Cinema Review: Woody Allen – A Documentary

 

DIR/WRI/PRO: Robert B. Weide • DOP: Neve Cunningham, Anthony Savini, Nancy Schreiber, Bill Sheehy, Buddy Squires • ED: Karoliina Tuovinen, Robert B. Weide •  Cast: Woody Allen, Letty Aronson, Marshall Brickman, Josh Brolin

 

The tone of the film is set up from the beginning, the familiar font, the jazz playing over shots of New York; this film is not setting out to interrogate the man Woody Allen. It is a portrait of the artist and his career and yet doesn’t shy away from his life’s controversies but focuses on how the personal relates to the work.

 

If you’re watching hoping for shocking revelations about his personal life then this is not for you.
The film is a standard talking heads documentary without narration. Interviews with Allen are interwoven with clips from his films, archive footage and features a range of interview subjects from the industry such as Jack Rollins, Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest and even his mother makes a brief appearance.

 

What makes this documentary stand out is that director Robert B. Weide has unprecedented access to Allen’s process. Allen is notorious for his hatred of publicity and never includes extras on DVDs and rarely gives interviews. We watch as Allen gets out his forty year old typewriter that he has used to type all his scripts and his drawer full of yellow loose A4 pages that hold all his ideas. He shows him around his old neighbourhood and even has access to him on set and in the editing room.

 

Allen is incredibly open and relaxed on film and there is clearly trust between them which makes for an insightful documentary. Some viewers may want more criticism of his work but Allen makes up for that with his consistent downplaying of his achievements. Love him or hate him, with forty years of filmmaking and no sign of him stopping yet, to quote his manager Jack Rollins ‘the man’s an industry.’

 

Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Woody Allen – A Documentary is released in the IFI on 8th June 2012

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Interview: Director Robert Weide talks about his film biography of Woody Allen

 

Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh caught up with director Robert Weide to find out more about his film biography of Woody Allen, which is released in cinemas this Friday, 8th June.

Woody Allen: A Documentary chronicles the trajectory and longevity of Allen’s career: from his teenage years furnishing jokes for comics and publicists, his work in the 1950s-60s as a TV scribe for Sid Caesar, stand-up comedian and frequent TV talk show guest, to a writer-director averaging one film each year for more than 40 years.

Congratulations on the film. I’m an avid Woody Allen film and really enjoyed it.

Thank you.

Was this a project you wanted to work on for a long time?

Yes, I first met Woody when I was 22, making a documentary on the Marx Brothers, I’ve been coming back to him every decade trying to get him to make the film. He initially refused but eventually I wore him down. He really didn’t believe that he was interesting enough for a documentary to be made about him.

What interests you about Woody Allen?

I’ve long admired his work. I find the narrative arc of his career really interesting, he started out writing jokes in school, then went on to become a comic and then moved to film. Also, there isn’t a lot known about his writing process, or how he is on set, he never does DVD extras or anything like that. The only way to see him on set is if you are in one of his films so I really wanted to show his approach to his work.

As you said, Allen famously dislikes publicity and you had to wear him down; how did you convince him?

I eventually wrote him a really convincing letter, about three years ago, saying that now was the time to do this and that I was the one to do it. I think it helped that myself and Woody have shared interests. He had seen my films because he was interested in the topics, so he trusted me as a filmmaker.

He comes across as very relaxed on film and you have great access to him, on set and in his home. How did you build this relationship with him?

We had a lot of email contact beforehand. Now, Woody doesn’t like using technology, so I would email his assistant and she would either print them out and he would read them or she would read them aloud to him. He then would dictate the emails back to her. We got to know each other quite well that way, and our emails go to the point of being sarcastic and calling each other names in the way that men do to show affection for one another.

The tone of the film shows him in a positive light, you clearly admire his work – some have criticised the film as overly sympathetic to him – what is your opinion on this?

I’m not a total sycophant. I don’t think it is gushing. If any of the interviewers would gush and go on about him being a genius, I would just cut it. Who wants to watch a documentary and someone is saying that they don’t like his work or think anything of him. I show the narrative of his life, we show Stardust Memories and the outcry about that, we talk about that people had written him off because of the reaction to his films in the early nineties, we also show his relationship with Mia Farrow and Soon Yi, but I wasn’t interested in making the film a courtroom drama. It’s strange because no one ever made that comment on any of my other films that they were one-sided.

As a big fan of his work myself I don’t find the scandals in his life relevant to how I watch his films but some people cannot get past the negative aspects of his public persona– what was your approach to addressing this?

I find it the least interesting part of his life. For some people it is the most interesting, or the only thing they know about him. People act like it is something that happened to them. He’s now been with Soon Yi for 17 years. People asked me was I going to include his relationship with Mia Farrow and Soon Yi and I said yeah, of course because it’s part of his life. I was interested in how his personal life impacted his work. And it had very little impact on his work, really if any at all. When he was going through that he was making Bullets over Broadway, which is an excellent Allen film.

After an early stand up performance in the Bleaker Street club, The Bitter End, in which the audience did not respond well, manager Jack Rollins said to the owner – ‘you see, he’s an industry!’ Do you agree that he is an industry, almost a genre to himself?

That’s one of my favourite moments in the film. Woody jokes that he has a small and disloyal fan base. He has a niche industry. Midnight in Paris took in over 100 million but that’s a Thursday night preview screening of The Avengers. The way he looks at it, as long as he makes a couple of bucks on a film, he can go on to make another one. He has made 43 films in as many years. He doesn’t read his reviews, he doesn’t listen to his critics – either good or bad, he doesn’t go to the award shows. He honestly doesn’t believe that he is all that good, and it’s not modesty. For him, the great directors are Fellini, Bergman and he doesn’t believe that his films are comparable.

The themes of his films are discussed in the documentary – how do you think he manages to ask similar questions throughout his films without it becoming repetitive?

Some people say that he is making the same film over and over but I would say to them how is Purple Rose of Cairo similar to Match Point? They are a totally different style. I think if you are not interested in those existential questions of why are we here, our relationship with death, etc. and you’re not so keen on him then you could find it repetitive. My favourite author is Kurt Vonnegut, and he talks about the same subjects throughout his books.

The film was a three hour documentary on PBS. How did the feature edit come about?

I had always planned to make a two-hour documentary but when I was in the editing room there was so much that I phoned PBS and asked if I could get two nights, they said that was fine. Woody didn’t want a theatrical release in the US but was ok with a release overseas. I’m happy with the final cut of the film, I cut it myself so I can’t blame any network people. I would encourage people to see it. When the executive producers watched the cut they said they cannot notice what I left out. I don’t think that it’s lacking. For the diehard Woody fans, there will be a DVD version of the full PBS Documentary at some stage. I had ongoing bets with Woody as he said that no one would fund it, no one would distribute it, no one would want to see it!

Lastly, what’s your favourite Woody Allen film?

Why do people always ask me that? [laughs] My default answer is now Annie Hall, I like about eight films as much as Annie Hall but I went to see the premiere when I was in High School and it was such an amazing experience, it really felt that not only would Woody Allen’s films never be the same but that genre of comedy would never be the same again. I mean it won best Oscar over Star Wars that year. I love Crimes and Misdemeanours as well, but Annie Hall has that nostalgia for me of when I first saw it.

 

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Interview: Whit Stillman

 

 

Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh met with Whit Stillman during the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival to discuss his new film Damsels in Distress. One of the leading voices of independent cinema in the nineties, this is his first film in over twelve years since his successful trilogy Metropolitan (1990) Barcelona (1994) and Last Days of Disco (1998). Damsels in Distress follows a trio of girls in a university who attempt to civilise the DU frat boys and uplift the depressed student body with musical numbers.

In your previous films, Metropolitan, Barcelona and Last Days of Disco, the characters are all recent graduates, or students away from college. What led you to focus the story within the university this time in Damsels in Distress?

There had been a story about these girls who did this where I went to university. In my day it was very grand, very depressing and grungy. I went back a couple of years later and everyone was telling me about this exciting group of girls who wore strong perfume and dressed up and had all these parties and just changed everything, and everyone was delighted with these girls and how fun it was. I thought that was just a wonderful thing. I noticed over the subsequent years that they established institutions that continued. There actually was a DU fraternity at Harvard and my father had been in it. The members of the DU disgraced themselves somehow and the graduate members decided to close the fraternity and they merged it with my fraternity and we rented the house to a girls group that formed themselves called the B…and it’s very much as if Violet Wister and her friends had started a sorority of some kind and it’s lovely and charming what they’ve done with it…to create feminine space in the university.

Comparisons have been made with films such as Clueless and Mean Girls, but on watching it the characters do not fit into this stereotype, how do you feel about this comparison?

I think this association with Mean Girls and Clueless is unhelpful to the film and I think the better association is Rushmore, really it’s a kind of female Rushmore where that had the Jason Schwartzman character who is sort of the organising visionary. The thing is he looks nerdy so you accept him as this interesting nerd while Violet looks fantastic but she really is Jason Schwartzman.

It’s been harmful as far as reception goes in some quarters because people just assume that it really is going to go one way and then it doesn’t go that way and I think it irritates them too much for the first hour of the film so even though later they might see what’s happening and go along with it, they’ve been irritated for an hour. In the trailer, we put in more information than we normally would to show that actually Violet is the person with the predicament and Lily isn’t so great. What everyone thinks is the outsider and the identification character is actually the nemesis character.

It’s not just that there are formulas and the industry uses formulas but it’s amazing to me the way that those are strongly embraced by the audience. People will very angrily criticise you for not adhering to the formula as if you’ve made a mistake, as if it’s not intentional, you’ve just made an error in not having an outsider character people can identify with.

I find it interesting that each film is about a mini-society – the characters have to operate within a group. What interests you about this dynamic? Why focus on a group, as opposed to a couple or individual who would be at the centre of the story in other films?

I suppose it’s an attempt to create something that was too scarce in the real world. I remember coming out of university and us reading things like War and Peace and there seemed to be a cohesive Russian society in that period and that our society had been totally deracinated and atomised and what we needed was more of a social texture and fabric and that we could sort of fantasise about these in film stories and maybe life would create that. I mean since then I’ve become much more optimistic, that there is a social texture and it’s not as bleak as I thought it was then. I think at twenty-one, you can see the world in very bleak terms. I see the films as kind of utopian. When my daughters were in school they were being given dystopian books, one dystopian book after another. Why can’t we have more utopian books? [laughs] So these are utopian movies, they’re not meant to reflect reality particularly. They’re trying to show small, unlikely utopias that could exist. Sometimes when I see people who are conforming absolutely to the dictates of today it makes me so sad that shouldn’t there be other people proposing a different alternative and there’s just so much basification of youth culture that’s really not very good or interesting, no diversification and uplift.

Your films at times seem like satire, but then there is such empathy for the characters that it seems as though it’s not.

It’s not. I don’t like satire. The first distributor I worked with was involved in Metropolitan,and at that time all these movies were being promoted as black comedies, and I think I told him if something is a black comedy I hate it and he said I think you should call your film a white comedy because it’s the reverse of a black comedy.

There’s a great emphasis on dialogue in your films, could you talk about your approach to screenwriting?

I’ve been dealing lately with good things that come out of failure. I’ve had a period of production, of failure, of not being able to set a film up for twelve years, and in the writing of the script it comes also from a background of failure too. I got the idea of doing things for film and TV, I didn’t have a film snob orientation then, I acquired one [laughs] because I didn’t feel like I had the concentration, or the stamina, or the will power to write long form fiction. I was publishing short stories that had some success, some people liked them, Tom Wolfe the writer liked my stories, but they were much too complicated. I was always creating a narrative structure to introduce a first person narrator who was not me. This wouldn’t work in long form.

I wanted to make a film, I wanted to do the storytelling and all that, but I had no confidence in my ability to write a script. I had all kinds of gimmicks. I used to get this friend I had known for years to sit with me while I wrote it so that I wouldn’t be alone and that lasted about forty minutes [laughs] but then I got into it and I found that these absurd character voices came up and started saying things and there was this material and observations. It was kind of electrifying, finally it all was working and I found that this was ideal for me because in the short stories I was trying to write it always had to be a first person voice and [in film] every dialogue part is first person voice. It’s all first person. Another thing is, it’s all going to be played by actors so it’s not me, it’s this character; I can say whatever I want because I don’t have to take responsibility for it. And then, there’s the dialectic, you want to say truthful things in the film and if you make one statement with one character and you realise that’s not true, you can say something else. So that’s where you get a lot of the dialogue. It’s thesis, antithesis and that goes on and so it’s this exciting thing of aspects of material.

I remember I was in Spain during the summer and trying to write one of the scripts and (I think I was trying to write the Barcelona script) and I was just coming back from swimming and this incredible piece of material fell, this really funny thing and so often I would be knocking my head against the wall trying to get stuff going and then I’d be either shaving or walking down the stairs from the Barcelona apartment and the script material would come. Yes you do have to work on it and write it but the really great stuff seems to come out of nowhere. When Anthony Minghella was talking about screenwriting, he said something that I found very interesting. He said it’s as if someone occasionally opens a drawer and there are a lot of things in the drawer and you can take one thing out but then it closes immediately. So, it’s very exciting when you get a piece of material that works and in comedy often if it works well once, it will work even better three times. So for instance in Barcelona, you have this idea about shaving and then I had another idea about shaving and a third idea about shaving and then it ends up being part of the character dynamic, to define the characters and their relationships with one another.

I think maybe the reason I had this period of no films is because I got so involved in writing and the writing was going really well that I completely flubbed the producer function. I was not trying hard to get the films made, I was just worrying about the scripts. The fortunate thing now is that I have a trunk of pretty workable scripts that I can go back to. The writing thing is a big challenge and it’s very, very painful when you’re starting out. You have the general idea but not the specifics and it’s agony because you write terrible, terrible stuff until you actually get on the beam and then you have to stand on the beam and I find that I drink too much coffee and get excited and I cannot write for more than two or three hours at a time because at the end of two or three hours I’m writing all kinds of stuff, it’s just drivel and it’s very hard to cut out the drivel and you get ideas for a story that aren’t very good and to remove it is painful.

How do you direct the actors with so much dialogue for them to work with?

It’s hugely in casting. It’s a very good phase in the process. It’s also very frightening because you might not find the right actor to play the part and in this film it seemed like we were not going to have the right guys to play the romantic leads. We spent a lot of our time finding the right people for Charlie and Xavier. In fact, Xavier was not Xavier, Xavier was Tom but the only actor I found that I liked had a heavy French accent so I changed the name to Xavier and changed some of the dialogue for him.

 Chris Eigeman played a main role in each of your previous films so you obviously enjoyed working with him, why was that?

There’s a scene in Metropolitan where the Nick character played by Chris teaches the red haired character about what clothes he should wear, where he should go to get this outfit. They do it in the corridor. We did a lot of work in that scene. There were a lot of acting/directing discussions there. I have not directed him since, he’s really the same character in the other films, and that was one of the last directing conversations we had and that was terrific. So I really hope I can use him in a piece that can be multi-generational and I hope that’ll work out.

Greta Gerwig had previously starred in Greenberg, and is involved in filmmaking herself, how did you find working with her in the role of Violet?

It’s a very difficult part, and I would say that she found her part on set as we were shooting it. We did a lot of work. She’s very creative, very imaginative but we didn’t quite know what the tone was going to be for that character so there was a lot of variation in her scenes particularly towards the beginning of the shoot and she’s very good at giving different versions. Then the editing room is interesting just to get it together from earlier in the shoot where she was bracketing how Violet should be, how silly, how mannered. I think she found just the right spot to be in but it happened when we were shooting. Normally I like to have everything decided before we get there.

The style of Damsels in Distress is much more surreal than the other films, how important is the style to you?

Style is probably everything. People think that what they are seeing is just a talkfest, it’s all dialogue. I think the four films all chose not to show a lot of things, not to do things in a certain way so style is mostly omission. I really care about framing and the look of each, it really makes me upset when we have things that are ugly in the film. We really want everything to be done a certain way, and it pains me when things are mediocre looking and to do a film in this very fast, rough and ready way we still had the aesthetic imperative and so there’s a bit of a clash there. I worked with the same cinematographer on the first three films and a different fellow on this one. He’s very efficient. It’s a very important relationship between the director and cinematographer.

Of course it’s important as film is also a visual medium.

I don’t think it’s a visual medium. I think that’s a fallacy of cinema. I don’t think the aspect of sound should be slighted. I think that people make a terrible mistake in the visual fallacy of cinema because so much is communicated by the whole texture of sound, not just the words but words are really important. There’s also this deprecating attitude towards dialogue. Really through dialogue you have a chance to get into people’s souls and get their personality. I think people also forget how important titles were [in silent films.]

You have said that your favourite film is the musical The Gay Divorcee. You can certainly see the influence of musicals in your films. In Last Days of Disco for example, the closing scene features passengers on the underground dancing and singing to Love Train by the O’Jays. Again, Damsels in Distress ends with a musical number.

There’s a critic talking about the great George Stevens and the film Damsel in Distress from 1937, and he’s so wrong. The Mark Sandrich’s Fred Astaire films are infinitely better. George Stevens and everyone knew that it was not a good film. There’s a wonderful sequence though that we use in the film, the song ‘Things are Looking Up’, the Gershwin number which was one of the greatest sequences and a great anti-depression antidote but that’s the only beautiful sequence but the rest is just hosh bosh. I feel the starting point of the film takes off from that scene in The Last Days of Disco.

Would you ever consider making a full musical?

I would really like to, I’ve tried to with a couple of things but they haven’t gotten off the ground. It was very helpful the way we were shooting was so by the seat of our pants. A wonderful choreographer came aboard, Justin Churney, and had done no film work. He had a terrific spirit and the fall back position we had was that this is a college production.  There’s some beautiful shots at the end when they break into song for that number but there are slight flaws that I can see but I can justify that well it’s just their college musical so it should be ‘hey we’re putting on a show.’

What are your other influences?

I just adore the cinema of the golden age of Hollywood from 1933-1941, I just adore them. I just wrote about the Shop around the Corner for The Times which I love. In more recent times I was inspired by the production savvy and wit of Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee’s first films, the way they are able to put those together. Then there’s the Scottish director Bill Forsyth, there’s the Irish film Eat the Peach I really liked. I worked with two Madrid directors on their films, it was my first job in the film business, Fernando Colomo and Fernando Treuba and they made these little comedies set in Madrid. There’s one called Opera Prima by Treuba and it’s very much a model for what I’ve tried to do.

When you first started making films your contemporaries were Todd Haynes and Quentin Tarantino, what was that time like for you?

It’s interesting about Todd Haynes because Metropolitan was made from within the Todd Haynes world. Todd hadn’t made a feature yet but they (Todd Haynes and Christine Vachon) had this short film company called Apparatus and the editor that worked on our film was recommended to us by them, Christopher Tellefson. Tellefson was key in Metropolitan.

Tarrantino came up afterwards. It was a little bit disconcerting trying to get your career going and getting your films noticed and suddenly this guy comes along out of the blue and just took all the attention. We were shown at the same Cannes Film Festival as Pulp Fiction. His film was in competition and our film had not been selected. We had a pretty successful screening [of Barcelona] at the Olympia Cinema in the market but he definitely stole the limelight. I remember when it was chosen as the opening film for the Cork Film Festival and the director talked the whole time about how sad he was that he hadn’t been able to get Pulp Fiction for the opening of the festival [laughs].

 

Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh

Damsels in Distress is released on Friday. April 27th 2012.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGWRPwjGf5E

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Report: IFI Ireland on Sunday presents Gerard Hurley’s ‘The Pier’

As Gerard Hurley’s The Pier continues its run in cinemas around the country with a screening on Monday, 19th March at The Phoenix Cinema, Dingle, Co Kerry @ 6pm, Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh reports on its recent IFI screening as part of Ireland on Sunday series.

The Pier was screened as part of the Irish Film Institute’s Ireland on Sunday season showcasing new Irish film. Gerard Hurley (writer, director, producer and lead actor) was in attendance and took part in a post show discussion with the IFI Irish film curator, Sunniva O’ Flynn. The Pier tells the story of an Irishman returning to Ireland on news of his father’s illness. He is surprised by his father’s health when he arrives and the ensuing events revolve around the tension in their relationship. Hurley is originally from West Cork and has been living and working as a screenwriter in the US for twenty years. He was awarded funding from the Irish Film Board to make a film set in Ireland, and Hurley jumped at the chance having always wanted to make a film here.

The émigré returning to Ireland from America is a familiar story in Irish cinema, The Quiet Man being the most famous. O’ Flynn also pointed to the Kalem brothers’ films from the early 20th century, one of which was shot in both America and Ireland, like The Pier. Of course, in The Quiet Man the returning émigré is the picture of success and looks at Ireland with a distinctly romanticised view. This is not the case for Hurley personally and this comes across in the film. Both father and son are relatively poor and whilst West Cork certainly looks picturesque in parts– it doesn’t quite fit the bill of lush green fields, homely cottages and dancing maidens. Ireland viewed in this way is often seen in Irish cinema and these stereotypes are prolific in American representations of Ireland; see such recent films as P.S. I Love You, Leap Year and Laws of Attraction.

A member of the audience pointed out this difficult balance between telling a story with ‘home truths’ whilst keeping a hopeful message and at the same time not falling into the trap of romanticising the homeland. The film does not shy away from the difficulties between father and son; the characters express their feelings on each other with harsh language and behaviour that can be difficult to watch. O’ Flynn commented on a violent scene which she felt could potentially affect the audience’s sympathy with the main character. Hurley responded strongly that he did not consider it important whether the character is likeable, but that his actions should be true to the character he created. Hurley went on to discuss that he felt the love story with Lili Taylor’s (High Fidelity, Six Feet Under) character essential to the film in order to give a sense of hope to the story. The film, he said, is shrouded by the absence of the mother and this is the cause of the unhappiness of the two male leads, so Lili’s character provides a maternal counterpoint to this.

In discussing his directorial approach to the film, Hurley said that he was not trying to make ‘high art’, this owing to the limited budget but also because his priority is to tell an honest story, rather than focus on style. I certainly got the sense from him that the story takes precedence and this presumably stems from his experience as a scriptwriter. Discussing his writing process, he said that he does not work chronologically but instead focuses on one scene and builds the rest of the story around that. In The Pier the pivotal scene is when father and son finally confront the issues between them. A member of the audience asked if visually, the claustrophobic shots featured throughout were budget related or a directorial decision, to which Hurley responded simply ‘both.’ He again emphasised his intention to tell an honest story with the use of tighter shots focusing on the conversations and relationships between the principal characters. He then balances this with wider landscape shots to frame the story.

In addition to writing and directing, Hurley discussed his acting role in the film, playing the central character, Jack. The Pier is only his second time acting as he had starred in his previous film, The Pride. Hurley said that he does not have a real interest in acting; he took up the role in The Pride after the actor he had cast pulled out at the last minute. While not his preference, he finds acting to be challenging and emotionally involving in the process of losing himself in another personality.

The film was shot over eight days with limited time with the actors and on a very low budget. Such were his restraints that Hurley actually built an Irish kitchen in his basement to keep travel costs down for the actress Mary Foskett. The overriding message from Hurley is that as a filmmaker there are ways around budget limitations and that you don’t necessarily need a big budget or high-end equipment in order to tell the story. As a screenwriter tired of waiting for a script to get picked up, he directed it himself. As a writer/director with no principle actor, he stepped in. With limited distribution opportunities, he took on the task himself.

With the challenges facing filmmakers today with companies and distributers less eager and less equipped to take risks on small films like The Pier, Gerard Hurley certainly has the right attitude.

Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh

www.thepierfilm.com

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Cinema Review: Man on a Ledge

Jump...

DIR: Asger Leth • WRI: Pablo F. Fenjves • PRO: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian • DOP: Paul Cameron • ED: Kevin Stitt • DES: Alec Hammond • Cast: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell

Man on a Ledge has a different take on the standard heist movie format. Sam Worthington plays an ex-cop who breaks out of prison maintaining that he was framed by a diamond seller and an all round heartless capitalist (Ed Harris). After his escape, he checks into a Manhattan hotel and climbs out on to the ledge threatening suicide. We soon learn that this is a rouse to distract the city from his brother and his girlfriend who are attempting to steal a diamond from Harris’s building across the road.

This is an interesting premise but the plot doesn’t have many surprises. The twists are revealed quickly and it doesn’t take long before we are told who wronged who. There’s a lot of background information needed to tell the story as the entire plot derives from events in the past. When we do get background information about the characters it is heavy handed and we don’t really get to know them. It was pleasing to see the negotiator played by a female (Elizabeth Banks) and watching her battle against the man’s world is enjoyable. Sam Worthington and Ed Harris play out their roles well (even though Worthington does lose his American accent at particularly stressful times on the ledge) but ultimately their characters are quite two dimensional. The brother (Jamie Bell) and his girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) are an attempt to bring comic relief from the intensity of the ledge but this doesn’t work because their dialogue falls flat. In particular, the girlfriend character is truly tiresome. To be fair, the actress does not have much to work with and the purpose of her role is pretty clear with excessive shots of her breasts and a scene dedicated to her changing into a PVC outfit. The funny moments in the film arise from the depiction of media and the reaction from the enthusiastic and cynical New Yorkers who look on.

Faults with the characters and plot aside, the film does look impressive. There are some truly nerve-wracking moments that will have you reeling if you are uneasy with heights. The camera is constantly veering up and around the building and this really creates the sensation for the audience (without the need for 3D). The dramatic tension comes from this rather than the storyline but is impressive enough to make the film an enjoyable watch.

Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh

 

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

Man on a Ledge is released on 3rd February 2012

Man on a Ledge – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Darkest Hour

Effects lacking anything special

DIR: Chris Gorak • WRI: Jon Spaihts • PRO: Tom Jacobson, • DOP: Scott Kevan • ED: Priscilla Nedd-Friendly, Fernando Villena, Doobie White • DES: Valeri Viktorov • CAST: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor

We’ve seen this film before. A big city is under siege, be it zombies, a natural disaster or an alien invasion. There’s a fight for survival, a few die, the main players survive and a couple usually fall in love. This time it’s invisible electrical aliens and instead of New York or LA, it’s Moscow. Two young  American bloggers (the loveable slacker and his hard-working, straight-edged friend) find themselves losing out on a potentially lucrative business deal. They are told they don’t understand that business in Russia is not fair, unlike back home in the United States. They quickly encounter two attractive young ladies at a hip Russian club that they featured on their underground travel blog. Things then go awry at the club with the arrival of the aliens and they find themselves fighting for their lives in a foreign city.

The film is a Russian-American co-production but it is clear which of the old superpowers is ruling the film. The opening of the film acts as a Russian postcard encouraging Americans to visit. It’s different, sexy and exotic but not too different – for instance, there are numerous billboards for McDonalds. In the group of survivors, it is the Americans that react quickly, never lose their cool and lead the group to the US embassy. The Swede and the Australian waver constantly. The Russians are fiercely militant and rife with Americanisms. For example, in one unintentionally amusing moment a Russian survivor roars to the aliens ‘Welcome to Moscow, sucker!’ The Russian setting does provide some stunning scenery but the inclusion of an unpopulated red square doesn’t pack the punch it should.

In spite of the film’s subject, it is very slow-moving and lacking in the excitement of the big disaster movies.  It runs its course in a very predictable way; there are no surprises. There’s little gained from 3D as the special effects are not impressive by blockbuster standards. The aliens are barely visible and the way they kill their victims doesn’t provide much shock or horror. This is saying something because aliens terrify me, I’m even afraid of E.T.  Still, the lack of violence or gore shouldn’t limit the level of horror as a good film should be able to create a fear of the unknowable. However, the film does not build tension or fear of not being able to see what’s going to kill you. Without this tension then and without the visual horror of other alien movies, there is nothing to invigorate the flat storyline.

Maybe the film is a comment on our careless misuse of our environment. Maybe it’s a comment on our dependence on technology and electricity. It could be, but does it really matter? I think we could probably forgive the predictable story riddled with clichés if there were some impressive special effects but it doesn’t even offer us this and ultimately falls flat.

Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Darkest Hour is released on 13th January 201

The Darkest Hour– Official Website

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