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Non-Review Review: Marriage Story

Towards the end of Marriage Story, divorced dad Charlie Barber decides to check in on his son, Henry.

Charlie has been absent from his son’s life for quite some time, the toll of familial separation weighing heavily on him. Arriving home before his ex-wife Nicole, he finds a strange man in his life. His former mother-in-law has accepted his replacement. When Nicole arrives, the conversation makes it clear just how quickly her life has moved on without him. When somebody mentions that she has been nominated for a prestigious award, Charlie can’t even guess what she was nominated for.

Marriage of inconvenience.

It is Halloween. The family are getting ready to go out together. They have theme costumes. They are going as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is itself a reflection of the level of subtlety at which the film is pitching itself. Of course, Charlie was an unexpected arrival; whether because he failed to signal ahead or simply because he has been so completely erased from the life of his ex-wife and son that nobody gave any serious consideration to the possibility that he might show up. Hastily, one character suggests an improvised costume. “You can be a ghost.”

This is simultaneously the best and worst moment in Marriage Story, and generally indicative of how the movie operates.

Getting off-track.

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Non-Review Review: Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell is a fascinating, deeply flawed, film.

The movie is vibrant and vivid, rich both textually and texturally. Its style, as much riffing on American films inspired by Japanese cyberpunk as by Japanese cyberpunk itself, is simply breathtaking. The hypersaturated colours leap off the screen, which is somewhat ironic given that the 3D rendering mutes them ever-so-slightly. Those bright blues, those glowing greens, those rich reds, they combine to create a sensation that might be described as “bubblegum noir”, a reworking of the noir trappings of cyberpunk with the colour turned way up.

Putting the pieces together.

It is almost too much handle. There is an appealing aura of sensory overload to the world of Ghost in the Shell, as if the film might best be experienced by passively allowing the world to wash over the audience, to sink into the movie in the same way that several members of the cast threaten to sink into virtual networks. Ever frame is saturated with detail, creating a sense that the audience might drown in all the little touches that suggest this neon fantasia dystopia. Ghost in the Shell works best as a mood, a visual lava lamp of shapes in motion.

The problems only really emerge when the story and characters come into focus, the film struggling to grapple with its themes through dialogue and exposition as readily as it does through steadicam tracking shots and computer-generated establishing sequences. Every character in Ghost in the Shell speaks as if preparing for a freshman philosophy tutorial, ruminating on the threads that bind identity and memory together. Characters have little time for metaphor, often bluntly over-explaining their world and their emotional state.

Neural network.

Ghost in the Shell feels at once too smart and too dumb for its own good. This is perhaps most obvious in the allegations of whitewashing that hang over the film, the wry irony of casting Scarlett Johansson as the central character in a big-screen adaptation of a beloved piece of Japanese culture. Johansson’s presence has sparked debate about cultural appropriation and representation. To its credit, Ghost in the Shell makes an earnest attempt to engage with this idea, turning audience frustration into theme. It is a very clever way of dealing with the issue.

The only problem is that Ghost in the Shell simply cannot talk its way around this core concern. Ghost in the Shell tries to recast itself as a narrative that is fundamentally about cultural appropriation, but in doing so it cannot escape the fact that it is also an example of cultural appropriation. Like those circular debates about identity and memory, these is a sense that Ghost in the Shell is attempting to trap the audience in echoes and reflections, a glitch that betrays a fundamental flaw.

Manufactured.

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Non-Review Review: Captain America – The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a delightfully pulpy adventure. In many respects, it feels like the movie that Captain America: The First Avenger really should have been, a celebration of its lead character’s versatility and a demonstration of how easily the comic book character can cross genres. Part of the beauty of The Winter Soldier is in the way that it feints. It weaves in directions that are a little surprising at times, and even avoids taking the path of least resistance when offered.

With an opening act that teases the age old debate about liberty and security (“this isn’t freedom,” Steve Rogers solemnly states, “this is fear”), the movie deftly steps sideways to avoid getting too bogged down in familiar political discourse. Much like Iron Man 3, there’s a charm in how The Winter Soldier evades any particularly probing political commentary, cleverly swerving out of the way of anything that could become ham-fisted or heavy-handed.

The Captain and the Widow...

The Captain and the Widow…

It tricks the audience into expecting a contemporary political thriller, only to become something a bit more unexpected – a strange hybrid of pulpy science-fiction, conspiratorial secret history and even seventies espionage thriller. It’s an exciting and engaging blend, one that never outstays its welcome. The only real problem is that it tries to do a bit too much and some of the smaller pieces get lost in the shuffle – which means the climax doesn’t resonate as well as it needs to.

Still, those are ultimately minor problems with a superior blockbuster.

Body of evidence...

Body of evidence…

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Non-Review Review: Under the Skin

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

Under the Skin exists as a gigantic flash backwards to the atmospheric and moody science-fiction horrors of the seventies. Despite a verbal reference to 2014 and some quick glimpses of posters for movies released in 2012, director Jonathan Glazer has constructed the movie as a throwback. Indeed, Under the Skin feels very much like an even lower key spiritual successor to Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, except this time it’s the Scarlett Johansson who fell to Scotland.

undertheskin3

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Non-Review Review: Don Jon

Don Jon is a confident directorial debut from actor and write Joseph Gordon Levitt. Levitt himself stars as the eponymous “Don”, a stereotypically macho young man from New Jersey, who splits his time between nightclubs, churches, the gym, his car and his pornography addiction. Written and directed by Levitt, Don Jon has a charming lightness that allows the movie to play with some pretty heavy subject matter. (After all, the last major film to explore sex addiction was Shame, which was as brilliant as it was harrowing.)

Don Jon is perhaps the sweetest movie ever made about porn addiction. A superb demonstration of Levitt’s already enviable talents, and a confident and slick feature film directorial debut.

Toast of the town...

Toast of the town…

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Non-Review Review: Hitchcock

As a bit of a film fan (and a bit of a Hitchcock fan), Hitchcock had me interested. After all, Hitchcock’s Psycho is arguably among the most important films ever made, both creating an entire subgenre (“the slasher”) and imbuing it with artistic credibility at the same time. The production of Psycho was not only a huge gambit for Hitchcock, but it was also an incredibly difficult task for the auteur to accomplish. Hitchcock was sixty when Psycho was eventually released. It’s easy to imagine a director at that age resting on his laurels, and Hitchcock really works when it explores the drives of the talented film maker, willing to look at the implications of those drives and how the same things that made him one of the world’s greatest directors may also have made him a less-than-nice person.

Hitchcock occasionally gets a bit too cluttered with domestic drama, but it features two strong performances and a fascinating true story. It might not be as exceptional as it could have been, but it’s still a damn fine exploration of movie history.

Alma matters?

Alma matters?

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Watch! Hitchcock Trailer!

I must have missed it, but the screen adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock & The Making of Psycho has now been officially titled the much blander (but more accessible) Hitchcock. It doesn’t really matter, though, as the new trailer has arrived and it’s really quite wonderful. I’m a massive Hitchcock fan, so recruiting Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren to headline a film about the making of one of his most high-profile works is certainly fascinating. Looking forward to this one. It’ll start a limited release in the States in late November, but we’ll be waiting until February to see it over here.

Ah well. At least they can’t spoil they ending.