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Non-Review Review: Damo & Ivor – The Movie

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

In the spirit of The Hardy Bucks Movie before it, Damo & Ivor: The Movie takes a popular Irish television series and weds it to the formula of the road movie to provide a theatrical adaptation.

This is not a bad approach in principle. The road movie is a versatile template, and one that provides a solid template for bringing television characters to the big screen; it provides a clear plot, an opportunity for new viewers to get to know the characters, and the chance to show off a greatly expanded budget. It is no coincidence that even larger American television-to-cinema adaptations have followed this approach, most notably The Muppet Movie.

Indeed, The Hardy Bucks Movie took advantage of the opportunities afforded by this template to take its characters beyond Ireland, allowing them to visit the continent. This was something that would have been impossible on the budget of an Irish television show, and demonstrated an ambition in taking a broad and popular television comedy to the multiplex. In contrast, Damo & Ivor is decidedly more tempered in its ambitions. It is a road movie, but one the confines itself to Ireland. There is little here that could not have been accomplished in a television special.

This much sets the tone for Damo & Ivor: The Movie, which very much aspires to a “good enough” aesthetic in its production. Damo & Ivor is not a film that is enticed to take chances on jumping to the multiplex, instead relaxing casually into formula. Damo & Ivor doesn’t exactly fail, but only because it never really tries.

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No, “Twin Peaks: The Return” is Not a Movie

It is December.

As tradition dictates, the major publications are rolling out their “best of” lists. One of the more interesting trends of the “best of” season in 2017 has been the repeated suggestion that David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return should be considered an eighteen-hour movie. It made the Sight & Sound and Cahiers du Cinema polls, and even got a write-in vote at the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards. This is interesting on a number of levels, because it suggests that labelling The Return as a feature film is not a lone act of contrarianism, but something of a minor trend.

Of course, there are grey areas between film and television. There always have been, given the similarities in the technology and mechanism. Film can be shown on television, and television can be shown in cinemas. There are television movies and film series, and it is often possible for stories that start in one form to transform into the other. The boundaries are not as absolute as they are with theatre or prose, where the technical form is so fundamentally different that any comparison is ridiculous. After all, consider the debate over movies released on Netflix, or films edited for television.

The Return is not an ambiguous area, though. It is a fairly simple case. It is a television series. And there is nothing wrong with that.

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Non-Review Review: Brigsby Bear

Brigsby Bear is a sweet, if slightly uneven, ode to the act of reclaiming problematic art.

The concept of Brigsby Bear is simple. James Pope is a twenty-something-year-old manchild who has grown sheltered from the outside world, living with his parents in a converted shelter locked away from the world. James’ only interaction with the outside world is through the internet, where he maintains contact with fans of the only show still broadcast on the airwaves, the eponymous anthropomorphised bear.

Bearing his soul.

However, one day James discovers that this is all an elaborate lie, that the world does not work the way that he thought it did. Brigsby Bear is positioned at the centre of this betrayal, with James discovering that the show was never what it appeared to be. As James struggles to come to terms with the reality of his situation, he finds himself struggling to make peace with the bear at the centre of these amateurish and endearing morality plays.

Brigsby Bear suffers from tonal issues, struggling to balance the darkness at its core with the whimsy on its surface. However, the movie plays as a compelling study of trauma and recovery, of the power of fannish obsession, and the art of taking back art that has been tainted or undermined by subsequent revelations. Indeed, Brigsby Bear is arguably more relevant now than it was when it was produced.

“Disney are really going to extremes to stop me leaking details on The Last Jedi.”

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The Defenders – Royal Dragon (Review)

Royal Dragon might just be the best episode of The Defenders. It is also the smallest.

Royal Dragon is in many ways the runt of the litter. It is an episode relatively low on action beats, particularly given that it is sandwiched between the closing scenes of Worst Behaviour and the opening scenes of Take Shelter. It also has a relatively small primary cast. There is no sign of supporting players like Colleen Wing, Misty Knight, Trish Walker, or Claire Temple. The episode also confines most of the four heroes to one location for the bulk of the runtime, even if Jessica Jones gets to take a breather. It could easily be the “bottle” episode.

Hero shot.

Royal Dragon is also an episode that accomplishes relatively little in terms of plot momentum or forward movement. There are no major revelations in the episode, with a lot of the exposition covering information that the audience already knows from the other four shows. In some ways, Royal Dragon feels like a void at the centre of the season. It does not tangibly push the season forward. In many ways, the cliffhanger is arguably just a retread of the ending to Worst Behaviour; these four heroes, standing together against impossible odds.

At the same time, Royal Dragon luxuriates in this space and this emptiness. It is an episode that essentially locks its four leads together in a confined space for most of the runtime, which affords the writing staff the opportunity to have the characters slow down and process what has happened to them, to bounce off one another. Royal Dragon allows for the first extended interactions between various combinations of these four players.

A taste of teamwork.

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Characters in Search of an Ending: Prestige Television and Literary Adaptation

The possibilities of prestige television seem limitless.

This is obvious just looking at the creative talent embracing the opportunities of the medium. Director Jane Campion observed, “The really clever people used to do film. Now, the really clever people do television.” It seems fair. Woody Allen has a television series at Amazon. Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon headlined Big Little Lies. Cary Fukunaga directed all eight episodes of the first season of True Detective, starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. Quentin Tarantino reflected, “If ever there’s been a chance for somebody to truly do a filmed novel, it’s in this area.”

There is a sense that prestige television has come to occupy the space that used to be given to mid-tier mid-range movies, thrillers and character studies that were too small to compete with the blockbusters but also weren’t an easy fit for the traditional Oscar season. Television is arguably the place to go for smart character-driven narratives telling adult stories in a restrained and considered manner. It is an interesting shift that has in some ways redefined the relationship between film and television.

Part of this has seen an increased emphasis on book-to-television adaptations. In the past, the default path for audio-visual adaptations of successful novels has been from the page to the silver screen, cinematic takes on iconic and memorable pieces of fiction. After all, countless Best Picture winners have been adaptations of popular novels or short stories; No Country for Old Men, Million Dollar Baby, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, The English Patient, Forrest Gump, Silence of the Lambs. A lot of blockbusters are inspired by comic books or young adult novels.

However, as televisual storytelling has grown more complex and ambitious, producers and writers have increasingly looked to the storytelling opportunities afforded by the smaller screen. Television offers more space for writers and directors to tell their stories, to expand out novels with complex mythologies or epic scope. The gaps that had existed between film and television, in terms of budget and talent, are rapidly closing. It is entirely possible for a televisual adaptation of a beloved novel to have a list of credible writers and directors, and recognisable on-screen talent.

Still, as much as this shift might represent an important step forward in the development of television as an artform, it also illustrates some of the problems that still exist in how producers approach the medium. While television shows can do a lot of things that novels can do, they still struggle in one respect. Television shows have yet to truly embrace the power of brevity and the weight of a proper ending.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Covenant (Review)

Covenant is a flawed and fascinating episode.

In its own way, although obviously a much less extreme manner than The Siege of AR-558, this is an episode that could only have been produced on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This is not simply down to matters of continuity, and how the episode ties into the mythology of the series. More specifically, it is an exploration of religious themes and ideas that is only really possible within the framework of this particular Star Trek spin-off. It is difficult to imagine Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager tackling the idea of religious cults so effectively.

Altaring his plans.

Part of this is down to a lingering suspicion that the other Star Trek shows subtly (or not so subtly) consider all religions to be cults. After all, shows like The Return of the Archons, The Apple, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the SkyJustice, Who Watches the Watchers? and Devil’s Due left little room for ambiguity. The other Star Trek series seem downright hostile to the idea of religious belief, even if episodes like The Cloud and Sacred Ground might suggest a more open-minded approach to spirituality.

Deep Space Nine has generally been more willing to engage with the idea of religious belief as something that is worthy of exploration and consideration, something that is for an individual to determine on their own terms. Some characters on Deep Space Nine are explicitly atheist, like Jadzia Dax or Odo. Some characters hold strong religious beliefs, like Kira or Nog. Some characters believe in spiritual traditions without ever seeming particularly devote, like Worf. Some characters even evolve over the course of the series, like Sisko.

Preach out and touch faith.

This willingness to accept multiple facets and forms of religious belief allows Deep Space Nine to construct a story like Covenant. In any other Star Trek series, Covenant would seem like a knee-jerk dismissal of religious faith and organised belief, the tale of how a group of Bajorans were swindled by a charismatic leader with tragic consequences. It would be read as a generic condemnation of religious belief, an endorsement of an atheistic worldview that has developed beyond the need for such superstition.

Instead, Covenant is something more interesting and nuanced than that. It is an episode about a particular kind of belief, about a particular sort of religion. It is an episode about the dangers of a very particular form of worship. It is an episode about the perils of religious cults, but one which understands the distinction between that and other forms of spirituality.

He hasn’t a prayer.

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Doctor Who: Oxygen (Review)

Like every worker everywhere, we’re fighting the suits.

– the Doctor about sums it up

In space, EVERYONE can hear you scream…

Oxygen plays very much like a companion piece to Thin Ice earlier in the season. Both are essentially stories about monstrous capitalism, from nineteenth century London through to the depths of outer space.

Indeed, Oxygen pitches itself as something akin to a late seventies or early eighties science-fiction film, in terms of aesthetic and politics. The episode’s production design recalls the “used future” of films like Star Wars, while the heavy criticism of capitalism invites comparison to films like Alien or Outland. Indeed, Oxygen even borrows from a similar strain of horror movies, tapping into the fear of zombies as the monstrous face of capitalism that can be traced back to Dawn of the Dead.

Station keeping.

Jamie Mathiesen has been one of the most consistently impressive writers of the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure, turning in impressive scripts for both Mummy on the Orient Express and The Girl Who Died, along with a genuine masterpiece in Flatline. Indeed, Oxygen is the most impressive episode in the stretch of the season, a bold and ambitious piece of allegorical science-fiction, wedded to a genuinely scary concept, top-notch production design, and any number of clever ideas.

Oxygen is a brilliant piece of work, and a reminder of just how effectively Doctor Who can blend its disparate elements into a satisfying whole.

Give him space to work.

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