Review: Diego Maradona

DIR: Asif Kapadia 

“Football is a game of deceit” –  Diego Maradona

A dancer, a chancer, a renegade romancer, whether it was on the field or in the streets, Diego Maradona zigged and zagged through opposition, pulling the wool over our eyes and the ball from under their noses. In a career built upon a catalogue of bluffs and outrageous talent, his stardom stretched beyond the pitch, converting stadiums into cathedrals brimming with the hymns of “Olé, Olé, Olé”. Though chaos trailed him with every dizzying run, tackles sliding in from tabloids and addiction nipping at his heels, the iconic number 10 sidestepped a doomed fate, surviving to tell the tale long after the final whistle blew.

The ultimate trickster, cheating death is what separates Maradona from Asif Kapadia’s previous subjects in Amy (2015) and Senna (2010). The director’s interest, however, is in what these gifted people had in common, and what emerges is an intimate triptych exploring the burdens of god-given genius.

Nowhere is this theme more starkly apparent than in the film’s immersive opening scenes: following his record-breaking transfer from FC Barcelona, a convoy of squealing Fiats drags us through the bursting streets of Naples, down into a feverishly packed Stadio San Paolo for Maradona’s unveiling. It’s a suffocating introduction that would look a riot if taken out of context but instead we’re left feeling the trappings of talent closing in around us.

Like with his previous aforementioned documentaries, here Kapadia employs his trademark mosaic method in turning the screen into a palette of archival snippets. From cheesy late night chat show clips to fuzzy home videos, the audience sift through mounds of memory in order to salvage the hidden truths buried beneath. It’s an intoxicating formula which has yet to lose its appeal and with it we sense a keen interplay between subject and form, where the clattering of spliced imagery echo the giddy erraticism of the two-footed wunderkind.

It comes as a slight disappointment then that the story we carve out struggles to find any refreshing insight into the myth of Maradona, preferring instead to stick to well trodden narratives of the ‘tortured genius’. The film leans heavily on the internal conflict between ‘Diego’, the humble boy from the slums and ‘Maradona’, the self-destructive demigod. For a figure globally renowned for his daring instincts on the pitch, Diego Maradona (2019) feels content with cautiously playing the ball out from the back.

Kapadia’s astuteness is rather how he shuffles recorded memories while still managing to evoke an overpowering sense of time and place. By focusing on the star’s turbulent Napoli years and allowing flashbacks to slip in naturally, we forego the stale rhythms of the ‘cradle to grave’ approach while still engaging with the crucial context surrounding the story. A big part of that backdrop is the question of national identity, something Kapadia touched on with Senna. Here it’s foregrounded, political, social, and consistently compelling.  

A life spent on the run inevitably takes its toll. In its final moments, the film reaches a sombre conclusion in weighing up the heavy price of greatness – no doubt encouraging some viewers to roll their eyes considering Maradona’s recent conduct. A saint and a sinner, the man has made a career from polarising opinion. They say every good story needs a hero and a villain, Maradona played both. However, it’s Kapadia, in an earnest attempt to dig beneath tabloid tattle, who finds the boy caught in the middle.

Brian Quinn

129 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Maradona is released 14th June 2019

 

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Review: Mary Poppins Returns

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Brian Quinn

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

 

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Review: 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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Review: First Reformed

DIR/WRI: Paul Schrader • DOP: Alexander Dynan • ED: Benjamin Rodriguez Jr • DES: David Wilson • MUS: Brian Williams • PRO: Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Gary Hamilton, Victoria Hill, David Hinojosa, Frank Murray, Deepak Sikka, Christine Vachon • CAST: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer

Paul Schrader’s First Reformed doesn’t simply begin, it bleeds into consciousness. Blooming from darkness our eyes creep through time where a divine relic looms large. A simple yet striking design, this white-washed steeple sits quietly detached from its surroundings as twig-tipped trees strike silhouettes against the churning sky. The camera ushers its audience as if a stray procession seeking refuge from the toppling clouds above, yet we can’t help but feel a sense of doubt as the church contorts with every yard gained.  Is this building a shelter for the stranded or salvation’s snare?

For Schrader, cinema is that shelter and together we tiptoe into his church. Dreyer, Bergman and Bresson make up the three wise men and their gifts brought and borrowed embalm each frame with a meditative stillness. It’s a transcendental cinema of ritual and routine where form shapes content into a flickering genuflection. It’s what Schrader calls the ‘scalpel of boredom’, time unspooled and sculpted into an existential itch out of reach. There’s a silent fury boiling behind the camera, frothing the vocabulary of a collective anxiety. It’s an unease that can be traced back through the mottled diary of Travis Bickle where apocalyptic predictions pry open the blistered boroughs of Taxi Driver (1976).

Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) too keeps a diary, but what starts out as an exercise to keep his thoughts in order, soon becomes a document of spiritual malaise. Toller oversees the aforementioned Church, more a tourist pit stop than a place of worship, this parish is on the verge of celebrating its 250th anniversary. Toller is soon approached by Mary (Amanda Seyfried) to lend spiritual counsel to her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger), a radical environmentalist wrought with despair. Expecting their first child Michael can’t bear the thought of introducing a new being into a world teetering on the edge of oblivion. The Reverend’s heartfelt words do little to stir Michael from his misery, instead a reversal occurs. Like an infection, Toller contracts a sickness of the soul and soon festering concerns seep across diary pages with the ominous mantra, ‘Will God forgive us?’.

Toller has become disillusioned not with God but with humanity. While he preaches to half-empty pews congregations crowd Abundant Life, a nearby megachurch run by Pastor Jeffers (Cedric ‘The Entertainer’ Kyles), a corporate Christian whose disarming warmth represents the modern faith Toller rejects. Schrader grinds his camera against the mounting tension between faith and politics to explore what hope can be held in a hopeless world.

It’s a tension that lies ever present across Toller’s face. The narrow crease cutting between Hawke’s eyes externalizes a lacerated soul, a mind torn in two. Hawke quietly tinkers behind a face of numbed expression to internalize a soul screaming to be heard. An actor whose giddy limbs and casual charm oozed his way to stardom, now seems a shadow slipping through scenes to elude our grasp.

A stark shooting strategy is incorporated which echoes the reverend’s torment where static shots linger in a tight aspect ratio smothering any sense of relief. It’s a style that harks back to the European greats, a nostalgia that seems at odds with the film’s lifeless digital format, where images appear crisp and cold. A tug of war ensues, where even the film’s form is wriggling in its own skin.  Schrader nudges us adrift in time only to find ourselves lost behind a modern lens.

The dissonance in design spills over to the film’s dressing where just a kitsch lamp is enough to unbalance an uncluttered composition. There is no comfort to be found. With every camera move, every slow push in and pan, we sense a whispering menace, we’re being simultaneously pushed and pulled, passively asphyxiated to the point where even Toller’s church begins to look like a courtroom, where judge, jury and executioner make up the Holy Trinity.

According to reports, First Reformed could be Paul Schrader’s last film, if so it marks the end of a terrific thematic through line. ‘God’s lonely man’ stemmed from the budding rage of Travis Bickle, nestling in the narcissism of American Gigolo’s (1980) Julian Kaye to then be caught in the midst of a mid-life crisis with John LaTour in Light Sleeper (1992). Now, later in life, Rev. Ernst Toller hosts the malignant spirit snarling against a faceless future. Cast loose on the periphery of society these bodies drift through a city slumped in a capitalist comatose, they’re wanderers, lookers, sleepless and shirtless, disciplined but deranged as if unsprung coils set to spring these bodies lay outstretched craving communion in every street corner, bedroom and diner. But for all First Reformed’s soundless fury, it’s the perforated moments of intimate wonder which gnaw against our subconscious, a divine sweetness blossoming between bruises.

 

Brian Quinn

15A (See IFCO for details)

113 minutes
First Reformed is released 13th July 2018

 

 

 

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Review: The Shape of Water

 

DIR: Guillermo del Toro • WRI: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor PRO: Gerard Butler, Mark Canton, Tony Grazia, Alan Siegel, Tucker Tooley  DOP: Dan Laustsen • ED: Sidney Wolinsky • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Kara Lindstrom • CAST: Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Sally Hawkins

 

The Shape of Water opens with an opening of its own. Tunneling through sunken corridors as if narrow chinks of the mind the camera gently slips us beyond the gilded gateways of slumber. It’s here in this boundless bliss where lamps and tables tip-toe and drift, a clock overhead, a chair undertow, untethered, unhooked, untucked and let go. We too soon find ourselves upended and utterly immersed into the realm behind closed eyes where a “princess without a voice” can be heard without a sound.

 

Our princess is Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor whose routine of mopping floors in a government research lab plunges into the extraordinary as she becomes mysteriously drawn to their latest top-secret “Asset”. Tall, athletic and gorgeously gilled this ancient creature turned captive might just be the edge the USA need to push them ahead in the ongoing space-race. As a bond blossoms between them, Elisa soon realizes the creature’s survival may entirely rest in her hands. Teaming up with her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a plan is hatched to save the otherworldly creature from a looming government autopsy.

 

There’s no doubt that Guillermo del Toro has a fierce finesse for engineering visually stunning environments and The Shape of Water makes no exception. From the opening score’s pirouetting notes we are effortlessly nudged afloat into a world bathing in rusted greens and deep-diving blues. Elisa’s home appears almost submerged in an oceanic palette where apartment antiquities form curious clusters of knick-knacks, freckling floors like barnacles clinging to shore. Down below, a derelict cinema pulses flickers of fantasy through Elisa’s floorboards, a tempting invitation to a world of wonder. A wonder that can often be smothered between the functional and formidable dank walls of the government facility. But it’s here where we first meet our captivating creature, an enchanted combination of performance and costume. His taut physique ripples with slippery sounds, from fluttering gills to guttural gasps; this “monster” is truly alive.

 

Del Toro’s delicate designs aren’t just left bobbing at the surface, they stem from a colour-coded labyrinth emanating from the film’s centre. However, the way in which the film conveys its core ideas are anything but subtle. Heavy-handed messages and symbols are underlined and foregrounded leaving little for audiences to digest. At his best, del Toro’s films have always opened up a dialogue between the past and present and in The Shape of Water the director takes us back to 1962 to explore ‘the moment where America crystallizes the notion of a dream that never came to be’. Jet-finned luxury Sedans, a coca-cola bottle in hand and a television in every home, this is the American dream brought to you by Budweiser. It’s a mythologized era that echoes through people who vow to ‘Make America Great Again’. The film offers to wash away that myth, peeling back its varnished layers to reveal a rust festering beneath, the rampant racism, the homophobia, the Russian threat, the impending death of cinema and asks the question, has anything changed?

 

The film’s main characters are outsiders, world weary wanderers living out of step with time. They suffer in silence, each appearing as voiceless as Elisa. Michael Shannon’s unhinged charisma is neatly packed into Strickland, a callous government agent whose surface of certainty soon gives way to rot. Prowling corridors, clutching a stiff cattle prod by his side one can’t help but think he may be compensating for something. Sally Hawkins proves again why she is one of the best actors working today. Her subtle expressions skip along the spectrum of human emotion with such transcendent ease it becomes quietly mesmerizing. Not only is Elisa courageously curious in her endeavors, she also expresses her sexuality with a brazen honesty. Del Toro strips the sensational from the sensual and leaves us with something far more satisfying.

 

The film works at its best when following Elisa’s courtship with the sinewy specimen. A symphony of glances and gestures swim through silences where timid connections are made. Each speak a universal language both dizzy, daring and strange, from light jazz records to hard boiled eggs we sense an intimacy simmering between the two. Unfortunately, the moments of magic only last so long as we’re catapulted through a rushed second half where the film tries to reach towards the profound, only to pull a muscle. It wants us to let go, allowing the current to carry us away but at certain points (one in particular) I found my self resisting its reverie.

 

With hands endlessly twirling the escape hatch of certainty, Guillermo Del Toro pushes us into the deep end of his imagination. A technicolor realm of delight, there’s no ignoring the craft involved here, the sets glisten, the soundtrack twinkles and all the actors are on top form. However, the allure of the opening soon becomes weighed down by an uneven latter half. At times the movie can seem like a Rubik’s Cube waiting to be solved but there’s a sweetness to the science where you can almost feel the director’s passion unfurling before your eyes.

 

For all its cosmic tingles, del Toro manages to smuggle a deeply personal film across Hollywood’s border where, beneath its haunted charm, lies an immigrant’s story rising to the surface, setting us adrift in a dream.

Brian Quinn

15A (See IFCO for details)

123 minutes
The Shape of Water is released 14th February 2018

The Shape of Water – Official Website

 

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Review: Captain Fantastic

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DIR/WRI: Matt Ross • PRO: Monica Levinson, Jamie Patricof, Shivani Rawat, Lynette Howell Taylor • DOP: Stéphane Fontaine • ED: Joseph Krings • DES: Russell Barnes • MUS: Alex Somers • CAST: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler

In Captain Fantastic director Matt Ross smuggles his audience beyond the bosky banks and redwood rows of the Pacific Northwest, indoctrinating us into a baby-faced tribe armed with clenched fisted salutes that ‘stick it to the man’. Baptised through the blood and mud of the opening scene, we become part of a family unplugged from society. Our adoptive father presents an idyllic way of life where The Swiss Family Robinson meets The Communist Manifesto.

It’s a life of fashioned patchwork quirks, where books are stacked as high as the trees that chirp. Ipads are traded in for IQs. Self-reliant and self-sustained, a harmony is struck between human activity and the grandeur of nature. Days are spent enduring harsh physical drills while the night sets stage for impromptu singalongs by firelight’s flicker.

It’s not soon after our introduction that tragedy hits, shunting the ‘kumbaya’ lifestyle out of tune. News comes through of the family’s mother, Leslie, who after leaving the forest to undergo mental health treatment commits suicide. This fatal blow catapults Ben and his six children back into modern civilisation with a mission to ensure Leslie is given the Buddhist cremation she always wanted albeit against her parents’ wishes.

Throughout their journey cracks start to appear across our utopian family’s grand design. Kids that were trained to question everything begin to ask questions of their captain. The film’s simple premise explores what life would be like if you devoted every waking moment to your children. It aims in making us question our own parental choices, and re-evaluate our hopes.

Matt Ross is a director who is seemingly more interested in ‘character’ over anything else, which is no surprise considering his successful acting career. “I fundamentally believe that most people’s experience with a film is through the actors. It’s a way to connect with our fellow human beings” Ross told DP/30. This belief is delicately threaded through each aspect of what makes Captain Fantastic an enjoyable film.

Shot by the very talented Stéphane Fontaine—who previously worked on such films as A Prophet (2009) and The Beat that my Heart Skipped (2005)—here he brings his organic touch to the screen once again. Fontaine’s cinematography crafts character in a film that could have easily turned into an over stylised farce. His frame pulls the actor’s ability to the foreground, highlighting quality performances throughout.

Each of the six children puts on a stellar show from start to finish. They initially approach us like mechanized parrots, squawking back Ben’s anti-capitalist credo, “Power to the people / stick it to the man” but soon realise that the ‘man’ in question might be their own father. Viggo Mortensen nimbly tiptoes the line between ‘best dad in the world’ and cult leader. Ben’s approach to his family may be somewhat dangerous and deluded but we can’t help but admire his undoubtable devotion to his children. Scenes of negligence and theft trespass our funny bones, tickling all the right places. We shouldn’t be on his side but that’s where we find ourselves. Mortensen’s prowess lies in his close-ups, using subtle glances and nuanced gestures to peel through the layers of thick skin, revealing a single father’s desperation to preserve the memory of his wife.

Though the film is not, however, without its flaws. Ross seems relentless in tugging on our heartstrings, daring them to snap. Family jam sessions turn lilting sentiment towards schmaltz and for all of the ‘edginess’ on the surface, Captain Fantastic finds an all too neat ending which left me sadly unconvinced. The comedy, though abundant, mostly centres around the same (fish out of water) joke: the family’s inability to comply with the social norms of the outside world. It’s an inevitable gag that works well initially but soon grows tiresome.

The comedic moments that really work see the family grow closer as a result. In one memorable scene taking place in the Family’s dilapidated bus named Steve, the children have to think quickly when conning a police officer. The officer hops aboard poking around and asking questions only to be met by a surrounding chorus of evangelical preaching. Mistaking them for Christian fundamentalists, he quickly burrows back into his squad car, never to be seen again. It’s a funny and unexpected turn that shows the children are always at hand to help one another out.

The character of Leslie’s father, Jack (Frank Langella) who initially appears to be the film’s antagonist, a wealthy, upper class fat-cat hell bent on sinking his claws into Ben’s family, but we soon come to hear him as a voice of reason. Though he might be the antithesis to Ben, essentially they both want what’s best for family. In what seemed at the outset a film facing off the left and right wings of America, it ultimately fuses both by focusing on the bigger issue. How should we raise our children?

The film poses questions, leaving the answers for us to figure out. But one thing is for certain, the most compelling part of Captain Fantastic is the skipper himself. He’s an ordinary man doing extraordinary things for the well-being of family—a guardian to many and a part-time menace to society. Ben’s Captain Fantastic isn’t a superhero but he’s getting there.

Brian Quinn

118 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Captain Fantastic is released 9th September 2016

Captain Fantastic – Official Website

 

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Review: Son of Saul

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DIR: László Nemes • WRI: László Nemes, Clara Royer • PRO: Gábor Rajna, Gábor Sipos • DOP: Mátyás Erdély • ED: Matthieu Taponier • DES: László Rajk • MUS: László Melis • CAST: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn

Our eyes are opened, distorted and deprived, delved deep beneath boundless colours blurring textures and shapes, burying light into shade onto undefined space. From the first image audiences are challenged to find clarity, to piece together a tune from the hovering, cluttered chords of misinformation. How can one seek something from nothing? The question put forward by director László Nemes, daring to peel back the worth of his own language, prodding for a purpose and probing for cause, all too aware of its limited vocabulary in articulating pain beyond belief. If the Holocaust was the loss of meaning, how can cinema attempt to translate it?

From the bleary backdrop we were presented, a lone figure steps into focus. In Son of Saul, Nemes seeks to abandon the grammar of mainstream cinema which serves to obscure the essence of the Holocaust. Where other films hazed our sights aiming to capture the enormity of evil, Nemes’ frame is fitted for the ‘individual’.

Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig) ushers us ‘tween the doleful shades of mankind’s memory. He is part of a selected group of prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau called the Sonderkommando, victims made complicit in their own murder. It was their duty to lead fellow Jews to gas chambers, burn their corpses and scatter the ashes. A demonic burden, which, as author Primo Levi notes, “deprived them of even the solace of innocence”. Saul slinks in the shadows between the living and the dead, occupying a body hollowed out and fused with the grinding gears of streamlined genocide. His face has been rinsed, beaten and battered numb as the terror of evil dissolves into the humdrum. Lifeless limbs blotched blue and grey streak along the outskirts of the frame while the preceding thuds and screams are pitched past the pitch of grief. It takes a young boy’s dying gasps to breathe life into Saul’s existence, resuscitating his soul with a stubborn purpose. After smuggling the boy’s body from incineration we follow Saul as he trails a network of whispered bargains determined in finding a rabbi to ensure a proper burial.

Nemes employs a technical strategy that conscripts our imagination to construct the horror as an unnerving balance is struck between visual deprivation and auditory bombardment. He restricts his camera from escorting us through the muddled garble of swastikas and salutes while refusing to make a spectacle out of human suffering. Any bodies seen are often squashed into the familiar and forgotten corners of routine. Above, the air is clotted with fear, dense layers of churning clanks weld with cries of distress, a corrosive compound of horrific harmony. It’s a soundscape which refines the smeared glimpses of agony into tangible terrors, colluding with the mind’s eye in prying open the tight boundaries of the frame, making seen the unseen.

Always in the centre of this perceptive assault is Saul, rationing a sliver of focus in order to make sense of a background befogged by barbarism. We become his sewn witnesses watching humanity unspool through his eyes, every step is tracked , each turn is trailed only to be lost in a waltz choreographed by chaos.

Catapulted into confusion it’s Saul we cling to, and it’s a grasp which never looks to loosen. The clever use of academy ratio evokes the intimacy of a portrait, tune tailored for one man. This is a man undone, trying to keep grip onto the last tender shreds of decency.  What fuels this quest is an urge to seek spiritual symmetry in a world shunted askew. Unlike the other Sonderkommandos, Saul’s moral pursuit transcends flesh, reaching to another realm of hopeful salvation. Though his actions to get there are questionable, risking lives and potentially jeopardizing his squad’s uprising, “we’ll die because of you” one barks, to which Saul replies, “We’re already dead.” It’s a rare remark in a film of scant of conversation, making Röhrig’s performance even more mesmerizing, managing to convey character through gestures of subtle defiance. It’s in his eyes where a gentle tension lies, a noble vocation chimed with deranged determination, a victim of the victims falls victim to ambition.

In Son of Saul, László Nemes rips a chapter out of the history books, no longer a subject but an immersive environment of trauma where a one-man war is waged against spiritual decay. But there are no heroes to be found, for this film, like Saul, “forsakes the living for the dead”, restraining to seduce our sights with sentimentality nor sate our tastes with palatable pastiche. A cog unwinds itself from the mechanisms of genocide, and through it we bear an everlasting sense of loss. From kindled compassion we brush against a fleeting transcendence where ritual restores reason, dignifying the dead.

Brian Quinn

107 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Son of Saul is released 29th April 2016

Son of Saul – Official Website

 

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: David Prendeville & Brian Quinn, co-directors of ‘Monged’

Monged-Chosen

Film Ireland spoke to 2 of the 3 co-directors of Monged ahead of the film’s screening at the IFI as part of its monthly showcase for new Irish film. No drugs were taken in the making of this article.

Based on the award-winning play by Gary Duggan, Monged takes place over one drug-fuelled weekend in Dublin and stars Graham Earley, John Connors and Rex Ryan as three mismatched friends. .

Monged was directed by Rory Mullen, David Prendeville and Brian Quinn, and made as part of the Masters in Digital Feature Film Production at Filmbase, which places an emphasis on practical filmmaking to prepare students for a future in film production.

“The course really showed that making a film is entirely doable,” explains Brian. “You get thrown right in the deep end straight away. Our team was responsible for all aspects of the production. Prior to the shoot, we did classes in everything: script writing, pre-production, casting, camera, marketing, funding, music, etc. Then suddenly the powers that be pluck you from the cosy confines of the class room, hurling your feverish limbs into the real world where you have to put what you learned to use. I found the most important thing I learned was how to work with the people around you. Through initial practical class exercises you discover early on who you can trust. Trust is the key component to a healthy relationship and in turn opens up avenues of communication, which, for a director, is everything.”

As one of three directors, Brian animates how they approached the script. “Bash! Mash! Mush! as we squashed our brains together, producing a single cohesive pink wad. Instantly, we tried to intellectually devour the script, harvesting what lay beneath the surface. One of the first things we did as a team was that we wrote down 3 key phrases or words on post-it notes, sticking them in our office wall for all to see. ‘Trapped’, ‘coming of age, ‘duality’ became our story’s spine which would permeate though every directorial decision that was made. This helped to quash out any arbitrary choices so that decisions were solely motivated by story. I find when you make yourself rules or put yourself in a box you become more creative in your approach. Limitation is inspiration. With regard to dividing the script, we thought it best to split scenes among ourselves to direct, thankfully it was an equal spread and straight away we began to prep on our individual scenes.”

In addition to the three lead actors, the film boasts an impressive support cast that includes Aoibhin Garrihy, Clare Dunne, Joe Rooney, Alicia Ayres, Geraldine MacAlinden, Neill Fleming, Gerry Wade, Sharon Skerritt, Shane Robinson and Kyle Hixon. Working with such a cast was something David tells me was one of the highlights of his experience. “We were really fortunate to have such a talented group of actors. The three leads were all phenomenal to work with. They brought a lot of new ideas to the table, that weren’t in the script, and their eagerness to improvise and to create really brought a terrific energy to the film. This really is a film that would live and die by the performances and it was brilliant working with these guys. They are outstanding actors and also their openness, their quick-thinking on set and their creativity made them a pleasure to direct. And it wasn’t just with the leads we were fortunate, all the supporting players did great work on the film and were terrific to work with as well.”

The film is based on the play of the same name by Gary Duggan (RTÉ’s Amber), with a screenplay penned by Barry Dignam. David says, “I don’t think either myself, Brian or Rory were familiar with the play before filming and I think we kind of felt it may be healthier to separate the two mediums and focus on the script we were presented with and let that evolve rather than going back to the play as a point of reference.”

Talking about particular influences the directors brought to bear on the film, David says,we talked a lot about other ‘drugs’ film, such as Trainspotting. The Wolf of Wall Street was a big influence in terms of its gleeful debauchery. We talked also a lot about Boogie Nights in the sense that you go on a journey along with a character into an exciting new world. Also the film has a strong ‘buddy’ element to it and for that we took films such as Withnail and I as a big inspiration.”

Looking back over the whole experience Brian reflects that “the most important thing for a director is preparation, for me it provides personal confidence, ensuring I don’t run around on set like a headless chicken. Though, and here’s the slight contradiction, I find the ability to adapt is on par with prep’s importance. You really have to be prepared to relinquish some of that preparation up to the impromptu mischief of the day of shooting, salvaging the surprises that intensive preparation sometimes sedates.

“When you’re hidden behind closed doors, composing shot-lists, etching ‘n’ sketching storyboards, there’s no way of illustrating reality’s input. I found it hard at times being flexible with my preparation, so it took a while for me to open up my brain’s aperture, letting in the possibilities that may peek.”

 

Monged screens on Sunday, 18th October 2015 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The cast and crew will attend the screening.

Tickets for Monged are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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‘Monged’ Completes Shooting

IMG_582334

Monged wrapped principal photography on the 5th May after a 19-day shooting schedule in nearly two dozen Dublin City Centre locations. Directed by Brian Quinn, David Prendeville and Rory Mullen, the film has an extensive cast of up-and-coming young actors, as well as some well known faces.

Monged takes place over one drug-fuelled weekend in Dublin and stars Graham Earley, John Connors and Rex Ryan in the leading roles of Dave, Bernard and Ray – three mismatched friends. Dave owes a debt to pyschotic drug dealer Corkfella (Joe Rooney) to the chagrin of his loving girlfriend Samantha (Aoibhin Garrihy), while Ray is a failed musician turned radio DJ who finds out that his girlfriend Linda (Clare Dunne) is pregnant in the middle of his seemingly endless struggle with his sexuality. Bernard, meanwhile, is the socially awkward office worker with no friends and no clue how to talk to girls until he meets Nadia (Alicja Ayres). After meeting at a house party, these three very different guys enjoy a comically riotous weekend cocktail of narcotics, alcohol and heavy partying – with trouble and crazy situations facing them at every turn.

Based on the play of the same name by Gary Duggan (RTE’s Amber), with a screenplay penned by Barry Dignam, Monged is produced by the students on the MSc Digital Feature Film Production course at Filmbase.

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Whiplash

whiplash

DIR/WRI: Damien Chazelle • PRO: Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak • DOP: Sharone Meir • ED: Tom Cross • DES: Melanie Jones • MUS: Justin Hurwitz • CAST: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser

 

Buried beneath a chromatic cluster of harmonic cries and timbered growls, lay the syncopated scattered sounds swelling across phrases that endlessly daze us. These vice-tight fists grip sticks stirring cauldrons of scuffled licks, with punches and kicks that beat the beat outta beatniks, on taut skin, taught to discipline dual-wielding squatters and double-time swatters. The pursed brass that play catch-up jazz are delicately bludgeoned in time as each pipped note is hounded and pounded to peek past perfection, where the words “good job” are pitched past a mention.

Damien Chazelle, with baton in hand attempts to slash through these sophisticated slabbed jabs of jazz in his second feature film Whiplash to uncover the cost of excellence. A story about Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a promising young drummer at Manhattan’s Shaffer Conservatory who becomes the latest student to endure the corrosive charisma of Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a professor who recruits dulcet squeaks and toots in the pursuit of perfection

In the Opening scene Chazelle enrols his audience with a military drum as we march toward Neiman’s nook, slowly being ushered into a frame of mind crammed with pulsating dread. ‘I wanted to make a movie about a different side of music, about the fear and anguish of it’ the director tells Hollywood Reporter. Each shot is injected with anxiety; even New York’s dazzling skyscrapers are remoulded into looming towers that suffocate. For Woody Allen, jazz elevated New York City’s charm, varnishing each scene with fetching finesse, a gallery where audiences were being politely shuffled ‘tween trinkets of crafted pride. Chazelle has no interest in showing off his city, instead he smuggles us into multiple crevices, tucked away from lauded landmarks. The music infiltrates, stalking Neiman and scraping along concrete. It’s a soundtrack that rinses a city of comfort, leaving in its place a frenetic tension which swells to the size of Dizzy Gillespie’s cheeks while waiting for a prick to pop.

Most of the action takes place in Fletcher’s rehearsal room where he prowls in search of his next victim armed with a seductive menace hinging on psychotic. But it’s psychosis with a purpose. He is a man seemingly honed to seek greatness. He spends no time loitering, in what he says, what he does, even his appearance is a reminder that no energy is lost on the mundane rituals of choosing clothes or hairstyles. All his concentration is invested in detecting musical excellence, and what Neiman might lack in talent he makes up for with a demented desire to be “one of the greats”.

Neiman soon becomes obsessed in adopting Fletcher’s relentless tempo as rehearsals turn into gruesome bouts of assault and subtle manipulation. The essence to Whiplash is held within the exchanged glances that Neiman and Fletcher throw at each other. There comes a point where all Neiman sees are Fletcher’s eyes beaming from underneath an ornately creased face as everything else in the frame and from his life become pushed past periphery. Niemen becomes utterly possessed in feeding perfection’s malignant appetite. His body, one of many donations soon becomes a mottled palette of self-abuse. The charm associated with Miles Teller from films such as 21 & Over (2013) and Project X (2012) become relinquished and what starts off as a likeable character becomes one so trapped within his own obsession that he not only pushes his loved ones away but the audience also. Even Teller’s appearance seems to flicker between cute and a boxer, battered beyond recognition.

The role of Fletcher could have easily turned into a one-dimensional drill sergeant lost in his own noise. Thankfully J.K. Simmons finds the right tone, a ferocious seduction that keeps audiences guessing. One second he’s peppering his jaded ensemble with acidic wry quips, the other he’s catapulting chairs across classrooms. Simmons manages to delightfully devour each scene without chewing the scenery. There’s a subtlety to the fury, a cerebral malice that murmurs between the currents of hardboiled rage. Though rarely, Fletcher at times can reveal a softer side, but through these inviting glimpses, our eyes can only make out the tactics and tricks that add to a greater vocabulary of manipulation, leaving audiences as tormented as his students.

Whiplash, like so many of recent films including, Mr Turner (2014) and Birdman (2014) deal with the perils of the artistic drive. However Whiplash takes a more brutal approach. What starts off as a student/mentor story quickly becomes a blistering blitzkrieg of be-bop jabs and backbeat hooks. A film that at times slips into a cautionary tale but neither condemns nor condones the way in which characters seek to achieve.

Chazelle’s camera escorts us through a turbulent route and in the end questions, was it worth it? On the one side Whiplash’s grand finale sees two musicians obtain what they set out to achieve but at a staggering fee. We find ourselves participating in a deranged duet where two people lost in a brutal scurry, salvage from the carnage, something worth remembering, only to become pummelled products of perfection’s pursuit.

Brian Quinn

15A (See IFCO for details)
106 minutes.
Whiplash
is released 16th January 2015.

Whiplash – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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