Review: Parasite

parasite Review

 

DIR: Joon-ho Bong • WRI: Joon-ho Bong, Jin Won Han • DOP: Kyung-pyo Hong • ED: Jinmo Yang • DES: Kave Quinn • PRO: Kwak Sin Ae, Moon Yang Kwon, Jang Young Hwan • MUS: Jaeil Jung • DES: Ha-jun Lee • CAST: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo

Bong Joon Ho’s pitch-black quasi comic-drama, thriller has made cinematic history. The first South Korean film to win the Palme D’Or, the first film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and Best International Picture; as well as awards for Original Script and Director. The accolades also include Golden Globes, BAFTAs and so on and on.  It is truly the cinematic darling of the moment and possibly the most successful South Korean film of all time. But is this tale of impoverished interlopers any good? 

Not for want of trying the Kim family live in poverty, in a dingy basement that consists of very little but memories of better days and a raised toilet that shares space with everything else in the household. When we meet the Kim family they are piggybacking on the upstairs neighbours Wi-Fi in their efforts to apply for jobs and change their place in the world.  Soon a job opportunity comes along; the son is asked by his more successful middle class friend to give private English tuition to the daughter of a rich family. The friend is going on sabbatical and does not trust his fellow college students to give tuition to the girl whom he is smitten with. Fool him. Of course the wealthy family will not take on any old English tutor, so subterfuge and a little credential forging help ensure he gets the job. Soon more opportunities are contrived to get family members positions of work in the wealthy household and each opportunity requires more ingenuity and less morality than the last.  It seems the Kim family might be capable of anything to continue their success. By this point Ho has created a tense and uncomfortable home invasion scenario that could go anywhere. To say anymore would spoil this screw turning drama. 

Ho has been seen as a breath of fresh air since he began his career; known for genre bending (something he says was never intended) and a quirky mix of dark suspense and humour. What he does best is create characters that defy the usual mainstream interpretations. Allegiances and attitudes toward his protagonists and antagonists are consistently turned upside down. The term villain can rarely find a true place in a Bong Joon Ho film because he finds the humanity in everyone despite his or her flaws. 

Parasite is the essence of this attitude in his storytelling, also present in large dollops is his love of Hitchcock, which has been noted in his work many times. For once comparisons with the master are relevant unlike the superficial comparisons usually thrown at filmmakers. This is not to deny his own identity and skills as a filmmaker. What he brings of the Hitchcockian sensibility is purer than stealing tropes or cinematic tricks. Ho understands emphatically the human element at the heart of all good Hitchcock tales. That complicit mood Hitchcock wanted his audiences to feel; those voyeurs in the dark. Never let the audience off the hook, Hitchcock once said. Ho achieves this in spades and with more than one hook.

Some may not find the ending to their taste but it is to be argued that this sort of story could never have an ending anyone is going to be truly satisfied with. Whatever you might think of its ending there is no doubting that Ho manages to entertain us in getting there and leaves us thinking about our humanity and responsibilities to each other in a world where economic injustices are more out of control than they have ever been. 

Paul Farren

132′ 9″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Parasite is released 7th February 2020

Parasite  – Official Website

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Review: Emma

Emma Review, Shauna Fox, Film Ireland

DIR: Autumn de Wilde • WRI: Eleanor Catton • DOP: Christopher Blauvelt • ED: Nick Emerson • DES: Kave Quinn • PRO: Tim Bevan, Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Eric Fellner • MUS: David Schweitzer, Isobel Waller-Bridge • DES: Sharon Seymour • CAST: Tanya Reynolds, Anya Taylor-Joy, Josh O’Connor

My first introduction to Jane Austen was BBC’s TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, you know, the version when Colin Firth comes out of a lake dripping wet? Yep, that one. Ever since I’ve had an interest in screen adaptations of Austen’s works. The Keira Knightley version never holds up to what the BBC created in 1995; however, I know many people who disagree with that opinion. But that’s the joy of Austen, her work is so beloved, and always manages to stand the test of time, that people will always continue to make adaptations of her writing; there are so many versions of her work that most will find one that they always go back to. Much like Pride and Prejudice, Emma too has multiple on-screen adaptations: there’s the one with Gwyneth Paltrow in 1996, Kate Beckinsale plays Emma in another filmic version in the same year, and the 2009 BBC version; then of course you have more modern takings like Clueless. Now, in 2020, another addition is added to the screen canon – Autumn de Wilde’s Emma, which, looking at her IMDB appears to be her first feature-length film as a director, being best known for her directorial work on music videos for the likes of Florence and the Machine. For her first major cinematic release this is a hell of a debut. 

What immediately stands out with this film is its frivolity and flamboyance; this is portrayed through the comedic tone, the cinematography, the score, the colour, the sets, the costumes, the acting… everything comes together perfectly to create probably one of the funniest and memorable versions of Emma I’ve seen. It has an air of the same oddness that Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite contained. Anya Taylor-Joy brings a great arrogance and superiority to the character of Emma that I feel wasn’t quite captured in some previous adaptations; her belief that she is right in all things, particularly in the field of meddling in other people’s love lives, was very well portrayed in Taylor-Joy’s take. Emma’s ‘teaching’ of her friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) to marry a man higher than her station in life is unfortunately misguided, and lends toward much heartache for her friend, and herself. Yet the fact that Emma believes women should be able to marry whomever they want, regardless of class, is what makes her a heroine that can be appreciated today. 

The chemistry between Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn, who played Mr. Knightley, Emma’s long-time friend, was on point. There was an equality and realism to their conversations, the comfort with which both could express their views (mostly opposing) to each other was refreshing to watch, it didn’t feel contrived or staged; therefore making the fact that they are, in fact, in love more believable. I particularly liked Flynn’s Mr. Knightley because, although Knightley is a gentleman, Flynn gives him a humanness that, at times, is laughable. One scene shows him throwing his coat and flinging himself to the floor in exasperation. The entire cast of this film embody their characters perfectly, allowing for the creation of an endearing comedy. Bill Nighy as Emma’s father is hilarious, bringing his typical calming demeanour to a character that worries too much. Miranda Hart was the best choice for the rambling Ms. Bates, while Josh O’ Connor was great at capturing the cringe-worthy Mr. Elton. Also, it’s hard not to notice a few of the cast from Netflix’s Sex Education popping up in the film. 

The pastel colours of the sets and costumes make the film aesthetically enjoyable to watch, with the score complementing the light air of the entire movie. I generally find that when a film is advertised specifically as a comedy it’s never as funny as I expect, but de Wilde’s Emma is charming in its easy humour, and original approach to the well-known text. The somewhat modern feel given to this film will hopefully encourage a younger generation to gain an interest in Jane Austen. 

De Wilde’s Emma is a great addition to onscreen renditions of Austen’s texts, and can stand proudly among the best of them. 

Shauna Fox

124′ 52″
PG (see IFCO for details)

Emma is released 14th February 2020

Emma  – Official Website

 

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Review: Dolittle

DIR: Stephen Gaghan • WRI: Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, Doug Mand, Chris McKay, Thomas Shepherd • DOP: Guillermo Navarro • ED: Craig Alpert • DES: Dominic Watkins • PRO: Susan Downey, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Joe Roth • MUS: Danny Elfman • DES: Sharon Seymour • CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen 

He can walk with the animals. He can talk with animals. Hell, he can even sing with the animals. But can he be a hit in 2020? Yes, that’s right Dr. Dolittle returns to cinemas for the first time since Eddie Murphy hung up his stethoscope in 2002. Dolittle is armed with an A-Star cast led by Robert Downey Jr. and a budget of $175 million. In a couple of years, we’ll look back on this confused as to whether or not it actually happened because Dolittle is a bore that will struggle to entertain the youngest of audience members. 

John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), the famous vet who can talk to animals, embarks on a grand adventure with his new apprentice (Harry Collett) and his crew of animals to find a cure for the Queen’s (Jessie Buckley) mysterious illness. On paper, the plot doesn’t seem bad. Dolittle finds a new lease of life following years of mourning the death of his wife. This should be an inspiring journey that teaches us all to keep going. That’s what Dolittle should have been. Unfortunately, this is a lifeless family adventure where you can guess exactly what’s going to happen next. There’s nothing of note to mention plot-wise. At no time during the film will you even consider that the heroes won’t achieve their mission.  Everything you think will happen does happen. Besides the part where they save the day by pulling a bagpipe out of a Dragons ass. That is not a typo. The ending of Dolittle sees the crew come up against an angry dragon (Frances de la Tour). Said Dragon is angry due to having trapped wind that is cured by pulling a bagpipe out of its bottom. In retrospect it’s easy to see why I can’t remember anything about the plot, how can your mind not be disorientated by Robert Downey Jr. performing an enema on a dragon. 

Considering how Iron Man launched the MCU which changed the landscape of cinema forever, Robert Downey Jr could play any role he wanted. For some reason, he wanted to play John Dolittle… a Welsh Dolittle mind you. RDJ’s accent is the thing of nightmares. It’s so bad that you begin to question if he’s ever heard a Welsh person talk. Does Robert Downey Jr. have Welsh friends that sound like this? Did his vocal coach play a horrific prank on him? I need answers now goddamnit. Accent aside, John Dolittle isn’t a likeable character. He’s mean to children, a smug know it all and, for a man who can talk to animals, he doesn’t seem all too interested in talking to animals. It’s a huge embarrassment for RDJ, who just last year hung up his Iron Man suit. It begs the question, can he be successful after his time in the MCU. Let’s not forget that he’s a tremendously talented actor, but there’s no getting past this misfire. Looking at the box office for Dolittle no one will want to place him as their lead in a blockbuster again any time soon. Don’t be surprised if we see Iron Man resurrected in five years.

As with any film that features talking animals, Dolittle cast is stacked with stars lending their voices to the cause. However, not one animal in the film has any story. They are all just kind of there. Rami Malek is a nervous Gorilla who hugs his blanket. John Cena is a polar bear who wears a hat while shouting inspirational dialogue like “Teamwork makes the dream work!”. Emma Thompson is a parrot who narrates to simplify the already simple plot. Octavia Spencer is a duck who is idiotic beyond belief. Tom Holland is a dog called Jip for five minutes before the film writes him off so he could film Far from Home. Selena Gomez and Marion Cotillard also record for five minutes before running off with their cheques. If none of the actors care then why should you? I’m convinced that none of the voice actors know that they’re even in this movie. I believe that director Stephen Gaghan edited together clips from different celebrity’s interviews so he could try and bring some form of life to this dire film.

Director Stephen Gaghan has had a mighty fall from grace considering he won an Oscar for his screenwriting for Syriana. Up until this Gaghan had only made heavy dramas for adults. What in the world convinced him that he was the right man for a CGI-fuelled Dr. Dolittle reboot? Behind the scenes Gaghan reportedly went off the rails, filming scenes before deciding what animals would be edited into the scenes. When watching the film these reports feel extremely accurate considering that Dolittle is facing away from the animals in 70% of his scenes. The paper-thin script was written by four different people who presumably all took turns adding wacky one-liners to try to make the runtime feature-length. From a technical perspective, the film is hideous. The CGI animals are hideous, not a single one of them feels real. During the scarce action sequences, it’s clear for the world to see that a green screen was heavily used in production. Had Cats not been released a month prior then Stephen Gaghan would be receiving Tom Hooper levels of criticism. At least Hooper tried to do something different. Gaghan’s direction is scarily poor.

Do yourself a favour and run far away from Dolittle. The best thing for everyone is to pretend that this never happened. Robert Downey Jr. can act like he hasn’t been in anything since Endgame. The A-list voice cast can delete it off their CV’s. Stephen Gaghan can go back to directing dramas. Most importantly, I and anyone else who saw Dolittle can erase this from our memories. A dragon and a bagpipe will never be connected again. The world will be all the better for it.

Liam De Brun

101′ 24″
PG (see IFCO for details)

Dolittle  is released 7th February 2020

Dolittle  – Official Website

 

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Review: Birds of Prey & the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

birds of prey, Film Ireland Review

 

DIR: Cathy Yan • WRI: Christina Hodson • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Jay Cassidy, Evan Schiff • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: Sue Kroll, Margot Robbie, Bryan Unkeless • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • DES: K.K. Barrett • CAST: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor 

Before I start, I must say I love the full title of this film. 

DC’s Harley Quinn a sort of psychotic Betty Boop was, for many viewers, the most successful character in film Suicide Squad. So much so that the powers that be decided a stand-alone movie – well a stand-alone movie featuring some other heroines from the DC universe – was worth doing. 

A quick potted history using animation and narration brings us up to speed on Harley’s life and entanglement with the Joker. Now, Harley Quinn is a broken woman, who has been unceremoniously given the boot by said Joker. In a moment of great drunkenness, she blows up the chemical factory where the couple first truly bonded. This act of recklessness lets everyone know she is no longer under Joker’s protection and soon all those people she upset are on the warpath.  Amongst them is Roman/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) a narcissist gang leader; who has a penchant for watching his henchman flay people’s faces. Also having a bad time of it are an honest police woman Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), suffering at the hands of her boorish male counterparts as she tries to get Roman put behind bars; Roman’s torch singer, Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Bell), guilty of being too decent; Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a revenging angel of sorts; and finally an irritating young orphan pickpocket, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). It is Cassandra that sets off the main thrust of mayhem when she steals a valuable diamond, which Black Mask wants very badly. Before you can say Birds of Prey, excessive violence is the order of the day.

Birds of Prey takes its storytelling cues from Deadpool and the structural jumbles that featured in so many Tarantino inspired movies from the ’90s.  Harley is our unreliable narrator and unfolds a fractured narrative as she tries to relay the events to us. Whereas Deadpool’s omnipotent presence in his own story was just short of jumping off the screen and sitting beside us, Harley fills in the blanks and information through narration with a modicum of fourth-wall-breaking with some added titles one might see in an anime.  The joke wears thin very quickly, flashbacks used to give weight to particular story moments in the present storyline just serve to show up how predictable and lazy the overall story arch is. We are usually way ahead of the plot.

The female cast give it their best shot but the material does not serve anyone well. Margot has proven herself in the past as a reliable actor but her shallow, psychopathic Betty Boop grates very early in the proceedings. The others manage to get to the end with some dignity despite weak dialogue and characterisation. Elsewhere, Ewan McGregor acts as if he is trying to mine the essence of Gary Oldman’s career in the 1990s, very badly. Most of the blame lies with the script and direction; all its attempts at humour and cheekiness consistently fall flat. The only joke that amused me was Winstead’s constant attempts to use her moniker Huntress when everyone else insists on calling her ‘The Crossbow Killer’. 

Birds of Prey is figuratively and literally an hour and fifty minutes of man-bashing.  Its need to frequently stop and remind us what bastards men are does it no real favours; in fact it tends to dampen its lame attempts at humour. The film comes off like the feminist equivalent of a Blaxploitation movie, Feminstploitation if you will but instead of honkies being the bad guys; oh yeah, the honkies are the bad guys, who also happen to be white men for the most part. 

There is not one redeemable male in the whole film; they are work bullies or psychotic abusers. We do get teased at one point when Harley introduces us to a sweet old man whom she trusts enough to have a hideout over his restaurant but even he is an untrustworthy male.  I suppose if you count Bruce, Harley’s pet hyena, there is one redeemable male. Oh yeah, maybe that’s the point?

Paul Farren

108′ 46″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)  is released 7th February 2020

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – Official Website

 

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Review: Richard Jewell

 

DIR: Clint Eastwood • WRI: Billy Ray • DOP: Yves Bélanger • ED: Joel Cox • DES: Kevin Ishioka • PRO: Jennifer Davisson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Jonah Hill, Jessica Meier, Kevin Misher, Tim Moore • MUS: Arturo Sandoval • DES: Sharon Seymour • CAST: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Brandon Stanley, Ryan Boz

Richard Jewell (born Richard White) December 17, 1962, was an American security guard employed by AT&T at the Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia. The Centennial Olympic Park was designed as the ‘town square’ for the Olympics and on the evening in question, thousands of people had gathered in the park for a concert. Sometime after midnight on July 27, Jewell located a green backpack, (later found to contain three pipe bombs packed with shrapnel), and he immediately alerted officers from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. They in turn, confirmed the contents and ordered an instant evacuation of the area. As Jewell and other security guards began clearing the park, the bomb exploded, fatally injuring Alice Hawthorne and wounding over a hundred other people. For three days, Jewell was touted as a hero when a media backlash occurred and he suddenly became the prime suspect. 

Director Clint Eastwood has mastered the style of anti-hero where a key character exists on the fringes of society and a spotlight is shone on their struggles with acceptance, irrespective of whether those efforts are active or passive. Unforgiven (1992), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Gran Torino (2008), feature the main actor (in all cases played by Clint Eastwood), as a gruff and taciturn outcast. Unable, and more tellingly, unwilling to accede to a normal design for life, his characters live according to their own rules and invariably die by the same dicta. The character’s aim it appears, is not to surrender his sense of ‘being’ regardless of the distress it causes to the people he interacts with – they externalise their angst and ultimately find some modicum of introspection in their final moments. Contrast these roles with lead characters in Mystic River (2003) and Richard Jewell (2019) – they each have marginal differences in the style of anti-hero but the basic premise remains the same.

Paul Walter Hauser plays the titular role of Richard Jewell and Tim Robbins as Dave Boyle in Mystic River. Both have suffered trauma in various measures; both have endured the pitying glances of their more urbane peers and friends. Clint Eastwood creates a veneer of victimisation for Hauser in the role of Richard Jewell but he also maintains the lightest of directorial touches by maintaining sympathy firmly on the right side of dignity. Hauser is exceptionally well cast as Richard Jewell – in looks, he is frighteningly similar to the actual person– however, rather than eke pity for its own sake, Eastwood injects a level of pithy humour into the character and allows Jewell retain a sense of existence outside the parameters of peer influences. The only dissimilarity between the characters Eastwood (as actor) plays and that of Richard Jewell, is Jewell’s utter ignorance of his status as a marginalised buffoon. Continuity is preserved with regard to lead characters and Jewell steadfastly proceeds as an interloper in possession of an overt refusal to abide by societal norms – at no stage does Jewell pause and consider – rather, he is given instructions by figures of authority and follows those directives blindly and to the letter. Eastwood has total mastery over the character of Richard Jewell as likeable but stubborn and resistant to change in equal measure. Jewell applies literal meaning to all of his actions, which proves to be an issue as the story unfolds.  

Kathy Bates puts in an astonishing performance as Bobi Jewell, Richard’s mother. Eastwood is clever enough to allow audiences witness a number of similar personality traits between mother and son. It is key to understanding why Jewell was so obdurate in his views. Sam Rockwell plays the role of Watson Bryant, Jewell’s pushy, loud-mouthed lawyer. The only character that there has been some criticism of is that of Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) – Scruggs was a journalist for Atlanta-Journal Constitution and in the film is depicted as having offered sex to an FBI agent in exchange for information on Jewell. Scruggs was the journalist who first ran the story stating that Jewell was a suspect. The portrayal of Scruggs is thorny particularly given that Scruggs died of an accidental overdose in 2001 and is unable to defend her actions. Eastwood has been accused of continuing misogyny by perpetuating the myth that female journalists trade sex for scoops.   

That being said, this is a fine film – Eastwood truly delivers – resisting the urge to pluck at heartstrings and stopping well short of discriminating against Richard Jewell. The cast work well together with none overshadowing the other. Remove the problematic representation of Kathy Scruggs and Richard Jewell could well have become an Oscar contender.    

 

June Butler

130′ 45″
15A (see IFCO for details)

Richard Jewell  is released 31st January 2020

Richard Jewell – Official Website

 

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Review: Just Mercy

 

DIR: Destin Daniel Cretton • WRI: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham • DOP: Brett Pawlak • ED: Nat Sanders • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: Asher Goldstein, Gil Netter • MUS: Joel P. West • DES: Sharon Seymour • CAST: Brie Larson, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx

Just Mercy is a story surrounding the legislative corruption, that took place in late-’80s America, depicting the harrowing reality that the impoverished and minority communities faced, within the post Jim Crow era of Alabama. With a star-studded cast, director Destin Daniel Cretton, sets out to portray the real life story of Walter MacMillan based upon the memoirs of  social justice activist and attorney Bryan Stevenson.

This legal drama follows Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, a Harvard graduate of law from Delaware; making the career decision to become a representative of criminals falsely convicted on death row in Alabama. True to the real life events, set in the year 1989, Stevenson meets with Eva Ansley, played by Brie Larson, and begins the Equal Justice Initiative in order to give fair representation to those falsely sentenced to death. During this process Stevenson meets Walter Macmillan, played by Jamie Foxx, an African American convict on death row. Stevenson quickly begins to find flaws within MacMillan’s prosecution and begins building a case in order to repeal the conviction. This leads to many moments of hopeful new evidence coming to fruition and moments of despair as a new trial or tribulation must be overcome by MacMillan and Stevenson. With the state of Alabama, and southern America, personified by the villainous Sheriff and the spineless District Attorney, Stevenson faces down all odds in order to prove MacMillan’s innocence.

This compelling series of events, along with a plethora of A-list cast members, makes for a moving watch as Foxx truly provides a performance worthy of a pit in the stomach and a lump in the throat. Seeing not only the arduous nature of prison life but also the unique horrors that befall only those on death row. The audience can almost relate to the panic Foxx conveys when being detained for a crime he had no part in; this scene in particular echoing connotations of Ava DuVernay’s When they See Us.

Rob Morgan, playing Herbert Richardson, one of MacMillan’s fellow inmates, is arguably the best performance in the film and indisputably the most moving. Tim Blake Nelson, playing the believed villain of the plot, also displays his acting capabilities and gives the nature of the plot a new perspective on the overall subject. However, while these performances were to a very high standard, other characters such as Brie Larson’s and O’Shea Jackson Jr, felt unimportant and forgettable. Michael B. Jordan’s character also felt rather shallow, as the character seemed poorly paced and lacked any true flaws or vices; making this portrayal of Stevenson more like a heroic myth than a passionate civil rights activist. This highlights another critique, as the film’s pacing seemed very disorganised and seems  in two minds as to whether or not it wants to flesh out the events that took place or the characters involved and due to this felt twenty minutes too long. However, the aesthetic and accompanying soundtrack capture the setting effectively making for a mostly captivating watch.

In conclusion, while Just Mercy is a saddening real-life event and portrays perfectly the emotion behind the oppression faced by the black community in America, it does match the quality of films based around similar stories of oppression made in recent times. Examples of this such as If Beale Street Could Talk and The Hate U Give and Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman, all made in 2018, bare identical traits – and the upcoming Queen and Slim surrounds the same premise. So while the acting was of a high quality, Just Mercy does not particularly stand out in such an array of films with similar ideological standings.

This being said, the real life events alone are of an inspiring nature that is powerful and important to learn through the medium of film. 

Tiernan Allen

136′ 51″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Just Mercy is released 17th January 2020

Just Mercy – Official Website

 

 

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Review: The Lighthouse

Film Ireland reviews

DIR: Robert Eggers • WRI: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers • DOP: Jarin Blaschke • ED: Louise Ford • DES: Craig Lathrop • PRO: Robert Eggers, Youree Henley, Rodrigo Teixeira, Jay Van Hoy • MUS: Mark Korven • DES: Sam Lisenco • CAST: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman

The Lighthouse is a piercing psychological horror about two lighthouse keepers in 19th century Maine. Writer/ Director Robert Eggers drew critical acclaim and praise for his debut The Witch, a daring period horror set in New England. With The Lighthouse, Eggers makes a bold return to the directorial helm, as he lures us on a nautical pilgrimage into the darkest depths of man’s soul. Eggers establishes a heightened state of tension and anxiety early on, and never slackens. It’s a near hallucinogenic feast, and the onscreen atmosphere is a hypnotic high-wire act to die for.

It’s barely visible in the fog, but the lighthouse rises out of the island earth like a solemn religious monument. Ephraim Winslow (Robert Patterson) is a newly hired assistant lighthouse keeper. He’s traded a post logging in Canada for this inhospitable domain at the edge of the world. Winslow’s at the service of veteran keeper, Thomas Wake(Willem Dafoe).  From the get-go Winslow and Wake’s natures are set against one another. Winslow, a man of a quiet despondent demeanour, is matched against the overbearing traditionalism of Wake. Wake’s drunken sea chanties, cryptic sea lore and endless superstitions repulse Winslow. But Wake’s puritanical about his superstitions and warns Winslow that his previous assistant lost his sanity.

When Winslow expresses a desire to work the lightroom Wake becomes defensive and guards it with a religious fanaticism. Instead, Winslow’s left with the gruelling shit shovelling tasks of gathering firewood and maintaining lighthouse mechanics.  But the misery and hardship of these tasks grind at his pride and dignity. As Winslow battles isolation and irritation, he becomes enraptured by the incandescent mystery of the lightroom, and haunted by its supernatural calling. Each night as Wake tends to it zealously, Winslow magnetically obsesses over it. But Winslow’s obsession preys at his soul, until his sense of reality begins to drown in a whirlwind of waves and psychosis.

Robert Eggers traumatic images are potent and unnerving. The grainy black and white is a ghostly staple of the film’s prevailing atmosphere. But Eggers is succinct and diplomatic in his use of the camera.  There’s a noticeable restraint and minimalism to his compositions and there’s a clear debt to European cinema, with noticeable influences from the likes of Bergman, Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr. And while Eggers steers the film’s gruelling journey, he’s supported wholly by his able-bodied cinematographer Jarin Blashke. Together they craft an unnerving portrait of Winslow and Wake. Blashke captures the eroded coastal landscapes and imbues them with a euphoric sense of dread that verges on transcendent. These stark images are propelled even further by the haunting a-tonal strings of Mark Korven which bring a steely vitality to the coastal hell of the lighthouse.

As a director Robert Eggers is unapologetic in his nuanced approach. This is a filmmaker who seems at his most content when he goes against the grain and fights the prevailing cinematic winds. And Eggers is more than up to challenge. The Lighthouse is a cinematic bare-knuckle fight, that crashes over the soul in a cathartic wave of existential dread. In these darkened times of blind consumerism and mindless memes, The Lighthouse is a beacon for weary travellers in the dark. A pearl shining in the deep.

Michael Lee

109′ 10″
16 (see IFCO for details)

The Lighthouse  is released  31st January 2020

The Lighthouse – Official Website

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Review: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

DIR: Terry Gilliam • WRI: Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni • DOP: Nicola Pecorini • ED: Teresa Font, Lesley Walker • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: Mariela Besuievsky, Amy Gilliam, Gerardo Herrero, Grégoire Melin • MUS: Roque Baños • DES: Benjamín Fernández • CAST: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett

After twenty-five years give or take a few, Terry Gilliam’s dream/nightmare project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, has finally found its way to Irish cinemas.  The road has been long and hard and to those aficionados of Gilliam the film cannot be watched without this fact hanging over the proceedings, for good or for bad.  

The odyssey to get this project off the ground is almost legendary and the subject of two documentaries, Lost in La Mancha, a chronicle of 2000’s jinxed production attempt and the forthcoming, He Dreamed of Giants, a document of the most recent production and an attempt to get inside the head of its creator. If the film does only one thing, it shows us that Gilliam has a perseverance and tenacity of supernatural proportions.

Despite its modern reworking of Don Quixote and introduction of a new main character, Toby Grisoni (Adam Driver), who eventually takes on the unwilling role of Sancho Panza, this version is extremely faithful to the original tome. This Don Quixote, played by Jonathan Pryce (the first man to turn the role down many years ago) suffers the same delusions of chivalry as his namesake but his quest takes place in the modern La Mancha.

A manic Adam Driver plays Toby Grisoni, a one-time idealistic, award-winning filmmaker, now a jaded, spoilt commercials director, working on a vodka campaign that is using the persona of Don Quixote to sell its wares.  At an indulgent dinner celebration a gypsy vendor of tat and pirated DVDs (remember DVDs kids) is found to have a copy of Grisoni’s breakout student film made ten years earlier. It so happens the short film also used the subject of Don Quixote and was shot in a small nearby village, using locals as actors.

Grisoni travels to the location where the short film was conceived, partly in a moment of nostalgia but also as an excuse to escape his film set and the evil eye of his producer, who may suspect him of getting it on with his wife the previous night. Arriving at the village where he had made his short film he learns that his leading lady from all those years ago, whom he had a dalliance with, has left the village in search of stardom and the cobbler (Jonathan Pryce), who played Don Quixote, suffers the same delusion as his literary namesake since finishing the film all those years ago and believes himself to be the chivalrous knight. 

Before you can say, “they might be giants” this Quixote becomes convinced Grisoni is Sancho Panza and is soon leading him on a convoluted journey of deluded adventures around La Mancha. Reality and fantasy collide to great and confusing effect as Quixote tries to fulfil his errant knight obligations, in turn giving Grisoni the opportunity to reignite his previous love affair with his former leading lady and opening Grisoni’s eyes somewhat to the miscarriages of justice around him.

Here is where a lot of the problems lie. Gilliam’s jumbling of reality and fantasy combined with the convoluted, coincidental nature of the story make for a confused narrative.  Nothing is grounded enough for the audience to engage with the proceedings. For a long time Grisoni is a highly unlikeable character to hang out with. I found myself wondering if it would have worked with the original choice of Johnny Depp, whom Adam Driver seemed to be impersonating at times.

Pryce’s Quixote is fine but he is never given enough depth of character to make him truly engaging. The man he was before his transformation (the village cobbler) is never examined, the deluded Quixote is all we get, essentially a character come to life from a book, ultimately making him a two-dimensional creation.  

The barrage of coincidence and contrivance may well reflect the source material but it leaves one a little cold, as Grisoni is dragged from event to episodic event through coincidence and a sense of ‘just because’. Finally, some sense does become apparent as the circle begins to close.  When that happens Gilliam’s targets of vulgar wealth and nasty oligarchs, though sincere, feel a little hackneyed. The ending though is pure Gilliam and makes up for some of the more unusual narrative choices found earlier on.

A familiarity with the source material will be of great benefit to those who watch. Those with a superficial sense of the great knight of La Mancha may be left feeling a little at odds with the events of the story.  Personally, for all its frustrating elements it is worthy viewing of anyone who consider themselves filmgoers. If, like me, you love this Quixotic filmmaker, I highly recommend you see it and find out for yourself if Mr Gilliam has been tilting at windmills these past twenty-five years or not.

Paul Farren

132′ 38″
15A (see IFCO for details)

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is released 31st January 2020

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote – Official Website

 

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