Review: Diego Maradona

DIR: Asif Kapadia 

“Football is a game of deceit” –  Diego Maradona

A dancer, a chancer, a renegade romancer, whether it was on the field or in the streets, Diego Maradona zigged and zagged through opposition, pulling the wool over our eyes and the ball from under their noses. In a career built upon a catalogue of bluffs and outrageous talent, his stardom stretched beyond the pitch, converting stadiums into cathedrals brimming with the hymns of “Olé, Olé, Olé”. Though chaos trailed him with every dizzying run, tackles sliding in from tabloids and addiction nipping at his heels, the iconic number 10 sidestepped a doomed fate, surviving to tell the tale long after the final whistle blew.

The ultimate trickster, cheating death is what separates Maradona from Asif Kapadia’s previous subjects in Amy (2015) and Senna (2010). The director’s interest, however, is in what these gifted people had in common, and what emerges is an intimate triptych exploring the burdens of god-given genius.

Nowhere is this theme more starkly apparent than in the film’s immersive opening scenes: following his record-breaking transfer from FC Barcelona, a convoy of squealing Fiats drags us through the bursting streets of Naples, down into a feverishly packed Stadio San Paolo for Maradona’s unveiling. It’s a suffocating introduction that would look a riot if taken out of context but instead we’re left feeling the trappings of talent closing in around us.

Like with his previous aforementioned documentaries, here Kapadia employs his trademark mosaic method in turning the screen into a palette of archival snippets. From cheesy late night chat show clips to fuzzy home videos, the audience sift through mounds of memory in order to salvage the hidden truths buried beneath. It’s an intoxicating formula which has yet to lose its appeal and with it we sense a keen interplay between subject and form, where the clattering of spliced imagery echo the giddy erraticism of the two-footed wunderkind.

It comes as a slight disappointment then that the story we carve out struggles to find any refreshing insight into the myth of Maradona, preferring instead to stick to well trodden narratives of the ‘tortured genius’. The film leans heavily on the internal conflict between ‘Diego’, the humble boy from the slums and ‘Maradona’, the self-destructive demigod. For a figure globally renowned for his daring instincts on the pitch, Diego Maradona (2019) feels content with cautiously playing the ball out from the back.

Kapadia’s astuteness is rather how he shuffles recorded memories while still managing to evoke an overpowering sense of time and place. By focusing on the star’s turbulent Napoli years and allowing flashbacks to slip in naturally, we forego the stale rhythms of the ‘cradle to grave’ approach while still engaging with the crucial context surrounding the story. A big part of that backdrop is the question of national identity, something Kapadia touched on with Senna. Here it’s foregrounded, political, social, and consistently compelling.  

A life spent on the run inevitably takes its toll. In its final moments, the film reaches a sombre conclusion in weighing up the heavy price of greatness – no doubt encouraging some viewers to roll their eyes considering Maradona’s recent conduct. A saint and a sinner, the man has made a career from polarising opinion. They say every good story needs a hero and a villain, Maradona played both. However, it’s Kapadia, in an earnest attempt to dig beneath tabloid tattle, who finds the boy caught in the middle.

Brian Quinn

129 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Maradona is released 14th June 2019

 

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Review: Late Night

DIR: Nisha Ganatra • WRI: Mindy Kaling Music: Lesley Barber • DOP: Matthew Clark • ED: Eleanor Infante • PRO : Ben Browning, Jessie Henderson, Mindy Kaling, Howard Klein  • CAST: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Ike Barinholtz, Hugh Dancy

Late Night, written and produced by Mindy Kaling achieves something not many films do – it discusses pertinent cultural issues yet is underlined with the uplifting positivity of a romantic comedy. The film, which stars Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, can be viewed as a conversation opener. It paves the way for subjects such as gender and race to come to the fore. It’s worth celebrating that these topics are raised and also handled with a degree of insight and transparency – and not forgetting a healthy dose of clever humour.

Structurally this film contains many recognisable romantic comedy aspects; it contains heaps of self-realisation and roadblocks that are overcome with dramatic flair. However, one crucial element of the romantic comedy is muted and replaced with a new focus – it showcases women that are pursuing their careers rather than an irresistibly charming man. Both Thompson and Kaling shine in their roles; Thompson as revered comedy talk show host Katherine Newbury and Kaling as Molly – the naïve, overly enthusiastic yet charming new comedy writer on Newbury’s talk show writing team. As the jaded romantic narrative is omitted in this film it highlights instead two women overcoming the various obstacles that they face in the world of TV. The plot centres on Katherine Newbury scrabbling to carry on as the host of her talk show aided by Molly’s interventions and ideas.

As the title of this film would suggest, it explores the present state of talk-shows and where their popularity falls within the ever-changing landscape of the media. In terms of entertainment this film questions both what do people want to hear and who do they want to hear it from. The film commences with the self-possessed, sophisticated and undeniably smart, talk-show host Katherine Newbury accepting what we are soon to learn is just one of the many awards she has won throughout her career. This beginning is a stark contrast with what follows – the long concealed news that her show’s numbers have been dropping for years and her position and power are shaky.

With her show slipping away, Katherine must entirely re-question her style if she is to compete in the fast-paced, short-attention-spanned world of today’s social media and Youtube culture. The film reveals that media is changing – Katherine’s experience, intellect and sharp wit have been replaced with seemingly mindless teens and videos of online animals. Despite her awards and success, the film takes a realistic stand point in highlighting that she must incorporate popular tastes, gags and internet celebrities in order to keep her viewers engaged. This film does not shy away from revealing the decline in popularity for shows such as Katherine’s and effectively depicts dog-Youtubers and teenage vampire actresses as the silly yet scary threats to the legacy she has built. It calls into question media as we know it and begs the question if talk shows can remain relevant in modern society and if so how.  

While Emma Thompson excellently embodies the infamous Katherine Newbury, Kaling’s performance as Molly is equally engaging and culturally relevant. While it is made clear in this film what kind of content is now necessary to keep audience’s attention the film also shows who we are now interested in – what voices in society need to be heard. Katherine hires Molly not based on her experience but rather because she needs to fill a hole in her comedy writing team – a woman. The film takes issues of race and background head on, with it being revealed to Molly that she’s not there on merit but rather as a “diversity hire”. It is clear that the world of this office is one of the white, seemingly privileged male and Molly is only there to make sure a different voice is represented on this team. The inherent acceptance that Molly, based on her Indian heritage and female gender, is not welcome in the writer’s room is reflected when the other male writers presume she is an office administrator rather than a writer. Molly’s initial earnestness to succeed is quickly crushed by her peers. Although in rom-com fashion she does overcome these challenges, her experiences highlight successfully how far she must go to be accepted in this role on the basis of her race and gender.

As this comedy focuses on women who are committed to their careers, this provides an insight to the trials women must face to be accepted in their roles and stay relevant and on top of their game. While Katherine Newbury is represented as legendary within the world of comedy her position is still threatened by the next unimaginative and vaguely sexist young male comedian that comes along. The ratio of men to women in the writers group is 7:1 meaning that in this world only a certain portion of voices and opinions are being heard. For example, Katherine Newbury chooses to shy away from women’s issues which aren’t often discussed such as menopause and contraceptive choices. The world of TV painted in this film shows one where even a powerful woman, regarded as being accomplished, still needs to fight to retain her position.

Overall Late Night is an extremely enjoyable watch with serious subjects raised but with a smart joke around every corner. It courageously says what might not always be said and to that effect it raises questions that need to be asked and changes that need to be made. Emma Thompson encapsulates the star that gets a reality check and fights to the end to remain the star that she is- all whilst showcasing a dazzling collection of power suits. Mindy Kaling has written an excellent film which illustrates the difficulties which can be in a working gal’s way and shows us how to overcome them with equal doses of strength and comedy.

Irene Falvey

101 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Late Night  is released 7th June 2019

Late Night  – Official Website


 

 

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Review: Framing John DeLorean

James Bartlett gets behind the wheel of Framing John DeLorean.

Even if you’re not a petrol head, you definitely know the car he designed. Stainless steel silver, gull-wing doors, and it travels through time when it reaches 88 mph…

Okay, that last bit isn’t true, but you know I’m talking about the DeLorean DMC-12, the amazing-looking sports car that took Marty and Doc flying Back to the Future in the 1985 movie and its two sequels.

What fewer people know is that John DeLorean was arrested in an FBI sting at a Los Angeles hotel and charged with conspiracy to obtain and distribute 55 pounds of cocaine in 1982 – yes, several years before the car became a movie icon. The factory had been in production for barely a year or so, but his glamorous image, model wife and celebrity endorsements didn’t look like it was going to be enough to save it from closure. Those 55 pounds of cocaine were apparently his desperate attempt to get some big money – fast.   

That factory? It was in a suburb of Belfast. Yes, the DeLorean cars were all made in Belfast, during some of the worst days of “The Troubles.” And a huge chunk of the money invested in DeLorean’s venture had come from the British government. But on that night in 1982, the party was over.

DeLorean was acquitted on the drugs charge, but questions about many missing millions never went away, and what you could call the Tesla of its day seemed destined to be a quirky museum exhibit.

A superstar automotive executive, a dream to start a new economical and environmentally-conscious car company, millions of dollars, drugs, sectarian violence, disgrace, and Hollywood magic.  How has this story not been filmed before?

It’s a question that opens Framing John DeLorean, a documentary that’s slightly different in that it talks to the actors playing the roles in the reenactment sequences.  It also talks to a number of people who were involved in the whole escapade: designers, engineers, still-disappointed factory workers, lawyers, the FBI agent, the informer who drew DeLorean into the sting, and others.

Was DeLorean a visionary undone by bad luck, or a con man on the make?

The most interesting moments – which, like the reenactments, you wish there were more of – see Baldwin talking off-camera (usually in the make-up chair) about how he approached the role, and what he thinks DeLorean must have felt as his dream crumbled about him.

Those reenactments – often matching shot-for-shot directly from archive footage – really bring the story to life, though it’s of course the interviews with the actual people (and especially DeLorean’s children), that bring the story home.

DeLorean’s fame – and then infamy – clearly crushed his son and daughter. Their parents divorced immediately after the court verdict, and they suffered jokes and media attention all their young lives. More than that, their father was actively looking to bring his car company back right up until his own death in 2005, and it seems they often felt they came second or third in his affections.

DeLorean the company still lives, by the way.  Liverpudlian Stephen Wynne bought all the remaining parts in a bankruptcy sale in 1997, and his repair facilities in several US cities are always booked up months in advance. He’s waiting for government approval to go back into limited production, and has improved everything under the bonnet and elsewhere for a 21st century version.

There are still rabid fans and collectors across the world as well, and strong reviews for Framing John DeLorean at Tribeca led to the news that George Clooney’s Smokehouse Productions is planning a project, with Clooney directing and maybe starring.

Also, 2018’s Driven, which was directed by Belfast’s own Nick Hamm and looked at the relationship between DeLorean and that confidential informant, has just been picked up for North American distribution.

Wherever John Z. DeLorean is now, he’s surely happy about it all.

 

Framing John DeLorean is released on VOD 7th  June 7 2019


 

 

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Review: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

DIR: Simon Kinberg • WRI:John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Simon Kinberg DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: Lee Smith • PRO: Todd Hallowell, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner • DES: Claude Paré • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez

It never bodes well when a film gets a press screening the day before it is to be unleashed on the public, being optimistic I thought maybe it’s some kind of bluff. Then I saw the rest of my press-screening invite telling me that all comments and reviews were embargoed until 7am on the day of the film’s unleashing. A double bluff, I optimistically thought.  No such luck I’m afraid.

Dark Phoenix arrives with less than a whimper; the much delayed and rumoured-to-be-a troubled production, fails on nearly all fronts as a piece of glossy summer entertainment. With the best of goodwill from the most ardent fan it might work but for everyone else it is going to be a proverbial damp squib.

The plot concerns itself with the justly famous Dark Phoenix saga presented in the pages of X-Men back in the seventies, courtesy of comic legends Chris Claremont and John Byrne in the days before Watchmen came along and inadvertently turned things upside down. The only similarity between this film and its source material is Jean Gray’s struggle with a newfound omnipotent power and rival aliens fighting for said power.  All the original space-opera glory of the comic book only gets a brief nod when the X-Men go into space (not outer jut the bit outside the ozone layer), to save some astronauts from the space anomaly that is going to be the source of Jean’s and everyone else’s woes.

Set in 1992 to no good effect whatsoever, Charles Xavier’s X-people are media darlings and on the presidential hotline and yes, it does involve a bat phone type scenario, albeit without the humour; humour is very thin on the ground and when attempted falls squarely on its arse. Charles Xavier is seen to be losing the run of himself, a man verging on the pompous and thinking he knows better than everyone else using his protégés as his propaganda machine to maintain the love for mutant kind. The emotional heart of the story concerns Xavier doing what he thinks is best for Jean without concern for his right to do so when he suppresses a bad memory or two.  One anomaly later and Jean is all powerful and losing the run of herself, meanwhile aliens have come to earth to gain the said power – you get the picture.

The bulk of the story sits on Jean’s shoulders relegating everyone else to perfunctory supporting roles and character development that would be shameful in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The whole thing is remnant of a seventies television show that knows it has a good formula that doesn’t need changing; that is until it does. The set pieces offer very little excitement or originality, except for the first scene in space, elsewhere it is a strong feeling of déjà vu featuring telepathic battles, upturned cars, an attack on a train and my favourite, trying to cross the road… not a word of a lie.

So many lost opportunities are apparent watching the hamster-wheel mentality unfold. The cinema sins on show are so obvious it seems surprising that no one saw any of the issues with the story at a much earlier stage. At the helm of this trainwreck – that also features a trainwreck – is writer, director Simon Kinberg,  a man who has been part of the franchises lesser works including co-writer on X-Men: Last Stand, the original attempt at adapting the Dark Phoenix storyline, the mind boggles.

Paul Farren

113 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
X-Men: Dark Phoenix is released 5th June 2019

X-Men: Dark Phoenix – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

DIR: Michael Dougherty • WRI Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields • DOP: Lawrence Sher • ED: Roger Barton, Bob Ducsay, Richard Pearson • PRO: Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull • DES: Katie Byron • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: Millie Bobby Brown, Lexi Rabe, Sally Hawkins

Warner brothers Monsterverse franchise is back in full swing with their third entry and second Godzilla movie, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Things are heating up for the big bout expected next year: Godzilla Versus Kong.

Picking up from the end of Godzilla, in an oddly similar vein to Justice League, we find Monarch scientists (that secret group that have been monster-watching all this time), Emma, Mark and their daughter Madison searching the rubble of San Francisco for their lost son, Andrew, as Godzilla prepares for his final encounter with the rival monsters from that film.

Five years later,  daughter and mother are in Brazil where Emma is continuing her work with Monarch. Mark has retired, after finding it hard to work for an organisation that has involvement with the large creature that inadvertently killed his son. Emma is on the cusp of a breakthrough in communicating with the creatures thanks to a device known as Orca and, would you believe it, only one of these devices exists.

Enter Captain Jonah, an  eco-terrorist psychopath and his motley crew, just as Emma is putting the Orca device to good use on Mothra who has just emerged from her cocoon. One carnage of Monarch personnel, kidnapping and trip to yet another Monarch base in Antarctica and things are looking bad for humankind. The eco-terrorists plan is to awaken Titans (posh scientific term for monsters) all over the world in the name of saving the planet, give or take a few billion people I’m guessing. Things get out of hand, I kid you not, the idea of setting Titans loose wasn’t a bad idea to the perpetrators until Ghidorah, three-headed rival to the big G is let loose as part of this well thought-out master plan. It turns out Ghidorah ain’t from around here and has titanic plans of his own.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters has one of the most bonkers premises I’ve seen in a while. The slaughter-filled plan to save the planet is up there with the most abominable plans of past dictators give or take a titan or two. But because of this bonkers premise rather than despite it, the film flies along with its sincere bonkerness in the best possible way.

The actors do their best despite getting landed with the most God(zilla)-awful dialogue and spending most of the time having terrible ensemble chats, jammed to the cloisters with exposition and on-the-money plot information. At least some of them seem to know they are in a monster movie, which adds to the fun. Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe reprise their roles from the first film as well-meaning Monarch scientists. Ken fares the best of the two and finally gets to be up close and personal with Godzilla. Poor Sally does not fare as well. Hero duties fall mostly to Kyle Chandler who many will remember from Peter Jackson’s King Kong – pure coincidence I’m sure that he is back fighting monsters and looks to be around when Kong returns next year. Millie Bobby Brown fares well as Madison, the conflicted daughter of Emma and Mark. Underused and coming out the best of all is Charles Dance as Captain Jonah Alan, who  gets to be the real beast of the film; when not slaughtering innocents he pontificates about what terrible creatures humans are.

Despite the bonkers premise and stilted human moments, Godzilla is a blast. If like me you love a good old monster-bashing, city-trashing piece of action, then your in for a treat. The film does not let up once the action starts, the filmmakers have certainly taken the time to understand the kaiju gold mine they are excavating. It feels like a genuine nod to sixties and seventies Godzilla and is filled with easter eggs for die hard fans … I’m sure there must be others out there. But of course this is not going to get in the way of those who are just discovering kaiju in the last five years. The only possible danger with all these extra monsters is that it seems like too much of a good thing. Where can they go with the upcoming Godzilla, Kong bout when there are all these other titans vying for our attention…

Godzilla vs Jurassic Park anyone?

Paul Farren

131 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is released 31st May 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters– Official Website

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Review: Booksmart

DIR: Olivia Wilde • WRI Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman • DOP: Jason McCormick • ED: Jamie Gross • PRO: Chelsea Barnard, David Distenfeld, Jessica Elbaum, Megan Ellison Katie Silberman • DES: Katie Byron • MUS: Dan Nakamura • CAST: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis

What can one hope for from a female coming-of-age comedy 2019? I for one went into Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart hoping that it would be this year’s Blockers (which was, in turn, the previous year’s Bad Neighbours 2). And reader, it did not disappoint.

Following the fortunes of two model students on their final day of high school, Amy (Kaitlyn Deever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have avoided parties and general tomfoolery in favour of study and intellectual rigour throughout their school careers to ensure success later in life. This backfires when they discover that the rest of their graduating class has also been accepted to Harvard and Yale. Looking to make up for lost time, the two girls set off on an odyssey of graduation parties. Yes, it is in many ways the female version of Superbad. And while in one way it’s sad that we have had to wait over a decade for such a film to appear, it’s perhaps also a very good thing that no one attempted a female version of Superbad ten years ago.

While it’s undeniably satisfying to see new films flipping the script on the assumptions Hollywood has made about American high school since the ’80s, the film does occasionally overplay its hand. Almost every character turns out to be something they’re not, which at times can be exhausting, particularly for characters that had barely any screen time in the first place. However, this isn’t to take away from the impressive supporting cast and the good intentions behind it all: it’s nice to see a diverse array of high school characters wherein everyone is treated as an individual, and long may the dismantling of the Hollywood hierarchy continue.

And for many reasons, Booksmart feels worth the wait, bringing together as it does two fantastic leads who have deserved more screen time for quite a while now: Kaitlyn Deever managed to be a kick-ass kid in television’s adult-focused Justified while Beanie Feldstein was the infinitely likeable best friend in Lady Bird (and should have been the focus of the movie, in this reviewer’s humble opinion). Together they bring a wonderful combined energy to the film, with lots of the comedy coming from their offbeat exchanges. Despite seeing each other daily, they take plenty of time to send each other constant encouragement, which is as sweet as it is bizarre. As a spiritual sequel to Blockers it also follows in that film’s progressive steps: Amy is out and, aside from her Christian parents (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte) who are stepping over themselves to demonstrate their acceptance of their daughter, her sexuality doesn’t raise any eyebrows.  And indeed, if Molly fails to understand the nuances of her best friend’s sexuality at times, it’s her own misunderstanding of female sexuality that is the butt of the joke. “I have a secret for you.” she tells Amy: “I once tried to masturbate with an electric toothbrush, but I got a horrible UTI.”

Hopefully we will see more directing from Wilde and her all-female writing team, as they have succeeded in creating a laugh-out-loud comedy which explores the nuances of female friendship and permits its characters to make mistakes. Booksmart graduates with top marks (but doesn’t forget to have fun along the way).

Sarah Cullen

102 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Booksmart is released 27th May 2019

Booksmart – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: High Life

DIR: Claire Denis WRI: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox PRO: Laurence Clerc, Oliver Dungey, Christoph Friedel, D.J. Gugenheim, Andrew Lauren, Klaudia Smieja, Claudia Steffen, Olivier Thery Lapiney• DOP: Yorick La Seux, Tomasz Naumiuk   Ed: Guy Lecorne CAST: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, Mia Goth, Agata Buzek.

 

Monte (Pattinson) is the lone passenger, along with his infant daughter, aboard a spaceship headed towards a black hole. Through flashbacks we see what brought this about: how he and a group of other death-row convicts were put on this suicide mission, dressed up as a shot at redemption. We find out what became of his former colleagues aboard the ship including the authoritative Dibs (Binoche), a fellow death-row convict, who also happened to be a doctor and who was intent on carrying out various sexual experiments on those on board.

The inimitable Claire Denis returns to our screens with this, her English-language debut. Any fears that a bigger budget and name cast would see Denis attempt something more mainstream are quickly dispelled in this elliptical, hypnotic and provocative picture. This being a seriously minded, contemplative science fiction film by an auteur director, it is inevitable that there will be some comparisons drawn to 2001, Solaris and Stalker. Some of the film’s body-horror elements also vaguely call to mind Cronenberg. However, while there are some nods to those, particularly some visual homages to the latter Tarkovsky film, this is a highly distinctive piece with a singular, pungent ambience and one that doesn’t play by anybody else’s rules. The structure of the film is often quite radical, the form deeply tactile.

In terms of Denis’ other films, the one it most resembles is Trouble Every Day. While this is Denis doing a sci-fi film, that was her riff on horror and the vampire sub-genre specifically. Similar to that film, Denis here doesn’t shy away from explicit depictions of sex and violence. Denis has no sense of middle-brow prudishness about her, a large reason why Trouble Every Day and her insidious, disturbing 2013 film Bastards got such hostile reviews from many critics. The often visceral imagery on show here, to go along with a plethora of bodily fluids, works in stark contrast to the tenderness depicted between Monte and his daughter, while also forcing us to confront humans animalistic nature and how this contrasts with our great accomplishments in the advancement of technology, not in a tasteful manner, but with blunt clarity.

This is a film that is rich in theme and texture, where contrasts and contradictions abound. The film lends itself to a vast array of interpretations, with the picture working as a series of snapshots from which the viewer can piece together their interpretation. At times the film seems like it’s a vicious, filthy satire of societal norms, other times it suggests it may be a Christian allegory. One can also just simply submerge themselves in the utterly tangible world of the film. Denis utilises Le Saux’s cinematography, Lecornu’s editing, and her regular collaborator Stuart A. Staple’s terrific score to create a trance-inducing spectacle. The film flits between the long corridors aboard the evocatively simple spaceship to darkly nostalgic 16mm flashbacks of her characters’ pre-space, past to extraordinarily odd and original scenes of eroticism, to scenes of harrowing brutality, to scenes of serene beauty. All the while, Denis exhibits a mastery of tone amidst a vast swathe of ideas, both formal and thematic.

The cast are all uniformly excellent. Goth carries on her recent string of strong supporting turns, while Benjamin brings a low-key warmth to his character. Binoche exhibits her typical charisma, throwing in a splash of dangerous malevolence for good measure. However, the standout out here is, of course, the reliably excellent Pattinson who spends much of the film on-screen on his own or acting opposite his character’s infant daughter. It’s a subtle, magnetic performance – the type that has become his trademark.

This is a wholly uncompromising, deeply evocative and highly intelligent piece of work.

David Prendeville

 

112 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
High Life is released 10th May 2019

 

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Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

DIR: Joe Berlinger • WRI: Michael Werwie • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Josh Schaeffer • PRO: Joe Berlinger, Nicolas Chartier, Michael Costigan, Ara Keshishian, Michael Simkin • DES: Brandon Tonner-Connolly • MUS: Marco Beltrami, Dennis Smith • CAST: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Angela Sarafyan

 

The ability to kill someone is something that should not be easy or even enjoyable and yet serial killers are subjects of intense obsession for many. David Fincher’s masterpiece Zodiac ran with the tagline “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer” and a dozen years later it seems Joe Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is the inheritor to this phrase. The new phase of the serial killer film is here; one in which filmmakers examine the impact on the victims rather than the violent actions that often don’t bare repeating.

In 1969 Liz Kloepfer (Lily Collins) meets Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) in a Seattle bar. They settle into a relationship over the next several years as Ted studies law in Utah while visiting Liz and her daughter on weekends. All the while Ted has been brutally murdering and raping women in the states of Washington, Utah, Colorado and Florida. As Liz begins to suspect that all is not right, Ted’s crimes catch up with him in Utah and Colorado but after two daring escapes he is finally caught in Florida and put on trial.

Much controversy has been made about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Films like Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer have given horror films an unnecessary outlet. The simple fact is that their crimes don’t need to be painstakingly replicated either through fiction or documentary. A verbal description is enough which is what Berlinger does here. Another point of contention was Efron’s casting as a handsome, charming murderer with a killer set of baby blues. Which is exactly what Ted Bundy was.

Efron is magnetic in the title role. The film orbits around him more by necessity than by choice. Throughout Efron rarely allows the façade to slip just as Bundy did. Only in a chilling final scene the day before Bundy’s execution are we given a glimpse of this man’s cold, monstrous nature. It’s an incredible exercise in restraint on both Berlinger and Efron’s part. It makes that final reveal – amplified by Collins’ wounded shock – all the more chilling. It wouldn’t mean much if Collins and Efron didn’t play so well off each other though.

The start of the movie is a haphazard back and forth between three time periods. When Ted meets Liz, Ted’s first arrest in Utah and his execution in Florida. Eventually the film – much like Berlinger’s companion Netflix series Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes – settles and the true effect of Bundy’s crimes are revealed. It’s here we see Liz descend into a kind of walking catatonia. She obsessively watches the Florida trial, drinks heavily and neglects her personal and professional lives. Berlinger’s focus may be on Ted Bundy for most of the film but his sympathy and respect lies with the victims.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is shot with a kind of intimacy uncommon to serial killer films. Cinematographer Brandon Trost’s use of close-ups in intimate moments shared by Bundy and his girlfriends are either very affecting or emblematic of how manipulative Bundy was.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile does two things extraordinarily well. First, it eviscerates the myth that the crimes of serial killers need to be shown in all their gratuity. Secondly it establishes Zac Efron as a dramatic force worth considering. Most of all Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile shows a great deal of empathy to those that never really received it: the victims. As the names of Bundy’s known victims appear in the final shot Berlinger makes clear that Bundy was not the sun around which the universe of this film revolved. He was in fact a cavernous, unfathomable black hole sucking even light itself into its crushing depths.

Andrew Carroll

110 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil is released 3rd May 2019

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Review: Avengers: Endgame

DIR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo • WRI: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely • DOP: Trent Opaloch • ED: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt • PRO: Kevin Feige • DES: John Plas, Charles Wood • MUS: Alan Silvestri • CAST: Brie Larson, Robert Downey Jr., Karen Gillan

Hard to believe that in eleven years Marvel have produced twenty two films all set in the one shared world whilst hovering around in the background has been an eleven-year threat of a menacing villain called Thanos, who has taken longer to arrive on the scene than the dragons in Game of Thrones.  My but aren’t superhero movies fans a patient lot.

Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of all that waiting and world building and Infinity stone learning (if you were actually paying attention what started with Iron Man and has built steadily ever since to create the phenomenon we know today). Taking its cue from the Marvel comics shared universe Marvel studios has built a similar world, where every film counts for its connection to the others in its shared universe.

Avengers: Endgame is a film so critic-proof that if every one of them gave this film a bad review it will still be the phenomenal success it is surely going to be. A milestone was already created with Infinity Wars record box office, the first half of this Avengers tale; and with a bummer of an ending too. Half of the universe wiped out with the click of Thanos’ fingers and his Infinity stone laden gauntlet, more importantly half the heroes in the Marvel universe, they killed Spider-man for Christ’ sakes.

That film, a tragic space opera if you will, was always going to be a hard act to follow. Of course no one will be walking into this film thinking they are all dead forever. The question is how would they save everyone? And there lies the rub for some, (critics mostly).

The main plot thrust offered is a good old fashioned time-travel yarn complete with references to every other time-travel film they could think of just to point out how ridiculous time travel is and set up their own rules. Trust me, when you see it you will be amused. What makes all of this work are the emotional stakes of the story and the rumour mill letting us know enough to suspect the loss of some heroes along the way; as Marvel movies go this is at least ten hankies worth of tears for the average fan.

Endgame is an unadulterated crowd pleaser, not so much a film as an event. The Russo brothers now on their fourth Marvel movie handle everything with storytelling skill of their comic book forebears as opposed to the likes of Chekov and understand quite well the old axiom of giving the public what the public want. All the necessary heroes get the right amount of screen time and for every laugh there are other things happening to balance it all out.

This one is critic-proof, it was made with love for the fans, the true believers and no amount of critical thinking can really understand what it all means to the ones that really care; no matter how they might deconstruct or criticize the proceedings, that have brought eleven years of storytelling to some shocking conclusions and created new horizons for the fans to continue their worship of all things Marvel.

Paul Farren

180 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Avengers: Endgame is released 26th April 2019

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Review: Donbass

DIR/WRI: Sergei Loznitsa •  DOP: Oleg Mutu • ED: Danielius Kokanauskis • PRO: Heino Deckert • DES: Kirill Shuvalov • MUS: Jack Arnold • CAST: Valeriu Andriuta, Nina Antonova, Valeriy Antonyuk

The complexity and atrocity of war can be difficult to encapsulate within the running time of a film.  Sergei Loznitsa’s film Donbass rejects a linear recounting of the events leading up to the tensions in eastern Ukraine – instead the film is composed of a series of vignettes. These scenes portray a bizarre yet illuminating insight into the division in Ukraine between civilians that are Pro-Russian separatists and those that sympathise with Europe and the West. While the film is often farcical and dramatic it never fails to reveal the tyranny that the affected civilians must suffer.   

This film successfully manages to show the harsh realities of a conflicted war-zone with the addition of a heavy note of sarcasm and exaggeration. Much like the unexpected nature of war, the film jumps from one vignette to the next; the viewers never know which snippet of the war will be revealed next.

Direct conflict and battle scenes rarely feature; instead we witness how war has seeped into different aspects of culture/society and the civilian’s way of thinking and being. The film has many windows which provide a glimpse into the civil unrest – the scenes are high energy and have a sense of theatricality. For example, one of the first short vignettes includes a boisterous, feisty woman who has been slandered in the newspaper pour a bucket of what can be presumed is excrement over the head of a government figure. Her brash actions are a consequence of media manipulation and deception of the public- just one aspect of corruption at large in Ukraine.

While many of the stories in this film are similar in tone to the above, others bring us back to the reality of war, depicting the lives of civilians who have no power to stop its effects. The footage of a bomb shelter dwelling for those that have been left homeless due to the conflict quickly reminds the viewer that war can’t always be glazed over with humour. Inside, one of the residents guides the viewer through the shelter; his positive attitude clashing starkly with the grim interior he describes – dark, dingy, over-crowded and lacking in sanitation and supplies. Notably some residents turn their face away as the camera draws closer – they don’t want others to know what they have been reduced to. Stripped of comedy, it is this scene in the film that most effectively depicts the real everyday consequences of war.

Donbass doesn’t shy away from the gruesome nature of war. In particular this is illustrated through the somewhat medieval tactic of tying a soldier to a post in the middle of a public place to let passers-by do as they wish to punish him. The reactions reveal a comical, barbaric mob mentality (a tomato is genuinely shoved in his face) yet the aggression he receives also unveils a deep-seated sense of hatred and despair amongst the civilians. The film walks the line between satire and the reality of war – this scene perfectly combines them both.   

While peppered with many dark laughs, ultimately Donbass depicts the grim political landscape of the tensions in Ukraine. It provides a resounding impression of the conflict, the division and the denial of human rights in this border region.

Irene Falvey

110 minutes

Donbass is released 26th April 2019


 

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Review: Wild Rose

DIR: Tom Harper • WRI: Nicole Taylor • DOP: George Steel • ED: Mark Eckersley • PRO: Faye Ward • DES: Lucy Spink • MUS: Jack Arnold • CAST: Julie Walters, Jessie Buckley, Craig Parkinson |

In search of ‘three chords and the truth’, Jessie Buckley stars as Rose-Lynn Harlan who’s a country singer aspiring to swap her native Glasgow for her spiritual home of Nashville, Tennessee. Rose-Lynn’s journey there is already derailed after a stint in prison and any chance of a country career is hampered by the fact her cowboy boots are that bit more difficult to put on with a home arrest tag encompassing her ankle. Rose-Lynn begins work as a cleaner for Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), and upon discovering her love for country music, she encourages Rose-Lynn to pursue this dream. Yet, the dominant drawback to her dreams is her home arrest and the fact that she has two young children who have to be mothered by their grandmother Marion (Julie Walters). Rose-Lynn needs to seek her truth and do what it takes to be the country singer she yearns to become.

Jessie Buckley’s performance is simply exceptional in Wild Rose. She really makes you believe in, and encourage, Rose-Lynn’s aspirations. Yet, Nicole Taylor’s impressive script allows you to be immersed in both Rose-Lynn’s dreams and realities – you root for her character to succeed but you also want to sit Rose-Lynn down and plead with her to prioritise certain aspects in her life before taking Nashville on headfirst. Her motherhood is something she’s ignorant of in pursuit of her music career and her own mother constantly reminds her of this fact.

Marion and Susannah are the two characters representative of this duality within Rose-Lynn’s life. A reliably-strong offering from Julie Walters as Marion focuses on the cold truths of Rose-Lynn’s motherhood and her ignorance of her duties as a mother to her two children. Country stardom must wait, according to Marion, whilst Susannah sees Rose-Lynn as an ingénue who needs the emotional and financial backing to reach the heights Rose-Lynn isn’t afraid of climbing. Susannah is the force driving Rose-Lynn to send footage of herself singing to Whispering Bob Harris on BBC Radio 2; Marion then tries to drive Rose-Lynn in the opposite direction and acknowledge that she’s neglecting her responsibilities as a parent to children who have been sidelined enough.

Wild Rose’s mise-en-scene is reminiscent of the Glasgow in Robert Carlyle’s The Legend of Barney Thomson or I, Daniel Blake’s Newcastle but we expect an upturn in her life, and once she gets to Nashville, cinematographer George Steel suitably introduces warmer tones that captures Rose-Lynn’s fish-out-of-water nervous excitement. The narrative is maintained by Taylor’s script and there are avenues you expect the film to explore but doesn’t. Susannah’s husband Sam, when he finally arrives on screen, could lead to an inevitable falling out with Susannah, but another scenario is chosen. Also, the film initially teases a rivalry with a singer (Craig Parkinson) who replaces Rose-Lynn as the local country bar’s resident singer whilst she’s serving time, but it also opts to avoid this plot point from developing. Overall, there is lots of humour here that balances with the drama and it makes for a well-crafted film that you can easily admire and enjoy.

Thankfully, we are treated to a film with a performance from an actor that was recently nominated in the Rising Star category at the BAFTA Awards and will undoubtedly be contesting main acting categories in the near future. Jessie Buckley makes this film her own and it takes an actor of high calibre to carry a film like Wild Rose. Rose-Lynn’s a showgirl, but she’s also human. Buckley can perform the on-stage and backstage elements of Rose-Lynn, and with the closing musical number akin to Lady Gaga’s in A Star is Born, the emotional arc of the film can be translated on-screen by Buckley’s acting and singing.

Wild Rose could easily descend into parody but it doesn’t. Jessie Buckley plays the three chords that allows Rose-Lynn to find her truth and we’re treated to a very special performance.

Liam Hanlon

100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Dig is released 12th April 2019

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Review: What They Had

DIR: Elizabeth Chomko • WRI: Elizabeth Chomko • DOP: Robert Schaefer • ED: Helen Sheridan • PRO: Albert Berger, Bill Holderman, Tyler Jackson, Keith Kjarval • DES: Ed Tom McArdle • CAST:  Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Robert Forster, Blythe Danner, Taissa Farmiga

This is not a feel-good movie.  That said, it has depth and many will identify with the content.  The film opens on grainy footage of a man carrying a woman down the street on a sunny day, both parties laughing and hugely enjoying the moment. The context of that moment is movingly revealed much later in the film. The scene is related to the title of the film.

What They Had is essentially about the impact of Dementia on family relationships as the Dementia deteriorates. There are related themes here also such as duty and loyalty within a family. Here, (like most families), duty and loyalty may have different interpretations across the family.

Ruth (Blythe Danner) is being cared for full-time by her elderly husband Burt in their home in Chicago (great performance from Robert Forster). He is struggling in his role as carer though he is loath to accept support from his two adult children Nick (Michael Shannon) and Bridget (Hilary Swank).

Burt is a man with strong moral and religious values which he regularly articulates in word and action. Though he loves his adult children, he is openly and regularly critical of them. He is not a believer in light touch regulation.

Burt is scathing about Nick’s career choice as a bartender and seems reluctant to acknowledge that Nick now has his own Bar. I found Nick instantly dislikeable, though that impression mellowed as the film progressed.

Burt is equally tough on his daughter Bridget  (played by Hilary Swank), who travels from California with her daughter when she realises that her father is struggling and that her brother is making no headway in trying to persuade Burt  that residential care may at this stage be the best option for their mother.

Bridget is herself struggling with her relationship with her teenage daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga). Her minimal phone contact with her husband speaks for itself.  While the story is seen primarily through the eyes of Bridget, the film is an ensemble piece with each of the characters having something of a story arc.

This is the debut feature for writer/director Elizabeth Chomko. Ms Chomko has a background in Theatre as both an actor and playwright. She has elicited fine performances from all of her principal cast, all of whom have a depth of character which is a credit to the writing as well as the directing. It is a courageous choice of subject matter.

The influence of her theatre background is evident in this film in both the writing and directing. I felt the film may have had its roots in a stage play and could certainly be adapted to the stage. That is not to say that it doesn’t work as a film. The subject matter lends itself to a confined world.

Hilary Swank has two credits on this film. Apart from being the lead actor, she also has a credit as executive producer, which suggests she has strongly endorsed this project.

There are some very moving sequences in the film, though one or two predictable outcomes also.

What They Had has an authenticity which gives the strong impression of the story coming from personal experience. Despite the gravity and tragedy of the story, there are comic moments throughout.

Brian O’Tiomain

101 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
What They Had is released 1st March 2019

What They Had –  Official Website

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Review: Eighth Grade

DIR/WRI: Bo Burnham • DOP: Andrew Wehde • ED: Jennifer Lilly • PRO: Eli Bush, Tom Ishizuka, Scott Rudin, Christopher Storer, Lila Yacoub • DES: Sam Lisenco • MUS: Anna Meredith • CAST: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson

 

Eighth Grade broke my heart and mended it again and I’m not ashamed to admit that. It is a bold, beautiful, brave film that signals bright, long lasting careers for writer and director Bo Burnham and lead actress Elsie Fisher. Eighth Grade is an awkward coming-of-age comedy, a cringing, squirming drama and, ultimately, a balm for social media wracked souls.

Kayla Day (Fisher) is in her last week of eighth grade in middle school. Her life is dominated by Snapchat, Instagram and social anxiety. Despite her dad Mark’s (Josh Hamilton) best efforts at convincing her otherwise, Kayla feels a desperate need to fit in with the ‘cool’ kids. As Kayla makes YouTube life-advice videos, goes to parties and makes friends she gradually realises that fitting in may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Kayla’s YouTube videos are a stroke of genius. Filmed on her iMac’s poor quality webcam and punctuated by unscripted slip-ups and stuttering, they make for novel act breaks in the film. They often contradict each other as Kayla’s first video is about how “It’s like totally OK to just like, um, be yourself” whereas one in the middle focuses on faking it til you make it. Kayla’s sign-off of “Gucci!” is just the icing on the cake. Writer/director Burnham’s early career as a YouTube comedian and Vine star factors in here but it’s his empathy that’s the greatest surprise.

Much like the Netflix smash Big Mouth Burnham softens the edge of potentially cruel comedy with a heavy dose of empathy. Kayla’s arrival at a summer pool party is preceded by a claustrophobic anxiety attack in a locked bathroom. Kayla emerges in an unflattering swimsuit and observes her classmates dancing, splashing and texting in a montage set to booming electro-pop. Lesser films would faceplant in moments like these but Burnham directs with such a sure hand that all we can do is feel for Kayla and laugh at her awkward interaction with Gabe (Jake Ryan).

All of the performances in Eighth Grade orbit around Fisher. Kayla is the selfless centre of the film. Her endearing nature is only superseded by her awkwardness especially in scenes where she interacts with anyone older. Various scenes fight for their right to be the fulcrum of the film from the pool party to a horrible, pitch dark car ride but it’s a fireside conversation between Kayla and her doting father that really captures the spirit of the film. The movement from Kayla tossing a box of her “hopes and dreams” onto a fire to ungainly leaping into Mark’s arms feels natural and sentimental in a way that’s never saccharine.

For a film about awkwardness and growing up Eighth Grade is astonishingly well put together. Jennifer Lily’s masterful editing fades in Kayla’s slack-jawed expression over her Twitter feed, K-pop videos and Snapchat filtered selfies all while Anna Meredith’s bombastic, glitchy score sweeps over and through the film. The closeness of Andrew Wehde’s camera flows from claustrophobic to intimate as naturally as water from a tap. Make no mistake Eighth Grade is a landmark in the packed hall of coming-of-age stories and in its humour, pathos and authenticity it can stand tall with the best of them.

Andrew Carroll

93 minutes

15A (see IFCO for details)

Eighth Grade is released 26th April 2019

Eighth Grade – Official Website

 

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Review: Little

DIR: Tina Gordon • WRI: Tina Gordon, Tracy Oliver • PRO: Kenya Barris, James Lopez, Will Packer • ED: David Moritz • DES: Keith Brian Burns • MUS: Germaine Franco • CAST: Justin Hartley, Regina Hall, Marsai Martin

Little pits its three gifted comedic actors against the conventions of mainstream Hollywood comedies. In the battle what’s left is a middling film with some intermittently very funny scenes. It does not reach the highs of say Girls Trip or Spy but ranks above dreck like Identity Thief or The Change-Up.

Rising star Issa Rae (HBO’s Insecure) plays April, the overworked assistant to Scary Movie’s Regina Hall’s Jordan, a ruthless highly-strung tech mogul. As a result of being bullied as a child, the boss has grown cruel, treating everyone at her office like trash. After Jordan berates the daughter of a street vendor who made her angry, the young girl places a spell on her. The boss wakes up the next morning in the body of her young self, played by Black-ish’s Marsai Martin.

Based on an idea by its 14-year-old lead and executive producer, Little works best as a star vehicle for Martin and Rae. The film really comes alive in its middle portion, putting April and young Jordan together for a string of misadventures – such as having to deal with a child protective service agent (the great Rachel Dratch). It’s always funny when children act like grown-ups and Martin manages to charm while nailing the ‘take no prisoners’ attitude of her adult self. Bounce that against the perpetually cheery Rae and it’s a winning combination.

However, like a lot of plot-driven comedy, somewhere along the way the jokes grow infrequent. This is because the movie starts hammering home its simple message – that adults should embrace their inner child more as kids are purer and more idealistic. Concluding with Jordan taking part in the same talent show that led her to be bullied in the past, performing one of the movie’s many dance routines, the viewer just wishes that time was seeded to more of Martin and Rae’s witty banter.

There’s also other issues like the completely redundant bookending narration by Regina Hall and the fact that even before the magical sub-plot is introduced, nothing in the movie feels rooted in any tangible reality. In regards the latter, if anyone acted like Hall’s Jordan in real life they would be arrested. While this is forgivable as Little is a fantastical comedy, it’s hard not to feel that if the movie made adult Jordan feel even slightly realistic and had her tech company offices resemble a real-life workplace, the viewer might relate more to Little’s characters by the time the shift into fantasy comes.

Lacking gross-out gags, the movie will appeal to all audiences – something uncommon in the landscape of modern Hollywood comedies. If you are looking for a light movie where talented comediens dress in the most fabulous clothes, Little is a fine way to spend about 100 minutes.

Stephen Porzio

108 minutes

12A (see IFCO for details)

Little is released 12th April 2019

Little – Official Website

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Review: Shazam

Shazam review

DIR: David F. Sandberg • WRI: Henry Gayden • PRO: Peter Safran • DOP: Maxime Alexandre • ED: Michel Aller • DES: Todd Cherniawsky • MUS :Benjamin Wallfisch • CAST: Zachary Levi, Marta Milans, Michelle Borth

After the hard-earned lessons of the Zack Snyder movies, DC have been keeping their films less brooding and a lot lighter; as witnessed in their recent fare, such as the much fiddled with, Justice League and the cheesy “I can’t believe it made over a billion” Aquaman. Not so much cheese is on display with Shazam (formerly known as ‘Captain Marvel’ back in the golden age of comics), whose self-deprecating tone and comedy muscle make it one of the most accessible of the recent wave of films from the DC stable.

Our hero this time round is fourteen-year-old Billy Batson, who finds himself the recipient of magic powers, given to him by the wizard Shazam. When Billy says the wizard’s name he is transformed into an adult version of himself, wearing the requisite spandex and endowed with super powers to equal Superman himself. The wizard has of late been chasing down potential, worthy, pure souls to carry on his mantle and prevent the living incarnations of the seven deadly sins from escaping into the world. Unfortunately the wizard has also inadvertently inspired Dr Thaddeus Sivana, an unsuccessful applicant for the role of hero to go the route of all-out evil and help the seven deadly sins do their thing. In the midst of planning an escape from his latest foster home, Billy becomes the recipient of Shazam’s powers and with the help of his new foster family he must save the day and learn the value of family and other things typical of this type of blockbuster film.

Known for horror films up until now (Lights Out, Annabelle-Creation), director David F. Sandberg leans a little heavy on the horror tropes in the earlier stages. Fortunately things get funnier when Billy starts dealing with his new-found powers with the help of Freddy, one of his fellow foster siblings. The cast are all on top form. Asher Angel as Billy Batson is a nice mix of cocky and fragile and Zachary Levi manages to pull off the adult version of Billy in tights with just the right sense of naivety even if his persona feels a little younger than Billy’s. Mark Strong does bad-guy duties as well as ever in the shape of Dr Sivana – he must have some kind of record at playing villains at this stage.

The mood is distinctly nostalgic. It riffs mightily off Tom Hanks’ Big – Big in spandex if you will, and has a giddy joy in its superpowered hero akin to that of the earlier Superman films. Whilst there is nothing significantly new here in terms of the main thrust of the plot. The charm and sweet nature of the family-oriented scenes and the Billy Batson character’s empowerment will keep the younger members of the audience entranced; he is after all an even more direct embodiment of the hero wish fulfilment for kids – having super powers and trashing super villains. If only real life were as simple.

Paul Farren

131 minutes

12A (see IFCO for details)

Shazam! is released 5th April 2019

Shazam!– Official Website

 

 

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Review: Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary

 

DIR: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer • WRI: Matt Greenberg, Jeff Buhler • PRO: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Steven Schneider, Mark Vahradian • DOP: Laurie Rose • ED: Sarah Broshar • DES: Todd Cherniawsky • CAST: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jete Laurence, John Lithgow

Doctor Louis (Clarke), his wife Rachel (Seimetz), and their two children, Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage, move from Boston to rural Maine. It doesn’t take long for Ellie to discover the local, paganistic ‘pet sematary’, befriending elderly local Jud (Lithgow) in the process. While Louis finds work at his new practice boring, Rachel is still suffering with memories of a childhood tragedy involving the death of her sister. When Ellie’s beloved cat Churchill gets killed, Jud gets Louis to bury the cat in the strange cemetery, suggesting it may have hitherto unseen powers. Sure enough, Churchill returns from the dead the next day, though there is something quite different about his behaviour.  Louis and Rachel’s’ differing engagements with mortality are pushed considerably further when Ellie dies in a horrific road accident.

This adaptation of Stephen King’s 1983 novel, previously brought to the screen by Mary Lambert in 1989, is a lean, entertaining and effective horror film. Kolsch and Widmyer do a fine job of balancing an absurdist sense of the macabre with resonant and eerie undercurrents and some impressive scenes of body-horror. The film has plenty of cliches and some incredulous moments. It’s never very well established as to why this family would move to a rural area in the first place. Rachel’s’ reaction to seeing to children adorned in Wicker Man-esque masks as they wheelbarrow animal bodies to the ‘sematary’ seems a bit too blasé. The flashbacks to Rachel’s sister’s death are also an occasion where it feels like the film is trying too hard to elicit jumps from the audience. For the most part, however, this is a film that works decidedly well on the terms it sets out.

The directing-duo are helped in no small part by fine performances from the cast. Clarke and Seimetz bring an earthy believability to their performances. Lithgow is superb, seeming alternately sympathetic and untrustworthy, wise and foolish. Laurence plays the dual roles of both her character’s normal and un-dead self excellently. The scene that sees her zombie-self, processing, as she talks to her father, that she is in fact dead, is terrifically eerie and nuanced. For a film with its fair share of jump scares, what stands out most about the film is an insidious sense of dread at our own mortality and an unmistakable streak of humour surrounding the very same thing.

David Prendeville

100 minutes

16 (see IFCO for details)

Pet Sematary is released 5th April 2019

 

Pet Sematary– Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VllcgXSIJkE

 

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Review: Five Feet Apart

DIR: Justin Baldoni • WRI: Mikki Daughtry Tobias Iaconis • DOP: Frank G DeMarco • ED: Angela M. Catanzaro • PRO: Justin Baldoni, Cathy Schulman • DES: Tony Fanning • MUS: Alan Silvestri • CAST: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Herbert Gregory

Five Feet Apart is essentially a teenage romance between Will and Stella (both 17), but it is a romance with unusually high stakes. Both have Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and have to remain at least six feet apart from each other to avoid cross infection. In the world of Cystic Fibrosis, infection can prove fatal and infection from a fellow “CFer” is particularly risky .  [To find out why the film is not called ‘six feet apart’, you have to go see the movie.]

An early scene in the film sets the tone. Three teenage girls are joking as they discuss an event which one of them cannot attend. It only becomes apparent when two of them leave Stella on her own, that we are in a hospital room and that she is struggling to breath.

Will already has an infection which has ruled him out of a lung transplant. If the new trial drug he is on not does not clear the infection, he has no remaining options.

The initial contact between Will and Stella is anything both cordial. Stella has OCD issues and cannot abide Will’s casual approach to his “regimen” (his meds programme). After one of many arguments, Will leaves abruptly, dismissing Stella’s concerns with: “It’s just life Stella – it’ll be over before you know it”.

But there is a strong mutual attraction. Will agrees to embrace his ‘regimen’ if Stella will allow him to draw her. Will is an artist and animator of some talent. After initially refusing, Stella agrees and the relationship develops, despite some rocky patches. However, they can never kiss or hold hands. We sense early on that Will’s cavalier approach to his health and the rules may have serious consequences for both, especially as Stella gradually begins to embrace Will’s less regimented approach to his health.

They learn from the ever vigilant Nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) that two previous teenage patients who became romantically involved died because they did not observe the six feet rule. Though only 17, both Stella and Will – and their mutual friend Po (Moises Arias), are well aware that their time may be short. This acts as a powerful drive in their desire to live for whatever time they have left.

Perhaps the main strength of this film is the performances from Haley Lu Richardson as Stella and Cole Sprouse as Will in roles that are layered and very well cast. This is the first leading role for Haley Lu Richardson and more will likely follow after this performance.

This is an impressive debut feature from director Justin Baldoni (35) who has worked mainly as an actor. He also made My Last Days, a series of documentaries featuring first-hand accounts of people on their final journey. He has clearly mined that experience in developing the script for Five Feet Apart.

Five Feet Apart is not a grim film. There are plenty of comic moments as it follows the developing romance of our two heroes –  and the word hero is appropriate. But the theme of mortality is ever present.

The story is not without its faults. The absence of parents or relatives of the main protagonists until half way through the film is puzzling given the gravity of their illness. And when they do arrive, they do not add much to the narrative of the film. The plot occasionally veers down the route of sentimentality.

But for the most part, the story is gripping and very moving. It is also educational. Given that the film has already grossed a multiple of its budget in the US., it is difficult to understand why it has not secured a wider release here.

Brian Ó Tiomáin

116 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Five Feet Apart is released 5th April 2019

 

 

 

 

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Review: Us

DIR/WRI: Jordan Peele PRO: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele • DOP: Mike Gioulakis  ED: Nicholas Monsour• DES: Ruth De Jong  MUS: Michael Abels • CAST: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss

I’m still a bit miffed that Jordan Peele didn’t run with my super-cool idea for his film. Picture this: the movie opens with the title card for Us, except it’s obscured by some sort of spooky fog. Then, as the fog clears, the title card comes into sharper focus and – what’s that? Two dots have appeared! It’s not Us as we imagined, but instead U.S.! The United States! On the big screen! Who’d have imagined?! Aaaand, fade to black, the end. But Peele had his own ideas, just not quite as nuanced as my own, and I can respect that. And since Us turned out to be well paced, tense, and genuinely scary, I have to hand it to him: he did not need my help this time.

In Peele’s new horror, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) is haunted by a trauma that has remained with her for over thirty years: as a young girl, she was briefly separated from her parents while at a beach-front carnival and only vaguely remembers what she endured while exploring an abandoned hall of mirrors. Returning to the same beach three decades later with her family in toe, Adelaide fears that whatever she has been trying to avoid all that time is about to catch up with her. It appears that her fears are not unfounded when four enigmatic figures, all dressed in red, appear outside their holiday home one night. When they break in and come face-to-face with the Wilson family, the Wilson family discover their doubles staring back.

While Us might not be quite as good as Peele’s breakout debut Get Out, it’s certainly the most immediately scary of the two (whereas the Sunken Place in Get Out had me feeling sick to my stomach, the cat-and-mouse games throughout Us had me watching through my fingers), and surely that is one reasonable metric by which to measure your horror. Starting off evocative of other terrifying home invasion narratives such as The Strangers and The Invitation, Peele’s second film, like Get Out, reveals its machinations originate in a landscape located somewhere between the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Not unlike the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, this enables Peele to explore the implications of the surface of society in comparison to what remains unseen.

Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic as both versions of Adelaide: both the socially awkward loner and over-protective mother protagonist, and the terrifying crack-voiced double who appears to be spearheading the doppelgänger attack. Winston Duke plays Adelaide’s husband, Gabe, a likeable if somewhat bumbling boat enthusiast. What with his square glasses, beard and comic relief, he comes across as something of a Peele-a-like. If I were to fault the casting in any way it would be a criminal under-use of the incredibly funny Tim Heidecker as the father of a fellow vacationing family and frenemy of Gabe (that’s right, I’m taking no prisoners here).

While Us couldn’t really be said to be a sequel to Get Out it does still tackle many of the same ideas, particularly in relation to the commodification of the (both African and non-African) American body. I am already anticipating plenty of discussion regarding the significance of the doppelgängers’ red costumes, for starters. Beyond the immediate nail-biting horror there is plenty to mull over, and indeed it feels like a movie that will reward repeat viewings. All I can say for now is that, after one viewing, Us feels like a puzzle that disconcertingly doesn’t seem to quite fit together: maybe you’re not looking at it the right way up, maybe there’s a piece missing, or maybe you’ve just realised your double is hiding under the table and is really putting you off. Whatever the reason, Us remains disturbingly oblique and is probably all the better for it.

Sarah Cullen

116 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Us is released 22nd March 2019

 

 

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Review: Under the Silver Lake

DIR/WRI: David Robert Mitchell PRO: Chris Bender, Michael De Luca, Adele Romanski, Jake Weiner • DOP: Mike Gioulakis  ED: Julio Perez IV • DES: Michael Perry  MUS: Disasterpeace • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace

 

Is it impressive that Under the Silver Lake manages to be a lot stranger than the trailer implies (and the trailer is quite odd in and of itself). I don’t know if  that’s impressive, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes trailers these days don’t give away the whole movie, which is something to admire. If this seems like faint praise, it sort of is. Because while an attempt to make something Pynchon-esque yet more accessible for the screen is in and of itself far from unwelcome, director David Robert Mitchell’s over-indulgent run-time and some undercooked storylines mean it is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.  

Andrew Garfield’s Sam is an aimless young slacker living in L.A. whose money is just about to run out. He spends much of his time in Rear Window fashion, spying on his female neighbours in his condo and engaging in conspiracy theories. After encountering a mysterious new women, Sarah (Riley Keogh), at the swimming pool, Sam falls for her and spends the evening with her, only to discover the next morning that she and her roommates have all left in the night. Wondering whether her disappearance has anything to do with the recent sudden death of a local billionaire or a prophetic zine, Sam starts following clues which lead him into the underworld (occasionally literally) of Hollywood.

While not without some enjoyable sleuthing for both the protagonist and audience, Sam’s character is perhaps a microcosm of the film’s problems as a whole. We never really get a strong sense of what exactly Sam believes beyond the fact that he, um, thinks that pop culture has secret messages embedded in it that are meant for rich people. Yeah. This admittedly could be a good starting point for a character (or indeed a movie), but requires a lot more fleshing out to become something interesting. As it is, the central mystery of the film feels similarly like a bare-bones outline of a finished work, with a whole load of unnecessary red herrings thrown in (to take my example above, I feel I was being rather charitable in comparing the film to Rear Window. Quite frankly, Sam’s just a Peeping Tom). Where Mitchell’s film is more successful in evoking its competing themes of anxiety and nostalgia for twentieth-century popular culture is in its visuals and soundtrack: aesthetically impressive and gorgeously edited, Under the Silver Lake certainly feels appropriately neo-noirish as Sam wanders around in a fugue of Los Angeles-tinged uncertainty.

It’s also disappointing to see how Under the Silver Lake under-uses its cast beyond Garfield. Garfield himself is hugely likeable (arguably more than the character should be) and capable as a protagonist who could easily have been unforgettable as an author or audience surrogate and as such is hugely pivotal in maintaining engagement in the film. However, beyond Garfield the impressive supporting cast are almost all reduced to glorified cameos, with Topher Grace, Jimmi Simpson and Laura-Leigh Clare appearing in only in a small number of scenes. Particularly glaring is Zosia Mamet’s Troy, seemingly Sam’s friend with benefits who, despite featuring heavily in the first half of the film, is not seen again.

While Under the Silver Lake may be well-intentioned in its attempt to explore the dark underbelly of the American movie business, it’s hard not to feel disappointed that it attributes so little agency to the victims of the Hollywood Machine. The gone girl supposedly at the centre of the tale is not so much a character in her own right but an excuse for the protagonist to indulge in his nostalgia, something we’ve seen far too often. To the film’s credit there are some wonderfully zany moments which should pique interests throughout (and in particular a short-lived horror villain which will probably give me nightmares). On the other hand, it’s hard to know whether the film’s scattergun approach works overall (I refuse to believe that R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency?” is anyone’s dance number). Perhaps the most surprising part of this Hollywood puzzler is just how conventional it is.

 

Sarah Cullen

139 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Under the Silver Lake is released 15th March 2019

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dub Daze

Dakota Heveron reviews Shane J. Collins’ take on modern Dublin in his comedy-drama feature, Dub Daze

Director Shane J. Collins has hit the ground running with his first feature length film Dub Daze, which premiered at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on Saturday. There couldn’t have been a better place for it, as it became clear right from the opening scenes that the film was an open and honest love letter to Dublin, written by one of the city’s own.

The film weaves together three discrete but connected narratives of young adults all trying to make a place for themselves in the city, each faced with their own particular obstacles. Dan (Ethan Dillon) and Baz (Sam Lucas Smith) are two friends looking for a way to celebrate their last day of school, but Baz’s recklessness ends up getting them in trouble with a local drug dealer named Petal (Clide Delaney). Sean (Shane Robinson) and Jack (Nigel Brennan) are medical students from Cork looking for a place to stay in Dublin. Sean is quickly accepted by a group of well-off Irish students who make Jack the butt of their ‘fresh off the tractor” jokes, causing Sean to question just where his loyalties lie. Fiona (Leah Moore) has dreams of making it as a musician, but she is forced to contend not only with Dublin’s cutthroat music scene, but also her father’s alcoholism.

It is to the film’s credit that despite the multiple plotlines and numerous characters scattered across its landscape, it manages to avoid becoming confusing or convoluted. The characters are so distinct and well-formed that we as the audience always know exactly who we’re with. This is due in large part to the film’s editing (done by Collins himself), as well as the incredible talent of its cast. There is nothing exaggerated or put-on in the actors’ deliveries; their performances are down to earth and strikingly realistic.

There are moments when the film itself feels like one long session, an unpredictable and turbulent night out in Dublin, punctuated by genuinely poignant moments that emphasize the incredibly three-dimensional emotions and realism of the characters. Scoring this night out is a well-chosen mix of songs largely featuring Irish musicians including Bantum, Majestic Bears, Indian, and This Side Up.

Also central to the film is of course Dublin itself. Dub Daze is clearly a labour of love, and Dublin is the focal point of its affection, the camera lingering just as lovingly on a graffitied wall as it does on the Samuel Beckett Bridge. The film makes a point to bring together its three narratives, connecting the city’s north, south, and center. There is a sense of intimacy in this connectedness, and in the consistent banter and comradery between its characters, painting the picture of a city where, despite its urbanity, ‘everyone knows each other’.

Deadly.

 

Dub Daze screened on Saturday, 23rd February as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March 2019).

 

Shane J. Collins, Writer/Director of ‘Dub Daze’

 

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Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

DIR: Robert Rodriguez • PRO: Jinko Gotoh, Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller • WRI: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller • ED: Clare Knight • DES: Patrick Marc Hanenberger • MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh • CAST: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett

Wow, has it been really been five years since Everything Was Awesome? Some of the kids that saw the first the first Lego Movie are twice as old as they were back then? Will the new film still have meaning for their grown up selves? Of course it will because it was never for kids in the first place, not in the physical sense anyway. These films are filling that inner child void no one likes to admit having, that realm of the imagination and heart, that only the likes of Bill Maher does not have!

The first Lego Movie ended on a cliffhanger. What was going to happen next? Finally we get to find out. Phil Lord and Chris Miller have made a sequel that is equal to its predecessor, an equal sequel if you will.

If you remember Dad realised his rigid Lego attitude and constructions were selfish and not useful to the growing imagination and versatility of his son who wanted to play with Dad’s Lego too. He allowed him to play with the Lego. This was fine but came with a sub-clause in the form of little sister being allowed to play in the bountiful basement of Lego. This resulted in an alien invasion of sorts.

The new film picks up from there, the citizens of Bricksburgs, led by Emmett, attempt to make friends with the new arrivals. It does not have the required effect, a title-card emblazoned with “Five Years Later” and we are now in the rechristened Apocalypseburg, a Mad Max-esque world of dour citizens waiting for the next attack/display from sister Lego abominations. Sure enough, a new game plan from the Lego people of the Sistar System results in the seeming kidnapping of Emmett’s friends and Emmett must rescue them. Along the way he meets Rex, a chiselled hero and friend to raptors, who is willing to help him in his plan. To say more would be to give too much away.

A host of great new characters join the cast, Princess Watevera-Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) being the most wonderful and tuneful of them all. Mighty Boosh Fans will enjoy the addition of Richard Ayoade and Noel Fielding to the proceedings, in small but scene-stealing roles. Will Ferrell also provides a fun cameo returning as President business and Dad. The song ante is raised to great affect, including a new song ‘Everything Isn’t Awesome’, which puts an amusing perspective on things.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, to use its purposefully convoluted title is pretty much a joy from start to finish. So smart and clever, part of you wants to hate it. It has that rare quality for a film of this kind; it has its Lego cake and eats it. Essentially it’s the story of two children’s conflict played out in their imaginations with also the added weirdness of the scenes that happen outside of their imaginings. That’s all the explaining you’ll get from me.

If Lord and Miller had made Inception it might have been a decent film. Despite its film referencing and pop culture mining, the story never loses sight of the characters and story, even the life lessons and moralising that are par for the course these days, are handled with great delicacy, i.e. it doesn’t bore, patronise nor lecture.

 

Paul Farren

106 minutes
G (see IFCO for details)
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is released 8th February 2019

 

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Review: Happy Death Day 2U

DIR/WRI: Christopher Landon • PRO: Jason Blum • DOP: Toby Oliver • ED: Ben Baudhuin • DES: Bill Boes • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma

Wizzard truly missed a trick in 1973 when they didn’t write a song about how they wish it could be birthday everyday. What with the recent spate of Groundhog Day-inspired birthday media (well, specifically this and the Netflix series Russian Doll), Roy Wood et al. would, forty six years after the song’s release, now be rolling in dough. Live and learn.

Having survived the events of Happy Death Day (2017) in which Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) had to relive the day of her death time and time again in order to unmask and defeat her killer, Tree realises that she has unfinished business when she is thrown right back into that same time loop. However, in Happy Death Day 2U she also has to contend with interdimensional travel and a really lousy Dean. Tree finds herself in an alternative universe where she has a slightly different life: the old gang are here, including her new boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) and roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), but her relationships with them all are not quite the same. With help from a group of science students, Tree must both avoid murder at the hands of a new killer and figure out a way home. Yes, director Christopher Landon has really given himself a lot to contend with here, particularly considering how other horror franchises take about four instalments before their characters even venture out into space. It can be a little lopsided at times, with the whodunnit aspect getting short-changed in favour of the science fiction arc. However, in light of how much is thrown at the wall in Happy Death Day 2U, a surprising amount sticks.

There’s also plenty that doesn’t quite land of course: early on it appears that this sequel might be focused on a new, somewhat unexpected protagonist – specifically Ryan (Phi Vu), Carter’s Asian roommate who was a bit part in the original 2017 instalment – but very quickly things are reshuffled to ensure it’s all about Tree once again. While it’s far from being the worst of possible outcomes, (particularly because Tree is a compelling character) it would have been interesting to see a slasher flick about someone other than a white girl, particularly considering the way it’s teased here. Then again, perhaps the HDD franchise is one that will have the longevity to expand on its representation (early box office numbers aren’t entirely promising but if these films have taught me one thing, it’s that anything is possible. Also that baby masks are scary). Happy Death Day 2U also can’t figure out how to get its characters out of a dilemma without having a bunch of nerds hilariously explain science to a clueless blonde girl. And finally, there is a somewhat questionable montage regarding Tree figuring out ways to commit suicide in order to re-spawn the following morning. While everyone involved is aware that these deaths aren’t permanent, perhaps making light of suicide is not the best of looks.

It’s likely that your enjoyment of the second instalment will depend on what you made of the first one. If you liked that, this will probably keep you well entertained. If you didn’t enjoy the first, it’s unlikely this is going to change your mind. What’s particularly satisfying is seeing how successfully Tree has become a heroine worth championing, thanks in large part to Rothe’s excellent performance, which carefully balances the comic and pathos required. While somewhat muddled and too busy at times, Happy Death Day 2U should be given its due for being a clever sequel and more or less as fun – and perhaps more surprising, having as much of an emotional arc – as the original.

Sarah Cullen

100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Happy Death Day 2U  is released 15th February 2019

 

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Review: Alita, Battle Angel

DIR: Mike Mitchell • WRI: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez • PRO: James Cameron, Jon Landau • DOP: Bill Pope • ED: Stephen E. Rivkin, Ian Silverstein • DES: Caylah Eddleblute, Steve Joyner • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali

The latest in a long line of attempts to turn Manga into gold arrives in the form of Alita, Battle Angel, courtesy of Robert Rodriguez directing and James Cameron serving as producer and co-writer. This has been a pet project of Cameron’s for a long time, at one stage he was going to direct it himself. As a Rodriguez project, it has little or nothing that would make one think of his body of work. Except for maybe having one of the characters wear a bandana.

Alita’s long gestation period has been explained as a mix of other commitments and waiting for technology to be advanced enough to do justice to the visuals of the story. For the most part this has been achieved. There are some good action scenes and beautiful visuals in place. Our motion-capture hero Alita, with her exceedingly large eyes, (looking like one of the children in those paintings our grandmothers owned) becomes easy on the sensibilities quickly enough. A sincere heartfelt performance from Rosa Salazar keeps her interesting and likeable throughout. She is probably the most successful character. Although that’s hardly surprising as the rest of the cast are given little character time and simply serve as foil to the main protagonist.

But what’s it about? Iron City, looking like a picturesque South American ghetto designed for a Coca Cola advertisement, is where the action takes place. Ido Dyson (no relation to the vacuum cleaner people), the local doctor of robotics (cyborg repairman to you and me), rummages through the scrapyard at the centre of Iron City. The scrap is provided by the sky city floating above, the last of its kind, a home to the elite, we are told, and the destination many people would like to get to. The only way to get there is with the right amount of dosh or if you become the champion of the local game Motorball. It involves roller skates and a ball and a violent temperament – and the locals love it. But back to the scrapyard; Ido finds a head amongst the scrap, brings it home and provides it with a body. Did I mention he just happens to fix cyborgs? Soon his new “daughter” has a name, Alita, and gets on with her new life as any enthusiastic young person might. She quickly falls in love with Hugo, a nice chap who happens to hijack cyborgs and steal parts from them. Ido has his own secret, which I will let you find out for yourself. As the story progresses, the life-embracing Alita continues to learn about herself and quickly becomes a young woman filled with a deeper understanding of her destiny. Meanwhile, others have become aware of her existence and aim to possess her.

This being a hoped-for franchise, Alita has the qualities of the first season of a television or web series. A more honest title for this would have been ‘Alita Battle Angel, Chapter 1, We Hope’. Despite being overwrought with plot and events, it leaves us with as many questions as it answers. The muddled, episodic structure and speechmaking dialogue does not help. It’s a shame that they spent so long waiting on the technology that they didn’t take time to work more on the script.

Paul Farren

115 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Alita, Battle Angel is released 15th February 2019

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Review: Boy Erased

DIR: Joel Edgerton • WRI: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly • PRO: Joel Edgerton, Steve Golin, Kerry Kohansky-Roberts • DOP: Eduard Grau • ED: Jay Rabinowitz • DES: Chad Keith • MUS: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans • CAST: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton

Boy Erased is Joel Edgerton’s latest directorial offering since 2015’s The Gift and is based upon a memoir by Garrard Conley and his experience of conversion therapy and its oppressive impact upon his sexuality. In this cinematic retelling of Conley’s experiences, the rising talent that is Lucas Hedges plays Jared Eamons, the son of a preacher and his devout Christian wife (played by Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman). Jared is pressured to enter a conversion therapy program following an incident with a male friend from college that has outed Jared to his parents. His father seeks guidance from other pastors and decides that conversion therapy is the only logical step in preventing Jared’s homosexuality. At conversion therapy, Jared is told homosexuality is “behavioural” by his therapist Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) and must adapt to the practices in order to be cured of his homosexuality.

The subject matter of this film makes for unsettling viewing. Jared and the other enrollees are being taught to repress their true selves and strengthen their sense of masculinity through things like how they shake hands or how they sit. Joel Edgerton’s Victor Sykes is icily cold in his teachings and his words create a sense of fear amongst his students and he’s essentially attempting to scare their gayness away. He has a calm demeanour but Edgerton’s performance is effective in making you fear what he’ll say or what practice he’ll encourage next. The musician Flea also appears as a military-type character who is more aggressive in his teachings and wants these boys to act like ‘men’.

Lucas Hedges is phenomenal in this role and it’s disappointing that he’s been overlooked for awards. He carries the emotional arc of the film and Hedges makes you believe in Jared’s journey and sufferings through his performance. There are two sequences in the film’s final act where Jared finally releases the anger and tension from the therapy and there is a moving showdown with his father. Without this stellar performance, the film wouldn’t have the same emotional or dramatic impact. Nicole Kidman also quietly carries out a transformative performance where her character slowly realises the severity of what she as a parent is doing to her son.

The film also minimally explores the homosexual encounters Jared has to recall for his “moral inventory”. Sykes asks everyone to write about their homosexual ‘discretions’ and verbalise them in front of him and everyone else as to ridicule and admonish these encounters. This minimalist approach works in the context of the narrative as Jared is attempting to hide the memories and is afraid or reluctant to divulge these details. It also offers a glimpse of hope for Jared, especially when the film flashes back to a night with Xavier (Théodore Pellerin), and how this non-sexual moment is included in the life he wishes to accept and embrace. The colour pallette on screen becomes brighter and this is the human connection Jared longs for but is told to refuse.

Unfortunately for Boy Erased, it has to compete with Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which was released only months prior. There are similarities considering both films tackle conversion therapy and Boy Erased suffers from a case of déjà vu. For Edgerton’s Sykes, there is Akhavan’s Dr. Lydia March (a sharp-tongued Jennifer Ehle), and the plot is almost too identical in parts. It’s coincidental timing but Boy Erased is the inferior film here and the social realist elements make it less of a complete cinematic experience compared to The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Yet, it’s not a negative that these films are serving as significant retorts to conversion therapy practices.

Boy Erased is hard to watch in parts and its slow pace and non-linear structure may off-put audiences and its unsettling nature also stems from the significance that conversion therapy is still legal and practiced in multiple U.S states. Boy Erased is almost steeped in social realism and Edgerton manages to ground the film in a reality that will undoubtedly empathise with those previously involved in these practices. The muted colours from cinematographer Eduard Grau manage to prevent cinematic exaggeration and compliments the social realist aspects. It’s a film that requires investment and it’s ultimately worthwhile. Joel Edgerton, with the help of Lucas Hedges, manages to convey this importance and the contemporary and pressing subject matter Boy Erased involves.

 

Liam Hanlon

115 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Boy Erased is released 8th February 2019

 

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A Second Look at ‘Green Book’

 

Shauna Fox takes another look at the “joyous and sorrowful” Green Book.

Green Book: 2019 Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), and Best Screenplay. It is a film deserving of every one of these awards.

Named after a travel book written for black people to use to safely travel around America, Green Book will make you laugh, cringe, and sympathise with its two male leads: Viggo Mortensen (Tony Vallelonga) and Mahershala Ali (Dr. Donald Shirley). Mortensen plays Tony, an Italian-American living in the Bronx; out of work due to the temporary closure of the Copacabana, Tony is invited to interview for a job chauffeuring renowned pianist Dr. Donald Shirley. Shirley is going on tour with his two colleagues (the three making up the Don Shirley trio) playing for elite communities in the Deep South. It is important to note that this story is set in the 1960s; a time when being black in America was not appreciated. Unfortunately, such sentiments still ring true in America today, making this film all too current.

Green Book is both a joyous and sorrowful film, capturing the humour of an unlikely friendship, and the sadness from watching the effects of deeply ingrained racism. This takes on the theme of a buddy road trip, as Tony and Don travel through Pittsburgh, Alabama, Kentucky, and many more Southern states, pushing each other’s buttons along the way, but eventually gaining a respect for each other that, according to the post film credits, would last the rest of their lives. Green Book is supposedly based on true events, and one of the screenwriters happens to be Tony’s son, Nick Vallelonga.

Tony has a slightly skewed moral compass, believing that if something is available for him to take, he will, and using violence or bribery to get him through ‘tricky’ situations. He is racist, curses extensively, believes many people to be ‘pricks’, spits in public, flings his rubbish out the car window, and eats like an animal. Trust me, he is a charming, and lovable character despite his… shortcomings.

Don, on the other hand, believes in doing everything with the utmost dignity; he is articulate, always immaculately dressed… and lonely. While Tony has a large extended family, Don is alone in the world, with nothing but his music to give him purpose. To show the contrast between the men, the film’s soundtrack is filled with music and constant talking while Tony is in Don’s life. As soon as Don is left alone, the silence is deafening and stark. It is one of the best ways of showing the difference between these two men, without the need of the visual to compound that difference.

The sharing of experiences between these men is utterly heart-warming, both teaching one another, learning from each other, some moments are completely hilarious, most of which come from Tony’s lack of care about what people think of him.

There are so many enjoyable elements to this film: the constant annoyance that Tony is to Don, who sometimes allows himself to enjoy his companion’s odd antics, and sometimes acts like Tony’s parent; the soundtrack playing throughout is the perfect accompaniment to the film; and the reversal of the usual for the time the film is set – a white man being employed by a black man – as Tony says: “I live on the streets, you live on a throne. I’m blacker than you!”

The situation is seen as odd to white and black alike, the whites questioning Tony’s need to be employed by an ‘eggplant’, and the blacks staring at Don, knowing that he does not belong to them by the way he dresses, and the car he is being driven in (a stylish 1962 Cadillac – it gave me car envy). However, it is this reversal of roles that makes this film, allowing for both men to re-consider their prejudices; Tony realising that black people do not deserve to be segregated; and Don realising that not all white people are dismissive of him. Unfortunately though, so many are, as Don has to constantly deal with harassment, discrimination from the police, not being able to eat in the same restaurants or use the same facilities as white people – all this on just a two month road trip. The dignity with which he holds himself is astonishing; he may be invited to perform for the white people, but he cannot pretend that he is one of them – there is a line that even the most beloved pianist cannot cross. Don is an outcast, dismissed by whites, shunned by blacks, belonging to neither, the price he paid for greatness. During so many of Don’s performances, the passion and anger evident on his face as he plays is heartbreaking, knowing that it is there because of the racism against him. The expressiveness in his face and body which Mahershala Ali gives to this role highlights the hurt and loneliness that his character suffers, and it was a performance worthy of the award he won. Mortensen lost out on the award for Best Actor, instead given to Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody (which I cannot argue with); however, he was very much deserving of an award, perhaps the Oscars is where he’ll have more luck. What is interesting about the awards is that Ali was put into the supporting role of the film. While the story does follow Tony’s point of view, and Don does not enter until about fifteen minutes into the film, they are both leading men, both men command the screen. It begs the question why Mahershala Ali is reduced to a supporting role by the Hollywood Foreign Press?

This film has been rather hush hush here in Ireland, with nothing heard about it until it picked up the most Golden Globe wins of the night; however, having now seen it, this is a film that must be watched, both for its delightful humour and its unfortunate relevance today. Green Book can stand proudly alongside other films that highlight black discrimination, such as Hidden Figures, and The Help. Green Book is a visually beautiful, well-written, powerful piece of cinema; a film that needs to be watched not once, but many, many times.

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Review: Green Book

 

DIR: Peter Farrelly • WRI: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly • PRO: Jim Burke, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, Charles B. Wessler • DOP: Sean Porter • ED: Patrick J. Don Vito • DES: Tim Galvin • MUS: Kris Bowers • CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Surprise winner at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival – beating the much hyped A Star is Born, If Beale Street Could Talk and Roma – was Green Book from Peter Farrelly, director of Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. However, its victory is less shocking having seen the movie, which feels like an old-school throwback to the feel-good comedy-dramas the Oscars used to reward.

Based on a true story and set in 1962, Viggo Mortensen stars as Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga, a New York bouncer and famed ‘bullshit artist’. After his nightclub is closed for renovations, he lands a job as driver and security for famed black pianist Don Shirley (Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali). Together the two tour America’s deep south where Shirley faces repeated racist abuse. The title derives from the 20th century guidebook for black travellers to help them find motels and restaurants which would accept them.

Though featuring handsome period décor, Green Book is not the most formally ambitious film. Instead, it’s essentially a character piece, centring on the chalk and cheese relationship between Don and Tony. On this level, the comedy-drama soars. If you are going to cast someone to play the biggest American-Italian stereotype ever – although to be fair the real-life Lip did wind up being cast in The Sopranos and writing a cookbook called Shut Up and Eat! – get Viggo Mortenson. The Lord of the Rings actor went impressively method with the role putting on 50 pounds. It shows with the Danish-American feeling remarkably comfortable in his character’s skin, even getting an opportunity to flex his fluency in Italian.

Meanwhile, Mahershala Ali – whether he is playing a politician in House of Cards or a comic-book villain in Luke Cage – just exudes intelligence. He is perfect casting to play this incarnation of Shirley, a savant-like prodigy whose intellect and musical abilities alienate him from virtually everybody. Because of his wealth and education, he faces hostility from black people in a lower-social-strata. On top of this, he endures racism from the ordinary white person. The only people who seem to accept him are the rich people for whom he performs. But even then, the race element creeps in. He is not allowed to eat in the restaurants he plays, banned from using the same toilets as the guests. Ali’s performance is like a cocktail – a combination of self-confidence, quiet sadness and bubbling anger, the latter just building throughout the film.

Green Book is a film whose rough edges have been sanded off to appeal to a broader demographic. Unlike Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit set in the same decade, one doesn’t really get the sense of the fear a black person would feel being pulled over by a white cop – particularly in the Deep South. Instead, the movie is more focused on exposing the hypocrisy and pointlessness of the US’ Jim Crow laws.

As the movie flinches away from the horrors of life for black people of the era, it leans more into the potential for comedy in the odd-couple pairing of Don and Tony. While this could be cack-handed in lesser hands, Farrelly, along with co-writers Nick Vallelonga (Lip’s son) and Brian Hayes Currie, make the relationship emotionally engaging. The two begin as polar opposites, Shirley repulsed by Lip’s lack of manners, Lip irritated by Shirley’s condescending tone. However, as the movie continues, they grow closer with Don admiring Tony’s courage and Tony becoming awed with Don’s musical ability and increasingly repulsed with the way he is treated.

Occasionally, the bantering sways too broad – jokes about ‘Titsburgh’ and fried chicken could have been trimmed out – but for the most part the script is snappy. Some moments – like watching Mortensen fold-up an entire pizza and eat it like a giant calzone – are laugh out funny. And the emotional beats, such as Don helping Tony to write more elegantly to his wife (Linda Cardellini, proving once again she is quietly one of the Best Actresses around) tug on the heartstrings.

Everything about Green Book – despite the social issues of the time in which the drama is set – is designed to be an easy watch. And it is. It suffers from an overstretched third act. It annoyingly tries to add more tension and work in a scene which could be summed up as ‘not all white people’ involving a nice Caucasian cop. The latter is irritating given the fact that Tony as well as the white members in Don’s musical trio already serve to make that point. However, aside from this, Green Book’s greatest credit is it is 130 minutes long but feels like 90.

Stephen Porzio

129 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Green Book is released 1st February 2019

 

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Review: Glass

DIR/WRI: M. Night Shyamalan • PRO: Marc Bienstock, Jason Blum, Ashwin Rajan, Steven Schneider, M. Night Shyamalan • DOP: Mike Gioulakis • ED: Luke Ciarrocchi, Blu Murray • DES: Chris Trujillo • MUSIC: West Dylan Thordson • CAST: Bruce Willis, Luke Kirby, Anya Taylor-Joy

The latest film from fallen wunderkind M. Night Shyamalan serves to unite two phases of his career. Characters from his early hit Unbreakable – a relic from the time when Shyamalan was being heralded as the next Spielberg – cross paths with the stars of Split, his low-budget return to form which took many by surprise. Unfortunately, Glass more closely resembles the period between Unbreakable and Split, wherein Shyamalan’s films were marked by thematic incoherence, leaps of logic and unintentional comedy.

We pick up weeks after the events of Split, with Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) and his multiple personalities having kidnapped another crop of teenage girls. Unbreakable’s hooded vigilante David Dunn (Bruce Willis) tracks Kevin down, resulting in a thrilling fight scene that ends in flood lights, sirens and police intervention. The two are arrested and sent to a Psychiatric Hospital.

The bulk of the film is spent treading water in the facility housing Crumb, Dunn and the titular Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson).

This coalescence of separate films resembles The Avengers and other Marvel team-ups, in that it mostly results in tedious plate-spinning without any narrative drive or central protagonist. In uniting all these iconic characters, their individual personalities are diluted, leaving us with a sprawling mess of half-baked twists and turns.

It begs the question of whether the merging of these two cinematic worlds was a good idea in the first place. The horror of Split comes off as less creepy and more pantomime here. Anya Taylor-Joy returns as Casey Cooke, one of Crumb’s victims. Their faux-romantic relationship in the original film contained multitudes – she was largely humouring his sentimental side for her own survival, while ultimately empathising with his abusive upbringing. This nuanced look at the reverberations of abuse is traded in for Glass’s take – that Cooke’s loyalty to Crumb resembles that of a stubborn dog, occasionally tipping over into a full-on Stockholm-style romance. Her undying affection for Crumb, her attacker, is borderline pathological, and ultimately absurd.

Connections with Unbreakable only serve to underline the stylistic regression as a filmmaker Shyamalan has made since. Clips from the 2000 film flash intermittently throughout and the keen eye for blocking and composition is striking. One recalls the opening shot of Dunn on a train, fluidly shot in a kind of dance with the row of seating in front of him. That kind of daring, intelligent filmmaking is notable for its absence in Glass.

It may only be a side effect of a once-A-lister dwindling far into the half-life of stardom, but Bruce Willis’ performance is mostly droning and frustrated, lacking the wonder and nuance of Dunn’s prior outing.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of Glass is how short it falls of its own potential. Samuel L. Jackson, despite performing mostly through torpid stares, has an enchanting presence. He steals entire scenes with a twitch of the eye and a crane of the neck. James McAvoy is also a treat, showing dynamic range between a myriad of personalities. The problem is that they are dropped into a context where their characters seem woefully out-of-place. When the actors are going for gasps, the film around them is going for laughs.

The script appears to be constructed with care. Connective threads are constantly being drawn between the two films preceding it, tying their worlds ever closer together. The bulk of these are superficial and irrelevant, though. One wishes that the same attempt at streamlining was made in the film’s third act, which careens hopelessly out of control to a laughable degree.

In a climax as frustrating and convoluted as it is boring, a flaccid meta-commentary on superhero tropes serves to suffocate any actual coherence. A master plan is enacted which makes no logical sense, and the longer one thinks about it, the more elusive and obfuscated it becomes.

There are attempts throughout to give superheroes and superpowers a political dimension. Is it wrong to believe one can simply be genetically superior to others? Or is it instead wrong to stand in the way of those with superior ability? The film fumbles these problematic ideas in a finale that seeks to lionise superheroes – without having them do anything worth lionising. In what is passionately declared as “an origin story” for superhero acceptance in society, all we see is terrorism, violence and brutality.

Such moral deception was present in Unbreakable, too. As the final twist of that film, it is revealed that Mr. Glass had orchestrated terror attacks around the world in hopes of finding superhumans that would survive them. That iconic twist was one of horror – unsheathing an ugliness to Glass that Dunn, and the audience, recognised as such. The film Glass contains that same ugliness, but intercuts it with people holding hands and smiling.

Cian Geoghegan

129 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Glass is released 18th January 2019

 

 

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Review: Birdbox

 

June Butler takes off the blindfold to have a look at Susanne Bier’s netflix thriller.

As thrillers go, Birdbox is peppered with a slew of truly cunning components yet manages to steer clear of becoming predictable without too much effort. The infamous Boogeyman (or woman in these times of political correctness) is always going to be far more terrifying when intangible and fleeting and in this endeavour, director Susanne Bier has ably succeeded. 

The central premise of the narrative surrounds a group of people aligned against a common enemy. There is a horrifying entity stalking humans and pitting one against the other. When seen by the naked eye, the Being propels the viewer to shocking levels of violence culminating in the observer taking their own life – usually in the most violent and bloody way possible. As chaos and killing ensues, the victims generally claim more lives than just their own. Which clearly speeds up the entire apocalyptic process to an eye-wateringly fast ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ day of reckoning. After the initial blanket annihilation of most human life, a motley crew gather inside a house with a staggering number of rooms. A perfect stage for finding some unpleasant surprises concealed behind doors and in darkened corners. There is an excellent cast comprising Sandra Bullock (The Net (1995), A Time to Kill (1996), Gravity (2013)), and John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons (1988), The Killing Fields (1984), Burn After Reading (2008)). Sandra Bullock is exceedingly well cast as Malorie a ballsy artist who has found herself pregnant and alone after a fleeting relationship. Malorie is steely and vulnerable in equal measure and the success of Birdbox owes much to Susanne Bier’s choice for the central character. Equally John Malkovich brings a tensile fearfulness into the mix as Douglas. Douglas is both petrified and accepting of their predicament and it is difficult not to have a certain grudging respect for a character who is sure they are about to shuffle off this mortal coil in the next two hours but is not willing to pop off without a bang. And a big one at that.

The yarn is a decent one – not being able to fully see the beastie was genius. The imagination of the audience will always fill in the gaps.

And now for some criticism:

John Malkovich should have been put to better use and it was a wasted opportunity not to take full advantage of his acting skills.

Sandra Bullock as Malorie has parent issues. Clearly. Specifically father issues. However, Bier could have chosen to let Malorie not fall quite so far from the platform of being a half decent aul sod. Even the dimmest of people might have reckoned that retribution for a father’s shortcomings should not be visited upon those who are most vulnerable, namely children. I felt that Malorie promised much at the beginning of this film but failed to step up to her responsibilities towards the end.

There was some repetition at key moments which was a shame – the director was worth far more than going over old ground.

Characters started out as archetypal but some finished as stereotypical. Again, a shame. It seemed a little lazy.  

Two thirds of Birdbox was captivating and riveting. The final third lost some lustre and the ending was a tad predictable. I would have much preferred the Beggars Banquet image from the Rolling Stones album of the same name. Instead I felt I was presented with Tinky Winky, Laa-Laa, Dipsy, and Po.

There is one scene in Birdbox where the person responsible for continuity dropped a life’s worth of balls. It was glaringly obvious and once seen, could not be unseen. Up to then, I had bought heavily into the tale. After that, which interestingly came around the two thirds mark of the movie, it all went horribly pear-shaped. It was a pity because when this much effort goes into something and it is let down by a detail so basic, it can be incredibly disheartening both for actors and film crew.  

Having said that, Birdbox is one hell of a good movie and the concept does capture the imagination.

I feel a sequel is on the horizon…….


 

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Review: Vice

DIR/WRI: Adam McKay • PRO: Megan Ellison, Will Ferrell, Dede Gardner, Jason George, Jeremy Kleiner, Adam McKay, Kevin J. Messick, Brad Pitt • DOP: Greig Fraser • ED: Hank Corwin • DES: Patrice Vermette •  MUSIC: Nicholas Britell • CAST: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Amy Adams

An earlier teaser for Dick Cheney biopic/satire Vice featured the tagline ‘Some vices are more dangerous than others.” Writer-director Adam McKay’s is that he prefers flashy gimmicks over telling a story that works dramatically. That’s truly dangerous in that it sinks his movie.

Jumping between timelines, the film charts the life of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), from Yale drop-out and heavy drinker to becoming Vice President to George W Bush (Sam Rockwell), during 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

After making a name directing Will Ferrell joints, McKay’s previous film, The Big Short employed stylistic flourishes and absurd comedy in moments to jazz up its depiction of what led to the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008. The joke was that one needed fourth-wall-breaking cameos from the likes of Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to explain concepts like subprime mortgages and collateralized debt obligations because otherwise people would be confused or disinterested. It was fast, funny and ultimately made a salient point about how people today consume information.

Vice doubles down on these techniques without finding a reason to use them. There’s zinger-filled narration from Jesse Plemons (Game Night, Fargo), needless jumping backward and forward in time, endless stock footage inserts, shots created to look like stock-footage inserts, metatextual gags – all of which combined leave the film with no dramatic scene.

Admittedly, some of the jokes are funny on an Airplane parody level, satirising the conventions of biopics. Mid-way through the film, before being recruited to be Bush Jr’s VP, Cheney is shown in the woods with his family vowing to never return to politics. In another movie, the scene would be its closing moment and just as this realisation dawns, fake credits roll – before rewinding back to what really happened. Meanwhile, another laugh-inducing moment imagines Cheney as a Shakespearean anti-hero as he makes a key decision. He and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams wasted in what should have been a third winning collab with Bale) suddenly begin spouting lines from Richard III in a surreal sequence.

However, by overdoing his shtick, McKay constantly clips any sense of engagement in his characters by continually satirizing them. What is the point in making Bale go method and gain so much weight to authentically play Cheney, only to stymy his performance by filling every potentially engaging scene he has with a million cuts to everything from fish swimming to dices being thrown. It’s on a level with Peter Berg’s equally shoddily directed Mile 22.

One wonders whether McKay went so overboard because he realised his script – the first he wrote without a co-writer – is a mess. There’s the germ of a really interesting concept there – that Cheney replaced his vice for drinking with one for power, ignited by working for controversial former US Secretary of Defence and congressman Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell, the only actor given a chance to sink his teeth into his slimy character) during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Cheney and Rumsfeld have no political belief, all they thirst after is power for the sake of power. This is what led Cheney to expand the powers of the Presidency so they could launch a war against Iraq to seize their oil without the US Congress’ consent. It’s his drive which has led to the countless deaths both of US troops and citizens of the countries they invaded.

However, someone like Aaron Sorkin or Mark Boal or even satirists like Armando Iannucci, Sam Bain or McKay’s collaborator on HBO series Succession, Jesse Armstrong, could perhaps trace that through line clearly. They could depict it in a way which emphasises the tragedy and makes Cheney interesting and fascinating if not empathetic, so that audiences are invested. The problem with Vice is that McKay clearly hates Cheney and all he stands for – implementing tax cuts for the rich, downplaying global warming, giving corporations the freedom to act as they please. Bale’s Cheney is not a character but a humourless, villainous caricature with McKay too busy pointing out all the questionable things he did in his political life to make him in anyway feel like an actual person. It doesn’t help that in Vice’s final stretch the writer-director practically lists off events like a Wikipedia entry with the Valerie Plame scandal and Cheney’s accidental shooting of a man while hunting being brought up and then tossed aside in just one line.

This reviewer has a feeling the film my have been tampered with by the studio, after realising McKay’s original take was not working. That is the only way to excuse Jesse Plemons’ narration that is so distracting for the entire film as one has no idea who he is or why he has all this information about Cheney’s life. The moment one realises his connection to the politician, takes the cake in ridiculousness, coming across as hilariously wrongheaded.

Still, McKay deserves credit for trying. Vice feels angry, flirting with timeliness. It shows that Trump is not the only thing wrong with US politics and that it has been populated with power hungry vipers since the beginning. That said, the comedy-drama is still proof that just because one feels passionately about a subject, does not automatically make it satisfying.

 

Stephen Porzio

132 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Vice is released 25th January 2019

 

 

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Review: Mary Queen of Scots

DIR: Josie Rourke • WRI: Beau Willimon • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward • DOP: John Mathieson • ED: Chris Dickens • DES: James Merifield •  MUSIC: Max Richter • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden

Like everything at the minute, Mary Queen of Scots seems to have been tragically sucked into the vortex of politics. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned storytelling? Where people were inspired to write characters they were invested in? Where the characters were organically driven by a need within themselves to attain a goal, and who struggled with their own natures? When and where did it all disappear? And for what?

Behind the mesmerizing performance of one of the best leading women of her generation, Saoirse Ronan, and a spellbinding performance by Margot Robbie, this film is let down by a lacklustre script. It’s forcefully driven by political ideology and no matter how well intended, that ideology does not honour the history faithfully, it’s imposed on the story, and secondly and even more importantly, it doesn’t serve the characters honestly. The first I could accept to a degree, but the second, I can’t.

Mary Queen of Scots marks the theatrical debut of director Josie Rourke, who displays a sophisticated understanding and command of craft, but ultimately she’s bound by the limits of the material. The screenplay was adapted by the exceptionally talented Beau Willimon. Beau Willimon’s writing on ‘House of Cards’ really captured the biting subterfuge and ruthlessness needed in the political sphere, as did The Ides of March, but in these examples, he didn’t force ideology or theme, it always derived organically from the hearts of the characters on screen. But for some reason on this occasion, in Mary Queen of Scots, this process appears to have been reversed and it’s hard for me to interpret the characters here as anything other than the singular voice or opinion of the author or authors. It doesn’t feel honest to me, it feels contrived. My expectations for this film were really high given the historical story and the calibre of the talent involved. The cast is rounded out by powerhouse actors like Margot Robbie and Guy Pearse, but, in the end, it’s a film driven by an agenda that is removed from character and story.

I think all filmmakers have an obligation to be socially responsible and explore complex themes and question the world we live in, but not by imposing historical falsehoods that reflect how we want the world to be. We can’t change history just because we don’t agree with it, there’s nothing honest about that. The social structure presented in Mary Queen of Scots deviates from factual history to a degree where it really damages a more powerful story about an iconic power battle between two exceptional women. If we’re going to learn anything from cinema, then we need a cinema that stares history in the face, that looks at complex characters with unflinching honesty, and, that without ever saying, it tells us, ‘You know what we screwed up back then, we didn’t do it right, and we’re still not doing it right, but maybe we can someday,’ that to me at least has some measure of power, some basic honesty.  When I think of the really great dramas that do that, I think of the likes of Schindler’s List, Dog Day Afternoon, and Lawrence of Arabia. These are fearless films that transcend craft, defy gravity and inspire countless generations, and they do so with bravery and integrity. But sugar coating the past and imposing concepts onto characters seems little more than artifice.

 

Michael Lee

124 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Mary Queen of Scots is released 11th January 2019

 

 

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