Review: Five Feet Apart

DIR: Justin Baldoni • WRI: Mikki Daughtry Tobias Iaconis • DOP: Frank G DeMarco • ED: Angela M. Catanzaro • PRO: Justin Baldoni, Cathy Schulman • DES: Tony Fanning • MUS: Alan Silvestri • CAST: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Herbert Gregory

Five Feet Apart is essentially a teenage romance between Will and Stella (both 17), but it is a romance with unusually high stakes. Both have Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and have to remain at least six feet apart from each other to avoid cross infection. In the world of Cystic Fibrosis, infection can prove fatal and infection from a fellow “CFer” is particularly risky .  [To find out why the film is not called ‘six feet apart’, you have to go see the movie.]

An early scene in the film sets the tone. Three teenage girls are joking as they discuss an event which one of them cannot attend. It only becomes apparent when two of them leave Stella on her own, that we are in a hospital room and that she is struggling to breath.

Will already has an infection which has ruled him out of a lung transplant. If the new trial drug he is on not does not clear the infection, he has no remaining options.

The initial contact between Will and Stella is anything both cordial. Stella has OCD issues and cannot abide Will’s casual approach to his “regimen” (his meds programme). After one of many arguments, Will leaves abruptly, dismissing Stella’s concerns with: “It’s just life Stella – it’ll be over before you know it”.

But there is a strong mutual attraction. Will agrees to embrace his ‘regimen’ if Stella will allow him to draw her. Will is an artist and animator of some talent. After initially refusing, Stella agrees and the relationship develops, despite some rocky patches. However, they can never kiss or hold hands. We sense early on that Will’s cavalier approach to his health and the rules may have serious consequences for both, especially as Stella gradually begins to embrace Will’s less regimented approach to his health.

They learn from the ever vigilant Nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) that two previous teenage patients who became romantically involved died because they did not observe the six feet rule. Though only 17, both Stella and Will – and their mutual friend Po (Moises Arias), are well aware that their time may be short. This acts as a powerful drive in their desire to live for whatever time they have left.

Perhaps the main strength of this film is the performances from Haley Lu Richardson as Stella and Cole Sprouse as Will in roles that are layered and very well cast. This is the first leading role for Haley Lu Richardson and more will likely follow after this performance.

This is an impressive debut feature from director Justin Baldoni (35) who has worked mainly as an actor. He also made My Last Days, a series of documentaries featuring first-hand accounts of people on their final journey. He has clearly mined that experience in developing the script for Five Feet Apart.

Five Feet Apart is not a grim film. There are plenty of comic moments as it follows the developing romance of our two heroes –  and the word hero is appropriate. But the theme of mortality is ever present.

The story is not without its faults. The absence of parents or relatives of the main protagonists until half way through the film is puzzling given the gravity of their illness. And when they do arrive, they do not add much to the narrative of the film. The plot occasionally veers down the route of sentimentality.

But for the most part, the story is gripping and very moving. It is also educational. Given that the film has already grossed a multiple of its budget in the US., it is difficult to understand why it has not secured a wider release here.

Brian Ó Tiomáin

116 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Five Feet Apart is released 5th April 2019

 

 

 

 

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Review: Vox Lux

Tom Crowley takes a look at Brady Corbet’s musical drama, which screened at the Dublin International Film Festival.

Actor-turned-director Brady Corbet is interested in what makes a person a leader. What makes one individual special to other people? His debut film, The Childhood of a Leader (2016), adapted from a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre, attempts to depict the early formative years of a future fascist dictator. In his new film, Brady explores the idea of someone born to be famous; this fact is clearly derived from the film’s philosophical voice-over, provided by Willem Dafoe, who delivers his dialogue as if narrating a fairy-tale.

Celeste (played by Raffey Cassidy in her teenage years and Natalie Portman as an adult), is a victim of a horrific and violent attack during her school years. Occurring early in the film, it is a genuinely heart-pounding cinematic moment. In a room full of people, she is the only one to try and take control of the situation. Many years later, she will make the Lennon faux-pas and compare herself to Christ.

Portman gives her best performance since her Black Swan Oscar win in 2010. Is there anybody better at playing a tortured performer? She gives Celeste an assuredness and a vicious streak in her public life, and a manipulative uncertainty in her private life, surely symptoms of megalomania which comes from being a worshiped celebrity most of your life.

Divided (as Leader was) into four stages, indicated by minimalist black titles cards with white text, which seemed perfect in the context of his first film and is brilliantly at odds with this one, Prologue, Genesis, Re-genesis and Finale, adds to the religious undertones (also present in Leader), which Celeste’s name suggests. Corbet has carefully structured a sometimes shocking, sometimes funny and always stimulating film about the modern world, a ‘21st Century Portrait’ the final tie-dyed title card proclaims. The film blends celebrity and terrorism on a wider scale while also creating an ambitious psychological character study which culminates in a Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) still comeback concert. The two films could not be more different. While Rhapsody insists on trying to shoe-horn in every heavily sanitised detail on Mercury and Queen’s careers, Vox Lux wants us to fill in the gaps for ourselves as we take a decade long leap from the inception of Celeste’s career to her ‘comeback’ concert in her home town. Corbet is earnest about his character study but mocks the ‘pop’ genre his character is associated with, in the same way Bradley Cooper does in A Star is Born (2018).

Corbet’s talents are not only in content but also in style. The piercing, unsettling soundscapes of The Childhood of a Leader return, with Corbet again teaming with composer Scott Walker. The soundtrack forces the viewer to feel that something of a significant magnitude is happening (even if it might not be). Corbet presents us with two sequences in fast-forward, a liberating if hedonistic trip to Stockholm by two sisters and a troubled stars hotel room drug binge with her manager. Both sequences are carefully staged by Corbet and shot by Lol Crawley, to speed them up is an indicator of vision. The hotel room sequence is reminiscent of Alex’s bedroom romp in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). At 30 years of age Corbet is already a unique cinematic voice and a director for the future.

Vox Lux screened on 28th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March)

In cinemas 3rd May 2019

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dirty God

June Butler was at the Dublin International Film Festival for a screening of Sacha Polak’s Irish co-production Dirty God.

 

In her first feature length role, newcomer Vicky Knight elicits a mesmerising performance as Jade in Dirty God, a moving film about inner beauty and societal burdens placed on those who are deemed to fall outside accepted images of physical attractiveness. The initial introduction to Jade is pitiless and unflinching. Jade has been the victim of an acid attack with her controlling ex-boyfriend Eli (Karl Jackson), and father of her daughter, to blame for the assault. Opening scenes are tense with close-up images showing the cauterized landscape of Jade’s face and neck contorted in whorls of brutalised body tissue. A heart-beat tempo accompanies Jade through underground raves with strobe lighting casting shadows on her facial scars as she makes her way through crowds of gyrating dancers. A previous romantic interest is dating Jade’s friend but the attraction between Jade and Naz (Bluey Robinson) is undeniable. Naz is able to see beyond the adage and realises that beauty may be considered skin deep but what lies further beneath is beyond compare.  

Various scenes show Eli prowling through nightclubs within sight of Jade – almost appearing to know her every move. When the case goes to court, Jade appears alone and vulnerable locked into a staring match with the ubiquitous steely-eyed Eli. Jade briefly finds freedom when she dons a burqa and dances her way along the balconies of the housing complex she lives in. Invisibility is the currency Jade craves in her search for acceptance.

Jade attempts to kindle online relationships but soon learns that she is vilified for her disfigurement and slowly starts to withdraw. Her shoplifting mother, Lisa (Katherine Kelly), is unable to fully grasp the mental anguish Jade is experiencing as she is rejected at every turn. Ultimately, Jade’s journey begins when she embraces the love of her young daughter and realises that she alone holds the key to becoming a survivor and living life on her own terms.

Sacha Polack, as director and producer of this truly beautiful film has wrought a stunning piece of cinematic mastery. By exploring the tragedy of those who have suffered a similar fate and who find themselves locked in a world where every witness recoils in horror or stares transfixed, Polack has raised the spectre of an apocalyptic post-acid life. What happens after the burns heal as best they can? How do relentless visual presentations of human perfection hold up against a body that seems to be broken beyond repair? The deliberate dehumanisation of another living being is troubling and disconcerting as Jade encounters casual brutality carelessly doled out by co-workers. Moreover, Polack touches upon a system of barbaric annihilation – one that is endured whilst passively existing as an object of love. When rejection occurs, a visceral all-consuming rage follows suit provoking ultimate obliteration.  

Postscript by the reviewer:

I went to see this film in Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema and encountered Sacha Polack and Vicky Knight at the viewing. Knight briefly related how she, at the age of eight, was the victim of an arson attack and was badly burned as a result. Knight outlined her initial reluctance in becoming involved with the project but was persuaded by the extremely convincing Sacha Polack. For both Polack and Knight, this was a perfect encounter and the relationship has engendered a film that exudes authenticity. This reviewer is very much looking forward to the prospect of future offerings from both.   

 

Dirty God screened on 3rd March 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

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Review: Us

DIR/WRI: Jordan Peele PRO: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele • DOP: Mike Gioulakis  ED: Nicholas Monsour• DES: Ruth De Jong  MUS: Michael Abels • CAST: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss

I’m still a bit miffed that Jordan Peele didn’t run with my super-cool idea for his film. Picture this: the movie opens with the title card for Us, except it’s obscured by some sort of spooky fog. Then, as the fog clears, the title card comes into sharper focus and – what’s that? Two dots have appeared! It’s not Us as we imagined, but instead U.S.! The United States! On the big screen! Who’d have imagined?! Aaaand, fade to black, the end. But Peele had his own ideas, just not quite as nuanced as my own, and I can respect that. And since Us turned out to be well paced, tense, and genuinely scary, I have to hand it to him: he did not need my help this time.

In Peele’s new horror, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) is haunted by a trauma that has remained with her for over thirty years: as a young girl, she was briefly separated from her parents while at a beach-front carnival and only vaguely remembers what she endured while exploring an abandoned hall of mirrors. Returning to the same beach three decades later with her family in toe, Adelaide fears that whatever she has been trying to avoid all that time is about to catch up with her. It appears that her fears are not unfounded when four enigmatic figures, all dressed in red, appear outside their holiday home one night. When they break in and come face-to-face with the Wilson family, the Wilson family discover their doubles staring back.

While Us might not be quite as good as Peele’s breakout debut Get Out, it’s certainly the most immediately scary of the two (whereas the Sunken Place in Get Out had me feeling sick to my stomach, the cat-and-mouse games throughout Us had me watching through my fingers), and surely that is one reasonable metric by which to measure your horror. Starting off evocative of other terrifying home invasion narratives such as The Strangers and The Invitation, Peele’s second film, like Get Out, reveals its machinations originate in a landscape located somewhere between the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Not unlike the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, this enables Peele to explore the implications of the surface of society in comparison to what remains unseen.

Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic as both versions of Adelaide: both the socially awkward loner and over-protective mother protagonist, and the terrifying crack-voiced double who appears to be spearheading the doppelgänger attack. Winston Duke plays Adelaide’s husband, Gabe, a likeable if somewhat bumbling boat enthusiast. What with his square glasses, beard and comic relief, he comes across as something of a Peele-a-like. If I were to fault the casting in any way it would be a criminal under-use of the incredibly funny Tim Heidecker as the father of a fellow vacationing family and frenemy of Gabe (that’s right, I’m taking no prisoners here).

While Us couldn’t really be said to be a sequel to Get Out it does still tackle many of the same ideas, particularly in relation to the commodification of the (both African and non-African) American body. I am already anticipating plenty of discussion regarding the significance of the doppelgängers’ red costumes, for starters. Beyond the immediate nail-biting horror there is plenty to mull over, and indeed it feels like a movie that will reward repeat viewings. All I can say for now is that, after one viewing, Us feels like a puzzle that disconcertingly doesn’t seem to quite fit together: maybe you’re not looking at it the right way up, maybe there’s a piece missing, or maybe you’ve just realised your double is hiding under the table and is really putting you off. Whatever the reason, Us remains disturbingly oblique and is probably all the better for it.

Sarah Cullen

116 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Us is released 22nd March 2019

 

 

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Review: Under the Silver Lake

DIR/WRI: David Robert Mitchell PRO: Chris Bender, Michael De Luca, Adele Romanski, Jake Weiner • DOP: Mike Gioulakis  ED: Julio Perez IV • DES: Michael Perry  MUS: Disasterpeace • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace

 

Is it impressive that Under the Silver Lake manages to be a lot stranger than the trailer implies (and the trailer is quite odd in and of itself). I don’t know if  that’s impressive, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes trailers these days don’t give away the whole movie, which is something to admire. If this seems like faint praise, it sort of is. Because while an attempt to make something Pynchon-esque yet more accessible for the screen is in and of itself far from unwelcome, director David Robert Mitchell’s over-indulgent run-time and some undercooked storylines mean it is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.  

Andrew Garfield’s Sam is an aimless young slacker living in L.A. whose money is just about to run out. He spends much of his time in Rear Window fashion, spying on his female neighbours in his condo and engaging in conspiracy theories. After encountering a mysterious new women, Sarah (Riley Keogh), at the swimming pool, Sam falls for her and spends the evening with her, only to discover the next morning that she and her roommates have all left in the night. Wondering whether her disappearance has anything to do with the recent sudden death of a local billionaire or a prophetic zine, Sam starts following clues which lead him into the underworld (occasionally literally) of Hollywood.

While not without some enjoyable sleuthing for both the protagonist and audience, Sam’s character is perhaps a microcosm of the film’s problems as a whole. We never really get a strong sense of what exactly Sam believes beyond the fact that he, um, thinks that pop culture has secret messages embedded in it that are meant for rich people. Yeah. This admittedly could be a good starting point for a character (or indeed a movie), but requires a lot more fleshing out to become something interesting. As it is, the central mystery of the film feels similarly like a bare-bones outline of a finished work, with a whole load of unnecessary red herrings thrown in (to take my example above, I feel I was being rather charitable in comparing the film to Rear Window. Quite frankly, Sam’s just a Peeping Tom). Where Mitchell’s film is more successful in evoking its competing themes of anxiety and nostalgia for twentieth-century popular culture is in its visuals and soundtrack: aesthetically impressive and gorgeously edited, Under the Silver Lake certainly feels appropriately neo-noirish as Sam wanders around in a fugue of Los Angeles-tinged uncertainty.

It’s also disappointing to see how Under the Silver Lake under-uses its cast beyond Garfield. Garfield himself is hugely likeable (arguably more than the character should be) and capable as a protagonist who could easily have been unforgettable as an author or audience surrogate and as such is hugely pivotal in maintaining engagement in the film. However, beyond Garfield the impressive supporting cast are almost all reduced to glorified cameos, with Topher Grace, Jimmi Simpson and Laura-Leigh Clare appearing in only in a small number of scenes. Particularly glaring is Zosia Mamet’s Troy, seemingly Sam’s friend with benefits who, despite featuring heavily in the first half of the film, is not seen again.

While Under the Silver Lake may be well-intentioned in its attempt to explore the dark underbelly of the American movie business, it’s hard not to feel disappointed that it attributes so little agency to the victims of the Hollywood Machine. The gone girl supposedly at the centre of the tale is not so much a character in her own right but an excuse for the protagonist to indulge in his nostalgia, something we’ve seen far too often. To the film’s credit there are some wonderfully zany moments which should pique interests throughout (and in particular a short-lived horror villain which will probably give me nightmares). On the other hand, it’s hard to know whether the film’s scattergun approach works overall (I refuse to believe that R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency?” is anyone’s dance number). Perhaps the most surprising part of this Hollywood puzzler is just how conventional it is.

 

Sarah Cullen

139 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Under the Silver Lake is released 15th March 2019

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Floating Structures

June Butler takes a look at Fearghal Ward and Adrian Duncan’s Reel Art film, Floating Structures, which shines a light on buildings and structures that seem as though they have emerged from another world. 

Floating Structures is an ambient architectural feast that focuses mainly on edifices where glass is considered an essential part of the project.

It follows a narrator as he travels to investigate the creation of German civil engineer Heinrich Gottfried Gerber. Gerber conceived of, and designed cantilevered bridges over the Regnitz at Bamberg and traversing the Main at Hassfurt. Elements of both conduits were then ably used by Peter Rice, an Irish structural engineer in the construction of a number of notable landmarks.

The audience is brought through the assembly of such buildings as the Pompidou Centre (1971), and La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Villette (1986) – both in Paris. However Rice can also lay claim to working on construction of the Sydney Opera House roof (1957), the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield (1967), and Pabellón del Futuro, Seville, Spain (1992). Rice integrated Gerber’s structural concepts and incorporated them seamlessly into the buildings he worked on. La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie featured three greenhouse spaces in the façade which were deemed to be the first glass walls positioned without a frame or supporting fins. Footage from the time of assembly shows Peter Rice putting the glass in place.

What follows is a beautiful journey into the marvels of creation narrated easily in lay-person’s terms – a passage to unfettered imagination. The documentary encourages an interest in maps of the mind and lends visual meaning to the concrete landscape surrounding city dwellers. Both the old and the new are investigated – parallels are drawn between Chartres Cathedral and more modern buildings, concluding that while materials used on recent constructs differ, the overall supposition is that the law of physics remains the same.

Floating Structures is a quiet and unassuming foray into celebrating the genius of Peter Rice and well worth viewing.

 

Floating Structures screened on 25th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March). 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Gaza

Irene Falvey reflects on Gaza, Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell’s documentary, set among the communities who live in Gaza.

 

Gaza, a documentary portraying the reality of people’s lives in Gaza, is introduced at its screening during the Dublin International Film Festival by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell who worked on this documentary together. It is clear from their introduction that this joint project required commitment as the production spanned from 2015-2018. The filmmakers’ perseverance was not in vain as this documentary provides an eye-opening insight into the world of everyday people living in Gaza.

In place of documenting the relentless political turmoil in this location, Keane and McConnell’s documentary looks at Gaza from a personal rather than a political point of view. It successfully encapsulates the human response to living in this conflicted space, revealing both defiance and uncrushable human will alongside frustration and fear. Throughout the documentary, the filmmakers record a collection of people from different walks of life, all sharing the same land and the same seemingly hopeless situation. The viewer witnesses a mixture of responses and coping mechanisms that the civilians assume, with an emphasis on humanity and understanding.

To commence the documentary we are given a synopsis of the situation in Gaza, a densely populated strip of land, with closed borders on either side. While there is a long and tense history to be examined here, the film focuses instead on those that are really affected by these events – the people. With this context in mind the documentary can be viewed as an examination of survival, both physically and mentally. How can a community carry on when their basic human needs aren’t being met? How can a community live in a space that is constantly inflicted by war? While the documentary doesn’t shy away from these subjects, it concentrates more closely on the coping mechanisms of the people themselves living in Gaza; it is clear that this is all the civilians can do, to aspire to cope rather than to live.

One of the main themes threaded throughout the documentary is the sea. Initially the sea is depicted as a symbol of freedom. One participant in the film, an educated fourteen-year-old girl called Karma, sees the hopelessness of her situation but says that the sea provides some solace. The sea in the context of this documentary can be seen as a horizon, that there exists a more free life outside of this trapped state. However, the horizon here is a conflicted one; it is an unreachable horizon, a horizon that is off limits. This unattainable border is both symbolic and real – there is a 3 mile border limitation on this sea front.

One of the first people we are introduced to in the film is a young fourteen-year- old boy whose greatest dream is to one day own a fishing boat and be the captain. His life expectations demonstrate that the sea is a barrier rather than a symbol of freedom. Growing up in the context of Gaza, how is an uneducated boy to imagine anything greater on his horizon than captaining a ship that can go no further than three miles?

In the face of adversity one of the most common human reactions is to take action. In the context of Gaza, however, the film portrays this being an unwise choice. Young frustrated men make violent attempts to bring about change with gunshots and stone-throwing, only to end up injured and feeling even more ineffectual.

For several people in the film they fight against the adversity by expressing their emotions through music instead of violence. Karma, a fourteen-year-old girl who dreams of winning a scholarship, finds escapism through playing the cello. While music won’t lift the barriers or stop the difficulties of life in Gaza, it manages to bring some peace and harmony to those that must endure their lives there. We witness an injured young man who becomes a rap artist,  to ensure that he isn’t “a burden to society”. A taxi driver, whose life we follow, sings with many of his passengers, using music as a universal language to strengthen the spirits no matter what strife they must struggle through.

In a place where a community can’t freely come and go as they please, the idea of Gaza as a prison is clearly established within the documentary. The people within Gaza could be viewed as innocent prisoners sentenced and confined, despite not being guilty of any crimes. In a place where education, jobs, electricity and food are in short supply there is a sense of a frustrated acceptance – while the people are resilient, they are also  aware that their situation isn’t going to change any time soon.

While the documentary successfully reveals the strength of these people in the face of hardship, the desperation of the situation they are going through remains constantly present.

The film creatively switches the context of the current situation in Gaza from the political to the personal to show the real effects of the relentless conflict. We witness a people and place that are trapped and frustrated yet ever on the verge of turmoil. Despite the severity of the situation, the documentary shines a light on the pervasive sense of humanity of those that are striving to survive in Gaza. With understanding and sympathy the filmmakers have managed to capture how the toils of war shape the lives of people who are trapped by it.

 

 

Gaza screened on 2nd March 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

 


 

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Review: Captain Marvel

 

DIR: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck  WRI: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet  PRO: Kevin Feige  DOP: Ben Davis  ED: Debbie Berman Elliot Graham • DES: Andy Nicholson  MUS: Pinar Toprak • CAST: Brie Larson, Gemma Chan, Samuel L. Jackson

Finally the Marvel year has begun with Captain Marvel. Signalled at the end of Avengers: Infinity War (if you stayed to the very end of the credits) and soon to be playing a major role in Avengers: Endgame, which means completists and uber fans will be checking this film out as they get all salivated for the upcoming main event.  For trivia fans I should note that Captain Marvel is also the second period Marvel movie since Captain America: The First Avenger.

Opening on the Kree planet, Hala, we find our heroine dealing with amnesia, fractured memories of some possible past and a set of super powers she is only learning to use.  Seemingly she is a Kree warrior fighting the good fight against the Skrull, shape-shifting enemies of the Kree empire. The Kree are a sort of Roman Empire in space and the centre of their power system is a deity-like AI, The Supreme Intelligence, a mysterious entity that communes with individuals in the guise of someone important to them.  After a meeting with The Supreme Intelligence, Vers, as she is known at this point, (Trekkies will get a kick out of this one) goes on her first mission, the rescue of a Kree spy from one of the Kree border planets. One Skrull infiltration, capture and escape later finds Vers plummeted to Earth, trashing a Blockbuster video shop in the process.  Soon she is finding clues to her past life and also the mission in hand as Skrull warriors pursue her. Joining her on this voyage of rediscovery for the buddy cop portion of the film is a bright eyed, two-eyed Nick Fury.

Like its recent rival Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel has a girl-power message running through the heart of it. Where Captain Marvel succeeds over Wonder Woman is in not having any love interest distracting from the heroine’s stake in the story.  Best of all it gets its agenda across without hampering with the narrative, though the speechifying could have been dropped a notch or two.

Like all of its predecessors, this is a slick affair and certainly worth a visit to the cinema if you are a fan.  A fun but uneven ride, plot logic certainly drops along the way and it is hampered by some pedestrian moments running alongside some really good ones.  I personally don’t get the Brie Larson thing, she’s fine in her role as the good Captain but that’s all I can really say about her performance. Annette Bening excels in her extended cameo, Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull leader gets more laughs than you might expect from a Skrull, Jackson is also in good form as his younger self with the aid of some Fountain of Youth CGI, but I don’t think the bill for the VFX would have been as high as the ones for Michael Douglas or Kurt Russell’s wrinkle removal. Finally, it’s worth noting that this is the first Marvel film to be released since Stan Lee’s passing, a nice tribute is made to him right at the beginning and a really poignant cameo appears in the film that those who know why will love. Excelsior.

Paul Farren

123 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Captain Marvel is released 1st March 2019

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dark Lies the Island

Stephen Porzio takes on the Mannions in Dark Lies the Island.

Martin and John Michael McDonagh better watch out. Another Irish literary figure has made the jump to the silver screen, bringing something fresh to the country’s trademark dark comedies.

Dark Lies the Island sees author Kevin Barry (City of Bohane, Beatlebone) team up with Irish directing old pro Ian Fitzgibbon (Moone Boy, Perrier’s Bounty) for a pitch-black comedy drama based on characters which appeared in various of the writer’s short stories. Charlie Murphy’s Sarah narrates. She is a bored, checked-out housewife to the much older and rich Daddy Mannion (Pat Shortt). Through a chain of businesses, he pretty much runs the sleepy town of Dromord in which the action takes place.

Daddy has two kids from his first marriage. There’s Martin (Moe Dunford), a weak womaniser filling the Fredo role and Doggy (Peter Coonan), someone who went from having a bright future to being an agoraphobe running a dating service from a caravan in the woods. Throughout the drama, these characters – along with Tommy Tiernan’s mysterious newcomer to Drumord and a pair of cousins in debt to Doggy – all converge in a climax where past histories and repressed trauma come to light.

At first, Dark Lies the Island feels like another Perrier’s Bounty, an enjoyable if forgettable sub-Tarantino comedy noir given an Irish flavour. After all, the ingredients for such are in place – pulpy narration, a seemingly scary psychopath in Doggy, eccentric locals.

Yet, as the movie continues and the plot gets increasingly bizarre and dark, one realises that Barry is doing something truly different. He is taking fantastical, heightened tropes that film fans like but is using them to explore contemporary themes like mental health and how patterns of emotional abuse develop within families.

Shot dreamily by terrific cinematographer Cathal Watters, the fictional town of Dromord (its palindromic spelling reflective of its purgatorial nature) is not meant to be interpreted as a real place. Neighbouring a lake – in which we often see ominous fog rolling alongside – it’s symbolic of Doggy, Martin and Sarah’s mental state. These are people living under the dark cloud of the sinister tyrannical Daddy, a nasty weak man who gets his kicks making others feel small.

While these characters all seemed like clichés at the beginning of the film, Barry’s script thoughtfully, as it continues, explores why these people have taken to these almost assigned roles, touching, at the same time, upon sins of Ireland’s past. While the climactic event is somewhat inevitable and all the characters outside the Mannion’s immediate circle feel slightly extraneous, it’s to Barry’s credit that by the end of Dark Lies the Island, the movie feels far less Grindhouse than it does Gothic. This reviewer wouldn’t be surprised if the writer eventually makes the transition to director.

 

Dark Lies the Island screened on Wednesday, 27th February as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March 2019).

 

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Irish Films To Look Out For in 2019

We take a look at some of the Irish films making their way to screens this year.

In order of latest release dates with films TBC below.

We’ll update films, premieres and release dates as they come in.

 

 Animals

DIR: Sophie Hyde • WRI: Emma Jane Unsworth

Premiere @ Sundance Film Festival 2019

In cinemas 2nd August 2019

Laura and Tyler are soulmates. Thirty-something best friends and revellers residing in Dublin, they are ingrained in the fabric of each other’s lives; dating, partying, drinking and living their life without limitations.

CAST: Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat


Vita and Virginia 

DIR: Chanya Button • WRI: Eileen Atkins, Chanya Button 

In Cinemas 5th July 2019

The true story about the love affair between socialite and popular author Vita Sackville-West and literary icon Virginia Woolf.

CAST: Elizabeth Debicki, Gemma Arterton, Isabella Rossellini


Metal Heart

DIR: Hugh O’Conor • WRI: Paul Murray

Premiere @ Galway Film Fleadh 2018

In cinemas 28th June 2019

There is much rivalry between twin sisters Emma and Chantal, quite different in just about every way, when their mysterious young neighbour moves back in.

CAST: Jordanne Jones, Leah McNamara, Moe Dunford, Seán Doyle


Papi Chulo

DIR/WRI: John Butler

World Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2018

Irish Premiere at Dublin International Film Festival 2019

In cinemas 7th June 2019

 

Cast adrift in Los Angeles, Sean — a lonely TV weatherman — drives past a middle-aged Latino migrant worker standing outside Home Depot looking for work. He decides to hire this kind-looking man — to be his friend. Sean is young, gay and white; Ernesto, portly, straight and married. Despite having nothing in common, they build a sort of friendship based on sign language, until Sean becomes consumed by a deep and obsessional attraction.

CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño

“ultimately a film about human connections, about the shared experiences of loneliness, loss, and unlikely friendships”

Irish Film Review: Papi Chulo


Float Like A Butterfly

DIR/WRI: Carmel Winters

World Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2018

Premiere @ Cork Film Festival 2018

In Cinemas 10th May 2019

Irish Traveller Francis has to fight for the right to pursue her passion…boxing. She is determined to make her idol Muhammad Ali proud, as well as her father who has recently been released from prison. But when she wants to show him just how tough she is, she soon comes to realise he’s got other plans for her.

CAST: Hazel Doupe, Dara Devaney, Johnny Collins

“captures humanity at its best and worst, offering a message of hope throughout.”

Read Loretta Goff’s review here


The Dig

DIR: Ryan Tohill, Andrew Tohill • WRI: Stuart Drennan

World Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2018

Premiere @ Galway Film Fleadh 2018

In Cinemas 26th April 2019

Convinced that Callahan buried his daughter in the bog land, the father has spent every day of the previous 15 years digging it patch by patch.

CAST: Moe Dunford, Emily Taaffe, Francis Magee, Lorcan Cranitch

“a bleak visceral experience”

Irish Film Review: The Dig


Greta 

DIR: Neil Jordan • WRI: Neil Jordan, Ray Wright

Premiere @ Toronto International Film Festival 2018 

In Cinemas 19th April 2019

A sweet, naïve young woman making a go of it in the Big Apple, Frances doesn’t think twice about returning the handbag she finds on the subway to its rightful owner. That owner is Greta, a peculiar pianist with a predilection for Romantic music and a desperate need for company. Frances recently lost her mother and feels alienated by her father; Greta has lost her husband, and her daughter lives far away. The two become fast friends — but that friendship rapidly assumes ever more sinister hues as Greta’s attentions escalate.

CAST: Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Isabelle Huppert.

” a polished, self-aware and highly diverting piece”

Irish Film Review: Greta


Don’t Go

DIR: David Gleeson • WRI: Ronan Blaney, David Gleeson

Premiered at Galway Film Fleadh 2018

In Cinemas 12th April 2019

Ben Slater and his wife Hazel, in the wake of the tragic death of their daughter, Molly, retreat to the west coast of Ireland to build themselves a new life in a quaint hotel by the sea. However, there is no escape for Ben who is plagued by a recurring dream of a perfect day all three of them spent on the beach last summer. Ben becomes convinced that he can change the past through this dream and bring his little girl back. As his determination to bring Molly home grows, his grasp on reality slips and his sanity is questioned by those around him. Somewhere between dreams and reality lies the truth.

CAST: Stephen Dorff, Melissa George, Simon Delaney, Aoibhinn McGinnity, Charlotte Bradley, Luke Griffin


Out of Innocence

DIR/WRI: Danny Hiller

In Cinemas 12th April 2019

After a police investigation, a young mother, confused and scared, confesses to a crime she did not commit and is charged with murder. Based on real events in 1980’s Ireland.

CAST: Fiona Shaw, Alun Armstrong, Ruth McCabe

“puts its own harrowing spin on false truths. Women are persecuted from all aspects…”

Read Jemma Strain’s review here


The Limit Of

DIR/WRI: Alan Mulligan

In Cinemas 5th April 2019

James Allen is a successful, controlling, thirty-something banker living alone and working in Dublin city at the tail end of the recession. When a family tragedy occurs due to the ruthlessness of his employer, he takes decisive action to try to make things right.

Meanwhile, his enigmatic co-worker Alison has her own agenda, which puts her on a collision course with James, triggering and a dark spiral of deceit, revenge, and murder.

CAST: Alan Mulligan, Taine King, Tim Palmer, Anthony Mulligan

“an admirably bitter diatribe against the impersonal state of modern financial institutions”

Irish Film Review: The Limit Of


The Man Who Wanted to Fly

DIR: Frank Shouldice

Premiered at Galway Film Fleadh 2018

In Cinemas 29th March 2019

Bobby Coote left school at 13 and spends most of his time in his back shed fixing clocks and making violins, but he has never lost sight of a lifelong dream to fly. He has cut a runway in a neighbour’s field and even built a hangar. And now he’s using his life savings to buy a plane! He gets no encouragement from his brother Ernie – another octogenarian in the Coote household, who thinks the whole thing is mad. But Bobby is determined to get airborne, even if it’s the last thing he does.


An Engineer Imagines

DIR: Marcus Robinson

In Cinemas 1st March 2109

Many of the world’s modern architectural treasures including the Sydney Opera House, the Lloyd’s Building in London, the Inverted Pyramid at the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre in Paris were made possible through the innovation of Irish engineer Peter Rice. A genius who stood in the shadow of architectural icons. Until now


The Hole in the Ground

DIR: Lee Cronin • WRI: Lee Cronin , Stephen Shields

Premiere @ Sundance Film Festival 2019

In Cinemas 1st March 2019

Trying to escape her broken past, Sarah O’Neill is building a new life on the fringes of a backwood rural town with her young son Chris. A terrifying encounter with a mysterious neighbour shatters her fragile security, throwing Sarah into a spiralling nightmare of paranoia and mistrust, as she tries to uncover if the disturbing changes in her little boy are connected to an ominous sinkhole buried deep in the forest that borders their home.

CAST: Sna Kerslake, James Quinn Markey

“superbly acted, lean and highly entertaining horror film, and a fine feature debut by Cronin”

Irish Film Review: The Hole in the Ground


Cellar Door

DIR/WRI: Viko Nikci

Premiere at the Cork Film Festival 2018

In Cinemas 25th January 2019

The story of young love to tortured loss and back again, the story follows Aidie a fighter inside and out – as she searches for her son while in the grip of the Church.

CAST: Karen Hassan, Mark O’ Halloran, Karen Hassan, Catherine Walker,  Ian McElhinney

“tackles the difficult topic of Irish institutional abuse, drawing connections in a thoughtful way and forcing the audience to think throughout”

Irish Film Review: Cellar Door


Witness

DIR: Mitko Panov • WRI: Mitko Panov, Wladyslaw Pasikowski, David Riker

In Cinemas 25th January 2019

A political thriller about an enthusiastic junior officer from The Hague War Tribunal in pursuit of justice. The arrest of General Miro Pantic ends a decade-long manhunt that had frustrated his Western pursuers and left festering one of the bloodiest chapters in Europe’s recent history. He had been indicted by a War Crimes Tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity, but when an envoy from The Hague  comes looking for an internal witness – Nikola Radin, alas The General – the problems begin. Getting out of the wilderness is not easy as no one wants The General to testify against Pantic, whom they perceive as their national hero. The bloody men-hunt will give a life-changing lesson to the young envoy who will understand that there are many more shades to what he thought was a black and white picture.

CAST: Pádraic Delaney, Natasha Petrovic, Bruno Ganz


The Favourite

DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara

Premiere @ Venice International Film Festival 2018

In Cinemas 1st January 2019

Early 18th century. England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant Abigail arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfil her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.

CAST: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone

“a terse tale fit for the chaos of the times that’s unrepentant in its originality”

Read Michael Lee’ s review here


 Shooting the Darkness

DIR: Tom Burke

Irish Focus @ IFI 5th January 2019

Photographer Martin Nangle

Documentary centres on the men who unwittingly became war photographers on the streets of their own Northern Irish towns. Expecting a career of wedding photography and celebrity photocalls, the images they produced would come to define that conflict.


The Castle

Lina Lužytė

TBA

Set in Dublin, Monika has a dream to play a one in a lifetime concert. Her mother is sceptical and reluctant to support her daughter’s dreams, and so she sells their keyboard and forbids Monika from attending the concert. However, Monika stops at nothing to pursue her dream.

CAST: Barbora Bareikyte, Gabija Jaraminaite,  Jurate Onaityte


Dark Lies the Island

DIR: Ian Fitzgibbon WRI: Kevin Barry

Premiere at Dublin International Film Festival 2019

A long-standing family feud in a small Irish town over the course of a week.

CAST: Charlie Kelly, Pat Shortt, Peter Coonan


Dirty God

DIR: Sacha Polak WRI: Sacha Polak, Susie Farrell

Premiere @ Sundance Film Festival 2019

Irish Premiere @ Dublin International Film Festival 

A young woman rebuilds her life after an acid attack leaves her with severe facial burns.

CAST: Vicky Knight, Katherine Kelly, Rebecca Stone, Bluey Robinson, Dana Marineci

“Sacha Polack, as director and producer of this truly beautiful film has wrought a stunning piece of cinematic mastery”

Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dirty God


A Girl From Mogadishu

Mary McGuckian

Premiere at Dublin International Film Festival 2019

Based on the real life story of Ifrah Ahmed – youth leader and advocate against Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia and Horn of Africa.


Highway

Alexandra McGuinness

TBA

When her best friend goes missing at a rodeo, Heidi goes on a search across the desert, digging up secrets and encountering the violence of life on the road.

CAST: Lucy Fry, Eiza González, Christian Camargo


Gaza

DIR: Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell

Premiere @ Sundance Film Festival 2019

Brings us into a unique place beyond the reach of television news reports to reveal a world rich with eloquent and resilient characters, offering us a cinematic and enriching portrait of a people attempting to lead meaningful lives against the rubble of perennial conflict.

“With understanding and sympathy the filmmakers have managed to capture how the toils of war shape the lives of people who are trapped by it”

Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Gaza


Here Are the Young Men

DIR/WRI: Eoin Macken

TBA

Dublin teenagers Matthew, nihilistic Rez, and the deranged Kearney, leave school to a social vacuum of drinking and drugs, falling into shocking acts of transgression.

CAST: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo


Sea Fever

DIR/WRI: Neasa Hardiman

TBA

Bild: Anders Ylander

The crew of a West of Ireland trawler, marooned at sea, struggle for their lives against a growing parasite in their water supply.

CAST: Connie Nielsen, Hermione Corfield, Dougray Scott.


 Shooting the Mafia

DIR: Kim Longinotto

Premiere @ Sundance Film Festival 2019

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

In sharp contrast to the all pervasive romanticised and glamorised media image of the Sicilian Mafia, Shooting the Mafia, unflinchingly explores the stark reality of life, and death, under the oppressive yoke of the Corleonesi Mafia.

“explores the possibilities of art as a tool for challenging violence”

Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Shooting the Mafia


Extra Ordinary (Mike Ahern, Enda Loughman)

Premiere @ South by Southwest 2019

TBA

A driving instructor must use her other-wordly gifts to save a lonely man’s daughter from a rock star looking to use her for Satanic purposes.

CAST: Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward


The Last Right (Aoife Crehan)

TBA

TBC


Wildfire (Cathy Brady)

TBA

The story of two sisters who grew up on the fractious Irish border. When one of them, who has gone missing, finally returns home, the intense bond with her sister is re-ignited. Together they unearth their mother’s past, but as they uncover the secrets and resentments that have been buried deep down, it all threatens to overwhelm them.

CAST: Nika McGuigan, Nora-Jane Noone


Vivarium

DIR: Lorcan Finnegan WRI: Garret Shanley

Premiere at Cannes

A couple looking for the perfect home, find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like neighborhood of identical houses.

CAST: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Jonathan Aris, Jack Hudson


A Dog Called Money

DIR: Seamus Murphy

Premiere at  Berlinale 2019

Chronicles the recording of PJ Harvey’s The Hope Six Demolition Project in London, as well as Harvey and photographer and filmmaker Seamus Murphy’s travels in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington D.C.


Calm With Horses

DIR: Nick Rowland WRI: Joe Murtagh

TBA

In darkest rural Ireland, ex-boxer Arm has become the feared enforcer for the drug dealing Devers family, whilst also trying to be a good father to his autistic five year-old son, Jack. Torn between these two families, Arm is asked to kill for the first time, and his attempt to do the right thing endangers everyone he holds dear.

CAST: Barry Keoghan, Niamh Algar, Ned Dennehy, Cosmo Jarvis, Hazel Doupe


Rose Plays Julie

DIR/WRI: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy

TBA

Rose  is at university studying veterinary science. An only child, she has enjoyed a loving relationship with her adoptive parents. However, for as long as Rose can remember she has wanted to know who her biological parents are and the facts of her true identity. After years trying to trace her birth mother, Rose now has a name and a number. All she has to do is pick up the phone and call. When she does it quickly becomes clear that her birth mother has no wish to have any contact. Rose is shattered. A renewed and deepened sense of rejection compels her to keep going. Rose travels from Dublin to London in an effort to confront her birth mother, Ellen and learns a secret that has been kept hidden for over 20 years.

CAST: Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aidan Gillen, Annabell Rickerby


Never Grow Old

DIR/WRI: Ivan Kavanagh

TBA

CAST: John Cusack, Emile Hirsch, Antonia Campbell-Hughes

A western in which an Irish undertaker profits when outlaws take over a peaceful American frontier town, but his family come under threat as the death toll rises.


Arracht

DIR/WRI: Tom O’Sullivan

TBA

Set during the famine, a man loses everything and is accused of a murder. On the run for three years and with the help of a mysterious girl he attempts to rebuild his life. However, his past however comes back to haunt him.

CAST:


Finky

DIR: Dathai Keane, Pierce Boyce WRI: Dathai Keane, Diarmuid de Faoite

TBA 

Micí Phincí Ó Foghlú is a young musician with a tragic past who is crippled in a car accident and given a chance at redemption when he is recruited by a violent, avant-garde circus.



Rialto

DIR: Peter Mackie Burns WRI: Mark O’Halloran

TBA

In the wake of his father’s death, Colm must come to terms with his actions and find the resolve to halt the crumbing facade of his home, his family, and everything he has built.

CAST: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Tom Glynn-Carney, Monica Dolan


If you have a film set for release in cinemas this year and would like us to feature it, email filmireland@gmail.com

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Irish Film Review: The Hole in the Ground

Dir: Lee Cronin  Wri:Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet  Pro: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland, Ulla Simonen  DOP: Tom Comerford. Prod Des: Conor Dennison  Ed: Colin Campbell  CAST: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, James Cosmo, Simone Kirby

 

Sarah (Kerslake) moves to rural Ireland with her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey). Through conversations between mother and son, we get hints at Sarah’s past abuse at the hands of Chris’ father with oblique references to an “accident” which left Sarah with a scar on her forehead. One night when Chris runs off into the forest and near a bizarre, somewhat otherworldly sinkhole, Sarah starts to notice strange changes in his behaviour. Her anxieties aren’t helped by a mysterious neighbour, considered crazy by the locals, Noreen (Outinen), who screams at Sarah that Chris is “not your boy”. It is revealed that Noreen rejected and possibly even murdered her own child decades before, under a similar idea that he had been replaced by an evil force.

Having received rave notices at its premiere in Sundance and having been picked up for US distribution by the mammoth A24, Lee Cronin’s supernatural horror and feature debut arrives for its homecoming with much fanfare and is unlikely to disappoint fans of the genre. It draws on horror tropes of creepy children and the fears of parenthood to consistently entertaining effect. It’s a film that touches on some dark ideas and resonant themes but is also keen to deliver a rollercoaster ride for the audience. Cronin and his editor Colin Campbell ensure there’s not an ounce of flab on this taut, decidedly effective genre-piece.

Seána Kerslake reaffirms her status as one of Ireland’s biggest acting talents with a performance of complexity, subtlety, charisma and no shortage of physicality. This looks like another step on her way to inevitable international stardom. She is ably supported by Markey who strikes just the right note of sinister unreadability. There are also fine, nuanced supporting turns by Outinen, who makes something more of the creepy neighbour character, and Cosmo, who essays a lifetime of confliction and tragedy in tremendously naturalistic terms.

Tom Comerford’s murky cinematography perfectly captures a sense of the alienation of rural isolation. There’s also terrific use of music. Indeed, the superb opening credits sequence, with a neat nod to The Shining, set up an overwhelming sense of dread from the get-go through the superb camerawork and Stephen McKeon’s deafening score. Cronin also bravely refuses to unwrap all the films mysteries, retaining an ambiguity that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.

A superbly acted, lean and highly entertaining horror film, and a fine feature debut by Cronin.

 

David Prendeville

89 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Hole in the Ground is released 1st March 2019

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dub Daze

Dakota Heveron reviews Shane J. Collins’ take on modern Dublin in his comedy-drama feature, Dub Daze

Director Shane J. Collins has hit the ground running with his first feature length film Dub Daze, which premiered at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on Saturday. There couldn’t have been a better place for it, as it became clear right from the opening scenes that the film was an open and honest love letter to Dublin, written by one of the city’s own.

The film weaves together three discrete but connected narratives of young adults all trying to make a place for themselves in the city, each faced with their own particular obstacles. Dan (Ethan Dillon) and Baz (Sam Lucas Smith) are two friends looking for a way to celebrate their last day of school, but Baz’s recklessness ends up getting them in trouble with a local drug dealer named Petal (Clide Delaney). Sean (Shane Robinson) and Jack (Nigel Brennan) are medical students from Cork looking for a place to stay in Dublin. Sean is quickly accepted by a group of well-off Irish students who make Jack the butt of their ‘fresh off the tractor” jokes, causing Sean to question just where his loyalties lie. Fiona (Leah Moore) has dreams of making it as a musician, but she is forced to contend not only with Dublin’s cutthroat music scene, but also her father’s alcoholism.

It is to the film’s credit that despite the multiple plotlines and numerous characters scattered across its landscape, it manages to avoid becoming confusing or convoluted. The characters are so distinct and well-formed that we as the audience always know exactly who we’re with. This is due in large part to the film’s editing (done by Collins himself), as well as the incredible talent of its cast. There is nothing exaggerated or put-on in the actors’ deliveries; their performances are down to earth and strikingly realistic.

There are moments when the film itself feels like one long session, an unpredictable and turbulent night out in Dublin, punctuated by genuinely poignant moments that emphasize the incredibly three-dimensional emotions and realism of the characters. Scoring this night out is a well-chosen mix of songs largely featuring Irish musicians including Bantum, Majestic Bears, Indian, and This Side Up.

Also central to the film is of course Dublin itself. Dub Daze is clearly a labour of love, and Dublin is the focal point of its affection, the camera lingering just as lovingly on a graffitied wall as it does on the Samuel Beckett Bridge. The film makes a point to bring together its three narratives, connecting the city’s north, south, and center. There is a sense of intimacy in this connectedness, and in the consistent banter and comradery between its characters, painting the picture of a city where, despite its urbanity, ‘everyone knows each other’.

Deadly.

 

Dub Daze screened on Saturday, 23rd February as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March 2019).

 

Shane J. Collins, Writer/Director of ‘Dub Daze’

 

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Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

DIR: Robert Rodriguez • PRO: Jinko Gotoh, Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller • WRI: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller • ED: Clare Knight • DES: Patrick Marc Hanenberger • MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh • CAST: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett

Wow, has it been really been five years since Everything Was Awesome? Some of the kids that saw the first the first Lego Movie are twice as old as they were back then? Will the new film still have meaning for their grown up selves? Of course it will because it was never for kids in the first place, not in the physical sense anyway. These films are filling that inner child void no one likes to admit having, that realm of the imagination and heart, that only the likes of Bill Maher does not have!

The first Lego Movie ended on a cliffhanger. What was going to happen next? Finally we get to find out. Phil Lord and Chris Miller have made a sequel that is equal to its predecessor, an equal sequel if you will.

If you remember Dad realised his rigid Lego attitude and constructions were selfish and not useful to the growing imagination and versatility of his son who wanted to play with Dad’s Lego too. He allowed him to play with the Lego. This was fine but came with a sub-clause in the form of little sister being allowed to play in the bountiful basement of Lego. This resulted in an alien invasion of sorts.

The new film picks up from there, the citizens of Bricksburgs, led by Emmett, attempt to make friends with the new arrivals. It does not have the required effect, a title-card emblazoned with “Five Years Later” and we are now in the rechristened Apocalypseburg, a Mad Max-esque world of dour citizens waiting for the next attack/display from sister Lego abominations. Sure enough, a new game plan from the Lego people of the Sistar System results in the seeming kidnapping of Emmett’s friends and Emmett must rescue them. Along the way he meets Rex, a chiselled hero and friend to raptors, who is willing to help him in his plan. To say more would be to give too much away.

A host of great new characters join the cast, Princess Watevera-Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) being the most wonderful and tuneful of them all. Mighty Boosh Fans will enjoy the addition of Richard Ayoade and Noel Fielding to the proceedings, in small but scene-stealing roles. Will Ferrell also provides a fun cameo returning as President business and Dad. The song ante is raised to great affect, including a new song ‘Everything Isn’t Awesome’, which puts an amusing perspective on things.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, to use its purposefully convoluted title is pretty much a joy from start to finish. So smart and clever, part of you wants to hate it. It has that rare quality for a film of this kind; it has its Lego cake and eats it. Essentially it’s the story of two children’s conflict played out in their imaginations with also the added weirdness of the scenes that happen outside of their imaginings. That’s all the explaining you’ll get from me.

If Lord and Miller had made Inception it might have been a decent film. Despite its film referencing and pop culture mining, the story never loses sight of the characters and story, even the life lessons and moralising that are par for the course these days, are handled with great delicacy, i.e. it doesn’t bore, patronise nor lecture.

 

Paul Farren

106 minutes
G (see IFCO for details)
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is released 8th February 2019

 

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Review: Happy Death Day 2U

DIR/WRI: Christopher Landon • PRO: Jason Blum • DOP: Toby Oliver • ED: Ben Baudhuin • DES: Bill Boes • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma

Wizzard truly missed a trick in 1973 when they didn’t write a song about how they wish it could be birthday everyday. What with the recent spate of Groundhog Day-inspired birthday media (well, specifically this and the Netflix series Russian Doll), Roy Wood et al. would, forty six years after the song’s release, now be rolling in dough. Live and learn.

Having survived the events of Happy Death Day (2017) in which Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) had to relive the day of her death time and time again in order to unmask and defeat her killer, Tree realises that she has unfinished business when she is thrown right back into that same time loop. However, in Happy Death Day 2U she also has to contend with interdimensional travel and a really lousy Dean. Tree finds herself in an alternative universe where she has a slightly different life: the old gang are here, including her new boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) and roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), but her relationships with them all are not quite the same. With help from a group of science students, Tree must both avoid murder at the hands of a new killer and figure out a way home. Yes, director Christopher Landon has really given himself a lot to contend with here, particularly considering how other horror franchises take about four instalments before their characters even venture out into space. It can be a little lopsided at times, with the whodunnit aspect getting short-changed in favour of the science fiction arc. However, in light of how much is thrown at the wall in Happy Death Day 2U, a surprising amount sticks.

There’s also plenty that doesn’t quite land of course: early on it appears that this sequel might be focused on a new, somewhat unexpected protagonist – specifically Ryan (Phi Vu), Carter’s Asian roommate who was a bit part in the original 2017 instalment – but very quickly things are reshuffled to ensure it’s all about Tree once again. While it’s far from being the worst of possible outcomes, (particularly because Tree is a compelling character) it would have been interesting to see a slasher flick about someone other than a white girl, particularly considering the way it’s teased here. Then again, perhaps the HDD franchise is one that will have the longevity to expand on its representation (early box office numbers aren’t entirely promising but if these films have taught me one thing, it’s that anything is possible. Also that baby masks are scary). Happy Death Day 2U also can’t figure out how to get its characters out of a dilemma without having a bunch of nerds hilariously explain science to a clueless blonde girl. And finally, there is a somewhat questionable montage regarding Tree figuring out ways to commit suicide in order to re-spawn the following morning. While everyone involved is aware that these deaths aren’t permanent, perhaps making light of suicide is not the best of looks.

It’s likely that your enjoyment of the second instalment will depend on what you made of the first one. If you liked that, this will probably keep you well entertained. If you didn’t enjoy the first, it’s unlikely this is going to change your mind. What’s particularly satisfying is seeing how successfully Tree has become a heroine worth championing, thanks in large part to Rothe’s excellent performance, which carefully balances the comic and pathos required. While somewhat muddled and too busy at times, Happy Death Day 2U should be given its due for being a clever sequel and more or less as fun – and perhaps more surprising, having as much of an emotional arc – as the original.

Sarah Cullen

100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Happy Death Day 2U  is released 15th February 2019

 

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Review: Alita, Battle Angel

DIR: Mike Mitchell • WRI: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez • PRO: James Cameron, Jon Landau • DOP: Bill Pope • ED: Stephen E. Rivkin, Ian Silverstein • DES: Caylah Eddleblute, Steve Joyner • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali

The latest in a long line of attempts to turn Manga into gold arrives in the form of Alita, Battle Angel, courtesy of Robert Rodriguez directing and James Cameron serving as producer and co-writer. This has been a pet project of Cameron’s for a long time, at one stage he was going to direct it himself. As a Rodriguez project, it has little or nothing that would make one think of his body of work. Except for maybe having one of the characters wear a bandana.

Alita’s long gestation period has been explained as a mix of other commitments and waiting for technology to be advanced enough to do justice to the visuals of the story. For the most part this has been achieved. There are some good action scenes and beautiful visuals in place. Our motion-capture hero Alita, with her exceedingly large eyes, (looking like one of the children in those paintings our grandmothers owned) becomes easy on the sensibilities quickly enough. A sincere heartfelt performance from Rosa Salazar keeps her interesting and likeable throughout. She is probably the most successful character. Although that’s hardly surprising as the rest of the cast are given little character time and simply serve as foil to the main protagonist.

But what’s it about? Iron City, looking like a picturesque South American ghetto designed for a Coca Cola advertisement, is where the action takes place. Ido Dyson (no relation to the vacuum cleaner people), the local doctor of robotics (cyborg repairman to you and me), rummages through the scrapyard at the centre of Iron City. The scrap is provided by the sky city floating above, the last of its kind, a home to the elite, we are told, and the destination many people would like to get to. The only way to get there is with the right amount of dosh or if you become the champion of the local game Motorball. It involves roller skates and a ball and a violent temperament – and the locals love it. But back to the scrapyard; Ido finds a head amongst the scrap, brings it home and provides it with a body. Did I mention he just happens to fix cyborgs? Soon his new “daughter” has a name, Alita, and gets on with her new life as any enthusiastic young person might. She quickly falls in love with Hugo, a nice chap who happens to hijack cyborgs and steal parts from them. Ido has his own secret, which I will let you find out for yourself. As the story progresses, the life-embracing Alita continues to learn about herself and quickly becomes a young woman filled with a deeper understanding of her destiny. Meanwhile, others have become aware of her existence and aim to possess her.

This being a hoped-for franchise, Alita has the qualities of the first season of a television or web series. A more honest title for this would have been ‘Alita Battle Angel, Chapter 1, We Hope’. Despite being overwrought with plot and events, it leaves us with as many questions as it answers. The muddled, episodic structure and speechmaking dialogue does not help. It’s a shame that they spent so long waiting on the technology that they didn’t take time to work more on the script.

Paul Farren

115 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Alita, Battle Angel is released 15th February 2019

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Review: Boy Erased

DIR: Joel Edgerton • WRI: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly • PRO: Joel Edgerton, Steve Golin, Kerry Kohansky-Roberts • DOP: Eduard Grau • ED: Jay Rabinowitz • DES: Chad Keith • MUS: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans • CAST: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton

Boy Erased is Joel Edgerton’s latest directorial offering since 2015’s The Gift and is based upon a memoir by Garrard Conley and his experience of conversion therapy and its oppressive impact upon his sexuality. In this cinematic retelling of Conley’s experiences, the rising talent that is Lucas Hedges plays Jared Eamons, the son of a preacher and his devout Christian wife (played by Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman). Jared is pressured to enter a conversion therapy program following an incident with a male friend from college that has outed Jared to his parents. His father seeks guidance from other pastors and decides that conversion therapy is the only logical step in preventing Jared’s homosexuality. At conversion therapy, Jared is told homosexuality is “behavioural” by his therapist Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) and must adapt to the practices in order to be cured of his homosexuality.

The subject matter of this film makes for unsettling viewing. Jared and the other enrollees are being taught to repress their true selves and strengthen their sense of masculinity through things like how they shake hands or how they sit. Joel Edgerton’s Victor Sykes is icily cold in his teachings and his words create a sense of fear amongst his students and he’s essentially attempting to scare their gayness away. He has a calm demeanour but Edgerton’s performance is effective in making you fear what he’ll say or what practice he’ll encourage next. The musician Flea also appears as a military-type character who is more aggressive in his teachings and wants these boys to act like ‘men’.

Lucas Hedges is phenomenal in this role and it’s disappointing that he’s been overlooked for awards. He carries the emotional arc of the film and Hedges makes you believe in Jared’s journey and sufferings through his performance. There are two sequences in the film’s final act where Jared finally releases the anger and tension from the therapy and there is a moving showdown with his father. Without this stellar performance, the film wouldn’t have the same emotional or dramatic impact. Nicole Kidman also quietly carries out a transformative performance where her character slowly realises the severity of what she as a parent is doing to her son.

The film also minimally explores the homosexual encounters Jared has to recall for his “moral inventory”. Sykes asks everyone to write about their homosexual ‘discretions’ and verbalise them in front of him and everyone else as to ridicule and admonish these encounters. This minimalist approach works in the context of the narrative as Jared is attempting to hide the memories and is afraid or reluctant to divulge these details. It also offers a glimpse of hope for Jared, especially when the film flashes back to a night with Xavier (Théodore Pellerin), and how this non-sexual moment is included in the life he wishes to accept and embrace. The colour pallette on screen becomes brighter and this is the human connection Jared longs for but is told to refuse.

Unfortunately for Boy Erased, it has to compete with Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which was released only months prior. There are similarities considering both films tackle conversion therapy and Boy Erased suffers from a case of déjà vu. For Edgerton’s Sykes, there is Akhavan’s Dr. Lydia March (a sharp-tongued Jennifer Ehle), and the plot is almost too identical in parts. It’s coincidental timing but Boy Erased is the inferior film here and the social realist elements make it less of a complete cinematic experience compared to The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Yet, it’s not a negative that these films are serving as significant retorts to conversion therapy practices.

Boy Erased is hard to watch in parts and its slow pace and non-linear structure may off-put audiences and its unsettling nature also stems from the significance that conversion therapy is still legal and practiced in multiple U.S states. Boy Erased is almost steeped in social realism and Edgerton manages to ground the film in a reality that will undoubtedly empathise with those previously involved in these practices. The muted colours from cinematographer Eduard Grau manage to prevent cinematic exaggeration and compliments the social realist aspects. It’s a film that requires investment and it’s ultimately worthwhile. Joel Edgerton, with the help of Lucas Hedges, manages to convey this importance and the contemporary and pressing subject matter Boy Erased involves.

 

Liam Hanlon

115 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Boy Erased is released 8th February 2019

 

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A Second Look at ‘Green Book’

 

Shauna Fox takes another look at the “joyous and sorrowful” Green Book.

Green Book: 2019 Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), and Best Screenplay. It is a film deserving of every one of these awards.

Named after a travel book written for black people to use to safely travel around America, Green Book will make you laugh, cringe, and sympathise with its two male leads: Viggo Mortensen (Tony Vallelonga) and Mahershala Ali (Dr. Donald Shirley). Mortensen plays Tony, an Italian-American living in the Bronx; out of work due to the temporary closure of the Copacabana, Tony is invited to interview for a job chauffeuring renowned pianist Dr. Donald Shirley. Shirley is going on tour with his two colleagues (the three making up the Don Shirley trio) playing for elite communities in the Deep South. It is important to note that this story is set in the 1960s; a time when being black in America was not appreciated. Unfortunately, such sentiments still ring true in America today, making this film all too current.

Green Book is both a joyous and sorrowful film, capturing the humour of an unlikely friendship, and the sadness from watching the effects of deeply ingrained racism. This takes on the theme of a buddy road trip, as Tony and Don travel through Pittsburgh, Alabama, Kentucky, and many more Southern states, pushing each other’s buttons along the way, but eventually gaining a respect for each other that, according to the post film credits, would last the rest of their lives. Green Book is supposedly based on true events, and one of the screenwriters happens to be Tony’s son, Nick Vallelonga.

Tony has a slightly skewed moral compass, believing that if something is available for him to take, he will, and using violence or bribery to get him through ‘tricky’ situations. He is racist, curses extensively, believes many people to be ‘pricks’, spits in public, flings his rubbish out the car window, and eats like an animal. Trust me, he is a charming, and lovable character despite his… shortcomings.

Don, on the other hand, believes in doing everything with the utmost dignity; he is articulate, always immaculately dressed… and lonely. While Tony has a large extended family, Don is alone in the world, with nothing but his music to give him purpose. To show the contrast between the men, the film’s soundtrack is filled with music and constant talking while Tony is in Don’s life. As soon as Don is left alone, the silence is deafening and stark. It is one of the best ways of showing the difference between these two men, without the need of the visual to compound that difference.

The sharing of experiences between these men is utterly heart-warming, both teaching one another, learning from each other, some moments are completely hilarious, most of which come from Tony’s lack of care about what people think of him.

There are so many enjoyable elements to this film: the constant annoyance that Tony is to Don, who sometimes allows himself to enjoy his companion’s odd antics, and sometimes acts like Tony’s parent; the soundtrack playing throughout is the perfect accompaniment to the film; and the reversal of the usual for the time the film is set – a white man being employed by a black man – as Tony says: “I live on the streets, you live on a throne. I’m blacker than you!”

The situation is seen as odd to white and black alike, the whites questioning Tony’s need to be employed by an ‘eggplant’, and the blacks staring at Don, knowing that he does not belong to them by the way he dresses, and the car he is being driven in (a stylish 1962 Cadillac – it gave me car envy). However, it is this reversal of roles that makes this film, allowing for both men to re-consider their prejudices; Tony realising that black people do not deserve to be segregated; and Don realising that not all white people are dismissive of him. Unfortunately though, so many are, as Don has to constantly deal with harassment, discrimination from the police, not being able to eat in the same restaurants or use the same facilities as white people – all this on just a two month road trip. The dignity with which he holds himself is astonishing; he may be invited to perform for the white people, but he cannot pretend that he is one of them – there is a line that even the most beloved pianist cannot cross. Don is an outcast, dismissed by whites, shunned by blacks, belonging to neither, the price he paid for greatness. During so many of Don’s performances, the passion and anger evident on his face as he plays is heartbreaking, knowing that it is there because of the racism against him. The expressiveness in his face and body which Mahershala Ali gives to this role highlights the hurt and loneliness that his character suffers, and it was a performance worthy of the award he won. Mortensen lost out on the award for Best Actor, instead given to Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody (which I cannot argue with); however, he was very much deserving of an award, perhaps the Oscars is where he’ll have more luck. What is interesting about the awards is that Ali was put into the supporting role of the film. While the story does follow Tony’s point of view, and Don does not enter until about fifteen minutes into the film, they are both leading men, both men command the screen. It begs the question why Mahershala Ali is reduced to a supporting role by the Hollywood Foreign Press?

This film has been rather hush hush here in Ireland, with nothing heard about it until it picked up the most Golden Globe wins of the night; however, having now seen it, this is a film that must be watched, both for its delightful humour and its unfortunate relevance today. Green Book can stand proudly alongside other films that highlight black discrimination, such as Hidden Figures, and The Help. Green Book is a visually beautiful, well-written, powerful piece of cinema; a film that needs to be watched not once, but many, many times.

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Review: Green Book

 

DIR: Peter Farrelly • WRI: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly • PRO: Jim Burke, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, Charles B. Wessler • DOP: Sean Porter • ED: Patrick J. Don Vito • DES: Tim Galvin • MUS: Kris Bowers • CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Surprise winner at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival – beating the much hyped A Star is Born, If Beale Street Could Talk and Roma – was Green Book from Peter Farrelly, director of Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. However, its victory is less shocking having seen the movie, which feels like an old-school throwback to the feel-good comedy-dramas the Oscars used to reward.

Based on a true story and set in 1962, Viggo Mortensen stars as Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga, a New York bouncer and famed ‘bullshit artist’. After his nightclub is closed for renovations, he lands a job as driver and security for famed black pianist Don Shirley (Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali). Together the two tour America’s deep south where Shirley faces repeated racist abuse. The title derives from the 20th century guidebook for black travellers to help them find motels and restaurants which would accept them.

Though featuring handsome period décor, Green Book is not the most formally ambitious film. Instead, it’s essentially a character piece, centring on the chalk and cheese relationship between Don and Tony. On this level, the comedy-drama soars. If you are going to cast someone to play the biggest American-Italian stereotype ever – although to be fair the real-life Lip did wind up being cast in The Sopranos and writing a cookbook called Shut Up and Eat! – get Viggo Mortenson. The Lord of the Rings actor went impressively method with the role putting on 50 pounds. It shows with the Danish-American feeling remarkably comfortable in his character’s skin, even getting an opportunity to flex his fluency in Italian.

Meanwhile, Mahershala Ali – whether he is playing a politician in House of Cards or a comic-book villain in Luke Cage – just exudes intelligence. He is perfect casting to play this incarnation of Shirley, a savant-like prodigy whose intellect and musical abilities alienate him from virtually everybody. Because of his wealth and education, he faces hostility from black people in a lower-social-strata. On top of this, he endures racism from the ordinary white person. The only people who seem to accept him are the rich people for whom he performs. But even then, the race element creeps in. He is not allowed to eat in the restaurants he plays, banned from using the same toilets as the guests. Ali’s performance is like a cocktail – a combination of self-confidence, quiet sadness and bubbling anger, the latter just building throughout the film.

Green Book is a film whose rough edges have been sanded off to appeal to a broader demographic. Unlike Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit set in the same decade, one doesn’t really get the sense of the fear a black person would feel being pulled over by a white cop – particularly in the Deep South. Instead, the movie is more focused on exposing the hypocrisy and pointlessness of the US’ Jim Crow laws.

As the movie flinches away from the horrors of life for black people of the era, it leans more into the potential for comedy in the odd-couple pairing of Don and Tony. While this could be cack-handed in lesser hands, Farrelly, along with co-writers Nick Vallelonga (Lip’s son) and Brian Hayes Currie, make the relationship emotionally engaging. The two begin as polar opposites, Shirley repulsed by Lip’s lack of manners, Lip irritated by Shirley’s condescending tone. However, as the movie continues, they grow closer with Don admiring Tony’s courage and Tony becoming awed with Don’s musical ability and increasingly repulsed with the way he is treated.

Occasionally, the bantering sways too broad – jokes about ‘Titsburgh’ and fried chicken could have been trimmed out – but for the most part the script is snappy. Some moments – like watching Mortensen fold-up an entire pizza and eat it like a giant calzone – are laugh out funny. And the emotional beats, such as Don helping Tony to write more elegantly to his wife (Linda Cardellini, proving once again she is quietly one of the Best Actresses around) tug on the heartstrings.

Everything about Green Book – despite the social issues of the time in which the drama is set – is designed to be an easy watch. And it is. It suffers from an overstretched third act. It annoyingly tries to add more tension and work in a scene which could be summed up as ‘not all white people’ involving a nice Caucasian cop. The latter is irritating given the fact that Tony as well as the white members in Don’s musical trio already serve to make that point. However, aside from this, Green Book’s greatest credit is it is 130 minutes long but feels like 90.

Stephen Porzio

129 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Green Book is released 1st February 2019

 

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Review: Glass

DIR/WRI: M. Night Shyamalan • PRO: Marc Bienstock, Jason Blum, Ashwin Rajan, Steven Schneider, M. Night Shyamalan • DOP: Mike Gioulakis • ED: Luke Ciarrocchi, Blu Murray • DES: Chris Trujillo • MUSIC: West Dylan Thordson • CAST: Bruce Willis, Luke Kirby, Anya Taylor-Joy

The latest film from fallen wunderkind M. Night Shyamalan serves to unite two phases of his career. Characters from his early hit Unbreakable – a relic from the time when Shyamalan was being heralded as the next Spielberg – cross paths with the stars of Split, his low-budget return to form which took many by surprise. Unfortunately, Glass more closely resembles the period between Unbreakable and Split, wherein Shyamalan’s films were marked by thematic incoherence, leaps of logic and unintentional comedy.

We pick up weeks after the events of Split, with Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) and his multiple personalities having kidnapped another crop of teenage girls. Unbreakable’s hooded vigilante David Dunn (Bruce Willis) tracks Kevin down, resulting in a thrilling fight scene that ends in flood lights, sirens and police intervention. The two are arrested and sent to a Psychiatric Hospital.

The bulk of the film is spent treading water in the facility housing Crumb, Dunn and the titular Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson).

This coalescence of separate films resembles The Avengers and other Marvel team-ups, in that it mostly results in tedious plate-spinning without any narrative drive or central protagonist. In uniting all these iconic characters, their individual personalities are diluted, leaving us with a sprawling mess of half-baked twists and turns.

It begs the question of whether the merging of these two cinematic worlds was a good idea in the first place. The horror of Split comes off as less creepy and more pantomime here. Anya Taylor-Joy returns as Casey Cooke, one of Crumb’s victims. Their faux-romantic relationship in the original film contained multitudes – she was largely humouring his sentimental side for her own survival, while ultimately empathising with his abusive upbringing. This nuanced look at the reverberations of abuse is traded in for Glass’s take – that Cooke’s loyalty to Crumb resembles that of a stubborn dog, occasionally tipping over into a full-on Stockholm-style romance. Her undying affection for Crumb, her attacker, is borderline pathological, and ultimately absurd.

Connections with Unbreakable only serve to underline the stylistic regression as a filmmaker Shyamalan has made since. Clips from the 2000 film flash intermittently throughout and the keen eye for blocking and composition is striking. One recalls the opening shot of Dunn on a train, fluidly shot in a kind of dance with the row of seating in front of him. That kind of daring, intelligent filmmaking is notable for its absence in Glass.

It may only be a side effect of a once-A-lister dwindling far into the half-life of stardom, but Bruce Willis’ performance is mostly droning and frustrated, lacking the wonder and nuance of Dunn’s prior outing.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of Glass is how short it falls of its own potential. Samuel L. Jackson, despite performing mostly through torpid stares, has an enchanting presence. He steals entire scenes with a twitch of the eye and a crane of the neck. James McAvoy is also a treat, showing dynamic range between a myriad of personalities. The problem is that they are dropped into a context where their characters seem woefully out-of-place. When the actors are going for gasps, the film around them is going for laughs.

The script appears to be constructed with care. Connective threads are constantly being drawn between the two films preceding it, tying their worlds ever closer together. The bulk of these are superficial and irrelevant, though. One wishes that the same attempt at streamlining was made in the film’s third act, which careens hopelessly out of control to a laughable degree.

In a climax as frustrating and convoluted as it is boring, a flaccid meta-commentary on superhero tropes serves to suffocate any actual coherence. A master plan is enacted which makes no logical sense, and the longer one thinks about it, the more elusive and obfuscated it becomes.

There are attempts throughout to give superheroes and superpowers a political dimension. Is it wrong to believe one can simply be genetically superior to others? Or is it instead wrong to stand in the way of those with superior ability? The film fumbles these problematic ideas in a finale that seeks to lionise superheroes – without having them do anything worth lionising. In what is passionately declared as “an origin story” for superhero acceptance in society, all we see is terrorism, violence and brutality.

Such moral deception was present in Unbreakable, too. As the final twist of that film, it is revealed that Mr. Glass had orchestrated terror attacks around the world in hopes of finding superhumans that would survive them. That iconic twist was one of horror – unsheathing an ugliness to Glass that Dunn, and the audience, recognised as such. The film Glass contains that same ugliness, but intercuts it with people holding hands and smiling.

Cian Geoghegan

129 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Glass is released 18th January 2019

 

 

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Review: Birdbox

 

June Butler takes off the blindfold to have a look at Susanne Bier’s netflix thriller.

As thrillers go, Birdbox is peppered with a slew of truly cunning components yet manages to steer clear of becoming predictable without too much effort. The infamous Boogeyman (or woman in these times of political correctness) is always going to be far more terrifying when intangible and fleeting and in this endeavour, director Susanne Bier has ably succeeded. 

The central premise of the narrative surrounds a group of people aligned against a common enemy. There is a horrifying entity stalking humans and pitting one against the other. When seen by the naked eye, the Being propels the viewer to shocking levels of violence culminating in the observer taking their own life – usually in the most violent and bloody way possible. As chaos and killing ensues, the victims generally claim more lives than just their own. Which clearly speeds up the entire apocalyptic process to an eye-wateringly fast ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ day of reckoning. After the initial blanket annihilation of most human life, a motley crew gather inside a house with a staggering number of rooms. A perfect stage for finding some unpleasant surprises concealed behind doors and in darkened corners. There is an excellent cast comprising Sandra Bullock (The Net (1995), A Time to Kill (1996), Gravity (2013)), and John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons (1988), The Killing Fields (1984), Burn After Reading (2008)). Sandra Bullock is exceedingly well cast as Malorie a ballsy artist who has found herself pregnant and alone after a fleeting relationship. Malorie is steely and vulnerable in equal measure and the success of Birdbox owes much to Susanne Bier’s choice for the central character. Equally John Malkovich brings a tensile fearfulness into the mix as Douglas. Douglas is both petrified and accepting of their predicament and it is difficult not to have a certain grudging respect for a character who is sure they are about to shuffle off this mortal coil in the next two hours but is not willing to pop off without a bang. And a big one at that.

The yarn is a decent one – not being able to fully see the beastie was genius. The imagination of the audience will always fill in the gaps.

And now for some criticism:

John Malkovich should have been put to better use and it was a wasted opportunity not to take full advantage of his acting skills.

Sandra Bullock as Malorie has parent issues. Clearly. Specifically father issues. However, Bier could have chosen to let Malorie not fall quite so far from the platform of being a half decent aul sod. Even the dimmest of people might have reckoned that retribution for a father’s shortcomings should not be visited upon those who are most vulnerable, namely children. I felt that Malorie promised much at the beginning of this film but failed to step up to her responsibilities towards the end.

There was some repetition at key moments which was a shame – the director was worth far more than going over old ground.

Characters started out as archetypal but some finished as stereotypical. Again, a shame. It seemed a little lazy.  

Two thirds of Birdbox was captivating and riveting. The final third lost some lustre and the ending was a tad predictable. I would have much preferred the Beggars Banquet image from the Rolling Stones album of the same name. Instead I felt I was presented with Tinky Winky, Laa-Laa, Dipsy, and Po.

There is one scene in Birdbox where the person responsible for continuity dropped a life’s worth of balls. It was glaringly obvious and once seen, could not be unseen. Up to then, I had bought heavily into the tale. After that, which interestingly came around the two thirds mark of the movie, it all went horribly pear-shaped. It was a pity because when this much effort goes into something and it is let down by a detail so basic, it can be incredibly disheartening both for actors and film crew.  

Having said that, Birdbox is one hell of a good movie and the concept does capture the imagination.

I feel a sequel is on the horizon…….


 

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Review: Vice

DIR/WRI: Adam McKay • PRO: Megan Ellison, Will Ferrell, Dede Gardner, Jason George, Jeremy Kleiner, Adam McKay, Kevin J. Messick, Brad Pitt • DOP: Greig Fraser • ED: Hank Corwin • DES: Patrice Vermette •  MUSIC: Nicholas Britell • CAST: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Amy Adams

An earlier teaser for Dick Cheney biopic/satire Vice featured the tagline ‘Some vices are more dangerous than others.” Writer-director Adam McKay’s is that he prefers flashy gimmicks over telling a story that works dramatically. That’s truly dangerous in that it sinks his movie.

Jumping between timelines, the film charts the life of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), from Yale drop-out and heavy drinker to becoming Vice President to George W Bush (Sam Rockwell), during 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

After making a name directing Will Ferrell joints, McKay’s previous film, The Big Short employed stylistic flourishes and absurd comedy in moments to jazz up its depiction of what led to the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008. The joke was that one needed fourth-wall-breaking cameos from the likes of Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to explain concepts like subprime mortgages and collateralized debt obligations because otherwise people would be confused or disinterested. It was fast, funny and ultimately made a salient point about how people today consume information.

Vice doubles down on these techniques without finding a reason to use them. There’s zinger-filled narration from Jesse Plemons (Game Night, Fargo), needless jumping backward and forward in time, endless stock footage inserts, shots created to look like stock-footage inserts, metatextual gags – all of which combined leave the film with no dramatic scene.

Admittedly, some of the jokes are funny on an Airplane parody level, satirising the conventions of biopics. Mid-way through the film, before being recruited to be Bush Jr’s VP, Cheney is shown in the woods with his family vowing to never return to politics. In another movie, the scene would be its closing moment and just as this realisation dawns, fake credits roll – before rewinding back to what really happened. Meanwhile, another laugh-inducing moment imagines Cheney as a Shakespearean anti-hero as he makes a key decision. He and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams wasted in what should have been a third winning collab with Bale) suddenly begin spouting lines from Richard III in a surreal sequence.

However, by overdoing his shtick, McKay constantly clips any sense of engagement in his characters by continually satirizing them. What is the point in making Bale go method and gain so much weight to authentically play Cheney, only to stymy his performance by filling every potentially engaging scene he has with a million cuts to everything from fish swimming to dices being thrown. It’s on a level with Peter Berg’s equally shoddily directed Mile 22.

One wonders whether McKay went so overboard because he realised his script – the first he wrote without a co-writer – is a mess. There’s the germ of a really interesting concept there – that Cheney replaced his vice for drinking with one for power, ignited by working for controversial former US Secretary of Defence and congressman Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell, the only actor given a chance to sink his teeth into his slimy character) during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Cheney and Rumsfeld have no political belief, all they thirst after is power for the sake of power. This is what led Cheney to expand the powers of the Presidency so they could launch a war against Iraq to seize their oil without the US Congress’ consent. It’s his drive which has led to the countless deaths both of US troops and citizens of the countries they invaded.

However, someone like Aaron Sorkin or Mark Boal or even satirists like Armando Iannucci, Sam Bain or McKay’s collaborator on HBO series Succession, Jesse Armstrong, could perhaps trace that through line clearly. They could depict it in a way which emphasises the tragedy and makes Cheney interesting and fascinating if not empathetic, so that audiences are invested. The problem with Vice is that McKay clearly hates Cheney and all he stands for – implementing tax cuts for the rich, downplaying global warming, giving corporations the freedom to act as they please. Bale’s Cheney is not a character but a humourless, villainous caricature with McKay too busy pointing out all the questionable things he did in his political life to make him in anyway feel like an actual person. It doesn’t help that in Vice’s final stretch the writer-director practically lists off events like a Wikipedia entry with the Valerie Plame scandal and Cheney’s accidental shooting of a man while hunting being brought up and then tossed aside in just one line.

This reviewer has a feeling the film my have been tampered with by the studio, after realising McKay’s original take was not working. That is the only way to excuse Jesse Plemons’ narration that is so distracting for the entire film as one has no idea who he is or why he has all this information about Cheney’s life. The moment one realises his connection to the politician, takes the cake in ridiculousness, coming across as hilariously wrongheaded.

Still, McKay deserves credit for trying. Vice feels angry, flirting with timeliness. It shows that Trump is not the only thing wrong with US politics and that it has been populated with power hungry vipers since the beginning. That said, the comedy-drama is still proof that just because one feels passionately about a subject, does not automatically make it satisfying.

 

Stephen Porzio

132 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Vice is released 25th January 2019

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Cellar Door

DIR/WRI: Viko Nikci • PRO: David Collins, Viko Nikci, John Wallace • DOP: Robert Flood • ED: Viko Nikci • DES: Mark Kelly •  MUSIC: Ray Harman • CAST: Karen Hassan, Catherine Walker, Una Carroll

Writer-director Viko Nikci weaves together a fragmented narrative in Cellar Door that is only fully understood near the end of the film. The film follows Aidie (Karen Hassan), who appears lost and/or trapped in time as she struggles with memories of her pregnancy and searches for her baby. The audience is placed in Aidie’s shoes, wading through her key memories as she continuously cycles through them in search of an answer.

The film begins with a fully-clothed and submerged Aidie awakening in a bath full of water visibly confused. As she takes in her surroundings and her condition she asks herself “what’s the last thing you remember?”, setting the tone for what is to follow. The audience is then taken through Aidie’s conversation with her ailing mother, a classroom in which she is the teacher, a dance with her lover which morphs into her pregnant and alone in a Church, and ultimately in an institution with other unwed mothers. The timeline for these events is shaky, and they repeat over and over, with subtle differences as Aidie tries to make sense of them, sometimes guided by other versions of herself.

While these scenes do become repetitious in places, they bleed into one another seamlessly thanks to the strong cinematography, score and editing. These allow the audience to sometimes feel that they are gently falling between or sliding into memories, and other times feel a sense of entrapment and panic as Aidie fights for a resolution.

Cellar Door is difficult to pin down, not only in terms of its narrative but in its elusion of categorisation. There are moments when one might question if supernatural elements are at play and it feels like a horror, and others that resemble a drama. This uncertainty, however, is deliberately carried across the film so that it can perhaps best be described as a puzzle.

The film requires commitment on the part of the audience to make sense of the pieces as they come, and may suffer from some unnecessary repetition or elongation at times, but when its resolution arrives, making sense of what has come before it, it is thoughtful and poignant. Cellar Door tackles the difficult topic of Irish institutional abuse, drawing connections in a thoughtful way and forcing the audience to think throughout.

Loretta Goff

93 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Cellar Door is released 25th January 2019

 

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Review: Mary Queen of Scots

DIR: Josie Rourke • WRI: Beau Willimon • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward • DOP: John Mathieson • ED: Chris Dickens • DES: James Merifield •  MUSIC: Max Richter • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden

Like everything at the minute, Mary Queen of Scots seems to have been tragically sucked into the vortex of politics. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned storytelling? Where people were inspired to write characters they were invested in? Where the characters were organically driven by a need within themselves to attain a goal, and who struggled with their own natures? When and where did it all disappear? And for what?

Behind the mesmerizing performance of one of the best leading women of her generation, Saoirse Ronan, and a spellbinding performance by Margot Robbie, this film is let down by a lacklustre script. It’s forcefully driven by political ideology and no matter how well intended, that ideology does not honour the history faithfully, it’s imposed on the story, and secondly and even more importantly, it doesn’t serve the characters honestly. The first I could accept to a degree, but the second, I can’t.

Mary Queen of Scots marks the theatrical debut of director Josie Rourke, who displays a sophisticated understanding and command of craft, but ultimately she’s bound by the limits of the material. The screenplay was adapted by the exceptionally talented Beau Willimon. Beau Willimon’s writing on ‘House of Cards’ really captured the biting subterfuge and ruthlessness needed in the political sphere, as did The Ides of March, but in these examples, he didn’t force ideology or theme, it always derived organically from the hearts of the characters on screen. But for some reason on this occasion, in Mary Queen of Scots, this process appears to have been reversed and it’s hard for me to interpret the characters here as anything other than the singular voice or opinion of the author or authors. It doesn’t feel honest to me, it feels contrived. My expectations for this film were really high given the historical story and the calibre of the talent involved. The cast is rounded out by powerhouse actors like Margot Robbie and Guy Pearse, but, in the end, it’s a film driven by an agenda that is removed from character and story.

I think all filmmakers have an obligation to be socially responsible and explore complex themes and question the world we live in, but not by imposing historical falsehoods that reflect how we want the world to be. We can’t change history just because we don’t agree with it, there’s nothing honest about that. The social structure presented in Mary Queen of Scots deviates from factual history to a degree where it really damages a more powerful story about an iconic power battle between two exceptional women. If we’re going to learn anything from cinema, then we need a cinema that stares history in the face, that looks at complex characters with unflinching honesty, and, that without ever saying, it tells us, ‘You know what we screwed up back then, we didn’t do it right, and we’re still not doing it right, but maybe we can someday,’ that to me at least has some measure of power, some basic honesty.  When I think of the really great dramas that do that, I think of the likes of Schindler’s List, Dog Day Afternoon, and Lawrence of Arabia. These are fearless films that transcend craft, defy gravity and inspire countless generations, and they do so with bravery and integrity. But sugar coating the past and imposing concepts onto characters seems little more than artifice.

 

Michael Lee

124 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Mary Queen of Scots is released 11th January 2019

 

 

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Review: Mary Poppins Returns

 

DIR: Rob Marshall • WRI: David Magee, Rob Marshall, John DeLuca • PRO: John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Marc Platt • DOP: Dion Beebe • ED: Wyatt Smith • DES: John Myhre •  MUSIC: Marc Shaiman • CAST: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw |

 

‘A Spoonful of Sugar’,  ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’, and of course. the merciless tongue twister that is ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, these are not songs, but anthems, their notes drop like anchors into the rock-bed of our cinematic memory. As if preprogrammed before birth, we could hum, whistle ‘n’ toot each melody before mastering our ABCs. But Mary Poppins (1964) wasn’t just a hit with kids, it was hugely critically adored, setting the record for Disney’s most Academy Award wins for a single film. Practically no other Disney live action film before or since has even come close to the critical and lucrative triumph that Mary Poppins was.

So it’s somewhat surprising that The Mouse House waited this long to cash in on the original’s success with a sequel. It seemed as though Poppins neatly sidestepped fate while ill-conceived revisions such as Freaky Friday (2003) and Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) crammed the bargain pits of video stores around the world. But now with Disney’s Stalin-esque 5 year plan to renovate our childhoods, we’re told to quietly stand aside while our memories are systematically peeled back like worn floorboards. With the success of Jungle Book (2016) and Beauty and the Beast’(2017), it was only a matter of time before Mickey & Co knocked on the door of 17 Cherry Tree Lane.  

Cue, Mary Poppins Returns (2018), taking place 20 years after the original with both Jane and Michael all grown up, it’s his kids who are now in need of the enchanted brand of babysitting only Miss Poppins can provide. And for all the nail-biting preconceptions one might have, the pitch seemed promising: A stellar cast, all new songs, and even a rumored Dick Van Dyke cameo were on the cards, it’s as if Hollywood were about to adapt my letter to Santa Claus before my very eyes.

It’s a pity then, that the final product seems a half-hearted attempt to re-conjure what magic its predecessor inspired. A sequel wavering between a reboot and rehash, it’s as though Disney reheated the leftovers of the original and left us to wade through the flavourless slab of familiarity. What the film does offer is a series of superficial tweaks that do little to spur our imagination. And although it’s unfair to compare the titles, it’s inevitable, especially when we’re constantly being reminded with winks, nudges and nods so frequent you’d swear someone’s head would fall off.

Thankfully Emily Blunt (with head still attached) makes matters bearable. A refreshing take on Poppins, her tough love approach is in stark contrast to Julie Andrews’ portrayal, and sits more closely to PL Travers’ source books. It’s Lin – Manuel Miranda’s Jack who – acting as a stand in for Van Dyke’s Bert – seems let down by a poor script and stranded on screen as a result. In giving a more earnest sensibility to his character, his doe-eyed expressions lack the anarchic glint that made the role so beloved.  We soon find ourselves yearning for the giddy limbs of Van Dyke, a vibration of sublime silliness the film desperately needs.

There’s no doubt though that Miranda is a song and dance man, his ‘Trip A Little Light Fantastic’ might be the most memorable tune in a film of instantly forgettable hooks. There’s pretty wordplay and intricate phrasing throughout the film’s numbers but it all serves to make monotonous melodies that strive to echo the Sherman Brothers’ original arrangements. It’s a good thing then that there’s plenty of sights to distract us from the film’s many sounds. London town is blaring with colour, it’s clear to see that a great amount of work has gone into its design.

It’s the film’s garbled politics, however, that are hard to ignore. In what seems like a series of checked boxes Mary Poppins Returns pretends to reject notions of inequality without ever leaving its orbit.  In an ending where our characters get, not only what they need but – on top of that – exactly what they want (if not more) we’re left scratching our heads at a world view that would make Boots Riley shake his fist.

Mary Poppins Returns marks Disney’s latest attempt to coax out our inner child only then to rob them of their lunch money. But for all its missteps and downfalls the film is watchable, listenable, just not recommendable.

 

Brian Quinn

130 minutes
G (see IFCO for details)
Mary Poppins Returns is released 21st December 2018

 

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Review: Stan & Ollie

DIR: Jon S. Baird • WRI: Jeff Pope • PRO: Faye Ward • DOP: Laurie Rose • ED: Úna Ní Dhonghaíle, Billy Sneddon • DES: Fiona Crombie •  MUSIC: Rolfe Kent • CAST: John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Steve Coogan, Nina Arianda

When I was a young pup we had the good fortune to have television programming that provided us with film content all the way back to the Hollywood golden age. Weekends did not pass without a classic comedy in some form or other; the best form was Laurel and Hardy (Yeah, I know, there’s this thing called the internet). Their antics were never passed over in our house thanks to my father’s good taste.  Even when my younger self did not get the full impact of their comedy, his laughter told me there was something I was missing. I got with the programme and, as my funny bone developed, Laurel & Hardy were there to help it along. Suffice to say, I am an avid fan of the greatest comedy team to ever grace this planet. Armed with that bias, I was very mixed on how I would take to Stan & Ollie, a film focussing on their later music hall years.

Opening with the boys at the height of their fame, the most cinematic shot of the film takes us from their dressing room through the back lots of the Hal Roach studios to the set of Way Out West as they prepare to shoot their famous rendition of ‘The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia‘. We learn of their humour, their frivolity, their ongoing contractual battle with Hal Roach and their haplessness as businessmen, all in this consummate tracking shot. A jump cut worthy of ‘Pardon Us takes us to Lancashire years later, where we meet the boys on the first leg of a music hall tour.

The heart of the story concerns itself with Stan and Ollie’s relationship with each other; the overworked comic, writer, genius director Stanley and the jobber, genius performer Ollie. Very different men, who have a genuine regard for each other, despite those differences. To quote Oliver, who quotes himself (from Sons in the Desert), they are like two peas in a pod. What drama that follows concerns itself with Laurel’s hopes of revitalising their film career, the pressures of a feckless English producer, Oliver’s ailing health and the emergence of Stanley’s old grudges.

As with many biographical films this is a highly fictionalized account. Compressing several tours into one and presenting it as a starting-over struggle that does not genuinely reflect the reality of their time touring this side of the pond. Despite such dramatic license, it is hard to fault such a sincere love letter to the two great comedians. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly wear their roles like gloves. Reilly in particular gives a tour de force performance as Hardy; the potential distraction of the amazing prosthetic work is never an issue for the actor, performing the role as if the ghost of Hardy himself possessed him. They are more than ably supported by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda as Mrs Hardy and Mrs Laurel, who provide their own scene-stealing double act.

There is much to enjoy here for anyone with a love for Laurel and Hardy. Those in the know will spot many little moments throughout that philistines will be hard put to truly understand. But I do wonder what those who have less of an idea of those great men might make of the whole thing. Despite the great performances, Coogan and Reilly can only allude to the lightning in the bottle that was Laurel and Hardy.  If you don’t know it going in, you ain’t going to get it. For that, the philistines will have to go back and watch the originals. My advice for those true believers is to use this sweet little film as an excuse to educate a philistine or two. Which obviously will require a healthy dose of Laurel and Hardy movies as well as a visit to Stan & Ollie. As Stanley himself would say, “You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be led”.

 

Paul Farren

119 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Stan & Ollie is released 11th January 2019

 

 

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Short Film Review: Low Tide

Dakota Heveron gets on board Ian Hunt Duffy’s short horror Low Tide, which premiered at last year’s Cork Film Festival in November.

Ian Hunt Duffy’s chilling short horror film Low Tide centres on a fishing trip taken by a father (Steve Wall) and his son Jack (Luke Lally). But what seems on the surface to be an enjoyable day out on the water soon devolves into something far more sinister.

The film is driven by the compelling, naturalistic performances of its two leads, and Wall is especially haunting in the role of a brusque, impenitent father who soon reveals himself to be anything but paternalistic. Through the cinematography of Narayan Van Maele, the water itself becomes a character of its own, revealed through shots of its glassy expanse and black depths to be cold, dark, and unforgiving. Only adding to the film’s ominous aesthetics are scenes filled with shadow and moments of visceral imagery, including a shot of a fish being indifferently gutted.

The film’s score lends itself well to the precarity of the situation, where Jack’s fate at his father’s side is deeply unsure. Swells of triumphant music as the fishing boat glides across the water suggest an adventurous voyage, an age-old tradition between father and son. When the swells drop into silence, the characters are left alone against the backdrop of dark water and a slate sky, stark and foreboding. This sense of foreboding only grows when an eerie underscore creeps into being as the figure of the father becomes increasingly darker.

The narrative is filled with uncertainty, but only to the film’s advantage. While the final outcome for Jack may not be precisely clear, it doesn’t need to be. Instead of closure, the viewer is left with an appropriate sense of dread as Duffy explores and subverts the relationship between father and son, as well as themes of familial legacy and inherited violence.

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Irish Film Review: The Favourite

DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara • PRO: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Yorgos Mavropsaridis • DES: Fiona Crombie •  CAST: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

The Favourite just might be Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ crowning achievement. Lanthimos initially garnered recognition for his acclaimed film Dogtooth, and has successfully built on this with follow-ups  Alps, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

The Favourite is a monstrous regal satire set during early 18th-century England. And like any Lanthimos film, The Favourite is a strange creature, yet in many ways, it’s probably his most accessible and endearing. We’re immediately brought into a world built on a foundation of royal pomp and carnivorous manners, which lend to the presiding absurdist comic tone. But underneath the veneer of aristocratic fashion and elaborate dances is a world of barbarous cruelty, betrayal, cunning, and cunnilingus. In short, very quickly everything we think we know about the period film is subverted through the brutal absurdity of Lanthimos’ deranged vision.

So it’s the 18th century, and while England is at war with France, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is bedbound, and her closest friend and council the Duchess of Malborough Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs on her behalf. But this loyalty and love is a subterfuge for the Duchesses’ own quest for power. The Duchess is intent on continuing the war if it guarantees her personal advancement, and will even go as far as to tax the Queen’s people. But the Duchesses’ desire is at odds with esteemed trailblazing Tory and landowner Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who is disgruntled by the proposed land tax and tries to persuade the Queen of this. Of course, then along comes Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), a disgraced relative of the Duchess, whom she begs for work.  Abigail impresses the Duchess and rises quickly up the ranks. But when Abigail’s desire earns the favour of the Queen too, this brings the Duchesses’ ambitions into doubt and puts her at odds with Abigail.

 

The script was crafted by writers Deborah Davis and Tony Mcnamara. It’s a  crazed work of royal madness that seems to strike straight to the heart of the zeitgeist. The script is toxically comic, the comedy is opulent yet fiercely dark, but there’s a richness to the absurdity which keeps it grounded in a clear emotional reality, even when logic seems to go out the window.

The savagery of Lanthimos’ vision is served honourably by his confidant in arms, Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Ryan’s cinematography injects a distinct sense of chaos and disorder into the aesthetic decorum and pomp of the 1700s. Together Lanthimos and Ryan boldly shape a perspective of the past that’s grossly distorted, both literally and metaphorically, and the film towers because of it.

The performances are staggering and endearingly comic. Rachel Weisz brings an intoxicating wickedness to her role as the Duchess, and Olivia Colman radiates a triumphant ignorance and warmth as Queen Anne. And then there’s Emma Stone, who just kills it, and brings a fierce sense of charm and duplicity to Abigail. Lanthimos really seems to have struck gold with The Favorite; it’s a terse tale fit for the chaos of the times that’s unrepentant in its originality, it’s like a cross breed of Barry Lyndon meets Doctor Strangelove with perhaps a bit of David Lynch thrown into the mix for good measure, go check it out.

Michael Lee

119 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Favourite is released 1st January 2019

 

 

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Review: Mortal Engines

DIR: Christian Rivers • WRI: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson • PRO: Deborah Forte, Peter Jackson, Amanda Walker, Fran Walsh, Zane Weiner • DOP: Simon Raby • ED: Jonathan Woodford-Robinson • DES: Dan Hennah • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving

 

The biggest worry for me going into this film was would my suspension of disbelief hold out? Fantasy it may be and that should be all it requires to buy into its rules for the duration, but would I be able to watch a city trundling around a dystopian landscape on gargantuan caterpillar tracks cannibalising other smaller cities and not keep thinking of Monty Pythons, Crimson Permanent Assurance?

I needn’t have worried; the high-octane opening showing a giant London on caterpillar tracks chasing a small Bavarian mining Village was presented with such straightforward sense of adventure and desperation that the snickers soon left, though now and again I did find myself thinking of what Mad Max might be like if it had been directed by Terry Gilliam..

Mortal Engines, based on the first of a series of books by Phillip French belongs firmly to the steam punk genre, where old-school Victorian values blend with sci-fi subject matter, normally set in alternative worlds. Mortal Engines is set in a far future after the Sixty Minute war laid waste to the world and a new order of scavenging evolved where travelling cities known as traction cities traverse the landscape living out of what they find left over from the past.  We enter this world as it is on the verge of collapse, conflict has risen between the traction cities, notably London and those that have begun to resettle properly on the land in a place not unlike the mythological Shangri-La. Following a path of revenge against this backdrop is Hester (Hera Hilmar), who aims to kill Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), an ambitious leader of the traction City of London. An unsuccessful attempt brings her to the attention of Tom Natsworty (Robert Sheehan), a young assistant in the city museum, who in turn realises that Valentine is not the great man he thought he was when he ejects him from the city because he knows the truth of Hester’s mission. Soon the two are in the wasteland making their way to god knows where while Hugo is reaching the completion of his master plan.

As would be expected of any film that has Peter Jackson’s (writer, producer) moniker attached to it, this is a sumptuous affair, beautifully realised in design and costume and featuring some dazzling effects.  He may not have his name attached as director but it is obvious that his influence on the director, Christian Rivers, is significant. A lot of Jackson’s hallmark shots are up on the screen in this production.

It is unfortunate that the frenetic style that opens the film is maintained for the entire narrative. Characters are introduced at high speed and given no proper emotional weight, barring one or two of them. No one seems to really stop to take a breath, though some sleep is had along the way. Most surprising is that the writing from Peter Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, seems so formulaic and predictable. This may be because of the source material, I couldn’t truly say but even so, from what I have learned of the books the wealth of background detail that went into realising the world of the story in the novels is certainly not given enough credence here. The overarching plot stifles any characterisation from properly emerging. The characters for the most part serve their functions rather than have any real sense of an inner life. As the narrative and action escalates it finally descends into a sort of steampunk version of Star Wars.

Despite those negatives there is a lot of joy to be had from this epic adventure. If spectacle is what you are after, you will find plenty, even if it does go on a tad too long. At a time when most blockbusters are so busy setting up their sequels, it is refreshing that this film, though possibly hoping to be the first of a series, stands on its own as a narrative.

 

Paul Farren

128 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Mortal Engines is released 14th December 2018

 

 

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Review: Roma

DIR/WRI:  Alfonso Cuarón • PRO: Nicolás Celis, Alfonso Cuarón, Gabriela Rodriguez • DOP:Alfonso Cuarón •  ED: Alfonso Cuarón, Adam Gough • DES: Eugenio Caballero • CAST: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey

The whole concept of auteur theory has come under increased scrutiny. Auteur theory considers how the worldview and work ethic of a director shapes the film he makes (canons are almost always crafted to be exclusively male for some mysterious reason). This approach is limited in its gender bias and in over-simplifying the complexities of the film production process. Those two issues certainly became prominent throughout the #MeToo revelations, where it turned out placing some directors on a pedestal facilitated their abusive behaviour. Over numerous high-profile cases of such abuse, there is now less trust in the auteur.

Many auteurs also happen to do their most pretentious and alienating work when making more introspective films. So as a fan of Alfonso Cuarón, I was worried that Roma would become Cuarón’s notorious “personal film”. After winning the Oscar for Best Director for Gravity, he could do virtually whatever project he wanted next. Why did he want to make a black-and-white portrait of an indigenous Mexican housekeeper shot in locations from his childhood? I think I may know why. And it may have a lot to say about the role of film auteur in the modern world.

Roma is named from the middle-class neighbourhood of Mexico City where Cuarón himself grew up. It follows a year in a family’s life, from 1970 to 1971, based on memories of certain moments or images from Cuarón’s childhood. He brings a twist to this very auteur-sounding concept by not following the experience of the ten-year-old son who is presumably his own stand-in. In fact, the children of this semi-fictionalised family are background characters to the main story. Roma focuses on Cleo, an indigenous housemaid of Mixtec background, played by first-time actor Yalitza Aparicio. Her story is based on extensive interviews with the maid from Cuarón’s own childhood.

By placing a First Nations character at the centre of this story, Cuarón has found a form of self-reflection that feels very timely. It also anchors the story around a character arc that builds momentum. This gives Roma a sense of direction and payoff lacking in, say, Boyhood, even though the films have some similarities. Both address a quirk of narrative cinema, where moments are selected to convey a story’s significance. As we ourselves experience life, we don’t live through moments thinking of them as significant to a greater whole. Roma is deceptively mundane as it shows many seemingly inconsequential moments, only to pay off what they reveal towards the film’s moving finale. There is also a sense of dread built through bad omens and sudden dramatic surprises.

At times, Roma feels like the other side of the coin to Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl. That 1966 black-and-white film follows an African maid in France and was notable for being one of the first widely-seen feature films directed by an African filmmaker. Black Girl explored how marginalised peoples struggle to articulate their own stories without the approval of privileged gatekeepers. In the case of Roma, Cuarón is part of the privileged ethnic group, when compared to the Mixtec maid Cleo. In recreating his childhood from her perspective, Cuarón brings a fresh and valuable approach to the tropes of the auteur’s semi-autobiographical film.

Roma explores Cleo’s relationship with the family becoming closer. The conclusion is ambiguous about the nature of her acceptance by the family. Whether or not it can truly be free of what the status quo dictates is an uncomfortable question from which Cuarón does not shy away. It’s hard to explain without revealing more of the story, but it appears to be an issue with which Cuarón has struggled. Is this Cuarón being honest about guilt over his privilege? About revisiting his childhood from a perspective that highlights his privilege? About how much is expected from certain marginalised groups for so little in return?

The relationship between personal and political is illustrated so much better in this film than when other filmmakers attempt such films. If this is what Cuarón does when given full creative freedom, then it reveals the rawest expression of the compassionate humanism present in his other work. The slow-paced tone of the story may be challenging for what seems set to be a mostly Netflix audience. I would strongly recommend either finding a cinema screening or at least committing to watching it through in one sitting.

Cuarón, acting as his own cinematographer for the first time, holds a confident command of visual storytelling. There are also self-aware visual nods to Cuarón’s other films throughout, including a short clip from 1969’s Marooned for an on-the-nose reference to Gravity. Present also are many trademarks from Cuarón’s body of work; babies and young children, uprisings and Pietà poses, outdoor restaurants and hospital stairs, indigenous languages, infidelities among the middle class of Mexico City and of course, visually-stunning extended long-takes.

But wait, didn’t we begin by questioning the modern relevance of auteurs? Well, the perspective Cuarón brings to Roma, such as we can attribute this film to his vision, does something of value. It highlights how such projects can be used for self-reflection that’s actually relevant to society. If it can be used to examine privilege, then it can lead to striking, honest works of beauty such as Roma. Roma manages to take the audience in a time machine to 1970s Mexico, while being less of an exercise in escapist nostalgia and more of a fresh confrontation with pressing, modern issues.

So consider me relieved because I usually find this kind of film problematic. If any filmmaker was going to pull it off well, it would be one as skilful as Alfonso Cuarón. With all the caveats about how auteurs are constructed, it can sometimes help us identify when a truly special filmmaker is in our midst. We are lucky to have a filmmaker like Cuarón making films at a time like this.

Jonathan Victory

134 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Roma is released 29th November 2018

 

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