DVD Review: Death of a Superhero

 

Based on the book of the same name by New Zealander Anthony McCarten and directed by Ian Fitzgibbon (Perrier’s Bounty, A Film with Me in It), Death of a Superhero pours new life into the well-worn themes of death and mortality by exploring them through the medium of teenage fantasy.

Fifteen-year-old Donald (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is coping with all the usual pitfalls of teenage life – self-consciousness, the general irritation of overly-affectionate parents and the constant bafflement of the opposite sex. However, these concerns are further complicated by a much more serious problem. Donald is slowly dying of leukaemia, his chemotherapy simultaneously extending his life and draining it from him. As he watches his parents rail against a disintegrating grief, he finds solace in his remarkable talent for art and graffiti, reimagining himself as a stone-faced superhero battling a villainous doctor known as ‘the glove’ – a hero who is both irresistible to women, yet unable to consummate any kind of physical relationship with them. Donald is terrified and, understandably, obsessed by death – in an effort to control it he makes several suicide attempts, to the horror of his parents who want to see their young son embracing what life he has left. After being sent on a series of failed counselling sessions, Donald finally meets psychiatrist Dr Adrian King (Andy Serkis), a wry and erudite thanatologist (thanatology being the study of death) who calmly asserts that ‘death always wins’ but that it is not something to be afraid of. Dr King must attempt to win the trust and friendship of Donald before his young patient completely loses control.

For a bleak story, Death of a Superhero vibrantly glows with humour and optimism. There are moments of genuine comedy, for example when Donald’s dad allows him to smoke weed to calm his anxiety, and when his other brother and friends take it upon themselves to find a ‘special lady’ for Donald to lose his virginity to before he dies. Beautifully shot in many familiar Dublin locations, the city comes alive through Donald’s eyes. The narrative is interspersed with comic-book style animation, a visual representation of Donald’s dark fantasies of fear, sex and death. Meanwhile, his attraction to the highly intelligent and self-possessed Shelly (Aisling Loftus) gives him a momentary distraction from his illness and a glimpse of what a ‘normal’ life could be like.

The casting in this movie is what makes it work so well. While the plot borders on predictable and clichéd, it is the performances of Brodie-Sangster and Serkis in particular that make this worth watching. The subjects of illness and death are handled with sensitivity and realism; where Death of a Superhero could easily have veered down a schmaltzy, over-sentimentalised path, it instead delivers a unique and powerful story that manages to leave the viewer both emotionally drained and uplifted by the end.

 

  • Running Time: 97 minutes
  • Genres: Drama, Sci-fi, Fantasy
  • Reviews: 0 Reviews
  • Release Date: 21.02.2013
  • Studio: Bavaria Films
  • Certification: 15A
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DVD Review: What Richard Did

DIR: Lenny Abrahamson PRO: Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe DOP: David Grennan ED: Nathan Nugent DES: Stephanie Clerkin Cast: Jack Reynor, Lars Mikkelsen, Roisin Murphy

 

Although director Lenny Abrahamson is keen to stress that What Richard Did is separate from the Brian Murphy / Annabel’s case, it’s impossible to watch this without acknowledging it in some manner. There are simply too many similarities between the two to be ignored. That said, the film doesn’t comment on the case or the social / class issues that the case raised in Irish society. What Richard Did is a study of pressure and consequence. The titular character, Richard (Jack Reynor), is the atypical Celtic Tiger cub. He’s young, affluent and attends a private school in South Dublin. However, as the film progresses, it’s slowly revealed that Richard is not as happy as he initially seems. Constantly held up as the example and alpha of his peers, the conditioning that is worked on him begins to take its toll on him. As he begins a relationship with Lara (Roisin Murphy) that sees his teammate Conor (Sam Keeley) edged out, the film’s emotional content comes to the fore and culminates in a violent encounter outside a house party.

 

Abrahamson’s direction is muted and stable. There are no cinematic flourishes; here, the cinematography matches the mood of each individual scene. When Richard is withdrawn and sullen, the colours drop to a dull, familiar grey and pulled over curtains. As well as this, the dialogue is both authentic and economical. Malcolm Campbell’s script cleverly leaves out the character’s thoughts and emotions in dialogue, instead allowing the actors to portray them using their own means. In particular, one scene involving Richard finally cracking from the tension is riveting to watch. Screaming wordlessly and pounding like a maniac, Reynor’s performance is unsettling and difficult to watch, but is also entirely believable. Supporting Reynor is Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen who plays his father, Peter. Mikkelsen’s measured tones and glacial exterior hint at someone who’s dealt with emotional issues like what Richard is going through – though not to his extent.

 

Overall, What Richard Did is a powerful drama that doesn’t cast judgement on individuals or society as a whole. It simply tells the story of a young man and his attempts to cope with unbearable pressure. The film’s pacing is slow and, at times, it can seem like the story isn’t moving forward – instead focusing on an individual mood or scene. However, nothing feels superfluous or unnecessary – it’s more that the point or thrust of a scene is being hammered home when it doesn’t need to be. It’s a minor complaint in an otherwise exceptional film. Both Reynor and Abrahamson have marked themselves out as singular talents; this is Reynor’s first lead role and will go on to impress again. Likewise, Abrahamson continues to lead the pack in Irish cinema and will undoubtedly move beyond our shores to become a force to be reckoned with.
Brian Lloyd

Element Pictures Distribution is distributing the DVD, which is available to rent exclusively from Xtra-vision from Friday, 25th January . The film is also  available on-demand from 8th February.

The DVD includes special features such as an audio commentary from director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Malcolm Campbell, as well as a special director’s interview.

Additional stockists of the DVD are Golden Discs, Tesco’s, Heatons and Tower Records.

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DVD Review: True-D

Irish short film True-D (2012) uses an imaginative technique to give a simple story about human compassion a creative twist.

The mostly unscripted short by Noel Brady (An Tain, Duality, Movers and Shakers) tells the story of John Walker (Michael Bates – Derelict) another victim of the Recession driven to suicidal thoughts by his desperate circumstances. On his journey to end it all, however, he is interrupted by a busker with magic 3D glasses which allow him to see how others he encounters in that moment – a prostitute, a homeless man and a despairing businessman facing unemployment – ended up in their hopeless situations.

The film, set to an effectively dreamy and melancholic soundtrack by Elder Roche, bridges the gap between grim reality and fantasy with the use of shadows to tell each character’s own bleak story.

When John wears the magic glasses, he can see the tragic descent of each character into their current reality. We see a woman, whose destitution forces her to sell her body on the street. When we look again through John’s new glasses, the shadows on the wall tells her story of how she was lured into a life of prostitution by a drug-pushing pimp. She has been cast to the fringes of society without hope and with her child having been taken from her, now survives only for her next fix.

The director wanted his film to challenge our perceptions of others, to urges us not to cast judgment on those who society deems the ‘undesirables.’

Brady told Film Ireland, ‘The whole idea for True-D came about from just people watching, sometimes you see people and they look as if they are carrying the weight of world on their shoulders. And it seemed to me that if for just one moment, you could see peoples lives, see the weight they carry, then maybe we just might show a little more understanding and humanity for our fellow man. And that’s what this short film is all about. I had had the idea of using shadows for quite sometime, but I could never come up with a device to use in the film to allow the character and us the audience to see people as the truly are. And that’s when I got the idea of the 3-D glasses.’

To date True-D has being screened in the Corona Fastnet Film Festival in Cork, The Charlie Chaplin Comedy film Festival in Kerry, Underground Cinema both in Ireland and in London.

The creative ‘shadow’ technique, the topical message behind the film and the emotive soundtrack is what made it the ‘Best Irish Short’ at the recent Dublin International Short Film and Music Festival.

The actors, recognisable from the Irish film circuit, (Conor Marren, Hilary Cotter, Fergal Cleary, Mark Schrier) expressively portray the anguish of the characters without words, driving home their vulnerability at the hands of an often ruthless and condemnatory society.

While the film’s ‘recessionary times’ topic is far from original, and its ending skates very close to a sentimental, Sunday-School ‘love thy neighbour’ display, the original dramatic methods used to convey this message, the fitting soundtrack and credible acting make it a worthwhile prize-winner amongst Irish shorts.

Carmen Bryce

 

 

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DVD Review: The Gingerbread Men

 

Written and directed by Dubliner and relative newcomer Dáire McNab, The Gingerbread Men follows on from his 2009 debut horror The Farm. This movie switches genres, exploring the strained and touching relationship between two Trinity College students and housemates – surly womaniser Charlie (Elliot Moriarty) and hapless virgin Ken (Kenneth Conway), whose facial scars have removed his last shred of confidence, making it almost impossible for him to engage with women. Ken observes Charlie with a mixture of awe and envy as the latter effortlessly seduces various women he meets in bars, only to coldly dismiss them the next morning. When Charlie meets Nicole, however, he is consumed with confusion as he realises he is falling for her but is terrified of getting too attached. Meanwhile, Ken relies on misguided humour to fumble through the treacherous passageway between hope and rejection. Though he never relinquishes his pursuit of love, he furtively carries with him the pain of his scars and the memories of how he received them.

This movie sensitively portrays the two young men’s everyday experiences; while it shows them out partying, getting drunk and laid (well mostly Charlie), the heart of the story lies in the quieter moments. Set primarily in their small apartment over the space of a couple of months, there is a sense of the closeness of the pair, both emotionally and also physically because of the close quarters they share. Although Charlie is often indifferent towards everyday life, due in large part to a fractured relationship with his father, he genuinely cares about Ken and his plight, even if he is not always adept at expressing this. Ken’s awkward, self-deprecating nature – coupled with his inability to vet his thoughts as he verbalises them – makes him an endearing character and he provides a good-humoured remedy for Charlie’s churlishness.

There is a familiarity in this movie that is vaguely reminiscent of RTÉ’s Bachelors Walk – the streets, bars and scenery are all recognisable Dublin locations; these are typical students we all could have bumped into at 2am in a dodgy nightclub at some point in time. The intermittent narrator endeavours to provide a light-hearted tone – this doesn’t entirely work, but the attempt at doing something different is commendable. The Gingerbread Men is about a moment in time, a snapshot of two intersecting lives heading towards unclear futures. For now, however, the pair find a strange solace in one another, both heavy under the weight of their individual burdens. Like every other college student facing into the real world they are just trying to get by as best they can, doomed like so many before them to learn inalienable truths the hard way.

 

Emma O’Donoghue

The DVD can be ordered from http://www.secondwavefilms.com/buy-dvds.html and is available at various outlets.

Written, shot, directed & edited by Dáire McNab. Produced by Robert Kearns, Simone Cameron-Coen & Dáire McNab.
CAST: Elliot Moriarty as Charlie, Kenneth Conway as Ken, Gillian Walsh as Nicole, Louise Cargin as Marie.
Narrated by Damian Clark.

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DVD Review: Tree Keeper

 

Filmed in rural Cork by Irish filmmaker Patrick O’ Shea, Tree Keeper is a bold film that attempts to stand on its own as a psychological thriller with the themes of violence, greed and environmentally conservatism. The question is can it compete with the Hollywood thrillers we encounter every week?

Tree Keeper tells the story of recluse Doire who has retreated to live in the woodlands he inherited when his father died. He is a solitary figure who is brought back into the world he despises when he discovers his estranged mother has sold off his land to a developer who wants to build a landfill. Doire is then thrown into a violent conflict in order to save his home, which has repercussions on both his life and that of his enemies.

This film makes a brave effort to match up to its foreign contenders in the genre by delivering a concise and through plot that overall holds together well.  James Browne (Doire) gives a realistic performance as the disturbed and on edge protagonist. He holds the attention of the camera well and gives by far the best acting performance. The strong contrast between Doire’s quiet world of beauty in the woods and the cruel outside world is shown through the eyes of director of photography Rupert MacCarthy-Morrogh  using all Cork’s rural landscape has to offer. The scenes in the woods are beautifully shot, which contrasts with the tough outside world of mistrust, cruelty and violence.

Orchestral music is used to capture the tense atmosphere for the violent scenes and to show Doire’s mental distress. Although the two leads carry the plot well; the support cast can at times looks amateur and stilted. The backstory is also hazy as Doire’s estrangement to his mother is mentioned but never explained. Other characters from the small town are also crucially missing details of their lives and place in the story.

Tree Keeper is, however, a fearless film that reaches the heights it has set itself and its star James Browne in particular should have a strong future ahead of him.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

 

Tree Keeper is now available to buy here on DVD and Blu-ray!

The DVD is also available in store at Plugd Records in the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork City.

The HD Download will be available from 21st November 2012.

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DVD Review: Circus Born

 

Matt Skinner’s Circus Born is one of those painful anomalies, bursting with quirk and promise but falling just ever so short of the mark. Gritty and observational in approach, the documentary takes the form of ‘a year in the life’ of Fossett’s Circus, where the focus on the everyday labour and toil overshadows the glamour of the spotlight.

The film never shies away from the honest opinions and struggles (and tempers) that revolve around the big top.; the frustrations of orchestrating an act with language barriers, new perspectives on the absence of animals in today’s circus by the children that grew up around them, and the uncertainty of securing seat sales as they travel across country, are but some of the issues covered. This is only disappointing due to the fact that Circus Born seems to merely touch on the history of Fossett’s family circus through sporadic interviews with its oldest surviving member.

There are attempts to elaborate on these snippets, but, unfortunately, they become lost in the mix. This is a shame, as what is revealed is fascinating and recalled with the warmth and humour of a true born show-person.

That said, there are some really nice, honest moments throughout and the balance between the genuine love of the performers is juxtaposed nicely with the reality of the day-to-day running of the show.

Tess Motherway

 

DVD now available

For enquiries regarding Circus Born for festivals, other showings or TV please email Matt at mattskinner@iol.ie

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DVD Review: Zombie 108

 

Zombie 108 has been hailed as the first Taiwanese zombie movie in history and has generated a great amount of interest from horror movie buffs and critics alike. Naturally, when asked to review a film that has generated such a buzz, and happens to include zombies I was both excited and wary. Could Zombie 108 really live up to its hype?

The movie’s title sequences explain it all for the audience immediately. After a catastrophic accident in a top-secret research lab, a new strain of virus is released with violent repercussions. It is a common trope in zombie movies, but this is where Zombie 108’s association with the traditional zombie movie ends. As the movie opens we are introduced to one of our protagonists, a young woman searching for her daughter amidst a sea of bodies, as she is chased by zombies we realize that her day will probably not improve from here.

District 108 is no Disneyland, and is the one area of town that is to be avoided at all costs on an average day unless one desires a run-in with an obese, controlling drug lord surrounded by a sea of drowsy beauties. Sadly, as with all zombie movies, this is no average day. The local SWAT team has been called in to evacuate the resistant uninfected. After wasting much time shooting at each other, both sides eventually learn that it is the zombies are, in fact, the real problem in town.

It is generally advised that one nails down genre before shooting begins and this is where Zombie 108 falls short. At times it’s as though the creators have watched the trailers of zombie classics and judged what their movie should look like from that alone and the movie soon dissolves into generic chaos, jumping from zombie movie, to cop movie, to Saw-esque torture porn, and sometimes even comedy.

One of the more interesting aspects of the movie is that there are no grey areas here when it comes to characters. One is either innocent or evil as evidenced by one character being billed only as ‘Pervert’. There is something refreshing about knowing exactly where we stand in a movie, and some of the more arty sequences make the audience feel as though we are watching a comic book in action. These scenes are the most culturally different to our own and we feel like we are experiencing something new and intriguing. Unfortunately, with the addition of two ‘comedic’ American drug pushers and the ‘Pervert’ himself, Zombie 108 reverts to madness and leaves the audience behind.

Zombie 108 is an interesting movie anomaly and seems to have succeeded where most fail. Director Joe Chien’s call for funding was answered by over 900 fans who aided in the creation of the movie. Suddenly social media websites like Facebook and Twitter are becoming important in the movie world for more than simply ranting or raving about the latest movie you have seen. For me, Zombie 108 is an indicator; it is imperfect in many ways but shows a new era opening up in art. With the advent of funding options like Kickstarter we may see independent crowd-funded movies like Zombie 108 really take flight. Maybe next time though more thought will be put into ensuring the audience know their generic positions and aren’t so consistently confused.

Zombie 108 is an exciting new step in movie-making, but ultimately leaves zombie lovers disappointed as it jars the audience jumping from genre to genre and never seeming to settle anywhere. For a movie named ‘Zombie 108’, it frequently veers away from the zombie aspect and into vague cultural and sexual territories. Whilst some of us might have found ourselves wildly excited about watching a Taiwanese zombie movie, Zombie 108 is somewhat of a disappointment.

Zombie 108 ends in the same way it opens, with the streets littered with bodies and people searching for hope in a seemingly hopeless world. As the credits roll we find ourselves wondering if the hour and a half in the middle was truly necessary. It is the movie we see in the first and final ten minutes that I would like to see.

 

Ciara O’Brien

Format: Anamorphic, Dolby, PAL, Widescreen
Region: Region 2
Number of discs: 1
Classification: 18
Studio: Showbox
DVD Release Date: 2nd July 2012
Run Time: 83 minutes

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DVD Review: War of the Arrows

I’ll spare you the obligatory archery themed pun; a few arrows short of a Quiver, Just misses the mark, Bullseye etc.

Instead, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know War of the Arrows is actually very entertaining!

Comparisons with House of Flying Daggers are obvious and immediate, both feature chase narratives and projectile weaponry. However, in many ways, War of the Arrows is the film HOFD wishes it was. Though not nearly as colourful, it lacks the pretension, lengthy exposition and incoherent plotting.

Sagely, War instead draws itself taught for a gripping two hours of curving quarrels, spurting gore and CG tigers.

War is a hefty beast clocking in at 122 minutes. When Cine Asia titles reach such runtimes, it’s usually an indication something has gone awry. Yet somehow, it still feels lean with each scene driving the story or grinding the tension. With minimal setup, toxophilite Nam Yi (Hae-il Park) is gifted with cause and justification to employ his otherworldly skills in a daring attempt to rescue his sister.

The bulk of War concerns said rescue attempt and, naturally, any subsequent escape sequences. This more or less equates to two solid hours of cavalry charges, bladed melees and lethal archery contests. The former aren’t especially inspired, yet lashings of gore and screaming combatants certainly help sell the violence.

Predictably, pointy sticks flung by taught strings are the focus here, and it makes for a pleasant change of pace, for once stealing the limelight from fists, feet and blades. And though the devastating ‘half-pounders’ and side-winding bolts are a joy to behold, one can’t shake the impression War didn’t quite showcase archery at its utmost.

A handful more “Holy S**t” draws wouldn’t have gone amiss.

This remains a minor complaint as the half hour finale boasts its share. Meanwhile hero Nam-Yi makes for a refreshingly ruthless protagonist. In addition to impaling foes with wooden projectiles, he’s happy to burn them alive or introduce a monstrously oversized tiger into proceedings if it gets the job done.

But in his defence, wouldn’t you?

Considering I expected this to be a dreary, contemplative exercise on instilling the virtues of archery (patience, stillness, tranquillity, I dunno, other boring stuff?) into one’s soul, War of the Arrows proved a gory treat!

Essentially a two-hour chase scene, crammed with courageous heroes, relentless villains and solid, meaty action, as a medium for advertising the intrinsic coolness of archery, War of the Arrows puts its contemporaries, notably 2010’s Robin Hood to shame.

To shame, Mr Scott, to shame!

Jack McGlynn

 

 

Format: Anamorphic, Dolby, PAL, Surround Sound, Widescreen
Region: Region 2
Number of discs: 1
Classification: 15
Studio: Cine-Asia
DVD Release Date: 7th May 2012
Run Time: 118 minutes

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