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96. Paper Moon (#229)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Peter Bogdonavich’s Paper Moon.

Mose is a two-bit hustle who is passing through town in time to visit a funeral for an old flame. While there, the woman’s young daughter is thrown into his care. Mose immediately denies paternity of the precocious and intelligent young Adie, but the pair quick gel as they embark upon a string of hustles across Depression-era America.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 229th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #19!

We’re continuing to work through a bit of a backlog on the Scannain podcast, this time jumping back in to cover the last week in May.

This week, I’m joining Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin, Ronan Doyle, Jay Coyle and Grace Duffy. It’s a free-form and rambling conversation, with topics including the secret screening of Citizen Jane at the IFI to mark the upcoming Irish abortion referendum, the receipt of career Oscars in competitive categories, the Netflix release of Cargo, the absurdity of building horror shared universes, and the act of fridging in Deadpool 2.

The podcast also contains what might be the best segue in the history of podcasting, and new releases include The Breadwinner, Solo: A Star Wars Story and the surprisingly controversial Show Dogs.

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

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #7!

Before the storm…

The arrival of “Storm Emma” and the “Beast from the East” ensured one of the most memorable Audi Dublin International Film Festivals in recent memory. Myself, Jason Coyle and Ronan Doyle took a bit of a breather in the middle of it all to talk about the best of what we’d already seen, what we thought would win at the Oscars, as well as the usual trip through the weekly top ten and the new releases.

Check it out here, or give it a listen below.

CinÉireann – Issue 4 (February 2018)

The latest issue of CinÉireann has just been released.

I’m delighted to have contributed several pieces to the magazine, talking about the Oscars, about Netflix and about Black Panther and the IMDb. There is some fantastic talent involved, and it is an honour to be involved.

As ever, thanks to the fantastic Niall Murphy over at Scannain for letting me be a part of it.

You can read CinÉireann as a digital magazine directly. You can even subscribe and get future issues delivered to you directly. Or click the picture below.

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #2!

And we’re back to doing it almost weekly!

The new and improved Scannain podcast continues. A one-stop shop to talk about the week that has been in Irish and world cinema, the Scannain podcast features a rotating pool of guests discussing the week in film – what we watched, film news, the top ten and new releases. This week we’re celebrating both the Oscar nominations and the announcement of the line-up for this year’s Audi Dublin Internation Film Festival.

I’m thrilled to be part of a panel including Phil Bagnall, Jay Coyle, Ronan Doyle and Stacy Grouden. Give it a listen below.

Dunkirk and Issue of Genre Legitimacy

The release of Dunkirk has been interesting in many ways.

Most obviously, it seems to confirm Christopher Nolan as a brand name unto himself, managing to open a blockbuster war movie with no stars to speak of to impressive box office results in the middle of July. The film has been widely acclaimed, both by critics and by movie-goers; it scores well on Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, IMDb and CinemaScore. There is already talk of a massive Oscar push for the film, with reports of Academy screenings being so packed that additional screenings had to be scheduled.

However, beneath all of this success, there is an interesting narrative forming. There is a recurring suggestion that Dunkirk is not just a great piece of cinema from an incredibly talented director, but that it in some way represents a maturing of Nolan’s talent. Some of the critical narrative of Dunkirk has been framed almost as a cinematic “coming of age” story for Christopher Nolan, as if the veteran forty-six-year-old film maker is finally delivering on potential that has been teased over the past seventeen years.

In a not-untypical comment, David Fear at Rolling Stone reflected, “Everyone knew he had a mastery of the medium. Dunkirk proves he knows how to use it say something.” At The Guardian, Andrew Pulliver suggested that Nolan had finally earned one of the stock comparisons that had been (misguidedly) following him for most of his career, “With Dunkirk, Nolan may at last be able to walk the Kubrick walk.” The implication seems to be that Nolan’s previous nine films were all creative dry runs, cinematic confectionery suggesting (but never delivering on) true artistic talent.

This is, of course, complete nonsense. Nolan arguably established himself as a bona fides film maker with Memento, which was an impressive theatrical debut. Memento was structurally ambitious, thematically rich, and exceptionally clever. Nolan followed that up with Insomnia, a remake of a Scandinavian thriller. He then segued into a big-budget reimagining of the Batman mythos with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, interspacing them with his own projects of interest, The Prestige, Inception and Interstellar.

Whatever an audience member might make of individual films on that resume, and some are undoubtedly better than others, it seems quite clear that Nolan has been doing good work for a long time. Dunkirk is not a break in the pattern. It is in many ways a continuation and extrapolation of his earlier work. It is not so much a quantum leap forward in terms of technique, but simply a nudge in a different direction. So, why is Dunkirk being treated as a vital moment in Nolan’s career? It seems likely because Dunkirk belongs to a much more respectable genre than its Nolan stablemates.

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Non-Review Review: Selma

Selma is a fascinating look at the Civil Rights Movement, and at the life and times of the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior.

Adopting the increasingly common approach of narrowing its focus to a rather tight sequence of events, Selma offers an interesting and insightful glimpse at the protest in Selma, Alabama – culminating in a planned march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1964. That was a pivotal moment for the Civil Rights struggle, as the cameras of the nation focused on the brutally wielded by local authorities against those marching peaceably. Selma focuses on that national moments as a vehicle to explore the Civil Rights movement as a whole.

selma3

To be fair, Selma does have its problems. There is a sense that the film is perhaps too concerned with the character of Lyndon B. Johnson, even ultimately affording him something of a heroic moment at the climax. The carefully-maintained period feel is undermined by the decision to dub Yesterday Was Hard On All Of Us by Fink over a crucial moment. In contrast, the period-specific (or close enough) songs by Otis Redding, the Impressions or Duane Eddy add context and texture to the film; the tracks by The Fink and Common (featuring John Legend) feel superficial.

However, these are minor problems. Selma features a tight script, solid direction and a host of fantastic central performances. Eschewing the sentimentality or softness associated with these sorts of prestige pictures, Selma deserves to be considered among the best of the awards season prestige pictures. Its diminished presence on Academy Awards ballots seems sadly telling.

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Non-Review Review: Wild

Wild is adapted from Wild: From Lost to Found, Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical account of her spiritual 1,100 mile trek across the California Pacific Trail. The bulk of the movie features Reese Witherspoon carrying a gigantic backpack stuffed with the essentials – described accurately, and perhaps affectionately, by some observers as a “monster.” This image adorns the posters and publicity materials, and feels strangely appropriate. Cheryl may have carried a gigantic back upon her back, but Reese Witherspoon carries the entire movie.

To be fair, Wild is not a bad film on its own merits. It is perfectly functional, if a little familiar in places. However, it is Reese Witherspoon’s performance that sets the film apart. It is a powerful and naked lead performance which counts among the best work in the actress’ career. The plot and character beats may feel like they have been inherited from countless other “find yourself in nature” films, it is Witherspoon who imbues Cheryl (and, by extension, the film) with a warm humanity.

Into the wild...

Into the wild…

Witherspoon a momentous performance, and Wild seems keenly aware of this. The film knows it has a gifted performer at its core giving one of the most memorable performances of the year. So Nick Hornby’s screenplay and Jean-Marc Vallée are clever enough to stand back; the bulk of the film seems built around Witherspoon, a showcase for the performer. That is a lot of weight; even more than the hefty backpack that Strayed carried with her across California. Witherspoon is more than up to the task.

Wild is a movie that lives or dies on the strength of its lead performance. Luckily, Witherspoon is tremendous.

A long walk home...

A long walk home…

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Non-Review Review: War Horse

War Horse is a fairly solid prestige picture. Spielberg is on fine form, reminding viewers of just how he became an audience favourite. He displays a warm confidence with the material, as if getting comfortable once again with this sort of crowd-pleasing fare. The film has some fairly significant flaws, stemming mostly from a disjointed and disorganised screenplay, but it’s the director’s charm that manages to carry the film through. Ironically, for a film focusing on an equine, it feels like one of the most warmly human films that Spielberg has produced in quite a while.

No horse play!

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Leo the Lion: Melissa Leo’s Self-Funded Oscar Campaign…

Melissa Leo took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar last Sunday night and I was quite happy about the decision, to be honest. She was great in The Fighter and – although I personally would have though Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit would have made a more deserving winner – it wasn’t a bad result. In the lead-up to her win, Leo garnered a fair amount of publicity from the fact that she took out her own “For Your Consideration” advertisements, most of it, to be honest, quite derisive. But you know what? I’m okay with that. After all, who else was going to do it for her?

Perhaps not the most Consider-ed move...

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