Review: Strangerland

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DIR: Kim Farrant • WRI: Michael Kinirons, Fiona Seres • PRO: Macdara Kelleher, Naomi Wenck • DOP: P.J. Dillon • ED: Veronika Jenet • MUS: Keefus Ciancia • CAST: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving

 

The sweeping Australian outback has been long employed by filmmakers to provide a glimpse into a notion of national identity through a distinctive narrative formula. Rooted in a particular space and ideology, the outback’s terrain radiates a utopian sense of belonging through an intimate relationship to the landscape, while its transformative powers manifest when the curious and the beguiled attempt to penetrate this alien landscape, their notable cultural difference perceived to threaten existing order. The mythical freedom embodied by the outback is metamorphosed into a dystopian, dehydrated desert, where marked outsiders, punished for such difference, must negotiate an unforgiving landscape in order to survive.

Strangerland is the debut feature by Kim Farrant, starring Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. In a psychological thriller meets suspense drama meets melodrama, the film tells the story of a married couple who relocate to a remote village in the outback with their two teenage children under dubious circumstances. As they struggle to control their promiscuous daughter’s behaviour and son’s insomniac, nocturnal wanderings, their strained marriage is further tested when the teenagers disappear and the couple must overcome their emotional distance to unearth the mystery of their children’s fate.

On the surface, Strangerland adheres to the generic criteria of a contemporary Australian outback thriller. Aesthetically, the arid, bleak landscape has never looked so enticing nor the locals so unnervingly feral, providing the perfect backdrop from which to plant a sweaty-palmed, suspense thriller. The film’s style, however, proves to be the only commendable element of Farrant’s debut and the director’s inexperience, as she toys with generic hybridization, is clearly evident as the promise of spine-chilling suspense takes a wild, underwhelming narrative detour, resulting in a rather messy affair.

The mysterious disappearance of two teenage newcomers, already marked as subversive by simply being outsiders, sets up the formulaic plot, from which a jaded couple must overcome their own marginalized status to find their children with the help of an eerily cagey community. A shift in focus from a potentially jittery thriller to a humdrum, psychological analysis of a dislocated family becomes the narrative driving force and given the rich backdrop, it appears a great opportunity has been severely missed.

Farrant has stated that the story is inspired by her overwhelming grief at her father’s death and while Kidman and Fiennes provide credible character studies on two opposing reactions to loss, the framing of the narrative does not gel with its anticipated plot. Lured into the promise of a dystopian nightmare in an intimidating landscape initially conforms to the generic outback narrative. Rather than focus on the hindrances the hostilities between the couple and community produce, which is one of the most crucial elements of the genre, the disintegration of the family takes centre stage, eradicating the suspenseful pulse of the thriller, becoming a misconceived deviation, which simply does not work. The dark, sexual undertones, which are intended to motivate the disappearance and search, never really gel with the direction of the script, the lurid secret revealed all too late without conviction, losing any impact it should have had and severely stifling the lead performances.

A frustrated housewife trapped in a loveless marriage as her children mysteriously disappear, should provide Kidman with enough scope to explore a range of emotional entanglements. The excessive psychological behaviour produced by her grief, however, appears misplaced within a narrative that has greatly detoured from its original intention and Kidman appears on the whole, at a loss. Her emotional episodes would be more justifiable if the plot remained located within the more conventional outback thriller narrative and aligned with the obstacles produced by the outback rather than her frustrations within the family and as such, she just becomes irrationally mad. Fiennes also suffers the same fate but standing in contrast to Kidman’s excessive fragility, his explosive, irrational bursts of violence and rage, just place him as psychotically dangerous. While the searing landscape forces the couple to confront their own fundamental flaws as humans, the cause for the couple’s psychological torment through a wishy-washy past does not align with the ensuing effects, leaving an overall jagged narrative within a film already suffering from a glaring identity crisis.

Despite the efforts of the film’s two leads, Strangerland is a disappointingly, misplaced attempt to refresh a tried and tested formula, a formula which provides a great introspective on Australian identity and culture. Farrant may attempt to explore a host of relevant socio-cultural issues, including the reconfiguration of the family, however, her failure to engage with the crucial elements of the outback narrative, by underinvesting in cultural differences between the family and community, is the film’s fundamental flaw. The lack of exploration of the antagonism such cultural difference ignites, makes it difficult to relate to the characters’ psychological transformations, resulting in a highly frustrating, vague and forgettable result.

                      Dee O’Donoghue

 15A (See IFCO for details)

 111 minutes

Strangerland is released 5th February 2016

 

Strangerland – Official Website

 

 

 

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Paddington

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DIR/WRI: Paul King   PRO: David Heyman  • DOP: Erik Wilson   ED: Mark Everson  •  MUS: Nick Urata Howard DES: Gary Williamson   CAST: Nicole Kidman, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Bonneville, Ben Whishaw

Paddington opens with such an odd send-up of imperialist Britain one practically expects Eric Idle to potter onscreen with a marmalade sandwich. It is a story which will be well-known by many but I was positively green to. A British explorer “in darkest Peru” happens upon a family of talking bears, introduces them to marmalade (a substance they become instantly addicted to), drops off a hat and buggers off back to London. Years later, when an earthquake ruins their home and kills the male, the grandson of the bears leaves for London in a lifeboat on a cargo boat with nothing but a hat and a can-do attitude and what can only be described as a shit-ton of marmalade, seeking asylum in the house of any Londoners who might take him in. He happens upon the Browns, who name him for the train station they meet him in and twenty minutes in the stage is set for a whimsical wee tale equally interpretable as a chirpy anti-UKIP yarn as it is a harrowing parable on the consequences of man’s interference with nature, although it’s mostly the former.

Start to finish I enjoyed this film. It is a closer rendition of a Wes Anderson children’s film than The Fantastic Mr. Fox could ever hope to be. It is as charmingly presented as a story-book illustration and as respectful of its audience as a Roald Dahl book. From the moment the screen flickered to life I was waiting for the meat of the human-bear dynamic jokes to run out but I simply couldn’t stop giggling. Hugh Bonneville in particular has terrific timing and the sheer nastiness of Nicole Kidman’s taxidermy enthusiast is funnier than anything Adam Sandler has produced in years. I’m fully aware this is becoming nothing short of a list of things I loved about Paddington so rather than order them I’m going to embrace the format.

The concept design is startlingly beautiful, right down to Peter Capaldi’s grumpy neighbour’s dressing gown. Sigur Ros’ score is soft as milk to the ears. Paddington himself is well-realised and not at all as creepy as I’d thought he appeared in the trailer. Every fifteen minutes or so the action is sublimely punctuated by a ska band singing sweetly about life in London.

There’s not a great deal I can say more relevant than simply “Go to see this”. You won’t believe me until you go but this film, which I’d previously written off as yet another cheap cash-in on a cherished property, is the best family film to go on release in some time.

Donnchadh Tiernan

G (See IFCO for details)

95 minutes

Paddington is released 21st November 2014

Paddington – Official Website

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Before I Go To Sleep

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DIR: Rowan Joffe • WRI: Thomas McCarthy • PRO: Mark Gill, Avi Lerner, Liza Marshall, Matthew O’Toole, Ridley Scott • DOP: Ben Davis   ED:  Melanie Oliver • DES: Kave Quinn MUS: Ed Shearmur • Cast: Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Anne-Marie Duff

Rowan Joffes adaptation of S.J. Watson’s bestseller Before I Go To Sleep uses the same premise as Mememto and Fifty First Dates, one a thriller the other a romantic comedy.  I love how pliable a premise can be.

 

Christine (Kidman) wakes up every day with no idea who she is, her memory robbed because of a car accident ten years earlier; according to her husband Ben (Firth), a ‘stranger’ she has been living with for a long time. Imagine how worn out he has been explaining her predicament every day for all this time, even if he was lying he’d start to believe it himself. Kidman accepts this scenario, until Dr Nash (Strong) enters the picture, a psychologist who has a different story to tell. So somebody is telling porkies. Christine doesn’t know who to trust and has to learn the truth whilst struggling with her memory problem; a bit like Guy Pearce in Memento, only instead of a succession of tattoos to help aid her detective mission she relies on Post-it notes and video recordings.

 

Essentially a three hander, with Kidman worrying who is the villain of the two male leads, Before I Go To Sleep builds some interesting tension and keeps you guessing, but when all the cards are finally played, it breaks under the weight of its own expectations.  lso, its familiarity is distracting. Apart from the films mentioned already, it also riffs off Hitchcock’s Notorious. And why not?  But despite some solid work from those involved on screen, and Joffe as director, the script does not hold onto you because of the very nature of those comparisons – or perhaps I just watch too many films. Strong gets the terrible task of being Mr Exposition once too often and Kidman seems to be going through the A,B,Cs that she used as far back as Dead Calm, don’t get me wrong, she is a fine actor. Firth (for some reason of my own, not one of my favourite actors) does a version of Firth.

 

Joffe holds the reins adequately enough, but his clunky script replete with plot holes and similarities to other films may make it too distracting and derivative for audiences to buy into its ideas, or as I said, maybe I just watch too many movies.

Paul Farren

15A (See IFCO for details)

91 minutes

Before I Go To Sleep is released 5th September

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Grace of Monaco

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Dir: Olivier Dahan  Wri: Arash Amel  Pro: Arash Amel, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam  Ed: Oliver Gajen  DOP: Eric Gautier  CAST: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Derek Jacobi

This preposterous, mind-numbingly boring account of the role Grace Kelly had in ensuring that Charles de Gaulle didn’t introduce taxes into Monaco arrives here in the wake of a deserved critical mauling at Cannes. Sadly, recalling Diana, the awfulness of the picture does not allow for fun, ironic enjoyment. Like that wretched film from last year, so bad it’s good this film definitely isn’t.

While an exploration of Grace Kelly in itself could have been interesting, the focus of how she nobly gave up her acting career so as to help her husband Prince Rainier III (Roth) protect all the poor princes of Monaco from having to pay taxes manages to be both jaw-droppingly misguided and also rigorously uninteresting. Why the filmmakers thought that this storyline would be of any interest to anybody and quite how they felt this alleged aspect of Kelly’s life as something noble and to be admired is so thoroughly beyond comprehension that one is left in a simply numb state. That the premise of a supposedly life-affirming biopic could be so misjudged would be offensive if it wasn’t so utterly stupid. This juxtaposition of bad politics and profound boredom is quite the achievement for director Olivier Dahan, who also made the over-rated Edith Piaf bio, La Vie en Rose.

The acting is largely unremarkable but not the type of terrible that could provoke any type of unintentional hilarity. Kidman, though definitely miscast, brings a dreary functionality to her Kelly. Tim Roth scowls, smokes and sighs his way through the film but he certainly avoids any accusations of campiness. In fact it appears that such is the low key nature of his performance that he’s hoping that if he just keeps his head down and doesn’t draw attention to himself people might forget he was ever in the film. I suspect Roth needn’t worry too much as it is unlikely that any viewers will be wanting to remember this mess once they are through enduring it.

At least Derek Jacobi seems to be having some fun, camping proceedings up a bit as a Count who – in one, of many, ludicrous sequences – goes about teaching Grace the correct ways to behave in Monaco. Generally, one is left feeling sympathy for talented performers such as Kidman and Roth being lumbered with such insipid material. The technical aspects of the film are for the most part equally nothing to write home about. The only genuinely good thing on show here is Eric Gautier’s lush, colourful cinematography.

Dahan himself appears bored at times. He takes to shaking the camera violently into the eyeballs and nostrils of Kidman in a few bizarre moments which, though unlikely to be confused with Jonathan Glazer’s lengthy Kidman close-up in Birth, do account for the closest thing to directorial inspiration one will encounter in this moronic film.

Avoid.

David Prendeville

16 (See IFCO for details)
115 mins

Grace of Monaco is released on 6th May 2014

Grace of Monaco – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Stoker

 

DIR: Chan-wook Park • WRI: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson •  PRO: Michael Costigan, Ridley Scott,  Tony Scott  • DOP: Chung-hoon Chung • ED: Nicolas De Toth • DES: Thérèse DePrez • CAST: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode

 

Like many J-Horror and Hong Kong action directors past, it was inevitable that several of the talented and successful Korean Wave directors would eventually emigrate to Hollywood. It makes sense: that is where the money is, and there’s already a cult audience in English-speaking territories. Unfortunately, as has been proven by the likes of John Woo and Hideo Nakata, increased resources do not always directly equate to artistic triumphs. No matter: two cult Koreans have decided to give it a go regardless. The subversive genre master Kim Jee-woon made the transition only a few weeks ago withThe Last Stand – generally regarded as a decent enough effort but a far cry from the bold and provocative likes of I Saw the Devil or A Tale of Two Sisters. Can Park Chan-wook – director of the beloved Vengeance Trilogy and Thirst – do any better with his English language debut Stoker?

 

Breathe a sigh of relief, Oldboy fans! While it’s questionable whether Stoker will be quite as warmly received as his previous work, Park has ensured he’s hit Hollywood soil at a sprint. It becomes quickly apparent that stylistically at least this is a film every bit as demented, eccentric and intoxicating as his native-language fare. Stoker is a film that builds its creepy, intense atmosphere around boldly cinematic language. Chan-wook has made the wise decision to bring his frequent cinematography collaborator Chung-hoon Chung along for the ride, and together they record a huge amount of rich images. Consistently offbeat framing choices and distinctive lighting perfectly suit the film’s strange goings-on. Added to this is the visceral editing that allows the already powerful images to truly resonate. This is perhaps the most stunningly presented mainstream release 2013 has yet offered. Clint Mansell offers a suitably effective score.

 

Lucky the film’s style is so enchanting, as the director is working with a script (written, somewhat bizarrely, by the Prison Break lead actor Wentworth Miller) that necessitates such an imaginative presentation. The title refers to the Stoker family, particularly teenage India (an excellent Mia Wasikowska). After her father dies, she’s not left alone with her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) for too long before long lost uncle Charles (Matthew Goode) comes to stay – in fact, he doesn’t even leave after the funeral. Evelyn is welcoming of such a charming male presence, but India is immediately less fond of her mysterious uncle. Suspicions are further raised following a brief visit by aunt Gwendolyn (JackiWeaver) who is visibly not too happy about Charles’ sudden reappearance. It is clear all is not as it seems.

 

For the first hour, this is all perfectly serviceable stuff: it’s weird, disturbing, darkly comic and – as is to be expected from Park Chan-wook – cheekily perverse. The performances are strong, particularly from the talented Wasikowska, who has finally been granted a lead role that makes great use out of obvious talents under-utilised in the likes of Alice in Wonderland. It’s the last half-hour that struggles to sustain the cleverness, with a few unconvincing and predictable developments proving to be notable script weak points.

 

Luckily, even as the script falters, Chan-wook gives it his all, and the film is consistently imaginatively directed. At ninety minutes it also doesn’t overstay its welcome, and makes up for a few prior shortcomings with a killer ending. The greatest compliment that we can pay to the Korean auteur – for the first time working with someone else’s screenplay – is that this script in the hands of any other director would likely fail to ignite. Under his guiding hand, Stoker is instead damn close to a triumph.

Stephen McNeice

18 (see IFCO website for details)
98mins
Stoker is released on 1st March 2013

Stoker  – Official Website

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Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole

DIR: John Cameron Mitchell • WRI: David Lindsay-Abaire • PRO: Nicole Kidman, Gigi Pritzker, Per Saari, Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech • DOP: Frank G. DeMarco • ED: Joe Klotz • DES: Kalina Ivanov • CAST: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest

Following on from his first two audacious features in the niche of queer cinema, John Cameron Mitchell now enters relatively mainstream waters to bring us Rabbit Hole, adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It’s a quiet, contemplative film, brimming with sadness and humour, and led by a wonderful central performance.

Nicole Kidman returns to the theme that first brought her to international attention – that of a mother grieving the loss of a child, and the emotional aftermath that such a trauma entails. Of course in the two decades since Dead Calm was released, Kidman has explored of multitude roles and worked with some of the finest directors in the industry. She has gained such an authority on screen – yet somehow, here, she manages to strip away all of our preconceptions so that we are left with something as raw and natural as she was opposite Sam Neil at the age of 21. This is her most fully-rounded character and detailed performance in years – nimble, layered and completely magnetic.

Becca’s journey with her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart), eight months after the tragic accident that killed their son, is beautifully captured by Cameron Mitchell’s lens. Despite the film’s stage origins, the story never feels too talky or confined, shots are simple yet beautifully composed, the editing and pace have a fluid rhythm. The couple’s facade of normalcy – making dinners, attending pious bereavement groups and keeping up appearances with friends and neighbours, begins to crack as the mementos of their son’s life disappear. Becca gives his clothes to goodwill and takes his paintings off the fridge, she accidentally deletes a video of him playing on a swing – causing a distraught reaction in Howie. The difference in the way this couple deals with the loss is compelling, and the friction between them palpable outside of the few explosive scenes.

Their disconnect becomes more and more apparent, and Eckhart plays it with a wounded humanity that’s really effective. Howie wishes they could ‘get back on track’ and perhaps try for another baby, something which Becca is not prepared to do. Instead he starts hanging out with Gabby, a woman from their bereavement group, played by the always reliable Sandra Oh. Meanwhile prickly moments between Becca and her irresponsible sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) are very well played and Dianne Wiest provides a lot of warmth and wisdom as Becca’s mother, delivering a beautiful speech about grief that is a defining moment in the film. Becca both yearns to escape the reminders of her grief and seeks closure and solace in her pursuit of Jason, the young man who accidentally ran over her son. This strand of the narrative, exploring the idea of parallel universes and fate, gives the story a unique edge, and Miles Teller is easily the stand out of the supporting cast.

Ultimately what gives this film its power is that Mitchell’s focus is always fiercely rooted in the reality of the situation, side-stepping the potential sentimentality of the subject – biting humour undercuts the sorrow and there certain moments of confrontation between Becca, Howie and Jason that strike quite a visceral chord. The scenes on the bench between Kidman and Teller contain moments of such purity and depth as to be heartbreaking – and to me, the final montage is one of the most sublime and emotionally resonant endings of the past decade. Despite sensitive subject matter and the quiet story – I can’t recommend the film enough, Kidman looks set for another Oscar® nomination after a long break from the Academy, and this one will definitely be deserved.

Eoghann McQuinn

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Rabbit Hole
is released on 4th February 2011

Rabbit Hole – Official Website

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9iJH2P96dM[/youtube]



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Nine

Nine

DIR: Rob Marshall • WRI: Michael Tolkin, Anthony Minghella • PRO: John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Marc Platt, Rob Marshall, Harvey Weinstein • DOP: Dion Beebe • ED: Claire Simpson, Wyatt Smith • DES: John Myhre • CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz

Nine is a film based on Federico Fellini’s autobiographical film 8 1/2 (1963), and on the 1982 Tony award-winning musical, Nine, book by Arthur Kopit, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, adaptation from the Italian by Mario Fratti. It is the story of Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis). He has recently turned forty and is facing a mid-life-crisis with his willingness to be a professional and creative director and a romantic to his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard) and his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz). The setting is Rome in 1965.

Judi Dench plays Lilli, Guido’s costume designer. She tells Guido before he goes to a press conference to do what he does best – ‘Lie, lie for Italia’. Dench appears in a flashback sequence on stage when Guido was a boy singing ‘Folies Bergère’. Day-Lewis appears above the stage in a touching scene of nostalgia. Kate Hudson has a cameo as a young and foxy Vogue columnist, Stephanie. She remarks to Guido, that every frame in his films is like a postcard. Grammy-nominated singer Fergie appears in some musical sequences as the irresistible Saraghina. She gives a wonderful performance of ‘Be Italian’ – The best song in the film. Nicole Kidman is the beautiful movie star Claudia, an old flame of Guido’s. Penélope Cruz has a most erotic rendition of ‘A Call from the Vatican’. It will raise a few eyebrows over the decision of a 12A rating. Carla wants to spend more time with Guido, but he is preoccupied with many other things.

Daniel Day-Lewis shines as always. He really gets into the character of Guido with his mannerisms and dialogue. Marion Cotillard adds more emotional core to the film with her renditions of ‘My Husband Makes Movies’ and ‘Take It All’. In a key scene Luisa says to Guido: ‘Thank you for reminding me I’m not special. You don’t even see what you do to me. Even the moments I think are ours, it’s just… you work to get what you want…’

There are several scenes in black and white beautifully photographed by Dion Beebe – flashbacks of Guido’s childhood in a Catholic school in which he first discovers women and also some of the music sequences. Guido like many artists is flawed and trying to find a way to balance his job and love life, this proves very difficult for him. As in any musical the characters express their anxieties though song and it works well.

Rob Marshall is the director and co-choreographer. He made his name with the smash hit Chicago back in 2002. Marshall has a style that is impressive on the musical front, however, it is lacking in the substance of its characters. Michael Tolkin and late Anthony Minghella, to whom this film is dedicated, wrote the screenplay.

The musical sequences are mostly performed on a sound stage, with flashy costumes. The music is enjoyable and John DeLuca and Rob Marshall excellently choreograph the dancing. It is what it is: a musical, and it succeeds on that level. But the all-star cast overwhelms the picture, to the degree that it feels like a guest list. Kidman, Dench and Cotillard all have very little screen time. Cotillard was also underwritten earlier this year in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies. Her talent deserves more. If her character had more substance, her relationship with Day-Lewis, would have been more believable. Sophia Loren appears in a cameo to Guido as his dead mother, it will always spark the reaction from the audience that is ‘Look, there’s Sophia Loren’. All and all it keeps you interested and is worth recommending with some reservations.

Peter Larkin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Nine is released on 25 Dec 2009

Nine – Official Website

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