While We’re Young

DIR/WRI: Noah Baumbach •  PRO: Noah Baumbach, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Lila Yacoub • DOP: Sam Levy • ED: Jennifer Lame • MUS: James Murphy • DES: Adam Stockhausen • CAST: Amanda Seyfried, Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller

 

Noah Baumbach adapts to the human condition vision that has been demonstrated by filmmakers such as Woody Allen, Paul Mazurzky and Jean Luc Godard, but his work still has a sense of emergence and contemporary relevance that feels fresh.

 

A recurring theme within Baumbach’s last two films (Greenberg/Frances, Ha) was anxiety and a sense of identity crisis. Greenberg dealt with a middle-aged identity crisis, Frances, Ha a quarter-aged, with his latest, While We’re Young, he is dissecting both with sharp comedic commentary.

 

Stagnated in their mundane marriage, Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts) suffer from denial and bombarding pressure from their friends, who insist they must have children in order to drive their marriage forward. Josh, a documentarian, has spent ten years working on his never-ending and self-indulgent film that is so convoluted he can’t even describe it, in a sense of defeat he usually quips, “it’s really about America”. He’s too stubborn to get support from his father-in-law Leslie (Charles Grodin), who is a profound maverick within the documentary film world. The college where he lectures is his bank.

 

He meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) after one of his lectures and immediately succumbs to their youthful charm and spontaneity. He soon figures that these two young hipsters (an aspiring documentarian and an organic ice cream entrepreneur) are the revelation him and his wife need to rejuvenate their lives.

 

The early stages of this ageless foursome are the film’s strongest comic observations. Baumbach portrays the contrasts of young and old in contemporary society. While Jamie and Darby adhere to the retro lifestyle of listening to vinyl, watching VHS and abstaining from Facebook, our elders, Josh and Cornelia, are constantly logged in and using the latest technology today has to offer. It’s an interesting examination of a generational culture reversal.

 

Josh and Cornelia stray from their mature friends and adapt to Jamie and Darby’s lifestyle, whether it’s hip-hop dance classes, hipster barbeques or Ayahuasca awakenings. After exhilarating highs come tremendous lows and paranoia. The fear of youth begins to possess Josh, as he grows more and more suspicious of Jamie’s intentions and authenticity as a documentarian.

 

A few lines from Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder that are shown to us at the beginning of the movie grow more intensely as Josh retreats from the fountain of youth when he sees Jamie for who he really is and the power he has. The anxiety of ageing creeps back into his consciousness.

 

However, Baumbach’s movie isn’t about people’s fear of the youth, but more about people’s anxiety about their personal identity and existence. Darby delivers the message of the movie by explaining to Josh that her and Jamie will grow old like everybody else, suggesting that all the generational pop culture iconography can’t prevent the inevitable. We all grow old we all die.

 

Undoubtedly, Woody Allen’s observational comedy rings throughout the movie. The climax between Josh and Jamie is reminiscent of Murders and Misdemeanors, but in the wider scope of things I was reminded of Midnight in Paris and its resolution. In this instance, Baumbach is focusing on age anxiety rather than Woody’s era anxiety, but the message is the same: we all fantasize about living in a different time, place or shoes, but at the end of the day we must adapt to our own lives and prosper.

 

Even though I’m whipping out big bad words such as anxiety, fear and death, don’t tie the noose quite yet. This movie is not a solemn glimpse into the abyss, but a perfectly, tightly knit comedy with a vibrant soundtrack that should reflect upon any audience, regardless of age.

 

Cormac O’Meara

 

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
96 minutes

While We’re Young is released 3rd April 2015

While We’re Young – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

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Insurgent

1insurgent

DIR: Robert Schwentke • WRI: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback •  PRO: Lucy Fisher, Pouya Shahbazian • DOP: Florian Ballhaus • ED: Stuart Levy, Nancy Richardson • MUS: Joseph Trapanese • DES: Alec Hammond • CAST: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Theo James, Naomi Watts

 

In an industry where practiced weariness at pop culture clichés has become a cliché in its own right, it can be hard to know how to approach franchise fodder. Hollywood chews up a thousand interesting ideas for every one it spits out, but occasionally something self-aware speckles our chin and we can wipe our collective faces and be glad. So it was armed with awkward metaphors and an open mind that I sat down to review Insurgent, the second entry in a series that was rapidly dubbed an Aldi-brand Hunger Games the moment it slipped off the YA assembly line.

Certainly, it shares many of the hallmarks; we follow Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), a tween saddled with survivor’s guilt after her daring escape from a future dystopian Chicago costs the lives of her mother, father, and many of her friends. Tris is Divergent, genetically predisposed not to easily fit into any one of the five factions on which the security of this future society rests, and thus a threat to the entire system. So far, so bleh.

Where the film gets truly interesting, however, is in its own reflection of an admittedly simplistic core concept. As the heroes fend off an attack on board a moving train early on, Tris is left dangling inches above the rails as her brother Caleb watches on. An erstwhile member of the most cerebral and ruthless of the factions, Caleb has already expressed misgivings about their rebellion, reasoning that while the faction system is certainly oppressive, it also provides stability in a post-war society – which the very existence of his sister threatens. For the brief moment in which his face becomes cold and impassive as his sister fights to survive, I thought I might be watching a very different kind of film indeed.

But alas, Insurgent is not 30 minutes long but 119, and the hour and half to follow only compounds the overriding flaw that prevents it from being anything other than a reasonably-priced anaesthetic for the arse – namely the inability to allow well-acted, interesting archetypes to aspire to any more shading than your average stick figure.

Strung together by SFX-ridden set pieces, the rest of the plot sees Tris and co. flee Kate Winslet’s Aryan librarian (libr-Aryan?) antagonist to meet up with the obligatory black-clad insurgents, led by a severely-underutilised Naomi Watts. The cast manage to wrangle as much as possible from the material, Woodley in particular bringing some raw nerves to an otherwise blank slate, but it is ultimately not enough to rise above the film’s many flaws – weird science and henchman myopia but minor among them.

The very cause that our heroes fight for – the idea that we are all born equal, despite how society might try to divide us – is regularly undermined by conflicts resolved only because Tris is superior – genetically so- and it’s a core contradiction that ultimately defines the entire film. With a plot so deeply focused on the idea of breaking free from constraints placed upon us by time-honoured tradition, Insurgent’s overriding inclination is to play it safe.

 

Ruairí Moore

12A (See IFCO for details)
118 minutes

Insurgent is released 20th March 2015

Insurgent – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Diana

Naomi Watts as Diana

 

DIR: Oliver Hirschbiegel • WRI: Stephen Jeffreys • PRO: Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae • DOP: Rainer Klausmann • ED: Hans Funck• Cast: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Cas Anvar

“My whole life has been dramatic,” Diana, Princess of Wales, insists at some point during this utterly drama-free film covering the final two years of her life, and focusing specifically on her doomed relationship with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. Would that her remark was ironic, but irony is a quality that is sadly nowhere to be seen in this naïve-art assemblage of wooden dialogue, mannequin characters and unengaging plot. Diana may have been—as the script pleadingly reminds us a number of times—“the most famous woman in the world,” but she makes for one of the least interesting in the history of cinema. This movie-of-the-week bore is badly missing the bite that screenwriter Peter Morgan injected into his portraits of Blair and the Windsor’s in The Deal and The Queen.

Rather than offering an insight into a flesh-and-blood person, the film puppets the caricature with which we are all too familiar. How are we supposed to empathise with a dim-witted, passive-aggressive Sloane ranger who uses the press for her own purposes and then insists we feel sorry for her having to deal with the nagging presence of the press? Naomi Watts has delivered great performances in the past, but this lifeless, listless, depthless turn is one she will be working away from for some time. Much of the energy of the film is squandered on trying to ensure the character superficially matches the iconic photographs we remember of Diana. Ultimately, Diana has the emotional depth and realism of one of those romance strips from the 1980s in which photographs of actors in exaggerated poses are paired with speech bubbles filled with cheesy dialogue. The film becomes one of those endurance tests in which the mind and eye are drawn to anything but what we are supposed to be focusing on. For my part, I began to be preoccupied with catching the actors glancing down to see whether they’d hit their marks correctly.

Crass, artless and pointless, the whole film is akin to the commemorative Diana—Queen of Hearts trinkets advertised in old women’s magazines for some years following her death. An absence of realism and drama may be forgivable in cheaply decorated porcelain, but even aficionados of kitsch expect more from their movies.

 

Tony McKiver


12A (See IFCO for details)

113 mins
Diana is released on 20th September 2013

 

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Cinema Review: J. Edgar

DIR: Clint Eastwood • WRI: Dustin Lance Black • PRO: Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Robert Lorenz • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Joel Cox, Gary Roach • DES: James J. Murakami • Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Josh Hamilton

In historical films, relevancy in the modern age is a way of making it connect with the audience. A film has to tie itself today or else be a story that is timeless. It would have to feature elements that are identifiable by everyone. With J. Edgar, the film feels something closer to opportunistic. In other words, nobody had a made a biopic about J. Edgar Hoover and it was a chance to do it. The film doesn’t feel any relevant in shape or form, leaving the viewer watching a history documentary.

J. Edgar follows the birth of the FBI and its role in several high-profile cases, ranging from the Palmer Raids, the Lindbergh Baby, the Public Enemy era to the bugging of Martin Luther King. The film is a rundown of Hoover’s involvement in these cases, how he built the FBI and spearheaded criminal science. Parallel to this, it follows his personal life, from his overbearing mother (Judi Dench) to his chaste & life-long relationship with ClydeTolson (Armie Hammer). The film doesn’t reveal anything that hasn’t been discovered in the past, there is no new information or new speculation on Hoover’s life and work. As well, the film doesn’t seem to come down on one particular side regarding Hoover. At one moment, it seems to lionise and venerate his uncompromising quest to make the FBI the greatest investigative force in America – the next, it’s admonishing his brutal tactics and dubious claims about his prowess as a lawman. This, of course, is because his life was such that there were good and bad points – and that’s all fine. J. Edgar simply feels like a history lesson. It doesn’t speculate on anything in particular, simply relaying facts one after the other with Eastwood’s deft precision.

Leonard DiCaprio excels in his role as J. Edgar Hoover. It’s always so heartening to see how he disappears into the role, physically reshaping himself to portray how stunted and repressed Hoover was, his machine-gun style of speaking and his bullet-speed walk. Even down to how he wore his watch or put on his glasses, he demonstrates a real willingness to give himself completely to the role. As well, the makeup to portray Hoover is in his later life is subtle enough so that he doesn’t disappear underneath it all. The same can’t be said forArmie Hammer. While he portrays the overtly homosexual Clyde Tolson well and does justice in portraying how a man could tie himself to another without the hope of consummation, the makeup that’s used to show his age in later years is so terrible as to be distracting. It’s strange because with DiCaprio and with Naomi Watts, who plays Hoover’s secretary Helen Gandy, the makeup is rather subtle and doesn’t necessarily detract from their performance. But with Armie Hammer’s, the results are so distracting, he’s basically a non-entity in the later parts of the film.

Clint Eastwood, who is 81 this year, delivers the quality that you’d expect from someone of his stature and career. His inclination towards dimly-lit, noirish landscapes works for him as the film is primarily set in that age, likewise his skills as a jazz pianist work for him in scoring the film. The problems lie in pacing. There’s nothing wrong with directors slowing down a film in order to develop characters or give focus to a particular scene. With J. Edgar, the pace is so slow that it’s tedious. And naturally, when that happens, you start to focus on other areas that the film falters and then, naturally, the thing unravels. Dustin Lance Black‘s script is reserved, taking great pains to strike a balance between his achievements and his failings and in doing so, becomes grey and lukewarm. The film has the benefit of hindsight – while it wishes to show a complete and full account of the facts, the fact it’s bereft of an opinion on him means that it comes across as somewhat insincere. The film and story itself feels like it should have been done already. J.Edgar Hoover has been portrayed in several great films, such as Nixon and Public Enemies. With this in mind, it feels the story has been covered already.

Therefore, one would think that if a film is going to be made on the topic, it should either shed new light or portray it from another perspective. With J. Edgar, the whole film feels like a historical document, not a film with a story to tell. As mentioned earlier, the film feels opportunistic; like there was a gap and that this could be made. It doesn’t feel necessary, like the film should have been done already. The film is impressive in some aspects, but they aren’t to keep the film from being relatively mediocre.

Brian Lloyd

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
J. Edgar is released on 20th January 2012

J. Edgar – Official Website

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Fair Game

Fair Game

Dir: Doug Liman • WRI: Jez Butterworth, John Henry Butterworth • PRO: Doug Liman, Jez Butterworth, Akiva Goldsman, William Pohlad, Jerry Zucker, Janet Zucker • ED: Christopher Tellefsen • DOP: Doug Liman • DES: Jess Gonchor • Cast: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, David Andrews, Noah Emmerich

Alas, my heart sank when I realized that the film I was about to see was not a remake of the 1995 forgotten Cindy Crawford-William Baldwin classic but a in fact change of pace low-key political drama from the go to high concept action film-maker of the past decade, Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith) focusing on the Plame Affair, one of the key scandals in recent American political history. in which Valerie Plame was exposed as a covert CIA Intelligence operative by a Washington post columnist in 2003 due to leaks from officials of the Dubya administration thus compromising her job and her career.

As the film opens, Plame (Naomi Watts) is heading up the CIA’s Counter-proliferation department in Iran, establishing contacts and intelligence within the region in order to control and prevent the distribution and manufacturing of weapons thus minimizing or neutralizing any possible foreign threats to US soil. After being asked to head up an investigation into the possible sale of uranium to Iraq by Niger, her colleagues suggest the involvement of Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn) in determining the truth of the allegations.

Wilson visits Niger and comes to the conclusion that no transaction had ever occurred between the two states but after the US invasion of Iraq in early 2003, he writes a column entitled ‘What I Didn’t Find in Africa’ in which he suggests that the Bush administration ignored or twisted the facts in order to exaggerate the threat presented by Saddam Hussein and justify an all out campaign of war against the Iraqi regime. In response, information is leaked by Bush officials to a journalist at the Washington Post, Plame is mentioned as an ‘agency operative’, thus exposing her as a CIA agent, compromising her intelligence and effectively ending her career. In effect, the government illegally executes an insidious smear campaign in order to discredit Wilson’s findings and deflect attention away from the Iraq War.

Liman’s film centres primarily on Plame and Wilson’s relationship as they go through their personal ordeal and presents a believable geo-political backdrop on a relatively tight budget with Liman being forced to use real news footage of events rather than recreating them wholesale although this could also be functioning as an effective strategy in keeping the audience involved rather than jarring them out of film’s version of the truth.

On a technical level, Fair Game is solidly put together, acted and directed with little of the flashy moves Liman has brought to his larger budget efforts as he adopts a low key approach throughout, submitting to the narrative and letting the intrinsic dramatic strength of the events pull the audience in. Or at least I assume that was his intention. In this reviewer’s case, as much as I admired the films level of craft – an artful artlessness if that’s possible – there was a certain urgency or energy lacking in Fair Game that was hard to put my finger on.

Watts and Penn, two fine actors portray Plame and Wilson with minimal histrionics, putting across their intelligence, integrity and love for each other, they never come across as particularly compelling or unique protagonists. Obviously, with a film based on a true story, adhesion to the facts and respectfulness towards those alive or dead is expected but here our main characters came across as mainly worthy and slightly dull with a storyline and rhythm that hum along at a comfortable speed with ever shifting up a gear.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a compelling story and it is one that was vital in exposing the degree of lawlessness that existed within Bush’s government at the time but when compared with other fact based Washington thrillers such as Alan J Pakula’s riveting All The President’s Men, Liman seems merely content to only present us with the facts and very few frills. He is fair minded in his approach, liberal it would seem; never fully committing to a point of view with the final result being a sleek showroom car lacking the fuel or fire to take it that extra mile it would need to burn in the memory.

Derek Mc Donnell

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Fair Game
is released on 11th March 2011

Fair Game – Official Website

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The International

The International
The International

DIR: Tom Tykwer • WRI: Eric Singer • PRO: Henning Molfenter, Lloyd Phillips, Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Charlie Woebcken, Gloria Fan, Christoph Fisser • DOP: Frank Griebe • ED: Mathilde Bonnefoy • DES: Uli Hanisch • CAST: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Brian F. O’Byrne

A huge international bank, the IBBC, is becoming the monopoly in arms-dealing, money laundering and is fast becoming friends with organised criminals and national dictators the world over. Enter the stubborn and stone-faced Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and accomplice Manhattan Assistant D.A. Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), who try to bring the corporation to justice.

The duo globetrots from Luxembourg to Lyon, Manhattan to Milan, with their ideals strapped close to their puffed-out chests, eager for honesty and integrity. This is made all the more difficult when pitted against the local police authorities of each city, who are under the control of the bank.

However many cobbled streets, piazzas and Mediterranean villas the two visit, this is no Bourne or Bond flick, as much as writer Eric Singer may try to force the resemblance. Singer’s debut script falls short, although director Tom Tykwer does what he can with the uneven pace. It is a case of mistaken identity here, with The International pining to be Quantum of Solace’s follow-up, whereas the attention would have been better placed on the psychological battles hinted at in the last quarter.

Despite this interesting but underdeveloped psychological dilemma, it is the slow, draining climax that is the film’s downfall. The 118 minutes wear thin towards the end, with the shearing truth that the audience has begun to care more about seeing the closing credits than discovering the finale.

Watts, as ever, possesses such depth in her eyes, and Owen is as stern and growling as ever. Neither is weak, but The International just might be a waste of their talent, as we barely see a third dimension to the characters, and as a result the film doesn’t allow much inclusion of the audience either.

However, Tykwer does produce some nice shots, the Guggenheim’s spiralling building modelled to great effect for a particular stand-off and Istanbul’s sun-glazed roof shingles the setting for another visually rousing scene.

Credit where it’s due: The International is a lot better than its trailer would imply – the voiceover is simply shocking – but as much as I wanted to like this film I was left feeling out in the cold, looking in at Louis Salinger drinking martinis and having mysterious flashbacks. Imagine his disappointment when he discovers he’s not Mr Bourne.

Conor O’Hagan
(Read biog here)

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The International
is released on 27th February 2009
The International – Official website

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Funny Games U.S.

Funny Games U.S
Funny Games U.S

DIR/WRI: Michael Haneke • PRO: Christian Baute, Andro Steinborn, Chris Coen, Hamish McAlpine • DOP: Darius Khondji • DES: Kevin Thompson • CAST: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart

Funny Games U.S. is Austrian director Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot American remake of his 1996 film of the same title, in which a middle-class family are terrorised in their holiday home by two effete, creepy young men (played by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet), who occasionally break the fourth wall for Brechtian asides intended to point out that we’re watching people suffering for our entertainment. It’s an interesting choice for a remake of one of his own films, because Hollywood produces just the kind of films that presumably inspired this one, thus making an American version more on-target. The fact that the title acknowledges its remake status at least shows a commendable honesty.

The film itself is extremely well-made. There’s a gradual tension built up largely through slow, wide shots, seemingly mundane actions (with the occasional rather obvious planting of set-ups – though these are subverted somewhat later on), and eerie performances. There’s also some fine acting from Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Devon Gearhart, which almost justifies the remake.

There’s very little onscreen violence, but lots of tension (who knew the Nokia theme could sound chilling?), and pain, which is harder to endure than good old no-consequences blockbuster violence. It’s all bathed in a milky white light (at least during the daytime), both through art direction and lighting. This has several effects – one is to make it look more European, another is presumably stylistic, representing a cleanness that will be sullied, and of course, it’s unsettling, and untypical of American movies of this type. There’s a stillness that brings a feeling of menace from the very beginning.

The original film polarised critics when it came out. Possibly it was hated for offering little in the way of hope (and in places explicitly denying the audience hope), or because at times you get the feeling the director is judging the audience for watching his film. It has points to make about screen violence, but whether it succeeds in making those points is open to debate. It would be interesting to see how fans of torture porn would take to this movie, but they may not get a chance to see it, as it’s likely to be showing mostly to art-house crowds.

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