Interview: Brett Morgan, director of ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck’

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Donnchadh Tiernan spoke to Brett Morgan about his documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, which uses material from the Cobains’ personal archives in an in-depth examination of the Nirvana frontman’s childhood, music career and untimely death.

 

How much audio and video had you at your disposal?

In excess of 800 to a 1,000 hours of material – the bulk of that would have been VHS/camcorder footage of early Nirvana gigs. The real gold was all the stuff I’d been presented with by Kurt’s immediate family and that was all the material that had never seen the light of day and that made up the bulk of our film – that was about 30 hours of material. The 500 hours or so of concert footage wasn’t that much of a burden in terms of designing the narrative.

 

The footage you got from his family – was that just him as a child?

The footage from the family is pretty much everything you see in the film up to the point when Nirvana broke. One of the things we’ve never called attention to is that the first video-recorded interview with Nirvana is seen in our film for the first time publicily. That comes in about an hour into the film. And that had never been seen before. So it’s not really up to The Teen Spirit video when we started dealing with imagery that has been accessible. Then when you get through the Nevermind period once again you’re back in this world of never-been-seen-before material. It was important for us to access that stuff because that’s where I felt I was able to access a part of Kurt that was never presented to the public.

 

How did you go about putting all the material together?

My process for all my films is the same – what I do is about a year before I plan to enter the edit room I engage with archivists who spend the bulk of that year collecting every piece of media that exists on the subject. About 9 months into that I bring in an assistant editor who starts to organise the footage chronologically and then I sit down with an editor and screen through everything, both audio and visual – in this way I find that certain themes start to emerge. With this film, that meant starting with footage of Kurt when he was 6 months old and taking it all the way to the end.

 

As a result of this, it’s a particularly revealing and intimate film.

The intimacy is unfiltered. It’s not Kurt performing for the media – these are elements created by himself or filmed by his family or close friends. So there’s an intimacy in how this work was produced that I think translated quite well in the broader context of the film.

 

Were you always planning to have the animated sequences or is that something that developed over time?

I knew we were going to have to animate the journals but I never intended to have an animated depiction of Kurt. What happened was we cut the film with the audio and when I experienced those scenes with nothing but a blank screen it was riveting and I loved the idea of being able to visualise it myself but obviously you can’t do that for 7 minutes in the movie. I needed to bring that story to life. It’s specific to the subject matter – in this case there’s a kind of formalism to those scenes that sort of exist outside of the film – the only other place where you see those kind of compositions are in the interviews –  and that’s very deliberate because in those sequences where we animate Kurt we are, in a sense, stepping out of Kurt’s point of view, in the sense that we are creating those images. The same can be said for the interviews, which again kind of exist outside the body of the film. The body of the film is Kurt’s interior journey through life as depicted through his art – whether that be sound collage, his music , paintings or what have you. And this is contextualized by those people who were most intimate with Kurt Cobain during his lifetime.

 

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is in cinemas now.

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I Used to Live Here

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DIR/WRI: Frank Berry •  PRO: Frank Berry, Donna Eperon • DOP: Colm Mullen • ED: Frank Berry • MUS: Daragh O’Toole • CAST: Jordanne Jones, Dafhyd Flynn, James Kelly, Ross Geraghty

Neo-realism is a piece of film-terminology largely lost on the modern cinema-audience, save those with more than a passing interest in cinema, verging on an academic one. The meaning of the term could, on a very base level, be interpreted to refer to a very particular era of black-and-white filmmaking in post-war Italy. The fact is, like the Dogma-95 troupe or the surrealists, neo-realism was a screen philosophy that was/is adoptable and potentially of benefit to anyone willing to utilise its paradigms, those being on-location, shooting using local non-actors, telling a story that is thematically prevalent on a local level. I know one highly accomplished film-studies professor who gladly declares Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets to be the best neo-realist film in existence. As far as the term travels, Frank Berry’s I Used to Live Here, is an accomplished neo-realist picture on every level, in that it is compelling, it is local and it is tragically necessary.

I Used to Live Here tells the story of Amy Keane, a Tallaght teenager attempting to cope with the death of her mother and the reappearance of her father’s ex-girlfriend, and finding temptation in the idea of suicide while experiencing the local outcry of love for another teenager who takes his own life during the course of the film. The film, while officially written and directed by Frank Berry, is an unofficial compilation of experiences of suicide from the Tallaght community, with the script formed largely on a mixture of first-hand experiences of survivors of victims and deducible symptoms leading up to a young person taking their own life. Needless to say, the results are moving, relatable and overwhelmingly real.

Frank Berry’s major achievement here is how claustrophobic the film becomes despite being shot mostly outside. As Amy’s options seemingly dwindle, at least to her own perspective, the shots grow closer as though to relate her blindness to the arms aching to embrace her loneliness that surround her constantly. In these moments, I was brought to mind of Eric Steel’s excellent 2006 documentary, The Bridge, in particular the sequence where Ken Baldwin, a man who survived his own suicide attempt having leap from the Golden Gate Bridge, relates that, as his feet left the bridge, “I instantly realized that everything in my life I thought was unfixable was totally fixable – except having just jumped.” I Used to Live Here, like all great neo-realist films, bears a very poignant, deliberate message that culminates in the closing moments, and is crucially told depicted via the more ardent elements of filmmaking, i.e. – script-structure, editing, framing and acting. It is a message and a delivery that I’d dismay to ruin here by revealing too much, but suffice to say hat’s off to Dafhyd Flynn for subtly delivering the film’s finest performance and equally to Berry for keeping his cards so close in order to deliver a damning thematic blow in the closing moments.

I Used to Live Here is a film that has grown organically from the graves of a generation of suicide victims in Tallaght (where the film is set) and beyond. Shot locally, with local non-actors, this timely, poignant and ultimately necessary representation of the darkly mysterious and faceless menace of suicide and suicidal tendencies in communities will prove especially moving for some and should be considered essential viewing for everyone, regardless of their cinematic tendencies; cinematic tendencies considered, this is a vital 87-minutes for anyone who has dismayed at the potential power of cinema of recent years.

Donnchadh Tiernan

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
87 minutes

I Used to Live Here  is released 3rd April 2015

I Used to Live Here  – Official Website

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Wild Tales

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DIR/WRI: Damián Szifrón  • PRO: Agustín Almodóvar, Pedro Almodóvar, Esther García, Matías Mosteirín, Hugo Sigman • DOP: Javier Julia • ED: Pablo Barbieri Carrera, Damián Szifrón • MUS: Gustavo Santaolalla • DES: María Clara Notari • CAST: Darío Grandinetti, María Marull, Mónica Villa

In terms of genre and format, the anthology film occupies as shaky a spot in the world of cinema as the short story collection does in the world of literature. Are the singular tales themselves lesser works because they could not gain a sturdier stage-time such as, say, that of a feature film or a novel? Is the consumption of the tales as a collective imperative to our enjoyment of each individually? Some anthologies (such as last year’s exquisite A Touch of Sin) cheat the medium by linking the tales by a mere means of physical proximity of the end of one to the beginning of another, and some, such as the always interesting New York Stories, were comfortable to have their tales co-exist a connecting theme, in that case New York life. This week’s Argentinian effort, Wild Tales, lands in the latter camp, but only if catering to the murkier realms of human indulgence counts for a theme.

Wild Tales can be considered a masterclass in pulp filmmaking of both the short and novella format. Each story contains perceptible heroes and villains waltzing gracefully from white, through grey to morally black territory in lull allowing any audience living outside the confines of a monastery to joyfully experience the second-hand thrill of not giving a shit for consequence in the modern world. And, on second thoughts, its screening within a monastery to monastic inhabitants is perhaps the only means by which this delight could be made yet more cathartic.

The stories here encompass all manner of purposeful wrath, and the selected beefs on show, as chosen by writer-director Szifron, cast their seething glares upon everything to infidelity, to class-war, to road-rage, to parking tickets. Though the poster boasts a selection of revenge-themed tales, not all of the stories could boast as much and yet none fall short of delirious entertainment. The only manner this falls short as a piece of cinema is that the only scenario in which it functions justly as such is in a theatre in the dark; each story could function just as well if not better as a solo outing, a factor that plays most ironically when tied to the accumulating wedding-set tale, which boasts as good a cinematic matrimonial anyone will see this side of The Godfather.

Whether or not you view all of the Wild Tales in one sitting is a matter of minor irrelevance to this review. There’s truly something here for anyone who’s even flirted peripherally with their own moral grey-zone.

 

Donnchadh Tiernan

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
121 minutes

Wild Tales is released 27th March 2015

Wild Tales – Official Website

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Chappie

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DIR: Neill Blomkamp • WRI: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell •  PRO: Simon Kinberg • DOP: Trent Opaloch • ED: Julian Clarke, Mark Goldblatt • MUS: Hans Zimmer • DES: Jules Cook • CAST: Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Sharlto Copley

There is a billboard near my apartment that is resplendent with the latest didactic advertising statement from a particular sports brand that ticks all the boxes which warns passers-by that “There Will Be Haters”. Chappie, Neill Blomkamp’s third film proper since he burst out the gap with District 9 in 2009, would do well to heed the advice of the above quoted sports-brand slogan. Chappie is such a well-meaning, begrudger-effing parable that one can almost hear the hum of cynicism from the exit-doors of so many screening rooms nationwide. It’s oddly ironic that the advice of such a behemoth as that which adorns the billboard I pass daily should ring relevant for a film such as Chappie, because Sony-funding or no, any original science-fiction film with as overwhelmingly positive outlook as this will end up the little guy in any fight it comes up against.

The film begins as it does not mean to go on, with the same kind of faux-documentary footage that commenced Blomkamp’s debut. This totals twenty seconds at most, before we are blasted into a neon-painted impression of a Johannesburg policed by AI droids in the near future. The home-turf feels immediately welcoming to the director’s lens, slotting comfortably into this grimy production design which sings hymns to Mad Max and William Gibson in equal measure.

Neill Blomkamp has recently stated in an interview that the lyrical tableaux of South African rap duo Die Antwoord, whose videos and music were the happy discovery of this writer in the run-up to the film’s release, were directly the inspiration for the film and so it is entirely appropriate that they appear on screen, moments after machine-gun cackles set the picture in motion, and spark the plot to life.

The film’s central spiel involves Dev Patel’s Dion, designer of the police droids central to the plot, and his quest to create an AI with a consciousness, and Die Antwoord (perhaps playing themselves) kidnapping Dion and compelling him to leave the newly born AI in their care that they might teach him to perform heists in order to pay back a local crime-lord they owe. Taken at face value the plot is every bit as mundane as it might seem, but as a vehicle for the genius creation of Chappie, portrayed via motion capture by Sharto Copley, whose performance ought to give Andy Serkis a run for his money as mo-cap king. Put shortly, the simple plot serves as a perfect vehicle to birth Chappie, who’s such a gem he’s worth a thousand stories.

Chappie is at once, gorgeously created, photo-realistic, charming and hilarious. Having blubbered like a baby at last year’s Paddington, from which Chappie is not a million miles, theme-wise, I fully expected the mother-son relationship built up between the robot and his “Mummy” to end in tears but just as it is using the relationships it forms to craft exquisite themes of violence thriving in conditions of social-marginalisation as well as (once again) the purest of ideas that who we are on the inside is all that really matters, it is kicking ass and taking names in equal portions, with Hugh Jackman’s pistol-whipping Aussie antagonist chewing up more scenery than he knows what to do with and clearly having fun while he’s at it. The violence itself is bloody and horrific, as it should be. Violence is often taken on carelessly, with many an implication of immediate death and nary a drop of blood, and it is refreshing to see films such as this when violence rears its ugly head it is swiftly followed by a murky rush of claret to messily stain with contrast against the bubble-gum highlighter colour-pallet Blomkamp has opted for.

The only criticism I can level at this film, from the heart, is the occasionally hammy dialogue, which, honestly, considering what the film sets out to do, is no criticism at all. Every shot seems fairly judged, Hans Zimmer’s score dispenses tension and warmth as they are called for but does not over-saturate the visuals, an issue I see as going hand-in-hand recently with the more hollow fare of blockbuster. Hollowness is an attribute that was readily levelled at Blomkamp’s second feature, the po-faced, underwhelming Elysium, and for good reason; it severely let down the legions of cinema-goers who’d heralded the South African as a visionary saviour of original sci-fi on the back of his debut. Those fans may now rest easy again as Chappie cancels this bum-note completely and moves to directly build on the street-cred of District 9. We’ll take plenty more like this Neill, this’ll do grand.

Donnchadh Tiernan

15A (See IFCO for details)
120 minutes

Chappie is released 6th March 2015

Chappie  – Official Website

 

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The Theory of Everything

DIR: James Marsh • WRI: Anthony McCarten • PRO: Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten • DOP: Benoît Delhomme • ED: Jinx Godfrey • DES: John Paul Kelly • MUS: Jóhann Jóhannsson • CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior

The due note to make to oneself prior to a screening of The Theory of Everything is that it is first-and-foremost an adaptation of Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the memoir of one Jane Wilde Hawking, ex-wife of Stephen, and played with gentle enthuse by Felicity Jones in this year’s first hum-dinger, give-me-an-Oscar biopic. It is not, by any stretch, an attempt to adapt or even mildly document the theoretical physics of Stephen Hawking but rather to angle into his complicated family life a representation that appropriates unconditional love rather than didactic sympathy. This is a film that proudly depicts a life it considers nothing short of wonderful, which is an altogether pleasant surprise in the all-too-predictable mirage-like jungle of violin-screeching would-be biopics that yearn for sympathy above admiration, a quality that I, as an audience member, would, with the odd exception, personally necessitate of any subject considered worthy of a biopic.

The story begins in a rather dull manner, with Eddie Redmayne’s Hawking peddling metal giddily through the campus of Cambridge University in sequence that could be dropped into Chariots of Fire as easily. As a matter of fact everything progresses in a business-as-usual fashion until Stephen’s diagnosis with motor neuron disease, which is a pity considering that which is remarkable about the man commenced somewhat before this but forgivable considering the source material and emotional drive of the narrative.

The film’s greatest strengths are Eddie Redmayne, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, Benoît Delhomme cinematography and, at risk of crowding the list of highlights, one must credit James Marsh’s helming of the project entire, which echoes his previous Oscar-winning effort, Man on Wire, in a most joyful manner by presenting Professor Hawking as a man who’s physically the yin to that films uber-athlete’s (tightrope walker Phillipe Petit) yang and yet a kindred spirit in terms of sheer zest for life and experience.

Any plaudits thrown the way of this film, however, should, and will, land at the feet of Eddie Redmayne and the towering, joyous, magnetic performance he delivers to dwarf even the mighty David Thewlis, who here barely registers as Hawking’s Cambridge supervisor. Redmayne gives his body and soul to the character, in particular his eyes and hands, and it is the goods he delivers that allow the story to function well around the script’s driving theme; that the belief that everyone and everything has a place (the romantic application of the titular Theory of Everything that Hawking purportedly worked for most of his life), when applied to oneself has the ability to fill in even the most seemingly hopeless potential pits of despair. This is, above all, a life-affirming film on an almost spiritual level, something one feels Richard Dawkins would admonish were anyone to ever consider him worthy of a biopic.

The snags in the story, however inevitable, are rather course. The action moves along far too predictably to stand out as memorable, with some moments practically written around a template of Oscar-baiting schmaltz. The story lacks any real reference to any physics whatsoever, which comes across as a tad disrespectful to the audience this film will attract, namely one interested in the life of one of history’s most renowned physicists and, once again, as these stories are wont to do, everyone featuring is far too pretty and polished to care for on a realistic level. Overall though, the good moments outweigh the bad and this is by no means a trying way to spend a couple of hours indoors though not one you’re likely to remember a great deal of.

 

Donnchadh Tiernan


12A (See IFCO for details)
123 minutes.
The Theory of Everything
is released 2nd January 2015.

The Theory of Everything  – Official Website

 

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Paddington

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DIR/WRI: Paul King   PRO: David Heyman  • DOP: Erik Wilson   ED: Mark Everson  •  MUS: Nick Urata Howard DES: Gary Williamson   CAST: Nicole Kidman, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Bonneville, Ben Whishaw

Paddington opens with such an odd send-up of imperialist Britain one practically expects Eric Idle to potter onscreen with a marmalade sandwich. It is a story which will be well-known by many but I was positively green to. A British explorer “in darkest Peru” happens upon a family of talking bears, introduces them to marmalade (a substance they become instantly addicted to), drops off a hat and buggers off back to London. Years later, when an earthquake ruins their home and kills the male, the grandson of the bears leaves for London in a lifeboat on a cargo boat with nothing but a hat and a can-do attitude and what can only be described as a shit-ton of marmalade, seeking asylum in the house of any Londoners who might take him in. He happens upon the Browns, who name him for the train station they meet him in and twenty minutes in the stage is set for a whimsical wee tale equally interpretable as a chirpy anti-UKIP yarn as it is a harrowing parable on the consequences of man’s interference with nature, although it’s mostly the former.

Start to finish I enjoyed this film. It is a closer rendition of a Wes Anderson children’s film than The Fantastic Mr. Fox could ever hope to be. It is as charmingly presented as a story-book illustration and as respectful of its audience as a Roald Dahl book. From the moment the screen flickered to life I was waiting for the meat of the human-bear dynamic jokes to run out but I simply couldn’t stop giggling. Hugh Bonneville in particular has terrific timing and the sheer nastiness of Nicole Kidman’s taxidermy enthusiast is funnier than anything Adam Sandler has produced in years. I’m fully aware this is becoming nothing short of a list of things I loved about Paddington so rather than order them I’m going to embrace the format.

The concept design is startlingly beautiful, right down to Peter Capaldi’s grumpy neighbour’s dressing gown. Sigur Ros’ score is soft as milk to the ears. Paddington himself is well-realised and not at all as creepy as I’d thought he appeared in the trailer. Every fifteen minutes or so the action is sublimely punctuated by a ska band singing sweetly about life in London.

There’s not a great deal I can say more relevant than simply “Go to see this”. You won’t believe me until you go but this film, which I’d previously written off as yet another cheap cash-in on a cherished property, is the best family film to go on release in some time.

Donnchadh Tiernan

G (See IFCO for details)

95 minutes

Paddington is released 21st November 2014

Paddington – Official Website

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Get On Up

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DIR: Tate Taylor  WRI: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth  PRO: Brian Grazer, Trish Hofmann, Erica Huggins, Mick Jagger, Victoria Pearman DOP: Stephen Goldblatt  ED: Michael McCusker  DES: Mark Ricker MUS: Thomas Newman  CAST: Chadwick Boseman, Dan Aykroyd, Fred Melamed

Any promotional material you read/view/hear for Tate Taylor’s Get On Up, the long-awaited James Brown biopic the world’s been fawning for since Christmas Day, 2006 (the day the self-scrawled “Godfather of Soul” passed), will name the seminal soul singer as an almost deity-like figure, epitomizing the African American experience from the early 1960s onward in musical form. As the stunning Chad Boseman chimes as an elderly Brown in the film’s opening scenes, “there’s some of me in every record you own”. Similar claims have been made by many a tiresome music biopic over the last decade and a half but approximately zero actor-director combo’s have pulled off the trick so convincingly as Taylor and Boseman do in Get On Up, which easily blows the former’s mediocre predecessor The Help out of its shallow waters to the point of game-changing.

The film bravely opens with an event for which Brown is arguably better known (certainly in lower brow circles) than for his entire discography combined, that being the drug-addled police-chase he embarked on in the days following his son’s death in 1988. The sequence, which opens with a frank shot of Brown’s hand adding angel-dust to a joint, includes at least two moments when the lead breaks the fourth wall, setting a new precedent for the drug-fuelled rock biopic beyond the woe-be-me hymns hummed by the likes of Walk the Line and Ray in that, rather than ignoring the nostalgic factor filmmakers inevitably approach such subjects with, Taylor uses a device most successfully used recently in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Bronson, in that he allows his subject bear the burden of agency in the telling of the tale. If this film shies away from darkness and murk it is because it is nothing more than Brown’s own spin on things, and begrudgers be damned.

As with other biopics that have allowed their subjects agency (the best example being Andrew Domink’s Chopper) the film is held together by a powerful, cohesive lead performance. Relative unknown Chad Boseman will not bear the subtitle long. He emanates sexuality with every lunge and whelp. His performance soars to such heights it negates the relatively fluffy acting surrounding him throughout, Dan Ackroyd seeming the most oddly miscast addition.

Credit due too in large to the script also, which meanders around chronology at an easy pace, dealing anecdotes as a means to a thematic narrative rather than the more traditional model excellently lampooned in Walk Hard. It is shot with the usual High Definition glitz we’ve come to expect from any film set even a little bit in the seventies, which works a dream for the highly-charged performances but jars uneasily with the murkier aspects of Brown’s life Taylor attempts to tackle, which is perhaps why he spends so few times in those moments. It does occasionally feel it needs Scroobius Pip quoted in its general direction (“…just a band”) but at least these flaws may be logically solved by the device of Brown addressing the camera: it’s his story and he’ll tell it how he wishes; with him at the centre.

Donnchadh Tiernan

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

138 minutes

Get On Up is released 21st November 2014

Get On Up – Official Website

 

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The Drop

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DIR: Michaël R. Roskam • WRI: Dennis Lehane • PRO: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Mike Larocca • DOP: Nicolas Karakatsanis • ED: Christopher Tellefsen • DES: Thérèse DePrez • MUS: Marco Beltrami, Raf Keunen • CAST: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Elizabeth Rodriguez, James Gandolfini

A screen flickers to life with nothing on the soundtrack but the sickly drip of water and the buzz of urban indifference to adorn the faded in shot of an alley we’d rather not be in. Various silhouetted figures stumble through the cold, bundled up well and breathing intermittently, their foggy discharges adding to the impending sense of dampness filling the screening room. One figure halts, disturbed into curiosity by a noise they’ve heard in a nearby bin. They investigate. They always investigate. Welcome to (Dennis) Lehane-ville, home of blue-collar noir for the 21st century.

There is no genre so much as noir that one may develop a story in provided a few dynamics are in place, regardless of era or location. Noir films tend to be set in worlds a few streets wide where nobody aids police investigations and nobody has nothing to worry about. They tend to progress towards revealing a series of murky secrets and so it is appropriate as a viewer to trust no one. They will eventually pit you as the star prize in a cock fight between two devils, one you’ll know and one you won’t. There are never markedly unknowable plot points in the noir-genre and as such it is the music made as murky motivations twang off hopefully engaging characters that these stories rely upon most.

Along these lines Michael R. Roskam’s The Drop fairs reasonably well. The disturbed silhouette from the opening frame is Tom Hardy’s seemingly simple barman, the noise he’s heard is an abused dog whose been thrown in the bin, Rocco, who’ll soon function as MacGuffin and symbol simultaneously. He finds the dog in Noomi Rapace’s rubbish and he argues over what to do with it with his Uncle Marv, who’s James Galdolfini back from the dead once more and not doing a great deal more than he did in New Jersey for HBO for almost a decade. The sense of impending doom is set in motion by the Czechian gangsters who run a bookies through Marv’s former bar, which gets robbed at the start and whose responsibility transpires to be more of a multi-layered question than you’d expect, except perhaps if you were aware you were watching a Dennis Lehane noir film.

I’m referring to the film in a tone that would suggest it will not surprise you and in a certain sense of the word that is true. There are a couple of twists in store in the third act and at least one eureka air-puncher moment but for the most part this is business as usual.

The film’s greatest strengths are in the acting, the script and the thematic symbol of the dog (if you think about it). The performances are great across the board though particular credit should fall at the feet of Hardy who does a great Rocky and Matthias Schoenaerts who does a great bastard. The dialogue, however colloquial the delivery, is as sharp as one would expect from an author of Lehane’s stature, and for once the inclusion of a dog as a major story-point doesn’t give cause for foreheads to whack palms. The film’s greatest weakness is that it doesn’t demand a cinema visit of the audience and doesn’t strive to stand out from the standard fair of rain-soaked detective fiction. The Drop is good pulpy, crime fiction of the sort there’s never a shortage of.

Worth a watch for a fan of anyone involved, strangers to the cause might save their allowance this week.

Donnchadh Tiernan

 

15A (See IFCO for details)

106 minutes

The Drop is released 14th November 2014

The Drop – Official Website

 

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Jake Gyllenhaal’s Best Bits

Jake Gyllenhaal: 'Mike and I will always be close because of the film'

Jake Gyllenhaal has never been far from critical acclaim. Arriving amidst a furore of unanimous praise as the titular lead in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (his actual onscreen debut being the significantly lower key role of Billy Crystal’s son in City Slickers) his career has gone from strength to strength to the occasionally massive pay-check for utter trite. He’s even garnered the badge of honour of stealing the role of Aquaman from the fictional Vincent Chase of Entourage. With Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler just on the horizon and its accompanying critical humdrum emitting noises that may or may not rhyme with “Shm-Oscar”, Donnchadh Tiernan takes a look at his five best performances so far.

5) End of Watch (2012)

A gatecrasher of many people’s 2012 Top Ten lists, David Ayer’s (kinda) found-footage police thriller rose and fell upon the chemistry that would form between Gyllenhaal and co-lead Michael Peña. As thrilling as actions scenes become they are ultimately carried by the presence (or lack there-of) of audience empathy, which the pair win in spades not by the fist-pumping canned bromance of recent Appatow-fair but by sex-stories, piss-taking and good old-fashioned DMC’s. When the chips fall in this one we care.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mf2K9GzgiF0

4) The Good Girl (2002)

This dark comedy in which Jennifer Aniston’s lonely, small-town check-out girl falls for Gyllenhaal’s Holden Worther, a teenage stock-boy convinced he is a reincarnate of Holden Caulfield. Meant solely as an indie-rebirth for Aniston in a post-Friends landscape, he here steals the show with the crazy-eyed teen angst that made his name in the first place, only this time taking the crazy to a place beyond the throbbing hearts of teenage girls and into the recline couches of teen psychiatrists.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZXynl7z4hU

3) Jarhead (2005)

His turn in Sam Mendes’ Gulf War I picture feels at times like an R-Rated Earnest Goes to Kuwait, but the well won chemistry between Gyllenhaal and the inimitable Peter Sarsgaard weaves a series of questions between the audience and the subject matter that are never satisfactorily answered, thus hammering the point of the film home in a manner Generation Kill. At no point however, in any of Simon’s unsettling HBO mini-series, does any actor get to lead in a credit sequence with a line so irreverent as “SIR, I GOT LOST ON THE WAY TO COLLEGE SIR!”.

2) Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Out of a choice of double-acts (the other being David Fincher’s under-watched Zodiac, which paired Gyllenhaal with Robert Downey-Jnr.) there was no getting away from Ang Lee’s masterpiece love-story. While Heath Ledger soaked up the critical acclaim as the world-baring Ennis Del Mar Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist provided the desperate, vocal agony of one unashamedly torn apart by love and longing for one unwilling to openly return his feelings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dc7Odty5MuM

1) Donnie Darko (2001)

While Nightcrawler may indeed provide the blast of limelight he’s been waiting for to drown out the shadow of his career-winning lead-role in Richard Kelly’s masterful debut, since its release Donnie Darko has, as a role, been the benchmark against which any Gyllenhaal performance must be tested. Granted, he’s working with one of the best un-doctored, raw screenplays indie-cinema has seen this century. Fair-enough, he’s surrounded by veterans such as Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze (as well as a never-scummier turn by then-newbie Seth Rogan), the latter of which is on career-best form. Take all those factors and more into account (the soundtrack, for one) and all of them boiled down to nothing when placed beside Gyllenhaal’s turn under hypnosis rambling about “fucking Christina Applegate”; a performance that deservedly won him a career that still numbers amongst Hollywood’s most interesting on offer. And if that’s not enough, he played one half of some of the best onscreen shifting I have ever seen. Outstanding.

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Audio Interview: Ross Whitaker, IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Festival Programmer

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In this interview, Donnchadh Tiernan talks to Ross Whitaker, the Festival Programmer of the IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Festival, which takes place September 25th – 28th.

This year’s festival includes the world premiere of Ciarín Scott’s In a House That Ceased to Be as well as premieres for other Irish films, including Blood Fruit, Showrunners and It Came from Connemara!!.

The international programme includes Irish premieres of Steve James’ Life Itself about the film critic Roger Ebert, Kim Longinotto’s  Love is All, Joe Berlinger’s Whitey: United States of America V. James J. Bulger, Andreas Johnsen’s Ai Weiwei – The Fake Case and Amir Amirani’s We Are Many. 

The festival also welcomes Amir, Kim and Andreas as guests to the festival, along with long-time Werner Herzog producer André Singer, who presents his new film Night Will Fall.

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We Love… Soundtracks – Gladiator

 

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Who hasn’t run up steps without Bill Conti’s classic ode to trying hard, the Rocky Theme ‘Gonna Fly Now’, soaring through their head, or spun around at the top of a hill belting out Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s soaring blue sky-classic ‘The Hills are Alive’…

Can you go for a swim in the sea without hearing ‘duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh’ – John Williams’ creepingly stubborn build of bass notes –  or take a shower unaccompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s stabbing shrieks of a slashing violin clashing against the steam.

Then welcome, welcome to the latest We Love…  as, over the next few weeks, our collection of movie-loving muzos put on their tight-white trousers and flowing dresses and profess their love for music in film in:

 

We Love…

Soundtracks

 

Gladiator

 

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‘… Hans Zimmer’s score is a masterpiece. Constructed with as many elements of Gustav Holtz’ The Planets as it is of O Fortuna and traditional middle-Eastern lilting …’

Donnchadh Tiernan

Ridley Scott’s Gladiator was the seminal cinema-going of my young life. I was twelve at the time of its release but luckily for me and one other ardent cinema-attendee, the little circled numbers on the corner of movie posters were more guidelines than rules in Ennis’ Empire Movieplex circa 2000; after assuring the cinema manager that we were fourteen (still one year south of the prescribed age given Gladiator was released as a 15 Cert film) and heeding his warning that the film contained “a awful lot of shtaking lads” we were ushered into a crowded screen, barely able to contain our glee.

That the film itself was a revelation is debatable in some circles but rest assured, to my impressionable 12-year-old mind it was the beginning of something. From the opening dolly-shots of Russell Crowe’s brawny, calloused hands thumbing ears of wheat to the colour-saturated colossus of Commodus’s arrival into Rome as emperor, it dawned on me for the first time that the various elements concocting to present the experience I was here taking in were more than a series of sharp turns on a popcorn chomping thrill-ride but art compiled in the same dense manner a composer might align notes to create a symphony. I took due note of its lead actor’s name (which I’d not heard until that point) and that of its director, and endeavoured to track down all I could by each of them and, to all intensive purposes, nerd out. I even took minor note of how different the score itself was, a genuine first for me beyond the James Bond theme. It may have been the haunting lilts of Lisa Gerrard or the rousing call-to-arms of the combat scores but I’m certain that my first mental notations of what is now my favourite score (and what I consider undoubtedly to be Hans Zimmer’s masterpiece) were of a novelty at best. To me the piece had yet to separate itself from the film as its own work of art, which is a moment I would not arrive at until almost twelve years later.

Two years ago when I commenced work on my final-year thesis (a riotously ambitious work which attempted to examine the culturally tangible ties between Apocalypse Now and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) I arrived at a difficult stepping stone whereby I could no longer work in my own bedroom without becoming distracted and at the same time could not work in the college library without having my stomach turned by the everlasting cacophony of a thousand malnourished stomachs surrounding me, churning involuntarily for want of nutrition beyond heaping of chocolate and energy drinks. I needed a soundtrack, and in a fleeting moment when allowing myself to be lured from academia by endless YouTube clips of movie badasses saying the thing that earned them the title, I came across Maximus turning his back to Commodus in the centre of the coliseum and thought, “Well there’s something I’ve not tried yet”.

The entire score album as a single clip was not hard to find and so not a minute beyond the idea’s inception I had my headphones connected to my computer’s sound-jack and Progeny (aka, track 1) pumping in my ears. It’s soothing tones, followed by those of The Wheat, allowed me to survey my handwritten plans diligently before the masterful ten-minute The Battle aided me in high-tempo typing as I churned out words with all the passion and confidence of a tightly formed Roman legion advancing on a Germanic  outpost.

Hans Zimmer’s score is a masterpiece. Constructed with as many elements of Gustav Holtz’ The Planets as it is of O Fortuna and traditional middle-Eastern lilting it proved to be as seminal and influential as the film itself, which reignited Hollywood’s interest in sword-and-sandals epics. For every moment of meditative calm there is a building rhythm to carry one onto the next sequence conveying violence justified “for the glory of Rome”. By the time I reached the album’s sublime conclusion (Now We Are Free) I had written enough to warrant a cigarette and taken the appropriate amount of time to do so (1:01:40, precisely the length of the score album). Suffice to say, when I returned from my break I pressed play again and kept doing so until my thesis was complete.

I love the film Gladiator. I love it first and foremost for introducing me spiritually to the art-form that would come to dominate the majority of my daily thought over the coming decade and even after that it is an out-and-out douzy of a popcorn chomper. Even more so I love Hans Zimmer’s score, for in the month preceding my thesis submission I came to equate the magical explosion of choral tribal chanting approximately two minutes into the closing track with a very special feeling. I had typed for an hour and deserved a cigarette. That, friends and film fans, is the feeling of a little victory. And in words as eloquent as I can manage, it’s the little victories that life is all about. Having found a moment in a film-score that can aurally recreate such a feeling, how could I possibly select any other?

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 04

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Ruairí & Donnchadh ride the dragon into the basement to do battle with Decepticons, bringing you some film news along the way and compare and contrast homeworks (The Madness of King George & La Vie en Rose) and, of course, check out what’s out now in a cinema near you, including How to Train Your Dragon 2, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Cold in July, The Golden Dream, and Tammy.

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Interview: Diego Quemada-Diez, writer/director of ‘The Golden Dream’

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Diego Quemada-Diez’s debut feature, The Golden Dream, is a drama about three Guatemalan teenagers trying illegally to cross the Mexican border into the US. Donnchadh Tiernan spoke to the film’s writer/director about his award-winning debut.

Diego Quemada-Diez is humble man. From the two conversations we had, around the time of the Irish release of his stunning, multiple award-winning debut The Golden Dream, no one adjective rushes more prominently to my mind than that.

Heralded on the festival circuit as a Ken Loach protégé (with no small thanks to a glowing quote from the English maestro on a circulating poster), Diego has, over the course of almost three decades of lower-tier film-work (often on extravagantly budgeted projects), forged himself the opportunity to cast the die on his own original vision chronicling the arduous journey from Guatemala to America through Mexico of three teenagers, in a grandiose bid to escape poverty.

The film is based on several hundred actual accounts of similar experiences of hardship in crossing from Latin America into the US and anyone who sees it will agree it may wear its influences proudly but this is the work of no one’s protégé. An extraordinarily hard worker, Diez is a poetically minded humanist and a life-long cinema-enthusiast to boot. Indeed, several times during our chat the dialogue deviated to the works of other directors (some he held in high esteem, some not so much), and his humility shone through, particularly when I announced The Golden Dream to have become my favourite of the Cannes 2013 screeners, itself having recently overtaken Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin in my esteem and he responded “What? No! Thank you but A Touch of Sin was simply incredible; the most amazing film I saw at Cannes.”

Born in Burgos, Northern Spain, in 1969, Diego recalls wanting to become a director from a very young age. “I think I was four when I first saw the film Shane. I remember I cried alot at the end credits. It was very powerful and I wanted to be a part of it.” From his teenage years Diego began making moves to become a part of the film industry, opting for the hands-dirty, sleeves-rolled approached favoured by many up-and-comers for whom film-school is not an immediate option. “My family thought I was crazy and they couldn’t afford it so I decided to take whatever jobs I could to get on film sets and work my way up the ladder.”

In 1995 he worked on the set of Ken Loach’s Spanish civil war epic Land and Freedom. The encounter had a profound effect on Diego, who outlines the experience as paramount in the way he would go on to make film. “I just admired the simplicity of the way he shot and the way he allowed things to happen on camera. There was no tension on set and everything was unfolding naturalistically. I knew from watching him how I wanted to make films and how I could shape my films … I’m very grateful to Ken for his help in promoting this film and am honoured by his reaction to it.”

Not long after completing his work on Land and Freedom he emigrated to America, seeing it as the next logical step on his filmmaking journey: “My mother had just passed. I had known I would eventually go there and afterwards I felt it was time.”

Over the course of the following decade the films he worked on as a cameraman resonate very uneasily with both the structure and shooting style of The Golden Dream. “I worked on a lot of action films. Gone in 60 Seconds was one. I worked on Man on Fire as a cameraman. I got to read the script before working on that one, which was very good. The final film is about as far away from my way of shooting as you can get but that is just the way Tony [Scott] liked to shoot”. A consistent series of these, what Diego refers to as, “odd jobs”, allowed him to finance four years of film school as he continued to develop toward the fully realised helmsman he is today. Hearing his story, one cannot help but recognize the experience as not a league from the journeys of the teenagers in his debut feature, if less fraught with calamity.

“My time at the beginning was very difficult. I even got fake papers for a time but eventually got a lawyer to help me join a union and source real papers.” This experience fostered the development of empathy in Diego for victims of the American myths of instant wealth and prosperity. It was this, alongside a wealth of Latin folk music chronicling the emigration experience, that inspired Diego to write The Golden Dream, its title itself adapted from a 1983 Mexican song (‘La Jaula de Oro’)  lamenting the loss of one’s homeland in favour of the financial opportunity offered by America.

“The idea came to me about eight years ago, hearing the many Latin American folk songs that chronicle the journey [of an illegal immigrant] to America and I wanted to explore these sorts of narratives on film.”

“In order to construct the story I interviewed 600 illegal immigrants from South America to the United States, which was almost always incredible. I once interviewed a kid who could show me the tunnel he’d gotten through into America the day before. He compared it to a concentration camp; to get into the most heavily guarded country on earth. It’s like escaping into a prison, which is another reason I linked the song to the story.”

“I screen-tested over 6,000 actors for the roles in the film, almost all from disadvantaged areas. Ghettos. The guys we ended up with, that we chose, all came from artistic backgrounds. Rodolfo was a street artist, and Brandon a hip-hop dancer. None of them had ever acted before but their art backgrounds helped them engage more the way I’d like them to. Emotionally. Also, because we shot in sequence and didn’t give out scripts until the day of shooting they were encouraged to act and react as naturally as possible.” A prompt viewing of The Golden Dream is essential to fully understand just how outstanding a feat this is, and indeed what a gritty shoot it must have been.

“In particular the shoot got tough by the US border, which of course we were not allowed to cross. There was a lot of things present that should not appear in the shot and so we had to work out every detail before we shot. The way we ended up shooting it was very complicated. The toughest days filming took place there.”

The film itself can be quite stressful to watch, almost like the frustration of a pantomime whose plot won’t unfold the way we want it to with unfathomably higher consequences. Ken Loached surmised his response saying, “The struggle of the innocent is caught with precision. And it is clear their real enemy is beyond their reach or comprehension, but nonetheless very present in the film.” I would go as far as to say he shoots like Hemingway wrote, with the girth of the film’s theme evolving organically in the brain of the viewer.

Such praise is water off the ever-so-humble back of Diego. He has promised Film Ireland that his next film, though not yet written, is another story he has carried with him for several years, and assures us he will commence official pre-production shortly after he finishes promotion on The Golden Dream.

A firm film-fan, Diego Quemada-Diez is the kind of enthused filmmaker the form welcomes, seeing each shot as an experiment or, to put a more romantic spin on it, an adventure. Summarising his experience making his terrific debut he says, “I just wanted to take the stories I heard in these songs and read in different poetry and tell them with images and see what difference I could make in their telling; to put these stories in touch with the medium of film was always my goal.”

The Golden Dream is currently screening in at the IFI

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How to Train Your Dragon 2

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DIR: Dean DeBlois • WRI: Dean DeBlois, Cressida Cowell • PRO: Bonnie Arnold • ED: John K. Carr  • MUS: John Powell • CAST: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler

2010’s How to Train Your Dragon took me, like it did the majority of the movie-going public, completely by surprise. Dean DeBlois’ fantasy-family romp, from an animation studio who’d long seemed content to mop up the spare change left by the behemoth Pixar, more often than not to the tune of an ever-tiring Scottish ogre and a zebra of African-American descent, and baring a title more marketable to the pop-up book industry,  proved the finest collaboration of human storytelling with other-worldly elements suitable for all ages since Tom Hanks voiced a cowboy doll. Despite  taking a couple of watches for me to admit my love, my adoration for it grew with each viewing until I, like every other red-blooded audience member who chanced upon it, pondered the cruelty of the sort of world where I could not acquire a Toothless to call my own. Though anticipating this sequel eagerly, I found it difficult to believe that lightning could strike twice to the same extent. My cynicism did not linger beyond the five-minute mark. Cynicism has no place in this movie landscape.

Opening with a ten-minute visual bombardment of a reminder as to why we adored the first film so much (featuring a Quidditch-type game simply titled ‘Dragon Racing’) it does not take long for spectacle to blast a smile on one’s face. The rich spectrum of colours from the original remains intact but the attention to detail is heightened in terms of vibrancy, as is the case with animation sequels. Rather than leaps forward in production design, depth is felt more-so in the textures of beards, scales and weather – which is fine… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; polish it.

The story this time around stems from conflicts within the realm of the expanding world of the Vikings (thanks to their winged friends) and the importance of defending one’s actual homestead, with themes of stagnancy and environmental control in the face of expansion and understanding warring for the in-story triumph. Returning at centre-stage is Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup as well as the whole clan with the additions of Cate Blanchett voicing his dragon-hippie mum, and a new adversary in the form of one Drago Bludvist, who’s about as nice as he sounds.

The great strength of this sequel is its achievement in evolving the story from essentially a fantasy-pet yarn to a broadened, emotionally involving mythology that balances hope with despair, love with tyranny and slapstick comedy with gripping action sequences. Every review will claim this is attempting to pull an Empire Strikes Back and, apart from the lack of a dark ending, I can’t render a denial of this as a fact on paper. DeBlois has upped his franchise’s game in every sense, with a very special shout-out to composer John Powell for a score that will accompany as many a morning as it will take for this reviewer to tire of it. DeBlois’ script does not miss a beat, with every plot device introduced serving refreshing functions outside of mere spectacle and with the core thematic concept of communication and understanding here, even riskily suggesting homosexual undertones amongst the patriarchal Vikings, in one of the more progressive moves yet seen in child-fiction. For some reason this understanding does not lend itself to sheep, who fall victim to needless cruelty throughout.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 achieves what all children’s films should strive toward. This is by no means necessarily for children and yet it can be enjoyed with children. For a second time Dreamworks animations have produced a work that respects its adult and infant audiences in equal measure. Your move, Pixar.

Donnchadh Tiernan

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
101 mins

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is released on 27th June 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2– Official Website

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Venus in Fur

 

DIR: Roman Polanski • WRI: Roman Polanski, David Ives  • PRO: Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde  • ED: Hervé de Luze, Margot Meynier • DOP: Pawel Edelman • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • CAST: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric

Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur is in every sense a follow-up to 2011’s Carnage: both are based on hit off-Broadway plays; both are dialogue-heavy and cast-light; both are one-set productions and thereby direct hymns to theatre, albeit ones with all-star casts. Venus is the story of theatre director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) winding down from a failed day of casting for his new play, an adaptation of the 1870 book from which the film draws its title; a book which introduced the world to S & M as a mainstream concept. Just as he laments the poor quality of actresses he saw that day he is set upon by the gloriously seductive Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner), who convinces him to allow her a read-through of his play, during the course of which she gradually gains greater control over Thomas, thus reflecting the themes of the original novel. If this structure sounds familiar it may well be; it was achieved more successfully in thirty minutes in episode 5 of recent BBC series Inside No. 9, which deconstructs Macbeth in a similar fashion.

Venus, like Carnage, has the glue of great performances holding it together. Both actors here earn their stripes from the get-go, with Seigner in particular seducing the audience as effectively as Thomas, unsurprising when considering her husband is directing her and her cleavage deserves an IMDb profile of its own. The story-telling keeps sexually charged as its source material, and while it uses this as a discussion platform for sexual politics and gender as performance fantasy elements wait eagerly in the wings, unseen but felt. How does Vanda know the unpublished script verbatim, or the intricate workings of the lighting rig? Did Polanski recruit Tim Burton to shoot the film’s rain-soaked tracking shot intro?

At its worst this film lags tremendously 40 minutes in, when the core-concept begins to reveal itself and thematic progression departs in favour of bawdy humour and repetition. For a great deal of the second half the shifts in power that ought to cement the film’s worth are entirely unconvincing, and one can lay blame for this largely at the feet of the poor pacing. To shave 20 minutes of Venus would have done it a great service and as it stands it seems as though it may have been Polanski’s clout alone that saved it from hasty last-minute editing.

Ironically then that it is Polanski’s great directorial presence alone that makes this film worth a watch. Not only is it immaculately shot and acted but it bears the ever-so-Polanski theme of female subjugation by male forces with ardency as well as waltzing with ease to a collective of influences so diverse it includes Beckett, Burton and Fellini. This is a film that would have gone unmade were it not for the legendary status of its director and just so it will an eek an audience out amongst the cinephile community if nowhere else; an interesting experiment if nothing more.

Donnchadh Tiernan

15A (See IFCO for details)
95 mins

Venus in Fur is released on 30th May 2014

Venus in Fur – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

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DIR: Bryan Singer • WRISimon Kinberg PRO: Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer • DOP: Newton Thomas Sigel • ED: John Ottman • MUS: John Ottman • DES: John Myhre • CAST: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender

The aesthetic that was begun with the decision to opt for black leather as opposed to the colourful skin-tights of comic-book illustration in Bryan Singer’s low-key (at least by today’s standards) X-Men (2000) saw triumph in the likes of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. But, ultimately, it stumbled and failed to a global audience in the clunky third acts of The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel. The Nolan-verse, though well thought out, gritty and relatable, left too much of a chasm between the onscreen worlds depicted and the fantasy settings that drew in the materials’ initial fan-base. Indeed, if the gargantuan success of the Marvel movies, whose Avengers Assemble climaxed a clean 200 million North of Nolan’s last outing in Gotham, spelt out nothing else to audiences and studio heads alike it became clear that any amount of salt could be pinched in watching, provided the audience was having fun.

Essentially, the aesthetic of the criminally underrated Blade, triumphant with Spiderman 2 and del Toro’s Hellboy films – fumbled with the likes of Daredevil and The Fantastic Four – has been perfected by them boys at Marvel to at last allow filmmakers read from the playbook of superhero storytelling that allowed for their massive popularity in the first instance and use the sources themselves as story-boards wherever possible in order to best emulate/adapt the look, mood and story-structures to a cinematic context –  a feat already gleefully achieved this year by Marc Webb on The Amazing Spiderman 2.

Our first glimpse of Stan Lee’s mutant “evolutionaries” in this colour-palate came with the messy but fun X-Men: First Class and since the announcement that Singer would return to the series with an adaptation that would unite both casts, old and new, anticipation has been building to see whether Marvel’s greatest property might step forth from the darkness successfully and enjoy the sun as it shines forth from Avengers‘ producer Kevin Feige’s arse. Well let’s have a look then…

The film opens in a future not ten clicks from the “real” world of The Matrix franchise. Evidently gigantic robots (coincidentally also called sentinels) have ravaged the world for want of ridding it of mutants for good. A last band, including everyone you want, plus a couple of bonus mutants, gather at the great wall of China and opt to fling Wolverine’s conscience back to his pre-adamantium days in the 1970s that he might get the boys (young Xavier and Magneto and friends) together again in order to thwart the efforts of Jennifer Lawrence’s shape-shifting Mystique to assassinate one Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) – an event which set off the chain-reaction leading to the dystopia of the film’s opening. This sets us up to globe-trot the world of 1970s Marvel-lore with none other than Hugh Jackman’s cool-as-hell Logan. Make no mistake; this is Fox’s answer to Marvel.

The film’s set-pieces are truly the meat here, and at a count of seven and a half in a matter of 131 minutes they would truly want to be, with the highlight undoubtedly the breakout of Magneto (at this point an X-troupe) from his plastic prison beneath The Pentagon, featuring series newbie Quiksilver, as played with anarchic frenzy by Evan Peters. Singer shoots action well enough as is, but here his wide array of characters allows him girth to upscale each kerfuffle to its almost maximum potential. Almost every action sequence allots him a new notch for his CV’s bedpost: Blink’s utilisation of portals (like the video-game, yes) during fights is complex yet impressively compact in shots; a fight in a fountain in Paris cut between Super-8 crowd-footage and Hi-def is a delight; Hugh Jackman looks cooler than Michael Fassbender (neckerchief, really?). How then will this measure up to the excellent Avengers Assemble, a comparison I feel will prove appropriate and inevitable in discussion of this film.

This verdict harkens back to this review’s lengthy introductory paragraph and asks the viewer what they want from a comic-book film. On all counts Avengers is a superior film. Every character has a seeming drive and a fair amount of screen-time. In Days of Future Past the only arc is James McAvoy’s Xavier and it is a flimsy one at that. The bold move this film makes (that some will call lazy) is the love for its characters on behalf of cinema-goers that it takes for granted.

Essentially, this is a comic-book story as told on paper, in that every second of plot is incidental as the end of every thread must return us to the status quo before the credits roll. There is fine acting on show here (a special shout-out here to McAvoy and Fassbender who share a sizzling chemistry when onscreen together) but it is only as 3-dimensional as it needs to be, as are the characters. Any scorn heaped upon this film on account of plot-holes (of which there are a handful) and character development (almost none) are justified but if you enter this film with the same entertainment bar set as when you flick open a Marvel comic you will genuinely not leave disappointed. I had an absolute blast.

Donnchadh Tiernan

12A (See IFCO for details)
130 mins

X-Men: Days of Future Past is released on 22nd May 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Official Website

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 01

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In this Film Ireland podcast, Ruairí Moore and Donnchadh Tiernan get together in a sulpher-ridden basement to chat about all things film. Pending their survival, we hope to bring you their regular thinkings and talkings in true film-loving fashion.

In this episode, Ruairí and Donnchadh give us their latest film news, salute H.R. Giger, who died last week, catch up on films they should’ve seen but haven’t, but have now (Punch-Drunk Love & Once Upon a Time in the West) and check out some current films playing in a cinema near you –  Frank, Blue Ruin and Transcendence.

 

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Cinema Review: Ilo Ilo

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DIR: Anthony Chen • WRISteph Green, Ailbhe Keogan  PRO: Koh Jia Ler, Angeli Bayani, Tian Wen Chen • DOP: Benoit Soler • ED: Hoping Chen, Joanne Cheong •  CAST: Koh Jia Ler, Angeli Bayani Angeli Bayani, Tian Wen Chen Tian Wen Chen, Yann Yann Yeo

Ilo Ilo is the feature debut of Singaporean director Anthony Chen, which this week sees its release after a lengthy festival tour during which, amongst many other prestigious awards, it picked up the Camera d’Or 2013, the coveted cinematography prize at Cannes. It is a claustrophobic family drama bearing all the hallmarks of high-brow Asian cinema. It almost dares you to dislike it that you might stand out from the critical mass and, given the minimal number of non-cinephile audience members this screens to, that is a dare likely to be left undone. This is a difficult film to dislike.

Set during a 1990s financial meltdown in Singapore (a detail of the cultural context never divulged onscreen but in the programmes that accompany all the films at the type of cinema this will screen at), Ilo Ilo chronicles what seems like a year in the lives of a family of three and their newly employed Filipino maid, examining in particular the bond she develops with their already unruly son and the further strain her presence as a stranger puts on the family’s already weathering ties as a unit. Phew.

The time and place of the story are so specific that one imagines Chen opted for this smaller canvas with a view to developing larger themes. The homely chaos of the family residence recalls the suburban settings of 1980s Spielberg while Chen’s stalking close-ups hardly allow anyone a moment alone. Indeed, if the works of Ozu, with which this piece of Asian cinema has inevitably drawn comparisons, drew their emotional frameworks from long, drawn-out shots in which emotions might organically develop, here Chen’s often hand-held lens makes sure not to miss a moment, seeming to note that these suburbanites give mere moments in which thoughts and feelings traverse the frame, raw and unprocessed like flaky sugar-cane, before regaining the facade appropriate to their social station. Indeed, the saving of face, both financially and socially, play into the story in significant scenes, perhaps consciously riffing on wider global themes of international governments’ reluctance to declare bankruptcy. As such, Yeo Yann Yann’s growing animosity as the mother toward Teresa, the new housekeeper, as the Filipinos maid’s friendship with her son deepens, is jarringly easy to empathise with as it is with one’s domestic working class losing out on menial work to foreign nationals, more willing to do it for less than return home to a lesser life.

All the acting here is superb, with child actor Koh Jia Ler in particular managing to simultaneously yank our heartstrings and be as much of a shit as Game of Thrones’ Joffrey. The plot here is entirely predictable but as with Ozu’s family dramas the real meat is in the film’s visual aesthetic and cultural context, at once captured most intensely during a scene where Teresa witnesses a financial crisis-related suicide with all the suddenness of an Alfonso Cuaron action sequence and Chen captures her jaded shock by shooting her from low angles through light-heavy filters. Overall, this is every frame the picture one looks for in attending a matinee art-house screening in the IFI and the polar opposite of an IMAX-depicted helicopter flash. Subtlety is the name of the game and any tension is strictly emotionally driven but in this instance that tension is gripping and potent in the same league as Blue is the Warmest Colour, if not quite the same ballpark. Certainly worth the 90 minutes of any ardent cinema-goer worth their salt.

Donnchadh Tiernan

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
105 mins

Ilo Ilo is released on 2nd May 2014

Ilo Ilo – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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DIR: Marc Webb  • WRI: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci , Jeff Pinkner  PRO: Avi Arad, Matthew Tolmach • DOP: Daniel Mindel • ED: Pietro Scalia • MUS: Johnny Marr, Pharrell Williams, Hans Zimmer • DES: Mark Friedberg • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx

Comic-book movies invite a deal more cynicism than most others, plainly because, on a certain level, they are blatantly cynical themselves. At their worst they are arduous cash-ins on materials with a guaranteed enough fan-base that massive grosses are imminent, whereas at their finest they can be faithful additions to an already adored canon. Marc Webb’s rebooted Spiderman franchise, which kicked off with 2012’s relatively safe The Amazing Spiderman, has the potential for an even thicker dollop of scepticism to be dealt its way, from fans and cinema-going-public alike, due mostly to the fact that it appeared in multiplexes a mere four years after Sam Raimi’s much derided but gargantuan grossing (800 million) Spiderman 3 left our screens for a lucrative retirement on DVD. The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue was simple enough “Do we really need this?”

The popularity of Spiderman is an easy one to fathom. Much like that of The X-Men, his is an underdog’s story that invites one to cheer on his behalf as though he’s an FAI club playing Champions League. His strife as a teenage outcast and struggle as a low-level press photographer invite our empathies to the point that we can taste his triumph if the balance is right between his societal grounding in our world and the heightened reality that held back any means to adapt the stories until almost a decade after Pixar pixelated life into a cowboy ragdoll.  Sam Raimi’s films never quite hit the mark, lending themselves too much to cartoon sensibilities to be taken seriously with the suit off and Marc Webb’s first film played it far too safe for two acts only to spend too much money at ILM for the third act to facilitate a slightly bonkers plot featuring a lizard scientist (aptly titled “The Lizard” in Stan Lee’s original books) who wished for everyone else to be lizards with him. Truth be told, no cinematic outing has come as close to nailing the required balance as the mid-90’s cartoon by Fox’s Cartoon Network. That is, until now.

The Amazing Spiderman 2 picks up very closely after its 2012 predecessor. The villains: Jamie Foxx’s Electro; Dan DeHaan’s Green Goblin; Paul Giametti’s The Rhino. The everyday struggles: life after high-school; what happened to my parents; do I keep my girlfriend? Suffice to say, if one is familiar with superhero narratives not a great deal occurs in the film’s set-up to surprise one bar the fact that it is still necessary to include a montage of cops stating they feel Spiderman is “a menace” and that he should “leave cops to do their jobs”. Viewing these elements unassembled it wouldn’t be unfair to expect a business-as-usual affair harkening back to the Raimi films but having seen them arranged and garnished it is now no mystery why Marc Webb, whose only experience previous to Spidey 2012 was the dazzlingly original rom-com 500 Days of Summer, was assigned the task of making Spidey stand out. As he breathed refreshing individuality into 500 Days here too he uses all the tricks in his director’s book to make a potentially dull affair shine, thrill, and move and even after these facts it is often laugh-out-loud funny.

If it wasn’t clear from the patently addictive on-screen chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in Webb’s first Spidey-outing that Webb could direct actors this film leaves no doubt. Not only are villains Foxx and DeHaan believable and often sympathetic but they have depth to the point that each could conceivably form the centre of their own story. Having seen Amazing Spiderman 2, the previously outlandish concept of the stand-alone films each of the Spiderman villains will be getting next year somehow makes sense. Each antagonist forms their own emotional core to compete with Spiderman’s, with the film’s true evil being made up by shady Oscorp suits who in turn make pawns of each of the story’s big bads. Having mentioned acting at all it would be a discredit to the profession to not mention the performance of the always excellent Sally Field, who halfway through brings the film to its (nearly) emotional peek.

The last film’s big let-down was its action sequences, something which Webb tried to enhance with a mixture of 3D and first-person perspective but which fell rather flat. In this outing I bought every one with glee. This is one of the rare occasions on which 3D enhances the experience to the point that it might suffer without it. Not only that, but the use of volume-shooting, (here utilised to convey “Spidey-sense”) which has grated on me ever since Zack Snyder ruined it for everyone in the first 300 film, is graceful to the point of justifying itself to the plot.

So enjoyable is this superhero outing that I find it difficult to pick the holes I’m sent to look for. There is a plane sequence (the second plane sequence) which takes the viewer out of the action in order to punctuate a large-scale fight sequence (à la the two ferries in The Dark Knight) which really doesn’t work and seems to fumble the film’s momentum. There are montages here and there that seem to be merely ticking studio boxes, which unfortunately can’t be helped. Controversially, every character, good or bad, possesses motivation and depth unless they’re both European and bad in which case they’re just out-and-out sadistic, violent assholes. Pah! Minor flaws.

Here, Webb has not only made the franchise his own but made the film world excited for where he’ll turn after Amazing Spiderman 3, for which he is already signed on. He has constructed a major story from minor details where every frame is thought out down to the Dogtown and the Z-Boys that adorns Peter Parker’s bedroom wall or the Daniel Johnston tee-shirt he wears to his graduation. If you read any reviews that suggest this is anything close to the norm of the genre don’t believe them.

Donnchadh Tiernan

12A (See IFCO for details)
142 mins

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is released on 16th April 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmaI1nInDOs

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Cinema Review: Salvo

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DIR/WRI: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza • PRO: Massimo Cristaldi, Fabrizio Mosca • DOP: Daniele Ciprì • ED: Desideria Rayner • DES: Marco Dentici • CAST: Saleh Bakri, Luigi Lo Cascio, Sara Serraiocco

There is a temptation teased at any cinema-savvy audience member in the opening moments of every Italian film having done festival rounds. It is to buy that suggestion made inherent by cinema history that what we are about to see is something high-concept and arty that demands to be appreciated by anyone with a taste for high-culture. As Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s Salvo flickers into life with moody storm sounds scoring dull blue blurs of light, like the dying Aurora Borealis, one senses the temptation is being offered by the writing-directing team as more of a guarantee. Apart from this, this 30-odd seconds of eerie nothingness later transpires to be indicative of Salvo’s story-telling aesthetic, in that it is a story spoken in sounds and visions that considers itself non-didactic.

Salvo tells the story of a mob enforcer who foils an attack on his employer and tracks the man who did it only to encounter said Mafioso’s blind sister, Rita, en route and opt not to murder her along with her brother, which in turn leads to the titular Salvo encountering an existential crisis that forms the core of the film.

Set in Palermo, the film has a distinctly neo-Western vibe to it, as well as sporting the less indirect influences of 2005’s South African hood-flick Tsotsi and Léon. There is a sub-plot involving Rita regaining her sight in Salvo’s care which adds elements of magical realism. Put short, it is a fable set within the grimy slums of 2008’s Gomorrah. These influences are crucial to mention because without them there would simply be no film to watch, which is not an accusation of plagiarism per say; Salvo wears the badges of its enablers with glee, as though they military decorations.

The film’s great strength is in its shooting style, which is as often immersive and tense as it is scoped and beautiful. The opening 20 minutes depict an assassination attempt followed by a foot-chase followed by an assassination in return with so few cuts and so much gritty handheld camera it is as though the intro is a baby had by the styles Paul Greengrass and Alfonso Cueron. The film’s grand centrepiece, which will deservedly receive any plaudits coming the film’s way, is a tracking shot which switches perspectives between Salvo and Rita as Salvo awaits her brother’s return and she gradually senses his presence. It is easily the best sequence in the film and Salvo is worth a watch for it alone.

The film’s mid-section is engaging in its social cultural setting and the Léon-esque tropes in Salvo and Rita’s developing relationship, but at a solid fifty or so minutes this goes on far too long and my interest had began to wane by the time the third act slings one headlong into full Western territory comprised of a dust-bowl stand-off in a ghost-town and a blood-soaked elopement. The final 20 minutes are almost engaging enough to bring it back up to speed but not quite so to glaze over some glaring, unfortunate flaws.

The acting is often two-dimensional and wooden and it is seemingly nobody’s fault. The minimal dialogue Saleh Bakri (Salvo) is given to work with would have been appropriate were he working within the mythical plain of the original Western, but here it jars with the would-be realistic surroundings, leaving him difficult to fathom and impossible to sympathize with. Physically, his screen-presence is awesome but even the most charismatic of actors would struggle to warm the vacant structure of the film. There is a large greasy slice of flab to trim in the form of an attempted family pastiche with his lodging family and this amongst other foibles helps to determinedly sap the wind from the film’s sails throughout. It is as though it believes itself to be a Hemingway novel yet any reader would struggle to find the prose as understated as its director does. Salvo’s biggest letdown is the much better film one cannot help but see buried in a thin film of rubble. This is by no means a bad film. It is simply not as good as it could have been.

Donnchadh Tiernan

103 mins

Salvo is released on 21st March 2014

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Cinema Review: Starred Up

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DIR: David Mackenzie • WRI: Jonathan Asser • PRO: Gillian Berrie • DOP: Michael McDonough • ED: Nick Emerson, Jake Roberts • DES: Tom McCullagh • CAST: Rupert Friend, Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Spruell

As perverse a statement as it may be to make about the popular viewing public-at-large it is at this point unquestionable that the prison movie is a staple of the coming-of-age genre. The institutionalized frame has seen more boys become men (or indeed men become men) than that of the average upper middle-class boarding school and so, like trips to the old West or West London gangster locales, there is weighty canon of quality work to stand tall against, for as cynicism comes like steps to the seasoned cinema goer, and I have been dying to pile more accolades on 2008’s magnificently forgotten The Escapist, if only at the outright denouncement of another picture. Unfortunately and unexpectedly, this reviewer may have to wait for Danny Dyer’s next outing behind bars because David MacKenzie’s Starred Up delivers on almost all counts.

The opening 20 minutes of one’s standard prison outing dilly-dally with time by telling us things we know already from other prison films. Starred Up grabbed my attention almost immediately with a dazzling sequence in which Jack O’Connell’s Eric strips down his cell, melting a razor into the end of his toothbrush and fashioning a stash out of his light-strip in less than 90 seconds. This, as well as many a violent outburst in the film’s opening act , establish Eric as a seasoned con who may rely on experience and expertise during his interim, which, as we consider his age, concocts a new statement in its own right.

The nature of Eric brings one instantly to mind of early Alan Clarke productions, in particular Scum and Made in Britain, with one iconic scene from Scum being quite obliquely referenced midway through. However, the main ripples from Clarke’s features are seen thematically; for instance, as Eric awaits guards in his cell with a shank in either hand, and a greased up stomach to more easily evade capture, one cannot help see a disillusioned man whose only interaction with authority has thought him to resist it and thus he has evolved.

Where the film gauges more interest and earns its stripes as a coming-of-age picture are with the dynamics between Eric and his would-be authority figures, namely Rupert Friend’s amiable psychoanalyst Oliver, Sian Breckin’s cruel warden and Ben Medelsohn on typical terrifying form as head-con Neville who also transpires to be Eric’s estranged father. As the three jostle for his rehabilitation, subjugation and submission, respectively, the film’s indictment of institutionalisation as counterproductively marginalising becomes its centrepiece and the symbolic standoff of the third acts takes a potentially typical conclusion and makes it interesting.

I have mentioned Ben Mendelsohn as I always must regarding anything he’s appeared in since 2010’s superb Animal Kingdom but truthfully (and thankfully) the most intriguing, energetic acting on show here comes from O’Connell, whose growing legion of fans will only grow with this picture. He is the bustling, brawny centrepiece of this often grim yet somehow uplifting slice of Brit-grit, of which I know nothing comparable to in recent years, except maybe 2009’s superb A Prophet. With Starred Up, MacKenzie and O’Connell have both upped their games so significantly that I would be surprised, nay, disappointed to not see them work together again.

 

Donnchadh Tiernan

16 (See IFCO for details)
105 mins

Starred Up is released on 21st March 2014

Starred Up – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Stalingrad

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DIR: Fedor Bondarchuk WRI: Sergey Snezhkin, Ilya Tilkin PRO: Sergey Melkumov, Alexander Rodnyansky, Dmitriy Rudovskiy   DOP: Maksim Osadchiy-Korytkovskiy ED: Igor Litoninskiy   MUS: Angelo Badalamenti  CAST: Thomas Kretschmann, Yanina Studilina, Philippe Reinhardt, Mariya Smolnikova

 

Fedor Bonadarchuk’s Stalingrad arrives on Irish screens with the hum of Russian cinema receipts tailing it gleefully. A gargantuan hit in its home country, this post-Soviet stab at that most tumultuous of a turning point in WW2, aka The Battle of Stalingrad attempts to tell the tale of a group of five mismatched soldiers holed up in the same ruined town house, all falling for the same woman who seems to poetically represent the nation’s hope at a future beyond the German onslaught of operation Barbarossa. I entered the screening (a 3D IMAX presentation) with my expectations not quite fixed on the level of the 1993 German epic of the same name but certainly ambling slightly North of the extremely okay 2001 Jude Law vehicle Enemy at the Gates, which depicts the same conflict through the eyes of a sniper. What I witnessed once the lights came down was not only a film that misunderstood such pretentious tropes as character and plot but also the stone-age aesthetic of what war actually is.

Determined not to allot this travesty more page-space than it deserves I’ll elect to speak in comparison. The greatest war film I’ve yet beheld is the 1985, also Russian, Come and See, primarily because it is simultaneously thrilling and harrowing; each shot of adrenaline it pumps into the viewer is accompanied with a pang of horror as the reality of the history therein depicted sinks home. 2013’s Stalingrad is closer in scope to Zak Snyder’s 2011 wet dream, Sucker Punch. Each time a camera swoops annoyingly to provide a clearer view of the slow-spinning tip of an artillery shell Bonadarchuk’s film moves further from the point. It is bookended by segments featuring an old man telling the tale to a young girl trapped underneath tons of rubble in the hours following the 2004 Stephen’s Day tsunami in a paper-thin bid to convince the audience that war is substantially less craic than even earth-shattering natural disasters but truth be told, the director seems to be having so much fun bullet-timing amongst CG-rubble that any point he may have originally intended becomes quickly buried beneath green-screen and the visages of actors far too clean and healthy in appearance to ever legitimately convey the horrors of war even if the script were up to close scrutiny.

Rather than indulge my more cynical side any longer I’ll list the reasons there may be to see Stalingrad.

1)      If for some reason or other you’ve forgotten what made Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour so particularly atrocious and desire a reminder.

2)      If you’ve ever wondered what cinematic treats Josef Goebbels might have produced were he assigned to the Soviet cause.

3)      If you seek a basic antithesis for the manner in which real historical war should be depicted in popular entertainment.

If none of these three reasons apply to you avoid this mess at all costs.


Donnchadh Tiernan

15A (See IFCO for details)
130 mins

Stalingrad is released on 21st February 2014

Stalingrad – Official Website

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JDIFF: Irish Film Review – Calvary

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Donnchadh Tiernan checks out John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, which opened the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The opening line of John Michael McDonagh’s sophomore effort packs such an almighty punch it would be a shame to divulge it here. As a quote from Saint Augustine on the poetic implications of the titular hill fades to the candlelit visage of Brendan Gleeson’s central priest a line of dialogue is delivered with enough weight to shake any audience of expectations for a would-be sequel to 2011’s The Guard. The dialogue of the anonymous confessor continues to outline what will be the framework within which the film will play out; in seven days, having spent their childhood being raped daily by a priest, the faceless victim will shoot Gleeson’s priest, plainly because he, a good priest, being murdered will send a greater message. When Gleeson leaves the booth he seems to know who has threatened him. We, however, do not, and the film commences.

The prime action of the piece is made up of Gleeson’s interactions with locals; characters played by the greatest assembly of Irish and British acting talent since Intermission: Pat Shortt as a Buddhist publican; Dylan Moran as a socially estranged property developer; Chris O’Dowd as the butcher; Kelly Reilly as Gleeson’s suicidal daughter from a pre-orders marriage; Aidan Gillen as an atheistic, nihilistic doctor. The list actually does go on but to give everyone worthy of shout-out here their just deserts would evolve this review to a novella. Everyone available seemingly wanted to appear in this film and once one sniffs out the marrow of the meandering plot it is easy to see why.

The first act of Calvary is the segment that requires the most salt in viewing. What might be biting satire or critique is diluted with Fr. Ted jokes as they might have been written for HBO. McDonagh being cut from the cloth he is the dialogue and structure is ever a comment on the medium and genre itself, in this case such thematic stuff as Song for a Raggy Boy or Sleepers, but considering both the setting and the opening this does not seem enough. As a matter of fact, until Gleeson’s church is burnt to the ground midway through (as seen in the trailer and on the poster), it seems as though the writer-director is shying from the route he initially gestured towards. Then, as flames flicker against the night, the second act reveals a darker side of The Guard’s wry wit and the film dives headlong into murk the previous film only hinted at.

What transpires in the film’s remainder is often heavy drama and is a credit to its cast, particular credit due to Domhnall Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd, the former stepping out of his father’s shadow while sitting across from him, the latter whom will surely be hearing meatier dramatic scripts whacking his hallway floor more regularly in the coming months. This film’s heart, soul and muse, as with The Guard, is undoubtedly the masterful Brendan Gleeson, who communicates the bitterness and flickering hopes of a dying faith with dark weary eyes and reserved gestures.

Any flaws here are minor and aesthetic. The rent-boy Lucky Leo is one caricature too far and Dave McSavage playing a bishop carries too much weight as a cultural reference to work alongside the more serious tones surrounding the role. The cast of characters is, overall, too large to justify and trying to keep up with them at times muddles the plot. Thankfully, McDonagh’s agenda is so potent and engaging that its confidence propels viewer attention along with it at far too ardent a pace to linger on such minor foibles.

With Calvary, McDonagh has completed the sentence he began to utter with The Guard. As an already evident auteur, he loves Ireland (as clearly evidenced by the glorious landscape shots throughout) and despises such Irish institutions as middle-management, bitterness and mob-rule. Were he a pamphleteer, which on a certain level he undoubtedly is, his prime target would be Joe Duffy’s listenership and high-ranking church officials in equal measure. In fact, there is such ample critique of Irish society in the third act it feels as though two films in he may have made his magnum opus. On immediate reflection, not only do I wish to re-watch Calvary soon but I believe it will prove as much of a necessary watch for at least one generation to come as it will be a gripping, funny and moving one for audiences this year. Once again, McDonagh has produced a work impossible to pigeon-hole into any genre, except perhaps “Essential Viewing”.

 

 

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Calvary screened on Thursday, 13th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).

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Cinema Review: August: Osage County

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Dir: John Wells • Wri: Tracy Letts • Pro: George Clooney, Jean Doumanian, Grant Heslov, Steve Traxler • DOP: Adriano Goldman   ED: Stephen Mirrione • MUS: Gustavo Santaolalla • DES: David Gropman • CAST: Meryl Streep, Dermot Mulroney, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis

I was lucky enough to catch Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-winning play-of-the-same-name in a run in The National Theatre in London in the Summer of 2011. I saw it within two hours of seeing William Friedkin’s deliciously disturbing adaptation of his debut play Killer Joe, a work which even in reading lends itself easily to cinema. August: Osage County is in every sense of the word a superior beast to any of Letts’ other work. It is no doubt his magnum opus as a playwright and unfortunately this element has made its translation to screen a ride not short of a few bumps.

The action takes place in a house in the titular county where the father of three girls (Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson in descending order) and the wife of the cantankerous, pill-popping Violet (Meryl Streep on statue-baiting form) has recently taken his own life. In the grand tradition of all memorable family meltdowns, deep-seeded family skeletons emerge from murky closets and everyone is harshly albeit comically reminded why they left in the first place.

Osage County is a golden opportunity for any actor worth their salt and few fail to cut the mustard but it is made clear from the out that any dramatic intensity will be grappled for by Streep and Roberts, both chewing scenery throughout as though fresh breath is imminent and both with Oscar nominations to show for themselves. It’s no secret that Streep can enamel emotional realism to a role but it is refreshing to be reminded of how great Roberts can be when the character is right, her performance here harkening back to her delightful turn as irate single mother Erin Brokovich. Other notable turns are seen from Chris Cooper as Violet’s laid back brother-in-law and Juliette Lewis as the seemingly repulsed middle child, determined to hold all together until she can get the frick out of there again for good.

As with all great ensemble pieces there is a riotously good fifteen-minute dinner-table scene where everyone gets a moment to shine as Violet dishes out insults so intimate that only a mother could make them. It is sublime. If there is a segment of the film to bag Roberts a statue it will be this and if ever there were a show-reel compiled to propose that Streep should gain her own category at each annual award show it would surely feature some of the utterly vile verbal barbs she unloads on her closest kin in this scene. It is one scene in the play where one might miss a fact apparent in most others and that is that the biggest star of all is Letts’ writing, featuring such beautiful digs as “while you’re dying your hair and going through your fifth puberty.” It is in fact knowledge of Letts’ play at all that ultimately lets the film down.

Theatrical adaptations can, at the best of times, suffer from being over-acted. This is not the case here. There is, however, an unmistakable sense throughout that this piece misses the stage. It yearns for it. Letts’ play is performed at different points around a three-story set where none of the characters seem to have privacy and every time the notably absent TV-director John Wells allows his characters room to breathe an iota of the film’s potential impact is lost. It is a seemingly small quibble to have with a film so ripe with heartfelt performance and thematic density but in the face of hints at what the film could have been it is a glaring one and a tremendous pity at that.

August: Osage County is a testament to the medium of film in the strangest manner imaginable. Well’s film, scripted by Letts himself in what must be deemed an error in judgement, could genuinely have used more adaptation. Had Wells opted to cut some of the more direct exposition passages or even the travelling sequences we may have been privy to a more worthy viewing experience. While well worth seeing, Osage County works more as a fateful tribute to a masterful play than a legitimate work in its own right. See it eventually, just don’t see it on screen first.

Donnchadh Tiernan

15A (See IFCO for details)
120  mins

August: Osage County is released on 24th January 2014

August: Osage County – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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DIR: Kenneth Branagh WRI: Adam Cozad, David Koepp PRO: David Barron, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mace Neufeld, Mark Vahradian DOP: Haris Zambarloukos  ED: Martin Walsh MUS: Patrick Doyle  DES: Andrew Laws  Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh

I imagine writers of espionage thrillers must miss the Cold War terribly. A collective baddie of such implied menace as the socialism-wielding mother-Russians that ambled behind the Iron Curtain for the better part of fifty years last century has not been since. In such a manner may the Kenneth Branagh (helmed and starring) Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the latest in a series of attempts to kick-start Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst’s adventures as a franchise ongoing since his 1984 inception, be called a work of nostalgia; There is no shortage of big bad Russians or the sort of non-cynical plot structuring and exposition that was kicked unceremoniously to the curb by a certain Bourne lad a little over a decade ago.

The set-up and plot are nothing awe-inspiring to wow at. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine taking most of his cues from the highly watchable Harrison Ford outings) falls in love with his doctor (a surprisingly endearing Keira Knightley) moments before being recruited by a shady CIA operative (the always excellent Kevin Costner) to keep an eye on Wall Street for terrorism funding. Skip ten years and meet Branagh’s forgettable big bad who’s been doing something with stocks and bombs and looks like he may be trouble and we’re revving to go.

What is most surprising in this film is the places it soars and fails. The hidden career tension between Knightley’s Cathy and Ryan is surprisingly engaging but anything else occurring on American soil falls relatively flat. In fact, any credit this film is due is earned, for the most part, from the moment Ryan’s plane touches down in Russia.

Branagh’s camera has fun swooping around the city, through opulent hotel lobbies and shiny bank offices. Well over half the decor of each interior gleams a potentially offensive red and brings one to mind of Tony Monatana’s office. There is a sense in the scale of the city that Ryan is truly alone there and this is nicely helped along by the sheer lack of Russia on-screen in most Western cinema. It is an excellent spot for some rough-and-tumble and Branagh delivers this in spades.

There is a one-on-one hotel bathroom fight that barges on screens and drags our bums to the edge of their seat a moment or two, very much the aesthetic descendant of Casino Royal’s opening and Torn Curtain’s midway murder, which Hitchcock famously shot with a mind to show how difficult it is to take life, an ideal ably communicated here. The remainder of Ryan’s Russian holiday is nicely decorated by a talky restaurant scene that might be a heist and a genuinely thrilling car chase. The Americans thankfully depart moments before it becomes clear we’re watching Mr and Miss American Pie vs. The Russian Stereotype, though this is a taint that lingers on the edge of every frame shot in Moscow.

The finale is constructed with all the surprise and intrigue of an actual Tom Clancy novel, which is to say there is not a great deal; it manages to abruptly pull the punch from what shaped up to be a rather rollicking second act and thus defuses the film’s purpose.

In making Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, esteemed Shakespeare guru Kenneth Branagh, as he did with Thor, has stepped out of his comfort zone and into that of commercial movie marketing. As the unsolicited offspring of James Bond and Ethan Hunt it barely succeeds, as a fun action romp it has as many hits as misses but as a film in general it brings nothing new to the table and may aptly be counted as Branagh’s least interesting work to date.

Donnchadh Tiernan

12A (See IFCO for details)
105 mins
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is released on 24th January 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – Official Website

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