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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Review: The Wild Pear Tree

Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan  Wri: Akin Aksu, Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan  Pro: Zeynep Ozbatur, Atakan, Muzzafer Yildirim   DOP: Gokhan Tiryaki • Ed: Nuri Bilge Ceylan  Des: Meral Aktan  CAST: Aydin Dogu Demirkol, Murat Cemcir, Bennu Yildrimlar, Hazar Erguclu.  

Recent college graduate, Sinan (Demirkol), returns to his hometown as he ponders what next to do with his life. Upon returning he begins to realise the extent of his father’s gambling problems and of the debts he has accrued around town. Sinan also sets to work on an ambitious, personal novel about his hometown.

Distinguished Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan returns to our screens with this characteristically thoughtful and intelligent drama. The picture’s length – 188 minutes – is daunting, particularly for a film as dialogue-based as this. Patient viewers will be rewarded, however, by a film infused with a striking sense of melancholy and insightful ruminations on such things as family, human relationships, memory, art and mortality.

At the film’s centre are two wonderfully drawn performances. Demirkol as the cynical, smart, angry Sinan, a young man with lofty ideas and no little ambition. Cemcil, as his gambling-addicted father, Idris, essays a character that is, in a lot of ways, but never completely, tragic. His gambling issues are obviously a terrible strain on his family – conversations between Sinan and his mother, Asuman (Yildrimalar) – illustrate their opposing and ever-shifting considerations of Idris’ addiction.

When the electricity starts being cut-off, things hit a breaking point. Idris, however, maintains a humanity and a playful, child-like approach to life. He never loses one’s sympathies, even when he does wrong, such as stealing from Sinan. The relationship between Sinan and Idris, while strained, is always ingrained with affection. Sinan constantly vents to others around him about his father, but is never capable of confronting him himself, in fact he nearly always tries to help him.

No matter how fraught matters become in the film, every character maintains the potential for kindness. Ceylan also generally eschews clichés associated with films about alienated people returning to their past. A kiss Sinan shares with an old school-crush, Hatice (Erguclu), is never developed afterwards, as it would be in other films. We’re never given any indication as to whether Sinan’s tome is of any quality or how closely it resembles the snapshots presented in the film.

The film often veers off into tangents to explore other ideas that layer themselves into the central father-son story. One particular highlight is a humourous scene which sees Sinan approach a local, successful author in a book-shop. He moves from initial reverence to outright mockery in the space of their conversation.

Sinan is often arrogant and provocative. Another scene sees him needlessly goad his friend into hitting him. While these characteristics might be unpalatable, this is film that constantly strives to show us the complexity in human nature. Bilge Ceylan luxuriates in his duration to create what feel like utterly real characters and situations.

This is a quiet, often beautiful and powerful film that resonates with the viewer long after the credits roll.

David Prendeville

188 minutes
The Wild Pear Tree is released 30th November 2018

 

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Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

DIR: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman • WRI: Phil Lord • DOP: Bob Kelly • ED: Síle Ní Fhlaibhín • DES: Justin Thompson • MUS: Daniel Pemberton PRO: Avi Arad, Phil Lord. Christopher Miller, Amy Pascal, Christina Steinberg • CAST: Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber

It’s difficult to get Spider-Man wrong. It’s more difficult to get six versions of the character – all with their own distinct designs and personalities – right but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse does it and then some. With a warm, pull-no-punches story and impeccable voice acting and animation Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse asserts itself as not just the best comic book movie of 2018 but as a defining moment in comic book movies.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider and after watching his universe’s Spider-Man (Chris Pine) die takes on the mantle to stop Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and shut down the Super-Collider that will destroy New York. The Super-Collider has brought five other Spider-People into Miles’ universe. There’s the schlubby, older Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), the competent but aloof Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), the Nazi punching Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), the anime-inspired Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Looney Tunes caricature Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney).

All of these characters get their moment in the sun but it’s Miles that the movie belongs to. Essentially an origin story Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse wears this fact proudly and twists it in a variety of interesting ways. Thrown in at the deep end with a useless teacher and little time to learn the ropes Miles’ trials and tribulation become the beating heart of a movie that’s never ashamed to make fun of itself or frightened to up end tropes such as the classic Uncle Ben moment.

The problem with a lot of big-budget animation films is that a famous voice cast can often treat it like an easy paycheque. Not here though. Cage is worth a particular mention with his performance drawing on classic actors from the 1930s like Bogart and Cagney. Mahershala Ali’s turn is heart-wrenching, and unusually but not unwelcomely so is Schreiber as a strangely relatable and hilariously animated Kingpin. But it’s the likes of Moore, Johnson and Steinfeld that ground the film in its very real, very affecting story.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t afraid to dive deep into grief and loss. The death of the original Spider-Man in Miles’ universe hits like a hammer blow in a protracted but never overstayed moment. This is helped by the animation which makes the New York of the film feel like a living, breathing city. The vibrant colours and techniques such as the inclusion of split screens, thought bubbles and ‘POW!’ exclamations remind that this film is not just a warm, funny and thoughtful story but a warm, funny and thoughtful comic book story.

At two hours Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse never rushes or drags. It was a film I was content to bask in with a world, no universe, that would be criminal not to revisit. Even the film’s end credits scene is worth staying for. Quality right to the end. As Marvel enters its darkest era yet Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a reminder not only of how enjoyably bright these films can be but how enjoyably bright these films should be. The world is a grim place right now but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not just a light to rest by but one to be guided by.

Andrew Carroll

97 minutes
117 (see IFCO for details)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is released 12th December 2018
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Review: White Boy Rick

DIR: Yann Demange • WRI: Andy Weiss, Logan Miller, Noah Miller • PRO: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, John Lesher, Jeff Robinov, Julie Yorn • DOP: Tat Radcliffe • ED: Chris Wyatt • DES: Stefania Cella • MUS: Max Richter • CAST: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Matthew McConaughey, Eddie Marsan, Richie Merritt 

In Yann Demange’s sophomore directorial offering, and based on a true story, White Boy Rick explores Detroit’s drug epidemic in the 1980s and the titular Rick’s (Richie Merritt) involvement in the trade. Rick is a fourteen year-old boy with a shrewd sensibility who decides to support his father Rick Sr. (Matthew McConaughey)  selling modified guns to a local drug gang. The gang then take Rick under their wings and dub him ‘White Boy Rick’. With Rick Sr.’s gun transactions catching the attention of the FBI, they decide to utilise Rick in assisting their takedown of the local gang’s drug trade by him becoming an informant.

In his debut film performance as White Boy Rick, Richie Merritt delivers a standout performance that firmly allows you to believe in and root for his character’s respective motivations. Matthew McConaughey is billed as the leading character here; although, his role is more of a supporting one and Merritt is well-equipped to lead this film when the Oscar-winner is not on screen. Both characters work well together and they’ve their own motivations for what they do, but it’s ultimately to support themselves and their sister Dawn (Bel Powley), who is affected by and addicted to the Detroit drug problem. All three characters are in a blue-collar family that are struggling to live and all three have chosen a particular path as their means of survival.

The film captures the harsh environment of the Detroit world the characters live in. The film seems to be in a permanent state of winter and the harsh and cold mise-en-scene is beautifully captured by cinematographer Tat Radcliffe. There is excess with the riches of the drug trade, such as White Boy Rick buying an obnoxiously-gold chain to fit in with the gang, and then there is the severity of the drug problem captured with sequences such as Rick and Rick Sr. removing Dawn from a crack house. A balance is achieved between both but the struggle is not ignored. Rick Sr.’s arms dealing essentially supports criminals, but it is done to support his own family and an optimistic vision of the future. Rick works to support his family too and to ensure Dawn can come home and recover.

Although, the positives of the film are undermined by the unravelling of the film’s final act. The narrative skips past many years at such a rushed rate and any support of Rick’s motivations decreases at a rushed rate too, especially when you consider the character is not fictitious. It’s a pity as Demange managed to create a film that was engaging up to that point and the film fails to have a continued sense of suspense or intrigue like his previous feature ‘71. Eddie Marsan features in an odd cameo role that has an impact on Rick’s narrative in the final act and his appearance carries no weight in what should be more of a significant plot point in altering Rick’s arc. Things like this affect the plot’s progression and is a disappointing way to end a film that could have been great. Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie are included in supporting roles that also offer no significance and both characters could have been removed from the script.

Despite these missteps, White Boy Rick’s solid aspects do make for an enjoyable film. There is an atmospheric soundtrack by Max Richter that efficiently captures the mood of certain sequences and then there are the acting performances themselves. Matthew McConaughey continues to impress with his post-McConaissance roles (although, let’s forget about Dark Tower) and is cementing his status as a bona fide character actor.

Yet, White Boy Rick is all about Richie Merritt as White Boy Rick and the journey he embarks upon growing up in the Detroit of the 1980s. Much like Michael in Frank Berry’s Michael Inside, Rick is a sympathetic character that has to live with the societal struggles he has been raised alongside. Merritt is one to watch and White Boy Rick would have truly suffered without his performance.

Liam Hanlon

110 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
White Boy Rick is released 6th December 2018

 

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Book Review: The Films of Lenny Abrahamson

Stephen Porzio checks out Barry Monaghan’s comprehensive study of the films of contemporary, highly critically-appraised Irish director Lenny Abrahamson.

Barry Monaghan’s new book The Films of Lenny Abrahamson is the definitive exploration of perhaps Ireland’s finest director.

Analysing the filmmaker’s career from early shorts Mendel and 3 Joes all the way to Oscar-nominee Room, the scholarly essay-style work explores how Abrahamson managed to transcend the barriers of Irish and art-house cinema, garnering worldwide acclaim and profits. It then wraps up with a transcript of a conversation between Monaghan and the director.

The book’s biggest strength is its argument for Abrahamson as a true auteur figure. While the filmmaker has fluctuated between countries and genre, telling wildly different stories, Monaghan keenly points out recurring elements in his work.

He posits that Abrahamson’s breakout success could be down to the fact that many of our nation’s dramas which preceded him were explicitly dealing with lrish-specific stories. This made them less accessible worldwide, lowering their chance of big box-office returns. Monaghan argues that Abrahamson is more successful because his exploration of contemporary Irish issues is kept often as subtext, making them fiercely relevant here but capable of being understood abroad.

Adam and Paul and Garage are both dramas about how, during the Celtic Tiger, certain pockets of Irish life were left behind. However, lacking overt references to the boom, the former could equally be perceived as a warped fairytale and the latter a sad portrait of rural loneliness that could resonate with anyone. Similarly, What Richard Did is a drama examining notions of privilege set in Dublin’s southside rooted in true events. Yet, in making only implicit references to its social backdrop, its story still works outside of said context.

This also extends to his work outside Ireland. Frank serves as a demystification of the artistic process but doubles as a whacky comedy. Room is a film somewhat based on the infamous Fritzl case but told from the perspective of a child, making it also a coming-of-age story. By avoiding heavy references to true life, Abrahamson’s movies avoid polemical debate, instead favouring to immerse audiences in their characters’ worlds.

Monaghan also highlights how Abrahamson’s films all feature in someway or another a Beckettian exploration of the failures of language. They also each eschew traditional narratives, in favour of building characters – all of whom never fit generic archetypes.

The book is not geared for casual reading, feeling very academic. Thus, it is stuffed with references to other scholars. Occasionally, these can overwhelm the conversion about Abrahamson’s oeuvre. This is notable in the section on Frank. One wonders whether references to Jacques Lacan’s philosophy in discussing the Frank Sidebottom mask or harking back to the work of George Melies when exploring Domhnall Gleeson’s unreliable narrator are necessary. This is also heightened by the fact that the book excludes talk of Abrahamson’s notoriously hard to track down four-part series Prosperity (RTE please release that on DVD!), something fans of the director would rather be reading.

There is also a feeling it may have been too early to release a book about the filmmaker. This was written before the release of The Little Stranger, the director’s most interesting movie to date – an unsettling horror film which fits with all of Monaghan’s points about Abrahamson’s work but also failed to wield big profits. Meanwhile, with him set to adapt Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People for BBC, there is a sense Abrahamson has more fascinating work ahead of him.

Still, in terms of work to date, this is essential reading for die hard fans of Irish cinema, as well as those in a film theory course prepping an essay on any of Abrahamson’s movies.

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Irish Film Review: The Devil’s Doorway

DIR: Aislinn Clarke • WRI: Aislinn Clarke, Martin Brennan, Michael B. Jackson • PRO: Martin Brennan, Katy Jackson, Michael B. Jackson • DOP: Ryan Kernaghan • ED: Brian Philip Davis • DES: John Leslie • CAST: Lalor Roddy, Ciaran Flynn, Helena Bereen, Lauren Coe

In 1960, seasoned, jaded priest, Fr. Thomas Riley (Roddy), and his understudy, Fr. John Thornton (Flynn), are sent by the church to investigate a supposed weeping statue in a Magdalene laundry. They are to document their findings on film. The Mother Superior (Bereen) is dismissive of the claims, suggesting the whole thing is a hoax. However the more the priests investigate matters, the more they begin to realise the extent of both the horrors being inflicted on to the women in the laundry by the sisters, and also horrors that may not be of this world.

This found-footage film follows in the recent tradition of horror films that act as metaphorical representations of serious social and psychological issues such as Get Out, which satirized liberal white America’s insidious racism through horror-comedy, and Hereditary, which examined the theme of familial grief in an occult setting. Here, in her feature debut, Aislinn Clarke tackles Ireland and the Catholic Church’s dark history with the Magdalene laundries. The presentation of this being a documentary film from 1960 adds a further layer of clever genre deconstruction. The decision to shoot on 16mm film rather than replicating the era digitally creates an evocative and eerie aesthetic, as well as adding a further layer of authenticity to the picture.

Clarke utilises the found footage element often creatively and extremely effectively. The film features a haunting birthing sequence that focuses solely on a characters’ face as she stares into camera. Clarke has cited Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc in how troubling and dramatically effective sustained focus on the human face can be. The film’s frequently stark approach to horror, allowing certain scenes to play out without cuts, often also calls to mind the uncompromising style of filmmakers such as Michael Haneke more than it does other found-footage horrors. This style contrasts nicely with scenes in which Ryan Kernaghan’s camerawork is more frenetic, such as in the frantic last act. It is consistently a film, however, that plays on the power of the audience’s imagination, making them think they have seen more than they have. Clarke finds interesting and diverse ways of suggesting rather than showing and the film is all the more powerful because of that.

The form of the film also allows her to develop her characters in interesting ways, with direct-camera monologues providing effective and concise insights into their background. Clarke is aided by a superb cast. Roddy exudes wearied decency as Fr. Thomas struggles to comprehend both the supernatural goings-on in the laundry and, even more so, the shocking cruelty on display from the nuns in the laundry. It marks another superb turn from Roddy this year following his outstanding work in Michael Inside. The Mother Superior, at the forefront of the cruelty, is brilliantly essayed by Bereen. It’s a chilling and wholly believable performance. An early scene in which she viciously slaps a girl who makes flirtatious remarks to the priests is as shocking and stomach-churning as any jump scare. The Mother Superior’s continued arrogance in the face of being found out by the priests is a wonderfully drawn microcosm of the evils of the Catholic Church’s abuses and cover-ups. Flynn and Coe are also utterly convincing in their respective roles.

Smart in both form and content, this is an innovative, effective and necessary Irish horror film. It marks Clarke out as a distinctive talent to watch.

 

 

 

Aislinn Clarke, Director of ‘The Devil’s Doorway’

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Review: Creed II

DIR: Steven Caple Jr.• WRI: • Juel Taylor • PRO: William Chartoff, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King Templeton, Charles Winkler, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler• DOP: Kramer Morgenthau• ED: Dana E. Glauberman, Saira Haider, Paul Harb • DES: Franco-Giacomo Carbone • MUS: Ludwig Göransson • CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren

As a viewer, approaching Creed II with any knowledge of the original Creed is almost unfair. Ryan Coogler’s supreme direction, Maryse Alberti’s superb cinematography and Michael B. Jordan’s powerhouse performance mean that the first Rocky spin-off is a nail-biting rollercoaster of emotion that will have you punching the air as often as Adonis “Donnie” Creed punches a big muscly dude. By rights, Creed II shouldn’t be able to reach the dizzying heights of the first one. And so when it doesn’t, that’s okay. We can’t all be champion of the world.

Indeed, approached independently of Creed, Stephen Caple Jr.’s film makes a good fist of the genre and would rank well among the Rocky franchise. Building upon Creed, it reintroduces more familiar faces from the Rocky universe: Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Adonis’ father, Apollo Creed (in Rocky IV), returns to the American boxing scene after thirty years, with a challenge for Adonis. After Rocky defeated Drago (also in Rocky IV) he found himself ostracised by Russian society. However Drago believes he has now found a way to win favour once again in the shape of his son, heavyweight fighter, Victor (Florian Munteanu).

Now that Adonis has conquered America, it’s only fitting that he take on the wider world; unfortunately the depiction of Eastern Europe feels uncomfortably one-dimensional here, with Russian-American relations almost adorably naive. There are no hackers in sight, but instead it feels as if Russia is still licking its wounds in the aftermath of the Cold War.In fact, any cultural commentary feels wholly undercooked, perhaps because Caple Jr. is uninterested in engaging in such commentary. He instead relies heavily on using familiar faces to create a story about patrimony. As demonstrated in the summary, Creed II is all about fathers and fatherhood, which maybe makes it unsurprising (but no less hilarious) that Stallone tried unsuccessfully to have Apollo return as a ghost to comfort Adonis in a low moment. One wonders whether there was also a “To Punch or Not to Punch” soliloquy that just didn’t make the final cut.

As a story about fathers and sons, Creed II largely works, although it shows the genre limitations when considering how to follow its themes though to their logical conclusions. Much of the film is concerned with choices relating to fatherhood and responsibility: when should a man stop thinking about his own personal victories, and concentrate on his children? While the film may say some interesting things on the subject, it stops short of actually deciding anything. Or to put it another way: in order to follow through on its themes, Creed II would probably have to stop being about boxing. Which, to be fair, is unlikely to happen in a boxing movie.

Nonetheless, Creed II is an enjoyable movie about this sport, which perhaps is all we should demand. The action is tense and visceral. Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson bring great chemistry to their relationship. Despite the veto on the Apollo-ghost scene, one can sense Stallone’s creative control with Rocky getting all the best lines, and admittedly delivering them pretty well. The film never quite finds a consistent tone but it never stops being entertaining either.

 

Sarah Cullen

129 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Creed II is released 30th November 2018

 

 

 

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Short Film Review: Stephanie

David Deignan takes a look at Fergal Costello’s short horror film Stephanie starring Moe Dunford. 

Moe Dunford must be the busiest actor in Ireland right now. He has five feature films releasing this year – including a magnetic turn in Paddy Breathnach’s recent Rosie – in addition to significant parts in two TV series and, now, the leading role in Stephanie, the frenetic new horror short from writer/director Fergal Costello.

Stephanie is an ambitious, deliberately ambiguous story which wrenches the viewer by the collar and refuses to let go from the first frame to the last. The narrative begins with Joe (Dunford) determinately struggling to protect the titular character, portrayed by Aoife Spratt, from the murderous intentions of Walsh (Joe Rooney). As tensions quickly escalate between the trio, it soon becomes clear that the secretive Stephanie is not all that she seems to be.

The abrupt opening quickly cultivates a tantalising sense of mystery: it doesn’t waste a second on exposition, instead preferring to drop the viewer without warning straight into the middle of the conflict. Violence looms like an ugly shadow throughout the opening sequences, threatening to burst to the fore at any moment. Costello’s clever script subtly balances the reveal of important information with intentional misdirection early on.

The film clocks in at just under 9 minutes in length and is impressively shot in one uninterrupted take. Costello’s staging is confident and plays out seamlessly while Philip Blake and Padraic Conaty deserve props for their work on the cinematography. The camera weaves its way dynamically around the characters on screen, reacting imaginatively to plot developments as they play out. Its eye is often trained on Dunford and he doesn’t miss a beat, ensuring that the internal rhythm plays out smoothly.

Mark Murphy’s pulsating musical score works well, plunging and escalating sharply as the action does. It comes to a crescendo in the third act, as the intensity increases, and contributes importantly to the film’s all-action finale.

The narrative’s initial hook is enticing and the opening minutes deftly draw the viewer into the story, with the early exchanges engrossing. But it falters somewhat in its second half, when it runs out of reveals and the execution of a key sequence becomes a bit messy, the film becoming caught up in its own franticity. The ambition on show, however, is undoubtedly admirable and the overall technical prowess on show serves to smooth over the plot’s weak points.

Stephanie feels like a sequence cut from a larger concept. While this is a testament to the world being built by Costello and crew, it also stops the story from fully resonating in its current form. It’s a shame – considering how effectively it starts – but this is still an enjoyable, stylishly executed short that’s well worth watching. And, with the director’s website listing his next project as a debut feature currently called Untitled Awesome Horror Film, I’d hope to see more of this story on screen soon. Lord knows Dunford could use the work.

 

fergalcostellofilm.com

Fergal Costello on Vimeo

 

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Review:  Assassination Nation

DIR/WRI: Sam Levinson • PRO: Manu Gargi, Aaron L. Gilbert, Anita Gou, David S. Goyer, Matthew J. Malek, Kevin Turen  DOP: Marcell Rev  ED: Ron Patane  DES: Michael Grasley CAST: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Colman Domingo, Bill Skarsgard

Chaos breaks out in the small American town of Salem after a hacker exposes the secrets of its residents. Bright high-school student, Lily (Young), is ludicrously blamed for the hack, with locals now seeking violent retribution against her. This pits her and her closest friends – Bex (Nef), Sarah (Waterhouse) and Em (Abra) – into a brutal battle for survival.

This unsubtle, highly entertaining and sporadically powerful provocation boasts an excellent premise and a so far under-utilised theme of internet privacy to paint a bleak, angry and satirical portrait of modern-day America. The film, amusingly, opens with a series of ‘trigger warnings’ that include such things as violence, the male gaze and fragile male egos. This is an early indication of the brash, self-conscious brand of satire the film is going for.  

Odessa Young is superb in the lead, essaying with subtlety and charisma, an intelligent young woman, both strong and vulnerable, who remains rationale in a society in chaos. The mob, angry that their dirtiest online secrets have been exposed, need someone to vent their frustrations on. Lily is seen as the prime, easy target because of the leaks exposing her own affair with an older, married man. Of course no blame is attributed to him.

Young is ably supported by a fine supporting cast – Nef being a particular standout. The film is at its best when illustrating the escalating anarchy. However, one can’t help feel that when the violence properly kicks off in the last act, that the film loses some of its satiric edge, to some extent abandoning the frequent smarts that have preceded it to focus on action that seems too glib to be cathartic or meaningful. The foursome’s transformation into gun-toting angels of vengeance seems to happen too suddenly and is presented in too sleek a manner to work on a properly visceral level.

Levinson doesn’t quite hit on the right tone in his attempts at juggling a lot of disparate styles and ideas. There is something that doesn’t quite coalesce in the film’s juxtaposition of the exploitative with the sociological. Also, for a satire, the film occasionally slips in to what feels like an earnestness that doesn’t fit with much of the rest of the film.

Still, this remains a frequently sharp and diverting piece of work. Worth a look.

David Prendeville

108 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Assassination Nation is released 23rd November 2018

 

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: One Million American Dreams

Loretta Goff discovers the secrets of New York’s mass graves in Brendan Byrne’s One Million American Dreams.

Brendan Byrne’s One Million American Dreams brings into focus the often unnoticed Hart Island, a small New York City island that is used as a burial ground for the city’s unclaimed dead, and for those whose families cannot afford burial expenses. Byrne’s documentary takes a personal approach to the subject matter, following the stories of four families with members buried here. In doing so, he removes the anonymity of the Hart Island cemetery, reinscribing it with the narratives of these individuals and providing a sort of commemoration for them that is not fully offered on the island itself.

Introducing the film at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, Byrne commented on his own relationship with New York City, from his first visit at age 17, when he was in complete awe, to his multiple returns that have also revealed the city’s tougher edge. When he was made aware of a two-minute recorded news piece on Hart Island he realised it deserved more attention and that he could make a whole film about it. This led to One Million American Dreams, which he describes as “a difficult love letter to the place I’ve had a longstanding love affair with” that takes a “deeper look into the soul” of the city.

Several animated segments in the documentary, along with narration by Sam Rockwell, provide viewers with the necessary historical details of Hart Island, which are expanded upon in interviews with scholars, journalists and politicians. We learn that burials began there in 1869, with over one million individuals laid to rest on the island to date, that it was also used as a Union Civil War camp (amongst other things) and that it is currently run by the Department of Correction, with inmates employed to bury the bodies and no access to the general public. These details are made more visceral with the striking animations that accompany them. One of these, in particular, stands out; it shows layers upon layers of nameless coffins piling up below the island, forming it, but also giving shape to a human head, reminding us that each coffin contains an individual that had a part to play in the story of New York City, and that those who are marginalised should not be forgotten or cast away.

Our attention is turned to some of these marginalised individuals through the stories of the families affected by loved ones’ burials on Hart Island. We meet an African-American Vietnam War Vet whose baby daughter was buried there while he was away, a Cuban family whose father died alone with dementia in the city, a Puerto Rican woman whose stillborn child was due to be buried on Hart Island and the family of a man suffering from drug and alcohol addiction who ultimately ended up there without his family’s knowledge. Through their stories, not only is Hart Island personalised, but we are confronted with the deeper underlying issues affecting New York City and contemporary American culture more broadly—racism, immigration, substance abuse and poverty.

Commenting on his film in a Q&A after the screening, Byrne noted that he used the cemetery on Hart Island, and the stories that emerged from it, as a “frame to confront issues that still face America”, which are threaded throughout the film. We see this in the stories of the individuals that the documentary follows, but also through the film’s carefully crafted cinematography. This captures the beauty of New York City—in the bright lights of Time’s Square, the skyline and diverse groups of people—but also its struggles and darker sides, focusing attention on the homeless sitting overlooked on busy streets and those that exist in the fringes. A particularly striking image follows the ferry travelling out to Hart Island as it, and the island are engulfed in fog. This offers a skillful visual depiction of the islands shrouded nature, cast into the shadows of the dazzling city.

Discussing the process of making the film, Byrne noted that the project as a whole took between three and four years (with 18 months of filming). He commented that it was a process to get the stories of the individuals, but that “without their stories we wouldn’t have the film”. It is the honesty of these that resonates with the audience, offering the documentary’s powerful social commentary.

One Million American Dreams is a timely, well-crafted, poignantly shot and animated documentary that speaks to a number of contemporary social issues neatly encapsulated by Hart Island—the story of which is remarkable in itself.

 

One Million American Dreams screened on Saturday, 17th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival   (9 – 18 November)

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Belly of the Whale

Cian Griffin enters The Belly of the Whale which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.

The Belly of the Whale is the debut film from Irish director Morgan Bushe and stars veteran Irish comedy star Pat Shortt and up-and-coming Scottish actor Lewis McDougall. The film tells the story of recovering alcoholic Ronald (Shortt) and his relationship with young misfit Joe Moody (McDougall) as they plot to steal from local politician Gits Hegarty.

The main strengths of the film are its characters and the performances. The two main characters are extremely relatable but tragically flawed at the same time. Both Shortt and McDougall turn in great performances that make you laugh out loud while also pulling at your heartstrings. Shortt’s performance is especially moving as he departs from his typical over-the-top comedic roots and delivers a surprisingly nuanced and layered performance as a man struggling to come to terms with the blows that life has dealt him. Michael Smiley (known for his work in Luther, The Lobster and Rogue One) also turns in a memorable performance as local politician Gits Hegarty. He is extremely menacing and threatening while also chewing the scenery in every single scene, providing most of the laughs in the film. The cast as a whole are great with strong supporting performances from Game of Thrones star Art Parkinson and young Irish actress Lauren Kinsella as Moody’s friends Lanks and Sinead.

However, the film suffers a bit from some pacing issues. The film takes too long to get to the actual plot, spending the majority of the runtime setting up the characters and their circumstances and at times drags, spending a lot of time wallowing in the misery of the characters. In contrast then, the ending of the film is a bit rushed and clumsy, culminating in a finale that lacks the emotional payoff we have been building up to throughout the film.

In saying that, for a first-time director, Bushe (who also co-wrote the script) manages to find a great balance between humour and tragedy to make a film that is bursting with heart. On top of this, he makes some great artistic choices and the film is quite beautiful, creating a vivid and realistic picture of rural Ireland. Based on his first film, I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Overall, The Belly of the Whale is a charming and endearing film that tells a poignant and at times, heartbreaking story of two flawed characters coming to terms with the challenges in their lives. It’s a touching story of love, loss and friendship bolstered by a great director and strong performances and while it’s not perfect, it is sure to delight audiences while also making them cry.

 

The Belly of the Whale screened on Friday, 16th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival    (9 – 18 November)

Opens in Irish cinemas 7th December 2018.

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Maeve

Jack O’Dwyer gets caught up in the fractured narrative of Pat Murphy’s seminal Irish film Maeve, which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.

 

In an attempt to describe her state of mind as an artist during the appalling years of the Irish troubles, feminist filmmaker Pat Murphy has posited that the North suffered primarily from everyone trying to shoehorn it to fit snugly into their own system of beliefs. This is a clear starting point in an analysis of her seminal 1981 film Maeve, co-directed with John Davies, which depicts the problematic ways in which personal and political beliefs can coexist within a troubled nation, often leading to layers of conflict which act as further barriers to peaceful resolution. At its core the film portrays a sort of uprising through inaction, a tentative method by which an individual may behave if they feel that they are excluded from the promised land which lays at the end of the revolutionary road. Through its radical aesthetics and characterisation, the film offers a unique perspective on one of the darkest periods in the island’s turbulent history.

The driving force of Murphy’s film is the titular Maeve, seen in both present day 1981 and also in recurring flashbacks to unspecified times in the past. In the present day, she returns home to Belfast from bohemian London, fully embodying the stringent lifestyle of a feminist ideologue. In the past, with these nascent ideals starting to take shape in her mind, she is seen as a young adult who vows to escape from the hostile community which stifles her. Maeve, played with skilful restraint by Mary Jackson, is often a difficult character for the audience to relate to, likely a reflection of Murphy’s acknowledged debt to Bertolt Brecht and the so-called ‘’distancing effect’’ which he utilized in his theatre. Much of her dialogue is heady and intellectual, delivered as a series of feminist mantras which refer to metaphysical ‘’Woman’’ rather than earthly, anecdotal ‘’women’’. Traditional womanhood, devout Catholicism, revolutionary insurrection; Maeve chooses to shun all of these potential paths in an effort to gain her own autonomy and identity. In one scene, Maeve and her schoolmates are being forced to rote-learn a religious commemoration to the victims of the local conflict. Maeve instead stares out the window, demonstrating a conscious decision to shun the milieu in which her peers are enmeshed.

Acting as a traditional counterpoint to Maeve’s personal protest is her sister, Roisin, played by Brid Brennan. One masterful aspect of Murphy’s screenplay is the heightened importance placed upon storytelling, particularly in relation to how it enlightens the characters who take up the role of storyteller. Roisin tells a number of stories throughout the film, usually depicting some form of tyranny inflicted upon the population by the armed British guards who patrol the streets. One such story implies that Roisin and her friend were the victims of an attempted rape by an intruding soldier, but the nonchalance and humour with which it is told does little to convey the potential severity of the situation. Moments such as these subtly paint Roisin as a character who is caught in the flux, unwilling to critically examine her role as a traditional, oppressed, catholic woman. Despite her sister’s warning that marriage ‘’only keeps woman down’’, there is never the suggestion that she will follow in Maeve’s non-committal footsteps. Even further alienated from Maeve is their mother, Eileen, played by Trudy Kelly. A quiet well of frustration with little dialogue in the film, she is a helpless bystander to the rampaging tide of patriarchal nationalism in her nation, serving as the outdated archetype to which Maeve internally revolts. Perhaps the film’s most emotional scene takes place in a room filled with religious relics, designed by Eileen as a place devoted to her daughter’s future courting. Such a traditional fantasy comes off as absurd given the nature of Maeve’s character, with the scene soon devolving into a heart-breaking monologue from mother to daughter recounting the first time that Maeve boarded the plane as she left to London – ‘’You never looked back once to say goodbye’’. Tragically, this marks the only point in the film at which Eileen is given an extended opportunity to speak, with each word driving a further nail into the coffin that is their incompatible relationship.

The most articulate challenger to Maeve’s unique vision of nationalism comes in the form of her boyfriend/ex-boyfriend, Liam, played by John Keegan. Murphy has expressed the importance within feminist fiction of creating authentic, coherent male characters so as to create an equal playing field of debate. In this regard, the character of Liam is a triumph. A committed republican, he matches Maeve both in the strength of his personal convictions and the fierceness of his debate. The film’s philosophical assertions are founded upon a masterful series of scenes in which the two debate each other in various locations, their rival viewpoints clashing together in a captivating stream of insights and insults. Murphy’s idea for these scenes was that the two would cease to be characters for the duration of these debates, instead transforming into unfiltered mouthpieces for their espoused ideologies; a clear admission of her Brechtian and Godardian influences. The first of their debates happens upon Cave Hill, as they gaze upon a deceptively serene-looking Belfast in the distance. Maeve is first triggered into stating her defiant viewpoint as a response to Liam’s praise of lifelong nationalists, those passionate men who have ‘’been able to keep that image together through all the madness’’. Her issue lies in the fact that the romantic image of Ireland which has guided nationalism thus far excludes her as a woman, it leaves no space for her, she is ‘’remembered out of existence’’ as part of its clause. Next, in her rented apartment in London, Maeve speaks of her decision to ‘’withdraw from it’’, to distance herself from the ‘’country’s neuroses’’. To this, an apoplectic Liam castigates the cowardliness of her actions, pointing to the fact that those who have fought and died for the cause have not had the luxury of her aloofness and free speech, warning that ‘’you’re going to have to come back’’. Virtually every line of their gripping debates could and should be isolated and unpacked by viewers of the film; rarely has such a testament to the efficacy of the Socratic method appeared on screen.  Their intellectual sparring culminates near the film’s end as they saunter gloomily through Clifton Street Cemetery, mutually accusing each other of copping out of their ideals. At the argument’s climax, Maeve compares Britain’s treatment of Ireland to man’s treatment of woman, warning that, if Liam and his counterparts should someday be successful in their struggles, then women will ‘’recognize you as the next stage in their struggle’’. In a film which thrives upon exploring the intersection between nationalism and feminism, this stands as perhaps its most radical political expression.

The film’s challenging subject matter is reflected in the austere visual style which Murphy and director of photography Robert Smith choose to adopt. Considering that the film is set in an environment which features constant, often unexpected intrusions into the daily life of Belfast’s citizens, the cagey 4:3 aspect ratio feels suitably oppressive when viewed on a large screen, as if the characters must struggle in order to escape beyond the borders of the frame. This is further enhanced by the usage of a number of internal framing devices, often doorways, which further squash the characters in to fit their surroundings.  During the tense night-time scenes, the camera creeps behind characters or flits about from left to right, suggestive of the widespread paranoia which haunts the streets. Maeve’s increasingly disillusioned father, Martin, played by Mark Mulholland, returns in a series of scenes throughout the film during which he generally tells a story involving the local population, and these are among the film’s most intriguing moments from a visual perspective. In the first such instance, the camera suddenly wheels around to Martin as he interrupts his wife during a story, and frames him in the middle of the boxy screen staring directly into the camera as he completes a long, thickly-accented monologue. These scenes which feature Martin staring into the camera increasingly come to feel as if he is breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly. The subtle increase in intensity each time this occurs reinforces a sense of desperation and fear which has creeped into his character, culminating in the heart-breaking, quietly fearful words which he tells himself at the film’s closure. The film therefore arises from the lineage of European modernist cinema not only in its bold subject matter, but also in the way it creatively manipulates the filmic tools to give rise to new modes of artistic expression.

Maeve is comparable to Seamus Heaney’s famous ‘’bog poems’’ in the sense that it holds an abstract mirror up to this unspeakable Irish tragedy in a way which seems to shed cognitive and emotional light upon the subject without offering any form of trite solution to what is an endlessly thorny situation. The film is a whirlpool of ideas, of narratives, of memories, described by Murphy as a ‘’political document rather than a film’’. It feels like a political document not only during the war of words and ideologies at its core, but also in its harrowing evocation of a city where children play in the presence of armed soldiers, and searchlights cut through the dark streets like knives. One of the nation’s finest films, Maeve is a brave, important film, whose intellectual honesty and defiant spirit ought to inspire generations of Irish filmmakers.

 

 

Maeve screened on Thursday, 15th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Town of Strangers

 

Loretta Goff meet the locals in the County Galway town of Gort, in Treasa O’Brien’s Town of Strangers, with a diverse cast, including young Irish Travellers, English New Age hippies, Brazilian factory workers and Syrian refugees.

 

Before the screening of Treasa O’Brien’s new documentary, Town of Strangers, at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, her short The Blow-In (2016) was played. Both feature the town of Gort in County Galway, and those newer residents to the town, considered “blow-ins” or “strangers”. The Blow In is narrated by a French woman who we meet at the start of the film, cleverly framed with an uprooted tree by O’Brien. This woman’s voiceover explains that, as a result of moving around a lot during her youth, she often felt like an outsider and developed a habit of observing people through her windows. This is used as a thread throughout this short documentary as she “looks in” on the lives of several of Gort’s residents.

A narrative thread similarly runs through Town of Strangers, but this time it is the director herself, who interweaves elements of her own life with those of the individuals she interviews in the film, notably drawing together similarities between them. The premise behind this documentary was an open-call film audition O’Brien held in Gort, from which emerged several stories that she felt compelled to follow. In the Q&A following the film, the director explained that she initially had the idea of making an experimental film based off of a script she was working on located in Gort, tackling the subject of changing Ireland and what that meant to a small town. However, she was “very surprised and really moved” by the stories people shared and her experimental film turned into a documentary.

In Town of Strangers we meet individuals from around the world—Afghanistan, Brazil, England, Ireland and Syria—who have all come to call Gort home. As these individuals open up about their lives we are invited to learn about their different backgrounds and unique stories, but what stands out are the commonalities between them (and ourselves) at basic emotional levels. Answering questions about what “home” means to them, about their families and about their dreams, the participants in this documentary reveal their fears, insecurities, hopes and strengths both through what they say and what they don’t. O’Brien subtly catches the whole range of emotions in quiet moments where the camera lingers on individuals’ faces, allowing the audience to read, and connect with, them. Discussing the film, O’Brien said that she was “trying to show empathy in a cinematic way”, and she certainly does.

All of the individuals are presented as different types of “outsiders”—with immigrants, hippies and Travellers among them. However, what emerges throughout the film more than a sense of living between two cultures, though that is evident, is what O’Brien notes as “displacement from the family”. It is through O’Brien’s exploration of this, along with its associated loneliness, that she is able to connect her audience with these “strangers”. Portraying them with empathy and understanding, rather than looking away from difficult stories, reveals just how familiar these individuals really are.

Speaking after the screening, O’Brien said that she “wanted to make a film for our times”. She went on to note the rise in right-wing politics and the fear that is developed by not fully understanding large events, explaining that, with this film, she wanted to bring things back to the personal and focus on connection. Ultimately, she hopes that this documentary contributes to a “shift in your consciousness [in terms of] how you might perceive people”.

Town of Strangers visually challenges perceptions—juxtaposing shots of the Gort Show (agricultural, baking and animal events) with rappers and dancers and Brazilian shops—in order to open up our understanding of rural Ireland, and reinforces this with its interwoven narrative of deeply moving, personal stories. All in all, the documentary offers a sensitive and engaging depiction of human connection, with all its fragilities, and, in doing so, beautifully reflects on contemporary rural Ireland.

 

Town of Strangers screened on Tuesday, 13th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

 

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Irish Film Review: The Camino Voyage

DIR: Dónal O’Ceilleachair •  DOP: Bob Kelly • ED: Síle Ní Fhlaibhín • CAST: Liam Holden, Danny Sheehy, Breanndán Ó’Beaglaoich, Breanndán Pháid Ó’Muircheartaigh, Glen Hansard

 

Donal O’Ceilleachair’s film is an inspiring tale of hardship and immense work. The story is laced with the euphoria of people doing something unimaginable in today’s modern world. Four men set sail on an epic 2,500 km modern-day Celtic odyssey. Renowned Irish musician, Brendan Begley; distinguished artist, Liam Holden; skilled stonemason, Brendan Moriarty; and celebrated writer and poet, Danny Sheehy, undertake a journey that their ancestors would have done, from Ireland to Santiago de Compostela.

Their ancestors sailed to Coruña in Northern Spain, and walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostela from there. These men did the same, sailing in their ‘Naomhóg’, a traditional West Kerry rowing Curragh/boat. Neither young nor hardened men of the sea, they were writers, musicians and artists. This pilgrimage was an ode to their kindred predecessors. En route, they had to traverse rocky coast line, cross seas and work up rivers all for the hope that they can complete the journey. To do what these men did, all in a Naomhóg built by their own hands, would be thought impossible, but this group of artists  showed true passion for the beyond-demanding journey. Not only this, but it was all done with a smile.

As Danny says of the sweat, blood and blisters journey, “People might say we’re out of our minds… you need some of that because  if you’re sensible all the time – sure you’d do nothing.”

While the “crazy” journey is the subject of the film, it is the people who are its heart. The crew – who are joined by Glen Hansard along the way – are an infectious manifestation of courage and conviction with a true grá for adventure. This feature  documents this pilgrimage skillfully and tracks their battles they face along the way. These men saw the impossible as improbable and made the improbable doable. Their message is clear: no matter who you are or the road you’ve travelled, if you decide to do a 2,500km journey in a rowing boat then why don’t you?

Sadly, as Danny continued this Naomhóg journey south in 2017, he tragically lost his life when the Naomhóg overturned. A truly wonderfully inspiring man, whom this beautiful film is a testament  to.

 

Sean Dooley

97 minutes
PG (see IFCO for details)
The Camino Voyage is released 16th November 2018

 

 

 
THE CAMINO VOYAGE – A 2,500 km MODERN DAY CELTIC ODYSSEY from Anú Pictures on Vimeo.

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Free Radicals

 

Vjekoslav Vondra was at the Cork Film Festival to take in a selection of experimental film works screened in memory of Josephine Massarella (1957 – 2018).

 

Using a church as a cinema may be unconventional, but Free Radicals is a selection of experimental shorts which are exactly that and the venue of Triskel Christchurch actually helps the films in leaving a stronger impression. To some experimental film may appear as just flashing imagery and loud noises nonsensically put together and because of that they refrain from watching. Experimental film is by its very nature unorthodox and will always struggle to reach a wide audience. For this reason, I’d imagine that the organisers weren’t expecting a high attendance. Nevertheless they must have been delighted with the respectably high turnout for the Free Radicals programme screened in such beautiful surroundings.

Right of the bat we were presented with an interesting picture, which we got to see twice due to some technical issues, Selfie Test #1 by Sybille Bauer. It depicts two women trying to find the perfect pose for a selfie in black and white followed by ominous music, leaving us with an uncomfortable feeling. During the first screening there were some imperfections on the projection which seemed intentional to everyone seeing the film for the first time and you could say that they actually contributed to the uneasy feeling the film was trying to incite. On the second showing though, another detail could have been noticed that shows the creative ability of the director. The footage was taken with the framerate adjusted so that the camera would pick up the flicker of the lights. Even though this short film is  only two minutes long, it has a great build-up resulting in a relieving climax.

Triskel’s very own head of cinema Chris O’Neill also had a film screened and was present among the audience as well. His piece Fragments was made using out-takes from a project that was shot 16 years ago. We see a woman taking out a cigarette and preparing to smoke it and the film evokes a strong sense of anticipation and a feeling of frustration. After we witness the woman taking the cigarette out of the box it appears as if the same couple of shots are just repeating themselves but the transitions in between each shot help in making them feel different. Additionally, it is hard to distinguish why these shots are out-takes as we would often see them during the credits of comedies so we expect them to be just actors breaking character or forgetting their lines. Here the issues may be technical or visual ones since there are no lines and the character is just standing in place with a seemingly normal face expression.

Another film that left a good impression is Abduction Scars by Jorge Núñez. It was the closest of the bunch to having a mainstream narrative, or at least slightly resembling it. It was also the longest film showed at 21 minutes long and at some points it felt stretched out, but overall it works well because it adds to the mystery behind it. The mystery that we learn more and more about throughout the film revolves around a bed and the man who is or should be in it but is not because of an abduction. This mystery also creates a spine-chilling atmosphere that some Hollywood horror productions could only dream of having, and here the flashing imagery and loud noises are justified and furthermore required to create such a terrifying environment and drag us into it. The editing implies that the character is having trouble sleeping and is tortured by a nightmare but it also makes us feel as if we are the ones who are having this nightmare.

Ultimately, there were certainly a number of films that stood out among the rest. Other films worth noting are: Mark Jenkin’s David Bowie is Dead and Vertical Shapes in a Horizontal Landscape, which feel as if they are the same length, even though the difference is 11 minutes, because of the pace at which the narrator speaks and the pace of the visuals; Mike Hoolboom’s 3 Dreams of Horses, which presents three different scenarios revolving around horses, admitting only one actually includes real horses, accompanied by contrasting beautiful visuals for each one; and 165708 by Josephine Massarella, who unfortunately passed away before receiving the news that her film would be shown at the festival, thus the screening was shown in her memory.

If you already enjoy experimental film, Free Radicals is definitely worth your time, and if you haven’t yet been exposed to experimental film, this is a good gateway.

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Cellar Door

John Finbarr McGarr goes beyond the Cellar Door, which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.

Cellar Door is Viko Nikci’s second feature film as a writer (his debut being 2015’s Fading Away) and his first as a director. The film follows a young woman, Aidie, played by Karen Hassan, who is trying to recall the last thing she remembers and soon realises that her child is missing.

Cellar Door is both an interesting and frustrating film simultaneously. Nearly every compliment that can be given to this film can also be seen as a flaw, depending on the person. For one, it lacks the traditional narrative of most films, instead opting for what seems like a directionless montage of disjointed scenes. Simply describing it wouldn’t do it justice as it’s more akin to an experience than a story.

The audience is learning information at the same time as the protagonist is, allowing for one to get into the same state of confusion as the protagonist. The cinematography also plays an important role in this confusion; the majority of scenes are filmed with a handheld camera, giving a sense of disorientation and instability. Cellar Door also lacks any establishing shots, being filmed in either close-up or medium shots. This is crucial, as it makes the whole film feel entrapping and claustrophobic.

However, what makes it frustrating is when watching it (for the first time); one has no idea what is going on. It is also not very clear what is happening to the protagonist, as Nikci plays his cards very close to his chest. Because of this, everyone watching this film would each have their own individual theories as to what the true nature of the film is.

But the audience is not supposed to understand what is being presented on the screen, as stated by producer David Collins in a Q&A after the screening of the film at Cork Film Festival, who also went on to say how much of a subjective experience the film is. Depending on who you are, you may find the lack of tangible answers intriguing or off-putting.

Easily the best aspect about Cellar Door is the editing. Most scenes bleed into the next seamlessly in a dream-like flow. As a result, the film never feels jarring or disruptive, despite the drastic change in setting that can occur at any moment. These smooth transitions are what helps the film succeed; the protagonist hops from location to location so frequently that these transitions help ease the audience to the next scene.

The film borrows some elements from horror films, and I would consider this the least successful part of it. There are multiple jump scares where a character screams or makes a loud noise after a prolonged silence, which happens so often that you could predict when the next one is about to happen.

Regardless, Cellar Door is a great film with interesting cinematography, a solid performance by Karen Hassan and some fantastic editing. It is clear that Nikci and Hassan have put a lot of work and research into the creation of this film, allowing it to get better the more you think about it. While it may not be for everyone, I would recommend this to anyone interested in seeing something weird, different and unique, as it is an intense experience that won’t ever be replicated.

 

 

Cellar Door screened on Sunday, 11th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Curious Works of Roger Doyle

 

Loretta Goff goes on a journey through The Curious Works of Roger Doyle, Brian Lally’s documentary about Roger Doyle who, over the course of five decades, has created an impressive body of work ranging from minimalist piano and electronic pieces to orchestral works.

Preceding the screening of The Curious Works of Roger Doyle at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, Roger Doyle himself performed live on the piano. Doyle synched this performance with footage of himself in concert in Beijing six years earlier (in 2012), material that was cut from the documentary. As the onscreen Doyle plays, he is superimposed with images of and from a moving train, visually mirroring the motion of his fast-paced music. This synchronicity was echoed through Doyle’s live performance, creating a synergy between the digital and the human, as well as the old and the new—something that pervades both Doyle’s work and Brian Lally’s documentary about the composer.

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle is framed around Doyle’s 2016 electronic opera, “Heresy”, performed at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, but covers five decades of his career. This intertwining of the current and the previous reflects Doyle’s style as a composer, bringing together classical forms and instruments (e.g. opera and the piano) with electronic technology to create his own style. Interspersed with footage of his opera—from the early stages of its approval and rehearsals to its live performances—are interviews with Doyle’s collaborators over the years, archival footage and several of his past performances. Though dubbed the “Godfather of Irish Electronica”, Doyle’s music has taken him across the world and we see that in the film.

Lally gives space to the music in this documentary, setting aside several sections for Doyle’s performances to play out onscreen. These are often combined with corresponding images that help tell the story of the songs to the audience. For instance, as Doyle plays his song “Chalant” in Paris, shots of the city and its people at night populate the screen. As new faces appear with each beat, a whimsical portrait of the city unfolds. While this shapes our perspective of the song, each musical break in the documentary primarily focuses on the music itself, allowing the audience to become immersed in it and reflect. Doyle’s music invites its listeners to take part in an experience and Lally’s documentary allows for this.

At the same time, we learn about the methods and motives behind the music from both Doyle and his collaborators. Doyle describes the influences behind several of his songs and his use of technology, explaining: “I revise, that’s my process”. Olwen Fouéré, who formed Operating Theatre with him, describes his music as “from the mothership”, noting how their unique styles connected in such a way that allowed them to create musical theatre pieces together for several years.

Equally, several of Ireland’s prominent filmmakers in the 1970s were drawn to Doyle’s music. In fact, Bob Quinn, who collaborated with Doyle several times, also used the composer as a subject of a 1978 documentary for RTÉ. Joe Comerford, who grew up with Doyle, explains that they worked in parallel on the short experimental film Emptigon, simultaneously developing a language of film and composition. A similar sentiment is expressed by Cathal Black, who explains that music creates “a sort of invisible story” in film and Doyle’s was able to perfectly match the film’s narrative in Pigs.

In Lally’s impressive documentary, the story of the music is much more visible and, during the Q&A following the screening, the director expressed that, though he did most of the work on the film, he had Windmill Lane work on the sound mix as that was “quite important” for this project. Equally it was Doyle’s music that inspired the project. Lally became aware of Doyle’s work in the early 1990s but started the documentary in 2005 when he saw Doyle playing goldfish bowls at Whelan’s in Dublin and thought: “this is remarkable, someone should be filming this.”

Describing Doyle as an “avant-garde” composer, Lally explained: “the more I delved into it, the more fascinated I became”, noting that, particularly when he struggled to find funding for the project, “there were certainly points when the music kept me going.” Screen Ireland funding eventually saw the documentary through to completion and the result is a thoughtful exploration of Roger Doyle’s music and career. As Doyle expressed in the Q&A: “I am constantly curious and constantly looking for new ways of doing things.” The Curious Works of Roger Doyle expresses just that, bringing the audience along for the journey.

 

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle screened on Sunday, 11th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Sooner or Later

 

Jack O’Dwyer finds much to like in Sooner or Later, Luke Morgan’s no-budget feature from Galway filmmaking collective Project Spatula.

 

Luke Morgan, standing before a full crowd in the Gate cinema, proclaims that, in years to come, ‘’we’re gonna remember this day when our little film screened in Cork.’’ He is there to introduce his feature-length debut, entitled Sooner or Later, the latest project by an artistic collective from Galway known as ‘’Project Spatula’’, described by Morgan as a ‘’rock band, except for films’’, which is loosely comprised of 30-40 members who move fluidly from film to film, churning out shorts, features and other projects in spite of the complete absence of any solid budget or sponsorship. This film should rightfully mark the point at which Morgan and his band of dedicated players move from obscurity to celebrity; for while the film may be self-described by Morgan as ‘’rough around the edges’’, it is also brave, exuberant and comedically potent throughout the majority of its 95-minute runtime.

At the core of the film are Thaddeus and Sally, two strikingly original Irish characters played brilliantly by real-life husband and wife pairing Aeneas and Anna O’Donnell. Thaddeus is a truly ineffable character, part folkloric hero in the vein of Oisín and part cantankerous lout in the vein of Father Jack Hackett, with a spindly gait like Nosferatu and a leathered face like Mick Jagger. Matching his eccentricity perfectly is Sally, scatter-brained and prone to getting caught up in fads, yet wholly capable of delivering razor-sharp wit in a way reminiscent of the late Carrie Fisher. As an elderly pair who yearn to escape the confines of their retirement home and elope to Kerry in order to commit suicide on their own terms, the couple’s seasoned chemistry bursts off the screen from the first frame. Indeed, the film’s opening scene is an absurdly comedic bathtub sequence, lit primarily by candlelight, depicting an intimate moment between the two lovers being rudely interrupted by a Nurse Ratched-like member of staff at the care home. Featuring full-frontal nudity, hysterical one-liners, and a Lynchian debate about the spelling of a suicide note, the film’s opening is a stunning introduction to a film fuelled by exuberant, darkly comedic brilliance.

Acting as the foil to the mischievous duo is Alice, Thaddeus’s granddaughter, played by Muireann NÍ Raghaillach. She cares deeply for her erratic grandfather, and has remained weary of Sally’s role in his life for the duration of the couple’s six-month long relationship. It is her care and concern for Thaddeus which leads to her being duped into driving the pair to the old family home in Kerry, despite the fact that the residents have no permission to leave the care facility. Once at the family home, Alice discovers the pair’s suicide pact after a commemorative urn is delivered three days early to the house – just one example of how the film’s plot is structured upon well-executed dark comedy set-pieces. From this point in the film, Alice has a troubled scowl upon her face, not aided by the arrival of her hapless ex-boyfriend Nigel, a man ‘’easier to push over than a cereal box’’, played by co-writer Peter Shine. Alice as a character is not as memorable or engaging as Thaddeus or Sally, which is understandable given the difficulty of playing it straight in a world defined by comedic madness. The relative weakness of Alice’s scenes within the film does not reflect upon the talents of Ní Raghaillach, who performs capably in a challenging, emotional role.

Morgan, as well as engaging in all aspects of filmmaking, is also a poet and novelist, noting in the past the similarities between writing a poem and writing a screenplay, due to the exactitude and economy of language that is needed to be effective in both. The script, written by Conor Quinlan and Peter Shine, is infused with this ethos, with great attention paid to the clever turn-of-phrase and cutting, precise punchline. This is particularly relevant in the case of Thaddeus, who speaks in a sort of impactful lilt, sometimes humorous and sometimes empathetic; each line of dialogue, no matter how inane or bizarre, falls from his lips in natural, poetic fashion, which is testament to the quality of the script. After the film’s screening, Morgan explained the unique way in which the script was assembled. The director provided the actors with certain situations and told them to improvise based on their own knowledge of their characters. These interactions were livestreamed to a team of ten or so writers in a different room, who listened intently and took down the most memorable phrases, working them into future drafts of the script. This approach leads to an abundance of memorable lines. “Last time I met my girlfriend’s family, the Soviet Union was still going strong”, “I want to remain a human…not drugged up to me eyeballs in a care home’’, and Thaddeus’s oft-repeated insult “shut up bonehead!”. In addition to such quotable lines, the script contains numerous self-contained scenes of well-plotted, escalating humour. The hilarity reaches its peak during a night-time scene which somehow brings together a daddy long legs, an erection, and a misinterpreted suicide attempt to form a feat of sustained comic brilliance which compelled the entire Cork audience to uproarious laughter. 

As Morgan himself admirably admits, the film is slightly bumpy from a technical perspective. It is far too easy to dwell upon unavoidable faults which plague the film such as inconsistent lighting, uneven sound design, and a conventional mischievous soundtrack which repeats awkwardly throughout the film’s first act. Given the virtual absence of any budget at all, these are easily ignored, especially in light of the inarguable directorial vision and ambition which pervade the film. Morgan’s compositions often convey the tone of a scene before any words are spoken. This is the case in a gloriously mundane scene between Sally and Nigel, wherein the actors’ postures communicate their mutual discomfort more effectively than words ever could. Similarly, a tragicomic shot of a melancholy Thaddeus sitting among party decorations (which he himself had put up in celebration of his own death) is perhaps the most affecting in the entire film. The film’s rural Kerry setting, which also includes locations shot in Galway and West Cork, is evoked vividly throughout the film, especially during two poignant scenes between Thaddeus and Alice that take place on a beach which plays a symbolic role in the family’s identity.

Redolent of Dylan Thomas’s famous poem ‘’Do not go gentle into that good night’’, the film is a courageous portrayal of dying on one’s own terms rather than simply fading away in conventional fashion. This mature subject matter is, in Morgan’s own words, Project Spatula’s latest attempt ‘’to shout as loud as we can’’ until the industry takes notice. If the standard set by Sooner or Later is maintained or surpassed with future efforts, then it cannot be long until the Galway collective’s calls are heard; the film is a sparkling paean to life, death, and all the love and hardships in between.

 

 

Sooner or Later screened on Saturday, 10th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

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Review: Suspiria

DIR: Luca Guadagnino • WRI: David Kajganich • DOP: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom • ED: Walter Fasano • DES: Inbal Weinberg • PRO: Bradley J. Fischer, Luca Guadagnino, David Kajganich, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Marco Morabito, William Sherak, Silvia Venturini Fendi • MUS: Thom Yorke • CAST: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick

Luca Guadagnino catapulted to acclaim when he directed the startling coming of age drama Call Me By Your Name, about an American teenager confronting the nature of his sexuality. Suspiria is his eagerly awaited follow up, itself a remake of the cult Dario Argento horror movie. But Guadagnino’s film, by contrast, is a car crash, and not even the lilting beauty of Thom Yorke’s masterful score can save it.

The updated film follows Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) as an addled teen from the American deep south who ventures to Berlin to escape her Christian upbringing and study at the prestigious Markos Dance Acadamy. Suspiria brings us into a duplicitous world where under the exterior of reality lies a menacing truth. It’s a world where fantasy and reality are at odds with one another and where characters are gradually lured further and further into illusion.

Suspiria is a film lost in its own arrogance and ego, and it’s a shame because its impossible not to acknowledge the potential for a really fresh psychological horror film to have been made here. By all accounts, the updated setting of Berlin 1977, and the political and social backdrop of RAF bombing are seriously great ideas, that really could have elevated it from the original Suspiria, but sadly these ideas are never fully utilized. From the very first scene, this is a film that tries to establish itself as an intellectual work or comment, but there’s no authentic connection or any clear thematic throughline, so the movie implodes under the weight of its own self-imposed seriousness. David Kajganich’s script is sprawling and lacks any coherent thematic focus, its a script so overcooked with intellectual ideas that it loses sight of a simpler more honest approach.

In terms of its visual aesthetic Suspiria excels. Shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, whose masterful lighting creates a profound sense of unease and horror. His work is complemented further by the production design by Inbal Weinberg, which really encapsulates that period in post-war Berlin, the cold muted colour palette of Berlin is nothing short of oppressive.

Susie Bannion is played by Dakota Johnson who brings a yearning desire and sexuality to the part. By contrast, Tilda Swinton plays Madame Blanc with an unsettling mix of militant hostility and affection, she also plays Dr. Klemperer and Helena Markos. They’re supported by a highly dynamic and versatile cast, which includes Chloe Grace Moretz and Mia Goth, among others. The performances are highly impressive, at times they’re death-defying and electric, but ultimately the cast is let down by an emotionally stilted script.

Overall, the use of violence is gratuitous and without any merit, had it been in service of a fully developed story and characters it wouldn’t have been an issue, (Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is a great recent example). But there are no real characters here, just flat caricatures sugar-coated with fake blood and overwrought concepts, and no one with a heart that beats could ever really care about them.

At its core its a film about the cost of illusion, and about how our search for meaning and value is often compromised by investing belief in illusions and desires. But ultimately the script is far too muddled to make this clear. The writer and director, seem to have mistaken abstraction for a lack of emotional clarity, this is a false assumption. Ingmar Bergman’s use of abstraction in cinema has never been bettered, he was a genius, and that’s partly because even when he presented us with something that didn’t make logical narrative sense like in Persona, it made clear emotional sense. This inherent understanding is totally missing at the heart of Suspiria, which is why anyone trying to find deep meaning in it should be wary, or at the very least skeptical. Beneath the guise of its own stylized aesthetic, this film struggles to find any real meaning and it does so at the expense of the audience’s engagement. This isn’t some serious comment on feminism, or motherhood or anything else, this is a film so absorbed in the concept of its own greatness, that it loses sight of its own theme, until it withers and dies on screen before us.

Michael Lee

152 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Suspiria s released 16th November 2018

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Float Like a Butterfly

Loretta Goff finds a voice to the voiceless in Carmel Winters’ film Float Like a Butterfly, which opened the 63rd Cork Film Festival.

The second feature-film of writer-director Carmel Winters, Float Like a Butterfly was the Opening Gala of the 63rd Cork Film Festival and screened again the following day, with packed out audiences at both showings. Introducing the second screening of the film, the Festival’s Programme Director, Michael Hayden, described it as “highly intelligent” and “full of humanity”. This proved to be true as audiences connected with the story unfolding onscreen over the next hour and forty minutes, laughing, gasping, clapping and crying along the way.

Float Like a Butterfly, set in rural Ireland in the 1960s, follows the story of Frances (Hazel Doupe), a fifteen-year-old Irish Traveller, as she comes of age amidst turmoil and fights back against societal expectations. The film opens with a young Frances sharing a happy moment with her family—boxing with her father and listening to her mother sing. This is quickly shattered with the arrival of Guards demanding that Frances be brought to school. Trying to take the child leads to an altercation that results in the tragic death of Frances’ mother, who is pushed by a Guard, and the arrest of her father, who fights back.

Several years later, we see Frances carrying on her father’s fighting spirit while channelling her hero, Muhammad Ali. She stands strong against the discrimination and vitriol she and her family face, reminding herself that they are “the greatest” (like Ali), and resists prescribed gender roles, focusing on boxing rather than the marriage she is continuously pushed towards. However, when her father, Michael (Dara Devaney) returns from prison as a broken man struggling with alcoholism, Frances’ strength is put to the test as she tries to hold her family together.

Tensions boil over when Michael takes Frances and her younger brother on the road. As the trio begin their journey, they come to a split in the path and, after pausing for a moment, Michael comments that “there’s no wrong way” and allows the horse to choose their direction. This neatly reflects the overall position of the film—that it is OK to follow your own path—and acknowledges the many directions one’s life might take. However, Michael does not seem to follow his own philosophy for most of the film, undermining his daughter’s passion for boxing and her more “masculine” strengths, while scolding his young son for being too “soft”.

The acting in this film is strong across the board, but Hazel Doupe stands out, expressing great emotional depth and variety throughout the film. Several shots focus on Doupe’s face, allowing it to guide the audience through both her character’s experiences and their own emotional responses to the film. Through Doupe’s subtle and nuanced performance, Frances becomes both a strong, determined individual and representative of humanity (and our fears, struggles, hopes and successes) more broadly. The audience connects with her, feels her pain and roots for her. In the Q&A following the film, Winters explained that the “character of Frances drove this… she had a story to tell and she didn’t let me go until I told it.”

Locating this film in the past gives it a mythological quality that softens and romanticises some of the tough issues the film addresses, but these remain affecting and the audience can easily relate to them. In the Q&A, Winters stated: “What I really want is everyone to open their hearts” and expressed that she hoped the film allows audiences to connect with their pain, but also find beauty. She explained: “That’s where I come from as an artist … how can I serve, whatever that might be … I want to give a voice to the voiceless.”

Float Like a Butterfly is a standout film that tells a unique story while simultaneously tackling a myriad of topical social issues relevant not only in Ireland, but across the world. It captures humanity at its best and worst, offering a message of hope throughout.

 

Float Like a Butterfly screened on Friday. 9th & Saturday, 10th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

 

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Review: Widows

 

DIR: Steve McQueen • WRI: Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen • DOP: Sean Bobbitt • ED: Joe Walker • DES: Adam Stockhausen • PRO: Iain Canning, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Emile Sherman, Sue Bruce Smith • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki

Genre and literary forms often don’t mix that well. At least that’s the consensus of snobs and people that think Nicolas Cage’s best film is Leaving Las Vegas. But genre cinema has had a great renaissance recently with the likes of Mandy, The Shape of Water and Mission Impossible: Fallout all being heaped with praise. The more highbrow, literary if you will, form of cinema has always been in good stead. But when mixed together something magical can happen between the two. It depends on who the mixer is but when it’s Steve McQueen magic is almost guaranteed.

So it is with Widows. When four criminals are killed in a police ambush the man they were stealing from, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), approaches their widows to get his money back. Veronica (Viola Davis) the widow of leader Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) approaches the other widows fiery Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), naïve Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and workaholic Belle (Cynthia Erivo) to complete their husbands’ last score. Mixed up in this brutal tale are politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), Jamal’s sadistic brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) and Jack’s aging father Tom (Robert Duvall).

Trauma rests at the heart of McQueen’s films. Whether that trauma consumes its victims or is weaponised by them depends on the film but in Widows it becomes a weapon that often seems to harm both sides. Anyone that knows grief will tell you it is often raw. It can burn like fire, bleed like a wound or chill like ice but it is always there as a blistering, cutting force on the soul. Widows examines it from all angles. Characters often face it as much as they flounder in it. Whether it’s grief over an irreparable relationship, a dead partner or stolen millions. It’s there and it bleeds.

McQueen co-wrote Widows with Gone Girl novelist and screenwriter Gillian Flynn. After Sharp Objects this year Flynn may as well be considered an expert in trauma as a tool in genre. The characters of Veronica and Alice are the strongest with Davis plastering a stony, glamorous veneer over Veronica’s crumbling emotional walls. Debicki meanwhile portrays Alice as a woman thrilled by the newfound power that criminality offers her. The relationships the widows shared with their husbands are outlined in brief scenes that get done in two minutes what most films take two hours to thrash out. All are complex, loving in their own way and all have their problems.

It’s been a bad year for heist films. Den of Thieves tried to do Heat with Gerard Butler, which speaks for itself. Ocean’s 8 was all class and no character. Widows is the late-year entry this genre was desperate for. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt shoots Chicago as a grim, cold, claustrophobic place. Hans Zimmer’s score ratchets up the tension and glimmers with soul. Kaluuya and Henry radiate a sinister silence while Neeson inverts the prototypical tough guy he often plays into a pathetic, broken man.

Widows might not rank highly among McQueen’s fans but it’s the only one of his films I’d consistently watch again as a film fan. It’s a film with plenty of muscle on strong bones and rich blood coursing through its veins. The same things can be said of Hunger or Shame or 12 Years A Slave but it’s hard to watch any of those and come away feeling good. McQueen and Flynn indulge themselves in escapism but Widows never feels less incisive for it. It is a masterful film made by a man at the peak of his powers. It’s not Heat, it’s better.

 

Andrew Carroll

129 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Widows is released 5th November 2018

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Favourite

 

Charline Fernandez takes a break from duck racing and pineapple eating to send us this review of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite from the Cork Film Festival.

 

Royal satire The Favourite is a brilliant dark comedy, shattering notions of aristocratic decency with glee. Screening as part of Cork Film Festival, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest had its audience at the Everyman Theatre on Saturday in howls of laughter.

Set in the early 18th century, England and France are at war. However, the real battle is taking place in the Royal Palace. Two cousins are fighting for the attention of the childish and ill Queen Anne (Olivia Colman – The Iron Lady, The Lobster). Her closest friend is Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz – Youth, Disobedience), a strong, determined woman with a sharp tongue. Sarah’s distant cousin Abigail (Emma Stone – La La Land) is a former noble fallen on hard times attempting to social climb.

Although one could expect a formal atmosphere stressing a rigid and romanticized type of life, The Favourite subverts all expectations of typical historical drama, feeling like a breath of fresh air. Oscillating between tense and grotesque moments, the narrative keeps surprising the viewer. A recurrent element playing on these contrasts is the presence of tamed ducks – who race for the court’s pleasure – punctuating the conversations with their quacks.

Breaking the stereotype of the old princess movies, one scene shows new servant Abigail in a wood picking up plant medicine. Suddenly, a charismatic young man appears on his horse looking at the beautiful seemingly innocent person. However, the tables are soon turned when the lady bites the lip of the noble in her bedroom and literally kicks his ass during a twisted sort of role play in the same forest.

The subversion even extends into the editing as The Favourite is happy playing with the codes of filmmaking. Scenes fade in on one another resulting in a corny superimposition of images, which creates a dissonance between old-school historical drama and Lanthimos’ use of more provocative elements of modern filmmaking. Divided into several acts, the titles are often taken from a character’s venomous line.

Some of the humour even dares to cross the line of historical inaccuracies. Sofia Coppola had already challenged the conventional ballroom scene in Marie-Antoinette, having its central royal figures dancing to punk-rock band Siouxsie and The Banshees. Here, Lanthimos takes it further with a dance between Lady Sarah and a noble that starts old-school but quickly switches hilariously into more contemporary choreography with break dance and hip-hop movements.

The script is just one verbal swordplay after another, particularly the scenes involving Nicholas Hoult’s Robert Harley, a master manipulator campaigning for lower taxes. While its three central women shine throughout, the X-Men actor has his fair share of the screenplay’s provocative lines. When Abigail asks him for a favour, he dryly replies: “Favour is a breeze that shifts direction all the time. Then in an instant you’re back to sleeping with a bunch of scabrous whores.”

The cinematography from Robbie Ryan adds to the non-conformity of the film. Fish-eye lenses are strategically placed in the corner of the enormous rooms while low-angle shots breeze through endless corridors. These two combined elements create a sense of distorted reality. The same goes for the soundtrack announcing the tone from the beginning. Although it is a classical score in the opening scene, the long silences in the melody create some dissonance. As the film continues, electronic notes become more discordant.

While The Favourite is hysterically funny, Lanthimos’ does not skirt over the darkness of the story he is telling, leaving it to linger heavily in the last act. The decadence of the members of the court leads to a tragic ending where all protagonists are prisoners – for better or worse – of their own condition despite all their efforts to escape.

In Lanthimos’ satire, power corrupts. Yet, to his credit he never forgets the people caught in the power plays.

 

The Favourite screened on Saturday, 10th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Grinch

DIR: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier • WRI: Michael LeSieur, Tommy Swerdlow • ED: Chris Cartagena • PRO: Janet Healy, Christopher Meledandri • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Angela Lansbury

 

Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures, the team behind the box office phenomenon that is the Despicable Me franchise, have joined forces again to create a new adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. The Grinch is a new animated retelling of the story of the Grinch and his hatred of Christmas. He lives with his loyal dog Max in the isolation of Mount Crumpet and stockpiles enough food to avoid entering the local town of Whoville; a town that fully endorses the celebration of Christmas and the spreading of Christmas cheer. The Grinch is “a mean one” and his miserable cynical contempt of Christmas results in a significant disliking of the Whos of Whoville, who are planning to celebrate Christmas three times larger than previous years. Hearing this information, the Grinch decides to become an anti-Santa Claus and ruin Christmas morning for the Whos by stealing their presents. Although, Cindy Lou, a young Whoville resident trying to ask the real Santa to help her mother, may be the key in reversing the Grinch’s festive outlook.

The Grinch adheres to the original storyline of the Dr. Seuss book, and the 2000 live-action adaptation How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but the animation here is so strong that it will surely revitalize the story for younger audience members. The computer-generated animation is very impressive and it brings the story to life in a manner the live-action version couldn’t. There are textures here that look extremely life-like, such as the fur on Max the dog or the film’s mise-en-scene that contains many scenic landscapes that appear real. The bright colours will also hold the attention of younger viewers and The Grinch is a film that should be enjoyed by this demographic. There are beats that will be appreciated more by this audience and the characterisation of the Grinch is more tame compared to Jim Carrey’s Grinch, which bordered on disturbing, especially with Carrey’s excessive scenery-chewing.

The film’s supporting characters also offer lots of fun, such as Max the dog and Fred the reindeer, whose heavy appearance looks like he “ate all of the other reindeer”. Kenan Thompson enthusiastically voices Bricklebaum, a Who who is too nice for the Grinch to comprehend, and Cindy Lou (Cameron Seely) is a determined child that other children should respect whilst seeing the film. The Mayor of Whoville is voiced by the iconic Angela Lansbury, which older viewers should appreciate. Yet, as its his character’s film, Benedict Cumberbatch sounds like an odd vocal casting decision for the character. His accent is somewhat dubious at times and it could have been amped up to a Jim Carrey-esque level. The Grinch’s Grinch is toned down to an almost-human level throughout the film in comparison to the live-action version and it might be another factor in appealing to the film’s primary young audience.

However, The Grinch strays far away from the middling live-action version and the team behind animated successes such as Sing and Minions took the right decision to choose animation as the outlet to retell this beloved Dr. Seuss story. Older viewers may not appreciate the film as much as younger viewers, but The Grinch is not too cutesy and it has just the right amount of Christmas charm to go along with and enjoy its festive fun.

 

Liam Hanlon

89 minutes
G (see IFCO for details)
The Grinch is released 9th November 2018

 

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Review: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

DIR/WRI: Gus Van Sant • DOP: Christopher Blauvelt • ED: David Marks, Gus Van Sant • PRO: Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Mourad Belkeddar, Brett Cranford, Steve Golin, Nicolas Lhermitte • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara

Barreling down boulevards as if a deranged dodgem on the lam, skipping curbs, stubbing toes, just the sight of orange hair skating over the horizon was enough to make any pedestrian cross the road.  With four wheels pointed straight and a joystick stuck in accelerate John Callahan made his name from spinning wheels and rolling eyes.  And like how he charged his wheelchair through Portland’s populated pavements, his satirical cartoons never put on the brakes.  With acerbic wit nipping all in his path, from clergymen to the Klan, no one was safe when there was a marker in hand.

When it came time to tell his story, it was Robin Williams who first optioned Callahan’s autobiography – from which the film takes its title – in 1998.  With Williams to play the lead and Van Sant on board to adapt/direct, the idea seemed the perfect follow-up to the mainstream success of Good Will Hunting (1997).  But as years turned into decades and drafts turned into more drafts the project never left the page.  Following the deaths of Williams and Callahan himself in 2010 there seemed little hope for the biopic to ever get made.  That was until Amazon Studios picked it up after Joaquin Phoenix was brought in to don the tangerine fringe.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot follows the artist from his giddy days as a Portland layabout, guzzling gin and chasing girls, only to have his life severely altered after a car crash left him quadriplegic at the age of 21. The rest of the film trails Callahan’s rocky road to sobriety, loosely framing the action around the AA 12 step program.  The resulting film is a sweet, surprisingly sober and somewhat patchy affair where strong performances are hampered by an underwhelming script stuck between two tones.

Van Sant’s directing style has always lent itself well to performances and here is no different.  Actors are given the space to skip through scenes with a refreshing playfulness, making it hard not to let out the occasional smile.  The same spirit carries over to the camerawork which gently shuffles through Portland’s nestled curiosities, giving the film a great sense of place.  And while although predominantly set in the ’70s, the movie never strains itself in reminding us.  Where other films are too busy shoehorning an era’s cultural cliches into view, Don’t Worry… paints a clearer picture by subtler means, from costumes to camera zooms we get to soak in the senses of time.

It’s a shame then that the film never feels comfortable in how to handle its story.  Straddling between moments of irreverence and sentiment we find a film struggling to find its voice.  We get the sense Van Sant is more interested in sifting through the familiar routines of recovery then exploring an artist at odds with civility.  The worst instance being the introduction of Annu, (Rooney Mara) appearing almost as an hallucination of delicate divinity – think Florence Nightingale with a dab of the Virgin Mary – there purely to pluck our protagonist from his post-operative blues.  The dark delights of Callahan’s scribbled anarchy seem diluted in convention, becoming a footnote to surrounding emotional hurdles.

The film excels through its performances where Phoenix effortlessly tumbles through countless emotional states, from anguish to forgiveness, dippy, dumb and daft, it’s a home-brewed charm both restless and skillful.  The supporting cast too boasts a collection of colourful characters, take Callahan’s fellow AA members, from Beth Ditto to the ever eerily enchanting Udo Kier, we see a sideshow unhinged in all the right places.  But it’s Jonah Hill who gives the most memorable performance as Donnie, Callahan’s sponsor turned quasi guru.  It’s quite a new look, with honey coated hair and a penchant for finer things the actor echoes a saintly Tom Petty, wafting through scenes with a tender glow.  In fact, the moments he shares with Phoenix are some of the film’s best.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot has all the pieces in the right place but nowhere to go.  What we get is a rather sanitized account, though sweet and well intentioned one can’t help but feel for what could have been given the right screenplay.  For a film that champions the contrarian, its form seems perfectly content to follow the current.  Notorious among locals for bombing down streets and veering across avenues, here Callahan’s story has been fitted with stabilizers as we soon find ourselves being steered by a pair of safe hands.

 

Brian Quinn

114 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is released 15th October 2018

 

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Irish Film Review: Good Favour

 

DIR: Rebecca Daly • WRI: Rebecca Daly, Glenn Montgomery • DOP: Tibor Dingelstad • ED: Tony Cranstoun • PRO: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland • MUS: Rutger Reinders • CAST: Vincent Romeo, Lars Brygmann, Clara Rugaard

From its stark opening shot of a looming column of trees, foreboding and seemingly impenetrable, Rebecca Daly’s Good Favour establishes itself as a film that is both visually striking and unsettling in tone.

It is from these woods that a young man (Vincent Romeo), emerges like a spectre, gaunt and malnourished. He staggers his way into a small, rural settlement which appears to be abandoned but, as he soon discovers, is home to a deeply-Christian farming community who take him in as a requirement of their faith. We learn that the young man’s name is Tom, but his past is unknown. Whether he simply doesn’t remember or doesn’t wish to speak about it, is unclear, and this only adds to the mysterious, enigmatic aura that surrounds him. He is met with both distrust and fascination by the members of the community, chief among whom are religious leader Mikkel (Lars Brygmann), his brother Hans (Alexandre Willaume), Hans’s wife Maria (Victoria Mayer), and their eldest daughter, Shosanna (Clara Rugaard).

Mikkel is quick to welcome Tom into the community, and Maria seems content to follow his example. Hans, however, is outwardly suspicious of the stranger in their midst and treats him with reservation. It is thus unsurprising that the thread of ‘otherness’ runs strongly throughout the film, with Tom as its origin. His sudden presence in this close-knit, secluded community, along with his often intense gaze and subdued way of speaking, mark him as peculiar.

Despite skepticism, Tom is able to make steps to integrate himself into the community. The children in particular are enthralled with this newcomer, and we see in their acceptance of him a comment on the ability of the young to look beyond damaging prejudices. Tom also forms a friendship with Shosanna, and their developing relationship eventually shows itself to have its own startling consequences. The first third or so of the film deals with Tom’s struggle to adjust from his isolation to this codependent, intimate way of life, and his presence inevitably disturbs the rhythm of the community. Quite literally, at one point, when the sounds of his hammering to split a tree trunk disrupt and distract the choir practicing in the nearby schoolroom.

This disturbance is underlain by the suggestion that the community may have its own share of secrets. We are given mention of a young boy named Isaac who disappeared in the woods, and Mikkel’s own mother is gravely ill, but he refuses to take her to the hospital despite the wishes of his father. Using this sense of ambivalence, Daly paints the community in such murky colors that its true nature remains unclear. Is it a simple farming settlement content to keep itself to itself? Or are its people more prisoners than inhabitants?

Adding to this uncertainty are startling images of violence and death that are used to great effect. The body of a stillborn calf being tossed into a container of rotting meat, the corpse of a stag that has been struck by a vehicle, even the invasion of bees into Mikkel’s mother’s sickroom, all highlight a grim clash between nature and settlement, and one begins to wonder at the constant misfortune that the community is struck by.

Noteworthy also is how utterly quiet the film is. There is little to no soundtrack, and the backdrop of silence gives the impression of the film holding its breath, which is well-suited to its tones of suspense and unease. The rare occurrences of background music usually accompany a moment of closeness or intimacy between Tom and one of the principal characters, illustrating the significance of his arrival into their lives. But even Tom’s ultimate role is unclear. Did he simply stumble upon the town or was he brought to it? Will the community have saved him, or will he find a way to save them?

Similar to Daly’s film The Other Side of Sleep, Good Favour is not necessarily concerned with providing answers, content to let the audience speculate, assume, and be startled. The film’s undeniably slow pace is not to its detriment; rather it allows the audience an intimate look into the secluded lives of its characters and their tribulations, interspersed with stunning shots of the landscape that surrounds them. A lone tree in a field at sunset or a cliff-top view of untamable woods become as integral to the narrative as the characters themselves.

Aided by strong performances from the main cast (in particular the strikingly expressive Vincent Romeo), Good Favour is a powerful and gripping film that explores the deep complexities of faith and its consequences, particularly in the face of crisis.

Dakota Heveron

100 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
 Good Favour is released 9th November 2018

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