Review: Diego Maradona

DIR: Asif Kapadia 

“Football is a game of deceit” –  Diego Maradona

A dancer, a chancer, a renegade romancer, whether it was on the field or in the streets, Diego Maradona zigged and zagged through opposition, pulling the wool over our eyes and the ball from under their noses. In a career built upon a catalogue of bluffs and outrageous talent, his stardom stretched beyond the pitch, converting stadiums into cathedrals brimming with the hymns of “Olé, Olé, Olé”. Though chaos trailed him with every dizzying run, tackles sliding in from tabloids and addiction nipping at his heels, the iconic number 10 sidestepped a doomed fate, surviving to tell the tale long after the final whistle blew.

The ultimate trickster, cheating death is what separates Maradona from Asif Kapadia’s previous subjects in Amy (2015) and Senna (2010). The director’s interest, however, is in what these gifted people had in common, and what emerges is an intimate triptych exploring the burdens of god-given genius.

Nowhere is this theme more starkly apparent than in the film’s immersive opening scenes: following his record-breaking transfer from FC Barcelona, a convoy of squealing Fiats drags us through the bursting streets of Naples, down into a feverishly packed Stadio San Paolo for Maradona’s unveiling. It’s a suffocating introduction that would look a riot if taken out of context but instead we’re left feeling the trappings of talent closing in around us.

Like with his previous aforementioned documentaries, here Kapadia employs his trademark mosaic method in turning the screen into a palette of archival snippets. From cheesy late night chat show clips to fuzzy home videos, the audience sift through mounds of memory in order to salvage the hidden truths buried beneath. It’s an intoxicating formula which has yet to lose its appeal and with it we sense a keen interplay between subject and form, where the clattering of spliced imagery echo the giddy erraticism of the two-footed wunderkind.

It comes as a slight disappointment then that the story we carve out struggles to find any refreshing insight into the myth of Maradona, preferring instead to stick to well trodden narratives of the ‘tortured genius’. The film leans heavily on the internal conflict between ‘Diego’, the humble boy from the slums and ‘Maradona’, the self-destructive demigod. For a figure globally renowned for his daring instincts on the pitch, Diego Maradona (2019) feels content with cautiously playing the ball out from the back.

Kapadia’s astuteness is rather how he shuffles recorded memories while still managing to evoke an overpowering sense of time and place. By focusing on the star’s turbulent Napoli years and allowing flashbacks to slip in naturally, we forego the stale rhythms of the ‘cradle to grave’ approach while still engaging with the crucial context surrounding the story. A big part of that backdrop is the question of national identity, something Kapadia touched on with Senna. Here it’s foregrounded, political, social, and consistently compelling.  

A life spent on the run inevitably takes its toll. In its final moments, the film reaches a sombre conclusion in weighing up the heavy price of greatness – no doubt encouraging some viewers to roll their eyes considering Maradona’s recent conduct. A saint and a sinner, the man has made a career from polarising opinion. They say every good story needs a hero and a villain, Maradona played both. However, it’s Kapadia, in an earnest attempt to dig beneath tabloid tattle, who finds the boy caught in the middle.

Brian Quinn

129 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Maradona is released 14th June 2019

 

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Review: Late Night

DIR: Nisha Ganatra • WRI: Mindy Kaling Music: Lesley Barber • DOP: Matthew Clark • ED: Eleanor Infante • PRO : Ben Browning, Jessie Henderson, Mindy Kaling, Howard Klein  • CAST: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Ike Barinholtz, Hugh Dancy

Late Night, written and produced by Mindy Kaling achieves something not many films do – it discusses pertinent cultural issues yet is underlined with the uplifting positivity of a romantic comedy. The film, which stars Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, can be viewed as a conversation opener. It paves the way for subjects such as gender and race to come to the fore. It’s worth celebrating that these topics are raised and also handled with a degree of insight and transparency – and not forgetting a healthy dose of clever humour.

Structurally this film contains many recognisable romantic comedy aspects; it contains heaps of self-realisation and roadblocks that are overcome with dramatic flair. However, one crucial element of the romantic comedy is muted and replaced with a new focus – it showcases women that are pursuing their careers rather than an irresistibly charming man. Both Thompson and Kaling shine in their roles; Thompson as revered comedy talk show host Katherine Newbury and Kaling as Molly – the naïve, overly enthusiastic yet charming new comedy writer on Newbury’s talk show writing team. As the jaded romantic narrative is omitted in this film it highlights instead two women overcoming the various obstacles that they face in the world of TV. The plot centres on Katherine Newbury scrabbling to carry on as the host of her talk show aided by Molly’s interventions and ideas.

As the title of this film would suggest, it explores the present state of talk-shows and where their popularity falls within the ever-changing landscape of the media. In terms of entertainment this film questions both what do people want to hear and who do they want to hear it from. The film commences with the self-possessed, sophisticated and undeniably smart, talk-show host Katherine Newbury accepting what we are soon to learn is just one of the many awards she has won throughout her career. This beginning is a stark contrast with what follows – the long concealed news that her show’s numbers have been dropping for years and her position and power are shaky.

With her show slipping away, Katherine must entirely re-question her style if she is to compete in the fast-paced, short-attention-spanned world of today’s social media and Youtube culture. The film reveals that media is changing – Katherine’s experience, intellect and sharp wit have been replaced with seemingly mindless teens and videos of online animals. Despite her awards and success, the film takes a realistic stand point in highlighting that she must incorporate popular tastes, gags and internet celebrities in order to keep her viewers engaged. This film does not shy away from revealing the decline in popularity for shows such as Katherine’s and effectively depicts dog-Youtubers and teenage vampire actresses as the silly yet scary threats to the legacy she has built. It calls into question media as we know it and begs the question if talk shows can remain relevant in modern society and if so how.  

While Emma Thompson excellently embodies the infamous Katherine Newbury, Kaling’s performance as Molly is equally engaging and culturally relevant. While it is made clear in this film what kind of content is now necessary to keep audience’s attention the film also shows who we are now interested in – what voices in society need to be heard. Katherine hires Molly not based on her experience but rather because she needs to fill a hole in her comedy writing team – a woman. The film takes issues of race and background head on, with it being revealed to Molly that she’s not there on merit but rather as a “diversity hire”. It is clear that the world of this office is one of the white, seemingly privileged male and Molly is only there to make sure a different voice is represented on this team. The inherent acceptance that Molly, based on her Indian heritage and female gender, is not welcome in the writer’s room is reflected when the other male writers presume she is an office administrator rather than a writer. Molly’s initial earnestness to succeed is quickly crushed by her peers. Although in rom-com fashion she does overcome these challenges, her experiences highlight successfully how far she must go to be accepted in this role on the basis of her race and gender.

As this comedy focuses on women who are committed to their careers, this provides an insight to the trials women must face to be accepted in their roles and stay relevant and on top of their game. While Katherine Newbury is represented as legendary within the world of comedy her position is still threatened by the next unimaginative and vaguely sexist young male comedian that comes along. The ratio of men to women in the writers group is 7:1 meaning that in this world only a certain portion of voices and opinions are being heard. For example, Katherine Newbury chooses to shy away from women’s issues which aren’t often discussed such as menopause and contraceptive choices. The world of TV painted in this film shows one where even a powerful woman, regarded as being accomplished, still needs to fight to retain her position.

Overall Late Night is an extremely enjoyable watch with serious subjects raised but with a smart joke around every corner. It courageously says what might not always be said and to that effect it raises questions that need to be asked and changes that need to be made. Emma Thompson encapsulates the star that gets a reality check and fights to the end to remain the star that she is- all whilst showcasing a dazzling collection of power suits. Mindy Kaling has written an excellent film which illustrates the difficulties which can be in a working gal’s way and shows us how to overcome them with equal doses of strength and comedy.

Irene Falvey

101 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Late Night  is released 7th June 2019

Late Night  – Official Website


 

 

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Irish Film Review: Papi Chulo

DIR/WRI John Butler • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: John O’Connor • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DES: Susannah Honey • MUS: John McPhillips • CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez

John Butler, director of Handsome Devil (2016) and The Stag (2013), has proven his ability to explore the poignancy, volatility, and ultimate realness of human connections in his films. Papi Chulo, starring Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño, is certainly no exception. The film follows Sean (Bomer), a TV weatherman who finds himself struggling with loneliness and isolation in the sweltering urban landscape of Los Angeles. In an effort to combat this loneliness, Sean hires migrant worker Ernesto (Patiño), under the guise of requiring his labor, but it becomes apparent very quickly that Sean is not looking for an employee so much as he is looking for a friend.

The two certainly make an unlikely pair. Sean is young, white, gay, and apparently wealthy. Ernesto is middle-aged, Mexican, married with a wife and children, and doing everything he can to make ends meet. Through these characters, human differences and their ultimate limitations becomes one of the film’s main points of exploration. Sean and Ernesto clearly have very little in common, and their relationship is even more strained by the distinct language barrier between them. However, the two men manage to find ways around it, and the film reveals through its progression that what is truly important is the act of communication itself, the connection that forms between two people simply from being heard and acknowledged.

Barriers between people undoubtedly exist; barriers of race, class, age, and language. Butler skillfully demonstrates these barriers not only through the characters’ dialogue, but also through a clever motif of glass doors and windows. An early scene in the film, for instance, has Sean taking refuge behind the window of his car door in an effort to avoid a conversation with his coworker Susan (D’Arcy Carden). This motif also serves to initially separate Sean and Ernesto, as Sean is frequently shown viewing the older man through his car window or the glass door of his deck. These separations create tensions between characters, which in turn create opportunities for the film’s wry sense of humor. Butler perfectly captures the universal human experience of awkwardness, whether it comes from stretches of silence between two characters that lasts just a little too long for comfort, or from a character trying, and failing, to keep his composure under the scrutiny of his peers.

Papi Chulo is ultimately a film about human connections, about the shared experiences of loneliness, loss, and unlikely friendships. It is brilliantly acted, with wonderfully astute and down-to-earth performances by Bomer and Patiño, backed by Wendi McLendon-Covey, D’Arcy Carden, and Elena Campbell-Martinez. The urban setting of Los Angeles is particularly well-suited to the narrative, as Sean and Ernesto form an unlikely friendship in a city where genuine human connections can prove shallow more often than not, and where time can seem to stand still under an always-shining sun.

 Dakota Heveron

98 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Papi Chulo is released 7th June 2019

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Review: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

DIR: Simon Kinberg • WRI:John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Simon Kinberg DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: Lee Smith • PRO: Todd Hallowell, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner • DES: Claude Paré • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez

It never bodes well when a film gets a press screening the day before it is to be unleashed on the public, being optimistic I thought maybe it’s some kind of bluff. Then I saw the rest of my press-screening invite telling me that all comments and reviews were embargoed until 7am on the day of the film’s unleashing. A double bluff, I optimistically thought.  No such luck I’m afraid.

Dark Phoenix arrives with less than a whimper; the much delayed and rumoured-to-be-a troubled production, fails on nearly all fronts as a piece of glossy summer entertainment. With the best of goodwill from the most ardent fan it might work but for everyone else it is going to be a proverbial damp squib.

The plot concerns itself with the justly famous Dark Phoenix saga presented in the pages of X-Men back in the seventies, courtesy of comic legends Chris Claremont and John Byrne in the days before Watchmen came along and inadvertently turned things upside down. The only similarity between this film and its source material is Jean Gray’s struggle with a newfound omnipotent power and rival aliens fighting for said power.  All the original space-opera glory of the comic book only gets a brief nod when the X-Men go into space (not outer jut the bit outside the ozone layer), to save some astronauts from the space anomaly that is going to be the source of Jean’s and everyone else’s woes.

Set in 1992 to no good effect whatsoever, Charles Xavier’s X-people are media darlings and on the presidential hotline and yes, it does involve a bat phone type scenario, albeit without the humour; humour is very thin on the ground and when attempted falls squarely on its arse. Charles Xavier is seen to be losing the run of himself, a man verging on the pompous and thinking he knows better than everyone else using his protégés as his propaganda machine to maintain the love for mutant kind. The emotional heart of the story concerns Xavier doing what he thinks is best for Jean without concern for his right to do so when he suppresses a bad memory or two.  One anomaly later and Jean is all powerful and losing the run of herself, meanwhile aliens have come to earth to gain the said power – you get the picture.

The bulk of the story sits on Jean’s shoulders relegating everyone else to perfunctory supporting roles and character development that would be shameful in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The whole thing is remnant of a seventies television show that knows it has a good formula that doesn’t need changing; that is until it does. The set pieces offer very little excitement or originality, except for the first scene in space, elsewhere it is a strong feeling of déjà vu featuring telepathic battles, upturned cars, an attack on a train and my favourite, trying to cross the road… not a word of a lie.

So many lost opportunities are apparent watching the hamster-wheel mentality unfold. The cinema sins on show are so obvious it seems surprising that no one saw any of the issues with the story at a much earlier stage. At the helm of this trainwreck – that also features a trainwreck – is writer, director Simon Kinberg,  a man who has been part of the franchises lesser works including co-writer on X-Men: Last Stand, the original attempt at adapting the Dark Phoenix storyline, the mind boggles.

Paul Farren

113 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
X-Men: Dark Phoenix is released 5th June 2019

X-Men: Dark Phoenix – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

DIR: Michael Dougherty • WRI Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields • DOP: Lawrence Sher • ED: Roger Barton, Bob Ducsay, Richard Pearson • PRO: Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull • DES: Katie Byron • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: Millie Bobby Brown, Lexi Rabe, Sally Hawkins

Warner brothers Monsterverse franchise is back in full swing with their third entry and second Godzilla movie, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Things are heating up for the big bout expected next year: Godzilla Versus Kong.

Picking up from the end of Godzilla, in an oddly similar vein to Justice League, we find Monarch scientists (that secret group that have been monster-watching all this time), Emma, Mark and their daughter Madison searching the rubble of San Francisco for their lost son, Andrew, as Godzilla prepares for his final encounter with the rival monsters from that film.

Five years later,  daughter and mother are in Brazil where Emma is continuing her work with Monarch. Mark has retired, after finding it hard to work for an organisation that has involvement with the large creature that inadvertently killed his son. Emma is on the cusp of a breakthrough in communicating with the creatures thanks to a device known as Orca and, would you believe it, only one of these devices exists.

Enter Captain Jonah, an  eco-terrorist psychopath and his motley crew, just as Emma is putting the Orca device to good use on Mothra who has just emerged from her cocoon. One carnage of Monarch personnel, kidnapping and trip to yet another Monarch base in Antarctica and things are looking bad for humankind. The eco-terrorists plan is to awaken Titans (posh scientific term for monsters) all over the world in the name of saving the planet, give or take a few billion people I’m guessing. Things get out of hand, I kid you not, the idea of setting Titans loose wasn’t a bad idea to the perpetrators until Ghidorah, three-headed rival to the big G is let loose as part of this well thought-out master plan. It turns out Ghidorah ain’t from around here and has titanic plans of his own.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters has one of the most bonkers premises I’ve seen in a while. The slaughter-filled plan to save the planet is up there with the most abominable plans of past dictators give or take a titan or two. But because of this bonkers premise rather than despite it, the film flies along with its sincere bonkerness in the best possible way.

The actors do their best despite getting landed with the most God(zilla)-awful dialogue and spending most of the time having terrible ensemble chats, jammed to the cloisters with exposition and on-the-money plot information. At least some of them seem to know they are in a monster movie, which adds to the fun. Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe reprise their roles from the first film as well-meaning Monarch scientists. Ken fares the best of the two and finally gets to be up close and personal with Godzilla. Poor Sally does not fare as well. Hero duties fall mostly to Kyle Chandler who many will remember from Peter Jackson’s King Kong – pure coincidence I’m sure that he is back fighting monsters and looks to be around when Kong returns next year. Millie Bobby Brown fares well as Madison, the conflicted daughter of Emma and Mark. Underused and coming out the best of all is Charles Dance as Captain Jonah Alan, who  gets to be the real beast of the film; when not slaughtering innocents he pontificates about what terrible creatures humans are.

Despite the bonkers premise and stilted human moments, Godzilla is a blast. If like me you love a good old monster-bashing, city-trashing piece of action, then your in for a treat. The film does not let up once the action starts, the filmmakers have certainly taken the time to understand the kaiju gold mine they are excavating. It feels like a genuine nod to sixties and seventies Godzilla and is filled with easter eggs for die hard fans … I’m sure there must be others out there. But of course this is not going to get in the way of those who are just discovering kaiju in the last five years. The only possible danger with all these extra monsters is that it seems like too much of a good thing. Where can they go with the upcoming Godzilla, Kong bout when there are all these other titans vying for our attention…

Godzilla vs Jurassic Park anyone?

Paul Farren

131 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is released 31st May 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters– Official Website

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Review: Booksmart

DIR: Olivia Wilde • WRI Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman • DOP: Jason McCormick • ED: Jamie Gross • PRO: Chelsea Barnard, David Distenfeld, Jessica Elbaum, Megan Ellison Katie Silberman • DES: Katie Byron • MUS: Dan Nakamura • CAST: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis

What can one hope for from a female coming-of-age comedy 2019? I for one went into Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart hoping that it would be this year’s Blockers (which was, in turn, the previous year’s Bad Neighbours 2). And reader, it did not disappoint.

Following the fortunes of two model students on their final day of high school, Amy (Kaitlyn Deever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have avoided parties and general tomfoolery in favour of study and intellectual rigour throughout their school careers to ensure success later in life. This backfires when they discover that the rest of their graduating class has also been accepted to Harvard and Yale. Looking to make up for lost time, the two girls set off on an odyssey of graduation parties. Yes, it is in many ways the female version of Superbad. And while in one way it’s sad that we have had to wait over a decade for such a film to appear, it’s perhaps also a very good thing that no one attempted a female version of Superbad ten years ago.

While it’s undeniably satisfying to see new films flipping the script on the assumptions Hollywood has made about American high school since the ’80s, the film does occasionally overplay its hand. Almost every character turns out to be something they’re not, which at times can be exhausting, particularly for characters that had barely any screen time in the first place. However, this isn’t to take away from the impressive supporting cast and the good intentions behind it all: it’s nice to see a diverse array of high school characters wherein everyone is treated as an individual, and long may the dismantling of the Hollywood hierarchy continue.

And for many reasons, Booksmart feels worth the wait, bringing together as it does two fantastic leads who have deserved more screen time for quite a while now: Kaitlyn Deever managed to be a kick-ass kid in television’s adult-focused Justified while Beanie Feldstein was the infinitely likeable best friend in Lady Bird (and should have been the focus of the movie, in this reviewer’s humble opinion). Together they bring a wonderful combined energy to the film, with lots of the comedy coming from their offbeat exchanges. Despite seeing each other daily, they take plenty of time to send each other constant encouragement, which is as sweet as it is bizarre. As a spiritual sequel to Blockers it also follows in that film’s progressive steps: Amy is out and, aside from her Christian parents (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte) who are stepping over themselves to demonstrate their acceptance of their daughter, her sexuality doesn’t raise any eyebrows.  And indeed, if Molly fails to understand the nuances of her best friend’s sexuality at times, it’s her own misunderstanding of female sexuality that is the butt of the joke. “I have a secret for you.” she tells Amy: “I once tried to masturbate with an electric toothbrush, but I got a horrible UTI.”

Hopefully we will see more directing from Wilde and her all-female writing team, as they have succeeded in creating a laugh-out-loud comedy which explores the nuances of female friendship and permits its characters to make mistakes. Booksmart graduates with top marks (but doesn’t forget to have fun along the way).

Sarah Cullen

102 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Booksmart is released 27th May 2019

Booksmart – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: High Life

DIR: Claire Denis WRI: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox PRO: Laurence Clerc, Oliver Dungey, Christoph Friedel, D.J. Gugenheim, Andrew Lauren, Klaudia Smieja, Claudia Steffen, Olivier Thery Lapiney• DOP: Yorick La Seux, Tomasz Naumiuk   Ed: Guy Lecorne CAST: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, Mia Goth, Agata Buzek.

 

Monte (Pattinson) is the lone passenger, along with his infant daughter, aboard a spaceship headed towards a black hole. Through flashbacks we see what brought this about: how he and a group of other death-row convicts were put on this suicide mission, dressed up as a shot at redemption. We find out what became of his former colleagues aboard the ship including the authoritative Dibs (Binoche), a fellow death-row convict, who also happened to be a doctor and who was intent on carrying out various sexual experiments on those on board.

The inimitable Claire Denis returns to our screens with this, her English-language debut. Any fears that a bigger budget and name cast would see Denis attempt something more mainstream are quickly dispelled in this elliptical, hypnotic and provocative picture. This being a seriously minded, contemplative science fiction film by an auteur director, it is inevitable that there will be some comparisons drawn to 2001, Solaris and Stalker. Some of the film’s body-horror elements also vaguely call to mind Cronenberg. However, while there are some nods to those, particularly some visual homages to the latter Tarkovsky film, this is a highly distinctive piece with a singular, pungent ambience and one that doesn’t play by anybody else’s rules. The structure of the film is often quite radical, the form deeply tactile.

In terms of Denis’ other films, the one it most resembles is Trouble Every Day. While this is Denis doing a sci-fi film, that was her riff on horror and the vampire sub-genre specifically. Similar to that film, Denis here doesn’t shy away from explicit depictions of sex and violence. Denis has no sense of middle-brow prudishness about her, a large reason why Trouble Every Day and her insidious, disturbing 2013 film Bastards got such hostile reviews from many critics. The often visceral imagery on show here, to go along with a plethora of bodily fluids, works in stark contrast to the tenderness depicted between Monte and his daughter, while also forcing us to confront humans animalistic nature and how this contrasts with our great accomplishments in the advancement of technology, not in a tasteful manner, but with blunt clarity.

This is a film that is rich in theme and texture, where contrasts and contradictions abound. The film lends itself to a vast array of interpretations, with the picture working as a series of snapshots from which the viewer can piece together their interpretation. At times the film seems like it’s a vicious, filthy satire of societal norms, other times it suggests it may be a Christian allegory. One can also just simply submerge themselves in the utterly tangible world of the film. Denis utilises Le Saux’s cinematography, Lecornu’s editing, and her regular collaborator Stuart A. Staple’s terrific score to create a trance-inducing spectacle. The film flits between the long corridors aboard the evocatively simple spaceship to darkly nostalgic 16mm flashbacks of her characters’ pre-space, past to extraordinarily odd and original scenes of eroticism, to scenes of harrowing brutality, to scenes of serene beauty. All the while, Denis exhibits a mastery of tone amidst a vast swathe of ideas, both formal and thematic.

The cast are all uniformly excellent. Goth carries on her recent string of strong supporting turns, while Benjamin brings a low-key warmth to his character. Binoche exhibits her typical charisma, throwing in a splash of dangerous malevolence for good measure. However, the standout out here is, of course, the reliably excellent Pattinson who spends much of the film on-screen on his own or acting opposite his character’s infant daughter. It’s a subtle, magnetic performance – the type that has become his trademark.

This is a wholly uncompromising, deeply evocative and highly intelligent piece of work.

David Prendeville

 

112 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
High Life is released 10th May 2019

 

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Irish Film Review: Float Like a Butterfly 

DIR/WRI: Carmel Winters • DOP: Michael Lavelle • ED: Julian Ulrichs • PRO: David Collins, Martina Niland • CAST: Hazel Doupe, Dara Devaney, Johnny Collins

Frances is a girl with aspirations larger than her family, and a temper hotter than the fires that they warm themselves around in the evenings, entertaining each other by singing haunting renditions of traditional Irish songs. Her universe is small, contained, and safe, until one fateful afternoon when local law enforcement delivers a sharp uppercut to her childhood, shaking Frances’ life to the core.

Written and directed by Carmel Winters (Snap, 2011), Float Like a Butterfly packs a punch with an emotional sting more potent than a killer bee. Set in 1960’s Ireland, Frances is just about the most unlikely protagonist imaginable, being at a societal disadvantage as a woman, let alone a young traveller woman. Gender roles are entirely inflexible, and the worst insult given to young men is “Don’t be acting like a girl”, forcing them to fight their way through life, as well as to recognise women as the inferior sex, therefore breeding toxic masculinity into the fibers of their community.

Struggling to establish her domain in this world that already has pre-established domesticated plans for her, Frances finds a kindred spirit in the stories of Mohammed Ali, as her father Michael would wax lyrical about him before his incarceration.  Emulating Ali, she knows that she’s the greatest, even before she actually is. Unfortunately, her father returns home from prison a changed man. He no longer shows her how to box, and teaches her little brother that it’s not tolerable for women to hit, but instead acceptable for them to be on the receiving end of a punch. But Frances has an indomitable spirit in comparison to the layabouts that live in the village and the drunks in her family, one that only a beating from a husband will tame. And with this reason in mind, Michael takes her and her younger brother, Patrick, on the road, but as their travels progress and she leaves the relative safety of her extended family behind, her world becomes desaturated, a shadow of its former vibrancy.

Hazel Doupe shines in her performance as Frances. Her steely blue gaze, laden with emotional narrative is accompanied by Dara Devaney’s portrayal of Michael Joyce. With a brash charm that wears thinner with the correlation of whiskey sunk down the hatch; he’s conflicted between admiration for Frances, and the inverse positions of authority established in his absence between his children, one which he often chooses to resolve with a quick hand and a sharp word. The music and score are evocative, joyful, and empowering; female dominated in both presence and lyrics, and the haunting lilt of the tin instruments is synonymous with both Ireland and its travelling community.

Float Like a Butterfly has a rare fervour, whereby it emotes both gut-wrenching sadness and a fighting spirit in one fell swoop. She’s about to choose the path not taken, but “there’s no wrong way when you’re on the right road.” Even if Frances wins this round, the fight is still far from over. Her boxing ring is one of sand, and pride is the prize.

Jemma Strain

www.ruledlines.com

100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Float Like a Butterfly is released 10th May 2019

 

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Another Look at ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’

Tom Crowley takes an alternative look at Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.

 

The true-crime genre has exploded into the public conscious. Its ascension is almost directly parallel to the phenomenon that is Netflix. The more people click on these programmes, the more will be produced and usually with quantity, quality takes a hit. Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger has made a career out of true crime. His masterpiece being 1996’s chilling Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, which he directed with long-time collaborator Bruce Sinofsky, now deceased. The style of that documentary formed the basis for the wildly popular Making a Murder (2015), produced by Netflix for the masses hungry to binge watch injustices. Berlinger himself has made a true crime documentary for Netflix, the four-part Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019), which is one of the better entries into the already saturated true-crime canon.

Berlinger’s latest narrative film has the same psychopathic subject at its centre, Ted Bundy, who, before his death by electric chair, confessed to over 30 murders, including that of a 12-year-old girl. In Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a title about as glib as the film’s subject, Bundy, played by Zac Efron, gets close-ups to a groovy 1970’s soundtrack. Promotions for the film purport it as being told from the perspective of his long-time girlfriend Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) and that its adapted from her book ‘The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy’.  In fact Liz Kendall gets very little character development, resigned to being goo-eyed when Bundy is wooing her and crying, drinking and neglecting her daughter when Bundy is standing trial. Outside of this we don’t get to know who Kendall is, this is clearly Bundy’s film. He, even above Efron, is the star.

Before readers get disillusioned with the bashing of what has now become a beloved genre, there has been some fabulous and intriguing films about serial killers, from John Naughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), to David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), to more recently Marc Meyers’s My Friend Dahmer (2017) and Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built (2018). Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is just not one of them. The film treats Bundy like a rock star, its structure more akin to a music biopic, and a bad one at that. Berlinger’s film achieves nothing beyond his own Netflix documentary. He strangely leaves out what could have been fictionalised and decides to reconstruct already documented video tapes with Zac Efron. How did Bundy survive on his own for days in the Colorado Mountains? What were the intricacies of his second prison escape? Berlinger is happy to walk over trodden ground. There is an actual interview with Bundy, which acts as a type of epilogue for the film. It ruins Efron’s performance. It is a good embodiment from Efron, in his first real stab at serious acting, he is full of charm, which is said to be one of Bundy’s key tools in his murderous arsenal. However, his eyes are too soft, he never captured the complete mania which exuded from the man.

The title card at the beginning of the film reads ‘Few people have the imagination for reality’.  Berlinger is one of those people, it is fiction he has the problem with.

 

Reda Andrew Carroll’s take here:

Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

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Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

DIR: Joe Berlinger • WRI: Michael Werwie • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Josh Schaeffer • PRO: Joe Berlinger, Nicolas Chartier, Michael Costigan, Ara Keshishian, Michael Simkin • DES: Brandon Tonner-Connolly • MUS: Marco Beltrami, Dennis Smith • CAST: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Angela Sarafyan

 

The ability to kill someone is something that should not be easy or even enjoyable and yet serial killers are subjects of intense obsession for many. David Fincher’s masterpiece Zodiac ran with the tagline “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer” and a dozen years later it seems Joe Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is the inheritor to this phrase. The new phase of the serial killer film is here; one in which filmmakers examine the impact on the victims rather than the violent actions that often don’t bare repeating.

In 1969 Liz Kloepfer (Lily Collins) meets Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) in a Seattle bar. They settle into a relationship over the next several years as Ted studies law in Utah while visiting Liz and her daughter on weekends. All the while Ted has been brutally murdering and raping women in the states of Washington, Utah, Colorado and Florida. As Liz begins to suspect that all is not right, Ted’s crimes catch up with him in Utah and Colorado but after two daring escapes he is finally caught in Florida and put on trial.

Much controversy has been made about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Films like Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer have given horror films an unnecessary outlet. The simple fact is that their crimes don’t need to be painstakingly replicated either through fiction or documentary. A verbal description is enough which is what Berlinger does here. Another point of contention was Efron’s casting as a handsome, charming murderer with a killer set of baby blues. Which is exactly what Ted Bundy was.

Efron is magnetic in the title role. The film orbits around him more by necessity than by choice. Throughout Efron rarely allows the façade to slip just as Bundy did. Only in a chilling final scene the day before Bundy’s execution are we given a glimpse of this man’s cold, monstrous nature. It’s an incredible exercise in restraint on both Berlinger and Efron’s part. It makes that final reveal – amplified by Collins’ wounded shock – all the more chilling. It wouldn’t mean much if Collins and Efron didn’t play so well off each other though.

The start of the movie is a haphazard back and forth between three time periods. When Ted meets Liz, Ted’s first arrest in Utah and his execution in Florida. Eventually the film – much like Berlinger’s companion Netflix series Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes – settles and the true effect of Bundy’s crimes are revealed. It’s here we see Liz descend into a kind of walking catatonia. She obsessively watches the Florida trial, drinks heavily and neglects her personal and professional lives. Berlinger’s focus may be on Ted Bundy for most of the film but his sympathy and respect lies with the victims.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is shot with a kind of intimacy uncommon to serial killer films. Cinematographer Brandon Trost’s use of close-ups in intimate moments shared by Bundy and his girlfriends are either very affecting or emblematic of how manipulative Bundy was.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile does two things extraordinarily well. First, it eviscerates the myth that the crimes of serial killers need to be shown in all their gratuity. Secondly it establishes Zac Efron as a dramatic force worth considering. Most of all Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile shows a great deal of empathy to those that never really received it: the victims. As the names of Bundy’s known victims appear in the final shot Berlinger makes clear that Bundy was not the sun around which the universe of this film revolved. He was in fact a cavernous, unfathomable black hole sucking even light itself into its crushing depths.

Andrew Carroll

110 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil is released 3rd May 2019

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Review: Woman at War

DIR: Benedikt Erlingsson • WRI: Benedikt Erlingsson, Ólafur Egill Egilsson •  PRO: Benedikt Erlingsson, Carine Leblanc, Marianne Slot • DOP: Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson •  ED: Davíð Alexander Corno •  Music: Davíð Þór Jónsson • CAST: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Davíð Þór Jónsson, Magnús Trygvason, Eliasen, Ómar Guðjónsson

The title of the film Woman at War perfectly captures the essence of this film – one woman on a relentless crusade for justice. However, the battle in question is a universal one rather than a personal one; global warming is the issue this woman is fighting for. Benedikt Erlingsson’s film is set in his native Iceland and includes a powerful central performance from Icelandic actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir. The film begins by showing the sparse and striking Icelandic landscape; the protagonist, Halla, a clandestine eco-terrorist cuts off the electricity supply affecting the surrounding industrial factories which Iceland are economically dependent on. Woman at War calls into question our own inability as a society to effectively deal with the overarching problem of our times – global warming – while also revealing the consequences of taking matters into your own hands.

While climate change is a global issue, this film focuses instead on one woman’s response to tackling global warming and the effect this has on her personal life and livelihood. When introduced to Halla it is clear that this woman has a functioning place in society and involves very few associates in her eco-conscious attacks. However, the character’s lifestyle choices are called into question when the possibility arises for her to adopt a child. As Halla’s actions are drawing more and more attention, the choice becomes clear: continue fighting for the life of generations to come or save the life of one child in the here and now.

To a certain extent this film highlights the effects that global warming is having on our society, looking beyond the realities of pollution and extreme weather it examines global warming as a point of moral conflict. This film explores the morality of our generation – while her extreme actions may be illegal, Halla views them as essential for the greater good. It is clear that the society Halla exists within can only focus on its everyday realities – fears of pay cuts and a lack of industry investment. Global warming in the context of this film reflects the individual’s own sense of morality.

Another focal point in this film includes the idea of man versus machine, with an emphasis on traceability. With the hope of adoption on the way it becomes increasingly important that Halla can ensure her criminal record remains clean. However, Halla is not ready to give up her environmental struggle in an instant for motherhood. Enraged by the havoc her country’s economy is wreaking on the planet, Halla must battle this out by herself and in doing so we see the conflict of man versus machine. Even in the wilds of Icelandic mountain land, drones and helicopters circulate the area, yet with her bow and arrow and the comical inclusion of a Nelson Mandela mask, there are moments when man defeats machine, giving us hope that Halla can succeed on her mission. In a data-driven world one of the most fascinating parts of the film are the lengths Halla must go to in order to prevent getting caught – phones in freezers, stealing typewriters and costume changes to name a few. While imaginative, this also reveals just how monitored the world has become.

While Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir perfectly encapsulates the defiant and risk-taking Halla, her performance as Halla’s identical sister, Asa, is also equally engaging. Neither of these sisters fit into particularly conventional roles within society and together they represent a sort of yin and yang combination. Both fight for peace – Halla on a global level and Asa on an inner level through yoga and meditation. Halla’s sister believes that through finding peace within ourselves this will have positive ripple effect onto others and therefore the planet. However, Halla believes in taking action and doesn’t see the benefit of looking inwardly to find solutions. Asa can be viewed as a contrast to Halla to highlight Halla’s extremism, bravery and willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good. While Halla’s sister may not be as active as Halla in her actions both sisters demonstrate a strong sense of resolution and selflessness – qualities that do not appear to be evident in their government, police force and society.

While this film can be seen as realist in that it focuses on current topics and displays less conventional members of society, there are certain aspects to this film that require an extension of belief. Throughout the film there is a brass band that serves to express the protagonists inner emotions; while the music is excellently timed and adds a touch of humour, it alters the serious tone of the film somewhat. While Halla clearly knows how to remain inconspicuous, there are a couple of moments within the film that have an air of Deus-Ex-Machina about them.

Ultimately this is a gripping and intelligent film which tackles the biggest problem of our time with flair. It was interesting to see global warming represented from both a moral and a personal angle – not typically how global warming is presented on screen. While the film reveals the urgency of climate change it is also an ode to nature,  with shots of striking Icelandic mountains, hot springs and lakes, revealing nature as both restorative and a refuge. Woman at War is an excellent representation of human will and the need to do what is right even if this goes against the structure of society.   

 Irene Falvey

100 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Woman at War is released 3rd May 2019

 

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Review: Avengers: Endgame

DIR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo • WRI: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely • DOP: Trent Opaloch • ED: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt • PRO: Kevin Feige • DES: John Plas, Charles Wood • MUS: Alan Silvestri • CAST: Brie Larson, Robert Downey Jr., Karen Gillan

Hard to believe that in eleven years Marvel have produced twenty two films all set in the one shared world whilst hovering around in the background has been an eleven-year threat of a menacing villain called Thanos, who has taken longer to arrive on the scene than the dragons in Game of Thrones.  My but aren’t superhero movies fans a patient lot.

Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of all that waiting and world building and Infinity stone learning (if you were actually paying attention what started with Iron Man and has built steadily ever since to create the phenomenon we know today). Taking its cue from the Marvel comics shared universe Marvel studios has built a similar world, where every film counts for its connection to the others in its shared universe.

Avengers: Endgame is a film so critic-proof that if every one of them gave this film a bad review it will still be the phenomenal success it is surely going to be. A milestone was already created with Infinity Wars record box office, the first half of this Avengers tale; and with a bummer of an ending too. Half of the universe wiped out with the click of Thanos’ fingers and his Infinity stone laden gauntlet, more importantly half the heroes in the Marvel universe, they killed Spider-man for Christ’ sakes.

That film, a tragic space opera if you will, was always going to be a hard act to follow. Of course no one will be walking into this film thinking they are all dead forever. The question is how would they save everyone? And there lies the rub for some, (critics mostly).

The main plot thrust offered is a good old fashioned time-travel yarn complete with references to every other time-travel film they could think of just to point out how ridiculous time travel is and set up their own rules. Trust me, when you see it you will be amused. What makes all of this work are the emotional stakes of the story and the rumour mill letting us know enough to suspect the loss of some heroes along the way; as Marvel movies go this is at least ten hankies worth of tears for the average fan.

Endgame is an unadulterated crowd pleaser, not so much a film as an event. The Russo brothers now on their fourth Marvel movie handle everything with storytelling skill of their comic book forebears as opposed to the likes of Chekov and understand quite well the old axiom of giving the public what the public want. All the necessary heroes get the right amount of screen time and for every laugh there are other things happening to balance it all out.

This one is critic-proof, it was made with love for the fans, the true believers and no amount of critical thinking can really understand what it all means to the ones that really care; no matter how they might deconstruct or criticize the proceedings, that have brought eleven years of storytelling to some shocking conclusions and created new horizons for the fans to continue their worship of all things Marvel.

Paul Farren

180 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Avengers: Endgame is released 26th April 2019

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Review: Donbass

DIR/WRI: Sergei Loznitsa •  DOP: Oleg Mutu • ED: Danielius Kokanauskis • PRO: Heino Deckert • DES: Kirill Shuvalov • MUS: Jack Arnold • CAST: Valeriu Andriuta, Nina Antonova, Valeriy Antonyuk

The complexity and atrocity of war can be difficult to encapsulate within the running time of a film.  Sergei Loznitsa’s film Donbass rejects a linear recounting of the events leading up to the tensions in eastern Ukraine – instead the film is composed of a series of vignettes. These scenes portray a bizarre yet illuminating insight into the division in Ukraine between civilians that are Pro-Russian separatists and those that sympathise with Europe and the West. While the film is often farcical and dramatic it never fails to reveal the tyranny that the affected civilians must suffer.   

This film successfully manages to show the harsh realities of a conflicted war-zone with the addition of a heavy note of sarcasm and exaggeration. Much like the unexpected nature of war, the film jumps from one vignette to the next; the viewers never know which snippet of the war will be revealed next.

Direct conflict and battle scenes rarely feature; instead we witness how war has seeped into different aspects of culture/society and the civilian’s way of thinking and being. The film has many windows which provide a glimpse into the civil unrest – the scenes are high energy and have a sense of theatricality. For example, one of the first short vignettes includes a boisterous, feisty woman who has been slandered in the newspaper pour a bucket of what can be presumed is excrement over the head of a government figure. Her brash actions are a consequence of media manipulation and deception of the public- just one aspect of corruption at large in Ukraine.

While many of the stories in this film are similar in tone to the above, others bring us back to the reality of war, depicting the lives of civilians who have no power to stop its effects. The footage of a bomb shelter dwelling for those that have been left homeless due to the conflict quickly reminds the viewer that war can’t always be glazed over with humour. Inside, one of the residents guides the viewer through the shelter; his positive attitude clashing starkly with the grim interior he describes – dark, dingy, over-crowded and lacking in sanitation and supplies. Notably some residents turn their face away as the camera draws closer – they don’t want others to know what they have been reduced to. Stripped of comedy, it is this scene in the film that most effectively depicts the real everyday consequences of war.

Donbass doesn’t shy away from the gruesome nature of war. In particular this is illustrated through the somewhat medieval tactic of tying a soldier to a post in the middle of a public place to let passers-by do as they wish to punish him. The reactions reveal a comical, barbaric mob mentality (a tomato is genuinely shoved in his face) yet the aggression he receives also unveils a deep-seated sense of hatred and despair amongst the civilians. The film walks the line between satire and the reality of war – this scene perfectly combines them both.   

While peppered with many dark laughs, ultimately Donbass depicts the grim political landscape of the tensions in Ukraine. It provides a resounding impression of the conflict, the division and the denial of human rights in this border region.

Irene Falvey

110 minutes

Donbass is released 26th April 2019


 

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Irish Film Review: The Dig

DIR: Andy Tohill, Ryan Tohill • WRI: Stuart Drennan • DOP: Angus Mitchell • ED: Helen Sheridan • PRO: Brian J. Falconer • DES: Ashleigh Jeffers • MUS: James Everett • CAST: Francis Magee, Moe Dunford, Lorcan Cranitch, Emily Taaffe

Northern Irish directors, Ryan and Andy Tohill, invite us to delve deep into the mire that is The Dig, as a small community is ravaged by an unresolved murder, a family is torn apart, and the truth is attempting to climb out of its water logged grave.

Ronan Callaghan (Moe Dunford), a stain on the local community has come home, and judging from the dilapidated house that he returns to, coupled with James Everett’s effectively somber score, his homecoming is not a joyous one. We learn early on that he has recently been released from jail for the murder of a local girl, Niamh, a night that he was too black out drunk to remember. Despite having served his time, Ronan’s sentence is far from over, as Niamh’s father, Séan (Lorcan Cranitch), and sister, Roberta (Emily Taaffe), are mining for the truth on the bog that his family owns. Persecuted from every angle, he attempts to solve the mystery of the holes in his memory, as well as the guilt that filters through him like silt, and so he picks up the spade to help Séan and begins to dig deeper.

With more shades of grey than an E.L. James novel, but with actual depth, The Dig avoids straightforward character development like a pothole in the road. The narrative is gradually excavated as the film progresses, moving from almost pure visual storytelling, into unveiling strategies such as solely using the protagonist’s surname in an attempt to dehumanise him, evolving into the ponderous enigma that is the night in question. Stuart Drennan’s writing elegantly weaves Irish mythology into this murder mystery, as well as ties in a reference to the Old Croghan Man, a remarkably well-preserved Iron Age bog body found in Offaly in 2003. The use of earth tones and natural light mirror the land in which it is set, contrasting with the abnormality of the murderous act itself, as Angus Mitchell’s cinematography employs sparse, wide shots of the landscape, allowing us to bear witness to the magnitude of the job that Séan and Ronan have ahead of them.

Metaphor is integral to the plot, insisting that the viewer recognise clues and personality traits through the use of analogies and colour. Ronan is clearly the house to which he returns to, abandoned, decimated by locals, and previously coming apart at the seams with alcohol. The bog in which they search for Niamh’s body is peppered with holes, marked with red and blue flags, which cleverly hint to the conclusion. Except for the first one that Ronan encounters; a single white flag, a surrender, and an acceptance to whatever fate awaits him as he shovels his own war trench.

Although The Dig may not fulfil the plot-heavy murder mystery category that some people may hope for, the premise is both novel and consuming, as a murderer helps a grieving father search for that which he took from him. There is substance to be found in the pursuit as the Tohill’s have purposely devised a bleak visceral experience. Yet perhaps they should have stayed more in the realms of Seamus Heaney than Agatha Christie, as when they veer more towards the latter the plot becomes increasingly conventional and more shallow than their earlier narrative. Nevertheless, what they have created is a striated and near tangible experience rather than an affected whodunit.

Jemma Strain

www.ruledlines.com 

97 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Dig is released 26th April 2019

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Review: Wild Rose

DIR: Tom Harper • WRI: Nicole Taylor • DOP: George Steel • ED: Mark Eckersley • PRO: Faye Ward • DES: Lucy Spink • MUS: Jack Arnold • CAST: Julie Walters, Jessie Buckley, Craig Parkinson |

In search of ‘three chords and the truth’, Jessie Buckley stars as Rose-Lynn Harlan who’s a country singer aspiring to swap her native Glasgow for her spiritual home of Nashville, Tennessee. Rose-Lynn’s journey there is already derailed after a stint in prison and any chance of a country career is hampered by the fact her cowboy boots are that bit more difficult to put on with a home arrest tag encompassing her ankle. Rose-Lynn begins work as a cleaner for Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), and upon discovering her love for country music, she encourages Rose-Lynn to pursue this dream. Yet, the dominant drawback to her dreams is her home arrest and the fact that she has two young children who have to be mothered by their grandmother Marion (Julie Walters). Rose-Lynn needs to seek her truth and do what it takes to be the country singer she yearns to become.

Jessie Buckley’s performance is simply exceptional in Wild Rose. She really makes you believe in, and encourage, Rose-Lynn’s aspirations. Yet, Nicole Taylor’s impressive script allows you to be immersed in both Rose-Lynn’s dreams and realities – you root for her character to succeed but you also want to sit Rose-Lynn down and plead with her to prioritise certain aspects in her life before taking Nashville on headfirst. Her motherhood is something she’s ignorant of in pursuit of her music career and her own mother constantly reminds her of this fact.

Marion and Susannah are the two characters representative of this duality within Rose-Lynn’s life. A reliably-strong offering from Julie Walters as Marion focuses on the cold truths of Rose-Lynn’s motherhood and her ignorance of her duties as a mother to her two children. Country stardom must wait, according to Marion, whilst Susannah sees Rose-Lynn as an ingénue who needs the emotional and financial backing to reach the heights Rose-Lynn isn’t afraid of climbing. Susannah is the force driving Rose-Lynn to send footage of herself singing to Whispering Bob Harris on BBC Radio 2; Marion then tries to drive Rose-Lynn in the opposite direction and acknowledge that she’s neglecting her responsibilities as a parent to children who have been sidelined enough.

Wild Rose’s mise-en-scene is reminiscent of the Glasgow in Robert Carlyle’s The Legend of Barney Thomson or I, Daniel Blake’s Newcastle but we expect an upturn in her life, and once she gets to Nashville, cinematographer George Steel suitably introduces warmer tones that captures Rose-Lynn’s fish-out-of-water nervous excitement. The narrative is maintained by Taylor’s script and there are avenues you expect the film to explore but doesn’t. Susannah’s husband Sam, when he finally arrives on screen, could lead to an inevitable falling out with Susannah, but another scenario is chosen. Also, the film initially teases a rivalry with a singer (Craig Parkinson) who replaces Rose-Lynn as the local country bar’s resident singer whilst she’s serving time, but it also opts to avoid this plot point from developing. Overall, there is lots of humour here that balances with the drama and it makes for a well-crafted film that you can easily admire and enjoy.

Thankfully, we are treated to a film with a performance from an actor that was recently nominated in the Rising Star category at the BAFTA Awards and will undoubtedly be contesting main acting categories in the near future. Jessie Buckley makes this film her own and it takes an actor of high calibre to carry a film like Wild Rose. Rose-Lynn’s a showgirl, but she’s also human. Buckley can perform the on-stage and backstage elements of Rose-Lynn, and with the closing musical number akin to Lady Gaga’s in A Star is Born, the emotional arc of the film can be translated on-screen by Buckley’s acting and singing.

Wild Rose could easily descend into parody but it doesn’t. Jessie Buckley plays the three chords that allows Rose-Lynn to find her truth and we’re treated to a very special performance.

Liam Hanlon

100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Dig is released 12th April 2019

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Review: What They Had

DIR: Elizabeth Chomko • WRI: Elizabeth Chomko • DOP: Robert Schaefer • ED: Helen Sheridan • PRO: Albert Berger, Bill Holderman, Tyler Jackson, Keith Kjarval • DES: Ed Tom McArdle • CAST:  Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Robert Forster, Blythe Danner, Taissa Farmiga

This is not a feel-good movie.  That said, it has depth and many will identify with the content.  The film opens on grainy footage of a man carrying a woman down the street on a sunny day, both parties laughing and hugely enjoying the moment. The context of that moment is movingly revealed much later in the film. The scene is related to the title of the film.

What They Had is essentially about the impact of Dementia on family relationships as the Dementia deteriorates. There are related themes here also such as duty and loyalty within a family. Here, (like most families), duty and loyalty may have different interpretations across the family.

Ruth (Blythe Danner) is being cared for full-time by her elderly husband Burt in their home in Chicago (great performance from Robert Forster). He is struggling in his role as carer though he is loath to accept support from his two adult children Nick (Michael Shannon) and Bridget (Hilary Swank).

Burt is a man with strong moral and religious values which he regularly articulates in word and action. Though he loves his adult children, he is openly and regularly critical of them. He is not a believer in light touch regulation.

Burt is scathing about Nick’s career choice as a bartender and seems reluctant to acknowledge that Nick now has his own Bar. I found Nick instantly dislikeable, though that impression mellowed as the film progressed.

Burt is equally tough on his daughter Bridget  (played by Hilary Swank), who travels from California with her daughter when she realises that her father is struggling and that her brother is making no headway in trying to persuade Burt  that residential care may at this stage be the best option for their mother.

Bridget is herself struggling with her relationship with her teenage daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga). Her minimal phone contact with her husband speaks for itself.  While the story is seen primarily through the eyes of Bridget, the film is an ensemble piece with each of the characters having something of a story arc.

This is the debut feature for writer/director Elizabeth Chomko. Ms Chomko has a background in Theatre as both an actor and playwright. She has elicited fine performances from all of her principal cast, all of whom have a depth of character which is a credit to the writing as well as the directing. It is a courageous choice of subject matter.

The influence of her theatre background is evident in this film in both the writing and directing. I felt the film may have had its roots in a stage play and could certainly be adapted to the stage. That is not to say that it doesn’t work as a film. The subject matter lends itself to a confined world.

Hilary Swank has two credits on this film. Apart from being the lead actor, she also has a credit as executive producer, which suggests she has strongly endorsed this project.

There are some very moving sequences in the film, though one or two predictable outcomes also.

What They Had has an authenticity which gives the strong impression of the story coming from personal experience. Despite the gravity and tragedy of the story, there are comic moments throughout.

Brian O’Tiomain

101 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
What They Had is released 1st March 2019

What They Had –  Official Website

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Review: Eighth Grade

DIR/WRI: Bo Burnham • DOP: Andrew Wehde • ED: Jennifer Lilly • PRO: Eli Bush, Tom Ishizuka, Scott Rudin, Christopher Storer, Lila Yacoub • DES: Sam Lisenco • MUS: Anna Meredith • CAST: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson

 

Eighth Grade broke my heart and mended it again and I’m not ashamed to admit that. It is a bold, beautiful, brave film that signals bright, long lasting careers for writer and director Bo Burnham and lead actress Elsie Fisher. Eighth Grade is an awkward coming-of-age comedy, a cringing, squirming drama and, ultimately, a balm for social media wracked souls.

Kayla Day (Fisher) is in her last week of eighth grade in middle school. Her life is dominated by Snapchat, Instagram and social anxiety. Despite her dad Mark’s (Josh Hamilton) best efforts at convincing her otherwise, Kayla feels a desperate need to fit in with the ‘cool’ kids. As Kayla makes YouTube life-advice videos, goes to parties and makes friends she gradually realises that fitting in may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Kayla’s YouTube videos are a stroke of genius. Filmed on her iMac’s poor quality webcam and punctuated by unscripted slip-ups and stuttering, they make for novel act breaks in the film. They often contradict each other as Kayla’s first video is about how “It’s like totally OK to just like, um, be yourself” whereas one in the middle focuses on faking it til you make it. Kayla’s sign-off of “Gucci!” is just the icing on the cake. Writer/director Burnham’s early career as a YouTube comedian and Vine star factors in here but it’s his empathy that’s the greatest surprise.

Much like the Netflix smash Big Mouth Burnham softens the edge of potentially cruel comedy with a heavy dose of empathy. Kayla’s arrival at a summer pool party is preceded by a claustrophobic anxiety attack in a locked bathroom. Kayla emerges in an unflattering swimsuit and observes her classmates dancing, splashing and texting in a montage set to booming electro-pop. Lesser films would faceplant in moments like these but Burnham directs with such a sure hand that all we can do is feel for Kayla and laugh at her awkward interaction with Gabe (Jake Ryan).

All of the performances in Eighth Grade orbit around Fisher. Kayla is the selfless centre of the film. Her endearing nature is only superseded by her awkwardness especially in scenes where she interacts with anyone older. Various scenes fight for their right to be the fulcrum of the film from the pool party to a horrible, pitch dark car ride but it’s a fireside conversation between Kayla and her doting father that really captures the spirit of the film. The movement from Kayla tossing a box of her “hopes and dreams” onto a fire to ungainly leaping into Mark’s arms feels natural and sentimental in a way that’s never saccharine.

For a film about awkwardness and growing up Eighth Grade is astonishingly well put together. Jennifer Lily’s masterful editing fades in Kayla’s slack-jawed expression over her Twitter feed, K-pop videos and Snapchat filtered selfies all while Anna Meredith’s bombastic, glitchy score sweeps over and through the film. The closeness of Andrew Wehde’s camera flows from claustrophobic to intimate as naturally as water from a tap. Make no mistake Eighth Grade is a landmark in the packed hall of coming-of-age stories and in its humour, pathos and authenticity it can stand tall with the best of them.

Andrew Carroll

93 minutes

15A (see IFCO for details)

Eighth Grade is released 26th April 2019

Eighth Grade – Official Website

 

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Review: Little

DIR: Tina Gordon • WRI: Tina Gordon, Tracy Oliver • PRO: Kenya Barris, James Lopez, Will Packer • ED: David Moritz • DES: Keith Brian Burns • MUS: Germaine Franco • CAST: Justin Hartley, Regina Hall, Marsai Martin

Little pits its three gifted comedic actors against the conventions of mainstream Hollywood comedies. In the battle what’s left is a middling film with some intermittently very funny scenes. It does not reach the highs of say Girls Trip or Spy but ranks above dreck like Identity Thief or The Change-Up.

Rising star Issa Rae (HBO’s Insecure) plays April, the overworked assistant to Scary Movie’s Regina Hall’s Jordan, a ruthless highly-strung tech mogul. As a result of being bullied as a child, the boss has grown cruel, treating everyone at her office like trash. After Jordan berates the daughter of a street vendor who made her angry, the young girl places a spell on her. The boss wakes up the next morning in the body of her young self, played by Black-ish’s Marsai Martin.

Based on an idea by its 14-year-old lead and executive producer, Little works best as a star vehicle for Martin and Rae. The film really comes alive in its middle portion, putting April and young Jordan together for a string of misadventures – such as having to deal with a child protective service agent (the great Rachel Dratch). It’s always funny when children act like grown-ups and Martin manages to charm while nailing the ‘take no prisoners’ attitude of her adult self. Bounce that against the perpetually cheery Rae and it’s a winning combination.

However, like a lot of plot-driven comedy, somewhere along the way the jokes grow infrequent. This is because the movie starts hammering home its simple message – that adults should embrace their inner child more as kids are purer and more idealistic. Concluding with Jordan taking part in the same talent show that led her to be bullied in the past, performing one of the movie’s many dance routines, the viewer just wishes that time was seeded to more of Martin and Rae’s witty banter.

There’s also other issues like the completely redundant bookending narration by Regina Hall and the fact that even before the magical sub-plot is introduced, nothing in the movie feels rooted in any tangible reality. In regards the latter, if anyone acted like Hall’s Jordan in real life they would be arrested. While this is forgivable as Little is a fantastical comedy, it’s hard not to feel that if the movie made adult Jordan feel even slightly realistic and had her tech company offices resemble a real-life workplace, the viewer might relate more to Little’s characters by the time the shift into fantasy comes.

Lacking gross-out gags, the movie will appeal to all audiences – something uncommon in the landscape of modern Hollywood comedies. If you are looking for a light movie where talented comediens dress in the most fabulous clothes, Little is a fine way to spend about 100 minutes.

Stephen Porzio

108 minutes

12A (see IFCO for details)

Little is released 12th April 2019

Little – Official Website

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Irish Film Review: Greta

DIR: Neil Jordan WRI: Ray Wright, Neil Jordan PRO: Lawrence Bender, James Flynn, Sidney Kimmel, John Penotti DOP: Seamus McGarvey ED: Nick Emerson PRO: Anna Rackard CAST: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Stephen Rea

Boston native Frances (Moretz) is newly moved to New York and working as a waitress in an upmarket restaurant. Still grieving the death of her mother, she is warned by her housemate Erica (Monroe) that her good-natured ways could be taken advantage of in the Big Apple and that she needs to become more streetwise. Frances doesn’t heed Erica’s advice when she finds a designer bag left on the subway and tracks down its owner, Greta (Huppert), a lonely, widowed pianist. Frances and Greta immediately strike up a bond, Greta becoming the mother-figure Frances yearns for. However, it soon becomes apparent that there may be more malevolent elements to Greta’s character than first appeared.

Neil Jordan returns to our screens with this entertaining, daft thriller which calls to mind 90’s stalker films such as Single White Female. Unquestionably the highlight of the film is the peerless Isabelle Huppert, who you can sense is having an enormous amount of fun in such a scenery-chewing role. Huppert has evidenced time and again her capacity to author a film through her performance. While her role here does not allow for the same level of complexity as she had in the recent Elle, the material and role are unquestionably elevated by her imagination and charisma. Of the other actors, Moretz gives solid support as the naive Frances. Monroe works hard in a somewhat thankless role that could have done with further development. Stephen Rea’s appearance in a cameo role confirms that we are indeed watching a Neil Jordan film.

There’s a breeziness to Jordan’s direction here which suits the material well. He’s well aware of the film’s silliness and milks it for as much fun as he can. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is lush and seductive in a very classical sense, while Dublin does a good job of standing in for New York. There are some fairly gaping plot-holes and the film’s script is often quite predictable, particularly one final twist, which feels utterly signposted. Flaws such as these, however, don’t seem out of place in the heightened, winking world of the film.

Beyond another masterclass from Huppert, this not a film that will likely linger long in the memory, but it remains a polished, self-aware and highly diverting piece.  

David Prendeville

99 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Greta is released 19th April 2019

 

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Irish Film Review: The Limit Of

 

DIR/WRI: Alan Mulligan • PRO: Taine King, Alan Mulligan, Anthony Mulligan, Tim Palmer • DOP: Daniel Sorin Balteanu • ED: Alan Mulligan, Tim Palmer, Daniel Sorin Balteanu • DES: Lilla Nurie • CAST: Laurence O’Fuarain, Joanne Brennan, Des Carney

 

In Alan Mulligan’s The Limit Of, we are introduced to our lead character James, a distant, meticulous figure, as he runs through Dublin at night, headphones in, ignoring all around him. Immediately, the film’s visuals work hard and effectively to situate James within the wider context of 21st century, modernizing Dublin as we see him run along the Samuel Beckett Bridge and by other recognizable modern landmarks and architecture. And soon, as we cut to the next day when James’ day job is revealed to us, we can see why. James is a banker and the film is, to a certain extent, a kind of state of the nation (or at least state of the city) piece.

James witnesses first-hand the cruelty of his employers to a stranger and then to a loved one. He sits through meetings whose participants could have been side characters in Glengarry Glen Ross, except that their seediness and vile intentions would have overshadowed that film’s main cast.

Indeed, characterization in this film can be somewhat lacking. The bankers in this film, with two exceptions, are just evil. Aside from James himself, characters are generally one-note and their motivations simplistic. In the case of the bankers though, their uncomplicated evil does make it clear the stance this film is taking on the state of 21st century Ireland: banks exert an inordinate amount of control on the lives of Irish people, especially on the sick, elderly, and otherwise vulnerable, and the manner in which control is exerted is entirely avaricious. It is not a nuanced take on the state of modern Ireland, but an admirably bitter diatribe against the impersonal state of modern financial institutions, though it is perhaps a bit undercut by the cartoony, villainous dialogue of characters who run those institutions.

Dialogue and the relationships among the film’s small cast of characters in general are often an issue in this film, which does not aid in the believability of these characters or their plight.  In particular, a sexual subplot involving James which features awkward dialogue with a co-worker and lingering shots of him staring at her groin feels stilted at best and a bit exploitative at worst. That’s not to say that these actors don’t give strong performances. Special praise must go to Sonya O’Donoghue who gives a wonderful performance in the brief time she is in the film. The issue is just that the relationships between characters are not compelling or heartfelt enough to carry the film.

To uncover the real strength of the film we must turn back to its visuals. There’s a coldness to them. We do not often see the Georgian centre of Dublin, but instead see rectangular architecture and cold fluorescent lights. Inside James’ work place, there’s a bleak impersonality to everything around him. Characters are framed against quasi-symmetrical backdrops, often with vertical lines and barriers like thin doorways or bland posters hanging between them, implying a forced distance between people as demanded by institutions that value impersonal control. Interestingly though, these barriers are almost never centred just right. Mulligan seems to subtly emphasize the “quasi” in “quasi-symmetrical” when it comes to his compositions. In these slightly off-kilter visuals, the movie at first appears to be displaying a clear narrative about control, and then appears, upon closer inspection, to subtly resist it. Even as we see overhead shots outside the office building, where we follow the Liffey past rows of impersonal, rectangular buildings, the staid sameness of these buildings actually serves to emphasize the subtle curvature of the river, which resists that sameness. It’s almost as if there is something inherently chaotic here that upsets this narrative of impersonality and control.

These visuals work well to elucidate the film’s themes. As the events of the film progress and James begins to viscerally encounter and resist the injustice of his employer, such visuals remain the most powerful weapon in Mulligan’s arsenal to make his examination of the limits of cold calculation and, eventually, the seeming impossibility of clear narratives of control and justice strike home. I’ll be thrilled to see when Mulligan’s keen visual eye gets married to a script and characters that complement this skill.

Sean O’Rourke

92 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Limit of is released 5th April 2019

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Irish Film Review: Out of Innocence

DIR/WRI: Danny Hiller • PRO: Paul Cummins • DOP: Seamus Deasy • ED: Geraint Huw Reynolds • DES: Ray Ball • MUS: Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Gary Lightbody • CAST: Fiona Shaw, Alun Armstrong, Judith Roddy, Nick Dunning. Fiona Shaw

 

Sometimes a film will require suspension of disbelief because the fiction is too fantastical, but in this case the truth is undoubtedly more bizarre. Out of Innocence focuses on preconceptions, prejudices, and misogyny, as one woman is about to become infamous throughout the nation when both Church and State combine forces to pillory a family in crisis, forcing an elastic band around your diaphragm as you struggle to draw a breath due to the heavy tension.

Written and directed by Danny Hiller, Out of Innocence is the dramatised story of The Kerry Babies Case in 1984, and therefore understandably emotive viewing. The opening images are of a beach so picturesque that it could only be the West of Ireland, as the waves loll in, laden with tranquility. But everything is about to change, as the body of a newborn baby washes up in a fertilizer bag. Such an unnatural event, powerfully juxtaposed against the beauty of the scenery. This kind of incident simply doesn’t happen in these parts of Ireland, and the local Gardaí are flummoxed by the arrival of the Murder Squad from Dublin. Meanwhile, 80 kilometers away, Sarah, our protagonist, is having an affair with a married man, Paudi, a vacillating excuse for a boyfriend or husband. They already have one child as a result of their affair, and unknown to anyone but him, another is on the way. Blood will simmer as the plot evolves into a case of vilification, when Detective Callaghan (Alun Armstrong) goes above and beyond rational measures in order to prove Sarah Flynn guilty, but instead, all he demonstrates is his unfettered misogyny to the audience. Unshakeable in his resolve and distaste for what he deems to be iniquitous women, his face turns acetous at even the suggestion of women and premarital sex. He not only casts a blind eye to blood evidence, but he manufactures the most unlikely versions of a possible truth, as he’s as fond of fabricating theories as Tom Walsh is of tagging furniture.

In contrast to Callaghan’s bullish-ness, we have the meekness of Catherine Flynn, Sarah’s mother. Fiona Shaw was perfectly cast in the role and provides a measured and terse performance. As a god-fearing countrywoman, she lives for religion and family in the wake of her husband’s death, and all that she believes in is crumbling around her shoulders as she struggles to keep a stiff upper lip. Her desire to return to normality is effectively shown as she persists in routinely tucking hot water bottles into absent beds, despite having just confessed to being a conspirator to murder. But the standout performance is Fionnuala Flaherty (Sarah Flynn), who in her tribulation represents all the women of Ireland in an emotional and reflective manner. Hillen captures a moment of genuine poignancy as the camera focuses deliberately on the Harp that presides over the courtroom. Being synonymous with Ireland, due in part to The Society of United Irishmen, the irony here is that the society’s seal depicts a harp with the mottos “It is now strung and shall be heard”, as well as “Equality”, both of which were completely flouted in Sarah Flynn’s case. Recognition must also be given to Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s score, which pensively and effectively encapsulates the beauty and sorrow of this country, as its history is so inextricably entrenched within the duality of these descriptives.

In this age of documentaries about confessions made under police duress, Out of Innocence puts its own harrowing spin on false truths. Women are persecuted from all aspects; from when Sarah was termed to have an “empty womb” (a negative perspective on simply not being pregnant), to the witch hunt for a woman with a child out of wedlock, and god forbid, one that was involved in an affair with a recreant married man, and eventually to evolve into a murder trial without parameters. Yet there are moments of hope, as the trial gathers an indomitable crowd of both female and male supporters, infuriating the prosecuting side, but also unfortunately the judge. As Detective Armstrong combs the strand in the hopes of finding another dead baby at the hands of our protagonist, we realise that although progression has been made, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are completely through the other side. There is a long road ahead of us yet, one for which the foundations have been laid, but we must also continue to persevere with forging the path. Otherwise there but for the grace of Church and State go we.

Jemma Strain

www.ruledlines.com 

108 minutes

15A 

Out of Innocence is released 12th April 2019

 

 

 

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Review: Shazam

Shazam review

DIR: David F. Sandberg • WRI: Henry Gayden • PRO: Peter Safran • DOP: Maxime Alexandre • ED: Michel Aller • DES: Todd Cherniawsky • MUS :Benjamin Wallfisch • CAST: Zachary Levi, Marta Milans, Michelle Borth

After the hard-earned lessons of the Zack Snyder movies, DC have been keeping their films less brooding and a lot lighter; as witnessed in their recent fare, such as the much fiddled with, Justice League and the cheesy “I can’t believe it made over a billion” Aquaman. Not so much cheese is on display with Shazam (formerly known as ‘Captain Marvel’ back in the golden age of comics), whose self-deprecating tone and comedy muscle make it one of the most accessible of the recent wave of films from the DC stable.

Our hero this time round is fourteen-year-old Billy Batson, who finds himself the recipient of magic powers, given to him by the wizard Shazam. When Billy says the wizard’s name he is transformed into an adult version of himself, wearing the requisite spandex and endowed with super powers to equal Superman himself. The wizard has of late been chasing down potential, worthy, pure souls to carry on his mantle and prevent the living incarnations of the seven deadly sins from escaping into the world. Unfortunately the wizard has also inadvertently inspired Dr Thaddeus Sivana, an unsuccessful applicant for the role of hero to go the route of all-out evil and help the seven deadly sins do their thing. In the midst of planning an escape from his latest foster home, Billy becomes the recipient of Shazam’s powers and with the help of his new foster family he must save the day and learn the value of family and other things typical of this type of blockbuster film.

Known for horror films up until now (Lights Out, Annabelle-Creation), director David F. Sandberg leans a little heavy on the horror tropes in the earlier stages. Fortunately things get funnier when Billy starts dealing with his new-found powers with the help of Freddy, one of his fellow foster siblings. The cast are all on top form. Asher Angel as Billy Batson is a nice mix of cocky and fragile and Zachary Levi manages to pull off the adult version of Billy in tights with just the right sense of naivety even if his persona feels a little younger than Billy’s. Mark Strong does bad-guy duties as well as ever in the shape of Dr Sivana – he must have some kind of record at playing villains at this stage.

The mood is distinctly nostalgic. It riffs mightily off Tom Hanks’ Big – Big in spandex if you will, and has a giddy joy in its superpowered hero akin to that of the earlier Superman films. Whilst there is nothing significantly new here in terms of the main thrust of the plot. The charm and sweet nature of the family-oriented scenes and the Billy Batson character’s empowerment will keep the younger members of the audience entranced; he is after all an even more direct embodiment of the hero wish fulfilment for kids – having super powers and trashing super villains. If only real life were as simple.

Paul Farren

131 minutes

12A (see IFCO for details)

Shazam! is released 5th April 2019

Shazam!– Official Website

 

 

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Review: Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary

 

DIR: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer • WRI: Matt Greenberg, Jeff Buhler • PRO: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Steven Schneider, Mark Vahradian • DOP: Laurie Rose • ED: Sarah Broshar • DES: Todd Cherniawsky • CAST: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jete Laurence, John Lithgow

Doctor Louis (Clarke), his wife Rachel (Seimetz), and their two children, Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage, move from Boston to rural Maine. It doesn’t take long for Ellie to discover the local, paganistic ‘pet sematary’, befriending elderly local Jud (Lithgow) in the process. While Louis finds work at his new practice boring, Rachel is still suffering with memories of a childhood tragedy involving the death of her sister. When Ellie’s beloved cat Churchill gets killed, Jud gets Louis to bury the cat in the strange cemetery, suggesting it may have hitherto unseen powers. Sure enough, Churchill returns from the dead the next day, though there is something quite different about his behaviour.  Louis and Rachel’s’ differing engagements with mortality are pushed considerably further when Ellie dies in a horrific road accident.

This adaptation of Stephen King’s 1983 novel, previously brought to the screen by Mary Lambert in 1989, is a lean, entertaining and effective horror film. Kolsch and Widmyer do a fine job of balancing an absurdist sense of the macabre with resonant and eerie undercurrents and some impressive scenes of body-horror. The film has plenty of cliches and some incredulous moments. It’s never very well established as to why this family would move to a rural area in the first place. Rachel’s’ reaction to seeing to children adorned in Wicker Man-esque masks as they wheelbarrow animal bodies to the ‘sematary’ seems a bit too blasé. The flashbacks to Rachel’s sister’s death are also an occasion where it feels like the film is trying too hard to elicit jumps from the audience. For the most part, however, this is a film that works decidedly well on the terms it sets out.

The directing-duo are helped in no small part by fine performances from the cast. Clarke and Seimetz bring an earthy believability to their performances. Lithgow is superb, seeming alternately sympathetic and untrustworthy, wise and foolish. Laurence plays the dual roles of both her character’s normal and un-dead self excellently. The scene that sees her zombie-self, processing, as she talks to her father, that she is in fact dead, is terrifically eerie and nuanced. For a film with its fair share of jump scares, what stands out most about the film is an insidious sense of dread at our own mortality and an unmistakable streak of humour surrounding the very same thing.

David Prendeville

100 minutes

16 (see IFCO for details)

Pet Sematary is released 5th April 2019

 

Pet Sematary– Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VllcgXSIJkE

 

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Review: Five Feet Apart

DIR: Justin Baldoni • WRI: Mikki Daughtry Tobias Iaconis • DOP: Frank G DeMarco • ED: Angela M. Catanzaro • PRO: Justin Baldoni, Cathy Schulman • DES: Tony Fanning • MUS: Alan Silvestri • CAST: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Herbert Gregory

Five Feet Apart is essentially a teenage romance between Will and Stella (both 17), but it is a romance with unusually high stakes. Both have Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and have to remain at least six feet apart from each other to avoid cross infection. In the world of Cystic Fibrosis, infection can prove fatal and infection from a fellow “CFer” is particularly risky .  [To find out why the film is not called ‘six feet apart’, you have to go see the movie.]

An early scene in the film sets the tone. Three teenage girls are joking as they discuss an event which one of them cannot attend. It only becomes apparent when two of them leave Stella on her own, that we are in a hospital room and that she is struggling to breath.

Will already has an infection which has ruled him out of a lung transplant. If the new trial drug he is on not does not clear the infection, he has no remaining options.

The initial contact between Will and Stella is anything both cordial. Stella has OCD issues and cannot abide Will’s casual approach to his “regimen” (his meds programme). After one of many arguments, Will leaves abruptly, dismissing Stella’s concerns with: “It’s just life Stella – it’ll be over before you know it”.

But there is a strong mutual attraction. Will agrees to embrace his ‘regimen’ if Stella will allow him to draw her. Will is an artist and animator of some talent. After initially refusing, Stella agrees and the relationship develops, despite some rocky patches. However, they can never kiss or hold hands. We sense early on that Will’s cavalier approach to his health and the rules may have serious consequences for both, especially as Stella gradually begins to embrace Will’s less regimented approach to his health.

They learn from the ever vigilant Nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) that two previous teenage patients who became romantically involved died because they did not observe the six feet rule. Though only 17, both Stella and Will – and their mutual friend Po (Moises Arias), are well aware that their time may be short. This acts as a powerful drive in their desire to live for whatever time they have left.

Perhaps the main strength of this film is the performances from Haley Lu Richardson as Stella and Cole Sprouse as Will in roles that are layered and very well cast. This is the first leading role for Haley Lu Richardson and more will likely follow after this performance.

This is an impressive debut feature from director Justin Baldoni (35) who has worked mainly as an actor. He also made My Last Days, a series of documentaries featuring first-hand accounts of people on their final journey. He has clearly mined that experience in developing the script for Five Feet Apart.

Five Feet Apart is not a grim film. There are plenty of comic moments as it follows the developing romance of our two heroes –  and the word hero is appropriate. But the theme of mortality is ever present.

The story is not without its faults. The absence of parents or relatives of the main protagonists until half way through the film is puzzling given the gravity of their illness. And when they do arrive, they do not add much to the narrative of the film. The plot occasionally veers down the route of sentimentality.

But for the most part, the story is gripping and very moving. It is also educational. Given that the film has already grossed a multiple of its budget in the US., it is difficult to understand why it has not secured a wider release here.

Brian Ó Tiomáin

116 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Five Feet Apart is released 5th April 2019

 

 

 

 

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Review: Vox Lux

Tom Crowley takes a look at Brady Corbet’s musical drama, which screened at the Dublin International Film Festival.

Actor-turned-director Brady Corbet is interested in what makes a person a leader. What makes one individual special to other people? His debut film, The Childhood of a Leader (2016), adapted from a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre, attempts to depict the early formative years of a future fascist dictator. In his new film, Brady explores the idea of someone born to be famous; this fact is clearly derived from the film’s philosophical voice-over, provided by Willem Dafoe, who delivers his dialogue as if narrating a fairy-tale.

Celeste (played by Raffey Cassidy in her teenage years and Natalie Portman as an adult), is a victim of a horrific and violent attack during her school years. Occurring early in the film, it is a genuinely heart-pounding cinematic moment. In a room full of people, she is the only one to try and take control of the situation. Many years later, she will make the Lennon faux-pas and compare herself to Christ.

Portman gives her best performance since her Black Swan Oscar win in 2010. Is there anybody better at playing a tortured performer? She gives Celeste an assuredness and a vicious streak in her public life, and a manipulative uncertainty in her private life, surely symptoms of megalomania which comes from being a worshiped celebrity most of your life.

Divided (as Leader was) into four stages, indicated by minimalist black titles cards with white text, which seemed perfect in the context of his first film and is brilliantly at odds with this one, Prologue, Genesis, Re-genesis and Finale, adds to the religious undertones (also present in Leader), which Celeste’s name suggests. Corbet has carefully structured a sometimes shocking, sometimes funny and always stimulating film about the modern world, a ‘21st Century Portrait’ the final tie-dyed title card proclaims. The film blends celebrity and terrorism on a wider scale while also creating an ambitious psychological character study which culminates in a Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) still comeback concert. The two films could not be more different. While Rhapsody insists on trying to shoe-horn in every heavily sanitised detail on Mercury and Queen’s careers, Vox Lux wants us to fill in the gaps for ourselves as we take a decade long leap from the inception of Celeste’s career to her ‘comeback’ concert in her home town. Corbet is earnest about his character study but mocks the ‘pop’ genre his character is associated with, in the same way Bradley Cooper does in A Star is Born (2018).

Corbet’s talents are not only in content but also in style. The piercing, unsettling soundscapes of The Childhood of a Leader return, with Corbet again teaming with composer Scott Walker. The soundtrack forces the viewer to feel that something of a significant magnitude is happening (even if it might not be). Corbet presents us with two sequences in fast-forward, a liberating if hedonistic trip to Stockholm by two sisters and a troubled stars hotel room drug binge with her manager. Both sequences are carefully staged by Corbet and shot by Lol Crawley, to speed them up is an indicator of vision. The hotel room sequence is reminiscent of Alex’s bedroom romp in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). At 30 years of age Corbet is already a unique cinematic voice and a director for the future.

Vox Lux screened on 28th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March)

In cinemas 3rd May 2019

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Review: Us

DIR/WRI: Jordan Peele PRO: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele • DOP: Mike Gioulakis  ED: Nicholas Monsour• DES: Ruth De Jong  MUS: Michael Abels • CAST: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss

I’m still a bit miffed that Jordan Peele didn’t run with my super-cool idea for his film. Picture this: the movie opens with the title card for Us, except it’s obscured by some sort of spooky fog. Then, as the fog clears, the title card comes into sharper focus and – what’s that? Two dots have appeared! It’s not Us as we imagined, but instead U.S.! The United States! On the big screen! Who’d have imagined?! Aaaand, fade to black, the end. But Peele had his own ideas, just not quite as nuanced as my own, and I can respect that. And since Us turned out to be well paced, tense, and genuinely scary, I have to hand it to him: he did not need my help this time.

In Peele’s new horror, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) is haunted by a trauma that has remained with her for over thirty years: as a young girl, she was briefly separated from her parents while at a beach-front carnival and only vaguely remembers what she endured while exploring an abandoned hall of mirrors. Returning to the same beach three decades later with her family in toe, Adelaide fears that whatever she has been trying to avoid all that time is about to catch up with her. It appears that her fears are not unfounded when four enigmatic figures, all dressed in red, appear outside their holiday home one night. When they break in and come face-to-face with the Wilson family, the Wilson family discover their doubles staring back.

While Us might not be quite as good as Peele’s breakout debut Get Out, it’s certainly the most immediately scary of the two (whereas the Sunken Place in Get Out had me feeling sick to my stomach, the cat-and-mouse games throughout Us had me watching through my fingers), and surely that is one reasonable metric by which to measure your horror. Starting off evocative of other terrifying home invasion narratives such as The Strangers and The Invitation, Peele’s second film, like Get Out, reveals its machinations originate in a landscape located somewhere between the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Not unlike the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, this enables Peele to explore the implications of the surface of society in comparison to what remains unseen.

Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic as both versions of Adelaide: both the socially awkward loner and over-protective mother protagonist, and the terrifying crack-voiced double who appears to be spearheading the doppelgänger attack. Winston Duke plays Adelaide’s husband, Gabe, a likeable if somewhat bumbling boat enthusiast. What with his square glasses, beard and comic relief, he comes across as something of a Peele-a-like. If I were to fault the casting in any way it would be a criminal under-use of the incredibly funny Tim Heidecker as the father of a fellow vacationing family and frenemy of Gabe (that’s right, I’m taking no prisoners here).

While Us couldn’t really be said to be a sequel to Get Out it does still tackle many of the same ideas, particularly in relation to the commodification of the (both African and non-African) American body. I am already anticipating plenty of discussion regarding the significance of the doppelgängers’ red costumes, for starters. Beyond the immediate nail-biting horror there is plenty to mull over, and indeed it feels like a movie that will reward repeat viewings. All I can say for now is that, after one viewing, Us feels like a puzzle that disconcertingly doesn’t seem to quite fit together: maybe you’re not looking at it the right way up, maybe there’s a piece missing, or maybe you’ve just realised your double is hiding under the table and is really putting you off. Whatever the reason, Us remains disturbingly oblique and is probably all the better for it.

Sarah Cullen

116 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Us is released 22nd March 2019

 

 

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Review: Under the Silver Lake

DIR/WRI: David Robert Mitchell PRO: Chris Bender, Michael De Luca, Adele Romanski, Jake Weiner • DOP: Mike Gioulakis  ED: Julio Perez IV • DES: Michael Perry  MUS: Disasterpeace • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace

 

Is it impressive that Under the Silver Lake manages to be a lot stranger than the trailer implies (and the trailer is quite odd in and of itself). I don’t know if  that’s impressive, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes trailers these days don’t give away the whole movie, which is something to admire. If this seems like faint praise, it sort of is. Because while an attempt to make something Pynchon-esque yet more accessible for the screen is in and of itself far from unwelcome, director David Robert Mitchell’s over-indulgent run-time and some undercooked storylines mean it is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.  

Andrew Garfield’s Sam is an aimless young slacker living in L.A. whose money is just about to run out. He spends much of his time in Rear Window fashion, spying on his female neighbours in his condo and engaging in conspiracy theories. After encountering a mysterious new women, Sarah (Riley Keogh), at the swimming pool, Sam falls for her and spends the evening with her, only to discover the next morning that she and her roommates have all left in the night. Wondering whether her disappearance has anything to do with the recent sudden death of a local billionaire or a prophetic zine, Sam starts following clues which lead him into the underworld (occasionally literally) of Hollywood.

While not without some enjoyable sleuthing for both the protagonist and audience, Sam’s character is perhaps a microcosm of the film’s problems as a whole. We never really get a strong sense of what exactly Sam believes beyond the fact that he, um, thinks that pop culture has secret messages embedded in it that are meant for rich people. Yeah. This admittedly could be a good starting point for a character (or indeed a movie), but requires a lot more fleshing out to become something interesting. As it is, the central mystery of the film feels similarly like a bare-bones outline of a finished work, with a whole load of unnecessary red herrings thrown in (to take my example above, I feel I was being rather charitable in comparing the film to Rear Window. Quite frankly, Sam’s just a Peeping Tom). Where Mitchell’s film is more successful in evoking its competing themes of anxiety and nostalgia for twentieth-century popular culture is in its visuals and soundtrack: aesthetically impressive and gorgeously edited, Under the Silver Lake certainly feels appropriately neo-noirish as Sam wanders around in a fugue of Los Angeles-tinged uncertainty.

It’s also disappointing to see how Under the Silver Lake under-uses its cast beyond Garfield. Garfield himself is hugely likeable (arguably more than the character should be) and capable as a protagonist who could easily have been unforgettable as an author or audience surrogate and as such is hugely pivotal in maintaining engagement in the film. However, beyond Garfield the impressive supporting cast are almost all reduced to glorified cameos, with Topher Grace, Jimmi Simpson and Laura-Leigh Clare appearing in only in a small number of scenes. Particularly glaring is Zosia Mamet’s Troy, seemingly Sam’s friend with benefits who, despite featuring heavily in the first half of the film, is not seen again.

While Under the Silver Lake may be well-intentioned in its attempt to explore the dark underbelly of the American movie business, it’s hard not to feel disappointed that it attributes so little agency to the victims of the Hollywood Machine. The gone girl supposedly at the centre of the tale is not so much a character in her own right but an excuse for the protagonist to indulge in his nostalgia, something we’ve seen far too often. To the film’s credit there are some wonderfully zany moments which should pique interests throughout (and in particular a short-lived horror villain which will probably give me nightmares). On the other hand, it’s hard to know whether the film’s scattergun approach works overall (I refuse to believe that R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency?” is anyone’s dance number). Perhaps the most surprising part of this Hollywood puzzler is just how conventional it is.

 

Sarah Cullen

139 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Under the Silver Lake is released 15th March 2019

 

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Review: Captain Marvel

 

DIR: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck  WRI: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet  PRO: Kevin Feige  DOP: Ben Davis  ED: Debbie Berman Elliot Graham • DES: Andy Nicholson  MUS: Pinar Toprak • CAST: Brie Larson, Gemma Chan, Samuel L. Jackson

Finally the Marvel year has begun with Captain Marvel. Signalled at the end of Avengers: Infinity War (if you stayed to the very end of the credits) and soon to be playing a major role in Avengers: Endgame, which means completists and uber fans will be checking this film out as they get all salivated for the upcoming main event.  For trivia fans I should note that Captain Marvel is also the second period Marvel movie since Captain America: The First Avenger.

Opening on the Kree planet, Hala, we find our heroine dealing with amnesia, fractured memories of some possible past and a set of super powers she is only learning to use.  Seemingly she is a Kree warrior fighting the good fight against the Skrull, shape-shifting enemies of the Kree empire. The Kree are a sort of Roman Empire in space and the centre of their power system is a deity-like AI, The Supreme Intelligence, a mysterious entity that communes with individuals in the guise of someone important to them.  After a meeting with The Supreme Intelligence, Vers, as she is known at this point, (Trekkies will get a kick out of this one) goes on her first mission, the rescue of a Kree spy from one of the Kree border planets. One Skrull infiltration, capture and escape later finds Vers plummeted to Earth, trashing a Blockbuster video shop in the process.  Soon she is finding clues to her past life and also the mission in hand as Skrull warriors pursue her. Joining her on this voyage of rediscovery for the buddy cop portion of the film is a bright eyed, two-eyed Nick Fury.

Like its recent rival Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel has a girl-power message running through the heart of it. Where Captain Marvel succeeds over Wonder Woman is in not having any love interest distracting from the heroine’s stake in the story.  Best of all it gets its agenda across without hampering with the narrative, though the speechifying could have been dropped a notch or two.

Like all of its predecessors, this is a slick affair and certainly worth a visit to the cinema if you are a fan.  A fun but uneven ride, plot logic certainly drops along the way and it is hampered by some pedestrian moments running alongside some really good ones.  I personally don’t get the Brie Larson thing, she’s fine in her role as the good Captain but that’s all I can really say about her performance. Annette Bening excels in her extended cameo, Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull leader gets more laughs than you might expect from a Skrull, Jackson is also in good form as his younger self with the aid of some Fountain of Youth CGI, but I don’t think the bill for the VFX would have been as high as the ones for Michael Douglas or Kurt Russell’s wrinkle removal. Finally, it’s worth noting that this is the first Marvel film to be released since Stan Lee’s passing, a nice tribute is made to him right at the beginning and a really poignant cameo appears in the film that those who know why will love. Excelsior.

Paul Farren

123 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Captain Marvel is released 1st March 2019

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dark Lies the Island

Stephen Porzio takes on the Mannions in Dark Lies the Island.

Martin and John Michael McDonagh better watch out. Another Irish literary figure has made the jump to the silver screen, bringing something fresh to the country’s trademark dark comedies.

Dark Lies the Island sees author Kevin Barry (City of Bohane, Beatlebone) team up with Irish directing old pro Ian Fitzgibbon (Moone Boy, Perrier’s Bounty) for a pitch-black comedy drama based on characters which appeared in various of the writer’s short stories. Charlie Murphy’s Sarah narrates. She is a bored, checked-out housewife to the much older and rich Daddy Mannion (Pat Shortt). Through a chain of businesses, he pretty much runs the sleepy town of Dromord in which the action takes place.

Daddy has two kids from his first marriage. There’s Martin (Moe Dunford), a weak womaniser filling the Fredo role and Doggy (Peter Coonan), someone who went from having a bright future to being an agoraphobe running a dating service from a caravan in the woods. Throughout the drama, these characters – along with Tommy Tiernan’s mysterious newcomer to Drumord and a pair of cousins in debt to Doggy – all converge in a climax where past histories and repressed trauma come to light.

At first, Dark Lies the Island feels like another Perrier’s Bounty, an enjoyable if forgettable sub-Tarantino comedy noir given an Irish flavour. After all, the ingredients for such are in place – pulpy narration, a seemingly scary psychopath in Doggy, eccentric locals.

Yet, as the movie continues and the plot gets increasingly bizarre and dark, one realises that Barry is doing something truly different. He is taking fantastical, heightened tropes that film fans like but is using them to explore contemporary themes like mental health and how patterns of emotional abuse develop within families.

Shot dreamily by terrific cinematographer Cathal Watters, the fictional town of Dromord (its palindromic spelling reflective of its purgatorial nature) is not meant to be interpreted as a real place. Neighbouring a lake – in which we often see ominous fog rolling alongside – it’s symbolic of Doggy, Martin and Sarah’s mental state. These are people living under the dark cloud of the sinister tyrannical Daddy, a nasty weak man who gets his kicks making others feel small.

While these characters all seemed like clichés at the beginning of the film, Barry’s script thoughtfully, as it continues, explores why these people have taken to these almost assigned roles, touching, at the same time, upon sins of Ireland’s past. While the climactic event is somewhat inevitable and all the characters outside the Mannion’s immediate circle feel slightly extraneous, it’s to Barry’s credit that by the end of Dark Lies the Island, the movie feels far less Grindhouse than it does Gothic. This reviewer wouldn’t be surprised if the writer eventually makes the transition to director.

 

Dark Lies the Island screened on Wednesday, 27th February as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March 2019).

 

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Irish Film Review: The Hole in the Ground

Dir: Lee Cronin  Wri:Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet  Pro: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland, Ulla Simonen  DOP: Tom Comerford. Prod Des: Conor Dennison  Ed: Colin Campbell  CAST: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, James Cosmo, Simone Kirby

 

Sarah (Kerslake) moves to rural Ireland with her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey). Through conversations between mother and son, we get hints at Sarah’s past abuse at the hands of Chris’ father with oblique references to an “accident” which left Sarah with a scar on her forehead. One night when Chris runs off into the forest and near a bizarre, somewhat otherworldly sinkhole, Sarah starts to notice strange changes in his behaviour. Her anxieties aren’t helped by a mysterious neighbour, considered crazy by the locals, Noreen (Outinen), who screams at Sarah that Chris is “not your boy”. It is revealed that Noreen rejected and possibly even murdered her own child decades before, under a similar idea that he had been replaced by an evil force.

Having received rave notices at its premiere in Sundance and having been picked up for US distribution by the mammoth A24, Lee Cronin’s supernatural horror and feature debut arrives for its homecoming with much fanfare and is unlikely to disappoint fans of the genre. It draws on horror tropes of creepy children and the fears of parenthood to consistently entertaining effect. It’s a film that touches on some dark ideas and resonant themes but is also keen to deliver a rollercoaster ride for the audience. Cronin and his editor Colin Campbell ensure there’s not an ounce of flab on this taut, decidedly effective genre-piece.

Seána Kerslake reaffirms her status as one of Ireland’s biggest acting talents with a performance of complexity, subtlety, charisma and no shortage of physicality. This looks like another step on her way to inevitable international stardom. She is ably supported by Markey who strikes just the right note of sinister unreadability. There are also fine, nuanced supporting turns by Outinen, who makes something more of the creepy neighbour character, and Cosmo, who essays a lifetime of confliction and tragedy in tremendously naturalistic terms.

Tom Comerford’s murky cinematography perfectly captures a sense of the alienation of rural isolation. There’s also terrific use of music. Indeed, the superb opening credits sequence, with a neat nod to The Shining, set up an overwhelming sense of dread from the get-go through the superb camerawork and Stephen McKeon’s deafening score. Cronin also bravely refuses to unwrap all the films mysteries, retaining an ambiguity that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.

A superbly acted, lean and highly entertaining horror film, and a fine feature debut by Cronin.

 

David Prendeville

89 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Hole in the Ground is released 1st March 2019

 

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