Review: Wild Rose

DIR: Tom Harper • WRI: Nicole Taylor • DOP: George Steel • ED: Mark Eckersley • PRO: Faye Ward • DES: Lucy Spink • MUS: Jack Arnold • CAST: Julie Walters, Jessie Buckley, Craig Parkinson |

In search of ‘three chords and the truth’, Jessie Buckley stars as Rose-Lynn Harlan who’s a country singer aspiring to swap her native Glasgow for her spiritual home of Nashville, Tennessee. Rose-Lynn’s journey there is already derailed after a stint in prison and any chance of a country career is hampered by the fact her cowboy boots are that bit more difficult to put on with a home arrest tag encompassing her ankle. Rose-Lynn begins work as a cleaner for Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), and upon discovering her love for country music, she encourages Rose-Lynn to pursue this dream. Yet, the dominant drawback to her dreams is her home arrest and the fact that she has two young children who have to be mothered by their grandmother Marion (Julie Walters). Rose-Lynn needs to seek her truth and do what it takes to be the country singer she yearns to become.

Jessie Buckley’s performance is simply exceptional in Wild Rose. She really makes you believe in, and encourage, Rose-Lynn’s aspirations. Yet, Nicole Taylor’s impressive script allows you to be immersed in both Rose-Lynn’s dreams and realities – you root for her character to succeed but you also want to sit Rose-Lynn down and plead with her to prioritise certain aspects in her life before taking Nashville on headfirst. Her motherhood is something she’s ignorant of in pursuit of her music career and her own mother constantly reminds her of this fact.

Marion and Susannah are the two characters representative of this duality within Rose-Lynn’s life. A reliably-strong offering from Julie Walters as Marion focuses on the cold truths of Rose-Lynn’s motherhood and her ignorance of her duties as a mother to her two children. Country stardom must wait, according to Marion, whilst Susannah sees Rose-Lynn as an ingénue who needs the emotional and financial backing to reach the heights Rose-Lynn isn’t afraid of climbing. Susannah is the force driving Rose-Lynn to send footage of herself singing to Whispering Bob Harris on BBC Radio 2; Marion then tries to drive Rose-Lynn in the opposite direction and acknowledge that she’s neglecting her responsibilities as a parent to children who have been sidelined enough.

Wild Rose’s mise-en-scene is reminiscent of the Glasgow in Robert Carlyle’s The Legend of Barney Thomson or I, Daniel Blake’s Newcastle but we expect an upturn in her life, and once she gets to Nashville, cinematographer George Steel suitably introduces warmer tones that captures Rose-Lynn’s fish-out-of-water nervous excitement. The narrative is maintained by Taylor’s script and there are avenues you expect the film to explore but doesn’t. Susannah’s husband Sam, when he finally arrives on screen, could lead to an inevitable falling out with Susannah, but another scenario is chosen. Also, the film initially teases a rivalry with a singer (Craig Parkinson) who replaces Rose-Lynn as the local country bar’s resident singer whilst she’s serving time, but it also opts to avoid this plot point from developing. Overall, there is lots of humour here that balances with the drama and it makes for a well-crafted film that you can easily admire and enjoy.

Thankfully, we are treated to a film with a performance from an actor that was recently nominated in the Rising Star category at the BAFTA Awards and will undoubtedly be contesting main acting categories in the near future. Jessie Buckley makes this film her own and it takes an actor of high calibre to carry a film like Wild Rose. Rose-Lynn’s a showgirl, but she’s also human. Buckley can perform the on-stage and backstage elements of Rose-Lynn, and with the closing musical number akin to Lady Gaga’s in A Star is Born, the emotional arc of the film can be translated on-screen by Buckley’s acting and singing.

Wild Rose could easily descend into parody but it doesn’t. Jessie Buckley plays the three chords that allows Rose-Lynn to find her truth and we’re treated to a very special performance.

Liam Hanlon

100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Dig is released 12th April 2019

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Review: Boy Erased

DIR: Joel Edgerton • WRI: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly • PRO: Joel Edgerton, Steve Golin, Kerry Kohansky-Roberts • DOP: Eduard Grau • ED: Jay Rabinowitz • DES: Chad Keith • MUS: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans • CAST: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton

Boy Erased is Joel Edgerton’s latest directorial offering since 2015’s The Gift and is based upon a memoir by Garrard Conley and his experience of conversion therapy and its oppressive impact upon his sexuality. In this cinematic retelling of Conley’s experiences, the rising talent that is Lucas Hedges plays Jared Eamons, the son of a preacher and his devout Christian wife (played by Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman). Jared is pressured to enter a conversion therapy program following an incident with a male friend from college that has outed Jared to his parents. His father seeks guidance from other pastors and decides that conversion therapy is the only logical step in preventing Jared’s homosexuality. At conversion therapy, Jared is told homosexuality is “behavioural” by his therapist Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) and must adapt to the practices in order to be cured of his homosexuality.

The subject matter of this film makes for unsettling viewing. Jared and the other enrollees are being taught to repress their true selves and strengthen their sense of masculinity through things like how they shake hands or how they sit. Joel Edgerton’s Victor Sykes is icily cold in his teachings and his words create a sense of fear amongst his students and he’s essentially attempting to scare their gayness away. He has a calm demeanour but Edgerton’s performance is effective in making you fear what he’ll say or what practice he’ll encourage next. The musician Flea also appears as a military-type character who is more aggressive in his teachings and wants these boys to act like ‘men’.

Lucas Hedges is phenomenal in this role and it’s disappointing that he’s been overlooked for awards. He carries the emotional arc of the film and Hedges makes you believe in Jared’s journey and sufferings through his performance. There are two sequences in the film’s final act where Jared finally releases the anger and tension from the therapy and there is a moving showdown with his father. Without this stellar performance, the film wouldn’t have the same emotional or dramatic impact. Nicole Kidman also quietly carries out a transformative performance where her character slowly realises the severity of what she as a parent is doing to her son.

The film also minimally explores the homosexual encounters Jared has to recall for his “moral inventory”. Sykes asks everyone to write about their homosexual ‘discretions’ and verbalise them in front of him and everyone else as to ridicule and admonish these encounters. This minimalist approach works in the context of the narrative as Jared is attempting to hide the memories and is afraid or reluctant to divulge these details. It also offers a glimpse of hope for Jared, especially when the film flashes back to a night with Xavier (Théodore Pellerin), and how this non-sexual moment is included in the life he wishes to accept and embrace. The colour pallette on screen becomes brighter and this is the human connection Jared longs for but is told to refuse.

Unfortunately for Boy Erased, it has to compete with Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which was released only months prior. There are similarities considering both films tackle conversion therapy and Boy Erased suffers from a case of déjà vu. For Edgerton’s Sykes, there is Akhavan’s Dr. Lydia March (a sharp-tongued Jennifer Ehle), and the plot is almost too identical in parts. It’s coincidental timing but Boy Erased is the inferior film here and the social realist elements make it less of a complete cinematic experience compared to The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Yet, it’s not a negative that these films are serving as significant retorts to conversion therapy practices.

Boy Erased is hard to watch in parts and its slow pace and non-linear structure may off-put audiences and its unsettling nature also stems from the significance that conversion therapy is still legal and practiced in multiple U.S states. Boy Erased is almost steeped in social realism and Edgerton manages to ground the film in a reality that will undoubtedly empathise with those previously involved in these practices. The muted colours from cinematographer Eduard Grau manage to prevent cinematic exaggeration and compliments the social realist aspects. It’s a film that requires investment and it’s ultimately worthwhile. Joel Edgerton, with the help of Lucas Hedges, manages to convey this importance and the contemporary and pressing subject matter Boy Erased involves.

 

Liam Hanlon

115 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Boy Erased is released 8th February 2019

 

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Review: White Boy Rick

DIR: Yann Demange • WRI: Andy Weiss, Logan Miller, Noah Miller • PRO: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, John Lesher, Jeff Robinov, Julie Yorn • DOP: Tat Radcliffe • ED: Chris Wyatt • DES: Stefania Cella • MUS: Max Richter • CAST: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Matthew McConaughey, Eddie Marsan, Richie Merritt 

In Yann Demange’s sophomore directorial offering, and based on a true story, White Boy Rick explores Detroit’s drug epidemic in the 1980s and the titular Rick’s (Richie Merritt) involvement in the trade. Rick is a fourteen year-old boy with a shrewd sensibility who decides to support his father Rick Sr. (Matthew McConaughey)  selling modified guns to a local drug gang. The gang then take Rick under their wings and dub him ‘White Boy Rick’. With Rick Sr.’s gun transactions catching the attention of the FBI, they decide to utilise Rick in assisting their takedown of the local gang’s drug trade by him becoming an informant.

In his debut film performance as White Boy Rick, Richie Merritt delivers a standout performance that firmly allows you to believe in and root for his character’s respective motivations. Matthew McConaughey is billed as the leading character here; although, his role is more of a supporting one and Merritt is well-equipped to lead this film when the Oscar-winner is not on screen. Both characters work well together and they’ve their own motivations for what they do, but it’s ultimately to support themselves and their sister Dawn (Bel Powley), who is affected by and addicted to the Detroit drug problem. All three characters are in a blue-collar family that are struggling to live and all three have chosen a particular path as their means of survival.

The film captures the harsh environment of the Detroit world the characters live in. The film seems to be in a permanent state of winter and the harsh and cold mise-en-scene is beautifully captured by cinematographer Tat Radcliffe. There is excess with the riches of the drug trade, such as White Boy Rick buying an obnoxiously-gold chain to fit in with the gang, and then there is the severity of the drug problem captured with sequences such as Rick and Rick Sr. removing Dawn from a crack house. A balance is achieved between both but the struggle is not ignored. Rick Sr.’s arms dealing essentially supports criminals, but it is done to support his own family and an optimistic vision of the future. Rick works to support his family too and to ensure Dawn can come home and recover.

Although, the positives of the film are undermined by the unravelling of the film’s final act. The narrative skips past many years at such a rushed rate and any support of Rick’s motivations decreases at a rushed rate too, especially when you consider the character is not fictitious. It’s a pity as Demange managed to create a film that was engaging up to that point and the film fails to have a continued sense of suspense or intrigue like his previous feature ‘71. Eddie Marsan features in an odd cameo role that has an impact on Rick’s narrative in the final act and his appearance carries no weight in what should be more of a significant plot point in altering Rick’s arc. Things like this affect the plot’s progression and is a disappointing way to end a film that could have been great. Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie are included in supporting roles that also offer no significance and both characters could have been removed from the script.

Despite these missteps, White Boy Rick’s solid aspects do make for an enjoyable film. There is an atmospheric soundtrack by Max Richter that efficiently captures the mood of certain sequences and then there are the acting performances themselves. Matthew McConaughey continues to impress with his post-McConaissance roles (although, let’s forget about Dark Tower) and is cementing his status as a bona fide character actor.

Yet, White Boy Rick is all about Richie Merritt as White Boy Rick and the journey he embarks upon growing up in the Detroit of the 1980s. Much like Michael in Frank Berry’s Michael Inside, Rick is a sympathetic character that has to live with the societal struggles he has been raised alongside. Merritt is one to watch and White Boy Rick would have truly suffered without his performance.

Liam Hanlon

110 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
White Boy Rick is released 6th December 2018

 

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Review: The Grinch

DIR: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier • WRI: Michael LeSieur, Tommy Swerdlow • ED: Chris Cartagena • PRO: Janet Healy, Christopher Meledandri • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Angela Lansbury

 

Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures, the team behind the box office phenomenon that is the Despicable Me franchise, have joined forces again to create a new adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. The Grinch is a new animated retelling of the story of the Grinch and his hatred of Christmas. He lives with his loyal dog Max in the isolation of Mount Crumpet and stockpiles enough food to avoid entering the local town of Whoville; a town that fully endorses the celebration of Christmas and the spreading of Christmas cheer. The Grinch is “a mean one” and his miserable cynical contempt of Christmas results in a significant disliking of the Whos of Whoville, who are planning to celebrate Christmas three times larger than previous years. Hearing this information, the Grinch decides to become an anti-Santa Claus and ruin Christmas morning for the Whos by stealing their presents. Although, Cindy Lou, a young Whoville resident trying to ask the real Santa to help her mother, may be the key in reversing the Grinch’s festive outlook.

The Grinch adheres to the original storyline of the Dr. Seuss book, and the 2000 live-action adaptation How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but the animation here is so strong that it will surely revitalize the story for younger audience members. The computer-generated animation is very impressive and it brings the story to life in a manner the live-action version couldn’t. There are textures here that look extremely life-like, such as the fur on Max the dog or the film’s mise-en-scene that contains many scenic landscapes that appear real. The bright colours will also hold the attention of younger viewers and The Grinch is a film that should be enjoyed by this demographic. There are beats that will be appreciated more by this audience and the characterisation of the Grinch is more tame compared to Jim Carrey’s Grinch, which bordered on disturbing, especially with Carrey’s excessive scenery-chewing.

The film’s supporting characters also offer lots of fun, such as Max the dog and Fred the reindeer, whose heavy appearance looks like he “ate all of the other reindeer”. Kenan Thompson enthusiastically voices Bricklebaum, a Who who is too nice for the Grinch to comprehend, and Cindy Lou (Cameron Seely) is a determined child that other children should respect whilst seeing the film. The Mayor of Whoville is voiced by the iconic Angela Lansbury, which older viewers should appreciate. Yet, as its his character’s film, Benedict Cumberbatch sounds like an odd vocal casting decision for the character. His accent is somewhat dubious at times and it could have been amped up to a Jim Carrey-esque level. The Grinch’s Grinch is toned down to an almost-human level throughout the film in comparison to the live-action version and it might be another factor in appealing to the film’s primary young audience.

However, The Grinch strays far away from the middling live-action version and the team behind animated successes such as Sing and Minions took the right decision to choose animation as the outlet to retell this beloved Dr. Seuss story. Older viewers may not appreciate the film as much as younger viewers, but The Grinch is not too cutesy and it has just the right amount of Christmas charm to go along with and enjoy its festive fun.

 

Liam Hanlon

89 minutes
G (see IFCO for details)
The Grinch is released 9th November 2018

 

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Review: The Gospel According to André

DIR: Kate Novack • WRI: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters • DOP: Bryan Sarkinen • ED: Andrew Coffman, Thomas Rivera Montes •  PRO: Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi • MUS: Ian Hultquist, Sofia Hultquist • CAST: André Leon Talley, Manolo Blahnik, Naomi Campbell 

 

On the surface, The Gospel According to André appears to be a retrospective documentary surrounding André Leon Talley, an ebullient and extravagant figure within the fashion world since the 1970s. He’s worked alongside Andy Warhol for Interview magazine; styled Met Gala gowns for Diana Vreeland; became editor-at-large for US Vogue under Anna Wintour’s reign. Yet, this documentary offers far more than a generic fly-on-the-wall exploration of the fashion world and André Leon Talley’s significant involvement in it.

Raised in a racially-segregated North Carolina, Talley was reared by his strict grandmother, who enforced strict morals, which he later adopted in his own approach to his career. A young Talley spent time as a youth in the local library reading editions of Vogue that assisted in igniting a love for fashion and it delighted and encouraged him, as a black person, to see pictures of black models being celebrated in the fashion world. He became obsessed with fashion and high societies of the past aspiring “to be like the people who dared to be daring”. The documentary then allows us to see how he progressed from his college days experimenting with his image to becoming a forerunner of fashion writing and styling at Vogue, and within fashion itself.

Instead of retrospectively examining the career moves Talley made, director Kate Novack explores the theme of race and racial injustice within Talley’s life. He is a flamboyantly-dressed gay black man and he’s separated him from the conservative world he originally belonged to. Talley mentions how his mother refused to walk into their church together on a Sunday morning as a result of a cape he wore and he became an opposing figure within an already-segregated community. He then also experienced being considered a “black buck” or called “Queen Kong” by established fashion professionals, as he felt they saw him as someone who whored and slaved his way to where he is today due to being a black man.

More positively, Novack explores where Talley has used previous racial injustices and utilised them to create a more prosperous image of black culture. There is a segment where we see a Vogue editorial from Talley where he twists the characters in Gone with the Wind and uses fashion to create an alternate film dubbed ‘Scarlett in the Hood’, with Naomi Campbell styled as a black Scarlett O’Hara and with white people representing the servants. We also see Talley discuss how Yves Saint Laurent deriving inspiration for a collection from a song popular within black culture emotionally resonated with Talley and he was proud that African American people were further represented on runways and in magazines.

The documentary itself is a conventional one with a mixture of observational and archival footage and with pieces-to-camera from established fashion industry notables such as Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, and Anna Wintour. They speak of his profound influence within fashion and Anna Wintour claims she needed him alongside her at Vogue as her fashion knowledge was far inferior to his. The conventionality of the documentary’s production is not replicated thematically and Talley is an erudite figure who speaks of his life as a black person, as well as someone working in fashion. With the documentary based in 2016 around the time of Trump’s election win, there is an effective political charge here that works within the documentary’s overall narrative.

Audiences might expect a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the fashion industry seen in documentaries such as The September Issue or The First Monday in May, or just to simply voyeuristically explore the hyper-reality of the fashion world. From his own gospel, André Leon Talley is too savvy and intelligent to create such a documentary. Here he proves he has substance behind the style.

Liam Hanlon

93 minutes
The Gospel According to André is released 5th October 2018

 

 

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Review: A Star Is Born

DIR: Bradley Cooper • WRI: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Jay Cassidy • DES: Karen Murphy • PRO: Bradley Cooper, Bill Gerber, Lynette Howell Taylor, Jon Peters, Todd Phillips • CAST: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott

In his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper turns his attention towards the third remake of A Star Is Born, which was originally released in 1937, with a remake starring Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, and then a Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson-starring remake in 1976. 2018’s version stars Cooper himself as country blues singer Jackson Maine, who drinks his way through his live performances and life itself. En route home from a performance, he runs out of drink and stops at the nearest bar. There he sees Ally (played by the artistically-ambidextrous Lady Gaga) emerge behind the curtains to perform a rousing rendition of ‘La Vie en Rose’, which immediately grasps his attention.

Ally and Jackson then go off into the night, where Ally is taken aback by Jackson’s fame, and the public intrusion associated with fame. She punches a selfie-seeking policeman and Ally and Jackson run to a supermarket, and with a bag of frozen peas on her wrist, Jackson explores Ally’s musical aspirations. “I think you might be a songwriter” Jackson says to Ally, much like a ‘manic pixie dream boy’. The pair’s relationship blossoms musically and romantically and Jackson’s career has been boosted and Ally’s career has emphatically kick-started. However, Jackson’s career and health declines. His tinnitus worsens, he continues to seek solace in alcohol and drugs, and his older brother/manager Bobby (Sam Elliott) quits picking up the pieces and goes to work “with Willie”. Ally’s career has been her dream, yet she and others must resolve Jackson’s descent for their relationship and his music to continue.

The first highlight of A Star Is Born is the chemistry between Ally and Jackson. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper possess a dynamic that easily translates on-screen, which is crucial in this film, especially when the duo are both a musical and romantic duo. The chemistry then assists in the performances of the impressive songs, especially ‘Shallow’ and the closing number ‘I’ll Never Love Again’. Cooper is quick to introduce these protagonists, and their respective meet cute moment, and it’s effective for the running of the plot.

With both Ally and Jackson, the film offers two subtextual glimpses into the music industry. Jackson is an established artist whose spotlight is fading; Ally is the dilettante signed to a music label who discovers her individualism is outnumbered by the industry’s design by committee approach. Ally’s A&R manager Rez (Rafi Gavron), who’s always dressed in black, rejects her ideas and the mass music industry drags her into homogeneity, such as asking her to dye her hair blonde or the cliched backing dancer troupes. Jackson can foresee the path she’s being led down, and for someone who initially says she couldn’t ‘make it’, and as a new artist exposed to rapid success, Ally shelves her previous musical and personal morals. Her songs as a solo artist are far weaker than her songs with Jackson and these forgettable songs typify the homogenous nature of the industry’s output.

The film also gives an exploration of the humanity of these musicians within the music industry. We see Jackson in the first act and the trappings associated with his fame. He can’t go to a bar without being recognised and he can’t even shop without a cashier taking indiscreet pictures of him. Ally’s introduction to him presents an opportunity to see the domesticity of these characters, especially when they are presented in an almost cinéma vérité style that’s aided by Darren Aronofsky’s regular cinematographer Matthew Libatique. Plot lines such as Ally introducing a dog within her and Jackson’s home allows the film to present these people with associated notoriety as regular humans living an atypical human life and you almost forget about their celebrity status.

Without spoiling the film, A Star Is Born concludes with a performance from Ally that is simply stunning. The song encapsulates the emotional core of the film and is edited in a way that will result in the shedding of tears. Bradley Cooper has managed to assemble an utter powerhouse of a film that feels like a gritty La La Land, or the older kid John Carney’s Begin Again was told not to hang around with. From the supporting cast, including Ally’s hilarious father and his friends, to the songs, the film delivers on many levels. This is Cooper at his best, acting as well as directing, and it’s encouraging when it’s his first film as director.

Still though, this film is just as much Gaga’s as it is Cooper’s. Her stardom was conceived years ago but this film hosts a different Lady Gaga. Ally is a raw authentic character and Gaga’s experience in the music industry successfully humanises the character. She takes you on a journey with Jackson, as Cooper does with Ally, and A Star Is Born is one journey with so many emotions working in perfect harmony that should not be missed.

Liam Hanlon

135 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
A Star Is Born is released 5th October 2018

 

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Review: The Predator

DIR: Shane Black • WRI: Fred Dekker, Shane Black • DOP: Larry Fong • ED: Harry B. Miller III • MUS: Henry Jackman • DES: Martin Whist • PRO: John Davis, Lawrence Gordon • CAST: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key

Director Shane Black is no stranger to the Predator franchise having starred as Rick Hawkins in 1987’s Predator. Fast forward thirty one years and the latest addition to the franchise is The Predator, directed by Black, albeit with a troubled production. This sequel had its initial release date of February 2018 pushed to September 2018 amidst reports of poor test screening reception, which led to significant reshoots. Black has also faced heavy criticism for casting a registered sex-offender in a scene with Olivia Munn, whom has now spoken out against the director for doing so. The scene was subsequently removed from the film.

This latest addition stars Boyd Holbrook as Quinn McKenna, a skilled army sniper, who is preparing to intercept a drug cartel in Mexico, when his crew becomes interrupted by the arrival of a spacecraft containing a ‘predator’. Quinn manages to take down the creature using its own technology and steals two pieces of its equipment as proof of the creature’s existence. Before Quinn is apprehended by government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), he posts the stolen equipment to himself. When the items are then delivered to his house, Quinn’s son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) curiously plays with the equipment, inadvertently bringing upon the arrival of another predator to earth. The original predator escapes from a government facility and is tracking down his stolen equipment, identifying Rory as a target. The hunter then becomes the hunted as the newly-arrived predator’s prime target is one of their own. With the assistance of Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), Quinn and his crew of ‘Loonies’ must protect Rory and stop the predators.

One of the significant issues with The Predator is its script. With Shane Black’s previous works, including the Lethal Weapon scripts and 2016’s The Nice Guys, Black has a track record of great humour. However, not for the want of trying, the humour in this film does not work. Once we meet the ‘Loonies’, there are one-liners aplenty. Yet, they fall flat on each occasion. Although, there is one gag involving a thumbs up that is effective and also a humorous line describing the predator as an “alien Whoopi Goldberg”. The character count also becomes bloated. Some are completely insignificant such as Alfie Allen’s Lynch who bears no impact whatsoever. Olivia Munn’s Dr. Casey Bracket is one of the standout characters but the script affects her character development. Much like other female STEM professionals in film, her work is affected and disregarded by male characters and there is one sequence where she is forced by Quinn to become a mothering figure for Rory, which felt regressive after initial hope for her character development.

Also, The Predator needed to branch out from Predator’s legacy and success. The latter had such physicality and grit in what was a post-Vietnam film set in a jungle. Predator had the gore, as this film does, but it also created such tension in sequences such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch fortunately camouflaging himself from the predator in mud. With The Predator, it’s more of a post-9/11 film with subtextual elements involving technological and arms races between nations. Here, the increase in alien technology does not contribute to any significant dramatic effect. The second predator brings two ‘dogs’ to earth to emphasise the sports hunter aspect of these alien creatures. Yet, they become laughable with one of them later acting like a trained house dog for the predator’s enemies (as well as having some dodgy CGI).

Overall, The Predator is the not the worst entry in the Predator franchise and the running time of 107 minutes is paced efficiently. It resembled 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence in the sense that bigger does not necessarily mean better for franchise sequels. It’s amped up with fun action sequences and deserves its R-rating but it’s ultimately betrayed by its script and it also shows disregard towards Rory’s autism and Baxley’s (Thomas Jane) Tourette syndrome with its dialogue.

Shane Black obviously has an affinity for this franchise and it’s a shame The Predator does not match Predator’s success. It was plagued by production problems and perhaps it foresighted the end product. However, with Disney attempting to acquire 21st Century Fox, Black could always try again with the inevitable Avengers vs X-Men vs Alien vs Predator spin-off.

Liam Hanlon

106 minutes
16(see IFCO for details)
The Predator is released 14th September 2018

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Review: Finding Your Feet

DIR: Brian O’Malley • WRI: Meg Leonard, Nick Moorcroft • PRO: Andrew Berg, Meg Leonard, Nick Moorcroft, John Sachs, James Spring, Charlotte Walls  DOP: Richard Kendrick • ED: Tony Kearns • MUS: Kevin Murphy, Stephen Shannon, David Turpin • DES: Michael Corenblith • CAST: Timothy Spall, Joanna Lumley, Imelda Staunton

 

Finding Your Feet stars Imelda Staunton in a tale of riches to rags in Richard Loncraine’s latest directorial offering. Staunton’s Sandra Abbott, much to her delight, becomes Lady Sandra after her husband receives a knighthood, only to discover her husband embarked on an affair for five years with her friend. Relinquishing her Lady title, Sandra leaves her husband to live with her estranged sister Bif (Celia Imrie) in Bif’s anti-palatial council flat. Bif lives a hippie lifestyle, in complete contrast to Sandra’s champagne lifestyle, and the latter is reluctant to share Bif’s worldview. Bif’s best friend Charlie (Timothy Spall) and Sandra immediately do not get along, but there is something bubbling underneath their disagreements, and Bif is aware of this. Ultimately, Bif knows that the only thing that will shake Sandra out of her old ways and to acknowledge her new chance at life and love is waiting for her at a local dance class where Sandra can learn the dance of life again.

With this sort of genre piece, there is the accompanying Ronseal element – it does exactly what it says on the tin – or advertising posters. The plot is somewhat predictable with more than a few twee moments and these blips are thankfully excused by the overall winning charm of Finding Your Feet. Celia Imrie as Bif is the standout character of this film and ultimately engages you in what’s happening on-screen. Imelda Staunton’s Sandra is easy to dislike, and Bif encourages her to change and encourages the audience to change their minds about the snobby Sandra who has “probably never seen a central heating bill” in her life. The differences between the pair plays out well and the plot hinges on Bif, for which Celia Imrie delightfully assists with her spirited performance.

Timothy Spall also provides some of the film’s charm, much like his turn in 2014’s The Love Punch, which also saw him acting alongside Imrie. The two actors have an on-screen chemistry that Loncraine understands and he maximises the potential of their chemistry in Finding Your Feet. The film’s ensemble cast appear to enjoy themselves; including a small role from the effervescent Joanna Lumley whose character is navigating the world of online dating to mixed success. These characters are pivotal in sending home the film’s message of life and its joie de vivre and its more challenging moments.

Overall, Finding Your Feet does possess some of the narrative qualities seen in recent films within this genre, such as Joel Hopkins’ Last Chance Harvey or Roger Michell’s Le Week-End. It is predictable fare but the film remains an enjoyable and emotional piece that possesses a true universal quality that might be ignored with its marketed appearance. It may appear to target a certain older demographic but hopefully all audiences will go along and be utterly charmed by Finding Your Feet.

Liam Hanlon

12A (See IFCO for details)

111 minutes
Finding Your Feet is released 23rd February 2018

 Finding Your Feet – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Molly’s Game

 

DIR/WRI: Aaron Sorkin  PRO: Mark Gordon, Matt Jackson, Amy Pascal  DOP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen • ED:Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham, Josh Schaeffer • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • DES: David Wasco • CAST: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner

Aaron Sorkin has decided to branch out from screenwriting and become a writer/director with Molly’s Game; adapted from a memoir by Molly Bloom, a prodigal skier-turned-poker impresario, with the dependable Jessica Chastain starring as the titular Molly delivering the fast-paced dialogue one would expect from a Sorkin script.

Molly’s Game opens at the beginning of Molly Bloom’s story. She was a promising skier with a chance of inclusion in the U.S. Winter Olympics team until a freak accident derailed this possibility. Molly moves to Los Angeles and distances herself from both skiing and her overbearing father. In L.A, she works multiple jobs to get by, until she becomes a personal assistant to someone who runs discreet poker games for people from distinguished backgrounds, such as Hollywood actors. Molly decides to set up her own poker games after being fired and raises the stakes with higher buy-ins and returns. Once she moves to New York to attract more affluent clientele, Molly becomes involved with the Russian mafia and is indicted by the FBI. Sorkin uses a non-linear narrative to feature her discussions with lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) after her indictment about how she will plead at her forthcoming court case.

Jessica Chastain is the highlight of this film. She allows you to believe in the character’s struggles and hopes, and this is also aided by Sorkin’s direction. Here, he offers a sense of voyeurism, specifically in the poker games, as Molly looks at these ‘successful’ figures from her own distance and wants to emulate some of form of that success in her own life. Molly is sought after by some of the male figures for being an “anti-wife”, although the film thankfully doesn’t reward the character with sexual favours from men. Instead, she wants to be credibly rewarded and Molly has evident agency.

However, Chastain’s on-screen time is limited as she delivers too much of the script with voiceover. There are also numerous on-screen graphics explaining the happenings of some of Molly’s poker games and this unfortunately denies Chastain more screen time.

The ensemble cast is made up of reputable actors such as Idris Elba and, most notably, Michael Cera. Molly doesn’t offer the real names of her poker players in her book, but here, Cera plays Player X, an actor who may or may not have been Michael Cera. There is a humorous meta-awareness of this actor’s inclusion, especially when Player X delivers lines including “I don’t like playing poker. I like destroying lives”. The viewer cannot expect an individual like Michael Cera to say those remarks and it’s reminiscent of his enjoyable cameo meta-appearance in Twin Peaks: The Return as Wally Brennan. Michael Cera’s on-screen characters are hard to distinguish from Michael Cera himself, yet his inclusion in Molly’s Game is ultimately worthwhile.

There are some slight downfalls of the film such as the ineffective father-daughter subplot that is not properly fleshed out and Kevin Costner is wasted in a role that’s almost akin to William Fichtner’s part in Blades of Glory. The film’s climax is too generic and the denouement is far from suspenseful. Without any prior knowledge of the real Molly Bloom, the film doesn’t present a real sense of danger for the character, especially for those who are approaching this plot blind.

Molly’s Game is an Oscar biopic-by-numbers film that probably won’t go down as one of recent history’s stronger biopics. Although, Jessica Chastain saves this film from failure and it never felt boring, despite the generic climax, in Aaron Sorkin’s credible and efficient directorial debut.

 

Liam Hanlon

15A (See IFCO for details)

140 minutes
Molly’s Game is released 29th December 2017

Molly’s Game – Official Website

 

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Irish Film Review: Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

 

 

DIR: Sophie Fiennes  • PRO: Katie Holly, Sophie Fiennes, Beverly Jones, Shani Hinton • DOP: Remko Schnorr • ED: Sophie Fiennes •  CAST: Grace Jones, Jean-Paul Goude, Sly & Robbie

Mixing with the likes of Andy Warhol, releasing hit singles such as ‘Pull Up to the Bumper’, and appearing as a Bond villain in A View to a Kill; Grace Jones has become a revered cultural icon. She is a towering presence who has challenged traditional notions of both femininity and masculinity which has benefitted her shapeshifting image in the process. She’s a model, an actor, a musician; but what do we really know about this modern icon’s private life away from the flashbulbs, the stage, or the big screen?

With Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, director Sophie Fiennes follows Grace Jones over a period of ten years, offering entry points into her family life, the recording studio, and some offstage drama. We see Grace in her native Jamaica with her family at church or recording some vocals in the studio, and these fly-on-the-wall segments interweave with live performances of songs which were recorded at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre in September 2016.

These live performances quickly become the highlight of this documentary. Grace’s energy and charisma is evident and the performer within her brings vast amounts of life to each song performed. This aspect is then greatly aided by the live footage captured by cinematographer Remko Schnorr with its grainy texture and appearance. Her performances may have been recorded in Dublin but Schnorr transports us to a ’70s New York City-esque club where Jones honed her craft and this is helped by Eiko Ishioka’s simple, yet innovative stage design.

Her step-grandfather, Mas P, is mentioned throughout the documentary and becomes a narrative constant. According to Grace and her family’s stories, this man was a stern and abusive presence within their lives. Then, Fiennes can utilise Grace mentioning how she adopted this overbearing power within her own stage performances and follows up with a live performance of Grace Jones inhabiting Mas P onstage.

Offstage, the life of Grace Jones is not thoroughly fleshed out and this is the dominant drawback of the documentary. The influence of Mas P is mentioned and we see her in Jamaica where she becomes just another Jamaican, not Grace Jones. However, the fly-on-the-wall features are more anecdotal than insightful or revelatory and there is no real narrative thread. Yes, we are treated to her recording a song or seeing her dote over her newly-born granddaughter, but the documentary doesn’t delve deep enough into Grace’s thoughts on topics such as her career and legacy. A fan at the beginning of the documentary waiting in line for her autograph says that she’s “worth waiting for!”. However, on the basis of this documentary, she’ll keep us waiting to offer more about her perspective on her life.

Although, some of the footage Fiennes uses excellently captures the true funny nature of Grace. There is a sequence surrounding an appearance on French television where Grace exits the stage aghast at the tackiness of the set that left her feeling like a “brothel madame”. Fiennes also includes a public tête-à-tête between Grace and production duo Sly and Robbie on the telephone, as well as some hotel drama where Jones refuses to leave her presidential suite unless her contract negotiations are resolved. These moments are humorous and do offer insights into aspects of Grace’s overall personality.

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami is a solid documentary, despite its overall narrative mediocrity. Recent music documentaries such as Amy or Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me offer solid narratives rather than the anecdotal snippets here. However, perhaps Fiennes, and Grace herself, wanted to convey as much normality or humanity as possible without discussing her celebrity nature. This documentary is worth seeing on the basis of the live performances alone and they are captured perfectly here. It’s also worth seeing to hear the many, many location-dependent accents Grace Jones possesses.

Ultimately, this documentary serves as another positive example of the cultural phenomenon that is Grace Jones.

 

Liam Hanlon

15A (See IFCO for details)

115 minutes
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami is released 27th October 2017

 

 

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Review: Home Again

DIR/WRI: Hallie Meyers-Shyer  PRO: Nancy Meyers, Erika Olde • DOP: Dean Cundey • ED: David Bilow  DES: Ellen Brill   MUS: John Debney • CAST: Reese Witherspoon, Nat Wolff, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen, Lake Bell

Home Again stars Reese Witherspoon in the role of newly-separated mother of two Alice Kinney. Alice reaches a crossroads in her life and decides to move to Los Angeles from New York to start anew with her daughters and restart her interior decorating career. As she turns 40, her birthday celebration’s antics allows her to romantically encounter Harry (Pico Alexander), a young, overly-charismatic struggling filmmaker, who, along with his struggling filmmaker brother and friend, end up living in Alice’s guesthouse. Alice then has to juggle living with three young men, her neglectful husband in New York, attempting to advance her career, and be a single mother for her children.

With films such as Home Again, there is a template that can be copied from other romantic comedy/drama genre films, and Hallie Meyers-Shyer (daughter of rom-com aficionado Nancy Meyers) fails to manoeuvre this template in her directorial debut. Much like Alice’s own personal balancing act, Home Again includes too much within its story for it to succeed. There is an issue as to whose film it is; or what the main plot of the film is. Alice as a single mother is one story. The three filmmakers struggling to develop their first film is another. Then there’s one bizarre inclusion of Alice’s annoyance and hatred for a snobby interior decorating client that leads to a phoney showdown in a restaurant. These plot threads simply do not interweave and the 97-minute running time slowly ticks away.

However, there are some promising elements within this film. The three guys, despite lacking obvious chemistry, act as surrogate fathers to Alice’s daughters and they seamlessly fit within her family dynamic, offering charming moments in the process. The daughters offer a humorous exchange of words during an early sequence where eleven-year-old Isabel (Lola Flanery) offers an insight into her ‘depression’, after consulting WebMD and paying attention to television commercials. Michael Sheen also offers a humorous performance as Alice’s husband, who becomes increasingly jealous at the thought of three young men taking his place within the family – and also the bedroom.

Michael Sheen’s performance also becomes a negative aspect as there is more to offer from him and Meyers-Shyer could have encouraged him to have more fun as Austin. Reese Witherspoon – sharing close similarities with her role as Madeline in HBO’s Big Little Lies – does not fare well here. With Big Little Lies in my mind, Witherspoon is too talented an actor to regress with this type of role. Again, perhaps with further encouragement from her director, Witherspoon could have delivered a stronger and more enjoyable performance.

Home Again contains promising elements from a debut directorial effort from Hallie Meyers-Shyer. Yet, the film suffers from inexperience. The film has an overall feeling of a throwaway Judd Apatow production and it’s too confusing a film with too few charming moments for Meyers-Shyer to truly bring it home.

Liam Hanlon

12A (See IFCO for details)

96 minutes
Home Again is released 29th September 2017

 

Home Again – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Dunkirk

DIR/WRI: Christopher Nolan  • PRO: Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Lee Smith • DES: Nathan Crowley • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh

A new Christopher Nolan film creates a fanfare from cinema audiences unlike any other contemporary filmmaker. His films whet the appetites of cinemagoers as he continues to redefine Hollywood large-scale budget films with his own Nolan-esque twist and approach.  It’s been three long years since Interstellar divided opinion, but this year finally sees Nolan return with Dunkirk, a film based on the true historical events of Operation Dynamo during World War II.

Nolan’s Dunkirk explores the evacuation of Dunkirk beach in 1940 with perspectives from characters on land, sea, and in the air. Amongst the film’s ensemble cast, three protagonists of sorts become the narrative focus within these three perspectives. On land, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is amongst the 400,000 soldiers confined to Dunkirk beach by the enemy forces and has to find a way to leave the beach for home, which the soldiers can “practically see”. On the sea, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and his friend George (Barry Keoghan) are sailing towards Dunkirk to rescue soldiers on their civilian boat. In the air, Farrier (Tom Hardy) is one of three Spitfire pilots tasked with preventing enemy forces from attacking those fleeing Dunkirk. These three perspectives are all united with the same purpose – survival.

Firstly, Dunkirk’s cinematography alone is stellar. With his second collaboration with Hoyte van Hoytema and filming on IMAX 65mm, Christopher Nolan has created a film full of rich textures and colour hues that looks concurrently old and modern. There is an immersive experience on-screen that is created without the use of 3D technology, and especially in the aircraft scenes, Dunkirk offers a vicarious perspective of the characters’ world within the film. Nolan’s previous collaboration with van Hoytema in 2014’s Interstellar featured some fantastically-gritty landscapes for the new planets in the film –  some of which were shot in Iceland – to great effect on IMAX 65mm. Here, it’s used to a similarly impressive effect, with each sequence possessing its own atmosphere that contributes to the anxious unease you feel watching events unfold. The preference towards practical visual effects by the director is then rewarded in the film as it creates a strong sense of verisimilitude.

The three perspectives within Dunkirk allows each ensemble cast member to contribute to the unease of this fight for survival. Fionn Whitehead is captivating as Tommy and he delivers a believable and nuanced performance for an actor in his debut feature film. There is innocence within his performance that is striking when you consider the naivety of these young men, or even boys, fighting in the war. You can share in his fear and you’re willing him on to return home. With this character alone, Nolan has the audience onboard with the story and he continues to establish the importance of these characters fighting their battle for survival. Tom Hardy is as reliable as ever for Nolan – even donning a similar Bane sheepskin coat – as Spitfire pilot Harrier; you can see the experience of life during wartime in the eyes of Mark Rylance’s Mr. Dawson; Harry Styles’ Alex exhibits the frustration of the many setbacks before any possible chance of freedom. The minimal dialogue within Nolan’s self-penned script permits these characters to focus on their character’s respective survival throughout the film’s running time – which at 107 minutes is short for a Christopher Nolan film. Words become less significant in their escape.

Dunkirk becomes much more than a war film. It can be classified within the war genre but it’s more of a personal affair rather than a two-hour shootout on battlefields The ensemble cast are used to personify the individual and collective need to survive. These soldiers are used to capture one facet of the hardship of war without simply fighting the enemy. Nolan also returns to some of his thematic staples with the film delving into conflicting human morality. Those on Mr. Dawson’s boat face the dilemma of turning back to England or committing to aiding those in Dunkirk; the rescued soldiers are confused whether to consider themselves cowards for fleeing the war zone or heroes for returning home to contribute to the war again. A Nolan non-linear narrative subtly returns to intersect between events in the plot’s triptych – although it’s used less compared to Memento or Inception. Hans Zimmer also contributes with an eerie score that sampled Nolan’s own stopwatch that creates further tension for both the soldiers and the cinemagoer.

This film could not have been made by any other director than Christopher Nolan. A new Nolan release becomes event cinema – it has to be seen. Here, he uses a significant event in recent history and respects the event in his own cinematic adaptation which increases awareness of the importance of this evacuation for World War II’s outcome. For a war film, Dunkirk is less action-centric and offers an element of humanity with soldiers simply attempting to survive from a war that they did not initiate. Dunkirk then becomes a tense viewing experience and you will become anxious in seeing these characters fight to survive. It’s an experience that has to be seen on the biggest screen and in 70mm, as Nolan himself insists upon, as he continues to utilise the possibilities of the film medium itself to imagine and create a film of Dunkirk’s technical standard.

He places you on the beach waiting to board a naval ship; he places you on the compact civilian boats on the choppy waters; he places you in the cockpit of a Spitfire as you attack the enemy. With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan provides a cinematic involvement that only his films can offer.

Liam Hanlon

106 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Dunkirk is released 21st July 2017

Dunkirk  – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Baby Driver

DIR/WRI: Edgar Wright •  PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Nira Park • DOP: Bill Pope • ED: Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss • DES: Marcus Rowland • MUS: Steven Price • CAST: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Jon Hamm

 

His name is Baby. “B-A-B-Y, Baby”, and he is the fastest getaway driver for Atlanta’s elite criminal underbelly. Baby (Ansel Elgort) suffers from tinnitus as a result of a car crash during his childhood and he listens to music on various iPods to drown out his “hum in the drum”. He plays the right song with the right tempo to orchestrate getaways on behalf of Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) robbery teams. With songs by artists such as The Damned playing in his ears, Baby expertly negotiates these getaways in sync with the rhythm of the song and the specific robbery, knowing each successful robbery drives him nearer to freedom from Doc’s organisation. Baby then meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress in a local diner, and falls for both her and her musicality. However, any relationship with Debora is threatened when Baby is asked to complete one last job by Doc, but his motives are questioned by new gang member Bats (Jamie Foxx), who’s sceptical of Baby as a getaway driver and his true intentions.

Firstly, amongst the deluge of summer blockbuster and extended universe releases, Baby Driver is a breath of fresh cinematic air. Director Edgar Wright has captured this film intricately, especially with its use of music to capture a mood of a particular sequence. The music is also pivotal with the superb editing from Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, whom, along with Wright’s direction, can utilise a song such as ‘Easy’ by The Commodores within a particular sequence where the music is just one facet of the overall musicality and movement of the film. The actors are also acting alongside the film’s soundtrack and this assists in Wright capturing the suspense or a particular mood of what’s on screen.

Ansel Elgort effortlessly becomes Baby and his characterization throughout is balanced and also filled with personality when appropriate. Baby listens to the music through his earphones and Elgort then performs the song during the getaway scenes. He also brings to life both sides of Baby’s lives; one as the getaway driver and the other as a regular citizen attempting to live a normal life. Lily James also impresses as Debora, the diner waitress dreaming of driving away to a better life, who’s also reminiscent of the character of Shelly Johnson in Twin Peaks. While these characters impress, one slight negative is that other ensemble cast members do not receive similar screen time when they deserved much more, such as Kevin Spacey, Jon Bernthal, and even Flea. The film’s middle act also disappoints as the pace fails to maintain its opening momentum, especially as certain cast members are substituted by Doc for both plot and robbery reasons.

Nevertheless, the visceral getaway and car chase scenes in the first and final acts are expertly-directed action scenes by Wright and an important highlight of Baby Driver. The collaboration between Wright and different technical departments reflects the crucial collaborative nature of the filmmaking process and every car sequence is an impressive blend of direction, acting, editing, and music supervision. There is also a shootout sequence that is tonally-similar to Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, and again, each technical department stands out and impresses.

Music is a significant element of Baby’s life and the film itself. It probably won’t receive similar attention as the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy’s popular soundtrack, but the music sets the tone of the plot for the characters and the particular Atlanta life they live, and the film has to be in sync with its music. It is in sync, much like Edgar Wright and his collaborators.

Baby Driver may not stand out on top amongst the myriad of summer releases, although it fully deserves to become another revered addition to Edgar Wright’s oeuvre. There is nothing infantile about Baby Driver and it should be reckoned with this summer.

            Liam Hanlon

112 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Baby Driver is released 28th June 2017

Baby Driver – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Book of Henry

DIR: Colin Trevorrow • WRI: Gregg Hurwitz PRO: Carla Hacken, Jenette Kahn, Sidney Kimmel, Adam Richman • DOP: John Schwartzman• ED: Kevin Stitt • DES: Kalina Ivanov • MUS: Michael Giacchino • CAST: Lee Pace, Naomi Watts, Jacob Tremblay

 

The Book of Henry is Colin Trevorrow’s latest directorial effort – after 2015’s Jurassic World  – and is based upon a script by Gregg Hurwitz. Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is a remarkably-intelligent eleven-year-old child whose advancements see him bestowed with the responsibility of maintaining his single mother Susan’s (Naomi Watts) finances and he is encouraged to jump several school grades by his teacher. Henry’s smarts affects his younger brother Peter’s (Jacob Tremblay) reputation in their school and Peter is bullied for his ‘normal’ intelligence. The family lives beside a young girl and her stepfather; and Henry notices differences in her behaviour and suspects she is a victim of child abuse. Henry attempts to contact social services to remove Christina (Maddie Ziegler) from her household, but his efforts are thwarted when Christina’s stepfather is a corrupt high-ranking member of the police force, and Henry must formulate another plan to end Christina’s suffering.

Writing a plot synopsis for The Book of Henry is challenging when there are major spoilers not included in the film’s trailer and are obviously important for the film’s own dramatic effect. However, this spoiler and plot event is hugely misjudged. This significant event is included as a plot device and is staggeringly tonally-wrong. Tears are shed by characters, and perhaps some cinemagoers, but these tears are baffling when you witness how the remainder of The Book of Henry plays out. It becomes a confusing cinematic experience and leaves you asking yourself “Did that really just happen?!”.

Said spoiler also permits Naomi Watts’ Susan more screen time; yet, her character’s own personal transformation and raison d’être is diminished in a sequence that could have featured in another Home Alone instalment. Watts delivers a believable performance as a single mother determined to raise her children despite previous hardship; although her maternal success and enthusiasm is wasted in her character’s involvement in the film’s final act. Jacob Tremblay, much like his scene-stealing turn in Room, is the strongest highlight within The Book of Henry. Tremblay’s acting ability is already stellar at his young age and his capability of negotiating certain emotions in this film is far more impressive than seasoned-performers within the ensemble cast.

The Book of Henry had promising elements within its opening act that were quickly dismantled once that event occurred. The film then free falls into a genre-bending mess where it does not know what film it wants to become. Its dominant flaw remains that it purposefully attempts to manipulate your emotional state and it utterly fails to involve you in caring about the remainder of the film’s plot.

Liam Hanlon

105 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

The Book of Henry is released 23rd June 2017

The Book of Henry– Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Berlin Syndrome

DIR: Cate Shortland • WRI: Shaun Grant • PRO: Polly Staniford • DOP: Germain McMicking • ED: Jack Hutchings • DES: Melinda Doring • MUS: Bryony Marks • CAST: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Lucie Aron

Berlin Syndrome, adapted from a novel of the same name by Melanie Joosten, is Australian director Cate Shortland’s third feature film – starring Teresa Palmer as Clare, a young lone tourist from Brisbane navigating the streets of Berlin aspiring to capture the city’s architecture for a future photography project. Whilst waiting to cross a road, Clare meets Andi (Max Riemelt) by happenstance as he drops books and asks her to hold his box of strawberries as he gathers his belongings. Over these strawberries, Andi and Clare converse about their lives and there is an obvious mutual attraction between the pair, yet they part ways at the end of the day. Clare then retraces her steps the following day in the hope of encountering Andi once again, which she does. They retreat to Andi’s secluded apartment building for a one-night stand, and when Clare attempts to leave the morning after, she finds the front door and windows locked. When this occurs again the next day, Clare realises she is held captive by Andi in his apartment and will struggle to free herself.

This film exhibits the worst of misogyny and patriarchy, and Max Riemelt’s characterisation of Andi humanises these traits. He displays his contempt for women through Clare’s captivity and also displays his disgust and disdain at being touched by a female colleague in a harmless manner. Andi is an English teacher and appears to be a normal member of society, and this normality is a significant element of what makes Andi a sinister and despicable character, as Riemelt delicately humanises the misogyny without delivering an over-the-top performance. Teresa Palmer also delivers a nuanced performance as Clare through little details such as Clare’s breathing in her initial meeting with Andi. It foreshadows the film’s plot and Clare, who’s similar to the titular character in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, knowingly flirts with male danger and has the agency to take the risk by herself.

The use of words is also used to great effect in providing glimpses of what’s to come for Clare and the film’s plot. Andi is an English teacher, and on his classroom blackboard in an early sequence, we see words such as ‘persecution’ and ‘suffocation’ that stand out amongst the array of words and sentences on the blackboard. There are also words used by Andi that are apparently misunderstood by him. He says to Clare at their first meeting when he brings her to his family’s garden, “I come here to complicate life”, to which Clare replies, “Don’t you mean contemplate?”. This ‘mix-up’ of words may seem accidental, but as the film progresses, perhaps Andi does not confuse his words.

Berlin Syndrome also effectively uses art to demonstrate the misogyny. Gustav Klimt’s work is referenced throughout the film and is admired by both Andi and Clare. However, the former uses the eroticism of Klimt’s works to influence his own photography of women, and predominantly the vulnerability of women in the presence of men such as Andi. There is also a sequence juxtaposing Clare’s captivity between a P.E class in Andi’s school. A gymnastics session takes place which nods to Henri Matisse’s Dance (La Danse) painting, which demonstrates the freedom of human movement and expression and this cleverly works against the juxtaposing environment of Clare in Andi’s apartment.

The negatives of the film lie within the editing and its overall running time. Suspense is crucial in a film such as Berlin Syndrome with the unknown fate of Clare, yet the film is too long for its denouement to truly deliver; although, this is a powerful film about the ills of man and the vulnerability of women at the hands of predatory men. Cate Shortland has delivered a high-calibre piece of cinema, in which Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt could deliver two high-calibre performances.

Liam Hanlon

116 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

Berlin Syndrome is released 9th June 2017

Berlin Syndrome – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Baywatch

DIR: Seth Gordon • WRI: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift • PRO: Michael Berk, Gregory J. Bonann, Beau Flynn, Ivan Reitman, Douglas Schwartz • DOP: Eric Steelberg • ED: Peter S. Elliot • DES: Shepherd Frankel • MUS: Christopher Lennertz • CAST: Alexandra Daddario, Dwayne Johnson

Television series often have a difficult transition from the small screen to the big screen. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa somehow pulled it off; The Inbetweeners half-managed it; Sex and the City failed. Now it’s the turn of Baywatch to attempt the difficult crossover with director Seth Gordon (Four Christmases, Horrible Bosses) at the helm, featuring mainstream Hollywood heavyweights Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron.

Baywatch centres around a team of close-knit lifeguards led by Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) who are well-respected for doing their jobs by beachgoers. The Baywatch team are seeking new recruits and are encouraged to hire disgraced Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron) to enhance the image and finances of the Baywatch program by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), which Buchannon fully disagrees with. After Buchannon sees a child finding a small quantity of flakka on the beach, suspicions are raised that the drug is being sold by a new hotelier in the beach area. When a dead body is then discovered in the water, Buchannon must negotiate his personal differences with Brody and assist his team in becoming lifeguards-cum-crimestoppers to cease the drug trade and further murders.

There are very little positives about this film. Dwayne Johnson appears to take his role more seriously than others, possibly due to him serving as an executive producer, and Kelly Rohrback, who stars as C.J. Parker, seems to have fun in her performance. Alexandra Daddario, who is reminiscent of Saved by the Bell’s Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, also delivers a solid performance. Eric Steelberg’s cinematography is effective, despite the inclusion of some dodgy CGI sequences. There was also a humorous meta-line of dialogue delivered by Johnson referring to High School Musical when repeatedly insulting Efron’s Matt Brady.

Unlike the minimal positives, there are a plethora of negatives. Every joke falls flat and it’s as if the film is dedicated to pubescent teenage boys with the film’s ‘humour’ trapped in an early-noughties straight-to-VHS teen-movie time warp. The nerd and hot girl has been done so many times in the past and Baywatch does nothing to improve that with C.J. (Rohrback) and Ronnie (Jon Bass). The film’s plot is laid out so early and you can correctly guess each move a character will take next. The film’s antagonist attempts to be a satirical portrayal of a baddie, but it’s another misstep. This character also has to deliver clunky lines of dialogue that the writers assumed to be clever and witty, but again, it’s misjudged.

Baywatch should have been a perfect summer film but it fails to make you laugh when there are numerous efforts to make you laugh. It fails to keep the ‘surprises’ surprises. There are the obvious thrown-in cameos by David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson which bear no impact, especially the latter’s. It’s a film that had plenty of potential to deliver, considering the talent of cast it was working with, but an audience will find the film entertaining. Namely pubescent boys who’ll ogle at swimsuit-clad ladies and laugh at crude ‘humour’.

Has Baywatch managed to successfully navigate a tv-to-film crossover? Not in the slightest. It’s beyond disappointing and will undoubtedly feature in many ‘Worst of 2017’ lists.

Liam Hanlon

116 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Baywatch is released 26th May 2017

Baywatch – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

DIR: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg • WRI: Jeff Nathanson • PRO: Jerry Bruckheimer • DOP: Paul Cameron • ED: Roger Barton, Leigh Folsom Boyd • DES: Nigel Phelps • MUS: Geoff Zanelli • CAST: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has spawned a fifth film in its series with Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (or the better-named Dead Men Tell No Tales in other countries). Johnny Depp returns as the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow, who has previously ruined the lives of Captain Salazar’s (Javier Bardem) crew by trapping them within the Devil’s Triangle, where Salazar and his men eternally become human/zombie-like hybrids. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), from the previous At World’s End, is forced to live on the shipwrecked Flying Dutchman at the bottom of the ocean floor, but his son Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is determined to break the curse and reunite with his father. Astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), whose profession sees her accused of witchcraft, has attempted to research and locate the elusive Trident of Poseidon in uncharted waters for most of her life, but this Trident becomes the central aspect of this film as it’s what the primary characters desire for its power to control the sea and ability to reverse all sea curses.

This fifth edition is inevitably predictable. If you’ve seen one film, you’ll understand how each Pirates of the Caribbean film sails. Firstly, Johnny Depp was once Oscar-nominated for his performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. Although, his fifth time impersonating Keith Richards becomes a little too on the nose and is now a character suffering from the law of diminishing marginal returns. The film’s antagonist usually has a vendetta against Captain Sparrow, which Bardem’s Salazar does. Salazar and his not so merry men, with the aid of superb visual effects, look menacing, but there is no real villainous streak to these villains. Unlike his previous antagonist roles in either Skyfall or No Country For Old Men, Bardem’s Salazar is forgettable. Previous villains such as Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa, who has a twee bit-part to play in this instalment, were far more successful in their menacing portrayals in other instalments.

New characters such as Brenton Thwaites’ Will Turner and Kaya Scodelario’s Carina Smyth are decent, but their presence feels required to simply advance some plot points, as well as to permit certain cameo appearances by former cast members. The most-anticipated cameo appearance is that of Sir Paul McCartney playing Jack Sparrow’s Uncle Jackie. Keith Richards declined to return to the franchise and it’s now the turn of Macca to adopt a pirate’s life in a cameo appearance that’s not as cheesy or distracting as one may expect or fear. It’s the overall plot that should be feared due to its predictability, as well as its regressive female gender politics. It may be a film about pirates, yet Carina Smyth unnecessarily falls victim to the ‘pirate male gaze’ and it diminishes her importance in the film.

One positive of the film is that the plot gathers pace at a good speed and the film doesn’t drag along, despite its two-hour running time, and the viewer is successfully transported to the film’s world. The overall cinematography is immersive and the visual effects are expertly-used when appropriate. Co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg have hinted that this world may be revisited for future instalments. Amongst the mass franchise releases each year, Pirates of The Caribbean, much like Salazar’s Revenge’s plot itself, needs to discover something to reverse the curse of its failing critical acclaim and popularity if further additions are greenlit. On the basis of this instalment and potential future instalments, perhaps Disney should consider a Muppets Treasure Island sequel instead.

It’s a perfunctory film to pass some time, but Pirates of the Caribbean is another series suffering from franchise fatigue and it needs to be put to bed or somehow find a fresh lease of life.

 

Liam Hanlon

128 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is released 26th May 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge  – Official Website

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Review: The Lost City of Z

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DIR/WRI: James Gray •  PRO: Dede Gardner, James Gray, Dale Armin Johnson, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner • DOP: Darius Khondji • ED: John Axelrad, Lee Haugen • DES: Nigel Phelps • DES: Jean-Vincent Puzos • MUS: Christopher Spelman • CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller

Charlie Hunnam stars in James Gray’s The Lost City of Z as famed British explorer Percy Fawcett. Adapted from a book of the same name, The Lost City of Z explores the discovery of an undiscovered civilisation by Percy Fawcett, who was sent to South America on a mapping mission by the Royal Geographical Society whilst working in the British Army. Fawcett, along with a team including aide-de-camp Henry Costin and a native South American, trek down previously-unchartered areas surrounding the Amazon. After enduring the attacks of local Amazonian tribes with some casualties to his team, the native South American guides Percy down a new route where he discovers antiquities he believes belong to a lost, or undiscovered, civilisation.

 

Percy returns home to England to dismissive reactions about his new Amazonian discoveries. The dismissals encourage Percy to return to the Amazon and he is determined to discover further evidence of a place he calls “Z”. His return visits to the Amazon are either curtailed or postponed due to the interference from certain members within the Royal Geographical Society and, as a member of the British Army, Percy is faced with returning to England to participate in World War I. Percy also must face leaving his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and his children for several years as he travels to South America. Yet, Percy Fawcett is resolute in his raison d’être, which is to further explore Z and its lost civilisation.

 

The Lost City of Z, despite a running time of 141 minutes, does not feel long. If anything, it’s too short. James Gray has created immersive worlds throughout the narrative, primarily the Amazon sequences, and cinematographer Darius Khondji must be acknowledged for these on-screen immersive experiences. There are two sequences in particular that are reminiscent of Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and Apocalypto. Percy leads his men to war in a sequence that is directed as effectively as Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, with both cinematically capturing the hardship and gore of war. There is also a sequence involving an attack from an Amazonian tribe towards Percy’s ship, and without any 3D special effects, it appears as if you’re on the Amazon dodging every tribesman’s flying arrow.

 

Hunnam delivers an effective portrayal of Percy Fawcett. His delivery of some lines of dialogue is over-the-top, but Hunnam allows you to believe in Percy’s personal mission in discovering further evidence of Z, and the determination is captured within Hunnam’s characterisation. Sienna Miller, despite her minimal screen time, is engaging as Percy’s wife Nina. Nina has suffered alone whilst her husband explores the Amazon and there is a poignant moment where Miller, with the assistance of one falling tear, personifies the inner turmoil of the character. Tom Holland also makes a small but memorable appearance as Percy’s older son. Robert Pattinson, whose character could stand in for a John Lennon lookalike, was underused in the film, mainly to ensure that this film is primarily Percy Fawcett’s.

 

Another minor complaint of The Lost City of Z is that the Amazon sequences make up a small portion of the running time. However, upon reflection, this is a clever tactic employed by James Gray. Percy Fawcett wants to return there throughout the narrative, yet the time he spends there isn’t enough for him in his quest of discovering a lost civilisation. He wants more, and the viewer can share and empathise in his frustration. The score is also beautiful with similarities that could be best be described as a coming together of Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar and Jóhann Jóhannson’s The Theory of Everything scores.

 

Percy Fawcett lived through difficult times and this film may present a contemporary allegory, one which encourages you to not sacrifice determination and hope in spite of the turbulent times you may live in. Percy is an admirable human being and The Lost City of Z does him justice, as well as James Gray creating a visually arresting film and a stunning piece of cinematic magic.

Liam Hanlon 

140minutes

15A See IFCO for details

The Lost City of Z is released 24th March 2017

The Lost City of Z – Official Website

 

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Review: Beauty and the Beast

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DIR: Bill Condon • WRI: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos • PRO: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman • DOP: Tobias A. Schliessler • ED: Virginia Katz • DES: Sarah Greenwood • MUS: Alan Menken • CAST: Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Emma Watson

Following the success of Disney’s previous live-action reboots of animated films, such as 2016’s The Jungle Book, it’s now the turn of Beauty and the Beast to receive the live-action treatment. With established directors at the helm of these reboots in the past, including Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella in 2015, Bill Condon is in charge of giving a new cinematic lease of life to the Oscar-nominated animated picture.

The story essentially remains the same with Belle (Emma Watson) living life in a small-minded French village that considers her odd for her literacy. Belle grabs the attention of ultra-narcissist Gaston (Luke Evans) and he intends on marrying her, despite her repeatedly rebuffing his proposal efforts. Maurice (Kevin Kline) is Belle’s reclusive inventor father and he leaves to attend a market, but his journey is interrupted when a fallen tree blocks his path in the woods, leaving him and his horse to venture down an eerie cold path. There, Maurice encounters a pack of wolves that leads him upon entering a mysterious castle where he is then kept prisoner by the castle’s owner, who happens to be a beast.

Maurice’s horse returns to the village leading Belle to this castle. Belle discovers her father in a cell and meets the Beast (Dan Stevens) for the first time. She agrees to become his prisoner in exchange for her father’s freedom. Whilst in the cell, Belle engages in conversation with some of the castle’s objects, including a talking candelabra and clock. The castle is under a spell from an enchantress and the Beast must find love before the last petal of a red rose falls or he will remain a beast for eternity. Under Lumière’s (voiced by Ewan McGregor) influence, Belle is suggested as being “the one to break the spell”. Beauty and the Beast then explores the burgeoning romance between Belle and Beast, despite him being her captor.

Firstly, Bill Condon has to be commended for his exceptional direction of the early choral pieces in the first act, where we first meet Belle, as well as Gaston’s egotistical sing-song in the village pub. These sequences contain lots of movement, yet they are executed and choreographed to perfection. The visual effects are also stunning. ‘Be Our Guest’ is played out to a spectacular array of colours and it’s such a treat to the eye. There are a few new songs, accompanied with songs from the original animation, that don’t work as much as the originals. The Alan Menken and Howard Ashman originals remain a joy to hear and the original supporting cast, such as Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen) and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), are brought to life on-screen expertly through their updated CGI appearances.

These supporting characters are almost too good for Beauty and the Beast, with them stealing every scene they feature in. McKellen, a Bill Condon regular, is the perfect voice for Cogsworth, and has some of the funniest lines and moments in the film, especially in the final sequence. Ewan McGregor somewhat struggles with his clichéd French accent, but Lumière remains a great character much like the animation. Luke Evans as Gaston was the casting agent’s greatest move. He brings a subtle element of humanity to the character along with the self-flattery and narcissism. Of course, Gaston’s loyal sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad), is given an energetic and much-publicised ‘gay’ re-telling by Gad.

The supporting cast are the main highlights of Beauty and the Beast, which is worrying when the film is primarily about Belle and the Beast. Watson and Stevens deliver solid performances, yet it’s the supporting characters that offer the majority of the film’s humour and memorable moments, and this is the dominant flaw of the film. The much-revered ballroom dance scene from the animated film is re-enacted to less effect here, which was disappointing considering previously well-executed sequences in the film. Its predecessor is paid homage to throughout the narrative, although new narrative plot points, such as Belle’s search for information about her mother, feel out of touch and unnecessary. It is disappointing to have the lead characters overshadowed by secondary characters, but, much like the original, there are numerous characters that will undoubtedly favour different audience members. The romantic fairytale, humour, and dazzling special effects are present for younger viewers, but there’s plenty on offer for older viewers, such as the witty dialogue.

Beauty and the Beast remains thoroughly enjoyable, despite the Stockholm-syndrome romance, and, much like La La Land, this reviewer exited another cinema screen in 2017 feeling uplifted after what was just seen. It takes a good film to create uplifted emotions and this film excels in that regard. If you pardon the pun, Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time, but it’s a tale that will again capture the imaginations and hearts of viewers young and old alike.

Liam Hanlon

129 minutes

PG See IFCO for details

Beauty and the Beast is released 17th March 2017
Beauty and the Beast – Official Website

 

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ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: Photo City

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Liam Hanlon looks through the lens at John Murphy and Traolach Ó Murchú’s Photo City, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

Photo City is a new documentary by John Murphy and Traolach Ó Murchú, which was selected to feature at ADIFF 2017 as part of the Reel Art scheme. This documentary explores the concept of photography, especially its influence in the town of Rochester, New York. Home to Kodak, Rochester is “the image capital of the world” and Photo City closely examines how photography has shaped the lives of Rochester natives, as well as the negative influence of Kodak’s eventual decline as photography entered the digital age.

Murphy and Ó Murchú benefit from using multiple Rochester natives to discuss their personal relationship with photography, including a man using photography to capture his wife’s life with cancer, to an underprivileged teenager awarded a college scholarship with the assistance of community photography classes. Each participant has their own respective personal story to tell and they all share in the fact that each story is related to photography and how living in Rochester has formed that photography-related story. These stories become pivotal to the success of the documentary and contribute to a charming and poignant overall message.

It isn’t as simple as pressing a button and an image is captured; these individuals are obsessed with an art form that has captured the imagination of the Rochester population. The decline of Kodak is established as a main narrative feature, but becomes more and more irrelevant as the documentary progresses. This is due to the expertly-chosen individuals that grace the screen throughout Photo City’s running time. Photography is about the people who capture images and dedicate their lives to it, which is evident from those featured in the documentary. There are juxtapositions between older and younger participants using different photography devices, yet their passion for the medium is shared.

Kodak’s downfall in Rochester led to economic decline, which is highlighted in the documentary, but the directors have to be commended for not choosing to not solely explore Kodak. It’s reminiscent of Michael Moore’s Roger & Me, with the closure of General Motors plants in Flint, Michigan, but the two documentaries about two specific American cities are vastly different. Photo City’s overall tone is more positive, despite some of the participant’s backgrounds, and it offers more hope. Especially the female participant who suffered from domestic violence and homelessness, yet persevered and married another participant. Both are photography-obsessed and it was touching to see people progress in their lives despite setbacks. There is a sense of positivity in the Rochester air, in spite of the turbulent economic atmosphere, and Photo City beautifully captures that.

A special mention has to be awarded to Photo City’s director of photography Keith Walsh for portraying Rochester in an optimistic light, notably the final sequence involving a community photography event featuring the Kodak tower. The only minor negative of the documentary is that some participants don’t have the same effect as others who deserve more screen time, but it does highlight how far-reaching photography is in Rochester.

Overall, Photo City is an effective and fascinating documentary which deserved its Reel Art submission. Murphy and Ó Murchú treated Rochester and its residents with respect and Photo City is the perfect way to document that respect.

 

Photo City screened Tuesday, 21st February 2017 at 6pm at the Irish Film Institute as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival. 

 

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Review: Monster Trucks

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DIR: Chris Wedge • WRI: Derek Connolly • PRO: Mary Parent, Denis L. Stewart • DOP: Don Burgess • ED: Conrad Buff IV • DES: Andrew Menzies • MUS: David Sardy • CAST: Lucas Till; Jane Levy; Frank Whaley

Having directed previous animated films such as Ice Age and Robots, Chris Wedge has now created his first live-action film with Monster Trucks. Lucas Till plays Tripp, a teenager disillusioned living in a small town, dreaming of a bigger and better life elsewhere. Tripp’s town is home to an oil rig belonging to a major corporation called Terravex. The corporation attempts to drill deeper at the town’s site to extract more oil, but encounters a significant problem. Three creatures escape from the newly-drilled area and wreck the site. Terravex contains two of these creatures, but one escapes.

Tripp, working alone in a scrapyard, encounters the rogue creature and the pair somehow bond. Their bonding session is interrupted when Terravex’s team arrive at the scrapyard to retrieve this creature. The creature hides in Tripp’s car and the Terravex team leave, but become suspicious of Tripp. What Tripp doesn’t know is that this creature can hide inside the car, but also drive it at high speeds with its body. Tripp and the creature, newly-renamed Creech, then embark on an adventure to avoid the evil clutches of the Terravex corporation.

On the basis of his previous works, Chris Wedge’s output is dedicated towards a younger audience, and Monster Trucks is definitely a film for younger cinemagoers. On the surface, this film boasts impressive CGI for the character of Creech, as well as the chase scenes and stunts, which should delight younger viewers. The film’s overall message is positive, especially in this type of film genre, and should educate audiences about environmental issues such as the abuse of nature by oil companies lusting for profits at the expense of others.

CGI aside, this film is quite lacklustre. Derek Connolly’s script is devoid of any real character arcs and the emphasis is placed upon the action scenes. Some lines of dialogue are beyond cringeworthy and it’s a familiar turn from Connolly, as his co-written script for Jurassic World experienced the same problems where dinosaurs and high heels overshadowed the film’s human characters. Lucas Till’s Tripp is poorly fleshed out and there’s meant to be this desire to leave town, but is never touched upon after he mentions it in the first act. There is also an embarrassing attempt at a clichéd absent father storyline, which falls laughingly flat.

Tripp is also wrongly-casted, as Till is in his mid-20s and there is no believability in the teenage Tripp. There are also fleeting appearances from Danny Glover and Rob Lowe. The latter plays an antagonising figure, but literally becomes another incorrect casting decision.

This film is designed for younger viewers and should appeal to them. Although, Monster Trucks is reminiscent of E.T., with a similar storyline of an alien creature discovered by a human, befriending them, and then avoiding those attempting to seize the creature. For young and old alike, E.T. is full of wonder and awe that can delight any audience. The same cannot be said for Monster Trucks which worryingly had its release date delayed several times since 2015.

Despite its multiple negatives, Monster Trucks boasts fantastic CGI effects for Creech, and this will aid its overall plot in earning a positive reception from its target market.

Liam Hanlon

104 minutes
PG (See IFCO for details)

Monster Trucks is released 3rd February 2017

Monster Trucks  – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Review: Live By Night

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DIR: Ben Affleck • WRI: Patrick Ness • PRO: Belén Atienza • DOP: Oscar Faura • ED: Jaume Martí, Bernat Vilaplana • DES: Eugenio Caballero • MUS: Fernando Velázquez • CAST: Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougal

Live By Night, based on a novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, is Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort since 2012’s Argo. Initially based in 1920s Boston, Affleck plays Irish-American Joe Coughlin (pronounced “coff-lin”), a former soldier-turned thief who describes himself as an ‘outlaw’ in a city divided by two rival mobs. With the aid of inside information, Coughlin and his team earn a living by breaking into bars and poker matches and steal available cash, without displeasing the mobs. Yet, he risks danger with the Irish mob, run by Albert White, by embarking on a secret relationship with Albert’s girlfriend Emma (played by Sienna Miller). Albert becomes aware of their secret and uses Emma to trap Coughlin, whose death is prevented by the arrival of police seeking Coughlin’s arrest for the death of three policeman after his last bank robbery.

Coughlin spends three years in prison and, upon his release, forges a relationship with the Irish mob’s Italian rivals, led by Maso Pescatore, to seek revenge against Albert White. Moving to Tampa in Florida, Coughlin is now in charge of Pescatore’s rum-running business, and diminishes Albert White’s similar business in the process. Coughlin strikes upon a new deal on behalf of Pescatore with the local Cuban gang, and also falls in love with one of their bosses, Zoe Saldana’s Graciella. Tampa becomes a new success for the Pescatore gang, and Coughlin, but that success is then interrupted by the police chief’s preacher daughter, Albert White’s gang, and pressures from Maso Pescatore. Live By Night then sees Coughlin negotiating to resolve the multiple problems facing him, whilst attempting to stay alive in the process.

Firstly, Live By Night looks visually stunning with its cinematography by Robert Richardson, especially when the film moves to Tampa, and Richardson beautifully captures the landscape. The score, especially in the first act and during the action sequences, evokes memories of Hans Zimmer’s score for The Dark Knight, but Harry Gregson-Williams has contributed music that impressively compliments each sequence within the film. The majority of the cast deliver solid performances, especially Elle Fanning, who seamlessly transforms from innocent Hollywood actress-wannabe to evangelical preacher. Yet, her time on-screen is insufficient, as was the case for other characters such as Coughlin’s father, who was played by Brendan Gleeson.

These insufficiencies are a result of Live By Night including too many characters without much development. Both Maso Pescatore and Albert White fail to be feared because their characters are thinly-spread out across the film. Changing location from Boston to Tampa becomes problematic as there are too many sub-plots breathing for air throughout the exhausting running time, and some are bizarrely resolved, especially one involving Emma. The screenplay is also written by Affleck and the source material may have been difficult to adapt, but there is simply too much going on and it’s evident. There are also dubious accents to be heard, especially Sienna Miller’s ‘Irish’ accent, and even Coughlin’s Bostonian accent makes cameo appearances when it wants to.

The overall plot is too disjointed and too long, which was a problem for other Prohibition-era films such as 2012’s Lawless. However, there are interesting sub-plots if you isolate them, such as Elle Fanning’s Loretta Figgis and her father Irving, played by Chris Cooper, dealing with their religious beliefs. The Boston and Tampa locations don’t gel, and again, if they were standalone pieces, their effect may have been greater. Live By Night may work had it been adapted for a television series and used its plot for greater dramatic effect with multiple episodes, such as the excellent Peaky Blinders, which shares similarities with the film’s plot.

This film will not become a highlight of Ben Affleck’s directorial or acting career – with its plot and absence of significant character development, Live By Night is a disjointed mess.

Liam Hanlon

128 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Live By Night is released 13th January 2017

Live By Night  – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Gold

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DIR: Stephen Gaghan • WRI: Patrick Massett, John Zinman • PRO: Patrick Massett, Matthew McConaughey, Michael Nozik, Teddy Schwarzman, John Zinman • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: Douglas Crise, Rick Grayson • DES: Maria Djurkovic • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard

Inspired by true events, Gold is the latest film by director Stephen Gaghan since 2005’s Syriana. This latest release stars Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey as down-on-his-luck businessman Kenny Wells, who is struggling to keep the family-run natural mineral business afloat after his father’s passing. Kenny’s troubles become forgotten when one night he dreams of a jungle forest in Indonesia that’s laden with gold. Pawning off his partner Kay’s (Bryce Dallas-Howard) jewellery, Kenny travels to Indonesia to meet up with geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez) to discuss the viability of turning his dream into reality.

 

Acosta agrees to assist Kenny in his pursuit of gold, which almost fails. Kenny falls ill with malaria and then recovers to hear the news that the dig has been successful and gold has been discovered. Kenny and Acosta attract new investors and the former’s Washoe Mining Company becomes listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The company becomes an enormous success, until a rival industry interferes in the marketplace and the success dwindles. Kenny then attempts to salvage his once-again ailing company, retain his honour, and prevent his diminishing relationship with Kay from ending all together.

 

Firstly, with a running time of 121 minutes, Gold covers a lot of ground. Yet, its main problem is that it covers too much within that time and the frenetic editing prevents the fleshing out of certain plot points that should contribute greater dramatic effect to the film. Events such as Kenny’s father passing or his ailing relationship with Kay are skimmed over, carrying no dramatic weight in the process. The film’s introduction is too expository and Gold becomes almost too televisual. However, as the story progresses, the clumsy first act is ignored and the plot becomes more concise and effective.

 

Gold would fail without its leading man. McConaughey carries this film with his performance. His method acting approach, with him gaining weight and a resulting beer belly, contributes to the dishevelled character of Kenny Wells. He makes you sympathise with, and support, his character throughout the film. McConaughey now adds this sense of believability to each of the characters he portrays on-screen. Kenny becomes reminiscent of the McConaughey-portrayed characters in both 2014’s Dallas Buyers Club and the first season of HBO’s True Detective. Each character is determined to achieve their respective goals, which is aided by McConaughey’s incredible portrayal of that character. Edgar Ramírez delivers a solid performance as the mysterious Acosta, as does Bryce Dallas-Howard, who unfortunately is underutilised in Gold.

 

A special mention has to be given to music supervisor Linda Cohen for including songs that, on paper, would not compliment this film, but they do. Gold features a late ’70s/’80s soundtrack including the likes of Joy Division, New Order, Orange Juice, and a great version of ‘This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)’ by Talking Heads. There is also an impressive Golden Globe-nominated original song titled ‘Gold’, which is performed by Iggy Pop. The film unfortunately failed to include Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’, but the soundtrack is solid enough without it.

 

Overall, Gold begins on not such a good note and its editing and failure to focus and expand on specific plot points lets the film down. Despite this false start, the film delivers towards its conclusion. That delivery is a result of McConaughey’s performance and director Stephen Gaghan should consider himself very lucky to have enlisted McConaughey, who saves this film from becoming an overall disappointment. Gold becomes a shining example that the ‘McConaissance’ was not a fluke.

Liam Hanlon

120 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Gold is released 3rd February 2017

Gold – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Sully

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DIR: Clint Eastwood • WRI: Todd Komarnicki • PRO: Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall, Allyn Stewart • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Blu Murray • DES: James J. Murakami • MUS: Christian Jacob, Tierney Sutton Band • CAST: Tom Hanks,  Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney

Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial offering is Sully, which is based on the incredible true story of US Airways Flight 1549, which landed on New York’s Hudson River on January 15th 2009. Sully stars Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg, who somehow defied all odds to safely avoid a catastrophic outcome to his aircraft, which suffered from dual engine loss after a bird strike seconds after take-off. Sully explores the 208 seconds of Flight 1549’s flight time; the outcome of the plane landing in icy waters; saving the lives of the 155 passengers and crew; and the post-traumatic difficulties Sully endured. Eastwood includes the NTSB investigation that occurred after the incident where the judgement of Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles, played by Aaron Eckhart, are questioned.

Everyone knows the outcome of this story. Sully landed the plane on the Hudson River and there were no casualties. Despite this, Eastwood has created a stunning and immersive film where you are almost a passenger on that flight, but also in the mindframe of Sully himself. The scenes on-board became a nauseous experience for me, having seen an IMAX screening of the film, but it’s crafted in a manner that places you in every part of the plane, as well as the icy waters of the Hudson River. Eastwood has created a non-linear narrative and he chooses to include segments of the flight throughout its running time, instead of devoting an entire act to the flight. There are also brief flashbacks to Sully’s early piloting career and his skill as a pilot.

Casting Tom Hanks as Sully is a safe, but trusted, move. With Hanks, Eastwood was in safe hands characterising the pilot. His performance as Captain Sullenberg becomes a significant highlight of Sully and Hanks shines throughout. It’s a nuanced performance, but like contemporaries such as Michael Fassbender, Hanks says so much without saying anything. His eyes become the outlet of Sully’s inner mental state. Sully is an experienced pilot and we can see the experience from Hanks and his eyes. There is one scene in particular where Sully looks out at the New York skyline and Eastwood captures a trapped, claustrophobic person lost amongst everything before him. With these pieces of direction twinned with Hanks and his eyes, the weary nature and inner struggles of Sully are expertly brought to life on-screen.

The one problem of the film, however, is the inclusion of sub-plots. There is a father and his two sons who almost miss the flight and then lose each other as all passengers flee from the plane once it lands on the Hudson. It detracts from the overall plot and obviously was included to highlight a human element of the story, but it simply doesn’t work. Also, Sully’s family feel shoehorned into the narrative, despite the always-reliable Laura Linney cast as Sully’s wife. Although, he’s much removed from them as they are from the overall narrative, as Sully had to remain in New York for the post-flight investigation and media appearances. Yet, Sully’s relationship with his family doesn’t appear credible in the film.

Overall, Sully works on many levels. The visual effects and set constructions are more than impressive and this assists in creating the immersive and vicarious nature of Sully. Clint Eastwood deserves praise for not creating an over-dramatic retelling of Flight 1549; instead he has created a solid piece that deserves Academy Award recognition. Tom Hanks deserves the most plaudits for presenting a powerful characterisation of a man that has become a legend. Most importantly, Sully allows us all to acknowledge that Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg is an incredible individual for his heroism on January 15th 2009.

            Liam Hanlon

95 minutes

12A (See IFCO for details)

Sully is released 2nd December 2016

Sully – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Review: Bleed For This

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DIR/WRI: Ben Younger • PRO: Bruce Cohen, Ben Matthew Empey, Noah Kraft, Pamela Thur, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Chad A. Verdi, Ben Younger • DOP: Larkin Seiple • ED: Zachary Stuart-Pontier • DES: Kay Lee • MUS: Julia Holter • CAST: Miles Teller, Katie Sagal, Aaron Eckhart

Inspired by a true comeback tale, Bleed For This stars Miles Teller as former boxer Vinny Pazienza. From the opening sequence attending a weigh-in in a leopard-print thong, it becomes obvious that Vinny isn’t your regular boxer. He’s overly-confident and his ego is fed by those around him, but this hasn’t transferred to wins in the ring. After losing another fight, Vinny seeks new tutelage from Kevin Rooney, played by Aaron Eckhart, who had previously coached Mike Tyson and is struggling with alcoholism. Kevin urges Vinny to fight in a heavier weight class, and this encourages Vinny to dedicate himself further to his sport, and he inevitably wins at his next appearance in the ring.

Despite his latest success, Vinny unfortunately breaks his neck in a car crash and his hopes of boxing, as well as ever walking again, are initially dashed by his doctor. Bleed For This then devotes the remainder of the film to Vinny’s recovery process and his difficulties in accepting his injury and the road to recovery. The comeback story enters full flow and Vinny is determined to enter the ring one more time and upset the odds that were placed on him to never fight again.

Another addition to the ever-expanding boxing film genre, Bleed For This includes regular conventions and cliches which have been used several times in the past. It’s difficult not to imagine Rocky Balboa during the film, especially when there’s a scene of Vinny running in a grey tracksuit á la Rocky running up the ‘Rocky Steps’, and this is an issue both viewers and director Ben Younger have to deal with. Of course, there are similarities with Raging Bull with a biopic of a real-life professional boxer. Martin Scorsese serves as an executive producer for Bleed For This, and Ciarán Hinds, who plays Vinny’s father, does his best to impersonate Robert DeNiro. Unfortunately, this impersonation detracts from Hinds’ overall performance and he becomes a DeNiro caricature act.

There is a great physicality to the film and this becomes one of the film’s overall highlights. You can feel each punch delivered in the ring, which is assisted by incredible sound mixing, but Miles Teller also assists with his own delivery. He enables a vicarious experience where it feels like you suffer along with him in and out of the ring. Teller, in Whiplash, delivered an incredible physical performance that is hard to match, but here he delivers another supreme physical performance.

Teller also underplays the boxer and doesn’t over-exaggerate the egotistical side of Vinny Pazienza. He’s flashy and brash, but there is also a delicate and fragile side of Pazienza, which Teller exposes. It’s also an interesting characterisation in the current era of MMA and Conor McGregor, where Pazienza would be instantly consumed and dismissed by the Irishman. There is also an aspect that these professionals are used and exploited by managers and promoters for financial gain. Vinny’s manager Lou Duva, played by Ted Levine, says that boxers like Vinny are simply cogs in a machine, and due to his injury, Vinny could be replaced by another cog. It was an interesting piece of dialogue that highlighted the harsh realities of the boxing industry.

Overall, Bleed For This is an enjoyable film. Its third act makes up for a slightly sloppy start where the film seems as if it doesn’t know what direction to take. Some characters are wasted in the film, such as Katey Sagal as Vinny’s mother, who is only present to clutch rosary beads. Miles Teller, however, is on form and he is becoming one of Hollywood’s most-promising talents, making up for his turn in that reboot of Fantastic Four.

The major problem of Bleed For This remains that it has plenty of competition from previous boxing movies and it may not stand the test of time compared to other genre entries. Although, it does deliver a solid punch.

 Liam Hanlon

161 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Bleed For This is released 2nd December 2016

Bleed For This – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Paterson

paterson_film

DIR/WRI: Jim Jarmusch • PRO: Joshua Astrachan, Carter Logan • DOP: Frederick Elmes • ED: Affonso Gonçalves • DES: Mark Friedberg • MUS: Carter Logan • CAST: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Helen-Jean Arthur

Following 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch’s latest addition to his oeuvre is Paterson, with Adam Driver starring as its titular protagonist. Paterson centres around Paterson, from Paterson, New Jersey, and his daily routine as a bus driver, boyfriend, and amateur poet. Paterson wakes up every day after 6am; walks to the bus station; writes poetry before his shift; returns home to his girlfriend; walks his dog to the local bar and stays for only one drink. This daily routine becomes the primary narrative of the film and how Paterson’s daily routine becomes interrupted by small, yet significant events, during the course of the film.

 

The film focuses on Paterson and his poetry, and the encouragement he receives from his enthusiastic girlfriend Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahani, to fully believe in and promote his poetic artistry. This poetic emphasis is also evident in the flow of Paterson’s two hour running time. Jarmusch follows a certain poetic rhyme and meter for the seven days of Paterson’s on-screen life. Gradually, the daily routines are impacted with an event that disturbs the titular character, but also the poetic meter of the film itself.

 

Jarmusch begins the film with Paterson waking Laura up and she reveals that she dreamt about the couple raising twins. Twins become a recurring feature throughout the film, as some sort of poetic couplet, but there are then examples of phrases or words said by Paterson or other characters that are then coincidentally repeated by another character in front of Paterson. Jarmusch also couples or twins characters throughout the film that immediately juxtapose the differences between the characters. In the case of Paterson and Laura, the former quietly goes about his poetry and daily routine, whereas Laura possesses a much louder personality and is proud of her artistry. Although, Laura does unfortunately delve into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory encouraging Paterson to further pursue his poetry.

 

Each cast member is ideally-suited to this film, especially Adam Driver as Paterson, whose performance is subtle and nuanced, whereas Golshifteh Farahani gives a vibrant performance as the effervescent Laura. A special mention has to be given to Marvin the English bull terrier, who’s a scene-stealer, and becomes a pivotal factor in disrupting the rhythm and meter of Paterson’s routine. Nellie, who was Jim Jarmusch’s dog, excellently played Marvin, but sadly passed away shortly after filming.

 

Paterson’s cinematography is another positive aspect of the film, and was stunningly captured by Frederick Elmes, who has previously worked alongside visionaries such as David Lynch. Having captured the strange suburbia within Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Elmes assists in highlighting the poetic beauty Paterson from Paterson sees within his hometown, which permits Paterson to soak up inspiration from the town and its people for his own poetry.

 

Some cinemagoers may find Paterson slow and uneventful, but it’s the changing poetic meter within each of the seven days of Paterson’s life that forms the narrative of the film and which justifies its running time. Jim Jarmusch has created a truly poetic film about a promising poet. His cast delivers and it’s a stellar performance by Adam Driver as Paterson, the bus driver from Paterson. Although, Paterson is about much more.

Liam Hanlon

117 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Paterson is released 25th November 2016

Paterson– Official Website

 

 

 

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