DIR: Lenny Abrahamson • WRI: Malcolm Campbell • PRO: Ed Guiney • DOP: David Grennan • ED: Nathan Nugent • DES: Stephanie Clerkin • Cast: Jack Reynor, Roisin Murphy, Sam Keeley, Gavin Drea
Although director Lenny Abrahamson is keen to stress that What Richard Did is separate from the Brian Murphy / Annabel’s case, it’s impossible to watch this without acknowledging it in some manner. There are simply too many similarities between the two to be ignored. That said, the film doesn’t comment on the case or the social / class issues that the case raised in Irish society. What Richard Did is a study of pressure and consequence. The titular character, Richard (Jack Reynor), is the atypical Celtic Tiger cub. He’s young, affluent and attends a private school in South Dublin. However, as the film progresses, it’s slowly revealed that Richard is not as happy as he initially seems. Constantly held up as the example and alpha of his peers, the conditioning that is worked on him begins to take its toll on him. As he begins a relationship with Lara (Roisin Murphy) that sees his teammate Conor (Sam Keeley) edged out, the film’s emotional content comes to the fore and culminates in a violent encounter outside a house party.
Abrahamson’s direction is muted and stable. There are no cinematic flourishes; here, the cinematography matches the mood of each individual scene. When Richard is withdrawn and sullen, the colours drop to a dull, familiar grey and pulled over curtains. As well as this, the dialogue is both authentic and economical. Malcolm Campbell’s script cleverly leaves out the characters’ thoughts and emotions in dialogue, instead allowing the actors to portray them using their own means. In particular, one scene involving Richard finally cracking from the tension is riveting to watch. Screaming wordlessly and pounding like a maniac, Reynor’s performance is unsettling and difficult to watch, but is also entirely believable. Supporting Reynor is Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen who plays his father, Peter. Mikkelsen’s measured tones and glacial exterior hint at someone who’s dealt with emotional issues like what Richard is going through – though not to his extent.
Overall, What Richard Did is a powerful drama that doesn’t cast judgement on individuals or society as a whole. It simply tells the story of a young man and his attempts to cope with unbearable pressure. The film’s pacing is slow and, at times, it can seem like the story isn’t moving forward – instead focusing on an individual mood or scene. However, nothing feels superfluous or unnecessary – it’s more that the point or thrust of a scene is being hammered home when it doesn’t need to be. It’s a minor complaint in an otherwise exceptional film. Both Reynor and Abrahamson have marked themselves out as singular talents; this is Reynor’s first lead role and will go on to impress again. Likewise, Abrahamson continues to lead the pack in Irish cinema and will undoubtedly move beyond our shores to become a force to be reckoned with.
DIR/WRI: Stephen Chbosky • PRO: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich • DOP: Andrew Dunn • ED: Mary Jo Markey • DES: Inbal Weinberg • Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the highly anticipated coming-of-age drama based on the novel of the same name by Stephen Chbosky. The novel has gained almost cult status since its release in 1999. This film adaptation offers us a refreshing new vision as the novel’s author himself takes to the director’s seat. Fans of the hauntingly comedic novel will not be disappointed by Chbosky’s insight with memorable scenes from the book at times outshining their written counterparts.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie, an introverted teen about to make the transition to high school student whilst combatting personal issues. As a fan of Chbosky’s novel, I was somewhat wary of the film, as it was difficult to believe that anyone could perfectly embody the complex personality of Charlie. Thankfully, within the first half hour, it becomes impossible not to fall in love with Logan Lerman. Gangly, awkward and shy but also somehow entirely magnetic, Lerman is a revelation here. So believable is his portrayal that it will doubtlessly be his face that springs to mind the next time I pick up the novel.
Charlie tells his story in a series of letters. As he takes his first tentative steps into high school, he is taken under the wing of two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). From the moment they rescue Charlie by inviting him to sit with them for lunch, we witness the growth of one of the most heart-warming friendships to grace our screens.
Watson officially takes a definitive step away from Harry Potter here as the enthusiastic and effortlessly cool Sam. As we witness Charlie’s growing infatuation, we warm to her. We are even willing to overlook the patchiness of her accent in places. Watson and Lerman certainly steal the show for me, whilst Ezra Miller perfectly embodies the geek-chic ideology that fans have come to love. Here is a high school thriving on outsiders, and Miller is the ultimate outsider as Patrick.
Other stand-out cast members include Paul Rudd as Mr. Anderson, who somehow manages to make the archetype of the inspirational English teacher seem cool, and Nina Dobrev who stars as Charlie’s older sister Candace. In a departure from being chased by mythical television creatures, Dobrev battles her own demons here whilst silently aiding her brother, as their relationship grows stronger.
What sets this apart from other coming-of-age dramas is that it never descends into the total slapstick chaos we have come to associate with the theme.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a rarity in that it is a teen-centric drama that respects the intelligence of its audience. In the same vein as Sixteen Candles, it portrays a new vision of the teen condition. As our protagonist battles with issues like suicide, mental illness and abuse, there is a certain endearing depth here, which takes this story from teen drama to human drama.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a heartfelt love letter to an important snapshot in our lives, and is guaranteed to tug on the heartstrings of even the harshest audience. This is an absolute must-see for anyone who has ever felt the isolation of being a teenage outsider. Anyone who has ever wanted to feel ‘infinite’.
DIR: Olivier Megaton • WRI: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen PRO: Luc Besson • DOP: Romain Lacourbas • ED: Camille Delamarre, Vincent Tabaillon • DES: Sébastien Inizan • Cast: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace
Did anyone really want Taken 2?!
Back in 2008, when Liam Neeson loomed, intimidated and murder-killed his way through the heart of Paris to find his daughter, I left the theatre oddly impressed, assuredly thrilled and ultimately satisfied.
Daughter Kidnapped. Dad gets on the case. Albanian jerks soil themselves, die. Daughter rescued.
That’s Taken; a divisive if simple, singular tale.
So I’m lost as to why Team Besson deemed it prudent to grant the world further insight into the homicidal exploits of John Taken!* Regardless, affairs are in a sad state when 60 year old Liam Neeson, big though he is, gets lumped with this needless sequel, helmed by the man responsible for Transporter 3!
* This should have been his name from the start, folks!
Giving the performance of his life, Neeson/WolfPuncher enjoyed a legitimate career highlight with January’s The Grey. So we all know the man can act. Unfortunately he’s saddled with 90 straight minutes of buffoonish dialogue and a ridiculous American twang. Yes, he’s been naturalised as a US Citizen, but that Northern accent isn’t going anywhere in a hurry.
While Taken just about straddled the fine line between the plausible and the openly ridiculous, its sequel never quite knows which route to take, hedging every bet. For every instance of Neeson using his brain, doing something crafty, like estimating his location while blindfolded, listening for environmental markers, stuffing a miniature phone in his sock, we get Maggie Grace (who I have yet to be impressed with, in any role) detonating grenades in the streets of Budapest!
Themes of responsibility, consequence and justice are similarly muddied. The chief villain, an Albanian crime boss wronged by John Taken four years previously, decides to teach him a lesson about restraint by butchering him, his family and anyone else unfortunate enough to be in the camera’s frame.
There is no moralising here. There is no poignant lesson to be learned. Poorly choreographed, choppily edited violence begets poorly choreographed, choppily edited violence. And is resolved by same.
Whenever the cast aren’t spewing forth tired clichés and undercooked dialogue, Taken 2 slaps its audience in the face with some of the most poorly presented action this side of The Expendables 2. There is a (as in one!) car chase, a baton fight and a shoot-out. All of which should make you yearn for more talking.
And as for the practical joke of a final showdown, in which 6’ 4” John Taken kung-fus a short, pudgy Albanian rather than just, I don’t know, stepping on him?! Yikes. Neeson may be getting on in years, and he’s not exactly Jackie Chan, but this mismatch of sizes felt openly insulting to the hard-working lead.
Mercifully, Taken 2 isn’t a terribly lengthy endeavour. It has the manners to let you run for the exits inside of 90 minutes. And I say it’s fair we let poor Liam Neeson do the same. It’s hard to shake the impression he’s been bullied into this position, the aging action star, the badass granddad.
He made Taken 2. It was a disaster. Now, can we please let him go back to making more projects like The Grey now?
Neeson even admits, in this very feature, how he is ‘so tired of it all!’
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is an extraordinary epic much like the woman it portrays. Vreeland was epic; a powerful creative mind which remains influential to this day. She was both eccentric and electric. She was the ‘Pizazz’ she so looked for in the world around her. With no formal education and a mother who looked on her as her ‘ugly duckling’, Vreeland defied the odds; she exploded into the fashion industry changing the perception of women, and leading the way for the new career women of the 20th century. She took the perception of strangeness in people and made it beautiful; she was behind many great careers such as Barbara Streisand and Cher.
This documentary is the very essence of everything that she was: creative, intuitive, artistic and mad. It is insightful, beautiful and rewarding. Anyone who has seen Man with a Movie Camera will appreciate this for the sheer beauty and depth to this biopic – It is the hidden eye of everything that Vreeland stood for. The juxtaposition of images slammed together, highlighting the sheer intensity of how she lived her life and more importantly how she worked as an editor. The film depicts the sheer wealth of the life and times she lived in. Born in 1903 she flowed through all the notable periods in the 20th century for anyone of our generation right up to her death in the late ’80s; times unlike any other. This woman had a wealth of knowledge about life and how people were, what they wanted and what they didn’t know they wanted yet! This film embodies the sheer vibrancy of a woman way ahead of her time; she stood in a league of her own.
It is a must see for anyone with an interest in documentary film, design or fashion. .. Go see it, ‘Why don’t you…’
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is released on 21st September 2012
DIR/WRI: Paul W.S. Anderson • PRO: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Don Carmody • DOP: Glen MacPherson • ED: Niven Howie • DES: Kevin Phipps • Cast: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Aryana Engineer
Amongst numerous other problems (not least Uwe Boll), it’s shocking the casual disrespect video game adaptations have for their source material. Sure, the terminology and characters may be vaguely similar, but few directors have accurately emulated the tone and identity of the interactive originals. A handful of anime adaptations and Silent Hill (which, despite its admirable stylistic emulation of the games, still wasn’t very good) pretty much stand alone in their loyalty to their respective inspirations. Many, many others – from Mario to Final Fantasy – have been shameful bastardisations that have horrified fans and newbies alike. Imagine the Harry Potter films re-imagined Harry as a suave, trash-talking ninja. Actually, that sounds kind of awesome, but you get my general point.
Not that Resident Evil was ever particularly hallowed interactive source material, with its B-movie inspired thrills and farcically convoluted lore. But even in its more action-orientated instalments the game series has provided intense, claustrophobic survival horror experiences. The series has reliably scared the shit out of gamers such its inception in 1996. Since the first movie in 2002, however, the films have shown themselves entirely unwilling to reflect the tone and atmosphere of the game series, settling instead on derivative action sci-fi. The characters are there, the Umbrella Corporation is sufficiently evil and there are still zombies, monsters and axe-wielding giants. It’s Resident Evil alright, but not as we know it.
Despite a consistently low quality, the films’ baffling financial success has justified this fourth sequel (I had to double check what number we’re actually on). This time, series protagonist Alice (Milla Jovovich) thinks she has escaped the pursuit of the dastardly Umbrella Corporation. Inevitably, the opening credits (presented alongside a pointless reversed action scene) have barely concluded before she’s caught yet again. Darn. Locked up in a secret Arctic underwater base operated by a demented A.I., Alice’s ex-friend Jill Valentine (an hilariously awful Sienna Guillory) cruelly interrogates our heroine by playing a mildly annoying tone. But Alice is promptly released by Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) who has organised a rescue team…
Oh, who cares? The filmmakers certainly don’t have much interest in the plot, so why should we? This is a pointless, nonsensical narrative that falls apart if you have the cheek to think about it. Basically an over-extended escape sequence, the film is almost entirely inconsequential and uninteresting. I’m not joking when I say the last ninety seconds or so are the only moments that have any real bearing on the series’ dull overarching plot. This is a filler song on an already awful album. A series of noisy action scenes, unconvincing CGI / 3D, a script riddled with clichés (the phrase ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ needs to be banned from cinema, effective immediately)… This film has very little going for it indeed.
There’s a suburban zombie attack near the start that is relatively intense, and in a rare break from tradition actually somewhat reflects the visceral tone and style of the game series. Alas, it’s still almost entirely pointless, and the rest of the action consists of grizzled superhumans firing a lifetime supply of bullets at undead sponges. There’s the odd burst of kung-fu too, rendered laughable by director Paul W.S. Anderson’s (always worth noting that it’s most certainly not that other Paul Anderson) penchant for lame slow motion and dramatic posturing. Jovovich seems to spend more time landing awesomely with guns drawn than anything else.
The acting is uniformly dreadful. It’s unfair to pick one cast member out for particular criticism, but Guillory impressively cannot even convince as a brainwashed & monotone automaton. Also, it is staggering how long it takes the other characters to figure out that removing that glowing red mind control gem from Valentine’s chest might be a good idea. If the good guys in this film were playing the superb Resident Evil 4, they wouldn’t have gotten past the first boss.
So yeah: this film is offensively worthless. It’s is simply a cynical, desperate attempt to justify yet another franchise entry (the sequel crassly teased in the closing minutes). I was going to end this review by providing rough estimates of how many more interesting films could have been made by efficiently reappropriating the budget for this series to date. But that’s a fun bit of mental arithmetic to keep anyone unfortunate enough to end up in a darkened theatre watching this trash occupied.
DIR/WRI: Rian Johnson • PRO: Ram Bergman, James D. Stern • DOP: Steve Yedlin • ED: Bob Ducsay •Cast: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels
We are long overdue a great time travel adventure. Sure, we’ve had dramas such as Midnight in Paris and mind-bending thrillers such as Primer, but there hasn’t been a proper edge-of-your-seat time travel movie since 12 Monkeys, nor a fun one since the Back to the Future trilogy.
Thank goodness for Looper. Clever without being baffling, fun without being silly, Rian Johnson’s film balances its own mythology with a pulp thriller story that feels simultaneously classical and entirely new. Johnson, the writer/director of cult high school noir Brick and the seen-by-few (and liked by fewer) The Brother’s Bloom, is a film fan’s filmmaker, a man who has imbibed the Hollywood genre greats, and who now pours those ideas through the blender of his brain and creates some fascinating, if hitherto not entirely successful chimaeras. Looper’s influences are evident and many, and surprisingly none of them are films about time travel.
Starting off 30 years from now in Kansas City, Looper is set in an America wracked with colossal rates of unemployment and homelessness, but where the well-to-do dress like guest stars on Mad Men. A comment on the trajectory of modern America, sure, but that’s where the social commentary ends. Another 30 years down the road, in 2072, time travel technology has been developed, but only for use by the wealthiest and most duplicitous of people. Rather than risk a Back to the Future-style paradox, the global mob of 2072 uses time travel for the sole purpose of disposing of corpses – easily tracked in the future, easily gotten rid of in the past.
In 2042, mob goons called loopers are assigned the task of gunning down newly materialised mob targets the moment they appear from 2072. It’s good work if you can get it, but it comes at a high price. Looper Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is happy with his lot; splashing his cash on cars, drugs and a prostitute with a heart of gold. But things get thrown for a loop for him (sorry) when his latest target is revealed to be himself, 30-years-older, and now looking like Bruce Willis. Willis knocks his young self out and goes on the run, set on a mission to alter the future, while Gordon-Levitt must track down his older, wilier self while evading his own bosses at looper HQ, who can instantly take out the elusive Willis by killing Gordon-Levitt, thereby erasing Willis from the timeline.
Ostensibly a chase movie through a neo noir future, Looper keeps its story energised by keeping the time travel repercussions as simple as possible. As long as Willis is still there, he knows Gordon-Levitt will grow up to be him. As Gordon-Levitt acquires fresh cuts and injuries, Willis develops brand new, decades-old scars.
Looper is as smart in its dialogue as it is in its ideas. Gordon-Levitt and Willis spar over their shared memories in the film’s most cleverly crafted scene. Looper boss Abe (a delightfully sneering Jeff Daniels) chastises his young employees for dressing in suits and ties, an out-dated fashion now brought back by the Mod-like gangsters – fashion has a cyclical nature, underscoring the film’s central theme. Language, too, has come full circle; the word ‘blunderbuss’ has been uprooted from the history books to refer to the loopers’ heavy-duty shotguns.
Johnson’s team have crafted a terrific thriller here, with crisp, bright imagery and coherent editing. The score hums and clicks with electronic, industrial sounds overlaying traditional instruments. Gordon-Levitt, belatedly (by a decade) the in-demand actor of the hour, is tough yet endearing in the lead role, and the fine makeup that makes him a believable antecedent to Bruce Willis (most notably wearing Willis’ curling nose) never distracts from his performance. Willis plays the weary, broken-hearted avenger he’s based the last decade of his career on with expected fluency. Only Johnson regular Noah Segan disappoints, in the underdeveloped role of token villain Kid Blue.
The film’s seemingly boundless energy comes to a crashing halt in the third act as Willis heads off on his mission and Gordon-Levitt hides out at the rural home of Emily Blunt’s suspicious Sara. The rhythm of the film goes all to hell for nearly 20 minutes, and the temptation to, like the characters in the movie, repeatedly glimpse at your watch is hard to resist. But this is all forgiven in a shocking, brilliantly conceived final quarter hour, that is as exciting as it is philosophical.
Aside from that late lull, the film’s most troubling aspect is its narration, lazily used to explain its mythology and technology, and it’s left unclear from where or when (or on what timeline) Gordon-Levitt is narrating. But Looper succeeds in making its world easily accessible, and more impressively manages to make its two anti-heroes – one a junkie out to kill his future self, the other so hell-bent on vengeance he will stop at nothing to do what he insists is right – likeable and worthy of our attention.
With echoes to films as eclectic as Witness and Akira and with a finale drawing on the magnificent climax of the supposedly inimitable Russian classic Come and See, Looper is a minor triumph of genre-bending entertainment.
DIR: Dan Turner WRI: Dan Turner PRO: Dean Fisher DOP: Richard Swingle ED: Richard Alderson DES: Mickaela Trodden Cast: Ashley Thomas, David Harewood, Michelle Ryan, Peter Mullan
A rapper by trade, Ashley ‘Bashy’ Thomas is, like Plan B (Ben Drew)
and Adam Deacon before him, also a rising British actor, and The Man
Inside sees him taking on lead duty for the first time following
supporting turns in The Veteran and Noel Clarke’s 184.108.40.206.
In writer-director Dan Turner’s third feature film, following Experiment and Stormhouse, Thomas plays Clayton Murdoch, a young man
who seeks to distance himself from the gangster past of his father
(David Harewood) by channelling his aggression and anger into boxing.
His boxing trainer is Gordon Sinclair (played by the reliably intense
Peter Mullan), who took Clayton under his wing following his father’s
imprisonment, and helped him to avoid falling into the world of crime
and violence that seems particularly prevalent in this area of London.
However, the arrival of Gordon’s daughter, Alexia (Michelle Ryan), an
old schoolmate of his, on top of some threatening behaviour towards
his sister and brother by local thugs, starts to send Clayton
spiralling out of control, and down the same path that his father
travelled many years before. Question is, will he resort to the same
murderous deeds that he witnessed his father engage in or will he see
the light at the end of the tunnel?
Boosted by a strong central performance from Thomas, and good
supporting turns from Mullan and Jenny Jules, as the matriarch of the
Murdoch household, The Man Inside is a well-intentioned and finely
crafted, if not wholly satisfying, urban drama. It is tough and gritty
in all the right places, but the air of familiarity proves to be its
undoing in the end.
The fact that Thomas, as well as Ryan, worked with Noel Clarke on 220.127.116.11 is perhaps not entirely coincidental, as The Man Inside is
similar in ways to the Clarke-scripted Kidulthood and the
Clarke-directed Adulthood, which featured the vocal stylings of Thomas
on its soundtrack.
This in itself is not a major problem, but other contrivances, such as
Ryan’s ‘tart with a heart’ female love interest, take away from some
of the more admirable elements of the film.
There is every possibility that The Man Inside will find a respectable
audience upon its release, and those who do see it will find some form
of emotional resonance in the film’s finale. In his short and
feature-length films to date (as well as in TV series Girl Number 9),
Turner has proven to be an efficient filmmaker, who doesn’t mind
trying his hand at a variety of genres.
Unfortunately, the genre that The Man Inside belongs is one that is in
need of some fresh ideas, and despite the best efforts of all
involved, his film does fall short of providing them.