Review: White Boy Rick

DIR: Yann Demange • WRI: Andy Weiss, Logan Miller, Noah Miller • PRO: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, John Lesher, Jeff Robinov, Julie Yorn • DOP: Tat Radcliffe • ED: Chris Wyatt • DES: Stefania Cella • MUS: Max Richter • CAST: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Matthew McConaughey, Eddie Marsan, Richie Merritt 

In Yann Demange’s sophomore directorial offering, and based on a true story, White Boy Rick explores Detroit’s drug epidemic in the 1980s and the titular Rick’s (Richie Merritt) involvement in the trade. Rick is a fourteen year-old boy with a shrewd sensibility who decides to support his father Rick Sr. (Matthew McConaughey)  selling modified guns to a local drug gang. The gang then take Rick under their wings and dub him ‘White Boy Rick’. With Rick Sr.’s gun transactions catching the attention of the FBI, they decide to utilise Rick in assisting their takedown of the local gang’s drug trade by him becoming an informant.

In his debut film performance as White Boy Rick, Richie Merritt delivers a standout performance that firmly allows you to believe in and root for his character’s respective motivations. Matthew McConaughey is billed as the leading character here; although, his role is more of a supporting one and Merritt is well-equipped to lead this film when the Oscar-winner is not on screen. Both characters work well together and they’ve their own motivations for what they do, but it’s ultimately to support themselves and their sister Dawn (Bel Powley), who is affected by and addicted to the Detroit drug problem. All three characters are in a blue-collar family that are struggling to live and all three have chosen a particular path as their means of survival.

The film captures the harsh environment of the Detroit world the characters live in. The film seems to be in a permanent state of winter and the harsh and cold mise-en-scene is beautifully captured by cinematographer Tat Radcliffe. There is excess with the riches of the drug trade, such as White Boy Rick buying an obnoxiously-gold chain to fit in with the gang, and then there is the severity of the drug problem captured with sequences such as Rick and Rick Sr. removing Dawn from a crack house. A balance is achieved between both but the struggle is not ignored. Rick Sr.’s arms dealing essentially supports criminals, but it is done to support his own family and an optimistic vision of the future. Rick works to support his family too and to ensure Dawn can come home and recover.

Although, the positives of the film are undermined by the unravelling of the film’s final act. The narrative skips past many years at such a rushed rate and any support of Rick’s motivations decreases at a rushed rate too, especially when you consider the character is not fictitious. It’s a pity as Demange managed to create a film that was engaging up to that point and the film fails to have a continued sense of suspense or intrigue like his previous feature ‘71. Eddie Marsan features in an odd cameo role that has an impact on Rick’s narrative in the final act and his appearance carries no weight in what should be more of a significant plot point in altering Rick’s arc. Things like this affect the plot’s progression and is a disappointing way to end a film that could have been great. Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie are included in supporting roles that also offer no significance and both characters could have been removed from the script.

Despite these missteps, White Boy Rick’s solid aspects do make for an enjoyable film. There is an atmospheric soundtrack by Max Richter that efficiently captures the mood of certain sequences and then there are the acting performances themselves. Matthew McConaughey continues to impress with his post-McConaissance roles (although, let’s forget about Dark Tower) and is cementing his status as a bona fide character actor.

Yet, White Boy Rick is all about Richie Merritt as White Boy Rick and the journey he embarks upon growing up in the Detroit of the 1980s. Much like Michael in Frank Berry’s Michael Inside, Rick is a sympathetic character that has to live with the societal struggles he has been raised alongside. Merritt is one to watch and White Boy Rick would have truly suffered without his performance.

Liam Hanlon

110 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
White Boy Rick is released 6th December 2018

 

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Review: Creed II

DIR: Steven Caple Jr.• WRI: • Juel Taylor • PRO: William Chartoff, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King Templeton, Charles Winkler, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler• DOP: Kramer Morgenthau• ED: Dana E. Glauberman, Saira Haider, Paul Harb • DES: Franco-Giacomo Carbone • MUS: Ludwig Göransson • CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren

As a viewer, approaching Creed II with any knowledge of the original Creed is almost unfair. Ryan Coogler’s supreme direction, Maryse Alberti’s superb cinematography and Michael B. Jordan’s powerhouse performance mean that the first Rocky spin-off is a nail-biting rollercoaster of emotion that will have you punching the air as often as Adonis “Donnie” Creed punches a big muscly dude. By rights, Creed II shouldn’t be able to reach the dizzying heights of the first one. And so when it doesn’t, that’s okay. We can’t all be champion of the world.

Indeed, approached independently of Creed, Stephen Caple Jr.’s film makes a good fist of the genre and would rank well among the Rocky franchise. Building upon Creed, it reintroduces more familiar faces from the Rocky universe: Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Adonis’ father, Apollo Creed (in Rocky IV), returns to the American boxing scene after thirty years, with a challenge for Adonis. After Rocky defeated Drago (also in Rocky IV) he found himself ostracised by Russian society. However Drago believes he has now found a way to win favour once again in the shape of his son, heavyweight fighter, Victor (Florian Munteanu).

Now that Adonis has conquered America, it’s only fitting that he take on the wider world; unfortunately the depiction of Eastern Europe feels uncomfortably one-dimensional here, with Russian-American relations almost adorably naive. There are no hackers in sight, but instead it feels as if Russia is still licking its wounds in the aftermath of the Cold War.In fact, any cultural commentary feels wholly undercooked, perhaps because Caple Jr. is uninterested in engaging in such commentary. He instead relies heavily on using familiar faces to create a story about patrimony. As demonstrated in the summary, Creed II is all about fathers and fatherhood, which maybe makes it unsurprising (but no less hilarious) that Stallone tried unsuccessfully to have Apollo return as a ghost to comfort Adonis in a low moment. One wonders whether there was also a “To Punch or Not to Punch” soliloquy that just didn’t make the final cut.

As a story about fathers and sons, Creed II largely works, although it shows the genre limitations when considering how to follow its themes though to their logical conclusions. Much of the film is concerned with choices relating to fatherhood and responsibility: when should a man stop thinking about his own personal victories, and concentrate on his children? While the film may say some interesting things on the subject, it stops short of actually deciding anything. Or to put it another way: in order to follow through on its themes, Creed II would probably have to stop being about boxing. Which, to be fair, is unlikely to happen in a boxing movie.

Nonetheless, Creed II is an enjoyable movie about this sport, which perhaps is all we should demand. The action is tense and visceral. Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson bring great chemistry to their relationship. Despite the veto on the Apollo-ghost scene, one can sense Stallone’s creative control with Rocky getting all the best lines, and admittedly delivering them pretty well. The film never quite finds a consistent tone but it never stops being entertaining either.

 

Sarah Cullen

129 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Creed II is released 30th November 2018

 

 

 

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Review:  Assassination Nation

DIR/WRI: Sam Levinson • PRO: Manu Gargi, Aaron L. Gilbert, Anita Gou, David S. Goyer, Matthew J. Malek, Kevin Turen  DOP: Marcell Rev  ED: Ron Patane  DES: Michael Grasley CAST: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Colman Domingo, Bill Skarsgard

Chaos breaks out in the small American town of Salem after a hacker exposes the secrets of its residents. Bright high-school student, Lily (Young), is ludicrously blamed for the hack, with locals now seeking violent retribution against her. This pits her and her closest friends – Bex (Nef), Sarah (Waterhouse) and Em (Abra) – into a brutal battle for survival.

This unsubtle, highly entertaining and sporadically powerful provocation boasts an excellent premise and a so far under-utilised theme of internet privacy to paint a bleak, angry and satirical portrait of modern-day America. The film, amusingly, opens with a series of ‘trigger warnings’ that include such things as violence, the male gaze and fragile male egos. This is an early indication of the brash, self-conscious brand of satire the film is going for.  

Odessa Young is superb in the lead, essaying with subtlety and charisma, an intelligent young woman, both strong and vulnerable, who remains rationale in a society in chaos. The mob, angry that their dirtiest online secrets have been exposed, need someone to vent their frustrations on. Lily is seen as the prime, easy target because of the leaks exposing her own affair with an older, married man. Of course no blame is attributed to him.

Young is ably supported by a fine supporting cast – Nef being a particular standout. The film is at its best when illustrating the escalating anarchy. However, one can’t help feel that when the violence properly kicks off in the last act, that the film loses some of its satiric edge, to some extent abandoning the frequent smarts that have preceded it to focus on action that seems too glib to be cathartic or meaningful. The foursome’s transformation into gun-toting angels of vengeance seems to happen too suddenly and is presented in too sleek a manner to work on a properly visceral level.

Levinson doesn’t quite hit on the right tone in his attempts at juggling a lot of disparate styles and ideas. There is something that doesn’t quite coalesce in the film’s juxtaposition of the exploitative with the sociological. Also, for a satire, the film occasionally slips in to what feels like an earnestness that doesn’t fit with much of the rest of the film.

Still, this remains a frequently sharp and diverting piece of work. Worth a look.

David Prendeville

108 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Assassination Nation is released 23rd November 2018

 

 

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Review: Suspiria

DIR: Luca Guadagnino • WRI: David Kajganich • DOP: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom • ED: Walter Fasano • DES: Inbal Weinberg • PRO: Bradley J. Fischer, Luca Guadagnino, David Kajganich, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Marco Morabito, William Sherak, Silvia Venturini Fendi • MUS: Thom Yorke • CAST: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick

Luca Guadagnino catapulted to acclaim when he directed the startling coming of age drama Call Me By Your Name, about an American teenager confronting the nature of his sexuality. Suspiria is his eagerly awaited follow up, itself a remake of the cult Dario Argento horror movie. But Guadagnino’s film, by contrast, is a car crash, and not even the lilting beauty of Thom Yorke’s masterful score can save it.

The updated film follows Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) as an addled teen from the American deep south who ventures to Berlin to escape her Christian upbringing and study at the prestigious Markos Dance Acadamy. Suspiria brings us into a duplicitous world where under the exterior of reality lies a menacing truth. It’s a world where fantasy and reality are at odds with one another and where characters are gradually lured further and further into illusion.

Suspiria is a film lost in its own arrogance and ego, and it’s a shame because its impossible not to acknowledge the potential for a really fresh psychological horror film to have been made here. By all accounts, the updated setting of Berlin 1977, and the political and social backdrop of RAF bombing are seriously great ideas, that really could have elevated it from the original Suspiria, but sadly these ideas are never fully utilized. From the very first scene, this is a film that tries to establish itself as an intellectual work or comment, but there’s no authentic connection or any clear thematic throughline, so the movie implodes under the weight of its own self-imposed seriousness. David Kajganich’s script is sprawling and lacks any coherent thematic focus, its a script so overcooked with intellectual ideas that it loses sight of a simpler more honest approach.

In terms of its visual aesthetic Suspiria excels. Shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, whose masterful lighting creates a profound sense of unease and horror. His work is complemented further by the production design by Inbal Weinberg, which really encapsulates that period in post-war Berlin, the cold muted colour palette of Berlin is nothing short of oppressive.

Susie Bannion is played by Dakota Johnson who brings a yearning desire and sexuality to the part. By contrast, Tilda Swinton plays Madame Blanc with an unsettling mix of militant hostility and affection, she also plays Dr. Klemperer and Helena Markos. They’re supported by a highly dynamic and versatile cast, which includes Chloe Grace Moretz and Mia Goth, among others. The performances are highly impressive, at times they’re death-defying and electric, but ultimately the cast is let down by an emotionally stilted script.

Overall, the use of violence is gratuitous and without any merit, had it been in service of a fully developed story and characters it wouldn’t have been an issue, (Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is a great recent example). But there are no real characters here, just flat caricatures sugar-coated with fake blood and overwrought concepts, and no one with a heart that beats could ever really care about them.

At its core its a film about the cost of illusion, and about how our search for meaning and value is often compromised by investing belief in illusions and desires. But ultimately the script is far too muddled to make this clear. The writer and director, seem to have mistaken abstraction for a lack of emotional clarity, this is a false assumption. Ingmar Bergman’s use of abstraction in cinema has never been bettered, he was a genius, and that’s partly because even when he presented us with something that didn’t make logical narrative sense like in Persona, it made clear emotional sense. This inherent understanding is totally missing at the heart of Suspiria, which is why anyone trying to find deep meaning in it should be wary, or at the very least skeptical. Beneath the guise of its own stylized aesthetic, this film struggles to find any real meaning and it does so at the expense of the audience’s engagement. This isn’t some serious comment on feminism, or motherhood or anything else, this is a film so absorbed in the concept of its own greatness, that it loses sight of its own theme, until it withers and dies on screen before us.

Michael Lee

152 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Suspiria s released 16th November 2018

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Review: Widows

 

DIR: Steve McQueen • WRI: Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen • DOP: Sean Bobbitt • ED: Joe Walker • DES: Adam Stockhausen • PRO: Iain Canning, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Emile Sherman, Sue Bruce Smith • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki

Genre and literary forms often don’t mix that well. At least that’s the consensus of snobs and people that think Nicolas Cage’s best film is Leaving Las Vegas. But genre cinema has had a great renaissance recently with the likes of Mandy, The Shape of Water and Mission Impossible: Fallout all being heaped with praise. The more highbrow, literary if you will, form of cinema has always been in good stead. But when mixed together something magical can happen between the two. It depends on who the mixer is but when it’s Steve McQueen magic is almost guaranteed.

So it is with Widows. When four criminals are killed in a police ambush the man they were stealing from, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), approaches their widows to get his money back. Veronica (Viola Davis) the widow of leader Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) approaches the other widows fiery Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), naïve Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and workaholic Belle (Cynthia Erivo) to complete their husbands’ last score. Mixed up in this brutal tale are politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), Jamal’s sadistic brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) and Jack’s aging father Tom (Robert Duvall).

Trauma rests at the heart of McQueen’s films. Whether that trauma consumes its victims or is weaponised by them depends on the film but in Widows it becomes a weapon that often seems to harm both sides. Anyone that knows grief will tell you it is often raw. It can burn like fire, bleed like a wound or chill like ice but it is always there as a blistering, cutting force on the soul. Widows examines it from all angles. Characters often face it as much as they flounder in it. Whether it’s grief over an irreparable relationship, a dead partner or stolen millions. It’s there and it bleeds.

McQueen co-wrote Widows with Gone Girl novelist and screenwriter Gillian Flynn. After Sharp Objects this year Flynn may as well be considered an expert in trauma as a tool in genre. The characters of Veronica and Alice are the strongest with Davis plastering a stony, glamorous veneer over Veronica’s crumbling emotional walls. Debicki meanwhile portrays Alice as a woman thrilled by the newfound power that criminality offers her. The relationships the widows shared with their husbands are outlined in brief scenes that get done in two minutes what most films take two hours to thrash out. All are complex, loving in their own way and all have their problems.

It’s been a bad year for heist films. Den of Thieves tried to do Heat with Gerard Butler, which speaks for itself. Ocean’s 8 was all class and no character. Widows is the late-year entry this genre was desperate for. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt shoots Chicago as a grim, cold, claustrophobic place. Hans Zimmer’s score ratchets up the tension and glimmers with soul. Kaluuya and Henry radiate a sinister silence while Neeson inverts the prototypical tough guy he often plays into a pathetic, broken man.

Widows might not rank highly among McQueen’s fans but it’s the only one of his films I’d consistently watch again as a film fan. It’s a film with plenty of muscle on strong bones and rich blood coursing through its veins. The same things can be said of Hunger or Shame or 12 Years A Slave but it’s hard to watch any of those and come away feeling good. McQueen and Flynn indulge themselves in escapism but Widows never feels less incisive for it. It is a masterful film made by a man at the peak of his powers. It’s not Heat, it’s better.

 

Andrew Carroll

129 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Widows is released 5th November 2018

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Review: The Grinch

DIR: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier • WRI: Michael LeSieur, Tommy Swerdlow • ED: Chris Cartagena • PRO: Janet Healy, Christopher Meledandri • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Angela Lansbury

 

Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures, the team behind the box office phenomenon that is the Despicable Me franchise, have joined forces again to create a new adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. The Grinch is a new animated retelling of the story of the Grinch and his hatred of Christmas. He lives with his loyal dog Max in the isolation of Mount Crumpet and stockpiles enough food to avoid entering the local town of Whoville; a town that fully endorses the celebration of Christmas and the spreading of Christmas cheer. The Grinch is “a mean one” and his miserable cynical contempt of Christmas results in a significant disliking of the Whos of Whoville, who are planning to celebrate Christmas three times larger than previous years. Hearing this information, the Grinch decides to become an anti-Santa Claus and ruin Christmas morning for the Whos by stealing their presents. Although, Cindy Lou, a young Whoville resident trying to ask the real Santa to help her mother, may be the key in reversing the Grinch’s festive outlook.

The Grinch adheres to the original storyline of the Dr. Seuss book, and the 2000 live-action adaptation How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but the animation here is so strong that it will surely revitalize the story for younger audience members. The computer-generated animation is very impressive and it brings the story to life in a manner the live-action version couldn’t. There are textures here that look extremely life-like, such as the fur on Max the dog or the film’s mise-en-scene that contains many scenic landscapes that appear real. The bright colours will also hold the attention of younger viewers and The Grinch is a film that should be enjoyed by this demographic. There are beats that will be appreciated more by this audience and the characterisation of the Grinch is more tame compared to Jim Carrey’s Grinch, which bordered on disturbing, especially with Carrey’s excessive scenery-chewing.

The film’s supporting characters also offer lots of fun, such as Max the dog and Fred the reindeer, whose heavy appearance looks like he “ate all of the other reindeer”. Kenan Thompson enthusiastically voices Bricklebaum, a Who who is too nice for the Grinch to comprehend, and Cindy Lou (Cameron Seely) is a determined child that other children should respect whilst seeing the film. The Mayor of Whoville is voiced by the iconic Angela Lansbury, which older viewers should appreciate. Yet, as its his character’s film, Benedict Cumberbatch sounds like an odd vocal casting decision for the character. His accent is somewhat dubious at times and it could have been amped up to a Jim Carrey-esque level. The Grinch’s Grinch is toned down to an almost-human level throughout the film in comparison to the live-action version and it might be another factor in appealing to the film’s primary young audience.

However, The Grinch strays far away from the middling live-action version and the team behind animated successes such as Sing and Minions took the right decision to choose animation as the outlet to retell this beloved Dr. Seuss story. Older viewers may not appreciate the film as much as younger viewers, but The Grinch is not too cutesy and it has just the right amount of Christmas charm to go along with and enjoy its festive fun.

 

Liam Hanlon

89 minutes
G (see IFCO for details)
The Grinch is released 9th November 2018

 

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Review: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

DIR/WRI: Gus Van Sant • DOP: Christopher Blauvelt • ED: David Marks, Gus Van Sant • PRO: Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Mourad Belkeddar, Brett Cranford, Steve Golin, Nicolas Lhermitte • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara

Barreling down boulevards as if a deranged dodgem on the lam, skipping curbs, stubbing toes, just the sight of orange hair skating over the horizon was enough to make any pedestrian cross the road.  With four wheels pointed straight and a joystick stuck in accelerate John Callahan made his name from spinning wheels and rolling eyes.  And like how he charged his wheelchair through Portland’s populated pavements, his satirical cartoons never put on the brakes.  With acerbic wit nipping all in his path, from clergymen to the Klan, no one was safe when there was a marker in hand.

When it came time to tell his story, it was Robin Williams who first optioned Callahan’s autobiography – from which the film takes its title – in 1998.  With Williams to play the lead and Van Sant on board to adapt/direct, the idea seemed the perfect follow-up to the mainstream success of Good Will Hunting (1997).  But as years turned into decades and drafts turned into more drafts the project never left the page.  Following the deaths of Williams and Callahan himself in 2010 there seemed little hope for the biopic to ever get made.  That was until Amazon Studios picked it up after Joaquin Phoenix was brought in to don the tangerine fringe.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot follows the artist from his giddy days as a Portland layabout, guzzling gin and chasing girls, only to have his life severely altered after a car crash left him quadriplegic at the age of 21. The rest of the film trails Callahan’s rocky road to sobriety, loosely framing the action around the AA 12 step program.  The resulting film is a sweet, surprisingly sober and somewhat patchy affair where strong performances are hampered by an underwhelming script stuck between two tones.

Van Sant’s directing style has always lent itself well to performances and here is no different.  Actors are given the space to skip through scenes with a refreshing playfulness, making it hard not to let out the occasional smile.  The same spirit carries over to the camerawork which gently shuffles through Portland’s nestled curiosities, giving the film a great sense of place.  And while although predominantly set in the ’70s, the movie never strains itself in reminding us.  Where other films are too busy shoehorning an era’s cultural cliches into view, Don’t Worry… paints a clearer picture by subtler means, from costumes to camera zooms we get to soak in the senses of time.

It’s a shame then that the film never feels comfortable in how to handle its story.  Straddling between moments of irreverence and sentiment we find a film struggling to find its voice.  We get the sense Van Sant is more interested in sifting through the familiar routines of recovery then exploring an artist at odds with civility.  The worst instance being the introduction of Annu, (Rooney Mara) appearing almost as an hallucination of delicate divinity – think Florence Nightingale with a dab of the Virgin Mary – there purely to pluck our protagonist from his post-operative blues.  The dark delights of Callahan’s scribbled anarchy seem diluted in convention, becoming a footnote to surrounding emotional hurdles.

The film excels through its performances where Phoenix effortlessly tumbles through countless emotional states, from anguish to forgiveness, dippy, dumb and daft, it’s a home-brewed charm both restless and skillful.  The supporting cast too boasts a collection of colourful characters, take Callahan’s fellow AA members, from Beth Ditto to the ever eerily enchanting Udo Kier, we see a sideshow unhinged in all the right places.  But it’s Jonah Hill who gives the most memorable performance as Donnie, Callahan’s sponsor turned quasi guru.  It’s quite a new look, with honey coated hair and a penchant for finer things the actor echoes a saintly Tom Petty, wafting through scenes with a tender glow.  In fact, the moments he shares with Phoenix are some of the film’s best.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot has all the pieces in the right place but nowhere to go.  What we get is a rather sanitized account, though sweet and well intentioned one can’t help but feel for what could have been given the right screenplay.  For a film that champions the contrarian, its form seems perfectly content to follow the current.  Notorious among locals for bombing down streets and veering across avenues, here Callahan’s story has been fitted with stabilizers as we soon find ourselves being steered by a pair of safe hands.

 

Brian Quinn

114 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is released 15th October 2018

 

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Review: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

DIR: Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston • WRI: Ashleigh Powell • DOP: Linus Sandgren • ED: Stuart Levy • DES: Guy Hendrix Dyas • PRO: Larry Franco, Lindy Goldstein, Mark Gordon • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms borrows its style from other Disney films, namely Beauty and the Beast (the live-action version) and The Santa Clause 2. Both of which were better films than this one. It opens on a family, dealing with the loss of the matriarch, the father (Matthew Macfadyen) not quite knowing how to manage three children. Macfadyen is great playing the awkward, lost, stiff-upper-lip father, his expressions alone tell a story; it’s a pity he wasn’t in the film more.

Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is the most difficult; fiery, quick-witted, and utterly self-absorbed, she challenges her father in a way her sister and brother do not. On Christmas Eve, Clara happens upon an unknown world, one which she just happens to be the princess of. Her mother left her a gift that would lead her to a place where she could finally come of age.

The world is straight out of a fairy tale. There are four realms (the land of sweets, flowers, snowflakes, and amusements, or the fourth realm) and the first three are at a kind of ‘Cold War’ with the fourth. Clara is the chosen saviour to try bring peace to all four realms, and attempt to save them from the looming villain, Mother Ginger (the ruler of the land of amusements) played by Helen Mirren, who is severely underused. Keira Knightley is effective, and there’s an interesting twist to her character, Sugarplum. Clara is quite selfish, and for the most part does not take full responsibility for her actions. It feels like Disney are trying to give us a modern, decisive princess, but instead deliver a spoilt child.

Unfortunately, most characters are lacking in any real depth, and any of the characters who showed a hint of real promise are not on screen enough. It comes across as too simple and childish; don’t get me wrong, I generally love Disney films, be they live-action or animated, but The Nutcracker just didn’t do it for me.

However, despite the story’s lack, the score was beautiful. The use of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker tune, and the interweaving of ballet into the story was very clever; always giving a nod towards the inspiration. The costumes were elaborate and ornate, particularly Clara’s ‘soldier’ outfit, and they matched the overall style of the film. The CGI worked well, and the colours of the film lent to its Christmas feel.

Children will love The Nutcracker for its visual spectacle and the parable-like lesson that can be learned from it (looks can be deceiving), but for the adults, there isn’t really much here.

This is not a Disney film I would rush to the cinema to see.

Shauna Fox

99 minutes
PG (see IFCO for details)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is released 2nd November 2018

 

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Review: Dogman 

DIR: Matteo Garrone • WRI: Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso • DOP: Nicolai Brüel • ED: Marco Spoletini • DES: Dimitri Capuani • PRO: Paolo Del Brocco, Matteo Garrone, Jean Labadie, Alessio Lazzareschi, Jeremy Thomas • MUS: Michele Braga • CAST: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak

 

A decade after his breakthrough mafia movie, Gomorrah, Matteo Garrone has once again created an intense illustration of moral corruption by violence and greed. Garrone’s Palme d’Or nominated Dogman is a mysterious character study of one seemingly average man’s catastrophic spiral into crime.

Our hero, although it is a struggle to identify him as such, is Marcello. He is a well-liked dog groomer in a town that appears to be crumbling around him. Marcello, whimsically portrayed by Marcello Fonte, is a small and sweet-natured, man who prides himself on his good reputation and work ethic. He is a man with little joy other than the love of his daughter and the dogs that he cares for. The claustrophobic and colourless atmosphere is seldom broken during the film. Yet even during the brief moments of relief from the film’s heavy mood − a dog-grooming competition, a diving holiday with his daughter − a sense of anxiety and dissatisfaction seeps in.

Fonte, who took home the award for best actor at Cannes for his performance, is the ideal caricature of a meek and mild-mannered man. His slim frame and exaggerated features lend themselves to a naturally comic air. In the opening scene, he gingerly washes a ferociously aggressive dog with a rag on a long pole. It is a charmingly funny introduction to Marcello’s endlessly patient and warm character that also foreshadows his delicate and submissive relationship with the antagonist, Simone. This style of almost vaudevillian slapstick humour induces a good giggle, which playfully clashes with the grim setting of the story and the violence that the film descends into.

Marcello lives in a decaying seaside town on the outskirts of Rome. The landscape is so desolate and bleak that it verges on post-apocalyptic. Furthermore, the neighbourhood is tormented by the aforementioned Simone, a tyrannical brute played by Edoardo Pesce. The din of his motorcycle engine, like the ominous roar of a monster from a child’s nightmare, warns that evil is closing in on Marcello. And Simone truly is nothing short of a nightmare. The thug is a former boxer and cokehead that we learn early on gets much of his supply from Marcello. He is a wild feral creature with no morality or sense of honour to speak of, yet the two men share an inexplicable bond.

Marcello’s weak personality is unable to fight against Simone’s alpha dominance. He is completely submissive, allowing Simone away without paying for his drugs and is bullied by him into dangerous, illegal situations without reward. His feeble attempts to stand up to Simone result in further bullying and intimidation. Marcello treats Simone like one of the difficult, mean dogs he has to groom. He can tame any dog with treats − cocaine in Simone’s case −  and patience, yet Simone is seemingly untameable. Some dogs are just bad and some people are just no good. Marcello, however, is neither good nor bad. He is a decent man who doesn’t stand in the way of bad things happening. He is a passive passenger on his own journey to ruin.

Dogman is a wonderfully performed and beautifully composed piece of work. Marcello is the underdog who waits too long to find his bite or his bark. His motivation at times is frustratingly unclear and his loss of morality and sense of greed is unjustified and unsatisfactory. Then, when he finally does try to assert some dominance over the Alpha, he remains a cowardly chihuahua of a man.

Hannah Lemass

106 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Dogman is released 19th October 2018

 

 

 

 

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Review: Halloween

 

DIR: David Gordon Green • WRI: David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley • DOP: Michael Simmonds • ED: Timothy Alverson • DES: Richard A. Wright • PRO: Malek Akkad, Laura Altmann, Bill Block, Jason Blum • MUS: Cody Carpenter, John Carpenter, Daniel A. Davies • CAST: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak

 

What has happened to our fresh-faced franchises that filled us with hope? Has Father Time turned us all into cynics? I don’t know to be quite frank, but I couldn’t think of any other way of segueing into my observation that David Gordon Green’s Halloween is only the second time that we have recently encountered an L. S. who has become embittered, misanthropic and estranged from their community in a remote hermitage (although this time it’s not off the west coast of Ireland) decades after the last time we saw them. Laurie Strode/Luke Skywalker – coincidence? Yeah, probably.

It’s forty years since the infamous Haddonfield murder spree in which Michael Myers murdered Laurie Strode’s friends and forced her to fight for her life. Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle have returned to reprise their roles, with James Jude Courtney performing Myers’ stunts. Still under lock and key, Myers is soon to be transferred to a new, more secure, institution. He has refused to utter a word in four decades, much to the curiosity of Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), successor to the now deceased Dr. Loomis, and the frustration of the investigative journalists (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) that have come to interview him. Unable to gain any insight, the journalists turn instead to Laurie who is almost as tight-lipped about the events. Recognising the significance of the upcoming date and his transfer, Laurie attempts to impress the seriousness of the situation onto her family – her estranged daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Alyson (Andi Matichak).

The new instalment is at its most interesting when examining the trauma that Laurie has battled with throughout her adult life. The echoes of the ongoing #MeToo movement can be seen as Curtis plays her elusive “final girl” as a battle-hardened survivor who has had to sacrifice relationships in order to maintain her grip on the world around her.

Returning to the franchise that spawned the slasher genre, it would perhaps be difficult to avoid meta commentary, and Green chooses to address the wider mythos of the franchise head on. Laurie and Myers’ siblingship, which was a revelation at the end of Halloween 2 and was felt to be a misstep by Carpenter himself – who has returned as creative adviser – has been retconned (something which the movie rushes to make clear). The film also seems to be rejecting the notion that Myers’ actions can ever be understood: lampooning the current obsession in popular culture for true crime, the two investigative journalists prove more interested in provoking Myers and Laurie than documenting them.

While there is lots to admire in the latest instalment, certain aspects also feel a little undercooked. Thanks to a lot of shifting in focus, the film takes a long time to find its feet. The central premise is compelling and makes for a suspense-filled romp, with the inevitable final showdown between Laurie and Michael both chilling and thrilling. Both the directorial team and the protagonist make great use of Laurie’s survivalist retreat, employing metallic shutters to slowly close down extraneous rooms, reducing the space between hero and villain as it draws towards the film’s inevitable conclusion. Yet one almost wishes that this compartmentalising could have started sooner, quite simply because other aspects of the movie feel somewhat tacked-on and insubstantial. Several set-pieces appear to be there as call-backs to the original film, and in particular Allyson’s high-school storyline could be removed wholesale while retaining the same plot. There’s certainly an argument to be had that Halloween is paying homage to what has come before it with these elements, but one also can’t help wondering if they couldn’t just be a bit more ambitious or creative while doing so.

Overall Halloween is certainly worth a watch for horror fans. In particular the excellent en media res suburban scenes of trick-or-treaters blithely skipping past Michael Myers as he goes murdering from house to house are a great call-back to the original movie and still highly evocative. There is plenty of tension and terror to be found: from the get-go, the opening credits are a stark reminder of just how spine-chilling Carpenter’s score is even four decades on, and Michael Myers unrelenting pace and cold-blooded killing still disturbs. So give yourself a treat this Halloween, and go see this bag of tricks.

Sarah Cullen

106 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Halloween is released 19th October 2018

 

 

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Review: Night School

DIR: Malcolm D. Lee • WRI: Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matthew Kellard, Nicholas Stoller, John Hamburg • DOP: Greg Gardiner • ED: Paul Millspaugh • DES: Keith Brian Burns • PRO: Kevin Hart MUS: David Newman • CAST: Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Taran Killam

 

“What’s happening?”

“Pubes and racism”

This dialogue, prompted by an uncomfortable and farcical exchange at a fancy restaurant, captures the essence of Night School in a nutshell. It is a film made up of silly scenarios patched together to tell the story of Teddy Walker, top salesperson at BBQ City and boyfriend to financially independent and high-flyer, Lisa. Teddy must attend night school, where he encounters an ensemble of misfit adult-classmates, a no-nonsense teacher and a school principal with whom he has a troubled history, to pass the GED exams he failed to sit as a teenager. The narrative unfolds with a light, but deliberate eye on racist behaviour and prejudices.

Malcolm D. Lee’s follow up to Girls Trip begins in Atlanta, 2001, as a teenage Teddy defiantly refuses to take his exams in an apparent act of nonconformity. Fast-forward to the present day and Teddy’s inability to obtain any qualifications has not hindered his success or happiness. That is until, following a series of misfortunes, he finds himself unemployed and thus, jeopardising his future with his girlfriend Lisa. Unbeknownst to her, he enrols in a night school so that he can pass his GED and qualify for a new job that will allow him to live the life of abundance that he has been masquerading to her.

It becomes apparent early on that the narrative relies upon Teddy misinterpreting the nature of his own relationship with Lisa as he feels incapable of sustaining it without playing the role of provider. He demonstrates elements of fragile masculinity as he attempts to hold on to an outdated understanding of gender roles. This compromises the credibility of the relationship, a crucial component for the film’s narrative to function. Additionally, the relationship loses prominence in the film’s narrative, coming secondary to Teddy’s experiences at night school, therefore rendering his reason for enrolling in it virtually immaterial. The narrative is taken over by episodic sequences which are largely played out for their own sake as opposed to contributing to the narrative.

Carrie, Teddy’s tough-love teacher, plays well in contrast with the protagonist. She is introduced as a potential sparring partner for Teddy as they first encounter each another side-by-side at traffic lights. Carrie’s willingness to take him into her class after their initial encounter is an incompatible act when compared with her character’s previous behaviour. There is a lack of consistency in this character as her point-of-view seems to fluctuate throughout the film. However, she provides a much-needed grounding in the midst of the off-the-wall night-school students and her investment in Teddy’s learning potential is vital for the narrative to advance, in spite of it seeming unlikely.

In a film that strives on a series of wholesome hijinks, Teddy’s attitude and actions makes it challenging to be on his side. Perhaps being sandwiched between two strong, female characters makes it difficult to root for Teddy as the film’s protagonist which, all-in-all, is a positive complaint to have.

Overall, Night School is full to the brim of gags and goofy antics but a lack of empathy for the characters whose motivations are inconsistent and sometimes flawed means that the comedy is not always effective.

Siomha McQuinn

111 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Night School is released 28th September 2018
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Review: Mandy

DIR: Panos Cosmatos• WRI: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn • DOP: Benjamin Loeb • ED: Brett W. Bachman, Paul Painter • DES: Hubert Pouille • PRO: Nate Bolotin, Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Elijah Wood • MUS: Jóhann Jóhannsson • CAST: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

 

There are very few actors out there – especially former Oscar winners – that you could get to do what Nicolas Cage does in Mandy. From crushing skulls to lighting a cigarette off a burning severed head to snorting cocaine off a shard of glass, Cage does it all and more. But Mandy is not just a movie destined to be confined to the midnight-movie circuit. It makes you wait for its mind-bending visuals and grindhouse violence. It’s to director Panos Cosmatos’ credit that Mandy never falters in its singular but multi-faceted and surreal vision. Beyond the blood and bone there’s something almost tender that barely any other movie of this kind can boast.

Lumberjack Red (Nicolas Cage) lives a life of solitude with his girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) in the Shadow Mountains in 1983. Surrounded by high peaks and tall pines they enjoy a peaceful existence only occasionally upset by both characters’ past traumas. On her way to work one day Mandy draws the interest of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a failed musician and leader of the Children of the New Dawn – a Manson-esque cult. The cult kidnaps Mandy, and Red embarks on a blood-crazed, cocaine fuelled revenge quest.

Mandy is about two hours long and it takes about half of that time to really get going. Cosmatos uses that time to lower the audience steadily into the world he’s dreamed up. The most common colour of the film is red from the crimson filters on camera lenses at the beginning to the blood that oozes, gushes and spurts in the second half of the film. Neon green alludes to the fantastical imaginings of Mandy as well as to the crazed bikers Sand commands later on. Colour abounds in Mandy and it is helped along by the grainy, pulpy look of the film itself as if it was shot on actual film reel. Brief animation segments raise their heads and so too does a mac ‘n’ cheese ad featuring a puppet goblin that vomits the cheesy goo. Rather than distract, these brief segments add to the ’80s feel of the film that never falls into homage or pastiche.

Cage and Riseborough’s performances could take place at any time realistically but the 1980s timeframe suits these characters and their actions within it. When Mandy at last revs into full gear it never really lets up until the credits roll. Red crafts a battle axe of solid, shining steel; picks up a crossbow from ’80s character actor Bill Duke (Commando, Predator) and then Red goes to war. In the last hour of the film Red sets a tiger free, shoves the shaft of his axe down a man’s throat and fights a chainsaw duel in a quarry. All lit by what seem to be the blood red fires of hell and scored to Jóhan Jóhannsson’s final score. The music throbs, swells and rumbles as Cage slices, roars and howls his way through the movie.

It can be hard to empathise with Nicolas Cage. His most insane roles have often found him playing barely likeable lunatics but with Mandy it’s pretty easy. A scene in the bathroom soon after Mandy’s kidnap has Cage howling and shrieking in feral animal pain. He swigs from a bottle of vodka and roars out all the pain and misery Red is afflicted with. If this is the only truly empathetic Nicolas Cage performance that is also the most insane Nicolas Cage performance than I think that Cage can count himself among the world’s greatest actors, living or dead. In a similar way – by virtue of being so committed to its fantastical world and nightmarish visuals – Mandy can count itself as one of the best grindhouse films ever made.

 

 Andrew Carroll

121 minutes
Mandy is released 12th October 2018

 

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Review: First Man

DIR: Damien Chazelle • WRI: Josh Singer • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Jay Cassidy • DES: Karen Murphy • PRO: Marty Bowen, Damien Chazelle, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner • MUS: Justin Hurwitz • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke

Truth be told, LA LA Land never did it for me. Sing Street was a better musical. In fact, there’s a chant in the middle of this film that is catchier than anything in Chazelle’s preceding musical.

However, as a filmmaker, he is undoubtedly testing himself and here we get to see if he has the right stuff to tackle the NASA program to get a man on the moon. The answer comes back firmly in the affirmative. This handsome, thoughtful film is no jingoistic or romanticised account. Indeed, the film does its utmost to strip any veneer of glamour from the process.

To that end; earth-shattering mission decisions are related in anonymous bathrooms. Major selections for seats on a shuttle result in the briefest of smiles rather than high fives. Stoic resolve seems to be the strongest response to both success and failure. The film is so reserved, so ready to eschew the big moment that I wondered would it end before the most famous quote of all.

Opening with a nerve-jangling sequence as a high altitude test of Armstrong’s threatens to maroon him in space,  First Man  is at its best in stressing the stress these astronauts were under and indeed the stress these almost primitive ships endured. At certain points, as capsules rattle, vibrate and tumble; the thinness of the line between life and death is astoundingly clear. The biggest leap in space travel seems to have been the leap of faith by these men to climb inside these claustrophobic tin machines in the first places.

Yet the film’s central thesis may just be that men can’t be machines. In its depiction of Neil Armstrong, the film zeroes in on the loss of a child early in his marriage as a key driving force.  Indeed, the shadow of death hangs over the entire picture like a fickle finger. In the lead role, Ryan Gosling dials back his innate charisma to heighten his intensity. Humour isn’t entirely absent but most of it here is close to professional gallows humour, considering the lives lost in the pursuit of what seemed an often impossible goal. It qualifies as brave to keep things this grounded when dealing with the loftiest ambitions mankind has ever had.

In an era and arena dominated by male presences, Chazelle and writer Josh Singer seem at pains to have a strong female role. And though Claire Foy is superbly committed and tangibly real as Janet , you can feel the film battling to include her. Yet often leaving her with little to do but wander dark halls after her children. There is one barnstorming visit to mission control but one suspects it’s as much a moment for the trailer and award ceremonies as the film.

Chazelle’s evolution as a filmmaker is best exemplified in how he deals with a horrific fire within a shuttle while locked in place on the pad. His decision not to depict or dwell on these horrific details is hugely mature. Instead, he allows the simple puffing of a sealed metal door to say it all. There is also a queasy dedication to close-ups intended to surely mirror an astronaut’s narrow field of vision. And remind an audience that the length and breadth and glory of space is mostly experienced not in some widescreen format but from cramped confines and iced windows.

Exuding a nervous, jittery energy throughout, the film will surely feature prominently at the Oscars on the technical side, with sound awards a near certainty. Other wins will surely hinge on whether audiences warm up to the fascinatingly cool film.

Tough. Tender. Terrific. First Man is a real five-star trip to the stars.

James Phelan

141 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
First Man is released 12th October 2018

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Review: Venom

DIR: Ruben Fleischer • WRI: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Jay Cassidy • DES: Karen Murphy • PRO: Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Matt Tolmach • CAST: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed

The titular creature in Venom is a lot like the film itself: it wants to have its liver and eat it too.

Tom Hardy stars as Tim Pool-esque journalist, Eddie Brock. His life is good. He hosts his own show and is engaged to high-profile lawyer, Anne (Michelle Williams, having thankfully more fun and stuff to do than the typical love interest). However, when told to shoot a puff piece on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the founder of the Life Foundation – rumoured to be testing illegally on humans and being represented in court by his fiancée – he instead makes a scene getting himself and Anne fired.

However, a few months later, Brock is approached by Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate), a whistle-blower from Life who tells the journalist everything he accused Drake of is true. Breaking into the company’s property, he becomes infected with Venom – a malevolent alien goo which gives him super strength.

For the first forty minutes of the film, Venom is very entertaining. It takes its time establishing Brock as a lovable loser, someone who acts first and thinks later and can’t recognise how great things are until they slip away. It’s fun to see Hardy play a character who comes across like a drunker, more bumbling version of Mark Ruffalo’s Spotlight hero. Meanwhile, the relationships Brock has with the homeless woman on his street (PTA regular Melora Walters!) and the owner of grocery store he frequents often (Peggy Lu) are charming, feeling like the intimate small-scale world building one would see on Netflix’s Daredevil.

The pacing is strong during this section with the events leading Hardy to become infused with Venom ringing true. Meanwhile, the portion of the movie whereby Brock is sick but doesn’t realise he has an alien parasite in him are really strange and funny, feeling like the perversely entertaining creature flick Hardy and director Ruben Fleischer promised. He eats frozen chicken tenders and literal trash. Still not satisfied, he goes into the restaurant where his ex and her new boyfriend (Reid Scott) are dining and bites the heads off lobsters in a scene worthy of the price of admission.

However, whereas one wants the film to stay at this smaller, intimate level, with a budget of $100 million and pressure for this to be the first in Sony’s rival MCU, the movie succumbs to many of the problems with superhero flicks, most notably weightless CGI and a bland villain.

Fleischer just doesn’t have the directing chops to make two glops of black goo with teeth flicking at each other exciting or tangible in anyway – which unfortunately is much of the movie’s second half.

Also, Riz Ahmed in the stronger early portion of the movie comes across as a realistic, complex villain – who truly believes what he is doing is not only correct but has to be done. However, the plot mechanics to get him infected with other alien goo are very creaky. Meanwhile, once he does, viewers lose all interest in him as a character as he turns into a very generic baddie.

Instead of spending $100 million, one wishes Sony had given a promising filmmaker $10 million. That way they could make the weird creature movie Hardy is clearly interested in without having to homogenise and dull it in the way one must if they want to gross $300 million at the box-office. For example, look at Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade, another sci-fi about a Tom Hardy lookalike who becomes infused with a villainous inner voice driving him to kill. It cost $4 million, is set in the future and is not only a better Venom movie, it looks better.

Still, Venom is not the failure people predicted. It’s nowhere near the level of 2015’s Fantastic Four or even 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and the bits that were cringey in the trailer play much better in the film with context. For the most part, Venom is very watchable and in some sections goddamn delightful. Yet, these moments make one wish the movie was better as a whole.

Stephen Porzio

112 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Venom is released 3rd October 2018

 

 

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Review: The Gospel According to André

DIR: Kate Novack • WRI: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters • DOP: Bryan Sarkinen • ED: Andrew Coffman, Thomas Rivera Montes •  PRO: Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi • MUS: Ian Hultquist, Sofia Hultquist • CAST: André Leon Talley, Manolo Blahnik, Naomi Campbell 

 

On the surface, The Gospel According to André appears to be a retrospective documentary surrounding André Leon Talley, an ebullient and extravagant figure within the fashion world since the 1970s. He’s worked alongside Andy Warhol for Interview magazine; styled Met Gala gowns for Diana Vreeland; became editor-at-large for US Vogue under Anna Wintour’s reign. Yet, this documentary offers far more than a generic fly-on-the-wall exploration of the fashion world and André Leon Talley’s significant involvement in it.

Raised in a racially-segregated North Carolina, Talley was reared by his strict grandmother, who enforced strict morals, which he later adopted in his own approach to his career. A young Talley spent time as a youth in the local library reading editions of Vogue that assisted in igniting a love for fashion and it delighted and encouraged him, as a black person, to see pictures of black models being celebrated in the fashion world. He became obsessed with fashion and high societies of the past aspiring “to be like the people who dared to be daring”. The documentary then allows us to see how he progressed from his college days experimenting with his image to becoming a forerunner of fashion writing and styling at Vogue, and within fashion itself.

Instead of retrospectively examining the career moves Talley made, director Kate Novack explores the theme of race and racial injustice within Talley’s life. He is a flamboyantly-dressed gay black man and he’s separated him from the conservative world he originally belonged to. Talley mentions how his mother refused to walk into their church together on a Sunday morning as a result of a cape he wore and he became an opposing figure within an already-segregated community. He then also experienced being considered a “black buck” or called “Queen Kong” by established fashion professionals, as he felt they saw him as someone who whored and slaved his way to where he is today due to being a black man.

More positively, Novack explores where Talley has used previous racial injustices and utilised them to create a more prosperous image of black culture. There is a segment where we see a Vogue editorial from Talley where he twists the characters in Gone with the Wind and uses fashion to create an alternate film dubbed ‘Scarlett in the Hood’, with Naomi Campbell styled as a black Scarlett O’Hara and with white people representing the servants. We also see Talley discuss how Yves Saint Laurent deriving inspiration for a collection from a song popular within black culture emotionally resonated with Talley and he was proud that African American people were further represented on runways and in magazines.

The documentary itself is a conventional one with a mixture of observational and archival footage and with pieces-to-camera from established fashion industry notables such as Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, and Anna Wintour. They speak of his profound influence within fashion and Anna Wintour claims she needed him alongside her at Vogue as her fashion knowledge was far inferior to his. The conventionality of the documentary’s production is not replicated thematically and Talley is an erudite figure who speaks of his life as a black person, as well as someone working in fashion. With the documentary based in 2016 around the time of Trump’s election win, there is an effective political charge here that works within the documentary’s overall narrative.

Audiences might expect a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the fashion industry seen in documentaries such as The September Issue or The First Monday in May, or just to simply voyeuristically explore the hyper-reality of the fashion world. From his own gospel, André Leon Talley is too savvy and intelligent to create such a documentary. Here he proves he has substance behind the style.

Liam Hanlon

93 minutes
The Gospel According to André is released 5th October 2018

 

 

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Review : Faces, Places

DIR/WRI: Agnès Varda, JR • PRO: Rosalie Varda • ED: Maxime Pozzi-Garcia, Agnès Varda • MUS: Matthieu Chedid • CAST: Agnès Varda, JR

This September the IFI hosted an Agnès Varda retrospective which provided audiences with the chance to dive back into the works of this pioneering new wave female director. This retrospective was no doubt sparked by the filmmaker’s latest addition to the excellent collection of films she already has under her belt. Faces, Places is a docu-travelogue which follows the dynamic and nomadic duo of 88 year old Agnès and JR, a 33 year old photographer. The duo embark on a meandering escapade through the lesser known regions of France in search of the faces and places that are being erased from the landscape of modern day life in France.

The film touches on many different ideas; it is a film about discovery, curiosity, stories, communication and the power of art. The overall aim of the duo’s shared project is to seek out the underrepresented people that they come across in their travels and give them the chance to be noticed and heard. One of the strongest aspects of this film is its ability to demonstrate the number of different ways that art can take effect. Essentially from village to village, JR plasters giant murals of these everyday people, stirring up a range of reactions and responses. These giant murals act to unify the people who inhabit these places, to pay homage to their lives and achievements in a world that may no longer support their way of life. While art can be used to remember and represent, it can also be employed innovatively to break through barriers and express the unspoken. Above all, the medium of art in this film gives people a voice.

Tradition and memory are significant themes which re-occur throughout the film, illustrated most clearly when Agnès and JR visit an old mining village in North France. Members of the community gather to tell their stories and document this way of life that is no more, with the exception of one solitary inhabitant who will not let go. On a street of former miner workers homes, one lady will not leave her residence, cherishing her past and doggedly holding onto her memories. Mining would have been an arduous way to make a living yet this community laments the past. Village members gather together in a shared reverence at the murals of former miners as they are plastered across this block of homes. Most touching perhaps is the mural of the last remaining inhabitant, she is at a loss for words and close to tears when her mural is unveiled. This is art that gives hope and spreads joy, celebrating and recognising a life lived.

While on the one hand art can be used to record, it can also be used to start a conversation and draw attention to the people that need to be noticed. JR and Agnès move on from miners to dockers and, significantly, Agnès chooses to shine a light on the dockers’ wives instead of the work men. We meet three dockers’ wives and they are given the opportunity to tell their stories. Shipping docks are piled high up into the air- with these three women’s large scale portraits plastered on- they stand tall and their images are dominant in a male dominated world.

Although the film gives a voice to some of the sadness that is present in sleepy rural towns with diminishing ways of life, the film is ultimately one of discovery and is often joyful. Two of the most heart-warming moments of sheer joy come in the form of JR wheeling Agnès through the Louvre in a wheelchair – an abandon to impulsivity and an appreciation of beauty. Another visual treat which stood out was the idea to photograph each village member of a small town with a baguette covering their mouths- collectively making a mural of one tiny village consuming one very large baguette. This could be seen as a return to basics by getting a community to really break bread together. On one particular location in which the duo has completed a wall mural someone simply asks them why they want to do this. Agnès’ response that it celebrates the power of imagination puts an important emphasis on something that we have mostly forgotten the importance and effect of: the joy of art and creativity.

Overall, this film is one of a kind and a joy to watch. It is a film that shows the wonder that stems from slowing down and noticing the people around you. Agnès and JR are united by their passion for adventure and belief that there is always someone somewhere to be discovered with a story to tell. Visually, this movie is a discovery of the pockets of beauty and life that lie in the lesser known parts of France, brought to life by this unique pair.

Irene Falvey

93 minutes
PG (see IFCO for details)
Faces, Places is released 14th September 2018

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Review: A Star Is Born

DIR: Bradley Cooper • WRI: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Jay Cassidy • DES: Karen Murphy • PRO: Bradley Cooper, Bill Gerber, Lynette Howell Taylor, Jon Peters, Todd Phillips • CAST: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott

In his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper turns his attention towards the third remake of A Star Is Born, which was originally released in 1937, with a remake starring Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, and then a Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson-starring remake in 1976. 2018’s version stars Cooper himself as country blues singer Jackson Maine, who drinks his way through his live performances and life itself. En route home from a performance, he runs out of drink and stops at the nearest bar. There he sees Ally (played by the artistically-ambidextrous Lady Gaga) emerge behind the curtains to perform a rousing rendition of ‘La Vie en Rose’, which immediately grasps his attention.

Ally and Jackson then go off into the night, where Ally is taken aback by Jackson’s fame, and the public intrusion associated with fame. She punches a selfie-seeking policeman and Ally and Jackson run to a supermarket, and with a bag of frozen peas on her wrist, Jackson explores Ally’s musical aspirations. “I think you might be a songwriter” Jackson says to Ally, much like a ‘manic pixie dream boy’. The pair’s relationship blossoms musically and romantically and Jackson’s career has been boosted and Ally’s career has emphatically kick-started. However, Jackson’s career and health declines. His tinnitus worsens, he continues to seek solace in alcohol and drugs, and his older brother/manager Bobby (Sam Elliott) quits picking up the pieces and goes to work “with Willie”. Ally’s career has been her dream, yet she and others must resolve Jackson’s descent for their relationship and his music to continue.

The first highlight of A Star Is Born is the chemistry between Ally and Jackson. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper possess a dynamic that easily translates on-screen, which is crucial in this film, especially when the duo are both a musical and romantic duo. The chemistry then assists in the performances of the impressive songs, especially ‘Shallow’ and the closing number ‘I’ll Never Love Again’. Cooper is quick to introduce these protagonists, and their respective meet cute moment, and it’s effective for the running of the plot.

With both Ally and Jackson, the film offers two subtextual glimpses into the music industry. Jackson is an established artist whose spotlight is fading; Ally is the dilettante signed to a music label who discovers her individualism is outnumbered by the industry’s design by committee approach. Ally’s A&R manager Rez (Rafi Gavron), who’s always dressed in black, rejects her ideas and the mass music industry drags her into homogeneity, such as asking her to dye her hair blonde or the cliched backing dancer troupes. Jackson can foresee the path she’s being led down, and for someone who initially says she couldn’t ‘make it’, and as a new artist exposed to rapid success, Ally shelves her previous musical and personal morals. Her songs as a solo artist are far weaker than her songs with Jackson and these forgettable songs typify the homogenous nature of the industry’s output.

The film also gives an exploration of the humanity of these musicians within the music industry. We see Jackson in the first act and the trappings associated with his fame. He can’t go to a bar without being recognised and he can’t even shop without a cashier taking indiscreet pictures of him. Ally’s introduction to him presents an opportunity to see the domesticity of these characters, especially when they are presented in an almost cinéma vérité style that’s aided by Darren Aronofsky’s regular cinematographer Matthew Libatique. Plot lines such as Ally introducing a dog within her and Jackson’s home allows the film to present these people with associated notoriety as regular humans living an atypical human life and you almost forget about their celebrity status.

Without spoiling the film, A Star Is Born concludes with a performance from Ally that is simply stunning. The song encapsulates the emotional core of the film and is edited in a way that will result in the shedding of tears. Bradley Cooper has managed to assemble an utter powerhouse of a film that feels like a gritty La La Land, or the older kid John Carney’s Begin Again was told not to hang around with. From the supporting cast, including Ally’s hilarious father and his friends, to the songs, the film delivers on many levels. This is Cooper at his best, acting as well as directing, and it’s encouraging when it’s his first film as director.

Still though, this film is just as much Gaga’s as it is Cooper’s. Her stardom was conceived years ago but this film hosts a different Lady Gaga. Ally is a raw authentic character and Gaga’s experience in the music industry successfully humanises the character. She takes you on a journey with Jackson, as Cooper does with Ally, and A Star Is Born is one journey with so many emotions working in perfect harmony that should not be missed.

Liam Hanlon

135 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
A Star Is Born is released 5th October 2018

 

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Review: A Simple Favour

Director: Paul Feig • Writer: Jessica Sharzer •  DOP: John Schwartzman • ED:  Brent White • DES : Jefferson Sage • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • Cast: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Jean Smart. Rupert Friend 

Initially drawn in by a premise that sounded Hitchockian in its simplicity, it was a jarring shock to discover A Simple Favour was a very different film from its pitch. However, in another sense (and paying homage to one of its stars) it was pitch perfect. Also funnier and far better than any one dared hope or imagine in this distinctly fallow period for film.

And what a fizzy heady confection it is. Playing out like a comedic take on Gone Girl, this twisty pretzel sets out its stall from the get-go as Anna Kendrick uses her minor online celebrity (I am not going to use the word ‘vlogger’ in this review…. ah damn it) to spread the word about her missing friend Emily (Blake Lively). In this shallow suburban pond, appearances are definitely deceptive though.

Turns out Stephanie and Emily have become fast friends and barely know each other. Stephanie’s eagerness to jump blindly into deep smit with her new bestie allows her to blissfully overlook huge warning signs about Emily.  Enduring her sharp tongue and hair-trigger temper are a sufficient price for Stephanie to hang out in a beautiful house with her beautiful friend, having beautiful drinks. Kendrick infuses her single mum/star-baker character with a convincing hollowness at her core. In parenting circles, she is isolated by her perky perfectionist attitude while naturally drawn to the ideal Emily seems to project.

Much like this review, the simple favour the film pivots on, takes a while to arrive. In fact, it’s a favour innocently requested of Stephanie before – to pick up her friend’s kid from school. So far so simple, but then Emily doesn’t come home. Once Emily is officially missing, the film becomes a different beast. More of a shaggy dog story. But a bloody loveable dog all the same. It also makes shag-all sense and requires a suspension bridge of disbelief but don’t fight this film. Let it win.

There is a tonal disrupt in a film being both a mystery and a comedy. It’s not a combo you see very often but A Simple Favour seems all the fresher for it. Frankly, anyone wanting to poke holes in the plot of this film could have a field day. Slaves to logic or those with concerns about credibility should leave that critical facility at the door. Or not bother going through the door in the first place. You gotta surrender to the nutty tone of this, as say Stephanie impersonates a cleaner at a southern Gothic mansion straight out of ‘Scooby Doo’.  Or considering its creators, ‘American Horror Story’.

Quality wise, Kendrick is always a gold standard. She clearly has taste, grace and great comedic chops, including a willingness to be goofy that is deeply endearing. Director Paul Feig also shows an adroit nimbleness here in brilliantly dialling back from his Ghostbusters reboot, which was unfairly booted. Re-emerging with a whip-smart effort with a pared-down cast just feels right. And he lets the film breathe brilliantly. There is no story reason why, for instance, Kendrick singing along to the radio should be included. In fact, any studio interference might push towards pulling the scene due to being too close to that whole Pitch Perfect shtick. But it is retained if only for that most old fashioned of desires – to entertain an audience.

My own big admission is that I have never gotten Blake Lively. Till now. She’s always been striking but this role taps deep into the talent well. And she is not found wanting. She carries the glamour with radiant ease but her clear relish in delivering laser-guided lines is palpable. And here we turn to another heroine: screenwriter Jessica Sharzer equips everyone with aces, especially her leads. And they serve them up with serious sparkle and vicious élan. There truly are some gasp-inducing bits of audacity here. Plenty of barbs aimed at the school-gate set and more truth-bombs aimed firmly at the heart of consumer America. One entire unseemly element of Stephanie’s back story could have been excised even late in the day without hurting the film. Again, it remains. It garners lots of laughs but wow – it feels like a heavy dash of hard alcohol in a mocktail.

Rarely have I wanted to return to a film just to reaffirm if I heard that right or whether I caught everything. It’s a screenplay of real subversive substance riddled with needle and with a fair bit of acid on its fangs. I think the script should be in the mix come award time. It looks simple but isn’t that the trick of all truly accomplished work. A definite favourite of mine going forward.

James Phelan

116 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
A Simple Favour is released 21st September 2018
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqsdrYBPjv8

 

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Meeting

 

DIR: Alan Gilsenan • ED: Emer Reynolds • CAST: Ailbhe Griffith, Terry O’Neill, Kevin McCormack, Dr Marie Keenan, Brenda McSweeney, Allan Keating
 
Alan Gilsenan’s new film The Meeting opens with a sweeping title card, declaring that events depicted in the film are “Entirely” true – a daring choice of words, and an absolute to which the film is fully committed.

 

Ailbhe Griffith is the survivor of a horrific sexual assault. Nine years after the incident, she organises a meeting with her assailant. Authenticity is the central aim in depicting these events. Moment-to-moment accuracy is valued over dramatic tension. The result may come across as quiet and cautious, but the emotional pulse of the film beats loudly, drowning out any trepidation.

 

Across the first ten minutes, we are presented with Griffith’s assault in fractal passages. Extracts from her statement boldly stretch across the screen. The evening in question is presented in haunting echoes. No re-enactment of the assault is necessary, as brief glimpses of the evidence silently tell all. The barren bus stop. Discarded keys. A body lashed with bite marks.

 

When we are transported from the hallways of memory to the meeting room of the present, there is a tonal and stylistic shift. Abstract recollections of horror become solid and close. The wordless, silent opening is drowned out by a steady stream of dialog.

 

This is not good movie dialogue. Sentences are plump with polite niceties and repetitions. Focus is rested on the mundane, the undramatic. Yet there is something undeniable about it – a truth.

 

Griffith gives a resounding performance as herself, recounting traumatic events with the noblest of grace. She does not stand out among the actors (and non-actors) around her. Her honesty and bravery is the beating heart of the film. Empty of typical story structure, it is her experience that bolsters the film and gives it shape.

 

The central question at play here is one of depicting reality. Comparisons could be drawn to how Kiarostami blends documentary and fiction through the use of non-actors in his film Close-Up. Director Gilsenan infuses his film with more cinematic style and daring compositions, while the content is sometimes stagnant in its adherence to the facts. The audience is forced to soak in the dead air between moments. When Griffith leaves the room for a break at the midpoint, we stay with the assailant, Martin Swan. Watching from a birds-eye view, every shift of weight is amplified, every jerk of the hand is loud and cacophonous. Things that really have little effect on the narrative are put under the spotlight. Text is left bare, and we have only subtextual gestures to draw from.

 

Is it a pleasant experience? No, but a necessary one. The audience is put through an ordeal similarly therapeutic as Griffith’s. She finds closure in her attacker’s humanity, by dethroning him from a beastly symbol to a sad, defeated man. There may be a wide range in audience response. Some may find the same closure as Griffith, and see restorative justice at work. Others may be aghast at facing such misogyny head-on. They may be shaken from their preconceptions about the state of sexual assault in Ireland, and plumb new depths of empathy for the horror carried by its survivors. Whether you align with Griffith or the latter group, both lessons are an absolute necessity to learn.

 

Famed film critic Roger Ebert described the movies as “A machine that generates empathy.” Here, we see that tenet put forth as social activism. Gilsenan cleverly frames his film towards this end, in means which go beyond Griffith’s testimony. Just as Griffith seeks the meeting in an effort to make human what she called “the personification of misogyny”, Gilsenan takes a similarly empathetic approach towards the character of the abuser. When Griffith leaves the room, we stay with him. When she speaks to him, she stares down the lens. If the film takes any one perspective, it is of the abuser, in an attempt to interrogate – and hopefully restore – his humanity. In this, it wrestles with the concept of forgiveness, and whether those who do the unforgivable can ever truly be loved.

 

The film’s goals are certainly admirable, yet the presentation is not spotless. Riddling the film are a series of extreme close-ups of table-top paraphernalia. With very little action to follow, scenes buffer with shots of tea settling and light dancing through blinds. While the shots are well-composed, certain ones fall flat. The sight of biscuits left untouched and sweat crawling down Swan’s skin feel borne out of restlessness. This is unfortunate, as the close-ups of characters feel full, confident and able to stand on their own without the insistent cutaways.

 

The film’s final tip of the hand also feels a bit too orchestrated. With consistent adherence to a strict realism, the film’s final moments, without spoiling them, seem overly staged and out of place. The ending surely sounded good on paper, but it doesn’t quiet stick the landing.

 
That said, these superficial flaws are dwarfed by the aching humanity on display. The moments of release that are built up across the runtime are euphoric. When the film comes closest to finding an answer to its big, difficult questions, the result is close to pure visceral cinema. Gilsenan and Griffith have crafted a haunting parable of forgiveness and justice in their shifting forms.

 

Cian Geoghegan

 

95 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)

 

The Meeting is released 21st September 2018

 

 

 

Alan Gilsenan, Writer / Director of ‘Unless’ & ‘The Meeting’

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Review: Climax

DIR/WRI: Gaspar Noe • DOP: Benoit Debie • ED: Denis Bedlow, Gaspar Noe • DES: Jean Rabasse • PRO: Richard Grandpierre, Vincent Maraval, Eduoard Weil • CAST: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Thea Carla Schott, Giselle Palmer

A group of dancers, choreographed by Selva (Boutella), gather together in an abandoned school in order to rehearse prior to an American tour. Things are going well until they start to party. They soon realise that somebody has drugged the sangria they have been drinking and they all succumb to a collective psychosis of paranoia and violence.

Gaspar Noe returns to our screens with this simultaneously seductive and horrifying original that fuses dance and extreme psychological horror to winning effect. In keeping with the mischievous nature of the piece, Noe announces his influences in an ingenious early sequence in which he introduces the characters via audition tapes. The small TV screen from which their auditions play are surrounded by a host of VHS boxes (apparently from Noe’s own personal collection), as well as various books related to film and philosophy. Amongst the film titles namechecked are Possession, Querelle and Un Chien Andalou. This is a film in which cine-literacy is worn as a badge of honour, with Noe exuberantly suggesting that if you get his references you probably get him as a filmmaker.

Isabelle Adjani’s infamous metro breakdown sequence in Zulawski’s Possession is once again explicitly referenced in a scene in which Boutella’s Selva has a dance-infused meltdown after getting her hands seemingly stuck in her tights. The physicality of Adjani’s performance in the scene being referenced could even have been the inspiration for the central conceit of dance’s potential as an expression of psychosis. The Fassbinder and Bunuel references tell us more about Noe’s aims in both practise and social commentary. He has stated that part of his desire in making the film was to do something quickly, in the vein of Fassbinder. Indeed it is positively mind-boggling that this dazzling picture was shot in just 15 days. Noe said recently in Sight and Sound that he was hoping he might carry on in the Fassbinder vein and complete three or four other films before the end the year, something which he then lamented ‘unfortunately is very unlikely to happen’.

An air of Bunuelian social satire also hangs over Climax, which is probably Noe’s most political work. Noe’s nihilistic worldview is here used to good effect as he satirises society and humanity’s inability to work together or simply get along for any sustained period. The film proclaims itself at the beginning as: ‘a French film and proud of it’, as Noe seems to making barbed digs at nationalism and the idea of a National Cinema. He is also cheekily framing the action within the context of it representing French society or even society in general as a whole. There is also a winking engagement with mortality. The climax of the title refers very much to death, decay and destruction.

True to form, Noe remains committed to his central premise of fusing dance and horror. There is not a single scene which does not feature a track from the outstanding soundtrack which features everything from Aphex Twin to Daft Punk to The Rolling Stones. Always a filmmaker in tune with the formal capabilities of his medium, Noe utilises every directorial trick in his armoury to create an overwhelming, singular atmosphere. The film begins with the end credits, the opening credits happen half-way through the film. Benoit Debie’s camera frequently turns on its head with some scenes shot completely upside down. The picture is littered with tongue in cheek intertitles which state such nuggets as: ‘Life is a unique opportunity’ and ‘Death is an extraordinary experience’.

Noe counteracts his directorial flourishes with moments of formal restraint – a long sequence sees him shift from different two shots of characters talking to each other, setting up these disparate characters’ world-views and desires. An overhead take of a slightly aggressive dance sequence subsequent to this, renders the dance moves hypnotic and abstract by way of the stillness of the frame.

This is a masterfully realised vision. Whether or not someone is open to Noe’s considerable virtues as a filmmaker or not, there is no denying the cinema is a far more interesting place with him in it. After the disappointing Love, it’s great to see Noe return to form. It is also heartening that in amongst the high quantity of vanilla film titles being released weekly there is something as formally adventurous and assured as this.

Consistently visceral, frequently playful and by turns beautiful and disturbing. This is a deliriously cinematic romp that demands to be seen on the big screen.

 

David Prendeville

96 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Climax is released 21st September 2018


 

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Review: Calling All Earthlings

Guided by aliens, a man builds a machine that can make you younger. But will he finish it before the government finishes him? – Guided by those very same aliens, James Bartlett reviews Jonathan Berman’s documentary.

 

Deep in the Mojave Desert in California is something white, wacky and wonderful – the Integratron – and until you visit yourself, you can learn about it from the irresistibly-titled new documentary Calling All Earthlings from Jonathan Berman.

After a short cinema release in America it is now available on VOD, with the possibility that there might be a European release or screenings too – after all, who can resist a story that combines aliens, a time machine, and the hint of a Government conspiracy?

Paid for by UFO festivals and built over many years by George Van Tassell and his friends, the Integratron is a dome structure that’s a cosmic battery for electromagnetic energy, a conduit for healing, and maybe even the secret to life.

How can that be? Because an alien from Venus named Solganda told George so in 1954, so he took his aviation and engineering skills out into the wilds to build what Solganda wanted out of fiberglass, wood and concrete. Not a single nail or screw was used, and Van Tassell made sure it was built right on a geomagnetic anomaly, where three underground rivers meet.

The FBI started sniffing around when it emerged the Integratron utilized Nikolas Tesla’s ideas of “free energy” in the design, and when Van Tassell died unexpectedly just weeks before the unveiling in 1978, his blueprints and some of the Integratron’s technology went missing: did he really have something special on his hands that the MIBs wanted to keep secret?

I have been to the Integratron a couple of times, and the 38-foot-high and 50-foot-wide structure is striking when it appears on the horizon among the rocks, sand and cacti.

It’s currently run by three sisters who hold “sound baths” in its acoustic circular chamber, and they see everyone from celebrities (Robert Plant, Jarvis Cocker, Anthony Bourdain, Charlize Theron, Robert Downey, Jr) to norms like me partaking of the quartz Tibetan bowl experience.

Being a skeptical Brit, I wasn’t convinced I’d be transported away into the cosmos, but then I lay down to relax and listen and realized – all the birds outside had stopped singing. Call Mulder and Scully if you like, but there’s something about hearing those tones; they seem to pass right through you, and everyone leaves feeling chilled out.

Maybe George was on to something, and so until you can visit this oddity yourself – and book well in advance, as this place is no secret anymore – check out this short and sweet documentary. Most of the interviewees are, let’s say, colourful and eccentric, but they all believed. See you in the stars!

 

www.callingallearthlingsmovie.com   

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Little Stranger

DIR: Lenny Abrahamson • WRI: Lucinda Coxon • DOP: Ole Bratt Birkeland • ED: Nathan Nugent • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • DES: Simon Elliott • PRO: Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan, Ed Guiney • CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Charlotte Rampling

It’s always fascinating when filmmakers who made their name in drama try their hand at a genre movie. This is for two reasons. The output tends to skew from the standards of that genre and in those differences one can see clearly the motifs and themes the director is interested in exploring. Such is the case with Lenny Abrahamson’s new horror The Little Stranger.

Set in 1948 England, Domhnall Gleeson stars as Faraday, a doctor from humble beginnings who returns to the luxurious estate where his mother once worked as a maid. Adoring the building as a boy, he is shocked to see it falling into disrepair – damaged by the fall of the British Gentry post-WWII due to heavy taxation. 

Faraday is called to the estate by the owner Angela Ayres (Charlotte Rampling) because a young maid (Liv Hill) is frightened of being left alone in the large, empty house. While there, he begins to treat Angela’s son Roddy (Will Poulter), a PTSD stricken war veteran whose wounds have healed poorly. In doing so, Faraday forms a close bond with Roddy’s sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson). However, spooky goings-on in the house begin to terrorise those living there.

Adapted from an acclaimed novel by Sarah Waters – whose Fingersmith became last year’s The Handmaiden – it sounds in plot like the stage is set for a classic gothic ghost story. However, while the trailers may be selling the movie as such, Abrahamson has other things on his mind.

The Little Stranger is a trojan horse of a film. It lures viewers in with one thing, but delivers something different, if substantially more interesting. While there are brief and well-executed moments of ghostly threat, this is foremost a psychological thriller about class and obsession.

It’s nearly forty minutes before anything supernatural happens. Instead, Abrahamson – working from Lucinda Coxon’s script – takes the time to establish Faraday’s childhood infatuation with the house. We see these gorgeously shot vivid flashbacks to his youth at the estate, juxtaposed with darker, gloomier shots of the withering estate. 

In this period of the film, we see the working-class Faraday trying to secure what he has always secretly wanted – these nobles’ approval. However, even when he does become a friend of the family – being invited to dinner parties and soirees – there is this palpable sense of an invisible divide between him and the Ayres. Their acquaintances constantly reference his position as family doctor or treat him as a butler. Abrahamson builds remarkable tension during these scenes, often emphasising the uncomfortableness of the situations through close-ups on Faraday as he struggles to maintain respectability out of anger.

The film could be divisive as any supernatural activity which does occur feels almost like background. The titular little stranger is more of a personification of all the external pressures the Ayres face in terms of keeping the house. What’s truly disturbing, however, is Faraday’s slowly growing obsession with the estate, at some points even going as far as to put the family in danger so that he can live there. Whether these two plot-lines align satisfyingly will be up to each individual’s own interpretation. However, Abrahamson does muster a moody menace throughout the entire film, jumping further into the darkness that often pervades his central characters in movies such as Frank, Garage or Room. 

Gleeson’s performance is incredible. Although playing a very stiff-upper lip character throughout, he imbues Faraday with a charm in the first part of the film – partly deriving from his wide eyes and slight smile when recounting his time in the house as a boy. As the movie continues, however, these qualities fall away. Viewers are left questioning themselves for their previous affection for Faraday as he becomes increasingly driven to protect the estate above all else.

In many ways, The Little Stranger serves as a companion piece to Phantom Thread – another psychological character study which wasn’t quite what was sold to audiences, has horror elements, is set nearly in the same time and place and has similar themes. One hopes The Little Stranger finds the audience that film did. 

Stephen Porzio

111 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Little Stranger is released 21st September 2018
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Review: The Predator

DIR: Shane Black • WRI: Fred Dekker, Shane Black • DOP: Larry Fong • ED: Harry B. Miller III • MUS: Henry Jackman • DES: Martin Whist • PRO: John Davis, Lawrence Gordon • CAST: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key

Director Shane Black is no stranger to the Predator franchise having starred as Rick Hawkins in 1987’s Predator. Fast forward thirty one years and the latest addition to the franchise is The Predator, directed by Black, albeit with a troubled production. This sequel had its initial release date of February 2018 pushed to September 2018 amidst reports of poor test screening reception, which led to significant reshoots. Black has also faced heavy criticism for casting a registered sex-offender in a scene with Olivia Munn, whom has now spoken out against the director for doing so. The scene was subsequently removed from the film.

This latest addition stars Boyd Holbrook as Quinn McKenna, a skilled army sniper, who is preparing to intercept a drug cartel in Mexico, when his crew becomes interrupted by the arrival of a spacecraft containing a ‘predator’. Quinn manages to take down the creature using its own technology and steals two pieces of its equipment as proof of the creature’s existence. Before Quinn is apprehended by government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), he posts the stolen equipment to himself. When the items are then delivered to his house, Quinn’s son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) curiously plays with the equipment, inadvertently bringing upon the arrival of another predator to earth. The original predator escapes from a government facility and is tracking down his stolen equipment, identifying Rory as a target. The hunter then becomes the hunted as the newly-arrived predator’s prime target is one of their own. With the assistance of Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), Quinn and his crew of ‘Loonies’ must protect Rory and stop the predators.

One of the significant issues with The Predator is its script. With Shane Black’s previous works, including the Lethal Weapon scripts and 2016’s The Nice Guys, Black has a track record of great humour. However, not for the want of trying, the humour in this film does not work. Once we meet the ‘Loonies’, there are one-liners aplenty. Yet, they fall flat on each occasion. Although, there is one gag involving a thumbs up that is effective and also a humorous line describing the predator as an “alien Whoopi Goldberg”. The character count also becomes bloated. Some are completely insignificant such as Alfie Allen’s Lynch who bears no impact whatsoever. Olivia Munn’s Dr. Casey Bracket is one of the standout characters but the script affects her character development. Much like other female STEM professionals in film, her work is affected and disregarded by male characters and there is one sequence where she is forced by Quinn to become a mothering figure for Rory, which felt regressive after initial hope for her character development.

Also, The Predator needed to branch out from Predator’s legacy and success. The latter had such physicality and grit in what was a post-Vietnam film set in a jungle. Predator had the gore, as this film does, but it also created such tension in sequences such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch fortunately camouflaging himself from the predator in mud. With The Predator, it’s more of a post-9/11 film with subtextual elements involving technological and arms races between nations. Here, the increase in alien technology does not contribute to any significant dramatic effect. The second predator brings two ‘dogs’ to earth to emphasise the sports hunter aspect of these alien creatures. Yet, they become laughable with one of them later acting like a trained house dog for the predator’s enemies (as well as having some dodgy CGI).

Overall, The Predator is the not the worst entry in the Predator franchise and the running time of 107 minutes is paced efficiently. It resembled 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence in the sense that bigger does not necessarily mean better for franchise sequels. It’s amped up with fun action sequences and deserves its R-rating but it’s ultimately betrayed by its script and it also shows disregard towards Rory’s autism and Baxley’s (Thomas Jane) Tourette syndrome with its dialogue.

Shane Black obviously has an affinity for this franchise and it’s a shame The Predator does not match Predator’s success. It was plagued by production problems and perhaps it foresighted the end product. However, with Disney attempting to acquire 21st Century Fox, Black could always try again with the inevitable Avengers vs X-Men vs Alien vs Predator spin-off.

Liam Hanlon

106 minutes
16(see IFCO for details)
The Predator is released 14th September 2018

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Review: The Nun

 

DIR: Corin Hardy • WRI: Gary Dauberman • DOP: Maxime Alexandre • ED: Michel Aller,Ken Blackwell • MUS: Abel Korzeniowski • DES: Jennifer Spence • PRO: Peter Safran, James Wan • CAST: Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet

 

Considering The Nun’s director, Corin Hardy, was last in the director’s chair for the taut and entertaining (if somewhat formulaic) Irish eco-horror The Hallow, it’s a pity to see how out-of-touch he is with Irish affairs. Unless this tepid tale of Vatican power ends up doing well at the box office. In which case, I just don’t know what to think.

 

Comprised mainly of uninspired jump scares and things that initially appear to be jump scares but aren’t (and then there’s a jump scare anyway), there is nothing to recommend in this latest instalment of the Conjuring franchise. Other than perhaps trying to figure out whether the film’s protagonist, Sister Irene, played by Taissa Farmiga (Final Girls), is in any way related to franchise regular, demonologist Lorraine Warren, played by her own real-life sister, Vera Farmiga.

 

An origin story for that same franchise, The Nun sends us back to the 1950s, following Sister Irene and Father Burke (Demián Bichir), a member of some sort of Vatican priest detective force, who have been dispatched to the Romanian countryside in order to investigate the case of a nun’s suicide in a remote monastery. They are joined by the travelling Frenchman (Jonas Bloquet), who made the gruesome discovery. The nuns prove to be strangely elusive but eventually the intrepid investigators uncover the order’s secret, which involves demons and portals and possession.

 

The Nun is more concerned with delivering run-of-the-mill shocks than any attempt at storytelling, as the film’s supposed mystery is solved within the opening minutes, leaving the audience watching the clock as they wait for the characters to catch up with them. Character development is undercooked and uninspired, with even the most rudimentary storylines fizzling out when their usefulness to the plot has run their course. The evil ghost demon nuns are also all super-strong Jason Vorhees-types, which isn’t exactly a problem, so much as the film only occasionally comes across as a ghost story.

 

The Nun certainly seems like the kind of movie that should offer its audience some laughs, if nothing else. Unfortunately, it’s all so routine and repetitive that it soon loses even that appeal. Or, to put it another way: with regards to fun, there’s NUN to be found here.

 

Genius.

Sarah Cullen
96 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Nun is released 7th September 2018

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Review: American Animals

DIR/WRI: Bart Layton • DOP: Ole Bratt Birkeland • ED: Nick Fenton, Chris Gill, Julian Hart • MUS: Anne Nikitin • DES: Scott Dougan • PRO: Arcadiy Golubovich, Macdara Kelleher, Jonathan Loughran, Tim O’Hair • CAST: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Udo Kier, Ann Dowd

 

From its very first title card, American Animals boasts of its historical accuracy. ‘This is not based on a true story’ appears on the screen, only for the ‘not based on’ to be dropped to read ‘This is a true story. American Animals is the first fictional feature film from filmmaker Bart Layton, who is most famous for the 2012 documentary The Imposter. The Imposter tells the unbelievable true story of a French man impersonating a missing Texas teenager and being accepted by the boy’s family despite being seven years older, speaking with a French accent and not matching his physical description at all.

While American Animals might not be as outrageous as The Imposter, it is still hard to fathom why four college kids would risk their futures to steal a handful of rare books from their University – the university in question is the Transylvania University in Lexington Kentucky. Granted, the score would garner them a couple of million dollars but as the plan escalates and complicates they are given plenty of time to back out of a pipe dream, but they never do.

Spencer (Keoghan), an art student, comes into contact with the rare books on a tour of his new campus. He mentions them to his best friend Warren (Peters) and the wheels of disaster are set in motion. This is also the point of the film where the ‘true story’ becomes complicated. Layton structures American Animals in the vein of a docu-drama. Interspersed with fictional scenes are interviews with the actual culprits of the heist. It is a technique not unlike the one used by Scottish filmmaker Kevin MacDonald for Touching the Void (2003). Layton, however, focuses more on the fictionalised scenes, using the interviews as punctuation.

More recently, Craig Gillespie employed a technique like this one for his film I, Tonya (2017), yet another unbelievable true story about a working-class ice skater Tonya Harding (played by Margot Robbie in an Oscar-nominated performance) who gets embroiled in an assault scandal which effectively ruins her career. In I, Tonya, however, the interviews are played by the actors and Gillespie is toying with the idea of a fictional film ‘based on a true story’. A line spoken by Robbie’s Harding towards the end of the film is indicative of this: ‘There is no truth, it’s bullshit. Everyone has their own truth and life just does whatever the fuck it wants’. Using the actual perpetrators of the crime it is clear that Layton wants to get to some sort of truth. However, Layton also recognises that memory and perception are objective and his subjects have different memories of the same event. This is highlighted in the film through different re-enactments of the same scene and interviewees doubting that some events actually took place.

Layton serves up a multitude of hypotheses why these four young men did what they did, among them, middle-class boredom, millennial entitlement, not wanting the same ‘boring’ lives as their parents and a subconscious yearning for notoriety. None of which endears anybody to these young men. This is a problem that many critics have with the film, and it’s an age old trope in cinema, the glorification of the bandit. Yes, the fictionalised scenes are stylised in such a way to make these young men look cool, funny and engaging but these are offset by the genuine emotion of the interviews where regret is deeply expressed. What is most interesting is that these guys still don’t seem to be able to answer in any definite way why they did what they did. The film also contains a lot of references to heist films, namely Kubrick’s The Killing (1956) and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992), which can serve to glorify the modus operandi of the young men. It may also at times make light of an event which caused trauma to people so recently. However, Layton has a counter-argument and American Animals is a multi-faceted piece of work, which is accentuated by the film’s sobering final act.  

Special mention must be given to the performance of young Irish rising star Barry Keoghan. While his performance, vocally, is very close to his chilling turn as the antagonist in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), his magnetism on screen is undeniable.

 

Tom Crowley
116 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
American Animals is released 7th September 2018

 

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Review: Upgrade

DIR/WRI: Leigh Whannell • DOP: Stefan Duscio • ED: Andy Canny • MUS: Jed Palmer • DES: Felicity Abbott • PRO: Jason Blum, Kylie Du Fresne,Brian Kavanaugh-Jones • CAST: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilberston, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Simon Maiden

 

Leigh Whannell first found success with b-movie horror game-changer Saw (2004). Saw became a revelation within its genre and was the launching pad for the much derided ‘Torture Porn’ sub-genre. The film was directed by his friend and fellow Aussie James Wan. Following the massive success of Saw, the pair collaborated on three more films, Dead Silence (2007), Insidious (2010) and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), Wan as director; Whannell as writer. All were commercially successful films released to varying critical reviews. Wan’s career has sky-rocketed, helming both Conjuring films (2013, 2016), Fast and Furious 7 (2015) and Aquaman, which will be released in December of this year. One can’t help but see Whannell as a McCartney to Wan’s Lennon.

Whannell himself has made the transition to director with Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), which was received poorly by critics. With Upgrade, his second directorial effort, Whannell has taken a little side-step from horror into the realms of techno-thriller, although his penchant for gore is still readily apparent.

Quite like a feature-length Black Mirror (2011-) episode, Upgrade is set in the not-too-distant future. Technology has taken over, autonomous cars, houses that speak to you and tend to your every need- cooks meals, tells you when you are out of eggs, orders the shopping, etc. Our protagonist, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), is a self-confessed technophobe. The first shot we get in the film is that of a record-player. Grey listens to classic rock as he fixes a now vintage automobile- one that requires a human to drive it. He has found a little niche for himself, fixing-up these cars and selling them on to fellow motor-purists. His wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), has fully embraced the all-encompassing technology in this futuristic world. There differing philosophies on this brave new world doesn’t get in the way of the love they have for each other.

Unfortunately, in a reserve Ghost (1990) type scenario, Asha is slaughtered senselessly in the street, Grey is left paralysed from the neck down, grieving and out for revenge. Ironically it is a ground-breaking technology created by hermit/tech-genius, Eron (surely a play on Elon), that allows him to pursue his blood-lust.

That’s enough of plot. Upgrade is a film conflicted within itself. It wants to eat its cake and have it too. Sometimes it has b-movie sensibilities, others times Whannell stretches for the heady sci-fi heights of Blade Runner (1982). It’s a melodrama, and then it’s a comedy. The humour in the script takes over in the second act and seems to come from nowhere – very off-putting. The dialogue is too clunky and terribly obvious, at one point Grey actually says the line ‘I got you, you sons-of-bitches’, there are many other examples. The acting is poor, especially from the Harrison Gilbertson (a Dane deHaan look-a-like) who plays the villain of the piece, Eron. Melanie Vallejo and Logan Marshall-Green do not escape unscathed either. They cannot quite carry over the script’s tonal imbalances. A female cop, played by Betty Gabriel, is nothing more than a thinly drawn stereotype.

Whannel leaves himself open for a sequel.This reviewer will not be in a rush to see it.

 

Tom Crowley
100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Upgrade is released 31st August 2018

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Irish Film Review: I, Dolours

DIR: Maurice Sweeney • DOP: Kate McCullough • ED: Mick Mahon • MUS: Giles Packham • PRO: Nuala Cunningham, Ed Moloney • CAST: Lauren Beale, Gail Brady, Lauren Carr |

For anyone looking to apply for an Irish visa, there are certain cultural memes you should consume before they hand over that final approval document. No matter what your background, artistic endeavours such as Father Ted, Oscar Wilde’s cutting commentary, Under The Hawthorn Tree, The Snapper, Rory Gallagher’s melliferous tunes or Heaney’s poetry, are all accessible ways to gain insight into the nuances of our nation’s heritage – and I, Dolours is a perfect addition to this ‘bible’ of sorts. This feature is not a staunchly republican piece of propaganda that will have you singing rebel songs over a bodhrán on a rainy afternoon. In fact, it’s a clear, balanced assessment of the complex history that surrounds the North, emphasising the good, the bad and the ruthless on both sides of the religious divide.

 

What’s most engaging about I, Dolours is how it remains as complex and intricate as the woman it portrays. The film begins by tracking the evolution of the tensions in Northern Ireland. This is juxtaposed with the dark retelling of Dolours Price’s family history, including her father’s involvement with the IRA and her aunt’s horrific disfigurement. All theses elements are dappled with dramatic reenactments, and narrated by the late, real-life Dolours herself in the notorious interviews she recorded in 2010 with journalist Ed Moloney.

 

It was only after a peaceful civil rights protest ended in bloodshed at the hands of the British government, that Dolours joined the Provisional IRA. There, she and her sister were recruited for a special ops unit which, as she stated in her interview, was headed by Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams. Dolours, along with her her sister, were eventually convicted on charges related to a London bombing. Yet it was prior to this when the depths of her wartime cruelties were inflicted. Dolores was a central figure in a team which murdered and ‘disappeared’ a number of targets during the Troubles. In her interview, Dolores, in her own words, describes how she led suspected informants, among them the widowed mother-of-ten, Jean McConville, to her death.

 

Director Maurice Sweeney makes brave choices with some drastically varying shifts of pace; the film starts off with newsreels in a classically structured documentary format, then the narrator, Dolours’ footage is introduced, followed by the reenactments. There are moments, especially when Dolours is in prison, where there’s a sudden, jarring shift to a slow-paced, stylistic drama. Actors break the fourth wall, and chunks of the narrative are revealed in a non-linear structure.

 

This portrait of Dolours is made with the performance. Newcomer Lorna Larkin is exceptional. She embodies the ambiguity, charm and tenacity of this antihero and her character choices are strong, deepened by the chemistry she has with Gail Brady, who plays her sister. Needless to say, Dolours is not a likable figure. However, while Lorna warms her cold rational, Maurice poses the question as to what depths can someone go to when they are pushed that far.

 

A fascinating portrait of a compelling and complex figure in Irish history served well by a skilfully crafted piece of Irish filmmaking.
Gemma Creagh
82 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)

 

I, Dolours is released 5th September 2018
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Irish Film Review: Black 47

DIR: Lance Daly • WRI: Lance Daly, P.J. Dillon, Eugene O’Brien, Pierce Ryan • DOP: Declan Quinn • ED: Julian Ulrichs, John Walters • MUS: Brian Byrne • DES: David Wilson • PRO: Arcadiy Golubovich, Macdara Kelleher, Jonathan Loughran, Tim O’Hair • CAST: Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Stephen Rea

 

Black 47 is Ireland’s answer to John Wick… set during the famine. Let that one sit with you for a while. Although this murderous revenge romp is considerably less self aware than its Hollywood counterpart, nevertheless, there’s enough death and bloodshed to have your granny flinching.

 

We first meet the stoic Martin Feeney (James Frecheville), a deserting British soldier, when he returns home to Ireland from the war during the famine. Not to give away too much, but considering the era, it’s safe to assume things don’t work out too well for himself and, well, every Irish person at the time. Feeney, a one-man massacre artist, is pushed to the edge. He takes it upon himself to express his displeasure with the powers that be for a number of injustices – some more deserving than others, mind you. His method? Waiting in darkened rooms for the offenders to arrive, then delivering hefty servings of violence within seconds to anyone who gets in the way.

 

Meanwhile, in order to track Feeney down, the Brits recruit his old army buddy, Hannah. Don’t be fooled by the name, however, this character is actually played by Hugo Weaving. There are very few women in this film. One. There is one woman in this film. Anyway, on his mission, Hannah is reluctantly paired with an entitled officer (and possibly Draco Malfoy’s great, great grandfather?) played by the abercrombie-esque Freddie Fox. The always fantastic Stephen Rea and James Broadbent are added to the cast midway, as a cheeky local and brilliantly evil lord, and we sort of forget about Feeney for a while and follow them as they hang out – before things eventually come to a head.

 

Lance Daly is incredibly ambitious in his steering of this Western/revenge thriller film, but it didn’t carry the same truth or warmth as his other features, such as Kisses [2008]. P.J. Dillon, Pierce Ryan, Eugene O’Brien and Lance are all credited as writers, but it would be interesting to see how this dynamic manifested itself, as the first and second half of this films inhabit different universes. Part one, is the exact slow maudlin suffering and woes at the hand of the British that you’d expect from a famine feature. While the second section is that gruesome rampage dappled with incredible international names.

 

Not to solely focus on the A-listers, there’s some fantastic supporting actors in their too. Moe Dunford defends his British Lord as Fitzgibbon, and in doing so delivers an absolute blinder of a performance. If you haven’t seen him yet in Michael Inside, that’s one for the list. Moe consistently manages to deliver these small roles with unexpected depths and unusual character choices that brings humanity to what could have been something flat.

 

While the production design is flawless, the cinematography leaves something to be desired. The camera lingered for too long on what didn’t feel like completed composite shots. It is the famine, and, of course, it thematically makes sense to have a washed-out colour pallet, but I couldn’t help but think if PJ Dillon had put down the pen and picked up the camera, that perhaps it would have had more pizzazz.

 

At the end of the day, Black 47 tackles subject matter and a genre almost completely alien to Irish film. The scope of what it was aiming for was massive. Did it hit the target? Not quite, but there’s a wealth of things to enjoy nonetheless.
Emma Donnelly
99 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)

 

Black 47 is released 5th September 2018
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Review: BlacKkKlansman

DIR: Spike Lee • WRI: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee • DOP: Chayse Irvin • ED: Barry Alexander Brown • MUS: Terence Blanchard • DES: David Wilson • PRO: Jason Blum, Spike Lee, Raymond Mansfield, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele, Shaun Redick • CAST: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace. Ron Stallworth

 

D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation has held an awkward spot in film history since its initial release in 1915. Hailed as a pioneer of film form, Griffith ushered in techniques now foundational to film grammar. He is also responsible for the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century. Adapted from a book entitled The Clansman, the film depicted the KKK as a group of swashbuckling heroes, whose lynchings were heroic acts of vigilantism. Many took the film as a call to arms.

 

Today, wide swathes of the modern audience detest The Birth of a Nation and what it represents. Among them is Spike Lee, writer/director of BlacKkKlansman. However, at a Q&A in the BFI Southbank in London, Lee makes it clear, “I never said people shouldn’t see Birth of a Nation,” he says, “I just think we should talk about it.”

 

And BlacKkKlansman is truly a film in conversation with that uncomfortable history. The film opens with the iconic shot of wounded soldiers from Gone With the Wind and later includes footage from The Birth of a Nation, screened to a guffawing audience clad in white robes. Lee allows the viewer to consider these scenes beyond the veil of form and under their larger social context. It is in this very conversation that BlacKkKlansman reveals itself as a film full of passionate, direct emotion and carefully considered direction and storytelling.

 

Shot on 35mm film, Lee and cinematographer Chayse Irvin also harken back to 1970s Blaxploitation films. Shots are grainy and saturated, and the production design sees that all in-frame elements are period-accurate. The soundtrack is stocked with a selection of blues classics, while the score evokes ’70s kitsch with an orchestral intensity.

 

With such strict adherence to period detail, Lee’s typical winks to camera are absent. The true story of Ron Stallworth is allowed stand on its own two feet. As a rookie cop for the Chicago Springs Police Department, Stallworth (John David Washington) leads an investigation into the Ku Klux Klan that leads him all the way to Grand Wizard and National Director David Duke. Alongside him is Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who poses as Ron Stallworth at face-to-face meetings, while the real Ron to corresponds by phone. The fact that Lee – a famously self-referencing, fourth-wall-breaking filmmaker – has taken such a straight-faced approach to Ron’s story says it all – in this case, what can be crazier than the truth?

 

The film walks a tonal tightrope in portraying the Klan as both a crew of bumbling clowns and a legitimate threat to society. Lee is able to flip things on a dime, jerking the audience from laughter into a dead silence. The full emotional gamut is at play here – joy, shock, awe, terror. Things reach their emotional apex at the use of Griffith very own cross-cutting to unite the testimony of a Civil Rights pioneer (Harry Belafonte) and the delight of an audience of cross-burners. A composed anger seethes through every frame.

 

This quiet anger of dualities is the thematic constant. Dual identities stay on the film’s mind. The light-skinned person of color passing for white. The behind-closed-doors racist passing for objective law enforcement. The Jewish police officer passing for an anti-semetic Klansman. The black police detective passing for a white supremacist over the phone. A period piece passing for contemporary.

 

BlacKkKlansman is not a film in conversation solely with the past. Links to the present are often loud and explicit – the audience is called several times to “Wake Up”. The implementation of footage from last year’s alt-right march in Charlottesville is sure to shake any viewer to their core.

 

Truly a film heavy with the burden of its own ideas, BlacKkKlansman remains unable to show strain beneath them. Not without its stylistic flourishes, the result is still a film that speaks loud and clear all the way back to the cheap seats. Once-film critic and French New Wave bad-boy Jean-Luc Godard has said, “I used to write criticism; now I film it.” Spike Lee may have never written reviews, but he has carved out quite a legacy in filming his own criticism. The vital question he poses in 2018 is less whether his targets will hear him; more whether his allies will take his message to heart and continue the march toward sunrise.
Cian Geoghegan

16 (See IFCO for details)

135 minutes
BlacKkKlansman is released 24th August 2018

 

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Review: First Reformed

DIR/WRI: Paul Schrader • DOP: Alexander Dynan • ED: Benjamin Rodriguez Jr • DES: David Wilson • MUS: Brian Williams • PRO: Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Gary Hamilton, Victoria Hill, David Hinojosa, Frank Murray, Deepak Sikka, Christine Vachon • CAST: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer

Paul Schrader’s First Reformed doesn’t simply begin, it bleeds into consciousness. Blooming from darkness our eyes creep through time where a divine relic looms large. A simple yet striking design, this white-washed steeple sits quietly detached from its surroundings as twig-tipped trees strike silhouettes against the churning sky. The camera ushers its audience as if a stray procession seeking refuge from the toppling clouds above, yet we can’t help but feel a sense of doubt as the church contorts with every yard gained.  Is this building a shelter for the stranded or salvation’s snare?

For Schrader, cinema is that shelter and together we tiptoe into his church. Dreyer, Bergman and Bresson make up the three wise men and their gifts brought and borrowed embalm each frame with a meditative stillness. It’s a transcendental cinema of ritual and routine where form shapes content into a flickering genuflection. It’s what Schrader calls the ‘scalpel of boredom’, time unspooled and sculpted into an existential itch out of reach. There’s a silent fury boiling behind the camera, frothing the vocabulary of a collective anxiety. It’s an unease that can be traced back through the mottled diary of Travis Bickle where apocalyptic predictions pry open the blistered boroughs of Taxi Driver (1976).

Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) too keeps a diary, but what starts out as an exercise to keep his thoughts in order, soon becomes a document of spiritual malaise. Toller oversees the aforementioned Church, more a tourist pit stop than a place of worship, this parish is on the verge of celebrating its 250th anniversary. Toller is soon approached by Mary (Amanda Seyfried) to lend spiritual counsel to her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger), a radical environmentalist wrought with despair. Expecting their first child Michael can’t bear the thought of introducing a new being into a world teetering on the edge of oblivion. The Reverend’s heartfelt words do little to stir Michael from his misery, instead a reversal occurs. Like an infection, Toller contracts a sickness of the soul and soon festering concerns seep across diary pages with the ominous mantra, ‘Will God forgive us?’.

Toller has become disillusioned not with God but with humanity. While he preaches to half-empty pews congregations crowd Abundant Life, a nearby megachurch run by Pastor Jeffers (Cedric ‘The Entertainer’ Kyles), a corporate Christian whose disarming warmth represents the modern faith Toller rejects. Schrader grinds his camera against the mounting tension between faith and politics to explore what hope can be held in a hopeless world.

It’s a tension that lies ever present across Toller’s face. The narrow crease cutting between Hawke’s eyes externalizes a lacerated soul, a mind torn in two. Hawke quietly tinkers behind a face of numbed expression to internalize a soul screaming to be heard. An actor whose giddy limbs and casual charm oozed his way to stardom, now seems a shadow slipping through scenes to elude our grasp.

A stark shooting strategy is incorporated which echoes the reverend’s torment where static shots linger in a tight aspect ratio smothering any sense of relief. It’s a style that harks back to the European greats, a nostalgia that seems at odds with the film’s lifeless digital format, where images appear crisp and cold. A tug of war ensues, where even the film’s form is wriggling in its own skin.  Schrader nudges us adrift in time only to find ourselves lost behind a modern lens.

The dissonance in design spills over to the film’s dressing where just a kitsch lamp is enough to unbalance an uncluttered composition. There is no comfort to be found. With every camera move, every slow push in and pan, we sense a whispering menace, we’re being simultaneously pushed and pulled, passively asphyxiated to the point where even Toller’s church begins to look like a courtroom, where judge, jury and executioner make up the Holy Trinity.

According to reports, First Reformed could be Paul Schrader’s last film, if so it marks the end of a terrific thematic through line. ‘God’s lonely man’ stemmed from the budding rage of Travis Bickle, nestling in the narcissism of American Gigolo’s (1980) Julian Kaye to then be caught in the midst of a mid-life crisis with John LaTour in Light Sleeper (1992). Now, later in life, Rev. Ernst Toller hosts the malignant spirit snarling against a faceless future. Cast loose on the periphery of society these bodies drift through a city slumped in a capitalist comatose, they’re wanderers, lookers, sleepless and shirtless, disciplined but deranged as if unsprung coils set to spring these bodies lay outstretched craving communion in every street corner, bedroom and diner. But for all First Reformed’s soundless fury, it’s the perforated moments of intimate wonder which gnaw against our subconscious, a divine sweetness blossoming between bruises.

 

Brian Quinn

15A (See IFCO for details)

113 minutes
First Reformed is released 13th July 2018

 

 

 

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