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Non-Review Review: The Way Back

The Way Back is a paint-by-numbers redemption narrative, anchored in a tremendous central performance from Ben Affleck and enriched by its keen observations.

The basic plot of The Way Back will be familiar to most audience members. Jack is an alcoholic construction worker who is struggling to hold his life together. He has learned to do just enough to remain functional, but not so much that the people around him haven’t noticed his struggles. Jack stubbornly refuses any assistance offer by his family or by his ex-wife, believing that he has found something resembling an equilibrium. His addiction has pushed him into a slow and noticeable decline, but he has yet to implode.

He’s Backfleck.

Almost entirely by chance, Jack finds himself drafted back to his old high school, emotionally blackmailed into coaching their basketball team. Jack had played basketball as a teenager, but gave up on the sport in much the same way that he has recently withdrawn from the world around him. Inevitably, through his coaching, Jack finds himself connected with the lovable misfits that he takes under his wing. Jack guides these young men towards sporting glory, helping them (and himself) to find purpose in what they are doing.

It is all very conventional. There are very few surprises in The Way Back, which feels almost like one of those well-executed manoeuvres that Jack has his team execute out of the court. Everything lines up, all the pieces are moved with purpose, and the end result is never really in doubt. However, The Way Back elevates this well-worn formula with two secret weapons. Most obviously, Affleck finds an intersection of his traditional movie-star charisma with the baggage of his star persona. More subtly, the film is willing to just observe its characters, to let them be themselves.

Team works.

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60. The Shawshank Redemption (#1)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guest Charlene Lydon, 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 Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode along with them.

This time, Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption.

Convicted of murdering his wife, Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two life sentences in Shawshank Penitentiary. A harsh and unforgiving prison, Andy struggles to hold on to hope as the years go by.

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

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Star Trek – Errand of Vengeance: The Edge of the Sword by Kevin Ryan (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

When you think about it, Star Trek finished its first season with its mythology reasonably well established. There were the Romulans, the Klingons and the Federation. (Oh, my!) We knew that Kirk had a brother on the colonies, who died in the season finalé. Vulcan was a hot desert planet. The Prime Directive existed, and we even got a taste of how Starfleet operated. However, these things all developed gradually over the course of the year, and early episodes couldn’t even seem to agree who exactly Kirk was working for.

The Federation was first mentioned in Arena and only fully named in A Taste of Armageddon. The Klingons were introduced in Errand of Mercy, with a cold war between the two galactic powers finally turning hot. Of course, it’s hard to write “finally” when they had only been introduced in this particular episode. So where were the Klingons during the show’s first year? How come we didn’t pick up any of the tension that must have been simmering?

Kevin Ryan’s Errand of Vengeance trilogy attempts to offer some context, suggesting that the Klingon threat had been brewing during the entire first season. It follows Jon Anderson, a new recruit to the ship’s security department, arriving just before the events of What Are Little Girls Made Of? Oh, and he’s a Klingon infiltrator.

tos-errandofvengeance1

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Wet Blogathon: I Wish It Would Rain Down…

This is part of the rather wonderful “Wet Blogathon” put together by Andrew over at Encore’s World of Film and Television, asking bloggers to pick their favourite scenes in the rain. It’s a great little idead and I was delighted to be invited to take part.

Though your hurt is gone, mine’s hanging on, inside
And I know, it’s eating me through every night and day
I’m just waiting on your sign –

‘Cos I know, I know, I never meant to cause you no pain
And I realize I let you down
But I know in my heart of hearts
I know I’m never gonna hold you again

Now I… Now I know, I wish it would rain down, down on me
Ohh I wish it would rain, rain down on me now
Ohh I wish it would rain down, down on me
Yes I wish it would rain down, rain down over me.

– Phil Collins, I Wish It Would Rain Down

Yes, I was quite fond of that in my young almost-emo teen-in-love days – you know the kind, when one little attraction meant the entire world. I’ve kinda gotten over it. Still, there is something inherently powerful about the imagery of rain – water pouring down from the skies. It can represent – as it does in that infamous scene from The Shawshank Redemption – a divine shower, washing the character clean of their sins, evoking imagery of baptism and rebirth. Or it can be heavenly tears – as in Se7en, for example – reflecting the tragedy of a broken world where all you can do is cry. The always wonderful Andrew over at Encore’s World of Film and Television invited me to contribute to a blogathon he’s hosting celebrating the most powerful rain imagery in film – and there’s quite a bit to choose from. There are a rake of moody and gothic applications of rain – a wide variety and more than a few outside choices to be made. However, I am going to betray my inherent sappiness by picking Chasing Amy, which offered an inherently straight-forward and almost cliché application of the heavy rain as a metaphor for turbulant emotion, but did it with such heart that even cynical old me could not resist.

The raining champion...

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