Interview: Charlie Lyne, wri/dir of ‘Beyond Clueless’

beyond-clueless

Narrated by cult teen star Fairuza Balk, writer/director Charlie Lyne’s first film Beyond Clueless is an epic visual odyssey through teen movies of the late ’90s/early 2000s, taking in over 200 films to explore the issues and themes at the heart of the genre.

Stacy Grouden caught up with Charlie ahead of its release and a special Q&A screening at the Light House Cinema this Sunday.

 

In terms of form, Beyond Clueless is quite unusual: kind of a visual essay with documentary elements. How would you describe it to someone? And what inspired you to use this form to explore this material?

The teen genre is really good at simultaneously fulfilling the most basic emotional needs of teenagers and also throwing some pretty subversive, challenging ideas at them. I wanted to attempt something similar by making a movie that could function as both an analysis of teen movies, and a teen movie in its own right.

How are you defining a ‘teen movie’, for your purposes?

I favour as broad a definition as possible, because I think any restrictions you put in place end up ruling out some really interesting, worthwhile films. My only criterion was that all of the movies in Beyond Clueless had to address — in one way or another — what it is to be an adolescent; what it is to be caught in that strange state between childhood and adulthood.

It’s clear there are iconographic elements common to teen movies of this era – which is on display in the film’s wonderful montages, and the structure being almost the same as a school year – even when the theme and tone of these movies appear wildly different. For example, Jawbreaker and She’s All That are in some ways worlds apart, but you get the transformative ‘plain-girl’ makeover in both. I guess I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on whether the largely-visual tropes of the genre inform its ideology, and unify teen movies that way? Is the overall message the same, because they look the same, even when on a broader generic level you could be dealing with films as different as Scream to Can’t Hardly Wait?

I think it’s more that the tropes and iconography create a jumping-off point for all that teen movies are capable of. The second you see that high-school corridor, those red party cups, or that prom queen tiara, you immediately recognise the world you’re being thrust into, which I think allows each individual film a certain amount of leeway in where they go from there. You can get away with a lot when people think they have you pegged.

You’ve featured over 200 films in Beyond Clueless, released from the mid-’90s onwards. With such a huge range of teen films to choose from, how did you decide which films to focus on in greater depth – were they films you particularly liked, or felt had common themes you wanted to explore in the film?

The first thing I did was map out how I wanted the film to work thematically, and from there it was just a question of finding the films that suited each of those themes best. And in practice, these tended not to be the most critically respected or financially successful films, but instead films that were a bit broken, or a bit crap, but had one element that really, really worked.

Can you tell me a little bit about Summer Camp’s soundtrack for the film? Did you communicate much about the kind of music you wanted for the film?

Summer Camp were practically my co-directors on the film. They were involved from the word go and took the lead on some of the sequences, while I took the lead on others. It was a collaborative process in the purest sense of the word — never a question of them fulfilling a brief, but us working together to work out how the film should look and feel.
 
What are your plans beyond Beyond Clueless? Are you hoping to make more films?

Yes! Boring answer I know but I’m forbidden from talking about it at the moment. I can promise you it will feature far less Devon Sawa than my first film though.

 

Beyond Clueless is released 23rdJanuary. Director Charlie Lyne will take part in a special Q&A screening of the film at 4pm on Sunday, 25th January at the Light House Cinema, Dublin, which will be followed by classic teen horror The Craft at 6.30pm.

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The Grandmaster

The Grandmaster Zhang Ziyi

DIR: Kar Wai Wong • WRI: Kar Wai Wong, Jingzhi Zou, Haofeng Xu • PRO. Kar Wai Wong, Jacky Pang Yee Wah •  DOP: Phillipe Le Sourd • ED:William Chang, Benjamin Courtine, Hung Poon  • CAST: Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Jin Zhang

After a rapturous awards season reception earlier this year, seeing it collect over 40 awards and two Oscar nominations, Wong Kar Wai’s latest film The Grandmaster is finally getting an Irish cinema release this week – and for fans of the Hong Kong-based filmmaker’s sumptuously-paced set pieces, it will be well worth the wait to see it on the big screen.

The Grandmaster of the title is the legendary Chinese martial artist Ip Man, (Leung), the film offering a non-linear portrait of the man who would popularise the art of Wing Chun throughout the world and famously train Bruce Lee. A decade in the making, over a year of that just in the editing suite – not to mention the daily four-hour Wing Chun sessions star Tony Leung took for a year in advance of the role – The Grandmaster is an obvious passion project for Wong Kar Wai and writer-director’s trademark style flows through it like Ip Man’s philosophy manifests in his movement. The subject matter of The Grandmaster initially seems like an odd fit for someone who made his name with languorously-paced romantic drama and especial use of the disruptive step-printing technique (or ‘fast motion’ – shooting at a low frame rate so action is sped up on playback) to imbue scenes with a dreamlike haziness.

Yet nothing is lost to these idiosyncrasies. From the breathtaking opening sequence in which Ip Man beats down on a gang of combatants, as brutally and naturally elemental as the accompanying rain, to his exhilarating encounters with other martial arts masters – those with the enigmatic Gong Er (Ziyi) recall the restraint and passionate tension of the director’s most successful work in In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express – Kar Wai presents an art-house kung fu movie all his own, thematically and visually, and for the most part, it works.

However, the film’s storytelling is as erratic as a step-printed scene, jumping around time and space and utilising title cards as well as occasional first-person narration from Ip Man. This is another common trait of Kar Wai’s films, but the inconsistency unfortunately has the effect of making the film’s attempt to balance its slickly-shot fight sequences with Ip Man’s characterisation feel all the more uneven. The fascinating details of Ip Man’s life – the hardships endured due to a refusal to collaborate during wartime; his relationship with his teachers and later, his own students; – are barely told, and their hasty juxtaposition with the more visually-focused elements of the film (not just fight scenes, but also the introspective or poetic moments) feels like something of a slight. It may be worth noting though that the Weinstein Company, distributing the film in the West, has heavily cut The Grandmaster by about 20 minutes – having not seen them, how crucial they are in addressing these shortcomings is not for me to say.

Yet in its wildest moments, it is so easy to overlook these failures, when its successes are so glorious. Phillipe La Sourd’s cinematography is flooring, whether it’s capturing the eight kicks of Wing Chun or a static, tearful Gong Er in the snow. Ip Man’s kung fu is rendered with a sleek, deliberate power enhanced by the world-ending charisma of star Tony Leung, one of the most expressive yet subtle movie stars in probably all of contemporary cinema. (Rumours that the original title was Leung Fu Fighting have so far been unconfirmed.)

While it’s far from the usual kung fu romp, that might be as much its benefit as to its disadvantage. Captivating and thrilling, if narratively meandering and slapdash, The Grandmaster is a visual triumph.

 

Stacy Grouden

15A
108 minutes.
The Grandmaster
is released 5th December.

The Grandmaster – Official Website

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The Grand Seduction

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DIR: Don McKellar • WRI: Ken Scott, Michael Dowse • PRO: Barbara Doran, Roger Frappier • DOP: Douglas Koch • ED: Dominique Fortin • CAST: Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liane Balaban, Gordon Pinsent

Based on Seducing Doctor Lewis, a French-Canadian film from 2003, The Grand Seduction’s title change suggests perhaps a more genteel sensibility in its marketing, a romantic appeal to bygone values, which curiously extends throughout the film’s attitudes to the politics of gender, work, and blue-collar living, to mixed results.

Opening with a chorus of orgasms reminiscent of Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie, protagonist Murray (Gleeson) recalls how his hometown of Tickle Head, Newfoundland was once a tight-knit, hard-working community of fishermen, directly linking the difficult physical labour undertaken by the townsmen to their virility and domestic satisfaction. Times have changed, however, as the only person who appears to have a comfortable job there anymore is the postmistress Kathleen, doling out welfare cheques to any and every man in town. Things are so dire in the harbour town that Murray’s wife relocates to the city to take a job to support the couple, if you can imagine something so shocking. Amidst this economic strife, a multinational oil company is scouting locations for its new petro-chemical plant, but Tickle Head’s chances of winning the plant are slim to none without a doctor residing there. Enter Dr. Lewis (Kitsch). Caught with cocaine at a nearby airport by the town’s former mayor, he is offered a highly unusual way out of a drug charge – to move to Tickle Head for a month, while the plant is being negotiated.

Once word of Dr. Lewis’ impending arrival reaches the town, Murray leads the residents in conspiratorial hoodwinks to ‘seduce’ the doctor into staying put for good which, Murray lies, will guarantee them the plant. From here on in, the name of the game is farce, with the hockey-loving Newfies attempting to learn the rules of Lewis’ favourite sport, cricket, encouraging a flirtation with what appears to be the town’s only single young woman (Kathleen the postmistress again), tapping his phone to gauge how to improve his experience of the town, and in one of the funnier running jokes, leaving random banknotes for him to find on the pier, because people love finding money unexpectedly.

The ‘small-town conspiracy to fool Big Business’ plot recalls Waking Ned, and the humour is similarly gentle and formulaic, but effective, due to the strength of the performers involved. A number of set-pieces, such as an impromptu census by the oil company and an attempted cricket match, will raise a chuckle, but it is the cast that elevate the material. It’s a nice change to see Kitsch play in front of the naturally beautiful landscape of Newfoundland rather than the green screens of Mars, and with talented, lively actors rather than world-crushing aliens, and he makes for a convincing straight man equally amused and bemused by the Tickle Head locals. As in almost everything he does, Gleeson imbues his stuffy character with enough heart and good intention that it’s easier to overlook his questionable actions and attitudes.
Yet it is the latter point that gives me pause. While ‘old-fashioned’ as an adjective is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to comedy, the film’s most effective beats evoking classic sitcoms and ’30s screwball flicks, the politics of masculinity, multinationals, and economic survival at play in The Grand Seduction seem anachronistic in a way that goes unchallenged. That the best a former fishing village can hope for is the arrival of a huge corporation to engage the local economy in more unskilled, finite work – and that this itself is dependent on an American investment, so to speak, in the form of Dr. Lewis’ residency – is a bleaker message than the general tone of the film’s ending seems to suggest. Not to mention that most of the film’s action is driven over anxiety over female control: the only reason Murray ends up at the fateful town meeting in which he decides to bid for the plant is to avoid a fight over his wife’s decision to get a job, which naturally gives rise to jokes about how she will soon dominate him sexually as well. It’s as if the feminist movement never happened.

Nevertheless The Grand Seduction is an old-fashioned farce elevated by triumphant, charismatic performers. As with many a grand seduction, the best part is not the destination, but the journey, the enticement, the lead-in, and the film offers plenty of easy laughs and delightful moments along the way to its big finish.

Stacy Grouden

12A (See IFCO for details)

113 minutes

The Grand Seduction is released 29th August

Obvious Child –  Official Website

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What If

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DIR: Michael Dowse • WRI: Elan Mastai • PRO: David Gross, Macdara Kelleher, Marc Stephenson • ED: Yvann Thibaudeau  • DOP: Rogier Stoffers •  Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall, Megan Park

 


What If
is a title just as suggestive and open to interpretation, if in a somewhat different register, as the original name for this film, The F Word. While the latter, former title hints at the raunchy humour that cuts through its sweetness, like the bacon in a Fool’s Gold Loaf sandwich, What If suggests the longing, romantic potential of unrealised desire which motivates the film’s leads.

What If you met a woman with whom you have an instant, mutual attraction but she is already in a happy, long-term relationship? This is a situation which Wallace (Radcliffe), a somewhat morose medical-school drop-out with trust issues, initially views as a dilemma after he clicks with the shy, betrothed animator Chantry (Kazan) at a party.  After she rightly calls him out on not wanting to be friends because she has a boyfriend (Spall), the two embark on a fun-filled and engaging platonic friendship, frequently tested by increasingly ludicrous situations (two of which involve partial nudity), Chantry’s boyfriend’s relocation from Canada to Ireland, and their growing emotional connection.

Comparisons to (500) Days of Summer have been rife, and it’s easy to see why – the films share a quirky sensibility, a former child actor and indie darling as its stars, and forego some of the traditional beats and expectations of the genre. What If also manages the sadly rare feat of being a romantic comedy that is both convincingly romantic and actually funny.

With the central concern of the film’s plot  – can men and women be friends? – so reminiscent of a certain Rob Reiner comedy, and the frequently unlikely sources of deadpan humour, this could just have been When Harry (Potter) Met Sally, 2.0. What If, however, gives us slightly younger leads and takes some risks with its storytelling to make us second-guess the generically foregone conclusion. For example, the temptation to make Chantry’s boyfriend Ben a boring, careless loser we root for her to lose to be with Wallace is avoided. Instead, he is successful, intelligent, handsome, and a largely reasonable fella – complicating the rom-com route from A to B a little more than usual. Similarly, the intense parallel relationship of Allan (Driver) and Nicole (Davis) is another that has a less-than-fairytale structure, which makes it all the more interesting to watch its rapid development.

Occasionally, the film’s quirkiness is a bit cloying: Its animated interludes, non-sequitur in-jokes and hallucinated sequences are somewhat hit and miss. Similarly, the increasingly contrived situations ‘testing’ Wallace and Chandry’s friendship do detract from the naturalistic scenes where they just casually hang out and have believable, if earnest, conversations – scenes fizzing with good humour due to Kazan and Radcliffe’s effervescent chemistry.

The performances carry this film even through its weak points – these two light each other up, and the ultimate emotional denouement between the two is a really moving moment.  Kazan fleshes out her dithery character as a somewhat overwhelmed young woman with a lot of choices and potential, making her decisions or lack of decisions understandable and relatable. It’s great to see Radcliffe not only coming on as a talented comedic actor, but in a contemporary setting for once, even if the larger-than-life rising star Adam Driver, at 6 ft. 3, overshadows him both figuratively and literally as his flatmate. The unlikely presence of gawky Girls star Driver as a brash alpha-male actually sums up the type of romantic comedy What If is trying to be and what films in this recently weak, uncertain genre need to do to succeed – challenge expectations, balance romance and comedy, and have a deep bench of supporting players. Of these supporting players, as aforementioned, Rafe Spall makes for a winning spanner in the works; while Megan Park as Chantry’s sister Dalia, eschews the ditzy blonde stereotype she initially appears to fill in favour of quick, well-timed comedic relief; and Jemima Rooper, in a brief appearance as Wallace’s sister Ellie, has an impressively high laughs-to-screen-time ratio.

What If asks if we think these kinds of relationships can ever work, and is surprisingly mature in presenting its answers, even if the conclusion does feel a little neater than the sum of its parts and the complex, grey, follow-up questions.
What If your best friend is the love of your life? What If you went to see this smart, quirky and emotionally-engaging film, with sparkling lead performances, to find out?

 

Stacy Grouden

15A (See  IFCO for details)

101 minutes

What If is released 22nd August 

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Who is Dayani Cristal?

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DIR: Marc Silver • WRI: Mark Monroe • PRO: Thomas Benski, Gael Garcia Bernal, Lucas Ochoa, Marc Silver • DOP: Marc Silver ED: Martin Singer, James Smith-Rewse • MUS: Leonardo Heiblum, Jacobo Lieberman •
CAST: Gael Garcia Bernal
 
‘In life he was considered invisible, an illegal. Now in death, he is a mystery to be solved.’

Who is Dayani Cristal? These words, tattooed on a dead man in the Arizona desert, are the only clue to his identity, and ask the first question posed to us by Marc Silver and Gael Garcia Bernal’s latest project, but not necessarily the last. Delving into the complex and timely issue of illegal immigration to the United States from South America, and the large number of missing-presumed-dead immigrants who never make it either home or away, this film takes an interesting approach in combining investigative documentary and dramatic retelling. Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal’s dramatic recreation of the migrant’s last days and his encounters with others on each step of the same journey are juxtaposed with interviews with those who knew the deceased, shots of American officials on the other side attempting to identify and trace the dead man, and information about  the treacherous trek across the border.

This is a fascinating and important story, (if not, sadly, a unique one) and the combination of different forms of storytelling employed here works to varying degrees of success.  The basic, forensic detail of examining and tracing the body and the interviews presented with the border authorities and aid workers are compelling and shocking, presenting a troubling view of the American immigration system without ever being over the top. Bernal’s occasional narration complements the unobtrusive nature of Silver’s direction and photography,  allowing what is presented on screen to speak for itself and rarely imposing any kind of authoritative, partisan opinion onto the narrative, instead neatly summarising what we have already been shown. This is largely effective: Between statistics on migrant mortality, the painstaking process of tracing undocumented missing persons, and the poignant backstory of the deceased’s life, no further comment is needed – the reality is striking enough.

The presence of Bernal on-screen and his attempts to retrace the steps of the deceased, however, is a curious storytelling decision. While a charming on-screen presence, at ease singing on a train or playing football, these segments lead to some narrative dissonance. Although Bernal encounters migrants at every stage of the journey who tell him about the obstacles to crossing the border and the many dangerous elements at play, this danger is never truly palpable, no matter how many news reports about missing or dead migrants we see him absorb.

There is also a curious spiritual element to this film, bookended with ‘The Migrant’s Prayer,’ an appeal for faithful travellers to a God who also knew the force and necessity of migration. The presence of religious missions at shelters for migrants, peppered along train tracks like ‘secret railway stations,’ as Bernal calls them, is at best a celebration of the goodwill and faith of the church. At worst, however, it waxes a little too lyrically about the difficult situation of these migrants, romanticising poverty with statements like ‘poor people are the spiritual reserve of the world,’ so to then close the film on a spiritual, funereal note is slightly jarring for the wrong reasons.

Immigration between North and South America has been a thorny topic for American cinema, which tends to mask the complexities of this issue by depicting those south of the border as dangerous Mexican drug lords, intent only on pushing their product into the States, from Breaking Bad to Machete Kills. Who is Dayani Cristal? is a welcome counter-narrative to hysterical Hollywood fictions, alongside Diego Quemada-Díez’s recent film The Golden Dream, based on the reported experiences of over 600 migrants from South America about the journey across the border.

Who is Dayani Cristal? is maybe a little over-ambitious in its structure, attempting to combine different modes of storytelling and generic convention to present the case of Dayani Cristal from different angles and perspectives.  While it doesn’t fully succeed on all counts, it is an engaging, intelligent and important film, for as we learn, the story of this one man is sadly that of many, many anonymous others as well.

Stacy Grouden

12A (See IFCO for details)
84 mins

Who is Dayani Cristal? is released on 25th July 2014

Who is Dayani Cristal? – Official Website

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Under The Rainbow

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DIR: Agnès Jaoui  • WRI: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Agnès Jaoui •  PRO: Alexandre Mallet-Guy • DOP. Lubomir Bakchev •  ED: Fabrice Rouaud •  MUS: Fernando Fiszbein •  CAST: Agathe Bonitzer, Arthur Dupont, Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Benjamin Biolay

The reimagining of fairytales is everywhere this decade – it feels like only yesterday (but was in fact, this time last month) that I was contemplating how Maleficent, alongside Frozen, Snow White and the Huntsman and Red Riding Hood, is playing out this trend on the Hollywood mainstage, to varying degrees of success. But lest we forget the point of origin, European filmmakers have been playing with convention, too – last year’s Blancanieves from Spain gave the story of Snow White a number of quirky twists and updates, and now the formidable French satirists Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri present their take, Under the Rainbow.

Under the Rainbow suggests a wittier, more subversive approach to the fairytale elements it plays with – even the title, presented in a whimsical font, literally grounds the story beneath the aspirational horizons of folkloric projection and in ‘the real world.’  Lovelorn Laura encounters the shy composer Sandro at a glamorous ball exactly in the style of a dream she has had. But as their families meet and mix, and the mysterious Maxime fatefully enters the fold, will the two live happily ever after?

Agnes Jaoui infuses the film with a distinctive visual style, peppering the film with impressionistic paintings which fade into the drab surroundings of the world of the film – the entrance to the driving school, a concrete slab of a building – neatly linking into the film’s idea that romance fades into humdrum mediocrity. Under the Rainbow is not subtle with its allusions – the man we view as the primary antagonist is named Maxime Wolff, first encountered when advising the red-haired, red-hooded Laura which route to take at a forked path in the forest. There are also a number of visual gags referencing old stories such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, which do little for developing the story and feel a little inconsequential.

There is a slight but pleasing distraction of a subplot between Laura’s aunt Marianne and Sandro’s father Pierre (played by co-writers Jaoui and Bacri) when the latter offers to teach the former to drive. Although this development between the two pays dividends at the denouement of the film, it does sometimes feel as if it was scrapped in from another film, its themes linking only tangentially to the rest of Under the Rainbow, affording the writers (and director) to show some of the film’s subtler character development.

There are a number of interesting ideas that Jaoui and Bacri throw at the wall that could have stuck with a little more work – Laura’s mother’s attempts to be ‘the fairest of them all’ through cosmetic creams and surgeries; Marianne’s daughter’s preoccupation with the Bible, a funny counterpoint to other children’s love of fairytales. Jaoui and Bacri have form in dealing with these kinds of characters and ideologies clashing and complementing each other in unexpected ways, but the wit is slight, underdeveloped, like  jokes without punchlines or parables without a lesson to learn at the end.

This feels applicable to the film’s ending, too, subverting the expected tropes of both the fairytale and its contemporary counterpart, the romantic comedy. In theory, it’s a bold move and a pleasant surprise, but the way in which it is executed, with little to no build-up, almost causes the film to lean back the other way: ending the way it does is as unbelievable as the fairytales the rest of the film tears apart.

Stylish and witty, Under the Rainbow has some interesting notions about the stories we tell and the influence of those stories on our actions and behaviour, though they are rather undeveloped and lack the edge of Jaoui and Bacri’s previous outings. Nobody ever asks to see a second draft of a fairytale, but with some revision, this could have been a slicker, neater takedown of those classic, simple tropes, and why the world shouldn’t get too carried away in their narratives. Somewhere, Under the Rainbow, the meeting of reality and fairytale could have had a bite as deliciously poisonous as Snow White once took from an apple.

Stacy Grouden

15A See IFCO for details)
112 Minutes
Under the Rainbow is released 27thJune  2014

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Tea with the Dead

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Stacy Grouden attended a recent screening of Tea with the Dead, in which a gentle embalmer from Connemara shares cups of tea and chats with his mortuary arrivals.

On Friday. 6th June 2014, up-and-coming Irish animation company Wiggleywoo celebrated the completion of its latest project, Tea with the Dead, with a special screening in the wonderfully atmospheric surroundings of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. Spirits ran high in the room on the night, while spirits of another kind came (back) to life on screen courtesy of the skeleton crew of talented animators and voice actors who worked on the production.

Subtitled ‘Life, Death and a Packet of Digestives,’ Tea with the Dead animates a series of conversations between Frank, a friendly, gentle embalmer from Connemara, (voiced by frequent Wiggleywoo collaborator Frank Kelly) and the recently-departed souls who pass through his mortuary. Taking place over the course of a working week, Frank treats every body that arrives in his parlour with the same attention and respect – which in an Irish context could only mean, asking if they will have a cup of tea. When met with predictably deathly silence, Frank cheerfully responds with, ‘I’ll take that as a yes.’

Once in his kitchen, each person’s ghostly presence warms up to Frank as quickly as it takes a kettle to boil, and a variety of stories are recounted: of first loves, of last loves, of mothers, and fathers, JFK and Dickie Rock.

By times silly, poignant, heartbreakingly sad and deeply, darkly funny, Tea with the Dead presents an engaging anthology of Irish life – and death – focusing on the singular formative relationships that make (or made) life worth living. By combining quirky, distinctive 2D animation and powerful, naturalistic voice acting and dialogue, Tea with the Dead resurrects the spirit of old Irish storytelling with a compelling 21st century twist.

Eight months in the making with only about ten staff members, Tea with the Dead is undoubtedly a passion project for Wiggleywoo, a small but increasingly prolific company founded by Susan Broe, Gary ‘Gilly’ Gill and Alan Foley in March 2012. All five of the stories featured in the film are rooted in the experiences of the friends and family of the cast and crew. The project, Broe explained, was inspired by creative director Gill’s mother’s tale of tracing her own biological mother. ‘I remember sitting down to transcribe her story, for about three days, and I was crying most of the time,’ Broe laughed before the screening, before adding later that, amazingly, all of the other touching, life-affirming stories came from just within the small Wiggleywoo crew.

Following the screening, Bernie Dermody, who voiced Frank’s wife and closed the film with a haunting old Irish ballad, enthralled the audience once more with a live encore performance, ensuring that not a living (or dead) soul remained dry-eyed in the cathedral and palpably reinforcing the much-deserved passion and goodwill for the project in the room.

Wiggleywoo will be bringing a 30-minute cut of Tea with the Dead onto the worldwide festival circuit, before its first domestic airing on TG4 this Christmas 2014. Its other active projects include MYA GO and The Day Henry Met?  They can be found at www.wiggleywoo.com/

 

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Maleficent

Maleficent-Dream-Trailer-2014

DIR: Robert Stromberg • WRI: Linda Woolverton • PRO: Joe Roth, Scott Murray • ED: Dylan Cole, Gary Freeman • DOP. Dean Semler • DES: Chris Lebenzon, Richard Pearson • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Reilly, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville

‘Star power’ is a curious thing these days, selling more gossip magazines than movie tickets. In an era when franchises, reboots, prequels, sequels and spin-offs dominate the box office, established characters are more important than established actors in producing a hit. While Maleficent seems consistent with this trend at first, retelling the familiar story of Sleeping Beauty with the antagonistic dark fairy as protagonist, the film’s marketing tells another story. ‘Angelina Jolie is Maleficent’ scream the teaser trailers, with posters, banner pop-ups and bus panels solely focused on her name and darkly-horned, chiselled white head. Jolie, whose biggest role in recent years has been a voice in the Kung Fu Panda movies, could not make a more visible return to the big screen than as Maleficent, a larger-than-life presence with an iconic costume and an unmatched capacity for throwing shade.

Taking obvious cues from Wicked, with a nod to Snow White and the Huntsman and marching to the same beat as the phenomenal Frozen, Disney’s Maleficent capitalises on a desire for alternate perspectives on well-known stories, as well as a concurrent trend for difficult, anti-heroic protagonists whose chaotic evil ultimately restores the balance of a difficult world. The film opens with a young, spirited Maleficent ruling over an enchanted moor, the idyllic home of many a magical creature. When invading forces from a nearby kingdom threaten the harmony of her land, Maleficent’s forceful retaliation ultimately results in a devastating betrayal, triggering the chain of events familiar to audiences from Sleeping Beauty. The film recasts the evil spell cast on Princess Aurora (Fanning) as an act of revenge by Maleficent against the king (Copley), and follows the aftermath of this curse on Maleficent herself, the princess and her three fairy guardians (Staunton, Manville, Temple), and the princess’ father, King Stefan.

Maleficent is directed by Robert Stromberg, better known for his Oscar-winning work in visual effects and production design – his talents neither wasted nor unnoticed in how beautifully-rendered, shot and designed Maleficent is throughout. The world of the film, from the colourful, lively moor of Maleficent’s childhood to the grey, thorny forest after Stefan’s betrayal, is well-realised, and simpler moments like the ‘True Love’s Kiss’ are as quiet and visually simple as the battles or Maleficent’s spell-casting are over-the-top. Maleficent’s reveal at the christening, as well as her later appearance to Aurora in the forest, are glitteringly gothic and breathtakingly lovely, emphasised by Jolie’s cool performance and dangerous, velvety tones.

Jolie is pitch-perfect, in every wicked smile, agonised scream, and expression of concern, ranging from dispassionate to urgently needful. Her glowering at the adorable baby Aurora and later curt dismissal of her affection are highlights, with the growing affection she feels towards the child subtly progressed and played, even if it is loosely-motivated by the script. The film plays with her image too, with Jolie’s ground-sweeping gown inexplicably transformed into a catsuit by the time the action scenes roll around; and a curious line about how the man who loves her is willing to cast off the ring he wears just to hold her hand is interesting in the light of how she met her current beau.

Elsewhere, Elle Fanning is cheerful, bubbly and pretty, perfect for a princess, if rather vacant – the fairies wished for her to be beautiful and happy, but couldn’t they have wished for a personality, too? Speaking of the fairies, even if all three were combined into one fairy character, she’d still have little to do, but Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville and Juno Temple  regardless do their best to be funny and charming. Sam Reilly as Maleficent’s shape-shifting minion, Dioval, is quietly impressive, while Sharlto Copley as Stefan (with, for some reason, a Scottish accent replacing his native South African tones) makes for an enjoyable villain. Not quite as deranged as his last bad-guy role in Elysium, Copley’s paranoia and blinkered bloodlust is convincing, if never very well-developed.

Credited to Linda Woolverton, with ten ‘based on’ credits from other sources, the greatest issue is the rather weak script. An inconsistency within the tone, structure, even the language used suggests either a great deal of revision or poor attention to detail.  Many threads feel unfinished or disorganised – the third fairy never grants Aurora a wish (no excuse for that lack of personality I joked about above); The fairies are sometimes interchangeably referred to as ‘pixies;’ and the motivation behind several key moments appears to serve the visuals rather than the plot. Most bafflingly, the final battle between Maleficent, Dioval and the King’s men takes place at an utterly needless time, when what they are fighting for is no longer really an issue, except the film needs an impressive climactic set-piece, and nobody pays to see peace in 3D.

Rather like Frozen, the ending of Maleficent contains a welcome, well-intentioned appeal to female solidarity and sorority, which is just grounded enough in the world of the film to succeed where other plot points fail to take hold. Even if the structure and focus of this film and its characters are easily confused or sacrificed to the visual splendour of its production, its premise and performances are strong, the lead performance particularly transcendental: Jolie really is magnificent as the malevolent Maleficent.

Stacy Grouden

PG (See IFCO for details)
97 mins

Maleficent is released on 28th May 2014

Maleficent – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: The Two Faces of January

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Dir: Hossein Amini  Wri: Hossein Amini   Pro: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robin Slovo, Tom Sternberg  DOP: Marcel Ziskind  Ed. Nicolas Chaudeurge, Jon Harris  Des. Michael Carlin  Mus. Alberto Iglesias  CAST: Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Bevan
Confession time:  I have no idea why this film is called The Two Faces of January, other than it is based on a book by Patricia Highsmith – like Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley – which is called The Two Faces of January. Perhaps nobody knew what else to call it. Regardless, it is a profoundly awful title which does a disservice to the stylish, engaging tale of intrigue presented by Hossein Amini, who previously wrote the screenplay for the cult favourite mood-piece Drive.

Set in 1962, the film opens with images of bygone glamour, of investment broker Chester Macfarland (Mortensen) and his young wife Colette (Dunst) on a luxurious sight-seeing holiday in Greece. Scoping them out at the Acropolis is runaway misfit Rydal (Isaac), a Greek-speaking American working as a tour guide in Athens, with a sideline in scamming female tourists charmed by his good looks. ‘He reminds me of my father,’ muses Rydal to his latest mark, and whether or not this is true, his gazing leads to a friendly acquaintance with the MacFarlands. Quickly becoming taken with the couple, Rydal is soon taken by the couple to get them out of Athens following Chester’s violent altercation with a man from his past. The remainder of the film follows the ever-deepening power struggle between Chester and Rydal, as much at each other’s mercy as at each other’s throats, as they trek through Greece, Crete and Turkey on the lam with the woman they both love.

The production design and cinematography throughout is superb, and the audience’s introduction to the MacFarlands in Athens is glorious. They glow with affluence: Dunst’s fair golden hair a perfect complement to her yellow hat and dress, Mortensen utterly resplendent in a white suit. (For what it’s worth, Viggo Mortensen spends a great deal of this film in beautiful suits, ties, shades, and fancy hats – think Don Draper on a sun holiday.) It’s to be expected from the initial caveat, ‘based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith’, which also suggests untrustworthy conmen peacocking around Europe until their questionable pasts catch up with them. The Two Faces of January is no exception and this reliably cinematic premise is engrossing, occasionally exciting, if never hugely surprising.

What it lacks in narrative dynamism, however, the film makes up for with its performances.  The film leans heavily on its actors, and for the most part they deliver. Mortensen gives good range, showing the denigration of the initially statesman-like Chester into a panicky, impulsive criminal.  Isaac is similarly good, with echoes of his star-making turn in Inside Llewyn Davis reverberating around here, but Dunst struggles at times, though through no fault of her own. Sadly typical for Highsmith’s neglected female characters, Colette is a bit of a vacant bore, existing mostly as a MacGuffin to drive the plot forward. Her arc is a straight line, compared to that of the two male leads, and while the attraction between Colette and Rydal is key to the film’s narrative, very little is done to develop it. Slight scenes of Rydal cupping Colette’s wrist as she tries on a bracelet, or stolen half-glances over dinner, simply don’t add up to the consuming passion Amini wants to suggest is burgeoning between them, and is one of this film’s greatest weaknesses.

This is just one way in which Amini’s direction is somewhat timid at times. As well as the lack of development of this pivotal plot strand, it’s as if he was almost afraid to tell his actors what to do in the film’s more dramatic moments. Coupled with his adaption of some of Highsmith’s rather old-fashioned dialogue, this gives them a slightly stagey, melodramatic edge. It’s a shame as Mortensen and Isaac turn some of the film’s smaller, throwaway lines into delightfully nuanced characterizations as well as really relishing moments of quiet tension.

For the most part, The Two Faces of January is an absorbing, pleasurable power-play between its two male leads, beautifully shot and styled. As a directorial debut, it’s a mostly successful, if safe and somewhat flawed project for Amini, though a tale of a corrupt investment banker being chased through Europe to answer for his crimes is at least a timely choice of story.

Stacy Grouden

12A (See IFCO for details)
96 mins

The Two Faces of January is released on 16th May 2014

 

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Cinema Review: The Wind Rises

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Dir: Hayao Miyazaki  • Wri: Hayao Miyazaki  • Pro: Toshio Suzuki  • Ed: Takeshi Seyama  • DOP: Atsushi Okui  • CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt

‘The wind is rising. We must try to live!’

This quote from Paul Valéry, which opens Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, serves as a recurring refrain for its protagonist (and indeed, the film’s audience) to contemplate at different, pivotal moments throughout his life. It is a mantra of survival, of perseverance, the belief that when one is swept up in tumultuous times, the spirit must endure and fight to realize its purpose. Considering the protagonist of The Wind Rises, this is quite a radical message. In stark contrast to Miyazaki’s fantasy-based family-friendly movies such as My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away and Ponyo, The Wind Rises is loosely grounded in reality, taking the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Zero fighter plane used by the Japanese in WWII, as its rich-but-fraught subject matter.

The film launches from the birth of Horikoshi’s childhood ambition to design airplanes,  to its realisation as a young man, and his ultimate triumph in designing the A5M and the Zero for Mitsubishi. It also offers a more personal, human side to the young genius, showing his relationships with his family, his friends, his co-workers, and the love of his life, Naoko. The film’s structure is not always evenly balanced between the two, and Horikoshi’s career is undoubtedly the more compelling arc. The greater focus on Naoko in the third act, just as Horikoshi’s professional endeavour begins to build momentum, is oddly-placed and seems to drag, not helped by the slightly overlong run-time.

The Wind Rises could just as well be titled ‘Jiro Dreams of Airplanes,’ as beautifully animated airborne reveries bookend the drama, visions shared between Jiro and the innovative Italian engineer Gianni Caprioni who declares that ‘airplanes are beautiful dreams.’ In the first, a highlight of the film, the young Jiro reconciles his visual impairment with his love of aircraft and, realising he can never be a pilot, decides to become an aeronautical engineer upon waking.  Myopic even in his dreams, this foregrounding of his short-sightedness is in one way pivotal in understanding Jiro’s character, a man who goes on to design airplanes which will ultimately kill thousands of people. It is this lack of farsightedness which informs the apocalyptic final vision, fields strewn with bits of broken battleships, depicting how the ‘beautiful dreams’ he has created have borne terrible nightmares.

It is also the most questionable thing about focusing on Horikoshi as a protagonist, that his own creative vision supersedes any regard for how his inventions will impact a world at war. This is heavily emphasised, as Horikoshi’s singular focus on his work at the expense of all else is particularly at odds with the compassionate young man we see defending smaller children from bullies, or carrying injured women away from a perilously derailed train after an earthquake. Hinting at this kind of ambiguous complexity in an animated protagonist is at least admirable, but perhaps not fully realised.

The film is wonderfully rich in visual motifs and themes. The image of ‘the wind rising’ is often literally realised in the film – bursts of wind punctuate key moments that drive the action forward and give the film, fittingly, a sense of animation. Similarly, the steady respiration of smoke from the funnels of trains and boats racing against the horizon neatly captures the rapidly shifting, political-economic landscape of Japan in the pre-and post-war era.

While the film’s period detail in a nostalgically-rendered historical setting is, typically of Miyazaki, beautifully observed, there are plenty of contemporary parallels to observe – from a catastrophic earthquake decimating the country, to the difficult and complex solutions to its economic recovery that follow, there is a certain timeliness to its message that Japan ‘must try to live.’ Perhaps in foregrounding the political past, Miyazaki has also managed to make his most profoundly personal statement to date about his home country at present.

The Wind Rises grounds a human, personal story in a complex period of Japanese history and balances the tone well between nostalgic whimsy and harsh historical reality. While its protagonist is an ambiguous, questionable figure who lacks a through interrogation, Miyazaki’s depiction and indeed, critique of Japanese culture, feels pertinent and valuable. If indeed it turns out to be Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, it reads as both an eloquent farewell, and a word to the wise. ‘The wind is rising. We must try to live!’

 

Stacy Grouden

 

PG (See IFCO for details)
126 mins

The Wind Rises is released on 9th May 2014

The Wind Rises – Official Website

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Interview: Steph Green, director of ‘Run & Jump’

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Run and Jump centres on the vivacious Vanetia Casey (Maxine Peake), whose happy-go-lucky personality conceals the heartache of holding her family together after her young husband Conor suffers a rare, personality-altering stroke. When American neuropsychologist Dr. Ted Fielding (Will Forte) travels to Ireland to study Conor’s recovery, he finds himself irresistibly drawn into the Casey family, forging meaningful relationships with more than one of its members. Equal parts unconventional love story and intimate family portrait, Stacy Grouden caught up with award-winning filmmaker Steph Green (New Boy) to discuss her feature-length directorial debut and experience working in the Irish film industry.

Run & Jump was your first feature film [after Green’s Oscar-nominated short film New Boy]. What was it about this project that resonated with you, that attracted you to attach yourself as director?

The script really, which was written by Ailbhe (Keogan), it was her first screenplay and it’s just so realised in terms of the authenticity and her signature voice. It’s inspired by true events in her life, her father suffered a brain injury and she watched her family cope with humour and fortitude, particularly her mother. So the script drew me in.

I think also with your first feature you’re looking for something you can get made, it being a slightly smaller film which is very performance-based. It was a beautiful script, it would be really interesting to cast, and it’s a difficult subject matter realised in a really interesting way.

The tone is so well-balanced, which is no doubt informed by Ailbhe’s own experience of the impact of a brain injury on a family.

Absolutely. Although it’s not a true story, it is quite different from Ailbhe’s experience. Particularly Will Forte’s character, who was not a neuropsychologist in the first draft, and there was a lot of research done to develop that character, but he did a wonderful job.

You showed quite a bit of foresight in casting Forte in this film – as an actor better known for comedy, Run & Jump was his first big dramatic role. What led you to cast Forte as Ted Fielding?

I love casting. I think it’s truly an art in itself. You want to be able to bring something surprising to the screen in your casting choices, and I really enjoy that, when I see someone stretch or show a certain depth or a certain type of performance I’ve never seen before. So I did some research on who was around, in that age bracket, in the states, and I just had a feeling… And then it was great when Alexander Payne became interested in him (for Nebraska) because suddenly there was a lot more credence to my choice. I’m so happy for him, he’s extremely talented and he has a long way to go.

He is fantastic in this film. There’s one shot in particular, when Ted is watching a video he’s taken of Vanetia and Forte just closes his eyes, that is just breathtaking, there’s so much nuance in that reaction.

He has a lot of subtlety, that’s what I saw when I started looking into working with him. Then I met him and felt strongly that he could do it, he has that ability to believe in doing less. He’ll admit he struggled with it a bit in the beginning, but it was coming through on the screen from day one and we were all really happy with how it turned out.

I found the film to be very visually poetic – there are a lot of recurring motifs and colour patterns that work on multiple levels. Can you talk a little bit about the look of the film, how you used colour and space to tell this story?

This family is in a particularly dark moment of transition. It’s quite traumatic, the father figure has had a stroke, his personality has completely changed and they’re all trying to adjust to this stranger in the household. And then there’s another stranger in the household. So the colour palatte and the production design was the way to communicate what the family used to be. There weren’t going to be any flashbacks, the nostalgia had to be implied as opposed to represented visually.

I think that was the first thing I remember talking to everyone about, was that I wanted the space and the colour to feel like a more ideal utopia that at least Vanetia remembers her family being prior to the stroke. She’s very creative, the glue that holds her family together. She’s full of humour, she’s warm, so you go from there and think, what does that look like? What is her colour palette?

Also, we just started scouting, and we found a lot of yellows, and bright colours at the locations we wanted to use, in Dingle, and at the farmhouse we used happened to be yellow, so I think with a smaller film like this one you have to let the exploration dictate what you do, you can’t necessarily afford to repaint your key locations, so it’s a culmination of inspiration and sort of adjusting to where you are, and what you can do there.

Were there any other challenges to shooting in Kerry, or any other adjustments like that you had to make working on an Irish film on location, on a budget?

I loved shooting in Kerry, visually it’s so inspiring. The challenges with this film always just came down to time and resources. One thing that came up, there is a zoo sequence in the film – and there’s really no zoo in Kerry – so we invented it for the film. It’s the culmination of an aquatic centre, a bird sanctuary, Wicklow; you have to get creative and visually construct that space, working on a small budget, we couldn’t just fly out to a zoo, so we made one up.

A special screening of Run & Jump launched the Irish Heart Foundation’s National Stroke Awareness week recently, playing to an audience of stroke survivors and their families. What was that screening like for you?

It was really lovely. It was an important way to kick off, in a way, it’s the hardest crowd, they’ve really been through what we’re portraying. It seemed to resonate, which was really satisfying and kind of a relief – You want to feel that you’re accurately representing an experience that’s quite complex.

By all accounts, it went down well. It’s really well-balanced between exploring the aftermath and side-effects of a stroke and the personal, peripheral stories of the other characters.

I do think it’s unique and I hope that’s what draws people in, I think it’s very personal, and it’s exciting that it’s coming home to Ireland. It had a great little run of festivals in the US but it feels right now to be back where it belongs and I’m really looking forward to hearing the dialogue around it when it’s released.

Well congratulations on bringing it home. So what’s next, are you working on anything else at the moment? Do you have any projects in the pipeline?

I’ve optioned a kind of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, believe it or not, which. I’m working with the Irish Film Board again on another project with Ailbhe, just trying to get a few things on the boil. I’m also just reading a lot of scripts, trying to find great writing that inspires me. Having worked with Roddy [Doyle] on New Boy and then Ailbhe on this film, she’s hugely inspiring, I’m more than open to reading whatever comes my way, I have utter faith in Irish writing.

Do you think that the fact that this was Ailbhe’s first screenplay and your first directorial feature helped, or did it affect the way you approached this film at all?

I think it made me braver, in that I had this kind of… naïve bravery as I would call it – I wanted Will Forte and I wouldn’t shut up about it! Maybe on a second feature, you can become a little bit more cynical or a little more influenced by commercial forces. This being our first project, we had nothing to lose, in a way. Being more of a novice just kind of helps you go for it sometimes.

Run & Jump is released on May 2nd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JH2yuajfBg

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Interview: Will Forte, star of ‘Run & Jump’

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Will Forte as Dr. Ted Fielding in Run & Jump

 

Run & Jump, out this Friday, 2nd May 2014, follows follows Vanetia Casey (Maxine Peake), the impossibly-optimistic centre of  the Casey family, struggling to get her family’s life back to normal after her husband, Conor (Edward McLiam), suffers a stroke which changes his personality. Will Forte plays Dr. Ted Fielding, a neuropsychologist who arrives at their home in Co. Kerry to study Conor’s recovery. Stacy Grouden caught up with Forte to discuss his role in the film.

 

Congratulations on Run & Jump. It’s a wonderful film, though quite a bit darker than the kind of projects you’d be previously known for. How did you get involved with this film?

Well it was all Steph [Green], the director; she somehow thought of me for this role. It wasn’t even a situation where she made me audition, and I’m not even at the level of acting where I don’t have to go audition, so the fact that she just said, ‘you’re the guy I want to play this part’ caught me off-guard. I read the script, and it was awesome, but I had never done anything but comedies, so I was thinking, ‘is this something I could pull off?’ Steph won me over with her confidence, so I thought, why not, what am I so afraid of? Once we got going and I got comfortable, she was able to get me out of my head.

So how did you and Steph work to prepare for this role, to get you out of your head?

She was in California and we got together to rehearse. And it was really kinda’ terrifying because, I was asking what she wanted me to do, and being told very specifically what she was going for, but she wasn’t telling me directly – she would answer a question with another question… I think she was just trying to find it with me too; she wanted the part to be open to my interpretation, and at that time, I was so nervous about trying this new thing. Iam basically more comfortable being told what to do than being asked to just trust my own instincts.

We eventually got to a place where we understood each other, and developed this shorthand, but it took a while to get used to this new type of process. It ultimately turned into the most rewarding thing, I got to come to Ireland for two months, which was fantastic, and what came out of it was this great movie, Run and Jump, and I’m proud of everything about it. I’m excited to have gotten to do it and proud of my performance in it, but overall just really proud of the movie.

What has been the most rewarding thing about making this film?

We got to have a screening for stroke survivors and their families (for National Stroke Awareness Week) and it was a really special experience. The subject matter is something that I’m not really familiar with, with what Conor and the Caseys go through in the movie, so it taught me a lot about how people’s lives are affected by this; it was rewarding and eye-opening on so many levels.

Did you get a good response from that audience?

I think they liked the movie and appreciated it. I think it was painful on some levels but therapeutic, too. We’ve done a bunch of Q&As for this movie, but this was by far the most special. At times you could tell people were opening up who you could tell maybe aren’t used to opening up so much, and it was amazing to have that level of dialogue, for them to trust us with some of their private thoughts and experiences. I truly feel like it wasn’t until this Q&A that I knew what this movie was really about – obviously, I had my own interpretation of it, but this really drove home a different element of the movie to me. It was a really powerful experience to get to watch the movie with people who had gone through a similar thing. So the fact that there are people who have been affected that saw this and felt it was a legitimate representation of that kind of experience was great to see.

It’s a real credit to Steph and Ailbhe [Keogan, screenwriter] that the film resonates in so many ways with different audiences, that the world of the film is so well-realised.

Absolutely. Like, I play a doctor in this. I have no medical training, obviously, and not a lot of knowledge about medical stuff – and you can tell, as I’m saying medical stuff – so it’s a real credit to Steph that she made it all gel. There was a wonderful doctor who was an advisor on the film who helped us to really make sure that everything lined up, that we were describing everything correctly, and I know that it was really important to Steph and Ailbhe to have this be accurate.

A lot of characters in this film come across as outsiders, or as people who see the world differently to those around them, with your character, Ted, being one of the more obvious examples. Did it ever feel like Ted’s arc of coming to Ireland from the US and getting to know this little family and their lives, reflected your own experience of working on the film?

Sure, it was only my second time ever in Ireland, and the first time was for three days, and this time I stayed for over a month, so it was different! I did feel like an outsider in many ways. Everyone was wonderful to me but it was still new, everyone else had this shared cultural background, so I was definitely the new guy on so many different levels. Throw in the fact that I’m doing a drama for the first time and I really felt like a fish out of water. I do think it really helped with the early parts of the movie and feeling like my character.

Are there any particular scenes you remember filming, any that were especially challenging or enjoyable to shoot?

The scenes that were the most difficult were … well, there are a couple of funny scenes in the movie, and that was hard for me to figure out because I’m so used to doing silly comedy stuff, so I was like, how do I do comedy in a drama? Now I look back and realise you just have to act like a person would act! There’s a scene where I’m in the bathtub, and the daughter, Noni, comes in to brush her teeth, and I had to try not to overthink it. The humour comes from the situation. A big part of it was learning how to act without talking, I had to figure out how to act when you don’t have the benefit of dialogue. I would start overthinking things; after a while you get used to just being in the moment and being in the scene, just being present and listening to somebody, but it took me a while to understand what to do.

 

Run & Jump is released in cinemas 2nd May 2014

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JH2yuajfBg

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Cinema Review: Divergent

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DIR: Neil Burger • WRI: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor • PRO: Lucy Fisher, John J. Kelly, Pouya Shabazian, Douglas Wick • DOP: Alwin H. Küchler • ED: Richard Francis-Bruce, Nancy Richardson • MUS: Junkie XL • DES: Andy Nicholson • CAST: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Maggie Q, Miles Teller, Zoe Kravitz, Ashley Judd
Whether you’re a preteen girl, an Alexander Payne fan, or just watch a lot of adaptations of bestselling novels, Shailene Woodley has likely made some impression on you as a charismatic up-and-comer. From her roots on television in The Secret Life of the American Teenager to her breakout roles in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, Woodley is now making a play for the young adult dystopian franchise with Divergent, a title which, when accompanying this particular film, appears wildly ambitious.

Based on the first in a series of novels by Veronica Roth, Divergent is set in a future dystopian Chicago in which society is sorted into five groups, or factions, based on personality types: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the kind and pacifistic; Candour, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intelligent. So far, so Harry Potter. Divergent’s version of the Sorting Hat sees the city’s 16-year-olds take a test determining the faction to which one is best-suited. While they are theoretically free to deviate from the recommended result at the subsequent choosing ceremony, they can be disowned and left factionless if they don’t fit into their new group – becoming, essentially, homeless vagabonds.

Divergent’s heroine, Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior (Woodley), is told by the test co-ordinator, Tori, (Maggie Q) that her results are inconclusive, as she has the attributes of several factions, making her a Divergent type. Tori urges her to conceal this information, as Divergents are considered a threat to the status quo due to their unpredictable way of thinking. At the choosing ceremony, Tris joins the Dauntless faction, the soldier/warrior group who make up the law enforcement and military of Chicago. The film follows her subsequent battle to simultaneously stand out and fit in to her new role.

Divergent does things by-the-book, and unfortunately, that book (Divergent by Veronica Roth) is little better than a vague, elementary mish-mash of tropes from young-adult and science-fiction literature: A ‘Chosen One’; a beautiful, moody love interest; a bullying rival; a family, torn apart; secret identities and allegiances; political manoeuvring and corrupt government; and a rite of passage during which one must endure frankly startling violence. The sheer quantity of themes and motifs Divergent introduces means that none are developed with any nuance, and it feels like the film is trying to do far too much.

The premise is weak – while the idea of testing for and choosing one’s path in life from a relatively clueless teenage perspective makes for a passable allegory, it’s hard to grasp that the incredibly reductive faction system could actually hold sway for a hundred years, even in a ‘post-war’ culture of fear briefly alluded to in the opening narration. Although, when the characters presented in Divergent are as one-dimensional as the factions demand them to be, maybe it’s not that much of a stretch. It does, however, feel like lazy storytelling.

A number of stars, rising and risen, populate the cast of Divergent. The best of these, (aside from Woodley, who is doing her best with the material) is Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews, the icy, Aryan-looking Erudite leader with a steadfast belief in the faction system. Perhaps because of her status as a beloved English Rose, (or as the beloved American Rose of Titanic?) Winslet rarely appears in villainous roles, but if anything good comes of Divergent, it’s the proof that she is well-able to imbue even the flimsiest of evil characters with equal parts officious pomp and underlying malevolent intent. Sadly, the aforementioned weak characterisation of almost every character in the film at the expense of plot or narrative convenience, fails to elicit any other standout performances.

At a snip under 140 minutes, the film’s runtime is epically long – it matches that of Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic Noah, also out this week.  Yet a little research reveals this kind of runtime is in line with its current generic contemporaries: Hunger Games: Catching Fire runs at a staggering 146 minutes, while Mortal Instruments: City of Bones clocks in at a slightly less bum-numbing 130 minutes. Is this some sort of attempt to correct our preteen girls’ technologically-shortened attention spans? Once again, it feels like lazy storytelling, throwing a dozen narrative elements at the wall to see what sticks and not editing down the difference.

While star power may draw audiences to Divergent – its leading man, Theo Jame,s may have the bone structure and smoulder to usurp Robert Pattinson on Tumblrs everywhere –the film’s creative choices, or lack thereof, fail to distinguish it in an already crowded genre. Divert your course elsewhere this week.

Stacy Grouden

12A (See IFCO for details)
139 mins

Divergent is released on 4th April 2014

Divergent – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Non-Stop

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DIR: Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach • Ryan Engle PRO: Alex Heineman, Andrew Rona, Joel Silver • DOP: Flavio Martínez Labiano • ED: Jim May • MUS: John Ottman • DES: Alec Hammond  • CAST: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o

 

In Non-Stop, Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks, an Irish-American air marshal with a dark past and a drinking problem. (Standard – one wonders if it’s possible to get a career in the defensive forces without a tragic history.) While on board a long-haul New York/London flight, he receives a series of taunting texts from a mysterious stranger threatening to murder a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited in a bank account. His aggressive approach to preventing this puts him at odds with the passengers, crew, and TSA; and when the bank account is revealed to be in his own name, Marks is branded a hijacker. Stripped of his badge and gun (‘duty-free’?) and unsure who to trust, Marks must clear his name and get the passengers back on side before the real threat comes to an explosive climax.

Certain stylistic features of this film work very well. The appearance of speech bubbles on screen to show a text message is a device becoming popular since its use in such television series as Sherlock and House of Cards. Director Jaume Collet-Serra takes this further, projecting the flickering screen of a shattered phone and highlighted auto-fills as Marks types (though unfortunately for the film’s humour content, no auto-correct slip-ups), validating the use of text messages as a form of narrative delivery within a film. Similarly, the claustrophobic setting of the plane is well-captured – probably no doubt helped by Neeson’s hulking frame dominating the tiny space.

The film deals in some potentially rich themes here, too, with the gradual turn against Marks by everyone else involved with the flight. The difference between a state of hijacking and a state of emergency, and the threat to civil liberties through deference and compliance to perceived authority, is ripe for exploration. Unfortunately it’s treated with all the intelligence and subtlety as a fire extinguisher to the back of the head.

In terms of its plot, it would be unfair to call Non-Stop a Non-Starter – the initial premise is intriguing, menacing, and vaguely Hitchcockian in its ambitions. Call it ‘Strangers on a Plane.’ Yet somewhere along the line the low-key approach is completely abandoned in favour of toilet-based kung-fu, a sophisticated bomb concealed in cocaine, and television news channels streaming live onboard, asking of possible-hijacker Marks, ‘how do we know he’s NOT IRA?’ A certain suspension of disbelief is always required with any action caper, but halfway through it seems that the film is aware of this audience pre-disposition and shamelessly takes advantage.

With that in mind, those who enjoy Neeson’s latter-day action movie superstar mode will doubtless find much to enjoy here, with a number of well-choreographed fight scenes at 30,000 feet causing plenty of turbulence. Neeson is a great action star – his broad build, stern Roman features, and emotional range are perfectly suited to this genre. Along with fighting three men at once, he acts the hell out of looking at a phone, and has great chemistry with co-star Julianne Moore. He may be trying to save 150 people on board the plane, but Non-Stop takes a narrative nosedive in its third act that not even Liam Neeson can put right. The resolution to the whodunnit feels like a cheat, as does the motivation given for compromising the plane. The descent into cliché gathers so much speed that it crashes horribly close to parody; and the cheerful Hollywood ending fails to reconcile a number of loose ends about Marks’ no-doubt partially-disturbed mental state that doesn’t convince me he’ll come out the other side of this journey any better off. (Especially considering current exchange rates.)

A great mystery it’s not, and the frenzied, preposterous conclusion might be more ‘non, stop’ than ‘non-stop,’ but fans of Liam Neeson hunting, finding, and killing his man will certainly get more than enough of that. Fasten your seat-belts, it’s a bumpy ride.

Stacy Grouden

12A (See IFCO for details)
106  mins

Non-Stop is released on 28th February 2014

Non-Stop – Official Website

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Bio: Stacy Grouden

Originally from Co. Meath, Stacy Grouden has an MA in Film Studies from UCD. She claims that her favourite movie is Amadeus, though her actual favourite movie is School of Rock. Currently preparing research on the career of actress Kathleen Turner, Stacy can be found tweeting obsessively @SilverStGroud about movies, music, food, and her enduring love for the (tragically-temporally-absent) actor Cary Grant.

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Cinema Review: Rush

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DIR: Ron Howard WRI: Peter Morgan • PRO: Andrew Eaton, Eric Fellner, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Peter Morgan, Brian Oliver • DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Daniel P. Hanley • DES: Mark Digby • Cast: Natalie Dormer, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde, Daniel Brühl

It’s a fact that some of the larger movie studios often copyright potential, marketable film titles long before the films themselves have ever been made. Given the slightly tenuous link between subject matter and title here, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Rush might be just such a title: Generic, ambiguous, and completely belying the exhilarating true story it presents to its audience.

Set neither in north county Dublin, nor focusing on the world’s biggest prog-rock band, Rush traces the rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s, from the humble beginnings of each in Formula Three, to their divergent paths to the big-time, climaxing at one hugely significant race which can be seen to define each man.

The structure of this film is somewhat disordered, jumping forward to Nurburgring 1976 before returning to a seemingly arbitrary point in 1970 and then vomiting expositional information as readily as James Hunt vomits before a race, an abject spectacle we bear witness to several times in Rush. Although this set-up is a necessary to build audience investment in the 1976 season – the central focus of the film – it is somewhat weakly done.

This is Ron Howard’s second collaboration with screenwriter Peter Morgan, the last being the excellent Frost/Nixon, focusing on the heavily-hyped interview between Sir David Frost and Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Unlike Frost/Nixon however, where the lack of egalitarianism between a British light-entertainment presenter and the President of the United States is never ambiguous, Rush is slightly unbalanced in portraying rivals Hunt and Lauda, who may be equally skilled as drivers, just with different priorities in other areas of life.

Chris Hemsworth’s Aryan swagger has been heavily utilised to promote Rush, but James Hunt is rather underdeveloped as a character and remains something of a one-note playboy throughout the film. While Hemsworth undoubtedly plays the mouthy ladies’ man angle quite well, the fact remains that Hunt’s arc is practically a ninety degree angle. Similarly, Hemsworth shows his limits when some of Hunt’s more sincere moments come off a little wooden.

It’s convenient and understandable to pitch the film as comparable to Frost/Nixon, making it about the rivalry between the two men. But Rush really feels like the story of Niki Lauda – and Daniel Brühl is astonishing in the role. Best-known outside of his native Germany for his role as Nazi poster-boy Fredrick Zoller in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Rush should by all rights make Brühl’s name in Hollywood. Lauda initially appears as a foil to Hunt: Unlikable and anti-social, the man nicknamed ‘The Rat’ gets a loan to buy his way into the higher divisions, while Hunt is shown eschewing sponsors, just getting by with a little help from his friends, drinking, partying and wooing beautiful women. Yet, as each man races towards a comeback at the final race of the season, in very different circumstances, Brühl impressively shapes the acerbic Lauda into a more compelling character than his glamorous British counterpart.

While narratively, Rush suffers from uneven characterisation and expositional scenes, it is technically very well-made. Expertly shot and mixed, the eardrum-searing screech of tyres and palpable shudder from a passing racecar make the F1 races portrayed in the film immersive and engaging. Similarly, the aesthetic of this period really is Howard’s forte. The film looks beautiful throughout, with every detail, from the cars, costumes and clubs to the lighting and filters effortlessly evoking the 1970s.

Rush, ultimately, feels much like a F1 race itself; It starts slowly, with no individual element immediately emerging as a lead to focus on, and while it swerves dangerously off-track once or twice, it gathers speed in its second act and ultimately builds to a nail-biting conclusion. It might not win a World Championship title, but it could definitely take the Grand Prix, especially with its central, star-making turn from Daniel Brühl.

Stacy Grouden 

 15A (See IFCO for details)

122 mins
Rush is released on 13th September 2013

Rush – Official Website

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Cinema Review: We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

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DIR/WRI: Alex Gibney  PRO: Alexis Bloom, Marc Shmuger  DOP: Maryse Alberti  ED: Andy Grieve  Cast: Julian Assange, Adrian Lamo, Bradley Manning, James Ball

Secrets, power, visibility and the spread of information are key themes in the work of Alex Gibney. The Oscar-winning documentarian’s Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God have previously asked questions about the covering-up, revelation of, and reaction to large-scale institutional abuses in a way that encourages viewer engagement with the answers.

As such, he seems ideally-suited to demystify the story of Wikileaks, the whistle-blowing site founded by Australian hacker Julian Assange which was responsible for the largest leak of US classified material in history. His film couldn’t come at a better time, as the organisation’s involvement with NSA mole Edward Snowden continues to unfold almost hourly; while The Fifth Estate, Bill Condon’s Hollywood take on the story starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, is due out this winter.

The title of the film, while appearing to refer to the modus operandi of Wikileaks, is actually a quote from former CIA director Michael Hayden about the increasingly dubious means of gathering intelligence employed by the US, especially since the events of 9/11.  This doubling of institutional action with that of individuals, and the different consequences for both, smartly recurs throughout the film.

This is a stylish, easy-to-follow piece of work, drawing from news media, original and archive interviews, and most poignantly, instant messaging chat logs to present a range of perspectives on its subject. Beginning as a chronicle of Julian Assange’s brand of ‘hacktivism,’ the film links him to a digital anti-nuclear attack on NASA in 1989 as part of Melbourne’s burgeoning hacking scene, before the launch of Wikileaks in 2006. Belittled by a defence specialist as a ‘$300 laptop and ten SIM cards,’ Wikileaks global impact is nevertheless depicted as far-reaching and consequential, exposing bank defaults in Iceland, political corruption in Kenya, and most famously, the true civilian cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Its apex in public consciousness is presented as the ‘Collateral Murder’ video, exposing the deaths of eight civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in an airstrike in Baghdad.  A game-changer for Wikileaks, the footage results in collaborations with more traditional media outlets; parliamentary questions and inquiries into the leaks globally; and the overnight ascendance of Julian Assange into an equally exhilarated and suspicious public eye.

Hailed alternately as a champion of free speech, and a terrorist with ‘blood on his hands,’ Assange is painted in broad strokes in the film. Contentious claims by or about his character are often questioned by Gibney, double-checking the wording or context behind a quote, apparently with an eye on transparency. Though while his own revelation about Assange’s price for an interview – either information about the other interviews conducted for the film, or a million dollars – may also function in this way, it also reinforces an image of an increasingly paranoid and hypocritical figure.

Assange’s rise and fall is paralleled in the film by that of PFC Bradley Manning, the anonymous source of hundreds of thousands of documents downloaded from classified US military and diplomatic servers, including the ‘Collateral Murder’ video. The highly-visible bravado of Assange (who declares himself ‘untouchable’ after teaming up with The Guardian and The New York Times) serves as a counterpoint to Manning’s quietly desperate behaviour. Ultimately turned in by hacker Adrian Lamo, to whom he had disclosed the full extent of his whistle-blowing through instant messaging, Manning is a silenced but active force in the film, his chat-logged words speaking for him a letter at a time to spell out an utterly divided self. Against the sound of typing, rhythmically evoking the marching-snares of war, Manning reveals his back-story, his motivations, and hundreds of thousands of cables worth of classified information. There is undoubtedly the most affective and emotional part of the film. Even as the film presents Manning as a troubled and somewhat volatile young man, prompting questions over his army service and supervision, he nevertheless gets a sympathetic edit, with much more support vocalised for Manning than Assange by those interviewed.

The film works well as a Wikileaks cheat-sheet, if not one the organisation would necessarily approve about themselves. Those who have been following the story of Wikileaks along with Gibney may not find a lot new here, although some interviews illuminate previously muted perspectives, such as that of one of Assange’s alleged assault victims. The contemporary nature of the subject matter is both its blessing and curse, illuminating chronologically the rise and fall of the ongoing controversies around the organisation. Yet as the film concludes with afterwords dated March 2013, the narrative cannot help but feel somewhat interrupted.

Nevertheless, We Steal Secrets is an eminently watchable and well-ordered account of Wikileaks, which asks some serious and important questions about information-sharing, the contradiction of privacy and freedom of information, and the boundaries between public and private knowledge, without ever forcing the answers or overwhelming its audience.

Stacy Grouden

129 minutes

15A (see IFCO website for details)
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks is released on 12th July 2013.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdezJrNaL70

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