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Non-Review Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Early in the film, a supporting character reveals the ingredients of the eponymous culinary delight, the mysterious “potato peel pie.” Those ingredients are, somewhat predictably, potatoes and potato peels. With some small measure of pride, the character in question boasts that his potato pastry remains conceptually pure. There is no flour, no sugar, no flavouring. There is only potato. Watching The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this almost feels like a moment of self-awareness.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society could certainly use more flavouring.

Pie in the sky thinking.

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Non-Review Review: Rampage

Rampage suffers from some pretty severe tonal issues. The video game adaptation starts and ends as a spiritual companion to Kong: Skull Island, but takes a detour into the last American Godzilla movie during its extended climax.

The results are jarring, creating a more dissonant movie than either of its obvious monster-movie forebearers. Rampage is goofy enough that its urban carnage feels out of place, and brutal enough that some of its cheekier decisions feel mean-spirited and vindictive. The result is very much a curate’s egg, to the point that it occasionally feels like Rampage escaped its creators in the edit room.

Going ape.

There is a lot to like in Rampage, particularly its weird committed earnestness when it comes to dealing with the friendship between a primatologist and his gigantic albino gorilla. Rampage skirts the line, occasionally embracing the camp absurdity of muscle-bound Dwayne Johnson’s deep-seated emotional attachment to a computer-generated rampaging “gene-edited” monster. Rampage understands the absurdity of the set-up, but makes a convincing sell of it nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Rampage‘s human characters are never as interesting, which creates a problem when the climax attempts to shift gears into a sprawling urban destruction epic. Rampage feels as much a product of careful and outrageous engineering as the creatures at its core. However, as with those creatures, it never feels quite like those doing the engineering had a clear design in mind.

“I sure picked a bad day to move George to the Metropolis Zoo.”

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Non-Review Review: Blockers

Blockers is a lot funnier and a lot more endearing than its two-line synopsis might suggest.

The premise of Blockers is the stuff of stock teenage sex comedies, right down to the branding on the poster. As if worried that audiences might not get the substance of the comedy, advertising for Blockers prominently features the silhouette of a rooster above the title of the film, as if to assure potential viewers exactly what type of blocking is taking place. Blockers positions itself very candidly and very bluntly as a broad and old-fashioned story about teenagers having sex.

Prom here to eternity.

The basic plot of Blockers finds three parents discovering that their daughters have made a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. These three parents then embark upon an odyssey to prevent the planned sexual intercourse from occurring. As one might expect, all manner of complications and hijinks ensure, with the canny children struggling to stay one step ahead of their determined (and occasionally resourceful) pursuer. It is hardly the most innovative of concepts, even if it is a sturdy framework for comedic set pieces and humour concerning bodily functions.

However, what is most remarkable about Blockers is the way in which it uses this familiar framework to engage with its premise in a surprisingly nuanced and insightful way, avoiding (and even directly rebuffing) the reactionary attitudes baked into the core concept. The result is perhaps the most sincere and endearing film ever to include the phrase “butt-chugging.”

Taking the Cena-ic route.

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Non-Review Review: Michael Inside

From writer and director Frank Berry, Michael Inside is harrowing, emotional and earnest look at cycles of incarceration affecting young Irish men from marginalised communities.

The plot of Michael Inside is fairly straightforward. As the title implies, the movie centres upon a young man named Michael who finds himself arrested in possession of drugs with a street value of two thousand euro. Receiving a custodial sentence, Michael finds himself incarcerated for three months. Michael must learn to navigate prison life, while his grandfather struggles to keep himself above ground on the outside. However, prison exerts a gravity, and escape is not as simple as release.

Inside, he’s dancing.

Michael Inside is an intense and claustrophobic experience. Asked early in the film if he suffers from any preexisting conditions, Michael responds, “Anxiety.” Shooting primarily in close-up with a hand-held camera, Michael Inside skillfully replicates that sensation. The characters constantly seem trapped and boxed in. Even before Michael is taken into custody, scenes are framed and blocked so as to suggest that he is trapped; the wire frame on crosswalks, the windows of the house, the bars of a fence. Michael Inside suggests that prison is more than just a physical construct.

Michael Inside is occasionally a little too earnest in its exploration of these vital and important themes, sometimes feeling more like an abstract civics lesson than an organic story. Still, there is no denying the raw emotional power of Michael Inside, particularly when director Frank Berry brings all the threads together at the climax of the story.

Everything, gone in a flash.

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Non-Review Review: A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place is the latest entry in a string of contemporary high-concept postmodern horrors, very much of a piece with films like It Follows, Don’t Breathe or Lights Out.

These movies are largely predicated upon the internal logic of the horror movie, often incorporating and literalising fundamental parts of the horror movie experience into their conceptual frameworks. It Follows is obsessed with the rules that govern its unstoppable supernatural force, with the teen protagonists seeking to exploit and manipulate them. Lights Out focuses on a creature that can only really move when it is unseen, weaponising the audience’s impulse to look away or cover their eyes when presented with horrific images within the film.

Maize runners.

A Quiet Place builds on the same horror movie anxiety as Don’t Breath – the audience’s urge to gasp or to scream in response to the events on the screen. A Quiet Place unfolds in a world dominated by monsters that hunt based on sound, creating an environment where the human cast members have to remain as quiet as possible in order to survive. No matter what happens, the characters cannot scream. Given that they are starring in a horror movie, that is quite the challenge.

A Quiet Place is a lean and effective piece of filmmaking from director John Krasinski, who also worked on the script written by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. As one might expect given the premise, A Quiet Place is a horror movie that often feels quite minimalist; twenty minutes of set-up giving way to seventy minutes of sustained climax. The results are invigourating, a horror movie worth shouting about.

Children should be seen and not heard.

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Non-Review Review: Ready Player One

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Reader Player One is a very curious piece of cinema. It is an incredibly flawed piece of work, with a lot of its flaws so fundamental that they are threaded into the very architecture of the film. Screenwriter Zak Penn has offered a very thorough and involved reinvention of Ernest Cline’s source novel, a ground-up renovation of Cline’s catalogue of popular culture references and collection of narrative tropes. Indeed, Penn’s screenplay improves a great deal on the novel that inspired it; junking and reworking entire sequences, bulking up supporting characters, trying to find a beating human heart.

Worlds apart.

More than that, Ready Player One provides Spielberg with the opportunity to go “all out.” There is a sense watching Ready Player One that Spielberg has approached the film not as a collection of popular culture references and in-jokes, but instead as an attempt to reconnect with a younger audience. Whether or not Reader Player One is the right source material for such an attempt, there is no denying Spielberg’s energy and vigour. Ready Player One is a dynamic piece of film, Spielberg demonstrating all the technique for which he is known, but with an enthusiasm that puts younger directors to shame.

However, there is no escaping the biggest issue with the film remains its source material. The problem with Ready Player One as a film is that it is an adaptation of Ready Player One as a novel.

Back to the past.

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Non-Review Review: Twin Peaks – The Missing Pieces

It says a lot about Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me that there were enough deleted scenes that they could be structured into a ninety-minute feature film. It says even more that the resulting feature film is almost coherent.

Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces is a strange piece of work, essentially a narrative film stitched together from the cast-offs of a theatrical release two decades earlier. It is a collection of deleted scenes, but deleted scenes that have taken on an uncanny importance. These deleted scenes have been edited together into something approaching a linear narrative by David Lynch, the director who shot them in the first place. They even come packaged with an introduction and a set of closing credits. They are vitally important to the revived television series. They are, in other words, like a real movie.

“Yeah, he’s going to need about twenty five years to recover.”

Some of this is because Fire Walk With Me is a notoriously inscrutable and abstract film, one defined by strange choices and bizarre imagery. David Lynch is a surrealist, and Fire Walk With Me reflects this; it is full of odd cul-de-sacs and strange segues. Fire Walk With Me was also a film heavily cut before its release, which accounts for why it feels like a film defined by what is absent so much as what is present. The incomplete nature of Fire Walk With Me makes the incomplete nature of The Missing Pieces more understandable. They fit together like the two pieces of Laura Palmer’s heart-shaped necklace.

However, The Missing Pieces is illuminating for more than just the little details of continuity and the appearances of familiar faces. It is a film that in some ways shades Fire Walk With Me, existing as a remainder of the absences carved from that earlier film. The Missing Pieces defines Fire Walk With Me through contrast, revealing the elements of Fire Walk With Me that were deemed inessential to the theatrical release. In keeping with Lynch’s recurring fascination with doppelgangers and doubles, The Missing Pieces illuminates Fire Walk With Me by presenting an alternative; it is what Fire Walk With Me chose not to be.

Past prologue.

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