Review: The Survivalist

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DIR/WRI: Stephen Fingleton • PRO: David Gilbery, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones • DOP: Damien Elliott • ED: Mark Towns • DES: Dick Lunn • CAST: Olwen Fouere, Mia Goth, Martin McCann, Andrew Simpson

Stephen Fingleton’s debut feature The Survivalist follows his award-winning short SLR and Magpie. Indeed, the feature is set in the same post-apocalyptic world of the latter short in which oil dependency and food supplies plummeting create a cut-throat world that is nearly impossible to survive in. Like Magpie, The Survivalist takes place in an ambient forest which is luscious in its green colour yet haunted by death.

A young man’s body is buried in the woods by a mysterious figure in a thick green anorak. We follow the figure to the cabin in which he lives and intrigue continues to grow as we see his everyday means of living. The film evokes much Western iconography in its initial focus on the lone hero, his wooden cabin, the referencing of The Searchers in alluding to its famous doorway shot, and the deserted wilderness setting that surrounds the Survivalist. This first section of the film contains no dialogue and Martin McCann (My Boy Jack, Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne) is subtle and assured in his performance of the leading unnamed character. Our hero is efficient at making fires and growing food, even using his own bodily fluids so nothing goes to waste. However, he is lonely and constantly fearful as can be seen when he anxiously looks around him while he hastily washes some distance from his cabin retreat.

The film’s universe is characterised by paranoia, which continues when two women come to the Survivalist for help. The older, mystifying Kathryn (Olwen Fouere), offers her teenage daughter, the quiet but tough Milja (Mia Goth), to spend the night with him in exchange for food and shelter. They gradually become accepted into the Survivalist’s cabin and his way of life but the women plot to get rid of him so that they can have his crops for themselves, and there are further dangers in store for all three.

Fingleton, who also wrote the script, paints a brutal landscape of hardship and violence. Without giving too much away, its stand-out scene takes place in the rushes when the Survivalist goes in search for Milja, who is missing. Damien Elliott’s cinematography captures a gripping moment and will have you holding your breath in anticipation.

The Survivalist is a raw film and fairly difficult to watch at times. The graphic imagery includes full frontal (male and female) nudity, rotting flesh, maggots, masturbation, periods, and bloody internal organs. It is one of the more original post-apocalyptic films to be released as of late and is a curiously thought-provoking one at that, but its bleakness will not appeal to all audiences.

Deirdre Molumby

 18 (See IFCO for details)

 103 minutes

The Survivalist is released 12th February 2016

The Survivalist – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Spotlight

Spotlight

DIR:Tom McCarthy • WRI: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy • PRO: Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Michael Sugar • DOP: Masanobu Takayanagi • ED: Tom McArdle • DES: Stephen H. Carter • MUS: Howard Shore • CAST: Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo

Modern history has been forever dirtied, tarnished by organised, uniformed mortal sin. Fifteen years of worldwide media coverage has revealed the horrific experiences of what is understood to be hundreds of thousands of victims of clerical abuse, inflicted by members of the Catholic Church. And now, one of the world’s most powerful institutions, bewildered and suspended in the spotlight, finds itself a very uncomfortable position. In spite of the many words humans use to apologize, the Church’s reluctance to admit any wrongdoing has served to underscore how alien it has become to modern culture, and in turn, this is how our culture has come to represent it. As frozen out Florida priest John Gallagher poignantly pointed out this week, they are an organisation “so far behind that they think they’re ahead”.

These phenomenal events of the past number of decades have been captured before in cinema: The Magdalene Sisters, Song for a Raggy Boy, more recently in Amy Berg’s shocking documentary Deliver Us from Evil and Alex Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is to name but a few. Cinema has been a medium used to honour these victims; by listening to their stories it has offered empathy and compassion where there was none, and a culturally truthful response to something that originated in hurt and deceit.

That is one of the most prominent features of Tom McCarthy’s latest bidding, Spotlight. Joined by acclaimed ‘real-life to screen’ writer Josh Singer, the film tells the remarkable true story of a team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe newspaper known as ‘Spotlight’, who broke the story on clerical abuse in the Boston diocese in 2001. The opening scene, set in 1976 in a Boston police precinct is glimpse at what was to come: a priest has been brought in on allegations of abuse, the victim and their mother are cajoled, arrangements are made for secrecy, said priest is collected by his superior who sweeps while the judiciaries hold the rug. This was the process, until a number of these stories reluctantly found their way onto the pages of the Globe newspaper, only to disappear again, almost unnoticed.

Fast forward to 2001 when a new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives at the paper and almost overnight the disappeared stories of reported abuse are back on the table. Encouraged by the first non-Bostonian editor in chief, the Spotlight team comprising of Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Keaton), Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sasha Pfeiffer (Mc Adams) and Matt Carroll (D’Arcy James) start to dig, and with the surface barely scratched, cases of abuse, payoffs, smear campaigns, stolen documents and cover-ups begin to emerge. As the investigation quickly progresses, the sheer scale of what had happened in the Boston diocese became apparent – with the help of senior Catholic officials, in both the US and the Vatican, the most devoutly Catholic city in North America had been plagued by paedophile priest for decades, a sum of over 90 in total, whom had knowingly been shipped from parish to parish, given predatory free-reign and a thumbs up to sexually and spiritually abuse at will.

Visually, the films authenticity is marked by the somewhat non-descript decor, having shot much of the office scenes at the Boston Globe. Great efforts were made to ensure the production design and costume were reflective of the time, and succeed in being unobtrusive – you wouldn’t necessarily imagine a film set in 2001 as being a period piece but alas, ‘the times, they are a changin’.

The four leads have been hailed by their real life counter-parts for their adopted characterisations – dozens of trips were made by cast and crew to Boston to meet with victims, journalists and lawyers involved and it is apparent throughout, authentic to the bone. The ensemble is formidable and above all, the performances and McCarthy’s direction convey the importance of investigative journalism which is all but obsolete in a world of bloggers, and the vitality of a free press whose fundamental action is to keep our institutions in check. From a decidedly disadvantaged position, they took on world’s oldest government – whose corruption is unique to itself – and won. Before the credits roll, presented on screen are over two hundred countries which have had cases of a similar scale, ensuring we know the ugliest phenomenon imaginable is actually bigger than we can imagine.

Definitely worth catching, this one, even if you just want to kick back from a place of knowing and relish in the excavation of damning truth, which by now we are all familiar with. A harrowing story has been recounted here, and you’ll probably be pissed off for most of it but you’ll leave feeling a little ping of triumph, a pride in humanity, and maybe even a little further compelled in the great divide between the Catholic Church and everyone else.

P.s. It’s never graphic so the faint-hearted are catered for.

Grace Corry

15A
118 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Spotlight is released 29th January 2016

Spotlight – Official Website

 

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Review: The Assassin

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DIR: Hsiao-Hsien Hou • WRI: Cheng Ah, T’ien-wen Chu, Hsiao-Hsien Hou, Hai-Meng Hsieh • PRO: Wen-Ying Huang, Peter Lam, Ching-Song Liao • DOP: Ping Bin Lee • ED: Chih-Chia Huang, Ching-Song Liao • DES: JWen-Ying Huang • MUS: Giong Lim • CAST: Qi Shu, Chen Chang, Satoshi Tsumabuki

Set in 8th century China during the Tang Dynasty, The Assassin follows the story of a woman named Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi), a highly-skilled and talented killer. It emerges over the course of the film that she was kidnapped as a young girl and subsequently trained to be an assassin. However, Yinniang is turned away from her master, a nun named Jiaxin, when she refuses to kill a target in the presence of his family. Now she must prove her worth by taking out another target, military governor Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen), who happens to be Yinniang’s cousin, and who she was once betrothed to. The target resides in the province Yinniang once called home, Weibo, where peace is under threat arising from Tian’s desire for war and expansion.

The film is loosely adapted from a late 9th century martial arts and wuxia fiction story by Pei Xing. The titular character, played by a stunning Shu Qi, brings a deep intensity to the role, her eyes and face set, determined and fierce. At the same time, when her objective becomes less resolute, Qi subtly indicates these character changes without a need for the extraction of dialogue. As Lord Tian, Chang Chen is also alluring to watch in his role. His face will be familiar to Western audiences following his role in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as the lover of Zhang Ziyi’s character, known as ‘Dark Cloud’, and he also starred in Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046.

There are some truly beautiful moments in The Assassin, such as when the titular character hides from her victim and stalks him behind a narrow, colourful curtain. Initially in black-and-white before bursting into colour (think Kill Bill rather than The Wizard of Oz), and utilising enigmatic fade-outs in between scenes, director Hsiao-Hsien Hou accomplishes a distinct look and style in his feature that goes a long way for explaining his win as Best Director at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

For this feature, the plot is far less important than the visuals. Slow and contemplative, there are several moments in the film in which essentially nothing happens. This can be quite frustrating if one was expecting an action-filled martial arts film. With a title like The Assassin, in fairness, one may feel a little deceived that what is actually on offer here is not an action movie but an arthouse film, although of course one could argue that if the film won an award at Cannes, it was hardly going to be a mainstream feature.

Deirdre Molumby

12A
105 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Assassin is released 22nd January 2016

 

 

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Review: The Revenant

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DIR: Alejandro González Iñárritu • WRI: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro González Iñárritu • PRO: Steve Golin, Alejandro González Iñárritu, David Kanter, Arnon Milchan, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon, James W. Skotchdopole • DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki • ED: Stephen Mirrione • DES: Jack Fisk • MUS: Carsten Nicolai, Ryuichi Sakamoto • CAST: Tom Hardy, Leonardo DiCaprio, Domhnall Gleeson

 

In 1823, at the edge of the new world, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) swears vengeance when one of the men of the hunting party he’d been tasked to protect abandons him alive but mortally wounded after surviving a brutal bear attack. If revenge is a dish best served cold, Alejandro G. Iñárritu offers one better, serving up a frost-ridden western that only copious amounts of blood and testosterone can cool in a riotous and riveting ode to survival.

In the uncharted wilderness of the Americas an expedition of fur traders and trappers is cut short when a tribe of Native Indians ambush their camp to plunder their precious pelts. A melee of arrows, tomahawks and bullets fly as a dizzying long take follows the carnage from foot and across horseback to capture every hack and slash in grisly detail. The up-close and personal approach of unbroken shots provides for a shell-shocking opener and a spectacular warning of the dread ahead.

The weary band of survivors escape across the water by boat but the hot-headed, half-scalped Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is fast to point a finger at Glass and son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) for failing to pre-empt the attack, sowing seeds of discord among the men. Glass remains focused and resolute, despite the doubt cast upon his abilities as a man and a father. It reveals his virtue as a character that will avoid a fight if and when he can with the gauntlet of punishment ahead laying credence to the theme that survival is a requisite of one’s strength of mind and spirit as much as body. Even when Glass is reduced to a bloody pulp after several rounds of merciless mauling by an angry mother bear, in another unrelenting long shot, his will to survive is his greatest weapon (with a little help from a well-aimed bullet and his trusty bowie knife). It betters the beast and even when left for dead drags him back to the land of the living like some vengeful ghost with unfinished business.

Henceforth, it’s a down and dirty ride fuelled by blood, sweat and tears both in front and behind the camera as Iñárritu and co. reportedly tackled harsh conditions across perilous locations, relying upon natural light alone to capture the myth and the mayhem. DiCaprio triumphs in an absorbing to-hell-and-back-again performance that may just snag that elusive Oscar. The supporting players rise to the challenge and excel in their own right, with Domhnall Glesson’s duty-bound Captain Henry and Will Poulter’s impressionable and conscience heavy Bridger adding leverage to the one-man show. The unscrupulous Fitzgerald is embodied by another wide-eyed and wild Hardy performance but the beast is cleverly kept at bay before the inevitable showdown.

At times, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography recalls the majestic vision of a Terrance Malick film (lessons learnt on The New World no doubt), such as in the slow track over a waterlogged forest as Glass and Hawk creep, rifles drawn, towards drinking elk. Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with in The Revenant, a character of its own that adds to the formidable level of realism, and the camera showcases its beauty and its brutality in equal measure. The whispery voice-over of Glass’s wife cheering him on in spirit owes again to the aforementioned oeuvre and excels in complementing Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto’s hauntingly alluring score.

Iñárritu’s Oscar follow-up is a punishing watch that pays off with captivating visuals of realistic action and adventure. The trek may tire some but fortune favours the bold after all.

 

Anthony Assad

16
156 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Revenant is released 15th January 2016

The Revenant – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Creed

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DIR: Ryan Coogler • WRI: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington • PRO: Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King Templeton, Charles Winkler, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler • DOP: Maryse Alberti • ED: Claudia Castello, Michael P. Shawver • DES: Hannah Beachler • MUS: Ludwig Göransson • CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson

Creed is the latest film in the Rocky series, and manages to do the impossible: redeem Michael B. Jordan for that god-awful Fant4stic movie. The film was written and directed by Ryan Coogler, the writer-director behind 2013’s excellent Fruitvale Station, and this film proves, once and for all, that Mr. Coogler is not a one-hit wonder, he is an amazing up-and-coming talent and I for one cannot wait for his upcoming Black Panther.

As our story starts, Adonis is in a boxing match in Mexico. After winning the fight, he goes back to his comfortable office job, then hands in his notice so that he can pursue a career as a professional boxer. Unfortunately, this proves more difficult than it would seem, as all of the coaches he encounters refuse to train him because… well, that’s never really explained. The coach mentions it’s because he’s the son of Apollo Creed, although that really should be a reason to train him, seeing as he literally has the blood of a champion in him. Anyway, all the trainers in L.A. refuse to train him, so he goes to Philadelphia to find Rocky Balboa and get him to train him, kick-starting a heart-warming journey of redemption, friendship and becoming your own man.

Now the first thing I want to mention is the cinematography courtesy of The Wrestler D.O.P. Maryese Alberti. This film looks absolutely amazing, capturing the dirty, grimy feeling of Philadelphia in a way no Rocky movie has since the original film from 1976, and the boxing scenes are best that this franchise has ever had. The camera moves, swings, dodges, and ducks with Adonis himself, making you feel like you’re the one in the ring dodging those punches, and throughout every boxing scene my heart was pounding so hard I was expecting it to leap out of my chest like Ridley Scott’s Alien. One fight in particular, halfway through the film, is executed with a three-minute tracking shot and is easily one of the best one-on-one fight scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

Creed also boasts great performances. From The Wire, through to Creed, taking in Fruitvale Station and Chronicle along the way, Michael. B. Jordan is proving himself again and again to be one of the best actors Hollywood has to offer. Sylvester Stallone proves that no matter how many stupid Expendables movies he appears in, he’s still a fine actor, giving his best performance since Copland, and Tessa Thompson is excellent as up-and-coming musician Bianca, while the rest of the supporting cast also give it their all.

Creed successfully recaptures the feeling of the original film, being about the characters more than it is about the boxing. Adonis isn’t fighting just for the money and glory, he’s doing it because he wants to get out of his father’s shadow. He doesn’t just want to use someone else’s name and reputation to live comfortably, he wants to forge his own name and reputation, similar to this film as a whole, which makes sure to forge its own identity with its new characters and the hip-hop infusions which it blends seamlessly into the old Rocky OST.

Rocky, as well, is more broken and damaged than he’s ever been, as his wife and most of his friends are dead, his son is in a different country and barely keeps in contact with him, and he’s feeling less and less motivated to keep living, and Bianca is slowly going deaf, which, naturally, is detrimental to her music career. Like the original Rocky, Creed understands that characters who are undergoing personal struggles are a lot more interesting than characters fighting roided-up Russian killing machines. The reason this film works so well isn’t because of the boxing, which admittedly is excellent, it succeeds because the characters are so well-realised and their arcs carry so much emotional weight.

However, that isn’t to say this film is perfect. For one thing, the fight in the middle is so good that the end fight, the climax of the film, ends up being less exhilarating than the fight which ultimately doesn’t matter and makes no difference to the over-arching plot. For another, I didn’t fully buy into the romantic sub-plot between Adonis and Bianca. It seems like they meet, get to know each other for a bit, and before you know it they’re suddenly madly in love. As Hank Moody would say, it’s not really settling for Mrs right so much as it is settling for Mrs right in front of you.

However, these are the petty nit-picks of a critic trying  hard to find something to complain about. The bottom line is that this is one of the finest films to come out this year. Go and see it.

Darren Beattie

12A
132 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Creed is released 15th January 2016

Creed – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Joy

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DIR/WRI: David O. Russell • PRO: John Davis, Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon, Ken Mok, David O. Russell • DOP: Linus Sandgren • ED: Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Tom Cross, Christopher Tellefsen • DES: Yohei Taneda • MUS: David Campbell, West Dylan Thordson • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro

When an award-winning writer/director and an A-List cast work together on a good old rags-to-riches tale inspired by self-made millionaire Joy Mangano’s life, what could possibly go wrong? What indeed?

Alas, there was no joy in David O. Russell’s Joy for me.

The movie centres around Joy (Jennifer Lawrence), a washed-out separated Mom struggling to keep on top of her job and take care of three generations of her family in a very unattractive home.

So downstairs we have Tony (Édgar Ramírez) the Venezuelan crooner of an ex-husband below in the basement who, within minutes, is engaged in an acrimonious turf war with his ex-father-in-law Rudy (Robert de Niro) also in the basement having being returned as ‘damaged goods’ by his third wife.

On the ground floor, we have Joy’s dysfunctional mother Terry (Virginia Madsen), whose lifelong addiction to a particular daytime soap along with a bad case of agoraphobia prevents her from getting off the bed or engaging in conversations outside the comings and goings of the show.

Upstairs, we have her two children and Grandma Mimi (Dianne Ladd), the only person that both supports and believes in her potential having noticed what a dab hand Joy was at Origami as a child. Next door we have the nasty half sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm) and soon enough we meet Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) – Rudy’s latest squeeze who is instantly absorbed into this Italian American family.

For fear the audience don’t do nuance, we’re presented with way too many examples of just how harried poor Joy’s life is, which include flashbacks to her glory days of childhood origami, a very nasty divorce (during which some Origami gets damaged) and some dream sequences involving both her family and the cast on the set of mother’s favourite daytime show.

And that’s all before Joy starts her own business with and taking some particularly poor business advice from the very same circle of people that have been running her ragged for seventeen years. The blow-by-blow product design, inner mechanics and 300 feet of continuous loop cotton of her miracle mop were lost on me but was soon awoken by the hard knocks of zero sales. Enter snake oil salesman and QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), who promises to raise her back to life but not before a few more knocks and a second mortgage on the house.

I must have been taking off my coat at the beginning of the movie and missed the timeline but it was only in this first scene at the QVC shopping channel set was I given an indication of the era. Neil the futurologist made some predictions about the future of retail and home computing whilst giving Joy a tour of their very shabby premises.

You have to be tough for business is a key theme of the movie but you too join the club with a bad hairdo, a raised voice and some finger pointing.

So, anyway, Joy does make it, there’s no spoiler as it’s a biopic of a self-made millionaire but not before encountering more stress and disappointment.

So what’s not to like?  I’m not quite sure what went wrong. Any-rags-to-riches journey to the top is always a good yarn, the acting solid, the characters and their side stories quirky and fun yet together it hung uncomfortably accentuated by the inane voiceover from Grandma Mimi with platitudes like ‘that day Joy was not to know that in ten years …’

The closing scene sort of sealed the deal for me with the present day successful Joy now ‘arrived’ in her mock tudor mansion replete with very bad hairdo, dressed and behaving like Princess Diana offering alms to peasant inventors that had been waiting their turn for an audience with Joy. The happy ending was the silent reappearance of her son who must have been abducted as a toddler only to be returned as a teenager in the final scene, having been cut out and upstaged by his big sister throughout the movie.

Watching interviews with the real Joy Mangano about the movie, she hopes it will be an inspiration to other women and people out there with ideas to just do it. As a Joy myself and self employed, I couldn’t agree more and first on my not to-do list is to spend 124 minutes watching inferior quality movies. From the crew and cast behind classics such as The Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, we’d expect a little more joy,

Joy Redmond

18
167 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Joy is released 1st January 2016

Joy – Official Website

 

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Review: The Hateful Eight

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DIR: Quentin Tarantino • WRI: Quentin Tarantino • PRO: Richard N. Gladstein, Shannon McIntosh, Stacey Sher • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Fred Raskin • DES: Yohei Taneda • MUS: Ennio Morricone • CAST: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Channing Tatum, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Quentin Tarantino hates you. He really hates your guts. His hatred for humanity is all too clear from this hateful film The Hateful Eight, coincidentally his eighth feature film and by far his worst. He feels no shame for this utterly brazen and immense hatred. He is proud of it. This film is his best expression of contempt for his audience and indeed life itself.

Do you agree with Danny Boyle’s rule-of-thumb that there’s rarely a good reason for a film to be longer than two hours? Quentin Tarantino loathes you. He will punish you with a pace slower than the melting of glaciers for more than two and a half hours for a story easily told in half the time. He will draw scenes out as long as they can be with over-written repetitive dialogue bereft of any charm it had in his other films.

Do you love the characters he and his collaborators have brought to life on-screen before? Tarantino’s had enough of that for now. The clue is in the title. Every character in The Hateful Eight is hateful in a literal sense, so despicable that there is no reason to be invested in what happens to any of them. When a mystery unfolds surrounding the poisoning of coffee, that could still have been an interesting dynamic to see play out, had it not taken almost two hours of tedium for the film to reach that point.

Do you invest in his reputation for writing strong female characters? Among the male-dominated cast of characters, the outlaw Daisy Domergue has tenacity and roughness in the hopes that these superficial traits hide that she is a damsel-in-distress and a plot device. She is also loathsome in every way, giving you no reason to wish her success in overcoming the captors bringing her to justice. At the same time however, you have no reason to enjoy the really distasteful and repeated violence inflicted on her.

Do you appreciate his attempts at writing strong characters for people of colour? He wants you to shove it. Sit back and watch Demián Bichir wasted on a stereotype of Mexicans so egregious, that even Robert Rodriguez would surely reprimand him and that’d be coming from a director who once cast Willem Dafoe in brown-face. Hear so much about the vivacious shack-owner Minnie and then discover an outdated black mammy caricature when she shows up. Assume Samuel L Jackson’s character is an upright bad-ass who walks the path of the righteous man, as it were. Turns out he’s a lying scoundrel who rapes people as punishment.

Oh yes. In what has to be one of the film’s most bizarrely misjudged scenes, of which there are far too many to choose from, he recounts to the father of a man he murdered that he had forced the man to fellate him. This man was a racist confederate so that might make one less inclined to care about his well-being. If, however, Samuel L Jackson’s character reveals that he considers rape a fitting punishment, hilarious in its symbolism, one also cares significantly less about his. As you should any character who considers rape appropriate in any circumstance ever.

But perhaps you like it when Tarantino pushes limits? Well just because a film is “challenging” does not make it good and the circular logic that anyone who doesn’t enjoy a film like this is either a baby or a prude is such a lazy strawman defence. Tarantino still hates you though and he seems intent on making you regret what you wish for. It’s not just wounds and severed limbs that gush with obscene amounts of blood; poisoned characters vomit blood in such ludicrous quantities that it passes beyond the cartoonish fun of his previous films and just becomes obnoxious.

Did you like how brilliantly Pulp Fiction played around with chronological order? Tarantino hates that you did, so very much and this time around, he is going to have a clumsy, snail-paced flashback entitled “Earlier that morning…” more than two hours into this bloated mess.

Do you care about film in general, as a medium for visual storytelling? Tarantino despises you. This brings us to the moment where he atrociously fails as a filmmaker. There are several scenes of characters talking about each other’s back-stories. We do not see these past exploits; we see characters sitting in a coach or a shack talking about these past exploits even when they sound like more interesting stories to see than the film we got. Characters are not revealed through action but through other characters talking about them. This is not how film as a narrative medium works and it is astonishing that a seasoned filmmaker with Oscars and a Palme D’Or needs this explained to him.

The truly unforgivable lapse in competency comes long after the film’s half-way point when we hear a narrator’s voice that had not been introduced previously, explain additional details about what different characters are doing. Rather than conveying that information visually. LIKE A FILM. Who is the narrator? Quentin Tarantino himself, of course. This is basically a filmmaker of iconic status, openly admitting that he has failed as a filmmaker. The film got to the point where his footage was no longer good enough and he personally stepped in to fill in the gaps. That this voice-over is established so late in the film is what makes the crutch so glaringly obvious.

This, along with so many other baffling decisions, amount to such an abject failure in basic, fundamental, visual storytelling that it could only have been deliberate. It is as if Tarantino is intentionally, purposefully trolling the world by setting out to frustrate audiences as much as possible. And the only defence flimsier than “you just didn’t like it because it was challenging” is “I don’t make films for audiences; I make films I want to see”. This is a new low for him and you can absolutely afford to skip it.

Jonathan Victory

18
167 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Hateful Eight is released 8th January 2016

The Hateful Eight – Official Website

 

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Review: Bolshoi Babylon

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DIR: Nick Read, Mark Franchetti • PRO: Mark Franchetti • ED: David Charap, Jay Taylor • MUS: Smiths & Elms • CAST: Maria Alexandrova, Maria Allash, Sergei Filin, Anatoliy Iksanov

Winston Churchill once called Russia “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. It is this mysterious place, and specifically the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, that this documentary is set.

Bolshoi Babylon follows a year in the life of this Russian institution in the immediate aftermath of an acid attack on its ballet director Sergei Filin, for which one of Bolshoi’s dancer’s, Pavel Dmitrichenko, was arrested for the crime.

The world of ballet is a fascinating place, the dancers need supreme discipline and their careers are short. There is fierce competition and jealously throughout. Where better to delve into this world than in one of the oldest and best established ballet theatres in the world, in the home of ballet, Russia – The Bolshoi Ballet Theatre?

The story doesn’t disappoint, co-directors Nick Reed and Mark Franchetti use the scandal of the acid attack as a window into this intense organisation. We see the dancer’s working day; how they train and perform every day. These dancers feel privileged to work at the Bolshoi as they see it as a sacred place, a shrine to ballet.

There is also the political connotation of the Bolshoi. It has always been aligned to the State where it is an item on the national budget. It was one of Russia’s best assets to show off the country during Stalin’s reign and the Cold War.

All of this contributes to the culture of the Bolshoi which the directors capture beautifully. The film focuses in part on Filin, his recovery from the attack and his return to working in the Bolshoi, but it is not simply his story – I would say it is the story of the theatre as a whole and its link to Russian society. A fascinating character in the film is Vladimir Urin, who joined the Bolshoi as the general manager; he is domineering and rules the Bolshoi with an iron fist – however, he also wants to improve the Bolshoi by being more transparent and a champion of the dancers. His chats on camera are probably the most interesting part of the film. Bolshoi Babylon is a glimpse into this passionate world and is a very accomplished documentary.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

PG
86 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Bolshoi Babylon is released 8th January 2016

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Review: The Danish Girl

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DIR: Tom Hooper • WRI: Lucinda Coxon • PRO: Eric Fellner, Nina Gold, Anne Harrison, Tom Hooper, Gail Mutrux • DOP: Danny Cohen • ED: Melanie Oliver • DES: Eve Stewart • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard

You would have to wonder. In a world where transgenderism was unheard of or treated as a form of mental illness if heard of at all, what was going through the mind of the first person to attempt a sex-change operation? What drives them to take that chance in a world that refuses to understand? The Danish Girl explores that struggle as experienced by Einar Wegener, one of the first men to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

While depicting historical people, this film is adapted from the David Ebershoff novel of the same name by playwright Lucinda Coxon. Conveying the inner struggles of a transgendered person is something Ebershoff’s prose explores eloquently but it’s more challenging for the medium of film to express such feelings without demonstrating them through characters’ interactions. Fortunately for us all, the casting in this movie is solid and provides actors who deliver the emotional punch this story needs.

Although there are valid concerns about casting cis-gendered actors in trans roles, it is fortunate on balance that Eddie Redmayne was cast, having previously demonstrated in The Theory of Everything that he commands on-screen presence while undergoing amazing physical transformation. Another Oscar for him this year is very likely because he once again embodies the compassionate humanity of a crucial figure in world history.

It’s unfortunate that some of the early scenes are staged and framed in a peculiar way as certain facial expressions of his could be viewed with a certain sense of unease. The low angles and chiaroscuro lighting of Redmayne in early scenes do not convey the delicate soul we come to know; it almost seems like some perplexing form of needless misdirection. He becomes far more sympathetic later in the film when his fragilities are laid bare and moments of warm-hearted banter round out this on-screen character as they begin their experimentations with gender.

Another parallel to last year’s The Theory of Everything is that Redmayne’s character is supported by a strong woman (is even an actor of his calibre getting typecast?). In this case Alicia Vikander, having already given mesmerising turns this year in Ex Machina and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., outdoes herself for a career-best performance as Gerda Wegener, the wife of Einar. This movie could have focused solely on Einar/Lili and her journey but that would have been at the expense of Gerda’s own moving story. It is not just Redmayne’s performance that elevates this movie but Vikander’s also for the weight she brings to Gerda’s inner conflict; loving her husband but wanting him to remain her husband.

This movie is pervaded with a tenderness that makes the couple’s emotions relatable even when they contradict the other’s desires. Every character’s viewpoint is understandable. The bigoted views of the period’s psychiatric world are made clear to be inhumane but caricature is avoided; the logic that could be expected of the time has to be presented to show the prejudice the Wegener’s endured. Gerda’s emotional need for the embrace of the man she married is in devastating contrast with Lili’s self-realisation yet neither is presented as selfish or wanting to deny the other person’s happiness. Lili’s own aching torment is laid bare in many scenes, particularly with a line that might be the most succinct and heart-rending explanation of transgenderism in cinema, when Lili says, “When I go to sleep, it’s not Einar’s dreams; it’s Lili’s dreams.”

The evolution of Lili’s self-discovery is followed from its burgeoning between a loving and sexually-experimental couple of painters in Copenhagen’s bohemian scene of the 1920s. Einar is a successful landscape painter while Gerda struggles to find a market for her portraits. As Gerda discovers her husband’s fondness for women’s clothing she gleefully schools him in the ways of femininity, even to the point of taking him to parties dressed as “Einar’s cousin from the countryside, Lili”. When Gerda starts painting portraits of Lili, she finds the subject that put her on the map as an artist. Things turn when Lili goes out by herself to date men and begins confiding stories to Gerda in which her childhood self is referred to as Lili. The prejudice they face intensifies, the brutality of which is portrayed unflinchingly in scenes that are hard-to-watch in the best possible way.

Towards the end it maintains the right balance between the tenderness of their romance and the crushing nature of their fears but finally succumbs to sentimental imagery in the film’s closing scene. It is unfortunate the contrivance of this last scene jars with the rest of the movie which had otherwise avoided schmaltz and packed a raw emotional gut-punch without it.

The Danish Girl remains an emotionally-gripping film and an impeccably-crafted one at that. The world of 1920s Europe is fittingly, a world in transition, established firmly with inspired locations and art-deco sets mixing well. Costumes capture the glamour of the period’s bohemian scene. Hair and make-up sell the striking gender transformation central to this movie. For a movie about painters, there are so many shots that have a painterly quality to them. Director of Photography Danny Cohen, of Shane Meadows’ This Is England and Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, can frame and light an actors’ face like no other cinematographer. Aside from aforementioned problems in early scenes, the power of the actor’s face dominates the frame even when the world around it is also impeccably shot. Director Tom Hooper had previously worked with Danny Cohen on The King’s Speech and Les Miserables and they continue this visual style they crafted on those films where the right actor’s face is often enough to tell the story.

The Danish Girl has produced two front-running contenders for performance of the year and has so many challenging moments your mind will be engaged and your heart will be broken. It is a beautifully-told celebration of love, tolerance and freedom of identity, themes so pertinent now for the cultural moment transgenderism is experiencing and for so many more reasons.

It may be ‘Oscarbait’ but it is quality filmmaking that has earned its recognition and deserves a wide audience.

Marlin Field

15A
119 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Danish Girl  is released 1st January 2016

The Danish Girl – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Daddy’s Home

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DIR: Sean Anders • WRI: Brian Burns, Sean Anders, John Morris • PRO: Will Ferrell, Chris Henchy, Adam McKay, John Morris • DOP: Julio Macat • ED: Eric Kissack,
Brad Wilhite • DES: Clayton Hartley • MUS: Michael Andrews • CAST: Linda Cardellini, Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell

Director-writer-producer team Sean Anders and John Morris follows their films Horrible Bosses 2, We’re the Millers, Hot Tub Time Machine and Sex Drive with yet another mediocre comedy: Daddy’s Home. Will Ferrell is Brad – nerdy and shy but well-intentioned. Mark Wahlberg is Dusty – suave, smart and multi-talented. It’s Step-Dad versus Dad, and it’s predictable slapstick fun which should have the kids laughing and their accompanying parents (or step-parents…) mildly amused.

Brad, an executive for a local jazz radio station, has always loved children. In his spare time, he volunteers as a scout leader, basketball coach, and chaperone in his community, and when he marries Sarah (Laura Cardellini), he becomes step-dad to two sweet children, Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vacarro). Just as the kids are settling into having a stepfather in their home, and Brad is feeling like life couldn’t be more perfect, their biological father, Dusty, announces he is coming home for a visit. Dusty is amicable, fun and athletic with famous contacts and impressive handyman skills, although his exact career remains an enigma. Brad, who Sarah loves for being able to ‘find the good in anything’, insists it is important for Dusty to stay a part of the children’s lives. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Dusty is trying to show him up at every opportunity, and that he has every intention of removing Brad from his newly formed family. Brad drops the manners and brings his A-Game to compete for the affections of Sarah, Megan and Dylan (He becomes, well, Will Ferrell).

A lot of the humour is based on slapstick comedy with Brad alternatively thrown through walls, electrocuted, beaten up, or fondled. This type of humour should appeal to the kids while more nuanced humour, such as that brought by Brad’s boss Leo’s (Thomas Hayden Church) stories about the various sexual partners he has had in his lifetime, should keep older viewers entertained. The fact that the film is a comedy, coupled with a story about the importance of family and an appropriately feel-good ending, would seem to suggest that Daddy’s Home aims to be the live-action holiday offering for family cinema audiences (In fact, even though the film is set in April, the scriptwriters still manage to incorporate a Christmas scene into the film…). However, with its 12A rating, infrequent bad language and occasional sex references, it is a hard sell as appropriate for children. Plus, as has been an issue with several movie promotions lately, between the two official trailers, most of the funniest and surprising parts are given away.

Also, they talk about Frozen at one point. Which means you’re probably going to be forced to watch Frozen again when you get home.

Deirdre Molumby

12A
96 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Daddy’s Home is released 26th December 2015

Daddy’s Home – Official Website

 

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Review: In the Heart of the Sea

 

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DIR: Ron Howard • WRI: Charles Leavitt • PRO: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Joe Roth, Will Ward, Paula Weinstein • DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill • MUS: Roque Baños • CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Benjamin Walker, Ben Whishaw

 

In the Heart of the Sea is a film that longs to be a sweeping epic. Unfortunately, it rarely struggles above ‘meh’ on the emotional reaction scale. Flitting from one narrative arc to another without ever divulging anything important or meaningful to the audience, the film flounders under the weight of its own scale. Even Ron Howard’s skill as a director fails to lend any depth to this shallow puddle of a film.

That said, it’s easy to see why Howard wanted to make this film. Maritime films are a rarity in Hollywood namely due to their enormous production costs (indeed, this film had a budget of 100 million dollars and it looks unlikely that it will be recuperated in the box office). Being in an aquatic environment, however, really allows for a directors creativity to shine through. There are some genuinely fantastic shots throughout the film, particularly the ones that take place underwater. The films biggest drawback by far is its script. The plot follows a frame narrative, wherein author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), anxious to start the novel that would become the classic Moby Dick, interviews the only surviving member of an infamous whale-hunting expedition, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson).

Now an aging drunk, Nickerson is at first reluctant to recall the horrors that occurred during the voyage.  Urged on by Melville’s deep (or, at least, slightly deeper) pockets, our story begins to unfold. Having risen from a lowly orphan to a respected seaman, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself as First Mate on the Essex, a whaling ship captained by the rather pompous George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). Under pressure from their sponsoring merchant company to bring home as many barrels of whale oil as possible, the crew sets sail with then 14-year-old Nickerson (Tom Holland) aboard. Things go from bad to worse when, spurred on by over-fishing, the Essex travels into dangerous uncharted waters with the hope of snaring more whales. Once there, however, the ship is capsized by a gigantic white whale and our heroes find themselves adrift in an unforgiving wasteland of salt water.

There are so many elements to the plot- man v nature, fear of the unknown, exploitation of natural resources for profit, facing one’s past, etc.- that no single aspect is ever satisfactorily explored. The audience is never given enough to fully care and, as a result, characters are reduced down to ‘tick-the-box’ personalities.

The gruff-but-good-natured-leader-who-just-wants-to-do-right? Check!

The inexperienced-but-willing-to-learn-youngster-who-looks-upon-said-leader-as-a-mentor? Check!

The snooty-rich-guy-who-used-his-family-name-to-gain-his-position-for-which-he-is-completely-unqualified? Check!

The most interesting character by far is the white whale, who is apparently omniscient, and he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. Also, while the film overall boasts bold visuals, certain wide shots of the ship at sea look hopelessly CGI’d and I’m certain that at one point the tip of a boom mike was visible in frame. With so many balls up in the air it’s unsurprising that the film ultimately falls rather flat. At the very least one can appreciate that a lot of effort went into the making of In the Heart of the Sea, but that alone cannot save it from being a mere drop in the ocean instead of an epic tidal wave.

 

Ellen Murray

12A
121 minutes (See IFCO for details)

In the Heart of the Sea is released 26th December 2015

In the Heart of the Sea – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie

 

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DIR: Steve Martino • WRI: Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, Cornelius Uliano • Pro: Paul Feig, Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, Michael J. Travers, Cornelius Uliano • DOP: Renato Falcao • ED: Randy Trager • CAST: Noah Schapp, Bill Melendez, Venus Schultheis

Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie sees the beloved cartoon and comic strip get a makeover for 2015. The kids are going to get lots of giggles out of this and it’s not just a film for them. Thankfully, It’s not an annoying kids film. If you have to go with your child, you’ll probably end up liking it as well, if only for the nostalgia value of seeing childhood characters you once loved.

The main story is about Charlie Brown, a boy who can’t seem to get anything right but seems to have an eternal supply of optimism anyway. He is always talking about making a fresh start but when he tries to do it he’s either afraid to take the first step or messes it up completely.

His beloved dog Snoopy is there to push Charlie into doing the things he’s a afraid to, sometimes for Charlie’s own good and sometimes just for Snoopy’s amusement. In the film, Charlie is down on his luck as usual after another failed attempt to fly a kite. He and the neighbourhood gang are out playing when they spot a moving lorry pull up beside a house.

They all run to the house’s fence to peer over and watch a new kid move in beside them. Charlie watches with the rest of them, thinking to himself that this is his chance to start over new with someone who knows nothing of his past failures. He remembers the clumsy and undignified things he’s done in the past as he leans on the fence, a little too hard, and it collapses. The other kids scatter and Charlie is left on his own, face down in the snow.

The new kid turns out to be a girl who soon appears in Charlie’s class at school. The film follows him in his efforts to get her to notice him, even though every time she comes near all he can manage to do is hide.

Snoopy has his own story as well that he writes and imagines himself from the top of his doghouse. He is a fighter pilot over Europe in the early 20th century, his doghouse is his plane as he tries to rescue a female dog from the clutches of the infamous Red Baron.

I saw this film in 3D but there’s no point in paying the extra money. All during it I was thinking, “Why am I wearing these glasses?”

The animation is nice overall. Although it is CGI, it doesn’t look fully digital and still retains a cartoonish style and feel which is a change from nearly all animation films these days. This was the right decision as when something comes from a comic strip it would look a bit odd if it were to lose that style. Maybe today’s children wouldn’t notice or care but anyone who knows the original cartoon or comic strip would find it a bit displeasing. And that hint of comic strip style in the animation is something that children may not have seen before and enjoy.

It’s hard not to like this film. Charlie is not the best at anything. He’s bumbling, awkward and clumsy. But you’d have to be dead inside not to be rooting and feeling for him as he swings back and forth between optimism and despair about a hundred times. The Peanuts Movie will resonate with any child that is always feeling like nothing can go right for them and any adult who once felt that way.

 

Colm Quinn

G
93 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie is released 18th December 2015


Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie – Official Website

 

 

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Review: By the Sea

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DIR/WRI: Angelina Jolie • PRO: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie • DOP: Christian Berger • ED: Martin Pensa, Patricia Rommel • DES: Jon Hutman • MUS: Gabriel Yared • CAST: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Mélanie Laurent

 

By the Sea, written and directed by Angelina Jolie-Pitt and starring both herself and her husband Brad Pitt, is the first time these two have been on-screen together since Mr. and Mrs. Smith a decade ago. This time their film tells the story of a deeply unhappy middle-aged married couple. Oh dear.

So as our story begins, Roland (Brad) and Vanessa (Angelina) are in the South of France for their second honeymoon, in what appears to be a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage. He drinks too much and she spends too much time moping around, popping medicine and not eating anything. After a loooooooooooooong, sloooooooooooooooooow first act, a newly-wed couple is introduced, and it just so happens Mr. and Mrs. Just Married are in the room next to Roland and Vanessa, who soon discover a peep-hole which they can use to view them having sex, and from there things get even…. weirder.

Now if there’s one thing this film definitely has in its favour it’s that it can’t be faulted on a purely technical level. The locations are beautiful, and the cinematography, courtesy of DOP Christian Berger, is beautiful. The colour-palette is brilliant, adding to the atmosphere by showing us the world as seen by a depressive: dull, and nowhere near as vibrant or colourful as it usually is. On top of this the sound design is incredibly crisp and sharp, also adding to the immersion.

The acting from Pitt, Jolie and the supporting cast is on point and there’s an ambiguity to proceedings which works well. Usually in stories like this, the husband is framed as some brutish, insensitive oaf who doesn’t actually care for his wife, whereas here things aren’t that simple. Roland clearly cares deeply for his wife, and makes it clear with the little gestures he makes, such as when he straightens her glasses, and knows when she needs to be left alone. At the same time, it is clear that she has not made married life easy for him, and if we had had time to actually get to know the characters, I’m sure they would have been quite interesting.

The flashback snippets imply what may be causing her depression, and the claustrophobic cinematography in their bedroom conveys how  trapped she feels in there, trapped in her own depression.

Unfortunately, everything else about this film is plagued with problems. The film is a bundle of good ideas balanced by poor execution. The atmosphere-building is good, but there’s too much of it, and it soon wears itself out, then keeps going for good measure – and when the film finally gets to its emotional peak, it’s anti-climactic to say the least. Of course you need to take time to establish that the characters are depressed, but there’s a line between establishing a plot point and beating the audience over the head with it, and if you keep beating people over the head with the one and only good plot point you were able to come up with, then they’re going to get very bored very fast.

By the Sea wants to be a big, serious, dramatic, slow-paced mood-piece, but it doesn’t have enough ideas for a feature, and would have been much better off as a short film, and, as a result, it’s relentlessly padded to the point of monotony; its plot very loudly and dramatically goes absolutely nowhere; no-one’s character is developed in any way – not even the two leads, and when you can spend two hours with a character and know barely anything about them, then you know the writing has failed miserably.

 

Darren Beattie

15A
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)

By the Sea is released 11th December 2015

By the Sea – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Sisters

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DIR: Jason Moore • WRI: Paula Pell • PRO: Gerard Lough, Tanya McLaughlin • DOP: Barry Peterson • ED: Lee Haxall • DES: Richard Hoover • MUS: Christophe Beck • CAST: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, John Cena, Madison Davenport

The unstoppable duo of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have had us keeling over with laughter time and time again over the years. Their appearances on sketch show Saturday Night Live (a personal favourite has to be Fey as the insatiable politician Sarah Palin) are priceless, one liners in Mean Girls (‘I’m not like a regular mom, I’m a cool mom!’ – Poehler) from Fey’s script for the film are timeless, and their hosting of the Golden Globes awards ceremony for three consecutive years: inspired. Now we see Poehler and Fey take on the roles they’ve been practically playing throughout their long friendship and career together – as two loyal siblings who are full of love for life.

Recently divorced Maura Ellis (Poehler) works as a dutiful care-giving nurse, an extension of her childhood tendency to look after and ‘mom’ everyone she meets. Katie Ellis (Fey) is a beautician and wandering spirit who gets easily bored and restless, going from job to job and place to place in spite of complaints from her young adult daughter, Hayley (Madison Davenport – Over the Hedge), that she needs to start acting like a responsible adult. Mind you, when Maura and Katie get together, they are as infantile and irresponsible as each other… When the sisters find out that their parents (played by Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) are selling their childhood home, they start to move out their things, contemplating their current lives and indulging in the nostalgia of the party days of their youth. They decide to hold one final no hold-bars party in their house and invite their friends and neighbours of old, although some locals, such as the snobby Brinda (Maya Rudolph in her funniest role since Bridesmaids), do not receive an invite. Moreover, Maura requests that it be she who is allowed to release her ‘inner freak’ on the night while Katie looks after the house and guests. The result is an infamous night that progressively gets crazier and will no doubt have its attendees reminiscing for years after.

Sisters takes a little while to take off and a bit too long to wind down following the finale (with a running time of two hours, it is, like many of its contemporaries, a bit indulgently long for a comedy), but for its vast majority, it is delightfully and fervently funny. Even those who aren’t fans of Fey and Poehler will find the characters quickly grow on them. The supporting party guest characters are also brilliantly sketched, with a number of SNL stars (and indeed the writer of the film, Paula Pell, is also best-known for her work on the American sketch series) in the mix. Samantha Bee, Rachel Dratch, Bobby Moynihan, John Leguizamo, Greta Lee and John Cena all give rapturous, mad performances. The sheer hilarity of the film owes a tribute to director Jason Moore, particularly when one considers that this is only his second feature after Pitch Project. Moore could easily become this decade’s Judd Apatow.

Charming, playful and absolutely bonkers, Sisters IS the must-see, feel-good comedy of the season. It should prove great fun for both young (who can laugh at their elders) and old (who can have a good chuckle at themselves).

Deirdre Molumby

15A
117 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Sisters is released 11th December 2015

Sisters – Official Website

 

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Review: Night People

NIGHT PEOPLE - Parle in bedroom(1)

DIR/WRI: Gerard Lough • PRO: Gerard Lough, Tanya McLaughlin • DOP: Greg Rouladh • ED: Greg Rouladh • CAST: Michael Parle, Jack Dean Shepherd, Claire Blennerhasset, Sarah Louise Carney, Aidan O’ Sullivan, Eoin Leahy

Gerard Lough makes the transition from shorts to features with this anthology horror/sci-fi in which a pair of seemingly mismatched criminals Mike (played by the brilliant Michael Parle) and Luke (Jack Shepherd), who break into a house as part of an insurance scam. When in the house the pair, with time to kill, start telling each other tall tales. One involves a pair of friends who discover a mysterious, powerful, potentially alien device which pits them against each other. The other tale follows a business woman who provides a prostitution service for wealthy fetishists and how her attempts to escape this line of work leads her down stranger, more sinister rabbit-holes.

This ambitious film is full of distinctive flavour. The set-up and stories are certainly unusual in terms of an Irish film. Lough exhibits a very particular style in how’s it shot – lots of underexposed cinematography, and in its soundtrack, which is heavy on impressive synthesized ’80s style music.

Lough has no qualms about juxtaposing different genres and sub-genres and also attempts to tackle a variety of diverse subjects from the economy and housing crisis to grand philosophical concerns. The result is a film that looks and feels very different to most Irish cinema. It doesn’t always add up and the complex nature of its presentation can be sometimes difficult to follow with the anthology film being a famously difficult trick to pull off

The special effects are also somewhat creaky in places and the budgetary restrictions do show. However, Lough must be commended for making a virtue of this. He himself has cited the New Romantic music scene and films such as Tony Scott’s bonkers Catherine Deneuve/David Bowie vampire picture The Hunger as big influences aesthetically and the effects of the film when integrated with these aesthetic influences work to create a referential B-movie style as opposed to incompetence. It is heartening to see a film as singular as this being made in Ireland, even if not every aspect of it works.

The real star of the show here is Michael Parle. Best known probably for his role in Ivan Kavanagh’s outstanding Tin Can Man, he here once again makes for a magnetic screen presence. Parle could easily lay claim to being Ireland’s first genre movie ‘star’. One is reminded of B-movie luminaries such as Udo Kier in his innate ability to balance just the right amount of knowingness and earnestness in the – often sinister – characters he plays. We need to see more of this man in Irish cinemas.

The other performers unfortunately often cannot match Parle for his presence and there are times, when Parle is off-screen, this his absence is felt somewhat and one yearns for a return to the framing story in which he is a part of, rather than the tall tales themselves.

Despite these flaws it is pleasing to see a film that neither looks nor sounds like any other Irish film historically or contemporaneously being made and further reinforces the notion that new ideas both formally and thematically are now being explored in independent Irish cinema.

David Prendeville

16
108 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Night People is released 4th September 2015

Night People – Official Website

 

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Review: Grandma

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DIR/WRI: Paul Weitz • PRO: Terry Dougas, Andrew Miano, Paul Weitz • DOP: Tobias Datum • ED: Jon Corn • DES: Cindy Chao, Michele Yu • MUS: Joel P. West • CAST: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden

Grandma is the latest feature from writer/director Paul Weitz, and boasts excellent performances, a stellar script, some of the most fleeting yet memorable characters to appear in a film this year, and an ability to send a message without being preachy.

As our story starts, we meet Elle Reid (Tomlin), a bitter, sarcastic old woman in the middle of breaking up with her much younger girlfriend of four months. Tomlin’s performance perfectly encapsulates the soul of her character: a woman dying on the outside, yet hard as a rock to the outside world. After the break-up, her teenage grand-daughter Sage (Garner) turns up on the door-step, knocked-up, broke, and in desperate need of an abortion.

And here we have one of Grandma’s greatest strengths: its refreshing lack of the usual song-and-dance routine about whether or not abortion is ethical. Sage needs $600 by 5:45 pm or she can’t get the abortion. Trouble is, she doesn’t want to go to her own mother, because she’s afraid of being judged to death, so she goes to her grandmother for the money, who unfortunately is broke for the next week; so they decide to embark on a day trip wherein they’ll travel around the city, meet Grannies old friends, and see if they can beg, borrow and steal enough money to pay for the abortion. Of course, it’s never explained why they can’t just cancel the appointment, wait a week until Granny gets paid, and then get the abortion, but the film overall is so stellar that I’ll give this plot-hole a pass.

So as our heroines get started on their road trip, we learn about the life of this particular grandmother. And what a character she is. In a lesser film, Elle Reid would be a doting, silly, not-all-there comic relief character – there to ease the tension while everyone else gets things done. Instead, she’s easily the most-capable character in the film, as forcibly determined as she is intimidatingly intelligent.  I won’t give anything away, but this is one old woman that you do not want to mess with, throwing out sweet punchlines throughout the story that prove that the old dog is very much alive and kicking.

The acting across the board is excellent, with Julia Garner doing brilliantly as Elle’s young, timid grand-daughter, while Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, John Cho and Sam Elliott all perform excellently during their brief appearances.

While it could be argued that this film really is just a linear sequence of character interactions that exist to fill time before the ending, it’s so well-executed that it’s difficult to fault it for being that. The film also succeeds on its ability to send across a positive message without preaching, landing a few excellent digs on the anti-abortion crowd, while casually referencing the abhorrent harassment that abortion-seekers get every day of the week in the U.S.A. The social commentary is subtle, nuanced, and doesn’t feel the need to beat you over the head with its message.

One of the best movies of the year.

Darren Beattie

16
78 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Grandma is released 11th December 2015

Grandma – Official Website

 

 

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Review: The Night Before

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DIR: Jonathan Levin • WRI: Jonathan Levin, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg • PRO: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Zene Baker • DES: Annie Spitz • MUS; Marco Beltrami, Miles Hankins CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon, Seth Rogen, Jillian Bell

 

If you’ve seen This is the End, then you already know how The Night Before might go – someone is trying unsuccessfully to be an adult before super-fun drugs and alcohol enter the picture, hijinks ensue, and life is shown to be generally consequence-free.  Oh, and there’s laughing.  Lots and lots of laughing.

The ‘Christmas Movie’ has been done every way possible – you name it, we’ve seen it: heartwarming Scrooge tales of selfishness overcome by the holiday spirit; jaunty cartoon animal adventures; families reunited across great divides; Christmas miracles; Santa to the rescue…the list, much like the onslaught of advertising at this time of year, is endless.  Much less common in modern cinema is the irreverent Christmas movie made for children of the ’80s in their mid-thirties who snort at nostalgic fart jokes and unnecessary sex and violence, and to whom ‘adulthood’ still seems a strange and mysterious world.

Thank Santa, then, for Seth Rogan – a lazy avatar par extraordinaire, who ‘acts’ the stoner persona so perfectly that it’s impossible not to laugh.  Rogan’s Isaac and his friend Chris (Anthony Mackie) make a pact to their orphaned best friend, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), to always spend Christmas together, partying and being each other’s family for the holidays.  As they grow older, their actual families and responsibilities begin to take precedence, and the tradition starts to lose its lustre, culminating in this – their final Christmas night of parties.  Isaac is expecting his first baby with Betsy (the fantastic Jillian Bell), Chris is a suspiciously famous football player, while Ethan has barely progressed beyond his teenage dreams.  Through the years at bars they had heard tell of a mythical Great Gatsby style party, The Nutcracker Ball, where all of your wildest dreams come true.  Their spirit guide directs them as they journey towards this Shangri La, in the form of Mr. Green (played with a quiet intensity by Michael Shannon), the local drug dealer with a heart who might just hold the key to happiness.  Or, at least, something very similar.  Will this final night together teach them life lessons, and reaffirm their friendship in unexpected ways?  Probably not, but then, narrative is not really the point – the only reason to see this, or any, comedy is to laugh.

For that, then, The Night Before does what it says on the tin.  There are more than enough laugh-out-loud moments, quotable silly exchanges, hilariously excessive drug and alcohol intake, and most importantly of all at this time of year, not a single serious moral to be found at the end of the night.  While not at the same level as This is the End, perhaps the pinnacle of Seth Rogan’s loveable stoner goofball alter-ego, it nonetheless offers a little more than the typical Ben Stiller-style family humour that passes for comedy lately.  Worth it for Seth Rogan’s irrepressive giggles alone, The Night Before is a quick and funny antidote to the sickly-sweetness that generally pervades this season.

Sarah Griffin

16
101 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Night Before is released 4th December 2015

The Night Before – Official Website

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Review: The Lesson

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DIR/WRI:Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov • PRO: Konstantina Stavrianou, Petar Valchanov, Irini Vougioukalou • DOP: Krum Rodriguez • ED: Petar Valchanov • DES: Vanina Geleva • CAST: Margita Gosheva, Ivan Barnev, Ivan Savov, Stefan Denolyubov, Ivanka Bratoeva

The unforgiving reality of debt repayments and the overwhelming pressures that financial providers place on the individual is the theme of this Bulgarian drama by director Kristina Grozeva. Nade is a middle-aged school teacher, highly educated and struggling thanks to her husband’s uselessness with money. Instead of paying back the repayments on their family home, Nade’s husband has been buying parts for his broken and irreparable camper van with the hope of one day making the value of the van back with its prospective sale. Needless to say the scheme fails and when Nade returns home from school one day she encounters the bailiff’s attempting to repossess the home. With three days left before the bank put up the house for mortgage, it is up to Nade to come up with the desperately needed cash.

The film opens with Nada standing in front of her class, questioning the room as to the whereabouts of a student’s stolen purse. In retribution for the refusal of the culprit to come forward, Nada makes the class as a whole cover the cost of the student’s lunch. Such a brief allegory on the collective socialisation of private debt brings a more universal concern to the private life of Nada and the film in general. Nada is performed tellingly by Margita Grazeva, a role that engrosses the audience by the subtleties of her dramatic performance, always constrained and real, of a woman under threat yet unwilling to let the family around her or her society understand the strain she is under.

Within this middle class pride, of retaining face and Nada’s refusal to expose to anyone that can help her how close she is to desperate circumstances, show a woman of unflinching independence, of taking charge of her family’s fortunes. At times, the numerous and unending unfortunate occurrences, from the token flat tire on the mad rush to the bank before closing time to the stolen money when it is needed most pivotally, could make a lesser film falter. Yet in this case perfectly highlights the numerous tragedies that the desperate daily encounter, when every obstacle becomes a Sisyphean task of survival.

Margita Grazeva’s performance is riveting and allows what could be a weak plot to be overcome as we are drawn further into a psychological exploration of desperation and social façades. Our empathy at times for Nada makes The Lesson a tough watch because of its constant implications and presence of being plunged fully and wholly into desperation. Especially with the introduction of the moneylenders and their seedy representation of money as a control over the autonomy of one’s body and the constant threat they represent.

The director, Kristina Groseva, has created a film of brilliant emotional resonance, the realism of her profile of the teacher uncompromising in its promotion of the individual and their right to dignity, even when surrounded by the callousness of bureaucratic institutions and financial lenders that offer nothing of the like. The lack of addition to the film of any soundtrack serves wisely in removing any emotional distances between the audience and the protagonist.

By the film’s end, the plot comes full circle as once again we are brought back into Nade’s classroom and the lesson of theft is brought back into focus. Nada’s response to the perpetrator bundles up the central morale of the story. This film is indeed a lesson and a timely portrait to the daily desperation that exists in the west as the values of the community and the individual within these communities come into stark contrast with the valueless ideologies of finance.

Sean Finnan

106 minutes

The Lesson is released 4th December 2015

 

 

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Review: Krampus

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DIR: Michael Dougherty • WRI: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields • PRO: Michael Dougherty, Alex Garcia, Pamela Harvey-White, Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull • DOP: Jules O’Loughlin • ED: John Axelrad • DES: Jules Cook • MUS: Douglas Pipes • CAST: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechne

‘Tis the season; the season for Black Friday insanity and familial loathing where everyone bickers, no one wants to be there and the holiday that’s supposed to bring people together just keeps pushing them apart. Max (Anthony) can’t stand it anymore. He just wants to have Christmas like they used to; before his cousins became awful bullies, before he and his sister grew apart and before his mom (Toni Collette?!) and dad viewed Christmas as a social performance. In a fit of sadness and anger he turns his genuine Christmas belief into a bitter, hate-filled wish with consequences he could not have foreseen. Enter Krampus, the mythological Anti-Santa of old who for some reason has gained enough traction in American pop-culture to justify building a movie around him. Trapping the family in their home with a blizzard and no power, Krampus and his eclectic assortment of minions torment the family and pick them off one-by-one. Can they survive? Can he even be stopped? Will learning the true meaning of Christmas act as their salvation or is Krampus more of ‘you can act as a warning to others’ kind of guy?

First off, based on the trailers, the setup or even just the phrase ‘Christmas Horror Comedy’, it might surprise you to hear this is a lot better than expected. It’s still a bit of a mess that doesn’t entirely work but it actually has a couple of laughs and a handful of effectively scary ideas. Sadly it makes no sense, tonally. It’s neither funny enough nor scary enough to fully work as either a horror or comedy, while the satire only makes the briefest of appearances and never really reaches anything deeper than ‘isn’t Christmas the worst, lol, in-laws and consumerism’. If you look a bit deeper though and really buy into the meaning of the ending, there is a nicely melancholic seasonal message here and one which feels both more honest, emotionally and more biting, satirically, as an indictment of the whole institution of Christmas.

A lot of this comes from the grandmother character Omi (Stadler) who for the most part refuses to speak English but is full of mythological exposition, old-world wisdom and values, and even gets her own flashback sequence completely rendered in, excellently produced, Laika-style stop-motion for seemingly no good reason. Her repeated mantra that people have forgotten that the ‘giving’ aspect of Christmas was supposed to involve sacrifice is the oddly weighty emotional core to all of this, entirely reinforced by that final shot. For the most part the film seems to ridicule both sides of the ‘War on Christmas’ camp reasonably equally, even though the existence of Krampus seems to be tacit support in favour of keeping the ‘traditional’ Christmas iconography and rituals in place. But the final festive kick in the balls for both the audience and the protagonist (in a scene specifically designed to take a dump on the endings to all those other schmaltzy Christmas movies) is that Christmas is nothing to do with anything we currently associate it with. Even the ‘good’ ‘wholesome’ version of Christmas is just as much of a late-capitalist confection as anything else compared to the roots of the holiday.

Which, I hear you say, is all well and good but isn’t that exactly the same ground and message that the first Xmas episode of Futurama covered but with a more successful merging of bleakness and comedy and in a fraction of the running time? Well, yes. And therein lies the real problem, it’s not that the film is lacking good things; it’s just that it’s lacking enough of them. That final message gets no more screen time than it did in Futurama, Krampus himself is a new contender in the category of ‘Least Screen-Time for a Title Character’ and there is no reason for most of these actors to be here.

Let’s address that cast first. It’s a veritable and literal who’s-who of “oh yeah, that guy” and “what’s-her-face, you know, from that thing?” and then Toni Collette. One can only hope that she put the money that she must desperately have needed to agree to this, to good use. She’s utterly wasted in an entirely perfunctory role that could have been played by anyone, but the weirdest thing? She’s actually trying. This isn’t a phoned-in performance, she’s genuinely quite good; occasionally subtle and surprisingly affecting whenever the script tosses her a bone of an emotional moment. Yet it’s young Emjay Anthony as Max, nominally the protagonist, that deserves the most praise. In a role seemingly designed to be the insufferably naïve kid who you want to see devoured by monsters, he somehow succeeds in imbuing him with a real sympathetic likability which really manages to lend a little weight to some of the early scenes. (Is it just me or are ‘movie-kids’ getting better? Between this, The Visit and that one kid that keeps showing up in blockbusters, there seems to be less of them to hate.)

Then there’s Krampus. This one is a bit of a double-edged sword as not having him show up that much keeps him mysterious and creepy; as demonstrated in his delightful first appearance where he leaps and crashes across rooftops like some kind of deranged, jingle-bell-filled festive Batman. On the other hand, keeping him off-screen means we’re saddled with his ‘helpers’ which range from mask-wearing, cultist ‘elves’ to monstrous toys and (one winces at the phrase) comic-relief sentient gingerbread men that seem to have escaped a late-’90s kids film starring Robin Williams. Some of these do work; the evil teddy-bear is nicely demented-looking but the giant, man-eating Jack in the Box monster takes the cake for being one of the most visually-distressing creatures to see in motion of any film this year. Thoroughly unsettling and absolute nightmare fuel. It’s just a pity their boss does so little and is fairly unimpressive up-close once he finally decides to stick around for more than a few frames at a time.

Krampus isn’t getting out of here without a small recommendation, at least if twisted, bleak Christmas movies are your thing, but know that it’s far from problem-free. It’s a lot better than it could have even if it never quite reaches a Rare Exports level (which is probably still the high watermark for this kind of movie and, thinking on it, probably a more accurate exploration of the Krampus myth despite being about Santa). It certainly veers toward that film, especially with Omi who seems to have almost literally come out of Rare Exports’ world but it fails to build up and sustain its particular brand of off-kilter festive weirdness. It may not fully work as either a comedy or a horror but nor does it outright fail which really, is probably the most we could have hoped for from a Christmas Horror-Comedy starring Toni Collette that deals with a mythological, Germanic-Pagan Anti-Santa invading the US.

Richard Drumm

15A
109 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Krampus is released 4th December 2015

Krampus – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Victor Frankenstein

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DIR: Paul McGuigan • WRI: Max Landis • PRO: John Davis • DOP: Fabian Wagner • ED: Andrew Hulme, Charlie Phillips • DES: Eve Stewart • MUS: Craig Armstrong • CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Andrew Scott, Jessica Brown Findlay

Sometimes less is more, but evidently no one told director Paul Guigan that. Overstuffed, over acted and over written, Victor Frankenstein is the reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic work that no one asked for. The film offers glimmers of potential throughout its first half, but quickly descends into the realm of melodramatic nonsense. Now and again, moments of substance float to the surface, which suggest that McGuigan could have had a decent film on his hands if only he had not been so heavy-handed in his approach.

Our film begins when Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), a circus hunchback would-be-scientist, is freed from his life of cruelty and humiliation by the charismatic, but clearly unhinged, Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy). Seeing in the misshapen boy a spark of intellectual curiosity, Frankenstein makes Igor his assistant as he dangles of the edge of a major scientific discovery. Initially enthusiastic to offer his skills in the name of progress, Igor gradually realises that Frankenstein’s experiment reaches into depths far darker than he anticipated- the creation of life from nothing. On the duo’s tail, however, is the pious Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott), whose foundation of belief is being violently shaken by the possibility of unnatural life. The juxtaposition between Frankenstein’s and Turpin’s extreme beliefs could have made for an interesting narrative arc, but McGuigan strives to make the characters interactions with one another as cliché as possible, draining their scenes of all poignancy. The only thing that the film shares in common with its source material is its protagonists name and the fact that it centres heavily on the theme that just because science can do something, it doesn’t mean that it should. There’s also a highly contrived sub-plot involving Igor’s romantic relationship with the beautiful Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findaly) that is as forced as it is stale. A shame really, that McGuigan did not take more away from Shelley’s superior story-telling.

Though the film can at times focus too much on showing off its rather uninspired CGI London landscape, its visuals are on the whole very lush, as are the spectacular costumes. During certain action sequences, however, the editing becomes a bit sloppy and doesn’t give the audience enough time to take in what is happening in from of them. The performances given by the cast are passable for the most part. McAvoy’s exceptional hammy turn as the title character makes it difficult to discern what exactly audiences are supposed to take away from Frankenstein, be it sympathy or disgust. The only actor who kind of succeeds in creating a three-dimensional performance is Radcliffe as the disfigured Igor. He is our moral compass throughout the film, but Radcliffe does his best to make that compass point at various directions. Unfortunately, he too ultimately suffers from the films bloated script and McGuigan’s directing.

Victor Frankenstein aims low and strikes even lower. Unlikely to satisfy fans of the original novel, or anyone else for that matter, the film is worth a miss.

Ellen Murray

12A
109 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Victor Frankenstein is released 4th December 2015

Victor Frankenstein – Official Website

 

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Review: 11 Minutes

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DIR/WRI: Jerzy Skolimowski • PRO: Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski • DOP: Mikolaj Lebkowski
Bernard Walsh • ED: Agnieszka Glinska • MUS: Pawel Mykietyn • CAST: Richard Dormer, Paulina Chapko, Wojciech Mecwaldowski

The anxiety-ridden latest film from veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski (Essential Killing) takes the audience on a fast-paced, head-spinning ride through the lives of several characters during the same 11-minute period in the city of Warsaw.

The narrative jumps forward and backwards to weave together fragments of the various characters’ lives to their ultimate connection in the film’s final moments of catastrophe. Perhaps the calmest of these threads, and certainly the central one, follows a slimy Hollywood director, played by Richard Dorner (Good Vibrations) auditioning an actress (Paulina Chapko) in his hotel room with plenty of sexual insinuations. We also follow her jealous husband (of one day) who desperately tries to find her in the hotel, an ex-con hot dog vendor (who used to be a professor) outside the hotel, a group of nuns, the hotel window cleaner who sneaks into a room with his girlfriend on a break, a drug courier on a motorbike, a teenage boy attempting to commit a robbery, and elderly painter, a dog and his recently broken-up owner, men monitoring CCTV traffic cameras, and paramedics having a difficult time reaching a pregnant woman.

These characters are cleverly woven together, and their relationships developed (though many are only spatially linked), through background appearances in one another’s central moments, contact with one another, and the repetition of the same events from different perspectives (showing the importance of perception). However, the speed at which we hurtle through the glimpses of their lives before moving frantically to the next leaves much of the narrative underdeveloped. Many questions arise in these fragments which are left unanswered. While it could be argued that these questions are unimportant in regard to the path the film takes, the quick switches between loosely developed narratives can make the film difficult to follow, particularly in the beginning.

Rather than steadily building its pace, the film is frenzied from the off, instead choosing to slightly ease up the pressure for moments, only to plunge straight back in. In this sense it has the feeling of an exercise class, with high intensity bursts followed by moments of catching your breath before another burst. Indeed, the film does leave the viewer with a sense of exhilaration and mental exertion. This pacing lends to the sense of anxiety created throughout the film, both in the narratives of individual characters and in the overall sense of an impending boiling point in the film where all the built up pressure will explode. A feeling that is mirrored by a close-up shot of a floating bubble in front of the city’s skyscrapers which suddenly bursts.

Key to the success of the film’s pacing and dizzying, full-throttle thriller atmosphere are the well-executed sound design and cinematography. Diegetic sounds make up a large portion of the film’s soundtrack, with revving engines, city traffic, sirens, chiming bells, street music, heavy breathing and the dog’s panting often taking an overwhelmingly loud prominence. Particularly significant is the recurrence of a low-flying plane over the city, the booming sounds of its approaching engine punctuating the film throughout, drawing the viewer back to that particular moment across the different characters’ narratives and simultaneously adding to the looming sense of foreboding. Overlaying the diegetic sounds at times are pulsing beats, ticking, and fast-paced music which all serve to increase the film’s tempo.

Despite the opening moments of the film which make use of gritty CCTV footage, shaky camera phones, and webcams, taking a found footage approach, the rest of the film is smoothly and aesthetically shot in widescreen. Still, throughout the film there remains a sense that in today’s world part of all our lives (and stories) are caught on camera, by our choice or not. Particularly drawing attention to this are the shots we see of the director and actress through the screen of the camcorder he has set up in his hotel room, and the shots of footage from a CCTV screen that pull back to reveal multiple screens of relaying images, glances into many lives as they go about their daily business. Meanwhile, angular shots of skyscrapers from below, pulsing close-ups and lighting, and blurred, quick shots all add to the sense of disorientation throughout the film.

Everything slows down in the film’s inevitable final moments, weaving all the frantic threads into a single event that leaves the viewer with the sense that the unexpected can occur at any moment in our lives. While the narrative strands leave something to be desired in this film, many of the performances are strong and its technical composition is very well done, creating an exhilarating, atmospheric film that leaves a lasting impression.

Loretta Goff

15A
82 minutes (See IFCO for details)

11 Minutes is released 4th December 2015

 

 

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Review: Black Mass

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DIR: Scott Cooper  WRI: Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth • PRO: John Lesher, Scott Cooper, Patrick McCormick, Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson • DOP: Masanobu Takayanagi • ED: David Rosenbloom • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Jesse Plemons, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane

 

Black Mass tells the story of real-life Irish-American gangster and FBI informant James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. This has been one of the most anticipated films of the year and while it has its good moments it also turns out to be one of the year’s biggest let downs.

The film’s heavily inspired by Martin Scorsese. From the way it’s shot, to the material covered you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching one of his films. But unfortunately it doesn’t come close to touching Goodfellas or Casino.

Johnny Depp takes the lead as Bulger, who with the help of an old friend in the FBI went on to rule the Boston underworld avoiding investigation and prosecution even in the wake of the vicious crimes he committed.

And Depp plays a psychopath very well which this film, to its detriment, never misses an opportunity to show. Instead of really delving into Bulger’s character and showing his rise and fall, Black Mass features scene after scene of him doing crazy things without any real need to.

It’s a gangster film about a man who committed many, many murders. Yes, you have to show that he’s a psychopath but his entire storyline seems to be sacrificed for shots of him doing crazy things. And because of this the film never really gets going and we miss out on other things that could have been explored.

Probably the more interesting character in the film is the FBI agent who helped Bulger avoid investigation and prosecution for many years. John Connolly, played by Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Exodus), grew up on the same streets as Bulger and wasn’t really corrupted by money but instead by a little brother like affection and admiration that he held for the gangster. It’s a unique take on how a law enforcement agent ends up corrupted and Edgerton’s portrayal of Connolly as a sycophantic, suck-up to Bulger is compelling.

He is obsessed with protecting him even when his marriage falls apart and it’s clear other law enforcement agencies are onto him. Both he and Bulger are from South Boston, a place that values loyalty above all else, and even as an FBI agent Connolly somehow can’t stop being loyal to the big guy from the old neighbourhood.

The performances are all pretty solid. Depp underwent a significant transformation and his haunting, cold blue eyes in the film make him look subhuman. Another strong performance is from Jesse Plemons (TV’s Fargo) who plays an associate of Bulger, Kevin Weeks.

The film seems to cover a hundred things but can’t choose a centre to focus on. It begins storylines and asks questions that it neither really finishes nor answers. A prime example of this is Whitey’s relationship with his brother.

While Whitey was strangling and shooting his way to the top of Boston’s underworld, his brother Billy rose to become the most powerful politician in the city. Played by another star actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, the film doesn’t delve deep into the brothers’ relationship. When the biggest gangster and the biggest politician in a city are brothers, it’s bound to cause tension, right? But the two have only a handful of scenes together which aren’t very meaningful.

Instead of telling the story of Whitey Bulger Black Mass feels more like a greatest ‘hits’ compilation of the gangster. It goes through scene after scene of what he did, who he shot and what he stole. And because of this the plot never gets time to develop properly and at the end of the film you can’t help but feel unsatisfied.

Colm Quinn

15A
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Black Mass is released 27th November 2015

Black Mass – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Bridge of Spies

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DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Matt Charman Pro: Christoph Fisser, Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Marc Platt• DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn • MUS: Thomas Newman • CAST: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan

When a film is directed by Steven Spielberg, stars Tom Hanks and is written in part by the Coen Brothers, you’d expect it at least to be solid. Maybe you go into the cinema with the expectation that none will hit the heights they hit during their peaks but you know you won’t be disappointed.

But the new drama, Bridge of Spies, is better than just decent. It enthrals and it moves you. It is one of the best films of the year so far, if not the best, and can stand beside anything these great filmmakers have done.

The drama is based around real-life events and Hanks plays James B. Donovan, a lawyer given the unenviable task of defending a Soviet spy caught plying his trade in America in the 1950s. Donovan’s colleagues in the US justice system pat him on the back and make a merry dance of showing how everyone in the USA gets a fair trial. But it is merely a formality to them and they are as bloodthirsty as anyone else in the country. However, it is no pretence to Donovan and he takes the job of defending his client very seriously. A bit too seriously for many people’s liking.

When you see the posters and the trailer for the film you’re promised nail-biting drama. It is packed full of gripping scenes but it is also a touching, moving, sweet and funny film in ways. And that’s a hard thing to get away with when you’re making a Cold War drama.

But they pull it off. It is both sad and uplifting but never melodramatic or sentimental. These guys are master storytellers and they’ve created another wonderful film. Hanks is sharp, convincing and funny. The writing is superb. And Spielberg is at his best. The first scene is a walking chase through New York and is directorial brilliance. It’s a joy to watch and will suck anyone into the film, even those reluctantly dragged to the cinema.

The first half is occupied with the Donovan’s defence of the spy, Rudolf Abel, played fantastically by Mark Rylance. It shows their relationship and its effects on the lawyer and his family. In the second half he goes to Berlin to negotiate a prisoner swap between the US and USSR.

Donovan is not content with just getting what his government wants. He also doesn’t stop until he’s gotten what he feels he can from the situation. In real life, Donovan was no different, after the swap in Berlin he was asked by John F. Kennedy to go to Cuba to negotiate the release of 1,000 prisoners. Donovan got 9,000.

Sometimes great acting lives in showing intense emotion on screen but Mark Rylance puts in a great performance without ever getting angry or emotional. His expression barely changes throughout the film, even as he faces the possibility of a death sentence. The actor has made his career on the stage rather than the screen but his quite performance makes his character endearing.

The film is really two stories ­– the defence and the prisoner swap. That could’ve made for a severed storyline but the two are blended so well together it doesn’t matter. The writing plays a huge part in this as it weaves recurring and connecting pieces of dialogue and images throughout the film.

It’s still not clear who’ll win Oscars early next year. The bookmaker Paddy Power so far has Bridge of Spies as an outsider but if Spielberg and Hanks pick up more awards for their collections, nobody will be able to rightly begrudge them.

Colm Quinn

12A
141 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Bridge of Spies is released 27th November 2015

Bridge of Spies – Official Website

 

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Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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DIR: Francis Lawrence • WRI Peter Craig, Danny Strong Pro: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Jo Willems • ED: Alan Edward Bell, Mark Yoshikawa • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

There’s something almost redundant about writing a review for a movie like this – a blockbuster ending to a beloved series with marketing on hyperdrive doesn’t need much else to sell tickets. These types of instalments can sometimes feel critic-proof, which is what leads so many of them to be sloppy and… well… just not quite good enough.

Splitting the final book into two movies, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2, was certainly the right idea – and not just in terms of moneymaking. Mockingjay carries the most action of the series, as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) comes face to face with her inescapable destiny; an all-out war with the Capitol of Panem. However, the book also carries the emotional weight of the story as Katniss struggles with her intertwining destinies, discovering that there is no ‘right’ decision in war, and that suffering for both you and your loved ones is unavoidable. This salient point, probably the most devastating in this series of young adult novels, is lost in a movie that glories in tactical victories and focuses too heavily on Katniss’s love-triangle with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Despite its long running time (137 minutes), the movie can’t seem to decide which story it wants to tell more – Katniss Everdeen: war hero, or Katniss Everdeen: lovesick teenager.

That’s not to say the movie is a total wash, as many of the scenes are handled extremely well, and the characterisations are generally spot on. Taken as a standalone, minus the weight of its source material, Mockingjay Part 2 draws all of the threads of story together to a satisfying conclusion. It brings us clearly from Katniss’ beginnings as a volunteer tribute in the first games to her final stand against a tyrannical system of government. Peeta’ rescue from the clutches of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in the last movie, resulting in his brainwashing and attempted murder of Katniss, adds a seamless flow between both parts, and the film hits the ground running. The trouble might be that there is just too much story to tell, and characters like Johanna (Jena Malone) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) fall by the wayside in an attempt to make sense of Katniss’ journey. Still, we spend enough time with Katniss and Gale, Katniss and Peeta, Peeta and Gale, and Katniss by herself to gain insight into how the events of the previous three movies have set the scene for the concluding chapter.

The sad loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, during the shoot forced his character to take a back seat, but Woody Harrelson (as Haymitch Abernathy) and Julianne Moore (as President Alma Coin) ably fill the crucial moments with appropriate gravitas. Fans of the books will no doubt delight in pivotal scenes – the storming of ‘The Nut’ in District Two; the sewers of the Capitol; the Star Squad’s propos – while mourning the loss of others. Those who have followed the movies will get closure on their character’s stories, with enough surprises and shocking twists to keep interest high throughout the running time.

Exciting by times and definitely entertaining, the film has done enough to finish the series with a bang, but hasn’t quite lived up to its own hype. With so much talent at their disposal, a cast of fantastic actors, the budget to recreate terrifying mutts and epic battle sequences, a rock-solid narrative to work from, and an army of fans ready to be enraptured, Mockingjay Part 2 disappointingly falls short of its own potential.

Sarah Griffin

15A
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is released 20th November 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – Official Website

 

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Review: Love

 

DIR/WRI: Gaspar Noé • Pro: Brahim Chaoiu, Vincent Maravel, Gaspar Noé, Rodrigo Teixeira, Edouard Weil • ED: Denis Bedlow, Gaspar Noé  • DOP: Benoit Debie • Mus: Pascal Mayer • CAST: Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyock, Klara Kristin

Relentless provocateur Gaspar Noé returns to our screens with this sexually-explicit opus which follows an American film student living in Paris, Murphy (Glusman) and his doomed love affair with the depressive, fiery, sexually experimental Elektra (Muyock) and his subsequent fall into parenthood and domesticity with another woman Omi (Kristin), whom he does not love. We piece together the story of Murphy and Elektra’s stormy affair through flashbacks to episodes in their time together, intercut with the present, as Murphy muses how he’s gotten himself into this situation.

Since the film’s premiere at Cannes much has been made of the film’s sexual frankness and the fact that it was shot and is presented in 3D.The sex and 3D in fact turn out to be the least notable aspects on show here. The former is pervasive and hardcore, but this is hardly anything new in arthouse cinema. The idea of the director of Enter the Void making a film in 3D certainly seemed like an interesting proposition but for the most part the 3D effects seem unnecessary. There is the odd moment when Noé uses it interestingly, generally in scenes outside of the bedroom, such as a fiery argument between Murphy and Elektra in the back of a taxi and also in a couple of nightclub scenes in which the effect captures an atmosphere and dreaminess that seems fresh. For the most part the effect is used in a subtle way and Noe resists the temptation to fling things at the audience, apart from one shot in which Murphy ejaculates out into the crowd. Well, this is a Gaspar Noé film after all.

Noé himself has stated (as does Murphy, who is clearly a surrogate for Noé in the film) that what he wanted to do was to make a film exploring sexual sentimentality. Indeed, Noé allows far more sweetness and sentimentality into Love than encountered in his previous, aggressive pictures I Stand Alone, Irreversible and Enter the Void. Noé himself has compared it to Love to Blue is the Warmest Colour in its emotional and physical frankness. There are times in the film when this works and Noé does capture something raw, honest, sad and, indeed, beautiful. Unfortunately, however, these moments are far too few and instead the viewer most endure lots of silliness, indulgences, wretched dialogue and indifferent acting on its way to climax.

Noé has argued there is a continued conservative attitude to showing sex in films and has suggested to really examine romance one must examine the sexual side of it in the same manner as all other things. This is a fair point and his use of Blue is the Warmest Colour as an example of a counterpoint is a good one in that it did achieve these goals. In that infinitely superior picture the viewer was submerged into all aspects of the couple’s relationship. This was achieved through an intense attention to detail of which explicit sex was a part of, but also through the relatability of the characters, and through profoundly brilliant acting from the leads.

After a decent, sober start it does not take long for Love to plunge headlong into pure male fantasy. Poor Murphy’s problems with Elektra, you see, stem from them having a threesome with their 17-year-old neighbour Omi. They do this because its Elektra’s biggest sexual fantasy to have sex with a man and another girl. Of course. Following this, when Elektra is away for the weekend, Murphy just can’t help himself once more and has to have sex with Omi again, this time by himself, at which point he impregnates her and so ends his romance with the love of his life.

To be fair to Noé, he never suggests that Murphy is a character we should necessarily like but it is a grave mistake on his part to allow what could have been an interesting, moving look at lost love to become so far removed from its intentions by indulging in such (ahem) hard to swallow contrivances. And it’s not just here that the film emits dubious and depressingly conservative attitudes to sex and gender. There is an ear-bleedingly banal conversation about abortion, not to mention a tasteless and unnecessary scene in which Elektra coaxes Murphy into having (another) threesome  – this time with a transsexual prostitute – which is played somewhat for laughs. At one point early on Murphy also states that he fears if he leaves Omi she might turn his son ‘gay’.

There are other problems beyond the weary conservatism on show. Noé seems determined to shoehorn as much of himself as he possibly can into the film. It’s already been noted that Murphy is a surrogate for Noé himself: he’s an aspiring filmmaker with a taste for the controversial, his apartment is adorned with posters for Salo and Birth of a Nation, his favourite film is 2001 (which is also Noé’s). On top of this Murphy and Omi name their child Gaspar and, most hilariously, Noé himself turns up in a bad wig as an art dealer ex-boyfriend of Elektra’s. There’s a strong whiff of Tarantino at his most indulgent about this aimless self-reflexivity. There’s nothing wrong with a filmmaker being self-referential but it needs to be done with wit or to a purpose, both of which are lacking here.

There is no question, however, that Noé is an extremely talented filmmaker. He has exhibited great formal innovation in his previous works. It is the opinion of this writer, however, that his ideas are not as good as his practise. Irreversible is a powerfully realised film but that too was somewhat bogged down by simplistic philosophies and ideologies. Enter the Void – his best film – managed to transcend some on the nose dialogue, due to the sheer originality of its form.

Love is a deeply frustrating film. For all the seemingly endless flaws it has, it still retains some unquestionably brilliant flourishes and moments. Noé continues to experiment with the idea of a cinema of subjectivity. The blinking of the main character’s point of view in Enter the Void is used here once again to break through time. For example Murphy might one moment be in a room with Omi, the image will blink like a person would, and all of a sudden he will be in a different place and time, most likely with Elektra. This beautifully conjures up the mosaic like nature of memory and its role in human relationships and experiences.

It’s also beautifully shot by Noé regular Benoit Debie, it features some terrific use of music and sound, and at its best it really does touch upon a kind of insanity and tenderness all too rarely seen in films about romance. It’s just such a shame then that it is all weighed down so heavily by Noé’s adolescent world-view.

 

David Prendeville

18A
135 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Love is released 20th November 2015

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Review: He Named Me Malala

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DIR: David Guggenheim • PRO: Davis Guggenheim, Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes • DOP: Erich Roland • ED: Greg Finton, Brad Fuller, Brian Johnson • MUS: Thomas Newman • CAST: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai Yousafzai

 

“It was not a man that shot Malala, but an ideology,” states Malala’s father, Ziauddin, about three-quarters-way through the film.

When the Taliban targeted Malala Yousafzai in 2012 for daring to speak up in favour of education for girls they had aimed to silence her, and her message, forever. Ironically, this extreme act of cowardly violence only proved to spur Malala into the international consciousness. Since her miraculous recovery the extraordinary 18-year-old has dedicated her life to seeking equal education opportunities for girls and women around the world. Between meeting world leaders and winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is a busy young woman. Director Guggenheim clearly seeks to highlight Malala as, first and foremost, a human being yet the audience is distinctly kept at arm’s length. Unanswered questions hang heavily over this otherwise uplifting account of one girl’s bravery. As the film continues, it becomes apparent that we are not being given the full picture.

The film’s opening sequence depicts the tale of an Afghan folk-hero named Malalai, who fought against oppression and was shot dead as a result. In a strange act of faith, this story inspired Ziauddin and Tor Pekai Yousafzai to name their first born daughter Malala, whose own fame is now edging on the side legend. Malala’s father seems to have been marked her out as different from the first, most noticeable in their strong connection. He comments that from the moment of her birth, they were like “one soul in two bodies.” Passionate about the power of education, Ziauddin set up his own school in Swat Valley, Pakistan, and it was here that the seeds of learning were planted in Malala’s mind. But with the rise of the Taliban came the decline of women’s rights and thus, the stage was set for events that would propel Malala to the almost saint-like status applied to her today.

Guggenheim’s skill as a storyteller is best utilised in the animated sequences of the film, which succeed in conveying both beauty and emotion. Subtle indications from the director also hint that, despite a comprehensive account of her life, only the surface is being scratched when it comes to getting to know the real Malala. For all her intelligence and wisdom that defies her years, Malala is still just an ordinary girl who went through an immense trauma, forced her from her home and the life she knew. How she has dealt with the emotional aspects of these events is never explored. When Guggenheim asks her directly about her suffering, Malala blanks him. Other questions remain untouched upon but one thing is made abundantly clear: Malala, and to an extent her entire family, are caught between the traditional culture that they left behind and the progressive ideals that they strive to uphold. This can be seen in small tell-tales, such as Malala’s desire to wear a headscarf and longer skirt despite attending an all-girls school in Birmingham, England, where the family now resides. Old ways die hard, even for the most forward-thinking of people.

He Named Me Malala is not, perhaps, the in-depth account that many would have hoped for, but it is a warm and touching film all the same. At times a bit-heavy-handed with its message, the film offers us a glimpse into the how and why that made Malala a household name. Maybe some time in the future, when she has had more time to heal and reflect, Malala will share with the world a more unflinching look into the challenges that shaped who she is. Until then Guggenheim’s documentary is still worth a watch, even if just to plant more questions in the audiences head.

Ellen Murray

87 minutes (See IFCO for details)

He Named Me Malala  is released 6th November 2015

He Named Me Malala  – Official Website

 

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Another Look at ‘Steve Jobs’

 

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Anthony Kirby finds a lot to like in Steve Jobs

 

Steve Jobs was something of an enigma. He easily packed five lifetimes into his fifty six years. Perhaps because of early rejection as a child, or a chemical brain imbalance, he lacked social graces and was inordinately cruel to immediately family and many of his closest associates. He had a genius comprehension of mathematical concepts and computer logic, spoke at sixty words to the dozen and had no interest in money or worldly possessions. At one point in the film John Scully (Jeff Daniels) C.E.O. of Apple Corporation visits Job’s home and complains that the company founder, then worth $44 Million, has only a king-sized bed and no other furniture.

In an aside about half way through the drama, Jobs, the son of an Iranian father and German/American Catholic mother, confesses that his first adoptive parents returned him when he was just a few months old. “They wanted a girl,” he said. “My mother wanted my adoptive parents to be university graduates. My adoptive father was a military and later civilian auto mechanic.” However, Jobs bonded with his adoptive father and loved building fences, etc. with him. His parents were Calvinists, which probably explains his work ethic and intransigence.

The film is more a pastiche of Job’s life than a biopic. A full accounting of Jobs would require twice the screen-time. The film does not cover Jobs’ period as Primary Investor and C.E.O. of Pixar Inc. or his interest in the Disney Corporation. The picture covers three pivotal points in the genius’ life. The launch of the original Macintosh in 1984. The NEXT Computer developed during Jobs’ period away from Apple and unveiled in 1988, and the original iMac of 1998. Each scene ends with Jobs at centre stage.

As a college student Jobs encountered Steve Wozniak and Chris-Ann Brennan. Jobs and Wozniak developed the Apple Computer in his garage. Chris-Ann who was briefly Jobs’ mistress had a daughter Lisa whom she claimed was his. Even following D.N.A. testing Jobs disputed this. In the film’s first  scene, shot in 16mm, Jobs is visited by fragile Chris-Ann (Katherine Waterston). She and Lisa, not able to live on the court mandated $385.00, are about to go on welfare. Jobs, preoccupied with the product launch, shouts at Chris-Ann and only backs down when his personal assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) quietly impresses on him that regardless of his animosity to her mother  there’s a five-year-old child who believes you’re her father and loves you.” Listening to this plea Jobs backs down, ups Chris-Ann’s monthly stipend to $500.00 and lodges enough money in her account to buy a modest house. However, he’s still angry and when little Lisa asks him “ Daddy did you call the Lisa computer after me? “ he replies “ No sweetheart, L.I.S.A. stands for Local Integrated Software Architecture” This to a sensitive five year old! Then when Lisa does an abstract drawing on the computer he says, “Picasso did similar drawings with paper and Indian ink.” Even allowing for the pressure Jobs was under this interchange showed how ill-equipped he was as a parent.

Jobs expected to be Time’s Man of the Year for 1984, however, on learning of Jobs’ dispute with Ms. Brennan, Time changed the story to a feature on Apple Corporation. Screen-writer Sorkin discussed his screenplay with Lisa, now 37, “she’s the hero of the film,” he says.

Act two of the film deals with the launch of the NEXT Computer. Lisa is again backstage. She points out that the NEXT Computer frame isn’t a perfect cube. She’s actually measured it with a ruler. Jobs takes time to tell her that “a perfect cube doesn’t photograph well with regards to television, honey.” Their relationship appears to have improved, however, when Lisa hugging him around his waist asks if she can live with him, he doesn’t respond.

Sadly the NEXT Computer isn’t a financial success selling only to universities. Jobs has other irons in the fire, which leads us into Act III.

Close to bankruptcy, Apple Corporation’s Board invite Jobs back as C.E.O. in 1997. He develops the first iMac, and begins the launch in the spring of 1998. Confident as everm he predicts sales of half a million units in the first month and 20,000 a month thereafter. An associate comes back stage armed with a top secret file not to be shown to Jobs: it’s from a business prediction agency. Jobs persuades the associate to show him the file. The business forecast agency predictions are the same as Jobs’.

Joanna Hoofman (Winslet), who is the only confidant who can consistently get through to him, intimates that if he doesn’t somehow make peace with Lisa she’ll leave him and hide somewhere never to be found. “I mean this, Steve, if you don’t make peace with Lisa, I’m history. This has gone on far too long.”

Steve Jobs does eventually make peace with Lisa who watches the launch of the iMac backstage. Later as Lisa goes to pick up her Volkswagen Beatle Jobs notes that she’s wearing a cumbersome Walkman. “Why are you still listening to music on that device, Lisa? I’ll make a listening device that can access 500 pieces of music.”

Arron Sorkin (The West Wing) is a master dramatist, however, this Hollywood style ending is the only scene in the film that doesn’t ring true to this reviewer but that doesn’t take away from a wonderful script that is directed to perfection and filled with great performances.

Fassbender himself forgoes a makeup makeover and doesn’t look like the real Steve Jobs. However, he brilliantly captures his genius and conflicted personality and gives a brilliant, nuanced performance.

 

Anthony Kirby

 

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Review: The Fear of 13

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DIR: David Sington • WRI: Corin Hardy, Felipe Marino • PRO: Christopher Riley, Haroula Rose, David Sington • DOP: Clive North, Nickolas Dylan Rossi • MUS: Philip Sheppard • CAST: Sammy Silverwatch, Nick Yarris

 

Over the past few years quite a number of films have emerged questioning the injustices of the American incarceration system such as West of Memphis and The House I Live In. The Fear of 13 belongs to this category of documentary with one essential difference, in this film, rather than using the traditional range of testimonies involved in such documentary films, this film allows this victim of institutional injustice free reign to tell his story. The story rather than the injustice is put on centre stage. Sitting in an empty cell, Nick Yarris’ voice echoes, the acoustics replicating an actor on stage as the death row prisoner’s charisma relays the story of how he once sought to fast forward his execution despite always maintaining his innocence.

Director John Sington’s film opens up to Yarris lamenting the silence of solitary confinement that he endured on first arriving on death row. That was a quaker prison, he states, and the warden doesn’t permit speaking. He was, as he makes clear, a man silenced.

Essentially a monologue, Sington embellishes Yarris’ performance of his monologue with a range of sound effects that serve to heighten the already engaging performance. By keeping Yarris’s alleged crimes on the long focus, Sington’s film can instead delve into the character of Yarris and his own journey rather than a film primarily focused on injustice. Yarris peppers his monologue with anecdotes, from the cultural life within prisons, to Yarris’ own youth and his own brief and accidental escape from prison.

Despite the cruelty at times of life in the prison, it is the kind act of one prison guard to introduce the prisoner to world of books that has the most significant effect on his life. With passion, Yarris explains how he was overcome by an obsession with learning, reciting words, writing them out ten times, putting them into sentences, learning words like phantasmagoria and triskaidekaphobia (thus the name of the film) and in the process he came to understand and know his self. Never was he happier, he states, than in death row surrounded by books and with each book learning a little bit more about himself.

Singeton employs beautiful impressionistic cinematography that disperse the constant close up on Yarris and allow the film to breathe. Geometrical patterns of incarceration systems, sights and sounds of Yarris’s youth, all are rendered in the cinematography to embellish the voice of the charismatic narrator. The trial, we learn, that ended up sentencing the young man to death was based on the preposterous nature of circumstantial evidence and also the young man’s own blunder. A young woman named Linda May was raped and murdered. Despite being 20km away from the scene of the crime scene, Yarris was charged for her murder.

The man’s story is entertaining, he is at times, a murder accused, a chancer, a vagrant, a thief, a drug addict, a prisoner, an escaped convict, innocent, guilty, a lover, but as his story makes progressively clearer, a victim. Never, however, does he play this role. He is the storyteller, this is his story and there seems to be a certain amount of pride at being given the opportunity to tell his story after spending so many years on Death Row reading and being enchanted by other people’s stories. That the man’s joy remains, despite his silencing by the monolithic slowness of the American Justice system at clearing an innocent man’s name, shows the redemptive quality of literature as much as the man’s own will to life.

As he states of what he finds appealing in the best stories: “the true story is the telling of life.”

 

Sean Finnan

90 minutes

The Fear of 13 is released 13th November 2015

The Fear of 13– Official Website

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Hallow

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DIR: Corin Hardy • WRI: Corin Hardy, Felipe Marino • PRO: Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon, Lauren Lohman, Scott Rudin • ED: Nick Emerson • DOP: Martijn van Broekhuizen • DES: Alex Cameron, Mags Linnane • MUS: James Gosling • CAST: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton

Me folking nerves! The woods are lovely, dark and deep in Corin Hardy’s multi sub-genre horror The Hallow. The film tries to be so many things and even though it doesn’t transcend the genre on a universal level, it highlights the sheer excitement and vibrancy of a director about to transcend from the independents unto the big leagues. Hardy shows an uncensored and unabashed love for the horror genre and it shows in his work. The Hallow begins as a traditional British folk-horror that relies on atmosphere – rising mist, full moons, thunder and strange neighbours, evolves into a monster movie in the second act, and by the time we reach the third it has become somewhat of a hippy horror, an allegory for environmental issues.

Our protagonists are tree doctor, Adam, and his wife Claire, who, with their infant son Finn, have migrated from the streets of London to the mosses of rural Ireland. The big lumber corporations are back at it again and have their minds set on tearing down these Irish evergreen woods. Adam and his family have been located to the outskirts of the woods so he can survey the forest. Naturally, like there always is in these types of movies, there’s a unwelcoming tension between the young new family and the dreary locals, who warn Adam and Claire about the hallowed grounds and to steer clear. Right on cue, these sophisticated, pot-smoking, city shhlickers laugh off these dreaded warnings as backwards thinking.

Something a wry comes along their way when Adam finds a gruesome corpse of a deer in the forest. A treacle, tar-black goo oozes from the animal’s rotting carcass, which Adam snatches and takes back to the house to examine. He discovers the goo is ophiocordyceps unilateralis, also known as ‘zombie fungus’, which infects the brains of ants, controls them, morphing them abnormally before death. In other words, one helluva Friday night. So Hardy lays down the science for the audience, foreshadowing Jack Torrance behavior, while simultaneously conveying for us, through the town’s people’s superstitions, a sense of supernatural horror that haunts the woods.

We don’t know whether to turn to the science or the mythical folklore. Luckily, we don’t have to choose, because Hardy, so hopped up on excitement, blends the two together, raising the stakes and conflict for the family. We are introduced to the monster so soon and as soon as we do The Hallow departs the slow rising tension of folk horror and goes head first into a relentless siege from the second act on. Along the way, those bastard forest creatures have shot Adam in the eye with the “zombie fungus”. Shit! The energy of terror doesn’t run out of steam as Adam and Claire try everything in their power to defend themselves and protect baby Finn.

A mother’s primal instinct comes into play in the best sequence of the film, when Adam goes to fix the generator and Claire is left in the attic with Finn. A creature’s pointy hand smashes through the attic door and Claire puts all her strength into holding back the beast. The suspense rises as the sharp slimy finger gets closer and closer to Claire’s eyeball as the camera gets closer and closer, giving us an extreme close-up before the attic lights up to save the day. (nice homage to Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2). As Adam’s infection gets worse throughout the gruelling siege, our alliance turns to Claire, who must fight the monster on the outside and the inside in order to protect Finn.

The Hallow is full to the brim with sub-genre tropes and cult horror throwbacks, so much so that it’s a miracle that it actually works. Hardy might be indulgent in his fanboyism, but he has the technical and visual skill to back it up. He also backed himself up with a great team – co-screenwriter Felipe Marino, John Nolan on animatronics and strong performances by Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovik. But it’s Martijn Van Broekhuizen’s rich cinematography that helps make the woods a character, balancing foreboding with natural beauty. The picture of nature is so clear you can almost smell the grass, crack the bark and feel the dew.

It’s an impressive debut feature and will be interesting to see Corin Hardy’s elevation from the indie to the mainstream. The closing shot begs for a sequel, where nature reaps havoc on mankind in the an urban environment. (Suggested title: Night of the Living Christmas Trees). But before Hardy steals my title, he’ll be directing Relativity Media’s remake of The Crow, transcending to franchise territory. Let’s hope he makes sure the actors use blanks this time round. With the right people behind him, Hardy’s career in the horror could be an evergreen.

 

Cormac O’Meara

16
96 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Hallow is released 13th November 2015

The Hallow – Official Website

 

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Review: Steve Jobs|

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DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Aaron Sorkin • PRO: Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon, Lauren Lohman, Scott Rudin • ED: Elliot Graham • DOP: Alwin H. Küchler • DES: Guy Hendrix Dyas • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen

 

In regards to the biopic film, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs|is a breath of fresh air, albeit a breath that their actors seldom get in this backstage linguistic battle royale. Their portrayal of Steve Jobs doesn’t follow the tedious and meandering cradle-to-the-grave format, but actually abbreviates the narrative into three separate acts respectively – 1984, 1988, 1998 – all commencing minutes before a major product launch. And like the three acts of a stage play, this film relies on talking… a lot of talking. And like playwrights before him – Mamet, Chayefsky, Shakespeare – Sorkin boasts his own trademark dialogue.

Straight out the gate and we’re riddled with rapid Sorkin rat-a-tat spitfire, piercing and deflating any notion of exposition, as we play keep-up with Fassbender’s Jobs and his backstage world. We follow him, mostly by tracking shot, through corridors as characters from his work and personal life berate him about his lack of empathy. He talks down to his work colleagues, threatens his friends, his ex-girlfriend and daughter are on welfare despite his wealth – anyone who comes into contact with the man becomes miserable… I mean this guy’s a real jerk!

His closest confidant is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), a marketing executive, and in ways, his guardian angel, who acts as his conscience constantly urging him to do the right thing for his daughter and ultimately himself. Apple CEO, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), is somewhat a father figure, a close friend until the Apple began to rot. Apple co-founder and friend Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) pops by before each of the three launches to support Jobs and ask him to acknowledge the Apple II team. The recurring sentimentality throughout the film is Jobs’ daughter Lisa, who at first he denies is his, but slowly builds a closer relationship with her throughout the years. A lesser films would have saturated the audience with this sentimentality, but luckily here the filmmakers keep their protagonist as unlikable as possible.  

The characters walk and talk in breakneck speed, accompanied by Daniel Pemberton’s lavish score – a fusion of operatic classical and techno burps – that sounds like Beethoven and Kraftwerk had a few too many and stuck the DO-NOT-DISTURB sign up. The high tempo dialogue always keeps the audience alert and on their toes. There’s a sense of emergence about it. Danny Boyle’s sleek, yet uncharacteristically subtle, direction compliments Sorkin’s pace and overall Steve Jobs’ minimalist style and vision. Boyle incorporates colourful visual distortions into the few moments of silence we get. Another little touch Boyle brought to the movie was filming the three acts in different formats -16mm, 35mm and digital, an artistic stroke that Jobs probably would of lapped up like a dog.

The style that Boyle and Sorkin convey is like that of an Apple product – compressed, precise, dynamic, icey, minimal – all subtle characteristics that Jobs utilised when marketing and releasing a new computer. As the most quoted line in the movie – “musicians play their instruments, I play the orchestra” – exclaims, Jobs was a man who needed to be in control. The film suggests that he was a man who was afraid to delve too deep professionally and personally. He felt in control about how he marketed and presented, the bigger picture, the vision, but when it got complicated in IT or with his ex-girlfriend and daughter he couldn’t cope or understand. He wasn’t a man of tech or science, but a man who knew how to manipulate the people, stay ahead of the curve and adapt his vision to the culture.

Fassbender doesn’t resemble Jobs physically, unlike Ashton Kutcher, whose personal admiration for the man and bad acting hurt his feature. What Fassbender brings to the role is sheer energy, whether firing off some Sorkin dingers or utilising great physicality to compliment the erratic dialogue. He doesn’t have to rely on his appearance for the role because he delves deeper in himself to find the character. He has a great cast to support him too, specifically Kate Winslet, whose subtle Polish accent is right on point. Seth Rogen’s performance is modest, which is a great relief and Jeff Daniels straight corporate demeanor fits the bill. There’s one scene in particular between Fassbender and Daniels that is the verbal equivalent of a western showdown. The volume of the score heightens, as cuts to flashbacks help push the argument forward, raising the dramatic ambience as the two characters scream at each other.

Critics have acknowledged the film’s Shakespearean overtones, but I haven’t seen anyone mention Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Jobs being the wealthy entrepreneurial-tech Ebenezer Scrooge, who lacks empathy and is visited by friends and enemies who either want a favour or want to help. Has a few flashbacks to a time before the megalomania and it take three acts to slightly redeem him. Or in more recent years, Sorkin’s Steve Jobs anti-hero characterisation can be compared to There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Plainview – another man so professionally driven that he becomes isolated from people.

Some have criticised Steve Jobs| of relying too heavily on style and cartoonish dialogue rather than conveying a true depiction of the man, as if all the epic sentimental biopics have it down to a tee. This isn’t a documentary, it’s a fictional film based on true events and the filmmakers made the right decision to narrow the focus down to three important events in Jobs’  professional career, whilst intertwining elements of his personal and ultimately pursuing a day-in-a-life portrayal of the man. Others have complained about Sorkin’s snappy dialogue, criticising it for being unrealistic because people in real life don’t speak like it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to listen to tech jargon spoon fed to me in Bob Geldof mode for two hours. I want it razor-sharp and potent so it grabs me and pulls me into its accelerated world. I don’t want to remain docile, I need to adapt.

Sorkin has proved to be one of the most distinctive voices in television and film dialogue working today bearing a strong sense of high-speed energy within his body of work. For Boyle, this is a nicely understated return, abandoning his trademark kinetic visuals and adapting a more subtle approach in order to accommodate Sorkin’s writing. The result is  a well crafted and precise three-act farcical algorithm with a sharp silver tongue. iReally liked it (I am sorry).

Cormac O’Meara

15A
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Steve Jobs| is released 13th November 2015

Steve Jobs| – Official Website

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