DIR/WRI: Abe Forsythe • DOP: Lachlan Milne • ED: Jim May, Drew Thompson • DES: Jeff Sherriff • PRO: Jessica Calder, Keith Calder, Steve Hutensky, Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea • MUS: Piers Burbrook de Vere • DES: Sam Hobbs • CAST: Lupita Nyong’o, Josh Gad, Stephen Peacocke
Just when you think the zombie comedy genre is dead or is that undead?. Following hot on the heels of the vacuous zombie comedy, Zombieland, Double Tap, comes the zombie comedy, Little Monsters an Aussie undead effort more in keeping with Shaun of the Dead. Sharing a similar feckless protagonist and good old fashioned slow-moving zombie types. What it doesn’t have is that film’s cleverness or humour.
Alexander England plays Dave, a busker, and by the end of the opening credits a single man; having spent the opening credits montage warring with his girlfriend for reasons that are explained later in the film but won’t be explained here. Soon he is burdening his hardworking, single sister and her gluten-intolerant, five-year-old son, Felix, who thinks Dave is great. The selfish, obnoxious Dave has to bring Felix to school and whilst there he falls in lust with Felix’s teacher Miss Caroline, played by Lupita Nyong’o, a sweet and diligent kindergarten teacher adored by her pupils.
Before you can shake a koala off a eucalyptus branch, Dave is volunteering to be a chaperone for his nephew and classmates on an excursion to Pleasant Valley, a petting zoo type affair. Soon the local American army base has lost their resident zombies and Pleasant Valley is awash with the undead. Miss Caroline and Dave must step up to the mark and make sure no fatalities arise amongst their charges. You can see where this is going. What better way for Dave to lose his obnoxious attitude and get the girl, than by getting dropped into the heart of a zombie epidemic scenario?
Unfortunately Little Monsters doesn’t have as much to offer as one might hope for. After setting its stakes high with the notion of safeguarding children and fighting off zombies, it doesn’t go anywhere interesting with the idea. In fact, it pretty much does what’s expected. The main thrust of humour is bold-boy verbiage, which feels tired and potty-mouthed. On the plus side, I have to say I marvelled at the performances from the school children, especially from Diesel Torraca as Felix. The adults, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. Lupita Nyong’o has very little to do despite being the main selling point marketing-wise and Josh Gad doesn’t have much to do other than be more obnoxious than Alexander England so we can see his transformation a little better.
It’s not a dead loss, or should I say undead loss, and the Halloween season mood might make audiences a bit more forgiving.
Will Smith takes on Will Smith in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, from a script that has been bouncing around in development hell since 1997. Smith plays Brogan, a well-meaning, conscience-addled hit man, who has been knocking off people in the name of freedom for many years and has a total of seventy-two hits under his belt.
Now on the cusp of retiring and just finishing off number seventy two, he finds his life in danger and the possibility that some of those hits may not have been what they were supposed to be. Most notably his final one, who turns out to be a molecular biologist rather than the evil terrorist he was supposed to be.
Soon he is on the run with a junior spy and an old friend who fills in comedy relief and international pilot/chauffeur duties. Bottom line, he is being stalked by a younger, stronger clone version of himself at the behest of a subversive, rabid defender of liberty, played by Clive Owens. Owens has not only approved the existence of this clone, it calls him daddy. Then it gets sillier. This is not the first time Lee has delved into the world of high-end blockbuster, he had his way with the Hulk many years ago; that particular film still causes a schism for me when I wonder if it’s good bad or bad good.
What fascinates here is how appalling the script is. It is filled with plot holes and fuzzy logic a three-year-old would get angry about. The globe-hopping has no other particular point to it other than to find nice locations to put behind the set pieces. A bit like the location jumping one sees in Tekken or Mortal Kombat. If it were a Jackie Chan comedy you might forgive it but other than Benedict Wong’s attempts at humour this maintains a serious tone bordering on the portentous.
Ang Lee’s ardour for the high frame rate 3D presentation has not gone away despite the failure of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Gemini Man was shot at 120 frames per second for high definition 3D screenings. I can’t say too much about that, as the screening I witnessed came with some technical glitches – not the fault of the format. Elsewhere the film is filled with a highly mixed bag of VFX , Will junior being the obvious source. This effect works best at night or low-light moments, but uncanny valley syndrome is never too far away. One particular scene in daylight with the two Wills is a classic demonstration of the syndrome.
All of these foibles would be a lot easier to forgive if they weren’t trying to hold together a dated, hackneyed script whose sell by date is long past.
DIR: Chris Morris • WRI: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong • DOP: Marcel Zyskind • ED: Billy Sneddon • DES: Lucio Seixas • PRO: Iain Canning, Anne Carey, Christopher Morris, Emile Sherman • MUS: Christopher Morris, Sebastian Rochford, Jonathan Whitehead • CAST: Anna Kendrick, Danielle Brooks, Denis O’Hare
Chris Morris’ second feature The Day Shall Come continues in a similar vein to Four Lions. It features a hodgepodge of eccentrics that would take on the world-order in the name of Allah. In this case our potential jihadists are quite harmless. Led by the person with mental illness and well meaning Moses Al Shabazz, they have a non-violent jihad policy, preferring notional bow and arrows and dinosaurs to guns, when the day shall come.
Moses and his impoverished little band eke out a frugal existence on the margins of society in Florida. Unfortunately, the FBI are looking for a patsy after a failed attempt to get a case against a stoned ‘terrorist’ they had already baited in order to target a spring break extravaganza with a large bomb. In one of the film’s funniest moments, we learn that the potential terrorist has a religious inspired phobia for the number five and is unwilling to press all the numbers required to detonate the device. Moses’ eccentricities turn out to be even harder to manipulate than expected and it is only when he is facing eviction does he become a possible successful target for the FBI’s machinations.
There is no doubting Morris’ talent as a comedy writer and satirist, nor his huge influence on so many talents for good and bad. Brass Eye is still one of British television’s great achievements. When someone mentions cake to me Brass Eye is the first thing that comes to mind, not actual cake. Unfortunately, Morris latest film is not one of his great achievements. Playing with an uneasy mix of drama and farce it feels at times like an overly complex South Park episode but lacking the topicality South Park has as part of its armoury. There is no doubting the righteousness of his agenda and it is never less than amusing, but unfortunately as satire it all feels rather toothless. The farcical elements outweigh the drama that is required for it to have an impact and in the final denouement it goes where a Chris Morris venture would be expected to go but without any resonance. We understand the implication of the film’s point of view but its manipulations along the way to get us there feel too contrived to have real emotional weight.
At the beginning of the film a title tells us it is inspired by “One hundred true stories”, if some of these stories had been relayed to us in some way rather than alluded to, the film might have had a stronger impact instead of being just a cold, clever farce that tells us the FBI are bad guys.
In this podcast, Paul Farren talks to Tom Burke, the director of Losing Alaska, which tells the story of a small community in Alaska called Newtok who are dealing with a slow-moving disaster. The 375 inhabitants of Newtok feel the winter storms grow more fierce each year and steal their coastline, they watch their homes disappear into rolling seas as the melting permafrost erodes the edges of their town. The plan is to abandon the town and start again 9 miles up the river on higher, more solid ground. The community is divided between those determined to stay, and those equally determined to move. They are fighting the weather, the indifference of state agencies and now, finally, each other.
As well as discussing the intricacies of the ways of life of the people of Newtok and the challenges they face, Tom talks about how the project came to be, telling a big story through the prism of a small situation, people trying to survive in a changing world, the nature of documentary, telling people’s stories, not taking sides, the joy of seagull eggs, screening the film in Newtok, the practicalities of filmmaking in such an environment, cameras and lenses, discovering a frozen-tripod-head panning technique, working with Gerry Horan on the soundtrack, creating a cinematic documentary and the onset of frostbite.
Losing Alaska is released in cinemas 4th October 2019.
Tom Burke will participate in a post-screening Q&A at the IFI on Thursday, 3rd October & the Light House cinema on Sunday, 6th October.
In this podcast, Paul Farren talks to Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman, Co-Directors/Co-Writers of Extra Ordinary, a supernatural comedy which tells the story of Rose, a sweet and lonely small town driving instructor who must use her supernatural ‘talent’ to save the daughter of a local man from a washed up rock-star looking to use her in a satanic pact that will reignite his fame.
Mike & Enda discuss things that go bump in the night, getting the project from script to screen, and working with Maeve Higgins, Will Forte, Barry Ward and Terri Chandler. They also talk about their early days in IADT and experimenting on mini-VHS tape, making music videos, ads, the influences behind their work and being practical with visual effects .
Extra Ordinary is released in Irish cinemas 13th September
DIR: Mike Ahern, Enda Loughman • WRI: Mike Ahern, Demian Fox, Maeve Higgins, Enda Loughman DOP: James Mather • ED: Gavin Buckley • DES: Joe Fallover • PRO: Ailish Bracken, Yvonne Donohoe, Katie Holly, Mary McCarthy • MUS: George Brennan • CAST: Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward, Will Forte
That rare beast, the funny, Irish, comedy feature film is back again in the form of Extra Ordinary, which follows the supernatural adventures of Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins), a psychic paranormal expert, who tries to pursue the ordinary life as a driving instructor since having inadvertently caused her father’s death many years before when the two of them tried to save a dog from a haunted pothole. You know how these things go.
But the ordinary life is not to be; local widower Martin Martin (Barry Ward) reaches out for help with his abusive dead spouse who won’t move on to the afterlife. Though Rose initially refuses to help him, his second call for help with his levitating, comatose daughter is one she feels she can’t refuse and sure she fancies Martin anyway. What they don’t know is that these coma/levitation shenanigans are the result of satanic dabblings by the local, evil, failed rock star, Christian Winter. Yes, Christian Winter not Chris De Burgh. He plans to sacrifice the virginal girl to Ostrogoth and revive his failed music career; as you do.
Directors Enda Loughman and Mike Ahern have created their own satanic alliance, ignoring the sacred rules of co-directing by not being siblings and it has paid off quite nicely with this clever, funny little film. With a matter-of-fact attitude, blending the ordinary and banal with cheap shocks and fantastic absurdity, Extra Ordinary builds its humour gently before finally reaching hysterical proportions in its final scenes.
Holding these elements together are a superb cast, playing fun characters, who are as enjoyable in the more down-to-earth scenes before the supernatural shenanigans really kick in. Maeve Higgins’ central performance holds things together quite nicely with her innocent, yet mischievous, Rose Dooley but she is well aided by brilliant performances from all those involved, including some American fella, Will Forte, looking to make it big on the Emerald Isle.
A highly enjoyable romp for children of all ages, except for maybe the squeamish ones under ten.
DIR: Jon Watts • WRI: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers • DOP: Matthew J. Lloyd • ED: Leigh Folsom Boyd, Dan Lebental • PRO: Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal • DES: Claude Paré • MUS: Michael Giacchino • CAST: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jon Favreau
Sony’s well advised alliance with the Disney, Marvel people continues to pay off with this entertaining sequel to Spiderman: Homecoming, entitled Spider-Man: Far From Home in continuance with its home-themed titles. I’m guessing the next one is going to be called, Spiderman: No Place Like Home.
Far from Home follows on from the events of Avengers: Endgame, which resulted in the successful destruction of Thanos and the return of those who were turned to ashes five years prior (if you don’t know this already shame on you).
Peter Parker and his friends, Ned and MJ, are adjusting to life, five years after the ‘blip’, as it is now known… at least to teenagers. Not having aged, they are finding some of their friends have grown in their absence. Most notable of these, for Peter, is Brad, once a scrawny ten-year-old, now a buffed up teenager who is making the moves on MJ. The gang’s school trip to Europe is interrupted by Nick Fury, who needs an unwilling Spider-Man to help a new hero in town, Mysterio, Quentin to his friends, (a better than expected Jake Gyllenhaal). Quentin is chasing down elemental creatures that have destroyed the earth of his dimension and now threaten to destroy ours. Peter Parker unwillingly aids the agents of SHIELD and Mysterio, who becomes a sort of replacement mentor for the much missed Tony Stark.
Moving alongside the expected superhero shenanigans is the joyful, humorous teenage road trip. Peter is head over heels in love with MJ now and this possible romance is the where the story’s heart is. The last near girlfriend of his, moved a distance after her dad, The Vulture, was incarcerated, you might remember. I’d say teenagers move on quick but there was a five-year gap if you count the ‘blip’.
I wont tell you anymore, suffice to say Spidey has all sorts of ups and downs, personal challenges and life-threatening moments that he manages to overcome and save the day. Director Jon Watts does a great job of balancing the drama and the comedy. Watts understands that the whole thing is absurd already but that doesn’t mean it has to be treated with mockery and, god forbid, that camp might rear its head. For the most part, he balances out the humour and jeopardy beautifully. There are some clunky moments in there and some of the humour doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it’s easy to forgive, when the heart of the piece is so adeptly handled by the actors.
The nerd part of me would love to say more about the plot but to say more would spoil the hell out of the wonderful revelations. I should point out that the film only plays to full satisfaction if you stay to the very last scene; yes, that means the final post-credit scene, not the middle post-credit scene. Anybody who leaves the cinema before seeing that final scene has in affect watched a different movie than us stalwarts. I was never so amused and satisfied with a post-credit scene as I was with this one. If you stay for it you’ll thank me.
DIR: Josh Cooley • WRI: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom • ED: Axel Geddes • PRO: Mark Nielsen, Jonas Rivera • DES: Bob Pauley • MUS: Randy Newman • CAST: Tom Hanks, Patricia Arquette, Tim Allen, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks,
It’s hard to review Toy Story 4 without taking the entire franchise into consideration. The original was a true phenomenon, the first feature-length computer animation, it ranks up there with Snow White as a groundbreaking moment in film history; yeah I know Snow White wasn’t the first animated feature, that’s not the point. Both films knocked the naysayers for six and helped form an inspiring legacy within the film industry. Its sequels, 2 and 3, managed to keep up the quality in story telling and cinematic thrills, some would argue, even surpassing the one that started it all. Not to be a purist but I think the one that started it will always be the true gem of the franchise, it’s stating the obvious but without it the others would have nothing to build from. Of course they were quite brilliant and Toy Story 3 seemed to be the perfect ending to the trilogy.
Now some 24 years on and nine years after Toy Story 3 a fourth, some might say unnecessary, sequel has arrived. The original film, as most of you know, was about jealousy and fear of obsolescence in the form of Woody’s old-school cowboy being rankled by the new toy in town the deluded astronaut Buzz Lightyear, the toy who didn’t know he was a toy. This has been a constant thematic source throughout the franchise albeit in different forms and has evolved as the films have unveiled more and more aspects of the magical world of talking toys. Now Woody faces the possibility in a whole new way, as his fate in his duty conflicts with his fear of not being needed anymore.
Toy Story 4 opens with a prologue explaining how Bo Peep was moved on from the lives of the other toys. A poignant sequence that reaffirms Woody’s feelings for Bo Peep and his loyalty to Andy. Skip forward nine years to life with new owner Bonnie and the gang are in the familiar mode of waiting for that moment that makes a toys life worthwhile, being played with. Woody, as ever the organiser and consoler of worried toys, is not doing so well in these stakes but hey, his is not to reason why, he’s a toy and his job is to make sure Bonnie gets through childhood as best as a toy can do that kind of job.
In a delusional moment of overzealous worry for Bonnie he sneaks into her bag and goes with her to her first day at school; in his own mind he think’s he might be useful. It’s not said explicitly but our Woody seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The pressures of doing the best for Bonnie and the fear of being left in the cupboard are getting to him. Despite his odd choice, Woody returns home successfully and introduces the gang to Bonnie’s new toy, one she has made at school. Part plastic fork, glued eyes, blu tack, lollipop sticks for feet and baring the name Forky, as one does when named by a five-year old. Unfortunately Forky, played by Tony Hale with the same quirky quality he brought to Buster in Arrested Development, is having a full-on existential crisis and would rather be in the in the trash basket than be Bonnie’s toy.
Woody now has a new mission and reason to be; he is determined to get Forky to take on this new responsibility no matter what it takes. The job mostly involves keeping Forky out of the trash. Finally, Forky jumps from the family RV during a road trip in what can only be seen as a toy/trash suicide attempt. After a contrived bit of banter about how he can meet the gang at an RV rest stop further down the road and Woody goes off on the requisite rescue mission.
That’s only the beginning; coincidences and contrivances come at an alarming rate even for an animated film as Bo Peep is met and further rescues and high suspense follow as well as the meeting of a whole slew of new toys that, for the most part, are as entertaining and endearing as expected from this franchise.
This round is a Woody-heavy affair, relegating most of the other old co-stars to the background in favour of the sheriff and some new characters; only Buzz really figures strongly in the tale and even he feels like just a supporting character with a pointless subplot involving his ‘inner voice’, which attempts to play off the deluded Buzz persona of the past.
Some fun new characters are on board though; Polly Pocket and, the stunt bike toy inspired by Evel Knievel are given homage and a boost in toy sales, in the form of Officer Giggle McDimples, Bo Peep’s sidekick and Duke Caboom, a Canadian motorbike stunt toy who couldn’t live up to the television advertising, losing his disappointed kid after only one Christmas day. Also on hand are two cheap Funfair prizes, Bunny and Ducky who have a run-in with Buzz and provide creepy advice at the worst moments.
The tragic villain of the piece is Gabby Gabby, a doll from Woody’s era who has never known the love of a child, who adds some interesting dimensions to the proceedings; her minions, a trio of ventriloquist dummies, bring an extra element of horror to the mix which might have the smaller audience members dragging their parents to the cinema exits. Ventriloquist dummies are up there with clowns on a lot of people’s heebie jeebie lists.
Though the film seems like an unnecessary addition to the franchise (Toy Story 3 was also a hard act to follow) there is no doubting its ability to entertain. The franchise is starting to creak under the logic of its own world building but at least this one has a worthwhile ending or at least an end to this particular era at the very least, that just manages to survive the shenanigans. It is certainly the oddest of the bunch and has a few more than usual philosophical questions amidst the mayhem and ends on a final musing from Forky that will certainly keep some of the brighter children awake at night.