DVD Review: Song of the Sea

 

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Ellen Murray reviews Song of the Sea, “a breath of fresh air in a market that is continually being crammed with commercial-driven, sub-par content.”

If the fact that it was nominated for an Academy Award was not enough to tempt you to see Cartoon Saloon’s stunning Song of the Sea in cinemas, then you now have the chance to view it in the comfort of your own living room. A suitably strong follow-up to the studio’s 2009 work The Secret of Kells, the film follows the story of two siblings, Ben and Saoirse, as they discover a magical world of selkies and faeries on the brink of extinction, all the while trying to uncover the truth about their mother’s mysterious disappearance on the night of Saoirse’s birth.

Director Tomm Moore deftly guides the film, balancing the whimsy and drama so that neither is undermined by the other. For all the mythological elements present in the story, the film also takes time out to examine the hard realities of loss, grief, and broken families- but, like all good family films, it is never ham-fisted and offers no easy answers. In traditional Cartoon Saloon style, the flat, picture-book backgrounds of the film lends it an air of surprising depth missing from most mainstream animation today. At times, the animation reaches moments of such dazzling beauty that it becomes worth taking a timeout to pause the film and just gaze at the image before you. The superb animation is further aided by the commendable voice performances provided by the cast. Moone Boy’s David Rawle as Ben and Brendan Gleeson as the children’s grieving father, Conor, shine in particular.

The DVD contains a couple of extras, including a segment on the art of the film, clips of animation tests and, of course, audio commentary from director Tomm Moore. It would have been interesting to hear from others who worked on the production, which was split between animation studios in five different countries, but Moore provides such an engaging in-depth look into the background of the production that he alone is sufficient.

A wonderful film for families, and for lovers of animation, Song of the Sea is a breath of fresh air in a market that is continually being crammed with commercial-driven, sub-par content.

 

Available for rent or purchase now.

 

  • Directors: Tomm Moore
  • Producers: Tomm Moore, Paul Young, Claus Toksvig Kjaer
  • Format: PAL
  • Region: Region 2
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: PG
  • Studio: Studiocanal
  • DVD Release Date: 9 Nov. 2015
  • Run Time: 94 minutes

 

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DVD Review: Diary of a Lost Girl

 

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Ellen Murray checks out the Eureka! Entertainment edition of G. W. Pabst’s masterwork of German silent cinema, Diary of a Lost Girl, released as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. 

 

The release of The Jazz Singer in 1922 was the beginning of the end for the silent film era. By the end of the decade virtually all mainstream releases were sound films, or ‘talkies’. Though the technology had yet to be perfected and some of the recorded dialogue sounded stilted, the novelty of hearing actors talk on screen drew in too many viewers for film producers to ignore. G.W Pabst’s Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), made in the twilight of its genres popularity, stands today as a monument to the best silent film had to offer.

The story begins with the young and innocent Thymian Henning (Brooks) on the day of her confirmation. The happy occasion is marred however by the departure of the family’s housekeeper, Elisabeth (Schmitz), who has become pregnant after having an affair with Thymian’s pharmacist father. In a desperate attempt to better understand the situation Thymian turns to her father’s assistant, Meinert (Rasp), who claims to have all the answers. In actuality, Meintert uses this opportunity to seduce the poor girl and she subsequently gives birth to an illegitimate child. After refusing to marry Meinert on the account that she does not love him, Thymian finds herself in a backwards reformatory for ‘fallen women’ which is ruled with an iron fist by a tyrannical woman (Gert) and her equally as bad assistant (Engelmann). Escaping the horrible institution, Thymian finds herself enveloped on a life of prostitution and debauchery. One twist of fate after another ultimately leads our protagonist down a road that will test both her character and emotional endurance.

On paper, the film reads like a Dicken-esque tale of the fallen woman and Christian redemption. In reality, Pabst handles his material in a surprisingly nuanced and sophisticated manner. Moments of great melodrama are still sprinkled throughout but there’s a distinct lack of the black and white morals that dominated other films of the era. Rather, the director takes time convey to the audience the fuzzy greyness that defines human existence. In this, Pabst is greatly aided by Louise Brooks’ magnetic performance. The lack of dialogue in silent films meant actors of the time were prone to using overt facial and bodily expressions to portray emotion. Brooks does not fall into this category, appreciating that subtly can still get across big emotions. In place of words, Brooks uses her eyes. Thymian is certainly a victim of circumstance but she is no weakling. There’s a quiet strength to Brooks’ character that makes us believe that she is capable of surviving anything that is thrown at her. No swooning for this lady!

Considering the time period in which it was made the film also puts forward a very progressive message regarding society’s treatment of so-called ‘fallen women’. All our sympathy lies entirely with Thymian and her fellow inmates at the reformatory. In contrast, the reformatory’s overseers are presented as sadistically cruel and wholly unlikeable. The hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, who happily turn away any girl unfortunate enough to find herself pregnant and unmarried but willingly turn a blind eye on the married men who put them in that position, is also highlighted. Female sexuality is nothing to be feared here; rather society’s attitude towards it is the problem. Today’s mainstream Hollywood could learn something from the film.

They say great art never dies and this film is a perfect example of that. As engaging now as it was when it was first released, Diary of a Lost Girl marked the end of the silent era in a blaze of filmic glory.

 

Diary of a Lost Girl is released in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition as part of their award-winning The Masters of Cinema Series on 24th November 2014.

 

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DVD Review: The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug

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Ciara O’Brien gets her hands on the precious DVD of The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug.

The second instalment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy; The Desolation of Smaug is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray in various editions. Here we will be discussing the standard DVD edition.

The story picks up where the previous left off, and we follow Bilbo Baggins on his infamous adventure to assist in the reclaiming of the dwarven homeland. Having found (or stolen, depending on who you ask) the infamous ring of power, Bilbo now seems more willing to embark on the adventure ahead of him, despite the mocking of his band of merry dwarves.

Unfortunately for the now semi-cheerful Bilbo (masterfully played by Martin Freeman), he manages to do the one thing he hoped not to. He wakes the beast. Smaug is the infamous dragon fans have been waiting for and Freeman’s BFF Benedict Cumberbatch does not disappoint, playing the beast with equal parts menace and humour. It is Smaug’s evident intelligence which makes him all the more fearsome and the scenes featuring both Bilbo and Smaug are some of the best that have come from the prequel franchise.

The Desolation of Smaug sees Jackson use more artistic licence to present moments that he feels his viewers will love, being a fan himself. Jackson just about manages to steer clear of over-simplifying the text here, but at points he does come close. Jackson respects his audience enough to know that they can tell the inherent differences necessary in working with the medium of film as opposed to book, but he also knows not to push his viewer too far. It is a delicate balancing act at which he has become adept.

Unfortunately for Orlando Bloom, the appearance of Legolas doesn’t quite inspire the joy and delight that Jackson might have expected, and this moment falls a bit flat. The issue is that Jackson doesn’t need to remind us of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he merely needs to focus entirely on The Hobbit as a standalone text.

  • Format: PAL, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Italian
  • Region: Region 2
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 12
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: 7th April 2014
  • Run Time: 155 minutes

The standard DVD edition is something of a disappointment for fans as it is very light on special features, having only the second part of the New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth documentary. This is interesting viewing for fans as we can witness the transformation of the landscape into one we immediately recognise as Middle Earth, but compared to the plethora of features that came with the Lord of the Rings DVDs, it seems inherently disappointing.

It’s hard to have patience these days, but die-hard fans of the franchise are as always advised to wait until all movies are released in a box set of inevitably epic, lengthy proportions, with more special features than you could watch in one sitting.

Like Bilbo himself, we might not initially be too keen on running off on an adventure, but thankfully this allows us to follow his from the comfort of our own couches, where the dragon population is significantly lower.

Ciara O’Brien

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DVD Review: Quirke

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Cathy Butler checks out this Dublin Noir, out now on DVD.

 

Dublin’s urban landscape seems to move between shades of grey rather than ‘noir’, but aspects of the drab and foggy streets of 1950’s Dublin lend themselves rather well to the genre in BBC’s crime noir thriller Quirke, based on the novels released under John Banville’s crime genre pen-name, Benjamin Black. The three part mini-series is now available on DVD, shortly after ending its run on RTE.

 

Gabriel Byrne plays the eponymous Quirke, (first name unknown, Inspector Morse style) a pathologist with a troubled past and a drink problem. He has a rocky relationship with his adoptive brother Mal Griffin (Nick Dunning), a doctor who works in the same hospital as Quirke, and a history with Malachy’s American wife Sarah (Geraldine Somerville). His 20-year-old niece, Phoebe (Aisling Franciosi), adores him a little too much, much to the chagrin of her father, Mal.

 

The series opens with the peculiar circumstances surrounding the death a young, unmarried woman named Christine Falls, whose death certificate Quirke discovers Mal tampering with in his office. Mal has listed the death as due to pulmonary embolism, yet Quirke’s autopsy suggests she may have died giving birth. As his own family is now implicated in an apparent cover-up of something that would have been scandalous in that era, Quirke must try to get to the bottom of the young woman’s death and deal with repercussions.

 

Thematically, the show hits on some of the likely subjects that such a period in Irish history would feature – the iron rule of the Catholic Church, Magdalene Laundries, unmarried mothers – while some are glossed over. The first episode is quite rigorously anti-Catholic, the various religious figures exuding caricaturish villainy as they discuss their underhand plans or obfuscate the dark truth from those who would seek to expose it. This is understandable given Ireland’s religious history, but somewhat heavy-handed nonetheless.

 

On the other hand it is difficult not to question the abundance of upper class people who feature in the narrative. Perhaps the various cultural representations of early to mid-20th century Ireland have been so populated by poverty and the working class that a representation of such a time featuring mostly wealthy and privileged people seems lacking in credibility or plausibility. The ease with which some of the main players hop back and forth to America seems a stretch, as this was at a time when ‘American Wakes’ were being held for those who emigrated as the cost of travel likely meant that most Irish emigrants would never see their families again. Perhaps this shows how far removed the likes of the Griffins were from most people in the country at the time, rather than being an oversight or narrative convenience.

 

The series features some striking visuals, with excellent use of colour – or lack thereof. In episode one,  as Quirke bumps into Sarah outside his house, Sarah’s clothes and hair are rendered in full colour against the grey background of the street behind her, in almost a Pleasantville-effect style. Similar effects used when Quirke is spending time with Phoebe seem to suggest that from Quirke’s perspective these two women are the brightest aspects of his life, being otherwise constantly surrounded by dead bodies and Dublin’s grey streets.

 

The noir-ish elements are strong throughout, with some differences. The plot is slower paced, often more concerned with Quirke’s own story than the fate of the unfortunate women. Each episode sees another young, beautiful woman dead or murdered. This trope does grow tiresome, not just in this particular production but in countless crime novels and television shows. The endurance of this trope and audience and reader appetites for it seem to suggest that it is easier to feel sorry for a beautiful young woman who gets murdered than, say, an ugly man. In Quirke, as with much other crime narrative, man must mete out justice for the poor ‘fallen women’. The idea is reinforced thematically and narratively; to ‘fall’ pregnant, a fallen woman, Christine Falls. Looked at in this way, the much used trope is effective as a tool to highlight the position of women in Irish society of the time.

 

Performance wise, Byrne fits the bill as the brooding alcoholic with a dark past. Geraldine Somerville is standout as Sarah, managing to convey in one character the woman Sarah has become due to the choices she made in her youth, as well as that girl she was when she first fell for Quirke. Somerville meshes these girlish and mature aspects of Sarah together with great artistry, making her quite compelling to watch. Stanley Townsend is a scene-stealer as the sardonic Inspector Hackett, always having time for tea and a cigarette, and an occasional ally to Quirke’s endeavours. Hackett is possibly one of the most likeable characters, my only complaint being he wasn’t featured prominently enough.

 

All things considered, Quirke makes up with its strong visuals and capable cast what it is lacking in its narrative. If anyone has ever wondered what ‘Dublin Noir’ would look like, Quirke would hit pretty close to the mark. A certainly unique and interesting take on the genre.

 

With a combined running time of 270 minutes, the double disc  of Quirke is available to buy on DVD from 7th March from select stores nationwide, including: Tesco, HMV, Xtra-vision, Golden Discs and Tower Records (Dublin).

Quirke DVD is also available to buy online from www.elementpictures.ie/shop

 

 

 

 

 

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DVD Review: The Gingerbread Men

 

Written and directed by Dubliner and relative newcomer Dáire McNab, The Gingerbread Men follows on from his 2009 debut horror The Farm. This movie switches genres, exploring the strained and touching relationship between two Trinity College students and housemates – surly womaniser Charlie (Elliot Moriarty) and hapless virgin Ken (Kenneth Conway), whose facial scars have removed his last shred of confidence, making it almost impossible for him to engage with women. Ken observes Charlie with a mixture of awe and envy as the latter effortlessly seduces various women he meets in bars, only to coldly dismiss them the next morning. When Charlie meets Nicole, however, he is consumed with confusion as he realises he is falling for her but is terrified of getting too attached. Meanwhile, Ken relies on misguided humour to fumble through the treacherous passageway between hope and rejection. Though he never relinquishes his pursuit of love, he furtively carries with him the pain of his scars and the memories of how he received them.

This movie sensitively portrays the two young men’s everyday experiences; while it shows them out partying, getting drunk and laid (well mostly Charlie), the heart of the story lies in the quieter moments. Set primarily in their small apartment over the space of a couple of months, there is a sense of the closeness of the pair, both emotionally and also physically because of the close quarters they share. Although Charlie is often indifferent towards everyday life, due in large part to a fractured relationship with his father, he genuinely cares about Ken and his plight, even if he is not always adept at expressing this. Ken’s awkward, self-deprecating nature – coupled with his inability to vet his thoughts as he verbalises them – makes him an endearing character and he provides a good-humoured remedy for Charlie’s churlishness.

There is a familiarity in this movie that is vaguely reminiscent of RTÉ’s Bachelors Walk – the streets, bars and scenery are all recognisable Dublin locations; these are typical students we all could have bumped into at 2am in a dodgy nightclub at some point in time. The intermittent narrator endeavours to provide a light-hearted tone – this doesn’t entirely work, but the attempt at doing something different is commendable. The Gingerbread Men is about a moment in time, a snapshot of two intersecting lives heading towards unclear futures. For now, however, the pair find a strange solace in one another, both heavy under the weight of their individual burdens. Like every other college student facing into the real world they are just trying to get by as best they can, doomed like so many before them to learn inalienable truths the hard way.

 

Emma O’Donoghue

The DVD can be ordered from http://www.secondwavefilms.com/buy-dvds.html and is available at various outlets.

Written, shot, directed & edited by Dáire McNab. Produced by Robert Kearns, Simone Cameron-Coen & Dáire McNab.
CAST: Elliot Moriarty as Charlie, Kenneth Conway as Ken, Gillian Walsh as Nicole, Louise Cargin as Marie.
Narrated by Damian Clark.

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DVD Review: Tree Keeper

 

Filmed in rural Cork by Irish filmmaker Patrick O’ Shea, Tree Keeper is a bold film that attempts to stand on its own as a psychological thriller with the themes of violence, greed and environmentally conservatism. The question is can it compete with the Hollywood thrillers we encounter every week?

Tree Keeper tells the story of recluse Doire who has retreated to live in the woodlands he inherited when his father died. He is a solitary figure who is brought back into the world he despises when he discovers his estranged mother has sold off his land to a developer who wants to build a landfill. Doire is then thrown into a violent conflict in order to save his home, which has repercussions on both his life and that of his enemies.

This film makes a brave effort to match up to its foreign contenders in the genre by delivering a concise and through plot that overall holds together well.  James Browne (Doire) gives a realistic performance as the disturbed and on edge protagonist. He holds the attention of the camera well and gives by far the best acting performance. The strong contrast between Doire’s quiet world of beauty in the woods and the cruel outside world is shown through the eyes of director of photography Rupert MacCarthy-Morrogh  using all Cork’s rural landscape has to offer. The scenes in the woods are beautifully shot, which contrasts with the tough outside world of mistrust, cruelty and violence.

Orchestral music is used to capture the tense atmosphere for the violent scenes and to show Doire’s mental distress. Although the two leads carry the plot well; the support cast can at times looks amateur and stilted. The backstory is also hazy as Doire’s estrangement to his mother is mentioned but never explained. Other characters from the small town are also crucially missing details of their lives and place in the story.

Tree Keeper is, however, a fearless film that reaches the heights it has set itself and its star James Browne in particular should have a strong future ahead of him.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

 

Tree Keeper is now available to buy here on DVD and Blu-ray!

The DVD is also available in store at Plugd Records in the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork City.

The HD Download will be available from 21st November 2012.

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DVD Review: Circus Born

 

Matt Skinner’s Circus Born is one of those painful anomalies, bursting with quirk and promise but falling just ever so short of the mark. Gritty and observational in approach, the documentary takes the form of ‘a year in the life’ of Fossett’s Circus, where the focus on the everyday labour and toil overshadows the glamour of the spotlight.

The film never shies away from the honest opinions and struggles (and tempers) that revolve around the big top.; the frustrations of orchestrating an act with language barriers, new perspectives on the absence of animals in today’s circus by the children that grew up around them, and the uncertainty of securing seat sales as they travel across country, are but some of the issues covered. This is only disappointing due to the fact that Circus Born seems to merely touch on the history of Fossett’s family circus through sporadic interviews with its oldest surviving member.

There are attempts to elaborate on these snippets, but, unfortunately, they become lost in the mix. This is a shame, as what is revealed is fascinating and recalled with the warmth and humour of a true born show-person.

That said, there are some really nice, honest moments throughout and the balance between the genuine love of the performers is juxtaposed nicely with the reality of the day-to-day running of the show.

Tess Motherway

 

DVD now available

For enquiries regarding Circus Born for festivals, other showings or TV please email Matt at mattskinner@iol.ie

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DVD Review: War of the Arrows

I’ll spare you the obligatory archery themed pun; a few arrows short of a Quiver, Just misses the mark, Bullseye etc.

Instead, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know War of the Arrows is actually very entertaining!

Comparisons with House of Flying Daggers are obvious and immediate, both feature chase narratives and projectile weaponry. However, in many ways, War of the Arrows is the film HOFD wishes it was. Though not nearly as colourful, it lacks the pretension, lengthy exposition and incoherent plotting.

Sagely, War instead draws itself taught for a gripping two hours of curving quarrels, spurting gore and CG tigers.

War is a hefty beast clocking in at 122 minutes. When Cine Asia titles reach such runtimes, it’s usually an indication something has gone awry. Yet somehow, it still feels lean with each scene driving the story or grinding the tension. With minimal setup, toxophilite Nam Yi (Hae-il Park) is gifted with cause and justification to employ his otherworldly skills in a daring attempt to rescue his sister.

The bulk of War concerns said rescue attempt and, naturally, any subsequent escape sequences. This more or less equates to two solid hours of cavalry charges, bladed melees and lethal archery contests. The former aren’t especially inspired, yet lashings of gore and screaming combatants certainly help sell the violence.

Predictably, pointy sticks flung by taught strings are the focus here, and it makes for a pleasant change of pace, for once stealing the limelight from fists, feet and blades. And though the devastating ‘half-pounders’ and side-winding bolts are a joy to behold, one can’t shake the impression War didn’t quite showcase archery at its utmost.

A handful more “Holy S**t” draws wouldn’t have gone amiss.

This remains a minor complaint as the half hour finale boasts its share. Meanwhile hero Nam-Yi makes for a refreshingly ruthless protagonist. In addition to impaling foes with wooden projectiles, he’s happy to burn them alive or introduce a monstrously oversized tiger into proceedings if it gets the job done.

But in his defence, wouldn’t you?

Considering I expected this to be a dreary, contemplative exercise on instilling the virtues of archery (patience, stillness, tranquillity, I dunno, other boring stuff?) into one’s soul, War of the Arrows proved a gory treat!

Essentially a two-hour chase scene, crammed with courageous heroes, relentless villains and solid, meaty action, as a medium for advertising the intrinsic coolness of archery, War of the Arrows puts its contemporaries, notably 2010’s Robin Hood to shame.

To shame, Mr Scott, to shame!

Jack McGlynn

 

 

Format: Anamorphic, Dolby, PAL, Surround Sound, Widescreen
Region: Region 2
Number of discs: 1
Classification: 15
Studio: Cine-Asia
DVD Release Date: 7th May 2012
Run Time: 118 minutes

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