Glassland – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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David Gorman checks out Glassland, Gerard Barrett’s highly anticipated follow up to Pilgrim Hill. Glassland screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

The atmosphere in the Town Hall Theatre, the epicentre of the Galway Film Fleadh, had an air of eagerness and excitement about it on Friday night. Two years ago, in the same venue, a young unknown filmmaker was about to emerge on to the Irish film scene with his debut feature, Pilgrim Hill.

Pilgrim Hill (2012) evoked critical acclaim from Ireland and abroad was the most talked about film of that year, resulting in writer/director Gerard Barrett winning Rising Star Award at the IFTAs.  So the excitement and anticipation at this year’s Fleadh for Barrett’s second feature, Glassland, was justified. Barrett, who also wrote both films, is a self-proclaimed proud Kerry man, who was compared to the great Irish playwright John. B Keane when the film was being introduced by the former Minister of Arts.  The irony of both of his films premiering in a theatre and not a cinema was not lost on me.

Barrett says about his second feature, “I come from a close family and I have never known anything else, but the reality is that there are plenty of broken families in Ireland and I wanted to explore that.” It is never easy to follow a successful debut and the pressure that goes with that can distract the best of filmmakers. However, there is an air of confidence about Barrett and it is refreshing to see a young man (Barrett is still only 27) with such passion about storytelling and I am glad that he chose the medium of cinema to convey those stories and not the stage like the comparative Keane.

Glassland progresses at a slow pace and there is a certain amount of patience required, but it is well worth it. Jean (Toni Collette) is slowing killing herself with alcohol and John (Jack Reynor), her son, is her only hope of survival but he is on the verge of a breakdown himself. Reynor’s character is obviously under strain and his family situation is making him sacrifice not only living his life, but possibly putting it at risk also. Reynor has a strong screen presence and can hold the attention of the viewer in long scenes without dialogue or a manipulating score. Toni Collette is unflinchingly raw, almost unrecognisable from the glamour of Hollywood that some might relate her to. She is 100% believable in the role. The strong, believable performances from the lead characters engage the viewer and there is an honesty and sincerity that pervades the film. The writing/dialogue is at times brutally frank but then this frankness is juxtaposed with moments of comedy that resulted in laugh-out-loud moments in the packed theatre.

There are certainly similarities with Pilgrim Hill, the sense of ‘anywhere’ shows why these films are so relatable, the only indication that both films are based in Ireland are the accents, brilliantly pulled off in Glassland by Australian Toni Collette and Will Poulter from England who plays John’s friend. Poulter is responsible for the comedic elements that ease the palpable tension among the audience at times. There is an honesty about Glassland and, again, like Pilgrim Hill, Barrett is certainly not afraid to depict the harsh truth of life in modern Ireland. Another clear similarity between the two films is that the viewer is completely immersed in the main character’s world, which in both cases are claustrophobic, repetitive and mundane.

This film is the type that grows on you as time passes; it dominated the conversation over breakfast the next morning. We need more films like this that explore the prevalent issues in contemporary Irish life –  addiction, emigration, and a sense of isolation from mainstream society. It is fair to say that not everyone might enjoy the pace or visual style over a dialogue-driven narrative. Nevertheless, these are stories that need to be told in Ireland by Irish filmmakers and Barrett is telling them with compassion, subtlety and refreshing honesty. A well-made mature second feature.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

 

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The Canal – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Cathy Butler enters the nightmare of Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Going into Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal knowing nothing about its plot or genre turned out to be quite an experience, as a complete lack of any preconceptions strengthened the film’s impact. Dark and disturbing, yet with moments of inexplicable humour, the film is a perfectly constructed voyage through one man’s nightmarish experiences.

 

David (Rupert Evans) is a happily married film archivist with a young son and a happy home – apparently. Through his work, David discovers old crime scene footage from 1902, showing his house as the location of a brutal murder. Soon after, David discovers his wife has been unfaithful. He begins to suffer from bizarre, horrifying visions, and his wife goes missing. When she turns up drowned in the canal near their home, her death is ruled accidental. However, David believes otherwise, and begins to pursue the connection between the 1902 murder and her death, ultimately starting down a path of horror and violence.

 

One of the main plot threads is familiar: a happy couple move into a home which turns out to have been the location of a turn of the century violent murder. Horror ensues. However, The Canal takes these tropes for what they are and plays with them and the audience, instilling doubt over David’s perspective on events. Kavanagh himself remarked in the Q&A following the screening that The Canal is a very self-aware film in this manner, taking such aspects of the horror genre and subverting them.

 

Editing and sound design come to the fore here. The form of the film reflects the content in a violent and visceral manner, time and again. Great use is made of the physical film which David uses as part of his job, film that is cut and spliced and wound at great speeds through reels. Such images are used in jarring cuts between scenes, emphasising the violence of the film in yet another self-aware aspect of the piece, implying further that what you are watching is a construct.

 

Sharp cuts in audio keep the audience on edge from start to finish. One particular aural cut on the sound of a zipper on a child’s bag is unnerving and jarring, yet is just an everyday object. Much of the horror of the film is presented in this way, as being part of banal aspects of David’s life, the ordinary places and things that he sees everyday. This only serves to further intensify the thread of foreboding that winds through the film.

 

The Canal is an expert blend of horror, mystery and psychological thriller, underpinned unexpectedly by moments of comedy. That such a film could maintain its ominous tone while injecting moments of humour is a testament to the director.  All this, along with its all too vivid imagery, makes The Canal a film that will linger long with the viewer, welcome or otherwise!

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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Noble – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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 Cathy Butler is impressed by Stephen Bradley’s emotive and engaging film, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

A film like this is difficult to review, being a fact-based story about an extraordinary person, whose actions have greatly improved the lives of young children in dire circumstances. It is difficult to separate the film as a work from the real-life woman it portrays. While in some ways flawed, Noble is an emotive and engaging account of how one Irish woman found herself coming to the aid of impoverished children on the other side of the world.

 

Directed by Stephen Bradley, the film focuses on the tumultuous life of the eponymous Christina Noble, born into poverty in Dublin in the 1950s, eventually being taken into care after her mother’s death due to the negligence of her alcoholic father. Her difficult childhood, her experience of homelessness and assault as a young adult, and the eventual breakdown of her marriage force Christina to become not embittered but resourceful. After having a dream of war-torn Vietnam, Christina decides that the country holds her fate, and pledges to one day travel there. When eventually she does, she finds herself up against various obstacles – both native and foreign – in her attempts to help the impoverished children she finds there.

 

The scenes of Christina’s childhood juxtaposed with her arrival in Vietnam as an adult make quite a clear parallel between the poverty of 1950s Dublin and that of 1980s Vietnam; that these two countries have at different times suffered from third-world conditions. It bridges the geographical gap between the two regions, and goes some way to accounting for how Noble identified with the Vietnamese situation.

 

Narratively the film is somewhat black and white, and has a tendency to oversimplify. The heroes and villains lack in ambiguity, being either the good guys or the bad guys with little in between. Some major plot points don’t seem to receive adequate attention for their significance, such as Noble’s experience of sexual assault, her relationship with her children, or the collapse of her marriage. Perhaps if more of an insight had been given into the effect these events had on Christina, rather than them being just items on a long list of hardships, it may have been easier to engage more with her character. Deirdre O’Kane does a fine job presenting Noble’s endless resourcefulness and boundless strength of character, but there is still some amount of distance between the audience and the character.

 

Whatever the film’s shortcomings, the film packs a fairly hefty emotional punch. Noble’s determination and profound love for the children she is trying to help come through with great clarity, which is ultimately the film’s triumph. Christina, both the film’s character and the woman that inspired the story, is clearly someone to be reckoned with.

 

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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Close to Evil: Extended Cut – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Stephen Totterdell takes a look at the extended cut of Gerry Gregg’s award-winning documentary, Close to Evil, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Cognitive Dissonance. Is there any psychological process that has caused more trouble in the world? But the cognitive dissonance on display in Close to Evil allows us insight into how atrocities can occur, and how they occur again. Tomi, a Bergen-Belsen survivor who arrived in Dublin in the late 1950s, decides to seek out one of the last remaining SS officers from the camp. He doesn’t want to confront or accuse. Rather he wants the SS officer to show remorse, and to shake her hand in the spirit of reconciliation. Hilde Lisiewicz served as an officer in Bergen-Belsen while in her early 20s, and went on to put it behind her and live a normal life.

It’s the smile that does it. The “chit-chat”, as one interviewee puts it. We expect a former Nazi to show remorse, or to have become embittered, or to live a punishing life. But Hilde smiles, says she doesn’t remember much, she liked the uniforms, would you like a sandwich? It’s the banality of evil, and is something German cinema has dealt with repeatedly. The recent Austrian film Michael analysed it: that film tells of an unassuming office worker who returns home in the evening to a child he has locked in his basement. It’s the stories about Hilter being a vegetarian. We expect a monster. When these people turn out to be human it causes what Julia Kristeva calls ‘abjection’. We see a part of our own identity become vulnerable; the border between us and these monstrous figures is blurred, and we react with disgust.

That Hilde can’t acknowledge her own history of atrocity speaks to a wider human condition. What would happen if she had acknowledged it sooner, or at all? Is it possible to acknowledge being a part of such a thing without finding some excuse, some reason that you weren’t really a part of it? Such a realisation would surely end in suicide. Hilde seems so assured of her innocence that she brought her children to visit Bergen-Belsen, telling them that she worked as a chef in the camp. But why did she lie about her job there?

It’s the kind of mentality that reminds us never to take the world for granted, that our powers for self-justification are endless. Look at those arguing for unjust wars abroad, look at the situation with Israel and Palestine. Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle comes into it. In a way, people find comfort in putting the Holocaust in the past; in saying there, that’s where the evil is. In looking at the horrific footage available. It existed, and it was terrible, but it was in the past where it can’t get us. Like Kristeva’s abjection, an acknowledgment that this kind of atrocity could still happen; that does still happen; that we could all be in some way complicit in something or other, would threaten our sense of identity too much. So we put it in the past, and we wonder how the Germans of the 1940s could have let such things happen.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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The Light of Day – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Cathy Butler sinks her fangs into The Light of Day, a mockumentary about the making of a low-budget vampire horror flick. The film premiered at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

When the opening title card appeared on screen, having characteristics suspiciously similar to Final Cut Pro default title settings, I had my doubts about The Light of Day. However, this meta-mockumentary about a disastrous film shoot defied its slightly unpromising opening.

 

The film was produced by students of the Filmbase/Staffordshire University MSc Digital Feature Film Production Course, and has at its helm not one, but three directors: Amy Carroll, Conor Dowling, and Eoin O’Neill. It follows the exploits of a film crew attempting to shoot a cheesy screen adaptation of a vampire graphic novel, led by their eccentric and incompetent director, Richie, and his beleaguered producer, Desmond.

 

Considering the scope of an entire cast and crew, Light of Day is truly an ensemble production. Film crews often feature diverse individuals who would never have spent time together were it not for the film they are working on, and this is used to great effect here. The cast of characters is the core of the film; the stressed yet dedicated DOP hiding from his personal problems, the writer worried about her book being butchered, the eager-to-please First AD, and a sound guy who never makes a sound, to mention but a few. The zany director figure, complete with turtleneck, is a bit of a cliché, but this ultimately serves to make more real the assorted characters surrounding him.

 

The film is certainly a testament to the potential of low budget or crowd-funded filmmaking – production values are high, showing what can be done by a talented crew regardless of how much money is behind a project.

 

This kind of self-referential film can be problematic. What if it is only enjoyable for people who know the trials of filmmaking themselves, and who can laugh out of familiarity? The film takes aspects of two of its more famous predecessors –Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion and Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s documentary Lost in La Mancha ­– and fuses them together, making for a very enjoyable caper, with laughs that non-filmmakers will likely partake in as well.

 

The DOP remarks to the producer near the close of the film that he doesn’t strike him as the kind of man that enjoys being peaceful. One might wonder if this could be said of anyone with any filmmaking inclinations. Surely such a person must have some bizarre craving for disorder, given the wealth of potential problems and personality clashes that this film uses for comic effect. Light of Day takes such disorder and turns it into an entertaining and engaging piece of comedy.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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The Stranger – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Stephen Totterdell checks in on Neasa Ní Chianáin’s documentary about Neal MacGregor, an English artist who died alone aged 44 in a cave on the remote island of Inishbofin. The Stranger screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Camus’ Mersault is the obvious association. Whenever a character like this appears; a character who chooses to live outside society – no, rather a character who refuses to engage in the “busying oneself” that makes up much of modern life – we think of Mersault. A character who refuses to lie, to engage in social practices for the sake of it. The young Neal MacGregor first strikes us with his good looks and charm. The narrative dissonance of his life – that a talented London charmer should end up a recluse on an island off the west of Ireland – is irresistable. It’s like a story out of a Roberto Bolaño novel.

Sometimes, perhaps, a little too irresistable. Whilst the interviews with Neal’s friends provide insight into his youth, there are repeated references to “What happened”, as if his move to the island was the result of personal difficulties that suddenly came upon him. Some suspect a bad acid trip. This kind of conjecture runs through the coding of an otherwise fine and intriguing film. Sometimes the narrative is a little too eager, or engages with the tortured artist complex a little too much. It wants there to be a mystical secret to Neal’s life.

For example: when the interviewees describe Neal wandering to the back of the island, they suggest that this was “Out of bounds” for the island’s residents, and that Neal disregarded this mystic barrier in order to explore “the back of the island” (read: his tortured soul).

Nevertheless, it is one of the more interesting documentaries of late, and its trawl through West Ireland culture certainly provides plenty of interest. Given that Neal’s identity is constructed through hearsay and half-forgotten memories (he died in 1990), that he should be remembered as a larger-than-life figure makes sense. The Cult of Neal. That the documentary takes as its subject an interesting non-celebrity reveals shades of Karl Ove Knausgaard and the new trend for authenticity. Much of what Neal did on the island was fascinating only because of its context. The obsession with minutiae and of building his identity through language is one of the great appealing traits of the modern age. It also has ties with Roberto Bolaño, whose novel The Savage Detectives consists of memories and fragments of characters who never appear directly before the reader.

It would be interesting to hear if, from all of the recorded interviews, Neal emerged significantly differently in the accounts of the Irish speakers versus the English speakers of the film. If language is how we perceive reality, and our identities consist of the ways in which we utilise language, and if Neal lived as an Englishman on an island where Irish was spoken, then perhaps his identity is caught between two languages, in the shades in between.

What makes a man desert society to live on an island? The interviewees speak as if there are reasons. Some people do things differently. “Neal enjoyed being alone,” says one interviewee, “That’s sad.” Why is it sad? It’s different. This is the Mersault problem.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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It Came from Connemara!! – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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David Gorman shlocks his way through Brian Reddin’s It Came from Connemara!!, a fascinating documentary about the production studio that low-budget, B-movie legend Roger Corman established in Galway.

The first time I heard Roger Corman’s name, in an interview with Martin Scorsese discussing the influence he had on his career. I remember that I thought Scorsese said, in his fast New York accent, ‘Roger Gorman’. So with a similar surname to myself, I searched into some of his films on IMBD. I was a little surprised for two reasons: firstly, he did not have the same surname (listen to Scorsese say his name and you can excuse my mistake); and secondly, his filmography consisted of names like The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955) Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954) and Candy Stripe Nurses (1974). I was surprised, and wondered why one of my favourite directors was speaking so highly of this B-movie filmmaker.

As I read further into the career of this man I soon realised that the admiration came not only from Scorsese but from some of American cinema’s biggest names. Avoiding a long list of familiar names that are easily recognisable to anyone reading this, it is suffice to say that Roger Corman has an entry in the film lexicon of many filmmakers in America and especially those from the New Hollywood era.

Fast forward about eight years after my first hearing of Roger Corman in a YouTube interview with Martin Scorsese – I am in the Town Hall Theatre Galway watching a documentary about his production studio located just a few miles from where I am sitting.

It Came from Connemara!! is a documentary by director Brian Reddin about the production studio that Roger Corman established in Galway, where in the 1990s for five years an Irish crew manufactured about twenty films. I say manufactured because you get the sense that it was like a machine going from one film to another, covering genres such as horror, sci-fi, action and romance.

From the beginning of the documentary there are hilarious anecdotes conveying stories of a filmmaking regime that will possibly never be imitated again. It is a great insight into a time when inexperienced Irish crews might one day be in the make-up department and the next, be assistant director. Make no mistake, Corman did not want his director spending time worrying about every aspect of a scene or have pleasing aesthetics in mind, it was pure commerce.

The footage from the films made at that time are a great addition to the documentary and much to Reddin’s relief, Corman, who is notorious for being frugal, kindly let them use the footage free of charge. There is something surreal about seeing a huge shoot out in the middle of Shop Street, or a car exploding outside a small garage in Spiddal, and as someone who lives in Galway I am now very keen to see them.

As Ireland introduced higher wages and theatrical releases for the type of B-Movies Corman was putting out decreased, his time in Ireland came to an unavoidable end. You can sense Corman has a genuine affection for that time in his career, he reminisces with a hint of pride “It was the Irish branch of what was known as The Corman Film School”.

His legacy in Ireland might not be as widely known as his American one, nevertheless, similar to the way Corman started the careers of so many accomplished American filmmakers, he achieved the same in Ireland. Many of the people who worked on the Irish branch of the Corman Film School now have significant and accomplished careers. This film is about more than Corman’s studio in the West of Ireland, a sense of nostalgia permeates this documentary looking back at an era that might never be replicated again. For any film fans out there this a great watch.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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Love Eternal

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DIR/WRI: Brendan Muldowney  PRO: Conor Barry, Manami Fukawa DOP: Tom Comerford  ED: Mairead McIvor   DES: Owen Power  MUS: Bart Westerlaken CAST: Robert de Hoog, Naomi Clarke, Tina Shaw, Cathy Malone

Asperger Syndrome is a fun plot device. From Hannibal‘s forensic genius Will Graham to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo‘s computer genius Lisbeth Salander, it’s become shorthand for cinema’s “troubled genius” characters. High IQ mixed with asocial personalities make for exciting drama. Rarely, though, is the Syndrome explored outside of high octane scenarios. Rarely do we see a portrayal of just a lonely young person who struggles to connect with others.

So here we are. Love Eternal’s Ian Harding is on the spectrum. Only it’s not stated. Perhaps it’s not even intentional. The only explicit reference is a shell Ian picks up from the beach; a shell which is distinctly reminiscent of the Fibonacci numbers – a design frequently referenced with regard to autism. Ian is obsessed with death, and has been ever since witnessing his father’s at the age of six. This has produced in him an odd intimacy with corpses, and one gets the impression that he is a sort of merchant of death. Nobody gets closer to the dead than Ian. It’s a story of a lonely man who seeks out others with whom to share a suicide. If he’s alone in life, he reasons, he might as well enjoy a bit of company before his death.

Adapted from Kei Oishi’s novel In Love With the Dead, Brendan Muldowney’s film is another in a line of Irish films to reject the Priest+Field narrative ordinarily so prevalent in Irish cinema. The Scandi-Noir aesthetic recalls Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did and, although this film has lower production values (which are in some places obvious), its depth and intensity of focus make it a flawed but energetic effort. There are many things I could criticise in this film, but its ingenuity and freshness is something that must be applauded.

Ian spends his youth browsing suicide websites, and I imagine this is common practice for real world teenagers. Its deftness at dealing with mental health issues marks it out from any sensationalist “message films”. Away from the hustle and partying of the Skins teenagers, here’s a character people on the spectrum can relate to. Ian sits by himself and chats to his online friends for “ten years”. When he begins searching for a partner in suicide, he begins to develop real world relationships.

I had one reservation about the narrative. The moments during which Ian comes alive are always the moments when he is dancing, or singing, or performing a Neurotypical (non-Aspergic) activity. This is when he is happy. But this narrative device perpetuates the idea that Ian is, as he states, defective, and that in order to be happy he has to become more Neurotypical; more normal. Anyone with Asperger’s will tell you that this couldn’t be further from the truth. This process is called “mainstreaming”. It’s the idea that rather than accept difference we must strain it out and transform people like Ian into “normal” people in order for them to be happy. I think all this does is help “normal” people to become more comfortable with those who are different, rather than affecting those with Asperger’s in any positive way.

It’s nice to see a low-budget film that doesn’t make a show of its low-budget. There’s an element in Irish cinema that wants to turn everything into Republic of Telly, so it’s good to see some genuine artistic endeavour here. Although its production values can ocasionally be distracting, the story plays out with such earnestness that one forgives it its flaws. The fact that it was adapted from a Japanese novel also brings hope, and perhaps coincides with Anglophonic consumers’ growing taste for translated fiction.

This is one of those films that isn’t for everybody. But for those who like the sound of what I’ve described above, it’s really worth watching. To paraphrase the late Roger Ebert: I’m tired of films that are for everybody, which really means they’re for nobody. This film is for me, and for me it works very well indeed.

Stephen Totterdell

18 (See IFCO for details)
97 mins

Love Eternal is released on 4th July 2014

Love Eternal – Official Website

 

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Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie

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DIR: Ben Kellett • WRI: Brendan O’Carroll • PRO: Stephen McCrum • DOP: Martin Hawkins • ED: Mark Lawrence • MUS: Andy O’Callaghan • DES: Simon Rogers • CAST: Brendan O’Carroll, Jennifer Gibney, Robert Bathurst, Sorcha Cusack

Chances are if you’re planning on going to see Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, then – much like writer and star Brendan O’Carroll – you don’t really care what film critics have to say about it and probably won’t be reading this review. So instead of pre-loading the critique with apologetic lines like “But fans of the show will love it…”, let’s just assume that fans of the show already love it, and have this review be for everyone else, such as people going in blind to Mrs Brown phenomenon. Is there anything here for the average cinemagoer? Aside from making Dublin look pretty, the answer is a loud and solid “No.”

When a local politican (boo!) wants to pave Moore Street to put up a parking lot or whatever it is his nefarious plans involve, Mrs Brown finds her stall under threat. Doubly so when she discovers that she actually owes nearly €4 million in taxes due to a government SNAFU. So Mrs Brown’s Boys (and girls) get involved to try to save the day, and we end up with a bunch of blind ninjas and their faux-Asian leader (also O’Carroll, leaving no racist joke unturned), a lawyer with Tourette’s Syndrome and a gay man in Borat-style mankini. Hilarious…..?

It’s not that O’Carroll and co aren’t funny, more that it feels like at no point does it ever really feel like they’re trying to be. For all the fourth-wall breaking self-awareness and kept-in outtakes while the film is still happening, there’s no sense of intelligence or originality going on when it comes to the jokes.

Of course it is nice that, for once, Dublin is being shown as a lovely, warm, welcoming place filled with accepting, loveable folk, and the cinematography really does paint the capital as a layered, vibrant cosmopolitan city, but this isn’t exactly a Richard Linklater movie. This is a comedy, one now without the laugh track of the TV show to remind us where the punchlines are. Without that assistance, it’s next to impossible to figure out when we’re supposed to find any of this funny.

But fans of the show will love it…

Rory Cashin

15A (See IFCO for details)
94 mins

Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie is released on 27th June 2014

Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie– Official Website

 

 

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Tea with the Dead

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Stacy Grouden attended a recent screening of Tea with the Dead, in which a gentle embalmer from Connemara shares cups of tea and chats with his mortuary arrivals.

On Friday. 6th June 2014, up-and-coming Irish animation company Wiggleywoo celebrated the completion of its latest project, Tea with the Dead, with a special screening in the wonderfully atmospheric surroundings of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. Spirits ran high in the room on the night, while spirits of another kind came (back) to life on screen courtesy of the skeleton crew of talented animators and voice actors who worked on the production.

Subtitled ‘Life, Death and a Packet of Digestives,’ Tea with the Dead animates a series of conversations between Frank, a friendly, gentle embalmer from Connemara, (voiced by frequent Wiggleywoo collaborator Frank Kelly) and the recently-departed souls who pass through his mortuary. Taking place over the course of a working week, Frank treats every body that arrives in his parlour with the same attention and respect – which in an Irish context could only mean, asking if they will have a cup of tea. When met with predictably deathly silence, Frank cheerfully responds with, ‘I’ll take that as a yes.’

Once in his kitchen, each person’s ghostly presence warms up to Frank as quickly as it takes a kettle to boil, and a variety of stories are recounted: of first loves, of last loves, of mothers, and fathers, JFK and Dickie Rock.

By times silly, poignant, heartbreakingly sad and deeply, darkly funny, Tea with the Dead presents an engaging anthology of Irish life – and death – focusing on the singular formative relationships that make (or made) life worth living. By combining quirky, distinctive 2D animation and powerful, naturalistic voice acting and dialogue, Tea with the Dead resurrects the spirit of old Irish storytelling with a compelling 21st century twist.

Eight months in the making with only about ten staff members, Tea with the Dead is undoubtedly a passion project for Wiggleywoo, a small but increasingly prolific company founded by Susan Broe, Gary ‘Gilly’ Gill and Alan Foley in March 2012. All five of the stories featured in the film are rooted in the experiences of the friends and family of the cast and crew. The project, Broe explained, was inspired by creative director Gill’s mother’s tale of tracing her own biological mother. ‘I remember sitting down to transcribe her story, for about three days, and I was crying most of the time,’ Broe laughed before the screening, before adding later that, amazingly, all of the other touching, life-affirming stories came from just within the small Wiggleywoo crew.

Following the screening, Bernie Dermody, who voiced Frank’s wife and closed the film with a haunting old Irish ballad, enthralled the audience once more with a live encore performance, ensuring that not a living (or dead) soul remained dry-eyed in the cathedral and palpably reinforcing the much-deserved passion and goodwill for the project in the room.

Wiggleywoo will be bringing a 30-minute cut of Tea with the Dead onto the worldwide festival circuit, before its first domestic airing on TG4 this Christmas 2014. Its other active projects include MYA GO and The Day Henry Met?  They can be found at www.wiggleywoo.com/

 

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Road

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DIR/WRI/PRO: Michael Hewitt, Dermot Lavery • ED: Andrew Tohill • DOP: Mark Garrett • DES: Steve Saklad • MUS: Mark Gordon, Richard Hill • CAST: Liam Neeson

Road racing is one of the fastest and most dangerous of all motor sports with Ireland and The Isle of Man being the only two places in the world that it is legal. Despite this, it is as popular now as it was when the infamous Dunlop brothers first appeared on the scene. Narrated by Liam Neeson, Road is a feature documentary about the Dunlop family who have dominated road racing titles since the 1970s. With humble beginnings in Ballymoney, County Antrim, brothers Joey and Robert’s foray into the sport began with a love of racing friends on the back roads of their hometown. Throughout their careers they constructed and repaired their own bikes, always close to the mechanics of the sport.

A tale of two generations – the film weaves masterfully between Michael and William, sons of Robert Dunlop – who continue the family tradition into present day. This is executed beautifully through the use of archive footage, often reconstructing shots from the past and juxtaposing them against the two young men preparing for a race.

There are some wonderful moments in this film, and terrific racing footage from every vantage point of the machine. The documentary really gets under the skin of this family and their obsession with the sport with a lovely sense of these brothers, of who they were, throughout. Despite personal histories full of tragedy, the need these young men have for the sport is evident – and it is a need – which is wrapped up in identity and family tradition. This could easily be a fan film or a family memoir, but it avoids both. A worthy topic, well told.

Tess Motherway

PG (See IFCO for details)
101 mins

Road is released on 13th June 2014

Road – Official Website

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

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Jimmy’s Hall

Jimmys Hall: Gralton stands with community members

Stephen Totterdell on Ken Loach’s latest.

DIR: Ken Loach • WRI: Paul Laverty • PRO: Rebecca O’Brien • ED: Mike Andrews • DES: Fergus Clegg • CAST: Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Andrew Scott, Jim Norton, Brían F. O’Byrne

Something of a final kick to the head of the church, Jimmy’s Hall channels Ken Loach’s anger into an assault on authority in all its forms. With nods to the Occupy movement and Generation Y’s non-hierarchical power structures, Loach examines the cost of rebellion in a society that mythologises its rebels but rarely supports them. Through references to historical and artistic figures of the time – Joseph Stalin, to name but one – the film reminds its viewers of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. Debord posits that we, the public, view historical events through mediated lenses and come to believe that they exist outside of everyday reality; that they are movies, almost. They never really happened. This creates apathy, because the connection between real social and political struggle and revolution is lost – revolution becomes something inevitable, something that occurs because of a preconceived narrative, rather than an event that is spurred on by the will of the public. Therefore, if there is no revolution it’s because there shouldn’t be one. In truth, it’s because nobody has decided to start one. Jimmy’s Hall reminds us that Stalin was real, not just a myth, that Maud Gonne was real, not just a myth, and that Jimmy Gralton was real.

During the early 1930s, Jimmy Gralton’s act of rebellion is to set up a community hall in Co. Leitrim at a time when the church has a hold on all of public life. The local community can involve themselves with art, music, and dance. It acts as a reprieve from the economic crisis, from the background of emigration and hardship, and is – in a sense – a testament to the value of the arts in times of crisis. The church consider it a threat to decency, and use shame as a weapon to discourage its patrons. The film’s contemporary parallels couldn’t be clearer.

Ken Loach appears to have set himself the goal of making myth visceral, but it’s questionable how much impact his message can have in reality. For a section of the community to be truly revolutionary, as Gralton is, there needs to be introduced to their project a sizeable portion of doubt and cognitive dissonance. By setting his film in the past, Loach himself falls for Debord’s trap a little. The film’s events are easier to swallow if they are taking place in old Ireland. They are more inevitable, less disruptive. For all of its anger, a contemporary story might have been more effective on a political level. As a piece of aesthetic cinema, of course, it remains strong.

One of the film’s great achievements is its nuanced dialogue. I’m reminded of What Richard Did. The speech patterns and dialects, down to characters stuttering or repeating themselves, achieve versimilitude beyond what one expects from cinema. Close attention to the way real people talk is a strength of Irish literature and film, so Loach’s social realist leanings serve him well here. Authentic dialogue helps to thin the line between cinema and reality, but Loach could go further still if he wants to engage in political life.

Jimmy’s Hall excels at demonstrating the cumulative effect of these rebellious figures. It speaks to the power of great oratory throughout Irish history. For example, a committee call on Jimmy to give a speech defending the community hall’s ideals. They insist that it is his personality, his charm, his skills of oration that will make a difference. This brings to mind figures from Jim Larkin to Panti Bliss, and the oft-overlooked importance of these small agitators. In this way, the film’s period setting plays to its advantage, because the viewer feels the distance we’ve covered because of figures like Graltan.

Language of shame runs through the film. When a couple bring their child out into town in the evening, somebody mutters, “That child should be home in bed. Ought to be ashamed of yourselves.” A particularly brutal scene involves a character being beaten by her father for visiting the community hall. Many of the film’s priests use shame liberally, but one young priest – played with vigour by Sherlock‘s Andrew Scott – offers hope and understanding. The message is clear: pay attention to the younger generation.

So by drawing on Ireland’s rich historical and literary heritage, Ken Loach has created a film that serves as both a critique of modern political and economic infrastructures and as an engaging portrait of a rebellious young Irishman. Through excellent pacing and rich cinematography, Jimmy’s Hall touches on the nuanced power plays at work in modern society, and does so in a way that will cause pause for thought in its audiences – if not spurring them to real action.

Stephen Totterdell

15A (See IFCO for details)

108 mins

Jimmy’s Hall is released on 30th May 2014

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Cinema Review: Frank

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DIR: Lenny Abrahamson • WRIPeter Straughan PRO: Ed Guiney, Stevie Lee, Andrew Lowe • DOP: James Mather • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • DES: Richard Bullock • CAST: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Many films aiming to make a statement about art in conflict with commerciality must often contend with a similar push/pull arrangement in the execution of that statement itself. After all, original or groundbreaking as it might be, if an indie flick lands at Sundance with no-one there to live-tweet it, does it make a sound? Aiming to prop itself between these two stools of art and commerce by no more than one over-large paper mache head and a bucketful of ambition is director Lenny Abrahamson’s latest outing, Frank.

 

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a serial-tweeting office drone plagued by dreams of international stardom but rather lacking in the creative drive to see them realized. Enter the Soronprfbs, an eclectic musical outfit whose disdain for vowels is matched only by the eccentricity of frontman Frank (Fassbender), who lives his life enclosed in a huge, cartoonish prop head. Brought into the fold when the band find suddenly find themselves short a keyboardist, Jon sees his chance for stardom and resolves to take it – along the way contending with the bile of acerbic bandmate Clara  (Gyllenhal), his own tragic lack of inspiration and fundamental doubts as to whether he’s crossed paths with a musical messiah or a plain old madman.

 

Frank quickly found an eager audience during its debut at Sundance, and it’s no real surprise why. Charming, funny and bright – starkly so in contrast to Abrahamson’s earlier work – the film delivers consistent belly-laughs while still managing to hit quieter, sombre notes about a genuinely troubled masked man to whom the microphone may as well be an umbilical cord. By turns hilarious and tragic are Jon’s fumbling attempts at inspiration relayed through banal sing-along internal monologues and a Twitter feed constantly appearing on screen but increasingly at odds with the reality of his situation.

 

Unsurprisingly, Fassbender exhibits impressive range beneath the mask, and the near-violent chemistry between Gylenhaal and Gleeson is crackling. It is likely the latter who delivers the anchoring performance of the film, slipping from wide-eyed to cut-throat as Jon slowly begins to realize that while the sparsely-populated pub gigs and mish-mash of recording techniques are a means to and end for him, for the rest of the band they act as a strange sort of therapy.

 

However, while certainly interesting as an examination of the notion of celebrity, it is difficult to escape the feeling that Frank is, strangely, Abrahamson’s most conventional effort to date. While ostensibly hiding the film’s most marketable feature behind a paper mache mask, it is likely that this very choice to take one of the world’s most sought-after faces and hide it in plain sight has drawn quite so much of the buzz that would class Frank as unique.

 

“You’re just going to have to go with this,” Jon is told by the band’s manager rather early on, but in truth there is little enough to go with that truly strays from the beaten path. A typical three act structure put together with bright, agreeable colour tones and a titular character who can’t help but be endearing, the overriding sense is of an unconventional idea packaged in its most marketable form, where “quirky” is a buzzword thrown out for poster by-lines as opposed to any real indication of divergence.

 

With subject matter wrestling with the idea of art vs commerciality, it ultimately leans towards the latter – but this is nothing to mourn. Frank is sharply-scripted, beautifully-shot and suitably suspicious of the entire vague notion of celebrity. However, while likely bound for success and justifiably so, one is simply left with the entirely unreasonable but nonetheless niggling feeling that this very message might be lost in the scramble to fit statues with tiny paper mache heads come awards season.

Ruairí Moore

15A (See IFCO for details)
94 mins

Frank is released on 9th May 2014

Frank – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Songs For Amy

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DIR: Konrad Begg  WRI: Fiona Graham, Ford Kiernan  PRO: Howard Gibbins, Fiona Grahan, Ford Kiernan, John McDonnell, Mairi McLellan, Angela Murray  Ed: Scott Flyer  DOP: Duncan Telford  DES: Francis Taffe. Mus: Ultan Conlon, Jim McKee  Cast: Sean Maguire, Lorna Anderson, Patrick Bergin, James Cosmo, Kevin Ryan, Ford Kiernan, Ross McMahon

Set in Galway, Songs for Amy follows Sean O’Malley (Maguire), a struggling Irish musician from a band called Lost and Sound, who writes an album dedicated to his ex-fiancée and great love, Amy (Anderson) after their relationship ends. Intercut with the recording and performing of these songs are roughly chronological scenes from Sean’s life, from the beginning of his relationship with Amy, to an outrageously bacchanalian stag night, to his life in the aftermath of his failed nuptials, and his unexpected promotion to hotel manager after a sudden death in his family.

This second-act diversion is sorely needed, but is not as well-managed as it may have been. Although it’s well-structured and builds towards its conclusion nicely, it becomes a bit thematically burdened, and almost entirely from Sean’s perspective, leaving little room to expand on other characters or enrich existing strands. (The lack of development of Amy herself, for example, is disappointing: we are given no reason to really like or care about her, other than the fact that Sean likes and cares about her.) There’s an issue of paternity woven into Sean’s already emotionally-burdened narrative, which is so flippantly resolved as to feel almost completely unnecessary. It’s curious too that a man who spends the entire duration of this film working on songs about his ex has no creative energy to expend on not knowing his real father, or mourning his dead sister.

The link to Galway is foregrounded twice in the film, with the same voiceover from Sean bookending the film, at two tonally-opposed moments, claiming that ‘Galway is a special place,’ a musical place, as it is where he grew up and where he met Amy. Shots of Sean lingering before Galway Bay, with and without Amy, drive it home as a meditative place of contemplation, somehow ‘expressing the inexpressible,’ in the words of Adolus Huxley from the film’s title card.

For yes, Songs for Amy opens with a quote from Huxley: ‘After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ The realization of this in the film could be handled a little better. While the idea that Sean is much more articulate and to-the-point in his songwriting than without music is an appealing one, it often feels like a bit of a crutch for the film, relying too often on minor chords and bluntly on-the-nose lyrics to emotionally anchor the film. The music in the film is pleasant enough, but bland, lovelorn acoustic-guitar driven ballads with no real breakout song emerging in the style of Falling Slowly from Once, for example.

The tone of this film is also rather confused: It’s hard to reconcile strange scenes of dancing gypsies and orgiastic scenes at Sean’s stag party – during which hard-living blues band Alabama 3, playing themselves, serve up a cocktail of poitin, absinthe and hand sanitizer while snorting cocaine off naked groupies – with the film’s core theme of a sensitive, jilted musician questioning the whys and wherefores of his life.

Director Konrad Begg has described the film not as a rom-com or a drama but as a ‘darkly comedic love story’, its humour deriving from ‘misfortune and struggle,’ and this is where the film lands the most blows, due in no small part to its broadly-talented cast. A scene-stealing taxi driver, tasked with driving the band from Limerick to Galway on the proverbial ‘morning after’, whereas a clichéd but enjoyable scene of Sean drunk-dialling Amy to play her his songs is perfectly pitched by Maguire. Similarly, the members of Sean’s band have a believable, easy chemistry, even if their dialogue feels a little unnatural and forced by times; and Kevin Ryan does his best with the one-dimensional guylinered lothario J.J. Fitzgerald, a world famous rock star and rival for Amy’s affections.

There is a point in Songs for Amy when Sean informs his bandmates that they’re not going to release the album they’re working on to the general public because it is just for Amy. This attitude is rightly ridiculed by the rest of the band and unfortunately highlights one of the key issues with the film – it’s too individually-focused, Sean too fixated on Amy, the film too fixated on Sean, meaning it can be hard to care about what other people might want, or feel they’ve been promised by investing time and effort into such a venture.  Ultimately, the tight structure and hard-working cast of Songs for Amy carry the film for as long as they can, but the film’s narrow focus, not to mention its schitzophrenic tone, jars with any moments of meaningful romance its premise may have promised.

 

Stacy Grouden

16 (See IFCO for details)
103 mins

Songs for Amy  is released on 2nd May 2014

Songs for Amy  – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Run & Jump

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DIR: Steph Green  • WRISteph Green, Ailbhe Keogan  PRO: Tamara Anghie, Martina Niland • DOP: Kevin Richey • ED: Nathan Nugent • MUS: Sebastian Pille • DES: Stephen Daly • CAST: Maxine Peake, Will Forte, Edward McLiam, Sharon Horgan, Brendan Morris, Ruth McCabe

 

Run & Jump centres on the vivacious Vanetia Casey (Maxine Peake), whose happy-go-lucky personality conceals the heartache of holding her family together after her young husband, Conor (Edward McLiam), suffers a stroke. When American neuropsychologist Dr. Ted Fielding (Will Forte) travels to Ireland to study Conor’s rehabilitation and recovery, he finds himself irresistibly drawn into the Casey family, forging meaningful relationships with more than one of its members.

The film is beautifully photographed, and admirably side-steps most of the tourist-friendly outdoor money-shots in favour of interior, intimate storytelling. Director Steph Green introduces a number of visual and thematic motifs, not only linking the core cast of the film, but introducing a whole other dimension to the narrative. The greens and yellows traditionally associated with the film’s setting of Co. Kerry are warmly incorporated into its world, while cooler melancholy blues creep in to disrupt that warmth, for better and worse.

Ailbhe Keogan’s poignant script is a low-concept affair, which is nevertheless ambitious, exploring different attitudes and concepts of intimacy and how they are affected by numerous narrative events. In addition to the initial trauma of Conor’s stroke, which has dramatically altered his personality and behaviour, and the arrival of Dr. Fielding into the Casey household, the script also throws a number of other twists into the mix, including a suicide attempt, a sudden death, and local homophobic tension. Yet all of these potentially over-wrought issues are handled in an impressively subtle and contained manner within the film. With the exception of an eleventh-hour declaration of love, which feels both out of character and present out of necessity to fit the genre of the film, Run and Jump is, to its credit, more mellow drama than melodrama.

This well-balanced tone and sensitivity to the issues of Run and Jump can equally be attributed to the film’s remarkable cast. Vanetia is not only the glue that holds her family together, but also the emotional core of this film, and Maxine Peake fully succeeds in realising her near-relentless perkiness in the face of incomprehensible emotional challenges. Whether she’s dancing like nobody’s watching, feigning shock over recreational marijuana use, or cheerfully threatening property damage, Peake presents the audience with a heroine whose quirks are for the sake of self-preservation and survival rather than mere ‘adorkable’ idiosyncrasy. ‘I forgot you’re mourning a husband too,’ a newly-widowed character commiserates at a funeral, and so too had the audience: For all of the quick humour and warm energy on display from Vanetia, she is struggling throughout with the fact that the man she loved and married has become an entirely different person.

The rest of the cast is strong, too: Will Forte shares great chemistry with Peake and proves his convincingly earnest everyman from Nebraska was no fluke, with another standout dramatic performance as Ted Fielding; while Sharon Horgan reliably fills her few brief moments on-screen with humour, and Brendan Morris’ subtle underplaying of the Casey’s troubled son, Lenny, marks him as a bright new talent to watch. While Edward McLiam manages the challenging feat of playing Conor before (in flashbacks) and after the stroke quite well, the representation of this character is the only potentially weak link. In the effort to emphasise how much Conor has changed, his characterisation as withdrawn, obsessive-compulsive and abrasive is almost too negative compared to the flashbacks of the sweet, funny and caring man he was before. While this is, of course, the point – it highlights how difficult it is for Vanetia to cope with this man as her husband if the audience can’t even stick him as a secondary character— the film still takes a little too long to allow any humanity to creep back into Conor.

Run & Jump is an exceptionally well-handled drama about a difficult subject; Enjoyable, accessible and sensitive, without ever succumbing to false, mawkish sentimentality, with a few brisk laughs and an optimistic, heart-warming ending. Run, jump – don’t walk – to the nearest possible place you can see this film and dive into its colourful world.

Stacy Grouden

15A (See IFCO for details)
105 mins

Run & Jump is released on 2nd May 2014

Run & Jump – Official Website

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JH2yuajfBg

 

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Cinema Review: Living in a Coded Land

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DIR/ PRO: Pat Collins • DOP: John Conroy • ED: Tadhg O’Sullivan • Camera: Colm Hogan, Feargal Ward • Sound: John Brennan

Ambitious, intelligent and beautiful to watch, Living in a Coded Land marks an impressive follow-up to Silence for director Pat Collins and his talented team. The film investigates the Irish landscape, people and their culture, making interesting links between past and present.

The film makes a sustained argument, explaining contemporary Ireland through its past, so Living in a Coded Land plays as an essay film. It develops an original idea of historian Dr Patrick J O’Connor, taking places such as the Hill of Uisneach, the site of the Battle of Aughrim (1691), Castletown House and Dublin’s former tenement buildings and interrogating them for possible meaning or codes. It traces the emergence of an influential middle class in Ireland that acts as intermediaries for foreign capital. Historians Conor McCabe, Heather Laird and Tony Farmar provide the commentary.

The nature of the relationship between art, culture and politics forms another strand that runs through the film. Folklorist Henry Glassie talks about “the universal of the contextual … of the local”. Collins weaves particular places and artworks into a grander narrative. He even matches discussions of culture with contemporary scenes from GAA matches and practice sessions, expanding the cultural realm to include the national sports.

Living in a Coded Land boasts poetic qualities that make it an enchanting documentary. Collins fills his film with characteristic long takes and striking images (notably a stark moon shining over a still lake). His use of music and archival footage is particularly effective, indulging in sequences in which Séamus Ennis plays his pipes and accordion player Tony McMahon entertains a hall full of students. Austere piano accompanies a sequence in which Dublin’s Georgian buildings decline into the slums. Poets Seamus Heaney and Michael Hartnett read their works, complementing the film’s carefully composed images, rhythms and sounds.

Living in a Coded Land presents an imaginative and thoughtful look at Ireland’s past, an explanation for its present and hopes for the future.

John Moran

80 mins

Living in a Coded Land is released on 25th April 2014

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Cinema Review: The Sea

Ciarán Hinds in a still from The Sea

DIR: Stephen Brown  • WRI: John Banville  PRO: David Collins, Michael Robinson, Luc Roeg • DOP: John Conroy • ED: Stephen O’Connell • MUS: Andrew Hewitt • DES: Derek Wallace • CAST: Bonnie Wright, Ciarán Hinds, Natascha McElhone, Rufus Sewell

Max Morden, grieving the loss of his wife Anna, returns to an Irish seaside village where he spent summers as a child. He struggles to finish a book about the painter Pierre Bonnard, but the village provokes memories of the summer when he met the Grace family, the children Myles and Chloe, their parents Connie and Carlo, and Rose, the children’s young governess. Anna’s slow death from cancer continues to haunt Max.

 

John Banville adapts his 2005 Man Booker prizewinning novel. Some of the book’s more literate pleasures, such as Banville’s playful punning and concern with the meaning of words, gives the dialogue a pretentious feel, Anna’s musings on the word “patient” and the recurrence of “stranded” being two obvious examples. While the screen provides an excellent medium for flitting back and forth through time, Banville’s adaptation fails to capture the uncertainty and unreliability of Max’s meditations that pervade the book. The filmmakers try to capture something like this with characters speaking their lines off-screen while their on-screen mouths don’t move, presumably reflecting that it’s Max’s memory we’re seeing and hearing. It’s a challenging task to bring such fiction to the screen; this adaptation has lost the structural complexity of its source but remains faithful to its emotional core.

 

A notable cast brings Banville’s fascinating characters to life. Ciarán Hinds, with his craggy face, impresses as the dilettante, worn by his experiences and troubled by his memories. Charlotte Rampling gives Miss Vavasour appropriate mysteriousness, while Sinéad Cusack ably takes some of the more memorable lines as the dying Anna. Rufus Swell’s swaggering turn as Carlo Grace brings an enjoyable roguery, enlivening the film’s grim mood. Unfortunately, the younger cast lacks experience and conviction to give meaning to the subtext of their scenes.

 

The title, of course, means there are frequent shots to the beautiful briny, and water recurs as a motif, as in Anna’s bath and bleak rain on a window. DOP John Conroy’s lighting patterns give Max’s childhood memories a warmer glow than the dark blue and grey hues of scenes set in the present. The camera moves frequently when static shots or long takes might have given the viewer time and space to meditate and interpret such Max’s memories, as we might do when trying to assimilate Max’s ruminations in the book.

 

At one point, Max chides his daughter for being of the generation who believe that “everything’s explained, everything’s accounted for”. References to Pierre Bonnard, the painter, make more sense if you know that his later works reflected his desolation following the death of his wife. The character Blunden has an uncertain past. He says he’s retired from the army but he have been active in Belfast. Anna’s past relationship with Serge troubles Max. The young Rose’s relationship with Connie Grace plays out on the sidelines in much the same way as many different possibilities and strands running through the film emerge and recede, just like water washing up on the seashore. It’s difficult to make a success out of the ephemeral in a medium that makes things visible, but director Stephen Brown, in his feature-length debut, makes an adequate, if not entirely successful, attempt.

John Moran

12A (See IFCO for details)
86 mins

The Sea is released on 18th April 2014

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS3o0Rq9Zk8

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Cinema Review: Last Days On Mars

last-days-on-mars-liev-schreiber-s-crew-members-turn-into-zombies DIR: Ruairi Robinson  • WRI: Clive Dawson  PRO: Andrea Cornwell, Michael Kuhn • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Peter Lambert • MUS: Max Richter • DES: Jon Henson • CAST: Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams

The Murphy’s Law of Movies states not only that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, but that the concentration of aforementioned ill-starred events is inversely increased relative to how many days you have left until retirement.

In the case of Last Days On Mars, retirement is a team of international astronauts wrapping up their term on the Red Planet after long months of fruitless research has left nerves frayed and fuses short. When one scientist makes an unexpected discovery before suddenly going missing, the rest of the crew must scramble to make it off the planet alive.

Such dense film theory as Murphy’s Law of Movies is not quoted by this reviewer lightly, but rather to establish that viewers should already know what to expect from a film with “Last Days” in the title. Based on a seventies pulp short story which sees Martian bacteria reanimate dead flesh, the premise for Last Days On Mars can be boiled down to a pitch that almost certainly contained the phrase “zombies, but in space“, and this is largely what we get. A moment in the opening scenes sees a towering dust-storm sweep over the Martian base while Jack Hytland croons “Blue Skies Around The Corner” in the background, both sounds competing softly for dominance in a premonition of the life/void struggle to come. There ends the film’s last flare of originality, however, as we rattle through introductions to our typical cast of horror film fodder before jumping right into a fray of power tools, virus paranoia and dialogue more on the nose than Alien‘s facehuggers, which is but one of the many influences director Ruairí Robinson borrows from.

While most horror films tend to rely on the occasional bout of protagonist shit-wittery if they aim to last longer than the time it takes to dial 999, Last Days on Mars takes the biscuit on this particular score. From the very moment the nature of the threat is revealed each highly intelligent astronaut on the Tantalus crew seems determined to stand above the rest as paragon of poor decision making – I began to wonder if a space agency suffering buyer’s remorse hadn’t jettisoned them to the surface in the hopes of eradicating them from the gene pool, only to throw in a zombie virus just in case they couldn’t quite stumble into extinction without a little push.

Technically, the horror is visceral but somehow never quite reaches in to wrench the guts, the camerawork aiming for claustrophobia but often falling short on clutter. This is not to say that the film’s early moments aren’t tense or well-shot – simply that each horror film has a boiling point beyond which no amount of jump-scares or internal-organs-suddenly-rendered-external can register the reaction they should, and this is a point Last Days On Mars reaches far too soon.

We’re also introduced once more to the reluctant astronaut trope as seen in Gravity, where we’re invited to believe that engineer Vincent Campbell, played by the always-enjoyable but rarely-pronounceable Liev Schrieber, suffers from a debilitating fear of small spaces and yet could find no other work than that which involved squeezing into a pressurized tube to shoot off to a cramped base on our barren neighboring planet. Indeed, when the time comes for Vincent to overcome his fear by squeezing through a small tunnel in order to repair a comms array – a mission which seems mandatory to any space survival story – his quest culminates in a bit of technical wizardry which essentially extends to pressing a button and whispering sweet nothings to a flickering screen. Nitpicky, perhaps, but then when a film’s main problem lies with a script, small issues snowball until they ultimately drag everything down.

This is not to say that there isn’t plenty to commend in Last Days On Mars – the cast manages to pull some character moments from lackluster material, while Max Richter’s score is on-form as ever. The ambition here belies what had to be a relatively small budget, the production design pulling together an organic, lived-in feel reminiscent of Moon or Sunshine. However, where those films manage to marry high concept to the humdrum, Last Days On Mars never quite strikes the same balance. While loath to criticize any forays into the fantastical made by an Irish director as capable as Robinson has proven himself to be, Last Days On Mars ultimately aims high and finishes strong, but never quite slips the orbit of its many influences.

Ruairí Moore

15A (See IFCO for details)

98 mins

Last Days On Mars is released on 11th April 2014 Last Days On Mars – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Calvary

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DIR/WRI: John Michael McDonagh  • PRO: Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, James Flynn • DOP: Larry Smith • ED: Chris Gill • MUS: Patrick Cassidy • DES: Mark Geraghty • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Brendan Gleeson, Kelly O’ Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Dylan Moran, Killian Scott

 

Village priest Father James Lavelle finds himself offered up as a sacrificial lamb when a victim of sexual abuse, now grown, decides that killing an innocent priest will send a better message than disposing of a guilty one. Granted seven days to “put his house in order”, Lavelle embarks on a stumbling Stations of the Cross through an unrepentant parish only too happy to parade their sins before him, and trade every attempted benediction for yet another barb.

John Michael McDonagh’s much-anticipated follow-up to first feature The Guard, Calvary certainly aims to shake audience expectations, evidenced scarcely five seconds into the opening scene when our faceless parishioner delivers his ultimatum.  However, while certainly sharing the biting humour and self-awareness of its predecessor, the irreverence here is aimed not so much towards tweaking the nose, as it is towards a close and often uncomfortable scrutiny of spirituality in the modern day.

What follows is a search for meaning that meanders between comedy and tragedy, anchored by Gleeson’s most compelling performance yet as a shepherd doomed to spend his (potentially) final days tending a flock of black sheep. A widower and former alcoholic, Lavelle was world-weary before he came to the cloth and finds himself growing increasingly frustrated as his attempts to offer comfort and guidance are consistently thrown back in his face by residents of an unnamed Sligo village that often seems McDonagh’s version of a small-town Sodom.

Filling out alongside Gleeson, McDonagh’s cast boasts a rogues’ gallery of Irish talent – Dylan Moran’s embittered banker, Killian Scott’s aspiring sociopath and Kelly O’ Reilly as Lavelle’s grown daughter – all worthy of particular note. Solid performances are tied together by a haunting score and enough gorgeous landscape shots to make any Fáilte Ireland employee weep shamrocks.

While the meandering script and a slightly cluttered cast contribute to a third act that begins to lose momentum, any doubts are quickly dismissed by a confident and compelling conclusion. The critic’s knee-jerk reaction to pan McDonagh’s sophomore effort as self-indulgent is ultimately stifled by the sense that a few bum notes do little to impact the overall piece, and that this notion of throwing the baby out with the bathwater is exactly the type of reductive cynicism that Calvary rails against.

If The Guard is a deconstruction of genre and our notion of “Oirishness”, Calvary is the follow-up that aims to strip away the cynicism that has become so embroiled in Irish spirituality simply to see what is left. Half-critique, half-homage but feeling all-organically Irish, Calvary will likely secure a place amongst one of Ireland’s most talked-about films  and, if nothing else, affords us yet another opportunity  to bow down in worship of the craggy island that is Mr. Gleeson’s well-worn visage. Hallelujah.

 

Ruairí Moore

15A (See IFCO for details)
100 mins

Calvary is released on 11th April 2014

Calvary– Official Website

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Cinema Review: No Limbs No Limits

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DIR: Steven O’Riordan

Joanne O’ Riordan first appeared on the national stage by confronting Taoiseach Enda Kenny about cuts to disability funding before the general election. Since then her positive attitude and eloquence has impressed people from Ireland to the floor of the UN. Joanne is one of only seven people who suffer from the physical disability called Total Amelia, which means she was born without limbs. Joanne’s brother Steven directs the documentary and it certainly benefits from his closeness to his subject.

The documentary has a very positive and uplifting feel to it, focusing on how Joanne has overcome her disability to live a life much like her friends and siblings. We see her day to day life living with her parents, eating breakfast, getting ready for school and all the while joking with her family and friends. Steven takes the time to film Joanne’s daily chores and how different daily tasks are for her. Joanne makes a visit to the UN to speak to a group of technology experts about how technology has helped her daily life; here we see her unique personality and power to capture an audience.

The familial connection helps show Joanne’s personality and captures why she has been such a hit and inspiration to many people. The most poignant part of the film is the interviews with Joanne’s parents. We hear about their anguish and fear when Joanne was born and their struggle to bring her up against the odds. .

No Limbs, No Limits is inspiring to anyone who watches it and it gives us a brief glimpse into how challenging some people’s lives can be.

Ailbhe O’Reilly

PG (See IFCO for details)
68 mins

No Limbs, No Limits is released on 11th April 2014

No Limbs, No Limits – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Stag

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DIR: John Butler • WRI: John Butler, Peter McDonald • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DOP: Peter Robertson • ED: John O’Connor • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • DES: Ferdia Murphy • CAST: Andrew Scott, Hugh O’Conor, Peter McDonald, Brian Gleeson

New Irish comedy The Stag boasts an impressive cast including Brian Gleeson, Andrew Scott (fresh from his Sherlock fame) and the film’s co-writer Peter McDonald. Not forgetting, of course, Amy Huberman who – I was surprised to note – wasn’t attending to any table-setting, à la her recent advertising campaign.

The premise is simple enough: Ruth (Amy Huberman) desperately wants her fiancé Fionnan (Hugh O’ Conor) to go on a Stag weekend, and enlists the help of his best friend Davin (Andrew Scott) to get him to go on a “manly” adventure, or rather, to take a trip to the mountains. The catch is that Ruth insists that her mysterious brother “The Machine” (Peter McDonald) must be included in the plans, to the chagrin of all involved. So up the mountains they go, with a series of misadventures guiding the rest of the film along.

As with any road movie or narrative which has a trip at its centre, The Stag is more about an exploration of identity and the journey towards the realisation of that identity, than about the upcoming nuptials of Ruth and Fionnan. It wouldn’t be an Irish film without probing Irish identity just a little, now would it?  Moreover, The Stag is really concerned with the exploration of Irish masculinity and in typical Irish fashion, works through these issues in the format of a comedy.

These men don’t belong in the wilderness – gone are the days of representations of rugged Irish masculinity and the idea of Irish identity being tied to the land. Instead, we have the new Irish metro-sexual man in Fionnan, who plans his wedding meticulously, would rather attend a Hens than a Stags and contributes Frere Jaques to an Irish sing-song.

However – this is not a film which takes itself seriously in any way. The working through of Irish masculinity is played for laughs; there is one scene in which the group of lads find themselves naked in the woods (wearing only cavemen-esque attire), as Fionnan and Davin begin to talk through their feelings and emotion is at an all-time high.

The film sets itself up as a parody of sorts, and uses as shorthand for “us Irish” references to the recession and the love/hate relationship we have with U2. Despite making fun of Irish identity in a way that will almost certainly have an audience laughing, the film ironically falls into the trap of perpetuating these same, somewhat jaded discourses. Having said that, the film is a good-natured romp that will certainly entertain. Just, enough with Irish masculinity already. We’re ready for something else.

Heather Browning

15A (See IFCO for details)
94  mins

The Stag  is released on 7th March 2014

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