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Non-Review Review: Vox Lux

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

Vox Lux very brazenly and very openly positions itself as the evil twin of A Star is Born.

Both Vox Lux and A Star is Born are meditations on the idea of fame in contemporary America, particular the effect that it has upon an individual. Effectively the third (or fourth) retelling of a classic Hollywood fairy tale, A Star is Born offers a much more optimistic perspective on how deeply fame is anchored in the American popular consciousness, a story about an individual being seen and elevated because of their unique gifts. Vox Lux is a decidedly more cynical take on that same story, a darker meditation on the corrupting power and toxic cult of fame.

All the glitters…

These are old ideas. Popular culture has grappled with fame and stardom for decades, the push-and-pull around the siren call of celebrity both lauded and dissected over and over and over again. Neither A Star is Born nor Vox Lux have anything especially innovative or insightful to say about the notion of celebrity, nothing that hasn’t been explored or deconstructed or interrogated countless times. Much is made of the idea popstar Celeste as a new voice for the twenty-first century in Vox Lux, but it’s never clear that the film has anything new to say.

That’s not an issue. There is power in reiterating familiar ideas. Vox Lux tells a familiar tale with a strong est of performances and confident narrative style. Perhaps this is enough, in its own wry way. Perhaps Vox Lux is arguing that the bold new voices of the twenty-first century are just repackaging and reheating old ideas with a new energy and new commitment. It might just be the movie’s darkest joke.

Life of Lux-ury.

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My 12 for ’18: “Annihilation” and Creating Something New…

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number one.

It’s not destroying. It’s making something new.

Rankings can be very revealing. They say a lot, both about wider culture, but also about the person who is making the list and the time at which the list is being made.

The best top tens inevitably reveal something about the time at which they were made. New Year’s Eve is a time for reflection, and a large part of the process of putting together these sorts of end-of-year lists is to reflect upon the year that has been. Any end-of-year top ten (or twelve) inevitably reveals something about how the person making that list experienced the previous twelve months. Whether consciously or not, every such list suggests a time capsule of the year, offering a snapshot of the general mood or even an outline of the zeitgeist.

A lot of the movies included in this list are examined through the lens of 2018, whether in terms of filmmaking, storytelling, or broader cultural concerns. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a superhero origin for a hyper-literate internet-raised generation. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a meditation on how quickly and viciously anger can spread. A Quiet Place reflected trends in contemporary horror cinema at literalising the experience of watching a horror film, a “meta” mode of horror.

Annihilation does something very similar. Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel is a film that is about a strange phenomenon that warps and distorts the biology of anything that comes into contact with it. Those who wander into “the Shimmer” are lost, their sense of direction disturbed and they are promptly confronted with monstrosities that appear to be sewn together from a variety of familiar shapes, often bent and broken in unsettling ways. In this sense, Annihilation feels like a knowing commentary on popular culture in 2018.

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Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s Thor – The Might Thor Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

I am a massive fan of The Mighty Thor. There’s just something so clever and playful about the idea of a classic Norse deity reimagined as a Marvel superhero, a self-aware take on the whole “modern myth” approach to American comic book storytelling that it’s hard not to love. Indeed, I would rank portions of Lee and Kirby’s work on Thor among the best of their output from the Silver Age, a truly epic large-scale epic fantasy narrative that isn’t anchored or tethered to any limitations beyond the imaginations of those working on it.

While The Fantastic Four is a lot more consistent and a lot more important in the grand scheme of comic book history, Thor is a bit rockier. It took Lee and Kirby a considerable amount of time to find their creative voice on Thor – a difficulty compounded by the fact that heavy work loads on other Marvel often forced the duo to delegate the early issues of the book to other writers and artists. As a result, this mammoth tome of Thor serves more as a learning curve, building towards a point where the duo will have figured out quite how to tell compelling and exciting stories featuring the God of Thunders.

Taking the hammer for a spin...

Taking the hammer for a spin…

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Watch! New Thor: The Dark World Trailer!

I’m looking forward to Thor: The Dark World, if only because (somewhat controversially) I think that Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is the best of Marvel Studios’ films to date. Branagh isn’t back directing, but I’m always a sucker for high-concept fantasy and a wonderful cast. From the looks of it, Thor: The Dark World is really cashing in on this year’s hip new cinematic trend: destroying London. It joins Red 2, The Fast and the Furious 6, Star Trek: Into Darkness, among others, in laying waste to the capital.

The Dark World features returning performers Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins, which is reason enough to watch. Add in Christopher Eccleston and I’m intrigued.

Anyway, the traielr is below. Check it out.

Non-Review Review: Leon (The Professional)

What makes Leon so fascinating is the combination a wonderfully disturbing script that puts a novel and unsettling twist on that “suddenly a father” subgenre, Besson’s understated direction, Eric Serra’s atmospheric score and a trio of fantastic central performances. The movie is never less than completely engaging, especially when it’s being very deeply uncomfortable. The movie is very much a “messed up”portrait of the survivor of a family massacre and her unconventional surrogate father figure, with the difficulties that both have adapting to their situation, although it’s probably Gary Oldman’s powerhouse villainous performance that you’re going to leave the film thinking about.

Leon is a bit daunted by the scope of fatherly responsibility...

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My Best of 2011: Black Swan & The Elevation of Schlock…

It’s that time of the year. To celebrate 2011, and the countdown to 2012, I’m going to count down my own twelve favourite films of the year, one a day until New Year’s Eve. I’m also going to talk a bit about how or why I chose them, and perhaps what makes this list “my” best of 2011, rather than any list claiming to be objective.

Black Swan is number six. Check out my original review here.

It’s interesting, how one can end up loving the same films, for very different reasons. I suspect that a great many critics and commentators lavish praise on Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan for its elegance and sophistication, which I appreciate and admire. There’s a lot to love about the film. However, my own appreciation of the movie seems to be for a very different reason. I think that what makes Black Swan so utterly compelling is the fact that it’s essentially a classic horror movie elevated to the status of fine art.

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Monkey Business: Could Andy Serkis Win An Oscar?

Okay, I think we all know the answer is “no.” I thought better than to try to pretend there was the slightest hint of even a nomination. However, considering some of the chatter around Serkis’ performance in the superb Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I can’t help but wonder if the Academy will everrecognise motion-capture performances with acting nominations. After all, where does the line end between the performance of the actor, and the special effects work put in by the technical team?

Serkis folk...

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