The Rover

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DIR/WRI: David Michô PRO: David Linde, David Michôd,Liz Watts • DOP: Natasha Braier  ED: Peter Sciberras DES: Josephine Ford  MUS: Antony Partos  CAST: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy

In a world bereft of new Twilight films, anything that Robert Pattinson does is going to be looked at, and he couldn’t have gone further (in almost every way) in this film, which is set in a desolate, dilapidated Australia “ten years after the collapse” and begins with grubby Eric (Guy Pearce) driving across the dusty, deserted land. We don’t know where he’s going or why, but his eyes are fixed in a thousand yard stare and only just register signs of life when his car is stolen outside a lonely bar.

After revving the thieves abandoned truck out of the ditch it landed in when it crashed, he gives chase. The injured Henry (Scoot McNairy) and his two scavenger friends can’t believe it, and even when they pepper the truck with bullets and come to a halt, standing off like cowboys on the road, Eric vows that he won’t stop following them until they give his car back.

Elsewhere, a shot and bleeding Rey (Pattinson) clambers into a dying soldier’s Hummer and sets off along the road. He’s chasing after Henry too; he was a member of the gang and got left behind for dead when things went wrong.

Eric comes to and gets back into the truck, then stops at every bizarre roadside shack looking for information – and to buy a gun. Now the killing begins. Back outside, Rey appears and unwittingly asks Eric where he got Henry’s truck from; now Eric has a way to get his car back, though first he has to get Rey patched up at the house of a bush doctor (Susan Prior).

As they drive, drive, drive, Eric says little and seems to care even less, while the seemingly slow-witted Rey struggles with being left behind. Sleeping under the stars, they’re soon on the run from the army too as they make for the small town where the gang was due to lay low…

Owing a great deal to Westerns, the legacy of Mad Max – and the often-forced quirkiness of David Lynch too – this rather frustrating but compelling film is held together by excellent performances from the leads. Pearce – his shoulder hunched, his eyes looking exhausted and his mind as focused as a psychopaths – is as intense as the ruined country he now lives in, while Pattinson is a revelation, a mass of ticks and confusion as he heavy-breathes and tries to come to terms with not only his sibling betrayal, but the fact his only source of hope is a man unconcerned with humanity.

The shoot took place in sweltering and isolated spots of Australia, and it certainly did its job: you’re always itching for a shower. The countless supporting characters – many of them local people and all of them shouldering rifles – look so drawn and wild that they could easily fit into the world of JRR Tolkien.

But it’s relentlessly grim, violent stuff, and the long stretches of time when we simply follow the car or Eric sits in silence while Rey tries desperately to make a connection, the pair of them seeming like Lennie and George from Of Mice and Men, can get very tiresome.

There are some major self-serving logic problems too; it’s unbelievable that Henry’s truck is drivable after the crash we see – let alone that they leave it by the unconscious Eric after he’s just said he’d never stop chasing them – and as thieves it’s inconceivable that they wouldn’t bother to look in the boot, or at least siphon out the precious petrol.

Eric never seems to want for water or food either – though he almost seems like he doesn’t need it – and the thing that was in his car? Well, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether – and why – it was worth it all the dead bodies.

 

James Bartlett

16 (See IFCO for details)
102 mins

The Rover is released on 15th August 2014

The Rover  – Official Website

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChM2icbWo9w

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Cinema Review: Breathe In

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DIR: Drake Doremus • WRI: Drake Doremus, Ben York Jones • PRO: Steven M. Rales, Mark Roybal, Jonathan Schwartz, Andrea Sperling • DOP: John Guleserian • ED: Jonathan Alberts  DES: Katie Byron • CAST: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan, Mackenzie Davis

 
Drake Droemus’ Like Crazy was the toast of Sundance 2011, with the film and star Felicity Jones scooping the Grand and Special Jury Prizes respectively. Like Crazy was praised for mixing an extremely naturalistic approach to dialogue with a classically romcom sort of plot. Almost all the dialogue was improvised, leaving the film heavy on charm but light on plot and character development. Droesmus’ latest film, also starring Jones, is a little more scripted and a lot more ambitious. The plot is, once again, by numbers, and the pressure is on the players and the cinematography to make the film the harrowing mood piece it wants to be.

Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce) is a music teacher suffering from a standard case of wasted ambition. As a youth, he tried to make it as a musician in New York City. Once his daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) was born he had to abandon that dream, and now he’s more or less settled. Then a British accent arrives in the form of 18-year-old exchange student Sophie (Jones). She’s actually staying in the Reynolds’ houshold, a remarkably uncontrived-seeming contrivance, and breakfasts etc. get fraught and whispery. Keith’s wife Megan collects cookie jars; she also fails to understand her husband’s inner life, dismissing his cello playing as a mere hobby. Sophie is a pianist, and about to face choices similar to the ones Keith faced at her age. Keith is due a mid-life crisis and it looks as though it may coincide with Sophie’s coming-of-age.

The basic plots of Like Crazy and Douchebag (Droemus’ 2010 comedy) were clichéd, almost perversely so. The former was as standard a romantic comedy as can be – beach walks, bumper car rides – with the improvised dialogue gimmick; Douchebag, an indie road movie, a sort of Sideways Greenberg with mumbling. In Breathe In, as in those two films, the organic-seeming way that little conversations unfold exists in tension with the stubborn need for plot and character development. I’m sure it’s pretty hard to even comprehend a character’s arc when you’re forced to literally make it up as you go along. This is a problem with Doremus’ films in general. Indie cinema often sacrifices plot in favour of a sort of patterning, a series of fractals; a co-operation of nuanced acting and cinematography that can sometimes give a far fuller sense of a character and atmosphere than the old three-act. But Breathe In is just too loose to make it work.

That’s not to say that the actors don’t try their hardest. Pearce is relentlessly adaptable, and he does the mumbly patois like he’s never heard the name Felicia Jollygoodfellow. Sophie is there to represent Keith’s past to him, to whisper vague profundities from the edge of the frame, but Jones’ charm goes a way towards filling up her somewhat underwritten character. We know from real life that the Keith-Sophie dynamic isn’t really a romantic one, that they usually use each other as excuses to work out, or just act out, their selfishness and immaturity. We plumb Keith’s depths fairly thoroughly and float around there for a while (and you don’t need armbands) while Sophie stays irritatingly enigmatic, Jones doing her best to define those blurred edges. She and the camera are allies in this, both bobbing around Keith as he stares out windows and fails to recover from a bad case of adolescence. John Guleserian’s cinematography is superb, all dark tones and impossibly fluid camera movements. But as the film goes on, any beauty tends to be dispersed by Keith’s increasingly manchild-ish presence.

There is, admittedly, great verisimilitude in the lack of incident and the halting dialogue. The skill with which Droemus directs improvisations is obvious and, judging by his previous efforts, hard-won. It sometimes seems as though it’s entirely up to the process of interlocution to reveal things organically; that even the actors don’t know when they’re going to drop in that bit of information that will further the plot. But the plot is the problem. American indie cinema has far too much time for the sad sack might’ve-been; I thought that Greenberg and The Squid and the Whale had stopped anyone from ever taking this sort of story seriously again, but apparently not.

Darragh John McCabe

 

98 mins
Breathe In is released on 19th July 2013

 

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Cinema Review: Iron Man 3

Iron-Man-3-Toys-Extremis-and-Iron-Patriot-Armor

 

DIR: Shane Black • WRI: Shane Black, Drew Pearce • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: John Toll • ED: Peter S Elliot, Jeffrey Ford • DES: Bill Brzeski • Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Jon Favreau, William Sadler, Rebecca Hall

After making his name with his ground breaking screenplay for 1987’s Lethal Weapon, Shane Black went on to achieve writing credits on films such as The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight. He then disappeared off the Hollywood radar for close to a decade, before returning in some style with his 2005 directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Despite not being a major player at the box-office, this film re-established Black’s standing in the industry, and gave its stars Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer roles to die for. While Kilmer has only occasionally threatened to build on his performance under the stewardship of Black, the previously troublesome Downey Jr has seen his career going from strength to strength, to the point that he is now the face of two major franchises, Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes.

Along with last year’s Marvel Avengers Assemble, and his brief cameo in The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 3 marks Downey Jr’s fifth appearance as Tony Stark and his alter-ego, and with Black returning to the director’s chair instead of Jon Favreau, it is clear that the careers of both men have come full circle.

Having helped his fellow Avengers to defeat Loki and the Chitauri in New York City, Stark is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when a mysterious terrorist leader known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) announces himself to the world by committing a number of atrocities across the globe. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) becomes strained as a result, and with figures from his past re-surfacing in the shape of Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian and Rebecca Hall’s botanist, Dr Maya Hansen, matters quickly become complicated for Stark and those close to him.

Taking its cue from the ‘Extremis’ (a highly advanced virus created by Killian) story arc developed by Warren Ellis, Iron Man 3 has a tough act to follow after the overwhelming success of Marvel Avengers Assemble. In addition, the last stand alone adventure for the wisecracking superhero (Iron Man 2) was somewhat disjointed, despite being enjoyable in the most part, meaning that there were some necessary adjustments to be made this time around.

With all that in mind, it is pleasing to report that the latest chapter in the big-screen adventure of Tony Stark is consistently entertaining and gripping, making it arguably the finest film of the Iron Man series thus far. As ever, the chemistry between Downey Jr and Paltrow is right on the money, and Don Cheadle now looks fully comfortable in the combine roles of Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes and War Machine.

Upon taking control of the film, Black talked about taking a step away from the premise of Iron Man facing off against another giant robot, and certainly the threat this time is an altogether more human and real-world based kind of threat.

It is also significant that Stark is taken out of comfort zone for a large section of the film, as circumstances mean that he is stranded in Tennessee (when he is presumed dead), where he has to rely on all his ingenuity to repair damage of his own making.

With one $15 million dollar film to his name before taking on this task, there were some question marks about how Black would handle the pressure of a film with such a major budget. His handling of the major set-pieces is extremely efficient, though, and in unison with co-writer Drew Pearce, he has maintained the sharp wit that has been synonymous with his work over the past couple of decades.

This framework was established by Favreau (who reprises his role as former bodyguard turned head of security Happy Hogan) in the earlier films, and blossomed under Joss Whedon in last year’s superhero team up, which makes the decision to hire Black for this film all the more obvious.

If there was a criticism to be labelled at the film, it does become slightly overblown in the extended finale, but considering all that gone before it, the filmmakers had more than earned the right to turn outlandish during the final act.

Stepping up to the plate alongside reliable regulars Downey Jr, Paltrow and Cheadle, Pearce and Kingsley offer plenty of menace, while the often under-appreciated Hall also makes the best of the screen time she is afforded.

With a sequel to Marvel Avengers Assemble (those who are intrigued by that prospect should wait around the end credits) very much in the pipeline, this will not be the last we see of Tony Stark in his iron suit, and on the basis of this film, that can only be a good thing.

Daire Walsh

12A (see IFCO website for details)

130 mins
Iron Man 3 is released on 25th April 2013

Iron Man 3 – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Lawless

DIR: John Hillcoat • WRI: Nick Cave  • PRO: Michael Benaroya, Megan Ellison, Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick • DOP: Benoît Delhomme • ED: Dylan Tichenor • DES: Chris Kennedy • CAST: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman

Writer Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat, who previously worked together on the impressively oppressive The Proposition, reunite for this very cinematic, highly entertaining, but quite uneven truth-based tale of Prohibition-era Robin Hoods, the Bondurant Brothers. Set in 1920s Virginia, youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf), eldest brother Howard (Jason Clarke) and leader of the pack Forrest (Tom Hardy) have a nice, quiet life bootlegging apple brandy when, almost on the same day, Jack falls in love with the daughter (Mia Waskiowska) of a local Amish priest, Howard becomes a raging alcoholic, Forrest falls in love with a new lady in town (Jessica Chastain), and last but not least, Special Detective Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) has been sent in from the big city to shut down their operation.

While all these stories chug along, there are no great surprises in terms what happens, but more how it happens, as Hillcoat’s penchant for powerful scenes of violence are still as present as ever, as is his odd levels of sexism – every bad thing that happens in this movie is due to or spurned on by one of the female characters, which, after the negative representation of women in Hillcoat’s The Proposition and The Road, can’t be an accident.

There are some other issues too, including Guy Pearce’s over-the-top, moustache twirling villain, or a shockingly wasted Gary Oldman, who shows up for two minutes as a big bad mobster, and then promptly disappears for the rest of the movie. But aside from this, there is still a lot to enjoy in Lawless. The 1920s  is gorgeously recreated, and the Virginia landscapes are beautifully shot. LaBeouf shows us for the first time since A Guide To Recognising Your Saints that he can do more than just react to CGI in hollow blockbusters, and Hardy’s hulking, grunting, but soulful brute is yet another proud entry on his already enviable CV. All of this combines to something that looks great, packs a wallop, but will probably leave a bad taste in your mouth afterwards, not unlike that bootlegged apple brandy…

Rory Cashin

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
115 mins

Lawless is released on 7th September 2012

Lawless – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Lockout

 

DIR: James Mather, Stephen St. Leger • WRI: James Mather, Stephen St. Leger, Luc Besson • PRO: Marc Libert, Leila Smith • DOP: James Mather • ED: Camille Delamarre, Eamonn Power • DES: Romek Delmata • Cast: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare, Vincent Regan

A film like Lockout is an unfortunate one. The audience that this film caters for is already familiar with the story – and have seen it done better. Lockout is an incredibly thinly-veiled rehash of Escape From New York and the lesser Escape From L.A. – indeed, there was supposed to be a third film called, funnily enough, Escape From Earth. The film begins with an amusing opening credits sequence, but one part of it sticks out and is impossible to ignore – ‘Based on an original idea by Luc Besson’. Considering how Harlan Ellison sued both James Cameron and Andrew Niccol for plagiarism, it’s surprising that John Carpenter hasn’t done the same for this film. The only thing different between Lockout and the Escape films is the fact that Guy Pearce isn’t wearing an eyepatch.

The film is set in 2079. Guy Pearce is an ex-government agent who’s been wrongfully accused of killing his friend and mentor. Concurrently, the president’s daughter, Maggie Grace, is headed to a maximum security prison that orbits the Earth in order to ascertain if the prisoners there are being treated humanely. Naturally enough, it goes pear-shaped and Maggie Grace, along with her entourage, are taken hostage. Guy Pearce is soon captured by Peter Stromare and Lennie James and offered a deal – enter the prison, get the President’s daughter out and the charges are dropped. The film’s plot doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny and it’s not really supposed to. ‘Lockout’ is very much B-movie / straight-to-DVD fare; there isn’t much to sing about in terms of both the script and the action scenes. The film features a completely daft motorcycle sequence at the beginning that is so cheap-looking as to be comical. Throughout, the dialogue seems to move out of sync with the actor’s mouth which makes for a jarring experience.
Guy Pearce turns in a decent performance, however this type of script and film is completely beneath him. His character’s dialogue is laced with one-liners and witty comebacks. Most of them are humorous enough, but it’s the sheer rate of their delivery – almost in every scene – that eventually makes it seem annoying. Maggie Grace’s character is something of a non-entity, simply filling up the screen time with the odd reaction shot. As well, Joseph Gilgun and Vincent Reagan, playing two inmates who become the leaders of the prison revolt, add nothing to the overall film. Gilgun’s performance starts off impressive, but it simply follows a single line and never deviates. Reagan is a decent actor and, as with Pearce, this material is clearly beneath his abilities. The direction of the film is riddled with cliches throughout, as is the script. It’s true, Lockout isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. However, the film’s glaring errors and missteps are far too numerous and plentiful to go unnoticed. Avoid.
Brian Lloyd

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Lockout is released on 20th April 2012

Lockout – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lrd67mpE8O0

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Cinema Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Holmes keeps a watch out for returning spaceships

DIR: Troy Nixey • WRI:  Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins • PRO: Mark Johnson, Guillermo del Toro • DOP: Oliver Stapleton • ED: Jill Bilcock • DES: Roger Ford • CAST: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison

Over the last couple of years, Guillermo Del Toro’s name has become synonymous with atmospheric horror, having presented us with modern Spanish horror classics like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage. This year he lends his title, and his pen to Hollywood horror with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

A young father (Guy Pierce) moves into an inevitably creepy old home with his daughter and new girlfriend. Pierce plays the distracted father role excellently; everything that needs to be said is done so in silence. It has been a while since Katie Holmes has appeared on our screens and here she makes an unexpected move into the horror genre. She is effortlessly believable as the young woman caught up in a new life and unsure in her new maternal role.

Bailee Madison excels as 10 year old Sally, curious and mildly lonesome; she immediately draws the audience into her world. Madison has a fierceness rarely seen in young actresses, and she looks set to be the next big (or small) thing. This movie hinges on Sally’s experience, we are thrust into her world and forced to see everything from her perspective. We are adults in a Montessori where nothing quite fits us, which adds a level of tension to the entire piece.

From the outset this movie sets itself out as being the typical ‘haunted house’ movie. There is nothing more likely to awaken the frightened child within us than the haunted house movie. Our homes are often where we feel safe, and it’s long been a common theme in horror to upset that balance. The new house is at once imposing and frightening, the type of house that makes us squeal internally. The wonderful thing here is the creator’s willingness to adapt generic staples.

The most refreshing generic change here is, for me, the basement. The basement area, along with the attic is a horror favourite, drawing from the notion of the Unheimlich. These areas are traditionally not lived in, and, as such, present a threat to the other areas of the house and their inhabitants. The difference in this movie is that the basement area was clearly once very much lived in, maybe even comfortable. It doesn’t have that immediately eerie atmosphere of the unlived space. Somehow the idea that the basement was once a lived space makes the hair stand on end as it is unexpected, and infuses the area with a life of its own.

Unfortunately this narrative falls flat towards the end, when we come face to face with the source of our fears. As the incomparable Stephen King says: ‘Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.’ What scares the audience most is the unknown. This fear mounts throughout the movie, but dies a swift death when we view our scampering CGI aggressors. Had this film stayed atmospheric and not ventured into over-explanations, we might have had a near-perfect horror movie on our hands.

The climax is mildly disappointing, but there is enough atmosphere here to allow us to be thrust completely into the narrative. It may skim perfection, but it’s the closest that horror has gotten for a very long time. Guillermo Del Toro brings his special brand of atmosphere to the Hollywood stage, and proves that he is indeed the master of the genre. For a horror fan like myself, this was a refreshing change from the recent onslaught of ridiculousness.

Ciara O’Brien

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is released on 30th September 2011

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – Official Website

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The Road

The Road

DIR: John Hillcoat • WRI: Joe Penhall • PRO: Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz, Nick Wechsler • DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe • ED: Jon Gregory • CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Garret Dillahunt

Having loved Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for its contradictions of hopelessness and overwhelming sense of hope, I was awestruck to hear that Hollywood had chosen the perfect actor and perfect director to pull off the adaptation. The story follows The Man (Mortensen) and The Boy (Smit-McPhee) as they venture through America in the aftermath of some unnamed disaster which has wiped out all vegetation, all animals and most of humanity. They wander towards the coast and the film rambles with them keeping with the episodic structure of the book. This is not a film with a plot, but rather a film that tells the simplest of stories packed full of meaning and humanity.

One of the strongest points of The Road is the complexity of its central character The Man, played with ferocious grace by the outrageously talented Viggo Mortenson. His desperation is hidden under his resourcefulness and is only truly shown through his fear of other people and his harsh lack of mercy on whomever they meet along the way. However, our sympathy is won by his tenderness and genuine love for his son. He is so desperate to keep his son safe that there is nothing that he does not deem a threat. He is probably right, but at times it is difficult to stay on his side. Since the death of The Woman (Charlize Theron), which is briefly outlined through flashbacks, both Man and Boy truly feel her absence in every way. There is the sense from The Man’s gruff manner that there is something about a woman’s tenderness that cannot be replaced. Despite all attempts to keep his son safe, the maternal nurturing hands of The Woman is needed profoundly by both Man and Boy. The casting of Mortensen, an actor whose endless masculinity has long been exploited by David Cronenberg, and the glowingly beautiful Charlize Theron highlights the primal differences between the two genders and states quite beautifully the function of both in humanity.

The cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe merges beauty with ugliness seamlessly. The palette of grey and beige never becomes anything less than riveting. He paints a world covered in a mix of ash and snow with black skies and manages to take our breath away. Aguirresarobe’s eye for desolate beauty is clearly well partnered with John Hillcoat, director of The Propostion, a masterclass in that very thing. Between them, this pair create a world so nightmarish that the determination of Man and Boy to survive seems all the more poignant. We can only ask ourselves if we would be so keen.

The character of The Boy is a fascinating one. He was born after the cataclysmic event so he has never lived in a world where anything existed but fear and suffering. His wide-eyed wonder at the slightest thing is touching to behold. A scene near the start where he innocently stamps through a pile of money and jewels on the ground, unaware that such things ever held any worth effectively bangs this idea home. He stares, amazed, at a mounted deer head, as he has probably never seen an animal in his life. In one scene his father asks: ‘You think I come from another world, don’t ya?’ And he really does.

Despite my ranting and raving and hysteric joy at what I deem to be the perfect adaptation of a perfect book, this film will not be for everyone. Perhaps some might feel it lays the sentimentality on a bit thick. Others may feel that it is aimless and slow. That is up to the audience themselves. What cannot be denied however, is the fragile blend of tenderness and stark horror that this film accomplishes. All I can say is, kudos to all concerned for a job well done!

Charlene Lydon
(See biog here)

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
The Road
is released 8th Jan 2010

The Road – Official Website

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