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Non-Review Review: Greed

Greed, for lack of a better word, is not good.

Greed belongs to a relatively recent subgenre, the sort of ironic and winking social commentary of films like The Big Short, Vice and Bombshell. There is a sense with these sorts of films that earnestness is overdone, that aching sincerity will only get a strong moral message so far, and that the proper way to engage with audiences is through a wry self-awareness that acknowledges the cynicism of the world in which people live. Theoretically, this approach allows the film to communicate strong central themes without potentially alienating audiences through self-righteousness or self-satisfaction.

Like all subgenres, the quality of the end result varies on a case-by-case basis. However, Greed seems like a project perfectly suited to director Michael Winterbottom. Winterbottom is a director who frequently blends fact and fiction in his work – to point where, due to his work on projects like The Trip and Tristram Shandy, a lot of his collaborations with Steve Coogan involve the actor playing a fictionalised version of himself. So there’s something interesting in the way that Greed takes a template often applied to true stories and instead builds a story around a fictional avatar of capitalism, Sir Richard MacReady.

However, Greed just doesn’t work. It’s not consistently funny enough to pull off the knowing approach to its tale of global inequality. It packs fewer genuine laughs into its runtime than more direct critiques of capitalist excess like The Wolf of Wall Street. It also lacks the comfort of projects like The Big Short and Vice in blending exposition into narrative, often clumsily halting its story to deliver earnest lectures almost directly into the camera through painful framing devices. “Think of me as an idiot,” insists one character, before setting in motion the obligatory “how capitalism works” montage.

More to the point, the narrative elements themselves also struggle, with the film awkwardly trying to casually set up dominoes to build to a seemingly chaotic outcome that looks a little too arch and too planned to come across as spontaneous. This is the problem with Greed. The film, ironically enough, seems greedy. It wants to do too much, it wants to be too many things. As a result, it winds up under-cooking the constituent elements and struggling to find a way to integrate them into a cohesive whole.

Greed is an interesting work in that – like Bombshell – it serves as a reminder that films like The Big Short and Vice are managing a much more complicated balancing act than might originally appear.

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My 12 for ’13: Philomena & Harsh Truths

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 8…

Every country has its own shameful secrets, the parts of its history that it would gladly lock away in a box far from prying eyes, and would be happy to never speak of them again. Slavery has been pushed to the forefront of American popular consciousness over the past year or so. Spielberg’s Lincoln dealt with the topic in a very philosophical manner, while 12 Years a Slave offered a more visceral exploration and Django Unchained sought to shock and discomfort its audience with its exploration of past atrocities.

In Ireland, we have an entire lost generation. In a society where the Catholic Church held an inequitable amount of authority, and prevailing moral values led to condemnation of single mothers, countless young women effectively signed their lives away to indentured servitude, parting with their children and devoting years of their lives to financing the church by providing free labour. It’s something that we’ve only recently begun to come to terms with, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny apologising publicly for their treatment in February of this year.

Philomena bristles with a righteous sort of anger, offering the remarkable story of one woman who lived through that.

philomena3

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Non-Review Review: Alan Partridge – Alpha Papa

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa successfully brings the BBC icon to the big screen. He’s come a long way from a sports desk persona on a BBC4 parody radio show, and modern British comedy owes a lot to Coogan’s creation. Partridge has been around for over twenty years at this point, in many ways becoming more recognisable than Steve Coogan himself. It’s surprising that it’s taken this long to shepherd Partridge to the big screen.

Partridge is the king of what might be termed “cringe comedy”, and is a clear forbearer of Ricky Gervais’ David Brent. As such, it’s possible to feel that Partridge is a little dated. Certainly, there are times when Alpha Papa plays out like it could be an extended holiday special featuring North Norfolk’s most famous radio DJ. To be fair, that’s not a bad thing. Coogan is on fine form here, the comedy is broad and the wit is quick enough that there’s never a dull moment.

It’s a giant-sized helping of the comedy character, one which stays true to his roots even if it does occasionally feel like it over-simplifies him a bit.

On the air, and on the line...

On the air, and on the line…

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Non-Review Review: The Look of Love

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013.

Paul Raymond (or “Paul Ray-monde!” as he introduces himself in flashback) is a pretty compelling character. The so-called “king of Soho”, Raymond was at one point the wealthiest man in Britain, owning an empire built on the back of gentlemen’s clubs, pornography and property. Michael Winterbottom’s exploration of Raymond’s life and times is a fascinating exploration of a very contradictory figure. On one hand, with his sharp suits and dignified dialogue with the press, Raymond presented himself as something approaching a gentlemen. He owned a nice house, his children partook of “all the right activities” and he was even fond of quoting Oscar Wilde. On the other hand, his empire was founded and built on an idea that was so simplistic it would be condescending if it wasn’t so successful: Raymond acquired his wealth through simple acknowledgement of the fact that people will pay to look at naked women.

All that glitters...

All that glitters…

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The Thick of It – Series I (Review)

The wonderful folks at the BBC have given me access to their BBC Global iPlayer for a month to give the service a go and trawl through the archives. I’ll have some thoughts on the service at the end of the month, but I thought I’d also take the opportunity to enjoy some of the fantastic content.

The British sure know their political comedy. The Thick of It is something like a spiritual successor to the cult British political comedies Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, from the mind of creator Armando Iannucci. Iannucci is perhaps best known for his work with Steve Coogan on the character of Alan Partridge, and there’s a lot of the same awkward comedy here. Perhaps it’s best to describe The Think of It as the ideological opposite of The West Wing, a bucket of cold British water chucked over America political idealism. It’s crass, profane, cynical, sly and absolutely brilliant.

Thick and thin...

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Non-Review Review: The Other Guys

Have you ever watched Lethal Weapon and wondered what the cops in that precinct who aren’t Riggs and Murtagh get up to? Or watched Die Hard and wondered what John McClane’s deskmate might have been like? Well then, The Other Guys is the movie for you.

Top of the cops?

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Non-Review Review: Hamlet 2

Ever thought Hamlet was kinda a downer, what with everybody dying and all? Well, you’re not alone. Failed actor and volunteer drama teacher Dana Marschz had the same notion. Drafting only his misfit bunch of drama students, he has decided to stage a play of his own, using it as a window to explore his own peculiar father issues through the window of a time-traveling Hamlet and a (rock me, rock me) sexy Jesus. The movie doesn’t perfectly capitalise on its downright hilarious premise, but it’s still a wonderfully entertaining story with a promising lead performance.

Sexy Jesus found his role greatly increased in the sequel...

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