Irish Film Review: Sing Street

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DIR/WRI: John Carney • PRO: Anthony Bregman, John Carney, Kevin Scott Frakes, Christian Grass, Martina Niland, Raj Brinder Singh, Paul Trijbits • DOP: Yaron Orbach  • ED: Andrew Marcus, Julian Ulrichs • DES: Alan MacDonald • MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy

John Carney is a director on the rise and, if his latest offering is anything to go by, he isn’t about to plateau any time soon. Warm, delightfully infectious, and, above all else, sincere, Sing Street is the perfect blend of serious and silly that will resonate with anyone of any age. Now and again whimsy threatens to undermine the film’s solid dramatic foundation, but Carney artfully reels in the more fluffy moments when needed to let the quieter moments shine through. What makes this film such a thrill to sit through is that everything works – the acting, the writing, the characters and, of course, the music. It’s a coming-of-age story that all will recognise, just not in the way you’d think.

Taking place in 1980s Dublin, a place and time rife with economic uncertainty and immigration much like today, 15-year-old Conor is facing some growing-pains. His unhappy parents are teetering at the edge of separation, his older brother Brendan (Reynor) seems content to lock himself away in his room and smoke weed forever, and the family’s strained financial situation means Conor is forced to attend the local Christian Brothers on Synge Street, where bullies take the form of both break-yard pests and authoritative priests. In the midst of the chaos, the enigmatic Raphina (Boynton) catches our young hero’s eye and his heart. In a bid to impress the girl of his dreams, Conor harries his fellow classmates into starting a band. With nothing to lose, but with perhaps a lot to gain, ‘Sing Street’ is formed.

Needless to say, the film serves as a trip down nostalgia lane for all those who lived and grew up during the 80s. Jam packed with the musical stylings of the various bands that defined the era, including Duran Duran, A-ha, The Cure, and The Clash, to name but a few, the film’s original songs also succeed in capturing the eclectic style of the time while remaining pieces onto themselves. Brilliant though the musical element of the film undoubtedly is, it also the only element that sometimes rings false. Conor and his friends are amateurs (albeit talented ones) recording music in their mums’ sitting rooms, yet the finished products always sound suspiciously sleek and studio produced. A rougher sound may have added a little bit more to the film’s otherwise genuine tone. Luckily, however, this is a small matter in the wider context of the film.

The heart of the film lies in its actors’ performances. Breakout star Ferdia Walsh-Peelo brings a level of likeability yet vulnerability to the role that engages the audience from the first scene. There is a natural ease to his performance that makes me eager to see how he will evolve in future films. Jack Reynor is ever reliable as the disillusioned would-be-rebel, making what could have been a stereotypical character into an engaging and sympathetic human being. Thankfully, there is no weak link in the cast. Every actor delivers solid, thoughtful performances be they veterans of the industry or newcomers.

The film’s biggest asset is that it knows when to tug on the heartstrings and when to let the goofiness reign. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s sweet, it can be cruel. It may not be a big blockbuster or a reboot of a famous ’80s franchise, but this is a film as worthy of your hard earned cash when it is released in cinemas this St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t waste your time on empty-calorie flicks, instead feast your eyes on the immensely satisfying Sing Street.

Ellen Murray

105 minutes

12A (See IFCO for details)

Sing Street is released 17th March 2016

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Review: Jem and the Holograms

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DIR: Jon M.Chu • WRI: Ryan Landels • PRO: Jason Blum, Scooter Braun, Jon M. Chu, Stephen Davis, Brian Goldner, Bennett Schneir • DOP: Alice Brooks • ED: Michael Trent, Jillian Twigger Moul • DES: Kevin Bird • MUS: Nathan Lanier • CAST: Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott, Aurora Perrineau, Hayley Kiyoko, Molly Ringwald, Juliette Lewis

 

So it turns out that making a movie based on a cartoon show from ’80s that was created solely to sell toys to children results in stinking pile of utter rubbish. Who knew? But enough about the Transformers franchise, Jem and the Holograms is a film that deserves no one’s time and/or attention. In fact, why it’s getting an Irish release at all is a bit of a mystery. It was released in the States in October of last year only to get pulled from theatre within just two weeks due to poor box-office performance. In the immortal words of Cinema Blend’s Dirk Libbey: ‘They could have hidden Jimmy Hoffa’s body at a showing and nobody would ever find it.’ And no wonder. The film is a completely misguided attempt by Universal to exploit a pre-existing fanbase by revamping a popular property for a contemporary audience- and, boy, is the film ever ‘contemporary’. Crammed packed with social media references that are bound to be obsolete within eighteen months’ time, it overall feels like a cheap attempt to appeal to teenagers’ lowest common denominator. Hey, youths, you guys like Twitter and Vine, right? Right?! Social media is so rad, whooo!

What both the studio and director Jon M. Chu evidently failed to release is that the charm of the original series lay in its distinct (for lack of a better term) ‘eighty-ish-ness’. Had Chu just decided to embrace the inherent silliness of the cartoon for its translation onto the silver screen, then perhaps this would have been a different type of review.

The story follows Jerrica (ugh) Benton, played by Aubrey Peeples, who is taken in by her aunt Bailey (Ringwald) after the death of her father, along with her younger sister Kimber (Scott) and two foster sisters Aja (Kiyoko) and Shana (Perrineau). With the family facing eviction from their home, Jerrica turns to music to express her emotions. After catching her sister mid-performance, Kimber decides to upload the video of her singing to YouTube under the moniker of ‘Jem’ where it quickly gains traction with viewers. This leads to Jem attracting the attention of pushy music exec and owner of Starlight Records, Erica Raymond (Lewis), who catapults Jerrica into a life of fame and glamour she’s not sure she even wanted in the first place.

Also there’s a subplot with a robot. Yeah.

As ridiculous as the plot is, the film could have made for a potentially enjoyable watch if it did not at sudden, random moments try to introduce a more serious tone that ultimately ends up feeling insincere at best and laughable at worst. One of the more insulting aspects of the film is that it doesn’t trust its audience enough to dig out its oh-so-subtle message on their own. The film literally opens with the protagonist telling the audience the moral of the story. I’m so glad that I saw this film because now I know that family is good and big corporations are bad and that it’s important to be myself. Thanks Mr Chu! Thinking gives you wrinkles, after all.

Overall Jem and the Holograms is a confused mess that will leave previous fans of the show isolated by its insistence on being ‘hip’ and ‘with it’, while newer audiences are unlikely to appreciate its premise in a post-Hannah Montana world. Thankfully, if its failure across the pond is any indication, the film will soon fade into obscurity where it belongs.

Ellen Murray

PG  (See IFCO for details)

118 minutes

Jem and the Holograms is released 12th February 2016

Jem and the Holograms – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Concussion

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DIR/WRI: Peter Landesman • PRO: Elizabeth Cantillon, Giannina Facio-Scott, Ridley Scott, Larry Shuman, David Wolthoff • DOP: Salvatore Totino • ED: William Goldenberg • DES: David Crank • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin

 

 

The best way to describe Concussion is well intentioned. Will Smith plays the Nigerian-American physician Dr Bennet Omalu, the man who brought the link between the deaths of several former NFL players and the severe neurological condition ‘chronic traumatic encephalopathy’ (or CTE) to the attention of the world. However, it turns out convincing a billion dollar corporation like the NFL to acknowledge that their product is inherently dangerous to their money-making machines (I mean, players) ain’t a walk in the park.

On paper it sounds like an interesting story, even an important one, and indeed it is. The problem is that this film is dull. Dull, dull, dull.  Director Peter Landesman never succeeds in building the tension or drama to a satisfactory level, leaving the whole experience decisively underwhelming. This, combined with some questionable stylistic choices, means the films message about player’s safety over profit is boiled down to a bland by-the-numbers sports flick.

The strongest element of the film is its actors’ performances. Smith has previously struggled in other films to dump his real-life movie-star persona in favour of letting his character take-over and shine through. Thankfully, here this is not the case. Smith’s turn as Dr Omalu is both thoughtful and three-dimensional. In particular, his accent is convincing from the get go and remains consistent throughout the film. However, at times it is clear that the film is blatantly going out if its way to present Omalu as saint-like as possible, threatening to reduce him to a boring caricature. Luckily the subtleties of Smith’s performance prevent this from happening, but just. Baldwin, Brooks, and Mbatha-Raw are also quite watchable, though the romance subplot between Omalu and Mbatha-Raw’s character is sort of wedged in and could have done with a little bit more time dedicated to it.

Suffice to say that the problems with this film lie entirely within the director’s hands. Visually, the film is nothing interesting. Certain shots seem awkward and at a strange angle, others are too dark to determine exactly what’s happening on screen. The pacing of the film is also slightly off, taking too long to jump into the main plot then racing through the climax. Events stop and start and Landesman crams the slower moments with unnecessary scenes (namely, a car chase involving Omalu’s wife) in an attempt to create tension, but it doesn’t work. One of the more annoying aspects of the film is the musical soundtrack. The more quiet scenes often lose their impact due to the warbling of a nasally, guitar-stroking musician. If you couldn’t make out what emotions the scene unfolding on screen was supposed to stir in you, then no fear! The lyrics playing overhead will tell you exactly how to feel. Needless to say, this becomes tedious and fast.

Overall, the film fails to hit the right notes. The drama and emotion is watered down to a degree that makes it difficult to really care. Even Smith’s solid performance cannot salvage this dullfest, and when someone as charismatic as Will Smith can’t inject energy into a film, you know it’s bad. To give the film some credit, it does care about what it has to say- it just doesn’t say it very well.

Ellen Murray

 12A (See IFCO for details)

 122 minutes

Concussion is released 12th February 2016

Concussion – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Goosebumps

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DIR: Rob Letterman • WRI: Darren Lemke • PRO: Deborah Forte, Neal H. Moritz • DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe • ED: Jim May • DES: Sean Haworth • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee

Rob Letterman’s Goosebumps is a breath of fresh air. Sure, the film has some problems but overall it succeeds in its aim of being a fun adventure thriller that balances the nostalgia with snappy action, and never gets bogged down with contemporary references that would otherwise distract from the feel of the film. And for those of us who are tired of Hollywood trying to appeal to the youth of today by packing their films full of pop culture references that are obsolete within a year of the film’s release, it’s a relief.

Jack Black plays a fictionalised R.L Stine, real-life author of the ‘Goosebumps’ series as well as many other children’s horror series, with his own particularly brand of camp. Black’s overt acting style can often play against him (and grate on the audiences’ nerves), but here he strikes a nice balance between his character’s eccentricity and more subtle emotions.

Living secluded from the world in his carefully guarded home with his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), the odd family quickly attracts the attention of newcomer Zach (Dylan Minnette). Having recently moved to town with his mother after the death of his father, Zach is fascinated by the mysterious girl next door, but Hannah’s father seems determined to stop the two from getting any closer. Things only get more complicated when Zach and his friend Champ (Ryan Lee) break into the Stine house and accidently free the author’s most famous monsters from their bookish confines. A race against time ensues as the monsters wreak havoc on the town and the only way to stop them is for Stine to write an entirely new story involving all his most famous creations- in one night.

The plot moves at a brisk pace – maybe a bit too brisk. True, character development rarely extends beyond the ‘you-know-I-learned-something-today’ rigmarole in kids’ films, but anything too simplistic makes for a boring watch. This honestly wouldn’t be such a problem if not for the romance subplot. The action just stops at certain points in the film to allow these characters to swoon over one another but it feels incredibly forced and unsatisfying. A shame, really, because the film sans said romance would have had more time to focus on the action, which is by far its stronger element.

While no one above the age of ten will find the films jump-scares effective, all the monsters have solid designs and the CGI is surprisingly well rendered considering the productions relatively modest budget. The action sequences are also well shot. They have enough tension that we take what’s happening on-screen seriously, but just enough slapstick to keep it entertaining.

Naturally a lot of the humour is quite juvenile but not enough so that adults will find nothing to giggle to throughout the film. On a side note, it’s refreshing to see a film about teenagers where the characters are being played by actual teenagers. It’s difficult to take a character struggling with the worries of high school seriously when the actor is clearly twenty-five years old.

Overall, Goosebumps is a fun film for the family to enjoy together. Older fans of the franchise might not find it as enthralling, but nostalgic value alone should be enough to entice them.

Ellen Murray

PG
103 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Goosebumps is released 5th February 2016

Goosebumps – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: In the Heart of the Sea

 

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DIR: Ron Howard • WRI: Charles Leavitt • PRO: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Joe Roth, Will Ward, Paula Weinstein • DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill • MUS: Roque Baños • CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Benjamin Walker, Ben Whishaw

 

In the Heart of the Sea is a film that longs to be a sweeping epic. Unfortunately, it rarely struggles above ‘meh’ on the emotional reaction scale. Flitting from one narrative arc to another without ever divulging anything important or meaningful to the audience, the film flounders under the weight of its own scale. Even Ron Howard’s skill as a director fails to lend any depth to this shallow puddle of a film.

That said, it’s easy to see why Howard wanted to make this film. Maritime films are a rarity in Hollywood namely due to their enormous production costs (indeed, this film had a budget of 100 million dollars and it looks unlikely that it will be recuperated in the box office). Being in an aquatic environment, however, really allows for a directors creativity to shine through. There are some genuinely fantastic shots throughout the film, particularly the ones that take place underwater. The films biggest drawback by far is its script. The plot follows a frame narrative, wherein author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), anxious to start the novel that would become the classic Moby Dick, interviews the only surviving member of an infamous whale-hunting expedition, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson).

Now an aging drunk, Nickerson is at first reluctant to recall the horrors that occurred during the voyage.  Urged on by Melville’s deep (or, at least, slightly deeper) pockets, our story begins to unfold. Having risen from a lowly orphan to a respected seaman, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself as First Mate on the Essex, a whaling ship captained by the rather pompous George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). Under pressure from their sponsoring merchant company to bring home as many barrels of whale oil as possible, the crew sets sail with then 14-year-old Nickerson (Tom Holland) aboard. Things go from bad to worse when, spurred on by over-fishing, the Essex travels into dangerous uncharted waters with the hope of snaring more whales. Once there, however, the ship is capsized by a gigantic white whale and our heroes find themselves adrift in an unforgiving wasteland of salt water.

There are so many elements to the plot- man v nature, fear of the unknown, exploitation of natural resources for profit, facing one’s past, etc.- that no single aspect is ever satisfactorily explored. The audience is never given enough to fully care and, as a result, characters are reduced down to ‘tick-the-box’ personalities.

The gruff-but-good-natured-leader-who-just-wants-to-do-right? Check!

The inexperienced-but-willing-to-learn-youngster-who-looks-upon-said-leader-as-a-mentor? Check!

The snooty-rich-guy-who-used-his-family-name-to-gain-his-position-for-which-he-is-completely-unqualified? Check!

The most interesting character by far is the white whale, who is apparently omniscient, and he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. Also, while the film overall boasts bold visuals, certain wide shots of the ship at sea look hopelessly CGI’d and I’m certain that at one point the tip of a boom mike was visible in frame. With so many balls up in the air it’s unsurprising that the film ultimately falls rather flat. At the very least one can appreciate that a lot of effort went into the making of In the Heart of the Sea, but that alone cannot save it from being a mere drop in the ocean instead of an epic tidal wave.

 

Ellen Murray

12A
121 minutes (See IFCO for details)

In the Heart of the Sea is released 26th December 2015

In the Heart of the Sea – Official Website

 

 

 

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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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Review: Victor Frankenstein

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DIR: Paul McGuigan • WRI: Max Landis • PRO: John Davis • DOP: Fabian Wagner • ED: Andrew Hulme, Charlie Phillips • DES: Eve Stewart • MUS: Craig Armstrong • CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Andrew Scott, Jessica Brown Findlay

Sometimes less is more, but evidently no one told director Paul Guigan that. Overstuffed, over acted and over written, Victor Frankenstein is the reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic work that no one asked for. The film offers glimmers of potential throughout its first half, but quickly descends into the realm of melodramatic nonsense. Now and again, moments of substance float to the surface, which suggest that McGuigan could have had a decent film on his hands if only he had not been so heavy-handed in his approach.

Our film begins when Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), a circus hunchback would-be-scientist, is freed from his life of cruelty and humiliation by the charismatic, but clearly unhinged, Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy). Seeing in the misshapen boy a spark of intellectual curiosity, Frankenstein makes Igor his assistant as he dangles of the edge of a major scientific discovery. Initially enthusiastic to offer his skills in the name of progress, Igor gradually realises that Frankenstein’s experiment reaches into depths far darker than he anticipated- the creation of life from nothing. On the duo’s tail, however, is the pious Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott), whose foundation of belief is being violently shaken by the possibility of unnatural life. The juxtaposition between Frankenstein’s and Turpin’s extreme beliefs could have made for an interesting narrative arc, but McGuigan strives to make the characters interactions with one another as cliché as possible, draining their scenes of all poignancy. The only thing that the film shares in common with its source material is its protagonists name and the fact that it centres heavily on the theme that just because science can do something, it doesn’t mean that it should. There’s also a highly contrived sub-plot involving Igor’s romantic relationship with the beautiful Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findaly) that is as forced as it is stale. A shame really, that McGuigan did not take more away from Shelley’s superior story-telling.

Though the film can at times focus too much on showing off its rather uninspired CGI London landscape, its visuals are on the whole very lush, as are the spectacular costumes. During certain action sequences, however, the editing becomes a bit sloppy and doesn’t give the audience enough time to take in what is happening in from of them. The performances given by the cast are passable for the most part. McAvoy’s exceptional hammy turn as the title character makes it difficult to discern what exactly audiences are supposed to take away from Frankenstein, be it sympathy or disgust. The only actor who kind of succeeds in creating a three-dimensional performance is Radcliffe as the disfigured Igor. He is our moral compass throughout the film, but Radcliffe does his best to make that compass point at various directions. Unfortunately, he too ultimately suffers from the films bloated script and McGuigan’s directing.

Victor Frankenstein aims low and strikes even lower. Unlikely to satisfy fans of the original novel, or anyone else for that matter, the film is worth a miss.

Ellen Murray

12A
109 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Victor Frankenstein is released 4th December 2015

Victor Frankenstein – Official Website

 

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Review: He Named Me Malala

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DIR: David Guggenheim • PRO: Davis Guggenheim, Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes • DOP: Erich Roland • ED: Greg Finton, Brad Fuller, Brian Johnson • MUS: Thomas Newman • CAST: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai Yousafzai

 

“It was not a man that shot Malala, but an ideology,” states Malala’s father, Ziauddin, about three-quarters-way through the film.

When the Taliban targeted Malala Yousafzai in 2012 for daring to speak up in favour of education for girls they had aimed to silence her, and her message, forever. Ironically, this extreme act of cowardly violence only proved to spur Malala into the international consciousness. Since her miraculous recovery the extraordinary 18-year-old has dedicated her life to seeking equal education opportunities for girls and women around the world. Between meeting world leaders and winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is a busy young woman. Director Guggenheim clearly seeks to highlight Malala as, first and foremost, a human being yet the audience is distinctly kept at arm’s length. Unanswered questions hang heavily over this otherwise uplifting account of one girl’s bravery. As the film continues, it becomes apparent that we are not being given the full picture.

The film’s opening sequence depicts the tale of an Afghan folk-hero named Malalai, who fought against oppression and was shot dead as a result. In a strange act of faith, this story inspired Ziauddin and Tor Pekai Yousafzai to name their first born daughter Malala, whose own fame is now edging on the side legend. Malala’s father seems to have been marked her out as different from the first, most noticeable in their strong connection. He comments that from the moment of her birth, they were like “one soul in two bodies.” Passionate about the power of education, Ziauddin set up his own school in Swat Valley, Pakistan, and it was here that the seeds of learning were planted in Malala’s mind. But with the rise of the Taliban came the decline of women’s rights and thus, the stage was set for events that would propel Malala to the almost saint-like status applied to her today.

Guggenheim’s skill as a storyteller is best utilised in the animated sequences of the film, which succeed in conveying both beauty and emotion. Subtle indications from the director also hint that, despite a comprehensive account of her life, only the surface is being scratched when it comes to getting to know the real Malala. For all her intelligence and wisdom that defies her years, Malala is still just an ordinary girl who went through an immense trauma, forced her from her home and the life she knew. How she has dealt with the emotional aspects of these events is never explored. When Guggenheim asks her directly about her suffering, Malala blanks him. Other questions remain untouched upon but one thing is made abundantly clear: Malala, and to an extent her entire family, are caught between the traditional culture that they left behind and the progressive ideals that they strive to uphold. This can be seen in small tell-tales, such as Malala’s desire to wear a headscarf and longer skirt despite attending an all-girls school in Birmingham, England, where the family now resides. Old ways die hard, even for the most forward-thinking of people.

He Named Me Malala is not, perhaps, the in-depth account that many would have hoped for, but it is a warm and touching film all the same. At times a bit-heavy-handed with its message, the film offers us a glimpse into the how and why that made Malala a household name. Maybe some time in the future, when she has had more time to heal and reflect, Malala will share with the world a more unflinching look into the challenges that shaped who she is. Until then Guggenheim’s documentary is still worth a watch, even if just to plant more questions in the audiences head.

Ellen Murray

87 minutes (See IFCO for details)

He Named Me Malala  is released 6th November 2015

He Named Me Malala  – Official Website

 

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Review: Tana Bana

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DIR/WRI:  Pat Murphy

In the Indian city of Banaras, located on the river Ganges, silk-weaving is as intricately woven into the community’s culture as the threads on their looms. However, globalisation has had the inevitable effect on the trade, with technology out-performing the hand-weavers at every turn- in quantity at least, if not quality. Pat Murphy’s documentary does its best to examine all aspects of the dying-out tradition, from the social to the economic influences, resulting in a luscious and informative film.

As one would imagine for a documentary about silk-weavers, viewers are treated to a visual feast of colours and textures – and that’s just the cinematography. Murphy succeeds in creating an interesting juxtaposition between the film’s dream-like aesthetic and its factual narrative. The lives of the weavers and their families are presented as is (for better or for worse) making it easier for the viewer to engage with the film’s subjects.

The art of silk-weaving is inherited by one generation from the predeceasing one, with weavers starting at the loom from a very young age. But with the demand for artisan silk wraps rapidly declining, the trade that once seemed so secure is no longer a legitimate career option for the upcoming generation. All areas of the weaving industry, from the wool dyers to the motif designers, are being hit hard but the pride they take in their work remains happily undiminished.

Questions of gender relations and education are also examined within the context of the weaving community. During one scene in the film, a teacher asks a classroom full of schoolgirls if they think a non-arranged, or ‘love’, marriage is something worth aspiring to. The response is unanimous: ‘love’ marriages lead to nothing but trouble, according to films and TV, so an arranged marriage is a girl’s safest bet. The fact that most of these girls have probably been promised in marriage from an early age anyway remains all but unsaid. The pressures being placed on these girls and their inevitable marriages is a subject worthy of its own documentary, but Murphy’s inclusion of this is handled smartly enough that it adds another dimension to the film rather than taking away from it. The world is moving forward at a rapid pace but the weaving community are not yet sure if they can to catch up to it. As threatened as their way of life is, silk-weavers remain wary of utilising their daughter’s talents to aid the family’s fortunes.

Tana Bana is more than just a treat for the senses. The film also acts as an important document to a vital part of Banaras’ culture that is beginning to disappear. While the future of the silk-weaving community remains uncertain, the skill and devotion the artists bring to their work is parallel to none. An intriguing insight into a specific people during a specific point in our history.

Ellen Murray

15A (See IFCO for details)

77 minutes
Tana Bana is released 9th October 2015

Tana Bana – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails

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DIR: Tobi Baumann • WRI: Tobi Baumann, Murmel Clausen, Mike O’Leary, Martin Ritzenhoff, Roland Slawik, Christian Tramitz • PRO: Oliver Schündler, Boris Ausserer • DOP: Thomas W. Kiennast • ED: Alexander Dittner • MUS: Lorne Balfe • DES: Christoph Kanter • MUS: Ralf Wengenmayr • CAST: Milo Parker, Anke Engelke, Bastian Pastewka, Amy Huberman

 

This film is terrible. No flowery language or generous concessions can redeem this film; it deserves neither. Badly made, badly written, and above all else badly acted, Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails is a film that insults the intelligence of its target audience. Even children previously unacquainted with the world of cinema will be left unimpressed with this unashamed attempt to pander to their age group. Possibly one of the worst films of 2015, it should be avoided at all costs.

Based on the popular children’s novel series by Caroline Funke (who, despite being a talented author, could not salvage the film’s script into something resembling a cohesive story), Tom Thompson (Parker) is a timid eleven-year-old struggling to overcome his reputation as a scaredy-cat within his family. After discovering a snot-green ghost named Hugo (Pastewka) lurking in his basement, Tom finds himself teaming up with an old ghost-hunting pro named Cuminseed (Engelke). Together, the three of them must track down the evil Ancient Ice Ghost (A.I.G) to save the world and prevent Hugo from dying- even though he’s already dead. Did I mention that this film makes absolutely no sense whatever?

One could argue that plot holes can be overlooked in a film made exclusively for young children, as they are unlikely to notice (or care about) the intricacies of the narrative. A lot of parents who bring their children to the cinema merely want to keep them distracted for an hour or two after all, quality be damned. But this is an unsound argument at best. First of all, in a film like this where logic is so overtly discarded, any child genuinely trying to engage with the story will notice and will more than likely find their viewing experience diminished because of it. Second of all, just because children’s brains are not yet fully developed enough to appreciate all aspects of art and culture doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve decent content. In fact, surely it means parents should demand it. This film embodies all the worst aspects of a kids film- it thinks it’s audience is dumb, so it doesn’t even try to be good. Indeed, at times it seems to obnoxiously luxuriate in how bad it is.

Clunky plotline aside, the production quality of the film is so below par that a first-year film student with an iPhone could have done a better job. The most obvious aspect of this, of course, is the CGI blob of phlegm that is Hugo. Clearly his designers were going for a cartoony look, which would make sense given the context of the film. However, it doesn’t change the fact that he is just ugly to look at. It’s like watching Slimer after he recovered from a whirl in a blender. To make matters worse the actors interactions with Hugo are distractingly uneven. Sometimes they are speaking to the space behind or beside Hugo rather than to Hugo himself. It never feels as though he is actually there on screen. Which is OK really, because he’s a horrendous character and the film never attempts to bridge an emotional connection between him and the audience.

The other characters are not much to shout about either. Tom is an annoying idiot, Cuminseed a stale caricature, and most of the side characters are need of psychiatric evaluation- mostly Tom’s parents. A book could be written on how bad the actors who played this child’s parents were. Though to be fair, their performances were undoubtedly hindered by the fact that all their dialogue was clearly added in using English voice actors in post-production. Seriously, all of their dialogue is out of sync. Words are being spoken, but their lips aren’t moving. You know, if you want to make a film in English, maybe hiring actors who speak the language would be a place to start. There are several other instances of badly dubbed in audio throughout the film, but it’s in the parent’s scenes where it’s most prevalent. It’s distracting to say the least, but also hilarious.

To reiterate this review’s opening statement – this is a terrible film, and all those who played a part in making it should feel terrible for unleashing it onto the world. Avoid like the plague.

Ellen Murray

12A (See IFCO for details)

98 minutes
Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails is released 2nd October 2015

Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails – Official Website

 

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Review: The Visit

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DIR/WRI: M. Night Shyamalan •  PRO: Marc Bienstock, Jason Blum, M. Night Shyamalan • DOP: Maryse Alberti • ED: Luke Franco Ciarrocchi • DES: Naaman Marshall • CAST: Kathryn Hahn, Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie

 

M. Night Shyamalan is something of an anomaly in the world of movie-making. His career has not so much climbed the steady ladder of success as veered wildly in a rollercoaster of inconsistency. Indeed, he seemed set for cinematic greatness with The Sixth Sense in 1999 and evidently has been trying to prove the world wrong since with rubbish such as 2008’s The Happening and 2010’s The Last Airbender. Shyamalan’s newest offering does not serve as a form of redemption- but it’s a step in the right direction.

Fifteen-year-old Becca (DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Oxenbould) set out for a week-long visit to their estranged grandparents, whom their mother (Hahn) has not had contact with since she ran away from home years earlier. Eager to offer her mother some closure, and to discover why her grandparents have held a grudge for so long, Becca, an aspiring filmmaker, decides to document her time with her grandparents through a camera. However, it quickly becomes clear that Nana (Dunagan) and Pop Pop (McRobbie) are hiding something sinister from the two siblings, and things just get stranger as the week drags on.

The utilisation of the ‘found-footage’ narrative seems like an odd choice for Shyamalan, particularly given the context within the film. Becca is only fifteen yet works her equipment like a pro. Similarly, her younger brother Tyler spouts out phrases like ‘mise-en-scene’ without blinking an eye. Neither of the children speaks (or acts) in an age-appropriate manner; it’s painfully clear that their dialogue was written by an adult who thinks this is what kids should sound like. As a result, our two heroes often come across as annoyingly pretentious and unlikeable. Oh, and the boy raps. That might be the scariest thing in the whole film.

There are some tongue-in-cheek moments that are clearly nods to Shyamalan’s own directorial hubris and, while a bit of self-awareness is always appreciated, it just doesn’t work within the film as a whole. There is a lot of misplaced humour scattered throughout film- usually in the form of Tyler’s wisecracks- that tends to extinguish the tension where it in fact needed building. The dramatic core of the film lies within the children’s anguish of their father’s abandonment. Tyler has become a germaphobe as a result and Becca is suffering from body image issues. These details are not handled delicately and are, in fact, wedged into the latter half of the film with little subsequent reflection. The performance of the two child leads cannot be faulted but the script gives them no room to show off their obvious talent.

The horror element of the film is perhaps its most jumbled aspect. While there are a few small jump scares to be had, and some mildly unsettling imagery, a lot of it comes off as unintentionally humorous. Initially, the children dismiss their grandparent’s odd behaviour as due to their advanced age- because evidently old people by their nature are inherently creepy. Things never truly escalate to a satisfactory level, plateauing sometime in the middle act. The twist revealed in the films third act (what’s a Shyamalan film without a twist, right?) actually does add to the story, but takes away greatly from the horror. When we finally reach the film’s climax, and it does take way too long to get there, everything we see can be explained away by what has just been revealed to us. Danger still lingers, but the unknown no longer has a part to play, thus diluting the experience.

The Visit is not Shyamalan at his worst, but it’s not him at his best either. For those with a keen sense of these things, the film’s twist will become obvious long before it’s actually revealed. Even the most casual of horror fans will be left unimpressed by this work, but if you’re just looking for a couple of cheap thrills- and that alone- then this film is worth checking out. But if you’re as bored with Shyamalan as I am, you won’t be missing anything special.

Ellen Murray

15A (See IFCO for details)
93 minutes

The Visit is released 11th September 2015

The Visit – Official Website

 

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Review: Straight Outta Compton

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DIR: F. Gary Gray • WRI: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff  • PRO: Matt Alvarez, Scott Bernstein, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, David Engel, F. Gary Gray, Bill Straus, Tomica Woods-Wright • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Billy Fox, Michael Tronick • DES: Shane Valentino • MUS: Joseph Trapanese • CAST: Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Neil Brown Jr, Aldis Hodge

 

N.W.A (Niggaz wit Attitude) are a group that could not have started in any other time or place. The political and racial tensions that followed the crackdown on drug-related crime in America in the late 1980s meant that the hip hop world was ripe for more aggressive voices. And, boy, did Dr.Dre, Eazy-E, Ice-Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella rise to the challenge. Straight Outta Compton is unique to biopic genre in that the traditional ‘rags-to-riches’ narrative, though utilised, gets brought to new levels. Director F. Gary Gray skilfully examines the context in which N.W.A became the most prominent rap groups of the era- the police brutality, the systematic racism, the poverty, and the gang violence- with an unflinching eye, refusing to tiptoe around important issues. The film also very much points fingers at certain figures in the music industry; point blank accusing them of corruption and all-round crappy behaviour.

Chronicling the years between the groups founding in 1986 to Eazy-E’s death in 1995, the rise and fall of N.W.A is made all the more compelling by the casts astounding performances. All relative newcomers to the industry, Hawkins, Mitchell and Jackson in particular serve as highlights in the film. The characters feel real, which is important, considering that they are based on real people, with real emotions. Giamatti also turns in a reliably good performance as the group’s scheming manager, Jerry Heller. As is always the case with biopics, the question of what real-life events were fabricated to make a good film is hard to ignore. And yet, the tone of the film rings sincere throughout. True, some of the more unpleasant actions of the characters are glossed over (or downright ignored, like Dr. Dre’s history of violence against women), but one only has to look at the film’s producer credits to understand why that is. Problematic though that is, it does not take away from the fact that this is one of the best films about rappers currently made.

Even those who have limited to no knowledge of the history of rap will find this an engaging and well-acted drama. For long-life rap fans, it will give you a new appreciation for the genre and the events that inspired some of its most famous tracks. Recommended!

Ellen Murray

16 (See IFCO for details)
146 minutes

Straight Outta Compton  is released 28th August 2015

Straight Outta Compton  – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Review: We Are Your Friends

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DIR: Max Joseph • WRI: John Green • PRO: Tim Bevan, Liza Chasin, Eric Fellner • DOP: Brett Pawlak • ED: Terel Gibson • DES: Maya Sigel • MUS: Fat Segal • CAST: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Shiloh Fernandez, Jonny Weston

 

Tales of millennials (*shudder*) and their struggle for self-realisation seems to be the dominate narrative of many up-and-coming filmmakers, and may well be for the foreseeable future. In his feature-length directorial debut, Max Joseph (of MTV’s Catfish fame) examines the struggles of a very particular type of ‘youth’- namely, the ridiculously good-looking, LA type. Namely, the ‘young and naïve, but passionate, musician/actor/dancer trying to make it in the big bad entertainment industry’ type. In other words, we’ve seen this story a million times before.

To give Joseph some credit, the silver-haired director does manage to bring a distinct ‘2015ish’ flavour to the film. The problem, of course, with setting a story so firmly in a specific moment of time is that, in a year from now, everything in this film will seem dated. Or it could become a snapshot of a particular cultural era for the archives, but, nah, this film is much too lacking in depth for that.

Our protagonist, Cole (Zac Efron), is an aspiring DJ who spends his days lazing with friends and nights promoting a nightclub in the hope of earning some money and/or time in the DJ booth. Cole and company dream of stardom and raking in the big bucks but, with little real motivation, the group seems doomed to spend their rest of their lives living in their parent’s pool-houses. That is until a chance encounter leads Cole into the path of famed, but washed-out, DJ Paul Reed (Wes Bentley). Suddenly finding himself with a mentor, Cole hesitantly begins to take the first steps towards developing his own original sound. Things get complicated however when our headphone-wearing leading-man finds himself falling for Reed’s girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), …and we all know where it goes from there.

This is a vapid film that is aimed mostly at a teenage audience. It has a lot of problems, the main issues revolving around tone and pacing. Joseph’s style seems to shift from scene to scene, leaving the audience with a distinct lack of consistency. The commentary offered by the film on the music industry seems a little too simplified to be taken seriously. Also, for its 96-minute run, it at times seems arduously long. And yet… the film isn’t a complete disaster. For one, solid performances are turned out by all cast members. Their characters may be lacking in substance, but we do believe that they genuinely are that shallow- intentionally or not. For his part, Joseph does attempt to touch on heavier issues- such as drugs, relationships, and personal stagnation- but he’s just not quite there yet as a director to handle these concepts effectively. But at least he tries. There can be no doubt that effort was indeed put into this film, which is more than can be said for other works of this ilk. Throughout the film there are genuinely beautifully shot scenes, and the cinematography is gorgeous.

We Are Your Friends is a film very much of its time that wants to be taken seriously, but succeeds only in serving as a passing amusement. But if you are looking for just that, something to pass the time on an otherwise quiet Sunday evening, you could do far worse than this film.

Ellen Murray

16 (See IFCO for details)
95 minutes

We Are Your Friends is released 28th August 2015

We Are Your Friends – Official Website

 

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Review: Hot Pursuit

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DIR: Anne Fletcher • WRI: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen • PRO: Jonas Rivera • ED: Kevin Nolting • MUS: Michael Giacchino • DES: Ralph Eggleston • CAST: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Del Negro, Michael Mosley

 

Imagine a buddy cop film…but with girls! Girls, who do silly girl-things like run in high-heels, use their sexuality to get out of sticky situations, and menstruate (ew, gross! Ha-ha!). Then, boy, do I got the film for you! Because that’s all Hot Pursuit is – a concept stretched so thin, the river of potential jokes is run dry within the first five minutes of the film. This is especially disappointing when taken into consideration that its two female stars were also the film’s producers. What the audience is left with is a dull and uninspired would-be comedy that makes one lovingly recall Melissa McCarthy’s and Sandra Bullock’s 2013 venture The Heat which, though by no means perfect, was thoroughly enjoyable.

The way-better-than-this Witherspoon plays Officer Rose Cooper, a straight-laced cop eager to prove herself in the field after a number of previous mishaps. Her big opportunity for redemption comes in the form of Daniella Riva (played by Vergara playing Gloria from Modern Family), who is on the run after agreeing to give evidence against a notorious drug lord. Antics ensue. Not much else can be said for the films plot, which often sees events randomly occur without any context. Sloppy editing also adds greatly to the uneven tone of the film. The characters go from one location to the next with little to no explanation. All sense of tension is lost by the uninterested way in which director Anne Fletcher handles the more serious scenes of the film. Combine this with some pretty unthreatening villains and the film just judders along before finally creaking to its lacklustre climax. Ditto for character development. Emotional reveals prove to be less explosive so much as blips on this seemingly never-ending journey of mediocrity. Our two protagonists are little more than stereotypes, proving it difficult to engage with the film on any meaningful level.

Female team-ups in mainstream cinema are too rare an occurrence for films like Hot Pursuit to muddy the chances of audiences being interested in seeing more of them. Hollywood is in dire need of more genre-bending, women-focused material, but Hot Pursuit just serves up a cold dish of disappointment.

Ellen Murray

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
87 minutes

Hot Pursuit is released 31st July 2015

Hot Pursuit  – Official Website

 

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Review: The Gallows

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DIR/WRI: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing • PRO: Jason Blum, Travis Cluff, Benjamin Forkner, Chris Lofing, Dean Schnider  • DOP: Edd Lukas • ED: Chris Lofing DES: Stephanie Hass • MUS: Zach Lemmon • CAST: Cassidy Gifford, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos

Guys, it’s been 16 years since The Blair Witch Project. It’s time to let the found-footage horror genre go. Exhibit A: The Gallows. Unimaginative as it is harebrained, the film fails at every level to inject any real fear (or enjoyment) into the minds of its audience.

The plot revolves around a high school production of a play called ’The Gallows’ which, when premiered in the same auditorium twenty years earlier, ended in disaster when a student accidentally hanged himself on the prop noose. Ever since, the school has been haunted. Despite these eerie apparitions, and completely foregoing any sensitivity towards the dead student’s loved ones, the school’s theatre troupe eagerly plan a revival of the play to mark the tragedy’s anniversary. However the production’s leading man Reese (played by…Reese), a former footballer turned ‘theatre nerd’, remains apprehensive. Not because he is worried about angering lingering spirits though, but because he’s a crappy actor- drawing inspiration from his real-life counterpart no doubt.

The cast is rounded out by Ryan, an intensely annoying jock stereotype through whose camera lens we witness most of the action; Cassidy, a vapid and forgettable hot chick stereotype; and Pfiefer, the drama-nerd stereotype and object of Reese’s secret affections. What Cluff and Lofing were hoping to gain by giving the characters the same names as their actors remains unclear- I’m going to put it down to laziness. Thinking of names is hard. Despite his crush on his leading lady, Reese’s anxiety gets the better of him and he agrees to break into the school at night with his friends to sabotage the play’s set. Because filming yourself committing a crime makes sense. No sooner than some props are capsized, however, supernatural antics ensue.

Nothing about this film works: the camerawork is amateurish, the acting is stilted, the characters underdeveloped, the editing looks like it was done by a blind monkey, and as for the plot – the plot makes no damn sense. Every possible cliché of the genre is crammed into the films 87 minutes and dilutes any potential tension to nil. It is clear that no effort was put into the making of The Gallows, right down to its basic concept. Neither clever nor interesting, this is a film that deserves a wide berth.

Ellen Murray

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
80 minutes

The Gallows is released 17th July 2015

The Gallows – Official Website

 

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Review: Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles

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DIR: Chuck Workman • PRO: Charles Cohen, Charles S. Cohen DOP: Tom Hurwitz, Michael Lisnet, John Sharaf • ED: Chuck Workman • MUS: Heitor Pereira • Cast: Peter Bogdanovich, Orson Welles

 

The mythos that has been built around Orson Welles is akin to that of legend. However, unlike a lot of Welles’ counterparts, of which there are few, the line between man and myth seems to blur rather than clarify upon further inspection. Chuck Workman’s film provides a wide-ranging, but lacking in depth, insight into the life and legacy of one of the 20th century’s most important directors.

From child prodigy, to theatre master, to cinematic genius, Welles excelled in every artistic medium he dabbled in. Arguably, the only thing that ever eluded his brilliant mind was the legal intricacies of the film industry. To this day a significant chunk of Welles’ cinematic works, including 1965’s Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight, remain tied up in legal disputes, with questions of ownership making re-releases almost next to impossible. Welles’ steadfast confidence in his artistic vision inevitably led to doors being firmly shut in his face. On several occasions, studios refused to distribute his films unless he agreed (and he never did) to alter his work. Though, to be fair, when the first ever feature film you churn out is Citizen Kane perhaps it’s not unreasonable to believe that the money handlers should cough up, no questions ask.

This unwillingness to bend to studio demands ultimately made Welles a Hollywood outcast. Driven to independent filmmaking, the director’s filmography post-1940s is a patchwork of unfinished projects. A Renaissance man through and through, Welles’ talent was undeniable but frustrated at every turn by studio greed, a public unprepared for challenging cinema, financial troubles, and his own fickleness. As the years passed the director’s ego became matched only by his ever-expanding waistline, but it can be argued that the reasons for his tenacity were not unfounded.

We get glimpses of the complex industry politics that dominated Welles’ career throughout the film and less than a glimpse of the even more complex man himself. To Workman’s credit, he does manage to cram in every major touchstone of Welles’ career. With a body of work as sweeping as Orson Welles’, that is an achievement. However, the film never stops to linger over the events that need greater examination. Anybody who is a fan of Welles will find nothing new in Workman’s documentary, no revelations and no fresh insights. What the audience is left with is a chronologically correct document of Welles’ career, but not a better understanding of cultural icon.

 

Ellen Murray

 
94 minutes

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles is released 23rd July 2015

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles – Official Website

 

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Review: The Burning

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DIR: Pablo Fendrik • WRI: Jeffrey Hatcher  • DOP: Julián Apezteguia • ED: Leandro Aste  • CAST: Gael García Bernal, Alice Braga, Jorge Sesan

Something, something ‘the duality of man’ and ‘living as one with nature’, also ‘the lone wolf’. Such are the vague narrative threads that compromise Pablo Fendrik’s The Burning. Though filled with intriguing concepts, the film fails to utilise any of them effectively to create an engaging story. Heavy on symbolism yet lacking in depth, Fenrik’s newest flick leaves viewers feeling decidedly unsatisfied.

Gael García Bernal plays a mysterious man who emerges half-naked from the Argentinian rainforest (yada-yada-‘rebirth-of-man’) and subsequently finds himself embroiled in a battle between a humble farming family and the contracted hit-men determined to burn them out of their land. All seems lost when the family is massacred by said armed men and the daughter (Alice Braga) is kidnapped. But corporate greed is no match for the unexplained skills of our nameless hero, whose inherent familiarity with the local landscape gives him a distinct advantage over the gun-wielding land rustlers.

Much like a flame, the plot smoulders before it kindles. Before it flares to a full blaze, however, it sizzles out with a limp climax. Clearly this is a film with something to say, but it’s rather flat tone and strained direction means any message hoping to be conveyed comes across as forced rather than as a natural residue of the plot. The symbolism is also laid on quite thick, leaving no room for the delicious ambiguity that plays with the audiences mind. Subtly, it seems, is not Fendriks strong point. The acting, while reasonably solid, also flounders under the lack of real character development.

The biggest problem this film faces (and that any film could ever face) is that it fails to make the audience care. The juxtaposition between man and nature was a cliché before cinema even began; to explore this concept in a fresh light on screen, a director needs to give the audience more to work with.

Ellen Murray

16 (See IFCO for details)

100 minutes

The Burning is released 19th June 2015

The Burning – Official Website

 

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Report: March on Film Festival

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PIC: Director Elijah Egan, winner of the Best Film Award for First Kiss

 

Ellen Murray reports from March on Film Festival, which highlights Ireland’s burgeoning filmmakers.

 

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and if the March on Film competition proves anything, it’s that nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a deadline.

The concept behind the competition is simple; aspiring filmmakers, young and old alike, are given the month of March to create a short film between 3-6 minutes in length. To ensure that the finished work was made specifically for the competition, the filmmakers must all incorporate one prop (a candle), one line of dialogue (“Say that again?”), and one character name (Andy Connolly) chosen by the event’s organisers into their films. Rather than limiting, however, the diverse execution of these requirements in each film highlight that, in filmmaking, the director’s individual vision can be everything.

The screening of the top ten finalists’ films last Sunday acted as a showcase of everything the Irish film industry could be – certainly, if anything is lacking, it’s not talent! From comedy to horror, every genre was explored. After a few initial technical glitches, the night was kicked off with a screening of the hilarious ghost-hunter mockumentary Ghostly Truths from the Ectoplasm team (“We are not orifices for your pleasure!” may be one of the most memorable lines I’ve heard in a film this year).

The bar was set high from the get go, and while each film did undoubtedly vary in quality, the skill and thoughtfulness each team brought to their prospective work was clear. Other standout films of the night included Team Gibson Karate’s Tapped – with its clever plot and engaging dialogue it snagged the award for best screenplay and won third place overall in the competition.

Sir Paul Coolcat Productions’ mind-bendingly intelligent Creativity Requires Courage also swept the awards, with director Diarmuid Hayes scooping up the Best Director and Best Editing honours, plus sharing the Best Production award with fellow teammate Sarah B Wicker. Utilising different filmmaking techniques, such as animation, this is a work with many layers. Both Hayes and his film are ones to watch.

The Best Film Award ultimately belonged to the Seven Figure Films team and their powerful piece First Kiss, directed by Elijah Egan. A perfect blend of grit and emotion, plus a great soundtrack, this film shows that a talented director doesn’t need a big budget or an extended deadline to tell a good story.

Festival founders and organisers Kristian O’Neill and Julie Hannon have created an event that shows off the potential this country has to create a strong and vibrant film industry. The main thing to get excited about- this is only the beginning.

The March On Film Finalists Screening and Awards Ceremony took place at The Sugar Club on 10th May  2015

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Review: Get Up and Go

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DIR/WRI: Brendan Grant • PRO: Juliette Bonass • DOP: Vladimir Trivic • ED: Celia Galán, Eoin McGuirk • DES: Emma Lowney • DES: Emma Lowney • CAST: Peter Coonan, Killian Scott, Gemma-Leah Devereux

 

Nothing is more awkward then when a joke falls flat. Well, I did hear a titter in the cinema here and there, but it may have been someone clearing their throat. Alas such was the case with Get Up and Go, written and directed by Brendan Grant, a film that tries- and fails – to provide an insightful look into the realities of exiting one’s youth while still clinging to unattainable dreams under the guise of a ‘hipster comedy/drama’. But, hey, at least it tries.

The worst aspect by far in this film is the fact that its two main protagonists are completely unlikeable. And not in an endearing kind of way. True, perfect characters make for dull films, but with no semblance of goodness it’s extremely difficult to engage with a character’s motivation and story arc. Alex (Coonan) and Coilin (Scott) have been best friends for years, but now approaching their thirties and with their creative ambitions as of yet unrealised, tensions between the undynamic-duo begin to grow. Throw in some romantic trouble and wadda-bing, wadda-bang, there’s your plot. The film takes course over 24 hours and meanders from one plot point to another with little cohesion or thought.

After finding out his girlfriend is pregnant, Alex decides to jump ship and finally move to London to pursue his stagnant music career. Vain and selfish, Alex never reaches any form of satisfactory redemption. Immigration for young Irish people is as topical now as ever but Grant fails to seize on this opportunity to explore more deeply the impact it is having on an entire generation and the country at large. Hipsters hanging out in coffee shops serve as the representatives for ‘Generation Y-ers’ and they’re about as interesting as they sound. The whole ‘struggling artist’ shtick isn’t as sympathetic when said struggling artists spend their days sipping €5-per-cup coffees. On the other end of the spectrum is would-be comedian Coilin. Awkward and boring, Coilin completely lacks the charisma necessary to succeed in his chosen career path but remains firm in the belief that his ‘big break’ lies just around the corner. He also isn’t doing too hot on the dating scene, which is no wonder as he is completely incapable of understanding the concept of ‘no’. As Alex and Coilin fuddle from one problem to another and are confronted with harsh truths, both about themselves and life in general, all certainty begins to wane.

Now and again the film comes close to being almost profound, but then undermines this with unnecessary sub-plots and unfunny jokes. In the ‘comedy/horror’ paradigm this film falls firmly on the drama side of things. This would be fine, except that the film insists on rubbing its jokes in the audience’s faces instead of letting it occur naturally. Undoubtedly talented though Scott and Coonan are, a lot of the comedic sequences fail due to their deadpan delivery. The jokes come across as forced and offer nothing in terms of the character’s observations or self-realisation. Punchlines are followed by silence from the audience. But when the joke revolves around a character rubbing his genitalia to make use of his ‘natural musk’ to attract women, expectations must be set low.

The film boasts its use of various Dublin locations, especially pubs and cafes, throughout. However, this is nothing new. It seems no film set in Dublin nowadays is complete without various tracking shots of the city’s landmarks dappled around. Aesthetically, the film does not have much to offer. Its colour palette is bland and its shots straightforward. The musical soundtrack, on the other hand, which exclusively features Irish musicians, is brimming with life and personality. Indeed, it’s one of the best aspects of the film.

Overall, Get Up and Go leaves audiences feeling unsatisfied. It has nothing original to offer in terms providing a real insight into the actual realities of being a young person in Ireland today, its humour fails to pack a punch, and its characters never engage with the viewer on any meaningful level. What’s frustrating is the fact that this film had the potential to become an Irish equivalent of 2004’s Garden State but, where Zach Braff’s film had enough charm to overcome its shortcomings, there is very little here to salvage.

Ellen Murray

15A (See IFCO for details)
98 minutes

Get Up and Go is released 1st May 2015

Get Up and Go – Official Website

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Looking Back…Disney Animated Classics: One Hundred and One Dalmatians

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Ellen Murray takes a look back at One Hundred and One Dalmatians and how penny-pinching marked an era of austerity & change of direction for Disney.

 

The history of the Disney Animation Studios is one of constant ups and downs. Despite being a highly astute businessman Walt Disney retained a special place in his heart for the fantastical whimsy animation could bring to life on screen, despite the fact that his animation department’s financial viability was in constant flux. Cinderella (1951) had provided a much-needed boost to the studio after the harsh war years but it was quickly followed by a string of commercial disappointments. Sleeping Beauty (1959), though a beautifully crafted film, had been produced at a huge expense which was not subsequently recouped in the box office. Talk of possibly abandoning animation in favour of live action films began to circulate. Thanks to the introduction of Xerox photography to the studio, however, One Hundred and One Dalmatians was successfully produced at half the estimated cost. While this penny-pinching method ultimately secured Disney’s animation department for the next decade or so, it also meant that the films produced by the studio from there on in would be decisively less ambitious in both scale and execution.

Not that every film has to be larger than life to be enjoyable, of course. One Hundred and One Dalmatians remains to this day a charming and funny film with one of the most memorable villains in animation history. The story follows two Dalmatians, Pongo and Perdita, their owners, Roger and Anita, and their fifteen puppies as they live together in domestic bliss. In their ever conscientious mission to promote traditional family values, Disney changes the laws of nature by ensuring that even dogs do not copulate outside the sanctity of marriage. The safety of the canine clan is threatened however by the outrageously foppish Cruella De Vil, who wishes to purchase the Dalmatians to make herself a brand new coat out of their fur. Like most Disney villains, the best thing about De Vil is not her motivation but rather just her complete and utter lack of subtly. One could only imagine what sort of twisted parents this woman had to name her ‘Cruella’. Disney may as well have called her ‘Baddie McEvil’.

Once the puppies are kidnapped (dognapped?) by Cruella’s two henchmen, Jasper and Horace, the race is on to reunite the family and save the stolen puppies from a horrible fate. Story-wise there’s not a great deal of depth, it is what it is. This film is purely an adventure flick for kids. It doesn’t aim to convey any one singular moral that tends to come along with fairy-tale adaptations. That is not to say it is completely vapid; the importance of family is highlighted and also showing kindness towards animals. If there is a ‘message’ in this film, it would be not to give your child a name that sounds extremely similar to ‘cruel’ or else she might just live up to it.

Talking animals have been a staple of the Disney oeuvre since the company first began (its logo is an anthropomorphic mouse after all), but this film sees the writers and animators take cues from the real-life behaviour of dogs and using it in the film to explain how the animals communicate with one another. This is most evident in the ‘Twilight Bark’ sequence where Pongo and Perdita attempt to spread the news of their kidnapped pups to the other dogs in the city. Barking becomes Morse code, with each dog trying to interpret (or misinterpret) the message. Through this channel of information the puppies are discovered and reunited with their parents. This moves the plot along and creates a sense of a larger landscape all the while in-keeping with the more intimate feel of the film.

The use of Xerox photography, introduced to the studio by Ub Iwerks, meant that the animators no longer had to ink each cell individually. The gargantuan task of animating every spot on the one hundred and one Dalmatians was made much more manageable by this innovative method.  While Xerox photography saved greatly on time (and money) it also meant that the film’s animation style lost some of its finesse. It is even said that Walt himself was upset by the films artwork, feeling that it was too harsh. Where before the outlines were smooth here they are more blurry, giving the film a fuzzy, almost sketchy visual. This ultimately makes One Hundred and One Dalmatians ‘look’ older than its earlier animated counterparts. Of course, this being a Disney production ensures that the colours are still bright, the character designs engaging and their movements fluid.

This film would mark a change in direction for Disney animation. All subsequent works by the studio would follow the films more angular visual style in favour of the soft pastels and doe-eyes that had been used in Disney flicks up to that point. This would become regular practice up until the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989, the film which marked the beginning of the ‘Disney Renaissance’ and saw a return to the more fantastical elements of the studio’s earlier works. However, a change of pace was exactly what was needed for Disney animation at the time. The studio enjoyed multiple successes throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including The Jungle Book (1967) and the more mild The Aristocats (1970).

The thing about change though is that it is constant. By the 1980s, Disney once more found itself in a downward spiral accumulating in the disaster that was 1985’s The Black Cauldron, a film that was unpopular with critics and cinema-goers alike and the subject of my next article. Until then…

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Irish Film Review: Apples of the Golan

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DIR: Keith Walsh, Jill Beardsworth

 

Can a people maintain their national identity when they are no longer part of the nation that created it? It’s this question Irish filmmakers Keith Walsh and Jill Beardsworth examine in Apples of the Golan. Since its annexation by Israeli forces in 1967 Golan Heights, unique for its apple exportation, has seen its number of Syrian Arab villages shrink from 139 to just 5. It’s the inhabitants of one of these remaining villages, Majdal Shams, who are the central focus of this documentary. Divided from loved ones left behind in Syria, their resources being siphoned exclusively for Israeli citizens, and with civil war simmering just over the border, these ‘undefined’ citizens cling to the dream that they will soon be reunited with the ‘motherland’. Beautifully shot and with a straightforward approach, this is a thoughtful insight into the lives of those existing between two worlds.

As the title suggests apples play a core part, both economically and culturally, for the people of Majdal Shams. At one point an Arab apple farmer cuts the fruit in half to reveal it has five seeds in its core to reflect the five pointed star on the Syrian flag. He also claims that the apples that grow on Israeli farms contain six seeds to reflect the six points of the Star of David. Later on in the film an Israeli farmer cuts open his apples to reveal that there are, in fact, only five seeds in all the apples that grow in Golan. Walsh and Beardsworth employ this symbolism to the degree that it begins to feel a bit forced; apples appear in shots where it’s clear that they were strategically placed there to make up the frame.

Overall, however, the two director’s style remains unobtrusive and they allow their subjects to speak for themselves. Put together like an odd patchwork quilt we are given shreds of individual lives which, though each separate and unique, are intrinsically interwoven with one another. There’s a distinct difference in opinion between the older and younger generations. The older residents of the region, who recall life before Israeli occupation, believe the situation to be strictly black and white. This is most evident in one particularly memorable character that continually pops in the film who holds President Bashar al-Assad in an almost religious reverence. Given what is reported of Assad’s regime in Western media it’s fascinating to watch him being practically worshiped by virtue of being the president of Syria, ethics be damned.

The younger generation, who have never known life outside Israeli occupation, tend to appreciate more so the greyness of politics that rule their lives and question whether re-joining with Syria would actually be for the better. One particularly jaded young man points out that the only reason apples are so important in their community is because they are the only thing that lends their region a distinct identity. These people are musicians, dancers, rappers and academics but the shadow of occupation hangs heavy over them all as they strive to form identities independent from their unclear national one.

This is a very humanistic film, un-judgemental in its observations and finding the extraordinary in ordinary moments. However, the film was also made on the idea that the viewer would already have a relatively well informed knowledge of Syrian/Israeli politics before watching. The directors do not hold the viewer’s hand throughout and provide only the most basic historical context. Basing their film on this presumption means that its content will lose a lot of meaning for those who did no research before heading to the cinema. But, to give Walsh and Beardsworth their due, this is a film that is first and foremost about people.

A skilfully crafted film, Apples of the Golan sheds light onto a subject that more people need to know about. Recommended.

Ellen Murray

82 minutes.
Apples of the Golan
is released 16th January 2015.

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Testament of Youth

 

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DIR: James Kent • WRI: Juliette Towhidi • PRO: Rosie Alison, David Heyman • DOP: Rob Hardy • ED: Lucia Zucchetti • DES: Jon Henson • MUS: Max Richter • CAST: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson, Taron Egerton

 

 

Vera Brittain’s memoir Testament of Youth served as a searing and intensely moving account about the emotional scars World War I left on an entire generation. James Kent’s film adaptation of said memoir serves as a visually stunning but at times sludgy representation of its source material. Though not lacking in talent or feeling, the film suffers from an uneven distribution of focus and relies too much on its central romance to wrangle the viewer’s emotions.

We begin on Armistice Day 1918 as our protagonist, Vera, wanders aimlessly through the celebrating crowds before flashing back four years prior to the summer of 1914, when war was just over the horizon. A highly intelligent young woman, Vera dreams, not of marriage, but of studying in Oxford and becoming a professional writer cos’ she’s a strong independent woman who don’t need no man! OK, snarkiness aside, Swedish new-comer Alicia Vikander does make for a compelling and believable (if, yes, slightly typical) heroine. There are few films focused on the women who kept things running behind the scenes during wartime and it undoubtedly makes for a refreshing change. The Brittain’s family home settled in the heart of Derbyshire makes for a lush and dream-like setting. The apple of Vera’s eye is her younger brother Edward (Taron Egerton), whose bookish school friend Roland Leighton (Kit Harington) makes a deep impression on our protagonist. Drawn together by their mutual love of poetry, Vera and Roland’s relationship blossoms from one of affection to true love.

The war, of course, is always at the forefront of the film, yet Kent never bogs down the viewers with too many facts, giving us just enough information so we know where we are at any given moment. It’s a bitter sweet experience watching this idealistic young couple’s relationship evolve as we know the devastation that inevitably awaits them. The young men who frolic and laugh together on screen in the film’s opening moments will soon be marching to their deaths in France. As a result, there’s a lingering poignancy to every frame, an extra layer of meaning behind each scene. Though the film focuses mainly on those these young men left behind, the impact of their deaths is more intimately felt. For every shot of a wounded soldier lying in the mud there is a shot of a father’s tears or nurse’s blood splattered apron. Needless to say, emotion runs high throughout the duration of the film.

That said, some of this emotion, namely Vera and Roland’s romance, feels acutely overwrought. Both Harington and Vikander deliver solid performances but Kent can’t resist injecting unnecessary soppiness into their relationship with highly stylised sequences and clichés- the heroine longing touching places of her face and body were the hero touched her, close-up shots of a specific part of the love interest’s features, etc. Their relationship does at least feel genuine but the director insists on forcing it down the viewer’s throats. The film’s focus is also divided a little awkwardly: the first half is dedicated entirely to one relationship, the other half to the overall horrors of war and it is the latter that is far more impactful as a piece of cinema. Though moving, the relationship of two individuals simply does not match the agonizing suffering of an entire people. Kent pays homage to many of cinema’s greatest war epics in a number of carefully chosen shots, deciding to capture the aftermath of the battles rather than the battles themselves. There’s no ‘us vs. them’ dynamic here; we feel as much for the German soldiers as we do for the British ones, giving the film a more humanistic feel.

There’s an echoey sense of loss about the First World War that still reverberates to this day; a sense of loss for the unrealised potential of the young men who gave their lives and for mothers, fathers, wives, and friends who were left in the aftermath. It’s this undefinable pang of sadness that Testament of Youth manages to encapsulate so well. You just have to sit through forty minutes of romantic slush to get to that.

Ellen Murray

12A (See IFCO for details)
129 minutes.
Testament of Youth
is released 16th January 2015.

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Stations of the Cross

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DIR: Dietrich Brüggemann  WRI: Anna Brüggemann, Dietrich Brüggemann  PRO: Leif Alexis, Fabian Maubach  • DOP: Jo Willems  ED: Vincent Assmann •  CAST: Lucie Aron, Anna Brüggemann, Michael Kamp

Religion on film is always tricky business. On the one hand, there is always the danger of verging into the realm of clichéd iconography and caricatured acting. You know, the crazed fire-and-brimstone preacher shouting his sermon through clenched teeth while an ominous choir chants in the background. One the other hand, with a capable director, a film can inject insight, thoughtfulness and, yes, even humour into a subject that for many is fraught with controversy.

Sibling duo Dietrich and Anna Brüggemann have crafted here a skilful film that highlights the absurdity of fundamentalist belief, and the effect it can have on impressionable youth, all the while maintaining an even point-of-view that is impactful but never preachy. Much like its namesake the film is divided into fourteen chapters, each of which consists of a static camera monitoring the character’s actions from a fixed location.

Maria (van Acken) is a pious fourteen-year-old girl preparing to make her Confirmation with ambitions of becoming a martyred saint. Her family belong to a fundamentalist offshoot of the Catholic Church, the fictional Society of St Paul, which does not acknowledge the ‘progressive’ reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The first chapter begins with Maria and her fellow devotees attending a class with Father Weber (Stetter) who quickly outlines the radical beliefs of their church and the importance that the sacrament of Confirmation holds in their community. The context in which this scene is set makes Weber’s religious rhetoric come across as utterly ridiculous. The young teenagers are so eager to please their figure of spiritual authority that they will say anything to earn his approval. Watching Weber carefully manipulate his pupil’s thought process and denounce everything, from being concerned about ones appearance to modern music, as evil is horrific but oddly amusing. Yet this is achieved through words alone as the camera never moves from its position, with no music added in the background or any other visual indicator hinting at the director’s personal take on the subject- other than that the audience must interpret the words for themselves.

Throughout the film Brüggemann employs a soft grey light that conveys perfectly the reflective Maria’s co-existence between her mundane everyday life and another, almost ethereal, element that binds her more closely to the divine.

Our protagonist’s desire to transcend her earthly realm is not surprising considering her home life. The family is dominated by Maria’s mother (Weis), a no-nonsense fundamentalist who inflicts her rigorous belief onto both her meek children and even meeker husband. Any objection to her mother’s word, which is equivalent to God’s in the household, will simply not do as Maria learns the hard way. With her mother being so quick to point out her (entirely innocent) flaws, she seeks comfort in the form of their kindly au-pair Bernadette (Aron). To add to this tension Johannes, the family’s youngest child, is suffering from some unknowable affliction that prevents him from speaking or developing to the level of a normal four-year-old boy. The strain this puts on the family, and in particular Maria as the eldest, is palpable and combined with her unshakeable belief, ultimately leads Maria to the idea that she can cure her brother with God’s help in return for the ultimate sacrifice: her own life. Thus we follow Maria through a journey of suffering and soul-cleansing that only proves to confirm, rather than weaken, our young protagonist’s resolve. As the chapters progress it gets harder to watch. When we finally reach the last chapter it leaves us with an interesting visual juxtaposition between harrowing and hopeful, which also serves as an accurate summarisation of the film as a whole.

One of the strongest elements of this film is Lea van Acken’s spellbinding performance. There is a maturity and sensitivity to it that many more established actors in the industry would envy. We believe the sincerity of Maria’s thoughts and actions which is what makes her subsequent self-imposed suffering all the more difficult to witness. She is not only the victim of fundamentalism but also of her own personal drive to do good.

The film is very strong overall but there are certain elements of it that tend to rely on the clichés that dog other films of the same subject. For example, the mother is decidedly one note in her approach towards her daughter and is very much built up to be the antagonist of the film where perhaps no actual antagonist was needed. There’s also nothing redeemable to note about the priest character; he’s just as manipulative and backwards as one might predict. The religious symbolism that is reflected by Maria – starting with her very name – also errs on the side of being heavy handed now and again. For example, during the Confirmation chapter she is seen wearing the blue and white of the Virgin Mary. We get it! Another small problem, though I found it more bothersome than I would have thought, is that the use of a static camera means we are often left looking at the same mise-en-scene on screen for up to ten minutes. With no new visuals to offer this means that the chapters can become a little bit monotonous towards their final moments. If we wanted to watch actors simply sit around and talk from one angle- well, that’s what the theatre is for.

However, the film ultimately serves its purpose of examining the inherent bizarreness that lies at the heart of religious fundamentalism and the damage it can incur on others without laying it on thick. Beautifully made with interesting directorial choices and a superb lead, Stations of the Cross is almost a religious experience unto itself.

 Ellen Murray

15A (See IFCO for details)

110 minutes

Stations of the Cross  is released 28th November 2014

Stations of the Cross  – Official Website

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The Homesman

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DIR: Tommy Lee Jones  WRI: Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald,Wesley A. Oliver  PRO: Luc Besson, Peter Brant, Brian Kennedy • DOP: Rodrigo Prieto  ED: Roberto Silvi  DES: Merideth Boswell  MUS: Marco Beltrami  CAST: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, Meryl Streep

 

Even the most powerful nations have their beginnings in crushing hardship. For the pioneers who migrated west during the fever grip of Manifest Destiny in the 1800s this hardship was a daily reality. However, life was harder for no one more than the women of the prairie. Tommy Lee Jones’ adaptation of Glendon Swarthout’s novel delivers an eloquent, if at times slightly skewed, insight into the mind-set of a people living on the edge of civilisation.

The story follows the strangely single Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) as she enrols a wandering claim-jumper supposedly called George Briggs (Jones) into her mission to escort three mentally unstable women back across the Missouri River to their families back east. We learn that the fragile state of the three women was incurred through means beyond their control; one woman killed her baby after her husband’s inadequacies as a farmer caused all their livestock to die, another was driven insane from her husband’s constant sexual abuse and mistreatment of her own mother and the youngest woman lost all three of her children to diphtheria within days of another. Enough to drive anyone mad.

The plains of Nebraska are depicted as harsh, ruthless and seemingly inhospitable to the livelihoods the pioneers want so badly to reap from its land. Jones uses a wide angle lens to its best advantage in capturing the immense vastness of the landscape and the contrastingly pitiful homesteads of those who live in it. There is no beauty to be had here, no trees, no flowers, and no shade. One shot of this wilderness and the audience wonders why anyone reckoned it was worth leaving everything behind to pursue a life in such emptiness. Nonetheless Cuddy endures the hard work pioneer life presents with a hardy can-do attitude despite her unmarried status. Cuddy’s age (she’s only 31 but positively over the hill by 1800s standards) and plainness, plus her assertiveness, means she can no longer afford to perceive marriage as a gesture of romance so much as a practical business contract.

After being shot down by a potential suitor for being too ‘bossy’ (a term only ever applied to women I can’t help but notice) Cuddy finds herself once more facing a life of loneliness. When she learns that three local women must be taken back to Iowa to salvage what’s left of their sanity – a five-week journey – Cuddy’s compassion and ethical code prompt her to volunteer. Her still burning desire for a partner despite being faced with the potentially disastrous outcome in the form of these three women speaks volumes of a society where a woman is only truly defined by the man she shares her bed with. Swank’s performance is impactful yet surprisingly subtle. There’s an undoubtable strength about the character balanced only by her vulnerability, which Swank manages to convey convincingly. While Cuddy’s idealism is what drives her to help her fellow womankind it also poses a threat to her own sanity. Idealism has no place in the brutal life of the pioneers.

After trying to claim the land of an out-of-town local, Briggs finds himself the victim of a lynching mob. Left under a tree with a noose around his neck and a horse between his legs, Briggs is eventually cut down by Cuddy who only agrees to save him if he promises to aid her on her long journey. With death by hanging being the only alternative, Briggs gratefully agrees. Briggs is an unusual ‘hero’ for a Western. In most ways he ticks all the right boxes for the classical cowboy archetype; he’s a wanderer, an outsider who doesn’t wish to assimilate into a community, plays by his own rules and he is, needless to say, very fond of violence. However, what Briggs ultimately lacks is any sort of depth or internal conflict. He’s not out to save anyone or to avenge anyone. He just wants his money and his whiskey and he’s pretty much satisfied. Briggs is, in a word, pathetic. This description may make him sound like an awful character to have as a film’s protagonist yet Jones somehow makes him endearing. He swings from hilarity to dourness in the blink of an eye. We want him to learn something from his experience, to come out of it a different man. A shocking twist about three quarters into the film initially seems like it could be a catalyst for his transformation but as to whether he actually does change or not by the film’s end is up to the individual’s interpretation. It’s a skilful performance from Jones, riddled with the blurry lines and hypocrisies that make up the human condition.

Jones also proves himself as a capable director with this film. There’s a poetic, almost dreamlike, quality to the film both in its tone and visual style. It does suffer from some uneven dedication of time however. Gummer, Otto and Richter are superb as the women that sanity abandoned. With little to no dialogue their anguish and distress is conveyed perfectly. One only wishes that a little more time was dedicated to showing exactly why these women went insane in the first place. Instead, we’re only treated to the occasional cutaway flashback which serves only to give us the bare bones of their story. There was an opportunity here to really examine the life of the average woman in this specific setting in this specific historical period and Jones lets it slip woefully by.

For what it is, The Homesman serves as a not so idealistic portrayal of an emerging nation and a people attempting to find their home in its vast landscape. Thoughtful performances throughout and with a strong visual aesthetic, this film doesn’t quite live up to its potential but still manages to hold strong. Definitely worth a watch.

Ellen Murray

 

15A (See IFCO for details)

122 minutes

The Homesman is released 21st November 2014

The Homesman– Official Website

 

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Fury

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DIR: David Ayer • WRI: Juliette Towhidi, Cecelia Ahern PRO: Simon Brooks, Robert Kulzer  ED: Tony Cranstoun DES: Matthew Davies CAST: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal

War is bad. This mantra has been hammered into the minds of cinemagoers since the dawn of the medium. Not that we’ve ever actually learned from it. With violence so prominent in not just popular entertainment but in the very world around us it’s easy to become desensitised to a man’s screams as he writhers in agony on screen. Every now and again, however, a film is made that offers such a raw, unflinching insight into the actual horrific reality of warfare that it promises to linger in the minds of its audience long after the credits roll. David Ayer’s Fury is one such film.

It’s April 1945 and the Allies are pushing ever closer into the epicentre of the Nazi regime in the German heartland. Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Pitt) commands a five-man Sherman tank called ‘Fury’ through a ravished countryside; his team find themselves surrounded by death and brutality – but it’s just another day’s work for the battle-weary crew.

Fresh faced Norman Ellison (Lerman) has spent the war in a cosy clerical position but the death of the Fury’s co-driver propels him into a position with a lot more action, excitement and, of course, danger whether he wants it or not. As Ellison faces combat for the first time he discovers the animalistic savagery that conflict induces in people, soldiers and civilians alike.

One could say there is a lack of subtly in Ayer’s approach to violence; there’s never any allusion to it, we get it served straight up cold on a plate. For the most part I would say this is a fair argument. That tank looks like it’s about to roll over a soldiers head… You’re going to see that soldiers head explode in a bloody mess no question. People being burned alive… Ayer’s got you covered and then some. But let’s be honest, the men on the battlefield were not spared a quick camera cut away from their friend’s bullet ridden bodies so why should we? Stuff like that happened in WWII. It happens today. For all the gore in this film (and yes it is exceptionally gory, you know, like war) it never felt like it was being exploitative. Ayer captures the audience in a vice, proclaiming ‘See! See! This is what happens in war!’ The film’s imagery is shocking yet it is by far its strongest element. Because the film has problems. Boy, does it have problems.

Many fascinating true stories of bravery against impossible odds emerged from the hell that was the Second World War. Fury is not one of them. The events of the film are not historical fact they are the product of Ayer’s imagination. Now, of course, not all films have to be based on a true story just because they’re set in a historical time period. However, it does make the film seem all the more ego-stroking.

One of the biggest themes the film was trying to convey was that war consists of individuals with personalities, likes, dislikes, friends, lovers and what not rather than just faceless masses of marching brigades. And yet the humanity of the American characters is only confirmed through the dehumanisation of the German soldiers. We’re supposed to feel deeply saddened when an Allied troop dies, yet feel a sense of smug satisfaction when a soldier on the Nazi side perishes – it’s an uncomfortable contrast and somewhat undermines the overarching concerns of the film.

Ayer had the perfect opportunity to explore the grey area of conflict but instead decides to stick with the comfortable (but inaccurate) ‘we’re the good guys; they’re the bad guys’ shtick. Disturbingly enough it also means that the atrocities committed by American forces-such as gunning down children are somehow justified in this context. At one point the by now not so dewy-eyed Ellison actually screams out “Fuck you Nazis! Fuck you!” A lack of nuance in the depiction of violence is forgivable but this is just bad dialogue.

The film is also riddled with clichés. Wardaddy is the gruff, all-American, Nazi-killing badass, who is also intelligent, thoughtful and even sensitive. Pitt delivers a pretty solid performance but it’s difficult sometimes not to hark back to his other Nazi-killing performance in 2009’s Inglorious Basterds. You must agree: if you make more than one Nazi film where you’re the slaughtering hero it’s a fetish. Lerman is also quite watchable but his character does stink of the old younger-boy-joins-an-established-group-to-prove-himself-and-is-then-taken-under-the-wing-of-the-leader-cos’-he’s-like-the-son-he-never-had trope. All the other characters also play to a certain ’type’- the ignorant swamp hillbilly, the pious preacher (though I must say LaBeouf gives it his all here) and the ethnic token. That said, the tension that would arise between five men stuck for so long in such an enclosed space is captured surprisingly skilfully. They’ve all been driven a little mad by the horrors they’ve seen yet remain steadfast to their goals and, ultimately, to one another.

We get glimpses of real brilliance and ingenuity in certain parts of this film. It’s just frustrating that Ayer could not sustain this throughout all aspects of Fury, depending on tired clichés to carry the rest. If nothing else, this film will stamp one distinct message into your mind: war is bad.

Ellen Murray

15A (See IFCO for details)

134 minutes

Fury is released 24th October 2014

Fury – Official Website

 

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The Way He Looks

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DIR/WRI: Daniel Ribeiro Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque  PRO: Diana Almeida, Daniel Ribeiro DOP: Pierre de Kerchove  ED: Cristian Chinen DES: Olivia Helena Sanches  CAST: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi, Tess Amorim

Some films can’t help it. They just make you leave the cinema with a big smile on your face. Brazilian director Daniel Ribeiro’s The Way He Looks is one such film. A feature length adaption of Ribeiro’s 2010 short I Don’t Want to Go Back, the film follows Leonardo or Leo (Lobo), a blind teenager living in a leafy middle-class suburb who yearns for greater independence. He is determined to break away from the mundanity that marks his everyday existence and even more determined that his disability will not prevent him from achieving this goal. Unfortunately, Leo’s overprotective parents and cruelly indifferent schoolmates have other plans in mind. Only Giovana (Amorim), Leo’s constant companion since childhood, serves as a form of consolation in his life. Things change, however, when the dashing Gabriel (Audi) joins their class in school and begins to stir up new emotions in Leo, prompting him on a journey of emotional and sexual self-discovery.

This summary makes the film sound rather clichéd and while admittedly the themes explored in this story are by no means groundbreaking, Ribeiro presents them in such a fresh and pleasing way that it’s impossible not to be enraptured by his directorial prowess. Though this is not to say the film is mere fluff. There is a tenderness and depth here that is aided greatly by the cast’s thoughtful performances. It is fascinating to watch Leo, a character who is both so vulnerable and yet so strong, distance himself from the expectations of others – even his own- to pursue what makes him happy. The duality of his blindness, both physically and emotionally, plays an integral part in the film yet never feels hammy or laboured. Ribeiro never lingers too long on these allusions as though to say ‘Get it? Get it?’ but gives his visuals enough time and space to have an impact. This film is sincere in a way a lot of coming-of-age dramas are not. The interaction between the teenage characters feels genuine; they joke with another, poke fun at one another, get drunk together and generally just laze around which is something any teenager can relate to. Feelings are hurt when invitations to the cinema are not extended to everyone in the group and the ever lingering sexual tension that exists between pubescent’s teetering on the edge of adulthood is present throughout. The audience knows exactly what it is the characters on screen want but we still have to watch them figure it out for themselves – not unlike the parents of actual teenagers.

There are times when the dialogue does come across a little clunky, particularly in the scenes with Leo’s parents, but this may come down to problems in translation more than delivery or writing.  Otherwise, this is an almost perfect piece of work that certainly deserves a place amongst the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category. The Way He Looks is a sweet and touching film that never loses it sincerity in favour of being emotionally manipulative. A must watch.

Ellen Murray

95 minutes

The Way He Looks is released 24th October 2014

The Way He Looks – Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OY9RFKaZoDQ

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Looking Back…Disney Animated Classics: Cinderella (1950)

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Ellen Murray continues her series with a look back at how Disney took a risk on releasing Cinderella in the post-war market and explains its appeal.

 

The 1940s was not a good decade for Walt Disney. WWII had made it almost impossible to export American films to the European markets and the studio was suffering for it. Despite producing a number of critically acclaimed hits throughout the decade, such as Fantasia (1941) and Bambi (1942), none had been a box-office success and Disney Animation Studios was verging on the brink of collapse. As such Cinderella, being the first full-length animated film with a three-act narrative made by the studio in a number of years, had a lot riding on it. Luckily for Disney the film was a smash, both in the box office and with the critics. The film also marked Disney’s return to the classical fairy tale – something it had not focused on since the studio’s first major success, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, in 1937. As to whether or not Snow White or Cinderella was the first official ‘Disney Princess’ is still the hotly debated topic amongst girls (and boys of course!) in the schoolyard.

Perhaps the appeal of Cinderella lies in its relatability. After all, who doesn’t dream of magically achieving a life better than the one they currently have? Some people call it the ultimate tale of class transcendence but that is a rather glib interpretation. The moral behind the tale that most people buy into, and I would count myself amongst them, is that kindness and goodness will ultimately be rewarded while greed and cruelty will simply perpetuate the same, just as Lady Tremaine’s mean disposition is reflected in her two daughters. It’s true that this is an overly simplistic moral that doesn’t really hold any bearing in the real world but it’s a pleasant one all the same and through its simplicity the base concepts of integrity are conveyed to the film’s young audience. Maybe just be prepared to suspend disbelief. You never know ladies, your shoe size may one day be indicative of whether or not the love of your life is willing to marry you, or not! Disney’s adaptation is a decisively cleaner version as well – in the original fairy tale Cinderella’s step-sisters cut off their toes in an attempt to make the glass slipper fit. Truly a gruesome twosome.

Forgoing the self-mutilation in favour of friendly animal sidekicks and song, Disney’s Cinderella still makes for a charming watch. Feminists claim that the film poses a problematic precedent for young girls – namely that Cinderella is very passive and relies on the actions of others to achieve anything. The Prince (who is never actually given a name or indeed a personality) falls in love with her simply because she is beautiful. These criticisms are legitimate but to give Cinderella some credit what little we do get from her is pretty good. She’s kind, she works hard and she manages to retain a positive attitude even with her unfortunate circumstances. I know I would become bitter if I had to sleep in a draftee attic and wear dresses made by a bunch of rodents who were also my only companions.

Much of Cinderella’s pleasantness is down to her voice actress, Ilene Woods, who manages to make something of a pretty one-dimensional character. The voice acting throughout is actually executed perfectly, particularly in the form of icon Eleanor Audley’s Lady Tremaine (Audley would later go on to voice the badass that is Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty). What makes Lady Tremaine work so well is that we all know someone like her in real life; this character is subtle yet drastically over the top and, for all her airs, is just a downright scornful bitch. She’s the perfect foil for the perfect Cinderella. For all the forced comedy in the film, courtesy of the animal characters, there’s also a surprising amount of more nuanced jokes scattered throughout. For example, when Cinderella first arrives at the palace for the ball we get a quick shot of the guards trying to get a sneaky look at the mysterious beauty’s derriere. It’s what Dara O’Briain would call ‘Something for the Dads’.

Undoubtedly, the strongest element of the film is its animation. This is Disney after all and Disney is all about producing the best. The soft colours and fluidity of the film lend it a dreamy air that suits its fairy tale origins down to a tee. The scene where Cinderella’s dress is transformed into a magnificent ball gown was said to have been Walt Disney’s favourite piece of animation produced by his studio and it’s easy to see why. Her dress looks like a floating glittery cloud. The film is also very creative with how it allows its mice characters to move around the chateau, getting some very interesting shots and angles in. The songs make for nice listening too though they are very much of the time. Seriously, try getting Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo out of your head. You can’t, can you?

Cinderella may not have been one of Disney’s most ground-breaking works but it contains enough striking imagery to retain its place in the pantheon of animated classics. It delivers on what it promises and, for many, remains the epitome of classic Disney. Let’s be honest, any film that can make glass shoes seem wearable contains a special brand of enduring magic.

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Annabelle

THE CONJURING

DIR: John R. Leonetti   WRI: Gary Dauberman  PRO: Peter Safran, James Wan   DOP: James Kniest  ED: Tom Elkins   MUS: Joseph Bishara  CAST: Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard

Let’s face it, when you create a doll as inherently creepy looking as Annabelle you’re sort of asking for a demon to possess it. An evil spirit would be the only thing on earth (or beyond) to find this caricature of fugly appealing. Annabelle’s carved grin was first seared onto the brains of audiences in the surprise 2013 horror movie hit The Conjuring, wherein she made a brief appearance as a highly dangerous piece of married paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren’s haunted-bits-and-bobs collection. In the grand tradition of horror films somehow always becoming franchises, it was decided that this particular inanimate object could carry a film all on its own. Demon dollies are a ‘thing’ in Hollywood horror after all. Therein lays the problem at the core of this film however: it offers the viewer nothing that they have not seen before.

The film focuses on the blissfully newlywed couple John (Ward Horton) and Mia Gordon (Annabelle Wallis) who are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. They seem set on the fast-track to an idyllic suburban life in their idyllic suburban 1970s American neighbourhood. We learn that Mia has a penchant for collecting antique dolls and is thrilled when her husband presents her with a rare collector’s item named Annabelle – a porcelain doll with an elaborate white gown and soulless eyes. It is quite evident why the dollmaker did not feel the need to make many Annabelles, but I digress.

More than one snigger arose in the theatre when Mia expressed genuine delight at the horrific creature presented to her and did not proceed to burn it straight away. Determined to give her new-born child nightmares, Mia places Annabelle in pride of place in the nursery room. Outside the Gordons’ domestic bubble, however, things are not all well as the threat of Charles Manson-esque cults looms ever larger, dominating the news headlines and people’s imaginations. These two worlds collide when the Gordons’ neighbours are brutally murdered by their own estranged daughter and her fellow cult-following boyfriend. The violence spills over into the Gordons’ home but they are saved in the nick of time by the local authorities. As it turns out, however, the intruders left something far more sinister then a mere blood splatter lingering over the lives of the young couple and their child.

The story is not a new one but that’s ok, with horror it doesn’t have to be. Rather, it’s what the film does with the classical horror tropes that matters; how they use them, subvert them, twist them to make the scares all the more shocking and instil a sense of dread within the audience. This is where the director of The Conjuring James Wan succeeded. The haunted house shtick is older than cinema itself yet Wan created a genuinely tense and chilling atmosphere through skilled editing and carefully composed shots, proving all it takes is a little bit of ingenuity to breathe new life into a tired idea. Annabelle lacks this finesse. That’s not to say it’s all bad but we’re being offered nothing new. Demonic spirits? Then a Catholic priest must be involved in some way! Oh, and cults! A cult must somehow be involved! Those crazy cult people, always worshipping the devil!

There are plenty of scares to be had here- in particular one chase scene that makes very good use of shadow and staircases- yet the impact of these scenes is greatly lessened by the consistent visual and aural notes that reveal what is about to happen before it happens. I will give Leonetti credit though in that the film never verges on the edge of ridiculousness which, considering a doll is the face of your main antagonist, would have been very easy to do. The film at least takes itself seriously, which prompts the audiences to also take it as such.

Technical skill is also in abundance throughout. In particular, cinematographer James Kniest really captures the era in which the film is set through the use of a distinctly ’70s colour palette, creating a very pleasing visual aesthetic. The acting is pretty solid too, though Alfre Woodard is woefully underused and her character arc a bit… problematic, shall we say. It’s frustrating that all the elements for a great horror are present in this film yet when combined together here on screen create only a spectacular ‘meh’.

To sum up, Annabelle should satisfy those looking for a quick thrill but nothing else. This film breaks no new ground with the horror genre but rather is content to flex its muscles in the tried and true tropes of its cinematic predecessors.

 

Ellen Murray

16 (See IFCO for details)

98 minutes

Annabelle  is released 10th October 2014

Annabelle – Official Website

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Looking Back… Disney’s Animated Classics: Bambi (1942)

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Ellen Murray looks back at Disney’s 1942 animated classic Bambi, returning to that trauma and how the film challenged its audience by examining some of the more complex – and even sinister – aspects of the proverbial food chain.

Images of pink flowers and cutsie woodland creatures are what usually spring to mind when one thinks of Bambi. That and, of course, the other thing…

It was one of the first films to cause trauma on your childhood innocence and make you wonder why on earth a skunk character would be called Flower, but Bambi has endured the decades as an undisputed classic – and for good reason. Disney secured the rights to Felix Salten’s 1923 novel Bambi, A Life in the Woods in 1937 but the story was considered too grim and serious in tone to be suitable for child viewers.

The adaptation was an unusual choice for Disney who was depending on the film to be a success to secure the studios precarious future after a string of financial disappointments in the box office. But hey, add in some pastel colours, maybe a few fluffy bunnies, edit out the more graphic violence, and presto you’ve got yourself a kids flick! To be fair, while Disney’s adaptation is an undoubtedly water downed version of its source material, the film still retains a darker undercurrent that continues to fascinate adults and kids alike. People tend to remember the point up to Bambi’s mother’s death but rarely what comes next. What begins as a pleasant romp around a fairy-tale forest suddenly takes a sharp turn when Bambi finds himself without a mother to guide him through his informative years. Concerns about nature conservation and illegal hunting also come to the foreground (indeed, Bambi’s image was used as the face of fire prevention by the American government until 1944) as the threat of ‘man’ lingers ever present over the life of the characters.

For all its whimsy, Bambi ultimately seeks to challenge its audience by examining some of the more complex (and even sinister) aspects of the proverbial food chain. There’s feel-good mush to spare in this film yet danger is never far off screen.

In terms of animation the film also looks fantastic. The decision to use oils rather than watercolours gives the pieces a far richer texture than anything else being produced by the other leading animation studios of the time. Each frame looks like it could belong in a classical art gallery. The attention to detail is breath taking; we see individual raindrops glisten on flower petals and branches move gently in the breeze. The animation was so good, in fact, that it was to later be recycled in several of Disney’s later films. Talk about getting your money’s worth! Very little dialogue is spoken on the film with only an estimated 1000 words in the script. Instead the story is driven entirely by its musical soundtrack and its visuals, ironically creating a world that is much more emotionally engaging by leaving language behind. Or maybe people just really think Thumper is super adorable.

Disney is often held as the forerunner (or enforcer) of today’s mainstream animation standards. While Disney’s dominance over the industry can be viewed as somewhat problematic, films such as Bambi show us why it was they gained such a high status in the first place.

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