Review: Blinded by the Light

DIR: Gurinder Chadha • WRI: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, Sarfraz Manzoor • PRO: Jane Barclay, Paul Mayeda Berges, Jamal Daniel • DOP: Ben Smithard • ED:  Justin Krish • DES: Nick Ellis • MUS: A.R. Rahman • CAST: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman, Nell Williams, Rob Brydon and Hayley Atwell

It is not a mystery that Bruce Springsteen has a loyal and avid following. If this is news to you, check out the 2013 documentary Springsteen and I, or better yet go to one of his concerts. Springsteen means different things to different people, but every fanatic will attest that Springsteen represents truth, or at least the search for one. Gurinder Chadha’s new film Blinded by the Light (named after the first song on his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park) is a celebration, not only of Springsteen’s music, but of individualism. Written by Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha and Sarfraz Manzoor, the message, like a lot of Springsteen’s work is not only to go out and live your life, but to go out and grab it by the balls, no matter who you are, or where you are from. 

There are a lot of correlations between Chadha’s film and Springsteen’s music. One being that if it doesn’t pull you in from the start, I can only imagine that one might see it as a facile attempt to exploit his music. But if it grabs you, like it did this reviewer, you’ll be all in. Blinded by the Light tells the story of a young Pakistani teenager, Javed (Kalra), growing up (pardon the pun) in Luton in the late 1980s. Thatcher, The National Front and a conservative father form a three-pronged repressive force to this aspiring writer. He has a best friend, Matt (Chapman), who listens to The Pet Shop Boys and believes that ‘synths are the future’ (he is not far wrong). However, it is a new friend Roops (Phagura), a Springsteen obsessive who loans Javed Born in the USA and Darkness on the Edge of Town. He sticks them in his Walkman and his life is changed forever.

The formula of the film is a predictable one. In fact, it follows the same beats as Chadha’s 2002 film Bend it Like Beckham (replace David Beckham and football with Springsteen and writing). Yet the raw emotion that accompanies Springsteen’s music and lyrics elevates this film and becomes its heart and soul. To be fair to Chadha, she is also not afraid to veer into more adult themes than she has before. Montages of Thatcher’s Britain, job centres and National Front marches recall the work of Shane Meadows as she ups the ante on racist themes she has alluded to in previous films. Some sequences are frighteningly current. She, like Springsteen, can mix darkness with hope. 

Blinded by the Light joins the present wave of musical films, some good, Rocketman, and some bad Bohemian Rhapsody, Yesterday. Blinded by the Light falls into the former category, while systematic, its fantastical elements and musical numbers are enough to sweep you along, outweighing and disavowing otherwise predictable storytelling. 

Tom Crowley

117′ 11″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Blinded by the Light is released 9th August 2019

Blinded by the Light – Official Website

 

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Review: The Angry Birds Movie 2

DIR: Thurop Van Orman • WRI: Peter Ackerman  • DOP: Simon Dunsdon • ED: Kent Beyda, Ally Garrett • DES: Pete Oswald • PRO: John Cohen • MUS: Heitor Pereira • CAST: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Leslie Jones, Bill Hader. 

Video games movies never make it past the first film. Over the years we’ve seen them nearly all die at the first level. Max Payne, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Need for Speed, Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider (2018) and two separate Hitman movies all came and went without anyone caring. For those who happened to catch these films, presumably playing in the background on a Sunday evening, we’re treated to boring films that spent their runtimes pandering to video game fans who deserved better. Outside of Mila Jovovich carrying Resident Evil to six films and Ryan Reynolds turning Pikachu into Deadpool, video game movies have been a genre with little success. Of all the games in the world that could have been a surprise hit, no one expected it to be one based on the Rovio Entertainment puzzle video game.

The Angry Birds Movie arrived in 2016 to claim the throne of the best video game movie ever made. Was it good? It was fine but you’ve got to remember that everything that came before it ranged from mediocre to atrocious. Can the Angry Birds unite to become the best video game movie sequel of all time? The answer to that is a resounding yes as its mere existence tops everything else that came before. 

The Angry Birds Movie 2 continues the story of our angry hero Red (Jason Sudeikis) and the rest of the flock. Following their triumphant victory over the Pigs in the previous film, Red is no longer an outcast. Red’s newfound sense of acceptance and the fame that comes with it is threatened when new foe Zeta (played by SNL’s Leslie Jones) makes her presence known. The birds must do the unthinkable and team up with the dastardly pigs before it’s too late.

What struck me most about this film is how in terms of plot it’s as basic as it comes. There are no major twists or obstacles that get in our heroes’ way from start to finish. Normally this would be the point in the review where I’d lay into another animated film that exists to distract its younger audiences with flashy colours for an hour and a half. This rant can’t be made against The Angry Birds Movie 2. The film relies on its characters and witty humour to entertain both adults and children. The jokes come at a relentless pace.  There’s no time to rue the ones that don’t land because the follow up will wipe the poor one out of your memory instantly. It’s admirable that the film chooses to focus on humour rather than plot. No one is going to an Angry Birds sequel for a story on par with The Dark Knight.

As with every kid’s film, there’s a lesson; a lesson of self-acceptance is essential for any kids or adults to learn. From a technical perspective, the animation feels exotic, it’s neither photo-realistic or cheaply made. It’s as if a wacky Sunday morning cartoon from the ’90s has been remastered.

The film ticks thanks to its leading cast. With a lot of animated films that aren’t Disney or DreamWorks it often feels that the cast is doing it for a paycheck. The leading cast members clearly had a great time making the film. Jason Sudeikis as Red is an unorthodox straight man, never afraid to deliver a killer joke despite being the rational member of the group. Danny McBride makes his, at first glance, one-note character work for a second film without ever becoming annoying. If you think Olaf from Frozen is annoying, you haven’t seen anything until you see Josh Gad as Chuck. The speedster bird is Olaf dialed up to the max. Whenever he was on screen, I could feel my blood boil. Leader of the pigs, Leonard, lets Bill Hader be Bill Hader, which is always welcome. Hader is the star of the show in most of his projects and here is no different. Sterling K Brown and Tiffany Hadish both turn their miniature roles into highlights. The two biggest new roles in the film are given to Rachel Bloom and Leslie Jones. Bloom plays Silver, an engineer who rivals Red for leadership. Bloom and Sudeikis’ chemistry make an almost forced romance feel genuine. Following the end of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend get ready to see a lot more of Bloom who is going to blow up. Leslie Jones finally finds a film that knows how to utilize her talents. Ghostbusters (2016) should have been the actor’s big break but she was held back by a limp script. Jones as the villain Zeta is hysterical; the comedian is given free rein to go wild with her character leading to the audience rooting for the villain.  It’s always refreshing to have a voice cast who want to act.

Directors of the first film, Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, have opted not to return for the sequel. Sony has opted to give first-time director Thurop Van Orman a shot at directing a feature. Van Orman is no stranger to animation having written episodes of The Powerpuff Girls and creating The Marvellous Misadventures of Flapjack. Animated movies often feel different from the cartons we see on TV. Animated movies at times feel like they give up after they come up with their concept. While cartoons on TV aren’t afraid to embrace their weirdness. Thurop has clearly set out to make a film that is one of the more cartoonish you’ll see on the big screen. The oddness of the film makes it fresh as it never takes itself seriously.

A side plot involving baby birds would normally be released as a short film, Thurop sees no reason as to why his film can’t have a separate story that is as entertaining as his main plot. This wise decision was almost certainly from the mind of writer Peter Ackerman who previously wrote the first Ice Age film, in which Scrat, a character with no impact on the plot, became the series’ most famous character. The film’s only glaring fault is that it throws in references for the sake of it. The final act of the film crams in as many popular songs as possible for no particular reason.  No one on this planet ever wanted to hear the “Baby Shark” song in a film. 

The Angry Birds Movie 2 had no right being this entertaining. Not one person seeing this film expected it to be the best video game movie of all time. Yet against all the odds it is. It never takes itself seriously, its primary goal is to entertain. Had you no clue about what Angry Birds is, you would never even notice that this is a video game movie. The lesson to be learned here is that when making a video game movie, ignore the video game part and stick to making a movie. If it’s half as much fun as this one you’ve succeeded. Never in my life did I expect me to be clamoring at the prospect of a third film based off an app. 

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

96′ 40″
G (see IFCO for details)

The Angry Birds Movie 2 is released 2nd August 2019

The Angry Birds Movie 2 – Official Website

 


 

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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

 

DIR: David Leitch  WRI: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce • PRO:Hiram Garcia, Dwayne Johnson, Chris Morgan, Jason Statham • DOP: Jonathan Sela • DES: David Scheunemann • MUS: Tyler Bates • CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby

Has there ever been a franchise as odd as The Fast & Furious? From its humble beginnings as a Point Break rip-off to becoming the biggest non-superhero series in the world, nothing about the series makes sense. The first sequel that starred Vin Diesel didn’t arrive until the 4th film. The titles for each entry in the series haven’t followed a pattern; for example, the 7th film is called Furious 7 while the 8th film is called The Fate of the Furious. The series has been mocked by movie buffs for being nightmare fuel. Granted, the series hasn’t delivered an all-out amazing film,  it has come agonisingly close to delivering a film worthy of all the hype. Fast Five’s bank vault heist in Rio is glorious. The tribute to the late Paul Walker in Furious 7 is one of the most sincerely beautiful moments in cinema history. When The Fast & Furious movies want to be more than explosions and exploiting its female characters it strives. Even though the first film arrived 18 years ago it feels like The Fast & Furious franchise is only getting started. Hobbs & Shaw marks the series’ first foray into spinoffs. Can ‘The Rock’ and ‘The Stath’ team up to deliver a film worth toasting a cold Corona to? Or is this a sign that the wheels are beginning to come off?

Hobbs & Shaw tells the story of, surprisingly enough Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham). The dynamic duo must put aside their differences, which, for the record, they already put behind them in the last film, in order to take down Brixton (Idris Elba) before he releases a deadly virus into the air changing the course of humanity forever. For a series that started with an undercover cop trying to infiltrate a group of street racers, you can’t help but feel giddy reading the plot synopsis. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham teaming up to battle an evil Idris Elba with superpowers is the film 2019 has been calling out for. Hobbs & Shaw is a welcome break from the relentless car action that the series is famed for. While, yes, there are still ridiculous chases, it takes a backseat in favour of more choreographed action. It’s refreshing to see Johnson and Statham use their action-movie experience instead of sticking them behind a car for 2 hours.  The duo bounce off each other with ease,;the film could have been 2 hours of them trading ribs and it would have been glorious. The film may rely on a MacGuffin like the rest of the series, but this never feels like a generic action film. What could have easily been a chase for a bottle of the superhero serum is avoided when Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) injects herself with it in the opening sequence. The dependency on the theme of family doesn’t feel forced for the first time in the series. The Shaws are clearly a tight-knit group who are always conjuring a plan, while Hobbs Samoan heritage is explored to its full potential. Those who turn their nose up at the film because it’s a Fast and Furious film are missing out on a film that is a thrill from start to finish. When the action and humour are this strong you need to put your hands up and applaud the boldness of a film which could have easily been a cash-grab. 

Hobbs & Shaw is a success thanks to the men playing the titular characters. While, together they are electric, it’s important to highlight the importance of their individuality. Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs is the straighter of the 2 leads. Hobbs is a man who has always been presented as the ideal father, to see his strained relationship with his family outside of his daughter allows the character to feel ordinary and less perfect. Johnson is as charming as we’ve come to unfairly expect. It’s hard to distinguish if he’s ever acted or if he’s just a super nice guy. Following 2018, which saw the superstar stuck in the mediocre Rampage and the flat-out awful. Skyscraper, it’s nice to see Johnson strike back with another hit following Fighting with My Family earlier in the year.

Jason Statham has always been a somewhat underrated actor. While the films he takes on often centre around ridiculous premises, it’s hard to find an actor who can make them feel real. Statham carried The Meg on his back last year and gives one of the decade’s finest comedic performances in Spy. Hobbs & Shaw is another showcase for why we can’t take Statham for granted. As Shaw, Statham is the funnier of the two. Shaw’s frustration with what’s happening around him leads to brilliant comedic moments. A scene involving a door scanner will leave audiences in stitches.  Statham’s fighting style is more technical than Johnson’s brute force style. It’s always enticing to see how Shaw handles a fight against those who are bigger than him. Hobbs and Shaw are no odd couple. Both can fight, crack one-liners and take on anyone who comes their way. Together they have created a duo who fans will gladly watch  deliver more pulsating adventures for years to come.

What’s disappointing about the film is how they treat its side characters. Outside of Hobbs and Shaw, everyone else draws the short straw in terms of character development. Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw had the opportunity to become as memorable as her fictional brothers played by Statham and Luke Evans. While Kirby shines in her action sequences, the film relegates her to a potential love interest for Johnson. Kirby is great in the sense where she’s allowed to show some personality and flare, but the film lets her down in another example of the series not caring about its female characters in the same way it cares about its men. If Kirby does return for the eventual sequel it’s only fair that they change the title to Hobbs and the Shaws.

Idris Elba as a supervillain is the type of casting that makes perfect sense. It’s clear to see the Elba is having a ball as Brixton. Whenever the actor gets to chew up the scenery it’s delightful. Brixton is bogged down by a needless mysterious evil group, but that can’t take anything away from how fun Elba is. The smirk on his face as he declares himself “black Superman” is delightful. Elba has served another reminder as to why he must be the next Bond. The actor commits to any project with an admirable degree of dedication. Who knows? Maybe Cats will be good?

Director David Leitch has wasted no time in delivering another blockbuster following his work on Deadpool 2 last year.  A film which I found to be a huge let-down following the brilliance of the first one. Thankfully, with Hobbs & Shaw, he brings a similar type of direction that he used for Atomic Blonde. The action sequences are amongst the series’ best. The final act is insane and glorious at the same time. Leitch has been given the creative freedom to deliver a film that mostly feels less like a Fast & Furious film and more like a David Leitch film. There are some sloppy moments that can’t be forgiven. There are plenty of nameless female characters that are viewed as nothing more than objects – in 2019 you’d have hoped that the series would move away from that direction. Leitch also seems eager to keep returning to a POV shot from Brixton’s perspective that is let down by subpar special effects.

Writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearse may have written a film that makes next to no logistical sense, but they get a pass for coming up with dialogue that no other movie could pull off. Hearing Statham calling himself “a champagne problem” before fighting with a bottle is wonderful. Leitch fills the film with big surprises that no one saw coming. It’s odd that the typical Fast & Furious tropes are what let the film down. When Leitch focuses on making the film his own it’s clear to see that this is a director who could ascend to the top of the action pile sooner than we expected. 

Overall, Hobbs & Shaw is the finest Fast & Furious film to date. It’s bonkers from start to finish, not a minute goes by where the film attempts to be normal.  It arrives at a time where most summer blockbusters have been mediocre and repetitive. Nothing about Hobbs & Shaw feels like more of the same. This is a film that gets Dwayne Johnson his mojo back, gives us tier one Statham action and gives us hammy villainous Idris Elba. What’s not to love? If most of the series was like this then The Fast & Furious franchise would not be a mocked one. Go watch this on the biggest and loudest screen you can find. Soak up two hours of pure mayhem. You will not find a film this year as fun as this one. 

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

135′ 43″
PG (see IFCO for details)

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is released 2nd August 2019

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – Official Website

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Review: The Lion King

DIR: Jon Favreau WRI: Jeff Nathanson • PRO: Jon Favreau, Karen Gilchrist, Jeffrey Silver • DOP: Caleb Deschanel • ED: Adam Gerstel, Mark Livolsi DES: James Chinlund MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor

The Lion King (1994) is one of the greatest films of all time, period. Think about it for a moment. What film has the heart that The Lion King possesses? What film can make your eyes crumble into floods of tears? What film can make your belly ache with fits of laughter? What film has as many songs that everyone knows inside and out? What film has told a Shakespearean story for all the family to enjoy? What film has a colour palette filled with as wide a variety? What film after 25 years keeps getting better with every viewing? The film has defined childhoods since its release. Whether young or old there is something for everyone within the film. Disney has decided to lay all their cards on the table and make a play that could lose them many fans. To remake The Lion King is akin to remaking The Godfather. It’s an impossible mission. How can you improve on cinematic perfection? Granted that isn’t the goal. The goal is plain and simple for the world to see. Disney as with all their recent remakes views their famed property as a nostalgic goldmine. To achieve anything less than matching the original is a failure. What’s the point of remaking a film if you’re not going to at least hit the heights of the original?  Does the 2019 version of The Lion King (2019) make the case for these remakes being any way necessary? Or is this Disney’s way of taking your money and laughing in your face?

The Lion King (2019), for those of you who don’t know, tells the story of Simba from cub (JD McCarey) to mature lion (Donald Glover) learning what it means to be a king. To call the film live-action feels like a fib. When no one is talking you’d swear that the Discovery Channel was on. The opening “Circle of life” sequence is astounding. As the camera sweeps from the iconic sunrise to pride rock you can’t help but feel giddy as you see a vast variety of animals hurrying to see little Simba’s presentation. Visually this is up there with the finest CGI to ever grace the screen. From a technical perspective, the film is a glorious success. Considering how haunting the new Dumbo looked we should be happy that the animals here are breathtaking.  Sadly, the opening sequence is the only time the film comes close to recapturing the spirit of the original. 

This film feels like flat coke. The same ingredients are there, yet it just doesn’t taste as satisfying. The voice acting – besides 2 characters – never comes close to matching the originals. The songs have the same lyrics, but you can’t shake the feeling that they’re just covers. The story follows the exact same beats without the charm. This iteration of The Lion King is completely okay. There’s nothing offensively wrong with it.  The problem is that the original wore its heart on its sleeve. The story was never what drew us into The Lion King. It’s always been about the heart. It’s basic science to know that you can’t replicate the heart. This Lion King is the same movie that we got in 1994 without its soul. 

The hardest challenge for any remake is the casting. Trying to reimagine iconic voices is a mammoth task. Especially in the case of The Lion King as the voice acting is one of the originals strongest assets. Director Jon Favreau decided to make the film as realistic as possible, a decision which leads to the film’s biggest flaw. Favreau wanted the lions in the film to have the same facial expressions as real lions. If you’ve ever seen a lion, you’ll have noticed that they always have the same expressionless face. An expressionless face is not what you need when you’re making a film about talking lions. Whether Simba is happy, sad, scared or excited he has the same facial expression. The actors voicing the lion’s voices never quite match up to their characters as a result. JD McCrary is unable to convey the childish innocence of young Simba because his character looks constantly bored. Donald Glover ,the most charming man in Hollywood, is stiff as the older Simba as he is unable to bring his swagger to the lion. Beyoncé is miscast as Nala; Disney clearly went for name over acting calibre in her casting. Nala is given more to do in this version but Beyoncé struggles to charge any emotion into her acting. James Earl Jones returns as Mufasa in a performance that is surprisingly tame. Jones gave Mufasa one of the most iconic voices of the 90s, yet here he sounds bored and uninterested in the beloved character.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is the only one of the lions who delivers a memorable performance as the villainous Scar. Ejiofor is aware he will never be able to copy Jeremy Irons stunning performance; he chooses to go at the character in a new direction. Ejiofor’s Scar is more vengeful, angry and resilient that Irons’ theatrical villain. Out of all the actors playing lions, Ejiofor is the only one who attempts to bring some originality to the project. When the actors give up trying to replicate the 1994 film this version strives. 

Even though The Lion King is the lion’s story, the film is filled with other animals that elevate the film to its classic status. The side characters in this version save the film from being a complete write-off. At the halfway mark of the film, Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) are introduced. From here the film stops sleepwalking and attempts to bring something new to the table. Eichner and Rogen are electric as the dynamic duo. Eichner makes Timon feel perfect for a new version of his show Billy on the Street. Timon is quick-witted and fires one-liners at an impressive rate. Rogen as Pumbaa is wonderfully cast. Rogen is fast becoming a comedy veteran; at just 37 the actor never gives a lazy performance. Together Eichner and Rogen have a chemistry that rivals Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. If Disney had any sense, they would commission a new Timon and Pumbaa series as the two are easily the highlight of the film. John Oliver brings his dry humour to Zazu. Oliver chooses to give his own take of the bird rather than copy Rowan Atkinson’s. While many of his jokes fall flat it’s admirable that Oliver was brave enough to try something new. When the film is attempting to be original it shines. Unfortunately, there aren’t many moments or characters that try to be original. What made the new Aladdin enjoyable was that it clearly wasn’t a mere rehash of what we saw before. 90% of this Lion King is the exact same as what we seen in 1994 without the charm. Which is all the more surprising when you look at the man behind the camera.  

Jon Favreau is a typically reliable director. The director turned Will Ferrell into a superstar with Elf, kickstarted the MCU with Iron Man and made the wonderful yet underseen Chef.  Favreau has already proved himself capable of nailing a remake with The Jungle Book (2016). Favreau’s Jungle Book is tremendous, the film perfectly captures the soul of the original while adding new elements that arguably top the original. The Jungle Book is hands down the best remake that Disney has released by a landslide. Anticipation was high when it was announced that he was returning to take on The Lion King. Sadly, this is the first film that Favreau has directed where it feels as if he didn’t have creative freedom. This version is confined to its promises of a realistic tale. Which means characters like Rafiki (John Kani) are relegated to minimal roles. The decision to turn the hyena’s (Alfre Woodard, Eric André, and Keegan-Michael Key) serious rather than unhinged makes them less menacing and intriguing than they were before.  As the film is attempting to be realistic the classic songs lose much of the substance that made them memorable. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is no longer the vibrant colourful piece that it was before. “Be Prepared” is spoken as if it’s a speech rather than a musical number. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is sung during the day in a decision which boggles the mind. The score from Hans Zimmer isn’t the problem, it’s as beautiful as it was the first time. The problem is that Favreau’s vision strips the songs of the imagery that made the iconic movie moments. A movie about talking animals is not the one that you should be determined to make realistic. Beyoncé is given a song near the end that is inserted for publicity and nothing else. Outside of the questionable music choices, Favreau’s direction is sluggish and sloppy. A slow-motion flashback scene near the end is ludicrously bad The film clocks in at 2 hours, over 30 minutes longer than the original. There’s no real reason for the sudden extension. In fact, there are sequences in the movie where not much is happening. To feel bored during The Lion King is a sign that this project should never have seen the light of day.

Overall The Lion King (2019) is a shadow of its source material. It never strays too far from the original. When it occasionally does it’s great. Timon and Pumbaa are so good that they are almost worth the price of admission. Everything else in the film is a stiff version of the impeccable original. The decision to be as realistic as possible while staying loyal to the original leaves the film stiff. When Donald Glover is your leading man and he’s boring, you know something is wrong. Is the film worth watching? Honestly, you’re better off watching the 1994 film for the hundredth time. While many will defend the film by saying it’s its own thing, that statement is made redundant by the film inside the opening 5 seconds. Disney is more than happy to feed off your nostalgia. To them, it doesn’t matter how mediocre these films are. By the end of the month, this film will be the second highest-grossing of the year.  Give it 15 years and we’ll eventually be getting remakes of these remakes. 

 

Liam De Brún

118′ 7″
PG (see IFCO for details)

The Lion King is released 19th July 2019

The Lion King – Official Website

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Review: The Dead Don’t Die

WRI/DIR: Jim Jarmusch PRO: Joshua Astrachan, Carter Logan DOP: Frederick Elmes ED: Alfonso Goncalves. DES: Alex DiGerlando MUS: SQÜRL’ • CAST: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Caleb Landry Jones, RZA, Iggy Pop, Rozy Perez, Tom Waits 

In the town of Centerville, USA, the dead start rising from their graves and feeding on people. An array of eccentric characters must deal with the consequences. These include the police chief (Murray), his understudies (Driver and Sevigny), sword-wielding mortician (Swinton) and angry Hermit Bob (Waits).

Jim Jarmusch returns with this agreeable, if often toothless, zombie satire. The cast are all pleasantly droll and the laid-back atmosphere of the piece is enjoyable. Jarmusch’s satirical targets are, however, both decidedly on-the-nose, yet also under-cooked. There is a clear emphasis on the climate crisis. Polar fracking is said to be the cause of the zombie breakout. However, this is never elaborated on further. Steve Buscemi’s remorseless redneck also acts as something of a Trump surrogate. He even wears a MAGA-style hat. Again though, it’s hard to draw too much depth from any of these allusions, in this case given the scale of the cast of characters and the fairly meagre screen time offered to Buscemi. In keeping with Jarmusch’s post-modern style, the film occasionally veers into breaking-the-fourth wall commentary on itself. Again, like most things in the film, it prompts approving smiles but never turns into anything meaningful.

Jarmusch’s engagement with zombies also feels dated. He gives the impression that he thinks this film’s attempts to draw parallels with zombies and consumerism – the zombies are drawn to things they were when they were alive, such as Iggy Pop’s coffee guzzling zombie – is original, as if Dawn of the Dead and the subsequent forty plus years never happened. One could also question Jarmusch’s decision to have the zombies excrete dust when they are dismembered. Jarmusch said one reason for this was because he didn’t want to make a splatter film. But avoiding the splatter only results in the violence of the film feeling soft and unaffecting, further adding to the anaemic feeling the film gives off in general. 

Jarmusch remains a singular, albeit inconsistent voice in American cinema. This is unmistakably his work and features on array of familiar, talented faces from his other films. It’s good to see Murray back in a lead role again. The likes of Swinton and Waits too always make for pleasant company. Newcomers to the Jarmusch universe such as Landy-Jones and Gomez also equip themselves well. Frederick Elmes’ cinematography is typically excellent. SQÜRL’s score also contributes nicely to the laid-back atmosphere of the piece. 

Enjoyable, but not likely to live long in the memory. 

David Prendeville

129′ 15″
12A (see IFCO for details)

The Dead Don’t Die is released 12th July 2019

The Dead Don’t Die – Official Website

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Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home

DIR: Jon Watts • WRI: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers • DOP: Matthew J. Lloyd • ED: Leigh Folsom Boyd, Dan Lebental • PRO: Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal • DES: Claude Paré • MUS: Michael Giacchino • CAST: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jon Favreau 

Sony’s well advised alliance with the Disney, Marvel people continues to pay off with this entertaining sequel to Spiderman: Homecoming, entitled Spider-Man: Far From Home in continuance with its home-themed titles. I’m guessing the next one is going to be called, Spiderman: No Place Like Home.

Far from Home follows on from the events of Avengers: Endgame, which resulted in the successful destruction of Thanos and the return of those who were turned to ashes five years prior (if you don’t know this already shame on you).  

Peter Parker and his friends, Ned and MJ, are adjusting to life, five years after the ‘blip’, as it is now known… at least to teenagers. Not having aged, they are finding some of their friends have grown in their absence. Most notable of these, for Peter, is Brad, once a scrawny ten-year-old, now a buffed up teenager who is making the moves on MJ.  The gang’s school trip to Europe is interrupted by Nick Fury, who needs an unwilling Spider-Man to help a new hero in town, Mysterio, Quentin to his friends, (a better than expected Jake Gyllenhaal). Quentin is chasing down elemental creatures that have destroyed the earth of his dimension and now threaten to destroy ours. Peter Parker unwillingly aids the agents of SHIELD and Mysterio, who becomes a sort of replacement mentor for the much missed Tony Stark.

Moving alongside the expected superhero shenanigans is the joyful, humorous teenage road trip. Peter is head over heels in love with MJ now and this possible romance is the where the story’s heart is. The last near girlfriend of his, moved a distance after her dad, The Vulture, was incarcerated, you might remember.  I’d say teenagers move on quick but there was a five-year gap if you count the ‘blip’. 

I wont tell you anymore, suffice to say Spidey has all sorts of ups and downs, personal challenges and life-threatening moments that he manages to overcome and save the day. Director Jon Watts does a great job of balancing the drama and the comedy. Watts understands that the whole thing is absurd already but that doesn’t mean it has to be treated with mockery and, god forbid, that camp might rear its head. For the most part, he balances out the humour and jeopardy beautifully. There are some clunky moments in there and some of the humour doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it’s easy to forgive, when the heart of the piece is so adeptly handled by the actors. 

The nerd part of me would love to say more about the plot but to say more would spoil the hell out of the wonderful revelations. I should point out that the film only plays to full satisfaction if you stay to the very last scene; yes, that means the final post-credit scene, not the middle post-credit scene. Anybody who leaves the cinema before seeing that final scene has in affect watched a different movie than us stalwarts.  I was never so amused and satisfied with a post-credit scene as I was with this one. If you stay for it you’ll thank me. 

Paul Farren

129′ 15″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Spider-Man: Far From Home is released 5th July 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home– Official Website

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Review: In Fabric 

DIR/WRI: Patrick Strickland PRO:  Andrew Starke ED: Matyas Fekete DOP: Ari Wegner MUS: Cavern of Anti-Matter CAST: Marianne Jean-Baptise, Gwendoline Christie, Leo Bill, Fatma Mohmed, Hayley Squires 

Patrick Strickland’s film In Fabric takes on aspects of different genres combining thriller, horror and romance into a fantastically beguiling and eerie watch. At once stylish and disturbing, this film is as visually evocative as it is intriguing. While Marianne Jean-Baptiste excels as lonely, recently separated Sheila, the “artery” red dress that she buys also has a leading part to play. The film follows the journey of this dress as it wreaks havoc in the lives of those that are unfortunate enough to wear it. Interestingly, this dress does not possess it wearers – it has its own blood-thirsty agency. The film is highly symbolic and somewhat dreamlike – or more accurately nightmare-like. Reality blends with the bizarre and we are kept on our toes throughout as we watch the dress take on its victims.  

In Fabric is set in 1980s London, taking place during the winter sales season. Dentley & Soper’s department store features as the hive of retail activity; demonstrating a time when in terms of consumerism high street stores still reigned supreme. Set against this backdrop, the experience of shopping within this film emerges as a transformative and transcendental experience. Indeed, the changing rooms are not changing rooms but “The Transformation Sphere”. Framing the purchasing experience in this light is achieved in both comical and somewhat creepy ways. For example, the sales assistants are dressed in glamorously gothic style, filling the ears of shoppers with fantastical statements. 

The film alludes to the possible evils of consumerism but doesn’t appear to be an outright attack on capitalist culture. Instead, the evil here appears to function on a spiritual rather than a cultural level. The department store, its staff and the red dress seem to be connected with something that is cult-like, occult and satanic. We witness entrancing advertisements on television screens which show the employees posed as though readying themselves for some type of ceremony, beckoning for customers to enter the shop. Indeed this ritual is repeated every morning before the buyers are welcomed in.  The fact that the dress is red is significant; a colour which is typically associated with evil, danger and the devil. However, the ambivalent tone persists in the film and we are left wondering about the true nature of what is going on until the very end. 

While red is seen as the colour of evil it is also known as the colour of love and lust. On one level, the red dress is used as a means to find love for the characters in this film. Firstly with Sheila, it is bought for a blind date. It can be viewed as a potential tool to find love and quell loneliness. Following on from Sheila, Babs tries to re-spark her fiancées interest in her by asking how she looks in the dress. Reg is also forced to wear the dress on his stag night. What ties these three characters together is that wearing this dress represents something hopeful for each: for Sheila she might find someone, Babs wants to feel admired by her fiancée and Reg is celebrating his soon to be married life. However hopeful the characters might be, the love that is represented here is disappointing – the embarrassment of a bad blind date and the difficulty of living with a demanding fiancée show how impossible it can be to find true love. It is clear in this film that love is not the answer as each character is doomed from the moment the dress comes into their lives. 

Structurally In Fabric could be viewed as a somewhat unsettling watch. Vested in the story of Sheila, the quick cut to the story of Babs and Reg is unexpected. These narratives have quite a different tone and while our interest has been with Sheila, their story feels a little dragged out in terms of pace. However, this demonstrates that the plot is revolving around the trajectory of the red dress rather than the human characters. 

Conclusively, In Fabric is a disturbing yet colourful watch enhanced greatly by a good sprinkling of bizarre dark humour. Overall, the film has several unusual qualities which make it a memorable watch. It mixes genres so that there is suspense – but a slow seeping kind of suspense. The horrifying moments come in dribs and drabs; there’s blood but it’s not constant gore. Above all, this is a film rich in symbolism, with many shocks throughout; it’s overall ambiguity and many allusions leave viewers with much to ponder afterwards. 

Irene Falvey

118′ 45″
18 (see IFCO for details)

In Fabric is released 28th June 2019

In Fabric   – Official Website

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Review: The Cold Blue

Erik Nelson’s documentary film tells the story of the B17 bomber crews during the last two years of World War II. Working from fifteen hours of footage originally shot in 1943 under the guidance of legendary director William Wyler for his propaganda documentary ‘Memphis Belle,’ a moral piece telling the story of the most famous of the American B-17 bombers to see action in World War II.  

The footage, which languished for a long time in the archives, has been restored with astonishing results, similar to Peter Jackson’s recent World War I documentary, They Shall Not Grow OldCold Blue, rich with colour, spectacle and detail is an evocative reminder of a terrible time in world history, beautiful, tragic, mundane, terrifying and terribly human. 

Nelson tells his story using interviews with surviving veterans who flew those planes from England to Germany to drop bombs. These former boy soldiers, now in their nineties remember their day to day routines, what they did and what they suffered as well as remembering albeit in an abstract fashion, the suffering they caused to hundreds of thousands of German civilians. This is powerful filmmaking, it does not pass judgement on anyone, it just quietly unrolls its chapter-filled story structure with reminiscences, powerful imagery and a most beautiful score by Richard Thompson that is full of emotion and absent of melodrama. 

Nelson has described the piece as a Koyaanisqatsi-style film about these young men in war, presenting the story rather than commenting on it, leaving judgement for the audience. For anyone truly becoming immersed in the narrative and imagery the film can achieve a great deal. though all might not agree with the results. It is at the very least a way of opening a door to learning more about this terrible time in human history. It should be noted that Nelson’s next film will depict the German perspective, using discovered Nazi propaganda footage that was used to tell the German people their side of the story.  

This HBO produced film is screening for one night only in the IFI this Thursday and comes highly recommended. 

Paul Farren

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Review: Yesterday

DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Jack Barth, Richard Curtis • DOP: Christopher Ross • ED: Jon Harris • PRO: Bernard Bellew, Tim Bevan, Danny Boyle, Richard Curtis, Eric Fellner, Matthew James Wilkinson • DES: Patrick Rolfe • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Himesh Patel

Love Actually is, in my opinion, one of the greatest films of the romance genre to ever be created. So, upon hearing that Richard Curtis wrote the screenplay for Yesterday, I had to get myself to the cinema to see it. I really believe that films that fall into the romance category don’t get the recognition that some of them (definitely not all) deserve; some reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are calling this film ‘dumb’ and ‘corny’. Others claim the film is just an advertisement for The Beatles. If this is the case are we to call Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman advertisements for Queen and Elton John? Maybe they’re right, but they are brilliant, entertaining movies with an incredible soundtrack. Yesterday, containing The Beatles music, has a soundtrack just as good. However, I cannot help but compare Yesterday to Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman considering all three are centred around the music of legends, and it does not stand up to them equally. That’s not to say that it’s crap, far from it, but just don’t expect it to be on a par with them. 

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician, attempting to make something of himself. His best friend Ellie (Lily James) acts as his driver, roadie, and manager, hauling Jack, and his kit, to his various gigs, and trying to book places for him to play. But after multiple lack-lustre gigs, Jack is beginning to think it might be time to throw in the towel. However, that night, as Jack is cycling home, all the electricity goes out, across the globe, leaving the world in darkness for twelve seconds. It is enough time for Jack to be invisible to a bus, which hits him. This collision does something though, Jack can remember things that existed before the blackout that other people cannot. Coca-Cola, Harry Potter, and The Beatles; nobody knows what they are, they no longer exist. Jack is the only one with the knowledge. This knowledge allows him to take The Beatles music as his own, making him the greatest musician of his time; but it’s not without its struggles. For one, Jack has to remember all the lyrics to every Beatles song, which is a tall order; one scene shows him visualising what happens in the song Eleanor Rigby as he tries to remember the lyrics, which I particularly appreciated. He also struggles to get the respect from people that these songs deserve. Eventually Jack makes it big time, thanks to Ed Sheeran (who plays himself) hiring Jack as his supporting act, which then puts him in contact with his agent Deborah (Kate McKinnon). Through his journey, Jack does not always choose the right path; the course of fame never did run smooth.

Yesterday shows great respect for The Beatles’ music, not destroying it with silly gimmicks (except for Ed Sheeran’s suggestion to title Hey Jude, Hey Dude). Himesh Patel does justice to the songs, his voice is so easy to listen to and enjoy. It is a joyous celebration of their music, allowing audiences to enjoy their most well-known songs. That’s what is so good about this film, it doesn’t isolate viewers who aren’t so well up on Beatles music, because many will recognise the songs played, whether they are Beatles fans or not. As I said earlier, with Richard Curtis writing the script you can easily rely on him to include a romance, and Yesterday is no different. James and Patel work well together onscreen, their awkward sexual tension is suited to their characters’ relationship. Of course, there is a grand romantic gesture, one very reminiscent of a scene in Love Actually; you’ll know what I mean when you see it because you’ll recognise the song. Ed Sheeran just comes across as completely himself on the big screen, and really suited the naturalistic feel to this film; and it’s always nice to hear a few of his songs put into the soundtrack. Kate McKinnon is great as always; I could watch her all day; there is just a charisma she exudes that makes her so entertaining to watch. 

This is an easy-going, enjoyable watch, with great music that will have you dancing in your seat. Yesterday demonstrates the importance of music to people’s lives; so let’s keep singing about Jude and Eleanor Rigby, let’s keep singing about Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, because there might not be music like that created again to make people Come Together. 

Shauna Fox

116′ 10″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Yesterday is released 28th June 2019

Yesterday  – Official Website

 

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Review: Brightburn

DIR: David Yarovesky • WRI: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn • DOP: Michael Dallatorre • ED: Andrew S. Eisen, Peter Gvozdas • PRO: James Gunn, Kenneth Huang • DES: Patrick M. Sullivan Jr. • MUS:Tim Williams • CAST: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Matt Jones

What if Superman came down to Earth but was evil is one of the most ingenious ideas for a film in recent memory. In fact, it’s such a great premise that even when the James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) produced Brightburn doesn’t maximise on it fully, it remains an impressive piece of work as both a horror and superhero flick.

In all but name, the figure at the centre of the movie is Superman. Brightburn opens with married couple Kyle (David Denman) and Tori (Elizabeth Banks) about to have sex. Books scattered across their house reveal they are having trouble conceiving. Suddenly, a meteorite falls from the sky, landing outside their window in the title town in Kansas. Approaching it further, the two discover a small spaceship housing a human-looking alien baby boy. Naming him Brandon, they decide to raise him as their own – telling people, including their new son, he was adopted.

We then cut forward about 12 years later. Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is now an awkward teenager. He’s not mature enough to process his feelings for a girl in his class and is struggling with a nagging feeling that he is different. At night, meanwhile, the teen finds himself caught in trances – ones which lure him to an ominous red glowing object locked in his family’s barn. Soon after these occurrences, Brandon discovers he has super-human strength. Coupled with his already blossoming teen resentment, the realisation his parents lied to him about his origins leads him on the path to evil.

The film is a game of two halves. The first is strong. Director David Yarovesky effectively mimics the idyllic looking Americana heartland of Zach Snyder’s first and best Superman adaptation Man of Steel. The script by James Gunn’s cousins Brian and Mark Gunn during this portion is well-observed, capturing the awkwardness of adolescence. It also manages to mask exposition within natural sounding conversations between Kyle, Tori and Brandon, pushing the plot forward while giving viewers a chance to enjoy the central family at their happiest.

It’s down to this section that when things start getting creepy, it is very exciting and tense because we like the characters. The great score by Timothy Williams – blending classic superhero-like orchestral music with darker synth sounds – grows more menacing. The sound mixing – emphasising at key moments scraping metal and strange alien whispers – heightens in intensity.

What’s also particularly great about the first half is how it links Brandon’s experiences of puberty with his superpowers. After all, every person’s body changes as they become a teenager. During this time, plenty think they are truly different and misunderstood. Plus, if Superman discovered as a bullied teen with various complexes that he was capable of flinging a lawnmower over 100 yards or could shoot lasers out of his eyes, it would probably warp his mind.

For instance, Kyle and Tori find a bunch of lad mags hidden under Brandon’s bed. Joking about it, they flick through them and are shocked to come across medical photos of bodies cut open – as if their child was studying human anatomy. Believing it to be a weird teen thing, Kyle decides to give his alien kid ‘the talk’, resulting in an awkward pitch-black father and son scene for the ages.

That said, as the film heads into its second half, a significant plot-point reveals Brandon is actually being manipulated into embracing his darker side. As such, much of the movie’s emphasis on the difficulties of adolescence falls by the wayside. From that point on, Brightburn essentially downgrades into a slasher flick – complete with supporting characters making dumb decisions – but with young Superman instead of Michael Myers.

This section is still good. Dunn as the lead is effectively creepy delivering villainous threats – which he can totally deliver on – but in an unbroken, unconfident 12-year-old voice. Yarovesky and the Gunn’s keep Brandon’s powers vague so that when the kills do come, they surprise. During these stylish stalking sequences, the director uses red as a motif – Brandon’s eyes which change colour when he’s angry, car lights on a dark road or most impressively the point of view of a character who’s had one eye punctured with glass – the blood effecting her vision.

At the same time, you are still emotionally invested in Kyle and Tori. As the bodies pile up, a schism occurs between them. Tori defends her son, tragically believing him incapable of the murders. However, Kyle grows more and more terrified of his child, with Denman giving a great anxiety-drenched performance.

Brightburn will probably draw comparisons to other darker superhero flicks like Chronicle or Split. However, the movie it most reminded me of was The Belko Experiment, another film which James Gunn helped gestate but did not make. Like that horror, Brightburn takes a cool premise and executes it in a blackly fun but nihilistic manner. That said, you can tell why Gunn didn’t direct both himself. The two – while solid – don’t fully capitalise on their premises, ones which after being established can only lead to one end.

Stephen Porzio

@StephenPorzio 

90′ 12″
16 (see IFCO for details)
Brightburn is released 21st June 2019

Brightburn – Official Website

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Review: Child’s Play

DIR: Lars Klevberg • WRI: Tyler Burton Smith • DOP:  DOP: Brendan Uegama • ED: Tom Elkins, Julia Wong • PRO: Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg • DES: Dan Hermansen • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: T Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman

Every Halloween you will always see the same costumes from horror movies. Ghostface will be requesting a song to the DJ dressed as Michael Myers. Freddy Krueger  will be scrambling for change to get his coat in the cloakroom. Pennywise will be tearing it up on the dancefloor. One thing that all of these characters have it common is that they come from big recognisable films. One guy who shows up to every Halloween party in Chucky. There will always be someone donning dungarees and a cheap ginger wig. Despite all his appearances, every Halloween Chucky’s movies never seem to receive the same degree as love as the other horror icons. Chucky is left out in the cold while everyone else are film stars. It’s not for the want of trying; he has been in 7 films before this reboot. Chucky has always been waiting for that movie to shoot him into the VIP section of horror. With It (2017) and Halloween (2018) blowing fans away with their fresh takes on old-school horror, it seems fitting that Chucky gets an opportunity to garner new fans. Child’s Play (2019) gives the doll a chance to prove to the world that he deserves his annual place at the party. 

Child’s Play (2019) tells the story of Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman), a 13-year-old, who, following a move to a new city, is left with no friends. In a bid to try and give her son some happiness for a change his mother (Aubrey Plaza) decides to give him a doll (voiced by Mark Hamill) for his birthday. With his new buddy Chucky by his side, Andy strives in the world. His grades improve in school, he makes new lifelong friends and Chucky scores the winning touchdown in the big game. Wait, this isn’t the feel-good indie film of the year? Andy’s doll Chucky is a murderous doll who rejects his programming in favour of becoming evil. After 7 films it would have been nice for Andy to catch a break for once. The film arrives at a time where horror has become staler than ever before. Every single month we get the same horror movie filled with the same lifeless characters and beat for beat jump scares. The film is surprisingly different to your average run of the mill horror film. The narrative could have easily been one where Chucky is evil for no reason from the get-go. In this film you can understand why Chucky picks up his trusted knife. Chucky is a good friend who just wants what’s best for Andy. The opening act details the rise of their friendship in a natural manner. From Andy’s reluctance, to their eventual bond, the friendship feels honest. When Chucky sees Andy being mistreated by his Mother’s boyfriend (David Lewis) and the family cat, Chucky seeks justice for Andy. Unfortunately, Chucky’s version of justice isn’t exactly legal. What follows is a second and third act that is more conventional than its first. The difference here is that we are invested in the characters. Nothing feels forced. Too often in horror films’ the villain goes full villain mode for no real reason. It’s refreshing to get a slasher film that cares about its characters. 

Child’s Play made an ingenious decision in casting Mark Hamill as the menacing doll. Hamill is obviously most known for his portrayal of Luke Skywalker. While most actors would have decided to stick to blockbusters after leading the most successful series ever. Hamill took a different path. Hamill decides to become the best vocal performer in the world. If you are unaware of his voice performances check out his portrayal of The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. Hamill is arguably the finest Joker ever. In Child’s Play Hamill gives a voice to Chucky. The original Chucky, Brad Dourif, gave the character a gruff voice which was clearly evil, that’s not an insult – his performances were terrific. Hamill decides to give Chucky a child-like voice that is eerily off-putting. Even when he goes down a villainous route Chucky’s voice never changes. Hamill’s performance of “The Buddi Song”  will leave you with Goosebumps. The character is let down by its design, which belongs in a cheap parody film. How they greenlit a design of Chucky that resembles a CPR doll is beyond me. Hamill’s performance deserved to come out of a menacing figure not a cheap SNL prop. 

Having a teenager as your leading character is always a risky move. Especially in horror where the teen characters are usually whiny and unrelatable. Gabriel Bateman does a decent job as Andy. Bateman is no stranger to horror, having previously appeared in Lights Out. Bateman is likable as the kid who can’t catch a break. It’s easy to forget that Hamill wasn’t there when filming was taking place, Bateman was literally acting with a doll. Despite this, he still manages to create chemistry with Chucky.  Bateman is a talented young man who I’m sure we’ll see more of very soon. Once Andy makes friends the movie falters. Ty Consiglio plays Pugg in a performance that wouldn’t have landed him a part on Nickelodeon. Beatrice Kitos does better as Pugg’s sister Falyn, but they take the film off course with teen angst. Had Andy been written like his friends the film would have been a complete disaster.  Aubrey Plaza is as entertaining as always as Andy’s mother Karen. Plaza uses her comedic experience to land solid laughs. It’s a shame that she disappeared for chunks of the film because she is always a hoot when on screen. Without a doubt the standout human character in the film is Detective Mike, played by Bryan Tyree Henry. Henry is one of the most consistent actors around today and shows yet again what he has to offer. Henry brings charm and liability to a character that in any other movie would be one note. If Hollywood doesn’t cast Henry and Plaza in a romantic comedy in the next year I will riot. 

There’s been an air of controversy surrounding the creation of this film. This is the first ever film featuring Chucky that has not been written by creator Don Mancini. Mancini has distanced himself from Child’s Play (2019) after MGM didn’t want him on board. It’s never nice to see a creator being pushed away from his own creation and leaves a sour vibe around the film. Lars Klevberg is the director of this Chucky reboot. Klevberg’s only other feature to date is another 2019 movie called Polaroid. The direction he chooses to take this film  was wise. Turning Chucky into an Alexa-type gadget was wise. The scares may not be intense, but you can’t deny they are creative. Klevberg does fall victim to clogging his last act with unnecessary jump scares. The script, by first-time movie writer Tyler Burton Smith, is filled with clever gags.  Smith doesn’t quite figure out how to write teenagers or how to finish the movie neatly. For a first-time writer there is a lot to be admired. For 2 guys who are new on the movie scene, Klevberg and Smith managed to make one of the year’s surprisingly enjoyable films. 

Child’s Play (2019) is the best Chucky movie to date. It’s not that this is a masterpiece. For starters the other 7 aren’t that good, besides Chucky himself.  Everyone expected this to be a dud. All the pieces seemed to come from different boxes, yet they all fitted together. Hamill is riveting as the villain. Bateman delivers one of the better leading teen performances. Aubrey Plaza and Bryan Tyree Henry are both too likeable to dislike. You’ll come out of the theatre with an odd feeling. Seldom do you walk out of a horror film thinking of the characters instead of the horror. Yet Child’s Play (2019) is that movie. Roll on October when we will finally have a reason for so many people to dress up as Chucky. I might just join them.

Liam De Brùn

@liamjoeireland 

90′ 4″
16 (see IFCO for details)
Child’s Play is released 21st June 2019

Child’s Play – Official Website

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Review: Men in Black: International

DIR: F. Gary Gray • WRI: Matt Holloway, Art Marcum • DOP: Stuart Dryburgh • ED: Zene Baker, Christian Wagner, Matt Willard • PRO: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes • DES: Charles Woo • MUS: Chris Bacon, Danny Elfman • CAST: Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Rebecca Ferguson

How dare you have Frank on the poster and only have him in 1 scene?

Men in Black has always been an oddity to me. It’s a film series that you need to remind yourself that there’s already been a trilogy.  When you think of trilogies your brain would normally turn to Lord of The Rings, Batman or The Godfather. Granted these are sublime series. I just find it odd that you don’t see the Men in Black trilogy in many DVD shops. Maybe there’s a reason for this? What if this beloved series isn’t all that good? When you think of these films your brain will automatically respond with memories of Will Smith, Frank the talking dog and Tommy Lee Jones’ deadpan expressions.  Do you remember these films? The first instalment of Men in Black is terrific even today. The ’90s aura suits the campy style of the film. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ chemistry make it a film that will forever be remembered. The sequels on the other hand are a different story all together. Men in Black 2 is a disaster. Filled with offensive jokes and a lifeless plot, it may be one of the worst sequels of all time. Men in Black 3 is a step up from 2 thanks to a great Josh Brolin performance. It still never comes close to hitting the heights of the first film. On the whole, it’s hard to find why there ever needed to be a sequel to Men in Black in the first place. Men in Black: International arrives with the task of trying to convince the world that this is the first sequel of the series that isn’t a cash grab.

Men in Black: International tells the story of Agent M (Tessa Thompson), a new addition to the Men in Black (MIB). Paired with the experienced but impulsive Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), the 2 of them must travel the world to defeat a global threat. If that wasn’t bad enough there’s a mole in the MIB. Can Agent M and Agent H overcome their differences? Or will the plot make things up as it goes along? The MIB movies have never been known for their magnificent plot structure. MIB: International takes the cake when it comes to messy storytelling. It’s a film that’s trying to juggle too many balls at the same time without ever attempting juggling before. The film wants to tell the story of rookie Agent M. The film also wants to give Agent H a redemption arc. These two desires clash and end up cancelling each other out. One moment Agent H is showing Agent M the ropes, the next moment Agent H becomes inept for no reason leading Agent M to become the more level-headed of the two. An odd couple pairing can only work if the film chooses distinct roles for each of the couple. By making them switch every 5 minutes it makes the film unbelievable.

MIB: International doesn’t know what it wants its main threat to be either. Is it the twin aliens (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) who are causing havoc in cities? Is it Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), Agent H’s ex-girlfriend turned intergalactic arms dealer? Or is it the mole inside the MIB? Every single one of these villains is underdeveloped. The twins don’t have any dialogue to give them personality or motive.  Riza is only in the film for 20 minutes. The mole is so painfully obvious that when the film decides to switch to it in the last 20 minutes you can’t help but wonder what the point of it all is. Thankfully, the film is saved thanks to its dedicated cast.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are no where to be see this time around. This leaves big shoes to fill. Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth through sheer hard work manage to get these shoes to fit. We all know how good these two were in Thor: Ragnarok. Their chemistry was no fluke. Once again Thompson and Hemsworth bounce off each other with ease. Thompson brings a sense of awe and wonder to her character. You can see how blown away she is by the world by looking at her eyes widen. Agent M is undermined at times by a script that falls flat in its attempts to dig into the sexism of the past films. Thompson’s likability makes it impossible for these moments to derail the film.

Agent H is the more obvious comedic foil of the two. Hemsworth has shown time and time again that he’s hysterical when given a platform to showcase his comedy skills.  Hemsworth can sell even the poorest joke. When Thompson and Hemsworth get the opportunity to bounce off each other for lengthy periods it makes you forget about the mess of a movie they are in. It’s weird because their characters’ arcs are written so poorly, but you don’t notice because of how good the performances are. Without these two leads the film would have been a disaster. What could have been one of the worst films of the season becomes a solid one thanks to Thompson and Hemsworth. If these two keep it up they can become one of film’s great pairings.

The rest of the cast are a mixed bad. Kumail Nanjaini threatens to steal the film with his character Pawny. Pawny is an alien who joins forces with Agent H and Agent M in the second half of the film. Nanjani uses his comedy experience to turn what could have been an irritating character into a memorable one. If you haven’t seen Nanjani in The Big Sick change that now. This guy is going places. Rebecca Ferguson’s character design is the only impressive thing about her character Riza. The arms dealer is given no time to leave a lasting impression after being hyped up for so much of the film. Laurent and Larry Bourgeois are commonly known as French dance group Les Twins. It’s hard to figure out why they were chosen to be the main alien villains. They don’t get to act or dance. They needed to do something. Hell, I would have taken a dance sequence set to the Will Smith theme. The other MIB agents don’t get much to do either. Emma Thompson shines in her 5 minutes of screen time in her return to the series. Underusing her should be considered a criminal offence. Yet the MIB films have done it twice now. Agent C (Rafe Spall) is irritating in every single scene he’s in. Unfortunately, not in the intended way.  The sooner Hollywood learns how to use Spall right the better. High T (Liam Neeson) is the head honcho of the London MIB branch. Neeson does a solid job at reminding audiences that he’s good at talking when he’s not giving interviews. For a 2-hour film it’s bizarre that every single character feels underutilized.

MIB: International is the first MIB film not to be directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. With that comes an opportunity for a new director to take a stab at adding a new dimension to the series. F. Gary Gray is the man at the helm this time around. Gray is certainly an established director with Straight Outta Compton being one of the best films of 2015. Since then Gray’s gone on to direct Fast & Furious 8. Rather then making more dramas the director has decided to go down the big-budget action root. Gray’s direction for the most part is solid. The action scenes aren’t ground-breaking but there is enough to keep you invested. A scene involving a hover bike is an enthralling set piece. The problem is that this film feels like more of the same. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen in a MIB movie before. The same guns. The same action sequences. The same amount of alien’s explosions. It doesn’t feel like anything new was brought to the table to enhance the world. Which is shame considering the possibilities of a world filled with aliens. Gray is a talented director, but it doesn’t feel like he was given an opportunity to express himself. The root of all the film’s problems comes from the script. Written by Matt Holloway and Ant Marcum the script is a dud. These guys wrote Iron Man and now they seem to have forgotten how to write. The plot is predictable and jumps from A to Z at any given moment. The jokes fell almost entirely flat. I was the only person in the cinema who had the slightest giggle from them. For a film set in an alien world there are few aliens to be found. It’s the third film of this summer that attempts and fails to display feminism. These blockbusters really need to look at Hereditary, Roma or The Favourite. Blockbuster movies seemed adamant to point out how they are all for having female characters and it needs to stop. It’s your own fault that you excluded them for year so please quit the pandering.

Men in Black International isn’t the abomination that many critics are making it out to be. Hemsworth and Thompson bring enough fun that you’ll have a good time. The problem with the film is that it’s very lazy. It’s another film in this series that feels like it’s only doing it for money. Not one of these sequels has felt honest. Each one feels like a movie has already been written and they decided to slap Men in Black on it to sell it.  The first film is filled with heart and to see it exploited is a travesty. In 7 years, we’ll see another MIB reboot. This one will star of the Stranger Things kids and Jaden Smith.  At the end of the day this isn’t a series of a films. This is a series of marketing exercises led by Sony. Marketing in Black will return to feed off nostalgia in 2025.

Liam De Brùn

@liamjoeireland 

114′ 49″
12A (see IFCO for details)
Men in Black: International is released 14th June 2019

Men in Black: International – Official Website


 

 

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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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