Review: The Ritual

DIR: David Bruckner  WRI: Joe Barton  PRO: Jonathan Cavendish, Richard Holmes, Andy Serkis • DOP: Andrew Shulkind • ED: Mark Towns DES: Adrian Curelea  MUS: Ben Lovett • CAST: Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton

 

With October underway, Get Out being touted as one of the best horror films of the decade, and the intense remake of It imminently surpassing The Exorcist as the highest grossing horror film in box-office history, it is such a good time to be a horror fan. Right now in 2017, it looks as though horror can do no wrong, and even this year’s terrible entries (such as The Bye Bye Man or Wish Upon) still have a distinctive badness to them that can be enjoyable to watch masochistically, something horror lovers are all too familiar with. Luckily, The Ritual doesn’t belong to this category and, although not as thematically impactful as Get Out or well-executed like It, still manages to solidly provide a few interesting ideas in an overall entertaining monster movie.

Based on the award-winning novel of the same name, The Ritual reads as something akin to The Stag meets Blair Witch Project. Six months after an endeared friend dies in a botched robbery, four friends go on a hiking trip up Swedish mountains despite none of them bearing any wilderness experience. Tired, hungry, and desperate for a beer, the friends decide to take a shortcut through a nearby forest which goes as well as might be expected in this kind of movie. Soon, they find shelter and begin experiencing intense nightmares, with one of them, Luke (Rafe Spall, Prometheus), reliving the moments of their friend’s murder because of some personal guilt. Panicked and embittered by their terrors, the friends are soon lost and quickly convinced that something horrible stalks them in the forest.

Admittedly, as more and more of what stalks them is revealed, The Ritual loses more and more of its momentum, culminating in a twist reminiscent of another classic horror film that would simply be too much of a spoiler to reference. As with so many horror films exploring an enigmatic figure, the mystery is always far more compelling than the reveal, and although it might have worked in Adam Nevill’s novel, it simply doesn’t translate to screen.

What does work, however, is the chemistry between the film’s four protagonists. While the external tension is always present, what makes The Ritual set itself apart is its internal conflicts between the four friends. Although never explicit, it’s clear that some have found greater success than others post-college, hence why these friends find themselves reluctantly on a cheap camping trip. That economic and class difference between the four allows personal resentments to overshadow rationality in escaping the forest, and it’s the strength of Sam Troughton, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Rafe Spall, which help carry the film. Especially Rafe Spall, who continues to prove himself as a unique presence in film, adding a lot of dimensions to an already interesting character with something as simple as a subtle hand gesture.

Whether or not The Ritual stands to repeat viewing is up for debate, its lacklustre third act and brisk ending does a substantial disservice overall, but the film still stands as a fun trip for bloodthirsty horror fanatics. The Ritual isn’t a scary film, but an uneasy one. With a basic premise like ‘people being chased in the woods,’ it’s hard to screw that up, and what director David Bruckner (Southbound; V/H/S) delivers here is a decent effort just in time for the Halloween season.

Michael O’Sullivan

12A (See IFCO for details)

117 minutes
The Ritual is released 13th October 2017

 

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Review: On Body and Soul

DIR/WRI: Ildikó Enyedi  PRO: Ernö Mesterházy, András Muhi, Mónika Mécs • DOP: Máté Herbai • ED: Károly Szalai  DES: Imola Láng  MUS: Adam Balazs • CAST: Géza Morcsányi, Alexandra Borbély, Zoltán Schneider

If any word accurately surmised the experience of On Body and Soul, it’s unconventional. It’s unconventional in how it sets up its characters, its plot, its setting, and even the timeframe doesn’t reveal itself until the film’s halfway mark. It’s unconventional in its direction, being simultaneously clinical and intimate with its characters and their vulnerabilities. It’s unconventional for being quite possibly the most chastely film about lust and desire ever executed to cinema. Yet in exploring ideas of romance, courtship, relationships, and love (themes well and truly covered all the way back to filmmaking’s inception), On Body and Soul is also unconventional in offering a near-transcendental experience that is both refreshing and insightful to watch.

From Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi (who won international acclaim at Cannes for My Twentieth Century in 1989), On Body and Soul plainly explores the growing conflictions between humanity’s natural biological urges for sex and companionship against the sterility of modern culture in everyday life. There undoubtedly are risks for such a premise to overbear itself on the film and its accessibility, an early scene demonstrating the killing process of a cow in an abattoir is as gratuitous as it is gruesome, but the seamless blend of calm visual design and music allow the story of two wounded introverts to feel immersive before even their introduction on screen.

The aforementioned two are Endre (Géza Morcsányi) and Mária (Alexandra Borbély), who find themselves unfathomably bound despite their inability to properly communicate to one another. For Endre, who has spent his life scheduled to a taut regime in a cold place of work, his ability to talk to another is either in succinct retorts or awkward small conversation. Mária, however, is far worse. Newly appointed as an inspector of all produced meats, Mária, exhibiting all the trademarks of someone with autism (yet never explicitly clear), finds her ability to converse with anyone near impossible. She spends her nights recreating verbatim her interactions with Endre, and even rehearses meticulously for their next conversation. However, when an incident involving stolen aphrodisiacs causes local authorities to begin an investigation on each employee, Endre and Mária are forced to confront what has connected them since they first met, and the inexplicable coincidences allows both to gradually open to one another with each passing night.

Dealing with such a broad theme with unusual methods, the screenplay, written by Enyedi herself, is cautious in its attempt to not overstep into absurdity or pretentiousness. On Body and Soul does not connote ideas of a biological hierarchy, adding repugnant supporting characters that purport themselves as “alpha-males,” but instead focuses just on human impulse as something that can be both natural and sensual as an expression. Perhaps it can be too cautious, however, as the film’s secret reveal undoubtedly adds to the story’s intriguing dynamic, but also sacrifices the narrative to a more repetitive beat. Not only does it become obvious where the story will conclude, but a test of patience waiting for that inevitable conclusion.

Those looking for a more interesting time at the cinema will undoubtedly find a lot to engage with in On Body and Soul, especially those who find themselves more romantically inclined than most, but it should be stressed that some people might find themselves detached by characters that are considerably discrepant from what might be expected from a love story. That doesn’t make them boring, however, and Maria is certainly one of the most intriguing and refreshing heroines in arthouse cinema in a while.

On Body and Soul can easily be surmised as an invitation to appreciate the complexity and fulfilment of deep intimacy with another person, and serves as a strong introduction for anyone unfamiliar to Ildikó Enyedi’s unique surrealist filmmaking.

Michael O’Sullivan

 

116 minutes
On Body and Soul is released 22nd September 2017

 

On Body and Soul– Official Website

 

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Review: mother!

DIR/WRI: Darren Aronofsky   PRO: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, Ari Handel • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Andrew Weisblum  DES: Philip Messina   MUS: Jóhann Jóhannsson • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris

Sometimes the best marketing campaign is to not do one at all. At least, that’s what can be ascertained from mother!, the most surprising release of 2017 and officially completed literally a week before its premiere. Choosing to do the complete opposite of Darren Aronofsky’s ambivalently received Noah in terms of publicity has proven already more successful than the environmentalist blockbuster even before mother!’s public release. Much like the unexpected sleeper hit, 10 Cloverfield Lane, it seems sometimes it’s better not to say anything at all about a release and let the big names and the big mystery generate the intrigue  by itself. Does that mean that the final result is any good?

Boy, is that the million dollar question. What begins as a reimagined setup to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (a fact made by the film’s none-too-subtle poster), soon spirals into an artistic fever dream that crosses the line between genius and lunacy more times than Stephen King on OxyContin. Aronofsky’s statement for its premiere at the Venice Film Festival isn’t just a pretentious roundabout description of the film – it’s a synopsis. And whether or not people will like mother!, it’s unquestionable that this is a horror movie of a different breed: one that confounds, infuriates and, finally, exhausts the viewer in its grim and maddening tone.

What is certainly more approachable is mother!’s first two acts. The eponymous and nameless mother (Jennifer Lawrence) has just recently moved to her new and isolated house with her husband (Javier Bardem), a writer suffering from a creative block. Before they have even finished unboxing and decorating their home, a strange man calls (Ed Harris), who stays with the couple despite his intentions becoming more and more unclear and insidious. It isn’t long until the stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfieffer) comes to stay as well, and seems verbally hostile to Lawrence without explanation, determined that Lawrence conceives a child with Bardem. When the strangers’ stay becomes more indefinite over time, tensions rise and escalate until Lawrence feels no longer under control of either her relationship, her home, or her mind.

Aronofsky presents what essentially is an Ira Levin novel (who famously wrote Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives) without its renowned satirical edge. The film begins and ends in an aggressively anxious atmosphere and never alternates for even a second. mother! has plenty of quiet, slow moments before the madness and its occasional use of jump scares feel like nothing more than a cheap means of maintaining the audiences’ investment. This is a slight complaint, however, as the sound and visual design more than compensates in creating an overwhelming sense of dread and uncertainty. The added touches of hearing the hollowness of the floorboards themselves make the home feel much bigger and emptier than we see, making the characters feel more isolated and letting the eeriness seep under our skin.

The problem, and possibly the most arresting sequence of the entire film, is its third act. Without spoiling any details, tolerance for what will undoubtedly become mother!’s reason for infamy will boil down to whether or not a particular person prefers ideas over storytelling. Things change quickly, with the former soon dominating the latter, and escalate to such a drastic extent that it warps into a surreal melting pot of anxieties and fears in the 21st century. Although the setup allows for the transition to occur naturally without breaking the film’s own logic, the ideas presented are unfocussed at best; cursorily overviewing a lot of serious issues that come and go like a house of horrors.

mother! begins thematically as a relationship disintegrating from the struggled balance between personal and professional life but it certainly doesn’t end there, even if it does try to connect the pieces. Part of what makes a horror work is that the subtext of the horror prods at a more deeply personal fear. Although I don’t doubt that Aronofsky does fear what he’s presented, it’s more likely that the people who watch mother! don’t exactly share his experience. So, returning to that question of whether or not the film is good, the answer is still ambivalent because the unorthodoxy of mother! defies a simplified response. What can be said is that watching it personally felt draining as the credits rolled and probably won’t be one I’ll return to again for a long time.

Michael O’Sullivan

18 (See IFCO for details)

120 minutes
mother! is released 15th September 2017

 

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Review: Detroit

DIR: Kathryn Bigelow   WRI: Mark Boal  PRO: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Matthew Budman, Megan Ellison, Colin Wilson • DOP: Barry Ackroyd • ED: William Goldenberg, Harry Yoon  DES: Jeremy Hindle   MUS: James Newton Howard  • CAST: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith

 

Although every film critic should enter a screening with an open mind and an unformed opinion, Detroit’s marketing campaign has made the film a difficult exception. Despite having one of the most catching taglines in recent memory, “it’s time we knew” also errs in being one of the most ill-conceived. As a film recreating the lesser-known cruel tragedy of the Algiers Motel incident of 1967, its tagline makes perfect sense. But as a film dealing substantially with racial prejudice and police brutality, to suggest no one knows of its occurrence in America is at best absurd and at worst woefully ignorant. “It’s time we knew” suddenly possesses an air of privilege and white exceptionalism made more emphatic in the opening minutes of the film as it explains why racism exists in America.

However, it doesn’t take long for Kathryn Bigelow’s award-winning visceral and intense style to salvage the film almost entirely. Based on personal records and testimonies investigated by the filmmakers themselves, Detroit is an amalgam of three different kinds of film blended seamlessly together to create an epic account of the 12th Street riot as it lasted between July 23rd and 27th 1967. Firstly, there’s the suburban war film, as a public bust of an unlicensed club incenses the neighbourhood against unlawful arrests and abuse from local law enforcement. News and archive footage mesh impeccably with the handheld realistic style of Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography, who worked previously with Bigelow on The Hurt Locker.

While the first third of the film establishes the environment and mood, it’s the second involving the motel incident itself that takes up the bulk of Detroit’s 2 and half hours running time. Played out like a home-invasion movie, the sound of gunfire incites nearby patrolling police and military officers to enter a three-storey house at the rear of the Algiers motel for a suspected sniper. What follows is a brutal and humiliating line-up of nine black men (among them is Anthony Mackie, Jacob Latimore, and Algee Smith)  and two white women, led by officers Krauss, Demens, and Flynn (played by Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, and Ben O’Toole respectively) and a private security marshal named Dismukes (played by John Boyega). As the lack of clear evidence becomes more apparent, the three white officers grow increasingly more violent and begin tormenting the suspects with threats of murder if no one comes forward as the imagined culprit.

Every minute is made excruciatingly tense, as each actor gives a far more raw and grounded performance, adding to the sense of realism that has made Bigelow a celebrated director in recent memory. John Boyega serves as the film’s moral centre, showcasing a charisma that made him a breakout star in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In contrast to this is Will Poulter, whose personal racism influences him to manoeuvre around the law and exhibit its inherent corruption.

Bigelow’s attempts at finding a grey moral centre soon dissipate as the line-up gets underway; despite her attempts to highlight the competency and impartiality of the police force during its opening section as a point of contrast, its central antagonists are so intense to witness, that it’s extremely doubtable if anyone would find an inch of sympathy for the three racist officers.

As the film gets to its third act, in an extended post-traumatic sequence and the subsequent trial on the Algiers motel incident, things begin to fizzle out once again. Although Detroit adheres as faithfully as possible to the facts, the framing of the trial can’t help but feel clichéd and redundant. While it offers interesting points of discussion, Mark Boal’s screenplay is extremely black and white on its subject matter. That is, a predominantly white police force profiles and impedes black Americans significantly more than they do with other white Americans. It’s a conclusion that is fairly obvious to anyone even before entering the film, and doesn’t warrant its substantial running time as a result.

However, make no mistake; Detroit is a very well-made and gripping film to watch. What problems the film does have thematically are more than compensated for by some of the most excruciatingly tense sequences in cinemas this year. While some might suggest this to be a step down from both The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow still provides an incredible and shocking experience on one of the biggest issues in American society to this day.

Michael O’Sullivan

15A (See IFCO for details)

142 minutes

Detroit is released 25th August 2017

Detroit – Official Website

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Review: American Made

DIR: Doug Liman   WRI: Gary Spinelli  PRO: Doug Davison, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Brian Oliver, Kim Roth, Tyler Thompson  DOP: César Charlone • ED: Saar Klein, Andrew Mondshein, Dylan Tichenor  DES: Dan Weil   MUS: Christophe Beck • CAST: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright

Every year, the summer season tends to include at least one unapologetic male fantasy film for the dads that does moderately well at the box office and becomes quickly forgotten about. Usually, they offer an avatar that develops a sense a power by living dangerously, earning lots of money, and having lots of sex, all under the pretence of condemning the American dream while also saying it lets you do some really cool things. For 2017, American Made is that film, based loosely on the life of former drug smuggler and C.I.A. informant, Barry Seal, who notoriously abetted the white house in exposing members of the Medellín Cartel (including Pablo Escobar) before being assassinated in 1986.

Although that sounds interesting and exactly the kind of story Hollywood covets to get its hands on, there is little if any insight into government corruption or drug trafficking, which serves as only a framework to the overall fantasy. The basic outline of American Made can be surmised as a bored husband and father (Tom Cruise), who hates the tedium of his work, is given an offer (here by Domhnall Gleeson) to infiltrate a dangerous foreign group, only to find himself face to face with one of the group’s leaders (Jorge Ochoa played by Alejandro Edda) who counteroffers with a far more lucrative proposal. Playing both sides against one another, Seal takes full advantage of his new home and wealth with his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), until the whole operation eventually falls apart and Seal’s lifestyle, and his life, become under threat by everyone around him.

Yet as wholly generic as its plot may be, director Doug Liman adds small touches of creativity to liven up the execution. Many problems with Tom Cruise’s films stem from the actor himself showcasing his ego by being the cocky hero that made him famous. As Barry Seal, Cruise is presented as a pawn who thinks himself a king. Seal asking his wife whether she trusts him and she outright stating no is treated as a recurring gag and one which refreshingly deflates the action star when necessary. Most famous for directing The Bourne Identity and the surprisingly fun Tom Cruise vehicle, Edge of Tomorrow, Liman knows how to rely upon and restrain Cruise’s charismatic persona to enjoyably great effect.

Likewise, some scenes work really well in creating tension and suspense in areas where other screenwriters and directors might not have given much thought to. There’s something oddly engaging in watching Seal simply etch out the mathematical requirements for lifting a plane off a narrow runway beleaguered by tall trees with heavy packages of cocaine in his plane’s compartment. It allows us to see an intelligence and skill in the character that films like these often forget to include.

In its minute and nonconsequential moments, American Made feels like something more substantial than many of its comparative films, but it’s not enough elevate the material beyond a flashy by-the-numbers gangster movie. As its neat two hour runtime draws to a close, there’s little that could be regarded as memorable or unique shortly after the film’s conclusion. American Made is, at times, an exciting and humorous turn for Cruise following Universal’s disastrous remake of The Mummy, but offers nothing new to stand out as anything other than an above-average blockbuster for the end of summer.

Michael O’Sullivan

15A (See IFCO for details)

115 minutes

American Made  is released 25th August 2017

American Made – Official Website

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Review: The Dark Tower

 

DIR: Nikolaj Arcel • WRI: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel • PRO: Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard, Erica Huggins • DOP: Rasmus Videbæk • ED: Alan Edward Bell, Dan Zimmerman • DES: Christopher Glass, Oliver Scholl • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Katheryn Winnick, Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” Ask anyone who’s read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series what they remember most about the books, and their answer will most likely be that iconic opening line. Much like adaptations of his work, King’s novels can vary widely in quality from modern classics such as Different Seasons to the absurdly unsalvageable Tommyknockers, but perhaps none are as divisive among readers as The Dark Tower, the horror writer’s self-declared magnum opus.

Initially conceived as a blend between The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Lord of the Rings, and Arthurian legend, the series began as a simple revenge story as basic as its first sentence suggests. The last of a group of magical knights known as gunslingers, Roland, pursues an enigmatic man in black in the hopes to avenge his fallen allies. However, over the course of many years and increasing frustration from demanding fans, King transformed The Dark Tower into a quasi-spiritual and full-blown meta-narrative whereby its characters, including a tongue-and-cheek insertion of Stephen King himself, are at the centre-point of a multidimensional universe which connects all of King’s other novels as a collective story, with its central antagonist influencing the events of those other books.

In other words, near unfilmable. Since its final volume in 2004, talks of an adaptation have been circulating around Hollywood with Ron Howard’s name in frequent attachment. Now, after what can easily be seen as a decade of development hell, The Dark Tower is finally here. And very, very flawed. Following the story of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a supporting character from the novels, Jake is a New York kid who has repeatedly been experiencing horrible visions in his sleep since the death of his father. In them, he sees the man in black, Walter (Matthew McConaughey), using children to help demolish a tall, black tower in the centre of a wasteland. But Jake also sees a gunslinger, Roland (Idris Elba), who holds immunity to Walter’s influence, and can therefore stop him from destroying the tower. When servants to Walter try to kidnap the young boy, Jake runs to an envisioned portal connected to another world, where he meets Roland and begins his quest with the gunslinger to defend the dark tower from being destroyed.

In a commendable effort to make the story accessible to a much wider audience, The Dark Tower suffers from trying to compact over 4,000 pages into 90 minutes, making most of the story difficult to follow or fully grasp. Heavily edited by studio mandate into a clean 95-minute film, the film skips along from scene to scene, with overuse of flashbacks to fill in the expository gaps left on the cutting room floor. As a result, what occurs can be best described as what might’ve happened had Warner Bros. decided to make one Harry Potter film about all seven books.

While not having precursory knowledge of the series probably benefits those experiencing The Dark Tower with fresh eyes, fans of King might feel especially alienated throughout. Especially in its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references to other Stephen King films, which suggests a collaborative effort to incorporate the series’ meta-narrative to something more than just mere fan service. Its allusions are so minimal and obtuse to avoid paying licence fees to other studios that it can be easy to miss when other Stephen King films become part of The Dark Tower’s overarching storyline. For instance, not only do Roland and Jake fight off the creature suggestively from Stephen King’s It, but Jake possesses an important power known as “shine,” the very same psychic ability as the small boy from The Shining. This would be a nice little trivia piece for fans of Stephen King, but “shine” is so integral to the story and yet so underdeveloped that seeing Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic might be required beforehand.

What’s evident in The Dark Tower is a clear aborted attempt by Sony and Columbia Pictures to create a new cinematic universe based on nearly forty years’ worth of established films. While ambitious and faithful to King’s intent with the series, the failed execution to bring such an idea to the screen makes for an incomprehensible viewing experience. Idris Elba struggles to remain compelling as a hero, performing an understated imitation of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name,’ while McConaughey borders on hammy over-the-top villainy which might have been fun to watch had he fully committed. With the film now released, talks of a supposed television series are in circulation and, if true, The Dark Tower serves as a messy and dull pilot for things to come.

Michael O’Sullivan

94 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

The Dark Tower is released 17th August 2017

The Dark Tower – Official Website

 

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Review: England is Mine

DIR: Mark Gill • WRI: Mark Gill, William Thacker • PRO: Baldwin Li, Orian Williams • DOP: Nicholas D. Knowland • ED: Adam Biskupski • DES: Helen Watson • MUS: Masakatsu Takagi • CAST: Jack Lowden, Jodie Comer

 

The idea of making a film about Morrissey sounds like a concept delivered a few years too late. The former frontman to The Smiths undoubtedly remains popular to this day, but enmity for the conceited popstar continually grows even among his fans. Deciding to take a page from the John Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy, and focus on Morrissey’s adolescence and pre-music career seems like the best choice for England is Mine to take, yet even this isn’t enough to make the experience an enjoyable one. While fans of Morrissey might find nuggets of appreciation for moments which allude to some of his more famous songs, those unfamiliar will undoubtedly feel alienated and frustrated with this tribute to the Manchester artist.

One of the most significant problems that England is Mine suffers from is in its narrative. Choosing to focus exclusively on Stephen Morrissey as a young teenager and his relationship to his home excludes a lot of the more interesting moments of his life and the controversies in them. The Morrissey depicted here by writer/director Mark Gill, in his feature debut, is one who feels empty and aimless in conjunction with the world around him. Unfortunately, the film adopts this sentiment as well, often without any clear indication about what the film wants to be about.

It’s an exploration of creativity and inspiration, about frustrations with bourgeois social ambitions, about depression and mental illness, dysfunctional families, and yet none of these elements are cohesive from beginning to end. An incredibly coincidental moment which occurs two thirds into the movie while Morrissey works in a hospital would be considered a traumatic and life-changing experience, but is simply glossed over here as another plot point until the final conclusion.

Secondly, and far more egregiously to the film’s detriment, is Morrissey himself. As a character study, it’s hard to think of another more obnoxious and unlikable screen presence in cinema this year. As England is Mine opens, we see a fastidious, sardonic, bitter, and imperious teenager who looks down on his best friend’s help because she works in Asda. As the film ends, this character never changes. Teen dramas often rely on themes of alienation and confusion, with the well-meaning message of “be yourself” but Gill and co-writer, William Thacker, turn this into an excuse for senselessly callous remarks to friends and family. Morrissey does not change at any point throughout the film, and his pretentions become the very reason a character like Adrian Mole exists to be made fun of.

Not helped by this is a bland imitation of Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) of the singer/songwriter in his early years. Lowden certainly adopts the look and mannerisms but remains monotone throughout, performing as Morrissey, the celebrity, more than Morrissey, the young and confused adult.  What’s left of the film is an empty and unfocussed celebration of an intolerable and immature brat’s right to be intolerable and immature.

Music biography films, such as Walk the Line, are best when they offer insight into an artist’s life for fans looking to learn more but can also work as an introduction for newcomers to songs they might never have heard. England is Mine offers neither, and as opening narration advises, is “worth avoiding.”

Michael O’Sullivan

94 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

England is Mine is released 4th August 2017

England is Mine – Official Website

 

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Review: Land of Mine


DIR/WRI: Martin Zandvliet • PRO: Malte Grunert, Mikael Chr. Rieks • DOP: Camilla Hjelm • ED: Per Sandholt, Molly Marlene Stensgaard • DES: Gitte Malling • MUS: Sune Martin • CAST: Roland MøllerLouis HofmannJoel Basman

 

It’s inarguable to suggest the current cultural climate is anything but divisive. For many people, this is an era of stark contrasts, unquestionable polarising opinions, and the ubiquitous adoption of the Us-versus-Them mentality in everything from politics to Jodie Whitaker’s casting in Doctor Who. With the controversial reception met with HBO’s new confederacy production this week, now seems like a simultaneously inappropriate and relevant moment for a film like Land of Mine to be made. Snubbed at this year’s Oscars for best foreign feature, it’s certainly not difficult to imagine the Danish film to be regarded as a Nazi sympathiser movie had it won.

Of course, Martin Zandvliet’s fourth feature film (which could easily be described as The Hurt Locker in WWII) is far more complicated narratively and thematically than simply inverting the tropes in depictions of Nazism. Set during May 1945, as the German occupation of Denmark draws to a close, a group of German boys are withheld from returning home in order to clear the minefields across the beaches of Denmark. Led morally by a young teenager named Sebastian (Louis Hofmann), the boys are supervised by a jaded and irascible Danish sergeant (Roland Møller; Atomic Blonde) who initially refuses to feed or assist the boys unless out of necessity.

It’s not difficult to imagine that the sergeant soon softens his stance with the young POWs, in a film that boils down to a tale of learning to see the humanity that lies beneath a person’s identity. Land of Mine (originally titled Under Sandet, meaning “Under the Sand”) carefully navigates its subject matter, choosing to distance its characters from association with Nazism as much as possible, except for the occasional visual cue when it’s thematically relevant. Its border between sympathy and empathy is a difficult line not to cross, particularly when Zandvliet intentionally makes the Danish army barbarous torturers in ways often reserved for the SS in war films. How willing a person is to overlook this particular complication depends on each person seeing the film, but the tension and quietly sombre mood helps elevate Land of Mine into an entertaining and brutal look into the aftermath of war.

The setting of a minefield easily lends itself into dramatically suspenseful moments, with each explosive accident feeling as startling and unpredictable as the next. Despite the unending feeling of tenterhooks during each sweeping of the mines, the cruelty and brutality enacted upon the adolescent boys is never forgotten between each scene. Whether it’s food poisoning or physical humiliations by the Danish, Zandvliet excellently spotlights the troubling atmosphere that creates a temperament where violence against others is not only considered acceptable but a normal part of everyday life.

This serious subject is made even better by its cast, particularly Roland Møller, whose ambiguous but intimidating presence easily slips between compassion and severity often within the same scene. As someone who dreads the possibility of seeing yet another war film, Land of Mine is a refreshing surprise that deserves its nomination at the Oscars simply by being humane, heartfelt, and shocking without feeling necessary to delve into the platitudes of glorifying heroics which can often bog down the genre as a whole. Its depiction of Nazism will undoubtedly be a point for discussion after viewing, but the film’s decision to delve into the morally grey areas of war serves as one of the many reasons Land of Mine exists to begin with.

Michael O’Sullivan

100 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Land of Mine is released 4th July 2017

Land of Mine– Official Website

 

 

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Review: The Emoji Movie

DIR: Tony Leondis • WRI: Tony Leondis, Eric Siegel, Mike White • PRO: Carlos Zaragoza • DES: Keith Brian Burns • MUS: Patrick Doyle • CAST: T.J. Miller, Anna Faris, Sofía Vergara

It’s bad. When the best jokes of the film are from the casting director choosing Steven Wright’s dry monotone voice to represent “Meh” and having “Poop” attached to Patrick Stewart’s casting credits, no question about it, it’s a bad movie. However, despite its overwhelmingly negative reception in the U.S. both critically and publically, this is not one of the worst films ever made. Not even close. The Emoji Movie is a blip in an otherwise tremendous year for animation and serves as nothing more than a monetized advertisement for naïve kids. The ‘80s had Mac and Me, the ‘90s had Space Jam, and the ‘00s had Shark Tale; suffice to say that The Emoji Movie is nothing new. And yet, the unapologetically blunt commercialism of its own title and marketing makes sitting through it that little bit more excruciating from the moment Columbia’s company logo is snapped and stickered on a mobile phone.

Having forced Sony to cancel several upcoming productions to fix all its attention on The Emoji Movie, it’s astonishing how apathetic the efforts of everyone involved truly feels. The story can be easily surmised as one of its three screenwriters (including School of Rock writer, Mike White, surprisingly) having sat down to watch Inside Out one night with their kid and sent out the Pixar movie’s plot as a rough treatment to fulfil a looming deadline. That might sound extremely critical of the film’s originality, so in the sake of fairness, it also mimics Wreck it Ralph. In fact, The Emoji Movie borrows so heavily from Disney’s recent releases that it would hardly be surprising if part of the agreement between the two studios over use of Spiderman involved Disney legally abdicating their right to sue Sony for heavily plagiarising their material.

Quite simply, in the world of Textopolis, emojis are created to serve one purpose and one emotion. That is, except for Gene Meh (T.J. Miller), who is capable of expressing multiple emotions of his own free will. Despite the film showing plenty of characters doing likewise, Gene is cast as a “malfunction” by his community. When his mistake causes the phone’s user to consider erasing his phone, Gene sets out to find a way to make everything right again, becoming one emotion and saving his world. It’s not difficult to imagine what Gene learns along the way, as The Emoji Movie serves up a half-hearted platitude of being yourself. Even its core theme is undermined, however, as a supporting character, Jailbreak (Anna Faris), is taught the troubling message of just accepting her place in the world, despite frequent acknowledgement of how systematically oppressive her world may be.

However, this would be giving more thought to The Emoji Movie than the filmmakers themselves had possibly given. In truth, the only exception that makes the feature-length commercial substantially worse than any other bad animation is its existence pulls down the quality of reasonably good kids films with similar commercial intent. If anything is to blame for The Emoji Movie, it’s the surprising success of both The Lego Movie and The Angry Birds Movie that paved the way for other studios to be equally meta and unapologetically forward in its branding. The Emoji Movie will hopefully bring this trend to a close as it offers nothing worthwhile for either children or adults.

To put it in the film’s own terms, The Emoji Movie is one big pile of Patrick Stewart.

Michael O’Sullivan

91 minutes
G (See IFCO for details)

The Emoji Movie is released 4th August 2017

The Emoji Movie – Official Website

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Review: Girls Trip

DIR: Malcolm D. Lee • WRI: Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver • PRO: Malcolm D. Lee, William Packer • DOP: Greg Gardiner • ED: Paul Millspaugh • DES: Keith Brian Burns • MUS: David Newman • CAST: Kate Walsh, Regina Hall, Larenz Tate

 

Of all the films in 2017 that are fascinating to dissect, it’s surprising that Girls Trip is at the top of that list. By all accounts, this should be a bad movie – the soundtrack is cringe-inducing, the jokes are predictable, and the premise utilizes the well-worn Hangover formula that uninspired comedies have relied upon since its release back in 2009. Despite this, it still manages to be both enjoyable and entertaining, albeit with the minor caveat that those who have no tolerance for loud and crass humour may want to give this a miss.

Girls Trip is the perfect example of star charisma elevating the material they’re working with. The reliability of its director, Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother), helps ensure the film never dips too far in quality, but it’s the excellent dynamic between its central quartet of Regina Hall (Scary Movie), Queen Latifah (Chicago), Jada Pinkett Smith (The Nutty Professor), and Tiffany Haddish (Keanu) that gives Girls Trip its remarkable energy, personality, and style.

The story involves the Flossy Posse – Ryan (Hall), Sasha (Latifah), Lisa (Smith), and Dina (Haddish) – who have spent over twenty-five years together as the best of friends. When Ryan is on the cusp of making a business deal at the annual Essence Festival, she takes the opportunity to spend the weekend with her lifelong friends, each with their own particular needs as well. Sasha must break a scandalous story in order to save her gossip website; Lisa hopes to get in touch with her wild side and have sex for the first time in two years; and Dina seeks to capture the reckless, drunken spirit that made her friends’ adventures the stuff of legend.

With past quarrels resurfacing, childhood sweethearts, and cheating spouses, it’s not difficult to imagine how the rest of the story unfolds. At just over two hours long, Girls Trip stretches its plot thinly over scenes of hallucinogenic absinthe and explosive micturition, feeling as though thirty minutes at least could have been cut from the runtime. In spite of this and its more unsavoury moments, the film manages to keep its celebration of sisterhood at centre-focus, grounding the movie in charming scenes of friends spending time together. The natural chemistry between its four stars helps to make the friendship of the Flossy Posse all the more convincing than might be expected.

Added to this is the enjoyable casting of Jada Pinkett Smith and Regina Hall against type, where Smith is given liberty to let loose in enjoyably ludicrous situations. Hall especially showcases her charisma by making the oft-frustrating straight-man role an engaging and sympathetic character to spend time with, still delivering some of the funniest lines of the movie.

Girls Trip‘s surprising success at the US box-office against Dunkirk certainly ensures that this won’t be the last we’ll see of the Flossy Posse, but it can only be hoped that Universal remember that not just its stars but the heartfelt celebration of sororal bonds which has helped make the film such a hit with audiences. While it cannot be stressed enough that not everyone will find the experience an enjoyable one, those looking for the perfect Friday night movie may be pleasantly surprised with what’s on offer here.

Michael O’Sullivan

122 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

Girls Trip is released 28th July 2017

Girls Trip – Official Website

 

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Review: A Man Called Ove

DIR/WRI: Hannes Holm • PRO: Annica Bellander, Nicklas Wikström Nicastro • DOP: Göran Hallberg • ED: Fredrik Morheden• DES: Jan Olof Ågren • MUS: Gaute Storaas • CAST: Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg

 

To describe the plot of A Man Called Ove is to describe any number of movies involving grumpy old men. An irascible elderly man feels alienated from the modern world, usually venting his frustrations on a tedium that is relatable to the viewer, such as shopping. We learn that their anger stems from an irrevocable tragedy, most often bereavement, and it takes the love of some well-meaning, kind individuals to help the protagonist emerge from his shell and appreciate life once more. Same old song and dance. The titular misanthrope to this Swedish comedy resembles so many who came before him, such as Toni Erdmann, About Schmidt, and even family films like Up can’t escape from the bitter septuagenarians. If these redemptive stories of learning to love life once more are so recurrent, it could be forgiven for erroneously marking A Man Called Ove as just another to add to the list.

Based on the hugely successful novel by Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove bears its strengths in its darker, incongruous tone. While following formula and exploring the life of its protagonist, Ove (Rolf Lassgård), each flashback is laced with an ironic sting that suggests the only method for Ove to learn how to love life is for him to try and end it. Ove has given up on life; having lost his wife, his job, and his position of authority in his local community. Each attempt brings him back to another point in his life, yet each time he finds his efforts thwarted or ended abruptly by his new neighbours across the road. Similarly to As Good as it Gets, Ove renews his reasons to go on through the help of a young woman, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), who wishes to learn how to drive before the arrival of her third child.

The use of suicide as a narrative device is a refreshing twist to the story, one that works well against the saccharine, overdramatic background to Ove’s past. Methodically directed by Hannes Holm, the tonal discrepancy between past and present complement one another perfectly; often with the stylistic sense of having two separate movies blended seamlessly together. Known primarily through his roles in crime thrillers such as The Hunters, Rolf Lassgård works incredibly well as a comedic presence. The script, also written by Holm, allows Lassgård ample opportunity to deliver uninhibited nuances to a rather common archetype. A scene in which an emotionally unstable Ove hears his wife’s voice fill the house once again is dramatic gold and Lassgård doesn’t fail to deliver a touching vulnerability to the character.

It’s a shame that as the film’s second and third acts are underway, that the unique charm A Man Called Ove offers slowly dissipates. Gone is the irony and the darker tones, gradually becoming a more standard, albeit heart-warming, affair about overcoming loss and loving life. The balance between both stories gradually suffers as Ove’s arc in present day is settled far before Ove in the past is able to do likewise. As such, the film meanders with gratuitous plot point after gratuitous plot point until it can eventually reach the underwhelming and predictable climax. Most unnecessary of all is the ludicrous inclusion of an unambiguous villain, simply known as ‘white shirt’ (Johan Widerberg) who tries to send Ove’s lifelong friend into a nursing home through bureaucratic intervention.

Despite its flaws, A Man Called Ove still manages to deliver an emotionally satisfying experience through its charming and compelling cast who help elevate the material to an enjoyable standard. If Holm’s film recalls anything by its conclusion, it’s most likely to be 2015’s Look Who’s Back, where the overwhelming popularity of its source is simply lost in translation between novel and film. Nevertheless, A Man Called Ove remains an easy and watchable comedy but fails to compete with the other contenders for Best Foreign Film at the 89th Academy Awards.

 Michael O’Sullivan    

116 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

A Man Called Ove is released 30th June 2017

A Man Called Ove – Official Website

 

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Review: Risk

DIR/WRI: Laura Poitras • PRO: Brenda Coughlin, Yoni Golijov, Laura Poitras • DOP: Kirsten Johnson, Laura Poitras, Katy Scoggin • ED: Erin Casper, Melody London, Laura Poitras • MUS: Jeremy Flower • CAST: Julian Assange, Sarah Harrison, Jacob Appelbaum

 

It’s fascinating how much the world has changed in a few short years. In an era of Brexit and the Trump administration, not only has does the dilemma of extreme government surveillance seem like a relic from long ago, but global attention on privacy infringement has diminished as well. In this regard, leave it to a documentarist like Laura Poitras to renew those fears back into the mind once more. Accompanied with the dark conspiratorial style that has become a Showtime productions signature, Risk distinguishes itself as an unnerving and elucidating post-mortem on one of the biggest scandals of the decade.

Admittedly, as the documentary begins, it’s easy to forgive any misgivings viewers might have regarding its subject. In Poitras’s recorded production notes, she admits “this is not the film I thought I was making” and the early footage reflects this. Beginning in 2011, Risk starts as quite an unfocussed overview of Wikileaks and its members at the time, struggling to mesh what the documentary began as with what we eventually see on the screen. For anyone requiring an account on Wikileaks, We Steal Secrets remains the definitive text on the subject.

However, what distinguishes Poitras’ account is its remarkable insider experience as each development unfolds right up to earlier this year. Its connections to 2014’s Citizenfour are more than narrative, as it shares the earlier documentary’s sense of heavy paranoia. What made Edward Snowden’s story incredible was the intense immersion given by Poitras into the NSA scandal as it was planned for release. Risk offers the same experience but is more reflective in tone. It bleakly offers insight into the aftermath of an act of dissidence, and how easily a group like Wikileaks can crumble from government pressure. It’s easy to almost forget what the dilemma actually was when all attention was given to Assange and Snowden rather than the documents released.

That isn’t to suggest Poitras’  subjects are guiltless in their acts, as she gives startling views of both Assange and Jacob Appelbaum, Wikileak’s other significant former member. While his tone is facetious, when Assange is asked about the rape allegations, he remarks half-sincerely that he should have such accusations recur every six months as it is good for public attention. Likewise Poitras gives both a personal account and other’s experiences on Appelbaum’s history of abuse and sexual harassment. While Appelbaum’s and Assange’s stories are inexorably linked with the document leaks, Risk makes it explicitly clear that the men responsible shouldn’t be valorized, even if their cause for exposing government abuse of power is an honourable one.

Risk focuses on a difficult subject to engage with, but helps reignite the conversation that should be had on how much governmental control is simply too much. Poitras finds fresh ground to cover, bringing the important stories of the past back into the present spotlight where it’s as important as ever to discuss. Personally speaking, Risk is the kind of documentary to make becoming a hermit an increasingly tantalizing possibility.

 Michael O’Sullivan    

122 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Risk is released 30th June 2017

Risk – Official Website

 

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Review: From the Land of the Moon

 

DIR: Nicole Garcia • WRI: Jacques Fieschi, Nicole Garcia • PRO: Alain Attal • DOP: Christophe Beaucarne • ED: Simon Jacquet • DES: Arnaud de Moleron • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel, Alex Brendemühl

Sometimes it takes a film like From the Land of the Moon to highlight the startling lack of films exploring women’s sexuality. There are examples, certainly, but rarer still are those examples exempt from falling into the characteristics of male gaze. Blue is the Warmest Colour suffers from this, where its explicit depiction of a lesbian couple having sex remains a contentious debate for viewers and critics alike. As an exploration of sexuality from a woman’s perspective, Nicole Garcia’s eighth feature film to-date should feel like a refreshing antidote, but From the Land of the Moon exhibits a lot of hesitancy and restraint from some of its core themes.

Based on the novel by Milena Agus, the film contains a lot of strengths which make for compelling viewing, most notably Marion Cotillard. Carrying the events of the novel from Sardinia to France, Cotillard plays Gabrielle, a fervent and unconstrained woman who develops an obsession with her village’s schoolteacher. When her advances are rejected and she exposes herself to nearby farmhands, Gabrielle’s mother marries her off to a Spaniard named José (Alex Brendemühl; The German Doctor). Deeply afflicted and suffering an unexpected miscarriage, Gabrielle is sent to a spa in the Alps, where she meets Lieutenant André Sauvage (Louis Garrel; The Dreamers) and becomes deeply fascinated by him. As her treatment draws nearer to completion and her return to France all the more sooner, Gabrielle yearns to leave her former life and run away with André before it’s too late.

Cotillard has the misfortune of being significantly typecast as Hollywood’s femme fatale, from Inception all the way to 2016’s Allied with Brad Pitt. More often than not, it takes her French productions to showcase her significantly capable range that helped her achieve Oscar fame as the late Edith Piaf. Cotillard slips into the role of Gabrielle with dexterous ease, developing both a fascinating and perplexing lead that the viewer never feels certain of. This is complimented further by the gorgeous cinematography of Christophe Beaucarne (Mr. Nobody), who shoots each landscape as beautifully as Franco Di Giacomo had in The Night of the Shooting Stars.

Where From the Land of the Moon flounders is in its screenplay, which lacks the compulsion of its strongest qualities. Co-written by Natalie Carter, Jacques Fieschi, and Nicole Garcia, the story uses the tired narrative device of flashback to anchor its story immediately with a sense of drama and urgency. It only serves to undermine the sequence of events when audiences have already been informed of the outcome. In an effort to give the cheap technique a merit of inclusion, the film throws in a slightly predictable twist which is as ill-conceived as it is unwelcome. Without spoiling too much, its final reveal undermines much of the narrative and thematic reasoning which had preceded, concluding with a rather depressingly conservative outcome.

In its attempt to explore women’s sexuality, Nicole Garcia struggles to form a solid foundation. Too often From the Land of the Moon relies on themes well-trodden by Garcia in the past, primarily in regards to unrequited love and unfulfilling marriages. While direction and production are still to the high quality expected from Garcia, the false promise of exploring new territory makes the overall experience feel lacking, despite its better qualities. While the film remains an adequate romantic drama, its promises to explore a more insightful subject matter makes for an overall disappointing experience.

 

Michael O’Sullivan

120 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

From the Land of the Moon is released 23rd June 2017

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Cardboard Gangsters

DIR: Mark O’Connor • WRI: John Connors, Mark O’Connor •  PRO: Richard Bolger • DOP: Michael Lavelle • ED: Tony Kearns • DES: Padraig O’Neill • MUS: Rael Jones • CAST: John Connors, Kierston Wareing, Paul Alwright

If anything can be understood about Mark O’Connor from his new film, it’s obvious he doesn’t like easy or pleasant characters. Cardboard Gangsters, O’Connor’s fourth feature film to date, returns to familiar grounds for the filmmaker, exploring the oft-neglected and maligned communities in Irish society. Co-written by its star, John Connors (who previously worked in O’Connor’s King of the Travellers), the film’s attention directs itself to the notorious suburbs of Darndale, a north county Dublin estate with a high level of social housing and crime. Despite years of social development, the north side of Dublin still retains fragments of its image as a more precarious and rough area to visit and places, such as Darndale, often receive the brunt of this reputation which, in turn, greatly impacts its residents’ ability to progress in either education or employment.

All of this is addressed in Cardboard Gangsters with a refreshing sense of frankness. At times, it can come from a sardonic gag where takeaways refuse to deliver food to the residency, or from the small discussion of a mother trying to persuade her son to go to college. While it may follow the plot of four young men who try getting by through selling drugs, Darndale is very much the centre of its story. Jay Connolly (Connors), a 24-year-old D.J., lives with his mother, who struggles from day-to-day to make payments and keep their house. With his highly unpredictable friend, Dano (Fionn Walton; What Richard Did), Jay moves from nightclub narcotics, like cocaine and ecstasy, into the even more dangerous substance heroine. This attracts the attention of local kingpin, Derra Murphy (Jimmy Smallhorne), who threatens Jay and Dano to stop competing in his territory or face the consequences. But the glorified lifestyle of money, drugs, and sex, goad Jay and Dano into challenging Derra and whatever violence may come from their actions.

Having performed well to the audience at the Galway Film Fleadh last year, a contributor to Film Ireland aptly described the film as similar to the classic hood movies such as Menace II Society and Boyz in the Hood. The simultaneous and skilful balancing between exploring and appreciating the community of Darndale helps Cardboard Gangsters remain remarkably on the level of its subject matter. It neither looks down upon nor looks up to its characters and their lifestyle, but demonstrates a clear understanding of what motivates people into choosing a criminal path. None of its characters are likable and are often repugnant, but their sense of vulnerability and confusion makes them relatable. It’s hard to imagine another gangster film which features its tough guy breaking down with tears and into the arms of his mother.

For all the aspects Cardboard Gangsters gets right in its authenticity, there are a number of issues which inhibit the overall experience from being a genuinely great film. While audio and continuity hiccups can be forgiven as insignificant, the genericity of its plot is unavoidable. With little variation or subversion, it follows the rise and fall of your typical gangster film. Worryingly for 2017, the film is far too casually misogynistic where all of its women are divisible into two categories – mothers and “session moths.” While the film gives moments to its men in exposing their hypermasculinity as a thin veil, no opportunity arises for any of its heroines. Their big emotional moments are reduced to comic absurdity as one shouts on the street to another “you’re after riding me fella!”

It’s a detriment to the film’s finer moments of community and understanding. Cardboard Gangsters sets itself apart in the gangster genre by its more nuanced and intense performances from all actors involved. Fionn Walton definitely has the juiciest role and perfectly handles being dangerously capricious and way over his head simultaneously, but John Connors holds a more charismatic and intimidating presence on screen. Connors, most famously from RTE’s Love/Hate, showcases a tremendous ability to use his size and his voice to be imposing and ominous but with slight cracks to expose the inexperienced young man just below the surface. The film will certainly draw in crowds who find themselves longing for more Irish gangster dramas and, for those people, Cardboard Gangsters offers plenty of what they’ve come to love about the genre.

Michael O’Sullivan

91 minutes
18 (See IFCO for details)

Cardboard Gangsters is released 16th June 2017

Cardboard Gangsters – Official Website

 

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Review: Snatched

DIR: Jonathan Levine • WRI: Katie Dippold • PRO: Peter Chernin, Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Jenno Topping • DOP: Florian Ballhaus • ED: Zene Baker, Melissa Bretherton • DES: Mark Ricker • MUS: Chris Bacon, Theodore Shapiro • CAST: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Ike Barinholtz

When the initial trailer for Snatched was released earlier this year, it appeared to be a standard mediocre affair. There was Amy Schumer, playing a thirty-something year old struggling to sort her life out; there was Goldie Hawn, returning to her acting career after 15 years which would garner cross-generation appeal; and there were the drinks, the parties, and the sex (set to the backdrop of Ecuador) that anyone has come to expect appearing in an American comedy. Then suddenly, the twist, as both Schumer and Hawn wake up to discover they’ve been kidnapped and imprisoned in a filthy, dark cellar and terrified for their lives.

Watching the film, this tonal swerve is no easier to digest. It’s certainly the most interesting and simultaneously confounding element which the Paul Feig produced chick flick has to offer. The choice makes sense in theory – combining the dark thriller tones that made The Hangover a phenomenal success with the ribald stylings of Schumer and the empowerment fantasies which have made previous Feig films as popular as they are. Snatched offers an example of why making a comedy that incorporates darker aspects of other genres can be more difficult than it might sound. When The Hangover: Part III decided to elevate the stakes by killing people, the excess ruined the comedy and a similar situation presents itself here. Schumer and Hawn making jokes about being potential sexual assault victims (before and during the central plot even begins) which not only feels tasteless but ominous as you wonder how far this supposed comedy will take its dark subject matter.

The crasser qualities might be forgiven if the film was actually funny but it never generates any humour, setting up jokes for far too long and making the punchlines extremely predictable. One of the most egregious examples finds itself in a character named Roger who the mother and daughter meet when they escape. He presents himself as a macho-adventurer, offering his services to bring them to safety, and it takes until the very final moments of the second act before the obvious joke that he’s anything but how he looks is finally revealed. This joke repeats with different characters throughout. Snatched misuses the rule of three by making the gag be the thrust of the story so that it no longer exists as a joke.

Schumer ascended to international stardom following the surprise hit of Trainwreck nearly two years ago and has since gone quiet in her cinematic career. As a follow up, Snatched is a disappointment from beginning to end, often making the style that made Schumer sheen as a comedic performer be the very same thing that makes her egregiously insufferable to watch. Fans of Goldie Hawn might equally feel disappointed by the underuse of her comedic prowess despite being one of two lead actresses in the cast. Both leads undoubtedly possess a serviceable chemistry but that connection is soured by the screenplay’s decision to make both characters very unlikable. If anything, while Snatched tries to imitate comedies by Paul Feig and Todd Phillips, what it most closely resembles is an Adam Sandler comedy, with all the pain and clumsy humour which that implies.

Michael O’Sullivan

100 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Snatched is released 19th May 2017

Snatched  – Official Website

 

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Review: The Other Side of Hope

 

 

DIR/WRI/PRO: Aki Kaurismäki • DOP: Timo Salminen• ED: Samu Heikkilä • DES: Markku Pätilä • CAST: Ville Virtanen, Kati Outinen, Sakari Kuosmanen

 

For anyone unfamiliar with Aki Kaurismäki’s films, his unique style can be quite gradual to accommodate to. The Finnish-born director has established himself as an adroit creator of wry, often surreal, humour that can often alienate audiences with intentionally artificial set designs and unusually stiff performances. As a personal first experience with Kaurismäki’s comedy, The Other Side of Hope offers a comfortable introduction to many of the filmmaker’s noted proclivities (if you’re a fan of blues and gritty rock n’ roll, it’s definitely a treat) with an incredibly apt and contemporary subject matter that furthers its accessibility.

The story of two disparate men whose lives cross paths in the unlikeliest of ways, The Other Side of Hope primarily follows Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee who crosses into Finnish borders and seeks asylum from the government authorities. Determined to make contact with his lost sister, he spends his days trying to find work and a home in order to preserve his tenure in the country. Simultaneously, an elderly Finnish man named Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen – a regular in Kaurismäki’s films) leaves his job following the dismantling of his marriage, which is conveyed in beautifully executed visual storytelling. With the money left from his shares, he gambles it all in a poker game and wins. Deciding to fulfil his dream of running a restaurant, he purchases a bar called The Golden Pint, and soon afterwards finds himself face-to-face with Khaled, giving him money and living quarters while he works at The Golden Pint.

Considering the gravitas of the Syrian refugee as it still unfolds to this day, there’s an immediate difficulty in trying to find the humour in such a grim period of history. Whether it’s due to his unusual style, it seems as though Kaurismäki struggles to uncover it as well, with at least thirty minutes proceeding before the first discernible joke is uttered. While the juxtaposition of Khaled’s and Wikström’s story makes sense thematically, it also makes sense comically as well. Wikström’s portion offers a clearer mode of humour to operate between the unjust treatment of refugees in European society. The tribulation of restaurant servicing is a classic comedic scenario shown here with a Kaurismaki’s twist. Whatever charm The Other Side of Hope has stems from these moments in The Golden Pint, and the excellently choreographed timing of its performers.

However, as the film is primarily about the Syrian refugee crisis, the film stumbles in its attempts to address more serious issues. At its core, and much to the film’s success, is the humanisation of Khaled and his experience living as a refugee which is exhibited without condescension or maudlin sentimentality. Paradoxically, by being artificial, its observations feel more realistic – such as Khaled’s conversation with an experienced Iraqi refugee who remarks that they cannot look depressed in public without the authorities sending them back home or simultaneously look happy without the authorities sending them back home. While these moments are certainly refreshing, they are scarce overall, with the discriminatory behaviour of the bureaucratic system taking the majority of the film’s criticisms and blame.

Then again, this detraction from The Other Side of Hope is mitigated by the cleverly interwoven narratives which deliver some of the more subtle and condemning thoughts on Europe’s belief in equality and humanity. Kaurismäki offers a well-crafted and unique film that looks almost effortless in its delivery throughout every frame. As this is his third time exploring the refugee crisis, it’s difficult to answer whether his latest attempt fairs better than previous entries, but as an introduction to the filmmaker’s unusual craft and style, it’s a highly recommended starting point.

Michael O’Sullivan

100 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

The Other Side of Hope is released 26th May 2017

The Other Side of Hope – Official Website

 

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Film Review: Frantz

frantz-venice-2

DIR/WRI: François Ozon • PRO: Nicolas Altmayer, Stefan Arndt, Uwe Schott • DOP: Pascal Marti • ED: Laure Gardette • DES: Michel Barthélémy • MUS: Philippe Rombi • CAST: Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stötzner

 

The use of monochrome is simplistic in Frantz but never detracts from the tonal ennui that François Ozon captures throughout the film. A tale of reconciliation and bereavement in the aftermath of World War I, its story follows Anna (Paula Beer), a young German woman who loses her fiancé, Frantz, to the war and has since spent her time living with his parents, the Hoffmeisters. Treated as their own daughter, Anna finds a token of solace in their company, but their lives are soon rattled by the appearance of a Frenchman, Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney – Yves Saint Laurent), who claims to be a friend of Frantz. Faced with the hostility of Francophobes, Adrien gradually gains acceptance from the Hoffmeisters, who begin to see aspects of their son in the young man, while Anna soon starts to feel a love for Adrien that makes her both confused and despondent for her dedication to Frantz.

Its story resembles at times something Hitchcockian, but more greatly encapsulates the classic Hollywood stories from the ‘30s and ‘40s. The excellent use of shadows and light, accompanied with the occasional splash of colour, offers up a sensitive, quiet story with easily signalled emotional cues that retain its desired impact to great effect. Emotional is probably the key word in describing Frantz, as it romantically explores the emotive psychology of people affected by the aftermath of war. Realism is of little concern and, without spoiling, the story never thematically calls for an authentic account of grief or PTSD. The little details in the romance make up the significant moments in the overall film, such as Adrien and Anna speaking in French as their own secret language.

While Ozon directs with meticulous attention, his screenplay lacks a solid depth which makes the second act greatly suffer as a result. It’s disappointing, as Frantz delivers a satisfying story that loses all sense of structure or direction for far too long. It relies on a narrative device that seldom captures a sense of urgency or compulsion until the next important plot point peaks into frame. Likewise, while its pacifist themes are well intended, especially during Hans Hoffmeister’s (Ernst Stötzner) speech about who’s responsible for war, it also lacks any depth beyond simplistic axioms. Its themes on war are much better captured in La Grande Illusion (which Ozon nods influence to) or Clint Eastwood’s WWII double-bill of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.

Even after it returns to form near the film’s conclusion, Frantz fails to capture the intrigue and romantic atmosphere that it had beautifully created during its opening scenes. That doesn’t impede what came before as being brilliant dramatic filmmaking at its finest. It’s rare to see a film capture such a uniquely quiet mood that still retains intrigue and charm as well as it’s done here. Both Beer and Niney have a compelling chemistry, with Niney especially possessing a distinctive presence as a leading man. While not quite the masterpiece that it intends to be, Frantz still stands as one of the most touching romances this year so far.

Michael O’Sullivan

114 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Frantz is released 12th May 2017

Frantz  – Official Website

 

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Review: The Promise

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DIR:Terry George • WRI: Terry George, Robin Swicord PRO: Eric Esrailian, William Horberg, Mike Medavoy • DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe • ED: Steven Rosenblum • DES: Benjamín Fernández • MUS: Gabriel Yared • CAST: Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac

The Promise is the kind of film you didn’t know you wanted but glad that it exists. It’s certainly a very different film for Irish writer/director Terry George whose previous credits include Hotel Rwanda and In the Name of the Father.  Set against the backdrop of World War I and the remaining time of the Ottoman Empire, it tells of the infamous Armenian genocide (an estimated 1.2 million were killed by Ottoman soldiers) through the eyes of three protagonists in a terrible love triangle. Mikael (Oscar Isaac) is an apothecary’s son in a small village where he aspires to pursue a career as a doctor. When bequeathed a 400 gold dowry in exchange for a daughter’s hand in marriage, he travels to Constantinople where modern society mesmerises him in every turn.

Especially as he meets Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a young Parisian woman who tutors his cousins in their house, and instantly feels attracted to her. Despite her relationship to Chris Myers (Christian Bale), an American reporter for the Associated Press, and his commitment to family at home, Mikael and Ana fall in love and try to figure a way to stay together. Their romance is cut short when the Ottoman Empire enter the war and hostilities towards Mikael and his people forces him to return home where safety is always threatened by continuing Turkish troops driving Armenian locals from their homes.

From such a synopsis, it should be clear that the Armenians are second fiddle in their own film to make way for the ongoing romance across many years. When its political intent shows itself and comparisons to the Syrian refugee crisis have been made, it can be quite blunt and unfocused in its attempts. Yes, what we witness are inhumane atrocities, but what does Chris Myers, reporter for the Associated Press, have to say about them to let us clearly know the immorality at work. It becomes almost comical how frequent Christian Bale enters a scene explaining his job before making some insightful and sardonic commentary about government.

As a political film, it certainly fails, never fully allowing its central focus of Armenian genocide actually be the focus. If there was any worthy comparison to make, it would be Michael Cimino’s infamous Heaven’s Gate but with all the fat trimmed out. This is both good and bad in many ways. What’s good is that it captures the mood of an epic romance similar to the films of David Lean and any fan of Doctor Zhivago or Ryan’s Daughter will certainly get some enjoyment from The Promise’s story of love and conflict.

Oscar Isaac delivers a terrific performance, demonstrating why he’s so quickly rose to fame, while Charlotte Le Bon showcases a lot of potential following on from Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk and The Hundred-Foot Journey alongside Helen Mirren. The only weakness from its cast stems from Christian Bale, who underwhelms in a rather uninteresting role, but has enough presence as an actor to be at least compelling.

It seems quite a shame that for the most expensive film to be made about the Armenian genocide (a tragedy the Turkish government still refuse to acknowledge), the film never feels like it knows what to say about the events. Anyone interested in the tragedy should seek out 2015’s Map of Salvation or watch Henrik Malyan’s Nahapet for a more insightful experience. However, for those with an acquired taste for epic romance films from yesteryear, The Promise should recall fond memories of a genre rarely seen in cinema today.

Michael O’Sullivan

132 minutes
12A (See IFCO  for details)

The Promise is released 28th April 2017

The Promise  – Official Website

 

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Irish Film Review: Handsome Devil

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DIR/WRI: John Butler • 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

There’s something immediately repulsing about the homophobic remarks. Not simply by their frequency in Handsome Devil or their variations but by how authentic its usage reflects attitudes regarding sexuality and masculinity in many boys’ schools to this day. As the protagonist, Ned (Fionn O’Shea), explains in the beginning, gay means “bad, crap, different” and to be cast as such is a significant condemnation among peers. Despite whatever social and political progress has been made, the stigma of being gay still remains even if the kids don’t know what it means, and director John Butler illustrates this problem quite well in this touching comedy about two boys becoming the unlikeliest of friends.

Being a music lover, Ned has been bullied for being “gay” for as long as he can remember. Ostracized from his year for being the only boy to loathe rugby, he finds his own space reclusively in his dorm room. That is, until Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) moves in. A transfer student with a history of violence and a natural talent for rugby, Ned takes an instant disliking to the new guy, forming a makeshift Berlin Wall between himself and Conor.

However, Conor’s interest in music, coupled with the assistance of their English teacher (Andrew Scott) in a talent show, quickly breaks Ned down and the two become closer and closer as friends. But when Ned discovers Conor surreptitiously entering a gay bar, and Conor’s rugby team and coach (Moe Dunford) threaten to expose why he left his previous school, Conor is forced to repress his identity and his friendship to Ned in order to protect himself.

Admittedly, Handsome Devil doesn’t appear promising as it begins. The soundtrack, the voiceover narrative from Ned to lazily explain character motivation, and Andrew Scott’s Mr. Sherry emphatically asking students to “reveal to me who you are” has all the signs of a bland coming-of-age story for teens. John Butler, who previously directed and wrote The Stag, re-explores Irish masculinity here again but with the added twist of sexuality and its impact on male identity. For most of the film it works, thanks largely to a terrific cast who viably add dimensions to their characters and make the dramatic spots emotionally effective. Mr. Sherry’s brief glance aside as he assures Conor that “it gets better” fleshes out a character that until then was nothing more than a mentor figure for the protagonists.

While fewer laughs are to be had than Butler’s previous film, Handsome Devil succeeds in delivering a far more satisfying examination of masculinity than before, presenting an encouraging message for teenagers to not be bound by stereotype if it feels unnatural to them. The recurring tropes of teen flicks impede the story from feeling more than cliché, but there’s enough emotional resonance when necessary to give an enjoyable experience nevertheless. Whether it will have influence over its intended demographic is a different story altogether but the attempt to teach the ignorance of stigma is a commendable effort.

Michael O’Sullivan

94 minutes
15A See IFCO for details

Handsome Devil is released 21st April 2017

Handsome Devil – Official Website

 

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Review: Going in Style

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DIR: Zach Braff • WRI: Theodore Melfi • PRO: Donald De Line • DOP: Rodney Charters • ED: Myron I. Kerstein • DES: Anne Ross • CAST: Morgan Freeman, Joey King, Ann-Margret, Michael Caine, Christopher Lloyd

 

Chances are that not very many people remember the 1979 version of Going in Style. It was a bittersweet comedy about three pensioners, Joe, Albert, and Willie, bored out of their wits until one of them devises a plan to rob a bank. While not exactly filled with laughs, the chemistry between its co-stars, Art Carney, George Burns, and Lee Strasberg, helped to add substantial weight to the overall film, often turning into morbid territories that hasn’t been seen in Hollywood much since outside of ’70s American cinema.

Its obscurity is probably to the advantage of this modernisation, directed by Zach Braff (not funded by Kickstarter this time). In the roles now are Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, who lend their personalities with minimal results to say the least. Joe (Michael Caine) visits his local bank to be informed of the repossession of his house, just as he’s interrupted by bank robbers. Later on, he discovers that not only is the factory where he works being shut down, but pension savings have been removed as well, leaving Joe and his friends, Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin), without a penny. Partly out of frustration and partly out of adrenaline from the robbery, Joe makes the suggestion to rob the very banks robbing them, and soon the trio find themselves planning their own heist without any knowledge on how to pull it off.

There’s a significant distinction between Braff’s version and the original by Martin Brest (Midnight Run; Beverly Hills Cop) and it’s in its setup. While the new Joe is inspired by the bank robbery he was witness to, in Brest’s film, Joe proposes the bank robbery completely out of the blue. The spontaneity creates the comedy of the situation and the boredom of their lives as elderly men is sufficient enough for both the audience and characters to believe in the premise. It’s commendable for screenwriter Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures; St. Vincent) to not resort to imitation of the source material, but in its place is a general air of safeness that strips the original of its most interesting elements.

Going in Style is a film about aging and mortality. It’s not simply about three old men robbing a bank but about three people finding their remaining years an increasingly depressing experience. To its credit, the remake acknowledges this at times, especially during a conversation where Caine, Freeman, and Arkin all estimate how long they have left to live, delivered with a striking banality. Aside from small moments like this, its concentration on the heist, and only the heist, makes the emotional impact of its story greatly suffer as a result. There’s very little to set this comedy apart from the other aging men comedies in recent years, relying on the same tired jokes of not understanding the modern world or reinstating that some of our favourite actors are old now.

Braff’s style is muted here, which might alienate fans of Garden State and Wish I Was Here, but the direction is competent and stands out above the rest of American comedies in recent memory. The central and most condemning problem is in its cast, however. Despite starring alongside each other for six films now, Caine and Freeman act as though they’ve never seen one another in their entire lives, while Alan Arkin channels Lee Strasberg’s performance adequately. There’s a sense that the three actors are not committed to the material they’re working with; acting out emotions and actions but never the characters they’re supposed to be. Bizarrely, the one true standout from the film is Kenan Thompson, who steals the entire film in a brief cameo as a supermarket manager, delivering more funny lines in a few brief minutes than anyone else. Going in Style is not a bad film by any means, but its biggest crime is being an unimpressionable one.

Michael O’Sullivan

96 minutes
12A See IFCO for details

Going in Style is released 17th April 2017

Going in Style – Official Website

 

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Review: Graduation

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DIR/WRI/PRO: Cristian Mungia • DOP: Tudor Vladimir Panduru •  ED: Mircea Olteanu• DES: Simona Paduretu • MUS: Christopher Lennertz • CAST: Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Rares Andrici

If there was any word to describe a film by Christian Mungiu, it would be bleak. Nearly a decade ago, Mungiu garnered international attention at Cannes with 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, a drama set in 1980s Romania where a woman seeks her friend’s help in arranging an illegal abortion but find themselves at the mercy of an abortionist who exploits them for financial and sexual favours. The Romanian-born director thrives in scenarios and narratives which offer little opportunity to lighten its tone, and Graduation is by no means an exception. By the very end, the only feeling that’s left is complete abjection but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Graduation concerns itself with a similar theme in Mungiu’s films, exploring unethical and corrupt behaviour but on a more intricate scale compared to earlier films. If anything, Graduation seems like an appropriate film for a time of great radical and uncertain change in the political landscape across America and the EU. What begins as a father (Romeo played by Adrian Titieni) ensuring his daughter’s (Eliza played by Maria-Victoria Dragus) opportunity to prosper in the UK, quickly unravels beyond repair. After Eliza is assaulted, Romeo becomes determined to set it aside and push her through completing her exams. In a string of nepotism in local government, police, education, and hospitals, Romeo finds himself in the midst of illegal activity as he tries to garner favours that grant Eliza admission into university regardless of her result. However, her future remains uncertain as everyone, including Eliza herself, wishes for her to remain in Romania.

Reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s films (Maria-Victoria Dragus having coincidentally starred in The White Ribbon), Mungiu carries the film through a methodical structure that might alienate viewers to the film’s lack of subjectivity. Despite its slight attention to Eliza and her generation, the film focusses on Romeo and his desire to escape the corruption Romania has suffered since Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist leader from 1965 to 1989. Laced with irony, Romeo considers himself a morally good man despite contributing to the problems that face Romania to present date. Much of the nuance to Romeo’s character stems through Adrian Titieni’s muted but multifaceted performance. Titieni creates a sense of balance to Romeo, portraying a man whose sympathy would be more easily incurred if not for his behaviour and actions that compromise his ethics.

As a result, Mungiu delivers a troubling concept that the very act of helping a friend institutionally can lead to a political and social favouritism that privileges the few over the needs of many. It’s a dense idea that doesn’t quite flesh out its argument beyond the surface, much to the film’s overall detriment, but nevertheless feels challenging enough to remain engaging as a story. Despite many critics stating Graduation concludes mirthfully, what little optimism to be found is itself ambiguous and debatable. It’s an overall satisfying drama from Mungiu, but signs of exhaustion in his ideas are starting to show. There’s only so much bleakness any person can take from another.

Michael O’Sullivan

127 minutes

15A See IFCO for details

Graduation is released 31st March 2017

Graduation – Official Website

 

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Review: Smurfs: The Lost Village

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DIR: Kelly Asbury • WRI: Stacey Harman, Pamela Ribon • PRO: Mary Ellen Bauder, Jordan Kerner • ED: Bret Marnell • DES: Noelle Triaureau • MUS: Christopher Lennertz • CAST: Ariel Winter, Julia Roberts, Ellie Kemper

Smurfs: The Lost Village sells itself on a mystery about another, new, village of smurfs. Yet the only real, intriguing mystery is why anyone at Sony Animation felt like rebooting a four-year-old series (the answer is probably money). In truth, adaptations of classic cartoons like Mr. Peabody and Sherman and The Peanuts Movie have made the older format of live-action cartoons (your Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, etc.) completely antiquated to use. There’s certainly no other major change to Smurfs. It’s still bland and formulaic like its earlier entries. While commendable for remaining faithful to the original concept by Peyo, Smurfs: The Lost Village begins at the disadvantage of being based on questionable foundations. Why Smurfs still remains a popular franchise is mostly from its iconic character designs but that simply isn’t enough excuse to keep producing more and more smurfs material for nearly sixty years now.

As earlier mentioned, Smurfs: The Lost Village has marketed itself entirely on a mystery. Having discovered a secret map to a new location of other creatures, Smurfette (Demi Lovato), Brainy (Danny Pudi), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), and Hefty (Joe Manganiello) set forward through the forbidden forest to find the mysterious village and warn them of a plan set by Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) to enslave the villagers before it’s too late. Together, they discover strange plants and animals, travel through caves, rivers, and swamps, and eventually track down the village and discover who its inhabitants truly are. Honestly, the answer is extremely underwhelming.

While Mr. Peabody and Sherman and The Peanuts Movie were charming in their attempts to appeal to both young children and adults, Smurfs: The Lost Village exclusively focusses on the former. It’s bright, loud, and colourful enough to keep children entertained, but there’s little else on offer creatively to keep adults engaged as well. Somehow, by restricting itself to the world of Smurfs, it manages to have less interesting moments than its much-maligned predecessor.

Writers Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon (Moana) and director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) focus their attention on gender with a subversive twist that provides some commendable intrigue when all is revealed but dissipates almost as quickly as it begins. Tokenism has always plagued earlier cartoons, but Smurfs: The Lost Village’s challenge to the practice is perfunctory at best. Instead, what should be a tale about not being constrained by gendered expectations quickly becomes an early and extremely basic introduction to sex education (including awkwardly timed adult jokes for parents sitting with their kids).

Recently, animation has earned a lot of deserved praise for providing some of the most engaging, progressive and entertaining entertainment of the year. A product of a far less interesting time, there simply is no necessity for Smurfs anymore. Instead, Sony Animations continue to prove they’re one of the worst modern animation studios producing films today. God help us all when The Emoji Movie arrives in August.

Michael O’Sullivan

89 minutes

G (See IFCO for details)

Smurfs: The Lost Village is released 31st March 2017

Smurfs: The Lost Village – Official Website

 

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Review: Logan

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DIR: James Mangold • WRI: Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green • PRO: Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner • DOP: John Mathieson • ED: Michael McCusker, Dirk Westervelt • DES: François Audouy • MUS: Marco Beltrami • CAST: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen

As the superhero genre keeps generating film after film without any sign of fatigue, the presence of the X-Men franchise amidst  Disney’s MCU and Warner Bros.’ DC universe has become somewhat baffling with each new entry. Certainly, Bryan Singer established a way to make superheroes cool for non-comic book fans with the first instalment, but despite their popularity in audiences’ memories, none of its nine entries have aged particularly well. With its addition of a tenth film, Logan, aging itself has come to encapsulate the overall mood of the franchise. Its trailers were certainly attention-grabbing, with Johnny Cash’s moody swansong “Hurt” playing over shots of a wounded and greyed Wolverine. Even the tagline “His Time Has Come” has embraced the greater sense of finality that hangs over the possibility of Hugh Jackman’s silver-clawed retirement. While nothing lasts forever, if Jackman is serious in stepping down from the role that made him a superstar, Logan could not be a better note to go out on for the iconic character.

While some have suggested the film is based on Mark Millar’s “Old Man Logan” miniseries, the only connection between Logan and its source is that Wolverine has become a bitter old man. One of the very weird things about the X-Men films as a whole is its complete disregard for continuity between each film. Suffice to say, Logan ignores every previous sequel, taking place one hundred years after the original movie, in a world where mutants are nearly entirely extinct. Disguised as James Hewlitt, Logan has become a self-destructive alcoholic, saving money for himself and Charlies Xavier (Patrick Stewart) to escape out to sea on a boat. Tracked down by fugitives and a company called Transigen, Logan finds himself in the care of a small girl named X-23 (Dafne Keen), tortured and infused with his DNA, leaving him no other choice than to go on the run to protect himself, Charles, and his daughter. But, dying of the very adamantium which gives him his powers, Logan becomes greatly uncertain of how he might succeed with his abilities becoming inert and a gun-for-hire named Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) always hunting him down to cover up Transigen’s mistakes for good.

Some of the best superhero movies of the past decade have been those that mesh themselves with more established Hollywood genres of old. The Dark Knight was a crime-thriller; Guardians of the Galaxy was a science-fiction space opera; and Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a paranoid conspiracy film straight from the seventies. With Logan, superhero movies have amalgamated with classic westerns, most evidently Shane, but embellishing a more gritty sensibility that suits the aggressive nature of its character. There’s a clear sense of distancing from the franchise as the film begins with Hugh Jackman delivering an f-bomb to show just how adult Logan is to other X-Men films. Admittedly, such additions as foul language and gore seem like immature attempts to be taken seriously, but under James Mangold’s direction (who previously worked on The Wolverine), its explicit moments are done so in moderation and blend naturally into the world presented (that being said, it certainly isn’t for children either).

It’s an undoubtedly audacious choice on the part of everyone to toss out of everything both good and bad from previous X-Men, but Logan keeps the two most important aspects of the franchise in Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart themselves. Having performed the role nine times now, it’s almost easy to forget how apprehensive fans were of Fox’s announcement for Jackman in the role of the rabid Wolverine. An intense alpha-male, Wolverine was destined to diminish in popularity once the demand for steroid meatheads in 90s comics began to wane but Jackman elevated the most uninteresting character of the X-Men into culturally iconic status almost instantly. Such impact from Jackman and Stewart on the cultural consciousness of the new century means the dramatic weight in Logan is all the more impactful as a result, producing some of the most intensely affective moments in the entire series.

Even as the formulaic plotline of government/corporations versus the disenfranchised that X-Men have used for seventeen years now begins to surface, it fails to diminish from the intensity and excitement rampant throughout every scene. In a perfect world, Logan would be the complete end to X-Men, serving as a fitting tribute to a series that helped establish a genre that struggled to garner public attention for decades beforehand. In many ways, its use of Shane is an apt choice. Logan celebrates the superheroes of an older generation but admits that sometimes it’s time to move on. For its fans, this finale is as badass and poignant as they ever could have hoped, and Disney and Warner Bros. are going to have a tough time competing this year for the best superhero movie of 2017.

 

Michael O’Sullivan

137 minutes

16 See IFCO for details

Logan is released 1st March 2017
Logan – Official Website

 

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Review: The Founder

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DIR: John Lee Hancock • WRI: Robert D. Siegel • PRO: Don Handfield, Jeremy Renner, Aaron Ryder • DOP: John Schwartzman • ED: Robert Frazen • DES: Michael Corenblith• MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: Linda Cardellini, Nick Offerman, Patrick Wilson, Michael Keaton

With the onslaught of Marvel madness, Star Wars, and revisionist animation, it came as somewhat a surprise that Disney studios released Saving Mr. Banks back in 2013. Aimed at a much older audience than Disney’s usual demographic, it told the story behind the troubled back-and-forth relationship between Walt and P.L. Travers over creative control on the production of Mary Poppins. Although receiving positive reviews and starring Tom Hanks in a role he was born to play, many were quick to point out that John Lee Hancock’s ending greatly differed to what was historically true; bearing the signs of a studio mandate as P.L. Travers cried happily with what Walt Disney had done to Travers’ creation without her knowledge. In many ways, The Founder is Hancock’s successor to the story of Mary Poppins but improving on almost all of the shortcomings of its predecessor. The Founder proves to be a Disney film outside of Disney’s control and the results make for a narrative that packs as much punch as last year’s The Big Short.

Despite the global dominance of the McDonald’s food industry, very few actually know of the origins of America’s first successful fast-food chain. The Founder stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, during his time as a travelling salesman to various drive-ins around the states. With little success, he receives a call from the McDonald brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) and instantly becomes enthralled with the efficient system the brothers have devised for their Californian diner. Quick to convince them to strike a deal with him, Ray finds himself leading McDonalds into a franchise across the east coast and, eventually, the nation. However, as the chain continues to expand, the McDonald brothers find themselves apprehensive to Ray’s methods, as he quickly starts to deviate further and further from the ethos of their original restaurant. Likewise, as McDonald’s becomes a multi-million dollar organization, Ray considers his legal obligations to the brothers increasingly redundant, consequently creating a series of betrayals and ruthless persistence both personal and financial.

Admittedly, The Founder’s biggest flaw is its tone. Employing a style similar to the classic melodramas of Douglas Sirk, Hancock’s presentation of McDonald’s as a family restaurant, accompanied with shimmering bells and sunny lighting and bright pastel colours, can make even the slightest cynic groan at the glorification on display. Ray doesn’t so much convince the brothers that they should create a franchise for themselves, but “for your country. Do it for America.” Such unapologetic capitalism is rampant throughout. The remnants of Disney’s effervescent style linger throughout The Founder and a person’s tolerance for the American 50s as it was in Grease presents the biggest obstacle to someone’s enjoyment of the film overall.

It’s an unwelcoming clean style that proves to be a necessary evil to the tale of Ray Kroc. Michael Keaton is magnetic in the lead role, continuing to prove his charismatic abilities on screen since his return to the spotlight. The business-centric language loses its languid clunk through his delivery and the supporting cast of Laura Dern and Patrick Wilson among others help to elevate Keaton into a villainous status.

While The Founder follows the usual beats of films depicting the vices of business and wealth, it distinguishes itself through a brilliant final act where the wholesome kindness that motivates Kroc is thoroughly undermined. It becomes an interesting parable of self-deception and insidiousness that definitely holds currency in modern American culture, allowing some to possibly draw comparisons to the nation’s current president. As the actual Roy Kroc explains during the final credits, what matters to the public is neither the ethics nor the production, but a brand. A brand that sounds familial and wholesome just by its name alone. And that’s exactly what the name McDonald’s has provided for over 60 years.

Michael O’Sullivan

115 minutes

12A See IFCO for details

The Founder is released 17th February 2017
The Founder – Official Website

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Review: Cameraperson

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DIR: Kirsten Johnson

In our age when almost everyone walks around with a camera in their pocket, it’s probable that everyone also has recordings of themselves as mementos through various stages in their life. A basic understanding of how cameras work would suggest that the machine acts in capturing an event, recording from an objective and detached perspective as the action unfolds. While this is undoubtedly axiomatic, it’s also a contentious remark. As an inanimate object, the camera has no personality but its user utilizes their subjectivity when determining what to capture for preservation. As such, it’s possible to argue that the act of recording itself is a personal action and reveals a person even if they never enter the frame.

This conception is at the heart of Kirsten Johnson’s documentary, Cameraperson. An established cinematographer, Kirsten has worked on documentaries such as Derrida (2002), Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), and the renowned Citizenfour (2014). Explaining her intention, Cameraperson begins by stating that the compiled personal footage and clips from the documentaries she’s worked on have a profound resonance for her. Due to this, Cameraperson feels less like a documentary and more of a visual memoir, which includes no voice over or explanation, and only one scene with Kirsten in front of the camera herself.

The central premise of Cameraperson might be too cerebral an idea to endure for an extensive period of time so it’s difficult to imagine its box office will be successful. From a cynical perspective, what Kirsten has done is simply made a clip show of her numerous works without context. Despite this and some minor incoherency, the film is edited superbly to allow a pattern of thought to emerge from recordings made time and countries apart from one another. Its use of thematic interconnections abets in making the film never delve into that cynical idea, and as a visual memoir, Johnson presents her life dexterously through every shot.

To even a semi-cinephile, the theory that what’s presented in the frame of the camera reflects the person who shoots it should ring alarm bells to those familiar with auteurism. However, Johnson isn’t attempting to showcase an established theory but questioning the authenticity of documentary filmmaking itself. During one of the opening scenes, a lawyer working on the murder of James Byrd Jr. discusses his decision to use booklets filled with images to present his case. As he explains, if the jury examine the selected images, they’re inevitably going to respond emotionally and become mad. In this regard, the subjectivity that Johnson illustrates through her recordings creates a dilemma in whether or not it’s possible to determine if a documentary’s subject is captured with complete objectivity in every frame.

Cameraperson is certainly a stimulating film to watch. Kirsten Johnson delivers a clever and thought-provoking examination of her own life by simply never personally addressing the viewer while creating her portrait. Although it’s certain that some may be disappointed and disengaged with its central premise, the documentary still presents an intriguing proposition to the value of documentary filmmaking itself and images in global media. At a time when the truth becomes questionable and dubious to the public at large, Cameraperson feels not only timely but relevant to the ongoing determination.

Michael O’Sullivan

101 minutes

Cameraperson is released 27th January 2017

Cameraperson – Official Website

 

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Review: Why Him?

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DIR: John Hamburg • WRI: John Hamburg, Ian Helfer • PRO: Stuart Cornfeld, Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, Ben Stiller • DOP: Kris Kachikis • ED: William Kerr • DES: Matthew Holt • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • CAST: Zoey Deutch, James Franco, Bryan Cranston 

Bryan Cranston may now be synonymous with Walter White but he’ll always be Hal to me. It’s easy to forget that part of his success in the leading role of Breaking Bad came from the viewer’s preconception of Cranston as a lovable oaf from the hit comedy, Malcolm in the Middle, and its jarring discrepancy with his amorality in the beloved crime thriller. So part of the curiosity that Why Him? has going for it comes from Cranston returning to comedy and the genre that first put his name in everyone’s mind. For one brief moment, that return is visible but all potential is obliterated almost instantly by James Franco at his most extremely unlikable as Cranston’s future foul-mouthed son-in-law. And when the comedic climax centres around the giant testicles of a taxidermied moose preserved in its own urine, there is no hope in Cranston carrying this cantankerous train-wreck.

Why Him? follows the story of Ned Flemming (Cranston), the owner of a failing card company, who is caught off guard when his daughter (Zoey Deutch) reveals that she has been in a serious relationship with a man for over a year. With his family alongside him, Ned travels to Las Angeles for Christmas to visit his daughter and also meet her boyfriend, Laird Mayhew (Franco), for the first time. Believing her to be a responsible and quiet woman, it becomes an even greater shock to Ned that Laird is a millionaire eccentric with a tendency to be tactless and unrestrained while swearing more often than actually conveying human thought. Believing Laird to be more than he can handle, Ned desperately wishes to leave but is pushed over the edge by Laird’s request to marry his daughter. What follows is a battle between a man looking for a father’s given permission to propose and a father who absolutely refuses to give it.

The story told is essentially an inversion of Meet the Parents but what makes this particularly infuriating comes from knowing that writer/director John Hamburg is responsible for having wrote the Stiller/DeNiro comedy. It feels in essence like a discarded screenplay that originally intended to see Greg Focker back again to meet his childrens’ partners but the silver lining Why Him? has to its credit is that we’re saved from that horrendous possibility. It’s still a terribly unfunny comedy however.

To open the film with an inconsequential FaceTime call between James Franco and Zoey Deutch about “Netflix and chill” before Franco lists off all the shows available on the website that they could “chill” to is insultingly lazy. Franco could be considered a divisive actor, who is either infuriating or enjoyed by the people who know of him, but his casting here as Laird seems intentionally made to exploit his invidiousness. Laird’s inability to restrain himself from his excessive use of profanity and sharing inappropriate details that might be considered ‘faux pas’ at best makes him extremely unlikable. Despite how desperately the second and third acts try to make Laird more sympathetic to the audience, excusing his ribald behaviour as a result of poor upbringing and abandonment, it never works. Franco’s performance is comparable to some of the worst Adam Sandler has ever done.

None of this matters however, because to be upset by how terrible Why Him?  is does nothing than waste more energy than the film cares to give. The level of commitment shown to the overall quality should be evident in this being the sunniest Christmas movie ever made. If it hadn’t become obvious that the comedic formulae set out by Apatow, Rogen, and friends, over a decade ago has grown stagnant, Why Him? should be a clear reminder of that fact. Even the celebrity cameo, which shall not be spoiled, is frankly embarrassing to witness. But the biggest crime committed is having Bryan Cranston wasted in a straight-man role when he has so much more talent than the literal toilet humour he’s given to work with. Avoid at all costs.

Michael O’Sullivan

111 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Why Him? is released 26th December 2016

Why Him? – Official Website

 

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Review: Chi-Raq

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DIR: Spike Lee • WRI: Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee • PRO: Spike Lee • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Ryan Denmark, Hye Mee Na • DES: Alex DiGerlando • MUS: Terence Blanchard • CAST: Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson 

It’s very easy to be disappointed by a Spike Lee film. While impossible to argue that Do the Right Thing (1989) is not one of the greatest films of all time, its aftermath has greatly impacted the public and critical reception of Lee’s post-‘89 career. No other film in mainstream American cinema comes close to depicting the nuance and complexity of racism which plagues its country and no other film by Lee has achieved this either. The director has constantly butt heads with studio execs on the depiction of subjects in his films, but undoubtedly the hugely underrated Bamboozled (2000) was the final nail in the coffin in mainstream media for Lee’s commentary on race in America. Although never having left filmmaking, Lee’s name is now more often recalled from public feuds with numerous celebrities and press than with his recent films; the egregiously dull Oldboy (2013) remake being the most high profile since Inside Man (2006). Spike Lee will always remain a contentious figure in American cinema for as long as race itself remains a contentious subject in American culture. So, one of the greatest pleasures that Chi-Raq (2015) gives to fans of Spike Lee is a sense of return to the earlier films which helped build his reputation as one of the best directors working in the industry.

Chi-Raq’s title derives from the moniker given to Chicago after a scandalous revelation showed that the number of people killed in the city has surpassed the number of soldiers who have died in the Afghan and Iraq war combined since 2001. In this exaggerated exploration of black-on-black violence, two gangs, the Trojans and Spartans, continue to attempt murdering one another on a day-to-day basis. It’s only when an 11-year old girl dies amidst crossfire that Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris from Dear White People), girlfriend of Spartan leader Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon from “America’s Got Talent”), decides to try end the conflict with her sisters for good. Inspired by Leymah Gbowee and the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, Lysistrata and the other women begin a sex strike, depriving men of any sexual gratification for as long as they continue to fight. While the men initially treat the abstinence as absurd, tensions quickly rise until a battle of the sexes begins and both sides try to make the other cave first.

If the plot sounds ludicrous, that’s because it is. Adapting Lysistrata by Aristophane, Chi-Raq embraces a comic absurdity which evokes a theatricality which hasn’t been seen in Lee’s films since Do the Right Thing. Heavily reliant on sexual humour, its use is either hit-or-miss depending on a person’s predilection for that type of humour. While most sex jokes are soft ball and cliché, the absurdity with which they’re executed has a humour that is admittedly infectious. A cameo appearance by David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors; “Twin Peaks”) as a racist general is as bizarre as a fan might expect of the actor. It’s equally hard to deny that the visual flair and vibrant style culminates in a showdown which is simply too silly to spoil here.

Many have criticized Lee for his decision to adapt the classical Greek play by suggesting it provides no insight into the problems facing Chicago. While Lee’s choice of adaptation is an intriguing one, employing broad comedy as a means to angrily rebuke Chicagoans as asinine for their continuing decision to kill one another, it doesn’t provide any level of insight into the social problem beyond a brief rap song opening about living in Chi-Raq. Likewise, at times the film it most resembles is Baz Luhrmann’s inexplicably popular Romeo + Juliet, with the classical source and contemporary setting not quite congealing with modern sensibilities. There’s an ongoing sense of incongruity and Lee attempts to eschew obvious problems by embracing its theatricality even further, intermitting the film with Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction; The Avengers) as a Greek chorus.

The end result is a film that undoubtedly feels lacking as a political or social commentary but still manages to delight with its sense of creativity that has sorely been lacking in Spike Lee’s most recent films. It’s undeniable that the image of a mother washing her child’s blood off the street is sharply poignant. Teyonah Parris as Lysistrata is extraordinary and truly stands out as one of the strongest performances in cinema this year. Lysistrata demands an actor who can not only seduce and exude an intoxicating sexuality, but continuously demonstrate a confident strength and intelligence that can intimidate as well as intrigue. Parris does so with exceptional ease and the young actress shows an awe-inspiring promise in any future roles she might appear in.

While Chi-Raq may not be for everyone, it certainly exhibits a strong passion for artistic creativity that never falters for a second. Hopefully, Lee continues in this direction to show why exactly he was considered one of the greatest directors in the ’80s and ’90s.

            Michael O’Sullivan

127 minutes

Chi-Raq is released 2nd December 2016

Chi-Raq – Official Website

 

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Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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DIR: Edward Zwick • WRI: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz • PRO: Tom Cruise, Don Granger, Christopher McQuarrie • DOP: Oliver Wood • ED: Billy Weber • DES: Clay A. Griffith • MUS: Henry Jackman • CAST: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh

Back in 2012, Tom Cruise produced and starred in an action film called Jack Reacher that not many people saw or can remember that well. The Christopher McQuarrie film (who would later direct Cruise in the more successful Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) had the misfortune of releasing in the middle of a career slump between Rock of Ages and Oblivion when audiences’ tolerance for Cruise was beginning to wane. However, Jack Reacher was an overall decent film not helped by marketing trying to disguise that the story had very little action to offer and was a more low-key affair from the typical Cruise vehicle. As an action adventure it was advertised as being, it was incredibly dull, but the film displayed a detective mystery sensibility, with Tom Cruise’s Reacher being an enjoyable stand-in for Sherlock Holmes. Now, with Edward Zwick taking over as director, Tom Cruise returns in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back but with a more intensely action-driven focus than its slower-paced predecessor.

Based on the eighteenth novel in the Jack Reacher series, Never Go Back follows Reacher in a case of government conspiracy. Jack has been given continuous help from Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders; The Avengers) in his crime-solving across the United States. However, when Jack intends to meet Turner in person, the military inform him that she has been relieved of command and arrested on grounds of espionage. Believing Turner to be innocent, Jack sets out to free Turner of all charges but soon finds himself arrested on suspicion of murder. Finally meeting Turner for the first time as he breaks her out of prison, the two escapees begin their hunt to track down those responsible for framing Turner before either the military or those responsible find and kill them.

While some of the quips and style make a welcome return to Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, it’s equally a very different movie in an attempt to possibly make itself more marketable. It has its action sequences, it has its emotional sequences, it has it shirtless Tom Cruise scenes, running Tom Cruise scenes, and its comedic inserts to relieve tension. Comparatively, the cinematography, writing, and editing are lacking to the first film but that’s simply an extension of the overall by-the-numbers set-pieces which this sequel delivers. As a result of relying on familiar territory, it’s also an extremely lacking experience to watch.

The generic quality is never helped by Tom Cruise’s stoic performance. As a character, Jack Reacher can be enigmatic and impertinent but never emotionless. In Jack Reacher, Cruise utilizes his charisma to make Reacher more enjoyable to follow but knowing so little about the character also made him more dangerous and inscrutable as to what his intentions might be. Never Go Back tries to capture the mystery to Reacher as a character, unveiling fragments of a back story in a potential daughter (Danika Yarosh; Heroes Reborn), but opts to have Cruise restrain himself from emoting anything beyond gravitas and anger. It remains a mystery why so many action films feel compelled to utilize a stoic protagonist when it’s proven time and time again that if the main character is unfazed by any threat or situation then so, too, is the audience which makes it more boring as a result.

Occasionally, Reacher’s persona allows the film to poke fun at Tom Cruise’s own public image and a strong chemistry between Cruise, Smulders, and Yarosh makes the film less dull during its quieter moments. Cobie Smulder, in particular, stands out exceptionally as Turner, demonstrating an ability to do action films that the Marvel film series has yet to do with her character. When Never Go Back demands nothing exceptionally difficult from its cast, it’s surprising and refreshing to see Smulder pick up the slack for Tom Cruise by showcasing a wider acting range that makes her character far more interesting to watch.

It’s difficult to know whether another Jack Reacher film might develop after the release of Never Go Back. While it might be comfortable to place Tom Cruise within a typical action setting, it also hinders the film by turning itself inadvertently into Mission Impossible on a smaller budget. Jack Reacher was far from great but had personality and an overall sense of trying to deliver something different than what might be expected from the near-55 year old action star. It’s a shame so much of that has been removed from Never Go Back but if Jack Reacher is to return to solve another mystery, hopefully that personality and style returns with him.

Michael O’Sullivan

118 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is released 21st October 2016

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – Official Website

 

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Irish Film Review: The Flag

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DIR: Declan Recks • WRI: Eugene O’Brien • PRO: Nicholas Stoller • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: Dermot Diskin • DES: Mark Kelly • MUS: Stephen McKeon • CAST: Pat Shortt, Ruth Bradley, Simone Kirby, Moe Dunford

When so much of Ireland’s cultural output this year has focused on The Irish Centenary, The Flag feels less like a film and more adhering to trends if nothing else. Produced by RTE and IFB, there is very little to say about the Irish comedy starring Pat Shortt. It’s equally hard to imagine anyone without interest in the comedian and star of D’Unbelievables and Killinascully to be remotely interested in seeing the film. Everything about The Flag, from its story to its sense of humour, screams the word apathy.  Essentially an hour and a half revolving around Pat Shortt and The 1916 Rising, it can’t help but feel dated even before its release.

The script by Eugene O’Brien, who has worked with director Declan Recks numerous times before, is as uninspired as it gets. Harry Hambridge (Pat Shortt) is a hapless construction worker who loses his job, his pet mouse, and his father on the same day. Returning to his hometown for the funeral, he reunites with old friends but when Harry discovers his grandfather not only participated in The Rising, but signed and raised the flag on the GPO, Harry becomes determined to track it down. However, after visiting the British government, officials insist that they no longer have such a flag, Undeterred, Harry and his group of friends plan an elaborate heist to retrieve the flag from a British facility which hang the tricolours upside-down in their mess hall.

If the name Harry Hambridge hadn’t already signalled how perfunctory The Flag can be, then the jokes most certainly will. The very first gag showing Pat Shortt’s builders crack sets the standard for the overall running time. Visual gags are often poorly timed or even framed in ways that leave the joke out of focus. A seduction of an entry guard to the facility shows the officer’s smiling face as he raises the barrier, ignoring the obvious erection metaphor as he lifts the pole into the air. Often jokes aren’t really jokes, employing Irish colloquialisms as punchlines to scenes or making reference to films like The Italian Job because people like The Italian Job. The jokes are so lazy that a jab at Margaret Thatcher in 2016 induces more groans than laughs.

Admittedly, The Flag works best as an exercise on how not to make a comedy but it also reveals a continual issue with RTE in general. In its attempt at producing films and shows which reflect Irish society and culture, it often fails to capture the essence of Ireland itself. References are made to Paul McGrath, austerity, paddies, and a token lesbian named Agnes is inserted to acknowledge last year’s marriage referendum and make Pat Shortt look like an exceptionally good guy. In a sense, it reflects things associated with Ireland but fails in creating a mood connoting Irishness that RTE often attempts to purport. However, that’s a much lengthier discussion and more thought than anything given to the overall creation of The Flag. At best, it can be recommended to those who admire Pat Shortt and are willing to see anything he does, but there is so little offered in the film that it will inevitably plummet into complete obscurity within a year at least.

Michael O’Sullivan

84 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

The Flag is released 14th October 2016

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Review: Storks

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DIR: Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland • WRI: Nicholas Stoller • PRO: Nicholas Stoller • DOP: Simon Dunsdon • ED: John Venzon • DES: Paul Lasaine • MUS: Jeff Danna, Mychael Danna • CAST: Andy Samberg, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Kelsey Grammer

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With the opinion on family films today being heavily maligned towards their very existence (albeit with Disney proving to be an exception to the rule), it was to everyone’s surprise that The Lego Movie, produced by Warner Bros., proved to be not only successful but lauded as one of the best films of 2014. Considering the film’s immense acclaim and viability for both the film studio and Lego respectively, it’s surprising that last year saw no capitalization from the studio in churning out another animation with equal amounts of marketability. Instead, Warner Bros. have waited and released Storks, a fast-paced and sharply written comedy that shows a promising return to form from the studio that homed Loony Toons and some of the greatest animated shorts of all time.

The story takes place in a world where storks and other birds have shifted their focus from baby delivery to package deliveries in conjunction with an internet company named Cornerstore.com. Junior (Andy Samberg from Brooklyn Nine-Nine) is on the verge of being promoted, but his job may be compromised when the storks’ baby-making machine is reignited and a new baby is created. With the help of a young orphan named Tulip (Katie Crown from Bob’s Burgers), Junior must deliver the baby surreptitiously to their parents before his boss (Kelsey Grammer from Frasier) discovers Junior’s grave mistake.

Storks’s weakest element is its story, borrowing heavily from popular kids films, such as Ice Age and Monsters Inc., rather than attempting anything original. Its narrative is formulaic and it plays out each scene predictably even if it lacks sense. For instance, there’s no need for the film to have a villain, considering it can’t seem to choose one, but a villain shows up nevertheless to provide a clear-cut climax to end the story with. At times, the film fills the running time almost too much with assorted plot elements. A sub-story involving Nate, who writes the letter which resets the baby-making machine, shows the young boy coaxing his neglectful parents into spending more time with him. While these scenes contain many humorous and tender moments, it has little impact to the narrative of Storks, often repeating the same moral and themes that permeate throughout the main plot involving Junior and Tulip.

However, while the incredibly loud and expeditious pacing might alienate some to the film’s overall style, Storks demonstrates a comedic tone heavily reminiscent of classic Loony Toons animations blended with contemporary tropes to suit younger audiences. Yes, there are montages set to “exclusive” pop songs to sell soundtracks and scenes where characters talk about feeling like they don’t belong, but there are also many slapstick jokes, fourth wall breaks, adult jokes, and strong vocal performances that make much of the film’s comedy strongly affective. In particular, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key are hilarious as a pack of wolves that become smitten by the new-born baby and try to steal her for themselves, demonstrating the same gift for comedy that they did during their run on Comedy Central’s Key and Peele.

Like many comedies, Storks will undoubtedly depend on a person’s subjective taste in humour; proving to annoy some while also being entertaining to others. Despite this, the film still illustrates itself as a quick, but well-crafted, romp that stands out for its attention to comedic timing and delivery amongst many recent underwhelming and unfunny kids movies from Hollywood. By no means can Storks be considered remarkable, but when a clear sense of dedication, passion, and interest can be seen with every prat fall, it deserves to be praised for taking something so cynically uninspired as storks delivering store packages and making it genuinely funny for all ages.

Michael O’Sullivan

87 minutes
G (See IFCO for details)

Storks is released 14th October 2016

Storks – Official Website

 

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