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91. El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) (#136)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Aine O’Connor, 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, Juan José Campanella’s El secreto de sus ojos.

Prompted by a desire to bring closure to an old case, retired detective Benjamín Espósito sets out to write a novel documenting his experiences during the turbulent seventies. Prying into his earlier investigation reawakens painful memories, and powerful emotions.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 136th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Fury (Review)

Normally, the return of an old cast member to an established show is a cause for celebration, akin to a belated family reunion.

The obvious examples involve the appearances of cast members from other shows on later spin-offs. Think of the reverence and sincerity with which Star Trek: The Next Generation treated Spock and Scotty in episodes like Unification, Part I, Unification, Part II and Relics. Think about the delight with which Star Trek: Voyager greeted Geordi LaForge in Timeless or Deanna Troi in Pathfinder. Even when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine subverted expectations with Jonathan Frakes’ appearance in Defiant, it was still joyful. If anything, Star Trek: Enterprise went too far in accommodating Troi and Riker in These Are the Voyages…

Self-control.

Even within individual shows, the return of long-absent cast members is often treated as an opportunity to celebrate that character, and perhaps even to acknowledge past missteps involving them. Yesterday’s Enterprise brought back the character of Tasha Yar, and used the opportunity to rewrite her mean-spirited and pointless death in Skin of Evil. When mirror!Bareil visited in Resurrection, the episode became a meditation upon how the character’s intrinsic decency was strong enough to transcend dimensions and to define even the worst version of himself.

This approach to the return of established characters makes a great deal of sense for a wide variety of reasons. Most obviously, the production team have gone out of their way to recruit these actors for this specific purpose; it makes sense that these episodes should serve as a celebration of their contributions to the franchise. Even beyond that, it is safe to say that almost any lead character on a Star Trek series has something resembling a fan base; think about the ominously-named “Friends of Vedek Bareil.” Why bring back a character, and attract in those fans, just to do something horrific?

That healthy blue glow.

All of this serves to make Fury all the more perplexing. Fury is an episode of Voyager that effectively resurrects the character of Kes, a regular on the first three seasons of Voyager who departed the series in The Gift at the start of the fourth season. The return of Kes is a strange choice, in large part because the production team often struggled with what to do with the character while she was part of the core cast. Still, there are any number of interesting possibilities. And there is the possibility that, like Yesterday’s Enterprise or Resurrection, the production team might use the occasion to say something interesting about Kes.

Unfortunately, Fury is a spectacular mess of an episode with half-developed character motivations and a highly surreal premise that undercuts a lot of the appeal of bringing Kes back in the first place.

Having its cake and eating it too.

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Django Unchained and Tarantino Off the Chain….

Django Unchained is one of the most quietly influential movies of the twenty-first century.

It feels strange to acknowledge that fact, to say it out loud. On paper, it sounds absurd. Django Unchained is an R-rated western that deals with slavery in the manner of an exploitation film, released at Christmas. It is a movie that is downright abrasive, in terms of both tone and content. On the one hand, it is cheeky and provocative, playful and flippant; it is hyperstylised, from the Ennio Morricone score to the camera zooms to the bright flourishes of colour. It is also so violent and brutal that it is difficult to watch, even having seen the film before and knowing when the horrors are coming.

However, the film was a box office success. It earned over one hundred and sixty million dollars at the domestic box office, and more than two hundred and sixty million dollars at the foreign box office. More than that, it became a cultural touchstone. Jamie Foxx would reprise the role of Django in A Million Ways to Die in the West. The character would appear in a number of licensed comic book adaptations, including a crossover with Zorro published by Dynamite and Vertigo publishing.

The influence of Django Unchained is subtler than that. It is a film that shifted the conversation on the popular history of the United States. It did not do this alone, and it is hard to argue whether it was part of a broader cultural shift or simply a reaction to it. Nevertheless, Django Unchained coincided with a massive shift in how popular culture engaged with American history. Its impact is felt in the strangest of places, from the blending of horror movie conventions with a western aesthetic in films like The Revenant or Bone Tomahawk to the sounds of Kanye West playing over the opening scenes of Underground.

There had been movies about slavery before; indeed, Django Unchained was released roughly contemporaneously with both Lincoln and 12 Years a Slave. However, there had never been a movie about slavery like this. The western genre had been greatly diminished before Django Unchained was released, but it was profoundly changed in its wake. After Django Unchained, it seemed to become impossible to construct a western without reference to the atrocities upon which the west had been won.

Django Unchained argued that these horrors weren’t just one version of the story, but instead an essential part of the overall story of the frontier and the nation. Sofia Coppola’s refusal to confront slavery in The Beguiled became a minor controversy. Even Hostiles confronted the genocide of the Native Americans. There were westerns that avoided these controversies in the intervening years, but they became fewer and further between. Indeed, The Ballad of Lefty Brown is perhaps most notable for the ill-judged scene in which its only major African American character attempts to lynch the white lead.

Still, even approaching Django Unchained more than half a decade removed from its release, it remains a fascinating and compelling piece of cinema. It is a genuinely provocative piece of cinema, one designed to challenge and upset the audience. However, the true beauty of the film lies as much in its contours and finer details as it does in the broad strokes, in the little touches that enrich and enlighten the finished product. In particular, the sense that Tarantino understands the precarious nature of what he is attempting, despite the somewhat flippant attitude towards violence and bloodshed.

This sense of consideration and reflection is perhaps best explored in the character of King Schultz, who is positioned quite cannily as a deconstruction of the familiar white saviour trope.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #17!

A busy Scannain podcast, covering the week in film and other news.

This week, I’m joined by Grace Duffy, Jason Coyle, Ronan Doyle, and Alex Towers to discuss the week in film – both Irish and international. The news includes coverage of Cannes, of Irish success at other international film festivals, and the upcoming release dates of notable Irish films. As usual, we also talk about what we watched, what is being released next week and what is currently in the top ten.

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

Non-Review Review: Revenge

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

What if Nicolas Winding Refn directed a Blumhouse film?

Revenge is a neon-drenched and synth-saturated exploitation flick that takes some of the most familiar conventions of the survival horror genre and executes them with incredible style. Revenge puts a beautiful sheen on a very ugly film, constructing an effective revenge narrative full of striking imagery. As realised by director Coralie Fargeat, Revenge is a visceral experience. The film’s violence is almost tangible, the audience feeling every act of brutality inflicted upon the bodies of its cast.

A lot of this is down to the craft of those involved, working under Fargeat’s direction. Jérôme Faurel’s sound design ensures that the audience hears every drip of blood, every splash on every surface. Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert and colourist Frédéric Savoir play up the contrast in the compositions, so the blood seems to burst off the screen against the bright yellows and the deep blues. Make-up effects artists Laetitia Quillery ensures that the cast carry every scar with them as the movie puts them through an endurance nightmare.

This attention to pure craft elevates Revenge above so many of its genre contemporaries. Revenge is undoubtedly trashy piece of cinema, but is never ashamed of what it is or apologetic for what it does. Instead, the film commits itself with an engaging and exhilarating enthusiasm. Revenge never views its genre as a limitation to transcend, but instead as a field in which to excel. And it certainly does.

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Jessica Jones – AKA 1,000 Cuts (Review)

AKA 1,000 Cuts continues to toy with the conventions of the superhero genre.

The revelations about Kilgrave’s past in AKA Sin Bin represented a rejection of the psychology traditionally applied to comic book villains, creating a villain who could not blame his sociopathic tendencies on a convenient childhood trauma. AKA 1,000 Cuts plays upon another standard genre convention, the idea of the superhero who doesn’t kill. In terms of superhero storytelling, the old “thou shalt not kill” rule is always a reliable source of existential angst for a suitably ambiguous hero.

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As with many of the conventions toyed with on Jessica Jones, the trope is played relatively straight on Daredevil. Again, there is a sense of Jessica Jones as something of a playful twisted response to Daredevil, often subverting or undermining many of the genre conventions that Daredevil so skilfully embodied. At this point in the first season of Daredevil, Matt Murdock was wrestling with the question of whether or not to murder Wilson Fisk. Much hand-wringing and angst resulted, playing into the show’s masculine Catholic aesthetic.

While Daredevil seemed anchored in moral absolutes, Jessica Jones opts for a much more pragmatic and relativist solution. The question posed by Jessica Jones is not whether killing Kilgrave can be justified; the show embraces that reality quite skilfully in AKA 1,000 Cuts. The question is what it takes to justify it. AKA 1,000 Cuts offers a fairly harrowing answer.

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The X-Files (Topps) #23 – Donor (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Donor is the strongest of John Rozum’s work on The X-Files to this point. It might be his best work overall.

It is a story that very clearly and very strongly plays off the classic horror vibe that has been running through this stretch of episodes, taking the idea of supernatural revenge and poetic justice to almost blackly comic extremes. In many respects, John Rozum has pushed the comics towards a very traditional sort of moralistic storytelling – with characters frequently facing ironic consequences of their actions.

Organ grinder...

Organ grinder…

In The Silent Blade, a mass murderer kills himself with the blade that compelled him to kill. In The Kanashibari, a bunch of college kids who terrified an asthmatic classmate to death by locking him in a closet are themselves scared to death by a suffocating spectre. In Silver Lining, a killer murders innocent people to reclaim his good looks, only to lose them almost immediately in a fire while fleeing the FBI.

So Donor pushes this sort of storytelling to its logical extreme, as the resurrected body of Bruce Miller tries to reclaim the organs that his widow donated without his consent. Bruce Miller plans to take back what is rightfully his, harvesting various vital organs from recipients. Donor is a very dark little done-in-one story with a delightfully wry and cynical attitude that elevates it above many of its contemporaries.

"You have something that I need..."

“You have something that I need…”

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