Review: Me Before You

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DIR: Thea Sharrock • WRI: Jojo Moyes • PRO: Alison Owen, Karen Rosenfelt • DOP: Remi Adefarasin • ED: John Wilson • MUS: Craig Armstrong • DES: Andrew McAlpine • CAST: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Jenna Coleman

 

Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) lives in a small Northern England town and needs a job to help support her struggling family. She soon finds work as a care-giver for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a young man paralysed from the chest down after a road accident.

A more cynical plot description of Me Before You would go something like this: Rich young man rescues quirky working class woman from her dull unambitious life. A harsh analysis, yes, but it’s an uncomfortable dichotomy that the film can’t get away from for most of the lengthy running time.

In an attempt to address this, an accusation of Will’s smug superiority is flung at him early on, as if to dispel any whiff of entitlement and upper-class snobbery. But it doesn’t really work, and the juxtaposition continues to grate. It doesn’t help when Lou is patronisingly described as “having potential” more than once.

The nadir is reached when Lou and Will go on holiday. Beautiful hotels and white sandy beaches highlight how inaccessible this sort of lifestyle would be for 99 per cent of the population, and it’s not pleasant to have it so explicitly pointed out.

The film finds firmer dramatic ground when in the company of Lou’s family, who are facing all too real financial struggles.

Moving past this, Me Before You is a stunningly beautiful film – a credit to Remi Adefarasin’s cinematography. Vibrant colours and beautiful set pieces fill nearly every scene. Unfortunately, credit can’t be extended to much else.

This is Thea Sharrock’s first feature film as director, already having a distinguished career as a theatre director. But she struggles here with the transfer to film. The direction is all over the place.

Craig Armstrong’s score is overly ripe and intrusive, but finding room for the requisite Ed Sheeran and Adele numbers that are commonplace in contemporary romantic dramas.

Combine these issues with Moyes’ unsubtle script (adapted from her own novel), Me Before You tips over into clunky melodrama more often than is permissible.

Emilia Clarke’s Lou is the polar opposite of her stoic Khaleesi (a calculated move to avoid typecasting perhaps), but here she turns up the acting dial all the way to 11. All ham and over the top facial expressions which drive to distraction almost immediately. Sam Claflin does a so-so if forgettable job as Will, remaining stony-faced and contemptuous for most of the film.

None of these issues go away entering the third act, but the film improves when the realities of a young man’s quadriplegia are tackled and the diminished quality of life for him and his loved ones are confronted. It’s sensitively dealt with and you suddenly find yourself becoming invested in these people’s lives.

Yes, it’s very stodgy in places, but its warmth and charm shine through sporadically enough to let you overlook the rough hewn edges and social class connotations. But only just.

Chris Lavery

110 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Me Before You is released 3rd June 2016

Me Before You – Official Website

 

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Enemy

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DIR: Denis Villeneuve • WRI: Javier Gullón • PRO: M.A. Faura, Niv Fichman • DOP: Nicolas Bolduc • ED: Matthew Hannam • DES: Patrice Vermette • MUS: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans • CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon

 

Enemy follows history lecturer Adam (Gyllenhaal), who, when recommended a film by a colleague, spots one of the actors, Anthony (also Gyllenhaal), is his exact double and tries to track him down.

 

After working together on 2013’s Prisoners, director Denis Villeneuve brings Jake Gyllenhaal to his next film, Enemy, based on José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double.

 

Adam is a timid, reclusive type trying to engage with his equally withdrawn girlfriend, Mary (Laurent), while Anthony is a modestly successful actor who’s soon to be a father with his suspicious wife, Helen (Gadon).

 

Adam, while lecturing his students, talks about recurring themes of power, control and chaos throughout history – themes which are also emblematic of Villeneuve’s film. Adam refers to the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel and its his ideas of conflicting opposites and potential reconciliation which underpins Adam and Anthony’s tentative relationship.

 

Spiders are a recurring motif throughout Villeneuve’s film, as Adam and Anthony are caught in each other’s webs of escalating levels of deceit and control.

 

Gyllenhaal is always a watchable presence and the task of playing two such diametrically opposed characters in Enemy is admirably achieved. The focus is on him in every scene, either as Adam or Anthony, and he keeps the audience engrossed from start to finish. Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon are both excellent as they try to make sense of the crossfire they find themselves in.

 

Cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc bathes every frame in a kind of sepia-tinged haze. In the external shots, it feels like a polluted smog which then bleeds into every interior.

 

Villeneuve’s film does well to highlight both Adam and Anthony’s respective isolation and takes its time before putting them in a room together. Enemy is a slow burn which doesn’t feel like it gives you much by the end. But it’s a film that stays with you, and with a repeat viewing you may begin to make sense of what Villeneuve is trying to achieve.

 

The opening title card quotes the original author, Saramago: “Chaos is order yet undeciphered”. Much like the quote, the film remains hard to decipher. But given Adam’s lecture about Karl Marx’s idea of history repeating itself, once as tragedy and then as farce, perhaps a second viewing will reap more rewards.

 

Although if you have any trepidation regarding arachnids, a second viewing is probably best avoided!

Chris Lavery

 

16 (See IFCO for details)
90 minutes
Enemy
is released 2nd December.

Enemy – Official Website

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The Radharc Awards

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Chris Lavery takes a look at The Radharc Awards, which were established in 2002 to honour Radharc’s achievements in religious affairs programmes for Irish television from 1962 to 1997, and to encourage similar quality documentary production in Ireland today.

 

The Radharc Awards are presented every two years to “the producers of television documentaries of outstanding quality, which address national or international topics of social justice, morality and faith,” according to Radharc’s website.

 

Radharc Films produced hundreds of religious affairs documentaries from the 1950s up until the passing of its founder, Fr. Joe Dunn, in 1996. The IFI’s Irish Film Archive is now custodian of Radharc’s vast collection of documentaries, as well of thousands more broadcast quality tapes.

 

“As far as the Awards are concerned they were started in 2001 when George and Mary Waters got a group of former Radharc people together to try and keep the name of Radharc alive after the death of Fr. Joe Dunn in 1996”, Peter Dunn, Director of The Radharc Trust (and Fr. Joe’s brother), tells me. “They wanted to perpetuate his memory in some way and the idea was born of presenting an Award for current television documentaries that had the same ethos as the Radharc ones.”

 

Kasandra O’Connell, Head of the IFI’s Film Archive and a member of the jury for 2014 Radharc Awards, believes that the documentaries produced by Radharc between the ’60s and ’90s were important as “[the team] were not afraid to tackle difficult and often controversial topics and their standing as clergy allowed a level of access that a team of lay filmmakers may not have been able to achieve.”

 

Kasandra regards the awards themselves as important in “acknowledging the influence of documentaries in Irish society in raising awareness about issues of social justice and to celebrate the strength of our documentary output.”

 

The winners of this year’s Radharc Awards will be announced on Wednesday, 22nd October.

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We Love… Soundtracks – The Blues Brothers

 

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

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

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

 

We Love…

Soundtracks

 

The Blues Brother

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

Chris Lavery

I was first introduced to The Blues Brothers by my parents who had always loved the film. The homage to the blues genre might’ve passed me by then as a youth, and I don’t even remember liking it very much afterwards.

But I soon began to realise it was one of the funniest films I had seen, with Jake and Elwood’s increasingly farcical run-ins with the law and over the top car chases.

Over the years I found myself being drawn back to it time and time again, with it never losing its hold over me. The infectious energy of the music immediately permeating my soul as soon as the opening bars of She Caught the Katy kicks in…

The Blues Brothers Band existed a number of years before the 1980 movie. It started when Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi performed as a musical duo on a Saturday Night Live sketch in January, 1976. The personas of Jake and Elwood Blues and the outline for the movie’s story was teased out during downtime at Aykroyd’s blues bar.

After a number of successful sketches on SNL, the pair gathered a band of established musicians from the blues scene of Chicago, Memphis and New York and released an album, Briefcase Full of Blues, in 1976.

The 1980 movie could (unfairly) be described simply as a vehicle for their music and despite the movie’s bonkers plot being very much secondary to the movie’s music, it’s still very funny. One highlight being Jake and Elwood’s run-ins with a particular brand of right wing political nut-jobs – “I hate Illinois Nazis,” laments Elwood.

But it’s the love for blues music that really shines through and stays with you after watching. Music performed with real energy by people who live and breathe blues and soul. The musical cameos are a roll-call of R&B, soul and blues legends, including Ray Charles (whose scene-stealing Shake a Tail Feather being a highlight), Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Cab Calloway and John Lee Hooker.

Belushi had been sniffily criticised for not having the vocal talent to live up to the songs he was singing. But he more than made for it by throwing his heart and soul into every tune. Together with Aykroyd’s backing vocals and harmonica, they bring a tremendous passion and enthusiasm (despite their continual deadpan facial expressions throughout) to a range of blues and soul numbers. Each one is a stone-cold classic from a rich and varied back catalogue of blues music.

Even now, from the moment Jake and Elwood Blues show up and right up until the final credits roll I sit there with a ridiculous smile on my face and my foot-tapping wearing a hole in the floor.

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A Second Look at ‘The Purge: Anarchy’

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Chris Lavery takes a second look at The Purge: Anarchy.

In 2023, one year on from the events of The Purge (2013, dir. James DeMonaco), a stranger with mysterious intentions; a waitress mother and her outspoken, radicalised daughter; and a young couple on the verge of ending their relationship are all thrown together and struggle to survive the annual “purge” – one night of the year where all crime is legal.

The first Purge film, starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, had at its core a single good idea which was then stretched into an 85-minute, below par, straight-to-DVD feeling feature-length film, when instead it could have made an interesting short film and an accomplished calling card for a director’s first foray into the horror genre.

By focussing the events of a nationwide, annual killing spree on one wealthy household (most likely due to its $3m budget), DeMonaco merely alluded to the large-scale atrocities, sufficiently planting the seed in the audience’s imagination of unspeakable horrors going on all around, which lent itself well (enough, just about) to the personal horrors being visited on one family onscreen.

So a year later and having grossed over $64 million with the first film, DeMonaco brings us The Purge: Anarchy. With a budget three times that of the original, the director’s been granted a larger canvas on which to paint a picture of this terrifying dystopian event in an otherwise utopian future.

This time around the director expands the focus and shows the audience exactly what goes on when all crime is legal and people can’t afford the latest hi-tech guns and barricades. Unfortunately, by showing us more of the horrors, it seems altogether less scary. The power of allusion can sometimes be the scariest thing of all.

The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy are DeMonaco’s crude social critique of an ultra-right wing society, not so much touching on as bludgeoning you over the head with, issues such as wealth inequality, race, crime and poverty. Important issues certainly, but nothing here contributes in any meaningful way to enlightened debate. Even in the first film, this same social commentary lacked nuance.

Whereas the first Purge film borrowed from many of a recent trend of home invasion horrors (2008’s The Strangers for one), the dystopian nature of The Purge: Anarchy includes nods to Mad Max, The Hunger Games, Rollerball and even Eli Roth’s Hostel, but crucially not being able to come up with one single original idea of its own (other than the premise of the “purge” itself, a premise that had been exhausted in the first film anyway).

In the end what we get is not as good as any of those films, except maybe Hostel, which was also rubbish. Watching The Purge: Anarchy felt more like watching someone else playing a video game with its boringly linear and predictable video game plot and expository video-game dialogue. The rag-tag bunch of survivors we follow throughout the film merely lurch from one violent set piece to another, allowing just enough time in between to have some talking and, you know, character development. But you soon realise there’s not one character who isn’t a one-dimensional clichéd bore whose fate you could give two hoots about.

You’re better off purging this film from your memory.

 

 

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Trampoline

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Chris Lavery checks out Tom Ryan’s low-budget debut feature Trampoline, which is set to screen in Cork on Thursday, 12th June 2014 at the Beggarman.

 

Directed by first-time writer-director Tom Ryan, Trampoline follows the story of directionless Angie (Spratt), who returns home to Tipperary from London to reconnect with her family and friends. After securing a teaching job in her local school, taking after her retired teacher mum (Walshe), Angie begins to settle back into life at home. But she soon finds her old life isn’t as easy to readjust to as she first thought.

 

Filmed for less than €1,000, Trampoline started life as a debut feature of modest ambitions, but since its Irish premiere at last October’s IndieCork Film Festival, Trampoline hasn’t gone unnoticed. First, Spratt was the recipient of the award for Best Leading Actress in a Feature Film from the Los Angeles Indie Fest awards in November. Then came recognition from the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival in New York a few weeks later when Trampoline won Best Narrative Feature. This then culminated in a limited theatrical release in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, the town in which the film is set.

 

Given Ryan’s background as an understudy to Andrij Parekh – cinematographer for films such as Half Nelson and Blue Valentine – and his experience working as a camera trainee on films such as Steve McQueen’s Shame, it’s clear he was paying attention, with Half Nelson particularly being an influence here. What strikes you initially about Trampoline is its visual aesthetic. Together with his director of photography, Cian Moynan, Ryan shows an adept skill at capturing beautiful exterior scenes of Dublin as well as atmospheric settings for Angie’s social life around Nenagh.

 

The juxtaposition of these colourful, vibrant shots together with the relatively mundane interiors of Angie’s home and school life, provides an additional narrative (together with the dialogue) that highlights Angie’s aimless and unsure life ambitions.

 

It could’ve been considered a risk, placing the fortunes of a debut feature film in the hands of a single central character, rather than an ensemble. But with Angie, Ryan has created a completely believable, fully rounded character who, despite her flaws, we are easily able to warm to.

 

But praise for this cannot be shared by Ryan alone. As Angie, Spratt is the heart and soul of Trampoline and delivers a superb performance. Not just in the delivery of dialogue, but also in her unspoken scenes. Most notably, a scene where she watches her absentee musician father play in the local pub is a moving scene of a young woman looking towards her future by reconciling with her past – a triumphant display despite not a single word being spoken.

 

Despite able support from a range of background characters (all local actors), Trampoline belongs to Spratt.

 

As Ryan, and producer Claire Gormley, continue to bring Trampoline to more festivals, some attention is now being turned to the team’s next project – one which will be eagerly anticipated by many given this accomplished debut.

 

Trampoline will be screened upstairs in the Beggarman on Gillabbey Street Cork on Thursday, 12th June at 8pm. Tickets are €5 at the door and includes free popcorn for the event.

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Cinema Review: Godzilla

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DIR: Gareth Edwards • WRIMax Borenstein PRO: Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull • DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Bob Ducsay • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Richard Bullock • CAST: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston

Godzilla, the most famous monster of them all, is unleashed on a modern-day San Francisco. Unfortunately, Godzilla is not the only monster to be awoken… Can the might of the US Navy, led by Admiral Stenz (Strathairn) and scientist Dr. Serizawa (Watanabe), stop the King of the Monsters before it’s too late?

Godzilla – originally created by Japanese film director Ishiro Honda and the Toho Co. Ltd. production company in the 1950s – is the most iconic movie monster in film history, whose filmic infamy remains unsurpassed (not even by King Kong) to this day.

Honda’s 1954 original spawned over a dozen sequels and has its fingerprints all over nearly every creature feature since. It still continues to inspire today’s contemporary directors such as J.J. Abrams (Cloverfield) and Guillermo Del Toro (Pacific Rim).

Bringing an up-to-date version of the story to an American audience was always going to happen sooner or later, but the less said about Roland Emmerich’s 1998 monstrous flop the better.

This time around the reins were handed to a relative newcomer, Gareth Edwards.

Edwards filmed his debut feature (Monsters, 2010) – about two people travelling across America six years after aliens invaded Earth – on a shoestring budget of just $800,000 with a minuscule crew of just seven people.

He had to be imaginative in the way he showed the dangers at hand by merely alluding to them, rather than explicitly revealing them. It was a technique Edwards used effectively in Monsters and it’s also one he’s migrated to the much bigger budget (an estimated $160 million) of Godzilla.

Instead of splurging the cash on extended action scenes early in the running time, Edwards instead gives us mere peripheral glimpses of the action through TV news coverage or unexpected cut-aways at the last moment. Thus Edwards deftly keeps the big reveal of Godzilla doing his thing relatively obscured until the third act.

As with all big-budget monster movies, the fortunes of the film live or die by the quality of the CGI. The effects on show here are near faultless. Edwards and his visual effects team (as well as the Irish director of photography, Seamus McGarvey) deserve high praise for the stunning visuals – not just for the computer-generated monsters, but also the battle-ravaged cities and landscapes. A scene showing a military parachute jump into the middle of Godzilla battling through San Francisco is a particularly impressive highlight (although its impact was somewhat diminished by its inclusion in the trailer).

Sound is also noticeably well used. Rather than a constant ear-bashing similar to a Transformers films, you get moments of desolate quiet, allowing Godzilla’s signature roar to pack an even mightier punch.

Clocking in at just over two hours, Godzilla is not a compact film and the plot takes some time to get into its stride. Getting the most from your (excellent) cast early on to flesh out the relevant back story and character development rather than jumping straight into the action was a smart move by Edwards but after half an hour you do find yourself ready for something big and loud to break something expensive.

It’s a bit of a surprise to find such a wealth of acting talent in a big-budget blockbuster such as this, but it’s an extremely welcome one. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as the army bomb disposal expert whom we follow through the story, proves an able body in the action stakes. Ken Watanabe has very little to do other than wear a look of perpetual shellshock throughout and Sally Hawkins is equally underused – providing nothing more than plot exposition. Bryan Cranston, meanwhile, is a joy to watch and steals every scene he’s in.

Honda’s original Godzilla was borne out of a nation still recovering from the nuclear devastation of World War II and came to be a representation of such. In Edwards’ update, similar contemporary parallels are noticeable by their absence. Threat of nuclear war is not as prevalent today as the 1950s, thereby making Edwards’ Godzilla a more diversionary spectacle rather than a contemporary social metaphor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. With Godzilla, Edwards has produced an entertaining, engaging, superior blockbuster and a worthy addition to the King of the Monster’s canon of films.

Chris Lavery

12A (See IFCO for details)
122 mins

Godzilla is released on 16th May 2014

Godzilla – Official Website

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Film is History – IFI Irish Film Archive

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Chris Lavery delves into the IFI Irish Film Archive and chats to its Head, Kasandra O’Connell, about the preservation of Irish film.

 

 

It’s the early 1950s, and John Ford is filming in Ireland for his latest feature – The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Kevin Murray, a building contractor from Sligo, is indulging his hobby and is doing some filming of his own, capturing on-set footage of The Quiet Man being filmed.

 

Many years later, his widowed wife, Peig, is on the train down to Dublin to donate her late husband’s old amateur film collection to the Irish Film Archive in the Irish Film Institute, including not just The Quiet Man footage but reels of footage of family life.

 

“She used to come down on the train from Sligo with plastic bags full of cans of film and sit there with Archive staff while we discovered them together,” recalls Kasandra O’Connell (pictured), head of the IFI Irish Film Archive, as we sit down after a tour of the archive and its many treasures. “She hadn’t seen the footage for many, many years. A number of her children, as well as her husband, were deceased so it was very emotional for her to discover these films.”

 

Not only was she reliving her family life from years past, but she was also helping to provide an accurate historical account of life for this average family from Sligo.

 

“There were a lot of films and it was really useful to have her there to be able to explain to us who people were and why the films had been created, which is often the link that is missing if you get material in,” Kasandra tells me.

 

Ireland was one of the last countries in Europe to set up their own national film archive in the 1980s (even though the Irish Film Institute was set up in the 1940s), mainly due to the fact there were not many commercial productions being made in Ireland at the time. From its infancy to the present day, the IFI works a three-pronged approach to Irish film – education, exhibition and preservation. The Archive itself is offered as a resource to help educate on Irish cultural subjects and public information, using its collection as a distribution library, made available to everyone including filmmakers, students and the general public.

 

The Catholic Church had been prominent in the IFI’s inception in the early days, showing great foresight in recognising the value of film footage as a cultural record. In fact, much of the early amateur film footage included in the distributing library was filmed by members of the clergy. Not only because they saw the value in film’s cultural significance, but also from a practical perspective – they had the time and the money to do it.

 

But having Church involvement in matters relating to what is deemed acceptable to be included in the IFI’s distributing library could be seen to be a divisive issue. However, this issue had already been foreseen.

 

“By the time we developed the Archive in the late ’80s, we had already broken our associations with the Church. But I suppose it did have an impact because we used our distributing library as the basis of our archive collections. The Irish material that had been part of the distributing library material…there would’ve been a slant, I suppose, on them,” explains Kasandra. “The material that we in our association with the Church had considered to be morally and educationally acceptable.”

 

This material would’ve included a wide range of government public information films, including topics such as savings, tuberculosis, and safe cycling, which were “really instructing people on how to make sure they were healthy, clean and morally correct!

 

“But then also all the ones about the cultural importance of Irishness and that kind of thing…I won’t go as far as to say propaganda, but putting us in a good light!” laughs Kasandra.

 

Not only is the Archive home to the quirky (within the archive resides an information film about how to build an igloo, dubbed into Irish) but also the vitally important – the Archive has the only known footage of the Magdelene laundries from the 1930s (which was filmed by a priest).

 

The importance of the preservation of Irish film is a topic Kasandra feels strongly about, writing extensively on the subject in 2012. She quotes Martin Scorsese as saying “Film is history. With every foot of film that is lost, we lose a link to our culture, to the world around us, to each other and to ourselves”, which begs the question: what links to Irish culture are missing in the Irish Film Archive?

 

“One of the things I’ve found very difficult to find in recent years is state-sponsored films, and the kind of material that, historically, we are very strong on which are the public information films and the Bord Failte tourism films. In the last 20 years there has been no conduit for that material to come directly into us,” laments Kasandra. “So there may be collections of tapes of Imagine Ireland tourism or The Gathering, all that kind of stuff, in particular companies that would’ve been hired to do the PR, but there’s no centralised collection, and no concerted effort to make sure that it is preserved in a way that people can have access to it and study it.”

 

But that isn’t through a lack of trying. The IFI have attempted on a couple of occasions to get governmental cooperation to compile some of this material in order for it to be archived properly, before it is potentially lost forever. It’s easy to think that these sorts of PR films on Ireland aren’t of much cultural value, but Kasandra feels this is a mindset that needs to change.

 

“We won’t be able to look back the way that we look back now on how we portrayed ourselves. I think the official voice of the Irish government or the Irish people on this subject isn’t going to be easily accessible. Whereas we have a beautiful picture of how we thought of ourselves in the ’50s and ’60s!”

 

As new technology drives us forward into the digital age, more and more filmmakers, both professional and amateur, are embracing the world of digital film. Thanks to digital, video cameras are now cheaper, smaller and more accessible than ever before, with some people making films with their smartphone. Together with the rise of social media and video-sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, publishing new amateur film has never been easier. So it would be easy to assume that archiving digital film material is also getting easier.

 

Unfortunately this is not the case. The cost of storing digital material is roughly ten times the cost of storing film.

 

“Climate control vaults for film are very expensive to run, but we know what to do with film. We put it into a cold space and we leave it there,” she explains.

 

But when you have a large archive of digital films, “that’s when you’re into a never-ending cycle of migration and refreshing and updating and making sure that all your files can open in a year’s time. You have to interact with them constantly to make sure they’re still useable.”

 

One of the main issues with storing digitally is there is no set ‘gold standard’ – no agreed format in which to preserve digital film across the industry. So as archivists, Kasandra and her colleagues are advised to use three different formats! If they can afford to, that is.

 

The real problem though, as Kasandra sees it, is the false assumption that absolutely everything that’s ever been committed to film and properly archived is now going to be available digitally. However, by and large the only films that will be digitised are the ones that are going to make money “because people aren’t going to invest in digitising material that they can’t get their return on as it is such a costly and time-consuming process.”

 

Due to the level of care that needs to be taken with preserving digital files and the strict budgetary choices being made as to which films are digitised, there will come a time when it will be difficult to find such discoveries as Kevin Murray’s footage of The Quiet Man.

 

“Due to equipment obsolescence and the speed at which technology changes, you won’t have situations where people are discovering the digital equivalent of boxes of film reels under their bed and sending them in to us. Whereas with film, it is robust and has survived being poorly stored and the mechanism used to watch it hasn’t really changed over 100 years.”

 

And there is a real worry that history could repeat itself:

 

“The films that are considered worthy of being digitised and then being preserved will be very easily accessible but there’ll be a whole swathe of digital material that people don’t have the resources to look after. It’ll be like the silent films that no longer exist because nobody thought they were important enough.”

 

Recently, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland announced they are making funding available (about 2.8 million euro a year) in the form of grants to anyone who has broadcast-related collections for preservation purposes. Hopefully other government agencies will recognise the value of the work being done at the Irish Film Archive, and other archives across the country, and put something similar in place for the non-broadcast moving image collections that are such an important part of our heritage.

 

To find out more about the Irish Film Archive, visit www.ifi.ie/archive

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Cinema Review: Oldboy

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DIR: Spike Lee • WRI: Mark Protosevich • PRO: Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Spike Lee • DOP: Sean Bobbitt • ED: Barry Alexander Brown • DES: Sharon Seymour • MUS: Roque Baños • CAST: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley

 

On paper, everything about this remake of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 cult action thriller seems promising: one of the best films of the past ten years as source material, an ‘auteur’ director in Spike Lee, Josh Brolin starring with the up-and-coming Elizabeth Olsen and the recently excellent Sharlto Copley.

 

The plot is hard to fault, too. Simple in its synopsis but complex in its narrative, Oldboy tells the story of Joe Doucett (Brolin), who is kidnapped and held prisoner with no explanation and with no idea who might want to hold him captive. After 20 years in captivity, Joe is released with a phone and a wallet full of money. With no answers and many questions, he sets out to seek vengence on the stranger who stole 20 years of his life.

 

All good omens that this particular Hollywood remake of a highly respected piece of Korean filmmaking could be the exception to the recent rule of lazily recycling much loved non-English language genre films. With a chequered history in this regard, perhaps Hollywood was learning to give its source material the respect it deserves, letting the spirit of the original film shine through while making the story relevant to a new audience?

 

But alas, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Oldboy has been transformed from an imaginative, gripping and (crucially) original action thriller into a by-the-numbers revenge thriller.

 

Lee takes Park’s complex protagonist and changes him into the standard ‘bad man who learns the error of his ways and vows to reform himself’, explicitly showing the audience in the first act that Joe is a bad husband, an even worse father, a cocksure businessman and a terrible drunk. The original left all this to be implied.

 

See also the signature action set piece, in which the protagonist battles a posse of assorted ne’er-do-wells with a hammer. In Park’s version, this is simply thrilling in its execution, shot (imaginatively) as a cross-section of the building. In Lee’s, it’s shot in a similar way, showing his obvious respect for what is an impressively-constructed long shot. But the scene is let down by the fight’s choreography, which looks more like a dance with its over-exaggerated falls and dives rather than anything approaching peril.

 

The plot has been given the Hollywood treatment, too.  In Park’s Oldboy, the mystery surrounding the main character’s imprisonment and sudden release only deepens as the film progresses, further drawing you in. But Lee unleashes major plot revelations much sooner than Park, leaving precious little mystery in the film’s final third. Where the original perfectly straddled the grey in-between, Lee looks to attain a perfect symmetry in the unfolding storyline between Brolin’s Joe and his mysterious captor. The director seems to have little trust in his audience, pointing out every little plot nuance, just in case we missed it.

 

It becomes increasingly clear that Spike Lee is merely a gun for hire on this project, rather than the ‘auteur’ of his earlier career. A fact confirmed when Lee neuters the original’s brave ending.

 

Most of the supporting cast do an admirable job with some below-par scripting, with special mention for Copley who is unrecognisable here, playing the polar opposite of his deadly mercenary in Elysium. Brolin works tirelessly trying to combine the physically demanding action set pieces with the deep inner turmoil being felt by Joe but, in the end, neither of these entirely convince.

 

There are things to be admired, though. The film looks great. Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography combined with the set design give Joe’s imprisonment a washed-out dullness, juxtaposed nicely with the outside world’s vibrancy.

 

Measured against Park’s original, Lee’s Oldboy is dumbed-down and hamfisted (and that’s before mentioning the exaggerated product placement). While the film shows the occasional flash of promise, Lee would have done better to fully embrace the brilliance of the original, rather than using it merely as a blueprint.

Chris Lavery

18 (See IFCO for details)

104  mins

Oldboy is released on 6th December 2013

Oldboy  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: For Those in Peril

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DIR/WRI: Paul Wright • PRO: Mary Burke, Polly Stokes • DOP: Benjamin Kracun • ED: Michael Aaglund • MUS: Erik Enocksson • DES: Simon Rogers • CAST: George MacKay, Kate Dickie, Michael Smiley

Aaron (MacKay) is the sole survivor of a fishing accident, in which five men (including his older brother) were lost. Trying to come to terms with his loss in a small fishing community that sees him as the personification of the disaster, Aaron becomes increasingly obsessed with the sea that took his brother, hoping to find him alive.

What strikes you almost from the start of writer-director Paul Wright’s debut feature-length film is the atmosphere, an atmosphere that he and his crew ably permeate through every frame of this film. With the film being set in a small coastal community, you can almost taste the sea salt in the grey overcast air and you can nearly smell the pungent whiff of freshly caught fish. By the time you meet the reclusive Aaron and his mother (Dickie) for the first time, you’re already suitably invested in this community.

George MacKay, as Aaron, does a fantastic job of showing a conflicted young man’s growing isolation in his home community merely because he survived a terrible disaster. He serves as a constant reminder that his fishing crewmates aren’t coming home. The grief felt by the town runs alongside Aaron’s increasing alienation and both are emotionally palpable.

Wright imbues an undercurrent of sea folklore in the background throughout, which lends the film some of it’s more surreal scenes. Most of which work well to make you wonder about Aaron and his return from the sea. Is he somehow responsible? Could he be the devil that mothers tell their scared sons about in the sea myths?

Special mention too for Kate Dickie as Aaron’s mum, Cathy, who is excellent as she captures an overwhelmingly distressed mother who’s lost one son and in danger of losing the other. But needs to hold herself together as best she can for Aaron’s sake.

A scene in which she dedicates a karaoke rendition of “First Time E’er I Saw Your Face” to her boys is touching, especially so when it’s intercut with scenes of Aaron starting to come apart at the seams in the forest. Fans of her performance here should do well to check out the excellent Andrea Arnold’s 2006 drama Red Road.

A community’s abandonment of a man in desparate need of help is played out effectually and Aaron’s steady decline into obsession and madness crescendos painfully in the final few scenes.

With great work from all his cast, Paul Wright has crafted a very good film filled with atmosphere and high on affecting emotion – Aaron’s fragility and confusion, Cathy’s heartbreak and the community’s grief, frustration and suspicion. A film worth seeking out.

Chris Lavery

 

93 mins

For Those In Peril  is released on 8th November 2013

 

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Cinema Review: Closed Circuit

'Closed Circuit' Trailer: Eric Bana

DIR: John Crowley • WRI: Steven Knight  PRO: Tim Bevan, Chris Clark, Eric Fellner DOP: Adriano Goldman  ED: Lucia Zucchetti MUS: Joby Talbot DES: Jim Clay CAST: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent, Ciarán Hinds

 

Martin Rose (Bana) is an arrogant but brilliant defence barrister. When a terrorist attack hits London and the main suspect’s lawyer dies, Rose is called in to replace him. The prosecution’s case against the suspect, Farroukh Erdogan (Moschitto), involves classified evidence which can only be heard in closed court proceedings.

 

The Attorney General (Broadbent) must appoint a Special Advocate, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall), who has clearance to see the classified evidence and is tasked in representing Erdogan during the “closed” proceedings. Once the evidence is revealed to Simmons-Howe, she and Erdogan’s defence lawyer, Rose, are no longer allowed to communicate due to national security.

 

But when secrets begin to emerge and lives are endangered, they must work together, despite their personal history, to seek the truth.

 

In Closed Circuit, director John Crowley (Intermission, 2003) tries very hard to ask important questions like what costs are acceptable in order to “protect national security”? And, at what point does protecting national security become an easy excuse to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of the press? Questions that are certainly topical in today’s world of Wikileaks and more recently, the NSA and GCHQ mass-surveillance operations revealed by Edward Snowden.

 

However, when it comes to stories of secrets and conspiracies, you get the nagging feeling that this sort of thing has been done before and done better. One notable example being Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer (2010).

 

Crowley effectively punctuates his film with scenes using multiple CCTV camera angles of the same event making an interesting point about whether we’re right to be paranoid about the all-seeing surveillance state. But when he also has his characters continually shoot suspicious glances at CCTV cameras or strangers in the crowd who may, or may not, be secret service agents, you feel that Crowley is trying a bit too hard to get his point across.

 

Scripted by Steven Knight, who has written some exceptional scripts detailing life in gritty London including Redemption (2013), Eastern Promises (2007) and Dirty Pretty Things (2007), again produces an admirable script focusing on the morally grey area between seeking true justice and protecting the public at large. So it’s unfortunate when the plot really begins to stretch the limits of credibility as it approaches the third act and asks a lot of your willingness to suspend your disbelief to see it through to it’s conclusion.

 

As in any conspiracy thrillers, there’s always characters who are not quite what they seem, and when done well, you don’t see the character twists coming. But alas, Closed Circuit doesn’t do a great job in providing genuinely unforeseen twists. It won’t spoil the plot to point out how dastardly Broadbent’s Attorney General comes across from the very start. It’s almost a bit pantomime. (“Oooh, he’s clock-watching during a funeral, he’s definitely a baddie!”)

 

It’s also a shame to report how uninvolving the central relationship between Bana’s Martin and Hall’s Claudia is, as both actors have both done some very accomplished work in the past. Perhaps because this relationship, and the history they share together, is never really given enough screen time early on to help us believe in it later when the thriller aspect of the film kicks off. A sense of a lack of chemistry between the pair is also prevalent throughout most of their scenes, excruciatingly noticeable in the hotel room scene.

 

All in all, what looks like a good little taut conspiracy thriller on paper with a great cast and accomplished writer, in reality adds up to much less than the sum of its parts. Bana, Hall, and especially Broadbent, can all do much better than this.

Disappointing.

Chris Lavery

12A (See IFCO for details)

96 mins

Closed Circuit is released on 25th October 2013

Closed Circuit – Official Website

 

 

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Spotlight: Eliot & Me

Lucy (Ella Connolly) in Eliot & Me 8

Lucy (Ella Connolly) in Eliot & Me

Chris Lavery shines a light on Eliot & Me, a low-budget Dublin-based children’s film and talks to its director, Fintan Connolly. Eliot & Me screens at the Cinemagic International Film and Television Festival for Young People (4 – 16 October) in Belfast this weekend.

 

Eliot & Me follows the journey of 10-year old Lucy (Ella Connolly) as she struggles to deal with her parents’ separation. After a lot of persuasion, Lucy convinces her mum to let her get a dog and so Eliot the Yorkshire Terrier who they is rescue from the local dog shelter enters Lucy’s life.

Lucy and Eliot are inseparable and things begin to look up for Lucy as Eliot is there to help her through living without a father who’s absconded to London as well as being a friend she can talk to about the bullies at school.

But Lucy’s world is turned upside down when Eliot goes missing. After some sleuthing, Lucy embarks on a dangerous adventure across the city to find Eliot and bring him home.

Originally commissioned as an hour-long television film for RTÉ to be shown over the Christmas period in 2011, that was where director Fintan Connolly thought the project would end. But that was just the start of a year-long journey for this little film with a big heart.

“There was a festival in the Czech Republic last year that were doing a retrospective of Irish films and they were looking for children’s films particularly,” says Fintan, “so somebody gave them our name – that’s really how the whole festival thing started. We weren’t really expecting the whole festival life. I didn’t even know there was a whole circuit of children’s festivals, but every country seems to have one.”

Over a year later and Eliot & Me has screened at 11 festivals all around the world (Belfast’s Cinemagic Festival this weekend being the 12th) and Ella Connolly’s performance as the beating heart of the story hasn’t gone unnoticed.

After winning the Best Actor award at Dream Fest in Slatina, Romania, she went on to win two more awards at the 12th China International Children’s Film Festival.

But Ella hasn’t let the critical acclaim unsettle her.

“For Ella to win both the Children’s Jury Prize and the Adult Jury Prize was quite something,” Fintan tells me. “She’s very down to earth. It’s kind of like her other life outside of Ireland. She’s just going to school and doing her own thing so she’s quite unfazed by it really.”

Eliot & Me marks a clear departure from Connolly’s previous features. His first film, Flick (2000), dealt with issues relating to drug-dealing. His second, Trouble With Sex (2005), was a film about two people meeting incidentally and embarking on an intense sexual relationship.

Director Fintan Connolly 2013

Director Fintan Connolly

The main issues dealt with in Eliot & Me are parental separation, kids wanting to have a pet and bullying at school. But it also touches on what Connolly describes as “the dangers [that] might come from the internet” as we learn that Lucy has an online friend called Mike whom she never meets.

“Because the film is really aimed at 8, 9 and 10-year olds, we didn’t want to do anything too over the top and too scary. So the thing with Mike was unresolved but it was just to hint at that this is what a lot of kids are doing now [on the internet], unsupervised.”

While Connolly didn’t want to moralise to the audience, he included the small subplot with Mike to say to children “be careful who you’re talking to and just realise that Mike, who [says he] is 10, could be somebody completely different.”

Even after touring the film extensively on the children’s festival circuit, it seems the work still isn’t over for Fintan and his team. “What’s come out of the work that we’re doing at the moment is there is interest in it being a feature film,” says Connolly. This would mean extending it from its current 56-minute runtime. “We did shoot additional material at the time so it may be that we actually do that in the next couple of months.”

While enjoying the success of Eliot & Me, it’s clear Connolly has also enjoyed being exposed to other children’s films himself while at the festivals: “I’ve seen some very good movies that wouldn’t neccesarily ever make it to your local cinema.”

It’s obvious that Connolly is happy being a part of making children’s films, something that, as he points out, “we don’t really have a tradition of making here.”

After the success of Eliot & Me, here’s hoping Connolly kickstarts that tradition.

Eliot & Me is playing at the Cinemagic International Film and Television Festival for Young People in Belfast on Saturday, 12th October at 2pm followed by a Q&A with director Fintan Connolly, producer Fiona Bergin and actress Ella Connolly.

Chris Lavery

 

www.cinemagic.org.uk/

 

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Bio: Chris Lavery

 

 

Film preferences can tell you a lot about a person. Chris Lavery thinks Die Hard is the ultimate Christmas movie, True Romance is the greatest love story ever told and The Big Lebowski is the funniest movie ever made.

 

Anyone who tries to dissuade Chris from believing any of these “facts” will be met with a juvenile “talk to the hand, cuz the face ain’t listenin'” riposte.

 

Apart from that, Chris is a mild-mannered movie fan who is constantly astounded by how light shining through 35mm film moving at 24 frames per second can create such breathless wonderment and inspire us to dream big.

 

Unfortunately, Chris’s dream of being asked to go to the Enchantment Under The Sea dance of 1955 will never be realised.

 

Chris is currently studying a BA in Journalism at Dublin Business School.

 

 

Twitter: @ChrisLavery6

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