Cinema Review: The Double

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DIR: Richard Ayoade • WRI: Richard Ayoade , Avi Korine • PRO: Amina Dasmal, Robin C. Fox • DOP: Erik Wilson • ED: Nick Fenton • MUS: Andrew Hewitt • DES: David Crank • CAST: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Chris O’ Dowd, Sally Hawkins

Judged purely by the trailers, you would be forgiven for thinking Richard Ayoade’s latest movie was a simple comedy about mistaken identities.  However, there is a real depth to The Double that goes beyond laughs, and connects much more firmly with the grotesquery of its base material – the seminal, and surreal, Dostoyevsky novella.  By combining the ridiculous with the existential, Ayoade has managed to create a coherent dystopian future that seems to derive directly from the present – which means the humour can sometimes appear more like hysterical terror.

 

The film focuses on Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), a spineless lackey in an oversized suit who struggles through the daily grind of cubicle life in a soulless office, where his work is underappreciated and he is ignored by all and sundry.  Into his grey life comes Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), a fresh and vibrant woman who defies the darkness of their colourless world.  However, she is at pains to make it clear from the outset that she is nobody’s saviour – Hannah cannot function as the only bright light in a dismal existence, and it is up to Simon to find his own path to self-identity.  Simon’s journey is vastly complicated by the intrusion of a brash and successful James  into his life – everyone loves James, and at first even Simon is in thrall to him too.  He is everything Simon is not – confident, likeable and assured…with the added complication that he is also the exact double of Simon, something only he seems to see.  Simon’s journey of self-discovery is thus derailed by James’ appropriation of his dreams and hopes, with vastly better results than Simon has ever managed.  As James brings Simon from crisis to crisis, leaving devastation in his path, Simon must question whether any attention is better than the life of anonymity he had previously been experiencing.  Is James a better ‘him’, or is he an unredeemable doppelganger, sent to torment his life and usurp his world?

 

Jesse Eisenberg is faced with the unenviable task of playing two diametrically opposed characters, who happen to star in almost every scene together – and it is a feat he manages with considerable aplomb.  His downcast features perfectly encapsulate Simon’s crushed hopes and spiritless mentality, while at the same time the smug smirk and cocky manner he has previously used to such great effect just as equally embodies the charismatic and self-satisfied character of James.  Ably abetted by a deep and emotional performance from Wasikowska as Hannah, Eisenberg’s Simon and James are immediately recognisable as separate people – no easy feat when someone has ‘stolen your face’.  Ayoade has also coaxed subtle performances from the supporting cast; the always-gratifying Wallace Shawn as Simon’s kinetic boss Mr. Papadopoulos and the beautiful Yasmin Paige, making a welcome return to Ayoade’s template as the bored Melanie Papadopoulos, shine in particular.  As is generally the case in British film, Ayoade’s comedy friends make brief appearances – popping up in odd places for the occasional giggle, though thankfully never stealing scenes as superfluous cameos…there is no silly Anchorman-style redundant humour to be found in Ayoade’s world.

 

Those expecting the romantic warmth of Submarine, Ayoade’s previous movie, are likely to be disappointed, as The Double focuses more heavily on the absence of meaning than the restorative powers of love.  That’s not to say that this is a movie without hope, though, and Ayoade is at pains to differentiate his interpretation from Dostoyevsky’s gloomy outlook on the possibility of humanity in crushing systems of bureaucracy.  In this, Ayoade proves himself to be taking the surrealist mantle from Terry Gilliam in terms of escape from dystopia:  in the end, no matter how soulless humanity may appear, it only takes one real connection to make the difference.  A solid exploration of the path to identity from an exciting and innovative director, The Double manages the very great task of making terrifying dystopian futures feel very present, whilst ensuring we can still occasionally laugh about our impending doom.

 Sarah Griffin

16 (See IFCO for details)
92 mins

The Double is released on 4th April 2014

The Double – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Zero Theorem

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DIR: Terry Gilliam • WRI: Pat Rushin • PRO: Nicolas Chartier, Dean Zanuck • DOP: Nicola Pecorini • ED: Mick Audsley • MUS: George Fenton • DES: David Warren • CAST: Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges

 

First off, let’s just say it: Terry Gilliam’s movies are not for everyone.  Much like Wes Anderson or Terence Malick, there is often a certain knowledge level of the director’s previous work and style required before buying a ticket for the Terry-train.  This is certainly more true with The Zero Theorem, as it is his avowed final part of the dystopian trilogy that includes Brazil (1985) and 12 Monkeys (1995).  However, if you’re willing to suspend your cynicism and follow Gilliam into the rabbit-hole, there is much to genuinely love about this movie.

 

The story centres on Qohen (a fantastically quirky Christoph Waltz), who refers to himself using various group descriptors – ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘ourselves’ etc. – in a frantic attempt to patch together into one being the jumble of neuroses and phobias that plague his monotonous existence.  Qohen inhabits a typically Gilliam futuristic landscape, one which seems to exist outside of any knowledge of present technology or even the internet – far more connected with his 1985 vision of the future than a 2014 reimagining.  However, this world is total Gilliam, and it felt a comfortable (if nostalgic) fit in the darkened cinema as the familiar horrible, noisy, disconnected, impersonal metropolitan landscape unfolded onscreen.  A reclusive computer genius, the concern which drives Qohen from his cloister into this horror of humanity each day is the idea that somehow Management will grant his heart’s desire: to work from home.  This simple request would rescue him from the hellish daily grind of the cubicle, and allow him time to await a phone call he is convinced will tell him his purpose in life.  Eventually he gets his wish, in the form of a doomed project which has brought anyone who has worked on it to the brink of insanity.  He must prove the Zero Theorem – the central question of ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’…to coin a phrase!

 

Tempted by the supposed solitude he can now enjoy, Qohen is instead slowly brought back into the world by various intrusions into his closely-monitored, meagre existence.  His dim-witted sycophantic manager Joby (David Thewlis) becomes an attempted friend; Dr. Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton) is assigned/switched-on to keep him sane; and Management sends wilful and disrespectful teenager Bob (Lucas Hedges) to further expand his tiny world.  His most important relationship blossoms with the beautiful and untrustworthy Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry, absolutely chewing the screen), who brings a sexual and romantic element to his otherwise sparse life.

 

Basically the overarching story is fairly bare, and exists purely to allow Qohen to explore questions of philosophy and hope in a world of oppressive technology.  There isn’t much new of note in the movie, and it doesn’t raise questions that haven’t been asked a hundred times over.  This, at times, can make the film feel a little clunky – and perhaps a little out of its time.  The inhuman institutions of power and intersecting realities are par for the course with Gilliam, and it doesn’t quite manage to feel as refreshing or original as the first two parts of his dystopian trilogy.

 

BUT it has to be said that this is Gilliam’s best movie for years, and it looks and feels like an exciting re-entry into the mind of a man who imagines the worst, but hopes for the best.  The Zero Theorem might not set the world alight, but it is somehow both comforting and exhilarating to know that filmmakers like Terry Gilliam are still out there, flying the flag for nonconformity and chaotic beauty.

 

Sarah Griffin

15A (See IFCO for details)
106 mins

The Zero Theorem is released on 14th March 2014

The Zero Theorem – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Book Thief

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DIR: Brian Percival • WRI: Michael Petroni • Ryan Engle PRO: Ken Blancato, Karen Rosenfelt • DOP: Florian Ballhaus • ED: John Wilson • MUS: John Williams • DES: Alec Hammond • CAST: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson

Adaptations run the gauntlet from faithful recreations to loose inspiration, and can get stuck in the quagmire of original fan opinion and input.  While Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief may not have the fanatical following of some novelistic journeys it is nonetheless a beloved book that touched many readers’ hearts on its publication in 2005.  It was also a work that lent itself to a filmic version: narrated by Death, addressing Nazi occupation, stellar protagonists with human foibles…it was a movie waiting to happen.  Now that it has arrived to cinema it suffers somewhat from the childhood-versus-Nazi effect, but successfully brings the book’s playful dalliance with tragedy onscreen.

 

Director Brian Percival takes a step away from comfortable television territory, but doesn’t stray too far from his Downton Abbey roots in the set-up of the story, with candle-lit conversations and sweeping outdoor shots.  Roger Allam’s dulcet Death introduces us to the story as we dip dramatically through clouds to find ourselves on a train with Liesel, a young girl making her way to a new family with her already-absent broken mother.  As the human who fascinates Death, the living soul that distracts him from his dour job of leading others from the world, the casting of Liesel was hugely important – and after a considerable search which gave the role its deserved significance, Sophie Nélisse was found.  A 13-year old French-Canadian actress, Sophie imbues Liesel with all the heart and feeling this staggeringly wise little girl needed to be taken from pages to screen.  And there lies the saving grace of the movie – yes, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are picture-perfect as her foster parents, one sunshine-light and the other ‘cloaked in thunder’, but it is Sophie who hypnotically draws the eye in every scene, imbuing the movie with such depth of feeling it’s impossible to look away.  Her journey through reading, beginning with a gravedigger’s manual and then consuming tales with a voracious appetite, shows the power of words in dealing with horrific reality.

 

Much like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, this is a Nazi-light version of the Second World War, where slight nods are made to concentration camps and Hitler, but the majority is as seen through a child’s eyes – peripheral and mostly ignorable.  This makes The Book Thief a good introduction to German experiences of the War for school-aged children, and certainly the film follows that line through Liesel’s friendship with both young Rudy (Nico Liersch) and older Max (Ben Schnetzer).  Max is a Jewish acquaintance who seeks refuge in their cellar, putting the family in danger but opening Liesel up to the possibilities of peaceful revolt – his influence from the book is underplayed in the film, but the overall effect on Liesel is much the same.  Rudy is another perfect casting choice – though perhaps it is just that children will always be more interesting than adults in situations like these.  His startling Aryan features look almost terrifying when dressed in Nazi colours, but his childishness and light shine through at every moment – giving the scenes where he and Liesel talk and play much beauty and force.

 

While by no means a fantastic film, it is a very enjoyable trip into a pretty basic story.  What hoists it above the parapet is the performances and, of course, John Williams’ didactic score which leads you from giddiness to tears at the flick of an experienced baton.  A family movie overall, it is a nice opening for children to the lives of those their own age throughout Nazi occupation and, while avoiding the more horrible truths of that time, it provides a springboard for further conversation on the eventual fate of so many.  Sometimes hovering too much on cliché, The Book Thief is nonetheless a simple tale told well, a tragic family story brought from ink to screen with excellent performances by its beautiful cast.

 

Sarah Griffin

12A (See IFCO for details)
130  mins

The Book Thief is released on 28th February 2014

The Book Thief – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Monuments Men

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DIR: George Clooney • WRI: George Clooney, Grant Heslov  • PRO: George Clooney, Grant Heslov  • DOP: Phedon Papamichael •ED: Stephen Mirrione  • MUS: Alexandre Desplat  • DES: James D. Bissell  • CAST: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bill Murray

It’s impossible not to view The Monuments Men in advance as some sort of ‘Ocean’s 14’/Dad’s Army comedy caper, and George Clooney’s overwhelming presence certainly cements that.  Thanks to the relentlessly enthusiastic trailer that’s been pumped on every screen, it’s also managed to conjure The Great Escape – if only because of the incessantly jarring jaunty music.  While it does manage some capering, and even surprises with sporadic comedy chuckles, it tends to jump-ship too shrilly into the dramatically saccharine to really feel cohesive overall.

 

It begins with the premise (based on a true story) that a bunch of older patrons of the arts fly into Europe as the Second World War is drawing to a close in order to save priceless works of art from first German hands, then German flames, then Russian commanders.  This is of course very admirable, and any effort to save symbols of a beautiful humanity at a time when nations appeared devoid of it has huge resonance, but the movie can’t seem to really trust itself in its central idea that art has this much value.  It’s left, then, to the occasional monotonous soliloquy from George Clooney as he details the myriad reasons we should want art preserved, and why this bunch of Americans should be the ones to do it.  Since his band of merry men is made up of Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban the rest of the movie is spent making sure each character has had a caper, a comic pratfall, a sentimental moment, and some drama.  Side characters appear to have more interesting storylines, like Cate Blanchett’s French resistance curator, which leaves the movie floundering for where its forward momentum should come from.  Focusing on a single statue as the symbol of redemption does little to appease the gnawing feeling that, apart from hyperbolic German histrionics and sardonic Russian smirks, these men are in a personal conflict without opposition.

 

Clooney has talked about this movie as a labour of love, and it’s clear to see that he has drawn influence from older movies – something he mentions when discussing his reasoning behind bringing this story to life.  It’s very much his version of ‘how it used to be’ – and no better man to attempt it, considering his charisma and screen presence.  But what was once charming is now bordering on smarmy, and Monuments Men suffers as a result.  Throwing in dramatic moments for the sake of it – because remember, we’re at war! – seems tacked-on, and the movie’s insistence on jingoist drama and moments of anti-German and anti-Russian patriotism just don’t quite cut it.  A caper that goes wrong I can handle, a caper that ends in tragedy equally so, but a caper that stops and starts at all the wrong moments with ill-fitting intensity and drama just ends up being no kind of caper at all.

 

While not the worst movie I’ve seen this year, it’s an eminently forgettable one.  What Monuments Men highlights, more than anything, is the Clooney effect: how to attract a stellar cast to mediocre roles in a movie that never reaches the sum of its parts.

 

Sarah Griffin

12A (See IFCO for details)
118  mins

Monuments Men is released on 14th February 2014

Monuments Men– Official Website

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Cinema Review: Devil’s Due

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Dir: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett • Wri: Lindsay Devlin • Pro: John Davis • DOP: Justin Martinez • ED: Rod Dean • DES: Anthony Medina • CAST: Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Steffie Grote, Robert Belushi

15A is a cinema rating that drives me to distraction, and without fail delivers mediocre ‘adult-themed’ movies and over-mature children’s flicks.  Attaching this ridiculous rating to a horror movie already cements the assumption that a film made to attract not only adults, but adults who can bring their children along, will probably not be that scary.

 

And so it is with Devil’s Due.  Before the screen lit up and then frazzled with the usual signs of found-footage filmmaking (more on that later), there was a general feeling of relaxation in the audience.  Nobody, it seemed, was prepared to be terrified, and this despite the social media onslaught of ‘shocking film’ and ‘totally terrifying’ quotes.  Apparently this is the scariest movie of the year (a toothless boast for a film released in January), and Eli Roth himself has begged audiences not to pre-judge the film.  Roth, who has brought us delightful torture-porn epics and is a self-proclaimed horror expert, has mentioned the movie’s roots in Rosemary’s Baby as being incidental to its inventiveness and creativity – and has emphasised how very, very scary Devil’s Due really is.  I saw this movie with only the teaser ads on television to go on, having avoided the twitter accounts and Reddit AMA’s, so Eli Roth’s words can only have meaning to me in retrospect.  I can only assume, then, that he is either working for the movie, a liar, or has never seen a truly scary horror film before.

 

This was one of the least frightening movies I have ever watched, as well as being one of the least inventive.  From its ‘found-footage’ camerawork to its reliance on 40 minutes of slow build-up before anticlimactic bumps in the night, it owes an obvious debt of gratitude to Paranormal Activity (now five years old).  Dizzying camera angles and shakes; the recording of situations that nobody in their right mind would be recording; ‘gifts’ of lapel cameras; a ridiculous opening conversation to explain why everything must be recorded – it all reminds me of how saturated the genre is with ‘found-footage’ scares.  Throw in horror’s typical terror of the unknown, and we have a hackneyed story of a couple honeymooning where satanic rituals happen just off the main street of ‘Someplace Foreign’.

We also can’t pretend to ignore Rosemary’s Baby when discussing the story of a woman who is impregnated by Satan worshippers in order to give birth to the antichrist – this movie relies on our cultural recognition of that trope.  Rather than play with the idea, and have the audience as much in the dark as her husband Zach (Zach Gilford), we watch Sam’s (Allison Miller) growing baby-bump knowing full well that the foetus inside is not your average little miracle.  The 9 months progress with barking dogs, strange animal deaths, unnatural behaviours, occasional telekinetic powers and an increasingly confused husband who can’t seem to just look at the footage he has recorded.  Because we are so ‘in’ on the secret the shocks are not shocking, the jumps are not jumpy, and the inevitable ending is simply boring.

 

Horror movies are all about release and emotional reaction – you jump in your seat, and laugh at yourself, then anxiously await the next moment when the build-up of tension can be released in screams or shudders.  They can offer pure entertainment, tongue-in-cheek darkness, self-awareness or visceral thrills, but that must all be wrapped up in the occasional fright.  In the final analysis, Devil’s Due is unoriginal, lazy and – most crucially for a horror movie – just not that scary.

 

Sarah Griffin

15A (See IFCO for details)
88  mins
Devil’s Due is released on 17th January 2014

Devil’s Due – Official Website

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Cinema Review: ‘Marius’ & ‘Fanny’

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Sarah Griffin takes in Daniel Auteuil’s refilming of the first two-thirds of  Marcel Pagnol’s Marseilles trilogy.

 

American movies try again and again to capture what is often referred to as the golden era of cinema – that elusive ‘old-Hollywood’ feeling.  When any older time is brought onscreen, they tend to throw the kitchen sink at it – 1920s filled with flappers and laissez faire attitudes; 1950s packed with conservatism and family values, etc.  When Hollywood travels through time, it does it with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.  French film, on the other hand, slips easily between the strings of time – the main tenets of filmmaking tend to remain the same no matter what the era: subtle fashions, deep characterisation, and above all else, stunningly realised mise en scène.

 

Daniel Auteuil, a powerhouse of French cinema, brings Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy to the screen again, with a hand in every movement – directing, adapting the play and acting as a main character.  His intimacy with Pagnol has been most notable through his heartbreaking (and award-winning) portrayal of Ugolin Soubeyran in Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources (both 1986), and so Auteuil here brings new life to Fanny and Marius with the affection of an old friend.  Creating a window into the past, it is a Marseille full of life and vigour, a busy port anchoring everyone’s lives, which nonetheless maintains the feel of a small village.  Pagnol’s characterisations are perfectly realised…the friendships, the romances, the comedy that evolves without artifice, everything is so beautifully rounded that each new face has a place in your heart.

 

Beginning with Marius’ tale, we join the young bartender as he comically interacts with his exasperated father, César (fantastically realised by Auteuil).  Raphaël Personnaz’s Marius will probably be most recognisable as Anna Karenina’s lover in the recent Hollywood adaptation of the same name, and that classical acting ability is to the fore here.  Naturalistic yet melodramatic, Auteuil’s Marius is torn between his lust for adventure with the call of the sea, and his growing realisation of the love he feels for his childhood friend, Fanny.  His jealousy is aroused by a proposal to the very young Fanny made by Honoré Panisse, (the exceptionally smart and amusing Jean-Pierre Darroussin), a respected but aging local gentleman.  Fanny, played by the stunning and mesmerising relative-newcomer Victoire Bélézy, somehow returns Marius’ love, and he is kept from the ocean by her fervour and adoration just as she is kept from the possibility of marriage and a home by his indecision.  ‘La mer’ still calls, and Fanny must make the choice between what she wants and what she knows Marius needs.  When we then move to Fanny’s heartbreaking story, in the second of the trilogy, Fanny, we see the repercussions of this decision – some more desperate than others, and requiring the kind of response only early-20th century values could provide.  Through it all, Marius’ father César watches on – intertwining with the lives of his son, his son’s lover, his friend Panisse and his own attempts to continue building a life running a central bar at the port of Marseille.

 

Taken together, both movies provided a vision of the past so perfect that it was startling to have to leave it…watching Marius followed by Fanny was a beautiful double-bill that only missed César’s contribution to the story (coming in early 2014).  Auteuil has lovingly created that golden age of cinema that Hollywood chases so ardently, yet never quite delivers, leaving a lingering sense of having travelled backwards in time.  Achingly performed and gorgeously filmed, Marius and Fanny weave a slow-moving tale of melodrama, comedy and life.  His final instalment cannot come soon enough, as the fate of Fanny and Marius awaits César’s final tale which, if told as touchingly and fervently as these, will close the Marseille trilogy with all the heart and beauty it deserves.

 

Sarah Griffin

Marius and Fanny are released on 6th December 2013

 

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Book review: The Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed-Race Identities on Irish Film and Television

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Sarah Griffin welcomes Zélie Asava‘s book that applys divergent theoretical concepts of Irishness, whiteness, gender and the particular place of the ‘other’ to the ‘conceptual whiteness of Irishness itself’.

While the intricacies of white and non-white filmic representation has been a subject of much study, most particularly in relation to Hollywood’s output, there has been less focused investigation into the particular relationship Ireland has to its own ‘whiteness’ and how that translates on our big and little screens.  Zélie Asava does so here, bringing together theorists and researchers from disparate decades and tying their ideas to a particularly Irish situation – a country that has only begun to integrate the multicultural nature of a relatively recently expanded populace.  From Sigmund Freud’s ‘return of the repressed’, Julie Kristeva’s abjection, Richard Dyer’s seminal contributions to the study of whiteness, and Judith Butler’s performativity, to the more recent work of Diane Negra on ‘off-white Hollywood’ and a compendium of Irish contributors, Asava blends theorists and personal experience (as an Irish/Kenyan actor) to position herself at the front line.  This book provides a welcome opportunity to apply divergent theoretical concepts of Irishness, whiteness, gender and the particular place of the ‘other’ to, as she calls it, “the conceptual whiteness of Irishness itself”.

 

Asava comes not only from a firm footing of understanding non-white actors’ situation in Irish film and television, but from a gender specific approach that applies feminist performance analysis to the similarly structured area of studies in whiteness and ethnicity.  Beginning with an introduction that lays bare all of Asava’s foundations – rightly giving no apologies for making the ‘personal political’ – we are given a map of how the book will approach each case study as it applies to the chapters’ goals.  Asava also broaches a broad historical framework of a nation still denying its multiculturalism, shown in her observations of the refusal of hyphenated identities, like Italian-Irish or Chinese-Irish.  Ireland is therefore in the strange position – particularly in this ‘year of The Gathering’ – of accepting somebody who’s grandmother went over to America in a famine ship as being more Irish than a second-generation Nigerian-Irish child born here.  “[L]egitimate Irish identity” is no longer (if it ever was) a solid thing, something that can be defined in a simple way – as Asava goes on to show again and again through our media output.

 

The chapters follow a logical flow of ideas, beginning with a treatise on “being black and Irish”.  Asava focuses here on two emblematic Neil Jordan movies, The Crying Game (1992) and Breakfast on Pluto (2005), touching on (amongst others) The Commitments (1991) and the now infamous battle cry of ‘I’m black and I’m proud!’  From there Asava moves to the concept of the ‘other’ and how non-whiteness and the gendering of ‘the other’ are so firmly intertwined.  This second chapter approaches the subject via Irish television, most particularly Love is the Drug (2004) and Fair City (1989-present), though again her discussion takes in a myriad of supportive works.  In a move that will endear the book to genre students, two of Asava’s chapters (three and five) deal with specific modes – the Irish Horror and the Multicultural Irish Thriller.  Kristeva’s theories apply most assiduously to the horror genre and are used to great effect here but, showing a continual command of the subject, Asava draws a parallel in the question of “Black and Mixed Masculinities in Irish Cinema” for her fourth chapter, moving smoothly on from horror in a flow of theoretical concepts.  Her final chapter deals with the “raced stranger”, using various examples of this symbolic character through recent cinema, but perhaps focusing most specifically on The Guard and Between the Canals (both 2011).  Throughout the chapters, examples in film and television are underscored by reference to the vaster media world – music, Youtube posts, newspaper reports and government programmes are all represented in an effort to show the broad reaches of the subject.

 

Asava’s conclusion neatly ties up the various threads of thought explored throughout the book and “[frames] the future of the Black Irish Onscreen”, looking beyond the current cultural loading of casting decisions.  She approaches the subject from her own very informed perspective, as an Irish/Kenyan trained actor who has dealt with the casting constraints and impositions of being a non-white woman with an Irish voice.  This book provides a wealth of collaborative knowledge for film, sociology, gender and media students, but also offers a lot to the casual reader who seeks an introduction to the subject.  Asava’s style of writing and liberal use of examples throughout this work makes it a page-turner in a way some academic approaches don’t manage, meaning her ideas are presented clearly and her theories supported at every turn.

 

Sarah Griffin

  • Paperback: 213 pages
  • Publisher: Peter Lang AG, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften; 1 edition (29 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3034308396
  • ISBN-13: 978-3034308397
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 15 x 1.3 cm
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Cinema Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

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DIR: J.J. Abrams • WRI: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof • PRO: J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci • DOP: Daniel Mindel • ED: Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey • DES: Scott Chambliss • Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto

JJ Abrams’ name is swiftly becoming synonymous with a different sort of Star franchise, but for the moment it’s the Trek that occupies his, and our, time.  Finally reaching our screens after what seems a never-ending onslaught of hype, Star Trek: Into Darkness follows on from where his wildly successful 2009 entry left off.  The crew of the Enterprise are present and correct, from Kirk to Spock and all the token nods in between – and a fairly standard Star Fleet storyline means this Trek won’t be breaking a huge amount of new ground.  BUT (and it’s a pretty large ‘but’), if you enjoyed the first one, then by Vulcan will you love its sequel!

 

From the second it hits the ground (running), Into Darkness reaches for the stars in terms of narrative, acting, exposition and flow.  Largely hitting the mark on all counts, its pace is perhaps the most impressive thing about the movie.  Considering the lengthy running time – it comes in at 132 minutes – the story moves from set-piece to set-piece with a seamless energy that means the final credits leave you wanting more.  While the narrative itself may be slightly prosaic…wild despot wants to destroy everything Star Fleet holds dear, but is it all as black and white as it appears?…the villain who drives it is anything but.  Hype aside, Benedict Cumberbatch was always the one to watch in this instalment, and he does not disappoint.  He brings thespian finesse to an otherwise hammy acting ensemble – and I say that with full love for the essential, and irreplaceable, hamminess of Star Trek.  There have been fan-led suspicions about his iconic possibilities, at least one of which is confirmed in classic theatrical fashion – a moment to really set the hairs on the back of your Trekkie neck on end!

 

Chris Pine’s Jim Kirk is as vacuous as ever, though he adds a layer of emotion to his performance this time that makes you almost forgive his doe-eyed interpretation of the schmaltzy captain.  Zachary Quinto moves from impression of Leonard Nimoy to interpreting Spock in his own right – largely helped by the subtle love-story with Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana).  Simon Pegg manages the impossible as Scotty, becoming less annoying as the series continues rather than – as the first movie suggested – lazily making Scotty into an overblown caricature of himself.  He’s still remarkably irritating in full Scottish brogue, though Karl Urban has taken up the theatrical mantle with Bones, delivering catchphrases rather than lines and allowing his eyebrows to do the majority of his acting.

 

An added character to the entire movie is the 3D and IMAX experience itself.  Though the 3D has been added post production, it has little of the rough edges you might expect from this patchwork approach.  Expensive and exclusive, the IMAX does also offer an extra layer to the visuals by enclosing the audience in a full ‘cave of dreams’ experience – there are no edges to your vision, as the movie fills every available visual space.  Adding to his sparkly-space tricks from the first outing, Abrams has also gleaned some cues from Joss Whedon’s Avengers escapade – some tell-tale zooms and pans liken his direction to Whedon’s favourite way of seamlessly suturing CGI into the landscape.

 

What we have, in the end, is as good an addition to the Star Trek franchise as might be hoped.  Amid accusations of mechanical storytelling, it nonetheless stands as an able expansion – there might be formula, there might be rote, but under it all is a devotion to the beloved characters of the Federation and a motion picture event that manages to retain the Star Trek audience, whilst adding new devotees all the time.  An entertaining and visually splendid Star Trek experience rooted in one of the finest Trek-villian performances of all time…boldly going where many have gone before, but taking us willingly along for the voyage.

 

Sarah Griffin

12A (see IFCO website for details)

132 mins
Star Trek: Into Darkness is released on 9th May 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness – Official Website

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Oscar 2013: Best Picture Nominee – Beasts of the Southern Wild

 

 

Sarah Griffin enters the fantastical world of Beasts of the Southern Wild as part of our Oscar 2013 Best Picture countdown…

 

First off it’s fair to say that Beasts of the Southern Wild is not a frontrunner to win Best Picture come 24 February, despite a relatively meagre oppositional showing in the category this year.  However, unlike most other racers in the run for dear old Oscar it suffers the burden of being exactly the type of movie Hollywood consistently claims to like, yet consistently fails to reward.

 

Recalling the magic of Hollywood’s golden era is a sure-fire way to gain the statue, as is relaying historical events, applying prosthetics to beautiful people, singing and dancing, or centring the spectacle of the visual.  Here we get an amalgamation of all that is good and great about cinema, and of everything that makes this medium, above all others, the very best when it comes to telling a tale that seems impossible to tell.  Beasts reveals itself through the visual and narrative brilliance of magic realism – a technique that allows the fantastical to intermingle with the banal and the amazing to coexist believably with the everyday.

 

From the moment Quvenzhané Wallis’s tiny Hushpuppy waddles onscreen in her dirty vest and unruly hair, she captures every ounce of your attention.  Her ethereal life in the Bathtub, a community separated and disconnected by levees and ever-rising waters, is thrown into sharp relief by the approach of a massive storm, and her fellow outsiders struggle to keep their heads above water in this rapidly changing world.  Her father, Wink, and teacher, Miss Bathsheba, weave Hushpuppy into an old style of living that throws so-called civilisation into sharp relief as the terrible onslaught forces them into the arms of federal assistance that brutishly insists their way of life is dead.  The looming terror is anthropomorphised by towering Aurochs unfrozen from glacial pre-history, and the metaphorical significance of this magical tale becomes ever more apparent as Hushpuppy stands between her father, her world, and total annihilation.

 

This year should buck the trend, and reward innovation and familiarity rolled into one movie – the expression of all that is awe-inspiring about thoroughly amazing cinema.  The Oscars should revere excellence in storytelling, brilliance in visual representation, acting that brings tears to your eyes, and an overall experience that leaves you gasping in that cave of dreams.  Beasts offers all of this and more: a truly cinematic experience that celebrates movies in all their glory, utilising every tool – be it visual or narrative – to deliver beauty, truth and above all else, utter abandonment of reality.

 

Sarah Griffin

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‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ – Prologue Screening

 

Cinema has had so many incarnations – a constant reinvention to draw in audiences and recreate the magic of that first time, the first snapping of a reel through projector. We’ve had smell-a-vison, digital, HD, 3D, and Dublin has even seen IMAX in its previous form…though those achingly beautiful nature shorts are a far cry from the awesome power that is the new IMAX 3D. This immensity was fully realised in the sneakily-released prologue of Star Trek: Into Darkness in jaw-dropping 3D, and on a screen so big it fills your eyes and brain. Keeping with JJ Abram’s original tone and palette, Into Darkness is bright and shiny – the sharp colours and crisp CGI lend themselves perfectly to the IMAX’s awe-inspiring visual experience. Add to that the pure excitement of the looming wall-to-wall presence of Benedict Cumberbatch’s mysterious villain, a dash of perilous life-or-death action, and the result was almost 10 minutes of edge-of-the-geek pleasure.

The prologue offers a similar introduction to the 2009 reboot, featuring salient characters and introductory peril in which to visualise an entire movie. It’s succinct and relentless, marrying action and emotion as seamlessly as its precursor – tantalising with hints of further story, but cutting short of confirming anything. It’s safe to say that fans have more than enough to be getting on with, but newcomers to the experience might need to watch the first of the series to ensure that the ride is as entertaining as it is exhilarating. While the 3D is post-production, the realisation of movement seems close to flawless – choice interaction rather than overflowing visuals. The result is a teasing example of how good it might be – it remains to be seen if the full film in May can live up to its steadily growing hype.

If nothing else, the IMAX 3D will provide a visual treat to rival Avatar – but if these early indications are anything to go by, we can also look forward to an excellent narrative addition to the Star Trek film family. Set phasers to seriously impressed!

Sarah Griffin

The USS Enterprise warps into cinemas on 17th May 2013.

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Cinema Review: Django Unchained

 

DIR/WRI: Quentin Tarantino • PRO: Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone, Stacey Sher • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Fred Raskin • DES: J. Michael Riva • CAST: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington
 

The last few years have seen Tarantino’s star wane – his name, once a byword for a kind of hyperactive cinema offering snappy dialogue and copious un-PC violence had curdled audience enthusiasm to boredom as he seemed incapable of evolution.  While his naughties’ output occasionally hinted at an old genius, most particularly with Inglourious Basterds, it has taken a film like Django Unchained to collate his messy strands of filmmaking back into an entertaining movie.  Think Blazing Saddles meets Mickey and Mallory!

Django Unchained hits all the right notes for a Tarantino fan – from the soundtrack and dialogue to the schlock violence and derision, he conjures a reimagining of history so brutal and entertaining that the long running time practically flies by.  There are faults, to be sure – indeed, even fans of Tarantino will sigh as his megalomania takes over from time to time, shoe-horning his ego, and himself, into unrelated scenes.  And these faults do trip up an otherwise seamless flow, leaving plenty of room for after-film arguments across pints or coffee…which is exactly what a non-film-schooled director would want from his audience.  Of course, then there is the racism – Tarantino has been building towards a film like this his entire cinematic career, from using Samuel L. Jackson as a sort of muse to his own embarrassing efforts at ‘gangsta’ talk.  You can’t help but feel that he’s getting extreme pleasure from the artistic licence afforded him by setting his movie pre-Civil War, and making his hero a freed slave.  As a revisionist Western it has holes on a par with Wild Wild West (please – no more cowboy ray-bans!), but fans of Tarantino will know that his coolness permeates even to the past.  And copious use of the ‘n’ word aside, this reimagining of racial warfare in the Deep South manages what Basterds did not in creating a wholly blasphemous take on history that actually rings (somewhat) true.  More than that, since we now have Christoph Waltz on our side, we can finally cheer the good guys with undivided gusto.

The casting is, of course, the real revelation.  Waltz takes Tarantino’s sometimes mangled use of language and ups the ante on its coolness – nobody else could deliver his words with such panache and class.  His interpretation of a bounty hunter caught between common humanity and simple moneymaking is by turns hilarious and excessive, but always mesmerising.  The usually unlikeable Jamie Foxx takes the melodramatic title role of Django, and succeeds in giving life to Tarantino’s immense creation.  Foxx excels by not taking himself too seriously, and the ridiculous scenarios and fantastical lines flow much more smoothly for having no thespian illusions blocking their way.  Along with Waltz, the big talking point has been Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of plantation owner and all-round bastard, Calvin J. Candie – and oh does he fill that role with relish!  His over-the-top accent and ridiculous cruelty anchor the movie in its time – pre-Civil War Southern USA, where white men ruled with an iron fist.  Ably helped by his ruthless slave confidant Stephen (Jackson), their interplay is so powerfully malicious and hyperbolic that only Django’s dramatic drive for both his freedom and his wife can balance their scene-stealing machinations.

The running time does hint at Tarantino’s inability to find fault with any of his creations – he can rarely bear to leave anything on the cutting room floor, and there are certainly scenes that could have benefited from the chop.  Despite its flaws, though, Django has so many parts that offer pure entertainment that – as long as you don’t take it too seriously – it’s nearly impossible not to be invested in some way.  The bottom line is that while it is politically-incorrect, facetious, ridiculous and crazy, it is also Tarantino at his best – kinetic, irreverent and downright entertaining!

Sarah Griffin

Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details)

165 mins

Django Unchained is released on 17th January 2013

Django Unchained – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-4r_B8hY_I

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