Review: A Bigger Splash

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DIR: Luca Guadagnino • WRI: David Kajganich • PRO: Michael Costigan, Luca Guadagnino • DOP: Yorick Le Saux • ED: Walter Fasano • DES: Maria Djurkovic • CAST: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaert

 

After their ravishing 2009 collaboration I am Love, director Luca Guadagnino and leading lady Tilda Switon have reconvened for an equally glamorous, but looser and loopier melodrama with A Bigger Splash. Less an adaptation of than a series of riffs upon Jacques Deray’s 1969 film La Piscine, A Bigger Splash gifts Swinton with an otherworldly queen bee part that seems tailored to her strengths, and finds outlandish new things to do with Ralph Fiennes. If the film’s collection of frissons is ultimately less satisfying than the knockout punch of I am Love, it’s still as enjoyable, refreshing, and ever-so-slightly discombobulating as a good holiday.

Swinton plays fictitious rock icon Marianne Lane (equal parts David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Chrissie Hynde), who is recovering from vocal chord surgery, and consequently cannot raise her voice above a throaty whisper.  To recuperate, she has retreated to the Italian island of Pantelleria with her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) – only for their impeccably stylish idyll to be rudely interrupted by Marianne’s former manager/lover/enabler Harry (Fiennes), who arrives uninvited, and with his sullenly provocative newfound daughter Penelope (Johnson) in tow.

The scene is thus set for all manner of smouldering permutations and recriminations, as the quartet circle each other in various predator/prey configurations until somebody ends up face down in the swimming pool around which they habitually congregate.  Guadagnino, however, is plainly less concerned with the ‘suspense film’ dynamics of his story than with conjuring a particular sinister insouciance within which his very game cast can romp about.

Of the leads, Swinton and Fiennes give object lessons in the benefits of playing to and against type, respectively.  Simply watching Swinton occupy space on screen has always been a fascinating proposition, since her remarkable extended wordless take in Derek Jarman’s War Requiem (1989).  Guadagnino is plainly too fascinated by her singular way of moving – and by her just-so Raf Simons wardrobe – to ask anything as austerely demanding of her here, but there’s a limber grace to her near-silent performances that contrasts intriguingly with her constricted voice.  Fiennes, on the other hand, is thrillingly obnoxious – always voluble and frequently stark naked, he is the very definition of the unwanted house guest.  It’s as fascinating to watch him foisted on others as it is horrifying to imagine him in one’s own home.

Johnson – who was ill-represented by the unbearably naff Fifty Shades of Grey – makes the most of every opportunity to smoulder and sulk.  Crucially, however, she also brings shading and nuance to a character (played by a kittenish Jane Birkin in Deray’s film) who could easily have had none.  Schoenaerts draws the short straw.  While he and Swinton have a screen-fogging physical chemistry, he seems reluctant to enter into the swing of Guadagnino’s tangy melodramatics.  While some of the reticence is undoubtedly his character’s, at other points the odd discomfort looks more like his own.

The ever-lovely Aurore Clément has a sly small role, and Corrado Guzzanti enjoys himself as the local Carabinieri, but the key supporting player here is Pantelleria itself – volcanically beautiful, and regally indifferent to the petty squabbles of the mere mortals who inhabit it.  On the subject of regal indifference, Guadagnino’s gestures toward the hardships of illegal migrants entering Europe through the island never quite slot into the rest of the film.  This strand dangles underdeveloped, which may be an intriguing statement on the issue in its own right – but which also has the unfortunate side effect of swelling the running time of a film that could probably have benefitted from leaving 15 minutes on the cutting-room floor.

These are minor complaints, though, when A Bigger Splash as a whole is such a sly treat.  Like the David Hockey painting from which it – otherwise inexplicably – takes its title, the film mesmerises through its own glassy superficiality.  The pristine surface exudes good taste and – somehow, almost subliminally – hints at a sinister layer just beyond our reach.

 

David Turpin

15A (See IFCO for details)

124 minutes

A Bigger Splash is released 12th February 2016

 

 

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Review: Spectre

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DIR: Sam Mendes • WRI: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth • PRO: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Lee Smith • DES: Dennis Gassner • MUS: Thomas Newman • CAST: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes

Well, here we are. Probably one of the most anticipated Bond movies of all time and likely the most hyped, non-Disney film of the year. Not to mention our first full look at how the producers’ experiment to Marvel-ise the Bond franchise has panned out.

After taking some ‘personal time’ in Mexico, Bond (Craig) is not in M’s (Fiennes) good books; Bond’s actions aren’t reflecting well on a Double-O section that’s already facing opposition from MI-5 in the form of Denbigh (Scott). Grounded until further notice, Bond enlists the help of Moneypenny (Harris) and Q (Whishaw) to go rogue and finish the mission he started in Mexico. Following some vague (and plot-hole-riddled-but-don’t-question-it) clues Bond finds himself on the trail of Oberhauser (Waltz). As the true scale of Oberhauser’s organisation becomes clear in the form of SPECTRE, a large and troubling picture comes into view with grave ramifications for not only global safety but for Bond personally as he finds himself caught in a web of events that stretches all the way back through his previous adventures and right back to his origins both as a character and within the Craig-era films on the whole.

This film has a bit of an identity crisis. And by extension so does this (very fanboy centric) opinion of it. On the one hand you have a film that’s trying very hard to show you it belongs in the same club as the classic entries in the series; be it the humour, gadgets, locations or villains. But on the other hand is trying with admirable determination to cement the idea of the entire Craig-era being one long, elaborate continuity. A task it succeeds too well at, to a detrimental degree. (By so convincingly pretending this was all planned out in advance, they’ve undermined various characters and plot points in previous movies and likely created a nightmarish miasma of plot holes.) So filled with homages is the film that any self-respecting Bond fan owes it to themselves to go see this yet the actual cinemagoer aspect of one’s brain can’t ignore how obnoxiously overlong and utterly devoid of pacing it is. (For comparison, Casino Royale is only five or so minutes shorter than this, yet this feels like it easily veers toward Lord of the Rings length and Dark Knight Rises levels of poor pacing.) This is to say nothing of the fact that the shoehorned-in destiny that this version of the Bond-verse is now saddled with will likely irritate longtime fans as much as seeing the return of familiar elements will delight them.

It is a pity that the only major complaint one can level at this as a film is the pacing/length issue because otherwise this hits practically every mark in terms of being both a great action-adventure-spy movie and a great Bond movie. This is one of the finest casts this series has ever assembled and they’re all great (your Waltz milage may vary and Andrew Scott is merely decent but otherwise, superb) and more importantly they all get a lot of screen time. Additionally, the locations are all gorgeously shot and visually diverse, while the action set-pieces are impeccably staged and suitably inventive. Yet the pacing issue works against every one of those positives. Welcome as the increased screen time for M, Moneypenny, Q, et al is, it comes at the expense of grinding to a halt an already sluggish A-plot and in some cases kills the pacing of an action scene (great car chase, fun Moneypenny-at-home scene; terrible as one sequence), and that’s when the film isn’t just arbitrarily ruining more singularly focused scenes. Skyfall’s pre-titles sequence stands out as one of the series’ finest and most action packed yet despite upping both the scale and ambition, SPECTRE’s keeps needlessly stopping and starting to a maddening degree. If ever there was an argument for the merits of why deleted scenes should stay deleted or how necessary a merciless Harvey Weinstein figure can be in the editing room, it’s this movie.

All this would be more acceptable if it was in service of something and while there are interesting ideas brought up in terms of both political commentary and franchise deconstruction (hell, even the title sequence brings up interesting notions of reversing the usual objectification/vulnerability dynamic), yet all of these are given comparatively little screen time. A solid half an hour of this film could go; the humour could be punchier, the dead air in conversations could be minimised, the action scenes could be much more breathlessly edited and the film on the whole would stand much stronger. Make no mistake this is far from a bad movie and very far from a bad Bond movie. This is absolutely worth seeing but the disappointment in the final result is an unfortunately niggling aftertaste.

Hardcore Bond fans might ultimately be a little annoyed and average filmgoers might be a little bored but this is still every bit the grandiose spectacle we were promised. Mendes has continued to push the line of what we consider a Bond movie and Thomas Newman’s score feels much more comfortable this time around; teasingly experimental while retaining familiar elements and with more inclusion of the Bond theme than we’ve had since the Brosnan era. The level of bombast has only grown, Craig continues to be unable to put a foot wrong and this has one of the boldest endings in the franchise’s history. If after fifty-three years, this series can still put a smile on this jaded cynic’s face and still leave you wondering what the ending means for how the franchise may evolve, someone somewhere is doing something right.

Richard Drumm


12A (see IFCO for details)

147 minutes

Spectre is released 22nd October 2015

Spectre –  Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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DIR: Wes Anderson • WRI: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness • PRO: Steven M. Rales, Scott Rudin, Jeremy Dawson, Wes Anderson • DOP: Robert D. Yeoman • ED: Barney Pilling • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Adam Stockhausen • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton

 

It’s safe to say that ever since his third feature, the irresistibly charming and endearing The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson has managed to establish himself as one of the most distinguishable and idiosyncratic directors in contemporary American cinema. In the past decade, Anderson has taken us from on board an eccentric oceanographer’s submarine while he seeks revenge on a glow-in-the-dark shark, to a luxury train travelling across India whilst three brothers seek spiritual enlightenment, to the tale of an anthropomorphic fox as he outsmarts three dim-witted farmers, and then to a fictional island off the coast of New England where two love-struck teenagers decide to elope after meeting at an amateur performance of Noye’s Fludde. As a result of this exceptionally offbeat aesthetic, his trademark dry wit, Anderson has won critical acclaim from both sides of the Atlantic, and there are certainly not many modern directors whose films can create such an air of anticipation amongst the more cine-literate of regular cinema attendees.

His eighth feature, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is certainly no exception and on this occasion, Anderson delves into the fantastical world of Mittel-Europa and takes inspiration from Stefan Zweig, the late Austrian writer who rose to prominence in the 1920s and 1930s before fleeing the continent as a result of the Second World War. The film however, is not a direct adaptation of anything in particular from Zweig’s body of work; instead, Anderson has seemingly infused his latest feature with several techniques and principles that are rooted in Zweig’s oeuvre. As a result, Anderson has created a film that will not only please his legions of followers; it might also have the power to sway even the most cynical of Anderson’s detractors.

The film begins with a young girl silently paying her respects to a memorial stone bust of an author famous for his book, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. From there, Anderson takes us back in time to the author’s experiences whilst staying at the hotel, located in an alpine resort in the fictional European principality of Zubrowka, and his relationship with one of the hotel’s most frequent guests, Zero Moustafa (played with gravitas by F. Murray Abraham). The aging Zero recounts to the author (Jude Law) his days working as a lobby boy in the hotel in the 1930s; back when the Grand Budapest was a lavish and opulent palace, full of decadent ornamentations and rich, vibrant decors, and back when it attracted only the most esteemed and refined individuals. It is here where we are introduced to the human embodiment of the sophisticated and flamboyant surroundings, one Gustave H (an extraordinary turn by Ralph Fiennes who showcases his little-known talent for comedy), the loquacious concierge who has a penchant for seducing the more senior female guests, and who takes the young, pencil-moustachio’d Zero under his wing. After one of Gustave’s former flings bequeaths a valuable Renaissance painting to him in her will, her discontented family, headed by Adrien Brody, do everything in their power to deprive Gustave of the prized, ‘Boy with Apple’.

With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson seems to be not so concerned with history, but with the history of cinema; we can see references to Kubrick and F.W. Murnau, and the plot descends into an elaborate caper full of bizarre character studies, wondrous sequences (including a superb cat-and-mouse chase where Gustave and Zero zoom down a precarious mountain atop a toboggan in pursuit of Willem Dafoe on skis), and meticulously-designed, glamorous sets that are reminiscent of the traits of classical Hollywood films and murder-mysteries.  Anderson retains many of the unique characteristics and oddities that have come to epitomise his aesthetic, with added bursts of black humour, and moments of subtle melancholy and poignancy.

Such is the power of the fantastical images that they seem to possess an almost-ethereal quality, and by the time the film enters its final third, you find yourself daydreaming, completely lost in Anderson’s whimsical universe. While the tone remains relatively light-hearted throughout, the film’s more melancholic moments catch you off guard, but that’s not to say they are contrived or overly-sentimental; it’s a testament to Anderson’s skill  and ability that he can create moments of intense sadness in a film such as this without drowning them in affect.

With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson has proven that he is undoubtedly a master of his craft and that he is currently at the peak of his powers. While many critics have found his films fastidious and favouring style over substance, the same can simply not be said about his latest. He has created a film that is utterly captivating, endlessly enjoyable, and so awe-inspiring, that it invites viewers to return again and again; if not for the gloriously detailed compositions, then for the magnificent performances from the ensemble cast, the rich characterisation, and the strangely moving ending that will linger long in the mind.

Gearóid Gilmore

15A (See IFCO for details)
109  mins

The Grand Budapest Hotel is released on 7th March 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Skyfall

DIR: Sam Mendes • WRI: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan • PRO: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson  DOP: Roger Deakins • ED: Stuart Baird • DES: Dennis Gassner • CAST:  Daniel Craig, Helen McCrory, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes

There has been a pendulum swing over the decades between thinking of the Bond character as a snooty, upper-class, smarmy fool or as an all-out, guns-blazing action figure. Dividing opinions claim a type of Bond as the best – that the character is at his finest while snarkily delivering cheesy one-liners before incredulously surviving ridiculous scenarios, or that he represents everything that is great about action movies and British international espionage. So, which camp does Skyfall fit into, in this long tradition of opposing Bonds? In fact, and perhaps for the first time, it fits neatly and perfectly into both.

 

Daniel Craig has finally nailed the character of James Bond, releasing the franchise from its ill-fated determination to stand in the same battle-ground as Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt. Gone are the impeding narrative restrictions, the over-use of parkour and too-realistic pain threshold have likewise fallen by the wayside, and romantic entanglements have lost their morose edge…Bond has re-emerged as a 21st century spy with a timeless allure. All of the character’s defining characteristics are present – from the cheese to the action, and everything in between. Daniel Craig was born to play this Bond, in this film, at this time.

 

It’s a Michael Corleone moment for Bond, as he is pulled back into a decidedly messy MI6 operation under the watchful, and distrustful, eye of Judi Dench’s M. Things are rapidly changing for the spy-makers who face a world headed by hyper-bureaucrat Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) that needs to be convinced of their usefulness – where the only proof of their necessity can be terrorism and attack. Enter Javier Bardem as probably the best Bond villain of all time – sly, ridiculous, sinister, hilarious, terrifying…he embodies everything that a true Bond nemesis should always be, while placing him firmly in the here and now. Playing a perfect foil for this new direction of the Bond franchise, he sets a sky-high bar of performance for anyone else who might dare take on the mantel. Bond’s other dealings with a shape-shifting bureaucratic centre in London, and his typically globe-trotting assignments, are loosely tied down by the new ‘Q’, played with British aplomb by an endearingly cuddly Ben Whishaw.

 

Keeping the sexual explicitness to a minimum, and so holding onto that 12A rating, Bond nonetheless never holds back on action, excitement – and even fear. The fast pace and explosive scenarios are brought together seamlessly and fluidly by Sam Mendes’ expert direction, and will bear rewatch after rewatch. To say that this is the best Bond movie yet might seem hyperbolic – or even a tad premature – but the cinema was nothing less than electric by film end, cheering and calling for more. Skyfall manages what no other Bond has managed, bringing together the separate, (and what often seemed mutually exclusive) facets of the complex character into a unified James Bond, who can only get better. With everything so right and so perfect, from Adele’s booming voice to the final boom, it would not be fair to say anything but that this is, indeed, the very best Bond outing ever!

 Sarah Griffin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
143 mins

Skyfall is released on 26th October 2012

Skyfall –  Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Coriolanus

Shake it Up

DIR: Ralph Fiennes • WRI: John Logan • PRO: Ralph Fiennes, John Logan, Gabrielle Tana, Julia Taylor-Stanley, Colin Vaines • DOP: Barry Ackroyd • ED: Nicolas Gaster • DES: Ricky Eyres • Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, James Nesbitt

After his brother played the title role in Shakespeare in Love, Ralph Fiennes decided to one up his sibling with his directorial debut, Coriolanus, a modern-day version of the Shakespearean tragedy, spoken in original verse.

Set in ‘Rome’ – a place unsure whether it is a nameless poverty-stricken Eastern European country or the UK – the film opens with it’s unhappy citizens plotting against Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes), an Army General who’s withholding grain from them. After riots begin break out, Martius quells them with force, while making little effort to hide his repulsion towards the lower classes.

Later, in an action-packed battle sequence, Martius comes face to face with his nemesis, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Following a knife-fight between the two – which resembled an odd energetic bear hug – Martius returns to Rome where Cominius gives him the third name Coriolanus. So after a chat with his mum, the newly-dubbed Coriolanus is convinced to run for consul, which he does reluctantly, and wins – however he ultimately loses because the fifteen/twenty people in a shanty town get a sudden change of heart. Thus initiating the PR disaster that is the downfall of Coriolanus.

The performances overall were decent. It was only Ralph himself letting the side down; his choice to play Coriolanus as overtly stoic, teamed with Willy S’s dialogue meant it was difficult to fully understand the character’s thought process. Vanessa Redgrave was excellent as his mother, what little lines Jessica Chastain got were performed exquisitely, and local talent, James Nesbitt does a top job as the snide Sicinius. Come to think of it, it wasn’t just Ralph. Lurking in the background is some of the funniest extra acting to date.

Coriolanus feels much longer than it actually is, due to the fact it’s limited action takes place solely in the first third of the film. The rest is a compilation of unnecessarily slow, lingering shots and countless, weighty monologues that make little sense in the bizarre modern setting.  In fact, quite a few scenes are indulgent, contrived and sometimes downright ridiculous (see Aufidius’s troops’s homo-erotic chair party).

This verbose, clunky film should only be viewed as a cheeky alternative for lazy students who couldn’t be bothered reading the original.

Gemma Creagh

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Coriolanus is released on 20th January 2012

Coriolanus – Official Website

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The Duchess

The Duchess
The Duchess

DIR: Saul Dibb • WRI: Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen, Saul Dibb • PRO: Michael Kuhn, Gabrielle Tana, Alexandra Arlango, Colleen Woodcock • DOP: Gyula Pados• ED: Masahiro Hirakubo• DES Michael Carlin • CAST: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell

Oh great, another period drama, but one that seems to hold out the promise of an Elizabethan ménage à trois. Which there is… sort of. More importantly, though, The Duchess is an exploration of the nasty patriarchy of the times, manifested in a loveless marriage and a live-in mistress.

Georgiana (Knightley) finds herself married off at a young age to the cold and controlling Duke (Ralph Fiennes). She quickly realises that she is nothing more then a baby machine with the sole task of popping out a male heir for the Duke. Seemingly only able to spawn girls, she finds the Duke growing ever more cold and distant, leaving her starved for attention and affection. To fill the void she becomes actively involved in politics and London society, which affords her the chance to rekindle a secret passion for the Whig Party’s rising star, Earl Grey (Domonic Cooper). She inevitably becomes a hit with the glitterati and socialites of the time, drawing the ire of her husband, whom she mocks with subtle rhetoric and politicking. Lacking any close friends or confidants she becomes acquainted with Bess, whom is also trapped in a loveless and violent marriage. However this faint glimmer of hope in her life is destroyed by the Duke who takes Bess as a live in mistress, while halting the advances of his wife towards Grey (Dominic Cooper).

It is a slow movie but it is well acted with Knightley and Fiennes suited to their roles, especially Fiennes who gives a formidable and powerful performance. While he is not on screen all that often, his dominating presence is felt in most scenes. Hayley Atwell is excellent as the conflicted Bess while the supporting cast fulfil their roles superbly. It might not be to everyone’s taste; fans of period drama will love it. However, if it is not your usual genre of choice then there is nothing to make it stand out as anything other than a well-acted, well-made movie.

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