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The home of writer & author A. J. BLACK

From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from May 26th, 2014, as we close in on Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Unlike the incredibly hyped, feverish release of The Phantom Menace three years earlier, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones loomed large with more a muted sense of expectation, a ‘new hope’ as it were that George Lucas might have learned a few lessons from the severe disappointment his first prequel in the planned trilogy turned out to be, due to cardboard dialogue, stiff acting, leaden plotting and a remarkable lack of fun.

Perhaps aware of his own shortcomings behind the typewriter, Lucas hired a young writer, Jonathan Hales, to help him pen this second instalment but in no uncertain terms, two heads were not better than one. Attack of the Clones desperately wants to be this trilogy’s The Empire Strikes Back – it’s immediately darker, it seeks to be edgier, it balances plot shenanigans with a central romance, and it builds to an ominous, open-ended conclusion. The only difference is that it’s a soul crushing experience to sit through until that end point – perhaps even more joyless than the previous movie, with only the barest hints of the chutzpah the original trilogy exhibited, and yet again a raft of immensely wooden performances by talented actors struggling with a script that is banal in the extreme.

Considering the promise of what could have been, it’s yet again another enormous clusterf*ck.

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From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from May 25th, 2014, as we close in on Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

In 1987, after a costly divorce settlement that undoubtedly dampened his enthusiasm for playing in a fictional universe, George Lucas unofficially cancelled his long-held plans to produce a prequel trilogy to Star Wars, his magnum opus & arguably the most iconic Hollywood movie franchise in cinematic history. It didn’t last long.

The technology Lucas felt wasn’t around to realise his grand vision for the series was becoming a reality thanks to leaps forward visible in such movies as Terminator 2: Judgment Day or Jurassic Park and by 1994, imagination forever burning to tell the story of how Anakin Skywalker became cinema’s most infamous villain, Darth Vader, he was writing what would ultimately become The Phantom Menace. To say ‘Episode I’ was anticipated would be an understatement – millions spent on marketing, thousands queuing for weeks outside cinemas for tickets, the press in a frenzy. Star Wars had struck such a chord from 1977 onwards that by 1999, as the internet was exploding into the household, fandom was at its expectant peak.

Think back… how old were you? What were you doing? And when you finally saw The Phantom Menace, did you wonder why you’d spent so long excited?

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You would be forgiven for thinking Duck, You Sucker! is an unusual title for what turned out to be Sergio Leone’s penultimate picture, but the absurdity strangely works in the context of this most unusual spaghetti western.

It could be why the title was subsequently revised as the more playable A Fistful of Dynamite, which of course places it as an unofficial fourth companion to Leone’s most legendary work – A Fistful of Dollars, aka the Dollars trilogy. Duck, You Sucker! was a perceived popular American colloquialism Leone was convinced existed, and it speaks to the somewhat perverted lens through which Leone continues to explore the American experience in, what we will call for ease, simply Dynamite from now on. His tale of Rod Steiger’s sleazy Mexican bandit who finds comradeship in James Coburn’s fugitive Irish revolutionary at the heart of the Mexican Revolution of 1913 is messy, explosive and oddly romantic.

This could be why Dynamite has struggled to achieve the cultural or critical reach of Leone’s Dollars trilogy or his final film, Once Upon a Time in America. As much as his first picture, The Colossus of Rhodes, A Fistful of Dynamite is arguably Leone’s forgotten, at times semi-masterpiece.

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From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from August 18th, 2014…

It’s hard to conjure in the mind a movie that has created more theory, enigma and speculation than Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece The Shining, which stands personally as one of my all-time favourite pieces of cinema, precisely because it’s so open to analysis and interpretation.

Room 237 is concerned with such analysis, Rodney Ascher’s documentary focusing as it does on the testimony of five filmmakers & researchers–Geoffrey Cocks, Bill Blakemore, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan & Jay Weidner–each of whom have their own specific theories about precisely what kind of hidden meanings Kubrick layered into The Shining, hidden in plain sight as it were. Ascher’s film, however, might be ostensibly about Kubrick & his puzzle box of a film but that’s truly just a prism that allows him to explore the depth of cinematic obsession, with these five unseen but oft-heard individuals espousing just how far they’ve gone down a rabbit hole of bewildering analysis.

The result is a film that both fascinates and grates in equal measure.

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The latest episode of my podcast about cinema with my friend and podcast buddy, Carl Sweeney.

Motion Pictures is designed to be more of an informal, free-flowing chat about movies, geared around a topic of the week. There will also be choice episodes around an idea, whatever takes our fancy really! It’s an exciting project.

As The Irishman arrives on the scene, we’re this week discussing Martin Scorsese, Marvel and ask the question…

What exactly is cinema?

In the last few months, Scorsese and Marvel have, via Film Twitter, been at war, after Scorsese described the Marvel cinematic juggernaut as “not cinema”. Is he right? Is he wrong? Does it matter? Is the answer less important than people’s reaction to it?

It seems to have triggered a debate over the direction of modern cinema. Blockbuster franchises vs smaller fare. Distribution models with Netflix bankrolling The Irishman when major studios wouldn’t. Are we facing cinematic hegemony? Or is the market simply evolving & adapting?

And crucially, is there art or craft in Black Panther to the same degree as The Irishman or Goodfellas? Worlds apart in tone and texture, do they all apply as pure cinema?

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Greetings everyone!

As you know, this year I’ve been doing quite a bit of reviewing for Eureka Entertainment, one of the best cult and classic movie labels out there in the UK who have been kind enough to send me screeners of their upcoming films. I’ve seen a bunch of movies I never would have independently watched via this method and it’s been terrific fun.

A stack of Eureka titles all came at once recently and many without the in-depth extras most of their other titles have, so I thought I would badge them up into one post as I clear the decks for this year.

I’m probably going to review less Blu-Ray content in 2020 from Eureka and elsewhere, to be honest, only cherry picking what really takes my fancy. I have Book 2 which I need very much to be getting on with as we enter the New Year and I want to devote time to a few other bits & pieces as well, such as more Scene by Scene film breakdowns & my upcoming 2000 in Film project.

So anyway, here we go. The last (but one) stack of Eureka titles to consider for 2019…

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From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from May 20th, 2014…

The secrecy and curiosity surrounding what would become known as Cloverfield remains seven years on as memorable as Matt Reeves’ resultant movie itself.

Shot in complete secrecy by Bad Robot, with Paramount’s backing, and inspired by BR’s founder JJ Abrams looking at Godzilla toys in Japan with his son and thinking how the movie world needed an American version, Cloverfield was trailered as simply 1-18-08 with no fanfare and took the world by storm – what was this mysterious found footage piece that seemed to simply be a light, preppy relationship drama until the Statue of Liberty head came crashing down the street?

Speculation was rife for months and finally the answer came as Cloverfield presented itself as a monster movie classic for the YouTube generation – a lithe, intense, chaotic piece of work with an emotional tether at its heart and a frenetic refusal to take a breath.

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