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Non-Review Review: Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a fascinating piece of work, in no small way due to how it has been re-evaluated and reclaimed since its premiere.

Despite the urban legend, Fire Walk With Me was not booed on its premiere at Cannes. Nevertheless, the widely-reported rumour that it was says a lot about the film’s reception and the ensuing mythology around it. Young provocateur Quentin Tarantino even took the opportunity for a pot shot at David Lynch, lamenting that the director had disappeared so far up his own ass.” The film earned just over four million dollars at the United States box office. Those watching at the time would (fairly, in context) have deemed the film’s failure as the end of the line for Twin Peaks.

In darkness…

Of course, hindsight has reversed a lot of these opinions. Critics like Mark Kermode are willing to make impassioned arguments in support of Fire Walk With Me, and the tone of coverage of the film leading into the television revival two decades later was largely positive. Modern reviews tend to speak about Fire Walk With Me as a “harrowing tour de force”, and as a key part of both Lynch’s evolving filmography and in the development of what Twin Peaks could be. It is an impressive reversal of public opinion, in a relatively short amount of time. (Lynch’s in-between success with Mulholland Drive might have helped.)

It is possible to see both of those films wrestling within the finished product, to understand how the film could once be a provocative disappointment and an insightful statement. In some ways, this wrestling match within Fire Walk With Me feels entirely appropriate with the themes of both the film itself and the series leading into it. Lynch’s oeuvre is populated with doppelgangers and twisted reflections, and it feels strangely appropriate that Fire Walk With Me should exist as its own shadow self.

A singular maniac.

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Non-Review Review: Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories is an existential horror dramedy, and gets that unique cocktail to work much better than it really should.

Ghost Stories is adapted by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman from their stage play of the same name. The play premiered in Liverpool in 2010, to rave reviews. Interestingly, Dyson and Nyman worked hard to preserve the mystery and ambiguity around their production, publicising the show with shots of terrified reactions from the audience and asking those who had seen the film not to discuss its twists and turns with those people who had not. As such, Ghost Stories became something of a cult stage phenomenon.

Black mirror.

With this in mind, adapting a play like Ghost Stories to the big screen presents its share of challenges. Not only does a feature film demand more publicity and more conversation than a stage play, having a much higher profile and a much larger distribution mechanism, it also involves a delicate process of translation. Ghost Stories was a concept very firmly anchored in its format, wedded to the conventions of stage shows. Finding a way to preserve the heart of the play within the framework of a motion picture was always going to be tricky.

Ghost Stories works well, although it arguably works better as a psychological meditation on mankind’s relationship with the supernatural than as a horror anthology in its own right. Ghost Stories is a clever and canny piece of work, one undercut slightly by some clumsy narrative choices in the final act. Still, even in its weakest moments, Ghost Stories is a compelling and engaging little film.

Cue, card.

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Non-Review Review: Damo & Ivor – The Movie

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

In the spirit of The Hardy Bucks Movie before it, Damo & Ivor: The Movie takes a popular Irish television series and weds it to the formula of the road movie to provide a theatrical adaptation.

This is not a bad approach in principle. The road movie is a versatile template, and one that provides a solid template for bringing television characters to the big screen; it provides a clear plot, an opportunity for new viewers to get to know the characters, and the chance to show off a greatly expanded budget. It is no coincidence that even larger American television-to-cinema adaptations have followed this approach, most notably The Muppet Movie.

Indeed, The Hardy Bucks Movie took advantage of the opportunities afforded by this template to take its characters beyond Ireland, allowing them to visit the continent. This was something that would have been impossible on the budget of an Irish television show, and demonstrated an ambition in taking a broad and popular television comedy to the multiplex. In contrast, Damo & Ivor is decidedly more tempered in its ambitions. It is a road movie, but one the confines itself to Ireland. There is little here that could not have been accomplished in a television special.

This much sets the tone for Damo & Ivor: The Movie, which very much aspires to a “good enough” aesthetic in its production. Damo & Ivor is not a film that is enticed to take chances on jumping to the multiplex, instead relaxing casually into formula. Damo & Ivor doesn’t exactly fail, but only because it never really tries.

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Non-Review Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

Tomb Raider is an excavation of a video game classic.

Tomb Raider gets a lot right in terms of pitching itself as an action-driven blockbuster, certainly enough to elevate it above recent computer-screen-to-cinema-screen efforts like Assassin’s Creed or Warcraft. Tomb Raider has a solid action director in Roar Uthaug and a charismatic lead in Alicia Vikander, while understanding that the premise of the movie rests within its title. Tomb Raider is a movie about raiding tombs, and even the somewhat strained opening act is very striving towards that objective.

“Okay, where’s this tomb I need to raid?”

At the same time, Tomb Raider suffers from the problem that haunts so many video game adaptations, which is a complete misunderstanding of the mechanics and appeal of the medium. The appeal of video games is one of immersion. It is one of actually doing something (almost) firsthand; solving puzzles, making decisions, timing your reflexes just right. These are aspects of gaming that are very difficult to emulate on the big screen, but it seems like the best video game movies understand that the possible appeal of video games is in watching that doing.

Instead, like Assassin’s Creed or Warcraft before it, Tomb Raider makes the mistake of assuming that the audience’s investment in video game world-building extends beyond their direct engagement with it. Tomb Raider too often feels like a video game movie that believes the appeal of playing video games is to watch the in-game cut scenes.

“No, but seriously… tomb?”

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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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