Review: Under the Silver Lake

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sarah Cullen

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

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dub Daze

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadly.

 

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

 

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

 

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Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Paul Farren

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

 

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Review: Happy Death Day 2U

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Cullen

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

 

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Review: Alita, Battle Angel

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Farren

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

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Review: Boy Erased

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Liam Hanlon

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

 

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A Second Look at ‘Green Book’

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Green Book

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Porzio

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

 

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Review: Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cian Geoghegan

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

 

 

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Review: Birdbox

 

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

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

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

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

And now for some criticism:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel a sequel is on the horizon…….


 

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Review: Vice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stephen Porzio

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

 

 

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Review: Mary Queen of Scots

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

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

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

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

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

 

Michael Lee

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

 

 

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Review: Mary Poppins Returns

 

DIR: Rob Marshall • WRI: David Magee, Rob Marshall, John DeLuca • PRO: John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Marc Platt • DOP: Dion Beebe • ED: Wyatt Smith • DES: John Myhre •  MUSIC: Marc Shaiman • CAST: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw |

 

‘A Spoonful of Sugar’,  ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’, and of course. the merciless tongue twister that is ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, these are not songs, but anthems, their notes drop like anchors into the rock-bed of our cinematic memory. As if preprogrammed before birth, we could hum, whistle ‘n’ toot each melody before mastering our ABCs. But Mary Poppins (1964) wasn’t just a hit with kids, it was hugely critically adored, setting the record for Disney’s most Academy Award wins for a single film. Practically no other Disney live action film before or since has even come close to the critical and lucrative triumph that Mary Poppins was.

So it’s somewhat surprising that The Mouse House waited this long to cash in on the original’s success with a sequel. It seemed as though Poppins neatly sidestepped fate while ill-conceived revisions such as Freaky Friday (2003) and Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) crammed the bargain pits of video stores around the world. But now with Disney’s Stalin-esque 5 year plan to renovate our childhoods, we’re told to quietly stand aside while our memories are systematically peeled back like worn floorboards. With the success of Jungle Book (2016) and Beauty and the Beast’(2017), it was only a matter of time before Mickey & Co knocked on the door of 17 Cherry Tree Lane.  

Cue, Mary Poppins Returns (2018), taking place 20 years after the original with both Jane and Michael all grown up, it’s his kids who are now in need of the enchanted brand of babysitting only Miss Poppins can provide. And for all the nail-biting preconceptions one might have, the pitch seemed promising: A stellar cast, all new songs, and even a rumored Dick Van Dyke cameo were on the cards, it’s as if Hollywood were about to adapt my letter to Santa Claus before my very eyes.

It’s a pity then, that the final product seems a half-hearted attempt to re-conjure what magic its predecessor inspired. A sequel wavering between a reboot and rehash, it’s as though Disney reheated the leftovers of the original and left us to wade through the flavourless slab of familiarity. What the film does offer is a series of superficial tweaks that do little to spur our imagination. And although it’s unfair to compare the titles, it’s inevitable, especially when we’re constantly being reminded with winks, nudges and nods so frequent you’d swear someone’s head would fall off.

Thankfully Emily Blunt (with head still attached) makes matters bearable. A refreshing take on Poppins, her tough love approach is in stark contrast to Julie Andrews’ portrayal, and sits more closely to PL Travers’ source books. It’s Lin – Manuel Miranda’s Jack who – acting as a stand in for Van Dyke’s Bert – seems let down by a poor script and stranded on screen as a result. In giving a more earnest sensibility to his character, his doe-eyed expressions lack the anarchic glint that made the role so beloved.  We soon find ourselves yearning for the giddy limbs of Van Dyke, a vibration of sublime silliness the film desperately needs.

There’s no doubt though that Miranda is a song and dance man, his ‘Trip A Little Light Fantastic’ might be the most memorable tune in a film of instantly forgettable hooks. There’s pretty wordplay and intricate phrasing throughout the film’s numbers but it all serves to make monotonous melodies that strive to echo the Sherman Brothers’ original arrangements. It’s a good thing then that there’s plenty of sights to distract us from the film’s many sounds. London town is blaring with colour, it’s clear to see that a great amount of work has gone into its design.

It’s the film’s garbled politics, however, that are hard to ignore. In what seems like a series of checked boxes Mary Poppins Returns pretends to reject notions of inequality without ever leaving its orbit.  In an ending where our characters get, not only what they need but – on top of that – exactly what they want (if not more) we’re left scratching our heads at a world view that would make Boots Riley shake his fist.

Mary Poppins Returns marks Disney’s latest attempt to coax out our inner child only then to rob them of their lunch money. But for all its missteps and downfalls the film is watchable, listenable, just not recommendable.

 

Brian Quinn

130 minutes
G (see IFCO for details)
Mary Poppins Returns is released 21st December 2018

 

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Review: Stan & Ollie

DIR: Jon S. Baird • WRI: Jeff Pope • PRO: Faye Ward • DOP: Laurie Rose • ED: Úna Ní Dhonghaíle, Billy Sneddon • DES: Fiona Crombie •  MUSIC: Rolfe Kent • CAST: John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Steve Coogan, Nina Arianda

When I was a young pup we had the good fortune to have television programming that provided us with film content all the way back to the Hollywood golden age. Weekends did not pass without a classic comedy in some form or other; the best form was Laurel and Hardy (Yeah, I know, there’s this thing called the internet). Their antics were never passed over in our house thanks to my father’s good taste.  Even when my younger self did not get the full impact of their comedy, his laughter told me there was something I was missing. I got with the programme and, as my funny bone developed, Laurel & Hardy were there to help it along. Suffice to say, I am an avid fan of the greatest comedy team to ever grace this planet. Armed with that bias, I was very mixed on how I would take to Stan & Ollie, a film focussing on their later music hall years.

Opening with the boys at the height of their fame, the most cinematic shot of the film takes us from their dressing room through the back lots of the Hal Roach studios to the set of Way Out West as they prepare to shoot their famous rendition of ‘The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia‘. We learn of their humour, their frivolity, their ongoing contractual battle with Hal Roach and their haplessness as businessmen, all in this consummate tracking shot. A jump cut worthy of ‘Pardon Us takes us to Lancashire years later, where we meet the boys on the first leg of a music hall tour.

The heart of the story concerns itself with Stan and Ollie’s relationship with each other; the overworked comic, writer, genius director Stanley and the jobber, genius performer Ollie. Very different men, who have a genuine regard for each other, despite those differences. To quote Oliver, who quotes himself (from Sons in the Desert), they are like two peas in a pod. What drama that follows concerns itself with Laurel’s hopes of revitalising their film career, the pressures of a feckless English producer, Oliver’s ailing health and the emergence of Stanley’s old grudges.

As with many biographical films this is a highly fictionalized account. Compressing several tours into one and presenting it as a starting-over struggle that does not genuinely reflect the reality of their time touring this side of the pond. Despite such dramatic license, it is hard to fault such a sincere love letter to the two great comedians. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly wear their roles like gloves. Reilly in particular gives a tour de force performance as Hardy; the potential distraction of the amazing prosthetic work is never an issue for the actor, performing the role as if the ghost of Hardy himself possessed him. They are more than ably supported by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda as Mrs Hardy and Mrs Laurel, who provide their own scene-stealing double act.

There is much to enjoy here for anyone with a love for Laurel and Hardy. Those in the know will spot many little moments throughout that philistines will be hard put to truly understand. But I do wonder what those who have less of an idea of those great men might make of the whole thing. Despite the great performances, Coogan and Reilly can only allude to the lightning in the bottle that was Laurel and Hardy.  If you don’t know it going in, you ain’t going to get it. For that, the philistines will have to go back and watch the originals. My advice for those true believers is to use this sweet little film as an excuse to educate a philistine or two. Which obviously will require a healthy dose of Laurel and Hardy movies as well as a visit to Stan & Ollie. As Stanley himself would say, “You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be led”.

 

Paul Farren

119 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Stan & Ollie is released 11th January 2019

 

 

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Review: Mortal Engines

DIR: Christian Rivers • WRI: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson • PRO: Deborah Forte, Peter Jackson, Amanda Walker, Fran Walsh, Zane Weiner • DOP: Simon Raby • ED: Jonathan Woodford-Robinson • DES: Dan Hennah • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving

 

The biggest worry for me going into this film was would my suspension of disbelief hold out? Fantasy it may be and that should be all it requires to buy into its rules for the duration, but would I be able to watch a city trundling around a dystopian landscape on gargantuan caterpillar tracks cannibalising other smaller cities and not keep thinking of Monty Pythons, Crimson Permanent Assurance?

I needn’t have worried; the high-octane opening showing a giant London on caterpillar tracks chasing a small Bavarian mining Village was presented with such straightforward sense of adventure and desperation that the snickers soon left, though now and again I did find myself thinking of what Mad Max might be like if it had been directed by Terry Gilliam..

Mortal Engines, based on the first of a series of books by Phillip French belongs firmly to the steam punk genre, where old-school Victorian values blend with sci-fi subject matter, normally set in alternative worlds. Mortal Engines is set in a far future after the Sixty Minute war laid waste to the world and a new order of scavenging evolved where travelling cities known as traction cities traverse the landscape living out of what they find left over from the past.  We enter this world as it is on the verge of collapse, conflict has risen between the traction cities, notably London and those that have begun to resettle properly on the land in a place not unlike the mythological Shangri-La. Following a path of revenge against this backdrop is Hester (Hera Hilmar), who aims to kill Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), an ambitious leader of the traction City of London. An unsuccessful attempt brings her to the attention of Tom Natsworty (Robert Sheehan), a young assistant in the city museum, who in turn realises that Valentine is not the great man he thought he was when he ejects him from the city because he knows the truth of Hester’s mission. Soon the two are in the wasteland making their way to god knows where while Hugo is reaching the completion of his master plan.

As would be expected of any film that has Peter Jackson’s (writer, producer) moniker attached to it, this is a sumptuous affair, beautifully realised in design and costume and featuring some dazzling effects.  He may not have his name attached as director but it is obvious that his influence on the director, Christian Rivers, is significant. A lot of Jackson’s hallmark shots are up on the screen in this production.

It is unfortunate that the frenetic style that opens the film is maintained for the entire narrative. Characters are introduced at high speed and given no proper emotional weight, barring one or two of them. No one seems to really stop to take a breath, though some sleep is had along the way. Most surprising is that the writing from Peter Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, seems so formulaic and predictable. This may be because of the source material, I couldn’t truly say but even so, from what I have learned of the books the wealth of background detail that went into realising the world of the story in the novels is certainly not given enough credence here. The overarching plot stifles any characterisation from properly emerging. The characters for the most part serve their functions rather than have any real sense of an inner life. As the narrative and action escalates it finally descends into a sort of steampunk version of Star Wars.

Despite those negatives there is a lot of joy to be had from this epic adventure. If spectacle is what you are after, you will find plenty, even if it does go on a tad too long. At a time when most blockbusters are so busy setting up their sequels, it is refreshing that this film, though possibly hoping to be the first of a series, stands on its own as a narrative.

 

Paul Farren

128 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Mortal Engines is released 14th December 2018

 

 

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Review: Roma

DIR/WRI:  Alfonso Cuarón • PRO: Nicolás Celis, Alfonso Cuarón, Gabriela Rodriguez • DOP:Alfonso Cuarón •  ED: Alfonso Cuarón, Adam Gough • DES: Eugenio Caballero • CAST: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey

The whole concept of auteur theory has come under increased scrutiny. Auteur theory considers how the worldview and work ethic of a director shapes the film he makes (canons are almost always crafted to be exclusively male for some mysterious reason). This approach is limited in its gender bias and in over-simplifying the complexities of the film production process. Those two issues certainly became prominent throughout the #MeToo revelations, where it turned out placing some directors on a pedestal facilitated their abusive behaviour. Over numerous high-profile cases of such abuse, there is now less trust in the auteur.

Many auteurs also happen to do their most pretentious and alienating work when making more introspective films. So as a fan of Alfonso Cuarón, I was worried that Roma would become Cuarón’s notorious “personal film”. After winning the Oscar for Best Director for Gravity, he could do virtually whatever project he wanted next. Why did he want to make a black-and-white portrait of an indigenous Mexican housekeeper shot in locations from his childhood? I think I may know why. And it may have a lot to say about the role of film auteur in the modern world.

Roma is named from the middle-class neighbourhood of Mexico City where Cuarón himself grew up. It follows a year in a family’s life, from 1970 to 1971, based on memories of certain moments or images from Cuarón’s childhood. He brings a twist to this very auteur-sounding concept by not following the experience of the ten-year-old son who is presumably his own stand-in. In fact, the children of this semi-fictionalised family are background characters to the main story. Roma focuses on Cleo, an indigenous housemaid of Mixtec background, played by first-time actor Yalitza Aparicio. Her story is based on extensive interviews with the maid from Cuarón’s own childhood.

By placing a First Nations character at the centre of this story, Cuarón has found a form of self-reflection that feels very timely. It also anchors the story around a character arc that builds momentum. This gives Roma a sense of direction and payoff lacking in, say, Boyhood, even though the films have some similarities. Both address a quirk of narrative cinema, where moments are selected to convey a story’s significance. As we ourselves experience life, we don’t live through moments thinking of them as significant to a greater whole. Roma is deceptively mundane as it shows many seemingly inconsequential moments, only to pay off what they reveal towards the film’s moving finale. There is also a sense of dread built through bad omens and sudden dramatic surprises.

At times, Roma feels like the other side of the coin to Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl. That 1966 black-and-white film follows an African maid in France and was notable for being one of the first widely-seen feature films directed by an African filmmaker. Black Girl explored how marginalised peoples struggle to articulate their own stories without the approval of privileged gatekeepers. In the case of Roma, Cuarón is part of the privileged ethnic group, when compared to the Mixtec maid Cleo. In recreating his childhood from her perspective, Cuarón brings a fresh and valuable approach to the tropes of the auteur’s semi-autobiographical film.

Roma explores Cleo’s relationship with the family becoming closer. The conclusion is ambiguous about the nature of her acceptance by the family. Whether or not it can truly be free of what the status quo dictates is an uncomfortable question from which Cuarón does not shy away. It’s hard to explain without revealing more of the story, but it appears to be an issue with which Cuarón has struggled. Is this Cuarón being honest about guilt over his privilege? About revisiting his childhood from a perspective that highlights his privilege? About how much is expected from certain marginalised groups for so little in return?

The relationship between personal and political is illustrated so much better in this film than when other filmmakers attempt such films. If this is what Cuarón does when given full creative freedom, then it reveals the rawest expression of the compassionate humanism present in his other work. The slow-paced tone of the story may be challenging for what seems set to be a mostly Netflix audience. I would strongly recommend either finding a cinema screening or at least committing to watching it through in one sitting.

Cuarón, acting as his own cinematographer for the first time, holds a confident command of visual storytelling. There are also self-aware visual nods to Cuarón’s other films throughout, including a short clip from 1969’s Marooned for an on-the-nose reference to Gravity. Present also are many trademarks from Cuarón’s body of work; babies and young children, uprisings and Pietà poses, outdoor restaurants and hospital stairs, indigenous languages, infidelities among the middle class of Mexico City and of course, visually-stunning extended long-takes.

But wait, didn’t we begin by questioning the modern relevance of auteurs? Well, the perspective Cuarón brings to Roma, such as we can attribute this film to his vision, does something of value. It highlights how such projects can be used for self-reflection that’s actually relevant to society. If it can be used to examine privilege, then it can lead to striking, honest works of beauty such as Roma. Roma manages to take the audience in a time machine to 1970s Mexico, while being less of an exercise in escapist nostalgia and more of a fresh confrontation with pressing, modern issues.

So consider me relieved because I usually find this kind of film problematic. If any filmmaker was going to pull it off well, it would be one as skilful as Alfonso Cuarón. With all the caveats about how auteurs are constructed, it can sometimes help us identify when a truly special filmmaker is in our midst. We are lucky to have a filmmaker like Cuarón making films at a time like this.

Jonathan Victory

134 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Roma is released 29th November 2018

 

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Review: The Wild Pear Tree

Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan  Wri: Akin Aksu, Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan  Pro: Zeynep Ozbatur, Atakan, Muzzafer Yildirim   DOP: Gokhan Tiryaki • Ed: Nuri Bilge Ceylan  Des: Meral Aktan  CAST: Aydin Dogu Demirkol, Murat Cemcir, Bennu Yildrimlar, Hazar Erguclu.  

Recent college graduate, Sinan (Demirkol), returns to his hometown as he ponders what next to do with his life. Upon returning he begins to realise the extent of his father’s gambling problems and of the debts he has accrued around town. Sinan also sets to work on an ambitious, personal novel about his hometown.

Distinguished Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan returns to our screens with this characteristically thoughtful and intelligent drama. The picture’s length – 188 minutes – is daunting, particularly for a film as dialogue-based as this. Patient viewers will be rewarded, however, by a film infused with a striking sense of melancholy and insightful ruminations on such things as family, human relationships, memory, art and mortality.

At the film’s centre are two wonderfully drawn performances. Demirkol as the cynical, smart, angry Sinan, a young man with lofty ideas and no little ambition. Cemcil, as his gambling-addicted father, Idris, essays a character that is, in a lot of ways, but never completely, tragic. His gambling issues are obviously a terrible strain on his family – conversations between Sinan and his mother, Asuman (Yildrimalar) – illustrate their opposing and ever-shifting considerations of Idris’ addiction.

When the electricity starts being cut-off, things hit a breaking point. Idris, however, maintains a humanity and a playful, child-like approach to life. He never loses one’s sympathies, even when he does wrong, such as stealing from Sinan. The relationship between Sinan and Idris, while strained, is always ingrained with affection. Sinan constantly vents to others around him about his father, but is never capable of confronting him himself, in fact he nearly always tries to help him.

No matter how fraught matters become in the film, every character maintains the potential for kindness. Ceylan also generally eschews clichés associated with films about alienated people returning to their past. A kiss Sinan shares with an old school-crush, Hatice (Erguclu), is never developed afterwards, as it would be in other films. We’re never given any indication as to whether Sinan’s tome is of any quality or how closely it resembles the snapshots presented in the film.

The film often veers off into tangents to explore other ideas that layer themselves into the central father-son story. One particular highlight is a humourous scene which sees Sinan approach a local, successful author in a book-shop. He moves from initial reverence to outright mockery in the space of their conversation.

Sinan is often arrogant and provocative. Another scene sees him needlessly goad his friend into hitting him. While these characteristics might be unpalatable, this is film that constantly strives to show us the complexity in human nature. Bilge Ceylan luxuriates in his duration to create what feel like utterly real characters and situations.

This is a quiet, often beautiful and powerful film that resonates with the viewer long after the credits roll.

David Prendeville

188 minutes
The Wild Pear Tree is released 30th November 2018

 

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Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

DIR: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman • WRI: Phil Lord • DOP: Bob Kelly • ED: Síle Ní Fhlaibhín • DES: Justin Thompson • MUS: Daniel Pemberton PRO: Avi Arad, Phil Lord. Christopher Miller, Amy Pascal, Christina Steinberg • CAST: Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber

It’s difficult to get Spider-Man wrong. It’s more difficult to get six versions of the character – all with their own distinct designs and personalities – right but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse does it and then some. With a warm, pull-no-punches story and impeccable voice acting and animation Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse asserts itself as not just the best comic book movie of 2018 but as a defining moment in comic book movies.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider and after watching his universe’s Spider-Man (Chris Pine) die takes on the mantle to stop Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and shut down the Super-Collider that will destroy New York. The Super-Collider has brought five other Spider-People into Miles’ universe. There’s the schlubby, older Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), the competent but aloof Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), the Nazi punching Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), the anime-inspired Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Looney Tunes caricature Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney).

All of these characters get their moment in the sun but it’s Miles that the movie belongs to. Essentially an origin story Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse wears this fact proudly and twists it in a variety of interesting ways. Thrown in at the deep end with a useless teacher and little time to learn the ropes Miles’ trials and tribulation become the beating heart of a movie that’s never ashamed to make fun of itself or frightened to up end tropes such as the classic Uncle Ben moment.

The problem with a lot of big-budget animation films is that a famous voice cast can often treat it like an easy paycheque. Not here though. Cage is worth a particular mention with his performance drawing on classic actors from the 1930s like Bogart and Cagney. Mahershala Ali’s turn is heart-wrenching, and unusually but not unwelcomely so is Schreiber as a strangely relatable and hilariously animated Kingpin. But it’s the likes of Moore, Johnson and Steinfeld that ground the film in its very real, very affecting story.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t afraid to dive deep into grief and loss. The death of the original Spider-Man in Miles’ universe hits like a hammer blow in a protracted but never overstayed moment. This is helped by the animation which makes the New York of the film feel like a living, breathing city. The vibrant colours and techniques such as the inclusion of split screens, thought bubbles and ‘POW!’ exclamations remind that this film is not just a warm, funny and thoughtful story but a warm, funny and thoughtful comic book story.

At two hours Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse never rushes or drags. It was a film I was content to bask in with a world, no universe, that would be criminal not to revisit. Even the film’s end credits scene is worth staying for. Quality right to the end. As Marvel enters its darkest era yet Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a reminder not only of how enjoyably bright these films can be but how enjoyably bright these films should be. The world is a grim place right now but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not just a light to rest by but one to be guided by.

Andrew Carroll

97 minutes
117 (see IFCO for details)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is released 12th December 2018
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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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