Review: Passengers


DIR: Morten Tyldum  • WRI: Jon Spaihts • PRO: Stephen Hamel, Michael Maher, Ori Marmur, Neal H. Moritz • DOP: Rodrigo Prieto • ED: Maryann Brandon • DES: Guy Hendrix Dyas • MUS: Thomas Newman • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen

It’s a pity Passengers didn’t come out a couple of years ago when J-Law and C-Pratt were at the height of their fame; that way, when the world exploded we would all have been spared the misery that was 2016.

It’s also a pity, because that way we would have been spared the monstrosity that is Passengers.

Morten Tyldum’s creepy (for all the wrong reasons) Sci-Fi Romance takes place on the good ship Avalon, a passenger vessel transporting five thousand people on a 120-year journey to the distant planet Homestead II, on which they will set up a colony upon arrival. The passengers are put in cryogenic sleep for the duration of the journey, but a malfunction causes mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Pratt) to wake ninety years early. Unable to return to sleep and following a year of exploring the possibilities of life on-board the ship with only a robot bartender for company (Michael Sheen, delightful; probably the only good part of the movie) he decides to wake up another passenger called Aurora Lane (Lawrence).

And then, Jim pretends that this was a malfunction, and sets about to woo Aurora. But don’t worry, he feels really bad about it. When she discovers the truth and doesn’t want to sleep with him anymore, that is. Because I guess true love just looks a little different in space.
It’s hard to know what’s worse here; the jaw-dropping misogyny on show or the lazy, ridiculously convenient world building that is there purely to service the plot (Oh no wait – it’s definitely the misogyny. Like, without question. But the world building is pretty terrible too). The Avalon has been built to carry its passengers in hibernation for over a century, except for the last four months of the journey, when they will all be woken up to take classes (ironically enough) about rebuilding society. For that reason, the ship has been fit with cabins, rec rooms, gymnasiums, restaurants and canteens (not to mention stocking up with enough food, water, clothing, entertainment items and – by the looks it – a heck of a lot of alcohol) to house five thousand active people for over a hundred days. Michael O’Leary would be ashamed by the lack of economy shown by the space travel company. Why put all this extra unnecessary strain on the resources which could be used by the settlers once they arrive on-planet, I hear you ask? Why, so our star-crossed lovers can have an attractive-looking playground in which to play out their creepy, one-sided affair, of course.

One of the many frustrating elements of Passengers is the kernel of much better storytelling that gets ignored in favour of the romance plot. The various malfunctions onboard are shrugged off by all involved as once-offs. Apparently nothing has ever gone wrong on any other interplanetary voyage and that’s just that. There doesn’t seem to be any implication that the for-profit ogranisation running the mission might have more sinister motives. No one seems bothered that Homestead II might not be there when they arrive. Or, you know, what happened on Homestead I (if anything, I have no idea why it’s the second one). While there is some gentle satire of the customer service industry and commentary on the two-tiered system in America, it’s ignored after the first act when there’s canoodling to be done.

Indeed, after the reasonably interesting first half hour of Jim trying to make sense of his new life, which plays out as a mix of Castaway and Moon, any feelings of warmth are instantly sucked out of the movie by the disturbing decision by Jim to awaken Aurora, the implications of which are never fully realised. Instead, Aurora is warned about getting notions above her station as a woman: “I just hope you find someone and quit complaining,” a friend tells her in her goodbye message from Earth.” Lawrence Fishburne, in his brief appearance as a member of the otherwise unseen crew rationalises Jim’s actions, calling him a “drowning man.”

Needless to say, events transpire to allow Jim to emerge as the hero every blockbuster needs. Stuff starts exploding and, shockingly enough, a burly man is just what is needed to save the Avalon. You know what, Aurora? If you had just gone ahead and embraced that sweet, sweet Stockholm syndrome sooner, we probably wouldn’t have had this problem in the first place. Jeez.

Sarah Cullen

116 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Passengers is released 21st December 2016

Passengers – Official Website



Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 25 – Human Velcro



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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Review: Arrival


DIR: Denis Villeneuve • WRI:  Eric Heisserer • PRO: Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, David Linde, Karen Lunder, Aaron Ryder • DOP: Bradford Young • ED: Joe Walker • DES: Patrice Vermette • MUS: Jóhann Jóhannsson • CAST:Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Rule number one of big budget sci-fi releases: make sure Love trumps Science. Or if not Love, at least Linguistics. (And Love. Lots of Love.) Remember to scoff about Science as often as possible – this way when your semi-coherent plot dissolves into an incoherent puddle of emotional goo in the final act, you can remind your audience that they should have expected it all along.

Harsh? Yes. Fair? Maybe. Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is certainly visually impressive and its first act packs a satisfying emotional punch. Beginning like an updated version of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Arrival starts with the news that twelve giant alien spacecrafts have appeared in seemingly random locations around the world. Their motives are unknown. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an expert linguist who is still coming to terms with the trauma of losing her young daughter Hannah to an unspecified rare disease, is approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to join the U.S. Military’s efforts to communicate with the aliens. Along with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Dr Banks begins routinely meeting with the aliens in an attempt to decipher their unrecognisable language.

While the cinematography is spectacular, with the alien’s massive egg-shaped spacecrafts dominating every shot of the landscape, and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s booming musical score accords almost perfectly with the onscreen action, there is something unsatisfying or undercooked about the film’s endeavour. Arrival never fully escapes from the bounds of its source material, Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life.” As the point of view character there, it was understandable there that we were focused on Dr Bank’s interiority. Here, however, Banks and Donnelly are part of a much wider operation but it never really translates properly: you can almost imagine that everyone is just twiddling their thumbs until one of them enters the room. Whitaker is particularly unfortunate here, given the unfortunate job of being the Questions Guy, only a step above Exposition Dude. There is also a sense of trepidation about Villeneuve’s representation of the U.S. military. Apart from a couple of rogue operators, the organisation as a whole appears to be little more than a science lab for Bank’s experiments, keeping things above board while other world powers crumble. Given recent events (or, you know, the last three hundred years or so) it seems like a bit of an oversight.

There are some innovative scenes regarding the aliens and their technology, which keep things interesting for much of the run-time. Although it would have been nice to have an explanation for some of the things, such as the disruption of gravity, their inclusion was not unwelcome. In regards to the aliens themselves, perhaps Villeneuve should have stuck to the maxim that “less is more,” as the reveal of the aliens’ physical forms isn’t particularly enlightening. Or alternatively, in a film concerned with exploring the boundaries of visual representations, maybe it would have been worthwhile to hit us with something more experimental.

Thankfully Amy Adams’ performs admirably as the heart and soul of the drama, and the film’s opening montage detailing her daughter’s initial happy years followed by her tragic demise is, in itself, a heartbreakingly beautiful tale of love and loss, expertly shot. Jeremy Renner tries but is hampered by an uninspired role as the inevitable love interest. When Arrival finally dissolves into that inevitable puddle of incomprehensible goo, it is at least nice to know that the people involved meant well.

Sarah Cullen

115 minutes

12A (See IFCO for details)

Arrival is released 4th November 2016

Arrival – Official Website



Review: Baden Baden


DIR/WRI: Rachel Lang • PRO: Valérie Bournonville, Pierre-Louis Cassou, Jeremy Forni, Joseph Rouschop • DOP: Fiona Braillon • ED: Sophie Vercruysse • DES: Jean-François Sturm • CAST: Salomé Richard, Claude Gensac, Lazare Gousseau

“What’s your profession?” This is a question asked of Baden Baden’s protagonist Ana (Salomé Richard) The answer, “Same as mine, I guess,” comes not from Ana herself but from the person who asked the question. Indeed, this appears to be one of the central questions of Baden Baden, Rachel Lang’s sophomore French language feature-length film, both written and directed by Lang. Professions – or at least, professions as overarching ideals that shape one’s life – seem a to be a vague, unreachable goal.  Who can even be sure what professional life even entails?

After losing her job as a chauffeur on a Belgian film set, twenty-six-year-old Ana returns home to Strasbourg, without returning her rental car, to stay with her grandmother (Claude Gensac) for the summer. While there she juggles various odd jobs, spends time with friends and family and becomes re-acquainted with her ex (Olivier Chantreu), all while taking advantage of the unreturned rental. When her grandmother has a sudden fall and is hospitalised, Ana takes on the challenge of replacing her grandmother’s bathtub with a shower for her return.

Although at times it feels a little longer than its runtime of just over ninety minutes, what becomes clear is that Baden Baden is far more about Ana’s journey rather than any sense of destination. The sense of exploration, experimentation and ennui is portrayed through Ana’s effectively non-linear experiences of her summer in Strasbourg. This is not to say there is no sense of time changing, as the central storyline concerning Ana, her grandmother, and her determination to refit the bathroom is a reminder of the progression of time.

Baden Baden is bolstered by its excellent performances: Salomé Richard is eminently likable as Ana, playing her as equal parts adventurous, friendly and vulnerable. Claude Gensac brings a wonderfully dry sense of humour to the role of Grandmother, and Olivier Chantreu is frustratingly charming as Ana’s pompous and chauvinistic ex boyfriend Boris. Lazare Gousseau is perhaps the highlight as Grégoire, the incompetent DIY assistant, enlisted by Ana to help with the plumbing. Their renovating attempts generate much of the film’s physical humour as they try to refit the bathroom with little to no expertise. This is exacerbated by Gousseau’s fantastically deadpan delivery of his attempts to woo Ana with his sparse DIY knowledge.

With wide, slow pans of Strasbourg mirroring Ana’s own slow exploratory pace, Lang’s film explores how one’s mid-twenties can be a time of uncertainty. Indeed, in its own quiet way, Baden Baden feels like a celebration of the vocation-less of society. Ana may be restless and unsure of herself but she is also keen to work when she can find it, deeply caring of her friends and family, and eager to learn new skills. Perhaps we need to consider new configurations of the work-life balance and learn to value those who transform the community through their social work.

Sarah Cullen

95 minutes

Baden Baden is released 30th September 2016

Baden Baden – Official Website





Review: Jason Bourne



DIR: Paul Greengrass • WRI: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse • PRO:Matt Damon, Gregory Goodman, Paul Greengrass, Frank Marshall, Jeffrey M. Weiner • DOP: Barry Ackroyd • ED: Christopher Rouse • MUS: David Buckley, John Powell • DES: Paul Kirby • CAST: Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Matt Damon

Life hack in order to look 100% cooler: put on a John Powell soundtrack and stride around European cities purposefully. It’s a simple formula but it works, as evinced by the continuing success of Paul Greengrass’ franchise fourteen years after its first instalment.

After years of living off the CIA’s radar Jason Bourne finds its protagonist eking out an existence in underground European fight clubs. However, Bourne finds himself in the spotlight once again when he is contacted by an old ally, Nikki Parsons (Bourne veteran Julia Stiles). She has recently discovered that his father had links to Treadstone, the CIA programme that brainwashed Bourne and turned him into a super soldier over a decade previously. While trying to bring this information to light, Bourne ends up in a power struggle between three CIA operatives; veteran Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), up-and-coming Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and an unnamed assassin (Vincent Cassell), all of whom are determined to claim Bourne on their own terms.

While we find Matt Damon globetrotting as usual, this film is unquestionably about Bourne in the USA. Despite major set pieces being set in Europe, including a visually impressive Greek riot which Bourne navigates his way through the streets of Athens, and a satisfactorily prescient scene of mass panic in London, Jason Bourne has little to say about Europe’s current economic situation; it is instead concerned with American questions regarding surveillance, freedom and patriotism. Unfortunately there is little room for nuance in this regard; the Dewey is in cahoots with a Facebook-alike social media platform that, despite its promises, watches everyone “all the time,” (whatever that means). Parson’s hacking of the CIA secrets, we are told several times, could be “bigger than Snowden.” Meanwhile, Bourne is ultimately convinced to renew the search for the truth behind his past when he learns that Treadstone had been watching him before he even joined the operation. Really, did it take him until now to consider that? As a meditation on the use and abuse of surveillance in post-Snowden America, Jason Bourne looks flashy but has little new to say.

The action, while on the whole entertaining, feels somewhat lacking. Many of the set pieces contain nods to the original but this time around Bourne is lucky almost as often as he is skilled: every police blockade leaves just large enough a gap to allow a car or motorcycle through and henchmen are just a little too slow on the uptake. Furthermore, there are several moments which threaten to jump the shark in terms of the franchise’s bid for realism, or at the very least threaten in some serious eye-rolling. As usual, Greengrass is up to his usual shaky-cam tricks; anyone with a weak stomach might want to come prepared.

What is perhaps more interesting than the action this time around is the power struggle between the operatives. Tommy Lee Jones steals the show as the ruthless CIA director whose fear of being undermined by the younger, dynamic head of the cyber optics division (Vikander) drives much of the film’s action. It’s nice to see a male-dominated genre acknowledging the dynamics of gender in the workplace and perhaps signals a way forward for the series.

Although it’s not quite up to the standard of the original trilogy, it’s nice to see Damon back on patrol. This time around the action is a little over the top and the story is somewhat ham-fisted, but Jason Bourne proves to be a compelling game of cat and mouse.

Sarah Cullen

123 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Jason Bourne is released 29th July 2016

Jason Bourne – Official Website


Review: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie


DIR: Mandie Fletcher • WRI: Jennifer Saunders • PRO: Damian Jones, Jon Plowman • DOP: Chris Goodger • ED: Anthony Boys, Gavin Buckley, Billy Sneddon • MUS: Jake Monaco • DES: Harry Banks • CAST: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha

If the mark of a good comedy is that you laugh a lot, Ab Fab: The Movie has you covered. Think too much about the rudimentary plot and conventional translation of television show to the big screen (It’s Ab Fab on holiday!) and you’ll probably have a less enjoyable time. Think more about how funny it is to see clueless women complaining about how they’re underappreciated by the fashion world (“I gave celebrities AIDS!”) and you might find yourselves chuckling appreciatively.

Written as always by Jennifer Saunders and directed by series regular Mandie Fletcher, Edina “Eddy” Monsoon (Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) are up to their regular tricks, trying their best to stay ahead in PR while keeping their alcohol levels well above the limit. This time they’re, well, still lying about their ages and doing so while figuring out how modern technology functions. Indeed, one of the pleasant aspects of the film is that a lot of the twitter and tinder gags actually work; and in a particularly inspired moment Edina’s failure to turn off the loudspeaker on her phone ultimately leads to her downfall when she unwittingly reveals a trade secret. Thus the lovely ladies prove that they are still more than capable of failing to emerge into adulthood well into the twenty-first century.

With news that Kate Moss is looking for new representation, Eddy springs into action and ends up accidentally knocking her into the Thames at a gala party. When Moss fails to resurface, Eddy and her family – mother (June Whitfield), her daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha, as usual the voice of reason) and granddaughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) – find themselves at the centre of a media storm. Looking to lie low while her face is plastered all over the news, Eddy and Patsy decide to head to the south of France. As always, the fashion industry is depicted as being bizarre and enigmatic. Indeed, in the brief moments before familiar faces appear one would be forgiven for thinking they had stepped into a showing of Nicholas Refn’s much darker look at the world of fashion, Neon Demon. Such a bewildering image is embraced by the long list of celebrities, both veteran Ab Fab players like Lulu and Emma Bunton and new additions (La Roux and Game of Thrones’ Gwendolyn Christie among them), all of whom seem delighted to be a part of the show’s latest incarnation. While some new additions aren’t given the best material to work with – Glee’s Chris Colfer and comedian Rebel Wilson seem out of place somehow – others fit in very well, particularly Robert Webb who, as both Saffy’s new boyfriend and the chief of police overseeing the search for Kate Moss, continually gets his roles confused.

Saunders and Lumley are hysterically funny. While Saunders’ Eddy has the most superficial of existential crises imaginable, detoxing on a diet of chicken wings and practicing her “mindlessness,” Lumley’s Patsy steals the show as a ruthless yet helpless chain-smoker, caught in fugue of complete and total privilege (and booze). After their credit cards have been cancelled, in total and utter confusion she asks if they have any “hand money” to go shopping. In a pleasant and possibly unexpected turn of events, Lumley also looks surprisingly like David Bowie when wearing a fake moustache.

Although the film isn’t completely able to avoid the pitfalls of adaptation, with the last act overstaying its welcome, Ab Fab: The Movie is, for the most part, a thoroughly entertaining showcase of some of Britain’s funniest women. And who knows? Perhaps showing this back-to-back with Neon Demon is the way to go.

Sarah Cullen

90 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is released 8th July 2016

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie – Official Website





Review: The Secret Life of Pets


DIR: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney • WRI: Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul • PRO: Christopher Meledandri • ED: Ken Schretzmann • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Eric Guillon

In order to enjoy this movie, my main recommendation is to be a dog lover. Dogs come off very well in The Secret Life of Pets. It makes no bones about it: indeed at one point we get a speech about how dogs are the best types of pets, and all other pets should pretty much just go home. Cats range from being slothful allies to hairless maniacs. Rabbits are raving lunatics. Canaries are cute but lack personality. Hawks are lonely and surprisingly easily led. Hamsters have poor directional skills. And fish are hard to integrate into a film about animals travelling across New York and are for this reason ignored. So watch this animated feature if you love dogs. Or possibly if you are a dog. For the rest of us (or at least for those of us over the age of twelve), The Secret Life of Pets might just feel suspiciously like adorable pro-dog propaganda with some disturbing violent undercurrents and excellent production values.

The Secret Life of Pets comes resplendent with plenty of big names. Comedian Louis C.K. stars as Max, a contented terrier whose perfect life is shattered when his beloved owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings home a huge, unruly rescue dog named Duke, played by Eric Stonestreet. Their constant bickering eventually leads them to lose their way on the streets of New York, where they fall in with the wrong crowd. Perhaps the most immediately recognisable voice is Kevin Hart as the cute but criminally insane owner-free, sewer-dwelling rabbit Snowball, the leader of a group of abandoned pets determined to start a new revolution by taking down all pet owners in New York. Fearful for what will happen if they admit they are content in their life as pets, Max and Duke agree to join Snowball’s army. Meanwhile Max’s neighbour Gidget, a Pomeranian played by Jenny Slate who is Max’s secret admirer (and for some unexplained reason the only female dog in a movie primarily about dogs), organises a rag-tag team of animals from the building to search for Max and Duke. Cue unlikely car chases and scenes out of Baby’s Day Out as the various groups of animals make their way through Manhattan. 

Although on the whole The Secret Life of Pets is aimed at a younger audience, there are some moments which confuse exactly what tone director Chris Renaud and co-director Yarrow Cheney (both of Despicable Me fame) were aiming for. There is some genuinely violent imagery with the animal revolution story-line. At one point, the animals discuss using a blender to kill their owners, something which is perhaps a little disturbing for a kid’s movie. On the other hand, the small amount of jokes aimed at a more mature audience fall flat. The Secret Life of Pets doesn’t have much going for it humour-wise (or indeed story-wise) that hasn’t been done better in the Toy Story franchise and elsewhere.

Indeed, the real reason to watch The Secret Life of Pets is for the animation, with the beautifully sprawling vistas of Manhattan a wonderful reflection of the animals’ idealised version of the city as their home and centre of their universe. Several scenes also showcase the animation’s impressive depth of field. These include the opening scene exploring Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park from above to action scenes in which the animals navigate the Hudson River. The finer details are also impressive, with characters and objects having a real weight and textured look to them. The visuals are accompanied very well by the lively soundtrack of Alexandre Desplat and the songs are successfully integrated into the world of the film.

So in summation, dogs and visuals come off very well in The Secret Life of Pets. Despite a relatively brisk run time of ninety minutes the lack of innovation in the well-trod anthropomorphic story means that it drags at times. By the end, I suspect you will either want to a) adopt a rescue dog or b) drown any and all pets you have at home for fear of violent uprising. Both are reasonable responses.

Sarah Cullen

90 minutes
G (See IFCO for details)

The Secret Life of Pets is released 24th June 2016

The Secret Life of Pets – Official Website



Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 22

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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