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Non-Review Review: Maze

Maze is a gritty well-constructed psychological thriller, documenting the famous escape of thirty-eight inmates from the eponymous prison in 1983.

Written and directed by Stephen Burke, focuses its attention on two central characters who serve as opposite sides of the same coin. Larry Marley is a veteran member of the IRA, who survived hunger strike and is looked for a cause around which he might rally the movement. Gordon Close is the warden in charge of maintaining order in a prison packed with murderers and terrorists. Both men are trapped, whether by iron bars, concrete walls or political ideology.

Burke infuses Maze with a powerful cynicism, a clear frustration and contempt for a cycle of violence and hatred that perpetuates itself. The prison environment becomes a metaphor for the world created by the authorities and paramilitaries, a climate in which both sides serve as wardens and prisoners, ensuring that nobody is ever truly free. Maze is constructed as a very sterile film, largely desaturated, with Burke keeping the camera steady and often at a distance.

Maze is perhaps a little bit too conventional in places, a little too anchored in the routine expected from a prison break film and a little heavy-handed in its symbolism and thematic ruminations. While Burke avoids getting drawn into either side of this battle of wills, resisting the urge to glamourise or romanticise the escapees, there are points at which Maze feels a little too straightforward, trapped by the expectations of this sort of narrative. Still, the result is a thoughtful and well put-together film.

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Non-Review Review: ’71

Harrowing. Claustrophobic. Intense.

’71 is a powerhouse experience. Charting one night in Belfast for a young soldier separated from his regiment, there is a constant sense of dread pushing in from the edge of the frame. As one might expect for a movie set off the Falls Road in seventies Belfast, ’71 is paranoid and unsettled. It is a movie that constantly pushes the viewer to the very edge of their seat, offering an uncomfortable glimpse into something that would seem excessively brutal were it not anchored in historical fact.

71d

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The High Ground (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The High Ground is a rather earnest issue-driven episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, dealing with one of the big issues of the day: international terrorism. However, the moral ambiguity of terrorism was a decidedly more contentious and controversial issue in early 1990 than the plight of Vietnam veterans explored in The Hunted or the Cold War politics of The Defector.

The High Ground is an allegory for the Troubles in Northern Ireland at a point in time where the Troubles were on-going. 1990 saw a number of high-profile terrorist actions conducted by the IRA. They bombed the London Stock Exchange in July. Using an explosive device, they murdered Sergeant Charles Chapman in May. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for his death. In February 1991, the IRA launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. So this was the context in which The High Ground aired.

And, to be fair, there’s something admirable about the show’s willingness to engage with a controversial issue, even if the end result leaves a lot to be desired.

Holding hands around the universe...

Holding hands around the universe…

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Watch! A Belfast Story Trailer!

We have a trailer for the new Irish film A Belfast Story, releasing in Irish cinemas on September 20th. Starring Colm Meaney, it’s an exploration of the Troubles which plagued Northern Ireland, and one man dealing with the consequences of that horrific violence. I’m always glad to support Irish film, so check out the trailer below and let me know what you make of it. I’m a big Colm Meaney fan, so I am very much looking forward to it.

I also got some interesting viral stuff in the mail, which I’ll try to share early next week. I think it’s great to see an Irish movie being so aggressive in terms of marketing, and so forthright and assertive.

Quietly at the Peacock Theatre (Review)

So, a Catholic and a Protestant walk into a bar. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Quietly is a fascinating exploration of the Troubles from writer Owen McCafferty and director Jimmy Fay. While it’s often very difficult to translate the real life conflict into art – in many respects, it’s too real and too recent and too raw for us to process fully at this point – Quietly does an excellent job capturing the necessary steps forward for those affected by (and involved in) violence in the North. The result is a truly fascinating piece of theatre, and something well worth seeing during it’s run at the Peacock stage.

Picture by Anthony Woods…

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Non-Review Review: Shanghai Knights

Shanghai Knights is grand. It’s inoffensive, it’s entertaining, it efficiently accomplishes a lot of what it sets out to do. It’s not exceptional, it’s not innovative, and it won’t stay with you too long after watching it, but it isn’t entirely without its charm. It’s Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan doing the sort of thing that they’ve become quite comfortable at doing. Neither performer, nor the film itself, is ever that far outside their comfort zone, but it’s never embarrassing or awkward.

Clockin’ in…

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Non-Review Review: Shadow Dancer

Shadow Dancer is a taut, intelligent, sophisticated thriller. In a way, James Marsh’s film is more notable for what it doesn’t say, than what it does. Long passages of the film go by in relative silent, with the an economy of language to communicate information to the audience. It’s quite heartening how much faith Marsh seems to have in his viewers, that the film never feels the need to burden itself with awkward exposition, instead trusting the actors and the surroundings to tell the story. You won’t find a thriller this year that thinks more highly of its audience.

“Have you seen ‘The Informant!’…? Good, because this is going to be a lot less light-hearted.”

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