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Non-Review Review: Under the Silver Lake

There is far too much masturbation in Under the Silver Lake, of both the literal and figurative variety.

To be entirely fair to writer and director David Robert Mitchell, this is entirely the point. Under the Silver Lake is many things, but a large part of it is a genre hybrid between existential slacker drama, anthropological journey through the eccentric and self-absorbed spaces of Los Angeles, and absurdist investigative thriller. Those sorts of genres lend themselves to excessive self-indulgence and self-importance, the sorts of grand-sounding-yet-completely-empty philosophical treatises on the human condition that seem to have been written by those high on their drug of choice or simply themselves. With that in mind, the amount of literal masturbation in Under the Silver Lake seems pointedly self aware, a tacit acknowledgement of the figurative masturbation.

Lost Angeles.

Under the Silver Lake does have a few good ideas. More than that, it has a couple of legitimately great scenes, moments that demonstrate the same skill with the uncanny that made Mitchell’s It Follows so effective. There are moments when Under the Silver Lake walks that fine line between being darkly, bleakly funny and also being uncomfortably, hauntingly unsettling. However, the issue is that these moments are far too fleeting and far too ephemeral, frequently lost amid long and listless passages in which Under the Silver Lake indulges in well-worn cliché and obvious ideas. Under the Silver Lake is shrewd enough to acknowledge and even try to deflate some of its sense of self-importance, but there’s an awkward seam of self-assuredness that runs through the film.

As much as Under the Silver Lake might brutally and incessantly mock its lead character for his assumption that he can figure out the secret code of the universe, it often feels like Under the Silver Lake is convinced that it has a much more insightful perspective, even as it packages well-worn ideas as profound revelations.

This is all going swimmingly.

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122. Room – St. Patrick’s Day 2019, w/ When Irish Eyes Are Watching (#151)

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. Lenny Abrahamson’s Room.

Jack has spent his entire life within the confines of “Room”, the space which comprises the totality of his world. He knows every inch of the ten-by-ten space in which he was raised, in which he lives day-by-day with Ma between visits from Old Nick. However, as Jack turns five, he is forced to confront some uncomfortable realities about the world within which he lives and the world beyond “Room.”

At time of recording, it was ranked the 151st best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: What Men Want

What Men Want is probably as solid an execution as the title premise could expect.

To be clear, What Men Want is very trite and straightforward. It is a movie that is largely defined by cliché. As the title implies, it’s essentially an exercise in broad gender stereotypes. There is very little novel and exciting in What Men Want. In fact, the most frustrating aspect of the whole film is the consistent refusal to work for a joke when the opportunity for a cheap lay-up presents itself. What Men Want is in no way an exceptional piece of work.

“Are you psychic?”
“No, I’ve just seen a rom-com before.”

At the same time, there is a certain charm to all of this. What Men Want is effectively an exercise in familiar formulas. Audience members will recognise all the stock romantic clichés employed here: the absurd lie that spirals into a brutal personal betrayal, the gay supporting character and sounding board, the third act separation and reunion, the protagonist’s journey towards realising that they need other people. However, there is something to be said for hitting those marks in a manner more effective than many modern films in the same subgenre.

It also helps that What Men Want is driven by a powerhouse central performance from Taraji P. Henson, who demonstrates a commitment and energy that the film can seldom match.

Catching up.

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Non-Review Review: The Highwaymen

The Highwaymen is an uneven and clumsy piece of work.

In many ways, The Highwaymen positions itself as a logical extension of the modern deconstructive western, the tales of men on the edge of the frontier grappling with the challenges of modernity. Sometimes, those stories are set in the old west as it faces massive social shifts; The Sisters Brothers is a recent, effective example. Sometimes, these stories unfold in a more contemporary setting featuring characters still processing how the world has moved past them; Hell or High Water may be the best of the recent examples. The Highwaymen positions itself somewhere on the spectrum between the two; an early scene has the Governor of Texas offering an elevator pitch for the entire film, “It’s 1934, Lee, and you wanna put cowboys on Bonnie and Clyde?”

This is the basic premise of The Highwaymen, and it is a good one. It is two different American archetypes thrown into stark opposition with one another, a story that pits two of the last cowboys in the old west against a newer and hungrier breed of American outlaw. The Highwaymen is the story of the two Texas Rangers drafted out of retirement to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde. Forget Monsters vs. Aliens or Cowboys and Aliens or Alien vs. Predator, this is a pop cultural match-up for the ages. It is cowboys versus gangsters. (It might be more accurate to describe Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as “public enemies”, but “cowboys versus public enemies” is not quite so evocative.)

With all of this in mind, it is disappointing that The Highwaymen feels so hollow.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #8! Live From VMDIFF!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This time, coming live from the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, recorded in the space between the showings of Another Day of Life and José on Saturday 2nd March. I join Jason Coyle, Ronan Doyle and Alex Towers of When Irish Eyes Are Watching discuss their own experience of the festival to this point, including highlights and otherwise.

Films discussed include: Loro, What Time is Death?, Happy as Lazzaro, Ash is Purest White, Rafiki, Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life, The Man Who Feels No Pain, Fighting With My Family, Angelo, Vox Lux, Her Smell, Dragged Across Concrete, Another Day of Life, Dub Daze, Out of Blue, A Girl From Mogadishu and She’s Missing.

Due to the unique constraints of the festival, this episode eschews the usual format (no top ten! no new releases!), moves at a much brisker and looser pace, and was recorded in the wild. As such, the sound includes ambient rainfall.

Non-Review Review: Triple Frontier

Triple Frontier feels very much like a J.C. Chandor grab bag. And that’s no bad thing of itself.

The film runs on a variety of different concepts and ideas that run through Chandor’s other films. On a purely plotting level, the idea of a story about five guys trapped alone in the wilderness trying to survive on hostile terrain evokes the survival drama of All is Lost, albeit with more men carrying more weapons. The thematic underpinnings of the story, particularly its preoccupations with the dangers of greed and the consequences of unchecked avarice, resonate with Chandor’s earlier work like Margin Call or A Most Violent Year. There is a sense in which Triple Frontier feels of a piece with the body of work that Chandor is building for himself.

Even more broadly, Triple Frontier feels like the kind of older sort of film that rarely gets made in the current studio system; an ensemble cast dropped into a fairly standard premise, anchored in the recognisability of the actors rather than the familiarity of the intellectual property. Triple Frontier is a film build around the closest thing that modern Hollywood has to star wattage. The film reunites Chandor with Oscar Isaac, who anchored A Most Violent Year and the secondary lead role is given over to Ben Affleck, who is arguably one of the rare remaining movie stars. There is no small irony in the fact that Triple Frontier should end up on Netflix, despite being the sort of mid-budget, actor-driven, basic-concept action thriller that studios used to churn out on a regular basis.

Triple Frontier is perhaps Chandor’s weakest film. It lacks the raw urgency of Margin Call, the desperate intimacy of All is Lost and the claustrophobic anxiety of A Most Violent Year. However, it is still a well-constructed survival parable driven by a likable cast and confident director with a clear affection for an older style of Hollywood film-making.

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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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