Review: Strangerland

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DIR: Kim Farrant • WRI: Michael Kinirons, Fiona Seres • PRO: Macdara Kelleher, Naomi Wenck • DOP: P.J. Dillon • ED: Veronika Jenet • MUS: Keefus Ciancia • CAST: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving

 

The sweeping Australian outback has been long employed by filmmakers to provide a glimpse into a notion of national identity through a distinctive narrative formula. Rooted in a particular space and ideology, the outback’s terrain radiates a utopian sense of belonging through an intimate relationship to the landscape, while its transformative powers manifest when the curious and the beguiled attempt to penetrate this alien landscape, their notable cultural difference perceived to threaten existing order. The mythical freedom embodied by the outback is metamorphosed into a dystopian, dehydrated desert, where marked outsiders, punished for such difference, must negotiate an unforgiving landscape in order to survive.

Strangerland is the debut feature by Kim Farrant, starring Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. In a psychological thriller meets suspense drama meets melodrama, the film tells the story of a married couple who relocate to a remote village in the outback with their two teenage children under dubious circumstances. As they struggle to control their promiscuous daughter’s behaviour and son’s insomniac, nocturnal wanderings, their strained marriage is further tested when the teenagers disappear and the couple must overcome their emotional distance to unearth the mystery of their children’s fate.

On the surface, Strangerland adheres to the generic criteria of a contemporary Australian outback thriller. Aesthetically, the arid, bleak landscape has never looked so enticing nor the locals so unnervingly feral, providing the perfect backdrop from which to plant a sweaty-palmed, suspense thriller. The film’s style, however, proves to be the only commendable element of Farrant’s debut and the director’s inexperience, as she toys with generic hybridization, is clearly evident as the promise of spine-chilling suspense takes a wild, underwhelming narrative detour, resulting in a rather messy affair.

The mysterious disappearance of two teenage newcomers, already marked as subversive by simply being outsiders, sets up the formulaic plot, from which a jaded couple must overcome their own marginalized status to find their children with the help of an eerily cagey community. A shift in focus from a potentially jittery thriller to a humdrum, psychological analysis of a dislocated family becomes the narrative driving force and given the rich backdrop, it appears a great opportunity has been severely missed.

Farrant has stated that the story is inspired by her overwhelming grief at her father’s death and while Kidman and Fiennes provide credible character studies on two opposing reactions to loss, the framing of the narrative does not gel with its anticipated plot. Lured into the promise of a dystopian nightmare in an intimidating landscape initially conforms to the generic outback narrative. Rather than focus on the hindrances the hostilities between the couple and community produce, which is one of the most crucial elements of the genre, the disintegration of the family takes centre stage, eradicating the suspenseful pulse of the thriller, becoming a misconceived deviation, which simply does not work. The dark, sexual undertones, which are intended to motivate the disappearance and search, never really gel with the direction of the script, the lurid secret revealed all too late without conviction, losing any impact it should have had and severely stifling the lead performances.

A frustrated housewife trapped in a loveless marriage as her children mysteriously disappear, should provide Kidman with enough scope to explore a range of emotional entanglements. The excessive psychological behaviour produced by her grief, however, appears misplaced within a narrative that has greatly detoured from its original intention and Kidman appears on the whole, at a loss. Her emotional episodes would be more justifiable if the plot remained located within the more conventional outback thriller narrative and aligned with the obstacles produced by the outback rather than her frustrations within the family and as such, she just becomes irrationally mad. Fiennes also suffers the same fate but standing in contrast to Kidman’s excessive fragility, his explosive, irrational bursts of violence and rage, just place him as psychotically dangerous. While the searing landscape forces the couple to confront their own fundamental flaws as humans, the cause for the couple’s psychological torment through a wishy-washy past does not align with the ensuing effects, leaving an overall jagged narrative within a film already suffering from a glaring identity crisis.

Despite the efforts of the film’s two leads, Strangerland is a disappointingly, misplaced attempt to refresh a tried and tested formula, a formula which provides a great introspective on Australian identity and culture. Farrant may attempt to explore a host of relevant socio-cultural issues, including the reconfiguration of the family, however, her failure to engage with the crucial elements of the outback narrative, by underinvesting in cultural differences between the family and community, is the film’s fundamental flaw. The lack of exploration of the antagonism such cultural difference ignites, makes it difficult to relate to the characters’ psychological transformations, resulting in a highly frustrating, vague and forgettable result.

                      Dee O’Donoghue

 15A (See IFCO for details)

 111 minutes

Strangerland is released 5th February 2016

 

Strangerland – Official Website

 

 

 

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The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

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DIR:  Peter Jackson • WRI: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro • PRO: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Zane Weiner • DOP: Andrew Lesnie • ED: Jabez Olssen • DES: Dan Hennah • MUS: Howard Shore • CAST: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom
 

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies starts with an ending – or what seems like it should have been an ending. Smaug’s attack on Laketown is a deeply peculiar choice to open the film with. Everybody’s in the middle of doing something, and we have no time to catch up as we’re breathlessly thrown into an elaborate action setpiece. The strange thing is, as soon as it’s over – and it doesn’t account for much more than 15 minutes of screentime – it feels like the film proper has started too, with the pace mellowing (temporarily) and plenty of time given to re-establishing the characters and their new motivations.

The entire Laketown arc would have worked well as one entity – whether as the ending of one film or the beginning or middle of another. Split as it is, with a gap of a year since the pointless Desolation of Smaug cliffhanger and its resolution, the sequence here serves as an ill-judged prologue. It’s separate from the rest of the Smaug story for no obvious reason other than some perceived need to open with an action spectacle – something that can’t help but seem surplus to requirements in a film where a good half the running time is given over to action spectacle anyway (the clue’s in the title).

It is but one more symptom of a problem that has been obvious since An Unexpected Journey, arguably even since the announcement of the three film plan – The Hobbit never needed three films. There’s one, maybe two, good films buried in here somewhere, but they have been smothered as a result of the method of delivery. Some of it will play better when all three films are available to watch in quick succession – better yet, when somebody does a much-needed, clinically brutal fan edit (it won’t be Peter Jackson, who has released Extended Editions for these films which badly need the opposite approach). But watching them in the cinema with a year between releases, The Hobbit has been a slog – worse, a trio of slogs.

I consider this pretty faint praise, but The Battle of the Five Armies is probably a little better than its predecessors. Not insignificant is that it’s a good bit shorter than either of the first two films, meaning it’s less top-heavy in terms of ‘stuff’. Adjusted expectations also surely factor into that, along with the fact that there have never been any illusions that the film was going to be much more than an extended battle scene. There’s more to it than a five army melee, but not much more.

The battle itself… well if you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings you know what you’re letting yourself in for. It’s an hour-long affair, cutting back and forth between the various factions a la the battles of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith.  While there’s plenty of individuals to follow, to Jackson’s credit he allows us relatively lengthy unbroken stretches with most of them, meaning it doesn’t feel as disjointed or hyperactive as it could have been. The battle itself is fine, I suppose – it’s pretty standard fare, enlivened by a few imaginative moments (a new twist on the Orc battering ram stands out). There’s still an over-tendency towards having characters swoop in at the last second to manufacture drama – a trick Jackson has overplayed throughout the series.

The eponymous battle also serves as a firm reminder of Jackson’s over-reliance on CG, which has been another major sticking point throughout The Hobbit saga. While generally far less cartoony than the other films, there’s still a real lack of physicality to much of Five Armies’ action and characters, the Orcs particularly. Although this is often obvious during the action – one shot of Legolas running across a collapsing bridge is very poor indeed – it’s almost worse during a number of dialogue-heavy scenes where actors are clearly standing in front of green screens. The The Lord of the Rings struck the perfect balance between CG and practical effects, makeup and locations. The Hobbit feels overly artificial, comparable to – dare I say it? – the Star Wars prequels of all things.

On either side of the battle – and even occasionally during it – there are some solid character moments, however. Bilbo’s relationship with Thorin is well handled (bar a misjudged ‘dream’ sequence that fumbles badly in its attempt to visualise Thorin’s descent into madness), and gives Martin Freeman in particular some great material – that’s a good thing, considering he has often been relegated to the sidelines in a film where even the title declares him to be our protagonist. Near the end, Freeman also enjoys a great, almost silent scene with Ian McKellen as Gandalf, albeit one undermined slightly by a less impressive follow-up a couple of minutes later. There are plenty of subplots to resolve, but the film does not spend quite as much time on them as Return of the King did, which is a relief.

The Hobbit may be a marginally learner and sometimes meaner films that its predecessors, but that’s not to say there isn’t filler – in fact, there’s plenty. The screenwriters’ manufactured ‘star-crossed love story, and Legolas too!’ subplot is a dreary distraction, that amounts to little more than Evangeline Lilly’s character learning the meaning of true love. Blegh. Several characters could easily be excised to the benefit of the film’s pacing. That, for example, is true of Alfrid, played by Ryan Gage, and not coincidentally another of Jackson and Co’s own creations. He’s a crudely written stereotype even in a franchise that trades in archetypes, and bafflingly several of the film’s key characters repeatedly trust him to carry out important tasks despite the fact that he’s clearly a backstabbing rat and does little to disguise it. The sheer bulk of characters, meanwhile, means Jackson cannot possibly afford many of them much screen space, and hence they often disappear for huge swathes of the running time (the band of dwarves particularly suffer in that regard). In some cases, we don’t hear from them again at all for no apparent reason.

Battle of the Five Armies also continues The Hobbit series’ tradition of clunky callbacks to The Lord of the Rings. There are several remarkably unsubtle nods to what is to come – they could only be more obvious if the characters in question turned to the audience and remarked “this is a reference to what’s going to happen to me in The Lord of the Rings, by the way”, followed by a cheeky to-camera wink and a ‘To Be Continued’ title card. That said, the superfluous prequelising of the story does lead to what is easily the film’s – and possibly The Hobbit as a whole’s – best set piece. Several of Middle Earth’s most recognisable ancillary characters get to show off their fighting skills in a visceral supernatural showdown, with Jackson illustrating a sense of brutal visual panache barely seen elsewhere in the trilogy. It’s the climax of a redundant subplot spread out across all three films, but hey at least it concludes in style.

The Hobbit ends as it started – bloated and clunky, albeit with scattered moments that capture, however briefly, the alchemy that made The Lord of the Rings so successful. That’s a formula the new trilogy failed to replicate consistently or convincingly as it stretched a modest adventure story beyond breaking point. Maybe a fan edit will salvage it one of these years – creating the one great film The Hobbit could have, perhaps even should have been.

Anybody have Topher Grace’s number?

Stephen McNeice

12A (See IFCO for details)
144 minutes.
Battle of the Five Armies
is released 12th December.

Battle of the Five Armies – Official Website

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Mystery Road

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DIR/WRI: Ivan Sen PRO: David Jowsey   DOP/ED/MUS: Ivan Sen   DES: Matthew Putland CAST: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving

There is nothing mysterious about Mystery Road, a flaccid Aussie thriller directed by Ivan Sen. It’s a long road with plenty of speed bumps to ensure a slow and rigorous ride.  It touches on the issue of racial tensions between the Aboriginal and white peoples of a small town in Queensland, but is delivered as a western/ film noir genre piece.  The scope and range established in the photography might go as far as the eyes can see, but we wish the characters and there monotonous dialogue could be too.

 

The film opens with the discovery of a young aboriginal girl’s body in a small tunnel just outside of Winton, Queensland. This primary police scene investigation is completely lifted from Bong Joon-Ho’s South Korean masterpiece Memories of Murder, everything from the tied up female corpse, to the crawling bugs, to the covering up of footprints.

 

Unlike Memories of Murder, we are not brought on a police investigation rollercoaster, but we are subdued to a slow-burner murder mystery. Slow-burner is right! Neanderthal’s spark fires faster than this. Aboriginal detective, Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) is on the case after returning back to his hometown from working years in a big city. He is left to his own devices in order to solve the murder because the predominately white police force has more important cases to crack than investigating an aboriginal’s murder.

 

Jay is portrayed as a man’s man, a real cowboy with no emotion to express. So the Duke from down under begins to dissect his community in search for leads and through his journey we begin to notice the racial tensions between the whites and aboriginals, which seems to be pretty biased towards the aboriginals (Spike Lee must have crashed a rehearsal during pre production).

 

“I’ve been in the middle my whole life”, Jay points out at one stage. He is under utilized by the police force and scrutinized by the aboriginals. The generic characters wouldn’t be so bad if they had anything interesting to say. In scenes that should have evoked great tension through dialogue, I found myself unconvinced and secured safely in my seat due to the tame threats. We’ve seen all this before countless of times in genre cinema, but the slow pacing of scenes really gives us time to remember.

 

Here lies an unrequited solution: The fact that this is a film with an undercurrent of social and racial issues, complemented by the slow and serious tone of the narrative, it should allow more room for character development. If there were more action and suspense set pieces we wouldn’t feel so unfulfilled by the end. Jay’s laconic stature would be great in a visceral action thriller, but his presence here causes scenes to drag achingly.

 

By the time we finally reach the climatic shootout between Jay and the criminals, it feels too regimented to conjure up any real excitement. I feel that Ivan Sen’s outback thriller is far too ambitious, certainly when I noticed that he directed, wrote, photographed and scored the film himself. It could have been the absence of collaboration, which caused Mystery Road to feel slightly unbalanced. In cinema you’ve got your great movies and your terrible movies. A movie that is bad can be a guilty pleasure or comical, something about it causes it to be etched in your memory.  This little doozy is simply forgettable, a picture that got lost somewheres down the road.

Cormac O’Meara


 

112 minutes

Mystery Road is released 29th August 2014

Mystery Road – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Cloud Atlas

 

DIR/WRI: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski    PRO: Stefan Arndt, Grant Hill, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski  • DOP: Frank Griebe, John Toll • ED: Alexander Berner • DES: Hugh Bateup, Uli Hanisch • CAST: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving

Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis make a bold attempt to film David Mitchell’s ‘unfilmable’ Cloud Atlas, straddling, as it does, several periods and locations, past, present and future. They have created an epic that excites and entertains but ultimately remains shallow.

Mitchell left much for his readers to interpret, and to make sense of the connections between the various tales. The film lacks that subtlety, and its zipping from one time and place to another may put off viewers before the links are made all too obvious.

In 1849, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), a lawyer, meets Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) and secures a contract on a Pacific island. He contracts an illness, and Dr. Goose tends to him on the voyage home. Kupaka escapes from the plantation and beseeches Mr. Ewing to ask Captain Molyneux (Jim Broadbent) to allow him work on the ship.

In 1936, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) leaves his lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy), to go to Edinburgh and work with famed composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). He yearns to create his own works.

In 1973, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) meets the older Rufus Sixsmith, whose suspicious death in San Francisco causes her to investigate the nuclear power company he was working for. She finds assistance from Isaac Sachs (Tom Hanks).

In 2012, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), a publisher, finds himself needing financial assistance from his brother Denholme (Hugh Grant), who arranges for his confinement in an English retirement home. He seeks escape.

In 2144, an archivist interviews Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), a genetically engineered fabricant, before her execution. She recounts her experiences before her arrest.

Finally, in Hawaii, 106 years after a catastrophic event called the Fall, Zachry (Tom Hanks) struggles with the devil Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving) as he helps Meronym (Halle Berry), a member of the Prescient society seeking an abandoned communications station. Meanwhile, the Kona tribe threatens Zachry’s village.

Old Zachry’s reminiscence forms the fulcrum of Mitchell’s novel, and it also frames the film. Whereas the novel moved chronologically forwards, then backwards, the adaptation demonstrates film’s ability to cut between the centuries and jump from place to place. The filmmakers provide several tense climatic sequences that successfully shift in such a manner.

A clear theme emerges: the struggle for freedom, whether by a plantation worker in the 19th-century Pacific islands, an elderly man from a 21-century retirement home or a 22nd-century genetically-engineered worker. The drama that surrounds these stories provide the excitement and intrigue that makes Cloud Atlas work well when it’s good. The sentimental claptrap about love and everything being connected is less effective. Why must talented filmmakers use an ambitious film to make such banal statements?

Jim Broadbent excels both as Timothy Cavendish, providing the film with its comic moments, and as the composer Ayrs . Ben Whishaw also impresses, portraying Robert Frobisher as a more sympathetic character than in the novel.

Like Paul Muni back in the 1930s, Tom Hanks relies too much on make-up to convince an audience of his acting skills. He has the most work, playing Zachry, Dr. Goose, Isaac Sachs and an actor playing Cavendish in a film that Sonmi sees. His eccentric turn as Dermot Hoggins, an Irish novelist hoping for success with Cavendish, entertains, even it’s over the top.

Halle Berry plays well as Luisa Rey but makes little impression as Meronym. Hugo Weaving fares poorly, playing parts that are too similar to that of Agent Smith in The Matrix or that come off as old-style pantomime (Old Georgie, the devil testing Zachry) or poor drag (Nurse Noakes, ratcheting up difficulties for Cavendish).

The film displays the visual flair expected from both Tykwer and the Wachowskis at their best. Where it falters is its uneven tone. The humour of the Cavendish story seems out of kilter with the other solemn stories concerning corporate conspiracy, suicide and doomed love affairs. Zachry’s story features the heavily accented speech that, in its written form, made that segment of the novel alienating for some. With Old Georgie looking for Zachry’s shoulder, it proves the least accomplished of the various strands. The closing sequences feel overstretched in an effort to tie it all together.

Often beautiful and frequently thrilling, Cloud Atlas reaches for heavenly heights but misses.

John Moran

15A (see IFCO website for details)
171mins
Cloud Atlas is released on 22nd February 2013

Cloud Atlas – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

 
DIR: Peter Jackson • WRI: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro • PRO: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Zane Weiner • DOP: Andrew Lesnie • ED: Jabez Olssen • DES: Dan Hennah • CAST: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis

 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey plays its valuable nostalgia card early and frequently thereafter. Director Peter Jackson uses the opening scenes to revisit Hobbiton literally moments before the events of Fellowship of the Ring, with Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) preparing for a certain eleventy-first birthday party. Bilbo is trying to put the finishing touches on his memoirs, which also include a very thorough history of dwarven society for some reason. The extended prologue over and done with, the film jumps back a half-century. A younger Bilbo (a charming Martin Freeman) is asked by everyone’s favourite wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to accompany the friendly conjurer on an adventure. The hobbit semi-politely declines. But when a dozen hungry dwarves arrive on his doorstep later that evening, Bilbo eventually agrees to embark on the eponymous journey to confront a legendary dragon. An eventful and extended saunter across Middle Earth inevitably follows.

 

The most immediately noteworthy aspects of the film are visual, and unfortunately it’s a real step down from the beautifully realised preceding trilogy, at least on Cineworld Dublin’s new and misleadingly labelled ‘IMAX’ screen. Shot on two-dozen RED Epic cameras – a more than capable camera with the right post-production tinkering – the film looks distractingly digital from the off. Those who lament the decline of film grain will be appalled here. The film is riddled with unconvincing CGI (from hedgehogs to landscapes) and cartoonish setpieces. The sweeping landscapes and beautiful miniatures of Lord of the Rings are sorely missed. As for the much-heralded 48 frames-per-second presentation? For an hour or more it is intensely disorientating – intriguing yet undeniably distracting. However, given the film’s technical shortcomings, I would argue that this was not the film to introduce the new technology with – especially when the nasty artefacts of 3D neuter the benefits of high framerate motion. In trying to increase his film’s naturalism and sense of immersion, Peter Jackson has ironically only drawn attention to its artificiality. It’s rare to criticise a film for looking too clean, but here it’s a warranted complaint. It really looks like a bad TV show. More traditional screenings may look better.

 

An Unexpected Journey’s second serious problem is the one many of us feared – the film’s running time is bulked up beyond all reason. Stuffed with insufferable Middle Earth lore and uninteresting characters, the film’s pacing has undoubtedly suffered from the decision to craft three lengthy films out of one brief novel. Several times the movie grinds to a halt as a result of clunky exposition and misjudged tangents, especially during turgid flashbacks and a dull revisit to Rivendell. The dwarves are –unavoidably – not the Fellowship, while two too many battles conclude with allies ‘unexpectedly’ swooping in to save the day (the old Helms Deep trick). Tonally, the film aims for a more lighthearted adventure than LotR, but alas the jokes consistently fall flat. The cameos from familiar faces add further bulk to an already bloated production, while the decision to have the vast majority of adversaries speak in ludicrous cockney accents diminishes the sense of threat significantly.

 

Still, there are moments of respite amidst an avalanche of disappointment. The last hour is a significant improvement over the preceding ninety minutes. One stormy and mountainous battle is genuinely spectacular, while recognisable music cues will tickle many viewers’ nostalgia bones (the score on the whole is a tad incessant though). Although it could use tighter editing – like most everything in this regrettably paced film – the third act reappearance of Gollum is terrific, and amplified by a go-for-broke motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis. Freeman is a welcome new addition to a massive ensemble, if relegated to the sidelines far too often. McKellen is reliably excellent. A cliffhanger ending also teases that this saga will have at least one memorable and stunningly rendered computer-generated creation.

 

You have no doubt seen worse films than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Many Tolkien fans will likely revel in the excessive fan-service offered by this lore-soaked prequel. And yet this reviewer cannot help but feel a sense of profound disappointment at Peter Jackson’s misjudged attempt to recapture the magic of Middle Earth. Worst of all, you know there’s a better, shorter film in here somewhere. Another six hours of this is, unfortunately, not the most enticing of prospects. An Unexpected Journey proves to be unexpectedly and frustratingly dull.

Stephen McNeice

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

166 mins

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is released on 13th December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Official Website

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Oranges and Sunshine

Oranges and Sunshine

DIR: Jim Loach • WRI: Rona Munro • PRO: Camilla Bray, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman • DOP: Denson Baker • ED: Dany Cooper • DES: Melinda Doring • CAST: Hugo Weaving, Emily Watson, David Wenham

Oranges and Sunshine comes from a very rare breed of movies. Movies that draw you in and hold you in their clutches, whilst educating you about the world you thought you knew, are hard to come by. When we do find them, it’s often hard to survive the two hours. This is where Oranges and Sunshine makes its departure. Like the victims it introduces, this movie is no ‘victim’, and audiences will be pleasantly surprised by their ability to laugh in the face of what is a harrowing story.

The film is based on the true story of Margaret Humphries, an unassuming social worker and family woman who inadvertently stumbles upon the untold story of child migrants, who, having been told their parents had died, were piled into massive ships and brought to Australia where they endured hard work and often abuse. When Humphries comes across one such migrant’s mother, still alive and well, having been told her daughter was safely adopted, the process of single-handedly reuniting these families begins to utterly consume her life.

Emily Watson effortlessly plays Humphries, masterfully navigating her home and working lives and emotionally engaging with a character who willingly takes the weight of two worlds onto her shoulders. Watson breathes humour and panic into her character in equal measure to create the complex author of Empty Cradles, from which the movie takes its lead. Throughout Watson’s performance, it’s easy to see what drew the film’s creators to her story in particular. Hugo Weaving is another incredible addition to a wonderful cast, playing Jack, one of the first child migrants Margaret meets. Jack is one of the most emotionally complex characters we meet, and Weaving gives one of his finest performances as every cell in his character is effortlessly believable.

Oranges and Sunshine is an emotional rollercoaster, bringing its audience through crushing lows, and giggling highs. Visually, it is a feast. Having been filmed between the UK and Australia, one might assume a slight fissure between the two, but each location plays upon the emotions of the characters. Somehow, Australia is visually scorching, whilst Nottingham jumps between gloomy and safely pleasant, no mean feat for a crew hopping on and off long-distance flights.

It is a human tale which interrogates the very nature of identity and asks one question. If our identities are shattered around us for our entire lives, what do we as adults do when we are presented with our lost identities later in life? Director Jim Loach’s television and documentary background is evident throughout as the story never slips through the cracks into cheesy flashbacks, remaining forever in the moment. His true genius is in creating the cinematic aspects of an incredibly internal story. There are few watchable films which give us this kind of interior view of our heroine, and, for me, that was incredibly refreshing.

Go see Oranges and Sunshine because there’s a world of injustices out there that we know nothing about. Go because there are millions of voices wishing to be heard, and this gives voice to just a couple. Go because it is at its core a human story. See it because Hugo Weaving and Emily Watson put on stellar performances, or go simply because you like the popcorn, whatever you do, just don’t miss out on it.

Ciara O’Brien

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Oranges and Sunshine
is released on 1st April 2011

Oranges and Sunshine – Official Website

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUvbnVXqp_8[/youtube]

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The Wolfman

The Wolfman

DIR: Joe Johnston • WRI: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self • PRO: Sean Daniel, Benicio Del Toro, Scott Stuber, Rick Yorn • DOP: Shelly Johnson • ED: Walter Murch, Dennis Virkler, Mark Goldblatt • DES: Rick Heinrichs • CAST: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving

The chequered history of the making of The Wolfman has gone through a similar transformation as the full-mooned, hirsute beast himself. The film’s original director Mark Romanek headed for the moors just before shooting began and was never seen again. Scripts were slashed and rewritten, and Jumanji’s Joe Johnston appeared and took over the picture. Reshoots followed and the release date was rescheduled and last-minute re-edits took place. All of this shows on the screen as The Wolfman comes across as a pieced-together film of disjointed scenes with glaring tonal shifts that makes for unsatisfactory viewing – all sewn together like Frankenstein’s monster.

The film stays close to George Waggner’s 1941 The Wolf Man, inspired by Curt Siodmak’s innovative writing and Lon Chaney Jnr.’s lead performance, but never comes near its suspense or charm.

Benicio Del Toro is surprisingly poor in the lead role of Lawrence, an American who returns to England to his father’s grand estate in 19th century Blackmoor, after his brother has been mysteriously clawed to death by a mysterious beast. There’s mystery afoot (or rather apaw). Lawrence promises his brother’s widow (Emily Blunt) that he’ll do everything in his power to get to the bottom of his death. Unfortunately this entails getting mangled by the mysterious beast; and so begins Lawrence’s moonlit walks on the wild side. Cue angry mob of villagers and ensuing carnage. All of this is presided over by Lawrence’ s father (Anthony Hopkins) – astronomer of the stars and wearer of luxurious bathrobes.

Del Toro abandons his usual mannerisms and plays it all as if his corset is too tight. His stiff delivery does the film no favours and the turgid dialogue doesn’t help matters. There’s no sense of the tragic hero in his performance. He never demonstrates the torment that comes with the knowledge of what is about to transpire. His anguish is more that of a kitten trying to catch running water, rather than that of a man riddled with werewolfitis. Anthony Hopkins does nothing more than make faces at the camera and reads through his lines with all the relish of a fast-food burger. Emily Blunt doesn’t do herself any favours and seems to traipse through the whole mess auditioning for the next Jane Austen adaptation.

The transformation scenes are uninvolving and serve no purpose other than to make you pine for the special effects of John Landis’ 1981 classic, An American Werewolf in London. The sequences are actually designed by the same make up effects wizard Rick Baker; but in this case rather than the fruits of physical labour being brought to the screen, it is all a bit of a CG unimpressive mess of cracking bones and sprouting hairs – like that guy you used to sit beside in school.

The film resorts to loud sudden scares in an effort to fulfil its horror billing and lacks any subtlety or dramatic tension. When the wolfman is on the rampage, disembodied limbs fly about the screen and the camera stumbles around the place as if the director himself had been caught in the crossfire of slashing claws. The cross cut editing tries too hard to impress.

It’s all a bit too serious. The film labours under its pretentious airs and graces and takes itself far too seriously. Granted, the film has a high production value and certainly looks great. The moors that you should always ‘stay away from’, but never do, are a sumptuous feast and lit skilfully to heighten its eerie elegance. But it’s all let down by the sense of disappointment at what could have been so much better.

If this film has any positive effects, its that it will encourage people to revisit Lon Chaney Jr. camping it up as the hapless victim of lycanthropy in the 1941 classic The Wolf Man.

As for this 2010 version – more turkey than wolf. Howl? I nearly slashed the seats with my false fingernails.

Steven Galvin

Rated 16 (see IFCO for details)

The Wolfman is released 12th Feb 2010

The Wolfman – Official Website

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