Cinema Review: Barbaric Genius – Film of the Week

DIR: Paul Duane • PRO: Paul Duane, Mary Carson  ED: Ian de Brí, Colm O’Brien • CAST: Frank Boyle, Dick Fitzgerald,  John Healy

Bloody Hell. That’s quite a documentary to watch when you are still recovering from the night before.

John Healy, whose parents were from Sligo, was a homeless alcoholic living in London who only stopped drinking when he was introduced to chess in prison by his cell mate, a notorious burgler nicknamed ‘The Brighton Fox’. He went on to play chess to international level before writing an award-winning autobiography, The Grass Arena ,which went out of print for a number years due to him threatening to kill his publisher.

Now that’s an interesting subject for a documentary. After the screening I went out and bought The Grass Arena. I can’t really critique the filmmaking aspect of this documentary as from about two minutes in I was glued to it. I guess when you pick such a fascinating person to make a documentary on you are most of the way there.

The ‘row’ he had with is publisher, almost 20 years on, is water under the bridge and the publisher appears on camera to give an unintentionally hilarious recollection of events containing quite possibly the highest number of contradictions in the fewest words spoken.

Director Paul Duane and Healy himself took part in a Q&A at JDIFF 2011 chaired by Dr Harvey O’Brien of UCD. Healy recalled that when The Grass Arena was published he thought he was getting away from the psychopaths that he was hanging around with when he was drinking, only to discover that the real psychopaths were in the middle class, who he discovered, ‘don’t like listening to problems unless they are their own’.

Paul Duane described Healy as vulnerable and open and the two became friends over the long period of filming. Norman Brock, who wrote the screenplay for Bronson, and does some of the voiceover on Barbaric Genius is scripting another adaptation of the book, the first one made in 1992 was directed by Gilles McKinnon and starred Mark Rylance as Healy.

Talking about alcoholism and the use of the term ‘wino’, Healy said there are many types of alcoholic, those in the drawing room, those in the pub, and the ‘wino’ ‘who would attack another human being if it furthered them to drink’. When he discovered chess he said that’ drink dropped out of his mind’ and that he didn’t give up the drink, drink gave up him.

When Paul Duane was asked why he made the documentary he said he wondered ‘why is this man being ignored for so long, why is he being surpressed?’, after watching Barbaric Genius I was thinking the same thing myself.

Gordon Gaffney

Barbaric Genius is released on 25th May 2012


Cinema Review: The Raid – Film of the Week

DIR/WRI: Gareth Evans  PRO: Ario Sagantoro  DOP: Matt Flannery  • ED: Gareth Evans  DES: Victor Kempster  Cast: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Pierre Gruno

You would be forgiven for thinking that the sound designer working on The Raid had made some odd artistic choices; what’s with are all that manly grunting and hooting and the sound of sweaty palms slapping against one another on the soundtrack? You will in fact find that those noises are coming from the audience. The Raid is that kind of action movie that causes men (and women, though less verbosely so) to revert to a primitive, almost bestial state, resulting in cheers, roars and copious high-fivery.

Delivering every 10 minutes the sort of cheer-inducing ‘awesome’ moment that most blockbusters nowadays strain themselves to provide one of (think Legolas flipping onto the horse in The Two Towers, or the Batpod’s wall reversal in The Dark Knight), The Raid manages to entertain its audience without ever becoming too stupid or too experimental to alienate. The story of how Welsh film fan Gareth Evans found himself at the helm of a modest budget Indonesian action film is quickly becoming the stuff of legend, and has been suitably embellished as all good legends are. The Raid is in fact Evans’s second film, after 2009’s Merantau, which introduced action star Iko Uwais and the extreme martial art pencak silat to the world. But if The Raid is not his cinematic debut, it is definitely the film that has made his name been heard the world over.

The story is all too simple: a squad of elite cops storm a tower slum to take out a drugs kingpin. But the boss turns the tables by setting his machete and machine gun-laden junkie goons on the cops. Soon the good guys run low on both ammunition and other good guys, and it’s up to the survivors to kung fu fight their ways to the top of the tower. (yes, I know it’s pencak silat, but I can’t say “they pencak silat” their ways” now can I?) There are a few minor plot twists along the way, but really this is all about intense action sequences, heightened by a pumping soundtrack.

Blood splatters, bones shatter, fridges explode. The fighting is frenetic and balletic; choreography for the hand-to-hand combat is honed to perfection, while clunky machetes are wielded with the grace and elegance of the Green Destiny in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And indeed, this is a film all about references to classic action movies – but always references that show reverence, and not theft. The villain wields a hammer like Oldboy, his henchman shares the name “Mad Dog” with the henchman from Hard Boiled, the plot itself reads like The Warriors mated with Assault on Precinct 13. Obvious too are references to computer games; the film features action and stealth sequences, and the tower is literally played through level by level with “boss fights” along the way. One scene in which two of the acrobatic cops and their burly sergeant raid a meth lab full of goons is overwhelming similar to the classic arcade beat ’em up Final Fight.

The film shows signs of clumsiness along the way. The geography of the tower is somewhat ill-defined, and it’s rarely clear where everyone is. Worse still is the editing of scenes together. In one sequence a goon walks to the end of a corridor, pauses to think, we cut to a separate scene and then back to the goon who has not progressed in any way in five minutes; this is the sort of continuity mistake silent cinema gave up on before 1910. Later, a character gets into an elevator and is in it for at least 15 minutes, simply because of the way lengthy scenes are cut around his (assumedly) brief descent. But with action this awesome these minor problems fall by the wayside.

We enjoy the violence because it is so stylised and, oddly, beautiful; there is a certain poetry to the way a man is knocked out by having his head shatter tiles along a wall. Iko Uwais shows off his formidable skills but also shows off an intensity in his acting that escapes many of his American action counterparts. It no doubt limits him to this sort of movie, but he is never anything less than sincere in his performance. In fact the realistic performances, combined with the film’s gritty, almost filthy look, are what make The Raid so memorable and impressive. It’s hectic madness, with men flipping over the backs of one another, yet somehow it all looks, well, sort of possible.

What it lacks in the one-liners of Die Hard and Commando it makes up for with Mortal Kombat-style finishing moves. A remarkable breakthrough for director and star, The Raid will become a staple in the collections of action movie buffs, and keep men (and women) roaring with delight until the day that impaling a guy on a doorframe is no longer considered entertainment.


David Neary

Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details)
The Raid is released on 18th May 2012

The Raid  – Official Website


Cinema Review: Damsels In Distress – Film of the Week


DIR/WRI/PRO: Whit Stillman • DOP: Doug Emmett • ED: Andrew Hafitz • DES: Elizabeth J. Jones • Cast: Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Megalyn EchikunwokeNicola Marzano

I want to get one point across immediately. The trailer for Whit Stillman’s Damsels In Distress is not representative of its wit, humour and style. If you cringed while watching it, I don’t blame you, but the film itself is of much higher quality than the trailer suggests. It’s almost worth a watch if only to see how much a trailer can obliterate the actual style and tone in an attempt to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Lily, a recent transfer to Seven Oaks college, is immediately taken under the wing of a group of sophisticated, well-meaning but absurd women, who function to prevent any potential suicides from happening. The anachronistic gang, led by Greta Gerwig’s Violet, is totally separate from their peers, saying that they’re the same age as the ‘young people’ that they are trying to help but only only in a numerical sense. Using unconventional methods, such as an insistence on personal hygiene and dance therapy, they aim to make student life a better place.

Eventually, everyone in the cast seems to drop in and out of some sort of potential relationship. Lily has two bizarre admirers, while Violet eventually loses the dim-witted love of her life to one of the students she tried to help. The film charts the ups and downs of their path through college life and there isn’t a clear end point in sight throughout the film. I found myself chuckling every few minutes, and there are several absurd moments that produced belly laughs. A storyline involving a young student named “Thor” who has never learned how to distinguish colours is particularly clever and hilarious.

Lily, the outsider, is the only one who actually engages in sex, as everyone else seems more interested in old fashioned courtship. Like his debut film, Metropolitan, the rare moment of sex is quite perverse, but adds some bit of balance to what might be perceived as a ‘twee’ tone. Even though it’s been 14 years since Stillman has made a film, his style has not changed a bit. The dry, absurd humour, dense dialogue, ‘preppy’ socialites, even that abrupt Stillman fade out, all make an appearance.

Greta Gerwig is absolutely wonderful as Violet. She carries the film in a role that, if misjudged, would cause everything else to suffer. Gerwig’s charisma and skill carries the audience through any potential cringe-inducing moments, such as any of the dance scenes. Her character, the daughter of writers, is incredibly well spoken and intelligent, with most of the humour coming from how misdirected this intelligence is. Stillman is very much aware of the absurdity of the film’s premise, and anticipates the questions and concerns of the audience. Some of the inconsistencies and quirks in Violet’s worldview are pointed out early in the film by Lily, and are humorously addressed.

Lily, our entry point into this world, is mostly functional, to the extent that some attempts to flesh out her character seem tacked on. She even disappears for a large chunk of the film with little explanation other than Violet’s arc requiring more screen time. She brings the values and judgements of reality into the blissfully ignorant innocence of Seven Oaks, and she is plain annoying at times as a result. When the film focuses on her, it’s as if a totally different film has been spliced in.

This is not simply a quirky chick flick, it’s a charming comedy that revels in absurd humour and wit. Lovers of language will have a ball, but anyone teased by the wacky hijinks of the trailer will be disappointed. It’s a shame that the film is marketed as it is, as I know that I would have stayed well clear of it had I not seen Stillman’s earlier films.

 Kieran O Leary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Damsels In Distress is released on 27th April 2012

Damsels In Distress – Official Website


Click here to read Film Ireland’s exclusive interview with director Whit Stillman


Cinema Review: This Must Be the Place

Droopy Plays Guitar

DIR: Paolo Sorrentino • WRI: Umberto Contarello, Paolo Sorrentino • PRO: Francesca Cima, Nicola Giuliano, Andrea Occhipinti, Mario Spedaletti • DOP: Luca Bigazzi • ED: Cristiano Travaglioli • DES: Stefania Cella • Cast: Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Eve Hewson

Over the last 10 years Paolo Sorrentino has emerged as one of the greatest of a new generation of European filmmakers. Through films such as The Consequences of Love and his political biopic, and opus, Il Divo, he has proven himself a master of stylish editing and perhaps the finest conjurer of perfectly framed imagery currently in the business.

Because of the praise hurled at him at Cannes and elsewhere, the pressure is on Sorrentino now with his new film This Must Be the Place, his English-language debut. And while it may not be the film that many hoped for, it is, unquestionably, a Sorrentino picture.

The new film stars Sean Penn (who practically demanded Sorrentino cast him in his next project after seeing Il Divo at Cannes in 2008) as an aging former rockstar, hiding from life and responsibilities in Dublin. Cheyenne, equal measures Boy George and The Cure’s Robert Smith, is a man living in the past; he still dresses as he did in his heyday, refusing to grow up, spending his time with friends half his age (if not literally, then emotionally stilted like himself). His character is complex, simultaneously wise and childlike, unable to take responsibility in his own life yet too eager to take it in the lives of others.

Like Hugh Grant’s character in About a Boy, Cheyenne lives off royalties and does next to nothing with his days. His identity crisis is compounded when his elderly father falls ill, and he must return to the US for the first time in decades to face his past. But it is his father’s past he must come to terms with, as he becomes the heir to his father’s lifelong search – to find the man who terrorised him at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The film takes a wide turn as Cheyenne treks across America in search of this ancient Nazi, finding an idea of himself along the way.

The story of the film is troubled; plot threads in the film’s first (Irish) act are abandoned as the action moves Stateside, and the Nazi-hunting aim feels tacked on, Sorrentino doesn’t seem to care for this in the same way he does about Cheyenne, or feel the same anger he did over the political corruption on display in Il Divo. But that aside, this is a masterful production. Sorrentino’s use of evocative editing, punchy and unexpected musical cues and breathtaking, sometimes puzzling imagery leaves the likes of Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn in his dust.

From the moment the camera pans down the glacial facade of Dublin’s Aviva Stadium into the relative squalor of a grey Sandymount cul-de-sac, you know you’re in for a visual treat. Sorrentino may be the first filmmaker to find real beauty in modern Dublin. Similarly, his wide, endless shots of American Midwest reveal wonders the likes of which have not been caught on camera since Wim Wenders made Paris, Texas.

There are plenty of delights to be found throughout Cheyenne’s strange odyssey. Kitsch Americana abounds. The strangest of strangers are met, calling to mind the films of the Coen Brothers, littered with their brief, memorable eccentrics. Talking Heads legend David Byrne shows up to dispense advice to Cheyenne and unleash a hypnotic performance of the film’s title track. Harry Dean Stanton, another link to Paris, Texas, appears as a man who claims to have invented the wheeled suitcase.

Frances McDormand puts in a fine performance as Cheyenne’s devoted wife, but with so much of the musician’s history left unexplained, it’s hard to not feel like we’re missing something required to fully understand their relationship. Admirable support is offered up by Judd Hirsch and Kerry Condon, but this is really Sean Penn’s moment in the sun. Playing a character so utterly against type that most of his previous characters would probably want him dead, Penn conjures something familiar and yet confusingly new. He delivers profound, witty, lively comments from the mouth of this zombified goth, and brings surprising depth to a character who borders so precariously on parody.

While the film’s abandoning of its Irish storyline reeks of a bid for tax breaks, there’s no denying a wonderful work of art has been produced here. Sadly, it is not entirely a satisfying one, and the film’s concluding on a number of overly puzzling sequences leaves a sour taste in the mouth unbecoming of what has gone before.

While not the director’s finest work, it is still a noteworthy film, and should launch him swiftly on the international market, while reigniting the career of its star.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
This Must Be the Place is released on 23rd March 2012


Cinema Review: Rampart – Film of the Week

Weedy Harrelson

DIR: Oren Moverman • WRI: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman • PRO: Ben Foster, Lawrence Inglee, Ken Kao, Clark Peterson • DOP: Chr Bobby Bukowski • ED: Jay Rabinowitz • DES: David Wasco • Cast: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Bernthal

The story of Rampart is the story of corruption itself. Woody Harrelson plays ‘Date-Rape’ Dave Brown, a hard-drinking LAPD officer who lives by his own set of morals and ethics – or rather, his lack thereof. Dirty cops aren’t a particularly new topic in films. It is, however, strange for them to be front and centre in a film. That being said, it makes for an engrossing experience. Brown is embroiled in a scandal involving police brutality. Caught in the lens of the media, his life slowly begins to spiral out of his control as he attempts to put right what he perceives as an injustice dealt upon him. His methods becoming increasingly violent and extreme, culminating in a botched armed robbery that sets the story in motion.

The plot is surprisingly straightforward for a James Ellroy-penned script. This gives it a primal drive, much like Harrelson’s character – single-minded, bull-headed and utterly ruthless. Harrelson gives a performance not seen since Natural Born Killers. He is a monstrosity; lascivious and gluttonous in his pursuits of women and drugs. Much like his performance in Natural Born Killers, his character is working under the assumption that he is judge, jury and executioner – that no law will hold him. This is a topic that is not uncommon in James Ellroy’s previous work, although the distinction here is that the consequences are more prevalent and are being meted out by authority, instead of being covered by them.

The direction of the film is impressive. Oren Moverman, director of the criminally-underwatched The Messenger, uses Harrelson effectively in each scene that he’s in. The photography varies between hand-held and neon-drenched cityscapes à la Michael Mann, with a range of colours and sequences not seen in Moverman’s previous work. The supporting cast, made up of Cynthia Nixon, Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Foster and Anne Heche, are all admirable and worthy of note. Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche, particularly, are of note. Playing Harrelson’s ex-wife and sister-in-law respectively, both women are adroit at giving him a human side. Without them, he’s a one-sided fascist with no remorse of any kind. Ben Foster is almost completely unrecognisable as a homeless man who witnesses one of Harrelson’s transgressions. The film is held up and carried by Harrelson. His performance is electric and is on par with Denzel Washington’s role in Training Day. Where Rampart deviates from Training Day is that there is no upstanding police officer to balance it all. Here, everyone is equally accountable for the corruption that permeates through the system. From Sigourney Weaver’s pragmatic lawyering, telling him that ‘LA can’t afford you anymore’, to Robin Wright and her under-handed tactics at getting Harrelson on-side, it’s clear that Ellroy’s script is one that is honest in its portrayal of the realities of the modern-day legal system. Where the film falls down is its ending. The story is left unresolved and open-ended. This could be paving the way for a series of films or it could be that people like Woody Harrelson’s characters often escape justice. Either way, it’s unsatisfying – but, thankfully, it doesn’t detract from the rest of the film. Rampart is a searingly detailed account of a life corrupted.
Brian Lloyd

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Rampart is released on 24th February 2012

Rampart  – Official Website


Cinema Review: The Muppets – Film of the Week

Moi's hair has natural curls. So does my tail.

DIR: James Bobin • WRI: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller • PRO: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman • DOP: Don Burgess • ED: James M. Thomas • DES: Steve Saklad • Cast: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Beaker, Swedish Chef, Animal

It’s been twelve years since The Muppets last had a cinematic release (the not terrible, but still a flop Muppets From Space), and in the interim the world has just kind of forgotten about them. Which is exactly where this movie picks up, with Mary (Amy Adams) and Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary’s muppet brother Walter heading to LA for a holiday, and discovering the old Muppets Studio is now in disrepair, and about to torn down so Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) can dig for oil. The only way to save the studio is if they can convince Kermit & Co to perform a reunion show, and as far as plot’s go, that’s your lot.

From the amount of cameos from famous folk (Neil Patrick Harris, Jack Black, Emily Blunt, John Krazinski, Zack Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman, Ken Jeong and Whoopi Goldberg to name just a fraction), there is still a lot of love for these mop slash puppets. And that love is well deserved, for as soon as Kermit, Gonzo, Animal, Beaker and the irrepressible Miss Piggy show up on screen, a giant grin will be plastered to your face, and will remain there for hours after the film has finished.

The script, co-written by Segel and Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller, as well as being directed and the original songs written by the creators of Flight Of The Conchords, makes for a  film that is is both incredibly smart and witty (plenty of meta moments to be found). On top of this the film’s use of lowest common denominator funny without being stupid (a chorus of Muppet chickens singing Cee-Lo Green’s most famous song, or ‘Cluck You’, if you will), means that everyone in the audience, regardless of age, is catered for. There hasn’t been a film this wilfully fun and funny since Disney made fun of their own formula with Enchanted, and as well as being an early frontrunner for Funniest Film Of 2012, it’s also a great reunion and reintroduction to one of the all-time greatest groups of entertainers.

Rory Cashin

Rated G (see IFCO website for details)
The Muppets is released on 10th February 2012

The Muppets  – Official Website


Cinema Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene – Film of the Week

DIR/WRI: Sean Durkin • PRO: Antonio Campos, Patrick Cunningham, Chris Maybach, Josh Mond • DOP: Jody Lee Lipes • ED: Zachary Stuart-Pontier • DES: Chad Keith • Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes

Sean Durkin’s debut feature Martha Marcy May Marlene won him an award for direction at the Sundance Film Festival last year and since then the film has accumulated shelf-loads of trophies from festivals and critics’ circles all across America. Now arriving in Europe, its slow, sombre tone and pitch-perfect acting are likely to win it similar praise around the world.

The film opens on a farming commune in northern New York State; a sort of idyllic escape for young school drop-outs who don’t feel the world “gets” them. One morning, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) rises from her bed and runs away. Reuniting with her well-to-do older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), whom she has not spoken to in over two years, and Lucy’s yuppie husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), Martha struggles to adapt to life with regular people. Delaying a return to society as a whole by waiting out the weeks at her sister’s holiday home, Martha reflects on her life at the commune.

Through a series of well-connected flashbacks we quickly come to realise the commune was a highly seductive though seemingly unambitious cult, led by a charismatic snake-charmer of a man named Patrick (John Hawkes). We see how Martha, known to the cult as Marcy May, came to be indoctrinated and how the unapparent danger of the cult began to escalate.

The crowded farmhouse, home to more than a dozen cult members, contrasts brilliantly with Lucy and Ted’s vast, near-empty country home. The film uses its flashbacks to compare the soullessness of modernity to the communal bliss that seems to be at the core of Patrick’s cult. As Martha clashes with her sister and her husband over the morality of the real world, she is left wondering if she was perhaps better off remaining with her fellow outcasts.

Shot with ponderous long-takes and minimal camera movements, Durkin’s film has an airy quality that works well with the uncertainty of its central character. Young Elizabeth Olsen, in her debut performance, is simply outstanding; equal parts strong and determined, and weak, lost and petrified. Former Winter’s Bone Oscar nominee Hawkes also stands out, giving a chilling performance as a crooked man with more power than he ought to have.

While its ending will undoubtedly divide audiences, Martha Marcy May Marlene is an interesting study of an unlikely form of post-traumatic stress disorder, held together by one superb performance. Its slow pace will not keep the attention of all viewers, but it is a welcome start for a director and actress who will likely bring some more great films in the near future.

David Neary

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)

Martha Marcy May Marlene is released on 3rd February 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene – Official Website



Cinema Review: Shame – Film of the Week

can do no wrong

DIR: Steve McQueen • WRI: Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan • PRO: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman • DOP: Sean Bobbitt • ED: Joe Walker • DES: Judy Becker • Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale

Plagued by an insatiable desire for sexual gratification, Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is finding life a constant struggle. Burdened with the weight of this crippling addiction, he tries to maintain a functioning working and social life, while finding any means necessary to satisfy his urges. It is only when Brandon’s emotionally dependent and vulnerable younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay with him in his New York apartment that the boundaries of his two existences begin to blur, causing him to lose a handle on his addiction. The fragile seams of his life start to split as he watches Sissy pick at her emotional wounds, forcing him to reluctantly reflect on his own tumultuous and tortured existence.

Steve McQueen’s unrelenting drama is as shocking as it is heartbreaking, laying bare the tragic reality of addiction and the destructive power it possesses. Grim scenes of New York City, coupled with a poignant soundtrack are a constant sensory reminder of Brandon’s plight. McQueen removes the taboo of sex addiction by depicting it like any other type of addiction, warts and all. All the pleasure and intimacy of sex is stripped down until it is nothing more than a stark, physical act. For Brandon, sex is a commodity, a means to an end, a relentless force that defines his actions and decisions and drags him unceremoniously through life.

Fassbender is outstanding, effortlessly making this depraved character both sympathetic and inherently likeable. Mulligan also proves she is an extremely talented and engaging actress, displaying an edge we have not seen in previous roles. We long to know what has driven these siblings to this point, as Sissy cryptically states, ‘We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place.’

The plot of Shame is relatively basic; this is more a fleeting glimpse into the lives of others, than a complex narrative. The moments between Brandon and Sissy are remarkably fluid, their interaction and dialogue realistic and fuelled with a furious chemistry that can be unnerving to watch. Indeed, Shame is littered with scenes that take us well beyond our comfort zone, but herein lies strength of the movie ­– we are trapped with Brandon, unable to look away; we are both as compelled and as horrified as he is by what is happening.

This is an intelligent and deeply disturbing insight into addiction and all of its indignities. Shame may not be for the faint hearted but it is a remarkable and fascinating portrayal that is bound to provoke some healthy debates in the world of cinema.

Emma O’Donoghue

Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details)
Shame is released on 13th January 2012

Shame – Official Website