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New Escapist Video! “The Last Duel Proves Ridley Scott Is Still Sharp – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of The Last Duel, which released theatrically worldwide last weekend.

Non-Review Review: The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch is a sweet and sincere love letter to a certain kind of journalistic endeavour, and to the creative process beyond that. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly disjointed and uneven.

To be fair, these structural problems come with the format. Wes Anderson has constructed his latest film as an anthology, one loosely designed to mirror the flow of a magazine like The New Yorker. The film is comprised of an opening obituary, a travellogue, and three short stories, all designed to emulate the structure of reading a classic journalistic magazine. It’s an interesting and ambitious approach to structuring a movie, one not without challenges and one that allows Anderson the opportunity to lean into his already heightened sensibility.

That is a lot of Wes Anderson.

However, as with many anthology films, The French Dispatch suffers from an unevenness in terms of pacing. As one might expect from an anthology directed by a filmmaker as distinctive as Anderson, The French Dispatch does maintain a consistent tone across its various elements, but it also suffers from stopping and starting five times over. It doesn’t help that each of the three stories flows in much the same way, playing on many of the same tropes of Anderson’s storytelling, starting with Anderson’s signature arch detachment and inevitably puncturing it with small glimpses of humanity.

The appeal of a magazine like the fictional French Dispatch is a diversity of voices and perspectives. The film positions itself as a celebration of the individual journalists relating their stories to the audience, finding their own ways into these narratives and sharing something over themselves with the world. However, while the film does afford some shading of the characters themselves in the framing sections and within the narrative, the stories themselves all feel like they are cut from the same clothe. They are even similar in stylistic terms, mostly shot in black-and-white Academy ratio, occasionally breaking that for dramatic effect.

Stu(dent)ing resentment…

To be fair, this isn’t a fatal problem. Anderson remains a director with a strong aesthetic and keen sense of humour. His worlds are elaborately constructed, both rich and textured. For all that Anderson’s rigid formalism can seem twee or arch, his films are often possessed of a real heart, one that is all the more effective for sneaking up on the audience through these otherwise carrefully composed surroundings and often caricatured characters. The French Dispatch is no different. It is a film with charm to spare, and with a genuine heart beneath it.

Still, for all that The French Dispatch is a celebration of artistic freedom and discovery, and a passionate argument for an editorial hand the encourages distinct voices and approaches over one that imposes a consistent style, by the time the third story is finished, it feels too much the work of a singular voice working a familiar framework.

The Wright stuff.

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New Escapist Video! “Halloween Kills is a Bloody (and Ambitious) Mess – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Halloween Kills, which released theatrically and on Peacock this weekend.

Non-Review Review: Halloween Kills

Halloween Kills is an ambitious sequel, if a little messy – and not just in the way that one expects a slasher movie to be messy.

Halloween Kills is a direct sequel to David Gordon Green’s Halloween. It picks up in a very similar place to where the two other direct sequels to a movie named Halloween start. Like Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II and Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, the film follows Laurie Strode to hospital as Michael Myers continues his rampage through Haddonfield, Illinois. Although Zombie’s Halloween II takes a sharp turn in its second act, all three direct sequels extend the eponymous night into the early morning that follows.

Gripping stuff.

There is a lot going on in Halloween Kills. The film effectively splits across three main plot threads that only intermittently overlap with one another. One of these threads centres on Laurie’s recovery in the hospital, while the second follows the reaction of the local community to the carnage, and and the third focuses on Myers’ continuing rampage through an Illinois suburb. The film is disjointed, with Green inheriting a lot of continuity and character baggage from his previous film while heaping even more connections back to the original film upon it.

Still, perhaps the best and worst thing that can be said about Halloween Kills is that it marks a return to the grim nihilism that defined John Carpenter’s original.

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New Escapist Video! “Dune Is One of the Year’s Best Movies – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Dune, which is released theatrically in Europe and the United States next weekend.

Non-Review Review: The Last Duel

The Last Duel is a thorny and compelling medieval epic. It’s a little rough around the edges, but that’s undeniably part of the appeal.

The Last Duel is adapted from the book of the same name by historian Eric Jager. As its title implies, the film offers an account of the last judicial duel permitted by the Parlement of Paris. That duel was fought between two noblemen: Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris. The challenge was offered over allegations that Le Gris had raped de Carrouges’ wife, Maguerite. The assumption was that divine authority would ultimately determine where the truth lay in the matter, that the victor in this mortal combat would ultimately be vindicated.

Duel narratives.

Naturally, the events that inspired The Last Duel remain contentious. Historians are not entirely sure what happened, and how much of the various accounts reflect the truth of what happened or have been shaped by the convenient narratives of the victors. The film, with a screenplay from Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener, leans into this ambiguity. The film is structured similarly to Akira Kurosawa’s Roshomon, outlining three separate accounts of the events leading up to the trial from the perspective of each of the key figures: Jean, Jacques and Maguerite.

The result is a film that touches on the blurred boundaries between history and narrative, and explores the way in which these sorts of stories are shaped by wounded pride and vain ego. It’s an uncomfortable and unsettling film, occasionally a little clumsy in its execution, but which grapples with big ideas.

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Non-Review Review: No Time to Die

There is perhaps some irony in the fact that a movie titled No Time to Die is the longest movie in the James Bond franchise.

No Time to Die is an interesting mess of a movie. It’s a film that contains a variety of interesting and intriguing elements that never coalesce into something completely satisfying, and are often lost in a mess of continuity accrued from the previous four entries in the franchise. As the final film in the franchise to star Daniel Craig, No Time to Die finds itself tasked with turning off the lights at the end of the night, serving as something of a series finale to the actor’s previous adventures.

Drinking it all in.

The biggest challenge facing No Time to Die is the simple fact that the previous four films in the franchise don’t really form a single or cohesive narrative. They were four separate movies, with each shaped and informed by the reaction to the prior entry. When Casino Royale proved that audiences could accept a modern take on the James Bond franchise, Quantum of Solace doubled down on tweaking the character to fit into the modern action thriller landscape. When that didn’t work, Skyfall course-corrected for a more traditional approach. Following that success, SPECTRE tried clumsily to tie it all together.

No Time to Die spends far too much of its impressive runtime trying to reconcile these films to each other. As a result, the film never really finds space to play with its own more interesting and compelling ideas.

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Non-Review Review: The Many Saints of Newark

The Sopranos was a groundbreaking piece of television that completely changed the rules of television as a medium, with a mob epic that was singularly suited to the opportunities and the constraints of its given medium. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about The Many Saints of Newark is that it at least reinforces how much of the success of The Sopranos was down to its existence of a television show. The Many Saints of Newark demonstrates that so many of the tricks that made The Sopranos so compelling when watched in thirteen-hour seasons become deeply frustrating when condensed to a two-hout movie.

The Many Saints of Newark is a fundamentally flawed film. The most charitable interpretation of the film is that it feels like an attempt to condense an entire season of television down to a cinematic narrative that clocks in at just under two hours. The Many Saints of Newark is a sprawling film, one that spans from the late sixties into the early seventies. It often doesn’t seem to have a singular driving plot, but instead a set of competing subplots that swirl and occasionally cohere around the lead character of Dickie Moltisanti. They gesture broadly at compelling thematic concerns, but without any real clarity or focus.

Clever Dickie.

The Many Saints of Newark hinges on the narrative trickery that made The Sopranos such a compelling watch. It has an expansive cast. There’s a recurring ambiguity about what any of this actually means and what parts of it will be actively important to the resolution of the story. The film is willing to spend extended periods focusing on vignettes involving tertiary supporting cast members, away from the nominal lead. The film’s ending is a very deliberate and pointed anticlimax, one that is very deliberately set up over the film’s runtime, but which still feels designed to confound audience expectations.

All of these elements worked on The Sopranos because the production team had enough room to explore and develop them. The show was dense enough and had enough narrative real estate that credited leads like Lorraine Bracco or Dominic Chianese could disappear for multiple episodes at a time, only to return at pivotal junctures. The show spent enough time developing its narrative threads that sudden curve balls that seemed to derail certain plots instead felt like satisfying and unexpected pay-offs from others. The Many Saints of Newark doesn’t have this luxury. It doesn’t seem expansive, just messy.

Family ties.

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Non-Review Review: Copshop

Copshop is a loving and pulpy throwback to old-fashioned seventies b-movies, that simply doesn’t know when to quit.

Copshop operates very firmly within the comfort zone of everybody involved. Director Joe Carnahan has made a name for himself as a director of these sorts of high-concept thrillers. Stars Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo both seem perfectly at home glowering at each other across a police station cell block, separated from one another by two sets of bars. Watching Copshop, the film plays as a slight tweak on the basic concept that has made Assault on Precinct 13 an enduring cult hit: an isolated and under-staffed police station finds itself unde rsiege and stuck with a dangerous criminal.

The Butler did it.

There’s a compelling simplicity to Copshop, with the movie building outwards from a solid premise, and understanding the appeal of these sorts of movies. Carnahan imbues the film with an appealing nastiness and cynicism that feels appropriate for this kind of genre throwback. Most of the runtime of Copshop finds its protagonist, Officer Valerie Young, forced to choose between the lesser of two evils as the situation steadily escalates around her. For most of the film’s runtime, Carnahan commits to this meanness in a manner that is often lacking from these sorts of throwbacks and tributes.

Unfortunately, Copshop somewhat falls apart in its final ten minutes, as the film seems unable to settle on a single satisfying ending and so instead cycles through at least three different climaxes hoping that one of them might stick. The movie’s bombastic and over-stuffed third act is a frustrating conclusion to a film that worked to that point largely because of its minimalism and its restraint.

On the chain.

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New Escapist Video! “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which is released theatrically in Europe and the United States this weekend.