Irish Film Review: Dark Lies the Island

DIR: Ian Fitzgibbon • WRI: Kevin Barry • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: Stephen O’Connell • DES: Jeff Sherriff • PRO: Michael Garland • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • CAST: Peter Coonan, Moe Dunford, Charlie Murphy, Pat Shortt, Jana Moheiden

Dark Lies the Island is about a doomed love-rectangle in a small Irish town. Daddy Mannion (Pat Shortt) has the run of the place in Dromord. Every other business in town is a Mannion enterprise. But as his two sons (Moe Dunford and Peter Coonan) become jealous of his money and young wife Sara (Charlie Murphy), can the Mannions escape with their dignity intact? Inspired by characters from Kevin Barry’s short-story collection by the same name, Dark Lies the Island is a film about desperation and loneliness in a town that has a hold over all the characters.

Daddy Mannion may be the success of the town, but his personal life leaves much to be desired. His wife Sara, twenty years his junior, is bored sick at home with an atypical teenage daughter, played brilliantly by Jana Moheiden. Sara will do anything to punish Daddy for keeping her trapped in Dromord. To make matters worse, Daddy has two grown sons from his first marriage: failed businessman, Martin (Moe Dunford) and a recluse who runs shady businesses from his shack in the woods, Doggie (Peter Coonan). 

Most of the characters are desperate to get out of Dromord but do nothing to leave. Circumstances like debt, marriage, family business or agoraphobia keep people there, drive people to madness, and send them to the bottom of the lake. The irony of Doggie’s situation is highlighted when he says “I can leave whenever I want” but hasn’t set foot outside his shack in years. The feeling of being trapped is emphasised by cinematographer Cathal Watters, as he frames the characters in lots of close-ups, contrasting the expansive scenery outside. 

Something magical hangs over the film, as though Dromord has abstained from the rules of reality. The whole 90-minutes you’re waiting for the worst to happen to the Mannions, but you feel like absolutely anything could happen. The score by Stephen Rennicks (Room, Frank) enhances the mood – dark and playful at the same time, balancing light and dark.

I really wanted to like it more than I did. I’m a big Kevin Barry fan, so I was interested in seeing how Fitzgibbon would manage it. Barry has such a distinctive style that sadly didn’t translate to the screen. The magic of Kevin Barry is he puts you in someone’s head and makes you believe you’re there. But in the film, the focus shifts between so many different characters that it feels like a diluted version of his work. Barry perfectly balances humour and darkness in his short stories, and I’m not sure anyone can do him justice. 

With solid performances and gorgeous cinematography, it’s a shame the film doesn’t live up to the book. Barry’s tone is a hard one to pin down so I think audiences might have a hard time knowing how to feel. 

Aoife O’Ceallachain

87′ 

Dark Lies the Island  is released 18th October 2019

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Irish Film Review: Land Without God

DIR: Gerard Mannix Flynn, Maedhbh McMahon, Lotta Petronella • WRI/PRO: Gerard Mannix Flynn • DOP/ED: Lotta Petronella 

This documentary style film follows Gerard Mannix Flynn and his family’s traumatic experience within multiple institutions run by state and church in Ireland. 

The film gives light to the aftermath of violence many people have felt due to the power of church officials and how they ran certain institutions with an iron fist while preaching the word of god. Gerard revisits some of the institutions he was incarcerated within while breaking this up with interviews with his family and their experiences within the same or similar places. 

The story within aims to hit hard and it does deliver  as many people can relate to the story being told whether through themselves or their own family members. The fear within Gerard’s family members to this day is evident as they speak out and it is visible that their words are chosen with careful consideration with the aim of being able to tell what happened but also fear of retaliation even in modern-day Ireland. 

The only thing that took me away from the events being portrayed was the way in which the interviews were broken up. Gerard walking around the old institutions brought home the actual story being told but the break-up of the interviews with him in a room with only a chalkboard seemed unnecessary and brought me back to reality and not immersed in the events being told to me. The lack of narration did the same thing, but I have less quarrel with this while Gerard walked around the old buildings as sometimes you need the silence to appreciate the scene being shown to you. 

Overall, I feel obliged to thank Gerard and his family for being brave enough to speak out about what happened to them in relation to the physical, sexual and psychological abuse they suffered day in and day out when incarcerated within these places as children. The underlying theme of the story was that both violence and incarceration can only breed more violence and incarceration. If this is what you only know as a child, then what more are you expecting from life. Breaking a cycle like that would be near impossible while carrying around the trauma these people had to endure. 

Sean Dooley

74′ 

Land Without God is released 18th October 2019

Land Without God – Official Website

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Review: Stuffed

James Bartlett arranges the skin of Erin Derham’s documentary  about the surprising world of taxidermy and the passionate artists across the world who see life where others only see death.

For many people, the word “taxidermy” brings to mind crumbling mansions or old men’s clubs filled with unnaturally-posed animals stuffed and mounted after boastful hunting trips to exotic climes.  But that’s all changed now. 

Right now, the interest in taxidermy – both as an art form and as something to actually learn yourself – is bristling with young people, many of them female.  Lots of today’s practitioners tend to be tattooed or wear fab vintage clothes, and their Instagram accounts colorfully illustrate the trend towards creating animals in naturalistic poses, and especially advocating a deep commitment to animal conservation and education.

At the head of this very different kind of rat pack is Allis Markham, a taxidermist with her own studio in downtown Los Angeles, a bevy of celebrity clients, and a special love for birds. She’s the first person we meet – and perhaps most erudite and glamorous breakout star – of the documentary Stuffed, a film that is likely to challenge the old assumption that taxidermy is unpleasant and outdated.

The documentary meanders across the world talking to different practitioners. 

There’s veteran mentor Tim Bovard, the only full-time museum taxidermist in the USA, and the amusing Dutch duo Sinke and Van Tongren, who excel at unusual installations like a clutch of birds that you’d never see together in real life – but look beautiful.

The baby-faced Meng wears a cowboy hat and works on a jaguar, snarling in mid-leap, while the softly-spoken South African de Villiers is in awe of the amazing wildlife he sees in his own safari-esque backyard. 

There’s also time for offshoots like “rogue taxidermy” (i.e. combining animals for startling visual effect, or giving them human attributes like clothes or instruments. Some forms even use the bones, not the skins). 

The world of scalpels, shaping foam, wires and skins isn’t all about animals either.  The documentary also points out that taxidermy takes in other areas: trees, flowers, rugged landscapes, birds, insects, lizards and more. They look just as real and are just as painstakingly-created and posed as the big (or small) beasts that are usually the focus of any display.

Even at a brisk 85 minutes, Stuffed does lack an element or two; there aren’t many transitions between the interviews, so it often seems more like a series of vignettes rather than anything structured.

Also, though we see footage from the World Taxidermy Championships, there’s no sense that these taxidermists are preparing for that big event or, say, rushing to complete a complex commission.  

Nevertheless, the group seem like a fun bunch you’d like to hang out with. They share a genuine friendship and respect, and are certainly making taxidermy seem less of a mysterious world.

Amusing and undeniably interesting, Stuffed will make you think (and look) again when you’re next in the local museum.

Stuffed is releases in US cinemas 16th October. Irish release TBC.

Stuffed – Official Website

 

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Review: Abominable

DIR: Jill Culton, Todd Wilderman • WRI: Jill Culton • DOP: Robert Edward Crawford • ED: Susan Fitzer • DES: Max Boas • PRO: Suzanne Buirgy, Peilin Chou, Dave Polsky • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • CAST: Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor

The past year of animation has seen the beloved genre soar to new heights. Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse reinvented the comic book genre in a way that die-hard fans had been dreaming of for decades. Dragon Ball: Super Broly reminded those who unfairly ignore the genre that its presence is stronger than ever. Toy Story 4, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and The Lego Movie2: The Second Part were worthy successors to their magical previous films. Love it or loathe it there is no denying that the technical achievements in The Lion King remake were some of the finest ever seen on screen.

There arguably hasn’t been a better time to be a kid obsessed with film. One of the weirder things to emerge from the current animation renaissance is that in the past 12 months there have been not one, not two but three animated features about a human befriending a large mythical creature. Towards the end of last year Channing Tatum and Zendaya, as Mechee no less, starred in Smallfoot as Yetis who befriend a little boy that gave James Corden an excuse to be childish. Fast forward to April of this year to the release of Missing Link. A film that saw hunter Hugh Jackman becomes best friends with a Sasquatch voiced by Zach Galifianakis. A film that if you were one of the hoards of people that skipped it you need to make amends for that now! Surely that was a simple coincidence, nothing more. Yet, somehow another film has entered the fold with an almost identical concept to the other two. 

Abominable tells the story of a young girl called Yi (Chloe Bennet), who, like any other animated character, is coming to terms with her father’s death. Yi pushes her mother (Michelle Wong) and grandmother (Tsai Chin) away as she spends next to no time at home, choosing to take on any job she can in an attempt to have enough money to embark on an adventure. As fate would have it Yi doesn’t need money to go an adventure as a mythical creature stumbles into her life. Aided by her mischievous cousin Peng (Albert Tsai) and the school’s popular kid Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), the trio embark on an adventure to bring Everest back to his home, which, yes, is obviously Mount Everest for those wondering.

Abominable ticks all the boxes in the “How to Make a DreamWorks Movie Manual”. The relationship between Yi and Everest is identical to Hiccups and Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon. Everest’s mission to return home is straight from 2015’s Home. Peng is, at first glance, an irritable little sidekick in the same vein as Donkey, Bob or any of the characters from Trolls. Eddie Izzard’s villain is an evil businessman who wants to capture Everest for financial gain. Hell, even the films ‘save the environment’ message was already done in Bee Movie. It’s a shame that the plot of the film is so formulaic considering that Abominable is the first film from DreamWorks new sub-studio Pearl. Despite Abominable being the same animated adventure you’ve seen a million times before there’s a charm to be found that makes this a worthwhile trip to the cinema for younger and older audiences. 

Despite the generic feel of the movie, the characters elevate the material further than it should really go. Chloe Bennet gives an impressive lead performance as Yi. Bennet allows her character to be swept away by the fantasy elements of the story instead of making her character deny what’s going on around her. Yi is intelligent, funny and relatable, a perfect role model for any young kids watching. Jin’s storyline of going from a kid obsessed with social-status to mini warrior is one of the film’s funnier plots. One sequence involving Yi is a wonderful homage to First Blood.

Peng is slightly annoying as the younger sidekick, yet he never has enough to do or say to derail the story. Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson make a terrific double act as the villainous Burnish and his assistant Dr. Zara. Izzard and Paulson bounce off each other with ease, their running joke involving a whooping snake leaves an impression. While Everest isn’t as fleshed out as Toothless, an over-reliance on burping and farting is grating, the young Yeti is able to gain a relationship with the audience with his big blue eyes.

Everest is basically a younger Chewbacca, sure the older version is easier to spend time with, but we still want what’s best for the kid. Everest also has magic powers that could end the film inside the opening ten minutes, as this is a kid’s film fighting to hit the ninety-minute mark this option is not once discussed.

As it is written and directed by Jill Culton it’s clear that she wanted to put as much care as possible into the film. The Chinese setting of the film must be applauded, children of every background should be allowed to have their world represented on screen. Unlike Big Hero 6, which presented an American/Japanese hybrid city, Abominable is not afraid to delve into Asian culture. The animation of the locations is gorgeous, whether it’s the city lights or the fields of green, the Asian landscape is portrayed in a way that western filmmakers tend to get wrong. Culton put a female lead into her film without ever thinking that she must comment on it. It’s amazing that we finally live in a world where female lead characters don’t have to justify that they are as good as male leads.

Yi is an interesting character from start to finish, her love of violin leads to heart-warming moments. Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score is up there with his work on Hacksaw Ridge and Wonder Woman; it’s a shame that in a key emotional scene the film plays Coldplay instead of a Williams’ piece. With a story that we’ve seen time and time again, it’s a testament to the talents of Jill Culton and her crew that Abominable is a film brimming with positivity. 

Abominable is fun for all the family. While there is little in terms of originality to be found, it doesn’t matter when the film is this charming. Considering the last two big animated features were the dreary Playmobil Movie and the shambles that was Ugly Dolls, it’s a relief to see that Abominable is fit to be viewed alongside some of the genre’s biggest hits of the year. Just please, let’s give the mythical creature friendship a break until at least 2022. Wait, what? Onward is out next year?

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

97′ 13″
G (see IFCO for details)

Abominable is released 11th October 2019

Abominable – Official Website

 

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Another Look at ‘Gemini Man’

Paul Farren takes aim at Gemini Man.

Will Smith takes on Will Smith in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, from a script that has been bouncing around in development hell since 1997.  Smith plays Brogan, a well-meaning, conscience-addled hit man, who has been knocking off people in the name of freedom for many years and has a total of seventy-two hits under his belt.

Now on the cusp of retiring and just finishing off number seventy two, he finds his life in danger and the possibility that some of those hits may not have been what they were supposed to be. Most notably his final one, who turns out to be a molecular biologist rather than the evil terrorist he was supposed to be. 

Soon he is on the run with a junior spy and an old friend who fills in comedy relief and international pilot/chauffeur duties. Bottom line, he is being stalked by a younger, stronger clone version of himself at the behest of a subversive, rabid defender of liberty, played by Clive Owens. Owens has not only approved the existence of this clone, it calls him daddy. Then it gets sillier. This is not the first time Lee has delved into the world of high-end blockbuster, he had his way with the Hulk many years ago; that particular film still causes a schism for me when I wonder if it’s good bad or bad good. 

What fascinates here is how appalling the script is. It is filled with plot holes and fuzzy logic a three-year-old would get angry about. The globe-hopping has no other particular point to it other than to find nice locations to put behind the set pieces. A bit like the location jumping one sees in Tekken or Mortal Kombat. If it were a Jackie Chan comedy you might forgive it but other than Benedict Wong’s attempts at humour this maintains a serious tone bordering on the portentous.  

Ang Lee’s ardour for the high frame rate 3D presentation has not gone away despite the failure of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Gemini Man was shot at 120 frames per second for high definition 3D screenings. I can’t say too much about that, as the screening I witnessed came with some technical glitches – not the fault of the format.  Elsewhere the film is filled with a highly mixed bag of VFX , Will junior being the obvious source. This effect works best at night or low-light moments, but uncanny valley syndrome is never too far away. One particular scene in daylight with the two Wills is a classic demonstration of the syndrome.

All of these foibles would be a lot easier to forgive if they weren’t trying to hold together a dated, hackneyed script whose sell by date is long past.

Paul Farren

 

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Review: Gemini Man

 

DIR: Ang Lee • WRI: David Benioff, Billy Ray, Darren Lemke • DOP: Dion Beebe • ED: Tim Squyres • DES: Lucio Seixas • PRO: Jerry Bruckheimer, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger • MUS: Lorne Balfe • CAST: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen

Kids these days. Not only are they spending all their money on skinny lattes while simultaneously hoarding their wealth, they’re also ruining the action-hero genre. That is, at least, according to Ang Lee’s latest film, in which middle-aged men are the characters with agency who not only save the world but also threaten it with danger. Millennials just seem to get in the way of everything with their constant neediness.

Gemini Man follows Henry Brogan, the older Will Smith, an elite assassin who is about retire, when he himself becomes the target of a failed assassination attempt. Escaping to Europe with fellow agent Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he discovers that he has been cloned to create an improved version of himself – ingeniously named Junior, just in case we were confused. When the two Smiths first come face-to-face it’s hard not to think about the cop from Bright trying to swat away the Fresh Prince: the film is at its best when engaging in ridiculous, over-the-top action set pieces, but even those are few and far between. If nothing else, it’s rather fascinating that the aspect of the younger Smith with which the CGI has the most problem representing is his upper lip, inviting us to question the directorial choice to draw attention to it by having him licking ice cream while watching a simulated army training montage. Yes, that is a thing that happens.

For most of its run-time Gemini Man is far from thrilling and appears stuck in nostalgia for a bygone time when manly men manfully transversed the globe in luxury jets saving the world. Henry’s ex-colleagues are all men of a certain age who appear to still be the ones saving the world despite (or perhaps due to) their opulent lifestyles (although this reviewer is happy to admit she is always delighted to see Benedict Wong doing well for himself). The film also sets the low bar of expecting kudos for not having Henry engage in sexual relations with Danny. Gotta start somewhere, I suppose. 

Where Gemini Man gets particularly squeaky is in its politics regarding the younger generation. The problem with Junior, despite being a born-and-bred assassin, is that his father figure (Clive Owen) coddled him as a child. He is, as a result, simultaneously a cold-blooded killer and also a spoilt brat with no direction. There probably should be some interesting commentary to be found about incels hidden beneath it all, except for the fact that we’re watching it from the point of view of heroic boomers who just happen to know what’s best for the poor little disturbed millennial boy. While we get the ages of both Smiths, Winstead’s Danny is that eternal age of women in Hollywood action: approximately thirty (probably?) but with little-to-no character development so it doesn’t really matter.

The whole project would likely be a lot more enjoyable if it wasn’t for the woeful script in which characters never say anything that the audience hasn’t already anticipated. If nothing else, for those watching it in 3D there are some enjoyable scenes in which the depth-of-field is carefully used to enhance the action. For the rest of us, unless you’re an Ang Lee completist, it’s far from necessary. 

Sarah Cullen

116′ 53″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Gemini Man is released 11th October 2019

Gemini Man – Official Website

 

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Review: The Day Shall Come

DIR: Chris Morris • WRI: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong • DOP: Marcel Zyskind • ED: Billy Sneddon • DES: Lucio Seixas • PRO: Iain Canning, Anne Carey, Christopher Morris, Emile Sherman • MUS: Christopher Morris, Sebastian Rochford, Jonathan Whitehead • CAST: Anna Kendrick, Danielle Brooks, Denis O’Hare

Chris Morris’ second feature The Day Shall Come continues in a similar vein to Four Lions. It features a hodgepodge of eccentrics that would take on the world-order in the name of Allah. In this case our potential jihadists are quite harmless. Led by the person with mental illness and well meaning Moses Al Shabazz, they have a non-violent jihad policy, preferring notional bow and arrows and dinosaurs to guns, when the day shall come. 

Moses and his impoverished little band eke out a frugal existence on the margins of society in Florida. Unfortunately, the FBI are looking for a patsy after a failed attempt to get a case against a stoned ‘terrorist’ they had already baited in order to target a spring break extravaganza with a large bomb. In one of the film’s funniest moments, we learn that the potential terrorist has a religious inspired phobia for the number five and is unwilling to press all the numbers required to detonate the device.  Moses’ eccentricities turn out to be even harder to manipulate than expected and it is only when he is facing eviction does he become a possible successful target for the FBI’s machinations.

There is no doubting Morris’ talent as a comedy writer and satirist, nor his huge influence on so many talents for good and bad. Brass Eye is still one of British television’s great achievements.  When someone mentions cake to me Brass Eye is the first thing that comes to mind, not actual cake. Unfortunately, Morris latest film is not one of his great achievements. Playing with an uneasy mix of drama and farce it feels at times like an overly complex South Park episode but lacking the topicality South Park has as part of its armoury.  There is no doubting the righteousness of his agenda and it is never less than amusing, but unfortunately as satire it all feels rather toothless. The farcical elements outweigh the drama that is required for it to have an impact and in the final denouement it goes where a Chris Morris venture would be expected to go but without any resonance.  We understand the implication of the film’s point of view but its manipulations along the way to get us there feel too contrived to have real emotional weight.  

At the beginning of the film a title tells us it is inspired by “One hundred true stories”, if some of these stories had been relayed to us in some way rather than alluded to, the film might have had a stronger impact instead of being just a cold, clever farce that tells us the FBI are bad guys.

Paul Farren

87′ 37″
15A (see IFCO for details)

The Day Shall Come is released 11th October 2019

The Day Shall Come – Official Website


 

 

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Review: The Kitchen

 

DIR: Andrea Berloff • WRI: Andrea Berloff • DOP: Maryse Alberti • ED: Christopher Tellefsen • DES: Shane Valentino • PRO: Michael De Luca, Marcus Viscidi • MUS: Bryce Dessner • CAST: Elisabeth Moss, Melissa McCarthy, Domhnall Gleeson

(Contains minimal spoilers)

Adapted from a DC Comic of the same name, The Kitchen tells the story of three women in 1970s New York who take over the Irish Mafia while their husbands are in prison. Before the husbands are locked up, we see Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) helping her kids do homework, Claire (Elisabeth Moss) getting punched by her husband, and Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) being yelled at for buying the wrong beer. When they start to run out of money, they have to earn the respect of the neighbourhood in a system that only views women as wives and mothers. With all the elements of a gangster flick, The Kitchen is about creating a space for yourself in a man’s world.

A film you think will be about strong women running the Irish Mafia is undermined by one character’s need to be rescued. When Claire’s abusive husband is sentenced to prison, she smiles knowing she won’t be attacked for at least two years. With no employable skills “besides getting hit” Claire starts volunteering at a soup kitchen where she gets attacked and ends up in hospital. A short time later, she is sexually assaulted while taking out the bins, only to be saved by a new love interest, Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson).

After this, Claire exacts revenge on her attacker and gains confidence in herself. It’s hard to know whether she has finally found her voice or has adapted to what her new boyfriend expects from her. Writer/director Andrea Berloff leans on the damsel in distress trope, where Claire is saved from the evils of New York City by a man, and not by her female friends. I left the film asking myself if Moss’ character really needed to be broken down in order for her to be built back up again? 

Berloff’s work highlights undervalued members of society (Straight Outta Compton) and their fight for respect as they try to achieve their goals. The domesticated leads are tired of being treated as wives and mothers, and not as fully-fledged human beings with dreams and aspirations. The characters create an indispensable role for themselves in the Irish Mafia, giving them a purpose outside the home. 

McCarthy, Haddish and Moss deliver great performances in a forgettable film. A rough reworking of the gangster film, The Kitchen shines a light on the characters who usually only exist in the background. 

Aoife O’Ceallachain

102′ 30″
16 (see IFCO for details)

The Kitchen is released 20th September 2019

The Kitchen – Official Website

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