A Little Chaos

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DIR: Alan Rickman • WRI: Jenny Brock, Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman • PRO: Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan, Bertrand Faivre • DOP: Ellen Kuras • ED: Nicolas Gaster • MUS: Peter Gregson • DES: James Merifield • CAST: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Ehle, Helen McCrory
 
It has taken celebrated British actor Alan Rickman eighteen years to follow up his 1997 directorial debut, the critically acclaimed The Winter Guest, adapted by Sharman Macdonald’s mood-evoking Scottish play of the same name. Such a directing hiatus by Rickman, along with an expansive acting legacy, would possibly suggest that Rickman’s passion for his craft is better served in front of the camera rather than behind it. His second outing as director, however, sees him marry the role with that of actor in A Little Chaos, a 17th century period drama, which tells the story of lowly-widowed landscape gardener, Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet), who secures a contract to design one of the principal gardens at The Palace of Versailles.

 

When King Louis XIV (Rickman) determines that The Palace of Versailles should be an enviable symbol of French imperial resplendence, he commissions an extravagant reconstruction of one of its gardens under the charge of esteemed landscape artist André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) who submits the contract out to tender amongst the elite of French artistic nobility. As the only female contender for the contract and with her artistic ideals severely conflicting with Le Notre’s vision, Sabine is confounded when she secures the coveted indenture, despite overwhelming derisive indignation from her male adversaries. As the mammoth project commences, Sabine battles gender and class barriers, professional sabotage and personal suffering to commence or even execute the majestic project, all whilst resisting a burgeoning sexual attraction to her married employer, le Notre.

 

With such a notable cast, steered by Winslet, who routinely favours intelligent and formidable female roles, Sabine de Barra should be another character of this ilk to augment her illustrious acting repertoire. Sabine de Barra’s awareness of her gender and class limitations and her position as a recent widow does not place her as an embittered or embattled feminist attempting to unleash feminist aspirations on her privileged masculine contemporaries. Rather she is a humble and gracious artist in her own right, in a specific era, who excels in her artistic skill and vision. Yet, feminist aspirations or otherwise, her procurement of the coveted Versailles contract, above the pestiferous elite, does place her within the feminist bracket and it is this trajectory that should drive the narrative in A Little Chaos. The plot, however, of a 17th century subaltern, transgressing the impenetrable demarcations of privileged masculine courtier positions at the French royal court and French society overall, has been abandoned in favour of a trite and predictable love story, alas making A Little Chaos quite a regrettable affair through missed opportunity and Winslet’s decision to undertake the unsatisfying role, simply baffling.

 

The plot and character development of Sabine de Barra, which may have initially appealed to Winslet, owing to a feminine victory over patriarchal social structures, is wholly abandoned and the narrative evolves into a love affair between a noble man and a subordinate woman, an affair that is implausible, farcical and simply too convenient. The mammoth undertaking in reconstructing the gardens, the incessant sabotage in her efforts and Sabine’s trauma at losing her husband and child in tragic circumstances are introduced but are never fully developed or psychologically explored. Undoubtedly Winslet submits her consistently dependable performance and whilst it is nuanced and evenly balanced between determined artist and vulnerable widow when necessary, there is a sense that Winslet is desperately seeking more of an acting challenge that the script does just not allow. Indeed, the role of Sabine is reminiscent of her earlier period work when she was finding her niche as a serious dramatic actress.

 

There are good solid turns from the supporting cast, with a great comedic turn from a giddy Jennifer Ehle as Madame De Montespan and Stanley Tucci as the mincing Philippe d’Orleans. Helen McCrory shines as the snarling, embittered wife of Le Notre and Rickman himself is perfect as the emotionally guarded but sympathetic King Louis XIV but there is a palpable sense that Rickman is yearning to get out from behind the camera and remain in front of it.

 

As expected from a BBC Films costume drama, the production design is exquisite, with faultless, lavish production values. However, there is a sense that the production itself is more on a par with the British aristocracy of the 17th century than the renowned wanton French court of the same era. It is all rather too restraint and temperate an affair, hugely lacking the decadence and opulence of French aristocratic life. Innuendo rather than actuality becomes a safety net on the back of a rather lacklustre plot with a distinct lack of dramatic climax. A Little Chaos is just too cosy, too safe and simply too spiritless.

 

A Little Chaos should be about a lowly but talented young woman’s penetration of the gender and social barriers of the 17th century but in essence it is a formulaic love story. Sabine may appear to challenge gender and class stereotypes as a non-noble woman overcoming female subordination but Sabine’s role as a woman essentially remains contained within her era and she remains defined by the men of her past, present and future. The film is a passable, if not a slightly chaotic effort by Rickman as a director and it leaves one wondering if it will be another eighteen years before he goes behind the camera again.

Dee O’Donoghue

 

15A (See IFCO for details)

116 minutes

A Little Chaos is released 17th April 2015

 

A Little Chaos – Official Website

 

 

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Transformers: Age of Extinction

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DIR: Michael Bay  WRI: Ehren Kruger PRO: Ian Bryce, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Don Murphy  DOP: Amir Mokri  ED: Roger Barton, William Goldenberg, Paul Rubell   DES: Jeffrey Beecroft  MUS: Steve Jablonsky  CAST: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Jack Reynor

 

There are many words one might use when describing Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise, but very few that don’t sound smug, hackneyed and, on the whole, just too easy. Ever the critics’ whipping boy, the past decade has established the director’s name as a byword for blockbusters that bring the sound and the fury and not a whole lot else, and aiming the same barbs at the same flaws time and again begins to feel less like reviewing than it does adding one more reedy voice to a self-satisfied critical chorus falling on utterly deaf ears.

 

So with Bay’s claim that his latest outing, Age of Extinction, will set the franchise in a whole new direction, what’s the verdict? Well, for a series based on creatures capable of taking on literally any form they desire, not a whole lot has changed.

 

Leading the new human cast that will form the centre of this allegedly new direction is Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg), a broke mechanic-turned-inventor with the fiercely independent streak of any good Texan. Hoping his latest junkyard haul yields something that might put his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) through college, Yaeger’s derelict find instead turns out to be a badly-wounded Optimus Prime in hiding. With government forces and a mysterious alien mercenary hunting all Transformers in the wake of the Battle of Chicago, Yaeger is forced to round up what remains of the Autobots so that they might defend humanity one last time.

 

Age of Extinction marks the (large-scale) Hollywood debut of Ireland’s own Jack Reynor, but sadly this is where any sense of Bay’s promised new beginnings ends. Though presumably placed to add a more family-centric dynamic to the series, the human cast are once again pushed to the fringe so that Bay’s penchant for pyrotechnics can take centre stage for a cornea-melting two and a half hours.

 

The Transformers themselves live up to the diversity implied by their name in providing a dazzling array of stereotypes, complete with a haiku-spouting samurai and cigar-chomping marine, each of whom speak in a series of B-movie one-liners presumably designed to match Hasbro’s inevitable range of actions figures.

 

The human cast fare little better, their few efforts to inject a heartbeat into the narrative constantly mangled by scarcely-comprehensible action scenes. It’s as if every frame of the film is specifically designed to shatter any sense of immersion, from the sense of scale (occasionally punctuated by close-ups reserved solely for arse-cheeks or the American flag) to the cluttered, jarring soundtrack, less akin to the Zimmer’s best work than it is to a string-quartet squeezed into a steel-bin.

 

There is much more that could be said, some of it even positive – both Tucci and Reynor deliver the laughs as the comic relief, and some of the women even get to speak outside of cries for help – but all in all there’s little point in adding to the barrage and even less point in denying the box office landslide to come. Far be it from Film Ireland to kick a multi-billion dollar behemoth when it’s down, after all.

 

More mechanized popcorn for the senses, worth seeing for those ardent franchise fans and anyone still doubting whether a vacuum can be very loud indeed.

Ruairí Moore

12A (See IFCO for details)
164 mins

Transformers: Age of Extinction is released on 5th July 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction– Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8HPIH5JCak&feature=kp

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Cinema Review: Mr Peabody and Sherman

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DIR: Rob Minkoff   WRI: Craig Wright  PRO: Denise Nolan Cascino, Alex Schwartz  ED: Tom Finan   MUS: Danny Elfman  DES: David James  CAST: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Allison Janney, Stanley Tucci, Lake Bell, Patrick Warburton, Mel Brooks

 

STOP. DO NOT CLICK OFF THIS PAGE…

I’m not one for stereotyping or profiling but I have a sense of the average Film Ireland reader. And I’m sensing kids’ animations get short-shift from you lovers of interminable European arthouse dirges and avid fans of restored silent black and white Eskimo epics from 1936.

What can I do to change your collective mindset? All I can say is that if you pass over this film with your snooty cineaste nose held aloft, then you are potentially missing one of the early unexpected highlights of 2014. (If you have a snotty cineaste nose – go see a doctor. That’s a whole other condition). So do you hate enjoying yourself? Do you hate laughter? Do you hate children?

If you’re still here, you’ll be happy to hear that I’m not exaggerating. This is a little gem of an animation bristling with verve, imagination and genuine warmth. I’m blissfully ignorant of the original TV show (bar a tangential reference in a Simpsons time travel episode) but I instinctively doubt it was as subversive and sharp as this modern re-imagining.

The film centres on and celebrates the relationship between a super-smart canine Mr Peabody and his adopted human boy Sherman. Even in an animated fictional world, their pure and mutual affection is viewed with incredulity and suspicion. Sherman becomes self conscious about having a dog as a dad when he starts a new school. However he is proud enough of his guardian’s inventions to try and impress a classmate by showing her a top-secret time travel machine. When they start to zip and rip through the fabric of history, their only option is to confide in Mr Peabody and trust that his genius brain can re-impose order on the past.

Naturally this playful confection has a zany take on history from Troy to the French Revolution but by jingo – there’s a subtle yet substantial educational pill inside this candyfloss entertainment.  Yet, the film is never less than an irreverent and rollicking adventure. Summed up by the duo developing a habit of being ejected from any animal shaped construct whether Sphinx or Trojan horse by the rear exit – if you get my drift. And it’s hilarious.

On paper, the character of the know-it-all Mr Peabody could easily be a bore or just plain annoying. However he is brilliantly personified by the dulcet tones of Ty Burrell (who is equally impressive as the effete father Phil Dunphy in TV’s Modern Family). As well as undercutting his boffin status with practical shortcomings and occasional over-confidence, Burrell imbues the dog with palpable insecurities. The stiff upper lip of the character is adroitly established with the clever deployment of a discernible trace of an English accent in the vocal performance. On the back of this wonderful work, I envisage Burrell being a stalwart on the voiceover scene for the foreseeable future.

Much like veteran vocal artist Patrick Warburton who is hysterical in the Troy sequence as an empty headed but overly emotive Agamemnon.  That entire section has me in stitches from the moment the occupiers of the main Trojan horse are fooled into bringing a much smaller wooden horse into their covert hiding place. Again, the film operates superbly but differently for kids and adults. The comedic peak of the film’s ambitious climax is a supremely naughty reference that kids will be blissfully oblivious of.

And though rampant incessant entertainment would have been reward enough, the film even has an emotional arc that resonates without being cloying or overly saccharine. The writer Craig Wright must be singled out even in this most collaborative art form. His script zings and fizzes with giddy creativity but in fairness, the visuals are exceptional too.

Even the 3-D is expertly and continually utilised to accentuate the storytelling. And that really is rare. Most 3-D in this field focuses on the opening sequence and perhaps is again concentrated on during the closing stretch. An entire raft of animated films has displayed this token approach to 3D but this film distinguishes itself by never forgetting about the extra dimension. From sword fights to snake fangs or angles that emphasise the height and depth of an Egyptian tomb, the effect is, for once, mesmerizing.

Kids of a certain age love watching favourite films over and over again. This title will instantly enter that firmament. Personally, I could have easily sat through it a second time just after the first screening had concluded. When’s the last time that happened in the cinema?

James Phelan

G (See IFCO for details)
92  mins

Mr Peabody and Sherman is released on 7th February 2014

Mr Peabody and Sherman – Official Website

 

 

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Stanley Tucci to visit JDIFF

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Oscar® nominated actor Stanley Tucci will visit Dublin to attend a public interview and will also be honoured with a Volta Award at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014. 

The public interview will take place at 2pm on Saturday February 15th in Light House Cinema.  Tickets go on sale on Friday February 7th priced €7 from www.jdiff.com or (01) 6877974. 

Tucci will be presented with his Volta Award following the public interview.  

 

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Cinema Review: The Fifth Estate

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DIR: Bill Condon •  WRI: Josh Singer  • PRO: Steve Golin, Michael Sugar •  DOP: Tobias A. Schliessler • Ed: Virginia Katz  • MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Stanley Tucci

The Fifth Estate is a thriller trailing the rise of whistle blowing organization WikiLeaks and self-made media mogul Julian Assange. Assange is portrayed tenaciously by an ever invigorating Benedict Cumberbatch. While the material is ripe with political strife for a potentially sophisticated thriller dealing with the ethical debate between security and privacy this fails to be fully realized.

The film’s central character is Daniel Domscheit-Berg, played by Daniel Bruhel. Berg is the moral cornerstone of the film; he’s the somewhat credulous computer expert who befriends Assange and joins him in his quest for exposing the truth through WikiLeaks. The film presents Assange as Berg sees him. With Berg and Assanges partnership WikiLeaks blossoms into the international whistleblowing giant we now know. They expose multibillion banks engaged in fraud, government conspiracies and ignite global revolution and all seems hunky dory. However conflict arises between the two men when, as the stakes are raised and their notoriety increases, Berg begins to question the morality and ethics of exposing certain information. Berg feels that by not analysing the information properly they might be placing innocent individuals at risk. This reaches its climax when WikiLeaks releases thousands of top US security files including the “Collateral Murder” video. Shortly after this Berg and Assanges differences culminate in them parting ways for good.

The Fifth Estate undergoes the same pitfalls as so many true stories do, it endeavours to expose the truth and struggles in its effort to do so. There is nothing polarizing about the film’s point of view, this is a film with a very transparent agenda – it’s looking to permeate doubt and credibility in Julian Assange. This is affirmed by Assange being portrayed as an egocentric, anarchic, power hunger tyrant. While this might not be totally dismissible, it’s certainly not the entire truth, this angle is played up to its most extreme, engendering archetypal character clichés. Assange is made out to be quite childlike in his relationship with Berg, which again takes from the credibility and believability. This approach, while perhaps a little naïve, is brought to life by Cumberbatch’s powerful attuned performance, which is the film’s solitary redeeming feature. He gives Julian Assange a credible sense of menace and emotional complexity.

The film has a fantastic supporting cast in Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney, but they’re characters only service is to convey the American government’s stance, which leaves little elbow room for Tucci and Linney to develop the characters. These characters and their recurring presence seems the product of arbitrary, jaded screenwriting.  Ultimately, the film strives to be something it’s not, the fast-paced rhythmic editing and predominate pulsing beats of the electronic soundtrack are suggestive a slicker, cleverer film, which it simply isn’t. It’s like putting a Fiat engine in Porsche chassis – it looks cool but can’t do 0 to 60 in ten seconds. The shiny façade only seems to further diminish the film. Consequently, it’s difficult to feel concerned for the characters or engage in with the film, overall I found it quite underwhelming and doesn’t really rise above mediocrity.

The Fifth Estate certainly hasn’t left a lasting impression, and isn’t essential viewing unless of course for Cumberbatch’s performance, which really is the driving force of the film. Daniel Bruhel’s performance while not bad is far from the electric feats he’s displayed in the past. This is a film which could have been The Social Network meets All the Presidents Men. But ended up more like the very distant spurious cousin of the two. I have no doubt that Mr. Assange will join critics lambasting it for the self-riotous propaganda it is.

Michael Stephen Lee

15A (See IFCO for details)

127 mins
The Fifth Estate is released on 11th October 2013

The Fifth Estate – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Margin Call

Trust Me, I'm a Banker

DIR/WRI: J.C. Chandor • PRO: Robert Ogden Barnum, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson, Joe Jenckes, Corey Moosa, Zachary Quinto • DOP: Frank G. DeMarco • ED: Pete Beaudreau • DES: John Paino • CAST: Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey

Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is one of the many laid off during a massive employee culling at an investment bank on Wall St. in 2008. On his way out, he hands a file on to Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) to look over, and it turns out that Dale was on the verge of discovering that their company, as well as the rest of Wall St. is on the verge of bankruptcy. And so begins this drama set during one 24 hours period set right at the start of the world’s current financial crisis.

The all-star cast (Tucci, Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Penn Badgley) makes it easy to keep tabs on who’s who, and while the younger actors can’t quite keep up with the more established actors, a lot of the bigger names bring their A-game, in particular Spacey being the best he’s been in quite some time.

Writer/director J.C. Chandor keeps things ticking along with the pace of an against-the-clock thriller, and while the dialogue can at times be ever so slightly clunky, he does make some interesting insights, such as the general belief that the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the nicer the suits, the more cutthroat you are, and the less you seem to actually know about your own company.

While it doesn’t quite reach the giddy highs of Glengarry Glen Ross or All The President’s Men, it is the kind of smart and well-acted grown up film you see less and less of these days, and exactly the kind of film Wall Street 2 should have been.

Rory Cashin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Margin Call is released on 13th January 201

Margin Call – Official Website

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