ADIFF Irish Film Review: The Truth Commissioner

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Alan Shalvey reports from Declan Recks’ The Truth Commissioner, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

The Truth Commissioner is a hard-hitting drama dealing with the dark history of Northern Ireland. Henry Stanfield (Roger Allam) stars as the title character, looking to bring justice to the families of loved ones who perished during the Troubles. Of particular interest is the case of Conor Roche, a young man killed by the IRA whose killer has remained unnamed. Threats and corruption ensue as Henry tries to unearth the identity of the murderer, and the film builds to a memorable climax.

The Truth Commissioner begins powerfully, showing the time leading up to Roche’s death, leaving a looming doubt over the audience as to who it was that pulled the trigger. What is most striking in the opening minutes is both the score and the cinematography. The minimalist approach taken by Niall Byrne for the film’s score brilliantly adds to the underlying tension that exists within the movie. This musical approach merges elegantly with the opening shots. Of particular note are the rosary beads hanging from the rear view mirror of the car bringing Conor to where we presume will be his death. The interesting use of religious imagery highlights the devastating effects religion had in Northern Ireland, taking decades for wounds to heal.

The movie is beautiful to look at, and also features stellar acting from the cast. Of particular note are the performances of Tom Goodman-Hill, playing Jake Marston, and Conleth Hill, whose performance as Johnny Rafferty oozes class. Goodman-Hill is arguably the star of the show however. His solid performance is central to the overall construction of the films atmosphere. Acting as the messenger between Henry and those who are threatening him should the truth come out, Jake makes it very clear to Harry the level of unwanted attention he is drawing to himself, and uses methods both fair and foul to detour him from his job.

The fleshing out of Henry’s backstory also helps add a degree of gravitas to the character, and the relationship between his daughter and Conor Roche’s sister (Simone Kirby) serves as an important motivation for his character. Having had a struggling relationship with his daughter most of his life, and being rather keen to make amends, it serves as the counterpoint to his offers from the men who want their involvement in the murder to remain unknown.

Overall, the film is a good production, with the opening period and final thirty minutes being particularly noteworthy. The writing is very solid and well crafted, and the finished product, while not being perfect, is well worth a watch. As the truth commission begins to tackle the case of Conor’s death, the tension and drama of the film reach new heights, and the scenes in which witnesses testify about Conor’s murder are arguably the best in the film. A powerful commentary on the devastation terrorist groups can leave on society, the film, despite perhaps being slightly week around the middle section, is well worth watching.

 

 

The Truth Commissioner screened on 21st February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (18 – 28 February)

 

 

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DVD Review: The Thief of Baghdad (1924)

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The Thief of Baghdad (1924)

Director: Raoul Wash

Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Snitz Edwards, Charles Belcher

 

Alan Shalvey checks out the Eureka! Entertainment release of The Thief of Baghdad, a glittering Arabian Nights adventure fantasy, in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition as part of their award-winning The Masters of Cinema Series.

The Thief of Baghdad, featuring one of Douglas Fairbanks most enduring performances as the title character, has recently been remastered and released by Eureka’s ‘The Masters of Cinema’ series. Specialising particularly in remastering films from the silent era, this edition of the 1924 classic is a sight to behold, and beautiful to look at. Having been remade in 1940, and with both films regarded as classics by critics, The Thief of Baghdad is one of those rare exceptions in cinema where a film and its remake are held in equally high esteem.

Based on the legendary collection of stories, ‘One Thousand and one Arabian Nights’, the story follows the thief Ahmed’s journey from a petty thief to winning the hand of the local princess after proving himself worthy of royalty. However, he must contend with Cham Shang, Prince of the Monguls, The Prince of the Indies and The Prince of Persia. When the princess chooses Ahmed, and his way of life is revealed, though, there is uproar, and the men must find a valuable item to win her favour, though Shang plans to take Baghdad by force regardless.

The Thief of Baghdad has come to be recognised as one of the classics of American cinema’s silent era, and it is easy to see why. In June 2008, the American Film Institute named it ninth on their list of the ten greatest fantasy films in American cinema history. The film is quite long for its time, running almost two and a half hours long. Nonetheless, the time flies, as the sweeping spectacle, fantastic score, and Fairbanks energetic lead performance all combine to keep the audience engrossed for the full journey.

The film is masterful in almost all aspects. However, the props, sets, and action scenes are the aspects which truly stand out from the rest of the film’s attributes. One of the most expensive films of the decade, Fairbanks (who played a large role in the film’s artistic direction) left no stone unturned in his quest to bring Baghdad to life. The sets throughout the film are nothing short of spectacular and, combined with the score, makes the audience feel like it is fully immersed in this authentic world.

The action sequences are also of particular note. In fact, considering the direction Hollywood blockbusters have taken in recent decades, it is arguable that this film, in terms of the directing and cinematography used in the action sequences, is one of the most important films of its era. One scene which is particularly noteworthy is the penultimate scene in which, having been told Baghdad is under siege by the army Cham Shang snuck into the city, Ahmed returns to fill the role of unlikely saviour to the city. The shots in which the camera pans across as Ahmed summons a vast army using the magic powder he acquired are nothing short of exemplary filmmaking. It is easy to see the influence this scene has had on countless films, such as The Lord of the Rings and many other films with wide shots of enormous armies.

Overall, the film is one of American cinema’s endearing classics, having had a profound effect on cinema, which has become ever clearer in recent times, with the production of large-scale battle scenes similar to those seen in the film. ‘The Masters of Cinema’ has, on its 90th anniversary, presented the film perfectly to a modern audience, with an excellent documentary ‘Fairbanks and Fantasy’ included on the DVD disc. For any fan wishing to witness the joys of this or, indeed, any film from the silent era, ‘The Masters of Cinema’ leaves all other competitors in the dust in terms of their remastering and incredible volume of extra material.

 

SPECIAL DUAL FORMAT (BLU-RAY + DVD) EDITION includes

 

  • New high-definition 1080p presentation of the film on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary by Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance
  • 40-PAGE BOOKLET including new and exclusive writing on Douglas Fairbanks and Raoul Walsh

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Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

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DIR: David Zellner • WRI: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner • PRO: Jim Burke, Andrew Banks, Cameron Lamb, Chris Ohlson, Nathan Zellner• DOP: Sean Porter• ED: Melba Jodorowsky • MUS: The Octopus Project • CAST: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube

Kumiko, a lonely office worker in Tokyo, has little interest in anything in her life, apart from treasure hunting. This is established right from the beginning when, with no dialogue and minimal music, the young woman finds an old video cassette in a cave, a copy of the classic Coen Brother’s film Fargo. This proves to become the sole purpose of her existence, as she becomes obsessed with finding the case full of money hidden in the film.

Based on the urban legend surrounding the death of Takako Konishi, Zellner’s film excellently conveys the sense of confusion and mystery which still surrounds the event. Having lost her job as an office worker in Tokyo, Konishi travelled to Minnesota, where she was later found dead in a field. Eventually, the media began to fuel the fire for a story that alleged that she had travelled to America to find the briefcase shown in the film, whose opening titles wrongly claim that the events in the film are true.

Rinko Kikuchi’s understated lead performance is fantastically effective, making the audience care for the character, yet restraining the character enough so that the audience struggles to fully embrace her, always feeling like we’re being kept at arm’s length. The film is a great example of style over substance: while many may find very little happens in the film, there is no denying that the technical aspects, in particular the cinematography and soundtrack, add most to the film.

The cinematography throughout is truly a thing of beauty, with the minimal use of dialogue being fantastically complimented by the magnificent shots. The majority of shots throughout are very close, really absorbing the viewers into the conversations the characters are having when dialogue is used. The atmosphere of the film is an enchanting blend of comedy and drama, with both complementing the other perfectly. There are two key conversations in the film that show both these aspects. First is her talk with the security guard at the library, with whom she pleads to be given just one page from the map book she attempted to steal earlier. This is in direct contrast to when she arrives in America, and is whisked into an office, not realising that both men are part of a religious group.

The use of music or, rather, lack of it, throughout is very effective, and adds to the moody and dark atmosphere from start to finish. ‘The Octopus Project’ excellently meld their music into the scenes all through the film. The soundtrack interestingly reflects the camera work throughout. For example, there are some extraordinary uses of close-up throughout, one such example being when Kumiko is waiting in a café for her friend. As the camera zooms in unusually close, the music builds and builds, almost becoming unbearably loud at times. This technique is used throughout to enhance the atmosphere, like towards the end, when the beautiful shots of scenery is complimented by minimalistic music.

Overall, the film is a tour de force in filmmaking, one which is even more startling, given the fact that the scenes in both Japan and America feel incredibly authentic. The fact that Zellner managed to keep two crews situated so far apart in perfect harmony with the films overall direction is an achievement in itself. However, sometimes the central character can be quite hard to connect with. She is isolated in a world she feels she doesn’t belong in. When her Mum contacts her, it is only to ask if she has got married yet, showing the pressures society is weighing down on her. Yet, when offered help, she seems to do nothing but push others away. From the elderly woman who stops to give her accommodation when she is out in the cold, to the policeman (played by David Zellner himself) who goes completely out of his way to help her any way he can, she is bafflingly cold to those who try to help her.

Nonetheless, in terms of technical achievements, like cinematography and soundtrack, this is a film well worth investing time in.

 Alan Shalvey

105 minutes

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is released 20th February 2015

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter – Official Website

 

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Say When

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DIR: Lynn Shelton • WRI: Andrea Seigel • PRO: Kevin Scott Frakes, Steve Golin, Alix Madigan, Myles Nestel, Raj Brinder Singh, Rosalie Swedlin • DOP: Benjamin Kasulke • ED: Nat Sanders • DES: John Lavin • MUS: Benjamin Gibbard • CAST: Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Kaitlyn Dever, Jeff Garlin, Ellie Kemper

Growing up is not an easy thing to accept, particularly when all those around you are blazing a trail in their lives and you seem to be looked upon as the unproductive one. This is the main focus of Lynn Shelton’s ninth feature film, as Megan (Keira Knightley) finds herself 28 going on 16. The film is interesting in that it is female-centred in a predominantly male-dominated genre (much like Bridesmaids from 2011).

The film follows Megan, a woman in her late twenties who has simply drifted through life, having all decisions made for her. This is thanks in no small part to the pampering she receives from her father (Jeff Garlin), who still employs her as a sign-holder. One of Megan’s friends is getting married and, while all her other friends have started families and got good jobs, Megan is still more than happy to continue living an uneventful life, and is still with her lovable but dim high school boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber). However, when he proposes, and she finds her father cheating, Megan’s world is rocked. Her safe haven of a world has been threatened, and she leaves.

In an attempt to recapture her adolescence, she buys alcohol for a group of teenagers, and becomes particularly close with the group’s leader, Annika (Moretz). Telling her boyfriend that she is attending a week-long, self-improvement seminar course, Megan stays in Annika’s to try to come to terms with the fact her fun-fuelled young days are over.

Shelton’s film is solid overall, particularly in the first half. Megan’s conundrum is something everyone can relate to at some point in their lives as the shackles of our ideal younger world are threatened by the looming presence of adulthood. What is undoubtedly the film’s strongest point is the outstanding acting performances by all the cast, particularly Knightley and Moretz. Considering the high-calibre films Knightley has featured in over the past decade, it is amazing how comfortable Moretz is alongside her on-screen, and she gives a truly compelling performance as the younger embodiment of Megan’s personality.

Knightley’s performance is also one of assured quality. She is remarkably suited to the role, and really lets the audience connect with the character. Even when Annika and her friends ask her to buy them alcohol, Megan is unsure as she isn’t comfortable being the older person, rather wanting to be the person having the alcohol bought for them. Another interesting scene is where she pretends to be Annika’s mother (who has left her father) at a teacher meeting and when Annika is being questioned about her ‘plan’, Megan realises she is no better than her.

Unfortunately, the film slightly falls apart in the latter half. Annika’s father (Sam Rockwell) seems unusually comfortable with having a complete stranger over ten years older than his daughter sleeping in her room. The film, while being intelligent in its opening, falls into typical clichés in its second half, and its ending can be predicted a good half an hour before the final credits roll. What promised to be an interesting premise was not built upon, and one really wonders if Megan’s decision at the end has really made her grow up, or will she now just fall back into a comfortable state of affairs again? It makes the viewer feel slightly cheated, but the film is worth it for the acting displays on show.

Alan Shalvey

15A (See IFCO for details)

99 minutes

Say When is released 7th November 2014
Say When – Official Website

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Gold

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DIR: Niall Heery  WRI: Brendan Heery, Niall Heery  PRO: Tristan Lynch, Aoife O’Sullivan DOP: Tim Fleming ED: Tony Cranstoun DES: Padraig O’Neill MUS: Niall Byrne CAST: David Wilmot, James Nesbitt, Kerry Condon, Maisie Williams

 

Niall Heery’s second feature-length film focuses on a semi-rural Irish family and how they cope when Alice’s (Kerry Condon) ex comes back into their life. Ray (David Wilmot) has returned to both connect with his daughter, Abbie (Maisie Williams), and visit his dying father. Twelve years since he abandoned Alice, she and Abbie have moved in with Ray’s former P.E teacher, Frank McGunn (James Nesbitt). Frank is driving his step-daughter to excel at track-and-field, and has his sights set on creating a new running technique that will “Change the lives of millions”.

Gold is a decent film, with some good qualities. One of the stand-out aspects of the film is Nesbitt’s performance as the self-obsessed and deluded Frank McGunn. Nesbitt’s performance here is real quality, and some of his lines are brilliant. (When they enter woods where Abbie runs, he warns, “One wrong move, they’ll be dragging you out in a body bag”). Perhaps the funniest facet of the film is his glorifying running videos, in which he discusses the life-changing running technique he has developed. These really show how driven and absurd his character is.

In general, the acting throughout the film is good. Condon gives a strong performance as McGunn’s overshadowed wife. It is clear that his infatuation with sport has made him forget the family he has. The film revolves around two major points. The first is how it tackles one of the biggest conundrum’s in Irish society today, the rise in suicide rates and, in particular, how it is still viewed as a taboo subject. The sense of shame people can feel at a family member committing or attempting suicide is well portrayed here. There is even the suggestion by one of Abbie’s friends that, since her biological father Ray attempted suicide, she is much more prone to attempting something similar in the future. It is also notable how the characters actually struggle to say the word suicide itself.

The other aforementioned facet is the pressures that Abbie is constantly under from her stepfather. It shows how unhealthy this can be for both parties involved, as Frank’s personal life has suffered, while Abbie ultimately cheats to give him the deluded thought that his new running technique is helping her improve. In a short space of time, he goes from thinking she has justified all his work to suddenly supporting her as she struggles just as Ray had before her.

However, the film does have its deficits. The above points, particularly the one on suicide, is not developed enough. When we are first made aware of the characters’ unease with the topic, it is expected that the film will primarily deal with the issue. However, as the film progresses, events take place that leave the viewer rather bemused as to what the film’s stand on suicide really is. Also, the fact that Alice, after being abandoned by Ray, moves in with his former P.E teacher, just seems completely implausible. While Condon gives a brilliant performance, the way her character is written and the choices she makes can make her seem odd.

The ending itself also feels strange as the film skips forward a few weeks and certain resolutions seem to come from nowhere. However, the film stands up well, with Heery’s directing very solid througout.

Alan Shalvey

15A (See IFCO for details)

88 minutes

Gold is released 10th October 2014

 

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