Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 35 – Drop Kick a Puppy

 

Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm address the nation and share their latest jibber jabber on some new films that people have made for you to see, including dream-chasing and drug-taking in Wild Rose,  spotting Dublin streets in Greta, and high-school yarns in 8th Grade and Book Smart.

Sarah takes a look at three Netflix films with women drinking in Wine Country, a lack of murders in Who Would you Take to a Desert Island, and alive ghosts in Suzzanna: Buried Alive.

Richard takes his seat at the High Table and discusses the endless shoot-outs of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, nonsense in the cinema at Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, and the pointlessness of Vox Lux.

And finally there’s the glass cliff of Avengers: Endgame (were they tears Richard?)

Listen…

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Land Without God screened on 28th February 2019 as part of theDublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 33 – Sandblasted and Dehydrated

 

Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm are back in your ear to deliver their take on the Oscars. Plus amongst their reviews, Sarah implores you not to see Dragged Across Concrete, Richard ponders the point of Cold Pursuit, starring Liam Neeson as an avenging Mr Plough and there’s love for If Beale Street Could Talk and a look at… a look at… a look at Happy Death Day 2U. Outside of the cinema, there’s a bit of Netflix chats and on the Irish cinema front Richard finds himself liking Cellar Door.
 

 

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 31 – A Giant Pile of Falsehoods

In this end of year peachy pod, Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm reflect on 2017 and pick out their top movies, plus their worst moments – including Richard’s newly diagnosed persicaphobia.

There’s also a round up of some recent films, including It Tolls for Thee, Battle of the Sexes – featuring Sarah’s tennis rant, The Death of Stalin, Thor: Ragnarok, The Disaster Artist, Call Me By Your Name, The Last Jedi – and all its sex scenes.

Happy new year…

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 30 – Meat House

 

 

Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm return to aurally go where no pod has gone before bringing both chit and chat to the latest Film Ireland Podcast.

In this episode our dastardly duo bring you news and gossip and enter the world of TV to ponder Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Under the cinematic microscope is The 34th, an Irish doc that tells the story of the people who formed Marriage Equality in Ireland, the hirsute War for the Planet of the Apes, Nolan’s Dunkirk, the capered Logan Lucky, the punch a white man inducing Detroit, the bravely bleak Wind River, the fingerbanging Kingsman: The Golden Circle and ermmmm mother!

Hear ye! Hear ye!

 


 

 

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Irish Short Film Review: ‘January Hymn’

 

Richard Drumm sings the praises of January Hymn, Katherine Canty’s short film exploring grief.

Written and directed by Katherine Canty, January Hymn is a short film exploring grief. Specifically an examination of the intangibility of grief and how one experiences it. We are shown this through the subjective visuals of Clara (Niamh Algar) as she returns home for the anniversary of her father’s death. Arranged semi-linearly, the film offers us fragmentary moments and memories as Clara processes her situation. Numerous lingering shots, occasionally of abstract visuals, keep the viewer slightly detached from Clara’s experience. The often symmetrical, quite clean framing, further reinforces this separation of viewer and subject.

While it can be a slightly over-used term, it rarely feels as appropriate to call something quasi-Lynchian as it does here. The powerfully evocative visuals are strikingly stark, especially in their construction of simple images with a distinctly heightened sense of reality. Adding to the Lynch-like nature of the piece – aside from a penchant for ambiguously menacing shots of trees – is the sensation of watching it is akin to having someone attempt to explain their dream to you.

The sparse dialogue means we have to rely on Algar’s subtly expressive face as a guide for the emotional weight of the imagery. The combined effect of all of these deliberately distancing techniques is a powerful viewing experience and what feels like an authentic interpretation of grief, or rather an admirable attempt to abstract such a deeply personal experience into something more broadly emotionally relatable.

It’s undeniably a piece carried by mood, a mood anchored by Kate McCullough’s arresting cinematography. The atmosphere of ambiguity and uncertainty, while highlighting the emotional vulnerability of the protagonist, lends the film an almost horror-like quality. Unease permeates every shot and the loose temporal/spatial zone the film occupies means you’re never quite sure where it’s going. Haunting and memorable shots such as Clara and her aunt sitting at a table at the centre of a void of total blackness give proceedings a heightened and unnerving quality.

January Hymn is a bold and confident statement of intent from Katherine Canty. A highly engaging and opaque journey through grief, peppered with unsettling moments and imagery which genuinely linger long after the credits have rolled. Additionally, it’s another fine example of why Niamh Algar continues to be a formidable screen presence and absolutely a talent to keep a close eye on.

January Hymn is presently touring festivals with three upcoming showings at Still Voices in August and an appearance on 4th September at The Bleeding Pig Short Film Festival. Check out their online programmes for more details and follow @katherine_canty for updates.

 

 

http://filmireland.net/2017/06/09/film-festivals-2017-here-abroad/

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SuperPod: Wonder Woman & Spider-Man

 

Our latex-wearing superpodders, Richard Drumm and Paul Farren, return to their headquarters to plot the rescue of their missing partner Scott Adair. Whilst plotting, our crime-fighting duo discuss the two latest DC and Marvel films to hit the big screens, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

 

 

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 29 – The Thinking Man’s Apocalypse

 

Our regular Film Ireland Podcast returns with resplendent hosts Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm bringing you fun and frolics from the film world. Yes there’s Star wars news, Yes there’s movie reviews. Want to hear about Baby Driver – take that. After the Storm – bleakly optimistic. Miss Sloane – make guns seem cool with the ladies. Wonder Woman – we all liked it. It Comes at Night – thinking man’s apocalypseMy Cousin Rachel – can we trust her? Alien Covenent – celebrating James Franco’s face on fire.

 

Pod on…

 

 

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Irish Short Film Review: The Betrayal

 

Richard Drumm witnesses The Betrayal. Nel and Mark’s marriage is on the rocks. Nel’s best friend, Alice, is madly in love with her. As Nel starts questioning her feelings for Alice, Mark’s own issues unravel, changing all of their lives forever.

Written, co-directed – with Natasha Waugh (Terminal) – and starring Kamila Dydyna, The Betrayal is a female and LGBT-focused short which touches on elements such as sexual identity and domestic violence within the story of a marriage break-up. Rounding out the cast along with Dydyna are Mark McAuley (Vikings) and Miriam Devitt (Running Commentary, Food Fight).  As her partner’s violent reactions escalate, Nel (Dydyna) finds herself increasingly drawn toward a new romantic possibility. However, this brings about its own dangers.

The film is co-directed by Natasha Waugh from Fight Back Films, with cinematography by Gosia Zur (Monged), costume design by Gwen Jeffares-Hourie, and, on the whole, the quality of the production for a short on this scale has to be commended. Some excellent location work combined with Zur’s cinematography lends the film an accomplished aesthetic for the modestly-budgeted piece.

Strong performances from the two female leads and solid work from the two directors shows an assured confidence from the cast and crew toward the project. Being a little on the long side of short allows time for the narrative’s more dramatic elements to be drawn out to a more satisfying degree and the pace is aided by a surprisingly robust soundtrack. It features tracks from Ryan Vail’s debut album “For Every Silence”, Conor Walsh’s “The Front”, tracks by OCHO and most notably, “Martha’s Dream” by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

The choice to end on a small cliff-hanger – while successful in leaving a strong impression and closing visual – does mean eschewing the often tightly self-contained narrative of many shorts and replacing it with something more open-ended and narratively unsatisfying. But this lack of clean resolution fits with the themes explored while keeping with the film’s decision to mercifully not draw any hard lines or conclusions regarding the likes of the characters’ sexuality. The uncertainly feels truer to life even if that comes at a price. Other elements, like the glitter-drenched dream sequence, add a novelty and charm to the otherwise tightly controlled visuals.

While arguments could be made for it being either a little longer or a little shorter, it remains a strong piece and the product of a carefully-chosen crew working very well together and elevated by strong leads and ambitious scale to its production. The very apparent attention paid to music choice and post-production generally reflects particularly well on the filmmakers.

 

The Betrayal is currently available to rent or buy on VOD through Distrify: https://weipix.com/videos/6JqtiE-the-betrayal (except UK & Ireland). Expect an announcement very soon regarding Irish distribution, follow @Betrayal_Film on twitter for more.

 

 

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ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: Without Name

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Richard Drumm enters the woods of Lorcan Finnegan’s Without Name, which screened at Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Set mainly in and around the titular woods of the name-lacking variety, Without Name follows Eric (Alan McKenna), a surveyor sent to evaluate said stretch of land on the quiet for a shady developer type. Noting an increased detachment at home from his wife and child, not to mention an overall mood of technology taking over his life, Eric heads into the wild. While nominally there for work, he’s also trying to escape his worries and is looking forward to some isolated alone time with his mistress, Olivia (the ever reliable Niamh Algar), who’s assisting him with the survey.

Things quickly begin to turn strange; apparitions in the foggy wood, tales of madness regarding the previous tenant of the cottage (whose manuscript Eric’s been reading and slowly letting creep into his psyche) and the obligatory unnerving locals, in this case one with a penchant for substances of the mind-altering variety. The fog thickens, paranoia grows and tensions rise as Eric seems set to repeat the descent into catatonia that befell the previous inhabitant of the cottage. Is it all in his (increasingly drug-addled) mind or is there something sinister afoot?

Despite very much being marketed as a horror, the film itself is more of a psychological thriller; big on mood-building but unconcerned with delivering any real scares. Its commitment to this atmosphere-crafting is quite laudable given that it avoids the temptation to cash in on a lazy jump-scare during any of its quieter moments. The pacing is intentionally slow; reflective of the overall ’70s-throwback feel it has both tonally and in terms of how it was shot; with its heavy use of fog machines and other in-camera effects for the horror elements. There’s also a nice attempt at some Lynchian abstract creepiness with the occasional extended shot slowly zooming in on the woods while the soundscape gets increasing claustrophobic with the noise of wind and creaking trees accompanied with droning score. Said score is one of the highlights, doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the atmosphere and effectively externalising Eric’s gradual breakdown, at least until the visuals can take over once the drugs get involved.

There’s an interesting idea brought in early on, implying a sort of ‘Silent Hill’-esque scenario at play whereby the woods don’t exist as a fixed location but rather have multiple plains that can shift around you without you realising, at least until people start disappearing in front of you or you start seeing your own body and creepy shadow men. It’s a neat idea that does get a little more fleshed out in the somewhat abrupt finale but on the whole feels slightly wasted.

While, again, I’m willing to praise to high heaven any film that doesn’t rely on jump scares, it is a bit of an issue that nothing of note really happens for the first two thirds of the film when that time could have been better used exploring the spatial-fluidity, perhaps having Eric getting lost in it or having more sinister encounters with the shadow-being which very occasionally stalks him. This is far from a film-ruining problem but it is disappointing given the often underutilised potential for creepiness such geographical manipulation brings.

Otherwise the film performs well. There’s a definite attention to detail and care put into the sound design and mix, while the overall production is well shot and makes great use of the location. The actors also acquit themselves well; especially the believable chemistry between the two leads, which is all the more impressive given the relatively sparse amount of screen time McKenna and Algar actually share. The decision to eschew CGI in favour of simpler in-camera effects – along with giving it that nice ’70s vibe – means this film will likely age far more gracefully than a lot of modern low-budget horrors (and indeed, many “low-budget” horrors with significantly higher budgets that this).

If you’re well-versed in horror, there’s not a huge amount here that could surprise you but there is at least very little that would annoy you. A valiant attempt at putting atmosphere ahead of cheap scares that could have benefited from more fully-realising its concepts but which remains an engaging  watch all the same.

Without Name screened on Saturday, 18th February 2017 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 27 – Human Balloon-Man Deflating

headphones kid

Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm return to investigate the demise of Sherlock, take a look at ADIFF, and ponder some recent releases in your cinema – films in which things happen – including Silence, A Monster Calls, Moana, Underworld: Blood Wars, Assassins Creed, La La Land, Fences, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and Split.
 
 

 
 
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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 25 – Human Velcro

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Sarah and Richard are back in podland with a brand new episode of film chit chat.

Among the exotic topics on offer are reviews of The Girl With All the Gifts, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Nocturnal Animals, Arrival, Train to Busan, Headshot, I Am Not A Serial Killer, Doctor Strange, and a nosedive into the world of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

All aboard!

 

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SuperPod: Doctor Strange

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Stan Lee fulfils a life-long dream of meeting Scott Adair

Former neurosurgeon, Richard Drumm joins forces with Sorcerer Supreme, Scott Adair and the Ancient One, Paul Farren to protect Earth against magical and mystical threats. Their superchat goes off on all sorts of tangents, including Scott meeting Stan Lee.

 

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Another Look at ‘Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World’

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Richard Drumm enters the world of Werner Herzog’s soccer-playing robots and plastic dolls trapped in trees.

Originally conceived of as a series of short vignettes for YouTube, each to be based around single topics, Lo and Behold was expanded into a full feature to accommodate Herzog’s interest in the multiple overlapping areas of discussion to be had on the broad notion of ‘The Internet’. Starting at the birthplace of the internet and veering as far as Mars and the sun’s solar flares, the film rather loosely glides between interviews and scientific discourse that range from the enlightening and hopeful to the terrifying and depressing. This stream-of-consciousness narrative is of course narrated by the stilted, intense, occasionally amusing and frequently unsettling tones of Herzog himself.

Fundamentally, aside from a few moments of amused or horrified “oh wow”, this isn’t exactly the most revelatory documentary on the nebulous subject on the Internet or the Singularity or whatever you choose to take away as having been the main focus of this film. But that’s not why you watch it. The draw is less the subject matter itself and more the delightful prospect of seeing Werner Herzog discuss, probe and analyse it; and on that front it does not disappoint. The acclaimed director maintains that, despite whatever impression you may have come away with from viewing any of his previous work, he is still an optimist at heart. Strangely, this does come across. He never shies away from demonstrating the darker sides of all this: be that the chaos that a solar flare’s disruptive force could wreak on our civilisation or the depraved and sick depths people can sink to when aided by the anonymity the internet affords. Nonetheless, the overriding impression the film gives is how exciting and fascinating he finds all of this and the possibility it affords as either a utility or to further explore the nature of the universe and humanity.

To this end, his particular style of interviewing aids in getting across the presence and immediacy of his enthusiasm. There is a very real sense that most if not all of these interviews were conducted in a single take. They quite intentionally forgo the finesse and over-produced sheen that most documentaries would present such interviews in and instead aim for raw emotional honesty. A heartfelt plea by one interviewee for people to take her sickness seriously, ends with another of the subjects reaching across the table to take her hand only to knock something to the ground. Any other director would have asked them to recreate a ‘clean’ version of that but Herzog doesn’t care as the main weight is behind the tears and the comforting gesture, the little annoyances are immaterial.

Further to this, he has a habit of suddenly jumping in mid-interview with new questions or thoughts that clearly just occurred to him as the person was talking. They are very evidently not rehearsed and do lead to some interesting moments. Moments like Herzog stumping Elon Musk by interrogating him out of the blue about his dreams. It’s a very well-produced film, that’s very visually polished but it’s still affirming to see these elements of Herzog’s trademark rough and honest filmmaking breaking through.

Stylistically, proceedings remain recognisably Herzogian. The music in particular is very much in keeping with the soundscapes established by his more recent output. Visually too, there are familiar touches, especially in how he lingers on his subjects longer than either we or, seemingly, they feel comfortable with. This does lead to some highly comedic pauses and hard-cuts though it remains unclear how much of this is unintentional and how much is Herzog’s bleak, dry sense of humour. And of course, what piece of Werner’s would be complete without some sudden cuts to bizarre and abstract imagery. Which one stuck out for you? I personally found the slow zoom in on a plastic doll trapped in a tree, while discussing the loss of one’s youth to video game addiction, the most curious.

In all likelihood you’d already made up your mind as to whether a Werner Herzog documentary about the internet was for you the second you heard the phrase “Werner Herzog documentary about the internet”. Still, for the undecided among you, it is an enjoyable romp and refreshing in its even-handedness. A lot of these types of exploratory pieces on technology skew to the extremes; either technology is our new god or it’s nothing but an existentially terrifying monster looming on the horizon and boy, weren’t things just better ‘back in the day?’ Lo and Behold contains shades of both of those and everything in between.

Additionally, the visual of Werner Herzog asking a nerdy technician if he loves his soccer-playing robot is funnier than anything in any comedy released this year.

In cinemas now

 

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TV: Luke Cage

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Our very own Power Man, Richard Drumm, takes a look at Luke Cage, the television series created for Netflix by Cheo Hodari Coker, based on the Marvel Comics character.

As an entity, Marvel are becoming quite irritating, aren’t they? Even their lesser films manage to get by relatively unscathed critically, and financially now have enough consistent brand quality and recognition that nothing can really ‘fail’ anymore. Even the comparatively unsuccessful entries like Ant-Man get a sequel green-lit, despite not making typical Marvel money, and end up with new fans who didn’t even see the film when Paul Rudd steals every scene he’s in in Civil War. Then there’s Netflix. While the TV division of Marvel has definitely been shakier when it comes to the traditional broadcast model (Agents of SHIELD seems content just to do its own, so-so thing while the world forgets it exists and the also-perfectly-fine Agent Carter got a respectable two seasons before closing up shop), but everyone just knew the Netflix output would be good. A cleverly chosen set of fan-favourite characters that would never have gotten their own films, getting a season each before culminating in the Avengers-light Defenders (next year), all wrapped up in Netflix’s traditionally sexier and more violent trappings? People couldn’t get on board fast enough.

A year and a half later, with two seasons of Daredevil’s blood-soaked crusade well-received, and Jessica Jones surprising a lot of people with its distinctly un-Marvel content and tone, we now come to Luke Cage. Marvel’s eponymous Hero for Hire, who returns from his stint as a recurring character in last year’s Jessica Jones, is another street-level superhero with super strength and a healing factor who cleans up the mean streets while occasionally uttering his famous exclamation: “Sweet Christmas”. Or to sum him up more succinctly with a quote from the show: he’s Harlem’s Captain America.

Tarantino, who unsurprisingly had a Luke Cage film in the works at one point (picture what Black Dynamite directed by him would have been like and you’ve just visualised exactly how that film would have looked), came out expressing his disinterest in the show due to its present-day setting, explaining how Cage as a construct is so at home in the ’70s that a modern-day adaptation seems boring. One can only assume he’s not watched it because the show not being ’70s enough is very much not an issue. If anything, it’s almost a problem. While you’ll likely adjust to it over the first few episodes, it is initially a little hard to reconcile in your brain that this is meant to be set in the present day, let alone the extended MCU. From the score, the licensed music, the tone and type of dialogue being used and even the (initial) story at play; there is a very distinct and intentional ’70s vibe to proceedings. Even looking at and listening to the title sequence in isolation, you’d be forgiven for assuming this was a period piece. While it definitely has its feet firmly planted in its comicbook roots (looking at you rocket-launcher cliffhanger), these moments can stand out in a slightly bemusing fashion given the otherwise real-world aesthetic and sensibilities over the first half of the season. Much like Jessica Jones, the series gets increasingly bogged down in referencing and establishing the various elements from its source material but at the outset, Luke Cage being a bulletproof strongman seems like an incidental part of this tale of local politics, gangs and gun smuggling.

In keeping with the trend of the Netflix series eclipsing the films in one key area, the villains here don’t disappoint. Mahershala Ali, Alfre Woodard and eventually Erik LaRay Harvey all make for enjoyable on-screen presences and have the air of being the adult-orientated versions of Saturday Morning Cartoon villains. While far less so showy than with D’Onofrio’s Fisk or Tennant’s Kilgrave, Ali in particular is a lot of fun to watch with some backstory and hubristic motivations to back the character up. The way in which he repeatedly breaks out into hearty laughter during tense moments, make his more focused and aggressive outbursts of violence all the more unsettling. Woodward meanwhile does an impressive job of conveying an initially sympathetic character who gradually becomes perhaps the most hateable character in the show, and likely a fun villain for a future season, by the end. LaRay Harvey in many ways steals the show once he’s finally introduced. His character, the villain Diamondback, represents the crescendo of ’70s-ness the first half of the season was building toward; he’s cold and calculating but also quotes the bible with almost Shakespearean gravitas, and his entire motivation is similar to a far better executed version of what SPECTRE foolishly attempted. His final costume, a nod to his comic appearance, is also delightfully naff and a lot of fun.

The cast for the goodies fare equally well. Colter continues his solid work from Jessica Jones and brings a lot of pain and damage to Cage but with well-timed comedic turns and a believably imposing presence for the numerous action scenes. To some extent the show is as much an origin story for Simone Missick’s Misty Knight, a brilliant detective and fan-favourite character from the comics who could easily carry her own show. Her arc is as much the focus as Cage’s by the end and with any luck she’ll be even more of a main character in any future seasons. The quiet star of the show, for me at least, was Rosario Dawson. After some recurring character work on Daredevil and a nice guest appearance in Jessica Jones, it was good to see her Claire Temple finally take up a series regular spot and get some much needed attention and exploration. If Claire is going to be the character that ties these shows together for the big Defenders throwdown next year, Dawson is a great choice to carry that burden. She’s probably the most believably human character in these shows, has a razor sharp wit and a reluctance but unwavering morality that’s dramatically very engaging, all the while taking zero shit from anyone.

If there is a main negative to draw attention to, it’s the same as the previous Netflix series but slightly more amplified; these series don’t need to be 13 episodes. Daredevil initially suffered this but tried to mitigate it in season 2 by effectively splitting up the season into different story arcs. Jessica Jones’ issue was that it had an interesting tale to tell but only enough material to sustain *maybe* ten episodes. Cage is somewhat different. In many ways, it has too many stories and characters running around its stylised Harlem for its own good yet conversely never seems to have enough for them to do. The lack of a central through line starts off as a niggling problem but to leads an exponentially bigger issue as the series continues, changing focus suddenly and at odd moments. It’s actually almost refreshing when story turns manage to surprise you but, around the episode seven mark in particular, it gets difficult to tell if that’s an intentional outcome of their storytelling choices or an unintended consequence of poor structure. If you’ve watched and enjoyed the previous shows without minding their respective issues then you’re unlikely to have an issue with this. It’s never boring, it just lack focus and a degree of clarity. The second half does admittedly get more focused once Diamondback shows up and there’s more obvious goals and situations that the characters can move toward. Still, it remains meandering and can never quite lose the sense that half of every episode is just killing time (with characters that are enjoyable to spend time with) because the season on the whole has a couple hours left over to be filled.

There’s one very specific annoyance the show also falls afoul of. Given that the hero is a bulletproof, pointedly unarmed, black man in a hoodie, the show invariably has to make some moves toward addressing the Black Lives Matter movement and the insane, horrific ongoing situation in the US. While it does use its soapbox in the latter episodes to make some sermons practically down the barrel of the lens, it is disappointing that when we get the scene of Cage being shot at by police, while unarmed and in a hoodie, it’s not a white cop doing it. The image of the cop’s bullets bouncing off him remains powerful but that tiny detail is confusing at best, and smells of cowardice at worst.

Cage is an enjoyable watch and the overall ’70s vibe (some of the score is truly glorious) really makes the, now slightly standard, gang-and/or-ninja-based shenanigans of these Marvel Netflix series feel somewhat fresh again. A really great cast and some fun writing and over-the-top action mean that it’s certainly never boring but if you start to lose patience with its muddled and sometimes glacial pacing, no one would blame you.

 

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Irish Film Review @ GAZE: Viva

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Richard Drumm checks out Viva, which screened at this year’s GAZE International LGBT Film Festival

[Contains spoilers]

Written, directed and produced with Irish talent, Viva explores the Cuban drag scene and one struggling young performer in particular, Jesus (Héctor Medina), who goes on to become the titular Viva. Struggling to make ends meet with his occasional hair-dressing clients, and little to do day-to-day except give his friend use of his apartment so she and her boyfriend can have sex, Jesus gravitates more and more toward the local drag club and the dysfunctional family of sorts that it represents. Led by Mama (Luis Alberto García), who Jesus styles wigs for, the various acid-tongued drag queens show our protagonist a strength and confidence which he feels is lacking in his own life; surrounded as he is by aggressively macho bravado and the ghost of his father, Angel’s (Jorge Perugorría) own toxic masculinity. Thought to be in prison for killing a man, the famed local boxer (who walked out on Jesus and his mother when he was only a child) suddenly returns one day while Viva is performing. Disgusted at the effeminacy and what he perceives as his son’s weakness he drunkenly assaults him yet still insists on living with Jesus and controlling his life. Most drastically, he bans Jesus from returning to the club or ever performing again. As his father spirals further into drunken oblivion and Jesus is forced to turn to more drastic avenues to be able to feed himself and his father, tensions in the household rise.

Despite the setting, this still in many ways remains recognisably Irish. From the constant shots of rain-pelted grey buildings, to the local ‘auld-one’ Jesus visits regularly, not to mention the occasional colloquialism slipping into the subtitles (I’m convinced using the phrase “cleaning her box” as a way of describing gynaecological hygiene is a distinctly Irish one and would be curious to know if that particular subtitle is altered from country to country), the film still retains fragments of home. Indeed, as Mark O’Halloran confirmed in the post-screening Q&A, the story itself of a young gay man living in a nominally conservative society and trying to deal and reconcile with his estranged father could just as easily have been set here.

Speaking of that aforementioned colloquialism, it’s worth saying up front that (however that above synopsis makes the film sound) this is a very funny film. The majority of the humour, if not all of it, comes from the drag artists themselves; the dynamics of their interactions akin to that of a particularly vulgar and thunderously bitchy set of old housewives gossiping and passing judgement on all and any who dare enter their sphere of notice. It’s partially for this reason that the film really comes alive when it fully immerses itself in the drag scene and explores it in all its hazily-lit glory. This is especially true of the performances, a series of highly melodramatic lip-syncs (often with real tears), they make for not only an unassailable soundtrack but also visually engaging, fun and (when narratively appropriate) even dramatically satisfying set-pieces. Think the ‘Club Silencio’ scene from Mulholland Drive but with less emphasis on freaking you out and more on entertaining you.

Owing to the strength of that side of the film, it’s disappointing to report that the more conventionally dramatic side of the story fails to engage quite as well. Despite being the backbone of the film and handled better than it could be in similar films, the narrative with Angel can’t help but (literally, given the plot) close off the more vibrant and interesting club antics to us. It still deserves some praise; the un-remarkability of their troubled relationship is in many ways what makes it noteworthy. It feels real and messy and, despite how negatively it’s affecting Jesus’ life, it never becomes this all-consuming force of dramatic nature that drowns the story. It’s presented quite believably, as an obstacle, one he lives his life around and has to deal with day-to-day.

What truly lets it down is how formulaic both the ultimate resolution and the story beats it hits to get there, are. Spoilers ahoy but as the film goes on we learn Jesus’ father was let out of prison early owing to severe and untreatable cancer. From there you can guess exactly everything that happens, right up to him showing up at the club for Viva’s big show-stopping performance as she finally comes fully into her own, and him being proud of his son for it. It’s a pity as the film had toed a nice line at making their troubled dynamic true to life while also managing to make this drunken, abusive bigot seem partially sympathetic without letting you forget he’s an unrepentant asshole. That nuance is gradually eroded away as we move toward a resolution that never feels fully earned and could certainly have been more satisfying. That said, in keeping with the film’s strength, Viva’s final performance, fuelled by grief and anger is suitably enthralling.

In other areas the film fairs well. Having already mentioned the fantastic soundtrack, the actual score is less remarkable but has a nice, subtle, authentic feel to it that anchors the film’s setting without feeling intrusive or stereotypical. Visually too, the film is strong. One character remarks that where they’re living is “the most beautiful slum in the world” and it’s hard to argue the point given how the film photographs the urban landscape. Urban decay can often be aesthetically striking but even more so here where it’s being applied to the familiar architecture and faded splashes of colour that the Havanan landscape is recognisable for.

While the film may be less than stellar in its main dramatic thrust, that doesn’t detract from the stronger elements that make it well worth a watch. When it works, it’s a funny, occasionally sad, visually and aurally vibrant and bombastic affair with an acid tongue and genuinely funny albeit bleak sense of humour. Decidedly the best Irish feature you’re likely to see about Cuban drag queens in the immediate future.

 

Viva screened on Friday, 29th July  as part of the GAZE International LGBT Film Festival

Viva is released in Irish cinemas on 19th August.

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 22

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Film Ireland welcomes Sarah Cullen to the pod joining Richard Drumm to bring you film news, reviews and all round celluloid chit-chat.

Our podpeople preview the upcoming Ghostbusters, chat about Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade, and review Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot, Captain America: Civil War, Bad Neighbours 2, starring Alec Baldwin in a Zac Efron body suit, Green Room and Midnight Special.

 

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Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Batman_v_Superman_Dawn_of_Justice_102197

DIR: Zack Snyder • WRI: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer • PRO: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder • DOP: Larry Fong • ED: David Brenner • DES: Patrick Tatopoulos • MUS: Junkie XL, Hans Zimmer • CAST: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams

Is anyone else slightly surprised that this film has actually even come out? It feels like we’ve been hearing about it for years; between the announcement, the various controversial casting choices, the ever expanding and contracting list of characters, delays, late title reveals, rumours of it being split in two, etc. It almost felt like this was some mythic property we’d never see. And that’s to say nothing of the hype train that’s been on a runaway course straight towards disappointment and backlash terminal. In any case, the film is here, it’s long and as a human on this earth, you are encouraged to give your opinions on it.

In as much as it is possible (or even worth) summarising, the story goes… In the wake of Kal-El’s (Cavill) battle with Zod (Shannon) at the climax of the previous film, the world is divided about how to feel about his existence. To some he is a hero, to others he’s a threat to planetary safety. Enter BatFleck (BenAfman). We see the destruction of Metropolis from his ground-level viewpoint in a genuinely tense and engaging opening sequence (after the contractually obligated retelling of Bats’ origins during the credits), that does far more to convey the true horror and damage of that fight than the previous film. From here we jump 18 months ahead to the present where a seemingly endless number of characters with overlapping motivations and plotlines flit from location to location at breakneck speed in order to force all the pieces into their positions of the board so that we can see The Dark Knight repeatedly punch The Big Blue Boy Scout. At something approaching the centre of this swirling nexus of screenplay is Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. Nominally the mastermind behind what’s going on and with bigger plans of his own, can the Caped Crusader and The Last Son of Krypton put their differences aside and thwart him? And set up a League of some sort? And Wonder Woman. She’s here too and steals the movie as well as Bruce Wayne’s little computer box.

From the outset, two things are worth saying: yes, this film is a bit of a mess; being simultaneously too short and overly complicated yet needlessly long and childishly simplistic. But there’s a lot to enjoy provided you’re already on-board with some of the elements. Ben’s Bat is a more enjoyable onscreen presence than Bale’s, a tantalising step closer to an approximation of the live-action Kevin Conroy Batman that this city both needs and deserves. And on a visual level this is the best Batman we’ve yet received in live action. The suits are great, the way he moves (CGI augmentation and all) is perfect while the fights are mesmerizingly fast and brutal. Maybe a little too brutal, especially for those who thought Superman’s neck-snapping antics felt out of character last time around. Still, it’s nice to see a realistic depiction of what a man hurling blades and firing gas-powered grapples at squishy mortals would look like. This reviewer laughed a lot.

In fact, the cast in general is one of the stronger elements (aside from Amy Adams who sadly continues to simply be a person in a film). Cavill is (a little) more fun and likeable this time around, while they finally stopped wasting Laurence Fishburne and just let him play Laurence Fishburne and it’s as amusing as expected. Eisenberg’s Luthor is inevitably going to be a divisive one. While he’s not very Luthor-y in a lot of obvious ways, they actually managed to get the character fairly spot-on in terms of his villainy, cruelty and penchant for poor foresight in regards to mad science. His tics and mannerisms may annoy some but if you were okay with how Matt Smith played the Doctor, you’ll probably like this. On the Bat-Family side of proceedings, Jeremy Irons is exactly as delightful an Alfred as we all knew he would be (for my two cents, I still think he was born to play a properly over the top Ra’s al Ghul but Alfred will do for now); he’s funny, quick witted and a nice dose of sanity for Wayne as he descends into another of his blind-rage crusades. Gal Gadot really steals things though. Anyone who saw her in the Fast and Furious movies would have been rightly worried that she might vanish into the background but Gadot really commands a presence on-screen, even in her civilian guise. And once the swords and lassos come out, she’s a sight to behold in battle. Not screwing up a live action Wonder Woman is the most important thing this film could have achieved in terms of the DC films going forward and I’m happy to report she’s great (even if her screen time and dialogue are irritatingly limited). If nothing else, this is great trailer for her upcoming film.

As surely as Bruce Wayne’s parents have to be killed however, so must the bad follow the good. By now it’s been widely reported that we’ll be getting a bum-numbing three hour cut of this on home-media. Watching the film, it’s easy to see why. The first half or so especially, barrels through plot and locations while Amy Adams’ scenes feel distinctly cut down and likely in service of a sub plot that was hacked into near non-existence. At the time, those involved quickly quashed rumours that splitting this into two films was ever an option but seeing the finished product, it gets a bit harder to swallow. While the second film may have suffered a little from Battle of the Five Armies syndrome, two ninety minute movies would have made far more sense. And speaking of more films, it is quite disheartening to see that DC have taken a more Amazing Spider-Man-franchise approach to character setup than that of Marvel. Our glimpse of the future Justice League members is depressingly functional and lazy in its inclusion. If they could have introduced them all the way they do The Flash (in one of the better, of a surprisingly large number, of dream sequences), it may have felt slightly more organic as a method of introducing these characters.

The problem is ultimately Snyder. The man shoots a great action scene but he struggles to get these people to convey dramatically compelling or even convincing interactions. A rooftop standoff between Lex and Superman is fun, a flirtatious encounter between Diana and Bruce is exciting, a veiled conversation of threats between Wayne and Kent draws you in, but any attempt for Bruce to be emotional, or Lois and Clark to discuss their relationship like humans and the film drags to inert halt. There is also likely blame to be laid at the screenplay’s feet and the above is far from its only fault. Contrivance is everywhere, motivations are vague or non-existent and at least one major plot point (in the many ways, THE plot point), hinges on an almost hilarious idiotic coincidence that doesn’t hold anywhere near enough weight to justify what it’s used for.

In the end this film isn’t as bad as the initial backlash would imply but nor is it anywhere near as good as its own hype promised. It’s certainly not unentertaining and is actually quite funny (it certainly has a better ratio of jokes to not-jokes than the more recent Marvel movies). The big fights are well staged, it’s surprisingly brutal and violent and the Batman action scenes are genuinely great. You’ll probably get more enjoyment out of this as a Superman fan than the previous outing and there’s a lot of Batman to like (especially, if, like yours truly, you kind of hate Batman and enjoy seeing him be an ineffectual idiot in places). Wonder Woman is the standout and this bodes well for her film and indeed any future DC movies not helmed by Snyder and his passive-aggression toward film fans. Oh yes, all the belly aching about civilian casualties did not fall on deaf ears. Indeed, if you are going to see it and find yourself in need of a drinking game, a shot every time someone mentions an area being free of civilians or something to that effect, should make for a lively second half. 

Please let Suicide Squad be better… 

Richard Drumm

151 minutes

12A (See IFCO for details)

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is released 25th March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice – Official Website

 

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Review: Krampus

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DIR: Michael Dougherty • WRI: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields • PRO: Michael Dougherty, Alex Garcia, Pamela Harvey-White, Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull • DOP: Jules O’Loughlin • ED: John Axelrad • DES: Jules Cook • MUS: Douglas Pipes • CAST: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechne

‘Tis the season; the season for Black Friday insanity and familial loathing where everyone bickers, no one wants to be there and the holiday that’s supposed to bring people together just keeps pushing them apart. Max (Anthony) can’t stand it anymore. He just wants to have Christmas like they used to; before his cousins became awful bullies, before he and his sister grew apart and before his mom (Toni Collette?!) and dad viewed Christmas as a social performance. In a fit of sadness and anger he turns his genuine Christmas belief into a bitter, hate-filled wish with consequences he could not have foreseen. Enter Krampus, the mythological Anti-Santa of old who for some reason has gained enough traction in American pop-culture to justify building a movie around him. Trapping the family in their home with a blizzard and no power, Krampus and his eclectic assortment of minions torment the family and pick them off one-by-one. Can they survive? Can he even be stopped? Will learning the true meaning of Christmas act as their salvation or is Krampus more of ‘you can act as a warning to others’ kind of guy?

First off, based on the trailers, the setup or even just the phrase ‘Christmas Horror Comedy’, it might surprise you to hear this is a lot better than expected. It’s still a bit of a mess that doesn’t entirely work but it actually has a couple of laughs and a handful of effectively scary ideas. Sadly it makes no sense, tonally. It’s neither funny enough nor scary enough to fully work as either a horror or comedy, while the satire only makes the briefest of appearances and never really reaches anything deeper than ‘isn’t Christmas the worst, lol, in-laws and consumerism’. If you look a bit deeper though and really buy into the meaning of the ending, there is a nicely melancholic seasonal message here and one which feels both more honest, emotionally and more biting, satirically, as an indictment of the whole institution of Christmas.

A lot of this comes from the grandmother character Omi (Stadler) who for the most part refuses to speak English but is full of mythological exposition, old-world wisdom and values, and even gets her own flashback sequence completely rendered in, excellently produced, Laika-style stop-motion for seemingly no good reason. Her repeated mantra that people have forgotten that the ‘giving’ aspect of Christmas was supposed to involve sacrifice is the oddly weighty emotional core to all of this, entirely reinforced by that final shot. For the most part the film seems to ridicule both sides of the ‘War on Christmas’ camp reasonably equally, even though the existence of Krampus seems to be tacit support in favour of keeping the ‘traditional’ Christmas iconography and rituals in place. But the final festive kick in the balls for both the audience and the protagonist (in a scene specifically designed to take a dump on the endings to all those other schmaltzy Christmas movies) is that Christmas is nothing to do with anything we currently associate it with. Even the ‘good’ ‘wholesome’ version of Christmas is just as much of a late-capitalist confection as anything else compared to the roots of the holiday.

Which, I hear you say, is all well and good but isn’t that exactly the same ground and message that the first Xmas episode of Futurama covered but with a more successful merging of bleakness and comedy and in a fraction of the running time? Well, yes. And therein lies the real problem, it’s not that the film is lacking good things; it’s just that it’s lacking enough of them. That final message gets no more screen time than it did in Futurama, Krampus himself is a new contender in the category of ‘Least Screen-Time for a Title Character’ and there is no reason for most of these actors to be here.

Let’s address that cast first. It’s a veritable and literal who’s-who of “oh yeah, that guy” and “what’s-her-face, you know, from that thing?” and then Toni Collette. One can only hope that she put the money that she must desperately have needed to agree to this, to good use. She’s utterly wasted in an entirely perfunctory role that could have been played by anyone, but the weirdest thing? She’s actually trying. This isn’t a phoned-in performance, she’s genuinely quite good; occasionally subtle and surprisingly affecting whenever the script tosses her a bone of an emotional moment. Yet it’s young Emjay Anthony as Max, nominally the protagonist, that deserves the most praise. In a role seemingly designed to be the insufferably naïve kid who you want to see devoured by monsters, he somehow succeeds in imbuing him with a real sympathetic likability which really manages to lend a little weight to some of the early scenes. (Is it just me or are ‘movie-kids’ getting better? Between this, The Visit and that one kid that keeps showing up in blockbusters, there seems to be less of them to hate.)

Then there’s Krampus. This one is a bit of a double-edged sword as not having him show up that much keeps him mysterious and creepy; as demonstrated in his delightful first appearance where he leaps and crashes across rooftops like some kind of deranged, jingle-bell-filled festive Batman. On the other hand, keeping him off-screen means we’re saddled with his ‘helpers’ which range from mask-wearing, cultist ‘elves’ to monstrous toys and (one winces at the phrase) comic-relief sentient gingerbread men that seem to have escaped a late-’90s kids film starring Robin Williams. Some of these do work; the evil teddy-bear is nicely demented-looking but the giant, man-eating Jack in the Box monster takes the cake for being one of the most visually-distressing creatures to see in motion of any film this year. Thoroughly unsettling and absolute nightmare fuel. It’s just a pity their boss does so little and is fairly unimpressive up-close once he finally decides to stick around for more than a few frames at a time.

Krampus isn’t getting out of here without a small recommendation, at least if twisted, bleak Christmas movies are your thing, but know that it’s far from problem-free. It’s a lot better than it could have even if it never quite reaches a Rare Exports level (which is probably still the high watermark for this kind of movie and, thinking on it, probably a more accurate exploration of the Krampus myth despite being about Santa). It certainly veers toward that film, especially with Omi who seems to have almost literally come out of Rare Exports’ world but it fails to build up and sustain its particular brand of off-kilter festive weirdness. It may not fully work as either a comedy or a horror but nor does it outright fail which really, is probably the most we could have hoped for from a Christmas Horror-Comedy starring Toni Collette that deals with a mythological, Germanic-Pagan Anti-Santa invading the US.

Richard Drumm

15A
109 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Krampus is released 4th December 2015

Krampus – Official Website

 

 

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Book Review: Fan Phenomena: James Bond

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Richard Drumm drops his his guns and gadgets and picks up Fan Phenomena: James Bond.

Edited by Claire Hines, Fan Phenomena: James Bond is a collection of essays and interviews that examines both the Bond franchise itself (mainly the EON-produced films but with reference to the novels, video games, etc.) and the multifaceted and ever-altering fandom for Bond. Some of the interviewees include author of the official continuation Bond books Raymond Benson, the owner of the James Bond Museum in Sweden, some of the newly emerging James Bond ‘crossplayers’ and more.

The essays themselves meanwhile offer a wide variety of topics; from examining the fandom and franchise’s tenuous relationship with continuity, Alan Moore’s scathing deconstruction of Bond in his work, the relationship between Bond video games and an authentic transmedia experience and a look at what the more cult-like and lifestyle-appropriating elements of the fandom can tell us about Bond as a cultural icon.

Of course, no self-respecting collection of Bond essays written in 2015, by academic types, would be complete without a look at Bond and gender and the collection certainly boasts a nicely varied selection of topics; from examinations of the changing representations of masculinity in the Craig-era to a defence of being a female Bond fan and an interesting discussion of queer readings of Skyfall from a growing fanbase of online female fan fiction writers. All presented in highly digestible chunks and with an eye toward the casual reader, Fan Phenomena: James Bond offers an insightful, varied and accessible exploration of James Bond.

The book on the whole is undeniably a good read but two things struck me, in a good way, that seemed noteworthy. The first is the sheer volume of essays from female scholars, they heavily outweigh the contributions from male authors. It’s just fascinating given the (well documented, highly problematic) nature of the franchise under discussion, that most (of the already quite sparse) scholarly readings of Bond come from women.

The second, related, point is that there is a very clear willingness on everyone’s part to acknowledge and engage with the glaringly problematic aspects of Bond as an institution. Given that this is geared toward fans, there must have been the temptation to make this one big love-in but that would have been disingenuous as no self-respecting Bond fan would avoid addressing these aspects. That’s not to say the book is judgemental (except perhaps Stephanie Jones’ highly amusing chapter that tears apart the James Bond Lifestyle Guide book) but rather takes a respectably mature view of the franchise and will deal with these elements where necessary or when they become of interesting relevance.

With a book like this it can sometimes seem like it would be of zero interest to anyone but hardcore fans and I’ll admit right now that as a hardcore fan that greatly enjoyed the book, it’s difficult to say ‘objectively’ how much mileage non-fans would get from it. However, the topics are varied enough that anyone with even a passing interest in cultural studies should find plenty to hold their attention. Similarly, the essays that make up the latter half or so of the book would definitely be worth reading for anyone with an interest in gender or LGBT studies as Bond presents a decidedly unusual starting point for those discussions. Especially since the last two essays in particular argue for the recent Bond installments offering something close to a progressive stance on those topics.In that sense Karen Brooks and Lisa Hill’s ‘Resurrecting Bond’ is possibly the highlight of the collection, a well-researched and in-depth analysis of the Craig trilogy as both a deconstruction and rebuilder of the franchise while also offering a compelling argument in favour of Craig’s Bond being highly feminised for a less rigidly gendered modern world.

Accessible as the book is, it does delve early on into topics like Transmedia and Phenomenology. And while both Matthew Freeman and Lucy Bolton, respectively, do an excellent job of providing simplified definitions of those concepts, they still remain a bit too complex to be fully explored within the confines of what a collection such as this is trying to achieve. Which is to say they still offer interesting discussions and fine introductions to those theories if you’re not already familiar with them but it seems like there’s still a lot to be explored from, say, Freeman’s arguments about Bond successfully defying transmedia logic. This is, however, a very minor nitpick and really more of an observation that really doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the collection.

On the whole, it’s a strong collection. Obviously, they aren’t all winners but none of them are ever boring and they’re short enough that even if you aren’t particularly taken by one you’d be on to another, different topic soon. And that’s the highest praise that can be given to Claire Hines’ editing of this book; she’s assembled a highly varied series of pieces which automatically negates the possibility of repetition of material. Her interviews with the various fans are also interesting but never pandering and again consist of a very varied selection of individuals with very different relationships to Bond.

I still feel that to really get the most out of the book you’d need to be quite a big Bond fan but even to more casual readers (and casual Bond fans) there should be more than enough to justify giving it a read if you have any interest in any of the areas under discussion in the book, which, given how wide that net is cast, you’re likely to find something.

If nothing else, it’s worth picking up for Karen Brooks and Lisa Hill, and Elizabeth J. Nielsen’s two closing essays along with Lisa Funnell’s ‘Thoughts on Female Scholarship and Fandom of the Bond Franchise’.

 

 

  • Paperback: 150 pages
  • Publisher: Intellect (15 Nov. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1783205172
  • ISBN-13: 978-1783205172
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 1.3 x 24.1 cm

 

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Review: Spectre

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DIR: Sam Mendes • WRI: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth • PRO: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Lee Smith • DES: Dennis Gassner • MUS: Thomas Newman • CAST: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes

Well, here we are. Probably one of the most anticipated Bond movies of all time and likely the most hyped, non-Disney film of the year. Not to mention our first full look at how the producers’ experiment to Marvel-ise the Bond franchise has panned out.

After taking some ‘personal time’ in Mexico, Bond (Craig) is not in M’s (Fiennes) good books; Bond’s actions aren’t reflecting well on a Double-O section that’s already facing opposition from MI-5 in the form of Denbigh (Scott). Grounded until further notice, Bond enlists the help of Moneypenny (Harris) and Q (Whishaw) to go rogue and finish the mission he started in Mexico. Following some vague (and plot-hole-riddled-but-don’t-question-it) clues Bond finds himself on the trail of Oberhauser (Waltz). As the true scale of Oberhauser’s organisation becomes clear in the form of SPECTRE, a large and troubling picture comes into view with grave ramifications for not only global safety but for Bond personally as he finds himself caught in a web of events that stretches all the way back through his previous adventures and right back to his origins both as a character and within the Craig-era films on the whole.

This film has a bit of an identity crisis. And by extension so does this (very fanboy centric) opinion of it. On the one hand you have a film that’s trying very hard to show you it belongs in the same club as the classic entries in the series; be it the humour, gadgets, locations or villains. But on the other hand is trying with admirable determination to cement the idea of the entire Craig-era being one long, elaborate continuity. A task it succeeds too well at, to a detrimental degree. (By so convincingly pretending this was all planned out in advance, they’ve undermined various characters and plot points in previous movies and likely created a nightmarish miasma of plot holes.) So filled with homages is the film that any self-respecting Bond fan owes it to themselves to go see this yet the actual cinemagoer aspect of one’s brain can’t ignore how obnoxiously overlong and utterly devoid of pacing it is. (For comparison, Casino Royale is only five or so minutes shorter than this, yet this feels like it easily veers toward Lord of the Rings length and Dark Knight Rises levels of poor pacing.) This is to say nothing of the fact that the shoehorned-in destiny that this version of the Bond-verse is now saddled with will likely irritate longtime fans as much as seeing the return of familiar elements will delight them.

It is a pity that the only major complaint one can level at this as a film is the pacing/length issue because otherwise this hits practically every mark in terms of being both a great action-adventure-spy movie and a great Bond movie. This is one of the finest casts this series has ever assembled and they’re all great (your Waltz milage may vary and Andrew Scott is merely decent but otherwise, superb) and more importantly they all get a lot of screen time. Additionally, the locations are all gorgeously shot and visually diverse, while the action set-pieces are impeccably staged and suitably inventive. Yet the pacing issue works against every one of those positives. Welcome as the increased screen time for M, Moneypenny, Q, et al is, it comes at the expense of grinding to a halt an already sluggish A-plot and in some cases kills the pacing of an action scene (great car chase, fun Moneypenny-at-home scene; terrible as one sequence), and that’s when the film isn’t just arbitrarily ruining more singularly focused scenes. Skyfall’s pre-titles sequence stands out as one of the series’ finest and most action packed yet despite upping both the scale and ambition, SPECTRE’s keeps needlessly stopping and starting to a maddening degree. If ever there was an argument for the merits of why deleted scenes should stay deleted or how necessary a merciless Harvey Weinstein figure can be in the editing room, it’s this movie.

All this would be more acceptable if it was in service of something and while there are interesting ideas brought up in terms of both political commentary and franchise deconstruction (hell, even the title sequence brings up interesting notions of reversing the usual objectification/vulnerability dynamic), yet all of these are given comparatively little screen time. A solid half an hour of this film could go; the humour could be punchier, the dead air in conversations could be minimised, the action scenes could be much more breathlessly edited and the film on the whole would stand much stronger. Make no mistake this is far from a bad movie and very far from a bad Bond movie. This is absolutely worth seeing but the disappointment in the final result is an unfortunately niggling aftertaste.

Hardcore Bond fans might ultimately be a little annoyed and average filmgoers might be a little bored but this is still every bit the grandiose spectacle we were promised. Mendes has continued to push the line of what we consider a Bond movie and Thomas Newman’s score feels much more comfortable this time around; teasingly experimental while retaining familiar elements and with more inclusion of the Bond theme than we’ve had since the Brosnan era. The level of bombast has only grown, Craig continues to be unable to put a foot wrong and this has one of the boldest endings in the franchise’s history. If after fifty-three years, this series can still put a smile on this jaded cynic’s face and still leave you wondering what the ending means for how the franchise may evolve, someone somewhere is doing something right.

Richard Drumm


12A (see IFCO for details)

147 minutes

Spectre is released 22nd October 2015

Spectre –  Official Website

 

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Review: Crimson Peak

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DIR: Guillermo del Toro • WRI: Guillermo del Toro • Matthew Robbins • PRO: Guillermo del Toro, Callum Greene, Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull • DOP: Dan Laustsen • ED: Bernat Vilaplana • DES: Thomas E. Sanders • MUS: Fernando Velázquez • CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston

 

Poor Guillermo del Toro, he really hasn’t been able to catch a break of late. If it’s not his long-gestating At the Mountains of Madness being forever passed on, or Hellboy 3 looking less and less likely each year, it’s his Justice League Dark script being the only property not currently in development at DC and Konami (obligatory #FucKonami to all you Jim Sterling fans out there) abruptly cancelling his very promising-looking Silent Hills. Even the all-but-guaranteed Pacific Rim 2 seems to have quietly died. So it’s nice to see a clear passion project like Crimson Peak make it to the big screen on a sizeable budget, with a great cast and a mature age rating.

Edith (Wasikowska) is an aspiring novelist and heir to a not insubstantial estate. She can also see ghosts. One day the effortlessly charming Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) arrives for a meeting with her father and wastes no time in inducing some swooning. After a whirlwind romance and a violent tragedy, Edith and Thomas are wed and return to his native England to live in his family estate with his reserved and unsettling sister Lucille (Chastain). The estate in question is the textbook definition of beautiful decay; an impossibly large and decrepit country manor with a gargantuan hole in the roof and the clay mines below trying to reclaim it for the earth. Aside from an icy reception from Lucille, things seem to be going well for Edith until the ghosts start screaming at her in the middle of the night. As Edith grows mysteriously ill and the ghost encounters grow more intense, can Edith discover what the mystery that lies at the heart of the Sharpe estate is?

In the broadest terms, Crimson Peak could be pretty comfortably described as a more visually sumptuous but significantly less subtle Penny Dreadful (indeed, if it turns out that Eva Green was at some point in the running for Chastain’s role, it would be far from surprising). The directing, the cinematography, art direction, set and costume design etc. are all unassailable in their quality and in their success at creating and immersing you in the sweeping unreality of this heightened Gothic world. The performances too, mainly Hiddleston and Chastain, do an excellent job of grounding the story (on an emotional level) in a believable world. Wasikowska is her usual dependable self but doesn’t quite rise to the other two leads’ level. The supporting cast are more of a mixed bag, especially in the early scenes. A lot of the actors quite visibly struggle with the intentionally clunky, old fashioned dialogue but what really draws your attention to it is just how effortlessly Hiddleston engages with it. This leads to odd moments early on where there’s an obvious gap in acting quality between performers.

Make no mistake, the film is worth seeing for the overall world/visuals alone and that’s definitely for the best as everything else is disappointingly ordinary. First of all, ignore what the trailers may have told you; while there are some horror elements, this is a Gothic romance through and through. That’s not inherently a bad thing at all but it does make the few ghost encounters seem a tad incongruous, especially presented as they are within a very generically modern, jump-scare mould. Similarly, while there are some well staged, shocking moments in the overall story, the mystery itself and its particulars are very obvious (pretty much from the start) if you’re paying attention. The few, sudden injections of extreme violence and brutality do at least shake things up on that front. And make no mistake, this is proper violence. There’s one particular head-smashing which rivals Game of Thrones’ own infamous head-crush for shear excessive realism.

For all its self awareness of its own tropes (Edith being told her own ghostly tale ‘needs a love story’ by another character) and its very knowing engagement with them, the film is slightly disappointing on a story level. You could easily sit for hours just watching the camera swoop and glide around the genuinely jaw-dropping set for the house itself and there’s dozens of individual shots that would make a great coffee table book collection but ultimately it’s a film you can only fully enjoy while looking at rather than being swept up in.

 Richard Drumm

15A (see IFCO for details)

118minutes

Crimson Peak is released 16th October 2015

Crimson Peak –  Official Website

 

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Review: The Transporter Refueled

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DIR: Camille Delamarre • WRI: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Wyatt Smith PRO: Luc Besson, Mark Gao • DOP: Christophe Collette • ED: Julien Rey • DES: Hugues Tissandier • MUS: Alexandre Azaria • CAST: Ed Skrein, Loan Chabanol, Ray Stevenson, Lenn Kudrjawizki

 

Of all the things to reboot, why this? Has the Transporter become some kind of pop culture icon while no one was watching? And was Statham so integral to it that when he wouldn’t come back it had to be rebooted rather than just given a sequel with a new actor? It’s not like he’s not James Bond (even if he does arbitrarily have Bond’s gadgets and resources this time). Really, there’s nothing here that would have even seemed out of place were it part of the old ‘continuity’. Anyway…

Frank (Skrein) is the exact same character from the previous movies. He wears suits, drives an Audi and enjoys punching people in the trachea while berating them for making him late. The plot is the exact same as every other one of these movies; he gets given a job, it somehow involves a woman and before he knows it, his precious rules have been broken and he’s in over his head fighting some larger-than-life, gang-leader villain purely because he happens to be there. The big difference with this reboot is that Frank’s father, Frank Sr. (Stevenson), who tags along for most of the plot in an attempt to inject some charm into this otherwise lifeless husk of a movie. The big baddie is a crime boss who made his money in prostitution and now four of his former, ill-treated employees have returned to reap vengeance upon him while using Frank’s skills to keep them alive long enough to do it. Oh and all the characters frequently quote Dumas’ Three Musketeers because I guess someone thought it would make them sound deep.

In case the tone of the above summary didn’t give the game away, this is not good. In fact it’s bad, it’s very bad. While there have undoubtedly been objectively worse made films this year (oh, say, Fant4stic) few have made for such an annoying, aggravating viewing experience as this. Mainly, it’s the arrogance that permeates the whole enterprise. From the opening credits that shoot and score shots of his car like we’re watching the newest instalment in a highly-anticipated Marvel sequel to the endless slow motion shots in the car chases and cutaways to characters talking about how amazing Frank is; this is very much a film that thinks it’s a lot cooler than it is. This is initially somewhat amusing but quickly becomes skull-crushingly annoying. While they might almost have gotten away with such a tone if The Stath were still in attendance, without his particular brand of genuine on-screen presence and winking self-awareness, it just comes across as insufferably smug.

What makes it even more baffling is that everything in the film is so safe and bland. The acting is flat and awkward, aside from perhaps Stevenson who is trying very hard to actually have a good time and almost appears to be in a different, better film. And then there’s the big draw, the action scenes. The car chases are fine, there’s a particularly decent one involving a taxiing plane and one laugh-out-loud-dumb moment with a jet ski but on the whole they aren’t a patch on that bike chase from Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. As for the fist-fights, they’re dreadful. The choreography is passable but in what is clearly a lowered age-rating, they are completely lifeless and injury-free. Frank might as well be fighting men made of cushions as the fights have all the substance of the brawls from the Adam West Batman show.

Add in the final nail in the coffin – that this film has some of the leeriest, most grossly sexist direction in years – you have a thoroughly unenjoyable film. The scenes of the bad guy sitting on his yacht as the camera drools over slow-motion, bikini-clad, hot-tub dwellers while generic R’n’B plays might almost have been amusingly quaint in how antiquated it is were it not for the un-ironic, deadly seriousness with which the film seems to think this is the epitome of cool. The whole movie feels like a Transporter fanfic written by a teenager from the mid-noughties who viewed the original two films as the zenith of ‘cool’ action cinema. And to that end, if you are a fourteen-year-old who has seen hardly any films and still somehow clings onto mid-noughties, MTV Cribs-era sensibilities then you might, maybe like this. Everyone else should keep well away from this dull, lifeless turd that only seems to exist as a check on the studio’s balance sheet.

If you really want to go see a franchise reboot of a suit-wearing, Audi-driving, balding mass murderer; go see Hitman: Agent 47 instead. At least the people behind that had both the crew and age-rating to stage some seriously fun action sequences even if the film almost immediately abandons any fleeting relationship it had with sanity.

 

Richard Drumm

15A (See IFCO for details)
95 minutes

The Transporter Refuelled is released 4th September 2015

The Transporter Refuelled  – Official Website

 

 

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Review: The Treatment

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DIR: Hans Herbots • WRI: Carl Joos • PRO: Peter Bouckaert • ED: Philippe Ravoet • DES: Johan Van Essche • MUS: Kieran Klaassen, Melcher Meirmans, Chrisnanne Wiegel • CAST: Geert Van Rampelberg, Ina Geerts, Johan van Assche

 

A family is found chained up in their own home. They’ve been there for days but the police arrived too late, the kidnapper managed to get away with their young son while the cops were raiding the house and has escaped into a nearby wood. Nick (Van Rampelberg) is a grizzled old detective. Still being haunted by the abduction of his younger brother while they were kids, this new paedophilia case hits too close to home especially with the man who took Nick’s brother still taunting him with what he did. Nick dives headlong into the case, driven by both his own lingering guilt and the suspicion that the current perpetrator may have links to the man Nick has sought revenge on for decades. As another family is taken, Nick slides ever closer to the edge as each new revelation throws more light on a hidden paedophilia ring that’s operated for years.

While cinema and culture in general are hardly hurting for a lack of crime procedurals, every now and again one comes along that stands out. This is definitely one of those. Not because it does something interesting with genre or even because it has a particularly gripping plot or standout performances. No, in this case The Treatment simply manages to get under your skin and repulse you in a way few if any recent entries in the genre have. This may be due to a wider desensitising by media but it doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the darkest, bleakest, most depressing films so far this year (and this is coming from someone who adored The Voices). Each of the three major characters (plot-wise) in this film are monstrous and that’s including our protagonist and while there is a sense that they were all driven to that by various circumstances, you’ll still leave the cinema thinking that humanity is just inherently awful and wish it would go away.

Now, this is hardly the first film to deal with paedophilia but I personally can’t think of one in recent memory that approached it so coldly and unflinchingly. That’s not to say graphically, mercifully you never see anything but the quick-cuts, the implications of what’s being talked about and just generally the very believable and almost bored, matter-of-fact tone some of the discussions about it take, really leave you intensely unnerved and disturbed by the whole affair. The main killer’s MO only grows more grotesque as the detectives unravel it and while it is disappointing to see yet another film fall into that old cliché of ‘other’-ing the mentally ill, it remains a perpetual hole that writers in the genre can’t seem to avoid stepping into.

Even without all the aforementioned awfulness, as a crime thriller the first half of this film is quite superb. The tone of resigned dread hanging over the film is only made worse by a subtle but unnerving score that complements the overwrought and occasionally nerve-shattering sound design. This is especially true during some of the early, very ‘Slender’ reminiscent, jaunts through a darkened forest with only a slow thumping drumbeat for company. The mythical quality the children ascribe to the killer and very traditionally bogyman-esque way he operates turn the first hour or so into an almost unbearably tense, bordering-on-supernatural horror film.

Sadly, that momentum does falter a bit as it nears the climax. The film is definitely too long and while it certainly holds your attention for the full running time, the film does morph from being a horror to simply being horrifying. The structure is odd and it’s unsurprising to find out that it’s based on a book (and not even the first book in a series), with multiple plot-threads, few of which ever meaningfully overlap, dragging down the pacing as the movie continues. Another minor quibble is that, while the cop-on-the-edge trope is a well-worn one and while the protagonist here has perhaps more motivation and legitimate justification for being as close to the edge as he is than most, the performance does threaten to start chewing the scenery in parts and risks bringing the otherwise well-crafted atmosphere crumbling down with it.

It’s hard to say that it’s a film that you should seek out as, best case scenario, you leave not a very happy camper. However, it is undeniably one of the strongest entries in the genre in a good while. The first half especially is almost as good as any of the best horrors of the year and the story remains loathsomely compelling.

Now, let’s just hope we don’t get a watered-down American remake in a couple of years with Liam Neeson in the lead role. Or even worse, Pierce Brosnan.

Richard Drumm

131minutes

The Treatment is released 21st August 2015

The Treatment  – Official Website

 

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Irish Film Review: You’re Ugly Too

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DIR/WRI: Mark Noonan • PRO: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland  • DOP: Tom Comerford • ED: Colin Campbell • DES: Neill Treacy • MUS: David Geraghty • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Lauren Kinsella, Jesse Morris

 

Aidan Gillen stars as Will, a man released from prison to look after his young niece Stacey (Lauren Kinsella) after the death of her mother, Will’s sister. Escaping Dublin to a sleepy rural town, Will and Stacey attempt to foster a relationship and start afresh. However, they’re plagued by setbacks. Will struggles to find a job, Stacey’s more modern attitudes don’t mesh with Will’s old-fashioned nature and recently Stacey has developed narcolepsy in the wake of her mother’s death which ends up stopping her from being able to attend school. However, the duo befriend a neighbour Emilie (Sainte) who agrees to tutor Stacey while they work out the school issues. And so begins a quiet, subtle exploration of their attempt to build a family out of this less-than-ideal situation.

This is a decidedly mixed film. On balance it probably largely falls on the ‘good’ side of the line but how good kind of depends on who you view the protagonist as being. Initially, it seems like Will is the main player but Stacey gets just about as much screen time and development. Now this is obviously not a complaint but (for this viewer at least) it feels like the film pulls in two contradictory directions depending on who you feel you should be rooting for. Will seems to represent an outdated, idealised stereotype of Ireland. He’s a bit of a ‘rogue’, a real ‘character’, he endlessly spouts dad jokes and eye-rolling platitudes, which he clearly believes represent real wisdom. He seems constantly surprised and a little affronted by Stacey’s independence and generally more ‘modern’ views. This even extends into the narrative as, if you choose to look at it from a certain angle, the story can be summed as; old-fashioned, chivalrous man’s-man saves foreign beauty (Emilie) who falls for him. Now, ultimately the story proves to not be so clear cut but that element never really leaves and at no point do you feel like the film is necessarily against Will’s old fashioned expectations of the world. Indeed, a late reveal of why he was in prison in the first place only reinforces it.

This is all in contrast to Stacey, who it must said, is absolutely the best thing about the film. Kinsella’s performance is flawless. A subtle, quiet but strong and frequently humourous presence who absolutely carries the film. And as a character Stacey feels far more in line with ‘modern’ Ireland but again, it’s unclear if the film is trying to say that she should learn from Will or vice-versa. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s intentionally neither of those and the film is merely presenting both sides without comment and leaving it ambiguous. This kind of detached ambiguity is often a persistent issue with a lot of modern Irish cinema, here though it almost works even if ultimately it means that neither character grows particularly much from their experiences. At any rate it feels more believable and truthful than if this had become a droopy bag of shmaltz and clichés.

Otherwise, in terms of the Good; Tom Comerford’s cinematography is crisp and at times striking, managing that most difficult of tricks by making rural Ireland look neither like a picturesque tourist board commercial or a bleak, desolate wasteland. The supporting cast is strong and the dialogue can be very funny (Stacey’s at any rate) and while the score is sparse, what little of it there is is inoffensive even though it sounds like the music from an Apple product’s ad.

On to the Bad however…

Now, despite recent evidence (read: almost everything since The Wire), I’m still not willing outright to call Gillen a bad actor but he is not good here. As an actor he has a tendency of acting with a capital ‘A’. He doesn’t so much vanish into a role as wear it like a very overt costume. You can see him straining below his own veneer to show how good he is at being, in this case, a working-class Dub just out of prison. It really is quite bemusing to watch scenes of him and Kinsella having conversations, their polar opposite acting styles clashing as much as characters do. This brings us onto the other major issues, the dialogue. Now, while it can be good (as I said earlier, mainly Stacey’s) there is a clear attempt here at naturalism that quite often overshoots. Sometimes this ends up being a bit incongruous (Stacey nonchalantly asking ‘So what’s the story with you being a drug addict?’) but other times enters truly cringe-y, flatout bad territory. The attempt at stark realism despite the presence of slightly generic elements further reinforcing the weird non-tone the film seems to be going for. The problem, really, can be summed up in a single, almost dialogue-free scene of Will going to a local young-people’s party where he tries to sell them drugs and have a good time. It is a deeply weird scene, awkward to watch, serves no real point and is mercifully short. It’s difficult to articulate exactly why it feels so off but in motion it embodies all the film’s negatives.

This is by no means a bad film and there is definitely enough good to keep your interest. Lauren Kinsella can join the growing list of young Irish actors that show real promise and the unusual enough dynamic between the leads means that it’s never boring. But the missteps with both the writing and Gillen really are hard to ignore and lead to a very uneven experience on the whole.

Richard Drumm

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
80 minutes

You’re Ugly Too is released 24th July 2015

 

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Review: Ant-Man

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DIR: Peyton Reed • WRI:  Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Russell Carpenter • ED: Dan Lebental, Colby Parker Jr. DES: Shepherd Frankel, Marcus Rowland • MUS: Christophe Beck • CAST: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Hayley Atwell

 

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a well-to-do burglar who has finished serving his time. Now he wants to reconnect with his daughter but his inability to pay child support puts up an immediate roadblock. Having vowed never to return to prison, Scott attempts to go straight but finds it impossible to get a job with his criminal history. Reluctantly, he agrees to a ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ heist but ends up with nothing to show for it but a strange suit and helmet that exhibits unusual properties. Meanwhile, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is a reclusive scientist who created a weapon back in the Cold War days that proved effective but which he kept to himself due to his distrust of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the devastating potential of the weapon if it fell into the wrong hands. However, in the present, Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is close to perfecting his own version of Pym’s Ant-Man program in the form of Yellowjacket; a miniaturised suit of power armour he fully intends to sell to the highest bidder. Fearing the chaos this could bring on a global scale, Pym, along with his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), recruit Scott to pull off the heist of his career but with one ‘small’ twist…

 

With the departure of Wright and Cornish from the production, it seems like most people just decided this was going to be Marvel’s first big failure. And, personally speaking, going in with those diminished expectations made the surprise of just how fun this movie is all the more enjoyable to experience. Make no mistake, this movie still has ‘damage control’ written all over it. From an opening prologue that exists almost solely to remind you of previous movies by briefly bringing back Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and John Slattery’s Howard Stark, to a hugely enjoyable but entirely extraneous Avengers detour halfway through the movie, you can almost see the studio notes on-screen demanding more fan-service in an attempt to placate those who only came to throw stones at the lack of Wright/Cornish-ness. Add in the heavy emphasis on (largely ad-libbed by the looks of it) comedy and you can tell they really want this to be this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It would be genuinely surprising if this manages to do anywhere near Guardians business but in terms of entertainment and tone, it’s pretty much on par.

 

There is a lot to like here. Rudd is a compelling lead and lots of fun, Lilly is solid and Douglas is clearly really enjoying himself. Stoll is the only real weak-link but a sub-par villain in a Marvel movie is at this point neither surprising nor much of an issue. In a reverse of the usual Marvel problem, Ant-Man actually starts off a bit weak and only gets stronger as it goes on. The final act is both dramatically and comedically the peak of the film. Meanwhile, the first chunk of the movie, while consistently funny, feels in desperate need of tightening up. Basically, once the heists and montages get going, the film only goes from strength to strength but getting there can feel like a bit of a chore. Speaking of montages, the visualisations of Michael Peña’s labyrinthine descriptions of how he attained ‘x’ piece of information are both the best thing in the film and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a real pity there aren’t a couple more of them.

 

In terms of everything else, there’s not much to comment on. Reed’s direction is adequate but can’t hope to live up to the now never-to-be-realised potential that Wright’s gleefully frenetic style could have wrought. (That said, there is a great sequence near the end with some distinctly trippy visuals, it’s only a pity Reed doesn’t go that far more often.) Christophe Beck’s score goes largely unnoticed but the credits showcase a fun main theme and his frequent throwback pieces of old-fashioned caper music are enjoyable. There are clear attempts to ape Guardians’ use of licensed tracks and while it never reaches that level, there are a couple of fun sequences in that regard. The supporting cast are almost all fine. It is, however, very annoying to see yet another movie in as many months where Judy Greer is playing the mother of a plot-centric child and is ultimately given nothing to do. But now I’m just nitpicking.

 

While Marvel has somehow managed to (yet again) maintain their winning streak, this is the year the cracks start to show. Age of Ultron was little more than a very enjoyable, perfectly produced but entirely disposable fireworks display. Now we have Ant-Man which looks for all the world like Marvel trying to recapture the Guardians magic for a second time. While it lacks the consistent freshness that film displayed, there is a lot of good in this film overall. It’s also hugely refreshing to see a Marvel movie with such a noticeably small scale (pun very much intended). No cities get destroyed (only a single building explodes!), the world is never in immediate danger and the overall death toll is very conservative by blockbuster standards (it could even be in the single digits, on reflection). Any film in which the big final battle takes place in a child’s bedroom with the hero and villain fighting with a trainset deserves a lot of credit in our current climate of summer movies with a fetish for genocide, one city at a time.

 

While the final film is a tad more forgettable than it could have been in its original creators’ hands, there’s no denying this is one of the better comedies of the year, a decent action film, a fun caper and yet another name to add to the list of niche-appeal characters Marvel somehow managed to make good, crowd-pleasing films out of. Now, where’s my damn Hawkeye movie/Netflix miniseries, Marvel?

Richard Drumm

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
116 minutes

Ant-Man is released 17th July 2015

Ant-Man – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Mr Holmes

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DIR: Bill Condon • WRI: Jeffrey Hatcher • PRO: Iain Canning, Anne Carey, Emile Sherman • DOP: Tobias A. Schliessler • MUS: Carter Burwell • DES: Martin Childs • CAST: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada

 

It feels like we’ve just about reached peak Holmes saturation at this point. Between Guy Ritchie’s wildly revisionist take on the character and the global phenomenon that has been Sherlock, it seems like modern (especially geek) culture has a renewed obsession with the great detective. This is to say nothing of Sherlock’s oft-shunned younger brother, Elementary (which is honestly the better of the two modern-Holmes’ and really doesn’t get the credit it deserves. But that’s a discussion for another day). And now comes Mr Holmes, a much quieter affair than those other examples. A film that would likely have been relegated to the art house circuit was it not for the current popularity of the brand and of course the casting of the lead. It should be near impossible to cast anyone in the role after both Cumberbatch and Downey Jr. have so thoroughly made it their own in recent memory, especially given their world-conquering box-office abilities (well, unless maybe they’d cast Tom Hiddleston). Impossible that is, unless you bring in one of the patron saints of modern Geekdom; Sir Ian McKellen.

Mr Holmes follows a ninety-three year-old, long-retired Holmes. Having recently returned from a trip to Japan, Holmes spends his days in a remote part of Sussex where he tends enthusiastically to his bee-keeping. He lives there with his housekeeper Mrs Munro (Linney) and her young, inquisitive son Roger (Parker). Aware that his time in this world is short, Holmes is desperate to remember the details of his final case and chronicle them. However, his once brilliant mind is quickly deteriorating, leaving him frustrated and morose at his inability to remember simple things such as names and more important matters such as what happened in that final case and why it caused him to retire and exile himself to Sussex. Unfortunately, the housekeeper’s son Roger has been raised on the legend of Sherlock Holmes and refuses to leave the old man in peace. Initially reluctant, Holmes’ eventually comes to see the value Roger’s presence has in aiding him to remember that final case and so takes Roger under his wing to teach him everything from basic deduction to good beekeeping practices, hoping that along the way he might finally work out what happened in that final case and what failure could have been so great that he’d retire.

For a moment at the start of this film, it looks like they’ve got the casting all wrong. Despite some genuinely amusing scenes where all McKellen has to do is sit there and glower with his incredibly-old-man variation of the classic Resting Bitch Face, he doesn’t seem very Holmes-y. Then the film flashes back to the beginning of that final case and we see McKellen playing the character when he was still at his peak and you genuinely question why the world waited this long to given us Sir Ian as Sherlock Holmes. So, no surprises; Ian McKellen is brilliant in a film, what’s new. What makes it impressive though is that he’s playing the character when Sherlock is supposed to be both younger than McKellen currently is and much older. And he’s equally convincing as both. While that’s partially down to some great make-up work, a lot of it is entirely McKellen. In fact, he’s almost too good. The vulnerability and fragility with which he plays the older Holmes is so convincing at points that I genuinely feared that I was about to see Ian McKellen the actor die onscreen before my very eyes. And then in the next scene we’d be back in flashback territory where he’s full of sly smirks and quick-witted retorts while he’s jauntily tailing his mark through London and it feels entirely seamless.

It’s an impressive balancing act for the actor but it’s just as impressive narratively. The way the film utilises the flashbacks is probably most comparable to We Need to Talk about Kevin. The fragmented structure of the overall narrative does an excellent job of visually demonstrating his increasingly failing and disjointed memory without it ever becoming confusing or insufferable. You get just enough plot to satisfy you while still leaving you wanting the rest. (So, it’ll be unsurprising to hear that this is based on a book) The one downside of this is that while the ‘present’ plot is interesting, the flashbacks do such a good job of realising what Sherlock Holmes Classic should look like, that you find yourself wanting a full movie of McKellen’s Holmes Prime just solving cases without all of the older Holmes’ existentialism. But that would just be being greedy.

Despite the overall solid cast, perhaps the most deserving of praise is young Milo Parker who plays Roger. This is the kind of character that can slip all too easily into the insufferably precocious child archetype and the fact that he never does is a huge testament to both Parker and the script. He quickly becomes endearing and only continues to grow in likeability as Holmes realises what a nightmarish mini-me of himself he’s slowly turning the boy into. For a character that could have at best been simply a cypher-like audience POV or at worst, the aforementioned archetype, the film manages to make a surprisingly compelling character in Roger.

As for everything else, there’s really nothing to complain about. The directing is solid if un-showy, the cinematography is crisp and the score is perfectly fine. One nice touch is that they avoid the temptation (as with so many Holmes adaptations) to lean too heavily on the violin, instead opting a score that utilises a lot of glass harmonica music (for good reason, it’s plot-related). The film can feel a tad televisual at times but that’s to be expected with a relatively low-budget period piece such as this. That said, they do their best to elevate proceedings where possible and sequences such as Holmes walking through the still smouldering Hiroshima are both effecting and visually striking.

This is probably the definitive on-screen Holmes so far this century. McKellen is perfect and the script is filled with the kind of witticisms, patronising sarcasm and exasperated sighs you’d expect. The film resists the urge to go overboard with its addressing of a post-modern Holmes and instead subtly weaves it into the story organically rather than borderline breaking the fourth wall with how pleased with itself it is (*cough* Sherlock *cough*). It’s an often funny, occasionally emotional and thoroughly satisfying, if melancholic, examination of one of popular culture’s most enduring figures.

Richard Drumm

 

PG (See IFCO for details)

103 minutes

Mr Holmes is released 19th June 2015

Mr Holmes – Official Website

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 10

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In the latest Film Ireland podcast, Richard Drumm and Jonathan Victory are joined by Natasha Waugh, whose short film Food Fight recently screened at Cannes.

In between chatting about film news and reviews, Natasha talks about setting up her own production company, Fight Back Films, getting her film into Cannes and rubbing shoulders with Woody Allen.

Along the way, the trio look at Irish horror The Canal, while Jonathan and Natasha go head to head over Gerard Barrett’s Glassland and catch up on Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Tribe, Mad Max, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and the box-office phenomenon Kung Fury.

Meanwhile, Donnchadh and Ruairí are at large having escaped from the basement leaving only a poster of One Million B.C. in their wake. Gardaí are warning the public not to approach the men if seen talking about film in the Dublin/Limerick area.

 

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My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

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Richard Drumm checks out Liv Corfixen’s revealing documentary My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Part making-of, part portrait-of-the-man; My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn is Liv Corfixen’s directorial debut as she documents her husband during the production of Only God Forgives. Light on talking-heads-style interviews but heavy on fly-on-the-wall vignettes from various stages of production, the film gives an insight into the shooting of the film, its premiere in Cannes and beyond. While mainly focusing on Refn, some of his more famous friends naturally make appearances, mainly Ryan Gosling and (more bizarrely) Alejandro Jodorowsky who opens the film with a tarot card reading. Because of course he does.

An issue with these kinds of films is that they always run the risk of feeling like behind-the-scenes documentaries that should just be included on the “main” film’s DVD/BluRay rather than getting a full cinematic release themselves. While Corfixen definitely sets her sights high and tries as hard as possible to make her husband (rather than his film) the subject, the documentary never quite manages to achieve an identity of its own apart from Only God Forgives. That’s not to say it’s a bad little film, it just never quite achieves what Corfiexen was aiming for. The main problem is that the whole endeavour comes across slightly empty and more than a little pretentious. It’s by no means uninteresting but it never manages to elevate beyond that into anything particularly meaningful.

Refn remains an interesting figure in modern cinema however. Given the sense of confidence you get from watching his films, seeing how melancholic and almost crippled with self-doubt he is during the shoot, is quite shocking. (Though it’s reassuring to see that even he isn’t fully sure what Only God Forgives is supposed to be about.) You get brief glimpses into the toll the production is taking on his family and how frustrated his single-mindedness with his career is affecting her but sadly Corfixen never seems to want to push further into these topics. That is of course entirely her prerogative, it is her personal life after all, but perhaps having a truly outside source document their lives would have been more successful in fulfilling what she was attempting.

There’s still some undeniable fun to be had watching the film. Gosling is a perpetually likeable and amusing presence. Seeing himself and Refn dealing with their budgetary shortcomings by planning and executing an appearance at a local festival as if it’s a heist is just hugely enjoyable to see play out. Then of course there’s Jodorowsky who is a fascinatingly weird (if disappointingly infrequent) presence and apparently fond of giving marriage advice via the medium of tarot card readings.

Honestly though, if you’re enough of a cinephile that any of the above names mean anything to you, then this is probably worth a look just for Jodorowsky or the scenes of Refn and Gosling bro-ing out. Much like the film which this is documenting the making of though, it’s ultimately only going to appeal to a niche audience and even then won’t be for everyone. Corfixen definitely seems like someone with something to say about the power-balance in relationships and while this might not have been the best showcase of her skills, she will hopefully, eventually emerge as a filmmaker to watch in her own right.

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From the Dark – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

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Richard Drumm entered the dark to check out new Irish horror film From the Dark, which screened at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Horror, more than almost any other genre, can be the most infuriating one to be a fan of. Disappointment is constant, frustration is frequent and on those rare occasions when something does emerge that feels fresh and genre-altering, it will so quickly be imitated to death as to render its initial achievement more curse than blessing (a fate, I fear, that will befall The Babadook before long). From the Dark then, probably falls somewhere into the ‘frustrating’ category. That said, a frustrating horror is still infinitely better than a boring one.

Sarah (Niamh Algar) and Mark (Stephen Cromwell) are driving through rural Ireland en route to a country getaway. In the long-established traditions of the genre; at least one of them isn’t from the country and engages in some small transgression against the locals, their map/iPhone will eventually fail them and they’ll get lost, there will be bickering and in case you’re wondering, there is of course some almost laughable Chekhov’s Gun-ing involving the subject of engagement. Unknown to them, a local farmer has just unwittingly released a long-buried creature from a nearby bog. As night descends and their car gets stuck, the couple make their way towards an (altogether now) isolated, ramshackle farmhouse to seek help only to realise they’ve become the prey to some unknown, very literal hunter of the night.

The setup being as by-the-numbers as it is, isn’t necessarily an issue. In fact, one of the great strengths of the script is how genre-aware it is but more importantly how genre-aware it knows its audience is. At no point do either of the leads have a conversation about vampires. Nor at any point do we need some shoe-horned-in dialogue to explain that Sarah has had survival training in order to know how to tie a bandage or light a torch, etc. These are all just refreshingly taken as given. On top of this, the central gimmick of the two leads trying to cobble together any viable light source they can in order to keep Nos-faux-ratu at bay is both fun to watch and consistently inventive. And there is a genuine attempt to shake up the visuals a bit by occasionally showing events from the creature’s Buffalo-Bill-o-vision. Ultimately though, the greatest threat in the film is its running time.

After seeing this film, I couldn’t help shaking the feeling that there’s an extremely solid, tight, forty-five minute shorter film in here somewhere. And while that might sound a little harsh, there’s no denying that the film could definitely stand to lose about twenty minutes. The problem is that once Sarah has fulfilled her genre-destined fate and become the Final Girl, the momentum of the story should push things into a final battle and resolution. Unfortunately, events continue on past the point of being tense to where you just want it to end and don’t really care who wins. There’s really only so many times you can pull the trick of the heroine realising how to beat the creature, trying it, it failing and then another breathless chase scene starting up. This is to say nothing of the fun but practically farcical series of events in the house itself.

This running time issue might not have been so apparent if the film hadn’t chosen to go in a rather bold direction in its second half. You see, given that there are only four characters in the movie, from a certain point onwards we’re essentially watching Sarah on her own, which means there’s practically no dialogue past the midpoint. Now, while this doesn’t entirely work it is a very interesting gambit to pull and pays dividends in certain sequences, most notably in the payoff to the previously mentioned engagement set-up. This could have been reduced to trite, uninspired dialogue but instead plays out wordlessly through silhouettes (and in a further, more overtly symbolic scene involving a chisel), which is without doubt the strongest scene in the movie and one of those moments of pure cinema that are all too rare these days.

Additional praise has to go to Michael Lavelle’s cinematography which succeeds in finding the right balance between having dark be dark enough to remain threatening while being light enough that you can still see what’s going on. And it would be quite difficult to discuss this film without heaping praise on Niamh Algar’s central performance as Sarah. Entirely believable from start to finish, she manages to imbue Sarah with a real credibility and humanity without lapsing into over-dramatics (or turning her into some kind of stock, post-Buffy, impossible-badass cliché). A feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that she achieves most of this without dialogue. It’s an admirably judged and impressively under-stated performance which largely carries the film.

It’s not fair to claim that the film fails to reinvent the horror wheel because it’s not trying to. From the Dark is a perfectly solid little horror movie that will likely enjoy a decent life on the VOD circuit and, with any luck, a run at the Irish box-office. This is the exact kind of movie this country needs more of; well-crafted, simple, low-budget genre pieces that actually have a chance of making some money at the box-office. It might not carry too many surprises for anyone well-versed in the genre but the clear enthusiasm everyone involved had for the project is up there onscreen plus there are some fun ideas and scenes sprinkled throughout. And that’s definitely preferable to yet another sequel, prequel or reboot to a known horror brand.

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The Voices

the-voices-sundance-2

DIR: Marjane Satrapi • WRI: Michael R. Perry •  PRO: Roy Lee, Matthew Rhodes, Adi Shankar, Spencer Silna • DOP: Maxime Alexandre • ED: Stéphane Roche • MUS: Olivier Bernet • DES: Udo Kramer • CAST: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick

Humble reader, I come before you a conflicted man. There’s a lot to be said and to discuss about this movie and while I want to do that, that task will be near impossible without giving away some of the surprises the film has to offer. So the short version of the review is: go see it, go see it right now. I’m not going to go into specific plot spoilers but even talking broadly about what this film is referencing and the subjects it’s dealing with, will in its own way give away more than I sense the film wants you to know going in. If you enjoy pitch black comedies with incredible casts, that skirt the line of bad taste and occasionally trip over it and then repeatedly stab that line in self-disgust, this is the film for you.

Seemingly normal factory worker but secret crazy-person, Jerry (Reynolds) lives in a small, depressing town; spending his days shipping bathtubs before returning to his lonely apartment above a disused bowling alley. His only company being his dog, Bosco and cat, Mr Whiskers. Both of whom talk to him. Because you see, Jerry was only recently released from an asylum and has stopped taking his meds. When he’s tasked with helping organise an office party, he begins to fall for Fiona (Arterton) while attracting the attentions of Lisa (Kendrick). Drinks are had, dates are attempted, well-meaning intentions lead to… blood. Oh, so much blood.

This is one of those great movies that is clearly reminiscent of/influenced by/similar to numerous other films and yet still manages to stand out boldly on its own terms and contribute meaningfully to the genre(s) it inhabits. What starts off feeling like Ted, but funnier, sadder and with real mental health issues at its centre (and Reynolds at his most Walbergian) suddenly and violently detours into Tucker and Dale vs. Evil territory before subtly revealing its true form as a sort of Killer Joe as written and directed by Wes Anderson. And an ending which (don’t worry, I wouldn’t ruin for anyone) feels almost like an homage to the 1967 Casino Royale. There’s a lot going on, basically.

Even the genre feels difficult to pin down. Black comedy seems the most appropriate but then at times it goes so far and delves into such bleak, dark material that it becomes genuinely dramatically gripping and so emotionally raw that you have to wonder if the comedy is only a thin veneer with which to explore this subject-matter in a way that doesn’t alienate everyone. At its core, this is a character study of a serial killer but rather than going the muted, serious route of something like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, this forges ahead in the polar opposite direction. Satrapi’s familiar, stylised hyper-reality is here used as a wonderful piece of misdirection. The sickly, artificial, almost confection-like mise-en-scene (complete with a truly icky, squelchy sound design) means that when the audience, and Jerry, finally see ‘reality’, it hits like a punch to the stomach and you completely begin to question the ‘comedy’ portion of this black comedy.

The truly chilling thing about this film is that despite being really funny, this is potentially the most believable version of a serial killer and how/why they do what they do, to be put on screen in a while. Sure, it’s not ‘realistic’ and it can be highly abstract but making the logic of such a warped and psychologically damaged mind’s version of reality seem coherent, if not outright relatable, is a damn impressive feat. And there, equal credit is due to both Perry’s script and Satrapi’s direction with a healthy dose of praise to Reynolds’ performance and its impressive range. I won’t even touch the ending but it’s both weirdly perfect and utterly head-scratching in its oddness.

I honestly don’t know how a film like this gets made. If this were a small, independent film, in a foreign language and with a cast of nobodies then maybe. But with this cast, the overall level of talent on the production side and what appears to be a not insubstantial amount of money behind it; making a film as strange and potentially niche as this? Make no mistake, there will be people who are going to violently, passionately hate this movie. But I am not one of them.

 

Richard Drumm

16 (See IFCO for details)
103 minutes

The Voices is released 20th March 2015

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fKu_NMbNKM

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