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New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “The Devil All the Time, Antebellum, Mandalorian, and Pushbacks”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard and Bob Chipman for the fourth episode, primarily discussing The Devil All the Time, Antebellum, the trailer for the second season of The Mandalorian, and the changes to the release schedule after the releases of TENET and Mulan.

You can listen to the episode here, back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

Non-Review Review: The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time demonstrates that the adjective “novelistic” isn’t always a compliment.

Writer and director Antonio Campos is clearly aiming for an epic sweep to The Devil All the Time. The film unfolds over the course of several decades, following several intersecting lives in rural Ohio in the space between the end of the Second World War and the height of the Vietnam War. This is a tale that spans generations, with an impressive density. Small characters get huge arcs, dramatic twists hinge on chance encounters, and a large amount of the film’s plot is delivered by way of folksy omniscient narration.

Holland of the Free?

It is easier to admire The Devil All the Time than it is to appreciate it. Campos has drawn together a formidable cast to tell a story that explores a host of big ideas about small town life. The Devil All the Time clearly aspires to be a piercing study of religion, sex and violence in the American northeast. The film maintains an impressive atmosphere, in large part due to Campos’ moody direction and the work of Lol Crawley and the rumbling soundtrack from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.

However, nothing in The Devil All the Time has room to breath. There are so many elements competing for narrative space that even films two-hours-and-twenty-minute runtime feels overstuffed. Characters are never allowed to stew or develop in a way that a story like this demands, instead reducing the movie to a series of plot points and thematic observations delivered in a rich and moody manner, but without any real substance to bind them all together.

Book ‘im.

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Non-Review Review: TENET

NOTE: I live in Ireland. Our cinemas are open. Evidence suggests that it is (relatively) safe for people to attend the cinema if they take the necessary precautions. However, I am aware that it is not safe in every country to do so, and I also understand that many readers may not feel safe attending their local cinema even in areas where the evidence suggests it is safe. As this seems to be a hot-button issue with all theatrical releases during the pandemic – but with TENET in particular – it feels important to stress this outside the body of the review itself.

This should go without saying, but given the nature of the current pandemic it is worth repeating: No movie is worth risking your life for. If you feel – or if information from sources you trust suggest – that it is unsafe to go to the cinema, then please do not go. I loved this film. I will see it in cinemas again at least twice within the next week, because it is safe for me to do so. This review should not be taken as an endorsement that the reader should feel they have to (or are expected to) risk their lives to see this film. With that in mind, here is the review.

“Time isn’t the problem,” insists Neil early in TENET. Like a lot of things that the shady operator says over the course of the film, this is not exactly true.

There is a lot riding on TENET. Almost none of this was intended when the film was conceived and produced. As the first major theatrical release since the coronavirus pandemic, TENET effectively shoulders the burden of saving cinema – particularly with a death of major releases between now and Wonder Woman 1984 and with the planned release of Mulan on Disney+. It’s a lot of weight for a film like TENET to carry. Time will tell whether it can succeed or not, but it makes a valiant effort.

Shattering the release window.

TENET rises to this challenge in a couple of ways. Most obviously, TENET is quite simply a triumph of blockbuster filmmaking. Director Christopher Nolan has boasted about how much of the film was completed using in-camera effects and how carefully choreographed it all was. TENET is a movie that showcases the power of spectacle, whether in its delightfully complicated action sequences or even in Hoyte Van Hoytema’s breathtaking establishing shots. TENET is a movie that demands as big a screen as possible, reminding audiences of the scale of such filmmaking.

However, there’s more to it than that. TENET is a film that feels curiously attuned to this cultural moment. It is a film that deals with many of Nolan’s pet themes and obsessions, but in a way that feels very much in step with the modern moment. It’s hard to summarise TENET without spoiling the movie, without revealing too much in terms of plot mechanics or character motivations, but TENET is a film about the breakdown of time itself. It is a film about the collapse of chaos and effect, and a world in which the future and the past are a war over the present.

A career highlight?

It’s an ambitious film. Nolan’s movies are frequently driven by high-concepts and abstract ideas, and the director is remarkable in his ability to build crowd-pleasing blockbusters around concepts like time dilation in Inception and the theory of relativity in Interstellar. If anything, TENET seems to push that idea to breaking time. As Neil repeatedly points out over the course of the film, he has a degree in quantum physics and he struggles to make sense of the film’s internal logic. Perhaps the film’s protagonist (known simply as the Protagonist) sums it up best, “Woah.”

TENET is an interesting film from Nolan in a number of ways. The villainous Russian oligarch Andrei Sator is probably the director’s scuzziest character since Insomnia or Memento. The film itself is perhaps Nolan’s most emotionally repressed since The Prestige. These sensibilities are blended with his more modern high-concept blockbuster aesthetic, and flavoured with a surprising amount of self-awareness. The result is a heady cocktail that is occasionally overwhelming, but never unsatisfying.

Well, masks are recommended at cinema screenings.

Note: Warner Brothers have specifically requested that reviews avoid spoilers. As a result, this review will talk rather generally about TENET. However, if you want to see it completely unspoiled, it is perhaps best to just take our word for it: it is good. It is probably even the best film we’ve seen this year. That is a very short review.

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Non-Review Review: Life (2015)

The biggest problem with Life is that the film is largely lifeless.

Life is the story of the iconic photographs of James Dean taken by photographer Dennis Stock in the run-up to the release of East of Eden in March 1955. At that point, Dean was a young actor on the cusp of stardom. As the premiere of East of Eden approached, Dean still aspiring towards his definitive role in Rebel Without a Cause. Dennis Stock saw something in the young actor, believing he might capture a moment of cultural change in the brooding young actor.

"The coat, he borrowed from James Dean..."

“The coat, he borrowed from James Dean…”

Even if they didn’t make the cover of Life magazine, Stock’s photographs have come to define Dean in the popular memory. These photographs capture Dean at his most brooding and his most joyous, capturing the extremes of his experience. Snapping Dean walking through the rain in Times Square or reading comics with his brother, Dennis seemed to trap some of the essence of the actor in his work. Life centres on the complicated relationship that exists between the two men, as they attempt to get a read on one another and navigate the taut waters of celebrity.

However, for a film inspired by (and derived from) an instantly recognisable set of photos, there is something just a little bit too staid about Anton Corbijn‘s two-hour long character study. It feels like a loose selection of pop psychology strung around some faithful recreations, missing the vibrancy and the intimacy that made those shots so distinctive.

#HairRaising

#HairRaising

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Non-Review Review: The Rover

The Rover isn’t quite a post-apocalyptic road movie. A title card places the story “ten years after the collapse”, but it’s never clear what exactly “the collapse” is. Buildings still stand. Trains still run. Telegraph polls are still connected. Cars still drive. Military units still offer some small semblance of law and order. This isn’t a world that has collapsed, it is the decaying structure of a world still struggling to stand.

The Rover is a starkly beautiful and haunting film, one that says a lot with only a few scattered words. It’s unsettling not in its portrayal of a world that is dead, but instead in its attempt to capture a world struggling to keep breathing.

As the world burns...

As the world burns…

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Non-Review Review: Twilight – Breaking Dawn, Part II

Here’s the thing. Despite all the derision that the Twilight films generate, they actually have any number of ingredients for a perfectly workable young adult horror romance. Despite the sizeable and significant flaws, and those fundamental issues that are very hard to overlook, the film does have a number of very clear thematic roots that can be traced back through horror cinema. The problem with Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II isn’t that it’s inherently cheesy or trashy or absurd. The problem is that it’s never enough of these things. It feels far too comfortable and too casual to ever really grab the viewer, and everything feels far too safe and generic to get any mortal’s blood pumping.

Baby trouble…

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Non-Review Review: Bel Ami

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012.

I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by Bel Ami, the first film from theatrical veterans Declan Donnellan & Nick Ormerod. It’s a classy little period drama that doesn’t necessarily redefine the genre, but instead stands as a worth addition to the canon. In a way, it seems like a more lavish BBC adaptation, which is quite a compliment when it comes to period drama. I don’t know if actor Robert Pattinson will necessarily find life after Twilight, but I imagine he will find a niché if he choses his next couple of roles as carefully as he chose this one.

Hm... This guy rings a Bel...

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Non-Review Review: Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants is undoubtedly a well made film from a technical point of view. It stylishly evokes a collective memory of Depression-era America with a skilled romanticism, all beautifully staged and designed, scored with music clearly intended to tug at the heart-strings. However, despite the technical proficiency with which the film is crafted, it ends up feeling ultimately quite lifeless, and a little stale – like a mediocre circus, the movie is stylish and momentarily distracting, but it never manages to grasp its audience, or to engage.

He packed his trunk and said goodbye to the circus...

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