Cinema Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

DIR: Stephen Daldry • WRI: Eric Roth • PRO: Scott Rudin • DOP: Chris Menges • ED: Claire Simpson • DES: K.K. Barrett • Cast: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow
A film like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is going to be marmite – people will either love it and defend it from its detractors or others will see it as a callous, shallow attempt to pull at emotions in order to elicit a response. It’s very difficult to draw a line between one or the other with this film. On the one hand, it’s a poignant story of dealing with loss and making sense of a harrowing experience. On the other, it’s an annoying, saccharine-ridden heap that feels like it’s playing on people’s experiences and weaknesses. It entirely depends on the viewer and their own prejudices and cynicism.

The story centres around Oskar Schell (newcomer Thomas Horn), a young Jewish boy from New York who is in mourning over the death of his father, played by Tom Hanks. Set one year after September 11, he stumbles upon a key in his father’s closet that he believes to hold significance for him. He sets about meticulously planning and conducting a search of the city in an attempt to find what the key fits and, in doing so, how all New York has dealt with the atrocity. Along the way, he meets a variety of characters – including Max von Sydow in, arguably, the best role he’s taken on in the past ten years. Playing Oskar’s mother is Sandra Bullock in a very reined-in performance, the same goes for Viola Davis who plays one of the people Oskar interviews about the key. Eric Roth, the screenwriter, is no stranger to mawkish and over-sentimental works – just watch The Postman or, to some degree, Forrest Gump. Again, of course, this is down to the viewer and their own cynicism levels. Some may find Schell’s monologues about the trauma of that day heart-rending and genuinely upsetting. Others may see it as bare-faced blackmailing of emotions.
Stephen Daldry’s direction is assured and polished and he is able to convey just how much New York was affected by the events. He also works well with both Thomas Horn and Max von Sydow. The relationship between the two is heartwarming, but again, it does take some very sharp turns into cliched-ridden messiness. Thankfully, von Sydow’s performance is strong enough that even when the young Schell isn’t particularly delivering in a scene, his gravitas more than makes up for it. It says a lot about an actor like Max von Sydow that he can portray any number of emotions with a single glance or look. Time and age has given him a stillness that can’t be trained and imitated – it is his experience that comes to the front in this film. Likewise, Tom Hanks is able to take an extended cameo and make it seem believable that a child would that adversely affected by his loss. It’s tough to place an entire film on the shoulders of an untested actor, particularly a child actor. The entire film rests on their performance and whether or not you buy it. With Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, it’s a mixed bag. You do empathise with Horn’s character, however some of the voice-over monologues are particularly grating and it does almost feel exploitative. It is an unashamed tearjerker, but it does feel like it’s trying to be more than what it is – almost as if it’s saying that America should have gotten over it by now, the same way this child did. People deal with grief in very different ways – it isn’t always so Oprah Winfrey / Dr.Phil as this, unfortunately.

Brian Lloyd

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is released on 17th February 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close  – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_quK9SEGYE

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Robin Hood

Robin Hood

DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: Brian Helgeland, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris • PRO: Russell Crowe, Brian Grazer, Ridley Scott • DOP: John Mathieson • ED: Pietro Scalia • DES: Arthur Max • CAST: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt

They say every nation gets the government it deserves, and if that adage is true, no one told the plebs of middle England, ca. sometime ages ago. In Robin Hood, we are thrust into a turbulent world of medieval political upheaval – was there any other kind of medieval politicking? – in a dark and gritty adventure that would make Errol Flynn blush. Men in Tights it ain’t. And if every generation gets its own twist on the famous yarn, then director Ridley Scott has served this one well.

Robin Hood sees the copper fastening of the myth into historical and political context in a daring interpretation from Scott. Sandwiched between the murky and bloodthirsty reigns of Plantagenet kings Richard The Lionheart and John of England, what we have here could be dubbed ‘Robin Hood: The Backstory’. And it works.

Opening with warmongering Richard’s demise on a French battlefield, we are given a flavour of the man that would be Robin Hood. Russell Crowe plays archer Robin Longstride, replete with fortitude, loyalty and moderate charisma. When he stumbles on the vanquished king’s aides ferrying the crown back to England, he and his merry men’s fortunes take a turn for the better.

Entrusted with returning a family heirloom to its owner by a dying aide, the gang sets off on its merry way – with the king’s crown in a satchel for good measure – to relay the news of the monarch’s demise and to make good on Longstride’s promise. Events soon lead them to Nottinghamshire, where Robin goes on a journey of self discovery, not to mention an unscrupulous turn of identity theft. It is here that we begin to see the myth in its embryonic form. There are shades of the man that would be credited for all eternity as ‘robbing from the rich to give to the poor’, but here we see a Robin preoccupied with the politics of the day.

The usual suspects are all present and correct, with a curious sense of anticipation as to how events will lead to the hijinks in the forest with which we are all so familiar. A few battles, and some serious rewriting of history, later – Robin Hood writes the Magna Carta anyone? – and things come into focus nicely.

Russell Crowe turns in a competent display as Robin of the hood, although his accent darts back and forth across the Irish Sea quicker than a harlot’s drawers down the local alehouse – just ask Little John and the boys about that one. Suffice to say they were all a good deal merrier for their trip to Nottinghamshire. Cate Blanchett is excellent as the haughty Maid Marion, an iron maiden in more ways than one, while Oscar Isaac’s portrayal as the petulant and absurd King John is also enjoyable.

Increasing taxes to fund wars on foreign soil that the populace has no interest in is an age old tale, and it is fitting that such a scenario sets the backdrop for a story as enduring as this one. Some things never change, and it seems our obsession with the story of the do-gooding archer from Sherwood Forest is one of them. Well worth the admission fee this one.

Shane Kennedy

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Robin Hood
is released on 14th May 2010

Robin Hood – Official Website

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Shutter Island

Shutter Island

DIR: Martin Scorsese • WRI: Laeta Kalogridis • PRO: Brad Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Martin Scorsese • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams

There are 2 ways to approach Shutter Island – one is as a masterfully constructed cinematic homage; the other is as a return by Martin Scorsese to the overblown schlock fest of Cape Fear. As always, the truth is somewhere in between.

Shutter Island reunites Scorsese with the scowling, cherub-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio has certainly improved in his Scorsese-muse role over the years as he admirably battles to play roles beyond his features. Woefully out of his depth in Gangs of New York, he went on to just about hold his own in The Departed. In Shutter Island, Di Caprio comes of age somewhat, putting in a strong lead performance as U.S. marshal, Teddy Daniels, who comes to the island’s Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane in order to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates. Once on the island with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), Daniels is soon wrestling with his own personal demons as well as the case at hand.

As well as the inmates, Shutter Island is haunted by the presence of the likes of Val Lewton, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. Scorsese lashes it on thick as he crafts this popcorn pot-boiler and directs the camera mixing his own visual trademarks with twitching nods to cinematic legends.

Scorsese pulls rabbit after rabbit out of his director’s hat as he cranks up the atmosphere to match the apprehension and sense of foreboding menace on the island (beautifully designed by Dante Ferretti) as Daniels becomes deeper and deeper involved in the goings-on of the mysterious asylum and his own past. Scorsese is a master of manipulation and Shutter Island allows him to integrate his passionate love of cinema with his mastery of direction to create an ominous feast of claustrophobia, paranoia and terror that at times can leave you breathless.

And yet, the centre can’t hold. To invert a classic phrase, Shutter Island is an example of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. The film suffers as the substance struggles to compete with the style. There are too many forced scenes that exist merely to cater for the overly signposted, unsatisfactory ending. On top of this, there are too many bluffing scenes that struggle to engage and at times just seem completely out of place. The film is way too long as Scorsese seeks to make an epic out of what is essentially a B-movie. If he’d trimmed the fat off here and trusted a tighter screenplay, he, and we, would have had a much better film. As it is, Shutter Island is what it is: a master craftsman doing manual labour. I was told that Lacanians love it – whatever that means…

Steven Galvin

Rated 15A (see IFCO for details)

Shutter Island is released 12th March 2010

Shutter Island – Official Website

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