Irish Film Review: Extra Ordinary

DIR: Mike Ahern, Enda Loughman • WRI: Mike Ahern, Demian Fox, Maeve Higgins, Enda Loughman DOP: James Mather • ED: Gavin Buckley • DES: Joe Fallover • PRO: Ailish Bracken, Yvonne Donohoe, Katie Holly, Mary McCarthy • MUS: George Brennan • CAST: Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward, Will Forte

That rare beast, the funny, Irish, comedy feature film is back again in the form of Extra Ordinary, which follows the supernatural adventures of Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins), a psychic paranormal expert, who tries to pursue the ordinary life as a driving instructor since having inadvertently caused her father’s death many years before when the two of them tried to save a dog from a haunted pothole. You know how these things go.

But the ordinary life is not to be; local widower Martin Martin (Barry Ward) reaches out for help with his abusive dead spouse who won’t move on to the afterlife. Though Rose initially refuses to help him, his second call for help with his levitating, comatose daughter is one she feels she can’t refuse and sure she fancies Martin anyway. What they don’t know is that these coma/levitation shenanigans are the result of satanic dabblings by the local, evil, failed rock star, Christian Winter. Yes, Christian Winter not Chris De Burgh. He plans to sacrifice the virginal girl to Ostrogoth and revive his failed music career; as you do.

Directors Enda Loughman and Mike Ahern have created their own satanic alliance, ignoring the sacred rules of co-directing by not being siblings and it has paid off quite nicely with this clever, funny little film.  With a matter-of-fact attitude, blending the ordinary and banal with cheap shocks and fantastic absurdity, Extra Ordinary builds its humour gently before finally reaching hysterical proportions in its final scenes.

Holding these elements together are a superb cast, playing fun characters, who are as enjoyable in the more down-to-earth scenes before the supernatural shenanigans really kick in. Maeve Higgins’ central performance holds things together quite nicely with her innocent, yet mischievous, Rose Dooley but she is well aided by brilliant performances from all those involved, including some American fella, Will Forte, looking to make it big on the Emerald Isle.

A highly enjoyable romp for children of all ages, except for maybe the squeamish ones under ten.

Paul Farren

94′ 13″
15A (see IFCO for details)

Extra Ordinary is released 13th September 2019

Extra Ordinary – Official Website

 

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Review of Irish Film at The Dublin Feminist Film Festival 2019: Shorts Programme 

 

The Dublin Feminist Film Festival has established firm roots on Dublin’s cultural calendar, shining a spotlight on women in film. It promotes and celebrates female filmmakers, hoping to inspire and empower others to get involved in filmmaking.

Irene Falvey went along to this year’s Shorts Programme.

On Thursday, 22nd August, the Dublin Feminist Film Festival showcased an impressive and varied collection of short films, all made by female directors. 

The Beekeeper (2019) Ireland (6.29)
Dir. Robyn Conroy

As the only animation feature in the programme, The Beekeeper stood out as the most visually arresting of the shorts. Set in a bamboo forest, the landscape feels blissfully detached from the world. In a short timeframe, The Beekeeper manages to create a bond between the two characters – a young girl called Mae and the bear that protects her; their attachment to each other is undeniable. They live in harmony together, nourishing themselves on honey. Disaster strikes when Mae discovers where this food source comes from, a bee sting attack forces the bear to return Mae to her place amongst her own kind. This short film evokes equal parts sadness and sweetness; the joy and simplicity of their connection and the sadness of their true incompatibility.    

Moon Rabbit (2018) Japan (14.25)
Dir. Kae Ho

Moon Rabbit tells the story of 7-year-old Rio as she returns to Japan with her recently separated Japanese mother Seiko and her older brother. Clearly these kids have grown up in America and this trip launches them back into their Japanese heritage, comically highlighted when their cousin tactlessly proclaims how foreign they look. While the film does deal with cultural differences, many other ideas are threaded throughout; themes such as innocence, the stories we tell ourselves and secrecy all feature. The film takes place principally in Seiko’s parent’s house. This domestic setting is used to effectively illustrate the main motif – what goes on behind closed doors.  While this family unit is closely contained in a physical sense within this house, behind closed doors they can easily block each other out. The children are dismissed as Seiko closes the door and confides in her mother about the breakdown of her marriage. Rio’s older brother and her cousin shut the door so that they don’t have to play with her. This barrier that is created by closed doors is lifted when Seiko enters the bathroom where an upset Rio has shut herself in. The privacy that a closed door provides fades and secrecy falls away. This is an insightful film about the secrets we keep and the stories we need to tell ourselves. 

 

Tra na mban / Ladies Beach (2019) Mexico (6.36)
Dir. Carmen Garcia Gonzalez

This short documentary provides an insightful glimpse into the lives of women that brave the chilly depths of the Irish sea every day. Several of the women that meet regularly are interviewed; explaining honestly why they do this and the effect it has on their lives. In particular Martell speaks of the way this ritual has transformed how she feels about herself and how she carries out her life. We get the sense that we are being let in on a great secret to life; the women are infectious in their enthusiasm. What is interesting about this documentary is that it shows a way that these women have carved out an inclusive and supportive community. It is a practise built on bravery and self-respect. 

 

Driving Lessons (2019) Iran (12.48) Winner Best International film
Dir. Marziyeh Riahi

Driving Lessons focuses on an Iranian woman taking driving lessons; it is illegal for her to be alone with her instructor meaning that her traditional and misogynistic husband must tow along for the ride. The film is shot solely in the instructor’s car, taking place over a couple of days of lessons. This keeps the action contained in one place, meaning that the tensions between the two men eventually boil over and erupt. The husband constantly interrupts, is bossy, controlling and makes a lot of chauvinistic statements that sting. However, a twist arrives when we see that perhaps the young instructor is actually worse – he won’t sign his wife’s travel papers preventing her from visiting her sick father. Both the husband’s behaviour and the instructor’s refusal of his wife’s demands demonstrate that even as women in the Middle East are given more rights (driving) progress is still slow. Our female protagonist’s lack of speech throughout the entire feature re-affirms her powerless position. 

 

Clay Project (2017) Ireland (4.50)
Dir. Kathy Raftery

This film examines the work of artist Vanessa Donoso López.  We are brought to a sun-soaked and sleepy part of Spain, bursting with nature and removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. What stands out about this feature, is the fact that it examines the artists approach and ideas/inspiration rooted in her work rather than the outcome. Instead we get a glimpse into the how and the why of a piece of art. The artist makes her art from clay, the camera shows her going through the manual process of turning earth into this material. This means that her art is very much connected to the place it was created. Seeing how this art is made gives us a deeper sense of understanding and appreciation for the artistic process. 

 

Early Days (2018) UK (12.00) Winner Best Film
Dir. Nessa Wrafter

This film highlights the more troubling and traumatic aspects of welcoming a newborn into the world. It examines the internal emotional conflict of becoming a mother. We get a window into Kate’s world as she struggles through the first few trying days. Flashback sequences reveal that it was a painful birth, blood and hospital scenes subvert the typically joyous portrayal of welcoming new life. This film effectively shows the realities that make this transition alienating from the self; shown through Kate examining her inflated post-birth stomach. She feels distaste for her body and estrangement from it when there is no longer life growing inside it. Excluding flashbacks, all of the film takes place within Kate and her partner’s home, creating a sense of entrapment. The only glimpses of the outside world we see comes from Kate looking outside the window and spotting her eccentric and colourfully dressed elderly female neighbour. In the end this woman provides Kate with some solace, concluding the film on a hopeful note. 

 

Mother (2018) Ireland (9.24) Runner-up for best film
Dir. Natasha Waugh

Mother is a bizarrely comical and cleverly creative film. It deals with all the insecurities that a mother may face; depicting all the things she must do to please her family.  The film examines one mother’s attempts to go about caring for her family and husband until she is replaced by a fridge! The fridge can cook better, is more entertaining, can do French plaits and is better in bed. This bizarre and wacky feature is laugh-out-loud funny and smart; making us hope to see more from this director in the near future. 

 

The Shorts Programme took place 22nd August 2019 as part of the Dublin Feminist Film Festival (22—24 August) 

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Review: It Chapter Two

DIR: Andy Muschietti • WRI: Gary Dauberman • DOP: Checco Varese • ED: Jason Ballantine • DES: Paul D. Austerberry • PRO: Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Barbara Muschietti • MUS: Benjamin Wallfisch • CAST: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader

There is nothing quite like reading a Stephen King novel. King is a master of his craft; no one on this planet can inject tension into words like King. The acclaimed author’s books have sold over 350 million copies to date. Without his novels, the world of film would be without classics. It’s easy to forget that masterpieces such as The Shawshank Redemption, Carrie, The Shining, Stand by Me and The Green Mile all stemmed from the pages of King’s novels.  Notice anything about those films? They all came before the 21st century. Film adaptations of King’s novels from 2000 onwards were almost entirely missed; hands up if you’ve seen Dreamcatcher or Hearts in Atlantis? Out of nowhere in 2017 It arrived.  Not only was the horror a revival; for King’s work on the big screen, but it was one of the finest horrors of the decade. Combining the heart of Stand by Me with a cannibalistic clown was the perfect formula that no one could have predicted. From there, King’s work began to get justice on the big screen; Gerald’s Game, 1922 and Pet Sematary have continued the author’s hot streak. It Chapter Two arrives with a huge task on each shoulder. On one shoulder it’s faced with the task of keeping the reputation of the novel alive. On the other, the film must deliver a worthy sequel to one of the finest coming-of-age films you’ll ever see. 

It Chapter Two continues the story of The Losers Club as they deal with the trauma that comes with being terrorised by a sadistic clown (Bill Skarsgård). Whereas most sequels would follow up directly on from the events of the previous films, like the book and TV movie, the second part of the film takes place 27 years later.  Over the course of those 27 years, The Losers Club have gone their separate ways. Bill (James McAvoy) is a struggling screenwriter who can’t find the perfect ending for his film a la Stephen King. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is suffering from emotional and physical abuse from her husband. Richie (Bill Hader) has progressed from making fun of his friends as a kid to making fun of his audience as a stand-up comedian. Ben (Jay Ryan) is a successful businessman who still reminisces about what could have been. Eddie (James Ransone) has taken his irrational fears in his stride by becoming a risk assessor. Stanley (Andy Bean) is the loser who has been affected the most by their childhood trauma.  All but one of the losers have moved on with their lives. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has spent his adulthood investigating the mythology of Pennywise. Following a brutal homophobic attack that finds the victim seeking help from Pennywise, Mike realises that it’s time to get the gang back together to put an end to Pennywise’s reign of terror.

From a horror perspective, there are lots for fans of the genre to take from the film. This is a big-budgeted horror flick that doesn’t shy away from being bloody. Any sequence that involves Pennywise stalking a victim is guaranteed to unleash fear into its audiences. What makes these sequences special is that the build-up to Pennywise’s kills are as terrifying as the actual murders he commits. Bill Skarsgård manages to sell Pennywise’s negotiation methods in a way where you don’t feel that any of the victims are being idiotic. A magnificent funfair sequence allows Skarsgård to run wild with the horrific nature of his character.

With Pennywise, Skarsgård has arguably outdone Tim Curry and created a horror icon who belongs on the top of any best villain lists. A scene that hints at Pennywise’s origin delivers an image that will be embedded in the minds of the audience for weeks to come. Skarsgård deserves plaudits for turning Pennywise into a character who justifies the need to be dealt with for two films. It’s easy to forget that the second part of the original TV special is shambolic. Thanks to Bill Skarsgård, It Chapter Two is a worthy successor to the 2017 film.

It Chapter Two is perfectly cast from top to bottom. It’s hard to think of another sequel that has to replace its entire cast. It’s hard enough for directors to cast characters that fit a role in the first place. When you have to cast actors that must deliver performances that match the flawless performances from the first film, odds are you’re going to end up with a dud of a film. It Chapter Two pulls off an impossible task with ease through its impeccable casting. Every single one of the adult losers feels authentic. While their story may not be as strong as the one their child versions got to star in, each actor delivers the goods. James McAvoy is as reliable as ever as Bill. Even when McAvoy is in a bad movie, looking at you Dark Phoenix and Glass, the Scotsman always delivers the goods. One of the highlights of the film is his relationship with a young child who reminds him of Georgie.

Jessica Chastain as Beverly is unfortunately underused. Instead of investigating the psychology of a woman who has suffered from immense trauma the film opts to throw her into an unnecessary love triangle. When Beverly is given something to do Chastain nails the character. Beverly’s meeting with a suspicious old lady is the scariest scene in a film in recent memory. Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben in It Chapter One was the most sympathetic character in the film. Seeing him dismissed by everyone due to his weight was heartbreaking. Jay Ryan as the adult iteration of Ben certainly feels like the same heart is in him, but the film chooses to ignore his characteristics and focus on his looks. A large portion of the film is wasted by pitting Bill, Beverly, and Ben into an unnecessary love triangle. When there is a killer clown on the loose it’s probably a good idea to put your rivalry on standby. 

When scholars look upon genius moments in film history in a thousand years their heads will turn to the direction of It Chapter Two. Casting Bill Hader and James Ransone was a stroke of magic by Andy Muschietti. In the lead up to the release of the film much has been said of Bill Hader’s performance as Richie. It’s a pleasure to say that all the hype surrounding Hader’s performance is more than justified. Hader is electric as Richie. Every joke he delivers lands effortlessly, all the more impressive when you consider just how many of them there are. Casual Hader fans who know him from the likes of Superbad and Trainwreck will be floored by the raw emotion he brings to the film. James Ransone who plays Eddie may not give as dramatic performance as Hader, but it can’t be underplayed how perfect he is as the germaphobe. Ransone’s facial expressions capture every single fear that his character is feeling. Actors often fail to sell the fear their character possess, yet one look into Ransone’s eyes will showcase how terrified his character is. Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer use their minimal screentime to move each of their character arcs forward to the point where the adult actors can make the audience sob in the final act. Wolfhard and Grazer are both proving on a regular basis that they are going to be stars. With any luck they will be as gifted as Bill Hader and James Ransone. 

With a runtime that falls just under the three-hour mark, It Chapter Two gives director Andy Muschietti free reign to leave his audience with goosebumps. With only three films under his belt Muschietti is relatively a newcomer to directing. Saying that, he is proving himself to be a future master of his craft. Instead of following the recent trend of over-relying on jumpscares. Muschetti is interested in creating monsters that will haunt the dreams of both young and old. Even though Pennywise is the main monster of the film, there are plenty of other creations that are unnerving. As mentioned earlier a scene involving Beverly meeting an old lady is chilling. This is down to Muschetti installing subtlety into his direction. Not every scare needs to be big and in front of the camera. Sometimes the scariest things are the images you capture in the background. The film falls short is justifying its lengthy runtime. The overuse of flashbacks to the original cast is the film’s biggest flaw. Instead of focusing on what happened after the events of the first film, the flashbacks show sequences that happened during the timeframe of the film but were never mentioned previously. It ends up feeling like deleted scenes from the previous film were installed just to capitalise on the talent of the younger cast. While it’s nice to see them again it feels like filler for the sake of filler.

It Chapter Two is written solely by Gary Dauberman, both Chase Palmer and Cary Joji Fukunaga failed to return. Losing two of the three writers of the first film messes with the flow of the sequel. Dauberman has to create compelling dialogue for a cast that has doubled since the first film. It’s a task too big for anyone and as a result the dialogue of the film doesn’t flow as naturally as the first. Moments of humour where they should never be stick out like a sore thumb. One scene that is meant to be scary installs an odd musical cue that will have the audience thinking of Deadpool 2 instead of what’s on the screen. 

It Chapter 2 is a miracle. While it just falls short of the heights of the first film, this sequel manages to spin a record amount of plates in a china shop without breaking anything. To replace your entire cast, terrify your audience and come up with a satisfying ending is miraculous. In a world that is filled with mediocre horror film after mediocre horror film, it’s therapeutic to watch a big-budgeted horror film that takes risks. Andy Muschietti is a name you need to familiarise yourself with quick. This is a director who does not want to follow the norm. In an age where it’s becoming harder and harder to find directors who make every movie their own. Muschietti is here to show the world that horror is a genre that deserves to be respected. No risk is too big for Muschietti. After all he did just manage to make six-hours of compelling content that revolves around an evil clown. 

Liam De Brún

169′ 11″
16 (see IFCO for details)

It Chapter Two  is released 6th September 2019

It Chapter Two– Official Website

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Review: The Farewell 

DIR/WRI:  Lulu Wang • DOP: Anna Franquesa Solano • ED: Matt Friedman, Michael Taylor • DES: Yong Ok Lee • PRO: Anita Gou, Daniele Tate Melia, Andrew Miano, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Chris Weitz, Jane Zheng • MUS: Alex Weston • CAST: Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhou, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Chen Han, Aoi Mizuhara

Based on the real experiences of writer/director Wang, the twist in The Farewell is revealed immediately when Billi (Awkwafina) learns that her beloved grandmother “Nai Nai” (Shuzhen Zhou) has received a fatal cancer diagnosis. But, as is common within the Chinese culture, Nai Nai isn’t not being told about her fate. 

Instead, the family are all going to assemble for a hastily-advanced wedding between youngsters Hao Hao (Chen Han) and Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara). It’s the perfect ruse for a big bash and for everyone to say their – secret – goodbyes to the family matriarch.

Billi of course wants to fly from New York like her parents (Tzi Ma and Diana Lin) are doing, but they reckon, what with news about a scholarship coming and the fact that she’s still single and living cheque to cheque, perhaps she should stay put. 

More than that, having been bought up in America, she surely won’t be able to keep her composure and dignity like a good Chinese girl: she’s bound to let the cat out of the bag.

Billi has other ideas, and, arriving at what’s essentially a tragic/happy reunion, she (and us) are then taken on a funny but often deeply emotional journey as we find that she isn’t the only one who has misgivings about this “good lie”.

Awkwafina is about as far from her role in Crazy Rich Asians as she can be here, and we’re with her all the way.  More than that, the delicate direction and the astoundingly good supporting cast – all of whom have their moment – make you complicit in the secret and you begin to wonder: should they tell Nai Nai? 

You’ll have to go to find out what happens, but bring some tissues along with you! 

James Bartlett

100′ 10″
PG (see IFCO for details)

The Farewell  is released 16th August 2019

The Farewell – Official Website

 


  

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Irish Talent: New Shorts 9: Animation

The Dream Report

Orla Monaghan was at the Fleadh to celebrate the creative cornerstone of Irish film: the animation industry. 

On Sunday, 14th July the Galway Film Fleadh treated us to sixteen short animations from both new and established talent from all across the country. There was some truly imaginative work on display, and all genres were covered.     

  

Streets of Fury

The standout in comedy was Streets of Fury, directed and produced by Aidan McAteer. The tale follows the violent Max Punchface, an ’80s-styled video-game character, as he punches his way through levels and life. And just like that, Max is suddenly transported into the calm, bloodless world of Sheepland. How will Max now cope without using violence as currency?  Streets of Fury is a fun blend of nostalgia and humour. It definitely has everything you would want from an animation!

THEM

The absolute standout on the day was THEM. Directed by Robin Lochman and produced by Mathias Schwerbrook, it is an original animation with a gritty new look. In an isolated village where everyone bares the same sliver reflection, how will life change when a new, golden, self-proclaimed leader shows up? The story examines the place and power of false idols in our world and follows one characters attempt to fight and overhaul the system. A definite must-see!

A Quack Too Far

For younger viewers, A Quack Too Far and Far Isle are both superb options. Directed and written by Melissa Culhane, A Quack too Far tells a simple tale about a sleepy fox and a noisy duck. What does a fox have to do to get some peace? A Far Isle, directed by Laura Robinson and produced by Gavin Halpin, is enjoyable for both adults and children. The story of one girl’s enchanting boat journey is beautifully told with an impressive, colourful visual. 

     

Dorothy

In terms of horror, Dorothy offered up a truly spooky piece about a child being tormented in the witching Salem Massachusetts in 1687 and Offering showed us what happens when a mysterious quest goes awry. 

   

Legend Has It

A few of the animations focused on Irish subject matter. Legend Has It told the tale of a young girl’s struggle with a dark secret in an ancient Celtic community. Whereas The Bogman was an interesting take on the transition between old Ireland and new. In reaction to the recent sustainability announcement from Bord Na Móna, the story follows a man from the midlands who has harvested peat his whole life. How will he, his community and more like him cope with this news?

Wear and Tear

Also worth a mention is Wear and Tear, a sort of psychological thriller about nightmare-born creations following you into your waking day.  Cliona Noonan’s humorous Tuna about a woman’s odd obsession.  And I’m sure any student can relate to Ctrl + Alt + Z, which tells the classic, stress-inducing story of the student who forgot to hit save. Visually, The Dream, directed by Jack O’Shea, really merits a mention. The positively unique style of this animation was stunning and certainly made it unforgettable. Finally there were strong debuts from Shannon Egan (Archie’s Bat) Kayleigh Gibbons (Featherweight), Rachel Fitzgerald (Bubbles) and Janet Grainger (Outside the Box) completing an impressive programme of Irish animation.

 

The Irish Talent: New Shorts 9: Animation programme screened 14th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

        

 

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Review: Crawl

DIR: Alexandre Aja • WRI: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen • DOP: Maxime Alexandre • ED: Elliot Greenberg • DES: Alan Gilmore • PRO: Alexandre Aja, Craig J. Flores, Sam Raimi • MUS: Max Aruj, Steffen Thum • CAST:  Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ross Anderson

 

Alexander Aja, the man who, many moons ago, gave us a quite credible, scary remake in The Hills Have Eyes, is back on something close to form with Crawl, a horror/disaster mashup about a father and daughter under siege by alligators during a storm in Florida no less.  What’s the chances?

The film takes its name from the crawlspace one finds in many American homes, especially homes found in those stickier, hotter climes, and that is where the bulk of the action takes place as daughter must try and rescue her injured father from a crawlspace after he goes AWOL during a storm.  If the storm wasn’t bad enough to be dealing with, said crawlspace is filling with water and alligators, so rescuing herself is also part of her agenda. 

Of course, this wouldn’t be an American horror/disaster film if there weren’t estrangements between loved ones, in this case a father and daughter who need to discuss the family break-up. Also up for discussion is their unhealthy competitive streak which has also resulted in her delving into the world of competitive swimming thanks to dad’s sporting ambitions (see where this is going). 

A perfunctory laying out the stall and box ticking  of all the usual clichés is soon forgiven once the ‘what the hell are we going to do about the alligators?’ plot kicks in. Throw in a nasty sense of humour, some nice suspense and surprises, add the right amount of gore and it makes an acceptable date movie that has plenty of brain-dead thrills for its modest running time.

Paul Farren

@PaulFarrenA

87′ 25″
15A (see IFCO for details)

Crawl is released 23rd August 2019

Crawl – Official Website

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Extra Ordinary

Stephen Burke was in Galway to witness firsthand Rose Dooley’s supernatural abilities that allow her to communicate with spirits.

Over the course of six days, 95 films were screened at the Galway Film Fleadh from a total of 36 different countries yet Irish comedy-horror Extra Ordinary may well have been the most anticipated of them all. It was one of the films announced early at the start of June and tickets sold out several weeks in advance. On the Saturday evening of the festival a very large crowd gathered outside the Town Hall Theatre before the domestic premiere with co-directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman present alongside leading performers Maeve Higgins and Will Forte. The marketing team even went the extra mile by offering free shots of an alcoholic drink referred to as “ectoplasm” (as you will learn below, ectoplasm plays a key part in Extra Ordinary). 

Once inside, I found myself seated next to one of the country’s most esteemed producers and to this person’s left was one of Ireland’s best-known and highly regarded actresses. When an audience member (and fellow reviewer) decided to exit the row a time too many, the producer wryly declared that she wouldn’t be letting the offender back in upon his return and that he’d have to sit on the floor. While the threat was tongue in cheek, the idea of patrons being reduced to standing or sitting on steps started to look like a real possibility as the crowd continued to stream through the door. Eventually, every seat in the auditorium was filled and the lights dimmed.

In Extra Ordinary Maeve Higgins stars as Rose Dooley, a lonely woman working as a driving instructor somewhere in small town Ireland. This uneventful existence is in direct contrast to her childhood days, a time when Rose used her paranormal abilities to assist her father (Risteard Cooper, mainly seen in flashbacks but funny), a spiritualist and TV personality. One day a terrible accident left Rose without a father but with a great feeling of guilt instead due to her perceived part in the tragedy (an incident Rose refers to as dad-slaughter). From that day on Rose shunned her psychic gifts. 

Martin is a widower living with his teenage daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman). This is no normal household though as the spirit of Martin’s deceased wife Bonnie continues to linger (quite literally), bringing extreme nuisance to their lives rather than any fear. Martin is regularly the victim of minor acts of violence at Bonnie’s expense. “Catastrophes” such as choosing the wrong shirt or placing a bowl into a plate spot of the dishwasher result in swift reprehension for him (for example cabinet doors are regularly slammed against Martin’s head by his not quite late spouse). He enlists Rose’s services, initially under the false pretense of requiring driving lessons. The truth soon emerges though with Martin admitting that he needs Rose to bring her spiritual talents out of retirement so she can help rid him of Bonnie’s meddlesome presence. That’s not even the half of it though. What’s more pressing is the fact that lately Martin has found Sarah levitating above her bed.  Christian Winter (Will Forte) is the man behind this. Winter, a once-famous for fifteen minutes rock-star, now living in Ireland (for tax purposes no less) has somehow become convinced that the demonic sacrifice of a virgin will reignite his long since evaporated musical talents (if they ever existed at all). Sarah fits the bill perfectly for this purpose as far as Winter is concerned.

In most cases Rose would have flat out refused to get involved in something like this. However, as she’s quite smitten with Martin she agrees to assist him, explaining that the only way to prevent Winter’s dastardly wishes from coming to fruition is to collect enough ectoplasm (told you it plays a key part) to be able to cast a specific spell. To obtain this ectoplasm they have to partner up and carry out a series of exorcisms all over town. In these instances Martin is required to inhabit the spirit of the deceased so Rose can expunge it.

The script plays to Maeve Higgins’ strengths (she has a writing credit) and her charming awkwardness brings about many of the laughs. In the post screening Q&A, Ahern and Loughman explained that from day one the part was written with Higgins in mind. Higgins joked that the character is not based on her in real life.

Over the past few years, strong central performances in films such as Jimmy’s Hall and Maze have cemented Barry Ward’s reputation as an actor of real pedigree. Those were dramatic turns however and comedy is a whole other discipline. Apparently Ward turned down the role in Extra Ordinary at the first time of asking. Luckily for him so that he reconsidered, as he has now added the bow of comedy to his string of talents. He gives a very funny performance, especially in the scenes where Martin is forced to inhabit spirits and operate as multiple personalities at once, showing a real flair for physical comedy. 

As antagonist Christian Winter, Will Forte sports a ridiculous moustache and carries a large magical wooden staff (referred to at one point as a “willy stick”), which directs him in his evil underworld dealings. The character doesn’t feel new but more like the kind of villain we’ve become accustomed to seeing in comedy-horrors like Extra Ordinary. Forte can do this kind of thing in his sleep and although he hams it up suitably, I have to admit that his shtick got repetitive quickly (more a script issue than an actor issue), save for some very funny moments during the final act. His involvement will likely help the film to find a foreign audience though. Claudia O’ Doherty, so very funny in last year’s The Festival, is a rather irritating presence this time around. She plays Winter’s wife and her character’s response to every problem seems to be to “kill the bitch”, a statement that becomes a catchphrase very quickly and loses steam even quicker. Extra Ordinary works best when focusing on the relationship between Martin and Rose. Both of them are sympathetic characters and it’s not hard for the audience to root for them to end up together.

One area that the film certainly succeeds in is tone. In an early scene Rose stands at her father’s roadside grave and dolefully says: “I’m very sorry for murdering you daddy.” Maeve Higgins’ innocent and deadpan delivery makes this line genuinely funny. Add to this the fact that Barry Ward’s character’s full name is Martin Martin and you know what you’re in for. Ahern and Loughman are in no doubt about the kind of movie they want Extra Ordinary to be – a funny one. The film is a comedy above all else and while there are of course some touching moments, at no point does the humour play second fiddle. The absurd mood remains consistent from the opening title (a Fargoesque “Based On A True Story”) right through to the final piece of dialogue, a gloriously savage condemnation. Although paranormal activity is the theme, Extra Ordinary is never really scary at all. It’s not clear when the film is set. It could easily be the present day but there are glimpses of VHS tapes and cassettes on occasion. Regardless, there is a retro look to Extra Ordinary that is reminiscent of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace in terms of atmosphere and it serves the comedy well.

The storyline itself is not exactly the most original. To be fair though, one promo did advertise the film as “Father Ted meets Ghostbusters” which is pretty much on the nose. There are many little witty details specific to Ireland that will be appreciated by the domestic audience. Credit to the filmmakers too for avoiding some of the obvious Irish tropes. In the post screening Q&A they explained that in writing the script, they only had three rules – “No priests. No drinking. No IRA”. Extra Ordinary has secured North American distribution and it will be interesting to see how it travels. For example, the Americans are unlikely to appreciate the cameos from Mary McEvoy and Eamon Morrissey as much as us locals!

It’s no secret that Extra Ordinary scooped the Fleadh Award for Best Film. The audience at the screening certainly appreciated it too with many people in hysterics throughout. However, it has to be said that at a film festival (especially on home soil), the laughter will always be louder and the plaudits always greater. The thing most people will want to know is if the film is actually funny. The answer is that Extra Ordinary is fun and has plenty going for it but I don’t feel it’s the hilarious work of originality that many might proclaim it to be. Not every gag hits home and in parts the script is a bit flabby. However, the jokes do come at a breakneck pace and are so frequent in fact that there are probably more laughs in this film than the average comedy. On the other hand though, this also means there’s quite a number of misses too.  

George Brennan’s score is fantastic and the parts of Extra Ordinary that are funny are very funny indeed. There is some great use of dialogue in the script with certain lines likely to be quoted years from now, e.g, Martin fears his daughter will become a “homeless sex maniac on the streets snorting hash”. At another point Christian Winter’s laments: “Can one not just sacrifice a virgin in peace?”  The finale is also a completely bizarre and off the wall spectacle with the film boasting one of the most imaginative and least gratuitous threesomes you are ever likely to see on screen. 

In general, there is much to like about Extra Ordinary but be warned… It’s not a comedy to suit everyone and viewers will likely need to be in the right mood for it. Extra Ordinary feels like a cult film in the making. However, if future audiences like it as much as those at the Fleadh did, then it might become more than that.

Stephen Burke

 

Extra Ordinary screened 13th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

Extra Ordinary is released in Irish cinemas 13th September 2019.

 

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Review: Angel Has Fallen

DIR: Ric Roman Waugh • WRI: Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook, Ric Roman Waugh • DOP: Jules O’Loughlin • ED: Gabriel Fleming • DES: Russell De Rozario • PRO: Gerard Butler, Mark Gill, Matt O’Toole, Matthew O’Toole, Alan Siegel, Thompson, Les Weldon • MUS: David Buckley • CAST: Gerard Butler, Frederick Schmidt, Danny Huston, Rocci Williams

When you think of heroes that have led action series, the same names pop into our heads. John McLane, Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne, John Rambo and the most obvious character of all Mike Banning. Gerard Butler’s character has saved the president from terrorists in the White House and the streets on London. There’s nothing Mike Banning can’t solve with a headshot and a knife. In a thousand years when film students learn of iconic characters from cinema, Mike Banning’s face will be on the front of their textbooks. On a serious note, who was asking for a third installment into the Fallen series? Is there a dedicated fanbase out there demanding more of these mediocre films? Olympus Has Fallen is a generic action film that tethers a fine line of being racist propaganda. Its sequel, London Has Fallen, has zero subtlety in its decision to jump far and beyond that line. Once you take five minutes to think about the themes of these films it becomes clear that they are offensive to everyone and anyone. The third and possibly the final installment of the series, Angel Has Fallen, has seemingly come from nowhere to close out the Summer season. Don’t worry, the ending of Mike Banning’s story is slightly less mediocre as the beginning and middle installments. 

Angel Has Fallen finds Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) facing his toughest enemy to date: old age. Banning’s turned to pills to try and recover from the physical and emotional trauma that comes with saving the world. Right when he’s about to exit the game the unthinkable happens. Mike is framed for an assassination attempt on the US President (Morgan Freeman taking over from Aaron Eckhart). Can Mike evade the colleagues he worked so hard to save to clear his name? Or is this one mission too far for our hero?

Angel Has Fallen works best in its first two acts. The first act is a surprisingly thoughtful examination of the effects that battle has on a person. Mike’s turmoil of possibly having to retreat to a life behind a desk. It’s the first time in the trilogy that the film is quiet enough to examine its characters. When explosions and gunshots aren’t ringing in the air the characters are genuinely sympathetic. We know nothing about Mike beside the fact that he loves to save the day; when he may no longer be able to do that you can’t help but feel for the guy. Once the story gets into the thick of the action so loud you can’t hear yourself think, the film loses its connection to its leading man.

The second act transforms the film into a remake of The Fugitive with Gerrard Butler instead of Harrison Ford. This sequence of the film is possibly the most compelling of the trilogy. It’s a welcome change of pace seeing Mike as the hunted instead of the hunter. While the action isn’t exactly ground-breaking there are enough stakes involved to keep you interested. The final act of the film loses all momentum as it resorts to copying the previous films’ final acts beat for beat. Had the final minutes of the film dared to showcase originality Angel Has Fallen could have been the first genuinely decent film of the trilogy. 

The career of Gerard Butler is a baffling one. For the better part of a decade, the actor has been starring in films that range from acceptable to abysmal. A quick glance at his filmography will show you films such as The Bounty Hunter, Gods of Egypt and Geostorm; each one of those movies is slightly more painful than the last. Outside of 300, Butler hasn’t had any great live-action films. Yet in 2019 the Scotsman is still leading action romps. It’s a testament to the actor’s likability whenever he’s on-screen. In Angel Has Fallen Butler delivers the same performance that he’s been giving for years. A dodgy one-liner every 5 minutes is the only thing that breaks up the ultra-violent action. After watching three of these films in one week I’ve come to the realisation of what Butler’s niche is. Gerrard Butler is an ’80s actor trapped in the 21st century. Think about the constant stream of action movies Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Chuck Norris starred in during their wonder years. Is there a place for these kinds of films in 2019? Considering there are three films in the Fallen series it clearly has an audience. It’s just disheartening that Butler is limiting himself to these films when you look at the heartfelt performances he gave in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy. It appears that Butler is going to stick to his niche for the foreseeable future. Get ready for even more characters identical to Mike Banning. 

Angel Has Fallen features a supporting cast filled with big names. Morgan Freeman returns for his third run out as Allan Trumball; the winner of the trilogy as he’s climbed up to ranks to become President as the films progressed. When Freeman isn’t sleepwalking his way through scenes, he’s literally asleep as he spends most of the running time in a coma. Freeman has gone on record time and time again to declare that he only does these kinds of films for the money. At 82 years old it’s becoming evidently clear that it’s time for the legendary actor to call it a day. Freeman has nothing else to prove to the world, it’s upsetting seeing him in these roles that are beneath him. Tim Blake Nelson doesn’t get anything to do in the film besides making unnecessary digs at the Russians. In one scene, he basically stares at the camera as he claims that the Russians rigged the election. Jada Pinkett Smith and Lance Reddick are both wasted in roles where you won’t remember either of their names or what their point was. The film’s villain, Danny Huston, is identical to Pedro Pascal’s villain in The Equaliser 2 to the point where the film should be flagged for plagiarism. Angel Has Fallen carries a secret weapon in the form of Nick Nolte. The veteran actor gives his all as Mike’s deranged father. Nolte is terrific in every scene he’s in. Following three films of the entire cast not trying it’s startling to see a genuinely great performance. Nolte’s emotional scene left me with a lump in my throat. A lump in my throat in a sequel to London Has Fallen. Film can be strange at times. 

Every single one of these films has been directed by a different person. Ric Roman Waugh takes the wheel for this film following in Antoine Fuqua’s and Babak Najafi’s footsteps. Waugh is a relatively experienced director having directed The Rock in Snitch and the underseen Shot Caller. The director doesn’t add anything fresh in terms of action. You can be forgiven for thinking you’ve seen the fight scenes a million times before. The emotional backbone Waugh implants into the film is commendable. Waugh wrote the film along with Robert Mark Kamen and Matt cook. It’s bizarre that Kamen, who wrote The Karate Kid, is now writing generic action films. With three writers behind the script, you’d expect a film politics that aren’t murky. However, Angel Has Fallen is filled with politics that will surely provoke a reaction with audiences. Considering how fragile America is at this moment of time it feels like the writers are trying to add fuel to the fire. War veterans are treated as if they are responsible for any mental or physical problems they may possess. For a film with an eighty million dollar budget, the PlayStation 2 standard of graphics and constant green screening is unacceptable. One scene towards the end of the film will have you suspending your disbelief at how dodgy the effects are. Anyone who’s ever wondered what Forrest Gump would be like with Morgan Freeman will finally get the answer they’ve yearned for. 

Angel Has Fallen puts an end to perhaps the most unspectacular trilogy of all time. A series that goes from mediocre to atrocious to back to mediocre. While films like Dredd and Mad Max: Fury Road, that changed the landscape of film yet are still waiting for sequels, it’s mind-boggling that films like Angel Has Fallen gets huge budgets. While yes, it is slightly better than what’s come before, it’s not exactly a game changer. The film is still filled to the brim with actors phoning it in, poor CGI and casual racism. It’s the kind of film that you’ll struggle to remember after you exit the cinema. When there are so many filmmakers struggling to get their passion projects off the ground it’s horrendous that studios pump so much money into these lame blockbusters. After six years it’s time to say goodbye to Mike Banning.

Farewell Mike, we hardly knew ye. 

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

120′ 53″
15A (see IFCO for details)

Angel Has Fallen  is released 23rd August 2019

Angel Has Fallen – Official Website

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Irish Talent: New Shorts 3, Fiction

Stephen Burke checks in on Galway’s programme of live action shorts which explores the parallel problems of escapism from a variety of settings: judgement, troubled pasts and unhappy status quos. 

It’s a great credit to the Fleadh that the range of shorts on offer is so incredibly diverse. Half of the shorts in this line-up were directorial debuts and all were being screened for the first time. Aside from a brief synopsis, there’s very little information to be found on such films before seeing them. That’s what makes screenings at the Fleadh so exciting though. You’re not quite sure what you’re about to see. This is refreshing in an age where marketing is quite often so over the top to the point where it’s not a rarity for a trailer to spoil the entire plot of a movie. 

Before the screening, the short film co-ordinator, Eibh Collins, emphasized that some of the films were quite heavy. She certainly wasn’t just saying this for effect. The first three shorts on show featured some of the darkest themes you’re likely to see in any film programme outside of a Lars Von Trier retrospective. Of course, when tackled properly the darkest of themes can make for the most interesting pieces of cinema and such was the case here with the two strongest films coming from this first half.

Limbo

Darkness is firmly established in the first scene of this debut film from 21-year old Matthew McGuigan when we’re presented with the image of a man walking across an abandoned landscape. This is cleverly juxtaposed alongside scenes of the central character Brendan interacting with his elderly mother Eilis in her nursing-home room. You just know that there will be some connection between the two images, but what is it? This gives the audience something to think about from the beginning.

Eilis’ death is clearly imminent. She is as aware of this as anyone and so finally feels comfortable enough to reveal a long-held secret to Brendan… A fellow resident of the nursing home overhears and insists that some man on a particular island will be able to solve “the mystery” for them. Brendan is skeptical, feeling the resident’s suggestion is all a bit fairytale like. The reality of what’s happening with his mother though is far from a fairytale of course and wanting to honour her wishes, Brendan agrees to follow up the source.

The acting in this film is strong and the relationship between Brendan and his mother is completely believable with top-notch performances coming from Patrick O’Kane and Roma Tomelty. For such a harrowing subject matter the script also manages to inject some humour without unbalancing the overall sombre tone. Despite its short running time, Limbo boasts more character development than it perhaps has any right to. The pacing is also spot on with the film taking its time to reach what seems like an inevitable conclusion. However, in not rushing things, the emotional impact of this conclusion is greater when it does arrive with audience members likely to be all the more devastated when their suspicions prove to be founded. This is a very impressive debut from Matthew McGuigan with much credit also going to his cinematographer Mark Garrett for capturing the required mood and tone. 


Run

Caroline Grace Cassidy and Róisín Kearney have each written and directed several short films before but Run is their first collaboration. It was created following the introduction of a new legal framework on domestic abuse, to include coercive control in Ireland. 

Right from the off it’s clear that the lead character, Sarah is married to a pig of a man. Physical violence isn’t the issue here however. The point of the film is, of course, rather to show how a spouse can wield emotional control over a partner. In Run Sarah’s husband is so much of a pig though that you initially wonder how she hasn’t left him a long time ago. What’s interesting is that in a strange way, as the film progresses, the viewer does become acclimated and accustomed to the husband’s boorish behaviour, revealing just how easily people can end up trapped in such toxic relationships.


Void

Ger Duffy’s Void is a visceral experience boasting a tour-de-force performance from Laurence O’ Fuarain. At the outset, the audience is presented with some interesting images, all of them begging a similar question – “Where the hell are we?” Are we in the future? Is it the present world?’ One thing is clear. The nameless character onscreen is a man who is being tortured by a whole range of agonizing yet mostly indecipherable thoughts. 

The man sets off into the night in search of something. It might be judgment. It might be an escape from the demons within. If it’s the latter they soon confront him instead. Before long, he arrives outside a nightclub. After making an aggressive but unsuccessful attempt to gain admission, he manages to sneak inside. Once in, he engages in full-on debauchery, including pill popping and having sex in a bathroom cubicle. All the while the mental anguish continues. 

The interesting thing is that apart from O’ Fuarain nobody else actually appears on screen throughout. Instead of using supporting actors, Duffy employs an extremely imaginative narrative technique to evoke the memories of the character. He uses lighting and audio effects in particular to tell the story. In other words, while we see the man dancing or fighting or going through the motions of interacting with people, these other people are never onscreen. We hear them but don’t see them. Sound has long been considered to perhaps be the most undervalued aspect of filmmaking and it is used here to brilliant effect. Much credit must go to sound mixer Andrew Fenton and sound editor Damian Chennell.

From a visual point of view, the nightclub itself is actually an empty house with strobe lighting and similar effects portraying otherwise. Duffy’s methods work very well in unsettling viewers and bringing them into the seedy world that O Fuarain’s character is desperately navigating. The consideration of film being a form of voyeurism comes to mind as the audience is watching some very personal and intimate memories and as such they are forced to not only observe the character’s actions but also to be somewhat complicit in them. It feels like the definition of a bad trip but more importantly it’s a very powerful piece of cinema.

As the sole performer O’Fuarain is quite simply terrific. He possesses a very strong screen presence and at times in this film he physically resembles a feral Paul Galvin. His character is a ticking time bomb detonating at regular intervals before resetting to soon do the same again. O’Fuarain is a skilled enough actor though to wrench empathy from his audience. The character is explosive but in his hands and in Duffy’s there is always the sense that an unfortunately misguided individual lays beneath all the rage. This is why a late hint at redemption doesn’t feel like it’s stretching the bounds of credibility. O’Fuarain’s performance in Void is far removed from his equally impressive leading turn in Alan Mulligan’s The Limit Of, which was released in cinemas this past April. In the latter film his character may have been burning up on the inside but he constantly projected an outward appearance of stoic calm. The fact O’ Fuarain can portray both roles so convincingly marks him down as a talent to watch. The same can be said for Duffy. Void is a great follow-up to his very impressive debut short film Little Bear (which he co-directed with Daire Glynn) and he is now 2 for 2.


Halo

Halo is the directorial debut from Michael-David McKernan, who also plays the lead role of taxi driver Dara in this 16-minute one-take film. Ever since the 1970s when Travis Bickle first got behind the wheel in Taxi Driver, onscreen drivers of this ilk have usually fallen into one of two categories – the comical chatterbox or the lonely crusader. Dara belongs to the latter category though at the beginning of Halo, he doesn’t seem to be on any particular mission.

When we first meet him, Dara seems to be having a fairly standard night on the road, dealing with a fairly obnoxious couple of passengers before picking up a female customer (Toni O’Rourke). While driving her to her boyfriend’s house, he tries and somewhat succeeds in striking up a conversation. What happens next affects them both. Dara is clearly a lonely guy and McKernan’s portrayal is good, veering between awkwardness and sincerity. He brings a charming likeability to Dara. His acting is restrained which is impressive considering McKernan is directing himself. 

The nighttime setting of Halo creates a suitably dark and detached mood, the latter matching the likely mindset of the lead character. McKernan must be commended for his creativity and ingenuity in using some royalty free Beethoven music too, which works in terms of plot as well as serving the atmosphere. The one-take style actually suits this type of story quite well and there isn’t really any occasion where it feels unnecessary. Burschi Wojnar’s cinematography is un-showy and he keeps a largely steady hand throughout.

One issue though is that as Halo moves on, the direction that the story is heading begins to feel predictable. As such, a slight left turn at the end is more than welcome. While not perfect, this is a solid first effort from Michael-David McKernan and it will be interesting to see what he does next, both as an actor and as a director.


Starry Night

Starry Night is a graduate film from students of the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dun Laoghaire with Emma Smith directing from a script by Rachel Moloney. The first scene opens on an estate in Dublin city as Cara (played by Hazel Clifford) leaves her house and gets into a taxi with her best friend Jeanie. A voiceover narration from Cara explains that she’s finally leaving the place she grew up in, something she never felt she’d have an opportunity to do. Up to this point she’s had to put her own future on hold to take care of her young sisters.

The film then flashes back, showing the events leading up to this moment juxtaposing scenes from the recent past alongside scenes from this day of departure for Cara. Starry Night follows Cara’s attempts to get somebody to take care of the children for her, under the false pretense that she’ll be collecting them again later that night. In reality she is about to abandon the girls to pursue her own dreams. Throughout the piece, titles are repeatedly superimposed on screen displaying how long it is before Cara and Jeanie’s flight leaves. The use of these titles does get a bit tiresome after a while. 

While the stakes are unquestionably high for Cara, there’s just not as much tension in the film as there could be. Following her great performance as Sharon Curley in the stage version of the Snapper last year, Hazel Clifford gives another likeable turn and she has a bright future ahead.  At the end of the film, Cara faces a huge decision but there’s never really any doubt which way she will go with it and it all becomes a bit obvious. It wouldn’t be quite fair to say that the voiceover is overdone but Clifford is a good enough actor that perhaps the film didn’t need it. It’s likely that a greater emotional effect would have resulted if the audience weren’t told Cara’s feelings at certain points but were just allowed to concentrate on the performance instead. 

The production design is worth praise and the cinematography is strong. Without meaning to be condescending the film does look and feel like a professional production, which is not always the case with student pieces. The use of a single location for the majority also brings across a feeling of claustrophobia, which effectively mirrors Cara’s constricted existence. 


The Blizzards – Behind the Music

Who Would Want To Be In A Guitar Band? This is the question that is playfully explored in Jeff Doyle’s lighthearted mockumentary about Irish band The Blizzards. It’s a relevant enough question too in this modern world where guitar-based music seems to be drifting further and further from the mainstream scene. 

The plot of the film consists of The Blizzards attempting to make a comeback and being led in their quest to do so by hapless manager Duncan Browne. In an attempt to get with the times they actually record a non-guitar inspired song called “Who Would Want To Be In A Guitar Band?” (“your music is just too guitary” moans Browne at one stage), which is met with widespread derision. This spells catastrophe for Browne and for the band members, with each of them dealing with the fallout in their own individual way.

Johnny Elliot gives a good performance as Browne. The band is also game for proceedings too and they do well at sending both themselves and the music industry itself up. This kind of film has been done many times before though and although humorous, Behind The Music is just not laugh-out-loud enough to compensate for the lack of originality. Mockumentaries have burned themselves out over the past decade or so and the humour in such films needs to constantly be razor-sharp if they are to stand a chance at being noticed from amongst the pack.

There is a constant stream of celebrity cameos throughout with Mattress Mick and John Connors probably being the most memorable. These guest appearances are fun at first but soon begin to grate when hardly a minute passes by without one occurring (though kudos to Doyle for getting Stormy Daniels to appear in his film!).

Aside from fans of The Blizzards, it’s hard to know who the film is aimed at. Ironically a serious documentary about the same subject matter may have broader appeal. There are plenty of music fans out there that would find the notion of the guitar as an instrument of the past to be a very unappetizing one indeed. It would be interesting to see just how a thirty-something band like the Blizzards manage to navigate this current world of sanitized pop. At one point in the film Louis Walsh shows up to give lead singer Bressie a pep talk. Aiming to convince him that there is still a place for guitar in the music business, Walsh stresses that: “Ed Sheeran plays guitar”. Regardless of whether that line is intentional or not, it might just be the funniest joke in the entire film.

 

 

The Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary Irish Talent: New Shorts 3, Fiction programme screened 11th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

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Review: Good Boys

DIR: Gene Stupnitsky • WRI: Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky • PRO: Lee Eisenberg, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver • DOP: Jonathan Furmanski • ED: Daniel Gabbe • DES: Jeremy Stanbridge • MUS: Lyle Workman • CAST: Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon

Growing up is one of the hardest things you’ll have to do in your life. Following the carefree comfort of childhood where everything is sunshine and rainbows you are thrown into the real world without any warning. Once you hit the pre-teen stage of your life everything becomes complicated. You’re expected to do things independently without your parent’s help, who said that was part of the life package? The cute little annoying traits you possessed for years are now considered childish, no more puppy eyes to get off the hook. Not to mention the horrifically confusing changes you’re going through emotionally and psychically. The thing that no one tells you is that this period of your life lasts from when your twelve right through your twenties and possibly beyond. Coming of age is defined as the “transition between childhood to adulthood “. What a terrifying concept. One day you’ll wake up to find that you’re not a child anymore. You now have responsibilities and people who depend on you.

Movies that try to show this period of life have gifted the world with some of cinemas finest pieces.  Films such as Dazed and Confused, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Lady Bird, The Edge of Seventeen and Stand by Me show those who are going through this tricky period of their life that they are not alone. It may be the most important genre of film out there. Good Boys on paper may not seem like it has anything in common with the previously mentioned film. How can a Pre-Teen Superbad that leans on gross-out jokes teach kids a valuable lesson? Suspend your disbelief because Good Boys is oddly one of the sweetest films of the year.

Good Boys tells the story of three boys The Beanbag Boys. Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor’s (Brady Noon) whose lives change when they get invited to their first party. The trio ditch school and set upon their adventure in hope of climbing the popularity ranks. It’s safe to say that their day off doesn’t run as smoothly as Ferris’ as they face run-ins with teenage girls seeking their stolen drugs, a vicious frat house and a cop who just wants to go home.

Produced by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, if you’re not a fan of the raunchy humour of Superbad, Pineapple Express or any of their other collaborations then Good Boys isn’t for you. If, like me, you find their work to be uproariously funny then you’ll be treated to one of the fine comedies to emerge this lackluster year. The humour relies on kids saying things that every parent dreads the thought of. It’s kind of crushing to see the kid from Room dropping F-bombs for ninety minutes. Why does the film feel the need to rely on this style of humour? For starters, it works wonders. The language coming from the boys is the same ridiculous method of cursing that every boy uses when he begins to learn new words.  The escapades the gang gets themselves into is where the film’s biggest laughs run from. A running joke involving a childproof lid is a winner. Seeing how the boys interact with beer, drugs, an odd CPR doll and even odder weapons are hysterical. Even though the high jinks are far fetched the cast make it believable. The Beanbag Boys are played by three young men who all have bright careers ahead of them.

Had the film been miscast then there was a real possibility that the entire concept would have flopped. Putting a film into the hands of any young actor is a mammoth task, when you increase that number to 3 teenagers then making a great film is a minor miracle. Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon elevate this film by leaps and bounds. Each one of the three leads plays a vital role. Jacob Tremblay as Max is the only popular member of the group. Faced with a conundrum that many faces when growing up. How do you make everyone like your friends? Tremblay plays Max with a sincerity that is often missing from R-rated comedies. In one scene, a kid dismisses Lucas and Thor as “random”, to which Max beautifully responds “They’re not random. They’re specific.” Brady Noon gives what would normally be a one-note character in Thor layers of emotional depth. Thor is plagued by bullies who won’t allow him to pursue his dream of singing. As any man can tell you one of the hardest parts of becoming a man is that people try to limit who you can be to fit their perception of what’s masculine. Keith L. Williams steals the show as Lucas, a boy who just wants to be honest. Williams’ comic timing would be impressive for a comedy veteran. His realisation that his parents are getting divorced when he gets his favourite dinner and fizzy drink on a school night is wonderfully funny. The chemistry between the young actors makes you root and believe in their friendship. Beanbag Boys for life. 

First-time film director Gene Stupnitsky injects fresh energy into the comedy genre. The past few years of R-rated comedies have been brutally average. You’ll struggle to name five genuinely good comedies from the past twelve months off the top of your head. Universal put their trust in a man who hasn’t gotten many breaks in the industry. If you look at Stupnitsky’s work on television you’ll see that he’s clearly talented, he directed the all-timer Office episode “The Michael Scott Paper Company.”. Stupnitsky is aware that comedy can’t work on its own, you need to relate to the story. Good Boys is filled with a surprising amount of heart. The final ten minutes left me with an unexpected lump in my throat at how much I related to the story. Stupnitsky wrote the script along with his good friend Lee Eisenberg, who he wrote Bad Teacher and Year One with. While those films aren’t exactly stellar keep in mind that Eisenberg wrote the funniest scene of The Office in “Scott’s Tots”. The Good Boys’ script is filled with one-liners that keep hitting it out of the park and sequences that will leave you floored. The film’s major flaw is one that is continuing to clog recent films: unnecessary pop-culture references. This is another film that can’t resist making a Stranger Things and Game of Thrones reference. These jokes are unfunny now, what happens in twenty years when those not in the current zeitgeist visit these films for the first time?

Good Boys is fun from start to finish. As the summer season is winding down this is a perfect film to catch before it ends. Seth Rogen, who produces the film, is establishing himself as one of the sought-out men in Hollywood. Following the critically acclaimed Long Shot, the juggernaut Lion King remake and the most popular show of the summer The Boys, it seems that he can’t put a foot wrong. When you put people who are passionate about the comedy genre behind it you’ll get the results you deserve. Good Boys is a film that will become the first R-Rated comedy that many kids catch at 2am in the morning at a sleepover. It’s lovely to know that along with the raunchy humour they’ll get a film with a good message. 

 

Liam De Brùn

89′ 39″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Good Boys is released 16th August 2019

Good Boys Official Website

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Review: Dora and the Lost City of Gold

DIR/WRI: James Bobin • Matthew Robinson, Nicholas Stoller • PRO: Kristin Burr • DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe • ED: Mark Everson • DES: Barbara Ling • MUS: John Debney, Germaine Franco • CAST: Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña

Hey you freeloading users of Film Ireland online. Are you looking for value for your zero-money-spend visit to this website??? Because right here in this here review, you are going to get true value for money. Because I have employed* two junior reviewers to join me in reviewing Dora and the City Of Gold.

*In case anyone from child services is reading this, I didn’t actually employ them. They did it for the pure love and passion for cinema. Like every Film Ireland reviewer…

So we are going to review Dora not once, not twice but thrice.

Joining me are seasoned film goers, Elise Nangle and Marcus Nangle. What they lack in age, they make up for in experience. Both being avid cinema goers. And even their parents are steeped in the old timey picture-house business too. So it’s in their D.N.A. 

I’m first up. 

Dora  and the City of Gold  reviewed by James Phelan (Age – Bronze)

Can you say …… ‘Wise and Witty Update of Mostly Unpromising Source Material’?

Can you? Because Paramount Pictures can.

 Like the savvy reboot of Peter Rabbit before it, here lies a clever and cheeky live action aging up of a cartoon that moves Dora from pre-school appeal to something a lot more universal.

Fidelity to source material isn’t always a virtue. If Dora made the jump to live action without adding some extra sass, charm and humour, most parents and accompanying adults would be locked in an instant endurance test or on their phones throughout a gamut of sappy purity. 

Instead we are served up a genuine family entertainment that is energetically paced and performed with plenty of pizzazz.  The film quickly establishes it is having affectionate fun with its own origins with some knowing winks to the audience. That helpfully happen to be hilarious.

It also helps that a real gem is unearthed in the lead role. Isabela Moner depicts a Dora that expertly navigates the fine balance between perky positivity and annoying innocence. When she moves to LA from the rainforest, her fish-out-of-water antics blend deliberate cringe factor with real wit and insight. Onscreen characters turn against her in a plausible way but the audience remains firmly on her side.  

Before long, Dora is back in the jungle searching for her missing parents with a few ill prepared classmates in tow including her sulky cousin Diego. What follows is a familiar trek through jungle escapades, traps and intricate ancient puzzles. But it’s all breezily staged and infused with just enough Lara Croft jeopardy to occasionally raise a pulse. If not an eyebrow.

By the end, even an early plot contrivance is revealed to be a rather clever piece of storytelling. And smidges of real regret emerge – like pining for a bit more screen time for Michael Pena and Eva Longoria as parents who seem like they should be giving lessons in chemistry and not archaeology. Add in the most charming closing dance sequence this side of Slumdog and we have a film that is way better than could have been reasonably expected. And how often do we get to say that these days????

And now I’d like to pass the mic to Elise….

Elise Nangle (Age: 10 and a half)

I really liked this movie. I used to watch the TV show when I was younger. The film is very different. The main difference being that it is live action. One of the elements that they keep is the amounts of songs the characters sing during the story. One song in particular was a bit rude but I will leave that as a surprise.

Isabela Moner was really good in the lead role as Dora. She was very likeable, funny and energetic. Dora’s father was especially funny. I know him from a lot of other movies too. Unlike the cartoon, the character of Diego is pretty grumpy in the film until he realises that Dora is his only chance of surviving in a very dangerous situation. Then he realises that family need to stick together.  At first glance, one of the other actors was very charming but there is a twist towards the end.

I would describe the movie as an adventure comedy. It is mostly set in the jungle but there is a sequence in the city where Dora is out of her comfort zone. She doesn’t entirely understand life in the city and the city people don’t really understand her either.

The movie reminded me mostly of the new Jumanji film. I would recommend this film to anyone who thinks they are too old for the Dora cartoons. I would like to thank Paramount Pictures for inviting us to the preview. It was the best movie I have seen this summer. And I’ve seen a lot of movies this summer!!!!

Marcus Nangle (Age 8)

I only really watched the Dora cartoons when my sister used to but I was looking forward to the movie because the trailer made it look action-packed.

I was not disappointed. There were some exciting bits. Some surprising bits. And some funny bits. Even the songs were funny. One of my favourite bits was when Dora’s father was describing dance music and making the sounds with his mouth.

Dora had to move to the city for a bit because her parents wanted to go find an ancient city filled with gold. They left her behind because they didn’t think she was ready for adventure and danger.  She proved them wrong for the rest of the film.

Along with the human characters, there were also some animated ones from the cartoon. The good guys had Boots, who is a monkey. And the bad guys had Swiper, who is a fox and steals stuff.

I liked how the movie started without any ads. That was really cool. I would like there to be a sequel to this film and I would definitely go.

 

James Phelan

102′ 18″
PG (see IFCO for details)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is released 14th August 2019

Dora and the Lost City of Gold – Official Website

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Never Grow Old

Ruth McNally reviews Ivan Kavanagh’s Western starring John Cusack, Emile Hirsch and Déborah François.

The sold-out closing film of this year’s Film Fleadh was Never Grow Old, a dark and gritty Western, written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh. Kavanagh and some of the Irish cast and crew were in attendance on the night. Kavanagh described the film as the “Western he wanted to make”. He had begun writing it almost ten years previously but noted that it felt like the right time to make the film now as many of the themes feel very relevant to current times. 

The film centres around Irish immigrant Patrick Tate (Emile Hirsch), the local undertaker in a small American frontier town. The town is a pious community, a “holy town” effectively run by the Preacher (Danny Webb). Alcohol, gambling and prostitution have been prohibited and judgement is rife should you step out of line with the town’s imposed morals. Patrick Tate and his French wife, Audrey (Déborah François), consider setting off towards California as they struggle both to fit in and make ends meet.

The quiet existence of the town is unreservedly changed upon the arrival of the outlaw Dutch Albert (John Cusack) and his two cronies. Arriving to the town in search of a wanted man, they decide to stick around and set up shop. They forcibly reopen the saloon, recruit some reluctant prostitutes and with that, the Wild West is back. Dutch Albert takes a special interest in Tate, asking him to facilitate a “private burial”. The threat of the gang and the fact that his family are struggling forces Tate to take this opportunity and henceforth they form an uncomfortable business relationship.  

John Cusack is almost unrecognisable in his manner as Dutch Albert – he fills his scenes with a quiet but palpable menace. The character is both erratic and strangely moralistic in his way, appearing to be taking Patrick Tate under his wing as an immigrant – and therefore an outsider – in the community.  The hypocrisy of this “holy” community is referenced throughout the film, particularly as people rejected by the church start desperately turning to Dutch Albert for work. The law does not wield much power in this town – the sheriff is an ineffective character who bends to the will of the preacher. The two extremes of religious purity and hedonism are the forces at odds with each other and the only sources of power in the town.

Patrick Tate is an almost passive character, adapting to situations as they arise and only acting when something forces his hand. He appeases Dutch Albert while holding him in contempt. His fluctuating motivations in the story mean that he is not a clear hero. As he gets more deeply involved in Dutch Albert’s dirty work, the voice of reason comes from his wife Audrey, played by Déborah François. She is a sympathetic and endearing character and while Tate becomes more dubious in his morality, Audrey becomes the character that you root for. One of the more uncomfortable aspects of the film comes from the threat against Audrey from Dutch Albert’s tongueless henchman Dumb-Dumb (Sam Louwyck), who leers at her a cold, quiet, violence throughout. The anticipation created around this violence adds a sense of dread that permeates the story.

The film is visually very impressive. Much of the outdoor scenes were shot in Connemara – an American frontier town was effectively created somewhere near Oughterard, Galway. The attention to detail in the production design, costume and set design means that everything feels authentic in terms of place and time. The Irish weather conditions do make an appearance in the form of the copious amount of mud visible in the film. These conditions are used to the filmmaker’s advantage as everything is built into showing the hardship of life in this town. The grey skies, rain and seas of mud are all part of the struggle of daily life and reflect the characters’ experience. 

Never Grow Old is an immersive film – once you are in, you are in, for better or for worse. It shows frontier life at its most fantastically harsh, with characters that showcase the darker extremes of humanity. At the screening Kavanagh described it as an allusion to how America was “founded in violence”; the result is a convincing Western, with a good dose of grim and grit.

 

Never Grow Old screened 14th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

 

Never Grow Old is released in Irish cinemas 23rd August 2019


2019 | Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, France | 100 mins

 

 

 

 

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Review: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood 

DIR/WRI: Quentin Tarantino • PRO: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Fred Raskin • DES: Barbara Ling • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood marks Quentin Tarantino’s 9th feature film. It’s his self-confessed lament for the halcyon days of Hollywood, and the promise of a golden age that came and went, and the sadness born from that loss. We’re shot back in time by one of cinema’s defining auteurs, straight into the sun-soaked bliss of 1969, on a ride through the valley of dolls, dreams, and celebrity. But in the land of milk, honey and a thousand dances, nothing is what it seems. It’s a world of high flyers, low flyers and no flyers as we cruise through the tiered social strata of Hollywood.

Once Upon a Time… mainly follows faded and jaded TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio), a middle-aged actor passed his prime who never quite blossomed into a star. Rick’s big break was ‘The Fourteen fists of McCluskey‘, a feisty war picture that should have catapulted him to the stars but fell short. That said, Ricks no one-trick pony, he’s currently the star of TV western ‘Bounty Law‘, where he plays righteous lawman and purveyor of justice Jake Cahill. Between takes and beers, Ricks usually cruising with his best friend Cliff Booth(Brad Pitt). Cliff is Rick’s stunt double on ‘Bounty Law‘, and in his own words he’s just there “to carry the load.” Cliff is a warrior spirit, a weapon of a man, and a World War II veteran at that. But underneath his herculean physique and charming smile is a zen-like temperament, he’s a man accepting of his lot, which doesn’t amount to more than a dog, a trailer and a lingering rumour that he killed his wife. But make no mistake Cliff and Rick’s friendship is the driving force of the film, catapulting it forward scene by scene, pound for pound.  Cliff keeps Rick’s spirit in check as he grabbles with his failures as an actor. Of course, matters aren’t helped by the fact that Hollywood royalty and emblems of success Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski are living next door; or that Manson hippie chicks are floating around the streets like sirens, trouble can’t be far.

Quentin’s vision for Once Upon a Time… is brought to the screen by regular collaborator cinematographer Robert Richardson. The cinematography is a dynamic dance somewhere between naturalism and sheer cinematic spectacle, envigorating late ’60s Hollywood with a raw earthy freshness. Richardson’s finely tuned eye and magnanimous lighting lend a painterly quality to every composition that can’t be argued with. Of course, then there’s the soundtrack. And as to be expected, it’s sonic gold for the eardrums, with some timely oldies and some less familiar ones to boot.

Brad Pitt gives a muscular and affectionate performance as Cliff Booth, lighting up the screen with smoking cool ’60s charm. Leonardo Di Caprio gives a masterful turn as wild west thespian Rick Dalton, unleashing a six-shooter’s worth of despair mixed in with a tablespoon of comic gold. Margot Robbie’s take on Sharon Tate is set to be the definitive cinematic realization; Robbie brings a candid naturalism and fiery vitality to her every movement. The main cast is accompanied by an ensemble of players fit to die for, with the likes of Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Damian Lewis, and Margaret Qualley.

Throughout Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, there’s a pervading tone of melancholy. Tarantino’s portrayal of Hollywood pierces through the thin veneer of LA glitz and glamour, in search of characters caught in an existential trap, and who can’t get out. This is Tarantino at his most mature since ‘Jackie Browne’, underneath its golden facade Once Upon a Time… is an expertly crafted meditation on the loss of the dreams of a generation. Tarantino’s film is a potent love letter to the end of an era in Cinema and history, and at its core it’s equally embedded in the present. The Tate/ La Bianca murders were a fulcrum in space and time, a catastrophic turning point that ended the ’60s, shattering free love and the hippie dream forever. It was a singular moment that was a precursor of everything to come, the toxic wave of ’70s paranoia and uncertainty, when a country was brought to its knees and an empire broke. Ultimately ,Tarantino taps into the electric vibrations that tingled in the air in ’69, there’s a lingering sense in every scene that things are coming to a close, its a sun-soaked funeral procession for all, and it ends with a bang that will reverberate throughout cinematic history.

Michael Lee

161′ 17″
18 (see IFCO for details)

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is released 14th August 2019

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood – Official Website

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Review: Blinded by the Light

DIR: Gurinder Chadha • WRI: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, Sarfraz Manzoor • PRO: Jane Barclay, Paul Mayeda Berges, Jamal Daniel • DOP: Ben Smithard • ED:  Justin Krish • DES: Nick Ellis • MUS: A.R. Rahman • CAST: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman, Nell Williams, Rob Brydon and Hayley Atwell

It is not a mystery that Bruce Springsteen has a loyal and avid following. If this is news to you, check out the 2013 documentary Springsteen and I, or better yet go to one of his concerts. Springsteen means different things to different people, but every fanatic will attest that Springsteen represents truth, or at least the search for one. Gurinder Chadha’s new film Blinded by the Light (named after the first song on his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park) is a celebration, not only of Springsteen’s music, but of individualism. Written by Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha and Sarfraz Manzoor, the message, like a lot of Springsteen’s work is not only to go out and live your life, but to go out and grab it by the balls, no matter who you are, or where you are from. 

There are a lot of correlations between Chadha’s film and Springsteen’s music. One being that if it doesn’t pull you in from the start, I can only imagine that one might see it as a facile attempt to exploit his music. But if it grabs you, like it did this reviewer, you’ll be all in. Blinded by the Light tells the story of a young Pakistani teenager, Javed (Kalra), growing up (pardon the pun) in Luton in the late 1980s. Thatcher, The National Front and a conservative father form a three-pronged repressive force to this aspiring writer. He has a best friend, Matt (Chapman), who listens to The Pet Shop Boys and believes that ‘synths are the future’ (he is not far wrong). However, it is a new friend Roops (Phagura), a Springsteen obsessive who loans Javed Born in the USA and Darkness on the Edge of Town. He sticks them in his Walkman and his life is changed forever.

The formula of the film is a predictable one. In fact, it follows the same beats as Chadha’s 2002 film Bend it Like Beckham (replace David Beckham and football with Springsteen and writing). Yet the raw emotion that accompanies Springsteen’s music and lyrics elevates this film and becomes its heart and soul. To be fair to Chadha, she is also not afraid to veer into more adult themes than she has before. Montages of Thatcher’s Britain, job centres and National Front marches recall the work of Shane Meadows as she ups the ante on racist themes she has alluded to in previous films. Some sequences are frighteningly current. She, like Springsteen, can mix darkness with hope. 

Blinded by the Light joins the present wave of musical films, some good, Rocketman, and some bad Bohemian Rhapsody, Yesterday. Blinded by the Light falls into the former category, while systematic, its fantastical elements and musical numbers are enough to sweep you along, outweighing and disavowing otherwise predictable storytelling. 

Tom Crowley

117′ 11″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Blinded by the Light is released 9th August 2019

Blinded by the Light – Official Website

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody

Seán Crosson reflects on Aodh Ó Coileáin’s exploration of confluence.

Galway has long been regarded as the cultural capital of Ireland. However, this reputation has rarely been interrogated on film to identify what may make the city and surrounding county distinctive for creative artists, and the more complex story that may lie behind this description. Aodh Ó Coileáin’s Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody addresses these questions through reflections from an array of Galway based artists from varied fields, including musician/composer Máirtín O’Connor; novelist Mike McCormack; poet Rita Ann Higgins; artistic director of Macnas Noeline Kavanagh; singer songwriter Róisín Seoighe; visual artist Pádraic Reaney; and comedian Tommy Tiernan. 

These reflections are accompanied by stunning imagery of Galway city and county that perfectly complements the perspectives offered while confirming the scenic beauty of the area that provides inspiration for many of those featured. Within the documentary, each contributor reflects on their own creative process and the inspiration they have taken from the space around them – these are not always entirely positive recollections; they speak to the complexity of Galway as a space, as well as the challenges of the artistic process itself. The creative work of each contributor is threaded through the documentary, providing musical, visual, and literary accompaniment to their words and the images featured. 

A recurring trope throughout the work is the concept of confluence (one of the many definitions provided for Cumar in the production) – Galway through history has been above all a meeting place, most obviously for the waterways across the city that converge in Galway Bay, but also for the many individuals down the years of varied backgrounds, cultures  and languages that have interacted, and influenced each other while making Galway their home. Ó Coileáin foregrounds this theme of interaction through a conversation between Tommy Tiernan and Mike McCormack, to which the production repeatedly returns.

Given the presence of Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht in the county, Ó Coileáin rightly chooses to take a bilingual approach to the topic and the Irish language itself is a recurring theme, even among writers (such as Rita Anne Higgins) who write primarily in English. However, there is also a tension evident here at times, articulated most clearly by Tiernan who refers to the linguistic divide between the city and Gaeltacht area. 

There is a further critique evident by Mike McCormack of the failure of the city to provide adequate exhibition space for the visual arts in particular. While Galway may pride (and market) itself on the prominence of culture and the arts, there is a strong sense expressed across several of the contributors here that this status is not always supported appropriately in terms of either facilities or support provided for the arts in Galway.

However, overall this is a celebratory work. In advance of Galway taking over as European Capital of Culture next year, Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody is a timely, engaging and at times provocative reflection on Galway (city and county) as a distinctive place from the perspective of some of the city and county’s leading creative figures.

Seán Crosson

 

 Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody screened 10th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

 

2019 | Ireland | 72 mins 

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Review: The Angry Birds Movie 2

DIR: Thurop Van Orman • WRI: Peter Ackerman  • DOP: Simon Dunsdon • ED: Kent Beyda, Ally Garrett • DES: Pete Oswald • PRO: John Cohen • MUS: Heitor Pereira • CAST: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Leslie Jones, Bill Hader. 

Video games movies never make it past the first film. Over the years we’ve seen them nearly all die at the first level. Max Payne, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Need for Speed, Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider (2018) and two separate Hitman movies all came and went without anyone caring. For those who happened to catch these films, presumably playing in the background on a Sunday evening, we’re treated to boring films that spent their runtimes pandering to video game fans who deserved better. Outside of Mila Jovovich carrying Resident Evil to six films and Ryan Reynolds turning Pikachu into Deadpool, video game movies have been a genre with little success. Of all the games in the world that could have been a surprise hit, no one expected it to be one based on the Rovio Entertainment puzzle video game.

The Angry Birds Movie arrived in 2016 to claim the throne of the best video game movie ever made. Was it good? It was fine but you’ve got to remember that everything that came before it ranged from mediocre to atrocious. Can the Angry Birds unite to become the best video game movie sequel of all time? The answer to that is a resounding yes as its mere existence tops everything else that came before. 

The Angry Birds Movie 2 continues the story of our angry hero Red (Jason Sudeikis) and the rest of the flock. Following their triumphant victory over the Pigs in the previous film, Red is no longer an outcast. Red’s newfound sense of acceptance and the fame that comes with it is threatened when new foe Zeta (played by SNL’s Leslie Jones) makes her presence known. The birds must do the unthinkable and team up with the dastardly pigs before it’s too late.

What struck me most about this film is how in terms of plot it’s as basic as it comes. There are no major twists or obstacles that get in our heroes’ way from start to finish. Normally this would be the point in the review where I’d lay into another animated film that exists to distract its younger audiences with flashy colours for an hour and a half. This rant can’t be made against The Angry Birds Movie 2. The film relies on its characters and witty humour to entertain both adults and children. The jokes come at a relentless pace.  There’s no time to rue the ones that don’t land because the follow up will wipe the poor one out of your memory instantly. It’s admirable that the film chooses to focus on humour rather than plot. No one is going to an Angry Birds sequel for a story on par with The Dark Knight.

As with every kid’s film, there’s a lesson; a lesson of self-acceptance is essential for any kids or adults to learn. From a technical perspective, the animation feels exotic, it’s neither photo-realistic or cheaply made. It’s as if a wacky Sunday morning cartoon from the ’90s has been remastered.

The film ticks thanks to its leading cast. With a lot of animated films that aren’t Disney or DreamWorks it often feels that the cast is doing it for a paycheck. The leading cast members clearly had a great time making the film. Jason Sudeikis as Red is an unorthodox straight man, never afraid to deliver a killer joke despite being the rational member of the group. Danny McBride makes his, at first glance, one-note character work for a second film without ever becoming annoying. If you think Olaf from Frozen is annoying, you haven’t seen anything until you see Josh Gad as Chuck. The speedster bird is Olaf dialed up to the max. Whenever he was on screen, I could feel my blood boil. Leader of the pigs, Leonard, lets Bill Hader be Bill Hader, which is always welcome. Hader is the star of the show in most of his projects and here is no different. Sterling K Brown and Tiffany Hadish both turn their miniature roles into highlights. The two biggest new roles in the film are given to Rachel Bloom and Leslie Jones. Bloom plays Silver, an engineer who rivals Red for leadership. Bloom and Sudeikis’ chemistry make an almost forced romance feel genuine. Following the end of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend get ready to see a lot more of Bloom who is going to blow up. Leslie Jones finally finds a film that knows how to utilize her talents. Ghostbusters (2016) should have been the actor’s big break but she was held back by a limp script. Jones as the villain Zeta is hysterical; the comedian is given free rein to go wild with her character leading to the audience rooting for the villain.  It’s always refreshing to have a voice cast who want to act.

Directors of the first film, Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, have opted not to return for the sequel. Sony has opted to give first-time director Thurop Van Orman a shot at directing a feature. Van Orman is no stranger to animation having written episodes of The Powerpuff Girls and creating The Marvellous Misadventures of Flapjack. Animated movies often feel different from the cartons we see on TV. Animated movies at times feel like they give up after they come up with their concept. While cartoons on TV aren’t afraid to embrace their weirdness. Thurop has clearly set out to make a film that is one of the more cartoonish you’ll see on the big screen. The oddness of the film makes it fresh as it never takes itself seriously.

A side plot involving baby birds would normally be released as a short film, Thurop sees no reason as to why his film can’t have a separate story that is as entertaining as his main plot. This wise decision was almost certainly from the mind of writer Peter Ackerman who previously wrote the first Ice Age film, in which Scrat, a character with no impact on the plot, became the series’ most famous character. The film’s only glaring fault is that it throws in references for the sake of it. The final act of the film crams in as many popular songs as possible for no particular reason.  No one on this planet ever wanted to hear the “Baby Shark” song in a film. 

The Angry Birds Movie 2 had no right being this entertaining. Not one person seeing this film expected it to be the best video game movie of all time. Yet against all the odds it is. It never takes itself seriously, its primary goal is to entertain. Had you no clue about what Angry Birds is, you would never even notice that this is a video game movie. The lesson to be learned here is that when making a video game movie, ignore the video game part and stick to making a movie. If it’s half as much fun as this one you’ve succeeded. Never in my life did I expect me to be clamoring at the prospect of a third film based off an app. 

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

96′ 40″
G (see IFCO for details)

The Angry Birds Movie 2 is released 2nd August 2019

The Angry Birds Movie 2 – Official Website

 


 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary 

Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah)

Seán Crosson took in a selection of  documentary shorts at this year’s Fleadh, featuring works from both established and debut directors, showcasing the best of Irish talent. 

A key component of the Galway Film Fleadh’s focus on new and emerging talent is the series of short programmes featured across the festival. In total there were nine sessions dedicated to shorts at the Fleadh, covering documentary, fiction, and animation and as always the organisers deserve great credit for the focus and space they allocate to young Irish filmmakers in the programme. 

The films included in the first programme covered a wide range of topics from reflections on Irishness, to profile pieces, and considerations of aspects of the natural world.

El Hor

The programme began with the visually stunning and evocative El Hor directed by Dianne Lucille Campbell. Inspired by the beautiful Saluki dog, the film combines mythology, nature imagery, and dynamic cinematography, with otherworldly musical accompaniment. In the surreal landscapes and images created, the film is reminiscent of Maya Deren’s work, but also in its imagining of the world from the perspective of the animals featured, the work of Stan Brakhage. Overall Campbell has produced an extraordinary cacophony of sound and image, impossible to categorise but rather oddly included in a section dedicated to short documentaries; this was a work much closer in form to experimental film.

Our Land

More in keeping with documentary form was Eoin Harnett’s Our Land, an impressively realised reflection on what makes Ireland distinctive. Featuring seven contributors, each of whom provide engaging, humorous and at times insightful commentary on the topic, the documentary was excellently paced, moving effectively between its contributors and supporting footage from the streets of Galway.

Recommend Rapper

The subsequent films Recommend Rapper (Caoimhin Coffey) and Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah) (Gerard Walsh) each provided profiles of intriguing characters from Galway. Recommend Rapper focuses on would-be rapper Danny Rock from Kinvara in Galway and his efforts to produce his first music video. While generally well produced, there is an uneasy tension (never entirely resolved) evident in this work between the director’s concern to sympathetically portray the subject and Rock becoming himself a figure of fun. Farmer Michael concerns the man (Steven Timothy) behind the comic character in the film’s title who has achieved a considerable following in recent years for his entertaining and idiosyncratic YouTube videos. This is an entertaining and at times moving account of the challenges Timothy has faced in his life. However, it is also a somewhat unbalanced piece that would have benefited from either a longer profile to accommodate the tonal changes apparent or a more focused production. 

Squared Circle

Squared Circle is an interesting chronicle of a group of wrestlers setting up and performing  on Waterford promenade, accompanied by an evocative commentary of the events concerned, written by Dublin-based wrestling promoter Simon Rochford, and recited by actor Ger Carey. In its day-in-a-life structure, the documentary is an informative account of the wrestlers featured and the effort involved in the events they organise and participate in.

Making Tom

Big Tom McBride was a legendary figure in Irish country music, above all for people from his native Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan. Táine King and Lorraine Higgins’ Making Tom is a sensitively produced study of the making of a statue to commemorate the country and Irish legend, and the impact of its unveiling on residents of his home town.

Pigeons of Discontent

The final documentary featured in this programme was Paddy Cahill’s Pigeons of Discontent – this was amongst the strongest works featured in this section, imaginatively engaging with the divided opinions among local residents of Stoneybatter in Dublin city towards the large number of pigeons that gather in the area. Cahill rightly chooses to focus his camera almost entirely on the pigeons themselves and the, at times, striking and beautiful shapes they create in flight, accompanied by comments (both positive and negative) from those who share Stoneybatter with them. 

Seán Crosson

 

The Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary programme screened 10th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

 

 

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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

 

DIR: David Leitch  WRI: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce • PRO:Hiram Garcia, Dwayne Johnson, Chris Morgan, Jason Statham • DOP: Jonathan Sela • DES: David Scheunemann • MUS: Tyler Bates • CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby

Has there ever been a franchise as odd as The Fast & Furious? From its humble beginnings as a Point Break rip-off to becoming the biggest non-superhero series in the world, nothing about the series makes sense. The first sequel that starred Vin Diesel didn’t arrive until the 4th film. The titles for each entry in the series haven’t followed a pattern; for example, the 7th film is called Furious 7 while the 8th film is called The Fate of the Furious. The series has been mocked by movie buffs for being nightmare fuel. Granted, the series hasn’t delivered an all-out amazing film,  it has come agonisingly close to delivering a film worthy of all the hype. Fast Five’s bank vault heist in Rio is glorious. The tribute to the late Paul Walker in Furious 7 is one of the most sincerely beautiful moments in cinema history. When The Fast & Furious movies want to be more than explosions and exploiting its female characters it strives. Even though the first film arrived 18 years ago it feels like The Fast & Furious franchise is only getting started. Hobbs & Shaw marks the series’ first foray into spinoffs. Can ‘The Rock’ and ‘The Stath’ team up to deliver a film worth toasting a cold Corona to? Or is this a sign that the wheels are beginning to come off?

Hobbs & Shaw tells the story of, surprisingly enough Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham). The dynamic duo must put aside their differences, which, for the record, they already put behind them in the last film, in order to take down Brixton (Idris Elba) before he releases a deadly virus into the air changing the course of humanity forever. For a series that started with an undercover cop trying to infiltrate a group of street racers, you can’t help but feel giddy reading the plot synopsis. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham teaming up to battle an evil Idris Elba with superpowers is the film 2019 has been calling out for. Hobbs & Shaw is a welcome break from the relentless car action that the series is famed for. While, yes, there are still ridiculous chases, it takes a backseat in favour of more choreographed action. It’s refreshing to see Johnson and Statham use their action-movie experience instead of sticking them behind a car for 2 hours.  The duo bounce off each other with ease,;the film could have been 2 hours of them trading ribs and it would have been glorious. The film may rely on a MacGuffin like the rest of the series, but this never feels like a generic action film. What could have easily been a chase for a bottle of the superhero serum is avoided when Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) injects herself with it in the opening sequence. The dependency on the theme of family doesn’t feel forced for the first time in the series. The Shaws are clearly a tight-knit group who are always conjuring a plan, while Hobbs Samoan heritage is explored to its full potential. Those who turn their nose up at the film because it’s a Fast and Furious film are missing out on a film that is a thrill from start to finish. When the action and humour are this strong you need to put your hands up and applaud the boldness of a film which could have easily been a cash-grab. 

Hobbs & Shaw is a success thanks to the men playing the titular characters. While, together they are electric, it’s important to highlight the importance of their individuality. Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs is the straighter of the 2 leads. Hobbs is a man who has always been presented as the ideal father, to see his strained relationship with his family outside of his daughter allows the character to feel ordinary and less perfect. Johnson is as charming as we’ve come to unfairly expect. It’s hard to distinguish if he’s ever acted or if he’s just a super nice guy. Following 2018, which saw the superstar stuck in the mediocre Rampage and the flat-out awful. Skyscraper, it’s nice to see Johnson strike back with another hit following Fighting with My Family earlier in the year.

Jason Statham has always been a somewhat underrated actor. While the films he takes on often centre around ridiculous premises, it’s hard to find an actor who can make them feel real. Statham carried The Meg on his back last year and gives one of the decade’s finest comedic performances in Spy. Hobbs & Shaw is another showcase for why we can’t take Statham for granted. As Shaw, Statham is the funnier of the two. Shaw’s frustration with what’s happening around him leads to brilliant comedic moments. A scene involving a door scanner will leave audiences in stitches.  Statham’s fighting style is more technical than Johnson’s brute force style. It’s always enticing to see how Shaw handles a fight against those who are bigger than him. Hobbs and Shaw are no odd couple. Both can fight, crack one-liners and take on anyone who comes their way. Together they have created a duo who fans will gladly watch  deliver more pulsating adventures for years to come.

What’s disappointing about the film is how they treat its side characters. Outside of Hobbs and Shaw, everyone else draws the short straw in terms of character development. Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw had the opportunity to become as memorable as her fictional brothers played by Statham and Luke Evans. While Kirby shines in her action sequences, the film relegates her to a potential love interest for Johnson. Kirby is great in the sense where she’s allowed to show some personality and flare, but the film lets her down in another example of the series not caring about its female characters in the same way it cares about its men. If Kirby does return for the eventual sequel it’s only fair that they change the title to Hobbs and the Shaws.

Idris Elba as a supervillain is the type of casting that makes perfect sense. It’s clear to see the Elba is having a ball as Brixton. Whenever the actor gets to chew up the scenery it’s delightful. Brixton is bogged down by a needless mysterious evil group, but that can’t take anything away from how fun Elba is. The smirk on his face as he declares himself “black Superman” is delightful. Elba has served another reminder as to why he must be the next Bond. The actor commits to any project with an admirable degree of dedication. Who knows? Maybe Cats will be good?

Director David Leitch has wasted no time in delivering another blockbuster following his work on Deadpool 2 last year.  A film which I found to be a huge let-down following the brilliance of the first one. Thankfully, with Hobbs & Shaw, he brings a similar type of direction that he used for Atomic Blonde. The action sequences are amongst the series’ best. The final act is insane and glorious at the same time. Leitch has been given the creative freedom to deliver a film that mostly feels less like a Fast & Furious film and more like a David Leitch film. There are some sloppy moments that can’t be forgiven. There are plenty of nameless female characters that are viewed as nothing more than objects – in 2019 you’d have hoped that the series would move away from that direction. Leitch also seems eager to keep returning to a POV shot from Brixton’s perspective that is let down by subpar special effects.

Writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearse may have written a film that makes next to no logistical sense, but they get a pass for coming up with dialogue that no other movie could pull off. Hearing Statham calling himself “a champagne problem” before fighting with a bottle is wonderful. Leitch fills the film with big surprises that no one saw coming. It’s odd that the typical Fast & Furious tropes are what let the film down. When Leitch focuses on making the film his own it’s clear to see that this is a director who could ascend to the top of the action pile sooner than we expected. 

Overall, Hobbs & Shaw is the finest Fast & Furious film to date. It’s bonkers from start to finish, not a minute goes by where the film attempts to be normal.  It arrives at a time where most summer blockbusters have been mediocre and repetitive. Nothing about Hobbs & Shaw feels like more of the same. This is a film that gets Dwayne Johnson his mojo back, gives us tier one Statham action and gives us hammy villainous Idris Elba. What’s not to love? If most of the series was like this then The Fast & Furious franchise would not be a mocked one. Go watch this on the biggest and loudest screen you can find. Soak up two hours of pure mayhem. You will not find a film this year as fun as this one. 

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

135′ 43″
PG (see IFCO for details)

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is released 2nd August 2019

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – Official Website

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: A Bump Along the Way

Siomha McQuinn gives up her seat for Shelly Love’s A Bump Along the Way.

A Bump Along the Way, a product of an all-female creative team and winner of Best Irish First Feature at the Galway Film Fleadh, is about the tumultuous relationship between happy-go-lucky Pamela and her 15-year-old daughter, Allegra, who does not shy away from scolding her mother’s behaviour. Picture a modern-day Gilmore Girls but the relationship between the Lorelei and Rory is more hostile, Rory is a vegan and Stars Hollow is now a gossipy town in Derry.

After a night of lacklustre romance with a younger man, Pamela is baffled to find herself pregnant. Her situation is far from ideal as the father wants nothing to do with her and she can barely make ends meet in her current situation. The news puts further strains on her relationship with Allegra and the pair must learn to navigate their reality as they prepare for the arrival of their newest family member.

Many of the ideas in this film are already well-trodden paths such as the mother/daughter role-reversal and the absent father. However, both Pamela and Allegra are given narratives that are separate to the central relationship and this makes the world of the film richer.

The role of Allegra is played by Lola Petticrew, who won the Bingham Ray New Talent Award for her performance. She switches seamlessly between being a callous and bitter teenage daughter and a shy, artistic student who falls prey to some of her classmates. Her acting style is very natural as she creates a character who is quietly brave. The way she treats her mother initially seems disproportionately cold and unfair but with the realisation that Allegra is having a difficult time in school, and the knowledge that Pamela’s pregnancy will only act as fuel for her bully’s taunts, it is easier to empathise with a teenager who is doing her best to survive a tough time in her life. 

Bronagh Gallagher, who plays Pamela with big-eyed lovability, is clueless to Allegra’s bullying. She is well-meaning but vulnerable, which makes the growth of her character even more pleasing. A party-girl by nature, she is restless during her pregnancy and it is endearing to watch the pure torture that it is for her stay at home and rest, made worse by Allegra’s increasingly busy social calendar.  

Apart from Pamela’s delightful baker boss and Allegra’s kind teacher, men are painted in an almost entirely negative light; from the father of Pamela’s unborn child, who is fiercely unkind when discovering the pregnancy, to Allegra’s father who kicks up a fuss when asked to contribute financially. Their characters lack much intricacy, but this is easily forgiven as A Bump Along the Way is a film that champions women and delves into their complexities, making a slight dent into the massive backlog of films that represent women through flimsily constructed characters. These typical toxic male characters are there to aid the narrative. Pamela realises that she needs to stand up to the negative men in her life if her daughter is ever to respect her. 

A Bump Along the Way is a sweet and uplifting film about female relationships, the difficulties of life in a small town and the power of standing up for yourself. Despite engaging with difficult topics like bullying and misogyny it remains light and upbeat. It is satisfying and fun and suggests a bright future for the women involved in its production. 

Siomha McQuinn

@SiomhaMcQuinoa

A Bump Along the Way screened 13th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Animals

Siomha McQuinn takes in Sophie Hyde’s film about two long-time friends and party-lovers navigating life and love in Dublin.

 

Animals, starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat, is a romantic and rebellious adaptation of Emma Jane Unsworth’s book of the same title. Its central characters, Laura and Tyler, are best friends living Sauvignon-Blanc-fuelled lifestyles in Dublin. Laura is an introspective writer who expresses herself privately through her journals, while Tyler is unapologetic and opinionated, the type of person who will condemn the institution of marriage but come wedding dress shopping to avail of the free champagne. They aid each other in avoiding responsibility through a friendship that knows no boundaries. However, once Laura meets Jim, a charming, successful pianist, their friendship begins to experience difficulties.  

The film finds Laura situated precariously between the two lives that she can lead. Her options are a carefree lifestyle of drinking and drug-taking with Tyler or a calmer life with Jim in which she can grow as a writer and perhaps follow in her sister’s footsteps by settling down and starting a family. Laura initially appears to favour the latter. As her relationship with Jim develops, Laura blossoms and his influence spurs her on to develop a consistent work ethic. However, she begins to flirt with her old lifestyle by way of handsome and intellectual poet, Marty, a distraction that Tyler encourages as she sees as the opportunity to reclaim the old Laura. It becomes clear that Laura cannot stretch herself between her two worlds and must find a way to reconcile with her reality.

Partying provides the foundation for Laura and Tyler’s relationship and therefore drinking culture takes centre stage in Animals. The characters are frequently intoxicated and rarely seen without some form of alcohol in hand. They comically circle clubs pouring the dregs from other people’s drinks into their own glasses. The frequency with which they drink can be overwhelming but is indicative of the way people socialise in modern society. 

The backdrop of their boozy nights is Dublin and while this film strives to explore a different kind of woman onscreen it also offers a different cinematic imagining of Dublin. The film avoids focusing on recognisable Dublin landmarks opting to film terrace houses and side streets by night and Georgian interiors as part of Dublin’s literature scene. Director Sophie Hyde remarks on this being a pronounced choice to capture the Dublin of an insider instead of a touristic viewpoint. It is an intimate look at the lives of two young women and the way in which it is shot enhances this. 

Animals is an engaging and enjoyable film. It gives audiences a different perspective on what it means to be a woman represented onscreen. The two leads are impulsive, flawed and messy and this is shown in a way that is neither judgemental or glorified but at times these characters are not fully plausible. For example, a flashback in which Laura’s sister strips naked and climbs on top of a bar counter, only to set fire to her pubic hair, is jarring and seems outrageous even for the world of the film. The characters are extreme subversions of the traditional woman. That being said, it is a rich, thoughtful film with some very funny moments. It is an exciting example of the female-centred, female-made content that is making waves across the film industry.

 

Animals screened 11th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

Animals is released in Irish cinemas 9th August 2019.

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Review: The Lion King

DIR: Jon Favreau WRI: Jeff Nathanson • PRO: Jon Favreau, Karen Gilchrist, Jeffrey Silver • DOP: Caleb Deschanel • ED: Adam Gerstel, Mark Livolsi DES: James Chinlund MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor

The Lion King (1994) is one of the greatest films of all time, period. Think about it for a moment. What film has the heart that The Lion King possesses? What film can make your eyes crumble into floods of tears? What film can make your belly ache with fits of laughter? What film has as many songs that everyone knows inside and out? What film has told a Shakespearean story for all the family to enjoy? What film has a colour palette filled with as wide a variety? What film after 25 years keeps getting better with every viewing? The film has defined childhoods since its release. Whether young or old there is something for everyone within the film. Disney has decided to lay all their cards on the table and make a play that could lose them many fans. To remake The Lion King is akin to remaking The Godfather. It’s an impossible mission. How can you improve on cinematic perfection? Granted that isn’t the goal. The goal is plain and simple for the world to see. Disney as with all their recent remakes views their famed property as a nostalgic goldmine. To achieve anything less than matching the original is a failure. What’s the point of remaking a film if you’re not going to at least hit the heights of the original?  Does the 2019 version of The Lion King (2019) make the case for these remakes being any way necessary? Or is this Disney’s way of taking your money and laughing in your face?

The Lion King (2019), for those of you who don’t know, tells the story of Simba from cub (JD McCarey) to mature lion (Donald Glover) learning what it means to be a king. To call the film live-action feels like a fib. When no one is talking you’d swear that the Discovery Channel was on. The opening “Circle of life” sequence is astounding. As the camera sweeps from the iconic sunrise to pride rock you can’t help but feel giddy as you see a vast variety of animals hurrying to see little Simba’s presentation. Visually this is up there with the finest CGI to ever grace the screen. From a technical perspective, the film is a glorious success. Considering how haunting the new Dumbo looked we should be happy that the animals here are breathtaking.  Sadly, the opening sequence is the only time the film comes close to recapturing the spirit of the original. 

This film feels like flat coke. The same ingredients are there, yet it just doesn’t taste as satisfying. The voice acting – besides 2 characters – never comes close to matching the originals. The songs have the same lyrics, but you can’t shake the feeling that they’re just covers. The story follows the exact same beats without the charm. This iteration of The Lion King is completely okay. There’s nothing offensively wrong with it.  The problem is that the original wore its heart on its sleeve. The story was never what drew us into The Lion King. It’s always been about the heart. It’s basic science to know that you can’t replicate the heart. This Lion King is the same movie that we got in 1994 without its soul. 

The hardest challenge for any remake is the casting. Trying to reimagine iconic voices is a mammoth task. Especially in the case of The Lion King as the voice acting is one of the originals strongest assets. Director Jon Favreau decided to make the film as realistic as possible, a decision which leads to the film’s biggest flaw. Favreau wanted the lions in the film to have the same facial expressions as real lions. If you’ve ever seen a lion, you’ll have noticed that they always have the same expressionless face. An expressionless face is not what you need when you’re making a film about talking lions. Whether Simba is happy, sad, scared or excited he has the same facial expression. The actors voicing the lion’s voices never quite match up to their characters as a result. JD McCrary is unable to convey the childish innocence of young Simba because his character looks constantly bored. Donald Glover ,the most charming man in Hollywood, is stiff as the older Simba as he is unable to bring his swagger to the lion. Beyoncé is miscast as Nala; Disney clearly went for name over acting calibre in her casting. Nala is given more to do in this version but Beyoncé struggles to charge any emotion into her acting. James Earl Jones returns as Mufasa in a performance that is surprisingly tame. Jones gave Mufasa one of the most iconic voices of the 90s, yet here he sounds bored and uninterested in the beloved character.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is the only one of the lions who delivers a memorable performance as the villainous Scar. Ejiofor is aware he will never be able to copy Jeremy Irons stunning performance; he chooses to go at the character in a new direction. Ejiofor’s Scar is more vengeful, angry and resilient that Irons’ theatrical villain. Out of all the actors playing lions, Ejiofor is the only one who attempts to bring some originality to the project. When the actors give up trying to replicate the 1994 film this version strives. 

Even though The Lion King is the lion’s story, the film is filled with other animals that elevate the film to its classic status. The side characters in this version save the film from being a complete write-off. At the halfway mark of the film, Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) are introduced. From here the film stops sleepwalking and attempts to bring something new to the table. Eichner and Rogen are electric as the dynamic duo. Eichner makes Timon feel perfect for a new version of his show Billy on the Street. Timon is quick-witted and fires one-liners at an impressive rate. Rogen as Pumbaa is wonderfully cast. Rogen is fast becoming a comedy veteran; at just 37 the actor never gives a lazy performance. Together Eichner and Rogen have a chemistry that rivals Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. If Disney had any sense, they would commission a new Timon and Pumbaa series as the two are easily the highlight of the film. John Oliver brings his dry humour to Zazu. Oliver chooses to give his own take of the bird rather than copy Rowan Atkinson’s. While many of his jokes fall flat it’s admirable that Oliver was brave enough to try something new. When the film is attempting to be original it shines. Unfortunately, there aren’t many moments or characters that try to be original. What made the new Aladdin enjoyable was that it clearly wasn’t a mere rehash of what we saw before. 90% of this Lion King is the exact same as what we seen in 1994 without the charm. Which is all the more surprising when you look at the man behind the camera.  

Jon Favreau is a typically reliable director. The director turned Will Ferrell into a superstar with Elf, kickstarted the MCU with Iron Man and made the wonderful yet underseen Chef.  Favreau has already proved himself capable of nailing a remake with The Jungle Book (2016). Favreau’s Jungle Book is tremendous, the film perfectly captures the soul of the original while adding new elements that arguably top the original. The Jungle Book is hands down the best remake that Disney has released by a landslide. Anticipation was high when it was announced that he was returning to take on The Lion King. Sadly, this is the first film that Favreau has directed where it feels as if he didn’t have creative freedom. This version is confined to its promises of a realistic tale. Which means characters like Rafiki (John Kani) are relegated to minimal roles. The decision to turn the hyena’s (Alfre Woodard, Eric André, and Keegan-Michael Key) serious rather than unhinged makes them less menacing and intriguing than they were before.  As the film is attempting to be realistic the classic songs lose much of the substance that made them memorable. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is no longer the vibrant colourful piece that it was before. “Be Prepared” is spoken as if it’s a speech rather than a musical number. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is sung during the day in a decision which boggles the mind. The score from Hans Zimmer isn’t the problem, it’s as beautiful as it was the first time. The problem is that Favreau’s vision strips the songs of the imagery that made the iconic movie moments. A movie about talking animals is not the one that you should be determined to make realistic. Beyoncé is given a song near the end that is inserted for publicity and nothing else. Outside of the questionable music choices, Favreau’s direction is sluggish and sloppy. A slow-motion flashback scene near the end is ludicrously bad The film clocks in at 2 hours, over 30 minutes longer than the original. There’s no real reason for the sudden extension. In fact, there are sequences in the movie where not much is happening. To feel bored during The Lion King is a sign that this project should never have seen the light of day.

Overall The Lion King (2019) is a shadow of its source material. It never strays too far from the original. When it occasionally does it’s great. Timon and Pumbaa are so good that they are almost worth the price of admission. Everything else in the film is a stiff version of the impeccable original. The decision to be as realistic as possible while staying loyal to the original leaves the film stiff. When Donald Glover is your leading man and he’s boring, you know something is wrong. Is the film worth watching? Honestly, you’re better off watching the 1994 film for the hundredth time. While many will defend the film by saying it’s its own thing, that statement is made redundant by the film inside the opening 5 seconds. Disney is more than happy to feed off your nostalgia. To them, it doesn’t matter how mediocre these films are. By the end of the month, this film will be the second highest-grossing of the year.  Give it 15 years and we’ll eventually be getting remakes of these remakes. 

 

Liam De Brún

118′ 7″
PG (see IFCO for details)

The Lion King is released 19th July 2019

The Lion King – Official Website

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Finky

Siomha McQuinn reflects on Dathai Keane’s offbeat, mysterious, fantasy drama, which is the first film to emerge from the Cine4 scheme.

 

Dathai Keane’s Irish language feature, Finky, was warmly received at its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh. Set between Galway and Glasgow, the ambitious, arty and action-packed film was brought home for its debut outing. This fever-dream of a film follows Micí Finky, a musician who is haunted by a dark past leading him to look for an escape. He finds himself in increasingly off-the-wall and dangerous situations which ultimately force him to confront his past once and for all.

Finky is a celebration of the Irish language. It catapults the language onto an exciting new terrain, far beyond the traditions of Irish-language filmmaking. 

A puppet show opens the film and this whimsical and unconventional beginning sets the tone for the rest of the film. It is made up of a series of sequences which defy expectations at every turn, leaving the audience clueless about what will happen next.

After a bust-up in Galway, Finky flees to Glasgow with his friend Tom where, after meeting an eclectic mix of characters, he is involved in an accident and becomes wheelchair bound. He seeks refuge in his state of reduced mobility but is not safe from his own memories. In an act of recklessness he finds himself recruited by a sinister circus which causes things to go from bad to worse in a spectacular final sequence. 

The film originated as a character study and this is wholly apparent as it devotes itself to Finky’s viewpoint above all others. At times he is not likable and loses the empathy of the audience with his actions. It is a challenging character and is performed well by Dara Devaney. The erratic nature of Finky’s personality is mirrored in the events of the film.

In addition to Finky, the film has a wide range of colourful characters who bring different energies to the screen. The character of Bang Bang, played by the film’s co-writer Diarmuid De Faoite, provides comic relief with his eccentricities. His character is one of the contributors to the tone of the film shifting frequently; one moment it seems to demand that it is taken seriously while at other times it is farcical and surreal in nature. 

The sensory experience of the film is enhanced with the use of a strong soundtrack. Dreamy, melodic pieces accompany the beautifully shot frames. Above all else, the film creates mood effectively. The visuals provide a dream-like quality to modern-day Galway and Glasgow.  

Overall, Finky is a well-acted, engaging and memorable film. It could have benefited from a less complicated structure as it was at times confusing, however, it is sure to be a provocative film.

Finky screened 11th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

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Review: The Brink

DIR: Alison Klayman PRO: Marie Therese Guirgis,  Alison Klayman DOP: Alison Klayman ED: Brian Goetz, Marina Katz  MUS: Ilan Isakov, Dan Teicher’ • CAST: Stephen K. Bannon, Louis Aliot, Sean Bannon

White nationalist Steve Bannon has been a shady figure in politics for years. Many of us would love to return to the golden age where ‘Sloppy’ Steve was virtually unknown by the masses, and mainly spent his time quietly hobnobbing with, and in, the lunatic fringe. There, he peddled his extreme views and conspiracy theories to other Nazi sympathisers through the likes of Breitbart and his questionable films. Ultimately, it was his work as a political strategist on the 2016 presidential campaign which catapulted him to the status of celebrity racist; Trump’s surprise victory meant Bannon became a divisive household name internationally, which provided a pretty loud platform for his special brand of xenophobia.

Filmmaker Alison Klayman begins following Steve for The Brink soon after his relatively amicable resignation from the White House in August 2017. Although not explicitly stated in the film, Steve repeatedly insists that he resigned because of how unpleasant he found it working there. He says this a lot. However, like-many a recently dumped ex, he remains infatuated. He spends his time rallying for Trump, talking about Trump and even making films for, and about, Trump. This, Steve concedes, is all propaganda for the right.  In fact, very early on in the film, Steve monologues about on the successes of Nazi Germany, admitting his admiration for their processes, but just falling short of outright agreeing with their goals. 

It’s clear from the get-go where Klayman’s political leanings lie; in this fly-on-the wall documentary she gets excessive access to his world. Her voice can be heard on occasion, picking at the holes in Steve’s narrative or questioning his allegiances. While The Brink highlights Steve’s hypocrisy and thinly veiled racism early on, what shows Klayman’s restraint and talents as a filmmaker, is also the balance she gives. For all his many, many, many flaws, Steve comes across as warm, folksy and charming. She picks up on all the quirks that makes him relatable, such as his desire to lose weight, his penchant for fizzy drinks and his go-to catchphrases. This was the first time I could see why the other side could be so seduced by such eloquently phrased delivery from what appears to be such a gentle man.

However, underneath the superficial niceties, Steve Bannon is as shrewd as they come, and a very subtle bragger at that. He’s a former investment banker with a Harvard Business School education. In a public forum, he’s quick to denounce the ‘elites’, however, to his entourage and Klayman, he humblebrags about learning strategies in Goldman Sachs while taking private jets to 5-star hotels. In fact, the public persona he presents feels structured, and carefully curated even through the film. Steve regularly gives various outlandish characters loud introductions, (for example the ever lovely Nigel Farage, or Chinese billionaire Miles Kwok) and then slinks away, going ‘off the record’. Klayman still manages to catch him with his guard down on occasion, banging his head against a wall, firing staff, or shouting profanities down a phone. Overall, the time frame is relatively short, and while Klayman covers his work riling up the far right in Europe, she finishes up just after the US 2018 midterm elections.

There are moments in this film that are perhaps the most telling as to his true nature, such as when Steve’s confronted over his antisemitism by Klayman and separately by a journalist for The Guardian. He starts to sneer like a delighted, guilty dog, who’s just ripped up an expensive leather couch cushion and is absolutely loving it. Either Bannon is an evil genius trying to usher in the age of the Fourth Reich, or he’s a sleazy snake-oil salesman desperate for attention from those with actual power. Judging by this film, he could be either – or both. 

Gemma Creagh

 

The Brink is released 12th July 2019

The Brink – Official Website

 

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Review: The Dead Don’t Die

WRI/DIR: Jim Jarmusch PRO: Joshua Astrachan, Carter Logan DOP: Frederick Elmes ED: Alfonso Goncalves. DES: Alex DiGerlando MUS: SQÜRL’ • CAST: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Caleb Landry Jones, RZA, Iggy Pop, Rozy Perez, Tom Waits 

In the town of Centerville, USA, the dead start rising from their graves and feeding on people. An array of eccentric characters must deal with the consequences. These include the police chief (Murray), his understudies (Driver and Sevigny), sword-wielding mortician (Swinton) and angry Hermit Bob (Waits).

Jim Jarmusch returns with this agreeable, if often toothless, zombie satire. The cast are all pleasantly droll and the laid-back atmosphere of the piece is enjoyable. Jarmusch’s satirical targets are, however, both decidedly on-the-nose, yet also under-cooked. There is a clear emphasis on the climate crisis. Polar fracking is said to be the cause of the zombie breakout. However, this is never elaborated on further. Steve Buscemi’s remorseless redneck also acts as something of a Trump surrogate. He even wears a MAGA-style hat. Again though, it’s hard to draw too much depth from any of these allusions, in this case given the scale of the cast of characters and the fairly meagre screen time offered to Buscemi. In keeping with Jarmusch’s post-modern style, the film occasionally veers into breaking-the-fourth wall commentary on itself. Again, like most things in the film, it prompts approving smiles but never turns into anything meaningful.

Jarmusch’s engagement with zombies also feels dated. He gives the impression that he thinks this film’s attempts to draw parallels with zombies and consumerism – the zombies are drawn to things they were when they were alive, such as Iggy Pop’s coffee guzzling zombie – is original, as if Dawn of the Dead and the subsequent forty plus years never happened. One could also question Jarmusch’s decision to have the zombies excrete dust when they are dismembered. Jarmusch said one reason for this was because he didn’t want to make a splatter film. But avoiding the splatter only results in the violence of the film feeling soft and unaffecting, further adding to the anaemic feeling the film gives off in general. 

Jarmusch remains a singular, albeit inconsistent voice in American cinema. This is unmistakably his work and features on array of familiar, talented faces from his other films. It’s good to see Murray back in a lead role again. The likes of Swinton and Waits too always make for pleasant company. Newcomers to the Jarmusch universe such as Landy-Jones and Gomez also equip themselves well. Frederick Elmes’ cinematography is typically excellent. SQÜRL’s score also contributes nicely to the laid-back atmosphere of the piece. 

Enjoyable, but not likely to live long in the memory. 

David Prendeville

129′ 15″
12A (see IFCO for details)

The Dead Don’t Die is released 12th July 2019

The Dead Don’t Die – Official Website

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Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home

DIR: Jon Watts • WRI: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers • DOP: Matthew J. Lloyd • ED: Leigh Folsom Boyd, Dan Lebental • PRO: Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal • DES: Claude Paré • MUS: Michael Giacchino • CAST: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jon Favreau 

Sony’s well advised alliance with the Disney, Marvel people continues to pay off with this entertaining sequel to Spiderman: Homecoming, entitled Spider-Man: Far From Home in continuance with its home-themed titles. I’m guessing the next one is going to be called, Spiderman: No Place Like Home.

Far from Home follows on from the events of Avengers: Endgame, which resulted in the successful destruction of Thanos and the return of those who were turned to ashes five years prior (if you don’t know this already shame on you).  

Peter Parker and his friends, Ned and MJ, are adjusting to life, five years after the ‘blip’, as it is now known… at least to teenagers. Not having aged, they are finding some of their friends have grown in their absence. Most notable of these, for Peter, is Brad, once a scrawny ten-year-old, now a buffed up teenager who is making the moves on MJ.  The gang’s school trip to Europe is interrupted by Nick Fury, who needs an unwilling Spider-Man to help a new hero in town, Mysterio, Quentin to his friends, (a better than expected Jake Gyllenhaal). Quentin is chasing down elemental creatures that have destroyed the earth of his dimension and now threaten to destroy ours. Peter Parker unwillingly aids the agents of SHIELD and Mysterio, who becomes a sort of replacement mentor for the much missed Tony Stark.

Moving alongside the expected superhero shenanigans is the joyful, humorous teenage road trip. Peter is head over heels in love with MJ now and this possible romance is the where the story’s heart is. The last near girlfriend of his, moved a distance after her dad, The Vulture, was incarcerated, you might remember.  I’d say teenagers move on quick but there was a five-year gap if you count the ‘blip’. 

I wont tell you anymore, suffice to say Spidey has all sorts of ups and downs, personal challenges and life-threatening moments that he manages to overcome and save the day. Director Jon Watts does a great job of balancing the drama and the comedy. Watts understands that the whole thing is absurd already but that doesn’t mean it has to be treated with mockery and, god forbid, that camp might rear its head. For the most part, he balances out the humour and jeopardy beautifully. There are some clunky moments in there and some of the humour doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it’s easy to forgive, when the heart of the piece is so adeptly handled by the actors. 

The nerd part of me would love to say more about the plot but to say more would spoil the hell out of the wonderful revelations. I should point out that the film only plays to full satisfaction if you stay to the very last scene; yes, that means the final post-credit scene, not the middle post-credit scene. Anybody who leaves the cinema before seeing that final scene has in affect watched a different movie than us stalwarts.  I was never so amused and satisfied with a post-credit scene as I was with this one. If you stay for it you’ll thank me. 

Paul Farren

129′ 15″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Spider-Man: Far From Home is released 5th July 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home– Official Website

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Review: In Fabric 

DIR/WRI: Patrick Strickland PRO:  Andrew Starke ED: Matyas Fekete DOP: Ari Wegner MUS: Cavern of Anti-Matter CAST: Marianne Jean-Baptise, Gwendoline Christie, Leo Bill, Fatma Mohmed, Hayley Squires 

Patrick Strickland’s film In Fabric takes on aspects of different genres combining thriller, horror and romance into a fantastically beguiling and eerie watch. At once stylish and disturbing, this film is as visually evocative as it is intriguing. While Marianne Jean-Baptiste excels as lonely, recently separated Sheila, the “artery” red dress that she buys also has a leading part to play. The film follows the journey of this dress as it wreaks havoc in the lives of those that are unfortunate enough to wear it. Interestingly, this dress does not possess it wearers – it has its own blood-thirsty agency. The film is highly symbolic and somewhat dreamlike – or more accurately nightmare-like. Reality blends with the bizarre and we are kept on our toes throughout as we watch the dress take on its victims.  

In Fabric is set in 1980s London, taking place during the winter sales season. Dentley & Soper’s department store features as the hive of retail activity; demonstrating a time when in terms of consumerism high street stores still reigned supreme. Set against this backdrop, the experience of shopping within this film emerges as a transformative and transcendental experience. Indeed, the changing rooms are not changing rooms but “The Transformation Sphere”. Framing the purchasing experience in this light is achieved in both comical and somewhat creepy ways. For example, the sales assistants are dressed in glamorously gothic style, filling the ears of shoppers with fantastical statements. 

The film alludes to the possible evils of consumerism but doesn’t appear to be an outright attack on capitalist culture. Instead, the evil here appears to function on a spiritual rather than a cultural level. The department store, its staff and the red dress seem to be connected with something that is cult-like, occult and satanic. We witness entrancing advertisements on television screens which show the employees posed as though readying themselves for some type of ceremony, beckoning for customers to enter the shop. Indeed this ritual is repeated every morning before the buyers are welcomed in.  The fact that the dress is red is significant; a colour which is typically associated with evil, danger and the devil. However, the ambivalent tone persists in the film and we are left wondering about the true nature of what is going on until the very end. 

While red is seen as the colour of evil it is also known as the colour of love and lust. On one level, the red dress is used as a means to find love for the characters in this film. Firstly with Sheila, it is bought for a blind date. It can be viewed as a potential tool to find love and quell loneliness. Following on from Sheila, Babs tries to re-spark her fiancées interest in her by asking how she looks in the dress. Reg is also forced to wear the dress on his stag night. What ties these three characters together is that wearing this dress represents something hopeful for each: for Sheila she might find someone, Babs wants to feel admired by her fiancée and Reg is celebrating his soon to be married life. However hopeful the characters might be, the love that is represented here is disappointing – the embarrassment of a bad blind date and the difficulty of living with a demanding fiancée show how impossible it can be to find true love. It is clear in this film that love is not the answer as each character is doomed from the moment the dress comes into their lives. 

Structurally In Fabric could be viewed as a somewhat unsettling watch. Vested in the story of Sheila, the quick cut to the story of Babs and Reg is unexpected. These narratives have quite a different tone and while our interest has been with Sheila, their story feels a little dragged out in terms of pace. However, this demonstrates that the plot is revolving around the trajectory of the red dress rather than the human characters. 

Conclusively, In Fabric is a disturbing yet colourful watch enhanced greatly by a good sprinkling of bizarre dark humour. Overall, the film has several unusual qualities which make it a memorable watch. It mixes genres so that there is suspense – but a slow seeping kind of suspense. The horrifying moments come in dribs and drabs; there’s blood but it’s not constant gore. Above all, this is a film rich in symbolism, with many shocks throughout; it’s overall ambiguity and many allusions leave viewers with much to ponder afterwards. 

Irene Falvey

118′ 45″
18 (see IFCO for details)

In Fabric is released 28th June 2019

In Fabric   – Official Website

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Irish Film Review: Prisoners of the Moon

DIR: Johnny Gogan • WRI: Johnny Gogan, Nick Snow • DOP: Eoin McLoughlin • DOP: Johnny Gogan, Fionn Rodgers • ED: Patrick O’Rourke • PRO: Johnny Gogan  • MUS: Steve Wickham • CAST: Jim Norton, Cathy Belton, Marian Quinn, Alan Devine

The human and environmental cost of technological progress is a spectre which haunts history, from medical trials without informed consent to conflict minerals in smartphones. It’s a difficult subject to grapple with, especially when a now mainstream technology or an historical feat of technological achievement has a murky past. 

In Johnny Gogan’s Prisoners of the Moon, we hear the words of Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp survivor, Jean Michel: ‘It was at Dora I realised how the pyramids were built’. It was in the underground tunnels of Dora that the German army’s V-1 and V-2 rockets were manufactured using slave labour. The book that Michel would go on to write about his time at Dora would eventually lead by chance to one of the V-1 and V-2’s chief engineers, Arthur Rudolph, being forced to leave the United States despite being given citizenship while working on the American space program.

After World War II, several engineers and rocket scientists who were based at Dora, including Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph, were hired by the US government as part of Operation Paperclip. This docudrama examines this era, when US authorities decided to look the other way when considering the moral implications of recruiting former Nazi party members to work on their project to send a man to the moon. 

It takes as its focus Rudolph, whose work on the V-1 and V-2 rockets contributed to the success of Saturn V and the Apollo 11 launch. Using a mix of archive footage, interviews, and dramatic re-enactment, the film follows Rudolph’s early career in Germany, his time in Dora, his immigration to the US and work on the space program, his return to Germany by ‘mutual agreement’ after questions were raised in the ’80s, to his detention when attempting to enter Canada in the ’90s and the subsequent immigration hearing there. The film explores Rudolph’s culpability, what he may have seen or not seen at Dora, and speculates on the man and his conscience.

The re-enactment segments are where the film wavers. While well cast, there are some scenes that may have been better served by a documentary style rather than a dramatic one. The wealth of detail in the film, from archive footage to written and verbal accounts and expert analysis, suggests there would’ve been ample material to tell this story in documentary mode alone. Those elements of this deftly researched docudrama are its strongest and most engaging, raising challenging questions about the role of Nazi scientists in the achievement of the first human space flight.

Cathy Butler

75′ 29″
12A (see IFCO for details)
Prisoners of the Moon is released 28th June 2019

Prisoners of the Moon – Official Website

 

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Review: The Cold Blue

Erik Nelson’s documentary film tells the story of the B17 bomber crews during the last two years of World War II. Working from fifteen hours of footage originally shot in 1943 under the guidance of legendary director William Wyler for his propaganda documentary ‘Memphis Belle,’ a moral piece telling the story of the most famous of the American B-17 bombers to see action in World War II.  

The footage, which languished for a long time in the archives, has been restored with astonishing results, similar to Peter Jackson’s recent World War I documentary, They Shall Not Grow OldCold Blue, rich with colour, spectacle and detail is an evocative reminder of a terrible time in world history, beautiful, tragic, mundane, terrifying and terribly human. 

Nelson tells his story using interviews with surviving veterans who flew those planes from England to Germany to drop bombs. These former boy soldiers, now in their nineties remember their day to day routines, what they did and what they suffered as well as remembering albeit in an abstract fashion, the suffering they caused to hundreds of thousands of German civilians. This is powerful filmmaking, it does not pass judgement on anyone, it just quietly unrolls its chapter-filled story structure with reminiscences, powerful imagery and a most beautiful score by Richard Thompson that is full of emotion and absent of melodrama. 

Nelson has described the piece as a Koyaanisqatsi-style film about these young men in war, presenting the story rather than commenting on it, leaving judgement for the audience. For anyone truly becoming immersed in the narrative and imagery the film can achieve a great deal. though all might not agree with the results. It is at the very least a way of opening a door to learning more about this terrible time in human history. It should be noted that Nelson’s next film will depict the German perspective, using discovered Nazi propaganda footage that was used to tell the German people their side of the story.  

This HBO produced film is screening for one night only in the IFI this Thursday and comes highly recommended. 

Paul Farren

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Review: Yesterday

DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Jack Barth, Richard Curtis • DOP: Christopher Ross • ED: Jon Harris • PRO: Bernard Bellew, Tim Bevan, Danny Boyle, Richard Curtis, Eric Fellner, Matthew James Wilkinson • DES: Patrick Rolfe • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Himesh Patel

Love Actually is, in my opinion, one of the greatest films of the romance genre to ever be created. So, upon hearing that Richard Curtis wrote the screenplay for Yesterday, I had to get myself to the cinema to see it. I really believe that films that fall into the romance category don’t get the recognition that some of them (definitely not all) deserve; some reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are calling this film ‘dumb’ and ‘corny’. Others claim the film is just an advertisement for The Beatles. If this is the case are we to call Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman advertisements for Queen and Elton John? Maybe they’re right, but they are brilliant, entertaining movies with an incredible soundtrack. Yesterday, containing The Beatles music, has a soundtrack just as good. However, I cannot help but compare Yesterday to Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman considering all three are centred around the music of legends, and it does not stand up to them equally. That’s not to say that it’s crap, far from it, but just don’t expect it to be on a par with them. 

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician, attempting to make something of himself. His best friend Ellie (Lily James) acts as his driver, roadie, and manager, hauling Jack, and his kit, to his various gigs, and trying to book places for him to play. But after multiple lack-lustre gigs, Jack is beginning to think it might be time to throw in the towel. However, that night, as Jack is cycling home, all the electricity goes out, across the globe, leaving the world in darkness for twelve seconds. It is enough time for Jack to be invisible to a bus, which hits him. This collision does something though, Jack can remember things that existed before the blackout that other people cannot. Coca-Cola, Harry Potter, and The Beatles; nobody knows what they are, they no longer exist. Jack is the only one with the knowledge. This knowledge allows him to take The Beatles music as his own, making him the greatest musician of his time; but it’s not without its struggles. For one, Jack has to remember all the lyrics to every Beatles song, which is a tall order; one scene shows him visualising what happens in the song Eleanor Rigby as he tries to remember the lyrics, which I particularly appreciated. He also struggles to get the respect from people that these songs deserve. Eventually Jack makes it big time, thanks to Ed Sheeran (who plays himself) hiring Jack as his supporting act, which then puts him in contact with his agent Deborah (Kate McKinnon). Through his journey, Jack does not always choose the right path; the course of fame never did run smooth.

Yesterday shows great respect for The Beatles’ music, not destroying it with silly gimmicks (except for Ed Sheeran’s suggestion to title Hey Jude, Hey Dude). Himesh Patel does justice to the songs, his voice is so easy to listen to and enjoy. It is a joyous celebration of their music, allowing audiences to enjoy their most well-known songs. That’s what is so good about this film, it doesn’t isolate viewers who aren’t so well up on Beatles music, because many will recognise the songs played, whether they are Beatles fans or not. As I said earlier, with Richard Curtis writing the script you can easily rely on him to include a romance, and Yesterday is no different. James and Patel work well together onscreen, their awkward sexual tension is suited to their characters’ relationship. Of course, there is a grand romantic gesture, one very reminiscent of a scene in Love Actually; you’ll know what I mean when you see it because you’ll recognise the song. Ed Sheeran just comes across as completely himself on the big screen, and really suited the naturalistic feel to this film; and it’s always nice to hear a few of his songs put into the soundtrack. Kate McKinnon is great as always; I could watch her all day; there is just a charisma she exudes that makes her so entertaining to watch. 

This is an easy-going, enjoyable watch, with great music that will have you dancing in your seat. Yesterday demonstrates the importance of music to people’s lives; so let’s keep singing about Jude and Eleanor Rigby, let’s keep singing about Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, because there might not be music like that created again to make people Come Together. 

Shauna Fox

116′ 10″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Yesterday is released 28th June 2019

Yesterday  – Official Website

 

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Review: Brightburn

DIR: David Yarovesky • WRI: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn • DOP: Michael Dallatorre • ED: Andrew S. Eisen, Peter Gvozdas • PRO: James Gunn, Kenneth Huang • DES: Patrick M. Sullivan Jr. • MUS:Tim Williams • CAST: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Matt Jones

What if Superman came down to Earth but was evil is one of the most ingenious ideas for a film in recent memory. In fact, it’s such a great premise that even when the James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) produced Brightburn doesn’t maximise on it fully, it remains an impressive piece of work as both a horror and superhero flick.

In all but name, the figure at the centre of the movie is Superman. Brightburn opens with married couple Kyle (David Denman) and Tori (Elizabeth Banks) about to have sex. Books scattered across their house reveal they are having trouble conceiving. Suddenly, a meteorite falls from the sky, landing outside their window in the title town in Kansas. Approaching it further, the two discover a small spaceship housing a human-looking alien baby boy. Naming him Brandon, they decide to raise him as their own – telling people, including their new son, he was adopted.

We then cut forward about 12 years later. Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is now an awkward teenager. He’s not mature enough to process his feelings for a girl in his class and is struggling with a nagging feeling that he is different. At night, meanwhile, the teen finds himself caught in trances – ones which lure him to an ominous red glowing object locked in his family’s barn. Soon after these occurrences, Brandon discovers he has super-human strength. Coupled with his already blossoming teen resentment, the realisation his parents lied to him about his origins leads him on the path to evil.

The film is a game of two halves. The first is strong. Director David Yarovesky effectively mimics the idyllic looking Americana heartland of Zach Snyder’s first and best Superman adaptation Man of Steel. The script by James Gunn’s cousins Brian and Mark Gunn during this portion is well-observed, capturing the awkwardness of adolescence. It also manages to mask exposition within natural sounding conversations between Kyle, Tori and Brandon, pushing the plot forward while giving viewers a chance to enjoy the central family at their happiest.

It’s down to this section that when things start getting creepy, it is very exciting and tense because we like the characters. The great score by Timothy Williams – blending classic superhero-like orchestral music with darker synth sounds – grows more menacing. The sound mixing – emphasising at key moments scraping metal and strange alien whispers – heightens in intensity.

What’s also particularly great about the first half is how it links Brandon’s experiences of puberty with his superpowers. After all, every person’s body changes as they become a teenager. During this time, plenty think they are truly different and misunderstood. Plus, if Superman discovered as a bullied teen with various complexes that he was capable of flinging a lawnmower over 100 yards or could shoot lasers out of his eyes, it would probably warp his mind.

For instance, Kyle and Tori find a bunch of lad mags hidden under Brandon’s bed. Joking about it, they flick through them and are shocked to come across medical photos of bodies cut open – as if their child was studying human anatomy. Believing it to be a weird teen thing, Kyle decides to give his alien kid ‘the talk’, resulting in an awkward pitch-black father and son scene for the ages.

That said, as the film heads into its second half, a significant plot-point reveals Brandon is actually being manipulated into embracing his darker side. As such, much of the movie’s emphasis on the difficulties of adolescence falls by the wayside. From that point on, Brightburn essentially downgrades into a slasher flick – complete with supporting characters making dumb decisions – but with young Superman instead of Michael Myers.

This section is still good. Dunn as the lead is effectively creepy delivering villainous threats – which he can totally deliver on – but in an unbroken, unconfident 12-year-old voice. Yarovesky and the Gunn’s keep Brandon’s powers vague so that when the kills do come, they surprise. During these stylish stalking sequences, the director uses red as a motif – Brandon’s eyes which change colour when he’s angry, car lights on a dark road or most impressively the point of view of a character who’s had one eye punctured with glass – the blood effecting her vision.

At the same time, you are still emotionally invested in Kyle and Tori. As the bodies pile up, a schism occurs between them. Tori defends her son, tragically believing him incapable of the murders. However, Kyle grows more and more terrified of his child, with Denman giving a great anxiety-drenched performance.

Brightburn will probably draw comparisons to other darker superhero flicks like Chronicle or Split. However, the movie it most reminded me of was The Belko Experiment, another film which James Gunn helped gestate but did not make. Like that horror, Brightburn takes a cool premise and executes it in a blackly fun but nihilistic manner. That said, you can tell why Gunn didn’t direct both himself. The two – while solid – don’t fully capitalise on their premises, ones which after being established can only lead to one end.

Stephen Porzio

@StephenPorzio 

90′ 12″
16 (see IFCO for details)
Brightburn is released 21st June 2019

Brightburn – Official Website

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