Review: Norman

DIR/WRI: Joseph Cedar • PRO: Miranda Bailey, Lawrence Inglee, David Mandil, Oren Moverman, Eyal Rimmon, Gideon Tadmor • DOP: Yaron Scharf • ED: Brian A. Kates • DES: Kalina Ivanov, Arad Sawat • MUS: Jun Miyake • CAST: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen

The central question of the new Joseph Cedar film Norman (full title Norman:The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer) is who is Norman Oppenheimer? The film calls Norman a fixer and he calls himself a consultant. He is a shameless individual who schmoozes business men and politicians by making promises to them that he can rarely fulfil and telling them tall tales to exaggerate his contacts in a world that relies on how good your contact list is. However, there is an innocence to him and the viewer is left wondering what his motivations are? Is his goal money or influence and does he believe what he is selling?

The film takes place in the Jewish community of New York in the cutthroat world of international finance and politics. Norman’s fate changes when he manages to befriend an up-and-coming Israeli politician called Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) by buying him a pair of shoes and therefore making a long-lasting impression. This alliance leads to a brief period of time where Norman acquires the influence and connections he desires when Eshel becomes the Israeli Prime Minister. Richard Gere is excellent as this enigmatic character who is the driving force of this film. Gere is in nearly every scene and although we don’t always empathise with Norman, we are continually fascinated by him.

Cedar has a fine cast, including Martin Sheen, Dan Stevens and Steve Buscemi, but Gere stands out with an excellent performance showing that his range continues to expand as he gets older. Cedar creates a tense atmosphere which gives us a look into this tough New York environment where a strict class system is held. The film drags a little in the middle, but comes together in the final stretch wrapping up the ending in a surprising way. We are left with the central question still in the air… who is Norman? We may never know, but Gere makes our 2 hours with him compelling viewing.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

117 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Norman is released 9th June 2017

Norman – Official Website

 

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Review: Bolshoi Babylon

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DIR: Nick Read, Mark Franchetti • PRO: Mark Franchetti • ED: David Charap, Jay Taylor • MUS: Smiths & Elms • CAST: Maria Alexandrova, Maria Allash, Sergei Filin, Anatoliy Iksanov

Winston Churchill once called Russia “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. It is this mysterious place, and specifically the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, that this documentary is set.

Bolshoi Babylon follows a year in the life of this Russian institution in the immediate aftermath of an acid attack on its ballet director Sergei Filin, for which one of Bolshoi’s dancer’s, Pavel Dmitrichenko, was arrested for the crime.

The world of ballet is a fascinating place, the dancers need supreme discipline and their careers are short. There is fierce competition and jealously throughout. Where better to delve into this world than in one of the oldest and best established ballet theatres in the world, in the home of ballet, Russia – The Bolshoi Ballet Theatre?

The story doesn’t disappoint, co-directors Nick Reed and Mark Franchetti use the scandal of the acid attack as a window into this intense organisation. We see the dancer’s working day; how they train and perform every day. These dancers feel privileged to work at the Bolshoi as they see it as a sacred place, a shrine to ballet.

There is also the political connotation of the Bolshoi. It has always been aligned to the State where it is an item on the national budget. It was one of Russia’s best assets to show off the country during Stalin’s reign and the Cold War.

All of this contributes to the culture of the Bolshoi which the directors capture beautifully. The film focuses in part on Filin, his recovery from the attack and his return to working in the Bolshoi, but it is not simply his story – I would say it is the story of the theatre as a whole and its link to Russian society. A fascinating character in the film is Vladimir Urin, who joined the Bolshoi as the general manager; he is domineering and rules the Bolshoi with an iron fist – however, he also wants to improve the Bolshoi by being more transparent and a champion of the dancers. His chats on camera are probably the most interesting part of the film. Bolshoi Babylon is a glimpse into this passionate world and is a very accomplished documentary.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

PG
86 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Bolshoi Babylon is released 8th January 2016

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Traders

Ailbhe O’ Reilly trades blows with Traders, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Since the recession hit the world with a bang in 2008 there have been a few economic themed films – The Company Men tried the drama angle, Up in the Air tried the comedy angle and there have also been numerous documentaries.

Traders is the first Irish film I have seen that tackles the subject matter with a dark comedy edge tinged with graphic violence. Traders focuses on two very different lead characters – Vernon Styles (Game of Thrones’ John Bradley) and Harry Fox (Love/Hate’s Killian Scott), who are both left desperate after the company they work for goes under. After their boss takes his own life to escape his financial problems Vernon comes up with a very unique business idea which is the basis for the movie.

The idea is that people down on their luck arrange a secluded place to fight it out to the death with the winner walking away with the life savings of the other person. This is trading and the aim of the game is to keep arranging fights until you have enough money or die trying.

At first glance, Traders may not appeal to everyone – the violence can be quite graphic at times and the plot of ordinary people fighting like backyard brawlers in recessionary Ireland felt too far removed from reality. However, the fast moving and hilarious script keeps our interest and Killian Scott delivers as a captivating leading man. Traders really is Scott’s film, he is in nearly every scene and keeps our attention throughout. He is joined on screen by at least half the Love/Hate cast, which was distracting at times, but does display the many up-and-coming Irish actors around at the moment.

John Bradley is entertaining in his role, but doesn’t stray too far from the role many are familiar with in Game of Thrones. Overall, the directing pair of Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy do an excellent job with a daring and unique film that keeps the audience guessing throughout and even manages to surprise with the ending.

 

Traders screened on Saturday, 11th July  as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

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We Love… Soundtracks – Dazed and Confused

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Who hasn’t run up steps without Bill Conti’s classic ode to trying hard, the Rocky Theme ‘Gonna Fly Now’, soaring through their head, or spun around at the top of a hill belting out Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s soaring blue sky-classic ‘The Hills are Alive’…

Can you go for a swim in the sea without hearing ‘duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh’ – John Williams’ creepingly stubborn build of bass notes –  or take a shower unaccompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s stabbing shrieks of a slashing violin clashing against the steam.

Then welcome, welcome to the latest We Love…  as, over the next few weeks, our collection of movie-loving muzos put on their tight-white trousers and flowing dresses and profess their love for music in film in:

 

We Love…

Soundtracks

 

Dazed and Confused

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‘… the soundtrack is a focal point of the film and plays a central role in the story telling of the film…’

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

Dazed and Confused, the 1993 cult classic, opens with ‘Sweet Emotion‘ by Aerosmith. We are introduced to the high-school students who inhabit this film through the very 1970s sound of Aerosmith. From the beginning of Dazed and Confused the soundtrack is a focal point of the film and plays a central role in the story telling of the film.

The plot of this cult classic, if you are not familiar with it, is simple enough. It is the last day of school in a Texas high school in 1976 and the incoming seniors are preparing to haze the incoming freshman students. The film follows several groups of friends as they drive around town, drink, do drugs and listen to music culminating in a party at the moon tower. The plot is laid back and simple with no major drama or resolution. Richard Linklater felt his film was a more realistic representation of teenage life than some more melodramatic plots in teenage films. It focuses simply on teenagers trying to have fun, be cool and fit in.  Dazed and Confused is fun, funny and above all cool – which is why it become a cult classic.

The soundtrack is one of the main reasons that the film comes together so well and it is used with great effect to set the tone, move the plot along and above all root the film firmly in 1976 Texas – even the title comes from a Led Zeppelin song. Along with Aerosmith, Dazed and Confused makes great use of ‘Free Ride’ by The Edgar Winter Group, ‘Summer Breeze‘ by Seals & Crofts, ‘Low Rider‘ by War and ‘Do You Feel Like We Do‘ by Peter Frampton to set this unique tone of 1976’s Texas throughout the film, so even Irish teenagers in the ’90s could relate to it. The film seems to pause at various times as there is a scene where music is playing the main role. An example of this is when Matthew McConaughey’s character (in his first role) walks through the pool hall with Bob Dylan’s ‘The Hurricane’ blasting out as he smoothly walks across the room. As the boys cruise around town mindlessly breaking trash cans, ZZ Top guides them on their way.

The film has a rake of stars in their early years such as Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, Cole Hauser, Parker Posey and the aforementioned Matthew McConaughey in a stellar role as the older guy who is a bit old for a high school party. The film ends as a few of the main characters drive to get Aerosmith tickets – “top priority of the summer” as Jason London’s character puts it. We see them chilled out in the car as ‘Slow Ride‘ by Foghat plays out – a perfect ending to an appropriate and fantastic soundtrack. There is no doubt that Dazed and Confused’s soundtrack strongly contributes to Dazed and Confused’s cult classic status and will always be a favourite of mine.

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Cinema Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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DIR: Francis Lawrence  • WRI: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt • PRO: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Jo Willems • ED: Alan Edward Bell •  DES: Philip Messina •  MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland

The first instalment of The Hunger Games was an entertaining adaptation of the first novel in the series of three. The unique concept of the novel and its futuristic setting was enough to keep the story moving. However, it was the undeniably charismatic charm of its lead Jennifer Lawrence that brought heart to the story. Lawrence (along with her Oscar) and her fellow cast mates return with Catching Fire to see if they can replicate their success, this time with director Francis Lawrence (I am Legend).

Catching Fire is actually an improvement on its predecessor, the story is darker with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) beginning to look outside of her immediate situation to see the harsh reality of the people of Panem’s lives. Rebellion is on the horizon and the bleakness of their world is apparent. While the danger for Katniss and her partner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in the first film is confined to the arena where the Hunger Games are conducted, in Catching Fire the danger is omnipresent and cannot be escaped.

We join Katniss and Peeta when they have survived the Hunger Games of the first film and are now being paraded in front of the districts to calm the mounting disquiet of the inhabitants. The creepy President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has plans for their demise and the threat of a real war is increasing. The inevitable love triangle is not as important a storyline as in other teenage blockbusters, with it being almost an inconvenience to the strong female lead of Katniss. In a post-Twilight world it has been a delight for audiences and critics alike to have a female lead like Katniss, whose concerns stretch a lot further than which boy to pick, and she is the polar opposite to the weak Bella Swan.

The only failing with the film is its length, at nearly two and a half hours it does drag in the middle, with the period in the arena the tightest and most exciting. The time in the arena brings home the themes of dystopia and is truly scary at times with all contestants out of their depth and fighting for their lives. Catching Fire is what a blockbuster should be like, and the male heroes of Superman, Batman and countless Marvel films could learn a thing or two from the ever-natural appeal of Lawrence. I, for one, hope Lawrence can keep this success rolling into its final two films.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

12A  (See IFCO for details)

146  mins

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is released on 22nd November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire– Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

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DIR: Harald Zwart • WRI: Jessica Postigo •  PRO: Don Carmody, Robert Kulzer • DOP: Geir Hartly Andreassen • ED: Joel Negron • DES: François Séguin • CAST: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Jemima West

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is the latest in the seemingly unending array of young adult films adapted from successful young adult books in recent years. Ever since Harry Potter was launched onto our screens in 2001, and Warner Brothers had amazing success with the adaptation of the seven books, film producers have tried to emulate its unique success. However, that particular magic (pun intended) of the Harry Potter franchise is hard to bottle and these competing films have had varying degrees of success.

I went into The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones blind with no knowledge of the books, and at first I was a bit lost as the film jumps straight into the action and the plot moves along quite fast. However, you soon catch up and acquire enough detail of this world to understand the coming-of-age story of Clary Fray (Lily Collins). Clary is a seemingly ordinary girl living in New York whose world changes overnight when she begins to realise she isn’t as ordinary as she thought. She discovers an underworld of vampires, demons, werewolves and, the heroes of the piece, the Shadowhunters.

This type of fantasy world have been a bit overdone on TV and film in recent years and The Mortal Instruments is nothing new really. It adheres to certain stereotypes; the heroes wear copious amounts of black leather clothes (hardly the most comfortable for slaying demons), ordinary humans are seen as stupider and less brave than the Shadowhunters and the baddie (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is comically weak.

However, the actors do their best with the weak dialogue and it is an enjoyable enough film. Robert Sheehan is admirable as Clary’s ordinary best friend and he has decent chemistry with the rest of the cast. Lily Collins holds her own as the lead, but is not a patch on Jennifer Lawrence, in the superior The Hunger Games. It doesn’t help her that the dialogue between herself and her love interest Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) is laughably bad.

Overall, the plot moves along nicely and it is a decent length, so you can enjoy this film without much knowledge of the books. This is presumably the first instalment of this six-novel franchise so there is plenty of room for development of the characters and it merely sets them up for a longer story.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 

129 mins
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bonesis released on 23rd August 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones– Official Website

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Bio: Ailbhe O’ Reilly

 

Ailbhe writes for Film Ireland in her spare time writing both film and book reviews.

She previously wrote for the Trinity News during her time in University and works in marketing.

Email: ailbheoreilly@gmail.com

Twittter: @ailbhedub

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Cinema Review: Broken

DIR: Rufus NorrisWRI: Mark O’Rowe • PRO: Tally Garner, Bill Kenwright, Dixie Linder, Nick Marston   DOP: Rob Hardy   ED: Victoria Boydell  DES: Kave Quinn Cast: Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy, Rory Kinnear

 

Family drama piece Broken once again teams Irish screenwriter Mark O’ Rowe up with Cillian Murphy, who previously worked together on Intermission and Perrier’s Bounty. Although some of the humour of these past films is seen in Broken, Mark O’ Rowe’s talents as a drama screenwriter are really brought to the fore through this excellently told heart breaking story.

Broken is the story of a young girl, Skunk, who lives with her father and brother in a North London suburb. Young Skunk’s life changes after she witnesses a violent altercation in the safety of her residential street. This incident is the catalyst in the interlinking stories of three families who are dramatically affected by the repercussions of the event. We are weaved through their stories with O’ Rowe’s beautifully and wittily written script. He allows our sympathies to fall on each and every person in the film, who have all been affected by the different paths their lives have taken.

The performances of Murphy as Skunk’s teacher and her au pair’s boyfriend, Tim Roth as her father and Rory Kinnear as a volatile single father are subtle, real and sympathetic. However, it is the stand out performance of the young Skunk (Eloise Laurence) that grabs us by the heart strings and pulls us in. She gives a natural performance which we rarely see at such a young age and this holds the whole film together; which is impressive considering the other excellent performances seen from her more experienced colleagues.

Broken, which had its Irish premiere on the first night of the recent JDIFF festival, set a very high standard for the excellent run of films shown this year. Overall, the cast, including the other young actors, come together to deliver a thought-provoking and memorable film; where every person in it is in some way broken.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

15A (see IFCO website for details)

90mins
Broken is released on 8th March 2013

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