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My 12 for ’18: “Widows” & Pulp Artistry

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number seven.

Widows is unashamedly pulp fiction.

There is no way around it. It is a heist thriller in which a bunch of women who have never even held guns before use a notebook provided by one of their dead husbands in order to conduct a daring robbery. There are secrets, there are betrayals, there are reversals. There is violence, there is brutality. It is a very effective example of form, an illustration of the kind of pulpy “movie for adults” that simply does not exist any more.

Widows of opportunity.

However, there is something interesting bubbling beneath the surface of Widows. Written by Gillian Flynn and directed by Steve McQueen, Widows is a film that has a lot on its mind. It finds room to meditate on modern Chicago, on white anxiety about shifting demographics, about power and influence. More than that, it also explores questions of complicity and consent, the manner in which people choose to blind themselves to what they simply do not wish to see.

Widows does all of this without sacrificing any of the beats and rhythms of a pulpy crime thriller. It is a deft balancing act, and one that Flynn and McQueen pull off perfectly.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #46!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Alex Towers from When Irish Eyes Are Watching, Grace Duffy and Jay Coyle to discuss the week in film news. It is a fun film discussion; Alex, Jay and I have all seen The Favourite, while Grace, Jay and I have seen A Christmas Prince. Along the way, Alex discusses a seasonal viewing of Batman Returns, Grace contemplates Free Solo, and Jay discusses Vertical Limit and Love, Simon.

In film news, the podcast was recorded hot on the heels of the announcement of the nominees at Golden Globes, also discussing the international distribution of The Hole in the Ground and the success of The Favourite at the British Independent Film Awards.

The top ten:

  1. Nativity Rocks!
  2. 2.0
  3. Widows
  4. Robin Hood
  5. A Star is Born
  6. Bohemian Rhapsody
  7. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
  8. The Grinch
  9. Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet
  10. Creed II

New releases:

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

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #43!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast! A somewhat abridged edition this week, due to time constraints.

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Grace Duffy 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, Jay discusses continues his disaster movie marathon with Volcano and the questionable inclusion of Cliffhanger. Varda Season continues apace. Meanwhile, Grace gets into the Christmas spirit and walks us through some highlights of her binge of research into Netflix’s Christmas films.

The news this week is abridged, but there’s a brief discussion of the passing of Stan Lee and the awards given out by Irish Film London before the Irish Film Festival London.

The top ten:

  1. Hurricane (Squadron 303)
  2. Goosebumps II: Haunted Halloween
  3. Overlord
  4. Johnny English Strikes Again
  5. Smallfoot
  6. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
  7. Widows
  8. A Star is Born
  9. Bohemian Rhapsody
  10. The Grinch

New releases:

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

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #42!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Jay Coyle, Ronan Doyle, Grace Duffy and Doctor Jennifer O’Meara from the Dublin Feminist Film Festival 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, Jay discusses The Other Side of the Wind, Ronan rewatches Waltz with Bashir, Grace celebrates Netflix Christmas movies, and Jennifer contemplates The Congress.

The big news feature this week is Doctor Jennifer O’Meara discussing the fifth annual Dublin Feminist Film Festival, which is taking place the 20th-22nd November in the Lighthouse Cinema. Jennifer walks us through some programme highlights. We also discuss the iffy short film festival, Netflix’s collaboration with Nora Twomey and Cartoon Saloon on My Father’s Dragon, a recent Prime Time Investigates look at reports of bullying the Irish film industry and highlights of the Screen Ireland funding decisions for the third quarter.

The top ten:

  1. 7 Emotions
  2. First Man
  3. Venom
  4. Halloween
  5. Goosebumps II: Haunted Halloween
  6. Johnny English Strikes Again
  7. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
  8. Smallfoot
  9. A Star is Born
  10. Bohemian Rhapsody

New releases:

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

Non-Review Review: Widows (2018)

At its most basic, Widows is a testament to applying the skill and craft of two filmmakers working at the very top of their game to a sturdy and reliable genre framework.

The basic plot of Widows is relatively straightforward, adapted from Lynda LaPlante’s book by way of a very successful British television miniseries. A group of women find themselves drawn into an unlikely life of crime when their husbands are killed during a botched robbery. Caught between corrupt politicians and scheming gangsters, the women are thrown out of their comfort zone as their leader commits to completing a heist that was carefully and meticulously planned by her late husband. It’s pulpy, it’s trashy, it’s fun.

Widows of opportunity.

However, the beauty of Widows lies in applying the skill of Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen to this set-up. Flynn is one of the biggest writers working today, known for both her novels and for her work on screenplays. Gone Girl was enough of a cultural force to turn its title into a verb, and embodied a certain kind of sleek self-aware trashy storytelling style. McQueen is a great writer in his own right, but already one of the most esteemed and respected directors working in contemporary cinema; known for his work on Shame or Twelve Years a Slave.

Widows is a movie that is completely unashamed of the trappings of its story, a familiar story about unlikely criminals who find themselves forced into “one last job”, with the biggest irony being that it is somebody else’s last job. Widows never looks down upon the heightened aspects of its narrative, nor does it feel a need to elevate or legitimise them. Instead, Widows allows its intelligence and insight to fold into the contours of this slick stylish crime thriller. The result is simply dazzling.

Stealy resolve.

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