Review: Danny Collins

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DIR: Dan Fogelman • WRI: Dan Fogelman • PRO: Nimitt Mankad, Jessie Nelson • DOP: Steve Yedlin • ED: Julie Monroe • MUS: Ryan Adams, Theodore Shapiro, John Lennon • DES: Dan Bishop • CAST: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby, Cannavale, Christopher Plummer

 

Despite having carved a lionized career playing mordacious mobsters, murderers, moguls and mentors in crime thrillers, Al Pacino has peppered such tragedian roles with the odd foray into the sunnier comedy genre over the course of his forty-something career. While early comedy roles in films such as Dick Tracy and Frankie and Johnnie may have garnered Pacino critical success, later roles in lesser critically received comedies such as Stand Up Guys and The Humbling have failed to reposition Pacino with anything of significant weight outside his celebrated career as the introspective intimidator in Hollywood crime dramas.

 

In his latest comedy jaunt Danny Collins, Pacino stars as the eponymous ageing pop star who compromised his musical integrity for commercial success when starting out in the industry forty years ago. In spite of his enduring successful career, he has grown cynical and frustrated with belting out the same repetitive hits to an increasingly older audience. When he discovers a letter from John Lennon written in 1971 encouraging him to remain faithful to his musical integrity, it inspires him to take control of his creativity in the way he should have done a long time ago. He sets about righting the wrongs of the past and along the way encounters a new family, true friendship and a psychological battle composing the songs he feels he was truly meant to write.

 

Inspired by the true story of British folk musician Steve Tilston, who received a letter from John Lennon thirty-four years after he wrote it, assuring him that success would not compromise his songwriting abilities, renowned Hollywood screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love. The Guilt Trip, Last Vegas) debuts his first foray into comedy as feature film director. With such screenwriting credentials and illustrious cast at the helm, it would be safe to assume that Fogelman should be able to elevate the over-familiar narrative of sentimental self-discovery into a refreshingly contemporary and cautionary tale about the malignancy of greed and success. Unfortunately, the hit-and-miss Fogelman is unable to draw on the screenwriting resources of some of his previous films, instead lapsing into the well-oiled narrative of transformation that Hollywood ubiquitously churns out by the bucket load. Evidently assuming this universal parable is not in need of refreshment, Fogelman repeatedly meets narrative expectations, which surprisingly for an experienced screenwriter, results in a somewhat indifference to his narrative, relying all too easily on Lennon’s soundtrack to bolster the film’s predictable ruts, of which there are far too many.

 

What was much needed in Danny Collins to leaven the formulaic narrative was to engage with the dark subtext that is sporadically introduced but let flaccidly hanging. In the hands of the ever-ruminative Pacino, the exploration of Danny’s morality and conscience; addiction, abandonment, manipulation of and by the industry, would have rooted his moral transition from self-obsessed, pitying crooner into worldly-wise family man, all the more tangible had his character been given the multi-textured attention Pacino is renowned for but is instead carpeted over with sugared-coated fluff. Indeed, it is the outstanding performances from its leading actors that saves Danny Collins from becoming another forgettable, twee comedy drama and Pacino can honourably salute his latest comedy role, which is nigh on flawless as the impish and childlike, washed-out, raspy crooner who balances the burden of self-destruction from the perilous trappings of show business with the emotional sensitivity of the first flushes of genuine love, friendship and family bonding. When given the opportunity, Pacino displays the emotional pain of the tragic loner with such palpable nuance; it is a tragedy in itself that this lack of emotional exploration into Pacino’s character, concealed behind the overuse of Lennon’s soundtrack, becomes a wasted opportunity and severe oversight by Fogelman.

 

Annette Bening is as infallible as ever and plays the perfect foil to Pacino’s roguish guff with understated sophistication and razor-sharp wit, while Christopher Plummer as Danny’s corrosive manager, is failed too often by misplaced vulgar dialogue, which is so painfully at odds with his character’s intent at times, that when he does express emotional humility, it appears alienating and disingenuous. The surprise revelation is Jennifer Garner who displays impeccable comedic timing and although remains within the boundaries of her habitual risk-free maternal roles, could have stolen the acting accolades from Pacino and Bening, had she benefitted from a more robust script and developed characterisation.

 

It would be expected that a film by a first-time director would contain many of the lesser-polished elements than would be customary from a more experienced filmmaker. However, it is not the direction that is the weakest component in Danny Collins but rather ironically, its immensely lethargic script that relies too heavily on thundering clichés that devalue the illuminating comedic performances from Pacino, Bening and Garner. Within a more solid and polished narrative of self-discovery, the conclusion would be fittingly apt, however, in the absence of this, it merely appears Fogelman has run out of steam or has just simply given up.

Danny Collins is, at times, an engaging and downright hilarious comedy drama that will have you laughing through the tears but this is simply owing to the sublime performances from its cast and not through a refreshingly new perspective on the hackneyed Hollywood narrative of transformation.

 

   Dee O’Donoghue

 

15A (See IFCO for details)

106 minutes

Danny Collins is released 29th May 2015

 

Danny Collins – Official Website

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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DIR: David Fincher • WRI: Steven Zaillian • PRO: Ceán Chaffin, Scott Rudin, Søren Stærmose, Ole Søndberg • DOP: Jeff Cronenweth • ED: Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall • DES: Donald Graham Burt • CAST: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer

The news of this ‘Americanisation’ was not exactly greeted with open arms, since the original was released only two years ago, and Noomi Rapace found to be the The Definitive Girl. But director David Fincher has played it relatively smart, refusing to move the story from its original Swedish setting, and even though the story is told in English, most of the cast speak in strong Swedish accents.

The one exception being Daniel Craig, as the new Mikael Blomkvist, who retains his English accent, but integrates new levels of strengths and weaknesses into the character. The story of his fall from grace after being found guilty of libel, to being hired by Christopher Plummer’s rich family patriarch to find the murderer of his niece, an event which took place 40 years prior, is played out with such slow burn tension that you don’t even notice it creep up on you.

Meanwhile, Roomey Mara’s Lisbeth Salander blasts off from the get-go. Promptly after being hired to do a background check on Blomkvist, Salander is violently and sexually assaulted by her state-appointed case worker. This is not a movie for the faint of heart, and Salander’s revenge is sure to have the entire audience looking away from the screen. Soon she is hired by Blomkvist to assist him in his case, and the plot of the movie kicks into top gear.

But this is almost 70 minutes into a 160-minute movie, and Fincher is here to take his time. Every shot is framed immaculately, every edit is timed precisely, every music cue introduced perfectly. He gets some career-best performances from his large cast, and Mara can rest easy knowing that her version of The Girl is just as unique and memorable as Rapace’s.

The only fault with the movie lies with its original material, and is the same problem that plagued the original adaptation. Once the main plot wraps up, there are still some 15 minutes of miscellaneous storylines to wade through, and while they are setting up for the sequels, on their own they feel superfluous. However, speaking of the sequels, it is generally regarded that the original adaptations of The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest dropped the ball, so here’s hoping Fincher and co. return to show them how it’s really done.

Rory Cashin

Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is released on 26th  December 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zyj2Qb9PEiQ

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The Last Station

The Last Station

DIR/WRI: Michael Hoffman • PRO: Bonnie Arnold, Chris Curling, Jens Murer • DOP: Sebastian Edschmid • ED: Patricia Rommel • DES: Patrizia Von Brandenstein • CAST: Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti

Director Michael Hoffman has given me some beloved guilty pleasure movies in the past, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Soapdish, but there’s nothing to be guilty about for loving The Last Station. The film examines the complex relationship between Leo Tolstoy’s avid followers and his family in the final days of his life. Both sides despise each other, for understandable reasons, and a devastating power struggle ensues between his loving, but somewhat status-obsessed wife, Lady Sofya (Mirren) and the leader of the Tolstoyan movement, Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) who, despite having a truly villainous demeanour, seems only to have the best in mind for his idol, Tolstoy.

The story itself, mediated by James McAvoy’s Valentin Bulgakov, a young Tolstoyan who finds himself caught in the middle, is admirably believable. Both parties involved are flawed yet both are genuine. Chertkov believes that Tolstoy’s work belongs in the public domain and should belong to the people of Russia, whereas Sofya believes the works should be kept in the family so that the next generations may be looked after. Both parties are trying to convince him of what to put in his will during the final days of his life, leading to blazing rows and skulduggery.

As I am truly a sucker for romance between elderly people, I found the scenes between Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer particularly moving. In between highly theatrical arguments, they share scenes of intimacy that are truly touching. Forty-year marriages are a complex business. Love is a messy affair and not always as cut-and-dry as most stories would have you believe. That is the heart of this film. Both lead actors give life and energy to their characters, along with a sense of understanding that they are reaching the end of their days.

Visually, this is a masterpiece. Hoffman has always been a man for lush colour palettes and luxurious, rich landscape but he outdoes himself here as every frame is delicately lit and sumptuously designed, but not so gaudy as to take away from the performances. Accompanied by a lovely score by Sergei Yevtushenko, the film takes on a dream-like quality, which allows the viewer to bask in its beauty, despite the melodrama on show.

This film is a joy to behold. A fantastically complex study of the unromantic side of marriage, the trials and tribulations that befall true love, The Last Station boasts brilliant performances by Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer and also by the strong supporting cast. Perhaps serious Tolstoy fans might find factual errors in the film, but otherwise let this film sweep you away on a romantic, political, morally chequered journey through the final days of Leo Tolstoy.

Charlene Lydon

(See biog here)

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

The Last Station is released 19th Feb 2010

The Last Station – Official Website

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