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Non-Review Review: Out of Blue

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.

Out of Blue is just awful.

Carol Morley is an intensely talented director. Dreams of a Life is a fascinating documentary, exploring a harrowing true story with empathy and compassion. However, Out of Blue seems to get away from her. Morley is directing a screenplay that she adapted from Night Train, Martin Amis’ darkly comic parody of detective fiction. Indeed, Out of Blue seems to carry over some of the parodic intention of the source material in its better moments, playing as deranged and heightened homage to detective movie clichés. However, there is also a sense that Out of Blue is taking all of this very seriously underneath it all, that it is unwilling to commit to “the bit” and that it confuses its own pseudo-profundity for actual insight.

Even if Out of Blue never actually functions as a cinematic narrative, there is some fun to be hand with certain stretches of it. There’s enough in Out of Blue that it almost plays as investigative thriller pastiche; a knowing and heightened riff on the familiar formulas of sordid investigative thrillers. There are stretches when Out of Blue plays like the kind of weird and esoteric object that a view might find playing on Adult Swim in the early hours of the morning, couched between episodes of NTSF:SD:SUV and playing opposite Angie Tribeca. The dialogue is so hardboiled that it could be used as murder weapon, the insights into the human condition so laboured that they’ve been granted health insurance.

The biggest issue with Out of Blue is that it never seems to be “in” on the joke.

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Non-Review Review: Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s irreverent modernised take on A Streetcar Name Desire. Sure, some of the finer details have been changed to protect the not-quite-innocent. The story is relocated from New Orleans to San Diego. (“This is such a European city,” our lead notes, as if to suggest it isn’t such a significant change.) The character of Stanley Kowalski has been divided across several different supporting characters – the Polish Augie and the car mechanic Chili. (“He’s just another version of Augie,” Jasmine suggests of her sister’s later boyfriend, drawing attention to the fact that they are both other versions of another character.)

Allen plays of the structure and the beats of Tennessee Williams’ hugely iconic play, even playfully branding his Blanche Dubois stand-in as the movie’s “blue” Jasmine French. The result is enjoyable and intriguing, anchored on a fantastic central performance from Cate Blanchett as the Southern belle who might not be quite the victim that she claims to be. As with so many Allen films, there’s a rich ensemble at work here, but Blue Jasmine works beautifully by riffing cleverly on a classic of American theatre.

"... the kindness of strangers..."

“… the kindness of strangers…”

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 5 (Review/Retrospective)

With The Spirit Archives, Vol. 5, we get our first real taste of what The Spirit looks like without Will Eisner. I’ve always felt like The Spirit belonged to Eisner in a way that very few iconic American comic book characters belong to a particular creator. The Spirit belonged to Eisner in the same way that The Adventures of Tintin belonged to Hergé. I am fond of Darwyn Cooke’s revival of the character, and there’s something interesting about the Kitchen Sink anthology series, but those exist mainly as curiosities or companion pieces to Eisner’s work on the character.

In many ways, this stretch of strips, published by Eisner’s staff and colleagues during his army service, feels the same sort of way. It’s more of a historical curiosity than an end to itself.

Lighten up…

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Non-Review Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fascinating film, and I’m not quite sure I’ve figured it out yet. It looks stunning, especially considering the relatively tiny budget, and it features two stunning lead performances from newcomers Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry. However, there’s a sense that movie lacks substance, that Zeitlin’s ethereal coming of age fantasy lacks a firm grounding necessary to convince us to embark with the young Hushpuppy on her coming of age adventure.

Lighting up the screen…

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Non-Review Review: Killing Them Softly

There’s been a lot of talk about how Killing Them Softly is a critique of the Obama administration. It’s easy to see why. Obama might as well receive an “and” credit, given how frequently he appears and how deeply his influence seems to seep into the film. He’s there at the beginning, between moments of static, and he’s there at the end, interrupting exchanges between two primary characters. The film is set during the President’s first campaign, and released just in time for his second. Still, Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of Cogan’s Trade feels like a more rounded criticism of the American political system, with Obama serving as a focal point if only because the promise he offers, one of change.

At one point during the film, our leading hit man confronts one of the people on his list. “Not many people get what you have,” he assures the nervous and sweaty young man who seems way over his head. “You have a choice.” Of course, it’s not really a choice – everybody knows that. The young guy knows it, the assassin knows it, and we know. Sure, he can pick between two alternatives, but there are no happy endings here. Dominik’s Killing Them Softly feels like an older, harsher, more bitter Tarantino film, one jaded and numbed by the promise of a false choice. Cynically, it seems to suggest that elections – now and then – are like that offer made in a dive bar.

Sure, there’s technically a choice. But there’s not an opportunity to substantially improve anybody’s position.

Cogan’s run…

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Non-Review Review: (Seeking) Justice

The premise of Justice (or Seeking Justice, as it is named in the States) is not fundamentally unworkable. The basic plot seems almost like an affectionate homage to Hitchcock, with people essentially trading motivations for murder, with a mysterious organisation (known as “the Organisation”) offering people a chance for revenge against the person who hurt them – but with a caveat. If they do you a favour, you will have to do them a favour later on. It’s not a bad premise for a revenge thriller, but the problem with Justiceis that it takes itself far too serious, and expects us to do the same. What could have been a cheesy-yet-enjoyable thriller becomes an overly long and self-important waste of time.

Cage rage!

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Non-Review Review: Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a mess of a movie. I don’t mean that as praise, nor do I mean it as criticism. It’s just a jumble of ideas and scenes, plot contrivances and random incidents, all tied together through the central performance of Nicolas Cage as Lieutenant Terrence McDonagh. Watching the film, I’m not entirely convinced that it really works, but I do have increased respect for Nicolas Cage, who seems to hold Werner Herzog’s shattered examination together through the sheer force of his performance.

Off the cuff...

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