pallaoro, Hannah unfolds primarily in silence – or in the absence of talking. There is dialogue, but it often seems incidental to the story being told. Much of the film consists of extended wordless passages, focusing on the eponymous character as she moves through the world. Dialogue is often perfunctory and functional, seldom exposition driving a scene. A lot of the sound in the film is ambient; a train approaching and then pulling into a platform, a cloth cleaning a gigantic glass door, water trickling from taps and faucets.

As the title implies, Hannah is essentially a character study. Charlotte Rampling plays the eponymous character, the film following her through her routine. Gradually, the film sketches out her world, first in broad pencil strokes and then in fine detail. Rampling anchors the film, conveying so much through her eyes and her expression, providing a strong emotional core to the film buried beneath an emotionally reserved exterior. Rampling’s performance is crushing and heartbreaking, and all the more powerful for its low-key nature.

However, Hannah is perhaps too low-key. Barring a bunch of clumsy symbolism, there are points at which the film feels like it might easily lapse into a coma without anybody noticing.

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