Review: X-Men Apocalypse

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DIR: Bryan Singer • WRI: Simon Kinberg • PRO: Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer • DOP: Newton Thomas Sigel • ED: Michael Louis Hill, John Ottman • MUS: John Ottman • DES: Grant Major • CAST: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence

The 2016 box office has been abundant with success. Much of that is thanks to receipts from this year’s superhero blockbusters. Whether they have been panned by the critics or celebrated, this genre does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Sure it’s more about spectacle than character, action over logic, but we go to the movies to be entertained, and they deliver on that, right? Unfortunately, the superhero movie is a body of films that feels obliged to stay true to its (comic book or movie predecessor) roots while still trying to offer something fresh. Oftentimes, this has a hit-and-miss result. Thus for every witty Deadpool and thrilling Captain America: Civil War, there is a so-so contribution to the saga. Now, onto X-Men Apocalypse

We are dropped into the heart of the action and visual splendour that one expects in the film from the very opening scene, set in (an unbelievably pristine) Ancient Egypt. Here we are introduced to our villain Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac – Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who is worshipped as a god there. However, a rebellion by the locals causes him to be buried under ground, where he will be trapped for the next thousand years. Flashing forward to the 1980s, we then observe Erik a.k.a. Magneto (Michael Fassbender, flawless as ever) living out his new and humble life as a smelter, keeping his mutant powers a secret. His abode is an idyllic countryside house where he lives with his wife and young daughter. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier (the lovely James McAvoy) continues to run his school for mutants and expresses enthusiastic plans to develop a university for mutants also.

In another storyline, Raven, otherwise known as Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), does her part in protecting mutant-kind by discovering mutant prisoners around the globe and setting them free. Though all three are living separate lives and their futures seem to be going in different directions, the return of Apocalypse will force Xavier and Raven to work together when he enlists Magneto and three other mutants – Storm (Alexandra Shipp – Straight Outta Compton), Angel (Ben Hardy – Eastenders), and Psylocke (Olivia Munn – Magic Mike) – to help him rule the world.

Obviously, there are a lot of storylines and characters going on here, and this isn’t even getting into the return of Moira McTaggart (Rose Bryne), or Xavier’s new students (Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers/Cyclops and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler) who stand in as the young versions of the characters who featured in the original X-Men films.

In fairness to Bryan Singer though, who knows this world inside and out having already directed X-Men, X2 and Days of Future Past, he manages to maintain a comprehensive layout, giving each arc attention and appeal so there is never a dull moment or character. The exception to this may be the new Jean Grey, who spends much of her time being grumpy, pouting, or looking helpless. Turner struggles to pull off the enigmatic and hard-core persona that Famke Janssen originally brought to the role.

A particularly impressive accomplishment of the director’s is a slo-mo sequence involving Quicksilver, played charismatically by Evan Peters. A similar sequence involving the character also marked one of the highlights of Days of Future Past. The scene here in Apocalypse is in equal parts amusing and exhilarating.

Perhaps because the film had so much narrative to work through and characters to give the spotlight to, the end of film feels like the story has exhausted itself. The final action sequence goes off with a whimper, not a bang, and lacks the energy the rest of the movie had. While there is nothing wrong with being ambitious and diversified in one’s approach, the problem here is that oftentimes the film feels simply like it is trying to hit as many targets as it can, hoping something sticks. It forces the introduction of a number of new characters when there is still much development to be had from ones we already know, and who, let’s face it, see performances from talented actors that the producers are lucky to have. McAvoy and Fassbender as the top ranked characters will surely eventually get sick of this backwards and forwards nature of the characters they play, which never sees them actually progress into something new and exciting. If this sixth instalment is not the apocalypse to the X-Men universe, then maybe it should be.

 Deirdre Molumby

12A (See IFCO for details)

143 minutes

X-Men Apocalypse is released 20th May 2016

X-Men Apocalypse – Official Website

 

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Review: Mustang

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DIR: Deniz Gamze Ergüven • WRI: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour • PRO: Charles Gillibert DOP: David Chizallet, Ersin Gok • ED: Mathilde Van de Moortel • DES: Turker Isci • MUS: Warren Ellis • CAST: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu

Mustang was praised and celebrated while doing the festival circuit last year. It won the Lux prize, the Europa Cinemas Label Award, and a number of César (French film) awards as well as earning Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. This weekend sees its highly-anticipated release in Irish cinemas. The debut feature of Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven follows a group of five young orphaned sisters who differ in personalities but share a love of life and steely determination. They struggle to retain their freedom in a remote, conservative and heavily patriarchal village in northern Turkey.

The film opens on the girls’ last day of school. After classes end, the sisters go to the beach with a group of boys from their class. Though their play with the boys is innocent, they are beaten by their adopted grandmother when they get home and accused of causing a scandal.

Their uncle Errol, upon hearing of their behaviour, is enraged, and from then on the girls are forbidden to leave the house. Their phones, computers and all other distractions are taken away from them. Isolated from their friends and the world outside, the girls have only one another for support and comfort. Since they are no longer allowed to go to school, the girls are instead taught to be suitable housewives, with local women coming to their house to make them new brown, shapeless clothes, and to teach them how to cook, clean and sew. The youngest sister, Lale (Günes Sensoy), whose perspective guides the audience through the story, describes their home as having been turned into a ‘wife factory’ and it would seem the girls’ fate is sealed. However, the sisters refuse to give up their freedom without a fight, and their individual rebellions have various consequences. Though young in age, the choices they make now will determine the course of their lives.

With its themes of young, female rebellion (supported by the film’s tagline of ‘Their Spirit Would Never Be Broken’) and development into womanhood, the tone of the film resonates strongly with films like The Virgin Suicides and Girl, Interrupted. The young women that make up the cast, the other actresses aside from Sensoy being Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, and Ilayda Akdogan, are exceptionally talented and carry the weight of this highly emotional story with grace. The audience is brought on an emotional roller coaster with the five leads as they alternately sympathise with the sisters’ suffering, empathise with their frustration, celebrate their accomplishments, and sombrely fear for their futures.

The close and loving relationship between them is beautifully and touchingly captured by the cinematographers David Chizallet and Ersin Gok’s unique visual style. The performances by the girls’ grandmother, played by Nihal Koldaş, and their cruel uncle Errol, played by Ayberk Pekcan, are also strong. Burak Yigit in the role of Yasin, who Lale befriends in the course of the film, is another welcome addition to the cast. Warren Ellis’ score (the Australian composer is known for his soundtracks with Nick Cave for films like The Road and The Assassination of Jesse James) is highly emotive and sensitively complements the narrative.

The story of Mustang is dramatic and compelling as we are never really sure of what the fates of the young women will be. The plot pacing never falters, and at a running length of only ninety minutes, its ability to pull the audience into the world and align them with the characters with such immediacy and poignancy is impressive. Enrapturing and moving, Mustang marks a self-assured and potent debut for director-writer Gamze Ergüven. It is exciting to think of what she will do next.

Deirdre Molumby

97 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Mustang is released 13th May 2016

Mustang – Official Website

 

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Review: Bastille Day

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DIR: James Watkins • WRI: Andrew Baldwin •  PRO: Bard Dorros, Fabrice Gianfermi, Steve Golin, Philippe Rousselet • DOP: Tim Maurice-Jones • ED: Jon Harris • DES: Paul Kirby • MUS: Alex Heffes • CAST: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Kelly Reilly

Bastille Day follows two protagonists whose worlds of thievery and espionage unintentionally collide. The first we are introduced to, anti-hero Michael Mason (Richard Madden – GOT, Cinderella), is a proficient pickpocket, as smooth at chatting up the ladies as he is at stealing their valuables (If Taken taught us anything, it’s don’t go to Europe – you’ll be taken. If Bastille Day teaches anything, it’s don’t go to Europe – your stuff will be taken). The character’s origins are a mystery to us, though we do learn that he doesn’t plan on going home, where he has been charged with several accounts of fraud, anytime soon. Michael’s activities soon catch up to him when he steals a bag, not realising there is a bomb in it, and disposes of it in the streets, soon after which, the bomb goes off.

Though he is innocent, and simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, Michael prepares to flee but not before he is chased and captured by Sean Briar (Idris Elba – Luther, Beasts of no Nation), a ‘reckless, irresponsible’ and insubordinate CIA agent who would be fired from his position only that he ‘gets the job done’. Sean believes that Michael didn’t plant the bomb, and when he loses the backing of the CIA in pursuit of the real criminal, he has only Michael to help him unlock the conspiracy.

The stakes are high because the bomb went off in the days leading up to the country’s major holiday, Bastille Day. This coupled by the fact that there are ongoing public protests across the country leads the CIA and French homeland security to believe that a terrorist attack in Paris could be forthcoming. The city is put on high alert but the state refuses to cancel the national holiday. Thus between the ‘unlikely, multiracial duo’ pairing and this subplot, Bastille Day reeks of American patriotism (in that the CIA must save the day) and Hollywood clichés. The head of homeland security (played by José Garcia) even compares France’s situation to the States: ‘The Americans wouldn’t cancel Independence Day, would they?’

Our leads deliver expectedly good performances from two fine actors who are quickly establishing themselves in the film industry as well in television drama. Richard Madden pulls off the charisma and smarts of his character Michael with ease, to which Elba offers his cool-as-cucumber counterpart. In fact, Elba is almost a little too cool as Agent Briar. At times, one feels like he isn’t really putting all he can into the role, and, given how high in demand the Golden Globe-winning actor is right now, one wouldn’t be surprised if the actor knows this is just an OK film, and is having fun doing it, but is also reminding himself of how it won’t be long until he gets back to gritty drama – the good stuff.

With its themes of espionage and terrorism, and plot-twisting betrayals and secret identities, this is a fairly by-the-numbers American action flick. The film even has an obligatory rooftop chase sequence, which provides one of its most thrilling sequences, some female nudity (a young naked French woman parades across the screen within the first couple of minutes) and a few standard plot holes, for example, when Michael accidentally drops his backpack on the roof, one questions why he didn’t just put the bag on his back?

In any case, if you’re looking for some quick, adrenaline-pumped entertainment – and clocking in at ninety minutes, it welcomingly abstains from a gratuitous running time – Bastille Day fits the bill.

Deirdre Molumby

91 minutes

15A (See IFCO for details)

Bastille Day is released 22nd April 2016

 

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Review: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

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DIR: Kirk Jones • WRI: Nia Vardalos • PRO: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson • DOP: Jim Denault • ED: Mark Czyzewski • DES: Gregory P. Keen • MUS: Christopher Lennertz • CAST: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine

For those unfamiliar with the original, My Big Fat Greek Wedding follows a Greek woman in her thirties struggling to break free from her traditionalist family. The romantic comedy saw surprising popularity and welcome success when it was released in 2002. Its long awaited follow-up, while flawed, is great for a light, fun-filled, girly movie outing.

The close-knit but often overbearing Portokalos family – which spans across uncles, aunts, parents, grandparents, children and cousins – returns in triumph with its members as funny and loveable as ever. In this film, matriarch Maria (Lainie Kazan) and patriarch Gus (Michael Constantine) discover their marriage contract was never signed and, therefore, they are not legally wed. The couple begin a feud which can only be resolved through the organisation of – you’ve guessed it – another big fat Greek wedding.

Nia Vardalos, who also penned this film and its predecessor (as well as the TV series, My Big Fat Greek Life, which came in between), returns as Toula. Toula is the daughter of Maria and Gus, and was the bride-to-be in the first movie. While in the prequel, she struggled to get a job away from the family restaurant Dancing Zorba’s, to break free from her Greek heritage, and to gain independence from her overbearing parents, here Toula has evidently come to totally embrace her irrepressible family and quirky but wholesome culture. Although her father initially hesitated to accept her non-Greek fiancé, Ian (John Corbett – Sex and the City), the two are now happily married and have a seventeen year old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), who Gus now turns his attentions to settling down with ‘a nice Greek boy’, much to Paris’ and Toula’s distress.

In fact, while Toula makes out that she is less ‘extreme’ and more modern than the rest of her clan, it becomes quickly apparent that she can be just as overbearing in her over-protective attitude towards Paris. Toula is still the klutz we know and love but now, middle-aged, she finds herself faced with different problems, such as taking care of her increasingly immobile father, taking care of Paris, who faces the daunting task of choosing a college to go to after graduation, and trying to reignite passion into her marriage with Ian.

Those who weren’t fans of the first will find little of interest here but those who have been won over by the Portokalos household will find this return to the gang delightful. John Corbett gives another sweet and charming turn as loyal husband Ian, while Andrea Martin goes all-out in this second round as Aunt Voula, even funnier and more outrageous than she was before. Elena Kampouris is a welcome addition to the cast, and there is a role for everyone in the expansive family to play, no part feeling spare.

While it can be a little slapstick-y, Nia Vardolos puts such discernible, infectious love into her work (both in performing the role and writing the screenplay) that it is a pleasure to watch. The hilarity of everyday life and the madness of extended families are tactfully captured. Comedy-wise, however, its jokes can be hit-and-miss.

Deirdre Molumby

93 minutes

12A (See IFCO for details)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is released 25th March 2016

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2  – Official Website

 

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Video Interview: ‘Sing Street’ Actor Jack Reynor and Director John Carney

 

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Sing Street takes us back to 1980s Dublin where an economic recession forces Conor out of his comfortable private school and into survival mode at the inner-city public school where the kids are rough and the teachers are rougher. He finds a glimmer of hope in the mysterious and über-cool Raphina, and with the aim of winning her heart he invites her to star in his band’s music videos. She agrees, and now Conor must deliver what he’s promised – calling himself “Cosmo” and immersing himself in the vibrant rock music trends of the ‘80s, he forms a band with a few lads, and the group pours their hearts into writing lyrics and shooting videos.

Deirdre Molumby talks to actor Jack Reynor about his role in the film as Cosmo’s older brother and music mentor. Jack also chats about keeping one foot in Irish film and the other in Hollywood, and his upcoming role in Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture.
 

 

Deirdre also spoke to John Carney, the film’s director, about returning to Dublin to film after Begin Again, making modern-day musicals and making a period film.
 

 

You can download/listen to an audio podcast of the interview with Jack Reynor below
 

 

You can download/listen to an audio podcast of the interview with John Carney below:
 

 

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ADIFF Irish Film Review: Viva

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Deirdre Molumby headed along to Paddy Breathnach’s Viva, which closed this year’s Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

This year, the Audi Dublin International Film Festival closed with the Cuban-shot Irish-produced feature Viva. The screening had generated great anticipation as Viva was one of nine films shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, and it received critical acclaim at the prestigious Telluride Film Festival last September. Viva also won the Dublin Film Festival’s AUDI-ence award.

Set in Havana and directed by Paddy Breathnach (I Went Down, Shrooms, Man About Dog), Viva follows an eighteen year old named Jesus (newcomer Héctor Medina) who works as a hairdresser and make-up artist for drag performers at a local night club. With his mother deceased and his father in prison, the sweet-natured Jesus makes just enough of a living that he can maintain his humble flat but he dreams of playing a bigger role in the club – performing on stage as a drag act. When one of the show’s lead performers abruptly walks out, auditions are held for a replacement and Jesus gets his chance to shine. However, he is young and inexperienced, and is criticised by his mentor, another performer named Mama (Luis Alberto García), for not delivering feeling on the stage. But Jesus soon has something much bigger to worry about. His father, Angel (Jorge Perugorría), returns from prison, and is determined that Jesus will not perform.

At one point, Angel describes Havana as ‘the most beautiful slum in the world’, and indeed the film paints a beautiful portrait of the city. At the ADIFF screening, star of the film Luis Alberto García, who plays Mama, said the film ‘gave a dignity to poverty’, and this context is very much visible in the film as well. The world is both accessible and welcoming through its smart screenplay and colourfully drawn characters. It is also a relief that while the drag performers are fun and vibrant, they never become silly caricatures as one would see on something like TV reality show Rupaul’s Drag Race. In Alberto García, Héctor Medina and Jorge Perugorría, we get three strong performances and engrossing characters that keep the audience on their toes as their contrasting wills battle out.

Mark O’Halloran’s previous screenwriting credits include Adam & Paul and Garage, two critically acclaimed features directed by Lenny Abrahamson which did wonders for both their careers. Here, O’Halloran again looks at marginalised figures in society and exercises the minimalism he demonstrated in his previous work in this film also. Very little actually happens in Viva and there is a tangible sense of realism in this. We are given a real insight into the place, its characters, and are granted a much more satisfying cinematic experience which opposes escapist fantasy as a result.

At heart, Viva is an age old story about being true to oneself. But with its talented cast, stunning Cuban backdrop, and slowly enrapturing screenplay, it is one with a difference.

 

Viva screened on 28thFebruary 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 – 28 February)

 

 

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Review: Zoolander 2

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DIR: Tim Miller • WRI: Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, Nicholas Stoller, John Hamburg • PRO: Stuart Cornfeld, Scott Rudin, Ben Stiller, Clayton Townsend • DOP: Daniel Mindel • ED: Greg Hayden • DES: Jeff Mann • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • CAST: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz

Zoolander for me has been everything I love in a comedy. It’s hilarious, well-written, re-watchable, quotable, and sometimes downright ridiculous but also bitingly satirical. I never saw the film in the cinema but was introduced to it by friends who had rented it out (After flopping at the box office, it was through movie rentals that the film developed a cult following). They were quoting catchphrases from Brint, Meekus, Mugatu and others to the point of irritability. Thus, I had to find out who Derek Zoolander was. Re-watching the film earlier this week, I found myself charmed and in stitches laughing just like the first time I saw the film. As I sat down to watch the sequel on the big screen a couple of days ago, I was filled with anticipation. Unfortunately, as I left the cinema, I found myself filled with bitter disappointment.

Zoolander 2 kicks off a decade and a half after its predecessor. Once the world’s top fashion model, Derek (Ben Stiller) is now living in isolation, a ‘hermit crab’ far away from society after a family tragedy and subsequent media disgrace. Hansel (Owen Wilson), Derek’s once main competition and later best friend, has also chosen a sedentary lifestyle after an accident caused by Derek led to a horrible face disfigurement. Both are invited to model in an elite fashion show in Rome run by the world famous designer Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) but soon become involved, much like the first film, in a far greater conspiracy than either of their sweet-natured but simple minds can handle. Derek is also determined to reunite with his son, Derek Junior (Cyrus Arnold), who has been placed in an orphanage which is, by strange coincidence, in Rome too.

Zoolander 2 delivers everything you loved from the first one. Therein lies its main problem: it is essentially a copy of the first film (and I don’t know if anyone else thought this, but I found that seriously frustrating about Star Wars: The Force Awakens as well…). The jokes are repeated and the storylines are rehashed, and not in a witty, self-referential way as say Mike Myers did with the Austin Powers franchise. Here it feels like Stiller (who directed and co-wrote both films) is simply being lazy and cashing in by reusing the same material that proved successful before.

And that’s not all – a great deal of the charm from the first film is gone. In trying to mature Derek and Hansel as characters, what the writers give us are cliché struggling father figures who occasionally deliver a line that remind us that they’ve still got their dim-witted ‘charisma’… Will Ferrell’s Mugatu makes a welcome appearance but he is severely underused and is only given the chance to shine near the very end of the film. Wiig hasn’t anything amusing or interesting to do with her character; an opportunity to update the first film’s satire of the fashion industry feels sorely missed here. The better roles can be found in Interpol global fashion division agent Valentina, which sees a smart and surprisingly funny turn from Penelope Cruz, while Cyrus Arnold is a delight as Derek Junior. This kid could have a serious career in comedy.

Finally, there are the cameos. Just as the first Zoolander featured some great celeb appearances from names like Billy Zane, Paris Hilton, Natalie Portman, Gwen Stefani, and the brilliant David Bowie, Zoolander 2 continues the tradition and boasts an even longer list of  musicians and film stars playing themselves. In fairness, these cameos are pretty hilarious but, again, one gets the sense that there is an over-reliance on them.

Fans of the first Zoolander will enjoy Zoolander 2 as there are a number of laugh-out-loud moments. But it will also surely rise to the top of the pile of those films disregarded and discarded where the original was infinitely better…

Deirdre Molumby

12A (See IFCO for details)

 101 minutes

Zoolander 2 is released 12th February 2016

Zoolander 2 – Official Website

 

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