Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Irish Shorts 1: Legacies

Caleb Cotter battles the rainy streets of Cork to find solace in shorts.

 

Before seeing Legacies, my second screening and the first set of Irish shorts to be shown at the Cork Film Festival, I had spent three hours in a café trying to drown out my disappointment of a different film in hot chocolate. As I ran through the rainy streets towards the cinema and took my seat at the edge of a row in a packed room one thought kept repeating in my mind: please let one of these films be great. Just one film to blow me away, to captivate me, that’s all I want. By the short film reel’s end, I was astonished; somehow they were all great.

Every one of the six films played throughout Irish Shorts 1: Legacies was either charming, heart-wrenching or some strange mixture of the two. As the title might suggest, all of the primarily female-led movies told tales dealing with love, loss, grief, life and death, carrying the themes across in a simple and nuanced manner and a heavy dose of humour. The showcase was a thrilling experience back to back, as every film had its own take on the themes and style that made each of them stand out amongst the rest while also somehow feeling intrinsically Irish.

Right off the bat, we were presented with Amy Corrigan’s Bound, depicting Rosie gathering all her strength in order to save her son’s soul in 1940s Ireland. The pale and dark colours of the film perfectly present the sorrow and loss the young mother is going through in a dream-like manner, while the beautiful cinematography isolates her throughout the entirety film. This is particularly evident in the scenes when Rosie talks to her husband and a priest;  her loneliness in these scenes making it all the harder to do what needs to be done. However, it is Amy Molloy’s powerful performance as Rosie that carries the film, perfectly conveying both the heartache and determination of the young mother and her speech to her son as she completes the task in the dead of night is heartbreaking, leading to a melancholic and beautiful ending.

The next two films would build on the emotions and themes built by Bound and set the tone for the rest of the showcase. Sinéad O’Loughlin’s Stray, about a struggling elderly woman dealing with a violent break-in that left her without her husband, and Stuart Douglas’ Cúl an Tí, in which a dying guilt-ridden mother is brought reconciliation with her estranged daughter, were equally as powerful and riveting as each other, both taking things slow and allowing us to get to know the characters, allowing for their heartbreak to become ours. However, this is where the shorts began introducing humour into the mix, Stray with a dry wit and an almost surreal quality I still can’t exactly place and Cúl an Tí with the shocking yet undisputedly sad comments by the hard-as-nails, dying woman.

With this humour introduced, the way was paved for the film that garnered the biggest laughs from the audience, Michael Creagh’s Ruby. When the eccentric, bumbling Len gives an unusual and off-putting gift to his somewhat stuck-up wife, Ruby, on their ruby anniversary, we were met with a wonderful, memorable and charming experience. Dan Gordon (Len) and Kate O’Toole (Ruby) give excellent performances as the bickering couple of opposites and bounce off each other perfectly with the clever, witty dialogue and its many twists and turns. However, the film does not miss the chance to be endearing when it comes to the emotional moments of the film, slowing down just enough for us to feel the weight of the couple’s long-standing relationship, as well as the strength keeping them together. Yet what was most surprising about the film was its style, with a beautiful use of cinematography, editing and colour to traverse from the couple’s conversations to their memories of the past. Overall, the film is extremely poignant and charming and it is sure to stick in the memory. 

This leaves us with the final two films of Legacies, Pat, directed by Emma Wall, and Peggy and the Grim by Luke Morgan. Set in 1978, Pat follows the titular music-loving old woman whose only connection with her son in New York is the one phone box in her village. The film bounces from fun and energetic to slow and emotional with astounding ease and the soundtrack of groovy classic rock and roll ballads, along with Pat’s dancing, give the film a real charm. The film is impressively carried by the performances of Rosaline Linehan as Pat and Moe Dunford as her son Conn, who are able to portray the closeness of the mother and son’s relationship despite only speaking to each other through a phone. Meanwhile, Peggy and the Grim ended the reel with a delightfully charming tale of Peggy getting a visit from the Grim Reaper. With a surprising level of wit and light-heartedness, the film leaves one delighted with its fantastic editing, music and cinematography, all done with a delightful simplicity and its final shot gave a perfect and endearing end to Legacies

Overall, Legacies proved to be a fantastic experience that had a wonderful blend of charm, wit, heartbreak and simplicity to carry across very powerful and universal themes, all the while with a distinctly Irish feel. 

 

The Irish Shorts 1:  Legacies programme screened on Sat, 9th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: The Cave

 

Loretta Goff was at the Cork Film Festival to watch The Cave, Irish filmmaker Tom Waller’s recreation of the dramatic cave rescue which successfully extricated members of a junior football team trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand.

 

The Cave tells the story of the international rescue mission of the young Wild Boars soccer team, who were trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand for 18 days in June/July of 2018. Twelve boys, aged 11 to 16 were trapped about 4 km in to the cave with their 25-year-old coach after it became flooded, resulting in a rescue operation that was the first of its kind and was widely publicised across the world.

Irish-Thai Writer-Producer-Director Tom Waller, was quick to act on the story after his interest was piqued by the involvement of County Clare cave diver Jim Warny, which allowed him to focus on not only an Irish connection to the event, but the contributions of several everyday heroes who were involved in the rescue.

In keeping with his focus on the many individuals who contributed selflessly to the rescue, Waller cast several of the real participants as themselves in the film, including Warny. These individuals are placed alongside actors, in a similar vein to Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris (2018). This results in some stilted and unclear moments throughout the film, but it does provide a spotlight for those who were actually involved in the event. Warny’s involvement begins about a third of the way through the film, allowing Waller to jump between Ireland and Thailand, and show the events unfolding from an international perspective.

In addition to the blended cast, the film itself feels like a mix between documentary-style and Hollywood action-style thriller, which doesn’t quite work. It is generally fast-paced, and cuts between several international locations, particularly at the start. This does add a sense of urgency to the rescue operation, but it also makes the narrative feel a bit scattered and underdeveloped in places. On the other hand, there are some moments that are perhaps given too much time, or returned to repeatedly, such as the difficulty bringing in the best water pumps. Though this is an important part of the narrative, its pacing in comparison to the rest of the film felt a bit drawn out.

Ultimately, the film’s pacing and style let it down. It would perhaps have been stronger had it leant more into the vérité style it pursues in places. However, it does achieve what it sets out to do in the sense of highlighting the selfless acts of countless individuals involved in the rescue mission and telling the story from a different perspective. Equally, Waller does a good job reconstructing the event, capturing the scale of the base of operations outside the cave where the rescue operation is planned across several teams, with thousands of individuals taking part. Waller creates an atmosphere of chaos, urgency and exhaustion here that is well-contrasted with the dark and isolated atmosphere inside the cave. 

The film had its Irish premiere at the 64th Cork Film Festival. A large audience was in attendance, along with Waller and Warny, who participated in a Q&A after the screening. Warny, who received a standing ovation, spoke of his involvement in the film and the development of its narrative from conception. He noted his trust in Waller to tell the story accurately and said his own  “aim [was to] show what it felt like” at the cave, reflecting the visceral experience for the viewer—thrown in amongst the rescuers. Waller, meanwhile, noted that one of the big challenges of making the film was “to make it suspenseful when you know the outcome”, because the rescue had been so well-publicised. Discussing the quick turn-around time of the production, which was shot mostly at the end of 2018, quite soon after the actual events, Waller explained that he had to be quick to get the rights to the story and get his unique version out there. Indeed, he noted that the rights to the kids’ story was given to Netflix, who are producing a series on it, meaning that the film that he made can’t be done again, further marking its uniqueness.

 

The Cave screened on Sat, 9th Nov @ the 2019 Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

 

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Review: Marriage Story

DIR/WRI: Noah Baumbach • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Jennifer Lame • DES: Jade Healy • PRO: Noah Baumbach, Leslie Converse, David Heyman • MUS: Randy Newman • CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Merritt Wever, Adam Driver

It’s already well documented that this is much more a divorce story, as writer director Noah Baumbach utilises the dissolution of one relationship to rail against an entire industry set up to profit from marital breakdowns.  Naturally, Noah is far too reserved to actually howl against the very real business of divorce in America but he does steep the entire film in a palpable air of anguish and occasionally anger. Mercifully he doesn’t exclude humour from the mix and it’s that seam that makes the bleak bearable and the characters warm enough to root for. 

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver play an agonisingly hip theatre couple, ostensibly happy in New York, but the fault-lines in their relationship turn into chasms when Scarlet’s character Nicole moves to her hometown of LA to shoot a TV pilot. Divorce proceedings start in a civilised manner with an apparent pact to not lawyer-up and an expressed desire to remain friends during an amiable division where their child is the mutual priority. This film suggests that these good intentions simply curdle in the adversarial culture of American divorce and so it comes to pass – a gradual ramping up results in each side siccing their own legal Rottweilers on the other. The rival attorneys, as depicted deftly by Laura Dern and Ray Liotta, pass as personable, seductively reasonable and even sympathetic to the other side. And yet the creeping drift into costly trench warfare is painfully inevitable. 

I wasn’t personally paying enough, or frankly any attention to Bambauch’s private life prior to seeing this film. So I didn’t know that he has been through a divorce in recent years. Naturally, he must be mining his experiences and collated observations here but he is at pains to be balanced and depict both parties fairly and warmly. Giving each character equal agency and air though can’t dismiss the notion that his sympathies tilt at a discernible point in the direction of Driver’s character Charlie. The theatre director’s initial dazed bemusement gradually slides into utter disdain for the process itself and its complicit practitioners. Even the cuddliest lawyer of the bunch, played with immense grace by Alan Alda, isn’t immune to a tongue-lashing from Charlie who rightly assumes every moment is at his expense. The lawyers’ giddy excitement at where to order lunch literally turns Charlie’s stomach.

Though attracting raves everywhere, the film is often as imperfect as the people it portrays. Like all auteurs with any modicum of autonomy, Baumbach has pushed the running time to patience and bladder testing extremes. At certain points, one might wonder if we are watching this divorce in real time. 136 minutes might not sound long these days but dwell on the fact that it’s a film about a testing, stressful divorce, not a Marvel film with twenty five minutes of credits. 

Equally, however heartfelt and organic the emotions, the film falls into the trap of often mistaking arguments for drama. Spending time in the company of bickering couples is low on everyone’s priority list in real life. Expecting us to seek it out at the cinema seems wildly optimistic from the filmmakers. And finally the film never quite sheds the ambience of the ‘improv space’ as if weeks of character work has been transported in from some black-box rehearsal room without some judicious pruning. And a final warning, Marriage Story joins the pantheon of super awkward first-date movies. Don’t get fooled by the jaunty poster of two beaming movie stars. Anyone wandering in expecting a rom-com may get a rude awakening.

That said, here is a list of some of the film’s many attributes. It’s raw, honest, heartfelt, compassionate, sensitive, tender, touching, witty and charming. Praise be to any film hitting these heights and plumbing these depth simultaneously.  Hats off to all involved. 

James Phelan

136′ 41″
15A (see IFCO for details)

Marriage Story is released 15th November 2019

Marriage Story – Official Website

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Review: Last Christmas

DIR: Paul Feig • WRI: Emma Thompson, Bryony Kimmings • DOP: John Schwartzman • ED: Brent White • DES: Gary Freeman • PRO: Erik Baiers, Sarah Bradshaw, Jessie Henderson, David Livingstone, Emma Thompson • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • CAST: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh

“Last Christmas I gave you my heart…”, inspired by the Wham! classic, the idea for the movie Last Christmas was sprung from these very words. Directed by Paul Feig and based on a story by Emma Thompson and husband Greg Wise, Last Christmas has all the cheesy romance of Love Actually, and the sadness and hope of Collateral Beauty. With the soundtrack filled with the catchy tunes of George Michael and Wham!, the cast made up of well-known and likeable actors (Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, and Michelle Yeoh), and the setting of London at Christmas time, it is very hard not to like Last Christmas. However, the critics seem to be rather ‘bah-humbug’ about the whole affair, with the film receiving 48% on Rotten Tomatoes; and yet audiences, thus far, have given it an 81% rating. Personally, I’m on the side of the audience, but I do have a weakness for romantic movies, and Christmas is my favourite time of year. Let’s be honest, Last Christmas is not one of these ‘powerhouse’ movies that will have people dissecting it for weeks, but it does have a rather poignant insight into the human condition. 

Kate (Clarke), and her family, escaped former Yugoslavia in the late nineties during the Yugoslav wars that led to the breakup of their home country. Having sought refuge in the United Kingdom, Kate’s mother Petra (Thompson) is saddened to feel unwanted and unwelcome in the country they now call home, with the introduction of Brexit. This feeling of being an outsider, a stranger, is one that runs within Kate; after suffering a major illness the Christmas before Kate hasn’t been the person she once was, she is unrecognisable to herself, and to those close to her. Kate is cynical (working in a Christmas shop in Covent Garden all year round would do that to a person), lacking in enthusiasm for anything in her life, and fails to look after herself. However, it is the serendipitous encounter with the charming Tom (Golding) that sparks an awakening within Kate, making her appreciate the second chance she’s been given. Tom shows Kate London as she’s never experienced it before, reminding her to ‘look up’ and admire the simple joys around her, something which most of us do not appreciate in our busy, ‘connected’ lives. Tom shuns technology, spontaneously dances in the street, and randomly pops into Kate’s day; he is everything she is not.

Inserted throughout the film are songs sung by George Michael, including one that has never been heard before, “This is how” (stay for the credits), a song from an album he was working on before his death. While the songs do not always necessarily act as a secondary dialogue to the story unfolding on screen, and sometimes feel randomly placed, I’m not going to complain to having “Freedom” or “Faith” played in a film; it is very hard not to bop in your seat. Some of the songs are used better than others, and some are more recognisable than others, but they add to the joy and sadness of the connection shared between the characters in the movie. 

With the blessing George Michael gave to this film before his death, it adds another layer of poignancy for fans of the singer, and the twist towards the end of the movie will leave you weeping (I defy anyone not to even feel a twinge of sadness). I’ll admit I didn’t see the twist coming, although some critics claim they could see it from a mile off and declared it clunky and outrageous in the extreme, I found it both heartbreaking and uplifting. It was an interesting interpretation of the words of “Last Christmas”, and I really liked how it wasn’t your typical ‘la la la’, rosy in the garden, Christmas movie. It dealt with issues such as mental health, familial divisions, xenophobia, and loss. This approach to the Christmas movie, along with the joy you get from watching Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding together on screen, and the great soundtrack, puts Last Christmas in my list of movies I will watch every single Christmas, alongside Love Actually and Home Alone.  

Shauna Fox

102′ 57″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Last Christmas is released 15th November 2019

Last Christmas – Official Website

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Irish Film Review: ‘Calm with Horses’ @ Toronto International Film Festival 2019 

 

Aoife O’Neill was at the Toronto International Film Festival 2019 and sent us on this review of Nick Rowland’s Calm with Horses.

 

One of a few Irish films that closed Toronto International Film Festival this year is that of Nick Rowland’s Calm with Horses; a film that was adapted by Joe Murtagh from Colin Barrett’s acclaimed collection of short stories. Calm with Horses premiered at the festival alongside an Irish Canadian co-production starring Dakota Fanning called Sweetness in the Belly, (also a book adaptation from Camilla Gibb’s book of the same name), as well as Neasa Hardiman’s film Sea Fever. It is clear that Ireland was definitely represented on the big screen in Toronto this year.

Calm with Horses tells the story of Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong, an ex-boxer, who has been adopted into the deadly Devers family. Used as a muscle man, particularly by Daimhin Devers (Barry Keoghan), he is treated like a lap dog doing the violent bidding for the family and he is also kept on a very short leash. At the centre of the film is the struggle of Arm and where his loyalty lies. Is he loyal to the adopted family that ‘protects’ him or to his actual family that he must protect? At first, the audience is led to believe that Arm should be hated and is a violent thug at heart, but then, as the story unfolds, we see the person behind the brutally-violent actions.

The catalyst of this thriller-crime drama is when Arm must choose to either kill a man for the Devers or provide money for the education of his five year-old autistic son, Jack. The viewer is thrown into the action of the film almost immediately, only discovering the motives behind the actions of the characters as the story reveals itself. The brutality and unyielding wrath of the Dever family illustrates clearly, the fact, that they will stop at nothing to maintain their power in the community, even at the expense of Arm.

Violent from the get go, this film is not for the faint-hearted. After seeing this film with a Canadian audience, it was almost amusing to hear the loud gasps and shock from audience members at the most violent scenes. Not that the violence is amusing but, Canadian audiences, I have found, are very vocal when watching films in the cinema.

With a similar vibe of RTÉ’s Love/Hate, Irish viewers, I think, will enjoy this thriller. Set in  rural Ireland, Calm with Horses puts a spin on the gangland drama usually set in Irish cities. Trained eyes may recognise some of the backdrop of the Irish countryside throughout the drama (filmed in both Galway and Clare).

The slow pace of the film reflects the lifestyle of the characters and the community they inhabit; their simple survival for money and opportunity while wanting a better life. The depiction of rural Irish life is true to form, where the community knows or think they know everything about you. The isolation and judgement one feels is shown particularly well as it affects the character of Ursula, in her desire to escape the judgemental town they live in. Ursula is condemned by the community as they accuse her of giving her son Jack his medical condition.

Despite the brutal violence in the film, the story is juxtaposed with moments of calm as the title suggests. As Arm tries to bond with his son, Jack, it is clear that he has not grasped the concept of Jack’s medical condition and diagnosis, unlike Jack’s mother, Ursula. Played by Niamh Algar, Ursula provides the voice of reason to Arm, trying to release the grasp the Dever family have over him.

Headed by a heavy Irish cast including outstanding performances from Barry Keoghan and Ned Dennehy (Peaky Blinders), as well as American born actor Cosmo Javis (Lady Macbeth) taking the lead role of Arm in the film. Calm with Horses is from the DMC Film production company. The production company, founded by Michael Fassbender and Conor McCaughan, and producer Daniel Emmerson developed the project with Film4 as Nick Rowland’s feature directorial debut.

Most importantly, it was nice to have the opportunity to watch an Irish film in Toronto on the big screen being so far from home. After supporting many different world cinemas throughout the festival, such as Latin America, Spain, France, Japan, India and Africa to name but a few, it was fantastic to get to experience this film with a very packed Canadian audience excited to see Ireland represented on screen.

 

Calm with Horses had its world premiere 8th September 2019 at the Toronto International Film Festival.

‎The Toronto International Film Festival 2019 took place 5–15 September 2019.

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Review: Driven

DIR: Nick Hamm • WRI: Colin Bateman DOP: Karl Walter Lindenlaub • ED: Brett M. Reed • DES: Fernando Carrion • PRO: René Besson, Brad Feinstein, Walter Josten, Luillo Ruiz • MUS: Geronimo Mercado • CAST:  Jason Sudeikis, Lee Pace, Judy Greer, Corey Stoll, Isabel Arraiza, Michael Cudlitz

Complete with its own chaotic backstory (filming in Puerto Rico being was disrupted and delayed by Hurricane Maria), this drama/comedy version of the story behind the sportscar visionary John DeLorean – and the man who brought him down – is now available to watch.

Driven begins with huckster and drug-smuggling pilot Jim Hoffman (Sudeikis) and his family being arrested. Bang to rights, Hoffman later finds himself walking his way into court as the star witness for FBI agent Benedict Tisa (Stoll) in a truly sensational case.

Switching from that court case to moments back in time, we see how Hoffman became an informer for agent Tisa and was told to target Morgan Hetrick (Michael Cudlitz), the brash, mustached drug smuggler that Hoffman swears set him up.

A few years before, Jim and Ellen (Greer) had met their new neighbors, John and Cristina DeLorean (Pace and Arraiza). DeLorean was the charismatic car designer behind the GTO muscle car, and Cristina, his charming, model wife. 

DeLorean had just launched his own, new car – the DMC-12 – and the stainless steel, gull-wing design was a smash. Celebrities lined up to invest, and Jim was drawn into DeLorean’s world as a kind of uneasy confidante/gopher. Ellen is less than convinced however; she thinks the smooth DeLorean is a fraud. 

Sure enough, DeLorean’s new car company starts to fall apart at the seams. Jim realizes it’s happening, but still wants to be part of the hip gang that’s all parties and champagne. Then DeLorean, in need of big cash quick, asks Hoffman for some real help – and it involves Morgan and his white marching powder.

Or does it? As Hoffman is grilled in court while DeLorean stares at him from the defendant’s table, a vital question hangs in the air. Did a desperate DeLorean suggest the scam to save the company and the jobs of the 2000 workers at the Belfast factory, or was it the eager-to-please Hoffman trying to finally be useful to his next-door hero? 

The story of DeLorean and his famous – but short-lived car – has been well-documented elsewhere, and doubtless much artistic license has been taken with what happened in this screenplay.

Billed as a drama/thriller, Driven also has many comic moments – probably due in part to the participation of former “SNL” favorite Sudeikis, who is perhaps rather miscast as the lead here. 

Hoffman was doubtless necessarily a likeable conman, but with Sudeikis’ perpetual wide eyes and twinkly smirks – and a ’70s mustache Hoffman actually didn’t have – it never seems like he’s more than a bit of a hapless jester.

Sudeikis certainly comes a poor second to the excellent Greer in terms of the dramatic moments, and then there’s Pace. With his almost-hypnotic voice and ice cool demeanor, you can see how people might follow him through the flames.

There aren’t really any big stakes for protagonist Hoffman either.  We know what DeLorean has at stake of course, but aside from Tisa’s constant threats of prison and no revenge from the spitting-mad Morgan, what does Hoffman really lose? Even the spitfire Ellen comes back after leaving him for a moment after she learns he’s a lying, long-term informer.

The comic tone sits rather uneasily with this limited drama, and you wonder if going more blackly comic might have made this more engaging. As it is, this is mildly entertaining but largely forgettable, with the emotional moments that Jim and John share seeming forced rather than genuine friendship. 

Who knows if that’s what they had, as Hoffman disappeared into Witness Protection after the trial and DeLorean lived until 2005, his car living on long after people forgot he was a real person (and that the car wasn’t just a time machine created for Back to the Future).

Ironically – and perhaps perfectly – John DeLorean was in fact close to basing his factory in Puerto Rico, not Belfast, before he pulled out of the deal at the last minute. Guess which place offered more cash subsidies?   

Either way, it’s certainly worth pointing out that this movie comes from Northern Irish talent. Director Nick Hamm was born in Belfast, and screenwriter Colin Bateman is from Bangor in County Down, some seven miles away. 

Driven also had a prime spot closing last year’s Venice Film Festival, but seemed to be clinging on to the coat-tails of the superior Alec Baldwin-starring Framing John DeLorean, which came out earlier this year.

It’s a pity that the extraordinary DeLorean story hasn’t made a really effective transition to the silver screen yet, though the rumored George Clooney project might well blow it all out of the water. 

DeLorean would certainly have appreciated being played by a genuine star. 

 James Bartlett

148′ 
R

Driven is available on Amazon Prime 1st November 2019.

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Review: Doctor Sleep

DIR/WRI: Mike Flanagan • DOP: Michael Fimognari • ED: Mike Flanagan • DES: Maher Ahmad, Patricio M. Farrell• PRO: Jon Berg, Trevor Macy • MUS: The Newton Brothers • CAST: Rebecca Ferguson, Ewan McGregor, Jacob Tremblay, Kyliegh Curran

 

Almost forty years have passed since the infamous events in the Overlook Hotel occurred and the Torrance family were tormented in Stephen King’s The Shining.  This iconic psychological-horror was adapted to the big screen by Stanley Kubrick in 1980 and was notoriously disliked by King. Doctor Sleep acts as a sequel and follows Danny Torrance, played by Ewan McGregor, dealing with the post-traumatic effects of that harrowing night in Colorado. 

The audience is reintroduced to the gifted Danny, where The Shining left off, as a little boy with his mother, Wendy. Danny, still plagued by the ghosts of his past, is taught how to hone his Shine abilities by the apparition of his old mentor and friend Dick Hallorann. This nostalgically eases the viewer into the new storyline as we are brought back to the now grown-up Danny, dealing with a drinking problem, and searching for solace in a small town in New Hampshire.

During this time we are introduced to both the young heroine of the story Abra Stone, played by Kyliegh Curran, and the villainous Rose the Hat, played by Rebecca Ferguson. Both these characters and Dan become inextricably linked as the plot unfolds and Dan must face his past in order to protect Abra. 

Both director and writer Mike Flanagan not only had the task of establishing this film within the repertoire of cinematic classics adapted from King’s works, but also to follow the act of  Stanley Kubrick. In this regard, Flanagan produced a film that was not only its own enjoyable and independent narrative, but also fleshes out and brings light to the mysterious King universe in which The Shining  resides; and answers forty-year old questions. The shining ability conveyed in Kubrick’s original was always secondary to the psychological terror, however Doctor Sleep focuses heavily on these ethereal gifts of the main characters, while staying true to the stylistic horror of its predecessor.

Flanagan meticulously recreates renowned longshots of lonesome cars driving through the night and reintroduces the ominous score by the Newton Brothers. The film also demonstrates the marvel of what CGI and camera magic can do, when characters on-screen in 1980 appear as they were decades later in 2019.

This being said, whilst Flanagan has filled every nook and cranny with a nostalgic reference, Doctor Sleep by no means piggybacks off of the success of The Shining. Ewan McGregor, as likeable as ever, brilliantly carries on the Torrence story, but acts as a great accompaniment to the new story of Rose the Hat and Abra Stone. Rose the Hat brings the terror to this story as a leader of an occult group of child killers. Searching for children who project similar shine abilities to Dan. This leads to scenes of an extremely violent nature featuring some promising child actors such as Violet McGraw (The Haunting of Hill House) and Jacob Tremblay (Room). Although Tremblay has a brief scene, his capabilities shine through in his participation in one of the more gruesome showings of gore and terror to date. This unfortunately undermines the performance of Kyleigh Curran as the leading girl, who becomes of less interest as the plot comes to a conclusion.

The film does unfortunately start in a rather staccato manner jumping between storylines and toward the end loses traction as the pace of the film quickens quite abruptly. This leads the film to prioritise Danny and his past over Abra and Rose, who become secondary characters in the final act of the film.  Other elements conspire to break the reality, such as Rebecca Ferguson’s rather peculiar Irish accent breaking through in certain scenes, estranged from her cross-atlantic Hollywood voice the viewer knows from the start of the film.

Overall, Doctor Sleep is not only a respectable sequel to a classic but is a great movie in its own right. Not for the faint-hearted, this film is one for fans showing Mike Flanagan’s appreciation for what the cult following of The Shining needed whilst also creating a unique and atmospheric horror to hold its own within the genre.

 

Tiernan Allen

150′ 48″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Doctor Sleep is released 31st October 2019

Doctor Sleep – Official Website

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Review: Western Stars

 

DIR: Bruce Springsteen, Thom Zimmy

Following the Emmy award-winning success of ‘Springsteen on Broadway’ the duo of Thom Zimmy and Bruce Springsteen set off on their next project to create the film Western Stars. The Boss, now 70 years of age, decided not to tour his recent 13-song album of the same name as the concert film, but instead to explore through a cinematic lens the inner workings and inspirations that went on behind the scenes in producing the music of  ‘Western Stars’.

The film is set from within Springsteen’s 100-year-old horse barn, turned concert hall, on his and his wife Patti Scialfa’s ranch in New Jersey. The barn itself acts as a spiritual Mecca of inspiration to Springsteen, creating a setting that exudes authenticity. Followed by the meticulous lighting surrounding the exclusively selected patrons of the concert, Joe DeSalvo. the cinematographer and the cameramen, maintains the aura of an intimate venue where the viewer almost feels the need to clap along with the audience as Springsteen transitions from song to song.

Accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra and Scialfa on stage, Springsteen chronologically performs the album and creates this marvellous dichotomy between the eloquence of the orchestral strings and the rustic acoustics of his classic sound. Each song is followed by an interlude in which Springsteen shares his personal memoirs and archival footage from his own life, all in explanation surrounding the song at hand and the reasoning behind it. This formula unfolds for all 13 songs up until the finale where Springsteen indulges both the physical and cinematic audience with an all-time classic.

Thom Zimmy’s directional approach preaches simplicity, which complements the film enormously and reaffirms the purpose in giving this intimate concert to the world through film. The performance and progression of the film is paced like a symphony and Springsteen’s original score takes us subtly from one song to another behind his explanatory monologue. However, the manufactured footage shot for these intermissions between songs, at times, comes across as cliched and repetitive. Such as, the hero shot of Springsteen walking a horse down a stable or driving aimlessly into the sunset in his El Camino. These shots are usually narrated over with rather pious philosophical insights that Springsteen has seemingly come to in his older age. Although these qualities are redeemed in a sense by the nostalgic family footage shared with the audience, giving a greater sense of both Bruce and Patti’s relationship and the events and emotions that predetermined the eventual composing of ‘Western Stars’.

Another disappointing feature Zimmy and Springsteen fail to capture is the raw unadulterated Springsteen and his interactions with the audience and the crew. The film portrays the concert in such a coordinated way that instead of feeling like a member of the audience watching Springsteen live, the viewer is very aware of the fact that they are watching an edited version of Bruce’s performance. 

Overall, through Springsteen’s ode to past lovers and metaphorical stuntmen, the complexities of this album are illustrated beautifully through both the stylistic approach Zimmy takes in directing this film and the level of insight Springsteen grants the audience into his life and emotions that inspired this work.

In the end the film Western Stars comes across as less of an old cowboy’s endeavour into lowbrow philosophical preachings, as it does a homage to the life he led and the love he felt that allowed for this album to come to fruition. A captivating musical experience brought to the screen that expresses both the nature of Bruce Springsteen and the meaning behind his album ‘Western Stars’.

Tiernan Allen

 

82′ 58″
G (see IFCO for details)

Western Stars is released 28th October 2019

Western Stars – Official Website

 

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