Review: The D Train

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DIR: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul • WRI: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel • PRO: David Bernad, Jack Black, Ben Latham-Jones, Priyanka Mattoo, Barnaby Thompson, Mike White • DOP: Giles Nuttgens • ED: Terel Gibson • MUS: Andrew Dost • DES: Ethan Tobman • CAST: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor

 

Actor, comedian and musician Jack Black returns to the big screen in his latest black comedy drama from Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, making their directorial debut in The D Train. Also co-written by the directors, the film, shot in a mere three weeks, sees the all-round entertainer undertake his first major film role, guest appearances and television roles aside, since the ploddingly laborious and commercial disappointment, The Big Year in 2011.

Black plays socially awkward Dan Landsman, the self-appointed chairman of his former high school’s alumni, who charges himself with the organisation of his class’s twentieth reunion. Scarred by his traumatic high school experience, Landsman is determined to ensure as many former students attend to bolster his popularity and finally garner the acceptance he craves. When the reunion fails to ignite much interest, Landsman travels to Los Angeles to convince his popular classmate, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), now a seemingly successful commercials actor, to attend the reunion but quickly resorts to shockingly extreme measures to bring a reluctant Lawless home, with disastrous consequences.

Fusing Hollywood black comedy conventions with latter day morality play allegories, The D Train is an idealistic and cautionary tale about the perception of success in contemporary America and the exceptional circumstances undertaken to achieve such an ideal. Lurking beneath the caustic wit, boundless hyperactivity and pretentious energy synonymous with Black’s characters and the crude and provocative content aligned with dark comedy, the film explicitly explores the nature of the human condition and poses profound philosophical questions about the perils of placing emphasis on self-gratification as a means to success, regardless of the overall consequences. Analysing the nature of greed and desire for self-satisfaction, popularity and acceptance, the film holds a mirror aloft to a contemporary society to ponder on the nature of desire, lust and obsession and the lack of evident moral or spiritual boundaries prevalent in humanity’s desire for pleasure. As unpleasant and cringeworthy a character Dan Landsman is, he is a universal character nonetheless.

Creating wholly rapacious and self-indulgent personas, Black and Marsden illuminate an otherwise blunt and hasty script from the directors with immense pathos and impeccable comedy timing. As different as both characters are similar, the on-screen chemistry between the two actors creates a convincingly candid and affecting ‘bromance’ which refreshingly explores the nature of sexual identity by embracing both dark comedy and romantic elements that simultaneously jolt and engage. Forever on the outside looking in and scarred by continual rejections, unpopular Black oscillates from smug egotism to wounded sensitivity with ease, mirrored by drug-addled, sexually-charged narcissist Marsden, whose steely suaveness and bottomless bravado crumbles to affecting disappointment and palpable insecurity, creating a plausible and sensitive relationship that should be uncomfortable, disruptive and employed for cheap thrills but instead poignantly points to the nature of obsession and desire and the determination to satisfy the self by any means possible.

While the two male lead performances create a magnetic portraiture that traverse the seven deadly sins, igniting the narrative on a both a dark comedic and philosophical level, Mogel and Paul’s tepid script ultimately falls short on becoming a true black comedy classic. The introduction of too many ill-conceived sub-plots fails to enhance or execute the essential tenets of the narrative, only serving to detract and distract from the film’s overall philosophy, lacking the sharp, subversive edge required for black comedy. The film, at times, is too self-righteous, didactic and patronising, blinded by its own perceived importance and attempts by Black to compensate for lulls and digressions in the script’s trajectory through routine acerbic witticisms and exaggerated physicality, fail to penetrate the evident inexperience and indirection of the film’s directors.

The D Train cannot claim to contain a highly original or imaginative narrative, although an unexpected plot twist will enthral, but rather the film incorporates an archetypal morality tale that has been recounted by Hollywood on numerous occasions. The outstanding performances from Black and Marsden may take an old fable and repackage it for the contemporary dark comedy genre with impeccable comedic delivery and cocksure swagger but the reluctance of the writers/directors to venture beyond the traditional, ideological Hollywood ending is at odds with the nature of black comedy itself and ultimately disappoints. The D Train, in actuality, is noteworthy for its consummate leading performances, Black in particular returns to top form after a four-year hiatus in a leading film role and it is his emotive and energetic turn that steers the narrative’s core philosophy, delineating the antagonism between an unresolved past and a disordered present bound together by a will to self-satisfy, exploit and indulge, rather than any creative or philosophical management by the film’s inexperienced, first-time directors.

Dee O’Donoghue

15A(See IFCO for details)
100 minutes

The D Train is released 18th September 2015

The D Train– Official Website

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Inside Out

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DIR: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen • WRI: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen • PRO: Jonas Rivera • ED: Kevin Nolting • MUS: Michael Giacchino • DES: Ralph Eggleston • CAST: Kaitlyn Dias, Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kyle McLachlan, Diane Lane

 

Celebrated animation filmmaker, writer and six-time Oscar nominee Pete Docter has honed his craft for the past twenty years in quirky box office hits such as Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc. and Up. The concept for Docter’s latest collaboration with Disney•Pixar came to the director in 2009 when he became aware of clear behavioural and developmental changes in his daughter’s personality as she approached adolescence. Set inside the mind of prepubescent Riley Anderson, Inside Out explores the psychological angst aligned with the transition from childhood into teenhood from the perspective of the emotions that drive such maturity, producing an absorbingly complex and sophisticated narrative that emotively stirs both on a visceral and intellectual level.

 

Hockey-mad Riley is happy with her carefree life in Minnesota. When her parents suddenly decide to move to San Francisco, everything changes for the young girl, provoking her emotions to spiral out of control. Aware of the suffering she endures, Riley’s five dominant emotions become activated in the Headquarters of her conscious mind, where Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness control how she copes with the challenging ventures in a new school and home. When Sadness, who can nullify other emotions by touching Riley’s memories and turning them to sadness, creates a new, sad core memory, Joy’s attempts to destroy it sees her inadvertently releasing Riley’s other core memories and shutting down her personality islands. As chaotic instability in Riley’s mind ensues, Joy and Sadness attempt to rescue the core memories before the other emotions can dominate her fragmented being, consigning Riley to a life of solitude, misery and sadness.

 

Twenty years since Pixar transfigured the animation filmmaking process with trailblazing innovation in Toy Story and after the recent shaky offerings of Cars 2 and Monster’s University failed to reach the dizzy heights Pixar audiences have become accustomed to, the studio’s fifteenth feature produces an abundance of spectacularly detailed CGI effects combined with an intricately ambitious narrative, which sees Pixar not only return to top form but indeed raise the bar further within animation filmmaking itself. Pursuing an existentially complex yet compassionate narrative trajectory, Inside Out is a rousing rollercoaster of tumultuous thrills balanced by nuanced characters whose raw sensitivities execute the growing pains of childhood with depth, poignancy and intuition. Palpably psychological in tone, the film dissects the profound complexities buried deep within the conscious mind through an erudite and witty script, to make visible the internal suffering of a young girl on the brink of great change, while sedating such cerebral intensity with childlike playfulness and jaunty humour as the activated emotions experience their own hilarious inner vicissitudes.

 

Delineating a perceptive insight into the psychology of memories through acute emotional intelligence, Inside Out takes a classic, universal coming-of-age narrative and didactically informs through an excess of high-spirited humour and ingenious visual allure. The systematic means by which emotions and memories are stored, processed and transformed by interpreting the symbiotic relationship between the human psyche and interpersonal relationships, serves to bring the often concealed emotional self within the psychology of a child to the forefront in a creatively original and intriguing manner. The film’s narrative entanglements document a child’s complex mental development as it adapts to change and does so with such emotional charge, it poses profound philosophical questions about the nature of human psychology and the necessity to engage with its more melancholic aspects, to attain emotional equilibrium.

Even Riley’s most potent emotion, Joy, finds her optimism persistently challenged and the omnipresence of Sadness, equips Riley’s other conflicting emotions to deal with her unpredictability, demonstrating the necessity to wholesomely embrace a variety of emotions, in order for the self to gain an understanding of the mind and flourish. The narrative’s deep-rooted themes unfold with such intellectual ferocity and at such an accelerated rate, that the labyrinthine script at times, struggles to keep pace with its own velocity, the execution of sharpness often compromised for its phenomenal visual style, sometimes failing to control its philosophies on a completely satisfactory level. But overall, Inside Out can boast a dazzling and compelling style that meets its challenging substance with bucket loads of fun, if perhaps its mature themes may swamp a younger audience.

Aware of its own unrivalled mastery within animation filmmaking, Inside Out is a highly self-reflexive, daring and thought-provoking feature, which provides a groundbreaking perspective on the narrative evolution within animation itself. The film delineates a coming-of-age trajectory, both narratively and technically, that challenges the nature of how animation films are produced and received. Adults will appreciate its wholly elaborate and painstakingly detailed production, while its sheer visual wondrousness will appeal to those whose narrative complexities may at times, overwhelm. While its depth may bewilder on occasion, its ambitious execution in transcending existing animation parameters will reposition the narrative and technical boundaries within contemporary film animation and cement Pixar Animation as the leading figurehead in animated film production.

 

Dee O’Donoghue

 

G (See IFCO for details)
103 minutes

Inside Out  is released 24th July 2015

Inside Out  – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Salt of the Earth

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DIR: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado • WRI: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, David Rosier • PRO: David Rosier • DOP: Hugo Barbier, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado • ED: Maxine Gödecke, Rob Myers • MUS: Laurent Petitgand • CAST: Sebastião Salgado, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders, Hugo Barbier, Regis Muller

 

Nominated for best documentary feature at this year’s Oscars, Wim Wenders showcases the life and work of Brazilian social photographer Sebastião Salgado, who for over forty years captured some of the most profound images of human suffering, in the powerfully absorbing The Salt of the Earth. Directed alongside Salgado’s son Juliano, Wenders delineates an intimate portrayal of the photojournalist’s emotive and vividly stark work, which bore witness to some of history’s most contentious chapters of the late twentieth century. Originally studying to become an economist but abandoning such career aspirations to dedicate his life to recording a shattering vision of humanity, Salgado’s images expose the trauma, deprivation and misery of human existence, as it responds to the socio-political, cultural and environmental factors that have shaped humanity’s trajectory to this day.

 

Featuring contributions from Wenders, Salgado and Juliano and infusing the narrative with some of the most iconic images of human persecution and endurance, The Salt of the Earth casts a photographic lens on an historic turbulent timeline of catastrophe from the far-flung corners of the planet, giving indirect access to the plight of the human condition in some of the most familiar places in socio-political history, for all the wrong reasons. Interweaving stunning yet saturnine black and white stills with footage of Salgado on location, the film is a panegyric to the destruction and ugliness of humanity’s capabilities while simultaneously paying tribute to the enigmatic beauty of a wondrous planet with veneration. Poignantly austere images depicting historic explosions of conflict and genocide in Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda and the Balkans gaze out amongst lost and forgotten souls of the past; tribes, communities and peoples of the cavernous regions of South America, India and Indonesia, encapsulating a philosophy of stoicism and serenity that stands in opposition to the harrowing plight of their volatile global neighbours.

 

Growing cynical and despondent with earth’s continual narrative of suffering, thereby changing his perspective from deep empathy and compassion to helplessness and despair over the course of his enduring career, Salgado has collated his vast photographic collection of human suffering into books of reflections, each subject matter divided into themes based on his diverse photographic experiences. From the displacement of entire marginalized populations due to wars, famine and economic shifts in Vietnam, Palestine, Iraq and Africa in “Exodus” to illustrations of steel labourers in the Soviet Union, fishermen in Galicia and farmers in Rwanda in “Workers”, Salgado has been a spectator to innumerous landscapes of hell, while concurrently inverting human destruction as a resolute environmental visionary in his own native homeland. Toying with abandoning his life’s work, Salgado’s passion for uncovering humanity’s shackles reignited his passion, shifting his focus from distress to determination by paying homage to the planet in his collection entitled “Genesis”. Reflecting on the evolution of the planet and the relation of humans to species in ecosystems, the collection iterates the narrative of life in a more positive way, illustrating that the destruction of nature he has persistently witnessed, can be reversed.

 

Disheartening and uncomfortable at times, The Salt of the Earth forces its audience to confront images of a brutal, sometimes forgotten past, deconstructing any notion of an idealized, romantic history. The sheer magnetic beauty of Salgado’s images, which capture human suffering so authentically and sit in sharp opposition to the actualities Salgado is portraying, may at times, be perceived to be objectifying human wretchedness by fulfilling a life’s ambition through the degradation of others. Yet Wenders vehemently dispels such notions of objectification, the evidence of deep, psychological suffering experienced by both Salgado and humanity itself, palpably emanating from his deeply effective portraits.

 

The Salt of the Earth is a moving and fascinating, if not a somewhat challenging documentary, which reflects upon interminable human suffering but which is evenly neutralised by paying homage to the beauty of a forgotten past, from a different time and place. While it may not be always easy to engage with the incessant onslaught of human distress, it is a vital and hopeful piece of work, which aims to consider a global history that would rather be forgotten – but by peering into the heart of darkness and pondering upon the destruction of humanity at its own hands, Wenders philosophically questions how and why such darkness persistently keeps reoccurring.

Dee O’Donoghue

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
110 minutes

The Salt of the Earth is released 17th July 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: The President

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DIR: Mohsen Makhmalbaf • WRI: Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Marziyeh Meshkiny • PRO: Maysam Makhmalbaf, Mike Downey, Vladimer Katcharava, Sam Taylor • DOP: Konstantine-Mindia Esadze • ED: Hana Makhmalbaf, Marziyeh Meshkiny • MUS: Guja Burduli, Tajdar Junaid, Daler Nazarov, Kvicha Maglakelidze • CAST: Misha Gomiashvili, Dachi Orvelashvili, Guja Burduli, Ia  Sukhitashvili, Zura Begalishvili

 

Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker and human rights activist Mosen Makhmalbaf’s pioneering thirty-two year career has produced some of the most influential yet controversial films to emerge out of the New Iranian cinema, garnering global critical approbation and innumerable international awards. Predominantly delineating a socio-political commentary on the individual role within Iranian culture as it shifts through political and religious modifications, Makhmalbaf’s revolutionary and didactic films and documentary-style features, in defiance of stringent censorship laws, have provoked retaliation in the form of murder plots, prison spells and bomb attacks, enforcing a self-imposed exile to Britain, where the director has been vociferously critical of the Islamic Republic’s highly factionalised, autocratic regime and remains under continuous threat from the present Iranian government.

 

Inspired by a visit to the Darul Aman Palace in Kabul, the concept for The President emerged from the traumatic ramifications of the pro-democratic Arab Spring risings of late 2010. Makhmalbaf’s twenty-ninth film follows the relationship between a despotic dictator and his naïve grandson, set to inherit the philosophies of an autocratic regime, as they attempt to flee their homeland following a coup d’etat. Set in a fictional country and employing similar themes to Makhmalbaf’s surreal and controversial film, The Gardener (2012), which depicted a father and son’s trip to Israel to assimilate the Baha’I faith and presented two opposing views on religion, The President, similarly delineates two narrative perspectives, that of an imperious oppressor and those of his perceived impotent subjects. As the President’s family flee the country in the wake of military opposition, the royal fugitives are forced to pose as street musicians in an attempt to get to the border, encountering many of the consequences of a destroyed humanity enforced by the sovereign’s barbaric regime.

 

While the plot unfolds in medias res, the potency of The President lies not through a graphic depiction of events leading to civil war but rather, as is customary with Makhmalbaf and Iranian cinema, through a symbolic, poetic realism that converges art, modernity and socio-political analysis. The physical act of unrest becomes a backdrop to the psychological act of exploring profound human interpersonal relationships engulfed in chaotic circumstances that have developed as a result of brutality, subjugation and fear, creating a morally hopeful narrative amidst the palpable suffering of a nation on the brink of absolute annihilation. Casting a direct gaze on the internal wrangling between religious dictatorships and extreme opposition in Middle Eastern nations, the film poses philosophical questions about the nature of oppression, punishment and revenge with profound sympathy and lack of judgment.

 

By predominantly dispensing with the familiar iconography of war and focusing on the individual narratives of war, Makhmalbaf seeks to humanise the construction of monstrosity aligned with dictatorships while subtly, yet highly emotively, portraying its consequences on the individual within a conflicted nation. Denying access to the visual actualities of war and isolating the individual cost on both perpetrator and victim, the film presents a keenly balanced perspective on despotism and its repercussions, challenging the conventional construction of the tyrant ubiquitous in cinema, its sympathy placing the viewer in a predicament. Makhmalbaf unveils a tyrannical face that is not often visible while also erasing the possibility of oversentimental engagement with autocratic iniquity through a pedagogical insight into the political, theological and cultural factors that motivate such tyrannical rule.

 

Makhmalbaf’s allegorical narrative is bolstered by a visual mastery and magnetism that captures the futility, hopelessness and contradictions of torn nations as a mass exodus of displaced refugees wander in vain through vast, bucolic landscapes, dispelled from their homeland. The gleaming opulence of the sovereignty sits in complete opposition to the spiritless desperation of inhumane subjugation yet there sits a deep-rooted beauty in the integrity of the human spirit that beguiles the fallen sovereign in spite of the call to vengeance that would align him with his persecuted victims. Makhmalbaf refrains from idealising a portrait of human anxiety but rather delineates the interchangeability between administering oppression and seeking opportunistic revenge, situating both pacifism and violence as an inherent part of the human condition and the ease with which humanity can oscillate from one to the other, for one’s own end, regardless of socio-political circumstances.

 

While The President is infused with the thought-provoking symbolism and socio-political ideology that is indicative of the eclecticism and reflexivity of the New Iranian cinema and which Makhmalbaf, along with directors such as Beiza’I, Kiarostami, Daryush and Bani-Etemad, repositioned Iranian cinema through a new subversive way of looking inward, there is a sense that much of the director’s work, free from the prying constraints of Islamic censorship, has lost a certain socio-political potency. The westernisation and freedom pervading the film’s narrative transcend the limitations imposed by Iranian censorship laws and, at times, loses some of the symbolic weight previously explored in films such as The Peddler, Gabbeh and Moment of Innocence, pushing its socio-political matter in the face of great restriction. While the film remains a formidable fable that expresses the hopes and anxieties of a nation and views Islamic oppression through an alternative, individual gaze, it is difficult to refrain from considering the poetic and intellectual possibilities The President could have experimentally explored, had Makhmalbaf to consider the same restrictions that informed his most significant post-revolutionary work.

 

   Dee O’Donoghue

118 minutes

The President is released 17th July 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Song of the Sea

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DIR: Tomm Moore • WRI: Will Collins, Tomm Moore • PRO: Claus Toksvig Kjaer, Tomm Moore, Paul Young • ED: Darragh Byrne • MUS: Bruno Coulais • CAST: Brendan Gleeson, Lisa Hannigan, Fionnula Flanagan, David Rawle, Lucy O’Connell

 

Acclaimed Irish filmmaker and illustrator Tomm Moore follows up his first Oscar-nominated feature, medieval fantasy quest The Secret of Kells (2009) with another mythological and magical tale of venture steeped in legend and lore in his second consecutive nominated film, Song of the Sea. Inspired by the mysterious, fabled selkie creatures, who inhabit the land as humans but transform into seals at sea, Moore’s timeless tale, nostalgically delineated in hand-drawn, 2D animation, melds the mystical of yesteryear with a specific time in contemporary Irish culture to create a heartfelt story of origins, home and identity that will resonate with audiences of all ages.

 

Ben lives with his little sister Saoirse and father Conor in a lighthouse off the Irish coast. Their selkie mother returned to the sea six years previously, leaving Ben devastated and his father unable to cope. Troubled Ben grows increasingly resentful of mute Saoirse, who appears to embody the selkie tales told to him by his mother and whom he blames for her abrupt departure. When Saoirse discovers a white sealskin coat she is called to the sea and it is revealed that, she too, is a selkie and swims with the seals until she is washed up ashore, prompting Granny to take the children to the city for their own safety. Yearning to return home, they run away and in their adventurous quest, they encounter a host of mythical characters inhabiting a lost and forgotten world, who either help or hinder their challenging venture to see them safely back to the island.

 

Set in the 1980s and voiced by an all-star Irish cast, including Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lisa Hannigan and Pat Shortt, Song of the Sea is a retrospective celebration of an Irish culture and identity that no longer appears visible in the nation’s ever-changing cultural landscape. Rooted in a particular space and time, depicted through its recognisable pre-Celtic Tiger iconography, unobtrusive Irish symbolism and colloquial expression, the film is a romantic and wistful portrait of a defunct past that evokes a particular cultural mood and serves as a welcoming breath of fresh air in a genre that is wholly engaged with a hyper-sophisticated, CGI platform. The film’s revisionist perspective elicits a deep emotional resonance to a specific cultural identity while also challenging the art of contemporary animation through its bewitching use of a traditional and predominantly redundant means of animation filmmaking. Moore’s hand-drawn, water-coloured aesthetic executes a craftsmanship that stimulates an intimacy, charm and melancholic beauty and which sits in complete opposition to its successor’s craft, so that each frame stands alone as a conventional laboured work of artistry and finesse.

 

A masterful storyteller, Moore’s dreamscape retrospectively entwines a bewitching fantasy of ancient folklore with a heart-warming contemporary narrative to marry the traditional with the new, the fantastic with the real, the joyous with the sinister and the mystical with the cynical. Narratively more accessible and visually more arresting than The Secret of Kells, the classic narrative of attempts to reach home in the face of adversity, driven by a host of recognizable archetypes in possession of traditional Irish values, engenders a nostalgically recognizable milieu that summons a language and behaviour of a bygone era, bringing a sense of wondrous familiarity to the film’s narrative and overall comforting aesthetic. Song of the Sea explicitly embraces its revisionism through its highly conventional narrative, stereotypes and style to commemorate a time when a sense of collective national and cultural identity appeared more clearly defined and resolute. Moore, however, does not glorify an idealised past in blissful amnesia. Shards in the narrative detail dark subtexts infusing a socio-cultural commentary that is fully aware of the past’s own failings. Themes of abandonment, alcoholism, depression, grief and isolation recall metaphorical legends of an ancient past realised through a more conflicted contemporary narrative, creating a vision that is both romantic and discordant but underpinning a sentimentality that is firmly embedded in its Irish identity.

 

Song of the Sea is a magical feast of visual delights, narrative intrigue and nostalgic revisionism that will appeal to the inner child of all ages. It can be viewed as a yearning to return to a familiar past and reclaim a forgotten identity, lost in an ever-increasing chaotic culture, both narratively and within the context of the animation genre. It serves to reinforce a more coherent vision of the past through its use of over-familiar and universal narrative devices, which will effectively resonate with knowing audiences, particularly those familiar with the pre-Celtic Tiger era in Irish culture. Song of the Sea does not seek to dethrone the existing digital prowess dominating the animation genre but rather through revisiting conventional mores within the genre itself it, celebrates a simplistic but highly emotive method of animation filmmaking and a distinctly traditional way of authentic Irish life.

Dee O’Donoghue

PG (See IFCO for details)
93 minutes

Song of the Sea is released 10th July 2015

Song of the Sea – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Jurassic World

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DIR: Colin Trevorrow • WRI: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow • PRO: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley • DOP: John Schwartzman • ED: Kevin Stitt • MUS: Michael Giachinno • DES: Edward Verreaux • CAST: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Judy Greer, Irrfan Khan, BD Wong, Katie McGrath

 

Originally scheduled for production in 2004 but plagued with an onslaught of script complications and scheduling issues common to the movie blockbuster, the fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park series has finally materialised with director Colin Trevorrow at the helm and Spielberg’s wizardry harmonising the mammoth undertaking as executive producer. As the third highest-grossing film of the 1990s, Jurassic Park was extolled for its pioneering, state-of-the-art special effects (if not a dim critical view taken on its light character development), however, the franchise’s two subsequent, undernourished efforts failed to transcend the tension-fuelled visceral thrills of its original, demonstrating the jeopardy in serialising every blockbuster success story. In essence, in a matter of eight years audiences had had more than its fill of imposing, dinosaur-stomping terror and simply moved on.

 

Inheriting a cinematic legacy that provided a digital blueprint for the industry and holding a cherished positioned in popular culture, Jurassic World has to contend with pleasing contemporary audiences who have already corroborated that dinosaurs don’t do it for them anymore, thereby questioning the relevancy of a fourth film, in addition to the increasing audience demand for the excessively bigger and better in this digitally-sophisticated climate. A decade of unstable production worries would suggest that even the digitally-advanced possibilities Jurassic World has to play with, may just not be enough to resurrect the franchise in the hearts and minds of contemporary audiences and Jurassic World is in danger of further staining the cinematic and cultural position held by its iconic original.

 

Twenty-two years have passed since trailblazing John Hammond’s dreams of an international dinosaur theme park were shattered but have now been realised back on Isla Nublar by billionaire benefactor Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan). Run entirely by commercially-driven operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the Jurassic World resort exhibits a spectacular array of dinosaurs of varying species and spellbinding futuristic attractions to keep the twenty thousand daily visitors entertained. Under tremendous pressure to lure the ever-demanding audiences to the park, original InGen geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) pushes the boundaries of scientific innovation to create an original genetically modified hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus rex. Uncertain of its intelligent capabilities, Claire calls in animal behaviour expert and velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to ascertain the safety of the behemoth before its grand unveiling. Just as Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) arrive unannounced and are left to their own devices, the unpredictable Indominus rex escapes, threatening the lives of all on the resort.

 

Narratively continuous to the original film but slightly disregarding its two sequels, Jurassic World is a spectacular rush of furious energy, spellbinding awe and alarming terror from beginning to end. Firmly situating the film in the digital age and benefitting enormously from its dividends, Jurassic World brings a level of mesmeric, adrenaline-fuelled visual wonder combined with a suspenseful yet reassuringly familiar narrative, that has all the hallmarks of a Spielberg/Amblin production in its heyday, which is essentially what Jurassic World aims to achieve. The film’s revisionist and self-reflexive tone displays great deference to its cinematic creator, technically paying homage to its style of filmmaking through an elaborate and intricately detailed production design that employs both animatronics and remarkable CGI effects, to mark the film as technically impressive, narratively nostalgic and culturally relevant again. Jurassic World is all about executing its own ambitiousness on a mammoth scale both narratively and metaphorically, and similar to Jurassic Park delivers at the highest possible technical level. Yet once again, it is not without its obvious narrative concerns.

 

As with the negative critical attention directed at the storyline and character development in the original, Jurassic World is arguably destined for a similar fate. Attempts to flesh out the characters and make them more three-dimensional have only succeeded in creating a host of stereotypes that equally hark back to the 1980s action-adventure film. If a source problem is needed to throw light on the decade-long script production issues, it surely would begin with the film’s regressive leading characters and an evident inability to improve gender stereotypes in the same manner in which they have committed to revising their technical operations. While the narrative unsurprisingly remains firmly entrenched within the boundaries of action-adventure genre, ramping up the ante at every turn with flashes of horror, humour and science, the overriding themes of strong human values specific to the action-adventure remain at the core of Jurassic World once more, if not more clearly defined than in the other three films. The narrative subtexts delineating commercial greed and unethical scientific manipulation appear to predominantly manifest themselves through Claire, who appears to bear the burden of moral responsibility entirely on her shoulders, her ethical awareness only realised once a miraculous transformation into a more submissive role has been assumed.

 

While Christ Pratt fits in solidly to the archetypal action-adventure hero role, meeting character expectations without too much incident but not necessarily all burliness and brawn either, Claire’s transformation from a dehumanised, career-orientated threat to a sexualized, simpering damsel in need of feminizing by Owen, introduces a wholly regressive and misplaced feminine quality in the franchise, that was not made visible by either Laura Dern in the original or Julianne Moore in The Lost World. While the burden of moral responsibility may be seen to be shared by some of the male characters who are positioned as the moral guardians to Hammond’s enterprise, their fates do not allow for this burden to be shared equally and moral reconditioning is positioned firmly at Claire’s door and only made possible through the realisation of her nurturing values, offering reassurance that the whole world has not gone completely mad and traditional roles remain firmly in tact.

 

Gender stereotyping and a formulaic narrative aside, Jurassic World premises itself on the promise that it is both cinematically and culturally relevant by exceeding and executing the same audience expectations that defined and popularised its original film. In a sense, Jurassic World has been crying out for twenty-two years to be revised for the digitally-rich cinematic age, given Jurassic Park’s influence in the industry overall and its current timing seems just about right. Two decades on, the film undoubtedly steps up to its own plate and in keeping with the overall philosophy of the franchise, does it bigger and better, if not narratively weaker. Whether a fifth film needs to be made is one to be mulled over later. For sheer entertainment and thrills, Jurassic World is more than enough for now.

 

   Dee O’Donoghue

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

124 minutes

Jurassic World is released 12th June 2015

Jurassic World – Official Website

 

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Review: The Look of Silence

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DIR: Joshua Oppenheimer • PRO: Signe Byrge Sørensen • DOP: Lars Skree • ED: Nils Pagh Andersen • MUS: Seri Banang, Mana Tahan • CAST: Adi Rukun

 

Oscar-nominated American director Joshua Oppenheimer garnered worldwide attention and great critical acclaim for his profoundly staggering, unnervingly illuminating and visually enthralling 2012 documentary The Act of Killing. Focusing on the Indonesian genocide by paramilitaries and gangsters of an estimated one million perceived Communists between 1965 and ‘66, almost fifty years on, Oppenheimer revisits the cinema-loving perpetrators to re-enact their crimes to camera, as both the administrators and victims of death, in any film genre of their choosing. What unfolds are incredulously bizarre and chilling dramatizations of one of the most horrific systematic mass murders of the twentieth century by the executioners, who as producers and actors of their own scenes, recreate the methods and means of exterminating those victims who conveniently fell outside their political ideologies.

 

Filmed alongside The Act of Killing between 2005-2010 to protect the identities of his subjects from the same people who have remained in Indonesian power, Oppenheimer’s companion piece, The Look of Silence, flips the narrative perspective from the murderers to the victims and follows forty-four year old optometrist Adi’s attempts to unearth the circumstances surrounding his brother Ramli’s brutal execution. Born after Ramli’s murder and bearing witness to his elderly and senile parents subsequent torment as survivors, Adi defies the overriding fear of recrimination prevailing contemporary Indonesia to confront the long chain of responsible perpetrators and interrogate their nebulous motives for his brother’s execution. Supplementing his day job testing the villagers’ eyes, Adi interviews those directly involved in Ramli’s death and as a spectator, indirectly watches his dramatized execution on a television set, in an attempt to comprehend a death that has torn his family apart and silenced a nation for fifty years.

 

While entering the minds of the perpetrators in The Act of Killing was motivated by action, looking at the legacy of genocide through the eyes of its survivors drives The Look of Silence. As he seeks to reconcile a disturbing and silent past, Adi’s collectiveness amidst the abject misery of his quest, delineates a much more slow-paced narrative stripped of visual allure, creating a different type of iciness than its more macabre, surreal and visually magnetic predecessor. By focusing on the legacy of one particular victim’s death through the eyes of his family, not only does Oppenheimer resurrect and give identity to one of genocide’s faceless victims, dehumanized by the incredulous dramatizations in his first film but he also erases any possible engagement with his ‘actors’ performances that are so artificially constructed in The Act of Killing, it can, at times, become all too easy to distance from the horror they are orchestrating or serve to reassure that we are simply nothing like the monsters.

 

That is not to say that The Look of Silence is not equally cognizant of its own simulated reality. The executioners’ awareness of their staged performances within a dramatized framework are also heavily coded in the artifice of cinema and although not as jarring as the action in The Act of Killing, are just as staggeringly torturous and sadistic. The transformation and performance for the cameras, some revelling in showmanship, others agitated at being confronted with the silenced past but all unequivocally refusing to express regret or harbour guilt, creates a simulated reality that sits alongside Adi’s own filming of reality, as his father crawls around the floor in the severe stages of Alzheimer’s disease, unaware of who or where he is, blurring the boundaries between both realities but both motivated and rooted in a genocidal past.

 

The defiance of monstrosity is insistent and persistent, dispelling any counter-challenge to their version of events with a scripted dialogue of denial and assuming the role of actors, echo the carefully constructed sentiments of the post-genocide generation that continues to imbue the nation’s narrative of denial to this day. The prevailing anti-Communist discourse in contemporary Indonesia justifies its past by merely aligning itself with the overall international Communist fear that pervaded the 1960s but by interrogating such justifications from the perspective of witnesses and survivors, Oppenheimer philosophically and objectively debunks this script, amplifying a conversation in contemporary Indonesia that not only has long been long silenced but also been built on lies, fear and deceit.

 

The Look of Silence therefore is an invitation to look at an inaccessible past and assimilate the transgressions of moral boundaries that have shaped its present by challenging the perceptions of those transgressions, which have been continually constructed as normal. As is evident from the two narrative perspectives in both films, Oppenheimer does not condemn the persecutors or shower their victims in sympathy, nor does he reproach his audience for their curiosity in the repulsive. He does however, impel his murderers, his victims and his audiences to confront the acts and legacies of mass human brutality through the simple acts of performing and watching the executional tactics which paralyzed and stained a nation that still refuses to talk.

 

While the The Look of Silence asks to be viewed through different eyes than its predecessor The Act of Killing, both are frighteningly significant films that carry equal weight in ending decades of orchestrated silence that would have otherwise remained unseen and unheard. While the former may not jolt as much as its predecessor owing to its oppressors’ absurd cinematic dramatizations of their own slaughtering methods, it does offer a hopeful platform whereby the existing powers, who persistently depreciate the barbarity of their horrendous crimes, are visibly confronted and challenged, thereby revising an episode they have consistently insisted on devising and narrowing the gulf between the anonymous murderers and the silenced victims of genocide.

 

Dee O’Donoghue

103 minutes

The Look of Silence is released 12th June 2015

 

The Look of Silence  – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Danny Collins

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

   Dee O’Donoghue

 

15A (See IFCO for details)

106 minutes

Danny Collins is released 29th May 2015

 

Danny Collins – Official Website

 

 

 

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