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Non-Review Review: Baby Driver

Baby Driver is largely about keeping the wheels spinning.

Circular imagery recurs throughout the film. At various points, long-take sequences begin and end in the same location, following characters as they move in a literal circle. At other points, the camera remains static while characters leave the frame to one side and enter from the other, creating the impression that they have just lapped their environment. Baby Driver is populated with objects that go all the way around to end up where they started; the clicker on an iPod, the drum of a washing machine, the wheels on a car, the subwoofer on a stereo, the record on a turntable.

Tune in, and cop out.

Even the dialogue and story move in something approaching a circle; recurring patterns of bad behaviour and errors in judgement, repeated lines offering a sense of symmetry to the story. In one of the nicer smaller examples, both the extended opening and closing sequences make a point to place the eponymous getaway driver behind the wheel of a striking red Subaru. Calls and response, echoes and refrains, patterns and sequences. It all comes around, Baby Driver suggests.

There is very little novel or innovative in Baby Driver, which feels very much like an attempt by writer and director Edgar Wright to construct a more conventional crowd-pleasing film than cult hits that defined his earlier efforts. A lot of Baby Driver feels conventional and archetypal, a conscious choice on the part of the director. While the supporting cast features any number of interesting players breathing life into familiar criminal archetypes, Baby Driver suffers from the fact that its two leads are its least satisfying element.

Drive baby.

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Non-Review Review: David Lynch – The Art of Life

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

David Lynch: The Art of Life is a fairly conventional and straightforward affair as these sorts of documentaries go.

The documentary eschews a lot of the trapping of more adventurous entries in the genre. Indeed, most of David Lynch: The Art of the Life could have been filmed and recorded in David Lynch’s art studio, as the director talks at length about his life and the camera pans loving across his working space and intercuts his monologues with art work that seems to hit on some of the core themes of his narration at any given moment. There is something very standard about the way that David Lynch: The Art of Life is put together.

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Indeed, the film largely eschews any sense of outside context or material. The only voice heard over the course of the film is that of David Lynch himself, recording at his own home studio. Only rarely do the production team need to use material that doesn’t belong to Lynch to flesh out his dialogue, notably during his discussion of his time in Philadelphia. Those occasions are especially noticeable because the documentary takes great care to credit those sources, drawing attention to how much material comes from Lynch’s own archives and records.

However, there is a strong argument that Lynch is suited to this approach. Lynch is a surrealist artist, and it is very hard to argue that anybody has a stronger grip on or understanding of his work. Indeed, the most effective and striking aspect of David Lynch: The Art of Life is the way in which it allows Lynch to make his own arguments from his own perspective crafting a narrative that feels distinct and unique. For all that Lynch is a surrealist, David Lynch: The Art of Life allows him to make a strong case as the only sane man in an insane world.

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Non-Review Review: Sully – Miracle on the Hudson

Sully: Miracle on the Hudson has a certain Frank Capra quality to it.

To be fair, a lot of that comes from the casting of Tom Hanks in the title role. Hanks radiates a certain ineffable integrity, a “Hanksian Decency” that informs his performances in films as diverse as Bridge of Spies and Inferno. It is tempting to think of him as “America’s Dad”, particularly given the grey hair and the moustache that he donned for the title role here. However, it is also tempting to think of him as a latter-day Jimmy Stewart, the embodiment of a certain type of fundamental American decency that lends itself to this sort of narrative.

Hanks for the memories.

Hanks for the memories.

Similarly, director Clint Eastwood has a similar philosophy. Eastwood’s films tend to be organised around strong moral principles. Often those principles are articulated in terms of personal responsibility, particularly the responsibility that individuals have for others whether in a professional capacity (J. Edgar) or a personal capacity (Million Dollar Baby) or simply by virtue of being there (Gran Torino). Eastwood’s recurring fascination with individual responsibility makes him a quintessentially American director.

This combination is ideally suited to Sully, which is constructed as something akin to a modern-day American fairytale.

"Mr. Sullenberger goes to the NTSB Debriefing."

“Mr. Sullenberger goes to the NTSB Debriefing.”

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Non-Review Review: The Accountant

If the default summer blockbuster is a “comic book” movie, then The Accountant is an “airport paperback” movie.

Although The Accountant is based upon an original idea by screenwriter Bill Dubuque, it feels very much like something adapted from some pulpy thriller. It has all the ingredients. Like so many John Gresham best sellers, it has a title comprised of a noun used as the definitive article. It has a pithy high concept that can be summarised in a nice tagline. It is packed full of ridiculous twists. It has a plot that is largely just something on which it can hang all manner of goofy ideas. It even has a fondness for absurd (and contrived) exposition delivered via monologue.

Unaccountable variables.

Unaccountable variables.

This is both the best and the worst thing about The Accountant. By just about any measure, The Accountant is a ridiculous film with a fairly thin concept and with a variety of twists that will seem inevitable to any genre-savvy observer. However, there is something quite enjoyable in watching The Accountant bounce between these crazy twists. The Accountant works best when it embraces its pulpier attributes, rolling with each crazy development after the last and never stopping to catch its breath.

The Accountant is a very weird and dysfunctional film, but that dysfunction becomes part of the charm. Much like those page-turners picked up to help pass long flights, it is unlikely that much of The Accountant will remain with audiences after the credits roll. However, there is still some fun to be had.

You can make a killing in this field.

You can make a killing in this field.

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Non-Review Review: A Long Way Down

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

A Long Way Down is never anywhere near as irreverent as it thinks it is. The story of four people who attempted suicide on “the most popular suicide spot on the most popular night for suicides” has a pretty effective basic premise. There’s a lot of material for a pitch black comedy here, particularly with Pierce Brosnan playing a former television presenter who has been convicted of having sex with a minor. (The BBC co-production credit makes this plot point feel particularly awkward.)

Instead, A Long Way Down pitches itself as a generic feel-good yearn about how people are nowhere near as cynical as they might initially claim to be. Ironically, this ends up making A Long Way Down feel particularly cynical.

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Non-Review Review: Les Misérables

It’s hard not to admire Les Misérables. It’s the first honest-to-goodness entirely sincere and mostly unironic big budget musical that we’ve seen released in quite some time. While song and dance will always be a part of the movies (The Muppets, for example, carrying many a dainty tune last year), there’s something quite impressive about seeing a music as epic and as iconic as Les Misérables carried across to the big screen. The stage musical became something of a cultural phenomenon on the West End, and Tom Hooper does an effective job of transitioning from stage to screen – even if he doesn’t consistently capitalise on the format shift.

There are some fundamental problems. The second half is a little too awkwardly paced and too disjointed to come together as well as it should, and Hooper seems to have a great deal pitching the right amount of camp (and humour) for an Oscar-bait musical about the aftermath of the French revolution. However, if you can look past those problems, the opening half is a superbly staged musical and the performances are impressive. Including the much maligned Russell Crowe, who might – hear me out – be the best thing about the film.

Sing when you're winning... or at least nominated...

Sing when you’re winning… or at least nominated…

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Non-Review Review: Rushmore

I am quite fond of Rushmore. It’s strange, because I found that Anderson’s schtick wore off on many of his following films – The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited. I suspect my affection for the film is rooted in the fact that it was the first Wes Anderson film I ever saw, and so his quirks and style were refreshing to me. There is, after all, nobody who writes movie dialogue and directs scenes quite like Wes Anderson. In a way, he feels a bit like Quentin Tarantino, an autuer who seems to sign almost every frame of his work. I think, perhaps, that I am so partial to Rushmore because Anderson’s plot devices and his writing seem much better suited to it than to many of the films that followed. After all, it’s a lot easier to accept a film based around a character who acts like an emotionally immature teenager when that character is an emotionally immature teenager.

It all goes to the Max…

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