Review: Mary Queen of Scots

DIR: Josie Rourke • WRI: Beau Willimon • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward • DOP: John Mathieson • ED: Chris Dickens • DES: James Merifield •  MUSIC: Max Richter • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden

Like everything at the minute, Mary Queen of Scots seems to have been tragically sucked into the vortex of politics. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned storytelling? Where people were inspired to write characters they were invested in? Where the characters were organically driven by a need within themselves to attain a goal, and who struggled with their own natures? When and where did it all disappear? And for what?

Behind the mesmerizing performance of one of the best leading women of her generation, Saoirse Ronan, and a spellbinding performance by Margot Robbie, this film is let down by a lacklustre script. It’s forcefully driven by political ideology and no matter how well intended, that ideology does not honour the history faithfully, it’s imposed on the story, and secondly and even more importantly, it doesn’t serve the characters honestly. The first I could accept to a degree, but the second, I can’t.

Mary Queen of Scots marks the theatrical debut of director Josie Rourke, who displays a sophisticated understanding and command of craft, but ultimately she’s bound by the limits of the material. The screenplay was adapted by the exceptionally talented Beau Willimon. Beau Willimon’s writing on ‘House of Cards’ really captured the biting subterfuge and ruthlessness needed in the political sphere, as did The Ides of March, but in these examples, he didn’t force ideology or theme, it always derived organically from the hearts of the characters on screen. But for some reason on this occasion, in Mary Queen of Scots, this process appears to have been reversed and it’s hard for me to interpret the characters here as anything other than the singular voice or opinion of the author or authors. It doesn’t feel honest to me, it feels contrived. My expectations for this film were really high given the historical story and the calibre of the talent involved. The cast is rounded out by powerhouse actors like Margot Robbie and Guy Pearse, but, in the end, it’s a film driven by an agenda that is removed from character and story.

I think all filmmakers have an obligation to be socially responsible and explore complex themes and question the world we live in, but not by imposing historical falsehoods that reflect how we want the world to be. We can’t change history just because we don’t agree with it, there’s nothing honest about that. The social structure presented in Mary Queen of Scots deviates from factual history to a degree where it really damages a more powerful story about an iconic power battle between two exceptional women. If we’re going to learn anything from cinema, then we need a cinema that stares history in the face, that looks at complex characters with unflinching honesty, and, that without ever saying, it tells us, ‘You know what we screwed up back then, we didn’t do it right, and we’re still not doing it right, but maybe we can someday,’ that to me at least has some measure of power, some basic honesty.  When I think of the really great dramas that do that, I think of the likes of Schindler’s List, Dog Day Afternoon, and Lawrence of Arabia. These are fearless films that transcend craft, defy gravity and inspire countless generations, and they do so with bravery and integrity. But sugar coating the past and imposing concepts onto characters seems little more than artifice.

 

Michael Lee

124 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Mary Queen of Scots is released 11th January 2019

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Favourite

DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara • PRO: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Yorgos Mavropsaridis • DES: Fiona Crombie •  CAST: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

The Favourite just might be Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ crowning achievement. Lanthimos initially garnered recognition for his acclaimed film Dogtooth, and has successfully built on this with follow-ups  Alps, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

The Favourite is a monstrous regal satire set during early 18th-century England. And like any Lanthimos film, The Favourite is a strange creature, yet in many ways, it’s probably his most accessible and endearing. We’re immediately brought into a world built on a foundation of royal pomp and carnivorous manners, which lend to the presiding absurdist comic tone. But underneath the veneer of aristocratic fashion and elaborate dances is a world of barbarous cruelty, betrayal, cunning, and cunnilingus. In short, very quickly everything we think we know about the period film is subverted through the brutal absurdity of Lanthimos’ deranged vision.

So it’s the 18th century, and while England is at war with France, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is bedbound, and her closest friend and council the Duchess of Malborough Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs on her behalf. But this loyalty and love is a subterfuge for the Duchesses’ own quest for power. The Duchess is intent on continuing the war if it guarantees her personal advancement, and will even go as far as to tax the Queen’s people. But the Duchesses’ desire is at odds with esteemed trailblazing Tory and landowner Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who is disgruntled by the proposed land tax and tries to persuade the Queen of this. Of course, then along comes Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), a disgraced relative of the Duchess, whom she begs for work.  Abigail impresses the Duchess and rises quickly up the ranks. But when Abigail’s desire earns the favour of the Queen too, this brings the Duchesses’ ambitions into doubt and puts her at odds with Abigail.

 

The script was crafted by writers Deborah Davis and Tony Mcnamara. It’s a  crazed work of royal madness that seems to strike straight to the heart of the zeitgeist. The script is toxically comic, the comedy is opulent yet fiercely dark, but there’s a richness to the absurdity which keeps it grounded in a clear emotional reality, even when logic seems to go out the window.

The savagery of Lanthimos’ vision is served honourably by his confidant in arms, Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Ryan’s cinematography injects a distinct sense of chaos and disorder into the aesthetic decorum and pomp of the 1700s. Together Lanthimos and Ryan boldly shape a perspective of the past that’s grossly distorted, both literally and metaphorically, and the film towers because of it.

The performances are staggering and endearingly comic. Rachel Weisz brings an intoxicating wickedness to her role as the Duchess, and Olivia Colman radiates a triumphant ignorance and warmth as Queen Anne. And then there’s Emma Stone, who just kills it, and brings a fierce sense of charm and duplicity to Abigail. Lanthimos really seems to have struck gold with The Favorite; it’s a terse tale fit for the chaos of the times that’s unrepentant in its originality, it’s like a cross breed of Barry Lyndon meets Doctor Strangelove with perhaps a bit of David Lynch thrown into the mix for good measure, go check it out.

Michael Lee

119 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Favourite is released 1st January 2019

 

 

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Review: Suspiria

DIR: Luca Guadagnino • WRI: David Kajganich • DOP: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom • ED: Walter Fasano • DES: Inbal Weinberg • PRO: Bradley J. Fischer, Luca Guadagnino, David Kajganich, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Marco Morabito, William Sherak, Silvia Venturini Fendi • MUS: Thom Yorke • CAST: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick

Luca Guadagnino catapulted to acclaim when he directed the startling coming of age drama Call Me By Your Name, about an American teenager confronting the nature of his sexuality. Suspiria is his eagerly awaited follow up, itself a remake of the cult Dario Argento horror movie. But Guadagnino’s film, by contrast, is a car crash, and not even the lilting beauty of Thom Yorke’s masterful score can save it.

The updated film follows Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) as an addled teen from the American deep south who ventures to Berlin to escape her Christian upbringing and study at the prestigious Markos Dance Acadamy. Suspiria brings us into a duplicitous world where under the exterior of reality lies a menacing truth. It’s a world where fantasy and reality are at odds with one another and where characters are gradually lured further and further into illusion.

Suspiria is a film lost in its own arrogance and ego, and it’s a shame because its impossible not to acknowledge the potential for a really fresh psychological horror film to have been made here. By all accounts, the updated setting of Berlin 1977, and the political and social backdrop of RAF bombing are seriously great ideas, that really could have elevated it from the original Suspiria, but sadly these ideas are never fully utilized. From the very first scene, this is a film that tries to establish itself as an intellectual work or comment, but there’s no authentic connection or any clear thematic throughline, so the movie implodes under the weight of its own self-imposed seriousness. David Kajganich’s script is sprawling and lacks any coherent thematic focus, its a script so overcooked with intellectual ideas that it loses sight of a simpler more honest approach.

In terms of its visual aesthetic Suspiria excels. Shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, whose masterful lighting creates a profound sense of unease and horror. His work is complemented further by the production design by Inbal Weinberg, which really encapsulates that period in post-war Berlin, the cold muted colour palette of Berlin is nothing short of oppressive.

Susie Bannion is played by Dakota Johnson who brings a yearning desire and sexuality to the part. By contrast, Tilda Swinton plays Madame Blanc with an unsettling mix of militant hostility and affection, she also plays Dr. Klemperer and Helena Markos. They’re supported by a highly dynamic and versatile cast, which includes Chloe Grace Moretz and Mia Goth, among others. The performances are highly impressive, at times they’re death-defying and electric, but ultimately the cast is let down by an emotionally stilted script.

Overall, the use of violence is gratuitous and without any merit, had it been in service of a fully developed story and characters it wouldn’t have been an issue, (Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is a great recent example). But there are no real characters here, just flat caricatures sugar-coated with fake blood and overwrought concepts, and no one with a heart that beats could ever really care about them.

At its core its a film about the cost of illusion, and about how our search for meaning and value is often compromised by investing belief in illusions and desires. But ultimately the script is far too muddled to make this clear. The writer and director, seem to have mistaken abstraction for a lack of emotional clarity, this is a false assumption. Ingmar Bergman’s use of abstraction in cinema has never been bettered, he was a genius, and that’s partly because even when he presented us with something that didn’t make logical narrative sense like in Persona, it made clear emotional sense. This inherent understanding is totally missing at the heart of Suspiria, which is why anyone trying to find deep meaning in it should be wary, or at the very least skeptical. Beneath the guise of its own stylized aesthetic, this film struggles to find any real meaning and it does so at the expense of the audience’s engagement. This isn’t some serious comment on feminism, or motherhood or anything else, this is a film so absorbed in the concept of its own greatness, that it loses sight of its own theme, until it withers and dies on screen before us.

Michael Lee

152 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Suspiria s released 16th November 2018

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Review: You Were Never Really Here

DIR/WRI: Lynne Ramsey •  PRO: Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, Lynne Ramsay, James Wilson  DOP: Thomas Townend • ED: Joe Bini • MUS: Jonny Greenwood • DES: Tim Grimes• CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Dante Pereira-Olson, Larry Canady

Lynne Ramsey earned acclaim when she forged a startling psychological drama about the reasonability of parenthood We Need to Talk About Kevin. And after what seems a long hiatus You Were Never Really Here marks Ramsey’s piercing return to cinema, and solidifies her as one of the most potent cinematic forces working today, with a perilous uncompromising vision. The film deservedly earned Ramsey best screenplay and Joaquin Phoenix best actor at Cannes, where the film received much acclaim.
 
Joe waddles down the hotel corridor with blood still under his nails. The approaching sirens wail through the walls. He cracks open the emergency exit and disappears into the cold wet night. Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is an addled gulf war veteran employed as a hitman of sorts. He’s experienced in finding kidnapped victims and bestowing brutal violence on those responsible. In You Were Never Really Here Ramsey has carved out a visceral, hallucinogenic collaboration with Phoenix.
 
The film brings us into the heinous underground world of sex trade. The story is set in motion when the Senator Albert Votto’s daughter Nina is kidnapped. But at its core, this is an intimate character-driven story about the fate of a veteran turned vigilante who seems beyond salvation. A man whose very soul is plagued by the horrors of an abusive past.  His very existence has become one of numbness. And all his efforts are strictly focused on anesthetizing the violent thoughts which haunt him, with acts of merciless violence. But any brief solace the violence offers him must be short-lived, as his consciousness sinks further down into the darkest depths of an abyss of bitter loneliness. His efforts to save Nina from her abusers are, in reality, the battle cry of man’s final attempt to reclaim his consciousness.
 
Ramsey creates a highly subjective experience with her visuals largely mirroring the rocky instability of Joaquin’s Veteran Joe. Everything is calibrated to character and story and consequently loaded with textured sensual images which assist in putting you in Joe’s worn down shoes. You can smell the blood dripping from the hammer, and the dirt, slime, and sludge of the cave-like alleyways and the shadowy annals where evildoers lurk.
 
Joaquin Phoenix is omnipotent, and his performance has an unparalleled fierceness and richness. He inhabits Joe’s submerged heart with an ironclad commitment, bringing a sorrow and gentleness to his otherwise violent nature. This is Joaquin at his best, his most ripe, offering up every fibre of honesty in his bones to the gods; and what’s bestowed upon us is nothing short of a treasure. And Ekaterina Samsonov’s turn as Nina is the perfect counterpoint to Joaquin, bringing a real vitality and light to all the darkness. Phoenix and Samsonov are accompanied by a powerful cast of performers including John Doman, who brings a formal warmth to his character John McCleary, and Alex Manette as Senator Albert Votto, among others.
 
In many ways You Were Never Really Here is an existential genre movie in a similar vein to the early works of Scorsese, Michael Mann and Peckinpah in the 70s. The film wields a bubbling anger and hostility which ultimately gives way to a brutality and bloodlust. The film explores a world of endless vice and corruption, which has a sickening reach and transcends apparent social boundaries, from the slime of the gutter to the polish of government. And much to her credit Ramsey lures us down into the depths of Hades, into the nitty gritty urban underbelly of the beast; and brings us through the chaos and out the other side. It’s a perilous self-sacrificing enterprise, and Ramsey commits wholly in her direction. But make no mistake, it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s a barbaric cinematic feast. In the end, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a shot of straight vodka; it burns the throat, but reassures you that your heart’s still beating.

Michael Lee

18 (See IFCO for details)

89 minutes
You Were Never Really Here is released 9th March 2018

You Were Never Really Here – Official Website

 

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Review: Phantom Thread

DIR: Paul Thomas Anderson • WRI: Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan  PRO: Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar  DOP: Paul Thomas Anderson • ED: Dylan Tichenor • MUS: Jonny Greenwood • DES: Mark Tildesley • CAST: Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville

There’s an otherworldly air to the storytelling. Prophetic writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has forged a gothic romance out of a haunting embrace between two souls; and which by means of either alchemy or witchcraft, has been engraved in celluloid for all eternity. We’re invited into the world of esteemed middle-aged couturier Reynolds Woodcock, during the post-war period of 1950’s London.

Reynolds’ (Daniel Day-Lewis) forces the comb back through his silver and peppery strands of hair. His stone face basks in the morning light. He adjusts his glasses on the rim of his nose before pulling his socks up over his shins. Fully dressed and standing authoritatively at the top of the stairs, Reynolds overlooks the middle-aged women in white coats, as they climb up winding flights to set to work with needle and thread. And Reynolds passionately leads the charge when he isn’t governing employees, or giving orders. The daily inner workings of the illustrious ‘House of Woodcock’ are precision based; it’s a mysterious clockwork operation designing regal garments for the nobility and wealthy patrons of the upper classes. Reynolds treats the work with an unyielding religiousness and zealousness.  And while his efforts have been bountiful in the arena of career, they’ve been less so in the arena of the heart. His romances are never more than fleeting carefully orchestrated affairs. They’re managed by his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who’s militant in her casual formal dismal of Reynolds lovers. She brazenly warns him when it’s time to get rid of any romance that strains his concentration. Cyril is Reynolds allegiant comrade, and why wouldn’t she be? As Reynolds says “Cyril is always right.”

The success of Reynolds artistry is founded on a ruthless commitment to the habits and behaviors he’s established over the course of a lifetime, which shield him from change in his iron-clad enclave in London. His ‘House’ of Woodcock is in its own way a fortress, walling enemies out, and trapping those he depends on inside. It’s a world built upon layer upon layer of etiquette and routine, but beneath Reynolds’ silken visage and venomous bite, there’s an aching loneliness and isolation at his core. However while on a spontaneous break to the countryside, Reynolds meets Alma (Vicky Krieps) and as they’re thrust together she reignites the cold embers of his deadened heart, at least until he begins to tire of her.

Daniel Day- Lewis’ incarnation of Reynolds Woodcock is utterly magnetic, the subtlety and restraint of his performance imbue his character with a dynamic sense a power and weakness. Vicky Krieps is a rarefied gem giving Alma a heavenly compassion and an emboldened wildness. And Lesley Manville’s performance is charged with a riveting electricity and wit, for which she’s been more than deservedly nominated for an academy award.

Anderson offers us a glimpse at the mystique behind the fabric of Reynolds and Alma’s lives, and it is breathtakingly hypnotic. Phantom Thread is a cinematic tapestry, richly textured and hand-woven. On this occasion, Anderson had more direct involvement with the cinematography, and who with the assistance of his trusted gaffer and camera assistants established the distinctive look of the film. The rustic grain and nuanced color palate help immortalize the haunting English landscapes in winter light. There’s nothing humdrum, or run of the mill about it, every single shot is a ravishing sensory feast, and a lush measure of masterful composition.

This is elevated by the exuberant production design. There’s a rich intimacy created by everything from the furnishings and textures, to the molten embers that compliment sedate fireside seductions. And then, of course, there’s the lively colour and pomp of the Chelsea New Year’s Ball. But it would be impossible to write this review without mentioning the glorious Mark Bridges, whose costumes are so integral to the identity of the film; if he doesn’t score an Oscar for this, it’s nothing short of a gross injustice.

All in all, Anderson’s arresting vision is amplified by a haunting romantic score from Mr. Johnny Greenwood. And Johnny Greenwood serves a twofold score that brings a hallucinogenic potency to lush romantic strings. There’s an inseparable union created between the score and the drama, more so perhaps than in any other Anderson film, indeed over 70 percent of the film has score.

And when it comes to the heritage of Phantom Thread, Anderson proudly wears his references on his sleeve. He openly acknowledges that this film, in particular, stems from a rich lineage of gothic romances; such as Gaslight, Hitchcock’s Rebecca, and the David Lean films Brief Encounter, and The Passionate Friends.

The film is perhaps marked by another powerful influence; the work of Max Ophuls, whose distinctive romantic tragedies are infamous for their dynamic movement and their portrayal of women. At the heart of Ophuls’ work is the thematic question of the cost of the illusion, which certainly comes into play here too. Phantom Thread is a film that ultimately looks at the cost of maintaining our dreams and our passions, and how our happiness is possibly built on the necessity of illusions. Phantom Thread is a spiritually woven drama, marked by the gentle violence of tactile performances, and the distinctive vision of a master craftsman; it’s spellbindingly sublime cinema. It’s tantamount to cinematic transubstantiation and Anderson and Day-Lewis deliver, turning blood to bread and water to wine, leaving us all but paralyzed.

Michael Lee

15A (See IFCO for details)

130 minutes
Phantom Thread is released 2nd February 2018

Phantom Thread – Official Website

 

 

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Review: It Comes at Night

 

DIR /WRI: Trey Edward Shults • PRO: David Kaplan, Keetin Mayakara, Andrea Roa • DOP: Drew Daniels • ED: Matthew Hannam, Trey Edward Shults • DES: Karen Murphy • MUS: Brian McOmber • CAST: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo

It Comes at Night kicks off with a piercing dosage of horror, that accelerates with masterful subtlety, heightening tension and walking a directorial high wire with great finesse.  Trey Edward Shults’ second feature clarifies a visionary talent, whose distinctive mixture of narrative discipline and cinematic restraint is a cathartic antidote to the present. The film is something of a cinematic rebirth for mainstream horror, ripping apart every ounce of superficiality, right down to the bone, leaving us with only the raw taste of horror. Veins flow, arteries throb, and hearts scream, exposing a cloud of paranoia. This is America, the land formerly known as the land of the free, now a Hades, a ghostly plane, where the diseased and the desperate seem destined to walk, and die alone.

In the half-light, two figures breakthrough branches and greenery, their appearance more alien than human. Their faces hidden behind gas masks, eyes darkened, voices muted.  They’re dragging something. The withered body of an old man. He’s barely still breathing. They throw him into a freshly dug hole. They look at him remorsefully, his skins putrid, sickly, and covered in sores. His eyes black, venomous.  Bubonic fluid dripping from his lips. One of the masked men douses him in petrol and sets him ablaze.

As they sit around the dinner table, Paul consoles Travis over the loss of his grandfather.  He was sick, Paul says, he could have infected everyone. Paul lives by a brutally conservative code to ensure his family’s survival. But Travis isn’t entirely convinced; he’s more liberal-minded than his father.  Sarah, Paul’s partner, just wishes their son didn’t have to participate in the killing, and tells Paul as much. Now it’s just the three of them. They’re living in seclusion in a forest, totally off the grid, hundreds of miles from the nearest town. It’s a suffocating existence behind boarded-up windows, with confined sleeping quarters and limited food supplies. They’re totally sheltered off from the world, but there’s no choice. There’s something in the air, a disease, a virus. It comes at night. There’s no antidote, no cure, no hope. They haven’t heard from the outside world since the outbreak, all they can do is survive, waiting for the rapture. Unless something comes for them first.

This is potent subjective filmmaking, which boldly brings the audience into an enclosed domestic war zone like no other. Shults and his cinematographer, Drew Daniels, use highly functional cinematography that’s bound to the soul of character and story. They succeed in creating a visual palette which is masterfully subtle, and that is felt rather than noticed. The visual style is further complemented by Brian McOmber’s score, which is an unnerving delight. The arrangements constantly create suspense and elevate the story, adding a heightened sense of spirituality and religiousness to it.

Joel Edgerton wields the fiercest performance of his career as Paul, the domineering patriarch. While in contrast, Kelvin Harrison Jr. brings a warmth and humility to Travis. And Carmen Ejogo dances frantically between love and fear with a raw maternal drive.

Trey Edward Shults carves out a claustrophobic, atmosphere to die for, inviting us straight into the heart of darkness, where law and order have broken down, and lawlessness, thievery and murder reign supreme.  And in these desperate times, desperate people are driven to bloody mercilessness carnage. Often compromising the very values they pertain to support. At its core, the film harbours a pressing theme; if we’re too brutal, the cost is our humanity, but if we’re too idealistic we won’t survive, so what’s the cost of survival? The film seems to yearn for a rational balance between these two realities. Shults has crafted a beautifully intelligent psychological thriller, where the most monstrous and horrific thing is ourselves.

Michael Lee

91 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

It Comes at Night is released 7th July 2017

It Comes at Night – Official Website

 

 

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A Second Look at Alien: Covenant

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Michael Lee enters an uncharted planet and makes a terrifying discovery. 

The Covenant is hurtling silently through the vacuous abyss of space. It’s a colonization mission carrying over 2000 embryos to a planet surrounding a distant star. All the crew are frozen deep in hypersleep, while the artificial Walter (Michael Fassbender) keeps control of basic mission duties. During routine protocol the ship is struck unexpectedly by violent turbulence. Glass shatters and rains, sparks fly. Walter tries to maintain control of the situation, but the ballooning complexity necessitates emergency procedures.

Daniels (Katherine Waterston) opens her eyes pushing herself out of the cool chamber, to an onslaught of piercing alarm bells and flashing lights. There’s been an emergency wake up from hypersleep. Nauseous, disorientated and anxious she catches her balance and pulls herself out to face unforeseen horrors. Crew members desperately try to pry open a hypersleep chamber. They’re trying to free the captain, who’s engulfed in flames inside. Daniels recognizes her partner and throws herself at it, trying to break her way through, but it’s hopeless. Right from the get-go Daniels is struck with a tragic loss and left in a deadened state of mourning. It’s from here Daniels starts out, and she must salvage whatever strength she can in order to survive.

Oram (Billy Crudup), a self-doubting evangelical type, reluctantly steps into the captain’s shoes and attempts to pull in the reins. It’s quickly determined that an unexpected solar flare caused the tragedy. Shortly after, during the repair operation Tennessee (Danny McBride) comes across an enigmatic radio transmission. Upon further inspection, the transmission is revealed to have emitted from an unknown planet surrounding a nearby star. This planet exceeds the projections necessary for sustaining life, even more so than the crew’s destination planet. Factoring into account the relative distance of their destination and dangers posed by a further 7 years traveling, Oram decides to investigate. But it’s an uphill battle; and he faces disapproval from various crew members, chiefly Daniels who’s doubtful of his motives.

A small expedition craft parts from the Covenant and lands in a mountainous Eden covered with a green canopy of ancient trees. On first appearances the planets by all accounts an island paradise, but when you stop to listen, there’s a deathly silence hovering in the air. The team set off like pioneers; walking through reeds of wheat and into the thick of the foliage. Daniels wearily follows. As they pursue the radio transmission’s origin the Expedition team discover the colossus ruins of an Alien Spacecraft. And from here on out we spiral into the escalating depths of pure horror and carnage.

Since Ridley Scott first brought Alien to the screen in 1979, the series has been a benchmark stylistically. The level of visual richness Scott achieves in Covenant is staggering; he’s built a world in its entirety from the ground up, a fully functioning ecosystem that activates all the senses. It’s a hazy mountainous landscape that brings a fresh sense of texture and location to the series. There’s a razor-sharp crispness to Darius Wolski’s cinematography, which is breathtakingly immersive, inviting us close up and personal into the inner lives of the Covenant’s crew.

Jed Kurzel’s score is dually indebted to Alien and Prometheus, and incorporates key aspects of both compositions. Kurzel shifts with ease from a potent religiousness to a daggering sense of tension and anxiety. In terms of production design, Covenant is nothing short of stellar, Chris Seager’s work is of unparalleled genius. Janty Yates is an otherworldly talent, and once again she pushes the boundaries of costume design, with a masterful subtlety of detail and a measurable sense of realism.

For the Covenant’s crew, Scott’s rounded up a powerhouse cast of players. With her choppy short haircut, Katherine Waterston’s Daniels is undoubtedly the film’s spiritual equivalent to Ripley. She gives Daniels a distinctive femininity that weathers her through the storm. And Billy Crudup brings a sincere vulnerability to Oram. For me it’s Danny McBride’s performance as Tennessee, which is one of the film’s true shining lights; McBride brings a genuine warmth and strength amidst all the chaos and drama. And then, of course, there’s Fassbender. There seems to be a near mysticism to Michael Fassbender’s ability as a performer to wholly embody his character. And what’s more, in Covenant Fassbender does it twice, playing both androids, Walter and David. Fassbender ingrains these characters with clear distinguishable personalities, from the honesty and functionality of Walter to the intellectual arrogance of David. Watching Fassbender spar with himself is hypnotically masterful.

John Logan’s script is certainly a towering step up from Damon Lindelof’s botched effort with Prometheus. And while Covenant is a clear return to form for the series, Logan’s script is none the less hampered by a number of clear drawbacks. Chief among these being the deliberate parallels set up between Covenant and the original Alien. There was a piercing subtlety to the original that ate at you to the core, right down to the marrow. Logan’s script, however, gets weighed down by artifice, and the not so subtle nods to the original film. In many ways, Logan’s attempts to re-live the original are, in the end, more superficial imitation than celebration or homage. Everything in the original film was fresh, and textured, and grounded in a clear emotional reality that developed organically. Alien: Covenant reaches for an uncertain mix of grandiosity/philosophy and horror, and, like the self-aggrandizing Prometheus before it, the film attempts to over-intellectualize itself. Ultimately, it lacks a clear vision of what it’s meant to be. Scott sacrifices the primal horror of the original in favor of a half-hearted, half-winded script, which at times gets bogged down by a deadly contagion of predictable Hollywood cliché.

But even taking all this into account, when the Alien is climbing out of the primordial soup, eyes bulging, mouth twisted, tearing through flesh like a blood-stained dinosaur; my eyes can’t help but light up. H.R Giger’s creation is a creation outside of time, eternally frightening in appearance, shark-like, versatile, and strangely mechanical, Alien is a truly mercurial creature. It’s a product of the darker nature of creation, which seems to somehow perfectly encapsulate our own unconscious fears. Make no mistake, Scott’s nearly 80 and he’s still a stylistic heavyweight, and one of cinema’s rarities, a truly visionary filmmaker, who knows how to keep nerve endings dosed in a constant state of fear. Alien: Covenant is half Prometheus sequel/ half Alien prequel and in many ways, it feels like a missed opportunity, but it’s probably the best Alien film this side of Alien Resurrection or Alien 3; so for now at least I’m happy to chew the fat.

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Without Name

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DIR: Lorcan Finnegan • WRI: Garret Shanley • PRO: Brunella Cocchiglia • DOP: Piers McGrail • ED: Tony Cranstoun • DES: Jeannie O’Brien • MUS: Gavin O’Brien, Neil O’Connor • CAST: Alan McKenna, Niamh Algar, James Browne

Without Name is the hallucinogenic feature debut of Irish director Lorcan Finnegan.  Finnegan comes from a seasoned background in commercial work and shorts, including the acclaimed short film FoxesWithout Name is an Irish psychological horror with strong ecological undercurrents running throughout.

Eric is a surveyor, who strives for order and structure and is highly disciplined and meticulous in certain domains of his life, such as his work. But his personal life is a far more chaotic affair, his marriage is strained; he’s got a lover Olivia (Niamh Algar). As Eric pushes the boundaries of his personal life further, his perceived sense of order is breaking at the seams and into the chaos and uncontrollability of nature, a theme which is at the heart of the film. In this regard, the film is somewhat reminiscent of Ben Wheatley’s historical mind fuck A Field in England, or Lars von Triers Antichrist.

We follow Eric into the forest as he descends from order going on an acidic voyage into the unconscious realm that lurks beneath the surface of waking reality burrowing through the poisonous shrubbery and toxic foliage, down in the dirt. He hovers through the astral plains of his own psyche, and into an abyss of paranoia, a twilight zone of self-loathing and doubt.

Finnegan is clearly a filmmaker of tremendous capacity and vision, and even when it doesn’t entirely work, he doesn’t fail in teasing the promise of his visionary talent. He creates a potent voyeuristic atmosphere which seems to have a stranglehold on the viewer, luring them in, overdosing them with tension. Piers McGrail’s cinematography is a key binding ingredient in the mix. McGrail is on a steady path to mastery, his work gets more refined with each picture, it’s no surprise he’s one of the country’s most sought after cinematographers. McGrail is Finnegan’s brother in arms in helping to serve up the hellish palette of a world that visibly shifts from poisonous to toxic in a heartbeat.

Alan McKenna offers a haunting nerve-wrenching turn as Eric, which makes his trip into the forest all the more traumatic. Niamh Algar shapes Olivia with beautiful subtlety, crafting a performance ripe with portent. The cast is further complimented by Olga Wherly as Eric’s wife and Brandon Maher as his teenage son, who both provide intricately grounded performances.

Without Name was written by Garrett Shanley, and the script is loaded with a treasure trove of heady ideas and images, but for me, one of the biggest drawbacks is that these aren’t always motivated through character and lack the emotional richness which perhaps could have elevated their significance. Without Name, seems to operate by means of tribal mechanics, which at times defy logical explanation but which ultimately seem to leave you pulsating with a never ending fear.

Michael Lee

93 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Without Name is released 5th May 2017

 

 

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Review: It’s Only the End of the World

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DIR/WRI: Xavier Dolan •  PRO: Sylvain Corbeil, Xavier Dolan, Nancy Grant, Elisha Karmitz, Nathanaël Karmitz, Michel Merkt, Vincent Cassel • DOP: André Turpin • ED: Xavier Dolan • DES: Colombe Raby • MUS: Gabriel Yared • CAST: Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard

With It’s Only the End of the World, Xavier Dolan took last year’s Cannes Film Festival by storm winning the Grand Prix award and the Ecumenical award and was nominated for the coveted Palme d’Or. But while Dolan’s previous film Mommy (2014) was hailed a masterpiece, somehow his follow-up, for me at least, doesn’t live up to that kind of hype. It’s not exactly surprising that the critical reaction so far has been mixed to say the least.

Dolan adapted the screenplay from a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce. It’s immediately apparent what drew Dolan to the material with its intricate weave of fractured family relationships. The story focuses on Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), an acclaimed gay playwright, who, in light of his terminal battle with aids, returns home after 12 years absence in order to tell his family. Dolan handles the subject matter expertly, understating the issue just enough to draw us into the enigma of Louis’ mysterious persona. Of course, little’s changed at home and Antoine (Vincent Cassel) almost immediately goes head to head with Louis.

Dolan’s cast is nothing short of exquisite with Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux, Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel and Gaspard Ulliel. Gaspard Ulliel gives a masterful performance as Louis, while Vincent Cassel’s Antoine channels his inner demons and rocks the boat. The beautiful Marion Cotillard is seamlessly perfect as always, she’s the only beating heart within the core of this dysfunctional family.

And with regard to his visual approach, Dolan largely restricts himself to one location and limits the framing, keeping it airtight. There’s no doubt this was a strategy to honour the theatrical nature of the piece and keep the power in the characters’ words and performances. And this approach also supports the claustrophobic fixed nature of the relationships. But by doing so without any significant visual change, it lacks a sense of visual progression, which inevitably makes the film feel slow and reduces the sense of character development dramatically. In Mike Nichols’ critically lauded adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe he opened up the locations of the text. His motivation being that he found the locations in Edward Albee’s text too reductive for the audience, and it also wasn’t utilizing one of the major assets of the form, which is the ability for cinema to go anywhere. And that’s exactly what Dolan is missing here.

Most of the picture is conveyed through medium shots and close-ups, but the usage of these is so taxing and limited that they retain almost no power when the film needs them most. There are a few brief exceptions, such as the opening when Louis arrives, or when he goes for a drive with his paranoid brother Antoine. But none are really long enough to free the film up and give it the breath of fresh air it so vitally needs.

Michael Lee

99 minutes
15A See IFCO for details

It’s Only the End of the World is released 24th February 2017

It’s Only the End of the World – Official Website

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Review: Neruda

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DIR/WRI: Pablo Larraín • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: John O’Connor • DES: Kathy Strachan • MUS: John McPhillips • CAST: Fionn O’Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Andrew Scott

 

I hadn’t seen any of Pablo Larraín’s other films, but I knew who he was, he’s been on my radar for a while. Chinese whispers from so and so said he was a director to keep an eye on. And rumor had it Neruda was pretty good, so with that, I signed up. Neruda marks Pablo Larraín’s seventh feature including NO and more recently the multiple Oscar nominee Jackie.

Set during the early post war WW2 period, the film follows the titular Pablo Neruda, a controversial public figure in Chilean politics.  Neruda was a powerful voice, a strong leftist politician and poet who had the love and respect of the working people. Neruda’s an hypnotic, taxing, dense, moving, poetic, and ultimately rewarding piece of filmmaking if your open to it.  But Larraín doesn’t water the content down for the audience; instead, he manages to keep it potent, and, what’s further still, accessible. He magically filters the experience of this complicated episode of Chilean politics straight through the senses of Neruda himself. Through Neruda we are invited into the world of hip leftist communism, pre-beat trendsetters, artists,  activists, staunch leftists, politicians and criminals, a tight-knit motley crew all together in the hothouse of Chilean history.

When Neruda is designated a threat to Chile by his government who’ve given into American pressure, he becomes a marked man forced on the run. Thus igniting a cat and mouse witch hunt for him throughout Chile. We follow Neruda as he hides out in cramped quarters, and high in hills, banished from public life. We’re presented with the blurry line which defines Neruda between his politics and his poetry. It’s a murky twilight zone but for Larraín it seems clear Neruda is a poet at heart.

Larraín’s perspective on Neruda is an allegorical mythic take and one that paints the man’s life as he lived it, through poetry, lavish beauty, and blind indulgence. And in doing so Larraín paints the myth of a man. Larraín masterfully shapes the film in the guise of a film noir/ detective story and utilizes this set-up as a romantic metaphor drawing the audience right into the man’s heart. The film merges fact with fiction in an act of cinematic alchemy. Larraín isn’t so much interested in a straightforward biographical account as he is in finding the essence of Neruda as a man, exposing his heart and soul and putting it on full display, the good, the bad, and everything else in between.

Larraín’s deft exploration of Neruda exposes the hypocrisy of his political philosophy and his desires which are at moments, at complete odds with one another. One of the most powerful moments for me is a scene in which a woman approaches Neruda in a luxurious restaurant and bitterly points out how removed he is from the plight of the working class. There’s a biting reality to this that seems to, for a moment at least, pierce the rose-tinted romance of Neruda’s vision.

Luis Gnecco illuminates his versatility as an artist, crafting a performance from history, overflowing with the hearty arrogance and bravado romance of the entertainer and provocateur. The naturalism of Gael Garcia Bernal’s characterization brings Oscar Peluchonneau from the path of deduction to the brink of ideological seduction with a candid humor and life.

Larraín’s strengths as a visual storyteller are magnetic to the extreme, his functional sense of composition is energetic and fresh and elevates the narrative to another level. One of the film’s most astonishing, but discrete features is the editorial tempo. Given the complexity of the material, the density of politics and poetry, Larraín masterfully controls the tempo simply, letting the film flow. The inherent value or meaning of the meta element of the story is entirely dependent on this. Pablo’s collaborator cinematographer Sergio Armstrong paints a rich geography of urban and rural landscapes, letting the ghostly snow-covered mountainscapes bleed into the light of our minds.

Pablo Larraín is an unquestionable cinematic visionary, and his only visible weakness as far as I’m concerned is that at times he can’t help reaching for a sense of sophistication and profundity, but it organically derives from the material so he’s bound by this for now, in truth, I’m probably nitpicking a bit. Viva Pablo.

Michael Lee

108 minutes

Neruda is released 21st April 2017

Neruda – Official Website

 

 

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Goodfella: Martin Scorsese in Dublin

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 All Pics: PAUL SHARP/SHARPPIX

 

Martin Scorsese was recently awarded a gold medal by the University Philosophical Society of Trinity College. Michael Lee shines a light.

On the evening of Friday the 24th of February, acclaimed cinematic auteur Martin Scorsese (74) was to be awarded the Gold Honorary Patronage medal by the Trinity College Philosophical society. With some scant research I’d found out, Trinity College Philosophical society was founded in 1683, and is the oldest debating society in the world, and has housed debates from some of the most esteemed and radical intellects over the centuries. Notable members of the society include Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Samuel Beckett. Scorsese had recently been in London where he gave a powerhouse speech to the British Film Institute, and rounding out his trip this side of the Atlantic, Scorsese dropped into Ireland. It was the first time the director had been in Dublin since 1998, when he gave a directing workshop in UCD, before leaving to chair Cannes film festival.

 

With what little sleep I’ve had, I awake with a blast of optimism and wipe the sleep from my eyes. Today’s the day I’m going to meet Scorsese. I can feel it in my bones; I’m going to see a walking talking idol in the flesh, and try to hustle an interview. I stuff my creased edition of the Goodfellas screenplay in my back pocket, grab a biro and race out the front door.

 

I arrive at Trinity a little after 4, which makes me over an hour early for the main event. It’s probably going to be a long haul, but who knows what’s going to happen, or when or where Mr. Scorsese’s going to come from. I’ve heard spontaneity is key, hence my premature arrival. Scorsese had been rumored to take a photo in front of the iconic Campanile bell tower beforehand. But as I walk into the front square he’s nowhere in sight. I wait for a few minutes but decide to take my chances inside the venue first and see if I can catch him hanging around afterward.

 

To my right, there’s a noisy queue of around 200 students queuing up outside the stately looking exam hall. There’s a wild mixture of faces, with everything from gaping grins, to looks of sheer terror, and even boredom. The prospect of having to wait in line filled me with that kind of nervous dread distinctive to queuing for a big event.  What if I don’t get in? How will I write an article? I approach the head of the queue and am speedily directed to the press area. I climb a winding wooden stairs up to an empty balcony and take my pick of the few chairs there.

 

The Trinity exam hall is an austere surrounding, and it’s filled with a sea of function seating. At the end of the hall on what’s like a slightly raised stage or proscenium, there are two large antique chairs set facing the crowd, one slightly more throne like than the other. Decadent renaissance style oil paintings of regal looking intellects hang high on the walls. As they stare out through the canvas with their pompous looking haircuts and curly mustaches, it’s easy to imagine that they are probably former deans or patrons of the college. There’s a freshness to the hall without it being exactly cold. Down below volunteers direct the remaining students and guests to their seats. The crowd anxiously awaits Mr. Scorsese. A biting tension isin the air, an electricity. And every time so much as a footstep or a muffled voice is heard coming in the door, a rapt silence sweeps across the hall and necks creak around at awkward 90-degree angles; only to be brutally disappointed by the sight of college personal. Of course, the collective whispering resumes immediately, charged with a building expectation; until the next footstep, and all sound momentarily stops again.

 

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At 5:45, Scorsese makes his way up the centre aisle, accompanied by an enthusiastic applause. When the clapping finally comes to a close, Scorsese is presented with his honorary medal and he sits down with little fuss, his small figure enshrined by the decorative wooden backing of the throne.

 

The Gold Honorary medal is given to people who have made a profound contribution in their field of expertise. And Scorsese no doubt fits the bill for sure. He’s a multiple Bafta winner, check. Oscar winner, check. Golden Globe winner, check. DGA Lifetime Achievement Award winner, check. And now, Gold Honorary Patronage medal awardee, and soon to be recipient of the John Ford award, check. But it goes further than mere accolades; Scorsese has made some of the greatest American films of the last 50 years; from the biting realism and violence of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas to The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street and most recently Silence. Taxi Driver might have changed my life. I might have been 15 when I first saw it and was just torn apart by the angst and frustration of the Travis Bickle experience. There was a real humanity there, and it struck a nerve. I mean Travis is so lost and confused; you just want to reach out to tap him on the shoulder and tell him, but somehow you never can. And all this is topped off by Bernard Herrmann’s spellbinding score.

 

Scorsese is poised comfortably in the throne; it’s safe to assume that it’s his chair. He’s a man seasoned to public life and clearly knows how to handle it. He looks out at the audience with ferocious enthusiasm. From the balcony, he’s basically a white dot donning thick glasses and a dark suit, but it’s easy to imagine his friendly old face creased with lines of wisdom. And somewhere between the endless clicks of cameras, and spontaneous coughs, I realise he’s already started speaking. But the exam hall’s basically an undesignated echo chamber; so his iconic New York accent literally ricochets off the walls. I try to focus solely in on the sounds of Scorsese’s words, and zone out the excess sounds, which proves kind of tricky so it takes a couple of seconds for me to latch on.

Legendary film director Martin Scorsese pictured being presented with a gold medal by Trinity College's Philosophical Society this afternoon. Martin Scorsese pictured with his daughter Francesca, wife Helen Schermerhorn Morris. The Oscar winner and man behind such classics as Taxi Driver and Goodfellas will then give a speech and take part in a Q&A session.Scorsese's movies have been nominated for a total of 80 Oscars. After being passed over for the Best Director Oscar several times, he finally won in 2007 for The Departed. PIC PAUL SHARP/SHARPPIX Pictured with Trinity Provost Patrick Prendergast and President of Philosophical Society, Mathew Nudding.

The young interviewer, Matthew Nuding, who’s also the President of the Philosophical Society, is seated in the other chair to the left; he addresses Scorsese with a brisk confidence. Nuding notes that while Scorsese always seems to have been drawn by character, he famously stated that The Departed was the first time that he felt he did a movie with a plot. Nuding is keen for the Hollywood legend to elaborate. But when Scorsese talks about it, he emphasises his fascination with the scripts ending. He says he had just come off of two big spectacle pictures in a row, Gangs of New York and The Aviator, and he explains his initial impulse coming out of that kind of experience was to do the opposite. So basically he wanted to try and make something on a simpler production scale, and which was also a chance to experiment with plot.  There’s a traditional type of Hollywood movie that uses plot, and Scorsese felt that he’d never really approached story that way; he’d always worked through the characters. Scorsese expresses his endearing affection for some of these movies, and mentions his lifelong fascination with Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It was with The Departed that he was presented with opportunity to explore this territory.  But Scorsese’s approach to plot in the film isn’t how he normally works as a mode of direction, and this proved challenging in the making of the film. Eventually, he just decided to follow the characters’ perspectives. And his decision worked perfectly, finally bagging him the coveted Oscars for Best picture and Best director. I think the point Scorsese’s trying to illuminate here, is that contrary to how he may have been interpreted before regarding plot; for him plot essentially has to come out of character, and not vice versa, and that in truth they’re inseparable. Of course by now, I really regret not having a Dictaphone or a sound recorder in my arsenal, as every word coming out of Scorsese’s mouth seems to be pure cinephile gold. So I’m winging it and saving as many quotes as I can possibly fit in my trusty old Nokia.

 

Given the current political climate it’s not surprising that Scorsese is asked to address the place of his films in this modern climate. The interviewer ask’s Scorsese point blank how his 70’s films relate to the current political climate “It’s a scary time,” Scorsese openly declares. This is coming from a guy who’s lived through the political nightmares of the Cold War, McCarthyism, Vietnam and Watergate. In reference to the first Gulf War and 9/11  Scorsese says, “I knew it would be a never-ending situation,” which seems to suggest everything from Iraq to the current Middle Eastern crises. He doesn’t skirt around the issue, he answers it honestly and without any sense of fear or negativity. But he courts the issue delicately, as if he doesn’t want to be sucked into the all-consuming political rabbit hole, and it’s hard not to admire him for this. He elaborates a little further stating that, “I like to read a lot of history” and regarding the current climate, “it reminds me a lot of the 20’s and the 30’s”. And for anyone who’s dusted off their old history books, it’s hard to deny a similarity in the global shift towards aggressive right wing politics. Scorsese never states directly whether he’s talking about America alone, or the larger world, logically it’s probably safe to assume both.

 

Scorsese goes on to relate the current mentality to that of Travis Bickle, the tragic antihero of his 1976 classic Taxi Driver. It’s easy to see why; Bickle is the classic outcast figure, a disillusioned Vietnam veteran, who’s completely alone in New York and trying to find meaning. Bickle tries first in the usual ways, through the job and through the girl, Betsy. But when these traditional avenues fail him Bickle wields his anger towards the society that he believes let him down, and sets out to “clean up the filth” through aggressive force. According to Scorsese, “There’s thousands of Travis Bickles” in the world right now. These are, to paraphrase Travis, “God’s lonely men”, the outcasts, the misfits, the angry white men. It’s a testament to the supreme craft of Taxi Driver, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, that it’s somehow, perhaps more pertinent than ever in 2017.

 

On Taxi Driver, Scorsese clarifies that he really got to develop his working relationship with Robert DeNiro, and admits he established a much greater trust with the actor on that collaboration than he did on Mean Streets. Scorsese explains the benefits of this improvement, while recounting how, during the shooting, DeNiro would approach him with new ideas on set before takes, and, after a few times, Scorsese turned to DeNiro and said, “Don’t tell me, show me.” This is emblematic of Scorsese’s sense of collective creativity and his appreciation for film as a team sport. He makes it clear that he wants to be surprised by actors, because those little surprises, the things he doesn’t always think of, or expect, are according to Scorsese, what bring it to life and keep it engaging. Scorsese’s work makes a convincing case for how inclusion of those kinds of actors in the creative process, is extremely beneficial.  He briefly cites Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Departed, and how Leonardo di Caprio opened a car door with his leg in The Wolf of Wall Street before the conversation swiftly moves on.

 

Speaking in relation to what draws him to a script, Scorsese says with an illuminating simplicity, “It has to sound right.” Scorsese highlights that he’s limited by his own personal experience, which he states is local to the North East Coast. “That ear really only goes as far as the north east.” This isn’t exactly a fact that he conceals, repeatedly in interviews he has drawn attention to how his childhood experience in New York shaped him as a filmmaker and is a constant source of inspiration for his films, Mean Streets being a prime example of this.

 

Scorsese candidly admits looking up to cinematic new-wave icons Fellini and Godard and of having aspired to some level of that fame. But he makes it clear there’s a trade-off, a compromise, and that comes at a personal cost. There’s a humbleness to his tone, that seems by means of osmosis to let you know he was talking from personal experience. “Celebrity culture is in a way a serious illness,” and he explains that celebrity poisons people; it eats them up and spits them out, luring them away from meaningful ambitions. In the long run, Scorsese contests, “It’s the work that matters,” and it’s important to aspire to making something meaningful. “It has to come from here”, the man places his hand over his heart.

 

The pressures that arise from the studio and from the concept of celebrity are obstacles created by the Hollywood machine, which Scorsese suggests can compromise your vision, he advises “To not let the machine dissuade you” and emphasises “you just have to keep punching away.” Scorsese’s artistic instincts seem to be aligned with an uncompromising sense of honesty. “Comic book stuff, it’s not for me.” He jokes that they, ‘they’ as in the studio, should keep making movies like The Revenant. His example of The Revenant seems apt, as it’s a big budget studio movie that readily exemplifies how it’s possible to make a commercial film and also maintain a certain sense of integrity with regard to the artistic vision. He briefly alludes to the future of cinema and the complexities of telling stories through Virtual Reality. Scorsese smiles brightly and jokingly muses that, he doesn’t have to worry about it anymore because, “I’m on the way out”. And with that, it’s over and Scorsese’s hurriedly escorted out a back door.

 

Seconds before the crowd begins to disperse, I push by, and race outside. But there’s no sight of Scorsese. I walk around the back of the hall. Security patrol the back, so any chance of meeting the man seem slim to none.  A few seconds later a Mercedes minivan with tinted windows shuttles past. Scorsese no doubt inside. Any chance of an interview now safely up in smoke. I’m hit with a momentary sense of depression before thinking back to his comment on celebrity culture, and briefly consider that this might apply to me, but not exactly sure how,  I decide instead to call it a night.

 

On the 25th of February Martin Scorsese was also awarded, the John Ford Award, by IFTA and John Ford Ireland. The award was presented by president of Ireland and champion of the arts Michael D. Higgins.

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Review: La La Land

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DIR/WRI: Damien Chazelle • PRO: Fred Berger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt • DOP: Linus Sandgren • ED: Tom Cross • DES: David Wasco • MUS: Justin Hurwitz • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Amiée Conn

Only his third film, and director Damien Chazelle seems to be tap dancing all the way to cinematic immortality with La La Land, his follow up to 2015’s jazzy psycho drama Whiplash. Right off the bat we dive into a world of sun-drenched nostalgia, a whirlwind of song and dance, a contemporary throwback to the golden musical days of Minnelli, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and all the good old boys in the musical department at MGM. At 31, Chazelle seems to be the definition of a wunderkind, a pioneering directorial force who’s sparking fresh life into an old genre, and with it, a magical vision of LA.

Los Angeles is a strange dark magical place, city of angels, a mythic land of dreams where anything is possible, and dreams can come true. But more often than not they don’t, and once bitten twice shy, and a loss of innocence is always pretty fertile ground for a good story. Of course, Chazelle knows this, bringing us into a world of heavy hearts with heavy burdens; that all too often get anchored down by the weight of their own dreams.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), in his crisp cotton suit, is a jaded jazz pianist with purist ambitions. His heart’s set on opening a real classical Jazz club, the kinda place Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington would have played in back in the heyday, a celebration of pure Jazz, no funny business. And Mia (Emma Stone) on the other hand is a small town girl with pipe dreams of being an actress. But for all her effort she just hasn’t cut it in auditions. However, a series of serendipitous encounters lead her and Sebastian together. And, as their love for each other blossoms, they’re faced with the prospect of having to compromise their individual dreams. Emma Stones walks the tightrope with ease, giving a nuanced performance that masterfully balances between drama and comedy. This is complimented perfectly by Gosling’s piercing moody blues, which bring you from heart to heartbreak in a second.

Visually Chazelle adopts an overwhelming romanticism, and it’s mesmerizing. Linus Sandgren’s dreamy cinematography sedates and exhilarates, seemingly making the camera waltz across the screen. Chazelle paints in big bright primary colors, adding the story together block by block, forming a whole incomprehensibly greater than the sum of its parts. The characters are carved out masterfully in front of the blazing oranges and blues of magic hour sky’s, which melt into the background, creating a modern spin on the old painted backdrops. The head over heels choreography, twists and turns, sweeping you right off your feet and straight into the next big dance piece, making you want to scream and shout.

Musically La La Land is a never ending gold mine of cascading arrangements, poppy Jazz numbers and lilting melodies. Composer Justin Hurwitz gave my heart an infinite dose of pins and needles with his potent dreamy compositions. And the songs never drift too far away from the rose-tinted longing for the past at the centre of the film. The melancholic song ‘City of Stars’ invites the audience into Mia and Sebastian’s tangled web of hope and sadness.

Chazelle’s greatly indebted to the vast cinematic heritage of mostly Hollywood musicals, but he wears his influences brazenly on his cuff, honoring his heroes with gusto. With obvious points of reference such as A Star is Born, Singing in the Rain and Scorsese’s underrated 1977 musical New York New York. Chazelle openly sings his praises for the realism of Jacques Demy’s groundbreaking french musicals, notably The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,which he confesses is his favorite movie of all time. One of Chazelle’s greatest strengths as a filmmaker is that he always keeps La La Land grounded in a plausible emotional reality, so that even at its most searing narrative heights it always feels real. At its core this is a film dealing with nostalgia, nostalgia for old dreams, old loves, old cities and clearly, for Chazelle, old musicals. La La Land offers a warming, renewing sense of magic and hope in the world, the perfect antidote to all the chaos of the present. In the end it’s an unapologetically bona fide love affair with love and dreams.

Michael Lee

128 minutes
PG (See IFCO for details)

La La Land is released 13th January 2017

La La Land – Official Website

 

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A Second Look at ‘Silence’

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Michael Lee explores Martin Scorsese’s passionate pilgrimage.

Silence is a decadent purging of the soul from American cinema’s most esteemed auteur powerhouse, Martin Scorsese. Well into his seventies and still seemingly at the peak of his powers and punching some seriously heavy cinematic weight. Silence perhaps isn’t the usual fanfare audiences have grown to expect from Scorsese, whose oeuvre is often defined by his more gritty streetwise character driven realism. But the roots of Catholicism/Spirituality have always ran deep throughout the personal cinema of Martin Scorsese, from the moral complications and religious fervor of Mean Streets and The Last Temptation of Christ, to the meditative explorations of Kundun; and Silence is perfectly at home in this tradition.

Silence is a long gestating passion project, which has been lingering in development hell for the most part of three decades and which finally came to fruition in the year of our Lord 2016. It’s an adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s esteemed novel about two 17th century Jesuits in Japan. The script for Silence is keenly labored by the hearts and minds of Scorsese and his frequent collaborator in kind Jay Cocks, who’s also lent his services to such projects as The Last Temptation of Christ, The Age of Innocence and Gangs of New York. This marks Scorsese at his most philosophical and meditative, Silence is a film which is unashamedly centered around the nature of faith and to be even more specific, what does it mean to renounce one’s faith publicly,to apostatize. In all honesty, this is probably going to be a pretty tough sell for mainstream audiences, and a pretty trying theme to explore, but if your prepared to accept the film on its own terms and not the film you want it to be, it rewards richly.

When the film kicks off we immediately set foot into a dangerous world where Christianity is outlawed,and believers are tortured, maimed, and even crucified if they don’t renounce their faith. Icy waves break across limp figures hanging from crosses. Spectators fearfully watch from the cliffs. In the thick of it, in the jungle wilds of seventeenth century Japan, on a clandestine mission driven by faith two Jesuits, Rodriguez (Andrew Garfield), Garpe (Adam Driver), set off to retrieve their enigmatic mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). They become lost in a hostile world, soaked in fear, but bound by their sense of duty and belief. Ferreira disappeared on the missions in Japan, but is rumored to have apostatized, Rodriguez and Garupe cast doubt on this assumption and persuade Father Valignano (Ciaran Hinds) to let them find him.

Andrew Garfield is a terrific actor, and bears a certain naivety or virginal lamb-like quality which seems perfectly suited for the loss of innocence his character undergoes. But somehow he still feels miscast, the role of Rodriguez necessitated an internal psychological battle of faith, and needed an actor of a more introverted caliber who could express the intense magnitude of his faith. No disrespect but this somehow seems beyond the scope of Garfield’s present ability as an actor. Someone like Oscar Issac, or Paul Dano could have done it or even a young Martin Sheen, and it would have yielded a more promising result, perhaps grounding the picture in a clearer emotional reality. Ultimately, Garfield is hampered by a dense tough script, which at times puts theme before character, and which arguably compromises the picture. Adam Driver excels as the taciturn Garupe. Ciaran Hinds gives a steely turn as Valignano. And Liam Neeson is masterfully restrained in his performance as the enigmatic Ferreira, who for all appearances seems to have strayed from the Christian path.

Visually, Silence is drenched in epicness, unfettered in the scale of Scorsese’s vision and almost David Leanean in its scope. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto crafts a cinematic tapestry woven by a master, rich in detail and texture yet retaining a clear visual economy. The rocky coastal faces are stretched out like bodies, the hellish cave’s suffocating, and the haunting dullness of the sky bleaches what would otherwise be paradise. Making it feel like an oppressive limbo, a no mans land between heaven and hell. With regards to music, Scorsese has opted for a sparse minimal score by Kim Allen Kluge and Kathryn Kluge to accompany the film, but really it contributes little to the identity of the film. This seems unfortunate as Silence could have benefited greatly from a score designed to help give insight into the internal struggle of faith for Father Rodriguez and Father Garupe.

At the core of Silence, Scorsese seems to be asking, when reality is at its bleakest and you’re left drifting through purgatory, in the hope of eternal salvation, is it possible to maintain the light of hope in what seems to be total darkness? We’re also given a sense of the struggle of the conflicting philosophical positions of the West and the East. But this is limited by sticking entirely to Rodriguez’s perspective. I suspect giving some more insight into the alternative position could have strengthened our ability to empathize with Rodriguez.

Silence is a film which, at times, lingers in its own profundity, and, in moments, gets weighted down by exposition. But Scorsese is uncompromising in his devotion to his approach, bringing us on an unholy pilgrimage, illuminating the possibility for doubt to not just compromise our faith, but actually to strengthen it. It’s the kind of film I’m really on the fence about, I’ll either love it or hate it, but in my gut I suspect it will hold up much better under a second viewing. If the auteur filmmaking philosophy was two films for the Studio, one for me, then make no mistake this one’s for Scorsese and he’s earned it.

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Review: The Light Between Oceans

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DIR/WRI: Derek Cianfrance • PRO: Jeffrey Clifford, David Heyman • DOP: Adam Arkapaw • ED: Jim Helton, Ron Patane • DES: Karen Murphy • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • CAST: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz

On the surface, The Light Between Oceans, a sombre period-piece, might seem a stark stylistic shift for director Derek Cianfrance, (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines). But make no mistake, contrary to appearances, Between Oceans seems perfectly at home in Cianfrance’s blossoming cinematic canon. The subtle relationship dynamic shifts and strains under the narrative surface, contorting characters’ lives with a masterful subtlety that’s become a distinctive hallmark of Cianfrance’s work.

Caught head-first in the cold breeze climbing up the stairs to the lighthouse. A piercing whistling rings in the ears. Shrapnel cold rain crashes against the face. Tom Sherborne (Michael Fassbender) has been bestowed the temporary post of lighthouse keeper on the Island of Janus by the Commonwealth. Tom’s an Australian veteran of the Great War. He’s anchored by the guilt of his survival and suffocated by a sense of responsibility for his part in the horrors deep in the trenches. Hell-bent on isolating himself from the world, Tom seeks some solace where he can cause pain to no one but himself.  A hundred miles from the nearest person in every direction and walled in by oppressive grey cliffs and rock faces, life on the island Janus is the definition of remote.

But the hours pass slowly if you don’t keep busy. While alone on Janus with nothing but his work and thoughts, Tom develops a powerful infatuation with Isabel; the daughter of his employer, whom he met briefly before his departure. Shortly after, he’s finally offered a permanent post as lighthouse keeper, Tom and Isabel elope and marry and she comes to live on the island. And with Isabel, Tom starts carving out a meaningful path to a salvation he never thought possible. Fate, however, intervenes, driving romance to anguish with a miscarriage, leaving their hearts torn between two worlds on the Island of Janus. Torn between hope and pain, surrounded by a killer sea, whose waves shift from sedate calm to the whips and cracks of slicing violent erosion.

Stylistically the films reminiscent of the haunting sensuality of Peter Weir, with distinct echoes of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Adam Arkapaw’s masterful cinematography utilises a combination of the scenic epicness of David Lean, and the sobering intimacy of Sven Nykvist’s work with Bergman. Arkapaw’s camerawork has a sublime touch that’s always intimate, never overtly epic, and always in service of the characters’ shifting emotional realities. The crisp coastal scenery provides the biting backdrop to the psychic turmoil and vulnerability of characters lost in the sheer chaos of existence. These potent visuals are complimented by Alexandre Desplat’s haunting score. There’s a classicism to Alexandre Desplat’s arrangements which magnifies the romance and idealism central to the film. Desplat’s majestic piano compositions also bring an angelic religiousness to the table heightening the spiritual conflict burdening the characters.

Fassbender excels in establishing a core sense of naivety and vulnerability, and illuminates the seemingly limitless breadth of his talent. Alicia Vikander gives an intoxicating, powerful performance as Isabel bringing an unyielding maternal strength to the role. This is further complimented by a tremendous supporting cast, including the ever gracious Rachel Weisz as Hannah.

With Between Oceans, Cianfrance has crafted a candid sensual exploration of forgiveness, and the complexities of the human condition in arriving at forgiveness. The Light Between Oceans firmly establishes Cianfrance’s deep mastery of the craft, and secures his reputation as a visionary filmmaker with a delicate cinematic touch that’s rarely, if ever seen, magnetic to watch, and deserving of nothing less than celebration

Michael Lee

132 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

The Light Between Oceans is released 4th November 2016

The Light Between Oceans – Official Website

 

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Review: American Honey

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DIR/WRI: Andrea Arnold • PRO: Thomas Benski, Lars Knudsen, Lucas Ochoa, Pouya Shahbazian, Jay Van Hoy, Alice Weinberg • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Joe Bini • DES: Kelly McGehee  • CAST: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough

With Fish Tank, English director Andrea Arnold set herself apart as a cinematic pioneer with a highly naturalistic and poetic vision. American Honey solidifies that vision wholly, proving Arnold to be an auteur of immense talent and scope. She’s a directorial powerhouse, her filmmaking is lucid yet ethereal. It feels more like alchemy than filmmaking, and her process, seemingly mystic, yet it’s always grounded in a devout emotional reality. Her imagery has an emotional charge which seemingly transcends the screen, and the performances she draws from actors are to die for. For Arnold, American Honey is another foray into the world of social realism, the key difference here being, she’s shifted her focus to an exploration of contemporary America.

The films starts off with Star (Sasha Lane), a lonely misfit on the verge of adulthood, who is caught up in a dominating relationship. But through a chance encounter with the enigmatic Jake (Shia LaBeouf), she gets an opportunity to break away joining his Mag crew circus. Through Star we’re quickly ingratiated into the world of Mag crews, crews of teenagers who go door to door, state by state selling dodgy magazine subscriptions. Throughout the film we follow her as she chases the American dream, setting off into the Promised Land in search of love and freedom.

Arnold’s become renowned for her use of street casting and embracing non-actors, and indeed American Honey is no exception. There’s an uncensored rawness to the performances that’s nothing short of highly engaging. First time actress Sasha Lane is immediately catapulted from complete obscurity to international stardom, giving a toweringly nuanced performance. This is complimented by Shia LaBeouf’s ferocious turn as the sweaty, ponytail-wearing hick, Jake.

While much of the film feels improvised it’s always driven by a solid comprehensive story, complete with strong emotional beats and character turns. You can sense Arnold’s unfaltering devotion to the script in the sheer authenticity of the material. There’s not a second on screen that’s wasted, and that doesn’t feel like it absolutely needs to be there. With Arnold it’s immediately clear you’re in the hands of a master storyteller, and with that comfort we’re brought on a highly immersive journey into the unknown in the most organic way possible.

Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s earthy cinematography enriches the depths of the script, and breathes new life into the classic 4:3 ratio. Literally making it a square cage, keeping the characters literally walled in like wild animals. Leaving them scrapping, screaming, pushing at the walls, tearing at the seams; doing anything and everything to burst out. The sun-soaked landscapes are drenched with an ethereal ambience, yet seamlessly retain a biting sense of realism.

This is one of those rare films that’s bordering on extinction, where the distinction between process and theme is near invisible, and it’s nothing short of intoxicating. You can choose to articulate it as eloquently as you like but stripping all formalities aside, this is seriously first-rate work shepherded by a virtuoso director. American Honey is spellbinding, spell-breaking cinema, a honey trap for the senses too seductive to refuse.

Michael Lee

162 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

American Honey is released 14th October 2016

American Honey – Official Website

 

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Review: The BFG

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DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Melissa Mathison • PRO: Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, Steven Spielberg • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn • MUS: John Williams • DES: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg • CAST: Bill Hader, Rebecca Hall, Mark Rylance

 

Spielberg is cinema’s arch mogul/everyman, the bearded baseball-capped mystic who’s been on the pulse of the moment like no other since forever; christening us with that powerful sense of childlike wonder and awe that washes over audiences, lighting up hearts and imaginations with hope. This is part of the unwritten, unspoken pact of going to see a Steven Spielberg film. I’ve known this since I was three feet tall.

But that whole Spellbinding audiences with genuine hope kinda deal, that only really works as long as Spielberg genuinely believes in it. But under the surface, The BFG feels more like rote obligation, rather than genuine desire. The directorial and narrative choices are pedestrian, obvious. Skin deep at best. It’s hard not to feel Mr. Spielberg’s dropped the ball somewhat, his games been off, hit and miss the last decade, as if he just doesn’t believe what he’s saying anymore. And it doesn’t seem like it’s just this movie, this is beginning to seem bigger than that; bordering on a loss of faith.  The BFG’s filled with fleeting moments of magic and humour, but it’s a struggle, something just feels strained and off form about the whole thing; and that makes me a little sad inside because if Spielberg’s lost faith, what hope is there for the rest of us…

The BFG is a far cry from the stellar craft of E.T. And these films, from the get go were born for comparison. Given that both films were helmed by Spielberg and written by E.T.’s Melissa Matteson, not to mention the obvious thematic similarities. Both films centre around a blossoming friendship between two lost souls searching for something more. It’s impossible not see how this films yearning for a similar sentiment, yet it’s so clearly forcing it, that it falls flat on its face with inauthenticity. Part of the reason E.T. worked so well was the characters, even “E.T.”, were all grounded in a behavioural and emotional reality, which is borderline non-existent in between the farting, belching and burping of The BFG.

For me, there’s one reason to see The BFG, and one alone; Mark Rylance. The man’s a Godsend who seems in tune with strange omnipotent forces, giving a performance straight outta the head of Zeus. He grounds the BFG with an earthshattering simplicity and candidness that radiates throughout. But in the end even his gigantic sense of humanity, can’t save this cartoonish vison of Dahl. Every time Spielberg reaches for the stars with The BFG, they just pass right through his fingers. Ultimately, this is a kid’s film. But it’s one that placates children, rather than engages, and this is perhaps the simple difference that makes E.T. such a classic.  Spielberg’s Spielberg; God knows I love the man, but in the bigger picture, The BFG is probably just as forgettable as a fart in the wind.

 

Michael Lee

117 minutes
PG (See IFCO for details)

The BFG is released 22nd July 2016

The BFG  – Official Website

 

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Review: Miles Ahead

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DIR: Don Cheadle • WRI: Steven Baigelman, Don Cheadle •  PRO: Don Cheadle, Pamela Hirsch, Darryl Porter, Daniel Wagner, Vince Wilburn Jr., Lenore Zerman • DOP: Roberto Schaefer • ED: John Axelrad, Kayla Emter • DES: Hannah Beachler • MUS: Robert Glasper • CAST: Don Cheadle, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Ewan McGregor

Don Cheadle takes to the directorial bandstand, and hits a serious career high note, in this groovin’, pitch perfect directorial debut. And just because he can, Cheadle gives a masterful riff performing as Miles Davis to boot. He plays Davis with velvet cool artistry; as a self-aware mythic figure and jaded artist who has lost the path, giving Davis a snaring temperamental core.

There’s loud knocking on the front door. It’s the mid 70’s. And after 5 years, cocooned away from public life Howard Hughes style, Miles Davis opens up the door. Dawning a blue velvet robe. Face concealed behind boxy gold tinted shades and a long fuzzy fro. Cigarette angling suavely off his lips, and speaking in a strained whisper of pure cool. Mile Davis might be the coolest cat that ever lived. And standing in front him, is this mousy, long-haired, cotton shirt, tie-wearing honky, Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), who makes a strange Scottish bleating every time he opens his mouth. He says he’s with Rolling Stone, that he’s taken a long shot, after trailing some ominous lead to Davis’s front door, in precious search of an interview. But Rolling Stone’s mousey enthusiasm is all too much for Miles. So he socks Dave one clean in the face. Miles has lost his shit. He hasn’t made a record since god knows when; and is talking in riddles. All the better for Rolling Stone. If Dave can just manage to get a foot in the door, and a crack at an interview. And when he finally stumbles inside Davis’ house, it’s like a jazz-smitten version of a Manson den, and from here on out the vibes only get stranger and stranger.

Needless to say, Rolling Stone’s eager beaver journalist and Miles, get things off on a lighter note. Retreating to Miles basement getting coked up, swigging on a bottle of whiskey, talking jazz and life. Though just as a friendship is beginning to blossom, when the liquor is running low; Dave heads into the lion’s den, aka the party upstairs for a refill. And as fate would have it; through a series of mishaps, pretences and coincidences, this results in the theft of Miles’ new record material. Miles and Dave are driven together, dead set on the hunt to retrieve the elusive recording tape. Risking life and limb as we follow them into a Jazzy noir-tinged universe, of punch-ups, shady record producers, trumpets, trombones, as they chase tails, and memories down blind alleys.

Miles Ahead is a picture that’s totally self-aware, wearing its wholesome references on its sleeve. Everything from Preston Sturges comedies to ’70s Blaxploitation, laced with tinges of Hammett and Chandler. The movie plays out just like Davis’ music; it’s a narcotic jazzy improvisation of the man’s life. A madcap drunken drug-fuelled Odyssey shifting through different times, timelines and time zones. It’s a rollicking, at times farcical, anything but conventional biopic, (although it has a killer soundtrack). This isn’t trying to be a narrative mishmash/greatest hits of a person’s life type deal, this is something else. It isn’t so much the biopic of Miles Davis, as a compilation of the American myth of Miles Davis, the folktales, the Chinese whispers of a musical revolutionary. Which in the end is probably as much about our perception of Davis as it is about the essence of the man himself. A potent cocktail of fact, fiction, and the ominous space in-between; where the lines begin to blur.

Michael Lee

100 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Miles Ahead is released 22nd April 2016

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Review: Eye in the Sky

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DIR: Gavin Hood • WRI: Guy Hibbert • PRO: Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, David Lancaster • DOP: Harris Zambarloukos • DES: Johnny Breedt • Cast: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen

 

It is three months since his untimely passing at the age of 69, but the legacy of Alan Rickman’s extraordinary career continues to live on. His unique vocal talents will be heard in next month’s Alice Through the Looking Glass (he reprises his role as ‘Blue Caterpillar’ from Tim Burton’s smash-hit original), but for those interested in seeing his final live-action performance, Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky allows him to offer considerable gravitas amongst a strong ensemble cast.

 

Alongside the ever-reliable Helen Mirren (who Rickman shared the stage with in 1998’s Antony and Cleopatra), Rickman plays Lt General Frank Benson, a veteran of the British Army, who is supervising a planned drone strike in Kenya in the presence of several key members from the UK Government.

 

While Benson attempts to persuade the political officials about the importance of dealing with this potential threat (from a real-life extermist group known as Al-Shabaab), Mirren’s Colonel Katherine Powell,in a role initially earmarked as a male character, is commanding the operation from a base in Sussex.

 

In addition to her constant communication with Benson, Powell is also in contact with USAF pilots Steve Watts (Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul) and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox), as well as a Kenyan undercover agent, played by previous Oscar-nominee Barkhad Abdi, who is controlling the video bug that provides visual confirmation of the extremists’ Nairobian safehouse.

 

Abdi’s Jama Farah discovers that the terrorists are preparing two suicide bombers for a suspected attack on a populated civilian area. As a result, Powell decides to change the mission objective from “capture” to “kill”, as the presence of explosives rules out the possibility of apprehending them.

 

Yet, the planned drone strike by Powell and Benson does raise two significant legal and ethical concerns amongst those at govermental level. Because two of their targets are UK and US citizens, Benson is finding it difficult to secure authorisation for this particular form of military action, and matters are also complicated by the presence of a local girl selling bread in front of the safehouse.

 

If the missile is launched while she is at her stall, there is a strong possibility that she will become a civilian casualty. This raises the biggest moral question of the film: is it worth risking the life of one civilian if there is the potential for up to 80 deaths if they decide not to take action?

 

In the light of the incidents that have taken place across the globe within the past 12 months, the subject matter of this film will undoubtedly hold great resonance. However, rather than focus on the ideology of the terrorists involved, Eye in the Sky provides an insight into how global terrorism is tackled in the modern age.

 

Since making his name as the director behind the Oscar-winning Tsotsi in 2005, Johannesburg native Hood has effectively made Hollywood his adopted home. X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Ender’s Game drew a mixed response from audiences and critics, while his English-language debut, 2007’s Rendition also received a subdued reception.

 

Yet, Eye in the Sky can be seen as something of a companion piece to Rendition, and while it is hard to compete with a cast list that included Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep, his latest film also features some heavyweight performers.

 

Mirren and Rickman bring real authority to the proceedings, while Jeremy Northam is effective as a conflicted cabinet minister. Game of Thrones star Iain Glen is also added to the mix as the UK’s Foreign Secretary, and after a string of roles where he has found himself sidelined, Paul fares better here. Fresh from minor part in the Sacha Baron Cohen misfire Grimsby, it is also good to see Abdi back on the territory that helped to make him a breakout star in Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips, even though his character arc is largely abandoned during the final act.

 

By moving back and forth between a number of locations, Hood creates real tension, and, like his previous film, Ender’s Game, it also has a finale that will remain in people’s minds for a number of days.

 

Mirren is a commanding presence throughout, but in taking on a part that might well have been phoned-in by other actors, Rickman proves to be one of the film’s biggest highlights. Playing a man that has witnessed first-hand the horrors of war and conflict, Rickman brings serious depth to General Benson, and his cutting monologue to Monica Dolan’s cautious Angela Northman in the closing moments helps to drive home one of the film’s key messages.

 

Michael Lee

101 minutes

12A (See IFCO for details)

Eye in the Sky is released 15th April 2016

Eye in the Sky – Offical Website

 

 

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Irish Film Review: My Name is Emily

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DIR/WRI: Simon Fitzmaurice • PRO: Kathryn Kennedy, Rebecka Lafrenz, Lesley McKimm • DOP: Seamus Deasy  • ED: Emer Reynolds • DES: John Hand • MUS: Stephen McKeon • CAST: Evanna Lynch, Martin McCann, Michael Smiley, George Webster

 

Crashing in a tumble of water. As an army of bubbles pulse to the surface. Eyes wide open, dead set, staring up at the ceiling. Straight up into space. Emily’s submerged in a bathtub. Her fair hair floating in a ghostly web, framing her pale face.  Under the surface, Emily reflects on her fractured experience of life up to that point, in an intoxicating jigsaw of images and memories.  Childhood with her father. Her unconventional upbringing, feet running on the sandy beach with her Father and Mother. Ditching school. Travelling with her makeshift hippie philosopher father. Her father’s monkish silence. His distance before she was even born. How the bursting colour of her birth ignited her father’s richly optimistic perspective. Gave him a new lease on life, opened up his eyes. Broadened his horizons. He began lecturing, writing, helping others try live happier, richer, more meaningful lives. Giving hokey well-meant new age advice on happiness and sex, leading the charge with an army of naked middle-aged arses straight into the icy sea. Charging straight to international celebrity, fronting seminars, all over the world promoting his unorthodox philosophy.  And the shattering depression, that took hold of her father after her Mother’s Death. But he kept rocking the boat of acceptability, pushing the bar, further and further trying to soldier on. Until his own mental health was brought into question.

Right off the bat, writer/director Simon Fitzmaurice masterfully invites us inside Emily’s head, and sets up an unquestionably potent relationship with her and the audience. She bursts through the surface gasping for air and into the suffocating present.

Presently, Emily’s in foster care, her father’s been institutionalized for years. It’s her sixteenth birthday and his card hasn’t arrived.  He always sends a card. Emily’s cagey about this, but when she finally freaks, she coaxes her eager beaver would be boyfriend (George Webster) into skipping class, and setting off in a goofy yellow car on a coming of age odyssey, to the find her father up north.

Evanna Lynch’s central performance brings an unflinching volatility to Emily, that’s magnetic to look at. New kid on the street, George Webster, shows some serious acting chops, proving he’s more than just a one direction look alike, his genuine sense of naivety gives endless warmth and charm. And the inimitable Michael Smiley radiates true genius as he gravitates from comic to tragic in the blink of an eye.

In My Name is Emily, Irish director Simon Fitzmaurice lovingly creates a deeply personal film about challenging the boundaries of reality. Fitzmaurice himself suffers from MND, which is an aggressive physically disabling disease. So it’s easy to understand why he might be totally invested in this theme. This is a film about opening the doors of perception, striving for something more, about thinking, and possibly living outside the box, in an effort to appreciate the important things in our lives. The people around us, those that we love and care for. Everything else, is just needless material baggage.

Fitzmaurice’s strong visual palate harvests the senses, seen first-hand through Seamus Deasy’s evocative cinematography. This sensory enlightenment is further cultivated by the textured musical soundtrack, which includes real gems from James Vincent McMorrow, Lisa Hannigan, Cat Dowling, Liza Flume, Hudson Taylor, Lisa Mitchell, Printer Clips and Jake Bugg.

Michael Lee

94 minutes

12A (See IFCO for details)

Sing Street is released 8th April 2016

My Name is Emily – Offical Website

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Irish Film Review: Room

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DIR: Lenny Abrahamson • WRI: Emma Donoghue • PRO: David Gross, Ed Guiney • DOP: Danny Cohen • ED: Nathan Nugent • DES: Ethan Tobman • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • CAST: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers

 

Four walls, of what can be no bigger than a small garden shed, have never felt so vast. But this is the limitless scope of Jack’s 5 year old imagination. For Jack, ‘Room’ is the world. Looking up through a skylight, outside is sky, and space, and aliens. Jack and Ma try shouting at the aliens, but they don’t hear them today. Room’s borders are everything. Room… Room… Room. This is all Jack knows, having no concept that a world outside exists. There are cats and dogs and people on TV, but they’re not real. At least that’s what Ma says. But now Ma says she lied.

Ma’s protected Jack from the truth. She’s kept him strong psychologically, built him emotionally from the ground up, carefully preparing him for his eventual escape. Inside Room, Ma has created a rich and spacious world for her child’s imagination, free from the literal reality. The literal reality is that Jack and Ma are caged up like wild animals, in a meagerly furnished Zoo pen. Ma was captured by mean old Nick, and hasn’t left Room in 7 years. But in the inhumanity of this situation, director Lenny Abrahamson finds a breeding ground for warmth, love and affection. There’s no artifice to the story’s structure, which is propelled along by an intoxicating earnestness. At the narrative’s core is this maternal bond between a mother and child.

Emma Donoghue adapted the script from her Man Booker-nominated novel of the same name. Donoghue is anything but a one trick pony, and shows masterful dexterity as a writer, as she jumps ship from novel to screenplay. She’s dived head first into the material, and fearlessly pares her novel down to its core. The most profound difference is that the movie works on its own terms. It makes no attempt to imitate the novel, or try to suggest Jack’s magical thinking with ham-handed visual trickery. According to Abrahamson, the movie’s all about Jack’s face, and the film is grounded with a rich cinematic naturalism. His face is our key to a rich inner world. This more naturalistic quality towards the visual approach of the film was something Abrahamson knew from the get-go; and a point he even used to woo author Emma Donoghue in his initial pitch.

Over and over, Irish director Lenny Abrahamson has proved himself a talent to watch. He’s made a successful career with intimate, character-driven dramas (Adam & Paul, What Richard Did). So in one sense Room is similar territory; in another sense Room elevates the intimate character drama to a more epic scale, while never losing sight of its simple humanity. It’s a fine line, and Abrahamson walks it expertly. This is a director in his absolute element, and at the peak of his powers.

Since winning the audience award at the Toronto film festival, Room has unsurprisingly generated healthy awards buzz. And this is hardly surprising, since Room offers the highest calibre of craftsmanship in virtually every department; though the performances take centre stage. Brie Larson deserves every accolade on the table and it still wouldn’t be enough; she endlessly radiates compassion and affection, making everyone in the audience with anything of a soul, wish she was their Ma. And Jacob Tremblay’s performance glows with the simple honesty that surely paves the way for a powerful acting talent. The story is further reinforced by Danny Cohen’s masterfully unimposing cinematography and Stephen Rennicks’ earthy score, which is at times both ethereal and euphoric.

In Room, Abrahamson has created a masterful oddity; a world that’s spatially confined, but emotionally limitless and arresting. Abrahamson works within the scope of narrative and cinematic limits, and yet somehow in the end, exceeds those limits tenfold. Room is one of those unique films, that by way of what must be magic or osmosis, excels beyond the sum of its parts. It’s the kind of estranged logic that lets two plus two equal five, when it should only equal four.

Michael Lee

15A
117 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Room is released 15th January 2016

Room – Official Website

 

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Review: Sicario

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DIR: Denis Villeneuve • WRI: Taylor Sheridan • PRO: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Edward McDonnell, Molly Smith • DOP: Roger Deakins • ED: Joe Walker • DES: Patrice Vermette • MUS: Jóhann Jóhannsson • CAST: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Bernthal

 

After Prisoners, Enemy and the Oscar-nominated Incendies, Sicario seems to only confirm Denis Villeneuve’s rightful place in the pantheon of cinematic masters, and proving himself a powerful voice, not to be trifled with. Villeneuve takes you right through the belly of the beast, straight into visceral and cerebral uncharted territory.

Hair tied back in a tight bun, clad in black and navy uniform, and buried under body armour is Kate Maser. Assault rifle in hand. Fearless, stealthy, agile. Her eyes docile as she raises the barrel and aims, straight up in for the head shot. However, underneath the militant Kevlar hide there’s a distinct vulnerability to Maser (Emily Blunt). Through Maser, we’re ingratiated into the front lines of the US war on drugs. Tiptoeing her way down pitch-black tunnels and kicking down doors in the dead of night. Pure subjective psychological horror. Tonally it’s some mind-altering cocktail of Silence of the Lambs mixed with The Shining. And like those movies, Sicario, from the get-go, racks the tension high, unfolding by means of hypnotic slow release.

Anyway, after Maser’s involvement in a major FBI drugs operation in Arizona where a mass of bodies are discovered. She’s eyed for specialist assistance on a Department of Defence retaliatory initiative. A sorta high-end crackdown on cartels. Maser shows some hesitance, but when assured that she’s going to get a crack at the “ men who are really responsible for today.” she signs up, game for blood.

But it’s a labyrinth of agendas and motives, and Maser’s caught in the middle. It quickly becomes apparent that it’s some kind of smoke and mirror, cloak and dagger clandestine military operation. The kind where the legality of the whole thing is shady at best. Crossing the Mexican border into the dusty wilds of Juarez, to essentially kidnap a local drug lord, all in a bid to reveal the location of an arch Drug Lord. And Juarez is like a jungle of skeletal remains. Pure carnage. A world that’s built on a foundation of brutal violence. A living breathing hell incarnate. And from here on out the smoky morality of Masers world only gets murkier as the hunt continues.

Villeneuve expects nothing less of his battalions of thespians than to charge into cinematic battle, and to get down and dirty. Hand to hand combat is a mandatory requirement. Josh Brolin is the sandal wearing, seemingly blasé laissez-faire, Matt Graver, who’s allegedly DOD but who could be CIA? It’s never really clear to Maser. And then there’s Alejandro, (Benico del Toro) Graver’s Trojan wingman who’s shrouded in the same veils of mystery. Del Toro gives a demonic counter-point to his memorable turn in Traffic. And Villeneuve’s camera coils and recoils like a killer snake, slow and steady, spitting and biting. Fangs out; sharpened to a T. All in all making for venomous cinema.

Roger Deakins’ intoxicating cinematography has a sense of subtlety and minimalism that offers a heightened sense of tension and atmosphere that’s tough to argue with. Less is more, proving to be a motto to live by, especially when it’s executed this well. The vast isolated landscapes seemingly ensnare the characters in a world bigger than themselves. There’s a stylistic debt to Melville, Deakins admits as much, but truth be told it’s its own beast. Johan Johannsson’s score is nothing short of malevolent. Orchestral strings clash against electronic drones and waves, drum machines whip and snap against arid vistas; all too suffocating effect.

And when the dust settles, and the streets are lined with hanging corpses Villeneuve puts it to you. There’s blood on our hands, and if that’s what it takes can we live with that? Living in a world where the only code seems to be an Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth? Or is there another way? At its core Sicario is essentially an anti-war movie. Villeneuve reinvigorates these questions wholeheartedly. He’s got the rat by the tail and won’t let go. He pinches, till nerves scream and eyes bulge. How are the sides drawn, or, are there even sides at all? Villenueve serves the head, the plate, the whole damn thing, a lean delicacy of pure moral ambiguity. The lines between right and wrong are most definitely blurred.

Turning the screws just isn’t enough for this fecker (Villeneuve), he wants to put the nail through the coffin, splinters and all. Even if you resent the method, there’s little you can do about it, the man’s not to be messed with; he’s a cinematic powerhouse. The rare kind of filmmaker who paralyses audiences and glues eyeballs to screens; leaving a distinct taste of truth.

Michael Lee


15A (See IFCO for details)

121 minutes
Sicario is released 9th October 2015

Sicario – Official Website

 

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Review: The Legend of Barney Thomson

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DIR: Robert Carlyle • WRI: Richard Cowan, Colin McLaren • PRO: Holly Brydson, Brian Coffey, Richard Cowan, Kirk D’Amico, Kaleena Kiff, John G. Lenic • DOP: Fabian Wagner • ED: Mike Banas • MUS: James Horner • DES: Ross Dempster • CAST: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone

 

The Legend of Barney Thomson marks the directorial debut of legendary actor Robert Carlyle. The film is an adaptation of a book by Douglas Lindsay. It sets out as a barbarous black comedy which details the transition of Barney Thomson’s life as a small-time Glaswegian barber to that of a makeshift serial killer.  Barney (Robert Carlyle) is a barber. He’s a socially inept creature of habit, with his chiseled jaw, greasy slicked-back mane and polished shoes. He’s certainly fort- something; and he’s built a life of undeniable banality. Day in, day out his deft finger work tends the follicles of every last lager sippin’ stool pigeon and wrinkly old Neanderthal in the area who’s in need of a short back and sides. And this banal existence, for better or for worse, is in essence, Barney’s life.

That is, of course, until it all goes belly-up when an altercation in the shop gets out of hand and results in Barney accidentally murdering someone. With both the linoleum floor and his hands stained in blood, Barney sets out on a mission to preserve the life he’s created and decides to conceal the body.  Since cutting is his trade, it’s no surprise that he decides to cut the body up. Of course’ this doesn’t go quite as planned and when body parts start turning up, Barney struggles to evade the crafty detective Holdall, played by Ray Winstone. It’s at about this juncture that the narrative begins to descend into outlandishness, and emotional plausibility seems to totally go out the window. While the film sets out with ambitions as a somewhat cynical British black comedy it just never quite gels together. The comedy is sporadic at best, a tangle of gags, some of which work and some which don’t, and which are knotted together so tightly it’s impossible to tell which is which. If Carry On ever decided to remake the Pink Panther series as a social-realist drama this well could be the end product, a warped farce of a farce that doesn’t quite know what it is.

Carlyle clearly struggled to switch hats between his directing hat and his acting hat. His performance wanes after a while and his comedic efforts begin to feel somewhat forced. Carlyle is a proven contender in the comedy ring, but he doesn’t quite seem to cut it on this occasion, I can only put this down to him juggling duties. The film offers a fantastic supporting cast in Emma Thompson and Ray Winston. Emma Thompson is the most consistently hilarious in the entire equation as Barney’s ex-prostitute mother Cemilina, who’s glazed in more wrinkles and make-up than Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s corpse. But on the whole, Barney Thomson is a far cry from the same blackly comic halls of British cinema as Trainspotting, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Sexy Beast, where this movie so clearly desires to be. It’s the botched haircut you’re just not sure what to with.

Michael Lee

15A (See IFCO for details)
123 minutes

The Legend of Barney Thomson is released 24th July 2015

 

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Inherent Vice

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DIR/WRI: Paul Thomas Anderson • PRO: Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: Leslie Jones • MUS: Jonny Greenwood • DES: David Crank • CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin

Pulsing through the pot smoke with cinematic prowess, Paul Thomas Anderson’s vision aligns with the paranoid world of enigmatic literary icon Thomas Pynchon, in an adaptation of Pynchon’s 2009 novel Inherent Vice. This can only make for cinematic voodoo. This is the kind of thing many a square-eyed Pynchon reader has fantasised about for decades; in earnest. And Vice is a narcotic trip, it lulls and pulls. Sucking the viewer straight down the rabbit hole, through the tunnel of love, and back in time to 1970’s Los Angeles; in what, on the surface, presents itself to be a very Chandleresque detective story, in the vain of The Long Goodbye or The Big Sleep.

So we’re in LA, the free love and peace of the swinging ’60s have waned into the paranoia and hedonism of the 1970s. Doc’s just woke up. Mutton chopped, joint in mouth and carrying himself like a Neil Young wannabe rag doll. Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello is played with gusto by a dirty looking Joaquin Phoenix. (I mean he’s so dirty at one point I’m convinced I can smell his feet.) Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello a stoner, sandal wearing private dick. Think Phillip Marlowe after a bag of ‘panama red’.  Anyway Doc’s ex old lady, Shasta, turns up in the dead of night scared and looking for help. She’s been shacked up with some shady real estate developer who’s embroiled in some diabolical plot. She’s freaked and that isn’t groovy with Doc, so he’s hot on the case. Naturally this kinda set-up lends itself to some serious slapstick and ambiance.

But behind the chaotic slapstick and entertainment, Vice is a socially conscious film, a film with a massive heart that pounds along the heroin trails and through the marijuana haze. This is bold crisp American cinema and Anderson has a very decisive view of America. An America that’s disconnected from itself, that’s wounded and looking for answers in all the wrong places. At the heart of Pynchon’s novel there’s a tremendous sense of melancholy, and a sense of disappointment with the promises of the Hippie movement and free love; which in the end proved as much a pipe dream as ‘democracy’ or the American dream; and just as corruptible. These aspects remain true of Anderson’s movie and it’s clearly a perspective Anderson strongly relates to. The sense of an ideological conflict is evident in the love-hate relationship between Big Foot Bjornson (played by Josh Brolin) and Doc. Big Foot is a hippie-hating LAPD detective with a boxy buzz cut haircut and a questionable penchant for frozen bananas. In a sense, the film is a series of short cameos as the case unfolds, and Doc chases down countless leads, and countless red herrings, and some strange entity called The Golden Fang.

As a major fan of both P.T.A and Pynchon, I have an obligation to say it isn’t perfect, it’s rough around the edges, even for what it’s meant to be, which runs contrary to most of the criticism so far. I think a lot of critics who misjudged Anderson’s previous film The Master (2012) are reluctant to fall into the same trap with Inherent Vice. The Inherent problem with this of course is; it’s a bit like that old Woody Allen joke about him applying what he learned from his mistakes in one marriage, to the next; only to find it didn’t work because it’s a completely different woman. In short Inherent Vice is a completely different woman.

It can’t be denied that Anderson accepted a challenge like no other in grabbing Pynchon’s novel by its metaphorical horns. But too some extent I think Mr. Anderson fell into the trap of being too reverent to the source material. He clearly struggled to pare the book down. This has led to some clichéd representations of characters who lack the sense of dimension they had in Pynchon’s book. Anderson has been quoted as to saying that the plot doesn’t matter, which seems to be over-simplifying things a bit. Plot has a clear function in Pynchon’s writing, it just isn’t always in the foreground of the narrative. What is in the foreground are his characters, who inhabit a world over-saturated with information, a world so chaotic and paranoid it seems impossible for them to function within it.

The performances, however, are, by and large, impeccable. Martin Short is stellar as Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd, a sex-crazed dentist wearing an ultraviolet suit who has cocaine nostrils flared wider than bell bottoms. Katherine Waterson’s portrayal of Shasta Fey Hepworth has a mysterious allure and deftness that’s nothing short of nerve-tingling and electric. Right off the bat she’s earned serious brownie points and established herself as a major leading actress.

Anderson took a serious risk in making a picture that, when you break it down, is principally dialogue driven. I appreciate what he was trying to achieve but I’m not entirely sure it worked. One of Anderson’s greatest assets as a filmmaker is his tremendous sense of mobility and his ability to tailor movement in relation to narrative. There’s a very static quality to the staging in Vice, which makes the imagery less emotionally arresting. We’re left with Pynchon’s words, which is exactly the point. In Andersons own words the film is about ‘Pynchon’.

Johnny Greenwood, of Radiohead fame, has partnered with Anderson again. The score isn’t as prominent a feature of this film as his work in There Will Be Blood or The Master. But elements of those works shine through for sure, with a bit of a more seventies’ish use of synthesizers and guitars. Think Bernard Hermann crossed with Steve Reich and you’re on the right track. David Crank’s production design is off the hook in its accuracy. You can practically smell the 1970s from the image. And it’s pungent. Which is no mean feat since I wasn’t even alive then. The cinematography is grainy, fuzzy and beautiful, courtesy of Anderson’s long-time partner in crime, Robert Elswit.

At its core there’s an unhinged authenticity to Inherent Vice, vividly captivating a specific moment in time. Overall though, flaws aside, this is a grade A pedigree pot movie filled with some golden moments of true comic genius. This is the marriage of two of the most astonishing American talents. Pynchon, without argument being a colossus of post WWII American fiction, and Anderson, the once upon a time wunderkind whose blossomed into a virtuoso, who’ll stare down the barrel of a lens fearlessly, knee deep in the trenches, sleeves rolled up, armed to the teeth fighting the good fight; a real good boy. Keep it up Anderson you talented f*cker, keep rocking and rolling.

Michael Lee

16 (See IFCO for details)
148 minutes
Inherent Vice
is released 29th January 2015

Inherent Vice – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller in a still from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

DIR: Ben Stiller WRI:Steve Conrad   PRO: Stuart Cornfeld, Samuel Goldwyn Jr., John Goldwyn, Ben Stiller   DOP: Stuart Dryburgh   ED: Greg Hayden   MUS: Theodore Shapiro • DES: Jeff Mann  Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt

 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty marks the return of Ben Stiller as director and proves to be his most ambitious fare yet in terms of both scale and content. The film is embellished in a charmingly wry style, with a lilting melodic wonder telling a bona fide fable of a working man’s plight.

It  follows the surreal exploits Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), a lonely middle aged man who works as a negative assets manager for LIFE magazine (aka he’s in charge of photos). He’s a habitual day dreamer who has little to no life experience. He zones out into exaggerated fantasies of the actions he cant bring himself to achieve in reality, like his romantic aspirations for Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig).

When LIFE magazine has been acquired by an outside firm and have decided to only release one more print issue and downsize the firm  Walters future is placed in jeopardy, Walter is made responsible for bringing Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), the manager who’s overseeing the takeover, a mysterious negative for the cover which Walter’s been entrusted from a veteran photographer Sean O’Connell, who claims it’s his most profound work.

This, however, presents a problem for Walter as the negative department never received the negative on the roll. Placing his job under immediate threat, Walter begins to try to contact Sean. But his efforts are in vain –  Sean doesn’t have a phone or any know contact details. Walter now has to ask Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) who works in the photography department. She aids Walter in attempting to locate Sean, while more pressure is put on Walter by Ted Hendricks to bring the negative.

By tracing Sean’s bills Walter and Cheryl establish that Sean’s in Greenland, Walter sets off on a desperate quest to locate Sean and save his career. Walter goes out into the wilds of the world and tallies up a rich tab of exciting life experiences which develops him from the boring white collar workaholic he used to be and into an exciting globe-trotting adventurer.

This is a film utilizing  cinema to its fullest, the staging is perfect, the art direction and cinematography are impeccable.  The story is paper thin but none the less its charming and executed to great effect. The perfomrnce are subtle and diligently directed.

My only gripe really was some of the superhero dreams sequences at the beginning of the film were perhaps more in keeping with the type of  slapstick airhead humour Stiller exercised in Zoolander and was perhaps a little ill fitting for Walter Mitty.

Overall though it has to be said that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is spellbinding and joyous, a merry merry go round.

Michael Lee

PG (See IFCO for details)

114  mins

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is released on 27th December 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Official Website

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Kodak Lingers As Studios Make Deal

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Michael Lee responds to Kodak’s new deal with studios

It’s particularly interesting that in light of all the numerous advances in digital filmmaking technology that Kodak has secured the backing of six Hollywood studios, While the growing wave of producers drift away from film (mainly due to the financial constraints of shooting on film) it’s somewhat gratifying to see studios such as Walt Disney Co., 20th Century Fox,Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Paramount Pictures Corp. Sony pictures and  NBC Universal Inc. affirm their support in a legitimate deal.

This must be a more than adequate relief for Kodak, which continues to struggle through bankruptcy. The company filed it’s Plan for Reorganization and Disclosure Statement in late April with the U.S bankruptcy Court In New York. The courts are expected to begin a hearing in mid June which will ascertain the validity of the companies proposal and most certainly dictate it’s future.

The support of studios to Kodak film illustrates that at least some producers feel the format isn’t dead and bears a certain opulence distinct from any Digital equivalents. The future of Kodak is somewhat less disparaging for the present but far from secure.

Read more: http://motion.kodak.com/motion/About/The_Storyboard/4294971663/index.htm#ixzz2VLrncxUB

Michael Lee

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