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

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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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