Interview: David Mullane, GAZE International LGBT Film Festival programmer

GAZE

GAZE International LGBT Film Festival 2013 (1 – 5 August, Light House Cinema, Dublin)

Brian Lloyd chats to festival programmer David Mullane about the GAZE International LGBT Film Festival, which kicks off tomorrow.

It seems shocking to think of it, but homosexuality in Ireland was decriminalised only twenty years ago. “The GAZE Film Festival’s been running for twenty-one years and this will be the twentieth anniversary of decriminalisation. The timing’s a little strange,” remarks David Mullane, the festival’s programmer. The festival – Ireland’s only LGBT film festival – runs from August 1st to August 5th at Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield, Dublin. The coincidence of the two events – twenty years of decriminilisation and the festival – doesn’t, however, mean the two are linked. “We do have a number of screenings about LGBT history, sure, but it’s not just documentaries or retrospectives about that, as well. That said, one of our big events is a free screening of The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name, the RTÉ documentary by Bill Hughes.” First broadcast in 2000 on RTE, the documentary follows the history of the Irish gay community from Oscar Wilde to decriminalisation. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on the future of the LGBT community in Ireland, with some of the original contributors of the documentary taking part. The director of the documentary, Bill Hughes, will also present the screening as well.

“Every film in this festival could be about gay filmmakers but the topics could be about, say, milk pasteurisation or something like that. So, really, a gay film is one that’s going to entertain a gay audience. There are some films that are about gay people, but they’re not doing gay things necessarily.” David goes on to talk about The Man Behind The Throne, the story of choreographer Vincent Paterson and his work with some of the most famous music artists of the last thirty years. But do you necessarily have to be a member of the LGBT community to enjoy and attend the festival? “Definitely not,” David replies, firmly. “These film festivals started because there was a lack of representation for gay people on screen. So it was aimed at gay people. That’s getting better. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting there. In order to survive as a film festival, we need to appeal to everyone. We have Pussy Riot – that’s the Irish premiere of the documentary. That’s a pretty mainstream documentary that everyone can and should see.”

But now, society is slowly becoming more and more accepting of gay culture and society, is there still a need for film festivals that deal only in LGBT films and issues? “If films like these aren’t shown here, they probably won’t be seen anywhere else in Ireland and they’re worth seeing. Firstly for entertainment value because they’re great films. But secondly because they deal with LGBT issues. We’ve got documentaries from Cameroon and Jamaica, where there’s serious homophobic and human rights issues. We don’t see ourselves as a political event, we’re a LGBT social and cultural event.”

As mentioned, the festival runs from August 1st to August 5th, kicking off with the opening night gala premiere of Animals. David describes it as “Gus Van Sant mixing Donnie Darko and Seth McFarlane’s Ted“, and is David’s favourite film of the year with director Marcal Fores. James Franco’s controversial Interior. Leather Bar also will feature at the Festival, which David admits he isn’t sure if it’s a documentary or a film. Another highlight is Wonder Women that explores and traces the legacy of both Wonder Woman and other female characters in pop culture, comic books and science fiction films throughout the last century. The director Kristy Guevara-Flanagan will be in attendance, followed by a panel discussion led by Jim Carroll.

In all, the GAZE Film Festival promises to be an inspiring social event that truly deserves to go from strength to strength. Tickets and a full schedule are available at GAZE.ie.

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Cinema Review: The Hangover Part III

THE HANGOVER PART III

DIR:  Todd Phillips WRI: Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin  PRO: Daniel Goldberg, Todd Phillips  DOP: Lawrence Sher   ED: Jeff Groth, Debra Neil-Fisher   DES: Maher Ahmad CAST: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, John Goodman, Ed Helms

It’s a general rule of thumb that a third entry into a franchise – a threequel, if you will – rarely trumps what came before. There are more than enough examples to highlight the point; Return of the Jedi, Men In Black 3, The Godfather, Part 3. That said, however, there are those entries that skirt the middle ground in terms of quality, neither topping what came before nor lowering that which spawned it. The Dark Knight Rises, Return of the King and The Last Crusade all are more than effective at rounding out the trilogy. The Hangover was an unexpected hit. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifinakis were all upcoming actors, brought under the direction of comedy veteran Todd Phillips. The formula wasn’t exactly inventive, but everyone was trying their best. Todd Phillips was recovering from the commercial / critical flop, School For Scoundrels, Bradley Cooper and co. were out to prove themselves in leading roles. Now, in the third instalment, it’s clear to all and sundry that everyone has moved on.

 

The manchild Alan (Zach Galifinakis) is spiralling out of control and is off his meds. In one particularly brutal scene involving a giraffe and a motorway sign, Alan is confronted by his father (Jeffrey Tambor) who suffers a heart attack mid-argument. The group agree that it’s better for Alan to stay at a mental institute. Enroute, they’re kidnapped by Las Vegas mobster Marshall (John Goodman) who tells them that Chow (Ken Jeong) has escaped prison in Thailand. Unsurprisingly, Doug (Justin Bartha) is held hostage while the others are ordered to find Chow and bring him back. It’s an interesting enough premise and it’s clear that Phillips is trying to break the mould with the third instalment. However, the reality is is that there shouldn’t have been a sequel or a threequel. The first Hangover worked perfectly on its own. It was neat and lean and had a wholly-contained story. There was no room from pushing it out beyond itself and yet, here we are.

 

It’s clear that Bradley Cooper has grown in stature and ability since the first Hangover. Anyone who’s seen Place Beyond The Pines and Silver Linings Playbook will know that Cooper is finally coming into his own. Galifinakis and Helms haven’t had the same luck, career-wise, but both are happily ploughing their own furrow. When brought together for this, it’s clear the chemistry is still there and it’s infectiously funny to watch them squabble and bicker amongst themselves. Nothing in their interactions is forced or unnatural, yet everything outside of it – the plot, the premise – is the exact opposite. Ken Jeong’s role is expanded to a greater degree in this instalment; something that could have saved the second film from its fate. As chaos personified, Jeong’s one-liners and general terrorising is funny in places, but it relies heavily on shock value. It can be tiresome in places, but the film has a brisk pace that means you can’t focus on it for too long. Goodman’s role is pretty much exposition and it’s a real shame. He’s proven time and again that he is a capable comedic actor that can do these smaller roles. Here, however, he’s criminally underused and the film is lesser for it.

 

Each of the posters and the official synopsis all underline the fact that this is the end of the trilogy. Going in, you’re looking forward to seeing them tie up the story and finally draw a line underneath it. There’s a sense of freedom in that, that they can go anywhere with it as there’ll be nothing beyond it. However, as the films wears on, it becomes clear that this isn’t the end. In fact, the final five minutes of the film state this in unequivocal terms and that feels like a cheat to the audience. Phillips’ attempt to move the comedy towards action comedy works for the most part, however it goes into some very dark territory that falls flat most of the time. Overall, The Hangover Part III is reasonably entertaining if you go in with lowered expectations.

 

Brian Lloyd

99 mins
The Hangover Part III is released on 17th May 2013

The Hangover Part III – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Mud

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DIR/WRI: Jeff Nichols  • PRO: Lisa Maria Falcone, Sarah Green, Aaron Ryder • DOP: Adam Stone • ED: Julie Monroe • DES: Richard A. Wright • Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard

The career renaissance of Matthew McConaughey can’t be denied or stopped. In the space of two years, he’s gone from reviled rom-com actor with impossible abs to an actor that is both critically and commercially successful. With such powerful performances like William Freidkin’s Killer Joe, Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike and Richard Linklater’s Bernie, McConaughey’s career is returning to its earlier promise. Mud continues this upward trend. Set in the Deep South, the titular character is a charismatic vagabond who’s hiding out in a swamp islet. Two young boys, Ellis and ‘Neckbone’ (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland), find ‘Mud’ during an exploration of the islet. From the very beginning, it’s clear Mud is drawing influences from Mark Twain. As the story progresses, it’s clear that Mud is not all he claims he is and is hiding out in the islet after an altercation involving another man and his ‘one true love’, in the form of Juniper – played by Reese Witherspoon.

 

McConaughey’s performance is perfectly balanced, mixing folksy charisma with an animal-like sense of desperation. Dispensing nuggets of wisdom to the two young men who’ve deigned to help him, it’s clear that McConaughey’s continuing his remarkable form of late. The two young actors, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, both turn in sturdy performances. Tye Sheridan, in particular, previously impressed in Terence Mailck’s Tree Of Life. Their portrayals are never cute or overbearing, rather they feel natural and unscripted. This works well as McConaughey has enough know-how to guide them through some of the trickier scenes and carries them when they’re lacking. Granted, both actors are sixteen or younger, so to manfully keep up with an actor like McConaughey is high praise indeed. Michael Shannon also appears, briefly, as a guardian to one of the boys. Shannon imbues the small role with a real sense of heart and dignity, and also manages to fire off some cackling one-liners involving love. Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson, two Deadwood-alums, also feature as parents to the other boy, Ellis. Their story blends nicely with Mud’s more fantasy-laden tale, documenting the end of their simple existence on the bayou and the eventual realities of life. Joe Don Baker gives a magnificent performance as King, the man hunting Mud for reasons that will become clear through the narrative. Baker, at 77, reminds us why he’s a fantastic character actor with just a few short scenes that carry more emotional weight than anything he’s done in years.

 

Jeff Nichols’ direction is restrained, yet beautiful. Following on from the apocalyptic Take Shelter, Nichols makes a coming-of-age drama that is neither cynical nor saccharine. It places itself neatly in the middle, perfectly capturing the harsh way of life that is fast disappearing in rural America. The script, as mentioned, is light and natural and the characters therein are developed fully. Mud’s sense of grandeur and whimsy is intoxicating. You can clearly see why the young boys are brought along with him and, as well, how he’s full of hot air. The two young boys, Ellis and Neckbone, are drawn from Twain and, to a lesser extent, Stephen King’s Stand By Me. That said, it’s clear that Nichols is ploughing his own furrow and the film is original in its premise. The cinematography is spectacular, capturing the gorgeous colours of the Southern Bayou and its grungy landscape. In all, Mud is a touching coming-of-age drama that works both as a character study and a morality tale. McConaughey continues to delight and impress whilst Nichols, at 34, marks himself out as a director to watch.

Brian Lloyd

12A (see IFCO website for details)

130 mins
Mud is released on 10th May 2013

Mud – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Jump

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DIR: Kieron J. Walsh • WRI: Steve Brookes, Kieron J. Walsh • PRO: Brendan J. Byrne • DOP: David Rom • ED: Emer Reynolds • DES: David Craig • Cast: Nichola Burley, Martin McCann, Charlene McKenna, Ciarán McMenamin

It’s a real testament to how far Northern Ireland has come that a film like Jump has been made. It’s set exclusively in the North – Derry, to be exact – and there isn’t a single reference to the IRA, the UVF, the Troubles. Not only that, it doesn’t feel like there’s a pink elephant in the room. None of the characters are haunted by memories of that time, there are no former terrorists looking to go straight, no mention of it at all. With Jump, you merely accept the fact that Northern Ireland and its cinema has moved on from it.

 

The story takes place on New Year’s Eve and follows four ‘twenty-somethings’ and their individual problems and hang-ups. Marie (Charlene McKenna) and Dara (Valene Kane) play two young women, stuck in a rut working McJobs whilst yearning to escape the city and emigrate to Australia. Johnny, played by Good Vibrations’ Richard Dormer, is a washed-up former criminal who’s drinking himself into an early grave whilst racked with guilt. Pearse and Greta, Martin McCann and Nichola Burley respectively, play two young people with an apparent death-wish; although one is more overt than the other. Over the course of the film, these stories entangle and, naturally, come to a head. The story and character echo late 90’s comedy-crime thriller Go, but with an obvious Irish twist.

 

Kieron J. Walsh’s direction is confident, slick and assured and working with a tightly-written script, there’s little error to be found in the film. The break-neck pacing, interspersed with jump-cuts to each individual story, is great to see. Too often, Irish films are shackled with a slow-burn ethos and very little sense of fun or humour. Jump deftly breaks this cycle and makes something that is fun, relevant and enjoyable to watch. There are no morose-looking countrysides, no dead-eyed piece-to-camera monologues involving the death of the Irish way of life – here, it’s fast, fun and energetic; something Irish cinema desperately needs.

 

The cast, made up of TV actors, all fill out their performances with varying levels of quality but maintain a minimum standard. The chemistry between Marie and Dara is spot-on, mixing the vapid desires of partying and escape with a real sense of underlying sadness. Richard Dormer’s character is a little bit hammy in places, but the fault is more in the dialogue than his own performance. However, it’s a small complaint in an otherwise strong performance. Primeval‘s Ciaran McMenamin, playing Ross – the man charged with following Dormer’s character around to ensure he works – compliments Dormer’s performance. The one area where Jump falls down is the story between Pearse and Greta. In a sense, it is the catalyst for the whole story but it feels more like it was tacked on as an afterthought. Likewise, the performance from Nichola Burley is a little bit unconvincing in places. Still, overall the characters and actors portraying them have filled out their roles with real effort.
 
In all, Jump is an entertaining drama with strains of black comedy and thriller moments. It’s not exactly memorable, but like all good parties, when you’re in it, it’s the best fun you’ll have.


15A (see IFCO website for details)

80 mins
Jump is released on 26th April 2013

 

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Cinema Review: Oblivion

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DIR: Joseph Kosinski • WRI: Joseph Kosinski, Gajdusek, Michael Arndt • PRO: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Duncan Henderson, Joseph Kosinski, Barry Levine • DOP: Claudio Miranda • ED: Richard Francis-Bruce •  DES: Darren Gilford • CAST: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko

 

Given how character-driven science-fiction films are something of a rarity these days, when something like Oblivion comes along, it’s hard not to get swept away with the excitement or hype. That said, Joseph Kosinski – in his second film – is a master of meeting expectations. While Tron: Legacy was something of a beautiful mess, a two-hour Daft Punk music video, it worked on some level. Here, with Oblivion, he’s working with less gimmicks and more story. Set in the not-too-distant future, Earth has been left ravaged by an alien invasion. Although humanity has succeeded in defeating the aliens, Earth is almost uninhabitable and have migrated to an orbiting space station known simply as ‘the Tet’. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are the lone remaining humans on Earth, charged with keeping the security drones online which guard huge turbines that sucking up water and other precious resources. Naturally, things take off when Harper is attacked by the few remaining aliens and he witnesses a shuttle fall to Earth that contains a cryogenically-frozen Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko).

The story itself does veer sharply off into science-fiction tropes that you can see coming a mile off. That said, however, the film is so beautifully designed and staged that you won’t necessarily care. The film is thankfully 3D-free, which the director is adamant  was his own decision. Instead, you’re treated to huge landscape shots of Iceland, posing as a post-apocalyptic Earth and a clean-cut, Apple-inspired apartment where Cruise and Riseborough live. The film’s attention to design and detail can’t be understated. It’s such a treat to see a sci-fi film where the world seems, for the most part, utterly believable. There’s a real sense that the environment they are in feels and looks real. Indeed, much like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, it has that feeling of perfect design and usability. However, like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, it does suffer from a stale and overwrought storyline. As mentioned, the film does become somewhat predictable in parts and some of the dialogue does come off as wooden. It’s not due to the individual performances, rather the dialogue itself simply seems to be going in circles and not moving the plot forward. When it does move the plot forward, it somehow feels forced and written after the fact.
Tom Cruise is, as always, is a delight to watch. Whatever about his personal life / beliefs, he can never be accused of phoning in a performance. It is a little hard to think of him as a blue-collar worker, simply because you’re watching Tom Cruise be a blue-collar worker. His level of stardom is hard to separate from his roles. That said, he works effectively in this and is as convincing as he’s been in years. Andrea Riseborough, likewise, turns in a very competent performance. Fluctuating between ice-cold glares and moments of genuine heartbreak, it’s easy to see why she continues to gain momentum and bigger roles. Olga Kurylenko is decent, if a little understated in her role. Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, is simply window-dressing. He’s capable of far more than his role allows, but he’s simply not given any opportunity to move beyond the narrow parameters. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of Game of Thrones fame shows up as Freeman’s right-hand man, but little else. It’s a decent cast, overall and there are some moments where Riseborough, in particular, outshines Cruise.
For the most part, Oblivion is an entertaining science-fiction film that works well. The story itself is somewhat stale, but the power of the imagery presented, mixed with M83’s fantastic soundtrack will block out any qualms you might have watching it. Find the biggest screen and enjoy the first blockbuster of 2013.

Brian Lloyd

12A (see IFCO website for details)

124mins
Oblivion is released on 12th April 2013

Oblivion – Official Website

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Interview: Joseph Kosinski, director of ‘Oblivion’, starring Tom Cruise

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Brian Lloyd chats to Joseph Kosinski, director of Oblivion, which is released this week in cinemas.

Oblivion may be the second film by director Joseph Kosinski, but his credits reach far beyond Tron: Legacy. Having directed some of the most widely-known advertising campaigns in the last ten years, including the Halo 3 – Starry Night and Gears of War – Mad World to name a few, it’s clear that Kosinski is on the up and up. Indeed, his second film and he’s already working with Hollywood legend Tom Cruise. ‘Despite the stature he has, he’s extremely collaborative. He has opinions, he has thoughts – why would I not listen to that? Especially when he’s worked with directors I admire, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Mann.’ Kosinski goes on to mention how fun it was to hear stories about these directors, admitting that directors work alone. ‘We never work with other directors, as such. We’re isolated, working on our own projects so it’s really cool to hear about them and how they work.’

 

Joseph Kosinski, prior to becoming a director, studied architecture and design. Anyone who’s seen Tron: Legacy or indeed Oblivion will remark about the set design and its use of physical objects, as opposed to CGI’d sets. ‘If you’re not interested in design, I don’t know how you work on these types of movies,’ he explains. ‘I had a very clear idea of what I wanted it to look like. The skytower, up in the clouds, if you want to look for influences, it’s something like Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back.‘ Discussing sci-fi films, I mention Ridley Scott’s use of physical sets in Prometheus, which Kosinski agrees with. ‘I wanted it to be as real as possible. It looks better, the performances are better. On the flipside, as well, there’s a lot less time in post. Compared to Tron, this film had 800 visual effects shots. Tron had something closer to 1,600. Some films are 2,000. A big tentpole film like this that has fewer effects shot helps keeps costs down. As long as you plan ahead, know what you want, it’s a great way to work.’

 

The film does pay homage to arguably the best era of sci-fi – the 1970s. Films like The Omega Man, Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run and Star Wars are all touchstones for Kosinski, but not as you’d expect. ‘Those influences come when you’re growing. It’s different to watch films after you’ve made a couple. They seep themselves deep inside you, but when you watch them again, they don’t have the same impact.’ Kosinski continues, ‘1970’s sci-fi were far more character-driven, simply because they didn’t have the tools we have. I thought Oblivion was going to be a much smaller film when I started. But the action and the spectacle is in support of the story and the character.’ It’s also notable that the film isn’t in 3D. Considering his debut is oft-considered one of the best films to make use of the technology, why did he not make Oblivion with it? ‘That was my choice, from the beginning. I looked at a couple of different formats, 48 frames. Brightness is really important to me. But with this being a daytime sci-fi, shot in Iceland, I really wanted the images to pop off the screen. With 3D right now, there’s a limitation with how bright it can be. Using Sony’s F65 Camera, it felt like the right choice to capture the detail of the landscapes, it’s very high-resolution.’

 

Not only is Oblivion not in 3D, it’s based on an original idea. ‘Getting any movie made is hard. An original film at this scale is a big challenge. It’s not that studios don’t want to make original material, but having something that already has an audience is a leg-up. And having someone like Tom Cruise involved is great. And to have him call me was a thrill. I pitched the story to him over an hour and he was immediately taken by the story and the character and it was something he hadn’t seen before. Having him attached gave it momentum.’ The script, written by Kosinski, was also co-written by William Monahan and Michael Arndt. ‘I wanted to work with someone who didn’t work in science-fiction, which is why I went to William (Monahan) first. But I had the sense that one screenwriter wasn’t going to take me to the finish line, because the film has so many elements. It’s a mystery, it’s a thriller, it’s got action. I also worked with Karl Gadsujek, a great writer who I really wanted to work with. And Michael (Arndt) gave it the final pass, who I’d worked with on Tron: Legacy as well. I’m just the keeper of the story, working closely with each of them and it ended up being the right arrangement for it.’

Oblivion is in cinemas from 10th April and stars Tom Cruise, Olga Kurlyenko, Andrea Riseborough and Morgan Freeman.

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Cinema Review: Red Dawn

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DIR: Dan Bradley • WRI: Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore  • PRO: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson • DOP: Mitchell Amundsen  • ED: Richard Pearson •  DES: Dominic Watkins • CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Isabel Lucas, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck

Remakes continue to take up time on cinema release schedules. They’re nothing new, but there’s always a reason behind them. Sometimes it’s a property that thrives on reinvention. Other times, it’s allowing the story to be told fully with more resources, better cast and direction. Others, it’s simply a money-making experience; all involved need a quick buck and remaking a film is the way to do it. With Red Dawn, there is nothing redeeming about it. The original Red Dawn, scripted and directed by Communist-hating John Milius, is something of a cult favourite. Where the original is now viewed with a sense of irony and humour, this remake is something entirely different.

Held back from release by MGM’s financial woes, Red Dawn has been in the media for all the wrong reasons. Having the film heavily edited to accommodate the Chinese market – the original invaders were supposed to be the Chinese Army ‘repossessing’ American land / loans – and, as mentioned, being held by back MGM going under, it’s not surprising that Red Dawn is already infamous. Chris Hemsworth plays Jed Eckert (the role originally filled out by Patrick Swayze), a Marine returned from Iraq to his hometown of Spokane and living with his father, Tom Eckert (Brett Cullen, originally Harry Dean Stanton) and his younger brother, Matt (Josh Peck, originally Charlie Sheen). The North Koreans (yes, really) soon launch their invasion and begin their assault on Spokane and the American East Coast. Fleeing into the woods, Jed and Tom, together with a group of B-list teen actors (Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise, Josh Hutcherson) form a guerilla resistance and start fighting back against the North Koreans.
Dan Bradley, who previously worked as a stunt director for the Bourne trilogy, Quantum of Solace and countless others, shoots and cuts with a decent sense of pacing. Some of the action sequences are delivered quite well and wouldn’t look out of place in any other blockbuster. The problem here, however, is that he’s been let down by comically bad acting and laughable dialogue. Josh Peck, in particular, is devastatingly bad as Hemsworth’s brother and has all the charm of a toothbrush. Likewise, Hutcherson simply says his lines and waits to react. The screenplay doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The North Koreans invade – then what? Why haven’t they done anything else? Why did they only invade the East Coast? Why don’t we see any more of the invasion? Where are the Army? Had Dan Bradley been given a superior script and better actors, he could have made a fairly decent action film. Instead, Red Dawn is straight-to-DVD tosh that doesn’t have anything going for it.

Brian Lloyd

12A (see IFCO website for details)

93mins
Red Dawn is released on 15th March 2013

Red Dawn– Official Website

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Cinema Review: Welcome To The Punch

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DIR/WRI: Eran Creevy • • PRO: Rory Aitken, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones , Ben Pugh, • DOP: Ed Wild • ED: Chris Gill •  DES: Crispian Sallis • CAST: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough

 

British crime thrillers, by and large, are more miss than hit. There are staples of the genre – it must feature Vinny Jones. It must involved tailored suits. A section of it must be set in Canary Wharf. A Jaguar must be visible in at least one shot. An upcoming indie band must perform / be used as extras. With Welcome To The Punch, Eran Creevy is attempting to throw out the rulebook of British crime thrillers – and instead use the American rulebook. Director Eran Creevy’s previous work, Shifty, was very much of the British school of crime drama. It’s interesting to see him change from a Guy Ritchie-esque position and adopt a far more glossier image for his second film.

 

The story follows Max Lewinsky, played by James McAvoy and Jacob Sternwood, played by Mark Strong. McAvoy is a London detective who’s obsessed with capturing his arch-nemesis, Strong, after he shot and injured him and escaped to Iceland. Following a botched deal involving Strong’s on-screen son, he returns to London and becomes embroiled in a labyrinthine plot involving guns, politicians and crooked cops. On paper, the plot seems like it could work. Crime dramas, by and large, need a large frame to work in and for them to be not be bogged down in message. The story is the story, in other words. Here, however, Creevy’s screenplay falters as the plot is too clever for its own good. Instead of having an emotional line with a simple, thought-out plot, Welcome To The Punch quickly spins out of control and becomes undecipherable and, ultimately, forgettable. James McAvoy and Mark Strong, both established actors, are more than capable of giving their roles meaning and gravitas. Unfortunately, here, there is little to help them along. The initial setup, pitching McAvoy and Strong, as blood enemies who are forced to work together, falters very quickly.

 

Strong, who has played hardened, remorseless criminals in the past, is far more forgiving and almost tender in this than you’d expect the character to be. It’s true, Creevy’s script may have been attempting to change our expectations; pitching the criminal as a more tender creature. However, the same role was imbued with much more skill by Robert DeNiro in Heat than it was here. That’s not to say that Mark Strong isn’t as effective an actor or that he can’t deliver. Quite the opposite. Strong, given good material, can work just as well as Robert DeNiro. Here, unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. McAvoy, likewise, is drawn as a twitchy, hard-edged cop with an obsessive streak – but the script doesn’t give him the proper amount of time to fully realise the character. The supporting cast, made up of Andrea Riseborough, David Morrisey and Peter Mullan, all turn in good performances. Peter Mullan, in particular, is always a treat to watch. Here playing Strong’s friend, Mullan gives the film’s criminal characters that much-needed sense of ruthlessness that Strong fails to deliver.

 

It’s not all bad, however. Creevy’s visual style with Welcome To The Punch is fantastic. London has never looked so slick and well-photographed; drenched in cool, icy blues and using high-angle shots reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Heat – which is a huge influence on this film. One scene in particular, involving McAvoy, Strong and Mullan and a sofa, stands out as a particularly effective scene. Creevy’s sense of pacing, attention to detail and overall visual style is impressive – it’s just a real shame that that screenplay wasn’t up to the same high standard. Welcome To The Punch is a visually-entertaining but overall hollow experience. If only he had handed over the script to someone else instead of taking it all on, it would have been a far more enjoyable film. As it is, Welcome To The Punch is a missed opportunity to write the next chapter in British crime films.

Brian Lloyd

15A (see IFCO website for details)

100mins
Welcome To The Punch is released on 15th March 2013

Welcome To The Punch– Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rr-O_v0mlx8

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