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Non-Review Review: Hold the Dark

“Do you have any idea what’s outside these windows? How black it gets?”

An enlightening piece of work.

In the American consciousness, the frontier is a haunted place.

In some ways, it is a concept distinct to the United States, at least in contrast to Europe. The boundaries within Europe were established centuries ago; although they might shift and bend, the contours of the continent have been known to the people who inhabited it for millennia. In contrast, to the settlers who arrived from Europe, the North American frontier was a mystery and an enigma. The frontier is distinct a border space. A border implies a point of collision that might be crossed, the neatly delineated boundary between one place and another.

Let Bisons be Bisons.

The frontier is something entirely different. It represents the edge of reason, and limit of what is knowable. To reach the end of the frontier is to reach the end of “the West.” In geographical terms, off the western shore of the North American continent lies “the East.” In more abstract terms, the American frontier is an imaginary space rather than a literal one. After all, Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film – Green Room – suggested that the frontier could be found somewhere  surprisingly close to urbanity, only a few hours away from the familiar comforts of Portland.

Hold the Dark takes place in a decidedly more remote environment, against the snow backdrops of Alaska. Saulnier goes to great lengths to illustrate the isolation of that environment, paying particular attention to how long it takes Russell Core to reach the small Alaskan town that serves as the starting point of the story before venturing out into the real wilderness. At another point, Vernon Slone stops by an old hostel on his travels. Asked for his point of origin, he’s informed that there was no road connecting the two places. “Not directly,” he clarifies.

Shedding some light on the matter.

As with the snow-covered western wilderness in Wind River, there is a sense that Hold the Dark unfolds against the very limit of the American frontier, at the point where the continent has ceased to provide for the settlers and instead has become something harsh and unforgiving. It is a place that has been settled by humans, but is perhaps untouched by humanity. If Green Room allowed Saulnier to explore the vipers coiled underneath familiar rocks, then Hold the Dark is a story about the animals that hunt at the very edge of civilisation.

Green Room was effectively a cynical and grim take on the familiar horror plot that warned of the dangers lurking off the backroads, just out of sight. Hold the Dark is the story of a hunt for a dangerous predator in a harsh environment. In both films, the monster looks very familiar.

Mask appeal.

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Maniac (Review)

Maniac is Inception meets Cloud Atlas, filtered through a prism of eighties retrofuturism.

That is to say that Maniac will not be for everybody. Indeed, there will be very many people for whom Maniac will simply not work, seeming too weird, too strange and too esoteric. Indeed, it often seems like Maniac is being weird for the sake of being weird, often populating even fairly standard character- or dialogue- driven scenes with small uncanny elements like a foul-mouthed purple robotic koala or a mostly-unseen alien ambassador with a “beautiful blue exoskeleton.” These elements often exist for their own sake. Even when they serve as symbolism, they are often deliberately obtuse.

No Stone unturned.

However, the surreal and contradictory imagery that populates Maniac is a large part of what makes the series so interesting. The bizarre dream-like imagery is very much at the core of Maniac, a bizarre fantasia where everything might possibly be a stand-in for something else or might simply have been plucked half-formed from the imagination with no deeper meaning. Maybe the beautiful alluring alien represents the hawk that a young boy took into his room; maybe the alien represents the predator brother that a young man wants to protect. Maybe sometimes a beautiful blue alien is just a beautiful blue alien.

Maniac is sure to be a polarising experience. Marmite for the television era. Indeed, based on early reviews, it already is. However, it is also a brilliant piece of work; inventive, demented, committed, affecting. This kooky cocktail won’t click with every viewer, but it’ll resonate deeply with those drawn in.

Taking the matter in hand.

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97. The Open House (-#58)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The Bottom 100 is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, a trip through some of the worst movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. The Bottom 100 is a special series of episodes that will be randomly interspaced with regular releases, covering the way in which the Internet Movie Database recently renovated their list of the worst movies ever made to include more populist fare.

This time Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote’s The Open House.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #27!

Your podcast, should you choose to accept it…

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin to discussion the week in film news. There’s a host of interesting stuff here, from the James Gunn controversy over Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 to the film noir compromise of Gilda to the divisive Dublin Oldschool. Along the way, we take a side-trip into discussions of vaguely unsettling YouTube algorithms aimed at children. However, perhaps the real reason to give it a listen is to hear Luke’s “grand unified theory of Tom Cruise” as part of a broad discussion about Mission Impossible: Fallout.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #23!

We’re now completely caught up on the Scannain podcast. And with new and improved sound design, thanks to the wonderful Donnacha Coffey.

This week, I join a fantastic panel including Grace Duffy, Jason Coyle, Ronan Doyle, and Donnacha Coffey from Filmgrabber. As ever a wide-ranging discussion took place, including talk about Set It Up and Netflix’s niche, the incredibly vibrant world of Streets of Fire, the continuing disaster that is Star Wars fandom after the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story and whether Lady Bird is the best film of the year so far. New releases include The Happy Prince, Kissing Candice and Ocean’s 8.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

Luke Cage – The Basement (Review)

The second season of Luke Cage inevitably battles with the infamous Netflix bloat.

This is a structural problem with a lot of Netflix series, but particularly with the Marvel Netflix fare. It is a result of a combination of factors, from the production team’s commitment to telling a single serialised story in a give season to the need to pad all of these seasons out to fill thirteen episodes. To be fair, certain seasons are more affected by this bloat than others; the first seasons of Iron Fist and The Punisher tell simple stories in extreme slow motion, while the second season of Jessica Jones spends almost half a season building towards the starting point of its own story.

The first season of Luke Cage had its own particular twist on this issue of pacing and padding. The first half of the season flowed relatively smoothly, as reflected in the extremely positive pre-release reviews that praised it as a series that “should rightfully elevate [Cheo Hodari] Coker into the league of television auteurs.” When the entire series was released, reaction was a bit more muted, with a second half of the season that effectively extended a ninety-minute blaxploitation homage into six hour-long episodes filled with stalling tactics and wheel-spinning.

At the end of Manifest, Luke Cage was shot by Willis Stryker, which effectively (and literally) took the lead out of his own show for a three-episode trip to Georgia that lasted through Blowin’ Up the Spot, DWYCK and Take It Personal. To prolong the plot, Cage and Stryker fell into a pattern of attack-and-repeat; Stryker shot Cage with a Judas bullet in both Manifest and Blowing Up the Spot, while Luke forces a confrontation with Stryker in Now You’re Mine, only for the season to stall with an episode about the police chasing Luke in Soliloquy of Chaos before allowing a final fight in You Know My Steez.

That second half of the first season was disastrous, with characters dancing around one another in order to hit a mandated running time, the desperation obvious in the variety of contrivances that prolonged the drama. In contrast, the second season has much great balance and control, never descending to that level of clumsy plotting in order to justify the thirteen-episode season order. At the same time, there are points where the series is obviously stretching itself out in order to make this story last thirteen hours instead of eight.

While still imperfect, the second season of Luke Cage represents a significant improvement.

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Non-Review Review: Annihilation

Annihilation is a science-fiction smorgasbord.

Early in the film, a group of scientists determine that the are of land which they have been sent to investigate has taken strange properties. Local plants and animals seem to have mutated and warped under the influence of some strange beings. Impossible hybrids stalk the landscape, exotic combinations of recognisable forms in order to create something uncanny and unsettling. In its own way, Annihilation feels self-aware.

The mouth of madness.

Alex Garland’s latest film is very much a hybrid itself, a synthesis of iconic science fiction elements, fused together to create something novel and exciting. Audience members will recognise a strand of DNA here, a stronger marker there. Even its harshest critic must concede that Annihilation has a broad palette; a dash of Stalker, a shade of Alien, a hint of Arrival, the slightest trace of Solaris, a nod towards The Thing, some 2001: A Space Odyssey for flavour. All these elements thrown together and mixed to create something eccentric and something intriguing.

Annihilation is a brainy high-energy imaginative science-fiction mixtape, and one both enticed and horrified by the idea that this is essentially the future culture.

“He was always throwing himself into his work.”

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