Television

When the Sun Comes Up: Russian Doll (Season 1)

Russian Doll is a series about meanings within meanings, extending from the double meaning of the very title, through to the genius Netflix stroke of releasing this Groundhog Day-style tale *on* the renowned and celebrated Groundhog Day itself.

Most people are familiar with the ornamental ‘Russian dolls’ which nest inside of each other; revealing the top of the doll only leads to one the next size under and on and on until the smallest is uncovered, usually the seventh. Layers upon layers of dolls. They are known in Russia as ‘Matryoshka’, which derives from the Latin meaning ‘mother’. Matryoshka dolls symbolically represent fertility and motherhood, the largest the matriarch protecting her young.

This on first glance may seem less important to a show like Russian Doll, in which ostensibly the ‘doll’ of the title is the character played by star and co-creator/writer Natasha Lyonne, Nadia Vulvokov – a New Yorker of Russian-Jewish descent around whom the time loop conceit rests. In truth, motherhood and the internal pain represented by the Matryoshka dolls lies at the core of Russian Doll, which, like those ornamental souvenirs, hides more than it first appears.

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Movies

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

Trawling through Film Twitter, it was a surprise to see one particular reviewer suggest they had been informed that Velvet Buzzsaw was a cross between The Neon Demon and Nocturnal Animals. That is lending Dan Gilroy’s picture more praise than, frankly, it deserves.

In some respects, they are all bedfellows, certainly when it comes to the visual juxtaposition of horror, sex and art. Gilroy’s film lacks, however, the operatic eeriness of Nocturnal Animals or the visually arresting palette of Nicolas Winding Refn’s (admittedly somewhat overhyped) The Neon Demon. What they all share is a critique of the world of art and performance, with Velvet Buzzsaw particularly taking a sideswipe at the critique of art critique itself. Gilroy isn’t unloading death wish fulfilment on the creators, rather those who profit *from* artistic creation; critics, gallery owners and agents, all more interested in fame and fortune than what the art *means*.

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Books, Movies, Television

TV, Book and Movie Watch Roundup – January 2019

Welcome to February! Because there’s not enough useless information floating around on the internet, I thought I would update readers of this blog as to what I’ve watched/read over the previous month, each month, in the form of TV, movies and books.

Some of this I will have reviewed on Cultural Conversation (or perhaps Set The Tape) but others I’ve just been watching for enjoyment with Mrs Black, or in some cases because I was off sick from work and had little else to be doing.

Let’s start this month with TV… Continue reading

Filmography, Movies

High Spirits (1988) – The Filmography of Neil Jordan

In a brand new project, I am going to be looking weekly at the complete cinematic, feature-length filmography of a director in the run up to a newly-released piece of work.

In the first Filmography project, in advance of his new film Greta to be released in April 2019, I’m looking at celebrated Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan…

There comes a point with any filmmaker, no matter how great or good, when the magic wears off and they produce something they would rather forget. Some get it out of the way early. For some it comes at the end of their career. For Neil Jordan, his fourth picture very much fits the bill. High Spirits is what you might, charitably, coin – a misfire.

You sense with High Spirits the fusion of numerous elements that have marked Jordan’s journey as a filmmaker up to this point, a journey which by now is defiantly idiosyncratic and liable to avoid pigeon-holing. While High Spirits is very clearly a Hollywood product in the manner none of his previous three pictures could be described, it sees for Jordan both a return to his native Ireland when it comes to location and narrative (not evidenced since Angel), plus the interest in fantasy trappings as was The Company of Wolves, even if they are wildly different approaches.

Jordan has stated that he was locked out of the editing room on High Spirits and he has “locked in a vault” the original cut he would have released, suggesting a strong displeasure with a final product which is striking in how forgettable and rote the finished product is compared to, particularly, his last film Mona Lisa. The conflagration of Irish, British and American actors, crew and production values, works to the detriment of the depth and substance we saw in Jordan’s previous films. He remains a director developing and evolving, but this feels from the get-go like an unusual aberration.

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Filmography, Movies

Mona Lisa (1986) – The Filmography of Neil Jordan

In a brand new project, I am going to be looking weekly at the complete cinematic, feature-length filmography of a director in the run up to a newly-released piece of work.

In the first Filmography project, in advance of his new film Greta to be released in April 2019, I’m looking at celebrated Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan…

After a sojourn into the realms of Gothic dark fantasy in The Company of Wolves, Neil Jordan veers back toward territory he explored in his first picture, delivering in the process not only his most accomplished works to date, but one of the highlights of his varied cinematic career.

Mona Lisa saw Jordan ply his trade with HandMade Films, who since being formed by George Harrison (yes, the Beatle) in order to bankroll Monty Python’s controversial The Life of Brian in 1979, had emerged as one of the growing, innovative production companies in British cinema, developing pictures such as Terry Gilliam’s curious Time Bandits in 1981 and a year earlier, John Mackenzie’s seminal British crime picture The Long Good Friday, which made a star of Bob Hoskins. Mona Lisa continued that ascent of stardom for Hoskins in the lead role as one of the UK’s most exciting character actors.

You see while Hoskins is the protagonist of Jordan’s neo-noir crime drama, which sees the director using a London setting for the first time, his leading man George is by far a conventional hero within what is without doubt an unconventional, melancholic romantic picture. There is a real sadness that pervades Mona Lisa, despite George’s inherent everyman optimism and the strings of Nat King Cole singing his take on the titular figure, of course so named after Leonardo da Vinci’s most famed Renaissance portrait. Jordan’s film is one of intentional contradictions.

It is also, in more than a few places, quietly heartbreaking.

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Filmography, Movies

The Company of Wolves (1984) – The Filmography of Neil Jordan

In a brand new project, I am going to be looking weekly at the complete cinematic, feature-length filmography of a director in the run up to a newly-released piece of work.

In the first Filmography project, in advance of his new film Greta to be released in April 2019, I’m looking at celebrated Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan…

The Company of Wolves can be seen as the first stirrings of what would become certain Neil Jordan trademarks in his storytelling.

Sexuality, and principally forbidden sexuality, is right at the forefront of this take on the classic Red Riding Hood fairytale story, something Jordan hinted at exploring in his first film Angel and spirals very much back to in his next film, Mona Lisa. Jordan couches these themes in The Company of Wolves very much in the Gothic romantic tradition, with the central character of Rosaleen the young, naive, innocent beauty who is eventually courted by the literal Big Bad Wolf of folklore. The result is a strange, haunting and often quite eerie piece of work.

Though not Jordan’s best piece of work, it’s a striking next step in just how markedly different it is to his previous, debut picture.

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Alias

Alias – ‘The Prophecy’ (1×16)

If The Box was the episode which transformed first season of Alias from a narrative perspective, The Prophecy is the episode which sees Alias finally embrace the fact it exists on a fine line of two distinctive genres.

It is hard to look past The Prophecy as perhaps the most important episode of Season 1 of Alias, indeed it may well be one of the most important episodes of the entire series. The Prophecy is the episode which embraces and contextualises the Rambaldi mythology in a way JJ Abrams’ series has thus far been hesitant to do. John Eisendrath’s script acknowledges that the reveal at the end of Page 47, which saw the key page of Milo Rambaldi’s 500-year old manuscript unveil an image of our heroine Sydney Bristow, was a moment Alias could never come back from. 

This was the moment Alias becomes as much science-fiction as it has been pure, pulpy espionage.

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