Review: Joker

DIR: Todd Phillips • WRI: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver • DOP: Lawrence Sher • ED: Jeff Groth • DES: Mark Friedberg • PRO: Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips, Emma Tillinger Koskoff • MUS: Hildur Guðnadóttir • CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro

Why do the lonely quiet American boys find themselves drawn to violence? Beneath the mask of a film about one of the most iconic comic book villains, writer-director Todd Phillips has crafted a stark character study that deals with just that. Joker is a powerhouse cinematic odyssey, that descends into the inner psyche of failing comedian, Arthur Fleck. This is the kind of visceral, unfettered filmmaking, that induces states of near-paralysis, as it pushes forward, in a bold, desperate search for catharsis.

The year is 1980, or maybe 81. Arthur(Joaquin Phoenix) brushes white clown makeup on in careful strokes. His face is gaunt and sickly white, his hair, long and disheveled. He studies his face in the mirror and brandishes a smile. His lonely eyes radiate nothing but unsettling anxiety, none of which disappears after he’s viciously mugged on the streets of Gotham. Naturally, none of this helps Arthur’s mental health, which is in dire straits, but he can’t seem to stop laughing, “Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?” he says to his psychologist, but what can she even say.

Arthur lives in a derelict block in a cramped apartment with his mother ( Frances Conroy). She’s frail, withered, and her words are a tangle of hopeless delusions. She’s convinced would-be Mayor, Thomas Wayne, is going to help her and Arthur rise out of destitution. But when a colleague at work gives him a gun for protection, Arthur’s life quickly descends into hellish depths of tragedy. Threatened by a trio of businessmen on the subway he snaps, murdering them with a rain of gunfire. This act is hailed by some as justice for Gotham’s disenfranchised citizens, and riotous mobs gather in the streets, hailing the Clown killer a hero. This growing social unrest and newfound celebrity, only seem to propel Arthur’s prophetic transformation into Joker.

This is a career-defining performance, by one of the best character actors of his generation. Joaquin Phoenix never flinches, as he boldly risks everything to bring Arthur to life. His performance is a nuanced dance, that hovers through a netherworld, between humanity and psychosis to a state of virtuoso insanity.  Phoenix brings a sincerity and empathy to a man who goes over the cliff edge of his own sanity. The cast is rounded out with stellar supporting performances from Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Robert DeNiro, and Marc Maron.

Director Todd Phillips’ cinematic vision has a clear foundation in the language and style of ’70s cinema, owing a clear debt to Taxi Driver in particular. The harsh bleak realism of Joker is balanced with bursts of the surreal. The grit of the streets and back alleys is met with the fluorescent color of Jokers’ transcendent dances. Joker’s Gotham is a darkened landscape of oppressive shadows and tiering skyscrapers. The tightknit lighting and camera work comes courtesy of cinematographer Lawrence Sher.  But all this is elevated by Hildur Guonadottir’s menacing score, which seemingly ignites the embers raging within Arthur’s heart.  And none of this would have been possible, without the Trojan work of production designer Mark Friedberg, and Oscar-winning costume designer Mark Bridges, who both bring the world to life.

Ultimately, Joker is near Shakespearean in its tragic scope. It’s Macbeth for the comic book movie generation, and easily the most morally complex comic book film since The Dark Knight. This isn’t a black and white portrayal of a villain, the moral boundaries here are far more ambiguous. When you strip away all justice, fairness, and equality, and push a mentally sick person to the absolute limit, the result is never going to be a pretty picture. Ultimately, any discomfort or objections to the film will derive from the uncomfortable realization, that most people, given the right circumstances, are capable of some pretty terrible things. But at the end of the day, this is a film about how a monster is made, and what’s terrifying is his humanity, expecting anything less would just be a mistake. And when Joker finally hits his punchline, he gets the last laugh; and it’s electric to watch.

Michael Lee

121′ 38″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Joker is released 4th October 2019

Joker– Official Website

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Review: Downton Abbey

DIR: Michael Engler • WRI: Julian Fellowes • DOP: Ben Smithard • ED: Mark Day • DES: Donal Woods • PRO: Julian Fellowes, Gareth Neame, Liz Trubridge • MUS: John Lunn • CAST: Michelle Dockery, Tuppence Middleton, Maggie Smith

After fifty-two episodes, over six seasons, Downton Abbey left our television screens on Christmas Day 2015; while ending on a joyous high, the loss of such a beloved series was felt by fans. Not long after, rumours of Downton Abbey heading for the big screen were spreading; but that is all I viewed them as: rumours, and empty promises. Four years later creator Julian Fellowes made good on that promise, delivering a sumptuous adaptation that pays service to the fans who followed Downton and its residents for so long. Being a fan of the television series, I was very excited to see Downton Abbey one last time, but slightly apprehensive about how it would translate on film, and whether the story would be interesting enough to hold audiences attention for two hours. I clearly needn’t have worried. While Downton worked really well as a television series, there are details that can only be truly appreciated when seeing it in the cinema; such as the first shot of the house. This first look at the manor, after four years, along with the recognisable Downton theme tune playing, felt like coming home. The lavish interiors, and the costumes are even more beautiful on the cinema screen.

The movie is set in 1927, and King George V and Queen Mary are visiting Downton. A fuss ensues as the servants prepare the house for the visit, while the Lord’s and Lady’s worry about what to wear for the occasion. All the usual suspects are involved in the film: Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Tom Branson (Allen Leech), Mr. and Mrs. Bates (Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt), Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) and, of course, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), who, as always, steals any scene she’s in. The wit and sharp tongue that fans have loved from Smith’s character has remained, and her scheming ways continue; the film acknowledges the importance of her character in a poignant, but appropriate way. 

What Downton has always been good at, is the equal attention to the stories and lives of those from different classes, audiences know just as much about a Lady’s maid as they do about the Lady, and the film picks up from where the series left off: we get to see Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) happy in her married life with husband Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton), something which seemed unlikely for most of the series after she eventually became resigned to the fact that she would never find love; we see Anna and John Bates with their son; Lady Mary, who was pregnant at the series end, had a daughter with second husband Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode); romance brews for the widowed Branson; and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) are the quintessential old married couple. 

The movie deals with historical issues, such as the criminalising of homosexuality, and how this affects Barrow’s life; this had been dealt with in the series, and is continued in the film, the course which this storyline takes leaves some hope that romance might be possible for the character. Most interesting, from an Irish perspective, was the way they dealt with Branson, and his republican past, and what that meant in relation to the pending royal visit. As much as I like Branson, there was something in the way they used his character that left me somewhat miffed, as though they were demonstrating how the elite life can ‘reform’ the once radical Irish. 

Most of the humour throughout was, of course, courtesy of the Dowager’s and Isobel Crawley’s (Penelope Wilton) friendly bickering, but some also came from Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), whose excitement at the opportunity to serve the King and Queen left him forgetful of the ‘proper etiquette’ of a servant. However, the power struggle between the servants of Downton, and the royal servants was rather entertaining as well.

This film is essentially fan service, allowing fans to revel in the grandeur of Downton and the lives of its characters one more time. The final shots of the characters and the last look at the manor will leave fans content with the knowledge that Downton Abbey has opened its doors to audiences for the last time.

Shauna Fox

122′ 16″
PG (see IFCO for details)

Downton Abbey is released 13th September 2019

Downton Abbey – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Ad Astra

DIR: James Gray • WRI: James Gray, Ethan Gross • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: John Axelrad, Lee Haugen • DES: Kevin Thompson • PRO: Dede Gardner, James Gray, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan, Yariv Milchan, Brad Pitt, Rodrigo Teixeira • MUS: Max Richter • CAST: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland

Space is a fascinating concept. Down here on earth we look up to the stars and dream of one day touching them. If we go high enough in our attempts to reach them, we will be greeted by an endless vacuum of darkness populated by planets that no human has ever graced. It’s hard to fathom that with all the technology that’s available to us we still haven’t fully explored the known universe. Imagine what may lie past our solar system. These incomprehensible visions of space have gifted audiences with some of the best films of all time. Kubrick gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nolan gave us Interstellar. Cuaron gave us Gravity. Chazelle gave us First Man.  Scott gave us The Martian. All these auteurs have attempted to capture the awe and wonder of space. These directors have taken on board ships to help us reach the stars. Ad Astra sees James Gray tackle the genre which is perhaps the hardest to master. Yet master is exactly what Gray does as this is a film that is not only the best of 2019 so far but is the film that should catapult Gray into superstardom. 

Ad Astra tells the story of Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) an astronaut whose father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) helms The Lima project, the project focuses on finding out what wonders exist in our solar system. When Clifford stops reporting to base Roy must go on a monumental mission to Neptune to save both his strained relationship with his father and the world. Going into Ad Astra its best to know as little plot details as possible. The only film that compares to Ad Astra is Apocalypse Now. Except you have to swap the jungle for space, Michael Sheen for Brad Pitt and Marlon Brando with Tommy Lee Jones. This is an exploration into the heart of darkness of space and the human mind. 

Those expecting a huge blockbuster need to know that it is a drama, not an action film. That’s not to say that there is no action to be found. There are four to five enthralling sequences that are pulse-racing. Everything about the action feels real even if we can’t relate to what we are seeing on screen. The opening sequence that finds Roy hurtling to earth is astonishing. From the off, it’s clear that this film is giving the audience an experience that they have never had before. A space-buggy chase on the moon is science fiction at its best. When you think you’ve seen everything that the moon has to offer on film, Ad Astra gives you a chase sequence unlike any other. The film makes the brave decision of keeping the action to a minimum. A decision that elevates the film above 90% of science fiction. Ad Astra is an examination of the mind. Action is used as a means of testing the character’s emotional strength as much as their physicality. Every decision the characters make when dealing with a potential catastrophe matter. The world of Ad Astra is as unforgiving as the real world. 

Brad Pitt has been on a roll recently. Pitt is one of the final examples of the almost extinct concept of the A-lister. It’s easy to forget that there was a stage in Pitt’s career where he was unfairly mocked. Critics tended to write off Pitt as an actor who only took safe choices. As if his roles in Snatch, Fight Club and Twelve Monkeys never happened. The past decade has seen Pitt win the respect he deserves from critics. From Inglorious Bastards onwards Pitt received the rightful reputation as one of the best actors working today. 

Ad Astra may be the best work of the esteemed actor’s career to date. While not as flashy as the other characters that Pitt has played. Roy McBride is the most important. A stoic character who even though on the surface he’s a man whose heart rate has never exceeded 85 BPM, he’s suffering internally. Through a voiceover that plays Roy’s thoughts to the audience, we get an insight into a damaged mind. Pitt gives a nuanced performance that captures what it’s like to suffer mentally. As someone who suffers from severe depression, I appreciated how the film handles it. Even though on the outside we may act as if everything is okay, often on the inside we are suffering immense pain. As the film progresses Roy’s esteem sinks lower and lower. Pitt doesn’t change his performance. Outside of a single tear rolling down his cheek there is no extreme outburst of emotion. Yet, he is not emotionless. Pitt’s performance is one that must be seen by any aspiring actor. Less is often more. Thanks to his flawless subtle performance Pitt could be on the way to his first Oscar win. 

Obviously saying that Roy is the main character is an understatement, nevertheless Ad Astra would not work without the side characters who, while only having a few minutes of screentime, each add layers of depth to the story. Ireland’s own Ruth Negga on the back of her first Oscar nomination appears during an interval on Mars. Negga’s Helen is a similar character to Roy except for the way she’s able to control her sadness. It’s disappointing that Negga is only in one segment of the film, but it’s clear as day that the Irish native is a genuine star.

Donald Sutherland plays Colonel McBride, a veteran astronaut who serves as a reminder of the relationship that Roy could have had with his father. Sutherland is seldom seen on screen these days. Yet even in the latter stages of his career the actor gives a performance of a man who never left his prime. Tommy Lee Jones as Roy’s father is a character who is talked about more than actually seen. Following nearly the entirety of the film building up to his arrival it easily could have fallen flat. Jones knocks his performance out of the park, giving his best performance since No Country for Old Men. The payoff to the father-son relationship will have everyone in the theatre wanting to give their dad a hug when they arrive home. After all it’s the relationship we have with our parents that impact us the most as people.

James Gray is no stranger to ambitious films. His last feature, The Lost City of Z, took audiences on a journey through the Amazon. A journey which showed that Gray is not interested in taking the easy route. With Ad Astra Gray wants the audience to feel as if they themselves are going on an intergalactic quest. The direction of the film is brilliant. Never before has a space film felt this real. It would not be surprising to learn that he and Pitt went to space for a few months to film.  Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema treats the world to some of the most beautiful images of space to ever grace the screen. As a large portion of the film is spent solely with Roy traveling through space, there was a high chance that the film could have felt lifeless. However, the score from Max Richter is perfection. It almost feels as if the music is a character of its own. If you have no interest in seeing the film do yourself a favour and buy the soundtrack. Gray also makes the wise decision of not filling his film with unnecessary sentimentality. Interstellar would have been a perfect film if the plot wasn’t bogged down by a forced love story. Instead Gray leaves details of the romantic past between Roy and Eve (Liv Tyler) to our imagination. In an age where studio films suggest that the only way to be a man is to fight your way through every battle, Gray gives a healthy account of what masculinity should be. Gray wants the world to know that a hero does not have to be an emotionless machine who generates random quips. It’s okay for men to feel emotion. If anything, it makes you more of a man. 

Ad Astra is the film equivalent of a solar eclipse. A film of this quality may only arrive every couple of years; when it does arrive it truly is special. The performances, direction, score, cinematography, themes, and impact all fit together perfectly to make the finest film of the year. For all those times you looked up to the stars as a kid and wondered “what if I made it up there?”, Ad Astra gives you the answer. Many will write off the film for being slow, yet that is what the world needs right now. With all the horrors and monstrosities happening around us. Perhaps, it’s time to stop and reflect. Ask ourselves why are we allowing the world to be this way.  It’s time for change. Ad Astra is a sign of an important change in the industry. It’s about time. 

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

122′ 55″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Ad Astra is released 20th September 2019

Ad Astra – Official Website

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Review: It Chapter Two

DIR: Andy Muschietti • WRI: Gary Dauberman • DOP: Checco Varese • ED: Jason Ballantine • DES: Paul D. Austerberry • PRO: Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Barbara Muschietti • MUS: Benjamin Wallfisch • CAST: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader

There is nothing quite like reading a Stephen King novel. King is a master of his craft; no one on this planet can inject tension into words like King. The acclaimed author’s books have sold over 350 million copies to date. Without his novels, the world of film would be without classics. It’s easy to forget that masterpieces such as The Shawshank Redemption, Carrie, The Shining, Stand by Me and The Green Mile all stemmed from the pages of King’s novels.  Notice anything about those films? They all came before the 21st century. Film adaptations of King’s novels from 2000 onwards were almost entirely missed; hands up if you’ve seen Dreamcatcher or Hearts in Atlantis? Out of nowhere in 2017 It arrived.  Not only was the horror a revival; for King’s work on the big screen, but it was one of the finest horrors of the decade. Combining the heart of Stand by Me with a cannibalistic clown was the perfect formula that no one could have predicted. From there, King’s work began to get justice on the big screen; Gerald’s Game, 1922 and Pet Sematary have continued the author’s hot streak. It Chapter Two arrives with a huge task on each shoulder. On one shoulder it’s faced with the task of keeping the reputation of the novel alive. On the other, the film must deliver a worthy sequel to one of the finest coming-of-age films you’ll ever see. 

It Chapter Two continues the story of The Losers Club as they deal with the trauma that comes with being terrorised by a sadistic clown (Bill Skarsgård). Whereas most sequels would follow up directly on from the events of the previous films, like the book and TV movie, the second part of the film takes place 27 years later.  Over the course of those 27 years, The Losers Club have gone their separate ways. Bill (James McAvoy) is a struggling screenwriter who can’t find the perfect ending for his film a la Stephen King. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is suffering from emotional and physical abuse from her husband. Richie (Bill Hader) has progressed from making fun of his friends as a kid to making fun of his audience as a stand-up comedian. Ben (Jay Ryan) is a successful businessman who still reminisces about what could have been. Eddie (James Ransone) has taken his irrational fears in his stride by becoming a risk assessor. Stanley (Andy Bean) is the loser who has been affected the most by their childhood trauma.  All but one of the losers have moved on with their lives. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has spent his adulthood investigating the mythology of Pennywise. Following a brutal homophobic attack that finds the victim seeking help from Pennywise, Mike realises that it’s time to get the gang back together to put an end to Pennywise’s reign of terror.

From a horror perspective, there are lots for fans of the genre to take from the film. This is a big-budgeted horror flick that doesn’t shy away from being bloody. Any sequence that involves Pennywise stalking a victim is guaranteed to unleash fear into its audiences. What makes these sequences special is that the build-up to Pennywise’s kills are as terrifying as the actual murders he commits. Bill Skarsgård manages to sell Pennywise’s negotiation methods in a way where you don’t feel that any of the victims are being idiotic. A magnificent funfair sequence allows Skarsgård to run wild with the horrific nature of his character.

With Pennywise, Skarsgård has arguably outdone Tim Curry and created a horror icon who belongs on the top of any best villain lists. A scene that hints at Pennywise’s origin delivers an image that will be embedded in the minds of the audience for weeks to come. Skarsgård deserves plaudits for turning Pennywise into a character who justifies the need to be dealt with for two films. It’s easy to forget that the second part of the original TV special is shambolic. Thanks to Bill Skarsgård, It Chapter Two is a worthy successor to the 2017 film.

It Chapter Two is perfectly cast from top to bottom. It’s hard to think of another sequel that has to replace its entire cast. It’s hard enough for directors to cast characters that fit a role in the first place. When you have to cast actors that must deliver performances that match the flawless performances from the first film, odds are you’re going to end up with a dud of a film. It Chapter Two pulls off an impossible task with ease through its impeccable casting. Every single one of the adult losers feels authentic. While their story may not be as strong as the one their child versions got to star in, each actor delivers the goods. James McAvoy is as reliable as ever as Bill. Even when McAvoy is in a bad movie, looking at you Dark Phoenix and Glass, the Scotsman always delivers the goods. One of the highlights of the film is his relationship with a young child who reminds him of Georgie.

Jessica Chastain as Beverly is unfortunately underused. Instead of investigating the psychology of a woman who has suffered from immense trauma the film opts to throw her into an unnecessary love triangle. When Beverly is given something to do Chastain nails the character. Beverly’s meeting with a suspicious old lady is the scariest scene in a film in recent memory. Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben in It Chapter One was the most sympathetic character in the film. Seeing him dismissed by everyone due to his weight was heartbreaking. Jay Ryan as the adult iteration of Ben certainly feels like the same heart is in him, but the film chooses to ignore his characteristics and focus on his looks. A large portion of the film is wasted by pitting Bill, Beverly, and Ben into an unnecessary love triangle. When there is a killer clown on the loose it’s probably a good idea to put your rivalry on standby. 

When scholars look upon genius moments in film history in a thousand years their heads will turn to the direction of It Chapter Two. Casting Bill Hader and James Ransone was a stroke of magic by Andy Muschietti. In the lead up to the release of the film much has been said of Bill Hader’s performance as Richie. It’s a pleasure to say that all the hype surrounding Hader’s performance is more than justified. Hader is electric as Richie. Every joke he delivers lands effortlessly, all the more impressive when you consider just how many of them there are. Casual Hader fans who know him from the likes of Superbad and Trainwreck will be floored by the raw emotion he brings to the film. James Ransone who plays Eddie may not give as dramatic performance as Hader, but it can’t be underplayed how perfect he is as the germaphobe. Ransone’s facial expressions capture every single fear that his character is feeling. Actors often fail to sell the fear their character possess, yet one look into Ransone’s eyes will showcase how terrified his character is. Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer use their minimal screentime to move each of their character arcs forward to the point where the adult actors can make the audience sob in the final act. Wolfhard and Grazer are both proving on a regular basis that they are going to be stars. With any luck they will be as gifted as Bill Hader and James Ransone. 

With a runtime that falls just under the three-hour mark, It Chapter Two gives director Andy Muschietti free reign to leave his audience with goosebumps. With only three films under his belt Muschietti is relatively a newcomer to directing. Saying that, he is proving himself to be a future master of his craft. Instead of following the recent trend of over-relying on jumpscares. Muschetti is interested in creating monsters that will haunt the dreams of both young and old. Even though Pennywise is the main monster of the film, there are plenty of other creations that are unnerving. As mentioned earlier a scene involving Beverly meeting an old lady is chilling. This is down to Muschetti installing subtlety into his direction. Not every scare needs to be big and in front of the camera. Sometimes the scariest things are the images you capture in the background. The film falls short is justifying its lengthy runtime. The overuse of flashbacks to the original cast is the film’s biggest flaw. Instead of focusing on what happened after the events of the first film, the flashbacks show sequences that happened during the timeframe of the film but were never mentioned previously. It ends up feeling like deleted scenes from the previous film were installed just to capitalise on the talent of the younger cast. While it’s nice to see them again it feels like filler for the sake of filler.

It Chapter Two is written solely by Gary Dauberman, both Chase Palmer and Cary Joji Fukunaga failed to return. Losing two of the three writers of the first film messes with the flow of the sequel. Dauberman has to create compelling dialogue for a cast that has doubled since the first film. It’s a task too big for anyone and as a result the dialogue of the film doesn’t flow as naturally as the first. Moments of humour where they should never be stick out like a sore thumb. One scene that is meant to be scary installs an odd musical cue that will have the audience thinking of Deadpool 2 instead of what’s on the screen. 

It Chapter 2 is a miracle. While it just falls short of the heights of the first film, this sequel manages to spin a record amount of plates in a china shop without breaking anything. To replace your entire cast, terrify your audience and come up with a satisfying ending is miraculous. In a world that is filled with mediocre horror film after mediocre horror film, it’s therapeutic to watch a big-budgeted horror film that takes risks. Andy Muschietti is a name you need to familiarise yourself with quick. This is a director who does not want to follow the norm. In an age where it’s becoming harder and harder to find directors who make every movie their own. Muschietti is here to show the world that horror is a genre that deserves to be respected. No risk is too big for Muschietti. After all he did just manage to make six-hours of compelling content that revolves around an evil clown. 

Liam De Brún

169′ 11″
16 (see IFCO for details)

It Chapter Two  is released 6th September 2019

It Chapter Two– Official Website

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Review: Blinded by the Light

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Crowley

117′ 11″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Blinded by the Light is released 9th August 2019

Blinded by the Light – Official Website

 

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Review: The Angry Birds Movie 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

96′ 40″
G (see IFCO for details)

The Angry Birds Movie 2 is released 2nd August 2019

The Angry Birds Movie 2 – Official Website

 


 

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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

135′ 43″
PG (see IFCO for details)

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

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – Official Website

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Review: The Lion King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Liam De Brún

118′ 7″
PG (see IFCO for details)

The Lion King is released 19th July 2019

The Lion King – Official Website

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