Review: Free State Of Jones

 

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DIR: Gary Ross • WRI: Leonard Hartman, Gary Ross • PRO: Jon Kilik, Gary Ross, Scott Stuber • DOP: Benoît Delhomme • ED: Pamela Martin, Juliette Welfling • DES: Philip Messina • MUS: Nicholas Britell • CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali

More like the Free State Of Jonezzzz… Yes, I have replaced a the ‘S’ of Matthew McConaughey’s latest film’s last letter of its title with a ‘Z’ followed by a further four Zs. Childish? Maybe. Fact? You’re goddamn right! It would appear that the McConaissance is over. After Free State Of Jones I yearn for the shirtless/slanted stance rom-com McCon. In Hollywood, slavery has become a hot asset rather than a hot potato since Lincoln and Django Unchained in late 2012. Smash it out the Box Office and you can whip, lynch, tar and feather all the blacks you want. It’s hip to be a victim now. Audiences got feels and they’re mulitplying.

Free State Of Jones was inspired by the life of Newton Knight, a Civil War deserted, who teams up with a group of runaway slaves in an attempt to rebel against the Confederacy. This chapter in American history would seem like an exciting film to shoot. Poor whites and poor blacks uniting to fight the forces that oppress them. Well when you read it like that on paper the hair might stand on your neck, but when you see it like it is on screen, you shudder and your hair sheds.

The opening battle scene is very promising. You notice slight influences from Saving Private Ryan and in all fairness, the action sequences throughout the film remain at a high standard. Then why does Free State Of Jones fail? Why was it a box-office bomb? It’s because what occurs between those violent action scenes is just so boring. It’s borderline embarrassing how preachy and one dimensional this film is. These characters and dialogue are so flat and monotonous that even Newt’s great grandson is finding it hard to stay awake flash forwards.

This is textbook filmmaking, and that’s the problem. It literally plays out like some history book edition lacking any cinematic panache. Adaptations of novels or true stories must bring something new that you can only get in the medium of film. Non-fiction limits the filmmakers from going places they could go within fiction so they better bring someting big to the plate. I suggest skipping this class while these folks pat themselves on the back and basque in their rectitude.

Cormac O’Meara

139 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Free State of Jones is released 30th September 2016

Free State of Jones – Official Website

 

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Review: Tale of Tales

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DIR: Matteo Garrone • WRI: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso • PRO: Matteo Garrone, Anne Labadie, Jean Labadie, Jeremy Thomas • DOP: Peter Suschitzky • ED: Marco Spoletini • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Dimitri Capuani • CAST: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones

Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales is certainly easy on the eye. A lavish landscape for the bizarre surrealism of Giambattista Basile’s gruesome fairytales that even predate the Brothers Grimm. The film is loosely based on three of the Neapolitan poet’s tales – The Enchanted Doe, The Flea, The Flayed Old Lady – that all crossover and interlink. I think what intrigued most people about the film was its international casting. It’s always quite a rush to see a Hollywood actor mix it up with the European “intellectuals” and, on the surface, John C. Reilly looks very convincing as a Renaissance king. That is until he opens his mouth. This isn’t a lambasting of Reilly as I consider him as one of cinema’s best character actors working today, but his renditions of the script does not to anybody justice. Hayek seems much more at home as the maternally desperate Queen of Longtrellis. Her subtle mannerisms and ice-cold glare convince us that she is a force to be reckoned with.

The Queen is unable to bear children, but is determined to do everything in her power to do so, including nibbling on the raw heart of a sea beast. Naturally, this permits the Queen immaculate conception and she gives birth to an albino-esque boy called Elias (Christian Lees). Unbeknownst to her majesty, a peasant woman is a sucker for bloody, raw, beast heart too. She also gives birth to an albino boy, twin of Elias, Jonah. The tale of the prince and the pauper begins. Meanwhile, a king from another region (Toby Jones) commences an odd obsession with a flea, feeding it until it reaches the size of a Galapagos tortoise, eventually dying from respiratory failure. The King’s obsession and pride for the tortoise leads him to unwillingly wed his princess daughter to a ghastly ogre.

Simultaneously, in another land, another king (Vincent Cassel) with a debauched lifestyle becomes infatuated with the aura of a poor old hag, who has the voice of an angel and the physical features of a witch. Nymphomaniac that the king is, begs the old lady for a blind date before having a rude awakening and literally gives her the boot.

All these short stories are quirky and mildly amusing in their own right, but the Garrone’s decision to intercut between them doesn’t allow us enough time to get invested with the characters or care about their outcome. The structure and flow of the film becomes tedious, until the princess’ escape from the ogre’s squaller. We get a chase that ups the ante for a few frames, but too little too late.

It could be argued that there’s a theme of obsession that sews the three stories together – the yearning for maternal control, playing God, lustful desire – but at the end of the day, who cares? I really wanted to like Tale of Tales, but the lack of character development and potency wouldn’t allow me to. Even the beautiful imagery, mise en scene and eccentricities couldn’t keep me invested in the overall piece. There was always a threat of violence throughout that the filmmakers never really capitalised on, making way for a very geriatric fantasy-horror, which has been likened to Game of Thrones. Heavy lies the crown, I suppose.

Cormac O’Meara

133 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Tale of Tales is released 17th June 2016

Tale of Tales – Official Website

 

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A Second Look at Everybody Wants Some!!

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Cormac O’Meara takes another look at Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! 

 

Richard Linklater received more universal claim for Boyhood than any other film of his career. A heartwarming tale of motherhood, family dysfunction and the evolution of popular culture in the noughties. And how does Linklater respond to all the accolades and critical acclaim? By stepping back into the ’80s, throwing a bunch of horny college baseball players into a house together, supply them with alcohol, drugs, testosterone, misogynistic lingo and disco. This isn’t a filmmaker who panders for universal admiration. A true indie maverick at heart, who has always stayed true to his laissez-faire style of filmmaking.

The trailer for Everybody Wants Some!! pulls no punches in terms of its raunchiness, and neither does the film. No foreplay, straight into it. Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at Southeast Texas State college three days and fifteen hours before class commences. He’s a baseball player, riding into college on a scholarship, along with his new college teammates. He’s not there ten minutes before they’re cruising around campus picking up chicks and knocking back beers. Linklater introduces us to a dirty dozen of new talent. An eclectic clique of newcomer actors, who all carry their own in diverse and magnetic performances.

Once again, Linklater, with his lackadaisical flair, scraps any form of plot and allows us to simply hang out with his characters on their hazy weekend before college begins. His films always convey a specific time and place. The “spiritual prequel”, Dazed and Confused depicted the last day of an Austin high school in 1976, Boyhood portrayed a boy growing up around Texas during the 2000s, and Everybody Wants Some!! examines the coming-of-age of a group of guys before college in 1980. Linklater shows great affection for the early ’80s  era here, down to every little detail, but never comes across as forced. Linklater doesn’t reach, he’s not desperate. He lays back and allows his characters do the work. Similar to Boyhood, when it comes to selecting the soundtrack, Linklater doesn’t choose the obscure or “cool” tracks that filmmakers such as Tarantino or Scorsese do. He uses the songs that were actually popular back in a certain period. Boyhood had Coldplay and Soulja Boy while his latest film blasts Van Halen and disco.

The Place: A Texan native, Linklater has always made his region a character in his films. His love of the red state is evident throughout his career (founder of the Austin Film Society) and you can tell he has a fondness for the great outdoors – cruising around in cars (Dazed and Confused), father-son camping (Boyhood), swimming in rivers (Everybody Wants Some!!).

The Time: Billed as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, Linklater pushed on from the last day of high school in 1976 to the first day of college 1980. The music, clothes, hair and wonderful moustaches are all pedantically portrayed, but another aspect of that time that’s utilised in Everybody Wants Some!! is the technology. You can constantly see analog paraphernalia within various scenes around the interior of the Alpha House. All this mise-en-scene conveys a substantial dose of nostalgia.

Linklater also stays true to his characters. He doesn’t make excuses for them or try to overstretch them. They’re not funny like comic actors. Similar to real life, their humour can be hit or miss and sometimes just downright cringeworthy. But they’re honest and naturalistic in their roles. The camera glides along smoothly for the ride, following the boys-to-men on their pre-season odyssey. Their coach implements two rules for their Alpha House (no booze & no broads) that are quickly abandoned due to the player’s alpha-maleness. And this theme of alpha and competition plays throughout the movie, which would have worked even better if Linklater didn’t have the character of Jake actually say it – “you notice that everything around here is a competition”. This line undermines the audience. We can clearly see the competitiveness, we don’t need to be told. It’s like watching Jock National Geographic for Christ’s sake. The fact that they are aware of their competitive nature makes it a lot less interesting for the viewer.

Besides the cut-throat mentality and boisterous aura on the surface, what lies beneath is a bunch of boys on the cusp of adulthood. It’s a coming-of-age camaraderie, where the characters are having too much fun to realise they’re going through this rite of passage. They all must work as a team, but their first weekend together allows a glimpse at their search for individuality and identity. Although, the film’s sentimentality doesn’t hit as high as the raunchy and witty comedy, at least when it comes to the female characters anyway. The last few scenes between Jake and Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a performing arts major he takes a liking to, go just a little too smoothly and lack any notion of unpredictability. Maybe it would have been more compelling if Linklater stuck around with the lads, because the route he took we’ve all seen a thousand times.

The two little discrepancies that I found in the film still can’t stop Everybody Wants Some!! from completely knocking it out the park. Linklater has given us another effortless comedy with crisp and dynamic dialogue, spontaneous and natural performances, and variety of diverse and loveable characters. Similar to the stage of life Linklater illustrates, you don’t want the film to end. You want to keep hanging out with these guys after the last reel wraps up. The two hours go by like a breeze, blowing a smile onto your face that’s hard to wipe off.

A perfect film to get the summer started. Swig some cold ones and watch the good times roll. It’s a dinger.

 

Everybody Wants Some!! is in cinemas from 13th May 2016

 

 

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The Long Good Friday

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For the day that’s in it, Cormac O’Meara revisits the classic British gangster film The Long Good Friday.

It’s Good Friday, the Christian religious holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Christ. In secular terms it’s a day that leant its name to one of the greatest British films ever made, The Long Good Friday. America is the home of the gangster movie and, of course, has made some great classics. Warner Brothers had a boom of gangster flicks throughout the 1930s, similar to the success that Universal had with horror. During the 1940s the gangster film fused with mystery, spawning an increase in film noir. These effortlessly cool films influenced French filmmakers such as Godard, Melville and Dassin during the 1950s and the dawning of the new wave movement. The French took elements of Hollywood crime films and merged them with their own laissez-faire style. The British followed suit. But where the French utilised a smooth style to the genre, the Brits cut with razor sharp force. The British brought more grit to the genre. Unlike the Americans, they didn’t try to sugarcoat the grim realities of the criminal lifestyle. They didn’t attempt to make it look sexy or fun, or glamorize it in any way. The tone of these films was harsh, cold and unforgiving, making you feel like nobody within the film was safe.

The Long Good Friday is the pinnacle of British gangster films. There are other greats from this era too – Get Carter, The Hit, Mona Lisa – but where these films transcended from the gangster genre, The Long Good Friday sticks to its guns and flourishes within London’s underbelly, boasting a wonderful array of archetypal characters. It’s a film with a complex plot and character. Bob Hoskins is muscular as crime boss Harold Shand, who is in the process of going into partnership with the American mafia in order to buy London’s derelict dockyards and redevelop them for the 1988 Olympics. Harold and his firm must be on their best behaviour in order to impress the Americans, but Murphy’s Law has a sharp sense of humour that causes Harold to walk a tightrope between aristocratic and animalistic.

While Harold and his wife and partner in crime Victoria (Helen Mirren) entertain the Americans and the pocketed police on their yacht along the Thames, a series of deadly events unfold that puts a damper on their ambitious plans. “For 10 years we’ve had peace, and now there’s been an ERUPTION!” roars the cockney crime boss. We follow Harold and his gang on an odyssey throughout the city’s underworld, determined to decipher the cause behind this chaos. By his side predominantly are Jeff (Derek Thompson) and Razors (P.H. Moriarty), while level-headed Victoria uses her brains and charms to keep the Mob from hightailing it back across the Atlantic.

Barrie Keefe’s screenplay is stunning. It conquers plot, character and great dialogue that keeps you engaged throughout. Great lines such as “Meet Razors, or as the youth of today call him, the human spirograph” or in reply to one of his friend’s corpses being picked up in an ice-cream van – “Lot of dignity in that, isn’t there?. Going out like a Raspberry Ripple”. Despite being an edgy gangster flick, the film is extremely funny. Witnessing Harold’s predicament, in all his confusion, is almost screwball comedy. Yet the dramatic and violent scenes are equally as affective and keep you on the edge of your seat.

The genius behind The Long Good Friday, besides its excellent performances and screenplay, is the fact that the story takes place over 36 hours. I love the fact that all this carnage erupts on a Friday afternoon, and Harold has limited time to uncover the mystery in order to retain his connection with the Americans. The unsavoury, seedy characters that we come across on Harold’s hunt add to the rawness of the film. As the murders against Harold’s firm increase and the walls begin closing in on him and Victoria, the stakes get higher and we really begin to care for the couple and route for them.

The Long Good Friday still holds up today. Not only that, but it surpasses the majority of contemporary gangster films across the U.K. and the U.S. Bob Hoskins should be recognised up there with the likes of De Niro, Pacino and Nicholson for his work in crime genre. A great double feature to demonstrate his prowess as an actor are The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa. Any young screenwriter or director interested in making a great crime film should watch this film and take notes. So if you’re off the booze this Good Friday and are in some desperate need of intoxication, switch on The Long Good Friday and get lost in its world. It’s a great movie.

 

 

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Review: The Witch

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DIR/WRI: Robert Eggers  • PRO: Daniel Bekerman, Lars Knudsen, Jodi Redmond, Jay Van Hoy • DOP: Jarin Blaschke • ED: Louise Ford • MUS: Mark Korven • DES: Craig Lathrop • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

British folk horror packs its bags and sets sails to the New World. A Puritan family living in a New England community are excommunicated when the father, William (Ralph Ineson. Yes. That’s Chris Finch from the UK Office), commits the crime of prideful conceit. The family leaves the plantation with God on their side, alive in their hearts and infested in their brains. They discover new land, a new home and settle themselves. William builds a house on the cusp of some menacing woods, while his wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie) prepares to give birth to her fifth child. Call me old fashioned, but I’d take it easy on the baby booming if I were unemployed, banished and living in exile. Baby steps. Several months later little Samuel is born into a cropless farming family. Times are hard, but William’s forceful faith assures his family that the darkest hour is just before the dawn.

 

However, the sun never rises for the family, who become victims of an onslaught of supernatural activity. The eldest daughter, and film’s protagonist, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is playing peek-a-boo with the baby one day and roles are switched in the cruel game when Samuel disappears from her sight. The film doesn’t forge any illusions when it comes to the supernatural, which is intrinsic to its story. There is a witch in their midst and she has taken the infant, but unknowingly to the family, who are baffled by the mysterious disappearance. That is because the witch isn’t the core antagonist. We rarely see her, but when we do the visuals are striking. The real antagonist is blind faith and the hysteria of religion that tears the family apart. Christianity creeps throughout the film in an unsettling manner causing the “fear” to lie within.

 

Struck by overwhelming grief, Katherine lays the blame on Thomasin for the supposed negligence. The parents believe it’s a punishment from God as Samuel wasn’t baptised, asserting the idea of a vengeful deity, which does not settle well with second eldest Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), who conveys overtones of inscestual desire for Thomasin. Life is rural isolation can do weird things to a young lad. Although, The Witch falls into the genre of supernatural horror, it is essentially a domestic drama. The walls are close in on the family and Thomasin becomes heavily scrutinised. A wave of Puritan paranoia crashes on the family and at times it’s difficult to decide which is worse – the Satanic rituals of the supernatural or the fanaticism of Christianity.

 

The director, Robert Eggers, gets great use out of his cast. Finchey’s Yorkshire accent is spoken through a fantastic subwoofer bass boom, while Scrimshaw’s God fearing and Thomasin’s increasing agnosticism attributes are spot on. Kate Dickie deploys those crazy eyes that’s a staple among creepy mothers in horror. But the best performance comes from a hellraising goat called Black Phillip, who gives an eerie presence everytime he comes into frame. Eggers has a flare for drama or psychological thriller, but lacks the pace and shlock for horror. The best scene of the film comes during an Exorcist homage when the family finally implodes. But for the most part The Witch relies on tone and unsettling transitions that give you the creeps, but not the terror.

 

Throw into the cauldron the paranoia of The Shining and the hysteria of The Crucible and you’ve got The Witch. What’s lacking is some eye of newt, a sense of playfulness. There have been an abundance of indie horror films recently that turn their nose up at horror customs and try to surpass the genre with an air of pretension. I was told by somebody before seeing The Witch that it was a step above horror films, which I registered with disdain. This idea of ideals trumping aesthetics is becoming more and more prominent within indie horror. The Witch is strongest in terms of its authenticity and slow-rising tension between the family, but doesn’t provide any real catharsis when it reaches boiling point. It lacks the exuberance of last year’s The Hallow, another folk horror that grabbed the horror conventions by the horns and went Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle with it.

In conclusion, The Witch certainly displays the craft and discipline of a fine director, but might not satisfy true horror enthusiasts or have the shelf life to become a genre classic.

 

  Cormac O’Meara

92 minutes

15A (See IFCO for details)

The Witch is released 11th March 2016

The Witch – Official Website

 

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Review: Bone Tomahawk

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DIR/WRI: S. Craig Zahler • PRO: Jack Heller, Dallas Sonnier • DOP: Benji Bakshi • ED: Greg D’Auria, Fred Raskin • DES: Freddy Waff • MUS: Jeff Herriott, S. Craig Zahler • CAST: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins

Somewhere in between The Searchers and Cannibal Holocaust lies the brutal, genre-dissolving Bone Tomahawk, an audacious directorial debut from S. Craig Zahler. Bone Tomahawk doesn’t politely invite you back to the old west, it grabs you by the jugular and forces you. Although the film does contain elements of the horror genre, it still remains a true western and abides by western conventions. It’s a throwback to cowboys and indians, but without the social commentary or political correctness. The film is strictly aesthetic, strictly primal and strictly instinctual, and without a cloak of PC comfort, we the audience are left vulnerable. We’re not gonna be treated as docile, we’re gonna be tested.

Giving his mouth some T.O. after the chamber piece gab of The Hateful Eight, Kurt Russell ventures back west, this time as Sheriff Franklin Hunt of the small town of Bright Hope. That’s cheap, as there is nothing brightful nor hopeful in this nihilistic west. The film opens with a rusty throat cut as Buddy (Sid Haig) and Purvis (David Arquette), two vagrants with no elegance, who are making off with loot after brutally murdering some travellers. They get lost and wander into no man’s land and discover they are walking on an Indian burial ground. Purvis escapes and makes his way to Bright Hope. Buddy, not so lucky.

Bright Hope appears to be a nice, quiet, little town, similar to those introduced by a Rod Serling monologue before things get weird before the tumbleweeds pick up momentum. In Bright Hope, the tumbleweeds gain momentum when backup deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) sees the drifter, Purvis, burying something. Suspicion entails, Purvis is shot and arrested, everything seems right with the universe again. Bedridden during all the evening’s excitement is Arthur O’Dwyer, whose wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) nurses Purvis at the jailhouse. The next morning they’re gone. The wife, the drifter, a deputy, some horses, even the poor black stable boy gets gutted.

Thus unfolds the John Ford Searcheresque ride out to rescue the lives or bodies of their friends and loved ones. Saddling up are the solemn Sheriff Hunt, old-timer Chicory, crippled husband Arthur and fancy-pants gunslinger Brooder (Matthew Fox). Their local token Native American gives a stern word of warning before they ride out, claiming that the perps are a specific demented breed of Indian, who feed on their own mothers. Cheers for the confidence boost there Chief.

Zahler, who has four novels under his belt, delivers an excellent script. You can literally tick off the list of necessities that’s taught in screenwriting classes out of this movie.

In a screenplay, above all, conflict must be constant and it always bubbles to the surface throughout Bone Tomahawk as these four men with different worldviews constantly clash and argue. Whether it’s about marriage, murder or morals, there’s always an aura of tension. It also helps when we’re being thrown great lines like “smart men don’t get married” and “Saucy wouldn’t let no greaser get on top of her”. The film can be surprisingly tender at times too, but never comes close to being smarmy. It rolls on subtle, understated, until the final reel when all hell breaks out.

Brooder is the hot head of the four, and appears to be the most untrustworthy. He wears all white, rides a white horse and flaunts a fancy German telescope. He’s a dandy. In a generic movie he’d get his comeuppance for his bigotry and immorals. However, Zahler understand that this is too easy an archetype to simply chuck at the audience. Never judge a book by its cover rings true as the character of Brooder expands.  

On the journey, Zahler keeps the audience in western mode. That is until we reach “Injun” territory and we are now under the wing of a madman. A short battle ensues before our protagonists are captured and imprisoned in a cave with Samantha O’Dwyer and poor deputy Nick (Evan Jonigkeit). Oh Jesus, poor deputy Nick! Zahler has now flung us into horror territory. Duke, pack your winchester and ride off into the sunset because you’re not wanna hang around to see this….

Before seeing Bone Tomahawk I vaguely remember reading a line or two about its brutal and shocking violence, but the perverted slasher aficionado in me was all too nonchalant to pay any attention. There is a scene in that cave that will have jaws smacking floors in unison. The pure primal terror of the violence raises the stakes through the roof and we begin to empathise for the protagonists on a whole new level. This is “on edge of your seat” cinema right here and the faint hearted might wanna check out Deadpool or Triple 9 instead. Right after the camera cuts away from the entrails, there’s a close-up of Kurt Russell’s face and his expression evokes an overwhelming sense of hopelessness that leaves the audience with the completely shattered.

I can’t remember the last time a moment of such explicit violence had such an impact on a cinema audience. The image stuck in my head for days. I’ve noticed too, that although critics have warned readers about the violence, they haven’t condemned it. This comes down to the fact that one; the violence is done extremely well in terms of aesthetic and realism, and two ; Zahler’s movie doesn’t rely on the graphic violence, but rather builds up to the bloodshed by delivering us eclectic characters that we grow to care about. Whether it’s Russell’s modest mannerisms, Jenkin’s comic timing (channeling Walter Brennan) or Fox’s vanity, we slowly begin to gravitate towards them. So when the slicing and dicing starts we’re putty in Zahler’s hands.

This film will no doubt succeed in terms of cult status. It will more than likely be out of cinemas as soon as it hits, possibly build up a reputation through word of mouth that might develop during DVD  or VOD release. However, if you’re a fan of genre cinema or in the mood for something different then try catch it in cinemas. There’ll be few visceral and awe moments like it on the big screen this year. There has been a small resurgence of westerns over the past few years – Django Unchained, Hateful Eight, Slow West, The Salvation – but it will take a lot more than that to make the genre really viable again in today’s market. But if we get any westerns with half the originality and audacity that Bone Tomahawk has, I’ll lace up my boots and saddle up right now.

Cormac O’Meara

18 (See IFCO for details)

132 minutes

Bone Tomahawk is released 19th February 2016

 

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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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Interview: Corin Hardy, director of ‘The Hallow’

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Cormac O’Meara talks to director Corin Hardy about his horror feature The Hallow, which opens in cinemas this weekend. A family move into a remote millhouse in Ireland and find themselves in a fight for survival with demonic creatures living in the woods.

Your film is very multi-layered with a mix of sub-genre tropes. One minute it’s folklore that transcends into a monster movie and then body horror. I was wondering, while you were making it, were you ever worried that you were trying to do too much?

It certainly wasn’t my intention to do too much! I wasn’t trying to cover all those sub-genres so much as keep the story evolving and keep people on their toes. When you do a movie like this, without giving too much away, when it gets to the point when the humans encounter the creatures you can’t just stop there and just have them battle it out. It would have been quite repetitive. So I wanted to take the story forward in ways that were driven by ideas in folklore and mythology and blend them into reality. That sort of dictated how the story  progressed.

You are from Sussex in England yourself – what attracted you to Irish folklore?

I grew up reading fairytales and looking at picture books. When I had this idea of doing a fairytale grounded in in reality I researched folklore from all around the world to begin with. But I gravitated towards Ireland as a potent hub for mythology. Also it was close to me in the UK. I think it worked for this idea of a couple from London needing to travel somewhere in order to feel like they were foreigners to some extent, so I didn’t want to go up to Scotland or go down to Cornwall, which are the other two main areas where this type of mythology exists.

For me, there is an environmentalist subtext in the film – the fact that they are evil creatures is a kind of metaphor for nature’s revenge upon society.

I didn’t want to make a movie with a message rammed in your face, but yes that’s true. If you look right back to the origin of fairy myth it seems to come down to a race that existed in Ireland and was driven away. I like this idea that the creatures were driven into the forests and became kind of nature itself and that this is some sort of reaction to what man did. It ties in, in a contemporary way, with what we have done to our planet. What our human decisions have resulted in.

The film conveys a great sense of atmosphere captured by Martijn Van Broekhuizen’s cinematography.

He is a fantastic Dutch DoP that I’d heard great stuff about from everyone who had worked with him. I felt his Dutch movies, in particular, were very painterly and the incredible way he works with light. It was important for me to create the most beautiful atmospheric horror movie we could, so we worked closely together trying to create something fairytale-like but real, something cinematic, ultimately, that had a rich and colourful quality to it. 

It was great to see practical effects being used for the creatures without an over reliance on CGI. Do you think that is becoming a problem in cinema, and not just horror and cinema as a whole.

I certainly think you can have too much CGI and you don’t feel anything necessarily. You can have incredible action sequences and incredible effects but they don’t connect to your soul because you can’t feel that they are real. I like to mix techniques. It’s not a case of everything practical. We try to do as much in camera as we could with make-up effects, animatronics, puppetry and real locations but there is a number of visual effects and CGI. I think the best way of executing this kind of illusion is to mix techniques together. It’s not a case of doing it all practically or all CGI, it’s a mixture.

Am I right in saying that originally you wanted to shoot on film but because of the budget it just wasn’t an option.

When you have a budget – and I think no matter what the budget is it’s probably never enough – you have to do the breakdowns, scheduling, timing, etc., It’s not really a case of it’s just too expensive to shoot on film. It’s more that when you look at the whole budget and you break it down into all these areas, particularly if I needed to make sure that we could pull of these effects – we had to make sure that we had enough to do the practical and visual effects. When it came down to it, I really wanted to shoot on film. I’m a massive devotee and fan of celluloid but it was a matter of you can shoot on film but then you’ll have to lose five days shooting. Well I needed those five days! You have to weigh it up. 

The Hallow opens in cinemas Friday, 13th November 2015 

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The Window To Our Fears

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Cormac O’Meara champions his fascination with horror.

Horror cinema isn’t just a one day trip for this writer, it’s not a three hundred and sixty five day trip either – that’d be excessive – my family having to call the proper authorities to come a knockin’ at my basement bedroom door. But I have always been a fan of the horror genre and subsequently became a fan of its various sub-genres. There are many who hate horror. Whether it’s the violence, kitsch or some deep-seated psychological issues, many people will not want to go to the cinema to be scared witless and have their popcorn spill all over them. The more people hate horror, the more I love it and try to champion it wherever I go.

Despite what the media and PC police may tell you, horror films can act as a positive reinforcement within cinema. It is often lambasted for its graphic violence, misogyny and dark humour, even when these functions are employed to evoke broader themes. And even when these genre conventions aren’t utilised as some form of metaphor for greater social issues it shouldn’t be penalised for their quality or aesthetic. Some have criticised the role of women in horror, especially within the slasher sub-genre. They claim these type of films to be offensive towards women, who are brutally murdered one by one at some co-ed frenzy or summer camp. However, as suggested in Carol Clover’s book Men, Women and Chainsaws, the slasher film can be construed to be one of feminine empowerment. Her theory of the ‘Final Girl’ proposes that in the slasher movie, the sole survivor is always the girl who abstains from sex, drugs or alcohol. She is strong, smart and resilient and she is always aware of her surroundings.

Clover also argues that although the promiscuous girls all die bloody deaths, in terms of the production itself, they actually get more screen time and characterisation then the male actors, who are often disposed of in some mundane fashion. In cinema you will always have content that offends audiences – you can’t please everybody. Why though, are these virginal scream queens deemed offensive while the materialistic and sex driven women of Sex and the City deemed independent role models? Don’t people realise that the only reason male viewers watch that show is to see Samantha get it done. Now of course cinema is subjective for audiences and essentially entertainment, but why are the female portrayals in films like Sex and the City placed on a pedestal, while the ‘Final Girls’ are subjected to low-brow culture?

Beyond subtextual film criticism there are more more immediate and emotional affects to take into account while viewing the horror film. In an age of postmodern cynicism and cinematic attention deficit order, the horror film remains one of the few genres that can evoke momentary physical attributes among audiences. A good horror film won’t allow an audience to passively watch the movie, but rather keep them active, playing them like an orchestra. In a genre that is primarily plot heavy, they use the horror conventions to make audiences jump, scream and bite their nails through scenes of tension.

There is a primordial nature to horror films that doesn’t permit audiences to be docile, and within an increasingly complacent culture where audiences would rather Netflix and chill, it would seem that the horror genre plays the role of the conscientious parent urging their children to be pro-active. Horror is a genre that keeps you on your toes, alert and imaginative – a cathartic for the body and mind – that forces you to face your fears and tackle them within a safe environment.

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Irish Film Review: The Lobster

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DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou • PRO: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday • DOP: Thimios Bakatakis • ED: Yorgos Mavropsaridis • DES: Jacqueline Abrahams • CAST: Colin Farrell, Léa Seydoux, Rachel Weisz

 

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster can be perceived to be any number of things – surreal comedy,  dystopian sci-fi, romance, drama, prison thriller – and all these genres it may be, but these are just the surface stylings of a director who has given one of the sharpest relationship satires in recent years. It’s like an Owen Wilson rom-com, doused in David Lynch’s bitter coffee and peppered with British absurdist humour. The movie is silly and ridiculous, but at times can demonstrate subtle poignancy and moments of graphic violence. It’s a postmodern dark comedy, where the world has fallen under a sort of Tinder fascism. It’s as if the dating app got sponsored by Hugo Boss and started whistling Wagner, wingmen becoming spies, and mothers Gestapo. A world where being single is a crime and if your relationship is on the rocks, you’re sentenced to be a parent. This is the world that Lanthimos has created for us and it’s a riot.

It takes a while for The Lobster to break out of its shell because it’s so different from conventional relationship comedies; heck, it’s even off the wall for most offbeat comedies. You start to wonder if it is trying too hard, using its quirkiness as compensation for humour, but soon you succumb to Lanthimos’ charm and it’s hard to deny his sheer dedication to his vision. He goes all the way with it unapologetically and that in itself becomes admirable.

The Lobster stars Colin Farrell as David, the only character given a Christian name as the rest of the cast are merely named after their job role or physical attribute. The film is narrated by Rachel Weisz, who doesn’t actually appear in the story until well into the second act. David is a tubby shell of a man with a thick moustache that suits his introvert personality. His wife has left him for another man, and in the world of The Lobster this now disqualifies David from living in general society and he is relocated to a hotel outside the city.

At the hotel he has 45 days to find a partner or he will be downgraded to another species of his choice. He chooses a lobster, which is an excellent choice according to the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman), who explains most singletons choose dogs, hence why dogs are so common. The hotel boasts an array of eccentric characters – Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen) and Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) – all of which add to the bizarre.

Their activities include swimming, dancing, seminars and hunting the Loners in the woods. The Loners are people, who refuse to conform to society’s relationship pressures. They are single fundamentalists, who are planning a revolt. Both the Loners in the forest and the guests/inmates of the hotel must abide to a strict set of rules. In the Loner tribe one must not kiss or they shall have their lips cut off. In fact they don’t allow any fraternising at all, only a healthy diet of techno music and masturbation. Reminds me of college… hell it reminds me of last weekend. The hotel on the other hand forbids masturbation, which the Lisping Man finds out in a sadistic way involving a toaster.

There’s also forms of torture carried out every morning for the male inmates. Torture by grind. The maids grind up against the men to the moment right before they make spectacles of themselves and then stop. This is obviously why so many find it difficult to get around rule no.1. There are scenes of disturbing violence involving toasters, suicides and nosebleeds that are more effective than some horror movies. The film’s surreal humour delivered in deadpan dialogue might go over some people’s heads, especially when blended with the moments of extreme violence. However, if you’re a fan of British absurd comedy such as Brass Eye or Look Around You, then you’ll feel right at home.

Although, it isn’t necessarily the abstract that gets the biggest laughs. The biting satire and attention to detail is what rates high on the LOL scale. The focus of a relationship built on lies marks the funniest moments in The Lobster. Like when the Limping Man, out of sheer desperation, smashes his face off hard objects so it appears he has more in common with the Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden). Or when David must pretend to be a despicable and cynical human being in order to match up with the Heartless Woman. The surreal and extreme circumstances reflect a certain breed of people in our society. It illustrates insecurity among us, who pretend to be someone we’re not in order to escape loneliness.

When David is caught for his deceptions he escapes the hotel and joins the Loners. This is where we finally meet our narrator, the Shortsighted Woman, who David becomes extremely fond of. During their routine drills, preparing for the revolt, Shortsighted Woman and David genuinely fall in love, naturally in a loveless community. They must reserve their feelings or they could face a worse fate than slashed lips. The Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux) is a French Resistance type commander, who keeps a close eye on the secret couple. David and Shortsighted woman disguise their emotions through a communication of complex sign language. They camouflage themselves against the damp bark of the forest trees, as more and more animals pass them by as if they were in the Garden of Eden.

The Loners sometimes take trips to the city. Actually, they’re more like secret missions as they go undercover as couples to blend in with society. These scenes are reminiscent of science fiction such as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Soylent Green. Between moments of outlandish humour, disturbing violence and Big Brother-style paranoia, The Lobster still finds time for occasional tenderness between David and Shortsighted Woman, as their battle against everyone makes their love enduring.

It is quite a miracle Lanthimos got this film to work. Not because of how leftfield it is, but because of the amount of international input that excels in it. A Greek director, British, Irish, American and Dutch producers, shot in Ireland and with a plateau of multinational actors. The question isn’t really how did a film like this get made, but rather how could a film like this be so funny.

Going into The Lobster, I was slightly pessimistic and, truth be told, it took some time for me to warm up to it. Not that I didn’t get it, but my confidence in Colin Farrell was shaky at best. In my experience, he can be hit or miss with comedy, unless he has a strong writer behind him. Admittedly, not knowing much anything about Yorgos Lanthimos only served to heighten my suspicions. But I fell victim to its charm, and although it demands a second viewing, The Lobster will remain one of the most interesting movies of the year and originally fresh comedy in years.

   Cormac O’Meara

15A (see IFCO for details)

118minutes

The Lobster is released 16th October 2015

 

 

 

 

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Review: Legend

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DIR/WRI: Brian Helgeland •  PRO: Tim Bevan, Chris Clark, Quentin Curtis, Eric Fellner, Brian Oliver • DOP: Dick Pope • ED: Peter McNulty • DES: Tom Conroy • MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton

 

You would think that a movie based on two psychotic twin brothers, who rose through the ranks of London’s criminal underbelly, and teamed up with the American mafia with the aim of creating Europe’s own Las Vegas would be a visceral affair, one heck of a story indeed. On top of that you’ve got the secret deodorant – Tom Hardy playing both Reggie and Ronnie Kray through some fine digital trickery. Finally, the cherry on top – Brian Helgeland, writer of L.A. Confidential, Mystic River and Man on Fire, is set to write and direct. We all saw the trailer for Legend, we all got excited, and let me tell you, we were all duped!

The first and biggest mistake was placing Emily Browning, who plays Reggie’s wife Frances, as the the film’s narrator. Straightaway we know that we aren’t getting an in-depth or honest portrayal these two gangsters and their true violent nature because we all know that gangsters don’t tell their wives everything. So when we first hear her voice and realise who she is, we know we’re in for a sugarcoated affair. She introduces us to Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the former wears a charming mask to cover his true violent nature, while the latter embraces his criminal lifestyle without any excuses.

Reggie’s suave demeanor helps their firm run smoothly in their East End neighborhood. He walks freely down the street, fraternizing with the community. He enjoys the glamorous life, the women, the nightclubs, the money. While Ronnie lives in a camper van, buggering young boys. There’s an upside though, he’s not prejudice. He takes all sorts. He wears his psychosis like a badge of honour, and in a way there’s something admirable about his honesty. He doesn’t attempt to hide his violent nature like Reggie does, nor is he driven by capitalist means.

At the beginning we laugh, Ronnie is the comic of the two and his frankness is refreshing, but the Reggie character is all too familiar – the likeable anti-hero, who wants to go legit…yada yada yada. Quickly we find ourselves in a generic gangster trope, that seems to drag on forever with no real insight to these two lunatic’s psyche.

The role of Frances is incredibly infuriating, the problem being that we have seen this character all too many times before. She’s beautiful, intelligent, innocent, but of course (snaps fingers) she’s just missing that extra chromosome that reminds civilised people that being romantically acquainted to a violent psychopath is just wrong. She finds Reggie Kray just too damn irresistible to resist. Her response to her mother, who tries to warn her he’s a gangster, is something along the lines of “Well, I’m gonna kiss him tonight”. That’s embarrassing. The casting of Emily Browning was dead wrong for this. She seems too sophisticated to be involved with gangsters, she lacks the conviction that could have been demonstrated better by a less fragile actress.

Clearly, Ronnie is the more intriguing character, but Helgeland decides to stagnate the focus on the relationship between Reggie and Frances, which becomes tedious. We get great glimpses of Ronnie’s peculiar sex life intertwined with drug-fuelled, homosexual orgies with politicians, but these scenes are merely used as comic relief before returning back to the match made in east end. The scandalous and seedy subculture that Ron Kray was immersed in evokes something more forbidden and would have been more daring and refreshing if the filmmakers had decided to explore it more. Even take Reggie out of the film altogether, simply rename the film to ‘Kray’ and see how deep the rabbit hole goes with Ronnie.

Instead, what we are left with is what feels and looks like a second-tier Scorsese gangster flick with genre conventions so generic and monotonous, you begin to feel as old as James Cagney. Legend is sure to gain some praise, particularly from Hardy acolytes, but when all’s said and done, this is one legend that won’t stand the test of time.

Cormac O’Meara

18 (See IFCO for details)
110 minutes

Legend is released 11th September 2015

Legend – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: 45 Years

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DIR/WRI: Andrew Haigh •  PRO: Tristan Goligher • DOP: Lol Crawley   • ED: Jonathan Alberts • DES: Sarah Finlay • MUS: Joseph Trapanese • CAST: Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine James, Tom Courtenay

 

Andrew Haigh’s marital drama 45 Years allows the audience to act as a fly on the wall in this intimate and unflinching film. We are introduced to Kate and Geoff Mercer, who are on the verge of celebrating their forty fifth wedding anniversary. They live in a country house in East Anglia. The bleak and grey landscape reflects the twilight years of their marriage, a relationship that survives on routine and monotony. At least that how it appears on the surface – a regular, retired, domesticated lifestyle with no surprises. Pop into town, cook some dinner and then bed. Maybe dunk a biscuit into a cup of tea on a wild Saturday night. The good life. That is until Geoff receives a letter informing him that a previous lover named Katya from his youth has been found dead.

 

She disappeared while they were romantically involved during the sixties before he ever met Kate. Naturally, this comes a quite a shock and at first Kate comforts Geoff as he reminisces about his old flame. However, soon Geoff begins taking too many liberties with his mourning and tension rises between the couple as they begin to question the foundations of their entire relationship. Geoff begins obsessing about the deceased woman, who has still to be lifted out of the glacier she fell into all those years ago. He buys a book on climate change, goes to a travel agency to inquire about flights, scrambles about the attic at night in search of old photographs. His nostalgic obsession of her causes her presence to haunt the home and cause a rift between the marriage.

 

Kate tries to keep it together and plan out their anniversary party, while Geoff escapes into his own world like a zombie. His demeanor and actions are like that of a child, it appears he has gone full circle in his antics. The movie is a slow burner in terms of its drama that slowly rises, and we feel tremendous empathy for Kate. However, the film does have its own subtle comedy that stems from Geoff’s erratic, infantile behaviour. He whines and curses about his old friends, he sneaks off for cigarettes, and for the majority of the film he looks spaced out, like the pod people for Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

 

It might seem ludicrous to compare 45 Years to a cult sci-fi, but in Invasion of the Body Snatchers the female protagonist also fears that her husband is not who he says he is anymore. The humour in 45 Years is quite dry and bitter. In the best scene in the movie, Kate’s world comes tumbling down on her after some domestic investigation in the attic. She discovers that Geoff has lied to her since the beginning about a major incident from his past. She knows nothing will be the same again. At this moment the phone rings and it is the party organiser, who proceeds to ask for her and Geoff’s favourite romantic songs. It’s a brave move to make such a sick joke for the films main dramatic piece, but then again Haigh doesn’t shy away from much in 45 Years. He allows us to focus on Kate’s expressions as she unveils some new information from Geoff, he doesn’t let us look away when the couple attempt having sex, or when Geoff vomits from too much alcohol.

 

For a film as confined and isolated as this it needs to exhibit some fine acting, which Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling simply outdo themselves as Geoff and Kate. So authentic and believable in their roles that at times I thought I was watching a documentary, a National Geographic show witnessing humans in their domesticated environment – tension’s rising as the female digs up the male’s skeletons in the closet.

Cormac O’Meara

15A (See IFCO for details)
95 minutes

45 Years is released 28th August 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Bond Complex

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Cormac O’Meara pines for Bonds of old.

 

Ian Fleming’s British secret service agent is trending all over Twitter this week in an on-going debate. It appears that the 007  character is up for grabs and everybody is weighing in. The debate has escalated dramatically since James Bond author, Anthony Horowitz, described Idris Elba as too “street” to play the iconic character. Whether or not there is some racial prejudice behind his remark, you’d think an established author would have more sense to word that statement with a bit more finesse. He claims that his reasoning isn’t because of skin colour, but rather that Elba doesn’t possess the calm and collective suaveness in which the Bond character entails. Who, that guy? That charismatic, handsome, smooth, cold as ice, black guy? Him? He doesn’t have that Bond etiquette.

On top of this, in a recent interview with Esquire, Daniel Craig stepped off his high horse to critique the misogynistic and sexist mannerisms of Bond, stating that he’s developed the character and hopes he has forged a new politically correct James Bond for contemporary society. Furthermore, in a delusional state, reassuring us that he is not like Bond in real life, as if we didn’t get the memo confirming that he is actually an actor playing a role.

Both comments from Craig and Horowitz clash and both are equally as pointless. Personally, I think that both Craig and Elba do not embody James Bond. Both are far physically too big and muscular, sabotaging the everyman Bond fantasy. They just look too damn healthy. Bond doesn’t do a session at the gym. He smokes sixty a day, horses the booze and orders room service. The only exercise he gets is with his thumb on one of Q’s gadgets or when he’s between the sheets after a close shave with death. After Pierce Brosnan (a great Bond), James Bond was born again. He packed in the cigs, cut down on the martinis, hit the gym and simply stopped having fun. The all new serious and brooding Bond was here to entertain.

We no longer take James Bond with a pinch of salt, but rather we carry on his extra baggage. He’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders and it seems to bother him, moping around like life’s tough being Bond. James Bond, the international man of mystery, the world-travelled, promiscuous, chameleon – the male fantasy, he’s suffering! The whole franchise that was built on this suave escape artist, is now retracting his aura. James Bond once was a fun male escape fantasy, clearly not to be taken wholeheartedly. He was a confident man with a license to kill , who has now become weak and unsure of himself. I don’t know what the future holds for Bond, all I know is that if the franchise continues to go down this melancholic route, Lynx are gonna have to re-think their entire marketing strategy: ‘Lynx For Men: I’m Complicated’

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Review: Poltergeist

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DIR: Gil Kenan • WRI: David Lindsay-Abaire • PRO: Nathan Kahane, Roy Lee, Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert • DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe • ED: Jeff Betancourt, Bob Murawski • DES: Kalina Ivanov • MUS: Marc Streitenfeld • CAST: Sam Rockwell, Jared Harris, Rosemarie DeWitt

 

Having not actually seen the 1982 Poltergeist, I was looking forward to attending the reboot with a pair of fresh eyes and no lingering attachment to the original. There was no umbilical cord to wrap around my neck due to some nostalgic obligation to the Spielberg/Hooper classic if expectations weren’t adequate. It was an early screening so I grabbed my coffee and spare undies in case the supernatural antics got a bit too much for me. Suffice to say, I left clean as a whistle without even breaking a sweat. Not one emasculated jump was given and at the end of the day that is the primary function of any horror movie.

 

The new Poltergeist is a contemporary take directed by Gil Kenan. It stars Sam Rockwell as the sarcastic, boozy father and Rosmarie DeWitt as the fretting mother, who have toned down a financial notch by moving into downscale house. They have three children. The adorable little girl, Kennedi Clements, the chicken shit son, Kyle Catlett, and the stubborn teen, Saxon Sharbino. This is a disaster already, without the ghouls. As expected, things go bump in the night and the terror begins. Kenan is premature with the suspense, which would be fine if the big scares actually worked.

 

Sam Raimi produced the film and you can see elements of his technique lending influence, but it lacks any of the spontaneity and speed that Raimi utilises within his own movies.  We never feel like we are in any danger. Kenan nurtures the audience too much, forbidding inventive imagination to leave the nest. For instance, the contemporary setting should give way to a huge amount of frightening possibilities. The poltergeist possess the house’s electric utilities in order to intimidate the family, and even though the new technology is haunted, it is never applied to great effect. We only get a glimpse of an iPhone or a flat screen television acting up, and sure my phone does that every single day anyway. Instead, we get stuffed toy pigs and sinister looking clown dolls going on a rampage as if we didn’t see that fifty years ago.

 

The performance don’t wield our attention either. Rockwell is the only mildly entertaining character, but even the kids don’t make us fear for them. A familiar ensemble of characters come into play in the third act, paranormal investigators and an exorcist (with an atrocious Irish accent), who come to help the family with their electricity problem. This set up was becoming too similar to James Wan’s excellent possession movie The Conjuring, with these ghostbusters bringing their hip new tech gear to try save the day. (Funnily enough, the poltergeist don’t seem to try possess any of those gadgets) The Conjuring depicted how tedious and traumatising the entire process of exorcism really is, whereas Poltergeist makes it seem like a picnic.

 

Poltergeist is a mild PG-13 rated horror film, which is difficult to pull off for sure. But, it wasn’t gore I was searching for, but rather any form of imagination or creativity with the vast amount of possibilities the filmmakers could have taken advantage of in this modern framework. Why not possess an E-Cigarette, the Wii or a George Foreman Grill? I’d pay to see that.

Cormac O’Meara


15A (See IFCO for details)

93 minutes
Poltergeist is released 22nd May 2015

Poltergeist – Official Website

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCmAaNk_iIQ

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Review: Top Five

Chris-Rock-and-Rosario-Dawson-in-NYC-in-Top-Five-Movie-Film-2014

DIR/WRI: Chris Rock • PRO: Eli Bush, Barry Diller, Scott Rudin • DOP: Manuel Alberto Claro • ED: Anne McCabe • MUS: Ludwig Göransson, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson • DES: Richard Hoover • CAST: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union

Chris Rock’s latest film Top Five incorporates elements of Woody Allen, Richard Linklater and Noah Baumbach. However, it is not so much the comedian’s taste in auteurs that makes this his most valiant effort as a director as it is the fact that it’s his most personal, which helps it  transcend to something more special. Shot on location in New York, we are dropped into the day of a life of a comic star named Andre Allen (Rock), who rushes around the city in an attempt to plug his new motion picture. He is shadowed by journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who tries to pick his brain for the day. A former stand up turned hack actor, Andre has fallen victim to the celebrity culture that has poisoned the docile masses. It was wise of Rock not to delve too deep into social commentary regarding media sensationalism because it leaves so much room for his strengths; observational comedy and character.

 

Top Five flaunts an eclectic group of characters; an inquisitive journalist, a bodyguard with a fetish for XL ladies, a seedy Texan concert promoter, a drunken sad-eyed father and a boyfriend who’s a finger enthusiast. It’s as if a compilation of Richard Pryor characters migrated from the stage to the screen and the way the dialogue is spoken you can tell that this flick was penned by a stand up. It’s conversational comedy that flows so naturally with a range of topics ranging from an outlandish Planet of the Apes theory to Charlie Chaplin to the top five rappers (the premise for the film’s title).

 

Although the movie is reminiscent of Funny People, which also portrayed another stand up turned Hollywood hack (Sandler’s version hit a little more close to home), it is nowhere as ambitious or complex as Judd Apatow’s opus. However, this doesn’t exactly hurt the movie because Rock isn’t as seasoned a filmmaker as Apatow and he wisely keeps it simple, which is the charm of this film. Top Five certainly borrows many themes from Funny People, but because Rock brings his own flavour and pace to it, the movie works. The idea to set the film around one day creates a sense of authenticity for the audience, making us feel that we are hanging with these characters as they roam through the hustle and bustle of NYC.

 

Top Five utilises two great sequences to great effect. The first is an anecdote from Andre describing to Chelsea when his alcoholism reached rock bottom. He illustrates how a night in Houston transformed from an erotic dream come true into a seedy soaked nightmare (literally) involving two four legged hookers and a sleazy concert promoter (played wonderfully by Cedric the Entertainer). The events are raw in their raunchiness, but not done in bad taste giving Andre’s conclusion.

 

The second sequence is a masterful stretch when Andre visits his friends and family in the projects where he spent his childhood. It’s a rich sequence of comedy, character and naturalistic dialogue that feels like it is in no hurry to end. Rock brings the audience on a detour, taking a break from the plot and Andre’s busy schedule, allowing us time to enjoy the small talk. We get a glimpse into Andre’s roots that evoke memories of a simpler time of his life before the media frenzy and artistic pressures.

 

Andre and Chelsea stray from his entourage and ramble through the streets by themselves welcoming in the city’s vibrant atmosphere. Their relationship grows throughout the day and a connection begins to surface. They are both recovering alcoholics, which is depicted in a hazy scene when the two saunter slowly through a liquor store brushing their fingertips across the bottles that contain their inner demons. The way it was shot reminded me of Godard’s portrayal of outcasts floating through the cracks of normal society. A nicely fitted third act twist stagnates their oncoming attraction, allowing for some space and an introduction of great cameos from three comedians and a growling rapper before climaxing with a Cinderella story ending.

 

Here’s a movie that indulges all my obsessions; cinema, hip-hop, stand-up, and is done in such a casual and authentic manner that it doesn’t feel forced. It’s well written, boasts an array of fantastic dynamic characters and above all it’s very funny. After a second viewing it grew on me even more as I focused more on subtle poignant moments like when Andre meets his father or when his fiance desperately explains to him that her lack of any talent propels her to do reality television. It would appear that third time’s a charm for Chris Rock, finally finding his cinematic venom. Guess there’s only one more thing for me to say:

 

  1. DJ Quik
  2. Ghostface Killah
  3. Nas
  4. Ice Cube
  5. Kool G Rap

Cormac O’Meara

16 (See IFCO for details)

101 minutes
Top Five is released 8th May 2015

Top Five – Official Website

 

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Jauja

jauja

DIR: Lisandro Alonso • WRI: Lisandro Alonso, Fabian Casas  • PRO: Ilse Hughan, Andy Kleinman, Viggo Mortensen, Sylvie Pialat, Jaime Romandia, Helle Ulsteen  • DOP: Jonathan Sela • ED: Gonzalo del Val, Natalia López • MUS: Viggo Mortensen  • Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Ghita Nørby, Viilbjørk Malling Agger, Esteban Bigliardi

 

Argentinian director Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja is a slow burner, so much so that one would think he was rubbing a pair of withered leaves together in attempt to get any sort of a spark going. The most frustrating aspect of the film is the fact that there is so much potential there for it to be a great western thriller.

Shot beautifully by DoP Timo Salminen, we are introduced to a vast landscape of Patagonia, Argentina circa 1882. What could have been a picturesque backdrop for an exciting thriller becomes the foreground for an agonizingly, pretentious western deconstruction.

Viggo Mortensen plays Gunnar Dinesen, a Danish colonialist preparing to dispose of the natives of the region with a band of soldiers. Along with him for the ride is his fifteen-year-old daughter Ingeborg (Viibjork Malling Agger), who he attempts to protect from the leering men of his camp. This is all established for us in what seems like an eternity via lingering shots that may consist of a character simply standing still and staring into space. Deep right?

One night, Inge, doing exactly what I wanted to do during the screening, bails out of there! She is accompanied by one of the young soldiers, who she is romantically involved with.

At this point in time I said to myself, “Okay! Here we go. Call the cavalry, load the pistols and lets get to it” preparing myself for a Searcheresque pursuit, fuelled with complex imperialist issues and bloodshed. To my dismay I was presented with a pretty little slideshow of striking imagery, which lacked any form of kinetic energy, suspense or urgency. I felt as if I was gazing at a marvelous painting of a spaghetti western still, impatiently waiting for the rugged characters to be drawn in.

The narrative slugs along through a collection of mostly single shot scenes, where we simply watch Mortensen slowly, very slowly, walk out of the frame.

 

CUT TO:

Dinesen walks, still walking, walking a bit more now….

FADE OUT:

 

Alas, we get the whammy on the head in the final act when we are taken out of the rough terrain of Patagonia, 1882 and dropped into present day, where a young girl discovers a small toy that was in Dinesen’s possession all these many years ago. By taking us through this time warp, Alonso is demonstrating how mother nature and her greatness surpasses the petty fabric of society and its people, remaining strong while the human condition is left blowing in the wind. An interesting thought to evoke, but it is executed poorly for two reasons:

1. I was confused by the director’s choice to present the film in 4:3 aspect ratio. By employing 4:3 it would surely confine the audience’s view and attention to the character on the screen, creating a sense of intimacy. Whereas it appears that Alonso is aiming to portray the insignificance of the characters within contrast to the vastness of the landscape, nature and in the final act, time. Surely, in order to depict the sheer awe of the vista for the audience he should have utilized the standard 2.39:1 ratio for widescreen or even better Ultra Panavision 2.75:1 for full effect. Since there is no real character study within Jauja, and by presenting it in 4:3 aspect ratio, I believe that the director’s goal has become obsolete.

2. It’s boring.

Cormac O’Meara

110 minutes

Jauja is released 10th April 2015

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Force Majeure

force-majeure-cannes-21

DIR/WRI: Ruben Östlund •  PRO: Philippe Bober, Erik Hemmendorff, Marie Kjellson • DOP: Fredrik Wenzel • ED: Jacob Secher Schulsinger • MUS: Ola Fløttum • DES: Josefin Åsberg • CAST: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren

 

With a title like Force Majeure and an extravagant setting like the French Alps you’d expect a relentless action flick a la James Bond or Where Eagles Dare, however,Swedish director Ruben Östlund took another route by utilizing the gargantuan exterior of the Alps and contrasting it to the isolation of one family’s internal dilemma.

 

The movie opens with tremendous scenery of Les Arcs ski resort complimented by the earth-shattering music of Vivaldi, which creates a sense of impending doom. Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and his wife Ebba (Lisa Kongsli) and their two young children are a Swedish family on a ski holiday. We follow them as the camera glides down the slopes from behind making it a very smooth watch for the audience.

 

The family is practical, efficient and appears content like any other Scandinavian family would, but you can tell there is some form of suppressed emotion that is volatile. All it needs is a little push and they get it on the second day. The family is on the deck of a restaurant looking over the slopes, taking a break from their skiing activities, when something extraordinary happens.

 

They hear a huge bang followed by a controlled avalanche, which is amounting in their direction. The phones and cameras come out to capture the experience, but something is not right. The avalanche is out of control and building faster and faster towards them. Panic ensues. Tomas, amid the chaos, can be seen grabbing his phone and running for his life, while Ebba tries to protect the children.

 

This is point in the film when Östlund takes an unconventional approach and drives the narrative in a different direction. The avalanche harms no one. Debris from the snow fills the screen for a minute or so and soon settles. Tomas rises like a pussycat from the ashes and returns to his family.

 

There’s nothing they can do. What’s done is done and they have to live with the fact that Tomas abandoned his family. Naturally, an underlying tension begins to build and build. For some time it looks controlled, but much like their little avalanche it can’t be tamed.

 

What frustrates Ebba more than Tomas’ fail in his “fight or flight” response is his inability to admit he abandoned his family. In this case Östlund is examining the notion of masculinity and its connotations within marriage and society. Even when the truth is staring Tomas right in the face via video footage, he still argues his view of what occurred. He will abandon his morality before he will relinquish his masculinity.

 

This profound experience hangs over them creating a subtle tension, which spreads to their friends like some kind of infectious disease. The insecurity of a man fused with relationship mind games is like a Molotov cocktail waiting to blow. And it does so in an awkwardly funny scene when Tomas breaks down in tears in front of his wife and two little kids. The cat’s out of the bag; Tomas does not possess the credentials for society’s definition of masculinity. Can he ever redeem himself?

 

Visually stunning, bitterly funny and piercingly observant, Force Majeure provides a dark premise that deals with perception and the social expectations of masculinity. John Wayne must be spinning in his grave.

Cormac O’Meara

15A (See IFCO for details)
119 minutes

Force Majeure is released 10th April 2015

Force Majeure – Official Website

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While We’re Young

DIR/WRI: Noah Baumbach •  PRO: Noah Baumbach, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Lila Yacoub • DOP: Sam Levy • ED: Jennifer Lame • MUS: James Murphy • DES: Adam Stockhausen • CAST: Amanda Seyfried, Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller

 

Noah Baumbach adapts to the human condition vision that has been demonstrated by filmmakers such as Woody Allen, Paul Mazurzky and Jean Luc Godard, but his work still has a sense of emergence and contemporary relevance that feels fresh.

 

A recurring theme within Baumbach’s last two films (Greenberg/Frances, Ha) was anxiety and a sense of identity crisis. Greenberg dealt with a middle-aged identity crisis, Frances, Ha a quarter-aged, with his latest, While We’re Young, he is dissecting both with sharp comedic commentary.

 

Stagnated in their mundane marriage, Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts) suffer from denial and bombarding pressure from their friends, who insist they must have children in order to drive their marriage forward. Josh, a documentarian, has spent ten years working on his never-ending and self-indulgent film that is so convoluted he can’t even describe it, in a sense of defeat he usually quips, “it’s really about America”. He’s too stubborn to get support from his father-in-law Leslie (Charles Grodin), who is a profound maverick within the documentary film world. The college where he lectures is his bank.

 

He meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) after one of his lectures and immediately succumbs to their youthful charm and spontaneity. He soon figures that these two young hipsters (an aspiring documentarian and an organic ice cream entrepreneur) are the revelation him and his wife need to rejuvenate their lives.

 

The early stages of this ageless foursome are the film’s strongest comic observations. Baumbach portrays the contrasts of young and old in contemporary society. While Jamie and Darby adhere to the retro lifestyle of listening to vinyl, watching VHS and abstaining from Facebook, our elders, Josh and Cornelia, are constantly logged in and using the latest technology today has to offer. It’s an interesting examination of a generational culture reversal.

 

Josh and Cornelia stray from their mature friends and adapt to Jamie and Darby’s lifestyle, whether it’s hip-hop dance classes, hipster barbeques or Ayahuasca awakenings. After exhilarating highs come tremendous lows and paranoia. The fear of youth begins to possess Josh, as he grows more and more suspicious of Jamie’s intentions and authenticity as a documentarian.

 

A few lines from Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder that are shown to us at the beginning of the movie grow more intensely as Josh retreats from the fountain of youth when he sees Jamie for who he really is and the power he has. The anxiety of ageing creeps back into his consciousness.

 

However, Baumbach’s movie isn’t about people’s fear of the youth, but more about people’s anxiety about their personal identity and existence. Darby delivers the message of the movie by explaining to Josh that her and Jamie will grow old like everybody else, suggesting that all the generational pop culture iconography can’t prevent the inevitable. We all grow old we all die.

 

Undoubtedly, Woody Allen’s observational comedy rings throughout the movie. The climax between Josh and Jamie is reminiscent of Murders and Misdemeanors, but in the wider scope of things I was reminded of Midnight in Paris and its resolution. In this instance, Baumbach is focusing on age anxiety rather than Woody’s era anxiety, but the message is the same: we all fantasize about living in a different time, place or shoes, but at the end of the day we must adapt to our own lives and prosper.

 

Even though I’m whipping out big bad words such as anxiety, fear and death, don’t tie the noose quite yet. This movie is not a solemn glimpse into the abyss, but a perfectly, tightly knit comedy with a vibrant soundtrack that should reflect upon any audience, regardless of age.

 

Cormac O’Meara

 

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
96 minutes

While We’re Young is released 3rd April 2015

While We’re Young – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

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Birdman

birdman

DIR: Alejandro González Iñárritu • WRI: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo • PRO: Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole • DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki • ED: Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione • DES: Kevin Thompson • MUS: Antonio Sanchez • CAST: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton

 

The French New Wave erupted in France during the 1950s, chucking all the formal rules of filmmaking out the window. A postmodern and critical cult began with the likes of Godard, Truffaut and Rohmer, who soon paved the way for American filmmakers such as Scorsese, Spielberg and De Palma. After the collapse of the studio system in Hollywood, young directors were left to their own devices and audiences were given a breath of fresh air.

 

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman is an American movie with European sensibilities, focusing more on mood and style rather than narrative. Birdman unfolds like a French New Wave film with its idiosyncrasies and philosophical dialogue. Even the title sequence is reminiscent of Godard’s Pierrot le Fou. Birdman doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the table, but it is bursting with so much energy that it can’t help but win audiences over and create the sense that they are watching something entirely fresh and original.

 

The sense of the movie being shot entirely in one take with its complex tracking shots, fused with its rapid-fire dialogue keeps the audience alert and excited. It possesses a vibrant pace that challenges viewers to keep up as it races before our eyes on the screen.

 

And even though the movie is highly eccentric – whether it’s the cinematography, acting or fantasy sequences –  it never leads us astray. In fact, because of its technical tracking shots we feel part of the entire process. The film’s characters are preparing for a Broadway play and as the camera follows them through the hallways, dressing rooms, stage and streets of Manhattan, we feel like we are right there with them. It’s a voyeuristic wet dream. Hitchcock must be jizzing in his grave.

 

From a technical standpoint, Birdman is clearly a tremendous achievement, but we must not forget the actors, who had to stick out the gruelling shoot and not only make it work, but actually enhance it to the next level. Wonderfully cast, Birdman is a commentary on various subjects and one of those is acting itself. In this movie the actors are playing actors and at times it nearly becomes a game trying to figure out if they are in character for the play or not.

 

The acting method and process is superbly demonstrated in a sequence involving Riggan (Keaton) and Mike (Norton), who attempt to get into character during a rehearsal, which is so perfectly timed and natural I just sat there smiling like an idiot.

 

Throughout the film there is a struggle between reality and fantasy, whether it’s Riggan and his Birdman persona, Mike wanting the performance to be so real that he must actually drink real gin or really fuck on stage to succeed, or a strict critic trying to separate (real) high art from Hollywood.

 

Birdman had all the potential and possibility of being a pretentious art-house flick, but because of its sheer vigor and humor it has become a crossover hit and serious Oscar contender. Much like the struggle in the film’s subtext, I’m racking my brains trying to decide if it’s a great fantastical Hollywood picture or a real original film. Can’t win them all I guess.

Cormac O’Meara

15A (See IFCO for details)
119 minutes.
Birdman
is released 2nd January 2015.

Birdman   – Official Website

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Nightcrawler

DIR/WRI: Dan Gilroy • PRO: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: John Gilroy • DES: Kevin Kavanaugh • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

Nightcrawler is a despicable underdog story, a deluded and hazy, trance-like dream that glides through the fluorescent streets of Los Angeles. It has a kind of sister kinship to the works of Paul Schrader in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s as if writer/director Dan Gilroy sucked out whatever dark juices there were pumping through Schrader’s brain, gargled, and spat out onto the big screen.

 

Similar to Schrader’s Taxi Driver (1976), the city plays a character, this time round its L.A., shot wonderfully by P.T. Anderson collaborator Robert Elswit. We also have a social outcast for the lead character, Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal in an exuberant performance. He plays Lou Bloom as a more socially apt Travis Bickle, cheeks sunken and eyes within an inch of popping out onto the audience’s lap. Gyllenhaal is magnetic here. Bloom is either carrying an anti-social or sociopath disorder, while performing reprehensible duties as an immoral freelance crime journalist, working by night and watering plants by day. However, even while possessing these unsavory qualities, we can’t help but admire him.

 

He’s charming, dedicated and determined to pursue his career path by any mean necessary. On the surface he is exactly what any mother could ask for – polite, confident, continuously speaking in a frank and honest tone. His pattern of speech is almost lyrical, easy to fathom and encourages one to succumb to his charm. Lou Bloom feels like a hybrid of various Hollywood characters: Travis Bickle, Norman Bates or Jim Carrey’s “Cable Guy”. In many ways he’s a sweetheart, but bubbling under his exterior is a demented, anti-social monster ready to pop at the drop of a pin.

 

As we follow Bloom’s nocturnal pattern we could easily compare him to a hawk scoping out his prey through the neon passages of Los Angeles. When he discovers his new hobby in crime journalism, he watches, learns and adapts to its seedy culture and thrives in it, not before we get to see a few slip-ups on his first outings, like the dullness of a Breathalyzer test or his clumsy camera skills. His instinct and lust for gore are what propel him into the media industry and into the presence of local television editor, Nina (Rene Russ), who is just as cutthroat as he is. Her character is a definite nod to Paddy Chayefsky’s Network (1976) and Faye Dunaway’s character, Diana Christensen. She encourages him to bring footage of urban crimes seeping into the wealthy suburbs. As proclaimed by Bloom’s nemesis freelance contemporary “if it bleeds, it leads”, and this is the code of this underground culture.

Aside, from Gyllenhaal’s intensity, Dan Gilroy still continues to keep us on the edges of our seats by staging marvelous action sequences with high-speed car chases through the night and extremely realistic gun shootouts all to the pleasure and excitement of Lou Bloom. For a directing debut, Mr. Gilroy has really outdone himself proving that he has the skill and audacity of a writer/director and I certainly hope to see more of him behind the camera.

Unlike Network, there is no definitive opposition to the exploitive and immoral manners of Lou and Nina’s work, except for us, the viewers. This film isn’t a full-blown satire of the media as Chayefsky’s work, but is a character study of the life of a crime journalist. It’s dark, it’s twisted and it’s very funny. And it also get’s the point across that this form of media can be immoral, but without ramming it down our throats and leaving a sour taste in our mouths.

Nightcrawler certainly borrows much of its themes and tone from previous movies such as Network, Taxi Driver, Peeping Tom, Drive, but Gilroy recycles those ideas and places them in a contemporary setting and allows us to examine one of society’s more questionable career paths, while also taking a glimpse at our human nature in relation to crime and violence.

 

Cormac O’Meara

16 (See IFCO for details)

117 minutes

Nightcrawler is released 31st October 2014
Nightcrawler – Official Website

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Maps to the Stars

mapstothestars

 

DIRDavid Cronenberg  WRI: Bruce Wagner  PRO: Saïd Ben Saïd, Martin Katz, Michel Merkt  DOP: Peter Suschitzky  ED: Ronald Sanders  DES: Carol Spier  MUS: Howard Shore  CAST: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson 

David Cronenberg has built his career on shock, but what happens when he chooses a subject that not only is unable to shock audiences, but is also so mundane that it is available to us through a simple finger tip to our phones? The subject matter of which I speak is the sordid social fabric of Tinseltown, Hollywood, U.S.A., which Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner tackle in Maps to the Stars.

Well, they don’t exactly tackle this notion of Hollywood lifestyle as much as they give us a glimpse of what we already know via the constant bombardment of social media and sleaze journalism. Maps delves into the nooks and crannies of Hollywood and some of its unsavory characters. A society where status, age and looks are constantly scrutinized, where movie stars refer to their maids as “chore whores” and everybody hides under a mound of drugs.

Yes, it does sound like a delightful scandalous romp of excess and maniacal nihilism, and it possibly could have been some odd twenty years ago, however, this generation’s savvy cynicism preempts this sort of behavior. We are living in an age, where celebrities’ personal lives are on display 24/7 for the universe to criticize. The Justin Biebers, Lindsay Lohan’s and Kanye Kardashian’s of this world have already been crucified on a daily basis. With all this in mind, one might find Maps to the Stars a tad stale and its characters are all too easy to hate. The audience should have to work and debate in a satire of this magnitude, not enter the theatre knowing whom the scumbag is then leaving with the same opinion in tact.

However, Maps to the Stars is not your regular classical narrative structure. It’s a surreal feature that attempts to portray the nightmare disguised by the glitz and glamour of the business. The question isn’t “is it surreal?” The question is “is it surreal enough?”. We get the sense that Maps to the Stars doesn’t quite know what it is. It possesses a strong sense of realism through its great performances and violence, but it throws in a ghost or two to hint a supernatural element. The most stylistic audacious movie of this kind of genre was David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, which was complete other world of mind-fuckery in itself. At the end of Mulholland Drive you couldn’t fathom what the hell actually happened, but you enjoyed the ride nonetheless. However, with Maps to the Stars you might not have entirely understood what went on, but you didn’t really care either.

Some may argue that with today’s online social paparazzi, a movie like this may seem redundant. It’s true that our post modern, nonchalant barriers are hard to penetrate, but maybe if we are shown the flipside of the coin, a celebrity superstar’s POV of the TMZ parasites and abuse from trolls hiding behind the comfort of their computer screens. We’re not good; we just know how to hide.

Cronenberg’s incredible vision and creativity is on a higher plateau than this. His gift has always been producing original and wild fictional worlds that no one but he could invent. With Maps to the Stars he has given us a film we can just swipe to the side like another tabloid story hurdling down the endless information highway.

Cormac O’Meara

18 (See IFCO for details)

111 minutes

Maps to the Stars is released 26th September 2014

Maps to the Stars – Official Website

 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwxmnyoofPs
 

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Mystery Road

images

 

DIR/WRI: Ivan Sen PRO: David Jowsey   DOP/ED/MUS: Ivan Sen   DES: Matthew Putland CAST: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving

There is nothing mysterious about Mystery Road, a flaccid Aussie thriller directed by Ivan Sen. It’s a long road with plenty of speed bumps to ensure a slow and rigorous ride.  It touches on the issue of racial tensions between the Aboriginal and white peoples of a small town in Queensland, but is delivered as a western/ film noir genre piece.  The scope and range established in the photography might go as far as the eyes can see, but we wish the characters and there monotonous dialogue could be too.

 

The film opens with the discovery of a young aboriginal girl’s body in a small tunnel just outside of Winton, Queensland. This primary police scene investigation is completely lifted from Bong Joon-Ho’s South Korean masterpiece Memories of Murder, everything from the tied up female corpse, to the crawling bugs, to the covering up of footprints.

 

Unlike Memories of Murder, we are not brought on a police investigation rollercoaster, but we are subdued to a slow-burner murder mystery. Slow-burner is right! Neanderthal’s spark fires faster than this. Aboriginal detective, Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) is on the case after returning back to his hometown from working years in a big city. He is left to his own devices in order to solve the murder because the predominately white police force has more important cases to crack than investigating an aboriginal’s murder.

 

Jay is portrayed as a man’s man, a real cowboy with no emotion to express. So the Duke from down under begins to dissect his community in search for leads and through his journey we begin to notice the racial tensions between the whites and aboriginals, which seems to be pretty biased towards the aboriginals (Spike Lee must have crashed a rehearsal during pre production).

 

“I’ve been in the middle my whole life”, Jay points out at one stage. He is under utilized by the police force and scrutinized by the aboriginals. The generic characters wouldn’t be so bad if they had anything interesting to say. In scenes that should have evoked great tension through dialogue, I found myself unconvinced and secured safely in my seat due to the tame threats. We’ve seen all this before countless of times in genre cinema, but the slow pacing of scenes really gives us time to remember.

 

Here lies an unrequited solution: The fact that this is a film with an undercurrent of social and racial issues, complemented by the slow and serious tone of the narrative, it should allow more room for character development. If there were more action and suspense set pieces we wouldn’t feel so unfulfilled by the end. Jay’s laconic stature would be great in a visceral action thriller, but his presence here causes scenes to drag achingly.

 

By the time we finally reach the climatic shootout between Jay and the criminals, it feels too regimented to conjure up any real excitement. I feel that Ivan Sen’s outback thriller is far too ambitious, certainly when I noticed that he directed, wrote, photographed and scored the film himself. It could have been the absence of collaboration, which caused Mystery Road to feel slightly unbalanced. In cinema you’ve got your great movies and your terrible movies. A movie that is bad can be a guilty pleasure or comical, something about it causes it to be etched in your memory.  This little doozy is simply forgettable, a picture that got lost somewheres down the road.

Cormac O’Meara


 

112 minutes

Mystery Road is released 29th August 2014

Mystery Road – Official Website

 

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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DIR: Matt Reeves  WRI: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver   PRO: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver  DOP: Michael Seresin   ED: William Hoy, Stan Salfas   DES: James Chinlund MUS: Michael Giacchino   CAST: Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes reflects the sub-textual social commentary of another Dawn, George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). Both movies are genre pieces with a simple, yet visionary premise oozing with fantastic mythology. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes wouldn’t be the enormous 2014 summer blockbuster of course, without the original spark that created the franchise in Pierre Boulle’s novel and the 1968 picture.

 

The primary Planet of the Apes film established the imagination and underlying social commentary, but was portrayed in a charming and playful manner. The latest installments Rise of the Planet of the Apes and now Dawn, surpass the original series in a far more visceral and intimate dimension.

 

Andy Serkis returns to play the protagonist chimpanzee Caesar. He astonished audiences in Rise with his humane and at times, threatening performance. He left viewers speechless with his “NOOOO!!!’ exclamation to Draco Malfoy. In Dawn, Serkis continues his dynamic skills and expands the character to that of…well a Caesar, leader of the apes and father of two. In one shot he can get the audience’s empathy level jacked, and with a quick change of facial expression or way of breathing he can evoke fear and intimidation.  The special FX crew have out-done themselves again, but the CGI can not take full credit for his virtuoso performance.

 

Ten years have passed since the apes crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and developed their own society in the Muir Woods. They inhabit the rough terrain and weather, oddly reminiscent of McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971). When the human protagonist, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) makes his way up to the apes in his duster coat and hat, I thought Warren Beatty survived that blizzard.

 

It’s not planet of the apes yet, as the Simian Virus has not wiped out all mankind. However, this worldwide epidemic has left this band of survivors in desperate need of fuel and power. Inevitably these two bands of humans and apes cross paths and tensions rise. As these two camps pursue in diplomatic debate, we the audience are witness to themes of hierarchy, family, politics, war, peace and most overwhelming, fear.

 

Fear is what drives the plot, causing weak individuals to make rash decisions in order to protect themselves and their ideals. The apes’ side of this story is far more intriguing, and it’s hard not to be reminded of the Roman era or Greek tragedy when we look at their political activities. Caesar’s leadership and choices are scrutinized by the apes, who see him as a human sympathizer. There’s an assassination attempt on his life, which mirrors that of JFK, Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. The weakness in the story is the bland and passionless human performances, and maybe that’s intentional as the film really focuses on the advancement of ape society. For instance, the superb performance by John Lithgow as a man in the depths of Alzheimers and the relationship between Will and Caesar in Rise conjured our emotions and forced us to care about them. In Dawn, Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus is tame and practically absent for most of the feature. A conversation between Malcolm’s son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Ellie (Kerri Russel) about her dead daughter possesses the emotional capacity of a doorstop. We find ourselves aching for the apes to obliterate them. The only decent human performance comes from Jason Clarke, who expresses desperation.

 

The subtext concentrates on diplomatic decisions and actions during times of tension or war, naturally not giving us any solution or insight, but basically claiming that on any side there will always be come bad seeds there to help create fear and paranoia. Christopher Nolan attempted a similar theme in his 2008 superhero genre The Dark Knight, where he focused on the nature of terrorist demands and how society reacts to them.

 

Rest assured, if you’re not part of some liberal hippy commune and just want a good old action flick, you are in luck because impending violence and bloodshed does erupt in spectacular fashion. This is mainly due to fluid camera movement with a few excellent tracking shots and tank POV similar to the dizzying camera twirl at Carrie’s prom, which also suggested a situation spinning out of control and an aura of impending doom. Location is a major factor of the movie and its action making the shots of the apes swinging from the Golden Gate seem instantaneously iconic.

 

Dawn doesn’t come without it flaws though. Near the end we see Malcolm take two steps away from a big C-4 explosion and somehow survive. Now I’m not a doctor, but I seriously think that his hair shouldn’t have looked right after that. And it’s not just the logistics of it that grinded my gears, it’s the fact that the filmmakers Frenched out of killing off the “good guy” in order to give the movie a sentimental ending. It would have been far more moving and interesting for Caesar if Malcolm had died a martyr rather than a rehash of the previous film’s conclusion. For Planet of the Apes enthusiasts it will lack the mythological intrigue and backstory plot of its predecessor, but realistically we couldn’t expect the same thing.

 

Despite this, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes remains one of the most enjoyable experiences you will have at the cinema this year exceeding in style and scope. It’s exciting to see where the filmmakers will take it to next, how far into the future? Will they migrate to another city or country? Could they make it a camp romp like the originals? One thing is sure, we all want to see what becomes of Caesar.

 

Cormac O’Meara

12A (See IFCO for details)
130 mins

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is released on 18th July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Official Website

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