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

 

Jack Renor

 

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:
 

 

Keep up to date with the latest Film Ireland Podcasts:

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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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Review: Deadpool

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DIR: Tim Miller • WRI: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick • PRO: Simon Kinberg, Stan Lee, Lauren Shuler Donner • DOP: Ken Seng • ED: Julian Clarke • DES: Sean Haworth • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Morena Baccarin, Ryan Reynolds, Gina Carano

Following in the steps of Chris Evans upgrading his superhero persona, Ryan Reynolds has abandoned the green suit of Green Lantern for red and black spandex ‘so his enemies won’t see him bleed.’ If that sounds macabre, Deadpool slash alter-ego Wade Wilson is, but he has several other qualities to make up for this such as cockiness, cheekiness and explicit crudeness. Reynolds (literally) kills in the superhero/villain role and has never seemed so comfortable as he does in a super tight one-piece. Does the long-anticipated film disappoint? Well, if you enjoy your humour, violence and action served in near equal doses, then Deadpool is the film for you.

As a mercenary, Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is ‘just a bad guy who gets paid to beat up worse guys.’ Because of his job, Wade keeps little company other than bar tender friend Weasel (T.J. Miller), that is, until he meets a beautiful escort named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) whom he soon falls for and moves in with.

Without giving anything significant away, Wade is talked into subjecting himself to experimentation which, he is told, will make him all-powerful. Wade thus becomes a mutant with self-healing powers and enhanced strength and agility, but also deformed skin. After he escapes the laboratory, he becomes a vigilante and vows to take revenge against those who tortured him: Ajax (Ed Skrein) and his accomplice Angel Dust (Gina Carano).

With such a storyline, Deadpool is fairly by the numbers. It finds particular resonance with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is interesting given that Reynolds first appeared as Deadpool in that film. However, the character has been significantly rewritten here – in fact, superhero fans have been waiting for over ten years for Deadpool to hit screens as the project hit various development and writing issues from the mid-noughties. In spite of such hindrances, the wit of Reynolds in the leading role and direct-to-audience address, biting self-references, and restructured narrative structure sets the superhero movie apart from others of the genre.

Based in the X-Men universe, the movie also features appearances from mutants Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and the moody, ambiguous Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). While these and other supporting characters, particularly Weasel, are fun and entertaining, this show is all about Deadpool. Having waited so long to act the part, Reynolds takes an infectious delight in playing the sardonic egotist.

From its opening slow-motion car chase sequence, Deadpool is as full of back talk, action and violence as promised by its 16s (or R) rating, and its many TV spots and trailers. Speaking of, a potential point of criticism for Deadpool is its overt marketing campaign, which has included the release of several versions of trailers for the film. The film delivers exactly what it says on the tin, but the plot could have benefitted from a few more surprises.

Still, Tim Miller delivers a feat for his directorial debut, and on the superhero movie rating scale – which we can safely say has certainly had its ups and downs – Deadpool is pretty fresh.

Deirdre Molumby

 16 (See IFCO for details)

 107 minutes

Deadpool is released 12th February 2016

Deadpool – Official Website

 

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Review: The Survivalist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deirdre Molumby

 18 (See IFCO for details)

 103 minutes

The Survivalist is released 12th February 2016

The Survivalist – Official Website

 

 

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Review: The Assassin

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

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

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

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

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

Deirdre Molumby

12A
105 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Assassin is released 22nd January 2016

 

 

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Interview: Tommy Palotta, co-Director of ‘Last Hijack’

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Last Hijack tells the true story of a Somalian pirate torn between an exciting life of crime and family commitments. The documentary utilises animation to reveal how Mohamed came to this way of life. His hopes and fears for the present and future are eloquently captured in the film’s unique look. Last Hijack also reveals the wider-reaching implications of Mohamed’s activities on his family and community, while the political implications of piracy in Somalia are also delved into.

Now that Mohamed is engaged, both his parents and in-laws are pressuring him to change his ways and settle down into marriage and family life. Mohamed is not entirely sure that this is what he wants, but time is ticking by, and he must decide whether he is willing to risk it all for the thrill of one last hijack.

The visually striking and highly original hybrid documentary was co-directed by Tommy Palotta and Femke Wolting. Deirdre Molumby spoke with Palotta about conceptualising and realising this unique project.

 

Palotta originally started thinking about the film after reading an article about the most underreported and censored stories in the media today. ‘I knew very little about Somalia, the illegal fishing and dumping there, and realised I’d never really been exposed to the non-western perspective of the place. I started thinking about what we know about ‘pirates’ and how they’ve been such enduringly iconic figures over the ages, and I was also interested in what would drive a person to that way of life. The more I researched it the more I became interested in not only pirates but the situation in Somalia specifically.’

Palotta and co-director Femke Wolting had often experimented with various forms of media across their careers, finding that they offer a wealth of possibilities in terms of storytelling.  ‘My partner Femke came up with the idea of making Last Hijack a hybrid, which was our vision for the film from a very early stage. We also decided in the very beginning that it wasn’t going to just be a film but there would be an interactive documentary portion to it also, so there’s that aspect of it as well, which is available on www.lasthijack.com. The film portion of Last Hijack is quite traditional, taking the Somalian point of view, whereas the interactive documentary is the broader story and wider objective view, showing the geo-political and global ramifications of what is happening there.’

As one would expect from the subject matter alone, one of Palotta’s greatest difficulties in making the film was access. However, by focussing on the personal life and relationships of one pirate in particular, Mohamed, Palotta found that not only were more doors opened, but a focussed storyline developed that was orientated around this particular individual.

‘Anytime you embark on a project like this you do a lot of preparation, a lot of research, you have a particular vision for it, and then it becomes something very different along the way. To turn this complex project into a simpler story that would work in a film, we focussed on the subject of Somalian piracy, and started to work on a number of questions: what would I need to survive? What conditions does it take to have the moxie to take a small fishing vessel and try to take over a huge cargo ship? Those sort of questions really hooked me into what the film could be. As we were making the film, it changed as we realised that the window to the story was the central father-son relationship [between the lead, Mohammad, and his dad], and the father’s desire to save his son. Witnessing the collateral damage of piracy within this community and culture was another way in which the story evolved.’

Mohamed is one of Somalia’s most experienced pirates. The country is the worldwide capital of piracy: ‘Somalia is a failed state, it has had no central state of government for over twenty years, so, as much as the piracy angle interested me, the political situation in Somalia specifically was also very intriguing. I was interested in what happens to a society with no central government.’ While piracy was once admired as a means of making ends meet, now Somali pirates face increasing scrutiny and stigmatization both at home and abroad: ‘people idolised the pirates and then suddenly turned against them at the same time that the political situation in Somalia got worse.’

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The animated sequences of the film serve to recreate past hijackings and other memories of Mohamed’s. Through experimentation, Palotta found that ‘the animation could really provoke an emotion, capturing dreams and aspirations, and hopes and fears, in the way that voiceover aims at in fiction film, or how a novelist works in first-person narrative. It worked so well as a window to tell more about the characters, and it also liberated us from the shackles of the formal notion of documentary filmmaking.

‘I never really cared about how animation looked. I was always interested in how it told a story. So I never really know the rules, I just want to make something new. I’ve found that people really respond to new forms of storytelling and open up their minds to them.

‘The film goes in and out of animation sequences at about twelve different points in the movie, and the challenge was not make it feel like it was stopping and starting, but that there was a flow to these transitions. With the live action and animation respectively, we found this relationship between objective and subjective emerged. Film is really good at showing perspective in that way.’

Knowing that they had an interesting story, and that the way they wanted to tell it (namely from a Somalian perspective and as a hybrid) made it even more interesting, Palotta and Wolting went about pitching Last Hijack it to a number of international film companies. The Irish Film Board became the first financiers on board, which encouraged other backers to soon follow suit. Aware of Ireland’s history of successful animation and creative talent, Palotta approached a number of production companies under the guidance of Irish co-producer Still Films, eventually settling on post-house Piranha Bar: ‘You look for a collaborator who has the talent but also one who you can communicate with and will support you even if you’re not sure what the final product will be.’

For the animated sequences, painted backgrounds of oil paint on real canvases established a colour scheme, lighting, atmosphere and texture for the 3D world built around the backdrops. ‘We made the job much more difficult for the animators in that they had to match the setting and tone of these oil paintings. With oil paintings from far away it looks realistic but up close you can see the brush strokes and mistakes, and I loved the way that was used in the final movie. I love that the lines aren’t straight and the colours aren’t perfect. That’s what’s pleasant to my eye.’

Palotta and his team searched for a year and a half for their lead. ‘Mohamed was unique in that he had no intentions of leaving Somalia so he was able to speak very openly about it. From the very beginning I knew that he was a bit of a trickster and I thought that that was interesting because I didn’t know where he was coming from or what he was going to do. He has charm but there is also a bit of a dark side to him as well. I think they’re all characteristics that make a really interesting central character.

‘We learned that unlike with others, Mohamed isn’t doing this just for survival. His father makes it clear that he had other options, that this was his choice, which evades the idea of Mohamed as this ‘Robin Hood’ type figure. I didn’t find Mohamed sympathetic but I did sympathise with the father’s plight to save him from that lifestyle, and with the others in Mohamed’s family and community who were affected by his lifestyle. The ultimate question of the story becomes is he going to make the right choice.’

Final thoughts? ‘When you make a film like this, especially when it takes a long time to make them, it’s so great to get it out and get an engagement with an audience. I always want as many people to see the film as possible but it can be hard to get people’s attention because there’s so much content now. But there is an audience out there. Like having a child, these films have a life of their own later on. I’ve been very fortunate in that the movies that I made in the past were never really ‘mainstream’ when they came out and weren’t widely viewed, but they have a sort of evergreen quality about them and actually their profiles have risen over the years. You can’t compete against Star Wars, there’s so much noise there, but with the advent of VOD and other platforms, we can see that people don’t just want Hollywood but also real stories, and they’re searching for that hidden intimacy that you’re not going to get with the big budget productions. At the end of the day, sometimes you just want to connect to humanity.’

 

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Review: Daddy’s Home

daddys-home

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

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

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

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

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

Deirdre Molumby

12A
96 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Daddy’s Home is released 26th December 2015

Daddy’s Home – Official Website

 

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Report: Kinopolis 2015 – 10th edition Polish Film Festival

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Deirdre Molumby went along to taste some of the delights at this year’s IFI Kinopolis Festival.

The first week in December saw the open and closing of the 10th edition of IFI’s Polish Film Festival: Kinopolis. This year’s festival was one of the best attended yet with almost 900 tickets sold at over six events. The four day-long event (3-6 December) opened with the Dublin premiere of 11 Minutes [above], directed by Jerzy Skolimowski (who previously directed Essential Killing). The Polish-Irish co-production (which was shot partly in Dublin and co-stars Richard Dormer) follows eleven minutes from the perspective of a number of protagonists – a drug dealer, an actress, a teenager, a window washer, a hot dog vendor and others. The thriller competed for the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival and is this year’s Polish candidate for the Best Film in a Foreign Language Oscar. At the Gdynia Film Festival (which is dedicated to Polish cinema), it won for ‘originality of concept’, editing, and music.

Karbala (1)

The following day saw the screening of war film Karbala [above] (directed by Krzysztof Lukaszewicz), set during the Persian Gulf and relating a story about a Polish-Bulgarian faction who are held under siege by Iraqi fanatics. The army division comes under great physical and psychological strain in this exciting and emotional drama. The next day of the event (Saturday 5th December) saw the screening of two very different but equally engaging films. Chemo (dir. Bartosz Prokopowicz) follows Lena (Agnieszka Zulewska), who has Stage 3 cancer. She seduces Benek (Tomasz Schuchardt) who falls in love with her and convinces her to marry him. When Lena becomes pregnant, she gains new perspectives on life and death which have a great toll on both her and her new husband. The art-house film provides beautiful images and moments, but its harrowing content makes the film quite difficult to watch at times. Inspired by the fight of the director’s own wife against cancer, Chemo is an important visual realisation of the unrelenting disease.

On Saturday evening, Anatomy of Evil (dir. Jacek Bromski) was screened. The Polish gangster film is about a professional assassin known as Lulek (Krzysztof Stroinski) who is ordered to kill the commander of the Central Bureau of Investigation. Lulek is on parole, but he is guaranteed cash, a clearing of his records, and a passport to leave the country if he carries out the job. He hires a young sniper who was unfairly discharged from the army to help him. The screening was followed by a Q&A with lead actor Krzysztof Stroinski, who won Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 40th Gdynia Film Festival. Stroinski talked about his work, acting techniques and the socio-political context of Anatomy of Evil among other topics to an enthusiastic audience at the session.

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The last day of the festival saw something for the kids in an afternoon screening of short films and episodes from Hip-Hip and Hurray, Mami Fatale and Jim and Screw. The screening saw great fun and laughter for young and old as Hip-Hip and Hurray , a pink hippo and purple weasel detective, solved puzzles, while Mami Fatale [above] was about an elderly woman preparing meals and playing games with her pets Psina (Doggie) and Prosie (Piggie). Jim and Screw sees two boys use their imagination to turn everyday life into an extraordinary fairytale adventure.

The final screening of the festival was Body (directed by Malgorzata Szumowska), a multi-award winner having garnered the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for Direction, Best Film at the ‘Al Este De Lima’ Film Festival in Peru, and the Golden Lion at the Gdynia Festival. The black comedy follows a prosecutor (Janusz Gajos) working in Warsaw who is so preoccupied with his job that he neglects his daughter, Olga (Justyna Suwala). One day, he finds Olga, who is suffering from bulimia, unconscious in their bathroom and has her hospitalised. Olga’s therapist, Anna (Maja Ostaszewska), then tells the man and his daughter that she has a message for them from her deceased mother. Body features knock-out performances from its three protagonists, and its quirky sense of humour is smart and highly original.

Kinopolis 2015 was a great success, providing a significant connection to the national cinema for Polish audiences and an intelligent and entertaining perspective on Polish cinema for Irish audiences and others. Kevin Coyne, IFI Cinema Programmer, said: ‘The IFI is delighted to once again have had the opportunity to present, in association with Kinopolis, the very best of new Polish cinema. A close relationship has formed between our two countries in recent years, as was reflected in the screenings being so well attended by both Irish and Polish audiences. We look forward to building on the success of this year’s festival in future editions.’

Sabina Wasik of Kinopolis said: ‘We are delighted that the IFI again became the home of a Polish film feast. The tenth edition of Kinopolis, with the programme full of brand new Polish cinema, received a great response from the audience – both Polish and international. It was really moving to hear Irish viewers say “thank you for organising this festival.”

 

The IFI Kinopolis Festival ran 3 – 6 December 2015

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Book Review: Ireland and Cinema: Culture and Contexts

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Deirdre Molumby takes a look at Ireland and Cinema: Culture and Contexts, which offers a broad range of academic approaches to contemporary and historical Irish filmmaking and representations of nationality, national identity, and theoretical questions around the construction of Ireland and Irishness on the screen. The volume is edited by Barry Monahan, College Lecturer at University College Cork in Film Studies.

Initially it would seem that Ireland and Cinema: Culture and Contexts has chosen a vague, all-encapsulating title to sew together its disparate and broad range of content. Fortunately, this breadth is the book’s strength, and whether one’s interest is in Irish cinema or in a broader field of study – gender, politics, and international perspectives seem to feed into most of the individual essay’s subject matter – there is accessible reading and scholarly provocation for all. What Ireland and Cinema achieves most impressively is its capturing of this present, unique moment in the field of Irish film studies in which the work of a number of impressive new scholars is gathering momentum. Reference is made to what has come before, the excitement of what is occurring in academia right now is captured, and the anticipation of what is to come is evoked.

The foreword, entitled ‘Irish National Cinema – What Have We Wrought? Contemporary Thoughts on a Recent History’ provides an engaging opening to the book. It encapsulates an impressively neat summary of the subject in question, and includes a history of the Irish Film Board, a look at the international attention given to Irish cinema (initially through the seminal work of Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan), the opening up of the Irish film and television industry to major international co-productions, the development of a film industry in Northern Ireland, as well as thoughts on Irish film studies as an academic field. The choice of writer for this foreword could not be more appropriate – the recently retired Martin McLoone has written key texts which would be most Irish film studies students’ go-to books, including Irish Film: The Emergence of a Contemporary Cinema (2000) and Film, Media and Popular Culture in Ireland: Cityscapes, Landscapes, Soundscapes (2008).

Editor Barry Monahan provides an introduction to the book which includes a contemplation of the meaning of national cinema and praise of the innovative work of Ireland’s academic commentators, before providing a practical summary of each of the essays included in the volume. Therein follows a vast range of rich, diverse and immersive essays. The contributors come from Ireland and Northern Ireland’s top universities, while alternative equally interesting perspectives come from France, Germany, Finland and America. A spectrum of researchers, lecturers, PhD candidates, sociologists and professors make up the writers of the volume, each providing thoughtful and confident viewpoints of their specialty field.

It is far too great a challenge to select the standout chapters with such a selection so only a summary to the collection, which simply cannot do justice to the vista of its content, will be provided here. Part I consists of an essay that contemplates historical and more recent ideological functions of home and place in Irish cinema, followed by a chapter on space, mobility and gender in the Veronica Guerin films. This section also includes a particularly intriguing chapter on representations of accents in Dublin-set films, and another on Snap, considering how trauma and sexual abuse are worked through in Carmel Winters’ film.

Part II opens with a riveting essay on female stardom in Irish cinema, focussing on the actresses Saoirse Ronan and Ruth Negga, which is followed appropriately by a contemplation of Johnathon Rhys Myers’ role in The Tudors, arguing that there is a particularly Irish masculinity in the construction of his character, King Henry VIII. The next essay explores ethnic and gender stereotypes in P.S. I Love You, followed by a review of His & Hers that mourns the documentary’s lack of transgression in its gender representations.

Part III consists of essays on Northern Ireland, including an analysis of a collaborative film project made on the experiences of women as workers and visitors of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison, and another on the political body in Steve McQueen’s Hunger.

Part IV presents some overseas perspectives of Irish cinema. The volume ends with an interview conducted by Ciara Chambers and Barry Monahan with Susanna Pellis, the artistic director of the Rome Irish Film Festa. The interview provides a compelling consideration of the role of film festivals in the industry, and, through discussions about prize-giving, finance, the future and other topics, aptly captures the recurring thoughts of the book – a celebration of the current state of Irish cinema (with regards both production and academia) and speculation for the years ahead.

 

 

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (26 Aug. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1137496355
  • ISBN-13: 978-1137496355
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.4 x 21.6 cm

 

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Book Review: Directory of World Cinema: Russia 2

9781783200108

Deirdre Molumby takes a look at Directory of World Cinema: Russia 2, a companion to the filmic legacy of one of the world’s most storied countries.

 

With their far greater budgets, clever marketing strategies, and major advertising campaigns, Hollywood cinema often forces other world cinemas to take a back seat in terms of international reach and viewership. The Directory of World Cinema series reminds us of the great films that have been brought to us from outside of the Hollywood canon, and analyses films that are of cultural, national and historical significance both within the countries in which they are produced and on a globally influential scale. The tone of the books is academic but its layout and language are accessible for all readers.

The first book on Russia provided an analysis of directors – including Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovskii, Nikita Mikhalkov, and Alexsandr Sokurov – and movie titles which most familiar with Eastern European cinema would be familiar with. Films that are listed among the greatest of all time, including Battleship Potemkin (1925), Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and Andrei Rublev (1938), Oscar-winning titles Moscow does not believe in Tears (1979), War and Peace (1967) and Burnt by the Sun (1995), and national treasures such as The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), The Irony of Fate (1975), and My friend Ivan Lapshin (1984), as well as more recent hits like Brother (1997), Brother 2 (2000), Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2005) are all included in this collection.

Directory of World Cinema: Russia 2 is one of the most recent outputs by the series. The reader may feel initially reproached with the material due to the unfamiliarity of the films it includes. Due to the nature of it being a follow-up to the first Russia book (and in what is almost a slightly ironic and self-reflexive move, the book actually includes a section on ‘Sequels and Remakes’), Russia 2 explores titles less well-known to a western audience, although followers of Russian cinema should have heard of most of them. However, one should not be too discouraged as whether you have an interest in Russian history, culture, or in world cinema generally – be it the fresh, new stories offered or innovative industrial developments of interest – Russia 2 is a thoughtful and enjoyable read.

The book covers genres that would not be overly utilised by Russian cinema, including blockbusters, science fiction, and horror. Interestingly, the collection also explores genres that are relatively unique to Russia, including cold war spy films (which saw the state take an active role in production through censorship and propaganda), chernukha (a sort of neorealism, with bleak films that reflect on the political and social turmoil following the collapse of the Soviet system), and auteur animation. Similar to other books in the Directory series, Russia 2 includes an essay on its ‘Film of the Year’ (Rasskazy/Short Stories, and an interview with the director, Mikhail Segal, is also included), profiles of a number of famous Russian directors, and lastly, its analyses of Russian films, which are organised by genre and take up the majority of the book. An essay on the first Moscow international film festival is also included and provides a contemplative historical and political perspective on this particular aspect of the industry.

Within the director biographies, there is an underlying integrated story of the development of Russian theatre and the film industry (the latter owes much to the former, while the book also reflects the industry’s strong roots in national literature, particularly that of Nickolai Gogol), adding great interest to what would otherwise be simple profiles. There are reflections on artistic and aesthetic developments from early cinema right up to the modern day. Regarding the Soviet epoch, the book reflects how in spite of the hindrance of censorship arising from Stalinism, there was also great creativity in the period. The socio-cultural reasons for the emergence or lack of popularity of genres are also explored within each section, for example, science fiction was until recently unpopular as ‘to open up a discussion of what constituted the universal mission of humankind could easily be considered sacrilegious from a dogmatic point of view’, while horror has been read as exhibiting ‘a brutal, traumatic history through a graphically realistic depiction of violence and vicious destruction of human life.’ The descriptions of each film are engaging and show that there are imaginative and unique stories to be found in Russian cinema (with the animated and horror selections providing particularly innovative narratives). The section on ‘chernukha’ films is another stand-out, as it reflects how cinema can allow for a mirror to be held up to reality, whereby directors can present the truth even in defiance of state power.

Each movie description includes production credits, a synopsis and a critique which provides further contexts to the film and food for thought. The contributions come from mostly scholars, professors and lecturers. The more praising reviews, for example, for Tarkovskii’s Solaris (1972), entice the reader to find and view the film post-haste, although unfortunately, one sad fact that is left out of the book is that many of the more unusual titles are extremely difficult to find with English subtitles. The book’s inclusion of television series, though also an interesting read, gives the impression that the material needed to make a second book on Russian cinema requires a degree of leniency.

The reader will find themselves alternatively bewildered, laughing, and touched by the narratives of films about Russia and its people. At the same time, Russia 2 calls for concern regarding the ‘Hollywoodization’ of domestic cinema, for example, with the recent increase of blockbusters being produced and with local director Timur Bekmambetov recently leaving to make films such as Wanted (2008) and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) (which are also included in the collection, though it is debatable how ‘Russian’ these films are) in the US. If this means the loss of innovative themes and moving stories, as can be found in this book, in favour of popcorn entertainment, it is cause for concern indeed. At the same time, the popularity of Russian cinema within its own country demands celebration as it hardily competes with American features. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two about supporting our own film industry.

 

 

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Intellect (5 Jun. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1783200103
  • ISBN-13: 978-1783200108
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 2 x 25.4 cm

 

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Book Review: Film and Games: Interactions

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Deirdre Molumby reviews Films and Games. Interactions, a descriptive dialogue between theory and practice. With international contributions from multidisciplinary perspectives including film studies, game studies, art and cultural studies, media studies, and pedagogy.
 
Published by the Deutsches Filmmuseum and extending from an exhibition of the same name currently being held there, Film and Games: Interactions focuses on the relatively young medium of video games and investigates how games are informed by movies. In fact, the book analyses this relationship from every possible angle you can think of – intersections between the two mediums’ origins, visual comparisons of the two, adaptations of one to the other, the role of music in both, and, of course, the interactive role of the game player versus the movie viewer. Though the title of the book suggests equal focus on films and games, and indeed ‘Film’ actually comes first in the title, the book is really more about games and how film has affected their development.

The large hardback book isn’t ideal for popping in one’s handbag or bringing down to the beach, but it has a comprehensive layout and engaging format whereby each section consists of two to five essays replete with much illustrative content. The references to both older games from the 1980s and 90s as well as contemporary games, and the interviews with established game developers such as Jörg Friedrich, design director YAGER (Spec Ops: The Line, 2012), senior game designer at Crytek Dennis Schwartz (Crysis, 2007; Ryse: Son of Rome, 2013), and James Mechner (Prince of Persia, 1989) should find an invested audience in enthusiastic gamers. At the same time, the information is also accessible to those who are not avid players, with the inclusion of definition boxes for several terms, for example, ‘glitch movie’ and ‘flow channel’, throughout. There are also interviews with filmmakers Paul W.S. Anderson (the Resident Evil franchise) and Uwe Boll (Rampage, 2009; Attack on Darfur, 2009).

Several of the essays strike one as being geared towards an academic readership, for example, gender stereotyping is questioned while the construction of space in games (which is again contrasted to film) is also explored. Indeed several of the contributions come from professors and lecturers. While these are punctuated by interviews and illustrations, some may dislike the predominantly theoretical style of the book. At the same time, the arguments put forth in the book, which includes a particularly interesting section on creative gaming whereby games have developed in such a way that players now have the potential to become a kind of filmmaker in their own right, facilitate in giving an intellectual perspective on the phenomenon of video games for which they are long overdue.

The book asks ‘Are video games a form of art?’ but it investigates several other issues as well. Camera aesthetics, the potential of machinima and archival processing also get a look while one of the more film-focussed chapters looks at media reflections in Fahrenheit 45 (François Truffaut, 1966), The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999), eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999) and The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam, 2013). From its introduction to the final essay, which criticises how recent games like The Last of Us (2013) and Red Dead Redemption (2010) are trying too hard to be like film, the reader is left with much food for thought and is free to question, investigate or merely ponder on the many reflections that have been raised by the book. You may never play a video game in the same way again.

 

 

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bertz + Fischer (1 Oct. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3865052428
  • ISBN-13: 978-3865052421
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 2.7 x 28.7 cm

 

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Review: Ricki and the Flash

 

Ricki

DIR: Jonathan Demme • WRI: Diablo Cody • PRO: Mason Novick, Marc Platt • DOP: Declan Quinn • ED: Wyatt Smith • DES: Stuart Wurtzel • MUS: Joseph Trapanese • CAST: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan

 

The latest project of writer Diablo Cody (who penned the Oscar-winning script for Juno) hits screens this week. Ricki and The Flash is a feel-good, music-filled delight about family, staying true to yourself, and second chances. From its opening number, Meryl Streep truly lights up the screen in the lead role of musician Ricki, and shines throughout the film right up to its heart-warming conclusion.

Ricki, originally Linda, plays regular gigs with her band, The Flash, to a small but enthusiastic audience in a bar in California. By day, she works in a soul-crushing job in a supermarket, counting the hours before she gets to be on stage again. Even at this point, the audience wonders if is this is what Ricki had imagined her life to turn out like. During one of her shifts, Ricki gets a call from her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline), asking if she will come to Indianapolis as her daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer), is going through a difficult divorce and needs support. Ricki has become estranged from her family, which also includes two adult sons, since she left her husband to pursue her career several years ago. Nonetheless, she is soon on a plane to reunite with them.

After this, we get to know more about Ricki’s past and her unusual take on the world. Given Ricki’s lack of contact with her family, tension and conflict inevitably arise as she tries to reconnect with her children. We also get an idea of what her life could have been had she stayed with Pete. Whether she is giving her daughter unusual worldly advice, is in the heat of an argument or singing a soulful tune, Streep is fabulous as always and the scenes with Streep and Kline are particular fun to watch. The two bounce off each other energetically and comically, while Gummer gives an emotional and sympathetic performance as Julie. Her character becomes child-like in the face of her divorce, expressing abandonment and despair through her words and body language, but also incorporates the role of the cheeky teenage daughter, who talks back to her parents and tells them the straight-up, often unbearable, truth.

The film stutters a little in its second act when Ricki returns to California to decide what her next move will be. Fortunately, it is also the point of the film where we get to see more performances from Ricki and The Flash, which are electric with energy and engaging. The music is full of joy with a mix of classic rock ballads, new melodies and ‘rocked up’ pop songs delivered by the flawless Streep alongside the legendary Rick Springfield, who plays the lead guitarist, Greg, of The Flash and boyfriend to Ricki.

The film is rather cheesy, a little too long and probably won’t appeal to everyone, but Ricki and The Flash is also great craic and smile-inducing. Its emphasis on family and forgiveness are timeless.

Deirdre Molumby

12A(See IFCO for details)
101 minutes

Ricki and the Flash is released 4th September 2015

Ricki and the Flash  – Official Website

 

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Interview: Tony Kearns

tony kearns

With Sinister 2 directed by Ireland’s own Ciarán Foy out in cinemas now, as well as Irish horror The Hallow coming out in November, Deirdre Molumby talks to film editor Tony Kearns (Citadel, Let Us Prey, Charlie Casanova) about the horror genre, the Irish film industry, and what his work entails.

 

What do you think is the current state of Irish horror?

It is a growing sector of film production in Ireland thanks to people like John McDonnell and Brendan McCarthy of Fantastic Films [the co-producers of Let Us Prey] who specialize in the horror genre. It has also become less of a guilty pleasure among film makers, especially those who grew up enjoying the classic horror films of the ’80s and ’90s.

I have observed that the younger generation of directors and producers are very keen to make their own stabs – if you’ll forgive the pun – at the genre. Another factor is the store of ancient nature based myths ad superstitions in Irish culture that provide fertile material for horror stories such as Corin Hardy’s The Hallow which was completed recently.

One of the benefits of editing Citadel [dir: Ciarán Foy] and Let Us Prey [dir: Brian O’Malley] is that I have become aware of the huge global community of horror fans as seen in the multitude of websites and film festivals dedicated to the genre, and this has been feeding back into the film culture and community in Ireland. Seriously, you would not believe how many horror movie websites there are out there.

citadel-3Pesky kids – Citadel

 

What do you personally like about the genre?

I love films with deeply unsettling atmospheres of dread and terror which play into and feed on the darkest parts of the viewer’s psyche that scares the bejesus out of you at judicious moments. An example would be John Carpenter’s The Thing. There is very little blood and guts in Citadel and the tension and horror is centred around the main character’s agoraphobia after a vicious attack on his wife. I’m not into gratuitous gore as such and I am turned off by torture porn. Yuk.

 

What makes a successful horror movie editor?

It’s the same for any genre or type of feature film really – the ability to craft a compelling film that tells the story well, that brings out the best performances from the actors and that reshapes the film if necessary to achieve a better outcome. Furthermore, a good editor has to be able to keep in mind the effect of the film on the general viewer who experiences it for the first time even though he or she will have become incredibly familiar with every frame by the time they’re finished the edit. You have to create something that engages the audience and keeps them there, regardless of what type of film it is. If you’re editing a horror film, it helps not to be squeamish; you need an iron stomach and a sense of humour.

 

When you start editing, do you stick to the script and storyboard or is there much room for interpretation?

I work off the rushes, initially editing scene by scene after reading the script to check I’m not missing a line here or there. I never work from storyboards because I’m looking at the shots on the screen; generally I’m never given them anyway. There’s always room for interpretation, for example, you could have a number of angled shots for a scene but you could end up using only one in the final edit. Scenes are frequently dropped or put in a different part of the story than in the script. Once it has been filmed with flesh and blood actors the film gains a new and vibrant life which gives me a wealth of options to explore.

 

What have been some of the greater challenges in your line of work?

Getting Martin Scorsese to return my calls. Otherwise, working under tight budgets and tight schedules. We’re all miracle workers here.

 

Whether it provoked screaming or nail-biting suspense, is there a scene you worked on that are particularly proud of and how did you cut it?

There is an interrogation scene in Let Us Prey between Liam Cunningham’s character and the police sergeant played by Douglas Russell that I feel very satisfied with as it is the first real inkling of the dread to come. Big, unforgiving close ups and terrific performances create a wonderful, tense atmosphere. As for how I cut it? You want my secrets as well?

LetUsPrey-thumb-640x360-49212Another bloody headache – Let Us Prey

 

Your most recent work was in Let Us Prey – what was your experience of that production?

It was a great experience to work with Brian O’Malley as he is a good friend and we have worked on many commercials and two short films, Screwback and Crossing Salween, over the past fourteen years or so. We have a great intuitive understanding of each other so it made the editing process an enjoyable one. I also loved sourcing and mixing the temp music and sound FX which gave the composer Steve Lynch and the sound mixer Richie Naughten a base from which to do their own marvellous work. It was also a great pleasure to look at the luscious work by the DOP Piers McGrail.

 

What is next in the pipeline for you?

I’m currently editing a coming of age comedy set in Scotland called Moondogs, which is directed by Philip John (Downton Abbey, Outlander). At the time of this interview, I’m in Glasgow assembling scenes during the shoot and will continue editing in Egg in Dublin once the filming has been wrapped. That’ll keep me off the streets for a while at least.

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Review: Hitman: Agent 47

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DIR: Aleksander Bach  • WRI: Skip Woods, Michael Finch • PRO: Adrian Askarieh, Charles Gordon, Alex Young • DOP: Óttar Guðnason • ED: Nicolas De Toth • DES: Sebastian T. Krawinkel • MUS: Marco Beltrami • CAST: Rupert Friend, Zachary Quinto, Ciarán Hinds

 

If the Bourne films and the Terminator films had some kind of weird progeny, Hitman: Agent 47 would very likely be the result. However, in taking plot elements but none of the visual or multi-layered inspiration from the franchises, we end up with a rather unoriginal action flick that entertains but fails to inspire.

Continuing the relatively recent trend of adapting video games for film, Hitman follows a ruthless master assassin mysteriously named 47 who is looking for the founder of the genetically-engineered agent program of which he is a product. As part of his mission, he must locate Katia van Dees, a young woman who is searching for connections to her own past as she cannot remember who she is or where she comes from. Katia learns from a member of the CIA, John Smith, that Agent 47 is out for her life, but she soon discovers that 47 may actually be the key to her past. All three soon end up on a chase that brings them across the globe.

Star of the titular role, Rupert Friend’s previous performances have included charming gentlemen in costume dramas like The Young Victoria (2009) and Pride and Prejudice (2005), though he is probably best-known for his role as Quinn, a professional assassin in Showtime series Homeland (2011- ). It was this role that led director Aleksander Bach to cast Friend, and the similarities between Quinn and Agent 47 are utilised effectively. Friend is not only a satisfying lead but an exemplary one, and stands on his own feet in what is an already saturated market of action hero actors. The character of 47 is ruthless and delightfully suave. Zachary Quinto (Spock in the Star Trek reboot) also proves to be a welcome addition to the cast in the role of John Smith while Irish actor Ciarán Hinds gives another talented performance, so that sustenance is somewhat added to the otherwise predictable and uninspired plot. While she does her best with an underwritten, clichéd role – ‘I don’t know who I am… now I do know who I am, and someone is going to pay!’ – Hannah Ware’s Katia is dull and unconvincing as an action heroine.

The sets are sleek and the booming soundtrack evokes high-octane energy. With its snazzy suits, expensive cars and blood splattering the screen, everything about this movie indicates its acute attempts to be considered ‘cool’ by its audience. To give credit where it is due, perhaps Polish director Bach simply wanted to have fun for his debut feature. After all, the film gives just what the doctor ordered – car chases, explosions, bloody assassinations, and hand-to-hand combat that is well-choreographed (which may be owed to the stunts and action crew coming from 87-11 Action Design, whose work has featured in Jurassic World, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and John Wick ). However, with this year’s action movie offerings thus far including the perfectly-paced, brilliantly self-aware John Wick as well as the blood-pumping, visually-arresting Mad Max: Fury Road, Hitman simply cannot compete with its generic predecessors. Its ending seems to promise a sequel, but we hope it will be given a miss.

Deirdre Molumby

15A (See IFCO for details)
96 minutes

Hitman: Agent 47 is released 28th August 2015

Hitman: Agent 47  – Official Website

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Pursuit

Pursuit-Chosen

Deirdre Molumby pursues Paul Mercier’s modern take on the legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

After an attempted hit on his life, from which his right hand man, Diarmuid (Barry Ward), saves him, gangster boss Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Liam Cunningham) decides to get married. He is talked into choosing his enemy’s daughter Gráinne (Ruth Bradley) as his bride as the union could lead to a mutually beneficial alliance. Fionn begins to court the significantly younger Gráinne but on the night they get engaged, Gráinne runs away and forces Diarmuid to go with her. As the two of them journey from the city to the west of Ireland, meeting various characters along the way, war between the families ensues as several parties pursue the couple.

What can be at times be an awkward and over-the-top script is acted so straight by its ensemble – which includes Brendan Gleeson and David Pearse – that one soon settles into the silliness of the story and finds themselves laughing in spite of themselves. Production quality throughout the film also varies quite a lot. Though its money launderers and drug trade gangsters, as well as the casting of Ruth Bradley, all draw comparisons to TV series Love/Hate, the film is much lighter in its content, although its attempts to be emotionally harrowing are undercut by its comedy. In its attempts to be both a comedy and a tragedy, it ends up not really being either.

Like Song of the Sea, Paul Mercier’s film is an admirable feat in its modern take on Irish mythology, adapting the legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne and transforming it into a road movie and gangster thriller for a contemporary audience. The influences from the original play version can also be seen and as Paul Mercier himself explained in a Q&A following its screening in Galway, the preceding play had visible filmic elements while the movie carries numerous theatrical influences. Overall, Pursuit is a rather mixed bag. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to its future audiences.

 

Pursuit screened on Friday, 10th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Strangerland

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Deirdre Molumby checks out the Irish/Australian co-production Strangerland, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Strange by name and strange by nature, Kim Farrant’s debut is a confident, dramatic, suspenseful thriller that is well-acted but frustratingly ambiguous.

The Parker family have recently moved to a remote desert town called Natgari in Australia. While the children express a sense of restlessness – the youngest, Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton), wanders around the town at night while teenager Lily (Maddison Brown) gets very friendly with the local young men – the parents try their best to fit in. The father, Matthew (Joseph Fiennes), works as a pharmacist while Catherine (Nicole Kidman) is a stay-at-home mother who discovers one day, to her horror, that the children are missing. After the town is searched from top to bottom, the prospect that the children have disappeared into the desert outback becomes more probable, and every day their chance of survival rapidly diminishes.

In spite of what seems to be the set-up of old movie clichés – a family moves into a small town and tries to fit in, the kids start a new school, a family secret is apparent – there is more to the story than meets the eye. The promiscuous nature of the teenaged Lily sets her up as far from a helpless, innocent, victimised young girl. First seen only in her underwear as she openly flirts with a worker in her house in front of her father, her open sexuality is quite shocking, and even more so given she looks like she has only just hit puberty. Both Lily and Tommy are attractive children, which only makes their prospective fates in the desert landscape all the more daunting. Another key player in the plot is local cop David Rae (Hugo Weaving), who intends to be helpful and to be a good cop. However, the balance between protecting the Parkers and having long-standing relationships with several of the locals leads to difficult compromises.

At the heart of the drama are parents Catherine and Matthew, played respectively by Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. While Catherine quickly disintegrates into emotional trauma by the events surrounding the children’s disappearance, the character of Matthew is far more enigmatic and stoic towards what is happening. Both go through major transitions, and the children’s disappearance reveals several facts about their parents’ marriage and relationship, the town and those who live there, and repressed desires.

While the younger cast are impressive, it is the trio of Weaving, Kidman and Fiennes who are the key to the film and all give stellar performances. The changing dynamics that occur both within and between the characters is indispensable to the film’s tension, which holds the audience from start to finish. Strangerland does, however, suffer from a fairly predictable plot as well as an awkward balance between trying to be both arthouse and accessible cinema. Having built up to what promises to be a dramatic, fitting finale, the film’s final scenes seem to be more interested in shocking the audience and subsequently leaving them freewheeling rather than providing catharsis. The ambiguity that characterises the film ultimately does not seem to be so much an artistic decision as lack of assertiveness on the part of the writers. The acting saves it.

 

 

Strangerland screened on Wednesday, 8th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: The Survivalist

THE-SURVIVALIST-Chosen-NEW

Deirdre Molumby finds herself in a post-apocalyptic world in The Survivalist, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

On introducing this film, Programmer for the Galway Film Fleadh Gar O’Brien emphasised how the Fleadh nurtures talent. They help directors make the transition from shorts to features through the screening and promotion of Irish filmmakers’ work. So has been the case for Stephen Fingleton, whose debut feature The Survivalist follows his award-winning short SLR and Magpie. Indeed, the feature is set in the same post-apocalyptic world of the latter short in which oil dependency and food supplies plummeting create a cut-throat world that is nearly impossible to survive in. Like Magpie, The Survivalist takes place in an ambient forest which is luscious in its green colour yet haunted by death.

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

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

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

The Survivalist is a raw film and fairly difficult to watch at times. The graphic imagery includes full frontal (male and female) nudity, rotting flesh, maggots, masturbation, periods, and bloody internal organs. It is one of the more original post-apocalyptic films to be released as of late and is a curiously thought-provoking at that, but its bleakness will not appeal to all audiences. Having already won an award at Tribeca for Best New Narrative Director – Special Jury Mention, this provocative film is well suited to the festival circuit.

 

The Survivalist screened on Friday, 10th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: My Name is Emily

1220255_My Name Is Emily

 

Deirdre Molumby was at the premiere of Simon Fitzmaurice‘s film My Name is Emily, which opened this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

The opening film at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh was life-affirming and truly extraordinary given the feat that it took to make the feature. Simon Fitzmaurice, the director of My Name is Emily, was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease in 2008. It did not, however, deter him from continuing to make movies (having previously directed award-winning shorts Full Circle and The Sound of People), and so he wrote the script for My Name is Emily and used iris-recognition technology to direct the film. Simon Fitzmaurice was present at the screening in Galway as were a number of cast and crew members.

The film stars Harry Potter starlet and Irish actress Evanna Lynch in the titular role. Evanna also attended the Fleadh and thanked the director for his incredible hard work on the movie. On behalf of all the cast present – who also included George Webster and Michael Smiley – she expressed their extreme gratitude at being a part of his film and said that he was an inspiration to them all throughout the project. In a Q&A following the screening, the writer-director himself stated that the film was made for his children, to teach them to never give up.

My Name is Emily follows a sixteen year old girl (Lynch) who lives with foster parents. We follow the events of Emily’s emerging into her parents’ life, her father (Smiley) becoming a motivational writer, her mother (Deirdre Mullins) passing away, and her father eventually being committed to a psychiatric institution. As a result, Emily grows up into a rebellious, apathetic teenager, but one with a distinctive and even philosophical view of the world. A fellow student, Arden (Webster), recognises this in Emily and while others think her existential questioning is ‘weird’, Arden finds himself immediately attracted to her. Soon after her birthday, Emily decides to leave home and break her father out of the institution, enlisting Arden’s help. They embark on a road trip across Ireland, learning much about life and death, as well as loss and letting go, along the way.

As the above summary promises, the film is simple and sweet throughout, and makes a welcome addition to what can often be overwhelmingly bleak Irish cinema. Last year’s Fleadh winners for Best Irish Film, Glassland and Patrick’s Day, provide two examples of this while this year’s winner, the feel-good and visually enrapturing family animation Song of the Sea, reveals a trend that lighter content is in greater demand as of late (My Name is Emily itself took the runner-up prize for Best First Irish Feature this year at the Fleadh, after Mark Noonan’s You’re Ugly Too).

My Name is Emily is touching in its depiction of the irrepressible bonds of family and funny in its relating of being a socially awkward, weird teenager. It mourns loss but ultimately celebrates life. The photography of Seamus Deasy (who won an award in Galway for his work) is quite remarkable, giving the film a transparent and otherworldly effect. The casting is also on form with Lynch and Webster as the endearing young leads while the tragic character of Robert, Emily’s father, is given a sensitive, poignant performance by Smiley. Big thumbs up.

 

My Name is Emily screened on Tuesday, 7th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

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Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

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DIR/WRI: Ana Lily Amirpour • PRO: Ana Lily Amirpour, Justin Begnaud, Sina Sayyah DOP: Lyle Vincent • ED: Alex O’Flinn • DES: Sergio De La Vega • CAST: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh

 

Filmed in stylish black and white, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night follows a variety of inhabitants in the immoral and lonely town of Bad City. Sheila Vand plays The Girl, a young female vampire who preys on the men of the town, standing out from the desolate backdrop in her long, flowing veil as she stalks a number of city dwellers. Another character who lives in the town is Arash (Arash Marandi), an Iranian James Dean-wannabe who is ashamed of his druggie father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh), and is soon forced by his father’s pusher, Saeed (Dominic Rains), to pay off Hossein’s debts with his cherished T-bird car. One night, The Girl and Arash cross paths and form a bond which proves to have life-changing consequences for both of them.

With the self-proclaimed tagline ‘The first Iranian Vampire Western’, it is safe to say that this is a break from the territory of previous Iranian films that have broken through to the western world. With the work of Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry, The Wind Will Carry Us), Jafar Panahi (The Mirror, The Circle, Offside), Asghar Farhadi (Academy Award winning A Separation) and Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) receiving critical acclaim and numerous accolades in the highly competitive global film industry, it is encouraging to see talent continuing to emerge from the country, particularly in the young, female voice that distinguishes Ana Lily Amirpour. A successful short filmmaker, Amirpour both wrote and directed A Girl Walks Home, which marks her feature debut. The film has already generated significant anticipation following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and has received a number of award wins.

Every shot in the film is highly contemplative and memorable. The character of The Girl is striking in her long veil, which blows behind her ghost-like when she finds a skateboard and uses it to skate around the city. Her leggings and black and white striped top add a sense of youthfulness and innocence to her character. With characters names including ‘The Girl’, ‘The Junkie’, ‘The Princess’, ‘The Prostitute’ and ‘The Pimp’, the film knowingly uses types and plays around with narrative expectations to make the plot engrossing. The film has fun with its American references – to music videos, Frank Millerisms, Hollywood iconography and Tarantino-esque style – and its generic self-consciousness. The general sense of playfulness is probably the most important element that works to the film’s advantage.

The core relationship of the film between The Girl and Arash is lovingly filmed, with both Sheila Vand and Arash Marandi proving to be charming leads. Another stand-out is Dominic Rains, who makes his character Saeed, or ‘The Pimp’, another pleasure to watch. There are occasional pacing problems with the film and there are seeds sown into the plot that end up being neglected. Overall, though, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night provides an entertaining and smart alternative to the run-of-the-mill offerings from the big budget American studios.

Deirdre Molumby

 


15A (See IFCO for details)

93 minutes
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night  is released 22nd May 2015

 

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Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

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DIR: George Miller • WRI: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris • PRO: George Miller, Doug Mitchell, P.J. Voeten Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae • DOP: John Seale • ED: Jason Ballantine, Margaret Sixel • DES: Colin Gibson • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

 

In a post-apocalyptic world of sand, dirt and orange hue, we find our hero, the one they call ‘Mad’, on the run from a gang of cheering, war-painted men bounding along in enormous vehicles. In spite of his efforts to escape, Max (Tom Hardy) is captured and brought to the town of Citadel. The leader of Citadel is Immortan Joe (clad in a Bane-like mask), who claims himself to be the redeemer of the townspeople. But not all are happy with his leadership and when a truck headed for the local gas town takes a detour, Immortan Joe sends out a war party. The driver of the truck is a warrior called Furiosa (Charlize Theron), whose life is about to collide with Max’s with full force.

From the opening sequence’s fast-motion shots, rapid editing, and hallucinogenic flashbacks of a child, we quickly realise one of the main objectives of Mad Max: Fury Road is to create a visual experience. From the opening shot, director George Miller (whose other major credit, beside the Mad Max films, is Happy Feet, oddly enough) drops us straight into Max’s world. As our protagonist stands by his car looking out on the desert horizon, a two-headed futuristic lizard slithers past. A voiceover informs us that human instinct has been reduced to a single motive – survival. It is a simple premise that has been brought to the big screen time and time again, but it is utilised effectively here nonetheless.

Having George Miller direct this reboot was definitely the right call. Having directed all three of the previous instalments of the franchise – Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) – this is a world that Miller knows like the back of his hand. What’s more, with Fury Road being produced thirty years after the last Mad Max instalment, Miller is allowed to realise his vision to a bigger and better extent than ever before, mostly as a result of the major enhancements that have been made in computer generated effects since. At the same time, Miller does not rely on CGI or use it in an annoyingly overextended way either, and the production design of costumes, sets, make-up, etc. is essential and brilliantly accomplished in the capturing of this futuristic vision. The vehicles, locations and action sequences are more imaginative than any of the previous Mad Max instalments. Not only that, but Fury Road also stands out as one of the best action movies that has been produced in years.

There are car chases and explosions aplenty. The action is non-stop and the choreography impressive and often surprising. The characterisation is also right on point. Whether Hardy is better than Gibson at playing the enigmatic hero is debatable, but Charlize Theron shines as the strong-willed Furiosa while Nicholas Hoult is a hoot to watch in the role of the crazy but endearing Nux. Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also starred in the original Mad Max, is brilliantly grotesque and terrifying as the villain Immortan Joe with sidekick Nathan Jones, aka strongman competitor Megaman, on hand as the muscular brute Rictus Erectus.

Whether the viewer is young and unfamiliar with the Mel Gibson version of the films (young people should really be required to watch some of these films in school…), or prepared and willing to go back to this post-apocalyptic insane future, Mad Max: Fury Road is a thrilling, immersive experience for all.

 

Deirdre Molumby

 15A (See IFCO for details)

120 minutes
Mad Max: Fury Road is released 15th May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road – Official Website

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Report: IFI Spotlight 2015

IFI Spotlight 4

 

Deirdre Molumby attended IFI Spotlight 2015, a day-long space for in-depth critical engagement with current Irish media culture, which took place on Saturday, 25th April 2015 at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin.

 

Last weekend marked the Irish Film Institute’s third annual focus on Irish film and television. With guests including filmmakers, critics, academics and enthusiasts, IFI Spotlight 2015 provided a space for analysing the accomplishments of Irish film and television output in the last twelve months, and for discussing what aspects of the industry could be improved.

Ross Keane, director of the IFI, kicked things off by introducing this reflective and engaging event. He explained the wide range of programmes offered by the IFI that support the Irish film industry, including the Irish film archive, a new Irish shorts programme, and Ireland on Sunday, the institute’s monthly showcase for new Irish film. The proceedings were subsequently moderated by Margaret Kelleher, Chairperson of the IFI Board of Directors, who introduced Dr Roddy Flynn of DCU.

Dr Flynn [above] gave the keynote address, which was entitled ‘20 Years a Growing or “The Ailsa to Zonad” of Irish Cinema or “What is Irish Cinema, Literally?”’. Dr Flynn demonstrated how he and fellow academic Tony Tracy were in the process of creating a survey database of feature films funded by the Irish Film Board produced in the last twenty years and trends in their production. Though he emphasised that there was much work still to be done, Dr Flynn had already come across a number of interesting findings. Some of the findings included that directors and screenwriters of the last twenty years were overwhelmingly male (at 81% and 83% respectively), though females dominate other areas of the industry such as costume design and make-up. Interestingly, the Irish film industry has a high number of writer-directors (62%), which is quite unusual by the international standard of having separate directors and screenwriters. Most of the films produced in the last twenty years have been dramas and have been set in Dublin. Other findings included that there are vastly different budgets across Irish feature films and that there have been a great number of international co-productions made in the last two decades.

Dr Flynn was followed by the first panel of the day, which reviewed the Irish film and television output of the year 2014. Sunniva O’Flynn, Head of Irish Film Programming at the IFI, chaired the panel, which included producer and festival director David Rane, Executive Director of Screen Directors Guild Birch Hamilton, animator and Oscar nominee Tomm Moore, and Commissioning Director of TG4 Micheál Ó Meallaigh.

Hamilton observed that the lines between the television and film industries are blurring, and that producers and filmmakers need to look to broader areas of broadcasting, online and digital for assimilation in the future. Birch also stated that she believed there needed to be more of a focus on first-time directors who, having shown talent in their first production, should receive support to make a second. Moore found that the state of the Irish animation industry was very healthy with productions being made specifically for international companies, for example, Doc McStuffins for Disney Junior, while other Irish productions are travelling well abroad, such as Henry Hugglemonster. Penguin, Walker and other publishers have been working with animation companies, and the possibilities for international co-productions could be opened even further, to Asia and South America rather than just Europe. Moore also spoke positively about the first Irish Animation Awards, which were held in Dingle, and about the apprenticeships and collaborative relationships offered by the animation industry in Ireland.

Next, Ó Meallaigh talked about Irish language productions and television drama. For Ó Meallaigh, the greatest challenge TG4 has to face is subtitles, as audiences struggle to listen to dialogue, read text and follow a program at the same time. He also spoke about realistic ways to use the Irish language in a film or TV production, for example, An Bronntanas uses a mix of English and Irish while Corp is Anam is set in a fictional town where only Irish is spoken. Rane then spoke about feature documentary production in Ireland, and found that its current state is very poor. He observed that more funding was going to American, English and German documentary filmmakers than to Irish, and that Irish documentaries were not getting enough international distribution. Rane found that Irish broadcasters were happy to air Irish documentaries but were not putting enough money into them, and agreed with Birch that a reinvestment in talent was sorely needed. After the four industry members spoke, an in-depth discussion was had between the audience members and the panel through Q&As.

After an afternoon break, the IFI Spotlight Soapbox was given to Brian Finnegan [above], editor of GCN and author of The Forced Redundancy Film Club. In the run-up to the Marriage Equality Referendum this May, Finnegan looked at the representation of LGBT issues across the history of Irish film, with a focus on gay protagonists. Looking at a number of texts including A Man of No Importance, 2 by 4, Breakfast on Pluto and Albert Nobbs, Finnegan found that these films, in spite of their representation of queer protagonists, cannot be considered queer or gay texts, as the lead would often be a figure of victimisation, gay sex was portrayed unrealistically or not at all, and that acceptance of identity and sexuality does not occur in the finale of these films. He found that Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game has been the only film to satisfactorily explore these issues.

The second panel was then held. Entitled ‘I’m Not a Fan of Irish Movies’, inspired by the comments of director John Michael McDonagh earlier this year that he did not consider his film Calvary an Irish film and that he did not think Irish films were any good, the panel sought to address these comments as well as to discuss the current state of Irish movies generally. The chai,r Dr Debbie Ging, chair of the MA in Film and Television Studies at DCU, introduced the panel and made some observations of her own, including that Irish cinema has seen a shift away from themes such as motherhood and rural locales to new urban, universal themes. She also noted the vast number of ways to categorise films as Irish including location, origin of director/writer, funding, themes and more.

The panel, which included director Lenny Abrahamson, writer/director Carmel Winters, and Sunday Times chief arts editor Eithne Shortall, all had different and interesting points to make. Abrahamson stated it was vital for filmmakers to avoid the same themes of previous Irish cinemas, and that they need to create films that can be viewed through multiple prisms. Winters celebrated the accomplishments of recent Irish film, particularly given the relatively small size of Ireland, as well as its limited budgets and crew numbers. Shortall observed that McDonagh, and his brother, Martin McDonagh, use a version of Irishness in what they produce, and that Calvary uses Ireland rather than adding to Irish cinema. After the comments, there was a lively Q&A and discussion about these and other topics such as Irish movies in the box office.

Lastly, Margaret Kelleher summarised the day’s proceedings and encouraged the guest speakers to say what they would like to see happen in the industry over the next year.

 

Deirdre Molumby is an MLitt Film Studies student at TCD

 

You can listen to all the day’s talks and panels here

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