Review: Uncut Gems

DIR: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie • WRI: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie • DOP: Darius Khondji • ED: Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin • MUS: Daniel Lopatin • DES: Sam Lisenco • CAST: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett

Benny and Josh Safdie, aka the Safdie brothers, are quickly defining themselves as crown jewels of New York cinema, who can go toe to toe and pound for pound with the greats.  Uncut Gems marks their follow up to their critically acclaimed film Good Time, starring Robert Pattison.

There’s a spontaneity and vitality to Uncut Gems that feels totally improvised, but make no mistake it’s a finely crafted structure; a diamond through and through.  It might have something to do with the Safdies spending a decade honing the script, distilling it down to its absolute purest form. But somehow even this explanation doesn’t cut it. It’s more likely the result of some mysterious unseen process, that’s nothing short of cinematic alchemy. Uncut Gems is an incendiary display of virtuoso, acid-soaked filmmaking. It seems to have been born straight out of the head of Zeus, like a bolt of lightning. The film follows a full-tilt day in the life of jeweller, and chronic high-stakes gambler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler).

There’s a wild glisten in Howard’s eye, a yearning ambition that seems unfathomable in its scope. As Howard traverses the New York diamond district, we’re brought into the sphere of his world.  His working and domestic lives are an interconnected mess, and where one ends and the other begins is impossible to discern.  He settles bets. Trades bets. And pawns goods, only to place more bets. He’s separated from his wife. But has a lover at work. But he has to see his kids. And then, of course, he’s up to his neck in debt. But the values of his relationships rise and crash from moment to moment. It’s a perpetual hell-like dynamic, and his soul’s split in two, as he struggles to balance his insatiable desire, with his paternal responsibilities.  But when Howard’s violently beaten by debtors, he pawns anything and everything, and lays down the bet of a lifetime; and everything hangs in the balance.

The Safdie’s have capitalized on the spiritual essence of Sandler, and utilized it in a way that casts aside any doubters. And Sandler is riveting, his anxious charisma and beating heart have never been this finely tooled.  He grounds Howard with a humanity, and an existential longing which rages through his heart and drives his destabilizing lifestyle. This is the defining performance of Adam Sandler’s career, it’s a masterclass in acting that utilizes his talent to hypnotizing effect.  The cast is rounded out with a wealth of talent including Indina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch and NBA superstar Kevin Garnett.

The Safdie’s turn the New York diamond district into a vista of fluorescent and neon-soaked horror. Their vision is crystallized by the inimitable genius of legendary cinematographer Darius Khondji, who wields his camera and lighting with ferocious honesty. There’s a heightened naturalism and reality to everything that feels more like a documentary. Every second within the frame there’s a tension that anything can happen, and it does; life unfolds, at a dizzying gymnastic pace.

This is complemented with a score courtesy of the Safdies’ regular collaborator Daniel Lopatin. His punchy dance score is a battle of beating synthesizers and brass that are moulded and cast to euphoric effect.  Between the sonic insanity of uncategorizable beats, there’s an impenetrable loneliness that’s so Howard Ratner.

But past the glisten of diamonds and the cocaine mist of Uncut Gems, the Safdie Brothers have a crafted a potent mediation about the cost of our desires. And it’s a mesmerisingly unique human experience. The Howard Ratner experience. His life instantly feels both familiar and unfamiliar, and it’s this paradoxical mystery that won’t let you stop watching. There’s a profound cosmic hunger and melancholy that fuels Howard at the core. He’s magnetically drawn to the chaos of the moment even when he risks gravitating towards destruction. Ultimately, this all adds fuel to fire, making Uncut Gems an open-veined shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.

Michael Lee

135′ 21″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Uncut Gems is released 10th January 2020

Uncut Gems – Official Website

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Review: Cats

DIR: Tom Hooper • WRI: Lee Hall, Tom Hooper • DOP: Christopher Ross • ED: Melanie Oliver • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Tom Hooper • MUS: Andrew Lloyd Webber • DES: Eve Stewart • CAST: Francesca Hayward, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Laurie Davidson.

 

The tense times that we live in can be best defined by their moments of levity. The Pokémon Go craze of 2016 found children and adults worldwide staring through their phones while impending threats to democracy loomed overhead. If you’re at all active on Twitter (which I don’t recommend) you happen upon these moments every six months or so. A relieved exhale between gasps of rage; knives lowered from each other’s throats to catch your breath. The Cats trailer, released on 18th of July, was one such event. Its transmission was seismic, seemingly everyone in film discourse stuck in the same state of hysterics.
The ridiculous CGI on display rendered an A-list cast (itself a bizarre melting pot of British thespians and US pop stars) into pure nightmare fuel. Surely this wasn’t the look they were going with? It had to be work-in-progress, or imminently awaiting the Sonic treatment – a complete redesign from the ground up. Looking back, these assumptions read like the naïve pleas that they are.

 

Five months later, the full film hits theatres. It is neatly snuggled beneath the tent pole that is Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. This must be counter-programming, splitting the audiences for Space Operas and Broadway Musicals so each has their own event film for the Christmas weekend. It’s also convenient cover for when the film inevitably underperforms, failing to make back an astronomical budget of a rumoured €300 million.

 

All this context serves to background the baffling chain of events that left such a hairball on cinema screens around the world. Watching the film is an unreal experience – you are watching real people act in these roles, all the stylistic choices were made by real people; but the distancing effect of this furry CGI strips back any humanity. Great performers are neutered by the hellish technology. Imagine the constrained eeriness of Mike Myers’ Cat in the Hat, but without the fleeting comfort of the costumes being only fur and rubber. The digital uncanniness is the real darkness here – a sinister illusion that ensures you never get too comfortable.

 

Ian McKellen gets closest to some kind of beating heart as Gus the Theatre Cat. In a croaking baritone, he delivers a number on the fledgling state of contemporary theatre, noting a failure of younger cat actors to reach the dazzling highs of his generation. There appears to be a genuine soul behind Gus’ whiskers, and part of it almost feels like a cry for help. The presence of such a ballad within a film as bloated, plotless and artless as this is deliciously ironic.

 

In the lead role of Victoria, Francesca Hayward fails to grasp onto any semblance of character – the part is shallow, even by the standards of Broadway musicals. The function she serves is to be sung at, scene after scene, by an increasingly aimless parade of demonic felines. And the parade never ends, with each scene introducing us to a new cat, each with a stupider name than the last. The film leaps without breath between the personal anthems of Jennyanydots to Rum Tum Tugger to Bustopher Jones and at a certain point you start to feel a deep ache between your eyes. The endlessness of the things eats away at you. You are stranded, awaiting an inciting incident that never comes. You are trapped inside the discordant malaise.

 

Cats was controversial as a Broadway musical, and one can see why. It is not exactly an ideal calling card for the medium. Songs have laborious hooks that get stuck in your head and sink in their claws. The content of these songs is threadbare, most of them consisting of a character announcing their existence with no arcs or plot points in sight. Brief spoken asides (often mixed over song lyrics) are frantically used to advance the plot and provide relief. Director Tom Hooper seems under immense stress to try and find a movie within the margins of the material – and the stress ultimately wears him down.

 

Comparing this to Hooper’s 2012 adaptation of Les Miserables lends insight into a process that results in exponentially weaker results. Filming actors singing live onset (as Hooper did with Les Mis) allows for a reality in the performance which is ultimately undercut by technical restrictions. In trying to get multiple angles without burning out his cast’s vocal chords, the 2012 musical had a cinematic style that resembled a two-hour voyage through a wax museum with a fish-eye lens. Those big faces gave off strong, deeply held emotions, but the film around them gave no breathing space, and the result was suffocating.

 

His return to the world of musicals in Cats continues the in-your-face, breathless cinematic style, only this time the characters’ faces convey nothing but abject horror in the viewer. The editing is nervous and uncertain, with a shot time of under a second littering these inane musical numbers. The wide shots have no tangible focus, leaving the film no choice but to absent-mindedly shuffle between them like a deck of cards. There are so many reaction shots of characters look at each other in awe, but not one amounts to a meaningful relationship.

 

The July 2019 experience of watching the Cats trailer was two and a half minutes of (perhaps befuddled) joy. The full film brings more of the same, but the runtime becomes a Herculean burden to withstand. The viewer never gets used to these twisted creatures bounding towards the screen. There is no gradual process of empathising that you might get in similarly unintentional horror film like Zemeckis’ The Polar Express. These things are garish to the final frame. It instils a Lovecraftian madness in the viewer, the silver screen becomes a billowing veil of darkness. The woeful parasitic melodies enveloping them from all angles. A colossal beast beyond human comprehension stares back from the deep beyond, from a world where mercy and virtue have long since perished. It is Tom Hooper’s Cats; a film from which the reputation of cat people everywhere will never recover.

 

Cian Geoghegan

109′ 48″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Cats is released 20th December 2019

Cats  – Official Website

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Review: Frozen II

DIR: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee • WRI: Jennifer Lee • ED: Jeff Draheim • DES: Alex Holmes • PRO: Peter Del Vecho • MUS: Christophe Beck • DES:
Michael Giaimo• CAST: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad

Frozen is the kind of film to arrive once in a blue moon. Seemingly out of nowhere the film based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen became a cultural phenomenon. It was the highest-grossing film of 2013, even more impressive considering Iron Man, Thor, Superman, Bilbo Baggins, and Mike and Sully returned to screens that same year. Parents all over the world were doomed to a sentence of having to listen to the soundtrack on every car journey. Most people still shiver upon hearing the opening moments of “Let It Go”. Elsa became a character as recognisable as Cinderella. The film was a huge awards winner, collecting the Best Animated Feature Oscar with ease. It’s hard to remember a film that arrived with such minimal fanfare and went on to become a milestone moment in cinema. With all that being said, upon re-watching the first film you’ll be greeted with a film that as a movie is actually pretty mediocre. The story is all over the place making the film unsure of what it wants to be, Olaf is at times insufferable, the trolls take up way too much of the running time and Hans is a nothing villain. Considering Frozen was released during Disney’s renaissance it would have been fitting for the film to reach the heights of Tangled or Zootopia. With a sequel arriving six years later film fans across the world are eagerly waiting to see if Frozen 2 is at the level the first film should have been at. 

Frozen 2 takes place three years after the events of the first film as Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa (Idina Menzel), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Sven and Olaf (Josh Gadd) leave Arendelle to travel to a mysterious new land that may contain the secret behind Elsa’s powers. Change is the central theme of the film, which is fitting seeing as the children who adored the first film are six years older. Elsa is yearning for the unknown. Anna is quietly wondering what her purpose is, it isn’t easy being the sister of a god-like woman. Kristoff is ready to take the next step in his relationship with Anna by proposing to her. Even Olaf is in the midst of change as he ponders what aging will be like for a snowman who wasn’t meant to live past a week. The narrative takes the backseat in terms of giving the characters inner journeys that hold more weight than there actual mission. For instance, there’s no villain in the film. A bold move that pays off as it gives more time for character development, songs and moments where the gorgeous animation will blow you away. This is a sequel that is aware of the faults of its predecessor, improving in almost every way. This film is a shining example of how less is often more. 

A big worry with any sequel is that it will ruin the characters that made the previous film shine. The heart of Frozen lies within the relationship between sisters Anna and Elsa. Both characters are driven by how much their sibling means to them. At times they make foolish decisions in the hope of protecting one another. Some will detest a questionable decision that one of them makes in the third act, yet when you.re fuelled by protecting your family you will do anything to keep them safe. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel both give great performances respectfully. Bell is as funny as ever as she brings in most of the films laughs. In the previous film Elsa was a character who the film wanted audiences to think was complex, but never did much to drive the point home. Elsa in Frozen 2 is leaps and bounds better than before. Menzel has had few roles outside of the world of musicals, based on her performance here you wouldn’t have noticed. Elsa search for identity is made compelling by a sense of vulnerability that Menzel has in her voice. For all the little kids out there looking for a role model you no longer need to look. Elsa has justified why she is one of the world’s most popular characters.

The rest of the gang have little to do compared to their last outing. Kristoff, who was easily the highlight last time, has been relegated to watching from the side. It’s a shame considering how much energy Jonathan Groff brings to the film whenever he’s on-screen. From being at the core of the original adventure to being sidelined to fumbling proposal attempts, it’s a sad sight to behold. Olaf falls on the other side of the spectrum. Previously Olaf was stuffed down the audience’s throats; when a character is as one-note as Olaf his stick becomes very annoying very quickly. This time around Olaf isn’t given nearly as much to do. A decision that allows Josh Gad to make the most of his screen time; a sequence where he explains the events of the first film is hysterical. Gad deserves credit for delivering a performance that won’t scar parents. The only new characters with anything of note to add is Mattias (Sterling K. Brown) a guard from a mysterious new group. Brown brings laughs similar to his Emmy winning guest role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. However, he has zero relevance to the plot. A sequel brings the opportunity to bring in new characters who can add layers of depth to the story. To see the film choose not to add any new characters feels as if it played its cards too close to its chest. 

Directing duo Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee have learned a lot from there previous collaboration. Directors who work in animation often get ignored for the work they do, even though it’s arguably harder than making a live-action film. Buck and Lee’s direction is superb. Instead of sticking to the successful winter backdrop, the pair decided to move their film into a completely different season. The autumn setting allows for gorgeous animation to captivate the audience. Every single auburn leaf on-screen is mesmerising. While the narrative may be a tad weak, it goes by largely unnoticed due to the dedication of the directors to create a spectacle. If you are fearing another soundtrack that will stay in your car for the year, you will be sad to know that this is another exceptional soundtrack. The lead track “Into the Unknown” is a shoo-in for song of the year at the Oscars as it’s another song for the whole family to belt out.  “Lost in the Woods” sees Kristoff crush an 80s inspired anthem that A-Ha would be proud of. Anna’s heartbreaking “The Next Right Thing” is a defining moment that will influence thousands of children that even at their lowest point they need to keep fighting. For this message alone Frozen 2 deserves to be seen by all. 

Frozen 2 is a vast improvement from what came before. Elsa has been fleshed out, Olaf has been minimalised to reach his full potential, the songs are just as good and the direction is magnificent. Nobody expected Frozen to be the runaway success it became. All those involved in making a sequel could have easily taken the cash and churned out a lifeless film, that’s not the case. Over the course of the 6 years that passed since the 2013 hit everyone involved made sure that they would only come back if they could top what they previously achieved. Frozen 2 doesn’t just top its past accomplishments, it conquers it. Roll on the inevitable third installment, it’s not time to let this magic go.

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

103′ 4″
PG  (see IFCO for details)

Frozen 2  is released 22nd November 2019

Frozen 2  – Official Website

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Review: ‘The Lighthouse’ @ Cork Film Festival

 

Sean O’Rourke was at the Cork Film Festival to watch The Light House, Robert Eggers’ enthralling, evocative follow-up to the chilling period horror The Witch

Robert Egger’s latest spooky period piece is so bizarre, so borderline indescribable, that an attempt to sing its praises in any unified, cogent manner seems as doomed to spiral outward into the realm of incoherence as the lead characters themselves. All the same, I’ll do my best to explain why you should go see it.

From its wordless opening, The Lighthouse drops us right into the harsh reality (or perhaps unreality) its characters must endure for the film’s duration. Much like he and his team did in The Witch, Eggers immerses us in this setting completely – mixing harsh realism with expressionistic qualities in a manner not dissimilar to Jennifer Kent’s excellent work on The Babadook. We experience the difficult, everyday realities faced by the two lead characters, played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, as they operate a lighthouse on a 19th century American island. However, we also witness their steady loss of reality painted onto the film’s visuals, creating a complex visual style that is enhanced by a stark, gritty, unromantic, black and white colour scheme that makes the film feel at home in the 19th century in the same way that particular typefaces and styles of illustration might help a reader visually place a novel in a particular time period. Mark Korven’s excellent score helps with this sense of period appropriateness while also feeling fresh and terrifying.

The film’s visceral assault on the senses is helped by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson who give stunning performances as the two leads. They expertly portray painful transitions between anger, sexual desire, hatred, affection and despair. Often, the only thing that seems to keep them from killing each other is the alcohol that sometimes lulls their angriest impulses and lets them experience something like love for each other. There is a wonderfully strange loathing and fondness between them that is continually compelling.

And all the while, the film skilfully builds an omnipresent sense of doom. Sailor superstitions become horrifyingly present – whether they are real or not. Characters’ suspicions about the nature of their reality and about each other become realized and amplified, creating a sense of mounting terror. Adding to this terror is a sense that time has lost meaning, that logic has become unsatisfactory, that any coherent conception of reality is lost. 

I will stop myself from going into more specifics. This film deserves to be experienced with its many surprises and absurdities intact, and it’s best that I don’t lose the run of myself trying to detail why it’s all so captivating. Suffice to say, the film artfully pulls its audience into its setting and the fragile mental states of its characters. If any of that sounds appealing (or at least morbidly interesting) to you, then a viewing of this film is well worth your time.
 
The Lighthouse is released in cinemas 31st January 2020
 

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Irish Film Review: The Last Right

DIR/WRI: Aoife Crehan • DOP: Shane F. Kelly • DES: Alex Holmes • PRO: Pippa Cross, Paul Donovan, Casey Herbert • MUS: Gary Lightbody • DES: Neill Treacy • CAST: Brian Cox, Michiel Huisman, Colm Meaney

The Last Right involves two disparate passengers sat beside each other on a flight to Ireland who subsequently become connected by a shared surname and grief. Daniel Murphy is flying home for his mother’s funeral and Padraig Murphy is returning for his brother’s funeral. The latter is his brother’s only next of kin, and when Padraig passes away on the flight, it’s assumed Daniel is of the same Murphy family and the responsibilities for Padraig and his brother’s funerals fall upon Daniel. With his younger autistic brother Louis and his friend Mary in tow, Daniel embarks upon a reluctant road trip to bury Padraig and his brother together, despite a misunderstanding embroiling them in a police chase.

Aoife Crehan’s directorial debut is an impressive study on grief and isolation. Daniel (Michiel Huisman) and Padraig (Jim Norton) cross paths due to their respective losses within their families and their isolation stems from choice and circumstance. Daniel lives abroad whilst Padraig lost contact with his brother. Daniel has a fractured relationship with Louis (Samuel Bottomley) and wants to uproot Louis from Clonakilty to an autistic-focused boarding school in New York. The tension within their new family dynamic is eased with Mary’s (Niamh Algar) presence and in her encouragement of a road trip in bringing Padraig’s budgie-adorned cardboard coffin to the very north of Ireland to his intended resting place.

Niamh Algar is experiencing a stellar 2019 with remarkable performances in Shane Meadows’s The Virtues and Desiree Akhavan’s The Bisexual; displaying multifaceted characterisations in both. In The Last Right, Algar’s Mary is crucial in deflecting tension between Daniel and Louis and in burying Padraig alongside his brother. According to Mary, the relationship between Daniel and Louis “is more Eastenders than Rain Man”, and she offers levity despite her own vulnerabilities masked by her cheery exterior. Huisman is also adept in performing a character maintaining face despite numerous personal challenges. Bottomley impressively manages to portray both the subtleties of Louis’s autism and his emotionally-charged difficulties. 

Colm Meaney also appears as Detective Crowley who attempts to prevent Daniel from burying Padraig due to a mix-up as a result of Louis refusing to inform Daniel he was relieved from his duties as Padraig’s surrogate next of kin. Meaney is essentially reprising his character from Intermission in an alternate universe and he offers lighter tonal elements to the narrative. He’s then involved in an enjoyable sequence with the road trippers via a phone-in to The Joe Duffy Show in an attempt to negotiate with the runaway coffin ‘thieves’.

The lighter tonal moments are necessary but at times the film doesn’t know what film it’s striving to become with them and some sequences are also almost too stage play-esque. It could be an Intermission-type film with its lighter moments but Crehan does, however, manage to create a cohesive tonal blend much like 2014’s Calvary. The cinematography is effective at capturing a rugged coastline/island aesthetic that works in tandem with the theme of isolation and grief. The isolation applies to Louis and his autism but Crehan succeeds in conveying that he is not unique in being an alienated character and he experiences similar emotions to those around him. For Mary, she appears strong and confident, but she’s in a professional and personal rut, much like Daniel, who struggles to involve Louis in his own life.

Overall, The Last Right is a thoughtful approach to grief and isolation with sadness and humour that will ultimately offer hope for its characters. It’s an unexpected road trip full of heartbreak, humour and human kindness. Aoife Crehan has helmed a film that will make you eager to see what she creates next.

Liam Hanlon

@Liam_Hanlon

106′ 39″
15A (see IFCO for details)

The Last Right is released 6th December 2019

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Review: Ordinary Love

DIR: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn • WRI: Owen McCafferty • DOP: Piers McGrail • ED: Nick Emerson • DES: Nigel Pollock • PRO: David Holmes, Piers Tempest • MUS: David Holmes, Brian Irvine • CAST: Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville, David Wilmot 

Married for over 30 years, Joan (Lesley Manville) and Tom (Liam Neeson) are enjoying their life together – going on walks by the sea to stay fit and bickering at the shops. But when Joan finds a lump in her breast, the couple have to decide how to manage her diagnosis and move forward. The film examines the quiet perseverance and strength of normal people in extraordinary circumstances. 

Ordinary Love shows every stage of diagnosis, from finding a lump, to receiving a hospital appointment, mammogram, biopsy and upper body scan. I think this will be of a huge comfort to people in years to come. Whether it’s someone close to you or a friend of a friend, breast cancer affects a staggering number of people (1 in 9 according to Breast Cancer Ireland) and having this film as a starting point will serve people well. Choosing to show every part of the diagnosis is authentic and important. It’s worth noting that McCafferty drew inspiration from a personal place, as his wife survived breast cancer treatment.

While undergoing treatment, Joan begins to come out of her shell and talk to other patients. Bringing in minor characters this way is a masterful move by scriptwriter Owen McCafferty, as these moments change Joan’s perspective and present different experiences of chemo and cancer.

It’s great to see a story purely focused on a middle-aged couple on the big screen for a change. Lesley Manville, of Phantom Thread fame, is phenomenal and carries the role with charm and ease. Neeson is fantastic as the supportive husband, his normal accent adding a level of authenticity to the role. 

Cinematographer Piers McGrail constructs careful shots that catch your eye and bring beauty to everyday moments. His shot composition draws attention to difficult moments for the characters. You see the characters deal with these huge concepts of life and death while still managing to get on with the weekly shop. 

You’ll come out of the cinema with a new sense of how to live. You’ll remember to enjoy the little things: the cup of coffee with a friend, petty arguments, the walk beside the sea. Life is made up of so many of these moments you can enjoy if you decide to. Ordinary Love serves as a reminder to keep living, laughing and enjoying human connection. Co-directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn have created a film that’ll last a lifetime, and any film that encourages people to check for lumps is good in my book.

Aoife O’Ceallachain

92′ 8″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Ordinary Love is released 6th December 2019

Ordinary Love – Official Website

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Review: The Nightingale

 

DIR/WRI: Jennifer Kent • DOP: Radek Ladczuk • ED: Simon Njoo • DES: Alex Holmes • PRO: Kristina Ceyton, Steve Hutensky, Bruna Papandrea • MUS: Jed Kurzel • CAST: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr

Watching Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale is an oppressively confining experience. Nearly every scene seems to almost press in on the film’s protagonist, Clare, a transported Irish convict. Her life in a small Tasmanian settlement is oppressive, appropriate given the near unspeakable trauma she endures there. But even after she leaves for the ostensibly more open Tasmanian wilderness on a revenge mission, that feeling of confinement remains. Walls are replaced with brush that surrounds each scene, making these scenes feel small, cut-off, stifling. There, she meets a guide named Billy, a Tasmanian aboriginal. These two characters are framed by a 1.375:1 aspect ratio (a fancy way of saying that the frame is nearly as tall as it is wide), making it seem as though even the edges of the screen are  pressing inwards on them. And all the while, every random encounter with a colonizer out in the wilderness carries the threat of murder and rape. We are effectively boxed in with these characters, feeling their vulnerability to the British colonial project that surrounds them and constricts, ready to destroy not only their bodies but their identity and any conception they might have of home and belonging. Kent weaponsizes this feeling of confinement expertly, much as she did in her excellent The Babadook, giving us little comfort as we watch this revenge tale unfold. This alone would mark out Kent’s remarkable direction well enough and would give me good reason to recommend the film.

However, there’s more to this tale. There is comfort here. Though both Clare and Billy share English as a common tongue, they both also speak their respective native tongues. Both lead actors are excellent, especially in the moments where they make clear the intensely personal yet expansive cultural significance behind this native speech. In scenes where we witness this, we see a magical confluence between director and actor that suddenly makes these confined scenes feel liberatingingly expansive, not because the scenes become visually more open, but because we can hear and feel the vastness of the cultural identities carried on their voices, indicating something that colonialist violence hasn’t yet been able to completely stifle.

Here, the film displays its remarkable empathetic powers that, when present as they are for the vast majority of the film, make its insights into such heady topics as colonial, social stratification most compelling and its horrific violence most affecting. The scenes that lack this empathy are, therefore, its least effective. The film’s biggest weakness is one of its villains who becomes so evil, so inhuman, that my interest in his scenes waned. Indeed, the most interesting and affecting monstrosities of the film are the ones that are inexcusable, yet feel as though they are being inflicted by people tinged with a horrifying familiarity – who feel human and are thus all the more repulsive for it. In the rare moments when the film lacks this relatability, it loses some of its otherwise tight grip on the senses.

It must also be admitted that the film is quite long and doesn’t maintain the forward momentum it creates for itself in its first half. And yet, I feel that this is not actually a weakness. The film needs some downtime to convincingly expand its central conflict beyond that of a standard revenge thriller. It is as the complex, touching central relationship between Clare and Billy evolves alongside the film’s very plot structure that we might best see just how strong this script really is. As this happens, we get more and more moments of expansive meaning within this stifling, colonially circumscribed world and these moments of expansiveness are every bit as compelling as the nail-biting confinement we experience through most of the film. This dynamic helped me to feel no small amount of love for the two protagonists and what they represent. It made me realize that the film has done something truly special and is worthy of our rapt, horrified attention.

Sean O’Rourke

136′ 16″
18 (see IFCO for details)

The Nightingale is released 29th November 2019

The Nightingale – Official Website

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Review: Blue Story

DIR/WRI: Nicolas Bedos • DOP: Simon Stolland • ED: Mdhamiri Á Nkemi • DES: Gini Godwin • PRO: Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor, Paul Grindey, Damian Jones • MUS: Jonathon Deering • CAST: Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence

Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence

Blue Story is a compelling commentary on the contemporary postcode wars between London’s youths. It follows two young black males from different areas of London growing up as friends, external to the criminal backdrop and societal issues they live amongst. Timmy (Stephen Odubola) is a young naive romantic from Deptford who attends school in Peckham for a better chance at an education. Timmy becomes best friends with Marco (Michael Ward), who is from Peckham and has ties to local gangs due to his brother. The two are foreshadowed with over-looming conflict throughout, eventually leading to tragedy as both pick sides and indulge in the ongoing postcode war between Peckham and Deptford. 

This crime drama comes at a very relevant time as London gang crime becomes more and more prominent in mainstream media, including the recent release of the widely popular Netflix series Top Boy, in which Michael Ward also plays the lead. Though a grasp of the ‘Roadman’ vernacular is required for both,  Blue Story focuses primarily on the detriment of gang life and first time feature-film director Andrew Onwubolu, also known as ‘Rapman’, allows zero romanticisation of the crime within the narrative. Based on personal experience from Rapman’s childhood, the story does not conform to the good-guy vs bad-guy format but instead produces equally charismatic and likeable characters on opposing sides of the events. There are no winners and the true implications of the rampant hate and peer pressure within these urban melting pots illustrates the harrowing nature of the transition into adulthood young working-class London teens face. However, though the topical issue is that of grave severity Blue Story is not without its light-hearted laughs nor is it void of romance and relatable moments for the majority of the audience. 

Whilst the intention of the film was noble and the plot structure was of sound quality, the execution on screen at times was lacking. The general standard of the film felt very B class and certain avenues the director took were questionable. A primary example of this is the choice of narration Rapman himself decided to orate. Following each pivotal event of the film Rapman would emerge, in an omniscient manner, breaking the fourth wall and conveying the previous or future events through rap form, as a catch-up method. This seemed extremely out of place and completely broke the reality of the story multiple times. It also gave the sense that the production of the film was paced poorly and the plot needed to unfold at an unnatural rate for the story.

The film also begins with real life archival news footage of knife-crime and gang violence sweeping London. This set a level of expectation concerning both aesthetics and what level of realism the director wanted to connote. Unfortunately, in possibly an endeavour to dramatise, the main focus of the crime surrounded gun violence is far less of an issue compared to the knife-crime epidemic London faces today. The acting was not entirely noteworthy and there were many relationships that came across as forced in certain scenes. This being said, all characters performed the colloquial language of the real ‘Mandem’, which must be praised.

Overall, Blue Story stylistically illustrates the gravity of urban crime on English youths through a first-hand source of director Andrew Onwubolu. With many enjoyable and shocking moments there is rarely a dull scene amongst the drama. However, with a budget of 1.3 million this feature felt badly paced and poorly managed not allowing the actors to fully develop their characters to the extent that they could have. Having the potential to be a hard-hitting commentary on societal issues Blue Story instead comes across as a low-budget street-violence drama.

Tiernan Allen

91′ 16″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Blue Story is released 22nd November 2019

 

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