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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #38!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast! A somewhat bumper edition this time.

This week, I join Jason Coyle, Grace Duffy and Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin to discuss the week in film. As usual, we talk about the top ten and the new releases, as well as what we’ve watched this week. In this episode, Grace discusses her love of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and encourages a Bruce Springsteen singalong, Jason blazes through a twelve-film week and contemplates the seventies fetishism of A Star is Born, and Luke discusses Maniac and the strange intoxicating allure of Venom. Complete with mumbly Tom Hardy impressions.

The top ten:

  1. Crazy Rich Asians
  2. Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation
  3. A Simple Favour
  4. Aida at Met Opera 2018
  5. Black ’47
  6. The House With A Clock In Its Walls
  7. Night School
  8. Johnny English Strikes Again
  9. A Star is Born
  10. Venom

New releases:

You can download the episode here, or listen to it below.

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Non-Review Review: Venom

Transformative trauma is a cornerstone of the superhero genre.

Sometimes that trauma is emotional; the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, the loss of Uncle Ben, the explosion of Krypton. Sometimes that trauma is physical; having piping hot metal coated over your bones as your memory is wiped, physically mutating into something unrecognisable as human, having your entire body turn to trauma. To misquote Stan Lee, “with great power comes great responsibility.” More often than not, it also comes with great suffering.

Back in black.

In its best moments, Venom seems to realise this. At the core of Venom is the traumatised character of Eddie Brock, who has watched his entire life fall apart and who suddenly finds himself sharing his body with a murderous alien entity with monstrous appetites. Brock is played by Tom Hardy, one of those rare actors with both immense physical presence and incredibly vulnerability. Unshaved and scruffy looking, with faded tattoos and wearing clothes that look like they haven’t been washed, Eddie looks like he’s been through hell even before his transformative experience.

There are moments when Venom almost plays as a weird psychological thriller about a character experiencing a real-time break from reality, a reporter who is losing his fragile grip on reality after suffering one too many personal and professional setbacks. As the situation gets worse, Eddie starts hearing voices in his head and losing control of his body. He finds himself in a situation where terrible things happen, but he is able to disassociate himself from the brutality and violence. Venom never quite commits to this idea, but it simmers through the story.

Wall’s well that ends well.

The first two acts of Venom are ropey and uneven, suffering from a fuzzy lack of detail and no strong focus on any of the film’s central ideas. Nevertheless, the film survives largely on the strength of Tom Hardy’s performance and the weirdness of the concept. However, things fall to pieces in the third act. Part of this is because Venom feels the need to transform into a regular superhero movie as it reaches its conclusion. Part of this is because Ruben Fleischer cannot direct action. Part of this is because of collision of clumsy exposition and muddled computer-generated imagery.

Venom loses what little control it has of itself as it reaches its climax.

MRI are we here?

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Non-Review Review: The Revenant

The Revenant is a beautiful and visceral piece of work.

Sporting a troubled production history, The Revenant is surprisingly straightforward film. Based on the tale of famed fur trapper (and tall-tale-teller) Hugh Glass, The Revenant charts one man’s journey from near-death back to civilisation against the harsh and unforgiving American wilderness. The Revenant is essentially a journey in a straight line, as Glass struggles to find a way back to security and revenge himself upon his colleagues who left him for dead. The film’s biggest structural issues lie in a desire to distort or convolute that straight line.

therevenant6

However, the fairly linear and straightforward plot is really just a framework for director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to present the audience with striking vistas and symbolism that ranges from blindingly obvious to wilfully obtuse. The film is absolutely stunning, capturing its tone perfectly and presenting any number of memorable images and moments. Even when the visual trips sideways or backwards feel indulgent or unnecessary, they are still beautiful.

The Revenant is perhaps a little too fixated on over-complicating what is a fairly straightforward narrative, with a script that can seem unexpectedly obtuse for what is basically a single long chase movie crossed with a classic “man against nature” survival film. Nevertheless, the result is a striking piece of work that is awe-inspiring in visual (and visceral) terms.

therevenant7 Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Legend

Legend is a nostalgic gangster film.

Sure, it embraces its sixties aesthetic with relish. After all, setting a film in sixties London all but assures impressive production design. Legend looks and sounds quite lavish, evoking not so much the sixties but the cultural memory of the sixties. The film likes its loud blues and rich browns, but it also draws quite skilfully from the sounds of the era. Appropriately enough for a film adopting the title Legend, the film feels like it owes more to some hazy collective recollection than the concrete reality.

"Whoa! Let's READ the review first..."

“Whoa! Let’s READ the review first…”

However, Legend‘s nostalgia runs a great deal deeper than that. After all, writer and director Brian Helgeland has some experience with crime-based period pieces. The trailers to Legend loudly trumpet Helgeland as the writer of L.A. Confidential, and it’s an obvious comparison in terms of visual style. However, the narrative and structure of Legend feel a lot older. At its heart, Legend is an old-fashioned gangster biography, offering a broad and sweeping (and occasionally episodic) historical travelogue through the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of the Krays.

It is an approach that has fallen somewhat out of style in recent years. The technique certainly has its weaknesses, particularly when applied by hands less skilled than those of Martin Scorsese. It is too much to suggest that Legend measures up to Goodfellas or Casino, but Legend makes good use of its format. It starts with enough energy to sustain its two-hour-and-ten minute runtime through the ebbs and flows of a familiar plot structure, allowing Tom Hardy enough room to craft two separate stunning performances.

Twin town...

Twin town…

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Non-Review Review: Mad Max – Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is a live action cartoon in the best possible sense.

It is a movie that seems like an incredible gamble. Warner Brothers essentially gave director George miller $150m and let him loose in the Namib Desert to make a belated follow-up to his cult Mad Max trilogy. There is precious little sanitation here, no sense of order. It seems like Mad Max: Fury Road was never screened in front of focus groups, as if Miller never really received any studio notes that weren’t ringing endorsements or encouragement. Mad Max: Fury Road would be a strange film under any circumstances, but it’s a particularly strange summer blockbuster.

Just deserts...

Just deserts…

But it works.

Mad Max: Fury Road is gloriously gonzo, an extended two-hour car chase across a desert wasteland where it seems like dialogue is a commodity as scarce as oil or water. The script is surprisingly light on exposition, trusting the audience to pick up everything that it needs from descriptive nouns like “the Bullet Farmer” or “the People Eater.” The film makes no real nods towards conventional popcorn film-making, but is all the more effective for it. It is a movie that is utterly unashamed of its pulpy sensibilities, offering a live action post-apocalyptic Wacky Races.

Front and centre...

Front and centre…

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My 12 for ’14: Locke and mad roads driving men ahead…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

On paper, Locke seems like an incredibly indulgent high-concept. Tom Hardy drives a car for an hour-and-a-half? He is the only actor who actually appears in the film? He spends most of the runtime on his mobile phone, rather than listening to his own preselected mix tape? Writer and director Steven Knight could at least throw in a sense of imminent danger. After all, Phone Booth had police cars and a sniper; Cellular had Chris Evans running around a lot; Grand Piano had… well, a grand piano.

However, Locke works beautifully. There are a lot of different reasons for the film’s success, but Steven Knight deserves a great deal of the credit as writer and director. The highest stakes in Locke are those furthest from the protagonist; the birth he is racing towards, the family he is racing away from, the construction job he has abandoned. We never leave the car. We experience those moments of tension and dread and anxiety and uncertainty right along with Ivan Locke. There is nothing to see beyond the lights of the car on the road, nothing beyond the disconnected voices on the other end of the line.

locke4

It takes a very singular vision to get a story like that to screen. Knight has enjoyed a long career as a writer for the screen. Most recently, Knight wrote Peaky Blinders for the BBC, a stylish crime drama set in twenties Birmingham starring Cillian Murphy. His theatrical scripts are of a similarly high caliber, including Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises. However, Locke marks only the director’s second time behind the camera for a theatrical release. The result is staggeringly confident.

Locke is a movie that could easily have collapsed in on itself. Avoiding that sort of stumble would have been enough to mark it as a success. However, Locke not only avoids the many potential problems with the premise, but also surpasses all expectations. It is hard to decide whether the result is a delightfully thrilling drama or a terrifically dramatic thriller, but – regardless of classification – it is a damn fine piece of cinema.

locke1 Continue reading

Non-Review Review: The Drop

It is suggested that hell is other people. Perhaps not so much. Perhaps hell is the absence of other people. Towards the end of The Drop, a character ruminates on the idea of eternal damnation – suggesting that hell is nothing but eternal emptiness, a cosmic echo chamber where the damned are left with nothing but their own sense of isolation. Maybe that is what damnation is, nothing but an individual’s own loathing and self-doubt reflected back them, amplified through the darkness.

The Drop is a tense and claustrophobic thriller. The bulk of the action unfolds around the small world as Bob knows it. Bob is a simple man. He works at a small dive, “Cousin Marv’s Place.” When asked tough questions, he simply answers, “I just tend bar.” As Bob explains, the dive bar occasionally serves as a “drop” for all the money laundered through local crime. Bob doesn’t know where it comes from or where it goes. He is only aware of it when it comes into his care and when it leaves.

It's a dog's life...

It’s a dog’s life…

The Drop is a story about isolation and loneliness. Characters reflect on their place in the world, trying to make sense of what unfolds around them. Most are unknowable to each other, mysteries and enigmas. Asked a personal question, Bob replies, “That’s my business.” When his friend Nadia asks why Bob never inquired about her own very obvious scars, Bob simply answers, “I figure that’s your business.” The world as Bob knows it is a small place. Maybe it’s constantly getting smaller.

Adapted by Dennis Lehane from his own short story Animal Rescue, The Drop wallows in its own sense of lost direction and impending doom. Michaël R. Roskam’s direction never rushes the story or the actors, allowing the film time to take in the emptiness and hollowness in this small world that briefly intersects with something much bigger and more unpleasant. Perhaps a little too stately and relaxed in places, The Drop is nevertheless an atmospheric delight.

Just Cous...

Just Cous…

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