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Non-Review Review: Miss Sloane

Like its central character, Miss Sloane is an interesting beast.

The movie’s central conflict is not the clash of egos between the rival lobbyists played by Jessica Chastain and Michael Stuhlbarg. Nor is it the philosophical conflict over gun control that drives so much of the plot. It is not even the conflict of interest that bookends the movie, the clash between the democratic ideal and the pragmatic reality of contemporary politics, although that perhaps comes closest to expressing the battle raging at the heart of the film.

Miss Sloane Goes to Washington.

The crisis that plays out across Miss Sloane is the gap between the perceived gap between personal and the political. For most of the film’s runtime, the eponymous character’s motivations remain engagingly opaque. Why has the cold and rational Elizabeth Sloane taken up a cause as ill-fated as tighter gun control regulations? The characters in the movie pick at the idea. Several wonder if she knew somebody involved in some traumatic incident of gun violence. It seems impossible to reconcile the calculated decisions of this political operator with a sense of moral righteousness.

Miss Sloane cleverly plays with this idea, teasing and goading the audience across its runtime. That implied conflict between the canny lobbyist and the just cause bubbles throughout the film. Most successfully, it plays out in Jessica Chastain’s superb central performance as the eponymous character; a keen observer of human nature who often seems to be battling with herself as much as with any singular rival. However, it also plays out in the film’s conflicted tone, with Miss Sloane often at odds with itself as it tries pitch itself at the right level.

Liz and let Liz.

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Non-Review Review: Going in Style

At one point in Going in Style, octogenarian would-be bank robber Albert decides to craft an alibi for an elaborate bank robbery while working at a cotton candy stand.

This image might just encapsulate Going in Style, a very light and fluffy bank robbery film about a trio of senior citizens who embark upon a bank robbery in order to balance the books. The movie is consciously (occasionally suffocatingly) feel good story of a bunch of cynical wise-cracking pensioners embarking upon wish fulfillment revenge against the banks that have taken so much from hard-working and decent Americans. Think of it as Hell or High Water that swaps the moral ambiguity for a clumsy score.

Dinner of champions.

Going in Style is not an especially complicated film. It never pauses to evaluate what is happening, or why. It is anchored in the assumption that people are basically decent, even when pushed to extremes. It goes for as many obvious jokes as it can cram into its ninety-six-minute run-time, from a few cheap laughs about the embarrassment factor of old-age sex to other jokes about bodily functions. But its heart is in the right place, as it goes out of its way to repeatedly assure the audience.

The extent to which Going in Style could be said to work rests in the easy charm of its three leads, in the pleasure of seeing Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin play off one another. None of the trio is pushing themselves. All three leads are essentially offering some minor variation on an established schtick, with no nuance or strain. The result is a heist thriller that never feels like it is racing against the clock, more ambling in its own time.

Benched.

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The 250, Episode #10 – Gone Girl (#179)

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s…

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 every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, David Fincher’s Gone Girl.

On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne is shocked to discover that his wife Amy has disappeared. As local law enforcement begin their investigation, all clues seem to point towards Nick. But all is not as it appears to be.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 179th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

podcast-gonegirl

https://m0vie.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/podcast11.mp3%20itunes:duration=01:51:06%20itunes:explicit=no

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Non-Review Review: Handsome Devil

Handsome Devil is a charming coming of age tale set against the backdrop of a South Dublin Rugby School.

The film follows loner and outcast Ned, who finds himself shunned at boarding school because he lacks the ability and interest to play rugby. Ned keeps to himself, even isolated from the other boys via his private room. However, Ned’s world is thrown into upheaval when the school receives a new student. Suddenly, Ned finds himself sharing the space with Conor, a promising young rugby prospect who might have the capacity to lead the team into the finals.

Seaing red.

The plot beats and themes in Handsome Devil are fairly standard, keeping very much consistent with the genre of coming of age secondary school tales; the notion of self and identity play into, juxtaposed with the urge towards conformity. There are inspiring teachers and tough decisions, eroding cynicism and brutal betrayal. Handsome Devil is aware of these expectations, to the point that all of this is laid out in the exposition-driven framing device at the start of the film.

However, Handsome Devil is elevated by a sense of genuine warmth beneath this very familiar exterior. The script is well-observed, and the direction is light enough to let a charming cast play well off one another. Like Ned, Handsome Devil is nowhere near as cynical as it appears, and it plays best when it drops the wry irony in favour of an endearing humanism.

That’s grass.

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Non-Review Review: Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell is a fascinating, deeply flawed, film.

The movie is vibrant and vivid, rich both textually and texturally. Its style, as much riffing on American films inspired by Japanese cyberpunk as by Japanese cyberpunk itself, is simply breathtaking. The hypersaturated colours leap off the screen, which is somewhat ironic given that the 3D rendering mutes them ever-so-slightly. Those bright blues, those glowing greens, those rich reds, they combine to create a sensation that might be described as “bubblegum noir”, a reworking of the noir trappings of cyberpunk with the colour turned way up.

Putting the pieces together.

It is almost too much handle. There is an appealing aura of sensory overload to the world of Ghost in the Shell, as if the film might best be experienced by passively allowing the world to wash over the audience, to sink into the movie in the same way that several members of the cast threaten to sink into virtual networks. Ever frame is saturated with detail, creating a sense that the audience might drown in all the little touches that suggest this neon fantasia dystopia. Ghost in the Shell works best as a mood, a visual lava lamp of shapes in motion.

The problems only really emerge when the story and characters come into focus, the film struggling to grapple with its themes through dialogue and exposition as readily as it does through steadicam tracking shots and computer-generated establishing sequences. Every character in Ghost in the Shell speaks as if preparing for a freshman philosophy tutorial, ruminating on the threads that bind identity and memory together. Characters have little time for metaphor, often bluntly over-explaining their world and their emotional state.

Neural network.

Ghost in the Shell feels at once too smart and too dumb for its own good. This is perhaps most obvious in the allegations of whitewashing that hang over the film, the wry irony of casting Scarlett Johansson as the central character in a big-screen adaptation of a beloved piece of Japanese culture. Johansson’s presence has sparked debate about cultural appropriation and representation. To its credit, Ghost in the Shell makes an earnest attempt to engage with this idea, turning audience frustration into theme. It is a very clever way of dealing with the issue.

The only problem is that Ghost in the Shell simply cannot talk its way around this core concern. Ghost in the Shell tries to recast itself as a narrative that is fundamentally about cultural appropriation, but in doing so it cannot escape the fact that it is also an example of cultural appropriation. Like those circular debates about identity and memory, these is a sense that Ghost in the Shell is attempting to trap the audience in echoes and reflections, a glitch that betrays a fundamental flaw.

Manufactured.

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Non-Review Review: CHiPs

CHiPs is what happens when you adapt a successful-yet-forgettable eighties action series in the style of a poorly-aged nineties sitcom.

There are a whole host of problems with CHiPs, but tone is the biggest concern. Writer and director Dax Shepard never seems entirely sure what he’s pitching, which leads to a bizarre mishmash of a juvenile gay panic comedy with retro nostalgia trappings strapped on to a lazy police thriller. None of these elements work particularly well on their own, but mashing them all together leads to even bigger problems. CHiPs tries to be several different things, and succeeds at none of them.

When he catches these corrupt cops, he’ll send them to the Peña-tentiary.

Who is the target market for CHiPs? The film pitches itself as a raunchy parodic reimagining of a show that was beloved at the time, but has faded into history. There’s obvious precedent here, and CHiPs can be reasonably placed as part of the movement that includes 21 Jump Street and Baywatch. However, CHiPs does not aim for nostalgia enough to appeal to fans of the show, and is not clever enough to attract the same audience as 21 Jump Street. The result is a reboot of an eighties motorcycle cop show aimed at fourteen-year-old boys.

Ironically, CHiPs feels retro for all the wrong reasons. CHiPs is largely defined by the idea that bodily functions (and male sexual organs) are hilarious, and that there is nothing funnier than two dudes touching each other’s erogenous zones, particularly when there’s at least one dude pointing out how hilarious it is. CHiPs is defensive nineties gay panic wrapped in eighties nostalgia. It is a strange cocktail.

Cashing their CHiPs.

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Non-Review Review: Life

Life has a certain endearing b-movie schlock value to it, a cheesy and derivative deep space creature feature that indulges all manner of body horror in its race to the climax. With all due respect to the esteemed philosopher Forrest Gump, most viewers know exactly what they are going to get.

The biggest problem with Life is that the film is very predictable. There is very little here that seasoned science-fiction horror film fans will not have seen before. Indeed, this is arguably reflected in the biggest problem with its central monster. The first life form discovered in outer space, the creature that stalks the crew in Life is initially appealingly alien; a translucent starfish evolving into a mass of tentacles with a love of bodily orifices. Unfortunately, the creature quickly becomes more conventional. The movie even names the beast “Calvin.”

Caught in the Gravity of Alien.

And yet, there is a quirky appeal to all this. Life is a movie with an attitude mirroring that creature. It begins as something intriguing before morphing into something far too familiar. More than that, there is a ruthless efficiency to the film. Characters are rendered as little more than archetypes, information is delivered primarily as plot set-up rather than character development, the first act of the film races through what should be huge dramatic beats in order to get to the squidgy monster mayhem. Life knows what it is, even when it’s not pretty.

There is something endearing about this ruthless efficiency, the commitment with which Life seizes upon its b-movie stylings as a vehicle for really creepy space scares. Life suffers a little bit from its by-the-numbers second act, but it demonstrates enough enthusiasm for its schlocky sensibilities that it’s hard to hard. Life finds a way.

Needing some space.

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