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.
99 minutes 15A (see IFCO for details) Greta is released 19th April 2019
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.
92 minutes 15A (see IFCO for details) The Limit of is released 5th April 2019
Anthony Kirby gets trapped in Neil Jordan’s latest film, Greta, which screened at this year’s Dublin Film Festival.
After a six year hiatus auteur/director Neil Jordan makes a brilliant return to cinema with this suspenseful gothic chiller.
Boston-born Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) finds a designer handbag on the subway while returning from work as a waitress in a five-star restaurant. She’s anxious to return it and tracks down the owner, Greta Hideg, (Isabelle Huppert). Greta is a French-born piano teacher who lives in a beautiful brownstone apartment and loves Liszt, especially his haunting Liebestraum . Visiting her for afternoon tea, Frances is troubled by a loud banging which even Greta’s piano virtuosity can’t drown out. “ Oh they’re remodelling the next apartment,” says Greta offhandedly.
Frances is mourning the recent death of her mother and immersing herself in work. Greta still mourns the death of her daughter some years earlier. The younger and older women seem to find succour in each other.
Frances shares a sumptuous apartment with streetwise New York native Erica ( Malika Monroe , Widows). Erica is cautious about Frances’s new friendship and says so . Then on a subsequent visit while looking for condiments while about to enjoy dinner with Greta, Frances opens a wrong drawer and finds ten bags identical to the designer bag she returned to Greta. Alarmed, she makes a lame excuse and a quick exit. It is then that things take a turn for the worse as Frances realises she has been lured into Greta’s web.
Great actors such as Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World , Fay Dunaway in Mommie Dearest and Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction enjoy the challenge of playing demented characters. Isabelle Huppert is no exception and relishes giving a no holds barred performance. Kudos again to Jordan for his encouragement. What follows is a masterful tale of obsession and suspense, co-written by Jordan alongside Ray Wright.
It’s hard to say who’s having more fun Hubbert or Jordan . Of course neither have anything to prove at this point in their careers. Seamus McGarvey’s camera work is excellent without being obtrusive especially in the final scenes. The only sad thing about this thriller is that Jordan stalwart Stephen Rea and Irish Canadian Colm Fiore are so underused.
Ultimately the film is a triumph on the part of Jordan and Huppert and certainly a feather in young Chloe Grace Morentz’s cap. Perhaps like Fatal Attraction it will become something of a classic.
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 incidentsimplydoesn’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 hemanufactures 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.
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.
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.
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.
June Butler was at the Dublin International Film Festival for a screening of Sacha Polak’s Irish co-production Dirty God.
In her first feature length role, newcomer Vicky Knight elicits a mesmerising performance as Jade in Dirty God, a moving film about inner beauty and societal burdens placed on those who are deemed to fall outside accepted images of physical attractiveness. The initial introduction to Jade is pitiless and unflinching. Jade has been the victim of an acid attack with her controlling ex-boyfriend Eli (Karl Jackson), and father of her daughter, to blame for the assault. Opening scenes are tense with close-up images showing the cauterized landscape of Jade’s face and neck contorted in whorls of brutalised body tissue. A heart-beat tempo accompanies Jade through underground raves with strobe lighting casting shadows on her facial scars as she makes her way through crowds of gyrating dancers. A previous romantic interest is dating Jade’s friend but the attraction between Jade and Naz (Bluey Robinson) is undeniable. Naz is able to see beyond the adage and realises that beauty may be considered skin deep but what lies further beneath is beyond compare.
Various scenes show Eli prowling through nightclubs within sight of Jade – almost appearing to know her every move. When the case goes to court, Jade appears alone and vulnerable locked into a staring match with the ubiquitous steely-eyed Eli. Jade briefly finds freedom when she dons a burqa and dances her way along the balconies of the housing complex she lives in. Invisibility is the currency Jade craves in her search for acceptance.
Jade attempts to kindle online relationships but soon learns that she is vilified for her disfigurement and slowly starts to withdraw. Her shoplifting mother, Lisa (Katherine Kelly), is unable to fully grasp the mental anguish Jade is experiencing as she is rejected at every turn. Ultimately, Jade’s journey begins when she embraces the love of her young daughter and realises that she alone holds the key to becoming a survivor and living life on her own terms.
Sacha Polack, as director and producer of this truly beautiful film has wrought a stunning piece of cinematic mastery. By exploring the tragedy of those who have suffered a similar fate and who find themselves locked in a world where every witness recoils in horror or stares transfixed, Polack has raised the spectre of an apocalyptic post-acid life. What happens after the burns heal as best they can? How do relentless visual presentations of human perfection hold up against a body that seems to be broken beyond repair? The deliberate dehumanisation of another living being is troubling and disconcerting as Jade encounters casual brutality carelessly doled out by co-workers. Moreover, Polack touches upon a system of barbaric annihilation – one that is endured whilst passively existing as an object of love. When rejection occurs, a visceral all-consuming rage follows suit provoking ultimate obliteration.
Postscript by the reviewer:
I went to see this film in Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema and encountered Sacha Polack and Vicky Knight at the viewing. Knight briefly related how she, at the age of eight, was the victim of an arson attack and was badly burned as a result. Knight outlined her initial reluctance in becoming involved with the project but was persuaded by the extremely convincing Sacha Polack. For both Polack and Knight, this was a perfect encounter and the relationship has engendered a film that exudes authenticity. This reviewer is very much looking forward to the prospect of future offerings from both.
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.
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.
June Butler takes a look at Fearghal Ward and Adrian Duncan’s Reel Art film,Floating Structures, which shines a light on buildings and structures that seem as though they have emerged from another world.
Floating Structures is an ambient architectural feast that focuses mainly on edifices where glass is considered an essential part of the project.
It follows a narrator as he travels to investigate the creation of German civil engineer Heinrich Gottfried Gerber. Gerber conceived of, and designed cantilevered bridges over the Regnitz at Bamberg and traversing the Main at Hassfurt. Elements of both conduits were then ably used by Peter Rice, an Irish structural engineer in the construction of a number of notable landmarks.
The audience is brought through the assembly of such buildings as the Pompidou Centre (1971), and La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Villette (1986) – both in Paris. However Rice can also lay claim to working on construction of the Sydney Opera House roof (1957), the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield (1967), and Pabellón del Futuro, Seville, Spain (1992). Rice integrated Gerber’s structural concepts and incorporated them seamlessly into the buildings he worked on. La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie featured three greenhouse spaces in the façade which were deemed to be the first glass walls positioned without a frame or supporting fins. Footage from the time of assembly shows Peter Rice putting the glass in place.
What follows is a beautiful journey into the marvels of creation narrated easily in lay-person’s terms – a passage to unfettered imagination. The documentary encourages an interest in maps of the mind and lends visual meaning to the concrete landscape surrounding city dwellers. Both the old and the new are investigated – parallels are drawn between Chartres Cathedral and more modern buildings, concluding that while materials used on recent constructs differ, the overall supposition is that the law of physics remains the same.
Floating Structures is a quiet and unassuming foray into celebrating the genius of Peter Rice and well worth viewing.
Irene Falvey reflects on Gaza, Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell’s documentary, set among the communities who live in Gaza.
Gaza, a documentary portraying the reality of people’s lives in Gaza, is introduced at its screening during the Dublin International Film Festival by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell who worked on this documentary together. It is clear from their introduction that this joint project required commitment as the production spanned from 2015-2018. The filmmakers’ perseverance was not in vain as this documentary provides an eye-opening insight into the world of everyday people living in Gaza.
In place of documenting the relentless political turmoil in this location, Keane and McConnell’s documentary looks at Gaza from a personal rather than a political point of view. It successfully encapsulates the human response to living in this conflicted space, revealing both defiance and uncrushable human will alongside frustration and fear. Throughout the documentary, the filmmakers record a collection of people from different walks of life, all sharing the same land and the same seemingly hopeless situation. The viewer witnesses a mixture of responses and coping mechanisms that the civilians assume, with an emphasis on humanity and understanding.
To commence the documentary we are given a synopsis of the situation in Gaza, a densely populated strip of land, with closed borders on either side. While there is a long and tense history to be examined here, the film focuses instead on those that are really affected by these events – the people. With this context in mind the documentary can be viewed as an examination of survival, both physically and mentally. How can a community carry on when their basic human needs aren’t being met? How can a community live in a space that is constantly inflicted by war? While the documentary doesn’t shy away from these subjects, it concentrates more closely on the coping mechanisms of the people themselves living in Gaza; it is clear that this is all the civilians can do, to aspire to cope rather than to live.
One of the main themes threaded throughout the documentary is the sea. Initially the sea is depicted as a symbol of freedom. One participant in the film, an educated fourteen-year-old girl called Karma, sees the hopelessness of her situation but says that the sea provides some solace. The sea in the context of this documentary can be seen as a horizon, that there exists a more free life outside of this trapped state. However, the horizon here is a conflicted one; it is an unreachable horizon, a horizon that is off limits. This unattainable border is both symbolic and real – there is a 3 mile border limitation on this sea front.
One of the first people we are introduced to in the film is a young fourteen-year- old boy whose greatest dream is to one day own a fishing boat and be the captain. His life expectations demonstrate that the sea is a barrier rather than a symbol of freedom. Growing up in the context of Gaza, how is an uneducated boy to imagine anything greater on his horizon than captaining a ship that can go no further than three miles?
In the face of adversity one of the most common human reactions is to take action. In the context of Gaza, however, the film portrays this being an unwise choice. Young frustrated men make violent attempts to bring about change with gunshots and stone-throwing, only to end up injured and feeling even more ineffectual.
For several people in the film they fight against the adversity by expressing their emotions through music instead of violence. Karma, a fourteen-year-old girl who dreams of winning a scholarship, finds escapism through playing the cello. While music won’t lift the barriers or stop the difficulties of life in Gaza, it manages to bring some peace and harmony to those that must endure their lives there. We witness an injured young man who becomes a rap artist, to ensure that he isn’t “a burden to society”. A taxi driver, whose life we follow, sings with many of his passengers, using music as a universal language to strengthen the spirits no matter what strife they must struggle through.
In a place where a community can’t freely come and go as they please, the idea of Gaza as a prison is clearly established within the documentary. The people within Gaza could be viewed as innocent prisoners sentenced and confined, despite not being guilty of any crimes. In a place where education, jobs, electricity and food are in short supply there is a sense of a frustrated acceptance – while the people are resilient, they are also aware that their situation isn’t going to change any time soon.
While the documentary successfully reveals the strength of these people in the face of hardship, the desperation of the situation they are going through remains constantly present.
The film creativelyswitches the context of the current situation in Gaza from the political to the personal to show the real effects of the relentless conflict. We witness a people and place that are trapped and frustrated yet ever on the verge of turmoil. Despite the severity of the situation, the documentary shines a light on the pervasive sense of humanity of those that are striving to survive in Gaza. With understanding and sympathy the filmmakers have managed to capture how the toils of war shape the lives of people who are trapped by it.
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.
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.
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.
Dakota Heveron reviews Shane J. Collins’ take on modern Dublin in his comedy-drama feature, Dub Daze
Director Shane J. Collins has hit the ground running with his first feature length film Dub Daze, which premiered at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on Saturday. There couldn’t have been a better place for it, as it became clear right from the opening scenes that the film was an open and honest love letter to Dublin, written by one of the city’s own.
The film weaves together three discrete but connected narratives of young adults all trying to make a place for themselves in the city, each faced with their own particular obstacles. Dan (Ethan Dillon) and Baz (Sam Lucas Smith) are two friends looking for a way to celebrate their last day of school, but Baz’s recklessness ends up getting them in trouble with a local drug dealer named Petal (Clide Delaney). Sean (Shane Robinson) and Jack (Nigel Brennan) are medical students from Cork looking for a place to stay in Dublin. Sean is quickly accepted by a group of well-off Irish students who make Jack the butt of their ‘fresh off the tractor” jokes, causing Sean to question just where his loyalties lie. Fiona (Leah Moore) has dreams of making it as a musician, but she is forced to contend not only with Dublin’s cutthroat music scene, but also her father’s alcoholism.
It is to the film’s credit that despite the multiple plotlines and numerous characters scattered across its landscape, it manages to avoid becoming confusing or convoluted. The characters are so distinct and well-formed that we as the audience always know exactly who we’re with. This is due in large part to the film’s editing (done by Collins himself), as well as the incredible talent of its cast. There is nothing exaggerated or put-on in the actors’ deliveries; their performances are down to earth and strikingly realistic.
There are moments when the film itself feels like one long session, an unpredictable and turbulent night out in Dublin, punctuated by genuinely poignant moments that emphasize the incredibly three-dimensional emotions and realism of the characters. Scoring this night out is a well-chosen mix of songs largely featuring Irish musicians including Bantum, Majestic Bears, Indian, and This Side Up.
Also central to the film is of course Dublin itself. Dub Daze is clearly a labour of love, and Dublin is the focal point of its affection, the camera lingering just as lovingly on a graffitied wall as it does on the Samuel Beckett Bridge. The film makes a point to bring together its three narratives, connecting the city’s north, south, and center. There is a sense of intimacy in this connectedness, and in the consistent banter and comradery between its characters, painting the picture of a city where, despite its urbanity, ‘everyone knows each other’.
DIR: Robert Rodriguez • PRO: Jinko Gotoh, Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller • WRI: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller • ED: Clare Knight • DES: Patrick Marc Hanenberger • MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh • CAST: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett
Wow, has it been really been five years since Everything Was Awesome? Some of the kids that saw the first the first Lego Movie are twice as old as they were back then? Will the new film still have meaning for their grown up selves? Of course it will because it was never for kids in the first place, not in the physical sense anyway. These films are filling that inner child void no one likes to admit having, that realm of the imagination and heart, that only the likes of Bill Maher does not have!
The first Lego Movie ended on a cliffhanger. What was going to happen next? Finally we get to find out. Phil Lord and Chris Miller have made a sequel that is equal to its predecessor, an equal sequel if you will.
If you remember Dad realised his rigid Lego attitude and constructions were selfish and not useful to the growing imagination and versatility of his son who wanted to play with Dad’s Lego too. He allowed him to play with the Lego. This was fine but came with a sub-clause in the form of little sister being allowed to play in the bountiful basement of Lego. This resulted in an alien invasion of sorts.
The new film picks up from there, the citizens of Bricksburgs, led by Emmett, attempt to make friends with the new arrivals. It does not have the required effect, a title-card emblazoned with “Five Years Later” and we are now in the rechristened Apocalypseburg, a Mad Max-esque world of dour citizens waiting for the next attack/display from sister Lego abominations. Sure enough, a new game plan from the Lego people of the Sistar System results in the seeming kidnapping of Emmett’s friends and Emmett must rescue them. Along the way he meets Rex, a chiselled hero and friend to raptors, who is willing to help him in his plan. To say more would be to give too much away.
A host of great new characters join the cast, Princess Watevera-Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) being the most wonderful and tuneful of them all. Mighty Boosh Fans will enjoy the addition of Richard Ayoade and Noel Fielding to the proceedings, in small but scene-stealing roles. Will Ferrell also provides a fun cameo returning as President business and Dad. The song ante is raised to great affect, including a new song ‘Everything Isn’t Awesome’, which puts an amusing perspective on things.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, to use its purposefully convoluted title is pretty much a joy from start to finish. So smart and clever, part of you wants to hate it. It has that rare quality for a film of this kind; it has its Lego cake and eats it. Essentially it’s the story of two children’s conflict played out in their imaginations with also the added weirdness of the scenes that happen outside of their imaginings. That’s all the explaining you’ll get from me.
If Lord and Miller had made Inception it might have been a decent film. Despite its film referencing and pop culture mining, the story never loses sight of the characters and story, even the life lessons and moralising that are par for the course these days, are handled with great delicacy, i.e. it doesn’t bore, patronise nor lecture.
DIR/WRI: Christopher Landon • PRO: Jason Blum • DOP: Toby Oliver • ED: Ben Baudhuin • DES: Bill Boes • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma
Wizzard truly missed a trick in 1973 when they didn’t write a song about how they wish it could be birthday everyday. What with the recent spate of Groundhog Day-inspired birthday media (well, specifically this and the Netflix series Russian Doll), Roy Wood et al. would, forty six years after the song’s release, now be rolling in dough. Live and learn.
Having survived the events of Happy Death Day (2017) in which Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) had to relive the day of her death time and time again in order to unmask and defeat her killer, Tree realises that she has unfinished business when she is thrown right back into that same time loop. However, in Happy Death Day 2U she also has to contend with interdimensional travel and a really lousy Dean. Tree finds herself in an alternative universe where she has a slightly different life: the old gang are here, including her new boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) and roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), but her relationships with them all are not quite the same. With help from a group of science students, Tree must both avoid murder at the hands of a new killer and figure out a way home. Yes, director Christopher Landon has really given himself a lot to contend with here, particularly considering how other horror franchises take about four instalments before their characters even venture out into space. It can be a little lopsided at times, with the whodunnit aspect getting short-changed in favour of the science fiction arc. However, in light of how much is thrown at the wall in Happy Death Day 2U, a surprising amount sticks.
There’s also plenty that doesn’t quite land of course: early on it appears that this sequel might be focused on a new, somewhat unexpected protagonist – specifically Ryan (Phi Vu), Carter’s Asian roommate who was a bit part in the original 2017 instalment – but very quickly things are reshuffled to ensure it’s all about Tree once again. While it’s far from being the worst of possible outcomes, (particularly because Tree is a compelling character) it would have been interesting to see a slasher flick about someone other than a white girl, particularly considering the way it’s teased here. Then again, perhaps the HDD franchise is one that will have the longevity to expand on its representation (early box office numbers aren’t entirely promising but if these films have taught me one thing, it’s that anything is possible. Also that baby masks are scary). Happy Death Day 2U also can’t figure out how to get its characters out of a dilemma without having a bunch of nerds hilariously explain science to a clueless blonde girl. And finally, there is a somewhat questionable montage regarding Tree figuring out ways to commit suicide in order to re-spawn the following morning. While everyone involved is aware that these deaths aren’t permanent, perhaps making light of suicide is not the best of looks.
It’s likely that your enjoyment of the second instalment will depend on what you made of the first one. If you liked that, this will probably keep you well entertained. If you didn’t enjoy the first, it’s unlikely this is going to change your mind. What’s particularly satisfying is seeing how successfully Tree has become a heroine worth championing, thanks in large part to Rothe’s excellent performance, which carefully balances the comic and pathos required. While somewhat muddled and too busy at times, Happy Death Day 2U should be given its due for being a clever sequel and more or less as fun – and perhaps more surprising, having as much of an emotional arc – as the original.
DIR: Mike Mitchell • WRI: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez • PRO: James Cameron, Jon Landau • DOP: Bill Pope • ED: Stephen E. Rivkin, Ian Silverstein • DES: Caylah Eddleblute, Steve Joyner • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali
The latest in a long line of attempts to turn Manga into gold arrives in the form of Alita, Battle Angel, courtesy of Robert Rodriguez directing and James Cameron serving as producer and co-writer. This has been a pet project of Cameron’s for a long time, at one stage he was going to direct it himself. As a Rodriguez project, it has little or nothing that would make one think of his body of work. Except for maybe having one of the characters wear a bandana.
Alita’s long gestation period has been explained as a mix of other commitments and waiting for technology to be advanced enough to do justice to the visuals of the story. For the most part this has been achieved. There are some good action scenes and beautiful visuals in place. Our motion-capture hero Alita, with her exceedingly large eyes, (looking like one of the children in those paintings our grandmothers owned) becomes easy on the sensibilities quickly enough. A sincere heartfelt performance from Rosa Salazar keeps her interesting and likeable throughout. She is probably the most successful character. Although that’s hardly surprising as the rest of the cast are given little character time and simply serve as foil to the main protagonist.
But what’s it about? Iron City, looking like a picturesque South American ghetto designed for a Coca Cola advertisement, is where the action takes place. Ido Dyson (no relation to the vacuum cleaner people), the local doctor of robotics (cyborg repairman to you and me), rummages through the scrapyard at the centre of Iron City. The scrap is provided by the sky city floating above, the last of its kind, a home to the elite, we are told, and the destination many people would like to get to. The only way to get there is with the right amount of dosh or if you become the champion of the local game Motorball. It involves roller skates and a ball and a violent temperament – and the locals love it. But back to the scrapyard; Ido finds a head amongst the scrap, brings it home and provides it with a body. Did I mention he just happens to fix cyborgs? Soon his new “daughter” has a name, Alita, and gets on with her new life as any enthusiastic young person might. She quickly falls in love with Hugo, a nice chap who happens to hijack cyborgs and steal parts from them. Ido has his own secret, which I will let you find out for yourself. As the story progresses, the life-embracing Alita continues to learn about herself and quickly becomes a young woman filled with a deeper understanding of her destiny. Meanwhile, others have become aware of her existence and aim to possess her.
This being a hoped-for franchise, Alita has the qualities of the first season of a television or web series. A more honest title for this would have been ‘Alita Battle Angel, Chapter 1, We Hope’. Despite being overwrought with plot and events, it leaves us with as many questions as it answers. The muddled, episodic structure and speechmaking dialogue does not help. It’s a shame that they spent so long waiting on the technology that they didn’t take time to work more on the script.
DIR: Joel Edgerton • WRI: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly • PRO: Joel Edgerton, Steve Golin, Kerry Kohansky-Roberts • DOP: Eduard Grau • ED: Jay Rabinowitz • DES: Chad Keith • MUS: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans • CAST: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton
Boy Erased is Joel Edgerton’s latest directorial offering since 2015’s The Gift and is based upon a memoir by Garrard Conley and his experience of conversion therapy and its oppressive impact upon his sexuality. In this cinematic retelling of Conley’s experiences, the rising talent that is Lucas Hedges plays Jared Eamons, the son of a preacher and his devout Christian wife (played by Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman). Jared is pressured to enter a conversion therapy program following an incident with a male friend from college that has outed Jared to his parents. His father seeks guidance from other pastors and decides that conversion therapy is the only logical step in preventing Jared’s homosexuality. At conversion therapy, Jared is told homosexuality is “behavioural” by his therapist Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) and must adapt to the practices in order to be cured of his homosexuality.
The subject matter of this film makes for unsettling viewing. Jared and the other enrollees are being taught to repress their true selves and strengthen their sense of masculinity through things like how they shake hands or how they sit. Joel Edgerton’s Victor Sykes is icily cold in his teachings and his words create a sense of fear amongst his students and he’s essentially attempting to scare their gayness away. He has a calm demeanour but Edgerton’s performance is effective in making you fear what he’ll say or what practice he’ll encourage next. The musician Flea also appears as a military-type character who is more aggressive in his teachings and wants these boys to act like ‘men’.
Lucas Hedges is phenomenal in this role and it’s disappointing that he’s been overlooked for awards. He carries the emotional arc of the film and Hedges makes you believe in Jared’s journey and sufferings through his performance. There are two sequences in the film’s final act where Jared finally releases the anger and tension from the therapy and there is a moving showdown with his father. Without this stellar performance, the film wouldn’t have the same emotional or dramatic impact. Nicole Kidman also quietly carries out a transformative performance where her character slowly realises the severity of what she as a parent is doing to her son.
The film also minimally explores the homosexual encounters Jared has to recall for his “moral inventory”. Sykes asks everyone to write about their homosexual ‘discretions’ and verbalise them in front of him and everyone else as to ridicule and admonish these encounters. This minimalist approach works in the context of the narrative as Jared is attempting to hide the memories and is afraid or reluctant to divulge these details. It also offers a glimpse of hope for Jared, especially when the film flashes back to a night with Xavier (Théodore Pellerin), and how this non-sexual moment is included in the life he wishes to accept and embrace. The colour pallette on screen becomes brighter and this is the human connection Jared longs for but is told to refuse.
Unfortunately for Boy Erased, it has to compete with Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which was released only months prior. There are similarities considering both films tackle conversion therapy and Boy Erased suffers from a case of déjà vu. For Edgerton’s Sykes, there is Akhavan’s Dr. Lydia March (a sharp-tongued Jennifer Ehle), and the plot is almost too identical in parts. It’s coincidental timing but Boy Erased is the inferior film here and the social realist elements make it less of a complete cinematic experience compared to The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Yet, it’s not a negative that these films are serving as significant retorts to conversion therapy practices.
Boy Erased is hard to watch in parts and its slow pace and non-linear structure may off-put audiences and its unsettling nature also stems from the significance that conversion therapy is still legal and practiced in multiple U.S states. Boy Erased is almost steeped in social realism and Edgerton manages to ground the film in a reality that will undoubtedly empathise with those previously involved in these practices. The muted colours from cinematographer Eduard Grau manage to prevent cinematic exaggeration and compliments the social realist aspects. It’s a film that requires investment and it’s ultimately worthwhile. Joel Edgerton, with the help of Lucas Hedges, manages to convey this importance and the contemporary and pressing subject matter Boy Erased involves.
Shauna Fox takes another look at the “joyous and sorrowful”Green Book.
Green Book: 2019 Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), and Best Screenplay. It is a film deserving of every one of these awards.
Named after a travel book written for black people to use to safely travel around America, Green Book will make you laugh, cringe, and sympathise with its two male leads: Viggo Mortensen (Tony Vallelonga) and Mahershala Ali (Dr. Donald Shirley). Mortensen plays Tony, an Italian-American living in the Bronx; out of work due to the temporary closure of the Copacabana, Tony is invited to interview for a job chauffeuring renowned pianist Dr. Donald Shirley. Shirley is going on tour with his two colleagues (the three making up the Don Shirley trio) playing for elite communities in the Deep South. It is important to note that this story is set in the 1960s; a time when being black in America was not appreciated. Unfortunately, such sentiments still ring true in America today, making this film all too current.
Green Book is both a joyous and sorrowful film, capturing the humour of an unlikely friendship, and the sadness from watching the effects of deeply ingrained racism. This takes on the theme of a buddy road trip, as Tony and Don travel through Pittsburgh, Alabama, Kentucky, and many more Southern states, pushing each other’s buttons along the way, but eventually gaining a respect for each other that, according to the post film credits, would last the rest of their lives. Green Book is supposedly based on true events, and one of the screenwriters happens to be Tony’s son, Nick Vallelonga.
Tony has a slightly skewed moral compass, believing that if something is available for him to take, he will, and using violence or bribery to get him through ‘tricky’ situations. He is racist, curses extensively, believes many people to be ‘pricks’, spits in public, flings his rubbish out the car window, and eats like an animal. Trust me, he is a charming, and lovable character despite his… shortcomings.
Don, on the other hand, believes in doing everything with the utmost dignity; he is articulate, always immaculately dressed… and lonely. While Tony has a large extended family, Don is alone in the world, with nothing but his music to give him purpose. To show the contrast between the men, the film’s soundtrack is filled with music and constant talking while Tony is in Don’s life. As soon as Don is left alone, the silence is deafening and stark. It is one of the best ways of showing the difference between these two men, without the need of the visual to compound that difference.
The sharing of experiences between these men is utterly heart-warming, both teaching one another, learning from each other, some moments are completely hilarious, most of which come from Tony’s lack of care about what people think of him.
There are so many enjoyable elements to this film: the constant annoyance that Tony is to Don, who sometimes allows himself to enjoy his companion’s odd antics, and sometimes acts like Tony’s parent; the soundtrack playing throughout is the perfect accompaniment to the film; and the reversal of the usual for the time the film is set – a white man being employed by a black man – as Tony says: “I live on the streets, you live on a throne. I’m blacker than you!”
The situation is seen as odd to white and black alike, the whites questioning Tony’s need to be employed by an ‘eggplant’, and the blacks staring at Don, knowing that he does not belong to them by the way he dresses, and the car he is being driven in (a stylish 1962 Cadillac – it gave me car envy). However, it is this reversal of roles that makes this film, allowing for both men to re-consider their prejudices; Tony realising that black people do not deserve to be segregated; and Don realising that not all white people are dismissive of him. Unfortunately though, so many are, as Don has to constantly deal with harassment, discrimination from the police, not being able to eat in the same restaurants or use the same facilities as white people – all this on just a two month road trip. The dignity with which he holds himself is astonishing; he may be invited to perform for the white people, but he cannot pretend that he is one of them – there is a line that even the most beloved pianist cannot cross. Don is an outcast, dismissed by whites, shunned by blacks, belonging to neither, the price he paid for greatness. During so many of Don’s performances, the passion and anger evident on his face as he plays is heartbreaking, knowing that it is there because of the racism against him. The expressiveness in his face and body which Mahershala Ali gives to this role highlights the hurt and loneliness that his character suffers, and it was a performance worthy of the award he won. Mortensen lost out on the award for Best Actor, instead given to Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody (which I cannot argue with); however, he was very much deserving of an award, perhaps the Oscars is where he’ll have more luck. What is interesting about the awards is that Ali was put into the supporting role of the film. While the story does follow Tony’s point of view, and Don does not enter until about fifteen minutes into the film, they are both leading men, both men command the screen. It begs the question why Mahershala Ali is reduced to a supporting role by the Hollywood Foreign Press?
This film has been rather hush hush here in Ireland, with nothing heard about it until it picked up the most Golden Globe wins of the night; however, having now seen it, this is a film that must be watched, both for its delightful humour and its unfortunate relevance today. Green Book can stand proudly alongside other films that highlight black discrimination, such as Hidden Figures, and The Help. Green Book is a visually beautiful, well-written, powerful piece of cinema; a film that needs to be watched not once, but many, many times.
DIR: Peter Farrelly • WRI: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly • PRO: Jim Burke, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, Charles B. Wessler • DOP: Sean Porter • ED: Patrick J. Don Vito • DES: Tim Galvin • MUS: Kris Bowers • CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
Surprise winner at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival – beating the much hyped A Star is Born, If Beale Street Could Talk and Roma – was Green Book from Peter Farrelly, director of Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. However, its victory is less shocking having seen the movie, which feels like an old-school throwback to the feel-good comedy-dramas the Oscars used to reward.
Based on a true story and set in 1962, Viggo Mortensen stars as Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga, a New York bouncer and famed ‘bullshit artist’. After his nightclub is closed for renovations, he lands a job as driver and security for famed black pianist Don Shirley (Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali). Together the two tour America’s deep south where Shirley faces repeated racist abuse. The title derives from the 20th century guidebook for black travellers to help them find motels and restaurants which would accept them.
Though featuring handsome period décor, Green Book is not the most formally ambitious film. Instead, it’s essentially a character piece, centring on the chalk and cheese relationship between Don and Tony. On this level, the comedy-drama soars. If you are going to cast someone to play the biggest American-Italian stereotype ever – although to be fair the real-life Lip did wind up being cast in The Sopranos and writing a cookbook called Shut Up and Eat! – get Viggo Mortenson. The Lord of the Rings actor went impressively method with the role putting on 50 pounds. It shows with the Danish-American feeling remarkably comfortable in his character’s skin, even getting an opportunity to flex his fluency in Italian.
Meanwhile, Mahershala Ali – whether he is playing a politician in House of Cards or a comic-book villain in Luke Cage – just exudes intelligence. He is perfect casting to play this incarnation of Shirley, a savant-like prodigy whose intellect and musical abilities alienate him from virtually everybody. Because of his wealth and education, he faces hostility from black people in a lower-social-strata. On top of this, he endures racism from the ordinary white person. The only people who seem to accept him are the rich people for whom he performs. But even then, the race element creeps in. He is not allowed to eat in the restaurants he plays, banned from using the same toilets as the guests. Ali’s performance is like a cocktail – a combination of self-confidence, quiet sadness and bubbling anger, the latter just building throughout the film.
Green Book is a film whose rough edges have been sanded off to appeal to a broader demographic. Unlike Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit set in the same decade, one doesn’t really get the sense of the fear a black person would feel being pulled over by a white cop – particularly in the Deep South. Instead, the movie is more focused on exposing the hypocrisy and pointlessness of the US’ Jim Crow laws.
As the movie flinches away from the horrors of life for black people of the era, it leans more into the potential for comedy in the odd-couple pairing of Don and Tony. While this could be cack-handed in lesser hands, Farrelly, along with co-writers Nick Vallelonga (Lip’s son) and Brian Hayes Currie, make the relationship emotionally engaging. The two begin as polar opposites, Shirley repulsed by Lip’s lack of manners, Lip irritated by Shirley’s condescending tone. However, as the movie continues, they grow closer with Don admiring Tony’s courage and Tony becoming awed with Don’s musical ability and increasingly repulsed with the way he is treated.
Occasionally, the bantering sways too broad – jokes about ‘Titsburgh’ and fried chicken could have been trimmed out – but for the most part the script is snappy. Some moments – like watching Mortensen fold-up an entire pizza and eat it like a giant calzone – are laugh out funny. And the emotional beats, such as Don helping Tony to write more elegantly to his wife (Linda Cardellini, proving once again she is quietly one of the Best Actresses around) tug on the heartstrings.
Everything about Green Book – despite the social issues of the time in which the drama is set – is designed to be an easy watch. And it is. It suffers from an overstretched third act. It annoyingly tries to add more tension and work in a scene which could be summed up as ‘not all white people’ involving a nice Caucasian cop. The latter is irritating given the fact that Tony as well as the white members in Don’s musical trio already serve to make that point. However, aside from this, Green Book’s greatest credit is it is 130 minutes long but feels like 90.
DIR/WRI: M. Night Shyamalan • PRO: Marc Bienstock, Jason Blum, Ashwin Rajan, Steven Schneider, M. Night Shyamalan • DOP: Mike Gioulakis • ED: Luke Ciarrocchi, Blu Murray • DES: Chris Trujillo • MUSIC: West Dylan Thordson • CAST: Bruce Willis, Luke Kirby, Anya Taylor-Joy
The latest film from fallen wunderkind M. Night Shyamalan serves to unite two phases of his career. Characters from his early hit Unbreakable – a relic from the time when Shyamalan was being heralded as the next Spielberg – cross paths with the stars of Split, his low-budget return to form which took many by surprise. Unfortunately, Glass more closely resembles the period between Unbreakable and Split, wherein Shyamalan’s films were marked by thematic incoherence, leaps of logic and unintentional comedy.
We pick up weeks after the events of Split, with Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) and his multiple personalities having kidnapped another crop of teenage girls. Unbreakable’s hooded vigilante David Dunn (Bruce Willis) tracks Kevin down, resulting in a thrilling fight scene that ends in flood lights, sirens and police intervention. The two are arrested and sent to a Psychiatric Hospital.
The bulk of the film is spent treading water in the facility housing Crumb, Dunn and the titular Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson).
This coalescence of separate films resembles The Avengers and other Marvel team-ups, in that it mostly results in tedious plate-spinning without any narrative drive or central protagonist. In uniting all these iconic characters, their individual personalities are diluted, leaving us with a sprawling mess of half-baked twists and turns.
It begs the question of whether the merging of these two cinematic worlds was a good idea in the first place. The horror of Split comes off as less creepy and more pantomime here. Anya Taylor-Joy returns as Casey Cooke, one of Crumb’s victims. Their faux-romantic relationship in the original film contained multitudes – she was largely humouring his sentimental side for her own survival, while ultimately empathising with his abusive upbringing. This nuanced look at the reverberations of abuse is traded in for Glass’s take – that Cooke’s loyalty to Crumb resembles that of a stubborn dog, occasionally tipping over into a full-on Stockholm-style romance. Her undying affection for Crumb, her attacker, is borderline pathological, and ultimately absurd.
Connections with Unbreakable only serve to underline the stylistic regression as a filmmaker Shyamalan has made since. Clips from the 2000 film flash intermittently throughout and the keen eye for blocking and composition is striking. One recalls the opening shot of Dunn on a train, fluidly shot in a kind of dance with the row of seating in front of him. That kind of daring, intelligent filmmaking is notable for its absence in Glass.
It may only be a side effect of a once-A-lister dwindling far into the half-life of stardom, but Bruce Willis’ performance is mostly droning and frustrated, lacking the wonder and nuance of Dunn’s prior outing.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy of Glass is how short it falls of its own potential. Samuel L. Jackson, despite performing mostly through torpid stares, has an enchanting presence. He steals entire scenes with a twitch of the eye and a crane of the neck. James McAvoy is also a treat, showing dynamic range between a myriad of personalities. The problem is that they are dropped into a context where their characters seem woefully out-of-place. When the actors are going for gasps, the film around them is going for laughs.
The script appears to be constructed with care. Connective threads are constantly being drawn between the two films preceding it, tying their worlds ever closer together. The bulk of these are superficial and irrelevant, though. One wishes that the same attempt at streamlining was made in the film’s third act, which careens hopelessly out of control to a laughable degree.
In a climax as frustrating and convoluted as it is boring, a flaccid meta-commentary on superhero tropes serves to suffocate any actual coherence. A master plan is enacted which makes no logical sense, and the longer one thinks about it, the more elusive and obfuscated it becomes.
There are attempts throughout to give superheroes and superpowers a political dimension. Is it wrong to believe one can simply be genetically superior to others? Or is it instead wrong to stand in the way of those with superior ability? The film fumbles these problematic ideas in a finale that seeks to lionise superheroes – without having them do anything worth lionising. In what is passionately declared as “an origin story” for superhero acceptance in society, all we see is terrorism, violence and brutality.
Such moral deception was present in Unbreakable, too. As the final twist of that film, it is revealed that Mr. Glass had orchestrated terror attacks around the world in hopes of finding superhumans that would survive them. That iconic twist was one of horror – unsheathing an ugliness to Glass that Dunn, and the audience, recognised as such. The film Glass contains that same ugliness, but intercuts it with people holding hands and smiling.
June Butler takes off the blindfold to have a look at Susanne Bier’s netflix thriller.
As thrillers go, Birdbox is peppered with a slew of truly cunning components yet manages to steer clear of becoming predictable without too much effort. The infamous Boogeyman (or woman in these times of political correctness) is always going to be far more terrifying when intangible and fleeting and in this endeavour, director Susanne Bier has ably succeeded.
The central premise of the narrative surrounds a group of people aligned against a common enemy. There is a horrifying entity stalking humans and pitting one against the other. When seen by the naked eye, the Being propels the viewer to shocking levels of violence culminating in the observer taking their own life – usually in the most violent and bloody way possible. As chaos and killing ensues, the victims generally claim more lives than just their own. Which clearly speeds up the entire apocalyptic process to an eye-wateringly fast ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ day of reckoning. After the initial blanket annihilation of most human life, a motley crew gather inside a house with a staggering number of rooms. A perfect stage for finding some unpleasant surprises concealed behind doors and in darkened corners. There is an excellent cast comprising Sandra Bullock (The Net (1995), A Time to Kill (1996), Gravity (2013)), and John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons (1988), The Killing Fields (1984), Burn After Reading (2008)). Sandra Bullock is exceedingly well cast as Malorie a ballsy artist who has found herself pregnant and alone after a fleeting relationship. Malorie is steely and vulnerable in equal measure and the success of Birdbox owes much to Susanne Bier’s choice for the central character. Equally John Malkovich brings a tensile fearfulness into the mix as Douglas. Douglas is both petrified and accepting of their predicament and it is difficult not to have a certain grudging respect for a character who is sure they are about to shuffle off this mortal coil in the next two hours but is not willing to pop off without a bang. And a big one at that.
The yarn is a decent one – not being able to fully see the beastie was genius. The imagination of the audience will always fill in the gaps.
And now for some criticism:
John Malkovich should have been put to better use and it was a wasted opportunity not to take full advantage of his acting skills.
Sandra Bullock as Malorie has parent issues. Clearly. Specifically father issues. However, Bier could have chosen to let Malorie not fall quite so far from the platform of being a half decent aul sod. Even the dimmest of people might have reckoned that retribution for a father’s shortcomings should not be visited upon those who are most vulnerable, namely children. I felt that Malorie promised much at the beginning of this film but failed to step up to her responsibilities towards the end.
There was some repetition at key moments which was a shame – the director was worth far more than going over old ground.
Characters started out as archetypal but some finished as stereotypical. Again, a shame. It seemed a little lazy.
Two thirds of Birdbox was captivating and riveting. The final third lost some lustre and the ending was a tad predictable. I would have much preferred the Beggars Banquet image from the Rolling Stones album of the same name. Instead I felt I was presented with Tinky Winky, Laa-Laa, Dipsy, and Po.
There is one scene in Birdbox where the person responsible for continuity dropped a life’s worth of balls. It was glaringly obvious and once seen, could not be unseen. Up to then, I had bought heavily into the tale. After that, which interestingly came around the two thirds mark of the movie, it all went horribly pear-shaped. It was a pity because when this much effort goes into something and it is let down by a detail so basic, it can be incredibly disheartening both for actors and film crew.
Having said that, Birdbox is one hell of a good movie and the concept does capture the imagination.
DIR/WRI: Adam McKay • PRO: Megan Ellison, Will Ferrell, Dede Gardner, Jason George, Jeremy Kleiner, Adam McKay, Kevin J. Messick, Brad Pitt • DOP: Greig Fraser • ED: Hank Corwin • DES: Patrice Vermette • MUSIC:Nicholas Britell • CAST: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
An earlier teaser for Dick Cheney biopic/satire Vice featured the tagline ‘Some vices are more dangerous than others.” Writer-director Adam McKay’s is that he prefers flashy gimmicks over telling a story that works dramatically. That’s truly dangerous in that it sinks his movie.
Jumping between timelines, the film charts the life of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), from Yale drop-out and heavy drinker to becoming Vice President to George W Bush (Sam Rockwell), during 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
After making a name directing Will Ferrell joints, McKay’s previous film, The Big Short employed stylistic flourishes and absurd comedy in moments to jazz up its depiction of what led to the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008. The joke was that one needed fourth-wall-breaking cameos from the likes of Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to explain concepts like subprime mortgages and collateralized debt obligations because otherwise people would be confused or disinterested. It was fast, funny and ultimately made a salient point about how people today consume information.
Vice doubles down on these techniques without finding a reason to use them. There’s zinger-filled narration from Jesse Plemons (Game Night, Fargo), needless jumping backward and forward in time, endless stock footage inserts, shots created to look like stock-footage inserts, metatextual gags – all of which combined leave the film with no dramatic scene.
Admittedly, some of the jokes are funny on an Airplane parody level, satirising the conventions of biopics. Mid-way through the film, before being recruited to be Bush Jr’s VP, Cheney is shown in the woods with his family vowing to never return to politics. In another movie, the scene would be its closing moment and just as this realisation dawns, fake credits roll – before rewinding back to what really happened. Meanwhile, another laugh-inducing moment imagines Cheney as a Shakespearean anti-hero as he makes a key decision. He and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams wasted in what should have been a third winning collab with Bale) suddenly begin spouting lines from Richard III in a surreal sequence.
However, by overdoing his shtick, McKay constantly clips any sense of engagement in his characters by continually satirizing them. What is the point in making Bale go method and gain so much weight to authentically play Cheney, only to stymy his performance by filling every potentially engaging scene he has with a million cuts to everything from fish swimming to dices being thrown. It’s on a level with Peter Berg’s equally shoddily directed Mile 22.
One wonders whether McKay went so overboard because he realised his script – the first he wrote without a co-writer – is a mess. There’s the germ of a really interesting concept there – that Cheney replaced his vice for drinking with one for power, ignited by working for controversial former US Secretary of Defence and congressman Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell, the only actor given a chance to sink his teeth into his slimy character) during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Cheney and Rumsfeld have no political belief, all they thirst after is power for the sake of power. This is what led Cheney to expand the powers of the Presidency so they could launch a war against Iraq to seize their oil without the US Congress’ consent. It’s his drive which has led to the countless deaths both of US troops and citizens of the countries they invaded.
However, someone like Aaron Sorkin or Mark Boal or even satirists like Armando Iannucci, Sam Bain or McKay’s collaborator on HBO series Succession, Jesse Armstrong, could perhaps trace that through line clearly. They could depict it in a way which emphasises the tragedy and makes Cheney interesting and fascinating if not empathetic, so that audiences are invested. The problem with Vice is that McKay clearly hates Cheney and all he stands for – implementing tax cuts for the rich, downplaying global warming, giving corporations the freedom to act as they please. Bale’s Cheney is not a character but a humourless, villainous caricature with McKay too busy pointing out all the questionable things he did in his political life to make him in anyway feel like an actual person. It doesn’t help that in Vice’s final stretch the writer-director practically lists off events like a Wikipedia entry with the Valerie Plame scandal and Cheney’s accidental shooting of a man while hunting being brought up and then tossed aside in just one line.
This reviewer has a feeling the film my have been tampered with by the studio, after realising McKay’s original take was not working. That is the only way to excuse Jesse Plemons’ narration that is so distracting for the entire film as one has no idea who he is or why he has all this information about Cheney’s life. The moment one realises his connection to the politician, takes the cake in ridiculousness, coming across as hilariously wrongheaded.
Still, McKay deserves credit for trying. Vice feels angry, flirting with timeliness. It shows that Trump is not the only thing wrong with US politics and that it has been populated with power hungry vipers since the beginning. That said, the comedy-drama is still proof that just because one feels passionately about a subject, does not automatically make it satisfying.
DIR/WRI: Viko Nikci • PRO: David Collins, Viko Nikci, John Wallace • DOP: Robert Flood • ED: Viko Nikci • DES: Mark Kelly • MUSIC: Ray Harman • CAST: Karen Hassan, Catherine Walker, Una Carroll
Writer-director Viko Nikci weaves together a fragmented narrative in Cellar Door that is only fully understood near the end of the film. The film follows Aidie (Karen Hassan), who appears lost and/or trapped in time as she struggles with memories of her pregnancy and searches for her baby. The audience is placed in Aidie’s shoes, wading through her key memories as she continuously cycles through them in search of an answer.
The film begins with a fully-clothed and submerged Aidie awakening in a bath full of water visibly confused. As she takes in her surroundings and her condition she asks herself “what’s the last thing you remember?”, setting the tone for what is to follow. The audience is then taken through Aidie’s conversation with her ailing mother, a classroom in which she is the teacher, a dance with her lover which morphs into her pregnant and alone in a Church, and ultimately in an institution with other unwed mothers. The timeline for these events is shaky, and they repeat over and over, with subtle differences as Aidie tries to make sense of them, sometimes guided by other versions of herself.
While these scenes do become repetitious in places, they bleed into one another seamlessly thanks to the strong cinematography, score and editing. These allow the audience to sometimes feel that they are gently falling between or sliding into memories, and other times feel a sense of entrapment and panic as Aidie fights for a resolution.
Cellar Door is difficult to pin down, not only in terms of its narrative but in its elusion of categorisation. There are moments when one might question if supernatural elements are at play and it feels like a horror, and others that resemble a drama. This uncertainty, however, is deliberately carried across the film so that it can perhaps best be described as a puzzle.
The film requires commitment on the part of the audience to make sense of the pieces as they come, and may suffer from some unnecessary repetition or elongation at times, but when its resolution arrives, making sense of what has come before it, it is thoughtful and poignant. Cellar Door tackles the difficult topic of Irish institutional abuse, drawing connections in a thoughtful way and forcing the audience to think throughout.
DIR: Josie Rourke • WRI: Beau Willimon • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward • DOP: John Mathieson • ED: Chris Dickens • DES: James Merifield • MUSIC: Max Richter • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden
Like everything at the minute, Mary Queen of Scots seems to have been tragically sucked into the vortex of politics. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned storytelling? Where people were inspired to write characters they were invested in? Where the characters were organically driven by a need within themselves to attain a goal, and who struggled with their own natures? When and where did it all disappear? And for what?
Behind the mesmerizing performance of one of the best leading women of her generation, Saoirse Ronan, and a spellbinding performance by Margot Robbie, this film is let down by a lacklustre script. It’s forcefully driven by political ideology and no matter how well intended, that ideology does not honour the history faithfully, it’s imposed on the story, and secondly and even more importantly, it doesn’t serve the characters honestly. The first I could accept to a degree, but the second, I can’t.
Mary Queen of Scots marks the theatrical debut of director Josie Rourke, who displays a sophisticated understanding and command of craft, but ultimately she’s bound by the limits of the material. The screenplay was adapted by the exceptionally talented Beau Willimon. Beau Willimon’s writing on ‘House of Cards’ really captured the biting subterfuge and ruthlessness needed in the political sphere, as did The Ides of March, but in these examples, he didn’t force ideology or theme, it always derived organically from the hearts of the characters on screen. But for some reason on this occasion, in Mary Queen of Scots, this process appears to have been reversed and it’s hard for me to interpret the characters here as anything other than the singular voice or opinion of the author or authors. It doesn’t feel honest to me, it feels contrived. My expectations for this film were really high given the historical story and the calibre of the talent involved. The cast is rounded out by powerhouse actors like Margot Robbie and Guy Pearse, but, in the end, it’s a film driven by an agenda that is removed from character and story.
I think all filmmakers have an obligation to be socially responsible and explore complex themes and question the world we live in, but not by imposing historical falsehoods that reflect how we want the world to be. We can’t change history just because we don’t agree with it, there’s nothing honest about that. The social structure presented in Mary Queen of Scots deviates from factual history to a degree where it really damages a more powerful story about an iconic power battle between two exceptional women. If we’re going to learn anything from cinema, then we need a cinema that stares history in the face, that looks at complex characters with unflinching honesty, and, that without ever saying, it tells us, ‘You know what we screwed up back then, we didn’t do it right, and we’re still not doing it right, but maybe we can someday,’ that to me at least has some measure of power, some basic honesty. When I think of the really great dramas that do that, I think of the likes of Schindler’s List, Dog Day Afternoon, and Lawrence of Arabia. These are fearless films that transcend craft, defy gravity and inspire countless generations, and they do so with bravery and integrity. But sugar coating the past and imposing concepts onto characters seems little more than artifice.
DIR: Rob Marshall • WRI: David Magee, Rob Marshall, John DeLuca • PRO: John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Marc Platt • DOP: Dion Beebe • ED: Wyatt Smith • DES: John Myhre • MUSIC: Marc Shaiman • CAST: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw |
‘A Spoonful of Sugar’, ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’, and of course. the merciless tongue twister that is ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, these are not songs, but anthems, their notes drop like anchors into the rock-bed of our cinematic memory. As if preprogrammed before birth, we could hum, whistle ‘n’ toot each melody before mastering our ABCs. But Mary Poppins (1964) wasn’t just a hit with kids, it was hugely critically adored, setting the record for Disney’s most Academy Award wins for a single film. Practically no other Disney live action film before or since has even come close to the critical and lucrative triumph that Mary Poppins was.
So it’s somewhat surprising that The Mouse House waited this long to cash in on the original’s success with a sequel. It seemed as though Poppins neatly sidestepped fate while ill-conceived revisions such as Freaky Friday (2003) and Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) crammed the bargain pits of video stores around the world. But now with Disney’s Stalin-esque 5 year plan to renovate our childhoods, we’re told to quietly stand aside while our memories are systematically peeled back like worn floorboards. With the success of Jungle Book (2016) and Beauty and the Beast’(2017), it was only a matter of time before Mickey & Co knocked on the door of 17 Cherry Tree Lane.
Cue, Mary Poppins Returns (2018), taking place 20 years after the original with both Jane and Michael all grown up, it’s his kids who are now in need of the enchanted brand of babysitting only Miss Poppins can provide. And for all the nail-biting preconceptions one might have, the pitch seemed promising: A stellar cast, all new songs, and even a rumored Dick Van Dyke cameo were on the cards, it’s as if Hollywood were about to adapt my letter to Santa Claus before my very eyes.
It’s a pity then, that the final product seems a half-hearted attempt to re-conjure what magic its predecessor inspired. A sequel wavering between a reboot and rehash, it’s as though Disney reheated the leftovers of the original and left us to wade through the flavourless slab of familiarity. What the film does offer is a series of superficial tweaks that do little to spur our imagination. And although it’s unfair to compare the titles, it’s inevitable, especially when we’re constantly being reminded with winks, nudges and nods so frequent you’d swear someone’s head would fall off.
Thankfully Emily Blunt (with head still attached) makes matters bearable. A refreshing take on Poppins, her tough love approach is in stark contrast to Julie Andrews’ portrayal, and sits more closely to PL Travers’ source books. It’s Lin – Manuel Miranda’s Jack who – acting as a stand in for Van Dyke’s Bert – seems let down by a poor script and stranded on screen as a result. In giving a more earnest sensibility to his character, his doe-eyed expressions lack the anarchic glint that made the role so beloved. We soon find ourselves yearning for the giddy limbs of Van Dyke, a vibration of sublime silliness the film desperately needs.
There’s no doubt though that Miranda is a song and dance man, his ‘Trip A Little Light Fantastic’ might be the most memorable tune in a film of instantly forgettable hooks. There’s pretty wordplay and intricate phrasing throughout the film’s numbers but it all serves to make monotonous melodies that strive to echo the Sherman Brothers’ original arrangements. It’s a good thing then that there’s plenty of sights to distract us from the film’s many sounds. London town is blaring with colour, it’s clear to see that a great amount of work has gone into its design.
It’s the film’s garbled politics, however, that are hard to ignore. In what seems like a series of checked boxes Mary Poppins Returns pretends to reject notions of inequality without ever leaving its orbit. In an ending where our characters get, not only what they need but – on top of that – exactly what they want (if not more) we’re left scratching our heads at a world view that would make Boots Riley shake his fist.
Mary Poppins Returns marks Disney’s latest attempt to coax out our inner child only then to rob them of their lunch money. But for all its missteps and downfalls the film is watchable, listenable, just not recommendable.
DIR: Jon S. Baird • WRI: Jeff Pope • PRO: Faye Ward • DOP: Laurie Rose • ED: Úna Ní Dhonghaíle, Billy Sneddon • DES: Fiona Crombie • MUSIC: Rolfe Kent • CAST: John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Steve Coogan, Nina Arianda
When I was a young pup we had the good fortune to have television programming that provided us with film content all the way back to the Hollywood golden age. Weekends did not pass without a classic comedy in some form or other; the best form was Laurel and Hardy (Yeah, I know, there’s this thing called the internet). Their antics were never passed over in our house thanks to my father’s good taste. Even when my younger self did not get the full impact of their comedy, his laughter told me there was something I was missing. I got with the programme and, as my funny bone developed, Laurel & Hardy were there to help it along. Suffice to say, I am an avid fan of the greatest comedy team to ever grace this planet. Armed with that bias, I was very mixed on how I would take to Stan & Ollie, a film focussing on their later music hall years.
Opening with the boys at the height of their fame, the most cinematic shot of the film takes us from their dressing room through the back lots of the Hal Roach studios to the set of Way Out Westas they prepare to shoot their famous rendition of ‘The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia‘. We learn of their humour, their frivolity, their ongoing contractual battle with Hal Roach and their haplessness as businessmen, all in this consummate tracking shot. A jump cut worthy of ‘Pardon Ustakes us to Lancashire years later, where we meet the boys on the first leg of a music hall tour.
The heart of the story concerns itself with Stan and Ollie’s relationship with each other; the overworked comic, writer, genius director Stanley and the jobber, genius performer Ollie. Very different men, who have a genuine regard for each other, despite those differences. To quote Oliver, who quotes himself (from Sons in the Desert), they are like two peas in a pod. What drama that follows concerns itself with Laurel’s hopes of revitalising their film career, the pressures of a feckless English producer, Oliver’s ailing health and the emergence of Stanley’s old grudges.
As with many biographical films this is a highly fictionalized account. Compressing several tours into one and presenting it as a starting-over struggle that does not genuinely reflect the reality of their time touring this side of the pond. Despite such dramatic license, it is hard to fault such a sincere love letter to the two great comedians. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly wear their roles like gloves. Reilly in particular gives a tour de force performance as Hardy; the potential distraction of the amazing prosthetic work is never an issue for the actor, performing the role as if the ghost of Hardy himself possessed him. They are more than ably supported by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda as Mrs Hardy and Mrs Laurel, who provide their own scene-stealing double act.
There is much to enjoy here for anyone with a love for Laurel and Hardy. Those in the know will spot many little moments throughout that philistines will be hard put to truly understand. But I do wonder what those who have less of an idea of those great men might make of the whole thing. Despite the great performances, Coogan and Reilly can only allude to the lightning in the bottle that was Laurel and Hardy. If you don’t know it going in, you ain’t going to get it. For that, the philistines will have to go back and watch the originals. My advice for those true believers is to use this sweet little film as an excuse to educate a philistine or two. Which obviously will require a healthy dose of Laurel and Hardy movies as well as a visit to Stan & Ollie. As Stanley himself would say, “You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be led”.
Dakota Heveron gets on board Ian Hunt Duffy’s short horror Low Tide, which premiered at last year’s Cork Film Festival in November.
Ian Hunt Duffy’s chilling short horror film Low Tide centres on a fishing trip taken by a father (Steve Wall) and his son Jack (Luke Lally). But what seems on the surface to be an enjoyable day out on the water soon devolves into something far more sinister.
The film is driven by the compelling, naturalistic performances of its two leads, and Wall is especially haunting in the role of a brusque, impenitent father who soon reveals himself to be anything but paternalistic. Through the cinematography of Narayan Van Maele, the water itself becomes a character of its own, revealed through shots of its glassy expanse and black depths to be cold, dark, and unforgiving. Only adding to the film’s ominous aesthetics are scenes filled with shadow and moments of visceral imagery, including a shot of a fish being indifferently gutted.
The film’s score lends itself well to the precarity of the situation, where Jack’s fate at his father’s side is deeply unsure. Swells of triumphant music as the fishing boat glides across the water suggest an adventurous voyage, an age-old tradition between father and son. When the swells drop into silence, the characters are left alone against the backdrop of dark water and a slate sky, stark and foreboding. This sense of foreboding only grows when an eerie underscore creeps into being as the figure of the father becomes increasingly darker.
The narrative is filled with uncertainty, but only to the film’s advantage. While the final outcome for Jack may not be precisely clear, it doesn’t need to be. Instead of closure, the viewer is left with an appropriate sense of dread as Duffy explores and subverts the relationship between father and son, as well as themes of familial legacy and inherited violence.