Hello, world. I’m MacDara Conroy, and this is my blog.


Category: Screen

Film review — Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel

This is just…not a good documentary. If it’s about the mystery and tragedy of Elisa Lam, then it stretches what’s a two-hour story at best over a painfully meandering four hours. If it’s really supposed to be about the ‘web sleuth’ conspiracy theorists à la Room 237, then it does a piss-poor job of interrogating how their quasi-vigilante actions did and do far more harm than good. Overall, it has a sneering, right-wing slant that builds this false impression of Skid Row as a den of iniquity and a magnet for the morally bankrupt rather than what it really was and is: a manufactured project to ghettoise the underclass. More…

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Film review — The Yin Yang Master: Dream of Eternity

It’s adapted from a game that’s based on a series of novels so clearly has loads of fans, and when things kick off I can see the appeal. But so much of the film is taken up by a sub-Harry Potter mystery plot that’s as tremendously dull as the soppy romance at its core. More…

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Film review — Red Dot

Let me save you the trouble: this I’m-so-clever thriller hangs on the kind of preposterously grandiose twist that renders everything that came before completely nonsensical. It’s almost moot that it’s just cringeworthy calamity after calamity up till that point, and then more or less continues in that fashion. More…

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Film review — What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

The Pauline Kael primer, more or less. Fans of her work will probably be left wanting, despite (or because of) the hagiography. I was left with the impression of someone of whom I can appreciate the enthusiasm, but disagree with the methods. More…

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Film review — A Glitch in the Matrix

Unlike Room 237 — which was all curiosity about its subjects and their wackadoo theories, the topic at hand aside — A Glitch in the Matrix has a thesis. It’s not the strongest (to someone who started his philosophy degree the year The Matrix came out so never really saw what all the fuss was about) but it does the work of contextualising where solipsistic ideas like simulation theory come from, and the dark places they can end up. More…

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Film review — Next

Not only does it squander its premise and render what should be a white-knuckle thriller as a weirdly staid talking piece for long stretches, it also fails to harness Nicolas Cage’s unhinged energy for any sustained results. Oh, and Julianne Moore’s character is a brunette. Why would you…never mind. Next! More…

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Film review — Space Sweepers

Completely derivative and far too long for the substance of its story, but there’s always something happening so there’s no time to get bored. That’s more than can be said for a lot of so-called spectacles of this ilk. More…

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Film review — Moon 44

This one is interesting as the first time Roland Emmerich worked with Dean Devlin (here as a co-star; he wasn’t yet a writer). The aesthetic influence of Blade Runner and Aliens looms large in the production design, but that’s the only suggestion of the potential that would be realised in Stargate four years later. In this case, Emmerich is working with a threadbare plot — mostly boring, occasionally uncomfortable — that simply doesn’t support the vision. More…

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Film review — Roadgames

This one loses an entire star for its absolutely farcical score. It turns a neo-Hitchcockian Ozploitation thriller into a bloody Ealing comedy or something. More…

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Film review — In Search of the Last Action Heroes

A YouTube video essayist makes what’s more or less his dream project and it’s kind of accidentally great? I mean, it’s clear Alex Winter was secured as one of the talking heads as there was no way they were getting Keanu, but his insight lends the sort of depth and gravitas that a relatively dry documentary about an anything-but-dry subject really needs. More…

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Film review — The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

I could be glib about the Brothers Gibb and say ‘They’ll always be Les Tossers to me’ but I can’t deny those harmonies. The biggest downside to this (mostly posthumous) documentary is that it’s far too slight, and skips over much of the pre-superstardom days and records that should be more than footnotes in their story. Give me the four-hour cut with stuff about early albums like Cucumber Castle and whatever possessed them to give a record a title like Cucumber Castle. More…

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Film review — Final Destination 3

It will always bother me about these movies that they start with a premonition that no one wanted, then the person who experiences it and those they influence are targeted by the invisible hand of fate, but the premonition itself somehow doesn’t count as something that was fated to happen. Yes I overthink these things, but that’s just the kind of person I am. More…

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Film review — O Lucky Man!

The blackface (not once, but twice!) really sticks out like a sore thumb in what’s otherwise a film that resonates as much today as it must’ve done back in 1973, with all that seething anger against the system barely concealed by the offbeat mirth. More…

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Film review — Action USA

You know, I didn’t really care for this. More of a ‘couple of beers into film night with the lads’ kind of deal, methinks. Dug the explosions, though. So many explosions. More…

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Film review — Promising Young Woman

It would be so easy to cast this aside as a caricature of toxic masculinity. I mean, it’s practically begging for it. But what you have to realise is that men, the target of its satire and ire, are fucking clichés (being a man, I speak from experience) and this movie gets really, really gets that. More…

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Film review — Contraband

This Lucio Fulci poliziottesco about smugglers in Naples is mostly dull until the ultraviolence ramps ups the sleaze factor halfway through. More…

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Film review — Hell of the Living Dead

An amateurish riff on Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and the cannibal exploitation craze, but it’s weirdly watchable, and contains some real flashes of brilliance, as if the work of a genius obscured by a near total lack of technical skill. More…

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Film review — Morning Glory

So let me get this straight. Rachel McAdams’ morning show producer has no qualms about sacking the sex pest anchor her first day on the job, but is grand about suffering for weeks Harrison Ford’s sanctimonious newscaster? A character, by the way, who moans constantly about the tabloid antics of the format being far beneath his gravitas, but he’s got no problem staining his reputation by going on air sozzled, or bickering like a bratty child with his co-anchor. Right. If this were a funnier comedy none of this would linger in my mind, I wouldn’t overthink it, but as it is it was all I could think about. More…

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Film review — Outside the Wire

The turgid hyperrealism of modern warfare (pun very much intended) in films such as this is just as divorced from the actual consequences of war as the bombastic shoot-em-up spectacles of the Eighties, and between the two I’d rather have the latter. Anthony Mackie’s spot-on Will Smith impression here notwithstanding. More…

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Film review — The Caller

An arch-as-arch-can-be mystery riff that really goes for broke with that ending, almost as if Charles Band was like “OK we’ll make your picture, but how about we do… this?” More…

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Film review — Tenet

Like most of Christopher Nolan’s previous would-be thinking-man’s blockbusters, Tenet reaches for grandiose, highfalutin ideas but is always more concerned with small, personal drama. The conflict between the two — the appeals to the heart while at the same time taking the smug, condescending approach to tricksy storytelling concepts — is why it doesn’t quite work. More…

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Film review — Tag

At some point about half-way through, this film — the witless script, its awful characters, the whole shebang — realises it might be a mean-spirited mess. That could have made for an interesting turn of events. Instead, Tag decides it’s in too deep to back out, so carries on pretending like it never knew. But I couldn’t forget it. More…

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Film review — All About Nina

It’s funny that the first I heard of this movie was when it just popped up on Netflix because at many moments throughout it got me thinking, ‘Hey, this feels like that Netflix show Love.’ Not that Love has the scorched-earth finale we get here, mind you. Brave or foolhardy: that’s the question that comes to mind. But it’s got a tour de force performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead all the same. And I’m not just talking about her impression of Celine Dion. More…

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Film review — Point Blank

I wasn’t really feeling the awkward tonal shift here between gritty action thriller and send-up of the same, at least until Markice Moore’s Friedkin-obsessed gangbanger entered the frame. That’s when it had me. More…

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Film review — Backdraft

This has zero business being nearly two-and-a-half hours long, and commits the terrible crime of casting Jennifer Jason Leigh and giving her virtually nothing to do. It’s also a prime example of a great high concept in search of a plot (they really do try for the ‘fire is eeeeevil’ angle at one point). But the set pieces and stunt work really do hold up. More…

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Film review — Sudden Death

I mean, what other film can you suggest that has Jean Claude Van Damme fighting an ice hockey mascot, Powers Boothe being an utter bastard terrorising children, and the worst helicopter crash in action cinema history? More…

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Film review — Black Circle

Pretensions of Cronenberg meeting Lovecraft in this faulty Swedish horror, which nicks concepts from a number recent, better films (It Follows, Get Out) but really falters by telling rather than showing — and telling far too much. More…

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Film review — Friedkin Uncut

Like the similar overview of De Palma a few years ago, this could only be a taster of an idiosyncratic career in film, so for me it’s a step down from Leap of Faith, which really gets into the nitty gritty of what makes William Friedkin tick. More…

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Film review — Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist

Far and away the best thing on Shudder right now. It’s less the director on The Exorcist itself as it is about the philosophy behind it, and Friedkin’s own filmmaking philosophy. He’s a learned guy with an enthusiasm for culture in general, and he’s refreshingly honest about working on instinct and going places that even he doesn’t understand all these years later. More…

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Film review — The Church

Bava’s Demons but in a church, basically, but with an understatedness that’s peculiar for this kind of thing: subtle characterisations, comparatively little gore and an eye for arresting arthouse imagery. More…

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Film review — The Midnight Sky

The Midnight Sky seems to operate under the assumption that holding off on explaining to the audience the cause of its cataclysmic event will keep us intrigued enough to carry on watching despite its thoroughly lazy chain of sci-fi/daddy-issues cliches. I mean, I saw it through to the end (at 1.5x speed, mind) but you don’t have to be such a masochist. More…

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Film review — The Kiosk

Shot on an iPhone over the course of a few months at a Parisian newspaper kiosk, artist-turned-shopkeep-turned-director Alexandra Pianelli’s film documents the end of an era in a day-to-day existence that’s rife with contradictions. As much as the internet has tangibly affected the livelihoods of all who work in print media, from the publications down to the vendors, there will always be a demand for the tactile, the human touch, as lovingly recorded here. It’s a rewarding job for those who thrive on those connections with people from all walks of life, as Alexandra and her mother seem to do, but it also leaves one vulnerable to the elements. Then there’s a wry moment where a homophobic protest nearby turns out to be a boon for business; the sales of far-right rags help keep the shutters up at a stall where an immigrant fruit-and-veg seller hides his produce from the gendarmerie. It’s the yin and yang, the positive and the negative, as one friendly neighbour puts it about an entirely different matter, but the metaphor works for me. More…

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Film review — What Have They Done to Your Daughters?

It’s got all the makings of a giallo classic — an outrageously lurid plot, a masked marauder with a giant knife, and a bleak-as-anything ending — but doesn’t execute any of it to the high standard set by the genre’s most memorable offerings. More…

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Film review — Manhattan Baby

An ancient Egyptian curse? Child possession? A man pecked to death by taxidermied birds? It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it’s a Lucio Fulci horror movie, so whatcha gonna do? More…

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Film review — Cobra

Cobra is brilliant, isn’t it? The first 40 minutes, and the hellish symbolism of the climactic fight scene, retain a powerfully unsettling weirdness even after all these years. The story does kind of lose its way once it’s taken out of the city and becomes more conventional Cannon action fodder, alas. If it had gone all-in on the murderous cult angle, we’d be talking about all-time classic; as it is, though, it remains criminally underrated. More…

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Film review — Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson

I didn’t know who Al Adamson was before this, though his reputation (at least through titles like Satan’s Sadists) preceded him in my experience. Of all of these rose-tinted nostalgia docs about B-movie mavens, I think the Adamson story comes the closest to Roger Corman in terms of the end results living up to the passion that drove it all. And then it’s set apart by the man’s life ending in a manner that could be straight out of one of his own pictures. More…

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Film review — Xtro

It’s not your average Alien rip-off, that’s for sure. There is a very tangible sense of effort to make something meaningful here, beyond the often amateurish performances and other deficiencies, and I can see why that sticks with people. More…

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